This week: A surprise in the Pope’s ‘State of the World’ address
The Pope’s “State of the World” address—his annual speech to the Vatican diplomatic corps—is always a major event for Vatican-watchers. Especially so this year, when the papal address came so soon after the US drone strike that killed Iran’s General Soleimani and sent tensions spiraling in the volatile Middle East. Pope Francis was guilty of understatement, if anything, when he remarked that “the new year does not seem to be marked by encouraging signs.”
Still, while Pope Francis was clearly distressed by the American action, and appealed for restraint and dialogue, the crisis in the Middle East was not the focal point of his speech. The Holy Father devoted more attention to his own proposal for a “global compact on education”—an initiative that will be launched at a “worldwide event” on May 14. The Pontiff described this effort as a bid “to rekindle our commitment to and with young people,” to provide for “a process of education and the creation of an educational village capable of forming a network of open and human relationships.”
This grand papal plan—a response to what Pope Francis called an era of “epochal change”—would involve a serious bid to address climate change, to protect the environment, to stimulate “ecological conversion” of the sort contemplated by the Amazon Synod. It’s clearly an ambitious undertaking, although the exact details of the plan are quite unclear.
But as he spoke of the Amazon Synod, Pope Francis shifted his focus back to the world’s trouble-spots, mentioning “the proliferation of political crises in a growing number of countries of the American continent.” What crises did he have in mind? “I would like to mention Venezuela in particular,” the Pope said. He did not mention any other American countries.
The crisis in Venezuela is undeniable. And it escalated this week, when the embattled President Maduro arranged the election of an ally as head of the National Assembly—after preventing opposition leaders from entering the building. The Catholic bishops of Venezuela, who have been unsparing in their criticism of Maduro’s repressive rule, denounced this latest affront to democratic processes. Pope Francis, even while mentioning the Venezuelan crisis, held to his longstanding policy; he did not directly criticize the leftist strongman.
Nor did the Pope, in his discussion of threats to religious liberty around the world, make any reference to the situation in China, where a a US Congressional commission found that repression of Catholics had increased markedly since the Vatican struck a secret deal with the Beijing regime. In a related story, Cardinal Joseph Zen disclosed that he feels sure that secret deal is the very same deal that Pope Benedict had refused to accept. Of course we don’t know whether or not that is the case, because the terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
In other noteworthy developments this week:
- Catholic leaders in Iraq and in the US expressed alarm over the escalation of tensions, and pleaded for peace.
- A Pennsylvania judge ruled that parents of sex-abuse victims can proceed with a lawsuit against the Pittsburgh diocese, in which the parents charge that Church officials ignored their legal responsibility to report sex-abuse complaints.
- And while we wait—and wait, and wait—for a Vatican report on the McCarrick scandal, the FBI has been quietly conducting its own investigation into the workings of the Papal Foundation, set up by the former cardinal as a conduit for funds to the Vatican.
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