Tony Blair: Catholic by Christmas?

Word around the Vatican is that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will finally become a Roman Catholic this December, in a private ceremony at the London residence of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. Longstanding rumors of a Blair conversion gained credibility this past June when the British leader, whose wife Cherie is a Catholic, visited Pope Benedict in the Vatican. It was widely noted at the time that Blair gave the pope three framed photographs of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th-century English convert to Catholicism. And speaking of Newman, Britain’s Telegraph reported earlier this month that the Vatican is on the verge of attributing a miracle to him, which would make possible his beatification and eventually his canonization as a saint.

Flag Folding Flap

The Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a clarification of its policy concerning flag-folding ceremonies that occur at military funerals. Words recited as the flag is folded have contained religious references, one of which prompted a recent complaint to the White House, Fox News reported. Now, the controversy over that complaint has led to the clarification. See Fox News report here. See VA clarification statement here.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Former RNS editor Gerald Renner Dies at 75 (RNS) Gerald Renner, a former editor of Religion News Service and a longtime religion writer for The Hartford Courant, died Wednesday (Oct. 24) of cancer. He was 75. Known for both investigative journalism and off-beat stories, Renner continued his writing career after retiring from the Connecticut newspaper in 2000 after 15 years.

Frank Rich on Dobson, Perkins & Giuliani

Frank Rich’s searing indictment of Tony Perkins, James Dobson and other “mullahs” of the religious right (his words, not mine) is well worth a read, even if you disagree with either his premise or his conclusion. Rich asks a logical question about the “Values Vote” crowd heading into the 2008 elections: If they really believed uncompromisingly in their issues and principles, they would have long since endorsed either Sam Brownback, the zealous Kansas senator fond of using fetus photos as political props, or Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who spent 15 years as a Baptist preacher, calls abortion a “holocaust” and believes in intelligent design rather than evolution. But they gave Senator Brownback so little moral and financial support that he folded his candidacy a week ago. And they continue to stop well short of embracing Mr. Huckabee, no matter how many rave reviews his affable personality receives on the campaign trail. They shun him because they know he’ll lose, and they would rather compromise principle than back a loser.

For the Bible Tells Me So … Or Does It?

Beckie Supiano’s story about a new pro-gay documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So,” is available, courtesy of our friends over at the Dallas Morning News. The documentary traces each family’s experience of wrestling with how their child’s sexuality fits in with their moral and religious beliefs. Some come to accept it; others learn to love their children while continuing to believe homosexuality is wrong. One parent’s strained relationship with her daughter ends with the girl’s suicide. That mother, Mary Lou Wallner, became a gay rights activist.

Old Latin Mass news

An Italian magazine reports that the Vatican will soon issue a set of regulations regarding celebration of the “extraordinary rite,” commonly known as the old Latin Mass. In a document released this last July, Pope Benedict permitted regular celebration of the so-called Tridentine rite wherever there is a “stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition.” Nevertheless, a number of bishops in the U.S., Italy and elsewhere have balked at letting priests avail themselves of this new freedom; the new rules should make it clearer when they must do so. So reports Ignazio Ingrao in the weekly magazine Panorama, who also writes that the Vatican might be about to make changes to the 1962 Latin Missal, including removal of the controversial prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the liturgy for Good Friday. Ingrao also reports that traditionalist followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (who broke with Rome in large part over the eclipse of the old Latin Mass, after Vatican II made Mass in local languages the norm) are hoping that Benedict will revoke Lefebvre’s excommunication as early as December.

Vatican pushes hot buttons at the U.N.

The Holy See’s representative to the United Nations has touched on a couple of controversial and politically loaded topics in recent days: the environment and the war on terrorism. On Monday, Archbishop Celestino Migliore called protecting the environment a “moral imperative” that “must not be sacrificed on the altar of economic development.” He noted that the poor typically suffer most from environmental damage: “Unable to do otherwise, they live in polluted lands, near toxic waste dumps, or squat in public lands and other people’s properties without any access to basic services.” This is a significant statement considering its source, since Vatican officials have often stressed a different (though not necessarily contradictory) point: that environmental protection should not take priority over improving conditions for the world’s poor. Last Friday, Migliore said that governments must not cut legal corners even in the urgent cause of fighting terrorism: “The rule of law at times is difficult to apply to terrorists who have little or no respect for it.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Conservative wins second election as S.C. bishop (RNS) The Episcopal Church on Monday (Oct. 29) approved the election of a conservative priest as bishop of South Carolina, one year after officials nullified his election amid fears he would lead the diocese to secede from the national church. The Rev. Mark Lawrence, 56, formerly a priest in the traditionalist diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., has twice been elected bishop of South Carolina. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori threw out the first election last March, ruling that Lawrence did not receive enough “consents,” or approval from a majority of U.S. dioceses, by the required date.

Anglicans, Catholics still not united on Mary

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Two years after Anglicans and Roman Catholics said they had reached a common understanding on the Virgin Mary, there’s still something about Mary that doesn’t quite sit right with some Anglicans. Specifically, some Anglicans remain skittish about Catholic dogmas on the Immaculate Conception (that Jesus’ mother was born free of original sin) and the Assumption (that she was “assumed body and soul” into heaven at the end of her life). During a recent meeting of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the USA, Episcopal and Catholic leaders said the agreement is “significant” but could have done more to ease Anglican concerns about Catholic teaching. “As a group, we did not find the document entirely satisfactory,” a statement from the meeting said, noting that “our greatest point of discussion and contention” were over the two dogmas about Mary.

Author explores ties between religion and magic

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Maybe it’s their pointy incisors. Or their preference for darkness. Could be their reputation for literally sucking the life out of their victims. Whatever it is, vampires don’t have the best reputation. So you might be surprised to learn that vampires have ethics that prevent them from taking energy (not all seek blood) from people without their knowledge.

COMMENTARY: Rest for the weary

c. 2007 Religion News Service KEARNEY, Neb. _ When I congratulated a chorister on her choir’s excellent performance at the opening service of an Episcopal diocesan convention, she was pleased. They work hard, she said. “I also do the altar guild,” she added with a mild grimace.

Evangelical Association Board: Huckabee, Yes; Hillary, No

A survey of the 100-member board of the National Association of Evangelicals finds that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s name came up most when they were asked their first choice among the current presidential candidates. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s name surfaced as the one least desired. See NAE report on survey here.

There musn’t be a morning-after

Pope Benedict told a delegation of Catholic pharmacists that they should exercise their right of “conscientious objection” by refusing to provide “products that have clearly immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia.” Benedict specifically warned against the use of “certain molecules that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo.” The statement follows a controversial decision by Connecticut’s bishops to allow that state’s Catholic hospitals to administer the so-called morning-after pill, Plan B, to rape victims without an ovulation test. The church permits contraception in cases of rape (something I didn’t know until I read this), but the bishops’ critics warn that giving Plan B to an already pregnant woman could provoke an abortion, which the church forbids in all cases. Yet the pope’s remarks do not necessarily refer to Connecticut in particular.