And then there were none — or maybe one

When Rudy Giuliani officially announced his withdrawal from the race for the Republican presidential nomination yesterday, a field once crowded with Catholic candidates became nearly bereft of them. Only Republican candidate Alan Keyes remains, but he has not gained enough support — financial or otherwise — to be included in candidate debates or to receive federal campaign funding.

The role of Catholic candidates in the 2008 race is a topic we’ve explored twice before — earlier this month and last February. (As an aside, one reader noticed that we failed to mention Ron Paul among the Republican candidates. For the record, he’s a Baptist.)

As the nation’s primaries continue and the likely nominees emerge, discussion of Catholic candidates might begin at another level. Among those mentioned as Democratic vice-presidential possibilities are an early campaign dropout, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and a more recent one, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Keeping the faith in Catholic charity

Faced with growing pressure to dilute their Christian message, some leaders of Catholic aid agencies that operate under the Caritas umbrella have been invited to attend a spiritual retreat in order to reaffirm the link between Christian faith and charitable activity.

Archbishop Paul Cordes delivers a message from Pope Benedict XVI at the cathedral in Baton Rouge, La., in this 2005 file photo. The German archbishop and president of the Vatican charity, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, had toured areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Greg Tarczynski)Top officials for Caritas-affiliated agencies in North and South America have been invited to a retreat in Guadalajara, Mexico the first week of June to pray, reflect, and foster their own faith, according to Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

He made the announcement after presenting Pope Benedict’s 2008 Lenten message during a Tuesday press conference.

“There is a difference between Caritas and the Red Cross,” he told journalists, “and this difference must be underlined.”

The retreat — which will be led by the preacher of the papal household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa – is meant to counteract “a certain kind of secularism” that has been creeping into Catholic agencies, the cardinal said.

It is not the fault of the Catholic organizations, he emphasized, but rather it is something embedded “in the mentality of development.” By that he meant, sometimes donors — whether government or private – may tend to feel they should have some sway or control over the organization they’re contributing to.

Thanks to the generosity of funding from non-religious sources, he said, the church has been able to reach out to even more people in need. However, he warned this arrangement does “carry a risk that the spirit of the Catholic agency becomes secularized which means doing only what the donor has in mind.” 

This problem looms large in Colorado, where Capuchin Archbishop Charles Chaput is fighting the introduction of a state bill that would, in his words, “greatly hinder any Catholic entity which receives state money from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church.” You can read his commentary on House Bill 1080 here.

Although the bill was temporarily withdrawn from consideration last week, according to the Denver Archdiocese, it could still be reintroduced.

The debate spilled over into the Letters to the Editor section of the Denver Catholic Register this week. Read two sides of the issue the paper presented here and here.

Cardinal Cordes, meanwhile, praised Archbishop Chaput’s efforts saying “I think this bishop is doing the right thing.” “Charitable activity or the faithful’s good deeds have always been tied to the proclamation of the word,” he said at the Tuesday press conference.

He said the bond between serving humanity and paying witness to the Gospel “is a link no one can break.”

“I think Catholic agencies must be very careful not to lose their freedom by taking money from donors who afterwards bring into the agency a mentality that does not correspond to (their) ecclesial mission,” he said.

PHOTO: Archbishop Paul Cordes delivers a message from Pope Benedict XVI at the cathedral in Baton Rouge, La., in this 2005 file photo. The German archbishop and president of the Vatican charity, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, had toured areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Greg Tarczynski)

‘We need real journalism in the church’

That’s the headline on a column this week in UCA News, the Asian church news service which has been our longtime partner and friend. And while some may assume the column is for Catholic Press Month (which we celebrate in February here in the States), it’s actually an insightful, albeit coincidental, look at how contrasting styles of journalism can be a lesson for how Catholic journalists should approach their work.

Written by Maryknoll Father William Grimm, editor-in-chief of Katorikku Shimbun, Japan’s Catholic weekly, the column uses a Japanese example of how one recent story was covered there and applies it to how we should be reporting on the church.

Unfortunately, he notes, “there has been a proliferation of Catholic ‘news sources’ that do not follow” professional standards of timeliness, attribution, accuracy, balance and verification. “Bias, distortion, refusal to cover the ‘bad news,’ lack of balance, deference to officials and failure to verify are common,” he writes.

He credits CNS and UCA News for holding to such professional standards. But why should that matter? His answer:

One reason is that if the church is incapable or unwilling to report on its life and activities with transparency, others will step in. However, leaving honest reporting of the church to outside media leaves us open to misunderstanding and even sensationalism. It is hard to refute charges of “cover-up” when, in fact, Catholic journalism either consciously or inadvertently fails to present a full picture of the church, “warts and all.”

The full column is worth reading, not just by Catholic journalists but by anyone who wonders why we report the bad news and the Good News and why we strive for, as Father Grimm says, “trustworthy professional Catholic journalism (that presents) the true face of the church to the world and each other.”

Martyrs hanging in there, silently

Clericus Cup logoWith a ban on fans’ decibel levels now in place, the North American College has slipped to a third-place tie in the rankings in Rome’s Clericus Cup soccer tournament.

Their 1-0 loss on Saturday to last year’s champs and soccer powerhouse, Redemptoris Mater, gives the NAC Martyrs six points in their division standings, tied with the Benedictine players of Rome’s St. Anselmo College.  

“We had a tough time with injuries already this year,” said the team’s trainer/coach/star/co-captain Daniel O’Mullane, from Paterson, N.J. “But I’m confident that when we get our men back on the field, we have some time to gel, we’re going to be a force to reckon with,” he said in an informal press release yesterday.

With two wins and two losses under their belts, the NAC Martyrs have three more games to hold on tight if they’re to make it to the April quarterfinals. They’re up next against the Latin American College Feb. 9.

O’Mullane praised his team’s strong defense, which kept Redemptoris Mater – nicknamed Red Mat – from inflicting too much damage. Unfortunately in the first half, the Red Mat goalie punched O’Mullane’s free kick right over the crossbar and away from the net. 

Clericus Cup organizers said they had to remind fans to keep their cheering down over the weekend because of neighbors’ complaints that the priestly soccer matches were a “disturbance of the peace.”  (By the way, here’s a great photo from the Italian Sports Center, the Catholic association that organizes the soccer series, of a Redemptoris Mater fan taken during Saturday’s game against the NAC showing his silent protest of the recent fan-noise ban.)

When fans of the Pontifical Urbanian University (once famed for blasting out reggae music during games) got shushed for cheering, they resorted to praying the Hail Mary out loud and in Latin — sure they wouldn’t get in trouble for reciting the rosary.  

Arkansas program lets taxpayers donate to families in crisis

With tax season just around the corner for most Americans, here’s an example, courtesy of the Arkansas Catholic in Little Rock, of a partnership between a state taxing agency and a volunteer organization to funnel donations to families facing a child’s catastrophic illness. Called the Baby Sharon Fund, the program was conceived by an Arkansas teacher who lost both a son and a granddaughter to illness. It lets Arkansas residents make donations through their state income tax form, or anyone can donate through the mail.

‘What non-Catholics like about Catholic schools’

That’s the intriguing headline over an equally intriguing story for this week’s Catholic Schools Week observance in the current edition of The Georgia Bulletin in Atlanta.

Baseball, life — and Lent

As a baseball fan, I know of no better way to warm up on a cold winter’s day than to use a baseball story to talk about life — or Lent, as Joe Towalski does in this column about how a baseball clinic he attended recently with the Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer got him thinking about preparing for the Lenten season. It’s in The Catholic Bulletin of St. Paul, Minn.

And you think YOUR neighborhood is noisy!

Clericus Cup logoWe’ve been devotedly following the Clericus Cup soccer tournament, which features teams from Rome’s major seminaries in friendly matches with an international flavor. So we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss yesterday’s story about how Clericus Cup fans are being asked to hold down the noise because of complaints from the neighbors. It seems that the tambourines, megaphones and boomboxes were interfering with Roman siesta times, especially on Sunday afternoons. Only in Rome …

Easter’s coming early this year

Shown is some of the frappe and castagnole served up at a Vatican press conference Jan. 24. (John Thavis)At the Vatican Press Office today, Archbishop Claudio Celli’s inaugural press conference was followed by an informal rinfresco — pizza and spumante. The archbishop had one slice, but some of the journalists made lunch of it.

The dessert tray held those pre-Lenten Italian favorites: frappe, a sweet fried flat pastry, and castagnole, fried and sugared dough balls. As they quickly disappeared, someone remarked that we’d better enjoy them now because Ash Wednesday was less than two weeks away.

Is that possible?

Yes. Lent begins on Feb. 6, and Easter is March 23. That’s the earliest Easter since 1913, when it fell on the same date.

In 1913, however, Ash Wednesday came on Feb. 5, a day earlier than this year.

Is that possible?

Yes, because 2008 is a leap year, thus adding an extra day in the middle of the Lenten season.

The earliest Ash Wednesday possible is Feb. 4, and the earliest Easter is March 22. That last happened in 1818.

The fact that Easter is a moveable feast confuses many people, even in Rome. So is the fact that Catholics and Orthodox Christians usually celebrate Easter on different dates, because they follow different calendars. This year, for example, the Orthodox celebrate Easter on April 27 — more than a month after Catholics.

It’s not easy to explain in a sentence or two, but here’s how the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” puts it:

At the Council of Nicaea in 325, all the Churches agreed that Easter, the Christian Passover, should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon (14 Nisan) after the vernal equinox. Because of the different methods of calculating the 14th day of the month of Nisan, the date of Easter in the Western and Eastern churches is not always the same. For this reason, the churches are currently seeking an agreement in order once again to celebrate the day of the Lord’s Resurrection on a common date.

Catholic and Orthodox leaders actually sat down several times in the late 1990s to try and resolve the problem of different Easter celebrations, but didn’t come up with an answer. At that time, the Vatican made it clear that the Catholic Church, following the lead of the Second Vatican Council, could accept the assigning of Easter to a specific Sunday agreed upon with other Christian churches.

One proposal was to celebrate Easter on the Sunday after the second Saturday in April. That sounded do-able. But, perhaps because old traditions die hard, it hasn’t happened yet.

PHOTO: Shown is some of the frappe and castagnole served up at a Vatican press conference Jan. 24. (John Thavis)

Catching up …

Stories worth noting before they get too old:

 – At least three of our papers had stories this month remembering the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Check out these stories in The Rhode Island Catholic in Providence, the Intermountain Catholic in Salt Lake City, and the Arkansas Catholic in Little Rock.

– Two interesting stories posted this week on the Web site of the Catholic Explorer, newspaper of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., are on a local woman who spearheads a ministry to help post-abortive mothers heal and on a praise and worship music group called Second Collection that brings an upbeat tempo to Mass at one parish in the diocese.

– Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver often writes challenging columns in the weekly Denver Catholic Register, and this month has been no exception. He used coverage of the Iowa caucuses to say that the news media “simply don’t ‘get’ religion,” followed that with a column listing “10 simple points” for Catholic citizens to remember when considering political candidates, and this week writes that a Colorado proposal regulating nonprofits who receive state funds would strip Catholic Charities of the freedom it needs to be “Catholic.”

– A well-written feature on how the Retrouvaille program saved the marriage of a couple who faced dark clouds almost immediately after their wedding day is in the current Faith magazine of the Diocese of Erie, Pa.


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