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(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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