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In Depth Analysis

Extended commentary and thoughtful Catholic essays on complex topics.

Cardinals who take up the slack

During a pontificate that is often confusing and even self-contradictory, we are fortunate to have two outstanding cardinals in charge of two key congregations. The Guinean Robert Sarah leads the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the German Gerhard...

Reading the news between the lines

For someone who covers the news every day, it’s frustrating to read a story and know that important information has been left out. In such cases, when I have no good way to dig out the missing details for myself, I’m left with the uneasy feeling that I don’t know the real truth;...

Obstacles to “Rightsizing” the Church

“This refusal to demand a desire for transformation in Christ cannot continue to be the way of the Church in our time. Her members must learn again to exclude those who refuse to respond to God’s mercy, lest these make a mire of the Gospel, polluting the work of God at its...

Let’s get this straight: Concern about Pope Francis is not rooted in dissent, but in dismay.

One wonders where Pope Francis finds the people who provide articles to L’Osservatore Romano which attack those who raise questions about his leadership. The latest is Father Salvador Pié-Ninot, who has criticized what he calls “dissent in the form of public criticism” of...

Church Fathers: The Lesser Alexandrians

Though Clement and Origen were by far the most important members of the School of Alexandria, a number of other associated figures from the third and early fourth centuries are worth mentioning. Their writings are only extant in fragments, if at all. Ammonius was probably a contemporary of...

Why is there a resurgence of infidelity among Catholic leaders?

Earlier this week, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus stressed the need to “discern” the meaning of Christ’s teachings rather than simply accept the way Catholic doctrine states these truths. This triggered an email from an obviously same-sex attracted reader who...

Warning: Our strengths are often our weaknesses. Same with the Pope.

How many times have you fallen into the traps set by the very strengths of your own personality? This is one of the great paradoxes of the spiritual life. As we come to grips with divergent personalities within the Church, it is worth thinking about. I’ll start with a personal example....

Bad—I mean really bad—arguments for changing the Church

Cultural change, as we all know, has a profound impact on our convictions. Very large numbers of people cheerfully form their values according to the signals received from the dominant culture in which they live. Since human cultures undergo continuous change, so do human values. It seems not to...

Reopening the question of women priests: A theological travesty and a spiritual tragedy

La Civilta Cattolica has published an essay by its deputy editor, Father Giancarlo Pani, which seeks to reopen the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood. This journal, published by the Jesuits but vetted by the Vatican Secretariat of State, has long been a means of communicating lines...

Is there a “morality gap” in the way Pope Francis presents his favorite themes?

I find myself wondering whether Pope Francis does not sometimes undermine his own favorite themes, such as Divine mercy and Christian unity, by his obvious reluctance to articulate their significant moral character. I consider this an important question because the Pope’s key themes are...

Catholic drama: Matteo Ricci, China, and the problem of inculturation

Throughout history there has been an interplay between human culture and Divine Revelation. Different patterns emerge in the proclamation and reception of the truths of our faith in Jesus Christ. In each culture Christianity generates a different set of tensions, as the gospel builds on, purifies...

Grace under fire: How a false gradualism undermines resistance to temptation

There has been much talk of “gradualism” over the past generation or two, and most of it has been rather foolish. Whenever the term is used to describe the normal process by which a person grows in spiritual understanding, in the love of God, and in virtue, gradualism is a descriptive...

Denunciation, condemnation and dire warnings: Can these be Christian?

You would be hard-pressed to find a Catholic today who would dare to denounce or condemn anyone for their failure to accept the Gospel and live accordingly. Such harsh speech is part of the larger secular culture, but it has generally faded from what we might consider Catholic culture. Most often...

Pope Francis on secularism, terrorism and the synodal Church

In his interview on December 7th with the Belgian Catholic weekly, Tertio, Pope Francis touched on a number of important points. I promised in last Friday’s Insights message to discuss it this week. As usual, his answers were somewhat confused, but he did give us a great deal to think about....

Sing of Mary, 4b: Everything there is to know about the Mother of God, Part 2

Having introduced Michael Hesemann’s remarkable book last week, I’d like to complete my consideration, as promised, of Mary of Nazareth: History, Archeology, Legends. The pervious installment closed after considering the Holy House of Loreto, where Mary lived with Joseph. Let us press...

St. Ambrose’s impact on St. Augustine: Excerpts from The Confessions

Since yesterday was the feast of St. Ambrose, and St. Ambrose played an important role in the conversion of St. Augustine, I wanted to highlight what Augustine said about Ambrose in his spiritual autobiography, The Confessions. While putting this together, I was called away to occupy my...

Sing of Mary, 4a: Everything there is to know about the Mother of God, Part 1

One way to retreat from vexing situations, without failing to grow in our ability to handle them well, is to turn our attention to Mary, who faced so many of these situations without being able to change the unpleasant outcomes—outcomes which had their own role to play in Divine Providence....

Cardinal Müller walks the tightrope: A Catholic tutorial?

I have been advocating the end of an unhealthy preoccupation with the problems presented by Pope Francis, but I am going to risk further comment because I find that Cardinal Müller’s current predicament offers a fairly healthy way to put things in perspective. The head of the...

The Morality of Money, 6: Social Consequences of Inflation

We have seen the damage inflation does to the common good primarily in terms of its strictly economic impact. But in The Ethics of Money Production, Hulsmann enumerates a great many ways in which inflation has been corrosive of social and moral life in the past two centuries, and it would not do...

The Morality of Money, 5: Moral Hazard and Malinvestment

Fractional-reserve banking depends on the assumption that the bank’s clients will not all try to redeem their notes at once: that there will not be a “run” on the bank. But as Hulsmann and other Austrian economists have argued, even if one banker is cautious in the degree of his...

The Morality of Money, 4: Manipulation by the State

Fractional-reserve banking and inflation can happen on a free market, but only on the fringes. In The Ethics of Money Production, Hulsmann argues that it is government that allows inflation to become widespread, either protecting it by legalizing the falsification of money, or itself perpetrating...

The Morality of Money, 3: Money, Banking, and Inflation

A crucial period of transition between natural and forced money in the West was the emergence of banking as we understand it today—that is, fractional-reserve banking. In The Ethics of Money Production, Hulsmann details the development of banks from mere money warehouses to money-creating...

Is it a mark of rigidity to accuse others of rigidity? A spiritual proposal concerning Pope Francis.

Like a great many other Catholics, I was astonished by Pope Francis’ harsh dismissal of young people who prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. It is a dangerous business to assume that another person’s preferences constitute “rigidity”. And it is even more...

The Morality of Money, 2: Natural and Forced Money

It is easy for us in the twenty-first century to take for granted that our money has no value whatsoever other than as a medium of exchange, and that it works as such simply because our governments imbue it with value—hence the term “fiat money.” If money derives its value solely...

The Morality of Money, 1: The Problem of Money Production

It is not uncommon to hear of Popes or bishops strongly criticizing the global economic order, and calling for the creation of new institutions to implement financial and monetary reform. Pope Benedict XVI, for example, suggested that a “true world political authority” was needed to...

Rehabilitating Pope Francis, and saving ourselves

Over the past few weeks I’ve received a number of emails which rebuke me for a tendency to defend Pope Francis whenever I believe I can do so reasonably. As someone who has also criticized the Pope on several issues, I find the logic of this position elusive, to say the least. I would think...

The importance of words: The key to our Catholic mission

I notice that Piero Doria has written a new book (in Italian) on the history of the Second Vatican Council. As an historian who works in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, he probably had access to a good deal of information about what was going on behind the scenes at the time. So I hope it...

Confidence in the Church: Our position of strength

When I outlined the suffering we experience when confronted with any form of infidelity in a pope (or a bishop or a pastor), I concluded that we should not expect the life of a Catholic to be free of such hardships, any more than we should expect our best pastors to be free of suffering induced by...

Confidence in the Church: What do we do when we want to cry?

It’s been a difficult year for deeply-committed Catholics, by which I mean those who accept all that the Church teaches and who sincerely try to conform their lives to Christ in accordance with Divine Revelation and natural law—of which the Church alone is the custodian. This is the...

Christianity as stumbling block: The great scandal of an Incarnational life

When I wrote on Wednesday about the scandalous concreteness of Christianity, I didn’t tell the half of it. My argument was that because its essence is found in the Word made flesh, Christianity possesses a particularity or concreteness that resists our all too human temptation to invent...

Should we criticize Pope Francis, or not? If so, how?
Part 3: Caveats

In Part 1 of this series, I explained why criticism of Pope Francis has considerable value. In Part 2, I explored a dozen different forms or methods of criticism which can be used in various circumstances, whether to criticize Pope Francis or anyone else. In this final part, I want to call...

Should we criticize Pope Francis, or not? If so, how?
Part 2: Methods

There is a big difference in the general “atmosphere” as I post this second part of my reflection on the problem of criticizing the pope. I wrote Part 1 just before it became clear that Pope Francis had privately told the bishops of Argentina that they had given his apostolic...

Papal governance by sleight-of-hand strains my grasp of culpability and Canon Law.

The quarrel over the position I took in “Not heretical: Pope Francis’ approval of the Argentine bishops’ policy on invalid marriages” has prompted both serious rebuttals and catcalls around the web. All of this swirls around the Pope’s pastoral approach to divorce and...

Should we criticize Pope Francis, or not? If so, how?
Part 1: Rationale

Over the last thirty days my own criticism of Pope Francis has been more pronounced than usual. Given last week’s extensive criticism of the Pope’s suggestion regarding the works of mercy by both myself and Phil Lawler, it may seem that CatholicCulture.org is in the midst of...

Repentance: A refusal to remain on the peripheries

One of the reasons Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis is because of the intervention he made at the meetings of cardinals prior to the conclave which elected him. These interventions, which highlighted what each cardinal believed to be the most serious needs of the Church, were...

Back to Amoris Laetitia: When do we owe “religious submission of mind and will”?

A Spanish ecclesiology professor, Fr. Salvador Pie-Ninot, has asserted in L’Osservatore Romano that Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia is an act of the ordinary Magisterium which requires religious submission of mind and will. Speaking very generally, he is right that...

Understanding the Vatican’s structure for financial management

Over the last several years, the effort to make the administration of Vatican funds more transparent—and the administrators more accountable—has reached center stage in the ongoing process of curial reform. Economic and financial reform have become increasingly important with rising...

Don’t discount meaning. It leads to happiness.

I’m gazing out a window overlooking Willsboro Bay on Lake Champlain. I have an opportunity to do this for a few days most Summers, because my mother-in-law has a “camp” up here. Each time I do so, I am struck by the beauty of the place. And each time I experience this beauty, it...

Ad Orientem: Thoughts on debating the non-essential

When it comes to discussions of the liturgy, some readers find my viewpoint appalling, while others regard it as a breath of fresh air. The reason is fairly simple: I have an extremely “intellectual” piety, which means I find nearly every liturgical form and setting to be a distraction...

Is marriage a trap? Our preoccupation with nullity

It would be very difficult to assess all the conditions which impact a couple’s readiness for marriage. It is equally difficult to determine how unfavorable cultural factors may influence this readiness. We can discern adverse cultural trends, but there are many subcultures, and there are...

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