‘When preachers fall from grace’

That’s the headline on Bishop Thomas J. Tobin’s column last week in the Rhode Island Catholic, his diocesan paper in Providence. Speaking of the trustworthiness of priests in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal, Bishop Tobin in his column asks, “Does misbehavior of the messengers invalidate the truth of their message? And should it?”

‘Bella’ opening draws lots of attention

With the movie “Bella” opening this Friday in select theaters, the Catholic press is filled with articles on the film, the plot and its main star, Eduardo Verastegui. Some examples:

  • The Leaven in Kansas City, Kan., tells how the local archbishop arranged a pre-screening in Kansas City after he saw the movie and found it positive and inspiring.  It says “Bella” compares favorably with such highly acclaimed movies as “Life Is Beautiful,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hotel Rwanda,” and “American Beauty.”
  • Another pre-screening of the film was held in the Diocese of Honolulu, reports the Hawaii Catholic Herald.
  • The Tidings in Los Angeles, in a story headlined “Only in Hollywood: Chance meeting after Mass leads to ‘Bella’,” relates how a meeting between one man struggling with his faith and another man quite comfortable with it (Verastegui) set the wheels in motion for the film.
  • In an editorial, the National Catholic Register says the movie “gives us hope that Catholics can reclaim territory we used to own, but have too often ceded: The arts.”
  • The Catholic Sun in Phoenix has an excellently written review of “Bella.” Writer Rebecca Bostic admits to some minor flaws in the movie but remarks that Verastegui gives an “incredible” performance and says the film “asks people to think about the mystery of life’s goodness” as did Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.”

Also worth checking out is this previous CNS News Hub entry on the film.

Library visits pay off for ‘Jeopardy’ champ

I can’t resist stories like this: The Catholic Voice in Oakland, Calif., profiles a local student who was this year’s winner of “Kids’ Week” on the popular TV game show “Jeopardy.” Ten-year-old Rachel Millena “devours American history the way some kids inhale fast foods and sodas,” the paper reports. Here’s the link.

Pro-life midwife takes ministry to Russian Far East

The Western Catholic Reporter in Edmonton, Alberta, tells the story of a midwife who is taking her ministry to the Russian Far East. Heather Holtslag’s goal is not just to help women through their pregnancies but also to be a pro-life presence in an society where abortion is said to be rampant. Click here for the full story.

Little Rock Scripture program offers new feature

Many Catholics have heard of or been involved in the Little Rock Scripture Study program. Now, according to the Arkansas Catholic, the program is offering a free online series called “What the Bible Says About …” for downloading and printing. First topic: “The Rapture.” Click here for the full story.

No cheers for Gore

The Vatican has a long memory, and that helps explain its less-than-enthusiastic response to Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The day Gore was announced as a winner, the Vatican newspaper covered the story in a single sentence,  buried on an inside page.

Then at a Catholic meeting in Pisa last Friday, Cardinal Renato Martino let slip a rather caustic remark. “Allow me to express well-founded puzzlement over how and to whom the Nobel Peace Prizes are assigned — even if they have gone to very worthy people in previous years.” Ouch. He never mentioned Gore by name, but the message was clear.

Why the antipathy? After all, Gore’s concern about global warming seems to be echoed in recent remarks by Pope Benedict and other Vatican officials, and Cardinal Martino’s own Justice and Peace council hosted a Vatican conference on climate change earlier this year.

The answer goes back to a Vatican-U.S. ice age under the Clinton administration. The year was 1994, the place was Cairo, and I was there covering the Vatican’s participation in the International Conference on Population and Development. The Vatican delegation was chiefly concerned over proposed language that would accept abortion as a method of family planning, and saw the U.S. administration as pushing that agenda at the Cairo conference.

At a key point in the debate, Gore, then-vice president and the head of the U.S. delegation to Cairo, sat down for a private meeting with Cardinal Martino, the head of the Vatican delegation. Few details were made public, but there was not a meeting of the minds.

The Vatican thought Gore was being duplicitous. He had insisted that the United States was not trying to have abortion recognized as an international right, and said assertions to the contrary were “outrageous allegations.” But the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, suggested this was just a pose. “The draft document, which finds in this American administration one of its strongest sponsors, contradicts the words of Vice President Gore,” Navarro-Valls told reporters.

The clash was unusually public and left a bitter aftertaste … one that still lingers.

A hint about next spring’s U.S. papal trip?

It’s been five weeks now since our friend Rocco Palmo over at “Whispers in the Loggia” reported what he called a “rough sketch” of the schedule for Pope Benedict XVI’s trip next April to the United States. The New York Archdiocese said in July that the pope was coming to speak at the United Nations, but Rocco’s report that the pope would start in Washington and end in Boston was the first time a possible detailed itinerary had been laid out, even though there had been earlier reports, such as this one from our own John Thavis, that the pope “could easily add one or two other eastern U.S. cities, such as Philadelphia or Boston,” to the U.S. visit.

From our own experience, planning a trip like this is a huge undertaking with numerous draft plans going back and forth between the host country and the Vatican, so it’s understandable that a month later we would know little else about where the pope might stop while here.

But there was a little hint last week that the trip may not be the six-day, Tuesday-to-Sunday pilgrimage up and down the East Coast that previously might have been anticipated.

In a regularly scheduled meeting between top officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the pope, plans for the trip were discussed but “just in general,” according to Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., conference president. The story by our Cindy Wooden added, “He did say, however, that he expected the trip to be brief, in keeping with Pope Benedict’s practice.”

Certainly no one anticipates this pontiff will match the grueling trips that a younger Pope John Paul II embarked on in the 1980s. After all, if the trip really takes place next April 15-20, as Rocco reported, Pope Benedict will turn 81 during the pilgrimage.

A Tuesday-Sunday U.S. papal trip would be even longer than last spring’s Wednesday-to-Sunday visit to Brazil to open the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. Rocco’s report that the U.S. trip would end on Sunday, April 20, in Boston also raised eyebrows beyond the symbolism of a visit to the center of the sex abuse scandal — April 20 is also the day before Patriots’ Day, when thousands of runners descend on the city for the running of the famous Boston Marathon.

(I should also note here that even though CNS is a division of the USCCB, at this point we don’t know any more about the planning for this trip than any other news organization. That’s part of being financially self-sustaining — we’re not told what to cover, and our staff is not included in the top-level preparations for an event like this.)

So, only time will tell whether “brief” means that Pope Benedict only visits two or three U.S. cities or whether he’ll make several stops in a pilgrimage reminiscent of Pope John Paul’s first two trips to the U.S. mainland.