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  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Garry Wills: Popes Making Popes Saints

    Garry Wills is Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern. His study of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1993. His latest book, Why Priests? A Failed Tradition, was published in February 2013.On September 3, 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified Pope Pius IX. (Beatification is the third and penultimate rung on the ladder to sainthood—it certifies that a genuine miracle was worked through a dead person’s intercession, establishes a liturgical feast day for that person, and authorizes church prayer to him or her.) Pius IX was a polarizing figure. He wrested from the Vatican Council a declaration of his own infallibility; he condemned such modern heresies as democratic government; he took a Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, from his family—on the grounds that Edgardo’s Christian nurse had baptized him as an infant, making him belong to the church, not to his infidel parents.

  • 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 05/08/2013

    Medieval hermit pope not murdered, as believed

    Celestine V, the hermit pope who set precedent for Benedict XVI, has been given a new face and fate by researchers who have examined his skeletal remains.The last pontiff not chosen by a conclave — and the first to declare that a pope could rightfully resign — Celestine V is regarded as one of the Catholic Church’s most enigmatic popes.His remains, kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila, Italy, did not show his real face, but a wax mask with the likeness of Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri, the Archbishop of L’Aquila from 1941 to 1950....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Behind image of seamless transition, Vatican navigates uncharted waters

    VATICAN CITY — Sharing lunch is rarely historic, except perhaps when the two people eating are a pope and his predecessor.On Saturday, the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI — who broke church tradition by resigning rather than dying in office — ate with Pope Francis at Castel Gandolfo, the hilltop villa where Benedict is living, while reporters waited outside for any scraps of news about how the meeting went.

  • 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 03/22/2013

    Emily Schmall: How the Catholic Church Lost Argentina

    Emily Schmall is a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires who covered the ascension of Pope Francis for the New York Times.BUENOS AIRES — Hundreds of spectators stood through the chilly night in the city's Plaza de Mayo, the iconic park in front of the Catholic cathedral and government palace, to watch a live Vatican transmission of the ascension of the Argentine pope, Francis. The mass finally began shortly after 5 a.m., to a roar of cheers and chanting in unison: ‘Argentina! Argentina!'People wrapped themselves in the yellow and white Vatican flags being hawked alongside Francis buttons, calendars, key chains and posters.While Francis circled St. Peter's Square in the white pope-mobile, two students of the Catholic University, Federico Chaves and Jonathan Tiberio, both 26, swapped anecdotes about the former Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, an advisor at their campus, who set up a program at the university for students to teach English and computer classes as volunteers in some of the city's poorest slums."We're anticipating change at the Vatican because of what he did in Argentina. He worked with everyone, atheists, homosexuals....He's shown a commitment to bring the church closer to the people, to assimilate it into life," said Chaves, an economics student....

  • Originally published 03/21/2013

    Priest 'not denounced' by pope

    Francisco Jalics, a Hungarian native who now lives in a German monastery, said that he was following up on comments about the case last week because he had received a lot of questions and "some commentaries imply the opposite of what I meant."He did not elaborate.Fr Jalics and another priest, Orlando Yorio, were kidnapped in 1976.Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, has said he told the priests to give up their work in slums for their own safety, and they refused. Yorio, who is now dead, later accused Fr Bergoglio of effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work....

  • 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 03/21/2013

    Conrad Black: Pope Francis, Say Yes to the Pill

    Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and the recently published A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.

  • 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 03/18/2013

    Tenemos un Papa!

    Pope Francis. Painting by Dan Lacey via Flickr.At 8:12 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announced from the famed loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica “Habemus Papem,” “We have a pope.” Within minutes, as the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and curious onlookers worldwide processed the announcement that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires had been elected the 266th pope, Latin Americans and U.S. Latinos exclaimed “Tenemos un Papa,” “We have a pope!” Or, as the Huffington Post announced, “The Holy Sí! Argentine Pope.” What does it mean to have a Latin American pope?

  • 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

    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 03/12/2013

    Why the new pope's name matters

    Once the new pope is elected, he will have two big initial decisions to make: whether to accept the job, and what his new papal name will be.Gregory? Leo? Benedict? No one knows what the next pope will pick. But choosing a new moniker is a decision that’s tied up in history, tradition and more than a little symbolic value.In papal tradition, newly elected pontiffs choose a name to identify themselves during their reigns. The tradition has been around for centuries, even though no law or rule requires that a pope pick a new name.Chester Gillis, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, said that the pope’s choice of name offers an early indicator of what his papacy might be like....

  • 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 03/05/2013

    Thomas Albert Howard: The Agony of Papal Exits

    Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard currently holds the Stephen Phillips Chair of History at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.“How heavy the papal mantle weighs,” wrote Dante in his Divine Comedy.  The shepherding of some 1 billion Catholics is no simple business, so one cannot begrudge the frail Pope Benedict for stepping down.  Given the rarity of such an event, the recent media frenzy is understandable.  Much commentary has and will focused on Benedict’s legacy and the next papal election.  But given that traditionally only death separates a pope from office, the moment also calls for remembrance of those popes who finished their office under, well, grimmer circumstances.The Apostle Peter, according to Catholics, was the first pope. Tradition claims he was crucified upside down in Rome because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ.  Peter was the first of fourteen popes who are known or believed to have been martyred between the first and seventh centuries, the last being Martin I in 655.  In light of the expansion of Christianity during this time, the church father Tertullian’s famous line that the “blood of martyrs is the seed of the church” is not beside the point.

  • Originally published 03/04/2013

    The Strange Saga of Lincoln Assassination Co-Conspirator John Surrat

    John Surrat in the uniform of a Papal Zouave.As the world’s eyes turn to Rome for the selection of the next pope, Americans might recall that Vatican City was the refuge in 1866 for the Lincoln conspirator who got away -- John Surratt of Maryland.In 1864, the 20-year-old Surratt was a courier for the Confederacy, carrying messages between Richmond, Washington, D.C., New York, and Confederate agents in Canada. Raised in Confederate-leaning southern Maryland, Surratt frequently crossed the Potomac on secret missions. Late in the year, he moved with his sister and widowed mother to Washington, D.C. Mary Surratt opened a boarding house on H Street. It soon became the center of an anti-Lincoln conspiracy. In President Andrew Johnson’s phrase, Mrs. Surratt “kept the nest that hatched the egg.”

  • 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

    Benedict becomes 1st pope in 600 years to resign

    CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (AP) -- Benedict XVI has become the first pope in 600 years to resign, ending an eight-year pontificate shaped by struggles to move the church past sex abuse scandals and to reawaken Christianity in an indifferent world.The Swiss Guards standing at attention in Castel Gandolfo shut the gates of the palazzo shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday (2 p.m. EST), symbolically closing the doors on a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended - a resignation instead of a death.In a final farewell to his cardinals as pope, Benedict tried to dispel concerns about the unprecedented future awaiting the Catholic Church, with one reigning and one retired pope living side-by-side. He pledged his "unconditional reverence and obedience" to his successor....

  • Originally published 02/26/2013

    The pope's notorious namesake

    You won’t find many Catholic churches named after Pope Benedict IX.He was a puppet pope, installed by his powerful family at a time when rival clans ruled Rome. The young man seemed uninterested in religious life, rushing through ordination only after his election to the Throne of St. Peter in 1032.Benedict IX squandered the papacy’s moral and financial riches in bordellos and banquet halls. His violence and debauchery “shocked even the Romans,” said philosopher Bertrand Russell, which is kind of like being busted for lewdness in Las Vegas....

  • 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 02/22/2013

    Timothy Stanley: Why Benedict XVI Will Be Remembered for Generations

    Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."(CNN) - Journalists have a habit of calling too many things "historic" - but on this occasion, the word is appropriate. The Roman Catholic Church is run like an elected monarchy, and popes are supposed to rule until death; no pope has stepped down since 1415.Therefore, it almost feels like a concession to the modern world to read that Benedict XVI is retiring on grounds of ill health, as if he were a CEO rather than God's man on Earth. That's highly ironic considering that Benedict will be remembered as perhaps the most "conservative" pope since the 1950s - a leader who tried to assert theological principle over fashionable compromise.

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    When a Pope Retires, Is He Still Infallible?

    VATICAN CITY — What will he be called? Will he keep his white robes and trademark red loafers? And in the last absolute monarchy in the West, how does the dramatic resignation of Benedict XVI, the first pope to step down willingly in six centuries, change a role long considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be that of God’s representative on Earth?In transforming an office with an aura of divinity into something far more human, Benedict’s decision has sent shock waves through the Vatican hierarchy, who next month will elect his successor. But it has also puzzled the faithful and scholars, who wonder how a pope can be infallible one day and fallible again the next — and whether that might undermine the authority of church teaching....

  • 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 02/11/2013

    The Next Pope: What Happens Now?

    Basilica of St. Peter. Credit: Wiki Commons.In a surprise announcement this morning, Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to resign the office of the papacy effective at 8:00 p.m. on February 28. Per the Vatican's official announcement, Benedict declared to the cardinals gathered in consistory that given his advanced age (the pope is 85 years old), he feels he lacks the physical strength to continue fulfilling the duties of the papal office.The announcement took the world, including those at the Vatican, by surprise -- a "bolt of lightning from a clear sky," one cardinal reportedly remarked. Papal resignations are not unprecedented, though they have proven extremely rare. Along with death, resignation is one of the two ways the papal office can be vacated according to canon law. Benedict will be the first pope to resign in nearly six hundred years, making his announcement all the more remarkable.

  • 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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