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Many Are Called, Few Are Chosen

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I write barely in advance of the witching hour when the Academy of Motion Pictures, a name more revered than the National Academy of Science, hands out its immortal trophies.

The ritual polishes off a drum roll that has lasted for weeks. If you haven't been asked whether you prefer "The Hurt Locker" to "Avatar" for best picture, you should feel socially insecure.

In case it's not crystal clear, I'm not a fan. The reason I mention it is because the Oscar season runs in rough symmetry with Lent and Easter. At the risk of concocting some direct contrasts rather than reporting on them, I'd suggest the following.

The Oscars epitomize the triumph of glamor and hubris served up by products made by their own hands in fierce competition with one another and ultimately aimed at profit.

All of which contrasts obscenely with the themes of the Christian season when such counter cultural rubrics as repentence, humility and, ultimately, self-sacrifice move through worship and practice.

Loretto Sister Mary McNellis celebrates 100 years

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My wife doesn’t make much of her birthdays. Our children will call. We might go out for a quiet dinner. But hardly a birthday passes without her receiving a greeting from a longtime friend, Loretto Sr. Mary McNellis. You see, my wife and McNellis share March 6 as a birthday, though McNellis was born quite a number of years before my wife. McNellis, the thoughtful and legendary woman religious, turns 100 this year. She is the first centenarian I have ever personally known.

Washington Catholic Charities criticized

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The Washington Post on 3/5/10 reports that the former chief operating office of Catholic Charities of Washington, DC, Tim Sawina, has called on the Archdiocese to reverse its decision to cancel health benefits for spouses of employees. He publicly called that decision “devastating” and “wrong,” and he said it is causing current employees to look for jobs elsewhere.

Earlier this week, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington made the decision to eliminate spousal health benefits to avoid paying them to same sex partners now that the District of Columbia has legalized gay marriage.

Employees of Catholic Charities, speaking to the Post on condition of anonymity, said that many inside the organization were dismayed and upset by the decision. Others charged that it will deter recruitment, and that Catholic Charities is already losing respect in the District.

Sex scandals come home for the Vatican

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tAs sexual scandals of various sorts have washed through the Catholic church around the world, the Vatican has typically tried to play a subordinate role – treating them as matters of grave concern, to be sure, but ultimately something for which local bishops must take the primary responsibility.

tTwo developments this week, however, bring those scandals home for the Holy See. One involves two lay Vatican employees fired after reportedly being caught up in a gay prostitution ring, the other turns on reports of abuse by priests connected to a German choir once directed by the pope’s brother.

tThe first story centers on an Italian layman named Angelo Balducci, a prominent public works official in Italy who was already at the center of controversy as a result of corruption charges. Balducci, who has enjoyed close relations with senior figures in both the Vatican and the Italian church, has denied any wrongdoing.

Bishops to the Rescue

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According to a report in Politico.com, the USCCB is willing to help ensure that enough Senators will vote to allow a rules change that would permit the reconciliation process to address the issue of abortion funding in health care reform. The vote would require 60 votes in the now no-longer filibuster-proof Senate. They may not realize it, but the USCCB is calling the Republicans out.

It is increasingly clear that Speaker Nancy Pelosi will need the votes of twelve or so members of the House that insist on the language contained in the Stupak Amendment. That amendment was part of the bill that passed the House last year but it was not passed in the Senate. The House is set to pass the Senate bill but only if certain changes are made which, in turn, would be sent to the Senate under reconciliation rules that only require a simple majority. The GOP opposes the use of the reconciliation process but it is perfectly permissible under Senate rules as the Republicans well know, having used the procedure many times in the past.

Coffee, not Tea, please

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By now Internet and Facebook addicts have probably heard about the Coffee Party USA -- or should it be called a "movement"? It's a kind of progessive answer to the Tea Party movement.

Here's what they say about themselves:

We want a society in which democracy is treated as sacrosanct and ordinary citizens participate out of a sense of civic duty, civic pride, and a desire to contribute to society. The Coffee Party is a call to action. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers gave us an enduring gift — Democracy — and we must use it to meet the challenges that we face as a nation.

Check out how the Coffee Party Movement began. See video here.

80,521 have become Coffee Party USA fans on Facebook by March Fourth!!

Onward!

After 'Taliban Catholicism,' now 'Taliban Orthodoxy'?

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tWithout really trying, I’ve generated controversy in some quarters by coining the phrase “Taliban Catholicism” to describe a psychological tendency (as opposed, let the record be clear, to any actual person or group) in today’s church. I understand it as the equal-and-opposite extreme from what George Weigel has usefully described as “Catholicism Lite,” meaning a kind of supine assimilation to secularism.

t“Taliban Catholicism,” then, is an exaggerated allergy to anything that smacks of secularism, liberalization, or corruption by modernity – an angry form of the faith that knows only how to excoriate and condemn.

tOf course, Catholicism hardly enjoys a monopoly on the “Taliban” instinct, which is more akin to a potential distortion within any religious system. In some ways it may be especially virulent within ultra-traditional and nationalist strains of Orthodoxy, as a recent “Patriarchal and Synodal Encyclical” from Archbishop Bartholomew of Constantinople makes clear.

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