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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: St. Dominic of Silos.

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 7:10-14  ▪  Ps 24:1-2, 3-4ab, 5-6  ▪ Lk 1:26-38

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Vatican-appointed investigator Bishop Daniele Libanori has said that women’s claims against Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik are true (alleged victim interview, timeline, Lucetta Scaraffia Italian text, Fr. Hans Zollner Spanish interview).

2:  In a Christmas message, Haiti’s bishops have appealed to gangs to stop their “murderous madness” (French full text).

3:  Kidnappers have reportedly seized a priest from Nigeria’s Diocese of Umuahia.

4:  Liechtenstein’s Archbishop Wolfgang Haas has canceled the traditional opening Mass of the country’s parliament due to lawmakers’ support for same-sex marriage (German report, full text).

5: Michelle La Rosa asks what will happen to the pro-life ministry Priests for Life after Frank Pavone’s dismissal from the clerical state (Phil Lawler, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Fr. Gerald E. Murray, nuncio letter).

6:  Francis X. Rocca says that U.S. priests are “becoming more conservative, even as their flocks are becoming more liberal.”

7:  And Cardinal Leonardo Sandri has said that Pope Francis was delighted by Argentina’s soccer World Cup victory (Italian report).

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🔄  (Belated) weekend round-up

On Saturday, Dec. 17, Pope Francis celebrated his 86th birthday, advanced sainthood causes, including those of the Ulma family and Matteo Ricci, appointed new bishops, met with Slovenia’s Prime Minister Robert Golob and others, addressed Vatican Christmas concert artists and a Mother Teresa Awards delegation (Italian full text).

On Sunday, Dec. 18, the pope recited the Angelus and met with children helped by the Santa Marta Pediatric Dispensary (Italian full text). He also gave interviews to Spain’s ABC newspaper and Italy’s Canale 5 (Italian full text).

On Monday, Dec. 19, he appointed new Washington auxiliary bishops, met with Cardinal Mario Grech and others, sent a condolence telegram after the death of Cardinal Severino Poletto, and addressed members of the Italian General Confederation of Labor (Italian full text).

🧐  Look closer

Cake and canons  Austria’s bishops ended their Dec. 12-16 ad limina trip to Rome with a papal audience. Meeting with Pope Francis on the eve of his 86th birthday, they offered him a two-part rendition of the traditional song “Viel Glück und viel Segen” and a Viennese Sachertorte.

The two-hour gathering, dominated by discussion of the Ukraine war, followed the ad limina visits of bishops from the Netherlands (Nov. 7-13), Germany (Nov. 14-18), and Belgium (Nov. 21-25).

‘We are heard’  Like the Belgian bishops, Austrian Church leaders said they were struck by the way they were received at the Vatican.

  • Bishops’ conference president Archbishop Franz Lackner said: “It was not difficult to put forward what moves us and the people of Austria, and we had the impression throughout: it gets through, we are heard.”

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said that his fifth ad limina visit was marked by “a tremendous openness, cordiality, and willingness to listen and exchange.” He described this as “a Francis effect.”

‘New paths’ In their first ad limina visit since 2014, Austrian bishops discussed the country’s national synod synthesis with Vatican officials. The document, based on local listening sessions during the first phase of the global Synodal Process, noted widespread calls for “women’s ordination (at least in the form of the diaconate)” and a sense of exclusion among “remarried divorcees and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Other topics raised during the ad limina trip included priestly celibacy, same-sex blessings, and lay preaching at Masses.

  • Bishop Wilhelm Krautwaschl of Graz said: “We definitely mentioned these concerns in several discussions. But that doesn’t mean that even if we say it, that we share the same opinion. But that’s just the way it should be, because we have to be the mouthpiece for the questions of the local people.”

Bishop Ägidius Zsifkovics of Eisenstadt said he saw no prospect of swift changes on hot-button issues.

  • “We were clearly told here that the questions still require further study,” he commented. “I have the impression that an honest effort is being made here to find an answer to these questions. But I don’t see the immediate solution now. Except that these things, which are after all very topical with us, might then bring about a change in the synod [on synodality] and that the synod then decides with the pope to open up new paths here or to take them.”

What’s next  After four major European ad limina visits in quick succession, Vatican officials will have a clearer idea of the issues jostling for attention at the upcoming synod on synodality. They seem to have tried to temper expectations of radical change, perhaps with the aim of easing tensions when the world’s bishops converge on the Vatican next fall.

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

🇺🇸  The Maryland Catholic Conference has said it will support legislation ending the statute of limitations in civil lawsuits involving abuse victims (full text).

🇬🇺  Guam’s Archbishop Michael Byrnes is “on extended medical leave.”

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿  A charity worker has been arrested and charged for praying silently near an abortion facility in Birmingham, England.

🇩🇪  The German Catholic youth organization BDKJ has welcomed a proposed “self-determination law” making it easier for citizens to legally change their gender (German report, ZdK statement).

🇨🇲  Cameroon’s outgoing apostolic nuncio Archbishop Julio Murat has urged the country to engage in “dialogue without prejudice.”

🇪🇹  A Catholic bishop has said that people in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region lack food and medicine weeks after a peace deal.

🇬🇦 Gabon’s President Ali Bongo has invited Pope Francis to visit the country (French report).

📅  Coming soon

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 St. Dominic of Silos.

-- Luke

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