John-Henry Westen

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This Monday marked the second time in a couple of weeks Pope Francis has raised the specter of Christian persecution in the West. Shutterstock


Is Pope Francis hinting at Christian persecution in America?

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

This Monday marked the second time in a couple of weeks Pope Francis has raised the specter of Christian persecution in the West. As you’ll read below, Pope Benedict XVI did the same even more blatantly at the conclusion of his pontificate.  The sense of this reality is in the air, we can all feel it; heck there’s even a new movie about it.  On July 18 the film PERSECUTED will open in theatres across America.

Monday June 30, 2014, Pope Francis spoke in his homily about Christian persecution, noting there are more martyrs today than ever before in Christianity’s 2,000 year history.  While news of those remarks made headlines everywhere, there was a line in the homily missed by most. It referenced a different kind of persecution, an ‘elegant’ forcing out, or ‘white glove’ persecution, which the Pope said, is “persecution” nonetheless.

To discover his meaning, we can turn to Francis’ speech to the International Congress on Religious Liberty from June 20, 2014.  In it he warned that “in the name of a false concept of tolerance,” those “who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences” end up being persecuted.

He spoke of ‘religious liberty’ as a ‘fundamental right’ beyond mere ‘private worship’.  “It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent upon the truth found, be it privately or publicly,” he said.  Maintaining such liberty he said forms “a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought  -- which is like a sickness – also lowers the general ethical level.”

And how do we know that Francis’ concerns are specific to America? Well, that’s easy. The Vatican made sure to specify that in the first meeting between the Pope and President Obama back in March, the Pope raised concerns about “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life, and conscientious objection.”

Pope Benedict on Persecution

The statements echo those of Pope Benedict, who in an address to the Bishops of America in January of 2012 warned: “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”

“The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life,” said Pope Benedict XVI.

Like Pope Francis, Pope Benedict referenced the need for freedom of religion rather than mere freedom of worship. He also expressed grave concern about the denial of “the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.”

Pope Benedict’s assessment of the threats to America was ominous indeed. “To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths,” he warned, “they represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God.”

Solution for the Crisis

Benedict XVI’s solution for the crisis was to underscore the faith formation of the laity.

He spoke of the “need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.” 

He added, “The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country.”

However, Pope Benedict did not leave it at the laity alone.  In another address he noted the coming persecution, stressing this time that bishops must lead the way in confronting it with courage.

The Bishop as the example

In January 2013, Pope Benedict spoke of what kind of a man a bishop should be.

“The courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today,” he said. “He must be courageous.” Seeking the “approval of the prevailing wisdom,” added Benedict, “is not a criterion to which we submit.”

“Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs,” Pope Benedict warned. “The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves.”

This courage, the pope said, does not consist “in striking out or in acting aggressively” but in “in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking.”

“Inevitably,” the pope said, faithful bishops will be “beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ”.

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Taking a look at his speeches and homilies it seems that, while not “all the time,” the pope chooses to raise the life and family issues in some form at least once a month.

Check out all the times Pope Francis has spoken out on life and family issues

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

Do you remember the initial shock of that Jesuit magazine interview with Pope Francis back in September 2013?  The one where the pope seemed to be saying the Church should pull back from her perceived emphasis on “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods”? 

An analysis of his own addresses on those subjects since that Jesuit magazine interview shows some interesting trends.  But first to what he actually said.

The most heart-stopping stuff for me from that interview was this paragraph:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Taking a look at his speeches and homilies it seems that, while not “all the time,” the pope chooses to raise the life and family issues in some form at least once a month.  There are also a number of other trends in the pope’s way of addressing these controversial issues. This includes blunt, but unconventional and unsettling language; avoidance of hot-button terms, but not the concepts; frequent mention of the devil or a spiritual approach; use of powerful gestures; and frequent reference of mercy and compassion.

Going by the pope’s example, it seems priests might want to raise life and family issues in their homilies at least once a month.  If they want to avoid the hot-button words, so be it, as long as they clearly spell out what they mean. 

Most of these approaches can be seen at work in his speech earlier this month, where he addressed the contraceptive mentality that underlies the anti-life culture. On June 2, 2014 he spoke against the contraceptive mentality, albeit without ever mentioning the word ‘contraception.’  But while he may have avoided the hot-button word, he sure did lay in to the issue with blunt, and even controversial language.

He spoke of the “culture of comfort” that leads people to forego children for vacations, and even took a poke at those who would opt for dogs and cats as an easier option than kids. He said bluntly that “Jesus does not like” the practice of rejecting fertility by choice for the sake of comfort.

On June 1, 2014, Francis spoke of how the devil “attacks the family so much. The demon does not love it and seeks to destroy it.”

Earlier, in May, 2014 Pope Francis had expressed public support for 40 Days for Life, saying that the group’s “prayer, fasting and sacrifices are saving countless lives and giving glory to God.”

On April 25, 2014, during his visit with the Bishops of the South African Bishops Conference, Pope Francis emphasized that “abortion compounds the grief of many women” and that marriage, which he said is a "lifelong covenant of love between one man and one woman," is “disintegrating under tremendous pressure from the secular world.”

The pope also noted with concern that “Catholic families have fewer children, with repercussions on the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.” 

Here too the Holy Father urged the bishops to preach on these issues. As for a way forward in such a “sea of difficulties,” the pope proposed that “we bishops and priests must give a consistent witness to the moral teaching of the Gospel.”  He added, “I am confident that you will not weaken in your resolve to teach the truth ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Tim 4:2), sustained by prayer and discernment, and always with great compassion.”

On March 6, 2014 Pope Francis praised Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which had famously reiterated the traditional Christian teaching against contraception, hailing it as “prophetic” and praised Paul VI’s “genius.”

Paul VI, he said, “had the courage to place himself against the majority, defending the moral discipline, exercising a culture brake, opposing present and future neo-Malthusianism.”

In both January 2014 and December 2013, Pope Francis spoke of abortion using the concept of “the throwaway culture.”  

“Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary’,” he said in January. “For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day”

In December, he warned that the “throwaway culture” risks becoming “the dominant mentality,” adding that, “the victims of such a culture are precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings – the unborn, the poorest people, sick elderly people, gravely disabled people... who are in danger of being ‘thrown out,’ expelled from a machine that must be efficient at all costs.”

On November 26, the Pope released The Gospel of Joy, his first apostolic exhortation. In it the Holy Father addressed abortion, writing, “the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question.” 

“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us.” He lamented that, “Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this.” 

“I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations’,” he said.  

“Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right.”

“It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” he wrote.

In a Nov 18 homily he warned similarly against the desire to “be like everyone else” and what he called an “adolescent progressivism”. “Lord,” the pope prayed, “give me the discernment to recognize the subtle conspiracies of worldliness that lead us to negotiate our values and our faith.”

In October the pope’s gesture was stronger than words. He received a former abortionist who surrendered the tools of his trade to the Holy Father. According to the former abortionist, Pope Francis said to him, “This evening I will pray. This [the instruments] I have to bring with me to my room to Santa Marta.” 

“Then he laid his hands on me, and said, ‘You are blessed and fight for life.” 

On September 13, 2013 Pope Francis said the Church offers the world a vision of the family, founded in the Scriptures, that presents “unity in the difference between man and woman, and the fruitfulness of this complementarity, and we recognize it as an asset for all, as the first natural society.”

“The family understood in this way remains the first and principle building block of society and of an economy on a human scale,” he said. He added that the “consequences” of family policy and breakdown “touch upon the various areas of the life of a society and a country.”

Going by the pope’s example, it seems priests might want to raise life and family issues in their homilies at least once a month.  If they want to avoid the hot-button words, so be it, as long as they clearly spell out what they mean. Hopefully they too will have the courage to be blunt in challenging the faithful to be open to life and family.



Caritas in veritate: Why we do what we do at LifeSiteNews

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

Since LifeSiteNews reports on highly contentious and sensitive issues our team is regularly discussing and evaluating our guiding principles and journalistic approach. We also consider it useful now and then to share with our readers the convictions that motivate what, why, and how we do what we do.

Simply put, the guiding principle for all of our coverage on LifeSiteNews is caritas in veritate – loving in truth. Many of our reports deal with human sexuality, and our wish is to provide the truth regarding the benefits of a life of virtue in line with the plan of God and the harms of acting against the Creator’s design.  However, our efforts in this regard are sometimes misread.

For example, we publish many stories revealing the harmful effects of promiscuous sex, homosexual acts, pornography, and abortion.  We often serve them up as straight news stories linking to the journals in which the studies are published.  At times we also publish the personal accounts and tragedies of those involved in those harmful behaviours.

Unbelievably, some have at times interpreted these news stories and features as though LifeSiteNews is exploiting or even rejoicing in the misfortunes of those involved in these activities. Some have claimed falsely that we publish such stories to sensationalize, to bump up our site traffic, or boost income.

The reality is that we report these misfortunes in the hope of sparing others the harm that comes from these behaviours, harm that some of us on the LifeSiteNews team have ourselves experienced and deeply regretted.  From years of practical experience we know such stories have changed the lives of some of our readers.

In these times there is a heightened sensitivity around homosexuality. Thus our approach of providing truth in love is key to convey in this area.  Some have misread LifeSite as being ‘anti-gay,’ as if we hate those with same-sex attraction, but that could not be further from the truth.  As we have said countless times, affirming the truth in love of God’s plan for human sexuality is not hatred but love.  It is hoping for and encouraging healthy sexuality – healthy for body and soul.

Of course, we appreciate that in our time, when the world so easily conflates opposition to sinful acts with hatred of individuals, a news article that purports to show the harms of sinful acts in what could seem a clinical way, can easily be taken as hatred. As journalists we are constantly confronted by the challenge of how to convey God's mercy through the medium of a news article, wherein a reporter is charged with recording facts and doesn't have the freedom to lay out his heart on an issue. This is a challenge that we believe is gravely important, and as such we are continually evaluating how best to structure our reporting to be an agent of authentic mercy.

Nevertheless, we realize that no matter what we do we are bound to be taken as 'haters' merely for raising the concern. We persevere in the face of being called bigots out of love for our brothers and sisters who engage in gravely harmful behaviours.  No loving parent would abandon their teenage child to a life of harmful activity without at least warning them away from it, even if that warning cost the parent the temporary affection of the child. So too at LSN our approach will never abandon our friends, family, and acquaintances who are same-sex attracted, but encourage them in living out God’s plan for their lives.

Another major area in which many have misinterpreted our stance is with regard to our coverage of scandals within the Catholic Church. We have taken the same approach – love in truth.

We have often found that when exposed through our investigative reports, uncomfortable, unresolved, or problematic situations are more likely to be addressed and resolved. However, unlike most secular media, our reporting carries no animus whatsoever against the Church. In fact we pray and hope for a strong, unified Catholic Church and know the great good that the Church can bring to the world in these very troubled times.

Some people have pointed with alarm to LifeSiteNews reports highlighting concerns over some of Pope Francis’ statements. They cannot comprehend that such reports could still come from persons of deep faith and could actually be of service to the pope, to the Church, and to the mission of life and family. Beyond that they seem to have somehow missed the numerous reports highlighting the great things the pope has said.

We encourage you to read our reports and see in them the intended hope to assist the Church to promote life, family, faith, and authentic culture. 

The love in truth approach is THE guiding principle for all of our coverage at LifeSiteNews.

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Survey: teens want how-to-be-a-parent ed over ‘sex’ ed

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

Teenagers would rather have information on being a parent than find out more about sexual intercourse, according to a new survey of student from grades 9-11 from the East Riding of Yorkshire UK.

In the wide-ranging study carried out by researchers at the University of Hull, the responsibilities of parenthood topped the list of must-know topics for 13 to 16 year olds, ahead of safe sex, sexual intercourse, contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

John-Henry Westen

John-Henry is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of He and his wife Dianne and their eight children live in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada.

He has spoken at conferences and retreats, and appeared on radio and television throughout North America, Europe and Asia. John-Henry serves on the executive of the Canadian National March for Life Committee, and the annual National Pro-Life Youth Conference.  He is a consultant to Canada’s largest pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition, and serves on the executive of the Ontario branch of the organization.  He has run three times for political office in the province of Ontario representing the Family Coalition Party.  
John-Henry earned an MA from the University of Toronto in School and Child Clinical Psychology and an Honours BA from York University in Psychology.

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