Catholic bashing seems to always be fair game

The recent call by Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast for government to provide aid to pregnant women who want to keep their babies was widely ignored. A week earlier, comments by Ouellet on the issue of abortion provoked a venomous political and media response.

There was nothing startling in either of the remarks, but one was shrugged off and the other drew an unusual degree of vitriol, highlighted by one columnist wishing the cardinal  “a slow and painful death.” It was an extreme comment, but not exceptional in its derision.

In researching 25 years of anti-Catholic media hostility, I’ve been struck by how often Church participation in debates on the moral issues of the day spark such prejudice. The reaction is probably strongest on abortion, but also colours discussions about the re-definition of marriage, euthanasia, faith-based schools and bioethical research. No one minds too much when the Church tells us to help the poor, but statements about when life begins or what is meant by family are often lightning rods. Nor is prime time entertainment immune; while the Church is mostly ignored, script writers know they can always count on the Catholics when they need a tireless charity worker, a backdrop for sacred art and music or a deranged person to bomb an abortion clinic.

How I found the furnace of love of the Catholic Church

Conversion from a Protestant church to the Catholic Church, such as mine 12 years ago, usually has complicated results. It often makes the people left behind angry and bewildered. So you try to explain what happened, what made conversion necessary and inevitable — only to find quickly that words do nothing to ease the hurt and confusion others feel.

But words and images and gestures are the only things we possess to communicate our experiences to others. So I am using what I have, and will try to put into words what happened to me 12 years ago at the Marian shrine at Lourdes.

I do so because I have been asked, once again, to explain myself. This time the request came from a Christian acquaintance, appalled at the narrative of my conversion that appeared in The Globe and Mail on Holy Saturday. You may recall the op-ed piece. Its occasion was the sex-abuse accusations rocking the Catholic Church. Asked by The Globe whether these shocks had ungrounded my Christian faith, I tried to explain in the article why they had not.

Palmsonntag, a deeply biblical vision

The beautiful installation called Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday), by German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, is the most brilliant, deeply original Christian artwork I have ever seen on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Readers interested in art should catch this show before it leaves Toronto on Aug. 1

Like some Baroque depiction of a saint’s martyrdom, Palm Sunday refers immediately to an occasion that lies largely beyond the margins of the work, in this case the liturgy for the Sunday before Easter.

Non-violence is the only path to peace

The news from the frontier between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is seldom good, and usually awful. Headline after headline in the mainstream media confirm the popular (and hardly inaccurate) view that the border is a place of violence and danger, where Israeli soldiers daily face death and injury from suicide bombers and armed militants, and Palestinian citizens are constantly liable to harassment and arrest.

Against this baleful backdrop of discord and suffering, however, a new and more hopeful story has begun to emerge.

Life issues are rarely off the radar

This year’s March for Life took place against a backdrop of legislative initiatives at both ends of the life spectrum. As this column is being written before the march in Ottawa, there’s no way to know if the event will be covered in the media. But life issues continue to be prominent in the news.

The unborn victims of violence bill in the last parliament and the April 14 private member’s bill aimed at ending the coercion of women into abortions they do not want both received plentiful coverage and sparked strong reaction. The proposals caused a rash of letters to the editor and talk-show panels.

Beware the contagiousness of the U.S. Christian right

For most Canadians, I suspect, the alleged activities of the Michigan-based Hutaree militia amount to little more than fresh evidence of the occasional craziness we’ve come to expect from Canada’s neighbour to the south.

Canadians should not be so smug.

The Church must be held to a higher standard

Some allegations have staying power no matter how often they are refuted. For the past month, articles and broadcasts have abounded with reports about the sexual-abuse scandal and claims of cover-up at the highest levels of the Church. Most allegations concerned events in Europe and the United States, and spread wildly after suggestions that even Pope Benedict XVI may have known of or approved a decision to return a German priest offender to ministry.

Led by The New York Times, there were efforts to implicate the Pope — in his former capacity as a cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — with failing to act promptly in a U.S. case. The allegations and The Times’ role in spreading them have been widely and justifiably refuted and discredited, including by The Times itself, albeit with less prominence than it gave the original report.

The Church needs to take advantage of standing at a new dawn

The rage that has greeted recent allegations of sex-abuse cover-ups and foot-dragging by the Catholic hierarchy comes, at least in part, from genuine compassion for the victims. This righteous anger, expressed in countless newspaper columns and blogs (Christian and secular) over the last few weeks, is something Catholics at every level of the Church should take seriously. Because it comes from a good place — outrage on behalf of the wounded and defiled — it can be a healing wrath and welcome judgment, summoning all Catholics, not just the clergy and hierarchy, to repentance and spiritual revival.

But another kind of anger, arising from a dark, hate-filled place in modern culture, has been evident as well. It’s not the whole story, but it’s an important aspect of what’s unfolding in the present moment’s sound and fury. I am speaking of the vengeful drive by some commentators to bring down the Catholic Church completely — the visible institution, of course, but also its mission of announcing the Kingdom of God.

Who's responsible for web's unregulated side?

A recent verdict in Italy against executives of Google raises concerns for online media operations around the world. A Milan court convicted three Google Inc. executives Feb. 24 for violating the privacy of an Italian boy with Down’s Syndrome by letting a video of him being bullied be posted on the site in 2006.

Google will appeal the six-month suspended jail terms and said the verdict “poses a crucial question for the freedom on which the Internet is built,” since none of the three employees found guilty had anything to do with the offending video.

In Christ we can overcome the world

In the developed industrial societies of the West, superficiality is among the great scourges of the age. Our prosperity and freedom, and the best values we have inherited from the past, are blighted by a mass culture that trivializes everything, from politics and entertainment to sexuality and social morality.

Movies, TV and advertising constantly reinforce the notions, for example, that sexual licence is just a normal part of growing up, that living together outside the exclusive terms of marriage is even desirable in the circumstances of our era. The bombardment of highly eroticized entertainment hollows out the personal depth and resonance that can come with sexual commitment.

Free speech, respect for others must be encouraged

If there is one subject that provokes more complaints of media bias than religion, it would probably be abortion. From the time of the legalization debates in the 1960s, most pro-life groups have believed their message has been suppressed or misrepresented, and I would not be surprised if some pro-choice groups have felt the same way.

But one thing about the debate that has changed is the addition of a free-speech component to the moral and religious issues.