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By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 13, 2010

It’s just a little thing, but it could be a harbinger of something more significant. The headline on an AP story about the highlight of the coming papal visit to the UK—the beatification of Cardinal Newman—reads:

Pope breaks own rule to beatify Anglican convert

The story explains:

It's the first time Benedict will celebrate a beatification; under his own rules popes don't beatify, only canonize.

Not so. Yes, this is a “first” for Pope Benedict, and it does highlight the importance that he gives to the influence of Cardinal Newman. But when he presides at the beatification the Pontiff won’t be breaking any rules. He has chosen not to preside at beatifications; that has been his standing policy. But there’s no rule to stop him from doing so.

It is, again, a small thing. But in the course of the next week, the media will ask approximately 2 million times why the Pope can’t change the “rules” of the Church regarding ordination of women, contraception, homosexuality, abortion, and other hot-button issues. In that context it’s not a trivial matter for the Pope to break his own rules—especially since the media routinely treat Church teachings as if they were merely the Pope’s arbitrary preferences.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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