On The News

Analysis of news events and trends.

Rehabilitating a disgraced priest: a thought-experiment

After it emerged that a priest with a history of sexual abuse is serving as a pastor, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City is “assessing the situation.” With all respect to Archbishop Coakley—for whom I have generally had a high opinion—I think he should be assessing...

The drive for Vatican reform has stalled

The news that the Vatican has suspended an external audit might appear to be only a minor administrative matter, interesting only to accountants. But as an indicator of the trends in Rome today, it is as significant of Amoris Laetitia. It is, in my view (and I am by no means a financial...

Gresham's Law and the flaw in the Pope's pastoral program

Does Gresham’s Law apply to pastoral practices in the Catholic Church? I think it does—with unhappy consequences that we can see all around us. Gresham’s Law (for those readers who have not studied economics) states that bad money drives out good money. Let me...

The Pope's confused message undermines his own pastoral program

Amoris Laetitia is not a revolutionary document. It is a subversive one. Pope Francis has not overthrown the traditional teachings of the Church, as many Catholics had either hoped or feared that he would, in this post-Synod exhortation. Instead he has sought to carve out ample room for a...

In Georgia's religious-freedom debate, Catholic bishops sit on the sidelines

Last week, under heavy pressure from powerful corporations, Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal vetoed legislation that would have protected religious institutions from being required to approve same-sex marriages or to hire openly homosexual employees. In his veto statement the governor...

The Joy of Dread

There are many words now forbidden in polite society. “Adultery” comes to mind. It’s either an unmentionable or has been replaced with the phrase “divorced and remarried.” “Promiscuity” and “lewd and lascivious conduct” have been...

Hollywood Extras

“Christ is risen! Alleluia!  You there! You in the back row yawning. Yeah, I’m talking to you. You’re not listening to my homily are you? Can’t you just pretend to listen? Or at least cover your mouth when you yawn? You’re not...

What's missing from that Pennsylvania grand-jury report

For anyone who has been following the sex-abuse scandal in the American Catholic Church, the Pennsylvania grand-jury report on the failures of the Altoona diocese follows a depressingly familiar pattern. There are the priests who molest adolescents (virtually always boys), the treatment centers...

Vatican faces new credibility test on abuse policy

After simmering for more than a decade, could the sex-abuse scandal within the Catholic Church be ready to boil over once again? There are signs that it could. No, I am not referring to the release of a scalding grand-jury report about the Diocese of Altoona, Pennsyvlania earlier this month....

Strange ally: a left-wing journalist's unconvincing critique of Spotlight

Joann Wypijewski is a left-wing journalist, who has worked for Mother Jones, The Nation (where she was responsible for the “Carnal Knowledge” column), and CounterPunch. She is not someone you would expect to defend the Catholic hierarchy against critics in the media. Yet she has done...

Reasons for skepticism about the Pope's meeting with Patriarch Kirill

“Finally!” Pope Francis said when he embraced Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. “Now things are easier,” came the reply. How much easier? Two weeks after that historic meeting in Cuba, do the prospects for warmer ties between Rome and Moscow seem much improved? There are...

The damage done—again—by the Pope's interview

How damaging was the latest papal interview? Let me count the ways. Tomorrow, no doubt, the Vatican press office will go into its now-familiar “clarification” mode. Loyal Catholic defenders of Pope Francis will argue that the Holy Father’s words were taken out of context. But...

Another way of understanding the Missionaries of Mercy

My friend Father Roger Landry has posted an excellent explanation of the role of Missionaries of Mercy (of whom he is one), who have been commissioned by Pope Francis to make a special effort as confessors and “persuasive preachers of mercy” during the Jubilee Year. Reading his...

Ash Wednesday, the New Hampshire primary, and the limitations of politics

On Ash Wednesday, the internet is abuzz with reactions to the New Hampshire primary. This year’s calendar, placing the start of Lent immediately after the opening ballot of the presidential campaign, prompts some thoughts on the relative importance of political and spiritual battles. Let...

Praying with the Church

When I read the works of scholars who suggest, “The early Church placed on the lips of Jesus…” my inner alarm bells go off. The implication is clear. The early Church placed its own words on the lips of Jesus to proclaim a message that is either generally in line with the...

To preach, to sanctify, and... Is something missing?

Pope Francis knocked me off balance, and prompted some new thoughts about the state of the Catholic Church, with something he said in a recent homily. Or rather, to be more accurate, he stunned me by what he did not say—by leaving out part of a very familiar series. Let me explain first...

The lasting image of this year's March for Life: that Mass on the snowbound turnpike

In past years I have remarked on the mysterious temporary blindness that strikes reporters in Washington, DC, in late January, making it impossible for them to notice the March for Life. This year there was no mystery about it. With a blizzard of historic proportions bearing down on the city,...

Hot (but speculative) rumor: Pope to meet Russian Patriarch next month?

The veteran Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister of L’Espresso has gone out on a limb to suggest that Pope Francis could meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow next month. There has never been a face-to-face meeting between a Roman Pontiff and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch. Nor has there been any recent...

Will the first-ever Orthodox council occur this year? We'll know soon.

Since the Great Schism, the Roman Catholic Church has held 13 ecumenical councils; the Orthodox churches have held: none. That failure to arrange a worldwide gathering, for nearly a millennium, is a major failure for Orthodoxy. It is an indication that the Orthodox world has been troubled by...

Catholic hospitals and the fight for medical standards

For the foreseeable future, political pressure on the Catholic Church in the US will be concentrated on medical issues. If you doubt that, join me on a quick tour through some of this week’s significant newspaper items: A Los Angeles Times columnist encourages readers to be...

In the war on family life, why are most American men neutral observers?

What will it take to rouse the protective instincts of American fathers? The role of a father is to protect his family. The role of a man—a real man, I mean—is to protect the vulnerable. Yet the vast majority of American men today are sitting idly by, couch-potato spectators, while their...

Instant Gratification

The consumer society has given us new phrases that lack subtlety. When you’re filling up at a gas station, it is presumed you’d be attracted to a “Big Gulp” beverage, going beyond the usual soda bottle size and providing a gallon or so of flavored sugar water (perfect for the kids on road trips)....

How the 'church tax' corrupts German Catholicism

“There is always a danger of corruption within the Church,” Pope Francis said in a November 20 address to visiting bishops from Germany. “This happens when the Church, instead of being devoted to faith in our Lord, in the Prince of Peace, in joy, in salvation, becomes dominated...

Obama is wrong; persecuted Arab Christians should be given priority for asylum

With thousands of refugees from the Middle East clamoring for entry, President Obama has said that it is “shameful” to suggest that Christian refugees should be given preference. That statement is wrong: legally, politically, and morally wrong. Although Obama condemns “religious tests” that...

A refreshing look at the proper role—and enormous power—of women in the Church

For well over a generation, questions about the role of women in the Catholic Church have generated angry debates without producing satisfactory resolutions. In the 1980s the US bishops’ conference, having tackled such controversial topics as nuclear weaponry and economic policy, set out to...

Selective compassion: the dangerous step the Pope might take

Sometime soon—we know not when—Pope Francis will issue a document concluding the work of the Synod on the Family. One question looms over all others: Will the Pope endorse the Kasper proposal? Father Raymond de Souza predicts that he will. “He has steadily prepared the Church...

A feisty reporter's book corrects for the Hollywood bias of Spotlight

In the new film Spotlight, which opens this weekend, the investigative reporters of the Boston Globe are portrayed as brave underdogs who dared to confront the overwhelming power of the Boston archdiocese, and thus exposed the sex-abuse scandal. It might make for a good movie (I wasn’t...

'Vatileaks II' and the enemies of reform

In his novel Shoes of the Fisherman, Morris West has an old Vatican hand give this advice to a newly elected Pope from a country far away from Rome: “Don’t try to change the Romans, Holiness. Don’t try to fight or convert them. They’ve been managing Popes for the last nineteen hundred years and...

Is post-Synod confusion better than the alternatives?

Ross Douthat of the New York Times has argued forcefully that Pope Francis has created dangerous fissures within the Church by supporting the Kasper proposal. But now Douthat suggests that the Pope could head off a crisis by issuing a post-synod exhortation in which he would “just leave...

The deliberate ambiguity of the Synod statement is a prescription for trouble

Some Synod fathers say the final statement opens the way for divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Others say it does not . You might say the Synod’s message is ambiguous. But Cardinal George Pell would disagree. “It’s not ambiguous,” he told the National Catholic Register....

At the Synod, truths of Christ are worth a fight

The heated debates of this year’s Synod, which seem so dramatic to us today, are mild, bloodless affairs in comparison with the controversies in the early Church. During the first centuries of Christianity, if a reporter said that bishops were “fighting” over doctrinal questions,...

At the Synod, liberals tout their own conspiracy theories

Pope Francis calls for free and open debate at the Synod of Bishops. But when a group of cardinals write a confidential letter to the Pontiff, pointing out ways in which free discussion might be undermined, they are portrayed as a cabal of plotters, undermining the Pope. The German-speaking...

Who leaked the cardinals' letter? Cui bono?

Who leaked the letter from a group of cardinals to Pope Francis, voicing concerns about the Synod? Like nearly everyone writing about Vatican affairs—with the notable exception of Sandro Magister, who published the letter—I wish I knew. Ordinarily, in searching for a source of a...

A secret plot to control the Synod? No; it's not secret at all.

In an unscheduled address to the Synod of Bishops yesterday, we’re told, Pope Francis told the participants that they should not indulge in conspiracy theories about secret plots to manipulate the result of the Synod. The Holy Father is absolutely right. What’s happening at this Synod...

Making sense of the Pope's message to America–including the Kim Davis meeting

The hectic week of the papal visit—during which inspiration mingled with confusion and frustration—has been followed by another hectic week of coping with the aftermath, including the surprise announcement that the Holy Father had met with Kim Davis. Let me try to make sense of what...

A conspiracy to elect Pope Francis? Don't believe it.

Did a powerful group of cardinals conspire to unseat Pope Benedict XVI and elect Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio—Pope Francis—in his place? That sensational claim has been circulating in conservative Catholic internet sites. But the available facts don’t support the sensational...

Flashback: a different sort of papal address to the UN

Almost exactly twenty years have passed since St. John Paul II addressed the UN on October 5, 1995. His message then contrasted vividly with the one delivered this week by Pope Francis, and the difference is not only a matter of calendar references. Notice this paragraph: As a Christian, my...

Why does Pope Francis back liberal causes directly, conservative causes subtly?

Pope Francis challenged Americans of both liberal and conservative political sympathies in his historic address to Congress on September 24. But his objections to conservative stands were clear and direct, while his criticism of liberals subtle and oblique. Why? The Holy Father made no bones...

The Kasper proposal should be DOA when the Synod meets

In light of the new streamlined annulment procedures announced by Pope Francis last week, the Kasper proposal should be stamped ‘Dead on Arrival’ when the Synod of Bishop convenes in October. Cardinal Walter Kasper himself will be on hand again to press for adoption of his...

Why Kim Davis should not have resigned

So if she could not, in good conscience, issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, why didn’t Kim Davis resign from her job as county clerk? I’m not privy to her reasoning, but I have my own reasons why she should not be expected to resign. Ordinarily, when a public official...

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