Tag Archives: roman catholic church

Pope Francis appoints sex-abuse victim to advisory commission

Among those tapped by Pope Francis to a commission to advise him on sex abuse policy an Irish woman assaulted as a child by a priest to start plotting the commission’s tasks and priorities.

The pope announced the commission’s first eight members, including lay and religious experts, after coming under criticism from victims’’ groups. The Roman Catholic Church’s global sex abusive scandal and massive cover-up operations have devastated the church’s reputation and cost dioceses billions of dollars in legal fees and settlements.

In December, the Vatican announced that Francis would create a commission to develop best policies to protect children, train church personnel and keep abusers out of the clergy. But no details were released until today, and it’s unknown whether the commission will have the authority to discipline bishops who cover up for abusers.

In a statement today, the Vatican hinted that it might, saying the commission would look into both “civil and canonical duties and responsibilities” for church personnel, AP reported. Canon law does provide for sanctions if a bishop is negligent in carrying out his duties, but such punishments have rarely if ever been imposed in the case of bishops who failed to report pedophile priests to police.

The eight inaugural members of the commission include Marie Collins, who was assaulted as a 13-year-old by a hospital chaplain in her native Ireland. She’s become a prominent Irish campaigner in the fight for accountability in the church.

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Vatican panel finds Catholics ignore church’s sex rules

New surveys commissioned by the Vatican show that the vast majority of Catholics in Germany and Switzerland reject church teaching on contraception, sexual morality, gay unions and divorce, findings remarkable both in their similarity and in the fact that they were even publicized.

The Vatican took the unusual step of commissioning the surveys ahead of a major meeting of bishops that Pope Francis has called for October to discuss family issues. The poll was sent last year to every national conference of bishops with a request to share it widely among Catholic institutions, parishes and individuals.

This week, German and Swiss bishops reported the results: The church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce were rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.

Also surprising was the eagerness with which the bishops publicized the results. The German bishops’ conference released them simultaneously in German, Italian and English on their website, and the Swiss held a press conference.

The German church has been at the forefront of pushing boundaries on core church teachings concerning divorced and remarried Catholics, an issue Francis has said greatly pains him. It is expected to feature prominently in the October meeting.

The German bishops’ survey made clear: “The church’s statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control … are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases.”

The Swiss bishops went further, saying the church’s very mission was being threatened by its insistence on such directives. It’s an issue Francis himself has weighed in on, decrying the church’s “obsession” with small-minded rules.

By contrast, U.S. dioceses haven’t reported the results of their surveys in any detail. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori wrote in a recent diocesan article that more than 4,000 people had responded to his survey, but provided scant information on what they said. He wrote that “the majority of Catholics who responded said they strive to practice their faith, but acknowledged the struggles and confusion they face in doing so.”

The archdiocese of Philadelphia, meanwhile, said it was following Vatican guidelines by not publishing the findings at all.

But if independent studies are any indication, American Catholics are likely to agree with their European counterparts at least on the issue of contraception. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that three-quarters of U.S. Catholics think the church should permit members to use birth control.

Church teaching holds that marriage is an indissoluble union between a man and woman. The Vatican opposes artificial contraception and considers homosexual acts to be “intrinsically disordered.”

The surveys found that German and Swiss Catholics rejected such teachings as out of step with their personal lives. Gay marriage is increasingly accepted, unmarried couples are increasingly the norm and the ban on artificial contraception is deemed not only unrealistic but “blatantly immoral” concerning the use of condoms to fight HIV.

Church teaching also holds that Catholics who don’t have their first marriage annulled, or declared null and void by a church tribunal, before remarrying cannot receive Communion because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, a problem that has left generations of Catholics feeling shunned.

Last year, the German diocese of Freiburg issued a set of guidelines explaining how such remarried Catholics could get around the rule. It said if certain criteria are met – if the spouses were trying to live according to the faith and acted with laudable motivation – they could receive Communion and other sacraments of the church.

The Vatican immediately shot down the initiative, with the Vatican’s German doctrinal czar insisting there is no way around the rule.

Despite the survey findings, moral theologians warned that church doctrine isn’t about to change.

“The surveys indicate what Francis already knew and the reason why he has chosen the family for the focus of his reform,” said the Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at Rome’s Pontifical Holy Cross University.

He said the church relies on marriage and strong families to raise children in the faith. “The surveys show that the church must do much more to foster appreciation for the fidelity of such unconditional and life-giving love when society sees personal relationships in the fleeting terms of utility and gratification,” he said.

Pope seeks ‘new balance’ in approach to gays and lesbians

Many Catholics rejoiced over Pope Francis’ remarks that the Roman Catholic Church has become too focused on “small-minded rules” on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception.

Francis, in an interview published in mid-September, said the church’s focus on fighting marriage equality and reproductive freedoms was narrow and driving people away. 

Francis said the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.… The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

He also said, “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

That led Chad Griffin at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, to boldly assert that the pope had hit the reset button, “rolling back a years-long campaign at the highest levels of the church to oppose any measure of dignity or equality.”

At Dignity, a national group of LGBT Catholics, executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke took heart: “We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the pope’s firm desire that the church be a ‘home for all people’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with love rather than condemnation.”

However, the remarks, made during an interview for a Jesuit publication, did not change church doctrine or teachings and they sparked controversy, criticism and questions along with the praise.

“This will not bring me back to the church,” said Jackie Cassidy of Madison, estranged from the Catholic Church since the mid-1990s, when she came out as gay. “It will take a lot more than kind and considerate comments. But I will tell you that my parents and grandparents have agonized over going to Mass. Their faith is deep, but it’s been so hard for them. And I think that any moderation by the pope is a blessing after Benedict.”

Cassidy said the pope’s comments reminded her of her parents’ remarks in the months after she came out two decades ago. “It seems like he’s at stage two in a PFLAG process – acceptance by avoidance,” she said. “But anyone who was ever rejected because of their sexual orientation knows that’s truly progress.”

But what impact might Francis’ views have on church teachings and policies?

“LGBT Catholics and allies will rejoice in the pope’s call for church leaders to focus on being pastors rather than rule enforcers,” said Duddy-Burke, expressing hope that U.S. bishops would “end their anti-LGBT campaigns, the firings of church workers for who they are, the attacks on people who challenge or question official teachings, and the exclusive and judgmental rhetoric that comes too often from our pulpits.”

Griffin said, “At a moment when Pope Francis is re-dedicating the church to tirelessly helping the poor, it’s unacceptable for American bishops to continue wasting millions of parishioner dollars on harmful anti-LGBT political campaigns that target members of their own flock. For the sake of LGBT Catholics, it’s essential that Pope Francis’ inspiring words lead to transformative change throughout the church hierarchy.”

There is hope but also the recognition that Francis was talking about Catholic tenets of mercy and tolerance and not necessarily doctrinal  transformation.

And there was no indication that the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, which for years has led well-funded efforts at the national and state levels to prevent gays from marrying and, in some cases, parenting children, was headed for reform.

Dolan’s spin

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the conference, said the pope’s words were welcome, but he interpreted them to mean the church has to become smarter about dealing with the hot-button issues.

“He knows that his highest and most sacred responsibility is to pass on the timeless teaching of the church. What he’s saying is, ‘We’ve got to think of a bit more effective way to do it. Because if the church comes off as a scold, it’s counterproductive,’” said the former archbishop of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki was not available for comment, according to Julie Wolf, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the day after excerpts from Pope Francis’ interview went viral, so did reports of Francis’ remarks to Catholic doctors in which he denounced abortions as a symptom of a throw-away society and news that the church had excommunicated an Australian priest who supports the ordination of women and legalizing same-sex marriage.

“I think, now, we have a change in tone. Do I have faith there will be a sea change among church hierarchy? I just can’t say,” said Jason Rody, who attends Mass with his husband at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Chicago’s heavily gay Lakeview neighborhood. “But I like what I’m hearing. And I love my God.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

On deadline

As WiG went to press, Francis had convened the inaugural meeting of his eight cardinal advisers for three days of brainstorming on revamping the antiquated Vatican bureaucracy and other reforms. The meeting was taking place behind closed doors.

Faith-based leaders in LGBT community rejoice over pope’s message

Pope Francis, in an interview for a Jesuit publication in the U.S., said the Roman Catholic Church’s obsession with preaching against marriage for same-sex couples and reproductive freedoms was harmful to the church and its ministry.

The pope, while not changing church doctrine in any way or issuing any directives on church teachings, also said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to “interfere spiritually” in the lives of LGBT people.

Francis said, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

He also said: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Francis’ comments to Civilta Cattolica contained no change in church teaching, but to some they represented a shift in tone and stood in contrast to the priorities of his immediate predecessors. John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both intellectuals for whom doctrine was paramount, an orientation that guided the selection of a generation of bishops and cardinals who, in countries like the United States, have put themselves on the front lines in opposing abortion and gay marriage. They now find themselves being asked to preach more to those who have fallen away from the church and offer them a compassionate welcome home.

There’s been a lot of response to the pope’s remarks – positive, critical, guarded and skeptical. 

In the day after the first reports of the interview, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force collected reaction from members of its national religious leadership roundtable.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA said, “We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the pope’s firm desire that the church be a ’home for all people,’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with love rather than condemnation.”

She continued, in part, “LGBT Catholics and allies will rejoice in the pope’s call for church leaders to focus on being pastors rather than rule enforcers. We hope that the bishops will heed this call and immediately end their anti-LGBT campaigns, the firings of church workers for who they are, the attacks on people who challenge or question official teachings, and the exclusive and judgmental rhetoric that comes too often from our pulpits.”

Francis DeBernardo, the executive Director of New Ways Ministry, said, “Pope Francis’ interview in an American magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters. Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people. His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision. His message signals a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming to all.”

At NGLTF, faith work director Rebecca Voelkel said, “As a Christian pastor who understands the heart of the gospel to be justice and love for all God’s children, it is with gratitude that I receive the news of Pope Francis’ remarks. They mark a dramatic shift in tone whose impact is both welcome and needed. For too long, the Catholic Church’s ability to work on important justice issues has been marred because of the demeaning and abusive statements and actions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and toward women who grapple with reproductive choices. As LGBT people die from violence around the world and women die from lack of access to reproductive services, Pope Francis’ statements may lead to life-saving changes.”

A representative with Light of Reform Mosque and Muslims for Progressive Values, Imam Daayiee, responded with the statement, “I am glad to hear the pope’s comments and I am prayerful the Islamic faith will also adjust its focus as well.”

The Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, an early faith-based leader in the LGBT community, said, “Every crack in the door, or window, every generous, even if ambiguous, hint of openness from Pope Francis is encouraging –and we know will make many in the Vatican and the hierarchy nervous! More cause for rejoicing! That the Pope would take even a nuanced position in opposition to the slammed door policy of the last decades, is welcome, welcome, welcome.”

John Gustav-Wrathall, a senior vice president of Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends, said, “Pope Francis’ statement is part of a growing trend among religious leaders in the most historically conservative denominations. We’re seeing similar efforts among Evangelical leaders and among leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to rein in institutional homophobia and make LGBT members feel more welcome.”

The Rev. Robin R. Lunn, executive director of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, added, “I am thrilled that the new pope is taking this opportunity to speak about his vision for and of the church, particularly as it relates to the more recent hyper-focus on issues of sexuality and reproduction. I believe that there are many within the progressive Baptist community around the world who will welcome the leadership that Pope Francis is offering on being the church for all and not a chapel for a few.”

Vatican denies internal split on crackdown against liberal U.S. nuns

The Vatican this week denied there were any internal divisions over its crackdown on the largest umbrella group of U.S. nuns after a top Vatican official complained that he had been sidelined by the reform project.

The head of the Vatican’s office for religious orders, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, was quoted as saying his office wasn’t consulted or even advised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about its decision to overhaul the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of American sisters. He said the crackdown had caused him “much pain.”

The Congregation last year placed the Leadership Conference under the authority of a U.S. bishop after determining that the sisters took positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

Braz de Aviz was quoted by the National Catholic Reporter as telling an international gathering of sisters in Rome that he only learned of the Congregation’s crackdown after its report had been completed. He said he told the then-prefect of the Congregation, U.S. Cardinal William Levada, that the issue should have been discussed with his office but wasn’t.

Braz de Aviz was quoted as saying he hadn’t spoken out publicly before about the lack of consultation because he “didn’t have the courage to speak.”

Earlier this week, the Vatican said Braz de Aviz’s words were misinterpreted.

“The prefects of these two congregations work closely together according to their specific responsibilities and have collaborated throughout the process,” the statement said.

It said Braz de Aviz and the current prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, met and reaffirmed their commitment to renewing religious life in the U.S. as well as to the Vatican’s reform plan for the Leadership Conference. It stressed that Pope Francis approved of the plan.

The Vatican’s crackdown unleashed a wave of popular support for the sisters, including a U.S. congressional resolution commending the sisters for their service to the country. It also cost Braz de Aviz’s deputy his job: Archbishop Joseph Tobin was removed after he spoke publicly about the need for the Vatican to mend fences with American sisters. Tobin is now archbishop of Indianapolis.

The sisters’ hopes for a change in approach with the arrival of Pope Francis – a Jesuit dedicated to the poor – were dashed last month when Mueller said he had discussed the crackdown with Francis and that the pontiff had reaffirmed the original findings and reform plan.

As part of its imposed reforms, the Vatican appointed Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other bishops to oversee a rewriting of the conference’s statutes, to review its plans and programs, approve speakers and ensure the group properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.

The conference represents about 57,000 sisters. It has argued that the Vatican reached “flawed” conclusions based on “unsubstantiated accusations.”

Late last week, the head of the nuns’ conference addressed the Rome meeting of the International Union of Superiors General – the gathering of all the heads of women’s religious orders – and provided the most extensive criticism to date about the three year process that led to the Vatican takeover.

Among other complaints, Franciscan Sister Florence Deacon said the Vatican took the conference to task for matters that were completely beyond its authority and purpose, such as criticizing it for not having programs dealing with homosexuality.

In a transcript of her speech posted on the National Catholic Reporter website, Deacon said the Vatican should have directed its concerns to individual religious orders, since they are responsible for such training programs, not the conference.

“LCWR has no authority over the formation programs of an individual congregation,” she said. “Our goal is not set up as an organization to teach church teaching.”

She concluded that the Vatican’s assessment showed “there is serious misunderstanding between officials of the Vatican and women religious, and the need for prayer, discernment and deep listening.”

While remarkably blunt and forthcoming, Braz de Aviz’s revelations about the internal divisions sown by the stealth nature of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are not new.

In 2009, the Congregation announced it had created a new church structure to make it easier for Anglicans upset over the progressive trends in their church to convert to Catholicism. The Vatican’s office for relations with Anglicans and other Christians wasn’t consulted, much less advised, about the initiative.

The retired head of that office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has since become one of the most vocal proponents for a reform of the Vatican bureaucracy so that its departments actually work together rather than against one another.

Ireland will hold referendum on same-sex marriage

A special convention set up to reform the Irish constitution has recommended that same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage under the law.

The convention voted 79 percent in favor of full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples today. A referendum must be held to approve the change.

Gay and Lesbian Network director Brian Sheehan described the convention’s vote as “a major milestone on the remarkable journey” toward full equality.

The convention was established by the Fine-Gael-Labour coalition to secularize much of the Irish constitution, which has given the Roman Catholic Church inordinate power and influence in Ireland’s government since its foundation. In recent years, revelations of horrendous scandals involving the church have undermined its influence on the nation.

For instance, the church imprisoned as many as 30,000 women for 74 years at a commercial laundry, where they were forced to work without pay as slave laborers. Half of the women were under 23 and some as young as 9 years old. They were enslaved for infractions as minor as not paying for a train ticket.

From the mid-1920s until the early 1970s thousands of Irish children officially in the care of the state were placed in industrial schools and orphanages where they were routinely abused sexually, starved and forced to perform hard labor without pay.

Clerical sexual abuse of children in Ireland is considered more savage and widespread than in perhaps any other nation. 

Top contenders to be the next pope

Cardinals from around the world gather beginning March 12 in a conclave to elect a new pope following the stunning resignation of Benedict XVI.

In the secretive world of the Vatican, there is no way to know who is in the running, and history has yielded plenty of surprises. Yet several names have come up repeatedly as strong contenders. Here is a look at who they are:

CARDINAL ANGELO SCOLA: Scola is seen as Italy’s best chance at reclaiming the papacy, following back-to-back pontiffs from outside the country that had a lock on the job for centuries. He’s also one of the top names among all of the papal contenders. Scola, 71, has commanded both the pulpits of Milan’s Duomo as archbishop and Venice’s St. Mark’s Cathedral as patriarch, two extremely prestigious church positions that together gave the world five popes during the 20th century. Scola was widely viewed as a papal contender when Benedict was elected eight years ago. His promotion to Milan, Italy’s largest and most influential diocese, has been seen as a tipping point in making him one of the leading papal candidates. He is known as a doctrinal conservative who is also at ease quoting Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy.

CARDINAL ODILO SCHERER: Scherer is known for prolific tweeting, appearances on Brazil’s most popular late-night talk show and squeezing into the subway for morning commutes. Brazil’s best hope to supply the next pontiff is increasingly being touted as one of the top overall contenders. At the relatively young age of 63, he enthusiastically embraces all new methods for reaching believers, while staying true to a conservative line of Roman Catholic doctrine and hardline positions on social issues such as rejection of same-sex marriage. Scherer joined Twitter in 2011 and in his second tweet said: “If Jesus preached the gospel today, he would also use print media, radio, TV, the Internet and Twitter. Give Him a chance!” Scherer became the Sao Paulo archbishop in 2007 and was named a cardinal later the same year.

CARDINAL MARC OUELLET: Canada’s Ouellet once said that being pope “would be a nightmare.” He would know, having enjoyed the confidence of two popes as a top-ranked Vatican insider. His high-profile position as head of the Vatican’s office for bishops, his conservative leanings, his years in Latin America and his work in Rome as president of a key commission for Latin America all make him a favorite to become the first pontiff from the Americas. But the qualities that make the 68-year-old popular in Latin America – home to the world’s biggest Catholic population – and among the cardinals who elect the pope have contributed to his poor image in his native Quebec, where ironically he was perceived during his tenure as archbishop as an outsider parachuted in from Rome to reorder his liberal province along conservative lines.

CARDINAL PETER ERDO: Erdo is the son of a deeply religious couple who defied communist repression in Hungary to practice their faith. And if elected pope, the 60-year-old would be the second pontiff to come from eastern Europe – following in the footsteps of the late John Paul II, a Pole who left a great legacy helping to topple communism. A cardinal since 2003, Erdo is an expert on canon law and distinguished university theologian who has also striven to forge close ties to the parish faithful.  He is increasingly seen as a compromise candidate if cardinals are unable to rally around some of the more high-profile figures like Scola or Scherer.

CARDINAL GIANFRANCO RAVASI: Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, is an erudite scholar with a modern touch – just the combination some faithful see as ideal for reviving a church beset by scandal and a shrinking flock. The 70-year-old is also one of the favorites among Catholics who long to see a return to the tradition of Italian popes. The polyglot biblical scholar peppers speeches with references ranging from Aristotle to late British diva Amy Winehouse. Ravasi’s foreign language prowess is reminiscent of that of the late globetrotting John Paul II: He tweets in English, chats in Italian and has impressed his audiences by switching to Hebrew and Arabic in some of his speeches.

CARDINAL PETER TURKSON: Ghana’s Turkson is viewed by many as the top African contender for pope. The 64-year-old head of the Vatican’s peace and justice office was widely credited with helping to avert violence following contested Ghanaian elections. He has aggressively fought African poverty, while disappointing many by hewing to the church’s conservative line on condom use amid Africa’s AIDS epidemic. Turkson’s reputation as a man of peace took a hit recently when he showed a virulently anti-Islamic video, a move now seen as hurting his papal prospects. Observers say those prospects sank further when he broke a taboo against public jockeying for the papacy – saying the day after Benedict’s resignation announcement that he’s up for the job “if it’s the will of God.”

CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN: Dolan, the 63-year-old archbishop of New York, is an upbeat, affable defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and a well-known religious figure in the United States. He holds a job Pope John Paul II once called “archbishop of the capital of the world.” His colleagues broke with protocol in 2010 and made him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, instead of elevating the sitting vice president as expected. And during the 2012 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats competed over which national political convention the cardinal would bless. He did both. But scholars question whether his charisma and experience are enough for a real shot at succeeding Benedict.

CARDINAL JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO: Bergoglio, 76, has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests. The archbishop of Buenos Aires reportedly got the second-most votes after Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal election, and he has long specialized in the kind of pastoral work that some say is an essential skill for the next pope. In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly. Bergoglio is known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America.

CARDINAL LEONARDO SANDRI: Leonardo Sandri, 69, is a Vatican insider who has run the day-to-day operations of the global church’s vast bureaucracy and roamed the world as a papal diplomat. He left his native Argentina for Rome at 27 and never returned to live in his homeland. Initially trained as a canon lawyer, he reached the No. 3 spot in the church’s hierarchy under Pope John Paul II, the zenith of a long career in the Vatican’s diplomatic service ranging from Africa to Mexico to Washington. As substitute secretary of state for seven years, he essentially served as the pope’s chief of staff. The jovial diplomat has been knighted in a dozen countries, and the church he is attached to as cardinal is Rome’s exquisite, baroque San Carlo ai Catinari.

CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE: Asia’s most prominent Roman Catholic leader knows how to reach the masses: He sings on stage, preaches on TV, brings churchgoers to laughter and tears with his homilies. And he’s on Facebook. But the 55-year-old Filipino’s best response against the tide of secularism, clergy sex abuse scandals and rival-faith competition could be his reputation for humility. His compassion for the poor and unassuming ways have impressed followers in his homeland, Asia’s largest Catholic nation, and church leaders in the Vatican. Tagle’s chances are considered remote, as many believe that Latin America or Africa – with their faster-growing Catholic flocks – would be more logical choices if the papal electors look beyond Europe.

CARDINAL CHRISTOPH SCHOENBORN: Schoenborn is a soft-spoken conservative who is ready to listen to those espousing reform. That profile could appeal to fellow cardinals looking to elect a pontiff with the widest-possible appeal to the world’s 1 billion Catholics. His Austrian nationality may be his biggest disadvantage: Electors may be reluctant to choose another German speaker as a successor to Benedict. A man of low tolerance for the child abuse scandals roiling the church, Schoenborn, 68, himself was elevated to the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy after his predecessor resigned 18 years ago over accusations that he was a pedophile.

CARDINAL MALCOLM RANJITH: Benedict XVI picked the Sri Lankan Ranjith to return from Colombo to the Vatican to oversee the church’s liturgy and rites in one of his first appointments as pope. The choice of Ranjith in 2005 rewarded a strong voice of tradition – so rigid that some critics regard it even as backward-looking. Ranjith in 2010 was named Sri Lanka’s second cardinal in history. There are many strikes against a Ranjith candidacy – Sri Lanka, for example, has just 1.3 million Catholics, less than half the population of Rome. But the rising influence of the developing world, along with the 65-year-old’s strong conservative credentials, helps keep his name in the mix of papal contenders.

CARDINAL ANDRES RODRIGUEZ MARADIAGA: To many, Maradiaga embodies the activist wing of the Roman Catholic Church as an outspoken campaigner of human rights, a watchdog on climate change and advocate of international debt relief for poor nations. Others, however, see the 70-year-old Honduran as a reactionary in the other direction: Described as sympathetic to a coup in his homeland and stirring accusations of anti-Semitism for remarks that some believe suggested Jewish interests encouraged extra media attention on church sex abuse scandals. Maradiaga, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, is among a handful of Latin American prelates considered to have a credible shot at the papacy.

CARDINAL ANGELO BAGNASCO: The archbishop of Genoa, Bagnasco also is head of the powerful Italian bishops’ conference. Both roles give him outsized influence in the conclave, where Italians represent the biggest national bloc, and could nudge ahead his papal chances if the conclave looks to return the papacy to Italian hands. At 70 years old, Bagnasco is seen as in the right age bracket for papal consideration. But his lack of international experience and exposure could be a major liability.

CARDINAL SEAN PATRICK O’MALLEY: As archbishop of Boston, O’Malley has faced the fallout from the church’s abuse scandals for nearly a decade. The fact he is mentioned at all as a potential papal candidate is testament to his efforts to bring together an archdiocese at the forefront of the abuse disclosures. Like other American cardinals, the papal prospects for the 68-year-old O’Malley suffer because of the accepted belief that many papal electors oppose the risk of having U.S. global policies spill over, even indirectly, onto the Vatican’s image. O’Malley is among the most Internet-savvy members of the conclave.

Progressive Catholic bishop Walter Sullivan dies

Former Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a progressive leader in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and the longest-serving head of the Richmond diocese, died Tuesday. He was 84.

Sullivan, who had been diagnosed with liver cancer, died at home, said Judy Lindfors, assistant editor of The Catholic Virginian.

He spent the majority of his life serving the church, including 29 years as bishop of the sprawling Richmond, Va., diocese and 21 years before that as a priest.

As the 11th bishop to head the Richmond diocese, Sullivan was known as one of the more progressive leaders in the Catholic church. He caused controversy by opening his churches to gays and lesbians, condemning wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and speaking out against the death penalty.

Under Sullivan, women found a greater role in the church as lectors and Eucharistic ministers, and seven of the diocese’s 145 parishes were run by women.

Sullivan also was instrumental in reaching out to minorities and other groups. Before he retired in 2003, the diocese had 24 advisory committees representing youth, women, gays, blacks and senior citizens – all of which he consulted regularly.

The Commission on Sexual Minorities was the first official attempt by a Catholic diocese to reach out to gay parishioners when it was established in 1977. While it was not instantly accepted by many in the church, there were more than 40 commissions like it 20 years later.

The commission was disbanded shortly after Bishop Francis DiLorenzo took over for Sullivan in 2004.

“The word Catholic means there’s room for everyone,” Sullivan told The Associated Press in an interview in 2003. “We are united in our different cultures by our common faith.”

Sullivan’s outreach extended to other faiths, as well. He donated $50,000 of diocesan funds to the Virginia Holocaust Museum when it was being built and sat on its board of directors.

He also helped found the Church of the Holy Apostles in Virginia Beach in 1977, a joint parish of the Catholic and Episcopal dioceses. Co-pastors conducted services at side-by-side altars – one for Catholics, the other for Episcopalians. The idea was popular among military families who came from different backgrounds and religions.

Last month, the Richmond diocese said the church could continue to longtime practice of allowing the blended church to remain under one roof, but it ordered clergy to devise a plan to meet in separate rooms for Holy Communion.

A holdout from the liberal thinking in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1970s, Sullivan was criticized in the latter part of his career for moving too far away from the Vatican’s central positions on church services and the priesthood.

Sullivan was a vociferous opponent of military conflicts. He said in a statement on the eve of war with Iraq in March 2003 that he deeply regretted “that our nation’s leaders have determined that war is necessary to resolve our differences with Iraq.” The diocesan office handed out black ribbons to protest the war.

He was also an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. In an interview with a Catholic wire service in 2000, Sullivan said, “They send people to death because it is like a trophy to be exhibited: the more killed, the better it is. Elections are won this way in the United States.”

In the wake of the national sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church, Sullivan was chastised by many for not admitting that the Richmond diocese had had priests accused of molesting children in the 1970s and ‘80s until after victims came forward. Three priests were ousted from the diocese in the wake of the national Catholic organization adopting new rules for dealing with allegations in 2002.

“As a bishop, he took risks to try to create an atmosphere in the church where all literally all could find their place in the Church,” the Rev. Michael Renninger, now a priest at St. Mary Catholic Church in Richmond, told The Virginian-Pilot.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is Catholic, said in a statement that he “admired his love of life and passion to protect it, and his enthusiastic ministry to and advocacy for the poor.”

Tim Kaine, a former Richmond mayor and U.S. senator-elect who is also Catholic, said Sullivan’s commitment to those ignored by society inspired him.

“Today, the City of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia are more welcoming, more inclusive, and stronger communities because of his work,” Kaine said in a statement.

Sullivan was born in Washington, D.C., in 1928 and received his seminary education at St. Charles College and St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

He was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Richmond in 1953 and received a degree in Canon law from Catholic University in 1960.

In 1970, Sullivan was ordained as auxiliary bishop for the Richmond diocese; four years later, he was installed as bishop.

Sullivan took mandatory retirement in 2003 at the age of 75.

The Diocese of Richmond is one of the oldest in the country, established in 1820 from part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The diocese is home to 220,000 Catholics, and stretches from Virginia’s Eastern Shore to Cumberland Gap on the Tennessee and Kentucky borders, a distance of 535 miles.

Top US bishop: We won’t give in on birth control

A top American bishop said this week the Roman Catholic church will not comply with the Obama administration requirement that most employers provide health insurance covering birth control.

Earlier this week, the United Nations declared contraception and family planning services a universal human right.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said church leaders are open to working toward a resolution with U.S. officials, but will meanwhile press ahead with challenges to the mandate in legislatures and in court.

“The only thing we’re certainly not prepared to do is give in. We’re not violating our consciences,” Dolan told reporters at a U.S. bishops’ meeting. “I would say no door is closed except for the door to capitulation.”

The bishops have been fighting the regulation since it was announced by President Barack Obama early this year. Houses of worship are exempt, but religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and colleges are not.

Obama promised to change the requirement so that insurance companies, not faith-affiliated employers, would pay for the coverage. But details have not been worked out. And not only the bishops, but Catholic hospitals and some other religious leaders generally supportive of Obama’s health care overhaul have said the compromise proposed so far appears to be unworkable.

Dozens of Catholic dioceses and charities have sued over the mandate, along with colleges, including the University of Notre Dame. The bishops have made the issue the centerpiece of a national campaign on preserving religious freedom, which they consider under assault on several fronts from an increasingly secular broader culture. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services adopted the rule as a preventive service meant to protect women’s health by allowing them to space their pregnancies.

It’s unclear what, if any, influence the bishops have with the administration.

Many bishops spoke out sharply against Obama during the election. The bishops said they were protesting policies, not the candidate himself. Obama won the overall Catholic vote, 50 percent to 48 percent, according to exit polls, but Catholics split on ethnic lines. White Catholics supported Romney, 59 percent to 40 percent. Latino Catholics went for Obama, 75 percent to 21 percent.

A White House spokesman did not immediately comment.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said the administration should compromise. Although liberal-leaning Catholics disagree with the bishops on gay marriage and other issues, these same Catholics would oppose anything that threatened the church’s social service work with the poor, war refugees and other disadvantaged people.

“This is a situation where being a gracious victor is not only the right thing to do, it makes good political sense,” Reese said.

Separately, the bishops voted to shelve a statement on the economy that they’d been working on for months.  The bishops voted overwhelmingly to draft the document last June, after objecting to social services cuts in the budget proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee. This statement was intended as a brief message of concern and encouragement to Americans. But bishops meeting in Baltimore couldn’t agree on the wording or emphasis and rejected the document.

Also, the bishops endorsed the effort by the Archdiocese of New York to seek sainthood for Dorothy Day, a social activist and writer who converted to Catholicism as an adult. She was a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, which advocates for social justice and aids the poor.

LGBT activists to protest installation of new archbishop in San Francisco

LGBT civil rights activists plan to protest on Oct. 4 in San Francisco when the Catholic Church installs Salvatore Cordileone as the new archbishop.

Cordileone, at the ceremony, officially becomes the head of the San Francisco Archdiocese.

A call to demonstrate issued by GetEQUAL said, “This is a slap in the face to the San Francisco LGBT population, but more importantly an affront to all equality-minded Catholics in the Bay Area.”

Cordileone, as a bishop in Oakland, was one of the more influential voices in the campaign to pass Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

The demonstration will take place outside St. Mary’s Cathedral on Gough Street in San Francisco at 1 p.m.

He also leads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for the Defense of Marriage, which exists to block marriage equality. He has, in past campaigns, been aligned with the anti-gay Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage.

“Despite a vast majority of American Catholics affirming the true social justice teachings of Jesus and of the church, Cordileone continues to use right-wing political action to climb the ranks of church hierarchy,” said San Francisco GetEqual activist Billy Bradford.

At a recent San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, elected officials also were critical of Cordileone’s promotion and assignment.

“It’s disappointing that the church has assigned a person here who has shown a great deal of hostility to the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) community,” Supervisor Christina Olague, a bisexual who was raised as a Catholic, said at the board meeting, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.