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Pope Francis: The temperate person is balanced by both principle and empathy

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience on April 17, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Apr 17, 2024 / 09:14 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday presented the fourth and final cardinal virtue of temperance in his ongoing catechetical series of vices and virtues by noting that temperance itself is crucial for living a happy, balanced life.

“The gift of the temperate person is therefore balance, a quality as precious as it is rare. Indeed, everything in our world pushes to excess. Instead, temperance combines well with Gospel values such as smallness, discretion, modesty, meekness,” the pope said to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. 

“In a world where many people boast about saying what they think, the temperate person instead prefers to think about what he says,” the pope said. “He does not make empty promises but makes commitments to the extent that he can fulfill them.” 

Pope Francis greets young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience on April 17, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience on April 17, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope noted that “the temperate person succeeds in holding extremes together: He affirms absolute principles, asserts nonnegotiable values, but also knows how to understand people and shows empathy for them.”

The pope opened his reflection on temperance by looking to Aristotle’s “The Nicomachean Ethics,” an ethical treatise on the art of living. Francis noted that according to the Greek philosopher, man’s flourishing and the ability to live a happy life is realizable only by “the capacity for self-mastery, the art of not letting oneself be overcome by rebellious passions.”

This reflection on Artistolean ethics sets the foundation for an understanding of virtue present in the Church’s teaching. “Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods,” the pope said, quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For the pope, temperance, as expressed in ancient thought and in the Church, can be summarized as “the virtue of the right measure,” a point he made by contrasting it with those who are “moved by impulse or exuberance,” which makes them “ultimately unreliable.” 

Pope Francis greets young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience on April 17, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience on April 17, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Francis explained that being temperate does not always require one to be “peaceful” or with a “smiling face.” Instead, in certain situations, “it is necessary to be indignant, but always in the right way.”

“A word of rebuke is at times healthier than a sour, rancorous silence. The temperate person knows that nothing is more uncomfortable than correcting another person, but he also knows that it is necessary; otherwise, one offers free reign to evil,” the pope observed.

Following the blessing at the end of the general audience, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace in Ukraine and in Gaza, imploring that “prisoners of war” and the “tortured” be freed. 

“The torture of prisoners is a very bad thing; it is not humane,” the pope said. “Let us think of the many tortures that harm the dignity of the person and of the many tortured people.”

Pope, Council of Cardinals continue discussion of women in the church

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continued their discussions about the role of women in the church, listening to women experts, including a professor who spoke about how culture impacts women's roles and status.

The pope and the nine-member Council of Cardinals invited women, including an Anglican bishop, to make presentations at their meetings in December and in February as well.

The council met April 15-16 in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the pope's residence, the Vatican press office said.

On the first day, Sister Regina da Costa Pedro, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate and director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Brazil, shared "concrete stories and the thoughts of some Brazilian women," the press office said.

Stella Morra, a professor of theology at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, "examined the role cultures have in the recognition of the role of women in different parts of the world," the press office said.

A priest and two women made presentations at the council's December meeting and published their papers in Italian in a book with a foreword by Pope Francis, "Smaschilizzare La Chiesa?" ("De-masculinize the Church?).

During the preparation for the synod on synodality and during its first assembly in October, the pope wrote in the foreword, "We realized that we have not listened enough to the voice of women in the church and that the church still has a lot to learn."

"It is necessary to listen to each other to 'de-masculinize' the church because the church is a communion of men and women who share the same faith and the same baptismal dignity," he wrote.

February meeting of Pope Francis and Council of Cardinals
Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continue their discussion of women's role in the church at the Vatican in this file photo from Feb. 5, 2024. Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, left, Salesian Sister Linda Pocher and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin from the Diocese of Verona, Italy, are the women who addressed the group. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

At the February meeting, the pope and cardinals heard from: Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion; Salesian Sister Linda Pocher, a professor of Christology and Mariology at Rome's Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences "Auxilium"; and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin and liturgist from the Diocese of Verona, Italy.

Bishop Bailey Wells said she was invited to "describe the Anglican journey in regard to the ordination of women, both in the Church of England and across the (Anglican) Communion."

At the April meeting, the Vatican said, the second day began with a report about the ongoing Synod of Bishops on synodality by Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and Msgr. Piero Coda, secretary general of the International Theological Commission.

The meeting concluded "with reports from each cardinal on the social, political and ecclesial situation in his home region," the press office said.

"Throughout the session there were references -- and on several occasions prayer -- dedicated to the scenarios of war and conflict being experienced in so many places around the world, particularly in the Middle East and in Ukraine," the statement said.

"The cardinals -- and with them the pope -- expressed concern about what is taking place and their hope for an increase in efforts to identify paths of negotiation and peace," it said.

The council will meet again in June.

The members of the council are: Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Seán P. O'Malley of Boston; Sérgio da Rocha of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg; Gérald C. Lacroix of Québec; Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona; and Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, Congo. Bishop Marco Mellino serves as the council's secretary.

 

New Survey of Men Being Ordained to the Priesthood Underscores the Significant Influence of Parents on Children’s Vocational Discernment

WASHINGTON – A newly-released study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, surveyed men who will be ordained to the priesthood in 2024. The data shows that families continue to be the seedbed of religious vocations: of the 392 respondents, 95% were raised by their biological parents, and 88% were raised by a married couple who lived together.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations (CCLV) released The Class of 2024: Survey of Ordinands to the Priesthood in anticipation of the 61st World Day of Prayer for Vocations on April 21. This annual commemoration occurs on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Pope Francis has expressed his gratitude for “mothers and fathers who do not think first of themselves or follow fleeting fads of the moment, but shape their lives through relationships marked by love and graciousness, openness to the gift of life and commitment to their children and their growth in maturity.”

Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, chairman of the CCLV committee, echoed Pope Francis stating, “Mothers and fathers, united in marriage, are the first witnesses to love for their children. It is within the family that children are taught the faith, learn the meaning of love, and grow in virtue. This year’s study of ordinands underscores the fundamental role that families, in particularly, parents, play in building up the kingdom of God. It is through the love and support of the family that children develop into the men and women God calls them to be.”

Of the 475 men scheduled to be ordained this year, 392 completed the survey for an overall response rate of 83%. These ordinands represent 128 dioceses and eparchies and 29 distinct religious institutes in the United States. Some of the major findings of the report are:

  • On average, respondents first considered a priestly vocation when they were 16 years old. The youngest age reported was three years old and the oldest was 53 years old.
  • The average age at ordination was 34 years old. Since 1999, the average age was 35 and ranged between 33 and 37.
  • Most respondents are White/Caucasian (67%), followed by Hispanic/Latino (18%), Asian/Pacific Islander (11%) and Black/African American (2%).
  • Of those who are foreign-born (23%), the most common countries of origin are Mexico (5%), Vietnam (4%), Colombia (3%), and the Philippines (2%).
  • Of those who worked full-time before entering seminary (70%), the most common fields of employment were education (21%), business (16%), and Church ministry (13%).

The full CARA report and profiles of the Ordination Class of 2024 may be accessed here: https://www.usccb.org/committees/clergy-consecrated-life-vocations/ordination-classes.

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Amid Nationwide Worker Shortages, Bishop Seitz Reaffirms Church’s Closeness with Immigrant Workers Who ‘Labor for Us All’

WASHINGTON – While American employers continue to struggle with filling more than nine million open jobs and a growing number of communities look to immigration as the solution, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso emphasized that it is often these much needed immigrant workers who are the most vulnerable members of our workforce. As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, he highlighted the vital role they fill in American communities:

“Immigrant workers are integral to the life of our nation. They tend our fields, maintain our roads, and staff our hospitals. Through these and other acts, they labor for us all. Without their contributions, American communities would grind to a standstill. Not only are they working in some of the most arduous conditions but frequently with limited legal protections, and they are more susceptible to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Sadly, the risks faced by many immigrant workers were recently underscored by the Baltimore Key Bridge collapse, in which six immigrant workers tragically lost their lives.

“The Church, in her abiding love for every person as a son or daughter of God, gives special consideration to the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded. As a society, we judge ourselves—and will be judged—by our treatment of those who are least empowered to advocate for themselves because of social, economic, and political obstacles. The Church remains committed to securing rights and justice for those who labor humbly in the shadows, and we urge leaders to undertake much-needed reforms that recognize their essential contributions.

“As we rejoice in the Paschal Mystery this Easter, may every follower of Christ live with the knowledge that ‘our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us’ (Evangelii Gaudium), and may that reality motivate us to a radical solidarity befitting our Savior who gave his life for the sake of us all.”

Last week, Bishop Seitz sent a letter to Congress expressing support for further access to legal employment authorization for those with pending asylum claims. The letter references a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which found refugees and asylees to have made a net fiscal impact of $123.8 billion to the American economy at both the federal and state levels over a fifteen-year period.

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Seek contact with nature to change polluting lifestyles, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Humanity must have more direct contact with nature to counter the modern lifestyles that are destroying the planet, Pope Francis said.

Respecting and loving the earth as well as seeking direct contact with nature "are values that we need so much today as we discover ourselves increasingly powerless before the consequences of irresponsible and short-sighted exploitation of the planet," he told members of the Italian Catholic Movement of Adult Scouts.

Meeting with the members, dressed in their scouting uniforms, at the Vatican April 13, the pope said people in modern society are "prisoners of lifestyles and behaviors that are as selfishly deaf to every appeal of common sense as they are tragically self-destructive; insensitive to the cry of a wounded earth, as well as to the voice of so many brothers and sisters unjustly marginalized and excluded from an equitable distribution of goods."

"In the face of this, the Scouts' sober, respectful and frugal style sets a great example for all," he said.

Pope Francis highlighted the group's recent charitable efforts, such as donating an incubator for infants to an emergency care center in Lampedusa, Italy, a landing point for migrants coming into the country.

Pope Francis enters the Clementine Hall at the Vatican for a meeting with members of the Italian Catholic Movement of Adult Scouts.
Pope Francis enters the Clementine Hall at the Vatican for a meeting with members of the Italian Catholic Movement of Adult Scouts April 13, 2023. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The incubator, he said, " symbolizes the joy of a child coming into the world, the commitment to ensure that he or she can grow well, the expectation and hope for what he or she may become."

"We live in a time of a dramatically falling birthrate," the pope said, noting that the median age in Italy is 46 while the median age in nearby Albania is 23. The falling birthrate shows that humanity "seems to have lost its taste for creating and caring for others, and perhaps even its taste for living," he said.

Sending the incubator to the Lampedusa reception center "further underlines that love for life is always open and universal, desirous of the good of all, regardless of origin or any other condition.

The scouts also helped build a nautical carpentry workshop in Zambia which he said is aligned with the human vocation of transforming God's gifts "into instruments of good," particularly in a world "where there is so much talk, perhaps too much, about producing weapons to make war."

Citing his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home," the pope encouraged the scouts to "take charge" of the current climate crisis and from there, to deeply consider "the specific place that human beings occupy in this world and their relations with the reality that surrounds them."

Pope Francis: Sharing our encounter with Christ makes our encounters ‘even more beautiful’

Pope Francis addresses pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican after the recitation of the Regina Caeli prayer on April 14, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Apr 14, 2024 / 10:56 am (CNA).

Pope Francis expressed his concern over escalating tensions in the Middle East following Iran’s missile attack Saturday against Israel, a concern he raised after imploring Christians to share their stories of encountering Christ, which he said would create a richer and more beautiful environment for all.

“I follow in prayer and with concern, even pain, the news that has arrived in the last few hours on the worsening of the situation in Israel due to the intervention by Iran,” the pope said to all those gathered before him in St. Peter’s Square on April 14.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to stop any action that could fuel a spiral of violence with the risk of dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict of war. No one should threaten the existence of others,” he added.

On Saturday evening Iran launched over 300 drones and missiles on military targets in Israel in retaliation for an Israeli attack on the Iranian Embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus on April 1, which killed seven.  

Pope Francis also renewed his exhortation for peace as the Israel-Hamas war continues unabated, calling for “the Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side, in security, it is their deep and legitimate desire, and it is their right.”

Before the recitation of the Regina Caeli, the pope also exhorted Christians to share their personal encounters with Christ, noting that it is “the most beautiful thing we have to tell.”

The pope made this reflection against the backdrop of today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, where two disciples, returning from Emmaus, meet with the apostles in the upper room and recount their encounter with Christ.

“Jesus arrives precisely while they are sharing the story of the encounter with him,” a message, the pope observed, that for us today underscores “the importance of sharing the faith.”

Pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican hold banners during the recitation of the Regina Caeli prayer and address by Pope Francis on April 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican hold banners during the recitation of the Regina Caeli prayer and address by Pope Francis on April 14, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

The pope observed that today, this message is often drowned out by the frenzy of messages, which are often “superficial” and “useless,” and which often reveal “an indiscreet curiosity or, worse still, arise from gossip and malice.”

“They are news that have no purpose, on the contrary, they do harm,” the pope continued.

Amid the deluge of counterproductive messages, Pope Francis called on Christians to share their personal testimonies of encountering Christ, “not by being a lecturer to others, but by sharing the unique moments in which we perceived the Lord alive and close.”

While acknowledging that it can often be a “struggle” to discuss these encounters with family, friends, and the broader community, the pope advocated persistence in doing so as it will make our personal “encounters” and social environments “even more beautiful.”

In closing his address, the pope called upon all Christians to conduct a series of interior examinations, asking ourselves: “Have I ever spoken about it with someone? Have I ever simply made a gift of it to family members, colleagues, loved ones, and those I associate with? And finally: Am I, in turn, interested in listening to what others have to tell me about their encounter with Christ?”

Pope pleads for military restraint in the Middle East

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The morning after Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel, Pope Francis pleaded with nations to avoid a further escalation of the violence.

"I make a heartfelt appeal for a halt to any action that might fuel a spiral of violence with the risk of dragging the Middle East into an even greater conflict," the pope said April 14 after reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Iran launched 330 exploding drones and missiles at Israeli military facilities late April 13 and early April 14. The vast majority of the weapons were intercepted.

Pope Francis told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square, "I am following in prayer and with concern, also sorrow, the news that has come in the last few hours about the worsening of the situation in Israel because of the intervention by Iran."

People join Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square
As Pope Francis pleaded with nations to exercise restraint and avoid an escalation of violence in the Middle East after his recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer at the Vatican April 14, 2024, members of the Auxilium Cooperative, a social-service agency, hold up a sign that says, in Italian: "With Pope Francis for a Better World." (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

"No one should threaten the existence of others," the pope said. "Instead, all nations should take the side of peace, and help the Israelis and Palestinians to live in two states, side by side, in security."

Israelis and Palestinians have a "deep and legitimate desire" to live peacefully and independently, he said, "and it is their right! Two neighboring states."

Once again Pope Francis urged Israel and Hamas to stop the fighting in Gaza "and let the paths of negotiation be pursued with determination."

"Let that population, plunged into a humanitarian catastrophe, be helped; let the hostages kidnapped months ago be freed at once," he said, referring to the hundreds of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas in October.

"So much suffering," he said. "Let us pray for peace. No more war, no more attacks, no more violence! Yes to dialogue and yes to peace!"

Later in his remarks, addressing children and inviting them to participate in the first celebration of World Children's Day at the Vatican in May, Pope Francis said everyone needs young people's joy and their hopes "for a better world, a world at peace."

"Brothers and sisters, let's pray for the children who are suffering because of wars -- there are so many -- in Ukraine, in Palestine, in Israel, in other parts of the world, in Myanmar," he said. "Let's pray for them and for peace."

 

Vatican sends letter to French embassy over tribunal decision in nun’s dismissal case

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. / Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Apr 13, 2024 / 14:41 pm (CNA).

The Holy See on Saturday confirmed that it had sent a diplomatic letter to the French embassy over a French court ruling involving a Canadian cardinal’s alleged wrongful dismissal of a nun.

A French court in Lorient, in Brittany, earlier this month had fined Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, along with several other parties, for the October 2020 wrongful dismissal of Sabine Baudin de la Valette, whose religious name was Mother Marie Ferréol.

Baudin de la Valette, 57, had reportedly lived in the French monastery since 1987 without any significant incidents, but in 2011 she denounced “serious abuses and facts” happening in the community. 

She was dismissed from the community after a visit from Ouellet. It was never made public what exactly the Vatican accused her of, though the former sister reportedly said the dismissal decree “accused her of having an evil spirit but gave no concrete reasons.”

On Saturday, meanwhile, Vatican News reported that Director of the Holy See Press Office Matteo Bruni confirmed to reporters the Vatican Secretariat of State’s transmission of a “Note Verbal,” or a diplomatic message, to the Embassy of France to the Holy See.

The letter addressed the “alleged decision of the Tribunal of Lorient in France in a civil dispute concerning the dismissal from a religious Institute of Ms. Sabine de la Valette (formerly Sister Marie Ferréol),” Bruni told reporters. 

“A potential ruling from the Lorient Tribunal,” Bruni told journalists, “could raise not only significant issues concerning immunity, but if it ruled on internal discipline and membership in a religious institute, it might have constituted a serious violation of the fundamental rights to religious freedom and freedom of association of Catholic faithful.”

Ouellet, who previously served as prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, “never received any summons from the Lorient Tribunal,” Bruni said. 

The Vatican learned of the tribunal’s decision “only from the press,” Bruni said on Saturday. 

The court also accused the religious community, among other things, of not correctly following the dismissal procedure. There was no prior warning and no reason for the dismissal from the community.

In addition, the court said, the community breached its duty of care when dismissing Baudin de la Valette, who was not offered any financial compensation that would have enabled her to “enjoy appropriate civil living conditions after 34 years of religious life and service to her community in the spirit of justice and charity as set out in canon law.”

Papal Foundation announces nearly $15 million in global grants, humanitarian aid

Pope Francis blesses an unborn baby during the Papal Foundation's annual pilgrimage in Rome on Friday, April 12, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

CNA Staff, Apr 12, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

The Papal Foundation, a U.S.-based organization that provides funding for Catholic projects around the world, announced on Friday the distribution of nearly $15 million in grants, scholarships, and charitable aid “to care for those in need and grow the Catholic faith around the world.”

The group said in a press release that it would be distributing nearly $10 million in 2024 alone to more than 100 projects and recipients in several dozen countries. Among the beneficiaries include efforts at “providing for basic needs such as access to clean water,” “constructing schools and renovating classrooms,” and “translating Church teachings for evangelization.”

The money will also go toward “restoring Churches, convents, and seminaries in desperate need of repairs,” “providing students in remote areas with transportation to further their education,” and “building health care facilities.”

The foundation was founded 35 years ago in response to a wish from Pope John Paul II. Stewards with the organization donate their personal money to support projects specifically identified and requested by the pope, who is made aware of needs through his nuncios, or ambassadors, around the world.

Pope Francis meets with members of the Papal Foundation on Friday, April 12, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis meets with members of the Papal Foundation on Friday, April 12, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

The Papal Foundation describes itself as “the only charitable organization in the United States that is exclusively dedicated to fulfilling the requests of the Holy Father for the needs of the Catholic Church.” On Friday the organization said it would also be providing more than $800,000 via its St. John Paul II scholarship program, which “will enable more than 100 priests, women religious, and seminarians to study in Rome.”

The Holy Father met with the Papal Foundation on Friday during the group’s annual pilgrimage to Rome this week. The organization was scheduled to be in Rome from April 9–13. 

During the audience at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Pope Francis told the group’s members that their work “enhances the integral development of so many, including the poor, refugees, immigrants, and nowadays the increasingly large numbers of those affected by war and violence.”

“Through these various worthy initiatives,” the pope said, “you continue to help the successors of Peter to build up many local Churches and care for large numbers of the less fortunate, thus fulfilling the mandates entrusted to the apostle by Our Lord.”

David Savage, the group’s executive director, on Friday described it as a “a blessing to support this mission of cooperation and collaboration, bringing together laity, clergy, and Church hierarchy to address priorities identified by the Holy Father and care for his flock around the globe.”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the chairman of the Papal Foundation’s board of trustees, on Friday quoted the Gospel of Luke, saying: “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”

“In a society where the divide between rich and poor continues to grow, stewards of St. Peter of the Papal Foundation recognize their responsibility to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first,” the prelate said.

Pope Francis reinstates papal title ‘Patriarch of the West’ in Pontifical Yearbook

Pope Francis presides over Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square on March 31, 2024. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Apr 12, 2024 / 09:50 am (CNA).

In the 2024 edition of the “Annuario Pontificio,” or Pontifical Yearbook, released this week, Pope Francis reinstated the ancient, honorary pontifical title of “Patriarch of the West,” reversing Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 decision to suspend the title. 

This honorific designation has reappeared among the list of “historical titles” used to designate the theological and temporal reality of the pontifical office. Those include Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, and Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, among others.

Following Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to drop the title in 2006, the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (then the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) issued a statement noting that it had become “obsolete” and “no longer usable.” 

The dicastery argued that the cultural and geographic understanding of the West had expanded from Western Europe to also cover North America, Australia, and New Zealand. 

“The renunciation of this title is intended to express historical and theological realism and, at the same time, to be the renunciation of a claim, a renunciation that could be of benefit to ecumenical dialogue,” the dicastery said at the time.

The title “Patriarch of the West” was adopted in the year 642 by Pope Theodore and was used for centuries, though it was not until 1863, during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX, that the title first appeared in the Annuario Pontificio. 

Aristomenis “Menios” Papadimitriou, a historian of religion at Fordham University specializing in modern Christianity, told CNA via email that any attempt to read into the decision would run the risk of being “mainly speculative” and “not grounded in a serious understanding of ecclesial administration.” 

But Papadimitriou noted that “at the heart of it lies the question of the historic and contemporary meaning of the episcopal honorific of ‘patriarch’ and [the life] of that term through the vicissitudes of history.”

Neither the dicastery nor the Holy See Press Office has released a statement explaining Pope Francis’ decision to reinstate the title. 

This is not the first time Pope Francis has made changes to the papal titles in the Annuario Pontificio, the more-than-2,400-page long official directory of the Catholic Church’s global leadership and structure.

The honorifics were previously published above the volume’s short papal biography, but as of 2020 they are listed below that biography in smaller font and identified as “Historical Titles.”

According to Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See Press Office, the 2020 decision was “intended to indicate the link with the history of the pope” rather than “historicizing” the titles themselves.

That same year, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican’s former doctrinal chief, rebuffed the move, calling it an act of “theological barbarism.” 

He argued that the revised yearbook mixed the term “Vicar of Christ” with designations that “have nothing to do with primacy and have only grown historically but [have] no dogmatic meaning, such as ‘Sovereign of Vatican City State.’”

Nikos Tzoitis, an analyst in the press office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and former spokesperson for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, argued in an April 6 article that the pope’s decision to reintroduce the honorific of Patriarch of the West “is part of the rediscovery of confraternity.” 

“In this way, he wants to emphasize the importance of the lost synodality in the Lord’s Church, which expresses his Body and has synodality as a tool,” Tzoitis wrote.

Pope Francis has cemented ecumenical dialogue as one of the main priorities of his pontificate.  

In 2014 Francis, during an apostolic visit to the Holy Land, met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in 1964. 

That was the first formal meeting of a pope and ecumenical patriarch since 1438, marking a paradigm shift in the ecumenical relations between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. 

“We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed,” Pope Francis said during his 2014 address with the Ecumenical Patriarch.