On The News

Analysis of news events and trends.

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...

The crisis: Déjà vu all over again

[This is an abridged version of a letter I wrote to ecclesiastical authorities after the Boston Globe revelations in 2002. I received no response. I think the letter—after sixteen years—remains painfully relevant today after the McCarrick debacle.] The “priest crisis”...

There are only 2 things an American bishop can say now...

The Pennsylvania grand-jury report was released on the very day that I had chosen (long beforehand) to begin a week-long vacation. I had vowed that it would be a real vacation—that I wouldn’t hop back to post news items on this site—and I held to that vow. Still I could not...

Pope Francis on capital punishment: doctrine built on shifting sands?

How can a fixed moral principle be dependent on a contingent practical judgment? How can a doctrine be based on shifting circumstances? The Pope can say—indeed Pope John Paul II did say—that it is always wrong, in every case, deliberately to take the life of an innocent human being....

Pope Francis and the death penalty: another dose of confusion

Once again Pope Francis has given the world reason to believe that the teachings of the Catholic Church can and will change. Was the Pope’s decision to revise the Catechism’s teaching on the death penalty a change in Church teaching, or a development of existing doctrine?...

Ministers, not masters, of life

As we ponder the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, we come to realize it is one of the most practical revelations in the Catholic arsenal because it provides the underpinnings of our relationship to God and the life God gives us. We come to realize why and how we are ministers of life, not the...

A few weak men

To a large extent, the men of the inner circle of Jesus were weak. During His Passion, Jesus is betrayed, abandoned, and denied by his apostles. Only one of them returns to the foot of the Cross. In selecting the apostles, Jesus did not choose those whom the world considers the best and brightest....

Orthodox leaders headed for a showdown over Ukraine

If you care about ecumenism—if you care about the restoration of Christian unity—you should be aware of a current dispute about the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Most Catholic Americans, I realize, rarely pay attention to the debates among the world’s Orthodox...

The McCarrick scandal & the gay lobby: a problem the bishops won’t address

The news that Cardinal McCarrick has been credibly accused of molesting a young man—and the subsequent revelations that “everybody knew” about the cardinal’s homosexual activities—have raised new and important questions about the silence of other American bishops....

The neglected root of the Church sex-abuse scandal

Two new episodes in the festering sex-abuse scandal have called attention to a facet of the problem that has long been understood (at least by some analysts), but routinely neglected if not actively suppressed: the connection between sexual abuse of young people and a widespread homosexual culture...

If ‘everybody knew’ about Cardinal McCarrick, the corruption runs deep

Now at last the truth about Cardinal McCarrick’s misconduct has become public knowledge. If my email traffic is any indication, many more stories will soon emerge. But Rod Dreher drives right to the central point in his follow-up column, entitled “Cardinal McCarrick: Everybody...

The immigration debate: a plague on both houses

Now that President Trump has signed an executive order ending the separation of families by immigration agents, I hope that one of the most appalling political arguments in recent American history will come to an end. But I doubt it. I suspect the argument will continue, because both sides are...

Just Call Me Jerry

With the Ascension of Christ to heaven—the departure of his identifiable physical presence—and with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes accessible to us only by faith. Through faith, we come to know Jesus in the Word of God. Through faith, we encounter Jesus in the...

The Vatican in disarray

The past few weeks have brought several positive signs from Rome: The Chilean bishops resigned as a group after meeting with Pope Francis, thereby raising hopes that the Holy Father is finally following up strong statements with strong action against bishops who cover up abuse. In a talk...

A ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’

It’s easy to impose our own prejudices in evaluating our relationship with God. When we are asked if we truly have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” the expression suggests an emotional, warm, intimate feeling of the encounter. Of course, as Catholics, we may easily...

Ireland’s vote: the fruit of years of Catholic complacency

On the eve of Trinity Sunday, the people of Ireland voted to amend their constitution. Just to put the vote in context, here’s how the preamble to that constitution begins: In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of...

Behind the Chilean bishops’ resignations: a very hopeful sign?

Although many questions remain about the mass resignation of Chile’s Catholic bishops, last week’s bombshell announcement brought one very promising development. We still don’t know whether Pope Francis demanded, requested, or even encouraged the bishops’ resignations....

Mary, not Misogyny

It’s fair to observe that women tend to be more religious than men. A typical weekday Mass almost always has a disproportionate number of women in attendance. Prayer and religious devotion seem to be much easier for the ladies than for the gents. (So much for the “male-dominated”...

Low liturgy and high camp: the Met Gala fiasco

Without exception, the people with whom I spoke on the issue agreed that it was spectacularly foolish for the Vatican to become involved with the Met Gala. They all saw the problem coming, long before the headlines and photo-spreads appeared. So how did it happen? Why didn’t Vatican...

My father’s death, and Alfie’s

My father was an extraordinarily fit 93-year-old when he went into the hospital for minor surgery. He was still working, still taking breaks to do push-ups on the floor of his office, still taking the stairs two at a time. But a painful ear infection would not respond to treatment, and as the...

The ‘New Paradigm’: Old Errors, Same Tactics

Cardinal Cupich recently gave a talk in Cambridge in which he, like Cardinal Marx and other revisionist prelates and theologians, promotes a “New Paradigm” for understanding Catholic morality. The trouble is, the paradigm isn’t true, and it’s not even new. The “New...

The New York Times on this papacy: confused yet revealing

An April 28 report in the New York Times, entitled Pope Francis in the Wilderness, presents what seems at first a puzzling perspective on the papacy, but actually reveals a great deal about how the secular media see the Catholic Church. Right from the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis...

Yes, the Pope is a Catholic. But he’s confusing other Catholics.

Blogger Mark Mallett has done a real service—and I mean this sincerely—by a long list of links to statements by Pope Francis voicing clearly orthodox Catholic beliefs on topics important to conservative Catholics, including abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, population control,...

Blasphemy tests the limits of tolerance at Holy Cross

A confession: During the past few weeks, as the result of my own editorial decision, we have not fully informed our readers about the scandal created by a blasphemous theology professor at the College of the Holy Cross. Chastise me if you like, but I don’t regret my decision. With...

The Magisterium of the Sacred Liturgy

Many people equate faith with superstition. For many, accepting Church teaching is like believing magic, or in flying saucers or voodoo. But in so doing, they neglect the crucial role that reason plays in our faith. So they invent an alternative narrative using their own dogmas on the meaning of...

Confusion—now about hell—is the hallmark of this pontificate

Okay, Pope Francis probably did not say: “There is no hell.” But that’s the headline story for today—for Holy Thursday. And while maybe the interviewer is responsible for an inaccurate quotation, the Pope himself is responsible for the ensuing confusion. The Vatican,...

Practical Atheism

We often hear people say they no longer believe in God because there are so much evil and suffering in the world. They may add that they find the deeds of Jesus inspiring, but He spoils it all by saying that “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will...

Papal continuity or discontinuity? The Vatican PR team scores on its own goal

Last week the Vatican published a series of short books on the theology of Pope Francis. You probably haven’t heard much about those books. But you’ve heard quite a bit about the controversy that erupted after they were unveiled. If the Vatican had only announced the publication of...

St. Patrick: the patron saint of parish closings?

(This column, written six years ago, is re-posted annually 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...

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