John-Henry Westen

From the desk of the editor.

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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

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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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About that Pope Francis ‘interview’ where he denied the existence of Hell

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

ROME, March 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Eugenio Scalfari, the famed atheist, has published a fourth article on a new interview with Pope Francis.  The controversial anti-Catholic’s previous ‘interviews’ with Pope Francis were published also on the Vatican’s website and listed as official interviews with the pope. 

However, an October 2013 interview created a firestorm after which the Vatican pulled the interview from their site and Scalfari admitted that his writings are reconstructions from memory, as he does not use a recorder or take notes.  That interview had Pope Francis saying that the “most serious” evils are “youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old.”

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said at the time: "One may consider the interview to be reliable in a general sense but not word for word. This is not an official text of the Holy Father."

The most recent interview, published March 15, is no exception.  In it Scalfari has the pope denying hell.  The article says: “What happens to that lost soul? Will it be punished? And how? The response of Francis is distinct and clear: there is no punishment, but the annihilation of that soul.  All the others will participate in the beatitude of living in the presence of the Father. The souls that are annihilated will not take part in that banquet; with the death of the body their journey is finished.”

The text does not have quotation marks around any of the statements attributed to the Holy Father. Moreover, the Vatican has not published this latest interview on their website.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, told LifeSiteNews, “All official, final texts of the Holy Father are found on the Vatican website,” and since they were never published by the Holy See Press Office they “should not be considered official texts.” They were, said Fr. Rosica, “private discussions that took place and were never recorded by the journalist.”

“Mr. Scalfari reconstructed the interviews from memory,” Father Rosica added.

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Self-concept and how it influences the same-sex ‘marriage’ debate

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

It is no secret that the Catholic Church is under severe social pressure to promote homosexuality and to depart from the idea that holy marriage between opposite-sex couples should be the only form of marriage promoted. As well, the new “Celibacy Movement” for “Gay Catholics” is being pushed into the limelight, despite its misguided approach to growing in holiness.

LifeSiteNews is proud to present a novel perspective on the debate around same-sex ‘marriage’ authored by a person who experiences same-sex attractions but who joyfully chooses to live chastely, in accordance with Catholic teachings. He is a member of Courage International, and he has asked to remain anonymous. He is known to LifeSiteNews, and his bishop and the office of Courage International have both approved this article for release. 

Find the article, "If Two Guys Love Each Other…Why Can’t They Get Married in the Catholic Church?" here.

Be warned, the article is over 8,000 words. In order to remain accessible to those outside of Christianity, it does not rely on the Bible, Tradition, Natural Law, or the Catechism, but approaches the Catholic teaching using logical reasoning. 

It is not about being “Gay and Catholic,” nor is it designed to “rally the troops,” or to offer misdirected love and sympathy to “gay people” by promoting passive acceptance with no challenge toward growing in holiness. 

Spurred by what transpired at the 2014 Synod on the Family, and the media responses toward it, the author and other faithful Catholics like him who experience same-sex attractions feel it is time for them to come to the aid of the Catholic Church on this matter. “I can no longer sit on the sidelines hoping someone else will step up,” he said.

The article is thought provoking. For instance, in addressing the taboo subject of abstinence, it says, “We celebrate athletes who choose to abstain from eating junk food so that they can better maintain their nutrition, and who also choose to abstain from free time so that they can train rigorously,” yet at the same time we imply “that to choose to abstain from sexual activity is ‘ridiculous’ and or ‘unnatural.’” 

The author explains the pain on the hearts of some persons who experience same-sex attractions, noting that “many people are firmly convinced that due to the attractions and or inclinations that they do not specifically choose to experience, they are rejected by the Church, and are therefore victims.” This mindset, he says, “causes some people to pursue retribution and or vengeance against the Church.” 

The motivation, he says, behind homosexual actions is self-concept, which is influenced by the identities that people choose to embrace. Thus, he suggests, self-identifying as ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ and importantly also as ‘straight’ or ‘heterosexual’ can move people farther away from seeing themselves first and foremost as beloved as children of God. 

A key distinction must be made, he says, “between one’s non-specifically chosen attractions and or inclinations and one’s specifically chosen way of self-identifying and defining themselves.” 

He demonstrates the falsehood of the notion that “existence of a particular attraction necessitates the embracing of a particular identity in order for a person to be honest with themselves.” 

He also stresses the need to “get out of the political-activism arena (not out of the political arena) and start praying and fasting that people will be open to elevating the marriage conversation to be about the beauty found in a holy and virtuous marriage.” 

I highly encourage study and reflection on the author’s important thesis.

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Pope Francis sorry for remarks perceived as insulting large families

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

Pope Francis has apologized, through a Vatican archbishop, for remarks from his flight on the way home from his visit to the Philippines that were perceived by many as demeaning to large families.

In comments to the Italian bishop’s newspaper Avvenire on Thursday, Vatican Archbishop Giovanni Becciu said, “The Pope is truly sorry” that his remarks about large families “caused such disorientation.” Archbishop Becciu said the pope “absolutely did not want to disregard the beauty and the value of large families.”

The regret marks the first time Pope Francis has backed away from his hyperbolic way of speaking.  Francis’ use of exaggerated, even insulting phrases, to drive home his points has filled a book.  What some have referred to as “The Pope Francis Little Book of Insults” is full of eyebrow-raising papal exclamations like: "Self-absorbed, Promethean neo-Pelagian; Restorationist; Triumphalist; Rigid Christians; and Slaves of superficiality," among others.

The apology stems from January 19 remarks on the plane trip back to Rome from Manila in the Philippines.

Remarks by the pope on that same flight comparing the imposition of the homosexual agenda by western countries to indoctrination by the “Hitler Youth” and even his statement to Catholic couples that they can’t marry if they aren’t open to children, were almost entirely ignored by the media. 

The media did, however, catch remarks in which, while speaking of "responsible" parenthood, the pope cautioned against Catholics being “like rabbits.” 

Francis opened with some rather harsh statements about a woman he knows who he said was pregnant with her eighth child after having the first seven by C-section.  He said he had “rebuked” her, saying, “But do you want to leave seven orphans? That is to tempt God!” 

Later during the in-flight interview, Francis returned to the woman, adding, “That is an irresponsibility. [That woman might say] 'no but I trust in God.' But God gives you methods to be responsible.” 

Then came what seemed like a generalization from the particular difficult situation to large families as a whole. “Some think that, excuse me if I use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits.”  He added, “No. Responsible parenthood!” 

The pope continued, “This is clear and that is why in the church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can seek and I know so many, many ways out that are licit and that have helped this.”

The words set off a frenzy of reaction, including cheers from around the globe from the mainstream media and much hurt on the part of Catholic moms who have sacrificed careers, wealth, time, and energy to embrace God’s gift of life.  The hurt expressed by faithful Catholic moms was very real, and many cute rabbit photos were posted to Facebook.

The pope’s first move to calm the furor was to note in his Wednesday, January 21 General Audience, “It gives me consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift from God.”

Francis also dismissed the notion that large families are a cause of poverty. “I would say that the main cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the person from the center and has placed there the god of money, an economic system that always excludes children, the elderly, the youth," he said.

Then came Archbishop Becciu’s statement to Avvenire expressing the pope's sorrow on January 22.

But what was it about this particular incident that caused the papal walk-back, in light of the many other exaggerated remarks he has made?

It is plain that Pope Francis tries to play to the mainstream media. News outlets are insatiably drawn to remarks that seem to bash conservatives and the pope has not shied away from employing them.  But this time things were different.

For one, I think he stretched things too far outside of his own comfort zone.  He has previously expressed a love for large families. Even in my own encounter with Pope Francis back in the summer of 2013, I told him I had eight children, and he replied warmly, “Good, keep going!”

But I’m fairly sure the reason for the first turn-around comes thanks to the most powerful force for good on this earth: the mothers who have embraced life in the face of a world hostile to life and even inimical to their choice of loving life.  These courageous women have borne and adopted babies unwanted and uncared for by the world, they have offered themselves as victims of love united with that Love who bore the Church.

Traditional Catholic men can take any ridicule and even death with barely a whimper but insult their wives or mothers and that is a different story. As Pope Francis might say, those insults might be met with a punch in the nose.  Many a priest and cardinal has one of those heroic mothers of large families and they too are men ready to defend those whose hands rocked their cradles.

Pope Francis himself was the eldest of five children.  A walk-back was in order and in this instance, I believe, brought about by the most powerful force for good on earth.  Praise God for mothers!

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Pope Francis leaves the hall where the Synod on the Family is being held at the Vatican. John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews.com

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Pope Francis revealing his take on Synod controversies in his private homilies?

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

While Pope Francis has been silent about many of the controversial matters being debated at the Synod, both in the lead-up to the Synod and in the Synod Hall, veteran Vatican watchers say he has been obliquely making his views known through other avenues, including through some of his close advisors, as well his homilies at his private morning masses.

When it comes to advisors, none have sparked more speculation than Cardinal Walter Kasper, with debate swirling for months about whether Pope Francis himself personally supports Cardinal Kasper’s controversial proposal to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion in some circumstances. 

While the cardinal himself has repeatedly claimed the pope’s support, and Francis has repeatedly praised the cardinal on a personal level and his writing in general, no explicit confirmation of the pope’s position on the specific issue has been forthcoming. But in an explosive interview yesterday Kasper was arguably more explicit than ever before, bluntly telling Edward Pentin of Zenit that the pontiff “wants” the change. "Of course, the pope wants it and the world needs it," he said.

If so, it is hard to interpret a homily from Pope Francis on the morning of October 13, 2014, the day the controversial “mid-term” report was released, creating a firestorm inside and outside the Synod, as anything other than the pope strongly hinting at his views on this, and possibly other controversies at the ongoing Synod.

Indeed, even consummate Vatican journalist John Allen of the Boston Globe agreed, writing: “In his usual impromptu homily at morning Mass (Monday), Pope Francis seemed to prepare the ground for the (interim report), and the conflicting reactions it was destined to stir, by delivering a strong rebuke to rigid legalists of all stripes.”

During the homily, Pope Francis spoke of the “Doctors of the Law” who were “unable to understand the signs of the times.” They were, he said, “closed within their system, they had perfectly systemized the law, it was a masterpiece.

“Every Jew knew what they could do and what they could not do, how far they could go. It was all systemized. And they were safe there."

The pope noted that the Doctors of the Law "did not like” Jesus, he “was dangerous; doctrine was in danger, the doctrine of the law” which the theologians had formulated over the centuries. Pope Francis said that while the theologians had  "done this out of love, to be faithful to God," they had become “closed", they had "simply forgotten history. They had forgotten that God is the God of the Law, but He is also the God of surprises."

Seeming to address one of the major sub themes of the Synod, that doctrine will never change, but pastoral practice should, Pope Francis said: "They did not understand that God is the God of surprises, that God is always new; He never denies himself, never says that what He said was wrong, never, but He always surprises us. They did not understand this and they closed themselves within that system that was created with the best of intentions.”

But while the pope seemed to frame the controversies of the Synod as a dispute between legalists and those who are open to God’s “surprises,” leading Synod Fathers who are concerned about attempts to change long-standing Church practice and teaching, have been arguing that the controversy is ultimately about whether or not the Church will conform “to the mentality of today’s world.”

Numerous Vatican Synod Fathers have voiced grave concerns both within and without the Synod hall over the last few days that the Synod mid-term report has indeed endangered assurance of doctrinal security, and with potentially grave consequences.

Most recently, Australian Cardinal George Pell said: "In seeking to be merciful, some want to open up Catholic teaching on marriage, divorce, civil unions, homosexuality in a radically liberalising direction, whose fruits we see in other Christian traditions.” He urged, “the task now is to reassure good practising Catholics that doctrinal changes are not possible; to urge people to take a deep breath, pause and to work to prevent deeper divisions and radicalising of factions.”

His remarks echo the even more blunt words of Cardinal Raymond Burke, who himself directly addressed Pope Francis in his criticisms of the Synod’s mid-term report, saying that a statement from the pope strongly re-affirming Church teaching is “long overdue.”

“The faithful and their good shepherds are looking to the Vicar of Christ for the confirmation of the Catholic faith and practice regarding marriage which is the first cell of the life of the Church,” he added.

The mid-term report, he said, proposes views that many Synod fathers “cannot accept,” and that they “as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept.”

The push to radically alter so-called “pastoral practice” without simultaneously affecting doctrine is not possible.  One African bishop who was appraised of the situation at the Synod reportedly wept at the proposals on the table. “Oh my God, what are they doing? The people will soon get hold of declarations like these and they'll prefer to become evangelicals or even Muslims than remain Catholic! What are they doing in Rome? Oh my God, oh my God!,” he declared.

It’s not the first time the pope has seemed to address tensions of the Synod in his morning homilies. Before the official launch of the Synod, while various polarized positions were being laid out in the media via book releases and such, Pope Francis sounded a remarkably similar tone to Monday’s homily.

“It’s the ruling class which closes the door to God’s way of salvation,” Pope Francis said, referring to Church leaders, in the homily at his private Mass on October 4. “This attitude is quite different from that of the people of God, who understand and accept salvation brought to them through Jesus,” he added. “Their leaders, on the other hand, reduce salvation to the fulfilment of the 613 commandments they have created through their intellectual and theological fervour.”

“These leaders,” the pope said, “don’t believe in mercy and forgiveness but simply in sacrifices.” He urged asking ourselves: “How do I want to be saved? On my own? Through a spirituality which is good, but fixed and clear so that there are no risks? Or following the footsteps of Jesus who always surprises us, opening doors to that mystery of God’s mercy and pardon?”

That homily too was interpreted by veteran Vatican watchers as Pope Francis staking out a position on the matters of the Synod. “The Pope has hinted in homilies, addresses and interviews,” said the Telegraph’s Vatican correspondent Nick Squires, “that he is in favour of adopting a more ‘merciful’ approach towards remarried divorcees who want to receive the Sacrament.”

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John-Henry Westen

John-Henry is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com. 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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