From time to time, Catholicism can be seized with fits of enthusiasm and veer toward one extreme or another. Over the long run, however, its instinct is usually to seek the sane middle, driven by what Pope Benedict XVI has called the Catholic genius for seeking "both/and" solutions to seemingly "either/or" problems.
All Things Catholic
John Allen is covering Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Paris and Lourdes in France Sept. 12-15. There is no column today, but Allen is providing postings from France.
[Note: John Allen will be covering Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 12-15 visit to Paris and Lourdes in France, travelling on the papal plane. Watch the NCR web site for his daily reports.]
If, in some weird parallel universe, Pope Benedict XVI were to be a candidate this fall for President of the United States, he could mount a serious run. Polls say Benedict enjoys a 75 percent approval rating after a successful visit last April, he packs obvious appeal to "faith and values" voters, and it would be hard to question his international experience. In an election in which the Republican nominee is 72, even the pope's advanced age wouldn't necessarily be a drawback.
Islamic radicalism is causing great consternation these days, and rightly so. Christopher Hitchens has said it represents "an intricate cultural and political challenge that will absorb all of our energies for the rest of our lives," and while other assertions from Hitchens may be open to debate, it's tough to take issue here.
Few analysts so far seem to have noticed, but the crisis du jour in the Caucasus, this time focusing on the tiny breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia, may be most remarkable for what it's not. For once in this volatile part of the world, religion does not appear to be a driving force in the conflict.
Anyone who's ever learned a foreign language knows that perhaps 50 percent of a language is predictable according to its own rules, and the rest simply is what it is, the product of history and culture rather than logic. Try explaining to an ESL student why the plural of "mouse" is "mice," but the plural of "spouse" is not "spice," and you'll find that going over the rules really doesn't help; in the end, that's just how things are.
A two-part dramatic miniseries on Pope Paul VI is slated for Italian national TV this fall, marking the 30th anniversary of his death in August 1978. Corriere della Sera, Italy's main daily, reports that eight million Euro are being pumped into the project, which is hardly surprising given the mammoth ratings success of earlier miniseries about the popes between whom Paul VI was sandwiched: John XXIII and John Paul II.
Pope Benedict XVI is on vacation from July 28 to Aug. 11, passing his summer break in an Alpine town in northern Italy known as Bressanone by Italians and Brixen by German-speakers. Benedict is a guest of the local seminary, lodging in an apartment known colloquially as "the bishop's room."
It's a setting where this pope clearly feels at home.
Benedict XVI is back in Italy (at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, to be exact), following the ninth, and longest, foreign trip of his papacy. In Australia, the pope turned in what was, by most accounts, another bravura performance.
This week, Benedict XVI once again finds himself in a nation whose Catholic community has been rocked by repeated sexual abuse scandals, and once again the pope appears determined not to duck the issue. As he did in his mid-April trip to the United States, Benedict addressed the crisis before he even arrived, taking a question aboard the papal plane en route to Australia for World Youth Day.