Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Father Helmut Schüller

Following is a video of Fr. Helmut Schüller's July 26, 2013 address at the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio.

Did you know that the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis banned a webcast of Fr. Schüller's July 24 talk from taking place on church property?
For the full story, click here.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Archdiocese and Fathers Conlin and Schüller

By Michael V. Tegeder

Note: Following is Fr. Mike Tegeder's response to both the "upsetting situation" within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis involving Fr. Dan Conlin and the "message of high importance" he received last week from the chancery concerning an event at St. Frances Cabrini parish featuring a webcast of Austrian priest Fr. Helmut Schüller, currently in the U.S. on a speaking tour. Fr. Tegeder's response was first published in the parish bulletin of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, where he serves as pastor.

Last weekend when I was in El Paso, Texas, for the National Tekakwitha Conference for Indian Ministry, the Pioneer Press published an article about Fr. Dan Conlin, an Archdiocesan priest, who fathered a child, was taken out of his parish abruptly, and then bizarrely assigned to the marriage tribunal to judge the marriages of faithful Catholics seeking to remain in good standing in the church. A number of people, including some priests of the Archdiocese, have known parts of this sorry story.

This very upsetting situation was difficult to confirm and an innocent family including their children was involved who did not need this story to go public.

It was most upsetting that this took place as the Archbishop was holding himself up to be a defender of marriage in his crusade for the 'marriage amendment' that he so intemperately supported. This included attacking the committed relationships of many gay couples and their families, including their children; sending a DVD into their homes saying that their committed relationships were a threat to children.

I have sadness for those involved in the Pioneer Press article, especially the family. This is another fruit of mandatory celibacy. When will the church leadership open their minds and hearts to the realities of real people?


At the Tekakwitha conference I met many Indian Catholics who have had their parish priests removed without any replacement and no explanation. The bishops simply cannot fulfill their most basic responsibility to staff parishes. Apparently they are simply resigned to closing these communities some of which have existed over 400 years in the Southwest.

But the real issue for us is the terrible decisions made by Archbishop Nienstedt. The Marriage Tribunal? What was he thinking? The priest could have been judging the very marriage he broke up. The Archbishop has again failed and embarrassed us. I hope that we are not resigned to this.

Any pro-active concerns

The priests of the archdiocese received this last Monday from the Peter Laird, our Vicar General:

As many of you are no doubt aware of by now, the St. Paul Pioneer Press published a lengthy article regarding Fr. Dan Conlin on Sunday (7.21.13). Due to the sensitive and personal nature of this situation we have not commented pro-actively. In addition, since the publication no other media outlets have contacted us and we have received only one email from the public as of 3:00 pm.

We have tried for some time now to honor the privacy and respect the dignity of those involved, especially the mother and child. The situation is clearly regrettable and has never been condoned or excused. However, as has been the case for nearly a decade, we must also continue to deal with everyone involved with compassion and mercy.

If you have any further concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Again, my concern is with the Archbishop and his judgment which is totally evaded. And the Vicar General is taking solace in the number of follow up stories?

Not condoned? What have been the costs? A complete accounting needs to be released of the monies which have been spent and continue to be spent to rehabilitate Conlin and to attempt to keep this matter under wraps.

"This message sent with high importance"

The above heading was on an email I received about having a webcast at Cabrini last Wednesday of Father Helmut Schüller, an Austrian priest of some accomplishment who is calling for church reform. The message followed:

Dear Fr. Tegeder,

Fr. Laird has asked me to email you on his behalf to follow up on his voicemail regarding the event tonight at St. Frances Cabrini. Because no permission was sought from the Archdiocese to host the event, it only came to his attention late this afternoon.

The directive from Fr. Laird is that this event featuring Fr. Schüller's presentation is not to be hosted at St. Frances Cabrini. Please respond indicating that you received this message and that the event has been cancelled. If you have any questions, please contact me or Fr. Laird.

Thank you,

Susan Mulheron, JCL | Interim Chancellor for Canonical Affairs [this seems to be a most fitting title]

After a rather exhausting day of travel from the convention I responded:

As it turns out I just got back from the National Tekakwitha Conference for Indian Ministry and actually was in the air when the Vicar General's call was made to me. I was not able to comply with any dictates from the Chancery due to the Homeland Security regulations about cell phones during air flight. There are sacrifices we all must make for purposes of national security.

The conference was in El Paso, Texas, and believe it or not even there I became aware of the newspaper article about the scandalous situation regarding the Archbishop's incredible dealings with Father Conlin.

You have bigger fish to fry than a concern with Catholics seeking a voice in church reform as Canon Law requires. In fact, I would like to ask you and the VG a few questions. Conlin on the Marriage Tribunal? He could have been judging the very marriage he broke up!

Let's have a public forum where we can continue this needed conversation. We can even invite Father Helmut Schüller who seems to be rather prophetic.

"Because no permission was sought..." Why does a group of committed Catholics need permission to meet to share their concerns about the direction of the church we love? The very week that the Chancery's grave failings finally come out, they go after us for having an informed discussion? What next? Will the Archbishop be confiscating books by Fr Schüller?

Yes, there is a message of high importance here.

Show your support for the message of Fr. Schüller!
Click here to send a virtual red ribbon.

Red ribbons symbolizing the spirit of Pentecost and calling for inclusion of the laity at every level of leadership and decision-making in the Church will be worn by parishioners and then collected by tour organizers in every city that Fr. Schüller visits. At the end of Fr. Schüller speaking tour, the Catholic Tipping Point coalition will present both physical and virtual red ribbons to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Related Off-site Links:
He's a Priest. He's a Parent. And Nothing's Simple After That – Emily Gurnon (Pioneer Press, July 20, 203).
Our Friend, Father Dan Conlin – Paul and Nancy Barrett (Pioneer Press, July 24, 2013).
Austrian Reform-Minded Priest to Embark on US Tour – Kate Simmons (National Catholic Reporter, July 1, 2013).
Evangelizing the Institutional Church: An Interview with Helmut Schüller – Jamie Manson (National Catholic Reporter, July 24, 2013).

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Countdown to Synod 2013

Did you know it's just two months before
the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's

2013 Synod of the Baptized!
Saturday, September 28, 2013
8:00 am – 3:00 pm

Have you registered yet?

If not, now is the time!
You can register online, here.
Or call 612-379-1043 to have a brochure/registration form
mailed to you.

This year's synod is entitled "Co-creating the Living Church" and builds on previous synods which focused on "Taking Our Place at the Table" (2010) and "Making Our Voices Heard" (2011). The latter launched the Council of the Baptized within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Synod 2013, "Co-Creating the Living Church," will emphasize and explore evolutionary Catholicism. The keynote speaker will be Sr. Gail Worcelo, sgm, who will share her thoughts and insights on how the presence of the sacred in our evolving universe relates to the important work of church reform.

In addition, there will be a number of afternoon breakout sessions that will facilitate exploration of topics and ideas such as "Integrating the Universe Story with Our Christian Story," "Envisioning an Integral Church," "Moving Beyond Alienation with the Church," "Building Alternative Modes of Church," and "Developing a Healthy Perspective on Sexuality." One breakout session will appeal to those wishing to learn how we can have a voice in the selection of our next archbishop, while another will focus on the purpose, achievements, and next steps of the Council of the Baptized.

Organizers envision that Synod 2013 will facilitate:

• Connection of our Christian tradition to the reality of the evolving universe

• Discernment of what Catholic Christianity has to offer in a rapidly changing world of expanding consciousness

• The forging of a new vision, future, and hope for the institutional church, our faith communities, our lives, and our world

Synod 2013 will take place 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, Saturday, September 28 at the Ramada Mall of America Hotel, 2300 E. American Blvd. Bloomington, MN 55439 (for directions and a map, click here).

Over the course of the next two months, The Progressive Catholic Voice will be counting down to Synod 2013 by sharing weekly updates, articles, and commentaries that will highlight and explore the theme of this year's gathering. Our goal is to generate a 'buzz' within our local church about Synod 2013. . . . But we need your help in creating this buzz! One way you can do this is by registering for Synod 2013 and encouraging your friends to register!

Registration is easy!
You can register online, here.
Or call 612-379-1043 to have a brochure/registration form
mailed to you.

Looking forward to seeing you at
Synod 2013!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Quote of the Day

I think a lot is going to change [in the church]. Francis is not just reforming the Curia, he is reforming the papacy. His insistence on being the Bishop of Rome and his decision to live in St. Martha’s House instead of the Apostolic Palace means opening up to the world. The Pope has explained that he prefers a Church that has been in accidents but continues to go out onto the road, than an asphyctic Church which stops at the door of the temple. Now the Church has become a beacon of hope not a besieged fort that is constantly at war with modernity or customs that control and regulate faith instead of facilitating it.

[H]e is not desacralizing [the pontificate]. He is presenting it in its true evangelical dimension. He is the Successor of Peter and Peter was a simple fisherman. We need to eliminate the “popolatry” that has prevailed in recent decades. Cardinals are not princes of the Church but servants of the people of God. Bishops need to take part in people’s lives. And the Pope does not feel like a king. He even said to the President of Brazil: “I come here as the Bishop of Rome,” that is, as someone who leads the Church in the name of charity not Canon law.

– Leonardo Boff
Quoted in "Bergoglio Sets About Rebuilding the Church, Just as St. Francis Did"
Vatican Insider
July 24, 2013

Related Off-site Links:
Right Wing 'Generally Not Happy' with Francis, Chaput Says – John L. Allen Jr. (National Catholic Reporter (July 23, 2013).
Apparently Nobody Expected Pope Francis to Actually Be Francis – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, July 25, 2013).
Pope, Among Poor, Speaks of Social Justice – James Martin, SJ (America, July 25, 2013).
Rebel Pope Urges Catholics to Shake up Dioceses – Nicole Winfield, Marco Sibaja and Jenny Barchfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, July 25, 2013).
The Francis Effect – Michael O. Garvey, (Commonweal, July 25, 2013).

Monday, July 22, 2013

St. Mary Magdalene: How the Apostle to the Apostles Subverts Patriarchy

By Meghan Clark

Note: This commentary was first published June 22, 2013 by Millennial: Young Catholics, An Ancient Faith, A New Century.

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles.

Who was Mary Magdalene? Few women in Christian history seem to be surrounded by as much scandal, rumors, and drama. Why?

I grew up steeped in Catholicism and Catholic culture. And so it was a complete shock when in my first semester at Fordham I learned there is no biblical evidence to support the claim Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Why hadn’t I heard this before? In what was perhaps my first intellectual encounter with patriarchy, I learned that art and culture had conflated an unnamed prostitute and Mary Magdalene – but there was absolutely no historical evidence supporting that move. For millennia, much has been made of the juxtaposition of Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene — the virgin and the whore.

But what do we actually know about Mary Magdalene?

According to Luke,

Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve (2) and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, (3) Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.

And so we know that she was part of a loyal group of women following Jesus, providing resources, and healed. So great was her faith and discipleship, that we know she was at the crucifixion and one of the women who followed Jesus’ body to see it properly attended. She is one of the first to find the empty tomb – being instructed in Mark to go and tell the others.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. (2) Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. (3) They were saying to one another, “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (4) When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large. (5) On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. (6) He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. (7) But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’”

And in John’s Gospel, it is Mary Magdalene to whom Jesus appears and gives a mission:

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb (12) and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. (13) And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” (14) When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. (15) Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” (16) Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. (17) Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (18) Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.

And thus, she receives the title Apostle to the Apostles.

From medieval art to The Da Vinci Code, men throughout Christian history have desperately tried to sexualize and lessen the witness of Mary Magdalene. Like most of the women in the Bible, we are only given brief highlights and not much detail about their lives. What we are told about Mary Magdalene, however, subverts patriarchy. She is a model of fidelity to the Lord for all of us – she stayed when all but the “beloved disciple” fled. She is not a repentant whore or foil to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is a faithful disciple who stays with her Lord until the bitter end and after – a witness who proclaims the gospel.

And so on this July 22, let us celebrate a woman who subverted patriarchy and proclaims the gospel in spite of all our tradition’s attempts to make her into someone less strong, less independent, less dangerous to the patriarchal narrative.


Image: Writes Janet McKenzie of her painting, “Apostle to the Apostles” (the third panel in her Succession of Mary Magdalene series):

The Gospel of John tells us that the Risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her “Go to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). She is seen here as in medieval paintings of her as preacher with the characteristic gesture of forefinger raised toward the heavens, proclaiming the Resurrection to Peter and “the one whom Jesus loved.” The Beloved Disciple, who is sometimes understood as a symbol for the Johannine community, is listening to her but Peter is not.

See also the previous PCV post:
A Homily for the Feast of Mary Magdalene
Roy Bourgeois: "The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood is a Grave Injustice"

Related Off-site Link:
Mary of MagdalaThe Wild Reed (June 22, 2008).

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Save the Date!

The Catholic Tipping Point

Live streaming Fr. Helmut Schüller

Wednesday, July 24
6:30 – Registration
7:00 – Presentation

St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church
1500 Franklin Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

All our welcome to join us
as we listen to Fr. Helmut's presentation
transmitted live from Chicago!

Donations to cover expenses are welcome.

About Fr. Helmut Schüller

Currently on a national U.S. speaking tour sponsored by FutureChurch, Fr. Helmut Schüller is the founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, a movement organized in 2006 to address an increasing shortage of priests.

Fr. Helmut's work has inspired the establishment of similar priest groups in Germany, Ireland, France, the United States and Australia. His “Call to Disobedience,” signed by a majority of Austrian priests, has brought worldwide attention and momentum to addressing the crises in the Catholic Church. Today, he leads a practical movement that recognizes the Holy Spirit among the laity and the necessity of reforming church governance

Local coordination for this event is provided by
Call to Action – Minnesota
Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

RSVP appreciated!
Please e-mail Art Stoeberl at artstoeberl@yahoo.com

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Rise of the Religious Left

Religious Progressives Will Soon Outnumber Conservatives

By Jack Jenkins

Note: This commentary was first published July 19, 2013 by ThinkProgress.org.

One-in-five Americans are religious progressives, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. Using a religious orientation scale that “combines theological, economic, and social outlooks,” researchers argue that while the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans continues to rise, a growing coalition of young, diverse, and politically-active Americans are connecting their faith with progressive values.

“Our new research shows a complex religious landscape, with religious conservatives holding an advantage over religious progressives in terms of size and homogeneity,” Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, said in a press release. “However, the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the Millennial generation.”

According to the survey, 23 percent of people aged 18 to 33 are religious progressives, while 22 percent are nonreligious and 17 percent are religious conservatives. By contrast, only 12 percent of those aged 66 to 88 are religious progressives, whereas 47 percent are said to be religious conservatives.

Religion has long been co-opted by religious conservatives as a vehicle for political gain, but this study hints that the future of faith-based political advocacy could rest with the left-leaning faithful. Religious progressives already make up 28 percent of the Democratic party — this in addition to 42 percent that are religious moderates — a number that only stands to grow as Millennials age and begin to vote in greater numbers.

Religious progressives are also more ethnically diverse than religious conservatives, a fact that bodes well for the Democratic party as the country becomes more racially varied. And when it comes to economic issues, religious progressives are actually more passionate than other liberals about eradicating income inequality; the study found that 88 percent of religious progressives said that the government should do more to help the poor, more than any other group polled.

“This survey also shows that religious progressives are a more significant group than is usually assumed, and there is a strong social justice constituency among religious Americans that cuts across labels,” said E.J. Dionne, a Brookings Senior Fellow.

While it’s too soon to know whether the survey signals a groundswell of faith-based progressivism, the findings echo the recent rise of an increasingly vocal — and increasingly influential — ”religious left.” For example, progressive religious leaders are heading up the ongoing “Moral Monday” protests in North Carolina, citing their faith as they decry the draconian policies of the state’s Republican-dominated legislature. In addition, religious progressives — as well as some religious conservatives — are spearheading efforts to produce an immigration reform bill that includes a pathway to citizenship, and prominent, left-leaning faith leaders were a driving force behind recent attempts to pass federal legislation to help prevent gun violence. Religious progressives are also playing a crucial role in campaigns to better the lives of fast food workers and Walmart staffers, with pastors and priests utilizing their congregational resources and organizational heft to push for better wages and improved working conditions for laborers.

The emergence of this new group might raise the hackles of some more secular-minded progressives, but the study found that although religious liberals are passionate about progressive causes, they aren’t interested in imposing their beliefs on others: only 29 percent of religious progressives believe a person has to believe in God to live a moral life, as compared to 74 percent of religious conservatives.

Jack Jenkins is a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative.

Related Off-site Links:
Religious Progressives Hold Stronger Appeal Among Millennials – Robby Jones (The Washington Post, July 18, 2013).
Acknowledging, Celebrating, and Learning from Marriage Equality's 'Triumphs of Faith' – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, December 29, 2012).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Catholic Bishops Cry Wolf

Note: The following by the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times was first published July 8, 2013.

When the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was a "tragic day for marriage and our nation." But the bishops go further, arguing that when the state legalizes same-sex civil marriage, "conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families. . . . Religious liberty is then threatened."

The bishops are equally alarmist about what they see as the threat to religious freedom posed by the Obama administration's requirement that employee health plans — including those at religious colleges and hospitals — include contraception services. On Tuesday, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the bishops' spokesman on religious freedom, joined other religious leaders in warning that the mandate "continues to breach universal principles affirmed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws."

These indictments are excessive. Neither progress toward same-sex marriage nor the contraceptive mandate threatens the broad protections of religious liberty for which this country is renowned.

Even the bishops don't argue that legalization of same-sex civil marriage interferes with the church's decision about whom it will marry in a religious ceremony. Instead, they suggest that the church's freedom might be compromised in other ways: It might be forced to employ individuals in same-sex civil marriages or provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples or be excluded from government benefits for opposing same-sex marriage. They also wonder if religious preachments against same-sex marriage might be punished as hate speech.

The last objection is just silly; no preacher is going to be imprisoned for arguing that "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." As for the others, the Roman Catholic Church can't be required to ordain to the priesthood people in same-sex marriages — or opposite-sex marriages, for that matter — any more than it can be forced to ordain women despite laws against sex discrimination. On the other hand, if a Catholic university or hospital employs and serves non-Catholics, requiring it to recognize the civil (not religious) marriages of same-sex couples is not a violation of religious freedom any more than is requiring such institutions to comply with other civil laws.

Likewise, the health insurance rules draw a distinction between churches and other houses of worship, which are totally exempt from the contraceptive mandate, and religiously affiliated schools and charities that serve and employ people of all faiths. Even then, the administration has taken pains to spare the latter from directly paying for contraceptive services. Instead, employees will receive contraception coverage from an insurance company or, if the employer is self-insured, from a third-party administrator.

That's a fair concession, but it's not enough for Lori and the other religious leaders; they want the government to provide an exemption for institutions and individuals with religious objections to "enabling access" to contraceptives. That's a loose standard that, if taken to its logical extreme, would allow employers to dock their employees' pay in the amount of what it would cost them to purchase contraceptives.

The bishops also go too far in arguing that there should be an exemption for individual employers with religious objections to contraception. Unfortunately, this notion has received some support from federal judges. Last week, a federal appeals court in Denver ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a "biblically founded" chain of craft stores with 13,000 full-time employees eligible for health insurance.

The appeals court treated seriously the notion that the company was protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law that allows a "person" — not a company — to disobey a generally applicable law if it substantially burdens the free exercise of that individual's religion. The government can force compliance, however, if the law serves a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The healthcare law and the rules implementing it easily pass those tests.

Catholic bishops and other religious leaders should cry foul when the civil authorities violate freedom of conscience. In these cases, however, they are crying wolf.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pope's Reform Path: Francis Shakes Up Church Establishment

By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp

Note: This article was first published July 3, 2013 by SPIEGEL Online International.

It appears Pope Francis truly wants to change the Catholic Church. He's reforming the Vatican Bank first, but he's also circumventing the old guard wherever he can. The establishment is up in arms.

A cardinal in Rome earns about $3,888 a month, even less than a pastor in Germany. But a cardinal's life in Rome is a lot more expensive – with visits to restaurants and shopping at boutiques for the upscale clothing men of the church are expected to wear, not to mention their jewelry and the antiques they display in their apartments. So it's good to have friends who can treat you or otherwise provide support now and then.

Friends are also happy to give a cardinal a hand – and not just out of religious considerations. A cardinal can be helpful in both political and business terms. So it's not surprising that a symbiotic relationship between parts of the Curia and the upper class around the world has formed – one that brings together the establishment, luxury and power. It's a nice little tradition that new Pope Francis would like to put an end to. For the Catholic establishment, though, it is nothing less than a catastrophe.

A 'Sick' Church of 'Theological Narcissism'

Even before his enthronement as pope, when he was still a cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio had spoken clearly about this. During his speech to the cardinal conclave, he warned that, "When the church does not emerge from itself to evangalize, it becomes self-referential and therefore becomes sick." He warned of "self-referentiality" and "theological narcissism." He also criticized a "mundane church that lives within itself, of itself and for itself." And it appears the Argentinian pope meant this criticism seriously. In fact, he demonstrates that every day.

Instead of wearing a gold cross, he has one of steel. And he lives in a sparsely furnished apartment in the Santa Marta guest house rather than in the Apostolic Palace. Instead of taking his seat in the Vatican concert hall to listen to classical music, he recently remained at his desk working on the final version of his decree for the church-state's own Institute for Religious Works (IOR) bank. With his signature, he created a powerful special papal commission to review the bank's activities. He also said the new commission must change everything at the Vatican Bank, as it is also known. He said the Vatican certainly needed a bank, but its areas of business should only reach a "certain point."

A Papal Bank with Mafia Contacts

For decades now, the IOR has been in the headlines for one scandal after the other. At the beginning of the 1980s, it was at the center of one of the darkest crime thrillers in postwar Italian history. The scandal surrounded billions in business with the mafia, and a Vatican banker was hanged from a London bridge by a killer commando.

But the chain of scandals never let up. When, in autumn 2010, fresh suspicions of money laundering to the tune of triple-digit millions emerged, then Pope Benedict XVI promised stricter rules for his financial managers. In fact, though, nothing changed. In the so-called Vatileaks scandal, secret documents that had been smuggled out of the Vatican shed light on bizarre intrigues inside the papal state. Often, the Vatican Bank played a role in those intrigues. Benedict XVI was appalled, but also overwhelmed. He failed to prevail over the powerful cardinals who backed the IOR. His resignation was the logical outcome.

German Baron Takes Helm of Bank

His successor is taking more decisive action. First, he fired Nunzio Scarano, the top accountant in the Vatican office that oversees Vatican property and investments, after he was accused of money laundering and corruption and arrested. Then, practically overnight, he forced out IOR Director Paulo Cipriani and his deputy. Now the bank will be led by Ernst von Freyberg, a German baron and former consultant, member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the president of the IOR supervisory board since mid-February.

Between now and October, Pope Francis wants to ensure clarity and also determine how the financial institute will handle its duties in harmony with the "church's mission" in the future. A that point, a new structure will be created for the bank and a new boss will be appointed.

"Did we actually vote for someone who really believes in what he preaches?" some within the Curia are now whispering. Once again, Francis has taken them fully by surprise. In an almost demonstrative manner, he has been excluding the Vatican apparatus in every way he can. Most recently, this happened with the trip the pope announced he would take on Monday to the island of Lampedusa in southern Italy. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, first learned of the planned trip through a papal press release. And instead of the kind of months of advance-team work used by heads of the Catholic Church for trips in the past, Francis has dispensed with that. Instead, the eccentric Argentinian pope ordered his staff to prepare a plane so that he could fly there in the morning and be back by midday.

Thousands of refugees have arrived at Lamedusa each year in desperation after making the journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa in small, dangerous boats. Francis wants to pray together with them and also throw a wreath into the sea to commemorate those who have lost their lives trying to make it to Europe. The pope has announced that he doesn't want to meet with the mayor or other authorities. He also also ordered church officials to stay away.

See also the previous PCV posts:
A Humble Post in An August Office
Waiting for Francis to Reform the Curia? He Already Has
Francis Criticized Vatican at Conclave; Warned Bishops of the "Dangers of Stagnation"
Reflections on a New Face
Francis the 'Slum Pope': Jorge Mario Bergoglio Remembered for Ministering to Buenos Aires' Poorest
Questions from a 'Dirty War'