Web's anonymity unfair to those maligned

{mosimage}The recent ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in the case of Marc Lemire has been ably analysed for its discussion of constitutional law and the problems inherent in penalizing free speech in a democracy. Less discussed was its finding that the owners of web sites cannot normally be held responsible for the anonymous postings to message boards. This is probably true in any legal sense, but from the standpoint of professional editorial standards it is another matter.

Offered by most online editions of major newspapers and broadcast outlets, these anonymous postings are an ongoing festival for the opinionated, the chatty, the venomous and those with time on their hands. Should publishers be including questionable facts and arguments against Catholicism, to take just one example, on boards that most readers are going to associate with that publisher, rightly or wrongly? A look at some of the offerings from a few church-related stories of the past summer suggest that some postings should be held to a higher editorial standard.

Modern church emerged amid decadent 1500s

{mosimage}When the young German monk Martin Luther visited Rome in the winter of 1510-1511, his experience of the city made the impending Protestant Reformation thinkable for the first time, and perhaps inevitable. Luther was appalled by the avid worldliness of Christian Rome and of its corrupt, ambitious, brilliant ruler, Pope Julius II. And not only Luther. Many other thoughtful Catholic clergy, thinkers and layfolk of the early 16th century were similarly scandalized by the avarice and show off of Rome’s elite, who had so conspicuously embraced pomp and splendour to the detriment of the work of Christian living and witness.

From a spiritual perspective, then, the Rome that Luther discovered was going through the worst of times. But they were also the best of times for artists, architects and interior designers. In 1505, Julius had decided to tear down the much-venerated fourth-century basilica of St. Peter and start work on a huge, magnificent new church more suitable (in his opinion) for the capital of the Christian West. Great palaces were to be constructed to complement this new St. Peter’s, grand boulevards laid out, glorious piazzas and fountains built. In 1508, Michelangelo had begun the ceiling murals in the Sistine Chapel. In the same year, the artist-architect Raphael had arrived in Rome at Julius’ invitation, and founded a large business to supply the church and secular elite with the pictures and murals they desired.

Episcopal Church troubles pain me

{mosimage}One of the most painful events of my summer so far has been watching the Episcopal Church in the United States stab itself in the heart.

This church was my spiritual home before I came to Canada in 1969. It was a good one to be in during my young years: biblical, yet theologically imaginative, rooted in Christian traditions far older than the English Reformation, blessed with splendid liturgy and a rich heritage of devotion. If I am not an Anglican today, it’s because I ceased to find that rootedness in Scripture and tradition in American or Canadian Anglicanism, and found it in the Catholic Church.

Give men a fair hearing

{mosimage}To mark this past Fathers’ Day, The National Post carried an interesting feature about negative images of men in general, and fathers in particular, in consumer advertising.

Most of the complaints centred on portrayals of clumsiness and laziness with household tasks. Some men have found the portrayals offensive enough to file complaints with the Advertising Standards Council, and a few have been upheld.

Dead Sea Scrolls open our eyes to first-century Judaism

{mosimage}The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was the 20th century’s biggest archeological story.

It had the romance of the desert: Bedouin lads, poking into dry caves near the ancient Dead Sea settlement of Qumran in early 1947, find traces of a mysterious Jewish sect from the time of Jesus.

Coming when it did, on the eve of the post-war surge of new Bible translations, the unearthing of the scrolls caused astonishment by bringing to light the oldest texts of the Old Testament Scriptures in existence.

Pray for the artistic commitment to truth

Catholics who pray the Liturgy of the Hours know that the intercessions frequently guide us to petition God for the arts.

Not that artists nowadays care whether we pray for them or not. (They are more likely to be grateful that Christians no longer have the power to censor or suppress them.) It has been a long time, after all, since churches commissioned artworks that were important in the history of art, and since artists had anything better than contempt for Christianity, its teachings and institutions.

Parental rights in the spotlight

The Alberta government recently enacted controversial changes to its human rights code that affirm the fundamental right of parents to intercede in the classroom on matters related to the moral education of their children.

In a decision regarded as a victory for religious freedom, Bill 44 amended Alberta’s Human Rights Act to give parents the right to remove their children without academic penalty from classes which include discussion of sexual orientation, sexuality or religion. The amendment requires teachers to notify parents if the sensitive topics are scheduled for inclusion in formal lessons. Informal or “incidental” classroom discussion is not covered by the requirement.

Irish scandal should inspire anger and prayers

{mosimage}I entered the Catholic Church, ten years ago, with my eyes wide open. Or so I believed at the time.

Like everyone else who doesn’t live on a desert island, I knew about the clergy abuse and cover-up scandals that had begun to rock the church a decade before. In defending my decision to become a Catholic against non-Catholic friends and family, who were appalled that I had joined a church in which such abuse had taken place, I adopted a hardly unusual line of argument.

The Catholic Church, I told them, is constructed of crooked, diseased wood, liable at any time to produce bad fruit. The stink of this fruit had brought its existence to the attention of church authorities, who, after some initial foot-dragging, began to clean out the orchard and compensate those who had been poisoned. The system had worked, at least to my satisfaction. This argument belonged, of course, to the “few bad apples” variety.

'Hollywood trash' is not so harmless

{mosimage}When it comes to Hollywood trash, you can’t beat the combined efforts of director Ron Howard, novelist Dan Brown and actor Tom Hanks.

Angels and Demons, their first collaboration since The Da Vinci Code, features the usual slanders against the Catholic Church, along with dollops of the occult, a suppressed secret society and a smattering of advanced science. The official Vatican newspaper has described the resulting farrago as “harmless entertainment.” I’m not so sure.

Movies speak to a common bias

{mosimage}Angels and Demons, which opened May 15 in North America, is the type of movie that can fill large theatres for weeks with people who like murder mysteries filled with action, interesting settings and suspense to the very end. It also takes the type of liberties with church history and modern-day reality that usually characterize movies with a strong Catholic component.

The movie is a prequel to The Da Vinci Code and describes a vendetta against the Catholic Church by a “centuries’ old secret society,” the Illuminati. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, is asked by the Vatican to crack a secret code after the Illuminati kidnap four cardinals considered front-runners to be the next pope, and threaten to kill one an hour and then explode a bomb at the Vatican.
Unlike The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons is not a direct challenge to the foundations of Christianity. (The Da Vinci Code’s plot was based on the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had children together, whose descendants live today.) While there are enough errors and stereotypes in Angels and Demons to annoy many Catholics, even the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has dismissed it as “harmless entertainment,” and jokingly suggests that bored moviegoers could entertain themselves by counting the mistakes.


The good and bad of modern communications

{mosimage}Nobody reading this needs a lesson from me about how deeply modern communications technologies have penetrated our lives. You probably watch television, listen to the radio, keep in touch with family, friends and business colleagues by telephone, and you likely have a cell phone.

Even if you don’t toil on a computer to make a living, you may have one at home for everything from online banking to social networking. You might also use your computer to keep up with church news: the Vatican recently launched its own YouTube channel with a message from Pope Benedict XVI.