One bit of gallows humor in Catholic circles is that sometimes the worst enemies of the pro-life movement are pro-lifers themselves. The point is that a handful of activists occasionally come off as so shrill, so angry and judgmental, that fair-minded people simply tune out the pro-life message.
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.
Given all the recent American Catholic ferment -- the Kennedy funeral, the surprise resignation of Scranton's Bishop Joseph Martino, debates over health care reform, etc. -- it's been understandably tough for Catholic news from anywhere else in the world to register. Yet there's a bizarre story out of Italy this week that deserves its moment in the sun.
It's a soap opera, really, as tawdry and tragic as these bits of voyeurism usually are, yet it also suggests two points with potentially broad implications:
- The political and cultural ties in the West that in recent decades have bound the church to the political right may be unraveling.
- The "Power Distance Index" in Catholicism, meaning the willingness of ordinary people to accept the authority of the bishops to manage the internal affairs of the church, is declining rapidly, and not just in countries scarred by the sexual abuse crisis.
I'll sketch the details in a moment, but first, here's a thought exercise for American readers to capture the drama of what's happened.
Miguel D'az has not yet presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI, so formally speaking he's not quite in the saddle as Barack Obama's envoy to the Vatican. Monday evening, however, D'az got a rousing send-off at a reception held in his honor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C.
D'az was sworn in as Ambassador to the Holy See on August 21, following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate on August 4. D'az and his wife Marian, along with their four young children, arrived in Rome on Thursday.
Reading the Vatican paper, Asia's Joan of Arc, Nazi analogies, and more
The past week has been one of those periods when there isn't a single dominant Catholic story, but rather plenty of interesting nuggets. The following, therefore, represent a few slices of Catholic life in mid-August.
Anyone in or around religious life in the United States these days knows two things: New members tend to come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, especially Hispanics and Asian-Americans; and they tend to be more traditional in both theological outlook and spiritual style than older religious.
Summer is conference season, which makes it a great time to get a sense of what’s stirring at the grass roots of the Catholic church in America. I’m speaking this week at a couple of Catholic events, and Thursday brought me to the annual assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, representing the leadership of more than 20,000 vowed religious priests and brothers in the United States, some 10 percent of whom are now foreign missionaries.
Pope Benedict XVI’s track record on the environment already has been robust enough to justify a book-length treatment, Ten Commandments for the Environment by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, in which he’s proclaimed the greenest pope in history. This week brought three additional signals of the pope’s remarkable ecological sensitivity:
Fans of the TV show “West Wing” may recall the series’ next-to-last episode, when Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg finds herself contemplating life after the White House. A wealthy philanthropist wants her to run his foundation, asking what she would do with $10 billion to make the world a better place. Her answer was to build roads in Africa ... hardly sexy, she warned, but key to developing African economies and ending poverty.
Also: A good run for Vatican PR, Obama's Catholic roots and the 'economy of communion'
A broken wrist notwithstanding, Pope Benedict XVI is relaxing in Valle d’Aosta in northern Italy from July 13 to July 29, winding down after the exertions not only of the past year, but just the week before his vacation began. In fact, when the definitive history of Benedict XVI’s papacy is written, the first week of July 2009 might well deserve a chapter all by itself.
[Note: John Allen is in Rome covering the visit Friday of President Barack Obama to Pope Benedict XVI. Watch the NCR web site for his breaking news reports.]
Now that Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical on the economy, Caritas in Veritate, is finally out, the predictable war of spin is well underway. Partisan reactions on both the Catholic left and right already seem clear, which might be referred to as the "Khrushchev letter" and the "Blue Meanies" strategies respectively.