Dark days in Rome

It’s becoming hard to ignore the bad headines facing the Catholic Church these days.

We’re talking internationally.

Lots of people have asked me in recent days something along the lines of “What’s going on with the Vatican?”

And I was greeted this morning with this headine from Robert Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican email: “Benedict’s Papacy in Crisis?”

You have a growing scandal in Germany, where more than 170 former Catholic school students have alleged that they were sexually abused. Others claim physical abuse.

BC EU Vatican Church AbuseSome of the accusations involve a boys’ choir that was run for 30 years by the pope’s brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger. He said Tuesday that he did slap students as punishment, but that he was not aware of any sexual abuse during his tenure.

“The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of,” Ratzinger said.

Then you had a Vatican summit this week about past sexual abuse in Ireland, where the church has been practically brought to its knees by revelations of decades of abuse.

A Vatican statement includes this:

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For his part, the Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image. While realizing that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage.

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The fine journalist David Gibson explains how the archbishop of Dublin is trying to cope with the mess and becoming something of a hero in the process.

Then you have this bizarre story involving a papal usher and a Vatican chorister who are accused of being part of a gay prostitution ring.

By accused, we mean that the user, officially a “Gentleman of His Holiness,” was taped arranging transactions.

And then, finally, you have new stories about Fr. Marcial Maciel, the late — and now discredited – founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

The Vatican began an investigation of the order last year after it was revealed that Maciel had fathered a child and lived some sort of “double life.” Now a Mexican woman is saying that she had three sons with Maciel (who told her he was someone else) and that Maciel sexually abused two of the boys.

The Legion reacted with a statement, which includes:

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In recent years, the Legionaries of Christ have gradually come to know, with surprise and great sorrow, hidden aspects of the life of Fr Maciel. We confirm our commitment to act in truth and charity. We renew our request for forgiveness from the affected people for all of the suffering this has caused and for the ensuing scandal.

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The Legion also implied that the Mexican family’s lawyer tried to extort money from the order.

Yikes.

Now what? Based on the past, I would expect Catholic groups to start circling the wagons. Any day, we should start hearing complaints about media coverage focusing on the scandals instead of all the good work that the Catholic Church is doing in Haiti, Chile and elsewhere.

Otherwise, the Vatican is not known for reacting swiftly to crises. We’ll see.

Inside the Vatican’s Moynihan writes:

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In Rome, some fear this is just the beginning.

This fear is not idle, as the internet and world press are already full of reports that these crises may cast a shadow over the entire pontificate.

The battle occurring right now is over how history will judge Benedict’s papacy.

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(AP Photo/Diether Endlicher,File)

From Rome to Yonkers

Robert Moynihan, founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, normally reports from Rome.

But he’s been visiting the U.S., and wound up recently in Yonkers.

He was intending to stay with someone in Brookly, but because of an illness, found his way to a friary of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a relatively young religious community that serves the poor primarily in NYC and Yonkers.

You’ve probably seen them in their gray robes and long beards.

He writes about attending evening prayer with the friars in their “small, wood-paneled chapel.” He starts like this:

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The prayer for Tuesday, September 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (photo of icon in the Friary chapel, left), was prayed by 12 friars, but it was shared by hundreds and thousands of others across this city, and this country. and this world.

Sometimes we forget how powerful prayer can be.

It is healing.

In a time when, in America, the sole topic of conversation is the president’s health care plan, it is astonishing how little mention is made of prayer.

Yet, in the silence of chapels and churches, of convents and monasteries, of college Newman centers and FOCUS gatherings, in homes and hospitals, a common evening prayer rises.

What is this prayer like? What is its purpose? What is its meaning?

This prayer is like a murmur, an appeal, a cry.

Its purpose is to “connect” this world, which presses upon us, and surrounds us, with another world, which is available to us only if we collect ourselves, and turn ourselves toward it — an eternal world.

Its meaning is to communicate the reality and life of that eternal world to the incomplete reality and life of this passing world.

At no time in history have our minds, all of our minds, been so over-run with slogans and images made by others and transmitted to us via technologies which can reach us almost everywhere at every time. These slogans and images distract, intrigue, fascinate, and enfold us.

A retreat to silence is a tactical decision in the battle for our souls.

And this is the spiritual wisdom of the Church.

‘Much more than your typical state visit’

President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI meet this morning. What will it look like?

Early this morning, Inside the Vatican‘s Robert Moynihan shared this image:

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In about three hours, US President Barack Obama will arrive in the Vatican to meet Pope Benedict XVI.

The leader of the world’s greatest temporal power will carry a gift for the leader of the world’s greatest spiritual power.

He will drive in his limousine into Vatican City, and into the Cortile San Damaso (photo, left, taken in 1930), the little square at the very heart of the Vatican.

He will get out of his car (parked more or less where the single car in this photo is parked), go into the door at the far end of the square, and, accompanied by American Archbishop James Harvey, the head of the papal household, take the elevator up to the fourth floor.

He will walk down a marble corridor to the Pope’s private library, overlooking St. Peter’s Square (the third window from the right on the top floor in this photo).

The Pope will greet him, and Obama will greet the Pope, and hand him a gift.

What gift will that be?

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What are Obama and the pope discussing in one, relatively brief meeting?

According to the AP, they were likely to cover world poverty, the Middle East and “other topics.”

But the visit was expected to be “largely personal and spiritual.”

“There are issues on which they’ll agree, issues on which they’ll disagree and issues on which they’ll agree to continue to work on going forward,” deputy national security adviser Denis McDonough told reporters.

“Given the influence of the Catholic Church globally,” he said, and “the influence of the Catholic Church and church social teaching on the president himself, he recognizes that this is much more than your typical state visit.”

Here’s a shot of the pope meeting with “first ladies” associated with the G8 economic summit (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano):

Papal economics 101

How bad is the worldwide economy when the pope plans to write an encyclical about it?

A Vatican bulletin from a few days ago, about a Q&A the pope held with clergy from Rome, noted:

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Benedict XVI explained that the Church has the duty to present a reasonable and well-argued criticism of the errors that have led to the current economic crisis. This duty, he said, forms part of the Church’s mission and must be exercised firmly and courageously, avoiding moralism but explaining matters using concrete reasons that may be understood by everyone.

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Then the bulletin got down to real Catholic economics, which does not sound exactly like unfettered capitalism:

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Referring to his forthcoming social Encyclical, the Pope then presented a synthetic overview of the crisis, analysing it at two levels. First he considered the macroeconomic aspects, highlighting the shortcomings of a system founded on selfishness and the idolatry of money, which cast a shadow over man’s reason and will and lead him into the ways of error. Here the Church is called to make her voice heard – nationally and internationally – in order to help bring about a change of direction and show the path of true reason illuminated by faith, which is the path of self-sacrifice and concern for the needy.

The second aspect of the Holy Father’s analysis concerned the sphere of microeconomics. Large-scale projects for reform, he said, cannot come about unless individuals alter their ways. If there are no just people, then there can be no justice. Hence he invited people to intensify their humble, everyday efforts for the conversion of hearts, an undertaking that above all involves parishes whose activity is not just limited to the local community but opens up to all humanity.

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Inside the Vatican notes:

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The Pope’s message fundamentally will be one of hope, no matter how devastating the global financial crisis becomes. But it will not seem hopeful to some, because it will be filled also with truth about how false economic principles and moral ideals can lead mankind toward the abyss, and into it.