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A Tribute to Nancy Frazier O'Brien

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Reporters were once prone to treat official Vatican pronouncements with the deference expected of them by the Curia -- authoritative, binding and beyond dispute. The idea that opposing voices could be valid and newsworthy was slow to dawn, aided by the sex abuse scandals and open challenges to church authority. But the old presumption that the only views that count are clerical and hierarchical ones hasn't entiredly disappeared, of course, and coverage can suffer because of it. Besides, it's easier to go along with the notion that the official statement is the last word.

Nancy Frazier O'Brien's piece for Catholic News Service on Archbishop Weurl's attempt to explain the Vatican's yoking together child sexual abuse and women's ordination as "grave crimes" could have limited itself to the archbishop's effort to assure Catholic women that the stigmatizing of women's ordination meant no disrespect for women in general. But she went the extra mile to seek out the executive director of that Women's Ordination Conference and the WomenPriests group for their responses.

Interfaith Voices this Week: Black Preaching in America

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It’s a fascinating week on Interfaith Voices. We begin with Martha Simmons, co-editor of a new anthology of African American preaching, from the days of slavery to the present. It’s called Preaching with Sacred Fire. Listening to some of these preaching styles, I was reminded that the liveliest liturgies in the Catholic Church are most often found in predominantly African-American parishes.
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Then, we explore the Yoruba religious tradition native to Africa as part of our World Religions 101 series. It has also spread in the Americas, especially Brazil and the Caribbean. Its “mischievous” “gods,” or Orishas, are a delight to hear about.

Finally, we conclude with Jewish music from the 1940’s through the 1980’s, what is wistfully called “Jews on Vinyl.”

Listen here.

This Egg on the Face Won't Wash Off

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Apparently, even some men in the Vatican have had second thoughts about the recent document that put pedophilia in the same category of crimes as the “attempt to ordain a woman.”

Msgr. Charles Scicluna, who works in the Vatican’s doctrinal department, said on Friday, July 16th that these “crimes” are not comparable under canon law.
"They are in the same document but this does not put them on the same level or assign them the same gravity," said Scicluna. He called sexual abuse a “crime against morality,” and the “attempt” to ordain a woman a “crime against a sacrament.” He did not mention that they are both called “delicta graviora.”

Buried treasure

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Sometimes not only is the main purpose of a bill laudable, so are some of the buried provisions--like the renewal of the adoption tax credit in the health care reform bill.

Such is the case with the financial reform legislation approved this week by Congress. Even those who may disagree that Wall Street needed some reining in may be happy to hear that part of the new law will help protect consumers from buying cell phones, video games and other electronics that fund violence in the Congo.

Catholic Relief Services is applauding the new requirement that publicly traded companies that use four specific minerals must certify with the SEC whether those minerals originated in Congo or neighboring countries and must conduct audits to ensure they are not contributing to the armed conflict in the region.

The law's global transparency provision also will provide people in poor countries with great mineral wealth with information to help hold their governments accountable for how that wealth is used.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

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A Vatican think tank working overtime couldn't have devised a better gift to the cause of women's equality in the Catholic church than this week's indictment of women's ordination as a "grave crime" on a par with child sex abuse.

It can only be supposed that Rome sought to stick it to women who favor entry into all ministries while it had the attention of the world focused on "new" norms for handling sex abuse that were designed to burnish its image. If that was the intent, it boomeranged.

The most obvious reason was that common sense regards equating the two actions as simply absurd.

That's a good starting point for reviving the cause of women in the church. Though the hard line against women's ordination has been consistent and should have come as no surprise, it promised to shock Catholic women and men who have been lulled into forgetfulness or complacency.

So here's new red hot evidence handed to leaders of equality on a silver platter, a no-nonsense source of motivation and perhaps mobilization.

Church to women: We love you, but...

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Poor Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington. For being head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on doctrine, he gets to try to untangle for the media here the confusion that occurred here when the Vatican decided to unveil its latest PR fiasco, mixing its announcement of new norms for handling sex abuse by clerics with the announcement that the “attempted” ordinations of women was being added to the “more grave” list of offenses against the church.

One can only wonder how much “more grave” it can get than it already is. Those who have been involved in women’s ordinations are already said to have excommunicated themselves; it is unclear whether one can excommunicate oneself even more if the offense is elevated in status.

Hymns for the church of being alive

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A is for Asimov and his galaxy-spanning sci-fi novels. B is for the Beatles, and the magical mystery tour of their songs: from "Hello, Goodbye" or "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" to "Lady Madonna" or "Rocky Raccoon." C is for dark-visaged Captain Nemo, skipper of the Nautilus in Disney's thrilling adventure film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. D is for Dracula, the dark side of life constellated in one creepy, sexy figure. E is for Elvis, who helped hitch black blues up with country music and build a new way of looking at and expressing life named rock 'n' roll. F is for Fay Wray, who played the young blonde King Kong fell for and kidnapped....

With this litany, I want to sing the praises of our popular culture, that unlikely yet habitual hangout for the spirit of the holy. Purposefully, I divide highbrow from low, in order to spend some time with that portion of our culture that is there primarily to entertain, or to tell sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-and-bite-your-knuckles tales of suspense, adventure or intrigue, or to rhapsodize with melodies using popular speech, common sentiments and universal experiences for material.

'Let's not let anyone think we're soft'

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Someone must've been afraid of making Catholics happy. It's the only explanation that makes sense.

I imagine a meeting deep inside the Vatican, far beyond the reach of tourists and their modern world. A dozen aged bureaucrats of the Curia gather around an ornate oak table, lit by candles placed in wrought-iron fixtures overhead.

They are, just one more time, reviewing the new rules for disciplining priests who have sexually abused minors. It's not perfect, they all realize, but it is good. At this moment in time, it's the best they can do -- given the internal politics and the inbred resistance to any change.

They are pleased they have called pedophilia a "grave crime," and have added it to a list that includes heresy and schism. One functionary rolls his eyes at that last bit: schism. Some cardinal from Avignon, he recalls, always shoves that in every Church document he can -- still trying to prove local loyalty all these centuries later. No matter. Whatever. Everyone in the room is satisfied.

International Catholic ogranizations speak out against new Vatican women's ordination edict

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The Vatican July 15 issued a clarification of its canonical norms for how dioceses should handle clergy sex abuse cases. As part of the announced canon norm chages, Vatican officials added that the "attempted ordination of a woman" has now been added to the list of "delicta graviora," or most serious crimes in church law, alongside the sexual abuse of minors.

Today, 27 international Catholic organizations issued the following joint statement in response:

We, the undersigned, express our solidarity with Catholics who continue to seek equality, including those who practice feminist ministries and those who are ordained. We know these women and men to be firm in their faith and courageous in their work as they seek an inclusive and accountable church, undeterred by threats of excommunication or other canonical penalties. In addition, we stand with our brother priests and bishops who are also being threatened by this new policy for their support of women's equality in the church. Furthermore, we take great offense that good faith struggles for gender equality could be misunderstood as a sacrilege and placed on par with the sexual abuse of children. In 1976, the Vatican's own Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded there is no valid scriptural reason for denying ordination to women. Therefore, we welcome such efforts to expand the scope and variety of ministry and we celebrate women's faithfulness despite huge institutional obstacles.

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October 10-23, 2014

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