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Vatican

Papal scare not really a shocker

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Video images of Susanna Maiolo’s Christmas Eve lunge at Benedict XVI – her second in as many years, and by far the bolder attempt – certainly made for a striking bit of reality TV, Vatican-style. Yet for anyone who’s spent much time in close proximity to the pope, they weren’t really a shocker.

In comparison to presidents, prime ministers, or even rock stars, the security membrane around a pope is remarkably permeable. While it’s rare for the pope to get bowled over by someone hurling themselves at him, as happened in St. Peter’s Basilica Thursday night, that’s more a matter of luck (or providence) rather than a reflection of how thoroughly insulated he is from potential threats.

Everyone who follows the pope probably has their favorite illustrations of the light security touch; here are a couple of mine.

Humpty Dumpty in the Vatican

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Commentary

TOKYO -- In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that’s all.”

The egg-man is convinced that whatever nonsense he utters makes sense because he says it does.

Vatican moves John Paul II and Pius XII closer to sainthood

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Two instances of something may not constitute a trend, but they can at least suggest a strategy. Last week, an apparent Vatican strategy on turning popes into saints came into view: When you’re going to move a controversial pope along the path to sainthood, bundle him with a more popular pontiff – the PR calculation apparently being that acclaim for the latter may drown out negative reaction to the former.

Call it a “two-for-one” strategy, one that appears especially probable when the controversy concerns Jewish/Catholic relations.

The Vatican announced Dec. 19 that Pope Benedict XVI has approved decrees of heroic virtue for two of his 20th century predecessors: Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII.

A decree of heroic virtue is a finding that someone lived a saintly life. It allows the candidate to be referred to as “venerable,” and means the only hurdle left for beatification is a documented miracle, with one more miracle necessary for canonization, the formal act of declaring someone a saint.

Send the pope Xmas photos; share papal e-cards

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VATICAN CITY -- Young people can send Pope Benedict XVI a Christmas greeting personalized with a photograph and they can send their friends electronic Christmas cards featuring a message from the pope.

The Vatican's special Web site for young people -- www.pope2you.net -- has been doing a brisk business since it was launched last May and already visitors can see more than 300 of the photographic Christmas greetings that have been sent to the pope.

Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which designed and maintains the site, told Vatican Radio that it was natural for a site that wanted to bring the pope and young people closer together to make an extra effort at Christmas.

"We wanted to ensure that in this Christmas season there could be a livelier, more beautiful, more profound" encounter between the pope and young people, he said.

Canon law changes for deacons, some marriages

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VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has made changes in church law to clarify the role of deacons and to remove an ambiguity about the marriage status of some Catholics.

The modifications were ordered by the pope in a document, "Omnium in Mente," ("In the Mind of All") published Dec. 15 in Latin and Italian by the Vatican.

Two rewritten canons in the Code of Canon Law reinforced the distinction between the role of governance belonging to bishops and priests and the role of service belonging to deacons.

Benedict issues forceful environmental message

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Benedict XVI has already earned a reputation as the “green pope” because of his repeated calls for stronger environmental protection, as well as gestures such as installing solar panels atop a Vatican audience hall and signing an agreement to make the Vatican Europe’s first carbon-neutral state. Now he’s cemented that profile by issuing his most comprehensive document on environmental ethics to date, in the form of an annual message for the World Day of Peace.

Strikingly, the document appeared as the nations of the world were meeting in Copenhagen to hammer out a deal on climate change – one of a host of environmental threats Benedict identified as an urgent moral priority.

The pope’s language was forceful.

“How can one remain indifferent in the face of problems such as climate change, desertification, the degradation and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase in extreme weather, and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical areas?” he asked.

Where hype meets reality

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Somebody with a flair for taxonomy could probably go to town creating tongue-in-cheek categories for news stories on the Catholic beat. Entries might include the “scandal” story, the “sleeper” story (one whose significance takes a while to sink in), and the “woe-is-me” story (involving anybody put upon by officialdom).

Then there’s what might be called the “invitation to hype” story, meaning a development that stirs massive discussion and controversy, even though its real-world significance isn’t actually all that great. A classic example came in 2007, with Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to authorize wider celebration of the old Latin Mass. Intense debate ensued about what the move augured for the direction of the church, yet two years later the tiny number of people regularly attending Mass in the old rite could probably be captured with the Italian expression quattro gatti e un cane -- “four cats and a dog.”

At least in the United States, we may have a new entry in the “invitation to hype” category, with the Vatican’s recent decision to create new structures, called “personal ordinariates,” to welcome former Anglicans wishing to become Catholic.

Anglican leader, in Rome, optimistic

VATICAN CITY -- Speaking in Rome a month after the Vatican unveiled plans to facilitate the conversion of conservative Anglicans to Catholicism, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion offered a moderately hopeful assessment of ecumenical relations between the two churches.

The "ecumenical glass is genuinely half-full," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said Thursday (Nov. 19), at the conclusion of a 30-minute lecture at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Pope John Paul reported closer to 'venerable'

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VATICAN CITY -- The cardinal- and bishop-members of the Congregation for Saints' Causes voted unanimously Nov. 16 to recommend that Pope Benedict XVI formally recognize that Pope John Paul II heroically lived the Christian virtues, Italian newspapers reported.
t
tThe Vatican did not deny or confirm that the vote took place because the process is supposed to be secret until Pope Benedict signs the decree recognizing the heroic virtue of his predecessor and declares him venerable.
t
tPope Benedict generally signs a dozen or more decrees three times a year: in April, in June or July and in December.
t
tMembers of the saints' congregation meet regularly to study the life stories, eyewitness testimony and other documentation promoting the causes of proposed saints. The information is contained in a "positio," or position paper, prepared by the promoter of the individual's cause.
t
tWhen the cardinals and bishops are satisfied that the "positio" is complete and demonstrates that the sainthood candidate lived an extraordinarily holy life, they recommend the pope sign the first decree.

Hope among thorns

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Essay

In the English Catholic church, cardinal archbishops of Westminster tend to punch above their weight. One of those who punched hardest was Basil Hume. It was to this Benedictine monk that the nation came to look for spiritual leadership, and that same quality was recognized internationally -- including by the American and European bishops.

Hume received a number of invitations from the United States. The last one asked him to address a meeting of the bishops’ conference in Tucson, Ariz., in June 1999. Shortly before, in April, he learned that he had advanced cancer, so would not be able to go. Instead he videotaped what he wanted to say, and it was played to the bishops’ assembly on June 18, the day after his death. This last testament from beyond the grave is as pertinent now as it was then.

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