VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI named the members of a papal commission he established in March to investigate a series of leaks of letters exchanged among Vatican officials and between the officials and the Pope himself.

Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, 82, a former president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, will lead the commission. The two other members are 88-year-old retired Slovakian Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; and the retired archbishop of Palermo, Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, 81.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - The cameras are trained on the cute baby being foisted up to the pope for a kiss and papal blessing, not on the dapper gentleman trying to handle the precious, often squirming, load with care.

Vatican ushers attend every weekly general audience, helping visitors with special needs and picking out the cutest babies in the crowd for the photo op of a lifetime. And they welcome dignitaries and heads of state visiting the pope with all the pomp and circumstance suited for their stature as "gentlemen in waiting."

These laymen, called "sediari" or chair-bearers, did just that for centuries: carried the pope on an elevated chair high above the crowds so everyone could catch a glimpse of the pontiff.

But Blessed John Paul II discontinued the practice when he was elected in 1978, preferring to walk and be close to the people.

The "sediari" stayed on, but their role no longer included carrying the pope on their shoulders -- until Blessed John Paul's death more than 26 years later.

When he died, Blessed John Paul's body had to be carried by 12 papal gentlemen on a red velvet stretcher in a solemn procession from the Apostolic Palace to St. Peter's Basilica.

Because so many of the papal ushers were young, only a few older veterans knew how to carry a pope either on the portable chair or the stretcher.

All ushers' eyes and ears were on Massimo Sansolini, who served four popes after he became a "sediario" in 1964.

He spelled out the correct procedure for smoothly and decorously lifting and carrying the papal platform so that it would stay as horizontal and secure as possible while the men navigated corridors and numerous marble staircases.

Two of his essential rules: "Carry it with just the shoulder, without help from the hand" and always begin walking with the left foot.

The rules were in his recently published Italian memoir, a follow-up to a volume he published in 1999 in which he told of his life as a papal gentleman, revealing the not-often-seen world of the Apostolic Palace, at the service of the pope.

Sansolini told reporters at the second book's launch April 23 that because there were always 12 "sediari" helping the pope -- the vicar of Christ -- he always felt like one of the apostles -- a servant of the servant of God.

In his book, he described how hard the men tried to remain calm and composed, fighting back the tears, as they transferred the pope's body before the crowds April 4, then carried the cypress casket from St. Peter's Basilica outside to the square during the April 8 funeral.

"No layperson had ever been as close to the sacred person of the pontiff as we had for 26 years straight," he wrote.

While those events briefly put Sansolini and his confreres in the world spotlight, their weekly routine is much less visible.

For the past 16 years, Sansolini has been in charge of helping disabled pilgrims get seating as close to the pope as possible during Wednesday general audiences and other special occasions.

There are special sections in the square or the Paul VI audience hall for church dignitaries, important guests, newlyweds and people with special needs. All the ushers also have their eyes open for parents with tiny infants and help them get as close as they can to the barricade in the general seating section to pass the baby to the pope in the popemobile.

Sansolini said no pope has ever complained about the tradition of individually greeting and blessing the disabled after the general audience, no matter how scarred or infirm they may be: "The pope's love knows no limits."

A typical Wednesday starts very early as Sansolini arranges the seating for the disabled section, leaving room for the wheelchairs between the plastic chairs for the caregivers.

Guests are asked to arrive a couple of hours early before the start of the audience so they can clear security and find their section.

Sansolini said he helps pass the time with all of them, chatting about their lives in whatever language they have in common. Sometimes, he said, just a caress or smile is all that it takes to forge a strong bond.

He said he has been humbled by the heroism of the mothers, fathers and caregivers of the gravely ill and physically or mentally challenged adults and children he sees every week.

"There are women like Mother Teresa all over, on every continent," caring for the unwanted or abandoned.

He said he is always touched by people he meets, from those afflicted with terminal cancer to Iraqi children bearing battle scars, "their tiny bodies, already martyred" in the bloom of their life.

Once he saw a mother come to the audience hall laden with bags and cases, which she scattered on the floor around her.

He was going to gently say something about the disarray, but let it go. He was glad he did, he wrote, because later she pulled out a series of bottles and a syringe and proceeded to feed her child through a stomach tube.

"Every time I am present at an audience I come out with greater faith" from witnessing the unconditional love, joy and hope in people, he said.

"The love of a parent overcomes everything! The human being reaches a fullness of dignity that knows no limits" when it overcomes all challenges and suffering with love and grace, he wrote.

Published in Features

VATICAN CITY - For Vatican historians, the roots of a Christian idea of religious liberty go way back: in fact, back 1,700 years to the Emperor Constantine's victory on Rome's Milvian Bridge and to his conversion.

At a Vatican conference in late April marking the anniversary, the head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences said Constantine's victory in 312 under the sign of the cross was "the foundation of a new world" marked by religious freedom for Christians and separation between church and state.

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VATICAN CITY - Citing "serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life," the Vatican announced a major reform of an association of women's religious congregations in the United States to ensure their fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle will provide "review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Vatican announced April 18. The archbishop will be assisted by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., and draw on the advice of fellow bishops, women religious and other experts.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Almost 30 years after the still-unexplained disappearance of a teenage girl who lived with her family at the Vatican, the Holy See continues to be willing to cooperate with efforts to solve the mystery, the Vatican spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi issued a three-page statement April 14 recalling how often Pope John Paul II appealed for the release of Emanuela Orlandi after her presumed kidnapping in 1983 and how top Vatican officials formally answered investigators' questions then and in subsequent investigations carried out in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.

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TORONTO - Though we all participate in the global economy by buying things and services, it’s pretty hard to take personal responsibility for globalization — but somebody has to, says the Vatican.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has issued a kind of digest of Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical and aimed it squarely at business leaders. “The Vocation of the Business Leader” is a 30-page booklet aimed at business professionals mentoring young employees and professors in business schools. It extensively quotes and summarize Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - A Vatican-sponsored congress on the ethical use of stem cells in scientific research was canceled because of a lack of funding, organizers said.

The Third International Congress on Responsible Stem Cell Research was to be held April 25-28 at the Vatican and was being organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life with the collaboration of the Vatican-based International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, the Jerome Lejeune Foundation and the Bioethical Consultative Committee of Monaco.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has appointed a German bishop who had been accused of financial irregularities and hitting children to the Vatican's health care council.

Retired Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg was named a member of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry March 21.

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VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI has established a commission to investigate a series of leaks of letters exchanged among Vatican officials and between the officials and the Pope himself.

Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, said March 16 that the papal commission would try "to shed light on the whole affair," while a Vatican tribunal would look into taking legal action against those who gave the documents to reporters, and the Vatican Secretariat of State would carry out an administrative review of every Vatican office.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - The U.S. government has put the Vatican on a list of countries that are vulnerable to money launderers, though not as vulnerable as the United States itself.

It was the first time the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs included the Holy See in its annual report.

The Vatican was one of 68 countries listed as "Jurisdictions of Concern," the second classification behind "Jurisdictions of Primary Concern," which the U.S. identifies as major money-laundering countries and includes the United States, Canada, Australia and Mexico.

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VATICAN CITY - The Vatican's official website suffered an attack by computer hackers March 7, cutting off access by users for several hours.

Italian media outlets reported that the website, vatican.va, became unresponsive around mid-afternoon local time, just as several other websites carried messages taking credit for the disruption in the name of the hacking group Anonymous. Email to and from the vatican.va domain was reportedly also blocked for at least part of the time.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Desecration, censorship, the ravages of time and even nesting mice have been unable to destroy the word of God, handed down for millennia by people of faith.

The endurance of sacred Scripture is the centerpiece of a new interfaith exhibit called Verbum Domini, which brings to the Vatican rare biblical texts and artifacts spanning a period from the third century B.C. to the 17th century.

"We seek to tell the amazing story of the preservation and translation of the most loved, most debated and the best-selling book every year and of all time," said Steve Green, an entrepreneur and the primary benefactor of The Green Collection, a private collection of more than 40,000 biblical antiquities.

Published in Arts News

VATICAN CITY - Tension, hostility and even violence are the "daily bread" of many of the Christian communities living in the biblical lands of the Middle East, said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

In a letter to bishops around the world, Cardinal Sandri asked for widespread participation in the annual collection on behalf of Christians in the Holy Land. The Vatican released the cardinal's letter March 1.

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VATICAN CITY - Making final preparations for the world Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, a committee of cardinals and bishops discussed how difficult it is today to transmit the faith to others.

"There was talk about the 'current fruitlessness of evangelization,' including because of the presence of certain influences from modern culture that make the transmission of the faith particularly difficult," said a Vatican press release issued Feb. 27.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - The majority of the world's fertility specialists have spent so much time and effort trying to promote and perfect in vitro fertilization that they have wasted resources and time that could have been used to find ways to prevent and treat infertility, a U.S. physician told a Vatican audience.

"Infertility is a symptom of an underlying condition," and too many physicians do not even attempt to find the cause and treat it; they simply recommend in vitro fertilization, said Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and director of the Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb.

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