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Rome Seminar: Day two
Another full day began this morning at St. Peter's Square, where the group assembled for a tour of some of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's. We were very fortunate to have as our guide Elizabeth Lev, a professor from Duquesne University on staff at the Rome site. Anything you could read on Wikipedia or have seen for yourself would be far more informative art history-wise than you could get from me, but suffice it to say I was very impressed. It's hard not to feel close to God in such a setting, and Michelangelo's paintings on the Sistine Chapel seemed to jump off the ceiling.
This evening brought a lively talk and discussion with Msgr. Charles Brown, a staff member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a commmittee not unlike a branch of the federal government deals with the legal aspect of faith and morals. Before he was elected pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had led this particular congregation since 1981, and he was such a permanent feature that Msgr. Brown slipped up a couple of time and referred to the current head, Cardinal Laveda, as Cardinal Ratzinger.
The congregation's HQ is about 20 yards from St. Peter's, although, ironically, not technically within the bounds of Vatican City. Its bright orange-yellow building houses offices for the congregation, a couple of meeting rooms and apartments for several cardinals, bishops and priests. What they currently are working on is top secret, but archives from cases -- of both doctrinal and disciplinary nature -- date to the 1500s.
Disciplinary cases cover anything dealing with canon law and moral life, such as if a priest desecrates the Blessed Sacrament or sexually abuses a minor. Doctrinal cases promote and protect the teaching of the Church and look into issues like those that deal with "problematic theologians" -- someone who claims to be a theologian, but writes a publication that goes against Church teaching -- and/or any moral or doctrinal issue imaginable, such as whether or not a priest can hear confessions over the phone or the Church's view on ectopic pregnancies. The congregation also publishes about one document a year (on same-sex marriage, bioethical issues, for example) and is responsible for checking the moral integrity of any other publication produced out of the Vatican.
I'm sure all this and more is on their Web site, but here's an interseting nugget that might not be: According to Msgr. Brown, Cardinal Laveda, like Cardinal Ratzinger before him, begins every weekly meeting of the congregation -- held on Fridays to discuss some of the weightier cases -- by asking the opinion of the "lowest ranking" member first. That way all voices are heard -- not just those of the top dogs wearing cardinal red.
One last quick thing before I go (I would say I have to eat my melting geloto, but I already took care of business on that front): while I am learning a great deal about the Church and its organs, especially in Rome, I have found it interesting to listen to the questions and comments from non-Catholic reporters from secular publication – of which there are many, including the New York Times and the London Times. While this conference is an opportunity for all of us to learn and ask questions so we journalists can better cover the Church, it’s also becoming evident that it’s a real opportunity for the Church to reach out and evangelize the reporters -- especially of secular publications – and through them, their readers. I’m not saying we’re going to have any St. Paul on the Road to Damascus stories here, but I think that, if things keep going as they are, non-Catholic journalists, as well as more understandably we Catholic ones, won’t be able to avoid walking away with a better-informed higher opinion of the Catholic Church.