Monthly Archives: September 2016

The NY Times & The Catholic World Report

BOTH agree on something!

Pope Francis is a train wreck.

The CWR had this article yesterday:

The September 28th edition of The New York Times contains an op-ed by Matthew Schmitz, literary editor of First Things, which poses the question “Has Pope Francis Failed?”—and then makes a succinct and pointed argument for a fairly resounding “Yes.” Schmitz’s focus is on the famous but increasingly hazy “Francis effect”:

Observers predicted that the new pope’s warmth, humility and charisma would prompt a “Francis effect” — bringing disaffected Catholics back to a church that would no longer seem so forbidding and cold. Three years into his papacy, the predictions continue. Last winter, Austen Ivereigh, the author of an excellent biography of Pope Francis, wrote that the pope’s softer stance on communion for the divorced and remarried “could trigger a return to parishes on a large scale.” In its early days, Francis’ Jesuit order labored to bring Protestants back into the fold of the church. Could Francis do the same for Catholics tired of headlines about child abuse and culture wars?

Schmitz says that perceptions “of the papacy, or at least of the pope, have improved.” Francis is, here in the U.S., more popular than his his predecessor: “Sixty-three percent of American Catholics approve of him, while only 43 percent approved of Benedict at the height of his popularity, according to a 2015 New York Times and CBS News poll. Francis has also placed a great emphasis on reaching out to disaffected Catholics.”

But, Schmitz asks, “are Catholics actually coming back?” His negative answer to that question is based on the results of a recent survey from Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate suggesting “there has been no Francis effect — at least, no positive one. In 2008, 23 percent of American Catholics attended Mass each week. Eight years later, weekly Mass attendance has held steady or marginally declined, at 22 percent.”

In addition, religious observance among younger Catholics has taken a notable turn for the worse:

In 2008, 50 percent of millennials reported receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, and 46 percent said they made some sacrifice beyond abstaining from meat on Fridays. This year, only 41 percent reported receiving ashes and only 36 percent said they made an extra sacrifice, according to CARA. In spite of Francis’ personal popularity, young people seem to be drifting away from the faith.

We can also note that the attendance numbers for papal events in Rome have not been on the rise, with a precipitous drop from 2014 to 2015 in the number of people at general audiences, Angelus, and other events. Numbers, of course, only tell part of the story, and they are not, ultimately, the primary indicator of faithfulness, fidelity, and witness. But the second part of Schmitz’s essay is not about numbers, but about the specific tone, approach, and vision of Francis for the Church:

Francis is a Jesuit, and like many members of Catholic religious orders, he tends to view the institutional church, with its parishes and dioceses and settled ways, as an obstacle to reform. He describes parish priests as “little monsters” who “throw stones” at poor sinners. He has given curial officials a diagnosis of “spiritual Alzheimer’s.” He scolds pro-life activists for their “obsession” with abortion. He has said that Catholics who place an emphasis on attending Mass, frequenting confession, and saying traditional prayers are “Pelagians” — people who believe, heretically, that they can be saved by their own works.

Schmitz can only touch on some of these matters in passing, but those of us who have been following this papacy closely from the start know how the past three years have witnessed a steady stream of confusion, hyperbole, “ambiguities, inconsistencies, mixed messages, imprecisions, thinly veiled insults”—not to mention the odd use and misuse of language in the service of more confusion.

“Such denunciations,” Schmitz insists, “demoralize faithful Catholics without giving the disaffected any reason to return.” I agree. And reading some of the comments left at Schmitz’s op-ed only reinforces the overall impression that Francis is mostly liked and lauded by those who see his pontificate as the start of a revolution overthrowing the usual litany of criticisms tossed at the Church: it is too patriarchal, rigid, narrow-minded, moralistic, judgmental, bigoted, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc., etc. Yes, there are Catholics who are upset and even angry at Francis, but the overwhelming response, in my experience, is simply, “What is he doing? And why?”

These are legitimate and good questions. As veteran Vatican journalist John Allen, Jr., mused in a recent Crux feature:

Towards the end of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s document on the family, the pontiff writes that when priests have to make judgments in concrete cases such as pastoral care of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, they are to do so “according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop.”

One wonders if he knew at the time just what a conflicting welter of responses that injunction would elicit.

As Allen correctly notes, since the Apostolic Exhortation was released this past spring, “various bishops and groups of bishops around the world have issued guidelines for its implementation, and surveying the landscape, it’s abundantly clear they’re not all saying the same thing.”

Put simply: if Francis knew that confusion would result, then we have to wonder at his motives, especially in light of his scathing address at the end of the 2015 Synod. After all, the papacy is supposed to be a clear sign and source of unity, even if the matters addressed are sometimes complex and difficult. And if he didn’t suspect that his 55,000 word document would elicit consternation and wildly differing interpretations, then we have to wonder about his foresightedness and prudence.

No Catholic should ever be surprised that there is discord and fighting within the Church, but they should be bothered when a pope is so often at the middle of constant conflict, and when that conflict is so often originating in his own perplexing words and actions. Put another way, this is not like dissenting Catholics raging against John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, which was quite clear in its denunciation of flawed understandings of moral doctrine; rather, it is the unease and bewilderment of Catholics who know or suspect that accomodation, compromise, and sentimentality disguised as “pastoral” kindness are not good for the Church or the world. As I wrote earlier this month:

… I am increasingly convinced that this papacy, for all of its strengths, weaknesses, and oddities, could well be known, down the road, as the Papacy of Sentimentality. It surely is not a papacy adhering to theological rigor or consistency. It wasn’t long ago that Francis made news for telling some Polish Jesuits that “in life not all is black on white or white on black. No! The shades of grey prevail in life.” But he is quite selective (and, I think, sentimental) in that regard. When it comes to marriage, sexuality, and family, there are apparently numerous shades of grey and very little that is clearly black and white. Thus, references to “sin” are avoided. But when it comes to the environment and global warming, which Francis has strong emotions about, there appears to be plenty of black and white, and almost no grey at all. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality,” warned Benedict XVI, “Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.” Mercy is not something that can be redefined in an arbitrary way, however good or appealing the sentiment involved.

Meanwhile, back to Schmitz, who concludes:

Francis has built his popularity at the expense of the church he leads. Those who wish to see a stronger church may have to wait for a different kind of pope. Instead of trying to soften the church’s teaching, such a man would need to speak of the way hard disciplines can lead to freedom. Confronting a hostile age with the strange claims of Catholic faith may not be popular, but over time it may prove more effective. Even Christ was met with the jeers of the crowd.

Those are strong words. Is Francis trying to soften Church teaching? Personally, I see no way around that conclusion. After all, if Francis never meant to change or soften Church teaching, why the constant reliance on Cardinal Kasper and other Germans, the two Synods, the regular confusion, the jostling and posturing, the endless “gestures”, the angry address at the conclusion of the 2015 Synod, the often tortured and purposeful ambiguity of chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, and so forth?

Did Saint John Paul II, in numerous addresses and major documents, not give the Church enough to ponder and unpack about the meaning of marriage, sexuality, family, the feminine genius, and so many related matters? Has human nature changed so much in the past decade? Has Church teaching become outdated or “out of touch” in a matter of a few years? It is unfortunate—indeed, deeply painful—to see the such confusion, turmoil, and frustration so often generated by the Barque of Peter, which should instead be providing solace, comfort, shelter, and clarity amid the dark waves of an increasingly antogonistic and volatile world.

Fr. Z brought this to my attention on his site – Fr. Z’s Blog  –  Allan Gillis


Noel Holly Joy – A Christmas Guitar Medley

A remix of a Christmas medley I pulled together back in 2010. The original was very mushy, so I tried to clean it up to capture the pure guitar sound. Hats off to the first finger style players I ever heard (John Fahey) and (later) Will Ackerman. Both developed their own styles of solo guitar Christmas music, which led me to believe I could develop my own style as well. This was recorded with my Santa Cruz OM/PW, which I have since passed on to Noah. The guitar in the picture is my 1994 Taylor Presentation guitar. There is a story about this Taylor…

Back in 1994, I read a review of this guitar in Guitar Player magazine. Taylor had a special run of 250 presentation guitars for their 20th anniversary and the reviewer loved them. After that, they became my dream guitar. I never expected to own one since they were so rare and outrageously expensive.

Ten years ago, I had taken over as Director for our local parish choir and started down the road of writing and playing music. In my desire to find the right instrument, I came upon one in Guitar Center. I was thinking of buying it, but I hesitated because it was so beat up and someone else picked it up. On my way home, I was kicking myself and Allison said “if it was meant to be, it will come to you”.

Two months later, I found it back in Guitar Center – the buyer decided to return it, but this time I bought it. Six months later, after some heavy duty work by a wonderful local luthier, it was ready to play that stayed as my main guitar until I stopped directing the choir this summer.

Your Charitable Consideration (Part 2)


By Allan Gillis

It has been a crazy few weeks.  Saint Anselm of Canterbury said “disasters teach us humility”.   My God…    sometimes these lessons can be so frightfully painful.

The month of August started nicely but when a birth-mark on my wife’s arm looked a bit “iffy”,  her primary-care doctor suggested she should see a dermatologist. She did just that and had a painful biopsy…which a week later we were told was Melanoma.  Frightful stuff.  They then scheduled a day-surgery which removed the birth-mark.  This was all very, very difficult for my Sweetest and she really wasn’t of the mindset to enjoy our vacation which had been scheduled since the early spring wherein I have all the kids and grandkids down to a beach-house that we rent on Long Island Sound where I grew up.  We all went anyway and Helen did a yeoman’s job staying focused on the kids, the beach, the salt marsh, the crabbing and the Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut ( a SPECTACULAR PLACE!).  She was horribly-worried but allowed the family to enjoy a nice week on the beach, the kayak excursions, the late night fires on the patio overlooking the ocean steps below.  I got closer to the kids and I had a nice couple of afternoons with my wife as well going hunting for fine “fiber” (it used to be called “yarn” when I was a kid!) for her knitting and crocheting as well as hours of pouring together over millions of used books at The Book Barn.

We were then told by the doctor that we needed to go surgically deeper and try for “clean margins”. In other words they wanted to cut down to the muscle and remove enough skin and tissue such to avoid metastasis.  Again, very frightening.  Now, be mindful that my Helen is a health nut.  She power-walks three miles a day – rain, sleet or hail.  I mean it.  She’s a machine. She lives on what a dear old friend of ours referred to as “teriyaki dust”!   …beans, rice, fresh vegetables, tofu…you get the gist here I’m sure.  She has a heartbeat at about every three minutes I think!  She’s wicked healthy!  She’s driven. She’s admirable.  So, for her to be ill is quite a knock off the rails for her.  We came home from the Connecticut shore and braced for what we hoped would be the surgical solution.  She went through it like a trooper.  She’s a brave girl.  Then, we had to wait.

We got the news this morning that the final biopsy is clear and she’s cancer-free and I am so happy and grateful to God.  She is too.

We’re thankful for your prayers.  Truly we are.

Saint Anselm was so “spot-on”.  In the face of disaster I am loathe to think about the many times I have been so smug – even in here in this blog. God have mercy on me.

Here is another of Anselm’s quips:   “Remove grace, and you have nothing whereby to be saved. Remove free will and you have nothing that could be saved.”


The summer ends and a new season begins – with it’s hopes and challenges. Saint Joseph pray for me as I endeavor to be the “strong and silent type” as you were – quietly and doggedly taking care of your family. Protecting and providing.  No fanfare, no braggadocio.  Just “gettin ‘er done”.  Being “father” is sometimes trying.

More to come on that topic I assure you.

The Catholic Identity Conference 2016

By Augustinus

I attended the Catholic Identity Conference put on by the folks at the Remnant and the Catholic Family News. It appears to be attended mostly by traditionalists and folks who have a lot of problems with Vatican II. When I talked with several attendees however they all stressed that they were and wanted to be in full communion with Rome. Being in communion with Rome, however, does not require suspension of the obligation to criticize the magisterium on matters that are not settled doctrine.

I found the speakers, on the whole to be quite impressive, knowledgeable, sane, and interesting. One presentation, by a lade whose name I forget,  however on the unwholesome influence of George Soros on Vatican immigration and “population” policies tended to be a bit shrill and paranoid.  A talk by self-described Catholic apologist Raymond De Souza was big on phrases that told us what we wanted to hear and short on substantive argument. he other hand On tDe Souza cautioned us against ambiguity in doctrine and criticized the present Pontificate as the “pontificate of ambiguity”. He decried the culture of relativism we all live in these days. He had a good reply to Catholic optimists who constantly say “Well didn’t Christ say that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church?” Yes Christ did say that but he said nothing about the USA!  Jonathan Vennari of Catholic Family News talked about “Our lady of Good Success” apparition in 1635 in South America to Mother Marianna. Mary gave Mother Marianna some prophecies about the modern era which have turned out to be true. Vennari described the intellectual trajectory of modern philosophy and theology as a decline in the idea of objective unchangeable truth and an acceptance of the idea of the “evolution of doctrine”. he claims that the New theology that informed Vat II was infected with this evolution of truth doctrine, an emphasis on subjectivity as new criterion of truth and a loss of the idea of the supernatural. He pointed to a speech by Paul VI at the end of the council where the Pope said that the church should be a servant of humanity. Pope Francis quoted that line approvingly but as Vennari points out that the Church must lead and instruct humanity if it is to truly serve humanity. Christopher Ferara’s talk was the best of the conference. It recounted reasons for hope for a revival of a true catholic ethos and culture in the USA. he pointed out that counter-revolutions have succeeded in the past such as the Bourbon restoration in France. It ultimately failed because the bourbon kings tried hard to accommodate the demands of the radicals and revolutionaries which are of course infinite. Ferara also pointed to the recent case of Hungary where the parliament just 5 or so years ago wrote and approved a brand new constitution which explicitly affirms the country’s Christian heritage and nature. It also affirmed dignity of life from conception to natural death. Under its prime minister Victor Orban Hungary has resisted importation of millions of muslims into its country, reaffirmed marriage as between one man and one woman and ensured parental rights to education of their children. In his talk, Father Putujulani of the priestly fraternity of St Peter provided a profound analysis of Luther’s theology of salvation. He said that Luther mistakenly argued that Christ does not free man from sin and instead argued that Christ saves us from the imputation of punishment due to sin. Therefore Christ does not restore human nature to its pre Edenic state. Instead Christ just provides a cloak to hide man’s sin from God’s wrath. Man is still inherently degraded in Luther’s doctrine.  Grace is just a covering–not an elevation of our nature for Luther and protestantism. Fr Putujuliani also went onto to argue invoking Quas Primas and doctrines of many councils and Popes for the social Kingship of Christ where the Church is in a position in any given society to teach and instruct. The Church cannot be considered one among many religions. it must be empowered to each and instruct as that is the order Christ gave us “Go and teach the nations…”

Fertility rates and the church

By Augustinus

it is fitting that many have sounded the alarm regarding the falling fertility rate among Europeans. Fertility rates are below replacement levels for native Europeans while they are high for muslim immigrants. Thus, as the aging native European population dies off the young Muslim population will replace it and Christian Europe will die quietly and Islam will have conquered Europe without firing a shot. The Vatican will exist in a predominantly Muslim Europe and likely will soon thereafter cease to exist.

Fertility rates are high among Muslim populations everywhere. They are also high among Israelis. Both Islamic and Jewish populations support pro-natalist policies. There are laws or injunctions against abortion, divorce and so forth. in addition, there are laws and systems in place to support children and families.

Some scientists believe that fertility rates fall when populations become affluent. But the Israelis are affluent as are the citizens of many of the oil rich Arabic countries. We have learned by watching anti-natalist and pro-natalist policies in China and India and Iran in the last 50 years. What drives up fertility rates are pro-natalist policies which includes support for families and laws or injuctions against abortion and divorce.

Why is it OK for Muslim and Jewish populations to have strong pro-natalist policies and high fertility rates while it is wrong and hateful for Christian populations to to do so? Why is it OK for Muslim and Jewish populations to be against abortion and divorce but it is bigotry and hateful if Christians are against these policies?