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Colorado's Catholic dioceses pay $6.6 million in abuse settlements

Denver, Colo., Oct 19, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- An independent reparation and reconciliation program for the three dioceses in Colorado announced Friday that $6.68 million had been paid to 73 victims of clerical abuse who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

The program is administered by Camille Biros and Kenneth Feinberg, independent from control by the Church, and is monitored by an independent board, the Independent Oversight Committee.

The IOC said Oct. 16 that “The administrators and the IOC have received positive feedback from program participants. Many survivors (and their attorneys) have commended the option to seek compensation in a non-adversarial forum independent from the Dioceses and without regard for the statute of limitations.”

The program was accounced in October 2019, and the claims process has now closed.

During the process, 98 claims were made, of which 81 were determined to be eligible for compensation.

The $6.68 million has been paid to 73 victims. Of the remaining eight, one is being paid; four have not yet responded to the compensation offer, and three are awaiting law enforcement notification by the claimants.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said Oct. 16 told the victims who participated in the program, “I have met with all of you who requested a meeting in which I could offer an apology to you in person, and will meet with anyone else should you desire to do so. I know others have chosen a different path for healing and I, of course, respect your wishes. Please know, on behalf of myself and the Church, I am deeply sorry for the pain and hurt that was caused by the abuse you suffered.”

“I remain steadfastly committed to meeting with any survivor who desires to meet with me and doing everything I can so that the problems of the past never repeat themselves. I know that money cannot fully heal the wounds you suffered, but hope that those of you who came forward felt heard, acknowledged, and that the reparations offer a measure of justice and access to resources,” he added.

The archbishop told any victims who have not come forward that the archdiocese “can help you find other resources that will provide the assistance you need.”

The program followed the release of a report issued after a seven-month investigation conducted by a former U.S. Attorney, Bob Troyer. Colorado’s bishops and the state’s attorney general decided mutually to support the investigation, which was funded by an anonymous donor.

That October 2019 report found that 43 diocesan priests since 1950 had been credibly accused of sexually abusing at least 166 children in the state.

Archbishop Aquila noted that “some substantiated allegations in the Program were made against priests not previously identified” in the October 2019 report, and said that “the identity of priests who were accused of wrongdoing in the Program process where those allegations were deemed substantiated … will be included in an addendum.”

Troyer will prepare that report as well, which is expected to be released nexth month.

“None of the survivors who participated in the Program reported abuse in the last 20 years – meaning
that the abuse alleged in the Program, like that set out in the Special Master’s original report, involves
incidents that occurred decades ago,” the archbishop added.

Nearly 70% of victims identified in the October 2019 were abused in the 1960s and 1970s, and the most recent acts of clerical sexual abuse documented in the report took place in 1998, when a now incarcerated and laicized Denver priest sexually abused a teenage boy.

The IOC said the most recent time frame of abuse in the report or the IRRP process is 1999.

Archbishop Aquila stated that “this independent program and the independent review conducted by the dioceses in Colorado in cooperation with the Attorney General have put a spotlight on a horrifying chapter in our history, but it has also shown that the steps we have taken over the past 30 years – including our training and empowerment of thousands of faithful parishioners and volunteers across the Archdiocese – have been effective. Most of all, it has taught us to be open and care for victims of abuse as they deem best, and to always be vigilant to make sure the Church is a safe place.”

Appeals court uphold Kentucky abortion regulations

CNA Staff, Oct 19, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A federal appeals court upheld abortion regulations in the state of Kentucky on Friday. The three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that abortion providers failed to prove that a 1998 Kentucky abortion law, and its 2017 update, would result in the closure of all abortion facilities in the state.

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, had challenged the 1998 state law requiring abortion facilities to have a transfer agreement with local hospitals in case of medical complications that could arise from abortions. The facilities also had to have an agreement in place for ambulance transport.

In 2017, the state imposed stricter regulations, including that a transfer agreement be with a state-licensed acute care hospital within a certain distance of the abortion facility. It also included a 90-day window for facilities to apply for a waiver to show that they could not get a transfer agreement despite having exhausted all options to do so.

Planned Parenthood and EMW Women’s Surgical Center and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky challenged the regulations, saying they would result in the  closure of all abortion facilities in state. A federal district court sided with them, before the Sixth Circuit reversed that decision in part on Friday.

The plaintiffs, EMW, “have failed to make a clear showing that both of their abortion facilities would close” because of the laws, Judge Joan Larsen stated in her opinion, joined by Judge Chad Readler.

The law was rooted in the state’s interest in protecting public health, the judges said, noting that “we cannot say that laws requiring abortion facilities to have transfer and transport agreements with a local hospital are not reasonably related to a legitimate government end.”

Earlier this year, in the case of June Medical Services, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law requiring doctors at abortion facilities to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

However, the judges wrote on Friday, Chief Justice John Roberts’ concurrence in the ruling allowed state regulations of abortion to stand if they satisfied two requirements: that they are “‘reasonably related’ to a legitimate state interest,” and that they not put a “substantial obstacle” in the way of a woman obtaining an abortion.

The state law was in the interest of public health, and it allowed facilities to apply for a waiver if they could not satisfy the requirements of the law but had made a good-faith effort to do so, the judges said. 

In the June decision, Chief Justice Roberts said that the Court’s 2016 ruling against a Texas law on admitting privileges, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt—upon which the majority of justices relied in the June Medical case as precedent—was wrongly decided.

However, Roberts applied the legal principle of stare decisis to argue that the 2016 case was settled and the court’s ruling needed to be applied to Louisiana’s abortion law.

Judge denies Brooklyn diocese injunction against NY coronavirus restrictions

CNA Staff, Oct 19, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A federal court ruled against the Diocese of Brooklyn on Friday in its case against new coronavirus restrictions which impose local limits on Mass attendance.

The diocese had sued the state of New York on Oct. 8 over new public health restrictions that limited the size of gatherings in certain “hot spots” around the state, or localities where the new coronavirus has been spreading. Certain churches in Brooklyn and Queens were effectively limited to holding 10 or 25 people for indoor Masses, under the new rules.

On Friday, a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York denied the diocese’s motion to halt the implementation of the restrictions. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling and is considering an appeal.

The diocese had argued that religious institutions had been wrongly singled out as “non essential,” and held churches to a higher standard of restrictions compared to other venues, including retail outlets. 


"Despite this loss," DiMarzio said, "we will continue to press our leaders for policies that consider the individual circumstances of houses of worship."

"We will also continue to advocate for places of worship to be classified as essential, for there is nothing more necessary today than a community of believers, united in prayer, asking the Lord to end this pandemic."

In his opinion on Friday, Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the state did not unlawfully single out religion for its restrictions, noting that its rules applied to other non-religious gatherings as well. New York also presented sufficient evidence to show that its decision was based on scientific and epidemiological considerations, he said.

If the court ruled in favor of the diocese and religious gatherings subsequently resulted in spreading the virus, Garaufis said, such a scenario would result in “avoidable death” and “overwhelming” damage; conversely, if the court sided wrongly with the state, it would bring a less grave consequence: “severely curtailed in-person ceremonies.”

Bishop DiMarzio, however, said that it was “a shame our parishioners in the red zones cannot return to Mass when the judge acknowledged we have done everything right.”

In a previous interview with CNA, Bishop DiMarzio said that the diocese had worked with public health officials to reopen churches safely in July; safety measures such as mask mandates and social distancing had been enforced, and churches were open only at 25% capacity.

“The proof of our compliance is the fact that we have not had any COVID outbreaks or significant cases in either our churches or schools,” he said on Friday in a written statement.

Despite refusing an injunction, Judge Garaufis praised the diocese on Friday for having “been an exemplar of community leadership” that “at each step…has been ahead of the curve, enforcing stricter safety protocols than the State required at the given moment.”

The new state rules established a color-code system for the severity of virus outbreaks within various localities; “red” zones represented the worst outbreaks and thus merited the strictest limits, while “orange” zones represented the next level of outbreak.

Churches in “red” zones are limited to 25% capacity or ten people, whichever number is smaller; churches in “orange” zones are limited to 33% capacity or 25 people, whichever number is smaller. Bishop DiMarzio told CNA that churches in the diocese are large and have been safely accommodating people at 25% capacity for months without a known outbreak.

Following the ruling, churches in the “red” zones will be closed, Bishop DiMarzio said, as the 10-person limit is “extremely difficult to implement because we never want to turn away worshippers.”

The state’s new rules affected religious and social gatherings and “non-essential” businesses such as gyms, barber shops, and hair salons, but some businesses including grocery stores were labeled “essential” and were not subject to the restrictions.

The rules presented a double-standard, DiMarzio told CNA on Friday before the court issued its ruling, arguing that religious gatherings are “essential” and should only be subject to reasonable health restrictions--such as the safety measures already enforced by churches for months.

“We are relegated to the sidelines, religion,” he said. “Religion is the problem of society, [according to] the way people think today.”

“In the past, you would think the non-profit sector, religion, was a pillar of the society along with the business community and with the government," said DiMarzio. 

"This was what held society together. Now, that kind of a thesis of how society works is long since gone, unfortunately,” he said.

Mass in the Orange Zone

Here in the orange zone, it’s difficult to go to Mass on Sunday. Fearing that COVID-19’s terrifying springtime spread through Brooklyn and Queens could return, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order restricting attendance at religious services in certain neighborhoods, including mine. Just twenty-five people can attend.

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn filed suit in federal court over this, presenting what a judge called very difficult issues: Cuomo’s order explicitly restricts houses of worship, raising First Amendment alarms. But at the same time, Cuomo said, infections were spiking once again, particularly in Brooklyn’s large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park. It’s the core of the red zone, where worship is restricted to no more than ten people. The orange zone is intended as a buffer. In yellow zones, houses of worship can fill to 50 percent of capacity. While they concede there is no evidence that Catholic parishes have contributed to the spread of the disease, public-health officials say it’s necessary to prevent large public gatherings at which a single person, perhaps asymptomatic, could spread the disease to many people.

Religious groups have filed dozens of lawsuits across the country asserting that pandemic-related restrictions violate the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause. Each suit arises from different circumstances, but they share the important principle of protecting a foundational American right. Still, as a resident of the orange zone, I can’t say that the new restrictions were a terrible imposition on me because Mass was easily available nearby in the yellow zone. 

“The fate of literally thousands of Catholic parishioners and whether they will be able to attend Mass come Sunday hangs in the balance,” the diocese’s lawyer, Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor to Rudolph Giuliani, warned in the first hearing for the Brooklyn diocese’s case. It was unfair, he argued, that Costco could be open for business (permitted because it sells groceries) on the same day.

My parish was one of twenty-six affected by the order, but there are almost one hundred and fifty parishes in the diocese. For the Sunday Mastro referred to, I decided not to try to be one of the twenty-five people at my parish. (And no, I didn’t go to Costco instead.) Two yellow-zone parishes were both a five-minute drive away. I ended up taking a twenty-minute drive to a parish that celebrated Mass outdoors—a rarity in our diocese, where the chancery has permitted but not encouraged the practice.

As a resident of the orange zone, I can’t say that the new restrictions were a terrible imposition on me because Mass was easily available nearby in the yellow zone.

In an October 16 Brooklyn federal court hearing, a witness for the diocese discussed his own experience that Sunday. He was an impressive expert: former NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito (who is also the former city emergency-management commissioner). Esposito is the volunteer chairman of a diocesan committee that investigates sex-abuse allegations and, now, of a commission that designed the churches’ precautions against COVID-19. He told of the sad task of informing parishioners arriving at his red-zoned Bensonhurst church that Mass would not be celebrated.

“We’ve been devastated. I was at church on Sunday just to help communicate that St. Athanasius was closed,” he testified. “There were people at the front door of churches crying because they can’t go to church. They showed with their entire family. They want to come in and celebrate the Mass. We had to turn them away. It’s very, very disheartening.”

It was indeed a heartache to go without the Eucharist for so many months while the diocese kept churches closed in what has been an exemplary response (as the judge noted) to the crisis. And one can understand why the parishioners at St. Athanasius were so upset upon hearing that they would once again be denied. But Mass was being celebrated nearby that Sunday at a yellow-zoned Catholic parish only a mile away.

Still, when the government effectively shuts down a church, it’s a grave constitutional matter that, according to the judge who decided the case, caused “irreparable harm.” That was one of the standards the diocese needed to prove to win a preliminary injunction. But in a decision released on October 17, Judge Nicholas Garaufis of Brooklyn denied the injunction because it “would not be in the public interest.”

He relied on an influential concurring opinion that Chief Justice John Roberts issued in a case permitting California restrictions. A Pentecostal church had challenged Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order limiting worship attendance to 25 percent capacity, asserting that it was unfair when supposedly comparable businesses were treated differently. Roberts said it was a false comparison: “Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.” People don’t congregate in large groups and in close proximity for extended periods of time in grocery stores or banks, he wrote. Beyond that, a Supreme Court precedent dating to 1905 gives the government broad authority to protect public health.

In his ruling, Garaufis wrote, “In fact, if the court issues an injunction and the State is correct about the acuteness of the threat currently posed by hotspot neighborhoods, the result could be avoidable death on a massive scale like New Yorkers experienced in the Spring.” On balance, the danger to human life outweighed the constitutional harm caused by several extra weeks of restricted Masses. Or in Catholic terms: the situation calls for a sacrifice for the common good.

Vatican asks UN to eliminate the risks of satellite collisions in outer space

Rome Newsroom, Oct 19, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- With more and more satellites orbiting the Earth, measures need to be taken to prevent collisions in outer space that give rise to dangerous “space debris,” a Holy See representative has warned the United Nations.

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia said Friday that preventative measures within a “globally-agreed framework” were needed to protect outer space due to the “massive increase in use and dependence” on satellites.

“Despite the unending outward dimension of the space environment, the region just above us is actually becoming relatively crowded and subject to increasing commercial activities,” Caccia, the apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said Oct. 16.

“So many satellites are being launched to provide internet access today, for example, that astronomers are finding that these risk obscuring the study of stars,” the archbishop noted.

The Holy See representative said that it was in the clear interest of all countries to establish “the so-called ‘rules of the road’ to eliminate the risks of satellite collisions.”

There have been roughly 2,200 satellites launched into the Earth’s orbit since 1957. Collisions among those satellites have created debris. There are tens of thousands of pieces of  “space junk” larger than four inches currently in orbit and millions more of smaller size.

The BBC recently reported that two pieces of space junk -- a defunct Russian satellite and a discarded part of a Chinese rocket segment -- narrowly avoided collision. 

“Satellites have become integrally linked to life here on Earth, assisting navigation, supporting global communications, helping forecast the weather, including the tracking of hurricanes and typhoons, and monitoring the global environment,” Caccia said.

“The loss of satellites that provide global positioning services, for example, would have a dramatically negative impact on human life.”

The International Astronautical Federation said in a statement last week that “substantive debris remediation efforts (i.e., operations) have been nearly non-existent to date,” adding that this was in part because “the urgency for debris remediation has not been expressed in a multi-national forum.”

Archbishop Caccia told the UN member states: “Preventing the generation of space debris does not concern only the peaceful uses of outer space. It also must encompass the equally problematic space debris left by military activities.”

He said that the UN must work to preserve the “universal character of outer space, increasing their common interests in it for the benefit of every person regardless of earthly nationality.”

Recently a number of satellites orbiting Earth have been launched by SpaceX, a private company owned by Elon Musk, rather than by individual states. The company has 400 to 500 satellites in orbit with the goal of creating a network of 12,000 satellites.

The U.S. government launched an initiative earlier this year with the “Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources” executive order, which aims to work toward mining the moon for its resources. 

The apostolic nuncio proposed that international organizations or consortia could launch satellites, rather than single countries or companies, and that activities that exploit resources in space could be limited to these multilateral organizations.

Caccia concluded by quoting Pope Francis’ recent address to the UN General Assembly: “It is our duty to rethink the future of our common home and our common project. A complex task lies before us, one that requires a frank and coherent dialogue aimed at strengthening multilateralism and cooperation between states. Let us make good use of this institution in order to transform the challenge that lies before us into an opportunity to build together.”

Tianna Williams: Leading with Beauty and Trusting in God

Today Matt Nelson sits down with Canadian artist Tianna Williams to discuss her work, as well as the methods and inspiration behind her paintings of the faces of Mary and the Saints. Could you begin by telling us about your upbringing? Were you raised Catholic? My father is a Catholic evangelist and musician. My mother, a graphic designer by trade (who also has a beautiful voice and sang backup), managed much of the ministry behind-the-scenes. From my youngest years, my parents led our family in faith and prayer. Some of my earliest memories include learning how to clap to a worship song my dad wrote—one two three, four five—and running around in the back of the church while the adults around me raised their hands and voices in praise. When I was a bit older, my dad regularly brought my sisters and I to daily Mass before school. We…

The Suspended Beauty of the Cross

In her collection of aphorisms titled “Attention and Will,” Simone Weil writes of the “method for understanding images, symbols, etc. Not to try to interpret them, but to look at them until the light suddenly dawns.” David Jones’s Crucifixion seems to give the viewer no other choice. Beauty and brutality are so interwoven here that they stun us into silence. The magnetic eyes of the dying figure transfix the viewer’s gaze while simultaneously deflecting any facile projection. Cheap words and conventional responses find no purchase here. One simply sits still and looks. “With time,” Weil went on, “we are altered, and, if as we change we keep our gaze directed towards the same thing, in the end illusions are scattered and the real becomes visible.”

By resolutely fixing her gaze on a wooden crucifix during her near-death illness, the anchoress Julian of Norwich in her Revelations of Divine Love perceived that enclosure in the Incarnation of the Word meant not only shelter and protection but also, paradoxically, exposure. In becoming one of our kind, sharing our flesh and blood through Mary, the humanity of Christ shares not only in our form of life and bonds of love, but also in our suffering and death. As bodily creatures, we are, together with the ox, the ass, and the birds of the air, vulnerable to contagion and disease; but we are also vulnerable to the insidious spiritual contagions peculiar to our species—perversion of justice, willful infliction of pain for spite, mockery of the good—all on display during the Crucifixion.

COVID-19 has exposed a great many things that have been at least partly hidden, including economic uncertainty, ethnic and racial inequality, and political instability. Indeed, the contours of our current crisis have both expanded and blurred. As lockdowns give way to partial reopenings, the charming pictures of goats trotting through empty streets have been replaced by scenes of people packed into stores, urged to save the economy by opening their wallets. Meanwhile, the abandoned streets of urban centers have flooded with passionate pleas for justice after the video of a Black man dying under a uniformed knee of “the law” went viral. In more hidden corners of society—the elderly in nursing homes, children without school meals—the most vulnerable risk being overlooked and remain overexposed. Stat crux dum volvitur orbis: “The Cross is steady while the world is turning.” This motto of the Carthusian order carries particular weight amid so much tumultuous change.


Beauty is not a matter of mere appearances; it is synonymous with life.

Jones’s Crucifixion in pencil and watercolor on paper is remarkably beautiful even at a first glance. This work was rediscovered during the sale of David Bowie’s art collection at Sotheby’s in 2016. Its simplicity is arresting. Most of the conventional narrative cues are absent—no Mary and John in mourning; no hills, soldiers, or criminals to set the stage; no angels to herald a new day. Instead, the paper itself lends the flesh of this crucified body its tone, while blue and red alone color the elegant lines and delicate shading of graphite lead. The ruler-straight cross beams stabilize the image as stacked strings of letters dangle like beads alongside the suspended torso and legs. Arms raised in priestly benediction frame the haloed head. From brow and limbs, rivers of red gently pour; three thick drops of blood leap like rays from the diagonal lance wound. Below the oceanic calm of the blue loincloth, from battered knees and fastened feet the flow of red descends in four final streams from flesh to wood and beyond the edge of the image.

 “Non est species / neque decor”—these words are taken from the Latin Vulgate version of Isaiah 53:2: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Species and decor translate the Hebrew toar and hadar, which everywhere else in the Old Testament are used to characterize the virtuous, the good, and the holy. Rachel, the emblem of contemplatives (Genesis 29:17), King David and Queen Esther, symbols of just rulers (1 Samuel 24:3 and Esther 2:7), Joseph with his multicolored coat (Genesis 39.6)—all these are said to be beautiful and handsome in form, toar. And everything from trees (Leviticus 23:40) to cities, saints, and even Yahweh himself (Psalm 149:9, Psalm 145:5–12, and Isaiah 35:2) bears the majesty and splendor denoted by hadar.

Yet, in stamping this image of “IESVS XTVS” with the prophet Isaiah’s contentious claim, Jones’s Crucifixion reminds us that appearances are not always so straightforward. Just as species and decor hang suspended from their negations, non est and neque, so the reader is hung between her experience of the beautiful whole of this composition and words that seem to deny its beauty. This paradox entangles the viewer in the paradox of “IESVS XTVS” himself: “the fairness of heaven,” here in his mortal frame “so far from fair.”

Beauty for Jones, and for the biblical and patristic tradition from which he draws, is not a matter of mere appearances; it is synonymous with life, the very miracle of the appearing of things at all, of creaturely existence. Insofar as a thing is, it partakes in the beauty of God, its very form or species brought into existence through the eternal Logos. As Word made flesh, “IESVS XTVS” embraces not only our lovely “appearances” but our most hideous ones too. Here suffering is not itself enshrined, but caught up and healed in this circulation of divine Love which, overcoming death, effects this wonderful exchange. In St. Augustine’s words: “He had neither splendor nor comeliness so that he might give you splendor and comeliness. Which splendor? Which comeliness? The love of charity.... Look to him by whom you have been made beautiful. ‘Let us love, because he first loved us.’”

When viewed as a whole, the composite of word and image in Jones’s Crucifixion suggests the form of a beam balance or “equal-arm” scale, which is used to measure weight. The emphatic, upright “v” of “IESVS XTVS” doubles as an arrow or pointer at the center of the scales, as though to indicate the achievement of perfect balance. The lettering suspended from the gently curved arms finds symmetry and alignment in the final, equally weighted words, species and decor. Surprisingly, we find hidden in this image of the passion of Christ the much-coveted symbol of Lady Justice.

In his essay “Art in Relation to War and our Current Situation,” written during and after World War II, Jones reflects, “Man as a moral being hungers and thirsts after justice and man as artist hungers and thirsts after form, and although these are ultimately one, because of the truth of that best of sayings that ‘the Beauty of God is the cause of the being of all that is,’ nevertheless for us they are not one, not yet, not by any means.” Now more than ever, we need images, words, gestures, and deeds in which we may perceive this eventual unity. Such glimpses help us on our way toward embodying the love that, in the end, is the only just measure.


“The experience of the beautiful, and particularly the beautiful in art, is the invocation of a potentially whole and holy order of things, wherever it may be found,” writes the German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. “We learn that however unexpected our encounter with beauty may be, it gives us an assurance that the truth does not lie far off and inaccessible to us, but can be encountered in the disorder of reality with all its imperfections, evils, errors, extremes, and fateful confusions.”

In this mixed-up world of suspended beauty, our first task may not be, in Weil’s words, “to try to interpret” the pain and suffering endured by ourselves or by others. We must first learn, like the artist who sits at length before his subject, what it means to bear witness without the blindness of false consolations—those imaginings produced by a deep instinct to make things immediately better. We must learn not to look away from all that we cannot immediately make better. The people, things, or places that most need to be seen, whether for their own sake or ours, may not be the ones that attract our gaze; they may even repel it. Such looking may require undergoing a kind of death to one’s own instincts and preferences, so as to see what is there rather than just what one wants to see. But as the twelfth-century contemplative, Richard of St. Victor, perceived, “ubi caritas, ibi oculis”: “where there is love, there is seeing.” The eye of love becomes the source of words and actions that may more adequately respond to the reality before us.


Following St. Francis

Alt-right Catholic media outlets are once again condemning Pope Francis, this time for what is supposedly a false portrayal of his namesake saint in the new encyclical, Fratelli tutti. In doing so, they overlook that Francis is following the same path as his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whom they very much favor.

The pope uses a historical event—the 1219 encounter between St. Francis of Assisi and Egypt’s Sultan Malik al-Kamil—as the foundation for an encyclical advocating “social friendship,” a transcendent love directed toward overcoming societal barriers that are the source of much human misery. The historical record shows that the saint traveled to Egypt in the midst of the Fifth Crusade and, during a break in the fighting, went to the sultan’s camp to preach to him. He was received warmly.

Pope Francis starts with that incident because it exemplifies the saint’s model of “openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, color or religion.” This is what we need if we are to clear away “dark clouds over a closed world”—not the vilification of Muslims and other groups, which draws huge numbers of viewers to alt-right Catholic websites.

Benedict likewise saw hope in St. Francis’s meeting with the sultan, and framed the encounter in a similar way. In a general audience held on January 27, 2010, he said:

I would like to highlight this episode in St Francis’s life, which is very timely. In an age when there was a conflict underway between Christianity and Islam, Francis, intentionally armed only with his faith and personal humility, traveled the path of dialogue effectively. The chronicles tell us that he was given a benevolent welcome and a cordial reception by the Muslim sultan. It provides a model which should inspire today’s relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a sincere dialogue, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding.

He referenced a section of the Vatican II document Nostra aetate, which declared the Church’s esteem for Muslims and called for better Christian-Muslim relations: “Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

“Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God.”

Benedict cited St. Francis frequently during his papacy, and before that took a scholar’s interest in him as well. In 2002, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in the Italian journal 30 Days that the saint radiated the “splendor of peace” in a way that “convinced the sultan and can truly tear down walls.” He continued: “If we as Christians set out on the way of peace in the example of St. Francis, we must not be afraid of losing our identity: it is precisely then that we find it.”

In the same article, Ratzinger also wrote that St. Francis was opposed to the Crusades. He “understood that the Crusades were not the right way to defend the rights of Christians in the Holy Land.” Academic historians have mostly doubted that St. Francis opposed the Crusades because there are no documents in which he directly states his opposition. But of course, it is unlikely that the medieval hagiography designed to depict St. Francis’s holiness would cast him as disapproving of the popes’ wars—evidence of heresy at the time. Beyond that, there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence to support Ratzinger’s view that the saint was quietly opposed to the Crusades.

The alt-right take found at websites such as Church Militant and LifeSite News is that Pope Francis falsified the encounter of saint and sultan in Fratelli tutti by indicating the Poverello did not approach the sultan with the intent of converting him. But this is not what the pope meant when he wrote that “Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God.”

The key word there is “imposing.” St. Francis approached the sultan in peace—not with verbal warfare—and without a hint of coercion. Yes, he went to the sultan to preach the Gospel, but he did not force it on anyone. As Pope Francis writes:

That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of his love, which sought to embrace everyone.... Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers,” without renouncing their own identity they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake.” In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago St. Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. 

The pope is referring to a document called theEarlier Rule,” in which the saint set out a code of conduct for his friars. The version we have dates to 1221, or shortly after St. Francis returned from the East. In it, he tells the friars there are two ways to approach Muslims: one is to preach the Gospel to them, and the other, the one that the pope refers to, is to live in peace among them.

Pope Francis’s critics would prefer a warrior Catholicism, while the pope is seeking the latter, more gentle way of communicating with our Muslim brothers and sisters: live the faith by Christian example. In his encyclical, Pope Francis urges an exit from the politics of a phony populism, favoring “the exercise of political love” instead. I have to think that his namesake saint, who repeatedly tried to avert warfare and the bitter disputes that lead to it, would approve.

New children's book spins Christmas tale about spiders

CNA Staff, Oct 17, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).-  

There is an ancient legend about Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and a spider.

After Jesus was born, the Holy Family fled into Egypt, while baby boys were being slaughtered by order of King Herod. The legend says that one night the family stopped to sleep in a cave. There was a spider in that cave, the story goes, who knew the infant Jesus was a special child.

According to the legend, the spider felt called to do something unexpected— something that would save Mary, Joseph, and Jesus from soldiers sent by King Herod on a terrible mission.

The legend of that spider — “The Spider Who Saved Christmas” — became well-known in some parts of the world. In fact, some people say that tinsel is placed on Christmas trees to remember the web of that spider. The legend is now told in a new children’s book, released this month by children’s author and television host Raymond Arroyo.

“The Spider Who Saved Christmas,” Arroyo told CNA “fills an important gap in the Christmas story, one we don't often consider.”

“I discovered this Legend in a footnote of a Bible commentary,” Arroyo said, and “was intrigued.”

“My telling of the legend is really all about motherhood, sacrifice, family, and overcoming fear to recognize the hope that is often all around us. I expanded the spare tale, created some characters and got to spend some time with the Holy Family. It actually made me appreciate them and their struggle in a new way,” the author said.

Arroyo is well-known as a television host on the EWTN network and on Fox News. He told CNA that “in my heart, I have always been a story teller. I've told stories on television, through music, and with the written word. A well told story is often more true than assembled facts, and they often stay with audiences longer.”

“The Spider Who Saved Christmas” is not Arroyo’s first book for children. The author has also written three installments in a series of adventure stories, and is working on a fourth.

“I started writing for younger audiences because of my own children,” Arroyo said, adding that he intends to write more illustrated books based upon legends of times past.

“I think these old stories have survived largely because they contain a bit of wisdom that we need for living. I've always thought that every good story is a guide for life. The series will likely contain forgotten, or discarded stories that I think need a bit of attention. They won't all be origin stories. But they will give a wide audience an opportunity to look at figures they thought they knew, or consider stories they thought they understood in a different light,” he said.

“I've always loved the first books I read. I don't really consider them children's literature, but great literature. ‘Treasure Island,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘Charlotte's Web,’ can be enjoyed by children, but the deeper themes and the truth contained in them are quite adult.”

“When I wrote my Will Wilder series, I decided to write for both young audiences as well as their parents and guardians. I love books that you can return to later in life and find a different story. I also love sharing these stories with young audiences. They hold a book closer than adults. So though I will likely write for adults again, I'll never stop writing what the world condescendingly calls 'children's literature.' It's actually better termed 'human formation literature.'”

Arroyo told CNA he appreciates the “challenge of writing for young audiences. They won't tolerate the artifice, deceptions, humorlessness that adults will. Kids are actually quite clear-eyed. They expect truth, understanding, and fun. I try to bring all that to them, even when writing about a spider named Nephila.”






Barrett hearings show threat of anti-Catholic bigotry - Fort Worth bishop

CNA Staff, Oct 16, 2020 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth penned an op-ed Thursday decrying the “anti-Catholic bigotry” that he says has surfaced since Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court last month.

“Catholic theology is not a threat to America; the ideology of anti-Catholic bigotry is,” Bishop Olson asserted in the op-ed, published Oct. 15 in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Faithful Catholics help many and harm no one; anti-Catholic bigots harm everyone. It is unimaginable that the senators’ harassment be applied to any other religious group. Why is this tolerated? When will it end?”

The Senate is considering Barrett, a federal judge and Catholic mother of seven, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month. 

Some Senate Republicans, including Josh Hawley (R-MO), on Monday decried what they saw as unseemly attacks on Barrett’s religious beliefs by Democrats and members of the media.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the committee, warned during the hearing that “women could lose access to preventative services and critical maternity care, including cancer screenings and well-woman visits” if Barrett were part of a future court majority in striking down the ACA’s mandate.

Other senators, including Chris Coons (D-Del.), said that previous Supreme Court rulings in favor of contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage could be at risk with Barrett’s confirmation.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, said that a “right to safe and legal abortion is at stake.”

Barrett previously came to national attention during her 2017 Senate confirmation hearings after she was nominated by the president for the U.S. Court of Appeals. During that process, Feinstein stated that “the dogma lives loudly” within Barrett and “that’s a concern.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) then grilled Barrett over her use of the term “orthodox Catholic” in an article she had written.

Several media outlets have focused on Barrett’s membership of People of Praise, a charismatic ecumenical community founded in South Bend in 1971. News reports have variously referred to the group as “secretive” and “cult-like” while criticizing the group’s use of the word “handmaid,” a biblical term.

Barrett, in her opening remarks, said that she believed “Americans of all backgrounds deserve an independent court that interprets our Constitution and laws as they are written.” She also said that policy decisions should not be left to the Court.

Olson said Catholics in public life too often consider their faith to be part only of the private domain, “as if Catholic identity and heritage have nothing to contribute publicly.”

This can come in the form of Catholics who are unwilling to speak in public the truth about the harms of contraception and abortion, he said.

“Faithful Catholics do not ask for any special privileges, but we insist that how we live and what we value and prioritize are already provided a secured space by the Constitution,” he reflected.

Bishop Olson wrote that John F. Kennedy’s “breakthrough as a Catholic candidate” in 1960 “came at a terrible cost, one not made fully evident until 1984, when New York Gov. Mario Cuomo spoke at the University of Notre Dame and separated faith from right reason in the political life of a Catholic public servant.”

Cuomo “relegated religious identity exclusively to the private domain, as if Catholic identity and heritage have nothing to contribute publicly,” the bishop stated.

“Consequently, someone who is more openly Catholic is often expected to leave the public square or be barred from it entirely.”

He reflected that “many public Catholics have become compliant with the media-driven and socially dominant religion of secular individualism and its demand that law and jurisprudence substitute emotivism for right reason and that medicine serve desires rather than human dignity.”

“Faithful Catholics must be neither silent nor silenced. Our moral tradition, thoroughly humane and humanizing, is available to any person of ordinary intelligence and good will,” he said.

“The Catholic commitment to right reason, drawing upon a perennial tradition of natural law, and an abiding commitment to real science — these are the things that animate bigots against faithful Catholics. Reason intrudes upon the illusions that secular ideology sells and imposes.”

Olson asserted that people raising objections to Barrett’s Catholic faith are “distorting what Catholics such as Judge Amy Coney Barrett can and should offer to America.”

“We are not asking the state to endorse our Catholic faith; we as Catholics and Americans are insisting that what we can prove by reason not be dismissed or stifled. Orthodox Catholics live that moral tradition and offer it to others. We cannot do otherwise,” he concluded.

Olson is not the first Catholic bishop to speak out against a perceived anti-Catholic bigotry in the rhetoric surrounding Barrett’s nomination.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, emeritus Archbishop of Philadelphia, wrote in a Sept. 29 essay that “positioning dissenting Catholics as ‘mainstream Americans’ and believing Catholics as ‘extremists’” is now a “common and thoroughly dishonest culture war technique,” and “a particular affront to the free exercise of religion.”

He said that the present “hostility toward those who support Catholic teaching” should not only concern Catholics in the United States, but also “anyone who values the First Amendment.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, the new leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops on religious liberty, recently warned of a “soft despotism” of religious intolerance in the U.S. Hostility to public Catholicism is “treating us as somehow less worthy of full participation in the benefits of American life,” he said.