Passing off bad, old news as “good as new”

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno stands near the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope located on Mount Graham in Graham County, Ariz. (CNS file/Judith Britt)We all know recycling is a good idea, but let’s save it for glass and plastic.

An old news story on Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno was recently reheated and served up as new on the Internet. Why? Who knows. Maybe because the media seem driven to whip up headlines that smack of scandal. And if it worked first time … well, try, try again.

One digital outlet stirred up a blogging flurry last week with its headline: “Vatican astronomer likens creationism to superstition.” A day earlier, another online agency had led with “Vatican astronomer: God didn’t create the universe in six days.” The coverage was enough to create its own Big Bang chain reaction in the blogosphere, generating comments that ranged from expressing surprise to indignation.

What was wrong was “the story is completely false,” Br. Guy wrote me.

Both agencies reported the U.S. Jesuit astronomer’s remarks were from a talk he purportedly gave “this week” or “on Tuesday” (Dec. 4) in Glasgow, Scotland. Br. Guy was on the road that week, but he was not in the British Isles but in a different England known as New England — specifically, Connecticut.

A simple Google search shows at least one of the “new” reports was based on a story in May 2006, when Br. Guy was indeed in Scotland to give a talk to the Glasgow Science Centre. That particular coverage created its own Internet buzz back then, so much so that it prompted Br. Guy to dedicate one of his regular columns in the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, to the affair.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” Br. Guy wrote in The Tablet’s May 20, 2006, edition, to see he had apparently said, according to the Scottish paper, “Believing that God created the universe in six days is a form of superstitious paganism.”

“Though I do worry that creationism can tend towards paganism, I don’t remember being so blunt,” he wrote in The Tablet.

Br. Guy, who also has been known to explore fun topics like whether space aliens have souls, told me in an email yesterday he felt the Scottish agency’s May 2006 report was “a rather muddled version of an interview I gave” based on “some of my own rather muddled comments.”

But as for the Jesuit brother’s general comments about creationism, well, it’s not new the Catholic church does not consider Genesis to be a science manual. The book of Genesis tells us God did create the universe, but it’s science that tries to tell us how.

“It’s hardly news that Catholicism is not creationist,” Br. Guy wrote in an unofficial statement he circulated among friends who had seen the stories last week on the Web.

Church fathers like Aquinas and Augustine specifically refuted the kind of literalism we see in the creationist vision. Br. Guy said there have been many papal speeches supporting scientific findings. One in particular, a 1952 address  by Pope Pius XII to the International Astronomical Union “is essentially an Astronomy 101 lecture on the size and history of the universe, as best known by astronomers at that time.”

Br. Guy writes in his email statement: “The bit about science protecting religion from superstition is not mine; it is from Pope John Paul II, in a widely available ‘letter to the director of the Vatican Observatory’ that outlines his views of the relationship between science and religion. Again, it should be read in its context.”

Also, Pope Pius XII’s 1950 encyclical, “Humani Generis,” stated there is “no opposition between evolution, correctly understood, and Catholic doctrine about humanity.”

In 1996, Pope John Paul II told members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in an October address that “new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” That statement generated a huge media buzz back then, even without the help of the Internet. 

PHOTO: Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno stands near the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope located on Mount Graham in Graham County, Ariz. (CNS file/Judith Britt)

Update on the Dolan brothers

You may remember our item late last month on Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and his brother hosting a TV series in Milwaukee on evangelization. Here’s an update, courtesy of the Catholic Herald in Milwaukee, which reports that in a discussion about Christmases growing up in the Dolan household, the archbishop asks little brother Bob if he remembers a certain bowling set that Bob took even though it wasn’t intended for him.

When the Dalai Lama comes knocking

The Dalai Lama bows to the crowd as he makes his way to the podium during an interfaith service in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. He was joined at the service by several local religious dignitaries representing Catholics and other Christians as well as Muslims, Jews and Hindus. (CNS/Patrick McPartland, Western New York Catholic)Should Pope Benedict meet the Dalai Lama every time he comes knocking on the Vatican’s door?

The question arose after the Vatican said the pope would not be holding an audience with the Tibetan spiritual leader this month. “I would have liked to have seen him. The pope may not have time or he may have other commitments,” the Dalai Lama told reporters after arriving for a 10-day visit in Italy.

Italian news agencies had earlier reported the papal audience was on, citing an unidentified Vatican source. That prompted a negative reaction from China, which views the Dalai Lama as a political agitator for Tibetan separatism. So when the Vatican announced there would be no meeting, some had the impression that the pope was marching to China’s orders.

Vatican sources I spoke with this week said it was silly to think the Vatican is calibrating its activities to please Beijing. At the same time, they said, there’s no doubt that such a meeting would have a political aspect. Although he is Buddhism’s most famous monk, the Dalai Lama is also the leader of the exiled Tibetan government, which was formed after the Chinese communist government took over Tibet in the 1950s.

“The Vatican has to be attentive to the whole picture,” one source said.

Almost lost in the discussion is the fact that Pope Benedict met with the Dalai Lama last year. On that occasion, the Vatican took pains to underline that the encounter was a strictly private discussion on religious topics — so private, in fact, that the meeting was not even listed in the daily log of papal activities.

Sources said this time around, the Vatican had instead suggested that the Dalai Lama might want to meet with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican’s council for interreligious dialogue. As of today, it is uncertain whether such a meeting would take place.

PHOTO: The Dalai Lama bows to the crowd as he makes his way to the podium during an interfaith service in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. He was joined at the service by several local religious dignitaries representing Catholics and other Christians as well as Muslims, Jews and Hindus. (CNS/Patrick McPartland, Western New York Catholic)

Israeli ambassador says goodbye

Oded Ben-Hur, Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, is pictured in a 2005 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)Israel’s ambassador to the Vatican, Oded Ben-Hur, said goodbye to a group of friends at a reception at his residence Monday night. He’s returning soon to Jerusalem after more than four years in Rome, and among those gathered to bid farewell were the Vatican’s coordinator of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni.

Ben-Hur’s tenure has been troubled by the failure of Israeli and Vatican negotiators to nail down agreements on the juridical and financial status of the Catholic Church in Israel. Last month, the former nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, raised more than a few eyebrows when he said relations between the Vatican and Israel were better before full diplomatic ties were established in 1994.

On the diplomatic Richter scale, Archbishop Sambi’s comments registered between 7 and 8 — the “can cause serious damage” category.

Making a toast on Tuesday, Ben-Hur offered his own perspective. Those who feel disappointed about the slow pace of negotiations, he said, should remember that the 13 years of diplomatic relations are practically nothing, “an iota,” compared to the 2,000-year history of Catholic-Jewish relations. Real dialogue like this takes time to mature, he said.

“So please don’t give up hope — we’re serious about this,” he said. He even promised to keep working in favor of the agreements after he returns to Israel.

For the moment, Ben-Hur is still on the job, and he’ll be shuttling between Rome and Jerusalem until his replacement is named. He and his Vatican counterparts were flying to Jerusalem this week for yet another round of talks on the legal and financial questions. On Wednesday, the group was to meet in a high-level plenary session, which has raised hopes somewhat higher than usual, according to one Vatican official.

Was an accord finally on the horizon?

“Miracles have happened before in the Holy Land,” the official said.

PHOTO: Oded Ben-Hur, Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, is pictured in a 2005 file photo. (CNS/Paul Haring)

USCCB withdraws review of “The Golden Compass”

Today the U.S. bishops withdrew the review of the film “The Golden Compass,” which opened in theaters in the United States Dec. 7. The review was written by Harry Forbes and John Mulderig, the director and staff reviewer respectively of the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The review was released and posted on the CNS Web site Nov. 29. The USCCB gave no reason for withdrawing the review.

Since CNS is a distributor of media reviews of the OFB, it must respect the office’s withdrawal of its review. Effective Dec. 10, the review of “The Golden Compass” will not be available on the CNS Web site. It will not be included in subsequent listings of USCCB film reviews and classifications.

CNS stories about the film remain available to clients. These include:

Author of book behind ‘Golden Compass’ criticized as anti-Christian

Critics debate merits of ‘The Golden Compass’ movie

Nun-critic offers media literacy guide for ‘The Golden Compass’

“The Golden Compass” as seen in the Catholic press

Also, since our last post on the CNS News Hub, there’s also this item of interest: ‘Compass’: Challenging believers to articulate faith, values, by Sister Rose Pacatte.

UPDATE on Dec. 11: Comments on the review of “The Golden Compass” or its withdrawal by the USCCB can be sent to

Bishops say theologian’s book could mislead Catholics

Readers looking for additional background on today’s statement by the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee on “problematic aspects” in the writings of Vietnamese-American theologian Father Peter C. Phan of Georgetown University can find it in our September story when the examination of Father Phan’s book was first made public by the National Catholic Reporter. The following month, we also had a story on a talk given by Father Phan in Berkeley, Calif., in which he described the growth of Catholicism in the developing world and the importance of local culture among people embracing the Catholic faith in Africa and Asia.

“Golden Compass,” Part 2

(CNS photo/New Line)Or maybe this is Part 3, if you count both the brief post here from last month and our comprehensive look two days ago of Catholic press coverage on both sides of the issue.

More items found since Wednesday:

— Bishop Jerome E. Listecki of La Crosse, Wis., asked in a letter to pastors in his diocese that they avoid “The Golden Compass” and caution parishioners “against this pernicious attack on the foundations of our Christian faith and on the innocence of our children.”

— Joe Towalski, in an editorial in this week’s edition of The Catholic Bulletin in St. Paul, Minn., says he got a “sneak peak” screening of the movie last weekend,  defends the controversial review by the U.S. bishops’ film office, but also says the problem is “the agenda that may lurk behind it” and credits the Catholic League with providing a valuable service to parents in its booklet on the movie.

— Catholic Digest magazine offers an analysis of the controversy surrounding the books and the movie in a Q-and-A format titled “Should our family watch ‘The Golden Compass?'” It’s conclusion? Families should make “a prayerful, informed decision whether or not to see the movie or read the books” and, if they do so, have a serious discussion “to engage children in a better understanding of why we as Catholics believe what we believe.”

— The National Catholic Reporter examines the controversy as well, focusing primarily on the books that are behind the film.

There is no way this is everything. We’ll probably have more links to more viewpoints next week.