Saturday, September 30, 2006

The "Morning Optimist" quote of the day ... (just for Kathy)

"Being married means I can break wind and eat ice cream in bed." (

Pundits have been speculating on what light, if any, this quote may shed on Mr. Pitt's recent remark in Esquire magazine that he and Angie "will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able."

Friday, September 29, 2006

Why are clerics so frightened of the old Mass?

In his Apostolic Letter, Ecclesia Dei (July 2, 1988) Pope John Paul II declared that "Respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of this who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See, for the use of the Roman Missal ... of 1962." (emphasis added) In his 1997 book Salt of the Earth, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "I am of the opinion that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It's impossible to grasp what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community that suddenly declares that what, until now, was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden makes the longing for it seem downright indecent, calls its very self into question." (emphasis added) Yet we all know that bishops throughout the West have been conspicuously recalcitrant in carrying out the Vatican's directives on this point.

In the latest issue of Latin Mass magazine (Fall 2006), Editor Fr. James McLucas (right) relates two incidents that illustrate the problem:
Let's begin with a young priest (ordained less than ten years) who has been uncomfortable in and troubled by the post-conciliar environment in which he has had to live his priesthood. Twice he has been given permission by his bishop to investigate religious life. He finally came to the conclusion that his ongoing distress involved much deeper spiritual and theological issues than what he had originally contemplated. He arrived at a decision to follow a course already taken by several of his priest friends from seminary days: enter the traditional priesthood through one of the traditional societies approved by the Holy See.

When the young Father went to the Vicar for Priests in his diocese to inform him of his desire, the senior priest was initially receptive and understanding. When the petitioning priest saw the same official a week or two later, the reception was much different. The Vicar now informed him that the bishop was very concerned about the stability -- and told him that he must take a battery of psychological tests to evaluate "where he would be best suited to serve in the diocese." The request for release to the traditional society was refused.

The priest consulted with a canon lawyer who related to him that Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, the Prefect of he Congregation for the Clergy, eight years ago informed another American bishop trying to force another priest into psychological testing that "it is the consistent teaching of the Magisterium that investigation of the intimate psychological and moral status of the interior life of any member of the Christian faithful cannot be carried on except with the consent of the one to undergo such evaluation...." He concluded that the bishop could not force the priest in question to be psychologically evaluated "under the pain of obedience." Unfortunately, the priest's legitimate refusal will not prevent punitive sanctions from being levied against him.

The young priest, after much anguish, decided to go the extra mile and went to be tested by a noted psychologist who has had much experience working with priests and religious. He received a clean bill of health. However, he was then informed by the chancery that this wasn't good enough: he must see the psychologist employed by the bishop of the diocese. He hesitated, and with good reason.

In a story yet to be told, since the end of the last Council not a few priests with a traditional spirituality who resisted the post-conciliar deconstruction were sent by their bishops for psychological testing -- usually with liberal psychologists who had been told by diocesan authorities what was "suspected" of the priests who were being ordered to undergo the testing. Just as grand jury (according to a popular legal maxim) will indict a ham sandwich, lo and behold psychologists time and time again confirmed exactly what had been alleged of the priest by his superiors. The condemning psychological evaluations were now permanently in the priest's file, and were used to "keep him in line."

The second instance of recent disreputable treatment of a traditional priest is even more nefarious. The priest was ordained for one of the traditional societies approved by the Holy See. The priest's grandmother had died suddenly, and tragically she had not been discovered until four days after her death. That family, as can be well imagined, was devastated. The priest called the chancery, identified himself as a priest of the traditional society sanctioned by the Holy See, and asked for permission to offer a traditional Requiem Mass in that particular diocese where his grandmother resided. He was told by the chancellor that the bishop was away and he would need the required paperwork that would verify that he was a priest in good standing and a member of this particular society. Within hours the required documentation had been forwarded by fax to the chancellor. The priest then telephoned to received the required permission - only to be denied it. The priest pleaded -- especially given the circumstances of his grandmother's death -- that his being denied permission to offer the traditional Requiem Mass would only add to the grief of his family. The answer remained, "No." (pp. 2-3)
Yet again, most of us who do not reside in dioceses where the Indult is permitted know what a burden it is to put up with the alternatives we're faced with, either of driving some two, three, four or five hours to the nearest traditional Latin Mass, or enduring various forms of the new Mass, which may range from the good to the bad to the ugly. When the question of the Indult came before the previous bishop in our diocese, he is said to have put the question back to his priests, who vetoed the matter. Our current bishop, who shows every indication of being a good and decent bishop, has nevertheless thus far withheld his permission from granting the Indult.

On the other hand, those of you who are blessed with living in dioceses that have the Indult know what a burden it is when you are compelled to travel and fulfill your Sunday obligation. In the aforementioned issue of Latin Mass magazine, Edwin Faust describes this experience well:
It is when he is compelled to travel for a weekend that his sense of ecclesial exile is most felt by the traditional Catholic. The problem then arises: where might he attend Sunday Mass? He may pass a hundred churches in his sojourn, but in none of them, he knows, will he find refuge. If conscience drives him to suffer through the liturgical offerings of the local parish, he will stand among the congregation like Ruth weeping amid the alien corn, longing for his lost home.

... It sounds a cold phrase -- meeting my Sunday obligation -- as though it were a thing akin to paying the gas bill on time; indeed, it is an act capable of being reduced to a legal minimalism, and such an approach has always been the lamentable one chosen by many a Catholic for whom the faith is more a habit of external practice than an integral way of life.

Obligations may be met with widely varying attitudes: begrudging and reluctant; casual and indifferent; anxious and uneasy; mild and complacent; eager and loving. It is with the last attitude, of course, that the traditional Catholic wishes to meet his obligation, and if he is forced to endure the new order of Mass, he must shift his attitude; he then stands in danger of accepting the sort of legal minimalism that is so at odds with his sensus fidei. He tells himself that the new Mass is valid; that he has satisfied the requirements of the Sabbath observance, and he is unconsoled and miserable. (p. 6)
The Church has long permitted other rites -- Alexandrian (e.g., Coptic), Antiocene (e.g., Maronite), Byzantine (e.g., Melchite, Slovak, Ukuranian), Chaldean, Armenian. I know of no problems that Latin rite bishops or priests have had with these. The Latin Church has also had different liturgical rites -- Carthusian (Carmelite and Dominican), Ambrosian, Mozarabic, the Braga rite, etc. I know of no problems that Latin rite bishops or priests have had with these. But softly speak the words "TRIDENTINE MASS" in the company of your local ordinary and his chancery priests, or, for that matter, in your local Novus Ordo parish, and you will induce an apoplectic response such as you would not begin to elicit if you had merely bitten the head off of a gerbil and swallowed it. Why is this, I wonder?

The "Morning Optimist" quote of the day ...

"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life." -- Brooke Shields, during an interview to become Spokesperson for federal anti-smoking campaign (1982) (Biography)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pontifications announces change

Effective immediately Al Kimel is no longer allowing comments to his posts over at his blog, Pontifications. He made this announcement yesterday (9/27/06), offering as a reason his anticipated ordination into the priesthood of the Catholic Church and his need, spiritually and emotionally, to alter the blog. "One of the reasons I continued Pontifications after my conversion to Catholicism was to provide a forum for those Episcopalians who are wrestling with the question whether to leave Anglicanism and perhaps enter into the communion of either the Catholic or Orthodox Church," writes Kimel. But he says he thinks he's said just about everything that he has to say on this subject now, though he extends an offer to correspond with anyone considering conversion to Catholicism who wants to discuss his articles (Email Al Kimel at: tigana99 [at] He Also acknowledges that he has enjoyed immensely the fascinating debates that have developed over the past two and a half years in his blog community, and that he has learned a great deal from those who have commented on his posts. Al says that he will continue to publish on his blog, but cannot yet say with what frequency.

Thanks for the two and a half years of good combox discussions, Al. We will miss them too. But we look forward to continuing to hear from you at Pontifications. God bless you in your preparations for Holy Orders.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"It is possible to celebrate the Novus Ordo with reverence ..."

Commenting on the former Cardinal Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy, Fr. Joseph Fessio, remarks how Ratzinger called attention to the "deep christological continuity" with the liturgical past when he evoked "the real interior act" of Jesus' "Yes" to the Father on the Cross that takes all time into his heart (pp. 56-57). "This is the 'event of institution' that assures organic continuity down the ages," says Fessio. Commenting on the Novus Ordo, he writes:
It is possible to make this profound reality visible by celebrating the Novus Ordo Mass in ways that make the continuity with tradition much more obvious. The Novus Ordo permits that Mass be celebrated with all its parts, or the canon and ordinary parts, in Latin. It permits Mass to be celebrated ad orientem (facing the Lord); the traditional first canon may be used; Gregorian Chant is still to be given "pride of place"; incense may be used and sacred polyphony sung; altar boys, bells, patens, communion rails where people may kneel if they choose, beautiful and noble vestments and sacred vessels; all this is permitted in the Novus Ordo. Permitted, but too rarely experienced.
All well and good. I applaud Fr. Fessio for these observations, as well as for his own undertakings in respectful ad orientem celebrations of the Novus Ordo liturgy. Would that we had more priests like Fr. Fessio, and more Novus Ordo Masses such as his.

But did you notice anything peculiar about the passage quoted above? I couldn't help noticing all the qualifying, conditional terms -- "possible," "permits," "may be," "if they choose," "is permitted," etc. Well, of course these things are all permitted. Some of you may recall the photograph inside Michael Davies' booklet, The Catholic Sanctuary and The Second Vatican Council, which pictures a magnificent traditional Altar with Communion rail and bears the following note: "The beautiful sanctuary of The Church of the Oratory, London, after all the mandatory post-Vatican II changes have been made -- that is, no changes have been made to the pre-conciliar sanctuary." That's the problem, isn't it: none of these changes have been mandated, so of course the status quo ante in respect of these changes is going to be "permitted"! That goes without saying. The problem is how we've gotten the unmandated changes foisted upon us as essentially institutionalized abuses.

The other thing about this passage was that I just couldn't repel the feeling of some interior disconnectedness and an aspect of artificiality, if you will pardon the expression, in all of these references to "altar boys, bells, patens, communion rails where people may kneel if they choose, beautiful and noble vestments and sacred vessels," etc. Something strikes me as askew here, as lacking integration, if not integrity -- although I hasten to insist that I don't for a moment question the integrity of Fr. Fessio for whom I have the utmost respect.

What I find myself at pains to commend Fr. Fessio for is his willingness to publish the book to which his above quoted words were written as part of his Foreword, namely Martin Mosebach's The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy, translated by Graham Harrison (Ignatius Press, 2003), and bearing the inscription "For Robert Spaemann, in gratitude." Mosebach sees no hope but for a restoration of the traditional Latin Mass, and Fessio, of course, as a partisan of the "reform of the reform," does not agree with him. Yet Fessio saw fit to publish Mosebach's book because of his intuitively formidable and incisive critique of the jarring break with tradition in the contemporary forms of the liturgy. Hat tip to Fr. Fessio! But here's the kicker -- look at what Mosebach writes about the Novus Ordo!
I have described my conviction that it is impossible to retain reverence and worship without their traditional forms. Of course there will always be people who are so filled with grace that they can pray even when the means of prayer have been ripped from their hands. Many people, too, concerned about these issues, will ask, "Isn't it still possible to celebrate the new liturgy of Pope Paul VI worthily and reverently?" Naturally it is possible, but the very fact that it is possible is the weightiest argument against the new liturgy. (emphasis added)
Think about it. There's more to that than first meets the eye ...

And while you're thinking about that, here's something more:
Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI's reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy. Even those who want to preserve the liturgy or pray in the spirit of the liturgy, and even those who make great sacrifices to remain faithful to it -- all have lost something priceless, namely, the innocence that accepts it as something God-given, something that comes down to man as a gift from heaven. Those of us who are defenders of the great and sacred liturgy, the classical Roman liturgy, have all become -- whether in a small way or a big way -- liturgical experts. In order to counter the arguments of the reform, which was padded with technical, archaeological, and historical scholarship, we had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy -- something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy. What is absolutely indispensable for genuine liturgy? When are the celebrant's whims tolerable, and when do they become unacceptable? We have got used to accepting liturgy on the basis of the minimum requirements, whereas the criteria ought to be maximal. And finally, we have started to evaluate liturgy -- a monstrous act! We sit in the pews and ask ourselves, was that Holy Mass, or wasn't it? I go to church to see God and come away like a theatre critic. (emphasis added)
Read this book. I picked it up at the conference in Kansas City. It's the most interesting of the new reading material I brought home with me. It's not available on Amazon for some reason, but I'm quite certain you can purchase it directly from Ignatius Press.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Back from Kansas City ...

It's good to be home again. Thanks for your prayers. The conference was good. More on that in a moment. (For now, here is a conference video clip. Oops! Was that a mistake? My bad. Quite a daisy, wasn't it? That must have been the Hot Tub Liturgical Conference from somewhere a good distance West of Kansas City, I fancy. Courtesy of our friend, Mr. R.V. Miole, on the West Coast. Thanks for the good laugh, Mr. Miole. We needed that!)

First things first: one joy of this trip was my discovery of Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company beers. So far the only two I've had are Boulevard Bully Porter, a dark-roasted malt in the tradition of the classic English porter containing chocolate malts; and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer, a lively ale with a natural citrusy flavor and distinctive cloudy appearance. These are truly impressive offerings, I must say. Well ... sorry folks. I'm shameless. You see where my priorities are. As Ben Franklin said, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Another joy of this trip, rather coincidental with the first, was visiting my son, Benjamin, and his family at Benedictine College and seeing him ensconced in a supportive community in that place. I was impressed that a college of some 1200 full time students could mount a faculty of five or six each in the departments of theology and philosophy with nine hour course requirements of all students in each of those two areas; and a Freshman seminar course devoted to study of the college mission! Heavens! How do they do it! Haven't they heard of "market forces"? Aren't they aware that students aren't interested in such things anymore? What happened to their market consultants? Faculty members told me that Benedictine College has been collecting statistics on what students report as their reasons for selecting Benedictine College. You know what the number one reason is? It's their clear Catholic commitment. Huzzah! Put that in your pipes and smoke it, all you market consultants and educational demographic experts!

Another privilege of this conference was meeting at least three of our readers, whom I will reference here simply as Chad, Matthew, and William. A singular pleasure to meet each of you! I hope we can stay in touch, gentlemen. (Chad, please email me with your address when you get a chance.)

Kathy, you would have enjoyed this conference so immensely. In a previous comment I read only after returning, you asked me to say hello to Helen Hitchcock for you. Sorry I hadn't read your comment sooner. What you would have particularly liked, I think, are the parts of this conference that offered positive and often imaginative proposals for things that can be done to improve our worship as Catholics rather than mere criticisms or historical reviews of where things have gone wrong with the present liturgy. In this vein, there were some interesting presentations, of which I will mention the following:
  • Susan Treacy, from Ave Maria University, offered an interesting presentation on how Benedict XVI's vision for sacred music might sound in an American parish. That, essentially, was the subtitle of her talk, entitled "The Music of Cosmic Liturgy." In her presentation, she played some CD recordings of a dialogical, sung Mass, with the people antiphonally responding to the priest, who takes the lead. She highlighted the Ordinaries and, particularly, the Propers, which, she said, have been altogether underrated for the aesthetic and spiritual role they can potentially play in liturgy if placed in the appropriate musical settings. If the audio recordings, performed by a Dutch group, are any indication of what could realistically be said to lay in our future, I would be hopeful. The settings are reverent and beautiful and lift one out of the mundane and banal "environment of art and Catholic worship" we now too often suffer.

  • Fr. Samuel Weber, from Wake Forest University, actually put some of these ideas into effect in a sort of workship in which he taught the conference participants to chant some antiphonal plainsong Mass settings that he had arranged and printed for the occasion in a booklet for us entitled, Chants for the Order of Mass (2006). Weber, who previously spoke at Lenoir-Rhyne College at one of our annual Aquinas-Luther Conferences, has been working for some years arranging English verse in plainsong settings -- no easy feat. But the results were and are, to say the least, encouraging. While English does not lend itself to chant as readily as naturally as Latin, as anyone who understands chant knows, Weber has done a remarkable job of implementing the cadences and inflections of English verse in conformity with the principles of chant to yield a fine result. Weber is a consumate teacher, energetic, inspiring, and effective. If Weber's workshop is any indication, chant is not that difficult to learn. A willing congregation ('willing' being the operative word) could be taught to chant some of the simpler Mass settings with minimal effort. If the Novus Ordo could be rendered in plainsong, I think many of it's extraneous problems would disappear. Anyone interested in subscribing to his plainsong settings for weekly Sunday Masses, may contact him, he says, at the following address: Rev. Samuel F. Weber, O.S.B., Box 7719, Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC 27109-7719 (or Email him).

  • Denis NcNamara, from the Liturgical Institute in Chicago, talked about religious art. He drew a distinction between three kinds of art: (1) liturgical, (2) devotional, and (3) historical art. With examples drawn especially (but not exclusively) from the Orthodox tradition, he showed how liturgical art facilitates worship by elevating us out of the temporal into the timeless realm of the eternal. Devotional art is exemplified by the mail order statues, for example, of the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Virgin one used to see in the side altars of traditional churches and sometimes still sees in churches today. They facilitate personal devotion, but not necessarily liturgy. Historical art is art that depicts historical scenes with varying degrees of historical realism, such as the nativity, crucifixion, or other biblical scenes that may be good religious art but don't necessarily facilitate liturgy either. Some good theory along these lines.

  • Duncan Stroik, from Notre Dame School of Architecture, gave an interesting talk in which he wondered aloud how Catholic churches and Cathedrals ever used to be built without the help of Liturgical Design Consultants! (You know the significant difference between Liturgical Experts and Terrorists, right? Right: you can negotiate with terrorists.) He also offered a substantial discussion of six aspects of church buildings in terms of their (1) sacred space, (2) liturgical function per se, (3) sacramental dimension, (4) liturgical elements, (5) devotional purposes, and (6) iconographic and symbolic functions. Very interesting.
This was far from the whole of the conference, of course. There were other memorable speakers, such as Fr. Chrysogonus Waddell from Gethsemani Abbey, Kenneth Whitehead, James Hitchcock and Helen Hitchcock, as well as Msgr. James Moroney from the USCCB and Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, whose papaer was presented in absentia. At one end of the spectrum were those, such as Msgr. Moroney, who wisely counseled that one shouldn't "slap people" hostile to the "reform of the reform," but basically suggested that one should patiently love them, and wait and pray. At one point he (I think it was he, responding to a question from Patrick Lee concerning the prospects of the ad orientem) declared that, if anything, the current position of the college of bishops was that the versus populum was more strongly being enforced. At the other end, however, were speakers such as Whitehead (and William E. May in the audience), who would strike a listner as a trifle less sanguine about the sufficiency of simply loving one's liturgically flakey neighbor and waiting for the Second Advent. I was unable to attend the Sunday (Sept. 24) sessions on "Litrgy and Social Justice" by Msgr. Stuart Swetland and "Liturgy, Laity and Sacramental Sense" by Russell Shaw. I would liked very much to have heard them. Ora et labore!

Update 8-27-06
Thanks to Michael E. Lawrence for posting a link to our article on the Kansas City conference over at the blog founded by Shawn Tribe, The New Liturgical Movement, to which he is a regular contributor.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gone to Kansas City ...

Tomorrow I'm off for Kansas City to the 29th Annual Convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, devoted to the theme of "Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Reform of the Liturgy." I posted a Convention Schedule back on July 27, 2006, as some of you may recall, as well as a piece entitled "President of FCS comes out for 'ad orientem' liturgy" on August 30, 2006. It should be an interesting series of presentations, and will also give me an opportunity to visit my son, Benjamin, who took a teaching post in theology at Benedictine College in Atcheson, of Kansas City, as I announced on May 15, 2006. Please pray for safe travels and for a fruitful conference, as well as for families at home. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll see some of you there.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Looney liberal conspiracy theories

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s publishing arm has released a book that says President Bush organized New York's Sept. 11 attacks. You got that right folks. That's courtesy of your friendly PCUSA's well-respected 160-old Westminster John Knox Press, the trade and (highly respected) academic publishing imprint of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, bringing a conspiracy theory fanned by the flames of the world's Islamic jihadists into the U.S. religious mainstream and their own exclusive tweedy Scotch-sipping golf clubhouses.

The book's author, David Ray Griffin, says in 'Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action,' that the United States is the world's chief embodiment of demonic power. He claims that he initially rejected 9/11 conspiracy theories, but after investigating, concluded that the Twin Towers were brought down by controlled demolition, and that military personnel were given stand-down orders not to intercept hijacked flights, and that the 9/11 Commission, ostensibly created to uncover the truth behind the events of 9/11, 'simply ignored evidence' that the administration was involved in the attacks.


"Some Lefebvre Followers Reconcile With Rome"

"Some Lefebvre Followers Reconcile With Rome: New Institute to Celebrate Mass in Old Rite." Thus read the September 11th ZENIT communiqué from Rome, announcing that several priests and seminarians, including past members of the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, have returned to full communion with the Catholic Church. "They founded the Good Shepherd Institute, a new society of apostolic life of pontifical right, established last Friday in Rome," read the communiqué. "Its members are people who wish to celebrate the liturgy exactly as was in force in the Latin Church until 1962." The institute brings together priests who wish to "exercise their priesthood in the doctrinal and liturgical Tradition of the Holy Roman Catholic Church," explained Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, in a communiqué. The new institute is located in his archdiocese.

The ZENIT report also stated the following:
In his communiqué Cardinal Ricard said: "Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his concern for a return to full communion by those who followed Archbishop Lefebvre and wished to offer welcome gestures."

Cardinal Ricard, 61, who is also president of the bishops' conference of France, explained that "the Pope himself made the decision to establish this new institute. In this decision there is the will to propose an experience of reconciliation and communion that will have to be affirmed and deepened with deeds. For this reason, the statutes of this institute are approved 'ad experimentum' for a five-year period."

"We share profoundly this concern of the Pope for reconciliation and communion and we welcome filially his decision," stated the cardinal, who is also a member of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei."

That commission was established by John Paul II to facilitate the full ecclesial communion of the priests, seminarians, communities and men and women religious connected in some way to Lefebvre's group, who wish to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church, keeping their spiritual and liturgical traditions.

The archbishop of Bordeaux said that a "convention" will be agreed to by the institute and the archdiocese on how the former will operate.

The cardinal acknowledged that what is needed is a "whole endeavor of pacification, reconciliation and communion, as violence has characterized the relations even over the last months of several members of that institute with the diocesan Church. Each one will have to contribute his part."

Muslim commentator defends Pope, denounces fanaticism

Magdi Allam is a leading Muslim commentator in Italy. He has written a major editorial for an Italian national newspaper, Corriere della Sera. The editorial (in the original Italian) is entitled "La verità della storia: I musulmani contro il Papa «Ci ha offeso, chieda scusa»" (translated into English as: "The Historical Truth: Muslims against the Pope, 'He has offended us, let him ask pardon'":
It is sad and worrying that Muslims have given birth to a united international front to attack the Pope and ask for public apologies. From Bin Laden to the Muslim Brotherhood, from Pakistan to Turkey, from al Jazeera to al Arabiya, the transversal and universal alliance, which has already come into being following the Danish cartoons affair, has reappeared. Reaffirming very clearly that the root of evil is like a blind and prevailing ideology which outrages the faith and darkens the minds of many Muslims.

Why do not Muslims, especially the so called moderates, react with such strength and intensity against the real and eternal desecrators of Islam, that is, the Islamic terrorists who kill other Muslims in the name of the same God, radical Muslims who legitimize the destruction of Israel and teach the faith on Islamic “martyrdom?” Why do they now believe they must start a kind of Islamic “holy war” against the Chief of the Church who does have the right to express his views about Islam, with respect but at the same time with all clarity due to the natural difference between the two religions?

The Pope’s words, while quoting the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, about the expansion of Islam through the sword, either at Muhammed’s times inside the Arabian Peninsula and after his death outside it (with some exceptions), underline an undeniable historical truth. The Quran itself states it; furthermore, the forced conversion to Islam of the whole Byzantine Empire in the East and South of Mediterranean, and the further expansion northwards in Europe and Eastwards in Asia, demonstrates the point made by the Byzantine Emperor. It is foolish to deny the truth, as it can only engender insane reactions. In the mid Nineties one of the most prominent scholars in Islamic studies, the Egyptian Mohamed said al-Ashmawi, told me that he did not approve the Arab tribes’ military conquest of Christian lands in the Mediterranean and that he would have preferred Islam to expand in peace like it did in South-Eastern Asia. The Pope is threatened because he has said things that every single honest and reasoning Muslim should accept: the historical truth.

It is time that both the West and Christianity stop thinking that they are the cause of all that happens, either good or evil, inside Islam and all over the world. The ideology of hate is an ancestral reality inside Islam, since its early beginnings, due to his refusal to recognize and respect the plurality of religious communities which are natural since in Islam the relationship between the believer and God is personal and there is no unique spiritual guide who embodies the absolute dogmas of faith. And it is true as well that since the defeat of the Arab armies in the war of June 5 1967 the situation has been worsening along with the rise of Islamic extremism from Iran to Indonesia. Until the rise of global Islamic terrorism which turned the West into a “factory of suicide bombers”.

This is the tragic truth of the ideology of hate which binds together all Muslims obsessed by anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism and by the prejudicial denial of Israel right to exist. They are able to find many pretexts to fly into a rage, from Israeli occupation to the American war, from the cartoons about Muhammed to the Pope’s words. Nevertheless the problem is inside Islam itself, an Islam that extremists turned from a faith in God into an ideology aiming at the imposition of a theocratic and totalitarian power on everyone who is not like them. And I am really scared when I realize that even the so called moderates have given up their minds to enter upon a “holy war” in which they will be the first victims.

by Magdi Allam

English translation by Giles Watson

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Islam’s Unreasonable War Against Benedict XVI"

"In Regensburg, the pope offered as terrain for dialogue between Christians and Muslims 'acting according to reason.' But the Islamic world has attacked him, distorting his thought, confirming by this that the rejection of reason brings intolerance and violence along with it." Thus writes Sandro Magister, at www.chiesa (Roma, September 18 2006). Read more in his post entitled, "Islam’s Unreasonable War Against Benedict XVI."

Christopher writes for the RatzingerFanClub discussion group:
"I thought Pope Benedict's address at Regensburg University] itself is phenomenal. Unfortunately, due to the media's cherry-picking of the most controversial remarks on Islam (which was hardly the focus) and the predictable righteous indignation of the self-proclaimed "religion of peace" who are now, in some cases, burning the Pope in effigy, firebombing churches, and calling for the Holy Father's death, the real "meat" of the lecture is being practically ignored. While I attempt a summary of it in my blog-post, I strongly encourage everybody to read the text in full. You can find it posted on the Vatican website."
Christopher has also established a 'Benedict Blog' for exclusive coverage of the Holy Father. On his visit to Germany, he has three recent posts -- an overview on his trip to Bavaria, on the Regensberg address, and the controversy over his remarks on Islam. The Regensberg University itself has a great page devoted to the Holy Father's teaching years there and subsequent visitations. Fr. James V. Schall, on Ignatius Press' website writes:
But with this lecture we are in heady academic surroundings. All is genteel. All is formal. All is, yes, "intellectual." But it is here where the real battles lie hidden. What we see in Regensburg are, after Deus Caritas Est, the second shots of the new pope at the heart of what is wrong in our world and its mind. These "shots," however, are designed to do what all good intellectual battle does, namely, to make it possible for us to see again what is true and to live it.

The Regensburg Address, I suspect, will go down as one of those seminal and incisive analyses that tell us who we are and where we are. It will remind us of what we are by teaching us again to think about the God that the skeptics, the dons, the theological faculties, including Muslim faculties, have too often obscured for us. Civilization depends also on thinking rightly about God and man -- all civilization, not just European or Muslim. Such is the reach of this lecture.
Christopher writes: "Of course the real story now is if and when the Pope will submit in obedience and render an apology to Islam. It seems that on the subject of Mohammad, there is no permitted no critical discussion on this topic (just as Islamic scholars attempting an investigation into the 'origins' of the Qu'Ran have a tendency to get exiled from their countries and are subject to death threats [What is the Quran?])."

See Christopher's posts at Against the Grain:[Hat tip to Christopher]

Friday, September 15, 2006

Sine poena nulla lex

('Where there is no enforcement there is no law") -- perhaps the single major problem of authority in the Church today ...

The betrayal of silence and complicity

"The problem isn't so much the dissenting Catholics; it's the people on our side who will do nothing, or even abet the liberals.... It's the betrayal of the modcons [moderate conservatives] and the neocons that is the worst betrayal." Thus wrote Dale Vree in a New Oxford Note back in May of 2006 (New Oxford Review, pp. 23-24).

In the current issue of the NOR, again in a New Oxford Note -- this one entitled "A Layman Advises Laymen to Hide Under the Table" -- Vree picks up this theme in connection with an editorial by the President of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), Leon Suprenant (pictured right), in the May/June issue of Lay Witness (the official publication of CUF). I used to subscribe to Lay Witness. I'm not quite sure why I dropped the subscription. Perhaps it was that the articles didn't seem that informative or challenging. Yet I've always appreciated the ministry of CUF, which has a respectable history of solidly orthodox work since its founding by H. Lyman Stebbins in 1968. I remember being impressed by some of James Likoudis's work published by CUF. As far as I know, Leon Suprenant has done a perfectly commendable job since assuming the leadership of CUA. Yet Vree makes use of some otherwise unobjectionable and even commendable remarks from Suprenant's editorial to raise what I believe are some very important questions about our proper disposition and comportment towards the Church hierarchy amidst the crisis the Church faces today. Vree has, at least, articulated for me questions that I have inchoately found myself asking quite frequently -- uncomfortable questions, which, I think, demand clear answers. See what you think.

Suprenant writes in his editorial: "A Church that is serious about being universal (i.e., 'catholic') has to face the challenge of holding fast amidst diversity.... This can be a particular challenge when those in authority in the local Church seem to be part of the problem. What is the laity to do under those circumstances?" The term "diversity" here is undefined, and perhaps a trifle unexpected here, given the context of cultural wars, and such. Anyway, he answers with four points:

(1) "We can't control the actions of others, but we surely can take it upon ourselves to strive to become saints. At the judgment, we will not be asked about our bishop or pastor, but we will be accountable for what we did with our own talents."
A perfectly noble sentiment. I have heard this sort of counsel frequently, as I'm sure many of you have; and I believe there is wisdom in it -- to a point. However, as Vree points out, Pope Felix III said, "Not to oppose error is to approve of it." Again, as Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Vree writes: "Yes, depending on our talents, God might ask us if we stood up to a cowardly bishop or a dissident or weak-kneed pastor. Suprenant seems to think that saints are mild and gentle. However, St. Paul rebuked St. Peter to his face. St. Catherine of Siena challenged her pope. St. Thomas Aquinas said, 'When the faith is in imminent peril, prelates ought to be accused by their subjects, even in public.' When the majority of the Catholic bishops were Arians, St. Athanasius fought and defeated the Arians -- and is the crisis in the Church today any worse than it was in the Arian crisis? You will notice that all these figures were saints, some of the greatest saints in Church history. As Dietrich von Hildebrand says in The Devastated Vineyard, 'Should the faithful at the time of the Arian heresy...have limited themselves to being nice and obedient to the ordinances of these bishops instead of battling the heresy? Is not fidelity to the true teaching of the Church to be given priority over submission to the bishop?'"
(2) Suprenant says: "Offer it up."
Vree comments: "Yes, you can offer it up, but you can take action as well. God is not just your errand boy." I respect the respectful submissiveness with which pious souls have submitted to unconscionable injustices in the faith that God would deliver them; and we've all heard stories of the Saints who were miraculously delivered by God after they patiently submitted to all sorts of abuses, misunderstandings, and injustices from superiors. But when the abuses imperil the faith and morals of the faithful and extend to the dishonoring of God, is this something that can be suffered in meek silence and "offered up" as though it were a sacrifice of obedience to God? I wonder.
(3) Suprenant says: "Since bishops and pastors are our spiritual fathers, we are commanded to honor them as such by the Fourth Commandment.... [and] encourage a healthy, positive loyalty and reverence toward ... our spiritual fathers."
Here again, I'm all-too-conscious of the need for reverencing our spiritual Fathers, from the Pope down to our parish priests. On the other hand, Vree comments: "Invoking the Fourth Commandment is quite a stretch! Two-thirds of our bishops did nothing about the priestly sex scandals; they just moved the pederast priests around. Several of our bishops have been exposed as active homosexuals. Who would want to give 'healthy, positive loyalty and reverence' to those bishops? That would just be enabling them." It's a legitimate question animated by a legitimate concern.
(4) Suprenant says: "We should pray for an increase of faith, that we might see in our bishops and priests, despite their human frailty and any perceived shortcoming, 'the Lord's anointed.'"
This makes me think of David in the Old Testament, who refused to kill King Saul when he had the opportunity, as well as just cause, in that Saul was out to slay him for no good reason; and David's refusal to kill Saul was based on the fact that he was the "Lord's anointed." So this argument carries considerable weight. Here Vree writes: "But as Jesus said, 'From everyone who has been given much, much more will be demanded. And from the one trusted with much, much more will be expected' (Lk. 12:48). 'The Lord's anointed' are held to higher standards." True enough. But how does this bear on the question of how we comport ourselves toward our bishops and priests? Vree offers the harsh reality of the following examples of "the Lord's anointed":
  • "If the sexual victims of Fr. Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, 'the Lord's anointed,' didn't create such a ruckus over 30 long years, nothing would have happened."
  • "The Archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, was also 'the Lord's anointed.' In his Archdiocese, divorced Catholics were being admitted to Holy Matrimony without an annulment. Intercommunion was practiced in many Seattle parishes. Homosexual groups got archdiocesan support, among many other abuses. Our friend Erven Park and many others provided documents and testimony to the Holy See, which the Holy See would probably have not known about otherwise."
  • "If conservative Catholics didn't create an uproar about dissident Fr. Richard McCormick, 'the Lord's anointed,' the former Archbishop of New Orleans, Francis Schulte, would never have canceled McCormick's lecture in his Archdiocese in January 1997."
"No," he says, "silence is not golden; it's yellow."
Is that the bottom line, then? Is the betrayal of silence and complicity simply a betrayal of cowardice? Or is it something different? Is it a betrayal rooted in an erroneous conception of the role of the laity vis-a-vis the clergy and their respective obedience owed to the Church and, thus, to God? Or is this no betrayal of silence and complicity at all? Is this exactly what we should be doing and no more -- praying in silence for our clerics, for our Church, for better days, "offering up" the sufferings and abuses and scandals of our present times, waiting for the Lord to act in His time? Your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Rodham" Family Tree

Eugene Judy, a professional genealogical researcher, discovered that Hillary Clinton's great-great uncle, Remus Rodham, a fellow lacking in character, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows.

On the back of the picture is this inscription:

"Remus Rodham; horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889."

Judy e-mailed Hillary Clinton @NY.Gov for comments. Hillary's staff of professional image adjustors cropped Remus's picture, scanned it, enlarged the image, and edited it with image processing software so that all that's seen is a head shot.

The accompanying biographical sketch is as follows:
"Remus Rodham was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."
[Disclaimer: This is only a joke, I should hope. The same story is told of "Gunther Gore," a supposed ancestor of Al Gore. See]

Monday, September 11, 2006

We remember


Revisiting Assisi reported on September 7, 2006, that a Peace Appeal was issued at the International Meeting of Prayer for Peace, held in Assisi on Monday and Tuesday, September 4th and 5th, 2006. The appeal, it said, was signed by hundreds of representatives of various religions. Sandro Magister reports at www.chiesa (September 11, 2006), in the body of a post entitled, "Benedict XVI Has Become a Franciscan," that Pope Benedict declined to put in an appearance at the interreligious meeting at Assisi as Pope John Paul II had done in 1986 and 2002. Yet Magister also reports, in a section of his post entitled "Restorations also underway for the interreligious meetings," on how Benedict, in his September 2nd address to the bishop of Assisi, is attempting to sort out the way for continued interreligious dialogue without the confusions that accompanied the Assisi summits of the previous pontificate. Whether or not he will succeed in this remains to be seen. While his cautions against religious 'relativism' are clear enough, he may not avoid other pitfalls suggested in the article below.

Given the recent anniverasary of the Assisi meetings, and given the recent interest in some of the commentary (in recent comboxes) in the problems posed by the Assisi meetings in 1986 and 2002, I thought it opportune to share what I have found to be the most cogent discussion of the arguments against the Assisi adventure that I have seen. Let me say from the outset that I consider John Paul II to be in many ways an outstanding and excellent pope. I don't think it's only my bias as a professional academician or philosopher coming through here, or the fact that he is the only pope in history with two earned doctorates, one in theology, the other in philosophy, or that he was an excellent and well-known phenomenologist long before becoming Pontiff. His many encyclicals attest to his magisterial acumen and gifts as a teacher. The orthodoxy of his formal magisterial office is, I think, beyond question. This, however, does not place him, in his prudential judgments, above reproach. The following are difficult things to confront. But they must be confronted, if we are not to bury our heads in the sand. Read, pray, discern, and see what you think with the Mind of the Church and the Mind of Christ.

John Paul II and Assisi: Reflections of a "Devil's Advocate"

by Father Brian W. Harrison, O.S.

(Part I: "... more or less good and praiseworthy")

Now that the cause for beatification of the late Holy Father John Paul II has been officially opened by the successor in the See of Peter, an open, public and honest discussion of his long and epoch-making pontificate, marked by a calm and serious evaluation of its possible weaknesses as well as its undoubted strengths, has become not only opportune but also necessary. For the long-standing tradition of the Church is that no Servant of God may be raised to the honors of the altar before both sides of the question -- that is, testimonies both for and against his or her sanctity -- are first heard and taken into due consideration.

Since Vatican Council II, the specific role of a priest investigator who was popularly styled "Devil's Advocate" for each cause for canonization has been abolished in the proceedings of the Vatican Congregations for Saints' Causes. The substantial functions of this fabled official, however, are still required to be carried out in one way or another by those in charge of evaluating the life of each Servant of God. In the spirit of this requirement of Holy Mother Church -- though not without a certain trepidation -- I shall therefore make so bold as to offer in this two-part article some critical observations about one of the recently deceased Pontiff's most audacious initiatives: his convocation of the inter-religious gatherings at Assisi in 1986 and 2002. In considering my own remarks (which will be based exclusively on the late Pope's public statements and actions), I ask readers to bear in mind that they are made in full consciousness and appreciation of John Paul II's many monumental qualities, contributions and achievements in world affairs as well as in his leadership of the Church. Those qualities and achievements I by no means wish to deny, but rather, take for granted, in what follows.

Actions that Speak Louder than Words

In the April 2002 issue of Inside the Vatican a letter of mine was published registering respectful but firm disagreement with Pope John Paul II's convocation of the second interreligious "Day of Prayer" for peace at Assisi (January 24, 2002). Among other things, I observed that this and the similar 1986 papal initiative at Assisi were tending to send the message (denounced by Pope Pius XI in his 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos as erroneous and perilous) "that all religions are more or less good and praiseworthy." After all, when one publicly invites people as guests to one's own home turf, welcoming them there for the precise purpose of displaying certain of their wares, or carrying out certain of their own distinctive activities which have been agreed upon in advance, will not the average observer assume that such wares and/or activities are considered by the host of this event to be -- at least in general terms -- laudable and meritorious? (Why would he have hosted it at all if he thought otherwise?)

I was soon taken to task by one reader who asserted that even if some observers drew such negative conclusions from Assisi, "it would only prove that [they] had found an occasion [of scandal] in an act which they did not understand correctly, in spite of all the explanations that had been given: a case of scandal of the weak bordering on Pharisaical scandal." Which explanations? My critic referred to two papal allocutions of October 1986 regarding Assisi I, and another about interreligious dialogue in general of 19 May 1999. These allocutions, he assured me, were sufficient to acquit John Paul II of any charge of giving scandal. They covered all the bases.

Well, I shall proceed to explain why I honestly don't think the Holy Father really did cover all the bases in those allocutions. But I would first raise the questions as to whether, even supposing these authoritative explanations did remove any objective grounds for scandal, that would, in itself, be enough to justify the Assisi gatherings. I think not. For Sacred Scripture teaches that we should avoid even innocent but unnecessary, actions under circumstances where they are liable to give scandal to weak or ignorant brethren. (Look it up: I Cor. 10:27-29.) And were Assisi I and II really necessary (in spite of two previous millennia of church history in which no Successor of Peter had ever done anything remotely similar)? I don't believe Pope John Paul himself ever tried to claim these pan-religious prayer-fests were necessary. He just clearly considered them opportune.

It is also worth remarking that I was not merely concerned about Assisi's probably effects on Catholics. My published letter said that "the practical effect [of Assisi] in the minds of millions of observers worldwide can only have been to create or reinforce the impression that the Roman Catholic Church now endorses" the aforesaid idea condemned by Pius XI. In the light of my critic's appeal to certain papal documents, the distinction between observers in general and Catholic observers is important. For it is clearly much more incumbent on Catholics than on non-Catholics to read official Church documents and to form their opinions in the light of such teachings. Therefore, even if my critic were right about the said papal documents, that would still miss the main point. For my objection to Assisi also had in mind the vast, non-Catholic majority of ordinary people round the world) not to mention merely huge numbers of merely nominal Catholics), who cannot realistically be expected to spend time in libraries searching for authentic pontifical texts in L'Osservatore Romano. As was entirely foreseeable, the opinions of the masses concerning these religious 'spectaculars' were formed mainly by the accounts furnished in secular radio, newspaper, and television coverage.

Indeed, my main objection to Assisi is the resulting misleading public witness as to the Church's true position. Scandal has been given not only to those who, because of Assisi, have been led to believe (or confirmed in their existing belief) that "all religions are more or less good and praiseworthy." Scandal has also been given to all those who, while personally rejecting that benign appraisal of "all religions," have been misled into thinking that Roman Catholicism now officially endorses it. It is all too likely that the Assisi gatherings have made conversion to Catholicism more difficult than ever for devout, conservative Protestant and Eastern Orthodox believers, as well as for traditional Jews and Muslims. Many such 'unecumenicized' non-Catholics -- holding vastly differing convictions among themselves but sharing a common abhorrence for religious liberalism -- were aghast or even contemptuous at what they saw happening at Assisi.

The Papal Explanations of Assisi

We must now go on to ask whether in fact the papal allocutions cited by my critic really even claim to reassure Catholics (and others) that the error rebuked by Pope Pius XI is not implied by the Assisi gatherings.

Of course, a number of authoritative post-conciliar Church documents, regarding Assisi and other ecumenical and interreligious activities, clearly assert that such forms of dialogue and collaboration do not involve, and are not intended to imply, such errors as indifferentism, syncretism, or relativism. (1) Syncretism is the mixing together of elements from Christianity with those of non-Christian religions, or a reductionist search for unity through a 'lowest common denominator' approach. (2) Indifferentism is the view that any given religion is basically just as good (or bad) as any other. And (3) relativism holds (along very similar lines to indifferentism) that there are no absolute or universal religious truths, so that one religion can be true or right for one culture or historical period, while other religions (or no religion at all) may be right for other cultures or periods.

By appealing to statements of John Paul II dissociating Vatican-approved interreligious activity from these three errors, my critic left the impression that I had accused the Pope of promoting one or more of them at Assisi. But this is not true. [1] My complaint, let me repeat, was that Assisi in effect promoted a different error -- less extreme than the three just mentioned, but still grave -- to wit, the view that "all religions are more or less good and praiseworthy" (in Pius XI's precise words, "plus minus bonas ac laudabiles"). It is of course quite possible, and indeed, very common, to hold this opinion without embracing the cruder (indifferentist) error that all religions are equally good and praiseworthy -- or perhaps equally bad and blameworthy. (The fact that all participants at the Olympic Games are "more or less world-class athletes" does not, of course, imply that they are all equally competent.)

Moreover, it is not simply a question of this one statement of Pius XI. That some religions are definitely not plus minus bonas ac laudabiles is an infallible teaching of the Church's ordinary Magisterium. For that is the plan meaning of the First Commandment. There are many religious cults, including some represented at Assisi I and II, which are not merely deficient or inadequate, but downright bad. They are, objectively, intrinsically idolatrous, and therefore morally bad in their very essence. According to both Old and New Testaments, the "gods" of the pagans are really devils: cf. Psalm 96:5 and I Cor. 10:20. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes this objective evil. Under the bold-type heading "Idolatry," it teaches: "The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor venerate, other divinities than the one true God" (No. 2112). Now, if "the Great Thumb," an entity invoked by an African shaman at Assisi in 1986, is not one of these "other divinities" whose idolatrous cult is, according to the Catechism "condemned" by God, then it is hard to imagine what conceivable cult would ever qualify for such condemnation. (The official Vatican publication for Assisi I, entitled World Day of Prayer for Peace, includes the text of this prayer to "the Great Thumb." [2]

Now, in the papal allocutions which my critic appeals to, did Pope John Paul dissociate his own interreligious initiatives from the aforesaid error condemned by Pius XI (along with the whole of Scripture and Tradition)? Not even once, I am afraid. On the contrary, his statements themselves even tend to suggest the self-same error!

The first of the three was John Paul's Wednesday allocution of October 22, 1986, several days before Assisi I. It seems to me that this discourse fully confirms the deep concern expressed in my published letter. To begin with, the Pope spoke euphemistically, even disingenuously. He repeatedly reassured the pilgrims in St. Peter's Square that the purpose of the interreligious gathering the following Monday was to be "prayer to God," the "the Divinity," and even to "the living God." Its purpose, he said, was to be that of "invoking from God" the gift of peace, "imploring from God" that gift, and so on. To listen to these words, one would think that only monotheists -- worshippers of the one true God -- had been invited. Could it be that the Holy Father himself felt a certain uneasiness, a certain need to sugar-coat the Assisi pill, when addressing a large audience of ordinary, devout Catholics?

In this allocution, the Pope's only expression of reserve regarding non-Christian religions was very mild, and was in any case immediately buried under copious and reassuring words of praise. He said, "We recognize the limits of those religions, but that in no way negates the fact that they contain religious values and qualities -- sometimes outstanding ones." [3] Elsewhere in the allocution the Pope praises the fasts, penitences, and "pilgrimages to sacred places" practiced by non-Christians, and affirms that all their religions "are called to contribute to the birth of a world that is more human, more just, more fraternal." [4] But what evidence from Scripture or Tradition is there that God really "calls" pagan and polytheistic religions, as such, to that kind of noble, humanitarian mission? Are we not taught rather that God simply wills their demise? And that His "call" to their followers is, rather, to abandon their grievous errors in order to worship the true God in the true religion? John Paul added that we should have "sincere respect" for these "other religions" (i.e., for the religions as such, not just for the persons who practice them in good faith), as well as respect for "[their] prayer." He also mentioned the planned afternoon session wherein Christians were going to listen to the prayers of the non-Christians, but without joining in. And what was the rationale for this non-participation? To show Christian disapproval of polytheistic or pantheistic prayer, perhaps? Not at all. Quite the contrary. "In this way," the Pope explained, 'we manifest our respect for the prayer of others and for their attitude before the Divinity." [5]

Certainly, the Pope also clearly and repeatedly proclaimed in this discourse that Christ is the only Savior. But that of course is irrelevant to the point at issue. What interests us here is whether there was any indication in this discourse that some of the religions to be represented at Assisi might not be "more or less good and praiseworthy." And the answer is crystal clear: Not a trace. For it is plain that even something which admittedly has its "limits" can still merit that description.

Similar comments can be made about John Paul II's statements on the day of Assisi I itself, October 27, 1986, when he spoke twice. In the opening greeting inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli he referred to the human quest for "the Absolute Being,"[6] glossing over the fact that the Buddhists and polytheists represented there do not believe in any one "Absolute Being." While the Pope again denied any "relativist" character in the planned activity,[7] nothing he said there suggested anything contrary to the view condemned by Pius XI in Mortalium Animos. At the end of the day, after all representatives had listened to the others offering their respective prayers, the Pope spoke again, dedicating almost his entire discourse to the need for peace, and the means of achieving it. Again, nothing at all here suggested that some religions might be objectively something other than "more or less good and praiseworthy." [8]

All this is also true in regard to the third allocution referred to by my critic, that of the Wednesday general audience allocution of May 19, 1999. Indeed, on this occasion, John Paul II mentioned polytheistic worship only to praise it, referring to "the traditional African religions, which constitute for many peoples a source of wisdom and life."[9] Does not this assertion suggest that these pagan cults are "more or less good and praiseworthy"? In similar vein, His Holiness continued by appealing to the new Catechism -- but quite selectively, and in fact, with questionable accuracy. Referring to No. 843, he said: "In effect, every religion presents itself as a search for salvation, and proposes paths by which to attain it."[10] Readers may judge for themselves whether No. 843, which recognizes certain positive elements in "other religions," really says or implies that. But in any case one must wonder why, if the Pope had wished to show continuity between his teaching and that of his predecessors such as Pius XI, he did not also cite the very next article of the Catechism, which echoes St. Paul's condemnation of pagan idolatry in Romans 1: "In their religious behavior, however, men also display the limits and errors that disfigure the image of God in them: 'Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator'" (CCC No. 844, citing Lumen Gentium No. 16)

In short, none of these papal interventions lends any support to the contention that the 1986 Assisi gathering, when understood correctly, was untarnished by the error Pius XI had condemned. On the contrary, it seems impossible to deny that they actually reinforce that error -- both by what they say and what they conspicuously fail to say. The scandal given is thus true and objective, not just "sandal of the weak bordering on Pharisaical scandal."

Similar comments could be made about Assisi II (2002). Far from saying anything against the error that "all religions are more or less good and praiseworthy," the Pontiff's own remarks and the official Vatican booklet setting out the day's proceeding tended, if anything, to communicate that error. The booklet speaks, for instance, of "the followers of the different religions, their hearts enlightened by the religious spirit which everywhere promotes fraternity among the world's peoples...."[11] The Pope himself declared: "In God's name may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love,"[12] and in his homily asserted that "true religious feeling" -- which in this context was clearly meant to include virtually any and every religion, including the pagan varieties represented among the Pope's listeners -- "is a wellspring of respect and harmony between peoples: ... the chief antidote to violence and conflict." [13]

Now, given these sorts of glowing claims about the life-giving, peacemaking elixir to be distilled from "all religions," and given that, in his discourses related to Assisi, His Holiness never expressed anything more than the very mildest reservations about even the crudest forms of paganism (and even then, going on to describe them as "a source of wisdom and life for many peoples"), how could any impartial listener or reader be expected to draw any conclusion other than that John Paul II did indeed consider "all religions" to be "more or less good and praiseworthy"?

Let us return to the question of the late Holy Father's cause for canonization. As is well known, evidence is always required, as a condition for even beatification, that the Servant of God under consideration reached a heroic level in all seven main virtues: four of them cardinal (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) and three of them theological (faith, hope and charity). If the conclusions I have come to about John Paul II and Assisi are correct, then I respectfully submit that they constitute weighty evidence: first, that this well-beloved Pontiff, for all his many outstanding human and spiritual qualities, displayed a less than heroic level of prudence, in an extremely important manner, by overriding the advice of numerous cardinals in order to convoke high-profile and hitherto unheard-of interreligious gatherings that were predictably bound to sow confusion among millions round the world regarding the unique salvific role of the Catholic religion: and second, that the same Assisi gatherings, interpreted in the light of the Pope's own explanatory discourses, betrayed a decidedly less than heroic level in the still more fundamental virtue of faith. For these data suggest very strongly that John Paul's well-known optimism regarding the boundless love and universal salvific will of God -- in itself something admirable, and indeed, linked to the related virtue of hope -- exceeded the limits of due proportion, so as to obscure, overshadow or minimize this Pontiff's faith in an article of revealed truth based on the very First Commandment and clearly taught in his own Catechism (articles 844 and 2112): the truth that idolatry (in polytheistic, pantheistic, or any other forms) is an abomination that stands condemned by God, and thus merits condemnation by man. Especially by Christ's Vicar on earth. (to be continued next issue)


1. In this respect I have been less severe in my evaluation of Assisi than the highly respected Italian journalist Vitto Messori, who has published long (book-length) interviews with the then Cardinal Ratzinger and John Paul II himself. Messori did not hesitate to state publicly that the Assisi gatherings in effect promoted indifferentism and relativism. (Cf. CWNews briefs, February 5, 2002, cited in C. Ferrara & T. Woods, The Great Facade [Wyoming, Minnesota: Remnant Press, 2002], p. 213.)

2. Cf. Ferrara & Woods, op. cit., p. 84.

3. "Conocemos cuáles son los límites de esas religiones, pero eso no quita en absoluto que haya en ellas valores y cualidades religiosas, incluso insignes" (L'Osservatore Romano [weekly Spanish ed.], October 26, 1986, p. 3).

4. "... están llamados a contribuir al nacimiento de un mundo más humano, más justo más fraterno" (ibid).

5. "De este modo manifestamos nuestro respeto por la oración de los otros y por la actitud de los demás ante la Divinidad" (ibid).

6. "... el Ser Absolute" (L'Osservatore Romano [weekly Spanish ed.], November 2, 1986, p. 2).

7. Ibid., p. 1.

8. Ibid., p. 11.

9. "las religiones tradicionales africanas, que constituyen para muchos pueblos, una fuente de sabiduría y vida" (L'Osservatore Romano [weekly Spanish ed.], May 21, 1999, p. 3.

10. "En efecto, toda religión se presenta como una búsqueda de salvación y propone itinerarios para alcanzarla" (ibid).

11. Together For Peace (Vatican Press, 2002), p. 13.

12. Ibid., p. 19.

13. Complete text available on Vatican website.

[Father Brian Harrison, O.S., a convert to the Catholic faith from Presbyterianism, is a native of Australia. He earned his doctorate in Theology, summa cum laude, from the roman Athenaeum of the Holy Cross and is now an Associate Professor of Theology in the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. He is a member of the Priestly Society of the Oblates of Wisdom. The present article, "John Paul II and Assisi: Reflections of a 'Devil's Advocate'" (Part I)," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Advent/Christmas, 2005), pp. 6-10, and is reprinted here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.]

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Contra Sungenis: a brother traditionalist's charitable anathema

"It is with reluctance that I write what follows," writes Michael Forrest, a former colleague and co-worker with Bob Sungenis at the latter's apostolate, Catholic Apologetics International:
I have prayed that the issue I am about to address would eventually resolve itself. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred. I have gone through some tumultuous events and changes with Bob Sungenis at his apostolate, Catholic Apologetics International (CAI), and have consistently defended him when other associates and friends either would or could not. And when the time came, I privately and frankly voiced my concerns to Bob (about a year and a half ago) about his treatment of Jewish issues when these concerns were less serious than they are now.
Forrest's tone is utterly lacking in pugnacity and suffused throughout with a solicitous irenic spirit. He is quick to point out: "I would like to make clear my continued respect for the works Bob has authored on Scripture, the Holy Eucharist and salvation. I also genuinely appreciate the time and experiences I had both as the vice president of CAI, and simply as Bob's friend and colleague. I have no desire to harm Bob. And it is precisely for these kinds of reasons that I have refrained for so long from what is about to follow."

Having said that, however, he is impelled by the troubling direction in Sungenis' writing to take issue with him publicly. He does not accuse Sungenis of antisemitism, although there are remarks in the latter's more recent writings that might (at least superficially) suggest that. The issue is subtler and more difficult than that, involving historical revisionism, conspiracy theories, theories of race, theological understandings of Jewish conversion, the Antichrist, and eschatology. Forrest begins with a personal Introduction, laying out the rationale for his critique of Sungenis, followed by a Foreword calling to witness a number of significant statements concerning Sungenis by Mr. David Palm, Dr. Art Sippo, Mr. Michael Lopez, Mr. Matthew Anger, Mr. Ben Douglass, Mr. John Novotny, Mr. Jacob Michael and Mr. Patrick Morris. This is followed by the body of Forrest's critique itself in five chapters.

Serious theological issues reside at the base of questions surrounding the relation of the two covenants and the relationship of the Church to Israel, and the evangelization of Jews. On the one hand, these issues warrant free and open discussion. On the other hand, the least taint of anti-semitism among Christians of any persuasion is an intolerable blight. I am appalled to learn that anti-semitism is on the upswing in the U.K., not only among the Muslim populations there, but among the Anglos. How much more appalling when conservative and traditionalist Catholics get broad brushed with the tar of anti-semitism. Mel Gibson's traditionalist father's antisemitic views don't help here. Mel Gibson's own recent inebriated outburst didn't help either. Robert Sungenis' recent statements don't help either -- although this is only one facet of the issues involved in Forrest's critique of his recent writing.

What does help is a public Catholic critique of views such as those expressed in Sungenis' recent writings, and a studied distancing from such views as one finds in Forrest's critique. What does help are public statements by respected traditionalist and conservative Catholics such as Mr. David Palm, Dr. Art Sippo, Mr. Michael Lopez, Mr. Matthew Anger, Mr. Ben Douglass, Mr. John Novotny, Mr. Jacob Michael and Mr. Patrick Morris opposing antisemitism. What does help is public recantations of antisemitic utterances like Mel Gibson's apology for his outburst, which was a model of humility and repentance. What does help is honest and charity, such as one finds throughout Forrest's treatment of Sungenis.

Read and pray. Michael Forrest's critique can be found at a website entitled "Robert Sungenis and The Jews."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A few recent good reads:

Read online descriptions and reader-reviews on the web pages provided by the links above. While the other volumes are more-or-less self-explanatory, let me offer a word about the second book from the left, A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago: Camino Frances - The French Way of St. James. This is a guide (in a "Camino Guide" series) to a Pilgramage taken by generations of Catholic pilgrims from all over Europe to Santiago de Compostela, the legendary burial site of St. James (the stories are -- in many senses of the word -- incredible!), in northwestern Spain. The French route, featured by this guide, originally began in Paris at the Tour Saint-Jacques and would continue south through France, over the Pyrenees into Spain and across the north of Spain westward to Santiago de Compostela. Even from the Pyrenees to Santiago alone, it's a rigorous, month-long overland trek by foot from one village and pilgrim hostel to the next. I once was on the verge of taking the plunge and undertaking this trek, but plans were aborted because of a schedule that gave precedence to visiting one of my sons in Rota, just east of Cadiz, in Southern Spain. Maybe someday ...

Irish Catholic Teachers revolt against Bishops' "Catholic Ethos Day"

What is it about Irish Catholics that has them in such a tailspin of revolt and denial about their own Catholicism and Catholic tradition? Is it simply that familiarity breeds contempt? In an August 31st article, entitled Irish Catholic Teachers Union Organizes Revolt against Bishops “Catholic Ethos Day,” Peter J. Smith reports from Belfast that an Irish teachers union has urged its members to rebel against a request from Northern Ireland’s Catholic Bishops to hold an annual “Catholic ethos day” in Catholic schools.

What do the teachers find objectionable about a solitary day in the Catholic school's annual calendar being devoted to the Catholic ethos if their schools and their Irish Catholic tradition? Smith writes:
Irish National Teachers' Organization (INTO) has urged its members to defy the Bishops’ request, insisting that teachers cannot bother to consider the importance of a school’s Catholic ethos, and ought to use those training days to focus on matters like bullying and harassment.

"It is totally unacceptable to this organization and our members that the Catholic bishops should be requiring schools to give up one of their professional development days to consider the ethos of the schools. This in our view is neither necessary or desirable,” said Senior INTO official Tony Carlin.
On the one hand, this seems awfully lame. The reason the Catholic bishops implemented the measure is in the face of the free-fall secularization of Irish society and the need, especially in Northern Ireland, for Protestant-Catholic understanding and reconciliation. How many things could be as timely or important for Irish Catholic schools in Northern Ireland, given their bloody recent history?

On the other hand, a mere solitary day devoted to "Catholic Ethos"??? What could be more lame than that! The bishops are responding to clear problem, but their prescription hardly fits the diagnosis. What's needed is major remedial surgery, and they're prescribing aspirin and an afternoon nap. "Catholic ETHOS day"? Gimme a break! Where's the beef? It's nearly enough to make one sympathetic with the INTO's position, even if for different reasons. What happened to Newman's vision of Catholic education, which aimed at producing a "literate Catholic laity" who would have a substantial understanding of the Catholic Faith and it's dynamic role in history and culture?