March 25th, 2014
11:53 PM ET
Programing Note: Don't miss Wolf Blitzer Reports: Popes and Presidents on Easter Sunday, April 20 at 2 p.m. ET. The 30-minute special explores the long and sometimes troubled history between the White House and the Vatican.
(CNN) - President Barack Obama will meet with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican, opening a new chapter in the centuries-long relationships between the United States and the Holy See.
While Obama has praised Francis’ focus on the poor, popes and American presidents haven’t always seen eye to eye.
With that in mind, here are five surprising encounters between the Commander in Chief and the Successor to St. Peter.
1. George Washington banned the burning of papal effigies
On the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ Day, when a Catholic plot to assassinate the Protestant King of England was disrupted, American soldiers would often mark the day by torching a straw pope.
But just five months after George Washington took command of the Continental Congress’ army in 1775, he issued an order prohibiting the violent expression of anti-Catholic bigotry.
March 5th, 2014
10:04 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - Pope Francis reaffirmed the Catholic Church's opposition to gay marriage on Wednesday, but suggested in a newspaper interview that it could support some types of civil unions.
The Pope reiterated the church's longstanding teaching that "marriage is between a man and a woman." However, he said, "We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety."
States, for instance, justify civil unions as a way to provide economic security to cohabitating couples, the Pope said in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday in Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily. State-sanctioned unions are thus driven by the need to ensure rights like access to health care, Francis added.
A number of Catholic bishops have supported civil unions for same-sex couples as an alternative to marriage, including Pope Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010, according to reports in National Catholic Reporter and The New York Times.
January 17th, 2014
04:29 PM ET
(CNN) The Vatican acknowledged on Friday that close to 400 priests left the priesthood in 2011 and 2012 because of accusations that they had sexually abused children.
That acknowledgment followed a report by the Associated Press that nearly 400 priests had been defrocked during those two years. The Vatican initially disputed that report.
Bishop Charles Scicluna, formerly the Vatican's top prosecutor of sexually abusive clergy, said 384 priests left the priesthood - either voluntarily or not - in 2011 and 2012, the last two years of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.
In 2011, 125 priests were dismissed from ministry by the Vatican because of accusations they had sexually abused children, Scicluna told CNN on Friday, citing the "Activity of the Holy See," a kind of Vatican yearbook. The same year, 135 priests were "dispensed," meaning they voluntarily resigned, Scicluna said.
In 2012, 57 priests were removed from the priesthood and 67 resigned, Scicluna said. Scicluna, who is now an auxiliary bishop in Malta, was the Vatican's top prosecutor of sexually abusive clergy for a decade.
Scicluna said he did not know why the number of defrocked priests spiked in 2011. "2011 was exceptionally high for dismissals," he said. "We don't really know why."
The AP reported on Friday that nearly 400 priests had been defrocked in 2011 and 2012, citing a document the Vatican prepared to defend its record on sexual abuse before a United Nations committee this week in Geneva.
The Vatican had rebutted that report, a denial previously reported by CNN. However, later on Friday, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN the AP report was correct.
January 13th, 2014
09:19 AM ET
Opinion by the Rev. James Martin, special to CNN
(CNN) - Pope Francis' selection on Sunday of 19 new cardinals, the men who will select the next pope, seems aimed to help rebalance the church in important ways, passing over at least three influential American archbishops and naming several from the Southern Hemisphere.
First, there is a decided emphasis on Africa and Latin America, including poorer countries like Haiti and Burkina Faso.
Remember that the cardinals' most important duty is to elect the next pope. Francis is making sure that all parts of the world are adequately represented - and today the majority of Catholics are in the Southern Hemisphere.
Sixteen of the 19 new cardinals named by Francis on Sunday are younger than 80, which means they would be eligible to vote to the next pope. Of those 16, four are from the curia, or Vatican bureaucracy; two are from Europe; three are from North and Central America; three are from South America, including the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis' position before his papal election; two are from Africa and two from Asia.
The Pope's picks show that he wants the voice of the poor represented in the next conclave. Archbishop Chibly Langlois, 55, for example, will be the first-ever cardinal from Haiti. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, echoed this: “The choice of Cardinals of Burkina Faso and Haiti shows concern for people struck by poverty.”
December 24th, 2013
06:00 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - As Pope Francis prepares to celebrate his first Christmas at the Vatican, Americans' opinions of the pontiff appear to be as high as the dome on St. Peter's Basilica, according to a new survey.
A CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday found that 88% of American Catholics approve of how Francis is handling his role as head of the 1.2 billion-member church.
The popular pontiff has also made a positive impression among Americans in general: Nearly three in four view Francis favorably. The new survey suggests that the Pope is arguably the most well-regarded religious figure among the American public today, said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
December 5th, 2013
01:33 PM ET
By Hada Messia, CNN
Rome (CNN)–Pope Francis is creating a commission to prevent the abuse of minors and to support victims of abuse, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley announced Thursday in Rome.
The new commission is expected to tell church officials to collaborate with civil authorities and report cases of abuse, O'Malley said.
But he also said that the church has focused on the judicial aspect of sexual abuse in the past, and that Pope Francis now wants to focus on the pastoral side, and caring for victims.FULL STORY
November 27th, 2013
02:49 PM ET
Washington (CNN) – When the State Department announced it was moving its Vatican embassy to a compound shared with the U.S. Embassy in Italy, some former ambassadors and conservative American Catholics were outraged.
Former ambassadors to the Holy See said moving that embassy would diminish the stature of the mission and conservative Catholic activists seized on the issue.
Addressing the growing controversy in Rome, the State Department arranged a briefing for reporters on Monday with an unnamed senior official who said the purpose for the move was to save money and increase security.
A spokesman for the Vatican said the move was well within the Holy See's requirements for embassies and that relations with the United States are far from strained.
October 29th, 2013
11:37 AM ET
Opinion by Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN) - This is a post about the instantly infamous “obstruction” call that ended Game 3 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. But it starts with an epiphany I had years ago about Vatican law.
This epiphany came in the form of a 2005 op-ed on gay Catholic priests, written by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.
As a long-time observer of all things Vatican, Allen was trying to explain to American readers why there will always be gay priests. In so doing, he drew a sharp distinction between Italian law (which holds sway in the Vatican) and Anglo-Saxon law (which prevails in the United States).
October 23rd, 2013
02:10 PM ET
By the CNN Belief Blog Editors
(CNN) - The Vatican said Wednesday it has suspended a German bishop who has come under fire for his extravagant lifestyle.
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-Van Elst is under investigation for his spending after his residence in Limburg, Germany, was renovated for $42 million.
The Vatican says Tebartz-Van Elst cannot carry out his ministry as long as the investigation in ongoing, and he's been ordered to stay outside his diocese.
Coined the "Bling Bishop," Tebartz-Van Elst, who is known as theologically conservative, has denied any wrongdoing, saying the cost overruns on the renovation are legitimate because surrounding structures had to be protected, including the old city wall.FULL STORY
October 15th, 2013
02:07 PM ET
By Daniel Burke and Hada Messia, CNN
ROME (CNN) - The Italian branch of a Catholic sect with a history of anti-Semitism held funeral rites on Tuesday for a convicted Nazi war criminal, despite protests from Jewish groups and the local mayor.
Crowds packed the streets outside San Pio X Church in Albano, a small town south of Rome, chanting "Executioner!" and kicking the hearse carrying Erich Priebke's body as entered the church compound on Tuesday.
A funeral Mass was celebrated for Priebke but his casket was kept outside, according to a priest from the church who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The absolution rite, which includes a prayer for clemency for the deceased, was also given outside the church, in the courtyard inside San Pio X's compound, the priest said.
Priebke's body is now being held in a military airport outside Rome.
The church funeral plans for Priebke sparked an outcry in the United States.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.