Thursday, June 28, 2007

Living in sin?

An article appearing in the June issue of US Catholic is getting surprisingly high-level responses. "A betrothal proposal," by Michael G. Lawler and Gail S. Risch of Creighton University's Center for Marriage and Family in Omaha drew a letter of disagreement to the magazine from Omaha's Archbishop Elden Curtiss. Today's Omaha World-Herald has a story on the controversy.

Another high-profile archbishop, Charles Chaput of Denver, dedicated his column in the Denver Catholic Register to what he referred to as the "bafflingly naive" approach to cohabitation Lawler and Risch suggest.

In the authors' defense, they don't approach this topic without solid research and theological reflection. They're not promoting "fornication" (which has been among the favorite words of many letter-writers), only a change to the definition, one that at least used to be good enough. In the end, they see a pastoral problem and have proposed a pastoral solution. It may be wrong, or it may not be to the liking of some, but it is at least a creative approach to a difficult issue.

And at least they have the courage to bring it up openly. It seems to me that there are a few people afraid of some grown up conversation.

A startling call for withdrawal from Iraq

"Let the Iraqis kill each other, but let the occupying power get out, because they are not killing each other because they are Sunni or Shiite, but because they are with the Americans or against the Americans," said Chaldean Catholic Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim, according to a story posted at Catholic Online.

Kind of shocking, but it certainly indicates how desperate even Iraqi Christians are to have the U.S. out of Iraq. A good number of Iraqi Christians are part of the Chaldean Church, which has a Catholic branch. Those Christians have suffered greatly in the violence and make up some 40 percent of Iraqis fleeing their country, though they make up only a small portion of the population.

One thing you have to say for him: He has a lot more moral authority to call for a withdrawal than any of our politicians. I'll say nothing of our own U.S. bishops, whose silence on this matter is a little shocking.


Dems come a courtin'

US News and World Report has an interesting piece on how the Democrats are trying to court Catholics for 2008. Since for all practical purposes Catholics were the swing voters in 2004 (toward Bush) and 2006 (toward the Democratic Congress), everyone realizes that we are the people to have in your camp. Since Catholics account for 20 percent of voting Americans, winning big with us means winning big.

So expect a lot about abortion and gay marriage in the next 18 months from the Republicans, and a lot about health care, the war, and poverty from the Dems. (And probably less from them about abortion, although if I was a Dem seeking Catholic votes, I'd ask anyone who voted for the GOP because of abortion to show me what they'd actually gotten for it!)


How's your Latin?

Another raft of stories on the triumphal return of Tridentine liturgy is out today. All the stories claim the document has already been signed and will probably be released before the pope goes on vacation July 9.

All I can say is: For those who thought the liturgy was bad now, wait until you see some priest trying to pronounce Latin. I guess we'll find out which kind people like better.

This is a big mistake. Period. It's a usurpation of the local bishop's authority over the liturgy in his diocese. And there is hardly any great pastoral need being left unfulfilled. Maybe the document will spontaneously burst into flame.

Or maybe we'll find out the Tridentine liturgy is not as popular as some think it is.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Making your own rules

Pope Benedict has changed the rules for the election of the next pope, restoring the requirement of a two-thirds majority for election according to the Associated Press. Pope John Paul II's change to election rules allowed for a simple majority to elect a new pope after several days of balloting.

Changing these rules is nothing new--every modern pope has done it at some point in his career. B16's change corrects a problem with JPII's in that it guarantees a compromise candidate. Many feared under JPII's rules, the strong conservative camp would hold out for one of their own. They probably thought they had one in Ratzinger, but he's proving to be a little bit harder to pin down.

Of course, it's a bit odd that the pope can establish the rules for electing their successors. Glad our politicians can't do that!


Pope gets "frank" with PM

Tony Blair's last foreign trip as head of government was no cakewalk. Rather than embrace the man most sources say will soon be a Catholic, Pope Benedict evidently had hard words for Blair, though no one's sure what they may have been about. One possibility is the Iraq war and Britain's involvement in it. Or perhaps it is the Labor government's recent laws funding embryonic stem cell research and a new law prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians in matters of adoption.

What we do know is that the Vatican's press office, according a story on the U.K.'s Guardian website, that the PM and the pope had a "frank exchange of views," which is diplo-speak for "they had an argument." Ouch--would love to have been a fly on the wall in that room. What's the pope like when he's "frank"?

One wonders what we can expect with our own elections looming, especially as Giuliani gets raked over the coals for pulling the old "personally against but publicly for" position on abortion.

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Do-over on interreligious dialogue

As expected, Pope Benedict restored the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue yesterday, just over a year after folding into the Pontifical Council for Culture, according to the Associated Press. That move was a big mistake, and someone in the Vatican seems to have recognized it--it was hard to miss when the pope managed to irritate most of the world's billion Muslims.

Not restored, however, was Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, English-speaking expert who used to serve as president of the council. The new president is the French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, former head of foreign affairs for the Vatican and an outspoken critic of the Iraq war. Tauran is probably good, but Fitzgerald was great--he must have some enemies still in the Vatican who want him exiled to Egypt.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Church teaching now covers EVERYTHING

Sensing a major gap in church teaching, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has issued some new rules for the road, an additional 10 Commandments (in case the originals weren't enough). In addition to the expected concern for charity, good Catholic drivers should avoid "impoliteness, rude gestures, cursing, blasphemy, loss of sense of responsibility or deliberate infringement of the highway code." I'd probably have to admit to a couple of those. I wonder if they cataloged the rude gestures.

Pretty much every news service picked up the commandments, part of a longer document called "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road," which also covers issues related to homelessness and itinerant people.

But did we need a whole document? I think the Vatican could learn from the first Bush administration: Pick a single message and stick to it for a bit! Between news agencies like Zenit and Catholic World News, we're drowning in every syllable that comes from Rome--and they're not all created equal.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Brownback bad for babies?

How can the most anti-abortion candidate on the Republican side be bad for the prolife movement? Here's why: At something called "the National Catholic Men's Conference" (staged by some group called St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers), he told a gathering of 500 or so men that abortion should be outlawed even in cases of rape and incest.

"Rape is terrible. Rape is awful. Is it made any better by killing an innocent child? Does it solve the problem for the woman that's been raped?" he asked, bring the crowd to its feet, according to the AP story.

Let's see: A man, telling 500 men, that a woman raped (by a man) should, by law rather than personal moral conviction, be prevented from avoiding conception or implantation (with the "morning after" pill) or terminating a pregnancy.

While it may make perfect sense from a particular moral perspective, it's a political disaster, and women especially by large majorities will reject it.

Of course, as some in the anti-abortion movement have learned, high-temperature rhetoric raises a lot of money, but in more than 30 years hasn't really made a dent in the abortion rate in this country. Advocating restrictions on already victimized women isn't going to either.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

The pope who should not be saint

In the Vatican's latest attempt to save Pope Pius XII from ignominy as the pope who failed to speak out against the Holocaust, Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, has called Pius the victim of a "black legend" of "of Soviet and communist origin." (A "black legend" refers to exaggerated tales of the exploits of the Spanish conquistadores; one wonders how they could have made the real thing any more lurid. I also wonder if Bertone knows how, um, well, not politically correct that sounds in English.)

Bertone went on to refer to Pius as "righteous among the nations," a term some Jewish organizations use to refer to non-Jews who aided those fleeing the Nazis. (I'm sure that went over well. That's probably not a term Christians should be giving other.) Bertone was speaking at the release of a new book on Pius XII, rivetingly titled Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, a Man on the Throne of Peter, according to the European Jewish Press. The book comes on the heels of a report on Pius' virtues, which has been sent to the pope as part of the process of Pius' beatification. Let us hope that it sits there for a long time, along with the promised restoration of the Tridentine liturgy.

It is an incredible puzzle why so many in the Vatican are championing Pius' cause; I hardly think there is any devotion to him, and his war record is at least sketchy. At best he played it safe, and that's hardly heroic sanctity. For that reason, and for the sake of the Catholic-Jewish relationship, he ought not be beatified. (I don't know why we're in such a rush to beatify every pope of the 20th c. anyway.)


Monday, June 04, 2007

When does this guy turn 75?

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, fearless crusader against inclusive language in the Catechism and the liturgy, and now crusader against even modern English in the liturgy, has now proposed oaths of allegiance of Catholic school principals and upper-level educators. The oath would require teachers to publicly promise fidelity to church teaching on--get this--homosexuality, birth control, and women's ordination, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Women's ordination? As if...

For goodness' sake, we have really entered the realm of the ridiculous here. None of the above are matters of faith, and solid majorities of Catholics disagree on at least on birth control, if not the other two as well. I can see expecting these teachers to actually explain the church's teaching, but an oath? And it's not like these aren't disputed questions, even among bishops!

And it's utterly ironic that, in an effort to maintain obedience, the archbishop of Sydney is going to order principals to actually disobey a teaching of Jesus; check out Matthew 5:33-37 if you want to know which one.

Bishops worth listening to

The presidents of seven of the Catholic bishops' conferences of the G8 have sent a joint letter to the annual confab of rich nations in Germany, encouraging the leaders of the eight major industrialized nations to "take bold action on global poverty, health care, climate change, and peace and security, [and] work towards greater access to quality education for all," according to Catholic Online. Conference presidents from Canada, Germany, the U.K., France, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. all signed the letter; the president of the Italian bishops' conference does not seemed to have signed.

This is the kind of leadership we should be getting out of our conferences; it would be even better if they all showed up to lobby in whatever way they can. How about a fast in front of the meeting space for justice and peace? Why not invite leaders from other religious traditions to join them?

And it's especially nice to see Catholic bishops offering a comprehensive vision of social justice rather than a now-predictable harangue from certain quarters about gay marriage and abortion. For the latter, you can check out in the U.K. Guardian the latest from Scotland's Cardinal Keith O'Brien, whose rhetoric is only bound to drive folks away from a sensible political settlement on the issue of abortion.