Welcome to The Tuesday Pillar Post.
In tomorrow’s first reading, Abraham casts Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness, where an angel helps them find water, and promises that God will make a great nation of Ishmael.
The scene was was captured strikingly by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot in 1835:
The confirmation of unmarked graves at Indigenous residential schools in Western Canada has put a spotlight on a great wound of Canada’s history: the way in which those schools contributed to the demise of native Canadian cultures and families.
Since late May, when residential schools were back in the headlines, Church leaders have talked about their efforts toward “healing and reconciliation” with tribal communities.
We wanted to know what those efforts really are, and if they’re working. Journalist Elisha Valladares-Cormier talked with tribal and Catholic leaders to find out.
Archbishop Richard Gagnon, president of the Canadian bishops’ conference, told The Pillar that a delegation of elders, knowledge keepers, residential school survivors and youth from across Canada hope to meet with Pope Francis by the end of 2021.
A few weeks from now, the Church will observe the inaugural World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. Visiting with elderly people — or even calling your grandma — could confer a plenary indulgence.
And if you’re a bishop or a pastor, there’s still time to plan something cool in the diocese or parish for World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, if you haven’t already. If you’re a not a bishop or a pastor, there’s still time to plan something cool, too.
While you read about that, I had probably better call my own grandma. She’s a pistol.
The Vatican’s foreign minister said on Friday that the Holy See hasn’t spoken out about massive human rights issues in Hong Kong because Vatican officials “have yet to be convinced that it would make any difference whatever.”
In an analysis this week, Ed noted the tensions between the pragmatics of diplomatic relations and the prophetic call of the Church.
To many observers, the Secretariat of State appears to be separating, or even suborning, the Holy See’s prophetic role from its pragmatic diplomatic efforts; in effect choosing a separation of Church and state affairs. While there may be arguments in favor of this approach, it is worth noting that the Holy See claims sovereignty in international law, and engages in diplomacy at all, in order to safeguard her freedom to speak prophetically without having to defer to civil governments.
Finally, on Friday I talked at length with former congressman Dan Lipinski, one of the last prominent pro-life Democrats in national politics.
Lipinski is a political scientist with serious academic chops. So when he told me this, I don’t think he was speaking in hyperbole:
I have really come to believe that the partisan divide is a sectarian divide— the two parties have become religions with sets of doctrine that you must agree with, or else you get accused of apostasy.
Catholics don't fit into either of these two sides. We don't fit completely into these two sides. And I think that makes Catholics uniquely gifted to try to bridge this divide. But it's very difficult because everyone is basically forced into choosing one of these two, especially if you're in elected office, and basically you have to choose one of these two parties. It is extremely difficult if you step out of line.
As I look at this, I don't think our country can survive the way things are right now with our sectarian partisan divide. I don't think it's possible to survive because it's impossible to work together.
He added this:
The parties of today do not allow for the government set up under our Constitution to work. The idea of our bicameral legislature, with different ways of being elected, and then a distinct executive branch sharing power, was to force deliberation and compromise.
Today we have two accepted views; you have two parties, with top-down leadership in those parties who say what you have to stand for if you’re a member of that party, and so we don’t have representation like we’re supposed to have.
And because of this we don’t have deliberation — no one is deliberating in Congress anymore — there’s no real back and forth, give and take, or at least it’s very rare. And so our country doesn’t work.
In fact, here’s a little more — a part of the conversation I didn’t have room for when we published the interview on Friday.
I asked Lipinski about Congressmen who’ve talked about stripping the Church’s tax-exempt status during the “Eucharistic coherence” debate. I’ve always thought rhetoric like that is over-the-top grandstanding designed to fire up a base and score political points. But I asked Lipinski what he thought. He was thoughtful, and his answer is worth reading:
I think that question is separate from the pushback on the bishops’ Eucharistic document. But in general, it's not going to be long before that fight is engaged. There’s tax-exempt status for religious organizations because we’ve always believed in this country that there is a value for the whole country of these religious organizations existing. And some people are really starting to question that now.
But I think this is going to become a concern really when it comes to gender ideology: And to some extent it has happened, but it hasn’t yet in this country directly affected churches and what they teach. But I really do see that coming in the near future: An attempt by the government to change what can or cannot be taught by religions. To say their doctrines are hate speech. We see that emerging in other countries, and I think that’s the area where things are going to escalate here, and soon.
The Montreal Canadiens have made this summer an improbable and extraordinary run to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they’re playing right now against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Les Habs entered the NHL playoffs this spring with the 18th-best record in hockey — which is to say, they had a terrible regular season and barely made the playoffs at all.
But when the games really counted, the Canadiens started winning — with fantastic defense, stand-up goaltending from the once-great Carey Price, who was thought to be in the “barely-hanging-on” twilight phase of his career, and with a mostly anemic offense that has managed to score just slightly more goals than the other guys.
Bad teams usually win games with a combination of good teamwork and extraordinary luck, and that’s the story of the Canadiens right now. They probably won’t beat the Lightning for the Cup, but if they do, it will be one for the ages.
And in that spirit, here’s a story The Pillar published back in February, about the prospect of another French-Canadian comeback: Can the Church in Quebec, which has seen far better days in its past, find a way to re-evangelize a once Catholic culture that is now often hostile to the faith?
And when you finish reading that, watch this: An animated version of “The Sweater,” a classic of Canadian children’s literature. I guarantee you will love it:
A few thoughts
— If you’re anything like me, you’ve been astounded by the commentary and reporting that passes for “coverage” of the bishops’ Eucharistic coherence debate in most media outlets. I was, for a while, flagging on Twitter factual inaccuracies in media coverage of the issue, even on basic aspects of Eucharistic theology, but eventually there were too many to keep flagging. C’est la vie, as the Montreal Canadiens might say.
—Today is the 70th anniversary of the priestly ordination of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. The Europe of 1951, into which young Father Ratzinger was ordained, was faced with the prospect of rebuilding itself — with finding some path to peace and financial stability after the horrors of the Second World War. Ratzinger is witness to a Europe that has rebuilt mostly on the promises of secularism, mostly without God, mostly without reflection on the wisdom and insights of its own intellectual and cultural traditions. But the emeritus pope is, and has long been, a man of hope. He has the kind of prophetic eye — a grace, to be sure — that has allowed him to see the presence of God where others don’t, allowed him to speak truth positively and constructively, allowed him to draw from memory while looking realistically at the present and hopefully about the future.
In fact, that kind of prophetic eye is key to the emeritus pope’s theological project, too: To look at the presence of the Holy Spirit in each moment of the Church’s life, and bring them into honest conversation with the present, for the sake of the Kingdom in the days to come. That kind of hope eschews cynicism and despair as much as it eschews Pollyannish naïveté or the fetishization of the past. It is a hope centered not on an idea but on a person: Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of the Father, who is the Lord of history, the Lord of the present, and the Lord of the future.
Pray for Pope emeritus Benedict XVI today.
The State of The Pillar
On Sunday, July 4th, The Pillar will have been in operation for six months — an occasion of some significance to us, as we’re grateful to God that he opened the doors to this project, has kept them open, and given us reasonable hope that they’ll stay open.
At the risk of being self-referential, I wanted to give you, our readers, a sense of where we are and where we hope to go — because you’re a part of where we’re going.
Our goal to this point has been to provide in-depth reporting, analysis, and explainers that bring to light issues of importance in the life of the Church, and help you to understand them well. We’ve tried to do that without a lot of fluff, without wasting your time, and without insulting your intelligence.
I hope we’ve had some success. On the reporting front, we have. In January, we broke several stories about the U.S. bishops’ inauguration statement and involvement from the Holy See Since then, we’ve broken news about financial matters at home and in Rome, about the synod in Germany, about investigations of episcopal misconduct, and about the bishops’ Eucharistic coherence document — which we were the first to report was under consideration, and which we’ve broken important news about at every step of the process.
In the meantime, we’ve conducted studies about the Church’s Covid and post-Covid finances, given you explainers and interviews, and had some interesting feature stories along the way.
Our readership has grown and our subscriptions have grown. We’re glad a lot of you believe this is news worth paying for.
But where are we going?
In the next six months, and even beyond that, we’ve got some goals:
We’d like to expand our international network of freelancers and correspondents, so that we can bring you more serious reporting about the life of the Church beyond the Vatican and the United States.
We’re developing a strong roster of freelance journalists already, and are in talks with qualified freelancers on several continents. We’d like to empower them to do stable and consistent reporting on the issues facing the Church where they live — bringing to light issues needing to be addressed, and bringing forth lessons to be learned for the universal Church.
We’d also like to expand our expert subject-area coverage, bringing the same kind of expertise to Catholic healthcare and education that we now bring to diocesan, parish, and episcopal conference issues. There are issues to cover in those areas — important rocks to turn over, important stories to be told — and we’ve got a model for how to tell them. Developing journalists with the expertise and contacts to do that well will make a difference in the life of the Church. We’re sure of it.
And we intend to expand our podcast offerings — we’ve got ideas for shows beyond The Pillar Podcast that we think are worth hearing about.
In short, the news we report is worthwhile to you, and we’d like to report more of it.
Our subscribers — people who believe that news done well is worth paying for — make that happen.
So do people who help us broaden our reach:
At six months, thanks to all of you who’ve joined us on this mission. We’re sons and daughter of the Church; we aim to be disciples of the Lord. We also aim to do serious journalism, and you’re helping to make that happen.
Plus, Ed’s saving up for some kind of new watch. I think it’s a Swatch, probably.
Anyway, thanks for serving the Lord alongside us. Please pray for us, and be assured of our daily prayers for you.