I realize this comes a little late, but if anybody's still on the market for something to give up for Lent, I'd suggest that the following misconceptions about the Catholic church and about Christianity in general would be dandy bits of intellectual junk to cut loose in the spirit of the season.
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.
As a thought exercise, ask yourself what period of time the following paragraph about the Vatican seems to reflect.
"For those who've seen the place in better days, the Vatican looks deeply troubled. In the absence of strong leadership, internal tensions seem to be bursting into view. Even at the height of his powers, the pope took scant interest in governance. As he ages and becomes more limited, a sense of drift is mounting -- a conviction that hard choices must await a new day, and probably a new pontiff."
In the run-up to a consistory, Rome takes on the atmosphere of a college reunion. Church people from all over turn up, making it hard to walk down the street without bumping into someone you know. That's been the case this week, ahead of Saturday's consistory in which Pope Benedict XVI will create 22 new cardinals, including Americans Timothy Dolan and Edwin O'Brien.
I've been covering the "Toward Healing and Renewal" symposium this week, a major international summit on the sexual abuse crisis organized by Rome's Jesuit-run Gregorian University and co-sponsored by several Vatican departments. It brought together roughly 100 bishops and religious superiors from around the world ahead of a May deadline from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for bishops' conferences to submit their anti-abuse policies for review.
Although much of what's been said was familiar to people who have been living with the crisis for the last decade, the idea was to share this experience with the rest of the Catholic world, especially places where the sexual abuse crisis has not yet exploded, in the hope that for once, church leaders can defuse the bomb before it goes off.
I've been filing stories along the way, and I won't rehash that material here; links to everything are below. Instead, I'll lay out the big picture to emerge from the summit, which I would express this way: The Vatican has gotten religion on the sexual abuse crisis.
In a polarized world, it was probably inevitable that opinion on the Catholic sex abuse crisis, like pretty much everything else, would crystallize into two opposing blocs. On one side are critics convinced the church still doesn't get it because it has failed to enact the sweeping reforms they support; on the other are apologists who believe the church has been unfairly turned into a scapegoat, and that if anything, it's overreacted.
We already knew that Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, named by Pope Benedict XVI in October as his new nuncio, or ambassador, to the United States, seriously rocked the boat in his brief but tumultuous run as the No. 2 official in the government of the Vatican city-state from 2009 to 2011.
What we didn't know until this week, however, was just how vigorously Viganò had campaigned to be allowed to finish the financial house-cleaning he started. As it turns out, the pope's new man in Washington is something of a whistle-blower.
It's my birthday today, so I guess that means I can cry if I want to. Although I'm not exactly weeping, I do find myself grousing a bit about the way recent Vatican stories have played in most news coverage.
It's Journalism 101 that to count as "news," something is supposed to be previously unknown, out of the ordinary, or not widely familiar -- i.e., "new." This is where the contrast between "dog bites man" versus "man bites dog" enters the picture.
In his annual address to diplomats Monday, Pope Benedict XVI highlighted religious freedom with emphasis on persecuted Christians around the world.
"In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life," he said. "In other countries, they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes."
Although you won't find it on any liturgical calendar, Friday marks a monumental milestone for the Catholic church in the United States. It was exactly a decade ago, on Jan. 6, 2002, that the first Boston Globe article appeared on a serial predator and former priest named John Geoghan, triggering what we now know as the "sexual abuse crisis."
By now, it's an "All Things Catholic" tradition to run down the top under-covered Vatican stories of the year. The idea is not to flag the year's most celebrated events or personalities, because plenty of other news agencies do that. Rather, I try to lift up storylines that otherwise flew below radar but that were actually fairly important.