Recent News

The German Church Divided

It’s tiresome to write about Rome these days. Confusion continues, seemingly without anyone taking much notice. But some things that happen don’t allow you to ignore them. This time, it’s the meeting of German bishops in Rome last Thursday – a meeting called because there is division within the German bishops’ conference about whether to allow Communion, in some instances, to Protestant spouses of Catholics.

The conflict seemed to have been resolved a few weeks earlier. According to reports, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – the Vatican office charged with handling doctrinal matters – sent the Germans a letter saying that they could not change longstanding practice. Former CDF head Cardinal Gerhard Mueller has argued the same point at length and with great clarity. Pope Emeritus Benedict also is said to agree.

Reports also appeared that Pope Francis did not want the letter published. Instead, he called bishops on both sides to Rome. The head of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Marx, expected the pope’s support, since many believe Pope Francis favors such changes. But the current head of the CDF merely told the German bishops that the pope’s decision was that they go home and reach a “unanimous” decision on their own.

Now, as with many things the pope does, the meaning is unclear, and you could read that decision in several ways. The first and most obvious interpretation is that the pope is trying to further his vision of a “decentralized” Church, in which individual bishops and bishops’ conferences don’t always turn to Rome for answers to questions.

But the problems with such a decentralized, “synodal” institution are legion. After the Synods on the Family, several of us pointed out that we could get different teachings about the Eucharist on different sides of the Germany/Poland border. In Poland, it remains a sacrilege to receive Communion after divorcing and remarrying (without an annulment); but in Germany taking Communion after a “penitential period” would be regarded as wonderful progress in mercy.

It’s now clear that even this scenario was too rosy.

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

Of Astronomical Significance

I had to pass through London recently, and took advantage of the layover to see a stunning new performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. A cruel story, of course. You probably remember it merely as a tale about the murderous ambition of the title character and his wife, and their ultimate destruction. But this particular production brought home to me something else that I think Shakespeare was wrestling with – that has also become an acute problem for us.

One reason we read great books is because they preserve many things, things often invisible within our current culture. The most famous passage in Macbeth comes towards the end, before Macbeth’s defeat by forces sent from England to Scotland by the pious King Edward the Confessor. Lady Macbeth has just killed herself in despair over her guilt. Her husband’s reaction seems philosophical, but he’s really descended into a kind of ultimate indifference:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The first two lines are usually overlooked, which, in modern terms, say: oh well, she would have died at some point anyway. . . .

What comes through quite forcefully here is a certain view – of everything. A view now quite common in our culture: that the whole of our universe, what Christians think of as God’s Creation, is a meaningless spectacle.

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

The Kids Aren’t Alright

For one night recently, Fathom Events (best known for short-run theatrical re-releases of classic films and for simulcasting opera live to movie theaters) presented in 750 “cinemas nationwide” a documentary directed by Jonathan Cipiti entitled The Dating Project.

The film is co-produced by Paulist Productions, Mpower Pictures, and Family Theater Productions – with distribution by the aforementioned Fathom and by Pure Flix.

It seems to me a bold plan, indeed, to have hoped to fill seats on a spring Tuesday with folks – mostly young ones, I presume – eager to watch a film about why it is so difficult to date in 2018, which is what the film is about.

The Project began in the Boston College classroom of Professor Kerry Cronin, who teaches classics and who noticed that her students are moving romantically through their teens and twenties like so many billiard balls: having glancing collisions with the opposite sex in which the traditional subtext of marriage isn’t even part of the game. Girls go to places where they know boys will be (and vice versa), and there they may “hook up,” a dreadful phrase (and a more dreadful reality) describing everything from “Let’s go to the local ristorante for a pizza” to “Let’s go to my place and have sex.”

Professor Cronin was stunned to discover that both sexes rarely ask one another out on a date.

A weakness of The Dating Project is its failure to explain why more traditional relationships are no longer preferred; why serial, planned meetings between man and woman have been replaced by a kind of directionless spontaneity. No doubt social media have something to do with this, and yet biological realities haven’t changed.

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

Pope Francis’ Call to Holiness

Among the many sad consequences of the divisions Pope Francis has exacerbated within the Church, we’re now forced to live with an undeniable reality: even when he says good things – and there are many such in his new Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and Be Glad: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World”) – they inevitably get drawn into the trench warfare he helped create.

His supporters often argue that opposition to the kind of changes he made in a document like Amoris laetitia stems from something like Franciphobia, an irrational dislike. It’s true that some Catholics now show a kind of blind fury at what they believe he is doing. But for many more, as Ross Douthat explains in his must-read book To Change the Church, it didn’t have to be this way.

That’s quite evident in how Rejoice and Be Glad invokes many traditional elements of Catholic spirituality and shapes them for current use. The pope states early on that he hasn’t written a comprehensive treatise on holiness, though in his meandering and sometimes self-contradictory way, he touches – helpfully – on almost everything.

The overall aim is exactly right: “The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.”

And most of the pages that follow show ways we can all –whatever our state in life – walk that path.

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

The Shadow: a Review of “Chappaquiddick”

Directed by John Curran with a script by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, Chappaquiddick – which opened last Friday – tells a story most people over the age of 60 will recall. Whether or not it will appeal to younger generations I can’t say, although the studio has a hashtag for that: #thisreallyhappened.

To jog your memory: In the early morning hours of July 18, 1969, the junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy (hereinafter, Teddy), left a party in the company of a former aide to his late brother Bobby, and – almost certainly under the influence of alcohol – drove his car off a wooden bridge and into a tidal pond. Teddy managed to escape from the sunken automobile; his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, did not. It’s unclear whether she drowned or suffocated inside the Oldsmobile Delmont 88, probably the latter (she may have survived for four hours).

What happened next is both unclear and yet damning. In the film, we see Teddy sitting on the bank of the pond in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Then we see him walking along the road that leads back to the beach-house party where six – now five – single women (the “Boiler Room Girls” of RFK’s ’68 presidential campaign) and six – counting Teddy – married men continue their rather sad revels. Teddy (brilliantly and flawlessly played – with minimal but effective makeup – by Aussie actor Jason Clarke) tells an aide to fetch his cousin, Joey Gargan (superbly played by Ed Helms). Then Teddy climbs into the backseat of a waiting car. He says: “I’m not going to be president.”

Together with a former U.S. Attorney, Paul F. Markham (Jim Gaffigan), the three return to the scene of the accident. Gargan and Markham strip down and dive into the dark water, fruitlessly attempting to save Mary Jo. Teddy then insists that they commandeer a rowboat to take him back to Edgartown on the mainland so he can return to his hotel. Gargan and Markham, both lawyers, urge him to call the police as soon as possible. Instead, Teddy calls his father, Kennedy patriarch Joe, who whispers one word of advice: “Alibi.” Teddy’s first contact with the police came nine hours later.

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

A Very Long Lent

Lent has ended, but not for me.

I have cancer. At the start, we feared it was stage-four lung cancer, though I’m a non-smoker. This was because metastatic cancer was found on the left side of my neck and, simultaneously, a shadow appeared on my right lung. When cancer crosses the body’s midline, it’s bad news.

But the lung issue turned out to be non-cancerous. And of the “cutaneous and sub-cutaneous” cancer in my neck, several doctors said, “You can live a long time with that!” – the assumption being the metastases were either a treatable basal-cell or a squamous-cell carcinoma.

But after neck surgery in January, the cancer was labeled “aggressive,” and this led to interviews with doctors at major New York cancer centers, the choice of one, and the start of therapies: chemo and radiation every Monday followed by radiation Tuesday through Friday – for six weeks (week three begins today).

I do get the weekends off.

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

Two Youths

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, 2500 students drawn from 150 universities around the globe gathered in Rome for UNIVFORUM 2018, a week-long deepening of their understanding of Catholicism and its relationship to the future of the world. Opus Dei has organized a meeting of this kind yearly since 1968. Delegates will participate in a papal audience, present the Holy Father with funds they’ve collected for relief efforts and with a mosaic of Mary Mother of the Church (for Christians in Syria). Their deliberations end Easter Sunday.

These are not – to be clear – the 305 young delegates invited by Pope Francis for the pre-Synod planning meeting that took place at the Vatican last week, which I described in an earlier column. Those young people concluded their activities yesterday by presenting the pope with a report, helpful in some ways, predictably conflicted and heterodox in others, particularly in its occasional hopes that Church doctrine can somehow adapt itself – Scripture, tradition, the very words of Jesus notwithstanding – to current ways of life in stark contrast to historic Christianity.

In short, in these two weeks before Easter in Rome, we have two very different visions of how to approach young people. There are, to be fair, advantages and disadvantages to each.

UNIVFORUM 2018, like almost everything organized by Opus Dei, is carefully thought through, with a clear focus. It includes organizations and individuals that my sometime colleague George Weigel has argued should be at the October Synod, given their proven successes in youth ministries. This year’s program looks pointedly at the 1968 youth rebellion, with its utopian expectations, and raises questions about whether, a half-century later, it delivered on its promises of freedom and human happiness.

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

Burning Men: a Review of “Paul, Apostle of Christ”

Regular TCT readers know of my passion for good movies, the corollary to which is my distaste for bad ones. Most recent Biblical films (those released since TCT began ten years ago this coming June) have usually been less than praiseworthy, and some readers have complained that it’s un-Christian of me to pan any work whose Christian filmmakers, after all, mean well. But that’s not the way this reviewing thing works.

In any case, it’s very good to be able, finally, to have a film I can recommend wholeheartedly, although it’s impossible for me not to be a little querulous.

Andrew Hyatt’s Paul, Apostle of Christ is a winner overall. It’s a faithful, faith-based retelling of the Book of Acts (with some bits from Corinthians, Romans, and Timothy) that manages to overcome its narrow, theater-like presentation and its dependence on narration and exposition. Mr. Hyatt knows more about moviemaking than I do, yet I’ll suggest that – for next time – he remember that in directing and screenwriting (he ably does both on Paul) rule #1 is: show don’t tell.

In a recent interview, Mr. Hyatt, said: “We just stay with Scripture as the only source material.” That’s fine, as far as it goes, and many viewers will be pleased to recognize God’s word when they hear it. It’s just that Paul is overly wordy. In fact, much of the action of the film takes place “off stage.” We hear about the persecution of the Early Church, but we don’t see it – not much of it anyhow.

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

God Save Them

It’s a verifiable fact that not all politicians are hypocrites. When they begin to worry, publicly, about what’s happening “to the children,” some are genuinely concerned. Public talk about young people, however, is often a form of ventriloquism – by which the opinions (or alleged opinions) of “youth” are used as a voice to advance things that people in authority already want to do.

The Vatican is organizing a Synod on Youth (scheduled for this October) and I’m convinced that the percentage of the people involved who are sincere is quite high, relative to the typical crop of democratic politicos. Which is why it’s counterproductive when they start using the cant of politicians about “listening,” not just doing something “for” but being “with” youth.

When I was young, I would have found this sort of thing – adults acting like they needed to learn something from me – pathetic, indeed highly suspect. Maybe young people have changed deep down, but somehow I doubt it.

Listening to young people can be a good thing – depending on who’s doing the listening, and why. Fr. James Martin “listens” to young people with various sexual disorders, particularly at events like “IgnatianQ” conferences, which are sexual and gender diversity events organized now at Jesuit universities. They’re intended to make young people think that LGBTQetc. is just fine – even fine with Jesus Himself. And that people who think otherwise are bigoted, hate-filled, un-Christian.

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

New Saints: Paul VI and Oscar Romero

The Vatican announced last week that Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero will be canonized in October. My immediate reaction, on both counts, was satisfaction – though I’ve been trying to explain to myself exactly why.

Saints, of course, can have serious shortcomings. The Apostles abandoned Jesus when He needed them most, and Peter even denied knowing Him. But we sense that it had to be that way: Jesus had to be abandoned by all mankind, and it seemed, almost by the Father Himself, to reach the furthest depths – and thereby bring back up everyone and everything.

More recent saints, though, may give us pause. About Paul VI, for instance, there’s much that – to me – was of doubtful value. A cautious man by nature, he had Vatican II dumped in his lap when John XXIII died and he was elected pope. That and the whole mess of the 1960s and early 1970s was not something that a man of his background and character was well suited to face. Yet he’d been elected pope. Amletico – “Hamlet-like” in his indecision – is a phrase I’ve heard Italians use about him.

And they’re surely right, to a degree. He allowed himself to be used – and openly lied to – by liturgical reformers like Annibale Bugnini. (In his memoirs, Louis Boyer calls Bugnini “a man as bereft of culture as he was of basic honesty.”) When Paul finally saw the light, he sent Bugnini as pro-nuncio – to Iran. But it was too late. Our liturgy was wrecked and is still waiting for renewal.

Paul was also deeply naïve, I believe, about global affairs. Populorum Progressio (1967) is a Jekyll/Hyde concoction: sound in its Catholic social principles, progressive to the point of uselessness in its (gratuitous) policy recommendations. Happily, all that disappeared without affecting much of anything.

But Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae the very next year.

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