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Obama charm offensive ahead of pope meeting seems to be working

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tIf the White House strategy behind arranging a session for President Barack Obama with religious journalists on the eve of his visit to Pope Benedict XVI was to set a positive tone for that meeting, early returns in Rome suggest it’s working to perfection.

tThat session last Thursday, in which Joe Feuerherd of the National Catholic Reporter took part, has received extensive and largely positive coverage in the Italian press, including the official outlets of both the Italian bishops and the Vatican – both of which generally reflect important currents in official Vatican thinking.

tObama is set to meet Pope Benedict XVI in the afternoon of Friday, July 10, just after the conclusion of a G8 summit in Italy and just head of the president's visit to Ghana.

tIn Saturday’s Corriere della Sera, Dino Boff, editor of L’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops, praised Obama’s “great honesty” and “great intelligence,” saying it was clear that Obama “is not playing the game of trying to divide the Holy See from the American bishops.”

Three conclusions from 'Bones of St. Paul' affair

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tIronically, one can learn a great deal from Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise announcement last Sunday that carbon-14 tests appear to confirm that St. Paul's remains lie under the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls – except, perhaps, who is actually buried in Paul’s tomb.

tDuring a Vatican news conference this morning, the scientist in charge of those tests, carried out in May 2007, said they prove that tiny micro-fragments of bone extracted from a sarcophagus under the basilica’s main altar date to the first or second century. In scientific terms, the result “doesn’t make certain, but also doesn’t exclude,” that the remains are those of St. Paul, said Professor Ulderico Santamaria, director of a diagnostic laboratory for the Vatican Museums.

Though that obviously doesn't amount to absolute certainty, it's nonetheless suggestive. Meanwhile, there are three other conclusions from the “Bones of St. Paul” affair which rest on firm ground.

Conclusion one: When he wants to, Benedict can be a showman

Former papal theologian praises Obama's 'realism,' even on abortion

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

In the run-up to President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated July 10 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, an influential cardinal and Vatican adviser has praised Obama’s “humble realism” and compared the president’s approach to abortion to the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas and early Christian tradition about framing laws in a pluralistic society.

U.S. envoy to Muslims lays out plans

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Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed Farah Pandith as special representative to Muslim communities. Pandith, who had worked in the State Department’s European Bureau as a special adviser for outreach to Muslim communities in Europe, will now have “more of a global role,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said announcing the appointment.

She gave her first press briefing today and said, she expects to go beyond criticism of Washington's foreign policy, outlining an ambitious program of reconciliation.

Holiday weekend family traditions

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Readers will find more thoughtful sentiments on the meaning of July 4th in my essay in the current print edition of NCR, which the editors tell me will be posted online this weekend. But, there is a more proximate, if less profound, meaning to the holiday that fits nicely with the "pursuit of happiness" mentioned in the document dated on July 4, 1776. It has become a family tradition now for friends to visit us at our home in Connecticut and go to the Goodspeed Opera House.

New archbishops and the abuse crisis

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Colleague John Allen, who covered the recent pallium ceremony in Rome, has given us a good look at some new leaders in the U.S. episcopacy with his interviews of Archbishop George Lucas, who will be installed in Omaha July 22, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who will be installed as the head of the church in New Orleans Aug. 20.

Both men seem, at first reading, to be more moderate and less the ideological campaigner than many of those appointed, especially during his final years, by the late John Paul II. And they seem to have an ease – perhaps the product of unfortunate familiarity – in speaking about the sex abuse crisis and what is required of this new generation of church leaders in the United States.

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