Rodman tells Kim Jong Un he has 'friend for life'


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman met North Korea's Kim Jong Un on Thursday on the third day of his improbable journey to Pyongyang, telling the leader "You have a friend for life," a delegation spokesman said.


Rodman and Kim sat side by side at an exhibition game in Pyongyang, chatting as they watched players from North Korea and the U.S. play on mixed teams, Alex Detrick, a spokesman for the New York-based VICE media company, told The Associated Press.


Kim, a diehard basketball fan, told Rodman he hoped the visit would break the ice between the United States and North Korea, Detrick said. Kim later invited the Americans to dinner.


The encounter makes Rodman the most high-profile American to meet with the young North Korean leader since Kim took power in December 2011, and takes place against a backdrop of tension between Washington and Pyongyang.


North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test just two weeks ago, making clear the provocative act was aimed at sending a warning to the United States to drop what it considers a "hostile" policy toward the North. The two countries fought each other during the Korean War, and do not have diplomatic relations.


Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with three members of the professional Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy and a VICE production crew to shoot a documentary for a new HBO TV series.


The surprise visit by the flamboyant Hall of Famer known as "The Worm" makes him an unlikely ambassador at a time when North Koreans are girding for battle with the U.S. Just last week, Kim guided frontline troops in military exercises.


The Korean War ended in a truce in 1953, and the two foes never signed a peace treaty.


Thursday's game in a packed gymnasium ended in a 110-110 draw, with two Americans playing on each team alongside North Koreans, Detrick said.


After the game, Rodman addressed Kim in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of North Koreans, telling him, "You have a friend for life," Detrick said.


The leader later plied the group with liquor, according to VICE TV producer Jason Mojica.


"Um ... so Kim Jong Un just got the (hash)VICEonHBO crew wasted ... no really, that happened," Mojica wrote on his Twitter feed from Pyongyang.


Duffy later invited Kim to visit the United States, a proposal met with hearty laughter from the North Korean leader, Detrick said.


___


Follow AP's Korea bureau chief Jean Lee at twitter.com/newsjean.


Read More..

Benedict: Pope aware of his flaws?




Pope Benedict XVI delivers his last Angelus Blessing to thousands of pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square on February 24.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Sister Mary Ann Walsh: Pope Benedict acknowledged that he made mistakes

  • Walsh: In firestorm over scholarly quotes about Islam, he went to great lengths to atone

  • Walsh: Similarly, he quickly reversed a decision that had angered Jews and repaired ties

  • Even his stepping down is a nod to his humanity and his love of the church, she says




Editor's note: Sister Mary Ann Walsh is director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Regional Community. She is a former foreign correspondent at Catholic News Service (CNS) in Rome and the editor of "John Paul II: A Light for the World," "Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on his Papacy," and "From Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI."


(CNN) -- One of the Bible's paradoxical statements comes from St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians: "Power is made perfect in infirmity."


The poetic statement proclaims that when we are weak, we are strong. Pope Benedict XVI's stepping down from what many consider one of the most powerful positions in the world proves it. In a position associated with infallibility -- though that refers to formal proclamations on faith and morals -- the pope declares his weakness.



Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sister Mary Ann Walsh



His acceptance of frailty speaks realistically about humanity: We grow old, weaken, and eventually die. A job, even one guided by the Holy Spirit, as we Roman Catholics believe, can become too much for us.


Acceptance of human frailty has marked this papacy. We all make mistakes, but the pope makes them on a huge stage.


He was barely into his papacy, for example, when he visited Regensburg, Germany, where he once taught theology. Like many a professor, he offered a provocative statement to get the conversation going. To introduce the theme of his lecture, the pope quoted from an account of a dialogue between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an unnamed Muslim scholar, sometime near the end of the 14th century -- a quote that was misinterpreted by some as a condemnation of Mohammed and Islam.


Opinion: 'Gay lobby' behind pope's resignation? Not likely


Twice, the pope emphasized that he was quoting someone else's words. Unfortunately, the statement about Islam was taken as insult, not a discussion opener, and sparked rage throughout the Muslim world.


The startled pope had to explain himself. He apologized and traveled two months later to Istanbul's Blue Mosque, where he stood shoeless in prayer beside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. Later he hosted Muslim leaders at the Vatican at the start of a Catholic-Muslim forum for dialogue. It was a human moment -- a mistake, an apology and atonement -- all round.










A similar controversy erupted when he tried to bring the schismatic Society of St. Pius X back into the Roman Catholic fold.


In a grand gesture toward reconciliation, he lifted the excommunication of four of its bishops, unaware that one, Richard Williamson, was a Holocaust denier. This outraged many Jews. Subsequently the Vatican said the bishop had not been vetted, and in a bow to modernity said officials at least should have looked him up on the Internet.


In humble response, Benedict reiterated his condemnation of anti-Semitism and told Williamson that he must recant his Holocaust views to be fully reinstated. Again, his admission of a mistake and an effort to mend fences.


News: Scandal threatens to overshadow pope's final days


Pope Benedict XVI came from a Catholic Bavarian town. Childhood family jaunts included trips to the shrine of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Altotting. He entered the seminary at the age of 13. He became a priest, scholar and theologian. He lived his life in service to the church. Even in resigning from the papacy, he embraces the monastic life to pray for a church he has ever loved.


With hindsight, his visit to the tomb of 13th century Pope Celestine V, a Benedictine monk who resigned from the papacy eight centuries before, becomes poignant.


In 2009, on a visit to Aquila, Italy, Benedict left at Celestine's tomb the pallium, a stole-like vestment that signifies episcopal authority, that Benedict had worn for his installation as pope. The gesture takes on more meaning as the monkish Benedict steps down.


We expect the pope to be perfect. Catholics hold him to be the vicar of Christ on earth. He stands as a spiritual leader for much of the world. Statesmen visit him from around the globe. He lives among splendid architecture, in the shadow of the domed St. Peter's Basilica. All testify to an almost surreal omnipotence.


Complete coverage of the pope's resignation


In this world, however, walked a vulnerable, human person. And in a paradox of life, his most human moment -- giving up the power of office -- may prove to be his most potent, delivering a message that, as St. Paul noted many centuries ago, "Power is made perfect in infirmity."


Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.


Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mary Ann Walsh.






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Cellar victim Kampusch raped, starved in film of ordeal






VIENNA (Reuters) – A new film based on the story of Austrian kidnap victim Natascha Kampusch shows her being repeatedly raped by the captor who beat and starved her during the eight-and-a-half years that he kept her in a cellar beneath his house.


Kampusch was snatched on her way to school at the age of 10 by Wolfgang Priklopil and held in a windowless cell under his garage near Vienna until she escaped in 2006, causing a sensation in Austria and abroad. Priklopil committed suicide.






Kampusch had always refused to respond to claims that she had had sex with Priklopil, but in a German television interview on her 25th birthday last week said she had decided to reveal the truth because it had leaked out from police files.


The film, “3,096 Days” – based on Kampusch’s autobiography of the same name – soberly portrays her captivity in a windowless cellar less than 6 square metres (65 square feet) in area, often deprived of food for days at a time.


The emaciated Kampusch – who weighed just 38 kg (84 pounds) at one point in 2004 – keeps a diary written on toilet paper concealed in a box.


One entry reads: “At least 60 blows in the face. Ten to 15 nausea-inducing fist blows to the head. One strike with the fist with full weight to my right ear.”


The movie shows occasional moments that approach tenderness, such as when Priklopil presents her with a cake for her 18th birthday or buys her a dress as a gift – but then immediately goes on to chide her for not knowing how to waltz with him.


GREY AREAS


Antonia Campbell-Hughes, who plays the teenaged Kampusch, said she had tried to portray “the strength of someone’s soul, the ability of people to survive… but also the grey areas within a relationship that people don’t necessarily understand.”


The British actress said she had not met Kampusch during the making of the film or since. “It was a very isolated time, it was a bubble of time, and I wanted to keep that very focused,” she told journalists as she arrived for the Vienna premiere.


Kampusch herself attended the premiere, looking composed as she posed for pictures but declining to give interviews.


In an interview with Germany’s Bild Zeitung last week, she said: “Yes, I did recognize myself, although the reality was even worse. But one can’t really show that in the cinema, since it wasn’t supposed to be a horror film.”


The movie, made at the Constantin Film studios in Bavaria, Germany, also stars Amy Pidgeon as the 10-year-old Kampusch and Danish actor Thure Lindhardt as Priklopil.


“I focused mainly on playing the human being because… we have to remember it was a human being. Monsters do not exist, they’re only in cartoons,” Lindhart said.


“It became clear to me that it’s a story about survival, and it’s a story about surviving eight years of hell. If that story can be told then I can also play the bad guy.”


The director was German-American Sherry Hormann, who made her English-language debut with the 2009 move “Desert Flower”, an adaptation of the autobiography of Somali-born model and anti-female circumcision activist Waris Dirie.


“I’m a mother and I wonder at the strength of this child, and it was important for me to tell this story from a different perspective, to tell how this child using her own strength could survive this atrocious martyrdom,” Hormann said.


The Kampusch case was followed two years later by that of Josef Fritzl, an Austrian who held his daughter captive in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.


The crimes prompted soul-searching about the Austrian psyche, and questions as to how the authorities and neighbors could have let such crimes go undetected for so long.


The film goes on general release on Thursday.


(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan, Editing by Paul Casciato)


Movies News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Wall Street little changed ahead of Bernanke testimony

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street opened little changed as investors awaited a second round of testimony in Congress by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for clarity on the longevity of the Fed's economic stimulus program.


Calming some jitters over the euro zone, Italian debt prices and European stocks rose on Wednesday after Italy sold the maximum amount of bonds it planned to offer in a debt auction though borrowing costs soared.


Bernanke will make his second appearance before the Financial Services Committee at 10:00 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).


"The market got what it wanted yesterday from the Fed, so, as long as (Bernanke) doesn't say anything new, the market is likely to remain as status quo," said Joe Saluzzi, co- of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey.


A day earlier, Bernanke strongly defended the Fed's monetary stimulus efforts before Congress, easing financial market worries over an early retreat from the Fed's bond buying program, which had been triggered by minutes of the Fed's January meeting released a week ago.


His remarks, along with data showing sales of new homes hit a 4 1/2-year high, helped U.S. stocks rebound Tuesday from their worst decline since November.


Despite the bounce, the S&P 500 was unable to move back above 1,500, a closely watched level that had been technical support until recently, but may now prove a resistance point.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 1.76 points, or 0.01 percent, to 13,901.89. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> dropped 0.36 points, or 0.02 percent, to 1,496.58. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> gained 0.70 points, or 0.02 percent, to 3,130.34.


The benchmark S&P 500, up 6 percent for the year, was within reach of record highs a week ago, before the minutes from the Fed's January meeting were released. Since then, the index has shed 1 percent as the minutes raised questions about whether the Fed may slow or halt its economy-stimulating measures soon.


Economic data was in focus with homes data due out at 10:00 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).


Earlier, separate data showed non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, jumped 6.3 percent, the biggest gain since December 2011. The market's reaction was muted.


In earnings news, discount retailer Target Corp appeared poised for a solid showing in the first quarter and forecast a higher profit for the full year after a weak performance in the key holiday season. The stock was off 3.3 percent at $61.92 in early trading.


Dollar Tree Inc reported a higher quarterly profit as shoppers spent more and the chain controlled costs. The stock jumped 10 percent to $45.00.


Shares of Boyd Gaming jumped 3.8 percent to $6.75 after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a revised online gaming bill.


In Europe, shares rose, steadying after the previous session's sharp losses, though jitters over the euro zone kept a lid on gains.


Italy's 10-year debt costs rose more than half a percentage point at the first longer-term auction since an inconclusive parliamentary election, although they remained below the psychologically important level of 5 percent.


(Editing by Bernadette Baum)



Read More..

Minnesota takes down No. 1 Indiana 77-73


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Retaining that No. 1 national ranking has been elusive throughout this wild season in college basketball, and Indiana was the latest to lose at the top — again.


Most important and maybe more challenging for the Hoosiers, however, is holding on to first place in the tough-as-ever Big Ten.


Trevor Mbakwe had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting and 12 rebounds to help Minnesota take down top-ranked Indiana 77-73 on Tuesday night, the seventh time the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll has lost this season. Three of those losses were by the Hoosiers, who were No. 1 when they fell to Butler and Wisconsin earlier this season. All three opponents were unranked at the time.


Indiana (24-4, 12-3) has held the No. 1 ranking for 10 of the 17 polls by the AP this season, including the last four, and that will likely change next week. But fending off Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin is what's on the minds of the Hoosiers, who'll take a one-game lead in the conference race into Saturday's game against Iowa.


"Winning the Big Ten was going to be tough whether we won today or lost," said star guard Victor Oladipo, who had 16 points. "We knew it was going to be tough from the jump. Now it's even tougher. But I think my team is ready for it. We just have to go back and see what we did wrong and correct it."


Andre Hollins added 16 points for the Gophers (19-9, 7-8), who outrebounded Cody Zeller and the Hoosiers by a whopping 44-30 and solidified their slipping NCAA tournament hopes with an emphatic performance against the conference leader. The fired-up fans swarmed the court as the last seconds ticked off, the first time that's happened here since a 2002 win over Indiana.


"There were just too many times when that first shot went up and they were there before we were because we didn't get into their bodies," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "We weren't physical enough on the glass. That's the bottom line."


Zeller, the second-leading shooter in the Big Ten, went 2 for 9. He had nine points with four turnovers. Minnesota had 40 points in the paint to Indiana's 22.


Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior, had a lot to do with that. While positing his conference-leading seventh double-double of the season, the 24-year-old Mbakwe was a man among boys in many ways in this game, dominating both ends of the court when the Gophers needed him most. He grabbed six of Minnesota's 23 offensive rebounds, two of them to keep a key possession alive. His off-balance put-back drew contact for a three-point play with 7:22 left that gave the Gophers a 55-52 lead.


Mbakwe was called for a loudly questioned blocking foul, his fourth, with 4:39 remaining on Zeller's fast-break layup and free throw that put the Hoosiers up 59-58. But Austin Hollins answered with a pump-fake layup that drew a foul for a three-point play and a two-point advantage for the Gophers.


The Hoosiers didn't lead again, and Joe Coleman's fast-break dunk with 2:35 left gave Minnesota a 68-61 cushion that helped it withstand a couple of 3-pointers by Christian Watford and one by Jordan Hulls in the closing minutes. That was the only basket Hulls made after halftime. He had 17 points.


"Just the way we bounced back is unbelievable. We showed that we can beat one of the best teams in the country. Now we have to build off this," said Mbakwe, whose team lost eight of its previous 11 games starting with an 88-81 loss at Indiana on Jan. 12. The Gophers were ranked eighth then. They didn't even receive a vote in the current poll. That could change next week.


The Hoosiers are still in position for their first outright Big Ten regular-season championship since 1993. With another home game against Ohio State on March 5, Indiana could still clinch the title before the finale at Michigan on March 10.


For now, though, the Hoosiers have to regroup and re-establish their inside game after the trampling in the post they endured here.


"They were relentless on the glass. We just didn't do a great job of boxing them out," Oladipo said.


___


Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP


Read More..

Vatican 'Gay lobby'? Probably not






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Benedict XVI not stepping down under pressure from 'gay lobby,' Allen says

  • Allen: Benedict is a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government

  • However, he says, much of the pope's time has been spent putting out fires




Editor's note: John L. Allen Jr. is CNN's senior Vatican analyst and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.


(CNN) -- Suffice it to say that of all possible storylines to emerge, heading into the election of a new pope, sensational charges of a shadowy "gay lobby" (possibly linked to blackmail), whose occult influence may have been behind the resignation of Benedict XVI, would be right at the bottom of the Vatican's wish list.


Proof of the Vatican's irritation came with a blistering statement Saturday complaining of "unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories," even suggesting the media is trying to influence the papal election.


Two basic questions have to be asked about all this. First, is there really a secret dossier about a network of people inside the Vatican who are linked by their sexual orientation, as Italian newspaper reports have alleged? Second, is this really why Benedict XVI quit?



John L. Allen Jr.

John L. Allen Jr.



The best answers, respectively, are "maybe" and "probably not."


It's a matter of record that at the peak of last year's massive Vatican leaks crisis, Benedict XVI created a commission of three cardinals to investigate the leaks. They submitted an eyes-only report to the pope in mid-December, which has not been made public.


It's impossible to confirm whether that report looked into the possibility that people protecting secrets about their sex lives were involved with the leaks, but frankly, it would be surprising if it didn't.


There are certainly compelling reasons to consider the hypothesis. In 2007, a Vatican official was caught by an Italian TV network on hidden camera arranging a date through a gay-oriented chat room, and then taking the young man back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a papal ceremonial officer was caught on a wiretap arranging liaisons through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes played out in full public view, and gave the Vatican a black eye.









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In that context, it would be a little odd if the cardinals didn't at least consider the possibility that insiders leading a double life might be vulnerable to pressure to betray the pope's confidence. That would apply not just to sex, but also potential conflicts of other sorts too, such as financial interests.


Vatican officials have said Benedict may authorize giving the report to the 116 cardinals who will elect his successor, so they can factor it into their deliberations. The most immediate fallout is that the affair is likely to strengthen the conviction among many cardinals that the next pope has to lead a serious house-cleaning inside the Vatican's bureaucracy.


It seems a stretch, however, to suggest this is the real reason Benedict is leaving. For the most part, one should probably take the pope at his word, that old age and fatigue are the motives for his decision.


That said, it's hard not to suspect that the meltdowns and controversies that have dogged Benedict XVI for the last eight years are in the background of why he's so tired. In 2009, at the height of another frenzy surrounding the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop, Benedict dispatched a plaintive letter to the bishops of the world, voicing hurt for the way he'd been attacked and apologizing for the Vatican's mishandling of the situation.


Even if Benedict didn't resign because of any specific crisis, including this latest one, such anguish must have taken its toll. Benedict is a teaching pope, a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government, yet an enormous share of his time and energy has been consumed trying to put out internal fires.


It's hard to know why Benedict XVI is stepping off the stage, but I doubt it is because of a "gay lobby."


Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.


Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John L. Allen Jr.






Read More..

Cellar victim Kampusch raped, starved in film of ordeal






VIENNA (Reuters) – A new film based on the story of Austrian kidnap victim Natascha Kampusch shows her being repeatedly raped by the captor who beat and starved her during the eight-and-a-half years that he kept her in a cellar beneath his house.


Kampusch was snatched on her way to school at the age of 10 by Wolfgang Priklopil and held in a windowless cell under his garage near Vienna until she escaped in 2006, causing a sensation in Austria and abroad. Priklopil committed suicide.






Kampusch had always refused to respond to claims that she had had sex with Priklopil, but in a German television interview on her 25th birthday last week said she had decided to reveal the truth because it had leaked out from police files.


The film, “3,096 Days” – based on Kampusch’s autobiography of the same name – soberly portrays her captivity in a windowless cellar less than 6 square metres (65 square feet) in area, often deprived of food for days at a time.


The emaciated Kampusch – who weighed just 38 kg (84 pounds) at one point in 2004 – keeps a diary written on toilet paper concealed in a box.


One entry reads: “At least 60 blows in the face. Ten to 15 nausea-inducing fist blows to the head. One strike with the fist with full weight to my right ear.”


The movie shows occasional moments that approach tenderness, such as when Priklopil presents her with a cake for her 18th birthday or buys her a dress as a gift – but then immediately goes on to chide her for not knowing how to waltz with him.


GREY AREAS


Antonia Campbell-Hughes, who plays the teenaged Kampusch, said she had tried to portray “the strength of someone’s soul, the ability of people to survive… but also the grey areas within a relationship that people don’t necessarily understand.”


The British actress said she had not met Kampusch during the making of the film or since. “It was a very isolated time, it was a bubble of time, and I wanted to keep that very focused,” she told journalists as she arrived for the Vienna premiere.


Kampusch herself attended the premiere, looking composed as she posed for pictures but declining to give interviews.


In an interview with Germany’s Bild Zeitung last week, she said: “Yes, I did recognize myself, although the reality was even worse. But one can’t really show that in the cinema, since it wasn’t supposed to be a horror film.”


The movie, made at the Constantin Film studios in Bavaria, Germany, also stars Amy Pidgeon as the 10-year-old Kampusch and Danish actor Thure Lindhardt as Priklopil.


“I focused mainly on playing the human being because… we have to remember it was a human being. Monsters do not exist, they’re only in cartoons,” Lindhart said.


“It became clear to me that it’s a story about survival, and it’s a story about surviving eight years of hell. If that story can be told then I can also play the bad guy.”


The director was German-American Sherry Hormann, who made her English-language debut with the 2009 move “Desert Flower”, an adaptation of the autobiography of Somali-born model and anti-female circumcision activist Waris Dirie.


“I’m a mother and I wonder at the strength of this child, and it was important for me to tell this story from a different perspective, to tell how this child using her own strength could survive this atrocious martyrdom,” Hormann said.


The Kampusch case was followed two years later by that of Josef Fritzl, an Austrian who held his daughter captive in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.


The crimes prompted soul-searching about the Austrian psyche, and questions as to how the authorities and neighbors could have let such crimes go undetected for so long.


The film goes on general release on Thursday.


(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan, Editing by Paul Casciato)


Movies News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Wall Street opens higher after drop on Italian vote

DEAR ABBY: "Harold" and I have been married for more than 20 years and have three children ranging in age from teen to toddler. We are both college graduates and held middle-management jobs until recently.Two years ago, Harold was offered a temporary job in an exotic location in another country. We jumped at the chance. I can't work due to the regulations here, but the money is good.Now that I'm not working, Harold suddenly believes he has the right to tell me what to do, how to manage daily activities, how to care for the children, etc. ...
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AP source: Tom Brady gets 3-year extension


Tom Brady will be a Patriot until he is 40 years old.


Brady agreed to a three-year contract extension with New England on Monday, a person familiar with the contract told The Associated Press. The extension is worth about $27 million and will free up nearly $15 million in salary cap room for the team, which has several younger players it needs to re-sign or negotiate new deals with.


The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the extension has not been announced.


Sports Illustrated first reported the extension.


The 35-year-old two-time league MVP was signed through 2014, and has said he wants to play at least five more years.


A three-time Super Bowl champion, Brady will make far less in those three seasons than the going rate for star quarterbacks. Brady currently has a four-year, $72 million deal with $48 million guaranteed.


Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks, at an average of $20 million and $18 million a year, respectively.


Brady has made it clear he wants to finish his career with the Patriots, whom he led to Super Bowl wins for the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, and losses in the big game after the 2007 and 2011 seasons. By taking less money in the extension and redoing his current contract, he's hopeful New England can surround him with the parts to win more titles.


Among the Patriots' free agents are top receiver Wes Welker and his backup, Julian Edelman; right tackle Sebastian Vollmer; cornerback Aqib Talib; and running back Danny Woodhead.


Brady has been the most successful quarterback of his era, of course, as well as one of the NFL's best leaders. His skill at running the no-huddle offense is unsurpassed, and he's easily adapted to the different offensive schemes New England has concentrated on through his 13 pro seasons.


The Patriots have gone from run-oriented in Brady's early days to a deep passing team with Randy Moss to an offense dominated by throws to tight ends, running backs and slot receivers.


Brady holds the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season with 50 in 2007, when the Patriots went 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the Giants. He has thrown for at least 28 touchdowns seven times and led the league three times.


Last season, Brady had 34 TD passes and eight interceptions as the Patriots went 12-4, leading the league with 557 points, 76 more than runner-up Denver.


Read More..

Vatican 'Gay lobby'? Probably not






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Benedict XVI not stepping down under pressure from 'gay lobby,' Allen says

  • Allen: Benedict is a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government

  • However, he says, much of the pope's time has been spent putting out fires




Editor's note: John L. Allen Jr. is CNN's senior Vatican analyst and senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.


(CNN) -- Suffice it to say that of all possible storylines to emerge, heading into the election of a new pope, sensational charges of a shadowy "gay lobby" (possibly linked to blackmail), whose occult influence may have been behind the resignation of Benedict XVI, would be right at the bottom of the Vatican's wish list.


Proof of the Vatican's irritation came with a blistering statement Saturday complaining of "unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories," even suggesting the media is trying to influence the papal election.


Two basic questions have to be asked about all this. First, is there really a secret dossier about a network of people inside the Vatican who are linked by their sexual orientation, as Italian newspaper reports have alleged? Second, is this really why Benedict XVI quit?



John L. Allen Jr.

John L. Allen Jr.



The best answers, respectively, are "maybe" and "probably not."


It's a matter of record that at the peak of last year's massive Vatican leaks crisis, Benedict XVI created a commission of three cardinals to investigate the leaks. They submitted an eyes-only report to the pope in mid-December, which has not been made public.


It's impossible to confirm whether that report looked into the possibility that people protecting secrets about their sex lives were involved with the leaks, but frankly, it would be surprising if it didn't.


There are certainly compelling reasons to consider the hypothesis. In 2007, a Vatican official was caught by an Italian TV network on hidden camera arranging a date through a gay-oriented chat room, and then taking the young man back to his Vatican apartment. In 2010, a papal ceremonial officer was caught on a wiretap arranging liaisons through a Nigerian member of a Vatican choir. Both episodes played out in full public view, and gave the Vatican a black eye.









Pope Benedict XVI































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In that context, it would be a little odd if the cardinals didn't at least consider the possibility that insiders leading a double life might be vulnerable to pressure to betray the pope's confidence. That would apply not just to sex, but also potential conflicts of other sorts too, such as financial interests.


Vatican officials have said Benedict may authorize giving the report to the 116 cardinals who will elect his successor, so they can factor it into their deliberations. The most immediate fallout is that the affair is likely to strengthen the conviction among many cardinals that the next pope has to lead a serious house-cleaning inside the Vatican's bureaucracy.


It seems a stretch, however, to suggest this is the real reason Benedict is leaving. For the most part, one should probably take the pope at his word, that old age and fatigue are the motives for his decision.


That said, it's hard not to suspect that the meltdowns and controversies that have dogged Benedict XVI for the last eight years are in the background of why he's so tired. In 2009, at the height of another frenzy surrounding the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying traditionalist bishop, Benedict dispatched a plaintive letter to the bishops of the world, voicing hurt for the way he'd been attacked and apologizing for the Vatican's mishandling of the situation.


Even if Benedict didn't resign because of any specific crisis, including this latest one, such anguish must have taken its toll. Benedict is a teaching pope, a man who prefers the life of the mind to the nuts and bolts of government, yet an enormous share of his time and energy has been consumed trying to put out internal fires.


It's hard to know why Benedict XVI is stepping off the stage, but I doubt it is because of a "gay lobby."


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John L. Allen Jr.






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