Few images in recent Catholic history will be remembered like the ones that marked Benedict XVI’s last day as pope: Bidding farewell to well-wishers at the Vatican, the departing pontiff boarded a helicopter, en route to Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence just outside Rome. Upon arrival, he was greeted by the town’s residents, who heard him deliver his last address as pope, in which he spoke movingly about being a pilgrim of the Lord.
The occasion gave rise to some surprisingly sympathetic stories about the papal residence, which has an eventful history. In a report for the New York Times, Elisabetta Povoledo described how the papacy first laid claim to Castel Gandolfo (originally a small fortress) in 1596, but did not really become associated with it until 30 years later, when Pope Urban VIII, who had a wing built on the side which overlooks Lake Albano, made it an official papal residence. Pope Alexander VII later commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the great Baroque architect, to construct a second wing, and successive popes have made further additions and renovations. Today, writes Povoleda, the residence has become something of a world unto itself: “The pontifical villas of Castel Gandolfo cover a triangle-shaped swath of the town, totaling about 135 acres. A working farm provides produce—fruits and vegetables, oils, eggs and dairy products—to the pope’s kitchens, both here and in Vatican City.”
After noting that Castel Gandolfo retains “considerable interaction” with the local 9,000 residents, Povoledo commented:
Townspeople of a certain age still recall the protection given by Pope Pius XII after Allied troops landed in Anzio in 1944 and the area became an open war zone. Some 12,000 people found refuge in the pontifical villas. ‘Around here there are many people named Pio or Pia, Eugenio or Eugenia,’ in honor of Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pius XII, said Pier Paolo Turoli, an administrator of the Pontifical Villas at Castel Gandolfo.
This remarkable acknowledgement of papal humanitarianism was refreshing, given how frequently the modern Times has mistreated Pius and the Church. Yet Povoledo’s coverage is thoroughly in keeping with the Times‘ own wartime reporting, which—at least back then—was quite fair to Pius XII. (more…)
Today, America honors the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., and what he meant to our nation. In so doing, we will likely focus on his achievements—understandably so, since they were so impressive, and continue to grow. But it’s equally important to remember the many struggles that preceded them. From the moment King entered the public square, determined to counter evil with good, he was questioned, challenged and assailed. Some of his own allies thought him unrealistic; many conservatives judged him subversive, and the FBI hounded and monitored him. Today, that is largely forgotten, as all three recognize his greatness: progressives, as an activist for peace and social justice; conservatives, as a defender of the Natural Law and Biblical truth; and the U.S. government, as a symbol of national unity and American principles.
Even after passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, King never rested on his laurels. He continued to fight for his ideals, even in the face of hostility and opposition. Nowhere was that clearer than in his very last address—his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. Not as well known as his “I Have a Dream” speech, it is equally moving and prophetic. In a way, it is a brief narrative and microcosm of his extraordinary life.
In the spring of 1968, King had travelled to Memphis, Tennessee, to support black public works employees, who were striking because of unequal treatment. On April 3, he spoke powerfully on their behalf, but also about much larger themes, particularly his high expectations for America’s democracy, and how it was falling short:
The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see all the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding. Something is happening.
One of the developments that stirred King was the activity of the evangelists he was speaking to that day: “You know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somewhere the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones, and whenever injustice is around, he must tell it.” He warned his fellow ministers, however, that speaking out would come at a price, citing the Gospel and difficult experiences from his own life.
The next day, King fell victim to an assassin’s bullet, tragically dying when he was just thirty-nine. According to biographer Taylor Branch, medical examiners discovered that King actually “had the heart of a 60 year old,” likely due to the extreme stress he endured. No American ever suffered more for truth and justice than Reverend King.
Among the many lessons from Reverend King’s life are that faithful Christians should pursue their dreams, but be willing to make sacrifices, and be prepared to endure doubt, ridicule and even persecution. Worthy dreams are usually accomplished only after tribulations, and intense struggle. But if we don’t lose heart, and remain faithful to God, it will all be worth it. As Reverend King himself said, in the closing words of his inspiring Mountaintop address:
And then I got into Memphis, and some began to say the threats or talk about the threats, or what would happen to me. . . . Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind. . . . Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything—I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
The recent news that Cardinal Elia Dalla Costa has been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial is a welcome, and a much-deserved, honor. Dalla Costa, the archbishop of Florence during World War II, “played a central role in the organization and operation of a widespread rescue network,” said Yad Vashem in its November announcement. He “recruited rescuers from among the clergy, supplied letters to his activists so that they could go to heads of monasteries and convents entreating them to shelter Jews, and sheltered Jews in his own palace.”
Numerous witnesses have testified to Dalla Costa’s personal involvement in rescue. Lya Quitt testified that “she fled from France to Florence in the beginning of September 1943 and was brought to the Archbishop’s palace where she spent the night with other Jews who were being sheltered there. The following day they were taken to different convents in the city.”
Giorgio La Pira, a leader of the Italian resistance, described Dalla Costa as “the soul of this ‘activity of love’ aimed to save so many brothers;” and Father Cipriano Ricotti remembers being summoned to Dalla Costa’s office: “The Archbishop asked me…if I believed that I could devote myself to helping Jews. He immediately gave me a letter of instruction he had written, so that I would have the authority to turn to monasteries—many of which may not have opened their gates, had I not such a letter in my possession—so as to find shelter for the numerous suffering persons.”
Dalla Costa’s honor coincides with the publication of two important new books that explore different dimensions of the Second World War, one distressing, the other inspiring.
The first is Complicity in the Holocaust by Robert P. Ericksen, a bleak portrait of capitulation and collaboration during the Nazi era. It is painful (but necessary) reading, for it reminds us how easily and shockingly prominent individuals, including self-professed Christians, fell sway to the radical evils of racism, anti-Semitism and nationalism. The one significant drawback of Ericksen’s book is its partial and often one-sided examination of the Churches. His evaluation of the Catholic Church, for example, is so dark and sweeping that, at one point, he suggests the Holy See—if not Catholicism in general– was naturally inclined toward fascism.
He also repeats some (now quite outdated) errors about Pius XII. For a corrective to this view, one should read “Fascism and Catholicism,” a brilliant wartime essay (1941) by Dietrich von Hildebrand, the great German Catholic philosopher and early opponent of Hitler, who, tellingly, is missing from Ericksen’s narrative, as is von Hildebrand’s praise of Pope Pius XII.
The second work which helps balance the deficiencies of Ericksen’s otherwise valuable volume is The Catholic Bishops of Europe and the Nazi Persecutions of Catholics and Jewsby Vincent Lapomarda, S.J., which recounts the courage and compassion of prominent Catholic prelates who resisted Nazism. Father Lapomarda, who heads the Hiatt Holocaust Collection at Holy Cross college, is the author of a previous acclaimed study, The Jesuits and the Third Reich, which established how many members of the Society of Jesus—who took a special oath of fidelity to the pope—actively opposed Hitler and his crimes.
Against the literature which depicts the wartime Church as almost entirely passive or collaborationist, Lapomarda’s work proves that Catholic resistance to Nazism—even amidst collaboration and betrayal—was extensive, and often heroic. In a country-by-country analysis of Catholic resistance in Nazi-occupied lands, Father Lapomarda compiles the many interventions made by the Catholic hierarchy for persecuted Jews during the wartime era, and makes clear (as he did in The Jesuits and the Third Reich) how these rescue measures had the support of the Vatican. This was recognized at the time, even if it is sometimes forgotten or denied today.
When Jean Cardinal Verdier, the archbishop of Paris and outspoken opponent of Nazism, died in 1940, the New York Timescommented: “Cardinal Verdier like Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII, was the especial champion of persecuted Jews. Besides extending monetary and material aid to Jewish refugees finding sanctuary in his archdiocese, he also called on all Christians ‘to pray that the evils that the Jews are now suffering shall cease.’ This appeal was made in April, 1933, and was followed by many similar ones.” (New York Times obituary, April 9, 1940.)
It is important that Catholics and Christians acknowledge the failures and complicity of certain Christians during the Nazi era—where guilt is beyond question—but it is equally important that unjustallegations be answered, and that those who did live up to Christianity’s teachings are recognized and applauded. Fortunately, there is increasing understanding and appreciation of this.
The news that America’s bishops, led by Cardinal Dolan, have unanimously approved the cause of Dorothy Day—the famous convert and Catholic Worker leader—has brought joy to her many admirers. I am among them.
Several months ago, in writing about Day’s “dynamic orthodoxy,” I put forward the reasons I thought she merited sainthood, despite the controversial aspects of her life. Now, following the bishop’s initiative, Day’s extraordinary life is again being held up as a model of sanctity—especially for those who’ve fallen, but now in the process of repairing their lives.
As Cardinal Dolan noted, Day’s early life was anything but encouraging, in that it involved sexual immorality, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and an abortion. And yet, like so many sinners who’ve returned to God—and even become saints—she was radically transformed by the Gospel, and, once Catholic, never looked back.
Her devotion to her new-found faith was all-consuming, and one of the main reasons for her proposed sainthood. “Dorothy Day was a woman of the Church: She loved being a Catholic,” said Cardinal Dolan in a sermon several years ago. “She loved the Catholic Church. I’m not talking about some nebulous, generic Church. She loved the one, holy, Catholic, apostolic, Roman Church.”
In our day, the Cardinal continued, there are many who try to separate Jesus from the Church and formulate their own brand of independent Christian spirituality. But for Day, and for all faithful Catholics, this is a “no can do” proposition, for orthodoxy holds that Christ founded a Church precisely to guide the faithful. One is inconceivable without the other.
Cardinal Dolan’s comments are instructive, for they point to the source of Dorothy Day’s greatness: her profound commitment to the riches of Catholicism led by a hierarchical, authoritative Church, not by arbitrary “free spirits.” This is often missed by those who write about Day, as if she was merely a rebel whose political anarchism (which developed into a deep Christian personalism) translated into an anti-episcopal attitude. They don’t understand that Day’s life makes no sense unless you first understand she centered it around Christ and His Church. (more…)
As he attempts to quell the controversy over his recent comments about the alleged dependency habits of nearly half of all Americans, Mitt Romney may have a bigger challenge ahead: inspiring social conservatives to vote for him. Ever since he entered the presidential sweepstakes, a segment of social conservatives have been hesitant to support him.
Though they welcome converts to their cause, the sincerity of Romney’s evolution, from social liberalism to traditionalism, is still questioned. While many believe he has earned their trust, others haven’t been persuaded—at least not yet–and their apprehensions were heightened by a string of recent events.
First, in an interview with CBS news, shortly before the GOP convention, Romney declared: “My position has been clear throughout this campaign. I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest and the health and life of the mother.”
As is well-known, a “health” exception for abortion can be so broadly defined as to allow for virtually any kind of abortion. (In fact, Roe v. Wade and its companion case Doe v. Boltonmade this clear).
“What strikes me most of all in reading Chesterton is that his real audience is today’s audience. When he wrote, the things he described must have seemed fantastic to his contemporaries, but we live in a time when we’ve seen his prophecies fulfilled. I think really Chesterton therefore is a writer, a journalist, who speaks it chiefly to us. I was thinking for example of a comment he made a long time ago, when he said that the next great heresy is going to be an attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality. He said not to be so afraid of the Russians and the Bolsheviks. He said, ‘The madness of tomorrow is far more in Manhattan than in Moscow.’”
“He believed that a consumerist culture had a greater power to undermine morality than any totalitarian system. He said when real evil comes, it always comes from within.”
As Father Boyd reminds us of Chesterton’s prophetic insights, Cardinal Dolan confirms that Manhattan and indeed the entire Archdiocese of New York has become “mission territory.” (New Yorkers shouldn’t feel too isolated, since they have plenty of competition elsewhere.)
Far more than earlier times, however, Catholics have embraced the “great heresy,” so they need the New Evangelization as much as anyone. (more…)
Excommunication is the most severe penalty the Catholic Church can impose upon its members, but it is sometimes necessary as a matter of simple justice.
Writing in the National Catholic Register, Father Brian Mullady makes the point well. Acknowledging that many regard excommunication as a “strange holdover from the medieval Church,” he explains why it remains as valid as ever, and can actually serve as an act of mercy: “Its intent is always to restore the offenders to truth and communion.” Dr. Edward Peters, canon lawyer and author of Excommunication and the Catholic Church, concurs, while correcting common misunderstandings people have about the measure. For example, many believe excommunication expels a Catholic from the Church and condemns that person to hell—it does neither (only God can determine a person’s ultimate fate)—but it does deprive Catholics of certain rights, and urgently calls them to reform their lives.
Of course, excommunication can be misused, and has been. Joan of Arc was famously excommunicated in the fifteenth century for political reasons, but the Church later repudiated that condemnation, and declared her a saint. More recently, Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), an extraordinary Australian nun who dedicated her life to the poor, was excommunicated by her bishop (more…)
Whenever criticism is voiced of the mainstream media these days, we are sure to be reminded of its accomplishments. “Don’t forget,” critics are told, “it was the much-maligned media that uncovered Watergate; the media which exposed evils like Abu Ghraib; and the media, in large measure, which forced the Church to acknowledge its own terrible sins.”
All true, and those reporters who worked for those ends deserve full credit and honors. May we produce more journalists like them. But it is only fair to point out–since many media admirers do not–that many reporters within that same media often fall prey to sensational and irresponsible reporting; make unfair and even reckless allegations against innocent people; allow partisanship to overwhelm their objectivity; and, most notoriously, try to rationalize and justify the culture of death.
Rare is the mainstream reporter or columnist who is willing to repudiate the pro-choice outlook for a pro-life stand. But there are exceptions. Among them is Nat Hentoff, whom Mark Judge recently paid tribute to for his remarkable conversion:
“A famous liberal who was a staple at the Village Voice and who had a column in the Washington Post, in the 1980’s Hentoff actually let himself be swayed by evidence about abortion.” (more…)
Nothing so excites the press than does a Vatican scandal. The recent firing of the head of the Vatican’s Bank, amidst charges of wrongdoing, and the arrest of the pope’s private butler, accused of leaking papal documents, have provoked an international media frenzy. For all the media’s demands for Church “reform,” however, one wonders whether they would welcome it, if it actually led to an increase in holiness, and offered much less material for them to write lurid headlines about.
None of which is to excuse the Vatican. If it turns out that better oversight, organization and background checks could have prevented these scandals, Catholics should be the first to broadcast that finding, and hold those responsible accountable. Self-examination and moral purity should be constant demands for any believing Catholic. The faithful do the Holy See no favors when they remain silent about suspected corruption, or prudential errors from the highest quarters of the Church. Of course, even if the Vatican overhauls its entire system, with exacting and efficient standards, that won’t guarantee against additional scandals, since temptation and sin can never be eradicated from the human heart.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has acknowledged the need “for truth and clarity, for transparency” in investigating what happened. In his first public comments on the scandals, Pope Benedict was both humble and sensible, saying they “brought sadness” to his heart, while affirming his faith they would be overcome, and rebuking the “entirely gratuitous” speculation of the media which was presenting a “completely unrealistic image of the Holy See.”
Among those images is the idea that the Vatican is a nest of self-centered prelates, constantly bickering with one another, (more…)
Unveiling a new work on the Second Vatican Council in Rome, Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, the retired president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, announced that Vatican II’s decrees on non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate) and Religious Freedom (Dignitatas Humanae) “do not have a binding doctrinal content, so one can dialogue about them.”
The comment–seen as a gesture to the Society of St. Pius X, now in talks with the Holy See about a possible reconciliation–naturally provoked controversy. Some traditionalists welcomed it as a sign that their criticisms about those documents have always been right, whereas Catholic Culture’s Dr. Jeff Mirus immediately cautioned: “While it is certainly true that a ‘dogmatic constitution’ is a weightier document than a ‘declaration,’ and is more likely to deal extensively with doctrinal issues, this does not mean that a declaration cannot have doctrinal content to which the faithful must assent.” He then persuasively explains why, with regard to Vatican II’s teaching on non-Christian religions and religious liberty.
In fairness to Cardinal Brandmuller, he also affirmed that all of the Conciliar documents “must be taken seriously as an expression of the living Magisterium;” and one of his co-authors, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, added, importantly: “There must be an acceptance of the Council by those who want to be reunited with the Church. I don’t think the SSPX can say, ‘Well, we’ll set this or that document aside.’
Underscoring that point was an essay in the Osservatore Romano last December. (more…)
Msgr. David Jaeger, a judge at the Roman Rota, cautioned against looking “leniently upon stray groups that are marginal but well-publicized who denounce the doctrine of the Council, including the declaration Nostra Aetate on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions.”
Speaking at Rome’s Holy Cross University earlier this month, Jaeger underscored that the Church needs to guard against– and oppose with all its strength–the plague of anti-Semitism, which has darkened the hearts of numerous Christians: “The extreme gravity of the counter-witness of those who have, for centuries, abused the name of Christ and the term Christian to persecute and oppress the Jews must never be forgotten or underestimated in any way.”
This is a welcome statement. At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to think that anyone who champions the Latin Mass and Catholic Tradition inevitably falls into the sin of anti-Semitism. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani (1890-1979), who headed the Holy Office, and became known as the “traditionalist’s traditionalist,” realized the ideology’s destructive nature and protected persecuted Jews (more…)
Is official Catholic reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X possible? More importantly, is it desirable?
Writing in the Washington Post, Melinda Henneberger thinks that news of a possible reconciliation with the SSPX is simply “bad news.” This is shortsighted, and overlooks the crucial importance and efficacy of prayer.
Reconciliation is an essential part of Christianity, and rebellious Catholics who are sincerely willing to reform, have always been welcomed back by the Church. To reject the possibility of reconciliation with the SSPX under any circumstances would be untrue to the nature and mission of Christianity.
That said, and in fairness to the Society’s critics, one wonders whether the SSPX feels the need to reform anything about itself. They do have free will, and have not always exercised it well. Since the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Society over 40 years ago, it has been averse to constructive criticism. This was one of the many reasons Lefebvre– against the expressed will of Pope John Paul II–consecrated four new SSPX bishops in 1988, provoking a schism, his own excommunication, and those of others directly involved. Whenever someone has tried to point the Society in the right direction, its leadership has instead pointed to open (liberal) dissent tolerated elsewhere in the Church. This is indeed a scandal, and it is right that faithful Catholics resist it, as many have –though without engaging in acts that provoke schism and excommunication. (more…)
Prominent Vatican reporter John Allen has published a piece in the National Catholic Reporter following the papal visit to Cuba entitled “Benedict XVI and the Lament of the Hawks,” about a supposed lack of conservative confidence in Benedict, which cites my recent piece for First Things, “Has the Church Gone Soft on Communism?”–but, I fear, misleadingly. I admire Mr. Allen’s work in large measure, and appreciate the citation, but think he missed the mark on this one.
My piece was not a “lament,” but essentially a defense of Pope Benedict (as was my brief follow-up here) against just the type of over-the-top criticisms cited elsewhere in Allen’s article, even as I raised one respectful question about the pope’s prudential decision not to meet with leading dissidents–a legitimate, good-faith debate among sincere Catholics.
As for the Church’s social justice views–Allen mentions conservative criticism of Caritas in Veritate (while overlooking the many conservatives who applauded it)–I wrote two separate columns for the Times of London online a) praising the essentials of that specific encyclical, and Benedict’s economic and social justice teachings in general; and b) saluting Archbishop Oscar Romero, who I believe will one day be declared a saint, precisely as a champion of Catholic social justice.
Since Pope Benedict’s departure from Cuba last week, the vigorous debate about his visit continues. Despite open appeals from human rights advocates, Benedict did not meet personally with any of the country’s dissidents, even as he met with the Castro brothers. However, in all his major addresses, he did speak out for freedom and human dignity in ways that clearly rebuked a regime which has constantly violated them. Even some critical of the pope’s prudential decisions expressed appreciation for “the depth of what His Holiness was saying.”
In a perceptive piece for the Christian Science Monitor, Anya Landau French tried to capture all the factors involved, commenting, “it’s hard to imagine what prominent figure really could sway Cuba’s leaders off of their course,” and went on to describe the almost “impossible situation” the Church is in—trying to maintain the modest freedoms its been granted, without looking like they are collaborating with a brutal regime. That the pope’s visit coincided with another crackdown on the regime’s opponents only underscores the point.
In the midst of this debate, there is at least one victory Benedict can already look to: (more…)
Following up on my recent critique of Kevin Madigan’s unfortunate attack against Pius XII in Commentary magazine (December, 2011), Professor Ronald Rychlak has just published an even more thorough refutation, entitled, “Shoddy Scholarship in the Study of Pope Pius XII,” (available online here), which cites primary sources and other key evidence to disprove Madigan’s accusations against Pius XII, involving Nazi war criminals and other alleged offenses.
Madigan’s piece for Commentary was irresponsible, but its appearance should not obscure the magazine’s long record of publishing thoughtful pieces on Jewish-Catholic relations by such eminent scholars as Will Herberg and Leon Poliakov; and of fighting anti-Catholic bigotry. As recently as 2008, Commentary’s blog paid tribute to Dietrich von Hildebrand, the great anti-Nazi Catholic philosopher, who was a close friend and supporter of Pius XII. One hopes the magazine will return to that tradition soon.
A voice of integrity in this regard was the late Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg. In 1964, following the debut of Rolf Hochhuth’s anti-Pius play, The Deputy, Justice Goldberg gave a talk in which he affirmed: “I am one who, having read the full text of Rolf Hochhuth’s controversial play, ‘The Deputy,’ and who having lived through those terrible days, believe that the dramatist did not do justice to that great and good Pontiff, Pope Pius XII. Jews are and should be grateful for what the Pope and the Catholic Church did to rescue innocent Jewish victims of Nazi insanity and barbarism.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Daily News Bulletin, April 6, 1964).
Goldberg was not just trying to be nice and defuse a controversy; he had solid history to back him up. From prize-winning historians like Michael Burleigh and Sir Martin Gilbert to leading scholars in Germany, Pius XII’s achievements continue to be recognized, and this despite polemicists who distort or deny his impressive record.
Those fortunate enough to have taken in Pope Benedict’s celebration of Cardinal Newman—at both Saturday’s prayer vigil, and the Mass and beatification early Sunday—were not disappointed. The solemnity of the occasion, the readings and beautiful hymns sung, the sacred processions and tributes, all hit a note of perfect synchronicity. It is difficult to see how the two-day event could have been any better.
Many things were accomplished during these ceremonies, but perhaps the most important was this: Benedict has reclaimed and reaffirmed the real John Henry Newman.
Pope Benedict’s visit with the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury yesterday, a warm and positive gesture, was an example of how much the two communions they lead have in common—and yet how far they remain apart. Both stressed areas of agreement and mutual appreciation; both spoke eloquent words about faith in the public square and of Christian unity. But the big elephant in the room, largely avoided, was their major areas ofdisagreement, politely referred to by Benedict as “those difficulties . . . well-known to everyone here.”
Two days before the meeting, the Wall Street Journal explored some of those disagreements, focusing on the Vatican’s outreach to traditional Anglicans, disaffected by the increasing liberalism of their Church: “Critics say the Vatican’s overtures to Anglicans ultimately aim to poach faithful at a time when the Anglican Worldwide Communion is in upheaval” over issues ranging from the acceptance of homosexuality to women priests, and now bishops (as approved by the Church of England’s General Synod last July, though subject to further review).
The pope’s historic speech at Westminster Hall, the political centerpiece of his visit to Britain, was everything one could have hoped for. Principled, sincere and generous, Benedict thanked his hosts and praised those elements of British society in harmony with Catholic teaching. At the same time, he upheld objective moral norms, and firmly and unmistakably rebuked those who would seek to marginalize the Church’s role in society—and who, in fact have actually discriminated against Christians, in the very name of “tolerance.”
Pope Benedict can only propose, not impose. Going forth, it will be up to Great Britain whether or not to recover its Christian heritage, and restore the rights of believers. The good news is that, despite the well-known secularization of British society, the pope is not alone in his concerns. In a remarkable letter published in the Guardian today, a group of ordinary British citizens stoutly defended “the pope’s mission to uphold human dignity,” which encompasses “a culture of life, stability, marriage, lifelong fidelity and love in which children are welcomed, rather than destroyed, in which human beings are open to new life, opposing vigorously a culture that treats the possibility of new life with contempt.”
The first stage of Benedict’s mission was clearly accomplished at Westminster; his supporters, God wiling, will be able to implement the next.
The news that five suspected terrorists have just been arrested over an alleged plot to kill the Pope during his visit to Britain reminds us once again that prayers are called for on every step of his journey. Scotland Yard now believes they have the situation under control, and the pope, having been informed of the arrests, remains unbowed, determined to make his journey a success. In connection with that, Benedict gave a remarkable interview to journalists on his plane trip to Britain, and his words are a striking contrast to those who wish to bring hatred and violence into this world: “I go forward with great courage and joy . . . The Church is at the service of Another, she doesn’t serve herself. She doesn’t exist to be a strong body, but rather serves to render accessible the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the great truths, the great forces of love, of reconciliation, which appeared in this Figure and which always come from the presence of Jesus Christ.”
The Los Angeles Times, not a paper outwardly friendly to the Church, has commented on the pope’s tour through Scotland: “More than 100,000 well-wishers greeted Benedict as he travelled the streets of Edinburgh in his specially designed Popemobile, with his shoulders wrapped in a green Tartan scarf. Scattered protests made hardly a dent in the larger din of cheers and applause.”
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What’s this? Large crowds for the papal visit? Cheers for Benedict? Protests against him fizzling out? That wasn’t supposed to be the secularist narrative, was it?
Over at America magazine’s blog, one poster wonders whether the much-heralded protestors are really paper tigers: “According to the website of the British Humanist Association (BHA), its membership in 2010 is 4,100.” Given its underwhelming numbers, why are any of us fretting over its predictable opposition to the Pope? The group is now upset that Benedict criticized atheism, but “even if the Pope had not made reference to atheism and Nazism,” continued the poster, “the BHA would have found something nasty to say. The crowd of 125,000 in Edinburgh is far more eloquent and significant than the mutterings of the BHA.”
Pope Benedict’s extraordinary celebration at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow was one for the ages. The liturgy was beautiful and stirring, the people’s faith obviously heartfelt, and Benedict’s homily—recalling Scotland’s Christian heritage, and the true destiny of man—magnificent.
Eamon Duffy of Cambridge University is one of the church’s great historians. He is also, at times, one of its most disappointing. The problem with Professor Duffy—maddening, to those who admire his books—is that he has no feel for contemporary Catholicism. As long as he is writing about the Church and papacy before, say, the pontificate of Leo XIII, he shows a superb clarity which helps clear away many prejudices and mistaken views. But as soon as he steps into the twentieth century, and especially the twenty-first, his usual powers fail him.
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A good example is Professor Duffy’s recent statement on the papal visit for the Irish Times, “Man of Sacristy Walks in Shadow of John Paul II.” John Paul II, writes Professor Duffy, had a “mesmeric personal presence and mastery of crowds” which made him “formidable even to those who rejected his religion”—as if self-adulation, and star appeal, were more important to John Paul and his supporters than the Catholic faith itself. Benedict, in contrast, “is an altogether smaller figure, a man of the sacristy and the lecture room,” we are told. Actually, the start of Benedict’s pontificate saw him drawing bigger crowds than even John Paul (whose were huge), and these have continued including half a million people at Fatima last May, and another 100,000 in Rome to show their support, a brief time later. Is Professor Duffy perhaps spending too much time in the lecture room himself to notice these epic events?
One of the memorable songs of the 1980s is “Living on a Thin Line“ by the Kinks. Largely unknown, it underwent something of a revival after it was used, of all things, for an episode on The Sopranos.
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The song has been interpreted many ways; some think its about the fragility of life and how our best-laid designs can unravel at any moment. Others think it’s a statement against politics and war, especially the Falklands War (which occurred shortly before its release), but that may be too narrow a description. I think it has larger dimensions. Living on a Thin Line is an elegiac ode to a Britain that no longer exists—or perhaps (as cynics might say), never really did exist.
Whatever its intended meaning, the song, admittedly very secular, is paradoxically—and perhaps unintentionally—a warning against secularism. Its lyrics are revealing, even haunting:
Whether we like it or not as British citizens and residents of this country-and whether we are even prepared as Catholics to accept this reality and all it implies-the fact is that historically, and continuing right now, Britain, and in particular London, has been and is the geopolitical epicenter of the culture of death.
“Our laws and lawmakers for over 50 years or more have been the most permissively anti-life and progressively anti-family and marriage, in essence one of the most anti-Catholic landscapes culturally speaking than even those places where Catholics suffer open persecution.” He went on to criticize “permissive laws advancing the ‘gay’ agenda,” pornography, “the objectification of women for sexual gratification,” and described modern Britain as a “selfish, hedonistic wasteland.”
This was simply too much for some to digest. Adamus was roundly denounced in the secular media, and even hung out to dry by his own fellow Catholics. A Catholic in the Independent, for example, told Adamus to “get out more,” calling his views “extreme” and “spectacularly unhelpful,” while noting with approval that his beliefs are “significantly at odds with those of his boss, Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster..” The trendy London Tablet also chimed in, ridiculing “the Edmund Adamus section of the church,” and celebrating that he was duly “slapped down.”