On second thought …

Retired Milwuakee Archbishop Rembert Weakland has stirred the waters lately with his new book in which he discusses — in fairly lengthy detail — his homosexuality. The New York Times was the first to break that story, and now Laurie Goodstein is back with Weakland 2.0 and his plans not to retire to a New Jersey monastery. Seems the monastery is attached to a boy’s prep school, and some were nervous that having Weakland close by might (negatively) impact their fundraising campaign. From Laurie’s story: The Benedictine monks at St. Mary’s Abbey administer the adjacent Delbarton School, a Roman Catholic preparatory school for boys, where last year’s tuition was nearly $25,000.

It’s elementary, my dear

With Sonia Sotomayor poised to take a seat on the Supreme Court and become the sixth Catholic justice, the Wall Street Journal asks, why, in a country that’s only 25 percent Catholic, the faith has such a outsized presence on the court. Douglas Kmiec, the prominent jurist and Catholic Obama supporter, told the WSJ it starts in Catholic schools: “I think it’s because we have a really good elementary school system. Habits of the mind are formed early and here is a young woman growing up in a single parent household in the Bronx, in a tough neighborhood, under difficult circumstances, obviously not being given any great supplement to her educational enterprise other than the kind of discipline normally associated with the schools the Catholic church runs in America.” Kmiec also said he sees a bit of Catholic schooling in Sotomayor’s notoriously tough approach to lawyers who argue before her. “If lawyers show up and they’re not representing clients to the best of their ability, she lets them know it.

Strange bedfellows

Gay marriage, and the fight over legal recognition thereof, has brought together some strange bedfellows, the NY Times reports. Ted Olson and David Boies, the opposing counselors in Bush v. Gore, the 2000 Supreme Court case that essentially handed the presidency to George W, have filed a federal suit – together – to overturn California’s Prop 8. “Ted and I, as everybody knows, have been on different sides in court on a couple of issues,” said Boies, who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, told the NYT, “but this is not something that is a partisan issue. This is something that is a civil rights issue.” Gay rights leaders, though, who have spent years devising a legal strategy, are not exactly thrilled about the move.

Obama nominees: from theology to diplomacy

The White House has announced nominations of two theologians to serve as ambassadors for the administration. Miguel Diaz, a professor of theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota, has been nominated for the post of ambassador to the Vatican. He is a board member of the Catholic Theological Society of America and a past president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States. Also announced: The Rev. Michael A. Battle Sr., president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, nominated as U.S. representative to the African Union with the rank of ambassador. Battle was vice president of the American Committee on Africa and a U.S. Army Reserve chaplain before he began leading the consortium of African-American theological schools in Atlanta.

American exorcist plies his lonely trade

(UNDATED) Pity the poor exorcist, caught between evil spirits eager to inhabit human bodies and a skeptical society loath to believe demons exist outside of movie theaters. Even church leaders and clergy look askance at exorcists as peddlers of a practice best left in the Middle Ages. Most American exorcists, particularly those appointed by the Catholic Church, keep a low-profile, hesitating to open themselves — and their church– to ridicule and quacks. But not the Rev. Gary Thomas. The loquacious, 55-year-old Silicon Valley priest is eager to dish about exorcism, the “apocalyptic times” we live in, and even to accuse Catholics who deny demonic possession — including bishops — of renouncing fundamental Christian dogma.

For Muslims, a final act of dignity from the living for the dead

PORTLAND, Ore. — Judy Nikukar was in her 40s and had been a Muslim for 15 years before someone invited her to help wash a body before burial. Nikukar considered whether she wanted to do it. She had seen only two dead bodies before — she was 6 when her great-grandmother died; 18 when her grandmother passed away. “I’d lived my life separated from death,” she said.

COMMENTARY: U2 does it again

(UNDATED) In 1976, a group of Dublin teenagers with questionable ability but unquestioned passion started making music. Thirty-three years later, Bono, Adam Clayton, The Edge and Larry Mullen (now known to the world as U2), have sold more than 145 million albums and have won more Grammy Awards (22) than any other band. Rolling Stone magazine gave U2 the No. 22 spot on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. Their lyrics are consistently influenced by their spiritual journey, and more specifically, by their Christian roots.

Miguel Diaz Cubano

One other politically significant fact about Diaz: He’s Cuban-American. I would not be at all surprised to find him playing a role in normalizing Cuban-American relations–something Obama has already begun to do, and which the Vatican, with its own religious agenda, wants to foster. Diaz brings to the table a particular sensitivity to the role of religion in creating communal identity in the Cuban-American community, whose support will be essential for any Obama-led normalization. To give a sense of this, here’s some of Diaz’s review of Tom Tweed’s 1997 book on a Marian shrine in Miami, Our Lady of the Exile: This book provides an excellent but limited introduction in the social, cultural, political, and religious landscape that shapes the identity of Cuban exiles in Miami. Although few would question that the Miami shrine to Our lady of Charity serves as a central gathering place for remembering and reconceiving an exiled identity, there are other landscapes in Miami associated with the exiled Virgin of Charity, the exiled Cuban community, and the children of those exiles equally worthy of scholarly consideration.

Liberty University says no to student Democratic club

(RNS) Liberty University is drawing criticism for its decision to no longer recognize a Democratic Party student club as an official campus organization. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the university and son of its late founder, said the club has not been disbanded and can continue to meet on campus but will no longer be officially recognized. “Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children,” he said in a statement posted Monday (May 25) on the Web site of the Lynchburg, Va., school. “Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to any student group that advances causes contrary to its mission.” Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, issued a statement criticizing the move.

South African church still not `moving beyond apartheid’

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (RNS/ENI) A South African church that was suspended from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1982 because of its support for apartheid is “still not ready for readmission,” leaders of the Geneva-based Reformed group were told. The Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika (Dutch Reformed Church of Africa), or NHKA, had been excluded from the global Reformed alliance because of the theological and biblical backing the church gave to the system of white minority rule that ended in the early 1990s. The church has applied to rejoin WARC, but the alliance’s executive committee said in 2005 that the NHKA first needed to demonstrate to the churches in South Africa and the world that it has renounced apartheid “fully and completely”. The Rev. Setri Nyomi, WARC’s general secretary, told the group’s executive committee on May 23 that a WARC team had visited South Africa in March to meet the denomination. “Our discussions showed a deep division in the church about moving beyond apartheid,” said Nyomi, a Presbyterian from Ghana, in his report.

Former Episcopal priest indicted on theft charges

(RNS) A Colorado priest accused of stealing money from his Episcopal parish before he left the denomination to join a rival church has been indicted on 20 counts of felony theft by a grand jury. The Rev. Donald Armstrong is accused of embezzling nearly $400,000 from the parish of Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs while he was rector there. The 60-year-old priest, who led some parishioners to leave the Episcopal Church for a more conservative Anglican branch in 2007, has denied wrongdoing. The Colorado Springs Police Department said in a statement on May 22 that a “long and exhaustive investigation by CSPD and the Fourth Judicial District Grand Jury revealed there was reason to believe that Rev. Armstrong embezzled money from the church.”

Vatican Radio to accept advertising to help pay bills

VATICAN CITY (RNS) After 78 years of broadcasting the pope’s message around the world, Vatican Radio is to break with tradition and take paid commercials for the first time. The move to mix jingles and advertising with religious programming will help balance the books at the station, which employs 500 people, broadcasts in 47 languages and costs more than $27 million a year to run. But officials insisted only “ideologically” sound ads will be broadcast after first being filtered by an Italian communications firm that specializes in advertising through Catholic media. “It is important to help Vatican Radio be present around the world and to spread the voice of the holy father,” said Monsignor Renato Boccardo, secretary general of the Vatican City state administration. “But Vatican Radio will have the final word on accepting commercials or not.”

Ambassador to Vatican-Designate Miguel Diaz

It’s St. John’s theology prof. Miguel Diaz, and here’s the thumbnail just put out by the White House (with his surname oddly misspelled as DC-az).Miguel H. Diaz, Nominee for Ambassador to the Holy See Dr. Miguel Diaz is a Professor of Theology at St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota. He is the co-editor of the book “From the Heart of Our People: Explorations in Catholic Systematic Theology” and author of “On Being Human: U.S. Hispanic and Rahnerian Perspectives”, named “Best Book of the Year” by the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Diaz taught Religious Studies and Theology at Barry University, the University of Dayton and the University of Notre Dame.

Southwest families discover hidden Jewish roots

(UNDATED) Growing up in Wyoming to Catholic and Protestant parents, Isabelle Medina-Sandoval watched the women in her family practice strange customs — washing off babies’ baptismal water and setting aside some dough when they made tortillas. “As a teenager, I always had so many questions about spirituality, I always wanted to figure out the puzzle,” she said from her home in Santa Fe, N.M. But it wasn’t until she was in her 20s that she heard the word “Marrano,” one of the terms referring to Jews who were forced to convert after the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and their descendants. They were Catholics who often secretly practiced Jewish customs for generations. Medina-Sandoval’s family’s quirky practices suddenly made a lot more sense. “Once I started looking, there was never any question,” said Medina-Sandoval, a poet and writer.

10 minutes with … Richard Stearns

(UNDATED) About a decade ago, Richard Stearns made a dramatic career change, moving from the top, Jaguar-driving post with Lenox, a fine tableware company, to the presidency of World Vision U.S., an evangelical relief organization. In a new book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” Stearns, 58, talks about the transformation in his own life and the one he thinks churches need to make — from solely emphasizing evangelism to embracing a “whole gospel” that puts equal focus on the poor. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q: You spoke of your struggle to move from being the head of Lenox to helping the world’s poor through World Vision. Bottom line: What made you make that move?