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Pope Francis reads speeches unassisted for the first time in nearly two weeks

Pope Francis greets members of Italy's National Association of St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2023 / 11:16 am (CNA).

Pope Francis had seven meetings Thursday morning where he read out three speeches unassisted for the first time in nearly two weeks.

The pope, who has been recovering from a bout of bronchitis, said that he was feeling “much better” on Wednesday but opted to have an aide read his general audience catechesis, explaining to the crowd that he still had difficulties if he “talks too much.”

The following day, the pope seemed to show improvement in this respect as well by reading out his speeches during his meetings on Dec. 7 with members of the Focolare Movement, Italy’s National Association of St. Paul, and new ambassadors to the Holy See. 

Pope Francis could be seen reading the speeches in videos released by Vatican Media, one day after the Italian news aggregator site “Il Sismografo” published a commentary saying the pope’s “health condition does not look good,” citing the pope’s decision not to read his speeches aloud.

Since Nov. 26, the pope has only offered brief off-the-cuff remarks during many of his audiences, while his longer prepared speeches were either read by an aide or distributed to his guests, as Pope Francis recovered from what he has described as “very acute infectious bronchitis.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, also read Francis’ keynote speech to the U.N.’s COP28 climate conference on Dec. 2 after the pope’s trip to the climate summit in Dubai was canceled at the request of his doctors.

In addition to his three speeches on Thursday, Pope Francis had private meetings with the former archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit; Archbishop Yagop Jacques Mourad of Homs, Syria; Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawłowski, the apostolic nuncio to Greece; and Archbishop Nareg Alemezian of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Pope Francis at his audience with Italy's National Association of St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis at his audience with Italy's National Association of St. Paul on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis, who turns 87 this month, is scheduled to preside over a ceremony on Dec. 8 honoring the Virgin Mary in the piazza below Rome’s Spanish Steps and deliver a special Friday Angelus address to mark the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Vatican has not disclosed whether any special accommodations, including having an aide read his speeches, could be made for the pope during his busy schedule on the Marian feast day.

Pope Francis’ cardinal advisers hear from 2 female professors on women’s role in the Church

Pope Francis at the general audience at the Vatican on Dec. 6, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/EWTN News

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers heard testimonies from two female theology professors who spoke about the role of women in the Church.

The Holy See press office said on Dec. 6 that the pope met with his council of advisers for a two-day meeting in Rome, which included discussions of abuse prevention, the Synod on Synodality assembly, and the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Holy Land.

“At the center of reflection in this meeting was the theme of women’s role in the Church,” the Vatican said.

Sister Linda Pocher, FMA, and Lucia Vantini, a theology professor in Verona, addressed the council on the topic, along with Father Luca Castiglioni, a fundamental theology professor at the diocesan seminary of Milan. 

Pocher, a member of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco, is an adjunct professor of Christology and Mariology at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium” in Rome.

“The council agreed about the need to listen, even and especially in individual Christian communities, to the feminine aspect of the Church, so that the processes of reflection and decision-making can enjoy the irreplaceable contribution of women,” the Vatican communique said.

The pope’s Council of Cardinals has been discussing the role of women in the Church since February 2022, when the cardinals heard and commented on a report by Pocher on the Marian principle in the Church.

Last week, Pope Francis spoke of the “Marian principle,” which theologians often contrast with the “Petrine principle,” in comments to the International Theological Commission on Nov. 30.

“Balthasar’s thought has brought me so much light,” Francis said. “The Petrine principle and the Marian principle. This can be debated, but the two principles are there. The Marian is more important than the Petrine because the Church is bride, the Church is woman, without being masculine.”

The pope also expressed disappointment that there are only five women among the 28 members of the International Theological Commission, whom he appoints, adding that “women have a capacity for theological reflection that is different to that of us men.”

“The Church is woman. And if we do not know what a woman is, what the theology of a woman is, we will never understand what the Church is,” he said.

“One of the great sins we have had is to ‘masculinize’ the Church. And this is not solved by the ministerial path; that is something else.”

The pope’s group of cardinal advisers — sometimes referred to as the C9 because of its nine members — was established by Pope Francis in 2013 to “assist him in the governance of the universal Church” as well as to revise the text of the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus.

Pope Francis added five new members to the council in March: Synod on Synodality organizer Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Canadian Cardinal Gérald C. Lacroix, Brazilian Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, Spanish Cardinal Juan José Omella Omella, and Cardinal Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, the president of the Governorate of Vatican City State.

U.S. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also took part in the Dec. 4–5 meeting at the Casa Santa Marta, the pope’s residence.

During the meeting, O’Malley “outlined several hypothetical arrangements about the organization of assemblies of bishops’ conferences five years after the February 2019 Meeting on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Vulnerable Persons, which were then discussed and evaluated with council members,” according to the Holy See Press Office.

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals is scheduled for February.

Why protesters in 50 Spanish cities are praying the rosary this Friday

Spanish protesters show their rosaries in Spain in protest against the action of the police on Nov. 28, 2023. / Credit: Nicolás de Cárdenas/ACI Prensa

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 7, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

On Dec. 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — the patroness of Spain — hundreds of Spaniards will gather to pray the rosary in public “for the unity of Spain” in more than 50 cities throughout the country.

Lay Catholics have been gathering in public recently to pray the rosary in response to the political, social, and moral situation in Spain and in resistance to pressure from the government, led by President Pedro Sánchez, to prevent these expressions of faith in the public square.

‘Immoral’ government deals

At the end of October and the beginning of November, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) announced the political deals necessary to remain in power after the general elections of July 23.

The parties that have come together to make these deals possible are broadly characterized as ideologically leftist for the most part, or as holding regional-nationalist or secessionist positions.

While Spain has a national government, the country is also governed by a decentralized system of regional governments known as “autonomous communities,” some of which have separatist tendencies to form their own nation such as Basque Country and Catalonia.

Among the parties in the political coalition government Sánchez has put together are EH Bildu — the political heirs of the terrorist Basque Marxist separatist group ETA, which claimed the lives of more than 800 people over 40 years — and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) and Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), which promoted the secessionist coup d’état in Catalonia carried out in 2017.

The deals reached include an amnesty law that would free from prison the Catalan secessionist leaders convicted of sedition and which would also leave unpunished the crimes related to that challenge to Spain’s constitutional order and territorial unity that have yet to be judged in court. 

Some bishops, speaking as individual citizens — such as Jesús Sanz Montes of the Diocese of Oviedo — described these deals as “immoral” and charged that “those who committed serious and violent crimes against coexistence [the territorial unity of Spain], destroying the rule of law, are determining the future of a people with their bargaining chip.”

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference also recently expressed its concern about the social and political crisis that is being experienced in the country in a message titled “Encounter and Harmony Are Still Possible.”

Rosary for Spain joins citizen protests

On Nov. 3, when the agreement that included amnesty for the convicted secessionist leaders in Catalonia was already considered a done deal, protests began to take place near the national headquarters of the PSOE on Ferraz Street in Madrid, which were repressed by the National Police.

A little more than a week later, on Nov. 12, some laypeople began to pray the rosary outside the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a few meters from the site of the protests. 

Thus, for two weeks, punctually at 7:30 p.m., the rosary was prayed without problems or incidents. When the rosary was over, some people on their own initiative joined the nearby citizen demonstrations against the government.

Rosary for Spain banned

The Organic Law that regulates the fundamental right of assembly provides that notice of public events must normally be given to the Government Delegation 10 days in advance. However, the law also provides for at least 24 hours notice to be given for urgent circumstances.

All events to pray the rosary in public during the two weeks prior to Monday, Nov. 27, had been communicated to the Government Delegation, which opted for administrative silence. This means that if there is no response from the administration, it is understood that nothing prevents holding the event.

But on Nov. 27, the Government Delegation gave the order to prevent the recitation of the rosary. At the usual time, numerous officers from the Police Intervention Units (UIP), or riot police, showed up in front of the church where the rosary was being prayed.

According to witnesses, the participants were told by the police that they could not proceed with the prayer, but the faithful continued praying the rosary anyway. The event organizer, José Andrés Calderón, was asked to show his ID and a woman was arrested.

That same night, Calderón announced another decision by the Government Delegation that banned the rosary rallies scheduled for Nov. 28, 29, and 30.

Rosaries in front of the police

The news about the ban announced Nov. 27 meant that at the event on Nov. 28 there was a somewhat more tense atmosphere than usual. Thus, hundreds of people gathered at the site in defiance of the government ban.

The prayer passed without incident until at its conclusion, when those in charge of the large contingent of police that was present went to speak with Calderón to inform him that they were going to fine him as the organizer of the event.

A rumor spread among the participants that Calderón was going to be arrested, so many people crowded around the young man and the National Police officers, defending the right to freely pray the rosary in public.

While the riot police put on their protective gear in preparation for the possible use of force, those who had come to pray held out their rosaries and formed a solid front facing off with the police, who retreated several meters along Marqués de Urquijo Street, perpendicular to Ferraz Street, where the PSOE headquarters is located.

After about 10 minutes of growing tension, with the participants shouting “Freedom!” and “Go away!” at the police, they decided on their own initiative to move over to adjacent Ferraz Street, where the anti-government protests first began, to continue showing their rejection of the deals made by President Sánchez after the July elections.

Rosary for the unity of Spain

In protest against the prohibitions imposed by the Government Delegation in Madrid, on Nov. 28 the call to hold a national rosary for the unity of Spain on Dec. 8 began to circulate among those present.

The initiative invited people, in a generic way, to gather to pray in front of the cathedral or main church of each town or city on the feast day of the patroness of Spain, the Immaculate Conception, “in communion with the rosary of Ferraz.”

On Nov. 29, despite the prohibition, the faithful gathered again for prayer. On that occasion, there were no moments of tension with law enforcement officers even though that morning, the Provincial Court of Madrid in response to an appeal filed by Calderón had upheld the decision of the Government Delegation.

Rosary for Spain in 50 cities

By Dec. 1, the nationwide call for a rosary on Dec. 8 had already been confirmed for 15 cities, and just five days later, 50 rallies spread throughout Spain were confirmed — and even one in Miami as well.

The promoters of the rosary rallies have also published a manifesto to be read on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception in all the places where this initiative is supported with the hashtag #RosarioPorEspaña on social media.

The manifesto

On Dec. 5, the “Manifesto of the Rosary for Spain” was released, which will be read at all prayer sites. It states that “the Spanish nation is at a crossroads” and that it is threatened by “its progressive balkanization, the takeover of Parliament by anti-Spanish forces, the destruction of the middle class, and the lack of a true national project.”

The manifesto stresses that Spain “suffers, above all, from a moral and spiritual bankruptcy” because “false secular religions” have corrupted “the deepest roots of the Spanish people.”

It furthermore notes that “the state has usurped the ‘auctoritas’ (authority) that the Church historically had” and that there is a twofold religious persecution: one “violent” and another “that is more invisible and dangerous” and that enters “into areas in which a ruler, unless he is a tyrant, could never meddle.”

The manifesto also underscores that “the line that separates the just form of government from the tyrannical has been crossed for a long time” in Spain and, understanding that “religion is the greatest enemy of every tyrant,” declares that “the Catholic has the duty to bear witness to their faith in all areas.”

The manifesto concludes by emphasizing that the national rosary for Spain is being held “with the purpose of worshipping God and venerating his immaculate mother. We pray for the intercession and help of the Virgin Mary to avoid the territorial and spiritual dismemberment of Spain. God is with us!”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

FBI director grilled after release of new report on targeting of Catholics

Christopher Wray at his confirmation hearing on July 12, 2017. / Credit: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Image

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 6, 2023 / 17:35 pm (CNA).

Sen. Josh Hawley engaged in a tense exchange with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday after the release of the report that found the agency’s investigation into traditional Catholics may be more expansive than FBI officials have claimed.

“Now we know that, in fact, FBI agents did approach a priest and a choir director to ask them to inform on parishioners,” Hawley told Wray during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Dec. 5. 

The hearing followed the unveiling on Monday of the House Judiciary Committee’s report detailing the results of a monthslong investigation into a leaked internal FBI memo that discussed investigating Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. 

“Good heavens, director, this is one of the most outrageous targetings — you have mobilized your division, the most powerful law enforcement division in the world, against traditionalist Catholics … and you just told us you have not fired a single person,” Hawley said during the exchange. 

Wray argued with Hawley, saying that he was conflating two distinct things: the memo that the Richmond FBI office has since rescinded and a separate investigation into a man who was amassing molotov cocktails and making threats. In regard to the memo that targeted Catholics, Wray said employees have been admonished and their salaries may be affected.

“We do not and will not conduct investigations based on anybody’s exercise of their constitutionally protected religious [expression],” Wray claimed.

“You have done so and your memo explicitly asks for it,” Hawley retorted.

The new report delved deeper into the FBI’s efforts to investigate traditionalist Catholics and the now-retracted Richmond FBI memo that alleged a link between so-called “radical traditionalist Catholics” and “the far-right white nationalist movement.” The memo suggested “trip wire or source development” within parishes that offer the Traditional Latin Mass and within online communities.

The report found that the internal memo was made available to other FBI field offices, that the FBI may still be looking into the supposed link mentioned in the memo, and that agents interviewed a priest and a choir director affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X in late 2022 — although the FBI claims these interviews were part of a separate investigation and had no relation to the memo.

“The memorandum was spread throughout the FBI, which is contrary to previous assertions that the memorandum was limited to the Richmond Field Office,” the report found, noting that it “was published on an FBI-wide system.”

Although FBI officials have argued that this problem was isolated to one field office, the report found that “the FBI had plans for an external, FBI-wide product based on the Richmond memorandum.” In spite of Wray’s retraction and disavowal of the memo, the report also found that “the FBI may still be attempting to fashion information from the Richmond memorandum into an external-facing document.”

The report cites a private interview the committee held with Special Agent in Charge of the Richmond Field Office Stanley Meador, which revealed that discussions about a broader document are ongoing. 

“I know internally there have been some discussions … throughout the months of a desire to still try and get this information out somehow, but … I’ve not seen anything as a result of that,” Meador said, according to the report. 

When asked to clarify, Meador said he was referring to the “general subject” of the supposed connection between so-called radical traditionalist Catholics and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.

The investigation also references information disclosed by a whistleblower about FBI agents interviewing a priest and a choir director at a church associated with the Society of St. Pius X in Richmond. The SSPX holds a canonically irregular status with the Catholic Church due to its founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, consecrating bishops without papal approval. 

“The interviews appear to have occurred in November and December 2022 — the same time the analysts started drafting the memorandum,” the report states. “This information, which the FBI has refused to disclose, confirms that the FBI directly communicated with Catholic clergy and staff about parishioners practicing their faith.”

In a statement to CNA on Tuesday, the FBI disputed the report’s claim, saying that the priest and choir director were interviewed “by FBI Richmond during an investigation of an individual threatening violence who has since been arrested [and] … the interviews were not conducted for the domain perspective as characterized by the report.” 

“Any characterization that the FBI is targeting Catholics is false,” the statement read. “We have stated repeatedly that the intelligence product prepared by one FBI field office did not meet the exacting standards of the FBI and was quickly removed from FBI systems. An internal review conducted by the FBI found no malicious intent to target Catholics or members of any other religious faith and did not identify any investigative steps taken as a result of the product.”

The committee, however, said in its report that the bureau “continues to resist several of the committee’s requests for transparency and answers.”

The report said that the FBI “must take decisive action to rebuild public trust,” noting that the Richmond office hasn’t issued a public apology nor removed any employees involved in the creation of the memo.

Refugees of ethnic clash in India find open arms in majority-Christian state

Father Caleb Laldawngsanga leads refugees from violence-torn Manipur in the praying of a rosary. / Credit: Anto Akkara

Aizawl, India, Dec 6, 2023 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

Thousands of ethnic Kuki Christians are still struggling to restart life after being displaced following the bloody ethnic conflict in Manipur state in northeast India that took place in early May.

However, those who fled to neighboring Mizoram are grateful for the welcome they have received in the majority-Christian state.

“Unlike thousands of others [refugees from Manipur], we are lucky. We have got government accommodation, the Church is helping us, and our children have been admitted in [the] government school,” said John Thangvanglian, a catechist at St. Joseph’s Parish of Sugnu in Manipur.

“On hearing about the comfortable situation, seven more families have contacted me and [will be] reaching here soon,” Thangvanglian told CNA Nov. 25 from Aizawl.

Manipur, located east of Bangladesh and at the border with Myanmar, is home to 3.3 million people. For decades, members of Meitei, Kuki, and Naga tribes have fought over land and religious differences. 

Beginning in May, a protracted violent clash between the majority Meiteis, most of whom are Hindus, and the minority Kukis left nearly 200 dead. Over 60,000 Kuki refugees along with 10,000 Meiteis were driven out from Kuki strongholds.

The government of the Christian majority state of Mizoram extended a helping hand to more than 12,000 Christian refugees from Manipur, housing scattered families in cities such as Aizawl in newly built apartments.

“We are happy and relaxed here. There is a lot of public support and concern for us,” pointed out Thangvanglian, who had led dozens of Kuki Catholics to reach Aizawl over three days of arduous mountain travel from Sugnu when their township came under attack from Meitei militants in May.

This correspondent in mid-September visited Kuki Catholic refugees from Sugnu sheltered at the newly built apartments that the Mizoram government had constructed for housing the poor.

“When armed forces were unable to keep the Meitei militants away, many of us took shelter in army camps and moved out of Sungu with their escort. Not a single Christian is left there. The church, convent, school, and all our properties have been looted and torched. We are lucky to get away alive,” Thangvanglian said.

“At least 6,000 Kukis [all Christians], including over 1,000 Catholics, have been driven out of Sugnu. We don’t know if or when we can return,” James Thangboi, another Catholic from Sugnu, told CNA.

The plundering of once bustling Sugnu township — which now looks like a war zone — has been brought to light in the documentary “Manipur: Cry of the Oppressed.” The film highlights the devastation, marked by arson and anarchy, suffered by Catholic targets across Manipur.

“We are grateful to God [that] we are safe here,” Mercy Tungdian, who now lives with her three small children in a government apartment shared with her family members, told CNA.

“They have become a new vibrant community for us,” said Father Caleb Laldawngsanga, who led this correspondent to the refugee center and says Mass every Sunday for the four dozen Catholic refugees at the complex in one of the corridors.

On Sept. 16, the Catholic refugees were thrilled when Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl joined them in their evening rosary.

When they finished the rosary, Rotluanga went to comfort them standing in front of the statue of Mary kept on the table in the corridor of the apartment complex.

“Suffering is a part of Christian life. I can feel your pain losing your houses and all possessions. I have gone through the same experience in my childhood,” recalled the 71-year-old bishop, who heads the 30,000-strong Catholic Church in Mizoram, home to 1.2 million people, nearly 90% of them Christian.

“I remember my house and everything going up in flames in a forest fire in our native village [Sakawrtuichhun] when I was a small child. My father’s desperate attempt to save it did not work and we had to move to Aizawl as homeless people.” 

“So, I had good schooling, joined the seminary, became a priest and bishop. If that fire had not happened, my life would have a different story. So, don’t worry. Your suffering will turn out for good. Trust in God,” Rotluanga told the homeless refugees.

On Sept. 16, 2023, the Catholic refugees were thrilled when Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl joined them in their evening rosary. Credit: Anto Akkara
On Sept. 16, 2023, the Catholic refugees were thrilled when Bishop Stephen Rotluanga of Aizawl joined them in their evening rosary. Credit: Anto Akkara

Unlike the Catholic refugees from Sugnu, 59-year-old Francis Thanghminglian, a government teacher from Singngat village in Manipur, is leading a quiet life in the safety of a rented house away from the bustling Aizawl city.

“When our village was attacked, we took shelter in the army camp. After a week, the army escorted us to the [Imphal] airport and we reached here safely,” recounted Thanghminglian, whose son Samuel was ordained a priest in 2021 for the Imphal Archdiocese.

“Though our younger son Stephen [a Jesuit theology student] was assaulted by [Meitei] goons [while on a pastoral visit to families from the Jesuit house] on May 3, we thank God that the injury was not serious. He is now continuing theological studies in Pune. We have nothing now. God will enable us to carry this burden. There is God’s plan behind all these,” added the father of six sons and grandfather of two grandchildren.

Lala Songate, a Baptist who led a comfortable life running a furniture showroom in the city of Imphal, had to flee with his entire family from his native Langoi village as Meitei mobs targeted Kukis.

“Though we have lost everything, I thank God for keeping my entire family safe. Two youths of our village were killed while they were fleeing. We rushed to the army camp for safety,” Songate recounted regarding the safe escape of his entire family — his wife, three sons, two daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren.

“They [the army] escorted us to the airport and we flew to Aizawl by May 6 and stayed with friends. Soon [the Mizoram] government arranged this accommodation for us,” Lala said, describing his family’s exodus to safety in government apartments at Edenthar.

‘These are very hard times’: Pastor of Gaza Catholic church gives update on Christians’ plight

Father Gabriel Romanelli (center), the Latin parish priest of Gaza, is among the celebrants at a Mass to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady, Queen of Palestine and the Holy Land at the shrine dedicated to her at Deir Rafat on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. / Credit: Marinella Bandini

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 6, 2023 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

Father Gabriel Romanelli, the pastor of Holy Family Parish, the only Roman Catholic church in Gaza, gave an update Dec. 1 on the plight of the Christians in northern Gaza as the Israeli-Hamas war continues and spoke about the significance of Gaza to Christianity in the Holy Land.

Since the conflict began, hundreds of Christians and other Gazan civilians have taken refuge in the parish, which is on the northern end of the Gaza Strip.

Romanelli, who is an Argentine priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and has served at the Gaza parish for over six years, shared his message during a Dec. 1 interview with Father Ibrahim Nino, director of the media office at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. 

The full interview, which is in Arabic, is available on the patriarchate’s YouTube channel here.

Romanelli said that though there is “great shock and sadness” among the Christians of Gaza, “they have great trust in God’s divine protection.” 

As the war broke out in Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, Romanelli said that many people did not know where to go and the Christian community decided to stay, seeking refuge in the parish.

“It was dangerous as bombings were taking place both north and south. They chose to remain where they were, trusting in Jesus, so they truly felt the presence of God.”

Though a small minority in Gaza, the Christian community has been greatly impacted by the war.

On Oct. 23 an Orthodox church neighboring Holy Family Parish was struck by Israeli missiles, resulting in the deaths of 18 people. After the bombing, many more sought refuge in Holy Family Parish. The church is currently sheltering more than 600 people, according to Romanelli.

He said that many in the local community have lost homes and loved ones. Though he was outside Gaza when the war began and has been unable to return, he has kept in constant contact with his flock. 

“These are very hard times,” Romanelli said. “Even if they have strong faith, they remain humans and sadness is normal to be experienced; even Our Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate, wept.”

He thanked both Pope Francis and the head of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, for their prayers and spiritual closeness to the Church in Gaza. Romanelli shared that during the early days of the conflict, Francis would call him each day.

“The pope called us daily to check on us, despite his also big responsibilities and duties for the Church. And through a simple phone call, he gave us his blessing.”

Despite the suffering, Romanelli said that the faith of the Roman Catholic community in Gaza, which numbers about 135 and includes several priests and religious, has only strengthened.

“The big yearly activities that we are used to holding in our parish and schools will not take place this year,” he said. “But we started to think spiritually … the birth of Jesus is at the center of our celebrations … To hold different spiritual activities for the parishioners to help prepare spiritually for Jesus to be born in our hearts and lives by cleansing the grotto of our hearts and experience the simplicity of a grotto.”

Though the Catholic community in Gaza is small, Romanelli says it is very active and devout. The parish holds two Masses daily, a daily rosary, regular Eucharistic adoration, and hosts multiple ministries for men, women, and children to grow in faith.

According to Romanelli, the Catholic church there also runs three of the five Christian schools in Gaza, which serve both Christian and Muslim students, as well as ministries for the sick and injured.

Even though the war has heavily impacted the community, Romanelli said that many of the parish’s ministries have gone on and the sacraments continue to be offered.

“In regard to the spiritual life, despite all the things we lack, it is still a beautiful, rich, and important life in the parish,” he said. “We try to be one, not only assisting the Christians but also the Muslims [and] to anyone who comes to Gaza, allow them to experience the special presence of the Lord.”

Preserving the presence of Christ in Gaza

Romanelli said that tradition holds that the Holy Family passed through Gaza as they were fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath and that they passed through again on their way to Nazareth.

Thus, Romanelli said that Holy Family Parish in Gaza has three missions: first, to foster and preserve the presence of Jesus Christ in the area; second, to care for the spiritual life of the people; and third, to testify to the love of Jesus to all.

Now, as hundreds gather at the parish seeking shelter and spiritual solace and the Advent and Christmas seasons commence, Romanelli said that the parish’s mission is especially important.

Romanelli shared an Advent message, addressing Christians not only in Gaza but also throughout the world. He said “we need to return to the pillars of our faith, to read and meditate on the word of God, attend adoration and go to confession.”

He encouraged Christians worldwide to seek out the sacraments and spend time with Christ in the Eucharist this Advent and Christmas season. He also encouraged Christians to make spiritual acts of mercy by visiting and caring for the lonely, sick, and poor.

Romanelli especially encouraged Christians to turn to confession this Advent season. As missiles continue to strike around them, Romanelli said the Christians in Gaza remain focused not on those who can kill the body but instead on what can kill the soul.

“We tend to forget that we need a spiritual healing, we forget that we can die spiritually, but there is a solution for everything, and it’s through confession and repentance,” he said. “In sum, we should renew our spiritual life through confession, penance, and repentance.”

Theodore McCarrick case in Wisconsin hangs in the balance after new competency exam

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick outside the Dedham District Court in Massachusetts on Sept. 3, 2021. / Credit: Joe Bukuras/CNA

CNA Staff, Dec 6, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

Just months after former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was ruled not competent to stand trial on criminal sexual abuse charges in Massachusetts, similar charges against him in Wisconsin now hang in the balance after a competency exam ordered by the court was filed in November.

McCarrick is facing misdemeanor sexual assault charges in Wisconsin related to an incident that allegedly occurred in April 1977 near a house by Geneva Lake. The complaint alleges that McCarrick and “another adult male” sexually assaulted then-18-year-old James Grein, the same man who brought a complaint against the former cardinal in Massachusetts.

Grein, 65, told CNA Monday that the other adult male who he alleges assaulted him was Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late archbishop of Chicago who died in 1996.

Grein first brought allegations against McCarrick in 2018 in an interview with the New York Times, which referred to him only by his first name. He told the newspaper that McCarrick had serially sexually abused him beginning when he was 11.

If the Wisconsin case is dismissed, McCarrick still faces civil suits against him, but it could mean avoiding criminal penalties once and for all. McCarrick held offices at the highest levels of the Catholic Church and was removed from the clerical state in 2019 following several accusations of sexual abuse of minors and seminarians.

Grein told CNA Monday that he’s “tired” of McCarrick’s “hiding” and wants to hear him speak in court because he wants to try to determine for himself if McCarrick is being duplicitous per his mental health.

“I need to hear him speak because I need to hear his voice different from the voice that I know that he has.”

James Grein speaks at the Silence Stops Now rally in Baltimore on Nov. 13, 2018. Credit: Christine Rousselle/CNA
James Grein speaks at the Silence Stops Now rally in Baltimore on Nov. 13, 2018. Credit: Christine Rousselle/CNA

The results of the competency exam are not yet available to the public and lawyers in the case could not comment on its contents.

The next hearing is on Jan. 10, 2024, at the Walworth County Judicial Center. McCarrick’s attorney, Jerome Buting, told CNA he believes the court will “make a finding” and reveal the exam’s results.

Notably, Kerry Nelligan, the psychologist who conducted the competency exam for the Wisconsin court, is the same expert who conducted a mental health exam on him earlier this year in the Massachusetts case.

In the first report, she found that McCarrick “is suffering from an organic process of cognitive decline” that will not improve.

The Massachusetts case was dismissed on Aug. 30 based on two separate psychological evaluations, one done in December 2022 for McCarrick’s defense team and the other in June, conducted by Nelligan, the psychologist hired by the prosecution. 

Both assessments concluded that the disgraced former archbishop of Washington, D.C., is too cognitively impaired to actively participate in his defense.

Online court records from the Wisconsin case reveal that the prosecution is “not contesting the report but believes [McCarrick] needs to be present for court to have colloquy regarding results.”

Colloquy refers to the discussion at a hearing between the judge and the defendant to make sure the defendant understands the proceedings.

Buting said that McCarrick can’t travel “due to physical and mental issues” and will try to set up a video or phone call to allow McCarrick to appear in court. The attorney said, however, that he “is not confident defendant will be able to do that,” the court record says.

McCarrick’s defense in the Wisconsin case raised the issue of competency in earlier court proceedings citing the psychological evaluations from the Massachusetts case, Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld told CNA in September.

The state of Wisconsin originally objected to Nelligan’s appointment. But McCarrick’s defense asked the court to appoint her as the examiner because they said it would be “more efficient,” Wiedenfeld said at the time.

The court can choose its own examiner and that sometimes happens in cases where a psychologist “has a history in evaluating a person,” he said.

The Wisconsin allegations 

The Wisconsin complaint alleges the assault took place in April 1977 in the water at a Geneva Lake residence, located in Walworth County in southern Wisconsin. 

McCarrick was still a priest with the honorary title of monsignor at the time. He was ordained auxiliary bishop of New York just a couple of months later.

Bernardin, who was serving as the archbishop of Cincinnati in 1977, was raised to the status of cardinal about six years later. 

According to the complaint, “[Grein] stated that [he] was in the water off of the dock at the residence when the defendant and another adult male entered the water. [Grein] stated that the defendant and the other adult male fondled [Grein’s] penis without his consent and the defendant and the other adult male discussed [Grein’s] penis while they were in the water.”

Bernardin was an influential figure in the Catholic Church in the United States, becoming a bishop in his 30s and serving as the general secretary of the NCCB/USCC (today known as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).

According to the Illinois attorney general’s clergy sexual abuse report on the Archdiocese of Chicago, released in 2023, Bernadin created a majority laity diocesan review board that was a “significant step forward in addressing child sex abuse by clerics.”

The report said that Bernardin followed the recommendations of a clergy sexual abuse commission that he created in 1992. “As a result, the archdiocese found itself a leader in a new era of handling abuse claims,” the report said.

The U.S. bishops’ conference also honored Bernardin by naming “The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award,” after him. The award is an initiative under the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which recognizes the leadership of young people in working with the poor.

The criminal complaint also states that McCarrick had sexually assaulted Grein prior to the incident “numerous times” and that McCarrick was “the holy man” for Grein’s family.

In addition to the sexual abuse that began when Grein was 11, the complaint said Grein listed “several incidents” that occurred in other states when he was a minor, which included Grein being sexually abused at “a special event or lavish party.”

“[Grein] also described a time where the defendant took [him] to an event where several adult males had sexual intercourse with [Grein],” the complaint says.

The complaint also says that Grein alleged McCarrick had nonconsensual sexual intercourse with him in Chicago the day before the Geneva Lake incident. 

Former Speaker McCarthy says he’s leaving Congress at end of year

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy. / Credit: Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Dec 6, 2023 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Former Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy revealed on Wednesday that he would be departing Congress at the end of the year, barely two months after he was ousted from the leadership position in the House of Representatives. 

The California Republican said in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that he had “decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways.” 

“I know my work is only getting started,” McCarthy wrote. 

The former House leader did not give a reason for his departure in the op-ed. 

“I never could have imagined the journey when I first threw my hat into the ring,” he wrote. “I go knowing I left it all on the field — as always, with a smile on my face.”

McCarthy on Oct. 3 was removed from the speakership position in a 216-21 vote, becoming the first speaker in congressional history to be removed during a legislative session of Congress. 

The ouster came after several of McCarthy’s fellow Republicans in the House opposed his decision to negotiate with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz originally proposed McCarthy’s ouster, accusing him of entering into a “secret side deal” with President Joe Biden to continue funding the war in Ukraine. He was joined by House Democrats and several Republicans in voting the speaker out.

Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson was subsequently elected to the speaker’s role Oct. 25.

In his op-ed on Wednesday, McCarthy indicated he would remain active in politics, stating that he “will continue to recruit our country’s best and brightest to run for elected office.”

“The Republican Party is expanding every day, and I am committed to lending my experience to support the next generation of leaders,” he said.

McCarthy was first elected to Congress in 2006.

Cardinal Fernández: Offer yourselves to the Lord ‘like clay ready to be molded’

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández celebrates his Mass of titular possession at the Church of Sts. Urban and Lawrence at Prima Porta on the northern outskirts of Rome on Dec. 3, 2023. / Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

Rome Newsroom, Dec 6, 2023 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The new head of the Vatican’s doctrine office gave a homily in the suburbs of Rome this week in which he encouraged Catholics not to be like “hard stones” unwilling to change but to be like clay, ready to be transformed by the Lord.

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, took possession of his titular church on Dec. 3 on the northern outskirts of Rome, the parish church of Sts. Urban and Lawrence at Prima Porta.

In his homily, the Argentine cardinal, known as Pope Francis’ longtime personal theologian and ghostwriter, reflected on the prophet Isaiah’s words, “O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands,” on the first Sunday of Advent.

“When these words are spoken with the heart, it means that we let ourselves be shaped by the Lord, that we let ourselves be led by him, that we let ourselves be transformed by his grace,” Fernández said.

“There are people who don’t let themselves be transformed, and they say: ‘I’m like this, I’m fine like this, what need do I have to change anything?’ Others say: ‘I don’t commit serious sins, I’m not vicious like others, what do I need to change?’ These people are not clay, they are hard stones that will not even be touched by the Holy Spirit. And then they die despite being alive because they no longer grow and improve, much less offer something new to the Lord.”

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández celebrates his Mass of titular possession at the Church of Sts. Urban and Lawrence at Prima Porta on the northern outskirts of Rome on Dec. 3, 2023. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN
Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández celebrates his Mass of titular possession at the Church of Sts. Urban and Lawrence at Prima Porta on the northern outskirts of Rome on Dec. 3, 2023. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

Fernández noted that the Buddhists invite us to be adaptable and able to take many shapes, like water, and that the Chinese Daoist philosopher Laozi said that we must be “like the flexible branches of trees.”

“But the Word of God proposes something more personal,” he added. “To look into the eyes of God our Father, to establish a personal relationship with him and to say, ‘You are my Father.’”

“And then offer oneself to him as a handful of clay ready to be molded, ‘Mold me, Lord, as you will. I trust in your love, you know what is best for me, do with me what you will.’”

The cardinal also warned against the temptation of an idealism that “demands that everything be perfect in order to be happy.”

“In the midst of misery and darkness, there are many little things that are good, that are real. They may be imperfect, they may not be heaven, but they are real,” he said.

Pope Francis made Fernández a cardinal in the Catholic Church’s last consistory held on Sept. 30. 

In the three months since he took on the new role as the Vatican’s doctrine chief, Fernández has responded to multiple questions, or “dubia,” from cardinals and bishops submitted to the dicastery, including on issues related to transgender persons and divorced and remarried Catholics.

Fernández was one of several new cardinals to take possession of his titular church in recent weeks. 

Cardinals are assigned a titular church to formally make them a part of the Diocese of Rome, whose bishop is the pope. This means that cardinals are always linked to Rome, even if they reside elsewhere.

Portugal’s Cardinal Américo Aguiar also took possession of his church, the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua located near the Lateran Palace, on Sunday; and Poland’s Cardinal Grzegorz Ryś became the first cardinal in history to hold the 20th-century church Sts. Cyril and Methodius near Ostia as his titular church on Nov. 22.

Cardinal Claudio Gugerotti, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, is scheduled to take possession of his titular church dedicated to St. Ambrose on Dec. 7, and Cardinal Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla of Juba, South Sudan, will offer his first Mass at his church, St. Gemma Galgani at Monte Sacro, on Dec. 10.

Here are 5 things to know about Cardinal Burke

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke during the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, June 29, 2019. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

CNA Staff, Dec 6, 2023 / 10:10 am (CNA).

Reports emerged last week that Cardinal Raymond Burke — a prominent American archbishop — will soon lose his current Vatican housing and salary privileges. As the details of the situation continue to come to light, here are some important things to know about Burke. 

  1. He is the former head of the Church’s highest court.

A native of Wisconsin, Burke was ordained a priest in 1975 by Pope Paul VI. Later ordained a bishop in 1995 by Pope John Paul II, Burke shepherded the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, founding the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe while there. In 2003, he was appointed archbishop of St. Louis, a post he held from 2004–2008. 

Widely respected for his expertise in canon law, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Burke in 2008 as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura — head of the Church’s highest court. The next year, Benedict appointed Burke to the Congregation (now Dicastery) for Bishops, which is responsible for giving recommendations to the pope on episcopal candidates. The year after that, in 2010, Benedict elevated the then-62-year-old Burke to the rank of cardinal.

Burke continued to serve as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura until 2014. On his personal website, Burke notes that he has “written and spoken widely on Roman Catholic canon law, the Holy Eucharist, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the sanctity of human life.”

  1. He has been publicly critical of various papal initiatives.

Burke’s public questioning of initiatives led by Pope Francis began in earnest in 2016, when he along with three other cardinals first privately submitted “dubia” — formal requests for clarification — to Pope Francis regarding the interpretation of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, published after the 2015’s Synod on the Family. (As far as is known, the pope has never replied to those requests.) The cardinals released the dubia to the public two months later, igniting significant debate in the Church and in the media. 

In an interview conducted the following year, Burke stated that he’s wrongly depicted as an “enemy” of Pope Francis but also stressed his view that current divisions in the Church demand answers to requests for clarity.

“The urgency of a response to the dubia derives from the harm done to souls by the confusion and error, which result as long as the fundamental questions raised are not answered in accord with the constant teaching and practice of the Church,” Burke said at the time.

Later on, in 2019, Burke was critical of that year’s Synod on the Pan-Amazon Region, convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican, claiming that the meeting’s working document seemed “not only in dissonance with respect to the authentic teaching of the Church, but even contrary to it.”

When Pope Francis moved to restrict the use of the Traditional Latin Mass worldwide in 2021, Burke called the new restrictions “severe and revolutionary” and questioned the pope’s authority to revoke the use of the rite. 

More recently, this fall Burke was one of five cardinals who sent a new set of dubia to Pope Francis asking for clarification on the Church’s position on doctrinal development, the blessing of same-sex unions, the authority of the ongoing Synod on Synodality, women’s ordination, and sacramental absolution. Burke has insisted that the dubia were aimed neither at the pope’s person nor his agenda but merely at safeguarding the Church’s perennial doctrine.

The cardinal has also spoken out on other hot-button topics, such as when he released a lengthy defense in 2021 of what he called a “sacred duty” on the part of Catholic bishops to apply canon law by advising pro-abortion politicians not to receive holy Communion. He recently wrote a book detailing his views on fostering a greater respect for the Eucharist and discernment of cases when the sacrament ought to be denied to people in a state of manifest grave sin. 

  1. Pope Francis has gradually reduced Burke’s official roles.

Near the end of 2013, the year of Pope Francis’ election, the new pope declined to reappoint Burke to his role as a member of the Dicastery for Bishops. 

The following year, Pope Francis removed Burke from his post as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, appointing him instead to a largely ceremonial role as cardinal patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta — a role dedicated to the spiritual welfare of the members of the medieval lay religious order. 

Despite holding that post until this year, Burke had been reportedly sidelined from active involvement for several years after Pope Francis appointed then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu in 2017 as his special delegate to oversee the order’s reform. Burke thus was sidelined during the extensive institutional reforms of the order that have since taken place. 

  1. Burke survived a severe bout with COVID.

The septuagenarian Burke was hospitalized with COVID-19 in August 2021 and put on a ventilator. Burke had previously announced his diagnosis four days earlier, having fallen ill during a visit to Wisconsin.

A week later, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which shared official news from the cardinal at the time, reported that Burke was in “serious but stable condition” and that the next few days would be critical. The shrine asked for continued prayers for Burke and his family, especially through praying the rosary and attending Mass. By Aug. 21, the shrine stated that he was off the ventilator and was leaving the hospital ICU.

By mid-October, Burke announced that he had recovered to the point of being able to once again offer daily Mass. It is not known if Burke was vaccinated against the virus, but he has been a vocal opponent of mandatory vaccines as well as the closing of churches.

  1. Burke intends to remain in Rome.

Burke lives in Rome and has signaled his intention to remain there even if he has to find and pay for his own accommodations, telling the Wall Street Journal last week that “it’s my duty as a cardinal to remain in Rome.”