1. Suspect Questioned in Shooting Death of Jordanian Writer, Nahed Hattar was killed as he entered a courtroom to go on trial for insulting Islam, By Suha Ma’ayeh, The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2016, Pg. A9.

Nahed Hattar, 56 years old, was shot and killed on Sunday he entered a courthouse in the capital Amman, where he was to stand trial on charges of contempt of religion for posting a cartoon on Facebook satirizing extremist Muslims.

Mr. Abdullah [the alleged assailant] believed the cartoon posted by Mr. Hattar was offensive to Muslims, the official said. The caricature showed God wearing a crown and asking an Islamist, in bed with two women, if he needs anything. Muslims consider depictions of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad idolatrous. The author of the cartoon isn’t publicly known.

Some 300 relatives and supporters of Mr. Hattar, a Christian, protested in front of the Amman office of Prime Minister Hani al Mulk on Monday, demanding the premier step down. His family said the government failed to provide enough security for Mr. Hattar, despite death threats.

The killing of Mr. Hattar echoed the attack on the offices in Paris of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in early 2015, an assault that left 12 people dead. In 2012, the newspaper had published a series of the satirical cartoons of the prophet.


2. Creeping Infallibility, Amoris Laetitia and Magisterial Authority, By Jessica M. Murdoch, First Things, September 27, 2016.

The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, issued by Pope Francis at the close of two recent synods on the family, has stirred up more controversy than any other papal document of recent memory. Commentators—both scholarly and popular—who favor a change in the Church’s view of the sacramental and spiritual status of Catholics living in illicit second marriages have hailed the document. Those seeking to uphold traditional Church discipline concerning the indissolubility of marriage have criticized the exhortation as ambiguous or worse. Beyond the disputes over its substance (what does the document actually mean?) its supporters and detractors argue over its nature (what level of authority does the document command)? Because of the neuralgic issues at the heart of the document, neither controversy is likely to dissipate soon.

The seeming doctrinal difficulties presented by Amoris Laetitia have been explored thoroughly in other articles, some of which have appeared in First Things. Such criticisms of a papal pronouncement inevitably spawn questions about its authoritative character. What sort of a document is this, and how are we to understand its authority? This itself is a contentious question.

One does not need a Ph.D. in theology to discern areas in Amoris Laetitia that are ambiguous and that have already led to multiple interpretations. Paragraph 299, for example, states that the divorced and remarried “need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church.” Does this statement merely admonish censorious pew-sitters concerning the divorced and remarried, criticizing those who may treat them with judgment or disdain? Or does it suggest that one can be spiritually alive while in a state of continued objective mortal sin? Obviously, the latter interpretation, which has been expressly drawn by many, is more than problematic.

Distinctions are necessary. And for this reason any sort of “creeping infallibility” that would attach the same level of authority to every papal utterance or document must be avoided. To fail to draw appropriate distinctions—whether between binding and non-binding documents of the ordinary magisterium, or between the development and the evolution of doctrine—is to dim the light of the Petrine ministry and impoverish the faithful.


3. Pope has a chance to bond with natural Muslim ally, By John L. Allen Jr., Editor, The Crux, September 26, 2016.

Pope Francis will make the 16th foreign trip of his papacy later this week, when he completes a journey through the Caucasus region he began in June by visiting Armenia with stops in both Georgia and Azerbaijan.

From the point of view of the program, the most important element is clearly Georgia, featuring outreach to that nation’s largely Orthodox population. The pope will spend two nights in Tblisi, the Georgian capital, and not even one in Baku.

That way of framing things, however, misses the key point about the admittedly brief stop in Azerbaijan, a small nation of 9.4 million: This is the first time Pope Francis will visit a largely Shiite nation.

In other words, the Azerbaijan stop is not simply about Catholic/Muslim relations, but more specifically about ties between Catholicism and Islam’s second largest branch, representing somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

It will be fascinating to see if Pope Francis is able to move the ball on what many observers have long regarded as the potential for a natural Catholic/Shiite alliance.


4. Catholics, Orthodox Sign Agreement on Primacy and Synodality, By CNA, EWTN News, National Catholic Register, September 26, 2016.

At an ecumenical gathering held this past week, representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches signed a joint document regarding synodality and primacy during the first millennium.

The agreement can point to ways of “resolving problems still existing between Catholics and Orthodox today,” said Msgr. Andrea Palmieri, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The 14th plenary session of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches was held in the Italian city of Chieti Sept. 15-22. Their agreement was subtitled “Towards a Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church.”

The primacy of the Bishop of Rome is among the main points of disagreement between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.


5. A Hollywood Spotlight on South Sudan’s Horrors, By Ann Corkery, RealClearPolitics, September 23, 2016.

The little-known new nation of South Sudan is attracting the attention of two respected Hollywood actors, which isn’t as incongruous as it might sound to some.

After all, George Clooney and Don Cheadle are known for their social activism, and they are once again spotlighting a sobering cause.

South Sudan is, perhaps, the closest the thing to hell on Earth these days. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported last week that the number of people who have fled the African nation passed the 1 million mark. Another 1.6 million South Sudanese – some 20 percent of the nation’s population – are displaced as a result of the vicious civil war between the Dinka and Nuer ethic groups in the world’s newest country. Almost 200,000 refugees have fled South Sudan since July. Really, they are ghost refugees, exhausted and depleted from days of walking the bush without food or water, scarred by what they have fled. Children who’ve lost one or both parents.

Then, there are the men and women whose names the world will never know. These are the men and women, Sudanese, Europeans, Americans and others, who are risking their lives to get food to the starving South Sudanese or shepherd the least among us out of this man-made hell. The Catholic Church is especially active here. Bless all these men and women and their charges, too.

More help may be on the way, thanks to George Clooney and Don Cheadle.


6. The Exorcist and the Lost Art of Catholic Storytelling, A TV reboot of the 1971 novel and its film adaptation debuts this week, but the deeper religious themes of the original story might be lost on contemporary American viewers, By Nick Ripatrazone, The Atlantic, September 22, 2016.

The upcoming TV series The Exorcist sounds much like its predecessor, the 1973 film based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, but with one significant difference. The original film was released when Catholic storytelling—with its unique mixture of sinners and saints, violence and grace—thrilled popular and literary culture. The new show, debuting Friday on Fox, will test whether such visceral drama will work with an audience more skeptical of religion and God.

The era of The Exorcist­ was a time of visible and influential Catholic intellectuals and artists, including two twin prophets of the digital and popular age, Marshall McLuhan and Andy Warhol. Catholic culture of that period was no monolith, though—contrast the conservative William F. Buckley with the more progressive Thomas Merton. The era even saw the rise of culturally Catholic writers, those who retained the language, metaphors, and culture of the church without practiced belief: Cormac McCarthy, Thomas McGuane, and Robert Stone.

Hollywood knew that stories suffused with God could sell. Some of the highest-grossing films in the years adjacent to The Exorcist contained Catholic storytelling or themes without being preachy. There was the sentimental and optimistic representation of nuns in The Sound of Music, Sir Thomas More’s devotion in A Man for All Seasons, the lapsed faith of the lead character in Rosemary’s Baby, religious hypocrisy in The Godfather and its first sequel, the hard-nosed urban Catholicism of Rocky, and the devil’s violence in The Omen.

The best Catholic stories of the past didn’t offer happy endings; instead, they were defined by suffering. The Exorcist TV series arrives with the blessing and burden of being connected to one of the most successful horror films ever made. The novel, film, and show all share essential elements of Catholic storytelling: Faith is often buoyed by doubt. God and grace are mysterious, often impenetrable. Belief does not erase fear, anxiety, and pain from the world—yet belief offers a way forward into and through the dark.