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Spirit of St. Francis lives strong in Assisi

ASSISI, Italy (RNS) Some 6 million visitors come to this hillside town every year — and the biggest draw is the legacy of its most famous native son, St. Francis, who remains a figure of unmistakable relevance to many of today's most pressing social concerns. By Francis X. Rocca.

“Blessed” John Paul II in 2011?

The well-connected Italian Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli reports that the stage is set for the beatification of Pope John Paul II sometime this year. John Allen picks October 16 as the likeliest date.

The steady drip, drip, drip of WikiLeaks

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has released four more WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican, from 2001, 2002 and 2009, all somehow related to Catholic-Jewish tensions over the possible canonization as a saint of Pope Pius XII. One of the cables, from last October, reports that the Vatican backed out of an agreement to join an international Holocaust memorial organization, perhaps because the organization had pressed it to open sections of the Vatican archives relating to Pius’s record during World War II — when critics say he failed to do or say enough to stop the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

Liturgy leaks

Catholics in the United States won’t start using the new English-langauge translation of the Mass until next November, but they can read it now, thanks to a very unauthorized posting of the text on a site called Wikispooks. The site also offers some “semi-confidential very strong criticism” of the translation, which has been controverisal for passages that some bishops consider difficult to understand or pronounce, but which are meant to be more faithful to the Latin original. (Hat tip: Robert Mickens at The Tablet — login required)

Wacky leaks

Much of the coverage of the latest Wikileaks release has noted a silver lining for the embarrassed State Department: abundant evidence that U.S. diplomats are insightful and informed observers of other countries, and in some cases even excellent writers. But some diplomatic correspondence simultaneously published by an Italian newspaper reveals that foreign service officers can be as fallible as the rest of us, including journalists. Turns out that U.S. embassy officials, handicapping the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, practically ruled out the election of the ultimate victor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Among the candidates portrayed as more promising in the cable to Washington was Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, subsequently the source of great embarrassment to the Vatican for his management of the Williamson affair and his support for a bishop who shielded a pedophile priest from the civil authorities. Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli, a well-connected Vatican specialist, has observed with undisguised amusement that the diplomats’ predictions seem to have been based largely on the writings of American journalists.

Thank God it’s Friday

Michael Jackson’s former rabbi (and the author of “Kosher Sex”) has a big agenda for his upcoming rope-line handshake with Pope Benedict XVI: pitching his plan for a jointly sponsored “global family dinner night.” Rabbi Smuley Boteach writes that the Catholic church, with its image suffering from the clerical sex abuse scandal, “must return to its previous posture as a champion of family and what better way than to mandate that all Catholic families worldwide do as Jesus did. Put the worldly stuff away on Friday nights and consecrate it as an evening of holiness and togetherness.”

A shady kind of green

Back in 2007, we reported on the Vatican’s plan to become the world’s first “carbon neutral” sovereign state, by planting trees in a Hungarian national park to offset the carbon-dioxide emissions and energy use of Vatican City. Last year, we noted reports that the project was more than a little behind schedule. Now it turns out that the whole scheme was practically nothing more than one Hungarian salesman’s fast talk. At least this is one mess Pope Benedict doesn’t have to worry about taking the blame for.

Naysayer no-show

The Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson, whose readmission to the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI last January aroused heated controversy (which now seems almost mild, compared to the current scandal over clerical sex abuse) was expected to miss his court date in Germany today, by order of his superiors in the ultraditionalist Society of Saint Pius X. Williamson is contesting a fine for breaking German law against Holocaust denial.

Raising questions

The spreading scandal over sexual abuse by Catholic priests in several European countries has provoked serious questions about a number of church practices and traditions. And some of the questions are coming from some of the most traditional quarters. A cardinal close to the pope seems to have suggested a possible link between priestly celibacy and pedophilia. And the official Vatican newspaper has run an article arguing that more women in positions of authority could rend the “veil of masculine secrecy” that permitted cover-ups of sex abuse.

Not so fast?

The Polish report is unsourced, and the Vatican panel of doctors won’t meet before next month, but suggestions that a miraculous cure attributed to the intercession of John Paul II might not be so miraculous after all — and maybe not even a cure — have raised doubts for some about the late pontiff’s fast-track progress to sainthood.


Italian newspapers are making much of an apparent Vatican connection to an ongoing government corruption-and-sex scandal. If you really must know more, try here.

The Enemy within

“Yes, also in the Vatican there are members of Satanic sects,” says the former president of the International Association of Exorcists. “There are priests, monsignors and also cardinals!”

Handicapping the red hats

Italian media outlets are predicting that Pope Benedict will call a consistory to create new cardinals this November, and that among those receiving red hats will be Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Raymond Burke, late of St. Louis and now head of the Vatican’s supreme court. A consistory in November is very likely, since by that time no more than 101 of the current cardinals will still be younger than 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope. That would give Benedict 19 vacancies to fill, assuming he chooses to honor the limit of 120 cardinal electors established by Pope Paul VI. At his last consistory, in November 2007, Benedict named 18 cardinal electors.

Fast for Lent

A Catholic priest in Ireland has boosted daily Mass attendance this Lenten season by pledging to get worshippers out the door in 15 minutes flat.

The miracle worker

Most barbers are happy with a nice big tip, but the man who used to trim Pope John Paul II says the late pontiff miraculously cured him of a hernia. But as the Times of London notes, even if the Vatican were to recognize the cure as miraculous, it would still not count toward John Paul’s eventual canonization as a saint. Pope Benedict is expected to recognize another miracle in the cause of John Paul’s beatification, the honor just short of sainthood, which will probably be bestowed sometime this year. A second miracle would be required for canonization — but it would have to have occurred after beatification. (All clear now?)