Top 10 Countdown: Neglected Catholic Stories of 2008

Article excerpt

For most media outlets in the United States, there were really only two big Catholic stories in 2008: Pope Benedict XVI's April 15-20 visit to Washington and New York, and the fate of the "Catholic vote" in the November elections.

Both, of course, were important tales to tell, and for the most part church officials have no right to complain. Saturation coverage of the pope's trip alone probably meant the Catholic church drew more positive notice in '08 than in most years, especially recently.

Yet inevitably, plenty of other important Catholic stories flew below the radar. To remedy that, here's a rundown of the "Top 10 Neglected Catholic Stories of the Year."

10. Benedict's "second act" in France

While the pope's trip to America drew bell-to-bell coverage, his Sept. 12-15 visit to France might as well have been on the dark side of the moon in terms of American media interest. That's too bad, because it offered "Volume II" of Benedict's reflections on church/state relations. In the States, Benedict praised a model of church/state separation that, in his view, means freedom for religion rather than freedom from religion. In France, he closed the loop by pushing the French to rethink their model of laicite, which the pope sees as exiling religion from public life.

9. O'Brien and the Legionaries of Christ

In June, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore demanded greater transparency from the Legionaries of Christ and their lay arm, Regnum Christi, and barred them from one-on-one spiritual direction with anyone under 18. The fact that O'Brien, who is no one's idea of a doctrinal liberal, took those steps suggested that controversy surrounding the Legionaries is not merely about the usual left/right tensions in the church. The story raised larger questions about how to balance the zeal and missionary spirit of some of the "new movements" against the need for proper oversight and accountability.

8. The bishops and immigration

Amid a drumbeat in '08 suggesting the American bishops had a single-issue focus on abortion, their outspoken approach to immigration sometimes got lost. In September, the bishops called upon the Department of Homeland Security to halt immigration raids, asserting that the "humanitarian cost" was "unacceptable in a civilized society." In a speech over the summer, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles asserted that "a human being's worth is defined by their God-given dignity, not by what papers they carry." That position brought blowback; an aside on immigration by Benedict XVI during his U.S. visit, for example, caused CNN's Lou Dobbs to fume on the air, and some conservatives threatened to challenge the church's tax exemptions. While the election of Barack Obama may augur battles over the "life issues," immigration reform may be one area where the bishops and the new administration can do business.

7. A breakthrough in Catholic/ Muslim dialogue

Two years after an explosive speech in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor saying Muhammad brought things "only evil and inhuman," Benedict XVI finally sat down with Muslims to talk things out--and the Vatican scheduled it for Nov. 4, election day, the one day you could guarantee the American media would pay no attention whatsoever. That wasn't deliberate, but it means most Americans don't know that an authoritative body of Catholics and Muslims issued a joint statement recognizing the right to religious freedom.

6. New flashpoints in Catholic/ Jewish relations

The year began with fallout from Benedict XVI's decision to revive the old Latin liturgy, which includes a controversial Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews. In February, the Vatican removed much of the contested language, though critics remained dissatisfied. In June, the U.S. bishops revised their catechism, deleting a line that said "the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them. …