January 2, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On every list of most important news events of 2013 appears the papal transition from Pope Benedict XVI to Francis.
LifeSiteNews' 2013 papal coverage began normally with a January 7 address by Pope Benedict to Vatican diplomats, in which he said that there can be no true peace with abortion and euthanasia. A couple of days later Pope Benedict warned bishops to “be courageous” in the face of “extremely intolerant” secularism. Then, in late January, Pope Benedict tweeted and sent a letter to the U.S. March for Life.
Even a few days before the shock resignation announcement, Pope Benedict was lending public support to an effort to defund abortion in Europe.
Then came the announcement that rocked the world. Our initial story on that fateful February 11 included the Pope’s full address to the cardinals he called together to make his surprise announcement. The storm and two lightning strikes on St. Peter’s dome that day tangibly expressed the mood of foreboding which many felt following the announcement.
Pope Benedict’s last addresses called on Catholics to stay strong on marriage, abortion, eugenics, and euthanasia.
The wait for a new pope did not last long, and when Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected LifeSiteNews readers had a first look at the new pope through his former actions on life and family while a Cardinal in Buenos Aires, including statements strongly condemning abortion and gay “marriage” and urging pro-life activists to stand against abortion even if they are persecuted or put to death.
Then came the roller coaster ride of Pope Francis’ various statements on the issues we cover. The first glimpses were very positive. From a blessing for a child in the womb on his first public outing as Pope to praying for the conversion of abortionists a couple of weeks into his new role.
Pope Francis was also refreshingly willing to talk openly about the devil. And when he performed an impromptu exorcism in St. Peter’s Square we learned that the man’s possession was connected to abortion. Pro-lifers the world over were also wowed when the Pope went out to greet participants in Rome’s March for Life in May.
Then came rumors, soon refuted, that while a Cardinal in Argentina, Pope Francis had approved of homosexual civil unions. No Pope could ever support such a thing as it would change unalterable Church teaching.
Things really started to get confusing, however, when in June there was a leak of an apparent transcript from a private conversation between the Pope and Latin American religious leaders. The interview was something of a foretaste of Francis’ later and now famous off-the-cuff interviews. In the transcript he appeared to express a distaste for ‘restorationist’ Catholics, but also acknowledged the presence of a ‘gay lobby’ within the Vatican’s highest ranks.
But then, in June, the Pope held a commemoration of Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical The Gospel of Life and LifeSiteNews was asked to participate in an official capacity with the Vatican ceremony. I had the opportunity to meet the Holy Father personally.
In early July came the Pope’s first encyclical, which by all accounts was a finishing of the work of Pope Benedict. Then in late July came the first of the off-the-cuff interviews. It began with the interview on the plane returning from Rio, during which Pope Francis famously said ‘who am I to judge’ when asked about homosexuals in the Vatican. The question was prompted by the Pope’s appointment of a bishop, who evidence suggests was homosexually involved as a priest, to head the Vatican bank.
We reported, of course, what the pope actually said and the massive media spin…
It was September when things really heated up, with the Pope’s famous Jesuit magazine interview, in which he stated that he had deliberately avoided speaking as much as some would like on the issues of abortion, contraception, and gay “marriage,” and said Catholics should not be “obsessed” with “transmitting a multitude of disjointed doctrines.” The liberal media widely interpreted these statements as a call for Catholics to abandon the culture wars, and take a softer stance on these issues.
The apparent contrast between Francis' remarks and what his predecessors said on the matter was notable:
Pro-life leaders reacted, as did bishops and eventually even a Vatican Cardinal:
However, the very day after that interview was released, Pope Francis delivered his strongest pro-life address. In a talk to Catholic ob/gyns, the Pope said, “Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world.” In the midst of the media reaction to the Jesuit interview, these remarks went mostly unnoticed in the press.
While the controversy over that Jesuit interview was still ongoing, there came a second off-the-cuff interview, this time with the famed Italian atheist Eugenio Scalfari:
The fallout from these interviews was truly remarkable, with President Obama praising the Pope, along with liberal media pundits everywhere. Those same media liberals began using the Pope’s words to criticize faithful Catholics trying to defend the Church’s teachings on life and family. Dissident Catholics like Nancy Pelosi shed tears of joy – literally.
It was at this point that responding to many questions from our readership, LifeSiteNews held a webcast on Pope Francis to assist people in comprehending what was happening. Prof. Janet Smith, HLI's Fr. Shenan Boquet, and Priests for Life Fr. Frank Pavone joined Steve Jalsevac and me in delivering that broacast.
At this time, too, came the revelations of the Vatican’s crushing discipline of one of the most faithful orders of monks in the Church, which, when compared to the multitude of dissident orders which remained relatively untouched, has been a heart-wrenching and confusing episode for many Catholics to witness.
But just as things seemed most desperate, the Vatican called into question the veracity of the interview with Scalfari, the one which cited unemployment and loneliness as the two most pressing issues facing the world today:
And with that came news that Pope Francis had thanked two conservative Catholics who had criticized him for some of his statements:
That same week Pope Francis gave a homily against the desire to “be like everyone else” and what he called an “adolescent progressivism”. “Lord,” the pope prayed, “give me the discernment to recognize the subtle conspiracies of worldliness that lead us to negotiate our values and our faith.”
In late November came Pope Francis’ major work, the 220-page exhortation, the Gospel of Joy. In it, he condemned abortion as a crime that cries out to God for vengeance, and let one and all know that the Church could never change its teaching on abortion:
That same exhortation, however, was also packed with statements that many interpreted as critical of traditional Catholics, especially those with a leaning toward the traditional Latin form of the liturgy. See our analysis here (and that of Michael O’Brien):
Then, while leaders around the world, including the Pope, were issuing messages of praise for the deceased South African President Nelson Mandela, pro-life leaders cautioned reserve, pointing out that Mandela had legalized abortion, which has resulted in the deaths of nearly a million South African children.
But then again, on December 9 the Pope mentioned the unborn as victims of a throwaway culture.
However, in the middle of December pro-life leaders around the world reacted with shock and sadness at the decision to remove pro-life champion Cardinal Raymond Burke from the influential Congregation of Bishops, which has a say in appointing bishops around the world.
Finally, at the very close of the year, came a couple of items that once again discounted the hopes of liberals that Pope Francis will change the Church’s teachings on key issues. A Maltese Bishop revealed how Pope Francis encouraged him to speak out against homosexual adoption. Also while some have been worried that statements of the Pope would lead to greater ‘doctrinal’ power for bishops conferences (known in many countries to be left-leaning), the Pope’s chief official on doctrine gave an interview in which he refuted the idea of national churches and conference presidents acting as vice-popes.
LifeSiteNews will continue to follow the developments closely. We’re headed to Rome in late April and early May to cover the canonization of Pope John Paul II, a hero to pro-life Christians everywhere.