Oct 16

He pledged reform. Her campaign planned revolt.

For half of this election year, ‘the Catholic vote’ got virtually no mention or attention in media coverage of the campaigns, while the Evangelical vote got plenty. Just before the summer conventions, Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine as her running mate for VP, and the press featured his Catholicism in a usually laudatory light, even casting him as a ‘Pope Francis’ Catholic without understanding what that even means, and how wrong that portrayal is considering his willingness to support abortion, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment protections against taxpayer funding of abortion, and same sex marriage law which he celebrated. He said he believed his church would change its teaching on that, in time.

And then there’s his life changing mission trip to Honduras, and involvement in liberation theology there,

an explicitly Marxist political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching that was planted in South America for the purpose of stirring up the poor to violence against their government.

At the time, this was a theology radically at odds with the Church and condemned by the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, and political leaders in the United States. The Marxist elements of the theology are still condemned by the Church today, including Pope Francis.

So the new prominence Catholicism gained in the elections by late summer was colored by Tim Kaine’s practices and stated beliefs. And ‘the Catholic vote’ suddenly became a focus for media and campaigns.

Recently, Donald Trump sent Catholic Vote president Brian Burch a letter promising to protect religious freedom, conscience protection and the rights of Catholics. Within two days, Catholic Vote issued a statement after a 2005 video was released with what Burch called “disgusting and simply indefensible” comments. He said what needed to be said at that moment.

Then came another. The first of the Wikileaks revelations of emails exchanged within the Clinton campaign at the highest levels revealing a deep disrespect for Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and ideas to back dissident Catholic groups that would agitate for a change in Church teachings. Those emails revealed insulting language and therefore, attitudes, about Catholics, as well as Latinos, showing a deep disregard for the people and their faith, and instead reflecting a strategy of seeing them as identity groups to be dealt with in politics.

HotAir.com pointed out the ‘silliness’ of calling the Church’s teaching a ‘middle-ages dictatorship’ and the call for a ‘Catholic Spring’ highly insulting. Crux noted that those emails were seen as hostile and mocking.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found a teaching moment in this unprecedented assault on Catholics from within the political hierarchy to issue a statement.

And scholars like Princeton Professor Robert George published opinion pieces like this, casting this moment in our political culture and history in a clarifying light.

…I can’t say I’m surprised by the noxious anti-Catholic bigotry contained in emails exchanged between leading progressives, Democrats and Hillary Clinton operatives. These WikiLeaks-published emails confirm what has been evident for years. Many elites, having embraced secular progressivism as not merely a political view but a religion, loathe traditional faiths that refuse to yield to its dogmas.

The election is just weeks away, and people of faith – already caught in a quagmire for so many months over the choices for president – are deliberating deeply over this extremely pivotal moment in our history. They are anxious and worried and wondering who to trust and what to do.

Somewhere in all these years, we largely have lost the ability to trust ourselves, our understanding of truth and justice, honor and virtue, and leadership. It won’t be a ‘top down’ answer that will save the Republic in some magical turn of events. It’s time to find the courage within our own ability to shape the future, within our families, our communities, our most local networks of influence.

People in alleged ‘power’ do not define us and cannot subvert what we stand for or believe, what ‘hill we would be ready to die on’ as some put it, to fire the imagination. We will decide ourselves.

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Sep 28

The network stood out for its sheer time spent on Papal events, and effusive coverage of the man in white.

Religion editor Daniel Burke’s How the Pope brought our messy multitude together illustrates. And brings the visit together, after all.

He introduced himself as a brother, a son of immigrants, a neighbor from beyond our southern border.

He wanted our politicians to remember the country’s founding principles, he said, and encourage them to protect our families and our earth from an uncertain future.

In a country where Christianity often comes wrapped in an American flag, he said that we are better when we work together, when we don’t set aside our differences but celebrate them — wherever we are from, whatever God we worship.

He wanted to meet us, finally, to look into our eyes and share our struggles.

Pope Francis did that everywhere he went. Unlike politicians, who work crowds with the handshakes, smiles and scanning glances over the landscape, the Pontiff took his time with people, made eye contact, saw the children and lit up, noticed the disabled first, stopped to oblige selfies and let people know he saw them, they were important, and he loved them.

And somehow, stayed on an amazing schedule, after three days in Cuba and two days of crisscrossing DC, from the halls of power to the shelter of the homeless.

From Washington, he flew to New York, where he hit the city’s cultural icons with the speed of a tourist on a tight budget and the stamina of a man 40 years younger.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Central Park. The United Nations. Madison Square Garden. Of them all, he seemed to have the most fun at a little school in Harlem.

(An exhausted journalist asked a papal aide about this boundless energy. It comes from outside, the aide admitted, from the people he meets and the God he worships.)

There are many links attached to each visit, many addresses and impromptu stops, large addresses and intimate expressions of love and support. They will continue to come out, for what they – and he – left us.

But this CNN piece pulls together some highlights that give a snapshot not only of a Papal visit that struck awe, but a global news network encounter left awestruck.

The families caring for sick children who needed a spiritual shot in the arm. The priests who wanted to see their humble Holy Father. The immigrants who hear echoes of their voice in his softly accented Spanish.

The Pope’s people.

After a summer of racial injustice and riots, a season of political scapegoating and talk of building walls, he came to build a bridge — to be a bridge.

And he was. For at least these six days, he brought our messy multitude together: singing, dancing, laughing, crying, hoping, praying.

What they may or may not realize, is that when they watched -were riveted on – Pope Francis, what they saw was the global Catholic Church.

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Mar 13

First year anniversary of this papacy. First pope named Francis. First Jesuit pope. First from the Americas. But the 266th Peter, in continuous succession of the first rock on which the Catholic Church was built.

Though some people see his ‘difference in style and tone’ as translating to a whole new package of different governance of the church all the way to changing church doctrine, this is not the case. That needs clarification.

Fr. Bernardo Cervellera clarifies here.

One year on from the election of Pope Francis as successor to the Apostle Peter, we are becoming increasingly aware that he is guiding the Church towards a revolution, fought not by the sword but by personal witness, without throwing away the past, but by helping authentic tradition to flourish once again.

This has been evident right from the outset, that first evening of 13 March, when presenting himself to the world from the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica he asked us to pray together, and silence immediately descended on the packed square, which previously had been full of restless murmurs. Instead of proclaiming programs, he called for silence to listen to God’s program (the one that “always precedes us”).

The Bishop of Rome asked for the prayers of the faithful. Some naive television commentators saw this gesture as a sign that he would dispose of hierarchical clericalism. Indeed, with his silent bow, the Pope lowered himself: to show that he is not a monarch, but a person with a mandate, someone who takes very seriously what one billion Catholics do every day with the rosary: “We pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be for the intentions of the supreme Pontiff”. The most traditional element was expressed in unison with the single most revolutionary, most ….progressive element.

The uniting of these two elements, the traditional and the progressive, appears to be characteristic of Francis.

Which needs continual clarification.

From this point of view, Francis is the ripest fruit of the Second Vatican Council, and especially of a “sound” reading of the Council. In these intervening decades – as was masterfully explained by Benedict XVI – the Church has been divided between a hermeneutic of rupture and a hermeneutic of continuity. The former read the Council as a watershed between the past and present-future: the latter read the development of the life of faith in unity with the past, albeit a past that is re-read and re-applied to the needs of modern man…

And now, Francis comes along.

50 years after the Council, Pope Francis goes beyond these two ruptures, the right wing and the left wing, and reaffirms the Council and the reading thereof as an exegesis of continuity. This is why his every action is both traditional and modern; he spends time in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and in a moving and loving silence draws close to the long lines of the ill and sick who each Wednesday fill the front rows at the general audience, worshipping both the “body” and the “flesh of Christ.”…

However, the world and those on the fringes of the Church are precisely those unlikely to understand this Pope’s witness, in their tug of war pulling him from the right and from the left, from above and below, without ever really allowing themselves to be touched by his vital message .

That is a key insight. Stay with that thought.

Alongside those who ask him to clarify his teaching, speak out in defense of those “values ??” that contemporary society wants to rid the world of, there are those who see him merely as a representative of Latin America, an emblem of how the Church from the developing world has defeated the wealthy Church of the North Americans and Europeans…

There are those who pull him even further, applauding his “openness” (real or supposed) towards homosexuals, gay marriage, communion for the divorced, women cardinals, in a rush toward the future.

But none of these interpretations stop to consider the present: a transparent man in his faith and the joy of his relationship with Christ, which is why he does not offer the world a doctrine or an ideology, but an encounter with Christ himself.

Full stop. That is Pope Francis, summarized in a sentence. It’s the Francis the pop culture media don’t yet get.

The pope, who – in keeping with the tradition of the social doctrine of the Church – said that an economy can not exist without ethics, is accused of being a Marxist. At the same time, those who seem to applaud him as a revolutionary at every unusual gesture, are turning him into a “cult” icon of mass consumption, without being touched in the slightest by his invitation.

That came up on my radio program this week in a compelling conversation with Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow, and National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez. Kathryn summarizes well here.

The viral photos. The magazine covers. “The Francis effect.”

But as my friend Father Steve Grunow, CEO of Word on Fire (the people who brought us the Catholicism series that partially aired on PBS in recent years), put it earlier this week, there is a danger for the faithful and for interested observers that we treat Pope Francis a little like a St. Francis statue in a garden: It feels good to have him there. He’s popular. He’s holy. I feel good about the Church now, some say. But the point is that he wants to bring people to Christ and challenge Christians to be real. To simply feel good about him or dismiss his challenges — which are the radical challenges of the Gospel – misses the message.

The message is simple. So simple, modern culture that politicizes and complicates everything, needs help even grasping it. Here’s help.

There is something about Pope Francis that has captured the aspirations of the world. It’s something of God. He is a humble servant who points us in the direction of the compelling, joyful alternative that is the life of the Gospels. It’s a self-sacrificial alternative. He seems to be just the tender father we needed as a guide…

The pope has referred to the Church as a field hospital. We go to the doctor for checkups, for advice, for medicine. And so it is here. Come to Church, all who are weary, is again and again the pope’s message. There is love there — for you — from the Creator of the universe. There is mercy there: Never tire of asking for God’s forgiveness. There is such grace-filled liberation in this…

Perhaps that’s all you really need to know about Pope Francis: He is invitational; he invites everyone to the life he has dedicated his life to, walking other people through it, because in it he knows the peace and merciful love the world needs. It’s an ecumenical blessing as it offers healing and flourishing. And, yes, a light that illuminates everything.

The world is noticing, whether they really see what they’re gazing at or not. Yet.

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Jan 31

They get rock. But this is way beyond their reach or grasp.

The Rolling Stone magazine followed the trend or path of several other secular, popular press publications and put Pope Francis on its cover, accompanied by a lengthy cover story inside. How did they handle it?

Fr. Steve Grunow, theologian and CEO of Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire media ministry, sees it this way.

Pope Francis is hot right now, by which I mean that his SEO ranking continues to impress and media outlets remain fascinated by this first pope from the global south. Not a bad thing, but also not a new thing. Some decades ago a pope “from a far country” was the preoccupation of the media, namely Blessed (soon to be saint) John Paul II. Benedict XVI received his own share of media attention, there was a kind of fascination with him, but minus the accolades that Pope Francis currently enjoys.

Benedict never caught a break during his pontificate.

Which brings me to the text of the article that lay beneath the cover image of the smiling Pope Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone. What precisely is the article about? Not so much Pope Francis himself, but someone and something else. That someone in question is Pope Benedict and the something in question is a Church. Pope Francis is, according to the author of the article, a repudiation of both. Really?

The article has been written by Mark Binelli and it seems to be his purpose to present the Holy Father as a Clintonian-style Democratic liberal who will cast off the conservative overlay of traditional Catholic teaching (especially in regards to sexual morality) and unleash the ideological progressivism that is latent with the Church. I guess in this construal of things the previous pontificate of Benedict XVI is to be accepted as a shill for the ecclesial version of Reagan-style Republican conservatism.

The narrowness of Binelli’s worldview is breathtaking. But people give us what they have. The vision in which everything is but a participation in the American political ethos is a totalizing vision that serves many as the ultimate explanation of all things. This totalizing vision is evidently Binelli’s creed.

But more striking than Binelli’s totalizing vision of the American political ethos, is the venom which he spews in the direction of Pope Benedict, who is characterized by the author as akin the horror villain Freddie Krueger and whose pontificate is situated in relation to some the most notorious men who have been pope. What gives here? Is any reasonable person expected to take anything written in the article subsequent to his screed against Pope Benedict seriously? Some do and the article panders to this sentiment that has been used to malign Pope Benedict even in the years prior to his election as Successor of Peter. The dialectic at play in the article is evidently that Francis is the anti-Benedict, the new antithesis in contrast to an old thesis. The synthesis that is meant to emerge from this a Catholic Faith wholly accommodated to secular modernity- which along with the American political ethos, we are expected to believe is the measure of all things.

That last part is the money line, really.

Fr. Steve and National Review Online’s Kathryn Lopez were my guests on radio Thursday for a roundtable discussion of media fascination with the pope, and the Rolling Stone story in particular. We really didn’t get past the Rolling Stone piece, it’s so lengthy and filled with so much material to discuss. Not that it had depth and heft of any theological or philosophical kind. It did not. It was an offering from the cult of personality to a distorted reflection of itself. And Francis just happened to be a convenient prop to hold up that reflection.

As Fr. Steve said early out of the gate, the writer made it sound like ‘this guy is one of us and reflects our beliefs.’ And by nasty contrast, Benedict not only did not, he was a nasty guy who headed a “disastrous papacy” that represented an archaic, corrupt, desperately behind the times, oppressive regime behind the walls of an “absurd, impossibly baroque backdrop of the Vatican.”

This was a hit piece on Benedict, and by extension, the magisterium of the Church he led, consistent with his predecessors on matters of faith and morals. What Rolling Stone’s writer needs to realize, said Fr. Grunow, is that Francis is “not the CEO of Corporation Church.”

But besides the business model, there’s the political, which is really underlying this piece. And the writer and magazine’s editors and other media outlets would benefit from Fr. Grunow’s insights that American media commentators tend to see the world through the lens of American political ideology.

Perhaps Pope Francis, whose vision of the Catholic Faith is illuminated by a Light different than the contrary lights of secular modernity, knows that a Pope is not measured by the standards applied to political authority or executive office or celebrity, but in his willingness to bear witness to a Faith that has endured since the time of the apostles. Maybe [writer Mark] Binelli believes that Pope Francis does this better than Pope Benedict, but none of the categories of understanding he employs in his article evidence that he actually knows what the Apostolic Faith is or what Francis and Benedict themselves believed about it. Binelli doesn’t even try in this regard and this is the main reason one comes away from the article with the sense that the purpose of the piece was to convince us that if Pope Francis isn’t the person described by the author, he should be. This isn’t journalism in service to truth, it is propaganda in service to ideology.

And though that would have been the best final line on this piece, Fr. Grunow actually delivered one on the radio show, right near the end of an hour of compelling conversation. On a positive note, he said, the smiling face of Francis on the cover of Rolling Stone may represent the first time that magazine prominently featured someone who is free, a person with freedom from slavery to obsessions, freedom from imprisonment to idols. “He’s saying what the world offers is not replenishing the human spirit. Leave that behind, that doesn’t renew your spirit. There’s encounter, there’s trust building, there’s a truth telling that liberates. Pope Francis is a free man, he’s not held bound by any of those spectacles, but I just don’t think they get it.”

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Dec 12

There’s nearly as much speculation about that as there is about who this man is.

Time explains their choice here, and it’s a lengthy article that reveals as much about Time’s editorial staff as it does the figure they chose to highlight this year for his impact on the world.

The papacy is mysterious and magical: it turns a septuagenarian into a superstar while revealing almost nothing about the man himself.

The term “superstar” just doesn’t fit, though that’s the language of pop culture used to pop theology.

But what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all…

And behind his self-effacing facade, he is a very canny operator.

Another odd description of the humble man who sits in the Chair of Peter.

He makes masterly use of 21st century tools to perform his 1st century office. He is photographed washing the feet of female convicts, posing for selfies with young visitors to the Vatican, embracing a man with a deformed face. He is quoted saying of women who consider abortion because of poverty or rape, “Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?” Of gay people: “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” To divorced and remarried Catholics who are, by rule, forbidden from taking Communion, he says that this crucial rite “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Through these conscious and skillful evocations of moments in the ministry of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, this new Pope may have found a way out of the 20th century culture wars.

Which his predecessors devoted their pontificates to doing by trying to implement the changes called for by the Second Vatican Council, mainly bringing the Church into greater engagement with the modern world. If they were eloquently teaching it, and trying their best to guide the faithful through it, Francis is out there saying ‘let’s do it.’

Which certainly throws modern culture on its heels.

And so Francis signals great change while giving the same answers to the uncomfortable questions. On the question of female priests: “We need to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” Which means: no. No to abortion, because an individual life begins at conception. No to gay marriage, because the male-female bond is established by God. “The teaching of the church … is clear,” he has said, “and I am a son of the church, but”—and here he adds his prayer for himself—“it is not necessary to talk about those issues all the time.”

If that prayer should be answered, if somehow by his own vivid example Francis could bring the church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good.

Especially if the media writing things like that realize they are among the critics who give voice often to the dissidents, groups not known for seeking a relationship with the Church or show a willingness to respectfully engage on issues that divide them. But watching Francis, they’re learning how.

They’re still getting him wrong though, as Time did even in the early hours of this story’s release. Terry Mattingly at Get Religion caught a glaring slip in Time’s explanation about honoring Francis, one that Fr. James Martin caught and tweeted:

Salute Time for nominating the Pope as Person of the Year.
Lament it’s for “rejection of church dogma.” He has not.

Further down in the post, Mattingly notes that Time originally wrote:

The first Jesuit Pontiff won hearts and headlines with his common touch and rejection of church dogma and luxury.

And then the magazine quickly caught (after being alerted to) the significant error on that statement, and issued this:

Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested that Pope Francis rejected some church dogma. He does not.

And he will not. So let’s see how long the media keep paying this kind of attention to him and what he says, and the “vivid example” he is setting. And whether they stay interested in following Francis.

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Sep 20

The media didn’t catch Francis’s latest. They’re too busy recycling their first round of misreporting on him.

One glance at the front page, top of the fold headline on my hometown newspaper Friday morning told me that much. Though it’s morphed into different versions online, my Chicago Tribune carried a banner photo and headline under it blaring ‘Pope faults ‘small-minded rules’, with the sub-head ‘He says church shouldn’t be ‘obsessed’ with gays, abortion, contraception.’

Really?‘ I thought. ‘They’re still churning that out?‘ This was embarrassing. Because as a longtime journalist in a once-honorable profession, I knew they were being lazy and sloppy, most of the media, from the time the Francis interview came out. They’re all mostly reading each other and recycling the same words and headlines. All of which reveals a gaping void of direct knowledge of what Francis said in the interview that grabbed so much attention yesterday, and intellectual ability to analyze it from a base of knowledge required to report well on the topic at hand.

The Pope’s Friday address in Rome to a gathering of Catholic physicians got precious little coverage, except from Vatican news sources and good Catholic journalists and bloggers.

NRO’s Kathryn Lopez.

Pope Francis – the guy who supposedly wants everyone to hush up already about abortion and other contentious, intimate issues – met with Catholic doctors gathering in Rome for a conference on maternal health today.

He talked about the paradox doctors face today, welcoming progress while making sure it is always in service of human dignity. “If you lose the personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away,” he said. He observed that the acceptance of life strengthens moral fiber, before adding that the final objective of the doctor is always the defense and promotion of life.

“The first right of the human person is his life,” he said. Not for the first time, he talked about a throwaway culture, one that dismisses, doesn’t see, or seeks to eliminate those who are physically or socially weaker. According to Vatican Radio, “The Pope stressed that every child that is not born, but unjustly condemned to be aborted and every elderly person who is sick or at the end of his life bears the face of Christ.”

HotAir.com’s Ed Morrissey.

After watching the media demonstrate their lack of comprehension of the Catholic Church yet again this week, the LifeNews update on Pope Francis might still come as a shock to some journalists:

A day after an interview the mainstream media used to claim Pope Francis is backing down on the Catholic Church’s pro-life teachings, the Pope condemned abortion in strong terms, saying unborn babies are “unjustly condemned” when killed in abortions.

In the text of a message the Pope delivered to a group of Catholic doctors this morning, as distributed by the Vatican today, Pope Francis soundly condemned abortion.

“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world,” he said.

Pope Francis condemned the “throwaway culture” abortion promotes, saying, “Our response to this mentality is a ‘yes’ to life, decisive and without hesitation. ‘The first right of the human person is his life. He has other goods and some are precious, but this one is fundamental –- the condition for all the others’”.
None of this is new. And in fact, none of what Pope Francis said in his lengthy interview this week is new, either, not for anyone who reads the catechism of the Catholic Church and understands the pontiff’s emphasis on evangelization. Unfortunately, that leaves out a vast majority of the secular media…

Morrissey points to Vatican expert George Weigel’s take on all this, which we need to hear and consider well.

He points out that Francis himself reiterated that the Catholic Church teachings on the modern ills of society are clear, but can only be healed by bringing people face to face with Christ first, rather than “rules” — and that this approach has been clearly stated since Vatican II:

“And how are the wounds of late-modern and postmodern humanity to be healed? Through an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. “The most important thing, “ Francis insisted in his interview, “is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.” The Church of the 21st century must offer Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that is every human life (as John Paul II liked to put it). The moral law is important, and there should be no doubt that Francis believes and professes all that the Catholic Church believes and professes to be true about the moral life, the life that leads to happiness and beatitude. But he also understands that men and women are far more likely to embrace those moral truths — about the inalienable right to life from conception until natural death; about human sexuality and how it should be lived — when they have first embraced Jesus Christ as Lord. That, it seems to me, is what the pope was saying when he told Antonio Spadaro that “proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things.” These are what make “the heart burn: as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. . . . The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

This is the understanding Francis requires to ‘get’ what the ‘simple, humble, accessible’ Jesuit Pope is saying. Big, elite, powerful media and special interest groups certainly didn’t.

Frank Weathers caught that, neatly, in this Patheos post. It needs to be read, not excerpted, right from the graphic illustrating the abortion movement’s celebration of Pope Francis’ remarks just a day ago, contrasted by the remarks none of them noticed he made the next day. The comparison of his remarks on the issues the media are obsessing on with those of his predecessor, on the same issues. In a word, it is exquisite .

Read it. All. It forms a composite of Christ centered philosophy for a culture largely in denial of philosophy, religion, the transcendent, and therefore the presence or importance of Christ. We can probably agree that reform is necessary. But meanwhile, it appears there’s a revolution afoot.

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Mar 12

The world is watching Rome and the Roman Catholic Church, only as it does it the big moments. The attention that was riveted instantly on the papacy when Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement has only intensified over the subsequent weeks. Now it’s in overdrive, as the College of Cardinals enters the Conclave to elect a new pope.

Here are a few things among many worth looking at right now, as the drama really heightens.

The first two cover the larger picture more deeply, and did so from the week of Pope Benedict’s announcement. They take the longer view and with great perspective.

Stephen White of the Ethics and Public Policy Center wrote this good article for the Huffington Post.

Our culture’s complicated relationship with organized religion is closely tied to our culture’s complicated relationship with truth. We love our truth, all right, but we treat truth a lot like religion — it’s fine, so long as everyone else keeps their truth to themselves. Tolerance — which our culture values over all other virtues — consists in not imposing your truth on someone else.

The problem with this well-meaning attempt at tolerance is that it is unsustainable. It’s self-cannibalizing. If there is only your truth and my truth, but no Truth, then there is no common ground upon which to meet one another. Either I’m right, or you are, and since there’s no middle ground, the matter is only ever settled when one side wins and the other side loses. A world without truth isn’t a world liberated from conflict; it’s a world without the possibility of reconciliation.

Pope Benedict’s episcopal motto Cooperatores veritatis — “co-operators of the truth” — suggests a very different understanding of reality; one in which both faith and reason owe allegiance to the same reality, that is, to truth. And truth, at least as the Catholic Church understands it, is best demonstrated, not by carefully reasoned arguments (though those are important) and certainly not by violence, but by self-giving love. There is nothing more compelling, nothing more true, than sacrificial love.

(The central truth of Christian faith — God became man in Jesus Christ, through whose suffering and death we are redeemed — can be summed up like this: God got tired of telling us how to do it, so He decided to come down here and show us.)

It also suggests that Pope Benedict XVI understands a pope’s role in the Church as one of leadership, but primarily of service. Among the pope’s many titles — Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of Apostles — is this, The Servant of the Servants of God. He is only a custodian, a shepherd of Someone Else’s flock. The papacy, in other words, was not given him for his sake, but for the sake of the Church’s mission.

These words of Pope Benedict will undoubtedly be foremost in the minds of the 117 Cardinals who will choose his successor: “[I]n today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary.”

The Church exists to proclaim the Gospel: That and nothing else is the “relevance” of the Church in the world.

EPPC’s George Weigel, renowned papal biographer and expert Vatican analyst, wrote this commentary that same week for this momentous occasion.

The challenges facing the successor of Pope Benedict XVI come into sharper focus when we widen the historical lens through which we view this papal transition. Benedict XVI will be the last pope to have participated in the Second Vatican Council, the most important Catholic event since the 16th century. An ecclesiastical era is ending. What was its character, and to what future has Benedict XVI led Catholicism?…

Evangelical Catholicism — or what John Paul II and Benedict XVI dubbed the “New Evangelization” — is the new form of the Catholic Church being born today. The church is now being challenged to understand that it doesn’t just have a mission, as if “mission” were one of a dozen things the church does. The churchisa mission. At the center of that mission is the proclamation of the Gospel and the offer of friendship with Jesus Christ. Everyone and everything in the church must be measured by mission-effectiveness. And at the forefront of that mission — which now takes place in increasingly hostile cultural circumstances — is the pope, who embodies the Catholic proposal to the world in a unique way.

So at this hinge moment, when the door is closing on the Counter-Reformation church in which every Catholic over 50 was raised, and as the door opens to the evangelical Catholicism of the future, what are the challenges facing the new pope?

Catholicism is dying in its historic heartland, Europe. The new pope must fan the frail flames of renewal that are present in European Catholicism. But he must also challenge Euro-Catholics to understand that only a robust, unapologetic proclamation of the Gospel can meet the challenge of a Christophobic public culture that increasingly regards biblical morality as irrational bigotry.

The new pope must be a vigorous defender of religious freedom throughout the world. Catholicism is under assault by the forces of jihadist Islam in a band of confrontation that runs across the globe from the west coast of Senegal to the eastern islands of Indonesia.

Christian communities in the Holy Land are under constant, often violent, pressure. In the West, religious freedom is being reduced to a mere “freedom of worship,” with results like the ObamaCare Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate.

Thus the new pope must be a champion of religious freedom for all, insisting with John Paul II and Benedict XVI that there can be neither true freedom nor true democracy without religious freedom in full. That means the right of both individuals of conscience and religious communities to live their lives according to their most deeply held convictions, and the right to bring those convictions into public life without civil penalty or cultural ostracism.

This defense of religious freedom will be one string in the bow of the new pope’s responsibility to nurture the rapidly growing Catholic communities in Africa, calling them to a new maturity of faith. It should also frame the new pope’s approach to the People’s Republic of China, where persecution of Christians is widespread. When China finally opens itself fully to the world, it will be the greatest field of Christian mission since the Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere. Like his two immediate predecessors, the new pope should recognize that the church’s future mission in China will be imperiled by any premature deal-making with the Chinese Communist regime, which would also involve an evangelical betrayal of those Chinese Christians who are making daily sacrifices for fidelity to Jesus Christ.

The ambient public culture of the West will demand that the new pope embrace some form of Catholic Lite. But that counsel of cultural conformism will have to reckon with two hard facts: Wherever Catholic Lite has been embraced in the past 40 years, as in Western Europe, the church has withered and is now dying. The liveliest parts of the Catholic world, within the United States and elsewhere, are those that have embraced the Catholic symphony of truth in full. In responding to demands that he change the unchangeable, however, the new pope will have to demonstrate that every time the Catholic Church says “No” to something — such as abortion or same-sex marriage — that “No” is based on a prior “Yes” to the truths about human dignity the church learns from the Gospel and from reason.

And that suggests a final challenge for Gregory XVII, Leo XIV, John XXIV, Clement XV, or whoever the new pope turns out to be: He must help an increasingly deracinated world — in which there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing recognizable as the truth — rediscover the linkage between faith and reason, between Jerusalem and Athens, two of the pillars of Western civilization. When those two pillars crumble, the third pillar — Rome, the Western commitment to the rule of law — crumbles as well. And the result is what Benedict XVI aptly styled the dictatorship of relativism.

What kind of man can meet these challenges? A radically converted Christian disciple who believes that Jesus Christ really is the answer to the question that is every human life. An experienced pastor with the courage to be Catholic and the winsomeness to make robust orthodoxy exciting. A leader who is not afraid to straighten out the disastrous condition of the Roman Curia, so that the Vatican bureaucracy becomes an instrument of the New Evangelization, not an impediment to it.

The shoes of the fisherman are large shoes to fill.

And that process, which began broadly and unofficially weeks ago, and officially with the cardinals assembling in Rome for over a week and a half, begins with new gravity now.

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Feb 12

The man himself is clearly a tired and overly wrought servant who recognizes and admits his failing health and strength. The global coverage of his historic announcement to step down has unleashed an exhausting barrage of analysis, mostly from those who know not of what they speak.

It’s been a long day of gathering and reporting news, and there will be many more days and weeks of it to come. For now, take a look at how Elizabeth Scalia put things together here.

…on consideration, this almost seems typical of Benedict, particularly if his health is failing. He would have hated a long drawn out affair with pilgrims waiting within the basilica courtyard for his death. If John Paul went out like the sustained note of a grand organ, fading into silence, Benedict simply senses his tiredness and the hour, closes up his piano, and bids us adieu. Ratzinger, in the end, is still Ratzinger: he does his work, kisses it all up to the Holy Spirit and moves on, not particularly concerned about the peripheral yakking of man or media.

Well put. I have a profound respect for both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I’ve read both extensively and appreciate them as brilliant pieces of one magnificent concert. I have much to say, but I’m first a listener. With a filter. 

I’ll be devoting time and attention to this important transition in the Catholic Church at this moment in history, in the days and weeks to come. For now, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be in the presence of both popes and follow their global journeys to reach the ends of the earth with the timeless and universal truths about human dignity and the sanctity of life and the interconnectedness of everything. I received their blessing personally, and the world did globally.

Whether people they blessed know it or not.

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Oct 03

The Religion Newswriters Association held their annual meeting recently. Their keynote speaker challenged them: be honest.

“Know yourself and your prejudices,” advised Archbishop Charles Chaput. In the right order of things…

A responsible press and a faith shaped by the God of charity and justice share two things in common: a concern for human dignity, and an interest in truth. 

But in this age of relativism, there’s a shock value to moral anecdotal accounts. Like the one behind George Orwell’s evolution as a political writer.

By the time he finished writing Animal Farm in 1943, Britain had joined with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Orwell couldn’t find a single publisher honest enough to release his allegory of the Soviet regime, in which the main characters were a breed of shrewdly cynical pigs.

Where’s he going with this?

Six decades later, this essay still has value. And here’s why: Most arguments for press freedom deal with the media’s need for independence from state censorship and propaganda. That makes sense. But Orwell focused on something very different—a kind of undermining of free thought and expression unique to modern democratic societies.

He saw his problems with Animal Farm as part of a much bigger pattern of “self-censorship” in wartime England. Nobody demanded the media’s fawning coverage of the Soviet Union. Nobody required the falsification of facts, or the ugly attacks on critics of Stalin, or the covering-up of unpleasant truths. Nobody forced journalists and editors to do these things. They freely chose to do them.

The news media of the day were staffed by decent men and women. They felt they were on the side of social progress. They thought the Soviet Union, whatever its flaws, was fighting for human progress too. So they ignored unhappy details and hard questions about the reality of Soviet life.

Their assumptions created what Orwell saw as a new form of religious orthodoxy. That orthodoxy shaped the boundaries of permissible thought and expression. And Orwell warned that this unspoken tendency toward group-think would threaten the press in democratic societies well into the future…

I think Orwell’s words capture the way many people feel today toward the news media and coverage of religion news. In practice—at least in the eyes of ordinary people I hear from every week—a new body of ideas seems to shape the limits of acceptable thought in American public life. This new orthodoxy seems to influence the selection of religious news and how that news gets presented. It seems to frame which opinions are appropriate and which ones won’t be heard. And it seems to guide the historical narrative that media present to their audiences. At its core, it has a set of assumptions about the nature of human life, the purpose of government, and the proper role of religion in the lives of individuals and in society that veers away from past American habits of thought.

This new thinking seems to presume a society much more secular and much less religious than anything in America’s past or anything warranted by present facts…

Well, how did the religion reporters hearing this address react? Some of them sneeringly, as First Things pointed out.

During the question and answer period, Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times asked him why he didn’t return her phone call when Archbishop Jose Gomez was chosen as Los Angeles archbishop. Chaput said that Times reporter David Kirkpatrick misquoted him during John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and he said that he has recordings to prove it. “It’s the New York Times’ editorial policy that I’m interpreting,” Chaput said. “I made a judgment based on experience.”

Goodstein said she did not know Chaput was boycotting the Times. He challenged Goodstein’s more recent coverage of the Catholic Church. “You treated Pope Benedict badly in the latest series about him,” he said.

Cathy Grossman of USA Today challenged him, asking if a boycott over one reporter was fair. “We don’t boycott everyone, just the New York Times,” he said.

Wow. As a lifelong journalist, having spent two decades in ‘big media’, I’m picturing this scene as just bizarre, right from the Times’ reporter asking why her call wasn’t returned. Which is why this followup wasn’t surprising:

Boycott the New York Times, will you? And not even bother to tell the New York Times you were doing it?

Archbishop Chaput’s talk had a number of interesting elements: the excursion into George Orwell’s career, the embrace of freedom of the press while asserting freedom of religion, the analysis of secularism as a system of thought.

But leave all that aside and think, for a moment, just about his description of knowledge professionals and the ways in which they are lured into a sense of perfect entitlement and superior correctness. One could hardly ask for a better example…than a reporter from the New York Times thinking it entirely reasonable, in a public question-and-answer period, to demand an answer to why her phone calls weren’t returned.

Chaput finished with this:

The point I want to leave you with is this: Journalism is a “knowledge profession.” But like any other profession, the work of journalism doesn’t necessarily translate into self-knowledge or self-criticism. And any lasting service to the common good demands both. Journalism has its own unstated orthodoxies. It has its own prejudices. And when they go unacknowledged and uncorrected—as they too often seem to do—they can diminish our public life.

Religion journalism deals with the most fundamental things about human meaning, things intimate, defining, and sacred to many millions of people. So master and respect your material. Know yourself and your prejudices. Acknowledge mistakes, and don’t make them a habit. Be as honest with yourself as you want your sources to be. Understand believers and their institutions as they understand themselves. And if you do that—and do it with integrity, fairness, and humility—then you’ll have the gratitude of the people you cover, and you’ll embody the best ideals of your profession.

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Sep 29

When Pope Benedict makes apostolic visits to to various countries, his remarks and addresses always reflect keen insight into that culture’s strengths and weaknesses. But he’s really addressing people of the world beyond that nation in his message of universal human rights and dignity.

In his visit to Britain, there were so many highlights. Here’s one in which he took the example of Sir Thomas More as a jumping off point to address civil society today.

The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

This is an urgent issue now.

Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

He delivered a similar message in his apostolic visit to the US in 2008, especially in his address to the UN General Assembly. In the US at least, this message seems more urgent even now.

The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?

…distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. It is a two-way process. Without the corrective supplied by religion, though, reason too can fall prey to distortions, as when it is manipulated by ideology, or applied in a partial way that fails to take full account of the dignity of the human person. Such misuse of reason, after all, was what gave rise to the slave trade in the first place and to many other social evils, not least the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century. This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.

To repeat – faith and reason need to be in constant dialogue “for the good of our civilization,” no less.

Now this is critically important:

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

We are approaching elections in America. Hold those who seek office to this measure of leadership, and service to the common good.

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