Saturday, June 7

Novels I'm looking forward to reading in the near future:

1.The Book Against God by the brilliant critic James Wood, reviewed here in the LA Times,

here in Slate

and here in the New Critereon

2.The Clearing by the wonderful Louisiana writer Tim Gautreaux

Mad Mel:

MEL Gibson has declared war on two of the most powerful religious groups in America over attempts to change his controversial new film about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The actor has threatened a lawsuit against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Jewish-run Anti-Defamation League over a report they sent to his film company slamming the script for its depiction of Jews.

Bishop Wuerl discounts reports that he's headed east.

Bishop Donald Wuerl of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh sloughed off published reports that he is about to be appointed to head the scandal-ridden Archdiocese of Boston, saying he was working full steam ahead on plans for Pittsburgh."This is simply speculation," Wuerl said last night of a Boston Globe story that reported he could have that post as early as Tuesday.

A report on the religious affiliations of recent US immigrants:

Nearly two-thirds of new immigrants to the United States are Christian, fueled mostly by Catholics coming from Latin America, according to research sponsored by several government agencies. Forty-two percent of immigrants are Catholic, 19% are Protestant and 4% are Eastern Orthodox, according to a study of almost 1,000 adult immigrants in 1996. Eight percent are Muslim, 4% are Buddhist, 3% are Jewish and 3% are Hindu. An additional 15% or so claimed no religion, and 1% named other religions.

The fight over the renovation of St. Charles Borromeo Church in N. Hollywood reaches the LA Times

A small but vocal group at the majestic North Hollywood church is trying to block changes that they say would transform its cathedral-like interior into a modern worship space. They fear that St. Charles' pastor, the Rev. Robert Gallagher, is bent on changing the old-fashioned church into something more akin to the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Gallagher has said that St. Charles does not need renovation. It needs repairs, upgrades to its acoustics, completion of its dome and other improvements. No radical changes are imminent, he said, pointing out that no funds have yet been raised.Unconvinced, the 40 active members of the St. Charles Borromeo Preservation Guild recently marched and prayed outside the church. Last year, the guild collected 1,000 signatures on an anti-renovation petition.

The article doesn't indicate whether the fears of the preservationists are based in what is actually planned for the project, or what they believe (with justification) might happen. It's either poor reporting or a deliberate omission.

Niall Ferguson on Weber and the decline of European productivity:

Why have West Europeans opted for shorter working days, weeks, months, years and lives? This is where Weber's thesis comes up trumps: the countries where the least work is done in Europe turn out to be those that were once predominantly Protestant. While the overwhelmingly Catholic French and Italians work about 15 to 20 percent fewer hours a year than Americans, the more Protestant Germans and Dutch and the wholly Protestant Norwegians work 25 to 30 percent less.

What clinches the Weber thesis is that Northern Europe's declines in working hours coincide almost exactly with steep declines in religious observance. In the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, less than 10 percent of the population now attend church at least once a month, a dramatic decline since the 1960's. (Only in Catholic Italy and Ireland do more than a third of the population go to church on a monthly basis.) In the recent Gallup Millennium Survey of religious attitudes, 49 percent of Danes, 52 percent of Norwegians and 55 percent of Swedes said God did not matter to them. In North America, by comparison, 82 percent of respondents said God was "very important."

So the decline of work in Northern Europe has occurred more or less simultaneously with the decline of Protestantism. Quod erat demonstrandum indeed!

More on the miracle of Blessed Maria Petkovic:

Among the 50,000 pilgrims present at the beatification Mass today in the port of Dubrovnik was Roger Cotrina Alvarado. He was the lieutenant of the submarine Pacocha, which on Aug. 26, 1988, crashed into a Japanese fishing-vessel near the Peruvian port of Callao. When the submarine began to sink, the then young officer commended himself to the intercession of Sister Maria of Jesus Crucified Petkovic, founder of the Franciscan Congregation of the Daughters of Mercy. At that moment, Cotrina Alvarado was able to close an inside door with the strength of his arms, despite the pressure of the water that was flooding the submarine. The maneuver was considered "humanly impossible" by two commissions, one military and the other Vatican. The miracle became the door that opened the way for the Croatian's beatification. Nineteen other officers trapped in the submarine were saved; six crew members died in the accident.

Philippines Bishop offers to resign

Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr., one of the most progressive and influential leaders of the local Catholic Church, has offered to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment by his former secretary.

Two editorials on Phoenix:

From the Dallas Morning News


the New York Times, by writer David Gibson, author of a new book called The Coming Catholic Church: How the Faithful Are Shaping a New American Catholicism

Catholic dioceses in many respects remain one of the last redoubts of absolute monarchy in the modern world, run by bishops who, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, preside "in place of God over the flock . . . as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing." This three-fold mission effectively gave each bishop, who is answerable only to the Roman pontiff, the last word on everything from liturgy to finances. Until this week.

In the only other criminal admission to emerge from the scandal, Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., signed an accord with the state attorney general last year acknowledging that there was enough evidence to convict the diocese for child endangerment. But in that case the diocese rather than the bishop was the target, and Bishop McCormack did not have to compromise his own authority within the diocese. Likewise, the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, archbishop of Boston, did nothing to alter the authority structure of the Boston archdiocese.

With this week's plea agreement, it is a government prosecutor, not the Vatican, that is requiring a bishop to share authority in the realm of governance — the third and least sensitive charge in the prelate's brief. If the church had encouraged bishops to share such authority sooner, it might have avoided this outcome in the first place. A more collaborative diocesan administration would also better protect children by ensuring that abusive priests could not be hidden by fellow clerics.

There is still time for the church to embrace openness. More transparency would not only help to restore the sagging morale of lay Catholics who are questioning whether any structural change is possible. It would also allow bishops to focus more fully on their central duties of encouraging faith and worship. Moreover, sharing power on administrative matters does not entail any reworking of Catholic theology or doctrine.

Unfortunately, the Vatican seems to view any compromise as a step toward doctrinal populism. If church leaders continue to stonewall, then prosecutors will force them, at the point of an indictment, into compromises that will in the long run do more to undermine the church's structure and spirit. If instead the Vatican loosened its grip on a few of the peripheral elements, the church's hierarchy might find that the long-term benefits would outweigh any short-term loss of power — or of a prestige that barely exists.

We all need to be paying more attention to what's happening in Myanmar (and the Congo, and Nigeria, and Liberia, and Indonesia, and the Philippines and the Solomon Islands and Afghanistan (still, despite what you might think)....sigh.)

Oxblog gets us started.

Oh yes, and Iraq...remember that place, six weeks after the President's declaration of...whatever?

Columns of M1A1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley transports rumbled through the night in a display of force intended to reassert control of this unruly city. By the end of the patrol, the American troops had come under small arms fire and had been shot at by an attacker with a rocket-propelled grenade. One suspected Iraqi assailant was dead. The next morning the American soldiers spent the day struggling to hold back a crowd that was trying to loot a burning factory.From a military standpoint, Falluja is of little strategic significance. But this city of 200,000 has become a test of the Americans' ability to extend their control to restive regions of Iraq.

And over there..

A U.S. soldier was killed and four wounded in an attack near the Iraqi town of Tikrit on Saturday involving a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, the U.S. military said.


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