Pope knocks careerism in speech to Church’s success stories

Front row at the VaticanPope Benedict made an interesting comment at the consistory installing 23 new cardinals on Saturday. He warned against “careerism” in the Church and noted that the disciples James and John who asked Jesus to give them seats to the right and left of him in Heaven (Mark 10:37) had “a crude conception of merit.” Here’s his sermon (in Italian). Now, I don’t want to get into a game of “spot the careerist at the Vatican” — others do that well enough — and I don’t want to cast any doubts about the new cardinals or any Vatican officials. But reading through the biographies of the new cardinals, I had a kind of sociological interest in seeing if any single factor stood out in their pasts.

And yes, one did.

About three-quarters of the new cardinals studied at one or more of the pontifical universities in Rome. There are a dozen of these Catholic universities here specialised in theology, canon law, scripture and philosophy, with students from around the world. They used to teach in Latin, but gave that up in 1967. Most of the students are bright young seminarians sent over to Rome because their superiors spotted their potential. Others are ordained priests doing graduate work, again often sent by bishops with an eye for talent. While they’re here, they not only study, they see how the Vatican works, make contacts among professors, Vatican officials and other students and they learn Italian, an advantage for any cleric on his way up the career ladder.

Pontifical Gregorian University in RomeThe numbers said a lot. Of the Europeans who got the red hat, 7 had studied in Rome and 5 had not. That’s not so surprising, since Catholic universities in Spain or France or Belgium can provide just as good an education (if not better, some say). But among the non-Europeans, there was no contest. Ten had a Roman degree and only one didn’t.

So clerics should not be careerists … but one who wants to start his career the right way might be advised to do it in Rome.

Catholic culture slips a bit in Benedict’s backyard

Bavarian children greet Pope Benedict in Munich, Sept. 9. 2006The southern German state of Bavaria is one of those areas, like southern Poland, that are known for their fervent folk Catholicism. It was on full display last year when Bavaria’s favourite son, Pope Benedict, visited his native state. But Catholicism is changing even in Bavaria, as his successor as archbishop of Munich and Freising has admitted. Cardinal Friedrich Wetter told fellow Bavarian bishops on Thursday that so many candidates for the priesthood have such insufficient knowledge of Catholic teaching that seminaries will have to introduce remedial courses to bring them up to standard.

Candidates for the priesthood increasingly come from various backgrounds and apply for the admission to the seminary with sometimes quite different prior experiences of faith and the Church,” he said in a statement (here in German). “With a propaedeutic course inserted before normal theology studies in the seminary, the Bavarian bishops want to add an educational phase that fosters the seminarians’ spiritual growth and personal discernment, … transmits basic theological knowledge and allows insight into the real situation of the Church through participation in social and pastoral work.”

A further translation of that translation would be: “we need a remedial course because the incoming seminarians don’t know enough about the Catholic Church.”

Europe circles the wagons against creationism and intelligent design

Europeans are circling the wagons to keep creationism and intelligent design out of their schools. The latest development came on Monday when Sweden announced it wanted to tighten rules governing private religious schools to ensure they do not teach creationism. This is a new twist. Private schools across Europe usually have to follow some kind of national curriculum but can add other elements such as religious views. Creationism is certainly a religious view and a very large majority in Europe says ID is too.

An exhibit on evolution at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, February 2007“This is naturally brought about by the fact that different viewpoints are being discussed, for instance about the creation of the world – one based on science and one on religious views,” Swedish Education Minister Jan Bjorklund said while announcing the new policy. “Teaching in school must have a scientific basis.”

The Council of Europe made the headlines two weeks ago with a resolution firmly opposing these views and urging member countries to keep them out of their science classes. It defined ID as a form of creationism. That resolution entitled “The Dangers of Creationism in Education” was based on a long report with an interesting country-by-country list of cases where creationism has become an issue in Europe (see report pages 9-14). This was a non-binding resolution but it expressed the widespread mood of lawmakers who until recently thought creationism and ID were such simplistic U.S. religious views that they would never cross the Atlantic.