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Obama and Notre Dame

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Two great annual festivals of hope, both accompanied by venerable liturgical rites, happen to fall in the same week this year: Opening Day and Easter Sunday. For a Christian and a baseball fan, there’s no better time to be alive.

Emboldened by this air of new possibility, I’d like to float a hope regarding the increasingly acrimonious debate over the University of Notre Dame and its invitation to President Barack Obama to deliver this year’s commencement address. In a nutshell, my hope is that American Catholics will manage their disagreements over the Obama appearance without turning this into yet another nasty front in our version of the culture wars.

Liberation theology African style

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After the pope ended his Africa swing on Monday, my wife and I remained in Cameroon for most of this week, pondering the impact of the trip and taking stock of the African church. The experience reinforced an impression I’ve long had, and here it is in a sound-bite: What African Catholicism has to offer the global church is liberation theology without the hang-up over ecclesiastical authority.

First, the “liberation” part. Ask the typical American Catholic to tick off important issues facing the church, and you’re likely to get a dose of insider Catholic baseball: women in the church, teachings on sexual morality, the power of the pope or the bishops versus the laity, and so on. Put the same question to a typical African, and the answer is usually more outward-looking: war, corruption and bad governance, human rights, poverty.

Benedict in Cameroon a tale of two trips

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By the time this column appears, Pope Benedict XVI will have left Cameroon for Angola, beginning the second leg of his March 17-23 maiden voyage to Africa. I've filed close to a dozen stories from Cameroon (see links at the bottom of this page), so here I'll just offer my dominant after-the-fact impression: I don't think I've ever covered a papal trip where the gap between internal and external perceptions has been as vast as over these three days.

Five reasons the papal trip to Africa is important

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Whenever there’s big papal news in the air, my phone usually rings off the hook from media outlets in various parts of the globe. If the phone isn’t ringing, therefore, it’s a fairly reliable sign that the pope is currently flying below radar.

On the cusp of Pope Benedict XVI’s maiden voyage to Africa, visiting Cameroon and Angola March 17-23, the silence from my phone is deafening.

Benedict perfects the Q&A format

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Ironically enough, forty years ago Joseph Ratzinger insisted that the dialogue is not really a legitimate Christian literary form. In his 1969 book Das neue Volk Gottes, the future pope observed that there’s no equivalent in Christian writing to the great dialogues of Plato, arguing that’s because, at its core, Christianity is not about dialogue with the world but rather kerygma, proclamation.

Social ministers long for unified Catholic voice

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I spent part of this week at what is arguably the most courageous annual event in Washington, D.C. -- or the most quixotic, depending upon your point of view. It’s the “Social Ministry Gathering” sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which brings together more than 500 Catholic leaders for a week of issue seminars and knocking on doors on Capitol Hill.

Bioethics message lost in Vatican's \"credibility gap\"

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How bad is the Vatican's image problem right now? Consider that recent weeks have seen CEOs taking corporate jets to ask for government bailouts; the governor of Illinois was tossed out of office in a bribery scandal, and his last-minute appointment to the U.S. Senate may not be far behind; three Obama nominees have embarrassed the administration by withdrawing under a cloud; Japan's finance minister quit after reportedly being soused at a G-7 meeting; the world's best baseball player has been caught taking steroids, and the world's best swimmer caught smoking a bong.

Yet even in that sorry context, Monday's New York Times saw fit to devote a lead article to the pope's communications woes. Managing to stand out amid this PR carnage is, in a perverse sense, a rather remarkable accomplishment.

Transparency: The watchword in the Catholic world this week

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Whenever high-profile stories break within a short span, commentators will often try to appear clever by finding some common thread. Frequently these are apples-and-oranges exercises which, in retrospect, seem rather forced; the sappy encomia linking Princess Diana and Mother Teresa simply because they died within six days of one another in 1997 offer a classic example.


Within the past seven days, three major stories on the Catholic news beat have raised eyebrows, stirred discussion, and generated diverse reactions both inside the church and out:

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July 4-17, 2014

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