The hidden talents of an Englishman in the Secretariat of State

VATICAN CITY — In our First Take: Vatican video today, Msgr. Philip Whitmore talks about his experience translating Pope Benedict XVI’s latest book, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” He explains how the pope had handwritten notes for the book, but dictated and recorded the final text!

Msgr. Whitmore, a priest of England’s Westminster Diocese and an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, also kindly lent his voice to our Christmas Eve video, which featured the reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of St. Luke.

If that weren’t enough, the English monsignor is an accomplished pianist and a music historian, who regularly appears on Vatican Radio’s English program discussing hymns and other church music. On Wednesday, Vatican Radio posted a very interesting piece by Msgr. Whitmore on the history of Christmas carols, featuring beautiful renditions of many of the songs he discussed.

As the Christmas season continues, stay tuned to our YouTube channel or check the site of one of our diocesan multimedia clients (like this or this) for another CNS video featuring the monsignor.

Come see the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square!


The Holy Family in this year’s Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican unveiled the scene Dec. 24. (CNS/Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials unveiled the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square today. Journalists were given a sneak peek a few days before to take come crowd-free shots.

The scene is more than 180 square yards and recreates the ancient Italian city of Matera and its famed “sassi” — cliff-clinging churches, buildings, streets and grottos carved out of the mountainside.

This was the first time the Vatican used a donated scene in the main square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Since 1982, when a creche was first erected in the square at the request of Blessed John Paul II, the Vatican covered the costs of creating and building a different scene each year using larger-than-life 19th-century figures.

In fact, what’s noticeable different is the size. The actual scene is smaller and the figures are barely a foot tall. There is a huge amount of detail, but you need to view it through your zoom lens to really see it.

Our gift to you this Christmas is to offer you some close-up shots of the creche. Follow the link, turn on some Christmas music and enjoy!!

Gaming in a Winter Wonderland

A guide to the best video games of 2012

By Adam Shaw

Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — As parents flock to the stores to search for those longed-for gifts that will make their little tot’s eyes light up on Christmas morn, the neighborhood video game shop can seem like an alien and confusing environment.

(CNS photo illustration)

(CNS photo illustration)

No need to fear. For those who freeze at the sight of a Gamestop or don’t know their Wii U from their Xbox, here is Catholic News Service’s guide to the year’s best video games for children and adolescents:

“Kid Icarus: Uprising” (Nintendo)

In only his third outing since his franchise’s debut in 1986, the sprightly angelic protagonist of the title, also known as Pit, serves Palutena, the goddess of light. Pit aids Palutena in her struggle, on behalf of the forces of good, against the evil Medusa and the troops of the underworld. Though the entire game is replete with references to Greek mythology, the cartoonish, jocular way in which this material is presented signals that it need not be taken seriously. In fact, once the mythological patina is stripped away, many positive messages for youngsters emerge. These include the sanctity of life, the beauty of faith and devotion, and the rejection of a hard-line environmentalist attitude that sees humanity’s presence on the Earth as a scourge instead of a blessing. Predictably for a Nintendo product, the presentation is flawless, with colorful sweeping landscapes and a delightful soundtrack. In design terms, however, the title is marred by what must be one of the most burdensome, least serviceable control mechanisms in gaming history. Frequent action violence, pagan mythological themes, a few instances of mild sexual and scatological humor. Available for Nintendo 3DS. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is E10+ — Everyone 10 and older.

“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” (Nintendo)

A mostly worthy — and enjoyable — addition to the celebrated franchise that dates back 25-plus years. In this origin story, the recurring protagonist Link embarks on his earliest journey yet, according to the series’ chronology, to save the perpetually imperiled Princess Zelda after she’s kidnapped by an evil self-proclaimed Demon Lord. As with previous installments, the story draws extensively on a made-up but fairly complex polytheistic mythology. Some parents may see potential harm in this, others may appreciate various characters’ recognition that they need help from a power beyond themselves — however imperfectly understood. Together with an increase in the vividness of the combat, however, these metaphysical elements make the game unsuitable for the youngest players. Scenes of violence, pagan overtones. Available for Nintendo Wii. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating is E-10 — for ages 10 and up.

“Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” (Warner Bros, Interactive Entertainment)

In this sequel to 2008’s “Lego Batman: the Videogame,” the popular Danish children’s toy and the ubiquitous Caped Crusader reunite to produce a fun-filled romp in the DC universe. The enjoyable puzzle-based gameplay benefits from an efficient and humorous story. When two infamous villains team up in order to wreak havoc on the perpetually bullied Gotham City, the dynamic duo must respond, aided by a collection of their ultra-powered friends. Despite bouts of repetitive fisticuffs, the solid action, mixed with a surprising amount of extra content and a multiplayer mode allowing gamers to cooperate with each other, all combine to make this a fresh addition to the dual dynasty — one that will be especially welcomed by any family out to play games together. Cartoon action violence and some frightening situations. Available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo DS and Mac OS X. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is E10+ — everyone 10 and older.

“Lumines Electronic Symphony” (Ubisoft)

Simple yet in-depth “Tetris”-like puzzle game — made exclusively for the PlayStation Vita — that challenges players to create single-colored squares from multicolored falling blocks before the screen fills up. Although its trendy styles and banging beats are clearly aimed at adults, this latest iteration of the “Lumines” franchise contains absolutely nothing that would prevent parents from comfortably including it in their children’s consoles. Too demanding, perhaps, for the very young, the gameplay has that ineffable “just one more try” aspect to it that so many titles seek, while the vibrant graphics glow with charm. Altogether, an extraordinary addition to the roster of contemporary puzzle games. Available on PlayStation Vita. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating is E — Everyone.

“Super Mario 3D Land” (Nintendo)

The iconic Italian plumber is back for another polished installment of the vastly successful “Mario” series in which the titular character must clamber through fantasy worlds in order to rescue his beloved Princess Peach from the clutches of his lizard nemesis, Bowser. The 3-D feature adds a new depth to the familiar run-and-jump platforming fare that has been a staple of the series since its inception in the 1980s. Taking to heart the proverb “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the game’s developers have crafted this newest iteration to improve on what their franchise has always done well, and the result involves intuitive controls, stunning environments, and thoroughly addictive action. Family-friendly, and suitable for virtually all abilities thanks to a gentle learning curve, this is another wholesome outing that can be recommended for young and old alike. Mild cartoon violence. Available on Nintendo 3DS. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating is E — Everyone.

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Shaw is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Pope personally delivers pre-Christmas pardon to butler

Pope Benedict and Paolo Gabriele this morning. (CNS/Reuters/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict and Paolo Gabriele this morning. (CNS/Reuters/L’Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI visited his former butler, Paolo Gabriele, in his cell in the Vatican police barracks this morning, personally telling the butler he was forgiven and was being pardoned.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope had wanted “to confirm his forgiveness and to inform him personally of his acceptance of Mr. Gabriele’s request for pardon.”

The Vatican described the pope’s visit and the pardon as “a paternal gesture toward a person with whom the pope shared a relationship of daily familiarity for many years.”

Gabriele has been in the cell for almost two months after being found guilty of aggravated theft for stealing and leaking private Vatican documents and papal correspondence.

Sentenced to 18 months in jail, Gabriele began serving the sentence Oct. 25.

The 46-year-old Gabriele, who worked in the papal apartments from 2006 until his arrest in May, has been barred from further employment at the Vatican. He, his wife and three young children have been living in a Vatican apartment, but will have to move now that he is no longer employed by the Vatican, Father Lombardi said.

The day Gabriele began serving his sentence, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, said Gabriele’s crime caused damage to the pope and to the universal church.

By stealing private correspondence to and from the pope, and other sensitive documents, and by leaking them to an Italian journalist, Gabriele committed “a personal offense against the Holy Father,” the cardinal wrote.

His actions also “violated the right to privacy of many people; created prejudice against the Holy See and its different institutions; created an obstacle between the communications of the world’s bishops and the Holy See; and caused scandal to the community of the faithful,” he wrote.

Gabriele’s lawyer had told an Italian newspaper in July that Gabriele had written “a confidential letter to the pope,” asking for his forgiveness and telling the pope he had acted alone.

Gabriele had told investigators that he had acted out of concern for the pope, who he believed was not being fully informed about the corruption and careerism in the Vatican. He had repeated the claim at his trial.

Father Lombardi also told reporters that Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer technician in the Vatican Secretariat of State who was found guilty of obstructing the Gabriele investigation and given a suspended sentence, has returned to work in the Secretariat of State. A full pardon also is expected for him, Father Lombardi said.

Bells toll for Newtown victims; homilies, blogs address shooting

Memorial for victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting

Memorial for victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. (CNS photo/Reuters)

This morning at 9:30 a.m. thousands of churches across the country tolled their bells 26 times in memory of the 26 victims gunned down in Newtown, Conn., just a week ago. Many people also observed a moment of silence.

Also this morning the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. bishops issued a statement in response to the tragedy pledging their prayers for the families and the communities mourning the loss of loved ones, reiterating their support in a 2000 statement for “measures that control the sale and use of firearm … that make guns safer” and for “sensible regulations of handguns.”

The chairmen of domestic policy, communications and marriage and family life committees also urged a return to values that foster a culture of life and said there is a need for resources to help people with mental illness and their families and caregivers.

Yesterday, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan celebrated a funeral Mass for teacher Anne Marie McGowan Murphy, who died cradling a student. She was buried from St. Mary of the Assumption in Katonah, N.Y. In his homily, he likened her to Jesus, laying down her life for another. As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the cardinal issued a statement about the tragedy Dec. 14.

In the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, individual Catholic bishops not only released statements decrying the senseless violence which occurred but they also wrote about it in blogs and addressed it in homilies and letters.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia wrote in his blog that 13 years ago when he was archbishop of Denver he helped bury some of the victims of the Columbine High School shooting.

“Nothing is more helpless or heart-breaking than to sit with parents who kissed their children goodbye in the morning and will never see them alive again in this world. The pain of loss is excruciating. Words of comfort all sound empty,” he wrote.

The archbishop noted that the victims in the recent school shooting “were even younger and more numerous than those at Columbine, and if such intense sorrow could be measured, the suffering of the Connecticut family members left behind might easily be worse.”

“With such young lives cut so short, every parental memory of an absent child will be precious — compounded by a hunger for more time and more memories that will never happen. This is why we need to keep the grieving families so urgently in our hearts and prayers.”

Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote in his blog that he has written in four other blog entries about the need for the federal, state and local government to “do something about assault weapons of mass destruction.”  He said his writings on this topic generate the angriest comments he receives with commenters urging him to “preach the Gospel and stay out of politics.”

The bishop highlighted the example of Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, “for his heroic presence to the families who lost children or their adult parents”  saying he “represented the Lord to these grieving people in the only way he could, by being present, listening, not responding with pious platitudes. He was a good shepherd, a great pastor.”

In a Dec. 16 homily at the Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston called the shooting in Newtown a “tragedy of almost biblical proportions that has caused the whole country to stop and take notice.”

“It is hard to imagine how deep pain the pain of those families whose little ones lost their lives.  The children and teachers who survived the attack will long suffer the trauma of being exposed to such senseless violence.  It was heart-rendering to watch the police leading the children out of the school; telling them to close their eyes so that the images of the slain children would not be burned indelibly into their memories.”

Mourners agther at Newtown, Conn., Catholic church. (CNS photo?Reuters)

Mourners gather at Newtown, Conn., Catholic church. (CNS photo/Reuters)

He also noted how the Newtown community “has come together to pray and to find strength in mutual support.  For those of us who are believers prayer and the firm faith in eternal life is our consolation.”

The cardinal said the violent shooting is a “clarion call to initiate effective legislation to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of private citizens.  There can be no rational justification for allowing private citizens to have personal arsenals of assault weapons.  How many innocent people will have to be slaughtered before the country is prepared to stop this madness?”

The shooting also elicited a response from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, president of the CCCB, wrote a Dec. 17 letter to Cardinal Dolan expressing “heartfelt prayers and deepest sympathies” to the families and community of Newtown, the Diocese of Bridgeport and the parish of St. Rose of Lima.

“Canadians join with Americans and the rest of the world in lamenting this tragic moment. It is not only the local community of Newtown or your own nation which is experiencing such great loss and sorrow, but also the whole of North American society. Our culture has become mesmerized and exploited by violence in its many dehumanizing and senseless forms. Its victims are not only the dead, the wounded, their families and the citizens of Newtown. Each of us has been injured and hurt: every heart by the images of human suffering, every soul by the malice and cruelty at work in any act of violence,” wrote Archbishop Smith.

“We pray for God’s gift of healing and reconciliation in Newtown and its surrounding communities. We pray also that the people of our two nations discover a rebirth of love and a renewed appreciation for the gift and value of each human life and every human family,” he added.

US religion writers pick bishops’ battle with HHS as 2012 top news story

Members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the world’s oldest and largest professional non-denominational association for journalists who write about religion, picked the U.S. Catholic bishops’ opposition to national health care legislation mandating contraception coverage as the No. 1 religion story of 2012. They also chose Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York as the year’s top newsmaker in their annual poll

“As the nation reeled from the Dec. 14 killing of 20 first graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn., religious leaders sought to console a stunned public and to discern religion’s role in future debates about mental health and gun control. The No. 1 U.S. religion story in December 2012 was, without a doubt, the school attack and the mournful search for meaning that follows,” an RNA statement said this week. “However, before the shooting, professional journalists who cover religion voted on the year’s other significant religious events.”

The Top 10 poll of Religion Newswriters Association members took place Dec. 11- 15, 2012, in a confidential, online ballot. More than 100 members of the organization responded. RNA has conducted the poll for nearly 40 years.

Most RNA members are working journalists in secular media, though some work in media owned by specific denominations. (Full disclosure: I am a member of RNA.)

Cardinal Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, became the point man for Catholic objections to required coverage of contraception, sterilization and morning after drugs in Affordable Health Care Act.

The Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year are below:

1. U.S. Catholic bishops lead opposition to Affordable Health Care Act requirement that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. The government backs down a bit, but not enough to satisfy the opposition.

2. A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey shows that “nones,” that is people with no religious affiliation, is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, rising to 19.6 percent of the population.

3. The circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” causes unrest in several countries, leading to claims that it inspired the fatal attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya. President Obama, at the U.N., calls for toleration tolerance of blasphemy, and respect as a two-way street.

4. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith turns out to be a virtual non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did John McCain in the U.S. presidential race.

5. Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia becomes the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse; later Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., becomes the first bishop to be found guilty of it.

6. The Vatican criticizes the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of U.S. sisters, alleging they haven’t supported church teaching on abortion, sexuality or women’s ordination.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was selected as newsmaker of the year for 2012 by the Religion Newswriters Association. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was selected as newsmaker of the year for 2012 by the Religion Newswriters Association. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

7. Voters OK same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington, bringing the total approving to nine states and the District of Columbia. Also, Minnesota defeats a ban on same-sex marriage after North Carolina approves one.

8. The Episcopal Church overwhelmingly adopts a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. Earlier, the United Methodists fail to vote on approving gay clergy, and the Presbyterians (USA) vote to study, rather than sanction, same-sex marriage ceremonies.

9. Six people are killed and three wounded at worship in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee. The shooter, an Army veteran killed by police, is described as a neo-Nazi.

10. The Southern Baptist Convention elects without opposition its first black president, the Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans.

Votes for the 2012 Religion Newsmaker of the Year ranked the five potential candidates in this order:

1. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York becomes a point man for Catholic objections to required coverage of contraception, sterilization and morning-after drugs in the Affordable Health Care Act. But the cardinal also takes heat from the right when he invites the president to the traditional Al Smith Dinner in New York.

2. Rev. Fred Luter, first black president of the sprawling Southern Baptist Convention, who is expected to help the SBC become more racially diverse.

3. Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egypt-born Christian whose work has been condemned by the Coptic Church, provoked rioting in the Muslim world with his film trailer “Innocence of Muslims.” He was jailed in California on probation violations.

4. Mormon voters, who enthusiastically backed one of their own for president, acted in ways that helped overcome suspicions of them by other faiths.

5. Pro football quarterback Tim Tebow, whose book about his faith was on the best-seller list, inspired the term “Tebowing” for kneeling in prayer and led to polarized discussions about the role of faith in sports.

‘You can’t pick and choose in Catholic moral teaching’

By Greg Watry

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The church must evolve with the times, and the clergy must stand by their faith in the face of animosity from the secular world, a Catholic philosopher said.

John Rist, a philosopher and professor at The Catholic University of America, said in the latest edition of Vatican Voices that in order for Catholicism to flourish the clergy “have got to be visible, they have to be unpopular in many cases.  If they don’t, they’ll be failing their job.”


(CNS Photo)

Rist recognizes the risks the clergy take when promoting Catholic philosophy.  “If you say you’re opposed to abortion you don’t get your head cut off, but you get abused.  You might be called a pedophile or something like that.”

But young people, who are idealistic, are drawn to morally brave behavior, he said.  Priests set a good example for the laity by defending their faith.

In order to defend the faith, Rist said, one must learn what secular culture says and why.  By not engaging with the secular world, the church alienates itself and “the outside world gets further and further away, and you get less and less chance to have contact with it or even understand what it’s doing.”

The church addressed the issue of secularism during the Second Vatican Council.  However the council fathers didn’t understand “the problem they were trying to solve,” Rist said.  “They knew somehow the church was out of sync with the modern world,” he said, but not why.

During Vatican II and still today, he said, the problem of disconnection with the modern world lies in stagnant thinking.

Theologians don’t understand that the church is allowed to evolve, Rist said.  “They think that if we open the door to thinking and considering change, we’re going to lose everything.”

The truth is the church is always in a state of flux, Rist said.  Dramatic changes, as those that occurred during Vatican II, have happened throughout the history of the church.

In the New Testament, Rist said, Jesus claims, “’I will lead you to all truth,’ not I’ll give it to you right now on a plate.”