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Sex abuse crisis 'terrifying,' pope says

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Lisbon, Portugal

tEn route to a May 11-14 visit to Portugal, Benedict XVI called the reality of the sexual abuse crisis “terrifying” and said that the greatest persecution of the church comes not from external attacks but from sin within the church.

Benedict's insistence that the real problem is internal seemed to distance the pope from other senior Vatican officials, who in recent weeks have blamed the media and other parties for unjust criticism of the Catholic church.

tWhile those comments came in response to a question, the questions were submitted to the Vatican by reporters covering the trip several days in advance – suggesting that Benedict wanted to address the crisis and chose his words carefully, rather than being caught off guard.

tBenedict also said that while forgiveness must be part of the church’s response to the crisis, that must not come at the expense of justice.

In total, the pope’s session with the press this morning lasted approximately 16 minutes. Beyond the sexual abuse crisis, Benedict also touched upon the relationship between secularism and religious faith as well as Europe's current economic turmoil.

'Babies' beyond cute

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Just in time for Mothers Day, French documentarian Thomas Balmès ' new film "Babies" or Bébé(s) opened on Friday.

"Babies" follows the first year in the life of four babies: Ponijao, from Opuwo, Namibia, Africa; Bayarjargal () from Mongolia, Asia; Mari, from Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie from San Francisco, California.

In interviews, Balmès says that he was commissioned to make a "wildlife documentary" about babies. His interpretation of the assignment begins just before the birth of each child when we meet the mothers in a state of immediate expectation. Each child's umbilical cord is cut, and they (one boy, Bayar, and three girls) begin their life's journey outside the womb.

Do we want a living tradition or a petrified one?

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Quote of the Day

“Dialogue with them is not easy. The main problem with them is not the Mass in Latin, but the concept of tradition. Do we want a living tradition or a petrified one?”

-- Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's chief ecumenist, on talks with the Society of Saint Pius X, a schismatic group that broke with the Catholic Church decades ago and that Pope Benedict XVI is trying to woo back into the fold. Kasper was quoted by Reuters.

Reflections on Britain's Brown resigning as party leader

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I remember watching him from the gallery above. Through the thick protective glass between the gallery and floor (installed after someone threw a paint balloon to the floor below a few years before) I cringed as Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a lackluster response during that oh-so-British of institutions, Prime Minister's Questions. In them the leader of the British Government subjects him or herself every week to questions from the opposing parties and to the rest of the elected members of parliament. Normally they're equal amounts interrogation and displays of stunning wit among the different members.

Brown was being grilled by Conservative leader David Cameron about knife violence in central London, who was using a rather large amount of dry humor to get his point across. Brown, the leader of the Labour party which has held power for the past 17 years, responded with an off-putting amount of seriousness - as if Cameron could not ever possibly know the real answers to the situation. When he sat down it was with a certain 'hmmph' which said 'I'm right, you're wrong and get over it.'

The Collapsing Protestant Empire

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First, Billy Graham's son gets stiffed by the Pentagon.

Then President Obama pencils in Elena Kagan as his nomineee for the Supreme Court lineup and guess what? Another non-Protestant.

Things are looking gloomy in Reformation Land. The numbers have been dropping steadily in most of the old denominations and evangelicals aren't doing much better. Particular congregations show signs of life; the larger structures generally don't.

The nation's religious identity is obviously shifting, for better or worse, farther from the legacy of the Pilgrims toward a genuine hodge-podge of traditions where nobody is in charge.

This comes as bad if not surprising news to the old guard of Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Southern Baptists. The torch seems to be passing from them to nobody in particular right before their eyes.

While many Protestant leaders are resigned to this turn of fortune as appropriate to democratic pluralism, others warn that the loss of Christianity's exclusive grip could cost the nation its soul.

A First Thought on Kagan

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President Obama is set to name Elena Kagan as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the conservative memes about Obama is that he is "the most pro-abortion president in history." This meme was first begun by Princeton Professor Robert George who has traded in his professorial aloofness from the political realm by starting a Washington-based advocacy group, the American Principles Project, although a quick visit to their website will show that he is now more concerned with politics than principles and utterly dismissive of those parts of the American experience that do not comport with his agenda.

Naming Pell to Bishops would be a landmark move

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tI’m in Rome at the moment, preparing to leave early Tuesday on Pope Benedict XVI’s May 11-14 swing in Portugal. Ecclesiastically speaking, Rome is very much a company town, so speculation about who’s in line for what job is always in the air. These days attention is focused on possible successors to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who’s held the job for the last ten years and who is now 76.

tRecently, the well-connected Italian Vatican writer Andrea Tornielli reported that Pope Benedict XVI has found his man for the job at the Congregation for Bishops: Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia. Pell, who’ll turn 69 in early June, has been the Archbishop of Sydney since 2001 and a cardinal since 2003.

tTrying to predict appointments is a notoriously hazardous enterprise, and until the daily bollettino from the Holy See Press Office appears with Pell’s name on it, nothing’s for sure. Yet if Pell is indeed the new prefect, it would be a landmark move for at least four reasons.

Clapping for Sister Carol

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Sometimes applause is just applause. There is applause that is polite. There is the applause at the end of the singing of the National Anthem. There is the applause from members of Congress when the President says something nice about apple pie or calls attention to the First Lady.

Then there are those moments when a group of people want to express their profound admiration and love for someone and, given the context, the only manner that seems suitable to express those feelings is with applause, even though it does not come close to expressing the depth of feeling. This was the kind of applause that greeted Sister Carol Keehan at NCR’s “Washington Briefing” when she was introduced this morning. The room rose as one. The applause was loud, not to say raucous, and it was sustained.

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