Pope Francis on Monday met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the pontiff’s first face-to-face interaction with the new administration of President Joe Biden, who has been challenged by US bishops.
Blinken, on a tour of Europe, had a private audience with the Argentine pope after meeting with senior Vatican officials including Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who handles foreign relations.
Wearing a dark suit, Blinken was escorted through the Sistine Chapel as a guide gave him a description of each fresco, which he stopped to admire.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the 40-minute meeting with the pope took place in a “friendly atmosphere”, adding that the pontiff recalled his 2015 trip to the United States and expressed “his affection and attention to the people of the United States”.
The trip by Blinken, a secular Jew, comes amid division within the Catholic Church in the United States over the positions of Biden, a devout Catholic who regularly attends Mass.
Biden says he personally opposes abortion but, like most of his Democratic Party, supports the right to choose abortion guaranteed in a 1973 Supreme Court decision that remains deeply divisive in US politics.
Earlier this month US bishops agreed to draft a statement that could potentially deny the holy communion — one of the most sacred rituals in the church — to any US leader who supports abortion rights.
The pope has previously spoken by telephone with Biden and shares some of the priorities of the new administration, including stepping up the fight against climate change and showing more compassion to refugees.
Francis, both the first Jesuit pope and the first pontiff from the Americas, had an uneven relationship with Donald Trump despite the previous president’s opposition to abortion.
He criticised Trump’s push to seal off Mexico with a wall. He declined last year to meet Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, concerned about being seen as showing support close to an election, although he met earlier with Pompeo
Pope Francis will next week meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the pontiff’s highest-ranking talks yet with the new US administration, officials said Friday.
Blinken, on a tour of Europe, will see both Pope Francis and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the pope’s de facto foreign minister, on Monday at the Vatican, a State Department spokesperson said.
Francis has spoken in support of some key goals of President Joe Biden’s administration, including stepping up the fight against climate change and showing compassion towards refugees.
The Vatican also played a key role in the behind-the-scenes diplomacy by the last Democratic administration under Barack Obama in normalising relations with Cuba, a process reversed by former president Donald Trump.
Trump had an at times difficult relationship with Francis, who during the mogul’s 2016 run for president criticised his push to build a wall on the US border with Mexico.
The pope notably declined to meet Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, shortly before last year’s election, fearing being used for Trump’s political benefit.
Pope Francis on Thursday rejected an offer by top German bishop Reinhard Marx to resign over the huge child sex abuse scandal rocking the Church, urging the cardinal known for his reforms to stay and help shape change in the institution.
“Continue as you propose (in your pastoral work) but as Archbishop of Munich and Freising,” the pope wrote to Marx, referring to the position he was offering to vacate.
Marx voiced surprise at the swift reply from the pope and said he accepted the “great challenge” put to him.
“This means that for me and our common work at the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, we’ll have to consider which new paths we can take, also in view of the history of the multitudes of failure,” Marx said in a statement.
He added that he will in the next weeks “reflect on how we can contribute even more to the renewal of the Church”.
Marx, who was never accused of abuse or of a cover-up, announced earlier this month that he had offered the pope his resignation over the church’s “institutional and systemic failure” in handling child sex abuse scandals.
The stunning decision came after the church in Germany, like in many places elsewhere, was shaken by allegations of wide-ranging abuse by clergymen against minors.
In his letter, the pope agreed with Marx in condemning the “catastrophe” of clerical sexual abuse scandals and the way the Catholic Church dealt with them “until recently”.
“The entire Church is in crisis because of the abuse issue” and “the Church cannot proceed without tackling this crisis”, the pope wrote in his native Spanish.
He added: “The ostrich policy (of burying one’s head in the sand) leads nowhere.”
The pope said the Catholic Church could not “live with the weight of having ‘skeletons in the closet’, as the saying goes,” and said it needed to confess to its sins and “ask for the grace of shame”.
Holding up Marx as an example, Francis thanked the archbishop for his “Christian courage which does not fear the cross, which does not fear to be overwhelmed by the tremendous reality of sin”.
– ‘Shared responsibility – Known as a prominent advocate for change, Marx has clashed with both the Vatican and more conservative German clerics but has also been closely involved in Francis’ reform efforts.
He is part of a seven-strong Council of Cardinals who is advising the pope on a general overhaul of the Vatican’s administration and leads the Council of the Economy, which oversees money matters.
Marx headed the German Bishops’ Conference from 2012 to 2020 — a period when it commissioned a study that revealed widespread sexual abuse by German clergy.
It found that 1,670 clergymen had committed some type of sexual attack against 3,677 minors, mostly boys, between 1946 and 2014.
The authors said the actual number of victims was almost certainly much higher.
Another report published in March exposed the scope of abuse by priests in Germany’s top diocese in Cologne.
Cologne bishop Rainer Maria Woelki, an arch-conservative, faced months of public criticism after he refused last year to allow the publication of an initial study.
He later commissioned the second report, which revealed that 314 minors, mostly boys under the age of 14, were sexually abused between 1975 and 2018 in the western city.
Last month, the pope sent two envoys to Cologne to investigate “possible mistakes” made by Cardinal Woelki.
In his resignation letter, dated May 21 and published on June 4, Marx said: “It is important to me to share the responsibility for the catastrophe of the sexual abuse by Church officials over the past decades.”
Slamming colleagues who “refuse to believe there is a shared responsibility in this respect”, the 67-year-old said the Catholic Church was at “a dead-end”.
Marx added that he hoped his resignation would offer a new beginning for the Church.
Pope Francis updated the Catholic Church’s criminal code Tuesday, adding directives on punishing sexual abuse crimes of minors by priests that have long been sought by activists against paedophilia.
Revision of the penal sanctions within the Code of Canon Law followed a lengthy process involving input from canonist and criminal law experts and came after repeated complaints by victims of sexual abuse and others that the code’s previous wording was outdated and intransparent.
The purpose of the revision, wrote Francis in introducing the changes, is “restoration of justice, the reform of the offender, and the repair of scandal.”
Since becoming pope in 2013, the Argentine pontiff has striven to tackle the decades-long sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests around the globe, although many activists against paedophilia insist much more needs to be done.
He convened an unprecedented summit on clerical sex abuse in 2019 while lifting secrecy rules that hindered investigations of abusing priests, among other measures.
The new code falls short of explicitly spelling out sexual offences against minors yet refers to offences against the sixth commandment, which prohibits adultery.
A priest is to be stripped of his office and punished “with other just penalties” if he commits such offences with a minor, the new code says.
Similarly, a priest who grooms or induces a minor “to expose himself or herself pornographically or to take part in pornographic exhibitions” will be similarly punished.
Need for justice
One aim of the revision, wrote Francis, was to reduce the number of penalties left to the discretion of judges, especially in the most serious cases.
“The new text introduces various modifications to the law in force and sanctions some new criminal offences, which respond to the increasingly widespread need in the various communities to see justice and order reestablished that the crime has shattered,” he wrote.
Other technical improvements related to “the right of defence, the statute of limitations for criminal action, a more precise determination of penalties,” added Francis.
The changes will take effect in December.
Despite recent measures to root out abuse by priests and increase transparency, some victims say the Vatican still has not gone far enough to protect children even in the West, where intense media coverage of paedophile priests has led to greater scrutiny of church practices.
Pope Francis celebrated mass in honour of conflict-ridden Myanmar Sunday, repeating his calls for an end to violence in the country roiled by months of bloodshed.
The mass inside the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica came after several appeals for peace in recent months by Francis, who visited Myanmar in November 2017, the first papal visit to a Buddhist-majority nation.
A Myanmar nun recited the first reading in Burmese before a congregation of about 200 nuns, priests and seminarians during the mass intended for the country’s Catholics in Rome and beyond.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February 1 coup, triggering a massive civilian uprising that authorities have sought to quell with lethal force.
Street protests calling for a return to democracy continue to occur nearly daily, despite the junta’s bloody crackdown having killed an estimated 790 people to date, according to a local monitoring group.
In his homily, Francis, 84, skirted an overt denunciation of the military regime, instead of appealing to the faithful to be “steadfast in the truth” and urging them not to lose hope.
“Dear brothers and sisters, in these days when your beloved country of Myanmar is experiencing violence, conflict and repression, let us ask ourselves: what we are being called to keep? In the first place, to keep the faith,” he said.
The pope appealed for unity, calling division among communities and peoples “a deadly disease.”
“Sins against unity abound envy, jealousy, the pursuit of personal interests rather than the common good, the tendency to judge others. Those little conflicts of ours find a reflection in great conflicts, like the one your country is experiencing in these days.”
– Commit to peace – There are an estimated 700,000 Catholics in Myanmar, about 1 percent of the population, and in Rome their ranks include students, priests, nuns, lay workers and missionaries.
Catholics have been in Myanmar for over 500 years after Portuguese traders introduced the religion from their Indian settlement in Goa. Missionaries arrived in the 18th century.
The February coup by military generals, which ousted the civilian government, has eroded the improved standing that Catholics enjoyed over the past decade in the wake of the 2010 general election.
Suu Kyi has remained under house arrest, accused of a raft of charges that could see her barred from politics for life.
In his homily, the Argentine pontiff acknowledged “some political and social situations are bigger than we are.”
Still, he added, “commitment to peace and fraternity always comes from below: each person, in little things, can play his or her part.”
“Amid war, violence, and hatred, fidelity to the Gospel and being peacemakers calls for commitment, also through social and political choices, even at the risk of our lives.”
– ‘Great miracle’ – Ending mass, a Myanmar priest thanked the pope for his solidarity.
“Our people want peace. For many in Myanmar, this mass is a great miracle,” said the priest, speaking in Italian.
“The pope, the head of the Catholic church, who is praying together with the people of a small country, for them, it’s a marvellous thing.”
Francis has urged peace in Myanmar multiple times since the coup.
In the immediate aftermath, Francis urged the junta to respect a “democratic coexistence” with the people while and a release of political leaders.
A month later, he made reference to the Catholic nun who implored soldiers on her knees in February not to fire on protesters, saying, “I too kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say: stop the violence!”
Pope Francis on Sunday called for an end to violence in annexed east Jerusalem, where clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police have left scores of Palestinians injured.
After delivering his Regina Caeli prayer from the window overlooking St Peter’s Square, the pope said he was “following with particular concern the events that are happening in Jerusalem”.
“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace,” he said.
“I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multi-religious identity and multi-culture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail.
“Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”
Tensions ran high Sunday in east Jerusalem after hundreds of Palestinians were wounded in a weekend of clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces, sparking global concern that the unrest could spread further.
The violence around Jerusalem’s revered Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the Old City, mostly at night, is the worst since 2017, fuelled by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem.
The pope also offered his prayers for the victims of the attack on Saturday on a school in Kabul, describing it as “an inhumane action that killed many girls as they were leaving school”.
“Let us pray for all of them and for their families, and that God might grant peace to Afghanistan,” he said.
A series of blasts outside the school during a peak holiday shopping period killed more than 50 people, mostly girl students, and wounded over 100 in Dasht-e-Barchi, a west Kabul suburb populated mostly by Hazara Shiites.
Finally, the Argentine pontiff offered some words for a small crowd of people bearing Colombian flags who had come to St Peter’s Square hoping for some reference to the demonstrations and clashes in their country.
“I would also like to express my concern for the tension and violent clashes in Colombia which have left many wounded. There are many Colombians here, let’s pray for your country,” he said.
Pope Francis on Thursday announced new anti-corruption rules for top officials as part of his drive to clean up the Vatican following a series of scandals.
Senior managers and administrators at the Holy See, the central governing body of the Catholic Church, will have to declare they have no convictions or are not under investigation for corruption, terrorism or exploitation of minors.
They will also be banned from certain investments, while all Vatican employees must no longer accept work-related gifts worth over 40 euros ($48).
“Faithfulness in matters of little consequence is related to faithfulness in more important ones,” the pope wrote in the new “motu proprio”, a legal document issued under his personal authority.
Soon after being elected leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics in 2013, Francis vowed to continue efforts to fight corruption begun by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
The Argentine pontiff has closed thousands of suspect accounts, has reformed laws, fired top financial officials and sought to streamline the administration of the Holy See.
Under the new rules, top officials will have to declare they have never been convicted, tried or are being investigated for participation in organised crime, corruption, fraud, terrorism, money laundering, exploitation of minors or tax evasion.
They will also be required to declare that their assets are from legal sources, are not held in tax havens, or invested in companies whose policies are against the church’s doctrine.
This declaration must be made when someone is hired, and thereafter every two years, with the risk of dismissal or a fine if someone is found to have lied.
The Vatican has been dogged by scandals in recent years, including the 2017 conviction of the ex-head of a Vatican-run hospital for funnelling a fortune from a foundation to renovate a cardinal’s apartment.
And the Vatican bank, known as the IOR, was for decades embroiled in controversies, with one of its former presidents ordered to stand trial on charges of embezzlement and money laundering in 2018.
In September, the pope forced the resignation of Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a close adviser who has been accused of syphoning off funds destined for the poor to family members — a charge he denies.
Pope Francis urged Catholics to remain hopeful in his Easter Sunday address, calling vaccines an “essential tool” in ending the pandemic and urging their swift rollout to the world’s poorest countries.
On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable — the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.
“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines “especially in the poorest countries”.
Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.
The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased.
He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.
He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth — “committed to supporting democracy” — called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.
“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4 marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.
– Key month for Italy – The pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the city and the world”) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.
The whole of Italy — the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus — has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.
Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March — although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.
April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.
Three regions, including that of Veneto which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zones to “orange”.
In a surprise move, Pope Francis on Thursday privately celebrated a Holy Week ritual with a cardinal he fired abruptly months ago, in an apparent gesture of reconciliation.
The cardinal, Angelo Becciu, was dismissed from a powerful Vatican job in September, after Francis told him he was accused of syphoning off Vatican charity funds to help his siblings.
But on Thursday, Francis visited Becciu and celebrated Holy Thursday mass in the chapel of his private apartment, the cardinal said in a statement issued to Vatican journalists.
A Vatican source said he could not comment on the pope’s “private engagements,” but added, “a fatherly gesture like this, on a day like Holy Thursday, does not seem strange.”
Holy Thursday mass commemorates Jesus’ last supper with the 12 apostles, and is part of the run-up to Easter Sunday, which marks Jesus’ resurrection and is the most important day in the Catholic calendar.
Francis normally celebrates Holy Thursday mass in public, but this year he delegated the task to the dean of the college of cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, who led a service in the basilica of St John Lateran in Rome.
In keeping with coronavirus regulations, attendance was restricted.
Becciu has also been linked to a scandal concerning a loss-making Vatican investment in central London which happened under his watch, but he has always professed his innocence.
Before his dismissal, he led the Vatican’s department on sainthoods. He was previously, during 2011-2018, Substitute for General Affairs, a role akin to chief of staff in the Vatican’s central bureaucracy.