Cardinal William Baum is sort of the Brett Favre or Cal Ripken, Jr., of the American Catholic church, touted not just for what he's done but for how long he's done it. Having logged seven years as Archbishop of Washington (1973-80) and three decades of Vatican service, Baum is now the second longest serving cardinal in American history, behind only the legendary Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore.
All Things Catholic
John L. Allen Jr., NCR senior correspondent, writes weekly on the goings-on in Vatican and in the church around the world.
If it's true that only a soldier can fully grasp the horrors of war, perhaps it likewise takes a theologian to appreciate the limits of theology. That may help explain a striking paradox about the papacy of Benedict XVI: He's a true theologian-pope, yet a core element of his legacy will be to sideline theology as the focus of Catholicism's engagement with other religions.
Every January for the last 10 years, a group of bishops from Europe, the United States and Canada visit the Middle East as part of a Vatican initiative knows as the "Holy Land Coordination." The aim of exercise is sensitize the prelates to the issues of the region so that once home, the bishops can lead their churches and societies in doing something about them. The visits also provide a form of moral support for the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, launched in 1992 as the bishops' conference of the region -- in effect, a way of underscoring that the Catholic world hasn't forgotten about them.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle over the holidays was a story with important consequences for understanding how the Vatican sees the world: celebration of the first same-sex marriage in Latin America on Dec. 28 in Argentina.
Earlier this year, a Buenos Aires court ruled that a local ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and ordered authorities to grant Alex Freyre and Jose Maria di Bello a marriage license. The couple set a date of Dec. 1, but facing a last-minute legal challenge, they travelled to the southernmost state of Tierra del Fuego where a pro-gay marriage governor welcomed the event.
[Editor's note: John Allen's column is being posted early this week, because his usual posting day, Friday, is Jan. 1, New Year's Day and the Feast of Mary, Mother of God.]
'Tis the season for end-of-decade countdowns, like “best baseball comebacks” and “worst fashion blunders.” In that spirit, this column is dedicated to the biggest Vatican stories of the first decade of the 21st century.
[Editor's Note: Allen's column is being posted early this week, because Friday, his usual posting day, is Christmas.]
To date I haven’t addressed the crisis in Ireland triggered by the “Murphy Report” on sexual abuse, largely because it’s dangerous for outsiders to pronounce on situations they don’t really understand. Yet the crisis dominating headlines there is, in some respects, reminiscent of what the American church went through in 2002, so this week I’ll pass along five “words to the wise” gleaned from that experience.
On Jan. 17, Pope Benedict XVI will hop across the Tiber River to visit the Great Synagogue in Rome, only the second such occasion after John Paul II’s groundbreaking visit in 1986. (That was the first time a modern pope set foot inside a Jewish place of worship, although John XXIII once stopped his car outside to bless the Jews as they exited.) Benedict already has two synagogue visits under his belt: Cologne in 2005 during World Youth Day, and the Park East Synagogue in New York in April 2008.
I once had a church history professor who loved counter-factual thought exercises. A hypothetical question he asked us to ponder was the following: What if Fulton Sheen had been named Archbishop of New York?
Sheen, of course, was the 1950s-era TV bishop who, at the height of his fame, commanded an audience estimated at 30 million. In 1952, his show “Life is Worth Living” beat Lucille Ball and Edward R. Murrow for an Emmy award. The point of the question was to consider what the results might have been if the American church’s most gifted natural communicator -- in effect, the Catholic Billy Graham -- had also been given the country’s most important ecclesiastical post.
Like everybody else in this hyper-political age, Catholics are conventionally divided into "liberals" and "conservatives." (Whenever that taxonomy is rolled out, I'm reminded of a line from G.K. Chesterton: A progressive is someone who keeps making the same mistake, while a conservative is someone who prevents a mistake from ever being corrected. Chesterton is a patron saint for those of us who don't recognize ourselves in either camp.)
As Spiderman has always understood, with great power comes great responsibility. In Catholicism, that’s a point with particular relevance these days for Africa. Explosive growth of the church is turning Africa into a 21st century Catholic powerhouse, which means that Catholic leaders in Africa face a new responsibility to wield their influence wisely.
A startling story percolating in Uganda illustrates that truth.
An Anglophone nation located in eastern Africa, Uganda has a population of 32 million, roughly 40 percent Catholic. By mid-century the Catholic population should soar to 56 million, enough to make Uganda the sixth-largest Catholic nation in the world, ahead of such traditional Catholic powers as France, Italy, Spain and Poland.
As Comte said, demography is destiny, and Uganda’s destiny is to be a force in setting the tone for the global church. Right now Ugandan Catholics face precisely one of those tone-setting choices: How to respond to a draconian new bill in parliament which would impose the death penalty for homosexuality in certain circumstances.