Elsewhere: making a mess


Pope Francis’ trip to South America has ended. He has returned to Rome and will be less in the spotlight, thank goodness! The Holy Father is, of course, rock-solid in his beliefs and teaching. His homilies are very good. He has challenged us to look outward more than we have been and to focus on the person. Two years ago he urged us to “make a mess” — that is, to shake things up.

In practice, this has been both good and bad. Sadly, the bad has often been unnecessary. For example, the environment encyclical (Laudato Si) gave unnecessary scientific and economic conclusions. While comprising only a small part of the document, the legs are knocked-out from under its crucial teaching on faith and morals. Political liberals (including most of the mass media) have cherry-picked only the handful of sentences they like and ignore the rest. Political conservatives discount the entire document for exactly those same lines. Those statements were completely unnecessary to the main points.

On this recent trip, Pope Francis accepted a crucifix combined with a hammer and sickle (willingly, the earlier reports that he said “this is wrong” were not accurate). This may be reaching out to people where they are, but will almost universally be taken differently. Accepting this (sacrilege in my opinion) was unnecessary and will drown-out his other messages.

There are, of course, the constant stream of comments he makes which are taken out of context. Pope Francis’ actual points are typically good or even excellent, yet are unnecessarily lost because of the casual, off-the-cuff style. At some point, I would hope that he would grow more into the office and adjust to avoid this.

The last and perhaps most important area of troublesome prudential choices are his appointments. They are numerous, from pontifical councils to cardinals, many with non-Catholic ideological viewpoints, histories of suppressing traditional teaching and practice, decimation of seminaries, and yes – even sex abuse entanglements. These people can do great, long-lasting harm.

Finally, the biggest red-flag for all of us (especially for the Holy Father himself) is how much the “world” loves Pope Francis. Why is that? Is it because they have learned the truth of Christ and will amend their ways (even a teeny, tiny bit)? Or, is it because they believe (albeit incorrectly) that their views and ideology are affirmed?

Paul Kengor wrote an wonderful piece for the always excellent Crisis Magazine on this general topic. It was written before the pope’s recent trip and is more narrowly focused than my comments above, but is a bit more optimistic.

Many Catholics, especially conservative ones, obviously aren’t thrilled with the pope’s new encyclical. I find myself once again spending a lot of time explaining to non-Catholics why the current pope is either not a Marxist or is being yet again misunderstood for the 999th time. Frankly, I’ve lost most of my credibility with these folks, who surely see me as a hopelessly blind Catholic.

This constant defense-mode has been unique in the case of this particular pope. Sure, much of the fault is with those looking to remake this pope and this Church in their own image, and I’d even add (in Francis-like thinking) that the Devil himself has made a mess of things. Yet, much of it is absolutely the pope’s own doing, as Francis is the master of the imprecise word and off-the-cuff sloppy statement. He — and they — keep us faithful Catholics busy. All of which brings me to the new encyclical on “climate change.”

The secular left, of course, loves this encyclical. As I write, the farthest reaches of the left, People’s World, house organ of Communist Party USA, has two articles singing atheistic hosannas to the bishop of Rome. This has become common at People’s World. The successor to the Soviet-directed Daily Worker is a vigorous champion of this pope. There truly has never been a pope that communists have embraced like Pope Francis. Believe me, I research this, I know.

“The Roman Catholic Church and the U.S. labor movement are working more closely together than ever,” celebrates a feature article at the current People’s World.

“The Pope calls for serious and immediate action to address climate change and other environmental crises,” crows a second article. “The encyclical addresses issues of water stress, biodiversity, pollution, the declining quality of life, economic inequality, and more.”

Noticeably absent among the “more” were Pope Francis” eloquent statements about protecting other of God’s creation, such as unborn babies, the most innocent victims of secular progressivism’s “throwaway culture.” That’s one aspect of the encyclical that the left is avoiding like toxic waste. Indeed, the People’s World article closes: “while the Pope is progressive on many issues including climate, the Catholic Church continues to be backward on issues of reproductive health, women’s choice, same sex marriage, and other issues.”

The article goes on to offer hope, suggesting Pope Francis will bring his substantial reservoir of good will to bear on the family. Read the article Fear Not, Faithful Catholics for Kengor’s thesis.

Elsewhere: Church growth


Last month a Pew Research Center study (America’s Changing Religious Landscape) was widely covered in the media. Among the key findings is a significant decline in those who identify as Catholic (23.9% to 20.8%) or mainline Protestants (18.1% to 14.7%). Further, there has been a significant increase in those who identify as “none”(16.1% to 22.8%).

Last week the Catholic News Agency reported on a CARA study (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University) on how the (Catholic) Church is doing worldwide. Overall, it is strongly growing. Europe is described as “waning” while the Americas (overall, not just the US) and Oceania are “slowing”. More than balancing these trends is the explosive growth in Asia and Africa.

While various factors are noted, one of the disturbing trends is the fall-off in sacramental participation as individual members age. This seems to be a problem everywhere, although masked more in some areas by growth than in others.

The article offers some speculation on possible causes. In my opinion, it is largely the fruit of Vatican II “spirit” (not actual Vatican II teaching) applied over decades. This covers a lot, but specifically poor catechesis and the continual watering-down of the Mass (liturgy, music, architecture). Looking like mainline Protestants (declining themselves) has NEVER drawn non-Catholics to the Church.

The global Catholic population is growing — so quickly, in fact, that priest and parish numbers cannot keep up, says a new study on trends in the worldwide Church.

And this poses a challenge: With an overall growth in the number of Catholics, especially in Africa and Asia, but not enough growth in the number of parishes and priests to supplement it, there are fewer opportunities for Catholics to receive the sacraments and participate in their parishes.

“The Church still faces a global 21st century problem of keeping Catholics engaged with parish and sacramental life,” stated the study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

The study “Global Catholicism” drew from Vatican statistics and other surveys since 1980 to detail where the Catholic Church has grown and shrunk at the parish level and to predict the demographics of the next few decades for the Church.

This growth was examined at the parish level because parish life is ultimately the “brick and mortar” of the Church where Catholics receive the sacraments, associate with fellow Catholics, and participate the most in their faith, the study explained.

It tallied the growth of Catholics, priests, religious, parishes, reception of sacraments, seminarians, and Catholic welfare institutions like hospitals and schools in five regions — Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and the Americas.

The overall finding of the report is that the Church is in the midst of a “dramatic realignment.” It is waning in its historical center of Europe, its growth is slowing in the Americas and Oceania, and it is booming in Asia and Africa.

This forecasts a Catholic shift away from the traditional centers of Europe and the Americas and toward the “Global South,” the mostly-developing parts of the world that include Central and South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Oceania, and much of the Far East.

Dr. Mark Gray, a senior research associate with CARA, explained the implications of this shift to CNA in an interview.

One problem highlighted by the study is that most of the world’s parishes are still in Europe and the Americas, where the Church is declining or stagnating in population. The developing world is seeing more Catholics, but not nearly enough parishes to serve them.

“You’ve got all these beautiful parishes,” Gray said of Europe. “You can’t pick them up and send them from one part of the world to another very easily. So in one place the Church is going to have to close parishes, and in another place it’s going to have to build a bunch more, and it’s going to have to figure out how to manage its clergy.”

Another finding of the report is that Catholics are participating less in the Church as they grow older, as seen in sacramental participation rates.

In every region, the number of infant baptisms per 1,000 Catholics is greater than the number of first Communions, which is greater than the number of confirmations, which is greater than the number of marriages conducted within the Church.

While this may not be surprising in regions like Europe, which is seeing an overall decline of priests and religious, it is also the case throughout other regions where Church numbers are growing.

The whole article is not long and worth the read: Priests needed: As Church growth explodes worldwide, parishes can’t keep up.

The CARA study itself is also available: Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts. There are lots of charts and graphs!

Elsewhere: the “eco-encyclical”


The long awaited encyclical on the environment was officially released yesterday. Laudato Si’ (“Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore” which is “Praise be to you, my Lord”) is very good, taken as a whole to teach the truth of our faith. Unfortunately, my bet is that many will pull quotes out of context to buttress partisan political positions.

It is NOT a political document. It teaches our unchanging faith applied to modern times. Of course, it is not perfect as the product not only of the Holy Father, but I am sure many collaborators. Where it is weak is when it deviates from faith and morals to draw scientific and economic conclusions. IMHO, this is a mistake both because those assertions are not as conclusive as presented and because they distract from an otherwise good presentation.

Buckle-up. Expect to see all manner of misrepresentation in the liberal (which is most of it) mainstream media. Their focus will be tight, very tight, on climate change, its magnitude and man’s direct role. They will also misrepresent the level to which Catholics must assent to every statement in the document, particularly those on science and economics. They will completely ignore most of the document as it runs fairly counter to their agenda.

To that end, the editors at The Stream have put together a list of things you probably WON’T hear about (from the MSM):

(1) Creation has a Creator, and is more than just “nature-plus-evolution”:
(75) A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshiping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.

(77) “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps 33:6). This tells us that the world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things: “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it” (Wis 11:24). Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection. Saint Basil the Great described the Creator as “goodness without measure,” while Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves the sun and the stars.” Consequently, we can ascend from created things “to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy.”

(2) Human ecology means recognizing and valuing the difference between masculinity and femininity:
(155) Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man,” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will.” It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”

(3) Jesus sanctifies human work:
(98) Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mk 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with a special significance for our development. As Saint John Paul II taught, “by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity.”

(4) Look up from your phones and encounter each other

(5) Save the baby humans

(6) Helping the poor requires more than just handouts

(7) Overpopulation is not the problem

(8) True ecology requires true anthropology and respect for human dignity

(9) Real change requires a change in culture, not just politics

(10) The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions, and we need an honest and open debate

(11) Stop with the cynicism, secularism and immorality

You should be shaking your head “yes!” Read the entire piece 11 Things You Probably Won’t Hear about Pope Francis’ Encyclical.

Other good resources:

Elsewhere: criticizing the pope


The Holy Father is Christ’s vicar on Earth. He is the successor of Peter and is due our utmost respect. We should also recognize the significant sacrifice that he makes in accepting the office and the burden placed on his shoulders by such enormous responsibility.

He is also human, and except when formally speaking on matters of faith and morals with the intention of declaring infallible doctrine, may error. Even so, in charity and caution, it is usually unwise to be critical of the pope for many reasons (the first of which is you are probably wrong).

In the case of Pope Francis in particular, much of what is reported has been distorted, taken out of context, or severely twisted. I have found much of what he says goes under-reported and is actually (as one might expect from the pope) very good and worthy of thoughtful reflection.

Unfortunately, there are other times where his actions (or inaction) are problematic. Indications are we may be headed for very, very rough waters this fall as the synod on the family continues. So, what is a faithful Catholic to do? Is it wrong to speak-up or wrong to remain silent?

Steve Skojec looks at this in a recent piece on his popular blog 1 Peter 5:

I take serious issue, however, with the implication that anyone who engages in any sort of papal criticism is somehow a “spiritual pornographer” or, by insinuation,’virulently anti-Catholic.” These labels make faithful Catholics – priests and laity alike – afraid to speak the truth. Whether this is because they will lose family and friends, their jobs, or their funding, they are put in a position where voicing their thoughtful concerns becomes a serious liability. It has a stifling effect on much-needed conversation from the very people who are most qualified to offer more light than heat: parish priests, knowledgeable Catholic writers, and perhaps most especially, trained theologians in academia. These last, if they are faithful enough to Rome to have taken the oath of fidelity to the Magisterium, find themselves over a barrel: they are obligated to defend the faith, but how can they do so when it means addressing their concerns about the pope? Under accusations such as those popularized by Church Militant and others, they can lose their mandatum to teach the faith to the very students who will soon find themselves in the heart of the growing crisis.

Being afraid to speak the truth in times like these is a very dangerous thing indeed.

In response to the argument itself, the assertion that a person exposed to papal criticism will feel that they have no choice but to leave the Church, develop a schismatic mentality, or become an apostate simply does not follow. On the contrary, I’ve heard from people who are so distressed by the normalcy bias that they’re seeing when faced with troubling words or actions on the part of the pope that they have given voice to their own desire to leave the Church, or not to join it as they had previously intended. They want to know that what they’re thinking – that there are real problems being manifested that go against their understanding of Catholicism – doesn’t make them crazy. It’s absurd to believe that reassuring these people by asserting the unchanging truths of the faith – and contrasting them, when necessary, against the present situation – would somehow have a deleterious effect.

Put more simply: we didn’t make this mess, but pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t going to make it go away. Want people to stay faithful? Help them to see how what’s happening doesn’t mean Catholicism is false, but rather, is suffering exactly as we were always told it would. Show them what is true, and what the limits and boundaries of assent require. Give them a path forward, not out.

To that end, we need to look to our Church’s history. Would we say that the bishops of the Third Council of Constantinople, which posthumously anathematized Pope Honorius I for heresy, were “spiritual pornographers” or scandalizers of the faithful? Would we make such claims about the Theology faculty at the University of Paris who opposed the heresies in the personal sermons of Pope John XXII – or King Philip VI, who forbade them from being taught?

Taken further, would we make such claims about St. Paul, who publicly reprimanded the very first pope, the one chosen by Christ Himself?

There is a lot more in this thought provoking piece: Can a Catholic Criticize the Pope?. Also take a look at the many comments (over 180 as I write this).

Elsewhere: Catholic charities


People are overwhelmed by the number of worthy, charitable causes in the world. Researching, selecting, contacting and donating can be time consuming. This is one big reason why charities like the United Way are successful.

Here in the United States, two big efforts operated by the bishops’ conference (USCCB) are Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. On paper, they both look good. It does not take much investigation however, to uncover a long history of problems in the CCHD. They continue supporting causes which are directly opposed to Catholic teaching in abortion, sexuality and other areas. As a result of increased public awareness, some improvement has been made but very serious problems remain with little apparent effort other than PR to address them. Many, including myself, have urged folks not to support the CCHD during the annual appeals.

The argument is made that recipients of CCHD funds do much good, in addition to some immoral acts. Further, CCHD funds can be given with stipulations that they not support those immoral acts. This is naive and more than a bit disingenuous. Firstly, money is fungible. Secondly, it builds and strengthens immoral organizations. Thirdly, it is cause for scandal.

“An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.

So that is a BIG “NO” to material cooperation with evil (even if it is remote) through the CCHD (Catholic Campaign for Human Development).

The CRS (Catholic Relief Services) has not had the historically terrible track-record of the CCHD. In my mind, they had done a lot of good and I have donated. Unfortunately, it now appears that CRS is following in the footsteps of the CCHD and can no longer be blindly trusted by faithful Catholics.

Michael Hichborn has an excellent, well researched piece at the Lepanto Institute:

Here are just a few of the recent findings against CRS:

In each of these cases, CRS was provided with grant money for the implementation of each of these programs and documents.

The last point Dr. Woo makes in response to concerned Catholics gives the appearance that CRS is going to retain the employment of a same-sex “married” vice president:

“Number three, …CRS has a senior person who is in a civil gay marriage, and the question is, “Is that a violation of Church teaching?” I just want to say we are working through this. Gay marriage, of course, is a very complex issue. The Church is very clear that marriage as a sacrament is a between a man and a woman open to procreation. There’s also the Church teaching on natural law. Those are the teachings. – Does it mean that the Church should not employ anyone who is in a gay marriage? Are we giving a blanket No?…   If it’s not a blanket No, are there particular positions, such as positions that are ministerial in nature, positions which relate to the formation of the faith of young children at school? …   While the teaching is clear, as it translates into practice there has not been defined a common approach for dealing with employment, particularly when the position is non-ministerial, when the person is not a Catholic, when the agency is not a school. So we’re in that area when there have been various steps forward, but not a clear path.

Civil marriage is protected by the State of Maryland and 36 other states, as well as DC, so we’re also dealing with a new intersection between in this case state law and Church teaching where the practice is being defined.

For one thing, “gay marriage” is not a complex issue when it comes to the Church. It is an abomination before the eyes of the Lord. No matter which governments pretend to enact such a thing as law, what legal frameworks are erected around it, or what material consequences may arise from standing against it, the fact remains that Truth is Truth and evil must be opposed by the Catholic Church both in Her members and in Her institutions. There are plenty of other secular organizations that would be more than happy to employ a same-sex “married” executive, but such does not belong in Catholic institutions. Catholic Relief Services must remember that it is Catholic above all else, and that its first duty is to maintain the integrity of the faith. However, given its history of compromise by funding organizations that commit abortions, perform sterilizations, and distribute contraception, it’s willingness to help create policy papers that spread abortion without raising a hand in protest, its creation of documents that promote condoms, and its facilitation of contraception-promoting programs, it should come as no surprise that CRS would compromise its Catholic faith in favor of a more secular approach to aid and development with regard to a same-sex “married” vice president, either. So, perhaps it’s time for CRS to drop the charade and remove the word “Catholic” from its name. If obtaining government and foundation money is more important to CRS than bringing souls to Christ, or at the very least, not opening doors to wolves seeking to devour the faith of those CRS claims to serve, then it should continue its work as merely “Relief Services.”

Please read the whole piece: CRS President Doubles-Down on Funding Contraception Providers, Employing Same-Sex “Married” Executives.

There is no hope that the CCHD and CRS will amend their ways as long as faithful Catholics continue to contribute. There are many smaller, but clearly faithful, groups to which your charity could be directed.