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Philly 'cool priest' passes away

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The Philadelphia Daily News reports some sad news today: the loss a revered local priest, known for his easy style and hearty laugh.

I wish this column could be accompanied by a soundtrack of Rev. Robert McLaughlin's laugh.
It was a deep roar, punctuated by a fabulous "ootz" sound when he inhaled for the next bellow. It was one of those big, generous laughs that made you want to howl with mirth, too. I imagine I speak for most people who loved him when I say it's unfathomable that the world won't hear that laugh again.

Father Mac - as the 65-year-old Roman Catholic priest was referred to by anyone who knew him longer than five minutes - died last Thursday while on a getaway to his family's place in the peaceful mountains of upstate Wyoming County.

Foreign-born priests facing immigration challenges too

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The Sacramento Bee has an interesting story today about something many parishioners have noticed for a while: foreign-born U.S. priests. It seems they, just like other immigrants, are facing challenges with our immigration system.

Foreign-born priests have long filled U.S. pulpits and parishes. But recent changes in requirements for religious visas are making that harder to do, say some church leaders. Now, citing increased costs and difficulty obtaining visas, some will no longer actively recruit clerics from other countries.

Bishop Jaime Soto, the spiritual leader of the Sacramento region's 900,000 Catholics, said last week that he has stopped a long-standing diocesan practice of seeking priests outside the United States.

"It's alarming how difficult it is for us to bring over priests who are willing to serve here," said Soto. "The current immigration protocol handicaps our ability to find ministers."

Judging Israel

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The world has rushed to condemn Israel for the deaths of nine so-called pro-Palestinian activists who were killed trying to deliver supplies to Gaza. Israeli forces, which have been enforcing a blockade of Gaza since 2007, seized the vessels and, when met with armed resistance, a firestorm broke out. An investigation will determine what precisely happened to ignite the shooting. But, no investigation is needed to know that anyone who is genuinely concerned about the future of the Palestinian people will recognize that the single most important step towards peace and justice for them is for Hamas to be removed from power in Gaza. A true pro-Palestinian activist would do nothing to aid and abet that criminal regime.

One thing is clear. The pro-Palestinian activists were aiming for a fight. If their goal had been simply to supply the humanitarian needs of the people who live in Gaza, they could have delivered their aid to any one of a number of humanitarian organizations that legally supply Gaza. 15,000 tons of such supplies are delivered by Israel every week. But, the vessels involved in yesterday’s flotilla were carrying building supplies that are banned by the blockade.

In New Orleans, expectations low, frustrations high

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"Anger rises over failures." That headline screamed out at me from The Times-Picayune as I arrived at the airport in New Orleans. News was spreading that BP's latest attempt, as The Times Picayune described it, "to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and fouling Louisiana wetlands."

Expectations that the next plan to contain the flow are low and frustrations are high. That seems to be the mantra repeated again and again when the oil spill is discussed. And fear of the unknown.

I am in New Orleans for next few days to gain some on the ground insight into this disaster. Today I will accompanying a team from the New Orleans archdiocese Catholic Charities touring their "Oil Leak Humanitarian Response Sites." There are five sites so far.

One thing that hits me very early is that although much of the rest of the country has been following this news story on and off for awhile, people down here have been living with this disaster for six weeks. Six weeks and no end in sight.

Memory & Memorial Day

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It has been seventeen years since my friend Leon Wieseltier wrote an essay, “After Memory,” for the The New Republic to commemorate the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Unfortunately, TNR had a problem with its electronic archives a few years back, and you may need to trot to the library stacks to find it. It will be worth the effort.

Vatican's sex abuse prosecutor says church must amputate to heal

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When the innocence of children is “trampled upon, broken, sullied, abused, and destroyed,” then “the earth becomes arid and the whole world sad,” the Vatican’s top sexual abuse prosecutor said this morning in Rome.

tMonsignor Charles J. Scicluna indirectly critiqued the clerical culture in which abuser priests were routinely given second chances.

Challenges ahead for Vietnam

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Vietnam: Day Six

The interfaith delegation to Vietnam, of which I’m a part, concluded our week by meeting with a variety of officials in Hanoi, the capital. Invariably, Vietnamese government officials and the leaders of various non-governmental organizations greeted us warmly, thanked us for coming, served us the traditional tea and welcomed our efforts to enhance U.S./Vietnamese partnership over the issue of Agent Orange/dioxin.

Church shopping and the polarization of America

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Law professors, June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, wrote a recent book titled, "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture."

They suggest that "church shopping" is contributing to the polarization of the country.

They begin this essay with a shocking paragraph about Catholic women and abortion (see below), but the real nut of their research is here:

The figures underlie a striking change in the characteristics of American churches of all denominations: in the '60s, those showing up in church on Sunday might have represented a cross-section of American viewpoints; today, they are more likely to reflect traditionalist views, further driving modernists away from religion altogether -- and intensifying what some have called the “devotional divide” in American politics.

The difference in viewpoints between traditionalists and modernists is profound -- and has dramatic effects on today’s culture wars.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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