WATCH LIVE   ·  English  ·  Français   ·   中文    

Vatican Connections: February 20


Pope Francis told Ukrainian bishops to avoid politicizing their role in the face of the ongoing conflict in the country. He made the comment in a text handed out to the bishops during their Ad Limina visit this week.

Ukranian Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk told reporters earlier in the week his goal, and the goal of his brother bishops, was to tell the pope “the truth” about the situation in Ukraine. Pope Francis told the bishops focus on the humanitarian and social realities of the situation and avoid getting involved in politics.

For Archbishop Shevchuk the truth of the situation is that there 2 million Ukrainians have been displaced as a result of the conflict. This week the United Nation said more 5,358 people have been killed and 12,235 wounded since last April. According to Archbishop Shevchuk, most of the dead are civilians.

In advance of his meeting with the pope, the Archbishop told reporters he intended to make clear that the conflict is not a civil war but “the direct aggression of our neighbours.”

Some critics have claimed the Holy See is using terminology in line with Russia’s position on the situation in order to preserve good relations with the Orthodox Church. During a recent general audience Pope Francis called for a dialogue to end the conflict. According to the Italian transcript of his comments released by the Vatican, Pope Francis referred to the conflict as “a war between Christians.” He said “you have the same baptism. you are fighting among christians.”

In the text Pope Francis distributed to the Ukranian bishops on Thursday, he said they have a right as citizens of Ukraine to express their thoughts on the future of the country, but they should promote any concrete political action.

The pope called for unity among Christians in the country in dealing with the human tragedy caused by the conflict. He also said economic problems and income disparity need attention.

Reiterating the statements he made at a recent general audience, Pope Francis asked for the  cease-fire to be respected.

Vatican Connections: February 13


This week was bursting at the seams with things happening inside Vatican walls. Several key meetings were lined up back to back.

The Council of Cardinals, known colloquially as “the C9”, met again this week to continue their work towards a reformed curia. This time they had a more immediate task: presenting the fruit of their work to the full College of Cardinals, gathered in Rome in advance of the Ordinary Public Consistory for the Creation of New Cardinals.

Economy was a big topic on the agenda at the pre-consistory meetings. Four different people gave presentations about Vatican finances:

  • Joseph Zahra, the layman who led the Commission of Reference on the Organization of Economic – Administrative structures of the Holy See, gave an overview of that commission’s findings
  • Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the head of the Council for the Economy, spoke about his council’s work
  • Jean Baptiste de Franssu, the head of the Institue for Works of Religion – commonly known as the “Vatican bank”, talked about the results of the various studies and changes at that institute, it’s current work, and it’s future prospects.
  • Cardinal George Pell, the Secretary for the Economy, similarly spoke about what his secretariat has accomplished thus far. He told Crux, the web-based catholic news site run by the Boston Globe, that his work uncovered 1.5 billion dollars in hidden assets at the Vatican.

The cardinals in attendance were also able to ask questions, share observations, and raise their concerns. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesperson, said several prelates brought up the issue of coordination of the curia. He said they spoke both of a coordination of the curia’s functions as well the need to create a sense of communion in mission. The cardinals also spoke of the need for “simplification” of the curia and the need for people in the curia to be qualified for their job.

The College of Cardinals also hear from Cardinal Sean O’Malley about the work being done by the Commission for the Protection of Minors. At a recent press conference Cardinal O’Malley said the commission is adamant the issue of bishop accountability must be addressed. The commission is also preparing seminars for new bishops when they come to Rome for their orientation, and for members of the curia.


Vatican Connections: February 6

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 5.53.47 PM

On this week’s Vatican Connections, we look at the long-awaited beatification decree for Archbishop Oscar Romero. We talk to Father Frank Desiderio, a Paulist priest who worked with the producer of the 1989 film about the martyr, and we look at the reaction of Salvadoreans who have long referred to their slain archbishop as “el santo.” Plus we take a look at some very clear instruction Pope Francis gave bishops around the world and bring you a look at a very special Google Hangout with very special kids.

Martyrdom in-depth

This week Archbishop Oscar Romero was officially recognized as a martyr by the pope. During a press conference Vatican officials referred to Romero as a “protomartyr,” meaning the first in series of martyrs killed under the same conditions. We won’t have to wait long to see the rest of that series of martyrs. Pope Francis recognized the martyrdom of three priests who were killed by communist guerillas in Peru in 1991.

Fathers Michal Tomaszek and Zbignew Strzalkwoski were conventual Fransiscans originally from Poland. They arrived in Peru in 1989 and 1988, respectively, where they would care for four parishes in Black Mountain range. They lived in the town of Pariacote and become part of the local community.

Conditions in the area were not easy. According to Father Jaros?aw Wysocza?ski, a confrere who worked with them in Peru and happened to be away when they were killed, providing for the local’s spiritual needs also required providing for their basic welfare. The friars developed catechesis programs, basic education programs, and worked with international aid organizations to provide drinking water and health services.

The problem was the people the friars were ministering to were the same demographic of Peruvians that Shining Path guerillas were trying to recruit to their revolution. What’s more, as long as these peasants were being formed in their faith and being active in their parishes, the less inclined they were to pick up arms and fight.

Fr. Alessandro Dordi, a diocesan priest from Bergamo, Italy, worked in the same region as the Franciscan friars and faced the same hardships. Fr. Dordi arrived in Peru in 1980, the year the Shining Path stepped up their efforts to take power.

Like the two Polish priests, Fr. Dordi learned that providing for his flock’s pastoral needs also meant building a chapel, a meeting place, and providing basic literacy training for the locals. His efforts also interfered with the guerrillas’ plans to recruit the poor and oppressed to their armed revolution.

Eyes wide open

All three priests were aware that the Shining Path viewed the church and her members as enemies. All three men knew their ministry could put them in cross hairs of the guerilla’s guns. Yet, even though they all had the option of leaving the country, all three refused to leave their parishioners.

On August 9, 1991 armed Shining Path members arrived at the Fransiscan friary in Pariacoto looking for “the priests.” According to Fr. Wysocza?ski his confreres were taken to the town hall, ordered to get into their Jeep, and driven to an area nearby called “Old Town.” They were executed along with the mayor of the town.

Terror reigns

In a neighbouring valley Fr. Dordi was acutely aware of fate of his brother priests. In a letter to a friend he wrote “Shining Path, which wants to use terror to take power, has put the church in its crosshairs…the situation in Peru in anguishing. Everyday we ask ‘whose turn will it be today?’”

His turn came on August 25, 1991. The priest and two seminarians were leaving a remote village where they had just celebrated Mass. As they travelled towards Santa, hooded guerillas waited around one of the curves in the road. The armed men ambushed the vehicle and ordered the seminarians out of the car.  The two young men were sent on their way, walking back to their village. As they walked out of range they heard gunshots ring out and knew, Fr. Dordi had been executed.

In 2007 a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Peru estimated that out of the 70,000 deaths that occured during the years of violent insurgency, 37,800 of those were committed by Shining Path guerillas.

Vatican Connections: January 30


The Franciscan revolution continues, piece by piece. This week, it was revealed that Pope Francis is changing the process by which metropolitan archbishops are invested with their pallium. The new process highlights the importance of the local church and its connection to the wider church.

In a letter to papal nuncios around the world, the papal master of liturgies, Monsignor Guido Marini, said Pope Francis will still invite newly appointed metropolitan archbishops to concelebrate Mass with him on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29). At the end of the Mass, during a private moment with the pope, the archbishops will be given a wool pallium to take back to their archdiocese.

Each archbishop will set a date for a mass in their home see. The papal nuncio will formally invest the archbishop with his pallium during that mass.
Monsignor Marini told Vatican Radio the move is meant to highlight the archbishops relationship with the local church, and the communion among the local churches. He said the new practice “enriches” the pallium ceremony.

Last year the papal almoner’s office had shower facilities built in the bathrooms at St. Peter’s square for the pope’s homeless neighbours. The papal almoner’s office is now going one step further and having a barber shop installed in the newly-renovated washrooms.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the head of the office that distributes the alms given to the pope, told the Italian news agency ANSA the barbershop facility is essentially completed. Everything from scissors and combs to barber chairs and mirrors were donated by local barbers and hairdressers.  He said homeless people living the Vatican neighbourhood can’t walk into a barbershop to get a haircut and shave because of the fear of spreading scabies or lice.

Haircutting and shaving services will be available on mondays – the day most barbers and salons are closed. Local barbers and hairdressers have already signed up to volunteer their services.

Vatican Connections: January 23, 2015


Pope Francis’ second Asian voyage ended the way all of his trips have ended: with an extensive press conference on board the return flight and flurry of headlines – some accurate, some not. The voyage also delivered unscripted moments typical of the Jesuit pope.

Twice Pope Francis ditched his prepared text to speak off the cuff and deliver unquestionably moving homilies. Speaking to young people in Manila he led the gathered faithful in a prayer for Kristel Padasas, a volunteer who was killed at the site of the papal Mass in Tacloban when strong winds knocked over a tower of scaffolding.

Padasas was also a Catholic Relief Services worker. Pope Francis met with her father and uncle the day after her death and tried to telephone her mother who was en route from Hong Kong. Like many Philippinos, Padasas’ mother worked in Hong Kong to support the family.

Pope Francis told journalists on board the flight from Manila to Rome that Padasas’ father said he struggled at first with his daughter’s death, but found peace in the fact that she was serving others when she died. The pope said he found the grieving father’s words “edifying”.

For american media the biggest headlines were the pope’s confirmation of his intent to visit three U.S. cities during his trip to Philadelphia. He said he intends to visit New York and Washington D.C and hopes to canonize Junipero Serra in D.C.

However, the rest of the pope’s comments regarding his intended voyages got less attention. Pope Francis said he intends to visit three Latin American countries in 2015: Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador. He pointed out that all three visits are still in the “hypothetical” stage and no concrete plans have been made yet. The lack of official confirmation has not stopped Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, from announcing that the pope will visit that country in July. The Bolivian Bishops Conference issued a statement saying there is a long way to go before this potential visit becomes a certainty. The bishops also warned against “instrumentalizing” the news of a potential papal visit for political purposes. In recent months and years Morales and the bishops of the country have not had an easy relationship.

Pope Francis also said he hopes to visit Central African Republic and Uganda towards the end of 2015. In 2016 the pope hopes to visit Paraguay, Argentina and Chile “God willing.”

The pope’s public statement of intent laid to rest Spain’s hope that the pontiff would visit Avila this year for the 500th anniversary of St. Therese’s birth. On Thursday the Bishops Conference of Spain announced it had received official word from the Vatican that the trip would not take place.

Of course, the other comments made during the papal press conference have sparked some debate: his statement that Catholics should be responsible when it comes to having children has offended some and encouraged others. Here are some articles offering analysis of the pope’s remarks regarding marriage and children:

From Italy’s Vatican Insider, a look what Pope Francis did and did not say about large families.

The International Business Times offers a more secular summary of the pope’s statement and what it means.

Religion News Service offers this analysis.

The UK’s Catholic Herald reflects on why some find it difficult not to be offended by the pope’s comments

Catholic Voices co-founder Austen Ivereigh had this analysis on CV blog.

Vatican Connections: January 16, 2015


It is not unheard of for non-Catholics to visit Catholic churches and shrines. It is less common to have non-Catholics visit those sites, pray alongside the faithful and claim to have received graces through the experience. Sri Lanka’s Madhu Shrine is such a site, and it had a profound effect on Pope Francis.

The shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary draws Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus together in prayer. Faithful from all four religions say they receive graces from praying at the shrine and consider it an important place. During the 26 year war between government forces and Tamil rebel groups, both sides recognized the shrine as a demilitarized zone.

Pope Francis told journalists on Thursday that seeing faithful from the four religions praying together in Madhu inspired him to visit a Buddhist temple. The pope said, “Among the people, who are never wrong, there is something that unites them and if they are united in such a natural way as to go and pray together in a temple that is Christian but not only… How could I not go to the Buddhist temple?”

One of the Buddhist monks from the temple is a friend of Cardinal Malcom Ranjith of Colombo and was at the airport to greet Pope Francis. During the arrival formalities the monk invited Pope Francis to visit the temple. The pope was scheduled to meet with the Sri Lankan bishops, but they were still en route from Madhu. Pope Francis said he took advantage of the unexpected free time and arranged to visit the temple.

Christians are a minority in Sri Lanka. Buddhism is the most prevalent religion, with 69 per cent of Sri Lankans identifying as Buddhists. Muslims make up seven percent of the population, Hindus are another seven percent of the population and Christians come in at just over 6 percent of society.


Pope Francis answered several questions from journalists on board the flight from Colombo to Manila. The Vatican has not yet released a full transcript of that press conference.

According to Vatican Insider, the web based news service of Italy’s La Stampa newspaper, Pope Francis was asked about freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Pope Francis said, “One thing is true: each person has the right to practice their own religion freely, without causing offence to others. And that is what we all want.  Secondly, offending or waging war, killing in the name of one’s own religion, in the name of God, is not right.”

Freedom of speech must be exercised, but to the point of offending others, according to the pope. Using one of the Vatican staff members to make a point, the pope said “if Mr. Gasbarri, who is a friend, insults my mother, that’s asking for a punch. Provoking and insulting other people’s faiths is not right.”

The pope was also asked about his next encyclical which is expected to focus on the environment. Pope Francis said, “I don’t know if humans who mistreat nature are fully responsible for climate change but they are largely responsible for it. We have taken hold of nature, of mother Earth, to some extent.” The pope said he read many works by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on the topic to prepare for writing the encyclical. The final text should be completed by the end of March. The pope said he has sent a draft to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Secretariate of State and the Theologian of the Papal Household “so that they can make sure I am not talking nonsense.” Pope Francis said he hopes the encyclical can be released in June or July in multiple languages.

Asked about the importance of canonizing St. Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka, Pope Francis spoke about men and women he has canonized who were important evangelizers in different parts of the world. He said he also hopes to canonize Junipero Serra in the fall during his visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families. The comment launched speculation over where the canonization might happen and what other U.S. cities the pope might visit.

Vatican Connections: December 19, 2014

Eight people were appointed to the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors this week, including an abuse survivor. With the appointments the commission is now fully formed and set to begin working in early February.

The new members come from different parts of the world and have expertise in some aspect related to sexual abuse. One of the new members, Peters Saunders, is an abuse survivor and the founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC). He was also one of six abuse survivors who met with Pope Francis in July.

Here are more details on the new committee members:

Father Luis Manuel ALI HERRERA is the Director of the Department of Psychology and a professor of pastoral psychology in the Conciliar Seminary of the Archdiocese of Bogotá, Colombia. He also serves as a parish priest.

Dr. Gabriel DY-LIACCO is an adult and adolescent psychotherapist in the Philippines. He is also a pastoral counselor for individuals, couples, families and groups with various mental health concerns. Dr. Dy Liacco has worked with both victims and perpetrators of abuse.

Bill KILGALLON is Director of the National Office for Professional Standards of the Catholic Church in New Zealand. He moved to New Zealand four years ago after a long career in social work and health services in the United Kingdom.

Sr. Kayula Gertrude LESA, RSC works at the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Zambia. She is the author of books on child protection, human trafficking, refugee rights and the right to information. She served as a member of the African Forum for Church Social Teaching (AFCAST).

Sr. Hermenegild MAKORO, CPS is the secretary general of the South African Bishops conference. She is a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood in the Diocese of Mathatha.

Kathleen McCORMACK has served as Director of Welfare of CatholicCare in the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia for 29 years. CatholicCare helps diocese provide social services to people in need. McCormack held leadership roles in Family Services, Child Protection, Out Of Home Care and Ageing and Disability Services.

Peter SAUNDERS was abused throughout his childhood in Wimbledon, South West London.   Saunders eventually discovered that he was one of millions who had suffered such abuse and who could not find any appropriate support. He set up the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, to help support survivors and to help develop greater resources for responding to child abuse.

Dr. Krysten WINTER-GREEN is a New Zealander living in the United States. She has with post-graduate degrees in Theology, Human Development, Social Work, Religion and Pastoral Psychology. Winter-Green served as Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s chancellor when he was bishop of St. Thomas in the American Virgin Islands, and she also worked for him in Fall River and Boston. According to the biographical information provided by the Vatican she has done extensive work in the area of forensics, assessment and treatment of priest and clergy offenders.”

The commission will meet at the Vatican in early February.

Vatican Connections: December 12, 2014

This week the Council of Cardinals met again in Rome, a consistory was announced, a papal interview was published, and Pope Francis delivered a powerful homily for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe .

The Guadalupe homily, delivered in Spanish during a mass Pope Francis celebrated at St. Peter’s, packs a powerful punch and sends an unmistakable message to anyone who thinks Latin America is free for the exploiting. Read the English translation of that homily on Vatican Radio’s website.

and while their meeting did not produce any ground breaking news, the media briefing about the meetings brought much to write about. Pope Francis himself shook things up by giving an exclusive interview to an Argentine newspaper in which he didn’t shy away from any topic and set the record straight on a couple of things.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s Spokesperson, admitted that the reform of the Curia’s constitution is a long way from being written, but deliberation and analysis continues. Then, almost as an aside, he informed journalists that Pope Francis will create new cardinals at a February consistory. Cue the lists of red-hat predictions.

If Pope Francis sticks to the current rules regarding the size of the College of Cardinals, he will have between 10 and 12 “red hats” to hand out in February. North American observers are already deliberating if he might name American cardinals. European observers believe it is unlikely he will do so.

In a recent interview the pope granted to the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, the pontiff said he does not believe that heads of Vatican departments need to be Cardinals. There are some exceptions of course. Specifically, he said the only dicasteries that need cardinals at the helm are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Divine Worship, and Bishops. So the likelihood of Pope Francis elevating curial officials to the College of Cardinals is also unlikely.

The other news Fr. Lombardi delivered is that the Commission for the Protection of Minors will be expanded to included 18 members who represent different parts of the world. The first meeting of that fully established commission is scheduled for early February.


Pope Francis gave a no-holds barred interview to Elisabetta Pique of La Nacion, an Argentine daily newspaper.

Perhaps because he’s known Pique since 2001, he was not shy about saying what he thinks and even clarifying what others think he thinks.

The pope had very clear words to say about the recent synod, the way divorced and civilly remarried Catholics are treated by the church ( they’re treated as “de-facto excommunicated” people, unable to even be Godparents), people who claim they don’t understand his plans for the church, his appointment of Cardinal Raymond Burke as chaplain of the Order of the Knights of Malta, and on the importance of keeping his head on straight.

Elisabetta Pique elaborates on some of these comments, and talks to me about her book “Francis: Life and Revolution” on this week’s edition of Vatican Connections.


The week ended with the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music setting used for this Mass was the Argentine Mass setting “Missa Criolla”. Stay tuned after the end of Vatican Connections for some clips from the Mass featuring this goose-bump inducing Mass setting.


Vatican Connections: December 5, 2014

How Bishops are Appointed

Last week on Vatican Connections we talked about how a bishop gets appointed. It’s a rather long process, and some viewers wrote in asking if there was a text explaining the process. (I talk fast sometimes!).

Step one:

The process begins at the local level. The bishops in a region submit to their metropolitan archbishop, names of priests who they believe would be good bishops. During regional bishops meetings those names are voted on. The final list of names is then sent on to the national bishops’ conference.

Step two:

When an Episcopal appointment needs to be made, the bishops’ conference sends a list of relevant names to the papal nuncio, who begins his own investigation into the names presented to him. This involves getting to know the candidate’s character and is often done with a questionnaire, sent secretly to people who have had close contact with the would-be bishop. One of the goals of the investigation is to ensure there is nothing in the candidate’s past or present that would make him unsuitable to be bishop.

Step three:

Once the nuncio has completed his investigation he picks the three candidates he thinks would be most suitable for the vacancy needing to be filled. The nuncio send those that list of three names (called a “terna”) to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops.

Step Four:

The “terna” is handed over to the Congregation for Bishops. This is where things slow down somewhat. If the appointment involves a priest being made a bishop, the entire congregation needs to weigh in on the matter. Since the congregation only meets twice a month, it take a while for a given appointment to be considered. A cardinal-relator must be appointed to present the file on each candidate to the congregation, and then the congregation votes. There are two options: the congregation might pick a candidate, or they may decide none of the three candidates is right. If the congregation decides that none of the candidates are right for the vacancy, they send word to the Nuncio in that country to start over again and submit three more names.

If the congregation decides on a candidate, the prefect of the congregation takes that decision and all relevant information about the appointment, to the Pope.

If the appointment involves raising a Bishop to Archbishop, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops can review the case and make recommendations himself, without needing the whole congregation to vote on it.

Step Five:

The Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops tells the pope what the congregation recommends for the appointment in question. He then leaves the matter with the pope. When the pope has considered the matter and made a decision, he informs the Congregation for Bishops of his decision, and the appointment is announced.

The process has encounter roadblocks at any point along the way: Early on it can be discovered that the candidate is unsuitable for a number reasons, the Congregation for Bishops might not approve of any of the names on the “terna”, the pope might not agree with the Congregation’s recommendations, or a candidate might discover he is being considered for an Episcopal position and ask to be removed from the list of candidates.



Vatican Connections: November 28, 2014

Three priests and a layperson where arrested in Spain after Pope Francis encouraged an abuse victim to take his case to authorities.

The victim, a 24 year old, male,  Opus Dei supernumerary, wrote to Pope Francis after hearing the pontiff statements about zero tolerance for abusers and people who cover up abuse. Upon reading the letter Pope Francis called the man, apologized for the abuse and told him “tomorrow you go to the bishop.”

Pope Francis followed up on that conversation by writing directly to the Archbishop of Granada, instructing him to begin an investigation into the priests named by the victim.

In a statement posted on the archdiocese’s website, the Archbishop of Granada “scrupulously followed” church law and opened a canonical investigation into the allegations. The three priests in question were also immediately removed from ministry.

The archdiocese’s statement also says once the victim took his allegations to police the archdiocese agreed to comply with the police investigation. According to the archdiocese, it could not forward the matter to police on behalf of the victim because the victim is now an adult. As such the victim was only person entitled to take the matter to police.

Spanish media have reported that the pope called the victim a second time, encouraging him to go to police. The Vatican has not confirmed that this second phone call occurred.

As a result of the police investigation into the allegations, three priests and one layperson were arrested. The lay person was religion teacher. That person’s teaching authorization has since been removed by the Archdiocese of Granada.

The Spanish newspaper ABC reported that at least one more victim has come forward to police with allegations of abuse related to the priests in question.

Pope Francis was asked about the case during a press conference on Tuesday that was held while he was flying back to Rome from Strasbourg. The pope said he received the news of the allegations “with great pain” adding “but the truth is the truth and we cannot hide it.”