Catholic leaders respond to Mitt Romney’s speech on his Mormon faith

Mitt Romney’s speech on his Mormon faith was meant to clear the air about its impact on his potential leadership as president of the United States. In an effort to determine if that was the case, CNA contacted some influential Catholic leaders to hear their assessment of Romney’s speech.

"There was a lot to like in Governor Romney's speech, particularly his clear understanding that the alternative to today's vibrantly religious public square is not a naked public square but state-enforced secularism -- the establishment of secularism, if you will,” Catholic author and scholar George Weigel told CNA.

One portion of the presidential candidate’s speech that resounded with Catholic intellectual and author George Weigel was Romney’s attack on secularism.

Speaking about those who advocate for the separation of church and state “way beyond its original meaning,” Romney claimed that “they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism.”

Another highlight for Weigel was “the governor's understanding that the 'no establishment' provision of the Constitution was meant to serve the end of free exercise of religion.”

Weigel summarized his thoughts to the speech saying, “[t]here were a number of clumsy formulations in the speech, but given the complexities of the subject and the demands of politics, it was an impressive and heartening performance."

Catholic League president, Bill Donahue, took a different view of Romney’s explanation of the interplay between faith and politics. “The timing is suspect, as soon as his [poll] numbers started going south and Huckabee’s started going north, he decided to make the speech,” Mr. Donahue told CNA.

“He’s just trying to get back in the news, and it worked, for a day,” said Donahue.  

When asked if he thought Romney’s speech added anything substantial to the discussion about the role of faith in politics, Donahue said, “it’s apple pie, it doesn’t add anything new [to the discussion] that everyone doesn’t already know.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver took a different view of the Republican candidate’s speech on his faith. In an email to the Denver Post he wrote that, "[i]n some ways, it's the speech John Kennedy should have given in Houston, but didn't.”

"Romney, unlike Kennedy in Houston, does not separate his faith from informing his citizenship, and by extension, his vision of public service," he wrote. "Romney, offered a more reasonable and fruitful explanation of how faith actually works in public service, regardless of one's political party,” the archbishop explained.

Archbishop Chaput also added further comment on the role on the role of religion in politics saying, "Religious officials shouldn't and can't determine public policy. No sensible person would disagree with that. But that's very different from claiming — as some people now do — that religious believers, communities and leaders should be silent in public debate or stay out of public issues."

While none of the Catholic leaders offered their endorsement of Romney, both Donahue and Chaput mentioned that they see his Mormon faith as a non-issue.

Their comments on his Mormon faith are well summarized by Archbishop Chaput: "Catholics, like most other people, want to elect someone who has the skills, the moral character and the real commitment to the common good that will enable him or her to lead.”

“Passionate search for truth” is part of the nature of the Catholic university

The Archbishop of Genoa and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, said this week the “passionate search for truth” is part of the nature of the Catholic university.

During a Mass for the opening of the 2007-2008 academic year at the Sacro Cuore Catholic University in Rome, Cardinal Bagnasco stressed that “man cannot live on bread alone,” but that he must seek the truth “from the world that surrounds him,” and especially he must “seek the truth within himself.  He needs to know his origins and his destiny.  Only this knowledge will lead to wisdom and only this awareness will guide him to create culture in a singular and social manner.”

To not seek out such metaphysical truth is to lack any reference point, the cardinal continued.  Every choice is reduced to what is immediate, which is “quickly consumed in order to move on to something else, and then something else after.  Everything becomes the same and becomes insignificant.  If there is nothing worth dying for, then there is nothing worth living for,” the cardinal said.

He noted that young people instinctively sense this and that they seek the truth. He also addressed professors and reminded them they are “teachers of life.”  “Within our daily tasks, God asks us to do not only the best, but also all that it is within our reach to seek out, build up and resolve,” he added.

Only then will human dignity, freedom and intelligence overflow, he said, and man will realize that understanding comes “not only through reason and intelligence but through everything that we are and we have.”

New Australian prime minister has Catholic roots

Sydney, Australia, Dec.05,2007 (CINS /CNS) -- Kevin Rudd, the Catholic-born leader of Australia's Labor Party, was sworn in as Australia's prime minister Dec. 3.

Throughout a year of electoral campaigning, Rudd worked to familiarize the Australian people with how his view of Christian values informed his policies.

The youngest of a Catholic family of four children in rural Queensland, Rudd said the death of his father, a dairy farmer, from complications arising from a car accident had the greatest transforming effect on him when he was just 11 years old.

When his father died in 1969, Rudd was the only child living at home. His older brother was away in the army, his sister was a novice at a Mercy sisters' convent, and his 14-year-old brother was boarding at the Marist College Ashgrove in suburban Brisbane.

With the family evicted from their farm, Rudd recalled that he and his mother spent a night in their car before being taken in by other family members. The eviction, said Rudd, aroused "my earliest flickering of a sense of justice and injustice. ... I just thought it was plain wrong that that could happen to anybody or that you didn't have anywhere to go and stay."

While his mother retrained as a nurse, Rudd joined his older brother at the Marist boarding school. Rudd does not have happy memories of the two years he spent there and "the tough, harsh, unforgiving, institutional Catholicism" he said he found at the school.

When his mother was back on her feet, he moved back home with her and attended the local public high school.

At the Australian National University in Canberra, Rudd excelled in Chinese language and history. He met his future wife, Therese Rein, a practicing Anglican, at the university. Although he "never sought to formally separate himself from his Catholicism," Rudd married in the Anglican Church and attends Anglican services with his family.

"Families that pray together, stay together," Rudd said.

Of his disenchantment with Catholicism, he said, "It was necessary to step out of the tradition I'd grown up in, in order to reflect on it and to reflect what actually lay underneath it."

In a 2005 essay on the role of a Christian in contemporary politics, Rudd said he sees the Gospel as "an exhortation to social action," arguing that the continuing principle shaping the church's engagement with the state "should be to take the side of the marginalized, the vulnerable and the oppressed."

"Catholic social teaching," he wrote, has "long argued for a proper balance between the rights of capital and labor, in a relationship based on mutual respect as well as legal protection."

Opposing former Prime Minister John Howard's controversial Work Choices legislation, Rudd has said the Christian churches, including the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, exposed the unfairness of Work Choices legislation as "a redistribution of power from the weak to the strong."

"This is part of the continued prophetic mission of the church however politically uncomfortable. The purpose of the church is not to be socially agreeable; it is to speak robustly to the state on behalf of those who cannot speak effectively for themselves," he said. "Decency, fairness and compassion are still etched in our national soul. Despite a decade of oxygen deprivation, Christians can breathe them afresh into the great debates now faced by our country and the international community."

Rudd and the Labor Party defeated Howard's Liberal-Nationalist Party coalition Nov. 24 and swept the Labor Party back into the federal government after nearly a dozen years in opposition.

Now buoyed by his electoral mandate, Rudd, 50, promises to repeal Work Choices. He also said he will enact a revolution in school, trades and university education in Australia and reactivate the reconciliation movement with Australia's indigenous people. He has put climate change firmly onto the federal agenda by creating a new ministerial portfolio to deal with it, as well as ratifying Australia's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol on global emissions.

Rudd also has announced that he will recall Australia's combat troops from Iraq by the middle of 2008.

Apostle in the Desert : Experiences of a Catholic chaplain working in the trenches

Recently, CNA had the opportunity to send a writer to the Anbar Province of Iraq to cover the experiences of a Catholic chaplain working in the trenches. What follows is his recounting of the amazing encounter he had with this apostle in the desert.

Father Bautista: Apostle in the Desert
Joe Burns, War Stringer

A few weeks ago, I returned to the U.S. after spending a week with Army troops in Iraq.  More specifically, I spent six and a half days with my son’s outfit, the 63rd Ordnance Company stationed at Al Taqaddum.  Al Taqaddum is a former Iraqi airbase, nicknamed TQ, and lies about 50 miles west of Baghdad in the Anbar Province near Ramadi.  My son Mike and I spent the first three days in Baghdad while I was processed for my press pass and then waited for a helicopter to become available to take us to TQ. 

Al Taqaddum is covered in dust. In some areas where vehicles had repeatedly driven, the earth was ground down to a fine powder several inches deep (I was tempted to look for Neil Armstrong’s footprints!).  The dust in this part of Iraq is so prevalent that it hangs in the air at all times of the day and night, clinging to clothing, nostrils and eyes. 

On the second day at Al Taqaddum, I was privileged to attend Mass said by Fr. Jose A. Bautista-Rojas, a Navy chaplain who ministers to the Marines and soldiers at TQ and in the Ramadi area.  It was a hot, dry, windy and desolate day.  

In the 30 minutes prior to Mass, Fr. Bautista discussed recent events of the day with the three of us: my son Mike, his commander Captain Tom Heilman, and myself. 

The setting for our conversation was a makeshift wooden chapel, sparsely furnished with the plastic chairs we sat on and a small white table for an altar. Being inside this simple chapel was like finding an oasis in the desert.  What made this oasis most refreshing was the time we spent with Fr. Bautista, a man of irrepressible good humor, joy and generosity.

The events of that morning for Fr. Bautista included a Mass he had just conducted in Ramadi at a Marine detachment.  What made the Mass unique, was that his “congregation” consisted of one lonely Catholic Marine.  When Father Bautista arrived in Ramadi along with his personal bodyguard, a strong young, well-armed Marine, he visited a detachment of eight men, only one of whom was Catholic.  Undeterred, he told the Marine he would be happy to say Mass for him.

The young Marine confided to him, “You know Father, back in the States, I didn’t go to Mass that often, but out here I find myself longing to go to Mass again.  But I’ve been here for seven months and you’re the first Catholic chaplain I’ve seen.”   Fr. Bautista spent some time listening to his story and asking questions about his family.   Then he said Mass for this single Marine, in the presence of countless angels and saints who rejoiced with them.

As Fr. Bautista continued speaking with us, he described the fascinating story of a young Muslim woman who was entering the Church under his guidance through the RCIA process.  Her story was moving.  While working with Americans, this woman, who must remain anonymous, was touched deeply when she realized that the U.S. medical personnel not only treated wounded Americans and Iraqi civilians, but also treated wounded enemy combatants, including one who was known for having killed U.S. Marines.  As she put it, “This cannot happen with us.”  

This dramatic extension of mercy even to enemy soldiers caused her to take the next cautious step.  She asked Father Bautista to “tell me more about Jesus.”  As Father described Jesus and his life in the Gospels, one thing stood out among the rest for the Muslim woman he called “Fatima” (not her real name) and that was how kindly Jesus had related to, as she put it, “the two Mary’s.”  Fatima was moved to see how Jesus deeply loved Mary, his mother, who was sinless, but also how Jesus deeply loved Mary Magdalene, who was “a great sinner.”  As these discussions continued, Fatima reached a point where she said to Father Bautista, “I want to become a Christian.”

Since Father Bautista sees himself as a chaplain for all troops, not just Catholics, he decided to introduce Fatima to other chaplains from Protestant and Orthodox backgrounds.  After some time had passed, Fatima returned to Father Bautista and said, “I want to become a Catholic like you.”  When Father asked her the reason for her decision, she said, “You were the only one who told me about the other Christians, so you left me free to decide for myself.  That’s how I knew this was the right decision.”

As their catechetical lessons developed over time, Fatima’s family discovered her plan and was warned sternly by her father that if she continued on this path, she would be disowned by the entire family and would never have contact with them again.  At this point, Father Bautista became concerned for Fatima’s well-being and cautioned her to look carefully at the consequences of her decision and to think seriously before continuing her path into the Church.

Fatima paused for a moment and then looking intently at Father Bautista asked, “Do you give up so easily on Jesus?”  The question took Father aback for a moment, but then he thought, “This is incredible; this Muslim woman is already bearing witness to me about how important my own faith is!” 

As he related it, this woman’s question had caused him to give greater thanks for his faith and for the great privilege of sharing Christ with others.  Fatima is currently continuing the RCIA process with great courage and joy. 

In a wonderful irony, the first words she will hear spoken during the Liturgy of the Word in the Rite of Acceptance will be those spoken to her great ancestor, Abraham: “Leave your country (and your kindred and your father’s house), and come into the land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). 

After sharing this moving testimony, Father Bautista excused himself to prepare to celebrate Mass for us.  Moments later, as he led us in the prayers of Mass, I was struck by how blessed I was to be present in this moment, in the ancient dusty land of Abraham, who so willingly offered his only son to God.  Now, together with Abraham and his son, Isaac, with all the angels and saints, with our own brave son and his commander, we returned to this same land and heard these magnificent words:

“Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as you once accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, the bread and wine offered by your servant Melchisedech …”

Here, in the same treeless, windy, dusty desert from which God had called Abraham, Christ had returned.  Now, through the hands of his servant priest, Father Bautista, a perfect offering was made to fulfill the offering attempted by Abraham.  And through this same priest, the Good News that was foretold to Abraham now returned to his homeland to bear witness to a courageous Muslim woman; a woman who was willing to sacrifice everything to know this Jesus who forgives even his enemies and who loves even the sinful Mary.

Protestant film company is releasing a movie dishonoring Catholic Faith

New York, USA, Dec.05, 2007 (CINS /CNA) - A Protestant film company is releasing a movie that trivializes the Sacraments, dishonors the Virgin Mary, and depicts Catholic priests and nuns in a belittling fashion, says the Catholic League.

Gener8Xion, the studio that also created the movie One Night with the King, will release the film Noëlle on December 7. Claiming to be “a parable of forgiveness and grace,” the movie features two laughable priests who are in love with the same woman.

The film company’s synopsis describes the character Jonathan Keene as “a young Catholic priest seemingly devoid of genuine human emotion” whose job is “to do what he does best: shut down a failing parish.”

The other clerical character is described as “the child-like Fr. Simeon Joyce, a faithful but disillusioned priest who blatantly disregards church regulations, uses church monies to pay an old fisherman’s medical bills and spends most of his time drinking at the local pub.”

“Both priests are portrayed as losers,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

Describing the plot, Donohue said the young priest, Father Joyce, only became a priest because he felt guilty for fathering a child by a woman and pressuring her to have an abortion. Father Joyce tells Father Keene he wants to marry a woman named Marjorie so he can help raise her child, who was born out of wedlock. “But Fr. Keene, a first-class klutz, is also in love with the same woman: he is shown bolting in the middle of Midnight Mass to be with her, knocking over a filled chalice and ripping off his vestments,” Donohue said.

Donohue summarized the Catholic League’s objections: “Throughout the film, confession is trivialized, celibacy is ridiculed, the Virgin Mary is disrespected, nuns are belittled, last rites are mocked, and priestly vocations are caricatured. In short, that which is uniquely Catholic is trashed.”

But he also minimized the importance of Noëlle: “the plot and the acting are so deliriously absurd that it is impossible for us to get too worked up about this flick.”

Donohue suggested the filmmakers’ interest in dealing with hypocrisy should be directed towards stereotypes of misbehaving Protestant ministers, such as those who preach the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.”

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