News round up

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What with the holidays and my month of traveling to various marriage celebrations (the third will be this weekend), I am have fallen a bit behind in the U.S. Catholic web round ups.  (The last time I was in the office on a Thursday or a Friday was before Christmas!) Apologies.-MMG

It's impossible to recap the week without acknowledging the horrific devastation that struck Haiti on Tuesday. While no one could have predicted or prevented (or caused-not even God, ahem Pat Robertson) the 7.0 earthquake, the sheer amount destruction left behind should cause all of us to tremble and pledge to stand in solidarity with the Haitian people as they try to rebuild. We can provide immediate assistance by donating money. But in order to assure a more hopeful and just future for Haiti, some experts are calling for the cancelation of Haiti's debt . I'm inclined to think that it's going to take more than that; namely, the U.S. needs to stop flooding Haiti's market with government subsidized rice. (That article says that importing rice is "[g]reat for farmers in places like Arkansas and Missouri but devastating for farmers in the Artibonite valley," but in truth, subsidized crops aren't good for anyone in the long run, except for giant industrial ag corporations.)

This week an exhibit titled, "Fine Lines: Discovering Rembrandt and Other Old Masters at Catholic University," opened at the May Gallery in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. The centerpiece includes a possible Rembrandt etching discovered randomly by the university's president . (Why don't these sorts of things ever happen to me?)

Last week, the New York Times reported that the American Law Institute, the group that "created the intellectual framework for the modern capital justice system almost 50 years ago" has named their death penalty efforts a failure and is giving them up. NPR also reported that the number of death penalty cases in 2009 declined "making it the year with the fewest people sent to death row since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976." Even Texas the once notoriously the country's leader in death sentences, executed only 9 inmates last year (way down from the average of 34 of in the 90s).  (We profiled a man working with death row inmates in Texas for this month's feature on Catholic workers.) 

Austria is experiencing a Mass exodus . While We Are Church claims the reason Pope Benedict XVI's lifting of the excommunication of the controversial Bishop Richard Williamson, Vatican officials insist it is because they don't want to pay the church tax charged to registered believers.

In Ireland, a new law makes it illegal to say anything offensive about things held sacred by any religion . Doing so could result in a $35,000 fine.  As an American, my instinct is to think this is a ridiculous and potentially disasterous idea. At least it applies to all religions, though.

And finally, the Vatican reviews the box office hit Avatar and Roger Ebert agrees that it "makes a certain amount of sense."  (Our Culture in Context columnist, Patrick McCormick, also reviewed the film.)