Declaring someone a saint, in Catholic theology, has never meant that he or she lived a perfect life, a point that applies with special force to martyrs. Even great sinners, the church believes, are redeemed by shedding their blood for the faith.
All Things Catholic
I was in Chicago this week, speaking on Thursday to the Illinois Catholic Health Association on "Trends in Ministry." While in town I arranged an interview with Cardinal Francis George, who marks his 10th anniversary this year at the helm of the one of the largest and wealthiest dioceses in the world. If things hold to form, George will also take over as the new president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their fall meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-15, becoming, in effect, the public face of the church just as America plunges into an election cycle.
Competing interpretations of 'death with dignity'
Given intense bioethical debates these days over end-of-life care, Catholics naturally look to role models for guidance as to how the church's traditional principles, especially the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means of preserving life, ought to be "cashed out" in concrete situations. Perhaps, therefore, it was inevitable that the protracted illness of Pope John Paul II two years ago would become a battlefield for competing interpretations of what "death with dignity" actually means.
Ronald Reagan once famously insisted that Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down that wall,” referring to the division of Berlin into East and West. In a somewhat less dramatic fashion, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Curry of Los Angeles demanded Thursday that another wall be torn down -- in this case, the metaphor of a “wall of separation” between church and state in the United States, which Curry called “bad law and bad history.”
Over a decade ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger laid out with crystal clarity what he saw as the greatest doctrinal threat of the day: a confluence of what he described as "the a-religious and practical relativism of Europe and America" with "Asia's negative theology," producing a profound mutation in core Christian teachings -- with Christ seen as simply another spiritual sage comparable to Buddha or Muhammad, and Christianity as one valid religious path among many others.
EDITOR'S NOTE: John Allen will be accompanying Pope Benedict XVI during his Sept. 7-9 trip to Austria. Watch for his daily news stories from the trip at http://ncrcafe.org/blog/2682
Pope Benedict XVI grew up in Bavaria, just across the Salzach River from Austria. In his 1997 memoirs Milestones, Joseph Ratzinger wistfully describes joining his family for Sunday walks across a local bridge into Salzburg, falling under the spell of Austrian culture and music. Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, the pope's brother, recently confessed that "both of us are Austria-lovers."
In the iconic 1980s film "The Big Chill," Jeff Goldblum's character at one point argues that rationalization is more important even than sex. His clincher was a rhetorical question: "Ever gone a week without a rationalization?"
Conventional wisdom has it, "There are no atheists in foxholes." In truth, atheists can be found even in foxholes, but often they're atheists whose deepest yearning is to be wrong.
In just that spirit, among people who believe that Western civilization today is locked in mortal combat with radical Islam, there's a growing contingent of what we might call "Christian atheists," meaning non-believers nonetheless committed to a strong defense of Christian culture. In this quirky galaxy, no star burned brighter than that of the provocative Italian writer Oriana Fallaci until her death in September 2006.
While pundits fill the airwaves debating whether the American military surge in Iraq is working, another surge continues to unfold in Iraq and across the Islamic world, one potentially of far greater import for the 21st century: the emergence of Shi'a Islam as an emboldened force, from Lebanon on the Mediterranean coast all the way to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
Controversy continued to mount this week surrounding sex abuse charges against one of the highest-profile figures in Italian Catholicism, Fr. Pierino Gelmini, the 82-year-old founder of a movement called Comunità Incontro (Encounter Community), which works with young alcohol and drug addicts. Founded in 1963, the community has 164 centers in Italy and 74 abroad, including Thailand, Bolivia and Brazil, which have served more than 300,000 youth.