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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. Gregory of Nyssa.

📜 Today’s readings:  Heb 2:5-12 ▪  Ps 8:2ab & 5, 6-7, 8-9  ▪  Mk 1:21-28.

🗞  Starting seven

1:  The Vatican has reopened an investigation into the 1983 disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee.

2:  Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez is expected to face an initial hearing today on charges of “conspiracy” and “spreading false news” (Spanish report).

3:  Bishop Mark Seitz has said that he urged Joe Biden to consider the impact of a new migrant crackdown when the U.S. President visited the U.S.-Mexico border Sunday.

4: An estimated 88,000 people took part in a “walk of faith” in Manila on the Feast of the Black Nazarene.

5:  Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich discusses Benedict XVI, the Rupnik scandal, and Germany’s synodal way (French video interview).

6:  Paulina Guzik explains why Poles loved German pope Benedict XVI.

7:  And Élodie Maurot, Massimo Scapin, and Gianni Valente mark the 150th birth anniversary of French Catholic poet Charles Péguy.

🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino

🧐  Look closer

Moment of truth  Vatican officials may pop off discreetly to the bookstore on Jan. 12, the publication date of “Nient’altro che la verità” (“Nothing but the truth”), Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s controversial new account of his life with Benedict XVI.

  • According to the publisher Edizioni Piemme, the book aims to set the record straight about “the blatant calumnies and dark maneuvers that have tried in vain to cast shadows on the German pontiff’s magisterium and actions, and thus to finally make known the true face of one of the greatest protagonists of recent decades, too often unjustly denigrated by critics as Panzerkardinal or ‘God’s Rottweiler.’”

The book’s appearance, a week after Benedict XVI’s funeral, has set the Vatican on edge. Intrigue reached new heights on Monday, when Pope Francis summoned the German archbishop to a private audience.

What’s inside?  The book’s contents have been widely trailed ahead of its publication. Its disclosures include Benedict XVI’s dismay at Pope Francis’ crackdown on the Traditional Latin Mass, the pope emeritus’ puzzlement at the use of footnotes in Amoris laetitia, his surprise at the lack of a response to the four cardinals’ “dubia,” and his thoughts on Francis’ blockbuster 2013 interview “A big heart open to God.”

Archbishop Gänswein also addresses Pope Francis’ decision to change his duties in 2020 after a dispute over a book containing an essay by Benedict.

  • “Printing previously secret letters between the two popes and relaying private conversations with both, Gaenswein revealed that Francis even refused entreaties from Benedict to take him back on,” reported AP’s Nicole Winfield. “Embittered, Gaenswein described Francis as insincere, illogical and sarcastic in deciding his fate, and said Benedict even made fun of Francis when told of the decision.”

What are people saying?  Pope Francis’ biographer Austen Ivereigh suggested that Archbishop Gänswein was “making public what [Benedict] intended to be *private* documents and comments.”

  • “These disclosures undermine Benedict’s oath of loyalty to Francis, which Benedict stuck to rigorously; violate Gänswein’s duty of confidentiality to both B and F while in a sensitive curial role; and encourage those who seek wrongly to set Benedict’s legacy against Francis,” he wrote on Twitter.

He added that he was “left wondering: What is the difference, morally, between what Benedict’s butler Paolo Gabriele did in 2012 and what his private secretary has done in 2023?”

His comments were picked up by the Italian newspaper Domani — in a report headlined “Pope calls Msgr. Gänswein to account. Ratzinger’s former secretary increasingly isolated” — which was in turn highlighted in a press roundup by La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit periodical published in Rome and vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Italian media have speculated that the book is the first step in a conspiracy to force Pope Francis’ resignation. That was the thesis advanced by Gianluigi Nuzzi in La Stampa on Jan. 8 and echoed in the Domani article, which referred to an “Operation Gänswein.”

The Corriere della Sera said that Archbishop Gänswein’s friends reported that he was upset at “malicious” interpretations of “out-of-context” excerpts from the book but had resolved to “be quiet.”

What’s next?  Conjecture is swirling about the 66-year-old German archbishop’s future. He served as Benedict XVI’s personal secretary from 2003 and has held the post of prefect of the Prefecture of the Papal Household since 2012.

Corriere della Sera said that possible assignments included leading a diocese in Germany, “a diplomatic post in a nunciature abroad, or a Roman arrangement, possibly discreet.”

German media have suggested that he could be a suitable replacement for the embattled Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki at the helm of Cologne archdiocese.

If that happened, Archbishop Gänswein would be following a similar trajectory to Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, who was John Paul II’s personal secretary until the Polish pope’s death in 2005 and soon after named archbishop of Kraków. But Pope Francis may have other plans.

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

🇺🇸  Roughly one in three Americans now say they never attend religious services, according to a new study, “Faith After the Pandemic” (full report).

🇫🇷  Notre-Dame de Paris could reopen to the public on Dec. 8, 2024, if restoration work goes according to plan (French report).

🇹🇷  Modern Turkey’s first new church is due to open in two months.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿  Excommunicated Bishop Richard Williamson has announced that he illicitly consecrated a bishop “in private” in England in January 2021 (French report, full text).

🇳🇬   Cardinal John Onaiyekan has urged Nigeria’s politicians to “desist from any form of manipulations” after next month’s general election.

🇲🇿  Insurgents linked to Islamic State have claimed responsibility for a recent attack on two Christian villages in northern Mozambique.

🇪🇹  Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew has called on all parties to work toward “lasting peace” in the war-torn Tigray Region.

📅  Coming soon

Jan. 11  Funeral of Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr held in Ghana.

Jan. 12 Cardinal Angelo De Donatis celebrates Mass of Suffrage for the repose of the soul of Benedict XVI at 7 p.m. Rome time at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.

Jan. 14 Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco turns 80.

Jan. 21  Cardinal Vincent Nichols celebrates Mass marking the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Jesuit’s British Province.

Jan. 22  U.S. Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children; March for Life in Paris, France.

Jan. 31  Pope Francis starts visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan; Meeting of Portuguese-speaking bishops’ meeting begins in Nampula, Mozambique.

Feb. 3 Cardinal Domenico Calcagno turns 80.

Feb. 5  Europe’s continental synodal assembly begins in Prague.

Have a very happy feast of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

-- Luke

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