Kenneth L.

Stories by Kenneth L. Woodward

  • A Christmas Mitzvah

    From Wal-Mart to the White House, the fight over how to greet our fellow man this time of year has become a public embarrassment. Like Target, Sears, Lands' End and many higher-end retailers, Wal-Mart settled on "Happy Holidays," the innocuous greeting that covers customers of all religious persuasions and those of none. For much the same reason, the White House (even with its born-again occupant) sent greeting cards wishing a happy "Holiday Season" to 1.4 million recipients--and paid for by the Republican National Committee.A number of Christian organizations, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, have vigorously objected to what they see as a pervasive effort to suppress mention of Christmas--as in "Merry Christmas." In response, Wal-Mart and several other retail chains have hustled to revamp their promotions to include a mention of Christmas. As for the White House, Laura Bush has assured the nation that the tree inside is truly a Christmas tree, not a holiday evergreen. And so...
  • THE PAPACY: SAINTHOOD SO SUBITO?

    The massive and moving funeral of Pope John Paul II has provoked the first major controversy since the cardinals arrived in Rome to choose his successor. Citing the shouts and placards demanding "Santo subito" ("Saint soon"), Archbishop Edward Nowak declared to the Italian media last week that the emotional outpouring was a signal that "the people" recognized the late pope's holiness and wanted him declared a saint--immediately. Recalling that in the early church, saints were made by popular acclamation of the faithful, Nowak, who serves as secretary and acting head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said that his department could assemble "sufficient documentation" on the pope's life and miracles to have him beatified (the step before canonization) when a Synod of Bishops meets in Rome next October. (No one--not even Mother Teresa--has ever been declared Blessed in so short a time.) But instead of igniting support for his proposal, Nowak, an intensely...
  • Beloved and Brave

    PRIEST, EVANGELIST, POET. PROTECTOR OF THE POOR AND DEFENDER OF THE FAITH. JOHN PAUL II'S LEGEND AND LEGACY.
  • THEY NEED A MIRACLE

    Giuseppe Frassinetti (died 1868), a holy priest and founder of a religious order, would be a saint today--like his sister, Paola--except for one thing: he lacks two miracles credited to his intercession. The Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints has a list of several hundred candidates who need one or more of the miracles required for canonization. Some are recent and sure to be saints, like Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa, who already has 600 "divine favors" (unverified, possible miracles) credited to her intercession. Other candidates, like Jesuit Father Miguel Pro, who was executed by the Mexican government in the "Christero" rebellion in 1927, and Belgian Father Damien DeVeuster (1840-1889), who ministered to lepers on the island of Molokai, have been stalled for decades.Last month Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, formerly a high Vatican official, caused a huge stir in the European press by openly criticizing the church's rules for making saints. Frassinetti would...
  • COUNTLESS SOULS CRY OUT TO GOD

    The waters that rose up from the deep last week, drowning tens of thousands of people across a wide arc of South and Southeast Asia, were a cataclysm of Biblical proportions. But most of those who survived to weep and mourn--like most of those who died--had never heard of Noah or the Biblical God of Wrath, figures so familiar to Christians and Jews; they were, instead, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Caught up in the disaster, they had no time for religious ceremonies of any kind. In Sri Lanka, as in coastal southern India and along the beaches of Indonesia, there was only time to dig huge holes in the ground and shovel in the dead. "In this kind of tragedy, there is no religion," said Syed Abdullah, a local imam in the ancient south Indian port of Nagapattinam, where Muslims, Hindus and Christians have lived together peacefully for centuries. "Let the dead be buried together. They died together in the sea. Let their souls get peace together."But no survivor of a disaster of this...
  • Neutering Santa

    Serious Christians have always been ambivalent about how society celebrates Christmas. It's hard to get children to focus on the birth of Christ, and what that means, when the arrival of Santa Claus--and all that that portends in the way of hectic getting and spending--is imminent. The quiet subtleties of "Silent Night" are no match for the clang of "Jingle Bells."Now it appears that even the secularized Christmas that Santa represents is too sectarian for some keepers of the nation's public spaces and commercial places. Wherever you look, references to Christmas have been suppressed in favor of a featureless "Seasons Greetings."A prime commercial example is Macy's, locus of the classic Christmas film "Miracle on 34th Street." This year, Macy's corporate owner, Federated Department Stores, has advised that the words "Merry Christmas" should be avoided in its Yuletide decorations. But Macy's is hardly unique. Saks Fifth Avenue clearly wants the store to "feel a lot like Christmas"...
  • A CHURCHMAN IN VIETNAM

    In his light-blue shirt, black slacks and gray leather sandals, Pham Minh Man looks like many other prosperous Vietnamese on a late Sunday afternoon, except for the clerical collar. In a surprise move last September, Pope John Paul II elevated Pham, archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City, to cardinal--the first cardinal from the country's south. Kicking off his sandals, Cardinal Pham sat back with NEWSWEEK's Kenneth L. Woodward to talk about the challenges of the church under one of the world's few remaining communist governments.WOODWARD: I understand the central government in Hanoi was puzzled when the pope named you the new cardinal of Vietnam.PHAM: My three predecessors were all from Hanoi, and at first the government thought the pope had given me new authority here. I told them only the color of my robes had changed, that I have no new responsibilities as archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City. I did not mention that as a cardinal, I have new responsibilities to Rome. They accepted my...
  • AN ALL-SEEING OUTSIDER

    Outside of the North Korean government in Pyongyang, no bureaucracy is harder for a journalist to crack than the Vatican's. And no one does it better than John L. Allen Jr., Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper. In just three years, Allen, 38, has become the journalist other reporters--and not a few cardinals--look to for the inside story on how all the pope's men direct the world's largest church.During a recent papal celebration in Rome, Allen was ubiquitous. In addition to filing thousands of words for NCR, he did live color commentary for three straight days on all five of CNN's international news programs. He also appeared on the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" and provided expert analysis for seven European television networks. He was even quoted on the front page of The New York Times. He also managed to write a few thousand more words for his Web column, The Word From Rome, where his detailed analysis is followed avidly by 50,000...
  • The Scoop On The Pope

    Outside of the North Korean government in Pyongyang, no bureaucracy is harder for a journalist to crack than the Vatican's. And no one does it better than John L. Allen Jr., Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper. In just three years, Allen, 38, has become the journalist other reporters--and not a few cardinals--look to for the inside story on how all the pope's men direct the world's largest church.During a recent papal celebration in Rome, Allen was ubiquitous. In addition to filing thousands of words for the NCR, he did live color commentary for three straight days on all five of CNN's international news programs. He also appeared on the "News-Hour With Jim Lehrer" and provided expert analysis for seven European television networks. He was even quoted on the front page of The New York Times. He also managed to write a few thousand more words for his Web column, The Word From Rome, where his detailed analysis is followed avidly by 50...
  • God's Woman Trouble

    Pity poor Mary Magdalene. For nearly two millenniums she was loved and honored by Christians as the archetypal reformed sinner. Then, a half-century ago, Biblical scholars recognized that she was a victim of mistaken identity: the "real" Mary of Magdala was not a prostitute. In truth, she was so faithful a follower of Jesus that she was chosen to be the first of his disciples to behold the risen Christ (Jn 20:11-18). Now, at the hands of some feminist revisionists, Mary is undergoing yet another cultural face-lift.Relying on Gnostic Gospels rejected by compilers of the New Testament, these revisionists claim that Mary was actually Jesus' intimate female partner. After the Resurrection, she became a leader within the early church and a rival of Saint Peter's. All this, they argue in books such as Jane Schaberg's "The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene," was suppressed by patriarchal authorities who favored a males-only clergy. The implication is that gender warfare lies at the heart of...
  • The Fast Track To Sainthood

    John Paul II loves a good party and this week in Rome the party is for him. For the 25th anniversary of his election to the papacy, John Paul has called all 195 cardinals of the church to join in the celebration--including 30 new ones who will receive their red hats. Although some of his closest friends have recently said out loud that he hasn't long to live, John Paul seems determined to prove that his spirit is buoyant even as his body visibly declines.But the highlight of the week's festivities has little to do with the pope himself. On Sunday, he will beatify Mother Teresa of Kolkata--the final step before canonization, or official sainthood--and there are few cardinals who would miss basking in the reflected glory of the tiny nun whose popularity, even seven years after her death, far exceeds that of the pope himself. Just last summer a group of cardinals at the Vatican urged the pope to canonize Mother Teresa at the same time that he beatifies her, and simply skip the rest of...
  • A Tale Of Four Catholics: Their Lives, Work And S

    In the middle of the 20th century, the American Roman Catholic experience found classic literary expression in the lives and work of four gifted writers whom a mutual friend dubbed "the school of the Holy Ghost." Three--Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Walker Percy--were converts. The fourth, Flannery O'Connor, explored the implications of faith by writing stories about Southern "grotesques." All four were loners: Merton became a Trappist monk; O'Connor, stricken with lupus, isolated herself on a farm in Milledgeville, Ga.; Percy became a writer only after settling down in Covington, La.--a "pleasant nonplace," he called it; Day left Greenwich Village (but not N.Y.C.) to establish the Catholic Worker movement.And yet, as Paul Elie shows in his brilliant new book, "The Soul You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage" (544 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $27), their lives and art were fused by what Percy called "a predicament shared in common": how to find a God worthy of belief...
  • The White House: Gospel On The Potomac

    Whenever a president speaks openly of his religious faith, citizens want to know how that faith affects his political priorities. And so we look for clues. But the lines between religious convictions and public policy are seldom clear, even in retrospect.Consider: for the past 10 years the world's most powerful nation has been led by white, Southern, churchgoing evangelical Protestants--Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Each opted to attend the church of his wife's choice. And in both cases that choice was Methodist. But in religion--as in politics--the two presidents could not be less alike. For Clinton, hymn-singing and Gospel preaching are performance arts, and Sunday in the White House wasn't Sunday without a stroll down the street, Bible in hand, for an hour of gregarious fellowship. In this Clinton remained--and remains--Baptist to the core. Bush's religion is cut from a more personal fabric of faith.The lesson is that denominational labels no longer tell much about those who...
  • Commentary: The Wound Is Not Healed

    Last September Boston College invited me to address the current crisis in the Roman Catholic Church--my church. Four thousand people turned out, not because I was speaker, but because their anger and frustration over the sex-abuse scandal had found no other better outlet. Cardinal Law's resignation last week lanced a festering boil; it will not heal the wound. Indeed, it was typical of Law that he chose to resign in Rome, at a safe distance from the faithful he and his subordinates (several now bishops themselves) had so haughtily ill served.The fall of this country's senior Catholic prelate sends notice: no one is immune from justice, whatever the color of his robes. The sight of Thomas Reilly, a Catholic attorney general, reprimanding a cardinal of the church has been both sobering and salutary. All too often, our bishops look up and over their shoulders--in the direction of the Vatican--before deciding how to act. Unlike their European counterparts, American Catholics have never...
  • A Clue To Jesus?

    Although Jesus of Nazareth is a universally recognized figure, no one has ever found any evidence for his existence apart from texts. Now, in the form of a 20-inch-long limestone ossuary, a box used by first-century Jews to hold the bones of the dead, Biblical archeologists may have found their holy grail. The bones are gone, but in large Aramaic letters the inscription reads JAMES, SON OF JOSEPH, BROTHER OF JESUS. The names and relationships fit the New Testament, which identifies Jesus as the son of Joseph and James as one of Jesus' brothers. James is historically important as the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem during the middle decades of the first century, after the departure of the Apostle Peter for Rome. He was stoned to death in A.D. 62 at the instigation of the Jewish high priest Ananus.The find, announced last week in an article in Biblical Archeology Review, immediately stirred excitement among scholars. In the article, French epigraphist Andre Lemaire argues...
  • A Renovation Of The Rosary

    For 500 years, devout Roman Catholics have recited the rosary, a mantra-like series of Our Fathers and Hail Marys designed to stimulate meditation on 15 key events or "mysteries" in the lives of Jesus and his mother. In its traditional form, the rosary is said in three cycles: the five Joyful Mysteries, which begin with the annunciation to Mary that she will bear a child; the five Sorrowful Mysteries, which recall Jesus' suffering and death, and the five Glorious Mysteries, which rejoice in his resurrection and ascension into heaven.Last week Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter adding a fourth cycle to the rosary. The additional prayers invite meditation on five "mysteries of light" taken from the public ministry of Jesus: his baptism by Saint John; his first miracle (changing water into wine); his proclamation of the coming kingdom of God; his transfiguration, and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.The pope's aim is to revive interest in his "favorite"...
  • Opus Dei In The Open

    Many of the greatest Roman Catholic saints--Dominic, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola--were also founders of great religious orders. To this August list Pope John Paul II will add the name of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the Spanish founder of Opus Dei. The canonization this week will draw at least 250,000 spectators to Rome.For Opus Dei--Latin for the Work of God--the ceremony represents the Vatican's highest seal of approval for an international organization that critics regard as a secretive, almost Masonic sect within the Catholic Church. Under John Paul II, Opus Dei has replaced the Jesuits in papal favor. Its members hold offices throughout the Vatican bureaucracy, including the pope's press spokesman, and its wealth and influence have silenced most opponents in the Roman Curia. At a time when vocations to the priesthood are in decline--and sex-abuse scandals beset the American church--the relentlessly evangelical Opus Dei operatives are adding new members every day....
  • Religion: Calling For A Historic Council

    NEWSWEEK has learned that some Roman Catholic bishops think the sexual-abuse crisis is so severe that they want to convene a plenary council of the American church--something that hasn't happened since 1884. Eight bishops are circulating a five-page letter arguing that only a council can achieve the necessary "moral and ecclesiastical" reform of the church's priests and bishops. Selected theologians and representatives of the laity would be included as nonvoting members.Unlike the Dallas meeting, a plenary council has binding legislative power. But there are risks. As the letter frankly concedes, holding a council would be lengthy and costly. It probably could not begin until 2004. The proponents, who include the archbishops of Portland, Ore., Kansas City, Mo., and Mobile, Ala., worry that the proceedings could be hampered by pressure from outside "experts and pundits." And if there is "no effective result, the Church is worse off." The letter includes a petition to the Vatican for...
  • Why We Need Hell, Too

    The most famous sermon in American history was a graphic evocation of the horrors of the damned in hell. As Jonathan Edwards expanded on his subject, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," so many moans and cries rose from his proper New England congregation that the learned theologian had to pause while his listeners recoiled in fear of their fate in the life to come. That was on July 16, 1741. Such a sermon could not be preached today--not even by Billy Graham, who has eschewed the fire-and-brimstone sermons of his youth. If the modern pulpit is any index, hell has disappeared from the modern religious imagination, and so has Edwards's angry God.Historians tell us that hell began to fade, at least among liberal Protestants, during the 19th century. By the end of the millennium, it was a doctrine that most Christians cheerfully ignored. Today, few Roman Catholics line up on Saturday nights to confess their sins, even the "mortal" kind. For born-again Christians, hell functions...
  • A Revolution? Not So Fast.

    For a brief moment last week American cardinals and bishops spoke openly of their problems and even aired their differences over the fairest way to handle priests accused of child abuse. Acknowledging internal differences is something that Roman Catholic hierarchs are trained not to do in public, lest they encourage division and partisanship within the church. As such, their candor was startling--and refreshing. But the emergency meeting had another unintended result: by taking their problems to the pope himself, the U.S. bishops fanned unrealistic expectations--much of them prompted by untutored newspaper reporters and editorialists--of swift and simple solutions.Inevitably, anger over the present scandal has reignited calls for a married clergy and the ordination of women. Obviously, the middle of a crisis is the wrong time to consider fundamental change--especially since this pope is of a closed mind on both counts. Worse yet, he has discouraged the kind of conversation necessary...
  • A Meeting Of The Minds

    His office said he was in seclusion, spending his time in prayer. But somehow Boston's embattled cardinal, Bernard Law, managed to slip past the American paparazzi stationed outside his mansion, board a plane unnoticed and make it to a haven inside Vatican City. Not even his fellow American bishops, who were lunching with the pope, knew that Law had secretly arrived for his own private sit-down with John Paul II. And not until they arrived back in the United States last week did they learn that--in part because of Law's surreptitious visit--the pope had decided to act in the growing scandal of sexual abuse by priests. To the bishops' delight, the pope called for an emergency summit this week, directing a dozen American cardinals plus the top two officers of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to meet with Vatican officials in the Sala Bologna of the Papal Palace. Clearly, neither John Paul II nor his Vatican counselors realized the depth of the crisis that's gripping the...
  • Catholic Revival

    Clandestine closets and hidden passageways are the stuff of legend in English castles and country homes. But the two "priest holes" at Ingatestone Hall, the Petre family's 470-year-old manor house outside London, are special. They vividly recall the days when Roman Catholics were forced undercover during the English Reformation. One hideout, just 25 inches wide and built into a stairway, was big enough to conceal a priest. The other, much smaller and built into a bookcase, was probably a surreptitious tabernacle in which miniaturized chalices and other priestly instruments could be hidden. On Sundays and feast days, scores of Recusant (meaning hidden) Catholics would arrive from the nearby village for secret masses.Priest hideaways evoke a terrible chapter in Catholic life in 16th- and 17th-century England. Hundreds of Englishmen and -women on the wrong side of a religious divide were executed by the crown, murdered or tortured to death. The Petre family was itself swept up in the...
  • Bing Crosby Had It Right

    I stare at the lengthening list of priests accused of pedophilia and notice something others might overlook: most of these men are my age. Like me, they grew up in another era, before the so-called sexual revolution, and shared a Roman Catholic boyhood that was in many ways ideal for pubescent youngsters--the age group they are accused of abusing.The parishes we knew back in the '40s and '50s were more than merely places for Sunday worship. Each one centered a welcoming universe where Catholic kids went to school together, played sports together, got into trouble together. The parish also sheltered us as we shyly began our dating and mating--all under the aegis of celibate priests. And yes, Virginia, there was a Father O'Malley--lots of them--like the young curate Bing Crosby played in that most Catholic of films, "Going My Way."Unlike today, every parish in those days had lots of "Fathers." They coached football, said mass, listened patiently to our confessions, gave out our report...
  • In The Beginning, There Were The Holy Books

    The Bible And The Qur'an Both Reveal The Word Of God. Both Speak Of Prophets, Redemption, Heaven And Hell. So Why The Violence? Searching The Sacred Texts For Answers
  • Religion: How Should We Think About Islam?

    The terrorist attacks of September 11 brought out the best and the worst in American religion. Clergy of all collars worked at Ground Zero in New York City, ministering to exhausted firefighters and emergency workers, helping those in the grisly business of identifying body parts and praying at the site's temporary morgue. Others, however, came to proselytize the weary workers and, in a few cases, to exploit the crisis for promotional purposes by videotaping themselves ostensibly braving the rubble. Seizing the moment, some religious spokesmen rushed to judgment. Evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed homosexuals, pornographers and abortionists for drawing the wrath of God down on a wayward America, views echoed from many a fundamentalist pulpit. Evangelist Franklin Graham, Billy's son and successor, took a different tack. In a sharp break with the Bush administration, Graham blamed Islam itself for the attacks, denouncing the faith of some 1.3 billion Muslims around the...
  • A Peaceful Faith, A Fanatic Few

    Islam: even the sound of this lovely Arabic word, which means "surrender," conveys the promise of peace, justice and harmony that comes to those who do the will of God. It is a word that defines the faith of more than 1 billion people, and embodies the aspirations of Muslim societies from the west of Africa across a wide arc to the islands of Indonesia. It also expresses the vision of the Quran, the very words of God--so Muslims believe--revealed to the last of His prophets, Muhammad. Why, then, should it inspire some Muslims to acts of unspeakable violence and terrorism?Make no mistake. Though an act of war was committed against the United States last week, we are not witnessing regression to an era of religious warfare. The vast majority of Muslims, Arab and non-Arab alike, deplore the slaughter of thousands of civilians that took place in New York City and Washington, D.C. "It violates the very foundations of Islamic law," says Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown...
  • Platitudes Or Prophecy?

    Sociologists tell us that the United States is experiencing a religious revival--a third "great awakening" echoing those of the 18th and 19th centuries. But if the best-seller lists are any guide, the revival looks more like a collective leaving of the senses. The hottest books among evangelical Christians, for example, is a religious sci-fi series, "Left Behind," in which fundamentalist evangelist Tim LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins dramatize in pulpy prose what happens to the unconverted who fail to get "raptured" by Christ at the beginning of the endtimes. Then there is the Dalai Lama, whose serious books on Buddhist teachings failed to sell two decades ago. Today His Holiness has been repackaged as the new millennium's Norman Vincent Peale in a flood of popular commentaries--ghost-written--on how to achieve happiness and peace of mind. These market mainstays are now under challenge by a fresh crop of books that demonstrate how easily wispy spirituality passes these days as...
  • A Question Of Life Or Death

    In any political debate burdened by strong ethical differences, the first casualty is usually language itself. So it is with the ethical issues surrounding stem-cell research--specifically the question of whether days-old human embryos should be destroyed on the promise they offer of therapeutic answers to Parkinson's and other degenerative diseases. The words we choose to frame our arguments reveal the moral universe we inhabit. Those tiny flecks frozen in tanks of liquid nitrogen--what exactly are they? To the secular eyes of The New York Times editorial page, for example, they are "just clumps of microscopic cells" and thus of no intrinsic moral worth. On the other hand, what the Vatican sees is the moral equivalent of a fully developed "person" and therefore worthy of social respect and legal protection. Most everyone else sees something in between.Biology and common sense alike tell us that we are dealing with human life in its earliest form. With implantation and luck (about...

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