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Vatican seems to really like Obama

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John Allen, NCR senior correspondent and Vatican watcher, has pointed out repeatedly that while some U.S. Catholic bishops -- roughly one-fifth of the bishops in this country -- are harshly critical President Obama for his policies on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, the Vatican has been more receptive to the president. (See John's Vatican's moderate line on Obama has deep roots).

The Vatican was at it again yesterday.

"The search for common ground: this seems to be the path chosen by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, to face the delicate question of abortion," said an unsigned article in the May 18 edition of L'Osservatore Romano.

This was official church newspaper's first mention of the roiling debate about Obama's presence at the University Notre Dame (which, by the way, the paper called "the most prestigious Catholic university in the United States.")

Another article later in the paper details the U.S. bishops campaign against Obama's stem cell research policies.

Another Notre Dame take

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I found this essay, dealing with the role of Catholicism and higher education, especially on the mark.

Among the points the author, Patricia McGuire, makes is the following:

She writes: "The real scandal at Notre Dame today is not that the president of the United States spoke at commencement, albeit causing some controversy among Catholics. The real scandal is the misappropriation of sacred teachings for political ends."

Teacher Fired for Staying at Girlfriend's Home

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Several weeks ago I wrote a column on the "Justice in Employment" policy in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, a ground-breaking policy that actually gives its at-will employees several due process rights.

Now we have a story where a male Appelton, Wisc., teacher got fired for staying overnight at his girlfriend's home in contradiction to his Catholic school employment contract, which prohibits "unmarried cohabitation." The teacher claims the overnight was due to his desire to avoid drinking and driving, which is prudent.

Obama, the Bishops, and the Politics of 'Usurpation'

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George Weigel, favored intellectual of the Catholic right, has a short memory but some powerful insights in a post-Obama-at-Notre Dame column posted yesterday at National Review Online.

“What was surprising, and ought to be disturbing to anyone who cares about religious freedom in these United States, was the president’s decision to insert himself into the ongoing Catholic debate over the boundaries of Catholic identity and the applicability of settled Catholic conviction in the public square,” writes Weigel.

“…never in our history has a president of the United States, in the exercise of his public office, intervened in such disputes in order to secure a political advantage,” says Weigel. He concludes: “What the bishops of the United States have to say about this usurpation [emphasis added] of their authority will be very interesting to see.”

Weigel’s political point, if not his analysis of causes, is spot on.

Omaha Archdiocese Bars Student

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This story is complicated from a variety of standpoints.

In short, an Omaha couple is allowing their 8-year-old son to openly live life as a girl. It’s a decision that means the child is no longer able to attend Catholic school.

The Archdiocese of Omaha decided that a transgender kid is not welcomed into the succeeding grade: "The child is welcomed to come, but it would not be acceptable to change the child’s gender and present as a girl," said Omaha Archdiocese's Chancellor, the Rev. Joseph Taphorn. Taphorn said having the child attend the school for three years as a boy, and then presenting as a girl would not be a good learning environment for the child or other students. He said school has to be a peaceful, positive environment for everyone. The child will attend a public school in the fall, using her chosen name and wearing a ponytail in her hair."

Holy cards better than aspirin

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Brain researchers have explored faith-based pain relief, finding that stimulating a prayerful state of mind in devout Catholics triggers neural processes associated with substantial alleviation from physical pain.

This is according to a report by neuroscientist Katja Wiech of Oxford University in England and her colleagues, the results of which were published in the scientific journal Pain.

“Our data suggest that religious belief alters the brain in a way that changes how a person responds to pain,” said Oxford neuroscientist and study coauthor Irene Tracey.

In the study, church-going Catholics perceived electrical pulses delivered to one hand while viewing an image of Mary as less painful than pulses delivered while looking at a picture with no Catholic context. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) showed a change in these volunteers’ brain activity only while viewing the religious icon.

In the same study, professed atheists and agnostics derived no pain relief from viewing the same religious image as they were prodded painfully on the hand.

An Earth-friendly printer font

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Double-sided documents, using recycled paper – both are great ways to make printing more eco-friendly, but neither is a solution to the millions of leaky ink cartridges piling up in landfills each year.


Using Swiss cheese as its inspiration, a Dutch communications agency has invented a font designed to cut down substantially on ink consumption.
The new Ecofont, downloadable for free at the company’s website, appears at small sizes like any other type, but each letter is actually filled with tiny, inkless circles:

The design minimizes ink usage by up to 20 percent, the company claims. But even with a more ink-efficient font, the cartridge will eventually run out. When it does, websites like www.freerecycling.com make it easy – and economical – to keep your used plastic out of the dump.

Vatican study of GMO foods bear watching

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A study week on "Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development" opened Friday and runs through tomorrow in Rome, sponsored by the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

NCR's senior correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. is reporting on the event for our web site and in the May 29 issue of the newspaper.

I've got a backgrounder, What are GMO foods?, on the issue.

Critics have pointed out that the study week appears to be a totally one-sided campaign to promote genetically modified crops, that featured speakers and panelists are largely spokespeople for big agribusiness corporations.

For more information about the study week, visit the web site of Vatican's Academy of Sciences.

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