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As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 16, 1978 when the first Mass was held at St. Monica Church, Northford.
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George Weigel

The Catholic Difference

by George Weigel

At the risk of causing cardiac distress or cerebral incidents among the bloggers of the Catholic Left, let me begin by saying that I agree with the claim that the recent WikiLeaks dump of “Catholic emails” from the higher altitudes of the Clinton Machine is No Big Deal. But if so, why not?

It’s no big deal in the sense that anyone who’s been paying attention has long known that a lot of money, usually from secular sources allied to fanatic population controllers, has been used to create “Catholic organizations” that are little more than letterheads. And with those letterheads, expensive newspaper ads, press releases, and other forms of propaganda are confected, especially during election season. Catholics for Choice, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good are all examples of this scam: faux-organizations long on income and high in media visibility, but with virtually no base in the U.S. Catholic community.

This is an old tactic with an unsavory pedigree. “Catholic” front organizations were a staple of communist agitprop during the Cold War, as communist parties in central and eastern Europe tried to replace the real Catholic Church with a Catholicism more to the comrades’ liking. The most notorious of these gangs was the “Pax” movement in Poland, which, as one historian put it, was “almost more Stalinist than the Party”; its founder, Bolesław Piasecki, was a pre-war fascist who bought his way out of a Soviet prison by offering to be a kind of Trojan horse among Polish Catholics. Then there was “Pacem in Terris” in Czechoslovakia; the real Catholics called the toadies who were its fawning, regime-compliant members the “pax terriers.”

The mini-novum in the WikiLeaks material is the revelation that these richly-funded front organizations, and their co-conspirators in the Democratic Party, were after bigger game than electoral victory. They also saw themselves as also effecting a change in the Catholic Church’s allegedly retrograde “positions” on sexual morality, gender and marriage – as if these “positions” were something that could be changed as readily as Hillary Clinton’s position on free trade.

But here, too, there’s really nothing surprising. Self-styled Catholic progressives have never understood the nature of settled Catholic teaching since the meltdown of the progressive Catholic brain over Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on the morally appropriate means of family planning. That Senator Tim Kaine imagines that the church’s teaching on the nature of marriage is susceptible to change tells you something, I suppose, about the catechetical formation he received in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. That John Podesta and other Clintonistas imagined that they could spin Pope Francis with money from George Soros perhaps tells you a bit about the fantasyland these people inhabit. (If I were Mr. Soros, I’d want my money back. Spending $650,000 on a lobbying campaign to convince Pope Francis that income inequality is a problem is not strategically smart philanthropy, given the pope’s well-known concerns about poverty.) But there’s nothing really new here: only another trigger-warning about the soft totalitarianism implicit in the contemporary “progressive” project.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this WikiLeaks business for the difficult future that awaits the church in the United States, it has to do with the bishops becoming more assertive guardians of the “Catholic” brand. When Catholics for Choice takes out full-page newspaper ads asserting that “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value” (as happened during this election cycle), the local bishop should be at the forefront of the public challenge to such lies, making clear through the local press and social media that Catholics for Choice is not recognized as a legitimate Catholic organization by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – and perhaps calling the newspaper’s editor or proprietor to inquire why the paper is accepting blatantly false advertising.

The local bishop is the trustee of the church’s identity in the diocese entrusted to his care – just as he’s the guardian of the Catholic truths to be taught in his schools and the guarantor of the integrity of the sacraments administered under his authority. Given what’s coming in the near future, bishops had better prepare themselves now for being active defenders of the church’s integrity in all these spheres of Catholic life.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic difference

Recent remarks by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin have fueled speculation about a possible exchange of diplomatic representation between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China. Unfortunately, the cardinal’s remarks did not address any of the serious questions that have been raised about the evangelical and prudential wisdom of such an agreement at this moment in history. Those questions involve the nature of the PRC regime; the doctrine and canon law of the church; the impact of such an agreement on Vatican diplomacy in promoting human rights; and the church’s 21st-century mission in China.

1.     Rather than liberalizing, the communist regime of President Xi Jinping is relentlessly turning the screws on human rights activists, Christian dissidents and anyone else imagined to be a threat to regime stability. Some of the repulsive tactics employed in this campaign of repression were described last month in a powerful article in First Things by a Chinese Christian convert, Yu Jie, that ought to be required reading in the Holy See’s Secretariat of State: Yu’s testimony also raises the question of whether any “agreement” with the Chinese communist regime would actually be honored by Beijing.

2.     For decades, the sticking point in negotiations between the Vatican and the PRC has involved the appointment of bishops. The communists insist that the government play a role in this process. Yet Canon 377, par. 5, in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, following the lead of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, states that, “In the future, no rights and privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation of bishops are granted to civil authorities.” It took over a century of deft Vatican diplomacy, disentangling the appointment of bishops from various political imbroglios, to make that canon possible, and the 21st-century church now has the capacity to choose its leadership by its own criteria. Why should that great accomplishment – arguably the most notable in the modern history of Vatican diplomacy – be compromised, Vatican II undermined, and church law de facto suspended, to mollify totalitarians determined to make the Catholic Church a branch of the Chinese communist state?

3.     The throw-weight of the Holy See, the papacy, and the Catholic Church in 21st-century world affairs reflects the perception that the church has become the world’s preeminent institutional defender of basic human rights – and thus the greatest bulwark, among the great world religions, to the freedom project around the globe. Yet a diplomatic deal between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China would require severing Vatican diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, where, on Taiwan, a robust democracy – the first in millennia of Chinese history – has been developed. What would throwing the democratic Taiwanese over the side for the sake of a deal with communist Beijing say about the Vatican’s commitment to human rights and democracy? What would such a deal do to the moral standing of the Holy See in the world – which in fact (if not in Italianate fantasy) is the only standing, and the only leverage, the Holy See has?

4.     While evangelical Christianity is growing rapidly in mainland China, some statistics indicate that Catholicism is not doing nearly as well in a cultural environment in which many people are seeking answers to life’s questions that go beyond consumerism. Why this lag? In part, one suspects, because the longstanding divisions in Chinese Catholicism between regime opponents and regime-friendly laity and clergy have sapped the church’s evangelical energy. Some of those rifts have been healed in recent decades. But a premature Vatican agreement with the Beijing regime would almost certainly harden the lines of division for the foreseeable future, and in ways that would further jeopardize the missionary thrust enjoined on the whole church by Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium. Might not something be learned from the experience of those Chinese “house churches” that are flourishing despite no formal recognition from the Chinese government? How, precisely, does a nuncio in Beijing accelerate the Catholic Church’s evangelical mission in the PRC? That’s another, and perhaps the most serious, question that has yet to be addressed by Cardinal Parolin and others.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

weigel NEW 75x75Column name: The Catholic Difference

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, caused a rumpus earlier this summer by proposing to a meeting of liturgists in London that the Catholic Church return to the practice of priest and people praying in the same direction during the Liturgy of the Eucharist: a change in liturgical “orientation” the cardinal described as the entire congregation’s looking together toward the Lord who is to come. Cardinal Sarah further proposed that bishops and priests consider implementing this change on the First Sunday of Advent this year, during the liturgical season in which expectations of the Lord’s return in glory are prominent.

As readers of Evangelical Catholicism, my book on deep reform in the 21st-century church, will remember, I proposed just such a change in the orientation of celebrant and congregation during the Liturgy of the Eucharist: priest and people would face each other during the Liturgy of the Word; celebrant and congregation would then pray together, facing the same direction, throughout the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This seemed a good “reform of the liturgical reform” to me on three counts.

First, it would underscore that the liturgy is not about us. The common orientation of priest and people during the Liturgy of the Eucharist symbolizes – or perhaps better, lives out – the church’s conviction that the Mass is an act of worship offered to the Thrice-Holy God, in which we the baptized are privileged to participate. Yes, the liturgy builds the Christian community and its solidarity. But that is one of its effects, not its primary purpose. Priest and people praying together “toward the Lord” can thus be a helpful antidote to the temptation to think of Mass as a ritual of communal self-affirmation – a temptation all too common in the contemporary Culture of Me.

Second, if properly prepared by thoughtful pastors and liturgists, the reorientation of the Liturgy of the Eucharist would help Catholics deepen our appreciation of the kingdom dimension of the Mass. The Mass is a foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem, described by that apostolic seer, St. John, in Revelation 21. By turning together toward the Lord-who-comes – now, under the forms of bread and wine; later, as the Risen Lord who will hand everything over to the Father so that “God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28) – the praying church would be reminded regularly that Christians are the people who know how the world’s story is going to turn out. That assurance of God’s victory over sin, suffering and death should both comfort us and energize us for mission.

Third, returning to the practice of a common orientation during the Liturgy of the Eucharist would help mitigate the continuing problem of the priest-celebrant who imposes his own personality on the liturgy, a problem that has been exacerbated in recent decades by the celebration of the Mass versus populum – “toward the people.”

To these three reasons I might now add that a fourth – that a reorientation of priest and people during of the Liturgy of the Eucharist would bring Latin-rite Catholic practice into harmony with the practice of the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Orthodox Churches – and a fifth: that this reorientation would place the reformed liturgy of Vatican II in continuity with an ancient liturgical tradition of the church.

Any such reform of the reform must be very carefully prepared by preaching and catechesis, which will not be a matter of weeks but of months, perhaps even years. But that is itself another reason to take Cardinal Sarah’s basic proposal seriously: liturgical catechesis is imperative today if the People of God are going to understand the liturgy as an act of worship that equips us for mission.

And that catechesis will have to deconstruct the nonsense that a change of orientation during the Liturgy of the Eucharist means “the priest is turning his back to the people.” No, he isn’t. Together, the priest-celebrant, and those who have been baptized in order to offer God proper worship, are facing together toward the Lord who is to come – and who, in coming eucharistically and in glory, brings the human drama to its fulfillment.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.


The Catholic Difference

My local paper, the Washington Post, is best read for its sports and op-ed pages and its often-sensible editorials on foreign policy. Alas, the Post editorial board’s IQ drops well below the Mendoza Line when the subject is the Catholic Church. After decades of grumbling about this seemingly permanent feature of life along the Potomac littoral, it occurred to me recently that the problem here isn’t gross ignorance about matters Catholic; the problem is that the Post is all-in for another, competing religion.

The prophet of that religion – call it the Church of the Imperial Autonomous Self or, if you prefer something punchier, the Church of Me – is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. For almost a quarter-century, Justice Kennedy has preached a notion of freedom that the Post regularly applauds and promotes, dismissing other views as bigoted. The idea of freedom in the Church of Me was neatly captured by that great moral philosopher, Frank Sinatra, when he sang, “I did it my way.” Underwriting that self-centered (indeed, selfish) concept of freedom is the idea that the human person is just a twitching bundle of desires, the satisfaction of which is what we mean by “human rights.”

This Church of Me has, if you’ll pardon the phrase, a sacramental system: the sexual revolution in all its forms. Thus the Post has been front and center in the agitation for giving legal protection to every imaginable icon of this extraordinary cultural upheaval, from state-funded contraception to abortion-on-demand to the latest faux-“civil rights” cause: public restrooms in which people who call themselves “transgendered” can live out their self-definition, irrespective of biology.

In a July 2 editorial (“The Pope’s welcome surprises”), the Post tried to recruit Pope Francis as a kind of deputy to Justice Kennedy as prophet of the Church of Me, claiming that the Holy Father had “charted a new course in compassion for the Roman Catholic Church.” The evidence for this was the most over-reported and misrepresented papal statement in history: the Pope’s response (“Who am I to judge?”) to a question about the appropriate pastoral approach to a priest experiencing same-sex attraction who was striving to live an upright and chaste life (the pope repeated a modified version of the phrase to reporters in late June). “Empathy for the oppressed,” the Post’s editors opined, “has always been a hallmark of Francis’s papacy.”

Memo to editors: “Empathy for the oppressed” has been a hallmark of the papacy for a long time. To suggest otherwise – to imply that the Catholic Church has been a theologically-sophisticated Ku Klux Klan, reveling in oppression until the pope from the peripheries began to drag it into the bright uplands of compassion – is slander. Period. And anti-Catholic slander, as the Post editorial board should know, has a long, ugly history in the United States.

Then there was the editorial’s claim that the “Catholic Church has been dodging” certain “contested issues” for a long time. Which issues, you ask? Welcome to the catechism of the Church of Me: the issues being “dodged” include “homosexuality, divorce, and contraception.”

Memo #2 to editors: The Catholic Church has emphatically not been “dodging” these issues, which are not in fact “issues” but settled matters of Catholic moral teaching, informed by both reason and revelation.

Beneath the façade of a church playing dodgeball, the real complaint here is quite different: what cobs the Post’s editors is that, unlike liberal Protestantism and Reform Judaism, the Catholic Church has not taken the Post’s advice and caved in to the cultural tsunami of the sexual revolution – a surrender the Post applauds as “compassion.”

If Pope Francis, however misreported and misrepresented, has gotten the Washington Post editorial board’s attention, good for him. Let me now suggest some follow-up for the editors. Read Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body or, if that’s too much to ask, read the summary of it in my Witness to Hope. Then see if that portrait of human love, noble self-giving and mature, humble self-mastery isn’t a more attractive vision of human possibility than Justice Kennedy’s twitching bundle of desires.

The editors challenged “church traditionalists” to “open themselves to a ‘God of surprises.’” Let’s see if the Post’s editorial board has the nerve to take its own advice.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic Difference

CRACOW – With World Youth Day 2016 beginning here in less than three weeks, thoughts naturally turn to Pope Saint John Paul II and his pilgrimages to his Polish homeland.

The first, the Nine Days of June 1979, in which the pope ignited a revolution of conscience, was the pivot on which the history of the late 20th century turned in a nobler direction. In 1983, as Poland suffered under martial law, John Paul reignited hope and gave a new jolt of life to the Solidarity movement, then struggling to survive underground. On his third pilgrimage, in 1987, John Paul began to lay the moral foundations of a renovated Polish civil society and democracy, speaking of solidarity-the-virtue while that distinctive, jumbly-red lettering, “SOLIDARNOSC,” was seen in public once again, on banners held high throughout the country.

1987 was also the first time John Paul was allowed to go to Solidarity’s birthplace in Gdansk – a concession from the communist regime on which he insisted. While he was on Poland’s Baltic seacoast, he went to Westerplatte, the thin peninsula where World War II in Europe began on Sept. 1, 1939. There, a small Polish force of fewer than 200 was shelled by German warships – and then held out against invading German marines and Stuka dive-bombers for six days. During a Liturgy of the Word at Westerplatte, John Paul had some things to say to a vast gathering of Polish young people – a kind of World Youth Day in miniature. And what he said bears very much on 21st-century Catholicism.

The pope, who vividly remembered Sept. 1, 1939, and Luftwaffe bombs crashing down on Cracow, used the image of those brave young Polish soldiers on Westerplatte as a metaphor for the moral life, in his challenge to the youth of Poland:

 “Even if others do not demand much from you, you must demand of yourselves. ...

“Each one of you … will find in your life your own Westerplatte. A task … you must assume and complete. Some just cause, in which it is impossible not to fight. Some duty, some obligation, from which [you] cannot escape, and from which it is impossible to desert. A certain order of truths and values you are obliged to maintain and defend … In such a moment (and there are many of them, for they are not something exceptional), remember: Christ is passing by you and saying ‘Follow me.’ Do not abandon him. Do not run away. Hear that call ... ”

That summons to strive for heroic virtue – don’t settle for second-best; no matter what others ask of you, ask the best of yourself – was one facet of John Paul II’s remarkably magnetic appeal for young people. From his years as a university chaplain, he knew that young souls yearn for heroism, including religious and moral heroism. He also knew that striving often fails – that we are all less than we strive to be. But that didn’t seem to John Paul a reason to lower the bar of expectation.

The answer to failure was not resignation, settling for second- or third-best. The answer was to recognize that Christ was down there in the dust with you, as he had fallen along the Way of the Cross. So get up, seek forgiveness and reconciliation and try again; with the help of grace, and answering the call, “Follow me,” strive to be someone of character, compassion and conviction.

Over the past several years, voices in the church have sometimes described the Gospel and its demands as an “ideal.” The implication, however unintended, is that the “ideal” is impossible to achieve, so demands should be blunted and the bar of expectation lowered. Some might imagine this as a consoling message, given that we all fail.

But imagine if John Paul had turned the lesson of Westerplatte inside-out and said to those young people, “Look, enough Polish romanticism. Those young soldiers were outnumbered. They didn’t have a chance. They should have surrendered.” Would that message have stirred young hearts and souls to finish the job of finishing off communism, and to take up the task of building a free and virtuous society?

It seems unlikely. No, check that: it seems impossible.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic Difference

by George Weigel

Kung-pao diplomacy?

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, recently told an Italian journal that relations between the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China “are living in a positive phase, as there have been signals from both sides that there is a wish to keep on talking in order to find together solutions to the problems of the presence of the Catholic Church in that huge country.” The cardinal continued by saying that “perspectives are promising,” and expressed the hope that “the blossom will flourish and bear good fruits…”

The language was flowery-diplomatic, but the message seemed clear: discussions were proceeding with regard to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing. Which is curious, in that the PRC isn’t getting on very well with just about anyone else these days. Its saber-rattling in the South China Sea has got Vietnam and the Philippines nervous. Anti-Japanese propaganda from Beijing sources has been ratcheted up. Indian efforts to improve relations with China have gone essentially nowhere.

Then there is that new law being pushed by President Xi Jinping, which would drastically hinder the work of Chinese non-governmental organizations and foreign human rights and pro-democracy agencies trying to aid their compatriots in China. And as if all that weren’t enough, President Xi’s regime has been cracking down on dissidents, including Christians who don’t kowtow to the party-regime’s demand to control everything that looks like civil society.

So why, one wonders, is the same PRC government that’s becoming ever more menacing abroad and repressive at home getting along rather well with the Holy See, such that relations are “in a positive phase”?

It’s well-known that Pope Francis would like to go to China, and so far as the papal diplomats are concerned, it’s inconceivable that such a visit could take place without diplomatic relations being established between the Holy See and the PRC. That’s what I was told more than 15 years ago, when I was working on my biography of John Paul II, and the same conviction seems to be in play today. But why is that the case?

Yes, a papal visit to a country that doesn’t have an apostolic nuncio would be logistically more difficult; but since when did Peter’s mission to strengthen the brethren (Luke 22:32) depend on formal diplomatic relations? Paul VI went to the United States, Jordan and Israel years before the Holy See had diplomatic relations with those countries. Surely Pope Francis, whose disregard for precedents and procedures is part of his appeal to many, isn’t going to be constrained by what his diplomats regard as the proprieties – although he might be blocked by the PRC, which would clearly use diplomatic relations as a bargaining chip in negotiations for any papal visit.

This passion among Vatican diplomats for getting a deal done with the PRC has always puzzled me. It would almost certainly mean severing diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan, the first democracy in Chinese history. If Taiwan is thrown over the side for the sake of a deal with Beijing, what signal does that send to the world, and to Chinese democrats and human rights activists on the mainland – including Christians – about the Catholic Church’s commitment to free societies? Moreover, one can’t draw a lot of satisfaction from recent Vatican attempts to get along by going along with dictators and authoritarians. Being nice to the brothers Castro has done nothing for a human rights situation in Cuba that has actually gotten worse.

My bottom-line concern here is for the church’s evangelical future in China, not for diplomacy. If the Holy See makes a deal that seems to abandon Chinese democrats on Taiwan, while seeming to turn a blind eye to the pressures intensifying on civil society institutions (including churches) on the mainland, the church’s evangelical mission is going to be seriously damaged, now and in the future. And at what price? The price of a place at the diplomatic table with one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world, which is currently perfecting methods of political and social control beyond the dreams of Chairman Mao?

Not worth the candle, I should say.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic Difference


The Catholic love affair with the United States of America is heading into rough and uncharted waters – and not only in this 2016 election cycle, but for the foreseeable future.

United States Catholics have, in a sense, been there and done that, given that the history of the church in this country includes fending off anti-Catholic bigots like the 18th-century Know Nothing Party (about which 99 percent of Catholics today know nothing) and the late-19th century American Protective Association (another puzzler, these days, in Catholic Jeopardy). But there’s something different about today’s turbulence. Identifying that difference, understanding it and knowing how to respond to it are all imperative if we’re to navigate these troubled waters in such a way as to advance the New Evangelization and give our country a new birth of freedom, rightly understood.

The difference today is that the assault on the church by militant secularism and its allies in the federal government is a struggle over first principles. That wasn’t so much the case in the past. The Know Nothings and the American Protective Association claimed to honor the Constitution; so did U.S. Catholics. The Know Nothings and the APA said we were lying, because we owed our first allegiance to a foreign potentate (they meant the pope, not the Lord Jesus Christ); we proved that Catholicism and American patriotism weren’t antinomies. Still, everyone in these battles affirmed the first principles inscribed in the Constitution and the self-evident moral truths, articulated in the Declaration of Independence, that the Constitution was crafted to embody. Today, it is precisely those truths and those principles that are being sharply contested.

That’s the unprecedented situation, perilous and yet full of possibility, that a new book by my colleague Stephen White, Red, White, Blue, and Catholic (Liguori), intends to clarify and address. In this brief but incisive look at the issues of the day – and of the likely future – Steve White makes several important points:

(1) Our politics is often reduced to a tug of war between crude caricatures: the party of government and the party of the individual. When this happens, a humane accounting of the realities of social life becomes impossible and the fundamental purpose of politics – living well, together – gets overlooked.

Most of our lives happen in the variegated social spaces between the individual and the government. We call this “civil society.” It is there – in the family, the parish, the school, the business, the local community and so on – that the vast majority of our lives happens. It’s in these spaces, and not just in the voting booth, that most of the work of citizenship happens.

(2) The family, the cradle of new life and the font of civil society, is in jeopardy in unprecedented ways, as our society increasingly disregards basic facts of human existence and tries to alter them by technologically empowered acts of willfulness. Each of us comes from a mother and father. Each of us begins life in a state of utter dependence. Each of us needs to be educated, formed and civilized.

The defense of human life is intimately bound to the defense of marriage and family. These are not the only social issues of concern to Catholics, but they are priorities in the literal sense of the word. Without the begetting and rearing of new generations, and the defense of human life, there simply is no society, let alone a stable, flourishing and free society. “As the family goes,” said Pope John Paul II, “so goes the nation.” Pope Francis would certainly agree.

(3) Given the current state of affairs in these United States, it is important to remember that religious freedom is not something bestowed on individuals by a tolerant, benevolent state. No, the religious freedom of individuals and the liberty of the church are necessary preconditions for a flourishing society. Religion is emphatically a public good, and one indispensable to limited government, as the Founders were constantly pointing out.

The church ought to be free to be herself for her sake, for the sake of the faithful and for the sake of the common good.

George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.