News Analysis

Week in review

The big story of the past seven days

✣ Pope addresses homosexuality among priests

What happened?

Pope Francis said the issue of homosexuality among candidates for the priesthood was “very serious”, that it must be “adequately discerned from the
beginning” and that “we have to be exacting”.

The remarks were made in a book-length interview, entitled The Strength of a Vocation, excerpts of which were published by Spain’s Religión Digital. “In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable,” the Pope said, “and that mentality … also influences the life of the Church.”

What Pope Francis said

the pope said he was “concerned” about the issue, “perhaps because at one time it did not receive much attention” and because “when care is not taken, problems increase”.

Francis recalled that one religious superior, speaking about gay members of his order, had claimed that it was not “that serious, it’s just an expression of an affection”. That was a “mistake”, the Pope said. “In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life.” Francis said we “have to urge homosexual priests and men and women Religious to live celibacy with integrity”. It is better, he said, to “leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life”.

What commentators are saying

A headline from the Daily Beast website said the Pope had gone “full homophobic”. Writer Barbie Latza Nadeau recalled the Pope’s words “Who am I to judge?” when asked about a gay person seeking God, but concluded the Pope had now become “very judgmental indeed”.

On his blog, Fr John Zuhlsdorf said the Pope’s argument was that gay people “should not be admitted to formation as Religious or as priests” – noting the several times the Pope said the priesthood or consecrated life was not for people with an “ingrained tendency” or who “express an affection” or who have “marked imbalances”. Fr James Martin disagreed. On Twitter he cited the Pope’s words later on in the excerpt that gay priests and Religious must be celibate: “Francis sees that ‘being gay’ does not mean ‘sexually active’.”

The most overlooked story of the week

✣ Order of nuns in crisis amid Vatican dispute

What happened?

Thirty-four out of 39 members of a French religious order have said they will renounce their vows rather than accept the authority of a commissioner imposed by the Vatican. The Vatican’s department for consecrated life removed the superior general and novice mistress of the Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, last year.

Why was it under-reported?

It’s a difficult story to investigate – religious communities are often hard for journalists to reach, and, given that there are various sides to the story, it would take time to ensure any coverage gives the whole picture.

Associated Press ran a tiny, three-paragraph summary, while major Catholic outlets have largely ignored it. But it appears that a Vatican intervention, requested by the local bishop, has been a disaster for the community. It is not an isolated case – a Vatican visitation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate caused similar turmoil.

What will happen next?

The sisters are in a standoff with Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Vatican’s consecrated life department, who has said they must accept the authority of an apostolic commissioner, Sister Geneviève Médevielle, or face dismissal from their order.

Their supporters claim that Médevielle, a professor of ethics, is hostile to the order’s traditional charism and wants to change it. She denies this. Whatever the truth, a heavy-handed intervention has left a much-loved community (which runs four nursing homes) at risk of collapse.

✣ The week ahead

The seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine who were murdered during Algeria’s civil war will be beatified tomorrow. The monks, whose story was told in the film Of Gods and Men, are among 19 martyrs to be made Blessed at a Mass in Oran. The martyrs include Bishop Pierre Claverie, who was killed by a remote-controlled bomb outside his residence.

A nativity made of sand will be unveiled in St Peter’s Square today. The 52ft-wide sculpture is made with sand mixed with water and compressed into blocks. It can survive a light rain. The chief artist is Rich Varano, from Florida.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols is scheduled to give evidence to a national inquiry into child sex abuse next Thursday. The cardinal will be asked about his handling of abuse allegations while Archbishop of Birmingham from 2000 to 2009, including allegations against JRR Tolkien’s son, Fr John Tolkien. Cardinal Nichols had been due to testify last month but fell ill.

The best of the web

✣ Highlights from the week online

The holy Irish priest who was always late

A holy Irish priest who died of cancer nine years ago may soon be on the path to canonisation.

Susan Gately, of the Irish Independent, described a gathering of 100 people sharing testimonies about Fr Colm O’Brien, who died in 2009 aged 36.

The meeting at Clonmel, Tipperary, was called by Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore.

The bishop said he had been “hearing about Colm for years, even before I was made bishop”. The priest, he said, “would arrive late to almost everything because he would stop to talk to everybody from the car to the house and he couldn’t get from one end of the street to the other without having several conversations. “He had an extraordinary humility, simplicity and joy about him and a sense of humour.”

The next step, the paper said, would be to present a record of the priest’s life to the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes. Bishop Alphonsus is appealing to people who knew Fr Colm to send their accounts to [email protected] with “Fr Colm O’Brien” as the subject.

Meeting the ‘last true knight of Malta’

On the BBC travel site, Ross Kenneth Urken described tracking down the “last true knight of Malta”. Fra’ John Critien is one of only 55 Knights of Malta in the world who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and the only knight on the island of Malta. Urken said he wanted to learn how to behave like a true Knight of Malta. He recounted his lessons from Critien, delivered in a “capacious living room where the walls were adorned with oil paintings of grand masters past” and later “in his sun-dappled garden next to his parrot, Kiku”.

“Everybody thinks being a knight is just being posh, or being smart or being grand,” the marquis said. But the real impact of the Order of Malta, he explained, is through its charity work.

“In the past, the defence of the faith was riding horses, fighting enemies,” Critien said. “Now we can defend the faith by being an example to those around us.”

A new political trend rooted in Catholicism

At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher looked at trends in European politics – especially in France, where a new ecosystem has emerged comprising intellectuals, activists, magazines and small communities (some of them have started organic farms). The ecosystem is especially rooted in Catholicism, environmentalism and social conservatism – and most of them are fans of Bernie Sanders.

According to Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books, “They predictably reject the European Union, same-sex marriage, and mass immigration. But they also reject unregulated global financial markets, neoliberal austerity, genetic modification, consumerism and AGFAM (Apple-Google-Facebook-Amazon-Microsoft).”

The new French conservatism, Dreher concluded, represents “the best hope Europe has to avoid real fascism. EU-style technocratic, deracinated liberalism is dying, and deserves to die.”

✣ Meanwhile…

✣ A ring found in a hill near Bethlehem is thought to have belonged to Pontius Pilate.

The ring was among thousands of items first dug up by archaeologists 50 years ago. After cleaning, specialist photography uncovered the word “Pilatus” written in Greek.

Danny Schwartz, a professor at Hebrew University, told Haaretz newspaper he did not know of any other “Pilatus” from the period and that the ring showed this Pilatus was a wealthy person. It is thought to have been used to stamp documents.

Pontius Pilate was prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from AD 26/27 to 36/7.

✣ A young boy with autism briefly took over the Pope’s general audience last week.

Pope Francis was addressing the crowd in the Paul VI audience hall when the boy began roaming the stage, tugging at a Swiss Guard’s sleeve and rolling on the floor.

The boy’s mother approached the Pope and explained that her six-year-old son, Wenzel, had autism and was mute.

The Pope urged her to leave him to play.

“He is mute, but … he knows how to express himself. He is free, free and unruly, but he is free,” the Pope said. “He made me think of myself. Am I also so free in front of God?”

The week in quotations

Become accustomed to talking to your angel so that he may take care of you
Pope Francis speaking to children with cancer
Catholic News Service

Ideologues fear facts like the Devil water
Cardinal Müller
EWTN interview

I only take vitamins with a fruit shake
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David replies to President Duterte who accused him of taking drugs

It is the ultimate goal of every human life to become a saint
Bishop Davies
Advent pastoral letter

Statistic of the week


Proportion of Britons who say they pray daily, compared to 55 per cent in the US
Pew Research Center