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A hint of accountability in new Vatican financial scandal

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.

tOnly half in jest, I’ve sometimes suggested that the pace of change in the Vatican amounts to, “Talk to us on Wednesday and we’ll get back to you in 200 years.” It’s an institution, in other words, decidedly not built for speed.

tRecent days, however, have brought an intriguing hint of a culture shift in the direction of accountability, perhaps accelerated by fallout from the global sexual abuse crisis.

tAlready reeling on that front, the Vatican now faces an embarrassing financial scandal: Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples has been named a target by Italian prosecutors for his role in alleged corruption in public works contracts while he was Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples from 2001 to 2006.

tThe investigation of Sepe comes as part of a widening corruption scandal in Italy known as the “Great Works” probe, which has already linked an array of politicians and businessmen to an alleged network of kickbacks in major public projects, such as the Jubilee Year of 2000 and the recent meeting of the G8 in earthquake-damaged L’Aquila, Italy.

tSepe is the first former Vatican official implicated in the scandal.

Cardinal Mahony testimony: 'dark and disappointing moment'

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It's a dark and disappointing moment for Catholics in Los Angeles -- at the request of the Los Angeles Times, the courts last week made public a deposition earlier this year by Cardinal Roger Mahony, in the case of former priest Michael Baker, a convicted child molestor who was shuttled around to various parishes in the 1980s.

As I've written before, Mahony is one of the good guys on some many things that matter to Catholics in California: human rights, social justice, immigration reform. But when it comes to the still-growing sex abuse scandal, he seems to be just another person-in-power looking first to protect the church's reputation.

In the deposition, Mahony acknowledges that Baker (who is now serving ten years in prison for molestation) came to him and confessed his actions. The cardinal sent the priest off to a "treatment center" used by the church, and then the church swung him around to several parishes - including some with elementary schools.

Reports of abuse by Baker continued but nothing more was done.

Religion on the Right & Left

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Michael Gerson and E. J. Dionne have both commented recently on the religious aspect of the ideological wars afflicting the Republican Party in ways that are noteworthy but also deficient.

Gerson wrote about Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana, who is catching some wind in establishment GOP circles but who has angered the religious right by calling for a “truce” on the social issues, such as abortion and stem cell research, to focus on the economic and fiscal plight facing the country. Says Daniels, “If there were a WMD attack, death would come to straights and gays, pro-life and pro-choice. If the country goes broke, it would ruin the American dream for everyone.” But, in certain social conservative circles, this is heresy because they believe country’s ills can be traced to the removal of God’s protection from America because of the national sin of abortion and/or the spread of homosexuality. What Daniels does not grasp is that there is no American dream, there are many American dreams, and many of them conflict and conflict so strongly that you cannot call a “truce.”

What Happened at USCCB Mtg?

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One of the difficulties in covering the Church is that the most important conversations tend to happen behind closed doors, such as this week’s discussion of the fallout from the health care debate at the bishops’ retreat in St. Petersburg. Putting together a narrative of what did, or did not, happen reminds me of the old art of Kremlinology, where analysts considered the wording of Pravda texts and the relative positions of the Party leadership atop the Lenin mausoleum on May Day.

Have you seen the Light?

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Well, apparently, the Vatican has. L'Osservatore Romano is calling The Blues Brothers a "Catholic classic" and recommending that Catholics everywhere see it--this, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the film's release.

While some say it's a silly movie with too many car chases and bad language, others insist it's ultimately about redemption. After all, the brothers (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd)say they're "on a mission from God."

It's nice to see the Vatican getting so hip about popular culture--even if it's three decades late.

Is this any way to treat a bishop?

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The Religion News Service Quote of the Day:

"It is bizarre; it is beyond bizarre."

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, after she was told to carry, and not wear, her bishop's mitre during services at London's Southwark Cathedral. Jefferts Schori, who was quoted by Episcopal News Service, also had to provide evidence of her ordination; the Church of England does not allow women bishops.

Marriage on Trial in San Francisco Federal Court

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It is a fascinating thing going on up in a San Francisco federal court: marriage is on trial.

Specifically, the state's Proposition 8 is on trial. That measure -- approved by voters last November -- bans gay marriage in California. Here's the twist: before Prop 8 passed, gay couples in this states actually had been granted to right to a civil marriage, so the new law was in the awkward position of taking away rights.

And so opponents of the ban have taken to federal court.. There, yesterday, during closing arguments, something miraculous broke out: a thoughtful discussion on the nature of marriage and the role that government has in promoting it.

Presiding Judge Vaughn Walker asked the lawyer defending Prop 8 just what this marriage thing was all about. Attorney Charles Cooper's response boiled down to: making babies. And the state's interest in this? Babies without a mom and dad get into trouble later, and the state has a duty to promote societal stability.

Facing firing squad, death row inmate asks for temporary stay

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Hours away from his scheduled execution by firing squad, Utah death row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner has asked Gov. Gary Herbert for a temporary stay, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Gardner, 49, faces execution by firing squad shortly after midnight Friday (2 a.m. ET) for a shooting death during a botched escape attempt from custody in 1985 at a Salt Lake City, Utah, courthouse.

He would be only the third person to die by firing squad in the United States in 33 years.

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October 10-23, 2014

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