Recent News

Of Hell and Logic

In 1294, Celestine V was elected pope, after an interregnum of two years without one, owing to a deadlock among the Cardinals. He resigned only five months later because, though he had founded and run the Celestines, an offshoot of the Benedictines, he felt himself inadequate to the papal office. In 1415, Pope Gregory XII “withdrew” in a somewhat different case – in order to prevent schism over the apostolic succession. Celestine’s, therefore, was the last pure resignation prior to that of Benedict XVI in 2013.

Most Dante scholars have believed over the centuries that Dante was referring to Celestine in Inferno Canto 3 (the place that contains souls who were so indifferent that they refused to choose God or anything else for eternity). He speaks of meeting one, without naming him, “who out of cowardice made the great refusal,” (che per viltade fece il gran rifiuto).

Dante thought this a profound betrayal of the Church, not least because Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII (a political schemer) was involved in Dante’s exile from Florence.

Boniface himself had a troubled life after that because of his constant efforts to expand papal powers. His famous Bull Unam Sanctam claimed authority over secular rulers, which led to his condemnation on a whole list of charges by French bishops. And French King Philip the Fair sent forces that captured and humiliated Boniface, an experience that contributed to his death.

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

 

In Search of Young People

Some years ago, my pastor talked me into teaching “Catholic Morals” to high-school sophomores. I can’t say that I look back to those three years with, uh, pleasure. Or satisfaction. Some of my students are still Catholic; others lapsed. The whole experience left me with profound appreciation for anyone who knows how to work with and really reach young people with the Good News in a dying culture like our post-truth West.

I’m, therefore, somewhat indulgent towards anyone who even tries to evangelize young people, especially since the dreaded Millennials have made their appearance. It’s easy to criticize failures; hard to know what to do – or sometimes even where to start. If you think you have an answer, try it out somewhere – see what happens. I’ve written here about a few outfits who may yet save us. The harvest could be great, but there aren’t nearly enough laborers (or good ideas) in the vineyard.

I also wrote almost daily about the Synod on Youth last October, with a mixture of hope about the goals and doubts about the approach. And I read Pope Francis’ Post Synodal Exhortation for that synod, Christus vivit! (“Christ Lives!”), which was released Tuesday, with similar expectations.

There are some quite moving pages in this lengthy document, encouraging young people to aspire to great things, to become themselves actors in their own stories, to speak to the Church, even when they have doubts, and be open to answers they may receive from older relatives and trusted authority figures in the Church. And above all to be open to the reality of Jesus Christ.

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

Wetwork: a Review of “Unplanned”

My anti-abortion views solidified in 1976 when I bought a copy of Esquire magazine. There was something in it by or about George Plimpton that I wanted to read, but thumbing through the pages I came to an article titled “What I Saw at the Abortion” by Richard Selzer, M.D.

I’d been a Catholic for about three years and knew what I was supposed to believe about abortion. I’d recently read Humane vitae for the first time and been deeply impressed by its clarity: “all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, [is] to be absolutely excluded.” But it was when I read Dr. Selzer’s article that my view was forever set.What knocked me for a loop was Selzer’s reference to a “flick,” a resistance, the fetus defending itself against its murder. Read it for yourself (The Human Life Review has reprinted it here), but here’s the good doctor’s conclusion:

I am not trying to argue. I am only saying I’ve seen. The flick. Whatever else may be said in abortion’s defense, the vision of that other defense will not vanish from my eyes. What I saw I saw as that: a defense, a motion from, an effort away. And it has happened that you cannot reason with me now. For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?

So, it seemed to me before I watched the new movie, Unplanned, that the defining scene would have to be just such a moment, one in which Abby Johnson (played by Ashley Bratcher) witnessed the abortion that changed her life. (The film is based on her book of the same title.)

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

What May Save Us

Around our house, we’ve been reading lately about a figure largely unknown to the world – as almost all of us are – but courageous and saintly and worthy of notice: Sylvester Krcmery. A Czechoslovak doctor and Catholic layman, Krcmery was engaged in lifelong evangelization, outreach to those marginalized under Communism, organizing the underground Catholic Church, clandestine publications, and leadership in the “Candle Demonstration.”

That last item was, in 1988, a peaceful protest – on the demonstrators’ side anyway (the Communist government turned water cannons on the grandfathers and grandmothers, parents with children, and students who flooded a square in Bratislava because they had had enough of “scientific” socialism). That brutality was one of the sparks that set off the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, which encouraged similar uprisings throughout the Warsaw Pact.

This heroic history along with many other stories has been lost to us because we care and teach about almost nothing in the past now except the alleged sins of the West and the Church. Even the great Cardinals who resisted Nazism and Communism – Faulhaber, von Galen, Stepinac, Wysinski, Mindszenty – have all but disappeared down the memory hole.

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

Catholic All the Way: Michael Novak’s Legacy

Michael Novak was a thinker whose sweep was without peer in his time, or ours. As a public intellectual, his contributions ranged over a staggering list of fields – theology, philosophy, journalism, economics, politics, poetry and fiction – just for starters. His public service included work as an ambassador for human rights, as a professor, as a public speaker in great demand; and his service was recognized by a staggering list of honors: 24 honorary degrees, the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, awards from the Central European governments and associations for whom his towering work, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, would serve as a providential blueprint during the years in which they clawed up from decades of communist oppression.

Peering into Michael’s legacy can’t help but make anyone feel inadequate to the task of addressing any of it. I’d like to focus on one aspect of Michael that deserves more attention in the public eye: that is Michael Novak, Catholic, and the influence of Catholicism throughout his life’s work.

Of course, he was always identified as a “Catholic intellectual.” But in a secularizing age, it bears special emphasis that Michael’s Catholicism was the irreducible nucleus that held together every orbit in which his life’s work was spinning, and spins still.

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

Sodom: the Official Guide

Although there’s nothing in it about Roman weather or the various sites you might like to visit on a trip to the Vatican, French journalist Frédéric Martel’s In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy is a curious sort of Baedeker to the ins and outs of the Vatican City State. To read it is a little like stepping through the door of Professor Lewis’s wardrobe, except it’s not Narnia you enter but Sodom.

Mr. Martel’s book purports to be an objective exposé that is the result of “1500 interviews in the Vatican and in 30 countries” over four years, during which Martel and his team of 80 “researchers, correspondents, advisers, fixers and translators” spoke to “421 cardinals, 52 bishops and monsignori, 45 apostolic nuncios and foreign ambassadors.” All were in-person interviews. (A note of skepticism: there are currently just 222 living cardinals, so unless Martel was doing séances . . .)

Nearly all those interviewed are members of what, according to Martel, they themselves call “the Parish,” which is what Pope Francis, in that famous (“who am I to judge?”) interview on the flight from Rio to Rome, denied even existed: a “gay lobby.” According to Martel’s accounting, it’s not just a lobby, it’s a small city.

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

They Also Serve

An intelligent woman who has studied iconography with another intelligent woman (who happens to be my wife) was recently in Florence. An art historian by training, she was lecturing on and revisiting the old Catholic masterworks there, long-time objects of affection. Many were produced during the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation in order to reinforce Catholic belief and combat the Protestant revolt. (Elizabeth Lev has a fine book, How Catholic Art Saved the Faith, on this subject.)

But this trip, she was especially aware of the even older, rich, pre-Renaissance, Eastern-inspired icons and similar works in the city, which she hadn’t noticed during multiple earlier trips. There’s a lesson here for those of us caught up in – otherwise quite crucial – polemics and activism: We often suffer from limited connection with our richer tradition. And we need to remedy that narrowness, even for the sake of practical action. Because as a Catholic should realize, we are in a struggle not only over Church practices and public policies; we are in a battle, as St. Paul says, with diabolical principalities and powers.

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

The Immediacy of Mark: Pakaluk’s “Memoirs of St. Peter”

In 1981, an older publishing colleague took me to the Playhouse Theater in Manhattan to see the English actor Alec McCowen in a revival of his one-man show, St. Mark’s Gospel: McCowen on stage, no props or scenery save a table upon which he placed a paperback copy of the Gospel (saying with a wink, “Just in case . . .”), and in about an hour and forty-five riveting minutes recited all 11,304 words. McCowen described Mark’s writing as moving “with wonderful speed from event to event,” and of Mark (as author) that he “constructed his Gospel with the skill of a great dramatist.”

Michael Pakaluk, a regular contributor to The Catholic Thing and a professor at the Catholic University of America, does something similar in his new book, The Memoirs of St. Peter: A New Translation of the Gospel According to Mark. Professor Pakaluk provides not only a thrilling new rendering of the ancient Greek text but also provides lively scholarship in the commentary that follows his translation of Mark’s sixteen chapters.

Prior translators of the Bible have tended to level out Koine Greek verb forms as a way, by their lights, of making Scripture more understandable. Since everything recorded in the Bible happened in the past, nearly everything we read there should be stated in the past tense. The Bible as history.

But that’s not necessarily the way it was actually written.

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

The Abuse Summit: It’s Only the Beginning

February is not high tourist season in Rome. Skies are gray and temperatures low. St. Peter’s Square is relatively empty. But journalists filled the nearby Press Office earlier this week – more, according to one veteran, than since the death of St. John Paul II –because of the summit on the sex abuse crisis, which begins this evening with meetings between abuse survivors and participants, and continues Thursday through Saturday with formal sessions, parts of which will be streamed on the Vatican website. A video of the opening press briefing with remarks by Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop Scicluna, and other key figures is available by clicking here.

To be frank, it’s hard to say why so many journalists are here since no one, including Church spokesmen, expects that anything very dramatic will happen over the next few days – at least not in the formal sessions. What happens outside and around them, however, may be a different matter.

When the summit was announced last September, partly because of papal missteps in handling abuse cases in Chile, it seemed that the Church was going to take some large steps forward. There have been many smaller steps for years in many places around the world, everything from easier reporting mechanisms to better human formation in seminaries to the unprecedented laicization last weekend of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Expectations ran high, not least because the Holy Father asked the American bishops, during their annual November meeting, not to vote on ways to hold bishops accountable – whether they are abusers themselves, like McCarrick, or covered up abuse by people under their authority. They were told to wait until a uniform approach could be developed in February when many of the presidents of bishops’ conferences and heads of religious orders would gather together in Rome.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Royal’s reports on the sex-abuse summit at The Catholic Thing . . .

The Problem of Worldly Art

Here’s a question: How much secular culture can you live with and enjoy, without becoming an unwitting secularist? I mean: functionally not Catholic.

I admit I don’t know. Recent history clearly shows the inexorable flow of the worst of secular culture, like lava from Kilauea, is scorching traditional Judeo-Christian life. You know what I mean; no need to recite a litany of profane outrages.

Anyway, my concern is with how a devout Catholic may watch and listen and even appreciate contemporary arts and culture without succumbing to embedded premises antithetical to faith.

Of course, we must always remember the faith and its transforming power. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) And we’re all sinners. Remember too that Christ ate and drank with “those” people. The folks at Levi’s banquet (Luke again: 5:29-39) are pretty much the ones who today churn out much of what passes for popular culture: Hollywood, Madison Avenue and other parts of New York – and the rest of these United States.

The sludge is pervasive. You feast on the Super Bowl or the World Series and you’ll get extra helpings of woke-ness and immorality that, if you’re not steeled against it, can ruin the games and, slowly, slowly your life too.

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