Tuesday, July 12, 2011

King Arthur: Knight of the Round Table or Knight Templar?

For centuries, tales of King Arthur and his glorious Knights of the Round Table have been passed down from generation to generation. Every young boy knows of how a wizard named Merlin appeared to Uther Pendragon, handing him a young child named Arthur; and later Arthur pulled his sword, Excalibur, from a stone and became King of England. Yet as historians recently began scouring history books for answers, King Arthur and his famous wizard companion, Merlin, have been a topic of interesting debate. It's quite obvious that some portions of Arthurian legends have been exaggerated, but was King Arthur real, and did the Knights Templar play a twisted role in this famous tale?

King Arthur and Merlin were first written about in 1135 in a book called History of the Kings of Britain, written by an ancient monk, Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey's tale describes a real historical king named Vortigern, who set out to build a massive and impenetrable tower in Wales. To the king's demise, the tower collapsed every time he built it. Vortigern turned to the wise oracles of Britain who told him the tower would only stand if he sprinkled the blood of a fatherless boy on the foundation stones. Not to be deterred by petty murder, the king set out to find such a boy.

King Vortigern traveled about his kingdom until he stumbled upon two young lads in the midst of a quarrel. One of the boys was ridiculing the other for not having a father. The king grabbed the young Merlin and rode off to find the boy's mother. Merlin's mother informed the king that she had been seduced by a mysterious man that disappeared soon after the encounter. The king cruelly told Merlin’s mother that Merlin was to be sacrificed for the glory of his great tower.

Merlin was a special boy and he had a gift of foresights. So when King Vortigern threatened death, Merlin channeled his inner seer's gift of prophecy and insight. Merlin kindly told Vortigern of a vision he had about the king’s sinking tower. According to the vision, the reason Vortigern’s tower kept sinking was because it was being built on a pool of water. He told the King there was a swamp under the land and if he dug the land beneath the tower, he would find this swamp and in the swamp he would also find two serpents. 

Vortigern had his men dig the land beneath the proposed tower and found such a pool of water and in the swamp he found the two serpents. The King chose to keep Merlin around and the young prophet proved his worth over the years, spewing forth prophecies that helped Vortigern win battles and conquer new lands.

Finally, Merlin had a vision of King Vortigern’s death. Merlin told Merlin one day he would be burned alive in his impregnable tower. Years later a young king named Aurelius Ambrosius, invaded Britain and burnt the tower to the ground with Vortigern inside.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s history of Britain, Aurelius didn't remain king for long, as he was poisoned. After his death, his brother Uther Pendragon became king. While king, Uther Pendragon declared peace with the Scots and invited all the nobles of Scotland to his palace for a celebration.

That night Uther Pendragon fell in love with the wife of a powerful lord of Scotland. He became entranced with Igerna, the husband of Duke Gorlois. Whence the attraction became known to the Duke, he snatched his wife and rode back to Scotland.

Uther Pendragon brought forth his armies and followed Duke Gorlois, for he wanted nothing more than to be with Igerna. Once in Scotland, Pendragon was humbled by the duke's impregnable tower. At his wits end, Uther Pendragon called forth the magician that had been loyal to the kings of Britain. Merlin devised a plan to sneak Uther Pendragon into the tower and he used his powers to make Uther appear identical to Duke Gorlois. With the duke’s look’s, Uther was allowed into the tower, where he slept with Igerna.

Meanwhile, Uther’s clever general’s found their way into the tower and killed Duke Gorlois. Satisfied with the outcome, Uther Pendragon took Igerna back to England to be his wife where she bore him a child. Uther remained the King of Britain for fifteen years until he also was poisoned, and his son Arthur took the crown at a young age.

This is the tale of King Arthur and Merlin as Geoffrey of Monmouth first told it. There were no knights of the round table, no sword in the stone, and no holy grail. However, with any successful tale, more starving writers would put their twist on it and there would be many more versions to come. The only difference is that Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote this version as a non fictional account of the history of Britain. Was there truth behind his account of King Arthur?
Will the real King Arthur please stand up?

Historians tell us that most likely the story doesn't even take place in medieval times, but around 470 A.D. It seems Arthur wasn't a king but a general of the Roman army that was left behind in Britain after the Romans conquered a portion of the island. The Romans had taken most of their armies back to defend Rome in a time of need, but they left small outposts to keep a presence in their newly acquired lands.

The Romans had conquered the southern part of the British Island, but the Scots from the north were hardly subdued and at the same time the Saxons began invading from the Netherlands. The native Britons were calling out to the Romans for help, but the Romans were all but tied up in Gaul. 

Eventually a Briton named Vortigern, rose up and declared himself king. Vortigern then allied himself with the invading Saxons to fight against the Scots. It was a shaky alliance and eventually Vortigern ran out of funds. The Saxons turned their back in Vortigern and decided to conquer Britain for themselves.

After Vortigern died, a Roman soldier named Aurelius Ambrosius rallied the Britons and began a series of campaigns against the Saxons. The war would last several decades and after Ambrosius died; his brother Uther Pendragon led the Britons. Uther was successful, but he too was killed making the way for another up and coming Roman General named Artorius, whom historians believe is the basis for the King Arthur.

Arthur all but stopped the Saxon invasion over the course of twelve battles. Geoffrey of Monmouth writes the last battle was the battle to be remembered, the Battle of Bandon in 518 A.D. After defeating the Saxons, Arthur spent the next several years trying to keep his newly created kingdom together. His allies were fighting amongst themselves and assassination was always on his mind.

Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Arthur was finally killed in the battle of Camlann. After the battle, Arthur' body was carried off to the Isle of Avalon. His body was hidden away from the Saxons, but the rumors began that Arthur wasn't really dead and would return to help Britain in her time of need.
Did King Arthur pull Excalibur from a stone to become King of England?

This is highly unlikely, but what is likely is that King Arthur pulled his sword from a Saxon after a battle and his skill as a warrior led him to become ruler of the Britons. In Latin, stone is translated as "saxo" which is very close to "Saxon". Since Arthur was fighting the Saxons it seems very likely that this was a translation error in the story. Further, Geoffrey of Monmouth calls King Arthur’s sword Caliburn, not Excalibur. This is a combination of two Celtic words, river and burn, which is most likely referring to the river Cale in which the sword was forged.

Was the Isle of Avalon real?

King Henry II of England became a huge fan of King Arthur after Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the initial stories.  He became so infatuated he led his own investigations into the validity of the Arthurian tales. King Henry II was a well traveled man and on one such adventure, he came across a Welsh bard that told him the town of Glastonbury was Avalon Isle of the Arthurian legend and King Arthur was buried at the Church there between two pyramids. At one time the town of Glastonbury was completely surrounded by the English Channel.

Henry had been close with the Bishop of Glastonbury as the Abbott supported him to become King. The Abbot kindly declined the King's request to search for the body of Arthur in the church. The Abbey was already rich and famous with Christian pilgrims. It was rumored that Joseph of Arimathea was buried there as well. Joseph of Arimathea was the man that Christ gave the grail they used during the last supper. The story goes that after Christ's death, Joseph brought the grail to England.

So the king waited patiently and finally the story took an interesting twist. The Abbey of Glastonbury caught fire in May of 1184 and burnt to the ground. Everything was destroyed but the image of Our Lady of Glastonbury. Many saw this as a sign from God and one monk requested to be buried on the grounds between two crosses.  The two crosses were erected on marble pillars that could be described as pyramids.

The monks of the Abbey found a reason to dig up the burial site that could possibly house King Arthur or Joseph of Arimathea of the bible. After digging seven feet they hit a stone slab. They pried the slab open and on the underside was the inscription of a cross with a Latin engraving. The inscription read: “Here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.”

According to legend, the monks decided to keep digging and they burrowed down sixteen feet when they finally struck wood. They unearthed a large coffin and inside were two skeletons. The male skeleton had holes in his head from heavy blows and the smaller female skeleton still had wisps of blond hair. Could this have been King Arthur and Lady Guinevere? Most of Briton seemed to think so.

Most historians accuse the monks of Glastonbury of making the whole story up but there are two points that shouldn't be overlooked. First in 1963, the site was re-excavated and the excavation showed that the earth had been dug up as far as sixteen feet down. Second, if the Abbey of Glastonbury was said to also hold the body of St. Joseph, why wouldn't they have faked finding his body also. It would have given more credibility to the Abbey.

The persecution of the Knights Templar

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-QKj6DTEPuiw/Thw6sl4-BlI/AAAAAAAAAjU/SrGkVJ8JOWw/s320/pope_1922704c.jpgAs the Knights Templar grew in influence and wealth they attracted powerful enemies, most notably King Philip IV 'the Fair' of France.

He envied the knights' great wealth and planned to seize their lands as a way of saving the French crown from bankruptcy. He took advantage of rumours swirling around the Templars' secret initiation ceremonies.
All Templars living in France were arrested at dawn on Oct 13 1307, and accused of crimes ranging from corruption to sodomy, witchcraft, heresy and idolatry. The day was a Friday and is said to have been the origin for the superstition that every Friday the 13th brings bad luck. They were interrogated and tortured into giving false confessions, their evidence made public in an attempt to tarnish the order's image.

Pope Clement V then became involved and, according to Vatican historians, tried to intervene to save the Templars in France. In 1308 he received a formal act of repentance from a group of senior knights and absolved them of heresy. But at the Council of Vienne in 1312 the Pope disbanded the Templars and issued arrest warrants for all remaining members, in order to keep peace with France and prevent a schism in the Church. Clement issued a Papal Bull which granted the lands of the Templars to the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St John of Malta.

The remaining Templar leaders in France were executed, including the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, who was burned at the stake in Paris in 1314. Some rank and file Templars were absorbed into other military orders, while others escaped trial and persecution.

Three most famous chivalric orders

Dozens of military-religious orders sprang up during the Crusades in the Holy Land, but the three most famous are:

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-bE3vV6q5mmw/Thw5xstGATI/AAAAAAAAAjQ/U2ftVTmi0r4/s320/k_1922731c.jpgThe full name of the order was the "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon".
They were founded by a French knight, along with eight of his companions, in Jerusalem around 1119 and pledged to defend Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land after the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099. 
Legends of its secret rituals, huge wealth and lost treasures have long fascinated conspiracy theorists.
The belief that the Templars were entrusted with the holy grail – said to be the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper or the receptacle used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch Christ's blood as he bled on the Cross – featured in Dan Brown's bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code. They were also said to have been guardians of the Ark of the Covenant. 'The Last Templar', a 2005 novel by Raymond Khoury, topped the New York Times Bestseller list for 22 months.
The Knights of St John of Malta
The order's full name is the Sovereign and Military Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem. It is also known variously as the Knights of St John, the Knights of Malta, the Knights of Rhodes and the Knights Hospitallers. It was founded by Italian merchants from Amalfi, south of Naples, in the 11th century to protect Christians in the Holy Land, and set up a string of hospitals along the pilgrimage route from Europe to Jerusalem. When the Saracens recaptured the Holy Land in 1291, the order sought refuge first in Cyprus and then on the island of Rhodes. They were driven from there in the early 16th century and moved to Malta, where they fortified Valletta.
Knights of different nationalities – English, French, German – lived in quarters known as 'auberges'. Their uniform was a hooded monk's habit made of black camel hair with a white Maltese cross emblazoned on the chest. They were expelled from Malta by Napoleon in 1798 and eventually established their headquarters in Rome, on top of the Aventine Hill. Now known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, it is an internationally recognised sovereign body that prints its own postage stamps, flies its own flag and mints its own coins – a state without a territory. It is a charitable organisation that provides hospitals and humanitarian help in regions suffering from war, natural disasters and poverty and has been a permanent observer at the UN since 1994.
The Teutonic Knights
Like the two other military-religious orders, the Teutonic Knights were initially established to help Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, but later developed into an elite fighting force that took part in the crusades. It was formed at the end of the 12th century in the city of Acre. Its full name was the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. Membership of the order was small and confined to Germans, so when necessary its numbers were supplemented by mercenaries.
When crusader armies lost control of Jerusalem, the Teutonic Knights shifted their focus to the Baltic and the so-called Northern Crusades against pagan Prussians and Lithuanians. They established a strong presence until they were defeated by a Polish-Lithuanian force in 1410 at the Battle of Tannenberg (Grunwald) in what is now northern Poland. The defeat halted the Knights' eastward expansion and hastened the decline of the order. The order's motto was 'Help, defend, heal' and knights wore white cloaks emblazoned with black crosses. It exists today as a charitable organisation working mostly in central Europe.

Knights Templar heirs demand apology from Vatican

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-49oEO0MaRbI/Thw47qzfzuI/AAAAAAAAAjM/WXF7m7AAUOY/s320/temp_1922699c.jpgThe heirs to the Knights Templar have demanded an apology from the Vatican for the murder of their last leader, who was burned at the stake in the 14th century.

The last Grand Master of the warrior monks who fought in the Crusades, Jacques de Molay, was executed in Paris in 1314 on charges of heresy, black magic and idolatry.  His death was part of a concerted campaign to suppress the chivalric order by King Philip IV of France, who had grown suspicious of the Templars' power and envious of their wealth. Although it was the French king who ordered de Molay to be put to death, the Templars have for centuries accused the Church in Rome of complicity. 
Pope Clement V initiated an inquest into the order which led to many knights being subjected to heresy trials, before disbanding altogether. The movement was reborn in the early 19th century as a charitable organisation and has branches around the world. The Italian chapter of the order has written to Pope Benedict XVI asking him to issue a pardon for de Molay and to acknowledge that he was a victim of false accusations.

"There was an enormous degree of complicity because Clement V, who was Pope at the time, was under huge pressure from King Philip," Walter Grandis, 64, the current head or Grand Prior of the Knights Templar in Italy, told The Daily Telegraph. "This was an appalling crime and a miscarriage of justice that the Church allowed to happen. "We're asking for de Molay to be pardoned so that we can finally turn a page in history and work towards reconciliation," said Mr Grandis, who recently wrote a book on the order, called The Templars: The Real Secret.

A document found in the Vatican Secret Archives a decade ago revealed that Clement V absolved some Templars of heresy, but the Church has never apologised for the order's persecution. 
The request for a pardon and apology was submitted to Dr Guzman Carriquiry Lecour, the under-secretary for the Pontifical Council for the Laity, a few weeks ago but will be discussed by modern-day Templars at a special conference in Turin on Friday and Saturday. A Vatican spokesman said the request was being considered. 
The inheritors of the Templar chivalric code have also launched a bid to rehabilitate de Molay, nearly 700 years after his death.

They achieved a small victory in March when a town in north-eastern Italy agreed to rename one of its squares in his honour.

A grand ceremony was held in Lusevera, a town in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region on the border with Slovenia, during which the new name – Piazzale Jacques de Molay – was unveiled. A sign commemorates the knight as "a martyr to free thought".
"It is the first time in Europe that de Molay has been recognised in this way," said Mr Grandis.

UN Highligjts Lack Of Women's Rights

More than half of working women in the world, 600 million, are trapped in insecure jobs without legal protection, according to the first report of the new agency UN Women.
A similar number do not have even basic protection against domestic violence, it finds, while sexual assault has become a hallmark of modern conflict. Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of UN Women, said the document showed that many millions of women had no access to justice.
"The report reminds us of the remarkable advances that have been made over the past century in the quest for gender equality and women's empowerment," she said.
"However it also underscores the fact that despite widespread guarantees of equality, the reality for many millions of women is that justice remains out of reach."
For millions of women in both rich and poor countries, the search for justice is fraught with difficulty and is often expensive; laws and legal systems frequently discriminate against them.
In Cambodia, for example, the forensic test necessary to lay a rape charge costs two weeks' wages, while in Kenya a land claim in an inheritance case can cost $800 and extend across 17 different administrative stages.
Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice is a comprehensive survey of women's access to justice across the globe.
The report offers 10 recommendations to overcome the paradox that while huge improvements have been made in the legal position of women over the last century, there is still a dramatic lag in translating that into equality and justice.
For example, 127 countries do not have effective laws on marital rape, and attrition rates in cases brought by women are high, ensuring that only a fraction of reported rapes result in conviction. The report cites one 2009 European study which found that, on average, only 14% of reported rapes ended in a conviction.
The first of the 10 recommendations is providing support for women's legal organisations, which often step into the gaps left by inadequate legal aid systems.
In a number of countries, women's groups have been at the forefront of cases that have led to laws being repealed, or new laws created, with a positive impact on women's lives.
In Nepal, for example, the Supreme Court ordered parliament to amend the rape law in 2002 to allow prosecutions for marital rape after a case brought by the Forum for Women, Law and Development.
In Indonesia, a local NGO has trained community-based paralegals to support women to use the religious courts to get the marriage and divorce certificates they need to claim benefits. Other recommendations include further legal reform to ensure paid maternity leave, equal pay and equal property rights, support for services to deal with crimes such as rape, and an increase in the recruitment of women into the police.
The report highlights best practice around the world, arguing that change can be achieved with innovative policy. Nepal, for instance, has trebled female land ownership in the last decade by offering tax exemptions to drive the adoption of new inheritance laws.
In Sweden, the introduction of "daddy leave" - reserved time off for fathers - has helped narrow the pay gap.
And in South Africa, the Thuthuzela rape care centres have integrated medical treatment, counselling and court preparation - the conviction rate in cases dealt with by one Soweto centre reached 89%, against a national average of 7%.
The report offers a clear indication of some of the areas that UN Women, which started work in January, is keen to prioritise. But the new agency is struggling to raise the funding it needs.
Only $104m has been pledged towards its target of $500m. Pressure groups are warning that the shortfall is jeopardising the success of the agency.
Gender has been identified as a priority issue by many donor agencies, but the report points out how little funding has gone into women's legal rights.
Of the $874bn spent by the World Bank in the last 10 years, $126bn went into public administration, law and justice systems, but only $7.3m on programmes aimed at gender equality.
Now that gender has been designated as one of four priority areas for the World Bank up to 2014, there is a real need to invest in improving justice for women.
Other recommen-dations in the report include better training for judges to challenge the notion that women's behaviour may contribute to rape, and using quotas to increase the number of female legislators.
Of the 28 countries that have more than 30% female representation in parliament, 23 have used quotas. Looking in detail at six of those countries, there was a clear link between increased female representation and the passage of laws to strengthen women's rights.
Given how sexual violence is used in conflict, the report says more effort needs to be made to increase women's access to courts and truth commissions.
The report recognises that significant advances in international law have made it possible to prosecute sexual violence crimes. But courts now need to prioritise gender-based crimes in prosecution strategies.
Women have a crucial role to play in peacebuilding, but the report argues that more attention needs to be paid to post-conflict justice mechanisms, such as reparations.
It points to Sierra Leone, where a programme is helping female survivors of sexual violence, providing loans and skills training to set up businesses.
Development charity VSO described the report as a "wake-up call" to world leaders. "In many countries there are still too many gaps in the law, which leave women without adequate protection," said Kathy Peach, head of external affairs at VSO UK. "For others, the laws are barely worth the paper they are written on."

Australia Veil Law Targets Muslim Women

Australia -- Muslim women would have to remove veils and show their faces to police on request or risk a prison sentence under proposed new laws in Australia's most populous state that have drawn criticism as culturally insensitive.
A vigorous debate that the proposal has triggered reflects the cultural clashes being ignited by the growing influx of Muslim immigrants and the unease that visible symbols of Islam are causing in predominantly white Christian Australia since 1973 when the government relaxed its immigration policy.
Under the law proposed by the government of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, a woman who defies police by refusing to remove her face veil could be sentenced to a year in prison and fined 5,500 Australian dollars ($5,900).
The bill – to be voted on by the state parliament in August – has been condemned by civil libertarians and many Muslims as an overreaction to a traffic offense case involving a Muslim woman driver in a "niqab," or a veil that reveals only the eyes.
The government says the law would require motorists and criminal suspects to remove any head coverings so that police can identify them.
Critics say the bill smacks of anti-Muslim bias given how few women in Australia wear burqas. In a population of 23 million, only about 400,000 Australians are Muslim. Community advocates estimate that fewer than 2,000 women wear face veils, and it is likely that even a smaller percentage drives.
"It does seem to be very heavy handed, and there doesn't seem to be a need," said Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman David Bernie. "It shows some cultural insensitivity."
The controversy over the veils is similar to the debate in other Western countries over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear garments that hide their faces in public. France and Belgium have banned face-covering veils in public. Typical arguments are that there is a need to prevent women from being forced into wearing veils by their families or that public security requires people to be identifiable.
Bernie noted that while a bandit disguised with a veil and sunglasses robbed a Sydney convenience store last year, there were no Australian crime trends involving Muslim women's clothing.

"It is a religious issue here," said Mouna Unnjinal, a mother of five who has been driving in Sydney in a niqab for 18 years and has never been booked for a traffic offense.
"We're going to feel very intimidated and our privacy is being invaded," she added.
Unnjinal said she would not hesitate to show her face to a policewoman. But she fears male police officers might misuse the law to deliberately intimidate Muslim women.
"If I'm pulled over by a policeman, I might say I want to see a female police lady and he says, 'No, I want to see your face,'" Unnjinal said. "Where does that leave me? Do I get penalized 5,000 dollars and sent to jail for 12 months because I wouldn't?"
Sydney's best-selling The Daily Telegraph newspaper declared the proposal "the world's toughest burqa laws." In France, wearing a burqa – the all-covering garment that hides the entire body except eyes and hands – in public is punishable by a 150 euro ($217) fine only.
The New South Wales state Cabinet decided to create the law on July 4 in response to Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione's call for greater police powers. Other states including Victoria and Western Australia are considering similar legislation.
"I don't care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else – the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear," State Premier Barry O'Farrell said in a statement.
The laws were motivated by the bungled prosecution of Carnita Matthews, a 47-year-old Muslim mother of seven who was booked by a highway patrolman for a minor traffic violation in Sydney in June last year.
An official complaint was made in Matthews' name against Senior Constable Paul Fogarty, the policeman who gave her the ticket. The complaint accused Fogarty of racism and of attempting to tear off her veil during their roadside encounter.
Unknown to Matthews, the encounter was recorded by a camera inside Fogarty's squad car. The video footage showed her aggressively berating a restrained Fogarty and did not support her claim that he tried to grab her veil before she reluctantly and angrily lifted it to show her face.
Matthews was sentenced in November to six months in jail for making a deliberately false statement to police.
But that conviction and sentence were quashed on appeal last month without her serving any time in jail because a judge was not convinced that it was Matthews who signed the false statutory declaration. The woman who signed the document had worn a burqa and a justice of the peace who witnessed the signing had not looked beneath the veil to confirm her identity.
Bernie, the civil libertarian, said the proposed law panders to public anger against Muslims that the case generated on talk radio and in tabloid newspapers, which itself is a symptom of the suspicion with which immigrants are viewed.
Muslims are among the fastest-growing minorities in Australia and mostly live in the two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. There are many examples to suggest they are not entirely welcome.
Muslim and non-Muslim youths rioted for days at Sydney's Cronulla beach in 2005, drawing international attention to surging ethnic tensions. Proposals to build Islamic schools are resisted by local protest groups. The convictions of a Sydney gang of Lebanese Muslims who raped several non-Muslim women were likened by a judge to war atrocities and condemned in the media.
In 2006, then-Prime Minister John Howard published a book in which he said Muslims were Australia's first wave of immigrants to fail to assimilate with the mainstream.
Government leaders have also condemned some Muslim clerics who said husbands are entitled to smack disobedient wives, force them to have sex and for suggesting that women who don't hide their faces behind veils invite rape.
"I wouldn't like to go and say this is Muslim bashing," said Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, of the proposed New South Wales laws.
"But I think that the timing of this was really bad for Muslims," he said.

SEX ABUSE "By Catholics" : The Vatican's Struggle For Damage Control

For centuries, the papacy has operated with the conviction that it answers to no earthly power. Many in Rome still believe that to be the case, but nowadays the church's faithful also believe in the sanctity of a free and vigorous press, with its unrelenting questions and nose for controversy. This all makes running modern media relations for the Vatican, in polite terms, a job from hell.
The current pedophile-priest scandal — what the Catholic writer and papal critic Andrew Sullivan pointedly refers to as "child rape" by clergy — has transfixed Catholics around the world, particularly with the allegations out of Germany that Benedict XVI, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich, may have allowed a transferred priest accused of sexual abuse to work again with children. The scandal has had a telling effect on the tradition-bound Holy See. High-ranking clerics have complained of media bias and a conspiracy against the Pope. One well-placed Vatican official who worked closely with the Pope when he was a Cardinal says "a sense of confusion" is spreading throughout the church hierarchy. "And the Pope himself is confused," the official says. "You can see it in his face. He is pained and saddened."

But the person who must bear the brunt of the siege is not Benedict, who does not give press conferences. It is Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. An Italian Jesuit, he is credited with trying to bring the papacy into the 21st century, at least in terms of social media, setting up the Vatican's Twitter feed and YouTube channel. Amid the current furor, Lombardi has, albeit in opaque Vaticanspeak, adopted a somewhat more engaged and cooperative stance with the media. On March 27, on Vatican Radio, he said, "The nature of the question is such as to attract the attention of the media, and the way in which the church deals with it is crucial for her moral credibility."
Lombardi acknowledged that the church is often too suspicious and too slow to react to criticism. "We must be aware of the criteria under which the media react, the speed and the vastness, as well as the expectations for a response," he told TIME. "We have been late in learning this within certain ecclesiastical quarters. Yes, there are problems with some of the [news] reports, but we shouldn't see it as a conspiracy or part of some calculated attack."

The trouble is that within the Vatican, the lines of communication are more constricted than ever. Benedict holds far fewer face-to-face meetings than did John Paul II. Lombardi succeeded Joaquín Navarro-Valls, a dashing Spanish layman and former psychiatrist who enjoyed a close personal relationship with John Paul. Lombardi does not appear to enjoy the same intimacy with the current Pontiff. Asked about their interactions since the latest series of scandals began to spread across Europe, Lombardi said he consulted with Benedict on the text of the Pope's March 20 letter on sex abuse to the Irish faithful. Otherwise, he has had no direct conversations with the Pope about the spiraling crisis.

Lombardi says he does not want to "jump over" the established chain of command, which requires him to report to the office of the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's No. 2 man and an exponent of the conspiracy-against-the-Pope perspective on the crisis. During a 30-minute interview in his modest, book-cluttered office just off St. Peter's Square, Lombardi stuck to the official line about Ratzinger's role in the Munich transfer, saying "it was normal" that the assigning of priests — even those with serious problems — was handled by deputies without the knowledge of the Archbishop. "I believe the communiqués from Munich are sufficient," he said, referring to the statements of the German church hierarchy.
The Pope's spokesman, who juggles his current responsibilities with his previous job of running Vatican radio and television services, understands the broader perspective of his work — and perhaps the limits of his ability to effect change. Says Lombardi: "My role is to try to help the world to understand the reality of the church, which is a very different entity than a typical multinational company or organization. Its character is that of a spiritual governance." That kind of otherworldliness is fine. But, says a senior Vatican official, "you can only have so much insulation of the Pope from those on the front lines. The bureaucratic logic ends up blocking your message and only creates confusion in the end."

Godlessness Has Doomed Britain : By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Britain  today has become one of the most godless societies on earth. Its principle religious exports today are thinkers who despise religion. From Richard Dawkins, who has compared religion to child abuse, to my friend Christopher Hitchens, who titled his 2007 book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” the British have cornered the market on being anti-God, at least the Christian and Jewish varieties. While 92 % of Americans believe in God, only 35 % in Britain do and 43 %  say they have no religion, according to Britain’s National Centre for Social Research. The number of people who affiliate themselves with the Church of England was 23 % of the population in 2009 from 40 % in 1983. In truth though, if Britain’s Christian tradition is dying out, the leaders of the faith have only themselves to blame, for perpetuating the country’s highly centralized religious structure.   Europeans are in the habit of making fun of American evangelicals as backward religious knuckle-draggers who believe that Adam and Eve ate apples with a talking snake. But for all this condescension, evangelical Christianity in the United States represents the single largest voting block in the world’s sole superpower. One out of five Americans describes themselves as a born-again Christian, something inconceivable in Britain. American evangelicals build mega-churches that draw thousands of worshippers, while British churches are empty enough to land jumbo jets. Leading evangelical pastors like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen enjoy vast cultural influence among millions of Americans, while in Britain no religious figure could hope to excite the youth even fractionally like William and Kate.   One key difference is that in America there is no official state church. There is no Archbishop of Canterbury, no Chief Rabbi, no official defender of the faith or state religion. Religion lives and dies in America like a commercial enterprise, and is therefore highly entrepreneurial. If pastors excite their congregants with a message that is uplifting and relevant, they can be sure that the pews will be filled next week. If they deliver sermons that send would-be worshipers off into deep comas, their churches will be empty the following week.   My British friends argue that the demise of religion is a good thing, proving sophistication in sharp contrast to the religious hobos of America who speak in tongues and talk to dead people. I beg to differ. In his 1997 book “A History of the American People,” historian Paul Johnson makes the case that the remarkable growth of the U.S., from pioneering backwoodsmen to the most powerful and innovative nation on earth, was largely fuelled by religious fervor. From the piety of the pilgrims to the faith-based values of the country’s founders, to the belief in manifest destiny and even the marketing of Coca- Cola as “the real thing,” Americans tamed the wilderness with the faith that their nation was a new promised land, destined to illuminate the earth with the torch of freedom and the light of human dignity.   British influence in the world has, in contrast, gone off a cliff over the last century. And while there are many factors in this decline, I would argue that the new, militant atheism that is becoming characteristic of Britain is a key reason. Atheism is a philosophy of nihilism in which nothing is sacred and all is an accident. While it has some brief, flashy moments, life is purposeless and meaningless. There is no soul to illuminate and no spirit to enliven—just dead, decadent flesh. Human love is a prank played by our genes ensuring the sexual propagation of the species, and poetry and faith are shallow distractions masking the inevitability of our certain demise. Men are insemination machines incapable of ever being truly faithful and women are genetically programmed to seek out billionaire hedge- fund managers, so much the better to support their offspring.   This decline of faith and optimism may account for why Britain—once the most advanced nation on earth, which gave the world parliamentary democracy and its inimitable centers of higher learning—is today more famous for exporting reality shows like Big Brother and Project Catwalk. For while religion affirms the infinite dignity of the human person, its absence robs life of its sanctity. Exploitation for fame and humiliation for cash are the inevitable outgrowth.   Britain  abolished the slave trade in 1807 and ended it completely three decades before the U.S., with Christian abolitionists like William Wilberforce taking the lead against the abomination. But a century later Britain is better known for football hooliganism, the gratuitous depictions of women in its most-circulated publications and the demise of the family with one of the highest out-of- wedlock birthrates in the world. True, America has many of these same problems and a great deal more of its own. But the spiritual underpinnings of the American republic ensure that values are constantly debated in the public arena and soul- searching is a never-ending element of the American public discourse. It just goes to show how important it is to keep one’s faith. Were Britain to rediscover its own, it might rediscover a lost sense of mission and a once-glorious sense of purpose.