Vatican to boycott — or not?

angels-book-cover1ROME  — That is the question vexing many Hollywood film reporters these days: What will the Vatican do now that the prequel to the controversial “The Da Vinci Code” is set to hit theaters next month?

Headlines here and there have been claiming either the Vatican was calling for a worldwide boycott or was cautioning against a boycott over fears it would just boost publicity for the up-coming “Angels and Demons” movie.

But who needs an actual boycott when just speculating whether the Vatican or church officials would call on Catholics to stay away seems to be enough?

The problem with the stories that claim the Vatican is against the film or has disapproved of it is the source they cite is Avvenire. Contrary to some reports, it’s not “the Vatican’s official newspaper,” but is a daily Catholic newspaper sponsored by the Italian bishops’ conference.

But more importantly the March 20 article they claim their headlines were based on doesn’t exist in the archives and an Italian journalist who works at Avvenire said he can’t recall the paper publishing anything either for or against the movie.

Confusion probably sprang from a March 20 article in the Italian daily La Stampa which quoted a theologian who writes for Avvenire. La Stampa said (presumably based on an interview with him) that the Italian theologian invited Catholics to ignore the “Angels and Demons” movie. He said filmmakers were “exploiting the church in order to boost sales at the box office.”

Another Italian, Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, told La Stampa that people should be cautious about “the boomerang effect” of calling for a boycott because it could translate into unintended publicity for the movie.

He said the Vatican is not worried about people of faith falling for the book and movie’s anti-Christian inventions. The Vatican “believes Christians are strong — inoculated by centuries of persecution and testimonials of faith,” he said.

Archbishop Chaput Pew transcript now available

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver was in Washington on March 17 where he was the principal guest at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion in Public Life. The event was one of an occasional series the center holds in which they examine where religion and the political life come together. This one focused on the political obligations of Catholics and how Catholics’ convictions are played out in the public square.

Archbishop Chaput is the author of  “Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life” (2008), and he has written and spoken widely on Catholics and political activity. The guests included members of the secular and religious press including Catholic News Service. CNS reporter Pat Zapor covered the wide-ranging presentation and discussion.

The Pew Center now has made the transcript of the event avalable on their Web site. While you are on their site, check out the U.S. religious landscape survey that Pew began in 2008. There are also many other excellent resources on the participation of religious Americans in the public square.

Apostolic visitation for Legionaries of Christ

Pope Benedict XVI has ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries of Christ and its institutions, in the wake of disclosures of sexual impropriety by the late founder of the order, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Heads up! Spiking in St. Peter’s Square

A basketball game is played in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in the presence of Pope Pius XII in 1955. (CNS photo/Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity)

A basketball game is played in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in the presence of Pope Pius XII in 1955. (CNS photo/Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity)

VATICAN CITY — It’s not very often that St. Peter’s Square is turned into a hoops court or a soccer field. But on rare occasions the world of sports comes to the See of Peter.

Tomorrow, 300 children will be digging, setting and spiking during the first volleyball rally ever to be played in St. Peter’s Square.  

Kids aged eight to 11 will be playing on 16 makeshift courts in the square between 8:30 and 10 a.m. — before Pope Benedict XVI begins his weekly general audience at 10:30.

The special event is to highlight that Italy will be hosting the 2010 Men’s Volleyball World Championship (Japan will host the women’s world championship games).

Organizers said that at the end of the general audience, two children will present the pope with a special game shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Volare alto” or “Soar high,” an official world championship volleyball,  and the Italian team’s uniform shirt.

Children play soccer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican before the weekly audience of Pope Benedict XVI in this Sept. 21, 2005. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Children play soccer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican before the weekly audience of Pope Benedict XVI in this Sept. 21, 2005. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Perhaps the most unusual game to have been played in St. Peter’s Square was in the 15th century when it hosted a marathon bout of “calcio storico fiorentino,” the Florentine version of nearly rule-less soccer that looks more like rugby and wrestling combined. It’s said Pope Sixtus IV peeked out his studio window every now and then to see how the grueling match, which lasted from mid-morning to dusk, was proceeding.

The Michelangelo Code

michelangelo-cristo11VATICAN CITY — Art buffs won’t want to miss the latest piece of work attributed to Renaissance master, Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University and its rector, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, will present the wooden statue of Christ to the public tomorrow afternoon.

Experts from Rome’s Tor Vergata University and the Pontifical Gregorian University will speak at the event, which also will feature Angelo Boccardelli — an art expert and president of the Ambassador Giacomo Maria Ugolini Foundation which has its headquarters in the tiny Republic of San Marino

The wooden statue is part of the foundation’s permanent art collection and will be in Rome only March 31. It has been on tour in the United States and will head back home to San Marino after tomorrow’s presentation at the Lateran.

Readers shouldn’t confuse this statue with  the tiny, limewood statue of Christ attributed to Michelangelo in 2004 and purchased by the Italian government for more than 4.3 million dollars in 2008.

According to Boccardelli, their collection’s “Il Cristo” figure was found in the 1970s in the ruins of a church bombed during Lebanon’s civil war. There is no surviving paper trail documenting how the statue made its way to Lebanon,  but Boccardelli says in an interview posted on YouTube, they believe a 19th-century secretary of a pope took it with him when he was named patriarch of the east.

Members of the Ugolini foundation’s scientific committee determined the art piece is by Michelangelo and several art experts have agreed.

Part of the reason Boccardelli is sure the statue is Michelangelo’s is that it fits in with what he calls “The Michelangelo Code” or rather a specific “language of marks and symbols” and methodolgy Michelangelo used in all his works.

So for example, like Leonardo da Vinci’s famous eight-limbed Vitruvian man, Michelangelo’s figures can be placed perfectly in the center of a circle or a sphere. This is because Michelangelo was one of just a few artists who was able to correctly apply the so-called Golden Ratio or divine proportion in art, he said.

The Lateran said it will display the statue in such a way that people will be able to view it from as many different perspectives as possible.

Updated: The papal preacher, Obama and a medieval monk

Father Raniero Cantalamessa

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in a 2007 file photo. (CNS photo/Gregg McIntosh, The Michigan Catholic)

UPDATE: Father Cantalamessa has written to CNS to further clarify the point of his remarks.

“I was not as interested in the citations of Obama as I was in clarifying my position on Joachim da Fiore,” Father Cantalamessa said Tuesday morning.

“Some have used this to insinuate that I consider Obama to be a heretic like Joachim, when I have deep esteem for the new president of the United States,” he wrote.

One thing is for certain, the preacher said, “One must always be wary of news from the Internet.”

Monday’s original post follows:

VATICAN CITY — When Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, offered his weekly Lenten meditation to the pope and members of the curia Friday, he put his finger on a mystery involving a medieval monk, Italian bloggers and President Barack Obama.

Father Cantalamessa was discussing the relationship between Christ and the Holy Spirit in a talk about the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of both individuals and the church. But as a bit of background to his main point, he said:

The fact that the newly elected president of the United States, during his electoral campaign, referred to Joachim da Fiore three times has re-ignited interest in the doctrine of this medieval monk. Few of those who discuss him, especially on the Internet, know or bother to learn exactly what this author said. Every idea about the renewal of the church or of the world is casually attributed to him, including the idea of a new Pentecost for the church invoked by John XXIII.

One thing is certain. Whether or not it is attributed to Joachim da Fiore, the idea of a third Age of the Spirit that would succeed that of the Father in the Old Testament and of Christ in the New Testament is false and heretical because it strikes at the very heart of the dogma on the Trinity. The affirmation of Gregory Nazianzen is completely different. He distinguishes between three phases in the revelation of the Trinity: in the Old Testament, the Father is fully revealed and the Son is promised and proclaimed; in the New Testament, the Son is full revealed and the Spirit is promised and proclaimed; in the age of the church, the Holy Spirit is finally fully known and one rejoices in its presence.

But the only problem is that no one can seem to find any proof that as a candidate Obama actually cited Joachim of Fiore, who lived 1135-1202. There are dozens of Italian bloggers and Web sites that say Obama did, but the assertion cannot be backed up by an actual quote in an actual speech. In fact, the Joachim fan page on Facebook includes a link to Obama’s Aug. 28 speech accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention; a tag says that’s the speech that includes three references to Joachim. But it doesn’t.

In an e-mail message this afternoon, Father Cantalamessa told me, “Typing ‘Obama Gioacchino da Fiore’ (the monk’s name in Italian) in Google, you will find all the news on which I based my remarks.”

In fact, I did that Friday when I first read Father Cantalamessa’s meditation, but since I couldn’t find any real proof that Obama had cited Joachim as an inspiration for his vision of a changed world order, I simply wrote about Father Cantalamessa’s main points.

Getting back to Obama and Joachim this morning, it appears most of the results that turn up in the Google search cite an Aug. 28 or 29 article in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. But searching the newspaper’s Web site, no such article comes up.

The only thing I could think to do next was contact the most serious organization dedicated to studying and promoting the writings of Joachim, the International Center for Joachimist Studies. When I asked if they knew when Obama mentioned Joachim, a spokeswoman told me, “Everyone asks us, but we have no information and we don’t know how this got started. We don’t have on hand any information showing if or when he cited Joachim.”

Speaking up about conscience protections

In an interview with CNS deputy editor Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y. , chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, says the effort to end conscience protections threatens all rights.

After today there will be just 10 days left of the 30-day period open for public comment on the Obama administration’s move to rescind a Department of Health and Human Services regulation guaranteeing conscience protections for health care workers and institutions.