TCA Podcast – “Conversations with Consequences”

Episode 33: Catholic formation in the Capital and beyond

Your hosts Dr. Grazie Christie and Andrea Picciotti-Bayer are joined by Father Charles Trullols and Emma Boyle, who both work with the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C., a chapel and bookstore dedicated to Catholic formation and located in the heart of the city.

Father Trullols is both the director and spiritual director of the center, and Emma is director of operations at the Leonine Forum, one of CIC’s projects that aims to reach young professionals in a number of major cities around the country with educational events and pilgrimages.

1. US Catholic priests beset by overwork, isolation, scandals.

By David Crary, The Associated Press, December 9, 2019

More than a century ago, waves of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Poland and Quebec settled in Chicopee and other western Massachusetts mill towns, helping build churches, rectories and schools to accommodate their faith. Today the priests leading those churches are under siege due to stresses, challenges and sex abuse scandals complicating their lives and those of their fellow priests across the United States.

The Rev. Mark Stelzer is among those trying to persevere. He’s a professor at a Roman Catholic college in Chicopee, and its chaplain. He travels frequently to out-of-state events organized by a Catholic addiction-treatment provider, recounting his own recovery from alcoholism.

Last year, his busy schedule got busier. Amid a worsening shortage of priests, the Diocese of Springfield named him administrator of a parish in Holyoke, Chicopee’s northern neighbor, where he lives alone in a mansion-sized rectory while serving as spiritual leader to the 500 families of St. Jerome’s Church.

Weighing on the entire Catholic clergy in the U.S. is the ripple effect of their church’s long-running crisis arising from sex abuse committed by priests. It’s caused many honorable priests to sense an erosion of public support and to question the leadership of some of their bishops. That dismay is often compounded by increased workloads due to the priest shortage, and increased isolation as multi-priest parishes grow scarce. They see trauma firsthand. Some priests minister in parishes wracked by gun violence; others preside frequently over funerals of drug-overdose victims.

2. Right Rejoices As Barr Assails Liberal Culture.

By Jeremy W. Peters and Katie Benner, The New York Times, December 9, 2019, Pg. A1

[William P. Barr] is a devoted Catholic who has said he believes the nation needs a “moral renaissance” to restore Judeo-Christian values in American life. He has been unafraid to use his platform as the nation’s top law enforcement officer to fight the cultural changes they believe are making the country more inhospitable and unrecognizable, like rising immigration and secularism or new legal protections for L.G.B.T. people.

He has painted a picture of a country divided into camps of “secularists” — those who, he said recently, “seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience” — and people of faith. The depiction echoes Mr. Trump’s worldview, with the “us versus them” divisions that the president often stokes when he tells crowds at his rallies that Democrats “don’t like you.”

And while other members of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis have acknowledged that the sexual abuse crisis has devastated the moral authority of the church in the United States and is in part to blame for decreasing attendance, Mr. Barr outlined what he saw as a larger plot by the left and others. He said they “have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

3. Catholics split, Vatican largely mum on Hong Kong protests.

By Elise Harris, Crux, December 9, 2019

As protests continue in Hong Kong, throwing the city’s future as an autonomous democracy within China into question, Catholics appear split about what exactly their role is in the situation, and just how political they ought to be.

Protests in Hong Kong erupted in June when Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, former Chief Executive of the city, issued a bill granting mainland China extradition rights over any Hong Kong resident, including tourists and foreign nationals.

Facing fierce backlash over the move, Lam – a practicing Catholic – suspended the bill, but she did not immediately meet protesters’ demands to withdraw it and resign from her post, prompting millions of locals to take to the streets. At times clashes between police and protesters have turned violent, and several people have been arrested.

From the beginning, the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong has been supportive of the push to kill the infamous bill, with Cardinal John Tong Hon, the current interim leader of the diocese, at one point urging Lam to withdraw it.

Although the bill was eventually withdrawn, by then the unrest had morphed into a movement pushing for greater democracy, with protesters setting out five specific demands, including universal suffrage and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

On a late November trip to Asia, for example, Francis dispatched telegrams to the heads of state of countries in whose airspace he entered, including Lam of Hong Kong and President Xi Jinping of China, but carefully avoided any reference to the protests. The pontiff also referred to the “territory” of Hong Kong and the “nation” of China.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong and a well-known critic of Francis’s China policies, who recently accused Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin of “manipulating” the pope on Chinese affairs, published an opinion piece in the Washington Post Dec. 6 in which he took issue with Francis’s silence.

4. Pope names Manila Cardinal Tagle to major Vatican post.

The Associated Press, December 8, 2019

Pope Francis has named Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle to a major Vatican post, in a move that could boost the Asian prelate’s chances of perhaps someday becoming pontiff himself.

The Vatican announced Sunday that Tagle, 62, will head the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples.

The appointment of Tagle as prefect of that office highlights the attention that Francis is giving to the church in the developing world.

5. Church now faces ‘Sheen dilemma’ in evaluating saints and their halos.

By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, Crux, December 8, 2019

Now that we know why the scheduled Dec. 21 beatification ceremony for the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen has been postponed, it raises broader questions about how we evaluate not only potential candidates for sainthood, but those who’ve already crossed the finish line, vis-à-vis the clerical sexual abuse scandals.

After being initially reported that the Vatican had postponed the beatification at the request of a “few U.S. bishops,” the Diocese of Rochester, where Sheen served as an auxiliary bishop from 1959 to 1966 and as the bishop until his retirement in 1969, acknowledged in a statement that it had requested the delay “to allow for further review of his role in priests’ assignments.”

To be clear, there’s no suggestion of any personal misconduct by Sheen. An official in Sheen’s home diocese of Peoria, Illinois, which spearheaded the beatification cause, told reporters the concerns focus on a particular Rochester priest accused of sexual misconduct during Sheen’s years as a bishop, but insisted that the case had been thoroughly investigated and no mishandling by Sheen was discovered.

We’ll see how the review of Sheen’s record shakes out, but in itself the cesura illustrates a new fact of life about sainthood in the Catholic Church: Going forward, in order to claim a halo, any candidate who was in a leadership position in the Church – meaning, usually, a bishop or religious superior – will have to be shown to have had “clean hands” on the abuse scandals.

What that new standard leaves unaddressed, however, is what to do in the case of such a figure who’s already been proclaimed a saint, but whose record is later shown to have been suspect in terms of handling allegations.

6. Physical Interventions on the Bodies of Children to “Affirm” their “Gender Identity” Violate Sound Medical Ethics and Should be Prohibited.

By Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George, The Public Discourse, December 8, 2019

Rather than teaching children to identify based on how well they fit prevailing cultural expectations on sex, we should be teaching them that the truth of their sexual identity is based on their bodies, and that sometimes cultural associations attached to the sexes are misguided or simply too narrow. There is a wonderfully rich array of ways of expressing one’s embodiment as male or female.

We argue that “gender affirmation” procedures violate sound medical ethics, that it is profoundly unethical to reinforce a male child in his belief that he is not a boy (or a female child in her belief that she is not a girl), and that it is particularly unethical to intervene in the normal physical development of a child to “affirm” a “gender identity” that is at odds with bodily sex. Childhood and adolescence are difficult enough as it is. Adults should not corrupt the social ecology in which children develop a mature understanding of themselves as boys or girls on the pathway to becoming men or women. Medical professionals certainly should not make radical interventions into the bodies of young people on the basis of a misguided ideology of identity.

No one is born in the wrong body, because no one is born “in” a body. Rather, we are our bodies. There is nothing that could be “in” the wrong body, for the soul is the substantial form of the body—not some sort of separate substance.

Prudent legislation is needed to prevent adults from interfering with a child’s normal, natural bodily development. “Gender affirmation” procedures violate sound medical ethics. It is profoundly unethical to intervene in the normal physical development of a child as part of “affirming” a “gender identity” at odds with bodily sex. While puberty-blocking drugs may be an appropriate treatment for precocious puberty—the early onset of puberty—in order to delay puberty to a biologically appropriate age, that is not what is going on here. The use of puberty blockers to delay or permanently block natural biological puberty is unethical and violates the rights of children to bodily integrity. Administering cross-sex hormones to minors, in an attempt to make their bodies cosmetically resemble those of the opposite sex or of their preferred “gender identity,” is likewise a violation of sound ethical norms and the rights of minors. Surgically removing genitals or secondary sex characteristics in an effort to “affirm” a “gender identity”—as done to those thirteen-year-old girls who underwent double-mastectomies in taxpayer-funded “research”—is particularly heinous. Governments should prohibit this misuse of medical technology and protect children from these harms.

7. What’s behind the Vatican’s silence on Hong Kong?

By Joseph Zen, The Washington Post, December 7, 2019, Pg. A15, Opinion
Cardinal Joseph Zen is the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.

Since protests broke out this summer, there have been more than 4,000 arrests, with hundreds brought to court. On Oct. 1 alone, the police fired 1,400 canisters of tear gas, some of which had expired, and more than 900 “non-lethal” bullets. On Nov. 11 they even fired live rounds at point-blank range. Police also indiscriminately stop and search youngsters dressed in black, arresting and beating them. Sometimes, local gangsters join in.

How sad it is to see our children beaten, humiliated, arrested and prosecuted. In the face of such injustice, several governments have spoken out, despite risks to their economic interests in China. But there has been a corner of resounding silence. In all these months of demonstrations, the Vatican has not uttered a word of criticism toward Beijing.

This is regrettable — but should not come as a surprise. The line followed by the Vatican in recent years when dealing with the threatening China giant has been appeasement at any cost.

8. Supreme Court Blocks Federal Executions.

By Jess Bravin, The Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2019, Pg. A6

The Supreme Court on Friday derailed Trump administration plans to resume executing federal prisoners next week, refusing to overrule lower-court orders allowing the condemned men to pursue claims that the Justice Department execution protocol violates the Federal Death Penalty Act.

The unsigned order sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where the Justice Department is appealing a district-court decision blocking executions while the issues are litigated.

No justice filed a dissent, but three conservative justices issued a statement suggesting they gave little weight to the inmates’ argument.

9. Even Sheen has to pass muster for handling abuse cases, Baltimore prelate says.

By Inés San Martín, Crux, December 7, 2019

[Editor’s note: This is part two of a Crux interview with Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. Part one can be found here.]

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore says the Church must “make darn sure” any bishop of the Catholic Church who served from the 1960s to 1980s, now understood to be the statistical peak of the clerical sexual abuse crisis, didn’t mishandle an abuse allegation – a test, he said, that must apply even “for someone as good as Fulton Sheen.”

Lori spoke one day after the diocese of Peoria announced the Vatican had decided to postpone the Dec. 21 beatification of the late American archbishop, who was once a nationally known figure and Emmy-award winning pioneer of radio and television evangelization.

Lori said he hadn’t been given an explanation for the delay, nor had he heard any buzz regarding the fact that some U.S. bishops reportedly asked for it. He also said he “hoped and prayed” the question of any mishandling of abuse cases had already been thoroughly investigated as part of the sainthood process.

10. Vatican investments linked to global money laundering investigations.

By Ed Condon, Catholic News Agency, December 7, 2019, 3:05 PM

A fund in which the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has invested tens of millions of euros has links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals involving more than one billion dollars. The fund is under investigation by Vatican authorities.

The fund, Centurion Global Fund, made headlines this week that it used the Vatican assets under its management to invest in Hollywood films, real estate, and utilities, including investments in movies like “Men in Black International” and the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported that the Centurion Global Fund has raised around 70 million euro in cash, and that the Holy See’s Secretariat of State is the source of at least two-thirds of the fund’s assets. The Vatican’s investment is reported to include funds from the Peter’s Pence collection, intended to support charitable works and the ministry of the Vatican Curia.

11. Life on the other side of prayer.

By Grazie Pozo Christie, Angelus News, December 5, 2019
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie specializes in radiology in the Miami area and serves on the advisory board for The Catholic Association.

The person immersed in prayer appears quiet and still, but inside his intellect and soul are striving, groaning, and climbing.  Prayer can be frantic questioning and listening intently for answers, and also the inner joyous hallelujah that only the Giver of best gifts can hear.

Prayer is also abandonment, experienced as a vertiginous drop into terrifying nothingness, followed by the rescuing embrace of the Lover who sweetens and transforms even the worst suffering.

Prayer is the only way toward personal perfection, toward the person our Creator envisioned when he first thought each of us into being, and away from the crabby, bitter versions we’ve made of ourselves. 

Perhaps we moderns are the cohort of humanity least prepared to truly pray, even before the advent of our phones. Entertainment, news, work, exercise, hobbies, vacations, crowds, constant din and noise; they have long been keeping us away from that better, elevating thing. And too many of us don’t even know where to start.

Luckily for us Christians, we have a rich thousands-year-old tradition to learn from, of men and women who severed the ties that bound their own souls to material concerns, enabling them to fly to heaven. When we find the silent place to pray and fix the time, we can use their wisdom and experience to help us achieve the great possibilities of prayer.

Access then becomes the problem. We are, most of us, unschooled on this topic. Perhaps we’ve heard of some of the great mystics like St. Teresa of Ávila or St. John of the Cross, or modern spiritual masters like Urs von Balthasar and St. Maximilian Kolbe, but we don’t know much more than their names.

A new and beautiful book by Kathryn Jean Lopez is the answer to this dilemma. It’s called “A Year with the Mystics,” and it will open for your soul a world of possibilities.

The book is elegantly bound — a family keepsake and a worthy gift — with supple covers and delicately tinted paper. And on each of the 365 pages is a perfect gem from a giant of the faith, spanning over 2,000 years of shining wisdom and illuminating thought.

Take this lovely book to your place of silence, in front of the tabernacle perhaps, or in the shining presence of the Sacrament. Take it slowly, one page at a time, and reflect.

You will perhaps start to wonder how you let yourself live for so long in a state of suspended animation, when all this glorious existence was waiting on the other side of prayer.

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