On the Papal Front

Benedict XVI tends to attract attention, even if it is for something as relatively meaningless as the factoid that he is now the 7th oldest Pope in history. But the more interesting news the past few days is the extent to which the former professor and active intellectual continues to turn out new books. His latest one is aimed at the children among us or in us all. And if telling the story of Jesus and the Apostles in a child-friendly way isn't sufficient, don't worry, he is not done yet. He is at work on the third and final volume of his 'Jesus of Nazareth' scheduled to be published in the spring of next year.

Most of the attention he is garnering these days, at least in Britain, concerns his forthcoming Papal visit. While some, Dawkins and company, mainly are speculating about ways of arresting the Pope when he arrives on British soil, others are clamouring for tickets to his scheduled masses. And if trying to score a ticket to the masses is insufficient entertainment, much of the intellectual buzz surrounds the Beatification of Cardinal Newman, something that Michael Coren has written about recently. By the way, in case you were worried, the British Government now has a plan to insure that his Holiness is not arrested when he arrives.

    Linking abuse with ordination a cheap ploy

    Without doubt the story that snagged everyone's attention this week, and not always positively, came out the Vatican. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith outlied new procedures dealing with major crimes. News organizations as different as The New York Times , The Muslim News and The Catholic Register rightly felt compelled to cover the story. Unfortunately, few in the mainstream media seemed able to resist the cheap urge to link the new rules on the ordination of women and new procedures for dealing with the sexual abuse of children. And even fewer could resist using the conjunction as an excuse for ridicule or indignation. The indignation rings a bit hollow given that The New York Times ran their editorial condemming the new procedures as inadequate almost a week before the new procedures were published.

    One of the clearest explanations of the announcement and the history behind it is found in a column by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, whose explanation of the reasoning for the 'conjunction' of the two 'crimes' actually makes logical sense if not public relations brilliance. It's this lack of deft touch when it comes to public communication that most concerns R.R. Reno, senior editor at First Things. Reno steps back in a provocative editorial and asks if the entire scandal has still worrisome surprises and twists to come.

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      Pope is evangelizing in midst of storm

      It may not seem like it but there are other issues demanding attention as the secular media focuses on the sexual abuse scandal. At the end of June, Benedict XVI announced the creation of the Pontifical Council for new evangelization. The Boston Globe, in a detailed examination of a new campaign by the Archdiocese to 'Call Catholics Home', and Foreign Policy magazine's examination of Benedict's hope to re-evanglize Europe give a real sense of the issues being confronted at the global and local levels. And it is not an issue the new Prefect of the Congregation For Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet is unfamiliar with. In 2008, the then Primate of the Canadian Catholic Church penned a fascinating essay on evangelization and the Province of Quebec.

        U.N. study supports Vatican approach to AIDS

        Mid-week, news broke on the results of a new U.N study released at the World Aids Conference in Vienna. According to some reports, the study gives credence to the Church's long held belief that changes in behaviour are effective in dealing with the scourge of AIDS. The 'odd' thing is that as of Thursday morning only Catholic news outlets were reporting the story.

          Good riddance to Toronto’s zone of conflict

          For many citizens of Toronto, this writer included, the time that has passed since the G20 summit of world leaders in the city has been a season of grief. For the Christians among us, it has also been a time of prayer for the city — that the bitterness will not linger, that the healing of the few physical and many more moral injuries will be swift.

          We have been outraged by the damage wreaked on shops and banks by a small band of hooligans, whom the police did nothing to stop. The reputation of our city as a place of calm and justice has been damaged by police strong-arm tactics against peaceful demonstrators and bystanders. And we were offended by the stripping of Torontonians of their rights to freely walk streets distant from the justifiably sequestered G20 site.

            Web makes it easier for cheaters to prosper

            Spurred on by new technology, particularly the Internet, cheating in Canadian high schools and post-secondary institutions is evolving to the point that students and teachers differ over what qualifies as cheating, according to research recently released by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL).

            According to the CCL study, nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of first-year students across Canada admitted to committing one or more serious acts of academic dishonesty on written work while in high school (including cheating on essays or assignments) and nearly 60 per cent admitted to serious acts of cheating on tests in high school. The survey included 20,000 students at 11 post-secondary education institutions.

              A harsh exposé on trashy celebrity media

              I have seen a play that I wish every Catholic with a strong stomach could see. It says more about sick contemporary culture than anything I’ve seen on stage for a very long time.

              The plot is based on the story of Jack Unterweger, an Austrian convicted of the 1974 murder of a girl. While serving a sentence for this crime, Unterweger took up writing. His stories and autobiography — all twaddle, it appears — won him fans and even the support of the literati.

                Catholic bashing seems to always be fair game

                The recent call by Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast for government to provide aid to pregnant women who want to keep their babies was widely ignored. A week earlier, comments by Ouellet on the issue of abortion provoked a venomous political and media response.

                There was nothing startling in either of the remarks, but one was shrugged off and the other drew an unusual degree of vitriol, highlighted by one columnist wishing the cardinal  “a slow and painful death.” It was an extreme comment, but not exceptional in its derision.

                In researching 25 years of anti-Catholic media hostility, I’ve been struck by how often Church participation in debates on the moral issues of the day spark such prejudice. The reaction is probably strongest on abortion, but also colours discussions about the re-definition of marriage, euthanasia, faith-based schools and bioethical research. No one minds too much when the Church tells us to help the poor, but statements about when life begins or what is meant by family are often lightning rods. Nor is prime time entertainment immune; while the Church is mostly ignored, script writers know they can always count on the Catholics when they need a tireless charity worker, a backdrop for sacred art and music or a deranged person to bomb an abortion clinic.

                  How I found the furnace of love of the Catholic Church

                  Conversion from a Protestant church to the Catholic Church, such as mine 12 years ago, usually has complicated results. It often makes the people left behind angry and bewildered. So you try to explain what happened, what made conversion necessary and inevitable — only to find quickly that words do nothing to ease the hurt and confusion others feel.

                  But words and images and gestures are the only things we possess to communicate our experiences to others. So I am using what I have, and will try to put into words what happened to me 12 years ago at the Marian shrine at Lourdes.

                  I do so because I have been asked, once again, to explain myself. This time the request came from a Christian acquaintance, appalled at the narrative of my conversion that appeared in The Globe and Mail on Holy Saturday. You may recall the op-ed piece. Its occasion was the sex-abuse accusations rocking the Catholic Church. Asked by The Globe whether these shocks had ungrounded my Christian faith, I tried to explain in the article why they had not.

                    Palmsonntag, a deeply biblical vision

                    The beautiful installation called Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday), by German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, is the most brilliant, deeply original Christian artwork I have ever seen on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Readers interested in art should catch this show before it leaves Toronto on Aug. 1

                    Like some Baroque depiction of a saint’s martyrdom, Palm Sunday refers immediately to an occasion that lies largely beyond the margins of the work, in this case the liturgy for the Sunday before Easter.

                      Non-violence is the only path to peace

                      The news from the frontier between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is seldom good, and usually awful. Headline after headline in the mainstream media confirm the popular (and hardly inaccurate) view that the border is a place of violence and danger, where Israeli soldiers daily face death and injury from suicide bombers and armed militants, and Palestinian citizens are constantly liable to harassment and arrest.

                      Against this baleful backdrop of discord and suffering, however, a new and more hopeful story has begun to emerge.