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Mad about \"Mad Men\"


The back-to-school displays are out, leaves are starting to drop from trees, and "Mad Men," the Emmy-award winning AMC series about a fictional New York ad agency, is back. Ah, fall.

Much was made about last season's Catholic storyline involving a priest (played by Tom Hanks' son) who counsels an advertising copywriter who had abandoned a baby who was the result of a one-night stand with a coworker. The season premier on Sunday night didn't do much with that angle, but it did set the stage for another season of what I call "mid-century modern sinning" in my review of the series for NCR here.

Other Catholic fans of the series include Father Jim Martin, S.J. at America, Deacon Greg Kandra at The Deacon's Bench and Thomas Hibbs at Inside Catholic.

Pope sends top diplomat to deal with Chavez



tReflecting Venezuela’s growing regional power, as well as its recent history of bitter church/state conflict under leftist President Hugo Chavez, Pope Benedict XVI has dispatched one of his top diplomats as the country’s new nuncio, or papal ambassador.

tThe Vatican announced yesterday that Monsignor Pietro Parolin, 54, has been appointed the pope’s new representative in Caracas. The move means that Parolin, who has previously served in Vatican embassies in Nigeria and Mexico, becomes an archbishop.

tSince 2002, Parolin has worked in Rome as the Vatican’s under-secretary for relations with states, a position which made him a primary point of contact for foreign diplomats, international leaders, NGOs, and journalists. He also represented the Vatican in a variety of sensitive assignments, including trips to North Korea and Vietnam as well as the 2007 “Annapolis Conference” on the Middle East convened by the Bush administration.

The great balancing act


When we open the ancient overflowing tool box of our Catholic spiritual tradition, we find nestled within many reliable implements that have stood the test of centuries of use in the work of creative inner integration and soul crafting.

What are some of those ancient tools? Patience, silence, incubating darkness, the wonderful yeasting action of prayer, wise and careful discernment, the adventure of striving for simplicity, meditation techniques, centering prayer, the not-so-easy art of letting go, the simple craft of mindfulness, the call to the death-rebirth dynamic of the cocoon, the cultivation of a deep contemplative attitude, fasting, and the endless and arduous mystery of forgiveness.

Once we have these tools at hand, where can they be put to work? Where else but in our everyday life?

Truths about health care rationing


The Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens offers a clear-headed comparison of the British National Health Service versus the U.S. private health care insurance system. His fundamental view is this: In both countries health care is rationed by rationing access and that what separates systems is efficiency and equity. He says that President Obama's opponents' claim that the National Health Service is state sponsored euthanasia is "palpable nonsense."

A mother's activism


Today in 1920, women throughout the U.S. won the right to vote when the Tennessee legislature approved the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the last of 36 states then required to approve it). An amendment for universal suffrage was first introduced in Congress in 1878, and Wyoming had granted suffrage by state law by 1890.

Obama to join faith-based national teleconference on health care reform


President Barack Obama will participate Aug. 19 in a national teleconference on health care reform sponsored by an interfaith coalition.

The 5 p.m. (EDT) conference call will also be available as a live audio stream on the Internet at or at

Health care reform “is a theological, biblical, moral issue,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, executive director and CEO of Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization that is hosting the teleconference. “Our health insurance system is broken. Our system is sick. It is a threat to the nation’s soul.”

In an Aug. 10 conference call with journalists Wallis and other faith leaders expressed dismay at what they termed the lies and misinformation being spread widely by opponents of health care reform.

“Moral people can disagree” on details of the proposed reform, said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, “but this is not going to be about the details, but on the moral imperative to act.”

How our desires can pull us


I am not cut out for the role of publicist, but you really must get to the movie theater and see the two flicks I watched this weekend. Hollywood has always been more of an industry than an art school, and so many movies of late simply play to humanity's baser passions in an effort to chalk up a quick profit, even while the art form is cheapened. So it was a bit surprising that both movies were thoughtful, engaging critiques of contemporary culture.

"District 9" is a disturbing tale about humans interacting with aliens, the kind of storyline that does not attract me in the least. (Dealing with the religious right fills my quotient for the bizarre.) But, the movie slowly develops into a commentary on what it means to be humane and how our prejudices and our desires can pull us away from our own humanity. Although the movie was conceived before the economic crisis, its critique of greed and the power of greed to break apart our most basic human affiliations is spot-on.

The Dutch Dominicans


A couple of times this summer, online and in our print issues, references have been made to NCR sending Chicago-based writer Robert McClory to Holland. The assignment was made a couple years ago, just after the Dutch province of the Dominican order proposed a way to address the priest shortage. Their idea: Parishes should consider selecting lay members to preside at the Eucharist.

Here's the story McClory wrote for us: The Dutch plan: Will innovation save this church? (NCR, Dec. 14, 2007)

The Dutch Dominicans spelled out their proposal in a booklet-length paper titled "The Church and the Ministry."

When that was fresh, hot news, NCR had made an English translation of that booklet available as a pdf document. The links to that document got mixed up because of changes we have made to our web site, and a number of readers have called and e-mailed asking to get a copy of "The Church and the Ministry."

Fr. Marcial Maciel: More revelations


Jason Berry, the dogged New Orleans reporter who has helped to uncover so much about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church, has an update on the case of the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Berry's story appears on the web site of the Global Post New questions about Legionaries of Christ. A women living in Spain who claims to be the mother of Fr. Maciel's daughter is speaking out and other people have come forward claiming to be the adult children of Macial.

Jason Berry is coauthor of Vows of Silence, a book about Maciel, and producer of a documentary of the same name, "Vows of Silence."

A number of bloggers have been following this story, as well. Here are a couple: The EX-LC Blog and Patrick Madrid.


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