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Israeli tax authority tries to seize church assets

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The Asia News agency, a Catholic media outlet based in Rome, reported this morning that the Chief Tax Collector at Israel’s Finance Ministry, Yehezkel Abrahamoff, had notified some Catholic institutions that funds were being seized in order to compel them to settle what Abrahamoff regards as delinquent tax bills.

Less than three hours after Asia News moved the story, and in response to what the Israeli Embassy to the Holy See described as inquiries from various media organizations, the embassy released a statement indicating that the seizure was a non-starter.

“It will not be carried out, and the situation remains unchanged,” the one-sentence statement said.

Speaking on background, sources told NCR that Abrahamoff’s threat had been directed at a “major Catholic institution” in Israel. Those sources said Abrahamoff stated in a meeting with officials from that institution that his move was part of a broader strategy to compel church-affiliated institutions to pay up, regardless of the course of negotiations between the Vatican and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Pope 'visibly upset' over Irish abuse report

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NCR reported over the weekend on the meeting of Cardinal Sean Brady, president of the Irish bishops conference and Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Benedict XVI in the Vatican.

The Irish Times is reporting that Pope Benedict was "visibly upset" when he heard details contained in the Ryan report on abuse in State institutions run by religious orders. (That's the 2,600 page report by a government commisison released last month). The newspaper cites Archbishop Martin for this quote.

Today Martin and Brady are briefing the Irish bishops on their Vatican meeting. Some kind of statement is expected from the conference later this week.

A bit of background:

Obama's Interfaith Fluency

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I’m delighted to be part of NCR’s on-line conversational community.

This week, I’m struck (as I often am) by President Obama’s religious and linguistic skills, this time in Cairo as he addressed the Muslim world.

When he spoke at Notre Dame, I said to a friend, “he speaks Catholic.” After the Cairo address, it’s clear that he’s fluent in “Muslim.” In fact, in the theo-political world, he’s truly multi-lingual, interfaith. Today, I expect he will be fluent in Judaism as he walks through the tragic memories of Buchenwald.

More than that, he can deliver subtle messages without naming the intended recipient. At Notre Dame, he offered a wonderful personal memory of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, but – if anyone was listening – he was also sending a powerful message to the present-day hierarchy that Bernardin’s moderate stance is a good model for bishops.

So also in his messages to the Muslim world. He never mentioned President Ahmadinejad of Iran by name, but his words decrying holocaust denial were a thinly-disguised message to Tehran. (They were also a message to Iranian voters, who will select a new president within days).

Alexia Kelley appointment is a good thing

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Alexia Kelley has an impressive track record of working for social justice. She worked for years at the Campaign for Human Development, the arm of the USCCB charged with fighting poverty. She went on to co-found Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Now, she has been named Director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services. And, she became a punching bag.

The Catholics News Agency, which is to news coverage of the Church what Tass during the Breshnev era was to news coverage of the Cold War, failed to note her work for the Bishops, highlighting instead her support for the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius, “in spite of the fact that Sebelius' own bishop, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, asked her to refrain from receiving Holy Communion because of her support for abortion.”

Yes, that’s right. Kelley – and others – agree that the Constitution prohibits religious tests for office.

Not to be outdone, Catholics for Choice have condemned the appointment.

OSV acquires Harcourt Religion Publishers

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In what may be a sign of things to come, two Catholic publishing groups have merged. Our Sunday Visitor, billed as "the nation's largest Catholic publisher," has acquired Harcourt Religion Publishers from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, one of the leading educational publishers in the United States. OSV publishes a weekly newspaper, books, religious education curricula, periodicals and pamphlets, as well as offering envelopes.

California labor leader Henning dies

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Jack Henning, a pioneering leader of California's labor movement who served under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, has died at his home in San Francisco. He was 93.

Henning served 26 years as executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, which represents more than 2 million workers.

One of Henning's sons, Patrick, director of the California Employment Development Department, said his father died in his sleep early Thursday.

"He was kind and challenging to his seven children about the need to be involved in social justice issues," Patrick Henning, 63, said in a telephone interview. "He's a devout Catholic and worked very well with Republicans and Democrats."

DiNoia moving to Congregation for Divine Worship

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A report from Andrea Tornelli at Il Giornale has American Father J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P. moving from his post at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Father DiNoia was hired by then-Cardinal Ratzinger to be the under-secretary at CDF in 2002. DiNoia had served at the USCCB’s doctrine committee for years before that.

If I may be permitted a personal note, Father DiNoia is one of the smartest people I have ever met. Even when we disagree, which was not infrequent, his arguments and his depth of learning made such disagreements a learning experience for me. He inhales literature and has always read the most recent journals of ideas, not just of theology but of politics and literature. I remember by mother once spending an entire brunch discussing novels with the good father while my Dad and I discussed the Red Sox. He is unfailingly gracious.

Heroes

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Because I am a cartoonist and know how cartoonists think, I anticipate a spate of political art in the days ahead depicting President Obama in the form of an Egyptian monument. The Sphinx comes to mind. What the Egyptians think of our messing with their monuments is important but beside the point for most cartoonists. We are shameless when on deadline. Remember, you saw it here first.

The president will be depicted in monumental terms because he gave a very big speech in Cairo yesterday. His message was dead-on accurate enough to be criticized by all sides with a stake in the complex issues that plague the Middle East. The biggest criticism is that it was just a speech. Words disappear like a whisper in the desert if not implemented. A year from now we will know if anything will come of this.

Monuments of stone and metal can endure the test of time for decades, centuries, even millennia. The images and inscriptions from the ancient world that hold their place in our consciousness do so because they touch our need for greatness, heroic metaphor, stories that instruct us how to live.

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