The Common Good

Sojourners

Vatican Bank Profits Tumble as Pope Francis Orders an Overhaul

Profits plunged by more than $100 million at the Vatican bank last year after thousands of accounts were shut down in a radical overhaul of the scandal-scarred institution.

In its 2013 annual report released Tuesday, the bank, officially known as the Institute for Religious Works, said its net profit totaled 2.9 million euros ($3.9 million) last year, a dramatic drop from the 86.6 million euros ($117.8 million) it reported in 2012.

The bank said the slump was due to extraordinary expenses, losses related to externally managed investment funds and fluctuations in the price of gold.

Losses included a controversial $20.5 million loan granted to a production company owned by a friend of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the former Vatican secretary of state who has faced criticism for mismanagement as the church’s No. 2 official under retired Pope Benedict XVI.

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In Kenya, a Pastor with Disabilities Breaks Barriers for Others

On a Sunday at the Presbyterian church in the Bahati neighborhood, a young woman haltingly approaches the pulpit with a walking cane in one hand and a Bible in the other. Somewhere in her pocket is a mobile phone, which she uses to send out at least 400 Bible quotes a day to Christians across the city.

The Rev. Dawn Gikandi, 31, is a rarity here — a pastor who is a woman, a theologian, a social media devotee, and a disabled person in a country that stigmatizes people who are physically impaired.

In April, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa ordained Gikandi and sent her to her first post, Bahati Martyrs’ Church, where she and another pastor care for more than 4,000 congregants.

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How Soccer Differs from the World of Partisan Politics

After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.

They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.

This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.

During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.

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Religious Procession Past Mafia Boss' Home Irks Italy's Catholic Clergy

Only two weeks after Pope Francis announced he was excommunicating the Mafia, a religious procession in southern Italy has provoked uproar after paying homage to a convicted mobster.

Catholic bishops condemned the detour of the traditional procession, which carried a statue of the Madonna past the house of 82-year-old Peppe Mazzagatti, a Mafia boss serving a life sentence under house arrest.

The town of Oppido Mamertina is home to some powerful criminal clans associated with the Calabrian Mafia known as ‘Ndrangheta. For health reasons, Mazzagatti is serving his sentence at home.

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Busloads of Turned-back Immigrants, an Image of Shame

Sometimes a picture says it all.

Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Ala., used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.

Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.

Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, Calif., turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.

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Pope Francis' Meeting with Abuse Victims Wasn't a PR Stunt, Vatican Says

Pope Francis on Monday held his first meeting with victims of clergy sex abuse, begging for forgiveness and promising to hold “accountable” the bishops who were complicit in covering up for predatory priests.

Francis held a private Mass with three male and three female victims from the U.K., Ireland and Germany before meeting them individually for around 30 minutes. In total, the first-ever meetings spanned more than three hours.

“Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask forgiveness,” the pope said, according to a Vatican transcript of his morning homily.

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Wheaton College Gets a Pass from Supreme Court on Contraception Mandate

The Supreme Court offered a further sign that it favors letting employers with religious objections avoid the Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate.

Over the vehement objection of its three female justices, the court late Thursday blocked the administration from forcing evangelical Wheaton College to sanction insurance coverage for emergency birth control, even though it would not have had to offer the coverage itself.

In doing so, the court made clear that it’s not done with the religious liberty issue following the court’s June 30 ruling that closely-held, for-profit corporations with objections to certain contraception methods do not have to offer this type of coverage to their employees.

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REVIEW: HBO's The Leftovers, a Grim Take on the Limits of Grief and Faith

HBO’s “The Leftovers” is the feel-good series of the summer, if your summer revolves around root canals and recreational waterboarding.

Indeed, it’s pretty grim stuff — but quite engrossing and worth your time, thanks to intense performances by Justin Theroux and Christopher Eccleston, and the way creators Tom Perrotta, who wrote the book on which the series is based, and Damon Lindelof, best known for screwing up the end of “Lost,” unflinchingly tackle the nature of grief and the limits of faith.

Can you call it an apocalypse if you can still get a decent bagel afterwards? It’s three years after what has been termed the Sudden Departure, when 2 percent of the world’s population — Christians, Jews, Muslims, straight, gay, white, black, brown, and Gary Busey — suddenly disappeared.

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Not Just Theology: Catholic Seminarians Go to Summer School to Learn Management Skills

“How many of you have ever studied a parish budget?” the Rev. David Couturier asked the 11 Catholic priests-in-training seated before him. After a few beats, just one hand went up, tentatively.

“That’s not unusual,” Couturier told them. “Just unfortunate.”

It’s also why these seminarians were in a classroom at Villanova University in the leafy Philadelphia suburbs, part of a first-of-its-kind program that aims to provide some real-world grounding to the theological studies that dominate their course work.

It’s a bit of “operative theology” to complement the “abstract theology,” as Couturier put it.

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A New Kind of Virginity

In her first televised interview in more than a decade, Monica Lewinsky (who needs no introduction) says she was “a virgin to humiliation” at the time she made highly explicit world news about her White House trysts with then-President Bill Clinton.

Lewinsky may have coined a new term here in this National Geographic documentary on the 1990s. (And if she’s trying to change the subject for which she is so unfortunately known, this was not a good choice of words.)

The word virgin, in addition to its usual meaning, uses sexual inexperience as a metaphor for a state of being unviolated, untainted, innocent, clean. That association is damaging. It suggests that sex is bad, that it’s always a violation. I think most can agree that this is not true.

The concept of virgin birth — which occurs in more than one religion — does not argue for sex being a bad idea, though it can easily be taken that way; such an event can instead simply show that the child’s father is divine. In addition, Catholic doctrine of Immaculate Conception does not mean that the birth came about by a “cleaner” method than the usual biological one; this is instead a belief in Mary as a person born without sin.

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