I’ve prepared a rather different segment this weekend in place of the usual weekly interview on “Vatican Insider.” Just to tease you, here’s how it starts:

“Here we are at an almost mid-way point in the summer, a time when you’re possibly on vacation, and if not vacation, a tranquil weekend at home, hopefully relaxing and enjoying family and friends and some down time. Wherever you are, if you’ve decided to spend a brief moment with me on Vatican Insider this weekend, I think I have a fun offering for you in what is normally the interview segment.

I’m calling this segment INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW because I’m going to bring you some trivia, that is, some little known and often unusual facts about the Vatican – some fun stories about bells and flags and basilica floors. It might be trivia but it is not trivial!

Let’s start with some bells: Did you know that the six bells of Saint Peter’s Basilica all have names?

Stay tuned so you can discover their names – there’s LOTS more where this came from!”

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


The links that follow are from the website that virtually every visitor to St. Peter’s Basilica should know – – a site put together after extraordinarily exacting research by my friend Alan Howard. I mentioned it in this column on Wednesday after the Mass I attended in the Madonna Bocciata chapel, using Alan’s information to supplement my photos.

SCAVI: The scavi should be an integral part of every trip to the Vatican but you must absolutely reserve in advance, often months in advance. Where are the scavi? What are they? How can I reserve tickets? Here are the answers:

Photo from Vatican website:

ST. PETER’S SQUARE: Before you even enter St. Peter’s Basilica, here’s what you should know about the colonnades, the square, the basilica façade, the statues of the Apostles in the square, the clock towers, and much more! Print this out and bring it with you on your next trip!

JFL photos:

TOURIST INFORMATION: This link is so rich in information for tourists, you’ll wonder how you missed it in the past (if you do not already know it):

That’s it for today – more in coming weeks!




I had another beautiful and memorable morning in St. Peter’s Basilica when Fr. Kevin Lixey, a friend of longstanding who heads the office of the Patrons of the Vatican Museums, celebrated Mass at 8 am in one of the many extraordinary chapels of the basilica. My friends Jack and Linda Del Rio were in town to visit their daughter Aubrey who interned for and now works for the Patrons office, and Father offered to say Mass for us in the basilica’s Grotto area today.

I had been to Mass only once before in the Chapel of the Madonna Bocciata but had failed to bring a camera. Today I want to tell you, in words and pictures, the wonderful story of this chapel and the image for which it is named – the “Rejected Madonna.”

The following description comes from a terrific website that everyone who has ever been to the basilica or plans on visiting Vatican City should become familiar with:

I interviewed Alan Howard, the man who put this together several years ago, for Vatican Insider during one of his visits to Rome. He told me at the time that he had offered the page to the Vatican – totally free of charge – and they were not interested! Nothing even remotely like this page – the in-depth detail, the myriad descriptions, the exhaustive research, was on the Vatican’s webpage at the time so this would have been a brilliant move.

Today I happily give him and his website credit for this story that follows (photos by JFL):

In this chapel is a fresco by the 14th century Roman painter Pietro Cavallini. It is called the “Madonna della Bocciata” because of Mary’s swollen face. According to an old legend, her face bled because a drunken soldier had thrown a bowl into the holy image after he lost a game of bowls.

This is the oldest chapel in the area around the sepulchre of Peter. It originates from a very small oratory commissioned by Gregory XIII in 1580. It was created when the new basilica was under construction, under the pavement of the southern transept (Altar of St Joseph), where the sainted Popes Leo I, II, III and IV had been buried.

In about 1592, Pope Clement VIII had the room prolonged and joined to the new peribolos of the grottoes. In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, ‘peribolos’ was a court enclosed by a wall, especially one surrounding a sacred area such as a temple, shrine, or altar.

In 1607, when Pope Paul V moved the relics of the sainted popes to the basilica, the oratory was dedicated to St. Sebastian. Later that year, a mosaic representing the Apostle Paul was found during the demolition of the apse of the old basilica. It was brought to the chapel and placed on the new altar; the chapel was re-dedicated to St Paul.

On 21 February, when Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) had the present Marian image put in the altar, the chapel was given the new name Bocciata. The painting is a fragment of a medieval fresco framed in Cosmatesque marble elements. It was once believed to be the work of Simone Martini, but now it is generally attributed to Pietro Cavallini (1273-1321) or his workshop.


The majestic and solemn Madonna (once probably enthroned) directs her intense gaze onto the spectator as she turns slightly to the Child on her lap, who she holds with her left hand and presents with the right one. The Child imparts His blessing as He looks down at the figure of the commissioner of the work, now missing, whose one extended arm can still be seen.

The image was originally located in the portico of the old basilica, between the Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead (to the south). It became famous after a miraculous event in 1440, according to the testimony collected by Nikolaus Muffel from the court of Emperor Frederic II in 1453. A drunken soldier, in a bout of anger for the florins he lost in a game, in a sacrilegious gesture hurled a stone or ball at the Virgin’s face. The lesion is still visible on her left cheek. Drops of blood appeared on the image and fell down onto the stone paving (those stones are behind metal grates to the right and left of the altar – see photos below).

During the restoration of the portico in 1574, Pope Gregory XIII had the image removed and taken to the secretarium of the Basilica. In 1608, when the ancient building was demolished, the image was placed in the peribolos of the grottoes. It was the object of great veneration and became even more so in its present location dating from 1636.

As recorded in the inscription to the right from the altar, attached to the wall and protected by iron grates, to the sides from the image of the Madonna there are two stones from the ancient paving of the portico, where, according to tradition, the miraculous blood fell. Their surface has been worn away by the touches of the faithful.

Numerous ancient monuments used to be preserved in this chapel but during the restoration described above, it was simplified and the walls were whitewashed. During the thorough restoration of 2002, the paintings on the vault and on the walls below were given their original splendor. They were painted between 1618 and September 18, 1619, by Giovan Battista Ricci da Novara.

To the right, on the upper level of the wall, is a series of images commissioned by Paul V. They preserve the memory of the monuments of the old basilica that had been demolished some 12 years earlier. The series continues in the next chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti (Our Lady of Pregnant Women). Today, several centuries later, the paintings are of enormous interest and paramount historical importance.

Close to the entrance is The View of the Buildings in front of the Old Basilica. The represented buildings are recorded in the Latin inscriptions engraved on small marble plates below the painting. Starting from the right is: the facade of the Apostolic Palace of Paul II; the bell tower of Leo IV and Loggia for the Blessings of Alexander VI; the mosaic of the Savior on the facade; the Oratory of St Mary in Turri of Paul I; the palace of the Archpriest of Leo III.

In the next span is The View of the Oratory of John VII. In a style typical of the 17th Century, the fresco represents two walls of the ancient oratory that survived until 1608. It was decorated with 25 mosaic panels from 705-707 and it protected the medieval ciborium with the relic of the Holy Veil. The inscription says:

The oratory of the Holy Veil of Veronica
and of the Virgin Mother of God
built by John VII

This is an exact copy of the original by Ricci, made in 1949, when the deteriorating fresco was transferred onto canvas and placed on the opposite wall. The inscription below, dated 1609, comes from a different place and refers to another fresco of the oratory that no longer exists.

In the center of the vault are two episodes from the “Stories of the Confession.” Ricci inserted the frescoes in an older decoration and superimposed layers of paint are visible in some areas. The panel close to the altar represents St. Servatius, the Bishop of Tongres. In the middle of the 4th century, Servatius came on a pilgrimage to Rome. As the inscription indicates, he was praying at the tomb and received a prophetic message from Peter concerning the future of his Church.

In the other panel is St Amand, the Bishop of Maastricht, who according to tradition, received the order from St Peter to go and preach the Gospel in Gaul (the 7th century).


On the left wall, in a lunette close to the altar, was the now lost painting of the ancient altar of St Anthony the Abbot. Still to be seen, instead, is the redone ancient mosaic of St Paul, originally from the apsidal decoration of Innocent III. To the right, still in its original location, is Ricci’s fresco transferred onto canvas of the View of the Old Basilica.

At the entrance to the chapel (was) the simple sarcophagus of Cardinal Joseph Beran who died in exile in Rome in 1969. It was the wish of Paul VI that the Cardinal be buried here.

(JFL: CARDINAL BERAN TO BE RE-BURIED IN CZECH REPUBLIC (Prague Radio – English edition – January 4, 2018) – Pope Francis has given his consent to the transport of the remains of Cardinal Josef Beran to the Czech Republic, the ambassador to the Holy See Pavel Vošalík told the Czech News Agency on Wednesday. Cardinal Beran was persecuted by the Communist regime and was eventually exiled to Rome, where he died in 1969. He was buried in the Vatican because the Czechoslovak communist authorities didn’t approve the return of his body to his homeland. He is the only Czech buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Beran, who died May 17, 1969, served as the archbishop of Prague from 1946 until his death and was elevated into the cardinalate in 1965. His cause of canonization commenced in 1997 and this bestowed upon him the title of Servant of God.

The remains of Cardinal Josef Beran were welcomed in Prague on April 20, 2018 and a day later transferred to the cathedral during a solemn Mass in commemoration of St. Adalbert.)

For more than 3 centuries, from 1616 to 1949, the marble statue of St Peter enthroned was on display in this chapel, together with other precious monuments. Still visible, is the fake baldacchino and an inscription on the vault.

On the right wall, in the vicinity of the altar, is a fragment of a Latin inscription from 732 with a relative explanatory plaque. It quotes one part of the decree of the synod of the Roman clergy held in front of the Confession of St Peter. Pope Gregory III had the text engraved on marble slabs. It established the cult of All Saints and of their numerous relics preserved in the Vatican basilica, to be held in the oratory founded by the pope himself. The text starts with the words (PE)TRO THEOPHANIO and lists the names of all the church dignitaries present at the synod, including the Deacon Zachary who succeeded Gregory III as Pope (741).

To the right from the entrance is a marble fragment from the old basilica: the facade of the tabernacle made by Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo, the nephew of Innocent VIII, to hold the relic of the Holy Lance (1495). The work is attributed to the workshop of Andrea Bregno.

The bas-relief represents two praying angels, dressed in flowing garments and spreading their wings. They are standing at the sides of a slightly open door on which is represented the spear and the sponge of the Passion of Christ. In the lunette above, under the starry paneled vault, is the image of Christ Victima, rising from the sepulchre while two heads of cherubs crown the upper corners.


I know the couple in this wonderful story and knew they were married Saturday in Santo Stefano degli Abissini church inside Vatican City and I’ve seen some great photos of the ceremony taken by friends of the couple in attendance. What a lifetime of memories in just an hour!

I knew of it but did not tweet or do a FB post about it – hopefully that shows I am a better friend than a journalist!

It has been sweltering in Rome and was indeed the same inside the church on Saturday as there is no air conditioning in this centuries old church, the oldest in Vatican City State. The church is rather small and may have been hot due to the presence of the 50 or 60 people inside for the wedding. Usually, however, as many of you know who have been to Rome in the summer, if you want to stay cool on a hot and humid day, you enter a church!

St. Stephen of the Abyssinians, dedicated to Stephen the Protomartyr, is the national church of Ethiopia whose liturgy is celebrated according to the Alexandrian rite of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. In terms of architectural history, it is the oldest surviving church in the Vatican. (it’s obviously the little church on the left in this photo)

Tradition says the church was built by Pope Leo I (ca. 400–461) and named Santo Stefano Maggiore. It was rebuilt in 1159 under Pope Alexander III, who also built a monastery for Ethiopian monks next to it.

In 1479, Pope Sixtus IV restored the church and assigned it to the Coptic monks in the city. It was at this time that the name was changed to reflect that it was served by Ethiopians (Abyssinian). It was altered under Pope Gregory XI (1700–1721), and again in 1928.

In recent years the church has undergone restoration and today is used principally for weddings or celebrations of special importance for the clergy who work in the Vatican.

I have also attended several wakes for Vatican prelates in Santo Stefano, including the late Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli.


A Swiss guard and his Brazilian wife-to-be were taken aback to see Pope Francis appearing unannounced in the church to bless their wedding.

By Robin Gomes (vaticanmedia)

Pope Francis on Saturday surprised a Swiss guard and his would-be Brazilian wife, by appearing un-announced in the sacristy just ahead of the wedding ceremony and decided to marry them.


Neither the couple nor the few attending the ceremony knew about the Pope’s surprise move, said Brazilian Father Renato dos Santos, one of those present. The priest entered the sacristy of the church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians in Vatican City to prepare for the celebration when he was taken aback by a smiling pope seated there waiting for him. The Holy Father took charge and went ahead.

“Never in my life, never would I have thought of finding the Pope in a sacristy,” Fr. dos Santos told Vatican News. The Brazilian priest noted the people inside the church were so surprised they were wondering if it was really Pope Francis. “I saw him as a true parish priest who takes care for his own sheep in the parish,” Fr. dos Santos said. “He’s always done it this way.”

Three verbs – success to marriage

The Holy Father’s homily was on three verbs: ‘to begin’, ‘to stop’, ‘to resume the journey’ – which he explained are needed to be able to live their marriage in fullness. “The Pope showed how dear to his heart marriage is,” Fr. dos Santos pointed out. “The Pope has great love for this sacrament which helps start a family and which wants to put God at the center,” he added.


On Sunday July 15, Vaticanmedia published the first part of the final article in a series of seven articles about the dialogue between the Holy See and China.

I published links to the first five here:

Here is a link to the sixth article on July 7 on “China and the bishops: Why is this issue so important?” :

Holy See-China relations is a topic that greatly interests me, as you know if you follow Joan’s Rome. I’ve been to mainland China, having spent several weeks there in 1995 with the Holy See delegation to the United Nations Conference on Women and then, in 2001, I spent nearly two weeks in Taiwan. I keep in touch with a number of people on the China-Holy See situation and it has been very interesting to share these stories by the Vaticanmedia with them.

Earlier this year, when some kind of accord or agreement with China seemed imminent, the Holy See experienced a lot of pushback from people in Rome, and around the world but especially in China who know the realities. Salesian Cardinal Joseph Zen, who served as the sixth bishop of Hong Kong, retiring in 2009, has been the most outspoken critic of ties between the two, especially on the issue of who will name bishops, the Vatican or the Chinese government.

In February of this year, Cardinal Joseph Zen wrote on his blog a severe critique of the rumored Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops, calling it an act of “suicide” and a “shameless surrender” to the communist government.

Reports noted that the cardinal said the problem isn’t necessarily the Pope, who “is optimistic and full of love, and is eager to visit China.” Rather, he faulted the Pope’s advisors for an “obsession” with an “Ostpolitik” solution to the issue of episcopal appointments that “compromises without limits,” yet gains little in return.
Pope Francis, he said, “has never had direct knowledge of the Chinese Communist Party and, moreover, is poorly informed by the people around him.”

Because of the “rumored Vatican-China deal,” the reactions to this rumor and the press office statement on March 29, 2018 that downplayed reports of a deal, I find this series of articles intriguing.

On March 29, in fact, Greg Burke, head of the Holy See Press Office said: “I can say that there is no imminent signing of an agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China. I’d like to stress that Pope Francis is in constant contact with his collaborators on Chinese issues and accompanies the steps of the dialogue taking place.”
To me, this series seems like a full court press to get people ready for a deal.


In China, there are some Bishops who are canonically illegitimate, and others who are lacking civil recognition. This is a sign of the coexistence of two communities of Christians in the country. When negotiations begin in a spirit of dialogue, they are undertaken in order to seek to resolve these concrete problems, in order to overcome that situation and start a positive renewal.

By Sergio Centofanti and Fr Bernd Hagenkord, SJ
According to international practice, the negotiations between States take place confidentially, and normally only the final results are made public. For this reason, the particulars of the dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese Authorities are not known. Nonetheless, if there is to be an understanding, we can imagine that it would permit the Church both to rebuild the unity of the pastoral leadership of the Dioceses that see the presence of two communities; and to provide for the numerous Dioceses that are currently without a Bishop, so that each one of them might have a Pastor admitted and recognized by both the Church and the State.

One cannot expect such an operation to be painless. There will necessarily be unhappiness, suffering, sacrifices, resentments, and even the possibility of new tensions. But this kind of “threading the needle,” to which the Catholic Church in China is called, we all hope that it would be both purifying and a harbinger of good things: there will not be winners and losers, but the contribution of each side would be valued. As Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said, “It is not a matter of wiping the slate clean, ignoring or, almost magically erasing the painful path of so many faithful and pastors, but of investing the human and spiritual capital of so many trials to build a more serene and fraternal future, with the help of God.”

If there is to be a new beginning that, while respecting different sensibilities, is both more fraternal and more unifying for the Catholic Church in China, this will, in the first place, have positive effects for the sacramental and spiritual life of the faithful, who are working towards being ever more fully Catholic and more authentically Chinese.

Moreover, it could free up new energies for the activities of the Church and for a greater harmony within Chinese society. But much depends on the commitment and good will of everyone involved. The Catholic presence in China, considered purely in numerical terms as a part of the total population, seems meagre, but is nonetheless always alive. A renewed work of evangelisation could bear great fruit in spite of so many limits and controls that might yet remain, in great part due to the fear that religion could be used by “external forces” which foster social insecurities.

If the path to civil recognition for a Bishop is a question that concerns the State, with its laws and procedures, the path to canonical legitimacy concerns the Church. In order to understand this, it is necessary to recognise what the Church is. Already as far back as the second century, St Irenaeus defined the Church as the spiritual communion that proclaims and transmits the Tradition that comes from the Apostles through the uninterrupted succession of the Bishops. This apostolic succession of the Bishops as the guarantee of Tradition is constitutive of the Church herself. At the same time, it is the Church that guarantees the apostolic succession and the authenticity of the episcopate, whether through the free nomination of the Pope or by means of his confirmation of the legitimate election of a Bishop.

Even if he is validly ordained, a Bishop cannot legitimately exercise his ministry if he is not in communion with the Successor of Peter and the other Bishops working throughout the whole world. It is up to the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ and universal Pastor of the Church, to legitimate and re-admit into full Catholic communion those he judges worthy, and to whom he entrusts a pastoral charge. With regard to China, one begins with this certainty: the new episcopal consecrations that have taken place in China without a pontifical mandate were illicit but valid (with the exception of very specific cases). Despite these sorrowful situations of irregularity, the Catholic Church in China has always remained ‘one’ because it has never formally established itself as ‘separate’ from Rome; and further, because it has never elaborated a doctrinal position repudiating the primacy of jurisdiction.

But there is another piece of evidence which must be considered, namely, that the living desire to be in union with the Pope has always been present in those Chinese Bishops ordained in an illegitimate manner. The irregular condition of these Bishops notwithstanding, the recognition of their desire to be in union with the Supreme Pontiff makes the difference between two conflicting opinions that have emerged in recent years: those who believe the illegitimate Bishops to be sincere accept their repentance (although not condoning the inappropriate behaviour of some of them); while those who do not believe their sincerity have often condemned them.


There have been quite a few repercussions around the world following remarks by Cardinal Kevin Farrell who has said in several interviews that priests have “no credibility for marriage preparation.” I have received emails about this and have seen posts on Facebook by priests who have expressed their incredulity at this statement by the head of the Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life.

A particularly eloquent response to the cardinal’s remarks was written by Fr. Roger Landry for the National Catholic Register, and I offer you his thoughts on the subject. I know many priests will thank him.


This week in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider,” I want to pay tribute to the late Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, a man I got to know both during and after the years I worked at the Vatican Information Service. As you probably know, he died on July 5 in the United States after years of struggling with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease.

What you’ll hear today is my interview with him shortly after Pope Benedict’s 2009 trip to the Holy Land. What most amazed me as I listened to our conversation was how timely the Cardinal’s message still is today. I know you’ll agree as you listen to this most able and astute diplomat as we discuss his work, especially relations with Muslims.

Here are some photos from the day in 2009 that Benedict XVI met with Muslim leaders at the al-Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, Jordan. I covered that event and, as you will see, the women journalists had to be dressed in a certain manner to enter. You’ll see Cardinal Tauran in several of these photos.

IN THE UNITED STATES, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (stations listed at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio, or on OUTSIDE THE U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” VI airs at 5am and 9pm ET on Saturdays and 6am ET on Sundays. On the GB-IE feed (which is on SKY in the UK and Ireland), VI airs at 5:30am, 12 noon and 10pm CET on Sundays. Both of these feeds are also available on the EWTN app and on ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OWN TIME ZONE! For VI archives: (write Vatican Insider where it says Search Shows and Episodes)


(National Catholic Register) COMMENTARY: Rather than being an insurmountable handicap, my priesthood is actually an asset.
By Father Roger Landry

One of the duties of parish priests is to prepare couples for the sacrament of matrimony. Many priests love this work. Others admit they find parts of it taxing. But almost all parish priests do it, dedicate quite a lot of time to doing it, and, like other aspects of priestly work, try to do it well.

That’s why it came as quite a shock earlier this month when Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect for the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family and Life, which is in charge of the Church’s universal care for the family, declared that priests are basically incompetent to do this work.

In an interview printed in the July/August edition of Intercom magazine, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Farrell made headlines when he said, “Priests are not the best people to train others for marriage. They have no credibility. They have never lived the experience. They may know moral theology, dogmatic theology in theory, but to go from there to putting it into practice every day … they don’t have the experience.”

This was not the first time he has alleged universal priestly ineptitude with regard to marriage preparation. Last September, at a conference in Belfast, he emphasized that priests have “no credibility in this area” because they have “no credibility when it comes to living the reality of marriage.” What is needed, he said, is accompaniment by other married couples “who have walked in [married couples’] shoes.”

He implied that his comprehensive assertions might be partly autobiographical extrapolations because, he said, he didn’t “have a clue” when his own nieces and nephews asked him some questions about marital difficulties. “I have no experience of that, and the majority of priests don’t have that experience,” he said.

But in the Intercom interview he also contended that priests’ lack of competence and credibility is matched by a lack of commitment. Basing himself on his previous experience as the bishop of Dallas, he said, priests, with all of their duties, “are not going to be interested in organizing marriage meetings.”

Priests who are in fact interested in organizing meetings with couples to help them get ready for the sacrament of marriage found his comments disheartening and disturbing. Many married couples likewise found them bewildering.

Earlier this month I was in Lubbock, Texas, giving four talks at the “Diocesan Family Camp” on how marital love is free, full, faithful and fruitful. Several of the married couples present, in the wake of Cardinal Farrell’s comments, sent me emails thanking me once again for my work and saying that they found my talks, and Bishop Robert Coerver’s opening keynote, credible, helpful and attuned to the realities of marriage and family life. I similarly got emails from various couples I’ve prepared for marriage over the last 19 years, saying how grateful they were for what they received from the hours we spent together.

It’s one thing to make the obvious point that effective marriage preparation involves not just parish priests but well-trained married couples, something that happens in most parish, diocesan and online marriage-preparation courses in the United States. Cardinal Farrell’s regrettable emphasis, however, was not to encourage lay involvement, but to undermine priests’ involvement and credibility – as if, because they’ve never been married, priests have nothing to contribute. This led Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin humorously to tweet, “It seems fair to ask, then, if a celibate cleric has sufficient ‘credibility’ to lead a dicastery devoted to laity, family and life.”
Cardinal Farrell’s comments made me wonder how familiar he is with St. John Paul II’s works on marriage, which take up his objections and persuasively refute them.

In the opening words of the introduction to his book Love and Responsibility, for example, the future pope took up the objection:
“There exists a view that only married people may speak about marriage, and that only persons who experience love between a man and a woman may speak about such love. This view demands personal and direct experience as the basis for speaking in a given field. Thus, priests, religious and celibate persons cannot have anything to say on matters of love and marriage.”

Then he responded: “A lack of their own personal experience does not hinder them since they possess a very rich indirect experience proceeding from pastoral work … [where] they encounter precisely these problems so often and in such a variety of ways and situations that another experience is created, experience that is undoubtedly more indirect and ‘foreign,’ but at the same time much more extensive.”

Even though priests don’t have firsthand experience of marital life, St. John Paul underlined, they have a far more extensive secondhand experience than almost anyone because of their pastoral work hearing confessions, counseling couples, and sharing the joys and struggles of their married spiritual sons and daughters. They also have their firsthand exposure to the reality of family life from growing up in a family.

His Eminence, however, not only seems to have forgotten John Paul II’s insights, but also seems unaware of what Pope Francis has said about priests and marriage preparation.

Speaking to parish priests in the Vatican Feb. 25, 2017, Pope Francis commented, “In most cases, you are the first people to be approached by young people desiring to form a new family and marry in the sacrament of matrimony. And it is again you to whom married couples turn in crisis as a result of serious relationship problems, with a need to rekindle their faith and rediscover the grace of the sacrament. …No one better than you knows and is in touch with the reality of the social fabric of the territory and experiences the various complexities: unions celebrated in Christ, de facto unions, civil unions, failed unions, happy and unhappy families and young people.”

“With each person and in each situation,” the Pope continued, “you are called to be traveling companions who can offer witness and support. May your primary concern be to bear witness to the grace of the sacrament of matrimony and the primordial good of the family, vital cell of the Church and of society, by announcing that marriage between a man and a woman is a symbol of the spousal union between Christ and the Church. Such witness is put into practice concretely when you prepare engaged couples for marriage, making them aware of the profound meaning of the step which they are about to take, and when you journey with young couples with attentiveness, helping them experience the divine strength and the beauty of their marriage through light and shadow, through joyful and difficult times.”

He went on to say that he wanted marriage preparation to be a “true catechumenate” that could accompany engaged couples similar to the way the Church for months accompanies adults preparing for the sacrament of baptism.

“This catechumenate,” he said, “is principally entrusted to you, parish priests. …I encourage you to implement it despite any difficulties you may encounter.”

Those are not the words of someone with a low estimation of the credibility, competence and commitment of priests with regard to the sacrament of matrimony.

I have had the joy to do clergy workshops on marriage preparation in various dioceses in the U.S. and Canada and to speak throughout the U.S. and beyond on John Paul II’s theology of the body. I have also had the chance to prepare several hundred couples for marriage.

I normally meet with couples cumulatively for about 10 hours because I’m convinced that in a culture that doesn’t support marriage as the lifelong, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman, this time is indispensable to help them build their marriage on the rock of faith.

In addition to Marriage Encounter or other pre-Cana programs I have them take, I give them 12 short essays to write, so that I can better meet them where they’re at and help bring them to where the Church hopes they’ll be on their wedding day. I give them videos to watch and websites to visit. I administer FOCCUS tests (a pre-marriage inventory) to them and review with them their responses.

Over the course of our conversations, we discuss their family backgrounds, how they met, how they determined the other was the “right one,” how the proposal happened, what marriage means, why Christian marriage is a sacrament, what role God plays in their relationship, what is distinctive about marital love, what they love about the other and how the other has shown love to them, what their desires are for children, how to grow in prayer and faith as a couple, how to forgive, and what marriage experts say are best practices on communication, finances and relations with in-laws.

We go over in depth the necessary intentions for a valid marriage. We cover the what and why of the Church’s teachings about natural family planning, adoption, infertility, cohabitation, contraception, in vitro fertilization and pornography. We even tackle what to do if they happen to fall in love with someone else.

In all of this, rather than being an insurmountable handicap, my priesthood is actually an asset.

My chaste celibacy allows me to be more objective in talking about human sexuality in God’s plan than someone whose experiences are marked too much by personal experience.

My seminary training is likewise a plus. So many generous Catholic couples who volunteer to lead marriage-preparation courses, like my parents, certainly can talk effectively and eloquently about various practical realities of living a Catholic marriage, but, in general, they cannot speak to the theology and sacramentality of marriage the way priests can and couples deserve. Not even most permanent deacons can address the “tough issues” with regard to the Church’s moral teaching with the same clarity and confidence as priests. These priestly contributions are an indispensable service to couples who are often beguiled by our secular age to look at marriage in a desacralized way.

Most helpful of all, however, I think, is simply a priest’s presence and prioritized concern for the couple. Many young people, including Catholics, don’t know priests personally, because they see them only in chasubles. Many come to marriage preparation not practicing the faith, in one way or many, and have lots of unanswered questions and misconceptions that will impact their marriage and spiritual life overall if left unaddressed.

Over the course of the hours we have together, those questions can come up. Trust can build. The practice of the faith can return. Doubts about “credibility” can be overcome. Real evangelization or re-evangelization can take place.

When a priest shows how much he cares in making the time to get to know and form them, and then brings the fruit of that burgeoning friendship to their rehearsal, wedding homily, reception, future baptisms and more, it can have a favorable long-term influence on their relationship with all priests and with the Church.

I hope that the intense reaction that Cardinal Farrell’s unintentionally offensive remarks have provoked among priests and the faithful might lead him to reassess his conclusions.
I also hope that it will help him, and the dicastery he directs, to better support priests in the trenches in their important labor – together with married laypeople – in preparing couples not just for marriage, but for the sacrament of matrimony in its fullness.

The future of the Church depends on that crucial and ongoing work.

Father Roger Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts.


I was honored, albeit sad, to attend the funeral Mass this morning for Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran about whom, as you know, I’ve written in recent days. It was gratifying to see so many members of the diplomatic corps and equally so to see representatives of other religions, including many non-Christians. Many tributes have appeared since his July 5 death and I have been pleased to note how many were indeed from non-Christian leaders, a tribute to Cardinal Tauran’s tireless work in inter-religious dialogue.

How could we not think of the parallel with St. John Paul II, so very ill for so long with Parkinson’s and yet he kept on “fighting the good fight,” knowing the Lord would call him when it was his time.

I suppose it is very human of me to want to imagine a conversation the two are now having about the Church today, about inter-religious dialogue, about peace in the world.
Cardinal Sodano and Cardinal Tauran worked for many years side by side in the Secretariat of State. Sodano was called to serve as Pro-Secretary of State on December 1, 1990. When he became a cardinal on June 28, 1991, he became Secretary of State.

Tauran was named Secretary for Relations with States on the same day, December 1, 1990 and remained there until 2003 when he was named Librarian and Archivist of Holy Roman Church.

I had been working at the Vatican Information Service for only a few months when the press office announced the appointments of Sodano and Tauran on December 1, 1990 – the same day that saw the retirement of Sodano’s predecessor, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, about whom I could write a volume and about whom volumes have been written, most focussing on Casaroli as the architect of the Vatican’s Ostpolitik, its diplomacy with countries of then Communist Eastern Europe.

My superior at VIS, Pedro Brunori decided on the spur of the moment that we should be present in the Secretariat of State where there was a small reception for the outgoing cardinal secretary and to welcome for Sodano and Tauran. He told us to take our Vatican IDs and three of us made our way to the Apostolic Palace, crossing the San Damaso courtyard to elevators that would take us to the Secretariat of State.

I had my doubts about going with Pedro as it was a Saturday and that was the only day of the week I allowed myself to wear slacks or a pantsuit to work. Pedro was nonplussed and said I looked the part as I had black slacks, a white blouse and a red sweater with matching red-white and black scarf.

A fellow American who worked for the Vatican at the time saw me cross the San Damaso courtyard and she said I could not go in slacks. Pedro and my colleague simply nodded, I shrugged my shoulders and we kept walking.

I was awed, as a newcomer in town, so to speak, by the history and beauty of the rooms of the Apostolic Palace and by meeting the outgoing Casaroli, about whom I had written many articles for the Regsiter, and then meeting the new secretary of State Sodano and the new “foreign minister” Tauran.

I will never forget shaking hands with Cardinal Sodano who smiled and said, “Signora, you do us honors today with the colors you are wearing!”

Pedro wanted us to do some PR while we were at the reception. The Vatican Information Service was only a few months old at the time and he wanted everyone to know about this new news service of the Holy See and Vatican.

As I write these lines I think back to the myriad encounters I had during those years I worked for the Vatican. I was present for history-making moments, met the movers and shakers of the Catholic hierarchy on the domestic scene and the international one and have said farewell to the great ones. Like Cardinal Tauran.

And this is why, when people say to me ”God bless you,” my usual reply is “He really has!”


The funeral Mass this morning for Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran was celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Tauran died July 5 in the United States after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

While Pope Francis was scheduled to celebrate the valedictorio at the end of the Mass, he was present throughout the entire Eucharistic celebration. (photos by EWTN/CNA’s Daniel Ibanez)

Scores of bishops, archbishops and cardinals were present as were many members of the diplomatic corps and many representatives of other religions. Diplomats and members of other religions were seated in the front rows. At the time of his death, at the end of a long and remarkable career in service to the Holy See, Cardinal Tauran was the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and camerlengo of Holy Roman Church.

The presence of many diplomats was a testament to Cardinal Tauran’s years in the Church’s diplomatic corps. He had previously served in the Secretariat of State as Secretary for Relations with States, the equivalent of a foreign minister.

In his homily, Cardinal Sodano described his French confrère as “a man who courageously served Christ’s holy Church, despite the burden of his illness.”

He centered his homily on the Beatitudes and said they “always illuminated the life of our dearly departed brother, like bright stars along his journey.”

Cardinal Sodano also quoted the very beautiful words of St. Augustine: “Lord, we do not complain because you have taken him away from us; rather, we thank you for having given him to us.”

Referring to the period when he and Cardinal Tauran were colleagues in the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Sodano said: “For many years I witnessed the great apostolic spirit of the late Cardinal, in the long years of common service to the Holy See, and I will keep a grateful memory of it forever.”

“Cardinal Tauran,” continued the dean of the College of Cardinals, “was a great example of a priest, a Bishop, a Cardinal” who dedicated his whole life to the service of the Church; and more recently especially to “dialogue with all men of good will.”

In this way, Cardinal Tauran lived out the words of Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes: “Since God the Father is the origin and purpose of all men, we are all called to be brothers. Therefore, if we have been summoned to the same destiny, human and divine, we can and we should work together without violence and deceit in order to build up the world in genuine peace.”



Every so often I like to post some travel trips and/or updated info for visitors to the Vatican, and today I offer some special tips about the Vatican Museums


If a trip to Rome is on your agenda – or possibly you are here now – and visiting the Vatican Museums is high on your to-do list, here are some tips on how to make that easy, especially in the hot weather when the idea of standing in long lines, baking under the sun, can be overwhelming.

The really important words in this story are: RESERVE IN ADVANCE!

And do so on the official Vatican Museums webpage:

There are many types of visits available to the Museums (and Castelgandolfo) but my column today focuses on the early morning specials at the Museums.


Visitors have the opportunity to enter the Museums at 7.15 am, before the official opening time and enjoy an American buffet breakfast, at 7.30 am.

Having finished breakfast, visitors may rent out an Audioguide and begin their tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.

Full Price Ticket: Euro 68,00. Reduced Price ticket: Euro 59,00.

In order to make the purchase on-line please have on hand the following documents: an identity document, a credit card and names of all the participants. It is possible to purchase a ticket at a reduced price for children aged between 6 and 18 years and students up to 25 years of age on presentation of a student identity card (International Student Card) on the day of the visit.*

After the payment is confirmed the applicant will recieve an e-mail with the confirmation of the booking, the voucher containing the reservation code and tour information. The applicant is asked to print off the voucher (it is also possible to show it on a smartphone or tablet) as to present it on the day of the tour. The reservation will be checked by means of the barcode present on the voucher. In case of loss of the voucher, please consult the Customer Care Staff at the Guided Tour Desk.

Visitors have the opportunity to enter the Museums at 7.15 am, before the official opening time and enjoy an American buffet breakfast, at a table especially reserved for them, at 7.30 am.

Having finished breakfast, visitors will meet their private guide. The guide will meet the visitors at their especially reserved table.

The guided tour includes: the Pius-Clementine Museum, the Candelabra, Maps and Tapestry Galleries, the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. The guided tour is available in: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Russian. The duration of the tour is 2 hours.

Full Price ticket: Euro 61,00. Reduced price ticket: Euro 52,00. Guide Service: Euro 250,00.

In order to make the purchase on-line please have on hand the following documents: an identity document, a credit card and names of all the participants. It is possible to purchase a ticket at a reduced price for children aged between 6 and 18 years and students up to 25 years of age on presentation of a student identity card (International Student Card) on the day of the visit.*

After the payment is confirmed the applicant will receive an e-mail with the confirmation of the booking, the voucher containing the reservation code and tour information. The applicant is asked to print off the voucher (it is also possible to show it on a smartphone or tablet) as to present it on the day of the tour. The reservation will be checked by means of the barcode present on the voucher. In case of loss of the voucher, please consult the Customer Care Staff at the Guided Tour Desk.

Visitors have the opportunity to enter and enjoy an American Buffet Breakfast in the Vatican Museums.

N.B.: From April 3rd to October 28th the Breakfast will be at Pinecone Courtyard. During the other months of the year the Breakfast will be at the Coffee Bar of the Vatican Museums.

Having finished breakfast visitors can then visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.

Full Price ticket: Euro 38,00. Reduced price ticket: Euro 29,00.
Audioguide (optional): Euro 7,00.

In order to make the purchase on-line please have on hand the following documents: an identity document, a credit card and names of all the participants. It is possible to purchase a ticket at a reduced price for children aged between 6 and 18 years and students up to 25 years of age on presentation of a student identity card (International Student Card) on the day of the visit.*

After the payment is confirmed the applicant will recieve an e-mail with the confirmation of the booking, the voucher containing the reservation code and tour information. The applicant is asked to print off the voucher (it is also possible to show it on a smartphone or tablet) as to present it on the day of the tour. The reservation will be checked by means of the barcode present on the voucher. In case of loss of the voucher, please consult the Customer Care Staff at the Guided Tour Desk.

PS. There are special night visits to the Museums and there’s also a chance to visit the papal palace and gardens at Castelgandolfo. Click here for info: