A papal visit, with its weeks of build-up and intense media coverage, often seems to end with an afterglow — but very little news — once the pope and his party fly back to the Eternal City. Not so with Pope Benedict’s recent U.S. visit where, more than a week after it ended, the volatile issue of public figures, the abortion & Communion issue is making headlines.
Britain passed its law legalising abortion 40 years ago today. But the controversy has not died down. Parliament is again besieged by two camps of activists, one keen to stop what they say is murder and the other defending what they see as a women’s right. Judging it too difficult to have the law overturned, the anti-abortion camp aims to lower the 24-week limit for the termination of pregnancy to 20, 18 or even fewer weeks.
Remember back in 2004 when some U.S. Catholic bishops declared they would deny communion to the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, because he supported abortion rights? Reporters spied on him in church to see if he received or not. Pundits dreamed up terrible catch phrases like “wafer watch” and “wafer war.” The issue became part of the campaign that year.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is well known as one of the leading activists of the Religious Right in the United States. Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr, founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, is one of the most influential voices of the black conservative movement.
UPDATE: The trial ended in stalemate on Feb. 29 and a retrial is due in a few months. Murphy-O’Connor was not called to testify.
The Vatican has been stressing for years that Catholic universities should have a distinctively Catholic character and follow Church doctrine. Pope John Paul II spelled this out in a 1990 document called Ex corde Ecclesiae and Vatican officials have used this to discipline universities that stray too far from Church teaching. Traditionally, rebellious theologians were the ones who caught their eye. In recent years, bioethical issues have emerged as a flashpoint. Universities researching in vitro fertilisation or embryonic stem cells — both of which the Church opposes — have been threatened with withdrawal of their Catholic status unless they stop.
U.S. ambassadors are often chosen not for their expertise but because of the size of their campaign contributions. For his next envoy to the Vatican, however, President George W. Bush seems to have opted for one of the best qualified Americans he could find. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon probably knows more people in the Vatican than all of her predecessors combined. She is almost certainly better connected there than any of her future colleagues from the other 175 countries with diplomatic relations with the Holy See. She has a resumé no other diplomat could match, including leading a Vatican delegation to a United Nations conference and advising the Catholic Church on three different pontifical organisations.
Over at another Reuters blog, Ask… , my London-based colleague Michael Holden has put the spotlight on a growing debate in Britain about the 40-year-old abortion law there. The law has come under increasing fire in recent years from anti-abortion activists, who say medical advances mean a foetus born before the 24-week limit can survive and the limit should therefore be reduced. At the same time, pro-abortion activists want to change the law to make it easier to obtain an abortion by dropping the requirement that two doctors agree to the procedure.