Notre Dame reaction continues

The University of Notre Dame’s choice of President Barack Obama as commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient at the university’s May 17 graduation has been a topic for columns in secular and Catholic publications alike.

In the April 19 edition of Our Sunday Visitor Greg Erlandson, OSV’s president and publisher, said the  controversy “gives us a chance to tackle issues of identity, authority and academic freedom.”

The March 29 issue of the Chicago Tribune included columns with opposing points of view on the commencement controversy. George Wiegel,  a senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, called the university’s decision “an egregious error” while Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University praised Notre Dame for being “an inviting place of common ground.”

A Los Angeles times editorial said that by resisting pressure  to rescind Obama’s invitation, Notre Dame has “kept faith with both its religious and its academic missions.”

Kenneth Woodward, contributing editor at Newsweek, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed piece that as a graduate of Notre Dame and someone who is “adamantly pro-life,” he did not think the invitation meant the university was “signaling its approval” of Obama’s policies.

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, also a Notre Dame alum, took this view: “I believe that Notre Dame will be good for President Obama and that President Obama will be good for Notre Dame. They both will benefit from the visit.”

Those in favor of Obama as graduation speaker and those against his presence on campus May 17 also have a home on Facebook which nonmembers can view.

Wyoming Catholic newspaper latest victim of economy

The Wyoming Catholic Register, now published once a month by the statewide Diocese of Cheyenne, is shutting down, a victim of the worsening economy.

The newspaper, established in 1952, had a circulation of 18,000, according to the Catholic Press Association’s 2009 directory. There are about 49,000 Catholics in the diocese.

 According to a story published in the Casper Star-Tribune daily newspaper, the diocese may try a periodic bulletin to reach the faithful. The newspaper’s closing, the story added, is part of a diocesewide reorganization, according to Father Michael Carr, diocesan administrator; the diocese has been without a bishop since Bishop David L. Ricken was installed as bishop of Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., last August.

Click here for the Casper Star-Tribune story.

Being good to yourself in bad times

Pina Newman, a counselor with Catholic Social Services of Oakland County, Mich., just north of Detroit, has a busy workload, as even people in once-stable professions find themselves out of work and less able to cope with the stresses of unemployment.

Working out of a parish rectory to see clients, Newman put together a list, “Seven Ways to Improve Your Mental Health During Times of Unemployment.” They are:

1. Create a daily schedule.

This can include a regular time set aside for job searches, exercise, social activities, houehold duties, etc. Get up in the a.m., shower and “get ready for the day” as you normally would.

2. Allow yourself and family members to express emotions.

Create an atmosphere in your home where all family members can freely express their feelings of anger, frustration and despair. Don’t talk about “snapping out of it.” This denies and discounts what a person may be feeling. Recognize that most people are not at fault for losing their jobs.

3. Be flexible.

Roles within the family will probably shift during this period. Be supportive of one another and allow the changes to take place.

4. Take good care of yourself’.

Eat balanced meals, exercise, get outside and engage in enjoyable, relaxing activities. This is not a time to isolate yourself and avoid family and friends. You may want to engage in journal writing, meditation, and prayer for some solitary activities.

5. Build your network.

Reach out to family, friends, church and clergy. Share with others some of your thoughts and what type of work you are looking for. Consider joining a group in your community for networking and support.

6. Reward yourself for your efforts.

Give yourself acknowledgment for what you are doing. This may simply be in the form of what you are saying to yourself or writing in a  journal some of your daily progresses. Perhaps you share some of your efforts with a family member or a friend. Realize you are taking steps toward your goal.

7. Get help if you are depressed.

Sometimes things get so difficult you feel overwhelmed. If you are feeling depressed for more than three weeks, you feel numb, empty-hearted, tired all the time, have sleep problems, cry frequently, can’t concentrate or have a change in eating habits, see your doctor or a counselor. Depression is an illness and should be treated. Get professional help if:

– You ever become violent.

– Consider suicide.

– Think of separating from your spouse because of unemployment.

– Find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs.

Also, if you notice your child is acting out, has a drop in grades, you may consider seeking some help for them.

Priest swap

No, it’s not some pilot for a spinoff of the ABC “Wife Swap” reality series. It has actually happened in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where five parishes swapped their priests over Lent. It was one way of ensuring that, even though there are fewer priests available for service, there is not less ministry taking place.

The Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan paper, carried a story with the full details of the pulpit-sharing arrangement. Go here to learn more.

A pastoral letter on joy

Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn., has issued a pastoral letter on joy, titled “Living Our Catholicism … That Our Joy Might Be Complete.” 

In it, he says he sees how people may find it tough to be “outrageously happy,” as Linus Van Pelt once said in a “Peanuts” comic strip. He also acknowledges how some Catholics see their church as an institution with “more rules than the U.S. tax code.”

He adds, “While regulations, prohibitions, obligations and expectations are part of the Catholic way of life, our way of life is certainly not reducible to those expectations.”

But, Bishop Steib reminds his faithful,  Jesus prayed for his diciples before his passion, asking God to “allow that his joy might be in them, and that their joy might be complete.”

The West Tennessee Catholic, Memphis’ diocesan newspaper has the full text of Bishop Steib’s pastoral on its Web site, or go straight to the pastoral here.

U.S. Catholic hospitals dominate Top 100 list

Last week Thompson Reuters released its annual list of the 100 Top Hospitals in the U.S. The health care information organization has a tough list of benchmarks that hospitals must meet in order to be considered for ranking. The rankings are divided into five categories: major teaching hospitals, teaching hospitals, and large, medium and small community hospitals.

In the No. 1 spot is St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, a hospital of Catholic Healthcare West. Catholic health care centers ranked in 28 additional spots across all the categories. Nine of the hospitals were given the Top 100 Hospitals Everest Award for benchmark performance with the highest rates of improvement.

The hospitals represent health ministries that originated with communities of religious sisters throughout the history of health care in America. Among them: Sisters of St. Francis, Bon Secours, Sisters of Mercy, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Providence, Sisters of St. Joseph and others.

Since one in six Americans receives health care in a Catholic health institution each year, according to the Catholic Health Association, the high rankings are good news for health care consumers in the United States.

Al Jazeera correspondent to fly with pope to Holy Land

ajilogoVATICAN CITY — For the first time, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television network will have a correspondent on a papal flight.

Barbara Serra, an Italian-born, London-based presenter for Al Jazeera’s English-language channel, will fly with Pope Benedict XVI to Jordan and Israel May 8-15.

The list of 70 journalists admitted to the papal flight was posted at the Vatican Saturday. CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis also is accredited for the flight.

The Vatican and Notre Dame

VATICAN CITY — One of the biggest debates among U.S. Catholics at the moment is about Notre Dame University’s invitation to President Barack Obama to give this year’s commencement address and receive an honorary degree.

But so far, the issue has not had the same resonance at the Vatican — at least publicly. There’s been no Vatican statement, and the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio have yet to mention the controversy.

When Catholic News Service requested reaction from Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education (which, of course, deals with Catholic universities), we received a polite “no comment.”

Based on conversations with Roman Curia officials, I have no doubt that the Obama-Notre Dame question is on the minds of U.S. priests and bishops working at the Vatican. With statements pouring in on one side or another back home, how could it be otherwise?

But non-Americans at the Vatican tend to see the issue in a different light, I think.

For one thing, they seem more comfortable with the idea of accommodating dignitaries and civil authorities in a church setting, even when their political positions aren’t in line with the church’s teaching.

I emphasize that these were casual conversations, not a comprehensive survey of opinions. But two episodes in particular have been mentioned to me by Vatican officials over the last week.

One was that French President Nicholas Sarkozy received the title of honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran during his visit to Rome in 2007, a tradition that goes back centuries. Sarkozy, who also met Pope Benedict, supports legal abortion.


File photo of students at Rome's Sapienza University passing a sign protesting Pope Benedict's planned 2008 visit, a visit the pope then cancelled. (CNS photo/Reuters)

The Vatican and the Diocese of Rome seemed to have no problem with honoring the twice-divorced Sarkozy, who says he is a Catholic. In fact, the Lateran vespers service to bestow the title was “all pomp and circumstance,” as one Vatican official put it.

The second thing mentioned was that when Pope Benedict was invited to give a major talk at the Rome’s Sapienza University in 2008, the criticism and protest by some professors and students who didn’t want to give him a platform caused the pope to cancel the appearance. The episode was viewed at the Vatican as a prime example of intolerance.

Last year, a minor controversy erupted at Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum, when Cherie Blair was invited to speak on “Women and Human Rights.” Some U.S. and British groups called her “pro-abortion” and tried to get the invitation rescinded; the university refused to cancel, despite receiving hundreds of complaints. During her talk, Blair said she had difficulties with the church’s teaching on responsible parenthood, but implied that her problems were with church teaching on contraception, not abortion.

Archbishop Nichols named archbishop of Westminster

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has named Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, England, to be the new archbishop of Westminster. The 63-year-old archbishop was ordained to the priesthood in 1969. He served as general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales before being named an auxiliary bishop of Westminster in 1992. He was appointed archbishop of Birmingham in 2000.

He succeeds Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, 76, who has led the Westminster see for just over nine years.

The Diocese of Westminster covers London north of the Thames River.

UPDATE: Here’s a more complete version of this story.

Most-viewed CNS stories for March

Here’s our monthly list of most viewed stories on during March, in case you missed any of them:

1. Pope declares year of the priest to inspire spiritual perfection (March 16)

2. Bishops urge Catholics to reject bill giving laity parish fiscal rule (March 9)

3. Do not mock the pope, Italian cardinal and India’s bishops say (March 25)

4. Vatican stops Catholic-Anglican confirmation proposed for Australia (March 6)

5. Media effort draws 92,000 inactive Catholics back home to church (March 25)

6. Pope’s condom comments latest chapter in sensitive church discussion (March 18)

7. In letter, pope responds to criticisms over Lefebvrite decision (March 12)

8. North Dakota seminary partially evacuates because of flood alert (March 26)

9. Despite criticism, Notre Dame firm on Obama as commencement speaker (March 23)

10. Papal letter: Pointed, personal and from the heart (March 12)


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