1. Knights, Aid to the Church in Need step up for persecuted Christians.

By Crux, August 2, 2017

On Tuesday, both the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need announced separate initiatives to aid the victims of anti-Christian persecution. The Knights pledged to raise $2 million to rebuild an Iraqi Christian town liberated from ISIS, while Aid to the Church in Need will give $82,000 to a Nigerian diocese to assist victims of Boko Haram.

Both initiatives form part of an ongoing effort by a variety of Catholic groups to assist victims of religiously motivated violence. Among those other organizations are the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, another pontifical foundation based in New York, and Catholic Relief Services, the overseas humanitarian and development arm of the U.S. bishops’ conference.


2. Questions of Competence.

By George Weigel, First Things, August 2, 2017

Last month, Civiltà Cattolica featured an article co-authored by its editor-in-chief, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and Pastor Marcelo Figueroa, who edits the Argentine edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. The article purported to analyze a startling “ecumenism of hate” in the United States, forged by ultra-conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and creepy-dangerous for its indulgence in a new Manicheanism that distorts the Gospel and divides everything in the world into rigid and narrowly-defined categories of good and evil.

Those who care to sift through this intellectual dumpster can consult Dr. Reno’s article, Dr. Royal’s, and Fr. De Souza’s. The questions I’d like to raise here involve Civiltà Cattolica’s relationship to its putative overseers in the Vatican Secretariat of State.

 Does the Spadaro/Figueroa article really represent the views of the Secretariat of State about today’s debates at the intersection of religion and politics in the United States? If the answer to the last is “Yes,” then what does the Secretariat of State make of the American situation as described by the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christoph Pierre, in his addresses to the U.S. bishops—a description that bears no resemblance to the wasteland of madcap pseudo-theology and hatred described by Spadaro and Figueroa? If the answer is “No,” then why was the Spadaro/Figueroa article cleared for publication?

Because of its relationship to the Secretariat of State, Civiltà Cattolica has long been read, not in the way serious readers read serious journals, but like ancient augurs read the entrails of sacrificial animals. Perhaps both the future of this venerable journal and the credibility of the Secretariat of State would be better served by severing the connection. For at the moment, the auguries raise deeply disturbing questions about the competence of both parties.


3. Trump Can’t Save American Christianity. 

By Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative and the author of “The Benedict Option”, The New York Times, August 2, 2017

These are not normal times. Pope Benedict XVI himself once said that the spiritual crisis the West faces is worse than anything since the fifth-century fall of the Roman Empire. This is why St. Benedict of Nursia is so relevant to Christians today.

The monk founded the Benedictine religious order amid the chaos and decadence of imperial Rome. He was merely searching for a way to serve God faithfully in community during a prolonged civilizational collapse. After his death in 547, hundreds, and then thousands, of monasteries arose in Western Europe, all following his “Rule of St. Benedict.” They helped preserve the faith through the Dark Ages and laid the groundwork for the rebirth of civilization out of barbarism.

Lay Christians in the 21st century are certainly not called to be cloistered monks. But Christians are going to have to step back to some meaningful degree from the world for the sake of building up orthodox belief, learning the practices of discipleship and strengthening our communities. The everyday practices and disciplines of Benedictine spirituality can be adapted to ordinary Christian life in the world.

Today, we in the West owe an incalculable debt to the saint and his early medieval followers, whose visionary, disciplined faith bore spectacular fruit long after their deaths. This experience shows Christians that we have to think not in election cycles but in centuries.

In the early Middle Ages, the churches and the monasteries were those tiny arks carrying the faith and the faithful across a dark and stormy sea. They can be once again. And must.


4. The Vatican’s America Problem. 

By Ross Douthat, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 2, 2017

Over the last decade, however, as American Christianity has weakened and American politics become ever-more-polarized, the Catholic position in the United States has become more difficult and perplexing. The Democratic Party, whose long-ago New Deal was built in part on Catholic social thought, has become increasingly secular and ever-more-doctrinaire in its social liberalism. The Republican Party, which under George W. Bush wrapped the Catholic-inflected language of “compassionate conservatism” around its pro-life commitments, has been pinballing between an Ayn Rand-ish libertarianism and the white identity politics of the Trump era.

As a result a sense of disillusionment and homelessness among Catholic thinkers — younger ones, especially — has increased. It isn’t just that old 20th century approaches to Catholic politics — both the ethnic-Catholic liberalism of a Mario Cuomo or a Ted Kennedy and the Catholic neoconservatism that shaped figures like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan — seem like they’re out of energy and influence. It’s also that Western liberalism writ large seems at once hostile to traditional religion and beset by internal contradictions, making the moment ripe for serious Catholic rethinking, a new and perhaps even post-liberal Catholic politics.

Meanwhile Rome, and specifically the men around Pope Francis, seem to both misunderstand and fear this new ferment. Both reactions, fear and ignorance, inform a recent essay in the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, written by two papal confidantes, the Jesuit Rev. Antonio Spadaro and the Protestant journalist Marcelo Figueroa, which has generated thousands of words of intra-Catholic argument in the last few weeks.

Their essay is bad but important. Its seems to intend, reasonably enough, to warn against Catholic support for the darker tendencies in Trumpism — the xenophobia and identity politics, the “stigmatization of enemies,” the crude view of Islam and a wider “panorama of threats,” the prosperity-gospel inflected worship of success.

But the authors’ understanding of American religion seems to start and end with Google searches and anti-evangelical tracts, and their intended attack on Trumpery expands and expands, conflating very different political and religious tendencies, indulging in paranoia about obscure theocratic Protestants and fringe Catholic websites, and ultimately critiquing every kind of American religious conservatism — including the largely anti-political Benedict Option and the pro-life activism fulsomely supported by Francis’ papal predecessors — as dangerously illiberal, “theopolitical,” Islamic State-esque, “Manichaean,” a return to the old integralism that the church no longer supports.

None of this makes any sense.

What Spadaro and Figueroa do not grasp is that the tendencies that they see at work in American Catholicism, the religious votes for the cheerfully pagan Trump and the growing interest in traditionalism, radicalism and separatism, are not the culmination of the Catholic-evangelical alliance but rather a reaction to its political and cultural failures — and the failures of liberal religious politics as well.

They may be wrong about this, but their sense of things is shared in certain ways by Pope Francis himself, who has a Trumpish, populist streak in his own right, and whose critiques of the West’s technocratic order are notable and pungent. Which is the other bizarre thing about Spadaro and Figueroa’s broad brush: As the American Catholic writer Patrick Smith points out, by warning against a Catholicism that takes political sides or indulges in moralistic rhetoric or otherwise declaims on “who is right and who is wrong” in contemporary debates, the pope’s men are effectively condemning not only American conservative Catholics but also the pope’s own writings on poverty and environmentalism, his support for grass-roots “popular movements” in the developing world and his stress on the organic link between family, society, religion and the state.

This they surely do not mean to do.

Again, in the rhetoric of Francis as well as the unsettlement of American Catholics you can see hints that such a moment may be on its way. But in his advisers’ essay, in their evident paranoia about what the Americans are up to, you see a different spirit: a fear of novelty and disruption, and a desire for a church that’s primarily a steward of social peace, a mild and ecumenical presence, a moderate pillar of the establishment in a stable and permanently liberal age.

At the very least the men in the Vatican who yearn for such a church need to do a better job grasping why so many of their flock, in Europe and the United States, find this vision insufficient to the times.

And then beyond that they might consider the possibility that as in the 19th century, American Catholics, in all their present confusion and occasional extremism, might be closer to grasping what our strange future holds for Catholic politics than Rome.


5. Catholic group fighting HHS mandate disappointed exemption still unissued.

By Matt Hadro, By Catholic News Agency, August 1, 2017, 3:02 PM

After the US Department of Justice did not drop its appeal of a contraceptive mandate lawsuit by the Catholic Benefits Association on Monday, the group expressed its disappointment.

“It is disappointing that that process hasn’t moved forward. It does seem to be stalled currently,” Douglas Wilson, CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, told CNA Tuesday.

Catholic Benefits Association is comprised of over 700 Catholic employers, including dioceses, schools, hospitals, and social service agencies. The group helps the employers provide quality Catholic health care in accordance with Church teaching.

CBA had filed a motion in court asking either for “summary affirmance” of its claim that the HHS contraceptive mandate was illegal, or for the administration to drop its appeal of the case.

The Department of Justice was given until July 31 by the Tenth Circuit Court to reply, and said on Monday that it was still working on a final rule on exemptions from the contraceptive mandate.

The Catholic Benefits Association is one of dozens of non-profit organizations which sued the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration over the contraceptive mandate and its “accommodation” offered to objecting entities.

Even under the Trump administration the Department of Justice had not stopped its appeals of the HHS mandate cases. On May 4, however, President Donald Trump announced that, as part of his religious freedom executive order, the objecting religious non-profits would receive relief from the mandate.

He told the non-profits and the nuns present from the Little Sisters of the Poor that “your long ordeal will soon be over” and that “we are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

HHS Secretary Tom Price said the agency “will be taking action in short order to follow the President’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.”