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PopeWatch: Boosting Catholicism in Vietnam, Europe; Setbacks in America

posted by Nicole Neroulias

(Updated at 6:30 p.m. EST to link to my interview with U.S. Vatican attorney Jeffrey Lena.)

While defending the Catholic Church as it deals with the clergy abuse investigations in Belgium, lawsuits and church closings in America and allegations elsewhere, Pope Benedict is going on offense to boost Catholicism around the world.

This includes appointing a Holy See representative to Vietnam, a major step toward establishing diplomatic relations with the communist country, home to about 6 million Catholics.
candlelight.jpg (Here’s a photo I took of my father, a Vietnam veteran, lighting a memorial candle outside a church near Cu Chi a few years ago.) Catholic News Agency has more on this story; check out Reuters for background information on religious freedom issues for Catholics and others in Vietnam.

The pope is also creating a Vatican office to “re-evangelize” Europe, the AP reports. After all, in its own backyard (and front yard), Italy is battling European court ruling against crucifixes in classrooms. Reuters has more on this, including support from countries like  Cyprus, Greece and Russia for Italy in this case.

(European secularization is an issue that also concerns Orthodox Christians, which may explain why Catholic-Orthodox dialogue seems to be going so well these days.)

As for American news, aside from Monday’s Supreme Court setback for the Vatican’s clergy abuse legal battle (check out my Religion News Service interview with camera-shy U.S. Vatican attorney Jeffrey Lena for more on this), there’s also the (related) problem of churches continuing to close — 50 in Ohio alone in the past year. Meanwhile, Catholic News Agency reports that the U.S. bishops are launching a new initiative to promote the importance of marriage between a man and woman.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Katie Angel

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I think this is going to be a hard time for the Church – beset on all sides, from without and within. The problem to me is that the Holy See, and to a degree the Church as a whole, has lost the ability to make a distinction between that which is bedrock principle and that which is tradition. The one cannot and should not be changed – the other is open to adaptation in order to react to a modern world. A world, that from my readings, bears more of a resemblance to the time of the early Church than to the Middle Ages (when a lot of Church law was actually created). Catholics – and particularly the Pope, cardinals and bishops – need to rethink and re-imagine their Church to restore it to the living faith that speaks truth and meaning to all. Right now, the Church has too many leaders who would rather shout at the rain than find an umbrella.

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Grumpy Old Person

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I read the Catholic “News” agency’s press release regarding what they call “the truth of marrriage” and it is so full of false witness as to be nearly worthless. What a sad “initiative” – to diminish, demean, debae God’s gay and lesbian children with lies is simply bald hatred.
Heterosexual marriage does not need to be “promoted”. Most heterosexuals fall in love, get married. End of story. They’re allowed to, and no one is taking away their freedom to do so. (That the majority of those marriages fail is telling.)
Sad that “Christians” must tell lies in order to ‘win’. Not even sure why there must be ‘losers’ in the institution.

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Robert C

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Very neat comment Katie.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Hi Nicole – from the photo it looks as though your Dad had just toured the Chu Chi tunnel complex (the dirt on his shirt). I did the same but was only able to go down one level, given my size and up until then, an unknown claustrophobia).
If one believes the Catholic Church was founded by Christ and is guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church is eternal. The Church will always – I say again, always – be beset by travails, from within and without the institution, as the message of Christ and his messengers challenge the world. This too shall pass.

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Nicole Neroulias

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Yes, LiveFreeorDie, we had just come from the tunnels! My father was stationed there during his tour of duty; we went back together, 40 years later. I wrote about it for my newspaper at the time, The Journal News, in stories and a “Return to Vietnam” blog, still up at
I learned a bit about the Catholic Church in Vietnam while preparing for that trip, after reading famous Napalm victim Kim Phuc’s story in “The Girl In the Picture” (see the Return to Vietnam post dated Nov. 19) and finding out that although raised in the region’s Cao Dai faith (explained in the Nov. 20 post), she later converted to Catholicism. Anyway, I’ll keep an eye on this story… perhaps some of my sources in Vietnam can send me some news from the ground as the new representative gets settled.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Nicole that must have been a fascinating and, I hope, great trip.
Kathy from my perspective the RCC is so incredibly far from being able to speak truth and meaning to all that I don’t see it happening. Fortunately no one organization can or will ever do that, though many will pretend to.
But it would be great if it got closer, and to do that it needs to get its head straight, at a minimum, on birth control and sex and sexuality. Those old men who either don’t have any sex or have to pretend they don’t are in no position to tell the rest of us about something we understand far better than they do.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Well, guess the RCC is off on more Crusades,(maybe without the blood shed this time) since it has lost some or a lot of it’s credibility in the world. I hope the folks it is trying to “educate” have had access to the world at large to realize just who is coming to “convert” them to THE church. Yes, nnmns, “the old men who either don’t have sex or pretend they don’t are in no position to tell the rest of us about something we understand far better than they do.” As much as it ticks off conservative Catholics, there is a lot that could and should (IMO) be changed in order to attract more folks…such as allowing “artificial” birth control, allowing divorced folks to remarry in the church (without an annulment), married priests, women priests, etc. Last but not least…recognizing same gender relationships. As an aside, I always thought it strange that a Catholic would go to a supposedly celibate priest for marriage advise.

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Robert C

posted July 2, 2010 at 9:46 am

I always find it enchanting to listen to the rabid anti catholics and the unknowing non Catholics try to explain to Catholics what they should believe. Additionally it’s always amusing to listen to the hedonists, adulterers,cuckolded, frigid and the amdidexterously hermaphroditic, who having read a line out of the Kama Sutra, try to explain to the rest of the world why their personal prediliction is the salve for what ails you.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 11:14 am

Hi Nicole;
Great blog – glad it is still up. I am sure your father was delighted to have you with him as he revisited the scenes from an important chapter in his life.
I was in Vietnam for the first time for only a week back in 1992. An eye opening experience in many ways.
Our guide was a young woman; our driver an older gentleman. To hear the aspirations and memories of both was insightful.
In 1992 there were few Americans about. The French were beginning to return. An older waiter at Maxim’s in Saigon was delighted to converse in French throughout the meal.
The churches there were packed, even though the government still exerted influence / control over the clergy.
The people were cheerful and resilient and held no grudges when learning I was an American. One of the first phrases in Vietnamese I was encouraged to memorize was the phrase, “I am not Russian”. Ha.
The museum referred to in your blog was at that time known as the American War Crimes Museum.
We stayed at the Caravelle and had dinner at the Continental; two landmarks in Saigon. Graham Greene resided at the The Continental while penning “The Quiet American”. Our dinner was quiet at the Continental. We supped in the courtyard – a risky proposition during the war as the Viet Kong had a nasty habit of hurling grenades into the courtyard from the street.
We drove by the former U.S. Embassy, now vacant but for the chickens scurrying about the grounds. Our guide explained that the government kept the former embassy building intact and unoccupied thinking the Americans might want it back when they eventually returned!
I also remember walking a street home to a number of private English language schools. Classes were held in the evening, after work, were not inexpensive and were extraordinarily well attended – a signal that young Vietnamese saw the need to learn the language for future success.
I would enjoy hearing about Vietnam and the changes underway there. Thank you for your writings.

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posted July 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

It’s called “an opinion” Robert C.

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Robert C

posted July 2, 2010 at 1:39 pm

You must know the old adage about opinions Pagan. “Opinions are like……..
loved the captcha: moment memento

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posted July 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Which means what, Robert C.? You can express your opinions but no one else can? You know what that is called, right Robert?

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Andonios Neroulias

posted July 2, 2010 at 10:18 pm

It was very moving to have been able to stop by the Catholic Church in Cu Chi and to leave a lighted candle in memory of my friends who had been killed while serving with the 25th Infantry Division. I would have liked the church to be open when we visited, but it was not and we could not go back later on in the evening. I remember that there was a Catholic congregation when I was sationed there in 1967-68, and it would have been interesting for me to find out how the congregation survived the communist take over.

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