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Struggle to reassert traditional Catholic identity scores two wins

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In the forty-plus years since the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), two schools of thought have circled one another in Catholicism about how to interpret what the council meant. For lack of a better vocabulary, what we might call the "change" school sees Vatican II as a significant innovation in Catholic life, ushering in a new period of reform in liturgy, doctrine, and pastoral practice. The "continuity" school instead stresses a smooth continuum between Vatican II and previous councils.

The church's search for an environmental stand

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Catholic environmentalism these days seems to be an instinct in search of a cause. One can find impressive traces of awareness, from John Paul II's 1990 call for "ecological conversion," to grass-roots initiatives such as the Genesis Farm founded by the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, N.J. Yet so far no single defining moment has come along to crank up Catholic activism in a way that changes the social and political equation.

Lay ecclesial ministry and the feminization of the church

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Cultures invent new words when they've got new things to name, and so it is with the American church, which has recently contributed a new bit of taxonomy to Catholic conversation: "lay ecclesial ministry." The term refers to a new class of lay professionals performing tasks that were once the near-exclusive province of priests, such as parish administration, bereavement counseling and sick calls, sacramental preparation, liturgical planning, catechesis, faith formation, and a host of other roles. Today's reality is that, save for Mass and the other sacraments, most people's experience of pastoral ministry in the Catholic church is increasingly with a lay person rather than a priest.

Is now the time to beatify and canonize Pope Pius XII?

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Editor's Note: June 7-10, John Allen is covering the annual convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America in Los Angeles, the theme of which is "Bishops in the Church." You can find his daily stories here:

http://ncrcafe.org/blog/2682



I want to float a counter-intuitive idea this week, which is that from the point of view of Catholic-Jewish relations, the best thing the Vatican could do right now would be to beatify and canonize Pope Pius XII immediately.

Sorting out the results of the Latin American bishops' meeting

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Evaluating an event with the scale and complexity of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), which drew to a close Thursday in Aparecida, Brazil, following 19 days of deliberations among 162 bishops, 81 other participants, and 23 observers and theological advisors, is inevitably an exercise in selective perception. To some extent, it comes down to whether one is inclined to see the glass as half-full, or half-empty.


On the half-full side of the ledger, one can cite some arguably significant results:

Wojtyla's gospel meets the New York theater

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Of all the places to seek the legacy of Pope John Paul II, West 46th Street in midtown Manhattan, just off Broadway and Times Square, is not the most obvious spot to begin. Yet here, on the same block where aspiring actors queue up for auditions in the Actor's Equity building, and in the shadow of splashy billboards touting productions of "Legally Blonde" and Monty Python's "Spamalot," passers-by are met with a grainy black-and-white picture of an intense young Polish cleric, on a poster proclaiming "The Karol Wojtyla Theatre Festival."

The pope's communication paradox

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Benedict XVI hadn't even stepped off the papal plane at Rome's Ciampino airport on Monday, ending his May 9-13 Brazilian swing, when controversy from the trip caught up with him. Spokespersons for Brazil's indigenous populations were incensed by comments the pope made in Aparecida late Sunday afternoon, asserting that the arrival of Christianity did not amount to "the imposition of a foreign culture" upon the native peoples of the New World. To the natives, that seemed a nasty bit of historical revisionism.

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