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Essays in Theology

The Vatican's bold outreach to Anglicans

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I have thus far refrained from commenting on the recent Vatican initiative regarding Anglicans who wish to become Roman Catholics. I did not think that we have given the initiative time for the dust to settle. In my opinion, that situation remains.

Some things, however, are already clear. First, it was an act of insensitivity on the part of certain Vatican officials that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was not given adequate notice of the initiative.

One wonders, therefore, why he consented to appear in a joint press conference with the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, to greet the news.

Archbishop Williams subsequently met briefly with Pope Benedict XVI in November–a meeting that had been scheduled prior to the announcement of the initiative–at which meeting the subject of the initiative reportedly did arise.

The conversation between the two religious leaders was described as frank, but cordial. Indeed, so cordial was the meeting that the pope gifted the archbishop of Canterbury with a pectoral cross -- an implicit, even if unintended, recognition that Rowan Williams possesses valid episcopal orders.

When want is most keenly felt

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An annual column at Christmas always runs the risk of lapsing into boilerplate rhetoric. It is the time of the year when people are supposed to have warmth in their hearts and a generous spirit to match.

But this is not a happy time for many families, even in once prosperous lands. Although there are tentative signs of an economic recovery, at least in comparison with last fall, unemployment continues at a high rate and young people are finding that even seasonal jobs are scarce.

The state of the Catholic church

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If anyone wonders why the Catholic church presents such a different face to the world and to the Body of Christ today in comparison with the world and the church of the 1960s and 1970s, we need look no further than the extraordinarily abbreviated pontificate of John Paul I.

To appreciate the significance of that brief pontificate, the eleventh shortest in the history of the church, one must have some sense of the mark left by John Paul I's predecessor, Paul VI.

Advent: A time for coming near

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The First Sunday of Advent, which we celebrated yesterday, marks the beginning of the church's liturgical year, which, of course, makes no sense to most people who are satisfied that the new year begins Jan. 1.

But that is only the case where the Gregorian calendar, traditionally attributed to Gregory XIII (pope from 1572-85), is normative. In fact, Christians, who had followed the Julian calendar until 1582, used to celebrate New Year's Day on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.

For the Chinese and other Asian communities, New Year's Day has a changeable date, falling somewhere between January 10 and February 19. This year the Lunar New Year begins on Sunday, February 14.

The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is also a moveable holiday, observed sometime in September or early October. This past fall it was celebrated beginning at sundown on Friday, September 18, and continuing on Saturday, the 19th.

The church's First Sunday of Advent usually occurs in late November, as it did this year, but it can fall as late as Dec. 2. When that happens, as it last did in 2006, the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve.

The papacy: A canonical problem

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Over nine years ago one of the Catholic church's finest canon lawyers, Fr. James Provost, a professor at The Catholic University of America, published an exceedingly important article in America magazine, "What If the Pope Became Disabled?" (7/30/00).

He had pointed out that the Catholic church's Code of Canon Law makes no provision for the situation in which a pope becomes completely disabled, by lapsing into a coma, for example. The concern had become progressively acute as then-Pope John Paul II began to manifest signs of severe physical frailty.

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November 21-December 5, 2014

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