This is an actual news story: It ran in the L.A. Times (on the front page, in fact) on Jan. 13, 1914.
The previous month, the New York Times had reported on the Vatican’s efforts “to suppress the tango dancing mania in Italy” but noted that those efforts had “proved a failure.” In the last days of 1913, Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel III banned the dance at a state ball.
But by Jan. 14, 1914, a story was being told in the salons of Rome, memorably related in this L.A. Times article:
Two representatives of one of the old patrician families of Rome were admitted to private audience, and, humming softly well-known music, initiated His Holiness into the mysteries of the tango steps. As they danced, the Pope’s brow furrowed with a look of stupefaction. Finally he ejaculated:
"Is that the tango?"
"Yes, Your Holiness," was the reply.
"Well, my dear children," commented Pius X, "you cannot find it very amusing."
There and then the Pope raised the interdict, for, as he pointed out with an ironical smile, if the tango were made a penance, it would be looked upon as sheer cruelty.
A century later, the tango has a well-placed fan at the Vatican: In an interview featured in the book “Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in his Own Words,” the current pope described himself as a fan of tango and said that he had “danced it as a young man, although I preferred the milonga.”
For the dancers out there: We’ve been chronicling the relationship between the Vatican and tango since 1914.
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Pope Francis extends a hand to women, gay priests
In an unusually open and lengthy discussion with reporters during his return to the Vatican after a trip to Brazil, Pope Francis stepped back from the Catholic Church’s typically clear-cut stances on gay priests and the role of women in the church.
“If a person is gay, seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said. “They should not be marginalized.”
Under Francis’ predecessor, gay men were banned from the priesthood. As for women becoming priests, Francis remained adamant that “the door is closed,” though he did concede that women should be greater administrative roles within the church.
Read more on Francis’ remarks over at World Now.
Photos: Osservatore Romano / EPA, Luca Zennaro / AFP/Getty Images
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Years of abuse, years of silence
Long before Father Donald Patrick Roemer was charged with molesting a young boy, his behavior had been observed by churchgoers, fellow priests, school officials and police authorities. Yet none of them did anything.
The trail of inaction is called the “bystander effect” by many, a term used when individuals fail to help in tragic situations.
Often they are more wary of falsely accusing someone than of their fears being confirmed. They question whether it’s their responsibility to help, whether stepping in would do any good. If no one else is upset, they assume it’s OK to walk away.
"We think our way out of situations we don’t want to believe," said Pete Ditto, a UC Irvine professor who studies moral decision-making.
Read more on reporter Ashley Powers’ harrowing account of Roemer’s crimes in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times, Jason Wise / For the Times
The controversial Christian group Exodus International announced tonight that it will shut down; a new group will launch in its place. According to Exodus president Alan Chambers (pictured above with his wife Leslie), the new ministry will focus on working with other churches to facilitate “safe, welcoming and mutually transforming communities.”
Prior to the announcement, Chambers had issued an apology to the gay community. “I am sorry I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names…. I am sorry I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine,” the statement read in part. “More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.”
Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press
Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church
Libby Phelps was born into the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, famed for its inflammatory rhetoric against homosexuals and protests against military funerals. At an early age, she was thrust into the church’s us-versus-them mentality:
In the beginning, Libby saw the picketing as a play date with her cousins. Every week the children carried signs with messages of damnation and trudged around in a circle in Gage Park until a pattern was worn into the grass.
Sometimes in the summer it got so hot that Libby’s mother would wrap a wet washcloth around her neck. In the winter, getting their snow gear on took longer than the picket.
"I didn’t even know what a homosexual was," Libby said.
Over the years, Libby protested an AIDS quilt tour, the Academy Awards, Jenna Bush’s wedding, soldiers’ funerals, actor Bernie Mac’s funeral, President Obama’s 2008 inauguration and more.
It wasn’t until she was 25 that she managed to break free from the church, severing her family ties in the process. The church, which has just 70 members, is heavily comprised of descendants of Fred Phelps, who was Libby’s grandfather.
Read more on Libby’s life since defecting from the church in our latest Column One feature.
Photos: Megan Phelps-Roper, Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post
Adjusting to everyday life after fleeing a polygamist sect
Zach Bowers, 18, and his brother Isaiah Bowers, 17, grew up in Colorado City, Arizona, a colony of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While raised in the polygamist community, the two were told little of the outside world, taught that women should be subservient to men and lorded over by their elders to the point at which all of their clothes were regularly chosen for them. But they decided enough was enough, and fled their home.
For a sense of how isolated their lives were:
"I didn’t even know what the president was," Zach says of his time on the fundamentalist compound. "I knew there was somebody over the United States, but I didn’t know they called it the president."
But their adjustment from the colony to suburban life hasn’t been without some pitfalls. Read the full story in our latest Column One feature.
Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
The incredible devotion of Douglas Kanai
What would you do to open your own temple? Ask a religious leader for permission? Go it on your own? How about enduring a 100 day trial to prove your fortitude and devotion to your faith?
Buddhist Douglas Kanai, seen above, is the first American to pass the 700-year old, and sometimes lethal, Nichiren test, and now has his own temple in Las Vegas.
His days began at 2:30 a.m., ended at 11:45 p.m. and consisted largely of kneeling and chanting for hours upon hours, with just rice gruel keeping him going.
From Kathie Quinn, who drove to L.A. to watch him recreate the ceremony:
"Only he knows the torture he endured, but it seems worse than any military boot camp. From what I understand, you need that kind of trauma to see what he saw — the good and the bad of his soul.”
Photo: John M. Glionna / Los Angeles Times
Holi festival celebrations in India
The Indian festival of colors, Holi, is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of March, marking the ceremonial beginning of spring and commemorating events in traditional Hindu stories.
Photos: Rajesh Kumar Singh, Altaf Qadri / Associated Press
Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel
Amid the accolades for the "eternal" relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the tours of the Iron Dome defense system and the planting of a tree at the house of Israeli President Shimon Peres, both Palestinians and Israelis continue their protests against Obama’s trip.
Photos: Abed Al Hashlmoun / EPA, Bernat Armangue, Mohammed Ballas Associated Press Mahmud Hams / AFP/Getty Images
From high-school equivalency to undercover spy
Fernando Jara changed the course of his life with a single email. Post-9/11, he told the CIA that perhaps he, with a recent conversion to Islam and knowledge of Arabic, could get closer to extremists that they could.
And now, years later, he’s changed his life again - working to aid drug addicts and felons in California.
From humble beginnings, Jara founded a program to rehabilitate drug addicts and felons on a five-acre farm. He is completing a master’s degree at Claremont School of Theology and will soon begin work on a doctorate and a law degree…
It’s an impressive resume for a junior high school dropout — with one exception. Five years are unaccounted for, and few people here know why.
In 2001, Jara disappeared from public view. He went on a journey that took him across the Middle East into the undercover world of Islamic extremism.
Photos: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
While we’re on the subject of popes, here’s our front page from October 17, 1978. Pope John Paul II had been elected the previous day.
1978 was a Year of Three Popes; John Paul II’s predecessor, John Paul I, was pope for only 33 days.
Here’s more front-page coverage of past popes, going back to the election of Pius X in 1903.