Posts Tagged ‘Pope Benedict’

The Holy Father Gets to the Heart of the Matter

Friday, January 4th, 2013

In the comments box of one of my recent posts about the redefinition of marriage, I had an interesting discussion with a homosexual gentleman about the nature of sexuality.

In that discussion, our essential disagreement came down to a fundamental point about what it is to be human.  As I framed the question (I’ve cut and pasted from separate comments to boil this down to its clearest expression),

The whole idea of “gender” reflected in your posts is that it’s just a bundle of attributes that are largely socially determined, and that can be revised according to the subjective desires of the individual… Our position rests on the notion that sexual difference can’t be assumed away. The complementary (i.e., different, equal, and necessarily interdependent) nature of male and female sexuality is a constitutive element of what it is to be a human being.

The Holy Father has now addressed this point directly and powerfully, in his annual address to the Curia — what you might call his “State of the Church and the World Address”.  His comments, which come in the context of a discussion of the threats to the family, are worth quoting at length (my emphasis is added in bold):

[T]he question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

The Holy Father thus gets to the precise center of the question — the debate about marriage and family is, at its heart, about the nature of the human person.  It is in the end a question about “who created me”.  The modernist approach is to create myself in my own image and likeness, making myself into my own little god, answerable to no objective or higher truth.  We’ve already seen how that false and destructive approach works (see Genesis 3, and the entire history of the Twentieth Century).

The Holy Father has pointed to us the way out of this problem — to embrace the truth of our nature and the truth of our origin, and to defend the social expressions of those truths in marriage and the family.

There Is Another Way

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Over the last week, like many Americans, I have watched the news videos of violence around the world.  I have been shocked and angered by the attacks on American embassies and Western businesses, and the murder of innocent persons.  I have also listened and read the responses of our political leaders and pundits — all of whom, it seems, are advocating for retaliation, the use of force, and more violence.

But there is another way here.  We do not always have to resort to more violence, more killing.  Legitimate self-defense is necessary, but we have to question and challenge every use of force.  Violence is not the only way to deal with problems.  There is also the way of peace.

Pope Benedict is in Lebanon right now, giving a courageous personal witness to that way.  And he is using his position as Vicar of Christ to tell us that we need to seek peace and justice, and not to perpetuate the violence.   His address to the public officials who greeted him in Lebanon is a profound and eloquent call to the way of peace, and should be read, studied, and taken to heart by all our political leaders.

A few highlights are worth sharing here. On the dignity of the human person as the foundation of a peaceful society:

The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God… We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.

On the need for solidarity among people as the path to peace:

Mankind is one great family for which all of us are responsible. By questioning, directly or indirectly, or even before the law, the inalienable value of each person and the natural foundation of the family, some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence. Only effective solidarity can act as an antidote, solidarity that rejects whatever obstructs respect for each human being, solidarity that supports policies and initiatives aimed at bringing peoples together in an honest and just manner…  Nowadays, our cultural, social and religious differences should lead us to a new kind of fraternity wherein what rightly unites us is a shared sense of the greatness of each person and the gift which others are to themselves, to those around them and to all humanity. This is the path to peace! This is the commitment demanded of us! This is the approach which ought to guide political and economic decisions at every level and on a global scale!

And on conversion of heart that all are called to:

A new and freer way of looking at these realities will enable us to evaluate and challenge those human systems which lead to impasses, and to move forward with due care not to repeat past mistakes with their devastating consequences. The conversion demanded of us can also be exhilarating, since it creates possibilities by appealing to the countless resources present in the hearts of all those men and women who desire to live in peace and are prepared to work for peace. True, it is quite demanding: it involves rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them, and, not least, forgiveness. Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.

The Holy Father is calling upon all of us to look at the deplorable situation in our world in a new light — the light of the Gospel, which is the light of love.  We must demand that our political leaders break free of the false consciousness that impels them to advocate for violence in response to violence, to force in opposition to force, and to power against power.

God demands that we live in peace with our brethren around the world, regardless of our differences.  Our Holy Father is showing us the way.  Let us pray that our political leaders will see that, and choose the way of peace.

What Do I Desire?

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

In his homily on Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict made this striking statement:

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). With these words Jesus began the celebration of his final meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus approached that hour with eager desire. In his heart he awaited the moment when he would give himself to his own under the appearance of bread and wine… Jesus desires us, he awaits us. But what about ourselves? Do we really desire him? Are we anxious to meet him? Do we desire to encounter him, to become one with him, to receive the gifts he offers us in the Holy Eucharist? Or are we indifferent, distracted, busy about other things?

It never ceases to amaze me how the Holy Father manages to see right into my soul.  The questions he asked on Holy Thursday are some of the most difficult for me to face.

So often, when I attend Mass, my mind is a million miles away.  I am very easily distracted, so I try to follow the Mass very closely in a missal, so that my mind can be focused better.  But invariably, I find that I’m wandering in my mind, off to matters of work, or personal problems, or some other nonsense.

Even worse, I find that when I approach the Lord for Communion, all too often I don’t appreciate what’s really going on.  He has come to meet me, to make me one with him, and I just don’t get it.

Sometimes, though, the Lord manages to get his message across to me.  Some time ago, I was sitting before the Blessed Sacrament and praying.  All of a sudden, I felt a strong desire in my heart for the Lord.  It was almost like the feeling of love I have for my wife.  It lasted only for a moment, but I realized how important a gift it was.  “So that’s it,” I said to myself.  For once, I got it.  Now, if only I could get it more often.

Pope Benedict closed his homily with a humble prayer, one that should be mine as well:

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you”. Lord, you desire us, you desire me. You eagerly desire to share yourself with us in the Holy Eucharist, to be one with us. Lord, awaken in us the desire for you. Strengthen us in unity with you and with one another. Grant unity to your Church, so that the world may believe. Amen.


Friday, April 15th, 2011

Part of my Lenten journey this year has been to travel in the company of Pope Benedict —  I set out to read through his latest work, Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two.

In so many ways, it is an astonishing book.  The Holy Father sees our faith on so many different levels, and has a gift in being able to explain it clearly and compellingly.  Every few pages there is a fresh insight that causes me to stop and pause to digest it.  Pope Benedict has been an excellent companion to me this Lent.

One of the most startling passages in the book came amidst his discussion of the Last Supper.  First, a little background.  There has been a long-standing controversy about the words of Consecration in the current English translation of the Roman Rite.  The prayer over the chalice in Latin says that the Lord’s blood was shed “pro multis”, which is the same phrase used in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels (in Luke and First Corinthians, the phrase attributed to the Lord is “for you”).  That phrase means, literally, “for many”.  In the current English translation, the phrase “pro multis” is  rendered as “for all”.  In the new translation, which we will begin to use this Advent, the phrase “pro multis” is correctly translated as “for many”.

Pope Benedict unpacks what he calls the “extraordinary theological depth” of the words of the Lord over the chaliceThere is a   This is all very interesting, and I found it both illuminating and enriching.

But what was arresting to me in that discussion had nothing to do with the theological depth of the words “all” or “many”.  Instead, it was the startling things that Pope Benedict wrote about the humble word “for”:

Recent theology has rightly underlined the use of the word “for” in all four accounts [of the institution of the Eucharist], a word that may be considered the key not only to the Last Supper accounts, but to the figure of Jesus overall.  His entire being is expressed by the word “pro-existence” — he is there, not for himself, but for others.  This is not merely a dimension of his existence, but its innermost essence and its entirety.  His very being is a “being-for”.  If we are able to grasp this, then we have truly come close to the mystery of Jesus, and we have understood what discipleship is.

All that, from a simple preposition.

Time Magazine Slanders the Holy Father

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Few careful observers would still expect much in the way of journalistic professionalism from the publication that used to be Time Magazine, particularly when it comes to religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular.

In its latest issue, Time proclaims its “Person of the Year”, accompanied by a list of “People Who Matter on Our World”.  As one might expect, many of the people on the latter list are athletes, actors and singers who, I imagine, “matter” to the kind of people whose world consists of the office of a mainstream magazine and who live in the cultural cocoon of New York City.  Hence the presence on the list of such giants as Ben Stiller and Justin Bieber.

At least they recognized that the Holy Father “matters”.  After all, he only heads the largest single religious group in the world, and his words are instantly transmitted to virtually every nation on earth and studied closely by people of all faiths.

But when you look at the inaccurate and tendentious profile they present of the Holy Father, it’s hard even to get past the first sentence without a strong constitution.  As the head of the child protection program of the Archdiocese, I was particularly astonished at the number of easily-proven falsehoods the story contained on that issue alone.

Let’s look at what they have to say, as they present what they consider to be the “Highs” and “Lows” of the Holy Father, but which are actually a series of “lows” in journalistic professionalism.   The text of Time’s story is in italics, my analysis follows in bold:

Highs: While the Pope remains firm on his decree that ordaining women as priests is a grave crime (the same designation given to pedophilia),

Immediate Fail.  It is strictly true that in a revision of some provisions of the Code of Canon, the crimes of invalid ordination and clerical sexual misconduct were both classified as “grave crimes”.  But does anyone with any sense at all think that they are considered to be on an equal plane of seriousness?  After all, the United States Code classifies both assassinating the President and defacing coins as felonies — the civil equivalent of “grave crimes” — and nobody in their right mind would consider them to be on the same level.

What is most astonishing is that anyone would consider that decision to be significant enough to include as the first item among the “Highs”.  After all, there was only the little matter of the Pope’s Apostolic Visit to the United Kingdom, which drew huge crowds and confounded the professional atheists.  Or the new document he issued on how to read and interpret the Bible, which will influence theology for the next generation at least.  Or the new book-length interview with a journalist — an unprecedented move for a Pope.  Those don’t even get mentioned.

he was willing to loosen up — albeit ever so slightly — on another firmly-held edict. But while headlines around the world claimed Pope Benedict XVI endorsed the use of condoms, what the Pope actually said was a bit different. He still strongly disapproves of condom use as contraception, and said only that a male prostitute may choose to use a condom to prevent the spread of the HIV infection.

This minor  comment by the Holy Father in the book interview is far from the most significant thing he said this year, by any rational standard.  And the characterization of the Pope’s comment is so far off the mark that one can only conclude in charity that the reporter didn’t read anything other than the wire reports about it.

The Holy Father said nothing remotely close to “a male prostitute may choose to use a condom to prevent the spread of the HIV infection”.  Instead, he was clear that condoms were never a “real or moral solution” to the problem of HIV, that a life of virtuous sexuality was the only real answer, and that the only thing to be said in favor of the use of a condom was that it might reflect the first glimmers of the awakening of a person’s conscience.

As an attempt at journalism, this must set some kind of record:  telling us that the media got the Holy Father wrong, and then going right ahead and getting it egregiously wrong anyway.

Lows: Accusations of sexual abuse first from Ireland and later mainland Europe smashed any remaining perception that predatory priests were an American anomaly and thrust the Vatican into its greatest crisis since the 2002 revelations of abuse in the U.S.

There is no doubt that sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy members were a personal low point for the Holy Father, who grieved for the victims and for the scandal caused to the Church.  But this completely misses the most significant story about clerical sexual abuse in 2010, and the thing that “mattered” the most — the Holy Father’s strong response to the crisis, particularly in Ireland.  His Letter to the Catholics of Ireland is a masterpiece of leadership, containing moral clarity, genuine contrition, and a commitment to rooting out the problem.

But the Holy Father did even more — he ordered an independent review of Irish dioceses and seminaries, and undertook a review of procedures for dealing with clerical misconduct that would apply worldwide.  Those are real, concrete, and significant steps that “matter”, and will continue to “matter” for decades.

The scandal brought the church’s standing to a new low among believers in Europe and, in March when allegations surfaced in Germany, turned the spotlight on the Pontiff himself. It seems 30 years ago, during a brief tenure in Munich, the Pope, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, had transferred a known abusive priest to his own archdiocese, ostensibly for therapy. But just days after his arrival, the priest was allowed to serve among the flock and subsequent sexual assaults occurred.

This is really a new low for unprofessional and tendentious journalism.  The case referred to was never more than a tissue of unproven accusations on the flimsiest of evidence.  There has never been any evidence that the Holy Father (who was Archbishop of Munich at the time) participated in any way in the decision to transfer that priest to a new parish.  It’s just flat out false, as any review of the evidence would show.

Indeed, all the persons who were involved in the actual decision have stated unequivocally that the Pope was not involved.  Even the New York Times, a consistent enemy of the Church that is always willing to cast Her in the worst possible light, couldn’t uncover any evidence other than that the Pope was copied on a memo about the transfer.  That’s all.

While Benedict has done a number of substantial things to deal with the crisis, including meeting with abuse victims and accepting the resignation of high-ranking clerics, he remains silent on his time in Germany.

This grudging, backhanded concession that the Pope has done “a number of substantial things to deal with the crisis” is really, really rich.  No man in the entire worldwide Church has done more to combat the stain of clerical abuse than the Holy Father.  For years he worked to strengthen penalties and improve procedures on the handling of the cases.  All parties recognize that he has been diligent and strong in the cases that he personally oversaw as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  He has met with a number of victims in his Apostolic Visits, and has issued statement after statement condemning the sin and asking for the forgiveness of the victims.

In fact, if anyone would like a lesson on the proper way to respond to the problem of clerical sexual abuse, the Holy Father is a good model.

A few mistakes in a story like this is understandable.  But this many shows nothing short of a flagrant disregard of the truth that can only stem from hostility.

In this issue of Time Magazine, professionalism doesn’t seem to “matter”.  But slandering the Holy Father — that seems to “matter” very much.

Wishful Thinking, Objective Morality and Condoms

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

In the Comments box of my previous post about the Holy Father’s remarks about condoms, a friend remarked that some people are interpreting those remarks as justifying the use of condoms if one has a “good intention”. I originally replied in the Comment box, but I think this is such an important point that I want to put it out front here.

This is a very complex question because it implicates two levels of moral teaching — the objective morality of certain acts, and the subjective culpability of the actor.

It is clear in Catholic teaching that a good intention alone cannot morally justify an evil act. The most important factor in evaluating the objective morality of an action is the “moral object” — the nature of the conduct. The “good intentions” of the actor cannot turn an evil act into a good one.  For a fuller explanation of this, see the Catechism, sections 1750 and following.

So, within a marriage, the use of a contraceptive device like a condom is always inherently wrong, because it changes the objective nature of the sexual act from an authentic marital act into something that is contrary to the nature of human sexuality (since it is no longer open to fertility).  Outside of marriage, any sexual act is always objectively morally wrong.  So in either case, no “good intention” can justify the performance of such acts.

In fact, an appeal to “good intentions” may actually encourage people to engage in morally wrong (and physically dangerous) activity.  Condoms do not provide guaranteed protection against the transmission of disease, and a reliance on condoms is even less effective the more one engages in sexually risky behavior.  Sex outside of marriage is also sinful and has a deeply (even mortally) negative impact on the state of one’s soul.  No amount of wishful thinking about good intentions can protect someone from those effects.

Nor can an appeal to “double effect” reasoning change this conclusion.  To qualify for that, that the action has to be either morally good or neutral; the bad effect cannot be directly intended; the good result cannot be a direct result of the bad effect; and the good result must be proportionate to the bad effect.  The use of a condom in a marriage doesn’t satisfy this test; it always remains morally wrong, because it changes the nature of the sexual act.  Even if, for the sake of argument, the use of a condom outside of marriage to prevent disease transmission were considered morally neutral or good, it still can’t change the objectively wrong nature of the underlying act of sex outside of marriage.

It seems to me that no matter how you analyze it, we wind up back at the point the Holy Father made — the use of the condom is not a “real or moral solution” to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Having said that, however, you also have to consider that the Holy Father was not just talking about the objective morality of the act, but also the subjective culpability of an individual who engages in it. In the case that the Holy Father cited, the use of a condom by a prostitute, the objective nature of the act is unchanged, and is always evil (a sexual act outside of marriage).  However, the individual’s culpability for that act may be lessened by the intention to reduce the risk of disease transmission. I would also note that the subjective culpability of a prostitute may be lessened by many other factors (coercion, addictions, compulsive behavior, legacies of past abuses, social structures of sin, etc.).

So the question is, can a Catholic pastor or institution affirmatively advise a person in that situation to use a condom to prevent disease — to say, in effect, “be good, but if you can’t be good be safe”?  I can’t see how one could justify that.  If a pastor were to do so, he would be actively encouraging or excusing immoral and risky behavior.  It is a better approach — the “real and moral solution”, as the Holy Father says — to continue to proclaim publicly the teaching of the Church to all, and encourage all to conform their lives to the objective moral law and the nature of sexuality.  Any discussion of a person’s use of a condom under particular circumstances, their personal culpability, and how they are proceeding along the gradual path to conversion, is best left to pastoral counseling or the Confessional.

In short, none of what the Holy Father said gives any support to the wishful thinking approach that would justify using a condom in marriage, that would lessen the objective evil of any sexual act outside of marriage, or that would encourage the widespread use of condoms, regardless of the alleged nobility of one’s intentions.

What the Holy Father Did — and Did Not — Say About Condoms

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

The media and the Catholic blogosphere have been buzzing about some comments Pope Benedict makes in his soon-to-be-released interview book, Light of the World.  The claim is that the Pope has somehow changed Church teaching on the morality of condom use in the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Let’s look at what the Pope did and did not say.  But first, let’s make sure we understand the starting point — the actual teaching of the Church on sexual morality.  In a nutshell:

  • Sexual acts are only morally acceptable in the eyes of God if they take place within marriage, and if they always respect the dual nature of human sexuality — promoting the authentic love of the spouses and openness to fertility.
  • Anything that deliberately makes a sexual act between spouses infertile is gravely contrary to the will of God.  This is the core of the Church’s rejection of any kind of device or drug, or any act by the spouses themselves, that intentionally renders procreation impossible.
  • Any sexual act outside of marriage is gravely contrary to God’s will.  This would include any sexual act between persons of the same sex, or between persons of the opposite sex who are not married to each other.
  • The Holy Father did not change any of this teaching because, first of all, it’s true, and secondly because he can’t — it is the will of God, revealed through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and continually re-affirmed by the Magisterium.

    With that foundation, let’s look at what the Holy Father said.  In response to a question about the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, in which the questioner asked him to respond to this provocative statement, “Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms”, the Holy Father replied,

    As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

    There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

    As a follow-up, the Holy Father was then asked, “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?”  In reply, he said:

    She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

    There is nothing in these statements that in any way undermines the Church’s teaching about the morality of sexual acts in general, or contraceptive acts in particular.  Instead, the Holy Father affirmed that the solution to the spread of HIV/AIDS is a return to a true, human understanding of sexuality, which is presented in its fullness in the teaching of the Church.

    He is not saying that intrinsically immoral acts — in this case, sex outside of marriage — somehow become morally acceptable due to the use of a condom.  He is merely saying that the decision to reduce the potential harm to others from an immoral act may in fact reflect the glimmer of awakening in one’s conscience.

    In doing so, the Holy Father presented a humane and optimistic view of the possibility of grace even for those who are deeply enmeshed in structures of sin and their own sins, and who can begin the process of conversion by making small steps towards the truth in the depths of their heart.  All of us who have trod this same halting path of conversion from our sins will recognize this sentiment of mercy.

    There are some who will use the Holy Father’s compassionate words to further their agenda of opposing the Church’s view of human sexuality.  There are others who are scandalized that the Pope would even discuss such a subject as condoms and male prostitutes.  Some would prefer a more black-and-white presentation of morality, rather than a view that looks with kindness into the complexities of the human heart.

    Of course, some said the same things about the Lord Himself, who, as we all remember, liked to eat with tax collectors and prostitutes, to encourage them along the path of conversion.

    The Holy Father Reminds Us of Our Mission

    Friday, November 19th, 2010

    All too frequently, I get wrapped up in the daily whirlwind of all the things that I think are important.  And all too infrequently, I fail to keep in mind the real priorities of life, and what my true mission is.

    Thank God for Pope Benedict, who never fails to make things perfectly clear.  In the introduction to his new document on Sacred Scripture, Verbum Domini, there is a section entitled “That our joy may be complete”, the Holy Father says this:

    I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. Indeed, sharing in the life of God, a Trinity of love, is complete joy (cf. 1 Jn 1:4). And it is the Church’s gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).  (emphasis added)

    In these few simple words, the Holy Father has defined the essence of discipleship, and the path to real happiness.

    Thank you, Pope Benedict, for once again making our mission clear.  Now it’s up to me.

    New Norms, Renewed Commitment

    Thursday, July 15th, 2010

    Today, the Holy See issued revised rules, approved by Pope Benedict himself, that will govern how the most serious offenses under the Canon Law will be handled.  Since the most prominent of these crimes is the sexual exploitation of children, I fully expect that the secular press will fail to understand these norms and present a distorted or incomplete view of them, permit me to propose a few observations.

    This new legislation reflects a great deal of knowledge that has been learned from hard experience during the “Long Lent” of the past decade, and specifically our American experience under the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

    One such lesson is that the process of dealing with sexual abuse cases needed to be standardized across the Church.  The Canon Law already contained rules that, if used prudently, would have been sufficient in many cases in addressing these offenses.  But in many cases these rules were either not being used at all, or were being applied inconsistently from diocese to diocese.  These new norms do what good law should do — make the rules and procedures clear, and make it easier to come to a fair and final determination of guilt or innocence.

    Another positive factor is the broadening of the kinds of sexual exploitation that will be treated as grave crimes.  The new norms include possession of child pornography and the exploitation of developmentally disabled adults among the most grave offenses that will be disciplined.  These crimes were not clearly included in the definition before, so it will be helpful to investigators and judges in the future to have this clarification.

    It will also be helpful that the process has been streamlined, including easing the process of laicization, the relaxation of rules that permitted only priests to serve as canonical judges, and the ability to resolve clear cases without a trial.  While it always has been true that diocesan bishops had the authority to remove offenders from active ministry at any time, the complex and cumbersome canonical process has at times impeded efforts to bring some cases to a definitive conclusion.

    What does all this mean in the big picture?  I think it shows that the Catholic Church, to the highest level, has renewed her commitment to protecting children and vulnerable adults from the wicked sin of sexual exploitation.  For those of us who work for the Church, it is yet another reminder that one of our most solemn obligations, during this time in which the the Bride of Christ has been entrusted to our care, is to ensure that we preserve Her “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

    What does “Influence” Mean?

    Saturday, May 1st, 2010

    So, Time Magazine (yes, it’s still being published) has come out with its annual “100 Most Influential People” list.  Their goal, they say, is to identify “the people who most affect our world”.

    Certainly there are many, many appropriate choices on the list.  But it also contains, shall we say, some idiosyncratic choices.  Ben Stiller, for instance, is cited as a “hero”.  Funny guy, but a “hero”?  And Conan O’Brien?  Also a funny guy, but he couldn’t even stop his show from being canceled in favor of another funny guy who’s not on the list.

    Anyway, guess who is missing from the list?

    If you guessed Lady Gaga, you’re wrong — she’s right there at the top of the “artist” list.

    But if you guessed that Pope Benedict wasn’t on the list, you’re right.

    In a way, this is not surprising.  By the standards of our secular culture, the Pope certainly cannot compare to such titans as Ashton Kutcher.

    Forget for a second that the Pope leads an institution with over a billion members, wrote a major encyclical letter on social doctrine, had an impact on debates over international aid and HIV, drew thousands to his speeches and sold thousands of books, has presided over a major reform of the Catholic liturgy, works to foster reunification with the second largest component of Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy), strives to improve relations with Jewish people, has shaped the philosophical debate over the relationship between faith and reason, is the most consequential theologian of the last half-century, selects religious leaders (bishops) on every continent, visited the Holy Land and call for peace and reconciliation, influenced the debate in international institutions on major policy issues, or challenged an entire continent (Europe) to confront their relationship with their cultural history.

    Compared to putting sparklers on your bra like Lady Gaga, what does all that count for, in the eyes of the world?