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As the cardinal exits

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Compelling column in the Los Angeles Times by Tim Rutten -- who conducted an "exit interview" with Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Here, Mahony covers a range of topics that thread through his 25 years as archbishop of Los Angeles. (He retired last week when he turned 75 years old.) It's interesting to read a tour of issues and societal changes by a man who left a large imprint on Southern California.

This is Mahony on why he would not refuse to give Communion to elected officials who stray from church teachings: "You know, throughout the Gospels, Jesus never appeals to punitive measures to change anyone's life," Mahony says.

He then asks: if you're going to punish an official for, say, a pro-choice vote, where does it stop? "Does that mean the chief of staff who didn't stop him or her from voting that way also can't go to Communion? Does that mean that the secretary who handles their paperwork also can't go? I mean, where does it end?"

Facebook is the new chocolate

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In previous generations, chocolate or candy was probably one of the most popular things to "give up" as a penance for the 40 days of Lent. Today, a growing number of U.S. Catholics are choosing to give up Facebook.

In the past week, I've read (on Facebook, ironically) about a number of friends who are unplugging for 40 days from social networking or even the from entire Internet, or at least personal use of it.

Good for them. I'm not questioning or debating anyone's individual choice about how best to practice the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer and almsgiving during this spiritual season. And, for many, social networking can be an unhealthy distraction that takes away from work, in-person relationships or prayer time. Certainly worthy of fasting from--at least temporarily.

But let me tell you why I won't be giving up Facebook for Lent.

I just finished scrolling through my friends' Facebook status updates from this morning, and about three quarters of them mention Ash Wednesday or offer a link to some spiritual sustenance.

For example:

Pope: Digital media must allow us to 'think more deeply'

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Pope Benedict Feb. 28 addressed the annual gathering of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication (PCCS), headed by Archbishop Claudio Celli, successor to Cardinal John P. Foley of Philadelphia who helmed the commission and then pontifical council from 1984 – 2007.

In his remarks the pope refers to his address for the upcoming 45th World Communications Day on June 5th, Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age, and describes the task of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication:

More Marshall on Gingrich

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Josh Marshall of the must-read Talking Points Memo website picks up where he left off on Hardball last night. The "...the pattern with Gingrich shows a level of hypocrisy, cruelty and emotional immaturity that most people won't accept in a president," he writes.

I'm not so sure. The good news for Gingrich is that he doesn't, at least early on, need the votes of "most people." Instead, in a crowded Republican field he needs a plurality of votes, or a vote count that "exceeds expectations," in the early contests of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Given the weakness of the Republican field, and given Gingrich's ambitions, that's a bet well worth making.

Among the latest to pray in Phan Thiet, Vietnam

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For the past two weeks my wife and I have been traveling with family, friends and others, including a number of NCR readers, through central Vietnam. We began our trip in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam, moved by bus to Hoi An, a 17th century Vietnam coastal trade city, then down to Nha Trang, Vietnam, a booming tourist center.

This is the sixth time my wife and I have led tour groups through Vietnam in recent years. We come back here to share Vietnamese culture, history, cuisine and religion with friends and to visit my wife's family members along the way.

Illinois giving up the death penalty for Lent

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The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign a bill banning the death penalty tomorrow.

Quinn, a Catholic, picked Ash Wednesday to sign the legislation that the state House and Senate passed in January. The governor had not gone public with his intentions and was said to still be listening to both sides as of last week.

Illinois will join New York, New Jersey and New Mexico, all of which have done away with the death penalty in the last three years.

Many Catholics, including this one, had been urging the governor to sign the ban. This is truly a prolife victory. Amen.

Gingrich Appeals to Christian Right

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On the opening segment of tonight’s Hardball (replayed at 7:00 p.m. EST. on MSNBC), pundits Howard Fineman, Josh Marshall and host Chris Matthews examine former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s calculated appeal to religious conservatives in Iowa. Gingrich and several other Republican presidential hopefuls spoke last night at the state’s “Faith and Freedom” forum.

Not too long ago Gingrich was a secularist, a political leader who paid necessary lip service to the Republican evangelical base but who cared more about lowering the capital gains rate than the abortion rate. Gingrich has changed – he converted to Catholicism last year and wears his new found faith (one with a particularly conservative, some would say “orthodox” bent) on his sleeve. His party has also changed.

Answers for Vatican visitors become sisters Lenten reflections

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The Vatican seems to be nearing the end of an investigation of communities of sisters in the United States who engage in apostolic work. Whether we learn the results of that investigation remains to be seen.

The investigation has been shrouded in secrecy. Ostensibly it is an investigation into the quality of sisters’ lives, but it has had a disturbing aggressive quality.

However, it has also had unintended consequences. One seems to be a stirring of feelings of love and loyalty of many of the faithful to communities of women religious. That doesn’t surprise me. What has surprised me in my own community, the Sisters of Loretto, has been our positive engagement in the process.

More than 80 sisters chose to be interviewed and more wrote letters to the visitators last November. We wrote up what we wanted to say. We practiced. We talked together about our visions of religious life, the strengths we see in Loretto, and any external threats we experience. (Many sisters named the Vatican investigation as an external threat.)

Some interviewees traveled to our Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky for the interviews. (Others used Skype.)

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