A string of Vatican investigations and the arrest of the papal butler for allegedly leaking secret documents to the Italian press grabbed the big headlines out of Rome in May and June. The tales of palace intrigue, backbiting cardinals and new mysteries of the Vatican Bank overshadowed the latest jolts in the deepening saga of the Legionaries of Christ, the once high-flying order founded by Marcial Maciel Degollado.
VATICAN CITY -- With a hymn and a prayer, Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella presented the Vatican's initial calendar of events for the Year of Faith, which begins with an Oct. 11 Mass in St. Peter's Square.
Archbishop Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said the pope has invited as concelebrants bishops and theologians who, like the pontiff, served as members or experts at the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council.
The archbishop said he hoped about 35 "council fathers" would be able to join the presidents of national bishops' conferences and bishops participating in the world Synod of Bishops in concelebrating the opening Mass.
During a news conference at the Vatican June 21, Archbishop Fisichella unveiled the sheet music for the official hymn for the Year of Faith, "Credo, Domine, Adauge Nobis Fidem" (I believe, Lord, increase our faith).
"I'll spare you my musical interpretation," he told reporters, smiling.
ATLANTA -- In a discussion on religious freedom, Bishop John Michael Botean made an impassioned plea against war at the U.S. bishops' national meeting in Atlanta.
"War is a killer," he said. "It kills conscience, and religion is the conscience of a people."
Botean, bishop of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St. George's in Canton, Ohio, drew a parallel between the violation of religious freedom entailed in paying insurance premiums for immoral medical procedures and the involvement of providing tax support for a war that provokes interreligious conflict and loss of religious freedom.
He made his intervention June 13 near the end of an afternoon session devoted chiefly to questions of religious freedom in the United States and around the world.
ATLANTA -- Briefing the U.S. bishops Wednesday on current threats to religious liberty in the nation, speakers at the bishops' meeting last week said January's federal Health and Human Services rule sharply narrowing the definition of religious organizations is only one among many current threats, despite media coverage that has focused almost entirely on the mandate.
The tone of discussion between the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a priest who has been threatened with excommunication and removal from the order for his support of women's ordination, has seemingly changed direction.
While the order has recently taken a number of formal moves to remove Bourgeois -- including holding an official vote of its leadership on the matter earlier this year -- the priest says a June 6 meeting between his superior general and him saw no discussion of his removal and instead focused on a discussion of the rights of conscience of Catholics.
The nation's Catholic bishops, gathered in Atlanta this week for their annual spring meeting, have discussed various issues of great import for the church, from their policies against sexual abuse to their campaign on behalf of religious freedom.
But the suggestion Thursday that the hierarchy consider hiring a chief spokesperson for the first time prompted the most intense soul-searching so far. The debate reflected a tension between the historic reluctance of individual bishops to cede their own pulpits and the recognition that the bishops have been losing the media war in recent high-profile controversies.
"We need more help and more sophistication in our messaging," said Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley. O'Malley strongly endorsed the proposal to hire a chief spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the hierarchy's Washington-based organizational and public policy arm.
ATLANTA -- At its spring meeting in Atlanta, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly agreed to have its Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development draft a special USCCB message, Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty and a Broken Economy, for this fall.
Amid continuing headlines about cover-ups of child abuse in the Catholic Church, an oversight board of lay Catholics on Wednesday (June 13) warned the nation's bishops that they must follow their own policies against abuse more rigorously if they hope to restore their fragile credibility.
"If there is anything that needs to be disclosed in a diocese, it needs to be disclosed now," Al J. Notzon III, head of the bishops' National Review Board, told some 200 prelates gathered in Atlanta for their annual spring meeting. "No one can no longer claim they didn't know."
The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes 10 years after the hierarchy met in Dallas and passed a series of reforms to respond to a siege of bad publicity about sex abuse by priests. It also comes as a jury in Philadelphia weighs the fate of a high-ranking priest who's facing criminal charges of concealing abuse by clerics, and as a bishop from Missouri awaits trial on charges that he failed to report a suspected child molester to authorities.
ATLANTA -- Addressing the U.S. bishops Wednesday morning, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, papal nuncio to the United States, endorsed their Fortnight for Freedom and said he plans to participate in observances locally in the Archdiocese of Washington.
The U.S. Catholic church is facing a significant challenge on "the whole question of freedom of religion and conscience," he said.
Nearly lost amid ongoing reports about the Vatican leaks scandal, Rome's battle with American nuns, the American bishops' battle for religious freedom, and the priest on trial in Philadelphia, was the news that, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI plans to visit Philadelphia.