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Jim McDermottSeptember 09, 2022
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We tend to think of the summer as “downtime”—school is out, everyone’s going on vacation. Heck, in Rome they basically close the city down for the month of August.

But in fact quite a lot went on over the summer. People thought the pope might retire! The U.S. got a new cardinal! Kate Bush wrote a song in 1985 that became the soundtrack for our summer lives!

Here are some of the big Catholic stories you might have missed from the last three months.

1. Pope Francis declared the invasion of Ukraine the start of World War III.

In response to questions about the situation in Ukraine, Pope Francis told the editors of European Jesuit publications that “World War III has been declared.” At the same time, he pushed the editors to resist the easy binaries of heroes and villains: “Here there are no metaphysical good guys and bad guys, in an abstract sense,” he said. “Something global is emerging, with elements that are very much intertwined.” Noting the brutality of the mercenaries being used by Russia, the pope said, “The danger is that we only see this, which is monstrous, and we do not see the whole drama unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented.” On America’s “Inside the Vatican” podcast, Colleen Dulle and Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell dug into the pope’s comments.

Quite a lot went on over the summer. People thought the pope might retire! The U.S. got a new cardinal! Kate Bush wrote a song in 1985 that became the soundtrack for our summer lives!

2. The Diocese of Worcester announced that Jesuit-run Nativity Middle School can no longer call itself Catholic.

Bishop Robert J. McManus of Worcester announced in June that he is stripping Jesuit-run Nativity Middle School of its identification as a Catholic school, preventing it from having Mass on campus or engaging with diocesan fundraising organizations. The move stems from the school’s decision to continue flying flags supporting Black Lives Matter and L.G.B.T. pride. The school had raised the flags in 2021 at the request of the school’s 63 students, 95 percent of whom are people of color; a year later the bishop asked the school to take them down. “The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues,” Bishop McManus wrote in his decree on June 10th. School president Thomas McKenney has indicated the school will continue to fly the flags as the school appeals the bishop’s decision to Rome.

3. Two Jesuits were murdered in a church in Mexico.

On June 20, Jesuit priests Javier Campos Morales, 79, and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, 80,were killed inside a church in an Indigenous community of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, after they gave sanctuary to a tour guide who was fleeing an attempted kidnapping. Their murders are the latest in a long series of executions of clergy and religious in Mexico. America’sKevin Clarke spoke to people who knew the much- beloved priests. The Mexican bishops subsequently issued a statement demanding change in Mexico, writing that criminals “have taken over the streets, neighborhoods, and entire towns, as well as roads and highways.”

In response to questions about the situation in Ukraine, Pope Francis told the editors of European Jesuit publications that “World War III has been declared.”

4. Kate Bush drove the world crazy.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up the Hill” vaulted to the top of the pop charts this summer after its use in the fourth season of Netflix ’80s teen horror TV show “Stranger Things.” Ms. Bush herself, who was raised Catholic, originally wanted the song to be named “A Deal with God.” Her religious upbringing affected not only that song but many others. Meanwhile, Lionel Richie reportedly has his fingers crossed for “Stranger Things” season five. (“Say You, Say Me” was a big hit in 1986.)

5. Australian delegates disrupted synod plenary meeting.

Nearly 25 percent of the delegates at the Australian Catholic Church’s second plenary council assembly staged a protest after motions to consider women for ministry as deacons “should Pope Francis authorize such ministry” and to offer women opportunities for greater participation in their local church were rejected by the bishops. Said delegate Francis Sullivan, “There was a lot of anger and frustration….There is a deep grief I think that we all feel about where the church is at, not just for ourselves personally but collectively.” In the days that followed a four-person committee appointed by the bishops revised the section of the document that had been produced on the equal dignity of women and men, to general approbation. “I feel like I can go home to my daughter now and say yes, the Catholic Church values women and men, and it is a good day in that respect,” one female attendee said afterward at a news briefing.

6. Pope Francis appointed three women to the Vatican committee that picks bishops.

For the first time in the history of the church, there will be women on the committee that screens candidates for bishops. In July, Rafaella Petrini, F.S.E., the secretary general of the governorate of the Vatican City State; Yvonne Reungoat, F.M.A., the former superior general of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians; and Dr. Maria Lia Zervino, the president of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, were appointed by Pope Francis to the Dicastery for Bishops. In comments to Spanish publication Vida Nueva after her appointment,Sister Reungoat spoke about the need for bishops who are “close to the people entrusted to him.” “The ideal bishop does not exist,” she told Vida Nueva, “but he has to know how to involve priests, laity and religious, and people of different generations.”

For the first time in the history of the church, there will be women on the committee that screens candidates for bishops.

7. Pope Francis went to Canada to apologize to Indigenous People.

Pope Francis visited Canada in what he described beforehand as a “penitential pilgrimage” to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, a trip he promised to undertake in April after apologizing for the “deplorable” abuses Indigenous Peoples suffered in Catholic residential schools. While in Canada the pope asked forgiveness “for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time.”Indigenous people reacted positively to the speech; “Every time he said the word sorry, people would start applauding,” said Phil Fontaine, an Ojibwe of the Sagkeeng First Nation and survivor of two residential schools. But some would like him to go farther and publicly revoke the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the papal decrees written centuries ago that granted Spain and Portugal the right to colonize Indigenous lands and enslave the non-Christians they found there.

8. Tribal leaders in South Dakota temporarily suspended all Christian evangelization.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council approved a new ordinance banning any Christian missionary activity on the reservation until all service groups and missionaries can pass background checks. The move came in response to pamphlets being handed out to young people depicting historical figures and traditions of the Lakota people as demonic. After hearing from local residents that this ordinance threatened weddings, funerals and other planned religious activities, the tribal council rescinded the order but upheld the ban prohibiting the missionary who had distributed the pamphlets from returning to tribal lands. Shortly thereafter, Arturo Sosa, S.J., the superior general of the Society of Jesus, traveled to the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations to listen to Native peoples speak of their experience and offer his own apology for harm done by the Jesuits in their work with Native peoples. “We Jesuits made grave mistakes in our participation in the government’s educational system that took children from their families, from their language, from their culture,” Father Sosa said.

9. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan welcomed thousands of migrants bussed from Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has begun busing migrants who crossed into the United States through the Texas border to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. While New York City Mayor Eric Adams has slammed Mr. Abbott for using people as “political pawns,” New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan has welcomed the 6,000 migrants who have thus far come to the city. “Our perspective is to help them,”he said at a news briefing in mid-August, “[with] a sense of honor that we are able to help these people in whom we see the face of God.”

New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan has welcomed the 6,000 migrants who have thus far come to the city. “Our perspective is to help them.”

10. A close advisor to Pope Francis was accused of sexual assault.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops, was accused of sexual assault as part of a class action lawsuit by a woman in the Archdiocese of Quebec, where Cardinal Ouellet served as archbishop from 2003 to 2010. The Vatican, which was made aware of the lawsuit against Cardinal Ouellet in 2021,has since concluded that there is insufficient evidence to open church proceedings against the cardinal. But some are questioning the Vatican’s process, noting that the Belgian Jesuit tasked with making the initial assessment was himself a longtime associate of Cardinal Ouellet’s.

11. Descendants of slaves criticized the Jesuits for slow progress on raising funds. 

In 2021, the Society of Jesus in the United States and Canada announced that it would begin a campaign to raise $100 million dollars over five years to support the racial justice work of the Descendants Truth and Reconciliation Foundation, a combined effort of the Jesuits and the descendants of the 272 Black people owned and sold as slaves by Jesuits at Georgetown University. But this summer, the head of that foundation, Joseph M. Stewart, wrote a public letter to the Jesuit Superior General Arturo Sosa, S.J., laying out his concerns about the way the process is currently going. “We’ve been meeting for hours every week for two years now, and we still just have $15 million,” all of which was donated at the start of the process by the Jesuits,he told America in an interview. “That’s not a judgment of the men’s commitment. It’s a judgment on the results.”

12. The church lost some important people.

Among those who died over the summer were Catholics Vin Scully, a legend of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization;Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., long a voice for social justice in the church who resigned in scandal after admitting he had had an affair with a man whose silence he paid off with archdiocesan funds (which he later repaid); theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, a foundational figure in feminist theology; and Presbyterian author Frederick Buechner, whose novels and essays persistently called people to see the sacramentality of ordinary life.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego was one of 20 prelates around the world chosen by Pope Francis to be elevated to the cardinalate.

13. San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy was made a cardinal.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego was one of 20 prelates around the world chosen by Pope Francis to be elevated to the cardinalate. Cardinal McElroy did a two-part interview with America after his installation about the experience of the consistory, the meeting of the world’s cardinals which followed and pressing issues in the church today. His appointment is a big deal: He was the only new cardinal elevated in North America, and the first new cardinal actively working in the Western half of the United States since Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony was made a cardinal way back in 1991.

Rumors have since begun that Cardinal McElroy will leave San Diego for a bigger diocese, but America’s J.D. Long-García argues it makes much more sense for him to stay.

14. Pope Francis did not retire.

After a postponed trip to Africa and persistent knee problems that have left Pope Francis in a wheelchair, there was growing speculation over the summer whether he might be on the verge of retiring. The fact that the pope also called upon the world’s cardinals to meet in August, which is normally only done to elect a pope, and recently made a visit to the tomb of Celestine V, the first pope to voluntarily resign,only increased some people’s expectations. But Francis has thus far quashed such rumors, telling a Brazilian archbishop that resigning “does not cross his mind.” Sometimes a trip to pray at the tomb of a deceased pope is just a trip to pray at the tomb of a deceased pope.

15. Pope Francis beatified Pope John Paul I.

On Sept. 4,Pope Francis announced that Pope John Paul I is now a blessed of the church. Though he was pope for just 33 days, John Paul I was known for the happiness with which he communicated. “How beautiful is a church with a happy, serene and smiling face,”Pope Francis said in his homily, “that never closes doors, never hardens hearts, never complains or harbors resentment, does not grow angry or impatient, does not look dour or suffer nostalgia for the past.” America’s own James T. Keane gives the 411 on Pope John Paul I and his short but remarkable career as pope (including how he came to be the first pope with two names).

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