The majority speaks

This just in, from the Dept. of Things We’ve Been Waiting to Hear (But Haven’t) for Months … You all remember the dust-up in May over President Obama’s honorary degree from Notre Dame. Some 75 or 80 U.S. bishops publicly blasted Notre Dame for the honor, saying a pro-choice president has no business get a degree of any kind of a Catholic institution. But there’s something like 300 or so bishops in the U.S., and many wondered where the other 225 bishops were.

Penitent premier?

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will join a religious procession this evening that the Vatican has decreed will earn participants remission of punishment for their sins. The announcement has aroused speculation that Berlusconi is seeking forgiveness for his alleged sexual misdeeds, which have been the cause of much scandal — and amusement — over recent months. However, since the procession in question will take place in the earthquake-stricken city of L’Aquila, where Berlusconi has made many well publicized visits recently, the more obvious motivation for today’s pilgrimage is electoral politics. In any case, Berlusconi can’t qualify for the promised plenary indulgence without taking Communion. Amd he can’t do that because he has divorced and remarried — and is about to get divorced yet again.

ESSAY: For many Americans, being Catholic means being Irish Catholic

(UNDATED) The patron saint of Ireland graces America’s most celebrated cathedral, and the country’s flagship Catholic university calls its student athletes the “Fighting Irish.” Somewhere between these poles of piety and pugnacity, between St. Patrick and the University of Notre Dame, rests the soul of Irish Catholicism — and, by extension, the soul of the American Catholic Church. For more than a century, being Catholic meant you were Irish almost by default. The Irish manned the hierarchy, built the parishes, and kept the schools and hospitals running. “The Irish dominated the church,” said Jay P. Dolan, a former history professor at Notre Dame and expert on the Catholic Church in America.

Bishops v. health reform

David Kirkpatrick has a good piece in today’s NYT outlining opposition to health reform on the Catholic right generally, and in particular among some bishops in the Chaput wing of the church. Exhibit one is a diocesan letter from Sioux City Bishop Walker Nikless, who served as Archbishop Chaput’s vicar general in Denver. Nikless begins, of course, with the life issues.First
and most important, the Church will not accept any legislation that
mandates coverage, public or private, for abortion, euthanasia, or
embryonic stem-cell research. We refuse to be made complicit in these evils, which frankly contradict what “health care” should mean.It would be good to know if the bishop would like to pull the plug on Medicaid, which mandates (i.e. provides) publicly funded coverage of abortion services in cases of rape, incest, and where the life of the pregnant woman is at stake.To be sure, figuring out how to deal with abortion in the health reform effort is complicated. (Here’s Steve Waldman’s latest effort to sort things out.) But important as abortion is per se to the Catholic right, there’s little doubt that it’s also serving as a wedge issue for a broader ideological agenda–one at odds with the church’s own social justice tradition, most recently articulated in Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

The shadow of Chapaquiddick

After hearing about Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death yesterday, I tweaked my Facebook status update to say something along these lines: “Imagining the conversation JFK, RFK and EMK are having right now …” I decided not to include the second part: “wherever it is that Kennedys go when they die.” An old friend from high school chimed in with a remark about a mob meeting. “Too early?” she asked.

Norwegian elected to lead World Council of Churches

GENEVA (RNS/ENI) A Norwegian theologian was elected Thursday (Aug. 27) to lead the World Council of Churches. The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, an ordained pastor in the Church of Norway, was elected general secretary during a week-long meeting of the WCC’s Central Committee, its main governing body. Tveit, 48, is currently general secretary of the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations. Tveit will succeed the Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Kenyan Methodist who was the first African to hold the post, who will step down at the end of the year.

WCC head calls Israeli occupation a ‘sin against God’

GENEVA (RNS/ENI) The outgoing general secretary of the World Council of Churches said Wednesday (Aug. 26) that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories should be declared a “sin against God.” “Occupation, along with the concomitant humiliation of a whole people for over six decades, constitutes not just economic and political crimes but, like anti-Semitism, it is a sin against God,” the Rev. Samuel Kobia said in his final report to the WCC’s Central Committee. He noted that at its founding assembly in Amsterdam in 1948, the WCC had declared that anti-Semitism is a “sin against God.” Kobia said, “Are we ready to say that occupation is also a sin against God?”

Judge rules against Ky. reliance on God for protection

WASHINGTON (RNS) A Kentucky court has ruled that a state law that declares the state Office of Homeland Security cannot do its job without God’s help is unconstitutional. The New Jersey-based group American Atheists filed suit last December against the Commonwealth of Kentucky for a 2002 law that says “the safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.” Edwin Kagin, national legal director for American Atheists, said the language crossed an inappropriate line. “It is not merely acknowledging God, it is requiring Kentuckians to rely on that God,” Kagin said. Of particular concern to American Atheists was a 2006 law that required a plaque containing the “Almighty God” language to be placed at the entrance to Kentucky’s Emergency Operations Center.

Thou shalt not buy cars on Sundays

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When locals leave church on Sunday mornings, some will head for Sunday brunch at their favorite restaurant. Others will eat at home, stop by the pharmacy or even hit the mall. But one thing they won’t do is buy a car. A 56-year-old Michigan blue law forbids Sunday car sales in counties with more than 130,000 people; it’s one of 13 states that prohibit auto sales on Sundays.

COMMENTARY: Atoning for the sins of others

(UNDATED) Many companies shut down for an annual inventory and an honest evaluation of past performance. The idea is to detect, correct and avoid future errors. It’s the same theme of the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that begins on Sept. 18, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, that begins on Sept. 27.

Another Palin no-show

If she’ll back out of an anti-abortion event in Anchorage, what won’t she back out of? Why would anyone ever invite her to anything? 

700 Club hearts DuBois

It’s hard to imagine anything puffier than David Brody’s profile of White House Faith Czar Joshua DuBois, right through to the kicker:So while DuBois plugs away for the commander-in-chief at his dream job, his parents back in Nashville say a familiar prayer. DuBois’s mom said, “From the time Joshua was born I
prayed for his protection and I pray for his wisdom that he will hear
God and that he will follow his direction.”And that’s not to mention host Gordon Perry Robertson’s hearty amens, including his injunction to viewers to pray for the president. It’s all the farthest cry from the Limbaughs and the Becks, the birthers and the town-hall screamers. To say nothing else, it’s further evidence that CBN is now a closer approximation of a traditional TV news operation than Fox.

Study, pray and ski?

Come Saturday, not only can Liberty University students study and pray, they also can ski year-round. “We want to give prospective students as many reasons as possible to choose LU over secular institutions,” says a page of FAQs about the ski slope that will open this weekend featuring Snowflex, a synthetic material that simulates the effects of real snow. And, Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. says the complex atop the mountain that looms over the rest of the Lynchburg, Va., campus has the blessing of his dad, who died in 2007. “The Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre was actually the last project that was officially announced by my father here one week before he died,” said Falwell in a letter announcing the grand opening to friends of the school. “In fact, the day before he died, I was riding over the mountain with him and I asked him if he really wanted to build that ski slope.

Shuttle mission to include missionary history

WASHINGTON (RNS) When the space shuttle Discovery next takes flight, perhaps later this week, it will carry a piece of missionary history with it into outer space. On board Discovery will be a piece of the plane used by members of Missionary Aviation Fellowship, who were killed more than half a century ago in Ecuador by Waodani tribesman, the ministry announced. Astronaut Patrick Forrester contacted the Idaho-based ministry about carrying a memento from the plane that had been used by pilot Nate Saint and four other missionaries before their deaths in 1956. Their story was depicted in the 2006 movie “End of the Spear.” “Bringing attention to and renewing interest in missions would be a great result of this experience,” said Forrester, who was born the year after the missionaries were killed, in a statement.

Poll: Six in 10 U.S. Catholics ambivalent about Latin Mass

(RNS) Two years after Pope Benedict XVI eased restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass, more than six in 10 American Catholics have no opinion on the return of the traditional liturgy, according to a new survey. In 2007, Benedict told priests to work with local parishioners when there is a “stable group” interested in the Latin Mass, which is celebrated in Latin by a priest facing away from the congregation. The Mass dates to the 16th century but fell out of use after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Benedict said the move was intended to promote “reconciliation” with Catholics disaffected by the contemporary version of the liturgy and to encourage greater “reverence” during worship. According to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, one in four U.S. Catholics favors having the Latin Mass as a liturgical option, 12 percent oppose it, and 63 percent have “no opinion.”