When and Why Did Catholics Embrace Religious Freedom?

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Here is a taste of Dartmouth historian Udi Greenberg‘s piece at the blog of the Journal of the History of Ideas:

It can therefore be surprising to remember how recent religious liberty’s popularity is. Few institutions reflect this better than the Catholic Church, which as recently as the early 1960s openly condemned religious freedom as heresy. Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, Catholic bishops and theologians claimed that the state was God’s “secular arm.” The governments of Catholic-majority countries therefore had the duty to privilege Catholic preaching, education, and rituals, even if they blatantly discriminated against minorities (where Catholic were minority, they could tolerate religious freedom as a temporary arrangement). As Pope Gregory XVI put it in his 1832 encyclical Mirari vos, state law had to restrict preaching by non-Catholics, for “is there any sane man who would say poison ought to be distributed, sold publicly, stored, and even drunk because some antidote is available?” It was only in 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, that the Church formally abandoned this conviction. In its Declaration on Religious Freedom, it formally proclaimed religious liberty as a universal right “greatly in accord with truth and justice.” This was one of the greatest intellectual transformations of modern religious thought.

Why did this change come about? Scholars have provided illuminating explanations over the last few years. Some have attributed it to the mid-century influence of the American constitutional tradition of state neutrality in religious affairs. Others claimed it was part of the Church’s confrontation with totalitarianism, especially Communism, which led Catholics to view the state as a menacing threat rather than ally and protector. My article in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas uncovers another crucial context that pushed Catholics in this new direction. Religious liberty, it shows, was also fueled by a dramatic change in Catholic thinking about Protestants, namely a shift from centuries of hostility to cooperation and even a warm embrace. Well into the modern era, many Catholic writers continued to condemn Luther and is heirs, blaming them for the erosion of tradition, nihilism, and anarchy. But during the mid-twentieth century, Catholics swiftly abandoned this animosity, and came to see Protestants as brothers in a mutual fight against “anti-Christian” forces, such as Communism, Islam, and liberalism. French Theologian Yves Congar argued in 1937 that the Church transcends its “visible borders” and includes all those who have been baptized, while German historian Joseph Lortz published in 1938 sympathetic historical tomes that depicted Martin Luther and the Reformation as well-meaning Christians. This process of forging inter-Christian peace—which became known as ecumenism—reached its pinnacle in the postwar era. In 1964, it received formal doctrinal approval when Vatican II promulgated a Decree on Ecumenism (1964), which declared Protestants as “brethren.”

One venue in which this new view of Protestants played out was in the translation of the Bible.  I write about this extensively in Chapter 22 of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

The Vatican is Preparing a Response to the Vigano Letter

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Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual sins of former Washington D.C. archbishop Theodore McCarrick.  Thus far, Francis has dismissed the accusations.  But now it appears that the Vatican is forming some kind of a response to the Vigano testimony.  Gerard O’Connell of America explains:

The Council of Cardinal Advisors issued a statement on Sept. 10 expressing their “full solidarity with Pope Francis in the face of what has happened in these last weeks”—namely the attack against him by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former nuncio to the United States. They added that they were aware that the Holy See is preparing “the eventual and necessary clarifications” in response to the grave allegations Archbishop Viganò made in August.

Archbishop Viganò had accused the pope of covering up the abuses committed by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and of lifting the sanctions he believes Pope Benedict XVI imposed on the former Washington cardinal. He also accused many Vatican officials during the previous two pontificates of the same cover-up. The archbishop stunned the Catholic world by calling for Francis’ resignation.

The cardinal council members said in their statement that they were aware that “in the present discussion” the Holy See “is formulating the eventual and necessary clarifications” to these events. In this way, they confirmed the news that had circulated in the Italian media in recent days that the Vatican is preparing a response to what Archbishop Viganò stated in his letter, the contents of which has become a source of scandal and division in the church, particularly in the United States, and a direct attack on the pope and his moral authority.

Read the rest here.

The President of a Conservative Catholic College Defends the Pope and Takes the Heat

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Jim Towey is the president of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida.  He was also the Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under George W. Bush.

Ave Maria is a very traditional Catholic college.  It was founded in 1998 in Ypsilanti, Michigan by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza.  I first learned about it through the ads the college regularly took out in First Things magazine.

In the wake of the controversial Cardinal Vigano letter accusing Pope Francis of covering-up the sexually abusive behavior of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one might expect the president of a conservative Catholic college to join the chorus of conservative Catholics who are critical of Francis.  But not Jim Towey.  I will let the Naples Daily News explain the rest:

Ave Maria University President Jim Towey’s statement in support of Pope Francis has prompted a swift backlash from several members of the Catholic community, including a group of nearly 70 alumni who signed an open letter asking he make a formal retraction. 

Towey has since amended his original statement and wrote a follow-up letter apologizing for some of his words, but he maintained his support of Pope Francis.

The pope stands accused of knowing of allegations of sexual abuse in the church and failing to take action.

In his Aug. 29 statement, Towey characterized the matter as a “rift between Pope Francis and some conservative members of the Church hierarchy.”

On Aug. 30, Towey wrote a letter addressed to the “Friends of Ave Maria University,” acknowledging his words had hit some members of the Ave Maria community “with great force.” Towey also apologized for his “gratuitous comment about what might have motivated Cardinal Burke’s conduct.”

The original Aug. 29 statement included a sentence that suggested American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, a leader of the conservative wing of the church who has criticized Pope  Francis “may still be smarting from the Holy Father’s decision to remove him from his prominent position as head of the Holy See’s highest ecclesiastical court.” That portion of the statement has since been removed. 

Read the rest here.

*Commonweal*: The Vigano Letter is Suspect, but Francis Should Still Respond

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As we wrote about here last week, Catholic Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano recently claimed Pope Francis knew that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was a “sexual predator” and did nothing about it.  Vigano made his allegations in an 11-page “testimony.”

Yesterday, the editors of the Catholic magazine Commonweal called Vigano’s letter “a subjective account of recent church history full of unverifiable claims” with a “petty and self-righteous tone” that reads like it was written to “settle personal scores.”

So far, Pope Francis has not addressed the Vigano accusationsbut the Commonweal editors think that he should:

But Francis should do more than respond to those who “seek scandal” with “silence,” as he put it in a recent homily. When he was first asked about Viganò’s charges during an in-flight press conference on his way back to the Vatican from Ireland, he replied, “I will not say a single word on this.” And he hasn’t. That is unwise. However dubious or questionable Viganò’s charges, Francis should respond to them directly, especially given that a number of the claims refer to private conversations between the two men. If Francis did not know about Benedict’s request that McCarrick should keep a low profile, he should say so. If he is afraid of implicating his two predecessors, who promoted McCarrick and allowed him to continue in public ministry, he shouldn’t be. The truth is more important. As the church once again reckons with its leaders’ failures to confront and punish abusers, the faithful deserve answers.

Read the entire editorial here.

Catholic writer claims Vigano testimony is to the sex abuse scandal what Oliver Stone is to the Kennedy assassination

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Writing at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters argues that Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony that Pope Francis covered-up the inappropriate behavior of former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick is little more than a conspiracy theory.

Here is a taste of his piece, “Vigano letter exposes the putsch against Pope Francis“:

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony proves one thing: The former Vatican ambassador to the United States is to the clergy sex abuse crisis what Oliver Stone is to the assassination of President John Kennedy, a trafficker in conspiracy theories who mixes fact, fiction and venom to produce something explosive but also suspicious. When you finish reading this testimony, as at the end of Stone’s 1991 movie “JFK,” you can only conclude that the product tells us more about the author than it does about the subject.

Vigano is certainly correct that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, longtime Secretary of State to Pope John Paul II, was a patron of disgraced former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Stone recognized the assassination happened in Dallas. But why does Vigno fail to mention the key role played by Cardinal Stanislaus Dsiwisz in protecting McCarrick?

Read the entire piece here.

What Trump Can Learn About “Witch Hunts” from the Pennsylvania Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

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Paul Elie, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, reminds us that sometimes “witch hunts” turn-up witches.

In 2002 , a Mexican cardinal said that the Boston Globe’s reporting on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was a “witch hunt.”  We now have a similar sex abuse scandal in Catholic Pennsylvania.  (I have not seen anyone call this a witch hunt yet, but I could be wrong).  Elie argues the press, the prosecution, and the people remain the best way to keep powerful priests and politicians accountable.

Maybe Trump should head down to the White House cinema and watch Spotlight.  He might learn something about the essential role the press must play in curbing executive power.

Here is a taste of his piece at Time:

“Witch hunts” is what prominent cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras called the Boston Globe’s and other outlets’ reporting on decades of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in 2002, after the coverage led to accusations of a cover-up. He is now one of Pope Francis’ closest advisers. But they were not witch hunts. They told the truth and exposed the perils of unchecked power exercised by another cardinal, Boston’s Bernard Law. That reporting led to Law’s resignation, the removal and prosecution of priestly offenders, and a promise from U.S. bishops to install a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual abuse.

Sixteen years later, the phrase witch hunt calls to mind President Trump’s assault on the free press, the rule of law, and our constitutional system of checks and balances and the separation of powers. What happens when those curbs on executive power are weak or nonexistent? Too often we look to places like Vladimir Putin’s Russia to answer that question. Instead, we should look to the Catholic Church; we can see the consequences in the broken lives of thousands of victims and the anguish of our Catholic neighbors — because the crisis of priestly sexual abuse is a crisis of executive power run amok.

Read the entire piece here.

Pope Francis Responds to Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Report

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Here is the full text of “Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God,” August 20, 2018:

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).  These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.  Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.  Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.  Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.  The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

1.      If one member suffers…

In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims.  We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.  But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.  The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands.  Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history.  For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53).  We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.

With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.  We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.  I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]!  How much pride, how much self-complacency!  Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart.  We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).

2.   … all suffer together with it

The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way.  While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough.  Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit.  If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history.  And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228).  Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person.  A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption.  The latter is “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness.  Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14)” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165).  Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable.  We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.

Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.  This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does.  For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49).  To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence.  To do so, prayer and penance will help.  I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command.[1] This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.

It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People.  Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.[2]  This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred.  Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.[3]   Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.  To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.

It is always helpful to remember that “in salvation history, the Lord saved one people.  We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people.  That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.  Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in the human community.  God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 6).  Consequently, the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God.  This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within.  Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.  The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion.  In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel.  For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).

It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.  Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.   An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.

Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils.  May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled.  A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary.  A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.

In this way, we can show clearly our calling to be “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul.  By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation.  Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross.  She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side.  In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life.  When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319).  She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without excuses or cowardice.  To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true follower of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.

                                                                        FRANCIS

Cummings: “…there are times when the sin is so pervasive and corrosive that it is irresponsible to talk about anything else”

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Kathy Sprows Cummings is a historian of American Catholicism, the director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at Notre Dame, and a Catholic who was raised in Pennsylvania.  She brings all of this expertise and experience to bear on her recent New York Times op-ed: “For Catholics, Gradual Reform is No Longer an Option.”  Here is a taste:

People will say that there is still holiness in the church, that there are many priests and bishops with good and pure hearts, and they are right.  But there are times when the sin is so pervasive and corrosive that it is irresponsible to talk about anything else, and this is one of those times.  My once-polite requests for incremental reform have morphed overnight into demands that church leaders voluntarily relinquish their place at the head table.

Read the entire piece here.

Hundreds of Priests Accused of Sex Abuse in Pennsylvania

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Map of Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania

The report by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is out and it reveals some pretty disgusting things about the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.  1000s of victims.

Read Michelle Boorstein’s Washington Post coverage here.  A few lowlights from the official report:

  • A priest raped a seven-year-old girl while he was visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils out
  • A priest made a nine-year-old boy give him oral sex and then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water to purify him.
  • A priest who was a registered psychologist hypnotized a girl and took off her clothes.
  • An accused priest left the priesthood after years of child abuse complaints. Upon leaving, he asked for, and received, a letter of reference for his next job–at Disney World.
  • The report states “while the list of priests is long, we don’t think we got them all.”
  • One of the victims tried to kill herself as the grand jury report was being prepared.
  • Boorstein notes that “the investigation is the most comprehensive yet on Catholic Church sex abuse in the United States.

Read the entire 1356-page report here.

Pope Francis Reminds Christians What it Means to be Pro-Life

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As many of you know, Pope Francis has changed the official teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment.  The Church now opposes capital punishment in all cases.  John Gehring of Faith in Public Life reflects on this change in his recent piece at the New York Daily News.  Here is a taste:

If Pope Francis’ effort to abolish the death penalty is simply cheered by those who agree with him and ignored by more than half of American Catholics who support capital punishment, we’ve missed a rare opportunity to have a more expansive dialogue about what it means to protect human life in all cases. Conservative Catholic politicians — and Christian evangelicals who rally behind President Trump — too often get a free pass in declaring themselves “pro-life” if they oppose abortion, while supporting a policy agenda that perpetuates extreme inequality, environmental degradation, and that tears immigrant children from the arms of their parents.

A few months ago, Francis described the lives of migrants as “equally sacred” as the lives of the unborn in the womb. Some Catholics think immigration is a “lesser issue” compared to abortion and euthanasia, the pope acknowledged, a position Francis said might be understandable for a politician fishing for votes, but never acceptable for a Christian who claims to follow the Gospel.

Pope Francis inconveniently reminds us that the sacred image of God is in everyone: the unborn, the undocumented immigrant, and even the death row prisoner. It’s time for our political leaders to play catch up.

Read the entire piece here.

What Happens if *Roe v. Wade* is Overturned?

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When Trump appoints a pro-life Supreme Court justice on Monday, and that justice is confirmed, there is a chance that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  What would that mean for abortion rights in America? How is the pro-life movement thinking about this possibility?

Allyson Escobar has a helpful piece on the matter at the Jesuit America magazine.  Most of it focuses on the opinions of Richard Doerflinger, former associate director of pro-life activities at the U’S. Catholic Bishops.  Here is a taste:

If Roe were overturned, Mr. Doerflinger says, the decision by itself would not lead to any restrictions on abortion but would allow for more debate on the issue.

“It would free both sides in this debate to argue their case and try to reach at least a majority consensus on what is just and what the society will bear,” Mr. Doerflinger says.

“The result would likely be different in different states and different in the same state from one year to another, as with most issues in our democracy,” he says. “But the pro-life viewpoint would not be excluded in principle from that debate, blocked in advance by what the court calls a constitutional right.” 

Read the entire piece here.

The Faith of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off a major upset in yesterday’s Democratic primary race in New York’s 14th District.  She defeated Joe Crowley, the 10-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives who many believed would be the heir-apparent to Nancy Pelosi as the House Minority Leader.  Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old Democratic Socialist who ran on universal health care and the abolition of ICE.  She is also a Catholic.

On the day after her victory Ocasio-Cortez started writing, but not for The New York Times or The Progressive or The Nation or Jacobin or In These Times.  Nope. She turned to the web pages of the Jesuit magazine America.

Here is a taste of her piece, published today:

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration. No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary. By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

Read the entire piece here.  She apparently disagrees with her church, however, on abortion and marriage.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is Removed from Public Ministry

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I met Cardinal Theodore McCarrick back in 2011 when we were both participating in a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue at Georgetown University.  I always thought he was a man of integrity and a model of how Catholic social teaching could provide a way forward in the so-called “culture wars.”  I was thus disappointed to hear he had been removed from the public ministry.

Here is a taste of a report from National Public Radio:

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., has been removed from all public ministry following an allegation that he sexually abused a teenager when he was a priest in New York nearly 50 years ago.

McCarrick, 87, said in a statement Wednesday that the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, had advised him of the allegation several months ago. He said he is innocent and that he was “shocked by the report” but fully cooperated during a investigation ordered by the Holy See.

“My sadness was deepened when I was informed that the allegations had been determined credible and substantiated,” McCarrick said.

Dolan said in a statement that the allegation had been turned over to law enforcement and “was then thoroughly investigated by an independent forensic agency.”

Those findings were given to the Archdiocesan Review Board, whose members include parents, psychologists and jurists who “found the allegations credible and substantiated,” Dolan said. Then, “at the direction of Pope Francis,” McCarrick was instructed “that he is no longer to exercise publicly his priestly ministry.”

Dolan said it “was the first such report of a violation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ever made against McCarrick of which the archdiocese was aware.”

But other allegations of sexual misconduct have been made against McCarrick.

Read the rest here.

When the Bible Gets Caught-Up in an Immigration Debate

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Check out Sarah Jones’s recent piece at The New Republic on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13, “Who Would Jesus Lock Up.”  The subtitle reads: “Using the Bible to defend the government’s most indefensible policies is a longstanding American tradition.”  Very true.

Here is a taste of Jones’s piece:

But exegesis belongs to the realm of theologians. Sessions’s comments are troublesome not because they misrepresent the Bible or constitute a needlessly religious justification for a secular policy, but because they echo some of the darkest chapters in American history.

As Christian historian John Fea told The Washington Post on Thursday, American southerners frequently cited Romans 13 in defense of the institution of slavery. “[I]n the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong,” he said. “I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.” Slavery was legal, after all; to question Southern law was to question God.

In fact, early debates over the morality of slavery frequently played out in churches, a practice that continued as war broke out. Abolitionists had no difficulty defending the morality of their position, given the horrors of chattel slavery. Confederates, meanwhile, took up the language of a shared faith and deployed it in the service of propaganda.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course the Bible has also been used in American history to defend what some might call “defensible” positions.  Barack Obama did this all the time.  So did the Founding Fathers.

What strikes me about this whole Sessions controversy over Romans 13 is that the debate taking place online and in the media seems less about whether it is appropriate  to invoke the Bible in public debate in the first place, and more about which Bible verses should be used.

For example, here is Chris Cuomo of CNN.  Cuomo thinks Sessions’s use of Romans 13 is reprehensible. Then he goes ahead and uses his own Bible verses to show why Sessions is wrong:

Here is a piece on my friend, Holy Cross University professor Mathew Schmalz:

So what does the Bible say? College of the Holy Cross scholar and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Mathew Schmalz examined that issue more than a year ago, in an article for The Conversation.

Schmalz said the Bible is unambiguous in affirming the obligation to treat strangers with dignity and respect.

“As Matthew 25 makes clear, the Christians should see everyone as ‘Christ’ in the flesh. Indeed, scholars argue that in the New Testament, ‘stranger’ and ‘neighbor’ are in fact synonymous,” Schmalz wrote. “Thus the Golden Rule, ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ refers not just to people whom you know – your ‘neighbors’ in a conventional sense – but also to people whom you do not know.”

Schmalz, an expert on the papacy and the founding editor of the Journal on Global Catholicism, has published opinion pieces in Newsweek, Salon, the Washington Post, Commonweal Magazine, and The National Catholic Reporter.

“It is true that the application of biblical principles to contemporary matters of policy is less than clear to the many Christians who have taken opposing sides regarding how the United States should deal with immigrants, undocumented workers and refugees,” Schmalz wrote. “However, in my reading of the Bible, the principles regarding welcoming the stranger are broad-reaching and unambiguous.”

The Southern Baptist Convention quotes Leviticus 19:33-34, Jeremiah 7:5-7, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9-10, Matthew 25:35-40, and Hebrews 13:23 in its recent resolution on immigration.

Here are evangelicals from the Evangelical Immigration Roundtable citing the Bible:

So when does the Bible apply to a given policy issue and when does it not?  Maybe I will just go back to being a Catholic (like Mat Schmalz and Chris Cuomo).  Then I don’t have to worry about a thousand different interpretations of the Bible and just follow what the Church teaches on the matter.

Springsteen at the Tony Awards: My Hometown

I heard this live when I saw “Springsteen on Broadway,” but for some reason it hit me a lot harder this time.  Springsteen describes so much of my childhood growing up in northern New Jersey as part of a working-class immigrant family–Italian Catholic on my father’s side, Slovakian Catholic on the other side.

This makes me want to sit down with Bruce and ask him how he raised kids who experienced none of this history.

A Baptist Church Removes Jesus Statue Because It’s Too Catholic

Baptist JesusThe Red Bank Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina is removing a statue of Jesus because it is “too Catholic in nature.”

Here is a taste of Mary Rezac’s article at Catholic News Agency:

The white, hand-carved statue in question shows Christ with his outstretched and stepping out of the wall, while the reliefs depict images from Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

Red Bank Baptist Church leaders sent a letter to the artist, Bert Baker Jr., earlier this month, informing him that the congregation had voted to remove the statue because it was being perceived as a Catholic icon and was causing confusion among churchgoers.

“We understand that this is not a Catholic icon, however, people perceive it in these terms. As a result, it is bringing into question the theology and core values of Red Bank Baptist Church,” church leaders Jeff Wright and Mike Dennis said in the letter.

Baker, a former member of the church’s congregation himself, was commissioned to make the statue for Red Bank in 2007.

Read the rest here.

*Commonweal* Magazine on Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

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The Catholic magazine Commonweal has had enough.  In the March 6, 2018 issue, the editors chide the evangelicals and Catholics who voted for Donald Trump.   Here is a taste:

…[Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David] Brody’s “reason” for Trump’s ascendency, however, seems to confuse the political agenda of conservative Evangelical Christians with God’s will, something that is much harder to discern in the opacity of historical events. Thanks to Trump, Brody proclaims, the reliably prolife Neil Gorsuch sits on the High Court. The U.S. embassy in Israel is moving to Jerusalem. Obama’s alleged assault on religious liberty has been reversed. As a consequence, Evangelicals have learned their lesson. They vote in “the macro” now, meaning a deal with the devil gets a Christian imprimatur. “The goal of Evangelicals has always been winning the larger battle over control of the culture, not to get mired in the moral failings of each and every candidate,” Brody writes.

Is this really what it means to be a conservative Christian in America today? At a time when the nation and the churches are desperately in need of the moral, spiritual, and intellectual contributions of thoughtful, traditionally minded Christians, it is alarming to see “macro” calculations of expedience replacing the Gospel. Is championing a “bold culture warrior” who promises to reverse what Brody and his allies insist is the nation’s precipitous cultural decline now the Christian mission?

Easter will soon be upon us. Christians across the world will once again participate liturgically and sacramentally in the drama of Christ’s death and Resurrection. They will be reminded that the savior of the world was a political scapegoat and a marginal cultural figure. It is a false hope—some might call it blasphemy—to think that a bold culture warrior in the White House can bring about a revival of Christianity, or reverse the troubling transformations that have occurred in our culture and politics. It is always a grave mistake for Christians to align themselves too closely with any one political party or politician, especially with a man who has proudly confessed that he has never asked God for forgiveness. “If I do something wrong, I think I just try to make it right,” Trump has assured us. “I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Read the rest here.  Then go pre-order Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

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Does Nativism Still Exist Among U.S. Catholics?

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Catholic University historian Julia G. Young believes that it does.  Here is a taste of her piece “‘We Were Different‘”:

A few years ago, I taught an undergraduate course on migration at the Catholic University of America. During one lecture, I compared nineteenth-century Italian migration and contemporary Mexican migration to the United States. A hand shot up, and a student—one of several with an Italian surname—objected. “They’re not the same,” he protested. “My great-grandmother came here legally, and learned English—Mexicans don’t do that.”

As a historian who studies Mexican immigration to the United States, I’m used to hearing statements like this. Concerns about new immigrants’ legal status and failure to assimilate are widespread, and nativism has re-emerged in recent decades. Still, I wondered why this proud young Italian-American Catholic was so unwilling to compare his ancestors to the Mexican Catholic immigrants of today. Why did he not feel a sense of sympathy and solidarity for contemporary immigrants, who share so much with the great waves of Irish, Italians, Poles, and other immigrants of the late nineteenth century?

At the time, I didn’t quite grasp how many U.S. Catholics feel the widespread American discontent over immigration. After all, the Catholic hierarchy is vocally pro-immigrant, and the U.S. Catholic population is entirely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Catholics have a proud tradition of social justice, and numerous Catholic organizations have done immensely valuable work to protect immigrants. Nevertheless, in our new Trumpian era of border walls and travel bans, it has become more apparent to me (and others, such as Paul Moses in a recent piece for Commonweal, “White Catholics & Nativism,” September 1, 2017) that white Catholics have a nativism problem of their own.

Given the history of Catholic immigration to the United States, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Catholic nativism toward other Catholic immigrants is a recurring sentiment that dates to at least the second half of the nineteenth century, when the influx of Catholics changed the religious landscape of the United States. From then until today, Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican, and other Catholics have fought over power, identity, religious practice, and shared spaces.

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

Evangelicals and Lent

Ancient FaithWhen I converted to Protestantism from Catholicism as a teenager, my family joined an evangelical congregation that did not observe Lent.  I never really wondered why this was the case.  I just assumed it was another aspect of my Catholic upbringing that I now needed to cast aside.  Years later, as I began to reconnect with some of the good things about my Catholic upbringing, I started to take Lent more seriously and began to observe Lent again, albeit inconsistently.

Over at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz has a very interesting piece titled “When Did Evangelicals Start Observing Lent?”  His post is built around articles on Lent in Christianity Today, former Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield attempts to revive Lent among evangelicals, the liturgical revival in evangelicalism associated with the work of the late Robert E. Webber, and Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.

Here is a taste:

Protestants, explained writer Andrew Sandella, had inherited the Reformers’ wariness of Lent and its most distinctive discipline. He repeated the oft-told story of the sausage controversy in Ulrich Zwingli’s Zürich, noted Martin Luther’s criticism of fasting as a kind of works-righteousness, and alluded to John Calvin’s anti-Lent diatribe in The Institutes:

Then the superstitious observance of Lent had everywhere prevailed: for both the vulgar imagined that they thereby performed some excellent service to God, and pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ… in this splendid display they think that they serve God. I do not mention that at no time do those who would be thought the holiest of them wallow more foully. In short, the highest worship of God is to abstain from flesh, and, with this reservation, to indulge in delicacies of every kind. On the other hand, it is the greatest impiety, impiety scarcely to be expiated by death, for any one to taste the smallest portion of hacan or rancid flesh with his bread. (IV, 12)

But I’m not sure it’s that simple. Digging a bit, I think it’s more accurate to say that American evangelicals have been conflicted about Lent for some time now.

Read the rest here.