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Happy Friday friends,

And a very happy feast of St. Bonaventure to you all.

If I am being honest, I have never been all that close to the Franciscan order — that’s not a comment on them, it’s just a fact. It simply wasn’t my good fortune to have had all that much contact with Franciscans, or their schools and other institutions growing up. The loss was mine.

But I have always been deeply struck by the Francis-Bonaventure dynamic of their founding, and theirs is an example I often reference when talking about the life of the Church.

I gawp in awe at the prophetic, revolutionary zeal of Francis, his utter rejection of the comfortable, the predictable, and the accepted in the life of the Church in favor of radical penance and radical announcement of the Gospel — very much using words, falsely attributed quotes notwithstanding.

The mission of Francis was a deeply unsettling moment for the institutional Church, one it sorely needed at the time. And the hesitancy, even hostility, that it met was both predictable and in its way a necessary testing of the Franciscan charism.

Bonaventure is hailed as the “second founder” of the order and, I would argue, was as essential to their flourishing as Francis himself.

The Prayer of St. Bonaventura about the Selection of the New Pope, Francisco de Zurbarán

Bonaventure was the sixth successor to St. Francis, and an essential defender and prover of the Poverello’s charism. Without the personal fire of their founder, it would have been easy for the friars’ zeal to wither under pressure, and become institutionalized. Instead, the friars were granted a second “founding” saint who planted their young roots deep, establishing them in the life of the Church without letting them become “establishment.” 

I’d go further and argue that whenever the Church is gifted the charism of a St. Francis, demanding a renewed commitment to the radical demands of the Gospel, she always needs a Bonaventure, too, to direct that apostolic zeal so it becomes a fire that catches and flourishes in the Church, and isn’t a flash that burns out.

Apply that metaphor as you like.


Here’s the news

In Australia Monday, a lawyer appeared in court in Melbourne to commence a civil lawsuit against Cardinal George Pell. 

Attorney Lisa Flynn is representing the father of one of the two alleged victims from the criminal case against Pell, which saw the cardinal unanimously exonerated by the High Court in 2020, after he had spent more than a year in prison.

The father is seeking damages from Pell, and from the Archdiocese of Melbourne, which Pell led from 1996 until 2001. 

His son died of an accidental drug overdose in 2014, and was not part of Pell’s criminal trial, in which the prosecution’s case relied on the uncorroborated allegations of the other alleged victim. Those allegations were disputed by the unchallenged evidence of dozens of witnesses to Pell’s innocence.

The father claims he suffered psychological damage when he learned of his son’s alleged abuse at Pell’s hands, though his son never actually accused Pell of anything. In fact, as the court heard during Pell’s criminal trial, before he died, the son told his mother that he was not a victim of sexual abuse. 

Given this, the decision of the country’s supreme court, and the (as the High Court heard) overwhelming evidence that Pell did not and could not have committed the alleged abuse, it’s hard to see what Flynn’s legal strategy will be, other than perhaps banking on a lower standard of proof for a civil suit and a hostile jury pool. 

Pell, of course, has emphatically denied ever abusing anyone and will be contesting the suit, set to resume in August.

Staying in Australia: Last week we were following the conclusion of the final session of the plenary council which voted down controversial calls for female ordination and lay homilies in Mass.

Now that the dust has settled a little, in an analysis this week I looked at who “won” the at times acrimonious conciliar process, and what that might mean for the global Church, especially looking ahead to next year’s synodal meeting in Rome.

Inasmuch as the council rejected proposals which would have called for Rome to either dispense from canon law, change sacramental teaching, or upend the basic ecclesiology of the Church’s hierarchy, it could be called a “win” for “conservatives” — but neither of those words seems especially well-suited to what happened in Australia.

Read the whole analysis here.

Pope Francis named three women as members of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops on Wednesday, one more, actually, than he had previously promised to appoint to the Vatican’s episcopal nominations department.

María Lía Zervino, Sr. Raffaella Petrini, and Sr. Yvonne Reungoat come from quite different backgrounds, though the two religious sisters have previous (albeit fairly recent) Vatican experience.

Zervino, a longtime friend of Pope Francis from Argentina, wrote him an open letter in 2021 calling for “a different synod: the synod of the People of God, with proportional representation of the clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay men and women.”

“Probably, Holy Father, you already have this ‘card in your deck’ to put synodality into practice and wait for the right moment to play it,” Zervino said at the time. Clearly, she has the ear of the pope, or is at least close enough to the Holy Father to be able to see the direction he’s heading.

Read all about the new appointments here.

Pro-life activist Lauren Handy was sentenced to jail time Tuesday for trespassing at an abortion clinic during a 2021 “pink rose rescue” in Virginia.

Her sentence points to a resurgence of “rescue” tactics at abortion clinics by some pro-life activists — a once-popular approach that fell out of use decades ago. 

In this case, activists including Handy delivered pink roses to women scheduled to undergo abortions, along with information about financial resources and alternatives to abortion.

That’s what they are going to jail for doing. 

Do they regret it? In a word, no. A spokesperson for Handy’s organization, the Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising, told us that “we do know that at this particular incident, there were at least five children that were saved from abortion that day. So for us, that is more than worth it.” 

Handy herself told us she’s actually looking forward to the work she can do behind bars, organizing on behalf of incarcerated expectant mothers.

You can read what else Handy said, and about why “rescue” missions are gaining traction among pro-lifers again, right here.

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Nigeria’s ruling party announced this week that its ticket in the 2023 presidential election will not include a Christian, junking the settled practice of fielding a Muslim and Christian together.

Thanks to our subscribers, of course, we recently began working with a correspondent in Nigeria - accomplished journalist Fr. Justine John Dyikuk.

Fr. Dyikuk reports that this announcement comes just weeks after the Nigerian bishops’ conference warned that a ticket consisting only of Muslim candidates would further undermine national unity, amid years of bloody Christian persecution in the West African nation. 

Several senior party figures in the ruling All Progressive Congress have already resigned over the decision.

Christians in Nigeria are facing a sustained and bloody persecution unlike anywhere else in the world right now, and they have been for years. This matters.  

You should read the whole story here.

The U.S. bishops’ conference released this week its annual audit of child sexual abuse allegations, publishing the numbers of new allegations reported to U.S. dioceses between July 2020 and June 2021.

Historical allegations have continued to fall, and recent allegations remain low. In as much as it’s possible to consider any report showing a single allegation of child sexual abuse as anything other than an outrage, the USCCB report shows the real progress made over the last two decades in response to the scandals of the early 2000’s and since.

There is, of course, much more to do. But, as JD noted in an analysis yesterday, the commitment of the U.S. bishops to producing these reports every year, and to conducting the third-party audits that gather the data, bear contrasting with the wider Church’s implementation of Vos estis lux mundi.

Transparency doesn’t guarantee that a system will work, and its absence doesn’t mean that something cannot work — but as, JD points out, it’s worth asking whether a policy aimed at accountability, but conducted in secret, will do anything at all to inspire confidence in Catholics.

Read the whole thing here.

Talking about gender is a really easy way to get people angry at you these days. And if you really want the cultural mob to come for you, all you have to do is start asking the most basic questions about the transgender movement.

But there are few issues more potent, and few conversations more important right now. And we definitely want to have them at The Pillar.

This week, in the first of a two part interview, Charlie Camosy talked to Abigail Favale of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame and John Grabowski of The Catholic University of America, both of whom have published books on these issues.

This is a real conversation, which isn’t shy of the details or the data, so if you have been looking for something that doesn’t shy away from the medical facts and grapples with the philosophical truths, this is it.

Here’s what they had to say about how we got here:

Modern contraceptive technologies (themselves the jet fuel of the Sexual Revolution) remove the fertility at the heart of sexual difference from both marriage and the self, leaving the body without a telos

On top of this, the digitalization of identity in our online worlds helps to underwrite the idea that the body is simply a screen on which to project an identity. If the sense of personal identity and the body don’t match, it can be overwritten with chemical and surgical transitioning. 

All of this contributes to a uniquely 21st century iteration of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Gender ideology purports to offer a kind of this worldly salvation by overcoming the body and its “sex assigned at birth” in order to give expression to a self-articulated gender.

They also talked a lot about the often-made claim that to not support so-called gender reassignment treatments is “literally killing trans people,” and what the statistics have to say about that.

Given that the only long-term, population-based study there is on the subject shows a 19-fold increase in suicidality after sex reassignment procedures, it seems at least arguable that the reverse is actually true.

As Favale said, “the ‘give-kids-hormones-or-they’ll-kill-themselves’ narrative is not only unproven; it is dangerous. It has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and should not be thrown around casually.” 

“The bottom line is that we do not have good science in this area, yet we’ve been galloping ahead with risky and experimental therapies on children.”

This is part one of a wide-ranging discussion on a very important and emotive issue, and it’s exactly the kind of conversation we want to have at The Pillar. I urge you to read it all.

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In defense of geocentrism

Figure of the heavenly bodies, Bartolomeu Velho, 1568. Public domain.

The Pontifical Academy for Life tested the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity this week.

The academy’s official Twitter account started the week retweeting favorable reviews of “Theological Ethics of Life. Scripture, Tradition, Practical Challenges,” a recently published collection of addresses from a three-day seminar sponsored by the pontifical academy in fall 2021. 

By Tuesday, it was engaged in some fairly punchy exchanges with different, seemingly random user accounts who’d criticized the book, which the academy’s president, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, explained in the introduction was intended to “introduce a paradigm shift” in the theological ethics of life.

The academy’s account started spitting feathers about “insults and out-of-control criticism” (on Twitter— can you imagine?), and warning people about taking “fundamentalist positions” on life issues. 

Soon it was taking flak from Catholic theologians and ethicists as well, all while pushing back and hinting at a possible wholesale revision of Church teaching to come in a new papal encyclical. 

Things just got weirder from there. You can read our explainer on the book, the reactions, and what’s been going on at the academy here.

I’ve since heard from two members of the academy saying they’d no idea the book was meant to be anything more than the published proceedings of a routine conference, or express anything like a viewpoint on behalf of the institution. 

At one point in the exchanges, the papal think tank’s account challenged a tweet which said it is always right to condemn obviously “nefarious doctrines” like the superiority of one race over another, responding “Be careful: what is dissent today, can change.” 

“It is not relativism, it is the dynamics of the understanding of phenomena and science: the Sun does not rotate around the Earth. Otherwise there would be no progress and everything would stand still.”

Since the academy’s twitter account is emphatically not an instrument of magisterial teaching, I would just like to argue two points: 

The first is that racism is, in fact, very, very, bad, and that is not going to ever change.

The second, in defense of geocentrism, is a little more complicated.

In a spatially infinite universe, surely all perceived motion is relative to your frame of reference. Saying that the Earth goes around the Sun is a relative observation which limits its reference to our own solar system. 

We exist, so I’m given to understand, in a universe of truly limitless space, in which uncounted galaxies, containing incalculable numbers of stars, surrounded by incomprehensible numbers of planets, are flying outward, across, and around each other in ways we can scarcely conceive, with literally no end in any direction. So it simply isn’t possible to meaningfully plot a given “location” within an infinite and infinitely moving space — everything is relative.

In that case, treating the point of observation, Earth, as fixed isn’t just reasonable, it’s plain logical. And insisting that it's the Earth that goes around the Sun is, arguably, just a fundamentalist position, a piece of close-minded, reactionary, backwards thinking which shuts itself off from dialogue and progress. 

Now, maybe I’m just, you know, exploring the dynamics of the understanding of phenomena and science.

Or maybe I’m being facetious. 

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Or perhaps there’s an interesting conversation to be had here about how we think and speak about the nature of creation and our place in it, but serious discussion doesn’t actually benefit from archly phrased smart-assery.

Maybe it’s all of the above. 

If so, I would suggest this is equally true for comments made by a pontifical academy’s official Twitter account. Even in theology. Think about it.

That’s all I’m saying.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon


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