At 150 years, the pope's newspaper raises eyebrows





VATICAN CITY -- The headline was an eye-grabber: "Homer and Bart are Catholic."

That this homage to The Simpsons was splashed across the Vatican's newspaper was odder still, hinting that as it nears its 150th year of publication, L'Osservatore Romano was trying to be relevant, hip, even a bit controversial.

It wasn't always so, and the pope's newspaper is still full of dense treatises on obscure 15th century saints, papal discourses and appointments of bishops around the world - the stuff that makes L'Osservatore the Vatican's official newspaper of record.

But thanks to editor Giovanni Maria Vian who took over in 2007, the once sleepy, eight-page imprint has become a must-read for anyone curious about the papacy and its unique world view.

It has always been a newspaper not so much of news but ideas. As the future Pope Paul VI wrote in 1961 to mark L'Osservatore's centenary - "It's not enough to report the facts as they occurred: It wants to comment on them to show how they should have happened, or not."

The new popular slant, however, remains a radical departure from tradition. And while circulation and advertising are up despite the global downward trend for newspapers, not everyone is pleased - especially on the other side of the Atlantic.

American Catholic conservatives have trashed L'Osservatore's editorial changes under Vian, saying the newspaper disserves the faithful....

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