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Pope Francis is seen here at an audience to Managers and Employees of TV2000 and Radio InBlu in Paolo VI Hall at the Vatican.

ALESSIA GIULIANI / ipa-agency.ne/IPA/Sipa USA

Hard Numbers: New Catholic bishops in China, Executions in Iran, Presidential runoff in Finland, Peruvian dog goes surfing

2: Pope Francis has appointed two new bishops in China, signaling rapprochement after years of conflict with Beijing. The Chinese government attempted to exercise control over clerical appointments in the country (just wait for the firestorm when the Dalai Lama dies and Beijing tries to name his reincarnation) and agreed to a compromise to jointly appoint bishops with the Vatican in 2018 – only to violate it in 2022 and 2023. Pope Francis’ appointments signal he's ready to turn the other cheek.

67: Tehran seems determined to retain its title as one of the world’s top executioners. On Monday, Iran executed four men it accused of spying for Israel amid historic tensions between Tehran and the Jewish state. But Iran Human Rights challenged the government’s claims, saying the men were Kurdish political prisoners and “denied basic fair trial rights.” There have been 67 executions in Iran so far in 2024, the rights group says.

27.2: Finland will hold a runoff presidential election in February, given no candidate secured at least 50% of the vote in the first round on Sunday. Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb won the first round with 27.2% of the vote, and he will face off against Pekka Haavisto, a former foreign minister, who earned 25.2% of the vote. Finnish presidents serve as commander-in-chief and play a big role in the country’s foreign policy, which is particularly important for the Nordic country as NATO’s newest member.

4: If there was a competition for the “raddest dog in the world,” a four-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Efruz would probably have a good chance of winning. If you head to San Bartolo, Peru, you might catch the yellow-vested pup wowing beachgoers while surfing with his owner. Right on, Efruz, you rule!

Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window, at the Vatican, December 17, 2023.

REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Catholic priests can now bless same-sex couples, with a big caveat

The Vatican on Monday announced that Pope Francis has granted formal approval for Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples – but it must be clear that such blessings are not part of the ritual of marriage or in connection with a civil union.

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Pope Francis presides the weekly general audience at Paul-VI hall at the Vatican

Photo by Vatican Media/Catholic Press Photo/IPA/ABACAPRESS.COMN

Hard Numbers: Pope cracks down, Americans live (bit) longer, coup plotters arrested, Amazon deforestation slows, adopt axolotls

2: Pope Francis is punishing two different high-ranking, conservative American clergymen for being sources of church disunity. Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Texas, was relieved of his duties earlier this month, and Cardinal Raymond Burke of Wisconsin is about to be evicted from his Vatican apartment and will lose his salary as a retired cardinal. Emblematic of the divide between traditionalists and progressives in the Catholic Church, the pontiff faces backlash for calling out vaccine skeptics, welcoming LGBTQ+ people into the church, critiquing capitalism, and criticizing climate change deniers. The first Jesuit Pope has called out American Catholics directly in the past, warning against a “strong reactionary attitude” and being ruled solely by ideology.
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Pope Francis leads an ecumenical prayer vigil in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican

The times they are a-changin’ – is the Catholic Church?

On Wednesday, Pope Francis is convening a massive meeting of Church officials and ordinary Catholic faithful — including women for the first time ever — to discuss and vote on how the Church can find common ground on a number of divisive issues, from LGBTQ+ recognition to divorce to the role of women. It’s the first phase of a two-year process, which will culminate in another summit in Rome next year.

Why this is a big deal: Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination, with over 1.3 billion adherents, and it claims direct roots to Jesus Christ through his disciple Peter, considered the first Pope. The Church’s size and global nature mean its adherents hold a vast array of political and cultural beliefs, many of which are at loggerheads in the secular world. But the Church’s mission to serve all is embedded in the name: The Greek Katholikos literally means “universal.”

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Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, waves from a balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican after being elected by the conclave of cardinals, April 19, 2005.

Pope Benedict, who shocked the world by resigning, dies at 95

Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to retire in six centuries, died early Saturday at the age of 95. Benedict surprised the world in 2013 by announcing he was stepping down from the papacy due to his advanced age. The first German pope in 1,000 years, Benedict took up the mantle of his close friend and predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and is credited with starting to reform Vatican finances and disciplining priests in Latin America who promoted Marxist ideology. Along the way, his strict adherence to church doctrine earned him the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.” Benedict’s papacy was plagued by global clerical sexual misconduct charges, and he charted a course for stricter discipline and defrocking of priests. But he’s also remembered for the 2012 “Vatileaks” controversy in which his brother leaked secret files revealing corruption and infighting at the Vatican. His reputation was further damaged by this year’s Munich diocese report, which alleged he mishandled sexual abuse allegations when he was an archbishop decades ago, prompting him to publicly apologize. Pope Benedict wasn’t always great at interfaith work. He managed to upset Muslims by suggesting Islam was inherently violent, and Jews by lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. While leaving a mixed legacy, Benedict will perhaps be remembered most for making a daring choice to resign when he felt he could no longer fully serve the papacy.

Clerical Errors
Clerical Errors

Clerical Errors

The Catholic Church is facing tremendous internal upheaval and Pope Francis is at the center of it.

Bestselling author Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who recently had a private audience with the Pontiff, and who has courted plenty of controversy of his own, discusses the moment of potential schism the Church is facing with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

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