IMAGE: CNS photo/Ettore Ferrari, EPABy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In an extraordinary gesture for the
Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has extended to priests worldwide the authority to
absolve women for the sin of abortion and has decreed the full validity during
the year of the sacrament of confession celebrated by priests of the
traditionalist Society of St. Pius X.
"This jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one," the pope wrote
in a letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council
for the Promotion of New Evangelization, the office organizing events for the
holy year, which opens Dec. 8.
Pope Francis said one of the most serious problems facing
people today is a "widespread and insensitive mentality" toward the sacredness
of human life.
"The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a
superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act
entails," while many other women believe that "they have no other option" but to
have an abortion, the pope wrote in the letter, released Sept. 1 by the
The pressures exerted on many women to abort lead to "an
existential and moral ordeal," Pope Francis said. "I have met so many women who
bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision."
When such a woman has repented and seeks absolution in the
sacrament of confession, he said, "the forgiveness of God cannot be denied."
Although church law generally requires a priest to have
special permission, called faculties, from his bishop to grant absolution to a
person who has procured or helped another to procure an abortion, the pope said
he decided "to concede to all priests for the jubilee year the discretion to
absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with
contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."
Pope Francis urged priests to welcome to the sacrament women
who have had an abortion, explain "the gravity of the sin committed" and indicate
to them "a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and
generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence."
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told
reporters the pope's letter "highlights the wideness of God's mercy" and is "not
in any way minimizing the gravity of the sin" of abortion.
In his letter, Pope Francis also granted another exception
to church rules out of concern for "those faithful who for various reasons
choose to attend churches officiated by priests" belonging to the
traditionalist Society of St Pius X. Although the society is no longer
considered to be in schism and the excommunication of its bishops was lifted in
2009, questions remain over whether the sacraments they celebrate are valid and
The pope's decision was "taken with the faithful in mind"
and is limited to the holy year, which runs through Nov. 20, 2016, Father
Lombardi said.The Society of St. Pius X responded with a statement later in the day thanking Pope Francis for "this fatherly gesture," but also saying that its members have been certain that the absolution they grant always has been licit and valid.
Father Lombardi confirmed that the Vatican's contacts
with leaders of the Society of St. Pius X have continued. Pope Francis wrote in
his letter that he hoped "in the near future solutions may be found to recover
full communion with the priests and superiors of the fraternity."
Pope Francis' letter also explained expanded opportunities
for obtaining the indulgences that are a normal part of the celebration of a
holy year. An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment a person
is due because of his or her sins. In a holy year, it is offered to pilgrims
who cross the threshold of the Holy Door at the Vatican or in their local
diocese, confess their sins, receive the Eucharist and pray for the pope's
The celebration of God's mercy, he said, is "linked, first
and foremost, to the sacrament of reconciliation and to the celebration of the holy
Eucharist with a reflection on mercy. It will be necessary to accompany these
celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the
intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the church and of the entire
Those who are confined to their homes can obtain the
indulgence by offering up their sickness and suffering, he said.
Pope Francis also included special consideration for people
who are incarcerated, touching on the Old Testament tradition of a jubilee year
as a time for granting prisoners amnesty.
Those who, "despite deserving punishment, have become
conscious of the injustice they committed," may receive the indulgence with
prayers and the reception of the sacraments in their prison chapel, he wrote.
"May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to
the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them
their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to
transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of
freedom," he wrote.
- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Carol GlatzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The smile and love of a family can
light up the world, bringing warmth and hope to communities that have become
cold, lifeless and depressed, Pope Francis said.
"No economic and political engineering is able to
substitute this contribution from families," he said Sept. 2 during his general
audience talk in St. Peter's Square.
Unlike the ancient city of Babel's "skyscrapers without
life," he said, "the Spirit of God, on the other hand, makes deserts bloom."
The pope's catechesis on the family looked at the
importance of Christian families living out their faith and sharing it with
others. By experiencing God's love, families "are transformed, are 'made full'"
to overflowing with a sense of going outside themselves to embrace all people,
especially those in need, as brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, he said.
Understanding what is real love and affection, which can
never be bought or sold, "is the best inheritance" one can receive from one's
family, he said. The "grammar" of love is learned in the family, "otherwise it
is quite difficult to learn."
But people are asked to live their family life within
God's plan, he said, and in "obedience to the faith and in covenant with the
Lord," which protects families, "freeing them from selfishness, safeguards them
from breaking down, brings them to safety for a life that never dies."
Families living in covenant with God "are called today to
counter the desertification of communities in the modern city," Pope Francis
Today's cities have become barren places because of "a
lack of love, a lack of smiles." One can find plenty of entertainment, lots of
things to do "to kill time, to have some laughs, but love is missing," the pope
The father or mother who can smile despite being busy
with work and family -- theirs is the family that is "able to conquer this
desertification of our cities;this is the victory of love of the family," he
said to applause.
"We must get out of the towers (of Babel) and vaults of
the elite in order to once again spend time in homes and places open to the
multitudes, open to the love of the family," Pope Francis said.
This "communion of charisms" of men and women living the
sacrament of marriage or consecrated life "is destined to transform the church
into a place fully familial for an encounter with God," he said.
Families living out the Gospel and God's love are "a
blessing for the people: bringing hope back to the world," he said. Their
example and actions are able to do things thought to be "inconceivable."
"Just one smile miraculously eked out of the desperation
of an abandoned child, who starts a new life," Pope Francis said, "explains the
workings of God in the world to us better than a thousand theological
All those men and women who sacrifice and take risks for
children who aren't their own "explain things about love to us that many
scientists no longer understand," giving further proof that actions and
gestures from the heart "speak louder than words," he said.
The pope asked people to imagine what the world would be
like if history, society, the economy and politics were to be finally guided by
men and women working together, leading with future generations in mind.
Ecological issues, home life, the economy and employment all "would be playing
a different tune," he said.
"Let us not lose hope," he said. "Where there is a family
with love, that family is able to warm the heart of an entire city with its
witness of love." He also asked that the Holy Spirit help families by bringing
them "a happy jolt" and help bring cities "out of their depression."
At the end of the general audience, Pope Francis recalled
the end of World War II in Japan exactly 60 years ago to the day and launched
an appeal for the end of all wars, asking that the world today no longer
experience "the horror and frightful suffering of similar tragedies."
Echoing Blessed Paul VI, the pope said "War never more,"
and highlighted the ongoing plight of "persecuted minorities, persecuted
Christians, the insanity of destruction."
He also criticized "those who make and traffic weapons,
blood-stained weapons, weapons soaked in the blood of so many innocent people."- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Leading prayers for the safeguarding
of creation, Pope Francis prayed that people would learn to contemplate God in
the beauty of the universe, give thanks and protect all life.
During an evening celebration of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, the pope prayed that God would "enlighten the lords of power and money so they would not fall into indifference, but would love the common good, encourage the weak and care for the world in which we live."Pope Francis announced in August that the Catholic Church
would join the Orthodox Church in marking the prayer day Sept. 1 each year.
In his opening prayer, he asked God to fill people with a
desire "to protect every life, to prepare a better future so that your kingdom
of justice, people, love and beauty would come."
Although the pope led the service in St. Peter's Basilica,
he asked the preacher of the papal household, Capuchin Father Raniero
Cantalamessa, to give the homily.
In his homily, the Capuchin, a member of the Franciscan
family, referred to both Pope Francis and his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
Some environmentalists, he said, have blamed the Bible and
Judeo-Christian tradition for the destruction of nature, claiming the idea that
human beings have "dominion" over nature gave them permission to use and
destroy the earth.
But, he said, "the map of pollution" covering the globe
coincides less with the places where people believe in God and more in places
that underwent "unbridled industrialization aimed only at profit" or are
subject to rampant corruption.
"No one can seriously serve the cause of safeguarding
creation without the courage of pointing a finger at the exaggerated
accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few," the Capuchin friar said.
St. Francis of Assisi, he said, was able to recognize and
contemplate God's beauty in all created things precisely because he owned
nothing and recognized that anything he was able to use, especially for food or
clothing, was a gift of God.
"Possession excludes, contemplation includes. Possession
divides, contemplation multiplies," he said. If one person owns a lake or park,
"all the others are excluded," but if no one owns it, thousands can enjoy it
without taking it away from anyone.
Father Cantalamessa said that while the world St. Francis
lived in was not facing the environmental emergency people today are facing, he
still knew that if he took more than he needed, he was stealing from others.
"We must ask: Am I a resources thief, using more than my due
and therefore taking it from those who will come after me?" the preacher said.
Pointing to Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato
Si'," the Capuchin said safeguarding creation is an "artisanal" activity, one
that must begin with individuals and their daily actions.
"What sense is there, for example, in being worried about
the pollution of the atmosphere, the oceans and the forests, if I don't
hesitate before throwing a plastic bag on the shore?" he asked.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
IMAGE: CNS/ReutersBy Tom TracyWEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) -- Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner -- two high-profile Catholic politicians -- the visual of Pope Francis' Sept. 24 address to Congress will signal an evolving narrative.
The improbability of a pope standing before a joint meeting of Congress comes in an era of wider acceptance of the Catholic faith as it intersects with public life and U.S. politics, and indicates a comfort level between the two that wouldn't have been imaginable several decades ago, observers said.
Times have changed whereby politicians do not have to wall off their faith from the office they hold, unlike how President John F. Kennedy had to defend his Catholic faith more than half a century ago, said Jesuit Father Christopher Collins, assistant professor of theological studies and head of mission and identity at Jesuit-run St. Louis University.
"More and more there seems to be a willingness for people being out front with their religious commitments while in public office, for both Democrats and Republicans," Father Collins told Catholic News Service.
"We are in a new phase of that and that is a good thing," he said. "It is a kind of a moving along the spectrum from privatization to a coherent synthesis of the faith of those who serve in public office."
Pope Francis' speech to Congress -- where about 30 percent of lawmakers are Catholic -- may be the most closely watched of the pope's talks during his visit Sept. 22-27 to Washington, New York and Philadelphia.
The pope also is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House and before heading north to give a separate address at the United Nations in New York and joining an interfaith service set for the Sept. 11 memorial at ground zero.
Father Collins, who sees Pope Francis as a continuation of the public advocacy efforts of his predecessor and St. John Paul II, said the pope's emerging theme on public policy issues is that the Christian faith should impel civic engagement regardless of the difficulties and risks.
"That has been a consistent theme with (Pope Francis): to get out of your complacency and let the church serve as a field hospital, and that you only become sick as a person or as a church when you turn in on yourself," he said, citing some of the pope's descriptions of the church's work in the world.
"This pope urges us to bring our faith out into the streets even though that gets messy and even though it can be a confusing place," Father Collins added. "That is the nature of the Christian faith."
Melissa Moschella, assistant professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America, told CNS that the pope has the opportunity to make a stronger impact than previous popes who visited the U.S. because of his awareness of the media and wide global popularity.
"He has a simple, down to earth style, a warm, compassionate approach that people find very attractive. His style and way of talking about things really does radiate the joy of the Gospel," said Moschella, who will moderate a panel discussion on the history and practice of marriage at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia during the pope's visit.
Through his appointments of cardinals from smaller nations and underrepresented regions, the pope has shown that the church must be inclusive and consider a wide range of views, Moschella explained.
"You see him streamlining church governance and structures, financial management. Through example, he encourages public leaders to be servant leaders: not in it for their own ego, or personal advantage or agenda, to see themselves as servants of society and focus on the common good," she said.
Increasingly, Catholics in America appear compelled to public service despite the challenge of a spectrum of church teaching which refuses to fit neatly into any U.S. political party platform. But what bearing does church doctrine and Catholic social teaching have on a career in public life?
Pope Francis has expressed the view that politics is a worthy vocation, according to John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.
"We have lots of Catholics who have taken up that vocation, and increasingly Catholics are leaders of both the Democratic Party and Republican Party," Carr said.
Noting that there is no such thing today as "a Catholic vote," Carr said that Catholic voters are influential in elections as perhaps "the ultimate swing vote."
"The bad news we are more Democrats or more Republicans than we are Catholic," he said. "We ought to see a more consistent concern for life, and I hope Pope Francis will ask us to be more clear in our care for the poor, the unborn and the undocumented.
"I think Pope Francis will affirm our leaders and make them profoundly uncomfortable at some moments."
He noted that Pope Francis' Jesuit-inspired leadership style and personal priorities will be highlighted by a meeting with homeless people following his speech to Congress.
"He looks at the world from the bottom up. When he had a day off, he would go to the slums instead of the football game or to the opera, and he will bring that (sensibility) to the papacy and to Washington," Carr said. "This is not the center of his world."
It seems it is Congress that needs advice from the pope, and that says something about the times we are in, Carr said, suggesting that he hopes the legacy of Pope Francis' visit will be to "get people out of ideological boxes and think and act anew."
"I think he will challenge our consciences at a time when we really need it."- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS photo/Danny Polanco, handout via EPABy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Initial results of the autopsy on the
body of former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who was awaiting trial in the
Vatican on charges of child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography, indicate
he died late Aug. 27 of a "cardiac incident," the Vatican said.
The results of further tests from the autopsy were pending
Aug. 29, a Vatican statement said, and Vatican City State judicial authorities appointed
three outside experts, including a professor of forensic medicine, to study
them and issue a report.
Wesolowski, 67, the former Vatican nuncio to the Dominican
Republic, was confined to Vatican property while awaiting trial. His body was
found at about 5 a.m. by a priest who lived in the same building, which houses
the Franciscans who hear confessions in St. Peter's Basilica, as well as
offices of the Vatican police force. Wesolowski was in front of a television,
which was on, said Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman.Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, presided at
Wesolowski's funeral Mass late Aug. 31 in the chapel of the Vatican City
governor's palace. The simple funeral, without flowers and without reference to
his having been a priest, included prayers of consolation for his victims.
Archbishop Krajewski did not give a homily at the Mass, but
instead provided close to 10 minutes of silence for personal prayer and
reflection. Soon after Wesolowki's body was discovered, Father
Benedettini said, officials from the Vatican police, medical service and court
arrived for an "initial verification, which indicated the death was from
"The promoter of justice ordered an autopsy, which will be
carried out today," the spokesman had said Aug. 28. "The results will be
communicated as soon as possible."
In the statement, issued less than four hours after
Wesolowski's body was found, Father Benedettini said Pope Francis had been
The spokesman told reporters that Wesolowski had been in ill
health and was under medical supervision at the time of his death.
Wesolowski was to be the first person to be tried by a
Vatican criminal court on sex abuse charges. The first session of the trial had
been scheduled for July 11, but was postponed when he was taken to the hospital
the day before after suffering "a collapse," Father Benedettini said. He
remained in the hospital until July 17.
The Vatican court had not announced a date for the
continuation of the trial of the former Polish archbishop and nuncio -- Vatican
ambassador -- to the Dominican Republic.
In its official statement about his death, the Vatican
referred to him as "His Excellency Monsignor Jozef Wesolowski," even though he
was dismissed from the clerical state in June 2014 after an investigation by
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
His appeal of the dismissal was denied, Father Benedettini
said, "but was not officially communicated so as not to aggravate the situation"
while he was awaiting the separate criminal trial. He was still listed as an
archbishop in the 2015 edition of the "Annuario Pontificio," the Vatican
prosecutors listed five charges against Wesolowski, which included having
"corrupted, by means of lewd acts, adolescents presumably between the ages of
13 and 16," in the Dominican Republic, where Wesolowski had served as a Vatican
nuncio from 2008 to 2013, when he was accused of abusing adolescent boys.
According to Vatican prosecutors, Wesolowski's crimes
continued once he was brought back to the Vatican. While being investigated,
the court said, he procured and possessed on Vatican City State property "and
elsewhere," a "large amount" of "material from Internet sites" depicting minors
under the age of 18 in sexually explicit acts or poses.
He also was charged with causing "serious injury to
adolescent victims of sexual abuse, consisting of mental distress" and of "conduct
that offends religious principles or Christian morality" by repeatedly logging
on to pornographic sites while in the Dominican Republic, Rome, Vatican City
State and elsewhere.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.