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Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO ROME (CNS) -- The Catholic Church has grown in its understanding of the horror of clerical sexual abuse and of the "corruption" of covering it up, Pope Francis said.

Returning to Rome from a trip Sept. 22-25 to the Baltic nat...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO ROME (CNS) -- The Catholic Church has grown in its understanding of the horror of clerical sexual abuse and of the "corruption" of covering it up, Pope Francis said.

Returning to Rome from a trip Sept. 22-25 to the Baltic nations, Pope Francis was asked about his remarks to young people in Tallinn, Estonia, when he said young people are scandalized when they see the church fail to condemn abuse clearly.

"The young people are scandalized by the hypocrisy of adults, they are scandalized by wars, they are scandalized by the lack of coherence, they are scandalized by corruption, and corruption is where what you underlined -- sexual abuse -- comes in," the pope responded.

Whatever the statistics say about rates of clerical abuse, the pope said, "if there is even just one priest who abuses a boy or a girl, it is monstrous, because that man was chosen by God to lead that child to heaven."

The fact that child abuse occurs in many environments does not in any way lessen the scandal, he said.

But it is not true that the church has done nothing "to clean up," Pope Francis told reporters. If one looks at the Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August or other similar studies, he said, it is clear that the majority of cases occurred decades ago "because the church realized that it had to battle it in a different way."

"In olden times these things were covered up -- but they were covered up also in families, when an uncle abused his niece, or a father raped his child; it was covered up because it was a very great shame," Pope Francis said. "That was how people thought in the last century."

To understand what happened in the past, he said, one must remember how abuse was handled then.

"The past should be interpreted using the hermeneutic of the age," Pope Francis said. People's "moral consciousness" develops over time, he said, pointing to the death penalty as an example.

But, he said, "look at the example of Pennsylvania. Look at the proportions and you will see that when the church began to understand, it did all it could."

In fact, the pope said, he has encouraged bishops to report cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and he "never, never" granted amnesty to a priest found guilty of abuse.

Pope Francis did not mention by name Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former nuncio to the United States, who claimed that Pope Francis knew of and ignored the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick. And the journalists' question about Archbishop Vigano was never asked because the pope insisted that most of the questions be related directly to his trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

But the pope did say that "when there was that famous statement from an ex-nuncio, bishops from the whole world wrote to tell me they were close to me and praying for me."

One of the letters, he said, came from China and was signed jointly by a bishop from the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and a bishop from "the, let's say, traditional Catholic Church."

Reporters also asked the pope about the Vatican-China agreement for the nomination of bishops, which was announced Sept. 22 while the pope was in Lithuania, and about the suffering of Chinese Catholics who had risked their lives to remain faithful to the pope and not accept the communist government's control over the church.

Some Catholics in China "will suffer" and feel betrayed, he said, "but they have great faith" and in the end will trust the pope.

Pope Francis praised the team of Vatican negotiators who worked "two steps forward, one step back" for 10 years, but he insisted he bore all responsibility for the agreement and, especially, for regularizing the situation of seven bishops who had been ordained without Vatican approval.

With every "peace treaty" and every negotiation, he said, "both sides lose something" and for the Vatican that was complete control over the nomination of bishops.

However, he said, people should remember that for centuries the kings of Spain and Portugal nominated the bishops of Latin America, and the Austro-Hungarian emperors did the same in their territory.

The new Vatican-Sino agreement, Pope Francis said, sets up "a dialogue on eventual candidates" for dioceses in China, "but the naming is the pope's -- let that be clear."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: September 25, 2018, 10:00 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/CBS Entertainment

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, on the hit series "Scandal."

With "Scandal" having ended last season, Morton was left with not...

IMAGE: CNS photo/CBS Entertainment

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, on the hit series "Scandal."

With "Scandal" having ended last season, Morton was left with nothing to do. But a script came to him with an intriguing concept: A professed atheist who podcasts his lack of belief gets a Facebook friend request from God. The atheist accepts it, and before long starts seeing how interconnected people are to each other without even realizing it.

That's the premise behind "God Friended Me," which premieres Sunday, Sept. 30, 8-9 p.m. EDT on CBS.

Morton isn't the atheist in question; that role belongs to Brandon Micheal Hall. Rather, Morton plays the atheist's father -- a minister at a New York City church who has lamented how his son has turned away from God.

"I wanted to buy a house, so I wanted another job," Morton told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 24 phone interview from New York City, where the show is filmed, shortly before he was due back on the set.

But not just any other job. "I wanted something that would be diametrically opposed to 'Scandal.' I was really attracted to the show, of people going out of their way to help other people, and the prospect that somehow we're all connected," he said. Given the tenor of the times, and "the atmosphere in general that we're going through these days, this kind of show is just the thing."

Morton said his character, the Rev. Arthur Finer, will have his own crosses to bear on "God Friended Me." "There's two things we'll be dealing with," he noted. First is "that gap" between father and son that "has to be closed in some sort of way."

Second is the backstory affecting both the reverend and his two grown children; the character of the preacher's daughter (Javicia Leslie) also is a series regular.

"We will look at him as a human being," Morton said. "What has he gone through? He's lost his wife when his children were very young. Did he did do a good job (raising them on his own)? Did he not do a good job? What is his life now that he's been a single parent for so many years?"

He told CNS the show, which was filming its eighth episode at the time of the interview, is not merely a matter of the writers dropping off the script for that day's filming and leaving it to the actors to say their lines.

"There has been a lot of talk even before we started shooting," Morton said. "We talked to them about what their ideas were. It was a real collaboration from beginning to end. To enhance and imbue these characteristics is what we're attracted to."

He cautioned: "We're not 'Touched by an Angel,'" a hit on CBS 20 years ago. "We are not that show. This is not a show that is about God as it is a show about how people can help one another -- again, how connected we all are" as opposed to people "floating around on a little island without any connection to anyone," Morton said, adding, "It's a need we have: to re-examine and redefine how closely we interact."

Lofty goals indeed, but "God Friended Me" is going up against NBC's juggernaut "Sunday Night Football." However, Morton has a counter to even that argument about the scheduling affecting the new show.

"When you have a group of actors who are about telling the story, not 'I'm supposed to be first,' functioning like a healthy family, trying to tell these stories, I think that's such a great formula for success," he said. "That's why these Sunday shows do so well."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: September 25, 2018, 4:15 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to their faith despite all the sexual abuse and financial scandals in the Catholic Church.

"We know -- a...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to their faith despite all the sexual abuse and financial scandals in the Catholic Church.

"We know -- as you have told us -- that many young people do not ask anything of us because they do not believe we have anything meaningful to say about their lives," the pope said Sept. 25 during an ecumenical meeting with young adults in Estonia.

Some young people "even ask to be left in peace because they feel the church's presence is a bother or even irritating -- and it's true," he said. And the bolder ones say, "Don't you see nobody is listening to you anymore or believes what you have to say?"

Often they think the church has no clue about what is important to young people, he said, or that the church wants them just to be passive members of the congregation and parish programs.

And "they become outraged when they do not see a clear condemnation of sexual and financial scandals," the pope said.

But the Catholic Church, he said, wants to respond to young people and "wants to be a transparent, welcoming, honest, attractive, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community." That, he added, is one of the main aims of the Synod of Bishops on young people, which begins Oct. 3.

Still, he said, the amazing thing is that young people continue to find Jesus in the church and through its members and ministers.

Just as Jesus praised God for revealing truths to the "little ones," Pope Francis told young Estonians, "I marvel that, for all our lack of witness, you continue to discover Jesus in our communities."

"We know that where Jesus is, there is always renewal," the pope said. "There are always new opportunities for conversion and for leaving behind everything that separates us from him and our brothers and sisters."

"Beyond all our limitations and divisions, Jesus is still the reason for our being here," he told them.

Young believers must be generous and courageous enough to share that hope with their peers, especially in a country where an estimated 75 percent of the population identify themselves as "nonreligious."

Meeting the young people in Tallinn's Kaarli Lutheran Church, Pope Francis listened to the stories of trials and faith shared by an 18-year-old Lutheran named Lisbel, whose father is sometimes a violent drunk; an Orthodox young man named Tauri, who said he found faith through the Divine Liturgy, lost it studying theology, but discovered it again through the Greek fathers of the church; and Mirko, a Catholic, who directs a theater company and believes beauty is the path to discovering God.

"We want to mourn with you when you mourn, to accompany and support you, to share in your joys, and to help you to be followers of the Lord," the pope told them.

The Christian churches and, really, "every institutionally structured religious organization," he said, "at times bring attitudes that make it easier for us to talk, give advice, speak from our own experience, rather than listen, be challenged and learn from what you are experiencing."

Pope Francis assured the young people that the church does, in fact, want to listen to them, respond to their questions and support them as they seek the ultimate meaning of their lives.

And, he said, the church wants to help them come to know Jesus and to know God's love.

Early in the afternoon, Pope Francis met at the city's Catholic cathedral with individuals and families assisted by Catholic charities and Catholic religious orders. The clients, too, shared their stories with the pope and told him how they found material help, faith and love.

Jesus, the pope said, calls all people to love "with a love that shatters the chains that keep us isolated and separate, and instead builds bridges; with a love that enables us to create one big family where all of us can feel at home, as in this house; with a love that exudes compassion and dignity."

Pope Francis ended his visit in Tallinn's Freedom Square, continuing to preach about memory, freedom and responsibility; the connection among the three was a theme that ran throughout his four-day visit to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the year the three Baltic nations celebrated the 100th anniversary of their shortly lived independence after World War I.

Eighty British soldiers and 20 from Denmark were at the Mass in their khaki uniforms. They are part of a 1,000-strong NATO Enhanced Forward Presence deployment in Estonia.

Capt. Piers Odlum, who led the British group at the Mass, said the Estonians gave them 100 tickets for the Mass. Of the soldiers who went to Freedom Square, he said, "the majority are Catholic or very interested in this."

The NATO troops are in Estonia "to reassure the Estonian population" and to signal to Russia that a defensive force is in place. The NATO deployment began in 2016 after Russia annexed Crimea and the Russian-supported war began in Eastern Ukraine.

When speaking to Catholic News Service, the soldiers were very cool, but as soon as Pope Francis arrived in the square, they did what every other person under 30 did: They got as close as possible to the barricade, turned their back to the popemobile path and tried to click the perfect selfie when the pope rode by.

Obviously aware of the very low rate of religious affiliation in Estonia, Pope Francis told people at the outdoor Mass, "Some people think they are free when they live without God or keep him at arm's length. They do not realize that in doing so they pass through this life as orphans."

Strength, he said, comes from listening to God and to other people and seeking ways to help all people share in the benefits of freedom, politically and economically.

"Some people speak in a loud voice, full of self-assurance -- with no doubts or hesitation," he said. "Others shout and hurl threats about using weapons, deploying troops and implementing strategies. That way they appear to be stronger."

Such attitudes and behavior are all about gaining power, which runs counter to the Christian faith, the pope said. "You did not gain your freedom in order to end up as slaves of consumerism, individualism or the thirst for power or domination."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: September 25, 2018, 2:46 pm