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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. Nicholas.

📜 Today’s readings:  Is 40:1-11  ▪  Ps 96:1-2, 3 and 10ac, 11-12, 13  ▪  Mt 18:12-14.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  Australian Bishop Tim Harris has accused Queensland authorities of “flying in death squads to assist in the killing of terminally ill people.”

2:  France’s bishops have formally established their national canonical criminal court (French report, statement).

3:  The father of Ukrainian Greek Catholic leader Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk died on Dec. 5 at the age of 79 (Ukrainian report).

4:  Vatican Cardinal Konrad Krajewski has appealed for donations of thermal shirts to help Ukrainians survive winter (Italian text).

5:  Czech Msgr. Tomáš Halík suggests that the 21st century is “the afternoon of Christianity.”

6:  Dawn Beutner profiles the saintly Danish scientist Niels Stensen.

7:  And Malta is now linked to the Way of St. James via the “Camino Maltés.”

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Defending John Paul II  Poland’s bishops issued a declaration on Nov. 14 defending St. John Paul II’s record on abuse. The 1,600-word statement linked criticism of his handling of abuse cases with efforts to undermine the legacy of the Polish pope who led the Church from 1978 to 2005.

  • “The root cause of the communications media assault on St. John Paul II and his pontificate is the attitude of media towards his teaching expressed, for example, in encyclicals such as Redemptor hominis or Veritatis splendor, as well as in his theology of the body, which does not correspond to contemporary ideologies promoting hedonism, relativism, and moral nihilism,” the bishops argued.

They offered a detailed rebuttal of claims that John Paul II — who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2014 — was indifferent to clerical abuse, concluding that he “adopted decisive measures against cases of sexual abuse of children and minors by certain clergy and introduced Church-wide norms of accountability for such crimes.”

This is not the first time that the bishops have defended their celebrated countryman’s record. In the wake of the McCarrick Report, bishops’ conference president Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki published an extensive statement insisting that former Washington archbishop Theodore McCarrick “cynically deceived” a pope whose “highest priority” was safeguarding.

Why now?  The bishops’ recent statement followed the publication of a book criticizing the Polish pope’s handling of abuse cases: “Bielmo: What John Paul II Knew,” by the journalist Marcin Gutowski.

The book, based on material collected by Gutowski for a series on the television channel TVN24, provoked both criticism and praise among Polish Catholics, with some describing it as an attack on John Paul II and others as an act of truth-seeking.

Fr. Adam Żak, the Polish bishops’ coordinator for the protection of children and youth, said he didn’t see the book contributing to a serious discussion in Poland about John Paul II’s decision-making.

  • “I am sorry, but I do not see any discussion,” he told the Polish Catholic news agency KAI. “Discussion would be possible if there was a willingness to understand the person of John Paul with his conditioning and mistakes, but also with his achievements and greatness.”

What’s next  Not long after the Polish bishops’ latest intervention, the Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek claimed he had discovered evidence that the future pope — then known as Archbishop Karol Wojtyła — covered up abuse while leading the Archdiocese of Kraków from 1964 to 1978.

  • “I found concrete cases of priests who abused children in the Archdiocese of Kraków, where the future pope was archbishop. The future pope knew about it and nevertheless transferred those men. That led to new victims,” asserted Overbeek, who has spent two years examining Polish archives and will publish a book about his findings, entitled “Maxima Culpa,” next year.

Meanwhile, Polish media reported that the Vatican was examining the handling of abuse cases in the Kraków archdiocese in the 1960s and 70s.

  • The Rzeczpospolita newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying: “It was known that sooner or later there would be questions about the earlier period of Wojtyła’s life. And they are already emerging. Hence, this is the reason for the inquiry and historical research. The Vatican wants to be ready to answer, because the issues are delicate and sensitive.”

The debate about John Paul II’s knowledge of and response to abuse cases is guaranteed to continue into 2023 — and likely far beyond — with special intensity in his homeland.

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 U.S. Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a free speech case involving an graphic designer who objects to same-sex weddings.

🇨🇦 A Canadian veteran has testified that she was offered assisted suicide when she requested a home wheelchair lift (Ross Douthat).

🇧🇷  Brazilian Cardinal Orani João Tempesta has excommunicated a priest for the offense of schism (Portuguese report, English decree full text).

🇰🇷  Vatican Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik has said that he prays daily for a papal visit to North Korea (Korean report).

🇮🇩  Indonesia’s parliament has passed a law criminalizing sex outside marriage.

🇫🇷  The French government is seeking private sector help to maintain Clairvaux Abbey.

🇻🇦  Pope Francis has written the preface to a book collecting his appeals for peace in Ukraine (Italian preface).

📅  Coming soon

Dec. 7  Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington turns 75.

Dec. 8  Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; Pope Francis’ act of veneration of Mary Immaculate; Worldwide Women’s Rosary.

Dec. 10  Our Lady of Loreto; Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova due to meet Pope Francis.

Dec. 12  Our Lady of Guadalupe; Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter’s; 10th anniversary of first papal tweet.

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. 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; Papal Angelus.

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. Nicholas.

-- Luke

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