To beard or not to beard: Faith’s call vs. prison authority

beardThe Supreme Court Oct. 7 took up the case of an Arkansas prisoner who is seeking permission to grow a beard, in keeping with the instructions of his Muslim faith. The prisoner, Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik, is challenging the prison system’s blanket ban on inmates having beards for any reason but medical need.

There is a serious constitutional issue at stake — does the prison system’s need to control inmate behavior trump an individual’s right to follow the teachings of his faith.

But as you might expect in a case about beards, the topic inspired a few wisecracks and lighthearted discussions about the ramifications of policies.

The transcript of the oral argument includes an exchange about the difference between the beard ban and the same prison’s policy on hair, which can be unlimited in length on top as long as it doesn’t hang any lower than mid-neck.

At another point, Justice Samuel Alito wondered why a prison that’s worried about inmates hiding contraband in beards couldn’t simply require prisoners to run a comb through their beards.

That way, he said:

“If there’s a SIM card in there or a revolver or anything else you think­ can be hidden in a 1/2-­inch beard, a tiny revolver, it’ll fall out.”

And Justice Antonin Scalia couldn’t resist putting in his take on the power of a commandment of God:

“Well, religious beliefs aren’t reasonable. I mean, religious beliefs are categorical. You know, it’s God tells you. It’s not a matter of being reasonable. God be reasonable? He’s supposed to have a full beard.”

Vatican rule: “No Tweeting from synod hall”

VATICAN CITY — Many members of the Synod of Bishops have Twitter and other social media accounts. But they won’t be tweeting or posting from the synod hall.

Obviously, Pope Francis as the church’s chief legislator is free to ignore that rule given this morning by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the synod. But he can also appeal to the fact that his @Pontifex tweets are posted from the Apostolic Palace and not the synod hall.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris (on Twitter @avingttrois), Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona (@sistachcardenal) and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa (@CardinalNapier) all spoke at the synod this morning, but you would not know that from their Twitter feeds.

Cardinal Baldisseri made his announcement after the morning prayer and brief remarks by Pope Francis. A couple dozen photographers, camera operators and reporters are allowed into the synod hall each morning for the opening prayer. We were not told we couldn’t Tweet. So we did.


A saint for those who bark (and meow)

Sister St. John, of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, holds Marlie during the blessing of the animals at the Franciscan Monastery.

Sister St. John, of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, holds Marlie during the blessing of the animals at the Franciscan Monastery.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -– A few fights broke out among the dogs, including the dapper ones who dressed up for the occasion. A parakeet was silenced by the cacophony of barks. The cats merely tolerated everyone else.

One pup couldn’t take the pressure, got loose and ran for freedom but soon was caught and forced to sit tight today during the blessing of the animals at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.

On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Franciscan Father Greg Friedman told the pet lovers gathered at the monastery the tale of St. Francis befriending a wolf in the Italian town of Gubbio, even when the angry townsfolk wanted to kill the animal.

“Francis was willing to befriend anything that God created,” said Father Friedman.

The saint’s message was one of creating peace and promoting harmony, he said. While that may not have gotten through to the barking dogs in the crowd, at least one pair of pets — a dog and a cat that arrived together in the same carrier — seemed to live in the Franciscan spirit.  For more photos, see our photo gallery on our Catholic News Service Facebook page:

The synod by the numbers

VATICAN CITY — The extraordinary Synod of Bishops formally opens with Mass Sunday and begins its working sessions at the Vatican Monday morning.

Synod 2014Pope Francis is expected to attend all of the working sessions, along with 253 other people.

By the numbers:

– 191 voting members are expected: 162 attending because of the office they hold (114 presidents of bishops’ conferences, 25 heads of Vatican offices, 13 heads of Eastern Catholic churches, and 10 members of the synod council); three elected by the men’s Union of Superiors General; and 26 named by Pope Francis.

– Of the 191, 42 come from Africa, 38 from the Americas, 29 from Asia, 78 from Europe and four from Oceania and the South Pacific. The voting members include 61 Latin-rite cardinals, one Eastern-rite cardinal, seven Eastern patriarchs, 67 archbishops, 47 bishops, one auxiliary bishop and seven priests.

– The synod members will be assisted by 16 synod staff members and appointed experts (also referred to as collaborators), including one married couple. Members also will hear from and work in small groups with 38 observers (auditors), including 12 married couples.

– In addition, eight other Christian churches and communities will send delegates as a sign of their shared concern for the pastoral care of families today.

Participants in the 2012 Synod of Bishops in the Vatican synod hall with Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Participants in the 2012 Synod of Bishops in the Vatican synod hall with Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS/Paul Haring)


Pope Francis’ baseball moment

By now, more than 24 hours after it happened, there are probably only a few dozen people who haven’t seen Pope Francis bobble the baseball thrown to him from the stands — er, the crowd of pilgrims — at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square yesterday.

If you’re one who hasn’t seen it, watch this closely:

Here’s a better shot, taken by Claudio Peri and distributed by the European Pressphoto Agency:

Pope Francis reaches out to grab a baseball thrown by someone in the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square Sept. 24.  (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA)

Pope Francis reaches out to grab a baseball thrown by someone in the crowd as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA)

As you can see in the video, Pope Francis leaps and almost catches the high throw. According to Rafael Walter, who posted the “Popeball” video to YouTube, the toss was made by a member of the Koeppel family from St. Edward’s Church in Palm Beach, Fla., reportedly in the hope of raising money for their parish.

For anyone who knows baseball, the error is on the throw, not on the attempted catch.

CNEWA gets Raskob grant for clinics for displaced Iraqis

Aid officials have cited a need for hospitals for displaced Iraqi minorities who fled Islamic State fighters. (CNS/Sahar Mansour)

Aid officials have cited a need for health care for displaced Iraqi minorities who fled Islamic State fighters. (CNS/Sahar Mansour)

NEW YORK — The Raskob Foundation has awarded the Catholic Near East Welfare Association an emergency grant so it can open two additional medical clinics serving displaced Christians in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq.

The agency’s local partners have cited pressing health concerns for the 4,530 Iraqi Christian families living temporarily in the cities of Dohuk and Zahko. They are among Iraqi minorities who have fled advancing Islamic State fighters.

The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena will administer the clinics and will coordinate their efforts with Chaldean and Syriac Catholic priests responsible for relief efforts in Dohuk and Zahko, respectively.

Bishop Cupich named to succeed Cardinal George as Chicago archbishop

Archbishop Cupich (CNS photo)

Archbishop Cupich (CNS photo)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -– Pope Francis has named Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Washington, as archbishop of Chicago, succeeding Cardinal Francis E. George, who has headed the archdiocese since 1997.

The appointment was announced Sept. 20 in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Archbishop Cupich will be installed in Chicago during a special Mass Nov. 18.

Cardinal George is 77, two years past the age when bishops are required by canon law to turn in their resignation to the pope.

The cardinal was first diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006 and had a recurrence of cancer announced in 2012. In August it was announced that he was participating in a clinical research trial for a new cancer drug.

His health concerns have stepped up the process of searching for his successor as archbishop of Chicago.

In an April 11 news conference he told reporters: “It’s a question of being able to spend your entire energy on what is my responsibility as archbishop of Chicago. This is a position that demands a lot of constant attention.”

“Now it looks as if I’m going to have to be spending a little more attention on my health and so it’s just not fair to the archdiocese to have someone who may not be able to do the job as well as I believe it should be done,” he added.

Archbishop Cupich, 65, has been bishop of Spokane since 2010 after having served as bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, since 1998. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, he was born in 1949, the grandson of Croatian immigrants. He was ordained a priest for the Omaha Archdiocese in 1975.

In his ministry as a priest, he served as an associate pastor and pastor, teacher, seminary rector, and as a member of the staff of the apostolic nunciature in Washington.

The archbishop chairs the Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe and is former chair of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Cardinal George is the first native Chicagoan to serve as archbishop of Chicago. He was born in 1937 and attended schools in Illinois before entering the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1957. He was ordained a priest Dec. 21, 1963. He was his order’s vicar general in Rome from 1974 to 1986.

The cardinal has often said that one of his goals is to live to see retirement since all of the other Chicago bishops died in office. His predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, died in 1996 at age 68 of pancreatic cancer.

A five-month bout with polio when Cardinal George was 13 damaged both of his legs, forcing him to use a brace on his right leg. He walks with a pronounced limp.

He was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007 to 2010.

He was made a cardinal in 1998. Before his appointment to Chicago, he was archbishop of Portland, Oregon, and before that bishop of Yakima, Washington.


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