Mother Teresa Birthday Celebrations marred by controversy

It’s bad enough that the controversy over the building of a mosque at 51 Park Place, New York has become a poster child for religious intolerance in the United States with reverberations around the world but there is a growing controversy over the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Teresa that is splitting Catholics. The Albanian Born Indian Sister who founded the Missionaries of Charity 60 years ago in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) was born on August 26th 1910. The Noble Prize winner has become for millions the model of self-sacrifice and charitable works. Father Tom Rosica, of Salt+Light, writing in the National Post captures what he sees as her special qualities, the ones that moved John Paul II to Beatify her after her death in 1997.

There’s a host of celebrations planned worldwide to mark the day, throughout India and around the world. But one suggested honour, lighting up the Empire State Building in New York has provoked an ideological battle over what meaning should be taken from her life. On one side is Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who petitioned the Owners of the Empire State Building to join other prominent landmarks in New York City in lighting up in a birthday celebration. One the other side is a coalition of Catholic reform groups, led by Catholics for Choice, which is accusing Donohue of manufacturing a crisis.

There's a certain sadness to the whole affair. Each side suggests the other is 'extremist' and not representative of Catholics generally and there's a whiff of insincerity about the argument, almost as if the birthday celebration is a mask for another type of argument entirely.

Meanwhile India is focusing on the 'celebration' including the publication of a new comic book honouring the life and work of Mother Teresa. And for those who think there might be more to this story than temporary controversies, Sister Mary Prema, Mother Teresa's succesor has her own thoughts on how we might remember her.

Strangers Everywhere

The news is filled with stories about immigration and 'strangers'. Making sense of immigration should be old hat to us by now, given the strength of the argument that we are all immigrants. This is a national story with the unfolding events surrounding the arrival of another ship filled with Tamil Refugees. It is a Toronto story with the issue rising up in municipal elections, a diocesan story with details of Archbishop Collins sponsoring a Iraqi Refugee Family , as reported by the Register's Michael Swan and an international story with Arizona acting as a focal point for arguments from all sides. It is an issue that won't go away, nor should it. It raises fundamental issues of charity and justice and has been on the Vatican's agenda for decades. If we look with either horror, concern or confusion at the situation in Arizona, it is important to realize that the issue is heating up in Canada as well. And as Kelly McParland of the National Post notes, we shouldn't be too smug because the polls aren't painting a pretty picture of our attitudes or values. It's not a simple matter by any means, but it does require thinking through and possibly some hard choices. Without doubt politicians will be getting deeply involved in the issue this fall, which may not be a good thing. As Catholic Bishops from America, Canada and Mexico have recently argued, we need to drill down deep as to causes, consequences and reactions to all parts of the immigration puzzle. And as Catholics, perhaps it's worthwhile to reflect as Ross Douthat did recently on the history of Anti-Catholic immigration scares and the complicated issues raised.Ultimately this is a human story and Andrew Coyne offers an intriguing way to think about the human, economic and even cultural questions.

Sun Media channel would be a sad day for journalism

Pending approval by federal broadcasting regulators — not a done deal, by a long shot, at the time of this writing — Canada is to have a new all-news television channel, called Sun TV News, intended to knock the socks off the CBC and CTV networks. This is a matter Catholics should be concerned about, insofar as the quality of Canada’s national life is affected by what gets put out on the airwaves.

Kory Teneycke, front man for the Quebecor media empire (which publishes the Canada-wide Sun tabloid franchise), said at a recent news conference that the channel will definitely be unlike the CBC (“boring news by bureaucrats for elites and paid for by taxpayers”) and CTV (ditto, minus the taxpayer’s dime).

What we don't know is surprising

Summer is well known as a time when the news is filled with research surveys and other off-beat items that probably wouldn’t have made the papers if legislatures had been sitting and business leaders weren’t on vacation.

So it’s difficult to say if the latest study on abortion attitudes and public knowledge of the law would have been newsworthy in a busier season. It’s the sort of research more likely to come up in Life Canada’s annual opinion poll or in response to a news event related to abortion. Nevertheless, the findings are interesting, not so much because of the range of opinions on what should be permissible under the law or what government health plans should pay for, but for what the respondents did not know.

Is It just all about sex?

 

The impact of Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling on Propostion 8, the California ban on Same Sex Marriage continues to unfold, though with surpirsing questions from the heart of the matter San Francisco. On Monday there were two very provocative arguments by two very different types of Catholics. Andrew Sullivan the openly gay, defiantly Catholic columnist at Atlantic and the keeper of the most popular blog in America, The Daily Dish, riffs off of a column by Ross Douthat, the former Atlantic Monthly editor and 'conservative' Catholic Op-Ed columnist with the New York Times. Douthat's column on Monday is a defence of the ideal of the life long monogamous heterosexual marriage. It is nuanced, thoughtful and as Sullivan, in his comment on the commentary, puts it 'Douthat at his most Catholic'. Both pieces are truly well worth reading and are stirring up loads of further comment.

Anne Rice's decision to 'quit christianity' continues to roil observers in agreement and disagreement, as you'll note on her own webpage. She includes all the commentary that comes her way, both supportive and dismissive. There is a quite reflective piece by Lily Burana in today's Salon Magazine which tries to frame the argument in a slightly different way, asking whether disagreeing with others in the Church forces you out or keeps you in. Reflecting on Anne Rice leads to refelctions on Proposition * and vice versa.

And whenever Anne Rice or Same Sex marriage is being discussed you can win easy money by betting that the issue of sexual abuse is also going to arise. William Oddie, former editor of the Catholic Herald in Britain, takes on the issue of clerical sexual abuse with a column that examines the idea of media bias and news that doesn't make the front page: in this case yet another analysis of whether sex abuse is greater within the Church or outside it.

State Slams Up Against Church

 

The news this week is squarely under the heading Faith in a Secular world.

In the United States, the latest ruling on California’s Proposition 8, banning same sex marriages has proponents of gay marriage cheering and Catholics experiencing a range of emotions.  The U.S. Bishops were disappointed and more so. U.S. Catholic called for rethinking the definition of family and perhaps moving on. MercatorNet, out of Australia, published a conversation with Ruth Institute founder Jennifer Morse on what she sees is the disconnect between the Court's ruling and the operating definition of family, while the National Catholic Register has a dialogue with William May, who led the Catholic Campaign on Proposition 8.

As to what happens next? Politicians are split, President Obama is still opposed to same sex marriages, even though he is pleased with the decision on Proposition 8. And Republicans don't seem to be sure how to react but some analysts are suggesting that this is just the beginning of the return of 'social issues' to the political scene. The general public according to polls is tending to side with the ruling. One thing is clear, the story and the legal arguments are far from finished.

Europe on the other hand is another country as they say.

The Economist magazine has a fascinating piece on the state of the Catholic Church in Europe today. It is a mix of the expected and the surprising and suggests that matters are not as dire as some predict. The Christian Science Monitor on the other hand sees gloom and blames it all on a 30 year crusade on the part of Pope Benedict to recreate a conservative Catholic Church. Italy might actually be a true indicator or at least that is the argument of Sandro Magister in a truly detailed and intriguing report on who goes to Church and why. All three pieces are provocative reading and raise important questions about the near and long term future of the Church in Europe.  

The Continuing Controversy over Stem Cells

The decision on the part of the Obama administration to move forward on embryonic stem cell research has provoked anger from the Vatican. Ironically at the same time the announcement was being made there was startling news suggesting that experiments in adult stem cell research was proving significantly more promising than Embryonic. In the United Kingdom, money being raised by Catholic Pro-Life groups is being directed at intensifying the Adult Stem Cell research. The Obama Administration move comes in the face of organized opposition on the part of the U.S. Bishops.

Canadian Bishops Weigh in on Census Debate

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops have called on the Harper Government to reverse its decision to cancel the 'long form census'. The Bishops argue that the information gathered in the 'long form census' helps in planning and 'meeting the needs of Canadians'. The controversy has pre-occupied the Canadian political scene for much of July. The Bishops have joined in with most economists and social service organizations as well as the majority of provinces in opposing the decision to scrap the mandatory long form census, which is normally distributed to about 20% of Canadian Households. The Conservatve government is standing by its decision and has the support of libertarians and some conservative think tanks.

 

Anne Rice Leaves Catholic Church and Christianity but not Christ

Anne Rice, famous her Vampire novels as well as her novels about Christ announced late last week that she was leaving the Catholic Church and Christianity. On her blog and in an interview with NPR she explains that the decision is prompted by the Church's stance on same sex marriage and contraception. The story is getting huge play with hundreds of news stories and thousands of comments, some deeply supportive and others some what cynical. I interviewed her a couple of years ago and was struck by how deeply she thinks about issu. The story of her return to the Church is heartfelt and moving. I suspect we haven't heard the last of this story.

The Truth about Residential Schools

The story that needs to be read, absorbed and reflected on appeared in the Toronto Star this weekend. It is a gripping though somewhat tragic recap of the progress, or actually lack of progress, being made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in wrestling with the history and impact of the Indian Residential School System. Everyone has a stake in getting this story right and Linda Diebel's article is an important starting point. Ironically also dealing with education is this story out of last week's Assembly of First Nation's general assembly. The relationship between the Church and Canada's Aboriginal People's is not without controversy but if you haven't checked out how it all started, you should take a look at this piece by Carolyn Girard in the Catholic Register last month.

Making Sense of the Economic Crisis and Church Social Doctrine

Most countries in the world are still wrestling with the fallout of the collapse of the financial markets in the fall of 2008. In the U.S. there is an intriguing argument brewing over what if anything the USCCB should be advocating in terms of Government intervention in the economy. The Acton Institute, a conservative/libertarian economic think tank has recently decided to dwell on the meaning of the Church's doctrine of subsidiarity and how it should or shouldn't be applied to current economic thinking. Catholic Culture in the U.S., a news aggregator and commentator on all matters Catholic has also weighed in, but with a slighty more intense assertion about the real meaning of 'social doctrine'. It's worth reading both and as a thought experiment, substitute the word Canada everytime the words America, The United States or U.S.A are used.