Is Cardinal Ratzinger chanting "Santo Subito"?

Joseph_Ratzinger.jpgThe first vote by the papal conclave on Monday cannot come soon enough, if only to relieve the incessant speculation about frontrunners. The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post all have repeated the forecast in Milan’s Corriere della Sera that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is the man to beat.

Tracy Wilkinson and Richard Boudreaux explain in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Vatican experts at several of Italy’s leading newspapers reported that Ratzinger was gaining support among his red-hatted colleagues. Luigi Accattoli, writing in Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest daily, said Ratzinger had won the support of about 40 cardinals in pre-conclave jockeying — still short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Ratzinger represents the camp that advocates hewing closely to John Paul’s most traditional policies. An opposing bloc of cardinals is said to support change and “collegiality,” which refers to decentralization of Vatican power and the restoration of more independence to local dioceses.

Ratzinger, who turns 78 on Saturday, also may appeal to those seeking an older pope and a shorter, “transitional” papacy that would give the church time to absorb John Paul’s legacy before charting its future.

Both The Washington Post and The New York Times float the theory that the widespread chants of “Santo Subito” at John Paul’s funeral have now become into a tool of Ratzinger’s promoters.

The Post‘s Daniel Williams quotes the editor of a liberal Catholic newsletter based in Italy:

Some Catholic analysts regard the official adulation as more than simple admiration. Rather, they contend, it is aimed at influencing the election of a new pope in a conclave set to begin April 18. “This is a movie script promoted by cardinals who want continuity, who want someone to be selected who follows the pope’s line on everything,” said Giovanni Avena, editor of the Catholic newsletter Adista.

[Fun with Google translations: An Adista page once linked from We Are Church offers this stirring endorsement: "I read Adista because it is indeed free of forehead to the Church." -- Alex Zanotelli, missionary.]

Williams offers the best wordplay of these articles, calling Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, the retired archbishop of Milan, “a kind of anti-Ratzinger.”

The New York Times adds these details, including fresh grousings from Hans Kung:

The movement for canonization may be tied to pre-conclave maneuvering. According to this interpretation, it is an effort to build a consensus of like-minded cardinals, or even to position one of John Paul’s inner circle as the best successor. The theory is that only someone of great weight, like a Cardinal Ratzinger or Cardinal Ruini, someone close to the pope or his thinking, could follow a man of such spiritual magnitude.

Emphasizing canonization is an effort to show that “only continuity is allowed in the succession of John Paul,” said Alberto Melloni, a historian of Vatican conclaves.

Hans Kung, a prominent Swiss theologian who has been at odds with the Vatican, said a move to push for sainthood was a means of pressing the cardinals to choose a successor in line with the pope’s conservative thinking.

He was quoted on Monday by Reuters as saying, “A campaign for Pope John Paul’s beatification, inspired and engineered by the Vatican, is in full swing, and it will try to smother all internal criticism.” Beatification is a major step toward canonization.

Given the warning that “he who enters a pope leaves a cardinal,” it’s tempting to think these pro-Ratzinger signals could well be coming from anti-Ratzinger forces. Then again, if Ratzinger is elected and quickly announces John Paul’s beatification, Kung will earn GetReligion’s Strange New Respect award for the second quarter of 2005.

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Kristof on religion, press: More diversity!

news-printing-press.jpgGetReligion readers may have noticed that Nicholas D. Kristof experienced a fit of journalistic paranoia this week, one inspired, in large part, by a topic close to the concerns of this blog. Basically, he is scared stiff — with just cause, in my opinion — that the American public now views the MSM as a bunch of biased jerks, or worse. Thus the headline: “A Slap in the Face.”

Here is a key passage in his New York Times column, which began with reports about reporters clashing with courts that are not friendly to First Amendment claims.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center, “Trends 2005,” is painful to read. The report says that 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing in their daily newspapers, up from 16 percent two decades ago. In this kind of environment, it’s not surprising that journalists are headed for jail. The safety net for American journalism throughout history has been not so much the First Amendment — rather, it’s been public approval of the role of the free press. Public approval is our life-support system, and it is now at risk.

Since 1973, the National Opinion Research Center has measured public confidence in 13 institutions, including the press. All of the other institutions have generally retained a good measure of public respect, but confidence in the press has fallen sharply since 1990.

Many mainstream reporters are going to say that Kristof is off his rocker and needs to calm down. Others simply believe that the media-bias claims are rooted in political, cultural or even religious differences. Right-wingers just hate the news media. So what else is new? In due time, all of those conservative people will grow up and get smart. They probably don’t read newspapers anyway. Right?

The problem, noted Kristof, is that lots of people on the left are mad, too. And some of the people at Pew think this chasm has as much to do with class conflicts as with politics and religion. I wrote on this topic last summer and featured this quote on the subject from conservative scribe James Leo at U.S. News & World Report:

“When I was at the New York Times, the leadership was full of people who had gone to the wrong schools and fought their way up with brains and talent,” he said. “Two desks away from mine was McCandlish Phillips, a born-again Christian who read the Bible during every break. . . . Phillips was a legendary reporter, rightly treated with awe by the staff, but I doubt he would be hired by most news organizations today. He prayed a lot and had no college degree.”

This leads us directly to the most controversial quotation in the Kristof column, one I am sure has people inside the New York Times building questioning his sanity. Clearly, this man’s willingness to talk with religious people and cultural conservatives is getting to him!

In effect, he says the Times needs to find some more people like McCandlish Phillips — that is, if it wants to lay claim to being a national newspaper of record.

More openness, more willingness to run corrections, more ombudsmen, more acknowledgement of our failings — those are the kinds of steps that are already under way and that should be accelerated. It would help if news organizations engaged in more outreach to explain themselves, with anchors or editors walking readers through such minefields as why we choose to call someone a “terrorist,” or how we wield terms like “pro-life” or “pro-choice.”

We also need more diverse newsrooms. When America was struck by race riots in the late 1960′s, major news organizations realized too late that their failure to hire black reporters had impaired their ability to cover America. In the same way, our failure to hire more red-state evangelicals limits our understanding of and ability to cover America today.

You may want to read that again.

That statement sounded wise to Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher, but he does not have his hopes up. Here is a long clip from his reaction to the Kristof piece, published on the Dallas Morning News editiorial-page blog. Sadly, I cannot link to it directly, because the technical crew that set up this blog seems to have little understanding of how blogs actually work and interact. Anyway, here is Dreher about the Kristof call for diversity:

He’s entirely correct, but that will never happen. Some people are more diverse than others. In 1997, when I worked for another newspaper, I got into a heated conversation with the woman who ran the diversity training program at the paper. She was awfully proud of herself for having worked to put together a newsroom that looked like our readership area. I told her she shouldn’t be so smug, because though they had a good mixture of men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, and on and on, the diversity was largely skin deep. Most everybody in that newsroom was middle class, had gone to the same kinds of universities, held more or less the same general cultural and political outlook. . . .

“There are lots of Pentecostals in this county, lots of them black or Hispanic,” I said. “But you won’t find them in this newsroom, except working as secretaries or janitors. This county is 40 percent registered Republican. How accurately do you think they are represented in this newsroom?” Etc. She had no idea what I was talking about, and dismissed me condescendingly as a Grumpy White Male. Wasn’t going to have her ideological apple cart upset.

“Amen.” But let me add one more thing about this call for ideological diversity. American journalism will be improved by people who love journalism, not people who hate journalism. Too many religious and cultural conservatives hate the news media and, truth be told, are more interested in public relations than tough, accurate news stories that try to deal with both sides of controversial issues. How many conservative colleges and universities have solid journalism programs? How many have college newspapers that get to, oh, take notes during trustee meetings? Just asking.

This is a blind spot with two sides, Mr. Kristof. The press does not respect the valid role that religion plays in American life. And many people in the pews do not respect the valid role played by the press. We have to get to work on both sides of that equation.

End of sermon.

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God and Man at Yale

WSCoffin.jpgA good, if slightly confusing, piece in The New York Times about Yale’s decision to kick a church off campus that has been affiliated with the university for well over 200 years.

Yale was founded by Congregationalist ministers — the story refers to them as “congregational ministers” — in 1701 and regularly held religious services. The university formed the Church of Christ in Yale in 1757 and the congregation has been meeting in the current Yale chapel, “an elaborate Victorian Gothic confection at Elm and College Streets,” since 1876.

This congregation became part of the United Church of Christ in 1961, when the Rev. William Sloan Coffin (pictured) was the pastor, and the usual sort of politics attached itself to the church. One of the 100 or so remaining congregants is described as a “Green Party activist.”

The Church of Christ in Yale has seen decreasing attendance, like many mainline Protestant churches. The Times gives us a window into this dynamic via a student. I’ve italicized a fun detail:

Ryan Hickey, a sophomore in the University Chapel Choir, whose members are paid to sing at the church, confirmed what was apparent from Sunday’s crowd of about 100 mostly middle-aged people. “Not that many students come,” said Mr. Hickey, who is not a congregant. On any given Sunday, he said, the vast majority of Yale students at the chapel are there to sing in the choir.

So the university has decided to kick the aging congregation out of a chapel that could seat 800 people and hold its own ecumenical Protestant services. The Church of Christ in Yale pastors who are identified are already on the university payroll and will continue to hold services for Yale students and the surrounding community.

The ousted congregation has decided to call itself the Shalom United Church of Christ.

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Follow the money and the faith

Anschutz.jpgI sympathize with any reporter writing about Philip Anschutz, who has to be the most publicity-adverse tycoon in decades. That the self-made billionaire is now branching into buying newspapers and producing mostly family-friendly films makes him more a tempting target for journalists who believe, in the words of Slate‘s Jack Shafer, that “There’s got to be an angle.”

Shafer wrote about Anschutz in late March, and Ross Douthat wrote an Anschutz profile for the May issue of The Atlantic. Shafer concentrated on Anschutz’s ventures in the newspaper industry, while Douthat focused more on his gamble in producing films. But here’s the more importance difference between the two articles: Shafer referred to, and quickly dismissed, Anschutz’s Christian faith as sufficient reason for his interest in producing films, while Douthat took Anschutz’s faith more seriously.

Shafer wrote:

Nobody thinks Anschutz is a fool. An oil wildcatter raised by an oil wildcatter, he moved into the railroad business in the early 1980s and made billions by laying fiber-optic cable along his Southern Pacific Railroad track and purchasing Qwest Communications. According to one biography, his original $55 million investment in Qwest turned into a $4.9 billion profit when the company went public in 1997.

On the other hand, everybody recognizes that Anschutz is a conservative Republican ideologue and a devout Christian. In a February 2004 speech, he stated that he entered the movie business because he wanted to stop “cursing the darkness” (Hollywood’s violent and vulgar R-rated films) and start making family fare.

. . . Nobody dumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the movie and exhibition business — or newspapers — to uplift the masses. There’s got to be an angle.

Douthat, in contrast, did not dismiss the possibility that Anschutz could make a considerable profit on his films — especially depending on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (due in December) — but didn’t leave it at that:

On one level Anschutz’s Hollywood venture is of a piece with his earlier investments — the goal is to make money. But his film company is determinedly family-friendly; don’t look for Anschutz to make an R-rated movie anytime soon. He sees this as a moral question, but also as a sound business plan. In one of his rare public speeches, delivered last winter at a leadership seminar in Florida sponsored by Hillsdale College, a conservative school in rural Michigan, he commented, “It is of utmost importance for a business to try and figure out a way to make goods and products that people actually want to buy Â… I don’t think Hollywood understands this very well, because they keep making the same old movies . . . despite the fact that so many Americans are tired of seeing them.”

His logic is sound: of the 100 all-time top-grossing movies, just thirteen were rated R. But is a Republican and a social conservative — rarer in Hollywood than a natural blonde — the right person to tap into this market? And is profit the main motive in his moviemaking ambitions? After all, just before Anschutz entered the movie business, an associate described him as wanting to be “doing something significant in American Christianity.”

Douthat closes his article with the delightful prospect — at least to Chronicles of Narnia fans — that Anschutz could spend the next decade making all seven of the Narnia books into films:

If the $150 million venture into Narnia flops, of course, it could be devastating to Anschutz’s Tinseltown venture. But if it succeeds — well, Hollywood loves a winner, and presumably there will be none of the lingering ire that has dogged Mel Gibson. A successful Lion would also mean that Anschutz could start gearing up for the next six Narnia movies — probably culminating around 2015 or so with The Last Battle, a Narnian Armageddon that features Muslim-like villains; subtle riffs on faith, atheism, and damnation; and a decidedly biblical Last Judgment.

It’s the best children’s story about the Apocalypse ever written, and it might just be the movie that Philip Anschutz was born to make. Beneath the flashbulb-shy exterior, one suspects, abides the soul of a dreamer. “My friends think I’m a candidate for a lobotomy,” he remarked at the close of his Florida speech, “but you know what? I don’t care. If we can make some movies that have a positive effect on people’s lives and on our culture, that’s enough for me.”

Hollywood has long been a graveyard for such idealists. But most of them didn’t have $5 billion to play with.

In assuming that it’s only about making more money, Shafer missed the story that Douthat told with The Atlantic‘s usual mix of rewarding details and good humor.

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Questions about the Third World "papabile"

NextChristendom.jpgI could have sworn, during the first few hours after the papal funeral, that I saw National Catholic Reporter superstar John L. Allen Jr. on at least three cable news shows at the same time.

It was amazing and predictable and, let me add, he was doing a great job keeping a straight face as, over and over, the anchor people kept trying to find new ways to ask him the same question: Who are the front runners in the political race to be the next Holy Father?

I think it was on CNN that one anchor said something like, “So the lead is that we basically don’t know?” To which Allen flatly answered, with that serious look of his: Yes, the lead is that we just don’t know.

Meanwhile, journalists keep quoting that old Vatican saying that cardinals who enter the conclave as “papabile” — or likely popes — come out as cardinals. Everybody knows that is almost always true, but you can still search Google News for papabile and get 1,370 references. Journalists know the questions are all but meaningless, but we cannot stop asking them, even if it angers — or worse, amuses — the insiders and experts we are interviewing.

So the anti-Borg here at GetReligion has not been anxious to bring you all kinds of links to the best and worst of the “who is the next pope” coverage. There have been waves of it already and the waves will only get higher, especially now that the cardinals have chosen to remain all but silent. There are hundreds of stories about that silence.

Still, there are new angles to cover. I think the most interesting is linked to the rise of the Third World cardinals and the tensions that must exist behind the scenes between this voting bloc and the cardinals of the “frozen chosen,” the Catholics in the declining sanctuaries of Europe and the West.

If this topic interests you, you might want to check out this major New York Times feature story on the clout of the Third World cardinals or even this recent column from Nicholas D. Kristof about the state of Christianity in Africa. Then there is this nice summary feature by reporter David Blair in The Daily Telegraph, titled “Centre of Christianity moves to Africa.” Here is a crisp summary:

The pews of Africa’s churches now hold 390 million worshippers_ more than three times the total of 35 years ago. Over the next two decades, Africa’s congregation is likely to grow by another 200 million, causing a huge shift in the character of the Christian faith. Its heartland will move decisively southwards, away from the empty churches of Europe and into the developing world.

The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, an American think-tank based in a Protestant seminary, is charting this transformation and its findings are dramatic. Already, its study of “World Christian Trends” shows that white Europeans and Americans account for only 43 per cent of the world’s Christians.

None of this comes as any surprise to Africa’s clergy, who are well used to conducting three-hour services before packed churches.

Then again, you may simply want to read the Atlantic Monthly cover story that planted the seed for all of these Third World stories in the first place — “The Next Christianity” by scholar Philip Jenkins. Or you can click here to read it on a Catholic education site.

It’s time for some serious questions about the Third World church, which is very much alive, but mysterious at the same time. These churches are said to be “conservative” and “orthodox,” but what do these words mean in the context of the Third World, as opposed to the “Culture Wars” context of North America? If questions about homosexuality are the “elephant” in the American Catholic sanctuary, what are the unspoken questions in Africa, Asia and South America? Can Third World cardinals thrive in the dense bureaucracies of the Vatican?

If you see anyone asking these questions in print, please let us know.

UPDATE: You just knew this was coming — a rate the papabile blog. My reaction? Only one blog of this kind at this point in the primaries?

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Santo Wojtyla, pray for us

martyrs.jpgAs the late pope was on his deathbed, the outline of a deal was being hammered out between the Vatican and the Chinese government. Hours after John Paul II quit this vale of tears, the results of those negotiations were made public. The Vatican would be willing to derecognize Taiwan in exchange for the license to operate openly in China.

Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun was quoted in the London Daily Telegraph as saying, “The Holy See has been thinking of giving up Taiwan. This is a difficult [decision], but it has decided to do it. If the Holy See does not establish [diplomatic] ties with China, Catholics there will not have real freedom.”

Sometimes my church is so breathtakingly cynical that even I am taken aback by it all. Here you had an ailing pope whose last, explicitly political book went on at length about the right of peoples to establish their own autonomous political communities, a pope who in 2000 had offended the sensibilities of Beijing by canonizing over 100 martyrs killed in the Boxer rebellion, a pope who was kept out of China because of his anti-Communism and his insistence that Rome should determine the rules and leaders of the local arm of the Catholic Church.

Only hours after John Paul II’s death, the Vatican announced its willingness to do an about-face on its policy in re: China and Taiwan. And even that wasn’t enough to placate the Chinese. Beijing refused to send a representative to Rome to protest the Vatican’s decision to allow Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian to attend the pope’s funeral.

According to the Telegraph, the deal might still be killed by strident Chinese nationalism and the Vatican’s stubborn insistence that it will have the final say in matters of church governance. Bishop Zen tried to put the best possible face on the Vatican’s non-negotiables:

“The Pope appoints bishops everywhere and nobody is offended,” he said. “We hope the Chinese government can understand this. The Holy See just wants religious peace for its people. It has no political ambitions whatsoever.”

But that didn’t go over so well with his negotiating partners:

Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, reacted with scepticism, claiming that the country’s state-approved Catholics “had chosen to run their church independently amid a struggle against colonialism, imperialism and slavery”.

He said that China’s constitution banned religious groups and affairs from being controlled by foreign forces.

The Telegraph hinted at a possible compromise, in which Beijing proposes and Rome disposes, but that’s pretty much the way things work now. A piece in the latest issue of Newsweek does a good job of laying out the organization and contradictions of the Chinese Catholic Church.

On one level, you have an underground church, recognized by Rome and very grudgingly tolerated (i.e., not crushed to a pulp) by the Chinese government. On another level, you have the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which has undergone a significant shift in the last 15 years:

The most important compromise has been over the appointment of Chinese bishops. Until the early 1990s, the official Chinese church simply appointed them unilaterally to create a structure outside papal supervision. Yet since then the process has been quietly altered. Before consecration, official candidates now are given time to quietly seek papal approval via intermediaries in Hong Kong. Ren [Yanli], the [Chinese Academy of Social Sciences] scholar, confirmed the practice for the first time in an interview with Newsweek. “We have only nine bishops who are not recognized by the pope [out of 71 altogether],” he said.

The Vatican would like for the underground church to be able to see the light of day and — near as I can tell — it would like to merge that church with the state-approved church, and control them both. It is willing to withdraw its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in order to take this gamble.

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Let's elect a British pope

nextpope.JPGThe Economist holds forth on the “future of the church” in its latest issue and decides that the new pope should be an Anglican.

In the leader (a.k.a. “editorial”), the editors argue that religious faith — at least of the “uncompromising form which John Paul professed” — has contributed to a “new rancour” and a “spirit of mutual demonisation” when it comes to issues of euthanasia, gay marriage, and abortion being hammered out in Western democracies.

The editorial finishes on the issue of the Catholic Church in the developing world, where the church offers charitable assistance, but where “it seems obvious that the rigid application of the church’s teaching on contraception has contributed to many deaths.”

The editors opine, “everyone who cares about humanity, whether in God’s name or in the name of reason, will rejoice if, under a new pope, the church seeks new ways to affirm the sanctity of life” (by saying that condoms are A-OK).

In the issue’s “Special report,” the analysts sharpen this criticism. Very few reasonable people, we are told, take Catholic teaching seriously. Granted,

Thanks in part to the pope, and the appeal to some of his intense form of mysticism and piety, there are minorities in many western countries who freely choose to live by rules that are stricter than most citizens can accept.

But those people don’t read The Economist, so never mind them.

That isn’t snarky exaggeration on my part. Later in the piece, the anonymous essayist argues that the persuasive power of the church is such that it can easily sway the “decisions of third-world governments” in re: abortion. Cue the harrumphs:

As a direct result of this, critics say, the number of women who die as a result of botched, amateur terminations goes up.

No evidence or anything, just “critics say.”

The essayist even imports an imaginary everyman poor Catholic cleric to make the case that the church is living in a fairy-tale world:

To many a Catholic priest working in third-world slums, certain things are obvious: it is morally impossible to tell a Brazilian mother who already has a family of six that she must go on bearing children indefinitely — and it is plain wrong to tell a couple when one or both partners have AIDS that they must avoid condoms.

Look, you can argue that it’s ineffective and retrograde and all that, but if you are going to do an article damning the Catholic position on contraception, at least mention natural family planning.

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Wired Vatican? Can the digital security hold?

art00.gifSeveral years ago, as the clergy sexual abuse story kicked into high gear, papal biographer George Weigel made an interesting comment about a practical reason that many top officials inside the Vatican were failing to grasp the anger of many American Catholics — especially the anger of traditionalists who usually are Rome’s strongest defenders.

During an Easter trip to Rome, he said, he discovered that many in the heirarchy still thought the story was hype. They could not see that the big wave of fury was still to come. They didn’t get it.

But why? Didn’t they read their email?

Weigel was amazed. Clearly there was some kind of “information gap” between the U.S. Catholic establishment and Rome, he said. Also, the worldly European press had remained silent, perhaps due to a jaded view of American obsessions about sex. But something else was wrong.

“Suddenly it dawned on me that the Vatican is simply not, to this day, a part of the Internet culture,” said Weigel. “There are a few people who take the trouble to go online every morning or evening. . . . But in the main, what we have become used to and what frames our emotional responses to these questions, namely real-time information and a constant flow of chat, commentary, argument and so forth, . . . none of this exists over there.”

So the Vatican just doesn’t get the blogosphere. Does it grasp the realities of digital audio? I know Vatican officials will try to find hidden cell telephones inside the high walls of papal security. Can they find them all?

I bring this up because of an interesting Washington Post report the other day by Glenn Frankel and Alan Cooperman that ran with the headline “Wired, News-Hungry World Tests Venerable Traditions.” The digital bottom line is easy to find. In the best-case scenario, this conclave is going to take place under a cyberdome of listservs, blogs, email and a level of cable TV and speciality publication journalism that has never been seen before.

Someone on CNN, during the funeral coverage, noted that CNN did not really exist during the conclaves that elected John Paul I and John Paul II. Now the world’s media is so post-CNN. CNN is one of the old geezers of media, when it comes to this kind of insider, niche-oriented journalism.

So the Post is right to ask: What is ahead? What is the worst-case scenario?

The ritual contest to succeed the late pope could be another moment when tradition is tested. In a 1996 document setting out new rules and conditions for papal succession, John Paul conceded that he needed to take into account changing times and present-day requirements. Still, the document seeks to maintain the traditional wall of secrecy around the selection process and warns of dire consequences for violators.

“I absolutely forbid the introduction into the place of the election, under whatsoever pretext, or the use, should they have been introduced, of technical instruments of any kind for the recording, reproducing or transmitting of sound, visual images or writing,” wrote John Paul, who specified the exact wording of the three oaths of secrecy that all cardinals attending the sessions are required to take.

Once upon a time, the infamous Father Andrew Greeley claimed to have sources who gave him the scoop on what went on inside the year of the three popes. This year, there will be legions of digital Greeleys trying to get info. Does the Vatican truly grasp what is coming?

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