by Joshua J. McElwee
Editor’s note: This story was updated Sept. 25 to include details about Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s press conference following his resignation.
Vatican City — One of the highest-ranking cardinals in the Catholic Church resigned his Vatican post unexpectedly Sept. 24, with the city-state giving no explanation for the dismissal.
In a surprise bulletin late in Rome, the Vatican said Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu had both left his position as head of office responsible for overseeing Catholic sainthood causes and renounced “the rights connected to the cardinalate.”
Photo: Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu is pictured during a Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican June 29, 2015. (CNS/Paul Haring)
The bulletin gave no further details, but it is extremely rare for a cardinal to make such a move. The last cardinal to so renounce the rights of the cardinalate was Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who had been accused of inappropriate sexual relationships with other men.
Becciu had been serving as the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints since August 2018. He had previously served in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, in a role often described as akin to the pope’s chief of staff.
In that previous role, Becciu had been rumored to be connected to a controversial deal in which the Vatican invested in a development project in London.
Vatican police have been investigating the deal for months. In October 2019 they conducted a highly unusual raid of the Secretariat of State’s offices, collecting documents and electronic devices suspected to be connected to the deal.
The Vatican’s terse Sept. 24 statement said only that Pope Francis had accepted Becciu’s resignation from office and the rights of the cardinalate. It appears to indicate that Becciu remains a cardinal in title only, and would be unable to participate in any future conclaves.
The Vatican press office did not respond to a request for more information on the reasons behind Becciu’s resignations or for clarity on his status as a cardinal.
In a press conference Sept. 25, Becciu said he had resigned after a “surreal” meeting with Francis in the early evening of Sept. 24. Becciu said the pope had accused him of embezzlement, nepotism and financial malpractice.
The cardinal denied any wrongdoing, but said: “I will never betray the pope and am ready to give my life for him.”
Several Italian outlets reported Sept. 25 that Becciu had been accused of using Vatican funds while he was in his position at the Secretariat of State to support a Caritas project run by his brother in their home diocese on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Becciu told reporters that he had sent 100,000 euro ($116,000) to Caritas in the diocese of Ozieri, but that it was done to support projects helping those experiencing unemployment.
Becciu also acknowledged that the Italian bishops’ conference had previously sent 300,000 euro ($350,000) to support the same project.
“I was white in the face,” the cardinal said about his meeting with the pope. “Certainly it was not a good moment.”
Becciu said the pope had told him, ” ‘I no longer have trust in you.’ ”
Becciu has previously denied any allegations of impropriety in the London property deal, which has been described by Italian media as an opportunity to make a profit on upgrading office spaces into luxury apartments.
“An investment was made on a building,” the cardinal said in February. “It was a good and opportune occasion, which many people envy us for today.”
Becciu had previously been a Vatican diplomat, serving as the city-state’s ambassador to Angola under Pope John Paul II and as its ambassador to Cuba under Pope Benedict XVI. The future cardinal began serving in his role at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, where he was Substitute for General Affairs, in 2011.
Francis named Becciu to the saints congregation in May 2018, and made him a cardinal in June 2018. In his role at the saints office, Becciu oversaw the canonizations of a number of prominent figures, including martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero.
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]
By Joshua J McEiwee
The Vatican is firmly reiterating its objection to the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide, calling the intentional killing of sick patients an “intrinsically evil act” akin to murder and warning that legislators who approve such laws “become accomplices of a grave sin.”
A new Sept. 22 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith likewise directs hospital chaplains and pastors that patients planning to end their lives cannot be granted access to the sacraments, including both confession and anointing of the sick.
The new text, titled “Samaritanus bonus: On the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life” and approved by Pope Francis June 25, also touches on a range of other sensitive medical care issues beyond euthanasia and assisted suicide and will likely be read closely by administrators of Catholic hospitals.
Although the text may not offer any surprises for those familiar with Catholic teaching on end of life issues, it appears notable for its firm language, especially regarding what actions Catholics can and cannot undertake.
In one example, the document bluntly warns Catholic hospitals that they must “abstain from plainly immoral conduct.”
“Any action that does not correspond to the purpose and values which inspire Catholic healthcare institutions is not morally acceptable and endangers the identification of the institution itself as ‘Catholic,’ ” the text states.
The document specifically forbids Catholic hospitals from making referrals for patients requesting euthanasia. “Such choices cannot be morally accepted or supported in their concrete realization, even if they are legally admissible,” it says.
Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaks at a 2018 news conference at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Photo: Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaks at a 2018 news conference at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Euthanasia or assisted suicide has recently been legalized in a number of European countries and in several U.S. states, usually with the intended aim of helping a terminally ill patient end their life when they are facing a situation of intense suffering.
Although several local bishops’ conferences have responded to such laws, the Vatican congregation says it felt compelled to write its own document “in order to provide precise and concrete pastoral guidelines to deal with these complex situations.”
Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the head of the Vatican congregation, said at a press conference presenting the text that a new document “seemed necessary and opportune” because of the way governments are becoming “more permissive” about euthaniasia.
Beyond the act of euthanasia itself, the text criticizes use of previously written legal orders such as do-not-resuscitate orders, saying that they can be misused and can prevent doctors from pursuing life-saving treatments.
“These protocols cause serious problems regarding the duty to protect the life of patients in the most critical stages of sickness,” it states.
The document also calls for legislators in jurisdictions that have legalized euthanasia to allow medical professionals to exercise conscientious objection to such laws.
“Governments must acknowledge the right to conscientious objection in the medical and healthcare field, where the principles of the natural moral law are involved and especially where in the service to life the voice of conscience is daily invoked,” it states.
The Vatican document spans about 17 pages. Beyond euthanasia, the text also covers Catholic teaching on withdrawing nutrition from patients in a vegetative state, on when patients can choose not to pursue so-called “aggressive treatments,” and on care for terminally ill infants.
On care for those in a vegetative state, the document says such patients have “the right to nutrition and hydration, even administered by artificial methods.”
It also acknowledges, however, that “in some cases, such measures can become disproportionate, because their administration is ineffective, or involves procedures that create an excessive burden with negative results that exceed any benefits to the patient.”
In terms of whether patients should be encouraged to pursue so-called “aggressive treatments” to prolong their lives, text states: “It is lawful according to science and conscience to renounce treatments that provide only a precarious or painful extension of life.”
“It is not lawful to suspend treatments that are required to maintain essential physiological functions, as long as the body can benefit from them,” the text continues, naming treatments such as: “hydration, nutrition, thermoregulation, proportionate respiratory support, and the other types of assistance needed to maintain bodily homeostasis and manage systemic and organic pain.”
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]
Pope Francis urged the faithful on Sunday to steer clear of gossip, calling it worse than the coronavirus and saying it could be used to divide the Roman Catholic Church.
“Please, brothers and sisters, let’s make an effort not to gossip. Gossiping is a worse plague than COVID,” the pope said during his weekly address from a window above St. Peter’s Square.
“The devil is the great gossip. He is always saying bad things about others because he is the liar who tries to split the Church,” Francis added in the off-the-cuff comments.
The pope has regularly warned of the risks of gossiping and has also railed against Internet trolls.
“If something goes wrong, offer silence and prayer for the brother or sister who make a mistake, but never gossip,” he said on Sunday.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Frances Kerry)
Pope Francis has called for the reduction or outright forgiveness of debts of poor countries.
In an Easter message at the Vatican yesterday, the pope said by reducing or cancelling debts, countries would be in a better position to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic. May the risen Jesus grant hope to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless,” Pope said in his Easter address.
“In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens, and may all nations be put in a position to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations.”
While offering prayers for the sick, poor and elderly, Francis urged political leaders to give hope and opportunity to laid-off workers.
There should be solidarity the world over to confront the disease he described as an “epochal challenge” posed by the global health crisis, he said.
He urged the European Union (EU) to step up to the challenge posed by COVID-19 and resist the tendencies of selfishness and division.
The pontiff recalled how Europe rose again after World War II “thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past.”
“This is not a time for self-centredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons,” Francis said.
While Rome is under lockdown, one person drives hundreds of miles a day through the empty streets of the Italian capital, picking up food from factories and businesses and delivering them personally to the city’s poor.
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Polish prelate that leads Pope Francis’s charitable efforts, says he once dreamed of being a milkman.
“Now my dream comes true,” he laughs, after loading another truck full of dairy products.
Only this week the Polish cardinal drove cars full of food to two Roman convents where dozens of sisters are infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. He also brought supplies to a senior home named after St. John XXIII.
“Companies are giving away tons of food. We have to deliver it before it goes bad,” Krajewski told Crux.
The Pontifical Villas Dairy Production from the Vatican’s Castel Gandolfo property outside of Rome donates fresh milk and yogurt every day.
“Only on Saturday, I did 250 kilometers around the city – at least with empty streets I can drive without obstacles,” the cardinal said.
For anyone who is worried that the cardinal himself could be infected – the incubation time for the coronavirus can be up to 14 days – he told Crux he was tested for COVID-19, and the results were negative.
“I did it for the sake of the poor and people who work with me – they need to be safe,” he explained.
Krajewski – known in the Vatican as “Don Corrado” – is the Papal Almoner, a post in charge of almsgiving in the city of Rome on behalf on the pope.
The position has been given a new prominence under Francis, and Krajewski is widely seen as one of the pontiff’s closest collaborators.
This has been especially true during the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Italy hard.
His influence was demonstrated March 13, when he opened his titular church for Eucharistic adoration in defiance of a decree issued the day before, closing the doors of the churches in the Diocese of Rome.
“Home should always be open to its children,” he told Crux immediately after his rebellious action. However, the decree was reversed later that same day, after an intervention by Francis.
Krajewski’s parish is the street, and no virus will stop him from helping the poor.
“I made a tour around the Roman parishes today,” he told Crux on Sunday. “I told them that washing the feet of those in need is like consecration during Eucharist.”
He urged priests under lockdown to open their showers to the poor, “respecting all procedures of protection” from the coronavirus.
“I went to one friary – I asked – how many of you are there? They said 20. It is 20 men that can serve the poor! We don’t need to put our lay volunteers in danger, the Churchmen can do it!” Krajewski told Crux.
The Polish cardinal stressed that prayer without alms these days is “incomplete,” adding that Francis has set the example.
“Before Urbi et Orbi on Friday, the Holy Father gave 30 respirators to hospitals, then he prayed for the world,” the Papal Almoner said.
Krajewski also has a special message to the hundreds of priests from around the world studying at the pontifical universities in Rome: “Put away the theology books for now – there is a Gospel in the making on the streets.”
The cardinal says that “miracles are happening these days,” recalling one parish pastor telling him on a Sunday morning: “I needed your kick to get into action.”
He practices what he preaches, even in his own apartment.
Two homeless people and a Muslim woman regularly prepare sandwiches for the city’s poor in his home above the Almoner’s office inside the Vatican. His furniture once belonged to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now known as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI: “It is a home church,” the cardinal added with a smile.
“For the first time I heard from the poor these days – we are hungry,” he said during his Sunday Mass, said privately in the Vatican. “There is no place to go for them to ask for help – bars and restaurants are closed.”
Urging priests to go out and serve the poor, he said: “We have two hands, the intelligence of the Gospel: We only lack a little courage.”
Krajewski finding creative new ways to help the poor and keep safe from COVID-19 at the same time. He has adjusted the distribution of meals for the needy and homeless he was organizing twice a week at Roman trains stations, so they are now packed ahead of time into “bags from the heart” and don’t require volunteers to hand out individually.
When asked whether he was afraid of being infected during his work, he jokingly answered with a Polish proverb: “There isn’t a risk that the devil will touch the bad guy.”
VATICAN CITY — The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God’s judgment on humanity, but God’s call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on, Pope Francis said.
Addressing God, the pope said that “it is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
Pope Francis offered his meditation on the meaning of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for humanity March 27 before raising a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and giving an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).
Popes usually give their blessing “urbi et orbi” only immediately after their election and on Christmas and Easter.
Pope Francis opened the service — in a rain-drenched, empty St. Peter’s Square — praying that the “almighty and merciful God” would see how people are suffering and give them comfort. He asked to care for the sick and dying, for medical workers exhausted by caring for the sick and for political leaders who bear the burden of making decisions to protect their people.
The service included the reading of the Gospel of Mark’s account of Jesus calming the stormy sea.
“Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives,” the pope said. “Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.”
Like the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, he said, “we will experience that, with him on board, there will be no shipwreck, because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things.”
Pope Francis leads a prayer service in an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 27, 2020. At the conclusion of the service the pope held the Eucharist as he gave an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world). The service was livestreamed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane)
The Gospel passage began, “When evening had come,” and the pope said that with the pandemic and its sickness and death, and with the lockdowns and closures of schools and workplaces, it has felt like “for weeks now it has been evening.”
“Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void that stops everything as it passes by,” the pope said. “We feel it in the air, we notice it in people’s gestures; their glances give them away.
“We find ourselves afraid and lost,” he said. “Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.”
However, the pandemic storm has made most people realize that “we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented,” the pope said. And it has shown how each person has a contribution to make, at least in comforting each other.
“On this boat are all of us,” he said.
The pandemic, the pope said, has exposed “our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities.”
Pope Francis holds the monstrance as he gives his extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) from the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 27, 2020. The blessing was livestreamed because of the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Yara Nardi)
In the midst of the storm, Francis said, God is calling people to faith, which is not just believing God exists, but turning to him and trusting him.
As Lent and the pandemic go on, he said, God continues to call people to “convert” and “return to me with all your heart.”
It is a time to decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others, he said, and every community is filled with people who can be role models — individuals, “who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives.”
Francis said the Holy Spirit can use the pandemic to “redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people — often forgotten people — who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines,” but are serving others and making life possible during the pandemic.
The pope listed “doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.”
“How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility,” he said. And “how many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer.”
“How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all,” he said. “Prayer and quiet service: These are our victorious weapons.”
In the boat, when the disciples plead with Jesus to do something, Jesus responds, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
“Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us,” the pope said. “In this world that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything.
“Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things and be lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet,” Pope Francis said.
“We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick,” he said. “Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: ‘Wake up, Lord!'”
The Lord is calling on people to “put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be foundering,” the pope said.
“The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith,” he said. “We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.”
Pope Francis told people watching around the world that he would “entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, health of the people, and star of the stormy sea.”
“May God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace,” he said. “Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak, and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.”
Introducing the formal blessing, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, announced that it would include a plenary indulgence “in the form established by the church” to everyone watching on television or internet or listening by radio.
An indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. Catholics following the pope’s blessing could receive the indulgence if they had “a spirit detached from sin,” promised to go to confession and receive the Eucharist as soon as possible and said a prayer for the pope’s intentions.