Tag Archives: vatican

Pope: Sanders encounter sign of good manners, ‘nothing more’

Pope Francis said his brief encounter with U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was a sign of good manners, “nothing more,” and hardly evidence of interfering in American politics.

The White House hopeful called it a “real honor” to meet “one of the extraordinary figures” in the world, a kindred spirit on economic inequality, which is a main Sanders’ campaign theme.

Francis was on his way to Greece to highlight the plight of refugees and Sanders was wrapping up his trip to Rome when they met in the lobby of the pope’s residence, the Domus Santa Marta hotel in the Vatican gardens. The Vermont senator had attended a Vatican conference April 15 on economic inequality and climate change, and flew back to New York for campaign events on Saturday.

“This morning when I left, Sen. Sanders was there. … He knew I was leaving at that time and I had the kindness to greet him and his wife and another couple who were with them,” the pope told reporters traveling back with him to the Vatican.

“When I came down, I greeted them, shook their hands and nothing more. This is good manners. It’s called good manners and not getting mixed up in politics. If anyone thinks that greeting someone means getting involved in politics, they should see a psychiatrist,” the pope said.

Earlier, Sanders said in an The Associated Press interview that he told the pope that he appreciated the message that Francis was sending the world about the need to inject morality and justice into the world economy. Sanders said that was a message he, too, has tried to convey.

“We had an opportunity to meet with him this morning,” Sanders said. “It was a real honor for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him. I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history.”

Sanders said he had the chance to tell the pope that “I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed.”

Sanders and his wife, Jane, stayed overnight at the hotel, on the same floor as the pope. Francis noted to reporters that members of the Vatican conference that Sanders had attended also were staying at the hotel.

Jeffrey Sachs, a Sanders foreign policy adviser, said there were no photographs taken of the pope and Sanders together. Sanders’ spokesman, Michael Briggs, said Francis was “100 percent correct that this was not a political meeting,” thanking the pope’s staff making the arrangements. He said Sanders and his wife “were advised the night before to be ready to meet the pope at 6 a.m.”

The Vatican is loath to get involved in electoral campaigns, and usually tries to avoid any perception of partisanship as far as the pope is concerned, although Francis in February rebuked Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump over Trump’s stand on immigration.

Popes rarely travel to countries during the thick of political campaigns, knowing a papal photo opportunity with the sitting head of state can be exploited for political ends.

But Francis has been known to flout Vatican protocol, and the meeting with Sanders was evidence that his personal desires often trump Vatican diplomacy.

“His message is resonating with every religion on earth with people who have no religion and it is a message that says we have got to inject morality and justice into the global economy,” Sanders said.

Sanders said the meeting should not be viewed as the pope injecting himself into the campaign.

“The issues that I talked about yesterday at the conference, as you well know, are issues that I have been talking about not just throughout this campaign but throughout my political life,” Sanders said in the interview. “And I am just very much appreciated the fact that the pope in many ways has been raising these issues in a global way in the sense that I have been trying to raise them in the United States.”

Sachs said Sanders saw the pope in the foyer of the domus, and that the encounter lasted about five minutes. Sanders later joined his family, including some of his grandchildren, for a walking tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the holiest Catholic shrines.

The trip gave Sanders a moment on the world stage, putting him alongside priests, bishops, academics and two South American presidents at the Vatican conference.

Sanders has been at a disadvantage during his campaign against rival Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama’s former secretary of state, on issues of foreign policy. But Sanders was peppered with questions from academics and ecclesiastics during Vatican conference in a manner that might have been afforded a head of state.

The invitation to Sanders to address that session raised eyebrows when it was announced and touched off allegations that the senator lobbied for the invitation.

But the chancellor for the pontifical academy, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, said he invited Sanders because he was the only U.S. presidential candidate who showed deep interest in the teachings of Francis.

Once back home, Sanders was set to refocus on Tuesday’s pivotal presidential contest in New York, a state with a significant number of Catholic voters. Clinton holds a lead among the delegates who will determine the Democratic nominee, and Sanders is trying to string together a series of victories in upcoming contests to draw closer.

Ugandan gays hope the pope will speak out on their behalf

Gay activists are hoping Pope Francis will preach tolerance toward homosexuals, and even go so far as to condemn violent attacks against gays during his upcoming visit to Uganda. Church leaders, however, are praying he’ll avoid the issue altogether.

The divergent expectations underscore the acrimonious state of the gay rights debate on a continent where homosexuality remains taboo and homosexuals are greatly despised. In Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and where attacks against gays have forced many to seek refuge abroad or lead secret lives at home, gay leaders nevertheless hope Francis when he comes on Friday will weigh in with a firm message of tolerance.

“I see this particular pope as more progressive but I wouldn’t call him an ally like (President) Obama,” said Frank Mugisha, a prominent gay leader. “I would like to see his position very clearly because what he said came as a by-the-way when he said he can’t judge.”

Francis, who will be visiting Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from Nov. 25–30, famously said “Who am I to judge?” in referring to a purportedly gay priest. He has called for a church that is more tolerant and welcoming for those on the margins, including gays.

But he has also denounced what he calls the “ideological colonization” of the developing world, a reference to the way wealthy countries and non-governmental organizations condition development aid on Western ideas about contraception and human rights.

In Africa, that can boil down to the loss of international funding for school or health programs unless they promote condom use. Some European countries such as Sweden and Norway cut finding to Uganda’s government when it passed an anti-gay bill, which had widespread support in Uganda even as the international community condemned it as draconian.

The bill was signed into law last year before a court nullified it on a technicality; an earlier version had prescribed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. Homosexuality is still criminalized under a colonial-era law banning sex acts against the order of nature.

Local church leaders said it was necessary to protect poor African children from Western homosexuals who lure them with money. They support stronger anti-gay legislation.

At a recent Vatican meeting on family issues, African cardinals were at the forefront in blocking the church’s overtures to gays and in insisting that the Catholic Church as a whole denounce this “ideological colonization,” saying wealthy countries have no right to impose their ideas on poor countries with different cultural views.

“I doubt that Pope Francis will talk about homosexuals,” said Archbishop John Baptist Odama, who heads the local conference of Catholic bishops. “There is a clear teaching of the church on homosexuality. Because the aim of it is not to promote life but to act against it, those with that tendency are called to abstinence.”

The Vatican spokesman refused last week to say whether Francis would wade into the debate, but he would be unlikely to go against the wishes of his local bishops. That’s just fine with many Ugandans, who hope Francis will avoid the subject and instead preach more broadly about improving the lives of marginalized people.

Simon Lokodo, a Ugandan ethics minister who publicly condemns homosexuals, said any statement on tolerance for homosexuals would be unpalatable to most Ugandans.

“I am praying that he doesn’t talk about this. Because it will open a Pandora’s box,” he said. “Here in Uganda the tone is different. If he is to talk about homosexuals, then let him focus on acceptance but not tolerance. We have always condemned this style of life, especially in the line of exhibitionism. It is bad enough that homosexuals are there, but let them not go ahead and expose themselves.”

Mugisha, the gay activist, believes a message of compassion from Francis might challenge local church leaders to be less hostile toward those who are openly gay.

“We want a positon that is very clear from the Vatican that says, ‘Do not discriminate, do not harm homosexuals,’ a message of tolerance,” he said.

Although the controversial law was overturned, attacks persist against gays, who face eviction by landlords when they are reported by neighbors, as well as being extorted by the police, according to activists.

A lesbian woman who works for a local rights group was recently attacked while returning home by men who banged her head against the gate, leaving her with serious facial wounds, Mugisha said. Six attacks against LGBT Ugandans were reported in October, forcing Mugisha’s group to convene an emergency security meeting, he said.

“The spiritual leaders in Uganda have actually incited the Ugandan society against gay people,” said Anthony Musaala, a Catholic priest who was suspended in 2013 after a paper he wrote exposing alleged transgressions by Ugandan priests was leaked to the local press. “Someone like Pope Francis, when he says ‘Who am I to judge,’ is very much trying to underscore the proper teaching of the church.”

Pope Francis survives one hell of a month of Vatican intrigues and scandals

The Vatican is no stranger to drama, intrigue or scandal. But even by Vatican standards, this has been one hell of a month.

Ever since Pope Francis returned from his triumphant visit to the United States, nearly every day has brought surreal revelations of bishops behaving badly, cardinals resisting reform and ideological battles over everything from the theology of marriage to the Vatican’s cigarette sales.

By Wednesday, the Vatican had had enough and issued a series of statements disputing reports left and right, only to end the day with confirmation that two Italian journalists were now under investigation by Vatican magistrates for their involvement in the latest scandal over leaked documents.

How did we get here?

Francis’ crazy month began with a monsignor from the Vatican’s doctrine office outing himself as gay (boyfriend by his side) and denouncing the “hypocrisy” of the church’s doctrine on homosexuality the day before Francis opened his big bishop meeting on family life.

Then, 13 prominent cardinals penned a (leaked) missive to Francis warning that the Catholic Church risked collapse if he went ahead with his reformist agenda at the synod.

The soap opera continued with a report (denied) mid-way through the meeting that the pope had a brain tumor.

And to top it all off, a high-ranking Vatican monsignor (affiliated with the conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei, no less) is now sitting in a Vatican jail cell, accused of leaking confidential information to the same Italian journalist whose 2012 expose of Vatican waste and wrongdoing helped bring down Pope Benedict XVI.

Hollywood couldn’t make this stuff up — and yet Francis seems to be taking it all in stride.

On Tuesday, the pope sat with a few dozen people at a Florence soup kitchen, tucking into a bowl of Tuscan ribollita bean soup as if there were no place he’d rather be. That may well have been the case, given the intrigue swirling back home and the trip he has planned in two weeks to Kenya, Uganda and the conflict-torn Central African Republic.

As if the domestic drama weren’t enough, even the trip now seems in doubt: French news reports say French soldiers working to keep the peace in the Central African Republic won’t be providing any extra protection for the pope, and the U.N. said this week it was in talks with the Vatican about the pope’s security amid a surge in violence that forced elections to be delayed and prompted Francis himself to recently say he still hopes he can go.

Despite the tumult, Francis has remained remarkably steady and determined, issuing an important mission statement this week outlining his vision of a church that shuns power, prestige and money in favor of solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Perhaps he knew that Italian prosecutors were just about to announce that the former abbot of the famed Montecassino monastery was under investigation for allegedly pocketing some 500,000 euros, some of it public money destined for charity, to fund five-star hotel stays and dinners of oysters and champagne.

“He’s not even afraid because he knows what he is doing,” Francis’ close collaborator, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, said of the resistance in an interview in New York. “He’s a man of prayer. He is a man of God. And so he’s never disappointed by this kind of thing.”

Massimo Faggioli, an Italian church historian joining the Villanova University’s theology department next year, said much of the headline-grabbing news of the past month can be chalked up to Francis’ radical agenda, the opposition it has found in some conservative circles of the church and the politicized nature of Italian journalism.

“Italian media, especially television and newspapers, are an integral part of the political system,” Faggioli said in a phone interview. “We know there is strong opposition to Pope Francis in some quarters, so what is happening, what has been published, is part of that resistance.”

Take, for example, the Oct. 21 report that Francis was suffering from a small, benign brain tumor. A niche news outlet long associated with Italian conservatives reported that the 78-year-old pope, known for his progressive social justice bent, had been examined by a Japanese brain cancer specialist who determined that the small dark spot on Francis’ brain was a tumor that could be treated without surgery.

The fantastical story, which claimed the doctor had travelled to Rome by helicopter for a top-secret exam, was denied not only by the Vatican but by the doctor himself, who — reached at his clinic in North Carolina — said he had never examined the pope and that the reports were “completely false.”

Faggioli recalled that during the Second Vatican Council, when Vatican conservatives sought to tamp down the radical agendas of John XXIII and later Paul VI, there were reports in the Italian media casting doubt upon papal orthodoxy in a clear attempt by conservatives to undermine the reformers. The rumors about Francis’ health have been seen in the same light.

The brain tumor report, Faggioli said, “is a symptom that they want us to think that this pope is doing things because he’s losing his mind, that he doesn’t have too long,” he said. “It didn’t work, but it tells you something about the environment.”

The document leaks, by contrast, appear to only have strengthened Francis’ hand by exposing the rot in the Vatican that he is trying to root out and the resistance he is facing by doing so. They also expose the internal power struggles going on as cardinals fight to hold onto turf and influence.

Journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi, now under Vatican investigation, got ahold of internal documents revealing millions of euros in lost potential rental income from the Vatican’s vast real estate holdings; millions in missing inventory from the Vatican’s tax-free stores (where cigarettes were being sold); exorbitant costs charged for making saints; and the greed of monsignors and cardinals lusting after huge apartments.

The Vatican, which previously had refused to comment on the contents of leaked documents, has this time sought to use the revelations to Francis’ advantage by stressing that he himself commissioned the information as part of his reform efforts.

“Changing things is always difficult because we’re always tempted to continue in the daily ho-hum way we do things,” Francis’ top collaborator, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told Vatican Radio this week. But he said the key was to “transform what can be normal resistance in the face of change into tools for reform.”

AP religion writer Rachel Zoll contributed from New York.

Vatican denies Kim Davis’ claim of support, highlights news of pope’s private meeting with gay couple

UPDATED:The “say it isn’t so” moment arrived a few days after Pope Francis departed from the United States following a six-day whirlwind tour that took him from Capitol Hill to soup kitchens.

The popularity of the first pope from the Americas soared to rock star heights during those days in late September, but then came news of the pope’s meeting with anti-gay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis.

Among many progressives, Francis’ star fell, only to begin to ascend again after the Vatican indicated the Davis’ team had greatly exaggerated the significance of her meeting with Francis and that he had given priority to a private meeting with a gay couple.

Davis, earlier this fall, went to jail for a few days for contempt of court. She was violating the U.S. Constitution, flouting federal court orders and ignoring her oath of office by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky.

The Vatican has distanced the pontiff from claims that the pope endorsed Davis’ stand on same-sex marriage. In a statement, the Vatican said the only “real audience” Francis had in Washington was with a small group that included a gay couple.

“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

“The only real audience granted by the pope at the nunciature was with one of his former students and his family,” Lombardi added. The man, Yayo Grassi, is an openly gay Argentine caterer who lives in Washington. In a video posted online, Grassi is shown entering the Vatican’s embassy, embracing his former teacher and introducing Francis to his longtime partner.

The disclosures changed the narrative of Davis’ encounter, making clear that Francis wanted another, more significant “audience” to come to light.

“It is heartening news that Pope Francis met privately with his friend and former student, Yayo Grassi, and his partner of 19 years, Iwan. It now not only appears that the pope’s encounter with Kim Davis has been mischaracterized, but that Pope Francis embraced these longtime friends,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.

Davis’ spin

A three-time divorcée, Davis became a hero on the evangelical right for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay people, saying  that to do so would violate her Christian beliefs. The story of her encounter with the pope was trumpeted by her handlers as signaling Francis’ support for her actions.

“He held out his hand to her and she grasped his hand,” Davis attorney Mat Staver, co-founder of the right-wing law firm Liberty Counsel, told the press. “He asked her to pray for him and she said she would,” Staver said. “She asked the pope to pray for her and he said he would.”

That is the pope’s custom with everyone he meets.

Davis had been in Washington, D.C., to receive a hero’s welcome at the Values Voters Summit presented by the Family Research Council, an extremist group that denigrates LGBT people.

Staver said the pope thanked Davis for her courage, told her to “stay strong” and hugged her.

Francis was asked about conscientious objection during a news conference held on his plane departing for Rome. He told reporters he couldn’t know the details of particular cases, but that conscientious objection “is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

LGBT civil rights advocate and Catholic Stephanie Kurcheck of Racine said she could admire conscientious objectors but she could not abide those who discriminate against others.

“Kim Davis is not like Gandhi or Martin Luther King,” she said. “She’s no different from the white racists who used religion to defend segregation. And I’m deeply disappointed in this pope for not seeing that.”

The Pope and Kim Davis PR nightmare needs more of the Golden Rule, less of the 9th Commandment

As a longtime LGBT activist with experience in dealing with the Catholic church, primarily related to the child abuse scandal here in the U.S., I have watched closely as the new pope brings hope in many Catholics, myself included, with his initial messages of “Who am I to judge” related to LGB people (he has made comments about trans people that are much more hostile hence the exclusion of the T).

His recent trip to the U.S was something I looked forward to, to the point of accepting an invitation to the White House for his arrival ceremony, which I attended with my partner and my 87-year-old devoutly Catholic aunt. And overall it went well, until Kim Davis (and her legal “counsel”) decided to drag her lies and disingenuousness into the debate.

At the trip began I was hopeful, despite the World Conference on Families rejecting LGBT participation or content. I knew many LGBT Catholics and allies who organized and spoke out prior to and during the historic trip.

I was heartened by the media including issues related to the LGBT community as they intersect with Catholicism, especially journalists like Maria Shriver who regularly brought up the “who am I to judge” comments and expressing hope they would result in some more discussion of our communities in the church.

Thomas Roberts put together a very nuanced and thoughtful panel interview that was aired in several segments on MSNBC about Catholics marginalized by the church, including LGBT people. As you can see from the photo I was a participant in this vibrant, diverse discussion.

And while some general references toward the end of the trip by the Pope to “traditional families” and “marriage tradition” (that serve as code that makes most LGBT people uncomfortable) I was, as a progressive who knows full well that change in the Catholic Church is a glacial process, pretty pleased with how it all went.

For example, out gay Catholic Mo Rocca participated in the mass in New York City. Dignity, GLAAD, the Family Acceptance Project, Fortunate Families and others spoke out and gathered in Philadelphia to discuss and organize.

Enter Kim Davis and her lies.

She may not be Catholic but I think the 9th Commandment is pretty universal. Kind of like the Golden Rule the Pope invoked when speaking to the U.S. Congress.

The firestorm began when David and her lawyers from the Liberty Council went all over the national media talking about a “private meeting” with the Pope, his blessing her and telling her to “stay strong,” and insinuating that he expressed support for her refusal to do her job.

The Vatican, to its own detriment, dragged its heels and gave non-committal responses to journalists as Davis and her team continued to wring out every bit of attention they could — without producing any evidence of a “meeting” — with any media outlet that expressed interest. Not enough media were responsible to note that just last week another fraud was perpetrated by Davis and her team about a rally that included grossly exaggerated information.

Finally, official reaction is coming late and only under tremendous pressure, and has made this into a public relations as well as religion and political story. Headlines now scream “Vatican Source: Pope Blindsided By Meeting With Controversial Kentucky Clerk.”

Ahem. One would think the Vatican would have a better communications team, but as I remember vividly from the abuse scandals, I am not that surprised. A tin ear to how the media — and the community — in the U. S. can mobilize is something I am familiar with.

So this is their dilemma now. The Vatican allowed Kim Davis to dominate the message and prompt reaction from LGBT Catholics groups that no longer jibes with what they are saying really happened.

So it turns out that Davis, like so many others during this trip, was able to shake the Pope’s had, be blessed and exchange a few words, which I am sure he said to others. Private meeting? Encouraging her for her conviction? I doubt he even knew who she was, frankly, and the whole think stinks of making a mountain of good PR out of a molehill of an interaction.

Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the head of the Holy See Press Office released a statement, which said in part:

Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.

The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

Uh-huh. So while he expressed support of conscientious objection being an important right for all there are still more questions than answers.

In addition, the Pope’s reported denial of a meeting with the Dalai Lama is also bad optics, if that turns out to be true as well.

I’ll pray for some clarification in the meantime. And may Kim Davis and Liberty Counsel be duly judged for their disingenuous and dishonest behavior. I’ll call is un-Christ-like and leave it at that.

Who am I to judge?

Follow Cathy Renna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cathyrenna.

Editor’s note: This opinion piece first appeared on the Huffington Post at huffingtonpost.com and is published with the author’s permission.



Sunday TV news show lineups

Guest lineups for Sunday TV news shows:

ABC’s This Week: Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

NBC’s Meet the Press: Republican presidential candidates John Kasich and Ben Carson; JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.

CBS’ Face the Nation: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton; Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul.

CNN’s State of the Union: Kasich; Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie.

Fox News Sunday: Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington; Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman.

Vatican gets embroiled in Italy’s ‘banned books’ fray

The Vatican has gotten embroiled in a modern-day, secular version of the Index of Banned Books.

The Holy See press office had to set the record straight on Aug. 28 after the Italian media interpreted a formulaic blessing by Pope Francis of a lesbian children’s book publisher and her partner as an endorsement of their same-sex relationship.

Author Francesca Pardi had written to Francis in June complaining about how her books — some of which deal with children growing up with gay, single and divorced parents — had been maligned by Catholic groups and politicians.

A half-dozen of her titles were among the 49 titles that Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro recently banned from public preschools pending a review of their appropriateness because they deal with gender issues.

Thinking that Francis might appreciate the books’ inclusive message, Pardi sent him copies of her 30 titles, explaining that they had nothing to do with “gender theory” or even sex but merely conveyed a message of tolerance.

A few weeks ago, an official in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, Monsignor Peter Wells, sent her a note in Francis’ name thanking her for the gesture, blessing her and her partner, and encouraging her to continue with her “activities in the service to young generations and the diffusion of authentic human and Christian values.”

Pardi says she didn’t take the letter by any means to be a papal endorsement of her lifestyle — she and her partner have four children together — but the Italian media interpreted it as such, prompting the Vatican to step in.

In a statement, the Vatican’s deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the letter made clear that Francis was encouraging Pardi to pursue activities consistent with Christian values.

“The blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was directed to the person, not at any possible teachings that are not in line with the doctrine of the church on gender theory, which hasn’t changed a bit as the Holy Father has repeated even recently,” he said.

One of the “banned” titles, “Little Egg,” tells the story of an egg about to hatch that goes out in search of a family, and encountering a variety of different ones — two mothers, two fathers, single parents, bi-racial parents, “traditional” parents — concludes that any one of them would be great.

The review of the “banned books” by Venice’s mayor sparked outrage among gay and human rights groups, with sometimes Venice resident Elton John calling Brugnaro “boorishly bigoted.”

Venice’s review harked back to the Vatican’s own Index of Prohibited Books, the 16th century list of books deemed heretical by the Roman Inquisition. The Vatican in 1966 officially removed the ban from its law books.

U.S. Catholic leaders largely ignore pope’s call for curbing climate change

A new survey has found fewer than half of U.S. Roman Catholics said they knew of Pope Francis’ bombshell encyclical on curbing climate change — and only a fraction of those heard about it from the pulpit — in the month after he released the document with an unprecedented call for the church to take up his message.

Forty percent of American Catholics and 31 percent of all adults said they were aware of the encyclical, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and Yale University. Among Catholics who knew about the document, just 23 percent said they heard about it at Mass. The survey, conducted July 17–19, provides an early measure of the impact of the encyclical in the U.S., where Francis is expected to press his teaching on the environment in his first visit to the country next month.

A recent Marquette University poll of Wisconsin registered voters found similar results. Forty-six percent of Wisconsinites say they had not heard about Pope Francis’ statement on climate change. Thirty-six percent say they agree with his message, while 17 percent disagree. Among Catholics, 39 percent say they had not heard of the pope’s position, while 45 percent say they agree and 15 percent say they disagree.

Views of Pope Francis are generally positive in Wisconsin, with 51 percent having a favorable opinion of him, 12 percent unfavorable and 36 percent unable to say. Among Catholics, 70 percent have a favorable opinion, 6 percent unfavorable, and 23 percent are unable to give an opinion.

The U.S. is home to some of the staunchest objectors to mainstream science on climate change and to government intervention aimed at easing global warming, along with a segment of Catholics who think the pope should be preaching far more against same-sex marriage and abortion than the environment.

In the encyclical, released June 18, Francis called global warming a largely manmade problem driven by overconsumption, a “structurally perverse” world economic system and an unfettered pursuit of profit that exploited the poor and risked turning the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.” He urged people of all faiths and no faith to save God’s creation for future generations. Environmental advocates hoped the encyclical would transform public discussion of climate change from a scientific to a moral issue. But Catholics in the survey were not significantly more likely than Americans in general to think of global warming in moral terms. Just 43 percent of Catholics and 39 percent of all adults said they considered global warming a moral issue. A very small percentage viewed climate change as having a connection to religion or poverty.

“That’s unfortunate,” said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, which works closely with the U.S. bishops on environmental protection and has distributed model sermons and parish bulletin inserts on the encyclical. “There’s a clear human impact. That’s going to be our challenge — to explain that this environmental question is really a human thriving question.”

The document had a rollout unlike any other. The encyclical was introduced at the Vatican by a secular climate scientist and a top Orthodox Christian leader, with simultaneous news conferences by Catholic leaders in many countries and the chiming of church bells for emphasis. Francis underscored the importance of the document by sending it to the world’s bishops with a handwritten note. But questions arose about whether American bishops and parishioners would embrace the message with any enthusiasm. While the bishops for decades have issued statements calling environmental protection a religious duty for Catholics, the issue has not been atop their public agenda.

For years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has focused its resources on denying same-sex couples the right to marry, seeking religious exemptions from laws the bishops consider immoral, fighting abortion and clergy sex abuse, and bringing back fallen-away Catholics.

This summer, bishops in Iowa, Illinois and Ohio have held news conferences on the encyclical, urging political leaders to take up the pope’s call for bold leadership and pledging to reduce carbon emissions or water and power usage in their own dioceses.

In California, the Diocese of Orange held an Aug. 8 conference on the theology of the encyclical and the science of climate change, drawing 450 attendees and an additional 500 viewers via livestream, a spokesman said. And Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the U.S. bishops’ point person on the environment, has cited the encyclical in expressing support for President Barack Obama’s clean power plant rules announced this month.

But Terry Majewski, 67, a Pensacola, Florida, resident who claims to attend Mass weekly, said he has heard no preaching about the encyclical at his local church. He’s glad he hasn’t. Majewski thinks highly of the pope, but disagrees with his position on global warming and wishes the pontiff hadn’t taken up the issue. In the survey, about two-thirds of Catholics said it was appropriate for Francis to take a position on global warming, and 55 percent of all adults agreed.

“He can talk about his own belief, but don’t sit there and bring it down on the church,” Majewski said, adding Francis should talk about “things that relate to religion, not climate change.”

At St. Camillus Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, last weekend, about 1,000 of the estimated 4,800 people who usually attend Masses there signed a petition urging immediate action to curb carbon emissions, said the Rev. Jacek Orzechowski. He said it was a sign that interest in the pope’s statement and in climate change is “percolating” among Catholics, despite the survey findings.

“I think it’s beginning to take root within the parishes within the archdiocese,” Orzechowski said. “One can be dissatisfied it has not produced more fruit, but the seeds are germinating.”

Francis is widely expected to reiterate his plea for bold policy measures on global warming when he travels to the U.S., where he will address a joint meeting of Congress on Sept. 24 and the U.N. General Assembly the next day. Climate change activists had hoped Francis’ rock-star popularity would amplify his views. But a recent Gallup poll found double-digit drops in his favorability, fueled mainly by conservatives who think he has gone too far with his reforms and statements, and liberals who believe he hasn’t gone far enough.

The AP-NORC poll found 62 percent of Catholics and 39 percent of Americans overall had a somewhat or very favorable view of Francis. One-third of Catholics and nearly half of all adults said they didn’t know enough about the pope to form an opinion.

In the survey, Catholics held views of global warming in line with the general public. About three-quarters of Catholics and 69 percent of all adults said global warming is happening. About half of both groups say climate change is mostly or entirely man-made, while 46 percent of Catholics and 38 percent of all adults blame a mix of human activity and natural changes in the environment.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,030 adults was conducted using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, and larger for subgroups. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for AmeriSpeak who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were interviewed over the phone.

AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson reported from Washington. AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll reported from New York. 


Vatican: Irish gay marriage vote a ‘defeat for humanity’

The Vatican’s secretary of state has called the Irish vote to legalize gay marriage a “defeat for humanity.”

Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he personally was saddened by the landslide decision, in which more than 62 percent of voters in the Roman Catholic country voted “yes,” despite church teaching that marriage is only between a man and woman.

In comments to reporters on May 26, Parolin referred to remarks by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, that results showed the church needed to do a “reality check.”

Parolin said the church needs to acknowledge the reality “but in the sense of reinforcing its commitment to evangelization.”

He said: “I don’t think you can speak only about a defeat for Christian principles but a defeat for humanity.”

Vatican unexpectedly ends crackdown against U.S. nuns

The Vatican has unexpectedly ended its controversial overhaul of the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns, cementing a shift in tone and treatment of the U.S. sisters under the social justice-minded Pope Francis.

The Vatican said on April 16 it had accepted a final report on its investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and declared the “implementation of the mandate has been accomplished” nearly two years ahead of schedule. The umbrella group for women’s religious orders had been accused of straying from church teaching.

The brief report stated the organization would have to ensure its publications have a “sound doctrinal foundation,” and said steps were being taken for “safeguarding the theological integrity” of programs. But no major changes were announced and the direct Vatican oversight that the sisters considered a threat to their mission was over.

“I think there are still some questions about how this is going to play out, but that it concluded early was an overwhelming affirmation of what the sisters do,” said Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a religious studies professor at Manhattan College.

The report’s tone stood in stark contrast to the 2012 Vatican reform mandate, which said the nuns’ group was in a “grave” doctrinal crisis. Vatican officials said the Leadership Conference had over-emphasized social justice issues when they should have also been fighting abortion, had undermined church teaching on homosexuality and the priesthood, and had promoted “radical feminist” themes in their publications and choice of speakers. The nuns’ group called the allegations “flawed.” But Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed to conduct a top to bottom overhaul of the conference.

Just last year, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, sharply rebuked the nuns’ group for its “regrettable” attitude and behavior during the process. He accused the LCWR of being in “open provocation” with the Holy See and U.S. bishops because they planned to honor a theologian, Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose work had drawn sharp criticism from the U.S. bishops.

But this week, leaders of the umbrella organization and the Vatican officials in charge of the overhaul released statements of mutual respect, and the sisters met in Rome for nearly an hour with Pope Francis. The Vatican released a photo of the nuns sitting across a table from a warmly smiling Francis.

The turnabout suggested possible papal intervention to end the standoff on amicable grounds before Francis’ high-profile trip to the United States in September. The investigation, and a separate but parallel review of all women’s religious orders, prompted an outpouring of support from the public for the sisters, who oversee the lion’s share of social service programs for the church.

The review of the Leadership Conference emerged from decades of tensions within the church over the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Many religious sisters shed their habits and traditional roles, taking on higher-level professional work in hospitals and schools, with sisters increasingly focused on social justice issues. Theological conservatives grew concerned that the sisters were becoming too secular and too political, instead of focusing on traditional prayer life and faith. The tensions worsened as the number of American nuns dwindled from about 160,000 in 1970, to less than 50,000 today, and church leaders searched for a way to stem the losses.

Conservative-minded Catholics argued a return to tradition would help.

The investigation of the sisters’ group began about seven years ago under Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, a German theologian who spent a quarter century as the Vatican’s doctrine watchdog, after complaints from conservative U.S. bishops and influential Catholics about the organization’s doctrinal soundness.

The first sign of a different outcome for the nuns’ group came in December, when the Vatican’s investigation of all women’s religious orders ended with sweeping praise for the sisters for their selfless work caring for the poor.

On Thursday, Mueller said in a statement he was confident that the LCWR is now clear in its mission of showing its members a Christ-centered vision of religious life that is “rooted in the tradition of the church.” Sister Sharon Holland, president of the nuns’ group, said in a statement the process had been “long and challenging” but “we learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”

The Vatican asked the sisters and church officials not to comment on the report for a month.

“Given the current moment in the church, with Francis emphasizing mercy and not judging and trying to see the best of what people are doing, they had to find a quiet way out of this,” said Michele Dillon, a University of New Hampshire sociologist specializing in the Catholic Church. “What you’d love to hear directly from LCWR leaders is what exactly this oversight means. Who decides what’s really the authentic doctrine?”