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China urges religious groups to promote Chinese culture, orders retired officials to shun religion

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BEIJING — A top Politburo official told faith leaders that religious groups must promote Chinese culture and become more compatible with socialism.

Yu Zhengsheng said religious leaders must form a bridge between the Communist Party and hundreds of millions of Chinese that follow the country’s five officially recognized religions — Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism, reported ucanews.com.

Chinese Catholics receive Communion in 2012 during Christmas Eve Mass in Beijing. A top Politburo official told faith leaders that religious groups must promote Chinese culture and become more compatible with socialism. (CNS photo/How Hwee Young, EPA)

Chinese Catholics receive Communion in 2012 during Christmas Eve Mass in Beijing. A top Politburo official told faith leaders that religious groups must promote Chinese culture and become more compatible with socialism. (CNS photo/How Hwee Young, EPA)

Xinhua, China’s state news agency, said Yu “called on religious groups in China to continue adding Chinese characteristics, dig into positive elements in their religions and make more effort in building a religious ideology with Chinese characteristics.”

Yu, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, led the meeting. Vice Premier Liu Yandong and Sun Chunlan, head of the United Work Front Department, which manages relations with faith groups, also attended. National broadcaster CCTV broadcast Yu’s instructions on its evening bulletin Feb. 4, ucanews.com reported.

It said Liu Yuanlong, who took part in his role as vice director of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was not immediately available for comment.

Without explanation, Beijing has repeatedly postponed a major meeting on religion that was due to be chaired by President Xi Jinping at the end of last year. Delays may be due to problems drawing up a cohesive religious blueprint for the whole country, according to analysts.

Yu has met regularly with religious groups across the country over the past year as the party makes plans for the meeting.

Under Xi, China has veered toward a more repressive policy on religion that has stressed Chinese faiths over those deemed imported from overseas. The Chinese president has regularly quoted from Confucius, whose popularity has been resurgent in recent years, while Christians, Muslims and Buddhists have complained of growing persecution.

Amid a campaign by the provincial authorities in Zhejiang that has led to the removal of more than 1,500 church crosses over the past two years, authorities there have started a new program that includes efforts to tie Bible passages to party doctrine.

In another major shift on religious practice, the party’s Central Committee and State Council have issued a circular ordering retired officials to steer clear of religion, Xinhua reported Feb. 4.

The circular “clearly stated that retired cadres cannot believe in religion, cannot participate in religious activities and must resolutely fight against cults,” the document said.

Retired officials must distinguish between “ethnic customs” and “believing in religions,” it said.

Although Beijing has barred active cadres from practicing religion, this is the first time a state document has also ordered retired officials not to follow a faith since the party set up its retirement system in 1982.

How the state plans to enforce the measure remains unclear. As many as 84 percent of party members admitted some kind of religious belief, a survey by Purdue University’s Center on Religion and Chinese Society found in 2007.

“Many of the exposed corrupt officials of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) are reported to believe in religion or magic, such as patronizing and consulting spiritual masters,” said Fenggang Yang, the center’s director. “This kind of behavior is probably common among other officials as well.”

Forgive like Jesus, don’t accuse like the devil, pope tells Capuchins

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Confessors have two choices: to be like Jesus who readily forgave sins or like the devil who always condemns, Pope Francis said.

“You can either do the work of Jesus, who forgives, by giving your lives in prayer (and) through many hours seated there or you do the work of the devil who condemns and accuses,” the pope said during Mass Feb. 9 with Capuchin friars from around the world.

Capuchin friars attend an early morning Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Capuchin friars attend an early morning Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 9. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica was held in conjunction with the veneration of the relics of two Capuchins, Sts. Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic; Pope Francis requested their relics be brought to the Vatican for the Year of Mercy.

Both saints, the pope told the friars, spent long hours in the confessional as ministers of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Recalling the day’s Gospel passage, in which the Pharisees and scribes condemn Jesus and his disciples for not observing traditions, the pope reminded the Capuchins that confessors are called to be “great forgivers in the confessional.”

“The confessional is for forgiving,” he said. “If you cannot give someone absolution, please, do not ‘beat’ him.”

The pope repeated the story of a former Capuchin provincial who was sent to a shrine as a confessor after his retirement. The friar, who usually had a long line of people waiting for him, “always found a way to forgive or at least leave that person’s soul in peace with a hug.”

However, the priest expressed concern that he was forgiving too much. “And what do you do when you feel that way?” the pope recalled asking him.

“I go to the chapel in front of the tabernacle, and I tell the Lord: ‘I’m sorry Lord, forgive me, I think I forgave too much today. But Lord, it was you who gave me a bad example,’” the friar responded.

Forgiveness, the pope explained, is a “caress from God” and confessors who do not forgive become like the scribes in the Gospel “who are always there to accuse,” much like “the great accuser in the Bible: the devil.”

Pope Francis also called on the Capuchins to be humble and sincere if they are not up to the task of forgiving with mercy.

“If you do not feel it, be humble and say: ‘No, no, I’ll celebrate Mass, I’ll clean the floor, I’ll do everything except confess because I do not know how to do it well,” the pope said.

New Catholic-Muslim dialogue formed; Chicago archbishop named co-chair

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs announced Feb. 8 that it is launching a new National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, and Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich has been named its first Catholic co-chairman.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago is the Catholic co-chairman of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) See ENCYCLICAL-CUPICH

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago is the Catholic co-chairman of the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World) See ENCYCLICAL-CUPICH

“As the national conversation around Islam grows increasingly fraught, coarse and driven by fear and often willful misinformation, the Catholic Church must help to model real dialogue and goodwill,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, who is chairman of the committee.

For over two decades, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious committee has co-sponsored three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues, and Bishop Rozanski said the time is right to begin a national dialogue.

“Our current dialogues have advanced the goals of greater understanding, mutual esteem and collaboration between Muslims and Catholics, and the members have established lasting ties of friendship and a deep sense of trust,” he said in a statement.

He also thanked Archbishop Cupich for agreeing to represent the USCCB “in this crucial conversation.” The Chicago prelate’s tenure as dialogue co-chair will begin Jan. 1, 2017.

The current regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues are:

  • The mid-Atlantic dialogue, which partners with the Islamic Circle of North America.
  • The Midwest, which partners with the Islamic Society of North America.
  • The West Coast, which partners with the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County, California.

Each is co-chaired by a bishop and a Muslim leader from the corresponding regional organization.

According to a USCCB news release, the three dialogues will continue to meet and “will work collaboratively with the members of the new national dialogue.”

The release noted that establishment of a new Catholic-Muslim dialogue follows a 2014 statement from the ecumenical and interreligious committee stating that the Catholic Church remained committed to dialogue with leaders of other religions and Muslims in particular.

It said the church’s mandate to engage in dialogue with Muslims comes from “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.

The document “states unequivocally that the church urges its members to ‘enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.’”

Regarding Islam, the council document said “the church has also a high regard for the Muslims” and that despite centuries of conflict urged “that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding.”

The bishops’ committee statement said that “Nostra Aetate” “has been consistently upheld by recent popes.”

“Sadly, in recent years, there has been a deliberate rejection of this call to engage in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters by some in the Catholic Church and in other ecclesial families,” the 2014 statement said. “We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad.

“We, and increasingly our Muslim partners in dialogue, are concerned about these very real phenomena,” it continued. “Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment — acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten and disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship.”

At the same time, the statement said, “it is our belief that the most efficient way to work toward ending or at least curtailing such violence and prejudice is through building networks of dialogue that can overcome ignorance, extremism, and discrimination and so lead to friendship and trust with Muslims.”

Commission on sex abuse votes that member take leave of absence

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The papal commission on child protection voted that one of its members, a survivor of abuse and victims’advocate, take a leave of absence and consider other ways to contribute to the advisory body.

Peter Saunders, founder and chief executive officer of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, told reporters, however, that he would not leave his position on the commission.

“I was appointed by His Holiness Pope Francis and I will talk only with him about my position,” he said Feb. 6.

Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014 to recommend better ways to protect minors and vulnerable adults and how best to promote “local responsibility in the particular churches” concerning abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed Feb. 8 that the 17-person commission, which includes another abuse survivor, “approved unanimously with one abstention” that Saunders take a leave of absence to think about other ways to help the commission externally.

U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the pontifical commission and one of the pope’s top cardinal advisers, said in a written statement, “Peter Saunders has been asked to advise the commission on the possible establishment of a victim survivor panel to work with the commission.”

Saunders told the Associated Press Feb. 6 that the members concluded they could not trust him to stick to the commission’s mandate as a purely advisory body.

Father Lombardi told reporters Feb. 8 that it was clear the commission’s “course of action is not undertaking a discussion, investigation, judging individual cases” of abuse or lack of accountability.

Saunders has been openly critical of Pope Francis and other top-level church leaders and of the slow pace of the commission’s work when it came to bishops’ accountability in acting upon suspected and known instances of abuse by priests.

He and a group of Chilean Catholics and clerics have voiced particular concern about the pope’s nomination of Bishop Juan Barros in 2015 to the Diocese of Osorno, Chile. The bishop had been accused of covering up for a priest who was known to have committed sexual abuse. Bishop Barros, however, denied having had knowledge of Father Fernando Karadima’s criminal behavior, prior to news about the abuse in the press.

The papal commission, meanwhile, released a press release Feb. 8 saying it was preparing the final version of proposals to make to the pope, including “a request for him to remind all authorities in the church of the importance of responding directly to victims and survivors who approach them.’ Members also were working on a recommendation for a universal day of prayer for abuse victims and preparing materials for a special penitential liturgy.

The commission also is developing a website to share best practices for protecting minors, and “workshops on the legal aspects of the protection of minors to establish more transparency around canonical trials” are being planned for later in the year.

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Future of pro-life movement is cultural, not political, says L.A. archbishop

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SANTA ANA, Calif. — Saying the future of the pro-life movement is “cultural not political,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles called upon Catholic Latinos to work toward a “new Christian humanism, a new vision of society and human destiny that is rooted in the Gospel.”

“We want a new culture, not a new political coalition,” he told participants at the Hispanic Pro-life Congress Jan. 30 at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, pointing to the necessity of changing society’s views on the “fundamental injustice” of abortion and euthanasia.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles is seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, file photo. In an address to a Hispanic pro-life congress, Archbishop Gomez called on Latinos to build a pro-life culture and not a political coalition. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles is seen in this Aug. 24, 2013, file photo. In an address to a Hispanic pro-life congress, Archbishop Gomez called on Latinos to build a pro-life culture and not a political coalition. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

Archbishop Gomez said that the practice of abortion and euthanasia raises concerns about “what kind of society we are and what kind of people we want to be.”

He expressed unease that society is losing a sense of its common humanity and responsibility for others, especially when it comes to abortion and euthanasia, which he called the most important issues facing the country.

While running through a list of social sins and the importance of addressing racial discrimination, deportations and unjust immigration policies, unemployment, homelessness, pollution of the environment, neighborhood violence, drug abuse, decrepit prisons and the death penalty, the archbishop said the church must place abortion and euthanasia foremost in its efforts.

He said the “‘seamless garment’ or ‘consistent ethic of life’” positions espoused widely are “not the vision we need.”

“Because in practice the ‘seamless garment’ and ‘consistent ethic’ result in a mistaken idea that all issues are morally equivalent,” he said. “Of course, they are not. So in everything we need to be clear that the root of violence in our society is the violence against those who are not yet born and those who are the end of their lives.”

It is the church’s role to declare that the right to life is the foundation of all other rights, justice and peace in the world, the archbishop explained in calling for a “new vision for our efforts.”

“This vision is spiritual not political. And because it is spiritual, it makes no sense for there to be any division between our ‘pro-life’ efforts and our work for ‘social justice.’ In the face of the suffering and human need in the world, we cannot compartmentalize our compassion or draw lines between those we will care about and those we will not,” Archbishop Gomez explained.

He urged a deeper appreciation for the Gospel, which he said “is the core of God’s beautiful plan of love for creation and for every human life that he revealed in Jesus Christ.”

The Gospel of life, the archbishop added, is what the early church called the “kerygma,” the core teaching of the faith.

He quoted Pope Francis, who summarized kerygma: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”

Urging his audience to “stay close to Jesus,” Archbishop Gomez said Catholics have a duty to welcome and protect life and to care for life, every life because God loves every person, especially those who are poor, marginalized and alone. “With God’s love, there are no boundaries, no borders, no barriers,” he said.

He also called for building friendships and to “be in dialogue with those who disagree with us.”

“We can’t negotiate about good and evil. … But we need to work with and talk to people who may not share our full vision of a culture of life, or at least people who don’t share our vision yet,” he said. “We have to be optimistic that truth, lived with joy, will lead to conversions and new ways of thinking.”

Describing the church’s mission as one of bringing mercy to society, especially for those who are “inconvenient and unexpected” and those who “impose a burden on our way of life,” Archbishop Gomez reminded the audience to love as God loves.

“We need to build a community of conscience; to defend life and protect life,” he said.

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Open God’s heart with prayer, pope tells Padre Pio prayer groups

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Praying is not like taking an aspirin, something one does just to feel a little better, Pope Francis told thousands of members of Padre Pio Prayer Groups from around the world.

Prayer is not a business negotiation with God, either, the pope told more than 60,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square Feb. 6. Prayer is a “work of spiritual mercy,” a time to entrust everything to the heart of God, he said.

People venerate the body of St. Padre Pio in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 6. The bodies of Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic were brought to Rome at the request of Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

People venerate the body of St. Padre Pio in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 6. The bodies of Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic were brought to Rome at the request of Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pilgrims were in Rome for the Year of Mercy and a week of special events that included veneration of the relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic, both Capuchin friars who often spent more than 12 hours a day hearing confessions.

Although many faithful believe the body of Padre Pio, who died in 1968, is incorrupt, church officials have never made such a claim. When his body was exhumed in 2008, church officials said it was in “fair condition.” Chemicals were used to ensure its long-term preservation and the face was covered with a silicone mask.

Pushed through the center of Rome Feb. 5 in glass coffins on rolling platforms, the relics of Padre Pio and St. Leopold were escorted by Italian military police, dozens of Capuchin friars and thousands of faithful.

When the procession reached St. Peter’s Square, the boundary of Vatican City State, the Italian police stood at attention and the Swiss Guard took over the honor-guard duties. Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter’s, welcomed the relics, blessed them with incense and accompanied them into St. Peter’s Basilica where they were to stay for veneration until Feb. 11.

At the papal audience, joining members of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups from around the world were staff members of the hospital he founded, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering), whose work is supported by the prayers and donations of the prayer groups.

Pope Francis told them that their devotion to Padre Pio should help them rediscover each day “the beauty of the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy.”

With his long hours in the confessional, the pope said, “Padre Pio was a servant of mercy and he was fulltime, carrying out the ‘apostolate of listening’ even to the point of fainting.”

“The great river of mercy” that Padre Pio unleashed, he said, should continue through the prayers and, especially, the willingness to listen and to care for others shown by members of the prayer groups.

If prayer were just about finding a little peace of mind or obtaining something specific from God, then it would basically be motivated by selfishness: “I pray to feel good, like I’d take an aspirin,” the pope said.

“Prayer, rather, is a work of spiritual mercy that carries everything to the heart of God” and says to him, “You take it, you who are my father.”

Padre Pio, he said, used to tell people prayer is “a key that opens God’s heart.”

“God’s heart is not armored with all sorts of security measures,” the pope said. “You can open it with a common key, prayer.”

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‘Hail, Caesar!’ a valentine to Hollywood, if not the Legion of Decency

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Catholic News Service

The February release date of writers and directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s comedy “Hail, Caesar!” could hardly be more appropriate.

George Clooney stars in a scene from the movie "Hail, Caesar!"(CNS photo/Universal)

George Clooney stars in a scene from the movie “Hail, Caesar!”(CNS photo/Universal)

That’s because this loving sendup of golden-age Hollywood represents nothing short of a supersized valentine presented by the sibling collaborators to the Tinseltown of bygone days, specifically the early 1950s.

Indeed, the film’s rather perfunctory plot is merely an excuse to revel in the industry’s familiar yet, in cultural terms, strangely far-removed past.

So it hardly matters to the audience, nor is it meant to, when MGM stand-in Capitol Pictures’ major star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped. But it means a great deal to conscientious studio executive and behind-the-scenes fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who undertakes to retrieve Baird without creating unwanted headlines.

Like his daily roaming of the back lot, during which he’s trailed by his devoted secretary, C.C. Calhoun (Frances McDormand), Eddie’s discreet efforts to resolve Baird’s disappearance introduce us to a parade of recognizable figures.

They include Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), a screen cowboy in the mold of Tom Mix; Esther Williams-like swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson); handsome Gene Kelly-style hoofer Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum); Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes), a pretentious helmer of drawing-room dramas; and Thora and Thessaly Thacker (both played by Tilda Swinton), rival gossip columnists who also happen to be sisters.

The last two are, of course, meant to recall muck mavens Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Among the stories Eddie strives to keep Thora and Thessaly from uncovering are DeeAnna’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy and Laurence’s closeted proclivities.

An obvious, though unspoken, gay subtext is on full display, however, as Burt and some extras film a musical number that matches the naval costumes of “On the Town” with lyrics paralleling the sentiments of “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” from “South Pacific.” The scene jokingly suggests that there may be an alternative after all.

Besides such exclusively adult fare, the movie’s satiric treatment of religion further restricts its suitable audience. Eddie is shown to be an absurdly scrupulous Catholic who measures the time since his last confession in hours rather than weeks or months. When abducted, moreover, Baird is playing the part of a Roman officer in the biblical epic of the title, a feature strongly resembling the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur.”

The sensitive subject matter of the fictional “Hail, Caesar!” requires that Eddie get clearance from the head of the National Legion of Decency, long-ago precursor of Catholic News Service’s Media Review Office. This leads to a meeting with an array of clergymen, the Legion’s priestly chief among them.

Besides squabbling between the lone rabbi and the representatives of Christianity over the divine status of “the Nazarene,” this powwow also sees the believers in Christ getting drawn into the logical quicksand that surrounds the mystical dogma of the Trinity, with muddled and supposedly humorous results.

In assessing such material, mature viewers will need to discern whether, in their judgment, faith itself is being ridiculed or merely the cheapening of sacred beliefs at the hands of crude moviemakers and misguided devotees. For those drawing the former conclusion, of course, “Hail, Caesar!” will qualify as offensive.

The film contains a complex treatment of religious themes, including some irreverent humor, comic references to homosexuality, as well as a couple of uses of profanity and of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG- 13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ not to mention a morally offensive rating

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Catholic News Service

That rustling sound you hear is Jane Austen and her crinolines. They’re spinning in the grave they share over a transgression called “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

Lily James and Bella Heathcote star in a scene from the movie "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." (CNS photo/Screen Gems)

Lily James and Bella Heathcote star in a scene from the movie “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” (CNS photo/Screen Gems)

As its title suggests, this comedy-drama is “Downton Abbey” meets “The Walking Dead.” The result is not pretty.

Why tamper with perfection, you might well ask. After all, Austen’’s 1813 novel of manners and relationships is considered one of the finest in English literature (and has been adapted more respectfully multiple times for film and television).

Why indeed, except perhaps to pander to a new generation of nonreaders and the current vogue for blood, guts, and anything to do with the undead. Given the context and that title no one expects Shakespeare, and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is an often enjoyable send-up of costume dramas.

Regrettably, however, the movie takes a jarring wrong turn with a disrespectful treatment of Christianity, placing what could have been an amusing, if occasionally gory, trifle well outside acceptable bounds for viewers of faith.

This detour also would have pained Austen, a clergyman’s daughter who may have poked fun at the foibles of some of her characters in the ministry, but whose underlying faith, the source of her sympathy with those very shortcomings, is evident across her works.

Outward appearances initially deceive. Working from the best-selling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also introduced the world to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), writer-director Burr Steers faithfully re-creates the look and feel of Regency England, from grand country houses set in lush parkland to costumed ladies twirling at a fancy ball.

Additionally, the basic plot is retained. A country couple, the Bennets (Charles Dance and Sally Phillips), have five daughters. Their top priority is to marry each to someone with good prospects and a healthy bank balance.

The second daughter, Elizabeth (Lily James), is a keen observer and critic of the courting rituals that result, as several eligible suitors come to call, including Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth), Parson William Collins (Matt Smith) and George Wickham (Jack Huston).

Admirers of Austen’s novel will wonder why the ladies are sitting around cleaning pistols and sharpening swords, instead of knitting, and why they conceal daggers under their skirts.

“My daughters are trained for battle, not the kitchen,” Mr. Bennet proudly tells the suitors. “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of singing, dancing and the art of war.”

So the picture veers off into an alternate universe. As this story goes, a deadly plague in the 1700s unleashed a “zombie apocalypse” with the dead rising and feasting on human flesh. Britain was overrun, and fortifications were built to contain the epidemic.

Young women like the Bennet girls were dispatched to China to learn martial arts and swordplay, transforming them into more fetching counterparts to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

As the war advances, Elizabeth, now called “Lizzie,” meets an unlikely suitor, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley). She’s repelled by his apparent arrogance but impressed by his prowess in beheading and garroting zombies.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” ultimately collapses in on its own silliness, but not before several disturbing references to the Christian faith. The worst finds zombies attending a service inside “St. Lazarus Church,” where they consume an unorthodox to say the least version of the “blood of Christ,” hoping for a cure.

The muddled proceedings leave it unclear whether evil zombies or irreverent filmmakers ought to be blamed for this ghoulish, quasi-sacrilegious parody of the Eucharist. Either way, moviegoers would do better to stay home and brush up on their Austen.

The film contains an exploitative use of the sacred, bloody violence and some sexual innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The Choice’ is benign but fails to spark

February 8th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Ever since “The Notebook” in 2004, film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’ novels have descended into benign, prepackaged comfort food.

Teresa Palmer and Ben Walker star in a scene from the movie "The Choice." (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Teresa Palmer and Ben Walker star in a scene from the movie “The Choice.” (CNS photo/Lionsgate)

So it is with “The Choice.” In keeping with the Catholic writer’s work overall, the movie tells an agreeably picturesque love story, with likable characters who briefly consider the morality of at least some of their actions. Yet, as directed by Ross Katz from Bryan Sipe’s screenplay, the picture is so intractably bland, straining not to offend, that its plot points lack all emotional tug.

The film retains Sparks’ traditional setting in coastal North Carolina, affording an opportunity for montages of moonlit beaches. There’s also a light wash about religious faith, or at least cosmic forces that control the universe.

Thus, veterinarian Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in the power of love. Hospital intern Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) chooses to believe in something bigger than herself — without, however, giving the entity in question a specific name.

Travis’ widowed father, and fellow vet, Shep (Tom Wilkinson), who’s so kindly that he’ll give a little girl a new lizard rather than tell her that her pet has died, is a more-or-less conventional churchgoer.

Like the geography, the theme will be familiar to Sparks’ fans: “Now pay attention, because I’m about to tell you the secret of life,” Travis announces at the opening. This is followed by, “Every decision you make leads to another choice.”

In reality, there are just two choices. The first is Travis and Gabby’s decision, after a series of miscues, to fall in love, even though both are in longstanding, albeit dull, relationships. That takes up the entire first hour, and is followed by marriage, two children, general bliss and many sunsets. (The couple’s option for sex before vows apparently requires no deliberation.)

The second decision is an ethical one: whether to continue extraordinary means of life support following a car crash on a stormy night. In a better-written drama, this would be the meat. Here, it’s just an excuse to pile on more cheese.

The substance of the decision isn’t shown. There’s not even much of a discussion. Either way, however, there’s no danger that Catholic moral norms concerning medical treatment will be flouted — or that viewers’ sympathy will be elicited in support of their violation.

What we’re really doing is biding our time in the hospital until we can return to the seaside.

The film contains brief semi-graphic premarital sexual activity with partial nudity, at least one mild profanity and several crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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Several compelling matchups mark boys hoops schedule

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For The Dialog

 

The season is winding down and there’s plenty of action in the boys side this week. Read more »

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