The President of the American Enterprise Institute: Pope Francis Wants Your Soul!

One might expect the president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to critique the message that Pope Francis delivered last month during his visit to the United States.  The AEI, after all, is in the business of promoting free enterprise and the Pope did not have too many positive things to say about globalization from the steps of Independence Hall.  Though Francis did not mention the word “capitalism” during his visit to the United States, he has been critical of it in the past.  

This morning I was reading some of Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) and came across this section:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.

And this:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

Arthur Brooks

But today at The New York Times Arthur Brooks, the president of the AEI, wrote an excellent op-ed piece celebrating Francis’s “subversive message,” supporting his defense of the poor, and embracing his criticism of materialism.  For Brooks, Francis’s message of unity is ultimately a spiritual message. As he puts it at the end of the piece, “he is in a hunt for the whole human soul.”

Here is a taste:

Look back a generation (or two or three) in our families, and we are almost all just riffraff with one direction to go: up. Americans tell with pride the stories of their parents and grandparents who — thanks to democracy and free enterprise — were able to work their way up out of poverty. The secret to American unity thus is not just giving alms to the poor. It is to remember that we are the poor.

As the pope surely understands, these facts are what make the Catholic Church in the United States unique. In Europe, the church was historically an institution of the powerful. In America, by contrast, the Catholic Church was established as the church of the outsiders. Throughout our history it has been the poorest of the immigrant groups — the Irish, Italians and Latin Americans — who represented the face of American Catholicism. Excluded from power in their countries, the poor opted to build their lives and churches here.

As our nation expanded and prospered, the Catholic Church became a source of social unity. Indeed, Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement and was cited by Pope Francis before Congress, was attracted by the fact that the church in America was full “of all nationalities, of all classes, but most of all they were the poor.”

For Francis, unity also extends into the transcendental. He asserts that faith and human reason are inseparable, declaring that “unless you believe, you will not understand.” In the 11th century, St. Anselm of Canterbury defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” Francis significantly ups the ante, asserting that faith is nothing less than reason seeking cosmic meaning. He tells us that belief does not suffocate or diminish human reason, but rather reinforces it and imbues it with life.

Even more radically, the pope’s theology obliterates materialism by uniting natural and supernatural. As Francis directly challenged the congregation in one of his homilies in Cuba, “Do you believe it is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?” He emphatically does not mean this metaphorically. As a Catholic, he says that he believes that Jesus is factually present in the form of the Eucharist, and that how we treat the poor and vulnerable here on earth will have eternal consequences.

Francis’ secular admirers often stumble at his apparent preoccupation with evil. In an impromptu speech to schoolchildren in Harlem, he disconcertingly asked: “But who is it that sows sadness, that sows mistrust, envy, evil desires? What is his name? The devil.”

Some dismiss this as a clerical tic or South American eccentricity. It is nothing of the sort. The word “devil” comes from the Greek verb diabolos, meaning “slander” or “attack.” And “demon” comes directly from the Greek root meaning “to divide.” For Francis, happiness comes from unity, both with God and with one another. Unhappiness comes from division from either — which comes from the Dark One.

Many people around the world have found themselves attracted to the pope’s warm message of unity. And well they should be — unity is in short supply in our unhappy world today. But Francis is asking for more than a mass chorus of “Kumbaya.” He is in the hunt for the whole human soul.

What Happened Between the Pope and Kim Davis?

Here is the official Vatican announcement from papal spokesperson Ferderico Lombardi. I coped it this article posted at the National Public Radio website:

The brief meeting between Mrs. Kim Davis and Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC has continued to provoke comments and discussion. In order to contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired I am able to clarify the following points.

Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City. Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the Pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the Pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.

The Pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.

We still don’t know how Kim Davis was chosen for this meeting.  Most commentators are saying that it was papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, an apparent supporter of Benedict XVI, who arranged the meeting.   

If the Vatican statement above is true, then Mat Staver and the Liberty Counsel probably used this meeting for political purposes–spinning it in such a way so that they could drag Francis into the culture war over marriage.  The Christian Right has placed political expediency over the whole truth.

Does the Pope and the Vatican regret meeting with Kim Davis?  I don’t know.  They obviously regret the way this whole meeting has blown up in their faces.  In that sense, I am sure some of the Pope’s political handlers are upset with Vigano for letting Davis through the doors.

On the other hand, why can’t the Pope’s inclusive message of love and human connection be applied to Kim Davis, a person who, as misguided as she may be, has probably been through hell over the course of the last month? She has been mocked relentlessly for her beliefs on same-sex marriage, her failed marriages, her religion, her weight, and even her hairstyle.  This seems like a perfect candidate for a visit from Francis–someone who is being bullied because of her beliefs.  I can’t help but believe that Jesus would have done the same thing.

Sean Michael Winters on the Pope Francis-Kim Davis Meeting

Winters has weighed-in at The National Catholic Reporter.  Here is the crux of the argument. First, Pope Francis was set up by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano of the Vatican embassy.  Second, Kim Davis is not a conscientious objector.  

Here is a taste:

…let me offer an alternative theory of how the meeting happened and what it means: Somebody messed up. A source at the bishops’ conference told me on background that the meeting happened “against the advice of the bishops’ conference.” Other reports in both the Washington Post and the New York Times agree that the meeting was arranged by a “Vatican official.” Seeing as the meeting happened at the nunciature in Washington, it could only have happened with the approval and participation of the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Perhaps he did not understand how Davis’ case was not really an instance of conscientious objection. Perhaps, he felt sorry for her, as I did, because sending that poor woman to jail was overkill by the judge. Perhaps he did not see how the news of this meeting would trample on the pope’s message and begin to drown out everything else the pope said or did during his six days here. Of course, it is a nuncio’s job to know such things and, most especially, not to put his boss in a compromising position. If the president visits a foreign country, and the ambassador, against the advice of the State Department, nonetheless introduces the president to someone who causes a controversy that reflects badly on the president, that mistake is laid at the feet of the ambassador, not the president. If this meeting was all the nuncio’s doing then he should, in conscience, quit too.
As for what it means, here is my hunch: The pope knew about Davis what the person introducing them told him about her. If she was introduced as someone who went to jail because of her commitment to traditional marriage, then I do not find it surprising that the pope embraced her and wished her well. The pope met many, many people during his trip and as the ever-quotable Fr. James Martin S.J. pointed out, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pope Francis met with Mark Wahlberg, and that does not mean he liked ‘Ted’.” Watching the video of the interaction on the plane between Terry Moran and Pope Francis, it did not appear that the pope was connecting Moran’s question with any meeting he had four days prior. And, Moran’s question was also poorly framed, premised on the false assumption that Davis’ case is a case of conscientious objection.
We know something else. This story is now in the hands of Davis and the Falwell empire, neither of which have much knowledge of, nor institutional loyalty to, the Catholic church. Until the Vatican or the bishops’ conference gets out front of this story, Davis and her evangelical lawyers will be the only ones explaining what happened and what it meant. The Vatican’s “no comment” is woefully insufficient. The headlines yesterday morning almost all had the words “secret meeting” and surely at the Vatican they know that people are attracted to secrets. This story will not go away. Various news accounts have people calling the pope “a liar” and “a coward.” That is not a good thing if you are tasked with press operation for the pope. Someone needs to say something or we will only know what Davis and her lawyers want us to know. The rest will be speculation, endless speculation. Non-stop speculation. If the pope was badly served by his staff, let that be known. If the pope was badly served by himself, let that be known. But, neither the bishops nor the Vatican can afford to let this fester another minute.

Carlos Eire on Pope Francis in Cuba

Carlos Eire is the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University and a scholar of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic (Counter) Reformation. He is also a Cuban-American.  

Eire is an excellent religious historian, but is perhaps known best for his memoirs chronicling his experience as an eleven-year-old boy who in the early 1960s fled to the United States without his parents as part of Operation Pedro Pan.  His 2003 memoir, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy won the National Book Award. He followed that in 2010 with Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy.

Last week Eire turned to First Things magazine to criticize Pope Francis’s failure to speak truth to power during his visit to Cuba.  It is a stinging critique.  Here is a small taste:

We should cheer any time a pope mingles with sinners. It’s what Jesus did, and what his vicar on earth is supposed to do, too. Sin and evil need to be confronted, not ignored, and those who are unjust should be urged to repent and mend their ways. Unfortunately, there is little to cheer about when it comes to the mingling Pope Francis did with the Castro brothers in Cuba, and with other heads of state in Latin America who praise and emulate their dictatorship. Pope Francis seems much too comfortable with Latin American dictators and with their symbols of repression.

A few months ago, when he visited Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis mingled with presidents Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, avowed disciples of Fidel and Raul Castro with tyrannical tendencies, but he refrained from speaking about their human rights abuses. He also received a blasphemous hammer-and-sickle crucifix from Evo Morales and accepted this gift with a smile. What if that crucifix had been in the shape of a swastika rather than a hammer and sickle?

That incident was a portent of things to come in Cuba, where Pope Francis has smiled his way through meetings with blood-soaked tyrants and failed to speak out about human rights abuses on the island, or to challenge the cruelty of his hosts. Pope Francis also failed to meet with any of Cuba’s non-violent dissidents, despite their urgent pleas for an encounter. This is not so much the “preferential option for the poor” as the preferential option for oppressors.

Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino explained this approach by saying that the Catholic Church in Cuba had to avoid “partisan politics.” This is the same prince of the Church who has called for the arrest of asylum-seeking dissidents in his churches, and in April of 2012, at Harvard University, ridiculed these persecuted Cubans as “former delinquents” and “people with psychological disturbances” who lacked “any cultural level.” Despite his frequent calls for “reconciliation,” Ortega has referred to Cuban exiles as “gusanos” (worms or maggots), the unchristian epithet that the Castro regime has applied to all its opponents for over half a century.

The papal entourage eventually decided to give in to the dissidents’ pleas for a meeting at the last minute, as an afterthought, but the results were predictably disastrous. When some democracy advocates were suddenly and unexpectedly invited to meet with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Nunciature in Havana all of them were arrested as soon as they left their homes. In addition, many other non-violent dissidents were rounded up or placed under house arrest, to prevent them from attending the pope’s open-air Mass. Meanwhile, the Castro regime sent busloads of its own hand-picked supporters to the papal Mass, to ensure that Pope Francis would have a sufficiently large audience of politically-correct Cubans. Worst of all, the selection process for those who were crammed into those buses was vetted at the parish level by the Cuban Catholic Church, and approved by its bishops.

When four dissidents somehow managed to get close to Pope Francis, despite the efforts of church and state to keep all such Cubans away from him, they were quickly attacked by plain-clothed state security agents and whisked away to prison. Has Pope Francis denounced these injustices, which amount to religious persecution? Has he voiced concern over the compliance of his bishops in this persecution? No. Not a word. His silence is deafening.

Read the whole piece here.  It doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserves.  

Mayor Nutter vs. Archbishop Chaput on the Steps of Independence Hall

Pope Francis obviously stole the show Saturday at Independence Hall, but as Alexi Sargeant points out at First Things, there was a war words taking place prior to the Pontiff’s speech.  

During their introductory speeches, both Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput tried to appropriate the Pope for their own understanding of Catholicism and politics.

Here is a taste of Sargeant’s post:

Mayor Nutter briefly mentioned the Pope’s views on immigration in his opening remarks before focusing, primarily, on LGBT-issues. He cited Francis’s widely misunderstood “who am I to judge?” soundbite several times to paint a picture of a Pontiff in line with American progressive politics. Nutter came close to acknowledging the weakness of his reading of Francis when he said that, when Francis praises the good of the family, “he sometimes doesn’t define its composition.”

Sometimes, perhaps—though not, notably, the following day in his homily to conclude the World Meeting of Families, where the Pope referred to marriage as “the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God.” It makes sense that Mayor Nutter would search Francis’s gaps and lacunae for support for gay marriage. Nutter identifies as Catholic but disagrees with Church teaching on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. In fact, he had promised to press the Pope to change the Church’s stance on gay marriage. Though he apparently failed to make the Pope evolve on marriage issues, Nutter did his best to present the Pope as a champion to LGB Philadelphians.

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s  introductory remarks sounded, after Mayor Nutter, almost like a rebuttal. There was an appropriately Philadelphian spirit of brotherly love to what he said, but it was nonetheless clear that the Church Chaput praised was not the sexually-progressive Church of Mayor Nutter’s imagination. “We live at an odd time in history,” said the Archbishop. “When the Church defends marriage and the family, the unborn child and the purpose of human sexuality, she’s attacked as too harsh. When she defends immigrant workers and families that are broken up by deportation, she’s attacked as too soft. And yet she is neither of those things.” The Church, he went on the say, is the mother and teacher of humanity. Chaput then welcomed Pope Francis as the person most powerfully able to speak the truth of the Church’s mission.

For his part, Francis spoke about immigration and religious liberty. He called on America to remember its founding, and especially the important role religious liberty played for the Quakers who founded Philadelphia. Speaking in Spanish throughout, he made sure to specifically address the large percentage of Hispanics and Latinos in the audience, some of them recent immigrants. He urged them to remember their traditions and heritage, to be proud of their vibrant faith and familial loyalty.

Read the entire post here.

Let’s Not Forget Pope Francis is a Latin American

Writing at The Anxious Bench blog, Gordon College history professor Agnes Howard offers a unique angle on Pope Francis’s visit to the United States.  She wants us to think harder about the Pope’s identity as a Latin American, his advocacy of Hispanic immigrants, and what it all means for how we move forward.

She writes:

First, American-history education should do due diligence to Spanish-colonial formation of many parts of the United States. Both in regions still distinctly marked by Spanish settlers’ experience (say, California) and those where traces are much fainter (Alabama), the period of Spanish presence should figure significantly in self-understanding. Part of the solution could be supplied by more robust instruction in state histories within U.S. history curricula. Another step toward getting our America right is the winsome approach of Felipe Fernández-Armesto, who demonstrates that Hispanic history is our American history.
Second, American kids should learn Latin American history, at least as a survey, at least for a year, because proximity, foreign policy, and culture make it useful to know.  Too many of us go about with woeful ignorance about our neighbors.
Third, the spectacle of non-Catholics cheering a new-world Pope should pique the curiosity of those unacquainted with the story of Catholicism and American freedom or insufficiently disgusted by the current of anti-Catholicism long in circulation here.  The influence of Catholicism is not only a nineteenth-century immigrant phenomenon but enters with the thirteen original colonies. That means you, Maryland, but also eighteenth-century Urusline sisters in Mobile and New Orleans, plus clusters of Catholics elsewhere in the colonies, often facing hostility.   Recent discoveries hint that there may even have been a Catholic presence in Jamestown.
Read her entire post here.

R.R. Reno on Pope Francis: "Someone has to mind the store while the Jesuit is on the peripheries"

The Jesuit magazine America is running an interview with First Things editor R.R. Reno on Francis’s visit to the United States.  As some of you know, America tends to emphasize the social justice and progressive side of Catholicism and First Things is known for defending a more traditional version of Catholicism.

I would encourage you to read the entire interview, but here are a few of Reno’s best thoughts:

…I think he wanted to be very cautious about our political struggles in the United States, so he did not mention religious freedom in his address to Congress. But it’s clear he’s aware of the problems we face in the United States and wanted to make this gesture of solidarity and support to the Little Sisters. That was an important and worthy thing to do. 
As for passing on lunch with the congressmen and going to the homeless shelter, all I can say is good for him. You know, I don’t know if you can print it, but to hell with congressmen. I think one of his most powerful witnesses is his refusal to let the hierarchies of the world determine his ministry and the spiritual attention he gives to others….
I wish I could have written the speech he gave to the bishops. In that speech, I would have reminded the bishops about the importance of Catholicism being a distinctive voice in American society—not to let ourselves become, as Francis has said, a sort of NGO or social service organization with incense. There’s a distinctive Gospel message to give to the world and we shouldn’t let the spirit of the world intimidate us…
The part that resonates is also the part that worries me. He’s a disruptor. Many things need to be disrupted, but, then again, some things don’t need to be disrupted. I’m all in favor of breaking the things that need to be broken, but it’s dangerous when you start breaking things. So that goes back to the theme of extremism. The extremism is both exciting and inspiring, but also disorienting. You know, somebody has to “mind the store” while the Jesuit is on the peripheries….
One problem is the problem with Jesuits. Jesuits are clerical commandos, clerical Green Berets. And one of the temptations Jesuits have is that they want to turn everybody into a Jesuit when the fact is that the church needs ordinary soldiers—the church needs cooks, camp commandants, and priests who keep the parish running and aren’t on the peripheries. And I fear that all his language about being on the periphery demoralizes people who do the day-to-day work of keeping the church running….
So Francis is exemplifying the end goal of the Christian life and the danger is that Jesuits often neglect the ordinary means by which people often enter into the Christian life. Jesuits are virtuosos who can neglect the need for basic instruction. You know, Francis is the 265th successor of St. Peter and he’ll do with this job what needs to be done, but I guarantee you there’s not going to be a Jesuit pope for a long time after this one. 

Steven Hackel on Junipero Serra

One of the more “Catholic” things that Pope Francis did during his visit to the United States was to canonize 18th-century Spanish missionary Junipero Serra.  In my post last week on Serra, I referenced Steven Hackel’s biography, Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father.

I was hoping Hackel, an early American history professor at the University of California-Riverside, would offer some commentary on Serra’s canonization.  And he did.

Hackel sees the canonization of Serra as having to do more with Francis’s views on immigration than on anything having to do with the missionary’s views on Indians.  Here is a taste of his post at Process, the blog of the Organization of American Historians:

This national amnesia about the ways in which immigrant Catholic missionaries shaped much of what is now the United States has had deleterious effects on our nation’s character. The ill effects are evident today in the words of bigots, racists, and political opportunists who seek to safeguard an imaginary Anglo-Protestant America from an exaggerated Latino immigrant threat. Yes, those who criticize Serra’s treatment of Indians are right to do so. But debates about Serra’s Indian policy miss a fundamental message that the Pope intends to deliver through Serra’s canonization: our nation’s current wave of anti-immigration rhetoric flies in the face of America’s deep Hispanic and Catholic roots, and sadly it draws on a rich vein of anti-Catholicism in American history. Serra’s life tells us that American history from its beginnings was diverse and multiethnic and that our national creation story is not just one of thirteen English colonies united in 1776 but that it extends far deeper into our past and includes Spanish missionaries and the Native Americans they encountered. Clearly the Pope believes that if Americans can embrace what is Spanish and Catholic in America’s past, they can become more accepting of our nation’s growing Latino and Catholic populations, irrespective of their origins. Time will tell.
Those who wonder about this canonization and the proper place of founding fathers like Junípero Serra in American history should know that Serra rarely lost a fight, even when he faced enormous challenges. Against all odds—when he was old and in poor health from fatigue and a chronically ulcerous leg, with the Spanish military in California turned against him—Serra persevered to found more missions. Just this year he survived an attempt by some California legislators to remove his statue from the U.S. Capitol. In Serra’s defense, Governor Jerry Brown stated that “The Pope is right in recognizing his sanctity.”
The Catholic Church says that Serra worked miracles. Perhaps he will soon work another. This man who is soon to be a saint might just be the symbol that Americans have long needed to more fully recognize another aspect of the complexity of our nation’s origins. As told by the Pope, Archbishop Gomez, and Dr. Carriquiri, Serra’s story—sailing across the Atlantic, venturing deep into Mexico on foot, journeying far north to California—is not just a life of Catholic heroism. It is also a reminder to our nation’s Nativists that Catholics and Hispanics have a long claim to American soil and its history. America is a land of immigrants, and among the first and most important were missionaries like Serra. Many came overland from the south, spoke Spanish, and practiced Catholicism. They left a lasting mark on American history and they will continue to shape its future. It is in honor of them, and future generations of Latinos, that the Pope is canonizing Serra against the wishes of those who rightly claim that Serra’s missions adversely affected California’s indigenous peoples.
Read the entire post here

The Pope is Catholic

This morning Fox News is running my piece “Pope Francis is Neither Liberal Nor Conservative, A Democract or a Republican.  He is a Catholic.” 

Those of you who read The Way of Improvement Leads Home closely have read many of the ideas in this piece in various posts and tweets throughout the past week.

Here is a taste:

It was all so surreal.
Thursday a Catholic Pope entered the chamber of the House of Representatives and gave a speech to a joint meeting of Congress urging those in attendance to apply Catholic social teaching to the affairs of the nation.
For most 18th and 19th century Americans the prospect of a person landing on the moon would have been more believable.
And not only did the pope speak, but he was flanked by a Vice-President and Speaker of the House who shared his faith. The presence of Joe Biden and John Boehner proves that the United States has come a long way in accepting Catholics.
The historical irony cannot be overlooked.  Think, for example, about the first Vice-President to occupy Biden’s chair in the House.  John Adams, the son of New England Puritans, was no fan of Catholics, especially Jesuits, the order of Pope Francis.  In 1814, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams wrote, “If ever any Congregation of Men could merit, eternal Perdition on Earth and Hell…it is the company of Loyola.”
Read the rest here.

Why MSNBC Has the Best Coverage of the Pope’s Visit

Chris Matthews: Philly Catholic

If you are a thinking person interested in Catholic history, Philadelphia history, religion and politics, or American religious history generally you need to be watching the MSNBC’s coverage of the visit of Pope Francis.  It is both entertaining and informative, but most importantly it has some intellectual teeth to it.

Unfortunately, MSNBC’s coverage of the Pope ended today at 3:00pm so the station can cover the Global Citizen Festival in New York City. Does MSNBC really think that Beyonce, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, and Ed Sheeran will get better ratings than Papa Francisco?

I have been watching a lot of Pope coverage this week and I have not yet seen anything better than MSNBC’s 9am to 1pm coverage of the Pope’s arrival in Philadelphia and the mass he conducted this morning at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and Paul.  (Although Brian Williams has also been excellent–it is good to have him back).

Chris Matthews, who anchored the coverage, seemed like he was on a caffeine rush all morning (even more than usual).  A native of Philadelphia and a product of the city’s Catholic culture, Matthews could not have been happier covering this event.  He told family stories, discussed Catholic history in the city, and asked his guests and on-set experts some very thoughtful questions.  Some of it was nostalgia for a Catholic Philadelphia that no longer exists, but I can’t think of a better person to lead us through this major event.


Matthews still needs to learn not to cut people off in mid-sentence, but the stuff he wanted to talk about was important.  Over the course of his four hours on the air Matthews led discussions about same-sex marriage and Catholic social teaching, the history of anti-Catholicism in the city, religious freedom and William Penn, and Catholic education.  He moved freely from expert to expert, soliciting comments and insights and peppering the conversation with his own knowledge of Catholicism. Matthews is a devout Catholic, an amateur historian, and one of America’s great political junkies.

This morning Matthews was joined by Kathy Sprows Cummings, the Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame and the woman I have dubbed the “Doris Kearns Goodwin of U.S. Catholic history.”  Sprows Cummings has been doing a great job all week, but she really came to life when teamed-up with Matthews. She is a product of the Philadelphia Catholic school system and can talk Philly Catholicism with the best of them.  My favorite moment was when Sprows Cummings mentioned that she, like Matthews, also attended a

Jesuit college (Matthews went to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts).  “You went to a Jesuit school? Really? Which one?” Matthews asked (I am paraphrasing).  “University of Scranton,” Sprows Cummings replied.  Matthews was thrilled and it seemed like a moment of Catholic bonding between the two of them.

Sprows Cummings is a historian of gender and American Catholic women religious.  Her passion for the place of women in the church was evident when she talked about Katherine Drexel, perhaps Philadelphia’s most celebrated American Catholic. (She suggested putting Saint Katherine on the ten dollar bill!).  Sprows Cummings was the perfect counterpoint to Matthew’s hyper-Catholic masculinity.

Finally, the MSNBC coverage included Catholic writer, pundit, and theologian George Weigel, The progressive-minded MSNBC deserves kudos for keeping Weigel on board (he has worked with NBC’s Catholic coverage for several years) since he represents a very conservative–theological, political, and economic–wing of the Catholic Church in the United States.  My favorite moment was when Weigel urged Catholics to respond to the Pope’s visit by praying ten minutes a day, reading the Bible daily, and visiting church on Sunday and during the week.  Matthews responded by saying that he wholeheartedly agreed with Weigel, although he did not want to go into the details about his spiritual life on the air.  Sprows Cummings chimed in with her own love of Jesuit spiritual practices. It was clear that they were all observer-participants this week.

Matthews, Sprows Cummings, and Weigel were supplemented by several other very thoughtful experts, including Los Angeles bishop Robert BarronMathew Schmalz, a theologian at the College of the Holy Cross, and LaSalle University president Colleen Hanycz.

I gave up on MSNBC several years ago when all the hosts started singing one politically-charged tune. MSNBC’s papal coverage has brought me back–at least for now.

American Bible Society Weighs-In on Pope Francis

Roy Peterson, President of the American Bible Society

Roy Peterson, the CEO and President of American Bible Society (ABS), has written an opinion piece at Fox News on Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia.  As some of you know, ABS moved to Philadelphia this summer after nearly 200 years in New York City.  

The Pope’s visit to Philadelphia allows ABS to stress three things about its current identity:

First, ABS wants to let everyone know that it is still in the business of disseminating the Bible. As I write in my forthcoming The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford University Press, 2016), ABS has long been in the business of distributing scripture portions at important events in American history. 

Second, Peterson wants everyone to know that ABS is inter-confessional in its outlook.  Over the last fifty or so years the leadership of ABS has worked hard to rid itself of its earlier anti-Catholicism. Today, the Society works closely with certain sectors of the Roman Catholic Church in America.  As the op-ed mentions, Peterson will be presenting a special Bible to Francis at some point during his visit.

Third, Peterson uses this op-ed to let everyone know that ABS is now based in Philadelphia.  At one point in the article Peterson refers to Philadelphia as his “own city.”  Stay tuned.  As I will describe in the “Afterword” of The Bible Cause, ABS will be doing a lot in the near future to take advantage of their new home by make connections between the Bible and the history of Philadelphia and the United States.

Here is a taste of Peterson’s piece:

Since assuming his seat as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has been a frequent advocate for Scripture reading among his 1.2 billion parishioners. As Catholics across the United States prepare for the Pope’s visit later this month, the words of Pope Francis offer encouragement to engage with God through the Bible. The Pope has said, “Dear Families, listen to the Word of God, meditate on it together, pray with it, let the Lord fill your lives with mercy.”
American Catholics are increasingly recognizing the importance of heading this call and diving in to God’s Word. In American Bible Society’s 2015 “State of the Bible” research conducted by Barna, 33 percent of Catholic Bible readers expressed a desire to read the Bible more frequently, compared with 22 percent in 2014. Pope Francis was clearly a large instigator of this increase as a passionate Bible advocate…
…American Bible Society will be passing out copies of the Gospel of Luke in six languages to the thousands of people coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. This piece will help people answer the Pope’s call to engage with the Bible. During his historic visit, American Bible Society Board Chairman Nicholas Athens and I will have the honor of presenting a copy of this polyglot Scripture portion to the Pontiff. I look forward to thanking him for all he is doing to encourage Bible engagement.