On The News

Analysis of news events and trends.

Is the Pope a heretic? The danger of asking the wrong question

Was it sheer frustration that prompted a group of Catholic scholars to issue their open letter charging Pope Francis with heresy? If so, I can understand. I share the frustration. The silence of the Catholic hierarchy, in the face of confusion that is tearing the Church apart, is maddening. If...

Why a ‘superdicastery’ for evangelization is not a good idea

After six years and 29 working sessions (each stretching across three days), the Council of Cardinals is finally ready to unveil its plan for reorganizing the Roman Curia. A preview report, based on interviews with two of the cardinals on the Pope’s advisory committee, the new plan...

Dialogue with an Atheist

A famous atheist, British professor Richard Dawkins, holds that atheists are generally smarter than Christians. Atheists might be more humble than Christians, too. Dawkins, the world’s most famous atheist, supported a bus ad campaign with the relatively humble slogan, “There’s...

Mandatory vaccination: a danger to religious freedom

If I told you that police in New York had been ordered to bar Jewish children from public places, would you be alarmed? You should be. And it happened. No one said that the order was directed specifically at Jewish children. But that would be the primary effect of a policy announced last month...

Courage at the Cross

We all have secret dreads. Soldiers may be brave in battle but dread the sight of a doctor’s syringe or a black snake in the basement. Courage is an elusive virtue and not particularly reliable. Depending on circumstances, we may be heroic in courage or cowering in fear. Let’s...

Self-serving Sorrow

Mothers spend a lot of time teaching their babies the meaning of "hot." “The stove is hot, don’t touch!” Soon the baby is running around pointing at items, announcing to the world that they’re "hot." At first, he has no direct experience of the meaning of "hot.” In time, the baby learns the wages...

Benedict’s powerful message—and the bid to suppress it

After six years of public silence, broken only by a few mild personal comments, Pope-emeritus Benedict has spoken out dramatically, with a 6,000-word essay on sexual abuse that has been described as a sort of post-papal encyclical. Clearly the retired Pontiff felt compelled to write: to say...

The promise of the Catholic vision

Humans desire happiness. So it is normal to seek a place or state of things in which everything is perfect. But what can we realistically expect? Let’s consider two utopias: the Catholic vision or “Catholic utopia” and the secular vision, the Godless utopia. In Catholic...

A wretched ‘tell-all’ Vatican exposé that tells us only one thing

“I don’t often talk about my own life in my books,” writes Frederic Martel, near the close of his sensationalistic In the Closet of the Vatican. Reading that phrase, I laughed out loud. The humor was unintentional; Martel takes himself very seriously. Still in light of the...

Transfiguration and confidence

Self-confidence, properly understood, is spiritually healthy. With an honest and well-formed conscience, we should all strive for an unshakable faith and confidence, without arrogance, that is rooted in Jesus. A letter to the editor in Catholic World Report many years ago gave a wrenching...

A statement the Tennessee bishops shouldn’t have made

The Catholic bishops of Tennessee have recommended against support for a “Heartbeat Bill,” on prudential grounds. The bishops may be right in their political judgment. But even if they are, they had no business issuing their statement. In that statement, the bishops make it quite...

A failed Vatican ‘summit’ only postpones the final reckoning

As I predicted a week ago, the ballyhooed Vatican “summit” on sexual abuse has produced little more than strong statements: statements of the sort that the Catholic laity have come to expect… and to mistrust. The bishops who gathered in Rome last week did nothing to address...

The Bishops and their Confessions

Confession is good for the soul. A good Confession identifies every mortal sin (nature and number) to the best of one’s ability. The priest usually does not need to hear the details, unless certain circumstances are necessary for purposes of clarification. A penitent should provide...

A Vatican meeting programmed for failure

Brace yourself. Tomorrow the Vatican begins a public-relations offensive in response to the sex-abuse scandal. Unless I am much mistaken, unfortunately, a public-relations effort is all that we can expect. If the long-awaited meeting on The Protection of Minors in the Church adheres to the...

Anatomy of the healing process

Healing—more than repentance—is on the mind of bishops everywhere. Reporting the recent laicization of former Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the present of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement: “No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the...

Outraged Catholic laity forced action on McCarrick. But that’s just a first step.

The Natonal Catholic Register report on the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, by Edward Pentin, is excellent: thorough, balanced, and accurate. I strongly suggest that you read the entire piece. (Be sure to scroll down past the fundraising appeal.) Have you done that? Good. Now let me call...

McCarrick may be sanctioned, but the cover-up continues

According to multiple reliable sources in Rome, former cardinal Theodore McCarrick will soon be laicized—defrocked—in punishment for multiple instances of sexual misconduct. The Vatican will announce the penalty, apparently, just before the long-awaited meeting of the sex-abuse...

Appealing to the better angels of pastors

Years ago, a priest friend of mine was assigned as a parochial vicar to a very liberal dissident parish. A parishioner threatened to reduce his contributions in response to his orthodox preaching. The priest pointed to the air conditioning unit and said, “Before the electrical bill is paid,...

How the new NY abortion law doesn’t change things, and how it does

Would it be much better, really, if the new law in New York—and similarly ghoulish legislation now advancing in Virginia and Rhode Island—allowed for legal abortion only up until childbirth? The internet has lit up this week, with anguished laments from pro-lifers, appalled by the...

The real reason why Cuomo won’t be excommunicated

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral As the Washington Post (!) reported on calls for the excommunication of New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had strongly backed and applauded the...

Ending rule by the ‘McCarrick Doctrine’

It cannot be denied that a large number of Catholic bishops and their vicars lied, covered up, and abused their positions and faith. The sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people were not only the result of the dereliction of duty of bishops in governing but in several cases...

They came for Covington Catholic; next will they come for you?

It’s time for the pro-life movement to grow up. The disgraceful treatment of students from Covington Catholic—and by that I mean the pell-mell rush of pro-life “leaders” to condemn innocent young men—illustrates a potentially fatal flaw in the movement. For much...

Please, bishops: act now; you’re running out of time!

The statement from Archishop Vigano, pleading with McCarrick to make a public act of repentance, was a dramatic—and sadly rare—display of bold pastoral leadership. God bless Bishop Strickland for joining in that plea. I hope and pray that other American bishops will follow suit....

The Zanchetta case: a fatal blow to the Pope’s reputation as a reformer

Last week the Vatican acknowledged that an Argentine bishop working at the Vatican faces sex-abuse charges. The story drew little attention from American media outlets, and understandably so: just one more in a long line of complaints against clerics, in this case involving a bishop whose name...

Pope’s message to US bishops: what NOT to do

In November, Pope Francis instructed the Catholic bishops of the US to table their plans for new responses to the sex-abuse scandal. Now, in his letter to the American bishops who are on retreat at Mundelein seminary this week, the Pontiff exhorts them to take action—but not, apparently,...

Chastity: Cornerstone of holiness and happiness

Chastity is a way of life. Guidelines, codes of conduct, policies, and procedures governing interpersonal behavior may be useful in communicating acceptable workplace boundaries and defining legally abusive behavior. But the virtue of chastity cannot be reduced to a collection of rules and...

The top 20 stories of a painful year

2018 was a tumultuous year for the Catholic Church, and frankly, most of the news was bad news. With prayers for more positive headlines in 2019, here are my own selections for the 20 most important stories of the past year: #20. Pope’s address to the Roman Curia. In past years Pope...

The inexplicable conviction of Cardinal Pell

Through bitter experience over the years, I have learned never to proclaim that some trusted figure couldn’t possibly be guilty of sexual abuse. I have learned to wait, to weigh the evidence, and if a court finds the man guilty, to accept that finding. Since I don’t know the facts,...

It could have been a wonderful life

On Christmas Eve 2008, in upstate New York, George Bailey contemplates suicide. Cynical jeers about him reach the underworld, where Mephistopheles Mouch, Fallen Angel 2nd Class, is assigned to George. George has been an unusually valuable asset. Hell has big plans for him. So if he is able to...

Cupich appointment shows: February conference in Rome will be damage control

If you held out any hope that the Vatican might finally respond effectively to the sex-abuse scandal—that the February meeting could possibly prompt some real action—those hopes should have been shattered by the stunning announcement that Pope Francis had appointed Cardinal Blase...

Clericalism and the Summer of Shame

Clericalism is said to be the main sin that has given rise to the sex-abuse crisis in the Church today. The official statements blaming clericalism rather than the “dirty little secret” of a gay network have often been met with cynicism. A recent joke making the internet rounds goes:...

Did you notice? Review Board chairman urged bishops to resign

Chances are, you’ve only seen quick summaries of the address by Francesco Cesareo, the chairman of the National Review Board, to the US bishops’ meeting this week. I strongly recommend reading the whole text. It’s remarkable. Notice first the tone of the address. Cesareo...

Beware a false diagnosis of the crisis in the Catholic hierarchy

Ask a dozen Americans to explain the decline in the public influence of the Catholic Church, and at least ten will say that the sex-abuse scandal is the root cause. That standard narrative is handy but it’s wrong. The sex-abuse scandal has done catastrophic damage to the standing of the...

The third Vigano testimony: for a change, a pastor who talks about saving souls

“This is about souls,” Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano states solemnly in the third installment of his remarkable public testimony. This third letter, far more than the two that preceded it, is a pastoral message. Archbishop Vigano explains that he has spoken out because he is concerned about the...

Unwritten rules and the Great Compromise

The encounter of the rich young man with Jesus reveals the contrast and connection between written and unwritten rules. The rich young man had observed all of the Commandments since his youth. But Jesus calls him to a higher state of generosity by going beyond the Law of Moses. It is helpful for...

A Synod slap at home schoolers

From Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society, via the National Catholic Register, comes this ominous warning: At the Youth Synod in Rome this week, one of the bishops’ discussion groups made some disappointing and ignorant comments about Catholic homeschoolers. In one of the...

On McCarrick scandal, Vatican responses are tardy, not reassuring

Finally there is some movement. This weekend the Vatican began responding to the dismay of the laity over the McCarrick scandal. The responses are certainly tardy, and still not terribly reassuring. But they are responses, at least; the “stonewall” approach is breaking down. The...

Benedict XVI answers his critics—and drops a hint

Pope-emeritus Benedict has been scrupulously careful, these last five years, to avoid anything that could be construed as criticism of Pope Francis. At the same time, the former Pope has come under criticism—led by some of his greatest admirers—for a resignation that, in retrospect,...

Should Pope Francis resign? I say No... but...

Should Pope Francis resign? Like my colleague Jeff Mirus, I say No. Since I have often been critical of the Pope—not least in my book Lost Shepherd—I’m sure many readers will be surprised by my answer. Let me explain my reasoning. If public pressure forces Pope Francis...

The track record supports the Vigano testimony

At several points in his bombshell testimony, Archbishop Vigano explained where the corroborating evidence could be found: in files at the Vatican or the offices of the apostolic nuncio. If those files are made public—or even vetted by a reliable, objective investigator—we would all...

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