NCR Today

Morning Briefing

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The World Wide Web -- Ratcheting up their fight against anti-piracy bills in Congress, internet companies haul out thier most potent weapon: blacking out thousands of web sites.

Nigeria -- Nigeria Christmas church bomb suspect escapes

The 2012 presidential race -- Baptist Perry pointedly praises Santorum as 'good Catholic'

Vatican City -- Vatican’s Chinese Archbishop Appeals for Release of Catholic Priests in China

Tradition's role as source of truth being revisited

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Editor's note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified who issued inter insignores. The error, for which NCR apologizes, has been corrected.

The two sources of divine revelation accepted by the church, Scripture and Tradition, have followed very different paths in the last 100 years. Sacred Scripture has been so thoroughly analyzed, reinterpreted, even deconstructed, through various forms of scholarly criticism that our understanding of the message has been greatly transformed. Catholic Tradition, however, experienced little change, remaining almost static over the same time period. If some new interpretation of Scripture seemed to shake long-held presumptions, Catholic apologists could always point to tradition as a corrective and bulwark against challenging ideas or radical changes.

Now, the status quo of tradition is also experiencing tremors. In a chapter in the recent book The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity, Jesuit theologian Francis Sullivan shows how our once-comfortable, unexamined view of tradition is undergoing scrutiny.

The quiet storm over Bishop Zavala and his family

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I was having some coffee with an old friend from a well-known Catholic family a few days ago when the subject of Bishop Gabino Zavala came up. Zavala, an auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles archdiocese, resigned in early January when it was discovered he was the father of two teenaged children. But, my friend said, no one was talking about it.

She was right. The story had appeared dutifully in local and national newspapers the day of the resignation announcement, but that was it. There was no outrage, no beating the drums about the hypocrisy of celibacy, no linkage to the unending pedophilia scandals. The story just fizzled.

We ordered a second cup and worked over a few conspiracy theories: The new Los Angeles archbishop, Jose Gomez, pulled strings and silenced the press. This was unlikely.

Powerful allies of the well-regarded Zavala made back-door pleas to lower the temperature to local editors who also knew and respected the former bishop. A better theory, but still out there on the edge.

Who deserves a transplant?

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The whole system that decides which patients get organ transplants is fraught with moral quandaries. Sadly, there are more folks who need hearts, kidneys, lungs and other organs than there are donated organs, so a number of factors need to be considered, including how critical the transplant is and the likelihood of survival and satisfactory quality of life after transplant.

But should a child with intellectual disabilities be denied a transplant based solely on those disabilities?

Thousands are saying "no" after reading about a 3-year-old girl who allegedly was was denied the possibility of a transplant--even with an kidney donated by a family member--at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

How parole boards could be reformed

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I wrote a blog last week proposing legislative action to reduce prison sentences for current inmates as well as those convicted in the future. A number of readers objected, and some said parole boards provide sufficient remedy for individual cases.

But parole boards have their own problems. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the state of Kansas have both abolished parole boards because they are arbitrary and expensive. The feds simply don't offer parole while Kansas is relying on prison staff to make parole decisions.

In Missouri, the parole board operates under one of the most secretive processes in the nation, meant to protect board members from undue influence as well as criticism by hindsight. One unintended consequence is that there is no measure of accountability. Board members are political appointees, half Democratic and half Republican. They don't have to read material or even attend hearings. There's no way to boot them out of their job.

Priest sentenced to three years for theft from his Las Vegas parish

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According to the Associated Press:

A Roman Catholic priest was sentenced Friday to three years and one month in federal prison and ordered to repay $650,000 he acknowledged siphoning from his northwest Las Vegas parish to support his gambling habit.

Muffled sobs erupted from a courtroom packed with supporters, but Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe, 59, stood straight and made no reaction as U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan faulted him for accepting responsibility but "hedging his bet" by blaming the theft on a gambling addiction.

"You abused a position of trust, Mr. McAuliffe, the judge said, dispensing with any church title for the priest who many in the parish referred to as Father Kevin while he hid a weakness for casinos and video poker. "You betrayed people who depended on you."

Combat, desecrating the dead, and our surprise

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My initial reaction, upon reading of the Marines who urinated on dead Taliban fighters, was of course to be repulsed by one more graphic display of the barbarism of war being conducted on our behalf. But that initial reaction was quickly followed by an almost automatic question: What do we expect?

What can we expect, indeed, of young men trained to dehumanize others to a degree that they can methodically and clinically kill complete strangers? Presumably, that is what these young soldiers did to the dead fighters not long before the video was taken. Do we expect young men who have pulled the trigger one moment to conduct somber, religious graveside services the next?

It is good to note that somewhere between Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s rush to politicize the matter (he says the Obama administration’s expression that the act is deplorable shows the president has “disdain” for the military) and those who wish swift and harsh punishment for the young Marines, we’ve found some space to acknowledge that the real issue can be found in the horrors of combat and what they can do to a young person’s mind and perspective.

Ursuline sister, SOA prisoner of conscience, dies

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Ursuline Sr. Claire O’Mara, a Massachusetts native who spent 17 years in Latin America with her order before later spending time in jail in protest of the School of the Americas, passed away Jan. 8, the feast of the Epiphany, in New York. She was 89.

O’Mara, who entered the Ursulines in 1945, was known for her dedication to the people of Mexico, Peru, and the Bronx, and to issues of social justice.

Compelled by the story of fellow Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, O’Mara was arrested at the gates of Fr. Benning, Ga., at the age of 74 in November, 1994, along with twelve others.

Asked on the eve of her trial for the action whether she was scared of possibly going to jail, O'Mara said in a 1996 interview with NCR that she was “too old to be nervous” about going to prison.

O’Mara also said it was partly the Kazel’s story that inspired her to make a 25-hour train ride to join the protest.

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March 24-April 6, 2017

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