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Cardinal Müller: Cardinal Pell was Pope Francis’ best theological counselor

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller (left) and Cardinal George Pell / Credit: Bohumil Petrik/ACI Press and Matthew Rarey/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jan 18, 2023 / 09:13 am (CNA).

Cardinal George Pell was the best theologian on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals and a good papal counselor, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, said on Wednesday.

Müller commented on the Australian cardinal’s theological prowess following Pell’s sudden death in Rome at age 81 from cardiac arrest.

The pope’s former economy chief will be buried in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 2 following a requiem Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral. His funeral was held at St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 14.

Pope Francis is surrounded more by politicians than by good theologians, Müller said in a Jan. 18 interview with EWTN. “I think [Pell] was the best counselor of Pope Francis.”

“I hope that we have in him a good intercessor in heaven for all the needs of the Church and all the challenges that we have,” said the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pell was an inaugural member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, a group of originally nine cardinals established in September 2013 to advise the pope.

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Alan Koppschall/EWTN
Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Alan Koppschall/EWTN

The other original members of the council were Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Seán Patrick O’Malley, Reinhard Marx, Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Oswald Gracias, Giuseppe Bertello, Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

Müller, who lived in the same apartment as Pell in Rome, noted the cardinal’s strong intellectual formation in Oxford and his knowledge of patristic and systematic theology.

After his ordination as a priest in 1966 in Rome, Pell earned a licentiate degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Urban University. He then took up doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and earned a doctorate in 1971 in Church history.

Pell “met us regularly after he came back from Australia, where he was in a very brutal way, against all the evidence, sentenced for six years in prison,” Müller said, and “suffered 400 days and more in the prison, isolated.”

The cardinal “has testified with his life, and his great patience, to salvation in Jesus Christ,” Müller said, “because Jesus Christ redeemed us by his suffering on the cross; he didn’t protest it, he didn’t make a revolution with arms.”

“He is a very good witness and example for Christian life, in the intellectual dimension, but also in his suffering of this injustice” of trial and imprisonment, Müller said, adding that in his suffering, Pell imitated Jesus Christ and the martyred apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.

Cardinal Schönborn calls Gänswein book ‘unseemly indiscretion,’ confirms key detail of Benedict papacy

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (left) and Archbishop Georg Gänswein, longtime personal secretary for Pope Benedict XVI. / Daniel Ibañez/CNA

CNA Newsroom, Jan 18, 2023 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn on Wednesday confirmed he was the person who encouraged Joseph Ratzinger to accept the conclave’s decision — if elected — to become the successor to Pope John Paul II as supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church.

Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, revealed Schönborn’s identity in his book titled “Nothing but the Truth” (“Nient’altro che la verita”), which was published in Italy last week.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Schönborn on Jan. 18 confirmed Gänswein’s assertion that Schönborn had written Cardinal Ratzinger “a little letter just in case.” 

At the same time, the archbishop of Vienna accused Gänswein of committing an act of “unseemly indiscretion” with his book by publishing “confidential things,” according to the Archdiocese of Vienna’s website.

Schönborn said he had “so far deliberately kept silent” about his note to Benedict, noting “it happened within the context of the meeting of the cardinals, and not at the conclave itself.” 

Benedict’s ‘guillotine speech’

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the letter on April 25, 2005, during an audience with pilgrims from Germany. 

The address is famous among German Catholics as the “guillotine speech” — in German Fallbeilrede

In it, Benedict compared the experience of his election to that of having the axe of a guillotine dropping down on him. The guillotine blade in German is called a fallbeil.

Speaking just as openly about what swayed him to accept his election, the then newly elected pope revealed he had been “very touched by a brief note written to me by a brother cardinal.” 

Benedict said: “He reminded me that on the occasion of the Mass for John Paul II, I had based my homily, starting from the Gospel, on the Lord’s words to Peter by the Lake of Gennesaret: ‘Follow me!’ I spoke of how again and again, Karol Wojtyła received this call from the Lord, and how each time he had to renounce much and to simply say: ‘Yes, I will follow you, even if you lead me where I never wanted to go.’”

“This brother cardinal wrote to me: Were the Lord to say to you now, ‘Follow me’, then remember what you preached. Do not refuse! Be obedient in the same way that you described the great pope, who has returned to the house of the Father. This deeply moved me. The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”

Benedict added: “Thus, in the end I had to say ‘yes.’”

In his book, Gänswein also addressed the fact that Schönborn and Ratzinger were on a first-name basis. 

Apart from Benedict’s childhood friends, Cardinal Schönborn, a member of Ratzinger’s circle of students, was one of the few who addressed his former teacher as “Du” (the informal “You”), Gänswein wrote.

Another episode covered in Gänswein’s book — a brief but very personal conversation between the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI and Schönborn — also took place as described by Gänswein, the Viennese archbishop confirmed on Jan. 18.

Schönborn, a Dominican friar descended from the Austrian nobility, tendered his resignation as archbishop of Vienna before his 75th birthday on Jan. 22, 2020. 

Around the same time, the archdiocese said Pope Francis had declined the resignation, asking Schönborn to stay on for “an indefinite period.”

Pope Francis: Jesus is ‘the unsurpassed model of evangelization’

Pope Francis speaks at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 18, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2023 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Pope Francis invited Christians on Wednesday to pray for the grace to have a “pastoral heart” like Jesus that “suffers and takes risks” out of love for others.

At his weekly public audience on Jan. 18, the pope said that Jesus provides “the unsurpassed model of evangelization.”

“Christ not only has the words of life, but he makes his life a Word, a message: that is, he lives always turned toward the Father and toward us,” Pope Francis said in Paul VI Hall.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 18, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 18, 2023. Vatican Media

“Indeed, if we look at his days as described in the Gospels, we see that intimacy with his Father — prayer — occupies the first place. … Specifically, within this relationship in prayer which connects him to the Father in the Spirit, Jesus discovers the meaning of his being human, of his existence in the world as a mission for us,” he said.

After praying each day, Jesus dedicated his time to proclaiming the Kingdom of God and serving people, especially the poorest, the most vulnerable, the sinners, and the sick, the pope added.

Pope Francis said that one of the best images to represent Jesus’ style of life is that of “the Good Shepherd” who “lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11).

“By being with Jesus, we discover that his pastoral heart always beats for the person who is confused, lost, far away,” he said.

In this, Jesus the Good Shepherd provides a model against which “to evaluate our pastoral care,” Francis added.

A religious sister reads the Gospel of Luke at the pope's general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 18, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
A religious sister reads the Gospel of Luke at the pope's general audience in Paul VI Hall on Jan. 18, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The pope recommended rereading often chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, which contains the parable of the lost sheep, to come to truly understand apostolic zeal.

“There we discover that God does not contemplate the sheep pen, nor does he threaten them so they won’t leave. Rather, if one leaves and gets lost, he does not abandon that sheep but goes in search of it. He does not say, ‘You got up and left — it’s your fault — that’s your business!’ His pastoral heart reacts in another way: It suffers and takes risks,” Pope Francis said.

“Yes, God suffers for those who leave, and while he mourns over them, he loves even more. The Lord suffers when we distance ourselves from his heart. He suffers for all who do not know the beauty of his love and the warmth of his embrace. But, in response to this suffering, he does not withdraw, rather he risks. He leaves the 99 sheep who are safe and ventures out for the lost one. … This is God’s zeal.”

The pope’s general audience message was the second in a new weekly series of catechesis, or teachings, on evangelization and apostolic zeal.

At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis asked for people to join him in praying for a Catholic priest who was killed in Nigeria and for persecuted Christians around the world.

“I ask all of you to join me in praying for Father Isaac Achi, of the Diocese of Minna in northern Nigeria, who was killed last Sunday in an attack on his rectory,” he said.

“So many Christians continue to be the target of violence: let us remember them in our prayers!”

Pope Francis said that he makes "the heartbreaking grief" of Ukrainian families his own at his public audience on Jan. 18, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis said that he makes "the heartbreaking grief" of Ukrainian families his own at his public audience on Jan. 18, 2023. Vatican Media

Pope Francis also urged people to pray for peace in “martyred Ukraine,” where a Russian missile strike on an apartment building last Saturday killed 45 people, including six children.

“Last Saturday, a new missile attack claimed many civilian victims, including children. I make the heartbreaking grief of the family members my own,” the pope said.

“The images and testimonies of this tragic episode are a strong appeal to all consciences. One cannot remain indifferent!”

Pope Francis prays for priest killed in Nigeria, asks for prayers for persecuted Christians

Pope Francis prays at the general audience, Oct. 19, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2023 / 03:05 am (CNA).

At the end of his Wednesday audience, Pope Francis asked for people to join him in praying for persecuted Christians around the world.

The pope said on Jan. 18 that he was praying for Father Isaac Achi, a Catholic priest who died after bandits set fire to his parish rectory in northern Nigeria.

Armed bandits attacked the parish residence at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kafin Koro, Nigeria, at 3 a.m. on Sunday. Another priest at the rectory, Father Collins Omeh, escaped the building but sustained gunshot wounds. The Diocese of Minna has said that Omeh is responding to treatment.

Speaking to pilgrims in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Pope Francis said: “I ask all of you to join me in praying for Father Isaac Achi, of the Diocese of Minna in northern Nigeria, who was killed last Sunday in an attack on his rectory.”

“So many Christians continue to be the target of violence: let us remember them in our prayers!”

Pope Francis also extended a special greeting to French-speaking pilgrims from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he will be visiting at the end of this month.

On the same day that the priest was killed in Nigeria, the Islamic State bombed a church service at a Pentecostal church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi, killing at least 14 people and injuring more than 60.

In a message of condolence after the bombing, Pope Francis expressed his “compassion and closeness to all the families so hard hit by this tragedy.”

The pope’s upcoming trip to Africa will provide an opportunity for him to further highlight the ongoing violence against Christians in the region.

On his second day in Kinshasa, Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with victims of violence from the eastern region of the DRC, where more than 5.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.

PHOTOS: Animals blessed in St. Peter’s Square for feast of St. Anthony Abbot

Farmers and pet owners alike brought out their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. / Alan Koppschall/EWTN

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2023 / 12:20 pm (CNA).

St. Peter’s Square was filled with horses, cows, donkeys, dogs, goats, geese, and rabbits on Tuesday for the feast of St. Anthony Abbot.

Farmers and pet owners alike brought their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on Jan. 17.

While many American Catholics associate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi with a blessing of animals, in Italy farmers traditionally celebrate the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, the patron saint of domestic animals.

Farmers and pet owners alike brought out their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN
Farmers and pet owners alike brought out their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN

St. Anthony Abbot was a fourth-century hermit known for his asceticism and as a father of monasticism. His holy life in the Egyptian desert was recorded by St. Athanasius in The Life of St. Antony.”

The annual Vatican tradition had been canceled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farmers and pet owners alike brought out their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Credit: Alan Koppschall/EWTN
Farmers and pet owners alike brought out their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Credit: Alan Koppschall/EWTN

Despite the cold and rainy weather, many people showed up to celebrate again with their furry friends.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, greeted many of the animals after offering the blessing.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, individually greeted many of the animals after offering a blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN
Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, individually greeted many of the animals after offering a blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN

The cardinal kicked off the day’s celebration with a Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, where farmers brought up cheese, eggs, and other farm products as part of the offertory.

After Mass, a mounted police band led a parade of horses down the main street leading to Vatican City.

Farmers and pet owners alike brought out their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN
Farmers and pet owners alike brought out their beloved animals to the Vatican for a special blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN

In his homily, Gambetti recalled how St. Anthony was sought after for his wisdom: “He said that in addition to Scripture, his book was Creation in which he read the thoughts of God.”

Acknowledging that farmers have faced difficulties this year with a rise in production costs linked to the energy crisis in Europe, Gambetti said that “the Lord never fails to provide his providential help.”

“The fruit of the earth that turns into good food that nourishes life is the caress of God,” the Italian cardinal said.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, individually greeted many of the animals after offering a blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN
Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, individually greeted many of the animals after offering a blessing on the feast of St. Anthony Abbot, Jan. 17, 2023. Alan Koppschall/EWTN

Pope Francis prays for victims of Congo church bombing

Pope Francis prays in front of a crucifix during his general audience on Oct. 26, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 17, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis expressed his closeness on Tuesday to the victims of a church bombing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that killed at least 14 people and injured more than 60.

“In prayer, the Holy Father entrusts the deceased and the wounded to the mercy of God. He implores Christ, the Lord of Life, that the afflicted may find consolation and trust in God, invoking upon them the gift of peace,” a telegram sent Jan. 17 on behalf of the pope said.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing of a Sunday church service at a Pentecostal church in the eastern Congolese town of Kasindi on the border with Uganda.

Congolese authorities said the day after the attack that the death toll had risen to at least 14 people, according to The Associated Press.

Pope Francis sent the condolence message two weeks before he is set to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pope is scheduled to visit the Congolese capital of Kinshasa from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, where he will meet with victims of violence from the country’s eastern region.

Pope Francis was originally scheduled to also visit Goma, the capital of North Kivu, in addition to Kinshasa in his July itinerary before the trip was postponed to February. The stop was removed from the 2023 schedule, likely due to security concerns in the eastern DRC.

The violence in eastern Congo has created a severe humanitarian crisis with more than 5.5 million people displaced from their homes, the third-highest number of internally displaced people in the world.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege has said that he hopes the pope’s January visit will shed light on the “crimes against humanity” occurring in the DRC’s eastern region.

The Allied Democratic Forces, an African affiliate of the Islamic State, attacked a Catholic mission hospital in the country’s northeast province of North Kivu in October 2022 and killed six patients and Catholic Sister Marie-Sylvie Kavuke Vakatsuraki.

Another armed rebel group, the M23, executed 131 people “as part of a campaign of murders, rapes, kidnappings, and looting against two villages,” the U.N. reported Dec. 8, 2022.

Pope Francis’ condolence message after the bombing was addressed to Rev. Andre Bokundoa-Bo-Likabe, the president of the Church of Christ in Congo, who has called for “credible investigations to establish responsibility” for the attack and for the government to ensure proper care for “all the wounded scattered in different hospitals.”

Congolese Catholic Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku also condemned the “heinous” attack on the Protestant church and reassured the families affected of his diocese’s “fervent prayers in this time of trial.”

Paluku, the bishop of Butembo-Beni in eastern Congo, stressed that authorities have the obligation to “to protect citizens as well as their property” and “to scrupulously enforce the principle of the sacredness of life and the inviolability of places of worship.”

“Anyone who kills is against God's plan,” the bishop said.

Pope Francis offers condolences after 69 die in Nepal plane crash

Pope Francis prayed for peace in his Angelus address following Mass in L'Aquila, Italy. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2023 / 07:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis offered his condolences after at least 69 people died in a plane crash in Nepal on Sunday.

The pope sent a condolence telegram to Nepal’s President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Jan. 16 after Yeti Airlines flight 691 crashed as it was attempting to land in the Nepalese city of Pokhara.

The plane was carrying 72 passengers from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a popular base for trekkers in the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas.

Fifteen foreign nationals were on board, coming from India, Russia, South Korea, Argentina, France, Ireland, and Australia. At least 69 of the passengers have been confirmed dead, according to The Associated Press.

The telegram sent on the pope’s behalf by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said: “Saddened by the crash of the Yeti Airlines aircraft near Pokhara, His Holiness Pope Francis sends his condolences to you and to all affected by this tragedy, together with his prayers for those involved in the recovery efforts.”

“Commending the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the Almighty, His Holiness invokes upon those who mourn their loss the divine blessings of healing and peace.”

Analysis: Pope Francis centralizes authority with reform of Diocese of Rome

Pope Francis presides over the funeral Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square on Jan. 5, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Jan 15, 2023 / 11:00 am (CNA).

It was widely anticipated that a major reform of the Diocese of Rome was coming, as Pope Francis has been thinking about it for some time.

But no one expected it to come when it did: On Jan. 6, one day after the funeral of Francis’ predecessor as bishop of Rome, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

With the reform, Pope Francis firmly took over the reins of the vicariate, or hierarchy, of the diocese. Everything is centralized, and everything must pass, at least formally, under the control of the pontiff.

Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, the pope’s vicar for the diocese, sees his role deeply diminished. The diocese’s auxiliary bishops strengthen their direct link with the pope. In the end, the pope has made it clear that he is the one who also formally presides over the Episcopal Council, a new body established as an “expression of synodality.”

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis. .  Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Cardinal Angelo De Donatis. . Daniel Ibanez/CNA

The backstory

Before going into some details of the new decree, however, some background is necessary. 

The last reform of the structure of the Vicariate of Rome was outlined by Pope John Paul II in 1998 with the apostolic constitution Ecclesia In Urbe. For the new reform, Pope Francis copied and pasted several passages from that document. In some cases, these have been minimally rewritten to emphasize some details instead of others. In other cases, greater changes were made but these do little to alter the basic substance of things.

The reform presents two general characteristics of Pope Francis’ way of legislating: using councils or commissions and requiring those bodies to report directly to him.

It is clear that the pope is the bishop of Rome and that the pope’s vicar for the diocese is his auxiliary. Pope Francis, however, in this case, goes further, including with the constitution a decree that directly defines the areas of competence of the auxiliary bishops.

Pope Francis shows, in this way, a willingness to exercise greater personal control over everything that happens in the vicariate. At the same time, this choice also testifies to a “break” in the relationship of trust with his vicar, Cardinal de Donatis.

Although Francis called de Donatis to preach retreats to the Roman Curia in 2014, he was never the pope’s candidate to succeed Cardinal Agostino Vallini as vicar. That was Cardinal Paolo Lojudice.

Pope Francis, however, wanted to first consult the parish priests of Rome, 80% of whom preferred de Donatis. It was impossible, therefore, for the pope not to listen to them. He appointed de Donatis vicar (and cardinal) and made Lojudice archbishop of the prestigious Diocese of Siena, and a cardinal, as well.

Last May, at the general assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, it seemed clear that Pope Francis preferred the appointment of Cardinal Lojudice as the new president of the CEI. 

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and Cardinal Augusto Paolo Lojudice. Francesco Pierantoni via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)/Pufui PcPifpef via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi and Cardinal Augusto Paolo Lojudice. Francesco Pierantoni via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)/Pufui PcPifpef via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The plan was to appoint Lojudice vicar of the Diocese of Rome to succeed Cardinal de Donatis, who had finished his five-year term, which would then have made Lojudice the primary contact person for the pope both in Rome and among the Italian bishops. De Donatis would have been appointed the new Penitentiary in place of Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, who has now turned 78.

The Italian bishops, however, preferred Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna, who was not unwelcome to Pope Francis.

Lojudice didn’t become vicar for the Rome Diocese, either, as everyone assumed would happen. Meanwhile, the relationship of trust between de Donatis and the pope seemed to have been interrupted in 2020, when, at the beginning of the lockdown for COVID-19, de Donatis decided to close the churches of Rome. When Pope Francis later highlighted the inadvisability of closing churches, de Donatis withdrew the decree but announced that every decision had been made in agreement with the pope. There also have been other moments of friction in recent years. 

The pope, however, now seems intent on changing the vicar this year when de Donatis’ mandate expires. An indication of this is the fact that in the decree in which the pope defines the area and pastoral competencies of the auxiliary bishops, de Donatis is not mentioned as vicar. One might take his presence for granted, of course, but the general interpretation is that the change will be made.

What’s new

What are the novelties introduced by Pope Francis? First, the figure of the prelate general secretary disappears, while the vicegerente (or the deputy of the vicar) manages the offices of the General Secretariat. The prelate secretary also had the function of the moderator of the Curia. In this case, everything is entrusted to the vicegerente, who thus sees his functions and weight increase.

The pope chose the vicegerente from among the auxiliary bishops, and in this case, Baldassare Reina was selected. Bishop Reina does not come from the Diocese of Rome but was called from Agrigento. The pope’s logic is to break possible power chains by bringing in fresh and foreign forces.

The choice of a new parish priest is entrusted to a lengthy procedure that must then, in any case, be submitted to the pope, who acts as the true and proper bishop of Rome without relying on the vicar, who is left with the appointment of assistant parish priests.

Article 20 of the Constitution requests a report for each candidate for the priesthood or diaconate to be submitted before ordination. Also, in this case, the candidates must be presented by the cardinal vicar to the pope, and only after obtaining the Episcopal Council’s consent. Therefore, the vicar seems to be practically a commissariat: He does not choose the candidates but submits them to the pope and can submit them only after the Episcopal Council has endorsed the choice.

The council is defined as the “first organ of Synodality” and must meet “at least three times a month,” presided over by the pope. Only in the absence of the pope can the cardinal vicar preside over the council, which is made up of the vicegerent and the auxiliary bishops. However, the pope wants to receive “the agenda for each meeting as soon as possible.”

Finally, there is also the establishment of an Independent Supervisory Commission. This will have a regulation that must be “approved by the pope” and six members appointed by the pope who can remain in office for a maximum of two five-year terms.

The service for the protection of minors and vulnerable people is also added, which “reports to the Episcopal Council, through the auxiliary bishop appointed by me,” the pope has decreed.

Pope Francis attends the Italian bishops’ plenary assembly in Rome on May 24, 2021. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis attends the Italian bishops’ plenary assembly in Rome on May 24, 2021. Vatican Media.

The effects of the reform

The constitution also redistributes the areas and offices of the vicariate’s curia, and the accompanying decree gives each auxiliary bishop a specific task.

Beyond the reorganization, it should be noted how the pope enters into action as the actual bishop of Rome. Everything must pass through the decisions of the pope, while before, the cardinal vicar enjoyed trust and discretion. For the first time, however, the pope’s vicar is defined as an “auxiliary.” He is, therefore, an auxiliary among the auxiliaries, with a considerable reduction in his weight.

With this centralization, Pope Francis probably wants to overcome the risk of having “abuses” within the vicariate.

It is worth remembering that in June 2021, Pope Francis ordered an inspection of the vicariate itself. It was an audit entrusted to the auditor general of the Holy See, Alessandro Cassinis Righini. It was the first time the vicariate sifted through the accounting books, registers, and cooperative societies.

However, the pope, as a matter of practice, has sent an inspection to all the dicasteries of the Curia every time there is a reform or a new mandate. The review, therefore, already predicted the change of pace in the vicariate, one that has led Pope Francis to be increasingly alone in command.

Pope Francis announces ecumenical prayer service, reflects on St. John the Baptist’s ‘spirit of service’

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus address in St. Peter's Square on Jan. 15, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 15, 2023 / 06:17 am (CNA).

In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis encouraged Christians to cultivate the virtue of knowing “how to step aside” in order to bear witness to Jesus, as St. John the Baptist did.

The pope also announced that an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square as part of the Church’s ongoing Synod on Synodality.

Speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace on Jan. 15, the pope shared lessons from St. John the Baptist’s “spirit of service.”

Pope Francis said that St. John was “not interested in having a following for himself, in gaining prestige and success, but he bears witness and then steps back, so that many may have the joy of meeting Jesus.”

He reflected on St. John’s words after baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River: “‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (John 1: 29–30).

“This declaration, this testimony, reveals John’s spirit of service,” the pope said. “Humanly speaking, one would think that he would be given a ‘prize,’ a prominent place in Jesus’ public life. But no. John, having accomplished his mission, knows how to step aside, he withdraws from the scene to make way for Jesus.”

In this way, St. John the Baptist teaches “freedom from attachments” and “gratuitousness, taking care of others without benefit for oneself,” he said.

“Because it is easy to become attached to roles and positions, to the need to be esteemed, recognized, and rewarded,” the pope reflected.

“It is good for us, too, to cultivate, like John, the virtue of setting ourselves aside at the right moment, bearing witness that the point of reference of life is Jesus.”

The crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square to hear Pope Francis deliver his Angelus address on Jan. 15, 2023. Vatican Media
The crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square to hear Pope Francis deliver his Angelus address on Jan. 15, 2023. Vatican Media

Pope Francis recommended self-reflection on the following questions: “Do we attract others to Jesus, or to ourselves? And furthermore, following the example of John: Do we know how to rejoice in the fact that people take their own path and follow their calling, even if this entails some detachment from us? Do we rejoice in their achievements with sincerity and without envy?”

At the end of his general audience, Pope Francis announced that an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 30, 2023, as part of the Church’s ongoing Synod on Synodality.

The ecumenical prayer vigil, organized by the Taizé Community, will “entrust to God the work of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops,” set to take place in two sessions from Oct. 4–29, 2023, and in October 2024.

“Starting now, I invite our brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations to participate in this gathering of the People of God,” the pope said.

Pope Francis also highlighted the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will begin this week on Jan. 18, noting that the “path to Christian unity and the Church’s journey to synodal conversion are linked.”

“We thank the Lord who faithfully and patiently guides his people toward full communion, and we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten and sustain us with his gifts,” he said.

The pope urged people “not to forget the martyred people of Ukraine, who are suffering so much” and to remain close to them with aid and prayers.

He also greeted pilgrims who traveled to Rome from across the globe. “May your visit to St. Peter’s tomb strengthen your faith and your witness,” he said.

Pope Francis: Synodal journey ‘a challenge and task’ for American seminarians

Pope Francis met with seminarians, staff, and faculty of the Ponitifical North American College in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Jan. 14, 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2023 / 09:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told American seminarians in Rome that they are called to take up the “challenge and task” of the synodal journey — of listening to the Holy Spirit and to one another — as they study to become priests.

The pope met with students, staff, and faculty of the Pontifical North American College at the Vatican on the morning of Jan. 14.

“Your time here in Rome,” he said, “coincides with the synodal journey that the whole Church is presently undertaking, a journey that involves listening, to the Holy Spirit and to one another, in order to discern how to help God’s holy people live his gift of communion and become missionary disciples.”

“This is also the challenge and task you are called to take up as you walk together along the path that leads to priestly ordination and pastoral service,” the pope said in the Apostolic Palace.

Pope Francis met with seminarians, staff, and faculty of the Ponitifical North American College in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Jan. 14, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis met with seminarians, staff, and faculty of the Ponitifical North American College in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Jan. 14, 2023. Vatican Media

The Pontifical North American College, founded in 1859, hosts seminarians and priests from the United States and Australia as they complete studies in Rome. Faculty and staff include priests, religious sisters, and laypeople.

During the private audience, Francis also encouraged the seminarians to foster a daily relationship with Jesus by spending time in silence before the Eucharist.

“Over the course of your lives, and especially throughout this time of seminary formation, the Lord enters into a personal dialogue with you, asking what you are looking for and inviting you to ‘come and see,’ to speak with him from your hearts and give yourselves to him confidently in faith and love,” Pope Francis said.

“Doing so involves fostering a daily relationship with Jesus, one nourished especially by prayer, meditation on the word of God, the help of spiritual accompaniment, and listening to him in silence before the tabernacle,” he underlined. “Always remember this: listening in silence before the tabernacle.”

Pope Francis met with seminarians, staff, and faculty of the Ponitifical North American College in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Jan. 14, 2023. Vatican Media
Pope Francis met with seminarians, staff, and faculty of the Ponitifical North American College in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Jan. 14, 2023. Vatican Media

The pope invited the seminarians to use their years in Rome to see the mystery of the unity of the Church, in which diverse people live the oneness of the faith.

“It is my hope that these experiences will help you develop that fraternal love capable of seeing the grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common,” he said.

“For it is in these moments of familiar relationship with the Lord,” he continued, “that we can best hear his voice and discover how to serve him and his people generously and wholeheartedly.”