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Super Mario and the pope, a quarterback controversy, and coming attractions

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On Monday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti met Benedict XVI at the pope's retreat in Castel Gandolfo, signifying the end of the summer doldrums. A brief Vatican statement said the exchange focused on the "European situation," understood to mean the Eurozone's massive debt crisis, high unemployment and generally dismal economic outlook.

Taking its medicine does the Vatican some good

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"Be careful what you wish for," as the saying goes, "because you will surely get it." In light of a couple of recent Vatican stories, the corollary also seems to apply: Be careful what you try to avoid, because it might actually be good for you.

A stringent European money laundering exam in July and a federal court ruling in Oregon this week both make the point.

The church's deep pockets, the butler did it, and myths about atheism

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Most people believe the real power in Catholicism resides with the hierarchy, and in terms of both theology and church law, that's basically right. For instance, canon law says the pope wields "supreme, full, immediate and universal" authority, and it's tough to get more sweeping than that.

One wonders, however, if an accountant would reach the same conclusion.

'Surprising support' and the future of the center-left

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Ideological labels for the church are notoriously ill-fitting, but if we're going to use them, I prefer the European taxonomy of "left, center-left, center-right, and right" to the American convention of "liberals, moderates and conservatives." In my experience, most self-described moderates actually lean one way or the other, but their defining trait is a preference for consensus.

Vatican and LCWR, a fired archbishop and getting Boko Haram right

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The annual summer lull affords a chance to catch up on recent stories that haven't gotten quite the attention they deserve. They include a break-out interview with the Vatican's new doctrinal czar, the curious case of a fired Slovakian archbishop and a counterintuitive view on the militant Islamic Boko Haram movement in Nigeria from one of Africa's brightest Catholic stars.

Pope Benedict's apolitical line on the Middle East, and Christians in Syria

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Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Lebanon on Sept. 14-16, marking his first visit to the Middle East since the Arab Spring and his fourth overall to the region (after Turkey in 2006, the Holy Land in 2009 and Cyprus in 2010). It's also the closest he's likely to get to the current chaos in Syria.

A Vatican watershed on transparency, and a new tool for reformers

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For sure, I’m no Nostradamus. To cite just one example of my failures as a prognosticator, in 1999 I published a biography of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger containing four reasons why his election as pope was improbable. We’re now, of course, into the eighth year of his reign.

A month ago, however, I finally got one right.

Real war on religion and a ticking Vatican PR bomb

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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.

A red, white and blue roundup

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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.

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April 11-24, 2014

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