Cardinal Newman’s intellectual integrity inspires us today

It’s called the dies natalis — the day of birth. For saints it refers to their birthday in heaven or, in the eyes of the world, the day of their death upon Earth.

When assigning feast days to saints, the Church usually chooses the dies natalis; for example, the feast day of soon-to-be canonized Brother André is Jan. 6, the day of his death in 1937, even though that day is also the great solemn feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.

    A Noble Debate over a Nobel Prize

    Science and Religion collide a lot these days, though clearly the tension between what Stephen Jay Gould referred to, as the Two Non-Overlapping Magisteriums, has existed for centuries. When the collisions occur it is the result of conflicting values as well as on theological grounds. This was made abundantly clear this week with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Medicine to Dr. Robert Evans, one of the co-creators of In Vitro Fertilization. On the one hand reaction around the world seemed of a note, sheer excitement and congratulation. On the other hand, Catholic teachings and the ‘wisdom’ of the Nobel Committee slammed into each other. The Church’s clear stance on IVF and Robert Evans socialist politics have both long been rumoured to being behind what many expected to be a much earlier awarding of the prize.

    Clearly the Church is not indifferent to the pain experienced by couples incapable of conception but as the International Federation of Catholic Medical Association made clear “As Catholic doctors," we at FIAMC "recognize that pain that infertility brings to a couple, but equally we believe that the research and treatment methods needed to solve the problems of infertility have to be conducted within an ethical framework which respects the special dignity of the human embryo, which is no different from that of a mature adult with a brilliant mind."

    None of this can be discussed without reference to the growing number of cases involving ‘mix-ups’, mistakes or possibly worse when it comes to the identity of the babies born of IVF. Recent Canadian cases are making news in Ottawa, and the problem is clearly not confined to individual doctors or to Canada and the ethical problems of IVF are compounded by this growing list of ‘mistakes’.

    Nor as even the Indian newspaper The Hindu reports are the problems as simple as any of can imagine, “the widespread use of such methods has created new ethical issues. For example, ‘rent-a-womb tourism' has become a thriving business in India, with wealthy couples from abroad paying poor women large sums of money to carry IVF embryos to full term.”

    As this report from ABC news makes clear that Catholics are not alone in considering the Nobel winning tachnology to be a win win: “The bewildering array of options due to the IVF revolution -- from the morality of making "designer babies" to exploitation of poor women as surrogate mothers -- has created much concern and many debates among secular ethicists as well.”

    Arthur Caplan, a noted American Bioethicist told the Washington Post "In exploring the fundamental mechanisms of how human reproduction actually works, Edwards unleashed a social, ethical and cultural tsunami that he could not have predicted and I don't think anyone at the time could have anticipated. It opened so many doors that I'm not sure we even fully appreciate it today."

      Add me to the anybody-but-Ford slate

      Toronto mayoral hopeful Rob Ford first appeared on my political radar screen late last spring, when I chaired an all-candidates meeting on the topic of architecture and urban design. Held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the session was sponsored by the Pug Awards people, who celebrate artistic achievement in our city’s built form.

      Ford’s performance that evening was remarkable. While the other candidates at least took stabs at the questions I asked about urban planning and the quality of the city’s architectural environment, Ford ignored both the questions and every attempt on my part to get him to answer them. Instead, he relentlessly repeated the mantra that has characterized his whole campaign: cut costs, cut staff, cut the size of city council — cut, cut, cut.

        Benedict’s UK shows how far Church has come in dealing with abuse

        It used to be the only news. Apparently it is now old news. But there was something new when Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain.

        The issue is sexual abuse by priests. In the run up to the papal visit to the United States in April 2008, it dominated the commentary. What would the Pope do? What would the Pope say? The Holy Father addressed the issue forthrightly on the plane en route, spoke about it a half dozen times in his formal addresses, and then met with a group of victims in a private, prayerful and emotional meeting. He did the same thing in Australia later that summer. His approach was well received by most.

          He came so Britons might hear the Gospel

          LONDON, ENGLAND - As per usual, it went better than expected. For veterans of papal travel, the routine is now well known. In advance of one of Pope Benedict’s trips, there is much wringing of hands about how badly things will go, how difficult things will be, how hostile a particular country is. Then the Pope arrives with his shy gestures and kindly manners, no one is frightened and everything is pronounced a success.

            The predictable protests

            Papal tours too often become occasions for anti-Catholic and other anti-religious forces to find a friendly microphone. Before the visit to Britain even began there were indications that a hostile reception might await Pope Benedict. There was even half-serious talk of arresting him for “complicity” in the sex abuse scandal.

              Veni Vidi Vici? Benedict in Britain

              Every event needs a narrative, and this is oh so true of Pope Benedict XVI’s just completed State visit to Great Britain. Prior to the trip, the buzz was about cost, security, protests and anger. During the trip, the buzz was about attendance at Papal masses, outings, ceremonies and the protests outside, inside and about. Now that the trip is done, the buzz centres on what he accomplished, how and whether the entire exercise was worth the effort? Or as Time Magazine put it, “The Pope vs. Britain’s Secularists: Who Won? Notorious British M.P. George Galloway thinks he has it down and declares that the Pope’s critics and much of the coverage were straight out of another time, when even being Catholic was a treasonous offence, “Pope Bashers are Throwback to 1605”. Dominic Lawson, writing in the Independent takes a different tack and places the credit with the Pope instead of the blame with the critics, noting, “I suspect it is precisely the unpolitical nature of Pope Benedict that gives him a certain popular appeal”. Lawson, a leading British journalist concluded his piece by observing “Humility is perhaps the most difficult of all the virtues; the smuggest among the Pope's secular critics could learn from his example.” David Willey in a blog on the BBC site believes that the entire Vatican is heaving a sigh of relief at a trip well executed and euphoria over besting all expectations and even hopes in “Pope’s Visit is deemed to Challenge Stereotypes”. Paddy Agnew in the Irish Times concurs with Willey’s sentiment noting, “there’s no disguising the Holy See’s satisfaction about the trip". Publications as far away as New Zealand couldn’t help but share in the growing international consensus with a report entitled “ Pope Succeeds in UK Charm Offensive”. Even Prime Minister David Cameron heaped praise on the Pontiff and his visit, noting that the Pope had ‘challenged Britain to sit up and think about the role of religion in society”. Anne Applebaum writing in the Washington Post adds an interesting layer of reflection on Cameron’s sentiment in a thoughtful piece “Anger over papal visit shows religious freedom is alive and well in Britain” which actually does a nice job putting much of the coverage into an interesting perspective.

                Stand-offs, Echoes, Assertions: Benedict XVI, John F. Kennedy, Stephen Hawking

                Arguably everything in the news the past few weeks has been about the key importance of tolerance and freedom, especially religious tolerance and freedom. Three different moments capture a sense of the forces at work.

                 

                Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom, which started on Thursday, provoked numerous reflections on the nature of anti-Pope bigotry and it’s deeper uglier anti-Catholic bigotry on the part of Brits and throughout the world. In the first day alone, Benedict made clear that despite the criticism, he was intent on fighting back the tide of secularism and insisting on the need for religious liberty. In his first sermon, the Pope, as is his wont, delved into history for evidence of the evil that can flow from the desire to kill off God and Religion. He was referring to Nazism but it seemed to require a media interpretation to calm the secularists. But as is often the case, the reality of a Papal visit can soothe and charm, though of course the jury is still out.

                 

                The Papal visit, and its attendant arguments about ‘extreme’ atheism and religious liberty comes in the same week as the 50th anniversary of a critical talk given by John F. Kennedy while running for President. It’s difficult to imagine now, but in that campaign the idea that a Catholic might be President was the subject of bitter debate. And the young candidate traveled to a meeting of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association where he delivered a plea and forged an argument about religious tolerance, liberty and the distinctions between “rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God”. By all accounts it defused the issue and made his Presidency possible. But while possibly creating the space for Catholics in politics, the long-term result may have been to render Catholic values in politics difficult, or so argues Archbishop Chaput of Denver and a former Communications officer with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

                 

                Stephen Hawking creates the third corner of this triangle of tolerance and liberty. The physicist made news this month with the assertions in his new book of the ‘non-necessity of God’ in the creation of the universe. This is a shift from his thinking as expressed in early works. Hawking used to believe the universe needed a prime mover but now believes the Universe came into existence on its own. The list of people unimpressed is extensive and includes philosophers, a Jesuit Physicist and thinker, columnists and theologians. The intriguing think about Hawking and the God issue is the ease with which much of the media assumed that if Hawking says so then it must be so. The reality is that an assertion by Hawking that God didn’t exist is still an assertion, not a fact, which takes us back to the ideas of religious freedoms, religious tolerance and the dangers of extreme atheism.

                  Sacred masterpieces can help broaden a Catholic's faith

                  My usual reason for going to Venice has to do with contemporary culture. I went there last month, for example, to write about the 12th Biennale of Architecture for a Canadian magazine. The famous show (which runs until late November) is a fascinating survey of the things advanced architects, artists and theorists in many countries are thinking about these days, and I’m glad I was able to take it in.

                  But before I left for Venice, I made up my mind to do more than keep my nose to the architectural grindstone — to take some time off, that is, and revisit some old acquaintances among the religious canvases and murals that grace the island city’s churches, historic charitable foundations (called “scuoli”) and public buildings.

                    A convert priest gave Catholic Church confidence

                    A country pastor from Wolfe Island doesn’t get to offer the Holy Mass in the private chapel of the archbishop of New York without good reason. On Sept. 8, I had the best reason of all — to give thanks to God for a great priest, valued mentor and dear friend, who became Catholic on that very spot.

                    Richard John Neuhaus, who died in January 2009, was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary (Sept. 8, 1990) 20 years ago by the then-archbishop of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor. Richard would be ordained a priest by Cardinal O’Connor a year later.

                      It's Not Quite Papal Fever But

                      In a little over a week, Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United Kingdom on the first ever Papal State Visit. John Paul II went in 1982 but that was a Pastoral journey. Benedict’s journey is promising, for better or worse, to be a much different event. Context is everything and this visit comes after a year of nasty accounts of clerical abuse in Ireland and Europe as well as a flood on UK commentary on the role the Pope himself did or didn’t play in dealing with the abuse crisis then and now. Just this week it was announced that the Pope would likely meet with abuse victims.

                      Aside from the sexual abuse cloud over the visit, the most controversial aspect of the trip so far has been the question of cost. As a State Visit the UK picks up the majority of the cost and the Church is charging for attendance at Papal events to cover its share of the costs. And while officials insist that no one will be denied access due to financial difficulties, the question of the cost and value of the trip just will not go away. Opinions on this are truly conflicted with some believing the Church should absorb all the costs while others denounce the Church for charging the faithful.

                      The visit, in the planning for most of this year has also provoked controversy over security and appropriateness. And the result is thousands of news stories, opinion pieces and arguments. And while surveys suggest many Brits are indifferent to the visit, no one is ignoring the visit. One of the true treats of British Journalism is that the coverage of religion compares favourably to the coverage of politics and sports. It’s lively, witty and engaging, if at times unfair, biased and rude. Consider the treatment given to news that the Pope is insisting that the main part of all masses during the visit will be conducted in Latin as example of the way British media deal with religious news.

                      There will be tension. The UK Catholic Church and the government are wrangling over ‘equality’ legislation, which insists that Catholic Organizations adhere to non-discrimination laws when it comes to Gay and Lesbian employees. Protests are planned at every Papal stop, though there is a growing argument within the anti-papal forces about the nature of the protests. As well there is lingering angst and animosity over last year’s Vatican outreach to troubled Anglicans. The Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, a highlight of the visit, is seen by some as rubbing salt in the wound, given that Newman spent the first half of his life as a prominent Anglican Thinker and the last half as a devout Catholic. Adding to these expected tensions are the plans of noted anti-Church forces led by Richard Dawkins and company and in particular their ‘campaign’ to have the Pope arrested when he comes to British soil for crimes against humanity. In a strange twist of attention, one publication is wondering aloud whether the Papal media team is up to the task of a visit sure to be marked by vitriol and celebration in equal measure.

                      Given Benedict’s well known love of music, there’s no surprise that one of Britain’s leading Catholic Composer has created a mass that has choirs across the country trying to get up to speed. And news that Susan Boyle, the YouTube sensation, as well as a current fave in Britain’s Got Talent TV show, Liam McNally, are scheduled to sing at Papal Masses has created a real buzz. But perhaps the most intriguing news on the music front is the choice of Ooberfuse, a Catholic Rap group based in London to provide the “official youth anthem” for the visit. You can check them out here.

                      And what’s a State visit with out souvenirs? In addition to the usual run of plates, cups, glasses and so forth there are new stamps marking the visit and the Newman Beatification. While the souvenirs seem relatively normal, some are complaining they are too ordinary and are calling for something a bit more out there. For even more details, check out the official web site of the Papal visit or link up with the Facebook page.