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Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.

I’m Luke Coppen and I seek to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.

😇 Today’s feast:  St. John of the Cross.

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 45:6C-8, 18, 21C-25  ▪  Ps 85:9AB & 10, 11-12, 13-14  ▪  Lk 7:18B-23.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  At this morning’s general audience, Pope Francis warned Catholics against the temptations of “well-mannered demons” and urged them to celebrate “a more humble Christmas” in solidarity with Ukrainians (text, video, photos).

2: Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez will remain under house arrest after being formally charged with “conspiracy” and “spreading false news.”

3: Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen is appealing against his conviction for failing to register a fund helping pro-democracy protesters.

4: Vatican Cardinal Marc Ouellet is suing a woman for defamation after she accused him of sexual assault when he was Archbishop of Quebec.

5:  A forensics firm has said it believes that hackers planted computer files to frame the Jesuit human rights activist Fr. Stan Swamy, who died in custody in 2021.

6:  Bishop Heiner Wilmer is rumored to be the next prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to the Italian website (Italian text, German biography, archive report).

7:  And Dutch Bishop Jan Hendriks has urged the auction website Catawiki to end the sale of relics (Dutch report).

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

French first  On Dec. 5, the Catholic Church in France formally established a national canonical criminal court (known in French as the tribunal pénal canonique national, or TPCN).

The French bishops’ conference (CEF) website explains that the court is unique as nothing similar exists “in this form and with this scope of competence in any other episcopal conference in the world.”

  • It describes the institution as “an internal criminal court of the Catholic Church in France that will deal with canonical offenses committed by clerics or lay persons. Intended to replace the existing diocesan or interdiocesan tribunals in France in criminal matters, its jurisdiction will extend to the entire national territory.”

Why now?  The French bishops voted to create a national court at a plenary assembly in March 2021 amid growing uproar over the Church’s handling of abuse cases.

The final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), published in October of that year, urged the bishops to set up the court “without delay” and with “a collegiate bench of judges composed not only of expert priests but also of specially trained lay judges.”

The court was due to be unveiled in April, but its launch was postponed because of “delays in the validation of statutes by the Holy See,” reported Solène Tadié at CNA.

  • “The lack of competent staff to investigate criminal cases at the diocesan level and the resulting heterogeneity of jurisprudence was one of the main motivations for creating the tribunal,” she wrote. “The most important one remains the desire of the CEF to ‘distance the handling of cases from the dioceses where the acts were committed.’”

Bishop Joseph de Metz-Noblat, head of the bishops’ council for canonical questions, said the court would ensure that an accused cleric’s bishop was no longer at the center of proceedings — avoiding what some have suggested is a perceived conflict of interest.

  • “For many bishops, this will be a relief: we initiated the creation of this tribunal to get out of a situation where the bishop must be both the brother of his priests and their judge,” Bishop de Metz-Noblat said.

But bishops remain responsible for preliminary investigations and bringing cases to the national court.

What’s next The court is likely to be watched closely by other bishops’ conferences. The German Church, for example, has sought to establish a similar nationwide institution since 2018, but without success.

Dutch canon law professor Astrid Kaptijn, who served as a member of CIASE, told that the majority of French bishops supported the court’s creation and worked hard to establish it, in close contact with Vatican officials.

  • “Several bishops, including the president of the bishops’ conference [Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort] and the president of the canonical commission, spoke with the various competent authorities in Rome and made it clear why this is an important project. And with that they were successful,” she explained.

If the court proves effective, then the Vatican could find more representatives of bishops’ conferences seeking permission for nationwide institutions in the coming years.

What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.

🔍 Stories to watch

🇺🇸  U.S. President Joe Biden has signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law despite Catholic Church criticism of the legislation.

🇧🇴  Bolivian bishops have appealed for an end to conflicts over land seizures.

🇻🇦  Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said that the Ukraine war should prompt Europe to recover the “spirit of Helsinki” (John Allen).

🇫🇷  The Vatican has asked Bishop Olivier Leborgne to lead a new preliminary investigation into allegations against retired Bishop Michel Santier (French report, statement).

🇪🇸  A man has been charged with allegedly assaulting a priest before a funeral in the Spanish city of Cádiz (Spanish report).

🇮🇳  India’s Supreme Court has denied a plea for Cardinal George Alencherry to be exempted from attending a court hearing related to alleged irregularities in the sale of Church property.

🇲🇲  Preaching at an episcopal installation ceremony, Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo has said that “in these dark moments there are great expectations from our people.”

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 16  Vatican press conference presenting Pope Francis’ 2023 World Day of Peace message; anniversary of Naples’ preservation from the 1631 eruption of Mount Vesuvius, associated with the liquefaction of St. Januarius’ blood.

Dec. 17  Pope Francis’ 86th birthday.

Dec. 18  FIFA World Cup in Qatar ends.

Dec. 21  Cardinal Matteo Zuppi presides at prayer vigil for peace at the tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy.

Dec. 22  Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, turns 75.

Dec. 24 Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of the Nativity of the Lord at 7:30 p.m. Rome time.

Dec. 25  Pope gives Christmas blessing “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) at noon.

Dec. 26  St. Stephen.

Dec. 28  Pope Francis expected to publish apostolic letter marking 400 years since St. Francis de Sales’ death.

Dec. 29  Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga turns 80.

Dec. 30  Feast of the Holy Family.

Dec. 31  Pope presides at Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Have a joyful feast of St. John of the Cross.

-- Luke

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