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Foster dialogue, promote solidarity, pope tells Academy for Life

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking the Pontifical Academy for Life's 25th anniversary, Pope Francis encouraged the research and advisory body to promote human solidarity and fraternity as part of its mandate to promote human life.

A sense of fraternity between people and nations has been weakened with an erosion of mutual trust and "remains the unkept promise of modernity," Pope Francis said.

"The strengthening of fraternity, generated in the human family by the worship of God in spirit and truth, is the new frontier of Christianity," the pope said in a letter addressed to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the pontifical academy.

Speaking to reporters at a Vatican news conference Jan. 15, Archbishop Paglia said the letter's title, "The Human Community," indicated how the pope wants pro-life concerns to include a concern for human relationships -- in the family, in society, among nations as well as with creation.

"Life is not an abstract universal concept, it is the human person," and the way human beings live embedded in a specific context interwoven with others, he said.

Christians must rebuild and strengthen human bonds and relationships, the archbishop said, because "the weakening of fraternity, whether we like it or not, contaminates all the human and life sciences."

The pope sent the letter to mark the 25th anniversary of the academy's establishment by St. John Paul II on Feb. 11, 1994.

St. John Paul, the pope said, recognized the "rapid and sweeping changes taking place in biomedicine" and saw the need for greater research, education and communication aimed at demonstrating "that science and technology, at the service of the human person and his fundamental rights, contribute to the overall good of man and to the fulfilment of the divine plan of salvation."

Pope Francis said the academy's new statutes, issued in 2016, were meant to encourage its activities, expand its fields to include the rapid and complex discoveries and changes unfolding in science, medicine and technology, and recognize the social and relational effects of these new developments.

Today, the pope wrote, the human dimension is being lost.

"Mutual distrust between individuals and peoples is being fed by an inordinate pursuit of self-interest and intense competition that can even turn violent. The gap between concern with one's own well-being and the prosperity of the larger human family seems to be stretching to the point of complete division," he wrote.

People's estranged or strained relationship with others and with the earth is "the result of the scarce attention paid to the decisive global issue of the unity of the human family and its future," the pope said. It reflects the existence of an actual "anti-culture," which is not only indifferent to the community, it is "hostile to men and women and in league with the arrogance of wealth."

Progress has produced a "paradox," he said. Just when humanity has developed the economic and technological resources that make caring for the whole human family and its home possible, "those same economic and technological resources are creating our most bitter divisions and our worst nightmares."

People's awareness of this paradox often leaves them "demoralized and disoriented, bereft of vision," he said, and in even greater need of the hope and joy offered by Christ and of a taste for the beauty of a life lived in fraternity with others on the earth as a common home.

"It is time for a new vision aimed at promoting a humanism of fraternity and solidarity between individuals and peoples," Pope Francis wrote. "We know that the faith and love needed for this covenant draw their power from the mystery of history's redemption in Jesus Christ."

But, he wrote, Christians must reflect whether they have been "seriously focused on the passion and joy of proclaiming God's love for the dwelling of his children on the earth? Or are they still overly focused on their own problems and on making timid accommodations to an essentially worldly outlook?"

"We can question seriously whether we have done enough as Christians to offer our specific contribution to a vision of humanity capable of upholding the unity of the family of peoples in today's political and cultural conditions," he said.

Perhaps, he said, "we have lost sight of its centrality, putting our ambition for spiritual hegemony over the governance of the secular city, concentrated as it is upon itself and its wealth, ahead of a concern for local communities inspired by the Gospel spirit of hospitality toward the poor and the hopeless."

The Pontifical Academy for Life has an important role to play in facing this difficult challenge, the pope said. Its scientific community has shown for the past 25 years how it can enter into dialogue with the world and "offer its own competent and respected contribution."

"A sign of this is its constant effort to promote and protect human life at every stage of its development, its condemnation of abortion and euthanasia as extremely grave evils that contradict the spirit of life and plunge us into the anti-culture of death," the pope wrote.

"These efforts must certainly continue, with an eye to emerging issues and challenges that can serve as an opportunity for us to grow in the faith, to understand it more deeply and to communicate it more effectively to the people of our time," he said.

Pope Francis expressed his hope that the academy would be "a place for courageous dialogue in the service of the common good," a dialogue unafraid of advancing "arguments and formulations that can serve as a basis for intercultural and interreligious, as well as interdisciplinary, exchanges" along with discussions about human rights and duties, "beginning with solidarity with those in greatest need."

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Editors: The pope's letter, "Humana Communitas" can be found in English at:

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Abuse report's claim of cover-up, mishandling of cases called 'misleading'


By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The conclusion reached by a Pennsylvania grand jury that six of the state's Catholic dioceses acted "in virtual lockstep" to cover up abuse allegations and dismiss alleged victims over a 70-year period starting in 1947 is "inaccurate," "unfair" and "misleading," said a veteran journalist in an in-depth article for Commonweal magazine.

The grand jury report was based on a months-long investigation into alleged abuse by clergy and other church workers in the Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Harrisburg and Greensburg dioceses, and it makes "two distinct charges," said Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, former religion writer for The New York Times and professor emeritus at Fordham University in New York.

The first "concerns predator priests, their many victims and their unspeakable acts" and is, "as far as can be determined, dreadfully true," he said in the article posted at

Its second charge, he said, has had the "greatest reverberations" and is not documented by the report: the explosive claim that church leaders mishandled these abuse claims for decades, moved around many of the accused abusers to different assignments and were dismissive of the alleged victims -- all reportedly resulting in a major cover-up.

"Stomach-churning violations of the physical, psychological and spiritual integrity of children and young people" are documented in the report, Steinfels said, as well and how "many of these atrocities could have been prevented" by promptly removing credibly suspected perpetrators from all priestly ministry. It shows that some church leaders seemed to have an "overriding concern" for protecting the church's reputation while disregarding children's safety and well-being, he said.

A third or more of the crimes documented in the report, he said, "only came to the knowledge of church authorities in 2002 or after." In 2002, the U.S. bishops approved their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which mandated automatic removal from ministry when a priest or church worker is accused of abuse.

But Steinfels said that if one reads the full report carefully, "it is clear" that it "does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction -- namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls -- except to conceal them."

The grand jury says "'all' of these victims ... were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all," he wrote. "Or as the introduction to the report sums it up, 'Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.'"

"This ugly, indiscriminate and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report's own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice," he said.

This charge "is contradicted by testimony submitted to the grand jury but ignored -- and, I believe, by evidence that the grand jury never pursued," noted Steinfels.

"The report's conclusions about abuse and cover-up are stated in timeless fashion," he said. "Whenever change is acknowledged, the language is begrudging."

Steinfels said his conclusions about the report do not "acquit the Catholic hierarchy of all sins, past or present" regarding the abuse crisis. "Personally, I have a substantial list," he added.

But right now, he stated, "the important thing is to restore some fact-based reality to the instant mythology that the Pennsylvania report has created."

He said the grand jury could have reached accurate and "hard-hitting findings about what different church leaders did and did not do," but chose "a tack more suited" to society's current "hyperbolic, bumper-sticker, post-truth environment."

Steinfels reached his assessment on the report by reading its "vast bulk," he said. He noted that in some PDFs of the report posted online it consists of 884 pages; but other versions include over 450 additional pages consisting of "photocopied responses from dioceses, former bishops, other diocesan officials, and even some accused priests protesting their innocence."

He reviewed "one by one" how hundreds of cases were handled; tried to match the dioceses' replies with the grand jury's charges; and examined other court documents and spoke "with people familiar with the grand jury's work, including the attorney general's office."

Released Aug. 14, the grand jury report was based on an investigation initiated by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro's office. It linked more than 300 priests and other church workers to abuse claims during the 70-year period it covered and said alleged victims numbered over 1,000.

The day after its release was the feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation, Steinfels noted, and millions of Catholics that day "went to church sick at heart" because of the report. "I was among them," he added.

"No Catholics serious about their faith, indeed no one of any sensitivity, could have read about the report without feeling horror and shame. And anger," said Steinfels.

The report made international headlines, he noted, prompting the Vatican -- along with the Pennsylvania dioceses' bishops and the U.S. church's national leadership -- to express sorrow and shame. It has prompted attorneys general in other states to pledge the same kind of investigation; Illinois for one has begun a similar probe.

"It is possible that these investigations could be productive and salutary. But only if they make distinctions between dioceses, leaders and time frames," something the Pennsylvania grand jury report does not do, Steinfels said.

As a veteran journalist quite familiar with deadline pressures, Steinfels said, he knows reporters were pressed to quickly get stories out on the report, so had to rely on its 12-page executive summary and were no doubt hard-pressed to find knowledgeable sources to interview who had actually read the report, he added.

"Almost every media story of the grand jury report that I eventually read or viewed was based on its 12-page introduction and a dozen or so sickening examples," he said.

He acknowledged his conclusions about the report "are dramatically at odds with the public perception and reception" of it, so to substantiate them, it was "essential to examine, step by step, how this report was produced, organized and presented; what it omits as well as includes; and finally, whether a careful sampling of its contents supports its conclusions."

With many Catholics "angry and dismayed" over abuse in the church, raising questions about the report "flies in the face of almost overpowering headwinds," Steinfels said. "To question let alone challenge the report is unthinkable. It borders on excusing the crimes that bishops and other church leaders are accused of committing."

"Before examining more closely what is in the report, it is important to ask what isn't" in the report, Steinfels said. "Beyond those references to more than 300 predator priests -- actually 301 -- and more than 1,000 child victims, to dozens of witnesses and half-a-million subpoenaed church documents, there are almost no numerical markers.

"There is, for example, no calculation of how many ordained men served in those six dioceses since (the mid-1940s), a figure that might either verify or challenge previous estimates of the prevalence of sexual abuse among the clergy. There are no efforts to discern statistical patterns in the ages of abusers, the rates of abuse over time, the actions of law enforcement, or changes in responses by church officials.

"Nor are there comparisons to other institutions. One naturally wonders what a 70-to-80-year scrutiny of sex abuse in public schools or juvenile penal facilities would find," he added.

Steinfels said it is true "that disturbing instances of apparent failures by church officials continue to come to light -- and will no doubt continue to do so, especially as the line between past cases and current ones is regularly blurred, and as cases from all around the world are increasingly blended with a few American ones into a single narrative."

"Church leaders must remove persistent doubts that these failures are being thoroughly investigated, with consequences for those found responsible," he said.

Regarding Pennsylvania, "whether one looks at the handling of old allegations or the prevention of new ones, the conclusion that a careful, unbiased reading of the Pennsylvania report compels is this: The Dallas charter has worked," he said.

"(It has) not worked perfectly" and is "not without need for regular improvements and constant watchfulness," he said, but it has worked.

"Justified alarm and demands for accountability at instances of either deliberate noncompliance or bureaucratic incompetence should not be wrenched into an ill-founded pretense that, fundamentally, nothing has changed," he said.

"Just as the grand jury report correctly though not consistently points to 'institutional failure,' something beyond the virtues and vices of individual leaders, the Dallas charter has apparently proved to be an institutional success," he added. "It set out, and has regularly fine-tuned, procedures, practices, and standards that can be overseen by middling caretaker leaders as well as outstanding, proactive ones."

The bishops' charter is "not a recipe that can simply be transferred to any society or culture or legal and governmental situation around the globe," Steinfels remarked, but he said the U.S. bishops "should go to the Vatican's February summit meeting on sexual abuse confident that the measures they've already adopted have made an important difference."

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher


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Update: Rome mayor says Caritas will still get Trevi Fountain coins

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters


ROME (CNS) -- After weeks of confusion and consternation, Rome's mayor told the Vatican newspaper that Rome Caritas would benefit not only from the coins tourists throw in the Trevi Fountain, but from coins tossed in any of the city's historic water features.

Caritas was informed in late December that it would no longer receive the coins that tourists toss over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, a ritual that is supposed to guarantee the person who pitched the coin would one day return to the city.

But, Virginia Raggi, Rome's mayor, said it was all a misunderstanding. The city needs to ensure an accurate count of the money, so instead of having Caritas volunteers sort and count the coins, the city will entrust that to ACEA, the city utility responsible for cleaning and maintaining the famous fountain.

In 2018, the international collection of coins added up to about 1.5 million euros or about $1.7 million, a significant portion of the Rome diocesan Caritas' budget for funding homeless shelters, soup kitchens and parish-based services to families in difficulty.

"No one ever thought about depriving Caritas of these funds," Raggi told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Jan. 14. "The diocesan agency plays an important role for many needy and for the city of Rome, which wants to continue to be the capital of welcome for the weakest."

Although the city council has been threatening since October 2017 to use the money for its own projects, Raggi said the decision reached in December was simply "an administrative act responding to the need to collect and quantify the coins tourist throw not only into the Trevi Fountain but into the other monumental fountains of Rome."

ACEA counting the money will bring "order and transparency" to the process, she said, and expanding the collection to other fountains will bring more money to Caritas.

Interviewed Jan. 12 by Vatican News, Father Benoni Ambarus, director of Caritas Rome, said, "The first thing I want to say is thank you to the millions of tourists who created a sea of solidarity with their coins."

The priest at that point was still hoping something would change before the change dried up in April. After all, the city council voted in October 2017 to start keeping the money in city coffers, but after a public outcry, the agreement with Caritas was extended to April 2018 and again to Dec. 31, 2018.


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Faith is passed on at home, pope tells parents at baptism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faith isn't something learned just by studying the catechism but rather is a gift passed on to children by the example of their parents, Pope Francis said.

Although children learn the tenets of the Catholic faith in catechism class, it is first transmitted in the home "because faith always must be transmitted in dialect: the dialect of the family, the dialect of the home, in the atmosphere of the home," he said before baptizing 27 babies.

The pope celebrated the Mass and baptisms Jan. 13, the feast of the baptism of the Lord, in the Sistine Chapel.

"The important thing is to transmit the faith with your life of faith: that they see the love between spouses, that they see peace at home, that they see that Jesus is there," Pope Francis said during his brief and unscripted homily.

As the lively sounds of babies' squeals and cries filled the frescoed Sistine Chapel, the pope said babies often cry when they are "in an environment that is strange" or because they are hungry.

Repeating his usual advice to mothers of infants, the pope urged them to make their children comfortable, and "if they cry because they are hungry, breastfeed them."

Children "also have a polyphonic vocation: One begins to cry, then another makes a counterpoint, then another and in the end, it is a chorus of cries," he said.

Offering a piece of advice to parents, the pope called on them to pass on the faith by letting their children see their love and refrain from arguing in front of them.

"It is normal for couples to argue, it's normal," he said. "Do it, but don't let them hear, don't let them see. You don't know the anguish a child has when he or she sees parents fighting. This, I may add, is advice that will help you transmit the faith."

Later, after praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis asked those gathered to pray for the newly baptized babies and their families. He also asked them to "keep the memory of your own baptism alive."

"There you will find the roots of our life in God; the roots of our eternal life that Jesus has given us through his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection," he said. "Our roots are in baptism."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at