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The Lefebvrite case: What was the Vatican thinking?

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On the lecture circuit, I'm sometimes asked for my opinion about the Vatican's communications strategy. My glib answer generally is, "As soon as they have one, I'll be glad to tell you what I think of it."


The line usually draws a few chuckles. However, this week's furor over the lifting of the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one who's a Holocaust denier, offers a reminder that the lack of PR savvy in Rome is actually no laughing matter.

Vatican approach to Obama in contrast to conservative U.S. Catholics

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A year into Benedict XVI’s papacy, the early line was that the people most disappointed were the same ones most jazzed by his election. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus had voiced “palpable uneasiness,” pointing to what some saw as a lack of disciplinary muscle and a few ill-advised appointments. Over time, that uneasiness receded as Benedict took several steps more reassuring to the right, such as his lecture in Regensburg challenging Islamic radicalism and his revival of the Latin Mass.

Four historical forces reshaping Catholic-Jewish relations

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Recently I was on the PBS "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly" show, along with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Kim Lawton of PBS, looking ahead to the big religion stories of 2009. We rounded up the usual suspects, from church/state relations under Obama to debates over gay rights. At the end, host Bob Abernethy asked each of us to flag a "sleeper question" in '09 that we hadn't yet discussed.

A Vatican gag order for Marian visionaries?

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British media are justly renowned for their tongue-in-cheek treatment of matters Catholic, and this week they’ve had some fun with a story about a new set of Vatican guidelines for investigating reports of apparitions and visions, such as those surrounding the Virgin Mary. The story first broke Jan. 6 in Rome, on the Italian Catholic web site “Petrus,” but it’s taken a week or so for the Anglo-Saxon press to catch up.

Vatican, Israel lock horns over Gaza violence (again)

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No crisis in the Middle East would be complete without a mini-drama involving alleged Vatican bias in its criticism of Israel, and as if on cue, just such a spat erupted this week. On Wednesday, an Israeli official complained that the Vatican has swallowed "Hamas propaganda," following comments from Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, comparing the Gaza Strip to a "huge concentration camp."

Vatican issues new document on biotechnology

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In a resounding confirmation that the Catholic church's pro-life concern extends to the brave new world of biotechnology, the Vatican today issued a tough document condemning the freezing of human embryos, genetic engineering, human cloning, animal/human genetic hybrids, and a number of other procedures described as affronts to human dignity. The document also reiterates existing bans on embryonic stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, and the "morning after pill."

Vetting possible ambassadors to the Holy See

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One hallmark of emotional maturity is a capacity to distinguish between the satisfying thing to do, and the smart thing to do. The clamor in some circles for the Vatican to exercise its prerogative under international law to say "no, thanks," should President-elect Barak Obama try to name Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec as his ambassador to the Holy See, offers a case in point.


Such a gesture might be gratifying on a gut level to ardently pro-life Catholics, for whom Kmiec's support of Obama during the '08 elections made him something of a Judas figure, but it could also set a precedent with damaging consequences for Vatican diplomacy.

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