‘Fr. Oprah’ has become a bore, not some noble man fighting the evil Church

MIAMI

Alberto Cutié is back — not that he really ever went away. He has a small Episcopal parish here in Miami, and is flogging his new book, getting ready for his own TV show.

You remember Fr. Oprah, no? Ordained for the archdiocese of Miami in 1995, the photogenic and bilingually articulate priest developed a successful radio and television ministry, becoming something of a Latino celebrity — hence the nickname. In May 2009 a tabloid newspaper published photographs of Cutié on the beach with his mistress, conducting himself in a manner contrary to his priestly promises.

Hateful taste in art

On Jan. 29, a small private art gallery in Toronto issued a press release publicizing an upcoming show that includes a portrait of Pope Benedict riddled with bullet-like holes and a representation of U.S. President Barak Obama crucified on a cross. As its own headline put it, “Pope shot, Obama crucified…”

The release commented casually about the sex abuse scandal in the Church, even though it’s not clear that the exhibit itself does. Most media outlets paid little attention to the release. Those that did handed the gallery publicity it could only dream about. After all, attacking the Church may generate a few angry letters and phone calls but it won’t harm your reputation in media and arts circles.

Where has the Irish Church leadership been for the past two decades?

What will the Apostolic Visitation of Ireland accomplish?

In response to the sexual abuse crisis there, Pope Benedict XVI decided last spring to send five bishops to carry out a visitation — ecclesiastical parlance for an investigation — of the archdioceses and seminaries of Ireland. He chose quite a high-powered team: Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster (retired), Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa. They have each been assigned one Irish archdiocese, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been assigned the Irish seminaries. The visits are ongoing in these months, and final reports are due at the Vatican by Easter.

Militant Islam is winning

In the nearly 10 years since 9/11, the preoccupying question has remained: Was the jihadist violence of that day representative of Islam or a perversion of it?

From Sept. 12 onwards, everyone from U.S. President George W. Bush to the Prince of Wales has assured us that Islam is a religion of peace. The vast majority of commentators in general, and Christian thinkers in particular, have accepted that. After all, there have been long periods in history of peaceful Islamic rule, and across the Islamic world today, jihadist extremism is fought against by Muslim leaders themselves.

Daniel Pipes, one of the strongest critics of radicalized Islam, makes the point clearly: “It’s a mistake to blame Islam, a religion 14 centuries old, for the evil that should be ascribed to militant Islam, a totalitarian ideology less than a century old. Militant Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution.”

Seeing humanity's place in the universe

The Great Pavement in Westminster Abbey is one of the most beautiful and significant architectural decorations to survive in England from the Middle Ages. Designed and executed by Italian craftsmen in the 1260s by order of King Henry III, this splendid mosaic consists of myriad cut sections of coloured stone and glass set in abstract geometrical patterns into a dark limestone base. The materials are sumptuous: purple porphyry, green serpentine, yellow limestone, pieces of which had been salvaged from ancient Roman buildings and sculptures and brought to England specifically for this project.

Everything about this royal commission speaks of its high importance. Its position is immediately before the abbey’s high altar, the key liturgical focus of the church. Its design, a series of interrelated orbs and triangles, was clearly intended to be, and is, an artisanal masterpiece.

Some causes just have to be made

The beatification of Pope John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday this year has brought joy to both Catholics and non-Catholics the world over. At the same time, questions have been raised about the speed of the process, and whether there was a rush to judgment in this case.

Anticipating such questions, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints released a summary of the process last week, outlining that all the usual procedures were followed in John Paul’s case. The only difference was that Pope Benedict XVI gave permission for the process to begin in 2005, lifting the usual five-year waiting period. John Paul himself had done the same thing for Mother Teresa.

The point of the five-year waiting period is to ensure that there is a genuine, enduring devotion among the faithful to the potential candidate. In a few rare cases, the five-year period is unnecessary as such devotion was already present at the time of death.

Quebec's purge of religion reaches the youngest levels

At the nursery school my children attended, parents were assigned duty days to maintain the required adult-to-child ratio. If you were assigned to group time or snack time you had to be prepared for any and all sorts of conversation.

One morning, I listened along with four pre-schoolers as a little boy told how his family had gone out to buy a Christmas tree on the weekend. It was no ordinary trip to the Boy Scout lot or the garden centre, but a drive to the country where the perfect tree was selected. Dad chopped it down, they brought it home, set it up and put a star on it.

What's in a word? Plenty when it comes to religious liberty

Religious freedom cannot be reduced to freedom of worship.

That’s the subtle, but essential point at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the annual World Day of Peace. For nearly 50 years now, the Holy See has designated New Year’s Day as a special day to pray for peace. Each year the Holy Father selects a theme for his annual message, and for 2011 he selected religious liberty.

Don't pin the message on the messenger

When the message is displeasing, shoot the messenger. That old saying came to mind when I was reading Fr. Raymond de Souza’s final Catholic Register column (Dec. 26) for 2010.

The messenger who got shot, in this case, was Globe and Mail correspondent Michael Valpy, the lead author of a five-part series on the “future of faith” in Canada that ran in the newspaper before Christmas.

Young Catholics RiseUp to be counted

An annual highlight arrives in the last days of the year. That’s when Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) holds its annual conference for university students. They call it RiseUp, and it begins each year on Dec. 28 and runs through New Year’s Day.

I first went in 2004 in Toronto, in my first year as chaplain of Newman House at Queen’s University. Completely conquered by the experience, I have returned every year since as it has travelled around the country — Vancouver, Quebec City, Calgary, Toronto again, Winnipeg, and this year in Montreal.

Not all Catholics in Canada know about CCO, but they should. It is one of the most powerful works of the Holy Spirit in our country and a testament that the Gospel has not lost its power to attract souls — even those of the young. Andre and Angele Regnier founded CCO in 1988 in Saskatoon, realizing that the university campus was indeed mission territory. While in previous generations it would have been enough to merely provide services for practising Catholic students, the current situation requires evangelization. CCO’s premise is that most students on campus, including those from Catholic homes, have never heard the “Gospel preached simply and clearly.” So they do it.

CCO full-time missionaries are usually recent university graduates themselves, and they raise all of their own income personally. Can you imagine the zeal for the Gospel and the trust in Providence required to accept that mission? There are dozens of them at campuses from Vancouver to Halifax, and they are evangelizing thousands of university students. To be with some 500 of those students in Montreal was a pure gift and why I have already booked the 2011 RiseUp in Vancouver on my calendar.

“CCO is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization,” says the mission statement. “We challenge students to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith, with a strong emphasis on becoming leaders in the renewal of the world.”

A key word there is fullness. They invite students to be more Catholic, not less. They understand that at the heart of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. They teach people to pray. They encourage reception of the sacraments, especially promoting confession. Eucharistic adoration is central. The Holy Spirit is not neglected. They read the Scriptures devotedly. They present the magisterial teaching of the Church with confidence in the truth, not a grudging attitude. They present the Catholic faith as a joy to be embraced, not a burden to be borne.

They are a model for how the Church should evangelize a culture where God is at the margins. And if all this can be done on the university campus, where hostility to religion and scepticism about truth often dominate the local culture, then there are sure grounds for hope that the Gospel has not lost its power.

Bringing 500 faithful young Catholics to Montreal is a challenge. Montreal is likely the least-practising major city in the Catholic world. For generations in Montreal the only real question has been whether the Church would withdraw from the culture before it was pushed out, or vice versa. The grand Notre Dame in Old Montreal now charges admission, exempting those who come to pray. Just like the admission charge at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s signals the collapse of the Church of England as a culture-shaping institution, so too does Notre Dame indicate a general attitude that what used to be is not and never shall be again. A culture that cannot support its principal shrines converts them to de facto museums, but they stand as tombstones — markers of places where the faith is dead.

So when a number of students at RiseUp went to Notre Dame for Mass, the cashier was sceptical that so many young people would actually want to do so. Surely it was some kind of trick to avoid paying the fee. Yet they prevailed, and it stands as a symbol of what these marvellous young Catholics do — overcome the scepticism of so many in the Church that the fullness of the Catholic faith still attracts souls to Jesus Christ.

To see the Oratory of St. Joseph and Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral both filled with young people on fire for their faith, this is what the Church in Canada needs. Whatever travails each year brings, at RiseUp the year ends full of Christian hope.

Christmas time is here, prepare for the Globe’s seasonal religious cheer

Just in time for Christmas, The Globe and Mail ran a five-part series on the “future of faith” in Canada. In its unflagging service to the nation, the Globe customarily marks the Christmas season with depressing religion stories. This year’s contribution was rather more ambitious than most, and worth a read.