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Pope names Oblate priest to advise Christian unity council

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Among the new members and consultants Pope Francis named to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is Father John W. Crossin, the executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Although in February Pope Francis confirmed all of the council’s members and consultants until the end of their original five-year mandates, he named three new members and 10 new consultants to the council July 22.

Father Crossin, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, holds a doctorate in moral theology and master’s degrees in psychology and theology from The Catholic University of America.

He is past president of the North American Academy of Ecumenists and the Thomas More Society of Washington and he was the executive director of the Washington Theological Consortium before he started serving the bishops’ conference in 2011.

The pope named three bishops — two from Latin America and one from Germany — to be new members of the Vatican council and he appointed four laymen, five priests and one Chinese religious sister from Macau as consultants.

Many of the new consultants, including one from South Korea, are the ecumenical officers of their national bishops’ conferences.

The nun is Salesian Sister Maria Ha Fong Ko, who is from Macau. She studied in Italy and Germany and earned a doctorate in biblical theology. She teaches sacred Scripture and biblical studies at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium” in Rome and at the Holy Spirit Seminary of Hong Kong.

 

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Pope calls for prayers as Iraqi militants expel Christians from Mosul

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As the last Iraqi Christians in Mosul fled the city, Pope Francis urgently called for prayers, dialogue and peace.

“Violence isn’t overcome with violence. Violence is conquered with peace” the pope said before leading thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square in a moment of silent prayer July 20.

An Iraqi man carrying a cross and a Quran attends Mass at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad July 20. Pope Francis called for prayers, dialogue, and peace, as the last Iraqi Christians flee the Iraqi city of Mosul. (CNS photo/Ahmed Malik, Reuters)

An Iraqi man carrying a cross and a Quran attends Mass at Mar Girgis Church in Baghdad July 20. Pope Francis called for prayers, dialogue, and peace, as the last Iraqi Christians flee the Iraqi city of Mosul. (CNS photo/Ahmed Malik, Reuters)

“Our brothers and sisters are persecuted, they are chased away,” he said, as he assured Christians in all of Iraq and the Middle East of his “constant prayers.”

The pope’s plea came as the last Christian families living in Mosul were forced from the city after facing increasing threats, violence and intimidation.

The Islamic State group, which has taken control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, was threatening to kill any Christians who did not convert to Islam or pay a tax, Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan told Vatican Radio.

The militants in Mosul also burned to the ground the building housing the Syriac bishop’s office, residence and library, and everything inside, he said July 19.

Islamic State fighters “have already threatened that if they don’t convert to Islam, all Christians will be murdered. It’s terrible! This is a disgrace for the whole international community,” he told the radio.

The international community must immediately halt all aid to the Islamic State group, he said.

“Whom are they getting their weapons from? From these extremist nations in the (Persian) Gulf, with the approval of Western political leaders because they need their oil.”

The patriarch said the world community must uphold human rights and the freedom of religion.

“We are in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon: We Christians weren’t imported, we’ve been here for millennia and, therefore, we have the right to be treated as human beings and citizens of these countries,” he said.

Patriarch Younan spoke with Pope Francis by telephone July 20 while visiting Rome and told him of the “disastrous” situation in Mosul.

The pope said “he was following closely and with anxiety the plight of Christians” in Mosul, the patriarch told Catholic News Service.

During their nine-minute phone conversation, the patriarch begged the pope “to continue intensifying efforts with the powerful of this world” and to warn them “that it is a mass purification based on religion which is underway in the province of Ninevah,” whose capital is Mosul.

“What a shame for the silence of the so-called civilized world” in response to the tragedy, the patriarch told CNS via email.

The Syriac patriarch was in Rome with Syriac Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul and Syriac Catholic Archbishop Ephrem Yousif Mansoor Abba of Baghdad, to meet with Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister, and explain the plight of Christians in Mosul and surrounding areas.

The patriarch proposed that the Vatican call on its diplomatic corps members to urge their respective governments to take “appropriate measures in order to prevent further killing and abusing of Christians and other minorities in the name of a religion.”

Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul told the Vatican’s Fides news agency that Islamic State fighters took possession of a Syrian Catholic monastery outside of Mosul, near Qaraqosh, July 20.

Earlier, militants occupied Mosul’s Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Orthodox cathedrals, removed the crosses at the front of the buildings and replaced them with the Islamic state’s black flag. Tombs and other places of worship were reported to have been desecrated, too.

Militants singled out homes belonging to Christians and marked them in red paint with the letter “N,” for “Nazarat,” which means Christian, as well as “Property of ISIS,” the Islamic State group, said Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Sirop of Baghdad.

“Our worst fears have come true and we don’t know what to do,” he told Aid to the Church in Need.

Those who fled their homes with whatever possessions they could carry were then stripped of everything they owned by the militants at the city’s checkpoints, said Archbishop Jean Sleiman, the Latin-rite bishop of Baghdad.

The militants took people’s belongings, money, personal items “even their cars, leaving them with nothing and forcing them to walk miles under the sun to get to the first Christian villages outside the city where they’re welcomed,” he told SIR, the Italian bishops’ news agency.

Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako told AsiaNews that any dialogue with the extremists seemed impossible.

The militants are like “a wall” as they only repeat: “Between us there is nothing but a sword,” the patriarch said. He added that “there is no one of authority to face,” so people “don’t know where they come from and what they really want.”

Patriarch Sako said that as late as the end of June, 35,000 Christians had lived in Mosul, and more than 60,000 lived there before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But now, “for the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians.”

“Iraq is heading towards a humanitarian, cultural and historical disaster,” he said in an open letter to Iraqis and the world July 17.

“It is shameful that Christians are being rejected, expelled and diminished” from a land they have shared together with their Muslim fellow citizens for 1400 years, the patriarch wrote.

He urged Muslims who support the Islamic State “to reconsider their strategy and respect the unarmed innocent people of all ethnicities, religions and sects.” He asked Iraqi Christians to be rational, “calculate their options well,” to come together in solidarity and be patient as they prayed “until the storm passes.”

Syriac Catholic Father Nizar Semaan of Mosul told Fides that world leaders must do something concrete, like “include these groups in the list of terrorist organizations” as well as “make public the names of the countries and forces that finance them.”

He said intelligence agencies and some governments “know where certain weapons and money that keep these groups going come from. It would be enough to stop the flow for a month, and these groups would not have any more force.”

Also, Sunni leaders and followers must help isolate the jihadist groups and declare a religious ruling against them, which “would certainly have a significant effect,” the priest said.

Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.

 

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Pope urges Israeli, Palestinian leaders to end Holy Land conflict

July 18th, 2014 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , , , ,

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Expressing his serious concerns over the escalating violence in the Holy Land, Pope Francis telephoned Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urging all sides to end hostilities and build peace.

Palestinians look at a destroyed building in Gaza City shortly after an airstrike by Israeli Defense Forces July 17. Caritas Jerusalem officials say Gaza civilians are paying the price for the Israeli-Hamas conflict. (CNS photo/Oliver Weiken, EPA)

Palestinians look at a destroyed building in Gaza City shortly after an airstrike by Israeli Defense Forces July 17. Caritas Jerusalem officials say Gaza civilians are paying the price for the Israeli-Hamas conflict. (CNS photo/Oliver Weiken, EPA)

The morning after Israel launched a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the pope personally telephoned the two leaders July 18 to express “his very serious concerns about the current situation of conflict.”

Phoning Peres at 10 in the morning and Abbas at 11:30 Rome time, the pope told the leaders that the conflict was creating “numerous victims and was giving way to a state of serious humanitarian emergency,” the Vatican said in a written statement July 18.

The pope told the two presidents, whom the pope “considers to be men of peace and who want peace,” that constant prayer was needed.

He also urged them to “work hard at making sure all interested parties and those who have political responsibilities on the local and international levels dedicate themselves to bring an end to all hostilities, striving to foster a truce, peace and a reconciliation of hearts,” the Vatican said.

The pope assured the two leaders of his “constant prayers” as well as the prayers of the whole church “for peace in the Holy Land.”

Meanwhile, the pope also assured the parish priest of the Holy Family Church, the only Catholic parish in Gaza, of his prayers.

One of the pope’s secretaries sent an email around 7 p.m. July 17 to Father Jorge Hernandez, an Argentine priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word.

According to the Vatican, the brief message said, “I accompany you all with my prayers. May the Holy Virgin keep watch over you.”

Holy Family Parish had been holding eucharistic adoration and celebrated a special Mass “to implore forgiveness, justice and peace for all,” according to Vatican Radio.

The priest has opened the parish school to “numerous families” who fled their homes in bombed neighborhoods, according to Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news service. The families “didn’t sleep a wink all night because of the bombing,” a Brazilian nun, identified only as Sister Laudis, told Fides.

“The houses were shaking, the children were crying,” said the nun who said she had spoken with Father Hernandez after leaving Gaza July 17 for Beit Jalla, a village near Bethlehem.

 

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Vatican bank issues detailed financial report

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — One week after publishing highlights of its 2013 financial statement, the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly called the Vatican bank, released a 107-page, detailed financial report for the year.

The first statement, released July 8, said the institute’s net profit for 2013 was only 2.9 million euros ($3.9 million) compared to 2012 net profits of 86.6 million euros ($117.7 million).

The detailed report released July 15 and published on the institute’s website, www.ior.va, is packed with charts, tables and explanations of the institute’s focus, its investment policies, the division of its assets and detailed information about its expenses, including contributions to employee pensions.

It also contains some curiosities:

• The main depository for the Vatican’s gold is the U.S. Federal Reserve, while medals and precious coins (valued at close to 9.9 million euros) are kept in IOR vaults. A “significant decline” in the price of gold meant that the value of the Vatican’s gold fell to 20 million euros in 2013 from almost 28.3 million euros in 2012.

• The bank’s officers have almost 3.2 million euros in four funds set up for charitable purposes, including one to support religious orders in missionary work. Only the “Fund for Holy Masses” reported distributing money in 2013; it gave out 59,000 euros.

• The institute is the sole owner of an Italian-registered company, SGIR, which has 21.7 million euros in equity. The report describes SGIR as a real estate company.

• Speaking of real estate, the report said the institute’s operating expenses included a “provision of 1 million euros payable to the owner of the building in which the IOR conducts business.” The bank is based in the 15th-century Tower of Nicholas V on the eastern edge of the Apostolic Palace.

• The bank has 250.7 million invested in external funds; 99 percent of the money is invested in funds that have their legal headquarters in Europe, while the remaining 1 percent are based in the United States.

 

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Pope Francis wants child migrants at U.S. border to be ‘welcomed and protected’

By

Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — The Vatican’s secretary of state pledged full support for addressing the issue of child migrants streaming out Central America in search of safety and family reunification in the United States.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, described the situation a “humanitarian emergency” and called for the international community to act.

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, June 18. The federal agency provided media tours June 18 of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz., that have been central to processing at least 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have been detained in the U.S. this fiscal year. (CNS photo/Eric Gay, pool via Reuters)

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, June 18. The federal agency provided media tours June 18 of two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz., that have been central to processing at least 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have been detained in the U.S. this fiscal year. (CNS photo/Eric Gay, pool via Reuters)

Speaking at the Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat July 14, Cardinal Pietro Parolin repeated a recent call of bishops in five countries for Catholics and society at large to lend a helping hand for the thousands of young migrants traveling through Mexico and often arriving unaccompanied in the United States.

“Given these migratory facts, we urgently need to overcome primitive misgivings and again propose common strategies at the subregional, regional and world levels that include all sectors of society,” Cardinal Parolin said in a speech attended by clergy and the foreign ministers of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“Their numbers grow daily exponentially,” he said of the Central Americans abandoning their countries. “Whether they travel for reasons of poverty, violence or the hope of uniting with families on the other side of the border, it is urgent to protect and assist them, because their frailty is greater and they’re defenseless, they’re at the mercy of any abuse or misfortune.”

The cardinal traveled to Mexico as countries in the region came to grips with an increase in the number of Central American migrants not seen in decades, and an influx so unexpected and massive that U.S. officials have had difficulties properly processing those arriving at their border. It also came as countries such as Mexico confront longstanding issues such as crimes committed against migrants with impunity and an indifference toward providing protection to Central Americans traveling through the country, even as Mexico complains of the treatment experienced by Mexicans living in the United States illegally.

The plight of the child migrants has the full attention of Pope Francis, who sent a message in advance of the forum, jointly sponsored by Mexico and the Vatican.

“I wish to also call attention to the tens of thousands of children that emigrate alone, unaccompanied to escape violence and poverty,” Pope Francis said in the message, dated July 11 and read July 14 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to Mexico.

“This is the category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself that cross the United States’ border under extreme conditions and pursuing a hope that, for the majority, will be in vain.

“This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected,” Pope Francis continued.

“Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes,” the pope said.

The pope also called for information campaigns on the risks of migrating and a commitment to developing the poor countries of Central America.

Cardinal Parolin committed the church to finding solutions and offering assistance — something already carried out by a string of Catholic-run migrant shelters stretching the length of Mexico, which offer spiritual and material support for the thousands of Central Americans transiting the country, often atop a train known as “La Bestia” (The Beast) for the way it maims so many migrants.

“The church will always support at the national and international level any initiative directed at the adoption of correct policies. No institution, not even the state, possesses the necessary economic, political or informative resources or social capital or legitimacy to resolve the root problems with emigration,” the cardinal said.

“It is evident that the phenomenon of migration cannot be resolved only with legislative measures or adopting public policies, however good, and much less only with law enforcement and security forces,” he continued. “The solution of the migration problem goes through an in-depth cultural and social conversion that permits passage from the ‘cultural of closure’ to a ‘culture of reception and meeting.’”

Central America suffers from high homicide rates, gang violence and some of the worst poverty in the hemisphere, motivating many people to leave for the United States, where they seek safety and earn money to support families left behind.

But Central American children have been abandoning their countries of origin in recent months, especially as rumors spread in the region that any youngster arriving in the United States will be allowed to stay put. Catholics working in Central America and with migrants and government officials say many parents see this as an opportunity to remove their children from dangerous circumstances, but also reunifying long-separated families.

“Many (migrants) have family in the United States and they’re looking to reunite,” Sobeida Mejia, a regional director for child migrants with the Honduran childhood and family institute, told Catholic News Service.

Mexico has announced a measure to make migration more orderly — especially on its oft-neglected southern border with Guatemala — and to respect the human rights of those traveling through the country.

“In Mexico, in Central America, in Guatemala, in Honduras, in El Salvador, in the United States, migration has a child’s face, and it obliges us to reflect more deeply and in short time frames,” said Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade Kuribrena.

“Respect for human rights, safeguarding against trafficking, exploitation and organized crime and access to health services and consular assistance must be priorities of public policy in the transit countries,” he said.

 

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Vatican questions July 13 article’s papal quotes, cites ‘manipulation’

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said the latest published interview with Pope Francis, in which he says fighting sex abuse and the mafia will be priorities of his pontificate, should not be considered a record of his exact words.

Pope Francis (CNS)

Pope Francis (CNS)

According to the article, published July 13 in the Rome daily La Repubblica, the pope also spoke about failings of the modern family, the nature of divine forgiveness and possible changes to the discipline of priestly celibacy.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, promptly released a statement confirming that the article “captures the spirit of the conversation” between Pope Francis and journalist Eugenio Scalfari, but cautioning that the “individual expressions that were used and the manner in which they have been reported cannot be attributed to the pope.”

Suggesting that the “naive reader is being manipulated” by certain portions of the article, Father Lombardi expressed particular skepticism about two statements attributed to Pope Francis: a claim that some cardinals have been guilty of sexually abusing children, and a vow to “find solutions” to the “problem” of priestly celibacy.

According to Scalfari, the article was based on his third private conversation with the pope, an hour-long meeting at the pope’s Vatican residence July 10.

Scalfari’s first meeting with the pope, last September, was the basis for an Oct. 1 article that quoted Pope Francis saying he had considered turning down the papacy in the moments after his March 2013 election.

That article was republished in the Vatican newspaper but was later removed from the paper’s website after doubts were raised over its accuracy. Father Lombardi explained it “should be considered faithful on the whole to the mind of the pope, but not necessarily in its particular words and the accuracy of its details.”

Scalfari himself later told reporters that his quotations of the pope were based on memory, not notes or a tape recording.

The men’s dialogue began when Scalfari, an avowed atheist, publicly addressed the pope in a pair of articles on religious and philosophical topics over the summer of 2013, and the pope replied in a letter that La Repubblica published last September.

In their latest meeting, Scalfari writes, Pope Francis said “reliable data” indicate 2 percent of Catholic priests are guilty of sexually abusing children.

“This statistic ought to reassure me, but I must say it doesn’t reassure me at all,” the pope reportedly said, three days after his first meeting with a group of sex abuse survivors. “The 2 percent who are pedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals. And others, even more numerous, know but keep quiet, punish but do not say why. I find this state of affairs unsustainable and it is my intention to address it with the severity it deserves.”

Pope Francis noted that a large proportion of sex abuse cases take place in the home.

“This situation is frequent in families, practiced by parents, grandparents, uncles, friends of the family,” the pope reportedly said. “Often other members of the family know but do not intervene, ensnared by self-interest or by other forms of corruption.”

The pope reportedly said modern families increasingly fail in their duty to educate the young in the right values.

“Education as we understand it seems almost to have deserted the family,” the pope reportedly said. “Everyone is occupied with his own tasks, often to assure the family a bearable way of life, sometimes to pursue one’s own personal success, in other cases because of competing friendships and loves.”

The pope, who declared in late June that members of the mafia have excommunicated themselves, also spoke about the church’s relationship to organized crime.

“Some priests tend to pass over the phenomenon of the mafia,” he reportedly told Scalfari. “Naturally they condemn specific crimes, honor the victims, help their families when they can, but the public and constant denunciation of the mafia is rare.”

Noting a recent Marian procession in Calabria, when hundreds of people paused and bowed in front of the house of a presumed mafia boss, Pope Francis said, “all this is changing and will change. Our denunciation of the mafia will not be just once but constant.”

Touching on the nature of divine mercy, one of his major themes, the pope stressed the importance of penance in the process of forgiveness.

“We do not judge, but the Lord knows and judges. His mercy is infinite but cannot be won by trickery,” the pope reportedly said. “If the contrition is not authentic, mercy cannot exercise its redemptive role.”

 

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Pope calls for persistent prayers for peace in midst of Middle East rocket war

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Prayer is never in vain; work courageously, concretely for peace

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Praying for peace is never a useless exercise; it keeps evil at bay and helps people not give in to violence, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis leads his July 13 Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Pope Francis called for an end to the flare-up of hostility between Palestinians and Israelis, urging leaders to listen to the call of the people who want peace. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Pope Francis leads his July 13 Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Pope Francis called for an end to the flare-up of hostility between Palestinians and Israelis, urging leaders to listen to the call of the people who want peace. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

In response to “tragic events” unfolding in the Middle East in early July, the pope delivered “a heartfelt appeal to continue to pray with persistence for peace in the Holy Land.”

Fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and rocket exchanges with southern Lebanon have escalated since Israel launched airstrikes against Gaza July 8. More than 150 Palestinians have been reported killed by the airstrikes, which, Israel has said, are targeting the homes of militants.

The pope made his appeal July 13 after reciting the Angelus from the window of the papal studio in the apostolic palace with tens of thousands of people gathered below in St. Peter’s Square.

He recalled the gathering for peace at the Vatican June 8 in which he brought Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople together to pray for the gift of peace and to listen to “the call to break the spiral of hatred and violence.”

“Someone might think that that encounter may have been in vain. But no, prayer helps us not let ourselves be defeated by evil or resign ourselves to violence and hatred having the upper hand over dialogue and reconciliation,” he said.

The pope called on all sides, as well as politicians on the local and international level, to never stop praying, to do everything possible to end the hostilities and to bring about “peace for the good of all people.”

He then invited all those gathered in the square to join him in a moment of silent prayer. The pope then asked God to help “teach us peace, guide us toward peace.”

“Open our eyes and our hearts,” he prayed, “and give us the courage to say: ‘War, never again!’ All is destroyed with war.”

The pope asked God to help everyone have “the courage to carry out concrete gestures of building peace. Make us willing to listen to the cries of our fellow citizens, who ask us to transform our weapons into instruments of peace, our fears into confidence and our tensions into forgiveness.”

 

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Vatican names first woman rector of pontifical university in Rome

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VATICAN CITY — The Congregation for Catholic Education has named Angeline Franciscan Sister Mary Melone, 49, to a three-year term as rector of Rome’s Pontifical Antonianum University, making her the first woman to head a pontifical university in Rome.

The Antonianum is run by the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscan fathers and brothers, and offers degrees in canon law, theology, philosophy, biblical studies and archaeology, Franciscan spirituality and medieval studies.

Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans and grand chancellor of the Antonianum, issued a statement in early July congratulating Sister Melone and “sharing with conviction the confidence expressed” in her by the education congregation. He said he was certain “the daring novelty of this appointment will open new horizons for the life and academic activities of the Franciscan institute of study and research.”

In 2011, Sister Melone’s all-male colleagues elected her the first woman dean of a theology department at a pontifical university in Rome. She earned her doctorate in theology at the Antonianium in 2000 and served as president of its religious studies department in both the 2001-02 and 2007-08 academic years.

She also is president of the Italian Society for Theological Research.

In an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, after she was elected dean of theology in 2011, Sister Melone was asked what she thought about “feminist theology” or “women’s theology.”

“I’m against these kinds of labels,” she said, even if “perhaps in the past there was a reason” women theologians had to assert themselves. “Certainly, much more room for women must be guaranteed.”

Still, Sister Melone said, it is true that each person brings their own sensibilities and experience to their theological research.

“The way one approaches mystery, the way a woman reflects on what this mystery reveals, certainly is different from the way a man does.”

Rather than demanding that men in the church allow more women to study theology, she said, women’s religious orders and laywomen must see the importance of such study and dedicate themselves to it “because it is a treasure. Theology done by women is done by women; you cannot say it is not distinguishable. However, it is about complementarity and richness rather than opposition and claiming space.”

 

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Vatican restructures its financial offices

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atholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As the restructuring of Vatican financial institutions moves into high gear, “our ambition is to become something of a model of financial management rather than a cause for occasional scandal,” said Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy.

Jean-Baptise de Franssu, the new president of the Vatican bank, and outgoing president Ernst Von Freyberg pose during a news conference at the Vatican July 9. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Jean-Baptise de Franssu, the new president of the Vatican bank, and outgoing president Ernst Von Freyberg pose during a news conference at the Vatican July 9. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Introducing the new president of the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly called the Vatican bank, and announcing changes in several Vatican structures, the Australian cardinal told reporters July 9, “This should, we hope, result in financial gains generating revenue for the work of the church, especially in the service of the wider society.”

The new president is Jean-Baptiste de Franssu, the French chairman of INCIPIT, a mergers and acquisitions consulting firm. Prior to that, he was the chief executive officer of Invesco Europe, an investment management company.

He replaces the German industrialist Ernst von Freyberg, who served as president for the past 17 months, leading the bank through the process of reviewing all its client accounts, culling those not strictly tied to the church and implementing new procedures designed to prevent financial scandals and money laundering.

At a Vatican news conference, von Freyberg told reporters that it made sense for him to leave as the institute enters a new phase, one which requires a full-time president — which he is not prepared to be — and one with experience in asset management, which he said he does not have.

Cardinal Pell also announced the names of four of the six new members of the bank’s board, including Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and member of the commission Pope Francis had appointed to study the mission and functioning of the bank.

Two board members, including an Italian, will be named at a later date, the cardinal said. They replace a board of supervisors, including Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, whose terms have expired.

Cardinal Pell, de Franssu and von Freyberg all emphasized the need to continue to consolidate financial operations in a process marked by transparency, coordination, professionalism, ethical values and compliance with the law.

The Vatican released an apostolic letter signed by Pope Francis July 8 transferring to Cardinal Pell’s secretariat what had been the “ordinary section” of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which will return to focusing on what it was founded to do: manage the portfolio of Vatican real estate holdings and the financial settlement paid by the Italian government in 1929 with the signing of the Lateran Pacts, in which Italy and the Vatican recognized each other’s sovereignty and boundaries.

The administration, Cardinal Pell said, will “focus exclusively on its role as a treasury for the Holy See and Vatican City State.”

The administration’s “ordinary section,” which will now be under Cardinal Pell’s office, includes the Vatican personnel office, its general purchasing office and the personnel who manage the rentals of Vatican property. The transfer of the section, the cardinal said, will allow his office “to exercise its responsibilities of economic control and vigilance.”

Cardinal Pell also said he and the pope’s Council of Cardinals hope by the end of the year to announce the appointment of a full-time independent auditor general, “not answerable to myself,” but to the Council on the Economy. He said the auditor general can go “anywhere and everywhere” in the Vatican to ensure the entire financial system is operating correctly.

Danny Casey, who had worked with Cardinal Pell in Sydney, has moved to Rome and will serve as the head of the project management office in the secretariat.

Assuring Vatican employees that the pension fund was “completely secure,” the cardinal announced that the Council for the Economy had appointed a technical committee to study the fund and make suggestions for ensuring its continued health far into the future.

As for the Vatican bank, von Freyberg said it is set now to be even more exclusively “a savings and loan for religious congregations,” which make up the majority of its account holders.

De Franssu said the assets the bank is managing will be gradually shifted — over the next two years – “to a newly created central Vatican asset management” structure.

“Obviously,” Cardinal Pell said, “we will have a policy for ethical investments and very obviously, too, all the clerical and lay members who will become part of our boards will have to sign an appropriate document setting out that there is no conflict of interest” and declaring areas where there could be so they would abstain from voting on those matters.

 

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Vatican committee to revamp media outreach

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Seven months after hiring a consulting firm to study the Vatican’s communications structures, the Vatican has set up an 11-member committee, which includes Our Sunday Visitor’s Greg Erlandson, to suggest ways to increase collaboration and cut costs.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, announced the formation of the committee at a news conference July 9.

“The objectives are to adapt the Holy See media to changing media consumption trends, enhance coordination and achieve progressively and sensitively substantial financial savings,” he said.

The cardinal told reporters there currently is little or no relation between the Vatican’s individual media expenditures and the number of people reached around the world. For example, he said, at a time when fewer and fewer people around the world listen to the radio, the Vatican’s largest media employer is Vatican Radio, which produces programs in 45 languages.

At the same time, he said, the success of Pope Francis’ Twitter account and the PopeApp developed for mobile devices by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, offering a combination of Vatican Radio and other Vatican media-produced news, photos and video, show a need to strengthen the Vatican’s digital outreach.

Still, Cardinal Pell said, “the priority is not economic,” but using resources more efficiently to reach the greatest number of people possible. While cutting costs is one goal, “we do not want to diminish our outreach.”

The Vatican has nearly a dozen separate communication outlets and offices, many of which operate independently of one another. They include the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano; Vatican Radio; the Vatican television production studio, CTV; the Vatican Information Service; the Vatican press office; the Fides missionary news agency; the main Vatican website; the news.va news aggregator; the Vatican publishing house LEV; and the Vatican printing press.

Lord Chris Patten, former chairman of the BBC Trust and former chancellor of the University of Oxford, will serve as president of the commission. The 70-year-old British public servant is a Catholic and was coordinator of Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the United Kingdom in 2010.

Irish Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, will serve as secretary of the commission, which has been asked to come up with recommendations in the next 12 months.

The commission members have been asked to review the report submitted to the Vatican by the global management-consulting firm McKinsey & Co. The firm was hired in December to review the Vatican communications structures and recommend ways to streamline and modernize them.

The other members of the commission are:

• Erlandson, who is president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. He serves as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and, from 1986 to 1989, he was a correspondent in the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service.

• Daniela Frank, executive director of the Catholic Media Council in Germany and consultant to the council.

• French Dominican Father Eric Salobir, media promoter for the Dominicans worldwide.

• Leticia Soberon, a Mexican psychologist who is one of the founders and the chief content officer of dontknow.net, a website devoted to exploring ethical, moral and religious questions.

• George Yeo, former finance minister of Singapore and a member of the Vatican’s new Council for the Economy.

• Giacomo Ghisani, director of international relations and legal affairs at Vatican Radio.

• Msgr. Carlo Maria Polvani, head of the information and documentation office in the Vatican Secretariat of State’s section for general affairs and the Vatican’s representative to the government advisory committee of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

• Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, who was born in Argentina and serves as head of the Vatican Internet Service and its telecommunications office.

• Giovanni Maria Vian, editor in chief of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

 

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