April 12, 2016, Tuesday — The Pope’s New Ambassador to the United States

The report below ranges from the retirement of Archbishop Viganò to the Kim Davis case from last September to the question of whether Pope Francis believes we are entering into the apocalyptic period of the great apostasy. Meanwhile, I am preparing a full report on the Pope’s new document…

Archbishop Christophe Pierre New Nuncio to USA

Pope Francis today appointed Archbishop Christophe Pierre, 70, (photo) as the new Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America.

jpegArchbishop Pierre, a native of France, was previously Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico.

He replaces Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who reached the age of retirement, age 75, on January 16 this year.

Viganò had served in the post since his appointment on October 19, 2011, four and one half years ago.

He has been in Rome in recent days, and is now expected be in the United States for a few weeks, then to return to Italy and begin his retirement.

During his term, Viganò strongly took up the religious liberty cause championed by U.S. bishops.

He also set up a private meeting between the Pope and the Little Sisters of the Poor in their convent in Washington DC on the afternoon of September 23, on the first full day of his trip to the U.S.

In a 2012 speech at Notre Dame University, he warned of threats to religious liberty in the U.S., citing public school curriculums presenting homosexual relations as “natural and wholesome.”

In 2015, he received standing ovations from U.S. bishops after a speech in which he urged the bishops to keep working to not “fall prey” to “secularized and increasingly pagan” practices in America and the world.

Last Thursday in Rome, April 7, he gave an address at the Rector’s Dinner of the North American College.

“Each one of us has a responsibility before God to bring a message of truth into this world, even if it means spending our lives for that very purpose — sometimes silently, but very often today publicly,” Viganò said. “This is an age when we need great courage — courage to stand up for the Truth, even when we are not understood, or persecuted when we are understood. We need to be strong in the face of evil. This is the prophetic role we have received in Baptism.”

A Man with a Deep, Booming Voice…

Archbishop Pierre is the first Frenchman to be appointed as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

He speaks English and Spanish fluently.

One press account says he is known for his “humility and simplicity” and is “excellent on all fronts.” (link)

This report, by Gerard O’Connell in Vatican Insider, says a fellow nuncio described him as “a thoughtful, hardworking man” and “good listener” with “a great sense of fairness and balanced judgment.”

He is gifted with “a good sense of humor and a deep voice” and is said to be able to “captivate an audience.” (Here is a link to a brief, 30-second video of Archbishop Pierre speaking in Spanish.)

Pierre has been the Holy See’s nuncio to Mexico for the past nine years, since March 22, 2007.

This means that he is uniquely qualified to deal with the delicate diplomatic issues involving immigration in to the United States via Mexico from all of Latin America.

One concern of Pope Francis, a Church official told me today, is that so many thousands of immigrants live in constant fear for themselves and their families — in fear of being arrested and deported — and this is “no way for a person to live,” the official said.

So the goal is to overcome this situation of uncertainty, he said.

Of course, one of the key tasks of any nuncio is to identify candidates to be new bishops.

Bishops have a range of duties, from administering properties and institutions (including schools and hospitals) to evangelizing with all that that implies (traveling, preaching, listening, inspiring), to being “doctors of the faith” (overseeing the protection of the orthodoxy of the Church’s teaching in their dioceses).

So they must have a wide range of talents.

Francis has made it clear that he seeks “evangelizers” who will take seriously the call of Christ to “go out” and seek the metaphorical “lost sheep” in order to bring them back to the faith — again, to “go out” to those who have lost hope and restore in them a hope in God’s mercy and love.

Pope Francis, O’Connell writes, got to know Pierre as he prepared for his February 12-17 trip to Mexico.

Francis liked Pierre so much that he decided to assign him this highly important mission, O’Connell writes.

Before serving in Mexico, Pierre served as nuncio to Uganda (1999-2007) and Haiti (1995-1999).

According to The Vision, Uganda’s leading daily, he is a man who goes “among the people” and is ready to help anyone regardless of status.

Pierre was born in Rennes, in western France. He spent much of his childhood in Africa, mainly in Madagascar, with some years in Malawi, Zimbabwe and one in Morocco.

He entered the seminary of Saint-Yves in Rennes at the age of 17, interrupting his studies for two years of military service (1965-1966).

He was ordained in April 1970, serving in a parish in the diocese of Nanterre for next three years. He then took a Master’s degree in theology from the

Further Reflections on the Kim Davis Story

Today’s news of the retirement of the Vatican’s nuncio to the US and the arrival of his successor, French Archbishop Christophe Pierre, 70, is being reported around the world.

In these reports, the retirement of Viganò is raising again the issue of the meeting of Pope Francis with Kim Davis in the papal nunciature in Washington D.C. on Thursday afternoon, September 24, at about 2 p.m. in the afternoon. That was the day the Pope spoke in the morning to Congress, then left for New York City to speak the next day to the United Nations.

Davis is, as AP put it, “the Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than comply with a court order to issue same-sex marriage licenses.”

The Associated Press headlined today’s story this way: “Vatican envoy who invited Kim Davis to papal meeting [emphasis mine] retires.” (link)

It is as if the only thing that Viganò did during his nearly five years in the United States was to set up the Kim Davis meeting, which is a distortion.

AP also reports that “Viganò had invited Davis to be among those greeting Francis in the Vatican embassy in Washington last September during his visit to the country.”

The suggestion seems to be that Viganò alone organized the meeting, without consulting with his superiors, and that the meeting was very fleeting, and not private.

This first point — that Pope Francis was “blindsided” by his nuncio — has become part of a widely accepted narrative: that Francis knew nothing in advance about the September 24 meeting with Kim Davis.

David Gibson, for example, in his Religious News Service piece from a month ago, on March 17, sets forth this narrative.

“It turned out, however, that the Pope had been as blindsided as everyone else,” Gibson writes. “He didn’t know who Davis was, Church officials said, nor did he understand the implications of meeting her, and he was reportedly furious that his chief diplomatic representative in the U.S. had arranged the decidedly undiplomatic meeting. The Italian-born Viganò was immediately called back to Rome and called on the carpet.” (link)

This narrative seemed odd to me at the time, and it still seems odd to me.

Viganò was a career Vatican diplomat.

Vatican protocol would have required him to clear such a meeting with his superiors.

And, in this regard, informed sources have advised me that Viganò did, in fact, follow protocol, and set up the meeting with the knowledge of his superiors in Rome.

With regard to the second point, that the meeting was very fleeting, and not private, my sources affirm that the meeting did, in fact, last several minutes and that it was a private meeting.

The AP report continues: “Her lawyer caused an uproar when he announced the meeting shortly after Francis returned to Rome, describing it as papal affirmation of Davis’ approach to conscientious objection.” (Note: the meeting was first made public in my Letter #38, 2015, on the evening of Tuesday, September 29 (link).)

The AP report continues: “The Vatican insisted the meeting was no such thing and that Davis was merely one of many people who were at the embassy that day. An incensed Vatican ultimately said Francis had only one private audience during his visit to Washington: With his openly gay former student and his partner.”

There are two separate points here.

The first is: What was the meaning of this meeting (which is now acknowledged as occurring)? That is, was it “a papal affirmation of Davis’ approach to conscientious objection,” or was it something else?

The second is: Was the meeting between Kim Davis and the Pope a private meeting, or was it part of a sort of “assembly line” of brief encounters which were not true “meetings” at all?

On the first point, on the meaning of the meeting, I wrote at the time: “The Holy Father is… a man of compassion, a man ready to listen to and to comfort all who have suffered for their faith… This is the attitude that prompted the Holy Father to receive Kim, who had been in jail. And her response, from the very first moment of the meeting, showing great affection toward the Holy Father, showed that she responded to this desire of his to comfort her.”

In other words, I presented the meeting, not as any sort of assessment or judgment of the appropriateness of her specific actions from a legal standpoint, in the sense of a “papal affirmation of Davis’ approach to conscientious objection,” but rather as one expression of the Pope’s desire to comfort “all who have suffered for their faith,” including this woman, who had gone to jail.

On the second point, my information remains that it was a private meeting that lasted for several minutes.

The Pope on Conscientious Objection

The Kim Davis meeting occurred on September 24. The Pope finished his visit to the U.S. on September 27, and boarded an airplane to return to Rome. There had as yet been no news about his meeting with Kim Davis. The first news of the meeting came out only two days later, on September 29.

On the papal airplane, there was a press conference.

During that press conference, the following exchange occurred.

A question was asked by Reporter Terry Moran of ABC News:

“Holy Father, you visited the Little Sisters of the Poor [Note: a papal meeting that, like the Kim Davis meeting, was not been on the official agenda, but, unlike the Kim Davis meeting, had become public immediately after it occurred on September 23] and we were told that you wanted to show your support for them and their case in the courts. And, Holy Father, do you also support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples? Do you support those kinds of claims of religious liberty?”

Pope Francis replied:

“Conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right. Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’ It (conscientious objection) is a human right.”

Moran then pressed on with a follow-up question:

“Would that include government officials as well?”

And Pope Francis replied:

“It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”

Clearly, the Pope, who had met with the Little Sisters of the Poor on September 23 (the meeting that became known), and who had met with Kim Davis on September 24 (the meeting that did not become known), by answering in this way to this question, was showing his strong support for the right to religious freedom and conscientious objection based on religious convictions.

But what, in fact, does all this really mean?

What does the Pope really believe about conscientious objection, and religious freedom?

In this regard, we have something new, from this morning: the Pope’s morning homily in the Domus Santa Marta.

So, on the very day that the Holy See announces the retirement and the replacement of the controversial nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Viganò, Pope Francis has a long reflection in his morning homily on the question that was at the center of the controversy over Viganò… conscientious objection.

The precise topic that was the subject of the two secret meetings that Viganò organized for the Pope during his visit to the U.S…

Pope’s Morning Homily for Tuesday, April 12, 2016:
Denial of Conscientious Objection Is… Persecution

There are two types of persecution against Christians, Pope Francis said this morning: that which makes martyrs and that which could be dubbed “polite persecution.”

The Pope said this today during his homily at morning Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, as Vatican Radio reports.

Francis’ homily was drawn from the First Reading, which tells of the martyrdom of Stephen.

“The tradition of the Church calls him the Protomartyr, the first martyr of the Christian community,” Francis noted.

However, even “before him there had been little martyrs” [i.e., the Holy Innocents] who suffered persecution under Herod.

“From that time until today there have been martyrs in the Church, there have been and there are,” he said.

There are “men and women persecuted only for confessing and for saying that Jesus Christ is Lord: this is prohibited!”

Indeed, this confession “at certain times, in certain places, provokes persecution.”

This is clearly manifest, the Pope stated, “in the passage of the Acts of the Apostles that we will read tomorrow: after the martyrdom of Stephen, a great persecution breaks out in Jerusalem.”

Then, “all the Christians fled, only the Apostles remained.”

Thus, persecution, Francis said, “is the daily bread of the Church: after all, Jesus said so.”

When we are tourists in Rome, the Pope continued, “and we go to the Colosseum, we think that the martyrs were those who were killed with the lions.”

However, martyrs are not limited to those killed in the Colosseum.

In reality, martyrs “are men and women of every day: today, with Easter Sunday just three weeks ago.”

The Pope said this in reference to the Christians who died at a park in Pakistan on Easter Sunday.

They were “martyred just for celebrating the Risen Christ,” he said, and “thus the history of the Church continues with her martyrs.”

Because “the Church is the community of believers, the community of confessors, of those who profess that Jesus is Christ: she is the community of martyrs.”

Persecution, the Pope noted, “is one of the characteristics, one of the traits of Church, which pervades her entire history.”

And “persecution is cruel, like that of Stephen, like that of our Pakistani brothers and sisters three weeks ago.”

It is cruel “like what Saul did, who was present at the death of Stephen, the martyrdom of Stephen.”

Saul “went into houses, seized Christians and took them away to be judged.”

Another Type of Persecution: “Polite Persecution”

There is, however, also “another kind of persecution that is not often spoken about,” Francis noted.

The first form of persecution “is due to confessing the name of Christ” and it is thus “a clear, explicit type of persecution.”

The other kind of persecution is “disguised as culture, disguised as modernity, disguised as progress: it is a kind of — I would say somewhat ironically — polite persecution.”

You can recognize “when someone is persecuted not for confessing Christ’s name, but for wanting to demonstrate the values of the Son of God.”

Thus, it is a kind of “persecution against God the Creator in the person of his children.”

In this way “we see every day that the powerful make laws that force people to take this path, and a nation that does not follow this modern collection of laws, or at least that does not want to have them in its legislation, is accused, is politely persecuted.”

This is a form of “persecution that takes away man’s freedom,” and even the right to “conscientious objection! God made us free, but this kind of persecution takes away freedom!”

Thus, “if you don’t do this, you will be punished: you’ll lose your job and many things or you’ll be set aside.”

This is the persecution of the world,” the pontiff continued.

And “this persecution even has a leader.”

In the persecution of Stephen, “the leaders were the scribes, doctors of the law, the high priests.”

On the other hand, “Jesus named the leader of polite persecution: the prince of this world.”

We see him “when the powerful want to impose attitudes, laws against the dignity of the children of God, persecute them and oppose God the Creator: it is the great apostasy.”

(Note: The Pope here seems to be referring to a predicted “apostasy” in one of the letters of St. Paul. St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, writing about the future of the Church, and of the world, refers to such an “apostasy,” such a great falling away from the faith, from Christian belief. He writes: “Do not be terrified out of your senses… by any message or letter purporting to come from us, which suggests that the Day of the Lord is close at hand… The apostasy must come first; the champion of wickedness must appear first, destined to inherit perdition. This is the rebel who is to lift up his head above all that men hold in reverence, till at last he enthrones himself in God’s temple, and proclaims himself as God”
(1 Thessalonians 2:2-4).

“I Am with You”

Thus, Francis concluded, “Christian life continues with these two kinds of persecution,” but also with the certainty that “the Lord promised not to distance himself from us: ‘Be careful, be careful! Don’t fall into the worldly spirit. Be careful! But go forward, I will be with you.’”

In his concluding prayer, Francis asked the Lord for “the grace to understand that a Christian’s path must always continue forward amid two kinds of persecution.

“A Christian is a martyr, that is, a witness, one who must bear witness to Christ who has saved us.”

This means “on the journey of life, bearing witness to God the Father, who created us.”

On this path a Christian “must suffer many times: this brings so much suffering.”

But “such is our life: Jesus is always beside us, with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.”

And “this is our strength.”

Here are the readings the Pope was meditating on today when he gave his homily:

Readings for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Lectionary: 274

Reading 1

Acts 7:51—8:1

Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one,
whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.
You received the law as transmitted by angels,
but you did not observe it.”

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

But they cried out in a loud voice,
covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.

The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.

As they were stoning Stephen, he called out,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them”;
and when he said this, he fell asleep.

Now Saul was consenting to his execution.


John 6:30-35

The crowd said to Jesus:

“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”

So they said to Jesus,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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