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.

The wrong choice

The Monsignor Feeney Foundation of London, Ont., is one of those unsung organizations that operates in relative obscurity doing good work on behalf of the Catholic community. Its web site says the foundation has raised $4 million since 1983 for a long list of mostly educational causes.

So it’s a shame that, for most of us, our introduction to this worthy organization comes after its directors took a significant misstep and then declined to acknowledge their error, let alone offer to fix it.

At issue is contracting Stephen Lewis to headline a fund-raising event — “An evening with Stephen Lewis!” — at which Lewis, according to organizers, was to speak about poverty, children and education.

Protect our rights

The rights of religious freedom and religious conscience are guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and in the United Nations declaration of human rights. Yet increasingly in Canada and in other Western nations these fundamental rights are being disrespected by legislators, tribunals and courts.

So bravo to Regina Archbishop Daniel Bohan for issuing a pastoral letter that challenges government to act skillfully to protect the basic human right of freedom of conscience. His comments were directed at his archdiocese and at Saskatchewan legislators, but they apply right across Canada and beyond.

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.

Only the narrow-minded, bigoted claim religion is evil

Since I began writing about religion almost four years ago I’ve noticed that anything written by myself or anyone else that suggests some good coming out of faith is generally mocked as covering up a great evil.

The usual argument is that anything good that comes out of religion is more of an accident than any essential by-product of the faith itself.

Christopher Hitchens summed up this idea perfectly when he was in Toronto a few months ago to debate Tony Blair on the value of religion. Mr. Blair pointed out that religious groups do all sorts of great charitable work, especially in the developing world. Mr. Hitchens said any good works done in the name of God should be viewed as penance for the preponderance of evil committed by religious groups today and throughout history. Mr. Blair might as well have been banging his head against a cement wall.

Schools are tolerant

Last November the Halton Catholic District School board passed an equity policy that explicitly banned gay-straight alliances. Following an outcry from gay activists, a new board of trustees cancelled that policy and replaced it with one that, although making no mention of gay-straight alliances, was widely interpreted as an endorsement of the controversial after-school clubs and a victory for those who would see Catholic values trumped in schools by secular morality.

If that were indeed true, it would be a sad day for Catholic education. The primary role of trustees is to be faithful guardians of the morals and values that are the bedrock of Catholic education. So what happened in Halton?

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.

A worthy blessed

“Santo subito!” they shouted in the days after his death — “Sainthood now!” for Pope John Paul II.

If ever existed someone worthy of exemption from the Vatican’s five-year waiting period before initiating a cause for sainthood, Pope John Paul II was it.

That seemed obvious to thousands of mourners who filled the streets after John Paul’s death in 2005. So, too, was it clear to his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who steered John Paul onto an express lane to sainthood that will bring the quickest beatification in the history of the modern Church.

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.

Make God an integral part of your new year

For years I travelled extensively to deliver seminars on how to develop the skills and habits to be successful at life and work. One of those skills was goal setting.

Visualizing, setting and implementing goals can be an amazing experience. It became a passion and I loved teaching others how to set and achieve their goals. For years, I set personal goals, sometimes weekly, daily or even hourly, and always yearly.