Monthly Archives: October 2018

Much to Lose, Much to Gain

Much to Lose, Much to Gain

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation of several Pennsylvania dioceses pertaining to the sexual abuse of minors, including the trafficking of minors across state lines for the purpose of abuse. A U.S. Attorney in New York has subpoenaed the Diocese of Buffalo as part of an investigation of similar offenses. The attorney general for the District of Columbia has opened a civil investigation to see whether the Archdiocese of Washington is liable, as a nonprofit institution, for its handling (or mishandling) of child sexual abuse.

And then there are the investigations that have been announced or are currently being conducted by attorneys general in New York, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Maryland, New Jersey, Florida, New Mexico, Arkansas, Kentucky, Vermont, Virginia, and – it appears – California.

Notably, Louisiana’s attorney general is not conducting such an investigation on sensible grounds: “[T]here have been no criminal complaints made to the Louisiana Department of Justice. And smearing the Church and its clergy without specific complaints of criminal acts is irresponsible.” Still, Louisiana appears to be the exception that proves the rule.

Some Catholics will see these investigations as welcome news: a necessary, if painful, step towards accountability for bishops and priests who have betrayed their flocks. These investigations might finally bring justice to victims who have, in some cases, waited decades for it. They might also put to rest the nagging suspicion in the minds of so many Catholics who have learned the hard way not to take the bishops’ word that abusers have been properly dealt with.

There’s something to be said for such hopes, but there’s also reason for apprehension.

Even innocent priests and bishops will have reason to be anxious when ambitious prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves (and to prove their toughness to voters) start dredging through the past looking for something, anything, to pin on the Catholic Church. If the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was any indication, few new cases will result in criminal charges since most abusers are either dead or the statute of limitations has expired, or there’s simply not sufficient evidence to prove the charges.

*

When there’s no one to put on trial, no one who can be made to pay, the stink of scandal has a way of clinging to anyone in proximity, guilty or not.

There will be renewed calls in state legislatures to drop or extend statutes of limitations, as we’ve seen already in Pennsylvania. The Church’s resistance to such changes is inexplicable to many, Catholics and not, who can’t understand why the Church would profess concern for victims while at the same time opposing legal changes that might bring justice to the same.

But the cost of litigating large, protracted civil cases creates a huge incentive for dioceses to settle. In recent years, more than a dozen dioceses and archdioceses have filed for bankruptcy over abuse cases. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles alone paid out $660 million in 2007. Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul went through bankruptcy and still paid out $210 million.

There’s certainly no injustice in victims being awarded monetary damages for abuse they have suffered, the tens of millions being raked in by their lawyers notwithstanding. But justice has two sides and the fact is that the financial burden for these settlements doesn’t fall on the predator priests or the bishops who covered for them: the brunt of it falls on parishes and diocesan ministries and those who depend on them today and into the future.

Bishops who take seriously the Church’s obligation to seek justice for victims must also think seriously about what justice there is in making the next generation of Catholics pay the price for the sins and crimes of a past generation.

In coming months and years, more than one bishop is going to have to make some very hard choices balancing the demands of justice for victims with his duty to protect the patrimony of his flock. Losing that patrimony – hospitals, schools, charities, food banks, universities, to say nothing of church buildings and a thousand and one other ministries – or seeing it greatly diminished, would not be an occasion for joy. It would be a disaster, both for the Church and those she serves.

Of course, the greatest loss for the Church is not stuff (however conducive to the mission) but souls. Maybe the humiliation and suffering the Catholic Church in the United States is undergoing will bear fruit in the long run. Faith says that’s not too much to hope for. But it’s hard to see how good comes from this unless there is a renewed sense in the Church that what is at stake is the salvation of souls. I wish more bishops, more priests, and a whole lot more lay people were clear on that.

I have wondered many times in recent months how this latest round of scandals will affect the Church. Will Mass attendance decline? (Probably.) Will Millennial flight to the ranks of the “Nones” accelerate? (Maybe.) Will vocations decline? (I don’t know.)

Pope Francis has spoken of his desire for “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” Perhaps that’s where we’re headed in the United States, though not by the road anyone would have imagined. And perhaps, stripped of her worldly goods and cares, the Church in the United States will also look something more like what Pope Benedict XVI had in mind when he mused about the possibility a “smaller, purer” Church.

Perhaps that’s the Church of the New Evangelization we’ve been talking about for so long: not a Church that has prevailed, but one that has been brought low. Perhaps. I don’t know.

I do know that it has happened before.

 

*Image: The Miracles of Saint Francis Xavier by Peter Paul Rubens, 1617-18 [Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna]. Rubens, a devout Catholic, was a master of Baroque art and a champion of the Counter-Reformation.

Stephen P. White

Stephen P. White

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

 

John Paul II, Youth Minister – George Weigel

John Paul II, Youth Minister

by

Pole that he was, Karol Wojtyła had a well developed sense of historical irony. So from his present position in the Communion of Saints, he might be struck by the ironic fact that the Synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” currently underway in Rome, coincides with the fortieth anniversary of his election as Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978. What’s the irony? The irony is that the most successful papal youth minister in modern history, and perhaps all history, was largely ignored in Synod-2018’s working document. And the Synod leadership under Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri seems strangely reluctant to invoke either his teaching or his example.

But let’s get beyond irony. What are some lessons the Synod might draw from John Paul II on this ruby anniversary of his election?

1. The big questions remain the same.

Several bishops at Synod-2018 have remarked that today’s young people are living in a completely different world than when the bishops in question grew up. There’s obviously an element of truth here, but there’s also a confusion between ephemera and the permanent things.

When Cardinal Adam Sapieha assigned young Fr. Wojtyła to St. Florian’s parish in 1948, in order to start a ministry to the university students who lived nearby, things in Cracow were certainly different than they were when Wojtyła was a student at the Jagiellonian University in 1938-39. In 1948, Poland was in the deep freeze of Stalinism, and organized Catholic youth work was banned. The freewheeling social and cultural life in which Wojtyła had reveled before the Nazis shut down the Jagiellonian was no more, and atheistic propaganda was on tap in many classrooms. But Wojtyła knew that the Big Questions that engage young adults—What’s my purpose in life? How do I form lasting friendships? What is noble and what is base? How do I navigate the rocks and shoals of life without making fatal compromises? What makes for true happiness?—are always the same. They always have been, and they always will be.

To tell today’s young adults that they’re completely different is pandering, and it’s a form of disrespect. To help maturing adults ask the big questions and wrestle with the permanent things is to pay them the compliment of taking them seriously. Wojtyła knew that, and so should the bishops of Synod-2018.

2. Walking with young adults should lead somewhere.

Some of the Wojtyła kids from that university ministry at St. Florian’s have become friends of mine, and when I ask them what he was like as a companion, spiritual director, and confessor, they always stress two points: masterful listening that led to penetrating conversations, and an insistence on personal responsibility. As one of them once put it to me, “We’d talk for hours and he’d shed light on a question, but I never heard him say, ‘You should do this.’ What he’d always say was, ‘You must choose.’” For Karol Wojtyła, youth minister, gently but persistently compelling serious moral decisions was the real meaning of “accompaniment” (a Synod-2018 buzzword).

3. Heroism is never out of fashion.

When, as pope, John Paul II proposed launching what became World Youth Day, most of the Roman Curia thought he had taken leave of his senses: young adults in the late-twentieth century just weren’t interested in an international festival involving catechesis, the Way of the Cross, confession, and the Eucharist. John Paul, by contrast, understood that the adventure of leading a life of heroic virtue was just as compelling in late modernity as it had been in his day, and he had confidence that future leaders of the third millennium of Christian history would answer that call to adventure.

That didn’t mean they’d be perfect. But as he said to young people on so many occasions, “Never, ever settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral grandeur that God’s grace makes possible in your life. You’ll fail; we all do. But don’t lower the bar of expectation. Get up, dust yourself off, seek reconciliation. But never, ever settle for anything less than the heroism for which you were born.”

That challenge—that confidence that young adults really yearn to live with an undivided heart—began a renaissance in young adult and campus ministry in the living parts of the world Church. Synod-2018 should ponder this experience and take it very, very seriously.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

Photo by Sporki via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

The Most Important Question About Abortion

Men of God as the leader of your family are you fully engaged.  This would be a good sermon to hear from the pulpit.

Is abortion right, or is it wrong? It’s the big question that’s lost in a societal debate that’s mostly focused on legality. But, really, whether it’s right or wrong is the most important question about abortion. Donate today to PragerU! http://l.prageru.com/2ylo1Yt

“These Vulnerable Creatures”: a Review of “Gosnell”

“These Vulnerable Creatures”: a Review of “Gosnell”

There have been notorious murderers brought down for reasons other than their most horrific crimes. Al Capone, mob boss, was felled by tax evasion; Dr. Kermit Gosnell, abortionist, by illegally selling prescriptions for painkillers.

I’d be surprised if there are any readers of The Catholic Thing who don’t know who Gosnell is, but just in case: he’s the former operator of a Philadelphia abortuary, who was a specialist in late-term and “partial-birth” abortions. He would regularly take babies born alive (his clinic’s procedures were slapdash at best) and cut their spinal cords at the neck.

Al Capone was a better person.

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer is in some ways like an hour-and-three-quarter length episode of Law and Oder: SVU– although the best-ever episode. The director of the film (also one of its stars) is Nick Searcy. Here he plays Gosnell’s defense attorney and manages to be convincing enough so that – even though we know he will lose the case – there’s still dramatic tension in the trial sequences.

Opposing him in court is an assistant district attorney played by Sarah Jane Morris. Ms. Morris is the film’s true star and its dramatic hub. I cry easily and did several times watching this film. Morris is an actress of the first order and her eyes show depth of feeling, whether of anger or sorrow or compassion, and it was she who made me tear up.

The levels of evil in this story are manifold. It starts, of course, with the indifference to human life inherent in abortion itself. Yet you could say – after the familiar pro-abortion mantra – that legal abortions should at least be safe and rare, whereas at Gosnell’s “clinic” they were anything but safe, were very frequent, and many weren’t even legal, occurring after the time limit prescribed by Pennsylvania law.

All this came to light because of a raid on Gosnell’s clinic by the Philadelphia P.D., the FBI, and the DEA looking for evidence related to those painkiller prescriptions.

During the raid, Gosnell is called into a procedure room to aid a patient “in distress.” One of the Philly cops, James Wood (Dean Cain), sees the patient sitting up, her hands on her belly: she’s clearly full-term. This can’t be right. . . . It’s just a glimpse, but it was enough to make me realize Mr. Searcy is as good a director as he is an actor.

Similarly, there’s a very nice sequence of scenes featuring an ambitious blogger, Molly Mullaney (Cynthia Fiallo), with bright red streaks in her hair and the requite tattoos, suggesting a far-Left pro-choicer, which is true. But she’s honest.

And there is some excellent balance between scenes, as, for example, when Detectives Wood and Stark (AlonZo Rachel) discover Gosnell’s collection of . . . baby feet and a later scene in which the prosecutor (Ms. Morris) plays with her own baby’s tootsies and, pro-choice though she is, “has a moment.”

Later, drinking something strong both to deaden her emotions (unsuccessfully) and to loosen her tongue, she explains to her shocked husband what investigators have discovered. “I’m gonna get that bastard,” she says.

The District Attorney (played by Michael Beach) is the first to pronounce Gosnell the worst serial killer in American history and warns his team that the courthouse will be swarming with reporters, all of whom will make this case (about the hottest of hot-button issues) a nightmare for the prosecutors. But when they arrive for the trial, only Molly the blogger is there, although that will change – thanks to her.

Gosnell is rated PG-13, which rating should put at ease any fear that the film is exploitive of the gore associated with abortion. To the extent that there is gore, it’s verbal. The horrors of the abortuary are described, not shown. Normally that would be bad cinema, where the rule is: Show, don’t tell. Here it works.

Gosnell, as portrayed by Earl Billings, lacks “affect,” as perhaps the bad doctor does – so much so that you might have thought he would escape conviction with an insanity defense. His Gosnell is ever-smiling and always in denial. “I look at all the women I’ve treated,” he says proudly, “as if they were my own daughter.”

Much of what’s in the film is based on trial transcripts, but there are some scenes that seem less fact-based – even unlikely. In the morgue, examining the bodies of the largest baby corpses recovered from Gosnell’s clinic of horrors, the medical examiner hands a scalpel to our heroine, the woman prosecutor, so she can cut into a skull to see if the brain is or is not intact (intact would mean the child was born alive and then murdered). This seems unlikely – a violation of medical and legal ethics. But it’s meant to be a kind of “crossing-the-Rubicon” moment for her. She’s pro-choice, after all.

Gosnell is not preachy. It’s fact-based. Janine Turner appears as a “respectable” abortion provider testifying for the prosecution, who – in cross-examination – says she has performed 30,000 abortions. As much as any line in the film, that one brought me up short. It’s that staggering number, of course, but it’s also because Ms. Turner, so stately and beautiful and composed, delivers the line so matter-of-factly. What she describes would make the film R-rated if it were shown.

Earlier, as the murderer’s trial is set to begin, a judge asks Gosnell if he has anything to say. He expresses concern for the rare turtles he keeps at his clinic. The judge instructs the prosecutor to see to the turtles’ welfare, because the judge takes the Endangered Species Act very seriously: “You are going to have to figure out how to deal with these vulnerable creatures.”

___

As mentioned, Gosnell is rated PG-13. Only one scene (in the morgue) involves blood – a liver autopsy. The teleplay is by Andrew Klavan; the screenplay is by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinny and is based upon their bestselling book. There are some interesting cameos, including the actual prosecutor, Christine Wechsler, and our friend and former contributor, Austin Ruse, as one of the late-to-the-trial press corps.

Sarah Jane Morris

Brad Miner

Brad Miner

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and Board Secretary of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His new book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. The Compleat Gentleman, is available on audio.

 

A Call to Battle – A Short Film on ‘Society’s Crisis in Masculinity’ (with Spanish subtitles)

A Call to Battle – A Short Film on ‘Society’s Crisis in Masculinity’

(with Spanish subtitles)

As a man are you welling….

Published on Jan 5, 2016

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix released for the first time ever in its history a documentary-style short film that seeks to create awareness of a crisis in masculinity found in today’s society. The short film, titled “A Call to Battle,” is available for viewing in English with Spanish subtitles at http://www.IntoTheBreach.net. Released only a few months after the promulgation of Bishop Olmsted’s apostolic exhortation “Into the Breach,” the new short film shows the urgency of the Diocese of Phoenix to confront head on today’s crisis in masculinity.