America's annual celebration of Independence Day was accompanied this year by the U.S. bishops' Fortnight for Freedom, a round of prayer and advocacy dedicated to the preservation of religious liberty. The exercise renewed debate over whether there is or isn't a war on religion in America, fueled, of course, by the politics of the 2012 election.
All Things Catholic
John L. Allen Jr., NCR senior correspondent, writes weekly on the goings-on in Vatican and in the church around the world.
In honor of the July Fourth holiday, this week's column presents a red, white and blue roundup of recent news, meaning current events somehow linked to, or suggested by, those patriotic colors.
For the record, the idea comes from a local classic rock station that played "Panama Red, "White Wedding" and "Devil in a Blue Dress" over and over again on Wednesday. My hope is that if such a gimmick works on the FM airwaves, then it ought to fly here, too.
For those who can only see the world in terms of left vs. right, recent personnel moves in the Vatican undoubtedly look like the same old stuff on a different day. They include:
Recently, two Italian newspapers reported that the Vatican will fail an upcoming transparency test by European anti-money-laundering experts while a third claimed the Vatican will pass. While such conflicting accounts are hardly new, the twist is that all three stories contained virtually identical information.
The difference wasn't the data, but the spin.
Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican's ultra-powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is a devoted disciple of his boss and mentor, Pope Benedict XVI, in virtually every way save one. While the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was a celebrity as a Vatican official, Levada, who turns 76 today, keeps a much lower profile, preferring to operate behind the scenes.
Levada rarely gives interviews, and when he does, it's because he has something to say, not because he simply enjoys the exercise.
In moments of crisis, there's a natural desire among many Catholics to rally around the flag, meaning to show support for the church and the pope. It's not about denial, because Catholics are nothing if not sober realists about the church's failures. It's instead about saying to the world that despite it all, there's still something positive about the church that commands grassroots loyalty.
That instinct seemed to be the principal subtext to Benedict XVI's June 1-3 outing to Milan.
While the arrest of the pope's butler has triggered feverish speculation about the "who" of the Vatican leaks scandal, there's been less attention so far to the "what" of the revelations contained in the sensational new book His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI, published by journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi.
Politics is the mother of irony, and there's a juicy one bubbling right now in Canada, in the province of Ontario, where a school system originally designed to protect one aggrieved minority -- namely Catholics -- is under mounting pressure in the name of defending another -- in this case, gays and lesbians.
One should not make too much of a recent contretemps at the Pontifical Academy for Life, because it's not really as if the fate of the Vatican hangs in the balance. Yet the dust-up is nevertheless worth pondering, primarily because it captures three recurrent tensions in Catholic life, with consequences far broader than the immediate future of one pontifical body. After a brief review of the controversy, I'll unpack each.
Right now, the “next pope” conversation isn’t creating much buzz. There’s no sign of a health crisis around Benedict XVI, and Catholic attention around the world is focused on more local matters: the LCWR crackdown in the States, the disciplining of liberal priests and calls for Cardinal Sean Brady to resign over the sex abuse crisis in Ireland, a political scandal involving Communion and Liberation in Italy, and so on.
Yet with an 85-year-old pope beginning to show his age, speculation about who might come next is always in the background, even if it’s on a low boil.