“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

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From America magazine: “Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ address during the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing he delivered while praying for an end of the coronavirus.”

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

Read the rest here.

How the Chicago Archdiocese Dealt With the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Chicago Archdiocese

St. George’s Catholic Church, 39th St. and Wentworth, Chicago, IL

Here is an October 17, 1918 letter from E.F. Hoban, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago (on behalf of  Cardinal, Archbishop George William Mundelein), to the pastors of all the Catholic churches in the archdiocese.

  1. All evening services are suspended. The faithful may visit the Church during the day for private devotion, but there are to be no public devotions in the afternoons or evenings.
  2. Wherever missions are being held, they must close with the end of the week, to be resumed, if so desired, after the wave of sickness has passed.
  3. Masses will take place on Sundays at the usual hours, but no service is to last over 45 minutes. All long sermons are prohibited for the meanwhile, and the clergy will prepare the scheduled Sunday instructions so that it is delivered within five minutes.
  4. Between the Masses, the church is to be thoroughly ventilated for ten to fifteen minutes, while the people are out of the building, care being taken not to expose the parishioners unnecessarily to cold currents of air.
  5. Additional ushers will be stationed in the aisles, not only to facilitate both the seating and the exit of the changing congregations, but also to request the departure of any person showing indications of  having contracted the disease, by violent sneezing, coughing, etc.
  6. Church to be cleaned frequently, disinfectant used where necessary, and well-aired at all times.
  7. During this period, all confirmation and other episcopal ceremonies are suspended, but such churches will receive preference when the epidemic has passed. As the Archbishop has promised the public authorities that every precaution will be taken by the churches under his care during the time of this epidemic, he looks to each of his priests to see that in his own parish this promise is carried out to the letter.

Finally, commend to the prayers of your people, particularly the children, the speedy recovery of all those on whom sickness has laid its hand and the early termination of this epic.

By Order of the Most Rev. Archbishop,

E.F. Hoban,

Chancellor

Source

An Important Piece on Abortion That Will Irritate Both Sides of the Debate

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Sometimes irritating the extremes is a good thing.  Here is Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter on the eve of the March for Life:

Friday, tens of thousands of people, mostly Catholics, will stream into our nation’s capital for the annual March for Life. It is a grim irony, and implacable evidence, of the strange times in which we live that the pro-life movement simultaneously has never been closer to its stated goal of overturning the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion a constitutional right and never more threatened in its moral integrity and political efficacy. Regrettably, the Catholic left, with notable exceptions, appears largely unequal to the moment as well.

I question the moral integrity and political efficacy of the mainstream pro-life movement for a simple reason: By lashing themselves to President Donald Trump, they have morally and indelibly compromised their cause. The Susan B. Anthony List announced it will launch a $52 million campaign to reelect the president and help the Republican Party hold on to its majority in the U.S. Senate. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, did not voice any concern about the unborn children waiting with their pregnant moms at the border, denied entry by a racist president who has turned his back on our nation’s proud history of welcoming immigrants. She did not explain how the president’s denial of climate change has retarded efforts needed to help the thousands of pregnant women in Bangladesh who are experiencing higher rates of miscarriages due to climate change. Nor did she explain why she thinks the theme of this year’s march — “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman” — is a thought that can be entrusted to a man whose misogyny is legendary. 

And here is a taste of Winters’s critique of the Catholic left:

One friend told me that I would never be in a position of having to decide to procure an abortion or not, so I really had no business telling any woman what to do. Of course, I welcomed the conviction of Gen. Ratko Mladic for war crimes, even though I am not a Bosnian and have never been a general. I am not a burglar and have never been burgled, but I am opposed to burglary. In those instances when a woman friend has contemplated having an abortion, I have done what I can to be supportive. That is simple decency. Being supportive is a moral good. Having an abortion is not.

The introduction of distinctions and nuances clarify, they do not confuse, the moral stakes. No less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas treated abortion as manslaughter not murder, a kind of recognition of the increasing moral claims as a person advances along the continuum of development from cell to zygote to embryo to child. He never said it was morally permissible. On the other hand, pro-choice activists are quick to insist that the preborn child is a part of the woman’s body, which is undoubtedly true. Yet, is there no moral significance in the fact that the preborn child is the only part of a woman’s body that has a different DNA? Indeed, they tend to simply avoid the possibility that there is any moral significance to the sonograms they see on refrigerators. It is the same kind of denial of what science increasingly demonstrates that we witness with climate change deniers.

As a Catholic Christian, the only privileged hermeneutic belongs to the witness of the Scriptures and to the magisterium. I do not like it when pro-life activists cite scriptural verses as proof texts. Jeremiah 1:5 begins, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” and Psalm 139 echoes the idea, but proof texts are never convincing. The fact that one side of an argument is not convincing does not, ipso facto, make the other side cogent.

Read the entire piece here.

So you want some historical context on abortion in America?  Listen to our interview with historian Daniel Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Joe Biden on Faith and Politics

Biden adOver at Religion News Service, thee former Vice-President and current Democratic candidate for President reflects on the ways his Catholic faith informs his politics.

Here is a taste:

Today’s politics are too toxic, mean and divisive. People are too quick to demonize and dehumanize, too ready to dismiss all that we have in common as Americans.

That’s beneath us as a country. It doesn’t reflect our values; it’s not who we are. That’s why, since I first declared my candidacy for president, I’ve said: I’m running to restore the soul of our nation.

I first learned those values growing up in a Catholic, middle-class family in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Claymont, Delaware. I learned them at my father’s dinner table, at Sunday Mass and at St. Paul’s and Holy Rosary Elementary. The nuns there taught us reading, writing, math and history — as well as core concepts of decency, fair play and virtue. They took as a starting point the teaching from the Gospel of Matthew: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

My whole idea of self and family, of community and the wider world, stems from those lessons. They drilled into me a core truth: Every single human being deserves to be treated with dignity. Everyone. The poor and the powerless, the marginalized and vulnerable, the least of these. That has been the animating principle of my life and my faith.

Scripture is clear: It’s not enough to just wish the world were better. It’s our duty to make it so.

And when my father would remind me, again and again — “Joey, there’s no greater sin than the abuse of power” — I knew: It’s never enough to just abhor or avoid the abuse of power; you have to stand up to end it, wherever it’s found.

That’s what first drew me to public service decades ago — during the civil rights movement, when Americans of all faiths were called on to put our values into action, to fight the heinous abuse of power that is segregation and bigotry.

It’s why I fought to pass the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 — to confront the domestic violence that so many back then tried to dismiss as a “family matter,” and to instead give survivors a voice and a path to justice and recovery.

It’s why I’ve always stood up for working families — for a higher minimum wage and for family and medical leave; for unemployment, overtime pay, collective bargaining rights and workplace safety.

For me, leadership — and basic human decency — has always meant confronting the abuse of power, and fighting back against anyone who exploits the vulnerable for personal gain.

Read the rest here.

Anyone who read this entire piece will notice that abortion is not mentioned.  I want to know how Joe Biden’s Catholic faith informs his views on this moral problem.  What will he do to reduce the number of abortions in America?

“do not let us fall into temptation”

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Pope Francis has approved a change to the English version of Lord’s Prayer that is said in mass.  Here is a taste of a piece at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Pope Francis has approved a change to the Lord’s Prayer, widely regarded as the best-known prayer in the Christian faith.

The measure, which would change how Catholics around the world recite the prayer, replaces the line “and lead us not into temptation” with “do not let us fall into temptation,” uCatholic.com reported.

The move to change the “temptation” phrasing in the prayer was not a spur of the moment decision, but the result of 16 years of research by experts into the current translation of the prayer, according to the Christian Post.

Pope Francis had said in 2017 that he took issue with the “lead us not into temptation” phrasing.

“A father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately,” the pope said, according to the Christian Post. “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”

“The one who leads you into temptation is Satan,” he added. “That’s Satan’s role.”

Christians who have been taught the Lord’s Prayer, also known as the Our Father prayer, from the time they were children reacted with surprise to the news of the pope’s comments last year. On social media, many reacted with comments such as, “Leave the Lord’s Prayer alone!”

Read the entire piece here.

Pope Francis to Open Records of Pope Pius XII’s Papacy

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The records of Pope Pius XII will be open to scholars next March. If you want to know why this is important check out David Kertzer‘s piece at The Atlantic: “The Secrets That Might Be Hiding in the Vatican’s Archives.”  Here is a taste:

On Monday, 80 years after Pius XII’s election to the papacy, Pope Francis announced that the archives of the controversial wartime pontiff would be opened to scholars next March. The decision follows more than half a century of pressure. Pius XII—a hero of Catholic conservatives, who eagerly await his canonization as a saint, while denounced by his detractors for failing to condemn the Nazis’ genocidal campaign against Europe’s Jews—might well be the most controversial pope in Church history.

Less noticed in initial accounts of the announcement is the fact that Francis’s opening of the Pius XII archives makes available not only the 17 million pages of documents in the central Vatican archives, but many other materials in other Church archives. Not least of these are the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition) and the central archives of the Jesuit order. They, too, are likely to have much that is new to tell us.

Read the rest here.

Theodore McCarrick Will Always Be a Priest

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Over at The Conversation, Mathew Schmalz of the College of Holy Cross explains why the disgraced Catholic bishop Theodore McCarrick will continue to be a priest despite his recent defrocking.  Here is a taste:

The Vatican recently “defrocked” Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal  and the retired archbishop of Washington D.C. McCarrick was found guilty of a number of crimes including sexual abuse of minors.

“Defrocking,” as the name suggests, means the removal of the vestments, or clothing, symbolic of being a priest. This process is more formally referred to as “dismissal from the clerical state,” or “laicization.”

In 2014, the Vatican reported that 848 priests had been “defrocked” in the preceding decade for the rape and molestation of children. McCarrick is the highest ranking member of the Catholic Church to be punished in this way in modern times.

Many people might think that in being defrocked McCarrick would no longer remain a priest. That is not so. Catholics don’t understand the priesthood as simply a job that someone can be fired from.

Read the rest here.

Let’s Hope This is a “Teachable Moment” for Covington Catholics

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John Gehring is Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life.  In his recent piece at Commonweal he hopes that Covington Catholic School might view what happened last weekend at the Lincoln Memorial as a “teachable moment.”  Here is a taste of his excellent piece:

After watching the longer video, it’s hard for me to square Phillips’s claim that the white students were going to attack the black men. The students were clearly agitated after being cursed at and ridiculed, but they were not advancing aggressively toward the men. But I was not there and so can’t speak to the fear others felt. Either way, Phillips may well have been right in sensing a potentially escalating situation. While he later explained that his movement toward the group of teenagers was meant to separate the young men from the Hebrew Israelites, in the heat of the moment there is no way the students could have known this, since Phillips never speaks or tries to explain what he is doing. No matter what happened before the moment seen in that segment of the video that went viral, once the two groups came together the students clearly acted with disrespect toward Phillips, displaying an arrogance, ignorance, and sense of superiority all too common among students at largely white prep schools. I wrote about my own experience with the attitudes, cultures, and norms prevalent in that kind of culture a few months ago, as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings unfolded: not as a sweeping indictment of all private schools, but as a reminder that privileged places rarely reflect on their own status in the world because the world is designed for and caters to them. Culture is the water we swim in each day. We don’t see it or question it unless we’re forced to open our eyes.

It’s not a revelation that people can watch the same video or review the same evidence and come away with different conclusions. Our life experiences, race, gender, and sexuality don’t determine who we are, but often influence what we see, omit, prioritize, and categorize. What you observe in this video might have less to do with a camera angle or length of footage than the interpretive lens you bring to issues, a lens that formed long before this incident. The challenge we all face, particularly white men, is this: How do we interrogate our own biases and blind spots?

I worry it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have these tough conversations, harder to slow down, and harder to think before we open rhetorical fire. Everyone knows social media exacerbates this problem. We live in a time when the news cycle never stops, when instant reaction is demanded. Twitter is often less a virtual public square in which substantive ideas are exchanged and debated than a performance space where we showcase our polished outrage and virtue. Instead of encouraging humility, empathy, and reflection, we’re celebrated for our speed, hot takes, and how many ideological opponents we can slay in 280 characters. I’m guilty of not always having the discipline to stop feeding this insatiable beast. Like others who have confessed their own haste on social media in recent days, I could have waited longer before tweeting about this incident and given more space to filling in the picture. But conservatives and MAGA bros who want to lecture liberals or dunk on so-called “PC mobs,” or who think these Catholic students come away from this as victims, need to step back. In aligning themselves with a demagogue who has boasted about assaulting a woman, mocked a disabled reporter, called a sitting member of Congress “Pocahontas,” and said there was blame “on both sides” of a bloody white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, they’re perpetuating a system and culture that celebrates the abuse of power. Make America Great Again hats are not KKK hoods, but you don’t exactly have to hide racism and nativism when the most powerful man in the world gives energy to those forces. Any principal who thinks it’s appropriate for students to wear MAGA clothing to a pro-life rally has thought very little about how this president debases human dignity on a near-daily basis. More broadly, prolife groups that have cozied up to Trump—while his administration caged immigrant kids and his Environmental Protection Agency lets polluters spew toxins that are dangerous to pregnant women—undermine the credibility of the prolife cause.

Once the media spotlight moves on from this latest viral moment, where do we go? Covington Catholic High School and every school now have the opportunity to use this episode to do better. Teach history—including the church’s complicity in white supremacy over the centuries—in a way that helps young people connect the dots between the past and present. Most Catholics, no matter their age, are uninformed about our own institution’s role in exploitation and oppression. “Catholic parishes rarely examine the church’s record of actively participating in the federal government’s conquest and colonization of Native Americans and the West, part of the church’s effort in the 19th and 20th centuries to gain mainstream acceptance in America,” William S. Cossen wrote in the Washington Post last week. Reckoning with this uncomfortable past, he writes, “is essential for coming to terms with the injustices faced by indigenous people both in history and in the 21st century.”

Read the entire piece at Commonweal.

This whole debate seems to come down to this:  If you do not think MAGA hats and shirts are offensive, or believe that it is just fine if a Catholic school allows its students to wear MAGA stuff at a public event and get in the face of a Native American man trying to diffuse a situation, then you will support the boys and think that they did nothing wrong.  If you think that MAGA hats and shirts are offensive because the entire phrase “Make America Great Again” is morally problematic (as I argued in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump), then you will criticize the boys.

But I would take this a step further.  If I had a son who was carrying on like these boys–taking off their shirts, doing racist tomahawk chops, or mocking someone in public–I would bring him home and take him to the woodshed.  I don’t care who provoked him.  I would also be furious with the school and its chaperones for allowing the boys to behave in this way.

The Vatican Track Team

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That’s right–the Vatican has a track team.  According to Smithsonian.com, the team includes priests, nuns, and scholars.  The members of the team also hope to compete internationally.  Here is a taste of Brigit Katz piece:

Vatican Athletics, as the team is called, is made up of around 60 runners who also perform a variety of roles within the Vatican. There are nuns, priests, Swiss guards, police officers and pharmacists. The oldest runner, according to the Telegraph’s Nick Squires, is 62. Two Muslim migrants, 20-year-old Jallow Buba, from Gambia, and 19-year-old Anszou Cisse, from Senegal are serving as honorary members of the team, reflecting Pope Francis’ support for asylum seekers.

The team is being backed by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), which allows it to participate in international competitions, reports CNN’s Rob Picheta and Livia Borghese. “The dream that we have often had is to see the Holy See flag among the delegations at the opening of the Olympic Games,” said the team’s president, Monsignor Melchor Jose Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, according to Picheta and Borghese. Sanchez acknowledged, however, that this ambition “is a long shot.”

Read the entire piece here.

Maybe Bruce Springsteen Was Born to Run Home

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Springsteen on Broadway (courtesy of Netflix)

Religion News Service is running my piece on Catholicism and “home” in “Springsteen on Broadway.” Needless to say, I had fun with this one.

Here is a taste:

Yet, as Springsteen knows all too well, escaping a Catholic past in the Irish and Italian enclaves of working-class New Jersey is not easy. “You know what they say about Catholics … there’s no getting out … (the priests and nuns) did their work hard and they did it well.”

Springsteen understands that the past often has its way with us — shaping us, haunting us, defining us, motivating us and empowering us. Like a priest conducting Mass, he asks the audience to receive the Lord’s Prayer as a “benediction” — perhaps a final blessing from a music legend who was never quite able to outrun the sound of the church bells.

Maybe this is what it means, as he wrote famously in “Born to Run,” to “get to that place where we really want to go” where we can “walk in the sun.” Maybe Bruce Springsteen was born to run home.

Over the years, Springsteen has become the darling of progressive politicians. He campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and (briefly) for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But when he tells his story on Broadway, he transports us back to a day when progressive ideals and the relentless quest for the American dream were not separated from tradition, roots, place, a longing for home, and Christian faith.

Read the entire piece here.

American. Catholic. Historical. Association.

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The American Catholic Historical Association is trying something new this year.  During its annual meeting at the AHA in Chicago some sessions will be devoted to a critical examination of the four words in its name:  “American,” “Catholic,” “Historical,” and “Association.”   Here is a taste of Peter Cajka‘s post at Religion in American History blog:

Over drinks at the 2018 American Catholic Historical Association, a cabal of American religious historians imagined an alternative conference model. Kathleen Holscher, current president of the ACHA, brought the group together through texts and facebook messages.  Several ideas were floated (libations were being consumed), and many quickly discarded as outlandish. Then one of the revolutionaries, John Seitz of Fordham University, proposed a novel approach: what about taking each letter of the ACHA and offering a critical take on that specific word? The words of our organization’s acronym could provide a launching pad for a range of fresh interpretive spins on nationhood, Catholicism the discipline of history, and the actual organization. The panels have been self-consciously created as “Critical” investigations of each term: American. Catholic. Historical. Association.

The plan is a reality. The conference will feature four panels, each one dedicated to a “critical term”:

                             Critical Terms: American (8:30-10:30, Friday)
                             Critical Terms: Catholic (10:30-12:00, Friday)
                             Critical Terms: Historical (8:30-10:30, Saturday)
                             Critical Terms: Association (10:30-12:00, Saturday)

The location and the participants are listed below.

Read the rest here.

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.

Father Junipero Serra is OUT at Stanford

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Here is the Stanford press release:

Stanford will rename some campus features named for Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century founder of the California mission system, but will retain the Serra name and the names of other Spanish missionaries and settlers on other campus features, based on the recommendations of a university committee of faculty, students, staff and alumni.

The Stanford Board of Trustees accepted the committee’s recommendations to rename certain campus features and also accepted a recommendation by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to use the opportunity to honor university co-founder Jane Stanford. As a first implementation step, Tessier-Lavigne is initiating a process seeking approval from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service to rename Serra Mall, the pedestrian and bicycle mall at the front of the Stanford campus that serves as the university’s official address, as “Jane Stanford Way.”

The Serra dormitory and small academic building with the Serra name also will be renamed, with the new names to be determined. However, Serra Street on campus will retain its current name, and the university will pursue new educational displays and other efforts to more fully address the multidimensional legacy of Serra and the mission system in California.

After extensive research and outreach, the committee applied a rigorous set of principles that a previous Stanford committee had developed for considering the renaming of campus features named for historical figures with complex legacies.

Serra’s establishment of the mission system is a central part of California history, and his life’s work led to his canonization by the Roman Catholic Church in 2015. At the same time, the historical record confirms that the mission system inflicted great harm and violence on Native Americans, and Stanford has several features named for Serra even though he played no direct role in the university’s history.

Read the rest here.

Want to learn more about Serra?  I recommend Steven Hackel’s Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father.

Politics in the Catholic Church

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Pope Francis and Theodore McCarrick

There is a battle raging for control of the Catholic Church.  Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s recent claim that Pope Francis covered-up Theodore McCarrick’s sexual indiscretions is the latest battle in a political holy war between conservative Catholics (supporters of Benedict XVI) and progressive Catholics (supporters of Pope Francis).  John Gehrig‘s recent piece at Religion & Politics lays it all out.  Here is a taste:

While the daily developments and details of Viganò’s claims should be thoroughly investigated no matter where they lead, there is no way to understand this saga without recognizing how the former ambassador’s claims are part of a coordinated effort to undermine the Francis papacy. The Viganò letter is as much about power politics in the church as it is about rooting out a culture of abuse and cover-up. A small but vocal group of conservative Catholic pundits, priests, and archbishops, including the former archbishop of St. Louis Cardinal Raymond Burke, have led what can be described without hyperbole as a resistance movement against their own Holy Father since his election five years ago. Pope Francis, the insurgents insist, is dangerously steering the church away from traditional orthodoxy on homosexuality, divorce, and family life because of his more inclusive tone toward LGBT people and efforts to find pastoral ways to approach divorced and remarried Catholics. These conservative critics, many of whom essentially labeled progressive Catholics heretics for not showing enough deference to Pope Benedict XVI, are not discreet in their efforts to rebuke Francis. Last year, in a letter to the pope from the former head of the doctrine office at the U.S. bishops’ conference in Washington, Fr. Thomas Weinandy accused the pope of “demeaning” the importance of doctrine, appointing bishops who “scandalize” the faithful, and creating “chronic confusion” in his teachings. “To teach with such an intentional lack of clarity, inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth,” the priest wrote in remarkably patronizing language more befitting a teacher correcting a student than a priest addressing the successor of Peter.

Viganò’s testimony therefore should not be read in isolation or as an aberration, but as the latest chapter in an ongoing campaign to weaken the credibility of Pope Francis. Political, cultural, and theological rifts among Catholics are nothing new in the church’s 2,000-year history, but Viganò’s call for the pope’s resignation has set off the ecclesial version of a street fight. “The current divisions among Catholics in the United States has no parallel in my lifetime,” Stephen Schneck, the former director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America, said in an interview. Bishops who usually take pains to show unity in public have issued dueling statements on Viganò’s letter that reflect this discord. Cardinal Tobin, who was appointed by Francis, sees Viganò’s accusations being used by the pope’s opponents to gain leverage. “I do think it’s about limiting the days of this pope, and short of that, neutering his voice or casting ambiguity around him,” the cardinal told The New York Times. Some conservatives in the hierarchy have cheered Viganò. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, issued a statement just hours after the letter was made public and ordered priests in his diocese to read his statement during Mass. “As your shepherd, I find them credible,” the bishop wrote in response to Viganò’s allegations.

Read the entire piece here.

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.

More States are Investigating Catholic Sex Crimes

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New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Missouri are all investigating sex crimes covered up by the Catholic church.  The investigations come in the wake of a Pennsylvania investigation that turned up over 300 abusive priests and over 1000 child victims.

Here is a taste of Julie Zauzmer’s and Michelle Boorstein’s piece at The Washington Post:

The results of such state probes could cause many U.S. Catholics to leave the church, as happened after a national probe in Ireland, where the Catholic Church was literally part of the government. Hamilton noted that Scotland’s government also ran a national probe, as did Germany, Sweden, Japan. A commission by the Australian government ran a years-long investigation that just ended this year.

“People are much less inclined to belong to institutions that are suspect,” Merz said. “There’s no doubt that a lot of people have left because of doubting the integrity of this particular institution.”

Read the entire piece here.