One way to look at our economic mess

In light of the Wall Street bailout debate, here’s a quote of note from the blog of one of our clients:

Your Holiness, now would be an excellent moment for an historic, idol-smashing, human-dignity-restoring encyclical that could turn out to be the foundation of a revived social-Catholic movement of the twenty-first century.

(But you’ve probably already thought of that.)

— Austen Ivereigh, writing on the idolatry of money in a post headlined “Memo to Pope: encyclical, please” in the America magazine blog.

Archbishop says Democrats becoming ‘party of death’

This will set off some fireworks:

ROME (CNS) — The Democratic Party in the United States “risks transforming itself definitively into a ‘party of death,'” said U.S. Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Vatican’s highest court.

(full story)

Died in his sleep

VATICAN CITY — Thirty years ago today I walked into the office of the Rome Daily American at 6:45 in the morning and began ripping the AP and Reuters newswires for a 7 o’clock radio news show. When I saw the teletype machines, I froze. At the top of each were two bulletins announcing the death of Pope John Paul I after only 34 days in office.

A few minutes later I found myself announcing on Radio Daily American that the “smiling pope” had died in his sleep the night before, at the age of 65. The news show was not much more than a headline service, but I promised details to come, and then ducked out of the building for a quick espresso.

When I walked into the corner bar, the first words I heard were: “L’hanno ammazzato.” “They killed him.” I can’t remember whether the phrase was pronounced by Sergio, the barista, or one of his customers, but it seemed to be the general consensus of the Roman street that day. The pope was known as a good and decent man, and the popular imagination was already conjuring up a plot to explain his untimely demise.

And in Rome, the popular imagination tends toward poison. Hadn’t a Russian Orthodox Church leader, Metropolitan Nikodim, dropped dead a couple weeks earlier during a meeting with the pontiff after drinking a cup of coffee? Perhaps the coffee had been meant for the pope. Or so went the thinking in Sergio’s bar.

It turned out that John Paul I had serious circulation problems — so serious, in fact, that his legs were badly swollen, he complained of pain and his closest aides wanted to summon a physician shortly before he died. The medical facts did not, however, stop the rumor mill from turning. In 1984, British author David Yallop published an investigative book, “In God’s Name,” which hypothesized that the pope’s death may have been an inside job.

In 1989, another British writer, John Cornwell, wrote a book that took Yallop’s theories apart. Written with Vatican cooperation and titled, “A Thief in the Night,” it found that the late pope felt unwell throughout his month at the Vatican and talked repeatedly of dying. Sources quoted by Cornwell said the pope questioned why the College of Cardinals had chosen him and spoke of “the foreigner” who would replace him.

For some reason, I saved those AP and Reuters bulletins from Sept. 29, 1978. I found them recently, tucked inside a book of Italian poetry. With them was a third item, heralding the arrival of John Paul I’s successor, the foreigner.

Adam and Eve were vegans

A funny thing about reading the Bible: you often find things you did not notice the first 20 or 30 times you read or heard the passage.

My most recent trip back to the Bible, to the beginning of the Bible, was prompted by reading the new document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, “The Bible and Morality.” Basically, it says that God told Adam and Eve to be strict vegetarians — vegans, in fact — and that it was only after the Great Flood that God told Noah, and all humanity, that people could eat meat and fish.

The pope picks fruit on vacation in 2006. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI picks fruit during his 2006 vacation in Les Combes, Italy. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Check for yourself. In Genesis 1:28-29, God tells Adam and Eve that he was giving them “every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit” to be their food — and that’s it. Then in Genesis 9:3-4, God tells Noah and his sons, “Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants. Only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.” And, before setting the rainbow in the sky, God tells Noah that he is extending his promise to all living creatures.

The scholars, appointed by the pope to the biblical commission, cite the expansion of God’s covenant as part of their argument that respect for life in biblical morality “may well go beyond the interests of humanity alone to the point of warranting a new reflection on the preservation of animal and plant species.”

A unique perspective on the dangers facing children

Thankfully, the issue of clergy sex abuse has all but disappeared from the front pages of our diocesan newspapers. Stories about how dioceses are implementing background checks for parish staff and volunteers or teaching Catholic schoolchildren how to avoid sexual predators are much more frequent than reports of any new incidents of sexual abuse.

But the Florida Catholic in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., recently published an opinion piece by a survivor of clergy sexual abuse that had an interesting perspective. Chris McCafferty said his greatest concern now is for children in public schools.

“The Catholic Church is accepting responsibility for what occurs in its programs, but the public schools are not,” McCafferty wrote. “If the church harbors a pedophile it is held accountable; if the school system protects a pedophile in public schools, the system can’t be sued easily because of the government’s sovereign immunity.” Read McCafferty’s full column here.

Uncovering secrets of the Holocaust: A story worth being retold

Last year, Judith Sudilovsky, CNS correspondent in Jerusalem, reported on the story of a French priest whose mission has been to uncover the hidden truth of 1.5 million of the Jews murdered during World War II. Since 2001, Father Patrick Desbois and his team of researchers and ballistic experts have found 800 out of an estimated 2,000 mass graves in Ukraine.

His story was so compelling that when Father Desbois came to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, CNS had to tell his story again.

Getting ready for the synod on the Bible

Many Catholics in the pews don’t realize the significance of next month’s world Synod of Bishops in Rome on the Bible. We’ve been giving it extra attention this summer and fall with numerous articles and a new section of our Web site devoted to the synod.

For instance, you can read Rome bureau chief John Thavis’ examination of why Pope Benedict thinks attention to the Bible is “an area he has long considered crucial and in need of revitalization.” Or, you can read a primer from our Faith Alive! religious education series on what a synod of bishops is and how it operates.

This blog also has had several items on the synod already. And, just this morning, bloggers and news agencies around the world are linking to our story from our correspondent in Jerusalem on the Israeli rabbi who says the Vatican invitation to him to participate in the synod is a sign of hope.

Our clients are also examining the importance of the synod. One interesting example of that is the podcast I listened to last evening on my way home from work. Jesuit Father Drew Christensen, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, opened the podcast (you can download it or listen to it here) with one of the best explanations of the synod that I’ve heard so far. Even if you can’t listen to the entire half-hour broadcast, just the first few minutes are worth your while.