If there’s one thing even the most religiously illiterate person tends to get about the Catholic church, it’s the difference between a cardinal and everybody else. Cardinals matter: they set a leadership tone, and, of course, they elect the next pope.
All Things Catholic
Mid-October in Rome is sort of like sweeps week for American TV, meaning that it’s when everybody rolls out their most compelling programming. There’s always a glut of activity, and this week offered a classic case in point. Some highlights:
The 67 million Catholics in the United States represent just six percent of the global Catholic population of 1.2 billion, but we sometimes have a hard time understanding how the other 94 percent lives. Beginning next week, there’s a golden opportunity to think more globally about the challenges of the early 21st century -- that is, if we’re paying attention.
When I'm on the lecture circuit, one of the most common questions I get is this: "Where do you see hope in the church?" Implicit, of course, is the assumption that hope is hard to find. (Usually, also implicit is that by "church" the questioner actually means "hierarchy," but that's another conversation.)
The premise is understandable, because the case for despair is often depressingly easy to make. Yet I also can't help feeling that one has to be almost deliberately blind not to see signs of hope everywhere, if you but look around.
Three important stories washed across the Catholic radar screen this week, each with something to say about where things stand vis-à-vis the church in the early 21st century. They were:
- The conclusion of Pope Benedict XVI’s improbably successful Sept. 16-19 trip to the United Kingdom, which, according to British Prime Minister David Cameron, made the secular Brits “sit up and listen”;
- A new Vatican Bank scandal, with $30 million in bank funds frozen by Italian authorities and its top two officials placed under investigation for alleged violations of anti-money laundering protocols;
- A strong statement from the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. bishops’ conference accusing two Creighton theologians of distorting the Catholic moral tradition on issues such as homosexuality, contraception, and artificial reproduction.
NCR senior correspondent John Allen traveled with Pope Benedict XVI during the Sept. 16-19 papal trip to Scotland and England. Other NCR contributors offered commentary and insight during the trip. Following is a complete list of NCR stories covering the trip.
Pope Benedict XVI is midway through his trip to the United Kingdom, and so far reaction has been all over the map, from wild enthusiasm among devotees, to overt hostility among determined protestors, to benign indifference in a broad swath of secular society. Of course, the pope always evokes a range of opinions, but they’re rarely on full public view as they are here.
Mayor "Diamond" Joe Quimby, from the TV series "The Simpsons," once found himself listening to talk radio while a Rush Limbaugh wannabe derided him as an "illiterate, tax-cheating, wife-swapping, pot-smoking spendocrat." Quimby's wounded response was, "Hey ... I am no longer illiterate!"
Now that September has arrived, news agencies are beginning to focus in earnest on Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 16-19 trip to the United Kingdom. I know that because of the phone calls and e-mails I've received from colleagues in Scotland and England in the last few days, seeking a sound-bite for whatever curtain-raising piece they have to do.
Friends and foes alike of Pope Benedict XVI concur that he's got an image problem. Where they place the blame for it may differ, but the fact itself seems clear: From a PR point of view, this is a pontificate defined by its train wrecks.
Cataloguing those train wrecks is the burden of a valuable new book by two of the best Italian vaticanisti going: Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale and Paolo Rodari of Il Foglio, both of whom also operate widely read blogs -- "Palazzo apostolico" for Rodari and "Sacri palazzi" for Tornielli. Their work is titled Attacco a Ratzinger: Accuse e scandali, profezie e complotti ("Attack on Ratzinger: Accusations and Scandals, Prophecies and Plots"), published in Italian by Piemme.