Pope Francis hosted an extraordinary global marriage conference

There was little media coverage. Where did the Francis Effect go?

He’s not sounding the progressive notes liberals thought they’d been hearing from him and some Church hierarchy lately. Just after the Bishops’ Synod on the Family recently stirred so much controversy over the issue of same sex marriage, Francis boldly declared marriage is a sacramental union of man and woman and anything else is “an association.” It got attention in Christian media, but little to none elsewhere.

The movement to redefine marriage unquestionably has enjoyed dominance in the prevailing culture, which has helped that movement shape public opinion through media, politics, the entertainment culture, academia and other ways. The movement has been unified, successful and powerful, while the other side largely has not. Until now.

Yes, the massive March for Marriage in Paris held twice within months last year, with one in the US soon after, and dedicated organizations tirelessly working to engage the marriage debate and build a marriage culture, have made a difference in many ways. But they haven’t had the cohesive and powerful effect the movement to redefine marriage has in recent years. One event may not change that, but it could be a major tipping point. Could this have been the event?

It was the high level conference the Vatican hosted this past week that unified some of the world’s greatest scholars, intellectuals and religious leaders for a unique focus on marriage. Pope Francis opened it with sharp remarks about dysfunction in modern culture and its impact on individuals and families on the most fundamental levels.

Pope Francis stated frankly, “In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis.” The “culture of the temporary” has led many people to give up on marriage as a public commitment. “This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.” The Pope said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”

To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.”

Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.

Pope Francis concluded his address with the hope that the Colloquium would be “an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.”

It was inspirational, to say the least. Read Maggie Gallagher:

For the Vatican it was a truly unusual event, with people from every part of the globe and nearly every major faith tradition — Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Jains, Mormons and Muslims, not to mention Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists, pouring into Rome to share their faith traditions’ insights into the meaning of this thing called sex…

Something happened at this colloquium, something I would not say was talked about, so much as on display, something deeply foundational and mostly missing in modern discourse on the family, including (perhaps especially) much rational Catholic discourse — something that cannot be explained but only experienced by the hungry human heart.

The closest words we have are so mocked and ridiculed as to be reduced in their capacity to carry the meaning: purity? chastity?

There is something men and women can be together but only when we recognize our difference as deeply precious and meaningful, for in it lies the capacity of the lover and the beloved to influence one another. I mean in particular the special power of women for men to symbolize and therefore incarnate, a world outside that which every teenage boy enters adult life experiencing: the deep power of lust. Can sexual desire ever be something other than this relentless urge to use, to possess, to enjoy, to discard, to delight in degradation that is so evident all around us?

I heard an echo of it in what prominent evangelicals were trying to put into words…

Like famous Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren.

“To redefine marriage would destroy the picture that God intends for marriage to portray, and we cannot cave on this issue,” Warren said. “It’s a picture of Christ and his Church.”

“What are we going to do about this?” he said, according to a report from Christian Today. “The Church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high.”

He continued:

“A lie doesn’t become a truth and wrong doesn’t become right…just because it’s popular,” said Warren. “Truth is truth.”

Addressing the issue of remaining steadfast in the face of today’s culture, Warren told those meeting at the Vatican that “the only way to always be relevant, is to be eternal.”

He said it’s not necessary even to be on the right side of culture, but rather it’s just important to be on the right side, and he said it is time for the Church to be a “proponent of what’s right.”

“The Church must remain strong in its values, and continue to uphold the traditional teaching of marriage and the male-female relationship, despite cultural pressures,” Warren stressed. “It should lead the crowd, not follow it.”

Participants report that several addresses brought the crowd to its feet, for sustained ovations in some cases. Such was the case (as Michael Cook noted) with Lord Jonathan Sacks. His speech was more of an eloquent oration, profoundly stirring listeners to their core.

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one.

It was utter poetry.

Maggie Gallagher tried to find words to convey what it did and meant to be there at this extraordinary time.

At the end of this extraordinary three days Archbishop Chaput took the microphone to invite us to the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. “I’ve been a bishop for 26 years, a priest for more than 40 years, and this was the most interesting colloquium I’ve been to in my life,” he said.

That says a lot, coming from Archbishop Chaput, who has not only attended but addressed countless fascinating, important, critical conferences on urgent issues of our times.

Gallagher continues:

The conference ended not with a statement but with a promise: A movie will be made to express our deepest affirmations. Jacqueline Rivers and Reverend Gene Rivers read from the script for the story, the story of our lives:

For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate. . . . This we affirm.

After that, we all stood and applauded for what seemed like ten minutes, reluctant to leave, reluctant to have it end, which of course it should not, because now our task is to find new ways to go forth and carry on the great human story of the generations.

The colloquium wrapped with great warmth, a determined sense of purpose, and the Affirmation Carolyn Moynihan shared here. It was more the end of the beginning.

Build a culture of life. Be a martyr if necessary.

“If we’re uncomfortable being Christians in a public debate, then we’ve already lost the war.”

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput said that recently, speaking to a gathering in Fargo, North Dakota.

The aim of the pro-life movement, the archbishop stressed, is nothing less than ending abortion.  “If we really believe that abortion is an intimate act of violence, then we can’t aim at anything less than ending abortion.  It doesn’t matter that some abortions have always occurred, or that some abortions will always occur.  If we really believe that abortion kills a developing, unborn human life, then we can never be satisfied with mere ‘reductions’ in the body count.”

In order to succeed in the goal, pro-lifers must be willing to become martyrs, he said.  “In the America of our lifetimes, we may never be asked to shed our blood in witnessing for our faith. But we do see character assassinations, mud-slinging and lies used against good people every day in the public media. And we should be ready to pay the same price.  Nothing, not even our good name, should stop us from doing what we know to be right,” emphasized Chaput.

And don’t worry about how much money the pro-life movement doesn’t have, he said. Use whatever you’ve got to renew the culture.

“Culture is everything. Culture is our ‘human ecology.’ Getting political influence has obvious and important short-term value.  But it’s not what pro-lifers are finally about.”…

“Your character, your faith and your dedication to the sanctity of the human person matter. Your commitment to human life matters eternally.”

He assembled a list of “do’s and don’ts”, and delivered it with strong encouragement to get out there and stay busy.

It reminds me of a remark Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George made to pro-life citizens about this very thing, and he urged them to encourage members of elected government. “Pray for them, and tell them you’ve got their back.” Struck me as a good reminder for people on the frontlines of a very big battle.

Judge John Roll, RIP

At the last Mass John Roll attended last Saturday, he would have heard the antiphon “…on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen.” Within a couple of hours he would be shot dead by a mad gunman. Arizona’s highly respected chief federal judge was laid to rest Friday, and those who knew him best say his life was filled with light.

Roll had a reputation as a law-and-order judge, as well as a man of great compassion.

A classmate from Salpointe Catholic High School, Dave Hardy, wrote on the online guest book connected to Roll’s obituary that he knew Roll in a professional capacity as well. “I had enormous respect for his integrity. Not just honesty but also the belief that there was ‘law’ out there, separate from his own likes and dislikes, and that a judge’s task was to find and be bound by that, without fear or favor. He was a good judge and, beyond that, a great man.”

Roll devoted his time and energy to helping other people understand and appreciate the law. He worked with developing nations in the former Soviet Union, assisting the creation of a judiciary system and other legal work. He acted from a deeply held belief that people should be free, and that a system of laws was an important part of building a free society.

Roll was a dedicated Catholic, and had gone to see Giffords after Mass on Saturday. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson remembers Roll as a man of “great faith and great integrity.”

“For many years, he would begin his day serving the early-morning Mass at SS. Peter and Paul. He proclaimed the Word of God as a lector at SS. Peter and Paul and St. Thomas the Apostle. He lived his faith as a servant of our nation for the cause of justice,” Kicanas said on Saturday.

Archbishop Charles Chaput paid tribute to Judge Roll.

The federal judge began to correspond with Archbishop Chaput after his wife, Maureen– “a veteran of crisis pregnancy counseling”– heard the archbishop preach the homily at the Red Mass in Phoenix in 2008. Archbishop Chaput recalls:

Roll was devoted to St. Thomas More and kept a biography of the saint on a table near his desk. He liked mentoring young Christian attorneys because he believed their faith gave them a better moral foundation for the vocation of law. For [Aaron] Martin and for Judge Roll’s other clerks, “he was more of a father figure than a boss. He knew our families, and he always wanted to hear the news about them”…

John Roll was, finally, a man of unusual personal graciousness. Despite their political differences, Judge Roll and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, had a cordial relationship of mutual respect. Giffords sought more resources for the court system, and Judge Roll was grateful. Precisely because of their differences, Roll tried to greet Giffords at her local appearances whenever he could. On the morning of his death, Roll went to Mass, and at 9:55 a.m., according to Martin, left his house to just “drop in” on Giffords’ public gathering as a courtesy, to say hello. He never came home.

This life passes. Eternity is forever. We need to act in this world accordingly, with lives of Christian service. Maureen and John Roll shared a life of quiet, powerful, authentic Catholic witness. Please keep them both, and the entire Roll family, in your prayers.

Bishops: Fix the bill

Well-intended and necessary as health care reform is, just expanding government programs to make more Americans insured to access a government controlled industry is not enough to affirm human dignity and serve the common good. At least not as mandated in the newly passed legislation, say the U.S. bishops.

Cardinal Francis George looked at it carefully, along with thorough analyses, and issued this statement.

Christian discipleship means, “working to ensure that all people have access to what makes them fully human and fosters their human dignity”… We are bishops, and therefore pastors and teachers. In that role, we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.

Nevertheless, for whatever good this law achieves or intends, we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion. The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s relation to abortion, as did the original bill adopted by the House of Representatives last November, could undermine what has been the law of our land for decades and threatens the consensus of the majority of Americans: that federal funds not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions. Stranger still, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. If this new law is intended to prevent people from being complicit in the abortions of others, it is at war with itself.

This is where George the philosopher applies his reasoning skills clearly.

We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.

The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context).

Now note this part, and the bishops’ veiled reference to the ‘polish and shine’ put on the face of the bill to get it passed.

We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. [emphasis added] We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.

The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context).

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, actively engaged in public debate on social policy, calls this “a bad bill.” And he counts the ways;

First, the bill passed by the House on March 21 is a failure of decent lawmaking.  It has not been “fixed.”  It remains unethical and defective on all of the issues pressed by the U.S. bishops and prolife groups for the past seven months.

Second, the Executive Order promised by the White House to ban the use of federal funds for abortion does not solve the many problems with the bill, which is why the bishops did not — and still do not – see it as a real solution. Executive Orders can be rescinded or reinterpreted at any time.  Some current congressional leaders have already shown a pattern of evasion, ill will and obstinacy on the moral issues involved in this legislation, and the track record of the White House in keeping its promises regarding abortion-related issues does not inspire confidence. [emphasis added]

Third, the combination of pressure and disinformation used to break the prolife witness on this bill among Democratic members of Congress – despite the strong resistance to this legislation that continues among American voters – should put an end to any talk by Washington leaders about serving the common good or seeking common ground.  Words need actions to give them flesh.  At many points over the past seven months, congressional leaders could have resolved the serious moral issues inherent in this legislation.  They did not.  No shower of reassuring words now can wash away that fact.

Fourth, self-described “Catholic” groups have done a serious disservice to justice, to the Church, and to the ethical needs of the American people by undercutting the leadership and witness of their own bishops.

Now that one deserves its own treatment. Thoughts on that later…