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Vatican paper comes in praise of altar girls

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Earlier this week, more than 50,000 young altar servers from around the world flocked to Rome for a gathering with Pope Benedict XVI. It's a regular event, but this year there was a twist: For the first time, altar girls outnumbered the boys roughly 60-40.

On the front page of Saturday's edition of L'Osservatore Romano (which is released in Rome Friday afternoon), the official Vatican newspaper, essayist Lucetta Scaraffia styles the post-Vatican II acceptance of altar girls as an important breakthrough, saying that it marks the end of "any attribution of impurity" to females, and corrects a "profound inequality."

Here's the relevant section from Scaraffia's essay, in NCR translation:

Hiroshima Day: Time to act against nuclear weapons

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Today is the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb by the United States on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, incinerating the city and killing at least 140,000 residents. For the first time, an envoy from the U.S. to Japan attended the memorial ceremony making the occasion. It’s about time.

According to New York Times reports, “Hiroshima’s mayor welcomed the [U.S.] Ambassador John Roos and praised President Obama as one of the world leaders who ‘wielded their powerful influence’ to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”

When I read definitions of the word “terrorism,” I often think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- cities flattened, civilians murdered en masse, the terror that lasted in the bodies of many people who were contaminated by the fallout. All this makes a car bomb look like a firecracker by comparison.

Shocking decision

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A bishop in the Episcopal Church who concealed his brother's sexual abuse of a minor 35 years ago has been returned to his position in Pennsylvania, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A church appeals court Wednesday reversed a lower church court's order that Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. be removed and defrocked, citing the expiration of the church's statute of limitations.

Episcopalians are shocked. So am I. I guess it's not only Catholic bishops who seem to be getting off scot-free. You can read more about Bennison and his brother here.

Ground Zero mosque: Catholics have seen this before

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A few years ago, I visited an exhibit on Catholics in New York put on by the Museum of the City of New York. It was a fascinating look at Catholic culture in an urban setting and the ethnic communities that were shaped by it, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For a person with two Italian Catholic grandparents and one Irish Catholic grandmother, it was interesting to understand how far we’ve come.

The pure, peaceable, impartial Christianity of Christ

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Re-reading Frederick Douglass’ narrative I came across a stirring confession that resonated deeply with Anne Rice grappling with Christianity she is most recently known for,
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“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

Rice’s denouncement of Catholicism is one that stirs in the hearts of so many Catholics who desire to be the “pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ” for others and are frequently misrepresented by what Rice calls an “anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-life” faith.

Valerie Elverton Dixon, writer for the Washington Post, writes an open letter to Anne Rice on her pained decision to leave the church. Dixon’s letter asks Rice to consider the other members of the Christian faith who similarly toil with the misrepresentation and seek “to be better witnesses for incarnate Love today than we were yesterday.”

Targeting Obama at the Church Festival

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The parish Big Time summer fundraiser in Roseto, PA, last month featured a new game: pay $5 and shoot a likeness of President Obama with six foam darts from eight feet away. Hit targets on the head and heart and win a stuffed animal.

The new attraction was called Alien Attack and invited contestants to fire away at a tall black man who wore a Presidential Seal belt buckle and who grasped a "Health Bill" in his right hand. It was one of the attractions offered by Goodtime Amusements of Hellertown, PA, a carnival which has been hired by the parish for the past 26 years to pull in most of the cash.

Grasping at Straws?

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For many of those directly involved in women's religious life, the choice of Fr. Joseph Tobin is good news. Assuming the testimonials to his being well disposed toward Catholic women is well founded, that enthusiasm is understandable.

It's a ray of hope, though likely a very thin ray.

From the periphery, it seems likely to be a shrewd political move intended to soften criticism of the investigations and deflect attention away from the ingrained sexism and animosity toward Vatican II renewal that Fr. Tobin, with all the good will in the world, won't have the standing to influence. Perhaps he will lobby Cardinal Rode to tone down some of his pronouncements at the end of the investigations, but the cardinal has the final word and belongs to that inner circle that still thinks too many American sisters have forsaken "real" religious life.

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