Recent News

The Return of the King

NOTE: This the first of Robert Royal’s reports from Rome about the ongoing Amazon Synod.

Pope Francis is fond of saying that “synod” means “walking together.” In the right circumstances, it might mean that (though usually it just means a “meeting”). In the wrong circumstances, it can take on the less happy meanings of the original Greek synodoslike the “meeting” that happens when two parties face each other in a courtroom – or two armies clash.

That troubling meaning of “synod” has been quite evident in past weeks. Before the Amazon Synod even started – the bishops, vested in green, joined the pope for Mass at St. Peter’s yesterday and begin their work today – there was a swirl of passionate claims and counterclaims, the likes of which have probably never been seen in Rome at this kind of an event.

Quite a few Catholics have been appalled at the synod’s strange mixture of changes to the priesthood and roles of women with ecological concerns – and openings to pagan superstitions. And rightly so.

On Saturday, Pope Francis along with Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri (both leaders of the synod) attended an indigenous ritual, a tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican gardens. Participants danced around a mandala, spread soil from “symbolic places,” and bowed to two female fertility figures. A male figure with erect penis lay nearby. [Author’s Note: In the days since this article appeared, there has been same debate about whether it’s a penis or arm in the male figure. No Vatican voices has clarified this point, which leaves the ritual still quite puzzling.]

Click here to read this and all of Robert Royal’s Amazon Synod reports (newest at the top) . . .

A Wise Child’s Guide to the Amazon Synod

few days ago, Vaticannews.va, an official outlet, featured an article by a Brazilian Jesuit and theologian defending the mishmash of sociology and sophisms in the Amazon Synod’s Working Document using the most extreme terms imaginable. Father Adelson Araujo dos Santos called claims that the Synod was flirting with “theological errors and heresies” to be “a total distortion of the facts.” In his view, anyone making such claims is in “complete disobedience to the whole doctrine and magisterium of the church.”

Is this necessary now? To disagree with what is, by any normal reckoning, a strange Roman concoction – invocation of cosmovisions, rainforest primitivism, shamans, indigenous religious beliefs and practices (some quite shocking) – is defiance of doctrine and the Church’s teaching authority? Not merely a different view? Not even an error? But a revolt against the Faith?

Synod defenders argue that it merely continues the defense of Creation by JPII and Benedict. But this is, at best, misdirection. Any thinking Christian recognizes there are environmental problems stemming from a wrong idea of Creation, primarily that nature is mere matter and energy that we may use any way we wish. But Care of Creation is not in dispute; a mostly empty sentimentalism about indigenous cultures very much is.

It’s another feint to say that the Church has always understood the need to respect and understand native cultures – to “inculturate” the Gospel by finding openings in the cultures themselves. Quite true.

Click here to read the rest of Robert Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

On Being Tired

The title of this column is reminiscent of Father James V. Schall, S.J. – so many of our very dear, late contributor’s columns having begun with “On . . .”

Fr. Schall’s last column here was titled, “Who Are You?”, in which he wrote: “The history of the world records the judgments, wise and unwise, made by the human persons who live in this world for however brief or long a time.”

For however brief or long a time . . .

Readers of TCT may recall a couple of columns I wrote last year about having cancer, being treated for the disease, and then coming through it with no cancer detected anywhere in my body.

The principal test used to detect cancer is the PET scan (Positron-Emission Tomography), and I had another one at the end of this past August, and it was completely clear. But . . . there are places a PET can’t “see.”

Without going into details here, an MRI just last week indicates I may have cancer in one of those hidden places. An upcoming biopsy will confirm, but on a scale of 1 to 5, I’m apparently a 4.

One thing we know: if it is cancer, it’s not a recurrence of the type I was treated for in 2018.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

House of God

If you were a medieval Jew in Colmar, a lovely town in the Alsace region of north-eastern France, you knew you might be attacked and robbed at any moment. You were an easy target, because you lived among your co-religionists in just one area of town – mostly on a single street, la rue des Juifs – and because you were devoted to your faith and its practices and dressed accordingly. You had nowhere to hide.

But you could hide your valuables, which is what one Jewish family did, creating what amounts to a safe deposit box: a terracotta pot containing their treasures placed in a hole in the wall of the house, then plastered over. However, some calamity caused them to leave their treasures, only to be discovered in 1863 right where they left them – nearly 400 years later.

As the catalog for “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy,” a new show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum Cloisters, explains, the exhibit “revives the memory of a once-thriving Jewish community that was scapegoated and put to death when the Plague struck the region with devastating ferocity in 1348–49.”

The “discoverers” of the cache, which includes “silver coins, silver table ware, and gold and silver jewelry including elaborate belt buckles and fifteen silver rings,” probably used a finders-keepers ethos, selling some portion of what they uncovered. What has survived to be seen and loved by future generations is mostly at the Musée de Cluny in Paris, also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages, which is a source, via loan to the MET, of several of the objects at the Cloisters.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Shire and the Amazon

I’ve been hiking West of Oxford this past week – a late vacation after a busy summer – passing through some of the villages where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis walked together. Tolkien had this landscape partly in mind in creating the Shire. I even had a pint and a bacon-and-cranberry sandwich Saturday at Moreton-in-Marsh’s The Bell Inn, Tolkien’s model for “The Prancing Pony” in Lord of the Rings – where the hobbits first meet Aragorn, later the true King of Gondor.

All quite beautiful and uplifting in ways it would be difficult to express unless you had the imagination of Tolkien himself. The region is both the same and – no doubt – quite different than when he and Lewis walked here.

There are tourists and television now. (We accidentally stumbled into the church in Blockley, the village where the Fr. Brown TV detective series – a theologically neutered version of Chesterton’s Fr. Brown – was filmed.) Still, the hills and fields, scattered farms and stone towns, take you out into a different world.

The exact nature of that world often gets lost in our current environmental debates. We have great power over nature now. The large strides in pure science and the near-miraculous developments in technology – especially medicine – are great blessings, to be sure, but also great challenges.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

“The Divine Plan”: a Review

In 1970, the Russian dissident Andrei Amalrik published a short book, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984? Another, more famous refusenik, Natan Sharansky, has said that when he was in a Soviet prison in 1984 and Amalrik’s prediction came up during his interrogation, his KGB guards laughed: “Amalrik is long dead, but we are still very much present!” Amalrik had died in 1980.

Well, as history would show, Amalrik was wrong, though only by a few years. He had believed the Soviet bureaucracy with its brutality, the USSR’s ethnic diversity, its economic stagnation and simmering social unrest would be the death of the Beast. All true. And he thought a war with China was imminent and would devastate Russia. That was wrong, of course, but substitute Afghanistan for China, and he looks more prescient.

Like most dissidents, Amalrik was frustrated by the Western policy of détente. Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter had all met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to little avail, and all liberty-loving Russians (and their millions of allies behind the Iron Curtain) knew there could never be freedom of speech or religion or in economic activity as long as communism ruled.

Amalrik died just eight days after Ronald Reagan was elected as America’s 40th president, so he didn’t live to see how an alliance between Reagan and Pope John Paul II would become the force – joined to the others Amalrik had identified – that would lead to the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The story of that alliance is told superbly in Robert Orlando’s new documentary, The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s review at The Catholic Thing . . .

From “Home-Alone America” to “Primal Screams”: in 15 Years or Less

This week, Templeton Press is releasing my new book, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. Because the Faith and Reason Institute is my happy professional home, I’d like to set aside standard book promo, and instead share with TCT’s readers some of the backstory for this new volume.

Seen one way, the work leading up to this book began with a wisecrack. In the 1980s, right after graduating from college with majors in philosophy and government, I was hired as an assistant editor at The Public Interest magazine in New York. Its fabled editor was Irving Kristol, a formidable intellectual and wit with a first-rate, small-“c,” catholic mind. (He was also something of an imp – as his self-description of “neo-orthodox, non-observant Jew” might suggest.)

One day, as we were all sitting in the tiny smoke-filled office on East 53rd Street, Irving looked up from his newspaper and remarked, “One of the funniest things about the twentieth century is that if you were to read all of its documents and ask which one was the most prophetic about the world to come, it would be Humanae Vitae.”

The thought was unexpected and contrarian, as Irving’s bon mots usually were. The staff, myself included, duly laughed. But that heretical notion stuck. This was the first time I remember thinking that there might be something to the argument that the sexual revolution was upending the world – and that it wasn’t only the Catholic Church that could see it.

Click here to read the rest of Mrs. Eberstadt’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

His Way

On December 12, 2012, I had a tiny epiphany, namely, that as long as I live, there will never again be a day when the abbreviated date will be the same repeated numbers, e.g. 12/12/12, which was the last such date until the start of the 22ndcentury, at which point: 01/01/01 – January the 1st, 2101. I can hardly wait.

Science will be of no help in that regard – my waiting, I mean – nor would I choose to hang around if it were. Maybe I’d be looking forward to 01/01/01 as my 154thyear approached. Indeed, that numeric confluence might well be the only thing on the horizon to make me smile. A nurse would whisper in my ear: Happy New Year.  But the slog to 02/02/02 and so on is too much to contemplate.

All my life, I’ve been a good athlete. Good, I say, not great. But from about my 27thyear (there was a period between finishing college through age 26 when I had “gone to seed”), I’ve worked hard at being fit and – my passion for wine, beer, spirits, and chocolate notwithstanding – eating healthfully.

My wife has been my greatest teacher in the matter of nutrition, even if she’s sometimes been guilty of loving me with chocolate. (She’d argue that chocolate is not unhealthful in moderation. Of course, moderation’s my problem.) And when I write stretched out on the bed, as I began to do several years ago in the midst of some health crises, she herds me back into my home office, and mandates periodic standing up, moving around, and the drinking of glasses of water, and she accompanies me on walks and visits to the gym – and it shows! In her, anyway.

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Miner’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

A Kindly Light

Yesterday, August 11, was the anniversary of the death of a great Christian leader, apologist, poet, historian, homilist, controversialist, and soon to be saint (October 13), Cardinal John Henry Newman.

We’ll carry more about him here in coming weeks, but today I’ll focus on one facet of his genius: his greatness as a Catholic writing in English. Newman was not only brilliant himself. He was involved in the conversion and later vocation of the great Gerard Manley Hopkins. And he opened doors for later English converts such as Robert Hugh Benson, Ronald Knox, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, and even the great G. K. Chesterton – what is sometimes called the English Catholic Literary Revival.

It’s not easy to say why Newman’s writing is so great.  Books such as The Idea of the University, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and A Grammar of Assent, make incisive arguments, of course, and major contributions to Catholicism on multiple fronts. Newman’s views on liberal learning, doctrine, conscience, etc., are inexhaustible sources of clear and deep thinking on crucial questions.

But there’s a certain spirit to Newman that encompasses all the elaborations of thought.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .

Social “Science” at the JPII Institute

The Catholic world was surprised – though not entirely so – last week when the previously announced “refounding” of the John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family resulted in the firing of two prominent longtime professors and the “suspension” – for the time being, we may hope – of all faculty. All this in service of what was reported as Pope Francis’ intention to “broaden its academic curriculum, from a focus on the theology of marriage and the family to an approach that will also include the study of the family from the perspective of the social sciences.”

We’ve encountered this “social science” approach repeatedly in recent years: in the Working Documents of the two Synods on the Family, the Synod on Youth, and now the Synod on the Amazon. Third-order sociological analysis was prominent, while there was a relative lack of the distinctive elements that the Church brings to the world – systematic theology, authoritative moral reflection, and long experience of all things human.

In the latest episode, the intentions are clearer than ever. Msgr. Livio Melina (professor of moral theology and president of the Institute for over a decade) was fired – the official explanation: the chair in moral theology was being eliminated. That elimination already speaks volumes, as does the lame, circular explanation: his chair was being eliminated so there was no further need for him at the Institute.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s column at The Catholic Thing . . .