Games of Chance and Neutral Laws of General Application

Or puoi, figliuol, veder la corta buffa

d’i ben che son commessi a la fortuna,

per che l’umana gente si rabuffa[.]

A story here about consternation in Santa Monica, where it seems that a 60-year old tradition in which various Christian congregations assembled a nativity scene in a public park during the Christmas season has been disrupted by the institution of a neutral, generally applicable municipal lottery system.  As it happened, Fortune favored the atheists.  (h/t Sam Bray)

Rudin, “Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor”

This looks like an interesting book about American Catholicism in the 20th century, Cushing, Spellman, O’Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations (Eerdmans 2011), by Rabbi James Rudin.  The publisher’s description follows:

James Rudin, a rabbi who has made a career of writing about and participating in interreligious dialogue, demonstrates how Cardinals Richard Cushing and Francis Spellman influenced the Second Vatican Council to adopt Nostra Aetate – a statement against anti-Semitism – and how Cardinal John O’Connor transformed that document’s sentiments into practical results a generation later. Two introductory chapters trace Jewish-Catholic relations from the first century to the twentieth, explaining the extraordinary nature of these cardinals’ actions.

Pithy and accessible, this book will spark lively discussion among church and synagogue study groups. It will also add compelling case studies to seminary courses on ecumenism and interfaith dialogue — regardless of any given group’s position on the ideological spectrum.

Russian Church Supports Critics of Parliamentary Elections

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has been regaining influence in Russian society since the fall of the Soviet Union, has signaled it support for the tens of thousands who have been protesting the results of this month’s parliamentary elections. The elections, which returned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party to power, are widely seen as fraudulent. This past weekend, a prominent Church spokesman, Fr. Vsevolod Chaplin, called on the government to address the allegations of fraud and said that the Church itself would be prepared to question those responsible. His comments, similar to those of another prominent priest who recently referred to government officials as “Pharisees” who tolerate lies and hypocrisy, are seen as significant because the Church has often supported Putin in the past. It is not clear that the criticism signals a break with Putin, though; some analysts believe Fr. Chaplin’s comments are meant to co-opt the protests before they get out of hand. Nor should one view the Church as a force for liberalism. Fr. Chaplin also recently criticized the Western Christian tradition for separating religion from public life.

Conference on Christian Legal Thought (Jan. 7)

The Lumen Christi Institute will host the annual Conference on Christian Legal Thought on January 7 in Washington. Panels include “Public Unions and the State of Organized Labor,” “Pedagogy,” “Law, Speech, and Morality,” and “The Vocation of the Christian Lawyer and the Future of Legal Education.” Speakers include St. John’s own David Gregory. Details are here.

Italy’s Catholic Church flexible on property tax

That’s the headline of an AP story over the weekend, here. Italian law has traditionally granted a tax exemption on real property owned by non-profits, including the Catholic Church. The exemption extends not only to property used for religious reasons, but more broadly to any property that is not “exclusively commercial” in nature — for example, guest houses for pilgrims and medical clinics. Critics argue that the exemption allows the Church (and other non-profits, presumably) to conduct commercial activities  without paying tax. Given Italy’s fiscal crisis, the new government is signaling that it will reconsider the breadth of the exemption, and the Church is signaling that it may go along:

One of Monti’s Cabinet ministers, Andrea Riccardi, is one of the most prominent lay Catholics in Italy, the founder of the Sant’Egidio Community with close ties to the Vatican.

He said this week that the church should pay the property tax if commercial activity is being carried out on the property. “I think that all the all the religious and cultural activities of the church are a richness for the country and the tax shouldn’t be paid,” he told RAI state television.

But if individual cases are discovered where commercial activity is being carried out, “necessary measures should be taken.”