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  • Originally published 05/03/2013

    Vatican uncovers first known European depiction of Native Americans

    VATICAN CITY (RNS) Preservationists working on a Renaissance fresco in the Vatican have uncovered what experts believe is the first European representation of Native Americans, from 1494.Writing on April 27 in the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, the director of the Vatican Museum, Antonio Paolucci, said the previously unnoticed detail was discovered in a Resurrection scene painted by the Renaissance master Pinturicchio.Covered by centuries of soot, the restoration of the painting revealed a small depiction of naked men with feathered headdresses who appear to be dancing. A man on horseback is also visible....

  • Originally published 04/19/2013

    Francis to 'open files on Hitler's Pope'

    Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who has known the Argentine former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio for 20 years, said he had discussed the role of Pius XII – the man long dubbed as "Hitler's Pope" – at length with the new pontiff.The Rabbi, who recently co-authored On Heaven and Earth, a book of interviews with his friend, said he had made clear that he thought Pius's legacy ought to be "investigated thoroughly"."It's a terribly sensitive issue, but he says that it must be investigated thoroughly," he said. "I have no doubt that he will move to open the archives."...

  • Originally published 03/13/2013

    David M. Perry: How History Can Help Us Predict the Next Pope

    David M. Perry is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Catholic Studies Minor at Dominican University in Illinois.On Thursday, February 28, at 8:00 P.M. local time, Pope Benedict XVI resigned. For now, the seat of St. Peter is vacant. But soon, the Cardinals will enter the Sistine chapel and the master of the Papal Ceremonies will cry, "Extra Omnes!" -- everybody out, and seal the door...What changes will mark the Catholic church of tomorrow? Just as the past helps us understand Benedict's resignation, we can use our knowledge of history to shed some light on what the Cardinals might be doing behind those sealed doors.1) Voting is medieval.

  • Originally published 03/04/2013

    The Strange Saga of Lincoln Assassination Co-Conspirator John Surrat

    John Surrat in the uniform of a Papal Zouave.As the world’s eyes turn to Rome for the selection of the next pope, Americans might recall that Vatican City was the refuge in 1866 for the Lincoln conspirator who got away -- John Surratt of Maryland.In 1864, the 20-year-old Surratt was a courier for the Confederacy, carrying messages between Richmond, Washington, D.C., New York, and Confederate agents in Canada. Raised in Confederate-leaning southern Maryland, Surratt frequently crossed the Potomac on secret missions. Late in the year, he moved with his sister and widowed mother to Washington, D.C. Mary Surratt opened a boarding house on H Street. It soon became the center of an anti-Lincoln conspiracy. In President Andrew Johnson’s phrase, Mrs. Surratt “kept the nest that hatched the egg.”

  • Originally published 02/28/2013

    Swiss Guards central in papal retirement

    VATICAN CITY — In their plumed helmets and striped uniforms, the Swiss Guards are one of the most beloved traditions of the Vatican — and on Thursday take a central role in the pope’s historic resignation. The bodyguards will stand at attention as the pope arrives by helicopter at his summer retreat in his last hours as pontiff. When they walk off duty, it will be one of the few visible signs that Benedict XVI is no longer pope. A look at the Swiss guards and their colorful history.ORIGINS:The corps, which some historians consider the oldest standing army in the world, was founded in 1506 by Pope Giulio II. Tradition has it that he was so impressed by the bravery of Swiss mercenaries that he asked them to defend the Vatican. Ever since, for more than 500 years, Switzerland has been supplying soldiers to the Vatican. The Swiss Guards swear an oath to give up their lives to protect the pope — and in centuries past, they have. In 1527, 147 of them died protecting Pope Clement VII as he fled to safety when the troops of Emperor Charles V sacked Rome....

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    Timothy Stanley: Why Benedict XVI Will Be Remembered for Generations

    Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."(CNN) - Journalists have a habit of calling too many things "historic" - but on this occasion, the word is appropriate. The Roman Catholic Church is run like an elected monarchy, and popes are supposed to rule until death; no pope has stepped down since 1415.Therefore, it almost feels like a concession to the modern world to read that Benedict XVI is retiring on grounds of ill health, as if he were a CEO rather than God's man on Earth. That's highly ironic considering that Benedict will be remembered as perhaps the most "conservative" pope since the 1950s - a leader who tried to assert theological principle over fashionable compromise.

  • Originally published 02/22/2013

    When a Pope Retires, Is He Still Infallible?

    VATICAN CITY — What will he be called? Will he keep his white robes and trademark red loafers? And in the last absolute monarchy in the West, how does the dramatic resignation of Benedict XVI, the first pope to step down willingly in six centuries, change a role long considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be that of God’s representative on Earth?In transforming an office with an aura of divinity into something far more human, Benedict’s decision has sent shock waves through the Vatican hierarchy, who next month will elect his successor. But it has also puzzled the faithful and scholars, who wonder how a pope can be infallible one day and fallible again the next — and whether that might undermine the authority of church teaching....

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    When the pope was powerful, and why that changed

    It’s difficult to pinpoint a precise moment when the office of the pope began to lose its vast political power, which had long placed the Holy See above even the kings and emperors of Europe, but has since declined to the point that now-retiring Pope Benedict XVI found few political accomplishments in his reign. But one day that stands out is Dec. 2, 1804.A few weeks earlier, French voters had overwhelmingly approved a referendum elevating Napoleon Bonaparte from first consul to emperor, the beginning of the end of France’s democratic revolution. His coronation was to proceed in the manner of all Catholic monarchs, who still ruled most of Europe: he would kneel before the pope, then Pius VII, to receive a crown and blessing. The symbolism of the coronation reflected centuries of European political tradition, in which the Catholic church formally conferred royalty with the divine blessing that was thought necessary to rule; the church, in its power, had at times competed openly with those same monarchs....

  • Originally published 02/11/2013

    Which Other Popes Have Resigned?

    UPDATE, 2-28-13: As of 2:28 pm today, Pope Benedict XVI has stepped down from the papacy.* * * * *In an unexpected announcement today, Pope Benedict XVI stated he is resigning from the papacy as of February 28. Benedict's abdication, reportedly due to ill health, apparently took even the pope's closest advisors by surprise. Indeed, a pope hasn't stepped down from the papacy in over six hundred years, and the few instances when popes have resigned have been for reasons either more political -- or more corrupt -- than health.A look back at the confirmed instances of papal abdication: