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Balenciaga apologizes amid outcry over ad featuring sexualized children

null / Roman Zaiets / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

Top luxury fashion brand Balenciaga has issued an apology after outcry over the company’s recent ad campaign featuring young children surrounded by sexualized symbols.

In the ad, young children — appearing to be no older than 6 years old — hold stuffed teddy bears that are dressed in leather bondage gear, including fishnet tights and chains used in BDSM (bondage, discipline/dominance, submission, and sadomasochism).

 

The images went viral on social media, provoking public outrage over other disturbing elements in the photographic ad series, including court documents in one photo that reference child abuse and pornography. 

“The ads blatantly exploit the innocence of children to glamorize perversity and sell merchandise,” Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Person and Identity Project for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA. 

Balenciaga has since removed all traces of the ad campaign and deleted or hidden all of its Instagram posts.

Kim Kardashian, a frequent partner with the Spanish-based designer and wearer of its products, said Sunday she was “re-evaluating” her relationship with the brand.

“As a mother of four, I have been shaken by the disturbing images,” Kardashian tweeted. “The safety of children must be held with the highest regard and any attempts to normalize child abuse of any kind should have no place in our society — period.”

Kardashian said she would base her assessment on the company’s “willingness to accept accountability for something that should have never happened to begin with” and “the actions I am expecting to see them take to protect children.”

The company issued an apology on Instagram shortly after Kardashian’s reproof, stating it “strongly condemn[ed] child abuse” and that the “BDSM-inspired outfits” “should not have been featured in a photoshoot with children.”

“It was never our intent to include it in our narrative,” the post read. “We could have done things differently.”

The post blamed third-party entities for providing court documents of a real Supreme Court ruling on child pornography for the photoshoot. 

“All the items included in this shooting were provided by third parties that confirmed in writing that these props were fake office documents,” the post read. 

“The inclusion of these unapproved documents was the result of reckless negligence for which Balenciaga has filed a complaint.” 

The brand has since sued production company North Six, Inc. for including the legal documents in the ad for damages of $25 million.

According to Hasson, Balenciaga’s “thin apologies” are “calculating and ultimately meaningless.”

“Balenciaga and its elite designers had no qualms about surrounding children with perverse sexual images to push its products. They care about money, not morality,” Hasson said.

Social media activists have also drawn attention to disturbing content posted by the brand’s main stylist, Lotta Volkova, featuring photographs of children mutilated or held hostage.

Patrina Mosley, who formerly worked in leadership at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told CNA that Balenciaga’s advertisements are part of a growing push to “normalize pedophilia.” 

Mosley currently serves as a national advisory board member for Project 21, a Black leadership network that promotes the voices of conservative and moderate African Americans. 

“From Jeffery Epstein to Balenciaga, elite society is telling us exactly what they want — and that’s to normalize pedophilia. We still do not have the client list of those who frequented Epstein’s pedo-island, and who knows how long Balenciaga has been incorporating insidious nods to child sexual abuse in their campaigns. This is evil and just flat-out satanic,” Mosley said.

“As adults we have a responsibility to protect children, and they are grooming our children right in front of our faces for the next phase of liberalization: pedophilia, or as they have already begun to call it, MAPs: minor-attracted people,” Mosley warned.

Balenciaga did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

Pope Francis: Benedict XVI was ‘leader’ in responding to sexual abuse

Pope Francis visits Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Vatican City to exchange Christmas greetings Dec. 23, 2013. / Vatican Media

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 28, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

In a recent interview Pope Francis said his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a leader in “taking responsibility” and responding with transparency to clerical sexual abuse — the latest defense by the Holy Father of his predecessor, who is facing criticism in his native Germany for his handling of several abuse cases as an archbishop decades ago. 

In the Nov. 22 interview published Monday by America Magazine, Pope Francis discussed a wide range of topics including the Church’s response to revelations of abuse by clergy. Francis said although “official statistics” show that clergy abuse makes up a very small percentage of all abuse cases in society, [i]f there had been only one case, it would have been monstrous.” 

Before the 2002 “Boston crisis,” abusers were simply moved from place to place as part of the institutional cover-up, he said. 

“The practice, which is still maintained in some families and institutions today, was to cover it up. The Church made the decision to not cover up [anymore]. From there progress was made in judicial processes, the creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,” the pope said, as reported by America. 

“Here, a great [example] is Cardinal [Seán] O’Malley of Boston, who had the mindset to institutionalize [the protection of minors] within the Church. When honest people see how the Church is taking responsibility for this monstrosity, they understand that the Church is one thing while the abusers who are being punished by the Church are another. The leader in taking these decisions was Benedict XVI.”

During his almost eight-year pontificate, which began in 2005, Benedict XVI dismissed hundreds of abusers from the clerical state, regularly met abuse survivors, and addressed the abuse crisis in Ireland in a 2010 pastoral letter. He resigned from the papacy in 2013. 

This is not the first time Pope Francis has spoken in defense of his predecessor’s record on responding to sexual abuse. Amid an ongoing reckoning over Benedict XVI’s handling of abuse cases in Munich, where he served as archbishop from 1977 to 1982, Pope Francis called to offer his support to Benedict XVI as the pope emeritus faced criticism. 

A lengthy investigative report, compiled by a German law firm and released in January, criticized the nonagenarian retired pope’s handling of four cases during his time in charge of the southern German Archdiocese of Munich and Friesing. 

In two of the cases, the report says, clerics committed abuse while then-Archbishop Ratzinger was in office. While they were criminally sanctioned by secular courts, they continued to perform pastoral duties, and no action was taken against them under canon law. In a third case, a cleric convicted by a foreign court worked in the Munich Archdiocese, and in a fourth case, a priest already accused of abuse was moved to Munich in 1980, where he committed further acts of abuse. 

The 1,000-page report — which has drawn some criticism for its $1.53 million price tag —  covered the years 1945–2019 and identified at least 497 victims of abuse as well as 235 alleged perpetrators, including 173 priests, during the 74-year period.

For his part, Benedict issued a grave apology to victims of sexual abuse, while four of his advisers defended his actions in each of the four cases mentioned in the report in a three-page rebuttal

“I have had great responsibilities in the Catholic Church. All the greater is my pain for the abuses and the errors that occurred in those different places during the time of my mandate,” Benedict wrote.  

“Each individual case of sexual abuse is appalling and irreparable. The victims of sexual abuse have my deepest sympathy and I feel great sorrow for each individual case.”

The advisers insisted that Benedict was not “aware of sexual abuse committed or suspicion of sexual abuse committed by priests” in any of the cases mentioned in the report. 

Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict’s longtime personal secretary, told EWTN in February that the pope emeritus “is being accused of something that contradicts 25 years of his work” in making the Church more transparent and effective at dealing with sexual abuse. 

After leaving the Munich Archdiocese in 1982, the future pope served as prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). In 2001, Pope John Paul II entrusted the CDF with investigating allegations of clerical abuse worldwide.

Gänswein said in February that Benedict encountered “internal resistance” at the Vatican as he sought to take decisive action against abusers but was able to overcome it with the Polish pope’s support.

“He did not only play a decisive role, he was the decisive figure, the decisive man; the one who not only suggested transparency, but also took concrete steps towards transparency. One can say, he is the ‘father of transparency,’ and thus he also managed to convince Pope John Paul II,” he said.

Sexual abuse is, Pope Francis said in the Nov. 22 interview, “a ‘new’ problem in its manifestation, but eternal in that it has always existed. In the pagan world they commonly used children for pleasure,” he said, going on to express his deep worry about the scourge of child pornography. 

“The Church takes responsibility for its own sin, and we go forward, sinners, trusting in the mercy of God. When I travel, I generally receive a delegation of victims of abuse,” he noted. 

On the topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis was asked about the apparent lack of transparency when it comes to accusations against bishops, compared with the handling of accusations against priests. The pope called for “equal transparency” going forward, adding that “if there is less transparency, it is a mistake.”

In the America interview, Pope Francis also discussed the role of bishops, why women cannot be ordained priests, racism, polarization, the Vatican-China deal, and whether he has any regrets from his time as pope.

BREAKING: Louisiana Catholic church community ‘rocked’ by reports of double homicide

Breaking News / CNA

Boston, Mass., Nov 28, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

St. Peter Catholic Church in Covington, Louisiana, says its community has been “rocked” by news of a double homicide that local police announced Monday morning, amid an unconfirmed report that the victims were the parish’s former pastor and a former employee.

A local Covington man has been arrested and charged in connection with the murders.

“Our community has been rocked by this morning’s news of the double homicide in downtown Covington. Please join us for a Holy Hour in St. Peter Catholic Church at 7 p.m.,” the post on the parish’s website says. 

The Covington Police Department has yet to release the identities of the victims, whom the department said in a Facebook post Nov. 28 were “burned beyond recognition.” 

However, a local reporter posted online that the parish’s former pastor and an employee of his at the church were reported to be the victims by “multiple people with knowledge of the situation.”

CNA is withholding the names of the alleged victims pending confirmation from authorities. 

WGNO reported Monday that one of the victims may be a “long-time prominent member” of the community, according to “witnesses.”

Earlier on Monday, St. Peter Parish posted online: “We are aware of news reports of an apparent double homicide in downtown Covington. There is speculation about the identity of the victims, but until this is confirmed by the coroner’s office, we cannot speculate about their identities.”

“Please pray for the victims and their families while we wait for final confirmation,” the post said.

Police said that the bodies were found by police “in the 500 block of E. Gibson Street,” which is about a half-mile from the church.

On Monday evening, police announced that they had taken a suspect, 49-year-old Antonio Donde Tyson of Covington, into custody.

Tyson was charged with two counts of first degree murder, two counts of second degree kidnapping, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of resisting an officer, and one count of illegal possession of stolen things. 

“We urge members of the public who may have knowledge of this incident to contact the Covington Police Department at 985-892-8500. Citizens can also submit tips anonymously through our free app, called ‘Covington PD,’” police said.

Police said that the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office; and the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office were involved in the investigation.

The police department will be holding a press conference Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 10 a.m. CST. 

This is a developing story.

The first church dedicated to the Miraculous Medal is in South America

Sanctuary of the Miraculous Medal in Monte Sião, Brazil / Credit: Facebook Sanctuary of the Miraculous Medal

CNA Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

The town of Monte Sião in southern Minas Gerais state in Brazil can be considered a land of graces, since the first church dedicated to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is located there. Our Lady’s intercession is credited with ending a prolonged period of drought there in the 1930s.

In 1830 Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré in France and asked her to have a medal made according to the design she had been shown: the Virgin standing on a globe with outstretched hands with rays of light emanating from them, her foot on a serpent, and bearing the inscription: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

The letter M is inscribed on the back side, with a cross rising from the middle of the letter. Below are the Sacred Heart of Jesus encircled with a crown of thorns and the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Around the edge of the medal are 12 stars.

The Virgin promised the nun that she would give abundant graces to those who wore the medal. The devotion spread throughout the world and made its way to Brazil.

In 1849, just 19 years after the apparitions in France, the first church dedicated to the Miraculous Medal was built in Monte Sião.

According to the website of the Archdiocese of Pousso Alegre, in 1830 when Mary appeared to St. Catherine, the Monte Sião region was inhabited by about 105 Catholic families. There was no church or priest, and traveling there was precarious.

However, accounts indicate that by 1838, “devotion to the Miraculous Medal was already there.”

On March 29, 1849, the construction of the chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal was authorized, and it was consecrated on April 13, 1850.

The first of the graces received came when a statue depicting the image of Mary on the medal arrived from Portugal in 1860. However, in 1937 it was removed from the main altar at the request of the bishop, who considered that the statue had sensual lines because it highlighted the bust and waist.

The image was then taken to a chapel in the rural area and the faithful felt its absence. After that date, the city “was ravaged by a great drought” until 1939.

According to various accounts, it rained as usual in all the cities of the region except Monte Sião.

The people associated the lack of rain with the absence of the Marian image, and so a group asked the priest in charge that the statue be placed again on the main altar. After much discussion, it was allowed to be returned.

The statue was returned Nov. 5, 1939. It was a sunny afternoon when a procession consisting of the pastor, authorities, a band, and the faithful carried the Marian image on a litter.

When the procession arrived at the entrance to the city, the first drops of rain began to fall and then a heavy rain ensued, completely soaking the faithful and the image before they finally entered the church.

The downpour is known as the Day of the Miracle of the Rain. Since then, the plantations have prospered and the rainy cycle has returned to normal.

This was another of the many graces that the people of Monte Sião received and still receive today through the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

Due to its history and the great flow of devotees, on Nov. 5, 1999, the main church was elevated to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, where her feast is celebrated with special fervor every Nov. 27.

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

Russian troops capture two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests and accuse them of ‘subversion’

Father Ivan Levystky (left) and Father Bohdan Geleta (right) / Credit: Donetsk Bishop's Exarchy

CNA Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The Russian National Guard occupying the coastal city of Berdyansk, Ukraine, last week captured two priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and accused them of having committed “subversive” and “guerrilla” activities.

Redemptorist priests Father Hieromonk Ivan Levystky, abbot of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary church, and Father Bohdan Geleta, who also serves at the church, were accused of allegedly possessing weapons, ammunition, and books on Ukrainian history that were in a parish building. 

The Donetsk Exarchate denied the accusations, calling the detention “unfounded and illegal,” and demanded the prompt release of the clerics.

“From the beginning of the large-scale war of the Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine until the day of their arrest, the activities of both priests did not go beyond the scope of their pastoral duties,” a Nov. 25 statement from the exarchate affirmed. 

“At the time of the search of the church and the adjacent rectory and  premises of the parish, both priests were already under arrest; that is, they could not control these premises and the actions of the Russian National Guard in any way,” the statement pointed out.

“They cannot bear any responsibility for the weapons and ammunition allegedly found in those places. This is clear slander and a false accusation,” the local Church stressed.

The Donetsk Exarchate said that the behavior of the Russian local authorities toward the Ukrainian clergy “can only have one assessment: complete disregard for the fundamental principles of human rights.”

“Only because of their loyalty to God and the Church [have] the aforementioned ‘accusations’” been leveled against the priests, the exarchate said.

“Considering the above,” the exarchate said, “we demand the prompt release from custody and imprisonment of our priests, as well as ensuring their unhindered legal service to the spiritual needs of the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who live in Berdyansk.”

“We ask for the maximum dissemination of information in order to free the captive fathers. We appeal to the authorities and all people of goodwill with a request to join the cause for the release of priests, as well as for increased prayer in this regard. Merciful God, hear our prayers!” the Donetsk Exarchate’s statement concluded.

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

Pope Francis explains to America Magazine why women cannot be ordained priests

Pope Francis meets a group of women at the end of his weekly general audience at the Paul VI hall in the Vatican on March 2, 2022. / Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

In an interview published in America Magazine today, Pope Francis unequivocally stated that women cannot be ordained as priests but emphasized the important role they have to play in the life of the Church. 

“Many women feel pain because they cannot be ordained priests. What would you say to a woman who is already serving in the life of the Church but who still feels called to be a priest?” asked Kerry Webber, executive editor of the monthly magazine published by the Jesuits of the United States.

The Holy Father was unequivocal on the question of the ordination of women priests:

“And why can a woman not enter ordained ministry? It is because the Petrine principle has no place for that,” the pope said.

“The ministerial dimension, we can say, is that of the Petrine church. I am using a category of theologians. The Petrine principle is that of ministry,” the Holy Father said.

A theology of the ‘Marian principle’

The pope explained that there is another “theological” way in which women play a vital role in Church life.

The dignity of women, he said, reflected the spousal nature of the Church, which he called the “Marian principle.”

“The way is not only [ordained] ministry. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse. We have not developed a theology of women that reflects this,” Pope Francis said.

“The Petrine principle is that of ministry. But there is another principle that is still more important, about which we do not speak, that is the Marian principle, which is the principle of femininity (femineidad) in the Church, of the woman in the Church, where the Church sees a mirror of herself because she is a woman and a spouse. 

“A church with only the Petrine principle would be a church that one would think is reduced to its ministerial dimension, nothing else. But the Church is more than a ministry. It is the whole people of God. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse. Therefore, the dignity of women is mirrored in this way,” the pope said.

Pope Francis noted that a theology of the Marian principle needs to be developed further.

“This is an abbreviated explanation, but I wanted to highlight the two theological principles: the Petrine principle and the Marian principle that make up the Church. Therefore, that the woman does not enter into the ministerial life is not a deprivation. No. Your place is that which is much more important and which we have yet to develop, the catechesis about women in the way of the Marian principle,” he said.

A third way: the administrative way

Pope Francis said that in addition to the Petrine and the Marian principles, there is another function of the Body of Christ that is particularly suited to women: the “administrative way.”

“There is a third way: the administrative way. The ministerial way, the ecclesial way, let us say, Marian, and the administrative way, which is not a theological thing, it is something of normal administration. And, in this aspect, I believe we have to give more space to women,” Pope Francis said.

The Holy Father then pointed to the women he has appointed, noting that women generally do a “better” job managing things.

“Here in the Vatican, the places where we have put women are functioning better. For example, in the Council for the Economy, where there are six cardinals and six laypersons. Two years ago, I appointed five women among the six laypersons, and that was a revolution. The deputy governor of the Vatican is a woman. When a woman enters politics or manages things, generally she does better. Many economists are women, and they are renewing the economy in a constructive way,” he said.

He then shared two anecdotes about what he called the “nose” (olfato) of women, who have shown themselves to be keen judges of character in evaluating candidates for the priesthood.

“The woman is a mother and sees the mystery of the Church more clearly than we men. For this reason, the advice of a woman is very important, and the decision of a woman is better,” he said. 

Ordination of women and the Synod on Synodality

Ahead of next year’s Synod on Synodality, participants in the German Catholic Church’s Synodal Way voted to approve text calling for the ordination of women priests. The document, titled “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church,” said: “It is not the participation of women in all Church ministries and offices that requires justification, but the exclusion of women from sacramental office.”

Then in September, a document on sexuality was narrowly blocked after failing to get support from two-thirds of the German bishops. That document called for changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity, and masturbation. 

Pope Francis has on several occasions made public his concerns about the German Synodal Way, and his clear enunciation of the Church’s position on the ordination of women follows his Nov. 17 ad limina meeting with German bishops over their controversial synodal process.

Following that meeting, the German Bishops’ Conference president, Bishop Georg Bätzing, told journalists that there was no departure from Catholicism intended. Instead, he said, supporters of the Synodal Way wanted to remain Catholic, “but we want to be Catholic in a different way.”

In a statement released Thursday, the Vatican published concerns raised by two leading cardinals who met with the German bishops. 

The main concern is one of union with the Church, explained Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops.

“Several authoritative critics of the current orientation of the Synodal Way in Germany speak openly of a latent schism that the proposal of your texts threatens to entrench in its present form,” he wrote.

The Synodal Way — which is not a synod — risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

Ouellet said the Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, raised five concerns with the German bishops, including the Synodal Way’s approach to sexuality, power and structure in the Church, and the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Pope Francis says dialogue ‘slow,’ but only way forward with China

Pilgrims from China greets Pope Francis during his general weekly audience in St. Peter's Square on May 22, 2019, at the Vatican. / Photo by Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Corbis News

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 09:30 am (CNA).

In a new interview with America Magazine, Pope Francis said the Vatican-China deal has had both failures and successes, but he “cannot find another way” to carry out diplomacy.

The pope spoke about the Vatican-China deal with America Magazine on Nov. 22, two days before the Nov. 24 installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao, which the Vatican said “did not occur in accordance with ... what was stipulated” in the renewed provisional agreement.

A Nov. 26 statement said that “the Holy See noted with surprise and regret” that Peng had been installed as an “auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi,” a diocese that is not recognized by the Vatican.

In the America Magazine interview, published Nov. 28, Pope Francis emphasized dialogue “up to the point that is possible.”

“Dialogue is the way of the best diplomacy,” he said. “With China I have opted for the way of dialogue. It is slow, it has its failures, it has its successes, but I cannot find another way.”

He added that the Chinese people have great wisdom and deserve his respect and admiration.

“I take off my hat to them,” Francis continued. “And for this reason I try to dialogue, because it is not that we are going to conquer people. No! There are Christians there. They have to be cared for, so that they may be good Chinese and good Christians.”

Peng’s installation ceremony took place one month after the Vatican renewed its provisional deal with Beijing on the appointment of Catholic bishops for an additional two years.

The most recent appointment of a bishop in China, Archbishop Cui Qingqi, took place more than one year ago on Sept. 8, 2021.

Since the China deal entered into force in October 2018, only six bishops have been appointed, two of whom were already in talks for nomination before the deal’s signing.

Meanwhile, as many as one-third of China’s Catholic dioceses may be without a bishop.

There are 66 bishops in China, according to a report by Bishop Shen Bin of Haiman, who co-leads the Chinese Council of Bishops — a body that supports the Patriotic Association and is not recognized by the Holy See.

The Holy See divides China into 20 archdioceses, 85 dioceses, and 34 apostolic prefectures (Beijing subdivides the country into 98 dioceses).

The boundaries of the “Diocese of Jiangxi,” where Bishop Peng was installed this month, were drawn by Chinese authorities without Vatican approval.

“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, remains awaiting appropriate communications on the matter from the authorities, and reaffirms its full readiness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest,” the Vatican said Nov. 26.

Pope Francis: ‘Jesus did not create bishops’ conferences’

Pope Francis meets with the United States bishops at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2015. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 08:01 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has emphasized the difference between bishops’ conferences and bishops in a new interview with America Magazine.

“The bishops’ conference is there to bring together the bishops, to work together, to discuss issues, to make pastoral plans. But each bishop is a pastor,” the pope said in a lengthy interview conducted at his Vatican home on Nov. 22 and published Nov. 28.

“Let us not dissolve the power of the bishop by reducing it to the power of the bishops’ conference.”

The conversation with the Jesuit publication covered a wide range of topics, including the role of bishops, racism, polarization, sexual abuse, the Vatican-China deal, and whether he has any regrets from his time as pope.

In the interview, Pope Francis was told about a 2021 America Magazine survey that found that Catholics in the United States consider the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be the least trustworthy out of the groups listed — 20% of U.S. Catholics surveyed found the USCCB to be “very trustworthy.”

Francis was asked: “How can the U.S. Catholic bishops regain the trust of American Catholics?”

“The question is good because it speaks about the bishops,” he responded. “But I think it is misleading to speak of the relationship between Catholics and the bishops’ conference. The bishops’ conference is not the pastor; the pastor is the bishop. So one runs the risk of diminishing the authority of the bishop when you look only to the bishops’ conference.”

“Jesus did not create bishops’ conferences,” he added. “Jesus created bishops, and each bishop is pastor of his people.”

The U.S. bishops met in Baltimore for their annual fall general assembly on Nov. 14-17. Katie Yoder
The U.S. bishops met in Baltimore for their annual fall general assembly on Nov. 14-17. Katie Yoder

Pope Francis said the emphasis should be on whether a bishop has a good relationship with his people, not on administration.

He gave the example of Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas: “I do not know if he is conservative, or if he is progressive, if he is of the right or of the left, but he is a good pastor.”

In the U.S., the pope said, there are ‘some good bishops who are more on the right, some good bishops who are more on the left, but they are more bishops than ideologues; they are more pastors than ideologues. That is the key.”

“The grace of Jesus Christ is in the relationship between the bishop and his people, his diocese,” he said.

A bishops’ conference, instead, is an organization meant to “assist and unite.”

Pope Francis was also asked whether the USCCB should prioritize the fight against abortion over other issues.

To which he said: “this is a problem the bishops’ conference has to resolve within itself.”

The pope pointed out that the activity of a bishops’ conference is on the organizational level, and in history, conferences have at times gotten things wrong.

“In other words, let this be clear: A bishops’ conference has, ordinarily, to give its opinion on faith and traditions, but above all on diocesan administration and so on,” he said, again emphasizing the sacramental nature of the pastoral relationship of a bishop to his diocese and its people.

“And this cannot be delegated to the bishops’ conference,” he added. “The conference helps to organize meetings, and these are very important; but for a bishop, [being] pastor is most important.”

In the interview, Pope Francis also denounced polarization as “not Catholic,” and said the Catholic way of dealing with sin is “not puritanical” but puts saints and sinners together.

He also said in the U.S., where there is a Catholicism particular to that country, something he called “normal,” “you also have some ideological Catholic groups.”

Pope Francis arrives at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Sept. 23, 2015. CNA
Pope Francis arrives at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Sept. 23, 2015. CNA

On the topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis was asked about the apparent lack of transparency when it comes to accusations against bishops, compared with the handling of accusations against priests.

The pope called for “equal transparency” going forward, adding that “if there is less transparency, it is a mistake.”

To a question about Black Catholics, Francis said he is “aware of their suffering, that he loves them very much, and that they should resist and not walk away” from the Catholic Church.

“Racism is an intolerable sin against God,” he added. “The Church, the pastors and laypeople must continue fighting to eradicate it and for a more just world.”

Asked if he has any regrets, or if he would change anything he has done in nearly 10 years as pope, Francis said in English, as he laughed, that he would change “all! All!”

“However, I did what the Holy Spirit was telling me I had to do. And when I did not do it, I made a mistake,” he added.

On his seeming constant joyfulness, the pope said he is not “always like that,” except when he is with people.

“I would not say that I am happy because I am healthy, or because I eat well, or because I sleep well, or because I pray a great deal,” he explained. “I am happy because I feel happy, God makes me happy. I don’t have anything to blame on the Lord, not even when bad things happen to me. Nothing.”

He said the Lord has guided him through both good and difficult moments, “but there is always the assurance that one does not walk alone.”

“One has one’s faults,” he said, “also one’s sins; I go to confession every 15 days — I do not know, that is just how I am.”

Analysis: Is the Vatican’s deal with China at stake?

The installation ceremony of Bishop John Peng Weizhao in Nanchang, China, on Nov. 24, 2022. / Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

Rome Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 07:55 am (CNA).

The agreement between China and the Holy See on the appointment of bishops is not at risk — for now. The Holy See’s declaration following the installation of Bishop John Peng Weizhao as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi is a precise signal.

For the Holy See, this is not only about the diplomatic agreement. It is about a spirit of dialogue and mutual trust between the Vatican and the Chinese authorities, which Rome feels should not be betrayed.

This spirit was betrayed by the installation of Bishop Peng as bishop of Jiangxi according to the subdivision of the dioceses of the Chinese government and following what the Holy See defines as “long and heavy pressure” from local authorities.

Some background

The message of the Holy See can only be understood with a few background facts. First, the Oct. 22 agreement between the Holy See and China concerns the appointment of bishops and puts in place a series of procedures for which bishops are chosen with the approval of the Holy See and Beijing.

The contents of the agreement are not known. Keeping it confidential comes precisely from the need, recognized by the Holy See, to fine-tune it.

It is not the first time the Holy See has made agreements with governments. A similar thing happened in 1956 with communist Hungary, for example.

This is the thesis put forward by those who support the Sino-Vatican agreement. The Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples’s agency Fides published on Nov. 23 an interview with Bishop Juan Arrieta, secretary of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, supporting precisely this theory.

In any case, the agreement has been described as provisional and, therefore, to be improved. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, explained this in an interview with CNA earlier this year.

Furthermore, the Holy See had also made it clear that it was a “pastoral” agreement. In other words, the deal only concerned the appointment of bishops and not a possible resumption of diplomatic relations, a different subject to be discussed.

Some signs of relaxation

Before the renewal of the agreement, there had been signs of détente. For example, the latest negotiations between the Holy See and China took place in Tianjin from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2.

The place was symbolically important, considering it has been one of the vacant dioceses in China since 2005 without a recognized bishop. The Vatican delegation also visited the underground bishop Melchior Shi Hongzhen, 92.

In a world of symbols, with the visit the Holy See wanted to show that despite the desire to carry on a dialogue, the situation of Catholics in China had not been forgotten.

At the end of the 10th National Assembly of Chinese Catholic representatives, Archbishop Giuseppe Li Shan of Beijing was elected president of the Patriotic Association.

The association, founded in 1957, is the governmental body to which priests must be members to show goodwill and patriotism.

Even the appointment of Li Shan seemed a sign of a thaw. Li Shan was consecrated bishop in 2007 with the consent of the Holy See, according to a procedure in force before the Sino-Vatican agreement of 2018, which marked, in fact, a détente of relations outlined in the letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of China.

A revealing report

With Li Shan, however, Bishop Shen Bin of Haimen was appointed to lead the Chinese Council of Bishops, the body not recognized by the Holy See that supports the Patriotic Association under the control of the Communist Party.

In his report on the Church in China, Shen presented the appointments of bishops in the last six years as a completely autonomous process led by the Patriotic Association.

Reading Bishop Shen’s report, we learn that there are 98 dioceses in China, which can count on 4,202 churches and another 2,238 “active sites.”

The bishop of Haimen spoke of the presence of 66 bishops, thus confirming that at least a third of the dioceses are uncovered, and added that in the last six years, 289 new priests had been ordained and 161 new nuns have completed their religious profession. In addition, there have been nearly 110,000 new baptisms.

These numbers, however, had a problem: They considered the subdivision of dioceses in China according to Beijing and not the subdivision of dioceses according to the Holy See. The Holy See divides China into 20 archdioceses, 85 dioceses, and 34 apostolic prefectures. For the Beijing government, there are only dioceses.

The position of the Holy See

The division of dioceses was not part of the agreement between the Holy See and China, which concerned only the appointment of bishops. However, for the Holy See, this is an issue as important as the appointment of bishops.

The reason is simple: neither the bishops nor the administrative division of the dioceses can be delegated to the state. They are internal questions of the Church. They are not concerned with the place’s geography — nor give new administrative boundaries of a political nature.

In the Catholic Church, the pope chooses the bishops, and the Holy See decides how to distribute the bishops. All this, of course, while respecting the state’s autonomy, too, keeping a clear separation between the two powers.

For China’s communist rulers, this is simply unacceptable. The state controls everything, even the organization and teaching of the Church.

A good example of this is the oath that Bishop Peng had to take at the installation as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi, as reported by the site Chinacatholic.cn:

“I swear to keep the commandments of God, fulfill the pastoral duties of the auxiliary bishop, preach the Gospel faithfully, guide the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Jiangxi, abide by the national constitution, safeguard homeland unity and social harmony, love the country and religion, and persist in the principle of independent and self-managed churches, adhere to the leadership of the Catholicism of my country in China, actively guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society and contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

The story of Bishop Peng

John Peng Weizhao, 56, was ordained a priest in 1989. He was secretly ordained the bishop of Yujiang as an underground bishop on April 10, 2014. Peng was called to succeed Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, who had spent 23 years in prison and died in 2016. Bishop Peng was arrested a few days after his ordination as bishop and was only released several months later, in November 2014.

Erected in 1885, the Diocese of Yujiang is located in the province of Jiangxi and is a suffragan, together with four other dioceses, of the Archdiocese of Nanchang. The Chinese government wants the five ecclesiastical provinces to be merged under the single Diocese of Shaanxi.

Thus, Peng left his post as bishop of Yujiang to “regularize himself,” agreeing to become the auxiliary bishop of Li Suguang, who has been the official, state-accredited bishop of Nanchang since 2010 — for what is called the Diocese of Jiangxi.

However, the Vatican communiqué explained that the Holy See does not recognize this diocese.

Why the Chinese move?

The reason for the move by the Chinese is unclear and somewhat surprising, given there had been several signs of détente before the agreement was renewed.

At the latest Communist Party congress, President Xi Jinping strengthened the program of “Sinicization” of religions and increased pressure on Catholics to join the Patriotic Association.

But some sources say that authorities may be reacting to the fact that the Holy See rejected a candidate for the episcopate proposed by Beijing. This detail is not officially confirmed, but it could have particular weight.

More than a year has passed since the most recent appointment of a bishop in China — Archbishop Cui Qingqi, ordained in Wuhan-Hankou on Sept. 8, 2021.

Since the agreement entered into force, only six bishops have been appointed, and for two of them, the nomination procedure was already in an advanced state before the signing of the agreement.

In short, despite the deal, there are many vacant dioceses — a sign of many challenges despite the alleged goodwill.

One of these challenges is the Communist Party’s constant pressure on priests to “register” with the Patriotic Association since 2018. On this question, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, then prefect of Propaganda Fide, gave an interview published in the Vatican’s official newspaper on Feb. 4, 2019.

Beijing has continued its attempt at forced assimilation of Catholics and the Church in China to Chinese Communist Party doctrine. Beijing has also attempted to force the Vatican to recognize its subdivision of dioceses. This move was — presumably — not part of the agreement, although it impacted the appointment of bishops.

The Holy See’s response

The public response of the Holy See clearly said the Diocese of Jiangxi “is not recognized by the Holy See” and that what happened “did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue existing between the Vatican and the Chinese parties and what was stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of bishops, on Sept. 22, 2018.”

“We are talking about the spirit of the agreement, not about the deal itself. But it is a spirit that speaks of mutual trust and dialogue, which for the Holy See was broken by Beijing with its unilateral decision.”

In the end, the Holy See wanted to reaffirm its position. As explained by a Vatican source involved in the China dossier, who asked for anonymity, “in every dialogue, we highlight the question of religious freedom, and we address, in the ways we can, the question of bishops who are prevented from carrying out their ministry.”

From this view, the Holy See does not take a public position on human rights such as religious freedom, precisely in the “spirit of dialogue” with the Communist Party that it does not want to undermine.

With the declaration, the Holy See issued a warning that Beijing has broken the trust climate, which must be restored. But, at the same time, it did not close the way to dialogue.

The Nov. 26 statement reads that “the Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, awaits appropriate communications on the matter from the authorities, and reaffirms its full willingness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest.”

For now, the Holy See’s doors remain open. The question is: until when?

Don’t let Christmas take you by surprise: lessons for Advent from the Church

null / Lisa Missenda / Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., Nov 28, 2022 / 06:36 am (CNA).

The First Sunday of Advent 2022 is Nov. 27, exactly four weeks before the Sunday of Christmas this year, and while the Church provides this time to allow you to be caught by the joy of the Incarnation, you can be easily caught by surprise that it is Christmas. To help remedy this surprise, the Church provides songs, signs, and symbols to enter into the season of Advent more fruitfully.

Here are three ways the Church teaches us about the meaning of the season:

Advent hymns

Many of the customary hymns for Advent highlight the movement of the soul toward what Pope Francis termed in a 2014 homily on Advent as a “horizon of hope.” No hymn epitomizes this better than “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its overtones of expectation and its mournful remorse over the state of man, captive to sin. The cultivation of hope and expectation is also seen in Advent hymns such as “O Come Divine Messiah” and “People Look East.” 

The commingled darkness and hope that God will fulfill his promises, a theme characteristic of Advent, deepens with songs like the Spanish carol “Alepun.” The lyrics of “Alepun” move the faithful into an experience of waiting with a pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary while the rhythm and percussion evoke donkey hooves clattering across the plains of Israel to Bethlehem.

Church decor

Advent is a season of penance marked by joy and, in many ways, a little Lent. This is why the colors of purple and pink — with their ties to penance and the Lord’s Passion, and the joy of Laetare Sunday when Lent is almost over — are the colors of Advent. But did you know that the deep purple of Advent has a blue hue to it to teach the faithful in symbol about the Marian heart of the season?

The lack of church decor also teaches about the penitential nature of the season. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the lack of flowers on the altar, the restrained use of instruments, and the absence of the resounding and angelic Gloria all lead to a deliberate emptiness.

The emptiness will first be filled on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and, later, flowers will be allowed on Gaudete Sunday as the first expression of the festivity of the coming Christmas.

Saints and solemnities 

Following the solemnity of Christ the King, Advent begins with echoes of the power of Christ coming in glory before it stretches forward to the humble beginnings of the mystery of the Incarnation.

This means there is a certain focus the Church helps people enter into even in the way the liturgical calendar is marked by very few memorials of saints: just five in the course of the four weeks, most of whom are deeply embedded in the celebration of and preparation for Christmas in various countries.

St. Nicholas is the best known of the five: the generous bishop whose gifts inspired generations of lore and giving. St. Lucy, whose desire to give charity to prisoners in the catacombs meant she wore candles in her hair to free her hands, is another well-known saint with connections to Christmas whom we celebrate in Advent.

The Church also shows forth the importance of Mary during this season, which places her Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, a solemnity and holy day of obligation, at the very beginning of the liturgical year. Combined with the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12, the Church shows forth what God has wrought in a soul full of grace — a foreshadowing of the entire mystery of salvation in one soul.

Though there are many more signs and symbols that communicate the meaning of Advent, these can assist you as you enter the season of expectation, building anticipation for the celebration of Christmas so it doesn’t catch you by surprise.