When others beat you to the blog

December 3, 2007

Conference of European Churches logoWhen Jane Stranz of the World Council of Churches emailed me a link to her blog about me, I thought I should mention something here that is already out there on the web. The Conference of European Churches in Geneva has awarded its John Templeton Award for the European Religion Writer of the Year 2006 to yours truly.

Why we don’t call them “Muslim riots” in Paris suburbs

November 29, 2007

A burning car in Villiers-le Bel, 28 Nob 2007As soon as a riot starts in one of the poor suburbs around Paris, we get emails from readers and see comments on blogs accusing the media of hiding the supposedly key fact about the unrest. That fact, they tell us without providing any proof, is Islam. Why don’t we call this violence “Muslim riots?” they ask. What are we trying to hide by not identifying the rioters as Muslims? Do the MSM have a hidden agenda? Don’t we have the courage to “tell the truth?”

Praying for news at the Vatican

November 23, 2007

You’ve probably seen on TV how reporters swarm around leaders coming out of closed-door meetings and the politicians step up to deliver their soundbites for the cameras. The Vatican held a big closed-door meeting on Friday and a wave of cardinals — the “princes of the Church” who rank among the most prominent leaders of Roman Catholicism — emerged at their lunch break to find a pack of journalists eager to pounce on them with questions. I’m in Rome for a few days and was out there waiting for them in a parking lot between St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pope Paul VI Hall where they were meeting. The scene was quite different from those “normal” media scrums.

To trust or not to trust — Vatican diplomat vents frustration at Israel

November 21, 2007

Italians have a wonderful phrase they use when things don’t work out as they had hoped: “It was better when it was worse.”

Stem cell breakthrough — science the ethical way?

November 20, 2007

A microscopic view of undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells.We noted here just the other day the all-but-absent ethical angle in the Daily Telegraph story about the creator of Dolly the cloned sheep and a new technique for creating stem cells without embryos. Now, we have two reports from Maggie Fox, our Health and Science Editor in Washington, that address the scientific and ethical issues.

Burnout on the God beat – second top religion writer calls it quits

November 15, 2007

Covering religion may be harmful to your faith. Two leading religion journalists — one in Britain, one in the United States — have quit the beat in recent months, saying they had acquired such a close look at such scandalous behaviour by Christians that they lost their faith and had to leave.

Jewish author published in Vatican daily — more to come?

November 12, 2007

Any foreign correspondent who ever covered the old Soviet bloc remembers how the official press seemed to print only news-free communiques and bland official photos. Scanning newspapers like Pravda or Scînteia or Neues Deutschland, the skilled reader looked for subtle changes from the norm as hints of possible shifts in official thinking. Once a slight deviation was sighted, readers would watch to see if it was just a flash in the pan or whether it became a normal feature.

Catholic culture slips a bit in Benedict’s backyard

November 9, 2007

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.

EU pressures Turkey to boost rights for non-Muslims

November 7, 2007

Turkey has signalled it may soon amend a free speech law that has been a stumbling block in its drive to join the European Union. Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said this on Tuesday soon after the European Commission issued its annual progress report on Ankara’s membership bid. The interesting angle here for this blog is that the EU criticism singled out not only the much-criticised law on “insulting Turkishness” but also current restrictions on freedom of religion.

Do Christian paradigms work for Islamic problems?

November 5, 2007

Bishop Margot KässmannOctober 31 was Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther issued his famous 95 Theses, and as such a fitting occasion for Lutherans around the world to reflect on the reforms he brought to Christianity. It was probably inevitable that a Lutheran cleric somewhere would comment on the relevance of the Reformation to a major issue in today’s religious world — the future of Islam. Margot Kässmann, the Lutheran bishop of Hannover in Germany, told the local newspaper: “Something like a Reformation would also be good for Islam.”