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Commissioner seen as likely outcome of Legionary investigation

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tAs a Vatican-sponsored investigation of the Legionaries of Christ reaches its end-game, the leading hypothesis in Rome appears to be that Pope Benedict XVI may appoint a special “commissioner” to lead the order through a period a reform.

tThe appointment would, in effect, amount to a compromise between total suppression of the Legionaries, as some of the order’s fiercest critics have suggested, and a papal “certificate of good conduct,” as some of its Vatican backers had initially hoped.

tWhile it’s not clear what might happen with the order’s current leadership team under this scenario, an April 13 piece in Corriere della Sera suggested that a commissioner would have “full powers” to make decisions in the name of the pope. Though it’s considered likely that Benedict XVI would tap someone from outside the Legionaries, others have suggested that a commissioner could be named from among those Legionaries not tainted by the scandals surrounding the founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Ordination observations

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On Saturday I attended the latest ordinations by the Womenpriests group in Chicago, which I also wrote about in the most recent issue of NCR. Bishop Joan Clark Houk of Pittsburgh ordained Janine Denomme of Chicago and Marty Meyer-Gad of Minnesota as Roman Catholic priests.

Some observations:

* It was a beautiful spring day; Ebenezer Lutheran Church was packed; and the choir and music was spectacular.

* Attending were friends and family of the newly ordained, but also other supporters of women's ordination. Not everyone was comfortable being seen there. After I shook the hand of a familiar-looking woman at the Sign of Peace, I asked her if I knew her. She shook her head and said, "No, not going there." (Perhaps she recognized me as an NCR columnist/reporter?)

* Sadly, Denomme, who is being treated for Stage 4 colon and liver cancer, had to leave the ceremony during the Liturgy of the Word. But women bishops are flexible! Houk left the sanctuary to lay hands on and anoint Denomme, who was resting in an upstairs room. The entire congregation lifted their hands to pray for her.

FDR's Anniversary

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Today is the anniversary of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My mother, who was born in 1929, remembered the day vividly her whole life. “He was the only President I knew,” she recalled. “When someone said ‘The President,’ it meant him. It has only meant him.” In his war memoirs, Churchill wrote: “When I received these tidings early in the morning of Friday, the 13th, I felt as if I had been struck a physical blow.” Churchill had equally recalled their first meeting: “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it.”

Historians are frequently called upon to list our nation’s greatest chief executives, and Roosevelt always shares top honors with Lincoln. Both redefined the social contract between the government and the governed in ways that continue to shape our nation for the better. Lincoln rescued it from the scourge of slavery and armed insurrection. Roosevelt saved it from the hopelessness of the Great Depression and the threat of fascism.

Bankruptcy threatens lay workers' pensions

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Delaware's The News Journal reports that the bankruptcy of the Wilmington, Del., diocese -- brought on by a law suit over sex abuse by clergy -- is threatening the pensions of some 2,000 lay employees of the diocese, including teachers, cafeteria workers, housekeepers and maintenance workers.

The article says:

The lay employees are fearful that the official committee representing the unsecured creditors has interests that are in conflict with the workers'. Currently, the committee consists of seven people who are all survivors of sexual abuse.

Read the full account: Diocese's lay workers fear for their pensions

How many church leaders think this way?

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I was appalled this weekend when I heard National Public Radio report that an Italian bishop had called the media coverage of the sex abuse scandal a "Zionist attack" on Catholicism. As if this were not bad enough, the bishop reportedly continued, saying that both the "freemasons and the Jews" are "natural enemies" of the church, and that "…deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are God killers."

Yikes!

L'Osservatore Romano editor defends church, pope

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Rome -- On the same day the Vatican published a "layman's guide" to procedures when a priest is accused of sexual abuse -- which, for the first time in a Vatican document, explicitly includes a directive to comply with civil laws requiring bishops to report abuse to the police -- the editor of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, dropped by Rome's Foreign Press Club to talk about the crisis that has engulfed Pope Benedict XVI in recent weeks.

Gian Maria Vian, a lay professor of history tapped to take over L'Osservatore Romano in October 2007, offered a robust defense of both the church and the pope. Vian generally kept his cool, though at one point he became testy in complaining that the media reads the crisis into everything said or done at the Vatican these days – a reflection, perhaps, of the intense pressure of the last few weeks.

Vian conceded that there were "great failures in governance" that made the crisis possible, but also insisted that the church now has an "exemplary" approach to the problem of sexual abuse of children, and blamed what he called a "media campaign" for tarnishing the pope's image.

A moment in the dark

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My wife and I spent a weekend recently in a little house way back in the woods in the country. We were miles from town, hundreds from the nearest big city. Evening fell. There was no moon that night. In the country, a moonless night means a kind of enveloping darkness we city dwellers seldom experience any longer.

My wife went to play cards with the neighbors for the evening and took our flashlight to light the way down the woodland path. I told her I’d be along later. When it was time for me to make my way through the woods I realized she had taken the only flashlight. Searching for some other light source, I found an old kerosene lamp. With the soot-blackened chimney sheltering a flickering flame, I made my way slowly along the twisting, turning path, flanked on both sides by fragrant pines.

About halfway down the path, a night breeze came up suddenly and blew out my lamp. I stopped and stood there, thinking at that moment how much I would give for a single wooden match with which to relight my flame. But technology had I none.

I stood with the useless lamp in my hand, stumped and more than a little afraid of the darkness – and gradually began to come alive.

Re-Christianize Europe? Really?

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I read with some interest and head-scratching the story on NCRonline.org that the sex abuse scandal exploding in Europe will likely imperil Pope Benedict’s project to “re-Christianize” Europe, and help it reclaim its Christian heritage.

I don’t disagree with the premise; a scandal of this magnitude will not send people flocking to the church. But I’m not sure what Pope Benedict was been doing before this scandal erupted to “re-Christianize” Europe.

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