Posted by David Gibson 3 days 4 hours 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 4 days 21 hours 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 1 week 4 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 2 weeks 2 days 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 2 weeks 3 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 2 weeks 5 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.
Posted by David Gibson 3 weeks 2 days ago
The story of a Long Island Catholic ousted from his parish jobs for marrying his male partner generated headlines, outrage and an 18,000-signature petition to Bishop William Murphy to have Nicholas Coppola reinstated. But now the tale has an odd coda: Murphy, who heads the Diocese of Rockville Centre, mailed the petitions back to Coppola with a one-line cover letter on the bishop’s stationery that reads: “FROM YOUR FAITHFUL ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP.”No signature, nothing else.
Posted by David Gibson 3 weeks 3 days ago
Reports this week that the late Pope John Paul II may be on the verge of sainthood after a second miracle was credited to his intercession aren’t a huge surprise: When he died eight years ago, crowds were already clamoring for his canonization, and Pope Benedict XVI quickly waived the usual five-year waiting period to get the process rolling.But the news that Pope Francis, just six weeks on the job, has cleared the way for the long-stalled canonization of martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero is a stunner that sends another important signal about the new pope’s priorities.“Sainthood is often as much about politics and image as anything else,” said the Rev. Harvey Egan, a Jesuit priest and professor emeritus of theology at Boston College.“It’s not surprising to me that this present pope being from South America, having the same inclinations as Romero, would unblock the process and say ‘Push his cause through,’ and I think rightly so.”
Posted by David Gibson 3 weeks 5 days ago
Leading U.S. Catholic bishops on Monday denounced efforts to use the Boston Marathon bombings to derail the push for immigration reform, saying it is wrong to brand all immigrants as dangerous and that a revamped system would in fact make Americans safer.“Opponents of immigration … will seize on anything, and when you’ve got something as vivid and as recent as the tragedy in Boston it puts another arrow in their quiver,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters.“To label a whole group of people – namely, the vast population of hard-working, reliable, virtuous immigrants – to label them, to demean them because of the vicious, tragic actions of two people is just ridiculous,” he said. “Illogical. Unfair. Unjust.”
Posted by David Gibson, Lauren Markoe 4 weeks 4 days ago
No sooner had the reality of the Boston Marathon bombing sunk in on Monday afternoon than Muslim activists in the U.S. began sending out a slew of news releases, tweets, and Facebook messages urging prayers and aid for the victims — and condemning whoever was behind the horrific attack.“American Muslims, like Americans of all backgrounds, condemn in the strongest possible terms today’s cowardly bomb attack on participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement on Monday.It’s a familiar race against time for Muslim groups. Almost as soon as the smoke cleared around Copley Square, they knew from long experience that some would immediately point the finger of blame in their direction.Many widely believed Muslims were behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, until American militiaman Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the crime.“We also call for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators,” Awad added, echoing a statement from the Muslim Public Affairs Council that called on “all of us as Americans to work together to bring those responsible to justice.”
Posted by David Gibson 5 weeks 2 days ago
A gay man ousted from posts at his Long Island parish after a critic complained that he had married his partner delivered a petition with more than 18,000 signatures on Thursday to Bishop William Murphy, asking to be reinstated. “Bishop Murphy, please let Nicholas Coppola resume volunteering at his parish – and make it clear that faithful gay and lesbian Catholics are welcome to participate fully in parish life in your diocese,” reads the petition. Murphy is longtime head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre.According to gay activist network GLAAD, which has been assisting Coppola, a security guard at the diocese agreed to deliver the petition but said that neither Murphy nor diocesan officials would meet with Coppola and representatives of the activist groups who accompanied him.
Posted by David Gibson 5 weeks 4 days ago
March Madness ended with an exhilarating April flourish on Monday as the Louisville Cardinals defeated the Michigan Wolverines and became the new kings of college basketball after a tense 82-76 win in Atlanta.But the euphoria that always accompanies the popular NCAA tournament may be short-lived this year, as media attention returns to an unprecedented spate of crises that have prompted grave concern about the ethics of college sports.Chief among the outrages is the ongoing backlash over an abusive basketball coach at Rutgers University, but the sex abuse scandal in the Penn State football program also remains fresh in the public’s mind.A litany of other alleged acts of malfeasance involving the NCAA, big-time schools, high-profile coaches and student athletes also continues to undermine the credibility of college programs, while concerns are growing about the pernicious influence of huge television contracts, especially for college football games.Yet amid this tumult, a brand-new basketball conference composed almost entirely of Catholic schools is set to emerge this summer, which some say could point the way toward a new, or perhaps old-fashioned, model of college sports — and maybe even burnish the church’s image along the way.
Posted by Alessandro Speciale, David Gibson 5 weeks 6 days ago
Pope Francis has won widespread acclaim thus far in his nascent papacy with popular gestures like washing the feet of juveniles during Holy Week and refusing many papal perks. But now comes the hard part of his new job: reforming the Vatican.The Roman Curia, as the central administration of the Catholic Church is known, has been riven by scandals and allegations of infighting and careerism, which helped undermine Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s reign and reportedly pushed him to resign.The dysfunction was so bad that reforming the Curia became a rallying cry for many cardinals at the conclave that elected Francis. But will he deliver on the promise of reform?
Posted by David Gibson 6 weeks 4 days ago
When New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told national news programs on Easter Sunday that Catholic leaders need to do a better job of showing that their opposition to gay marriage is not “an attack on gay people,” the nation’s top Catholic bishop seemed to be signaling an important shift in tone, if not policies, that acknowledges two new realities.One is the election of a new pope, Francis, who in less than a month has demonstrated a clear preference for engagement and inclusion (washing the feet of women and Muslim inmates at a Rome youth prison, for example) rather than the confrontation and political purism that often found favor under his predecessor, Benedict XVI.The other is the ongoing shift in favor of same-sex marriage in the court of public opinion and — if recent arguments on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act are any guide — perhaps soon in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Posted by David Gibson 7 weeks 6 days ago
Since the moment of his election on March 13, Pope Francis has been warmly embraced by his own flock and even the media and the wider public in a way his bookish predecessor, Benedict XVI, was not.Such an effusive welcome is especially good news for Catholic leaders who spent years fending off criticism of Vatican dysfunction under Benedict and a cloud of scandal and crisis at home. And the hot start for Francis is also crucial in building up a reservoir of good will that will be needed when the new pope refuses to bend on unpopular teachings or commits a gaffe of his own. Polls show that anywhere from 73 percent to 88 percent of American Catholics say they are happy with the selection of Francis, as opposed to about 60 percent who were happy with the choice of Benedict — and many of those are extremely pleased with the new pope.
Posted by David Gibson 8 weeks 1 day ago
Now that the cardinals have elected and installed their new boss, Pope Francis can get to work being the Roman Catholic pontiff, with his next order of business doing something no other pope has done in centuries: meet the guy he replaced.Benedict’s resignation — the first by a pope in 600 years — paved the way for the conclave that elected Francis on March 13, but it also created an almost unprecedented potential for confusion and division in a church hierarchy that has room for only one pope at a time.That will happen on Saturday, when Francis is scheduled to travel a few miles outside Rome to the hilltop town of Castel Gandolfo, the summer papal residence where Benedict XVI has been staying — out of sight — since he resigned and left the Vatican on Feb. 28.“Benedict XVI could turn into a shadow pope who has stepped down but can still exert indirect influence,” said Hans Kung, the dissident Swiss theologian and friend (as well as frequent critic) of Benedict’s since he and the former Joseph Ratzinger were up-and-coming theologians.
Posted by David Gibson 8 weeks 6 days ago
Last Sunday night, the Rev. Thomas Rosica was walking through the Piazza Navona in Rome’s historic center when he bumped into Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who he has known for years. Bergoglio was walking alone, wearing a simple black cassock and he stopped and grabbed Rosica’s hands.He had reason to be worried. Two days later, on Tuesday evening, he and 114 other cardinals entered the conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI; a little more than 24 hours and five ballots after that, Bergoglio emerged on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis. “I want you to pray for me,” the Argentine cardinal told Rosica, a Canadian priest who was assisting as a Vatican spokesman during the papal interregnum. Rosica asked him if he was nervous. “A little bit,” Bergoglio confessed.It was a surprising outcome, and even if Bergoglio suspected something was up, few others did, including many of the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel with him.
Posted by David Gibson 9 weeks 3 days ago
VATICAN CITY — A hierarchy looking to make a clear statement about where the troubled church is headed chose on Wednesday the first member of the influential Jesuit order to be the next pope. Yet they also chose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a humble man who lives simply and took the name Francis (also a first) that evokes the founder of another great religious order.The College of Cardinals picked the first non-European in modern times, as well – yet he is the son of Italian immigrants and grew up in Argentina, perhaps the most European of any country in Latin America.And the cardinals above all wanted a pastoral figure who would project an image of vigor and warmth to the world after the eight-year reign of Pope Benedict XVI — an introverted, gaffe-prone German theologian who was 78 when he was elected and retired last month at 85, saddled by the burdens of this very public office.Yet in his stead they chose a soft-spoken a 76-year-old who has been rapped for rarely cracking a smile — an image that Bergoglio did little to dispel with his low-key introduction as Pope Francis to the expectant crowd in St. Peter’s Square on a rainy Roman evening.“Buona sera,” Francis said in deliberate, word perfect Italian, with just a slight Spanish accent. “You all know that the duty of the conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him … but here we are.”So what, in fact, does the election of Francis say about the Catholic Church at this point in its history?
Posted by David Gibson 9 weeks 4 days ago
VATICAN CITY — As 115 cardinal-electors solemnly processed into the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday afternoon, with a cry of “Extra omnes!” and the latest high-tech jamming devices cutting them off from the world, the buzz outside the Vatican over who would eventually emerge as pope grew deafening.Everyone had theories, many had favorites, and most declared it all so unpredictable that the winner – or even how long it would take to find him – was anybody’s guess.“We are living through an extraordinary conclave,” Marco Tosatti wrote in La Stampa, the Italian daily whose insider coverage of the pre-conclave meetings read like a tip sheet for papal bookies.“If we look at the history of conclaves over the last century, never has there been such a range of choices, and such uncertainty over the outcome up to the moment that the doors of the Sistine Chapel closed,” he said.In fact, the latest lines were varied and morphing all the time, a feast of permutations for Vaticanisti who parse papal elections the way sci-fi geeks deconstruct a new installment of “Star Wars.”
Posted by David Gibson 9 weeks 5 days ago
VATICAN CITY — Amid all of the prognosticating about who the cardinals could choose as the next pope in the conclave that starts here on Tuesday, one reliable thread has emerged: the desire to elect a pontiff who can be a pastor to the world as well as a taskmaster to the Roman Curia.Finding such a combination in a single man, of course, may prove difficult if not impossible, which adds to the almost unprecedented level of uncertainty surrounding this papal election.So if anything is possible, some say it might be better to reverse the prevailing wisdom — look for a pope who will talk tough to Catholics (and the world) while shepherding the Curia with a firm hand in order to better police the wayward.The prospect might appall progressives and others who were happy to see the end of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, but it has enough appeal to conservatives that they are trying to make the case.One reason for their sense of urgency is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger turned out to be more of a papal pussycat as Benedict XVI than the watchdog of orthodoxy that he had been for decades while serving under John Paul II.Is now the time for a pope who could be more of a Ratzinger than a Benedict?
Posted by David Gibson, Alessandro Speciale 10 weeks 1 day ago
VATICAN CITY — The conclave to pick a new pope will begin on Tuesday the Vatican said on Friday, resolving an open question that had dogged the cardinals meeting here over the past week.The cardinals will celebrate a special Mass “pro eligendo Romano Pontifice” — for the election of the Roman Pontiff — in St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday morning, and in the afternoon the cardinals will enter into the Conclave, the Vatican said.The date was set by the cardinals gathered in a late-afternoon session on Friday. They were scheduled to vote on the decision, but there was no word on how many supported the Tuesday start date or how many preferred an earlier or a later date.In one of his last acts before resigning on Feb. 28, Pope Benedict XVI amended the law regulating papal elections to allow cardinals to move up the beginning of the conclave, which would normally not be able to start until at least 15 days after a pope dies or leaves office.Because Benedict resigned — the first pope to do so in 600 years — and announced his plans on Feb. 11, the cardinals did not have to focus on a funeral, as they did when John Paul II died in April 2005. They also have had nearly a month to think about a successor.As a result, many believed the cardinals did not need to wait long after Benedict’s resignation took effect to begin the conclave itself.
Posted by David Gibson 10 weeks 1 day ago
In Catholic theology, as in the popular imagination, the closed-door conclave to elect a new pope is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit.There’s no horse-trading or lobbying, no insider deal-making or outside influences allowed. Just red-robed cardinals solemnly entering the Sistine Chapel, accompanied only by prayers and their consciences, sitting beneath Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment and discerning God’s will on who should be the next successor to St. Peter.At least that’s the theory. The last millennium has shown that papal elections can be fraught with politics or worse, and can take months or even years of wrangling to reach a resolution.
Posted by David Gibson, Alessandro Speciale 10 weeks 3 days ago
Tensions among the Roman Catholic cardinals meeting here to choose a new pope appeared to escalate on Wednesday as the American prelates in Rome canceled their daily press briefing under pressure from colleagues who are frustrated over news coverage of their secret talks.The cardinals also announced that they still had not been able to agree on a start date for the conclave, in which 115 electors will cast their ballots for a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.The effort to control the flow of information from the daily pre-conclave “General Congregation” meetings marked a sharp reversal from the unprecedented openness that had characterized this first papal conclave of the digital age.
Posted by David Gibson 10 weeks 4 days ago
“In the church,” Chicago Cardinal Francis George once said, “everything has happened at least once!” That’s no surprise given that the Catholic Church is a nearly 2,000-year-old institution that has adapted to radically different epochs.But electing a new pope while the former pope is still alive? That’s rare.So what are some other firsts and lasts, quirks and facts of papal history that you should know? There are plenty, and Religion News Service has compiled a handy guide.
Posted by David Gibson 11 weeks 5 days ago
If you want a crash course on how papal politics really works, look no further than the saga of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien.On Friday, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric grabbed headlines by telling the BBC that priestly celibacy was “not of divine origin” and that he’d be “happy” if priests had the option to marry.On Saturday, O’Brien was back in the news, this time after four men reportedly accused him of “inappropriate acts” dating back to the 1980s.By Monday, O’Brien had resigned as archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh and announced he would skip the conclave.From champion of married priests to disgraced churchman within 72 hours, O’Brien’s trajectory is stunning but also emblematic of the frenetic and fever-pitched campaigning that occurs during the tiny window between a pope’s death or resignation and the election of his successor.
Posted by David Gibson, Trevor Grundy 11 weeks 5 days ago
Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland resigned on Monday in the wake of explosive charges that he had made “inappropriate” sexual advances to four men, three of them priests, and one now a former seminarian, starting in the 1980s.O’Brien said he would skip next month’s conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, leaving the United Kingdom without a cardinal’s voice in the election of a new pope.In a statement, O’Brien said Benedict had accepted his resignation effective immediately, and he appeared to allude to the events surrounding his sudden exit.“Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended,” said the cardinal, who turns 75 next month, which is the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Cardinals retain the right to vote in a conclave until age 80.
Posted by David Gibson 12 weeks 5 days ago
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the surprising choice cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Ratzinger had for decades served as the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, the man known as “God’s Rottweiler,” and his vocal fans were crowing about the glorious reign to come.“He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics,” the Rev. M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City priest who was in St. Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times. “He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children.”Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.
Posted by David Gibson 13 weeks 1 day ago
The third season of the megahit PBS series “Downton Abbey” wraps up on Sunday, capping another must-see run of ruin and redemption at Lord Grantham’s stately English manor. Yet some are still left puzzled over the absence of what should be a leading Upstairs player in this colorful cast: God.Writing last month in the flagship evangelical magazine Christianity Today, Todd Dorman wondered why — despite the heart-rending melodrama and all the “divine trappings” that gild the 1920s scenery — “God is a peripheral presence at best.”“There are numerous fascinating blog posts … that search for implicit Catholic and Christian themes in the show — good and evil, suffering for cause, various types and grades of love and devotion,” Dorman wrote. “At some point, though, especially with a vicar in the family’s employ, it seems odd for such connections to remain unnamed, unspoken, and, for all we can see, unperceived.”
Posted by David Gibson 13 weeks 4 days ago
NEW YORK — Walk the streets of Manhattan, especially around St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and ask passersby about Cardinal Timothy Dolan and two things stand out: one, they know who you’re talking about, and two, they like him. Often love him.Both responses are unusual in the U.S. today: generally, Catholic churchmen are either interchangeable faces to the public, or, if they are known, it’s because of an unflattering headline.Now Dolan’s extraordinary visibility and popularity are being cited as factors that could make him the first American with a realistic shot at being elected pope when the College of Cardinals gathers in March to elect a successor to Benedict XVI.
Posted by David Gibson 13 weeks 5 days ago
Pope Benedict XVI came into office with the reputation of a conservative hardliner, a vigorous defender of orthodoxy who wanted to restore Tradition — yes, with a capital “T” — to a church that was seen as disturbingly undisciplined.Yet with the stunning announcement that he is resigning as the 264th successor to Saint Peter, Benedict may wind up fundamentally changing the way the church and the world view the papacy.That’s because the papacy has come to represent more than an office, and the pope more than just a higher-ranking priest or bishop who enjoys lifetime tenure, a nice Vatican apartment, and the privilege of wearing a white cassock no matter the season.Instead, the papacy is seen as a divine mission unlike any other in the church, and one that ends only in death.“Christ did not come down from the cross,” the late John Paul II, Benedict’s immediate predecessor, would tell aides who wondered if his failing health and public suffering should compel him to relinquish his office.A man is elected pope by the cardinals, yes, but at the behest of the Holy Spirit, according to Catholic theology. He takes a new name, and can’t even go home to collect his things: He moves into the Vatican right away, inhabiting a new identity in a new position — so superior that canon law says a pope can resign, but says he cannot resign to anyone.
Posted by David Gibson, Alessandro Speciale 13 weeks 5 days ago
Pope Benedict XVI’s sudden announcement that he would resign by the end of the month took the church and the world by surprise, in large part because it was a move without precedent in the modern world.But what comes next is as old and familiar as the papacy itself: Speculating about who will succeed to the Throne of St. Peter.Indeed, within months of Benedict’s own election in 2005, church insiders and online oddsmakers were trying to figure out who might be next, given that Benedict — now 85 — was already aging, increasingly frail, and had himself declared that he did not expect his reign to be a long one.So what will happen when the world’s cardinals gather before the splendor of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope? Who are the “papabile,” as the Italians say, the “pope-able” cardinals?Will the conclave make the epochal break with the European monopoly and pick a cardinal from Latin America or Africa? The Catholic Church is booming in the Southern Hemisphere, as opposed to Europe and North America, where it is on life-support or barely treading water.
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 2 days ago
The nation’s Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the Obama administration’s latest proposals to broaden accommodations for religious groups in regulations that require insurance companies or employers to provide free birth control coverage.The administration last week released a long-awaited compromise for faith-based employers that have religious objections to offering health insurance that could be used by employees to access contraceptives and sterilization.Yielding to demands by the bishops and other critics, the new accommodation contained a more expansive definition of what constitutes a religious group.It also detailed how faith-based institutions that may not be exempt – especially religiously affiliated hospitals and universities – would be shielded from any involvement in providing contraceptive coverage; under the new rules, the insurance companies themselves would arrange that with the individual employee.But New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the proposals fail to address or ease all of the hierarchy’s concerns, and said the bishops would continue to press ahead with efforts to overturn the mandate in court.
Posted by David Gibson 14 weeks 6 days ago
The Obama administration on Friday sought to placate religious groups by broadening religious exemptions and giving faith-based organizations more room to maneuver around its controversial contraception mandate, but the new rules offer no loopholes for privately owned businesses.The contraception mandate, part of Obama’s health care overhaul, had set off an explosive church-state dispute and soured relations between the White House and some Christian groups, including the Catholic bishops’ conference.The new rules, issued by the Health and Human Services Department, seek to address religious freedom concerns in two ways: First, they broaden the definition of “religious employers” so that all houses of worship and dioceses and affiliated organizations will be clearly exempt. Second, for other faith-based employers, the rules would transfer the costs and administrative tasks of the birth control insurance policies to insurance companies.
Posted by David Gibson 16 weeks 2 days ago
When thousands of abortion opponents gather Friday on the National Mall for their annual protest march, they will be united in their fierce passion for ending a procedure that the Supreme Court legalized 40 years ago in the controversial Roe v. Wade decision.But they will also be more divided than ever on how best to rally people to join their cause: shock them with harsh slogans and graphic images of mangled fetuses, or convince them with reasonable arguments and affecting ultrasound images.If activists are going to the March for Life “to display graphic photos or videos of aborted babies,” Simcha Fisher wrote this week in the National Catholic Register, a conservative outlet, “I’m begging you to reconsider.”
Posted by David Gibson 16 weeks 5 days ago
A presidential inauguration is by tradition the grandest ritual of America’s civil religion, but President Obama took the oath of office on Monday in a ceremony that was explicit in joining theology to the nation’s destiny and setting out a biblical vision of equality that includes race, gender, class, and, most controversially, sexual orientation.Obama’s speech, his second inaugural address, repeatedly cited civic and religious doctrines — namely the God-given equality extolled by the “founding creed” of the Declaration of Independence — to essentially reconsecrate the country to the common good and to the dignity of each person.It was a faith-infused event that recognized both the original sins as well as the later atonements of America’s history, especially on race, which was front and center as the nation’s first African-American president took the oath on the holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.And Obama and other speakers vividly traced the nation’s tortuous path from slavery to civil rights — from the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago, the latter presided over by King.
Posted by David Gibson 17 weeks 2 days ago
Four decades after Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, many opponents of the decision are in a celebratory mood while those backing abortion rights are glum, feeling that momentum is turning decisively against them.Yet in reality, little has changed in the fiercest and most protracted battle of the nation’s bitter culture war.Instead, what’s really going on is a case study in the psychology of movement politics, where activists have to rally supporters with cries of alarm without making them despair that all is lost. At the same time, they must offer evidence that their efforts are paying off without leaving them complacent.It’s a difficult balancing act, and lately the abortion rights camp has been the one to sound the warnings.
Posted by David Gibson 18 weeks 1 day ago
Americans’ acceptance of gays and lesbians is continuing to grow, with a new poll showing that just over a third of Americans view homosexuality as a sin, down from 44 percent a year earlier.The finding from LifeWay Research, which was founded by the Southern Baptist Convention, was released just as the pastor who was to give the inaugural benediction for President Barack Obama withdrew from the program over an anti-gay sermon he gave 20 years ago.
Posted by David Gibson 18 weeks 2 days ago
The evangelical pastor that President Obama picked to deliver the benediction at his inauguration ceremonies withdrew from the high-profile assignment on Thursday following a furor over a sermon from the mid-1990s in which he denounced the gay rights movement and advocated efforts to turn gays straight.In a statement, the Rev. Louie Giglio of Atlanta, founder of the Passion Conferences for college-age Christians, did not directly renounce his remarks on gays but indicated that fighting gay rights is not one of his “priorities.”Still, because of the controversy – which erupted on Wednesday after the liberal group Think Progress posted audio of the sermon – Giglio said that “it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”
Posted by David Gibson 18 weeks 5 days ago
The White House’s novel online system for allowing citizens to petition the administration on any number of causes has led to various unintended consequences: petitions to secede from the U.S. following President Obama’s re-election; a petition for Vice President Joe Biden to star in a reality show; and a petition for the government to disclose its secret archives on extraterrestrials.Now there is a petition to designate the Roman Catholic Church as a hate group for its opposition to gay rights, and it may wind up generating almost as many press releases as signatures.The “We the People” petition was filed on Christmas Day and was prompted by Pope Benedict XVI’s Dec. 21 year-end address to Vatican administrators in which he denounced gay marriage as a threat to Western civilization.
Posted by David Gibson 18 weeks 6 days ago
The Harvard Theological Review is postponing publication of a major article on the papyrus fragment in which Jesus seems to refer to his wife, raising further doubts about a discovery that was set to turn Christian history on its head when it was announced last September.The article by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King was scheduled for the review’s January edition. It was expected to provide answers to questions that had been raised about the relic’s authenticity soon after King announced the discovery to select national media and at an international conference of biblical scholars in Rome.King told CNN, which reported the latest development on Jan. 3, that the article has been delayed because testing on the fragment is not complete.
Posted by David Gibson 22 weeks 4 days ago
At its heartwarming core, Christmas is the story of a birth: the tender relationship between a new mother and her newborn child.Indeed, that maternal bond between the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus has resonated so deeply across the centuries that depicting the blessed intimacy of the first Noel has become an integral part of the Christmas industry.Yet all the familiar scenes associated with the holy family today — creches and church pageants, postage stamps, and holiday cards — are also missing an obvious element of the mother-child connection that modern Christians are apparently happy to do without: a breast-feeding infant.Jesus certainly wasn’t a bottle baby. So what happened to Mary’s breasts? It’s a centuries-old story, but one that has a relatively brief answer: namely, the rise of the printing press in 15th-century Europe.With the advent of movable type, historians say, came the ability to mass-market pornography, which promoted the sexualization of women’s bodies in the popular imagination. What's more, the printing press enabled the wider circulation of anatomical drawings for medical purposes, which in turn contributed to the demystification of the body. Both undermined traditional views of the body as a reflection of the divine.
Posted by David Gibson 24 weeks 2 days ago
After November’s presidential vote, Catholics could cite ample evidence for their renewed political relevance while dispirited evangelicals were left wondering if they are destined to be yesterday’s election news. Yet their roles in American spiritual life may be reversed.New research shows that Catholics now report the lowest proportion of "strongly affiliated" followers among major American religious traditions, while the data indicates that evangelicals are increasingly devout and committed to their faith.According to Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in the 1970s there was only a five-point difference between how strongly Catholics and evangelicals felt about their religion.By 2010, he said, that “intensity gap” had grown to around 20 points, with some 56 percent of evangelicals describing themselves as “strongly affiliated” with their religion compared with 35 percent of Catholics. Even mainline Protestants reported a higher level of religious intensity than Catholics, at 39 percent.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 4 days ago
A long-running struggle between Catholic authorities and the Rev. Roy Bourgeois over his support for ordaining women has ended with Bourgeois’ dismissal from the priesthood and his religious order, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.A statement from Maryknoll on Monday confirmed that the Vatican’s office for orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, laicized Bourgeois last month.The move stems from Bourgeois’ participation in an August 2008 ordination rite in Lexington, Ky., for Janice Sevre-Duszynska. The ceremony was not recognized by the Vatican and took place under the auspices of a group called Roman Catholic Womanpriests, which rejects the church teaching on the all-male priesthood.
Posted by David Gibson 25 weeks 5 days ago
Three Buddhists, a Hindu, and a “none” will walk into the 113th Congress, and it’s no joke. Rather, it’s a series of “firsts” that reflect the growing religious diversity of the country.When the new Congress is sworn in next January, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District and will become the first Hindu in either chamber on Capitol Hill.The 31-year-old Gabbard was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii as a child. She follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, which venerates the deity Lord Vishnu and his primary incarnations.Gabbard takes over the seat held by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, who won a Senate race on Nov. 6 and will become the first Buddhist to sit in the upper chamber. There were already two other Buddhists in the House of Representatives, both of whom won re-election: Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a fellow Hawaii Democrat.
Posted by David Gibson 26 weeks 2 days ago
BALTIMORE — As Congress embarks on high-stakes budget negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are warning elected officials not to target programs for the poor and instead raise taxes and reduce defense spending.“In developing frameworks for future budgets, Congress should not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to the House and Senate.Blaire and Pates chair the bishops' committees on domestic and international issues, and the letter asks that “poverty-focused international assistance programs” also be spared because they are a small slice of the budget pie, are effective and enjoy bipartisan support.
Posted by David Gibson 26 weeks 3 days ago
BALTIMORE — The Catholic bishops gathered here for their annual meeting couldn’t agree on a statement on the economy on Tuesday morning, but with a unanimous voice vote that afternoon they easily backed a measure to push sainthood for Dorothy Day, whose life and work were dedicated to championing the poor.Indeed, it was a remarkable moment for the reputation of Day, one of the most famous figures in 20th-century Catholicism.Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day lived a bohemian life in New York City in the 1920s while working as a leftwing journalist. She endured a failed marriage, a suicide attempt, and had an abortion when suddenly, after the birth of her daughter, she converted to Catholicism.That decision confounded her literary friends but launched her on a new path of activism and piety.
Posted by David Gibson 26 weeks 4 days ago
BALTIMORE — A divided Catholic hierarchy on Tuesday failed to agree on a statement about the economy after a debate that revealed sharp differences over the kind of social justice issues that were once a hallmark of the bishops’ public profile.The defeat of the document, titled “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times,” followed an hour of unusually intense debate among the 230 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting. It left many of them openly frustrated that the prelates have not made a joint statement about the nation’s economic woes four years after the recession hit.“This document is dead,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said with obvious disappointment as he brought the gavel down on the debate after it failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
Posted by David Gibson 26 weeks 5 days ago
BALTIMORE — After sweeping setbacks to the hierarchy’s agenda on Election Day, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday told U.S. Catholic bishops that they must now examine their own failings, confess their sins and reform themselves if they hope to impact the wider culture.“That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a repentant heart,” Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the 250 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting.“The premier answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization, or global warming … none of these, as significant as they are,” Dolan said, citing many of the issues that have become favorite targets of the hierarchy.
Posted by David Gibson 27 weeks 3 days ago
Mitt Romney failed in his bid to win the White House back for Republicans, but the biggest losers in Tuesday’s voting may be Christian conservatives who put everything they had into denying President Barack Obama a second term and battling other threats to their agenda.Instead of the promised victories, the religious right encountered defeat at almost every turn. Not only did Obama win convincingly, but Democrats held onto the Senate – and the power to confirm judges – and Wisconsin elected the nation’s first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin.Meanwhile, Republican senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down to unanticipated defeat in large part because of their strongly anti-abortion views, and an effort in Florida to restrict abortion failed. For the first time ever, same-sex marriage proponents won on ballots in four out of four states, while marijuana for recreational use was legalized in two out of three states where the question was on the ballot.Even Michele Bachmann, an icon among Christian conservatives, barely held onto her House seat in Minnesota while Tea Party favorite Allen West lost his congressional district in Florida.“Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns,” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a sobering post-mortem.
Posted by David Gibson 28 weeks 2 days ago
A number of Roman Catholic bishops are making forceful last-minute appeals to their flock to vote on Election Day, and their exhortations are increasingly sounding like calls to support Republican challenger Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama.The most recent example: a letter from Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky accusing the administration of an unprecedented “assault upon our religious freedom” and implying that Catholics who pull the lever for Democrats who support abortion rights are like those who condemned Jesus to death.“Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present,” Jenky writes in the letter, which he ordered priests in his Peoria diocese to read at all Masses on Sunday.In the letter, Jenky blames Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate for trampling on the Catholic Church’s rights and moral convictions by requiring health insurers to provide contraception coverage. Jenky also compares abortion rights supporters to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem that pledged loyalty to the Roman Empire and demanded that Pontius Pilate crucify Jesus.“For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life,” Jenky writes.