Peter Stockland: Church caught up in good news — for once

Fr. Thomas Dowd has been named as a new auxiliary bishop of MontrealMONTREAL - The Catholic Church was featured on the front page of my daily newspaper recently. Predictably, the page also overflowed with talk of corruption, scandal and child abuse.

This time, however, the sordidness was not another predictable media rehash of all that ails Catholicism. In fact, it involved something else entirely.

The story about the Church was — you might want to sit down for this — actually a very good news article about the naming of Fr. Thomas Dowd as a new auxiliary bishop of Montreal. Sure, there were the boilerplate paragraphs about the global sexual abuse scandal — I think all reporters’ computers are programmed to plug in such references by default — but the story on Dowd actually treated his appointment as a real event.

It was seen as eminently newsworthy that he is (a) an ecclesiastical stripling of 40 and (b) fully conversant in, and a ready practitioner of, social media such as blogging, Twitter, Facebook and so on.

With the passing of Cardinal Swiatek, a glorious time in Church history closes

Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek died on July 21, bringing to a close one of the most noble chapters in the history of the Church. He was 96 when he died, having been ordained a bishop at 76 by his eventual successor in Belarus. Made a cardinal at age 80, he served as archbishop of Minsk until he was 91. His was one of the heroic lives of our age.

I encountered the great cardinal only once, in Wroclaw, Poland, during the 1997 international Eucharistic Congress, and then at a distance. As part of the congress, dozens of bishops administered the sacrament of Confirmation to thousands of young people in an enormous Mass at the local arena. With such a large crowd it was a somewhat noisy affair, but there was total silence when Cardinal Swiatek addressed the newly confirmed at the end of the Mass. He spoke in Polish, but even without understanding a word I could see that his story was enormously powerful, with teenage eyes widening, and many filling with tears. He was telling them what it meant to be a Christian witness, to fight for the Church, to remain faithful. Imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for nine years, he did brutal labour by day and whatever clandestine priestly work he could by night, including offering the Holy Mass secretly, using a matchbox as a ciborium.

Aid for East Africa

During the summer months, when The Catholic Register reduces its publishing schedule to twice monthly, it can be a challenge to stay atop the news cycle because world events move so fast. Sadly, however, that is not a concern regarding the tragedy unfolding in East Africa.

There is no end in sight to the famine that has already claimed tens of thousand of lives in Somalia and threatens to spill over into Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. The United Nations estimates that 11 million people are threatened by the deadliest situation in the region since the Ethiopia famine of 1984-85 killed one million people.

But particularly distressing about the current crisis is that it could have been lessened, if not altogether averted, had nations heeded several unequivocal early warnings. Famine does not happen overnight.  Experts have developed scientific models to forecast these types of natural crisis.   When drought was added to food shortages, rising costs and armed conflict already present in Somalia, the UN sent out an international SOS late last year. But even as the crisis alarms rang louder in recent months the international community stayed largely indifferent.  

Dorothy Pilarski: Some dos, don’ts when you enter the House of God

Dorothy PilarskiOne day at Sunday Mass a well-meaning dad arrived with a large plastic bag from a popular store. It contained a big, new toy for his young son. Something to entertain him during Mass. I can still see the bag’s big, green logo appearing from behind the kneeler, interrupting prayers.

Being a brand new toy, it was in plastic packaging that was torn open in the middle of Mass. What a racket! Several people nearby, including me, were mortified.   

I had to fight all my motherly instincts to lean over and give the man a scolding. What I really wanted to do was tug him out of the church by his ears and ask him: “What are you teaching your child? Do you want to teach him that no matter what is happening around him he is entitled to have fun?”

I often attend performances of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Massey Hall. I am inspired by the pages at the back of the program that detail standards of behaviour for symphony-goers. Sections under several categories define the expected etiquette and courtesy to be extended to others at the symphony. For example, it says latecomers and anyone leaving the hall will be admitted at a suitable interval. It asks patrons to refrain from wearing perfumes or colognes and forbids cameras and cellphones.

South Sudan’s first steps

The world’s 193rd nation entered the world on July 9 as predominantly Christian, optimistically democratic, oppressively poor and facing a tenuous future.

The Republic of South Sudan became a sovereign state with the inauguration of a new constitution and the swearing in of its first president, Gen. Salva Kiir, a Catholic. Kiir had fought for independence since Sudan’s Islamic government imposed Sharia Law in 1983 on the predominantly Christian south. That edict sparked a 22-year civil war, Sudan’s second since 1956, that resulted in some 1.5 million deaths. It saw the Muslim north accused of murder and torture of men, women and children on orders from Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Sadly, atrocities are not new to the former colonies of Africa. Much less common is the type of conciliatory response Kiir is advocating now that the guns are silent.

Buy a beautiful missal

A few weeks back I wrote in these pages that the new Roman Missal, which will come into effect this Advent, should be beautiful, worthy of being on the altar during Mass. The missal is the book used by the priest which contains all the Mass prayers. A new English translation of the missal has been done, and so new missals are required in every Catholic parish.

The current missal produced by the publications service of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) is most unworthy, lacking even the creative design of a low-end recipe book. Canadian priests were hoping that the new missal published this fall would be a true work of art, not a mere functional instruction manual. We saw that publishers in England, Australia and the United States had sample pages posted online, drawing upon the long tradition of Catholic art adorning the altar missal. I wrote that if the CCCB version was as unimaginatively plain as their existing work, Canadian parishes should consider buying a British or American missal. All the prayers are exactly the same and the minor adaptations for Canada — local saints and variations in the rubrics for Mass — are easily enough obtained elsewhere.

C. Gwendolyn Landolt: Judges should enforce, not interpret, law

Two Supreme Court of Canada judges have announced they will step down at the end of AugustThe announcement by two of the judges on the Supreme Court of Canada of their proposed retirement provides the opportunity to reflect on the role of judges in Canada. This is especially important since judges have assumed a powerful and influential role under the Charter.  The latter allows judges using the broad and vague words to rule on the merits of legislation, creating new laws and social policies.  

The vivid reality is that these Charter decisions are highly contingent on socio-political choices which the courts have been able to determine by applying, for example, the broad words of Section 7 of the Charter, (“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person”) and Section 15 (the Equality provision). These words mean whatever the judges want them to mean. That is, the broad words of the Charter have enabled the judges to promote their own, private, political attitudes and preferences, claiming it is for constitutional reasons.

Unfortunately, judges are ill positioned to make public policy decisions because they have limited access to social data and depend on the biased arguments of the litigants and unreliable information in the media. Isolated from society, judges are not exposed to differing perspectives, as occurs in Parliament, since there is no public debate. In short, judges may not be cognizant of all the relevant facts.

Bishops’ straight talk

Finally, some straight talk from the Church about same-sex attraction.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops should be commended for releasing an overdue but welcomed pastoral letter on same-sex attraction. The letter from the bishops’ Commission of Doctrine clearly enunciates Church teachings on this contentious topic while offering frank advice to priests, parents and educators on how to support young people who may be troubled by society’s mixed messages on this difficult issue.

Pius XII’s actions spoke louder than words

The conduct of Pope Pius XII during the Second World War, specifically in regard to Jews and the Shoah, has been a bone in the throat of Catholic-Jewish relations for some time now. Recent developments may point, however tentatively, to the possibility of a way forward.

In late June, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, made a remarkable statement in the course of the ceremony in which Fr. Gaetano Piccini was named “Righteous among the Gentiles” — a designation given to those who were heroic in saving Jews during the Shoah. Ambassador Lewy noted that after the Nazis rounded up Jews in Rome in October 1943 for deportation to the death camps, Catholic convents and monasteries opened their doors to shelter Jews — something risky and dangerous under Nazi occupation.

“There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on,” he said. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews. To the contrary, the opposite is true.”

Lewy added that the fact that the Vatican couldn’t stop the deportation of Jews from Rome’s ghetto on Oct. 16-18, 1943 “only increased the will, on the part of the Vatican, to offer its own sites as refuges for the Jews.”

Some people miss mail

The recent disruption in Canada Post service has produced news stories about the unimportance of mail delivery that are at odds with my own experience, but presumably reflect the view of many others.

When Canada Post was on strike 14 years ago, even a few days without mail was big news. But during the recent disruption, settled on June 28, I’m not aware of a single newscast that made the work stoppage the lead item, and most days it has not even been front-page news. True, the growth of the online world has undoubtedly reduced most people’s reliance on mail delivery, but newscasters and pundits who think the letter carrier is dispensable are mistaken.

For those of us with a greater than average reliance on mail delivery, it was galling to see editorial content such as: “Postal strike looms — will anyone notice?”;  “In 20 years no one will remember what a mailbox looks like” or “I think there’s a packet of stamps in the house some place.” Even after almost a month, Lorne Gunter of the National Post claimed that “almost no one cares yet that the mail is not being delivered.” Trust me, if a good chunk of your income takes the form of cheques in the mail, you will care.

Robert Brehl: Kate and Wills should feel at home in PEI

The upcoming royal tour by Prince William and his new bride Kate is sure to be an exciting spectacle for Canadians, monarchists and non-monarchists alike. This young and vibrant couple has energized the increasingly stodgy royal family, and Canadians are eager to get an up-close glimpse.

Our family will be in Prince Edward Island when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive there July 3. My wife and 12-year-old daughter have already mapped out their “stalking route” to see the royals.

I predict the royal couple will find the tiny island, which is half Catholic, to be the most unique place on their tour. Nothing against Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary, but they’re cities — all with at least five times more people than the entire population of PEI. Urban areas are nothing new to this royal couple.

But PEI is different, even a little quirky. And that’s what we love about the place and why we bought a cottage there. Take honesty, for instance. Two years ago, PEI honesty made international headlines after a gust of wind knocked a $10,300 bag of cash out of the hand of a rental property owner on his way to the bank. Cars stopped. People jumped out of Charlottetown restaurants and stores. Everyone scurried to the street to collect the money. But no one pocketed a thing. Every last dollar was returned to the fellow. How’s that for honesty?