Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Italian Adverts

Sexual orientation is not a choice... Or so the residents of Tuscany are being told by their regional government. Hardly the best use of government funds, and probably a pretty dubious proposition from a scientific point of view as well.

Meanwhile, all about Rome is this decidedly disturbing poster from the Ministry of Health. There's something decidedly off about that nurse.
Edited to add: This useful PDF on the Ministry's website explains that the aim of the campaign is to depict 'beautiful health'. This site explains that the picture is of a positive (up-beat?), smiling and communicative nurse. I'm saying nothing, but let me assure you that you don't want to end up in an Italian hospital.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Has Rolhesier got anything worthwhile to say?

Both Diogenes and Fr Powell have a pop at Fr Ronald Rolhesier for this article about the 'Struggle to Bless'. I mostly agree with Fr Powell's detection of a certain condescension in Fr Rolheiser's attitude, and the article seems to be characterised by a mushiness of approach and logic. However... and this is where I alienate most of my readership... I think that there's a certain validity to what Rolheiser is saying. I don't often read his articles, but sometimes stumble across them and it's usually an infuriating experience. I think that I would disagree with him on many things, but occasionally he manages to hit the bullseye and make some extremely perceptive points. More usually, there are some decent insights in the midst of some very squishy stuff. I think this is one of those 'mostly squishy' times. He seems to fudge the definition of blessing and needlessly confound its theological definition with the more mundane (but still important) human experience of giving one's blessing to another person or his efforts. And yes... I could have done without the calf...

However, I do think that Rolheiser is pointing towards the existence of a genuine difficulty. He writes:
At workshop recently, as we were discussing the tension that often exists today between younger and older clergy, a middle-aged priest said: "I'd like to bless the younger priests, but they don't want my blessing! They see me as a burnt-out middle-aged ideologue and everything in their attitude and body-language tells me that they simply want me to disappear and give them space!"
Now, Fr Powell points out the obvious irony:
The irony here, of course, is that Fr. Ideologue used to be the paranoid, belligerent, unappreciative teenager-priest who gleefully thumbed his nose at his elders, tossing out the ancient faith along with the beautiful vestments, the precious vessels, the transcendent language, and objective morality. And now that he is the Elder, he is deeply confused about why his "clerical children" seem so unappreciative of all his hard work to destroy the Church.
However, even taking into account the justifiable criticisms that young priests might have of their elders, it hardly seems wise or Christian for younger priests to reject or write-off their elders in the manner that Rolheiser seems to be describing. No matter how righteous the cause of young clerics, they still owe a duty of charity and civility to their elders in the presbyterate and they should not be too quick to presume that they have nothing to learn from those priests whom they might dismiss as ideological dinosaurs.
I'm not going to make any sweeping criticisms of young clergy - I don't have the knowledge or moral authority to do so. However, I will say that it is a temptation for the self-consciously orthodox young priest or seminarian to write-off older priests, to actively reject the wisdom of their experience and to become a more 'correct' but less personable and approachable priest than his elders. Rolheiser's description of the confusion of the middle-aged priest should spark an examination of conscience amongst the younger clergy.

Another thing that struck me about Rolheiser's article is what he actually suggests to the older generation of priests. He writes:
To bless a young person is to look at him or her and, without exploitation of any kind, give back to him or to her an appreciative gaze that says that his or her life and actions are a source of delight and joy for us rather than a threat and irritation.
But this can be very hard to do, especially inside of the same gender, when a young person's life can seem precisely a threat to our status, popularity, and security, and especially when that life, in ways benign and belligerent, tells us that our own time is past. It is not easy then to say: "In you a take delight!"
But that is when it is most important to say it! When the young people in our lives give us the impression that they neither want nor need our blessing is precisely the time when, ironically, they probably need it the most. Their very aloofness is partly a symptom of the lack of blessing in their lives and a plea for that blessing.
We need to give that blessing. When we bless the young, especially when it seems that they do not want our blessing, we help lift a congenital constriction off of their hearts, like a mother cow that has just given birth to a calf turning around and licking the glue-like constricting after-birth off of her young. [Ewwwwwwwww! Fr Rolheiser wins a prize for the ickiest simile used by a spiritual writer] And we need to do it too to lift a certain depression within our own hearts. God blesses. When we act like God we will get to feel like God --- and God is never depressed.
It is too much, of course, to expect Fr Rolheiser and his generational and ideological cadre of clergy to agree with everything that the younger generation of clergy is up to. However, he still argues that the older generation should find it within themselves to give their blessing to the younger clergy rather than to treat them as a threat. He argues that intergenerational resentment is unhealthy for both the younger and the older generation. It is an act of charity, a God-like act for the older generation to give their blessing, despite their misgivings. For the younger generation, receiving the blessing of the older generation is surely better than receiving their curse or their hostile indifference. Whilst there is an air of resentment and hostility between the generations, the young will be tempted to slide into that reactionary rejection of everything the older generation has to offer.

Yes... he's squishy and he's mushy... And don't even get me started on whether the question of God being depressed is valid theological discourse. but at the same time, I don't think that everything Rolheiser has to say should be dismissed too quickly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Baby Bishops!

The Bolletino informs us that the Romanian Greek Catholic Church have nominated two new auxiliary bishops, and these nominations have been approved by the Holy Father. One of them - Mihai Cătălin Fraţila - was born on the 10th of December 1970, making him the youngest Catholic Bishop in the world, and the first Bishop to have a birthdate in the 1970s. His colleague, Vasile Bizău, the current rector of the Pio-Romanian College here in Rome becomes the 2nd youngest bishop and is just over a year older than Fraţila.

Ad multos annos!

(My readers are, I think, entitled to feel ancient when hearing of such young bishops.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Biffi speaks out...

The oft acerbic Diogenes points to a very interesting article about Cardinal Biffi's memoirs by Sandro Magister.
Magister explains:
Biffi is remembered above all as the archbishop of Bologna, from 1984 to 2003. But in the book, he reviews his entire life, from his birth in working-class Milan to when he became a priest, then a professor of theology, a pastor, a bishop, and finally a cardinal.
In the foreword, Biffi quotes these words of saint Ambrose, the great fourth-century bishop of Milan, his beloved "father and teacher":
"A bishop can do nothing more perilous before God, and nothing more shameful before men, than fail to proclaim freely his own thoughts."
And sure enough, in the 640 pages of the volume, Biffi's thoughts erupt in complete freedom – pungent, ironic, and anti-conformist.
There is no crucial passage in the Church's life that does not fall beneath his biting, often surprising, judgment.
It is surprising, for example, that he designates as "the greatest pope of the twentieth century" Pius XI, who today is perhaps the most overlooked and forgotten pope.
It is a surprise to discover that, when he was archbishop of Bologna, Biffi – who was so greatly criticized for having said it would be better for Italy to welcome Christian immigrants over Muslim immigrants – he sheltered in a church for many nights, during the harshest weeks of winter, a large group of people from the Maghreb who were without homes.
Magister also, and probably justly, interprets several apparent oversights in the memoirs:

Even his silences are eloquent. The book dedicates just a few rare references to Joseph Ratzinger. But there are many hints to let the reader know that Biffi has extremely high regard for the current pope. It is an esteem reciprocated in the invitation extended to him by Benedict XVI to preach, in the Vatican, the Lenten retreat of 2007.
On the other hand, his nearly complete silence on cardinal Carlo Maria Martini – under whom Biffi served for four years as auxiliary bishop in Milan – conveys a relentlessly critical judgment. Immediately before dispatching, in a few lines, the appointment of the famous Jesuit as archbishop of Milan at the end of 1979, Biffi makes it clear that the dazzling era of the great twentieth-century bishops of Milan – the genuine heirs of saint Ambrose and saint Charles Borromeo – came to an end with Martini's predecessor, Giovanni Colombo.
Another personality that Biffi subjects to severe criticism is Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti, who in his youth was an important political figure – admired in those years by Biffi himself – then later a priest and monk, a very active adviser for cardinal Giacomo Lercaro at Vatican Council II, and the founding father of the "Bologna school" and of the interpretation of the Council as a rupture with the past and a new beginning.
Biffi writes that Dossetti maintained until the very end "a primary and permanent obsession for politics, which altered his general perspective." In addition, he was compromised by an "insufficient theological foundation."

Dossetti was the man who, in the past half century, had the greatest influence on the perspectives of Italian Church's intellectual elite.
That's interesting... it's widely understood that Pope Benedict's promotion of a Hermeneutic of Continuity is aimed at overturning the Bologna School's interpretation of Church history and Vatican II in particular. I've also had occasion in the past to criticise the late Professor Alberigo of the same school for contributing theologically uninformed comments to recent debates. [In fairness to Professor Alberigo, his collection of Conciliar Decrees from the General Councils of the Church are an exceptionally helpful resource.]
Anyway, Magister prints some translated extracts from Biffi's book which I found thought-provoking and insightful, even if I couldn't agree with the Cardinal in every particular.
For those who don't follow the link to Magister's article (why not?), here's an address that Biffi gave to the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI:
"1. After hearing all of the statements - correct, opportune, impassioned - that have been made here, I would like to express to the future pope (who is listening to me now) my complete solidarity, concord, understanding, and even a bit of my fraternal compassion. But I would also like to suggest to him that he not be too worried about what he has heard here, and that he not be too frightened. The Lord Jesus will not ask him to resolve all the world's problems. He will ask him to love him with extraordinary love: 'Do you love me more than these?' (cf. John 21:15). A number of years ago, I came across a phrase in the 'Mafalda' comic strip from Argentina that has often come back into my mind in these days: 'I've got it,' said that feisty and perceptive little girl, 'the world is full of problemologists, but short on solutionologists'.

"2. I would like to tell the future pope to pay attention to all problems. But first and most of all, he should take into account the state of confusion, disorientation, and aimlessness that afflicts the people of God in these years, and above all the 'little ones'.

"3. A few days ago, I saw on television an elderly, devout religious sister who responded to the interviewer this way: 'This pope, who has died, was great above all because he taught us that all religions are equal'. I don't know whether John Paul II would have been very pleased by this sort of elegy.

"4. Finally, I would like to point out to the new pope the incredible phenomenon of 'Dominus Iesus': a document explicitly endorsed and publicly approved by John Paul II; a document for which I am pleased to express my vibrant gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger. That Jesus is the only necessary Savior of all is a truth that for over twenty centuries - beginning with Peter's discourse after Pentecost - it was never felt necessity to restate. This truth is, so to speak, the minimum threshold of the faith; it is the primordial certitude, it is among believers the simple and most essential fact. In two thousand years this has never been brought into doubt, not even during the crisis of Arianism, and not even during the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation. The fact of needing to issue a reminder of this in our time tells us the extent of the gravity of the current situation. And yet this document, which recalls the most basic, most simple, most essential certitude, has been called into question. It has been contested at all levels: at all levels of pastoral action, of theological instruction, of the hierarchy.

"5. A good Catholic told me about asking his pastor to let him make a presentation of 'Dominus Iesus' to the parish community. The pastor (an otherwise excellent and well-intentioned priest) replied to him: 'Let it go. That's a document that divides.' What a discovery! Jesus himself said: 'I have come to bring division' (Luke 12:51). But too many of Jesus' words are today censured among Christians; or at least among the most vocal of them."
Ad multos annos, Cardinal Biffi!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Religious Reporting at its Finest...

A very distasteful article about St Pio in the Times... I wouldn't link to it at all, but for the following paragraph:
Followers of Padre Pio believe he exuded "the odour of sanctity", had the gift of bipolarism (being in two places at once), healed the sick and could prophesy the future. He is said to have told the young Karol Wojtyla he would one day be elected Pope.
Bipolarism? I think someone needs to check his dictionary...

Italian Blog Law

This piece in the Telegraph describes what would seem to be a crazy Italian attempt to regulate the blogosphere.
By G8 standards, Italy is a strange country. Put simply, it is a nation of octogenarian lawmakers elected by 70-year-old pensioners. Everyone else is inconsequential.
Romano Prodi, the Prime Minister, is a spry 68, knocking off 71-year-old Silvio Berlusconi in last year’s election. President Giorgio Napolitano, 82, has six more years left on his term; his predecessor was 86 when he called it quits. In the unlikely event that Italy declares war, the decision will come from a head of state who was a month shy of 20 when the Germans surrendered at the end of the Second World War.
This creaky perspective is a necessary introduction to any discussion about Italian politics with outsiders, I find. If the Italian Government seems unable to adapt to the modern world, the explanation is quite simple. Your country would operate like this too if your grandparents were in charge.
Recently, Italian lawmakers once again took aim at modern life, introducing an incredibly broad law that would effectively require all bloggers, and even users of social networks, to register with the state. Even a harmless blog about a favourite football squad or a teenager grousing about life’s unfairness would be subject to government oversight, and even taxation – even if it’s not a commercial website.
Outside Italy, the legislation has generated sniggers from hardly sympathetic industry observers. Boingboing cleverly reports Italy is proposing a “Ministry of Blogging.” plays it straighter, calling the measure an “anti-blogger” law.
I understand the lack of alarm in their tone. We’ve been down this road countless times. Panicky government officials, whether they are in Harare, Beijing or Rome (yes, this is the second time it’s been proposed here), pronounce a brand new muzzle for the internet, and clever netizens simply find a way around it. Even that agitated teen probably has a foolproof way of masking his IP address. And besides, it could easily be argued that a Blogger or Typepad blog is hosted on a server well outside the bel paese, making a stupid law virtually unenforceable. And finally this is Italy, a place where plumbers and captains of industry alike are serial tax evaders. Don’t sweat it, amico. Enjoy the sunshine, vino rosso and tagliatelle.
Maybe it is because of all these obvious points that the draft law is already going through some revisions. If it is ratified – and at the moment it looks frighteningly likely – the Ministry of Communications would decide who must register with the state.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Nazi Church for Sale

From the Telegraph:
A dilapidated Nazi-era church, complete with altar carvings of German storm troopers, has been put on sale in Berlin after its congregation failed to raise enough money to restore it.
The Martin Luther Memorial Church, in the southern Berlin district of Mariendorf, has been closed for three years after its 150ft tower — originally damaged by bombing — was found to be unstable.
It was initially consecrated in 1933, the year that the Nazi party came to power. Two years later, it was finished and featured walls sporting swastikas and idealised carvings of Aryan figures – including a muscle-bound Christ.
The swastikas, which are illegal in Germany, have since been removed, as has a bust of Hitler, which is thought to have stood at a spot in the nave now graced by a statue of Martin Luther.
But its chandelier, in the form of the military Iron Cross, and the organ – first used at Nazi rallies in Nuremberg in 1935 — are still intact, as are friezes of workers, soldiers and eagles.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Now, why didn't I think of that?

Via Corriere della Sera:
An Italian man disguised as a priest, and prepared to lock himself in a bathroom for a day, managed to sneak away with dozens of 300-year-old books, drawings and watercolours worth at least 650,000 euros from leading libraries and public archives in Rome. Italian police recovered the items in raids at the man’s home and storerooms. The suspect, a Roman man in his mid-forties, used ink remover to delete identification numbers and library stamps from the items, said General Giovanni Nistri, who heads the Italian police art squad.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Coping with mamismo...

From Reuters:
Italy's economy minister has sparked uproar by offering "big babies" a tax break if they let go of their mother's apron strings and left home.
More than a third of Italian men over the age of 30 live at home with their parents, a phenomenon blamed on sky-high apartment rents and bleak job prospects as much as a liking for mamma's cooking.
Economy Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa offered to come to the rescue with a 1,000 euro ($1,411) tax break for 20- and 30-something Italians who rent.
He said the move was aimed at "bamboccioni," which evokes images of clumsy, overgrown male babies.
"We must send those we call 'big babies' out of the house," the minister told a Senate hearing on the 2008 draft budget.
"With the budget we'll help young people who don't marry and still live with their parents get out of the house."
The comment was immediately condemned by politicians from all shades of the political spectrum who said young Italians could hardly be blamed for a sputtering economy and high rents.
Italy is holding a broader debate over its increasingly geriatric society where the best jobs are often occupied by those over 50, squeezing out the young and ambitious.
Many Italians do not graduate until their late 20s and end up in poorly paid internships or with short-term contracts.
A sharp rise in the cost of living since the introduction of the euro has not helped, and even a 1,000 euro tax break will not be enough to help young Italians stand on their own feet, said Guglielmo Epifani, who heads a major Italian union.
"Renting an apartment 30 years ago cost a quarter of the salary of a worker," writer Aldo Nove who has penned a book called "My Name is Roberta, I'm 40 years old and earn 250 euros a month," told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"Today, it costs more than the salary of a young apprentice. What else is there to say?"

Something for the conspiracy-theorists...

Via the Telegraph:
The mysteries of the Order of the Knights Templar could soon be laid bare after the Vatican announced the release of a crucial document which has not been seen for almost 700 years.
A new book, Processus contra Templarios, will be published by the Vatican's Secret Archive on Oct 25, and promises to restore the reputation of the Templars, whose leaders were burned as heretics when the order was dissolved in 1314.
The Knights Templar were a powerful and secretive group of warrior monks during the Middle Ages. Their secrecy has given birth to endless legends, including one that they guard the Holy Grail.
Recently, they have been featured in films including The Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The new book is based on a scrap of parchment discovered in the Vatican's secret archives in 2001 by Professor Barbara Frale. The long-lost document is a record of the trial of the Templars before Pope Clement, and ends with a papal absolution from all heresies.

Prof Frale said: "I could not believe it when I found it. The paper was put in the wrong archive in the 17th century."
The document, known as the Chinon parchment, reveals that the Templars had an initiation ceremony which involved "spitting on the cross", "denying Jesus" and kissing the lower back, navel and mouth of the man proposing them.
The Templars explained to Pope Clement that the initiation mimicked the humiliation that knights could suffer if they fell into the hands of the Saracens, while the kissing ceremony was a sign of their total obedience.
The Pope concluded that the entrance ritual was not truly blasphemous, as alleged by King Philip when he had the knights arrested. However, he was forced to dissolve the Order to keep peace with France and prevent a schism in the church.
"This is proof that the Templars were not heretics," said Prof Frale. "The Pope was obliged to ask pardon from the knights.
"For 700 years we have believed that the Templars died as cursed men, and this absolves them."
Hmmmmm... I'm not going to speculate how reliable or unreliable this particular report is.

Pasta Advice...

From the At Home in Rome 'blog, Shelly tells us what she's learnt about pasta from the Italians.
Who knew that so many varieties of pasta existed, and not only that, but that each type had its own special role in the cucina italiana? Quadrucci? Well, those go in brodo (broth), of course. Penne? We like our arrabbiata sauce on those. Spaghetti? Great with clams. But don’t use it for amatriciana, because there you want bucatini… a form of spaghetti that’s like a straw (hollow in the middle). And the list goes on, and on, and on. Building your pasta vocabulary takes years! Strozzapreti—the “priest strangler” pasta. Alla chitarra—like guitar strings. Maltagliati—literally “cut bad.” You basically need a mini-degree to decipher it all, but that’s part of the fun.
Strozzapreti is one of my favourites.