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Lessons in style: Pope’s gestures, choices are teaching moments

February 27th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — From the moment Pope Francis, dressed simply in a white cassock, stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time and bowed, he signaled his pontificate would bring some style differences to the papacy.

Some of the style changes are simply a reflection of his personality, he has explained. Others are meant to be a lesson. But sometimes the two coincide.

Pope Francis meets with the poor in 2013 at the archbishop’s residence in Assisi, Italy. Pope Francis’ most frequent advice and exhortation to Catholics: “Go forth.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Answering questions from students in June, he said the Apostolic Palace, where his predecessors lived “is not that luxurious,” but he decided to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican guesthouse, “for psychiatric reasons.”

Living alone or in an isolated setting “would not do me any good,” he said, because he’s the kind of person who prefers living in the thick of things, “among the people.” However, he added that he tries to live as simply as possible, “to not have many things and to become a bit poorer” like Christ.

Unlike his choice of residence, his decision to travel in Rome in a blue Ford Focus instead of one of the Mercedes sedans in the Vatican motor pool was meant to be a message.

Meeting with seminarians and novices in July, he said too many people, including religious, think joy comes from possessions, “so they go in quest of the latest model of smartphone, the fastest scooter, the showy car.”

“I tell you, it truly grieves me to see a priest or a sister with the latest model of a car,” he said. For many priests and religious, cars are a necessity, “but choose a more humble car. And if you like the beautiful one, only think of all the children who are dying of hunger.”

A few days after his election, Pope Francis told reporters who had covered the conclave, “How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor.”

In October, he traveled to the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi and met clients of Catholic charities in the room where St. Francis had stripped off his cloak and renounced his family’s wealth. The pope said he knew some people were expecting him to say or do something similarly shocking with the church’s material goods.

Living simply is important, he said, not just out of solidarity with the poor, but because it is so easy to get attached to worldly possessions, turning them into idols. The church, he said in Assisi, “must strip away every kind of worldly spirit, which is a temptation for everyone; strip away every action that is not for God, that is not from God; strip away the fear of opening the doors and going out to encounter all, especially the poorest of the poor, the needy, the remote, without waiting.”

The first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate also has been one of encounters.

A pope, like priests around the world, celebrates Mass every day. Before he became very infirm, Blessed John Paul II would invite visiting bishops and special guests to attend his early morning Mass in the chapel of the papal residence. Pope Benedict XVI’s morning Mass generally was more familial, including his secretaries, his butler and the women who ran the apartment.

With a much larger chapel in the Domus Sanctae Marthae and more priests and bishops in residence there, Pope Francis has had a larger congregation for his morning Masses. Although the Masses are considered private by the Vatican, Pope Francis has been inviting Vatican employees to attend, beginning with the garbage collectors and gardeners.

While transcripts of his morning homilies are not printed in the Vatican’s official daily news bulletin, excerpts are provided by the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio.

In the first months of his papacy, especially as the weather warmed up, he’d go for a walk, dropping in on Vatican workers in the garage or the power plant. And, when he has a request of a Vatican office or wants to make sure something he requested is being done, he simply picks up the phone.

Every Vatican office, not to mention the Jesuits and other religious orders, has a funny story about someone answering the phone and thinking it’s a joke when they hear, “This is Pope Francis.”

But his phone calls go well beyond the inner circle of the Vatican and the church. Pope Francis has called journalists and people either he has read about or who have written to him with stories of suffering and desperation. His telephone calls, in some ways, have taken the place of his Buenos Aires habit of riding public transportation and walking the streets of the poorer neighborhoods to stay in touch with how people really live.

While he will pose with pilgrims for photos and “selfies,” reciprocate when given a big hug, sign autographs for children and accept cups of “mate,” an herbal tea popular in parts of Latin America, he learned in Argentina that there are times when the ministry of an archbishop or pope can be used by the powerful, and he has taken steps to make sure that does not happen.

At his morning Mass and at his large public liturgies, Pope Francis gives Communion only to the altar servers and deacons, then he sits down and prays.

In a 2010 book written with Buenos Aires Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Pope Francis said that at large Masses for special occasions, Masses attended by government officials and leading business people, ”I do not give Communion myself; I stay back and I let the ministers give it, because I do not want those people to come to me for the photo op. One could deny Communion to a public sinner who has not repented, but it is very difficult to check such things.”


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Who needs Oscars? Here’s our list of 10 best pictures and 10 best family films

February 27th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

For much of 2013, Hollywood seemed to be in the doldrums, turning out a good deal of product, but very little of quality.


With the approach of year’s end, and the looming awards season, however, things improved remarkably. So much so, in fact, that by Christmas, there were an unusual number of worthwhile movies to choose from at the multiplex.

That seasonal shift is reflected in the lists below, the Media Review Office of Catholic News Service’s top 10 movies and top 10 family films for 2013. Among the score of outstanding pictures cited, in alphabetical order, only six were released in the first half of the year.

Unless otherwise noted, the Catholic News Service classification for the films on the first list is A-III — adults, and their Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

As for movies in the second category, with the exceptions indicated, their CNS classification is A-I — general patronage, while their MPAA rating is PG — parental guidance suggested, some material may not be suitable for children.


The top 10 overall:

Captain Phillips

In the engrossing, complex and compassionate docudrama “Captain Phillips,”the skipper (Tom Hanks) of a giant container ship is taken hostage by Somali pirates (led by Barkhad Abdi). Director Paul Greengrass skillfully re-creates the harrowing maritime ordeal while keeping the humanity of all those concerned in the foreground.

The uplifting historical drama “42” recounts the 1947 reintegration of professional baseball, a breakthrough made possible by the collaborative efforts of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (a splendid Harrison Ford) and Negro League star Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Writer-director Brian Helgeland’s film is buoyed by Rickey’s feisty righteousness and by the inspiring example of Robinson’s forbearance in the face of hate.


In director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron’’s thrilling adventure “Gravity,” a Russian missile strike destroys the space shuttle and maroons its only surviving crewmates (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney). The nearness of death provokes reflections on mortality and the afterlife, which are used as steppingstones toward a resolution that viewers of faith will find refreshingly pro-life.

The satisfying action sequel “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”follows the further

adventures of the two victors (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) of a survival tournament in which youngsters from an oppressed underclass must battle to the death.

In adapting the second volume in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopian trilogy, director Francis Lawrence decreases the intensity of the violence on screen, and his film’s moral center is solid.

The personal collides with the political in the affecting fact-based drama “Lee Daniels’ The 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Butler”which tells the story of a plantation worker (Forest Whitaker) who makes his way to Washington, where he finds covetedemployment on the domestic staff of the White House. Appealing performances, especially Oprah Winfrey’s complex portrayal of the main character’s wife, keep the unfolding events from feeling like a checklist of postwar history.

In the wrenching and profound multigenerational saga “The Place Beyond the Pines,”directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, a motorcycle stuntman (Ryan Gosling) re-encounters his ex-lover (Eva Mendes), who reveals they have a baby son. Determined to provide for his newfound offspring, he embarkson a spree of bank heists. The film offers a powerful message about temptation and relativism, as well as the role of conscience (L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

In director Denis Villeneuve’s powerful drama “Prisoners,” a seemingly decent family man (Hugh Jackman) turns vicious vigilante after his 6-year-old daughter and a playmate are kidnapped. Though it presents the facade of a thriller, Villeneuve’s film, which also features Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective on the case, is primarily a richly symbolic exploration of morality, the human condition and the role of religious faith in a fallen world (L, R).

Director John Lee Hancock’s fact-based film “Saving Mr. Banks” recounts the behind-the-scenes circumstances surrounding the making of the classic 1964 musical “Mary Poppins,” a process that involved an intense battle of wills between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who penned the tales on which the movie was based. The sincerity and wholesomeness of this comedy-and-drama blend make for a welcome change at the multiplex (A-II — adults and adolescents).

 “Star Trek Into Darkness” is director J.J. Abrams’ snappy follow-up to his 2009 reboot of — and parallel story to — the long-lived sci-fi franchise. Dynamic, impetuous Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his seemingly emotionless first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) lead their intrepid crew on a morally fraught crusade against an intergalactic terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch). The underlying warning against

12 Years a Slave

employing immoral means to overcome evil is both scripturally resonant and timely.

A free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living happily with his wife and children in antebellum upstate New York is lured to Washington, then kidnapped and sold into servitude in “12 Years a Slave,” director Steve McQueen’s harsh but absorbing account of America’s “peculiar institution,” based on the eponymous 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup. A searing depiction of the endurance of the human spirit against crushing odds (L, R).


The top 10 family films:

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” is a cheerful animated comedy in which the young inventor of a machine that turns water into food learns that the device, which he thought had been disabled, has continued to function. Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn’s sequel serves up colorful fun while elevating friendship and teamwork over egotism (A-II, PG).

Beautifully rendered and refreshingly good-humored, “The Croods” follows the adventures of the Stone Age family of the title as they face the perils of climate change. Directors and co-writers Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco spin a diverting tale that also carries an intriguing Christian subtext.

In the sweet animated sequel “Despicable Me 2,” the never very wicked and now thoroughly reformed villain of the original film teams with a secret agent to identify the perpetrator of a crime of global significance. The thoroughly endearing comedy showcases the transformative power of both romantic love and family affection.

“Ender’s Game,” an enlightened and well-wrought science-fiction movie, focuses on a 12-year-old chosen to lead Earth’s military forces against an alien race that 50 years earlier tried to colonize the planet, resulting in the deaths of millions. The film highlights a salubrious message about the moral pitfalls of war (A-II, PG-13).

“Epic”is a pleasant animated fantasy in which a 17-year-old girl finds herself transported to a miniature world within nature where the champions of growth and life battle the dark forces of decay. Enhanced by some lovely imagery, director Chris Wedge’s cheerful journey into the


undergrowth sends messages about environmental stewardship, teamwork and responsibility.

In the animated musical “Frozen,” the new queen of a mythical kingdom accidentally unleashes her power to create ice and snow, causing an eternal winter. This good-natured film has a nice message about the enduring bonds of family as well as a few religious overtones likely to please believers.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,”director Peter Jackson’s second installment in a trilogy of films based on Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, finds a once-timid hobbit (Martin Freeman) continuing his courageous quest to help a group of dwarves (led by Richard Armitage) recapture their ancestral

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

stronghold from the terrifying dragon (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) who displaced them. Implicit warnings against the corrupting influence of wealth and power accompany his adventures (A-II, PG-13).

“Jack the Giant Slayer” is a fun fable in which the romance between a peasant boy (Nicholas Hoult) and a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is imperiled when a beanstalk of his own unwitting creation suddenly sprouts up, carrying her aloft to a land of people-eating giants. Director Bryan Singer’s faith-tinged retelling of the classic fairy tale is set in an alternate version of the Middle Ages where characters freely acknowledge God (A-II, PG-13).

“Monsters University,” director Dan Scanlon’s animated prequel to the 2001 hit “Monsters, Inc.,” centers on two best pals were not, it seems, always so fond of one another. This tale of the duo’s college years reinforces familiar but important messages for young people (and their parents): Make friends, study hard and apply your unique talents for the greater good (G — general audiences).

Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare gets a Formula One makeover in the rollicking animated comedy “Turbo” as a garden snail’s wish for super speed is unexpectedly granted after a freak accident. The family adventure champions the underdog and upholds the bonds of familial love.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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Analysis: Organizations weigh in on how Supreme Court should handle HHS mandate

February 20th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

After ruling in 2012 that certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act stand up to constitutional scrutiny, the Supreme Court’s next dip into legal challenges to the law focuses on whether for-profit secular employers can claim religious rights protections from some provisions.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, talks with Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington July 2. The two are part of a diverse group of religious leaders urging the U.S. government to “expand conscience protections” in its Health and Human Services mandate that requires almost all employers to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

In addition to the standard briefs and replies filed by the two sides in each of the cases, the Supreme Court is being asked to consider the arguments raised by hundreds of organizations represented in “amicus” or friend-of-the-court briefs filed in advance of the court’s March 25 oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.

The court is jointly hearing the cases, in which two federal appeals courts issued opposite rulings about the companies’ claims to a religious rights-based exemption from having to provide coverage for various forms of contraception in employee health insurance. The court is under no obligation to consider “amicus” briefs, but it typically does, and sometimes cites them in rulings.

There’s been a great deal of attention within the Catholic Church, in particular, to whether church-affiliated institutions may be exempted from the contraceptive provisions, widely described as a mandate. But the cases being heard in March deal only with how that mandate applies to for-profit, secular employers.

Cases over how the mandate is applied to nonprofit religious institutions, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, are still being addressed by lower courts and are unlikely to reach the Supreme Court before its next term.

Especially in comparison to the interest in lawsuits brought by dioceses, religious orders and church-run universities, there may be less public awareness of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases than there was of the Supreme Court’s highly publicized last venture into the ACA in 2012 primarily over the requirement that individuals buy health insurance. But the advocates for either side in the current cases are no less vehement that the outcome is crucial to how the 2010 health care law works, or doesn’t.

Among legal issues the briefs raise are questions based on past rulings about the circumstances under which an employer may claim faith-based exemption from various kinds of laws; about whether the federal government is trying to define religious beliefs and about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law passed by Congress in an effort to reverse what was perceived as a rollback of Free Exercise rights in a 1990 Supreme Court ruling.

One key Supreme Court case raised in many of the amicus briefs on both sides is U.S. v. Lee, a 1982 unanimous ruling which said an Amish employer could not be exempted from paying Social Security taxes for employees of his for-profit business.

The court found that “while there is a conflict between the Amish faith and the obligations imposed by the Social Security system, not all burdens on religion are unconstitutional,” the court said. “The court may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.”

Amicus briefs supporting the government’s position that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods should not be exempted argue, for example, that “the ACA does not require corporations to administer or use the contraceptive methods to which they object, nor does it require them to adhere to, affirm or abandon a particular belief,” said a brief on behalf of 91 members of Congress.

It quoted from Lee: “Every person cannot be shielded from all the burdens incident to exercising every aspect of the right to practice religious beliefs.”

On the other side, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that applying Lee to the companies should mean “the court should accept at face value Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s earnest belief that they cannot in good conscience comply with the mandate. But instead of accepting that representation, the government would have this court conduct its own analysis of whether compliance with the mandate should be taken to violate those convictions.

“In other words, rather than analyzing whether the mandate puts substantial pressure on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga to abandon their religious opposition to providing the mandated coverage, the government would have this court evaluate whether compliance with the mandate amounts to a substantial violation of their religious beliefs.”

The dozens of amicus briefs filed on either side include sometimes unusual combinations of religious institutions, civil rights organizations, politicians, academics and secular employers.

For instance, the partners in one brief supporting the for-profit employers were Drury Hotels, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Christian Medical Association and groups of pro-life nurses and doctors. In another, Ave Maria University, a Catholic institution, teamed up with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Crescent Foods and the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, a Santeria church that brought a successful religious rights lawsuit against the city of Hialeah, Fla., over its law prohibiting animal sacrifices.

Among institutions filing solo briefs in support of the employers were the USCCB, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Medical Association, the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Family Research Council.

Other joint briefs supporting the companies were filed by: 67 Catholic theologians and ethicists; several religion-related publishers and a coalition that includes the American Bible Society, the Anglican Church in North America, Prison Fellowship Ministries and the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On the other side, one large-coalition brief was submitted on behalf of two dozen participating organizations including several Jewish institutions; Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry, both of which minister to gays and lesbians; the Hindu American Foundation; Catholics for Choice; the Women’s Ordination Conference and the Disciples of Christ Church.

A brief filed on behalf of 19 Democratic or independent senators in support of the government’s position was countered by one filed for four Republican senators on the other side. Another represented 20 church-state scholars who framed the cases in terms of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

Also filing in support of the government was a group including the Freedom From Religion Foundation; Bishopaccountability.org and several other groups whose work focuses on support for survivors of sexual abuse.


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By taking care of elders, families show all life has value, pope says

February 20th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said the worst thing about growing old is not becoming weaker or infirm, but the “abandonment, the exclusion, the deprivation of love” in today’s “throwaway culture.”

The pope’s remarks came in a written message sent to bioethicists, scientists, healthcare professionals, religious, theologians and other experts attending the Pontifical Academy for Life’s Feb. 20-21 workshop on “Aging and Disability.”

Pope Francis greets an elderly woman in a wheelchair during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope thanked the academy for its “often tiring work, because it demands going against the tide” in a world facing the “tyrannical domination of an economic logic that excludes and sometimes kills.”

“We have created a ‘throwaway’ culture” that is no longer about exploitation or oppression, but about treating people as “the outcasts, the ‘leftovers,’” he wrote, citing his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).

The elderly are particularly affected by this trend of exclusion, especially if they are ill, disabled or vulnerable in other ways, he wrote.

People forget that human relationships “are always relationships of reciprocal dependence” in which the degree of dependence changes over the course of a person’s life, especially at its early and later stages and during periods of illness or suffering.

“The loss of health and having a disability are never a good reason for exclusion or, worse, eliminating a person,” he wrote in the message.

The best place to learn the real value of human life and the duty of solidarity is the family, he wrote.

“In the family you can learn that the loss of health is not a reason to discriminate against some human lives; the family teaches not to succumb to individualism and to strike a balance between the ‘I’ and the ‘we.’”

It’s in the family that people learn that taking care of others is “a foundation of human existence,” the pope wrote. How families treat and care for their elders “becomes critical in order to reconfirm before all of society the importance of older people” and the active role they should play in the community.

Though older people may seem to “take without anything to give,” he wrote, their experience “warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes.”

Pope Francis noted the academy was celebrating 20 years since Blessed John Paul II established it to promote the dignity of life and study current challenges to life in the fields of medicine and law.

The academy’s work is meant to “let people of goodwill know that science and technology, when put at the service of the human person and his or her fundamental rights, contribute to the integral wellbeing of the person,” Pope Francis said.


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Viewpoint — Little Sisters of the Poor won’t be cheerleaders for the sexual revolution


Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius – the title of the lawsuit is chilling. A self-sacrificing order of Catholic nuns is involved in a lawsuit against the nominally Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Services. A lot had to change in America to bring about such an absurd conflict.

The lawsuit, as most of us know, has to do with the insistence of the Little Sisters that they are a religious organization and therefore should be excused from the HHS regulation requiring that their health insurance plans provide coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures without copayment or deductible. This mandate is a regulation imposed by Sebelius under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It is not part of the law, as news reports sometimes indicate.  The conflict could be ended with the stroke of a pen, but in spite of the unseemly spectacle of this lawsuit and dozens like it, the administration holds firm.

There are certainly political reasons for the administration’s position, but politics is downstream from culture, as the saying goes. Political systems and the governments tend to reflect the most widely held values in the culture. And that’s why the Little Sisters of the Poor, known and loved in this diocese, are in hot water with the government. They dare to swim upstream against the culture.

For decades now the culture has embraced the sexual revolution with its conviction that no sexual activity or arrangement is ever intrinsically wrong, so long as those involved are consenting adults (or adolescents for that matter).

What Pope Benedict before his election in 2005 called the “dictatorship of relativism” is on full display here. Nothing is good or bad in itself; whatever the self really wants it is entitled to have. And the uninhibited modern self demands unlimited access to safe sex  (The idea of “safe sex” is a magnificent bit of male chauvinism, but that’s for another day.)

The sexual revolution depends on reliable contraception. Otherwise babies might interfere. The promise of reliable contraception was fundamental in creating the notion that sex, marriage and reproduction could and should be separated.  But since people and contraception tend to be unreliable, the sexual revolution also requires abortion as a back-up to escape from consequences and responsibility.

The sexual revolution has brought catastrophe in its wake. Out of wedlock births have passed the 40 percent mark in America. Fatherless children, especially boys, face a much higher risk of failure, violence and criminality, while their sisters grow up with no idea of a husband and father.

Marriage rates decline, and in spite of the number of out of wedlock births the birthrate sinks below the replacement level putting the social safety net at risk. Sexually transmitted diseases proliferate.

Marriage itself is redefined as a contract between adults who happen to be in love, and children become a mere accessory, fine but only if they are necessary for adult happiness. Men are freed from any sense of obligation to the women they have sex with, and many are thereby rendered perpetually adolescent.

And polls show female unhappiness at historically high levels. The hook–up culture is fueled by drugs and alcohol, and the news media have finally noticed that rape on campus may be as common as in the military. There is little to indicate that people who are freed from sexual restraint are in any way happier or that society is better off as a result. The sexual revolution is a false god, and all false gods are murderous.

In few areas is the Catholic Church more countercultural than in this one. The beautiful vision of marriage as permanent, exclusive, and open to new life is foreign to the mindset of the sexual revolution. Our belief that marriage is built into nature for human good looks quaint. The idea that marriage is sacramental, that it brings grace and aids us on the way to salvation, is incomprehensible.

Powerful forces find this Christian understanding of marriage and sex not just odd but intolerable. For them not even the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion may be allowed to slow down the sexual revolution.

The lack of free birth control would inhibit the imperial self’s unalienable right to sex. Therefore, the Little Sisters of the Poor must pay. Never mind that the pill is cheap. Never mind that all sorts of necessary medications are not mandated in the same way, like insulin or antibiotics.

The HHS mandate makes no sense apart from the sexual revolution. The medications involved are legal, inexpensive, widely available and often subsidized by the government. Sandra Fluke, the cover girl for the mandate, manages to pay $50,000 a year in tuition at Georgetown Law School, but her need for free contraception is so absolute that the First Amendment must yield to it.  She must get her way, for then the sexual revolution is cheered and the Little Sisters are forced to cheer along.

It’s the cheering that the opposition demands. The church has no stake in controlling private behavior. In the words of Blessed John Paul II the church never imposes but only proposes. The church has learned to live and indeed to thrive in an open, pluralistic culture. And even in the Middle Ages and early modern era when the church sometimes did impose, it was never imagined that everything immoral should be illegal. We neither impose nor propose anything of the sort today. We simply propose the beauty of marriage.

Why, then, can the sexual revolutionaries not leave us, and the Little Sisters, alone?  The answer is quite clear. They demand to be cheered and enabled because at some level they are uncertain.

The culture is desperately afraid that it might be wrong. Promiscuity may be widely celebrated and giggled about, but there is a deep insecurity abroad, for God never meant sex to be safe and it cannot be domesticated by education and technology. The audacity of those stubborn nuns challenges the status quo. And the very existence of the Catholic Church threatens the dictatorship of relativism with the possibility of truth.

But if we can be forced to cooperate, if we can be co-opted, if we can be pushed into silence, then the hazard of the truth is removed. To live and let live is not enough.  Tolerance is not enough. If that were the case, the HHS mandate would never have been considered. Approval, endorsement and cheering are required.

There is a scarcely concealed secularist totalitarianism behind all this. Our opponents do not seek liberty; they already have it. They want control. Religion, conscience, and dissent and disrupt the smooth movement away from the noble American tradition of ordered liberty toward managed libertinism.

It’s not a matter of a few dollars more going to a health insurance plan. What is at stake in the Little Sisters’ courageous stand and that of the many other plaintiffs, Catholic and Protestant, is freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of association and freedom of conscience. What is at stake is the established American commitment that some things are outside the power of the state and that it’s better for everyone that they are.

On that the church too has always insisted.  Early Christians died rather than place a pinch of incense on the altar before the icon of the emperor. The same principle is at play today. God bless the Little Sisters for their refusal to offer incense to anyone but God.  They deserve our ardent support. They deserve our prayers. And they deserve from us the energy and the courage to recognize what is at stake.

Father Klein is director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Wilmington.

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Massachusetts abbey now producing only Trappist ale outside Europe


SPENCER, Mass. — “It’s a very put-together Belgian beer.”

That was the assessment of Chris Pierce, assistant beer manager at Julio’s Liquors in Westborough. He was talking about Spencer Trappist Ale, brewed at the Spencer Brewery at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer.

Bottles of Spencer Trappist Ale are displayed Jan. 23 at Spencer Brewery at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Mass. The ale was awarded the designation “Authentic Trappist Product” by the International Trappist Association Dec. 10, 2013, according to the brewery website. (CNS photo/L.A. Faille, Catholic Free Press)

The ale went on sale for the first time in January at Julio’s outlets in Massachusetts. Until now, Trappist ale was brewed only in Europe.

“We had a very good sale,” Pierce said. The store sold 55 cases, each containing six four-packs. That’s 1,320 bottles. They were gone in two hours.

Since then, he said, the store has gotten nonstop calls asking when more of the ale would be available.

At Spencer Country Spirits, owner Alan Letendre said there has been such a demand that, after he sold out his 50 cases, he started a list for people who come in to buy the ale.

He said the day the delivery truck came to his store, he took a picture of the delivery men wheeling in the cases and posted the picture on Facebook. The beer arrived at noon. All 50 cases ,1,200 bottles, were gone by 9 p.m.

“I haven’t had a chance to try some myself,” he told The Catholic Free Press, Worcester’s diocesan newspaper. “This was a response like I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been in the business since 1990.”

The source of the new ale that is causing the excitement is a new building on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Abbey. It is a long, stainless steel, silver-gray, 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art brewery located in a section of the 2,000-acre property that is closed to the public. It looks nothing like the other buildings at St. Joseph’s Abbey, which are stone and wood, for the most part.

It is the first brewery at a Trappist monastery in the United States. Eight other Trappist monasteries, all in Europe, also have breweries. Six are in Belgium, one is in the Netherlands and one is in Germany.

According to the International Trappist Association, to become an authentic Trappist product, the ale must be brewed inside the walls of a Trappist monastery by the monks or under their supervision, must be of secondary importance within the monastery and should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic life. The brewery is not intended to make a profit. Income covers living expenses of the monks and maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity and to help people in need.

Spencer Trappist Ale was awarded the designation “Authentic Trappist Product” by the International Trappist Association Dec. 10, 2013, according to the brewery website, http://spencerbrewery.com.

The Trappists at St. Joseph’s Abbey make a wide assortment of jams and jellies, which they have sold for nearly 60 years. Under the Trappists’ direction, the Holy Rood Guild on the grounds also makes and sells religious vestments. These enterprises produce income to support the brothers and pay the bills.

But jam- and jelly-making is labor intensive. The 63 brothers and priests at the abbey aren’t getting any younger and it was felt that another source of income was needed.

Father Isaac Keeley, brewery director, said there were long and animated discussions about whether the abbey should start a brewery. They hired a consultant and came up with a detailed business plan. Finally, they decided to make Trappist ale. Several of them, including Father Keeley, traveled to Belgium to consult with the Trappists there.

The Belgian Trappists at first were less than enthused by the idea of a Trappist ale being made in the United States. They weren’t sure the new ale would be up to Trappist standards. But they asked that the Spencer Brewery produce just one product. They also suggested, Father Keeley said, that “you buy the very best equipment you can find and maybe a bit more.”

The brewery, costing several million dollars, was financed by some of the Trappists’ funds and bank loans. It was named the Spencer Brewery because, as Father Dominic Whebee, prior, said, the Trappist tradition is to name the facility after the town where it is located.

The Trappists at St. Joseph Abbey researched the craft of beer-making and sent two Trappist brothers to Belgium, one for six months, the other for seven, to learn how ale is made in monasteries there. The Spencer brewery uses water from wells on the abbey grounds, malt barley from the Midwest, Canada and upstate New York, and hops from the West Coast.

Some of that could change. In a field near the brewery the Trappists planted 10 acres of barley last September. It should be ready for harvest in July or August, Father Isaac said, and could be used in the brewery.

To start the brewing process, grain, kept in a silo outside the brewery, is pumped into one of three huge stainless steel kettles and mixed with water. At various stages the grain is removed, hops are added, the liquid is cooled, then piped into fermenting vessels where the yeast, called “family yeast” because it is like the yeast used by the European Trappists, is added.

When it is ready it flows to the bottling area where the bottles are filled and capped and put into four-packs. They are put in cardboard cases, six four-packs to a case. The cases are put on wood pallets, wrapped in plastic and stored in a temperature-controlled warehouse. The entire process is automated on an assembly line requiring human eyes but not human hands.

It takes six hours to brew the ale, two weeks for it to ferment, and three weeks in the warehouse to allow the yeast to work.

The grain, filtered out in the early brewing stages, goes to dairy farmers who feed it to their cattle.

Father Isaac said there are 15 monks working in the brewery. Supervising the brewing operation is Hubert deHalleux, a Belgian who has a master’s degree in brewing science. He and his wife will be here for about two years, training the Trappists. There also are several Italian and German experts working out any problems in the bottling plant.

The monks at the abbey will be able to have the ale at Sunday dinner and on special holidays, Father Whebee said. They were recently introduced to at dinner.

“They liked it,” he said.

Clew is contributing editor at The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester.

By William T. Clew


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Abortions from 2008 to 2011 decline 13 percent, lowest rate since 1973


WASHINGTON — Weeks after the national March for Life rally in Washington, the Guttmacher Institute reported a 13 percent drop in national abortion rates from 2008 to 2011 — making for the lowest rate since 1973 when abortion on demand was legalized in the U.S.

Shanya McCleary of St. Mary Parish in East Islip, N.Y., smiles as she and fellow pro-life advocates walk from Union Station to participate in the March for Life in Washington Jan. 22. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

However, “no evidence was found” of a correlation between the declining rate and new abortion restrictions set between 2008 and 2011, said the study released Feb. 3.

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, stated that the study “shows the long-term efforts of the right-to-life movement,” even though Guttmacher gave no credit to groups against abortion.

Legislative efforts and pro-life campaigns “should not be minimized when discussing the decline in abortion numbers,” Tobias said in an NRLC news article.

The study reported 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 2011, totaling almost 1.1 million abortions that year. The peak was in 1981 with nearly 30 abortions per 1,000 women, according to The Associated Press.

Guttmacher wrote that “more effective contraceptive methods” may have contributed to the decline in unintended pregnancies, thus causing a decline in abortions.

“Contraceptive use improved during this period, as more women and couples were using highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptive methods,” Rachel Jones, an author of the study, told the AP.

Jones said the recent recession may have also contributed to the decline in pregnancy rates, as more women wanted to “avoid or delay pregnancy and child bearing” in tough economic times.

The student also showed a 4 percent drop in the number of abortion providers, but that had no effect on the decline in abortion rate, Jones said.

Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said the authors of the study “conceded the fact that there was no data” to confirm a direct link between legislation and abortion decline, implying there was no way to trace such evidence.

“They have decent data that’s not 100 percent accurate, and they say that in the (study),” Monahan told Catholic News Service.

Despite this, March for Life and other organizations need data from the Guttmacher Institute to track measurement, she said, because there are no official government reports that have the same data.

Though pro-life organizations see positive signs in Guttmacher’s study, Monahan said there’s more to do.

“Obviously, we’’re delighted,” she said of the decline. “It’s great news for women and (the) babies … but the statistic ‘1.1 million’ is still so sad.”

Though the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall has come and gone — it was Jan. 22 — Monahan encouraged pro-life supporters on the March for Life organization’s blog to “make an impact all year-round in our communities, be it through starting a group, writing an op-ed, joining a school board or health board, or praying in front of an abortion clinic.”

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, issued a statement Feb. 4 in response to the study and NRLC’s article.

“A decline in abortion, for whatever reason, leads us closer to our goal of protecting children in the womb by law,” he said. “The fewer abortions there are, the more legislators will consider it realistic to change public policy on the matter, and the more judges will consider it prudent to uphold such changes.”

In a Feb. 10 commentary posted on the website of the Witherspoon Institute, Richard M. Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, noted various inconsistencies in the study by Guttmacher, which he said is described as a “pro-abortion-rights” think tank. He said Guttmacher’s “spin overwhelms its reporting.”

In one example, the study mentions there were 49 fewer abortion clinics from 2008 to 2011 and said that accounted for a 4 percent drop in the number of abortion providers. But Doerflinger said he did his own calculation of the study’s numbers and the number of abortion clinics dropped from 378 to 329 in that time period, which is a decline of … 13 percent,” the same as the decline in the number of abortions, he noted.

“The significance of this figure … is underscored by Guttmacher’s apparent effort to hide it,” he wrote.

Furthermore, he said, each abortion clinic performs up to 5,000 each year, so closing just one clinic could still have “a significant impact” on overall abortion decline.

“In short, pro-life Americans should rejoice at the good news, and redouble their efforts to help pregnant women and their unborn children,” Doerflinger wrote. “Notwithstanding the spin doctors of the abortion industry, we are seeing some light at the end of that long dark tunnel.”

— By Navar Watson


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Burning issue: Polish cardinal defends publication of Blessed John Paul’s notebooks


Catholic News Service

WARSAW, Poland — The former personal secretary of Blessed Pope John Paul II has approved the publication of the late pontiff’s private notebooks, despite a request in his will that they should be burned.

A man looks at a copy of “I Am Very Much in God’s Hands” at a bookstore in Warsaw, Poland, Feb. 5. Blessed Pope John Paul II’s former personal secretary called the collection of notes a great testimony to the “spirituality of a great pope.” (CNS photo/Kacper Pempel, Reuters)

“In writing his will, the Holy Father knew he was entrusting these notebooks to someone who would treat them responsibly,” said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who not only served as the pope’s personal secretary throughout his almost 27-year pontificate, but was his secretary in Krakow, had been a student of then-Father Karol Wojtyla in the seminary and was ordained to the priesthood by him in 1963.

“I had no doubt these were such important items, testifying to the spirituality of a great pope, that it would be a crime to destroy them,” Cardinal Dziwisz told a Jan. 22 news conference in the southern Polish city to announce the release of the notebooks by the local Znak publishing house.

However, the planned Feb. 5 publication of the notebooks has been widely criticized in Poland as an act of disloyalty toward the late pope, who said in his will, published at his death in April 2005, that he counted on his secretary to ensure his wishes were observed after his “years of cooperation and help, full of understanding.”

An expert on the Catholic Church’s communist-era role, Father Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, urged Poles to boycott Znak and said publication of the notebooks would be “very hurtful” in “consciously violating the pope’s will.”

“In European culture, a final will is always binding, as long as its realization isn’t against the law and morality; this is required not just by legal statutes and good manners, but also by respect for the dead,” the priest told Poland’s TVN television.

“This public act of disobedience is a form of anti-witness and can’t be justified by any explanation that it’s for the good of the church. Does a clergyman serving as a secretary know better than St. Peter’s successor?” he asked.

In a statement, Znak said Cardinal Dziwisz had acted “out of respect for John Paul II” in not destroying the “two simple notebooks,” covering the years 1962-2003, which contained the pope’s “most important personal questions.”

It added that the 640-page book, “I Am Very Much in God’s Hands,” would reveal Blessed John Paul’s “care for his dearest friends and collaborators, and the church entrusted to him,” and allow readers to “know Karol Wojtyla’s weaknesses,” and “accompany the pope at moments of his greatest closeness to God.” The former pope will be canonized April 27 at the Vatican.

Znak’s director, Henryk Wozniakowski, described the notebooks as “a publisher’s dream,” adding that Znak was ready to collaborate with “all the biggest world publishing houses” on foreign-language editions.

However, a Catholic Polish Radio commentator called the publication “no more than a marketing ploy.”

“The pope left a great deal behind him, illuminating his views and beliefs in every area, and these notebooks merely confirm what we already know,” the commentator, Malgorzata Glabisz-Pniewska, told Catholic News Service Jan. 27.

“Having given so much of himself to the world, John Paul II had a right to keep something private. He taught us the good of the individual, however interesting to others, must always take priority over the good of society,” she said.

Cardinal Dziwisz, 74, said in the foreword to the new book that he had “faithfully followed the Holy Father’s will” after his death by “distributing all his possessions, particularly his personal mementos.”

However, he added that he had not “had the courage to burn the notebooks” because they “contained important information about his life” and provided “the key to his spirituality.”

Speaking at the January news conference, Cardinal Dziwisz said he would use his share of profits from the book to complete a 13,000 square-foot complex being built at a cost of $ 40 million in memory of Blessed John Paul in Krakow. The complex will include a basilica housing blood and other relics from the pope.

He added that burning the pontiff’s notebooks would have been comparable to destroying the wartime letters and notebooks of Pope Pius XII, which many historians and researchers had since “deeply regretted.”

The former secretary -general of Poland’s bishops’ conference, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, told Catholic News Service Jan. 27 that he believed the pope had “not left an unambiguous instruction” to burn the notebooks, adding that Blessed John Paul would have agreed to their publication if they were judged “creative and useful to others.”

The editor of Krakow’s Catholic Tygodnik Powszechny weekly, Piotr Mucharski, told CNS he believed criticisms would die down when readers saw the value of the book.


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Chinese Catholics begin new year by honoring ancestors


CHICAGO — Outside the wooden doors of St. Therese Chinese Catholic Church in Chicago, the piercing crackle of hundreds of firecrackers ushered in the lunar new year.

Fathers CheLong Bai and RunBao Zhang pass out red envelopes following Mass Feb. 2 at St. Therese Chinese Church in Chicago’s Chinatown as part of a kick-off of the Chinese lunar new year. A red envelope is a monetary or other gift given during holidays or special occasions. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Then a bright red lion moved up and down the aisles in the church, dancing to the staccato pulse of drums and cymbals. After the lion’s performance, elementary school girls twirled around holding big paper fans in a dance in front of the altar. Then the Mass started.

Reading in Chinese from two big scrolls hanging on either side of the altar draped in festive red cloth with a golden dragon and festooned with yellow chrysanthemums, Father Francis Li proclaimed in his homily: “Whoever reveres one’s parents prolongs one’s life. Whoever obeys the Lord brings comfort to one’s parents.”

“Parents are important,” said Father Li, pastor at St. Therese. “Children are important. Life is important in our Catholic culture and faith. This is true for the Chinese culture, too.”

For the past two decades, St. Therese has combined elements of the Chinese new year with elements of Catholicism during the first Sunday Mass after the new year begins.

In an interview with Catholic News Service, Father Li highlighted some of the major points.

In the Chinese new year “there is an expectation for new things to happen, for better things to happen, for good things to happen,” Father Li said. “In that sense … that’s what our celebrations of Christmas and Easter are about. We celebrate the new life in God.”

He also said being with family was an essential part of the new year custom. This also includes those who came before.

After Communion, there was a solemn tribute to venerate ancestors. Three big sticks of incense burned at a table set before the altar. Offerings of oranges, traditional new year rice cake, rice wine and flowers surrounded the incense.

According to the program, the incense is a “symbol of our voices raised in prayer to proclaim our gratitude and love for God.” The fruit is offered in recognition of being the fruit of one’s ancestors’ love and of one’s children being the fruits of their love, while the rice cake symbolized “how God satisfies our hunger for him in life.”

At a lectern, longtime St. Therese parishioner John Lin read an introduction to the veneration.

He read, “We are not worshipping idols. We are reminding ourselves in this ceremony that we are the beneficiaries of the good deeds (of) our ancestors and we should continue their tasks by following Christ’s teachings. And pass it along to our future generations.”

Lin said that explaining this distinction was necessary because it wasn’t until the early 1930s, that the Vatican accepted this practice among Chinese Catholics.

“The missionaries came to China and saw people using incense, like today, doing this ancestral veneration. So for people that do not understand the culture they would take this as worshipping idols,” said Lin. “But in actual fact there’s a lot more to that because in Chinese culture it is very important to pay respects to your elders, whether they’re living or deceased. And so that is the interesting part … that concept is exactly the same as the Catholic communion of saints.”

The Mass concelebrants bowed three times before the incense to pay their respects. Then they invited the congregation made up of different races and ethnicities such as Italian, Indonesian and Hispanic and some non-Catholics to also bow thrice in honor of their ancestors.

Sister Muriel Cameron, a Religious of the Sacred Heart, called the Mass “beautiful.”

“I come from a part of the United States in the south where there is very much veneration of ancestors,” Sister Cameron said. “Family heritage is very important. … It’s a precious belief and as Christians we see it even more profoundly. And I like the idea that we honor the faith and the culture and the life that is already in people and see Christ in that.”

Sharon Wong led the planning of the celebration. The 35-year-old said that the even smallest details, such as the decorations, and Catholic elements were integrated into Chinese tradition.

“I think it’s a very great opportunity … for parishioners, especially Chinese to have something to promote our culture,” said Wong.

— By Simone Orendain


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Auks’ girls win fifth straight with upset of No. 4 St. Elizabeth


For The Dialog


WILMINGTON — Senior Katelyn Payne scored eight of Archmere’s 10 points in overtime, including a pair of clutch free throws with five seconds left to lead the unranked Auks to a 45-42 win at No. 4 St. Elizabeth on Tuesday night at the St. E Center. It was the Auks’ fifth win in a row and ended St. Elizabeth’s four-game winning streak.

The teams were close all night, with the biggest lead, five points, coming in overtime when Archmere went up, 40-35. Read more »

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