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Pope Francis hospitalized with a respiratory infection, Vatican says

Pope Francis speaks at his general audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Mar 29, 2023 / 13:24 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis will be hospitalized for “some days” after being diagnosed with a respiratory infection, the Vatican said Wednesday.

“In recent days Pope Francis has complained of some difficulty breathing and this afternoon went to [Gemelli Hospital] to carry out some medical tests. The results of these tests showed a respiratory infection (a COVID-19 infection was excluded) that will require some days of opportune medical treatment in the hospital,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni said Wednesday evening.

“Pope Francis is touched by the many messages he received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayer,” Bruni added.

Bruni had issued a brief statement earlier in the afternoon of March 29 to say the pope was at Gemelli Hospital “for some previously scheduled checkups.”

Gemelli is the same hospital where Pope Francis was hospitalized in July 2021 when he underwent surgery on his colon for diverticulitis, or inflammation of the intestinal wall.

In an interview with the Associated Press in January, Pope Francis disclosed that the diverticulitis had “returned.” At the time, the 86-year-old pontiff — who traveled to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in late January — insisted he was in relatively good condition.

The pope has also suffered since last year from a problem with his right knee, making it necessary for him to rely on a cane and a wheelchair to move around. But Francis told the AP that a fracture had healed without surgery after laser and magnet therapy.

As of Wednesday evening, the pope’s agenda for Thursday and Friday lists two meetings, one with teachers and students from the schools of the Oblate Sisters of the Child Jesus on Thursday, and the fifth Lenten sermon with the Roman Curia on Friday.

This is a developing story.

Report finds 28 credible child sex abuse claims of Georgia priests in last 70 years

Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. / Credit: JJonahJackalope, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 29, 2023 / 11:40 am (CNA).

A new report says that 28 Catholic priests have faced credible child sex abuse allegations while serving in Georgia since the 1940s. However, there are no ongoing or active allegations that can be criminally pursued because either the alleged perpetrator is deceased or the statute of limitations has passed.

“The report contains detailed descriptions of allegations of sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct, including grooming and misuse of authority, against minors and adults,” the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, which issued the March 20 report, wrote in a news release.

According to the report, there were 13 credible accusations within the Archdiocese of Atlanta, seven of which were archdiocesan priests and six of which were in a religious order or affiliated with another diocese. The report cited another 15 credible allegations in the Diocese of Savannah, seven of which were diocesan priests and eight of which were affiliated with a religious order.

The two dioceses cover the entirety of Georgia.

According to the report, certain historical policies and actions by Church personnel “enabled sexual abuse of minors” and “prevented the discovery and investigation of these acts by public or civil authorities.” The report found some instances in which Church officials relocated priests after they were accused of sexually abusing children. At times, the reported noted, this was done “without providing notice to officials in the new parish, diocese, or archdiocese of the prior accusations of sexual abuse of children.”

However, the report added that the Diocese of Savannah began to take these allegations more seriously in the late 1980s and that the Archdiocese of Atlanta also approached these issues more seriously in the 1990s. The report notes that, based on records going back to 2002, both dioceses have been notifying the proper authorities when allegations occur. It added they both “cooperated fully in this file review, responded readily, and made records available as requested.”

Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer of Atlanta said in a statement that the archdiocese will not allow abusers to have access to its communities.

“Drastic changes have happened within the Church in the last 20 years,” Hartmayer said. “We have worked hard to better understand and prevent abuse from ever happening again. We will not waver from the zero-tolerance policy currently in place.”

Bishop Stephen Parkes of the Diocese of Savannah said in a statement that the report “represents a voluntary effort on the part of the Catholic Church in Georgia to be transparent about the past and to hope for continued healing for survivors of abuse.”

“The sexual abuse crisis has been a blight on the Church and a source of profound suffering,” Parkes added. “While the sins of the past cannot be overlooked — and indeed must be acknowledged — I assure you that the Church of today is firmly committed to the safety and protection of children.”

Notable cases

The allegations against priests include numerous accusations of molestation through fondling and other means, and some allegations of sodomy. Then-Father Wayland Brown of the Diocese of Savannah, who was relieved of assignments in 1988 and dismissed from the clerical state in 2004, for example, was accused of oral sodomy and attempted penetration of young boys. Then-Father Stanley Dominic Idziak of the Society of Catholic Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Atlanta faced numerous accusations of child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated between 1982 and 1988, including acts of sodomy performed on a 12-year-old boy.

One of the more egregious allegations of abuse surrounded accusations against then-Father Leonard Francis Xavier Mayhew, who was dismissed from the clerical state in 1968 and died in 2012. The priest was accused of sexually abusing underage boys from 1962 through 1968. According to the report, Mayhew allegedly told the boys he wanted to initiate them into a club of altar boys and then asked them to engage in sexually abusive initiation activities, which often included slapping the boys’ stomachs until they became red. In other instances with these boys, he is accused of forcing them to remove all of their clothing, touching them sexually, and even pricking a boy with pins.

“Most of the claims against these individuals have not been fully evaluated in a civil or criminal court,” the news release from the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia stated.

“Consequently, unless otherwise indicated, all the allegations should be considered just allegations and should not be considered proven or substantiated in a court of law,” the statement continued. “In all the situations contained in this report either the criminal statute of limitations had expired, the accused was deceased, the allegations had been reported to the proper authorities, or the accused had been prosecuted by the appropriate jurisdiction.”

In addition to those allegations, the report also detailed credible allegations against priests who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors while assigned to dioceses outside of Georgia, but at some point, also served in Georgia. This included 17 priests who had been in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and two priests who had been in the Diocese of Savannah, but none of those priests faced accusations while in Georgia. The report also includes allegations against 29 priests and laypeople in the two dioceses that could not be credibly verified.

The report noted that its intent is to raise awareness of child sex abuse and provide information to the public and healing to the victims.

“While many of the victims cannot obtain justice through criminal prosecution or civil compensation,” the report states, “this report exposes the offending priests, describes their conduct and the actions of those who concealed their abusive acts, providing them with some measure of vindication and transparency.”

Shia LaBeouf stars in ‘Padre Pio’ film to be released June 2

Shia LaBeouf and Brother Alexander Rodriguez, a real Franciscan friar who makes an appearance in the film, are close friends in real life. / Br. Alexander Rodriguez

Boston, Mass., Mar 29, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

A new movie about St. Padre Pio, starring Catholic convert Shia LaBeouf will be available for public viewing in theaters and streaming, beginning June 2. 

The movie will be released and distributed in North America by Gravitas Ventures, according to

One of the most popular Catholic saints of the 20th century, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, commonly known as Padre Pio, was a Capuchin Franciscan friar, priest, and mystic.

Shia LaBeouf plays the role of Padre Pio in the new film about the saint coming in June 2023. Gravitas Ventures
Shia LaBeouf plays the role of Padre Pio in the new film about the saint coming in June 2023. Gravitas Ventures

Padre Pio is mostly known for his deep wisdom about prayer and peace; his stigmata; miraculous reports of his bilocation; being physically attacked by the devil, and mastering the spiritual life.

The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 2022 and played again at the Mammoth Film Festival in early March 2023. 

LaBeouf, who plays the role of Padre Pio, spent four months living with Capuchin friars while preparing for the film. 

The film features a subplot about the rise of fascism in Italy, AP reported, focusing on the 1920 massacre of 14 people in the village of San Giovanni Rotondo near the monastery where Padre Pio lived.

Abel Ferrara, who had made a documentary about Padre Pio before working on the movie the film’s director, told AP he felt that the intersection between the saint’s spiritual battles and the political bloodshed at San Giovanni Rotondo made sense as a scope for the film.

“I thought the confluence between the massacre and his stigmata both happening in the same place at the same time … I mean how could you not make a movie about that?” he told the AP. 

Ferrara told AP that Church officials and Capuchin friars were supportive of the film project despite his having produced pornography and extremely violent films early in his career. 

“Given the list of films I’d made you’d be wondering,” Ferrara said.

“It’s just that these cats have got that optimistic take,” Ferrara said of the Church. “Don’t judge someone on their worst moment.”

LaBeouf made headlines in August after he revealed in an 80-minute-long interview with Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and Word on Fire, that his on-screen portrayal of Padre Pio led him to a love of the Catholic faith

“I start feeling a physical effect from it,” he said of going to Communion. “I start feeling a reprieve, and it starts feeling, like, regenerative, and [I] start enjoying it to such a degree I don’t want to miss it, ever.”

LaBeouf, 36, says he was agnostic before finding God. More about his conversion, his devotion to the rosary, and the Traditional Latin Mass can be read here.

You can watch a trailer for the film below.

Abuse expert leaves Vatican commission for protection of minors, citing concerns

Father Hans Zollner. / Rebecski CC 4.0

Rome Newsroom, Mar 29, 2023 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, an internationally-renowned expert in protecting children and vulnerable adults from clerical sex abuse, has resigned from his position on the Vatican’s safeguarding commission.

The move was announced by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on Wednesday.

The 56-year-old Zollner, a founding member of the commission, said in a statement March 29 that “structural and practical issues” within the commission had led him “to disassociate” from it.

“The protection of children and vulnerable persons must be at the heart of the Catholic Church’s mission,” he said. “That was the hope I and many others have shared since the commission was first established in 2014. However, in my work with the commission, I have noticed issues that need to be urgently addressed and which have made it impossible for me to continue further.”

In early March, Zollner was appointed a consultant to the Diocese of Rome’s new office for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

He is also the director of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC), hosted by the Pontifical Gregorian University.

The IADC, formerly called the Center for Child Protection, is an academic institute offering higher-education degrees in abuse safeguarding and anthropology.

In his statement, Zollner said he has “grown increasingly concerned” with the Vatican’s safeguarding commission and its lack of “responsibility, compliance, accountability, and transparency.”

“I am convinced that these are principles that any Church institution, let alone the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, is bound to uphold,” he said.

Hours before Zollner released his critique, a March 29 statement from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, president of the Vatican’s safeguarding commission, characterized the Jesuit priest’s departure as an effort to reduce his already significant administrative responsibilities, including  “his recent appointment as consultant for Safeguarding to the Diocese of Rome.”

“In light of this and all his other responsibilities, he has asked to be excused from his place on the commission and the Holy Father has accepted his request with the deepest of thanks for his many years of service,” O’Malley said.

The cardinal and archbishop of Boston praised Zollner’s “abiding presence over the years as we have seen our commission grow and find its way as the center for safeguarding throughout the Church.”

He also thanked the Jesuit for his hard work and extensive travels undertaken for the cause and said the commission looks forward to continuing to cooperate to make the Church a safe place for everyone.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, instituted in 2014, serves as an advisory body to the pope, providing recommendations on how the Church can best protect minors and vulnerable adults.

With the publication of Pope Francis’ apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, the commission, which remains independent, was stabilized and given a more central role in the Roman Curia within the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The commission is led by O’Malley, president, and Father Andrew Small, OMI, secretary. It currently has 19 members.

In his statement, Zollner said he is unaware of any regulations governing the relationship between the safeguarding commission and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He also said there was a lack of transparency about decisions in the commission, including problems with “insufficient information and vague communication” with members on how particular decisions were made.

“With regard to compliance, there has been a lack of clarity regarding the selection process of members and staff and their respective roles and responsibilities,” the priest also said. “Another area of concern is that of financial accountability, which I believe is inadequate. It is paramount for the commission to clearly show how funds are used in its work.”

Vatican: Pope Francis at Rome hospital to undergo checkups

Pope Francis, seated in a wheelchair, greets a child during the pope's general audience at the Vatican on Jan. 25, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Mar 29, 2023 / 08:57 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has been undergoing some medical checkups at one of Rome’s most prominent hospitals since Wednesday afternoon, according to a Vatican spokesman.

Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni issued a brief statement the afternoon of March 29 to say the pope was at Gemelli Hospital “for some previously scheduled checkups.”

Gemelli is the same hospital where Pope Francis was hospitalized in July 2021 when he underwent surgery on his colon for diverticulitis, or inflammation of the intestinal wall.

In an interview with the Associated Press in January, Pope Francis disclosed that the diverticulosis had “returned.”

At the same time, however, the 86-year-old pontiff — who traveled to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in late January and early February — insisted he was in relatively good condition.

“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” he told the AP on Jan. 24.

The pope has also suffered since last year from a problem with his right knee, making it necessary for him to rely on a cane and a wheelchair to move around. But Francis told the AP that a fracture had healed without surgery after laser and magnet therapy.

Pope Francis: ‘The true Christian is one who receives Jesus within’

Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday spoke against a comfortable Christianity that keeps Jesus at arm’s length rather than inviting him into the heart to change it.

“If one of us says, ‘Ah, thank you Lord, because I am a good person, I do good things, I do not commit major sins…’ this is not a good path, this is the path of self-sufficiency, it is a path that does not justify you, it makes you turn up your nose,” the pope said during his weekly public audience March 29.

He called this attitude being “an elegant Catholic, but an elegant Catholic is not a holy Catholic, he is elegant.”

“The true Catholic, the true Christian is one who receives Jesus within, which changes your heart,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square.

Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“This,” he continued, “is the question I ask you all today: What does Jesus mean for me? Did I let him enter my heart, or do I keep him within reach, but so that he does not really enter within? Have I let myself be changed by him? Or is Jesus just an idea, a theology that goes ahead...”

At his Wednesday general audience, the pope continued his reflections on evangelization and apostolic zeal with a catechesis centered on St. Paul’s transformation from a persecutor of Christians to a great evangelist.

St. Paul “was a man who was zealous about the law of Moses for Judaism, and after his conversion, this zeal continued, but to proclaim, to preach Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis explained. “Paul loved Jesus. Saul — Paul’s first name — was already zealous, but Christ converts his zeal.”

To better explain zeal, the pope referenced St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that passion, from a moral perspective, is neither good nor bad: it depends on if it is used virtuously or sinfully.

Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“In Paul’s case, what changed him is not a simple idea or a conviction: It was the encounter, this word, it was the encounter with the risen Lord — do not forget this, it is the encounter with the Lord that changes a life — it was the encounter with the risen Lord that transformed his entire being,” the pope said.

“Paul’s humanity,” he added, “his passion for God and his glory was not annihilated, but transformed, ‘converted’ by the Holy Spirit.”

The pope noted that part of the change that takes place in Paul is his conversion from feeling righteous before God, and thus authorized to persecute, to arrest, and even to kill — to someone who, enlightened by God, recognizes himself to be a “blasphemer and persecutor.”

After recognizing what he had done, Paul becomes truly capable of loving, Francis said.

“If Jesus did not enter your life, it did not change,” he said. “You cannot be Christian only from the outside. No, Jesus must enter and this changes you, and this happened to Paul. It is finding Jesus, and this is why Paul said that Christ’s love drives us, it is what takes you forward.”

Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis' General Audience in St. Peter's Square on March 29, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“This is zeal, when one finds Jesus and feels the fire, like Paul, and must preach Jesus, must talk about Jesus, must help people, must do good things,” he explained. “When one finds the idea of Jesus, he or she remains an ideologue of Christianity, and this does not justify, only Jesus justifies us. May the Lord help us find Jesus, encounter Jesus, and may this Jesus change our life from within and help us to help others.”

Pope Francis mourns ‘senseless act of violence’ at Nashville Christian school

null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Mar 29, 2023 / 05:27 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has expressed his sorrow over a shooting at a private Presbyterian Christian school in Nashville.

A person took the lives of three 9-year-old students and three adult staff members at Covenant School March 27 before being shot in a gunfight with Nashville police.

“Deeply saddened to learn of the recent shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, His Holiness Pope Francis asks you to convey his heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his prayers to all affected by this senseless act of violence,” the pope’s March 29 message said.

The telegram was addressed to Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville and signed by Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Pope Francis “joins the entire community in mourning the children and adults who died and commends them to the loving embrace of the Lord Jesus,” it continued.

“He likewise invokes the consolation and strength of the Holy Spirit upon the grieving families and prays that they will be confirmed in their faith in the power of the risen Lord to heal every hurt and to bring good out of unspeakable evil.”

Bishop Spalding held a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Incarnation to pray for and remember the victims on March 27.

Police on Tuesday confirmed the shooter was 28-year-old Audrey Hale, a biological female who identified as transgender and had previously attended Covenant School as a child. Police Chief John Drake said during a news conference that the police do not believe the individual victims had been specifically targeted and that they are still not sure of the exact motive.

When asked whether Covenant School had been targeted for its Christian beliefs or whether there was any significance to the date of the attack, Drake said that is still unclear.

UPDATE: Pope hospitalized for respiratory infection, Vatican says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After having difficulty breathing, Pope Francis went to Rome's Gemelli hospital March 29 where he was diagnosed with a respiratory infection that will be treated in the hospital for several days, the Vatican press office said.

In the past few days, the statement said, "Pope Francis complained of some respiratory difficulties and this afternoon he went to Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic for some medical tests. The outcome of these showed a respiratory infection -- a COVID-19 infection was excluded -- that will require several days of appropriate medical treatment in the hospital.

"Pope Francis is touched by the many messages he's received and expresses his gratitude for the closeness and prayer," the press office said.

About six hours earlier the press office had said the pope was at the hospital for "previously planned tests."

Before acknowledging the pope would be hospitalized for a few days, a Vatican official said audiences with the pope scheduled for March 30 and 31 had been canceled "to make room in his agenda for the tests to continue" if needed.

Several Italian media outlets and the Rome correspondent for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported, however, that Pope Francis was taken to Gemelli by ambulance.

La Nacion said that "a source close" to the pope told the newspaper that after his weekly general audience that morning, the pope began to feel chest pain and was advised to go to the hospital immediately.

The Gemelli hospital, part of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, keeps a suite of rooms reserved for the popes on its 10th floor.

In a late January interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis had said that the diverticulitis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had "returned," but he insisted he was in good health for his age, which is 86.

Pope Francis had spent 10 days in Gemelli hospital in July 2021 after undergoing a three-hour surgery that included a left hemicolectomy, which is the removal of the descending part of the colon, a surgery that can be recommended to treat diverticulitis.

Three days after surgery, the Vatican said, "the final histological examination has confirmed a severe diverticular stenosis with signs of sclerosing diverticulitis," a hardening of the tissue. The statement seemed to indicate that the biopsy showed no cancerous cells, although it did not say so explicitly, and rumors began.

Interviewed by the Reuters news agency in July 2022, the pope was asked about rumors that doctors had found cancer.

According to Reuters, Pope Francis laughed and said: "They didn't tell me about it. They didn't tell me."

But, really, he said, "they explained everything to me well -- full stop."

The cancer rumor, he said, "is court gossip. The court spirit is still there in the Vatican. And if you think about it, the Vatican is the last European court of an absolute monarchy."

In 1957, at the age of 20, Pope Francis was hospitalized after being misdiagnosed with the flu. In the book, "Let us Dream," written with Austen Ivereigh, the pope said, "Straightaway they took a liter and a half of water out of the lung, and I remained there fighting for my life. The following November they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs."

While the pope can sometimes be heard breathing heavily, he has insisted the surgery had no lasting impact on his health.


U.S. Bishops' President Asks Faithful to Pray for Pope Francis' Speedy Recovery

WASHINGTON - On Wednesday afternoon March 29, Pope Francis was taken to Gemelli Hospital in Rome. Reports followed that Pope Francis has a respiratory infection and will remain in the hospital for several days. Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement regarding the Holy Father: 

“As Pope Francis recovers in the hospital from a respiratory infection, we pray intensely for our Holy Father. On behalf of my brother bishops, I invite all the faithful to pause, if possible before the Blessed Sacrament, and pray for his speedy recovery. May our dear shepherd and all those in need of healing experience the comfort of Christ.”


U.S. House passes bill to combat forced organ harvesting

null / Credit: life_in_a_pixel/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2023 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

On Monday night the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would impose sanctions and penalties on individuals involved in the forced harvesting of human organs.

The bill, authored by Catholic Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and called the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act of 2023, had nearly unanimous support, passing in a 412-2 vote. It will now advance to the Senate.

Under this law, any person determined by the president to be funding, sponsoring, or in any way facilitating the forced harvesting of organs could face sanctions as well as civil and criminal penalties.

Individuals determined to be involved with the forced organ harvesting industry could face civil penalties of up to $250,000 and criminal penalties of $1 million and up to 20 years in prison.

Additionally, individuals involved in the organ harvesting scheme could face sanctions blocking them from entering the U.S. and prohibiting them from engaging in transactions in property or interests in property within the country.

According to Smith, the secretive forced organ harvesting industry preys on minority communities throughout the world, with victims being abducted or imprisoned only for their organs to be removed for harvesting.

In some instances, the victims have been reported to still be alive during the harvesting procedure.

This forced organ harvesting industry is said to be especially prevalent in China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“These crimes against humanity are unimaginable,” Smith said during debate on the House floor on Monday. “Every year, under General Secretary Xi Jinping and his Chinese Communist Party, between 60,000 to 100,000 young victims — average age 28 — are murdered in cold blood to steal their internal organs.”

China’s Falun Gong and Uyghur communities, Smith explained, are especially targeted by the CCP for forced organ harvesting. 

“Elderly high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials have received replacement organs from the very people they despise like the Falun Gong and the Uyghurs,” Smith said. 

“We must act decisively,” Smith continued. “State-sponsored forced organ harvesting is big business for Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party and shows absolutely no sign of abating. Which is why we and the rest of the world need to step up.”