KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Airmen and soldiers from around the Kaiserslautern Military Community took part in various ceremonies and activities Thursday dedicated to the memory of Emil Kapaun, an Army captain and Catholic chaplain, who died during the Korean War.
A base and chapel in the community are named after the chaplain, but few military members in the community had a good understanding of Kapaun’s time in the war until recently, when his heroics came to light amid news that his actions earned him the Medal of Honor.
President Barack Obama was to award the medal to his surviving family members Thursday, more than 60 years after Kapaun’s death in a North Korean prison camp.
Hailing from Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio – now Pope Francis, is known as a humble man who forgoes a chauffeur to take the bus to work. As the first Jesuit pope, it’s expected Francis will encourage priests to evangelize, educating others in the Catholic faith. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports
VATICAN CITY — Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the first non-European pope in more than 1,000 years on Wednesday, signaling the beginning of a new era for a church combating scandal and internal strife.
Described as a conservative with “great compassion,” the 76-year-old will be known as His Holiness Pope Francis. He will be installed at the Vatican on Tuesday.
The new pontiff named himself after the humble Catholic friar St. Francis of Assisi. President Barack Obama hailed the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as a “champion of the poor.”
The first Latin American pope was introduced from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
There was an audible gasp from the rain-soaked crowd – an indication that he had not been a widely tipped choice – followed by a roar and wild applause.
In Italian, he seemed to address his outsider status by joking: “As you know the duty of the conclave is to give Rome a bishop. It seems that my brother cardinals went almost to the end of the world.”
Newly-elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio speaks to St. Peter’s Square and delivers a blessing after being elected as Pope Francis I.
“Pray for me and I will see you soon,” he added, asking Catholics to also pray for his predecessor Benedict XVI, who abdicated on Feb. 28. “Have a good evening and rest well.”
His first act on Thursday will be to visit his predecessor, the Pope Emeritus, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan told reporters later.
A vocal advocate for Argentina’s poor during the economic crises that struck the country during the 1970s, Francis is the first Jesuit pope.
Known for his humility, Francis is the son of a railway worker and one of five siblings. He has a chemistry degree.
Francis has only one fully-functioning lung, the other having been partially removed due to an infection when he was a teenager.
He prizes simplicity and is expected to encourage priests to do shoe-leather evangelization, according to his biographer.
Shortly after his election, Francis skipped the limousine and chose instead to ride on the last shuttle bus with other cardinals to go back to the Vatican for a meal.
“And as the last bus pulls up, guess who gets off? It’s Pope Francis. I guess he told the driver ‘That’s OK, I’ll just go with the boys,’” Dolan told reporters.
Later, during the dinner, Dolan said Francis showed his humorous side.
“We toasted him and when he toasted us he said: ‘May God forgive you,’ which brought the house down,” he said.
About an hour before Francis emerged on the balcony, white smoke rose above the Sistine Chapel and bells rang out across Rome to signal a decision had been made.
The unveiling of the new pope was moment of pure joy for the 100,000 pilgrims, tourists and other onlookers in St Peter’s Square.
“Who is this?” asked Deirdre Sweeney from Boston, Mass., when Francis first walked onto the balcony.
“Argentinian!” shouted a man nearby.
Americans were among the tens of thousands who gathered to witness the unveiling of Pope Francis.
“I think this is wonderful,” said Sweeney’s husband, Kevin. “It’s an incredible breakthrough. It’s a great recognition for the church that the church is not euro-centric anymore.”
Another man shouted: “It’s very gutsy that he chose the name Francis, he’s going to be the first Francis. He wants to be a humble pope and build the church up, from a time of ruin, like St. Francis of Assisi.”
Smoke billowed from the chimney at 7:07 p.m. local time (2:07 p.m. ET) on the second day of behind-closed-doors voting.
The cardinals are thought to have taken five ballots to reach the two-thirds of the vote necessary for a decision.
The new pontiff’s debut was heralded by a Latin announcement beginning with the phrase “Habemus Papam!” meaning, “We have a pope!”
George Weigel, NBC News’ Vatican analyst, said Francis would be “a great defender of religion around the world.”
“The papacy has moved to the New World. The church has a new pope with a new name,” he added. “I think it speaks to the church’s commitment to the poor of the world and compassion in a world that often needs a lot of healing.”
NBC News Special Report: The Vatican announces that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been elected as the new head of the Catholic Church.
Obama said the choice of the first pope from the Americas spoke “to the strength and vitality” of a region “that is increasingly shaping our world.”
“Alongside millions of Hispanic Americans, those of us in the United States share the joy of this historic day,” the president said in a statement.
Now known as Pope Emeritus, Francis’ predecessor Benedict watched Wednesday’s events from a temporary lakeside residence at Castel Gandolfo while his permanent living quarters inside Vatican City are refurbished.
The behind-the-scenes ballot process that took place in the Sistine Chapel should still remain a secret. Both the cardinals and staff working alongside them swore an oath of secrecy as the conclave got under way, with the threat of ex-communication for anyone breaking the church’s ancient code.
NBC News’ Yuka Tachibana and Richard O’Kelly, and Reuters contributed to this report.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected to lead the Catholic Church following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
This story was originally published on Wed Mar 13, 2013 4:14 AM EDT
Pope Benedict XVI interacted with world politics in ways that defied typical ideological categories. The caricature of him as a conservative reactionary does not bear scrutiny, at least not as Americans understand conservatism. Benedict stands in a long line of popes whose teachings challenge both the political left and right, but in the past eight years, conservatives have found more challenge and less solace from Rome.
On the economy, Benedict staked out positions that were far more radical than what passes for progressive politics in the U.S. For example, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the pope defended the rights of workers in the most explicit terms: “Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labor unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.” This warm embrace of organized labor is not on the agenda of today’s Republican Party to be sure.
Benedict also challenged modern capitalism for the gross inequalities it produces both within and among nations. In his recent World Day of Peace message, he listed five threats to world peace, and he started with “unregulated financial capitalism.” The others: terrorism, international crime, fanaticism and fundamentalism. You do not need to conduct a poll to imagine how many Republicans would respond if President Barack Obama lumped together “unregulated financial capitalism” with terrorism and international crime.
The effects of capitalism were not the only problems he discerned. In Caritas in Veritate he noted the ways capitalism fails at its core and in its ethical demands. The market requires competition, not solidarity. It lionizes self-assertion, not self-surrender, and it values thrift and frugality, not gratuitousness and generosity. The market’s heroes are self-made men. But, as Benedict taught, Christians are called to follow Jesus, whose entire life was an act of solidarity, who never asserted himself but always self-surrendered to the will of the Father, whose grace is never thrifty or frugal but gratuitous, always a bit surprising, never stingy. Most obviously, Jesus was not a “self-made man.” Benedict, like previous popes, did not propose a specific economic system, but his critique of modern capitalism, root and branch, was stinging. Why did this never garner much in the way of headlines?
On another political issue, global climate change, Benedict has been something of an innovator, developing Catholic moral theology to embrace a clear concern for the environment. In 2010, in an interview with Peter Seewald, Benedict said that as pope, he recognized “an inner obligation to struggle for the preservation of the environment and to oppose the destruction of creation.” He applied traditional moral ideas about stewardship to contemporary environmental concerns, and has called for drastic international action to avert further damage to the climate. Additionally, and always keen to the power of symbols, the Vatican became one of the first carbon-neutral states in the world as the Holy See installed solar panels on various buildings within the small territory it holds on the bank of the Tiber.
Benedict has also been a tireless advocate for peace, especially in the Mideast where political instability often results in specific threats to those few, but ancient, Christian communities that remain in Muslim lands. He has engaged in dialogue with the Muslim world, and encouraged it to stand against any fanaticism within its ranks, but he also has urged Israelis to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. Benedict has called for all the countries of the world to spend less on armaments and more on development, following a long line of papal teachings stretching back to Pope John XXIII’s groundbreaking Pacem in Terris. In April, at The Catholic University of America in Washington, a conference on the 50th anniversary of Pacem in Terris will include an examination of the ways Benedict has brought that seminal teaching into the 21st century.
Catholic neocons in the U.S., understandably, ignored or downplayed the pope’s writings on these subjects. And because many Americans seem content to assume that religion has more to say about sexual mores than about economic ones, it was Benedict’s re-statements of Catholic teaching on contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage that always garnered the headlines. On these issues, Benedict was never going to budge, either in his assessment of the moral issues themselves, nor in his belief that government needs to actively promote traditional values, especially concern for the family. He seemed unimpressed by those who invoked a pluralistic society, or changing mores, or any other rationale for what they deemed progress. For him, deviation from the truth as he understood it could not be seen as progress at all.
Here is, perhaps, the most challenging and unique contribution Benedict made to the world of politics, not only to Catholic theology, but to the broader cultural dialogue in the West. He never stopped asking what could bolster freedom if it were ever unhinged from the truth. In his major speeches at Westminster Hall in London and at the German Parliament, the Bundestag in Berlin, the pope posed the question to Western democracies whether a formal ethics of rights was sufficient to guarantee a humane society. Benedict, perhaps the most learned public figure of his day, could pose a question of such depth. No one has really devised an adequate answer.
This seemingly obscure question of the ethical foundations of law and government may be somewhat abstract, but it manifests itself in the most contentious issues of the day. Here in the U.S., the debate over the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate is, in part, a discussion about the role of churches in civil society. During the recent debate in the British House of Commons about same-sex marriage, both sides acknowledged that “Parliament is sovereign,” but Benedict challenges the idea of state sovereignty. It was John Stuart Mill who said, “Parliament can do anything except turn a man into a woman,” and the critics of same-sex marriage argued, essentially, that the proposal should be rejected precisely because it sought to contravene an authority even higher than Parliament, nature itself. Benedict would not have voted for same-sex marriage if he were a British MP.
Benedict’s legacy in the political realm, then, is not as traditional as it might seem. In America, Catholics may focus on the conservative sexual ethics he defended and sought to see defended in law, but in the developing world, where the church is growing, his appeals on behalf of the poor rang both louder and truer to the Gospel. There, the experience of poverty allows Catholics to experience the Gospel in a way that has become difficult for affluent Catholics in the West, as good news for the poor. His teachings on the environment, his deep suspicion of modern capitalism, and his foundational concern with the ethical and human basis for law, all these serve to point his successor in a direction that does not easily fit into U.S. political terms. Politicians may see Benedict as confounding, frustrated that his commitment to social justice and equally strong commitment to traditional sexual and gender roles was inconsistent. Benedict, if given the chance, might ask if the inconsistency is in him, or in us.
[Michael Sean Winters writes about religion and politics on his Distinctly Catholic blog on the NCR website, at NCRonline.org/blogs/distinctly- catholic.]
In the coming weeks, debates over next pope will be not only about the person who will embody the office but about how the church will wrestle with shifting demographics and the relationship between tradition and modern culture. A look at these shifts and tensions among American Catholics provides a microcosm into the larger global dynamics at play.
First, the Catholic Church has been experiencing significant demographic and geographic transformations over the last century. In the American context, the demographic changes began relatively recently. In 1990, nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) Catholics were white, while less than 1-in-5 (14 percent) were Hispanic. Today, less than two-thirds (63 percent) of Catholics are white, while nearly 3-in-10 (29 percent) Catholics are Hispanic. In other words, in the span of two decades, the ratio of white to Hispanic Catholics has dropped from 5-to-1 to 2-to-1. This shift has also had considerable impact on the Catholic political engagement, given the decidedly different profiles of white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics: in the 2012 election, 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics voted for Barack Obama, while 59 percent of white Catholics voted for Mitt Romney.
A parallel shift away from a European center of gravity has occurred in Catholicism worldwide over the past century. Recent data from the Pew Research Center and the World Christian Database maintained by Gordon-Conwell Seminary has shown that the percentage of Catholics worldwide living in Europe has dropped from 65 percent in 1910 to less than one-quarter (24 percent) today. The largest share of Catholics today live in Latin America and the Caribbean (39 percent), while a substantial number also live in sub-Saharan Africa (16 percent) and the Asia-Pacific region (12 percent).
These changes have led to calls for a pope from one of these new centers of Catholic culture, but the makeup of the 117-member College of Cardinals may stack the deck in favor of another European pope. The conclave will be overwhelmingly European (with 28 cardinals from Italy alone, compared to South and Central America’s 19).
Second, a central question facing each new pontiff is how the church engages the broader culture. American Catholics are divided on whether the church should focus on conserving tradition or adapting to modern culture. According to Public Religion Research Institute, more than 4-in-10 (42 percent) American Catholics say that their church should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices; however, a majority say either that their church should adjust traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances (37 percent) or adopt modern beliefs and practices (16 percent).
Third, the new pontiff will likely determine which of two major streams of Catholic theology will be dominant for the foreseeable future: “Catholic social teaching,” which is focused primarily on economic justice, or Catholic teaching about “a culture of life,” which is focused largely on abortion. A solid majority (60 percent) of American Catholics agree that the Church’s public policy statements should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life. Less than one-third (31 percent) disagree, saying that the church should focus more on abortion and the right to life in its public policy statements, even if it means focusing less on social justice and the obligation to help the poor. This emphasis persists even among the most loyal churchgoers: a slim majority (51 percent) of Catholics who attend church at least weekly agree that the Church should emphasize social justice over abortion and the right to life.
Finally, the new pope will continue to face questions about the church’s stands on the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships, amidst rapid shifts toward more acceptance in the broader culture. Here generational divides among American Catholics suggest these tensions will be felt not just between the church and society but within the church itself. Overall, a majority (54 percent) of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry, including majorities of both white Catholics (54 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (57 percent). Importantly, there is a yawning 30-point gap between younger and older American Catholics on the issue of same-sex marriage. Nearly 7-in-10 (68 percent) younger Catholics (age 18-39) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, compared to only 37 percent of Catholic seniors (age 65 and older). Notably, opposition to same-sex marriage seems to be confined to America’s oldest Catholics: even a solid majority (60 percent) of Catholics under the age of 60 favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Moreover, the Catholic Church is facing these trends worldwide. Since 2000, more than a dozen nations have legalized same-sex marriage either nationwide or in certain jurisdictions-including nations like Spain, Argentina, and Mexico, where the Catholic Church has a strong presence. There is also strong momentum for legalization of same-sex marriage underway in France.
As the cardinals go into their conclave next month, their selection will tell us much about their intentions for how the church, for the foreseeable future, will wrestle with the shifting demographics and center of gravity of the laity, with the engagement of church tradition and the broader culture, and with the appropriate emphasis it draws from the rich set of Catholic teaching.
Or should he be? To hear the secular media tell it, what the Catholic Church really needs is someone more like . . . Barack Obama. From my New York Post column today:
The instant Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement, the American media went into politics mode — and got even that wrong.
And not just the horse-race angle about who might succeed the German-born Josef Ratzinger, 85, a fierce defender of Catholic theology known around the Vatican as God’s Rottweiler.
No, the focus instead was on whether the church — despite centuries of fidelity to a well-defined set of moral precepts — will take this opportunity to “expand its appeal” by compromising its teachings on birth control, homosexuality and divorce.
And, given the church’s decline in Europe but its dramatic rise in the Third World, whether the next pope would better “represent” the demographic shift if he were black or Hispanic.
Translation: Will the Catholic Church finally start imitating the Democratic Party? Why not?
Benedict XVI did the Church a favor by stepping down. The Church is both a sacred and a secular institution — church and state — and the last thing it needs in a leader today is an infirm monkish intellectual with an unfortunate personal history that made him a sitting duck for the Frankfurt School–influenced media who see either a racist or a Nazi under every bed. It’s long past time for the return of the Church Militant — the Church Suffering, after all, is supposed to be in Purgatory, not here on earth. Engagement with the enemy used to be viewed as a positive moral good, as Christ Himself illustrated when he threw the money-changers out of the Temple:
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves,and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
With the Church under attack from within (time to disband the Jesuits?) and without (the unholy alliance between Western secularism and Islam), private prayer and contemplation are not enough. As Paul says in Ephesians 6:12:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Let the wrestling begin. And if the New York Times and its fellow travelers don’t like it, tough.
Four years ago, on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States, Catholics were concerned about candidate Obama’s promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). At the time, I argued that the incoming president would not pursue FOCA, because he would not have the votes in Congress to get the legislation passed. Obama had shown himself to be a cautious politician, avoiding numerous controversial votes in both the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate, and I did not believe that he would expend precious political capital on a losing cause. (See What Will Barack Obama Do as President? for my full argument.)
In the end, as I predicted, President Obama supported abortion in ways that did not require a congressional vote, such as repealing the Mexico City policy that had forbidden the use of federal funds for abortion and other “family planning” services, but whenever the topic of abortion came up in connection with legislation that the administration was promoting (such as the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare), President Obama tried to downplay the issue or claim that abortion wasn’t involved. He wanted to avoid, whenever possible, any direct vote on abortion.
That does not mean, of course, that his support for abortion “rights” has been any less strong during his four years as president than it was during his time as an Illinois legislator and a U.S. senator. Given a platform by the University of Notre Dame, he went to America’s best-known Catholic university and made it clear where he stood. (See President Barack Obama at Notre Dame for my coverage of the Notre Dame controversy.) While denying that ObamaCare was meant to cover abortion services, he fought hard behind the scenes to defeat an amendment sponsored by pro-life Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives to make sure that it would not. And even after the Affordable Care Act passed with the amendment, President Obama, through his nominally Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, snuck abortion back into ObamaCare through the contraception mandate, which provides for coverage of abortifacient drugs. As of January 1, 2013, business owners who have moral objections to providing their employees with insurance that covers the cost of drugs designed to kill unborn human life either have to act against their consciences or pay fines. In the case of the largest such business, Hobby Lobby, those fines amount to $1.3 million per day. (Hobby Lobby has managed to avoid them while it challenges the contraception mandate in court, but only by buying a few months’ reprieve by switching health plans.)
All of this is consistent with how I predicted President Obama would act four years ago. And so, sadly, I feel fairly confident in predicting that President Obama will continue on this path in his second term. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court itself strikes down the contraception mandate as unconstitutional, President Obama will offer no accommodation to employers with moral objections to contraception. Worse yet, should the Supreme Court uphold the contraception mandate, I believe that President Obama–once again, through his nominally Catholic HHS secretary–will expand the scope of that mandate to cover even more abortifacient drugs and, eventually, direct abortions. (It would not even surprise me if he hinted at such an expansion in his Second Inaugural Address today, falling, as it does, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.)
I hope that I am wrong, but I see no reason for that hope. As long as President Obama does not have to take such a policy before Congress, where he might lose on a vote (as he likely would have on FOCA), he will continue to push the boundaries of abortion “rights.” And yet, sadly, as his policies increase the number of abortions in the United States through both chemical and mechanical means, his supporters (including the 50 percent of American Catholic voters who cast their ballots for him in November 2012) will continue to claim that he is not pro-abortion, but simply “pro-choice,” as if the choice in question involves something other than the destruction of an unborn human life.
To Hobby Lobby, and to every other company and religious organization that objects to the contraception mandate, President Obama offers only one choice: Violate your conscience, or face fines designed to force you out of business.
Welcome to Barack Obama’s America: a country of openness and inclusion, so long as you think exactly as President Obama does.
More on President Obama, Abortion, and the Contraception Mandate:
The Catholic Church in the US made the front-page many times in 2012. With a presidential election in November, it was no surprise that many of the stories that grabbed our attention related to politics. I asked a group of Catholics—priests, nonprofit heads, campus ministers, students, writers, politicians, and average churchgoers—what the biggest stories were in 2012. Below, in no particular order, are sixteen big stories from 2012. But it’s not everything. What would you add? Tell us in the comments section.
1. Barack Obama wins the Catholic vote—again
Despite strong pressure from some Catholic bishops to encourage their flocks to abstain from voting for the president, Obama captures the Catholic vote 52%-45%, thanks in large part to the overwhelming support the president received from Latinos. Read more.
2. Both candidates for VP are Catholic
For the first time in our nation’s history, both nominees for the Vice Presidency are Roman Catholics. Read more.
3. “Nuns on the Bus” speak up for the poor
A group of liberal, social justice oriented nuns made headlines as they traveled across the country on a bus to protest budget cuts that would hurt the poor. Read more.
4. Cardinal Dolan prays at RNC, and then DNC, too
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan angered some on the Catholic left when he accepted a speaking role at the Republican National Convention. He then agreed to pray at the Democratic Convention as well. Though similar, Dolan highlighted different themes in each prayer. Read more.
5. Sr. Simone Campbell speaks at DNC
Campbell offered a very political pep talk at the Democratic Convention, scolding Rep. Paul Ryan several times, though not mentioning Jesus. Read more.
6. Yale professor silenced by Rome
Sr. Margaret Farley, a professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, was censured by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for her book “Just Love” for being “not consistent with authentic Catholic theology.” Read more.
7. Cardinal O’Malley helps defeat legalized suicide
Voters in Massachusetts were given an opportunity to legalize physician-assisted suicide, but a broad coalition led, in part, by O’Malley convinced them to reject the ballot question. Read more.
8. Same-sex marriage wins out over bishops’ objections
Bishops in four states lobbied against same-sex marriage initiatives, but voters rejected their pleas, passing same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland, Washington state, and tossing out an amendment in Minnesota that would have prohibited it. Bishops insist they won’t change stance or tactics. A confirmation student in Minnesota who expressed support for same-sex marriage on Facebook was asked to leave the program. Read more.
9. Moderate and progressive bishops take a stand at USCCB meetings
Though the whole crop of US bishops have been written off by some as conservatives, some of the remaining moderate voices took a stand at the USCCB fall meetings, rejecting an economic letter that, they said, didn’t go far enough in voicing concern for the poor. Read more.
10. Catholic entities sue Obama Administration over HHS mandate
Over 40 Catholic institutions, including hospitals, dioceses and universities, filed lawsuits against the Obama Administration in an effort to receive an exemption from government-mandated employer-based health insurance for contraception coverage. Read more.
11. Some bishops suggest Catholics voting for Obama is sinful
With passions running high before the election, some bishops suggested voting for Obama or the Democratic Party could be tantamount to assisting evil. Read more.
12. Dolan and Colbert talk faith
Host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” and New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan spent an evening with America’s Jim Martin at Fordham University talking faith, humor, and even Catholic teaching. Read more.
13. Knights of Columbus bankroll unsuccessful marriage campaigns
Led by Carl Anderson, the Knights of Columbus was one of the largest contributors fighting against same-sex marriage, spending $6.2 million since 2005 and up to $2.5 million in 2012 only. Read more.
14. Immigration on the docket for 2013
Latino Catholics voted overwhelmingly for President Obama and are demanding that he spearhead comprehensive immigration, an issue long championed by the church. Read more.
15. Widow of Catholic pol barred from Catholic diocese
The widow of former Massachusetts Senator and lifelong Catholic Ted Kennedy, Vicki, had been invited to give the commencement address at a Catholic college in the Diocese of Worcester. After the bishop there expressed concern, the school withdrew its invitation. Kennedy spoke at the Jesuit Boston College Law School without any issue. Read more.
16. Catholic pastor leads community in mourning
Msgr. Robert Weiss is pastor of the single Catholic church in Newtown, Conn., and has been a presence for grieving parents, siblings, and town residents since the horror that unfolded there last week. He was among the first on the scene, and many of the victims attend his church. Read more.
Michael J. O’Loughlin
This morning, Time announced its pick for 2012 Person of the Year: President Barack Obama.
Each year since 2010, we here at NCR have also chosen a person of the year based upon who has impacted the Catholic news world the most.
Our first Person of the Year, Daughter of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan, “showed extraordinary leadership and courage” in the national debate on health care reform through the Catholic Health Association, of which she is president and CEO. Last year, our editorial board selected St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a Fordham University theologian condemned for her book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, which the editorial board said “reminds us that God is engaged in our world and that Catholic theology, despite sometimes regressive pressures, remains active in our lives and in our church.”
NCR‘s editorial board has already selected our Person of the Year for 2012, though you have to wait until Dec. 26 to find out who was selected.
Until then, we open the floor to you! Below is the list of Person of the Year finalists who were discussed for the title. Who would you choose? The comments boards are, as ever, yours.
Is this a “Catholic moment”? Six of the nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic, the vice president and former vice presidential candidate are Catholic, and Catholic moral theology, specifically the Church’s opposition to contraception, has hit mainstream. In venues like the New York Times and the Huffington Post, as well as more traditional and conservative web sites, Catholic thinkers have weighed the proper approach to poverty, abortion, and marriage, pushing into matters—Is Paul Ryan a Randian? What is “intrinsic evil”?—normally found in footnotes.
It’s hard to be a Catholic, survey this scene, and not feel proud. It is encouraging to see such a profound body of thought migrate beyond Catholic forums and into the national conversation. And yet, a downside looms. Catholics today, at least those who follow Catholic life at the public level, are lured constantly into conflict. Starting with the University of Notre Dame’s 2009 invitation to President Barack Obama, and continuing with the quarrelling over healthcare, the last few years have felt like a Pentecost without the Spirit, a wedding with no wine.
Given the rivalry, given the caustic disagreement, it might be helpful to return to a few basic and, I hope, unifying thoughts about the faith born from the empty tomb.
Election season discussion has centered on ideas, or interpretations of theological and moral principles. But discipleship does not hinge upon minute points of moral theology or constitutional law. At the core of Christianity is a person, the Word become flesh, God become man. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, Christianity is fundamentally an encounter with Jesus, not an ideology. If scholars and writers disregard this personal dimension, the Christian faith will have all the charm of tax law. It will strike people as simply a scheme of regulation and not a relationship that opens their lives to hope, freedom, and joy.
On this theme, I return frequently to an essay by historian Eamon Duffy from his book Faith of Our Fathers. In a prologue titled, “When Belief Fails,” Duffy writes that at about the time he finished graduate school, he was not only religious but “successfully religious.” Highly educated, Duffy “met and liked and talked through many long days and nights with people who did not believe,” but he “never encountered anything that seemed half so rich or so satisfying as my inherited Catholicism.”
His assurance would not last. His good friend, an old priest, died. The death exiled Duffy into a terrifying loneliness and instilled
a horrifying realization that one day there would be nothing . . . And with the horror came the realization that God was gone; there was no God, and I had no faith. All the conditioning, all the arguments and emotional scaffolding I had built around and into my life were as if they had never been.
Duffy continued to go to Mass, and his faith began to return. But it was not by constructing more arguments. It was through gradually appreciating, and finally internalizing, that God had redeemed his despair through His self-offering in the Paschal Mystery. The death of Christ “was not an end to his [Christ’s] loving, but the means of its infinite expansion.” Broken by life, renewed by grace, Duffy was empowered to say, “I believe.”
Duffy’s confession reveals the fragility of a kind of academic faith—a faith that is largely untested, and which in its conceptual tidiness and seeming comprehensiveness seduces us, and others, to think we are “successfully religious.” I could say the right things, and think the right things, but what have I really accomplished? How prepared am I for what life may bring?
When evil rips through the mundane and shatters our confidence, issues that normally captivate can become mockingly irrelevant. In those moments, only a few questions matter: “Can I trust in reality? Is there a God? In what, or in whom, can I hope?” When someone falls to this point, one is often faced not with the choice of darkness on the one hand and light on the other. Rather, it is a matter of two darknesses: the darkness offered by the world, and the darkness offered by God. And it is into His emptiness, the shadow of the cross, that we are beckoned to enter.
Catholic efforts to dignify the culture and persuade people to embrace Christian values will stall if Catholics and other Christians do not empathize with these shadowed moments and primal questions. If today some men and women seem slow to adhere to some moral or political teaching of the Catholic faith, it is perhaps because there is a deeper restlessness that is left unaddressed. It is perhaps because so much Catholic commentary seems detached from the concerns that cause people anxiety.
This is not to devalue the need to think critically and theologically about the more targeted issues that line a ballot. Rather, it is to recall that Christian faith is a multidimensional project that involves the mysterious marriage between creature and creator, between finite and infinite. It is absolutely irreducible to a vote, a viewpoint, or compliance with a platform. If we are tempted to doubt this, we need only listen to what Jesus said to a crucified criminal:
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Matt Emerson’s essays have appeared in America, Commonweal, First Things, and at Patheos.com. He directs admissions and teaches theology at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA. You can find the rest of his work at www.emersoninwords.com.
Bishop James D. Conley has 2,413 friends on Facebook.
His Twitter profile sports a picture of Herbie Husker with a Jayhawk head.
Clearly, the new leader of Lincoln’s Catholic diocese is not your average cleric.
But when it comes to his faith, make no mistake, Bishop Conley is a man of firm conviction and religious principles.
Conley, the ninth bishop to lead Lincoln’s 125-year-old diocese, officially took the helm on Nov. 7 — the morning after the re-election of President Barack Obama.
Conley will be installed formally at 2 p.m. Nov. 20 in a ceremony at Cathedral of the Risen Christ Church. To date, 38 bishops from around the country have RSVPed to attend.
Conley, 57, replaces retiring Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who led the diocese for 20 years.
Whereas Bruskewitz grew up immersed in the Catholic faith, Conley grew up Presbyterian.
“I was basically a happy pagan — indifferent to God and religion,” he said this past September when his appointment to the Lincoln diocese was first announced.
Conley converted to Catholicism halfway through his junior year at the University of Kansas. He was 20.
“I read my way into the Catholic Church,” Conley said, referring to the university’s integrated humanities program in which he read all the classical great books. Year two of the program was dedicated to reading the works of Christian authors. Conley said there he found “truth, goodness and beauty” through the literature, music and art of Catholics, and he came to embrace the Catholic Church.
At first, his surprised parents thought it was just a fad.
“But they quickly realized it was a serious decision I had made,” Conley said.
And years later, his parents converted to Catholicism. Conley, himself, baptized them in 1991 — by that time he had been a priest for six years.
But Conley said when he converted to Catholicism, he never considered entering the priesthood.
Then in 1979, a 24-year-old Conley joined his friends on a road trip to Des Moines, Iowa, where Pope John Paul II was leading a Mass.
“At that Mass, it was the first time I thought God might be calling me to be a priest,” he said.
Three months later, Conley started seminary.
In May 1985, he was ordained in the Diocese of Wichita, Kan.
“Ironically, I was in seminary with a number of Lincoln seminarians,” Conley said. Now, after 25 years, he is reunited with many former classmates who are priests in Lincoln.
His pastoral career has taken him around the world, serving parishes in Wichita, Kan., as well as Catholic students enrolled at American universities. He also was director of Respect for Life ministries, a theology instructor, a Vatican official, and ultimately, a bishop upon his 2008 ordination and appointment as auxiliary bishop to the Archdiocese of Denver. When the archdiocese bishop was appointed to lead the Philadelphia diocese, Conley became apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese.
Reflecting on those 10 months as interim leader, Conley said it prepared him to step into a diocese of his own.
But the Lincoln diocese is rather unique.
“Bishop Bruskewitz is a very strong leader, and I have admired that,” Conley said.
“He has led the Diocese of Lincoln with great vision and clear teaching,” he said, noting that its schools, health care system and religious vocational programs all are growing and strong.
“I want to continue the great legacy that I have been given,” Conley said.
What is noticeably different between the two bishops is their style.
Bruskewitz has always been clear, concise, direct and unyielding in his orthodoxy. He can seem a foreboding figure — especially when crossed. He always has been resolute in his convictions and commitment to Catholic education and health care.
And Bruskewitz is proudly ultra-conservative in his views of God’s word and the expectations of the Catholic Church.
Those principles have earned Lincoln the reputation as the nation’s most conservative diocese. It is the only diocese in the country not to allow girl altar servers. And it is the only diocese not participating in annual sex abuse audits instituted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to address the issue of sexual abuse by clergy.
“I don’t like the terms conservative and liberal,” Conley said. “It has so many connotations and mostly political.
“I consider myself first of all Catholic. To be truly authentic Catholic and faithful to the mind of the church is my goal. If it is considered conservative by some, so be it,” he said.
“Being a convert to the Catholic faith, like any convert who comes late — I am in love with the traditions of Catholicism, the rituals of our Catholic heritage. But I am open, too. As Jesus says, ‘Seek the truth, and the truth will set us free.’ I am open to anything that is true and willing to listen and consider ideas and truths that people bring.”
Conley’s stature and style are a sharp contrast to Bruskewitz’s. He comes across as an everyday kind of guy; an avid hiker, biker and runner, he has accompanied college students and parishioners on treks into the Colorado mountains. He has completed six marathons — including races in Monaco and Paris.
“There still may be a couple more left in me,” he said with a grin.
Soft-spoken and affable, he pages through photo albums, joking about his 1970s long hair; pointing to himself and his boyhood friend Paul Coakley, now archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, back when they were baseball teammates; and talking fondly about his families — the one he grew up with and those of the church.
His time in the Archdiocese of Denver has taught him about finding new common ground.
“The church changed and compromised in an effort to flourish in a liberal and progressive environment,” Conley said of the Denver archdiocese. “I can bring that experience … to be a voice in the larger culture, particularly with life issues — marriage and family life and the fight for religious liberty.”
But make no mistake about it, Conley is unwavering in his conviction that some issues are non-negotiable. He sees the president’s national health care program “a real threat” to the Catholic Church’s work in society.
“With the president being re-elected, we are going to have to continue the battle for religious freedom and protection of our rights,” Conley said.
Conley said the church cannot compromise when it comes to abortion, contraception and sterilization.
“We cannot compromise the issues that are intrinsic to who we are,” he said.
He sees America at a pivotal point in history.
“We have to look at ourselves. Who are we? Who do we want to be in America? What kind of country do we want to be,” he said.
As for the Diocese of Lincoln, Conley sees a welcoming home for Catholics and converts of all ages and races — particularly Catholic college students and the Hispanic community. In Denver, where 51 percent of the Catholics are Hispanic, he worked closely with parishioners on immigrant issues.
“I spent six weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico, studying Spanish to get rid of my Italian accent,” he said.
He’s also eager to begin traveling to the 138 churches in the 23,844 square miles that make up the diocese.
“Within six months, I hope to have met a large part of the Diocese of Lincoln, along with the priests that are serving it,” Conley said.
In the meantime, parishioners can always follow him — on Twitter and Facebook.
“Pope Benedict has … asked us as priests and bishops to use every means available to us to communicate the gospel for a lot of people. New digital media is the way they receive that information. We have to be there,” Conley said.
“But (digital media) is a means to an end — not an end in itself. There is no substitute for personal encounters and one-on-one evangelism.”
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