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

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

😇 Today’s feast:  Our Lady of Guadalupe.

📜 Today’s readings:  Zec 2:14-17  ▪  Judith 13:18BCDE, 19  ▪  Lk 1:26-38.

🗓 Today’s anniversary: 10 years since the first papal tweet.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper has said that “the Church is in a deep crisis” and “one can even speak of an identity crisis” (Italian report, German report).

2:  New Italian Bishop Giuliano Brugnotto has announced that he will not have a coat of arms or motto (Italian interview, report, press release).

3: Vatican Cardinal Michael Czerny has said that the preferential option for the poor is “neither ideological nor does it correspond to a political vision of the Church.”

4:  Andrea Gagliarducci argues that Pope Francis has “allowed a few people to become highly influential” despite seeking “to avoid having gatekeepers.”

5: Fr. William R. Dailey suggests that the seeds planted by Vatican II could “bear greater fruit by 2050 or 2075 than they have by 2022.”

6:  Bishop Erik Varden reflects on the “asceticism of joy” in an Advent pastoral letter.

7:  And Kim Willsher reports that two lead sarcophaguses found buried under the nave of Notre Dame Cathedral “have begun giving up their secrets.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🔄  Weekend round-up

On Saturday, Dec. 10, Pope Francis spoke to Barcelona’s seminarians, met with Italian firefighters, received Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová and others in private audience, and named new bishops in Italy and Zambia.

On Sunday, Dec. 11, the pope delivered his Angelus address, welcoming the beatification of Brazil’s Isabel Cristina Mrad Campos and praying for peace in South Sudan. He also blessed “bambinelli,” or figurines of the Baby Jesus.

🧐  Look closer

A fillip for France  Good news has been in short supply in the French Catholic Church of late. November was a particularly grim month, with a retired cardinal admitting to abuse, an emeritus archbishop acknowledging “inappropriate” behavior, and a bishop-elect stepping aside due to burnout.  

Catholics have been struggling with a multifaceted crisis since at least October 2021, when an independent commission concluded that up 330,000 children were abused in the Church in France between 1950 and 2020.

But on Friday, the French bishops’ conference announced some welcome news: Catholic giving not only remained steady in 2021 but actually increased.

Welcome surprise  Presenting the 2021 figures on Dec. 9, the layman Ambroise Laurent said it was “a surprise” that parish resources rose by 10% last year, to a total of 537 million euros (around $567 million), compared to 489 million (roughly $516 million) in 2020.

Laurent, the bishops’ conference’s deputy secretary general, noted that “Catholics were scandalized” and had “suffered the shock, but they are there.”

The figure will be a relief for the French bishops as the Church lost around 40% of its annual income in 2020 amid coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

Mixed outlook  But the 2021 figures weren’t all good news. Although donations amounted to 537 million euros, the expenses of parishes and dioceses were 676 million euros (around $714 million).

Since 1905, the French Catholic Church’s primary source of funds has been the “Denier de l’Église,” an annual contribution paid by Catholics to dioceses. The number of donors is declining, from 1.1 million households in 2016 to 977,000 in 2020. Yet the average donation has risen from 226 euros (around $238) in 2016 to 274 ($289) in 2020.

The French bishops’ conference worries that soaring energy costs will stretch budgets further. Laurent said that the Church was considering energy-saving plans, renovation work, and grouped purchases in an effort to reduce bills.

Given the 139 million euro (roughly $146 million) gap between resources and expenses, all dioceses will need to review and reduce expenditures. While the French Church has avoided financial disaster, it is in for an extended period of austerity.

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

🇺🇸  Chicago priest Fr. Michael Pfleger has been reinstated following an investigation of an abuse allegation (Cardinal Cupich letter).

🇦🇷  Argentine President Alberto Fernández will meet with Church leaders on Wednesday amid an economic crisis (Spanish report).

🇻🇦  Austria’s bishops have begun their ad limina visit with Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica (German report, homily full text).

🇩🇪  The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) has elected 27 people to a committee drawing up plans for a permanent synodal council to oversee the German Church (German statement, CNA Deutsch).

🇨🇿  The Archdiocese of Prague plans to sell a 15th-century Gothic bell tower and invest in real estate before it loses state financial support in 2030.

🇮🇹  The Italian charismatic group Rinnovamento nello Spirito Santo is celebrating its 50th anniversary (Italian interview).

🇨🇩 Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu has said that “gangs of thugs” are taking advantage of disorder to “sow death and desolation” in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 14 Episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Peter Collins of East Anglia.

Dec. 16  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 happy feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

-- Luke

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