Celebrating the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth

This Bible was used when Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States in 1861, and again last month for President Barack Obama. It is pictured at the Library of Congress in Washington. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

This Bible was used when Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States in 1861, and again last month for President Barack Obama. It is pictured at the Library of Congress in Washington. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Before his inauguration, President Barack Obama re-created a small part of the train trip Abraham Lincoln made to the nation’s capital 148 years before. And it is not news that Obama often has invoked the words of the nation’s 16th president — from the campaign trail to the Oval Office.

Now across the country — and even around the globe — people young and old alike are preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Great Emancipator.

Here are a couple of ways Catholic universities are participating:

– In the “Land of Lincoln,” students at Jesuit-run Loyola University Chicago have created a class project as part of “Lincoln & Citizen Journalism” in the School of Communications.

– In Washington, The Catholic University of America is sponsoring several public lectures and offering a series of courses that examine Lincoln in history, politics and culture.

As it happens the campus of Catholic University is geographically close to a place imbued with the spirit of Lincoln: the summer cottage where the president and his family spent quite a bit of time during the Civil War.

What’s missing from the Williamson controversy …

Compact discs featuring an interview with Bishop Richard Williamson are displayed in a bookstore at St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Farmingville, N.Y., Feb. 1. The chapel, which is affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X, was established under the direction of then-Father Williamson in 1983. British-born Bishop Williamson, whose excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI Jan. 21, provoked controversy with comments denying the full extent of the Holocaust. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Compact discs featuring an interview with Bishop Richard Williamson are displayed in a bookstore at St. Michael the Archangel Chapel in Farmingville, N.Y., Feb. 1. The chapel, which is affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X, was established under the direction of then-Father Williamson in 1983. British-born Bishop Williamson, whose excommunication was lifted by Pope Benedict XVI Jan. 21, provoked controversy with comments denying the full extent of the Holocaust. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

… is any recognition (OK, I exaggerate, there has been some recognition) that the lifting of excommunication for four bishops ordained in 1988 by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was only a first step — not the last — in regularizing Bishop Williamson and the others into the good graces of the Catholic Church.

The latest to miss the point was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who today said Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican needed to make clear there could be no denial of the Holocaust by someone like Bishop Williamson. The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, quickly replied with a statement that the pope has clearly distanced himself from the bishop’s remarks that no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers.

A story of ours that hasn’t been getting the Web views that it deserves is last week’s Vatican Letter, by CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis. He wrote:

When the pope lifted the excommunication of four of the society’s bishops in January, it finally seemed to open the way to the elusive “full communion” between the society’s leadership and the Catholic Church.

But the ending of this story has not yet been written, and even inside the Vatican there are questions about what the pope’s latest move really signifies for the short term and the long term.

One of the biggest short-term questions regards the standing of the Swiss-based society’s bishops and priests — specifically, whether in the Vatican’s view they remain suspended from their ministry until a more complete agreement is reached.

The answer, according to several Vatican sources, is that there’s no clear answer.

Thavis goes on to describe the “canonical mess” that remains and that hundreds of details remain to be negotiated, including “the elephant in the room” — the willingness of the Lefebvre bishops to accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

Read the entire column for a better understanding that these bishops are a long way from being in full communion with Rome.

UPDATE: The Vatican’s Feb. 4 statement clarified some of these issues, noting for instance that Bishop Williamson must distance himself from his previous statements in “an absolutely unequivocal and public manner.”

More headlines … (2/3/09)

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Catholic press spotlights the issue that won’t go away

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