In Depth Analysis

Extended commentary and thoughtful Catholic essays on complex topics.

On saving the Church by breaking the tensions intrinsic to the Church’s life

The furor over the question of how we should respond to Pope Francis’ alleged heresies reminds me of the tensions between the human and the Divine which run all through the Church, and the Faith, and Christian thought. In nearly every case, it is a refusal to be willing to live with this...

Theories that Francis is not the Pope (or can be deposed) destroy the credibility of the Church

This essay, originally published on November 7, 2017, explains why any effort to depose the pope or declare that he has automatically been deposed through heresy is not only untenable but fundamentally damaging to the Church. It is possible, of course, to advocate that a particular pope should...

The Pontifical Academy’s assessment of the “growing threat of a nationalist revival”

It is interesting that the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is hosting a three-day conference designed to shed light on what it sees as a growing nationalist revival throughout the world. The Academy’s announcement discusses various forms of national identity and the rise and potential...

Communion and Catholic Pro-Abortion Politicians

Evangelical Christian, Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the famed Rev. Billy Graham, in three “tweets” in two minutes captured the hopes and sentiments of many Catholics by urging N.Y. Cardinal Dolan to excommunicate “Catholic” N.Y. Governor Cuomo for bizarrely celebrating and...

Unbelievable category mistakes

It is difficult to know how best to review Michael Newton Keas’ new book, Unbelievable, published by ISI Books. Subtitled “7 myths about the history and future of science and religion”, the book very successfully debunks the following myths: Christians traditionally...

Ten steps every bishop can take to renew the Church

Everyone has a role in Catholic renewal, but there can be no question that the greatest spur to an authentic renewal of the Church is episcopal leadership. If results throughout the long history of the Church are any guide, however, even bishops often do not know the concrete steps they should be...

Bent on evil: How do we explain human culture run amok?

The other evening on our (almost) daily walk, my wife mentioned a recent talk given by a public librarian who was expert on fiction for teens. One of the points made by the speaker was that the overwhelming majority of the books that came across her desk featured gender-confused young people who...

Four late minor prophets, plus Jonah as a bonus

Wrapping up the so-called minor prophets in rough chronological order, we will now look at those who prophesied after the Babylonian Exile. Ranging from about 520 BC into the 300s, these prophets tend to be more specifically Messianic. It is almost as if the pre-Messianic time is growing short. As...

What is missing in the Church today? What we brag about most: Mercy

Writing about the minor prophets on Tuesday, I mentioned this famous passage from Hosea: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6). Now I am wondering why mercy is so conspicuously absent in the Church today. This may astound my...

Should pro-abortion Catholic politicians be excommunicated?

When Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York spearheaded the successful change to the State Constitution in January, guaranteeing abortion up to and even beyond the moment of birth, many wondered why he was not immediately excommunicated. Admittedly, the same question has been raised for years, but this...

Daniel: Champion, visionary, man of prayer

The Babylonian Empire extended from the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea to the western end of the Persian Gulf in the period between the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC and its own conquest by Cyrus the Great in 539. It was during this period that Daniel was active as a source of wisdom...

Final Document for Youth Synod: A typically uneven and often vague exhortation

Documents arising from the Synod of Bishops are a bit of a slog. They typically attempt to cover a tremendously broad array of concerns grouped around the Synod’s theme, which makes them long. They typically lack differentiation when it comes to the relative importance of the various...

Every college student should read Sertillanges’ The Intellectual Life

The incomparably rich intellectual heritage of the Church needs no advertisement here. It is the treasure house filled first by the Holy Spirit, and by the great adventurers and plunderers who went before us. Their hard-won wisdom points us toward the highest truths about God and man, and away...

Prospects for renewal in a Church without discipline?

In reading Elio Guerriero’s new and definitive biography of Pope Benedict XVI, I noticed this assessment of Benedict’s leadership style: Rather than taking concrete measures, he preferred admonitions, leaving those concerned the freedom to adapt to the required behavior. As for the...

Revelation: Minimal authority, lived in suffering

It could have been done differently, of course. God could have presented a continuous interior Revelation to each and every one of us, so that we all could enjoy a perfect uninterrupted awareness of His Being and His Divine will. But that would have made an even worse mess than we are in now. For...

Gambling with souls: The choice for or against God

Reading Phil Lawler’s commentary about Archbishop Viganòs concern for souls, I cannot help reflecting on the misunderstandings which rob so many pastors of the same concern. Much of this can be traced to that spiritual cowardice which passes for a prudent refusal to give offense, but...

Avoid discouragement, feed your soul: New books that can help

Given the problems facing the Church today, from both within and without, it is easy to become discouraged. It is easy to wonder whether it is any longer worthwhile trying to draw people into a Church which seems to do its best to betray them. And it is easy to wonder whether it is even possible...

The road to Hell is paved with Catholic ideals.

It is becoming increasingly common (again!) for bishops and theologians to refer to the moral law as an “ideal”. This is simply more evidence of the secularization of what passes for Christian thought. For example, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has used this language in commenting...

Isaiah: The Poet of Salvation

The Book of Isaiah the prophet is the longest book in the Bible except for the entire collection of the Psalms. It is also arguably the most beautifully poetic book apart from the Psalms. In one inspiring passage after another, the prophet faithfully pronounces God’s judgment on Israel along...

In denial about not ordaining homosexuals?

I won’t bore you with the details, but every time the Vatican issues an instruction stating that those with clear homosexual tendencies should not be admitted to the priesthood, there follows a plethora of articles—including some in L’Osservatore Romano itself—in which the...

Five things every Catholic can do to end the abuse crisis

When I wrote that faithful Catholics “need to spend more time in prayer and sacrifice than in advocacy for a papal resignation” (see Pope Francis: The resignation scenario), I received notes from only a very few people who disagreed. These few asserted that it was a very good thing to...

“If bloodless means are sufficient”: The devil of capital punishment is in the details

In yesterday’s commentary on the recent change to the Catechism on the use of the death penalty, I passed over fairly quickly the tricky question of when the death penalty may be necessary to protect the community. This is an interesting question because it is not clear exactly what the...

Welcoming the Catechism’s changes on the death penalty

A number of bishops around the world, including the episcopal conferences of Latin America and the United States, have welcomed Pope Francis’ recent revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the use of the death penalty. But as Phil Lawler pointed out in commentaries posted on...

Discernment is important, so let’s not make a mockery of it.

It is easy to make jokes about the contemporary Vatican effort to eliminate problems through “discernment”, as if discernment by itself can eliminate objective patterns of evil. Part of this is simply the tendency of Church officials to reflect instantly the favorite ideas and...

The perfectly legitimate public authority of the Church

In the first three essays in this series, I have been arguing against our modern cultural prejudice that all religions are essentially the same, that they are all merely different forms of a personal and private sentiment. Though it may not always have been obvious, I have been probing the nature...

Refuse to breathe thin air: Know the source of your convictions, challenge others on the source of theirs

I’ve written recently about the deliberate exclusion of informed religious faith as an influence in the political and social life of the West (see “Time to give the lie to a culture in denial” and “Dangerous! Both religious exclusion and religious common cause”)....

Dangerous! Both religious exclusion and religious common cause

In my essay “Time to give the lie to a culture in denial?”, I suggested that we need to take seriously that Christianity is publicly revealed by God. Such seriousness is necessary to challenge one of the most deeply cherished and incontrovertibly false assumptions of our contemporary...

Catholic renewal in the long defeat: Engaging Conor Sweeney

I’ve just finished a fascinating new book by Conor Sweeney from Angelico Press entitled Abiding the Long Defeat and subtitled “How to Evangelize Like a Hobbit in a Disenchanted Age”. While I do not think every emphasis in this book is directly on target, important insights leap...

The Church’s latest foray into economics: Brief, clear, on point

[B]usiness management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of...

What IS the proper relationship between Church and State?

My last commentary (Crosses on public buildings: Yes or No?) indirectly raised the question of the right relationship between Church and State in a well-ordered society. This is a relationship that has been deeply distorted by the division of Christianity in the sixteenth century, and further...

Insistence on the Church’s authority is required for growth.

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my frustration gets such an upper hand of me,...

Why can’t the Church stop harping on purity?!

In the wake of yesterday’s conviction of comedian Bill Cosby for sexual assault, we might well revisit what many regard as the obnoxious Catholic emphasis on purity. While we hear less about it in a secularized Church, everybody knows the traditional emphasis is always just beneath the...

Political holiness? More on Gaudete et Exsultate!

In my essay on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on holiness (Challenge yourself with Gaudete et Exsultate!), I promised to write separately about the Pope’s emphasis on the equality among all moral issues. Francis wrote that it was wrong to use attention to grave bioethical issues...

Challenge yourself with Gaudete et Exsultate!

If people do not think they can learn anything about holiness from Pope Francis, they need to think again. The Pope’s latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad): On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World, recapitulates and develops several favorite themes...

A Church of kids: Will the Synod on Youth get it backwards?

I am one of those who is not sure whether to laugh or cry at the effort of the Catholic Church to devote a Synod of Bishops to youth. It goes without saying that the Church can do many good things with and for young people. But the prospect still raises all of my red flags. Sure, I’m a...

The Genesis Wars: Forgetfulness of Christ?

I’ve had several interesting discussions lately probing the account of Creation in Genesis, on the one hand, and the scientific theory of evolution, on the other. Discussions of human origins are endlessly fascinating! Too often, however, they carry a high emotional cost. They may even...

Practicing apologetics upon ourselves: Five models

When I first wrote on this topic in the last months of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, I did not realize how much more important it would become under Pope Francis. But the following assertion has become increasingly obvious over the past five years, namely, that apologetics is often more...

Four ways to grasp natural meaning from the God Who Is

I have set myself a bit of a task here, and it is all the fault of four excellent authors who have tackled the modern dismissal of God in four significantly different ways, all during the past fifteen months. I say “tackled the modern dismissal of God”, but they might not all conceive...

On the “kidnapping” of Edgardo Mortara by Pope Pius IX: Who is right?

Vittorio Messori’s recent book, Kidnapped by the Vatican?, has created quite a furor. Different wings of the Church are at odds over the issue raised by the late-nineteenth century case of Edgardo Mortara, who was taken from his Jewish parents to be raised a Catholic after he had been...

The priorities of Catholic leadership today, and how they must influence praise and blame

A reader raised a thorny problem the other day: Since there is good reason to criticize many things that Pope Francis says in order to dispel confusion and avoid spiritual discouragement, is it also right and proper to praise Pope Francis when he says or does something very good? The reader had in...

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