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Grimm truth, the 14 million dollar man, and stars in our eyes

Happy Friday friends,

I have spent quite a lot of time in the car the last week and, as JD so charitably alluded to on Tuesday, I look set to again, thanks to a certain court date I’ll need to keep in Erie County, Ohio.

And as you would expect coming off a 1,500 mile road trip with a 1 year old, much of the discussion in our house has been which Disney film soundtrack is the least obnoxious after hours of repeat listening. 

I’ve a marked preference for the classics, most of which I know by heart from childhood and find easier to tune out when necessary, though the Child has more mid-modern tastes, with “Tangled” a particular favorite just now. 

The old, old school Disneys don’t appeal to her at all — Sleeping Beauty and that era. I think part of it must be down to the difference in vocal styles. The movies used to be decidedly more classical in tone, with my daughter liking the bubblegum rock and pop stuff much more.

On the subject of Disney, my wife was telling me about plans for a remake of “Snow White” which, apparently, have vexed the Germans. According to Bild, the daily newspaper, “the Hollywood soap sud factory is spinning the ur-German fairytale through a woke wash cycle.” 

“The Grimm classic is being turned into a one-world fairytale,” the paper fumes, because it doesn’t have dwarves and the Prince doesn’t save the day, or something.

If I didn’t know better, I’d have said the Germans were trying to be funny. 

Disney has been remaking Grimm tales since the beginning, including the original Snow White, and each and every one of them is sanitized almost beyond recognition from the original. As well they ought to be. 

I don’t, for example, recall the part in Cinderella where the step-sisters sheer off their own toes to fit the glass slipper making it into Walt’s telling of the tale, thankfully. 

The truth is, you can’t beat the Germans for scaring the Bejeezis out kids.

If the Brothers Grimm is too tame for you, consider the tales of Struwwelpeter, which includes the unfortunate story of Konrad, who fails to heed his mother’s warning about what happens to kids who suck their thumbs.

All things considered, I’m not sure the Germans shouldn’t thank Disney for knocking the edges off their fairy tales. 

But if this is what their parents read to them at bedtime, no wonder these people grow up without a sense of humor.


The News

You have probably heard of Boko Haram, the Islamic terrorist group which has been operating in Nigeria for more than a decade.

I think we all remember the 2014 kidnapping of 276 school girls from the town of Boro, and you’ve probably seen the name float across your screen since then in connection with other attacks. 

As with so many stories, the violence of Boko Haram has largely dropped off people’s radar, simply because it’s been going on for so long. But for Nigerians, that simply isn’t an option. This week, we spoke to several who have survived their attacks.

These people’s stories matter. What they are living through matters. 

Boko Haram is banking on the rest of the world deciding that Nigeria is, in the end, a long way away and what happens there is just beneath the world’s notice and concern. Don’t let it be so.

Junaid Javed, a Catholic living in Pakistan, was looking forward to his appointment Monday to collect a visa to travel to World Youth Day with his wife, Sunaina. 

The pair, who have been praying for children since they married in 2017, were looking forward to seeing the pope and hoping for a blessing.

But to his dismay, the Portuguese embassy returned his passport without a visa July 24, making him one of a rising number of people prevented from traveling to Lisbon for the world’s largest Catholic youth event.

Along with his passport, Javed received a Portuguese form with a box ticked indicating that the authorities considered the reasons presented for the trip to be unreliable — essentially that they didn’t believe he was a legit pilgrim who would return home after WYD ended.

“We don’t have much money … So that’s why they didn’t give us a visa,” he told us.

But while Javed works two jobs to bring in about $90 per month, he told us, other pilgrims from his home country — those with more stable and higher paying jobs — had received their visas. 

“So is this event for rich people only?” he asked us. “What about the poor, what about us?” 

“And if they want to do this with us, they should mention on the website that World Youth Day is for rich people only, so the poor people can’t apply and can’t waste their money and their time, their emotions.”

Javed’s case isn’t unique, and similar problems have been reported from other countries with poorer economic circumstances, even after families have scrimped and saved to pay WYD costs. 

On the other hand, pilgrims failing to return home after previous World Youth Days has been an issue for some countries.

We took a look at the problem; here’s the whole report.

For those lucky enough to be able to be in Lisbon next week, we asked our Portuguese correspondent Filipe d’Avillez for his top tips for seeing the city.

Showing the customary European concern for American travelers, he offers some important reminders — that Portugal isn’t Spain, for example — and the necessity of trying not to drown. 

This is helpful, right?

He also gives you the low-down on where the best churches are, the must-see places in and around the city, and how best to get from A to B in the crush of the crowds.

If you’re heading to Lisbon, this is the travel guide you need.

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The Society of Jesus this week announced that the window for Marko Rupnik to appeal against his expulsion from the order has closed, and the disgraced priest and artist is definitely out of the Jesuits.

In a letter released on Monday, the Jesuit superior for Rome reiterated that while he personally would have liked to have seen a process to laicize Rupnik, too, the society’s hands were tied by the Vatican.

That argument struck me as… curious. While it is true that the canonical statute of limitations has run on many of cases of sexual abuse in which Rupnik is accused, there certainly were other options open to the Jesuits. 

In an analysis Tuesday, I looked at exactly what laws and process were available to the Jesuits in Rupnik’s case, and showed how the same behavior which they used to expel him from the order could have been used to have him laicized, too.

As I concluded, despite what the society says, it seems Marko Rupnik remains a cleric today because they ran out of will, not laws, with which to pursue him.

This week, the Church marks the 55th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s promulgation of Humanae vitae.

The 1968 encyclical dropped amid great controversy — in part because documents had already been leaked showing a papally-appointed commission had advised Paul VI to change Church teaching on artificial contraception.

Dissent from the teaching was fast and furious, with petitions against it sprouting up in newspapers internationally, warning about everything from freedom of conscience to the “population timebomb.”

Today only the very disingenuous could dispute St. Paul VI’s dire predictions for what would happen if the Church was ignored on these issues — though there are plenty of them. 

But what about those original dissenters? What were they arguing, exactly?

Sharon Kabel, a librarian and independent researcher, recently completed a project researching the signatories to the 1968 Scientists’ Statement on Birth Control Encyclical, which rejected Humanae Vitae.

For us this week, she looked at the history of the statement and the 3,097 signatures attached to it.

This is interesting history.

I am sure it escaped none of your notice that the prosecution wrapped up their case in dramatic fashion this week in the Vatican financial trial.

Most notably, promoter of justice Alessandro Diddi asked the judges for 7 years and three months in jail for star defendant and Pillar reader, Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

The cardinal, of course, maintains his complete innocence of the charges against him — which include embezzlement, fraud, conspiracy, and perverting the course of justice. 

And you can read his most recent statement to that effect here.

A lot, a lot of people I know continue to tell me that they fully expect Cardinal Becciu to be acquitted, or a least not convicted at the end of the trial, not they say, because they believe he never did a thing wrong, but because the whole case is just so convoluted it’s impossible to say what happened.

I respectfully disagree. While I look forward to the defense presenting their closing case in the Autumn, and I make no predictions about the judge’s final verdict, whenever it comes, it’s perfectly possible to follow the prosecution’s case, if you want to.

Of course, whether you can find a coherent account of the trial, and a forensic presentation of what the cardinal is alleged to have done — and what he’s admitted he has done — is another question. It’s a question The Pillar was made to answer.

So this week I laid out the case for the prosecution as clearly as I can. 

Again, the defense still has to make its final case, so I’m not trying to leap to conclusions here, but this is my best effort to put the facts of the prosecution’s case out there for you to read and make your own mind up.

I would note, however, that many people were shocked by Diddi’s bid for Becciu to get 7 years for his alleged crimes, and seemed to think this was a reach. I do not. 

As I wrote this week, Becciu has, if nothing else, admitted to having his niece secretly tape phone calls with the pope while they discussed matters they explicitly agreed on the call were Vatican state secrets. That’s a crime in Vatican City, a crime which — under a law passed by Pope Francis — carries a penalty of 8 years in jail. 

Diddi is, in my view, going easy on his sentencing requests.

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Another thing which I have been asked about in the last couple of days is the prosecution’s demand for asset seizures from the various defendants in the event of their conviction.

In addition to the seven year stretch inside, Diddi asked the judges to order the seizure of some 14 million euros in assets from Cardinal Becciu, together with imposing a 10,000 euro fine.

A lot of people are curious how Becciu, a career cleric from a humble background, came to have 14 million in assets. It’s a good question to which I have no perfect answer, but I do have a couple of observations to make:

The first is that requesting the asset seizure doesn’t mean Diddi can show Becciu has 14 million in a bank account in his name at the IOR, or anywhere else for that matter. Indeed it’s vanishingly unlikely he does. 

But I’ve asked around the Vatican financial campfire and the consensus is that the request is related to the large number of Swiss bank accounts which financial authorities there have frozen at the prosecution’s request — accounts with tens of millions in them. 

Some of those accounts belong to other defendants, like the businessman Raffaele Mincione. Others, I’m told, have a somewhat nebulous status as to whose money it actually is, but that someone in the case — Becciu, for example — will have signatory power over them.

Given that the cardinal has a long and admitted history working with what we might usefully call “black-ops slush funds,” it’s entirely possible there are millions in Church funds in Switzerland, squirreled away without proper Vatican records, or means to access them. 

Getting those funds back in house, on shore, and under Church control will need a proper court order, like the one Diddi is asking for in the form of an asset seizure. That, anyway, is what I have been able to find out thus far.

Stars in our eyes

Although football (soccer, etc.) isn’t my game of choice per se, I still read enough UK press to marinate in the sport’s news. The big story in that game right now is the launch of a kind of super-star league in Saudi Arabia, with a line of big names (mostly on the verge of retirement) gratefully agreeing to the kind of insane money deals only an oil-rich monarchy can offer.

I’ve been skeptical of the whole project. 

It’s one thing for the Saudis to buy up professional golf, lock stock and barrel, since that is by its nature a sport (“sport”) of touring individuals on a global circuit already. But who, I thought, is going to tune in to watch a league of superannuated stars playing for teams newly invented, in a country hardly anyone will ever go to, and most wouldn’t want to if they could? How do you forge team loyalty or identity from a continent away? And without ties of time and place, what are you cheering for anyway?

After reading a piece in the Spectator this week, I’m sorry to say, I may be wrong in my skepticism and mistaken in my premise. The author argues that sports loyalties have broadly transferred to individual players and away from teams. 

Much of this, he says, is driven by media, often and especially social media, and the kind of parasocial relationship that it forms between fans and their sporting idols. It’s why a third division team from a Welsh coal town can sell out stadia in California and why, apparently, in sports like basketball, younger fans are more likely to have favorite players than teams, and cheer harder for them to win MVP awards than championships.

As a sports fan, this all sounds rather depressing to me, and a recipe for disappointment. For a start, and I don’t want to generalize, sports superstars tend not to make great role models in their personal lives. 

Worse, we seem to be drifting away from the idea of “the team” as the thing we consider worthy of loyalty and affection in favor of following an individual star. That’s a grim trend, I think. 

A team is, by definition, bigger and more important than any player, however gifted, and its goals and achievements are communal, not personal. Just as importantly, a team has a history, a culture, traditions, a way of doing things — it is a society with norms and presumptions of fraternity, mutual obligation, respect. 

Fandom for an individual — however global and fervent — has none of these things, it is just a cult of personality and talent. It may be sad-but-mostly-harmless in sports, but I don’t think you have to look too hard to see the same trend throughout our society, where it is far more corrosive.

Our politics, for all our talk about “tribalism” and “partisanship,” has for years — I’d argue for more than a decade — preferred the charismatic, or the demagogic, over any meaningful sense of tribe or party. E pluribus, unum has, in my estimation, long been superseded by post unum, multi

In the Church, too, we see the same shift — though St. Paul would tell us it is a reversion to an apostolic-era dysfunction. 

Whether it is the somewhat cartoonish insistence on labeling any thought or observation as “pro” or “anti Francis,” or the rise of Twitter-bishops with fans (and increasingly self-described loyalists) well beyond their diocese, like Bishop Strickland of Tyler, the Church today seems full of people eager to proclaim themselves for Apollos or Cephas. 

The sadness and absurdity of this is as true now as it was in Paul’s day. 

Under Christ, any and all things can be discussed with charity and lead to communion. But when we pin our hopes and allegiance to one or other person, however charismatic or talented, we break ourselves off from the bonds of love and tradition which bind us together and form our communion. We break down his body, the Church, instead of building it up.

All too often, it seems to me, we speak of the Church as a loose confederation of rival personalities, and define ourselves by petty allegiances. That is a tragedy. 

The Church is much more than a team we are all a part of, it is our hope, our home, our home, our family, our salvation. If we cannot see that, if we can’t stand each other — let alone love each other — then we cannot love God, either.

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See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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