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.

     

      Racism at centre of 9/11 mosque dispute

      The bitter controversy raging in the United States over the proposed mosque near New York’s World Trade Centre site has exposed a dark, durable stain on American public life. It’s racism of the old-fashioned, virulent kind, blurring distinctions, stereotyping the hated and feared “Other,” radically threatening the discipline and tolerance necessary to make a multicultural society work.

        The Tragedy of the Mosque

         

        It’s truly an unfortunate coincidence and couldn’t come at a worse time. In just a week and a half America and the world will mark the 9th Anniversary of the Attacks of September 11th 2001, and Muslims in America and the World will be marking the end of Ramadan. This would be an awkward coincidence at the best of times and has many Muslims spooked at the possibility that traditional celebrations marking the end of a month of fasting might be seen as a celebration of the 9-11 attacks. Being on edge makes sense simply because so many around the globe are asking what Time Magazine asks this week in its provocative cover story “Is America Islamaphobic?” And what continues to drive the issue is the increasingly ugly argument over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. And even though this is not strictly a Catholic Fight, Catholics are involved, enlisted and cited as examples for both sides. In a Papal message issued to mark the end of Ramadan, His Holiness obliquely touched on key tensions, some of which are on the boil throughout the United States. Religious Freedom and Tolerance are big issues for the Church and other religious leaders and the confrontation with truly radical Islam is a tricky one, whether it is provoked by the violence in Somalia, the Libyan Call for the Islamification of Europe, or simply the continuing comparisons made between the Mosque in lower Manhattan and the controversial Carmelite Convent in Auschwitz which necessitated the intervention of John Paul II in 1993. One example of the use of the story to define the Mosque controversy is captured almost entirely in The Wall Street Journal story’s headline: “WTC Mosque Meet the Auschwitz Nuns”. And for every time the Auschwitz example is used to demonstrate the wisdom of ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ then the irrational anti-Catholicism of the turn of the 20th century is offered as evidence of the need to fight anti-religious bigotry. As Commonweal notes, “Wrong then, Wrong now”. This is most vivid in a remarkable blog note that resurrects the history of the building of Knights of Columbus Founder Father McGivney’s Church in New Haven in 1879 and the accompanying bigotry at the time. The stark similarities to the language used today is breathtaking: Catholics were the Muslims of that era, at least as far as the New York Times was concerned. This is a complicated issue with loaded words like ‘hallowed ground’ being tossed around and you need a clear head to try and sort out what’s just and permissible from what’s wrong and understandable. You know just how tricky the territory is when noted anti-religious campaigner and virulent foe of radical Islamism, Christopher Hitchens feels compelled to come to the defence of the principal of the Religious Freedom of the Muslims who want to build the Mosque.    

          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.