Posted by David Gibson 3 days 11 hours ago
In private conversations, Pope Francis often acknowledges that reforming the Vatican will be a difficult task opposed by powerful interests in the church. Developments on Monday showed both the progress he has made and the challenges that remain.Case in point: Cardinal Raymond Burke, an influential American conservative who has worked in the Roman Curia since 2008, lost one key post on Monday when he was left off the Vatican body that vets bishops for the pope to appoint. Those appointments are seen as the key to securing Francis’ legacy.But in an interview a few days earlier, Burke — who remains head of the Vatican equivalent of the Supreme Court — also publicly raised doubts about Francis’ plans to make wholesale changes in a papal bureaucracy in keeping with the pontiff’s vision of a more open, pastoral church.
Posted by David Gibson 4 days 11 hours ago
Dozens of Catholic leaders are protesting the decision by the Catholic University of America to accept a large donation from the foundation of Charles Koch, a billionaire industrialist who is an influential supporter of libertarian-style policies that critics say run counter to church teaching.Charles Koch and his brother, David, “fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship,” says a four-page letter to CUA President John Garvey, released Monday.The letter was signed by 50 priests, social justice advocates, theologians, and other academics, including several faculty at CUA in Washington.
Posted by David Gibson 2 weeks 1 day ago
Pope Francis is creating a special commission to deal with the clergy sexual abuse crisis on a global scale, a step that comes amid growing criticism that Francis had not given sufficient attention to the scandal.Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley made the announcement on Thursday in the Vatican where he was meeting this week with Francis and the other members of the so-called “Gang of Eight” cardinals that the pope chose to help him reform the Roman Curia.O’Malley, who is the U.S. bishop with perhaps the most credibility on the abuse issue, listed a range of programmatic ideas for the commission, whose members are expected to include lay people, mental health professionals, and other experts in the field as well as leading churchmen.
Posted by David Gibson 2 weeks 3 days ago
Vatican officials say reports that Pope Francis has been slipping out at night to visit the homeless in Rome are “simply not true,” though that hasn’t stopped the stories from capturing the public imagination.That’s probably because such tales seem right in line with Francis’ unconventional and pastoral style. What’s more, the faithful always love it when a church leader sneaks under the radar to make a point — witness the fascination with the Mormon bishop who recently disguised himself as a panhandler and then revealed his identity when he climbed into the pulpit.But breaking out of the “gilded cage” of the Vatican has been a dream of many popes and other churchmen who fear losing touch with their calling as pastors — or simply their connection to ordinary life.
Posted by David Gibson 4 weeks 9 hours ago
After a closed-door session at their annual meeting in Baltimore this month, the U.S. Catholic bishops issued an unusual "special message" reaffirming their long-standing opposition to the Obama administration’s birth control insurance mandate.On one level, the declaration and the united front were no surprise: The American church hierarchy has made opposition to the mandate a hallmark of its public lobbying efforts, framing the issue as an unprecedented infringement of religious freedom.Several bishops even vowed to go to jail rather than comply with the mandate. Others threatened to shutter the church’s infrastructure of hospitals, charitable ministries, schools, and universities rather than accept a policy that they say would force Catholic employers to provide health insurance that covers sterilization and perhaps abortion-inducing drugs as well as contraception.
Posted by David Gibson 5 weeks 1 day ago
After serving as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the past three years, there was little surprise when Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., was elected this week to the top post in the American hierarchy.Yet the nearly 250 churchmen would have been hard-pressed to find a better president to help them pivot toward the new, more pastoral path set out in recent months by Pope Francis.Kurtz has earned his stripes with the hierarchy’s conservative wing thanks to his past work heading their campaign against gay marriage, but he was also molded by his early years as a pastor and his work in social justice — experiences he mentioned early and often when facing reporters after his election on Tuesday.
Posted by David Gibson 5 weeks 3 days ago
As the U.S. Catholic bishops began their annual fall meeting on Monday, they were directly challenged by Pope Francis’ personal representative to be pastors and not ideologues — the first step of what could be a laborious process of reshaping the hierarchy to meet the pope’s dramatic shift in priorities.“The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people,” Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican ambassador to the U.S., told the more than 250 American churchmen as he recounted a personal meeting in June with Francis.The pontiff, he added, “made a special point of saying that he wants ‘pastoral’ bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology,” Vigano said. That message was seen as an implicit rebuke to the conservative-tinged activism of the bishops’ conference in recent years.Almost since his election in March, Francis has signaled that he wants the church to strike a “new balance” by focusing on the poor and on social justice concerns and not overemphasizing opposition to hot-button topics like abortion and contraception and gay marriage — the signature issues of the U.S. bishops lately.
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 2 days ago
When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather on Monday for their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, one of their chief duties will be choosing a new slate of leaders to guide the American hierarchy for the next three years.But the more than 200 prelates will also be looking over their heads — and maybe their shoulders — to the Vatican to gauge what Pope Francis’ dramatic new approach means for their future.If Francis has made one thing clear in his nearly nine months on the job, it is that he wants the church to radically change its tone and style, starting at the top. The pontiff has repeatedly blasted careerism among churchmen and ripped “airport bishops” who spend more time jetting around the globe — and to Rome — rather than being pastors who go out to their flock and come back “smelling of the sheep,” as he likes to put it.
Posted by David Gibson 7 weeks 12 hours ago
In an unusual move, the Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to quickly canvas the faithful for their views on topics like gay marriage, divorce, and birth control ahead of a major meeting of church leaders set for next fall.But it’s not clear how or whether the American bishops will undertake such an effort, or if they will only send their own views to Rome.The letter from the Vatican to New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was dated Oct. 18 and it asked that a series of questions be shared “immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received” in time for a February planning meeting in Rome.
Posted by David Gibson 7 weeks 16 hours ago
While the first months of Pope Francis’ pontificate have been marked by his attention to the poor and his “Who am I to judge” attitude on homosexuality, his pledge to tackle the ban on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics could have the biggest impact for Catholics in the pews, especially in the U.S.The current policy has caused what some call a “silent schism,” and bishops around the world concede that the ban has alienated untold numbers of Catholics and their families.“I think this is the moment for mercy,” Francis told reporters when asked about remarried Catholics during a wide-ranging news conference on the plane back to Rome from Brazil in July.Like the gay issue, Francis seems to favor a more pastoral approach to the equally perplexing question of “invalid” marriages — couples who remarry outside the church without getting an annulment, or those who do not get married in church in the first place.
Posted by David Gibson 8 weeks 11 hours ago
The election of Pope Francis in March heralded a season of surprises for the Catholic Church, but perhaps none so unexpected – and unsettling for conservatives – as the re-emergence of the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as a model for the American Catholic future.While there is no indication that Francis knows the writings of Bernardin, who died in 1996, many say the pope’s remarks repeatedly evoke Bernardin’s signature teachings on the “consistent ethic of life” – the view that church doctrine champions the poor and vulnerable from womb to tomb – and on finding “common ground” to heal divisions in the church.
Posted by David Gibson 9 weeks 10 hours ago
The great and the good — and lots of politicians and TV pundits, too — gathered Thursday to hear comedian Stephen Colbert roast and toast everyone from Pope Francis to his host for the evening, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.The 68th annual Al Smith Dinner, named for the first Catholic presidential candidate in American history, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel raised $3 million for New York’s neediest children.Colbert is a lifelong Catholic, a man who is, as Alfred E. Smith IV said in introducing him, “serious about both his craft and his Catholic faith.” The cardinal — who is also pretty funny — and the comedian first met last fall, and Colbert had Dolan on his show last month. So the archbishop of New York returned the favor by having Colbert headline the dinner.
Posted by David Gibson 9 weeks 1 day ago
Could a woman vote for the next pope?Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of “Princes of the Church” that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.Whether it’s even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn’t stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea “is not a joke. It’s something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal.”
Posted by Kevin Eckstrom, Cathy Lynn Grossman, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, David Gibson, Adelle M. Banks, Katherine Burgess 10 weeks 2 days ago
As the government shutdown enters its second week, some religious groups are starting to feel the pinch, and they’re also finding ways to reach out.More than 90 Catholic, evangelical, and Protestant leaders have signed a statement rebuking “pro-life” lawmakers for the shutdown, saying they are “appalled that elected officials are pursuing an extreme ideological agenda at the expense of the working poor and vulnerable families” who won’t receive government benefits.Starting Wednesday, evangelical, Catholic, and mainline Protestant leaders will hold a daily “Faithful Filibuster” on Capitol Hill with Bible verses on the poor “to remind Congress that its dysfunction hurts struggling families and low-income people.”
Posted by David Gibson 11 weeks 3 days ago
Pope Francis has once again given a startlingly candid interview that reinforces his vision of a Catholic Church that engages the world and helps the poor rather than pursuing culture wars, and one “that is not just top-down but also horizontal.”The pope’s conversation with Eugenio Scalfari, an atheist and well-known editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, took place at the pope’s residence in the Vatican guesthouse on Sept. 24 and was published on Tuesday.His newest bombshell come just two weeks after the publication of the pope’s lengthy, groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit journalist in which Francis said the church was “obsessed” with a few moral issues, like abortion and homosexuality, and needed an “attitude” adjustment if it hopes to strike a “new balance” in its approach to the wider world.
Posted by David Gibson 12 weeks 2 days ago
Catholic military chaplains cannot be forced to witness or bless a same-sex marriage, nor are they allowed to take part in any marriage counseling retreats that are open to gay couples under new rules issued by the Archdiocese for the Military Services.The rules, sent to chaplains on Sept. 18 by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the AMS, also bar chaplains from taking part in a funeral for a Catholic if that participation “would give the impression that the church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships.”But the new rules also set out conditions that would allow Catholic military commanders to comply, without violating their beliefs, with rules giving same-sex couples under their command federal employee benefits as required by law.
Posted by David Gibson 12 weeks 4 days ago
Pope Francis’ comments last week on everything from gays to abortion (less talk, more mercy), the hierarchy (be pastors, not bureaucrats), and religious faith (doubt is part of belief) continue to reverberate through the church and the media.Here are five broader insights that this wide-ranging interview revealed about Francis — and why they will be keys to reading his pontificate, and perhaps the future of Catholicism.
Posted by David Gibson 13 weeks 1 day ago
Pope Francis on Thursday rocked the Catholic Church and surprised the wider world with a free-ranging interview that charted a course away from an institution that’s “obsessed” with a few sexual and moral issues and toward one that is more pastoral, less clerical and less doctrinaire.But amid the widespread praise for his remarks – “Catholic is the new cool,” tweeted National Journal’s Ron Fournier – and some pointed criticism from the pontiff’s right flank, there lurks a critical, unanswered question: Can Francis make his vision for the church a reality?More than detailing a list of reforms or policy change he hopes to make — which may yet happen, after time and extensive deliberations — the pope was sketching out a pastoral vision for the church, and modeling a way for clergy to speak and relate to their flocks.In order to replicate that model, Francis needs enough time to appoint bishops who share his views and who can in turn encourage and promote like-minded priests and seminarians. In many ways, the type of change Francis envisions will take a generation or more.
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 13 hours ago
Pope Francis’ friendly letter to atheists, published this week by Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, has been cheered by Catholics who welcomed another sign of the pontiff’s new openness to the world beyond the Vatican walls.But it has also prompted some gnashing of teeth among others, who are reacting to headlines about the pope’s letter like this one in the British newspaper The Independent:“Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.”
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 1 day ago
Even as the world’s powers grasped for a last-minute resolution to the crisis in Syria, it remained an open question whether any amount of diplomacy could prevent the conflict from claiming at least one more victim: the classic Christian teaching known as the “just war” tradition.The central problem is not that the just war doctrine is being dismissed or condemned, but that it is loved too much. Indeed, both sides in the debate over punishing the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons are citing just war theory, but are reaching diametrically opposed conclusions.
Posted by Alessandro Speciale, David Gibson 14 weeks 4 days ago
VATICAN CITY — Of all the novelties that Pope Francis has brought to the Vatican, few have endeared him to the public — and unsettled his aides — as much as his penchant for picking up the phone and calling someone out of the blue.The pontiff with the pastor’s touch has phoned his cobbler in Argentina to inquire about a shoe repair, called to cancel his newspaper subscription, and phoned a woman who was raped by a local police officer to counsel her.Just this week, Francis phoned a pregnant Italian woman whose fiancé had pushed her to have an abortion.Anna Romano instead dumped the guy, wrote to the pope about her problems, and on Sept. 3 received a surprise call from the Holy Father, who offered encouragement and even said he would baptize the baby if she couldn’t find a willing priest.
Posted by David Gibson 15 weeks 1 day ago
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the most famous funny man in the American hierarchy, went on The Colbert Report Tuesday night to trade quips with another funny guy — and another well-known Catholic — host Stephen Colbert.Indeed, as Colbert — inhabiting his onscreen persona as a blowhard rightwing pundit — said in welcoming Dolan: “You’re the second most famous Catholic in America – after myself.”But it was actually Dolan who got the first gag, and giggles, as he walked onto the set and ostentatiously bowed and kissed Colbert’s hand as if he were greeting the pope.“I’ve got to get a nice big ring if you’re going to be kissing my hand!” replied Colbert, who seemed — uncharacteristically — unsure of how to play the exchange.In fact, while Colbert was in full faux bloviating mode, he seemed to let Dolan set the pace of their chat; Colbert didn’t poke too hard on topics that could have prompted controversy.Part of the relative deference may stem from the fact that Colbert is a serious Catholic who has taught Sunday school at his New Jersey parish. Or perhaps it was because Colbert knows Dolan personally, having appeared — out of character — at a forum on faith and humor last year at Fordham University. Or maybe Colbert was a bit out of practice: This was his first show after a two-week summer break, part of which he spent in Rome.
Posted by David Gibson 15 weeks 3 days ago
The American workplace, like the rest of U.S. society, is becoming more religiously diverse and that is raising concerns about employer accommodations for believers — and increasing the odds for uncomfortable moments around the water cooler.Yet one potential flashpoint among workers does not involve new immigrant faiths but rather two indigenous communities: white evangelicals and unaffiliated Americans who constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.A major factor contributing to workplace conflict, according to a survey released on Friday, is that evangelicals — whose religious identity is tied to sharing their beliefs — are much more likely to talk about their faith at work than other religious and nonreligious groups.
Posted by Yonat Shimron, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, David Gibson, Lauren Markoe 16 weeks 17 hours ago
As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.
Posted by David Gibson 18 weeks 4 days ago
Centuries ago, Roman Catholics helped kick-start the market for religious articles with their insatiable demand for rosaries, icons, prayer cards, and all manner of devotional objects and spiritual souvenirs.But in recent decades, evangelical Protestants have dominated the art of religious retailing, building a national network of bookstores and stamping the Christian message on almost any item that an American consumer might want, from perfume to golf balls to flip-flops.Now, Catholic entrepreneurs are looking to catch up, and at the 17th annual Catholic Marketing Network trade show last week (Aug. 6-9) there was a sense that the Catholic sector has a new opportunity to expand — if businesses can update their approach and broaden their inventory beyond the usual catalog of sacred objects.“If you are a Catholic gift and bookstore and you are not willing to reinvent yourself, you are going to be out of business,” said Alan Napleton, president of the network, which organizes the convention.
Posted by David Gibson 19 weeks 1 day ago
For more than three decades, the Vatican of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI operated on a version of the conservative maxim, “No enemies to the right.”While left-wing theologians were silenced and liberal-to-moderate bishops were shunted aside in favor of hard-liners, liturgical traditionalists and cultural conservatives were diligently courted and given direct access to the apostolic palace.But in a few short months, Pope Francis has upended that dynamic, alienating many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives.
Posted by David Gibson 19 weeks 4 days ago
The U.S. Senate has confirmed former Catholic Relief Services head Ken Hackett to be the next ambassador to the Vatican.Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, a theologian, and he gives President Obama an experienced voice on social justice in Rome where a new pope, Francis, has made caring for the poor a priority.Hackett’s confirmation came Thursday night by unanimous consent as senators wrapped up loose ends before the summer recess.No opposition was expected since Hackett has strong ties to both parties; for five years he served on the board of former President George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation and he is reported to be close to Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, whose brother is a priest.
Posted by David Gibson, Alessandro Speciale 20 weeks 4 days ago
With his open and easygoing manner, Pope Francis charmed the media as much as the faithful during his successful visit to Brazil, the first international pilgrimage of his pontificate.But it was the pope’s remarks about gay priests, made during a free-wheeling press conference on the return trip to Rome, that drew the most headlines, raising questions about whether the pontiff was signaling a change in the church’s approach to this volatile issue.When asked by reporters about rumors of a “gay lobby” of clergy in the Vatican who were exposing the Holy See to blackmail schemes and scandal, Francis at first joked that while there’s a lot of talk about such a lobby, “I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word ‘gay.’”Then, in a more serious vein, he added:“I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. … If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?”
Posted by David Gibson 22 weeks 4 days ago
Is calling someone a “pagan” a bad thing or a badge of honor? Do we even know what the term means?Those questions were prompted by a recent speech by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput in which he lamented the decline of faith and morals in the modern world. “Even many self-described Christians,” he declared, “are in fact pagan.”And it doesn’t sound like he meant that as a compliment.
Posted by David Gibson 23 weeks 1 day ago
Nineteen former students of a high school run by Yeshiva University, the flagship school of Orthodox Judaism, have filed a $380 million federal lawsuit over what they claim are hundreds of acts of abuse by two rabbis in the 1970s and 1980s.The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., follows the resignation of Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor and head of the Yeshiva seminary. In his resignation letter, the 85-year-old Lamm, who was president of the university when the abuse took place, said he was doing penance for mishandling allegations against staff members.The 148-page lawsuit accused Lamm and various other Yeshiva officials, trustees, board members, and faculty of a “massive cover-up of the sexual abuse of students” at a university-run high school.
Posted by David Gibson 23 weeks 2 days ago
The organization representing Catholic hospitals across the country says it no longer objects to the Obama administration’s mandate that all employees receive free birth control coverage.The decision by the Catholic Health Association puts the hospitals at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, which last week rejected the White House’s final regulations on an issue that many church conservatives view as evidence of the administration’s hostility to Catholicism and religious freedom.Sister Carol Keehan, head of the CHA, disagreed. “If you look at the final regulations it is very clear that we do not have to contract for, or pay for, or arrange for” contraception coverage, Keehan said in an interview on Tuesday.“It was really important that this be workable from a legal and theological perspective,” she added. “That’s what we believe we have achieved.”
Posted by David Gibson 23 weeks 3 days ago
The organization representing Catholic hospitals across the country says it no longer objects to the Obama administration’s mandate that all employees receive free birth control coverage.The decision by the Catholic Health Association puts the hospitals at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, which last week rejected the White House’s final regulations on an issue that many church conservatives view as evidence of the administration’s hostility to Catholicism and religious freedom.Sister Carol Keehan, head of the CHA, disagreed. “If you look at the final regulations it is very clear that we do not have to contract for, or pay for, or arrange for” contraception coverage, Keehan said in an interview on Tuesday.
Posted by David Gibson 24 weeks 3 days ago
The chancellor and head of the seminary at Yeshiva University, the flagship U.S. school for Orthodox Judaism, resigned his posts on Monday and acknowledged that he had mishandled sex abuse allegations against staff members in the 1980s.In a letter sent to students, faculty, alumni, and donors, Rabbi Norman Lamm, 85, said that in failing to report the abuse complaints to police, he was acting “in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived.”“I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up,” wrote Lamm, for decades a leading figure in Orthodox Judaism.
Posted by David Gibson 24 weeks 4 days ago
Fundraising for the flagship anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops is slowly recovering after being battered by the recession and sharp attacks on its mission.Officials at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development said that when 2012 collections are tallied after June 30, the program will match or slightly exceed last year’s mark of about $9.5 million. While that is still significantly down from the $12 million that the nationwide campaign was netting a few years ago, the upward trend is reassuring.“We are pretty optimistic,” said Ralph McCloud, director of the CCHD. McCloud said he was still cautious, given the uncertain nature of the economy, but added that “if things keep going the way they have been, we could see a bit of an upswing.”
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 1 day ago
Superman has always had a bit of a messiah complex, born as a modern-day Moses in the imagination of two Jewish guys during the Depression and over the years developing and amplifying his Christlike characteristics.So it made sense that Warner Bros. Pictures spared no effort in using the Jesus connection to attract the increasingly important Christian audience to see the latest film in the Superman franchise, Man of Steel.The studio hired a leading faith-based marketing agency, Grace Hill Media, to hold special screenings for pastors, and it developed an extensive website of Christian-themed resources — including specially-edited trailers for use in churches and Man of Steel sermon notes.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 1 day ago
The twin Supreme Court rulings on Wednesday that further opened the door for gay marriage in the U.S. were not entirely unexpected, and the condemnations from religious conservatives angry at the verdicts were certainly no surprise either.So the real question is what gay marriage opponents will do now.Here are four possible scenarios that took shape in the wake of Wednesday’s developments:
Posted by David Gibson 26 weeks 4 days ago
President Obama on Friday nominated Ken Hackett, former head of Catholic Relief Services, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.It’s a savvy move, picking a Catholic whose career in the church has been dedicated to alleviating suffering as America’s representative to a pope who has made helping the poor a priority for his pontificate.Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, who left the post last November to teach at the University of Dayton. Diaz is a theologian, which was a first for the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and that also seemed to make sense in that Pope Benedict XVI, whose retirement led to the election of Pope Francis last March, is a renowned theologian.
Posted by David Gibson 28 weeks 2 days ago
Is there anything morally redeeming about Game of Thrones? Does the hit HBO series even have a moral vision?The show is certainly entertaining, almost addictively so, and as Game of Thrones wraps up its third season on Sunday, the ratings reflect that popularity: a record of more than 5.5 million viewers have followed the ruthless struggles for power among the teeming clans of Westeros, the medieval-looking world created by fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin.That success has also guaranteed that the show will be back for a fourth year of mayhem and passion, swords and sorcery, despite this season’s many violent endings. Or, as one tweet put it after the bloody penultimate episode: “Why doesn’t George R.R. Martin use twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters.”But therein lies the moral problem for some: The appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances.That, in turn, has prompted intense debates about whether Christians should watch Games of Thrones at all, or whether the show’s only possible virtue is depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born – or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.
Posted by David Gibson 28 weeks 4 days ago
The news is not good for the new movie “After Earth,” which means the news is not good for Sony Pictures, or Will Smith … or, it seems, Scientology, whose sci-fi inflected religious system inspired what was to be a summer blockbuster. Now it’s looking like a summer bust.As the NYTimes reports, “After Earth” took in 18 percent less than the lowest of prerelease expectations and may have ended Smith’s reputation as a surefire action-adventure box office draw — not to mention hurting the budding career of son Jaden, his co-star. Oh, and how much further off track could M. Night Shyamalan’s career go? He used to pose big questions in intriguing ways, but he directed and co-wrote this movie, yet another flop for him.The movie has been ripped in reviews, and may well add to the narrative of decline and crisis that has been surrounding Scientology: an exodus of members, tell-all books, lawsuits, celebrity scandals. Well, maybe Scientology IS like a real religion after all.
Posted by David Gibson 29 weeks 2 days ago
With the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop, the “Nuns on the Bus” on Wednesday kicked off a national tour for immigration reform aimed at giving a faith-based push to legislation that’s now hanging in the balance in Congress.“We have got to make this an urgent message of now,” Sister Simone Campbell, head of the social justice lobby Network, which organized the tour, told a rally on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River.“The next six to eight weeks is going to determine what we can accomplish,” Campbell said as she pointed to nearby Ellis Island, the American gateway for generations of immigrants. “The time is now for immigration reform.”Champions of immigration reform believe they have their best opportunity to pass a comprehensive overhaul since 2007, when an effort backed by President George W. Bush was thwarted by members of his own party. After Republicans lost the Latino vote in last fall’s elections, GOP leaders said they would be open to an immigration bill that they think could help change that political dynamic.
Posted by David Gibson 30 weeks 11 hours ago
Is Pope Francis endorsing heresy?It might look that way from the eye-catching headlines this week that made it appear everyone was bound for heaven — “even atheists!” — thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross.The passage that prompted the reports came from Francis’ brief homily at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse.Speaking on Wednesday, Francis said that as human beings created in the image of God, everyone has a “duty to do good.”“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists,” he said, answering his own query. “Everyone! And this blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”Cue the jaw dropping and head scratching. Atheists were pleasantly surprised, conservative Catholics were dazed and confused, and the pope’s comments raced around the Internet; for a while they were the second-most shared piece on Reddit.So was Francis preaching a form of “universalism?" That is the unorthodox teaching that says, essentially, that all faiths are equal and all are going to heaven, especially if you are nice to people here on earth. It’s also a heresy that Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, spent a career quashing every time he thought he thought he spied a hint of it in some theologian’s writings.
Posted by David Gibson 30 weeks 16 hours ago
NEW YORK — When Cardinal Timothy Dolan used the morning talk shows on Easter Sunday to say the Catholic Church could do a better job of welcoming gays and lesbians, his remarks were hailed by one activist as an “Easter miracle” and by another as an encouraging “first step.”But two months later, it’s still not clear what the second step in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated.Since Easter, three more states have passed same-sex marriage laws, and next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down a gay marriage ruling that will again spotlight the bishops’ full-throated opposition to a whole host of civil protections for gays and lesbians, particularly marriage.Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.
Posted by David Gibson 30 weeks 2 days ago
Pope Francis is warning Catholics not to demonize those who are not members of the church, and he specifically defended atheists, saying that building walls against non-Catholics leads to “killing in the name of God.”“(T)his ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God,” Francis said Wednesday in remarks at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.“And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”Francis explained that doing good is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”
Posted by David Gibson 30 weeks 2 days ago
Nothing upsets the folks in the pews as much as changing the liturgy that they’re accustomed to, and that seemed likely to be the case when the Vatican ordered revisions to the familiar prayers and rubrics of the Catholic Mass.But now, more than a year after the changes took effect in U.S. parishes, a survey of American priests shows that they are more disturbed by the innovations than their flocks.In fact, the poll, conducted by researchers at St. John’s University School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville, Minn., showed that almost 60 percent of priests surveyed did not like the new Roman Missal, as the liturgical book for the Mass is known, while about 40 percent approve.
Posted by David Gibson 31 weeks 1 day ago
News that scientists had for the first time recovered stem cells from cloned human embryos prompted dire warnings from religious leaders who say the research crosses a moral red line and could lead to designer babies.Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, point man for the U.S. Catholic bishops on bioethical issues, said Wednesday that “this means of making embryos for research will be taken up by those who want to produce cloned children as ‘copies’ of other people.”Human cloning “treats human beings as products,” O’Malley said on behalf of the bishops, “manufactured to order to suit other people’s wishes. … A technical advance in human cloning is not progress for humanity but its opposite.”
Posted by David Gibson 31 weeks 3 days ago
Even before rogue abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted in Philadelphia on Monday of delivering and then killing late-term infants, abortion opponents were convinced they had a case that could reshape an abortion debate that has remained static over the years.After the verdict, they were even more confident.“Dr. Gosnell is only the front man; and the real trial has only just begun. The defendant is the abortion license in America,” Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor and leading conservative activist, wrote after a jury convicted Gosnell of three counts of first-degree murder for snipping the spines of babies after botched abortions.Gosnell, who could face the death penalty, was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 41-year-old patient who sought an abortion at the squalid West Philadelphia clinic that prosecutors labeled a “house of horrors.”Yet the fervent prayers for a game-changing impact from the Gosnell conviction may go unanswered for a variety of reasons.
Posted by David Gibson 32 weeks 2 days ago
NEW YORK — A Tony-nominated play that offered a controversial take on the Virgin Mary reflecting on her life held its final performance on Sunday, closing after only two weeks as poor ticket sales never matched high expectations.Now the question is: Why?Shows fold on Broadway all the time, of course, and as The New York Times noted, just 25 percent of them ever show a profit. But was there something about The Testament of Mary that doomed it to failure?After all, biblically themed shows are all the rage on television and especially on cable; the recent History Channel miniseries The Bible generated huge ratings, and a host of shows and films are trying to explore — and perhaps exploit — similar territory.
Posted by David Gibson 33 weeks 15 hours ago
Christian conservatives have grown increasingly alarmed in recent weeks over reports and rumors that the Pentagon is considering new policies aimed at discriminating against Christians and disciplining or even court-martialing those who share their faith.But the Department of Defense on Thursday sought to debunk that speculation, saying that while aggressive proselytizing is barred, evangelization is still permitted and the rights of all believers – and non-believers – will be protected.“The U.S. Department of Defense has never and will never single out a particular religious group for persecution or prosecution,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen said in a statement. “The Department makes reasonable accommodations for all religions and celebrates the religious diversity of our service members.”
Posted by David Gibson 33 weeks 2 days ago
NEW YORK — The “Nuns on the Bus” are revving up their engines for another national campaign, only this time the Catholic sisters are taking their mobile platform for social justice along the country’s Southern border to push Congress to pass immigration reform.“The ‘Nuns on the Bus’ is going on the road again!” Sister Simone Campbell, head of the social justice lobby Network, told an enthusiastic gathering of faith leaders and charity activists at a Manhattan awards ceremony Wednesday (May 1).“This time we’re going out for commonsense immigration reform,” she said to rousing applause.
Posted by David Gibson 33 weeks 4 days ago
A former adviser to Sarah Palin and an attorney with a long record of advocating conservative causes, will become the first spokeswoman for the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the USCCB announced Monday.The addition of Kim Daniels, who is a leader of the conservative media lobby, Catholic Voices USA, seems aimed at revamping the hierarchy’s communications strategy, which many bishops say has been hampered by a lack of coordination and an authoritative spokesperson.Under the new structure, Daniels will speak for the president of the bishops’ conference — currently New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan — while the USCCB’s media office will continue to speak for the bishops as a whole.Daniels’ hiring also looks like an effort to satisfy Dolan’s goal of finding an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to help recast the hierarchy’s image, which many feared was starting to be seen as unfriendly to women because of legal battles like the fight against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.Daniels has experience in that field, having worked for years with the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative legal group, where she fought, for example, for the rights of pharmacists to claim a conscience exemption from dispensing morning-after pills. Such religious liberty battles have become a public policy priority for the bishops, and having Daniels on board gives another veteran voice to the bishops’ campaign.Yet the hiring — Daniels has been working on a “contract basis,” according to the USCCB — also raises many questions that the USCCB’s brief press release did not answer.