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Catholic commentary and analysis on contemporary events and trends by Phil Lawler, Director of Catholic World News.

Ireland on the brink: the referendum will be a test of tolerance by Phil Lawler - May 19, 2015

On Friday, if the polls are right, Ireland—once a staunchly Catholic nation—will become the first country in the world to ratify same-sex marriage by a popular vote. To be sure, the polls show a late surge of opposition. But public support for the referendum had been overwhelming,...

American Catholics are flunking the test of evangelization by Phil Lawler - May 13, 2015

Yesterday’s top CWN headline news story points to the most urgent problem facing the Catholic Church in the US: the decline in the American Catholic population. As our headline story reports there is some disagreement among experts about the extent of that decline. Pew Research finds...

The unholy political battle to denounce—or exploit—the Pope's environmental message by Phil Lawler - May 8, 2015

The editorial board of Our Sunday Visitor has a strongly worded statement decrying the premature and vituperative criticism of the papal encyclical on the environment. “Well before the encyclical’s release,” the OSV board observes, “a veritable campaign against its...

We've already redefined marriage, by accepting contraception by Phil Lawler - May 1, 2015

In a must-read column for the Wall Street Journal, Rev. Donald Sensing, a Methodist minister from Tennessee, argues that acceptance of same-sex marriage “will not cause the degeneration of the institution of marriage; it is the result of it.” Understand that Rev. Sensing is not happy with the...

The Vatican's dangerous embrace of climate-change theory by Phil Lawler - Apr 29, 2015

Imagine—just imagine, for the sake of the argument—that scientists in a future generation discover that the global-warming trend of recent years was not caused by human activity. If that happens, what will be the consequences for the Catholic Church, in light of the Vatican’s apparent embrace of...

The Finn resignation: 10 years too late, bishops face accountability by Phil Lawler - Apr 21, 2015

Bishop Finn had to go. When he was convicted on criminal charges, he became the poster boy for the American bishops’ mishandling of the sex-abuse crisis. He was an irresistible target for critics of Catholicism: a walking, talking symbol of episcopal negligence. The bishop’s...

Misunderstanding Pope Francis: the secular outlook and the scandal of the Cross by Phil Lawler - Apr 9, 2015

Back in March , Pope Francis told visiting bishops from Bosnia-Herzegovina that the Church “cannot stay closed within its traditions, noble though they may be.” He went on: “It must come out of its 'enclosure', firm in faith, supported by prayer and encouraged by pastors, to live and announce the...

Insights on the enigma that is Pope Francis by Phil Lawler - Mar 27, 2015

Two years after his election, millions of Catholics are still trying to understand Pope Francis. Two recent essays have provided useful perspectives: Writing for Crisis, Msgr. Hans Feichtinger, a priest of the Diocese of Passau, Germany, makes the important point that Pope Francis is not, like...

The Pope's unconvincing arguments against the death penalty by Phil Lawler - Mar 23, 2015

Full disclosure: I oppose the use of the death penalty in America today, for prudential reasons that I may explain in another essay. When Pope Francis said execution is always inadmissible, I was not dismayed by his conclusion. But I was dismayed by the logic he used to reach that...

The patron saint of parish closings by Phil Lawler - Mar 17, 2015

(This column, written three years ago, is re-posted by popular demand.) Needless to say, there is no patron saint of parish closings.  The closing of a parish is a tragedy. A parish church is more than just a building. It is a repository of memories: of the children baptized there, the...

Priests need defense against false accusations by Phil Lawler - Mar 13, 2015

A Catholic priest who is falsely accused of sexual abuse can’t count on his bishop to defend him. That’s the unhappy conclusion one reaches after reading informative article in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review by David Shaneyfelt and Joseph Maher. Twenty years ago, diocesan...

Liberal liturgists try to explain away a key appointment by Pope Francis by Phil Lawler - Mar 11, 2015

Within a few weeks after the election of Pope Francis, rumors began to circulate in Rome that the new Pontiff would appoint Archbishop Piero Marini as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW). For liberal liturgists, these rumors were cause for celebration; for conservatives, for...

Pope Francis prevails in Round I of battle for Vatican reform by Phil Lawler - Mar 5, 2015

Pope Francis has withstood the first major challenge to his campaign for reform within the Vatican. But the battle is not over. The Pope will face more challenges as that campaign continues. By approving the statutes of the Secretariat for the Economy with only a few minor modifications, the...

Former Israeli ambassador explains how to make 'two-state solution' realistic by Phil Lawler - Feb 25, 2015

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, has a refreshing perspective on Israel-Palestine peace prospects in today’s Wall Street Journal. International leaders call for a “two-state solution,” Oren writes. But neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority can accept a “two-state...

THE challenge for the New Evangelization: bringing men back to church by Phil Lawler - Feb 17, 2015

Here’s a simple formula, tried and true, for getting families into church: If the fathers come, the wives and children will come, too. Steve Wood, who founded St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers, cites research done by Southern Baptists on bringing families into churches: If a...

Politicized science: the lessons of the Galileo affair by Phil Lawler - Feb 12, 2015

Sometime in grammar school, we all learned the rules of the scientific method, right? You remember how they go: First, form a hypothesis. Next, devise an experiment to test the hypothesis. If the experiment seems to confirm the hypothesis, launch a public-relations campaign to ridicule...

Two cheers for Vatican security by Phil Lawler - Feb 3, 2015

Iana Azhdanova is persona non grata at the Vatican. You may not remember the name, but Azhdanova is the Ukrainian leader of Femen, the feminist group that specializes in topless public demonstrations. On the day after Christmas she tore off her top and grabbed the figure of the baby Jesus from...

Conscientious objection to vaccinations by Phil Lawler - Jan 30, 2015

Following an outbreak of measles that was traced back to Disneyland, public-health authorities are ramping up their campaign to persuade all American parents that their children should be vaccinated. This campaign places pressure on some parents who have moral objections to the use of certain...

The best argument against the 'celibate gay Catholics' by Phil Lawler - Jan 26, 2015

In the space of a generation, the connotation of the word “gay” has changed radically. To my father, “gay” meant carefree and happy. To my sons, “gay” means homosexual. Any living language is constantly changing, as popular usage gives words new shades of...

Guess who thinks Pope Francis shouldn't give so many interviews? by Phil Lawler - Jan 23, 2015

“Interviews are not my forte,” then-Cardinal Bergoglio once remarked, and for that reason he seldom sat down to speak on the record with reporters. When two journalists sought a formal interview, he advised them to publish excerpts from his sermons and essays instead. (A Call to...

Islamic militants have a cause they believe in. Do we? by Phil Lawler - Jan 15, 2015

Newt Gingrich, of all people, should be familiar with the lesson that I was taught as the First Law of Politics: You can’t beat somebody with nobody. So I’m surprised that in a column appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal, on why we’re losing the battle against radical Islam, the former...

Murder, blasphemy, and the limits of intolerance by Phil Lawler - Jan 10, 2015

Let’s stop the posturing, shall we? You say, “je suis Charlie.” But would you have published the cartoons that made the editors of Charlie Hebdo the target of jihadist killers? Would you publish them even now? Let me put the question differently. You say that you will fight...

No more 'princes of the Church'—the Pope's new model for the College of Cardinals by Phil Lawler - Jan 5, 2015

Whenever a Pope announces a consistory, and names a new set of cardinals, commentators hasten to interpret the papal choices. But on Sunday, when Pope Francis identified his latest selections, most commentators—myself included—drew a blank. To be quite honest, among the 20 names...

Which American archbishops—if any—will receive red hats at the February conclave? by Phil Lawler - Dec 23, 2014

Sometime early in the new year, Pope Francis will reveal the names of the new cardinals who will be elevated at a consistory in February 2015. How many American prelates will be on the list? Quite likely, none at all. There are currently 18 US citizens in the College of Cardinals. The only...

Facing entrenched opposition, Pope Francis plows ahead on Vatican reform by Phil Lawler - Dec 22, 2014

The Pope’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia is traditionally the occasion when the Pontiff lets his closest associates know about his top priorities. In 2005, for example, Pope Benedict XVI used the occasion to give his famous talk against the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and...

The intrinsic immorality of torture: still not convinced? by Phil Lawler - Dec 18, 2014

Many readers continue to write with arguments against my condemnation of torture. I have already tried to answer the most common objections, so I will not belabor the matter. Let me just make one simple point: If torture is intrinsically wrong, then it is wrong under all circumstances. We...

In showdown with American sisters, the Vatican blinked by Phil Lawler - Dec 16, 2014

The Vatican blinked. After a 3-year study of American women’s religious orders, undertaken because of problems that are both grave and obvious, the Congregation for Religious has released a report that avoids direct criticism of religious orders, instead suggesting that the communities should...

Can torture ever be justified? Round II. by Phil Lawler - Dec 15, 2014

Many readers have responded, with questions and criticisms, to my argument last week that “Regardless of circumstances or results, torture can never be justified.” Let me respond to some of the common concerns.           The Senate report on “enhanced...

'Father Benedict' sheds some insight on his resignation by Phil Lawler - Dec 12, 2014

If it is accurate--and I have no reason to doubt that it is-- the report that Benedict XVI wanted to be known as “Father Benedict” after his resignation is strange and illuminating. Why? Because today he is not known as Father Benedict. Even before Pope Benedict stepped down, the...

Regardless of circumstances or results, torture can never be justified by Phil Lawler - Dec 10, 2014

Some moral questions are very complicated. Others are very straightforward. In some cases, the morality of an act depends entirely on the circumstances. But some acts can never be justified, regardless of the circumstances. The Catholic Church teaches quite clearly that some acts are...

What I wish a bishop would say about marriage by Leila Marie Lawler - Dec 3, 2014

During the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops, discussions often centered on the widening gap between the popular understanding of marriage and the Christian ideal. What could Catholic pastors do or say to restore the proper understanding of the family founded on a sacramental union? My wife...

A suggestion for First Things: separate civil divorce from Christian marriage by Phil Lawler - Nov 24, 2014

First Things is a journal with a proud tradition of fostering intellectual debate. (Remember when the late Father Neuhaus hosted a symposium on the question of whether the US government had lost its legitimacy?) Now a new editor, R.R. Reno, has stirred things up again by publishing, and strongly...

Why Cardinal Burke cannot lead a 'loyal opposition' by Phil Lawler - Nov 11, 2014

In the quiet little New England town where we live, we’ve just been through an unusually contentious local election. The aftermath has reminded me of an important lesson that I learned years ago. When the votes were counted in our local contests, one losing candidate issued a gracious statement...

New economic standards: Pope Francis' most important reform? by Phil Lawler - Nov 7, 2014

Don’t look now, but the most important reform of this pontificate may have been introduced this week. Did you notice? Many nervous Catholics are still discussing the fallout from the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops, worrying that when the Synod meets again next year, there could...

The Pope is not the problem by Phil Lawler - Oct 23, 2014

Thoroughly rattled by the stories that emerged from the October meeting of the Synod of Bishops, many faithful Catholics are now worried that Pope Francis is leading the Church in a dangerous direction—and perhaps even doing so intentionally. Their fears are understandable, in light of some...

What's wrong with this Synod, IV: Unprepared for marriage by Phil Lawler - Oct 17, 2014

As the Synod of Bishops continues to focus on troubled marital (and non-marital) relationships, several prominent prelates have speculated that there are probably many Catholics living in marital unions that would, on close inspection, be recognized as invalid. That suggestion cannot be...

What's wrong with this Synod, III: First World problems by Phil Lawler - Oct 14, 2014

Perhaps now is as good a time as any for a reminder that the official topic for this extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops is: “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” During these last 10 days we have heard a great deal about divorce,...

What's wrong with this Synod, II: Debate is free, open (and censored) by Phil Lawler - Oct 10, 2014

Speaking to the Synod of Bishops on its first day of discussions, Pope Francis urged the participants to speak out boldly, “without human respect, without timidity.” The secretary-general of the Synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, echoed that message, saying that “discussion at the Synod is to...

What’s wrong with this Synod, I: Shuffling the deck chairs by Phil Lawler - Oct 9, 2014

[This is the first in a series of essays on the current Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the family. I should begin with the caveat that my comments are based on public reports from the Synod. The actual discussions may be developing along different lines. I hope so.] Does the Synod of Bishops...

The Islamic roots of terrorism must be addressed by Phil Lawler - Sep 19, 2014

“Now let’s make two things clear,” President Barack Obama said in his televised address to the American people on September 10. First, he said, “ISIL [the Islamic State] is not Islamic.” But that’s precisely what is not clear about the Islamic State and about...

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