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.
VATICAN CITY — In a move that took the world by surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, with plans to step down on Feb. 28.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” Benedict told cardinals as they gathered in Rome for the proclamation of new saints.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said preparations for the conclave that will elect Benedict’s successor are in the early stages.
A papal election could be expected “within 10 to 15 days,” he said. “We should have a new pope by Easter.”
ST. LOUIS -- As Drew Burkemper got up to preach, the weight of his task was evident. His classmate at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, Adam Maus, had just pretty much killed it.
Like Burkemper, Maus and other Catholic seminarians were told to prepare and deliver to his class a homily for an imaginary event.
Maus’ scenario had been a wedding between a 42-year-old bride with four children and her groom, who had recently returned to the Catholic Church. The nine other seminarians in the room loved his approach, showering him in glowing feedback.
Burkemper was up next, faced with a preaching scenario that would challenge any 23-year-old priest-to-be. His homily was for a marriage between a Catholic man and a Jewish woman.
As he began, he worked hard on his delivery, as his professor had taught him. "Father Wester is big on delivering the homily,” Burkemper said later. “Not just reading it.”
The Rev. Don Wester, pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in St. Peters, Mo., is Kenrick’s lecturer of homiletics -- the art of preaching.
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.
Emboldened by the re-election of President Barack Obama, a cadre of liberal Catholic activists and groups is waging a campaign alleging that America's Catholic bishops are out of touch with Catholic laypeople.
The Catholic bishops, who are in Baltimore this week for a quarterly meeting, spoke out against the Obama administration during the election cycle over what they said were White House violations of religious freedom.
Some bishops also spoke out against legalized gay marriage and abortion rights, positions embraced by many Republicans.
A Sunday opinion piece in the National Catholic Reporter by Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown University, hammered the bishops for their public proclamations during the campaign, saying the church leaders' “political strategy … is not working.”
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Sister Kateri Mitchell was born and raised on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation along the St. Lawrence River. She grew up hearing stories about Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th-century Mohawk woman who will be declared a saint in the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday.
She has long admired Tekakwitha for her steadfast faith and her ability to bridge Native American spirituality with Catholic traditions. In 1961, Mitchell joined the Sisters of St. Anne, and since 1998 she has served as executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference in Great Falls, Mont., a group that has spread Tekakwitha’s story and prayed for her canonization since 1939.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” she said of the canonization at the Vatican. “It’s a great validation.”
Since the ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, the ivory black market has been on the rise, and a National Geographic investigation found that demand for religious art pieces carved out of the precious material has played a considerable role.
“No matter where I find ivory, religion is close at hand,” said investigative reporter Bryan Christy, whose article, “Ivory Worship,” is included in the new edition of National Geographic magazine, released Sept. 14.
“Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade,” Christy wrote. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates that at least 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011, mostly for their ivory tusks.
Philippine Catholics use ivory to construct crucifixes, figures of the Virgin Mary and other icons. The province of Cebu is particularly known for its ivory renditions of the Santo Nino de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), used in worship and celebration.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Could a Virgin Mary statue under a pine tree in the middle of a cow pasture in rural Alabama one day become an officially recognized international pilgrimage site of the Roman Catholic Church?
Yes, it could, said Michael D. Murphy, chairman of the anthropology department and a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama who has specialized in studying the role of Virgin Mary apparitions in the Catholic Church.
“Without a doubt,” Murphy said. “Some very unusual places have ended up becoming pilgrimage sites.”
Marija Lunetti, the visionary who has been reporting daily visions of the Virgin Mary since she was a teenager in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia, had two outdoors apparitions in a field under a pine tree in Shelby County, Ala., during a highly publicized “five days of prayer” July 1-5 at Caritas of Birmingham.
Lunetti was one of six Medjugorje youths who began reporting apparitions of Mary in 1981. She was 16 at the time and known as Marija Pavlovic. Now 47, married with four children and living in Italy, Lunetti continues having daily visions.
She has been visiting Alabama since 1988, when she came to donate a kidney at UAB Hospital for her brother, Andrija Pavlovic. She had apparitions in the hospital and at the home of Caritas of Birmingham founder Terry Colafrancesco.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Gates talks to the Guardian (UK) newspaper about reconciling her Catholic faith — the wife of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says she attends mass regularly — with her work promoting family planning. Gates was in London this week to discuss promoting contraception in the developing world with UK government representatives. The Gates Foundation hopes to encourage donor pledges that will enable 120 million women to have access to contraceptives by 2020.
Archbishop Michael Seneco, of Washington, D.C., is a gay man who plans to marry his longtime partner in September.
Bishop Jim Morgan, of Ogden, Utah, is also gay and has been with the man he considers his husband for 30 years.
In this church, the bishops’ marital relations haven’t caused a ripple among the clergy or the laity. No protests. No outraged believers. No furious voting.
Quote of the day.
“I don’t want to overemphasize my Catholicism here. But I know my religion. I know religions in general. In the New Testament, the one place where Jesus talks about the death penalty, he says, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ When I’ve reflected on the death penalty, the reality is I frequently ponder that passage.” Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, who will soon sign a bill abolishing the death penalty in the state.
Belief in God is slowly declining in most countries around the world, according to a new poll, but the truest of the true believers can still be found in developing countries and Catholic societies.
The “Beliefs about God Across Time and Countries” report, released Wednesday (April 18) by researchers at the University of Chicago, found the Philippines to be the country with the highest belief, where 94 percent of Filipinos said they were strong believers who had always believed.
At the opposite end, at just 13 percent, was the former East Germany.
One of the largest student religious groups at Vanderbilt University is leaving campus in a dispute over the school's non-discrimination policy that bars student groups from requiring their leaders to hold specific beliefs.
Leaders of Vanderbilt Catholic, which has 500 members, says the rule make no sense. P.J. Jedlovec, the group's president, says the group's meetings are open to all students, but only people who share the group's beliefs can be leaders.
"If we were open to having non-Catholics lead the organization, we wouldn't be Catholic anymore," Jedlovec said.
TRENTON, N.J. — As part of a survey to understand why they have stopped attending Mass, a few hundred Catholics were asked what issues they would raise if they could speak to the bishop for five minutes.
The bishop would have gotten an earful.
Their reasons ranged from the personal ("the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all") to the political ("eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing") to the doctrinal ("don't spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control").
In addition, they said, they didn't like the church's handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass.
NORMANDY, Mo. — A popular music teacher at a Catholic Church was fired after church officials learned that he planned to marry his male partner of 20 years in New York, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The teacher, Al Fischer, confirmed that he was fired Feb. 17 from his job of four years at St. Ann Catholic School. When asked to comment on his firing, Fischer declined and referred to a letter emailed to his students' parents shortly after his termination.
In the letter, Fischer tells parents of "my joyful news, and my sad news" — the former being his plans to marry his longtime partner in New York City, and the latter, "that I can't be your music teacher anymore."
Fischer's partner, Charlie Robin, told the Post-Dispatch that the couple's relationship was not a secret at St. Ann, and that Fischer was fired after a representative of the St. Louis Archdiocese overheard him talking to co-workers about his wedding plans.
Editor's Note: The following aritcle was written in 2008, around the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the papal document that reinforced the Catholic Church's ban on artificial birth control.
Some say Pope Paul VI predicted the dangers of loosening sexual morals: widespread divorce, disease and promiscuity. Others say he cracked open a culture of dissent that has seeped into every corner of the church.
Either way, more than 40 years after Paul VI released ``Humanae Vitae'' on July 25, 1968, the papal encylical banning most forms of birth control continues to be a flashpoint in the Catholic Church.
Earlier this year, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said Humanae Vitae set up ``a direct conflict between many people's experience ... and the authority of the church.''
A majority of Americans — including Catholics — believe that employers should be required to provide employee health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost, according to a new survey.
But the research by the Public Religion Polling Institute shows that when it comes to providing religious exemptions from free contraceptive coverage – something the White House is sharply criticized for failing to do – the public is much more divided.
The Catholic bishops have slammed the Obama administration in recent weeks, urging priests to read letters from the pulpit blasting a new Health & Human Services rule that will require some Catholic institutions, such as universities, to cover employees' contraceptive costs.
On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued "Six Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate." Included on the list was, "Catholics of all political persuasions are unified in their opposition to the mandate."
The survey released today, however, paints a more nuanced picture.
VATICAN CITY — Nearly four centuries after the Roman Catholic Church branded Galileo Galilei a heretic for positing that the sun was the center of the universe, the Vatican is co-hosting a major science exhibition in his hometown.
The Vatican is teaming with Italy's main physics research center to host "Stories from Another World. The Universe Inside and Outside of Us," in Pisa.
The exhibit will illustrate the progress of knowledge of the physical universe, from prehistoric times to recent discoveries. The exhibit is organized by the Specola Vaticana — the Vatican-supported observatory — and Italy's National Institute for Nuclear Physics, together with Pisa University's physics department.
The exhibition aims to tell "the history of the universe, from the particles which make up the atoms in our bodies to distant galaxies," the Rev. Jose Funes, director of the observatory, told reporters on Thursday (Feb. 2).