David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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The Evil Empire is back!

No, this isn’t a fanboy post about the new “Star Wars” trailer – you can get the Catholic reax on that in this viral video. Instead, this is a confession of sorts, for failing to recognize a clear and present danger when I should have seen it.

I am referring to the blockbuster revelation that liberation theology was ALL A SOVIET PLOT! The revelation first emerged in a May 1st (May Day, International Workers Day – hello, clue phone!) interview by Catholic News Agency with Ion Mihai Pacepa, who served in Communist Romania’s secret police before defecting to the United States in 1978 (the year John Paul II was elected – Hmm…. Another clue? Or “Red” herring?).

Pacepa explains that liberation theology was in fact “born in the KGB, and it had a KGB-invented name: Liberation Theology.”

As the interviewer rightly says, “The birth of a new religious movement is a historic event. How was this new religious movement launched?”

Pacepa helpfully explains – though I had trouble following at points – that he learned about the program during a “vacation” that then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made to Romania, in part apparently because it is a “Latin” country and therefore could help export this new liberation theology to “Latin” America. (Of course I’d always thought it was the invention of German theologians, but whatever.)

Reform, and the Reform

The second anniversary of Pope Francis' election last Friday prompted a number of pundits to analyze what he's done and what's he's doing and what he might do -- perhaps the best "hot take" the interview given by @pontifex himself.

At Religion News Service, I made a couple of efforts myself, based on reporting in Rome last month.

Purgatory for Protestants

Why should Catholics have all the fun? I mean, Purgatory has been a source of consolation and trepidation, but also artistic inspiration, from Dante to Paulie Walnuts (full text of that great theologian's disquisition on Purgatory at the end of the post). 

Now a number of Protestant thinkers have been urging their co-religionists to take a second look at Purgatory, and I explore the trend -- plus the resistance -- in a story ahead of this weekend's memorial feasts.

An excerpt:

In medio stat virtus ...

Tobin Grant is a political science professor at Southern Illinois University and associate editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and our resident religion-and-data blogger at Religion News Service. He came up with this cool new graphic of the political positions of 44 religious communities and churches, or rather the positions of their members as based on a major Pew survey.

If you are looking for the circle that represents Catholics, check out that large one in the center. With precious few other groups around it. Yes, I say that with pride, because I tend to gravitate to the center (though we all like to flatter ourselves, I suspect, that we are the center even if we are on the fringe). But since the center is not holding these days, it's a point of pride, and perhaps virtue, that Catholics are standing there. And it seems to me to reflect a Catholic common good sensibility.

On the other hand, in politics the middle of the road is reserved for roadkill. And this bullseye doesn't really indicate the ugly polarization within the church. But still ...

What is Pope Francis up to?

If you read more than one piece on the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis' papacy (I'd also first recommend Paul Baumann's Slate essay) I might go self-referential and suggest a few stories that I reported from Rome that look ahead at where we may be going in this pontificate.

Reform gets real

The first big structural move by Francis comes, as expected, on the financial management side:

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Monday (Feb. 24) launched a sweeping reform of the Vatican’s scandal-plagued financial system by naming one of his closest advisers on reform, Australian Cardinal George Pell, to head a powerful new department that will oversee the entire management of the Holy See.

"You are not a royal court"

Picking up on a theme from Saturday's address to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis at Sunday's Mass in St. Peter's Basilica had some even stronger words for what many call the "princes of the church." Here is my story on the Mass, and some choice bits from the homily:

Not taking "Yes" for an answer?

The case of the Obama administration v. the Little Sisters of the Poor (the theatrical sound of it is almost worthy of a Nast cartoon) is one of the many, many court cases over the HHS contraception mandate -- some of which (specifically, the issue of for-profit companies with religious owners) will be sorted out this term by the Supreme Court.

Monsignor Quixote is dead

A well-intentioned reform by Pope Francis, perhaps. But I am deeply saddened that the plot point of one of my favorite novels has been swept aside. From Vatican Insider:

Pope abolishes honorary title of monsignor for diocesan priests under the age of 65

This Jesuit Pope

Two addresses by Pope Francis are making the rounds today, both of which provide further insights into his approach to his vocation, as pontiff and as a Jesuit. He seems to still consider himself very much one of the latter. "We Jesuits," Francis said in addressing many of his confreres as he visited the Gesu' in Rome, the mother church of the Society of Jesus.

He was also celebrating the canonization of Peter Faber, the Jesuit whose life of engagement and searching Francis appears to find deeply resonant.