Even when leaders aren’t looking to make news, sometimes the news finds them. Such was the case this week for Benedict XVI, whose plan to spend a quiet few days of vacation in Valle d’Aosta was thrown a curve when he found himself drawn in on the margins of the expanding conflict in Lebanon.
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.
On July 17, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy, issued a statement faulting Hamas and Hezbollah for triggering the present crisis, criticizing Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure, expressing solidarity with the Lebanese, and asking the United States to exercise greater leadership to bring a halt to the violence.
Nowhere else on earth does a local church invest the time and treasure fine-tuning the art of pastoral ministry on a local level as in the United States. The sheer volume of conferences, in-services, studies, academic programs and publications devoted to “best practices” and on-the-job training is staggering, making it one reason that parish ministry in America is the envy of the Catholic world.
Last Friday, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to interview Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, the famed Zambian exorcist whose on-again, off-again, now on-again marriage to a Korean acupuncturist hand-picked by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 2001 created one of the most titillating Vatican soap operas of recent memory.
Sometimes professional ecumenists, whose life’s work is reconciliation among the divided branches of the Christian family, are jokingly referred to as “ecu-maniacs.” The quip is usually one part satire, and one part grudging respect.
Last week I wrote about a remarkable gathering of Catholic theological ethicists from around the world in Padua, Italy, July 8-10. The conference was engineered by Jesuit Fr. James Keenan of Boston College.
I'm reluctant to use the term
"unprecedented" to characterize events I cover, mostly because, upon
inspection, such claims almost always turn out to be hype. Yet it's really
the only way to describe an international gathering of more than 400
Catholic ethicists that took place in Padua, Italy, July 8-11, which lived
up to its billing as the "first international cross-cultural conference
for Catholic theological ethicists."
I've attended any number of theological congresses over the years
styled as "international," which usually means a slew of Europeans and
North Americans, and a smattering of people from other parts of the globe.
What happened in Padua, on the other hand, really was something of a
microcosm of the global church, with dozens of leading thinkers from
Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania mixing with their opposite numbers
from the north.
To unpack some of this, I sat down with Fr.
John Mary Waliggo of Uganda, a widely influential African theologian and
currently a member of his country's human rights commission. Waliggo is an
enormously appealing figure, with a ready smile, an infectious laugh, and
a salty tongue. In Padua, he led a group of Africans who decided to create
a steering committee for a new society of African ethicists.
Benedict XVI's July 8-9
trip to Valencia, Spain, offered a classic illustration of the dilemma
facing popes when it comes to secular politics, an arena in which they are
almost literally damned if they do, damned if they don't. If they take a
stand, they risk being accused of interference in the secular sphere; if
they don't, critics will complain about their silence.
The solution modern popes have embraced is to speak in generalities
that usually leave little doubt as to their mind, but avoiding direct
statements about particular politicians, governments, or debates. That's
just what Benedict did during his brief, 26-hour trip to Valencia, Spain,
for the close of the fifth Vatican-sponsored "World Meeting of Families."
The Vatican announced
Tuesday that the longtime Director of the Holy See Press Office, Spanish
layman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, has been replaced by Jesuit Fr. Federcio
Lombardi, the head of both Vatican Radio and Vatican Television.
Lombardi will hold onto those jobs while he steps into the Press
An assessment of Navarro-Valls' legacy, including his contribution to
the pontificate of John Paul II and to the media sophistication of the
Vatican, will have to await a future column.
For the moment, it's worth noting that one of the most frequent
complaints from cardinals and others in recent years about the Vatican's
communications operation is that there are too many separate fiefdoms,
often speaking independently of one another: Vatican Radio, Vatican
Television, the Press Office, L'Osservatore Romano, and so on.
With Lombardi's appointment, most of these organs are now under a