NCR Today

Santa in the sanctuary

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I have mixed feelings about Santa.

Sure, he represents the spirit of giving, is based on a saint and can be very useful for coercing good behavior out of children for about three weeks out of the year.

On the other hand, he has come to symbolize the overemphasis on presents, the blurring of the line between "wants" and "needs" and general excessive materialism during what should be a spiritual season. Nothing says "Gimme" like a kid making a list for Santa.

While most parents love to encourage the magic of Santa, making the annual photo on a store Santa's lap an important tradition, others shy away from embellishing the story too much. For it is a story, after all, and one children eventually learn is based on much "fibbing" by their parents.

But if you really want to get controversial, try bring up the topic of Santa in church.

As part of Christmas Eve family Masses, some parishes have added a visit from Old St. Nick, perhaps in part to pique the interest of kids who can't help but be thinking of what will be under their tree the next day.

Pennsylvania diocese loses appeal, to pay health provider $264,000

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Back in October, I blogged that the Allentown, Pa., diocese lost its appeal in paying a health care provider for services provided to one of its priests, Fr. James Mulligan, who slipped, fell and injured himself.

The diocese lost its appeal for re-argument and will be required to pay about $264,000 to the Lehigh Valley Health Network:

In a slip-and-fall case involving a 72-year-old diocesan priest, Fr. James Mulligan, the Allentown, Pa., diocese, which self-insures for workers' compensation, claimed it was not responsible for 100 percent of the bills charged by the Lehigh Valley Health Network for acute care provided to Fr. James Mulligan for immediately life-threatening or urgent injuries at the Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest.

The total cost of in-patient care was $406,338.79. The diocese paid only $142,196, short-changing Lehigh Valley Health Network more than $260,000.

Morning Briefing

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Cardinal George shoots from hip, hits foot again

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Chicago Cardinal Francis George was roundly criticized Friday after he compared members of the gay liberation movement to the Ku Klux Klan. The cardinal was concerned that the planned route of the gay pride parade in June 2012 would interfere with services at a North Side parish.

"You know you don't want the Gay Liberation Movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism," he said while taping an interview for Fox News.

"I think the cardinal's remarks were inappropriate and disrespectful," said Greg Harris, an openly gay state representative whose district includes the parade route. "We should always treat each other with respect, even when we disagree."

Meanwhile, parade organizers have agreed to delay the start until noon to accommodate Sunday parishioners along the parade route.

Spielberg at war again with 'War Horse'

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Among the many themes that emerge or converge in the films of director/ producer/writer Steven Spielberg are lonely children and war, specifically World War II.

These themes can be found in the kids in "E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) as well as the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" (1993), in which viewers may remember the little Jewish girl in a red coat, waiting for transport to the Nazi death camps. They can be found in "The Color Purple" (1985) (for which Spielberg deserved an Oscar) and one of my personal favorites, this year's "Super 8," where Spielberg captures children who are lonely or estranged from or in tension with their fathers.

A gathering consensus for radical change

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One of the most interesting news stories of 2011 is the increasing number of countries in which Catholic priests have issued statements urging radical church reform.

In most cases, the declaration included a call for the ordination of married men and the ordination of women. In Germany, Austria, Ireland and Belgium, these remarkable documents quickly attracted growing endorsements from other clergy and laity. However, in every case, they also aroused questions, doubts and strong disagreement from other quarters. These movements must be stopped, declared some critics, calling the declarations blasphemy, heresy, an affront to legitimate authority and cause for the excommunication of their leaders and proponents.

Catholic health care organizations among selected for initiative

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A few Catholic health care organizations -- among them Genesys Physician Hospital Organization in Michigan, Franciscan Alliance in Indiana and Seton Health Alliance in Texas -- have been selected to participate in an initiative, the Pioneer Accountable Care Organization Model, which is designed to provide better care while reducing Medicare costs.

The Health and Human Services program, which begins Sunday, includes 32 health care organizations nationwide selected for their experience with patient-centered care. They will be evaluated over the next few years, according to this press release from HHS.

The ACOs "are designed to save $1 billion over five years by promoting coordination between doctors and hospitals and ensuring that people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure get the care they need to stay out of the hospital," according to this Kaiser Health News story.

Kathy Kelly: 'Making hope' in Afghanistan

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(Kathy Kelly writes from Kabul, Afghanistan. See her Christmas reflection here.)

December 27, 2011

Kabul--Arab Spring, European Summer, American Autumn, and now the challenge of
winter. Here in Kabul, Afghanistan, the travelers of our small Voices for
Creative Nonviolence delegation share an apartment with several of the
creative and determined "Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers" who’ve risked so
much for peace here and befriended us so warmly over the past two years.

Our apartment doesn’t have indoor heating or hot tap water. We bundle up,
overnight, in blankets, quilts and sleeping bags, and the Westerners,
unaccustomed to the indoor cold, wear at least five layers of clothing
during the daytime. Tap water is contaminated, electricity shortages are
frequent, and internet access is spotty, but compared to those who live in
Kabul’s refugee camps, we’re ensconced in plenty of creature comforts.

What’s more, we are warmed by a sense of shared purpose, our spirits high,
building and exploring relationships which are a model and a hope to us, in

Kathy Kelly: Christmas reflection from Kabul

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I first became aware of Kathy Kelly during a phone call some months before the first part of the war against Iraq. Back then it was called the Persian Gulf War, and it began in August of 1990 and ended the following February.

During the phone call, she told me that a group of pacifists was going to camp on one of the borders of Iraq, intent on witnessing to what she believed was the futility of war and generally to get in the way of warmaking in some small way by being where she wasn't supposed to be.

I listened, wondering about the sanity of the person on the other end of the
line. But over the years I've grown to think that, for the most part, she's one of the sanest and bravest people I know. She's usually where governments would rather she not be, getting to know people who are otherwise considered either enemies or mere ciphers in the calculation of war's collateral damage, witnessing always to deep truths of the gospel that normally get shoved to the background in the shouted "religious" discourse of one or another of the culture wars.

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