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  • Originally published 07/08/2013

    John XXIII, John Paul II to be made saints

    VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis sped two of his predecessors toward sainthood on Friday: John Paul II, who guided the Roman Catholic Church during the end of the cold war, and John XXIII, who assembled the liberalizing Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.In approving the sainthood of John XXIII even without a second miracle attributable to the pontiff, Francis took the rare step of bypassing the Vatican bureaucracy. Francis also said a Vatican committee had accepted the validity of a second miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul.The canonization cause for John Paul began almost immediately after his death in 2005. At his funeral, crowds in St. Peter’s Square began shouting “Santo subito,” or “Sainthood now,” for the beloved pontiff....

  • Originally published 03/24/2013

    Papa Francesco: A New Era?

    Pope Francis in Brazil on March 20. Credit: Wiki Commons.With their unending infatuation with the exotica of ritual and royalty, all of the networks provided extensive coverage of the papal resignation and election.Expect the same when Queen Elizabeth II either dies or abdicates.The appearance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires on the loggia of St. Peter’s was greeted by a brief moment of surprise (conclave coverage suggested we would be seeing Pope Angelo Scola or Odilo Scherer -- the Italian Episcopal Conference even e-mailed an erroneous congratulations to Scola -- the papal version of “Dewey Defeats Truman.”) Then crowd went wild as the huge bell on St. Peter’s pealed out the glad tidings.

  • Originally published 03/21/2013

    Is the retired pope still infallible?

    The pope is infallible when, as head of the bishops of the church, he requires the faithful to believe a matter pertaining to faith or morals. This is the standard definition of infallibility. It goes no further. Should the pope stick his head out of doors and remark that it will be a nice day, he is just as liable to be snowed on as the next man.In practice, this means that the church debates a subject at great length and when the bishops and laity are in agreement, the pope makes an infallible pronouncement. The bishops' discussions before the announcement can take a long time; the doctrine of the immaculate conception was in debate for at least 1,300 years before being made official....

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    Why does the pope change his name?

    What's in a pope's name?By choosing the name Francis, the Argentine Jesuit who will lead the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics has signaled a devotion to simple living and social justice, analysts say.No pope has ever chosen to be called Francis before, and it was not among the names favored by oddsmakers betting on which the new pontiff would choose. The name harks back to St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan order.Picking a name is the first decision made by the new pontiff and a closely watched sign of how he will lead the church....

  • Originally published 03/17/2013

    The Catholic Church's Long Struggle over Accommodating to Authoritarian Regimes

    Cesare Orsenigo, Pope Pius XII's nuncio to Nazi Germany, meets with Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop in early 1939. Photo Credit: German Federal Archives.The announcement last Wednesday that the College of Cardinals selected Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, made headlines around the world. Most focused on the “simplicity” and “modest touch” of the new pope, who will reign as Pope Francis.But allegations that the new pope cooperated with Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, during the so-called Dirty War in which nearly 30,000 Argentineans were tortured or killed by the government, have tarnished his transition.

  • Originally published 03/14/2013

    Francis and Argentina’s "disappeared"

    Like many other older churchmen, politicians and businessmen in Argentina, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been questioned by some for his role during this country’s bloody 1976–83 military dictatorship, when tens of thousands of young dissidents were made to “disappear” in the death camps set up by the generals who ruled the country.The Catholic Church in Argentina realized that its behavior during that dark period was so unsaintly that in 2000 it made a public apology for its failure to take a stand against the generals. “We want to confess before God everything we have done badly,” Argentina’s Episcopal Conference said at that time. “We share everyone’s pain and once again ask the forgiveness of everyone we failed or didn’t support as we should have,” Argentina’s bishops said in a statement again last year after former dictator Jorge Videla, now serving a life sentence, claimed in an interview that he had received the blessing of the country’s top clergymen for the actions of his regime....

  • Originally published 03/14/2013

    David M. Perry: What the Name 'Francis' Means for the Modern Church

    David M. Perry is an associate professor of history and director of the Catholic studies minor at Dominican University in Illinois. Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam ... Qui sibi nomen imposuit Franciscum. "I announce to you with great joy: We have a pope. ... Who has taken for himself the name Francis!"There are two immediate messages to take away from the election of Francis. First, this quick vote reflects a clear unity of purpose among the cardinals. Second, his selection of the name Francis speaks volumes about his potential approach to the coming papacy.

  • Originally published 03/13/2013

    Did Pope Francis collaborate with the Argentine junta?

    David Austin Walsh is the editor of the History News Network.Pope Francis in Rome on March 13, 2013. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.ukUPDATE: In an email to HNN, James P. Brennan, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside who is currently working on on a research project about the "Dirty War," cautioned against rushing to judgments about the new pope's record with the military junta. "[Journalist Horacio Verbitsky] is the sole source of [the] accusation [about concealing prisoners from human rights officials], which has yet to be verified by other credible sources such as human rights organizations in Argentina."

  • Originally published 03/13/2013

    David M. Perry: How History Can Help Us Predict the Next Pope

    David M. Perry is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Catholic Studies Minor at Dominican University in Illinois.On Thursday, February 28, at 8:00 P.M. local time, Pope Benedict XVI resigned. For now, the seat of St. Peter is vacant. But soon, the Cardinals will enter the Sistine chapel and the master of the Papal Ceremonies will cry, "Extra Omnes!" -- everybody out, and seal the door...What changes will mark the Catholic church of tomorrow? Just as the past helps us understand Benedict's resignation, we can use our knowledge of history to shed some light on what the Cardinals might be doing behind those sealed doors.1) Voting is medieval.

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    Benedict’s Obedience to New Pope Part of Tradition

    (VATICAN CITY) — He slipped it in at the end of his speech, and said it so quickly and softly it almost sounded like an afterthought.But in pledging his “unconditional reverence and obedience” to the next pope, Benedict XVI took a critical step toward ensuring that his decision to break with 600 years of tradition and retire as pope doesn’t create a schism within the church.It was also a very personal expression of one of the tenets of Christian tradition that dates back to Jesus’ crucifixion: obedience to a higher authority....

  • Originally published 03/01/2013

    David M. Perry: Echoes of Past in Pope's Resignation

    David M. Perry is an associate professor of history at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.(CNN) -- On July 4, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Sulmona for his second visit to venerate the relics of his long-ago predecessor, Pope and St. Celestine V, who died in 1296. Few predicted then that just a few years later, Benedict and Celestine would be locked together in history as the two popes who retired, theoretically voluntarily, because of their age.Here is what Celestine wrote: "We, Celestine, Pope V, moved by legitimate reasons, that is to say for the sake of humility, of a better life and an unspotted conscience, of weakness of body and of want of knowledge, the malignity of the people, and personal infirmity, to recover the tranquility and consolation of our former life, do freely and voluntarily resign the pontificate."

  • Originally published 03/01/2013

    Daniel Boorstein: A Brief History of Papal Resignations

    Daniel Bornstein is Professor of History and Religious Studies and the Stella Koetter Darrow Professor of Catholic Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the vice-president of the American Catholic Historical Association, and will assume the presidency in 2014. He is the author of The Bianchi of 1399: Popular Devotion in Late Medieval Italy and the editor of Medieval Christianity, volume 4 of A People’s History of Christianity.The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, announced for February 28, is an action virtually without precedent. No pope has resigned in modern times. No pope has ever resigned for reasons of failing health. And hardly any pope—only one, really—has ever resigned the papacy voluntarily. Early examples are shrouded in obscurity, but were all obviously constrained in one way or another. Pontian (230-235) is said to have resigned after being exiled: he evidently recognized that he could not function as bishop of Rome while performing slave labor in the mines of Sardinia. Marcellinus (296-304) had the misfortune to be bishop of Rome during the great persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian. He reportedly bent to imperial pressure and offered sacrifice to the pagan gods; and as a consequence, he was either deposed or forced to abdicate.

  • Originally published 02/28/2013

    Swiss Guards central in papal retirement

    VATICAN CITY — In their plumed helmets and striped uniforms, the Swiss Guards are one of the most beloved traditions of the Vatican — and on Thursday take a central role in the pope’s historic resignation. The bodyguards will stand at attention as the pope arrives by helicopter at his summer retreat in his last hours as pontiff. When they walk off duty, it will be one of the few visible signs that Benedict XVI is no longer pope. A look at the Swiss guards and their colorful history.ORIGINS:The corps, which some historians consider the oldest standing army in the world, was founded in 1506 by Pope Giulio II. Tradition has it that he was so impressed by the bravery of Swiss mercenaries that he asked them to defend the Vatican. Ever since, for more than 500 years, Switzerland has been supplying soldiers to the Vatican. The Swiss Guards swear an oath to give up their lives to protect the pope — and in centuries past, they have. In 1527, 147 of them died protecting Pope Clement VII as he fled to safety when the troops of Emperor Charles V sacked Rome....

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    The hermit pope of the 1200s

    Beneath a glass coffin, wearing a pontiff's miter and faded vestments of gold and purple, there lies a tiny man with a wax head.This represents an Italian priest who, until this month, was the only pope in history to voluntarily resign.His name is Celestine V.Celestine became pope at 84, some seven centuries ago, after a long and self-punishing career as a hermit.Though a celebrated spiritual leader, and founder of a new branch of the Benedictine order, his papacy lasted just over five months. It's widely viewed as an utter disaster.He left at 85 — the same age as Benedict XVI....

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    Holy Roman Reforming: Getting Down to the Business of the Future

    George Weigel’s new book, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church (Basic Books), seems destined to be a reference point in the papal interregnum that begins at 2 p.m., New York time on February 28, and well into the new pontificate. I caught up with Weigel, who has been in Rome since Ash Wednesday, to pose some questions about the conclave, the state of the Church, and the analysis of Evangelical Catholicism:KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: By Pope Benedict XVI publicly acknowledging problems inside the Vatican is he giving guidance to the cardinals gathering in Rome this week?

  • Originally published 02/15/2013

    Resigning pope brings doomsday prophecy

    Is the world only a Pope away from the End? Yes, if you believe a chilling 12th-century prophecy.Attributed to St. Malachy, an Irish archbishop canonized in 1190, the Prophecy of the Popes would date to 1139. The document predicted that there would be only 112 more popes before the Last Judgment — and Benedict XVI is 111.The list of popes originated from a vision Malachy said he received from God when he was in Rome, reporting on his diocese to Pope Innocent II.The story goes that St. Malachy gave the apocalyptic list to Innocent II and that the document remained unknown in the Vatican Archives some 440 years after Malachy’s death in 1148. It was rediscovered and published by Benedictine Arnold de Wyon in 1590....

  • Originally published 02/13/2013

    Garry Wills: New Pope? I’ve Given Up Hope

    Garry Wills is the author, most recently, of “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition.”THERE is a poignant air, almost wistful, to electing a pope in the modern world. In a time of discredited monarchies, can this monarchy survive and be relevant? There is nostalgia for the assurances of the past, quaint in their charm, but trepidation over their survivability. In monarchies, change is supposed to come from the top, if it is to come at all. So people who want to alter things in Catholic life are told to wait for a new pope. Only he has the authority to make the changeless church change, but it is his authority that stands in the way of change.Of course, the pope is no longer a worldly monarch. For centuries he was such a ruler, with all the resources of a medieval or Renaissance prince — realms, armies, prisons, spies, torturers. But in the 19th century, when his worldly territories were wrested away by Italy, Pope Pius IX lunged toward a compensatory moral monarchy.

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    Pope Benedict XVI Never Aspired to Be Pope: Historian

    ...Pope Benedict XVI was the oldest pope to be elected at age 78 on April 19, 2005, but according to a Catholic historian, the now 85-year-old pontiff never aspired to become pope.Writer and historian Michael Hesemann spent months interviewing Monsignor Georg Ratzinger at his home in Regensburg to capture the intimate details of his life with the pope, from childhood to papacy. The two brothers have always been close.These interviews became Ratzinger’s memoirs in a book titled “My Brother, The Pope,” which came out last March....

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    When the pope was powerful, and why that changed

    It’s difficult to pinpoint a precise moment when the office of the pope began to lose its vast political power, which had long placed the Holy See above even the kings and emperors of Europe, but has since declined to the point that now-retiring Pope Benedict XVI found few political accomplishments in his reign. But one day that stands out is Dec. 2, 1804.A few weeks earlier, French voters had overwhelmingly approved a referendum elevating Napoleon Bonaparte from first consul to emperor, the beginning of the end of France’s democratic revolution. His coronation was to proceed in the manner of all Catholic monarchs, who still ruled most of Europe: he would kneel before the pope, then Pius VII, to receive a crown and blessing. The symbolism of the coronation reflected centuries of European political tradition, in which the Catholic church formally conferred royalty with the divine blessing that was thought necessary to rule; the church, in its power, had at times competed openly with those same monarchs....

  • Originally published 02/11/2013

    Which Other Popes Have Resigned?

    UPDATE, 2-28-13: As of 2:28 pm today, Pope Benedict XVI has stepped down from the papacy.* * * * *In an unexpected announcement today, Pope Benedict XVI stated he is resigning from the papacy as of February 28. Benedict's abdication, reportedly due to ill health, apparently took even the pope's closest advisors by surprise. Indeed, a pope hasn't stepped down from the papacy in over six hundred years, and the few instances when popes have resigned have been for reasons either more political -- or more corrupt -- than health.A look back at the confirmed instances of papal abdication:

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