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from John Lloyd:

Pope Francis and his season of struggle

Pope Francis celebrates a mass in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican

This month, Pope Francis had to come clean.

Time’s Man of the Year for 2013, the object of seemingly universal affection, is a liberal: and that means a season – perhaps a papacy – of struggle. His honeymoon as the Amiable Argentinian is over.

He’s not a simple liberal, to be sure. He believes, in a concrete, physical way, in bodies rising from the dead, and in the existence of the Devil. These are concepts with which evangelical Protestants – in the ascendant in the pope’s native Argentina – are both familiar, and in which they believe. His modern-thinking colleagues quietly squirm.

But he combines, in a way the world hasn’t seen for decades -- even centuries -- a belief in these manifestations while at the same time being a social liberal. In the Catholic hierarchy, to be a social liberal is to argue that while doctrine is all very well, it has to move with the times. This means recognizing that the times, and many Catholics, are closer to contemporary mores on the family and on sexual behaviour than they are to scriptural fundamentalism.

Thus the expectation, when Francis called the hierarchy of the Church together in Rome in the first half of this month in a synod devoted to the discussion of sex and the family, was that the outcome would be a much-liberalized Church. Catholic gays were especially hopeful of a significant shift, as were groups who want divorce to be made possible under certain conditions. All, when the synod ended last weekend, were disappointed.

from The Great Debate:

The uncanonized saints

The Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, nearing the end of a long restoration, has a new mural over its main doors. Surrounding the Holy Spirit, in the form of an incandescent dove, is a gathering of women and men flanked by angels. Most have soft yellow halos, but three figures, including the pair closest to the dove, do not.

The three are local icons. Activist and writer Dorothy Day wears a hat with the inscription “NO WAR” and holds a stack of Catholic Worker newspapers, the publication she founded. Beside her is Bernard Quinn, a priest who served Brooklyn’s African American community at a church just blocks away, and whose Long Island orphanage was twice burned down by racists. Pierre Toussaint, who looks intently toward the dove, was a slave-turned-philanthropist who, on gaining his freedom in 1807, adopted his surname from the leader of the Haitian revolution.

from The Great Debate:

Pope Francis: Beyond the compelling gestures

The most talked about person in the world -- no surprise there! -- is Pope Francis. Polls and Internet traffic confirm: No celebrity even comes close to him in fame or favor.

When it comes to “followers,” the pope does have an enormous head start, as leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church. He also inspires unmatched curiosity and attention globally among many millions from other faiths and no faiths.

from John Lloyd:

In Britain, a summer of quiet revolution

The British Isles are sentries in a turning world. The monarchy, pageantry, the mediaeval House of Lords, titles, accents, the established Church of England with the Queen at its head -- they all give the adroit illusion of continuity and the primacy of tradition over change.

But this summer there are diverse changes modernizing the Isles. These revolutions, small and large, will not be reversed, and will contribute significantly to a redefinition of what it is to be British (and Irish). The illusions of tradition will remain, as diligently served as ever. The core is hollowing out.

from Tales from the Trail:

Rick Santorum: birth control ruling has nothing to do with women’s rights

Forcing religious organizations to provide contraceptives has nothing to do with women's rights, Republican presidential contender and vocal Catholic Rick Santorum said on Thursday.

The comment aligned Santorum with a lineup of conservative critics bashing Democratic President Barack Obama's rule requiring religious institutions -- but not churches -- to provide health insurance plans that cover birth control.

from FaithWorld:

Optimistic? Attending services may be reason

Regular attendance at religious services is associated with a more optimistic outlook and a lesser inclination to be depressed, compared to those who do not attend services at all, according to a recently published study.

The study's findings supports previous research that religious participation can promote psychological and physical health -- and reduce mortality risks -- possibly by calming people in stressful times, creating meaningful social interactions and helping curtail bad habits.

from FaithWorld:

Many U.S. Catholics have independent streak – survey

A majority of American Roman Catholics feel strongly about the sacraments and traditional church values such as caring for the poor, but they may not agree with the church teachings on topics such as abortion, same-sex marriage and maintaining a celibate, male clergy, a survey has found.

The "Catholics in America" survey of Roman Catholics published by the National Catholic Reporter found 86 percent said Catholics can disagree with aspects of church teaching and still remain loyal to the church.

from FaithWorld:

Offending priest handled “by the book” by Episcopal Church leader

The Episcopal Church's diocese of Nevada sought to calm an uproar over a former Benedictine monk who admitted sexual indiscretions with a parishioner before he was ordained an Episcopal priest by Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is now leader of the 2.3 million member U.S. church.

"It looks to me like she handled the situation by the book," Bishop Dan Edwards said of Jefferts Schori's actions regarding Fr. Bede Parry, a church organist and former Episcopal priest.

from FaithWorld:

Pity the pandering U.S. candidate

Politicians pandering for votes on conservative family values issues may want to think again.

A survey of 3,000 Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found 42 percent said the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" both described them well, illustrating the complexity of the abortion issue in the minds of many.

from FaithWorld:

Vatican tells U.N. that critics of gays under attack

Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican/Tom Heneghan

Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican/Tom Heneghan

People who criticise gay sexual relations for religious or moral reasons are increasingly being attacked and vilified for their views, a Vatican diplomat told the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said the Roman Catholic Church deeply believed that human sexuality was a gift reserved for married heterosexual couples. But those who express these views are faced with "a disturbing trend," he said.

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