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Analysis of news events and trends.

Vatican reform on sexual abuse has stalled

Three weeks have passed since Marie Collins resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM), complaining that the group’s work has been thwarted by resistance from within the Roman Curia. A few days after her public announcement, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the...

St. Patrick: the patron saint of parish closings?

(This column, written five 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 happy...

Prayer and Puppies

In preparation for the Olympics held in Greece in 2004, thousands of possibly dangerous stray dogs were poisoned. But the stray dog problem continues to this day. A few years ago during a religious pilgrimage to Greece, our tour bus was confronted with a pack of wild canines emerging from the...

Cardinal Wuerl goes off

A very small number of people, whose voices have been amplified by some of the Catholic media, have challenged the integrity of Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Thus does Cardinal Donald Wuerl begin an essay defending the papal document—and, far...

This Disastrous Papacy

Something snapped last Friday, when Pope Francis used the day’s Gospel reading as one more opportunity to promote his own view on divorce and remarriage. Condemning hypocrisy and the “logic of casuistry,” the Pontiff said that Jesus rejects the approach of legal...

News reports show impotence of papal sex-abuse commission

Talk about burying the lede! Credit the indispensable Terry Mattingly with noticing that in yesterday’s story about the Pope’s willingness to ease penalties on pedophile priests, AP put the most remarkable information in the last paragraph. So the biggest news was trimmed out of the...

Fear of Holiness

Fear is a useful emotion. Under the control of reason, it is good to recoil in fear from a rattlesnake posed to strike. Other fears are more subtle. It’s easy to think of holiness as inaccessible and even indicting, and therefore intimidating when we encounter a person perceived to be...

Blame the messenger: in this case Cardinal Burke

A bizarre conspiracy theory has arisen, suggesting that the mounting tensions within the Church are the result of a right-wing conspiracy against an innocent Pope. The theory involves inaccurate characterizations of three people: in one case absurd, in another case delusional, and in the third...

Guardians of Common Sense

The teachings of Christ provide benchmarks to measure “normal” human behavior. It helps if we don’t kill each other, remain faithful in marriage, don’t lie and cheat, and so on. Common sense stuff. Christians of course do not have a monopoly on common sense. But the rapid...

A Burke-Bannon conspiracy against Pope Francis? Nonsense!

An influential American political activist, the adviser to a controversial new President, conspires with a Catholic cardinal against the Pope. That sounds like the makings of a great story, doesn’t it? No wonder the New York Times gave it such prominence! No wonder so many other media outlets are...

Should social conservatives avoid criticizing Trump?

Less than two weeks into the presidency of Donald Trump, I began seeing arguments that social conservatives should mute their criticism of the new President. Hillary Clinton would have been a disaster—so the argument goes—and we should be grateful for the friendly initiatives that...

‘How am I doin’?’

Years ago the popular mayor of New York, Ed Koch, was known to greet his constituents on the street with a question: “How am I doin’?” As political shticks go, it was a good one; the voters received the question with amusement, but Koch accepted their responses with an edge of...

Pope Francis has become a source of division

Every day I pray for Pope Francis. And every day (I am exaggerating, but only slightly), the Pope issues another reminder that he does not approve of Catholics like me. If the Holy Father were rebuking me for my sins, I would have no reason to complain. But day after weary day the Pope upbraids...

The Vatican purge, continued: packing the College of Cardinals

Yesterday, writing about how Pope Francis has packed the College of Cardinals with prelates who share his particular point of view, I cited the words of Father Tom Reese, who said that if Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI had done the same thing, “Frankly, I would have been outraged.”...

The ideological purge at the Vatican

For most of us, who are not Knights of Malta, the resignation of the group’s grand master will have little immediate impact. But the unprecedented papal intervention into the affairs of that venerable body fits into a pattern that should, at this point, worry all faithful Catholics. Under...

Inauguration Day thoughts: Shining City on a Hill

Without God we labor in vain; so saith the Psalmist. Most of us, I suspect, easily forget the everyday need for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So it is helpful to add the phrase, “with God’s grace” to our daily imperatives to remind ourselves that we can do nothing without Him. On...

Why the Knights of Malta resist the Vatican—and the Knights of Columbus should have done the same

The escalating dispute between the Vatican and the Knights of Malta brings to mind a somewhat similar debate from years past. During the 1980s, as the abortion issue gave rise to the most contentious arguments on the American political scene, the Knights of Columbus (KofC) faced a tough...

Fantasy and reality in the ‘Kasper proposal’

The debate on Amoris Laetitia has been simmering steadily since my last entry on the subject. Father Raymond de Souza has helped put that debate in perspective, with a clear and compelling summary—easily the best that I have seen—of where the argument now stands. At this point the...

An Undelivered Christmas Homily

In a J.F. Powers short story written shortly after the Second Vatican Council, a priest is asked, “Father, how can we make sanctity as attractive as sex to the common man?” It’s a provocative question and worthy of a thoughtful answer—perhaps not from the pulpit. After all,...

No, don’t turn down the heat on the Amoris debate

John Allen, an honest and seasoned reporter who always tries to present a balanced perspective on Vatican affairs, is true to form in his column, Thoughts on turning down the heat in the ‘Amoris’ debate. There’s no reason to doubt his sincerity as he searches for a way to...

The rhetorical strategy to debunk the dubia

At this point it’s quite clear: close associates of Pope Francis, defenders of Amoris Laetita and critics of the four cardinals who submitted the famous dubia are all reading from the same script. When you notice that many different people are using the same arguments—in fact the same...

Second marriages and the casualties of spiritual combat

Spiritual combat: the phrase that is not often heard from the pulpit these days. But it is a phrase worth keeping in mind as we wrestle our way through the confusion that now clouds the Catholic teaching on marriage. In the early days of this pontificate, Pope Francis raised eyebrows with his...

Rather Than Global Warming, Worry about Wormwood

Several years ago an article appeared in the Washington Post, of all places, on the history of contraception. The writer reported that wormwood—a kind of herbal derivative—was used as a contraceptive by the ancients. (The story came to mind after reading George Sim Johnston’s...

The impoverished faith of the San Diego diocese

How would you feel if, after struggling to make ends meet for most of your life, you learned in your old age that you were the rightful heir to an enormous fortune, but your father had never told you about that inheritance? You would feel terribly betrayed, wouldn’t you? In the Diocese...

Fidel Castro, RIP?

God has given us an Advent meditation with the death of Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, politician, revolutionary, mass murderer. Here are examples of responses by world leaders: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement hailed Castro as a “remarkable leader” and a...

Rackets

During my pop-philosophy years as a youngster, I happened to catch the “Longshoreman philosopher” Eric Hoffer on “60 Minutes.” Fascinated by his street wisdom I eventually got around to reading his book The True Believer where he wrote: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business,...

On request for clarification of Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s silence speaks volumes

We should not be surprised that the Pope has declined a request for clarification of Amoris Laetitia. Are faithful Catholics confused by that document? Absolutely. That is the Holy Father’s intent. The confusion is not a bug; it’s a feature. The defenders of the papal document (and...

Trump, Brexit, and the collapse of a world order

The election of Donald Trump punctuates the end of an era—and I don’t mean just the Clinton era. We are living through a time of global historical change: the demise of an international order. Somehow our leading politicians, pundits, and pollsters, who spend their days analyzing...

Little Italian Grandmothers

One of the most memorable homilies I’ve heard was given by a New York City priest when I was in the seminary. He introduced his homily with a droll comment about “little Italian grandmothers” and their big families. The details escape me. But his quip drew twitters of chuckles...

The danger of appointing like-minded cardinals

“Once, he was sentenced to death. Now, he’ll be a Catholic cardinal.” That was the headline on a Washington Post report on the Pope’s decision to award a red hat to Father Ernest Simoni, who survived almost 30 years in forced-labor camps under Albania’s brutal...

Pope’s choice of new US cardinals underlines commitment to ‘irreversible’ change

With his selection of 17 new cardinals, Pope Francis has left no doubt about his determination to bring permanent change to the Church. “You have to realize that he is aiming at reform that is irreversible,” one of his closest advisers said last year. With his additions to the group...

Jewish Humor

Jewish humor is prevalent in our culture, or at least at one time it was. Many of the great comedians are Jewish: Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Groucho Marx, Jerry Lewis—the list seems endless. Humor, of course, is possible because the contrast of human behavior—whether sinful or just...

The Pope’s confusing statement on gender theory: a follow-up

Several readers have written to me overnight, saying that I was mistaken in saying that Pope Francis had sent mixed messages about gender theory. Let me respond to that concern. When he spoke in Tbilisi, Georgia, the Pope was admirably clear in his denunciation of gender theory. (I said that...

Another confusing papal statement, this time on gender ideology

Another papal trip, another in-flight press conference, another statement to confuse and dismay the faithful. Last Saturday, in Tbilisi, Georgia, the Holy Father denounced gender ideology in ringing terms. “Today there is a world war to destroy marriage,” he said, and gender theory...

A whiff of schism: when different Catholics hold radically different beliefs

At a Catholic parish in Athy, Ireland, a lesbian couple who resigned from parish ministry after entering a legal marriage has returned to active participation—and to loud applause. So now everyone is welcome in St. Michael’s parish, right? Wrong. Anthony Murphy, the editor of...

Is Pope Francis deliberately subverting papal teaching authority?

Today the greatest threat to the teaching authority of the Pope is the Pope himself. Pope Francis specializes in unsettling remarks-- most frequently, it seems, during in-flight interviews. But the responsibility of the Roman Pontiff is to settle questions: something that Pope Francis seems...

Ten years later, recognizing the prophetic message of the Regensburg address

Ten years ago today—on September 12, 2006—Pope Benedict XVI delivered his memorable address at Regensburg. The speech drew violent protests from the Islamic world, scolding rebukes from Western political leaders, and even embarrassed demurrals by other Catholic leaders (including...

Stalled Vatican financial reforms could hurt cause of evangelization

The Wall Street Journal has noticed that the ambitious financial reforms begun under Pope Francis have run out of steam. Reporter Francis X. Rocca notes that the diminished authority of Cardinal George Pell, the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, is "a sign that the Vatican's...

The Pope's shocking statement on the environment

Pope Francis has often surprised, confused, and dismayed me. But nothing that he has said or done thus far in his pontificate has shocked me as much as his Message on World Day of Prayer for Creation. What troubles me about that message is not the Pope’s call for care of the environment....

Immigration and the Family

In the Book of Genesis, when God created man in his image and ordered man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply,” He implicitly established the family as the foundational social unit. Communities, cities, and nations subsequently have been built upon that basic structure and share in...

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