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Reagan v. Freud, science v. religion, population and Islam

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There’s much to be learned from detective stories, including that the solution to any mystery usually lies in finding the right question to ask. At the moment, a gripping Vatican mystery centers on the Congregation for Religious, and here’s a nominee for the right question: Is Ronald Reagan or Sigmund Freud the better template for Benedict XVI’s management style?

Obviously, a bit of background is in order.

Meet the new Crown Prince of Catholicism

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Wednesday may have been the peak moment of the liturgical calendar this week, as the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, but Tuesday, June 28, 2011, marked a crescendo of a different sort: The day when the informal sweepstakes leading up to the next conclave officially began.

To be clear, no health scare flared up around Pope Benedict XVI, and there’s no other reason to believe his papacy is nearing an end. (As I sometimes jokingly put it, German machinery is built to last!) Yet on Tuesday, the pontiff made a personnel move that’s not only important in its own right, but one with obvious implications for handicapping papal prospects.

On June 28, Pope Benedict XVI named the 69-year-old Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Scola, as the new Archbishop of Milan.

Benedict's uncle, Catholic charities, and coming attractions

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Next Wednesday is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, when archbishops appointed during the past year will be in Rome to receive their pallium. (A narrow band of woolen cloth, the pallium symbolizes the archbishop’s office.) This year the event takes on extra significance as the 60th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s ordination to the priesthood, which took place in the Freising Cathedral in Bavaria on June 29, 1951.

Ferment in religious life, a new American leader, and 'Vatican Insider'

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Absolutely no zone of church life these days is immune to hard questions about Catholic identity, reflecting the mega-trend I’ve dubbed “Evangelical Catholicism,” premised on a robust assertion of traditional Catholic thought, speech and practice. This politics of identity is the scarlet thread that runs through a wide range of upheavals, from the Latin Mass to the new Roman Missal, from debates over the ecclesial character of Catholic hospitals and charities to theology and seminary formation.

Top Ten Papal Trips

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If you blinked last weekend you might have missed it, but Pope Benedict XVI visited Croatia on Saturday and Sunday, marking the 19th foreign journey of his pontificate. As papal travel goes, it wasn't really the stuff of high drama. (The main news flash was Benedict's support for Croatia joining the EU, pretty much a done deal in any event.)

Church/state relations, Vatican smiles, and Libya

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Lucas Davenport is a fictional detective who's the hero of John Sandford's "Prey" series. (He's also, by the way, a lapsed believer but still Catholic to the core, whose best friend and dispenser of psychological insight is a nun.) Davenport has this rule of thumb for working a case: You're starting to get a handle on things if you can make an accurate prediction.

Four titles from a bumper crop of Italian books

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On a per capita basis, Italy probably churns out more books on the Catholic church each year than anyplace else on earth. Given the boost created by the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II, this spring has been an especially busy period for the Italian market, generating several titles that will likely make their way into translations and shape Catholic conversation around the world.

This week, I’ll offer brief sketches of four such titles to emerge from the recent bumper crop.

A triptych on Benedict's papacy, and hints of what lies beyond

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Three Vatican stories which unfolded during the past week, taken together, form a sort of triptych. They’re like three scenes in a single work of art, illustrating different features of the same subject.

Those stories were:


  • A shake-up in the Roman Curia

  • A May 7-8 papal trip to Venice

  • A May 7 retrospective on John Paul II in Spoleto

What to do about Sodano?

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In Rome and in Catholic circles around the world, a question is quietly circulating which only Pope Benedict XVI can answer: What to do about Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope John Paul II's former Secretary of State, who still holds the post of Dean of the College of Cardinals?

Were Benedict to die today, it would be Sodano, 83, who presides over the daily General Congregation meetings of the cardinals, which shape the discussions leading into the election of the next pope. It would also be Sodano who would preside over the funeral Mass for the deceased pope, and who would celebrate the Mass Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, the "Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff," which is the final public act before the conclave.

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November 21-December 5, 2014

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