For better or worse, Egypt is now a bellwether of the struggle for the soul of global Islam. While a great deal is up in the air, one point seems crystal clear: If the post-Mubarak choice comes down to Islamic militants on one side and Western-style secular liberals on the other -- what we might call the "Facebook crowd" -- then the militants are going to win, and they're going to win huge.
All Things Catholic
Try as we might to remind ourselves that the Catholic church isn't Microsoft and that quantitative measures of success or failure don't always correspond to the logic of the Gospel, most of us take that lesson to heart only selectively. Some Catholics can't resist touting the huge crowds at World Youth Day as an endorsement of their version of orthodoxy; others cite polling majorities in favor of reform on birth control and other issues as proof of the sensus fidelium.
Here’s a question that astute observers of the religious landscape find themselves asking these days, and which deserves a serious response: Why doesn’t Christianity have its own Holocaust literature?
Any logician worth his or her salt will confirm that deduction, moving from the general to the specific, is a much stronger form of argument than induction, which works the other way around. The problem with drawing broad conclusions from specific cases is that a counter-example may be lurking just around the corner.
Even so, I’m going to try my hand at some induction this week, teasing out broad implications from three specific storylines percolating around the Catholic world.
[Note: There were two Vatican stories this week with wide implications, and which one strikes people as the bigger deal may say something about their sense of the burning issues facing the church in the early 21st century. In Ireland, a 1997 Vatican letter came to light which is being touted in some quarters as proof of a Vatican-orchestrated cover-up of priestly sexual abuse. In Egypt, the prestigious Al-Azhar University announced it has suspended a long-standing dialogue with the Vatican in protest over recent comments from Pope Benedict XVI requesting greater protection for the country's Coptic Christian minority. My take on the Vatican letter can be found at Is Vatican letter on abuse a 'smoking gun'?, while my news item on the Al-Azhar story is at Major Islamic university in Egypt suspends ties with Vatican.]
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The big news of the day has already been posted to the NCR Web site. See the story I filed earlier this morning: Vatican announces May 1 beatification for John Paul II
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We live in a world of warning labels, on cigarette packages, slippery floors, rear-view mirrors, and on and on. Whatever one makes of that, if labeling is to be the rule of the day, I hereby propose that any news item with the word "Vatican" in the headline carry the following proviso: "Warning: The following story may be bunk."
The suggestion is prompted by the latest bogus Vatican news cycle, in this case a flurry of stories last weekend reporting that the Vatican is collaborating with the U.S.-based Discovery Channel on a documentary series called "The Exorcist Files." Wire services and blogs quoted Discovery Channel President Clark Bunting to the effect that the network had secured exclusive insider access to the Vatican for the series, set to debut this spring, which allegedly would include "ride-alongs" with exorcists as they set out to combat demons.
In his first interview since stepping down in mid-November as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago looked back this week at the pivotal moments during his three-year term: The election of Barack Obama; a bruising debate over health care reform; chronic tensions over the authority of the bishops; and a massive new wave of the sexual abuse crisis.
I sat down for the exclusive conversation with George, who celebrates his 74th birthday later this month, on Wednesday in his office at the Archbishop Quigley Center in downtown Chicago.
If it’s true that the only thing worse than negative publicity is no publicity, then 2010 was a banner year for the Vatican. It opened with a sexual abuse crisis in Ireland that would sweep across Europe and put the personal record of Benedict XVI under a spotlight, and it ended with frenzy over the pope’s comments on condoms and various Vatican efforts to explain what Benedict did, and didn’t, mean.
By any objective standard, the sexual abuse crisis would have to rank as the top Vatican story of 2010. Though the crisis has been around for a long time, this was the year in which critical attention came to rest squarely on Rome, including the personal track record of Pope Benedict XVI.
One week ago today, behind-the-scenes alarm was percolating among American diplomats in Rome and in the Vatican, as word spread that the first major wave of “Wikileaks” revelations about U.S./Vatican relations would run the next morning.
By midday Saturday, it became clear that this first round of leaks would be more a whimper than a bang.