Archbishop comments on public school sex abuse

An Associated Press national study on child sex abuse in public schools is the subject of this week’s column by Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis in his archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit. He notes that most public school teachers are honorable, hardworking professionals, as are the vast majority of Catholic priests, and says that the knowledge gained by the church in its abuse crisis can help other institutions in their efforts to protect children.

Community readies for All Souls Day

Looking for ways to observe All Souls Day? File this away for next year: One of the oldest cemeteries in Arkansas had its headstones scrubbed and power-washed last weekend as part of a general cleanup in preparation for tomorrow’s feast. The story is here in the Arkansas Catholic.

Internet primer offered by Our Sunday Visitor

Our Sunday Visitor in this weekend’s edition offers an Internet primer, examining the things Catholics can find there to help their faith, such as vast catechetical resources, as well as drawbacks, such as substituting virtual communities for the local parish. There are also sections on high-tech terms, instant-messaging and popular Catholic sites.

Saudi king no stranger to Vatican

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Aziz is no stranger to the Vatican.

His meeting next Tuesday with Pope Benedict XVI marks the first time a pope has met with a reigning king of Saudi Arabia. But it will be Abdullah’s third papal audience.

As crown prince, he met with Pope John Paul II twice — at Castel Gandolfo in September 1997 and at the Vatican in May 1999.

Although the Vatican and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, Pope Benedict met with another member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Saud Al Faisal, in September. The Vatican said the pope and the prince, who is the country’s foreign minister, discussed the political and religious situation in Saudi Arabia, among other topics.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holy cities of Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed, and Medina, site of Mohammed’s tomb. The country forbids the public practice of any religion other than Islam, a position frequently criticized by human rights organizations and by the Vatican, which is especially concerned about the situation of Catholic foreign workers in Saudi Arabia.

Vatican-watchers are eager to see how the pope addresses those issues. But there is a good chance only the king, the pope and their top staff will know for sure.

Formal speeches are exchanged and published only on the rare occasions of a formal state visit. Otherwise, Vatican press statements about papal meetings with visiting heads of state usually begin by saying the meeting was “cordial” or “very cordial,” and then add an exceedingly general list of topics covered. Normally, reporters get details of the papal conversation only if the head of state talks about it later at a press conference.

After hours at the Vatican Museums

There’s nothing quite like an evening book presentation inside the Vatican Museums. It’s a thrill just to walk through the darkened museum hallways at night, hours after the place has officially closed. Last Tuesday, there was the added spectacle of a thunderstorm raging outside. I headed to the conference hall, strolling past Egyptian mummies, Roman mosaics and rows of imperial busts that came to life with each flash of lightning. It felt like the opening of “The Da Vinci Code.”

The book presentation took place under the watchful eye of Augustus in armor on one side and a nude satyr on the other. As I settled in for the inevitable round of speeches, the question occurred to me: Who needs another book on the Sistine Chapel? This one was written by a German Jesuit, Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, who spent nearly 50 years investigating the religious images and symbols of the Sistine frescoes. His thesis turned out to be interesting, though: while modern experts tend to focus on the artistic vision and style of the chapel’s painters, including Michelangelo, the artists actually worked according to quite specific parameters set by papal theologians. As a result, Father Pfeiffer says, the chapel is really a study in Renaissance Christian iconography.

The bonus postscript to the speechifying was a private visit to the Sistine Chapel. As we all stood around craning our necks, Bruno Bartoloni, the longtime Vatican correspondent for Agence France-Presse and Corriere della Sera, took me aside and pointed to a spot halfway up the wall. There, camouflaged in a fresco of drapes, was a rectangular “peephole” used by popes who wanted to watch over liturgies without being seen. Bartoloni, who has visited nearly every square inch of the Vatican’s jumbled geography, said he’d once stood inside the tiny papal hideaway.

It was still raining the next day when I returned to the Sistine Chapel during tourist rush hour. I wanted to see how the Vatican was handling the increasingly huge crowds that pour into the museum. The Sistine, of course, was shoulder-to-shoulder. A U.S. couple told me they had waited an hour and a half in line just to get into the museum; now, standing beneath one of the world’s artistic masterpieces, they felt like they were riding a crowded Roman bus. I don’t think they caught many of the frescoes’ iconographical details.

Back home, they might want to check out Father Pfeiffer’s book,  “The Sistine Chapel: A New Vision.” And those who can’t afford the volume’s high price tag can always view parts of the chapel online at the Vatican’s Web site.