FaithWorld

U.S. ambassador Diaz: theologian envoy to theologian pope

diaz-1Miguel Humberto Diaz might sound like the name of an ambassador from Spain or any Latin American country, but in fact it belongs to the new American ambassador to the Vatican.

And if any further proof  were needed that things are changing in Obama’s America, consider this: The surnames of the previous ambassadors to the Vatican were: Wilson, Shakespeare, Melady, Glendon, Flynn, Boggs,  Nicholson, Rooney, and Glendon.

In my coverage of the Vatican, I knew most of them well, a few of them very well,  and at least three — Melady, Flynn and Nicholson (two Republicans and a Democrat) — became friends who still keep in touch. Their kindness then and now will always be appreciated.

Still, there is a certain buzz in the air in Rome over the arrival of Diaz, who presented his credentials to Pope Benedict on Friday. The first Latino to get the post, he is Cuban-American (born in Havanna and raised in Miami).  Apart from the last ambassador, Harvard Prof. Mary Ann Glendon, Diaz perhaps knows more about Roman Catholicism and the workings of the Church than any of his predecessors.

But perhaps most significantly, Diaz is a theologian. He was professor of theology at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, both in Collegeville, Minnesota. He is also  a former president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians fo the United States and board member of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Unusual tit-for-tat in the Vatican over Williamson affair

arborelius-2 (Photo: Video grab of Bishop Anders Arborelius on Swedish TV, 23 Sept 2009)

There’s nothing new about tit-for-tat and finger-pointing in diplomacy and politics but the Vatican is usually quite careful not to wash its dirty laundry in public. So it was surprising to see some of the principal characters in the the long-running saga of Richard Williamson, the traditionalist bishop who sparked a crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations when he denied the extent of the Holocaust on Swedish television, now spatting in public over it.

Just when the Vatican thought it had put the Williamson affair behind it, the story has came back to haunt the Holy See. On Wednesday evening, the Swedish television network SVT aired a follow-up to its January 2009 documentary about the Society of St Pius X (SSPX). That program sparked off a public controversy POPE-JEWS/because the Vatican lifted excommunications on Williamson and three other SSPX bishops three days later, creating the impression the Church either didn’t know or didn’t care about his Holocaust statement. In the uproar that followed, Pope Benedict once again condemned Holocaust denial and said he hadn’t known about the statements in advance. Usually discreet Vatican officials publicly blamed others for not informing him. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

The new report on the “Uppdrag granskning” (Assignment: Investigate) program said the Vatican knew about Williamson’s views well before the bans on the SSPX bishops were lifted. To make matters worse, in conjunction with the new broadcast, the website of Stockholm’s Roman Catholic diocese posted a note saying Bishop Anders Arborelius and the Vatican nuncio to Sweden told the Holy See in November 2008 about the not-yet-aired interview that Williamson had given to Swedish television in which he said “I believe there were no gas chambers”. The interview was recorded in Germany in November 2008 and aired in Sweden on 21 January 2009. See our latest story on this here.

Cuba authorises first prison religious services in 50 years

cuba-prisonThe Cuban government has given permission for religious services to be held in the island’s prisons for the first time in 50 years, a church official has said.

The services will be allowed in all prisons where the inmates request them, said Marcial Miguel Hernandez, president of the Cuban Council of Churches. (Photo: Combinado del Este men’s prison outside Havana, 31 March 2004/Claudia Daut)

“For us, it’s an expression and act of good faith by the Cuban authorities,” he told Reuters.

Vatican-SSPX talks due in second half of October

St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, 24 Dec. 2007/Max RossiDoctrinal discussions between the Vatican and the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) will begin in the second half of October, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi has said. He also confirmed the Vatican delegation will be made up of the Swiss Dominican Rev. Charles Morerod, the German Jesuit Rev. Karl Josef Becker and the Spanish vicar general of Opus Dei, Rev. Fernando Ocariz Brana. The Vatican Radio report gave no further details. (Photo: St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, 24 Dec. 2007/Max Rossi)

This shoots down one part of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s interview last weekend in the Passauer Neue Presse, where he said the first meeting would take place “in the next few days.”

It says nothing about his other point, that the Vatican will insist the SSPX accepts “such fundamental conclusions of the Second Vatican Council as its positions on Judaism, other non-Christian religions, other Christian churches and on religious freedom as a basic human right.” That point is far more important than the date, which is why our news item on Sunday led off with that angle, and it remains the main issue at these talks.

Vatican-SSPX talks to start “in next few days” – Schönborn

schoenbornDoctrinal negotiations between the Vatican and the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) are due to start “in the next few days,” according to Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, and Rome will not let the Lefebvrists off easy for everything.”

In particular, he told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper in Bavaria over the weekend, “the SSPX will be told very clearly what is not negotiable for the Holy See. This includes such fundamental conclusions of the Second Vatican Council as its positions on Judaism, other non-Christian religions, other Christian churches and on religious freedom as a basic human right.” Here is our news story. (Photo: Cardinal Schönborn, 16 March 2008/Herwig Prammer)

This is going to be interesting. The SSPX has been insisting for decades that it represents the true Roman Catholic faith while the Vatican and the vast majority of the Church took a wrong turn at Vatican II. By allowing wider use of the traditional Latin Mass and revoking the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops, Pope Benedict has taken two of the group’s main rallying points off the table. Now it comes down to the core issue of accepting the fundamental reforms of the 1962-1965 Council concerning Catholicism’s relations with other religions.

Catholic editor who rapped Berlusconi resigns, but Church may have last laugh

giornaleIn the latest — but most likely not final — round in an incredible case of Italian journalistic pugilism, the editor of a Catholic newspaper sparring publicly for a week with the daily owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has resigned.  Dino Boffo’s resignation as head of Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, ended an Italian telenovela that had riveted the media for seven consecutive days and even saw indirect involvement by Pope Benedict. (Photo: Il Giornale fronts charges against Boffo, 3 Sept 2009/Stefano Rellandini)

In his three-and-a half page letter of resignation (here in Italian), which he said was irrevocable, Boffo  said the tussle with the editor Vittorio Feltri of the Milan daily Il Giornale had made his life unbearable. For his good, that of his family and that of the Church, he could not longer stay “at the centre of a storm of gigantic proportions that has invaded newspapers, television, radio, the internet and shows no signs of ending.”

Boffo said his only mistake was not taking his initial judicial problem seriously enough. As noted in my blog post here last Tuesday, Il Giornale editor Vittorio Feltri wrote last week that Boffo accepted a plea bargain in 2002 over a case in which a woman accused him of harassment. Il Giornale claimed that Boffo was having a homosexual relationship with her husband. It said Boffo should not have written editorials criticising Berlusconi’s sexual escapades when he was not exactly an an innocent altar boy himself.

Journalism Italian-style and church-state relations

giornale-aug-28-croppedCall it a case of duelling headlines.

For the past few days, a highly personal and often below-the-sash battle has been waged in Italy between two newspapers — Il Giornale, owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops Conference.  The generals in the battle, which has riveted Italy and has resulted in one of the worst periods for years in relations between church and state here, are the editors-in-chief Vittorio Feltri of Il Giornale and Dino Boffo of Avvenire.

It all started on Friday, Aug. 28 when Il Giornale published a front-page, banner headline story purportedly revealing that that Boffo had accepted a plea bargain in court in 2002 after being accused of harrasing a woman. The paper said Boffo had a homosexual relationship with her husband. The headline read “The Super-Moralist Was Condemned for Molestation” (see image above). Feltri, one of Italy’s more unorthodox journalists, attacked Boffo because he had written a spate of editorials criticising Berlusconi over the prime minister’s private life. The fact that ultimately Berlusconi’s family is Feltri’s boss was not lost on Italian readers.

Another element in the background was the fact that Berlusconi has been under the spotlight for anything but government recently, including accusations of cavorting with teenagers and prostitutes. For the record, Berlusconi says there was nothing “spicy” in his relationship with an 18-year-old aspriring model and that even if  a call girl spent a night in his house, he never paid for sex in his life. What’s more, Berlusconi is also going through a messy divorce. His wife Veronica says she wanted out because she couldn’t take any more of his “lies”.

Catholic comments on Ted Kennedy, pro and con

Much of the Roman Catholic commentary on the passing this week of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy — who was a practicing Catholic — has applauded his record on civil rights, immigration reform and economic justice but deplored his support for abortion rights. Kennedy died on Tuesday at the age of 77.

(PHOTO: A photo of Senator Edward M. Kennedy sits at the entrance to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

KENNEDY/

The Catholic News Agency for example ran a report saying “Ted Kennedy leaves mixed Catholic legacy,” noting clerical discomfort with his support for the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that granted U.S. women a constitutional right to an abortion and related issues.

Author of new Galileo book says old trial has current relevance

earthmovessThe current struggles between religion and science in areas such as evolution and “intelligent design” are thrown into sharp relief in a new book on the great Italian astronomer Galileo and his trial by the Roman Inquisition.

Author Dan Hofstadter says the Galileo affair was “the great religion-science clash of 1633 that in some form has persisted into our time.”

Indirectly verifying Hofstadter’s thesis, a Vatican official — Monsignor Sergio Pagano, head of the Vatican’s secret archives — said earlier this month that the Roman Catholic Church should not fear scientific progress and possibly repeat the mistake it made when it condemned Galileo.

Baghdad church bombings leave tiny Christian minority trembling

baghdad-church-1A spate of bombs targeting churches in Baghdad this week has Iraq’s minority Christian community trembling at the prospect of being the next victim of militants trying to reignite war.

Iraqi Christians, one of the country’s weakest ethnic or  religious groups, have usually tried to steer clear of its many-sided conflict. For the most part, they manage.

While Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims killed each other by the dozen at the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, Christians were rarely targeted, although sometimes they were.