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What have popes and the Vatican said about Catholic politicians, abortion, and Holy Communion?

Nancy Pelosi. / Brian Birzer via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 20, 2022 / 13:10 pm (CNA).

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone has instructed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should she present herself. In letters to priests and laypeople issued on May 20 explaining his decision, he cited papal teaching. 

Here’s what popes and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have said about Catholic politicians, abortion, and Holy Communion.

John Paul II

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote: “In a democratic system, where laws and decisions are made on the basis of the consensus of many, the sense of personal responsibility in the consciences of individuals invested with authority may be weakened. But no one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her own conscience, and to the whole of society for choices which may be contrary to the common good.” 

“Although laws are not the only means of protecting human life, nevertheless they do play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behavior. I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person’s natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law.” 

“For this reason, I urgently appeal once more to all political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of society.”

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In its 2002 Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and approved by John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recalled “some principles proper to the Christian conscience, which inspire the social and political involvement of Catholics in democratic societies.”

It said that when legislative proposals are put forward which “attack the very inviolability of human life,” Catholics have “the duty to recall society to a deeper understanding of human life and to the responsibility of everyone in this regard.”

The note referred to John Paul II's reiteration in Evangelium vitae of the Church's constant teaching that legislators have a grave and clear obligation to oppose laws attacking human life, and added: “For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

The congregation went on to say that “When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia … Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death.”

Benedict XVI

Before he was elected pope in 2005, taking the name Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a letter to the U.S. bishops.

In the 2004 letter, the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”  

“When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect …,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.’”

Benedict XVI was asked during a flight to Brazil in 2007 whether he agreed with the excommunication of deputies in Mexico City for supporting abortion.

He replied: “Excommunication is not something arbitrary but a measure prescribed by the Code [of Canon Law]. Thus, it simply states in canon law that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with going to Communion, where one receives the Body of Christ.” 


“Consequently, nothing new, surprising or arbitrary, has been invented. Only what is prescribed by Church law has been recalled publicly, a law that is based on the doctrine and faith of the Church, on our appreciation of life and of the human individual from the very first instant.”

Pope Francis

Months after his election in 2013, Pope Francis said: “In a frail human being, each one of us is invited to recognize the face of the Lord, who in his human flesh experienced the indifference and solitude to which we so often condemn the poorest of the poor, whether in developing countries or in wealthy societies.”  

“Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection.”

In his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, he wrote: “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”  

“Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for ‘instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature.’”

Speaking to reporters on a flight from Slovakia in 2021, Pope Francis said that “abortion is murder,” while urging priests to be pastoral rather than political when faced with the question of who can receive Communion.

“What should the pastor do?” he asked. “Be a shepherd, do not go around condemning, not condemning, but be a pastor. But is he also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is the pastor and he has to shepherd them, and he must be a shepherd with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion, and tenderness. The whole Bible says that. Closeness. Already in Deuteronomy, He says to Israel: What people have gods as close as you have me? Closeness. Compassion: the Lord has compassion on us. We read Ezekiel, we read Hosea, right from the beginning. And tenderness — just look at the Gospel and the works of Jesus.”

“A pastor who does not know how to manage with God’s style slips and he adds many things which are not pastoral. For me, I do not want to particularize [...] the United States because I do not know the details well, I give the principle.”

“You can tell me: but if you are close, and tender, and compassionate with a person, you have to give Communion — but that’s a hypothetical. Be a pastor and the pastor knows what he has to do at all times, but as a shepherd. But if he stops this shepherding of the Church, immediately he becomes a politician. And you will see this in all the denunciations, in all the non-pastoral condemnations that the Church makes.” 

“With this principle, I believe a pastor can act well. The principles are from theology, the pastoral care is theology and the Holy Spirit, who leads you to do it with the style of God.”

Archbishop Cordileone tells priests that Nancy Pelosi Communion denial is ‘pastoral, not political’

"Those who live among us without a permanent home, then, provide us a powerful reminder that we are people on pilgrimage, that this is not our true home," said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone during a homily in a Requiem Mass for the homeless on November 6, 2021. / Dennis Callahan

Denver Newsroom, May 20, 2022 / 13:04 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone took extra pains Friday to explain to priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco his decision barring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from receiving Communion because of her advocacy of abortion.

In a May 20 letter addressed priests of the archdiocese, Cordileone explained that his instruction is nothing but the application of the Church’s teaching. The archbishop addressed a separate letter to the laity.

“There are those who speak of such actions as I am taking as ‘weaponizing’ the Eucharist.  However, this is simply application of Church teaching.  One would have to demonstrate that a person’s actions in following Church teaching is explicitly for a political purpose in order to justify the accusation of ‘weaponizing’ the Eucharist,” the archbishop wrote. “I have been very clear all along, in both my words and my actions, that my motive is pastoral, not political.”

He added “that one can also violate Church teaching and take Holy Communion for a political purpose as well, thus ‘weaponizing’ the Eucharist for one’s own ulterior motives.”

Cordileone had notified Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a resident of the archdiocese, May 19 that because of her obstinate support for legal abortion she is not to present herself for Communion, and that should she do so, she is not to be admitted.

Cordileone’s instruction applies only within the San Francisco archdiocese.

The archbishop explained to his priests that since September 2021, he has made several attempts to have a dialogue with Pelosi about her support for legal abortion. His efforts, he said, were met either with no response or “that the Speaker was unavailable due to her schedule.”

“In consequence of all this and all that has led up to it, it is my determined judgment that this resistance to pastoral counsel has gone on for too long, and there is nothing more that can be done at this point to help the Speaker understand the seriousness of the evil her advocacy for abortion is perpetrating and the scandal she is causing. I therefore issued her the aforementioned Notification that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

His notification added that she may be admitted to Communion after having publicly repudiated her advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion and having received absolution.

Cordileone pointed out that the law he is applying in this situation, Canon 915, is found in the book of canon law that deals with the Church’s sanctifying office, rather than in “Book VI, which is the Church’s legislation on penal law.”

“Thus, this is not a sanction, or a penalty, but rather a declaration of fact: the Speaker is ‘obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin’ (canon 915). A sanction, on the other hand, such as excommunication, has its own particular process and reasons for being applied. This is quite distinct from the application of canon 915,” he explained.

The archbishop went on to note that the promulgation of Pope Francis’ recent revision of penal law described “three pastoral motives that have also guided my discernment here: responding to the demands of justice, moving the offending party to conversion, and repairing the scandal caused.”

He observed that “Pope Francis’ purpose in issuing this revision of the Church’s canonical legislation on penal sanctions is clearly motivated in large part by the commitment to insuring the integrity of the Church’s sacramental life.”

“It is for this reason,” he added, “that there is now a canon which punishes by suspension, to which other penalties can be added, one who ‘administers a sacrament to those who are prohibited from receiving it.’”

Cordileone added that his decision had not been made lightly, but is “the fruit of years of prayer, fasting and consultation with a broad spectrum of Church leaders whom I respect for their intelligence, wisdom and pastoral sensitivity, and it continues my efforts to invite the Speaker down the path of conversion.”

With regard to the sanctity of life the Church is in a spiritual battle, he maintained: “It is not poetic rhetoric to call the proliferation of abortion demonic.”

Because of this, he asked of his priests three things: to preach about the topic; to promote living the consecration of the archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and to pray the St. Michael prayer after Mass.

“This is no time to be intimidated into silence,” he urged. “Do not dodge addressing the grave evil of abortion, but do so, obviously, with great pastoral sensitivity, recognizing that many of your people in the pews listening to you have been personally affected by this terrible scourge.”

Cordileone added that the archdiocese is “fully committed to assisting women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, both during the pregnancy and for years after the birth of the child.”

“Ask your parishioners to help in our efforts as a Catholic people to be truly pro-life: both pro-child and pro-woman,” he exhorted the priests.

The archbishop recommended the following ways to live out the consecration to the Immaculate Heart: pray the rosary daily; fast on Fridays and perform other acts of penance; go to confession more frequently; and regularly adore the Blessed Sacrament.

“In closing, allow me to observe that what we are facing in this particular moment of history is a powerful reminder to us that the Priesthood is not for the faint-hearted. Of course, it never was.  But for a long time, up until recently, we lived in a society that allowed us to imagine that it was.  Let us not fool ourselves any longer,” he said.

“And know how deeply grateful I am to you,” he concluded, “for being with your people, shepherding them, challenging them, and leading them to the green pastures that are deeper life in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Oklahoma Catholic high school sued for $75M over alleged sex abuse 

Photo illustration. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 19:28 pm (CNA).

Ten current and former students, along with six parents or guardians, are suing a Catholic high school in Oklahoma — a school that they allege “fostered and allowed a rape culture” and “tolerated sexual harrassment and assault” by male students, teachers, and coaches for more than 10 years, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed May 16 in Oklahoma County District Court, lists Mount St. Mary Catholic High School in Oklahoma City as a defendant. It also lists those who have authority over the school: the board of trustees, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and the Sisters of Mercy.

The suit accuses three school leaders, who have since resigned, of playing a central role in the “commission of the assault and harassment” and covering it up: former principal Talita DeNegri, assistant principal Wendy Faires, and guidance counselor Mallory Tecmire.

“Despite being on actual and constructive notice of hundreds of incidents of sexual assault and harrassment … MSM [Mount St. Mary’s] did not take reasonable steps to report or stop the rampant rape culture and ongoing sexual abuse that lay just beneath the surface,” the lawsuit reads. “Rather, MSM shamed women and girls who reported, including the Student Plaintiffs and other victims, and allowed men and boys to continue harassing and assaulting women and girls, including the Student Plaintiffs.”

The lawsuit alleges a breach of contract, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, discrimination on the basis of sex and hostile educational environment harassment, public nuisance, and slander. Plaintiffs are seeking more than $75 million in damages.

One male student who attended the high school from 2017 to 2022 — identified as “X.R.” — is accused in the complaint of raping or assaulting numerous women, including three of the plaintiffs. One woman accused him of groping and kissing her while she was driving, the complaint states, while another said he assaulted her in a dark classroom.

Mount St. Mary leaders learned of these incidents, the lawsuit alleges, but did nothing about X.R. until news media reported on sexual abuse allegations at the school. X.R. has been or will be criminally charged, the lawsuit claims.

In response to the lawsuit, Mount St. Mary’s shared a statement with CNA from the school’s incoming principal, Laura Cain. 

“I have been made aware of the lawsuit but am unable to comment on pending legal situations,” Cain, who will serve as principal beginning on July 1, said. “What I can speak to is the confidence I have in the direction of Mount St. Mary Catholic High School. As an alumna and former parent, I know the pain our school's community has faced over the last six months. We must ensure that we maintain a compassionate environment where students can grow and excel. Our future provides an opportunity to not only educate, but to improve.”

In a statement, the Sisters of Mercy responded that they “have not received a complaint at this time and so we cannot comment on the lawsuit.”

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City did not respond with comment by time of publication.

When the archdiocese learned of the allegations last year, the staff contacted police, said Page Hauser, the archdiocese’s safe environment coordinator, the Associated Press reported. 

“They also worked with the governing board at the school to hire an independent investigator to look into the allegations, resulting in the resignation of three staff members,” Hauser said in a statement Wednesday.

'Br. Martin,' self-described monk with large Twitter following, says he won't heed bishop's warning

Martin Navarro, a layman and founder of the group the Oblates of St. Augustine, is refusing to obey his bishop's demands that he no longer fundraise, identify himself as "brother," dress in a habit, and construct a chapel in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. / Screenshot from YouTube video

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

A social media-savvy layman, who uses the title “Brother” and wears a habit, will not obey his bishop’s orders to cease presenting himself as a religious brother or member of a religious community. 

Nor will Martin Navarro  — whose “Br. Martin” Twitter account has more than 11,000 followers — acquiesce to Bishop James Johnston’s demands to stop fundraising in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and cease building an unauthorized chapel. 

“We're following the rules, we're following the guidelines, as well as being honest as who we are and what our intentions are,” Navarro said in a YouTube video posted May 17.

As to his practice of wearing a habit, he said, “it’s a free country, so to speak; you can wear whatever you want.”

Navarro, 31, has asked Johnston to formally recognize a Traditional Latin Mass religious group Navarro started called the Oblates of St. Augustine. 

Johnston denied the request. He also ordered the group to cease operating in the diocese.

The bishop issued the demands in a letter dated May 6 addressed to Navarro. Navarro made the letter public in the same YouTube video from May 17.

“I have not given nor will give approval or permission to explore, found, or establish the community about which you have previously inquired,” Johnston stated in the letter.

“I further direct that you do not use the religious title of ‘Brother Martin’ at any time nor dress in a religious habit, since in justice and truth, your canonical status is not one of membership within a religious community, such continued usage is both disingenuous and dishonest,” he added.

Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph. CNA
Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph. CNA

Johnston reiterated his demands “in order to emphasize the seriousness of my warning and prohibitions” at the end of the letter.

“I reiterate what I have made eminently clear above: do not call yourself ‘Brother,’ do not continue to present yourself within the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in any manner or means, including by wearing a religious habit, as a Brother or as a member of a religious community, do not ask for any funds or alms within the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph whether in person or on the Internet or other social media formats, and do not utilize an unapproved chapel within the Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph,” he stated.

“Your request of me regarding your proposed formation of Oblates of Saint Augustine is, therefore, denied.”

Church law at issue

Navarro told CNA on May 18 that he will not comply with Johnston's orders.

The Oblates of St. Augustine community he leads is based in Weston, Missouri, a small town about a 40-minute drive north of Kansas City. It’s unclear how many men are in the group. Speaking to CNA, Navarro would only say that since founding the Oblates in 2020, “I’ve never been alone.”

The Oblates’ website describes the group as a “community of Traditional Roman Catholic men, faithful to the Traditional Roman Rite, the Holy Rule of St. Augustine, and the traditional formulations of the Catholic religion.” The group says it is devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass and breviary.

Navarro said the group is currently living on property leased to them by Mike Parrott, the host of a YouTube channel called Restoring the Faith Media. The group’s chapel in a converted garage already is under construction on the property, and nearing completion. Navarro told CNA the group has raised more than $161,000 for the monastery project. A separate funding drive accepts donations for the group members' living expenses.

Navarro’s “Br. Martin” Twitter account often tweets comments concerning an ongoing dispute between Parrott and the Church Militant media outlet which began over Parrott’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Father James Jackson, a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who is facing federal child pornography charges in Rhode Island.

In his letter, Johnston cited several canons, as well as Pope Francis’ 2020 motu proprio Authenticum charismatis, to support his authority over the group’s activities in his diocese.

Johnston warned that “failure to observe these provisions … could result in further disciplinary actions. Accordingly, this letter itself stands as due canonical warning of the same.”

Navarro, for his part, says Johnston is misinterpreting church law, and using it “to intimidate us from praying.”

Asked to respond to Navarro’s intention to defy Johnston, Ashlie Hand, communications director for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, issued a statement to CNA Thursday night.

“Bishop Johnston has communicated appropriate guidance and next steps with Mr. Navarro regarding his request to establish the Oblates of St. Augustine in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph," Hand said. "Bishop Johnston intends any further communication to be private."

US bishops welcome Biden administration's easing of Cuba sanctions

Demonstrations in Havana against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, July 11, 2021. / Domitille P/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, May 19, 2022 / 13:10 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops’ chairman on international justice and peace on Thursday lauded the government’s decision to ease sanctions on Cuba. 

“We commend the Administration’s renewed interest in restarting U.S. engagement with Cuba. Recognizing that points of contention remain between our two countries, Cuba’s punitive isolation has not produced the economic and social change that the United States has sought to effect,” Bishop David Malloy of Rockford said May 19.

The Biden administration announced earlier this week that caps on family remittances sent to Cuba will be lifted, gifts to non-family members will be allowed, family reunification programs will be restarted, and travel to the island will be be more readily available.               

“The expansion of travel opportunities for U.S. citizens, as well as the lifting of onerous remittance limitations, will strengthen familial, economic, and social ties between our countries. Cuba’s developing civil society and private sector depend on the leadership provided by active U.S. civil society engagement in Cuba,” Malloy commented.

“The U.S. bishops, including the Cuban-American bishops, in conjunction with the Holy See and the bishops of Cuba, continue to stress the vital importance of bilateral engagement and mutually beneficial trade relations between the United States and Cuba as the key to transformative change on the island,” he said.

Official relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed shortly after communist rule on the island was established in 1959, and the U.S. imposed an an embargo on travel and trade.

The Obama administration began making small changes to these policies in 2009, and restored diplomatic relations, but many of the changes were reversed under the administration of Donald Trump.

Protests took place across Cuba in July 2021 over concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and thousands were arrested. Many demonstrators remain imprisoned.

Several U.S. lawmakers have opposed the easing of sanctions announced by the Biden administration.

“The Biden White House is rewarding the Western Hemisphere’s longest ruling communist dictatorship with high level talks, easing sanctions, increased travel, and access to U.S. financial institutions,” read a May 16 joint statement from Senator Marco Rubio and four other senators, who were joined by five House members. “Appeasing Cuba’s murderous regime … undercuts America’s support for Cuba’s democratic opposition.”

After Christendom

Jean-Luc Marion (b. 1946) and Chantal Delsol (b. 1947) are both prominent French philosophers who are very public about their Roman Catholicism. This alone would put them, in the minds of many of their fellow citizens, into “conservative” political and cultural camps, though the truth is considerably more complicated. This past year saw the appearance in English translation of Marion’s 2017 book, A Brief Apology for a Catholic Moment, and the publication of Delsol’s La Fin de la Chrétienté. Both of these short works grapple with the role of the Church in a dechristianized culture; both show the complex negotiations required to steer between what Marion calls the “twin and rival disasters” of integralism, which seeks to establish a Christian social order, and progressivism, which risks letting any distinctively Christian identity evaporate.

Religion has, of course, played a very different role in modern, highly secular France than it has in the United States (which Delsol calls a pays biblico-revolutionnaire—a biblical-revolutionary land), but the differences may not be as great as is sometimes claimed. As shown by the “Quiet Revolution” in Quebec in the 1960s, and by more recent cultural changes in Ireland, the secularization of seemingly robust religious cultures can happen very quickly, and there is reason to think that our own country is undergoing just such a shift. So Marion and Delsol’s books can help us contemplate our own likely more secular future.

Jean-Luc Marion first came to the attention of English-speaking readers three decades ago with the publication in translation of God Without Being. This work of philosophical theology embraced the postmodern critique of “onto-theology” while drawing some surprising conclusions from that critique, including a robust defense of that seemingly most ontological of theological doctrines: transubstantiation. Because of its sometimes counterintuitive intellectual moves and its postmodern Heideggerian idiolect, this book helped secure Marion’s reputation as a challenging and highly speculative thinker. But Marion is also a practicing Catholic who cares passionately about the place of the Church in the postmodern world. In A Brief Apology he offers what he characterizes as an exercise in practical reasoning in an interrogative mode, pursuing the question of the role Catholics can and should play in French society. (Like Delsol, he makes only passing reference to non-Catholic Christians.)

Marion argues that the situation in France, and the West in general, is so dire that in order to avoid complete societal dissolution, “we must make an appeal to all the resources and all the strengths. Even the Catholic ones.” He chooses to characterize this situation as “decadence,” rather than “crisis.” This decadence is in fact “a crisis of crisis,” by which he means something like what Nietzsche meant by modern nihilism in his Twilight of the Idols: “‘I do not know where I am or what I am to do; I am everything that knows not where it is or what to do,’—sighs the modern man.” This also echoes the critique of modernity made over half a century ago by Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of Marion’s intellectual mentors, in The Moment of Christian Witness. It is precisely by the infinite deferral of the moment of crisis that the modern world defeats the Gospel, since the Gospel is a call to crisis that demands a decision. The modern allergy to crisis undermines not only Catholicism but also Western society itself. “We are not falling into the abyss, we are suffering from a stagnant decadence.”

Jean-Luc Marion (Courtesy of University of Chicago Press)

Marion employs Augustine’s critique of Rome as a republic that failed to embody true justice, which requires worship of the true God. Marion argues that because divine grace gives Christians access to justice, “they alone can uphold, always only partially, but always effectively, earthly cities to which they fundamentally do not belong.” It is precisely the “outsider” status of Christians in society that allows them to press beyond narrow national interests to true justice and communion. The French Republic’s motto—liberté, égalité, fraternité—is realizable only if there is a universal paternity that unites all people: “The only Father conceivable who can ensure just and actual brotherhood, because it ensures union in communion, is found in heaven; only from there can it come to earth.” Marion quickly notes that the Republic, being a secular state, obviously cannot incorporate this into its motto, much less into its constitution, yet “Catholics can witness to this paternity in a society of orphans.”

 

Given the strong connection he draws between Christianity and true justice, Marion’s embrace of the secularity (laïcité) of the French Republic might seem surprising. This embrace distances him from integralism and its arguments in favor of a Christian political order, which he dismisses as “an illusion.” But he does it also for positive theological reasons, invoking thinkers such as Ivan Illich and Charles Taylor to argue that first Judaism and then Christianity “desacralize” the world, and worldly politics along with it. His exposition and defense of laïcité depend upon a dual use of this term: on the one hand, it can be a neutral word for the secular sphere’s renunciation of competence in religious matters; on the other, it can mean an aggressively secular anti-religion. The more neutral sense of the term simply identifies a realm distinct from the sacred, part of the structure of difference that is integral to the providential order of the world. Laïcité in the negative sense is precisely the violation of this structure of difference, an overstepping of the profane into the realm of the sacred, the former banishing and replacing the latter. Marion writes that this sort of laïcité could become “a fourth monotheism, like the first monotheism without God, the most abstract and therefore the most dangerous.”

In defending a positive notion of läicité, Marion appeals to Pascal’s distinction between the orders of bodies, minds, and charity to argue for the incommensurability of these three orders and for the primacy of the order of charity. This distinction “allows us to identify the neutrality of the state with the first order”—i.e. the state’s proper sphere of concern is the bodily acts of its citizens—“and to validate its positive powerlessness to see (and, what is more, to judge) the order of mind (freedom of thought, research, etc.) and above all the order of charity (freedom of conscience, of belief and unbelief, or ‘religion’ and of change of religion).” True laïcité requires that the state embrace its blindness and incompetence with regard to religious belief. Marion draws from Pascal here, but an American might be forgiven for hearing echoes of John Courtney Murray.

When Marion turns to the positive contribution the Church can make to society, he points again to the “outsider” or “otherworldly” status of Christians: “They make the world less unlivable, because their aim is not to set themselves up in it in perpetuity, but to begin to live in the world according to another logic, and in fact they already belong to another world.” The Christian orientation toward another logic, another world, and ultimately to a transcendent Other, lies at the heart of Marion’s account of what Christianity offers to the postmodern West. He sees the triumph of the market in the West as a form of practical nihilism that obliterates difference by reducing everything to its economic value: “The economy rests on a possibility of abstraction, which reduces each and every thing to money, and thus establishes equivalence between things that in reality have nothing in common; whence the possibility of universal exchange.” Our mania to put a price tag on everything obliterates difference, reducing it to a monetary sameness in which things are distinguished not qualitatively but quantitatively. Such a reduction destroys our capacity to apprehend a good that is qualitatively other.

This is the societal manifestation of Nietzsche’s will-to-power, the will that wills no good except its own increase. Such a will, Marion writes, makes a person “a slave of the worst of masters, himself,” and to be liberated from this bondage involves “attaining and setting up a thing for a good, a thing in itself, which is a thing outside of me.” This is precisely what Christianity offers: “He alone tears himself from nihilism who, in imitating Christ, succeeds in not willing his own will (to will), in order to will elsewhere and from elsewhere.” Such a good can become the common good of a society because, while irreducibly other in its transcendence over the world, it is not abstract in the way monetary value is; rather, it is concretely “accomplished in the Trinity and manifested in a trinitarian manner by Christ.” This offers “a political model that is at base non-political…a community that aims at communion, because in fact it comes from communion.”

The appeal to the life of the Trinity and the life of God incarnate provides an opening for Marion to conclude his Brief Apology with a discussion of the phenomenon of the gift, a theme he has explored in other works. Rejecting the model of “gift-exchange,” which links giving and getting, Marion sees gift as following “the logic of erotic phenomena”: “It creates the eventual conditions of a gift in return, but does not depend on the reality of the return on investment, or expect it.” This erotic logic helps address the issue of the exercise of power by Christians. Because the gift is given without expectation of return, the Catholic citizen can, like Christ himself, offer to the political community his or her gift of witness to true communion without demanding political power either as a precondition or an expected award.

Delsol’s book might be thought of as a preemptive autopsy, comparing a dying Christendom with the death of pagan civilization in the late ancient world.

Unlike Marion, Chantal Delsol is a thinker already known for her political philosophy and La Fin de la Chrétienté (“The End of Christendom”) continues an already well-developed line of inquiry. Her approach, influenced by her teacher Julien Freund and his appropriation of the thought of Max Weber, is marked by a philosophical anthropology that acknowledges the social and historical construction of human identity without totally abandoning the idea of human nature. In this sense, her project is not unlike that of Alasdair MacIntyre. It leads her to pay close attention to the play of historical contingencies in such notions as human dignity. Rather than a static identity, human nature is a dynamic, evolving reality—indeed, if anything is “essential” to our nature it is our ceaseless desire to exceed that nature. As she writes memorably of the human person in her book, Qu’est-ce que l’homme? (“What Is a Human Being?”): “Rooted, he wants to be emancipated from his roots. Put another way, he seeks an inaccessible dwelling place through a succession of temporary way stations.” The result is an Augustinian anthropology of the “restless heart” inflected by postmodern historical consciousness. All of this informs her account of the fate of Christianity in the contemporary West.

English speakers might be misled by the title of La Fin de la Chrétienté. The term Chréienté refers not to what we would call “Christianity,” understood as a community of belief and practice (what the French call christienisme), but rather to the socio-political formation that we refer to as “Christendom.” Delsol describes this as “the civilization inspired, ordered, guided by the Church,” which endured for sixteen centuries, beginning with Theodosius’s victory in the Battle of the Frigid River in 394 AD, but which is now in its death throes. Delsol’s book might be thought of as a preemptive autopsy, comparing a dying Christendom with the death of pagan civilization in the late ancient world—a death brought about by Christendom itself.

Delsol begins by examining how a Church that so resolutely resisted modernity for two centuries in the name of Christian civilization has since the 1960s come to embrace such modern values as religious freedom—values utterly at odds with Christendom. She offers an analysis of early twentieth-century fascism and corporatism as integralist attempts to save Christendom that “proved to be worse than the disease.” Animated by a utopian nostalgia that proved to be merely the mirror image of modernity’s utopian futurism, these sorts of movements fell prey to those, such as Charles Maurras, who wanted Christendom but couldn’t care less about Christianity itself. In the end, Delsol argues, such movements proved to be nothing but “the convulsions of a dying Christendom.”

While both Marion and Delsol see integralism as a doomed effort to resuscitate Christendom, Delsol is less confident than Marion that Christendom can be replaced by a benign form of laïcité, in part because she is generally skeptical that any society can in fact be secular. Secularity is a fantasy indulged in by intellectuals, but for ordinary people, “for whom common sense whispers that there are mysteries behind the door,” religion of some sort is unavoidable. Our present moment, she argues, is not one of secularization but of revolution “in the strict sense of a cyclical return.” Ancient paganism is reborn, albeit in new forms marked by the sixteen intervening centuries of Christendom. This revolution involves a kind of Nietzschean transvaluation both in morals (what she calls “the normative inversion”) and in worldview (“the ontological inversion”). Delsol tries to retain a certain analytic detachment in describing these inversions of prior moral norms, casting herself as an observer of this moment of historical transition rather than as a partisan. Still, she insists on the significance of this inversion. She believes that the mores of a society form the basic architecture of its existence, a structure more stable than codified laws, shaping not only the actions of those who belong to it but also their feelings and habits. As any parent will recognize (Delsol is the mother of six), “children are always educated by their times more than by their parents.”

 

To shed light on our own times, Delsol looks back to the birth of Christendom, the last great inversion of norms in the West. She insists on two claims that might seem contradictory at first: the advent of Christendom was a radical break with the pagan past, and it was also unthinkable without that past as the basis on which it built. Christians constructed their civilization using elements of pagan culture, in particular Stoic morality, though now “democratized” and reframed within a new system of beliefs that transformed what was appropriated. Like Marion, Delsol sees “otherness” as a key to the innovation of Christianity. In contrast to the profoundly unified religious world of the Romans, in which the gods and humanity were fellow citizens of the cosmos, Christianity “introduced a dualism between the temporal and the spiritual, the here-and-now and the beyond, human beings and God.” The advent of Christendom brought a sharp reversal of societal attitudes regarding divorce, abortion, infanticide, suicide, and homosexuality. Delsol evinces a keen sympathy for those pagan Romans, conservators of traditional values, who felt that with the advent of Christendom they had entered “an intellectual and spiritual world torn apart,” and she shows genuine admiration for those who continued to battle in the face of what was clearly inevitable defeat.

Chantal Delsol (Hannah Assouline / Éditions du Cerf)

So too in our own day the partisans of Christendom fight in service of what is manifestly a lost cause. Delsol points to shifts in both laws and popular attitudes toward divorce, abortion, and assisted reproduction. Though there are pockets of resistance to these developments (particularly, she notes, in the United States), the path of this arc is clear: “Humanitarianism, the morality of today, is a morality entirely oriented toward the well-being of the individual, without any vision of the human person [vision anthropologique].” What we see is an “inversion of the inversion,” an undoing of the revolution of the fourth century that turned the ideals of Christianity into socially enforced norms. Some would say that this is the result of our progressive realization of the inviolability of individual conscience with regard to ultimate questions, but Delsol resists narratives of progress: “In each era, ‘progress’ consists simply in reconciling realities (laws, customs, mores) with diffuse and sometimes as yet unexpressed beliefs that evolve in silence.”

This suggests that human beings are not simply behavers, but also believers. The moral norms of the ancient world changed because the beliefs of Christianity supplanted those of paganism, making long-accepted pagan practices suddenly appear odious. Delsol quotes Tacitus: “[Christians] hold profane all that we hold as sacred and, on the other hand, permit all that we hold to be abominable.” Like Marion, Delsol ascribes to Judaism and Christianity a key role in de-sacralizing the world. The dualism of Christianity, with its transcendent God standing over and against the world He created, replaced the “cosmotheism” of antiquity, which saw the cosmos itself as saturated with divinity. Or, more precisely, monotheism was layered on top of cosmotheism, a “secondary religion” covering over (but just barely) the “primary religion” of humanity, which “arises, so to speak, on its own, proliferates without fertilizer, and instantly occupies and reoccupies a place as soon as it is free.” This reoccupation of the space vacated by Christendom is what we face today. Christianity has been replaced not by atheism and secularity, as the Enlightenment philosophes foretold, but by a religion “more primitive and more rustic.”

Today this primitive and rustic cosmotheism takes various forms, perhaps most powerfully in the emergence of environmentalism as a kind of popular religion. Nietzsche was right in pointing to the “otherworldliness” of Christianity as a repudiation of the ancient world, and the contemporary repudiation of Christendom is fueled by a desire to focus again on this world as our true home. “For the monotheist, this world is only a temporary lodging. For the cosmotheist it is a dwelling. The postmodern spirit is tired of living in a lodging…. It wants to be reintegrated into the world as a full citizen, and not as a ‘resident alien.’”

Delsol notes the numerous writers who have described modernity as parasitic on Christianity, but she prefers to speak of modernity as a “palimpsest” written over the Christian text, just as Christianity was written over the text of antiquity. This is always the way that human societies work: “Using all the possible materials” from the past “but depriving them of their meaning in order to reinvent them for the benefit of a new epoch.” Just as Christendom replaced paganism, a religion founded on mythos, with one that claimed to be founded on truth—and persecuted those who denied that truth—so now, in our postmodern moment, “truth” has once again been eclipsed by mythos. Yet this new mythos is ineradicably marked by the Christian appeal to “truth,” for it does not breed tolerance, as the myths of antiquity did, but retains the universalism of the Christendom that it has overwritten. For Delsol, the “woke” have “taken over the concept of dogmatic truth, and excluded their adversaries from public life, just as the Church had excommunicated in times past.” The fate of the West is neither nihilism nor ancient pagan religion, but humanitarianism, “the evangelical virtues…recycled to become a kind of common morality.” But, Delsol asks, “what will become of principles that can no longer permanently replenish themselves, their source having been banished?” We are left with what Delsol calls, invoking Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, “the Church without Christ,” and one suspects that Delsol would agree with O’Connor in A Memoir of Mary Ann that, in the absence of faith, “we govern by…a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror.”

Blame for this outcome can be laid at the feet of Christendom itself: “In its pretention to establish itself as a civilization, Christianity ended up producing a monstrous avatar that is at the same time its alter-ego and its mortal enemy.” But, Delsol reminds us, Christendom is not Christianity, and the demise of the former is not the demise of the latter. She is inclined to cast a jaundiced eye at excessive Christian breast-beating over the past, “which can resemble masochism.” We rightly judge aspects of Christendom to have been distortions of the Gospel, but Delsol, the good historicist, sees little point in condemning those in the past who did not have the benefit of our hindsight. Delsol comes neither to praise nor to condemn Christendom, but to bury it.

She is concerned, however, that in their reasonable fear of repeating the errors of Christendom, Christians will end up muting their distinctive voice. Late in the book, she shifts from the descriptive to the prescriptive: “To dialogue is not to dissolve oneself in the theses of the adversary, and one does not need to cease to exist in order to be tolerant—in fact, the opposite is the case.” This is not the integralist call for a return to Christendom. It is, as Delsol puts it, a call to “a spiritual revolution,” which by worldly standards might look like defeat. Christians must form their children “to carry themselves like Kierkegaard’s knight of faith: resigned, but also able to walk toward the infinite.” For Delsol, as for Marion, the category of “witness” is key. Christians without Christendom must take up the role of witnesses rather than rulers, and learn the virtues characteristic of a minority: “Equanimity, patience, and perseverance.” Christians must take as their model not Sepúlveda, who justified the conversion by conquest of the Americas, but the martyred Trappist monks of Tibhirine, who died because they would not abandon their Muslim neighbors.

It is through witness, not through coercion, that the Church engages the world and seeks to change it.

There are clear points of convergence between Marion and Delsol. They both reject integralism and seek a practical modus vivendi within the current socio-political order. Neither thinks that the Kingship of Christ requires Christians to have their hands on the levers of temporal power. And neither wishes to embrace a progressivism that would dilute Christian witness into a vague spirituality. Marion in particular is resolutely Christo-centric in his approach: “In order to understand Catholics, it is first necessary to figure out what makes them tick: Christ.” This is especially the case when it comes to determining the success or failure of the Church: “[Christ] never guaranteed it would become a majority, or dominant in the world: he only asked it to pass through the same experience of the cross by which he gained the Resurrection.” It is through witness, not through coercion, that the Church engages the world and seeks to change it. Marion and Delsol are “conservative” primarily in the sense that they seek to conserve the centrality of Christ in the Church’s witness, and to do this in continuity with the saints of the past.

But there are also important differences between the two. Delsol’s tone is more combative than Marion’s. This is partly a difference of intellectual style—between a philosopher-theologian who typically operates in a speculative and abstract mode and a philosopher-sociologist who mucks around in the messiness of history. But there is also a substantive difference. Marion still operates within Jacques Maritain’s “New Christendom” model, in which the Church’s public role is to provide the state with the values it needs to sustain what Maritain called “the democratic secular faith.” That faith was, if not Christian, at least “Christianly inspired,” and it formed a people that “at least recognized the value and sensibleness of the Christian conception of freedom, social progress, and the political establishment.” Marion seems confident that “Christians furnish society with its best citizens from the point of view even of the interests of the city of men, because their disinterestedness toward earthly power makes them honest workers who are efficient and reliable in community life.”

Delsol explicitly rejects Maritain’s New Christendom model, calling it one of “the last illusions” of the postwar era. This is in keeping with her rejection of the idea that modernity is secular, even in Marion’s benign sense of laïcité. Maritain and Marion’s vision of the Church supplying the modern nation with something it lacks is at odds with Delsol’s claim that contemporary society in fact possesses its own moral norms and belief system: neo-pagan cosmotheism. If she is right, then there are no gaps for Christian beliefs and values to fill; the space they would occupy is already filled with alternative beliefs and values. Marion’s A Brief Apology for a Catholic Moment echoes the title of Richard John Neuhaus’s 1987 book The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World. Both of these books see the Church as serving a vital social role within a religiously neutral state. In light of this agreement, it is tempting to cast Delsol in the role of Neuhaus’s friend Stanley Hauerwas, the contrarian insisting on the ineradicable conflict between Church and world, and suggesting that “Catholic moments” may simply be nostalgia for the halls of power. In fact, immediately after her criticism of Maritain, Delsol invokes Hauerwas’s student, William Cavanaugh, as offering an alternative approach, one that focuses on the Church as what Pope Francis has called “a field hospital,” present not to provide values to a secular world, but to bind up its wounds.

Finally, we might note how Marion and Delsol address the topic that has been haunting the Church for the past two decades: the sex-abuse crisis. One would expect the counter-witness of this scandal to be of particular concern to thinkers who give primacy to “witness” as the Church’s mode of engagement with the world. But Marion mentions pedophilia only in a brief footnote largely dedicated to pointing out the presence of pedophiles in other communities and organizations. To be fair, his book came out in France several years before the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church issued its scathing report on sexual abuse in the French Church. But something Marion does say makes one wonder if his silence on this issue is entirely accidental. At the outset of the book he notes, “Only the saints speak properly of God and are qualified to critique the Church and Catholics.” He then goes on to write a few pages later that “the believer who is serious and practicing the faith forgets to occupy himself with the reform of ecclesiastical institutions.” Marion is undoubtedly correct to warn Catholics away from an obsession with ecclesiastic politics and toward focusing on the heart of the Gospel. But this still leaves the question of how reform is possible in a Church with few saints and a hierarchy with a poor track record of policing itself. Over the past few decades, ordinary, non-saintly Catholics—and often, alas, ex-Catholics—played a key role in holding the Church accountable. An idealized ecclesiology that seems to ignore this fact is hardly adequate to our moment.

Delsol, unsurprisingly, has little tendency to idealize the Church. Though the Independent Commission’s report had not yet been issued when she wrote her book, it was clearly on the horizon, and she does address the scandal in a few passages. She notes that pedophilia, now criminalized, had once been considered by the Church and society at large “a lesser evil that one bore in order to safeguard families and institutions.” She repeats this point later, noting that what was seen as a relatively minor misstep at one point in time—“collateral damage”—became, at a later point in time, a crime against humanity. All of this fits with her historicist account of moral norms and her tendency, when writing in her analytic mode, of eschewing moral judgements on the past, which had its own very different norms.

But Delsol is also able to step out of that analytic mode and speak more normatively as a member of the Catholic faithful, and here her judgments are sharper. She sees the sex-abuse catastrophe as evidence of the distorting effects Christendom had on Christian faith. “The Church behaves like a governing and dominating institution, believing that everything that is forbidden to others is permitted for it.” Powerful cultural institutions often convince themselves that, in light of their important societal role, they cannot afford the luxury of truth-telling. By the grace of providence and the vicissitudes of history, the Church, freed from Christendom, is now in a better position to witness to the truth, even if it is the truth of her own failures.

Both of these brief books are rich in resources for reflection. As the Church in the United States confronts the reality of accelerating disaffiliation among young people, the experience of the Church in France, which has long grappled with dechristianization, acquires greater relevance. Marion and Delsol help us see how Catholics in an increasingly post-Christian society might bear witness to their faith without bitterness or nostalgia—and perhaps even with joy.

A Brief Apology for a Catholic Moment
Jean-Luc Marion
University of Chicago Press
$22.50 | 120 pp.

La Fin de la Chrétienté
Chantal Delsol
CERF
€16 | 176 pp.

Issue: 

Entering the Chaos

Maureen O’Connell’s new book, Undoing the Knots: Five Generations of American Catholic Anti-Blackness, is a project of unraveling. To frame her task, she cites James Baldwin’s “advice to white people” to “go back where you started, as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again and tell the truth about it.” Over the course of the book, O’Connell retraces her family’s history in the United States, specifically in Catholic Philadelphia, to uncover how her family’s identity as Irish immigrant Catholics became entangled with whiteness and anti-Blackness over the course of centuries, such that her own Catholic identity remains knotted up with racism today.

O’Connell’s examination of her ancestors’ and relatives’ experiences in the United States as white Catholics—as well as her own—leads her to two revelations that extend beyond her family’s history. The first: whiteness is “part of the tradition of American Catholicism.” In other words, what it means to be white and what it means to be Catholic are handed down together from one generation to the next through ritual, practice, and teaching, and American Catholic traditions and rituals can become lessons in learning and performing whiteness.

Identifying as white helped newly arrived Irish Catholics confront anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States. Rather than stand in solidarity with African Americans, who also lived under an Anglo-Saxon culture that was not their own, Irish Catholics “tapped into the rootstock of American anti-Blackness to build immunity to the pathogen of anti-Catholicism.” In the twentieth century, for example, Irish Catholics used minstrel shows to create a racial boundary between themselves and Black Americans. In her research, O’Connell discovers that both her mother and her uncle participated in a Catholic blackface minstrel show, a form of entertainment that was “standard fare” for Irish Catholic families into the 1950s. The practice of blackface minstrelsy cultivated a twisted version of solidarity, connecting white people with each other via shared ridicule of Black people. It is these kinds of traditions that O’Connell wants to scrutinize so that white Catholics can recognize how Catholic traditions and practices have been used to communicate and pass down the myth of Black inferiority.

O’Connell also emphasizes that the decisions of Church leaders shaped how white Catholics thought about race and racism. At every turn, Catholic leaders missed opportunities to subvert the racial hierarchies that oppressed Black people in the United States. Instead of requiring “confederate Catholics to atone for the sin of slavery” or suggesting other measures of reckoning honestly with the trauma of slavery and the Civil War, U.S. bishops exercised what O’Connell terms “a preferential option for the institutional Church.” They prioritized converting Black people “rather than reconstructing conditions that continued to oppress their bodies,” and they continued to focus on defending against Protestant discrimination and promoting doctrinal orthodoxy rather than opposing oppression.

Instead of resisting racial divisions, the bishops reinforced them, drawing parish lines to separate Catholics by race.

Instead of resisting racial divisions, the bishops reinforced them, drawing parish lines to separate Catholics by race. Here, O’Connell demonstrates how the factors that structure where people live, work, and worship—not only parish membership, but also zoning laws, hiring practices, and school policies—affect who people see in their daily lives. Their relative isolation from Black people profoundly influenced white Catholics’ imagination, cultivating “a sense that their experience was normative and therefore uncontestable.” White Catholics siloed in their own parishes did not see people of color depicted in religious art, worshiping alongside them in the pews, or serving as clergy, which subtly communicated the myth that Black people “were somehow less like the Divine and maybe even less human.” This helped reinforce the idea that white Catholics were more deserving of ecclesial resources than Black Catholics. Without encounters across racial lines, white Catholic assumptions “about God, themselves, or other people” remained unchallenged.

 

 

O’Connell’s second revelation offers some hope to the reader: traditions are constantly evolving. Although Catholicism and anti-Blackness remain entangled, O’Connell believes that connection can be unwound. The first step in the process of “undoing the knots” is truth-telling. White Catholics must lay aside our tacit beliefs about white superiority and our images of white-only saints, stop downplaying our advantages, and instead recognize the sinister aspects of Catholic history and identity in the United States.

In dwelling on her family’s participation in Catholic anti-Blackness, O’Connell models what it would look like for white Catholics to become “more truthful storytellers about ourselves and our traditions.” For her, a willingness to encounter painful pasts and to recognize our own ancestors as perpetrators of anti-Blackness is a form of witness. Being a witness means sharing knowledge of what we have encountered and offering others the chance to encounter transformative perspectives and radical ideas. O’Connell is honest about the pain and discomfort she experiences in discovering her own relatives’ biases and blind spots, as well as their participation in gentrification and the exploitation of Black people. But by mourning the past, she introduces the virtue that she hopes, if put into practice, can transform how white Catholics confront racism: racial mercy. Drawing on the work of Jesuit moral theologian James Keenan, O’Connell defines racial mercy as “a willingness to enter into the chaos of racism.” She asks white Catholics to dwell in the discomfort of Catholic entanglement with anti-Blackness. As we confront the shame and guilt that emerge when we look at our own involvement in racism, we need God’s mercy to acknowledge our shortcomings and seek forgiveness before we can meaningfully participate in the work of racial justice.

O’Connell’s vision of racial mercy encourages us to think on the level of systems and structures. Examining her own family history preserves the role of individuals as agents within these systems and structures, but her analysis of racial boundaries in parishes, neighborhoods, and communities directs our focus to transforming how our communities are structured, funded, and supported. O’Connell concludes, “If our government and our Church—at their respective national, state, and local levels—worked in tandem to create and enforce policies and practices that segregated metro areas like Philadelphia, then they are also capable of working together to repair some of that damage by enacting policies and practices that reintegrate those neighborhoods.” As parishes and schools close, merge, and restructure, we have the opportunity to reshape the boundaries of Catholicism to enact solidarity across racial lines.

But the power to make structural decisions remains largely with the Church hierarchy. Even as Pope Francis encourages lay participation in the process of synodality, the kind of structural change O’Connell calls for requires Church leaders to begin “undoing the knots.” Instead of asserting that “the Church has been antiracist from the beginning” and labeling Black Lives Matter as a Marxist “pseudo-religion,” the U.S. bishops should listen to the voices of Catholics willing to tell the truth about the Church’s involvement with racism. As the National Black Sisters’ Conference reminded Archbishop Gomez, “Over four hundred years of slavery, trauma, pain, disenfranchisement, and brutal violence have been a part of the fabric of this nation and the American Catholic Church.” Without transformative change, the Church will continue to be caught up in anti-Blackness.

Undoing the Knots
Five Generations of American Catholic Anti-Blackness

Maureen O’Connell
Beacon Press
$28.95 | 272 pp.

Issue: 

For sexual abuse victims in Santa Fe archdiocese, $122 million settlement a 'next step'

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe, N.M. / Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, May 18, 2022 / 16:42 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has agreed on a $121.5 million bankruptcy settlement to provide compensation for hundreds of sexual abuse victims, the archdiocese announced Tuesday.

“The Church takes very seriously its responsibility to see the survivors of sexual abuse are justly compensated for the suffering they have endured,” Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe said May 17. “It is our hope that this settlement is the next step in the healing process of those who have been harmed.”

The alleged sexual abuse victims involved in the settlement number more than 370, and some incidents of abuse date back more than 60 years, KOB 4 News reports. When the archdiocese first filed for bankruptcy in November 2018, it faced only 35 to 40 active claims.

“We in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe never cease to keep those who have been harmed by sexual abuse our first priority. We must keep our children safe; it is a responsibility we all share,” Wester said.

“It is our sincere hope that all parties will see the wisdom of the settlement and help bring the bankruptcy case to a conclusion for the good of the survivors of sexual abuse, the good of the Church, and Catholics throughout the archdiocese,” he said.

There were a total of six mediation efforts before the settlement was reached. The bankruptcy plan of the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization will be filed with the bankruptcy court.

Settlement funds will not pay for the archdiocese’s attorney fees and other expenses, which will be paid from separate funds.

The settlement will be funded by the archdiocese, its parishes, other Catholic entities, and the insurance carriers of the archdiocese. Parishes have collectively agreed to contribute “significant amounts” to help fund the settlement plan.

“These contributions will also help relieve them of potential individual financial burdens from any current or future lawsuits,” the archdiocese said. “Other parties have also agreed to contribute in return for the same protections.”

According to the archdiocese, the settlement includes “many critical non-monetary actions,” including the creation of an archive documenting sex abuse, prayer services, and meetings with victims of sexual abuse.

“The archdiocese hopes that these and other positive steps will help to bring healing to survivors of sexual abuse and the larger community,” its statement said.

One alleged abuse victim, identified only as Ana, told KOB 4 News she was sexually abused for all of seventh grade and part of eighth grade.

“It’s just all very traumatic,” she said of her abuse. “I don’t know that there would ever be an amount that would make that better or worth it because I can’t speak for anybody but myself. I would have done anything to not have survived that, and just have had a regular middle school experience.”

She said she has gone through years of legal mediation and has had to revisit her trauma in legal proceedings. In her view, this needed to happen so that she and other abuse survivors could move on.

“I need peace,” she told KOB 4 News. “I need closure, and I need to know that in some way, that it’s been settled.”

The archdiocese said it “remains vigilant” and has maintained a “zero tolerance” policy towards sex abuse for over 25 years. It follows the child protection procedures of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, including background checks for prospective employees and “regular and frequent” safe environment training for every employee and volunteer.

“This is to provide a safe environment for the young people in the Catholic community,” the archdiocese said.

In 2021, the archdiocese aimed to sell off over 700 properties to help pay off settlements. Most properties were small vacant lots, fields, or grazing land donated to the archdiocese by families.

In August 2020, the archdiocese listed the vacant St. Francis Cathedral School in downtown Santa Fe for $3.6 million. It sold for $4.75 million in June 2021 to former golf pro Racquel Huslig, who is now a real estate developer, The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported last year.

Last year’s annual report by the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection, covering the time period from July 2019 through June 2020, found that there were under two dozen recent cases of abuse reported, only about 25% of which had been substantiated so far. At the same time, over 4,200 new allegations of historic abuse were reported, concerning victims who are now legal adults and incidents years or decades ago.

Statistical graphs of the dates of reported abuse incidents continued to show a bell curve that peaks in the 1970s. The report said that since 2014, total costs to U.S. dioceses related to responding to sexual abuse claims, including settlements and attorneys’ fees, were close to $312 million.

TikTok lifts ban on Ruth Sent Us. Here's what we know about this anti-Catholic group

Pamela Smith dressed as characters of "The Handmaids Tale" walks with a noose around her neck as she joins pro-choice protesters gather in large numbers in front of the federal building to defend abortion rights in San Francisco on May 3, 2022. / Nick Otto/AFP via Getty Images

Denver Newsroom, May 18, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

TikTok's "permanent" ban on the anti-Catholic, pro-abortion group Ruth Sent Us didn't last very long.

The activist group in recent weeks has made headlines for coordinating protests outside the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices, rallying demonstrators to disrupt Catholic Masses on Mother’s Day, and threatening to burn the Eucharist.

On May 14 the group’s main account was “permanently banned" from TikTok "due to multiple violations of terms of service,” according to a message on the social media platform.

But two days later, Ruth Sent Us announced that the ban was lifted.

“GREAT NEWS: our TikTok @ruthsent which was ‘permanently banned’ due to mass reporting is back up due to mass appeals! There’s more of us than them. Take that, haters!” the group tweeted. TikTok has yet to explain the ban, or its rapid reversal.

Unlike NARAL Pro-Choice America, Women’s March, and other better-known, well-funded abortion rights groups, Ruth Sent Us has no publicly known leaders, spokespersons, or financial backers. Its low-budget website, RuthSent.Us, is little more than a bare-bones homepage with a handful of links.

Yet the group’s inflammatory rhetoric and provocative, theatrical tactics have thrust it into the forefront of the media’s coverage of the furor surrounding a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.

And the Catholic Church is one of its prime targets.

On Feb. 27 — months before the May 2 leak of a draft opinion that suggested Supreme Court justices were poised to overturn Roe — Ruth Sent Us took responsibility for disrupting Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco. Demonstrators wore hooded red gowns inspired by the television series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Similarly dressed demonstrators disrupted Mass on Mother's Day, May 8, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, but Ruth Sent Us has not taken responsibility for that incident. 

The group contends that the Supreme Court is “extremist” and should be held accountable “using a diversity of tactics.” It demands that pro-abortion rights Catholics, including President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, engage in further activism or legislation to preserve legal abortion. On its social media, the group frequently rails against Catholicism and “Christian Fascism.” Some of its coalition partners also embrace “anti-fascism” and protests outside of churches.

Here’s a closer look behind the group.

Who is Ruth Sent Us?

“Ruth Sent Us” has a social media presence on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram. The group promotes protests of political figures, judges and organizations, including churches, which oppose legal abortion or the Roe v. Wade decision.

The group is part of a coalition of like-minded pro-abortion rights groups that aims to rally protests in support of Roe and other pro-abortion rights precedents which mandate legal abortion nationwide.

Its webpage RuthSent.Us lists no identifying information about its leadership. While it lists an email address, the group has no mailing address. Instead, it refers visitors to a pro-abortion rights action called “Strike for Choice,” set for May 8-15. Ruth Sent Us is one of 12 groups backing this action.

There are no indications whether Ruth Sent Us is a registered business or a registered non-profit or whether it has an official fiscal sponsor.

What else do we know?

A WhoIs webpage registration shows that the Ruth Sent Us website was set up in November 2020 and has a Palo Alto, California-based post office box. The RuthSent.Us web domain name is registered to an individual named Sam Spiegel.

Spiegel’s Twitter profile mentions direct democracy mass mobilization strategy “to jam media with vigil and protest stories.” His Twitter page links to Vigil for Democracy, a self-described “mass mobilizing” group whose Twitter account shares Ruth Sent Us tweets to its 5,000 or so followers.

People protest in reaction to the leak of the US Supreme Court draft abortion ruling on May 3, 2022 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
People protest in reaction to the leak of the US Supreme Court draft abortion ruling on May 3, 2022 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

The Vigil for Democracy is presently an LLC with a Phoenix, Arizona mailing address, but business records show it once had the same California post office box as Ruth Sent Us.

The web registration for the Ruth Sent Us protest group uses the same email as Vigil for Democracy.

The costumed protesters’ web page embedded a Google map of “extremist justices” created by the Vigil for Democracy group to list the streets on which several Supreme Court justices lived. The map was later removed by Google for possible terms of service violations.

What do we know about the Vigil for Democracy group?

Snowden Bishop, radio show host and editor-in-chief at a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based cannabis business magazine, identifies herself as the principal for the Vigil for Democracy and another group, Just Resisting, on her public LinkedIn page. In these roles, she said, “she promotes pro-democracy initiatives and continues to pursue projects aligned with her personal mission to create a better world, one word at a time.” She claims expertise in journalism, marketing, content creation, and political strategy/activism.

In a May 10 phone-call, Bishop told CNA that the Vigil for Democracy group supports “activism of all kinds” but it is not directly in charge of the Ruth Sent Us group.

Bishop did not respond to a follow-up email by deadline. CNA sought comment from Ruth Sent Us and from the email listed on the RuthSent.Us web domain registration but did not receive a response by deadline.

Why “Ruth Sent Us”? Why costumed protesters?

“Ruth Sent Us” was a slogan used in the wake of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a strong backer of abortion rights. A periodical search indicates that the phrase was first reported in a September 2020 protest outside then-Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home, when the Senate was proceeding with the confirmation of Justice Amy Comey Barrett.

Pro-abortion rights women’s marches used the phrase in October of that year. One year later, the Women’s March of South Florida used “Ruth Sent Us” as the theme for its October 2021 protests.

While costumed protests have taken place for years, the Ruth Sent Us group did not appear in mainstream news media reports until early May 2022. It made the news for two reasons: It posted a map of the streets where U.S. Supreme Court justices lived, and it linked its previous church disruption to other activists’ calls for pro-abortion rights protests on Mother’s Day.

The protesters’ costumes take inspiration from a television series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The pro-feminist dystopian novel portrays life under a bizarre and tyrannical variant of Christianity that forces young women to bear children for older couples. In the novel, the sect also proscribes Catholicism and executes Catholic priests.

What is this Strike for Choice? Why Mother’s Day protests?

The Ruth Sent Us group backs a May 8-15 protest called Strike for Choice. Its social media call for Mother’s Day protests at churches was not originally part of this action, since the relevant TikTok video was posted on April 27.

In a May 3 tweet, the group posted the video and sought to link their efforts to a call for a Mother’s Day Strike. That separate call to action was other pro-abortion rights activists’ response to the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that appears set to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Strike for Choice website calls for protests of Whole Foods and AT&T. This protest aims to pressure the Texas-based Whole Foods to speak out against the recent Texas abortion law and to pressure AT&T over its campaign contributions to legislators who passed the law.

A sign-up form for the strikes seeks participants in various ways of protest, including as both unpaid and paid protesters.

What do we know about Ruth Sent Us allies?

The Strike for Choice website lists 12 groups in its coalition. The best known of these is Code Pink, a women’s activist anti-war group that dates back to 2002. It had been founded to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The Vigil for Democracy group is the fiscal host of a fundraiser for the Strike for Choice at the Open Collective fundraising site. As of May 10, the group had raised under $1,400. Some 15 individuals had contributed at least $58 each to support a “striker.” It is unclear whether the money for Strike for Choice participants includes Ruth Sent Us demonstrators.

Refuse Fascism and its project Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights are two more backers of the Strike for Choice.

On its Twitter page, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights said it protested outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City on Mother’s Day because “it’s a symbol for the enslavement of women.” It said “Christian fascist lunatics” on the Supreme Court aim to overturn Roe v. Wade, adding “only the people can stop this.”

The protest, which did not disrupt church services but did block a pro-life walk to an area abortion clinic, drew dozens of people to the historic Catholic church.

What does Ruth Sent Us think of Catholicism?

A TikTok video of the group’s Feb. 27 disruption at San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption gives us an idea.

“For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been an institution for the enslavement of women,” one costumed disruptor shouted at the front of the cathedral. This first disruption video, titled “take it to the oppressors,” drew about 234,000 views on TikTok.

On its social media Ruth Sent Us has polemicized against Catholicism and even threatened to burn the Eucharist.

It also objects to a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court.

“Seven of nine Justices on our Supreme Court are Catholic. That’s 78% of Justices, compared to 23% in the population. WHY?!” the group said in its Feb. 27 TikTok post.

Neil Gorsuch reportedly was raised Catholic. Sonia Sotomayor is expected to be a safe vote to preserve Roe v. Wade.

What does Ruth Sent Us say about itself?

On Twitter May 15, the group invoked anti-segregation sit-in protests of the civil rights movement, saying “Extremist Catholic and Evangelical Churches and Judges are 'lunch counters' of today,” using a hashtag to ask “What would Martin Luther King do”?

It contends that protests backed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL are “massive rallies” that are “easy with social media” but ineffective. Ruth Sent Us contended that “direct action” and intentional crossing of “societal red lines” is a more effective path. Its comments sometimes praise peaceful action but also declare the need to make its foes uncomfortable.

“To fight the theocracy, we believe we must take it to extremist judges and churches,” the group said.

Pro-life groups see double standard

Some pro-life advocates see a double standard in how a group like Ruth Sent Us is treated by TikTok and other social media platforms.

“The social media platform pro-abortion bias cannot be denied,” Caroline Wharton, a staff writer with the pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA. “It's very conspicuous that pro-abortion groups are allowed to exercise their freedom of speech, even up to and including violating the law, while pro-life groups like Students for Life of America get arrested for merely chalking public sidewalk.”

In August 2020, police arrested both an employee and a student member of Students for Life for writing the pro-life message “Pre-born Black Lives Matter” on the sidewalk outside a Washington, D.C., Planned Parenthood clinic. 

Link: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/45384/pro-life-protestors-arrested-for-sidewalk-chalk

“There are double standards on these apps, and every effort is taken to drown out the voices for the vulnerable preborn,” Wharton said.

In late January 2020, the pro-life group LiveAction was banned from TikTok for allegedly violating “multiple community guidelines” and then reinstated quickly. TikTok said the ban was a result of human error by a moderator.

LiveAction was permanently banned from Pinterst in 2019 for alleged misinformation regarding vaccines and “medically inaccurate information and conspiracies that turn individuals and facilities into targets for harassment and violence.”

The group rejected the allegations.

Before LiveAction was banned, former Pinterest employee Eric Cochran, a reputed whistleblower, said that the social media company had classified as a conspiracy theory the reports from investigative journalist and activist David Daleiden, who has explored connections between abortion providers and possible illegal sales of fetal tissue from abortions.

Link: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/41547/pinterest-suspends-pro-life-groups-account-citing-health-misinformation

TikTok’s terms of service bar any material which is “defamatory,” “hateful” or “inflammatory.” Its terms bar material that is discriminatory on the basis of religion, among other characteristics. The terms of service bar “any material that would constitute, encourage or provide instructions for a criminal offense,” as well as “any material that is deliberately designed to provoke or antagonise people, especially trolling and bullying, or is intended to harass, harm, hurt, scare, distress, embarrass or upset people.”

CNA contacted TikTok for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

CNA staff writer Katie Yoder contributed to this story.

Padre Pio's relics coming to national shrine in DC

The body of St. Pio of Pietrelcina / Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA

Boston, Mass., May 18, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina never visited the United States during his time on earth, but now his relics, which include multiple elements from his body, will be visiting Washington D.C. this weekend as they are displayed for veneration at the nation’s largest Catholic church.

The 20th century Italian priest, often referred to as "Padre Pio", received the stigmata, or wounds resembling those of Christ crucified. He was also well known for the many miracles that occurred through him during his life on earth.

The relics will be visiting the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception May 21-22. A spokesperson for the shrine, Jacquelyn Hayes, told CNA that this weekend will be the first time Padre Pio’s relics will be visiting the basilica.

The first and second class relics include crust from the saint’s wounds, his blood stains on cotton gauze, a lock of his hair, his handkerchief which contains his sweat, and a piece of his mantle.

On Saturday, the relics will be available for veneration from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Great Upper Church. The Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, will be celebrating a Mass in honor of Padre Pio at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday as well.

The relics will also be on display Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The relics are being provided by the Tuckahoe, New York-based Saint Pio Foundation, which annually sponsors a tour of Padre Pio’s relics. The showing is happening in partnership with the Archdiocese of Washington.

The foundation’s website says that it sponsors “a tour of the relics each year to give hundreds of thousands of the faithful an opportunity to have a ‘spiritual encounter’ with Padre Pio, to pray to him, and to ask for his intercession.”

A tour schedule for the relics of Padre Pio can be found on the foundation’s website.

The foundation, which has a mission of promoting awareness of the saint and his charism, allows for requests to host the relics in a diocese or parish.

“The request must come directly from the archbishop of an archdiocese, the bishop of a diocese, or the pastor of a parish of the Catholic Church for an archdiocesan, diocesan, or parish veneration, respectively,” the foundation’s website says.