August 14th, 2014
10:05 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - He's embraced a severely disfigured man, declined to judge gay priests, sought common ground with atheists and focused the world's attention on the poor and marginalized.
Yes, in the 18 months since his election as pontiff, Pope Francis has earned a reputation as one of the nicest guys on the planet.
But, if you watch him closely, you'll see a steely spine behind Francis's friendly smile. Just ask the Italian mafia.
In the video above, I explain 5 ways Pope Francis is tougher than you think.
By the way, be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of the Pope's trip to South Korea this week.
August 12th, 2014
05:08 PM ET
Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNN
(CNN) – When Pope Francis arrives in South Korea on Wednesday for a five-day visit, he’ll get a look at just the kind of church he’s been trying to create worldwide.
The trip, planned to coincide with Asia Youth Day, marks the first time a pope has visited the country since 1989, and is part of a new papal focus on globalization in general and on Asia in particular. (Francis plans to visit Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Japan in January.)
The time has long passed that the Catholic Church is elderly white men and women in European enclaves.
The last papal conclave and the election of the first Latin American Pope raised awareness of the Catholic Church’s growing presence in Africa, but Asian Christianity was hardly mentioned at all.
Even if it is rarely discussed in the media, Korean Catholicism is among the most vibrant in the world.
Here are five reasons South Korea might be the future of Catholic Church.
August 3rd, 2014
09:49 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Clearly, “lifestyles of the rich and religious” doesn’t cut it for Pope Francis.
The pontiff has said it “breaks my heart” to see priests and nuns driving the “latest model of car.”
He’s blasted “airport bishops” who spend more time jet-setting then tending to their flock.
And he’s warned against church leaders who bear the “psychology of princes.”
The Vatican fired one such “prince” last year: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst - aka, “The Bishop of Bling” - who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad.
(Bronze window frames? $2.4 million. Getting on the wrong side of the Pope? Far more pricy.)
“God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” Francis said in his book-length blueprint for the church.
Say what you will, this Pope puts his preaching into practice.
But are American archbishops following his example?FULL STORY
July 26th, 2014
05:56 PM ET
Opinion by Matt Emerson, special to CNN
(CNN) - Is Andrew Garfield, star of films such as “The Social Network” and “The Amazing Spiderman,” considering the priesthood?
Last month, paparazzi snapped a picture of Garfield walking as he carried “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” the Rev. James Martin’s insightful overview of Jesuit life and spirituality.
According to reports, he’s consulting the book as he prepares to play a Jesuit in a film adaptation of “Silence,” a novel about Catholic missionaries in Japan.
Garfield’s reading material – and the movie he’s studying for – captures the continuing cultural impact of the 474-year-old Catholic religious order officially known as the Society of Jesus.
Sometimes called "God's Marines" (not all appreciate the nickname) for their willingness to go to the frontlines of faith, Jesuits form the largest order of Catholic priests in the church, with approximately 18,000 members worldwide. And, at a time when most religious orders are shrinking and pining for new candidates, the Jesuits say inquiries about joining their ranks are surging.
What explains the Jesuits’ enduring appeal?
Much of it has to do with their academic legacy. In the United States alone, there are 60 Jesuit high schools and 28 Jesuit colleges and universities. They are part of a network of secondary and post-secondary institutions that stretch from Los Angeles to Lagos to Tokyo. A good number of those schools are named after the founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Born in Spain in 1491, Ignatius – then Iñigo Lòpez de Loyola – was groomed for a conventional path in service of the Spanish crown.
July 24th, 2014
10:39 AM ET
Rome (CNN) - Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan because of her faith, arrived in Rome on Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
Ibrahim "will remain in Italy for a short time and then will travel on to the United States," the ministry said.
Sudanese authorities had said Ibrahim was guilty of rejecting Islam in favor of Christianity, but her conviction for "apostasy" and adultery was overturned last month on appeal, following weeks of international controversy.
After her release, she and her husband, American Daniel Wani, were detained for two days, accused of falsifying travel documents after going to the airport in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. They were trying to fly to the United States with their baby daughter, who was born while Ibrahim was in prison, and toddler son.
Now their dream of starting a new life in the United States appears to be on the verge of becoming reality.
Not only that, but Ibrahim and her family met with Pope Francis at his private residence in Domus Santa Marta in Vatican City.
During the meeting Thursday, which lasted about half an hour, Ibrahim thanked the Pope for his and the Roman Catholic Church's support and prayers, the Vatican said.
He, in turn, thanked Ibrahim and her family for their "courageous witness and constancy of faith."
Francis also played with the children, 18-month-old Martin and 2-month-old Maya, and greeted the Italian diplomats involved in her journey to Italy.
With this gesture, the Vatican said, the Pope "desired to show his closeness, attention and prayer also to all those who suffer for their faith, in particular to Christians who are enduring persecution or limitations imposed upon their religious freedom."FULL STORY
July 7th, 2014
11:11 AM ET
(CNN) - Catholic bishops "will be held accountable" for failing to protect children from sexual abuse, Pope Francis said Monday, his strongest acknowledgment yet of what abuse victims have been saying for decades: that the cover-ups have often been as bad as the crimes.
But without strong action to back up those words, such groups are likely to view Francis' comments as little more than lip service. Vatican officials have so far been reluctant to take action against bishops accused of concealing abuse.
In a homily given during a private Mass with six victims of church sexual abuse, Francis apologized for the abuse and asked for forgiveness.
"I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves," Francis said in the homily, according to a text of the statement provided by the Vatican.FULL STORY
June 26th, 2014
12:14 PM ET
By Delia Gallagher, CNN
ROME (CNN) - The Vatican said Thursday that gays and lesbians must be treated with respect, their children may be baptized in the church, and admitted that Catholic priests are sometimes unsure about how to deal with same-sex couples.
There is a “certain unease at the challenge of accepting these people with a merciful spirit and, at the same time, holding to the moral teaching of the Church,” the Vatican said in a document, called an Instrumentum Laboris.
The 75-page document is a compilation of the results of a survey sent to 114 bishops’ conferences around the world. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, said that 85% of the conferences responded to the survey.
The document will be used as a guideline for discussions at a synod, a meeting of top Catholic bishops convened by Pope Francis, to be held in Rome in October.
The official name of the synod is "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization."
June 21st, 2014
02:04 PM ET
By Delia Gallagher, CNN
(CNN) - Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members Saturday that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
“Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the Mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated," Francis said.
It is the first time a Pope has spoken of excommunication for the Mafia.
Excommunication, which excludes Catholics from the church, can be imposed by church authorities or incurred automatically for certain grave offenses.
The Pope’s remarks will resonate strongly in this part of southern Italy, where the Mafia attempt to portray themselves as upstanding religious men in good rapport with the Catholic Church, in order to maintain local credibility.
During a one-day visit to Calabria, in southern Italy, the Pope denounced the local mafia, called ‘Ndrangheta, as an example of “the adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”
June 20th, 2014
10:14 AM ET
By Michael Pearson, CNN
(CNN) - Are you stoned?
That's the message Pope Francis seemed to be sending lawmakers Friday, saying the growing worldwide trend toward legalizing recreational drugs is a very, very bad idea.
"Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise," he told participants at the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.
The Pope's call isn't shocking. Francis has spoken of the dangers of drug use before.
But it lends his voice and the authority of the Catholic Church to the growing worldwide debate over legalizing or at least decriminalizing some recreational drugs, most notably marijuana.
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.