As you may have seen on my Twitter account and Facebook page today, I wrote that I had asked Holy See Press Office interim director Alessandro Gisotti if the bone fragments of St. Peter that the Pope gave unexpectedly to the Orthodox Church on June 29, feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles are, as I have been told, the ONLY relics we have of Peter, our first Pope. If not, I asked, what are the other relics and where are they? If yes, then I am horrified and speechless!

Alessandro got back to me almost immediately and said he was making inquiries. Not long after that, he sent me a link to a June 30 story that Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication since December 2018 and a close friend of Pope Francis’ for many years, wrote for the Italian online edition of

Here is an English translation of Tornielli’s article (and I comment on this matter at the end):


The gift that Pope Francis, successor of the Apostle Peter, wanted to make without any warning to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, successor of the Apostle Andrew, is inextricably linked to the memory of St. Paul VI. It was he, Paul, who, on the 26th of June 1968, two days before solemnly concluding the Year of Faith, announced with surprise the discovery of the relics attributed to Peter during the Wednesday general audience.

It was Pius XII, in June 1939 who, immediately after his election, ordered the beginning of the excavations under the basilica of St. Peter* entrusting their direction to Monsignor Ludwig Kaas. The research had lasted ten years and led to the discovery of the apostle’s burial, but not of his relics. In his Christmas radio message of 1950, Pope Pacelli (Pius XII) was able to announce with joy and emotion: “Has the tomb of Saint Peter been truly found? To this question the final conclusion of the works and studies responds with a very clear ‘yes’.” * (JFL: the excavations were ordered by Pius XII to create the foundation for the tomb of his predecessor, Pius XI)

Thus, it appeared to correspond to the truth what was affirmed during the pontificate of Pope Zephyrinus (199-217) by the Roman priest Gaius who, addressing Proclus, a follower of the Montanist heresy, had written: “if you want to come to the Vatican, on the Via Ostiense, you will be able to see the trophies [that is, the tombs] of those … who founded this Church,” namely Peter and Paul.

In 1952 the excavation work was resumed with the additional help of archaeologist Margherita Guarducci. Under the papal altar of the basilica a funerary shrine had been found leaning against a contemporary wall, dating to about the year 150, called the “red wall” for its color and and for the particularly valuable and numerous superimposed graffiti that the scholar had decifered. All contain invocations to Peter, to which the names of Christ and Mary are sometimes joined. One of these graffiti is fundamental, dating back to the year 160, in which we read in Greek the words Petros enì, “Pietro is here.” This annotation therefore seems to indicate the precise place of the apostle’s burial.

In an area of the Vatican Grottoes, Professor Guarducci had found in a box the bones that had been collected in the niche identified as the tomb of Peter. “In 1964, I came to the certainty of identification; in 1965 I published for the first time the results achieved … the exceptional relics of Peter from a scientifically ascertained tomb and declared to be authentic by the most rigorous scientific examinations, show with absolute certainty that the church of Rome is founded really, not metaphorically, on Peter.”

The bones, after being analyzed, were found to belong to a single male person of robust build who died in old age. They were encrusted with earth and showed that they had been wrapped in a purple-colored woolen cloth woven with gold, a particularly precious burial. They represent fragments of all the bones of the body to the exclusion of even the slightest fragment of those of the feet. A significant detail, which brings to mind the circumstance of crucifixion upside down and the results caused on the body, namely the detachment of the feet, due to the prolonged exposure on the site of the torture.

That June 26, 1968, Paul VI announced: “New, very thorough and very accurate inquiries were later carried out with the result that, comforted by the judgment of skillful, prudent and competent persons, we believe the following to be positive: that even the relics of St. Peter have been identified in a convincing manner for which we give praise to those who have committed themselves to very careful study with long and great effort.”

“The research, verifications, discussions and polemics will not be exhausted with this,” continued Pope Montini. “But on our part, it seems only right to present to you and to the Church this happy announcement, obliged as we are to honor the sacred relics, supported by serious proof of their authenticity … and, in the present case, all the more solicitous and exultant we must be, when we have reason to believe that the few but sacrosanct mortal remains of the Prince of the Apostles have been traced.”

Margherita Guarducci recounted: “Paul VI was immovable, resisting any pressure, when it was a question of announcing a result of which he was perfectly convinced, that is, the identification not only of the tomb, but also of the mortal remains of the apostle Peter.” It must be said that another scholar, Jesuit Father Antonio Ferrua, who had excavated the tomb, will not agree with Guarducci’s conclusions.

Of those bones now preserved in the necropolis under St. Peter, Paul VI had nine fragments handed over to keep them in the private chapel of the papal apartment, inside a bronze box bearing this inscription: “Ex ossibus quae in Arcibasilicae Vaticanae hypogeo invents Beati Petri Apostoli esse putantur “(From the bones found in the hypogeum of the Vatican Basilica, which are believed to be of Blessed Peter the Apostle).

The reliquary containing the nine bone fragments had been displayed open on the parvis of the Vatican Basilica beside the altar at the behest of Pope Francis on the occasion of the concluding Mass of the Year of Faith, celebrated on Sunday November 24, 2013.


With this gift, the relations between Rome and Constantinople are made even firmer, recalling a Pope – Paul VI – who was the protagonist of the fundamental steps on the ecumenical journey after the historic meeting in Jerusalem with the Patriarch Athenagoras.

JFL: I do have quite a number of questions about the relics of St. Peter. If there are still bone fragments in the area where he is buried in the Vatican’s pre-Constantine necropolis, let’s hear and see more about them.

I think what breaks my heart is that the 9 bone fragments given to the Orthodox, prayerfully cared for over the years in a reliquary in the papal chapel, were whisked out of the Vatican without any pre-announcement, on what I dare call a papal whim. I am guessing Francis did pray over this surprise gesture, hoping it might cement relations with East and West, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

I would have loved – and I believe millions would have kept me company – to have seen these relics up close and personal. To pray over them, to relish the closeness to St. Peter to whom Jesus gave the Keys of the Kingdom, Peter our first Pope, our first Holy Father, a man who spent three years on earth so close to Jesus, Son of the Father!

Would it not have been a splendid gesture to have dedicated a period of several months to a public display of these relics before they were sent off to Istanbul?!

The Vatican could put the magnificent reliquary in another kind of reliquary, an ultra secure but transparent container. Allow the faithful who could make such a pilgrimage come to Rome to be near to the relics of the first Pope. Have live television coverage for those who could not undertake such a trip – or a webcam with constant images.

I was honored to be at, and also part of, the November 24, 2013 Mass to close the Year of Faith. I was one of two journalists who received the first copies of Evangelii gaudium from the Pope’s hands. I felt doubly honored to know I was in the presence, for the first time ever, of the relics of St. Peter as the Vatican displayed them near the papal altar!

Here are a few photos I took that day:



The small but very beautiful Teutonic Cemetery is in Vatican City between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Paul VI Audience Hall. Vatican City State’s website tells us, “it is the oldest German establishment in Rome. The entire area is surrounded by a high wall but even a rushed visitor will quickly be drawn by the charm of this plot of land so rich in history. In ancient Roman times Nero’s circus was found here and it was the site where many Christians were martyred. The cemetery was founded around 799, when Pope Leo IV presented the land to Charlemagne for a school.”

It is beautiful and peaceful and well kept – almost charming, if one can say that of a cemetery. …the beautiful headstones, mosaic stations of the cross, the plants and trees and flowers.

The Holy Year 1450 brought many pilgrims to Rome. The cemetery and the church were in terrible shape at the time, but both were soon rebuilt. In 1454 the German members of the Curia formed a special Confraternity that still exists today and is now called the “Archconfraternity of Our Lady.”

Over the years institutes of study were built and two chapels were attached to the cemetery, one of which would serve as the burial place for Swiss Guards who died in 1870 defending Rome against the forces of the new Kingdom of Italy.

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Being a member of this Confraternity is said to be essential if one wishes to be buried in the Teutonic Cemetery. You also have to prove German ancestry, going back as far in time as possible. According to the statutes, those who have a right to be buried here include members of the Archconfraternity, members of many religious houses of German origin and members of the two German colleges in Rome (the Anima and the Germanico).

In 1876 a residence was built for priests studying Christian archaeology, church history and other similar fields.

On the outer wall you can see a ceramic plaque naming Charlemagne the Emperor as the founder of this cemetery. And the inscription CAROLUS MAGNUS ME FUNDAVIT – CHARLEMAGNE FOUNDED ME!

Seems that when the emperor came to Rome, the Pope made him a gift of this land so he could build a residence and set up a Schola Francorum, a hospice for pilgrims from Franconia who were starting to pour into Rome. Some of the pilgrims arrived after their long and arduous journey so tired and worn out after their trials and dangers of the trip over the Alps that they died in Rome, asking before they died to be buried close to the goal of their pilgrimage, that is, the tomb of St. Peter.

The words on the Gates: Teutones in pace – Germans in peace!

To walk through this beautiful and peaceful place and to read the headstones is to read a history book, and perhaps even a book of spirituality. One special grave is that of Jesuit Father Engelbert Kirschbaum, an archaeologist and key person in the discovery of Peter’s tomb. He died in 1970.

Legend has it that Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had earth from the Holy Land, from Golgotha, spread over this land to symbolically unite the blood of Christ with that of the Roman Martyrs.



Statement from Holy See Press Office interim Director Alessandro Gisotti:

“The Office of the Promoter of Justice of the Vatican City State Court, in the persons of the Promoter Professor Gian Piero Milano and his deputy, Professor Alessandro Diddi, by a decree of June 27, 2019, has ordered the opening of two tombs present in the Teutonic Cemetery. The decision is part of one of the files opened following a complaint by the family of Emanuela Orlandi who, as is known, in recent months has, among other things, reported the possible concealment of her body in the small cemetery located within the territory of the Vatican State.

“The operation will take place next July 11 in the presence of the lawyers of the parties (as well as the relatives of Emanuela Orlandi and relatives of the people buried in the graves concerned), with the technical assistance of Professor. Giovanni Arcudi, of the Commander of the Vatican Gendarmerie, Domenico Giani, and of the staff of the Gendarmerie. The judicial provision foresees a complex organization of men and means (workers from the Fabbrica di San Pietro and personnel from the COS, the Operative Security Center of the Vatican Gendarmerie, for the operations of demolition and restoration of the stone slabs and for the documentation of the operations are involved)

“The decision comes after a phase of investigations during which the Office of the Promoter – with the help of the Gendarmerie Corps – carried out investigations aimed at reconstructing the main judicial stages of this long and painful and complex case. It should be remembered that for legal reasons the Vatican investigating authority has no jurisdiction to investigate Emanuela Orlandi’s disappearance in Italy; investigations which, moreover, have been conducted by Italian investigators – from the earliest stages – with scrupulosity and professional rigor. Therefore, the Vatican initiative concerns only the ascertainment of the possible burial of the body of Emanuela Orlandi in the territory of the Vatican State.

“In any case, the complex expert appraisals set for July 11th are only the first phase of a series of pre-planned investigations which, after the opening of the tombs and the collection and cataloging of the remains, will lead to the expert reports to establish the dating of the findings and for DNA comparison.”



As California Catholics and American bishops surely know, at the end of last May, California’s state senators voted 30-2 in favor of a law that requires priests to violate the seal of confession. Senate Bill 360, notes a CNA story on the law, “requires priests to report any knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained while hearing the confession of another priest or colleague.”

In speaking about today’s document from the Vatican (see below) on this matter, a friend asked me if the California law included, doctors and lawyers, etc. who normally have client privacy privileges. I did not know so I researched the law and some media reports on it.

As ANGELUS news (archdiocese of Los Angeles) reported (in part): “At issue is the serious matter of child sexual abuse. Seven states right now require priests to violate the seal to report child abuse based on legislation passed in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

“While many states have tried since 2002 to pass laws resembling California’s Senate Bill 360, none have been successful. Instead, lawmakers around the country have concluded similar bills would not protect children and would be an egregious violation of religious liberty.”

“In California, priests, along with teachers, social workers, doctors, and other professionals, are ‘mandated reporters’. That means they are required by law to report any case of suspected abuse to authorities. But currently, there is an exemption in the law for any clergy member ‘who acquires knowledge or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication’.

“SB 360’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said his bill is necessary because of evidence that the confession privilege hurts children.” (

The news today from the Vatican comes from the Apostolic Penitentiary – the Vatican tribunal that deals with the sacrament of confession. It issued a 3,100-word document on the seal of confession, affirming that, in the face of recent civil rulings, it, the tribunal, considered it appropriate to intervene.

The Penitentiary re-affirmed that under no circumstances may a priest reveal the contents of a confession, even if the penitent says he may do so. The court reaffirmed the sacramental seal, the confidentiality inherent in the internal extra-sacramental forum, the professional secrecy, the criteria and the limits proper to any other communication.

“The inviolable secrecy of the Confession,” says the lengthy document, “comes directly from the revealed divine right and is rooted in the very nature of the sacrament, to the point of not admitting any exception in the ecclesial context, nor, even less, in the civil sphere.”

The following is my Google-assisted translation of the document released today by the Apostolic Penitentiary. I carefully re-read each paragraph to see if it corresponded to the original Italian. There were a few instances when the grammar was a bit overdone, almost dramatic, and I made it understandable. I basically tweaked it where necessary to make it both correct and as readable as possible.

I realize I could have translated just a few key paragraphs of the document or furnished my own brief summary of the salient points, but I have so many friends who are priests and many others who work in tribunals that I felt this would be helpful. Perhaps I have saved them precious time. I do realize they will check this against the original Italian – as well they should!

PS: the document speaks of the “pontifical secret”: this was something I remember having to swear to when I was hired to work at the Vatican Information Service. I also had to recite the Creed in Latin.


“With the Incarnation, the Son of God has united himself in a certain way with every man” [1]; with his gestures and his words, he illuminated his highest and inviolable dignity; in himself, dead and risen, he restored fallen humanity, overcoming the darkness of sin and death; to those who believe in him he opened the relationship with his Father; with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, he consecrated the Church, a community of believers, as his true body and participated in his own prophetic, royal and priestly power, so that he would be in the world as the extension of his own presence and mission, announcing to the men of all times the truth, guiding them to the splendor of its light, allowing their life to be truly touched and transfigured.

In this time of human history that is so troubled, the growing techno-scientific progress does not seem to correspond to an adequate ethical and social development, but rather a real cultural and moral “involution” that, forgetting about God – if not outright hostility – becomes incapable to recognize and respect, in every sphere and at every level, the essential coordinates of human existence and, with them, of the very life of the Church.

“If progress in the ethical formation of man, in the growth of the inner man […],does not correspond to technical progress, then it is not progress but a threat to man and the world” [2]. Also in the field of private and mass-media communications, the “technical possibilities” grow out of proportion, but not the love for the truth, the commitment to research, the sense of responsibility before God and men; in fact, a worrisome disproportion between means and ethics is outlined. Communicative hypertrophy seems to turn against the truth and, consequently, against God and against man; against Jesus Christ, God made man, and the Church, its historical and real presence.

A certain “craving” for information has spread in recent decades, almost regardless of their real reliability and opportunity, to the point that the “world of communication” seems to want to “replace” reality, both by conditioning perception and by manipulating the understanding of it . From this tendency, which can take on the disturbing traits of morbidness. Unfortunately the very ecclesial structure, which lives in the world and sometimes takes on its criteria, is not immune. Even among believers, frequently, precious energies are employed in the search for “news” – or real “scandals” – suited to the sensitivity of certain public opinion, with goals and objectives that certainly do not belong to the theandric nature (JFL: of or relating to the divine and human or their union or joint operation) of the Church. All this to the grave detriment of the proclamation of the Gospel to every creature and the needs of the mission. We must humbly recognize that sometimes even the ranks of the clergy, up to the highest hierarchies, are exempt from this tendency.

In fact, invoking the judgment of public opinion as the last tribunal, information of all kinds is made known too often, also concerning the most private and confidential spheres, which inevitably touch the life of the Church, (and which) induce – or at least favor – rash judgments and unlawfully and irreparably damage the good reputation of others, as well as the right of every person to defend their intimacy (cf. can. 220 CIC). In this scenario, the words of Saint Paul to the Galatians sound particularly current: “For you, brothers, have been called to freedom. Provided that this freedom does not become a pretext for living according to the flesh […]. But if you bite and devour each other, look at least not to destroy each other completely “(Gal 5,13-15).

In this context, a certain worrisome “negative prejudice” seems to assert itself towards the Catholic Church, whose existence is culturally presented and socially re-understood, on the one hand, in the light of the tensions that can occur within the same hierarchy and, on the other, starting from the recent scandals of abuse, horribly perpetrated by some members of the clergy. This prejudice, oblivious to the true nature of the Church, to its authentic history and to the real, beneficial incidence that it has always had and has in human life, sometimes translates into the unjustifiable “claim” that the Church herself, in certain matters, come to conform its own legal order to the civil systems of the states in which it finds itself living, as the only possible “guarantee of correctness and rectitude”.

In the face of all this, the Apostolic Penitentiary considered it appropriate to intervene, with this Note, to reaffirm the importance of and promote a better understanding of those concepts, typical of ecclesial and social communication, that today seem to have become more foreign to public opinion and sometimes to the same civil legal systems: the sacramental seal, the confidentiality inherent in the internal extra-sacramental forum, the professional secrecy, the criteria and the limits proper to any other communication.

Sacramental seal
Recently, speaking of the sacrament of Reconciliation, the Holy Father Francis wished to reaffirm the indispensability and the unavailability of the sacramental seal: “Reconciliation itself is a good that the wisdom of the Church has always safeguarded with all its moral and juridical strength with the sacramental seal. Although not always understood by the modern mentality, it s indispensable for the sanctity of the sacrament and for the penitent’s freedom of conscience; which must be certain, at any time, that the sacramental conversation will remain in the secret of confession, between one’s own conscience that opens to the grace of God, and the necessary mediation of the priest. The sacramental seal is indispensable and no human power has jurisdiction, nor can it claim it, on it “[3].

The inviolable secrecy of Confession comes directly from the revealed divine right and is rooted in the very nature of the sacrament, to the point of not admitting any exception in the ecclesial context nor, even less, in the civil sphere. In fact, in the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation the very essence of Christianity and the Church is enclosed: the Son of God became man to save us and decided to involve, as a “necessary tool” in this work of salvation, the Church and, in it, those whom he has chosen, called and constituted as his ministers.

To express this truth, the Church has always taught that priests, in the celebration of the sacraments, act “in persona Christi capitis”, that is, in the very person of Christ the head: “Christ allows us to use his” I “, we speak in the “I” of Christ, Christ “pulls into himself” and allows us to unite, unites us with his “I”. […] It is this union with his “I” that is realized in the words of consecration. Also in the “I absolve you” – because none of us could absolve from sins – it is the “I” of Christ, of God, who alone can absolve “[4]. Every penitent who humbly goes to the priest to confess his sins, bears witness to the great mystery of the Incarnation and the supernatural essence of the Church and of the ministerial priesthood, through which the Risen Christ comes to meet men, touches sacramentally – that is, really – their life and saves them. For this reason, the defense of the sacramental seal by the confessor, if necessary usque ad sanguinis effusionem (JFL: up to the shedding of blood), represents not only an act of dutiful “loyalty” towards the penitent, but much more: a necessary testimony – a “martyrdom” – given directly to the uniqueness and salvific universality of Christ and the Church [5].

The matter of the seal is currently exposed (explained) and regulated by Canons 983-984 and 1388, § 1 of the CIC (Code of Canon Law) from can. 1456 of the CCEO (canon law of the Eastern Churches), as well as from n. 1467 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where significantly we read that the Church “establishes”, by virtue of its own authority, rather than that it “declares” – that is, recognizes as an irreducible datum, which derives precisely from the sanctity of the sacrament instituted by Christ – “that every priest who hears confessions is obliged, under very severe penalties, to keep an absolute secret concerning the sins that his penitents confessed to him”.

The confessor is never allowed, for any reason whatsoever, “to betray the penitent with words or in any other way” (can. 983, § 1 CIC), as well as “it is in fact forbidden for the confessor to make use of the knowledge acquired from confession with burden of the penitent, even excluding any danger of revelation “(can. 984, § 1 CIC). The doctrine also helped to further specify the content of the sacramental seal, which includes “all the sins of both the penitent and others known from the penitent’s confession, both mortal and venial, both occult and public, as manifested in order to absolution and therefore known to the confessor by virtue of sacramental science “[6]. The sacramental seal, therefore, regards everything the penitent has listed (confessed), even in the event that the confessor does not grant absolution: if the confession is invalid or for some reason the absolution is not given, however the seal must be maintained.

The priest, in fact, becomes aware of the sins of the penitent “non ut homo, sed ut Deus – not as a man, but as God” [7], so much so that he simply “does not know” what he was told in seat of confession, because he did not listen to him as a man but, precisely, in the name of God. The confessor could, therefore, also “swear”, without any prejudice to his conscience, to “not know” what he knows only as a minister of God. Because of its peculiar nature, the sacramental seal also binds the confessor ” inwardly “, to the point that he is forbidden to voluntarily remember the confession and he is obliged to suppress any involuntary recollection of it. The secret deriving from the seal is also held by those who, in any way, have come to know the sins of confession: “The interpreter, if any, and all others to whom in whatever way the news of the sins of confession has come “(can. 983, § 2 CIC).

The absolute prohibition imposed by the sacramental seal is such as to prevent the priest from making word of the content of the confession with the same penitent, outside the sacrament, “except explicit, and all the better if not required, consent from the penitent” [8]. The seal therefore goes beyond the availability of the penitent, who, once the sacrament is celebrated, does not have the power to relieve the confessor of the obligation of secrecy, because this duty comes directly from God.

The defense of the sacramental seal and the sanctity of confession may never constitute some form of partnership with evil, on the contrary they represent the only true antidote to evil that threatens man and the whole world; they are the real possibility of surrendering to the love of God, of letting oneself be converted and transformed by this love, learning to correspond concretely in one’s life. In the presence of sins that integrate types of offenses, it is never permissible to place on the penitent, as a condition for acquittal, the obligation to turn himself over to civil justice, by virtue of the natural principle, incorporated in every order, according to which «nemo tenetur se detegere » (JFL: “No one is obliged to disclose”). At the same time, however, it belongs to the very “structure” of the sacrament of Reconciliation, as a condition for its validity, sincere repentance, together with the firm intention to amend and not to reiterate the evil committed. If a penitent is present who has been a victim of the evil of others, it will be the concern of the confessor to instruct him regarding his rights, as well as about the concrete juridical instruments to use to denounce the fact in civil and / or ecclesiastical forum and invoke justice.

2. Internal extra-sacramental forum and spiritual direction
The so-called “extra-sacramental internal forum”, always hidden, but external to the sacrament of Penance belongs to the juridical-moral sphere of the internal forum. In it too the Church exercises her mission and saving power: not by forgiving sins, but by granting graces, breaking legal constraints (such as censorships) and taking care of everything concerning the sanctification of souls and, therefore, the proper sphere, intimate and personal of each believer.
To the internal extra-sacramental forum belongs in a particular way spiritual direction, in which the individual believer entrusts his own path of conversion and sanctification to a specific priest, or consecrated person or member of the laity.

The priest exercises this ministry by virtue of his mission of representing Christ, conferred upon him by the sacrament of Orders and exercised in the hierarchical communion of the Church, through the so-called triple munus: the task of teaching, sanctifying and governing the laity in virtue of the baptismal priesthood and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In spiritual direction, the believer freely opens the secret of his conscience to the spiritual director or person who accompanies him to be oriented and supported in listening to and fulfilling the will of God.

As evidence of the special confidentiality accorded to spiritual direction, consider the prohibition, sanctioned by law, of asking not only the opinion of the confessor, but also that of the spiritual director, on the occasion of admission to sacred Orders or, vice versa, for dismissal from the seminary of candidates to the priesthood (cf. can. 240, § 2 CIC; can. 339, § 2 CCEO). In the same way, the 2007 Sanctorum Mater instruction, concerning the carrying out of diocesan or eparchial inquiries in the Causes of Saints, forbids admitting not only confessors to protect the sacramental seal but also the spiritual directors of the Servant of God, also for all that they have learned in the forum of conscience, outside of sacramental confession [9].

This necessary confidentiality will be all the more “natural” for the spiritual director, the more he will learn to recognize and “be moved” before the mystery of the freedom of the faithful who, through him, turn to Christ. The spiritual director must conceive his own mission and his own life exclusively before God, in the service of his glory, for the good of the person, of the Church and for the salvation of the whole world.

3. Secrets and other limits of communication
Of another nature than the sphere of the internal forum, sacramental and extra-sacramental, are the confidences made under the seal of secrecy, as well as the so-called “professional secrets”, of which particular categories of persons are in possession, both in civil society and in the ecclesial structure, by virtue of a special office performed by them for individuals or for the community.

Such secrets, in virtue of natural law, must always be preserved, “except – the Catechism of the Catholic Church states at n. 2491 – the exceptional cases in which the custody of the secret would cause to those who confide them, to those who are set apart, or to third parties, very serious and avoidable damages only through the disclosure of the truth ».

A particular case of secrecy is that of the “pontifical secret”, which binds under the oath connected with the exercise of certain offices in the service of the Apostolic See. If the oath of secrecy always binds coram Deo who issued it, the oath connected to the “pontifical secret” has as its ultimate rationale the public good of the Church and the salus animarum (JFL: the health or salvation of the sould). It presupposes that this good and the very needs of the salus animarum, including therefore the use of information that does not fall under the seal, can and must be correctly interpreted by the Apostolic See alone, in the person of the Roman Pontiff, whom Christ the Lord constituted and placed as a visible principle and foundation of the unity of faith and communion of the whole Church [10].

As regards the other areas of communication, both public and private, in all its forms and expressions, the wisdom of the Church has always indicated as a fundamental criterion the “golden rule” pronounced by the Lord and reported in the Gospel of Luke: “What you want men to do to you, you also do it to them “(Lk 6:31). In this way, in the communication of truth as in silence with regard to it, when the questioner had no right to know it, it is always necessary to conform his life to the precept of fraternal love, having the good and safety of others before his eyes respect for private life and the common good [11].

As a particular duty of communicating the truth, dictated by fraternal charity, one cannot fail to mention the “fraternal correction”, in its various degrees, taught by the Lord. It remains the reference horizon, where necessary and according to what the concrete circumstances allow and require: “If your brother commits a fault against you, go and admonish him between you and him alone; if he listens to you, you will have earned your brother; if you don’t listen, take one or two more people with you, because everything is solved by the word of two or three witnesses. If he does not listen to them, tell the community “(Mt 18,15-17).

In a time of mass communication, in which all information is “burned” and with it, unfortunately, also a part of people’s lives, it is necessary to re-learn the power of speech, its constructive power, but also its destructive potential; we must be vigilant so that the sacramental seal is never violated by anyone and the necessary confidentiality connected with the exercise of the ecclesial ministry is always jealously guarded, having as its sole horizon the truth and the integral good of persons.

Let us invoke from the Holy Spirit, for the whole Church, a burning love for the truth in every area and circumstance of life; the ability to guard it integrally in the proclamation of the Gospel to every creature, the willingness for martyrdom in order to defend the inviolability of the sacramental seal, as well as the prudence and wisdom necessary to avoid any instrumental and erroneous use of that information proper to private, social life and ecclesial, which can turn into an offense against the dignity of the person and the Truth itself, which is always Christ, Lord and Head of the Church.

In the jealous custody (guardianship) of the sacramental seal and the necessary discretion linked to the internal extra-sacramental forum and to the other acts of ministry, a particular synthesis shines forth between the Petrine and Marian dimensions in the Church.

With Peter, the bride of Christ guards,until the end of history the institutional ministry of the “power of the keys”; like Mary Most Holy, the Church preserves “all these things in her heart” (Lk 2,51b), knowing that in them the light that illuminates every man is reverberated and that, in the sacred space between personal conscience and God, must be preserved, defended and guarded.

The Supreme Pontiff Francesco, on 21 June 2019, approved the present Note, and ordered its publication.

Given in Rome, from the seat of the Apostolic Penitentiary, June 29, year of the Lord 2019, on the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Mauro Card. Piacenza Major Penitentiary
Mons. Krzysztof Nykiel Regent


Three important stories for today (supposedly the first day of a monthlong “working” vacation for Pope Francis). The big story today, however, is from the Apostolic Penitentiary and regards the seal of confession and I’m posting that in a separate column.


From Holy See Press Office July 1: In memory of the 6th anniversary of his visit to Lampedusa, on Monday, 8 July, the Holy Father Pope Francis, will celebrate a Mass for Migrants, at 11:00, in St Peter’s Basilica. Around 250 people will participate in the celebration, among whom will be migrants, refugees and those who are dedicated to saving their lives. Taking part in the Mass, presided over by the Pope at the Altar of the Chair of St Peter, will be only those persons invited by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, to whom the Holy Father has entrusted the organization of the event.

While Vatican Media will provide a live broadcast of the Mass, the presence of the press in the Basilica is not anticipated. The Holy Father desires that the moment be as recollected as possible in the remembrance of how many have lost their lives fleeing war and misery, and so as to encourage those who strive day after day to sustain, accompany and welcome migrants and refugees.


The Vatican announced the date of the canonization of Blessed John Henry Newman along with four others on the second Sunday of October 2019.
By Linda Bordoni (vaticannews)

At a consistory of cardinals on Monday, July 1 Pope Francis formally approved Blessed John Henry Newman’s canonization along with that of Sister Mariam Thresia, Giuseppina Vannini, Dulce Lopes Pontes and Margarita Bays.

In February, the Pope signed a decree recognizing a second miracle attributed to Blessed John Henry Newman, the inexplicable healing of a woman with a “life-threatening pregnancy.”

Blessed John Henry Newman was one of the most prominent converts to Catholicism from Anglicanism of the 19th century. He was already an esteemed Anglican theologian when he founded the Oxford Movement to return the Church of England to its Catholic roots, before himself converting to the Catholic faith. He was renowned as a brilliant thinker and was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII. He died in Birmingham in 1890, aged 89, after founding the Birmingham Oratory (of St. Philip Neri).


Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet Pope Francis in the Vatican on July 4. According to the Catholic Archbishop of Moscow Paolo Pezzi, issues such as dialogue, peace and the environment are likely to dominate the talks but he is not optimistic about a possible papal visit to Russia.

By Robin Gomes (vaticannews)

Archbishop Paolo Pezzi of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, Russia, is enthusiastic about the next meeting between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for Thursday in the Vatican.

Dialogue, peace, common home
“Even though we are not aware of the program of the meeting, I can imagine that themes dear to the Holy Father such as peace and safeguarding our common home, are likely to be on the agenda of discussion,” the Italian-born archbishop told FM radio Radio Vaticana Italia.

The July 4 meeting will be the third between Pope Francis and Putin in the Vatican. They first met on November 25, 2013, and in less than two years they met again on June 10, 2015.

The Holy See and the Russian Federation re-established bilateral relations in 1990 and re-established full diplomatic relations in 2009.

While underscoring Russia’s importance in the quest for world peace, Arch. Pezzi noted the pope’s deep commitment to peace among peoples. What the Church expects from this third meeting between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said, is to be able to continue to dialogue.

Even though the agenda of the upcoming meeting is unknown, the 58-year old archbishop hopes that issues very dear to Pope Francis, such as peace in the world and the defense of our common home, creation, will be on the table.

Commenting on the style of dialogue of the Holy Father, he said the Argentine pope wants to know about and listen a lot to the other while at the same time allowing himself to be questioned and be challenged by what he hears. At the same time, without being verbose, he prefers to go to the heart of the matter with gestures and few words.

Possible papal visit?
Even though everyone would greatly wish that Putin’s visit would result in a possible invitation for the Pope to visit Moscow, Archbishop Pezzi believes it is not likely. Even though it is the political power that formally invites the pope, most importantly it is the religious authority of the place that seeks to have the Pope as a guest.
“As it appears up till now,” the archbishop said, “there hasn’t been any official invitation from the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, the most important religious element of the country, and it is not likely the Russian president will invite the pope on his own without the backing of the Orthodox Church.

Catholic-Orthodox relations
Pope Francis and Putin are meeting this week amid improving relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The two leaders will be meeting for the first time since the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in 2016, regarded as a major step in healing the bitterness of the Great Schism of 1054 that split the followers of Christ into Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism.

With 165 million faithful out of some 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest in the Orthodox world.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and Boris Yeltsin, the first president of post-Soviet Russia, had invited the late Pope St. John Paul II to visit Russia.
Pope Francis has made several trips to countries with predominantly Orthodox populations.


Here’s a good summary of the document and the issues it creates for Catholic priests in China where all clergy are asked to register with the state in order to perform their ministry. The state is also looking for loyalty from these ministers in an attempt, in particular vis-a-vis the Catholic Church, to separate them from Rome, the Pope, the Vatican. This suggests that the only loyalty that will be allowed is that to the state.

And here’s a CNA report that makes you weep – as I do every time I see similar stories from and about China – the reason I and countless others have been asking why the Vatican enacted the agreement it did last September 22 with the Chinese government regarding the naming of bishops: “Religion in China: ‘It’s never been worse than it is right now,’ Congress hears” –


For some time requests have been received by the Holy See, from Bishops in Mainland China, for a concrete indication of the approach to be adopted in relation to the obligation of presenting an application for civil registration. In this regard, as is known, many Pastors remain deeply disturbed since the modality of such registration – which is obligatory, according to the new regulations on religious activities, on pain of inability to function pastorally – requires, almost invariably, the signing of a document in which, notwithstanding the commitment assumed by the Chinese authorities to respect also Catholic doctrine, one must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China.

The complex reality of China and the fact that there does not appear to be a uniform praxis with regard to the application of the regulations for religious affairs, make it particularly difficult to decide on the matter. On the one hand, the Holy See does not intend to force anyone’s conscience. On the other hand, it considers that the experience of clandestinity is not a normal feature of the Church’s life and that history has shown that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith (cfr. Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics of 27 May 2007, n. 8). Thus, the Holy See continues to ask that the civil registration of the clergy take place in a manner that guarantees respect for the conscience and the profound Catholic convictions of the persons involved. Only in that way, in fact, can both the unity of the Church and the contribution of Catholics to the good of Chinese society be fostered.

In what concerns, then, the evaluation of the eventual declaration that must be signed upon registering, in the first place it is necessary to bear in mind that the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China formally guarantees religious freedom (art. 36). In the second place, the Provisional Agreement of 22 September 2018, recognising the particular role of the Successor of Peter, logically leads the Holy See to understand and interpret the “independence” of the Catholic Church in China not in an absolute sense, namely as separation from the Pope and the Universal Church, but rather relative to the political sphere, as happens everywhere in the world in the relations between the Universal Church and the particular Churches. To affirm that for the Catholic identity there can be no separation from the Successor of Peter, does not mean making the local Church an alien body in the society and the culture of the country in which she lives and works. In the third place, the context of the actual relations between China and the Holy See, characterised as they are by a consolidated dialogue between the two Parties, differs from that which saw the birth of the patriotic structures in the 1950s. In the fourth place, a factor of great importance should be added, namely, that over the years, many Bishops who were ordained without the apostolic mandate have asked for and received reconciliation with the Successor of Peter, so that today all Chinese Bishops are in communion with the Apostolic See and desire an ever greater integration with the Catholic Bishops of the whole world.

In light of these facts, it is legitimate to expect a new approach on the part of everyone, also when addressing practical questions about the life of the Church. For its part, the Holy See continues to dialogue with the Chinese Authorities about the civil registration of Bishops and priests in order to find a formula that, while allowing for registration, would respect not only Chinese laws but also Catholic doctrine.

In the meantime, bearing in mind what has been noted above, if a Bishop or a priest decides to register civilly, but the text of the declaration required for the registration does not appear respectful of the Catholic faith, he will specify in writing, upon signing, that he acts without failing in his duty to remain faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine. Where it is not possible to make such a clarification in writing, the applicant will do so at least orally and if possible in the presence of a witness. In each case, it is appropriate that the applicant then certify to his proper Ordinary with what intention he has made the registration. The registration, in fact, is always to be understood as having the sole aim of fostering the good of the diocesan community and its growth in the spirit of unity, as well as an evangelisation commensurate to the new demands of Chinese society and the responsible management of the goods of the Church.

At the same time, the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions. The Holy See remains close to them and asks the Lord to help them to safeguard the communion with their brothers and sisters in the faith, even in the face of those trials that each one will have to face.

The bishop, for his part, “should nurture and publicly manifest his esteem for his priests, showing them trust and praising them, if they deserve it. He should respect and require others to respect their rights and should defend them against unjust criticism. He should act swiftly to resolve controversies, so as to avoid the prolonged disquiet which can overshadow fraternal charity and do damage to the pastoral ministry” (Apostolorum Successores, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops, 22 February 2004, n. 77).

It is important, then, that also the lay faithful not only understand the complexity of the situation, described above, but in addition accept with an open heart the anguished decision taken by their Pastors, whatever it may be. The local Catholic community should accompany them in a spirit of faith, with prayer and affection, refraining from any judgement of the choices of others, maintaining the bond of unity and demonstrating mercy towards all.

In any case, until such time as a modality for the civil registration of the clergy that is more respectful of Catholic doctrine, and thus of the consciences of those involved, is established through a frank and constructive dialogue between the two Parties, as agreed, the Holy See asks that no intimidatory pressures be applied to the “non official” Catholic communities, as, unfortunately, has already happened.

Finally, the Holy See trusts that everyone can accept these pastoral indications as a means of helping those faced with choices that are far from simple, to make such choices in a spirit of faith and unity. All those involved – the Holy See, Bishops, priests, religious men and women and the lay faithful – are called to discern the will of God with patience and humility on this part of the journey of the Church in China, marked, as it is, by much hope but also by enduring difficulties.

From the Vatican, on 28 June 2019, Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.


Last evening at 6 pm in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said Mass to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Prof. Guzmán Carriquiri Lecour and Lídice María Gómez Mango. Guzman, a Uruguyan, has held numerous positions in the Roman Curia, starting in 1971 and including Bureau Chief and later under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. It seems the Pope heard the couple had planned a Mass and he decided to personally preside! A lovely way to thank the couple, especially Guzman, for his years of service!

From Canton Ohio: A miracle inquiry for the Cause of Beatification of the Servant of God Rhoda Wise was closed in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown on June 25, 2019 and will be sent to the Congregation of Saints in Rome. More details will be shared at the special Mass on the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in thanksgiving for the 80th Anniversary of the Healing of The Servant of God Rhoda Wise. The Mass is 7:00 pm at Saint Peter Catholic Church, Canton, celebrated by Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown.

There is a big breaking story on China from the Vatican – will try to post Vatican note ASAP.


Join me on this final weekend of June for a new edition of Vatican Insider for Part II of my conversation with Michael Galligan-Stierle, outgoing president and CEO of ACCU – the Washington, DC-based Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Every June Michael and his wife Pamela lead the ACCU’s annual Rome seminar for university and college presidents. We talk about the history of ACCU the Rome seminar, the difference between college and university, the benefits of membership in ACCU for a college or university, the advantages of going to a Catholic college or university, and much more.

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Thirty-one metropolitan archbishops will receive the pallium tomorrow morning, June 29 in St. Peter’s basilica during Mass presided over by the Holy Father. The Pope will bless the palliums during Mass and hand each archbishop the symbol of his authority in his archdiocese and of his ties to the Successor of Peter, the Pope. The nuncio of each archbishop’s country will actually place the pallium on his shoulders in a ceremony in his home cathedral.

June 29 is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles and patron saints of Rome. There are a number of non-liturgical events that mark the day of you happen to be in the Eternal City. It is a big holiday for the Vatican and the City of Rome.

The historical Floral Painting known as Infiorata Storica, organized by the Pro Loco organization of Rome, will take place tomorrow between Via della Conciliazione and Piazza Pio XII, just yards from St. Peter’s Square.

According to historical sources, the custom of creating floral paintings was born in Rome in the year 1625, when on the occasion of the patronal feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, the head of the Vatican Floristry, Benedetto Drei had carpets made of “leafy flowers and vines to emulate the works of the mosaic” in front of the Basilica of St. Peter. At the death of Benedetto Drei, it was Gian Lorenzo Bernini who succeeded him, and it is through his influence that the tradition spread to the localities of Castelli Romani, rooting itself strongly in Lazio and beyond.

At 9:30 pm on June 29, go to the terraces of the Pincio (Piazza del Popolo) for the 13th edition of the historical re-enactment of the “Girandola di Roma,” (the Roman pinwheel), a fireworks display conceived by Michelangelo and reworked by Bernini.