Pope francis

Succession: five nightmares for the next pope

14 min listen

A charming octogenarian who plays ruthless games with the people who think they’re going to succeed him: I reckon Logan Roy would have recognised a kindred spirit in Pope Francis, despite their diametrically opposed politics. Like many of you, I’m heartbroken that Succession has come to an end – but if you’re missing the back-stabbing melodrama then you could always start following the real-life struggle to shape the Catholic Church after Francis. Plenty of cardinals would like to swap their red cassocks for a white one. But, as I suggest in this episode of Holy Smoke, whoever eventually takes the job will have to confront at least five nightmare situations, most of them created by the camera-friendly but privately ferocious current occupant of the See

Britain is stuck in a fertility trap

Pope Francis wants you to have sex. Or at least he wants Italians to have more sex. The country, he says, is facing a ‘Titanic struggle’ against demographic doom. Last year, the population dropped by 179,000 people – and Italy is projected to lose another five million by 2050.  What’s happening in Italy is, to a greater or lesser extent, being repeated across the western world. In the UK in 2020, there were four workers per retiree. By 2041, the ONS projects there will be just three. We’re getting older, there are fewer of us and, all other things being equal, we’ll poorer for it. Either we tax the declining population more to

Damian Thompson

Pope Francis has betrayed Cardinal Zen

When Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 90-year-old former Bishop of Hong Kong, was arrested by Chinese authorities on Wednesday and charged with ‘collusion with foreign forces’, the White House called for his immediate release. Lord Patten of Barnes, the last British governor of Hong Kong, said the arrest was ‘yet another outrageous example of how the Chinese Communist Party is hell-bent on turning Hong Kong into a police state.’ Human rights activists lined up to defend the cardinal, who although released on bail faces the prospect of spending his last years in a Chinese jail cell. You might expect the loudest protest of all to come from the Vatican. Not so.

Cardinal Pell’s righteous fury at the Vatican’s theological direction

Cardinal Pell, a former head of Vatican finances, does not criticise Pope Francis directly in the piece he’s written for The Spectator. But it was the latter who instituted this ‘synodal way’ which, according to Pell, ‘has neglected, indeed downgraded the Transcendent, covered up the centrality of Christ with appeals to the Holy Spirit and encouraged resentment, especially among participants’. Pell states quite plainly that the whole process – which began with a ‘consultation’ of the laity in which only a minuscule proportion of the world’s Catholics took part – is in the process of being rigged. The synod’s participants will not be allowed to vote and the organising committee’s

What is Pope Francis up to?

If you think your diary looks busy over the next few days, spare a thought for Pope Francis. The 85-year-old, who was confined to a wheelchair for several months this year, is preparing for a big weekend. He will be spending it in the company of the world’s cardinals – the red-clad figures who are supposed to be his closest advisers but seldom meet en masse in Rome these days. Now the pope has finally decided to gather them together – in the Eternal City’s unforgiving August heat. The pope will be adding to the cardinals’ number today. Tomorrow, he will be dashing off to L’Aquila, the Italian city that

The truth behind the Pope Benedict inquiry

How are we to interpret the revelation that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI misled a sex abuse inquiry? That might seem an odd question. What is there to ‘interpret’ about the former Archbishop Ratzinger’s decision 43 years ago to allow a child abuser, Peter Hullermann, to live in Munich after he was thrown out of the diocese of Essen in 1979 for molesting an 11-year-old boy? The priest subsequently reoffended after Ratzinger moved on from the diocese, becoming Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II. And shouldn’t we be shocked that a former pope told this huge inquiry into decades of abuse in Munich that he wasn’t at

A papal visit would be another blow to Scottish anti-Catholicism

You wait 2,000 years for a papal visit and three come along almost at once. Reports in the Scottish press suggest that Pope Francis would like to say Holy Mass while in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit in November. It would mark the third time a sitting pope has visited Scotland and celebrated Mass there. Saint John Paul II was the first to come, in 1982, and led an estimated 300,000 in worship at Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park, then in 2010 his apostolic successor Benedict XVI gave an open-air Mass in the same park to a crowd of 70,000. Both events were seen as successes, attracting interest from non-Catholics and

Pope Francis is losing his culture war

Since I wrote about the Pope’s declaration of war on the Old Rite, something unexpected and beautiful has happened. Many bishops have held the line. Far from all: some have gleefully welcomed the opportunity to extinguish the pretty rite, and intellectual justification has come, predictably, from the Jesuits, who haven’t been sound since The Exorcist. But so many other bishops have judiciously, almost seditiously, chosen to interpret the Pope’s instruction to the letter while ignoring its spirit, and given immediate dispensation to the priests who already say it to continue. Others, I’m told, have written or telephoned Old Rite-saying priests to offer personal comfort and reassurance. This is how you

The Pope’s merciless war against the Old Rite

I am going to have to boil this down as crudely as I can, because it’s a complex subject with a simple message, but the Pope is attempting to make it as hard as possible to say, and thus attend, the Old Rite Mass. This is the form of Mass most Catholics went to before the 1970s. It was replaced with a New Rite and the Old was driven more-or-less underground. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI decided that priests who wanted to say the Old should be allowed to. Francis has rescinded that: now you must get the bishop’s permission and things will be weighed heavily in favour of the bishop

What the Pope’s visit means for Iraq

You could be forgiven for taking a cynical view of Pope Francis’s visit to Iraq this weekend. How could the Pope’s rhetoric about ‘fraternity’ alter the brutal reality for the country’s Christians, whose population has dwindled from 1.3 million to 200,000 since the US-led invasion? Might the visit end up legitimising a political class that has failed to defend Christians against discrimination and jihadist persecution? Even the Archbishop of Erbil bluntly remarked that the first papal trip to Iraq was ‘not going to help Christians materially or directly, because we are really in a very corrupt political and economic system. No doubt about that. [Pope Francis] will hear nice words…

The Pope rebuffs his liberal supporters by rejecting married priests

Pope Francis today issued his official response to October’s ‘Amazon Synod’, which discussed a plan to ordain married men in the region. He was expected to endorse it and thus open the door for the ordination of married men throughout the whole Catholic Church. (It’s already permitted in Eastern-rite Churches.) Instead, his apostolic exhortation ignores the subject. The Pope has ‘rejected the proposal’, reports CNN disapprovingly. It adds: ‘The lack of an opening for married priests, or women deacons, is expected to disappoint the Pope’s liberal supporters, particularly in the Americas and Europe.“People are starting to adjust their expectations,” said Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

Wildly entertaining Pope-off: The Two Popes reviewed

The Two Popes stars Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce — that’s two reasons to buy a ticket, right there — as Pope Benedict XVI and his successor Pope Francis I, and it is wildly entertaining, so now you have a third reason too. True, it does, as others have noted, shy away from directly tackling the most difficult questions currently facing the church. But is that really the film you want to see? Rather than this affectionate and literate bromance that does, in fact, nudge us towards the bigger picture, but slyly? Also, it is brilliantly comic. Pope Benedict, for instance, doesn’t get jokes but does try to tell one,

Podcast: Why the Vatican is more corrupt than ever

As the world’s Catholic bishops meet in Rome to waffle about the problems of indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin, events in their own tribe have taken a dramatic turn. Last week, Vatican police raided the Church’s own money-laundering watchdog. Meanwhile, in a simultaneous raid on the Vatican Secretariat of State, prosecutors seized documents, computers, telephones and passports. It seems to be a dirty business. According to the Italian press, police want to know more about a multi-million-pound real estate transaction in Mayfair. Significantly, all the seized documents reportedly relate to the years when Cardinal Angelo Becciu, a close papal ally, was running the Secretariat of State’s offices.  In this

Abba, Twitter vs Instagram, and papal selfies: the modern face of the Catholic Church

As a lifelong Catholic, I’ve often thought that two of the Church’s chief characteristics are a) how weird it is when you think about it; and b) how weird it is that so few people in it think how weird it is when you think about it. Happily, if a little smugly, I have to say that nothing in the first episode of Inside the Vatican (BBC2, Friday) caused me to revise this theory. There was a time, of course, when allowing TV cameras to film your institution was a risky strategy, as St Paul’s cathedral and the Royal Opera House can testify after those fly-on-the-wall series of the 1990s

Lead astray

Is the pope a Catholic? You have to wonder. In the old days, a pope’s remit was modest: infallible, but only in the vanishingly rare cases when he pronounced on matters of faith and morals concerning the whole church. But even at their most bombastic and badly behaved, earlier popes would have hesitated to do what nice Pope Francis has done, which is to approve changes in the liturgy which amount to rewriting the Lord’s Prayer. That bit that says ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ is, for Pope Francis, a bad translation. ‘It speaks of a God who induces temptation,’ he told Italian TV.  ‘I

Cardinal sins

The publication of In the Closet of the Vatican by the French gay polemicist Frédéric Martel has been meticulously timed to coincide with Pope Francis’s ‘global summit’ of bishops to discuss the sexual abuse of minors. The book appeared in eight languages on Thursday morning, just as the gathering began. It is being hyped as a ‘bombshell’ that will ‘blow apart’ the summit. We shall see. Certainly many Catholic priests are more interested in Martel’s exposé than in Francis’s initiative. The author spent four years researching the subject of high-ranking gays in the Catholic church. Forty-one cardinals spoke to him. That seems brave, given that Martel is an LGBT campaigner

Pope Francis was wrong to shower praise on Cardinal Wuerl

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is under intense pressure to explain what he knew about his disgraced predecessor, the sex abuser and ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Wuerl had asked to resign. He knew his position was untenable: not only is there widespread scepticism about his claim that he didn’t know McCarrick routinely assaulted seminarians, but he’s also under fire for alleged mishandling of abuse cases when he was Bishop of Pittsburgh. His departure hasn’t come as a surprise: he is past retirement age anyway. But many Catholics are disconcerted – to put it mildly – by the Pope’s letter to Wuerl,

If Pope Francis resigns it could tear the Catholic Church apart | 28 August 2018

The allegation by a former senior Vatican diplomat that Pope Francis vigorously covered up sex abuse is looking more credible by the day. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, says he told Francis in 2013 that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, was a serial abuser of seminarians. The Pope ignored him, he claims – and lifted sanctions placed by Benedict XVI on McCarrick. Moreover, he fully rehabilitated the old man, who became one of his most trusted advisers. Viganò has called on Francis to resign. We can now be reasonably certain that Benedict, after a deplorable delay, did punish McCarrick, whom independent sources have

Pope Francis asks forgiveness for ‘abuses’ in Ireland

Well, he’s said it. At the exuberant closing mass in driving rain of his visit to Ireland, the Pope has asked, off script, forgiveness for the wrongs committed by the church. Specifically he asked forgiveness for ‘the abuses in Ireland; abuses of power, conscience, and sexual abuses perpetrated by members with roles of responsibility in the church… in a special way we ask pardon for all the abuses committed by members with roles of responsibility… for all the abuses committed in various types of institutions run by male or female religious and by other members of the church. We ask forgiveness of those cases of exploitation through manual work that

Damian Thompson

Pope Francis ‘covered up for sex abuser McCarrick’ and must resign, says senior archbishop

Pope Francis stands accused this morning of covering up the crimes of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, one of the most senior and sinister sex abusers in the history of the Catholic Church. The allegation comes from the Vatican’s former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 77, who has called on the Pope to resign. In a devastating 11-page written testament, Viganò says Francis lifted severe sanctions imposed on McCarrick for sexual wrongdoing by Pope Benedict XVI, the existence of which has not been made public until now. Viganò writes that he told Francis in person in 2013 that McCarrick ‘had corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and