The top 20 stories of a painful year
2018 was a tumultuous year for the Catholic Church, and frankly, most of the news was bad news. With prayers for more positive headlines in 2019, here are my own selections for the 20 most important stories of the past year:
- #20. Pope’s address to the Roman Curia. In past years Pope Francis has used this occasion to deliver a tongue-lashing to his staff. This year the address was gentler, but a strong message remained: a harsh condemnation of his critics.
- #19. Violent attacks on the Church in Nicaragua, where the Ortega regime has blamed prelates for public protests.
- #18. Legislation that would end legal protection of the confessional seal in Australia.
- #17. The canonization of Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero.
- #16. A guilty verdict pronounced against Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, Guam on sex-abuse charges, after a canonical trial. (The sentence is now under appeal.)
- #15. The release of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman who had been sentenced to death in 2010 on false blasphemy charges. She remains in Pakistan, however, where Islamic radicals have vowed to kill her.
- #14. Intemperate rhetorical attacks on the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines by the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, culminating in his suggestion: “These bishops that you guys have, kill them”—which a spokesman said was not intended seriously.
- #13. The Synod on Youth, which met in October in Rome, and was largely overshadowed by the more dramatic stories that emerged that month (see below).
- #12. New rules for the working of the Synod of Bishops, issued by Pope Francis in September, giving the consultative body greater scope and saying that Synod pronouncements partake of magisterial authority.
- #11. The release of a doctored letter from Pope-emeritus Benedict, which prompted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications.
- #10. The revision of the Catechism’s teaching on capital punishment, on orders from Pope Francis, to say that execution is “inadmissible.” Later the Pope would add that earlier official Church teachings, allowing for the death penalty, were “more legalistic than Christian.”
- #9. The German bishops’ invitation to Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Communion on a regular basis—in a document that was not officially released by the episcopal conference, on orders from the Vatican.
- #8. The Pennsylvania grand-jury report, revealing more than 1,000 cases of reported clerical abuse since the 1940s. Although most of the allegations dated back decades, the report confirmed a pattern of cover-ups by the hierarchy.
- #7. The sudden resignations of both the director and deputy director of the Vatican press office, evidently prompted by a clash over new strategic directions for Vatican communications campaigns.
- #6. The recognition of an autocephalous (self-governing) Ukrainian Orthodox Church, over the angry objections of the Moscow patriarchate, potentially consolidating the world’s most vigorous Orthodox community, while precipitating a split in the world’s Orthodox leadership.
- #5. A guilty verdict for Cardinal George Pell, after a secret trial on abuse charges in Australia. The cardinal will appeal the verdict.
- #4. An agreement between the Vatican and China, giving Beijing a role in the appointment of new bishops. The exact terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but bishops of the “underground” Church have been ordered to cede their roles to bishops illicitly appointed by the government.
- #3. The removal of Theodore McCarrick from public ministry, and from the College of Cardinals, following revelations that he had been credibly accused of molesting a teenager. The news was quickly followed by a series of revelations about McCarrick’s long history of homosexual activity.
- #2. The resignation of all 31 active members of the Chilean bishops’ conference, at the conclusion of a meeting in Rome devoted to the sex-abuse crisis in that country, which had exploded during the papal visit there in January.
- #1. The Vigano testimony: the stunning charge by a former papal nuncio that Pope Francis was aware of McCarrick’s misconduct, but ignored sanctions that had been imposed upon the American prelate by Pope Benedict XVI and instead made him a trusted adviser. The stunning claim—and Archbishop Vigano’s argument that a homosexual network at the Vatican had protected McCarrick—prompted dozens of American bishops to join in calls for a thorough investigation.
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