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For the Vatican, summer begins today

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tFamously, the Vatican has its own sense of time, and today is a good reminder of the point. In the rest of the Northern Hemisphere summer officially began this year on June 21, but in the Vatican summer really begins today, after the conclusion of Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, when the pontiff heads for Castel Gandolfo.

tThe Prefecture of the Papal Household has announced that while Benedict is at his summer residence, all private and special audiences will be suspended, and for the next three weeks (July 14, 21 and 28), there won’t be any general audiences either.

In effect, that means Benedict won't be doing much official business for the rest of the month. Among other things, that could afford him time to put the final touches on the second volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth. The pope told American Rabbi Jacob Neusner, whose writings Benedict quoted extensively in the first volume, that the manuscript was essentially complete in a meeting in a January. The writing had been slowed down last summer when Benedict broke his wrist at the start of his summer vacation.

I agree with Michael Steele

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Michael Steele, the head of the Republican National Committee, has come under major criticism for his comments concerning the war in Afghanistan and, in particular, his assertion that the Obama administration should have learned from history that no foreign intervention or occupation has ever succeeded in that war-torn country.

Some Republicans are calling for Steele's resignation and some Democrats are making political-hay over Steele's remarks.

However, the fact of the matter is that Steele is right on this point: Previous foreign interventions whether the British or Soviet all came to unsuccessful conclusions. The U.S. involvement will not succeed either and all evidence points to that. While President Obama will pay the political price for this, we should not have been surprised at his escalation of the war, since during the campaign he was very clear that his priority would be Afghanistan and not Iraq. Still, it is a disappointment to others and me who voted for him as a peace and diplomacy candidate to see him beginning to become mired in this endless war.

I suppose this was almost inevitable

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I suppose this was almost inevitable: Michael Hastings Lands Book Deal Following Rolling Stone McChrystal Bombshell (HT to NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard for this.) The publisher is Little, Brown and Company. Rumor has it the book went for seven figures.

A media release on the book deal says, "The book will offer an unfiltered look at the war, and the soldiers, diplomats and politicians who are waging it."

Elise Boulding, leading peace activist, passes

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Elise Boulding died June 24. She "was to peace studies what Rachel Carson was to conservation and Margaret Mead to anthropology," Colman McCarthy, NCR columnist, peace activist has written. "She gave academic legitimacy to the study of pacifism as both a moral force and a practical alternative to violence -- all the way from military violence to domestic violence."

Sustainable shrimp

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The Gulf oil spill is making Americans think twice before tossing some shrimp on the grill this summer and that might not be such a bad thing. After seeing the horrifying pictures, many are about as interested in eating seafood that’s been swimming in the Gulf as they are in diving into the water themselves. What Americans might not realize, however, is that the shrimping industry is an environmental scourge much older than the oil spill.

For more information about the destructiveness of the shrimp industry and for ways to minimize that destruction while still occasionally enjoying a shrimp dinner, see the Natural Resources Defense Council's Simple Steps article, "Meals of Mass Destruction."

Conn. priest charged for $1.3 million theft

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Yet again a Connecticut Catholic priest heavily part-takes in the "good life" funded by citizens-of-faith's donations. It was previously reported that Fr. Kevin Gray spent money on himself for some seven years. The Republican American now reports on the findings of a police investigation that describes Gray's world as consisting of high-end restaurants, male escorts and extraordinary luxury totally some $1.3 million.

"Gray is expected to surrender to police today on a felony charge of first-degree larceny, a crime that could lead to 20 years in prison. Police say for the past seven years he cut checks from the church bank account to pay for designer clothes by Armani and overnight stays at Madison Avenue hotels, among a list of other expenses."

Incredibly, the Hartford archdiocese is applauding its internal investigative work of a problem that unfolded over seven years to get to the problem of it.

Nice work by Archbishop Henry Mansell and the chancery guys. You can't make this stuff up. By the way, any other seven year old felonies you haven't found yet?

A bi-partisan plea to trim military budget

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Finally, the conversation over attacking deficits aims at the most appropriate target: the military budget. In a welcome bi-partisan appeal, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Ron Paul spell out a compelling rationale for cutting military spending, which for too long has enjoyed protection from scrutiny.

"For decades," write the two members of Congress, "the subject of military expenditures has been glaringly absent from public debate. Yet the Pentagon budget for 2010 is $693 billion -- more than all other discretionary spending programs combined. Even subtracting the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military spending still amounts to over 42% of total spending.

"It is irrefutably clear to us that if we do not make substantial cuts in the projected levels of Pentagon spending, we will do substantial damage to our economy and dramatically reduce our quality of life."

Environmental grief so great

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A few days ago I went on to Huffington Post to find that the lead story was about the effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on baby sea turtles. I never got to the article. Instead I stared at a sea turtle that had been doused in oil and was now fighting for its life. Then I did what I have worked hard to avoid as I've followed the coverage of the spill: I wept. The grief was unbearable as I gazed at the tiny creature, a wondrous manifestation of God's creation.

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