I am pleasantly surprised by Father Michael Graham’s decision to end Xavier University’s coverage of birth control for its employees.  On its merits the decision is, simply put, the right thing to do.  If it is the first step in an effort by Xavier to “reclaim its [Catholic] identity,” as Rich suggested, then the decision could be the first step in a very important process–a process that could lead to Xavier living up to its incredible potential.

But a phrase in Father Graham’s letter announcing the decision gives me pause.  He writes that “As a Catholic priest and as president of a Catholic university, I have concluded that, absent a legal mandate, it is inconsistent for a Catholic university to cover those drugs and procedures the Church opposes.”

“…absent a legal mandate…”

Read literally, Father Graham’s statement suggests that, if the HHS mandate were currently in place, it may not be “inconsistent” for a Catholic university to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage.  Does this mean that, once the HHS mandate is in place, Xavier will knuckle under and comply?

I don’t know the answer to that question.  I certainly hope the question is unnecessary and that Father Graham will be as courageous once the HHS mandate goes into effect as he is now.  The “absent a legal mandate” phrase may have been inserted without thought to the possible interpretation I have offered.

Setting that one concern aside, I am proud of Father Graham and encourage readers to actively support him. As Rich already pointed out, opposition is already growing.

A petition in support of Father Graham is available at this link.  I encourage all readers to sign it.  Father Graham deserves–and, I think, will need–our support.


We all know what a “Kennedy Catholic” is.

For decades our country has been treated to a slew of Catholic politicians, mostly Democrats, who tell us how pious they are, how much they love praying the rosary, and how much their Catholicism shapes who they are and how they see the world.  They then turn around and promote abortion on demand, speak to Planned Parenthood gatherings, advocate gay marriage, label promoters of real marriage as bigots, and generally promote immoral policies that weaken families and culture.  In the view of these Catholics, the Church’s teachings should not play any role in the public sphere–with the possible exception of “social justice” teachings that can be manipulated to seem supportive of the latest effort to trap the poor in yet another layer of dependency.  Vice President Joe Biden, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator John Kerry, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the pro-abortion majority of Catholics in Congress can be counted on to consistently oppose the Church’s teaching on non-negotiable moral issues all fit this mold.

This particular brand of political Catholicism traces its origins to President John F. Kennedy.  While running for President, Kennedy gave a speech to Baptist ministers in Houston, Texas, in which he said that he believed in an America “where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source…”  Though relatively restrained when compared to much of what we hear today from the secular left, this statement undoubtedly contributed to a world where the majority of Catholics in Congress are pro-abortion.

The public policy results of “Kennedy Catholicism” have been a disaster.  But for the last half century Kennedy Catholicism has remained virtually unchallenged as a model for Catholics in public life. Is there any way out?

True, the pro-life movement has been significantly shaped by Catholic moral teaching and has produced some great Catholic political champions, such as the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL). And as the Democrat Party has drifted further and further to the left, and as it has more and more tightly embraced secularism and rejected religious input in the public sphere, we have seen an increase in the number of faithful Catholics in the political arena who have bravely vote as their faith requires on moral issues and who have not been afraid to weave their Catholic identity and their public identity together.  Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), Governor and former Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) have been good examples of this promising trend.  Locally in Cincinnati, we have been lucky to have been represented in Congress by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), a pro-life hero whose votes and positions on the issues are consistent with his Catholic faith on a range of issues from life to marriage to subsidiarity.

At the same time, Catholic public intellectuals like Father Richard John Neuhaus and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput have done important intellectual and theological leg work by articulation a coherent and persuasive vision for how the Catholic faith can and should play a role not just in public life, but in the life and decisions of individual Catholic politicians.  In his excellent book on this topic, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, Archbishop Chaput wrote:

People who take God seriously will not remain silent about their faith. They will often disagree about doctrine or policy, but they won’t be quiet.  They can’t be.  They’ll act on what they believe, sometimes at the cost of their reputations and carers.  Obviously the common good demands  respect for other people with different beliefs and a willingness to compromise whenever possible.  But for Catholics, the common good can never mean muting themselves in public debate on foundational issues of faith or human dignity.  Christian faith is always personal but never private.  This is why any notion of tolerance that tries to reduce faith to a private idiosyncrasy, or a set of opinions that we can indulge at home but need to be quiet about in public, will always fail.  As a friend once said, it’s like asking a married man to act single in public.  He can certainly do that–but he won’t stay married for long.

[Page 10, 2008 hardcover ed.]

But as promising as these trends are, none of these Catholic men and women have had a sufficiently prominent role in the political world for the average voter pays attention to their articulation of an intellectual alternative to Kennedy Catholicism.

In other words: none of them have run a serious presidential campaign.

Until now.  (Almost.)

As ronkozar already pointed out, presidential candidate Rick Santorum is an orthodox Catholic whose Catholic faith clearly shapes his personal life, his political views, and the entire way he sees the world.  (See his book, It Takes A Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, which I am reading now.)  As someone who has admired Senator Santorum for years, I have been surprised by Santorum’s staying power in the GOP primaries but not by his clear commitment to principle, especially with regard to his defense of life, marriage, and the family.

At the same time, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is a recent Catholic convert who produced a documentary about Pope John Paul II’s challenge to Communism during his June 1979 pilgrimage to Poland.   While Gingrich’s personal history if certainly not consistent with Catholic moral teaching, his defenders claim his conversion is genuine and deep, and that his remorse is real.  (For a more nuanced view, see this article by Catholic convert Francis Beckwith.)  The New York Times, among others, has written about what Gingrich’s candidacy says about the role of Catholicism in political life.  (Ugh, I feel dirty citing the NYT.)

I am not unrealistic.  I realize that Santorum, the candidate whose views are closest to my own, and who I believe to be an excellent example of what a Catholic can be in the political world, is very unlikely to win the nomination.  On the other hand, I realize that Gingrich would be a less than ideal representative of  what Catholicism in public life should be.  (Note: given Santorum’s probable unelectability, I will likely be voting for Mitt Romney–whose conversion to social conservatism I believe to be genuine, and whose word to govern in favor of life and marriage I trust–in Ohio’s March GOP primary.)

In other words, Santorum and Gingrich are unlikely to be in a position to be the modern-day figure who finally “ends” Kennedy Catholicism.  (After all, there will always be Catholics in political life whose Catholicism is simply a fig leaf or a cultural relic, not a guiding force in their life.)  But maybe Santorum and Gingrich don’t have to be that person.  In the end, what Catholics in America need is not necessarily the election of an orthodox Catholic president, but an environment where Catholic politicians are expected and assumed to be Santorums, not Kennedys.

I think the Santorum and Gingrich candidacies suggest, however humbly, that we are moving in that direction.  Maybe slowly, maybe haltingly, but…surely.

So…Cincinnati Catholic politicians: it’s time to step up.

There are few things more cathartic than making lists, and New Year’s is a great time to write lists–whether retrospective or focused on the future–so…here we go.

Due to the very long hours I work as an attorney, my obligations as a husband and father, and my self-imposed obligation to stay up to date with Catholic and political developments on a daily basis, I do not have as much time available for serious reading of books (as opposed to blogs and news articles) as I would prefer.  That being said, I completed eleven books this year, four of which I classify as “Catholic books.”

  • Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) — How do you briefly summarize a book in which each page demonstrates the genius of the greatest living Catholic theologian?  I’ll just say this: this first book in Pope Benedict’s expected trilogy on the life of Christ is guaranteed to make you think about Jesus’ life and the Bible in entirely new ways, and to demonstrate the clear intellectual superiority of orthodoxy over heterodox strains of Biblical “historical criticism.”
  • Europe: Today and Tomorrow, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger —  This book is actually a collection of lengthy lectures delivered by then-Cardinal Ratzinger on the history, present, and future of Europe.  It covers such varied topics as natural law, war and peace,  secularism, and the pre-political foundations of states.  I have an iron rule against marking up books in any way, but that rule seems to get thrown out the window when I read anything written by Pope Benedict.
  • One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: A History of the Church in the Middle Ages, lecture by Professor Thomas E. Madden — I have listened to 7 or 8 lectures on CD by Professor Madden, a medieval historian who occasionally writes for First Things and National Review, and I highly recommend all of them.  This is not a Catholic apologetic work, but rather a (mostly) non-argumentative just-the-facts history of the church in the Middle Ages.  Professor Madden, unlike many historians, is capable of describing the failings of people within the Church at various times in history without attributing those failings to the Church itself, and of being able to look at history through the eyes of those who lived it, rather than through the scolding eye of modernity.  I recommend listening to all of his history lectures on CD, in chronological order if possible.
  • Lord Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession, by Scott Hahn —  Scott Hahn, the Catholic theologian and apologist whose book Rome Sweet Home was the first I read when I decided to undertake my own serious independent study of our faith, provides a very good examination of the too-often overlooked Sacrament of Confession.
The best book on this list, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.  I look forward to reading the second volume.
Now it’s your turn: what was the best “Catholic book” you read this year?

(While we’re at it, any readers out there who share my love of lists and books may be interested in two outstanding website that combine the two: Good Reads and Library Thing.  Library Thing, in particular, has an interesting collection of libraries of famous authors.)

[NOTE: I am not paid to endorse any of the books or websites listed above, or any other book or website.  This blog post presents my own personal opinions.]

Recently Bishop Foys of the Diocese of Covington–whose cathedral is located just two or three miles, as the crow flies, from the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati–made waves in the Catholic blogosphere (see here, here, and here, for starters) when he issued his November 18, 2011 decree on the liturgy.

Somehow I missed news about the bishop’s decree at the time it was issued.  What an oversight!

Bishop Foys’ decree is stunning–in the very best sense of the word.

The gist of the bishop’s message is conveyed in the following two statements:

. . . [N]o other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.

. . .

The gestures for the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful be strictly carried out in accord with the rubrics of the Roman Missal, for “the gestures and bodily posture of both the Priest, the Deacon, and the ministers, and also of the people, must be conducive to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, to making clear the true and full meaning of its different parts, and to fostering the participation of all.

He goes on to explain that “the text of the Roman Missal [should] be used exactly as it is written;” that “[t]he music used in the Sacred Liturgy [should] be theologically sound and properly composed in accord with the teaching of the Church on Sacred Music;” that priests, deacons, and lay faithful should follow the rubrics set forth in the Roman Missal, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and Redemptionis Sacramentum; that the lay faithful are to kneel–not stand–during the Eucharistic Prayer; and that “Sacred Silence” should be observed during the Mass.  He also recommends that choirs and musicians use choir lofts when they are available, as “[t]he sanctuary is reserved for the Priest Celebrant, concelebrants, the Deacon and the other ministers who serve at the Altar.”

All of these instructions are quite welcome–and more than overdue in many parishes, at least in the Archdiocese.  Bishop Foys deserves high praise.

But Bishop Foys goes a step further and even touches the third rail of liturgical discussions:  hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer:

Special note should also be made concerning the gesture for the Our Father. Only the priest is given the instruction to “extend” his hands. Neither the deacon nor the lay faithful are instructed to do this. No gesture is prescribed for the lay faithful in the Roman Missal; nor the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore the extending or holding of hands by the faithful should not be performed.

Be still, my heart.  Has any American bishop previously publicly spoken out against the liturgical silliness of holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer?  I don’t know, but I am certain that the Bishop’s decree on this point is an act of bravery, given the entrenched nature of this practice.

Do yourself a favor and read the entirety of His Excellency’s decree.  It deserves “copy and paste” treatment in every chancery in the country…and across the river.

In Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput has recently issued a pastoral letter preparing the faithful for difficult times to come.  The numerous challenges facing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are certainly not challenges of the Archbishop’s making–he was only recently chosen to move from Denver to the City of Brotherly Love by Pope Benedict–but it appears that he intends to assume the difficult burden of addressing his new Archdiocese’s deep problems with sober zeal.

Given that many of the problems Archbishop Chaput intends to address can be found in other dioceses around the country, including even Cincinnati, the following words from Archbishop Chaput’s pastoral letter are worth keeping in mind:

Complacency is the enemy of faith. To whatever degree complacency and pride once had a home in our local Church, events in the coming year will burn them out. The process will be painful. But going through it is the only way to renew the witness of the Church; to clear away the debris of human failure from the beauty of God’s word and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship.

These words seem appropriate not just for new bishops–who would be hard pressed to find a better modern role model than Archbishop Chaput–but for each of us as we examine our hearts and consciences this Advent.

“Complacency is the enemy of faith.”

A little over a month ago, the pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Madeira announced that “required” community service hours would no longer be imposed on students preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation.  He explained:

As Catholics there is nothing we can do to obtain grace.  Grace is a free gift given to us by Almighty God.  God is always willing to shower his love and grace upon all who ask for it.  All we can do is pray and learn about the teachings of the Church, and beg God to bestow his grace upon us.  I bring this to your attention because I read bulletin notices making reference to getting “service hours” through various volunteer opportunities.  Although we certainly want our young people to respond to works of charity, we will no longer speak about a certain amount of hours of service as a “requirement” for the reception of Confirmation.

This is exactly the right thing to do for both theological and practical reasons.  When “community service” is required, it inevitably becomes a burden, a rote task, another item on our endless checklist of “things to do,” instead of the act of love it should be.  This is the case even when the motives of those requiring the “community service” are good.  My own experience–with both required “community service hours” and real acts of service–has shown this to be true time and again.

A better approach is to teach young Catholics solid doctrine, to explain the dignity of the human person, and to explain that true charity can be expressed in a variety of forms.  This approach is far more likely to encourage young Catholics to act charitably–whether through years of devoted, selfless care for children or for sick family members, through financial support of deserving charitable organizations, or, yes, even through acts of “community service”–than imposing an arbitrary numerical requirement.

In other words, there is a reason that Christ and his Church call us to works of charity, not to the mere accumulation of “service hours.”


Recently Elizabeth Scalia, “The Anchoress,” penned a defense of snark:

Nathaniel snarks, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

The niceniks would be all over that. What a mean thing to say about someone he didn’t even know! What a hurtful remark to the people who live in Nazareth!

. . .

In fact, Jesus said many things that probably make our modern niceniks squirm in the pews: “Let the dead bury the dead!” (But Jesus, how dismissive!); “I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother. . .” (You’re so divisive!); “Shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them!” (Hater!); “Get thee behind me, Satan,” (Jesus! Peter was just trying to be nice!).

She forgets an even more “mean,” un-PC comment made by our Lord:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

(Matthew 10:34)