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In diplomatic breakthrough, Pope Benedict meets Hanoi president

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In a Vatican and Socialist Vietnam first ever, Pope Benedict met with President Nguyen Minh Triet Dec. 11.

For decades, going back to the early 1960s, there have been two Catholic approaches to Vietnamese communism, the hard line anti-communists who have argued there can never be any negotiations or cooperation between Catholics and communists; and those who have been open to negotiations and cooperation, especially on social issues.

Fr. Sean McDonagh: Political background on the Copenhagen climate change conference

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Columban missionary Fr. Sean McDonagh sent this report from Copenhangen on some of the political background of the U.N. climate conference:

"With more than 190 countries gathered here for this extremely important conference on climate change political decisions, taken either here in Copenhagen or elsewhere, are never far from the surface. The most significant change at this year’s conference, is the somewhat new tone adopted by the U.S. negotiators.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, the U.S negotiators were either supporting climate sceptics, or obstructing progress in every way possible. This has changed significantly with the election of President Barack Obama. While the president is convinced of the importance of tackling climate change at a global level, getting a new treaty through the U.S. Senate is still a mammoth task.

Americans' view of clergy ethics drops

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In a story by Solange De Santis of Religion News Service, Americans' views of the "honesty and ethics" of clergy have hit a 32-year low, with just half rating their moral caliber as high or very high, according to Gallup's annual Honesty and Ethics Ratings of Professions survey.

The reason for the decline from 56 percent last year to 50 percent in 2009 is "unclear," according to a Gallup news release, which also noted that "now the clergy's ratings are below where they were earlier this decade" at the height of the Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal.

Ratings dropped year-over-year among Catholics and Protestants, as well as among regular and occasional churchgoers. However, they rose in one category: among those professing "no religion." Last year, 31% rated clergy honesty high or very high; in 2009, that figure inched up to 34%.

The most highly regarded profession was nursing, with 83% judging nurses' honesty and ethics as high or very high.

Feast of Pope Damasus I, who reigned from 366 to 384.

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For anyone who has wondered when and how and why women lost the influential positions they held in the early Church, an examination of the pontificate of St. Damasus will provide answers.

From The Bone Gatherers: The Lost Worlds of Early Christian Women, by Nicola Denzey:

"Chief among Damasus's concerns was to see to it that the bishop of Rome was foremost among all the bishops of the late empire--a position we call 'Roman primacy.'"

"Damasus largely extirpated women from this sacred landscape, not necessarily because he was misogynist, but because as he sought to promote a new, papal Christianity, women played a greater role in the Christianity of his rivals than he would acknowledge. Women simply lost out, secondhand victims in struggles for power between a masculinized, 'Catholic' or papal Christinity and the more lay oriented, democratic, and local Christian communities of the city. In this papal hierarchy, there were simply no roles for women except as idealized, mythologized, and symbolic succors to male interests."

NCR's Demetria Martinez in the news

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NCR columnist and blogger on this site was interviewed this week and asked about her thoughts on U.S./Mexican border issues and on her poetry, two of her favorite subjects.

About the border, she tells the interviewer: "At least one person a day dies trying to cross the U.S./Mexico border. There is a human remains project founded in order to connect DNA and hope to make matches with relatives back in Mexico. The situation is very dire. ... We’re seeing growing numbers of women and children who are among those dead."

Niebuhr Lives In Oslo

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President Obama’s speech this morning in Oslo was truly remarkable. A monsignor called shortly after the President finished his remarks and said it was the best speech from a politician he had ever heard. I suspect the monsignor’s judgment was biased because the speech was, above all else, theological. And the theology was all Reinhold Niebuhr.

In fact, you could say that the key difference between George W. Bush and Barack Obama is that Bush’s worldview lacked any intellectual underpinnings, it was all gut, while Obama has grounded his worldview in the thought of one of the most penetrating minds of the last century. Niebuhr, more than any other theologian, provided the intellectual justification for the policy of containment that characterized American foreign policy for forty years, achieving its twin goals of avoiding World War III while containing the Soviet Union’s expansionist policies so that the internal rot of that hideous regime would not have a longer shelf life through the conquest of new imperial lands. Containment was the most successful foreign policy in the annals of our national history.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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