Secularism and Modernity
Last fall, the Archdiocese of Boston released an ambitious plan designed to stem the decline it has experienced—in priests, Mass attendance, and treasure—since the 2002 wave of sexual-abuse scandals. Whether the plan will work remains an open question. That something needs to be done is a sentiment shared widely among Boston-area Catholics.
Broadway’s most recent foray into Catholicism has come to an abrupt halt. The closing of the The Testament of Mary, after only forty-three preview and regular performances, was announced hours after Fiona Shaw failed to garner a Best Actress Tony nomination on April 30 (and despite three Tony nominations, including Best Play). The end of the run means New York audiences will be deprived of an uneven but powerful night of provocative theater.
The Faith of a Catholic Novelist
Religious Freedom & State Power
Saving Chesterton from the Chestertonians
Despite Evangelical Catholicism’s hectoring tone and the particular set of political judgments into which it straitjackets John Paul II, readers ultimately can’t afford to ignore George Weigel.
Pope Francis’s choice of title and his actions in his first days as pope indicate that he places humility and compassion for the marginalized at the heart of his ministry—“servant leadership,” in today’s church parlance.
Catholics at both ends of the ideological spectrum look to a new pope for encouragement. And from the moment he made his first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s, Francis seems to have given nearly everyone a reason to cheer. But whatever the direction in which the new pope steers the church, U.S. Catholics struggling to make a life of faith in what is admittedly a vertiginous moral and cultural landscape will continue to take surprising turns, confounding the usual categories.
From Chile to Mexico—and among U.S. Latinos—there was a collective gasp of excitement over the election of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. To assess the possible impact of the new pope on Latin-American Catholicism, however, it is necessary to understand several complex and deeply entrenched challenges.
In winning election as Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio defied the papal pundits, even though they should have seen him coming. His rise marks the decisive shift within Roman Catholicism toward Latin America and the developing world.
The Renewed Stature of Christian Philosophizing
What can the next pope learn from Benedict, and what should we seek from him? Our special series concludes with new stories from William L. Portier and Richard R. Gaillardetz.
John Thavis presents many stories that will make you laugh. Others may make you cry.
Divisions in the church are usually seen as mimicking those of secular politics. Conservatives or traditionalists are pitted against liberals or progressives. But Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican friar and the former head of his order, suggests a more fruitful way to understand the Catholic split.
Evaluations of Benedict's tenure have balanced the pros and cons of his deeds according to the lights of the balancer. What is untallied, except for his failure to unmistakably demand accountability in regard to clerical sexual abuse, is what has remained undone. Underlying conditions like the limitations of the clergy or the eroding credibility of church teachings on sexuality are no better than when he took office.
Benedict is a traditionalist who was affected by modernity. He would not be troubled that he had to reach far back to find a precedent for papal resignation. He knows that a pope hobbled by sickness and weakness would be a dispiriting symbol in a media age. Then again, perhaps his traditionalism inclined him to this decision.
Conservatives who excoriate government "intervention” in the economy miss this point. Government does not just “intervene” in markets; government defines markets by creating their rules. Prudent rules shape the market so that it minimizes conflicts between self-interest and the common good.
To understand dissent, you first have to understand authority. Authority in the church must be based on truth. Episcopal authority is not the source of truth, as some would have us believe.
Bal Thackeray, the most strident and unapologetic champion of the Hindu “cause,” passed away last month. His intolerance, unchecked by any public authority, has worked its way into the Indian psyche and has become epidemic.
Capitalism & the Good Life
In October 1963, Bishop Luigi Bettazzi addressed the Second Vatican Council on the need for collegiality. He was the newest bishop participant and, at thirty-nine, one of the youngest. Now eighty-nine, Bettazzi is the most active of the five surviving Italian participants, keeping faith with the council by writing and lecturing about it tirelessly.
There are few women in the pantheon of great jazz instrumentalists, and even fewer jazz performers in the pantheon of great Catholic artists. Mary Lou Williams was both. Yet even though she composed three Masses, jazz has yet to find a more central place in the liturgical life of the Catholic Church in America.
The Catholic Right’s False Nostalgia
Does regulation of an Orthodox practice associated with circumcision constrain the free exercise of religion?
There are currently several different, sometimes contending ways of being Catholic. To some degree that has always been so. The notion of the church as a rigorously disciplined and monolithic enterprise is largely myth, and modern myth to boot. What is not myth is the dramatic change in the self-understanding of Catholics brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
In the fall of 1965, I worked in the final session of the Second Vatican Council. A young priest and doctoral candidate, I was tasked with distributing documents and collecting votes and amendments from my assigned section of bishops. Almost half a century later, a bound set of those documents holds a prized place in my library—and the events and personalities of those days hold a prized place in my memory.
What the Bishops' Voting Guide Overlooks
A specter is haunting the affluent societies of the West. Across the rich countries, and across the political spectrum, there is an unstated but palpable longing for a return to the 1950s.
When states scramble to balance their budgets in the face of declining revenue, prison funding is often near the top of the cut list. Access to a prison chaplain is widely considered a privilege granted to the undeserving rather than a right. This attitude is unworthy of a civilized nation with strong Christian roots.
In the days after Vatican II, confession slipped its old juridical moorings, with its distinctive laws, regulations, judgment, and penance. At the moment it is searching for new moorings. What will confession look like once it finds them?
Obama owes more on religious freedom
Is modernity inherently secularizing? Do certain basic features of modern life implacably diminish the plausibility and power of religion?
Catholics find it increasingly difficult to sustain expectations of their church engaging & redeeming modernity. The problem is not simply that the institutional church today stands discredited, but that it has misconstrued the problem. The ramparts it persists in defending have long since been scaled, breached, and bypassed & have fallen into ruin.
How persuasively is the church making its case against gay marriage?
Coming of age in East Germany
We’re still debating whether what we’re doing in Libya can rightly be described as war, though bombs dropped amid an “intervention” are just as deadly. But where’s the debate over whether it’s fair or accurate to assert that Republicans in Congress have not-so-stealthily declared a “war on women”?
It's not too late to ask.
Never before have people in the Middle East mobilized in such vast numbers to shake off the chains of autocracy. Whether Egypt and Tunisia succeed in creating genuinely democratic societies remains to be seen—but already we can identify important lessons.
When the paper trail disappears
Lisa Sowle Cahill’s middle way
Benedict & condoms
It’s in vogue to ask what the Internet is doing to our brains. Will constant exposure to technology destroy human memory and attention span? Are students really learning if they’re taking notes on their laptops, but keeping Facebook and e-mail windows open simultaneously, and also surreptitiously texting on their cell phones?
Liu Xiaobo's goodwill, courage, and humbling example were recognized by the Nobel Committee earlier this month when, to near universal if muted acclaim, it awarded the imprisoned activist the Nobel Peace Prize for his steadfast nonviolent resistance to the tyrannical rule of China's Communist Party.
A review of Ill Fares the Land, the late Tony Judt's final book
What does Rome know about pop music?
In The Flight of the Intellectuals, a study of the Swiss Muslim thinker Tariq Ramadan and Ramadan's admirers in the Western press, Paul Berman shows he's in over his head.
Extending the argument against sex-selective abortion
In his new book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Fr. James Martin tries to introduce a new generation of spiritual seekers to the Jesuit tradition.
A selection of articles from Commonweal on Benedict XVI.
A profile of the ethicist Gilbert Meilaender
No, this “Year of the Priest” has not been the best for priests or for any Catholics. Just when some of us thought we might be turning the corner, moving on, re-establishing some level of trust, it turns out the wounds are far deeper and much more widespread than we thought.
Among elected officials, journalists, and average citizens, intensifying partisan polarization is thought to be one of the dominant political trends of our times. Yet it has proved remarkably controversial among political scientists.
Stanley Hauerwas & the Christian Difference
The New York Times's worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But what makes the Times unique is that it is not just the nation's self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church.
Unbelief in Ian McEwan's Fiction
Civilization & its discontents
What does secularism mean for the spiritual quest—of believers & nonbelievers alike?
Reviewing Charles Taylor’s ’A Secular Age.’
One hundred years after the so-called Modernist crisis, what lessons does the episode hold for today’s church?
All you need to know about the failure of Christopher Hitchens’s latest antireligious screed.
Is Andrew Sullivan right to emphasize the role of doubt in any serious theology?
Dealing with the spiritual-but-not-religious epidemic.
What is the price of "progress"?
What does the unlikely pairing of evangelicals and Catholics mean for U.S. politics?
Should the church’s response to secularization be a call for a return to Christendom? At least one bishop seems to think so. As William D. Wood reports, Cardinal Francis George advanced this idea at a recent academic conference. According to George, Wood writes, “the current spiritual problem of secularization in Europe is the result of unjust political decisions made by panoply of American and European leaders.” The implication is that secularization is best countered by making the political order less secular.