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Is Pope Francis’ pragmatic approach creating a crisis for canon law?

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 19, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

In the eight years since his election, Pope Francis has been an active lawmaker. Beyond his well-publicized reforms, there have been many other significant but hidden legislative changes.

When making these alterations, Pope Francis has mostly acted alone. The Vatican departments that normally oversee and harmonize new legislation with existing laws have been marginalized.

This is the snapshot of the Vatican presented in a recently released book with a thesis that is, in fact, broader: that it is not only certain procedures that are at stake, but the whole edifice of canon law.

The book’s title is “La recente attività normativa ecclesiale: finis terrae per lo ius canonicum?” (“The recent normative activity of the Church: The end of the world for the canon law?”) The author is Geraldina Boni, a canon law professor at the University of Bologna who has served as a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts since 2011.

The book is available only in Italian and has four chapters. The first sketches the history of the Pontifical Council for the Legislative Texts, the Vatican body charged with interpreting the Church’s laws. The second is about the progressive marginalization of the dicastery. The third clarifies the dicastery’s role. The fourth proposes a reform to make it central again.

The book’s goal is to show how the pontifical council has in practice been deprived of its duties, ousted from discussions about significant reforms, and used only in sporadic cases.

But the book is also a fascinating investigation of legislative production under Pope Francis. Boni weighs in on many measures taken, from those to counter the abuse crisis to those on the nullity of marriages, explaining why the lack of checks and balances previously guaranteed by the pontifical council has generated problems.

The Italian magazine Il Regno noted in 2017 that Pope Francis had issued 50% more legislation than Benedict XVI — and in half the time. Pope Francis’ legislative activity reached its peak when he intervened to change the rules of the ongoing trial about the management of the Vatican Secretariat of State’s funds, with four ad hoc rescripts arriving during the investigation.

Boni considers this legislative activity as part of Pope Francis’ modus operandi. Hers is a real cry of pain — shared by other canonists — before a pope who makes laws and discards them without maintaining homogeneity in decisions.

Boni notes that Pope Francis has steadily centralized legislative action. She underlines that the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts is no longer called upon to give the so-called authentic interpretations of the laws. This approach can make laws more difficult to read and interpret.

One example is the question of bishops who are guilty of negligence in relation to abuse cases, as set out in the 2016 motu proprio “As a loving mother.”

Boni stresses that the competence for assessing possible negligence “shifted” to the Vatican’s Congregations. She quotes Archbishop Giuseppe Sciacca, secretary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura, who said that this shift “evidently means leaving to the discretion of the Dicastery both the evaluation of the ‘serious indications’ of negligence and the very choice of opening the procedure and the relative timing.”

Sciacca added that “we must not overlook — prudently — the danger inherent in the possibility of employing the instrument in question for distorted uses motivated by serious dissent towards a bishop or, even, within the episcopate of a region.”

The citation from Sciacca is one of many that show that Boni’s concern is not that of an isolated scholar.

Indeed, in recent years canonists have frequently noted, in more or less specialized texts, the risks inherent in this centralized legislative action.

The question is: if the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has in practice been set aside, along with canon law, who or what is going to function as an overseeing body to check whether new rules are consistent with the existing legislative framework?

Leaks concerning the coming overhaul of the Roman Curia are not encouraging. Praedicate Evangelium — the apostolic constitution that will regulate functions and tasks of curial offices — reportedly reduces the pontifical council to the status of an “office.” This means, according to Boni, that “canon law no longer has citizenship in the legislative activity of the pope.”

Boni’s investigation leaves many open questions. In this situation, is there legal certainty or is everything instead entrusted to the supreme legislator, who does not hesitate to adjust his provisions according to the situation, or when these do not prove consistent with the legal framework already in place?

Beyond those questions, there are other issues, such as why the pope is acting in this way. An answer might be found in the Evangelii gaudium, his “programmatic” apostolic exhortation issued in 2013.

Two of Evangelii gaudium’s main principles are “time is greater than space” and “realities are more important than ideas.” For this reason, the pope opens processes without worrying too much about the consequences. As he has often said, one cannot be held back by the rationale that “things have always been this way.”

The pope does not make cast-iron plans because realities come first. Curial reform is made “while walking,” as Cardinal Marcello Semeraro noted in the magazine Il Regno while he was serving as secretary of the pope’s Council of Cardinals.

Even legislative action, then, is subject to Pope Francis’ pragmatic approach. That rings alarm bells for Boni and other scholars of canon law. As laws can be made and then adjusted, how will it be possible to have a coherent legislative framework?

This is the reason why this book is not just about the marginalization of a dicastery. Instead, it shows the threat of a crisis for canon law.

Catholic Church in Italy holds 1st national day of prayer for abuse victims

null / siam.pukkato/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Italy held its first national day of prayer for victims and survivors of sexual abuse on Thursday.

Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia, president of the Italian bishops’ commission for the protection of minors, said that the day was an invitation “to prayer, to support the paths of human and spiritual recovery of victims and survivors, by whomever they have been injured, so severely, inside or outside the Church, for families and communities affected by grief for their loved ones.”

Italy’s bishops’ conference distributed prayers and other documents on its website for dioceses and parishes to use at Mass or other prayer services.

The initiative is in response to Pope Francis’ 2016 invitation to bishops around the world to establish a day on which to pray for those subjected to sexual abuse.

The proposal for a “Universal Day of Prayer” was made to the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) by a survivor of clerical abuse.

According to a Nov. 17 press release from the PCPM, “in the experience of our members, victims/survivors have often expressed a desire for prayer as an important element in their healing process.”

Dioceses around Italy observed the day in different ways. In the Archdiocese of Milan, Archbishop Mario Delpini led Eucharistic adoration and celebrated Mass in the cathedral for the day of prayer on Nov. 18.

In Genoa, Archbishop Marco Tasca declared that the archdiocese would celebrate the day of prayer on Sunday, Nov. 21, with parishes praying a prayer written by the bishops’ conference.

The prayer begins: “Father, source of life, with humility and humiliation we surrender to you our shame and remorse for the suffering caused to the smallest and most vulnerable of humanity, and we ask your forgiveness.”

“Lord Jesus, Son who came to reveal the Father’s mercy, we entrust to you all those who have suffered abuses of power, spiritual and conscience, physical and sexual; may their wounds be healed by the balm of your and our compassion, may they find welcome and fraternal help, may their hearts be enveloped with tenderness and filled with hope.”

The Italian bishops chose Nov. 18 for the day because it corresponds with the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley, president of the PCPM, sent a message marking the European Day.

“We know that child sex abuse is a global, human problem,” O’Malley wrote. “The World Health Organization says that one in five women, and one in 13 men report experiencing sexual abuse before their 18th birthday; and that at least 60% of child sexual abuse victims/survivors never disclose their abuse.”

“The most recent data that we have received on the scope of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is no less grim,” he said.

“In France, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CIASE) estimated 216,000 children suffered sexual abuse in the Church from in the period from 1950 to 2020. In Australia, 40% of the child sexual abuse that took place in the period under review of the Royal Commission of Inquiry occurred in an area related to the Catholic Church.”

“These are astounding statistics,” O’Malley commented. “But we cannot allow our reaction to them to obscure their purpose: To assess the measures taken by the Church to treat this scourge; and to make all useful recommendations for the transformation of a failed system based on a quantitative and qualitative level.”

“We cannot repair what we do not recognize. We cannot restore a broken trust if we do not address the heart of the matter. This requires honest investigation, independent inquiry, and informed action,” the cardinal added.

He said that the Church, civil society, and academia could learn from each other to help shape a society that puts “the protection of children among the highest priorities.”

The cardinal said that, in solidarity with Pope Francis’ initiative for a universal day of prayer for abuse survivors, he would be walking at sunrise on Nov. 18.

O’Malley, who was attending the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore, said that he would walk with others “in silent communion of prayer with adult survivors of child sexual abuse, their advocates, brother bishops, faith leaders of many denominations and representatives of civil society.”

“We will gather as a global collective in recognition of our commitment — religions and civil society — to walk with survivors on a lifelong journey of healing for us all,” he said.

Synod’s chief organizer to US bishops: Don’t be afraid to tell us frankly what you hear

Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, sends a video message to the U.S. bishops, Nov. 18, 2021. / Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2021 / 04:45 am (CNA).

Cardinal Mario Grech sent a video message to the U.S. bishops Thursday, urging them to be frank in sharing with the Vatican what they hear from people in their dioceses during local synodal processes.

“Do not be afraid to tell us frankly what you have gathered from listening to your people about what the Spirit is saying to the Church: to your Church and to the whole Church,” Grech said in the message published Nov. 18.

The General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops recorded a 14-minute video for the U.S. bishops’ fall plenary assembly in which he explained how “synodality is a way of being Church.”

The cardinal said that he wanted to define key aspects of synodality before the bishops began their discussion of the synodal process in the United States.

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021, is a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics are encouraged to submit feedback to their local dioceses.

“Contrary to what many assume, there are no written conclusions; there is no desire to impose a line of thinking. There is a willingness to listen to the Spirit in listening to one another,” Grech said in his video message.

“Nor do we think that there are positions that are worth more than others. The will of the Secretariat [of the Synod of Bishops] is to encourage listening at all levels of the life of the Church and to itself engage in this process of listening in order to discover the voice of the Living God.”

The U.S. bishops are scheduled to address the Synod on Synodality during their fall general assembly in Baltimore, which ends on Nov. 18.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, discussed synodality in his address at the assembly on Nov. 16.

“I believe that synodality is an answer to the challenges of our time and to the confrontation, which is threatening to divide this country, and which also has its echoes in the Church,” Pierre said.

Grech explained that the Church is “constitutively synodal,” while also always remaining “constitutively hierarchical.”

The synod’s chief organizer underlined that the “entire synodal process depends on the bishop,” from how it is initiated at the diocesan level to the final contributions submitted.

He outlined seven aspects of synodality to illustrate its core values of “communion, participation, and mission.”

These included rethinking relations between the laity and ordained ministries, seeking God’s will above one’s own, making a continuous effort to invite everyone to participate, listening with charity, a willingness to give up strongly held positions in favor of collective decision-making, recognizing the way that the Church has caused wounds, and asking what kind of Church to present to the contemporary world today.

Pope Francis opened the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality in October for a 10-month consultation process that will last until all bishops’ conferences worldwide submit summaries of their consultations on Aug. 15, 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023 ahead of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held at the Vatican in October 2023.

“The consultation of the People of God and the discernment of the pastors takes place in the Churches, and it is from listening to the Churches that the Instrumentum laboris [working document] will be written and delivered to the members of the Synod Assembly in October 2023,” Grech said.

The Maltese cardinal added: “This Synod is a spiritual journey, an event inspired and guided by the Spirit.”

“The various testimonies we have received, the creativity with which the episcopal conferences, dioceses, parishes or associations are organizing the consultation of the People of God, are signs confirming that the Spirit is at work.”

Major archbishop thanks Pope Francis for support as Ukraine faces multiple crises

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, meets Pope Francis, Nov. 11, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2021 / 04:05 am (CNA).

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has thanked Pope Francis for his support as Ukraine struggles with multiple crises.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk expressed his gratitude to the pope in a private audience at the Vatican on Nov. 11, the Church’s information department reported.

Shevchuk, who has led the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome since 2011, said that in post-Soviet countries the rich were growing richer and the poor even poor.

He told the pope that the war in the east of the country was just one of the challenges confronting Ukraine’s 43 million population. The middle class was vanishing, he said, as small and medium-sized businesses were swallowed up by a small number of oligarchs.

The major archbishop said that poverty was rising fast and people were afraid of the coming winter amid an energy crisis.

He thanked the pope for his prayers and his charitable support for Ukraine, which has helped more than a million people.

“The Pope for Ukraine campaign has become not only a real tool of your solidarity with our people but also helped our Caritas-Ukraine develop its own charity network, in particular in the Donbas,” Shevchuk told the pope, referring to a war-torn eastern region of the country.

Pope Francis has repeatedly appealed for peace in Ukraine, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have clashed since February 2014.

In a Regina Coeli address in April, he expressed alarm about a build-up of troops on the border between the two countries.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said at the time that the Vatican would be the “ideal place” for peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During his papal audience, the major archbishop noted that around 10 million people had left Ukraine since the declaration of independence in 1991 amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

“Our Church continues to follow its faithful from the first migration waves to this day,” he told the pope, noting that the Church’s next patriarchal council would be dedicated to the theme “Your Church is always and everywhere with you.”

The Church’s information service said that Pope Francis praised leaders’ commitment to pastoral care for diaspora communities.

“This is exactly what the synodal road is in action, when you search for your faithful, follow them and try to serve them,” the information service quoted him as saying.

Shevchuk thanked the pope for establishing an apostolic exarchate for Byzantine Rite Ukrainian Catholics in Italy in 2019.

“We see that our faithful need the presence of their Church and new, more effective ways to organize our Church life,” he commented.

The pope and the major archbishop also discussed a pastoral letter recently issued by the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Shevchuk said: “One of the priorities of the pastoral plan is the healing of various kinds of wounds: those that were provoked in different periods of the history of our people, and modern ones caused by the abuse of Church power, and so on.”

“These wounds require immediate treatment. We strive to bend over the wounds of modern man, to be sensitive to his needs, to discover for him the cure of Divine Grace and Holy Sacraments.”

The two men also discussed the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on Ukraine, which has recorded more than 3.4 million COVID-19 infections and 83,609 related deaths as of Nov. 18, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The 51-year-old major archbishop said that many Catholics were engaged in a campaign called “Feed the Poor”

“Feeling the Christian need for solidarity with the poor, many of our faithful returned from ‘online’ to parish life precisely because of this initiative,” he said.

Shevchuk has previously expressed hope that Pope Francis will visit Ukraine. The 84-year-old pope has outlined ambitious travel plans for 2022 but has not commented recently on a possible visit to the Eastern European country.

John Paul II was the first pope of the modern era to visit Ukraine, which borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia.

In his arrival speech in the capital, Kyiv, on June 23, 2001, he recalled that two previous popes were deported to present-day Ukraine.

He said: “History has recorded the names of two Roman Pontiffs who, in the distant past, came this far: St. Clement I at the end of the first century and St. Martin I in the mid-seventh. They were deported to the Crimea, where they died as martyrs.”

During the five-day visit, the Polish pope sought to reach out to Orthodox Christians, who represent roughly two-thirds of the population.

Vatican finance trial: Pope Francis’ role in London deal questioned by defense

A hearing in the Vatican finance trial is held on Nov. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2021 / 10:40 am (CNA).

A defense attorney in a major Vatican finance trial has questioned Pope Francis’ role in the controversial London deal, after a prosecutor allegedly interrogated the pope about the case.

The Vatican tribunal met for two and a half hours on Nov. 17 in the ongoing trial related to the Secretariat of State’s 350 million euro ($404 million) purchase of a London investment property. Like prior court dates, the hearing was devoted to requests by defense attorneys to dismiss the case.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Tribunal president Giuseppe Pignatone said on Wednesday that he would rule on Dec. 1 on the defense’s new request to nullify an indictment, after he already threw out several of the indictments against a number of the original 10 defendants on procedural grounds.

While the prosecutor’s office — called the Promoter of Justice — decides whether to re-do the investigations and again present the dismissed indictments, the trial proceeds with six defendants, including Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the highest-ranking cleric to be tried by the tribunal of Vatican City State in recent history.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the lawyer for defendant Enrico Crasso, a long-time investment manager for the Vatican, presented the court with a note outlining the results of a technical analysis of video evidence.

The analysis, according to defense lawyer Luigi Panella, found numerous “omissions” in the recordings of depositions, which the prosecution had handed over to the defense at the court’s order on Nov. 3.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Some of the video recordings are interviews with Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the administrative office at the Secretariat of State, whose testimony is central to the prosecution’s case.

Perlasca, once a suspect in the Vatican’s investigations, has not been charged with any crimes since voluntarily submitting himself to extensive questioning in 2020 and 2021.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Crasso’s lawyer also objected to an alleged conversation between Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi and Pope Francis, who is legally outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Panella submitted transcripts of part of an April 29, 2020, interrogation of Perlasca by Diddi and Vatican gendarme Stefano De Santis.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

According to the transcript, copies of which were also provided to the media, Perlasca stated that directions to deal with businessman Gianluigi Torzi, who brokered the final stage in the Vatican’s purchase of the London property — earning himself 10 million euros ($11.3 million) in the process — came “from above.” (The video allegedly shows that Perlasca pointed upward with his right index finger while speaking.)

When asked if he meant orders came from Pope Francis, Perlasca replied, “Certainly.”

According to the transcript, prosecutor Diddi responded to Perlasca’s statement by saying: “The Holy Father did not say: ‘Negotiate with Torzi.’”

A short time later, Diddi again interrupted Perlasca, and said: “Monsignor, it does not matter! Before doing what we are doing we went to the Holy Father and asked him what happened and I can disbelieve everyone except the Holy Father…”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Other witnesses have supported Perlasca’s testimony, with one former official of the Secretariat of State indicating in 2020 that “the need for negotiations with Torzi” had been decided, “with the endorsement of the Holy Father.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Diddi said on Wednesday that he did not interrogate Pope Francis, but that his comments referred to statements the pope made during his in-flight press conference from Japan to Rome on Nov. 26, 2019.

On that occasion, Pope Francis said: “The Promoter of Justice studied the accusations, consulted, and saw an imbalance in the budget. And then, he asked me for permission to carry out the searches. I said: ‘Is it clear, your report?’ He told me: ‘Yes, there is a presumption of corruption in these cases. I should carry out searches in this office, this office, and this office.’ And I signed the authorization.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Defense lawyer Panella saw it differently. He noted that the Vatican’s legal code, which is from 1913, says that the pope, as sovereign, cannot testify. But, the attorney argued, since the law originates with the pope, by giving his testimony, Pope Francis automatically rendered his own statements admissible under the law.

Thus, Panella contested, the evidence provided to the defense should still be considered incomplete, and constitutes another reason why the tribunal should rule to dismiss the trial.

“We are therefore once again faced with peculiarities of this procedure determined by interventions in it by the Holy Father ... which lead us to doubt the respect for the principles of due process and the fundamental rights of the accused,” Panella wrote in his note to the court.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pignatone said that he would give his ruling on the defense’s requests to dismiss the trial on procedural grounds at the next hearing, set for Dec. 1.

“It’s clear we need more time before starting. If we manage to start,” Pignatone told the court.

Pope Francis: St. Joseph teaches us to notice the people the world ignores

Pope Francis’ general audience in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2021 / 04:30 am (CNA).

St. Joseph teaches us to see and care for the people overlooked by the world, Pope Francis said at his general audience on Wednesday.

“Joseph, who is a carpenter from Nazareth and who trusts in God’s plan for his young fiancée and for himself, reminds the Church to keep her eyes on what the world deliberately ignores,” the pope said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope introduced a new theme on Nov. 17 for his weekly audience, which will be focused on the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary before the Year of St. Joseph draws to a close on Dec. 8.

St. Joseph “reminds each of us to value what others discard. In this sense, he is truly a master of the essential: He reminds us that what truly matters does not attract our attention, but requires patient discernment to be discovered and appreciated,” Francis said.

“Let us ask him to intercede so that the whole Church may recover this insight, this ability to discern and evaluate what is essential.”

Pope Francis announced last year that the Catholic Church would celebrate a Year of St. Joseph in honor of the 150th anniversary of the saint’s proclamation as patron of the Universal Church.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Each of us can discover in Joseph — the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence — an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble,” the pope wrote in a letter entitled Patris corde (“With a father’s heart”).

Pope Francis has spoken several times about his devotion to the silent saint. In his homily at his inauguration as pope on March 19, 2013, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, he said that a pope “must be inspired by the lowly, concrete and faithful service which marked St. Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

At his live-streamed general audience, Francis reflected on the Bible’s first geographical references to St. Joseph — the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth — as a way to know the saint better.

Nazareth, the place St. Joseph was from, was a town on the periphery, and where Jesus lived most of his life before his public ministry.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

It is significant, Francis noted, that Jesus’ Incarnation was not lived in the holy city of Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem and Nazareth, “two outlying villages, far from the clamor of the news and the powers of the time.”

This choice shows us God’s preference for the “periphery and marginality,” the pope said, adding that “to fail to take this fact seriously is equivalent to not taking seriously the Gospel and the work of God, who continues to manifest himself in the geographical and existential peripheries.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Not only did Jesus go in search of sinners, the suffering, the hungry, and the poor, while he walked the earth, he continues to go to the “peripheries” in our lives, he said.

“And this must give us so much trust, because the Lord knows the peripheries of our heart, the peripheries of our soul, the peripheries of our society, our city, our family, that is, that slightly dark part that we do not show, perhaps out of shame.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In this respect, the society of that time is not very different from ours,” he continued. “Today, too, there is a center and a periphery. And the Church knows that she is called to proclaim the Good News from the periphery.”

Pope Francis also pointed out that Catholics can learn more about St. Joseph from his name, which is Hebrew for “may God increase, may God give growth.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“It is a wish, a blessing based on trust in God’s providence and referring especially to fertility and to raising children,” the pope explained. “Indeed, this very name reveals to us an essential aspect of Joseph of Nazareth’s personality: He is a man full of faith in God, in his providence.”

Joseph’s “every action, as recounted in the Gospel, is dictated by the certainty that God ‘gives growth,’ ‘increases,’ ‘adds’: that is, that God provides for the continuation of his plan of salvation,” he commented.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis closed his speech with a special message for those who live in the forgotten peripheries of the world, or who experience existential marginalization.

“May you find in St. Joseph the witness and protector to look to,” he said, sharing a short prayer that Catholics can say:

“St. Joseph, you who have always trusted God, and have made your choices guided by his providence, teach us not to count so much on our own plans but on his plan of love. You who come from the peripheries, help us to convert our gaze and to prefer what the world discards and marginalizes. Comfort those who feel alone and support those who work silently to defend life and human dignity. Amen.”

Pope Francis: Justice and peace commissions offer an ‘indispensable service’

Pope Francis with Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in the Vatican, Nov. 10, 2017. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Wednesday that the justice and peace commissions of the world’s bishops’ conferences offer an “indispensable service.”

The pope told a meeting of justice and peace commissions on Nov. 17 that they performed the vital tasks of raising awareness of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine and defending human dignity.

“These commissions carry out an indispensable service in the context of the social pastoral care of the local Churches,” the pope said in his message to the two-day online conference hosted by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“Indeed, they have the task of spreading and making known the Church’s social doctrine, working actively for the protection of the dignity of the human person and his rights, with a preferential option for the poor and the least.”

“In this way, they contribute to the growth of social, economic and ecological justice, and to the building of peace.”

Conference participants are reflecting on how justice and peace commissions can promote authentic development amid the coronavirus pandemic, drawing inspiration from Pope Francis’ 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato si’ and his 2020 encyclical Fratelli tutti.

The pope recalled that in 1967, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission “Justitia et Pax,” which John Paul II renamed the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1988.

In 2017, Pope Francis absorbed the pontifical council into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, led by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson.

The pope welcomed the justice and peace commissions’ focus on his two encyclicals during their Nov. 17-18 meeting.

“Indeed, in every part of the world, integral development, and therefore justice and peace, can be built only through these two paths: care for the common home and fraternity and social friendship,” he said.

“These two paths have their origin in the Gospel of Christ, but they are paths on which we can walk together with many men and women of other Christian confessions, of other religions and even without a specific religious affiliation.”

The pope acknowledged the challenges posed by COVID-19, conflict, and backsliding on human rights.

“The current crisis has revealed numerous contradictions in the economic and political system, while unresolved challenges persist that require the joint efforts of many actors,” he said.

“I urge you, therefore, to address these issues also in collaboration with other ecclesial and civil realities — local, regional, and international — committed to the promotion of justice and peace.”

Vatican finance trial: What’s happened so far and where is it heading?

The Tribunal of the Vatican City State holds a hearing in a multipurpose room at the Vatican Museums. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 17, 2021 / 01:00 am (CNA).

A Vatican judge’s partial turnaround at a hearing earlier this month is a significant plot twist in the finance trial that kicked off this summer.

The prosecution has 10 defendants, with many different charges against them, most linked to the management of funds in the Vatican Secretariat of State, particularly to the purchase of a luxury property in London.

At the trial’s third hearing on Oct. 6, the president of the Vatican Tribunal, judge Giuseppe Pignatone, ruled in favor of requests by the defense to have prosecutors re-do the investigation into some of the charges and defendants.

This was Pignatone’s way of trying to resolve some situations in the trial that risked rendering it invalid. For example, the defense lawyers had pointed out that not all of the indictments had been filed — a necessary prerequisite for lawyers to prepare the defense. And in particular, they pointed out that audiovisual recordings of the interrogation of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca had not been shared with them.

Perlasca was the director of the administrative office of the Secretariat of State for 12 years and the person who handled the London property affair. For this reason, he was first questioned as a suspect, before he decided to collaborate with Vatican prosecutors.

In his first interview with Vatican prosecutors, Perlasca volunteered information without the presence of a lawyer. For the second interrogation, he brought his lawyer, but decided to make further statements without legal representation and eventually parted ways with his lawyer.

A summary of Perlasca’s statements to prosecutors was provided to the defense attorneys, but videotapes were not. At the trial’s first hearing at the end of July, the lead prosecutor signaled his willingness to make copies of the interrogation tapes available, but afterward, he refused a specific request to do so made by the tribunal president.

Pignatone reiterated the court’s order for the video recordings of Perlasca to be deposited with court documents for access by defense lawyers. He also asked for clarification about Perlasca’s position in the trial: is he only a witness or is he also part of the criminal proceedings?

Pignatone ordered that by Nov. 3, the prosecutors deposit all the documents, including the audio and video recordings of the interrogations, starting with those of Perlasca and the wiretapping.

He also ordered that the parties who request it can view the seized material, including the IT material, where it is now, and request a copy.

Italian media reported earlier this month that prosecutors had fulfilled a court order to hand over missing evidence. But a group of lawyers of the defense complained that portions of the video files of depositions were missing.

What’s next?

Perlasca’s position must be clarified by prosecutors. Also, some of the documents about the investigation into Cardinal Angelo Becciu must return to the prosecutor’s office — in particular, the charge that Becciu committed subornation when he allegedly pressured Msgr. Perlasca to recant his testimony. (The cardinal denies all accusations of improper conduct.)

The procedure for the allegations of embezzlement must also be started over, particularly those related to the allocation of funds to the Spes Cooperative and the branch of Caritas in his home diocese of Ozieri in Sardinia.

The judge also sent back to the prosecutor all the files on Msgr. Mauro Carlino, who was secretary to Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, the sostituto of the Secretariat of State.

He also sent back those of the broker Raffaele Mincione (the first to deal with the affair of the London property), the lawyer Nicola Squillace, and Fabrizio Tirabassi, an official of the administrative office of the Secretariat of State.

This means that prosecutors will start the investigations into these charges over from scratch, with new interrogations.

Enrico Crasso, an investment manager for the Secretariat of State, has had his files sent back to the Promoter of Justice (the prosecutor) for the charges of embezzlement, fraud (one charge also concerning the Centurion Fund, later disposed of by the Secretariat of State), and corruption.

Furthermore, the allegations of embezzlement by Cecilia Marogna’s company in Slovenia and the proceedings for fraud against three companies attributable to Crasso will also be started over.

Prosecutors have also received the documents concerning alleged embezzlement by Tommaso Di Ruzza, the former director of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority.

The importance of Pignatone’s decision to send the embezzlement accusation back to the investigatory phase should not be underestimated.

What are the main issues at stake?

The issues concern the judicial activity of the Holy See, which also involved specific activism by the pope, who personally intervened in the investigations with four rescripts (papal responses to queries or petitions).

Other matters raised are the potential global impact of this process, as well as the role of Vatican prosecutors — all Italians with activities outside the Holy See.

Pope Francis’ interventions

The change in the law to allow the trial of Cardinal Becciu is not the only intervention by the pope in the legislative sphere. During the investigation, Pope Francis signed four rescripts that suspended some judicial guarantees, including official secrecy, to allow the prosecution of the investigation in a summary manner, that is to say, according to a pope’s directly authorized procedure.

The rescripts were drawn up on July 2, 2019, July 5, 2019, Oct. 9, 2019, and Feb. 13, 2020, respectively.

With the rescripts, Pope Francis suspended the reporting obligations to the Financial Information Authority, established by Law 18 of 2013. He authorized the use of any necessary interception tool. He permitted the use of any material seized without being opposed to secrecy and confirmed for another 60 days the special prerogatives given to the Promoter of Justice.

The pope, therefore, intervened forcefully in the process. But he had also moderated the negotiations of the Secretariat of State to take over the shares of the London property from the Italian broker Gianluigi Torzi. A photograph showed Pope Francis with the broker in 2018. Torzi had been in the papal residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, precisely to negotiate his exit from the deal.

Initially, it was said that the pope did not know about the London investment, nor had he met the protagonists of the operation. When the photo of him with Torzi was published, it was said that the pope had met the broker, but did not know about the operation.

Finally, responding to the Associated Press, the Vatican Tribunal said that the pope had entered the room where there were negotiations for the liquidation of Torzi’s shares. The pope had invited everyone present to find a solution.

Giuseppe Milanese, a personal friend of Pope Francis, was conducting the transaction at the pope’s request. Speaking with the Italian television news program Report, Milanese added a detail: that the pope had asked to conclude with “the right salary.”

Pope Francis’ presence at the negotiations and his insistence on intervening and turning the page were also confirmed by Archbishop Peña Parra. This could prove to be substantial in defense of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

The Secretariat of State’s role

Peña Parra, who took office in November 2018, explained his position in a long statement of about 20 pages, with various documents attached. The Venezuelan archbishop, who is said to enjoy the trust of Pope Francis, did not limit himself only to reconstructing the events concerning the London property.

He also highlighted a pre-existing system and recounted circumstances that prove his affirmations. The “sostituto” reported that decisions were often pushed to be made urgently and by interrupting ongoing meetings precisely to address specific predestined scenarios.

He also accused Perlasca of making decisions without consulting superiors, of acting in league with Torzi, and of being part of a system that disadvantaged the Holy See.

The deputy defended his decisions in protecting the London investment, noted the work he did in reorganizing the finances of the Secretariat of State, and, above all, explained that the decision to pay to take back the London building was the only viable one. A legal case would have lasted for years and the existing contracts could also have ended in a negative way for the Holy See.

In any case, the Secretariat of State decided to become a civil party in the trial. It remains to be seen what the consequences of this choice will be if it is proved in the trial that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, had also approved the operations.

The investigations

In this sense, Perlasca’s absence among the accused is striking and, interestingly, Pignatone hinted at the possibility of Perlasca’s involvement in other proceedings.

Perlasca was investigated and questioned six times, but was not held responsible for crimes by the Vatican magistrates. It is not known whether his willing collaboration weighed in the decision not to prosecute him.

The fact remains that the investigations themselves have been the subject of criticism. For example, last March Judge Tony Baumgartner overturned an English court’s initial decision to grant the seizure of Torzi’s current accounts at the Vatican’s request.

In his ruling, Baumgartner questioned the reliability of the Vatican investigations, often describing them with the words “mischaracterization” and “misinterpretation.”

He raised questions such as why, if Torzi was considered a cheater, was he allowed to meet the pope and treated with courtesy? Why did Archbishop Peña Parra agree to pay Torzi 15 million euros ($17.8 million) to purchase the property in London, which was already formally in the Holy See’s hands?

As evidence of this, Baumgartner included an email from Peña Parra to Torzi, sent on January 22, 2019, in which a price was negotiated for the acquisition of the shares. Baumgartner considered the email as proof of an ongoing negotiation.

At the same time, the Vatican justice promoter argued that the email was written amid a challenging climate.

In the sentence of the indictment of the 10 defendants — almost 500 pages that summarize tens of thousands of pages of documentation — seven pages are destined precisely to respond to Baumgartner’s objections, also complaining about an alleged lack of cooperation from foreign authorities.

Indeed, the investigations have left many questions open, and one hopes that some will be answered in the trial, which is expected to be long and difficult.

Behind the trial scenes, there is even a dispute between Pignatone and the Promoters of Justice, Gian Piero Milano, and Alessandro Diddi.

Last July, the Promoters of Justice asked Pignatone to revoke his order “in the part in which he established the deposit of the audio-video files,” which recorded the depositions of Perlasca against Becciu. This was due to the possibility that these files may eventually be published, thus going against the rules of privacy, as there was no authorization for photographic or audiovisual shooting.

By saying no to Pignatone, the Vatican prosecutors stressed that “those who attended the investigative documents did not consent to the reproduction and disclosure in any form of files containing the recordings and, indeed, accepted the registration on the premise and in the awareness that it was functional only to a more precise verbalization of the acts.”

Hence, the prosecutor’s appeal to revoke the request, because otherwise, “the right to privacy of the people involved would be irreparably compromised.”

For the same reason, the Vatican prosecutors also said no to Torzi’s defense request to acquire audio recordings of the wiretapping carried out during the investigation.

The Promoters of Justice

In this story, the Promoters of Justice were the real protagonists. Pope Francis trusted their judgment, gave them carte blanche, and effectively endorsed their approach. And he did so on the eve of a review — that of the Moneyval committee of the Council of Europe — determining how effective the Vatican is in following up on intelligence reports.

Despite the triumphal narrative emerging from the Vatican, the latest Moneyval report was not particularly favorable for the Holy See. It noted that the 2019 progress report highlighted a “vulnerability in the fact that not all promoters of justice offer exclusive services to the Holy See/Vatican City State.”

Always the same point is highlighted: that “potential professional conflicts and incompatibilities could not be excluded.”

Moneyval, therefore, asked the Vatican to consider that the next prosecutors would have to work, during the time of appointment, only for the Holy See/Vatican City State and not to “practice law at the same time in other jurisdictions.”

Scrolling through the organization chart of the Vatican courts, it turns out that Judge Riccardo Turrini Vita is director general of education at the Department of Penitentiary Administration of the Italian Ministry of Justice. Judge Carlo Bonzano is a lawyer in Rome, as is Judge Paolo Papanti Pellettier, who is also president of the Magistral Court of First Instance of the Order of Malta.

The Promoter of Justice Gian Piero Milano is also in the Court of First Instance of the Order of Malta, while the Promoters of Justice Roberto Zannotti and Gianluca Perone work as lawyers in Rome.

Alessandro Diddi, the Vatican Promoter of Justice, is also a lawyer in Rome. He has among his clients Salvatore Buzzi, who was sentenced to about 18 years in jail in the “Mondo di Mezzo” case in Rome, known in the news as “Mafia Capitale.”

It is noteworthy that the attorney general of Rome at the time of the case was Giuseppe Pignatone, the current president of the Vatican court.

The open questions

In the end, after the scandal, the heads of the Financial Information Authority were removed. In addition, the Secretariat of State has lost control of its investments. And the Vatican judges, all of whom are Italian and with interests in Italy, have acquired great discretion within the Vatican City State — power that goes beyond even the Holy See and its officials.

The balance of power has been reversed. The Vatican City State exists to support the Holy See. Today, state interests seem to have somehow gone on to “eat” the Holy See.

This is a sign of the “Vaticanization” of the Holy See, which takes on more and more substance in the folds of an investigation that leaves many open questions and few answers.

Consider: If the pope has suspended the secret of office, then the seizure of intelligence material in the exchange between the Financial Information Authority and foreign financial intelligence units is also valid.

But why, after that move, did the Egmont Group suspend the Holy See from its secure network and only readmit it after the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Financial Information Authority and the Vatican Promoter of Justice?

Other open questions are about the Vatican judicial system.

Can the order of the court remedy the structural deficiencies of the Vatican judicial system? These include the absence of the rule of law; obsolete codes not in line with human rights; the possibility for a “pope-king” intervening in a process while it is being held; and the absence of a monitoring body and supervision of the work of Vatican magistrates.

Also, can the order repair the damage suffered by the suspects and the accused? The defendants are likely to ask for compensation for damage to their reputations. As the public prosecutor did not withhold the investigations and only later offered to start them over, the defendants will not hesitate to take every action they can to defend themselves. What will be the cost of this for the Holy See, in terms of reputation and money?

These are issues that show that this trial is not just about internal Vatican scandals. Every detail could touch on the very nature of the sovereignty of the Holy See, precisely because everything has been done considering Vatican City, with its judges, as a complete system.

So it is not a question of not working for transparency and justice; it is a matter of trying to do this by not throwing down a system built with patience, which serves precisely to maintain the international identity of the Holy See.

And it is not a question of not prosecuting the corrupt, but instead of broadly understanding the functioning (or malfunctioning) of the system and, if necessary, making corrections.

As we can see, this is far more than just “the Becciu trial,” as some media call it. It is a process that should require the Holy See to make an effort for reform and justice. But to do so, perhaps, it would need to be willing to reform the way it administers justice.

Pope Francis: Refugees are ending up in a ‘desert of humanity’

Pope Francis visits Rome’s Astalli Center on Sept. 10, 2013. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has said that refugees forced to flee their homes often end up in a “desert of humanity.”

The pope made the remark in a message celebrating the 40th anniversary of a Jesuit-run refugee center in Rome.

“The last 40 years of human history have also not been a linear progression: the number of people forced to flee their homelands continues to grow,” he wrote in the letter dated Nov. 7.

“Many of you have had to flee from living conditions comparable to those of slavery, where at base is a concept of the human person deprived of his or her dignity and treated as an object.”

“You know how terrible and despicable war can be, you know what it means to live without freedom and rights, you watch helplessly as your land dries up, your water becomes polluted, and you have no other option but to set out towards a safe place where you can realize your dreams and aspirations, where you can use your talents and skills.”

“Unfortunately, in many cases, setting out has not been a true liberation. All too often you come up against a desert of humanity, with an indifference that has become global and that dries up relations between people.”

The Astalli Center, run by the Jesuit Refugee Service, is marking its anniversary with a photography exhibit called “Faces toward the Future,” featuring portraits taken in Rome by the photojournalist Francesco Malavolta.

Charity, from Cameroon, features in the photography exhibit ‘Faces toward the Future.’. Francesco Malavolta/Astalli Center.
Charity, from Cameroon, features in the photography exhibit ‘Faces toward the Future.’. Francesco Malavolta/Astalli Center.

The show opened on Nov. 16 at the Church of St. Andrew on the Quirinal in the presence of Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general for the Diocese of Rome, and Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

In his address, Czerny recalled that the Jesuit Refugee Service was founded in 1980 by Jesuit Superior General Fr. Pedro Arrupe after he witnessed the plight of hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees fleeing by boat following the Vietnam War.

The Czech-born Canadian cardinal said: “In these 40 years the Spirit has continued to speak, better to cry out, through the lives of women and men whose dignity is wounded, who are fleeing from conflict, climate change, and poverty.”

Emmanuel, from Nigeria. Francesco Malavolta/Astalli Center.
Emmanuel, from Nigeria. Francesco Malavolta/Astalli Center.

“Accompanying, serving and defending was the response suggested at the beginning by Arrupe and that over time has found concrete form in the goodwill of so many women and men who, also at Centro Astalli, have placed themselves side by side with people in history’s existential peripheries.”

“The future of humanity passes through the social inclusion of migrants, peacebuilding, and social dialogue. The condition for building inclusion, justice, and peace is to ‘walk together.’”

The Astalli Center said in April that many refugees who have lived independently in Italy for years returned to the charity in 2020 with worries about unemployment, paying bills, monthly rent, and schooling for their children.

At the same time, the number of migrants arriving in Italy by sea tripled last year as the country battled the coronavirus pandemic.

Pope Francis visited the Astalli Center on Sept. 10, 2013, months after his election. In an address, he thanked staff for showing “that with acceptance and brotherhood it is possible to open a window on the future.”

In his Nov. 7 message, the pope said that in recent decades conflicts, nationalism, and populism had aggravated the plight of refugees. He criticized governments for relying on “the construction of walls and the return of migrants to unsafe places” to manage migration.

But he said that the courage and perseverance of refugees were inspiring.

He concluded his letter by asking Fr. Arrupe, who died in 1991 and whose cause of canonization officially opened in 2019, to watch over the Rome center and the whole Jesuit Refugee Service.

Vatican archbishop: Traditional Latin Mass ‘experiment’ not successful in reconciling SSPX

Archbishop Arthur Roche at a Vatican press conference on Feb. 10, 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s liturgy chief said this week that Pope Francis issued Traditionis custodes as the effort to reconcile the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) “has not entirely been successful” and it is necessary to “go back” to what Vatican II required of the Church.

In an interview with a television channel serving Italian-speaking Switzerland, aired Nov. 14, Archbishop Arthur Roche said that “the normal form of the celebration of the Roman Rite is found in those documents that have been published since the Second Vatican Council.”

Pope John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei and Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum “were established in order to encourage the Lefebvrists, above all, to return to unity with the Church,” Roche continued, referring to the SSPX by the name of its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

“It’s clear that Traditionis custodes is saying: OK, this experiment has not entirely been successful. And so, let us go back to what the [Second Vatican] Council required of the Church,” the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said.

Issued with immediate effect on July 16, Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis custodes (“Guardians of the tradition”) underlined that it is each bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize the use of the Traditional Latin Mass in his diocese.

In a letter to the world’s bishops explaining his decision, the pope said he felt compelled to act because the use of the 1962 Missal was “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”

Traditionis custodes made significant changes to Summorum Pontificum, a 2007 apostolic letter acknowledging the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962.

The Mass said using the 1962 Missal is known variously as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Tridentine Mass, and the Traditional Latin Mass.

Pope John Paul II wrote the apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei in 1988, after Lefebvre ordained four bishops without the permission of the Holy See. Lefebvre, who based the SSPX in Écône, Switzerland, was excommunicated along with the four bishops.

Benedict lifted the excommunication of the four illegitimately consecrated bishops in 2009, years after Lefebvre’s death, as part of his attempt to bring the Society back into full unity with the Catholic Church. The SSPX continues to have a canonically irregular status.

In his comments to the Swiss television program, Roche said that liturgical reform was desired by the majority of bishops attending Vatican II, which took place in Rome in 1962-65.

“And we’ve got to remember that [the liturgical reform] wasn’t the will of the pope. This was the will of the vast majority of the bishops of the Catholic Church, who were gathered together in the 21st ecumenical council, guiding the pope with regard to the future,” the archbishop said.

The 71-year-old English archbishop added: “What was produced in 1570 was entirely appropriate for the time. What is produced in this age is also entirely appropriate for the time.”

The year 1570 was when Pope Pius V issued the apostolic constitution Quo primum, making use of the revised Roman Missal obligatory throughout the Western Church, with certain exceptions. Pius V took the step following the Council of Trent, from which the term “Tridentine” is derived.