Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pope Francis prays year-end Vespers

Vespers began at 5 PM Rome Time in St Peter’s Basilica, with Pope Francis presiding over the prayers that constitute the Church’s official, public praise of God in the evening of the last day of the year, to be followed by the singing of the great hymn of gratitude in faith, the Te Deum, and the worship of the Blessed Sacrament before the giving of the blessing of the Eucharistic Lord.

In his homily, Pope Francis focused on the sense of history that permeates the life of those whose lives are signed by faith in Jesus Christ. “The biblical and Christian vision of time and history,” he said, “is not cyclical, but linear: it is a path that leads towards a conclusion.” He explained that the passing year does not represent an end in itself, but a step on the way towards a reality that is to be completed – another step toward the goal that lies ahead of us: a place of hope and happiness, because we will meet God, the Reason of our hope and Source of our joy.

Pope Francis went on to say that, as the year 2013 comes to an end, we collect, as in a basket, the days, the weeks, the months that we have lived, to offer everything to the Lord.

Pope Francis concluded, inviting everyone to look toward the new year, in a spirit of gratitude for that, which we have received, repentance for that, in which we have failed, and resolve to work with God’s grace to better our lives, our communities and ourselves.

Pope Francis presides year-end Vespers, Mass for New Year

Pope Francis presides the traditional year-end Vespers and the singing of the Te Deum hymn on Tuesday in thanksgiving for gifts received over the past year. 

The solemn celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica began at 5:00 p.m. Rome time.

The Te Deum is a hymn of praise that dates from early Christian times. 

 In Latin, the hymn’s words: “Te Deum laudamus” can be translated "Thee, O God, we praise".

The ceremony will be Pope Francis’ last official event of the year 2013 and his first celebration as Pontiff of Vespers for the Solemnity of the Mother of God, to whom the New Year is dedicated. 

The event will be webcast live on Vatican Radio.

After the evening Vespers, the Pope will make a brief visit to the life-sized Nativity scene below the obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square. This year’s scene, entitled “Francis 1223- Francis 2013” recalls the very first Nativity scene created 790 years ago by St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis’ namesake. 

The scene in St. Peter’s square this year was crafted by artisans from the southern Italian city of Naples, famous for its traditional Christmas displays.

On Wednesday January 1st in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father will preside a morning liturgy marking the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. 

Following the mass, at noon, Pope Francis will greet the faithful in St. Peter’s Square and together with them pray the Angelus.

Pope Francis sends message of consolation to victims’ families of Buenos Aires fire

Pope Francis has sent a message offering consolation and hope to families of the victims of the 2004 Cromañón nightclub fire that claimed the lives of 194 young people in Buenos Aires.

The Pope’s message, addressed to Bishop Jorge Lozano, President of the Argentinian Bishops’ Commission for Social Pastoral activities, was read out at the Cathedral of Buenos Aires on Monday, during a special liturgy presided by the Archbishop of the Argentinian capital, Msgr Mario Poli, marking the 9th anniversary of that tragic event December 30th.

When the fire ravished the local nightclub in 2004, Pope Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

In his message, Pope Francis said, “In these days in which hope is renewed, I cannot forget the young people of Cromañón, their parents and relatives.”

He asked Bishop Lozano to tell them that he recalls that terrible day and wishes to express his closeness with them. 

“The wounds hurt and they hurt even more when they are not treated with tenderness,” the Pope wrote. He encouraged the families to treat their wounds with “care and tenderness” and look to the “Child Jesus who is tenderness itself,” for comfort.

The Pope acknowledged that it is not possible to “hide” their wounds, but at the same time they should not be “denied.” “Only a tender caress, from our heart, in silence, with respect, can give comfort.”

Wishing them a Holy Christmas, the Holy Father invoked the Lord’s all-encompassing compassion as father “to teach us all not remain alone and to continue on, seeking out the company” of others.

2013: looking back at the "Pope Francis effect"

2013 has been a remarkable year for the Vatican, beginning with the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict, which was followed by the election of Francis, the first Pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit one.

Since then, the new Pope has won fans among Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his simplicity, his sincerity and his message of mercy and inclusiveness. 

The impact of his papal ministry has been dubbed “the Francis effect” with polls showing that the Pope is one of the most popular figures on the planet and the most talked-about name on the Internet. 

Monsignor John Kennedy is an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and together with Susy Hodges he reviews the past year in the Vatican.

Monsignor Kennedy agrees that 2013 was a fascinating year in the Vatican and pays tribute to Pope Francis’ ability to “preach the gospel in a new and a very exciting way.” As a result of this, he points to how figures show that the new Pope has helped persuade a lot of Catholics to return to the Church and the celebration of the Sacraments. “He has made a lot of people return to their faith in a new way… there’s a lot more people present at Mass.”

Monsignor Kennedy goes on to describe Pope Francis as “a great leader who seems to be one of us, who’s inviting us to be like him as we strive to follow the gospel more radically and more freely and in a more generous way.”

When asked what he sees as the highlights of the Pope’s words and deeds during 2013, Monsignor Kennedy singles out the “recurring theme of reconciliation” preached by Francis during his many homilies and audiences. He also mentions the Pope’s stated intention of wanting to reform the Church and the Roman Curia, making it “more open, more accountable.”

But has Pope Francis aroused too many unrealistic expectations among the faithful and can they ever be fulfilled? Monsignor Kennedy expresses “optimism” on that score, especially because as he says, “the Pope is a realistic man.” “Pope Francis is setting a new tone now, a fresh standard for people and that’s the standard by which future Popes are going to be measured.” “He is changing lives in an internal and external way.”

Finally, just as Pope Francis “gave us one surprise after another” in 2013, Kennedy predicts there will be plenty more surprises in the coming year: “There will be more courageous gestures, more of his “free-styling”, more of his reaching out.”

A New Year Prayer

A New Year Prayer

Holy Father,

God of our yesterdays, our today, and our tomorrows.
We praise You for Your unequaled greatness.
Thank You for the year behind us and for the year ahead.
Help us in Your new year, Father, to fret less and laugh more.
To teach our children to laugh by laughing with them.
To teach others to love by loving them.
Knowing, when Love came to the stable in Bethlehem, He came for us.
So that Love could be with us, and we could know You.
That we could share Love with others.
Help us, Father, to hear Your love song in every sunrise,
in the chriping of sparrows in our backyards,
in the stories of our old folks, and the fantasies of our children.
Help us to stop and listen to Your love songs,
so that we may know You better and better.
We rejoice in the world You loved into being.
Thank You for another new year and for new chances every day.
We pray for peace, for light, and for hope, that we might spread them to others.
Forgive us for falling short this past year.
We leave the irreparable past in your hands, and step out into the unknown new year knowing You will go with us.
We accept Your gift of a new year and we rejoice in what's ahead, depending on You to help us do exactly what You want..
I say it again, we rejoice!
In Jesus name,

A Christmastime Prayer

Joy to the world our Saviour comes
Not in power, not in might but in in the tenderness of love
He comes as the promise of life hidden in a mother’s womb
This is the time we believe once more that perfect love casts out fear
That generosity transforms scarcity into abundance
That righteousness overcomes oppression with justice
This is the time we are assured
That God’s light has come into the world
And the darkness will never overcome it.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Pope appoints new Secretary General of Italian Bishops' Conference

Pope Francis has appointed Nunzio Galantino, Bishop of Cassano allo Jonio in Italy’s Southern Calabria region, as interim Secretary General of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI).

The Head of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, said that Bishop Galantino will serve as interim Secretary General to replace Mariano Crociata who was named Bishop of Latina after two mandates at CEI.

Lombardi explained that the interim appointment was "rendered urgent for the regular work schedule of the general secretariat and for a number of procedures that require his presence."

He added that the duration of the mandate has not yet been decided. Lombardi also explained that Galantino will have to reside in Rome for part of the week but he remains Bishop of Cassano allo Jonio.

In a letter addressed to the priests and people of that diocese, Pope Francis expresses his awareness that he has partially deprived them of the presence of their beloved bishop, and he asks for help and comprehension as Galantino – he says - is called to serve “in an important mission for the Church in Italy”.

Nunzio Galantino was born in the Southern town of Cerignola near Foggia in 1948 and was appointed bishop in December 2011.

A Christmastime Prayer

Joy to the world our Saviour comes
Not in power, not in might but in in the tenderness of love
He comes as the promise of life hidden in a mother’s womb
This is the time we believe once more that perfect love casts out fear
That generosity transforms scarcity into abundance
That righteousness overcomes oppression with justice
This is the time we are assured
That God’s light has come into the world
And the darkness will never overcome it.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pope Francis: refugees and the elderly are the outcasts of society

Pope Francis on Sunday turned his attention to the dramatic predicament of migrants and refugees who not always find a welcome, but often become victims of human trafficking and slave labour.

Speaking to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus, the Pope said that on this first Sunday after Christmas, the liturgy invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

He said that the Gospel narrates the Holy Family’s painful exile as it searched for refuge in Egypt and said that Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived the dramatic condition of refugees, “marked by fear, uncertainty and difficulties”.

Unfortunately today – Pope Francis said – millions of families face this same sad reality. Almost every day the television and the newspapers offer news reports about refugees that “flee hunger, war and other grave dangers, and go in search of security and a dignified life for themselves and their families”.

And Pope Francis continued pointing out that in far away lands, even when they find work, “not always do refugees and immigrants find a true welcome, respect, and appreciation for the value that they bring. Their legitimate aspirations clash with complex situations and difficulties that sometimes appear unsurmountable”.

So – the Pope said – as we fix our gaze on the Holy Family of Nazareth in that time when it was forced into exile, “let us think of the drama of those migrants and refugees who are victims of rejection and exploitation, who are victims of human trafficking and slave labour”.

Pope Francis went on to say: “let us also think of those other exiles – I would call them ‘the hidden exiles’ who may be marginalized within their own families – the elderly for example who sometimes are treated like burdens”.

The Pope concluded his address pointing out that Jesus wanted to be part of such a family and be faced with these difficulties so that no one may feel excluded from God’s loving closeness.

The Holy Familiy’s escape to Egypt – he said – shows us that God is there where man is in danger, where man suffers, where he flees, where he is faced with rejection and abandon. But – he continued – God is also there where man has a dream and hopes to return to his homeland and to freedom, where he has a plan for his dignity and for the dignity of his family.

Finally, praying for families across the world, Pope Francis reminded those present that there are three key words to live in peace and joy within the family: “may I?” , “thank you”, and “sorry” – words that help lay the foundations of love, reconciliation, tenderness and mutual help and forgiveness.

After the recitation of the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis turned his attention to the upcoming Concistory and to the next Synod of Bishops which will focus on the theme of the family: He asked the faithful to pray with him for the work of the Bishops and for families throughout the world.

A Christmastime Prayer

Joy to the world our Saviour comes
Not in power, not in might but in in the tenderness of love
He comes as the promise of life hidden in a mother’s womb
This is the time we believe once more that perfect love casts out fear
That generosity transforms scarcity into abundance
That righteousness overcomes oppression with justice
This is the time we are assured
That God’s light has come into the world
And the darkness will never overcome it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pope sends message to Taizé encounter

Pope Francis issued a message through his Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, to the 25,000 young adults participating at the 36th annual European encounter of the Taizé community. 

The meeting begins on Saturday and this year is being held in Strasbourg, France.

In the message, Archbishop Parolin spoke of the closeness the Pope feels to the young adults gathered for the meeting. He spoke of the region as “a land lacerated by wars, which had innumerable victims, but a land that also brings great hope, that of the building of the European family”.

“Europe, which has lived and continues to live difficult moments, needs your commitment, your faith, your courage,” he wrote.

Addressing the theme of the gathering—“Seek the visible communion of all those who love Christ”—he recognized that the young adults “are aware that the division among Christians constitutes an huge obstacle for the realization of the mission that was entrusted to the Church” and that the credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions.

“The Pope shares with you the conviction that we can learn many things from each other, for the realities that unite us are numerous,” he continued. “The Pope is counting on you so that through your faith and witness, the Gospel spirit of peace and reconciliation shines among your peers.”

He then conveyed that the Pope gives the young people, the Taizé brothers, the pastors and all of the hosts of the meeting his benediction.

A Christmastime Prayer

Joy to the world our Saviour comes
Not in power, not in might but in in the tenderness of love
He comes as the promise of life hidden in a mother’s womb
This is the time we believe once more that perfect love casts out fear
That generosity transforms scarcity into abundance
That righteousness overcomes oppression with justice
This is the time we are assured
That God’s light has come into the world
And the darkness will never overcome it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pope's crackdown on order alarms traditionalists

http://media.thenewstribune.com/smedia/2013/12/14/09/48/335-8PHFl.AuSt.55.jpegPope Francis may have been named Time magazine's Person of the Year, but he has come under scathing criticism from a growing number of traditionalist Catholics for cracking down on a religious order that celebrates the old Latin Mass. 

The case has become a flashpoint in the ideological tug-of-war going on in the Catholic Church over Francis' revolutionary agenda, which has thrilled progressives and alarmed some conservatives.

The matter concerns the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, a small but growing order of several hundred priests, seminarians and nuns that was founded in Italy in 1990 as an offshoot of the larger Franciscan order of the pope's namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.

Then-Pope Benedict XVI launched an investigation into the congregation after five of its priests complained that the order was taking on an overly traditionalist bent, with the old Latin Mass being celebrated more and more at the expense of the liturgy in the vernacular.

Benedict, a great admirer of the pre-Vatican II Mass, had relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass in 2007.

While the order was in turmoil over this liturgical issue, the dispute at its core comes down to differing interpretations of the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which include the use of local languages in Mass that some considered a break with the church's tradition.

The Vatican in July named the Rev. Fidenzio Volpi, a Franciscan Capuchin friar, as a special commissioner to run the order with a mandate to quell the dissent that had erupted over the liturgy, improve unity within its ranks and get a handle on its finances. 

In the same decree appointing Volpi, Francis forbade the friars from celebrating the old Latin Mass unless they got special permission, a clear rollback from Benedict's 2007 decision.

In the weeks that followed, traditionalists voiced outrage: four tradition-minded Italian intellectuals wrote to the Vatican accusing it of violating Benedict's 2007 edict by restricting the Latin Mass for the friars, saying the Holy See was imposing "unjust discrimination" against those who celebrate the ancient rite.

Volpi though was undeterred: He sent their founder, the Rev. Stefano Maria Manelli, to live in a religious home while he set about turning the order around.

And on Dec. 8, he took action, issuing a series of sanctions in the name of the pope that have stunned observers for their seeming severity: He closed the friars' seminary and sent its students to other religious universities in Rome. 

He suspended the activities of the friars' lay movement. He suspended ordinations of new priests for a year and required future priests to formally accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and its new liturgy or be kicked out. 

And he decreed that current priests must commit themselves in writing to following the existing mission of the order.

In a letter detailing the new measures, Volpi accused friars loyal to Manelli of seeking to undermine him and accused some of embezzlement. He denounced a cult of personality that had grown around Manelli, saying it "reveals a great spiritual poverty and psychological dependence that is incompatible with" the life in a religious community.

The sanctions seem harsh when compared to recent actions taken by the Vatican against other much larger religious orders or groups found to have doctrinal or other problems, such as the Holy See's crackdown on social justice-minded American nuns or the Vatican's reform efforts of the disgraced Legion of Christ. 

In both cases, a papal envoy was named to rewrite constitutions or statutes and oversee reforms, but Volpi's actions with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate would appear to go much further.

Traditionalists have charged that a double standard is at play, with a conservative, tradition-minded order being targeted for particular sanction on ideological grounds by a pope with a progressive bent.

"I hope that I am not being intemperate in describing this as rather harsh," the Rev. Timothy Finigan, a British priest whose "The Hermeneutic of Continuity" blog is much-read in traditionalist circles, wrote last week of the sanctions.

Francis has called Benedict's 2007 decree allowing wider use of the Latin Mass "prudent," but has warned that it risks being exploited on ideological grounds by factions in the church; Francis has made clear his disdain for traditionalist Catholics, saying they are self-absorbed retrogrades who aren't helping the church's mission to evangelize.

For some, the issue is purely ideological. Christopher Ferrara, a columnist for The Remant, a traditionalist biweekly newspaper in the United States, said Volpi's aim was to make the order conform to the more progressive ideology of other religious orders like Volpi's own Capuchins, which he noted are dwindling in numbers while more conservative, tradition-minded orders like the Franciscan Friars are growing.

"Traditionalism isn't an ideology, it's holding fast to everything that has been handed down," Ferrara said in a telephone interview.

A group of tradition-minded lay Catholics has launched an online petition seeking Volpi's ouster, but it's not clear how many signatories have signed on; an email seeking figures wasn't returned Saturday.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, defended Volpi as a sage, esteemed and experienced administrator and dismissed calls for his removal.

"He knows religious life well, was for many years head of the Italian conference of religious superiors and I think his nomination was a wise choice," Lombardi said in an email to The Associated Press. 

"While the situation seems difficult and painful, it appears the letter is yet another demonstration that the naming of a commissioner was necessary and that he knows what to do with the powers he has.

"I don't have any reason to doubt it," Lombardi concluded.

The Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical Holy Cross University, said he was certain that the pope wasn't opposed to the old Latin Mass and was not aiming to combat it by restricting its celebration with the Friars. 

He said Francis appeared to be taking the measures to quell the internal conflicts that arose over its celebration, and then took other measures after financial irregularities occurred.

"Liturgy is always a surprisingly sensitive topic," he said. "It can be extremely controversial and can upset communities even when the substance of the disagreement is minuscule. So, I think Francis is pushing for community peace and unity which may entail a temporary reduction in some use" of the old Latin Mass.

"I'm certain that Francis wants unity in Christ and to put a stop to the back-biting between ideological groups in the church, also by those who ideologize the liturgy," he said.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/12/14/2947874/popes-crackdown-on-order-alarms.html#storylink=cpy

Vatican continues to block audit of holocaust looted assets – Dr Jonathan Levy

vaticanThe Vatican Authority for Financial Information tasked with monitoring the scandal plagued Vatican Bank continues to dodge requests to audit Vatican Bank accounts alleged to contain Holocaust era assets looted from the Balkans, says Dr Jonathan Levy from Brimstone & Co. in Washington.

Apparently, about 30 current and former Vatican Bank accounts have been identified as suspect including accounts controlled by the Franciscan Order and various Croatian Dioceses.

On December 4, 2013, the Vatican Financial Authority reached a bilateral agreement with the German Federal Criminal Police Office pledging cooperation on anti money laundering following a previous agreement with the Dutch Financial Intelligence Unit.  

Ironically, Germany and Holland have taken significant measures to deal with assets looted during the Second World War which continue to surface as in the recent case of over a billion dollars of Nazi looted artworks recovered in Munich last year.

Dr. Jonathan Levy, the attorney for several thousand claimants, Holocaust victims, their heirs, and organizations, has criticized the Vatican Financial Authority and its Director Rene Bruelhart: “Mr. Bruelhart and his immediate superior Cardinal Nicora are the ultimate insiders. They claim to be auditing accounts at the Vatican Bank but do not have the decency to respond to our repeated requests. From my point of view, they are continuing the ongoing Vatican cover up.”

Dr. Levy also noted that his firm’s investigations and ensuing litigation which commenced in 1998 has uncovered a Vatican Bank connection to looted assets from other countries including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Levy explained, “After World War Two, there was a pressing need to move assets from Soviet occupied lands as the Iron Curtain descended on eastern Europe; changing these assets into Church property and depositing it at the Vatican Bank was an effective method however these assets often were commingled with property looted by the Nazis and Axis regimes in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia.”

The funds at stake were derived from the Ustasha Treasury, consisting of gold and valuables looted from Yugoslavia during the Second World War and deposited at the Vatican Bank in 1946 and never accounted for, according to the statement from Brimstone & Co. 

Levy has lodged a complaint with both the Dutch Financial Intelligence Unit and German Bundeskriminalamt following an unsuccessful three year effort to move the European Commission to investigate the Vatican Bank.

Vatican bank closing laymen's accounts, to focus on service for religious works

The Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), is systematically closing the accounts of lay people who are not directly connected with the Holy See, the Vatican Insider reports. 

As part of a thorough reform, the IOR is tightening controls on account-holders. 

The IOR will only hold accounts for Catholic institutions and religious orders, clerics, employees and former employees of the Vatican, and diplomats accredited to the Holy See. 

The bank is now closing the accounts of all clients who do not fall into one of those categories.

The IOR has been working steadily to counter complaints that the bank had been vulnerable to money-laundering. 

But in closing accounts, IOR officials said that they did not mean to suggest that the account-holders were under suspicion. 

Rather, the bank is pursuing a series of reforms intended to ensure that the institution is focused on the original purpose for which it was founded, to provide support for religious works, rather than to function as an ordinary bank.

A Christmastime Prayer

Joy to the world our Saviour comes
Not in power, not in might but in in the tenderness of love
He comes as the promise of life hidden in a mother’s womb
This is the time we believe once more that perfect love casts out fear
That generosity transforms scarcity into abundance
That righteousness overcomes oppression with justice
This is the time we are assured
That God’s light has come into the world
And the darkness will never overcome it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Another Swiss guard: Finance officer works to protect the Vatican

News headlines in 2013 about turmoil at the Vatican bank and an arrested monsignor who served as a Vatican accountant seem to be modern-day illustrations of a famous line from the First Letter of Timothy in the New Testament: "For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."

But from his office near the Vatican gas station, a young Swiss lawyer is working to prevent the greedy or corrupt from misusing the Vatican's financial structures, which serve its own operations and those of dioceses, schools, hospitals and charitable activities around the world.

Rene Brulhart, 41, is director of the Vatican's Financial Intelligence Authority, charged with establishing procedures and checks to ensure Vatican institutions cannot be used for money laundering or the financing of terrorism. He also investigates suspicious transactions and works internationally with other government financial-intelligence units to fight financial crime.

Pope Francis has appointed special commissions to look into specific aspects of the Vatican's finances and budget process, as well as the Vatican bank, formally called the Institute for the Works of Religion. Those commissions are still meeting and Pope Francis has said the results of their work are not foregone conclusions.

But Vatican City State is an independent country, and the Holy See serves a global community of more than 1 billion Catholics. With or without the so-called Vatican bank, money will change hands, and Brulhart's job is to help ensure those hands are clean.

The Vatican is unique in its financial sector, in that the 109-acre state has no commercial banking operations, so "it makes sense to come up with a tailor-made system," Brulhart said.

"It's a different environment in a positive sense," he said. "It's an environment built on trust and respectful interactions, which makes it different from an ordinary commercial activity."

Brulhart was working for a law firm when the government of Liechtenstein hired him in 2001 to help establish an anti-money laundering system, after the country briefly appeared on the international Financial Action Task Force's black list.

The Vatican, he points out, is not now and has never been on the FATF's black list.

Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican hired Brulhart as a consultant on combating money laundering and terrorism financing, before the pope appointed him director of the Financial Intelligence Authority.

Novelists and filmmakers paint a shady image of Vatican financial dealings, but "the facts are telling another story," Brulhart said.

In 2010, the Vatican began drawing up new finance laws, regulations and criminal penalties in compliance with international standards against money laundering and the financing of criminal and terrorist networks. The Vatican later requested an evaluation of its efforts by "Moneyval" -- the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.

The latest Moneyval review, published Dec. 12, praised the new laws and procedures, as well as new norms strengthening Brulhart's office. It also praised the Vatican bank's review of its accounts and clients, which Brulhart said was conducted in coordination with his office.

Moneyval urged the Financial Intelligence Authority to expedite onsite inspections of the so-called Vatican bank and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See. Brulhart said the inspection of the Institute for the Works of Religion is scheduled for January.

Day-to-day, he said, his office reviews reports of suspicious transactions, while working to improve international cooperation and tighten supervision of Vatican financial transactions.

"The legal and institutional frameworks have been established," he said; now it is time to make sure the procedures come to be seen as absolutely normal operating procedures. "It's a building process now."

In its December report to Moneyval, the Vatican said 105 "suspicious transaction reports" had been filed with Brulhart's office in 2013. "A suspicious action report indicates suspicious behavior and not, per se, criminal activity," he said, arguing that the growing number of reports shows Vatican institutions are paying greater attention to financial transactions and noticing when something appears out of the ordinary.

"The preventive approach is very important," Brulhart said. "Ultimately, what we're aiming for is to have an early warning system."

Pope Francis pulls much bigger crowds than Benedict

Crowd pleaser - Pope Francis holds his weekly Audience in St. Peter's Square.More than two million people have flocked to Pope Francis' general audiences in St Peter's Square since his election in March, four times the number that Pope Benedict drew in all of 2012.

The Vatican said it had issued 1,548,500 tickets for the 30 Wednesday general audiences Francis has held since his election on March 13 as the first non-European pope in 1300 years.

But it said the actual number was "much larger" because no tickets are needed for the rear section of the square and surrounding streets, which accommodate overflow. That area, which fits at least 20,000, is regularly filled during Francis' audiences.

The Vatican did not issue comparative figures but figures released on January 4 showed that 447,000 tickets were issued for the 43 general audiences held by former Pope Benedict in all of 2012.

The pope, who was recently named Time Magazine Person of the Year, has drawn people to the Vatican because of his outgoing, simple and friendly style. Benedict was more reserved and far less spontaneous.

Francis has forsaken many of the trappings used by his predecessors.

He has given up the spacious papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace for a small apartment in a guest house and is driven in a regular car instead of the papal limousine.

Francis has also proven to be hugely popular because of his statements urging the Church to be closer to the poor and to be more merciful and less condemning.

The crowds at Francis' general audiences have often topped 100,000, forcing police to close off the main boulevard leading to the Vatican to accommodate more people.

The Vatican newspaper said Francis telephoned Benedict to exchange Christmas greetings. 

Benedict is living in a former convent on the Vatican grounds and has the title Pope Emeritus.

Tickets to audiences and all other papal events are issued for free by the Vatican's Prefecture of the Pontifical Household and usually distributed through parishes and Church institutions.

Pope invited for Uganda Martyrs 50th anniversary

Pope Francis has been invited as chief celebrant to the 50th anniversary of the canonization of Uganda Martyrs by Marcel Robert Tibaleka, Uganda Ambassador to Germany.

This was at an event where Tibaleka presented his letters of credence to His Holiness the Pope.

Tibaleka has been accredited by His Holiness the Pope as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uganda to the Holy See.

The title implies that Tibaleka is fully authorised to represent the Uganda government at the Vatican.

During the brief engagement with His Holiness, Tibaleka extended special greetings from His Excellency President Museveni.

Twenty-two Catholic martyrs of Uganda were solemnly proclaimed saints by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome on October 18, 1964.

Kampala Archbishop Dr Cyprian Kizito-Lwanga recently lit a candle to mark the start of preparations for the anniversary celebrations next year.

Argentine diocese apologizes for actions of abusive priest

The diocese of San Isidro publicly apologized for the actions of Fr. Jose Mercau, a priest sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2006 for sexually abusing of four children.

"The San Isidro diocesan community, and especially the bishop and priests, publicly apologize to the young victims who were affected by the conduct of a priest within our diocese, Father Jose Mercau, when he was a priest at St. John the Baptist Church," said the document signed by Bishop Oscar Ojea and read at diocesan Masses Dec. 14-15.

The priest ran a group home for homeless and runaway youths and, in his 2005 trial, admitted he abused the boys.

The document said the "trauma that sexual abuse caused in the future of these children and young men cannot be measured. ... The conduct of the abuser also hurts Christ and undermines the community's confidence."

Local media have reported that the diocese is willing to pay reparation to the four youths and to do so may have to sell some church property.

The document said that, with this gesture, the diocese hoped to promote a "culture of taking care of our children and youth," as requested by Pope Francis on numerous occasions.

Pope Francis has publicly spoken against abuses being committed by priests and has indicated his willingness to fight clergy sexual abuse.

Pope urges Curial officials to hear confessions at local parish

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/images/size340/Confessional_Credit_Paul_Lowry_CC_BY_20_CNA_World_Catholic_News_7_18_11.jpgPope Francis has strongly encouraged the bishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia to spend time hearing confessions weekly at a local parish, according to a priest of the church in question, Santo Spirito in Sassia.

The announcement was made at the end of evening Mass on Dec. 15 by Fr. Jozef Bart, a parish priest at Santo Spirito in Sassia, and was reported by “Inside the Vatican.”

Fr. Bart announced that the initiative “had been planned to begin in January, but this week, word came down that the Pope wished to begin immediately.”

According to Fr. Bart, Pope Francis is doing this because “he wishes to emphasize the importance of Confession, and of God’s great goodness in forgiving human sin.”

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, has already been hearing Confessions at the parish for “several weeks,” according to “Inside the Vatican.”

Santo Spirito in Sassia is located on the Via dei Penitenzieri, a walk of about 1,300 feet, or 5-6 minutes, from the front of St. Peter's Square, and is dedicated to the Divine Mercy devotion. It is a cardinal titular church, currently held by Cardinal-Priest Fiorenzo Angelini.

Pope Francis has several times underscored the importance of the Confession for Christian life, especially during the homilies he gives during Mass at the Saint Martha House chapel.

On Oct. 25, Pope Francis preached that “confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber: it’s saying to the Lord, ‘Lord, I am a sinner,’ but saying it through the brother, because this says it concretely. ‘I am sinner because of this, that and the other thing’.”

Pope Francis often affirms that he himself is a sinner, and has made it known that he goes to Confession every two weeks.

According to a Vatican source who spoke to CNA Dec. 13, Pope Francis wanted to make it clear that he confesses.

The source recounted that during his trip to Brazil for the World Youth Day, Pope Francis felt the need to confess, and asked for a confessor. The confessor went to hear Pope Francis’ confession and, after the confession, he told Pope Francis that he did not want to be noticed.

Pope Francis said, “You must be noticed, because it must be clear that the Pope himself goes to confession."

Respond to divorced Catholics with love, theologians urge

Photo by George Hodan (CC0 1.0).The Catholic Church must reach out to Catholics who are divorced and remarried to let them know they are welcome even if they cannot receive the sacraments, several theologians have noted.
Sean Innerst, theology department chair at Denver's St. John Vianney Seminary, said he hopes to see “interesting and creative responses” to help those who are divorced or divorced and remarried and believe themselves to be outside of the Church.
“They might be in a life situation which means they can't receive Communion, but that doesn't mean they can't darken the door of the church,” he told CNA Nov. 5.

“It’s just inconsistent with the gospel for people to feel they’re excluded because they’re in a situation that’s tragic and complicated and they can’t currently sort out.”

“We need to have some pastoral responses to these situations where we don’t simply allow people to drift away because they've made serious mistakes, because the culture has led them in this direction,” Innerst emphasized.

“We need to go out and find these people and help them to know they have a place in the Church.”

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller – head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – reaffirmed in an essay republished in L'Osservatore Romano in October that Catholics in irregular marital unions after divorce cannot receive Holy Communion. He underscored, though, that it is “imperative” to show “pastoral concern” for them.

However, many Catholic bishops in Germany have said they intend to give Holy Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, despite Catholic teaching.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg in October released a document saying that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion if they can show their first marriage cannot be reentered, if they repent of their fault in a divorce and if they enter “a new moral responsibility” with their new spouse.

That document drew a swift response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which said pastoral approaches must agree with Church teaching.

Despite these rejections, Bishop Gebhard Fuerst of Stuttgart in November told a meeting of the Central Committee of German Catholics that the German bishops have drafted guidelines and aim to approve them at their plenary meeting in March 2014.

Last week, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith member Cardinal Walter Kasper told the German weekly Die Zeit that the divorced and remarried will soon be able to receive the sacraments, the Italian news site AGI reports.

Catholic teaching recognizes the indissolubility of Christian marriage, allowing marriages for the divorced only if they can show the first marriage was invalid according to canonical norms. Those in irregular unions are admitted to Holy Communion only if they are living “as brother and sister” with their partners.

Manfred Lütz, a German psychologist and theologian in Rome for the Pontifical Council for the Laity's plenary meeting on “Proclaiming Christ in the Digital Age,” said the Church’s dogmatic teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received an annulment is “clear” but the pastoral response is the question.

He told CNA Dec. 4 that in the Catholic Church in Germany lay people are “not always very informed about the position of the Church” and believe that the Church is “not merciful enough.” This is “a great problem” not only in Germany but “all over the world.”

Innerst agreed that many Catholics do not know or understand Church teaching.

“I know some people who are divorced, and not remarried, and they think they're formally excommunicated from the Church, but that's not the case of course,” he said. “They feel that if you violate a rule, you no longer belong.”

He noted that many people feel that Catholicism is “all about laws” and places the “law before love.”

While Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had to establish guidelines to correct laxity in the Church, Innerst said, Pope Francis is working to stress that “God loves us first.”

“All Francis is saying is that we have to start loving people first, and then bring them to...the law.”

If others see Christians as “a source of God’s love” then Catholics can “begin to talk, about conversion and changing people’s lives in accord with natural and revealed law. Otherwise it’s a losing battle.”

Lütz said Pope Benedict XVI was also aware that the pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics is poor. Catholics have to “see how we live in the parish together with these people” so that they are “not thrown out of the Church.”

He said it is “very important” to help these people and Pope Francis aims to discuss this pastoral care at the October 2014 extraordinary synod of bishops, which is dedicated to the pastoral care of families.

Innerst suggested that the divorced and remarried should refrain from Communion and engage in prayer and penance “not as a punishment, but just as a way of finding meaning in their currently tragic situation.”

This would be a way for them to wait “for the time when they can come into conformity with Church teaching.” These are ways to respond “without pretending that the Pope can change things that he can't.”

Pope Francis “can't erase the marriage bond” but he can change the Church's approach given that the status quo is “not working.”

Innerst suggested that the Pope's request for input from the Church around the world is an effort to find a good pastoral response for divorced and remarried Catholics, rather than a way to “pretend that they're not divorced.”

Lütz said the Catholic Church in Germany or an individual diocese cannot decide these responses alone. Rather, this response has to be decided “worldwide.”

He noted that many young Catholics in Germany place the “highest value” on being “faithful” in marriage.

“So, young people hope that to marry will be forever. But when they are asked if they think that they personally will succeed in this, they say they do not think so. And this is really a little bit pessimistic view of things.”