1. The Priesthood Is a Heroic Vocation: Consider the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan who resisted the Nazis. 

By Matthew Hennessey, associate editorial features editor, The Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2017, Pg. A11

Catholics around the world will celebrate the feast day of St. Maximilian Kolbe on Monday. His story is one the church’s finest, though too few people—Christian or not—have heard it.

When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, German forces arrested Kolbe. Although he refused to sign a document giving him the privileges of German citizenship, he was released after three months. His monastery continued to issue anti-Nazi publications. It was shut down in 1941, and Kolbe was arrested again. Eventually he was taken to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

There Kolbe carried out his priestly ministry while enduring humiliation and abuse. After a small group of prisoners escaped in July 1941, the camp’s notorious disciplinarian, Lagerführer Karl Fritzsch, decided to set an example by starving 10 others to death. Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Polish army sergeant, was among those selected to die. Gajowniczek begged that his life be spared on account of his wife and children. Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

Catholic history is replete with heroic stories like Kolbe’s. The church could do a better job of telling them. Many Catholics, including this one, have much to learn.

Vocations have been drying up for half a century. In 1965 the American Catholic Church ordained 994 new priests, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. By 2000, the number had fallen to 442. Ordinations have rebounded somewhat—in 2016 there were 548—but not nearly enough to replace the priests who die, retire or leave their ministries every year.

The vocations crisis is not only a human-resources problem for the bishops. It has real spiritual consequences for the people in the pews. Some 3,500 American parishes have no resident priest. Without a servant of God living among them and ministering to their sacramental and catechetical needs, Catholic communities are unlikely to thrive, if they even manage to survive.

One thing hasn’t changed: Young men still want lives of heroic virtue, and the priesthood offers that in abundance. My advice to parents, teachers and vocations directors everywhere is to tell heroic stories like that of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Appeal to the romantic aspirations of young men by highlighting the courageous lives of the many martyrs and saints of the church.


2. Catholic bishops call for diplomacy to ease U.S.-North Korea differences. 

By Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service, August 11, 2017

Diplomacy and political engagement are necessary to resolve the differences between the United States and North Korea and avoid a military conflict, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Writing August 10, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, echoed a recent call from the Korean bishops’ conference to support talks to secure the peaceful future of the Korean Peninsula.

Cantu acknowledged that the escalating threat of violence from North Korea’s leaders cannot be “underestimated or ignored,” but that the “high certainty of catastrophic death and destruction from any military action must prompt the United States to work with others in the international community for a diplomatic and political solution based on dialogue.”

Cantu’s letter reminded Tillerson that “this crisis reminds us that nuclear deterrence and mutually assured destruction do not ensure security or peace. Instead, they exacerbate tensions and produce and arms races as countries acquire more weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to intimidate or threaten other nations.”


3. On Abortion, Democrats Dig In: Pro-life candidates face rough road to victory in their chosen party.

By Brian Fraga, National Catholic Register, August 10, 2017

Like the Republicans did after losing presidential elections in 2008 and 2012, the Democratic Party is trying to understand its recent electoral setbacks and decide if the road back to power requires energizing its base or appealing to a wider swathe of voters.

That political calculus includes an internal debate within the party over potential candidates who are pro-life. Party leaders are debating whether they should support pro-life candidates, especially in conservative or moderate districts, or require that all Democrats seeking public office unequivocally support Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion, which is enshrined in the party platform.

For pro-life Democrats, the party’s embrace of legalized abortion dooms it to continued failure at the polls.

Day [Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life of America] said the Democratic Party in recent years has pushed “more toward an abortion extremist position,” but added that she sees an opening. She and other pro-life Democrats recently met with Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez — who in April released a statement asserting it was “not negotiable”: “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health” —  and other party leaders to discuss their ideas about a big-tent approach.

“When California Gov. Jerry Brown comes out and says we need to be a big-tent party, you know we’re making some progress,” Day said. 

Charles Camosy, a moral theology professor at Fordham University who is also a board member of Democrats for Life of America, told the Register that pro-life Democrats must have a future if the Democrats are to survive as a major party.

“One in three Democrats identifies as pro-life. That’s over 20 million people,” Camosy said. “The party is in serious trouble and needs pro-life Democrats if they ever hope to have a majority again. For instance, without pro-life Democrats, the signature liberal legislation of the last two generations, the Affordable Care Act, would never have passed.”

Stephen Schneck, a longtime political science professor at The Catholic University of America who served as the co-chairman of Catholics for Obama, told the Register that it is becoming apparent to party leadership that one way to turn around the Democrats’ fortunes is to appeal to pro-life voters, especially in the Midwest and South.

In the midst of that abortion debate, several organizations — such as Emily’s List, the American Federation of Teachers, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Democracy for America — released a joint statement Aug. 2 affirming their commitment to abortion rights as a Democratic Party foundational principle.

Meanwhile, pro-life Republicans remain skeptical of just how much a factor pro-life Democrats really are. Austin Ruse, the president of the Center for Family and Human Rights, told the Register that he views the debate over pro-life Democrats as little more than a ploy.


4. Venezuela on the Brink: Church leaders appeal to President Maduro for political restraint.

By Edward Pentin, National Catholic Register, August 10, 2017

Relations between Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and the Catholic Church reached a low ebb in early August, after the Vatican strongly criticized the socialist regime’s plan to rewrite the nation’s constitution.

Maduro, whose policies have prompted an economic collapse and civil unrest, immediately hit back, accusing the Vatican of “violence” against his government and Venezuela as a whole.

The country’s bishops, with Vatican backing, have been regularly speaking out against the government, and most recently cited potential fraud in recent elections for a constituent assembly and expressed concern over the “moral degradation” in the country.

The assembly, which opened July 31 after it was elected the day before by a vote widely condemned as fraudulent, is expected to give Maduro dictatorial powers and the capacity to shut down the opposition, which has vowed they will only be removed by force.

In response, the Vatican issued an urgent appeal to Venezuela’s leaders Aug. 4, calling on them to suspend the assembly and saying it threatened the future of the Latin American nation.

The appeal advocated suspending such initiatives as the constituent assembly, as they “foment a climate of tension and conflict,” which “mortgages the future” of the country rather than fostering reconciliation and peace.

The Aug. 4 statement also called for a negotiated solution, as outlined in a Sept. 1, 2016, letter from the Vatican secretary of state, taking into account “the serious suffering of the people” due to a lack of security, as well as the shortages of food and medicine.

It concluded by calling on all to avoid violence or an excessive use of force and assuring Venezuelans of Pope Francis’ prayers. The Vatican also invited people worldwide to pray for the country at this moment of crisis.

The following day, Aug. 5, Maduro told an Argentine radio station the Vatican statement was “regrettable” and that it had succumbed to “violence against the Bolivarian Revolution, Venezuela’s legitimate government and Venezuela as a whole.”


5. Return of the Vocations Crisis.

By Marco Tosatti, Vaticanist, First Things, August 9, 2017

The recovery in priestly vocations seems to be over. Between 1978 and 2012, after the great crisis of the 1970s following Vatican II, seminaries around the world enjoyed a season of growth. The growth was not constant, nor was it uniform across countries and continents. But the trend was clear. Numbers revealed recently by the Central Office of Statistics of the Holy See show that in the past five years, the vocations crisis has returned.

The vocations downturn is particularly evident in the West, especially in European countries where secularization and religious liberalism are strongest: Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland. In countries such as Poland and continents such as Africa, where Catholicism remains more traditional, the situation is different. Vocations hold steady, and sometimes flourish.

A few examples will serve to illustrate. In the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, a liberal atmosphere prevailed until 2003—a year that had six seminarians. Robert Morlino became bishop that year, and his efforts brought the number of seminarians to 36 in 2015. Following the advice of Robert Cardinal Sarah, Bishop Morlino recently suggested that the faithful should receive the Eucharist on the tongue and while kneeling. A similar situation may be found in the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. Bishop James D. Conley has explained to the Catholic World Report that, in his opinion, the growth of vocations in his diocese had its root in fidelity to the traditional teachings of the Church.

In western Europe, the landscape is totally different. In Germany, vocations have become practically nonexistent. … The heroic André-Joseph Léonard, archbishop of Brussels from 2010 to 2015, had given life to a new association, the Fraternity of the Holy Apostles. In a period of three years, the Fraternity had assembled twenty-one seminarians and six priests. The current archbishop of Brussels, Jozef De Kesel, was appointed a cardinal immediately upon his installation—an honor denied to Léonard. De Kesel quickly dissolved the Fraternity. The official reason was formal and flimsy; the real one was substantial. The Fraternity was not liberal enough; it respected tradition.

Brussels is not an isolated case.

It seems that Rome keeps a particularly piercing eye on religious orders that revere tradition, and that happen to enjoy many priestly vocations. The eye belongs to two persons: João Cardinal Braz de Aviz, a Brazilian sympathizer of Liberation Theology; and Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, a Spanish Franciscan. The former is the prefect for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; the latter is its secretary.

No one can doubt the need to root out aberrations in new, growing orders, which today tend to be traditional. But one wonders why similar attention is not brought to the great established orders, which are now shrinking. Compare the light treatment of the progressive nuns in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious with the heavy discipline imposed on the traditional priests in the FFI, and it is hard not to notice a double standard. Meanwhile, a weakened Church finds its vocations once again in decline.