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Ahead of summit, Cupich discusses sex abuse, homosexuality, priestly formation

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Cardinal Blase Cupich said Monday that this week’s Vatican sex abuse summit needs to be focused on the protection of minors, underscoring that homosexuality is not a cause of sexual abuse.

 

While it is important to recognize the fact that a high percentage of sex abuse involves “male on male sex abuse,” Cupich said, “homosexuality itself is not a cause.” It is a matter of “opportunity and also a matter of poor training on the part of people.”

 

“The pope is asking us to make sure that we focus on the the task at hand, if in fact we begin to inflate expectations by including other topics, then we are not going to achieve the goals,” Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, said at a Vatican press conference Feb. 18.

 

The Vatican’s sex abuse summit, to be held Feb. 21 - 24, will focus on the themes of responsibility, accountability, and transparency. Cupich was appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the organizing committee for the conference on the worldwide protection of minors in the Church.

 

Speaking at a press conference Feb. 18, Cupich took questions from the media along with other members of the organizing committee, including Father Hans Zollner, SJ, and Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta.

 

Scicluna, who oversaw the investigation into the sexual abuse crisis in Chile last year, also serves as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

 

The global meeting of 190 global Catholic leaders on sex abuse measures highlights the “synodality” and “collegiality” in the Church in tackling these issues, Cupich explained.

 

“The Holy Father does want episcopal conferences to take responsibility, that was never a question, but we have to do it in such a way that we work together with each other -- that is part of synodality -- that is part of collegiality that this conference wanted to highlight,” he said.

 

In November, the Vatican intervened in the meeting of U.S. bishops to vote on a plan to address instances of episcopal sexual misconduct, which included the creation of a code of conduct for bishops, a whistleblower hotline, and the establishment of an independent lay-led team of experts charged with investigating allegations made against bishops.

 

“With regard to the November meeting in Baltimore among the bishops, it was clear that -- talking with the bishops beforehand even before we knew about this --- that the proposal submitted by the bishops was problematic for many. I believe that it would not have received the 2/3rds vote anyway,” Cupich said.

 

“I think that in many ways that Holy See did us a great favor in pointing out some areas that already were problematic for a number of bishops,” he continued.

“Now this meeting with allow a pathway forward so that what we do in the United States will be in line with the expectations with the rest of the world, so I think it was an important moment to step in,” he added.

 

The American cardinal emphasized the success of screening efforts in U.S. seminaries in preventing sexual abuse of minors.

 

“When you put in proper screening processes for seminaries as we have in the United States, you see that the instances of abuse drop dramatically. And so it is incumbent on our part to be responsible and accountable at that level of admitting candidates into the seminaries,” Cupich said.

 

“The screening is important, not in terms of homosexuality, but in terms of … if someone has an attitude with regarding sexuality that is not in keeping with the Church or that the protection of children is important or that there are other factors as well that made them high risk because of their own psyche,” he continued.

 

Father Hans Zollner, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University as well as member of the summit organizing committee, clarified that “a psychological test or interview can never determine whether someone is homosexual or a higher risk” to commit sexual abuse with 100 percent certainty.

 

Zollner emphasized that this week’s meeting for the protection of minors will focus on the responsibility of the Church to address this issue at a global level, but in a way which can be applicable in a diversity of cultural contexts.

 

He explained that the Vatican had administered a survey seeking to identify how Church leaders perceive the topic of abuse very differently in their countries, and would use the results to “help achieve a synodal Church.”

 

The survey results will be released at a later date, Zollner said.

 

On day two of the summit, Cardinal Cupich will give a presentation on  accountability. Cupich has titled his talk, “Synodality: Jointly Responsible.”

Transparency will be one of the most important topics in the upcoming abuse conference, said Scicluna.

“Denial … is a  primitive mechanism that we need to move away from, and so whether it is criminal or malicious complicity in a code of silence or whether it is denial, which is trauma in its very primitive state, we need to go away from that and that's why the third day of this important meeting is going to be on transparency.”

“We have to face the facts, because only the truth of the matter ... and confronting the facts will make us free,” Scicluna said.

New archbishop announced for Ukrainian archeparchy in US

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced on Monday that Bishop Boris Gudziak has been named as the new Archbishop of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia. With this appointment, Gudziak will become the metropolitan bishop of all Ukrainian Greek Catholics living in the United States.

 

Gudziak is presently the bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saint Vladimir-le Grand de Paris, which covers Ukrainian Greek Catholics living in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. He was consecrated a bishop in August of 2012, and he has led the Eparchy of Saint Vladimir-le Grand de Paris since it was made an eparchy in January of 2013.

 

In the Eastern Catholic Church, an eparchy is the equivalent of a diocese. In the United States, there are three suffragan eparchies in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, in addition to the Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

 

Gudziak was born in Syracuse and graduated from Syracuse University prior to entering the priesthood. Both of his parents moved to the United States from Ukraine. He was ordained in November of 1998.

 

Prior to his time in Paris, Gudziak was the vice rector and rector of the Liviv Theological Academy, and president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Liviv, Ukraine.

 

The Ukrainian Greek Archeparchy of Philadelphia has been sede vacante, without an archeparch, since August of 2018, when Archbishop Stefan Soroka retired early due to ill health.

 

Since then, the archeparchy has been led by Apostolic Administrator Andriy Rabiy, an auxiliary bishop of the archeparchy.

 

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches that are in full communion with Rome. Each of these Churches is governed by their own proper canon law, which protects their unique cultural traditions and liturgical patrimony.

 

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was created in 1596. Most Ukrainian Christians today are members of the Eastern Orthodox faith.

 

There are about 18 million members of Eastern Catholic Churches, of which about four million are Ukrainian Greek Catholic. There are about 100,000 members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church living in the United States. More than two thirds of this population lives within the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

First Reading: Genesis 4:1-15, 25

1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD."
2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.
3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,
4 and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering,
5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6 The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?
7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."
8 Cain said to Abel his brother, "Let us go out to the field." And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"
10 And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.
11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.
12 When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth."
13 Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14 Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me."
15 Then the LORD said to him, "Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.
25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him."

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 50:1, 8, 16-17, 20-21

1 The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
8 I do not reprove you for your sacrifices; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
16 But to the wicked God says: "What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.
20 You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother's son.
21 These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.

Gospel: Mark 8:11-13

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him.
12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation."
13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.

St. Flavian

On Feb. 18, the Roman Catholic Church remembers Patriarch Saint Flavian of Constantinople, who is honored on the same date by Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine tradition and by Eastern Orthodox Christians.Known to Eastern Christians as “St. Flavian the Confessor,� the patriarch endured condemnation and severe beatings during a fifth-century dispute about the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ. Though he died from his injuries, his stand against heresy was later vindicated at the Church’s fourth ecumenical council in 451.St. Flavian is closely associated with Pope St. Leo the Great, who also upheld the truth about Christ’s divine and human natures during the controversy. The Pope’s best-known contribution to the fourth council – a letter known as the “Tome of Leo� – was originally addressed to St. Flavian, though it did not reach the patriarch during his lifetime.Flavian's date of birth is unknown, as are most of his biographical details. He was highly-regarded as a priest during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II (which lasted from 408 to 450), and he became Archbishop of Constantinople following the death of Patriarch Saint Proclus in approximately 447.Early in his patriarchate, Flavian angered a state official named Chrysaphius by refusing to offer a bribe to the emperor. The ruler's wife Eudocia joined the resulting conspiracy which Chrysaphius hatched against Flavian, a plot that would come to fruition in an illegitimate Church council and the patriarch's death.As head of the Church in Constantinople, Flavian had inherited a theological controversy about the relationship between deity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. In an occurrence that was not uncommon for the time, the doctrinal issue became entangled with personal and political rivalries. Flavian's stand for orthodoxy gave his high-ranking court opponents a chance to act against him by encouraging the proponents of doctrinal error and manipulating the emperor in their favor.The theological issue had arisen after the Council of Ephesus, which in 431 had confirmed the personal unity of Christ and condemned the error (known as Nestorianism) that said he was a composite being made up of a divine person and a human person. But questions persisted: Were Jesus' eternal divinity, and his assumed humanity, two distinct and complete natures fully united in one person? Or did the person of Christ have only one hybrid nature, made up in some manner of both humanity and divinity?The Church would eventually confirm that the Lord's incarnation involved both a divine and a human nature at all times. When God took on a human nature at the incarnation, in the words of Pope St. Leo the Great, “the proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person,� and “each nature kept its proper character without loss.�During Flavian’s patriarchate, however, the doctrine of Christ’s two natures had not been fully and explicitly defined. Thus, controversy came up regarding the doctrine of a monk named Eutyches, who insisted that Christ had only “one nature.� Flavian understood the “monophysite� doctrine as contrary to faith in Christ’s full humanity, and he condemned it at a local council in November of 448. He excommunicated Eutyches, and sent his decision to Pope Leo, who gave his approval in May 449.Chrysaphius, who knew Eutyches personally, proceeded to use the monk as his instrument against the patriarch who had angered him. He convinced the emperor that a Church council should be convened to consider Eutyches’ doctrine again. The resulting council, held in August 449 and led by Dioscorus of Alexandria, was completely illegitimate, and later formally condemned. But it pronounced against Flavian and declared him deposed from the patriarchate.During this same illicit gathering, known to history as the “Robber Council,� a mob of monks beat St. Flavian so aggressively that he died from his injuries three days later. Chrysaphius seemed, for the moment, to have triumphed over the patriarch.But the state official’s ambitions soon collapsed. Chrysaphius fell out of favor with Theodosius II shortly before the emperor’s death in July 450, and he was executed early in the reign of his successor Marcian.St. Flavian, meanwhile, was canonized by the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451. Its participants gave strong acclamation to the “Tome of Leo� – in which the Pope confirmed St. Flavian’s condemnation of Eutyches and affirmed the truth about Christ’s two natures, both divine and human.

Catholic Charities unveils plan to fight chronic homelessness in Southern Nevada

Las Vegas, Nev., Feb 17, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- As part of a new nationwide program, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada is hoping to reduce chronic homelessness in the area by 20 percent in the next five years.

Las Vegas is one of five cities taking part in the Healthy Housing Initiative – a partnership announced Feb. 13 between Catholic Charities USA, local Catholic Charities and Catholic health care agencies. Detroit, Portland, St. Louis, and Spokane are also part of the initiative.

Deacon Thomas Roberts, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, said the partnership simultaneously tackles shelter issues and the root problems beneath many cases of chronic homelessness – mental health and addiction.

“We think that it’s important to recognize the reasons why people have become chronically homeless and to address those issues,” he told CNA. “I think that is where we can have really meaningful change.”

Within five years, the project hopes to have built 100 homes, in either one or two buildings. Roberts said this will be enough to support 20 percent of the just over 500 chronically homeless individuals surveyed to be in south Nevada. He explained that the chronically homeless are those who have been homeless for at least two years.

The initiative does not stop with housing development. Instead, it includes plans to develop mental health offices in the housing units or transportation to a location off campus.

“Often, because [homeless people] don’t have transportation, if you don’t bring the resources close to them or provide them access to get to resources, you have got them housed but you have not addressed the underlying cause of what got them homeless,” Roberts said.

Having worked for Catholic Charities for six years, Roberts has witnessed homeless people continue to abuse alcohol and drugs as they struggle with mental health issues. This creates additional obstacles for people during their rehabilitation, he said.

He also pointed to the 2018 housing survey from Help Hope Home, which found that out of 16,641 cases of homelessness last year, nearly half were linked to mental health or addiction.

“Half of the people are stepping up and saying that mental health and addiction are primary cause for homelessness,” he said.

“If you don’t address that along the way, then people get into housing and they fall right back into…where they started.”

Roberts said the partnership will unite the strengths of three different organizations: Catholic Charities USA offers institutional and financial resources; Dignity Health can implement mental health and addiction programs; and the local Catholic Charities branch understands the regional community and can execute programs accordingly.

The initiative is a practical implementation of social justice, rooted in faith, he said, pointing to Pope Francis’ emphasis on caring for the vulnerable.

“As the Pope would say, we should be medics and we should smell like the sheep,” said Roberts. “Homelessness, mental illness, and addictions are ground zero for hopelessness, so it’s exactly where the Church belongs.”

 

Pope Francis asks for prayers ahead of Vatican abuse summit

Vatican City, Feb 17, 2019 / 04:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Sunday asked for prayers for a meeting of the presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world, which is slated to take place later this week.

During his weekly Angelus address Feb. 17, the pope invited Catholics to pray for the four-day event, which he said he wanted to hold “as an act of strong pastoral responsibility before an urgent challenge of our time.”

The Feb. 21-24 summit on the protection of minors in the Church will focus on the themes of responsibility, accountability, and transparency of bishops. It will also include testimony of victims of abuse, Mass, and a penitential liturgy.

The meeting will take place just days after the announcement of the Vatican’s decision to laicize former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who the CDF found guilty last week of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

Before the Angelus, Pope Francis spoke about the beatitudes as recounted in the Gospel of Luke. This passage, he said, “invites us to reflect on the profound meaning of having faith, which consists in totally trusting the Lord.”

It is also an invitation to reflect on idols; those things which the world proposes as shortcuts to happiness, “magical solutions to every problem,” making it easy to fall into sins against the first commandment by replacing God with worldly pleasures and comforts, he said.

But Jesus tells us, “blessed the poor, the hungry, the afflicted, the persecuted,” Francis said. And at the same time, he admonishes those who are satisfied and seen well in the eyes of the world, because God alone “can give to our existence that fullness so desired.”

He said: “With these words, strong and incisive, Jesus opens our eyes, shows us with his gaze, beyond appearances, beyond the surface, and teaches us to discern situations with faith.”

It is very important that, like God and with him, people are close to the poor, to the afflicted, he emphasized. “We are happy if we recognize ourselves in need of God.”

Jesus heals the infection of a worldly spirit, helps people to see what really satisfies, gives joy and dignity, meaning and fullness to one’s life, he said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to listen to this Gospel with open mind and heart, so that it may bear fruit in our lives and become witnesses of happiness that does not disappoint.”

How to pregame Lent: Septuagesima, Carnival, and Shrovetide

Denver, Colo., Feb 17, 2019 / 04:21 am (CNA).- Sunday, Feb. 17 is Septuagesima Sunday, followed by Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays. Sunday kicks off Carnival season, which comes right before Shrovetide, which culminates in Shrove Tuesday - more popularly known as Mardi Gras.

If all but the last of those holidays sounds foreign to you, you are likely not alone - they haven’t been officially a part of the Roman Rite’s liturgical calendar since the 1960s, after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

These strange-sounding days once marked a period of pre-Lenten preparation and feasting that is still observed by some rites within the Catholic Church and other Christian traditions.

“Septuagesima is kept in the personal ordinariates established by Pope Benedict XVI for former Anglicans, now within the full communion of the Catholic Church,” said Father James Bradley, a priest from the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom.  

“Septuagesima is still marked in the older Anglican prayer books, and is part of the Anglican patrimony preserved by Divine Worship: The Missal, used by the ordinariates,” Bradley told CNA.

Pre-Lent Sundays: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima

Septuagesima is the ninth Sunday before Easter, or the third Sunday before Lent.  The name comes from the Latin word for seventieth, since the Sunday falls roughly within 70 days of Easter Sunday. The succeeding Sundays are also named for their distance from Easter: Sexagesima (60), Quinquagesima (50). Quadragesima Sunday (40) is the first official Sunday of Lent.  

Septuagesima Sunday is also symbolic of the 70 years of Babylonian captivity.

“Whilst Lent mirrors the 40-year exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to freedom in the Promised Land, Septuagesima mirrors the 70 years of the Babylonian captivity. Both lead from captivity to freedom, and so also point to salvation won for us by Christ: freedom from slavery to the Promised Land of Heaven,” Bradley said.

Septuagesima Sunday traditionally marked the beginning of some of the more somber practices that characterize the season of Lent - it was the day when the saying or singing of “Alleluia” would be suspended until Easter, and the first day that priests would wear penitential purple vestments. The last alleluias would traditionally have been sung after Vespers the previous night.

In ordinariate communities, the “goodbye” to the Alleluia takes place on the Sunday before Septuagesima, when the hymn “Alleluia, song of gladness” is traditionally sung, Bradley said.

“This is an English translation of an 11th century hymn, wishing ‘farewell’ to the Alleluia, which disappears from the liturgy until Easter, replaced instead by a Tract (verses typically of the Psalms sung instead of the ‘Alleluia’),” he said.  

“The idea of ‘burying the Alleluia’ for the length of these penitential seasons is taken one step further in some places, where a depiction of the Alleluia is literally buried until the chanting of the great Paschal Alleluia during the Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter,” he added.

Septuagesima was also, in the early Church, the beginning of the Lenten fast, since according to the old liturgical calendar, Thursdays and Saturdays, in addition to Sundays, were days that Christians would not fast.

“Just as Lent today begins 46 days before Easter, since Sundays are never a day of fasting, so, in the early Church, Saturdays and Thursdays were considered fast-free days. In order to fit in 40 days of fasting before Easter, therefore, the fast had to start two weeks earlier than it does today,” Catholic author Scott P. Richert noted in a 2018 article for ThoughtCo.

Farewell to meat, cheese, fun: Septuagesima-tide, Carnival, and Shrovetide  

Septuagesima Sunday traditionally kicks off a season known by various names - Septuagesima-tide, or Carnival (typically the name for more worldly celebrations during this time), or Shrove-Tide (particularly in Anglican traditions). The point of the season, Bradley said, is to prepare well for Lent.

“Pope Saint Paul VI is said to have described the progressive move toward Lent in Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, like church bells that call the faithful to worship, 15, 10, and 5 minutes before Mass,” Bradley said.

“Each week in the lead-up to Lent is a nudge that the great and holy fast is around the corner, and our preparations for this should intensify.”

These days were also practical for Christians in pre-refrigeration days - they would use the pre-Lenten season to use up the rich, perishable foods such as meat and cheese that they had in their house before Lent began, and the unused foods would spoil, Michael P. Foley, Catholic author and associate professor of Patristics at Baylor University, noted in a 2011 article.

Days of preparation for Lent are also found outside the Roman liturgical traditions, Bradley said.

“For example, in the East Syrian liturgy (as celebrated by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church), the week before Septuagesima is marked by Moonnu Nombu, which recalls Jonah remaining three days in the belly of the whale. Moonnu Nombu is a short, three day fast, in preparation for the coming major fast of Lent.”

In Byzantine and Orthodox traditions, they even have designated “meatfare” and “cheesefare” Sundays, which focus on clearing the house of meats and dairy, respectively.

“Similarly, in Russia and other Slavic countries the week before Lent is called ‘Butter Week’; in Poland it is called ‘Fat Days,’” Foley noted. 

Carnival is the term for the more festive, wordly events associated with the pre-Lenten season, and is celebrated throughout the world with parades, parties and feasts. Still, the word itself is Catholic in origin, coming from Latin Carnem levare (carnelevarium) which means "withdrawal" or "removal" of meat, according to “The Easter Book” by Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J.

The intensity of some Carnival celebrations comes from the intensity of the fasting of old, which was much more restrictive than it is today, Weiser noted.

“The intensity of this urge, however, should not be judged to stem from the mild Lenten laws of today but from the strict and harsh observance of ancient times, which makes modern man shiver at the mere knowledge of its details. No wonder the good people of past centuries felt entitled to ‘have a good time’ before they started on their awesome fast,” he said.

“Carnival music” has Spanish, Portuguese, Native American and African influences, and is typically associated with the regions of the Caribbean and Brazil, which has some of the largest Carnival celebrations in the world.

“Though it varies from country to country, Carnival music has a common origin in bidding a fond farewell to fun before the forty-day fast of Lent,” Foley noted.

One last chance: Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday

The last day before Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent, is called Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, depending on the country or region.

“Mardi Gras” is French for Fat Tuesday, the biggest celebrations of which in the United States take place in New Orleans, Louisiana, with parades and parties on Bourbon Street and throughout the city. 

Besides being the last day to clear the house of indulgent foods, it is also traditionally the last day to clear the soul from sin before the start of the Lenten season. According to Weiser, the name “Shrove Tuesday,” typically more common in Anglican areas, was thus called because it was a day to be “shriven from sins.”  

The ubiquitous pancake breakfasts, most often associated with parish breakfasts sponsored by the Knights of Columbus in the United States, may also have their origins in Shrove Tuesday, as pancakes were a traditional English food served on the day to rid the house of any last sugar, butter and eggs.

Lent this year begins on March 6.

 

Analysis: Pope Francis' position on Venezuela

Vatican City, Feb 16, 2019 / 11:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis’ recent letter to Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro confirmed the Holy See’s position on the Venezuelan crisis, while demonstrating that Maduro has become an increasingly isolated global figure.

While the Holy See has long maintained its diplomatic ties with Venezuela, and for this reason a papal representative to Caracas took part in Maduro’s swearing in for his second term Jan. 10, Pope Francis and the Holy See’s diplomacy has always been on the Venezuelan bishops side, and backed their efforts to restore social peace, relief the population and call for new and free elections.

The pope’s letter, however, showed that Maduro’s request for a mediation can take place only under some specific conditions.
 
This is the reason why the letter was not leaked by Maduro’s entourage, but from other sources that gave it to the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera. The Holy See Press Office limited itself to saying that it would not commentc on a private letter, indirectly confirming that the pope might have actually written the letter.
 
The letter, two pages and a half long, is dated Feb. 7, 2019, and it is addressed to “Excelentismo señor Nicolas Maduro Moros, Caracas” (To Most Excellent Mister Nicolas Maduro Moros).
 
The pope did not refer to Maduro as president, and in that way his letter backed the Venezuelan bishops. Gathered for their 111st plenary assembly on Jan. 9, the bishops said that “Maduro’s claim to start a new presidential mandate on Jan 10 is illegitimate at his roots, and paves the way for the unrecognition of the government, as democratic foundations on justice and right are lacking.
 
In the letter, Pope Francis reminded Maduro that the Holy See has been committed to mediation in the past, but in all of the attempts “what had been agreed in the meetings was not followed by concrete action to carry out the accords,” and that “words seemed to delegitimize
the good propositions put into a written form.”
 
Pope Francis also stressed that he did not back “any kind of dialogue,” but only “the dialogue that takes places when all conflicting parties put the common good above any other interest and work for unity and peace.”
 
Pope Francis also recalled a letter by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of State, that set the conditions for a dialogue: liberation of political prisoners, re-establishment of the constitutional assembly, open access for humanitarian aid, free political elections.
 
Those conditions are still in effect.

The letter is tailored in a perfect diplomatic style.

On one hand, Pope Francis takes the bishops’ position. On the other hand, he places the Holy See in the middle between two positions: that of the US and Europe, eager to recognize Juan Guaidò as interim president; and that of China, Russia, Turkey and Iran, who are on the opposite position.
 
As a diplomatic habit, the Holy See never breaks diplomatic ties. Papal ambassadors are called to stay on the ground as long as it is possible, to support the bishops and to carry on institutional dialogue that can resolve into an aid for population.
 
For example, the Holy See never broke diplomatic ties with Cuba, not even when Castro regime persecuted Christians. In fact, ties stayed because there was an ongoing persecution.

Read through this lens, the Secretariat of State’s decision not to meet at an institutional level the delegation Guaidò sent to Italy for talks with Italian government on Feb. 11 should be no surprise.
 
The Holy See makes no interference in domestic policies, and the meeting with Guaidò could have been instrumentalized. The delegation reportedly met with Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, deputy to the Secretariat of State, who is Venezuelan. The meeting was framed as a meeting of a Venezuelan that works in Secretariat of State and his concerned for his country and some representatives coming from his country.
 
Pope Francis’ statements on the matter have always been prudent. Coming back from Panama on Jan. 28, Pope Francis told journalists that it is not his role as a pastor to pick political sides, and said he is terrified of the possibility of a bloodshed there.
 
However, the narrative that presents the pope on a different side from that of Venezuelan bishops is not correct at all.
 
It must not be forgotten that Pope Francis, after a visit from the presidency of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, said his voice “resounds in the voice of the Venezuelan bishops.”
 
Pope Francis’ followed each step of the Venezuelan crisis. On April 10, 2014 he addressed an appeal to political leaders of Venezuela and asked to respect truth and justice. On March 1, 2015, the Pope condemned the death of some students involved in pacific protests.
 
The Holy See accepted to conduct a facilitation of the dialogue in October 2016, and on Dec. 2, 2016 Cardinal Parolin stressed the four conditions. Coming back from Egypt on Apr. 29, 2017, Pope Francis denounced that the government did not accomplish these conditions.
 
On April 30, 2017 after the prayer of Regina Coeli, Pope Francis spoke of the “dramatic news” on Venezuela and “the worsening of clashes there, with many people reported dead, injured and detained”, and appealed “to the government and all the members of Venezuelan society to avoid any further forms of violence, to respect human rights and to negotiate solutions to the serious humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.
 
The action of bishops moved along with Pope Francis’ declaration. This combined action encouraged all the local and regional Catholic realities of Latin America to take a common stance: the Conference of Religious Brothers and Sisters in Venezuela, the Jesuits of Venezuela, but also the Colombian, Ecuadorian, Uruguayan, Chilean and Bolivian bishops conference took strong stances on the Venezuelan crisis, which weakened Maduro position.
 
Despite the will to keep a diplomatic neutrality, also the Holy See diplomacy was very active.

Cardinal Parolin, who was nuncio to Venezuela from 2009 to 2013, stressed on May 13, 2017 that “the only solution for Venezuela is elections.”

On Aug. 4, 2017, the Pope sent via the Secretariat of State a communiqué asking “all the political actors, and in particular the government, to ensure the full respect of the human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as of current Constitution; to suspend initiative like the new constitutional assembly that, instead of favoring reconciliation and paz, foster a climate of tensions and confrontations; to create conditions for a negotiated solution”.
 
It is also noteworthy that, in his urbi et orbi message of Christmas 2018, Pope Francis included Venezuela among the countries that are enduring serious humanitarian crisis, on a par with Yemen, Syria and Nicaragua: the decision turned out to be prescient.
 
The pope also spoke about Venezuela on his new year speech to the diplomatic corps, and said that he wishes “that peaceful institutional means can be found to provide solutions to the political, social and economic crisis, means that can make it possible to help all those suffering from the tensions of recent years, and to offer all the Venezuelan people a horizon of hope and peace.”
 
The pope’s letter to Maduro comes at the end of a path that the pope and the Venezuelan bishops have been following since the beginning. The Holy See will never break diplomatic ties, and will always seek dialogue and reconciliation. But, on the other hand, bishops on the ground are backed in supporting the population and to work for the common good.
 
This is, in the end, how the pontifical diplomacy works.