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Lay woman named to key Vatican job

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When talk turns to “women in the church,” the normal association in the public mind is with debates over the ordination of women to the priesthood. Because there’s been no movement on that front, the tendency is often to assume the “women’s question” is frozen in place.

In reality, however, the last few decades have seen a broad trend towards appointing women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership that don’t require sacramental ordination.

Criticism of 'Avatar' spiritualism off base

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I was dismayed to hear of Vatican criticism of the movie "Avatar," based upon the movie's central theme of humans versus nature. L'Osservatore Romano said the film "gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature."

The Vatican Radio said that the film "cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium."

"Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship," the radio said.

Obama's Choice

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Whether the Massachusetts vote amounted to a voter veto of health care reform is immaterial. It is being perceived as such. Even Congressman Barney Frank, whom I suspect could have held the Senate seat for the Democrats, has said that the results require Democrats to recalibrate their strategy, despite the fact that the President’s approval ratings remain high among those who voted yesterday.

So, the White House and the Congressional leaders have a choice. Either the get the House to pass the Senate bill “as is” and try to adjust its difficulties through the reconciliation process in the spring, or they start from scratch. Neither option is great.

Army spouses battle with their mental health

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This is an important story with broad implications. More needs to be done to shore up our military families' mental health. The sooner, the better.

Scientists have studied troops coming back from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and found high levels of mental health problems. Now, researchers are starting to look more at the families of those fighters.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that Army wives report a lot of stress when their husbands are sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. And the longer the deployment, the more likely the wife is to experience depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping and other mental health problems.

The environmental roots of the Haiti tragedy

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The following is from Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope's blog Taking the Initiative:

Washington, DC -- The world is still reeling from the magnitude of the disaster in Haiti. Many Sierra Club members and staffers, particularly from our Florida and Puerto Rico Chapters, are close to members of the Haitian expatriate community. All of us want to help the people experiencing this almost unimaginable human catastrophe however we can.

Seeing the terrible images of suffering from Port-au-Prince, our grief forces us to ask ourselves "Was such a disaster truly inevitable?" Of course we cannot control -- or even truly predict -- earthquakes. But in some places earthquakes kill tens of thousands, while in others there are only a handful of casualties. Why? I see two closely related factors that make a difference: forests and poverty.

Letter from Haiti

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In a letter written Jan. 15, two days after the Haitian earthquake, Lasallian Bernard Collignon described the "horror" he was witnessing in and among the communities in Port-au-Prince. (The following is a rough translation of that letter. The original French letter is below.)

Dear friends,

I just returned from a walk in downtown Port au Prince. What I have seen is unimaginable: thousands of people wandering the streets going nowhere carrying small bundles with their possessions. Decomposing corpses everywhere, single or in heaps. Now they are covered but they are still seen in the wreckage just off any road. This afternoon I saw something unbearable: a dumpster full of rotting corpses. I say a dumpster. Unbearable! The smell of decaying corpses is very strong.

Epidemics are certainly coming. People have transformed all public places into campgrounds. Some have small canvas shelters. Others have nothing.

How will world end? Hollywood says 'take your pick'

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Hollywood has always had a taste for disaster -- each generation of these films tells us something new about the way we fear our world will end. This year, it seems, random threats that annihilate everything are all the fashion. And they may indeed reflect a dark corner of our national psyche.

This weekend's box office saw Denzel Washington's new apocalyptic movie, "The Book of Eli," finish a strong second (with $38 million in tickets sold), behind sci-fi juggernaut "Avatar." That follows on the heels of two similarly-themed films this season, "The Road" (from the beyond-bleak Cormac McCarthy novel) and "2012," which plays global destruction as wide-screen spectacle. They all speak to our times in common ways.

Jan. 20, Blessed Basil Moreau, Holy Cross founder

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Today is the feast of Blessed Basil Anthony Mary Moreau, 1799-1873, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Please click here for information about the 2007 edition of Gary MacEoin's 1962 biography of Fr. Moreau, and for a link to a clip of Fr. Jim Gallagher's appearance on WNDU Sunday Morning, in which he talks about the founder and about the events this week at Notre Dame to celebrate the feast.

Amazon provides a Look Inside feature for MacEoin's book, Basil Moreau: Founder of Holy Cross. For examples of the sufferings Moreau endured, read about his relationships with Bishop Jean-Baptiste Bouvier and others in the hierarchy; about the financial shenanigans of Br. Marie Julien and others in the congregation; and about the bitter conflicts with Fr. Edward Sorin and others at Notre Dame and at St. Mary's. The constant turmoil finally led to Fr. Moreau's resignation from his position as superior general.

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