Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

A Catholic conversation: how to save the world at lunch

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Image

GARDONE RIVIERA, Italy, July 9, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Unlike nearly every other conference, particularly every other academic conference in the world, a great deal of the real work that is done at the Roman Forum Summer Symposium goes on over lunch. With the world apparently coming down around our ears, with governments increasingly regulating citizens private lives and gigantic, seemingly untouchable, transnational corporations acting without restriction, how is it helpful for a small group of Catholic scholars to convene every year in a little town in northern Italy and talk?

It has been noted by historians that most of the social and political movements over the last 200 years, whatever their outcome, started the same way; with people talking to each other. Usually over drinks.

Founded twenty years ago by the legendary Catholic thinker Dietrich von Hildebrand, the symposium is held in a small, meticulously restored and preserved medieval village in the northern region of Lombardy, on the shores of Lake Garda, a holiday retreat since ancient times. It is attended by a remarkable group of lawyers, magazine publishers, university professors, authors, engineers, doctors, artists, seminarians, homeschooling housewives, students, priests, entrepreneurs, musicians, and media people.

At the Roman Forum, the daily routine is at once simple and all-encompassing. Following a leisurely breakfast together in the flowered atrium of the hotel, the conferees will hear the morning lecture at about ten am. Then they stroll down to the main piazza to the beautiful baroque church, St. Nicholas, to hear Mass; always in the Extraordinary Form (formerly known as the Tridentine Mass) in Latin, accompanied by Gregorian chant and polyphonic motets, sung by a small schola and led by one of the Catholic world’s brightest young musical lights.

After Mass, they roll up their sleeves and get down to business: the business of saving the world. About mid-way through the two-week conference, I asked my lunch table companions if they would mind if I recorded our conversation, our work, and shared it with LifeSiteNews.com’s readers. Some agreed happily and said I could use their names, and some of them said yes, but only if I kept their identity on the quiet side. I agreed to this, posed a few questions, and we were off. This year the Symposium’s theme was “Catholic Social Doctrine: It’s Truth and Implementation; Its Friends and Enemies”.

At the table was Michael Matt, the editor of The Remnant, the little ultra-orthodox Catholic newspaper-that-could. In a world where we all seem one step away from having our iPhones surgically implanted in our skulls, Michael Matt doggedly sticks to printed words on paper, distributing his surprisingly widely read publication around the world. Like LifeSiteNews.com, The Remnant is unpopular with much the Catholic Church hierarchy and has a habit of saying things that no one else will dare to say. Next over was Professor Thomas S., a theology and philosophy professor at a diocesan seminary in the spiritually beset Catholic Church of Austria, Christopher Ferrara, a lawyer, author and the head of the American Catholic Lawyers’ Association and Angela B. a communications consultant from San Francisco.

LSN: So, truthfully, most academic conferences are, frankly, not very interesting and not at all fun. They’re for obscure academics to talk about obscure topics that hardly anyone cares about. Suitable only for people who like to read thick books with lots of footnotes.

TS: …and if they want fun, they play chess and drink water…

LSN: Precisely. But the Roman Forum is different. Maybe unique. We come here and spend two weeks in a kind of glowing haze of happiness and solidarity. And there is a thesis here, and a goal. We want to restore a lost order to our world, so we ask each other how that might be accomplished. And what it might look like in practice. Can we talk about that?

TS: [The Roman Forum] is unique because first we begin with the experience you make here, of real life and the whole life. Real life and whole life. It’s not only about lectures and scholarship, but about companionship, friendship, conviviality. It is not about the brain alone, but about all your possibilities to make experience for the whole person. Your intellect is involved, your sense of humour is involved, good food … the whole person.

CF: It’s the total reconstruction of social life. It means having real relations with other people over the table, in a genuinely human way. At Mass, during outings, [N.B. The Roman forum offers day trips to Venice and Verona to see the opera, and boat trips around Lake Garda] and intellectual gatherings. Man is a social being and a spiritual organism and the powers of the soul actually increase when he has contact with other people in meaningful social settings. Not sporting events or movie theatres, but simply sitting around having a meal, or going on a trip together, or sharing a joke together, or having some wine together. Notice we haven’t had any television here, no movies, no sporting events,   

LSN: There’s been no desire for distraction. We’re not looking to remove ourselves from this situation.

TS: There’s nothing artificial here…

CF: No, there’s a town, a church, a meal, conviviality, a social life.

LSN: And the lake…

CF: And the lake.

AB: I also think for Americans, we come from this really religiously sterile landscape. Whereas, even in Italy, even with the decline of faith, it’s still in the soil. And that forms part of the ambiance of the symposium. There are things here in the public square that would not last five minutes in the US. The little wayside shrines, the statues and frescoes on the sides of buildings or a large crucifix. They would be desecrated, destroyed. 

TS: We’ve been sitting here until half past twelve at night, on this piazza, singing. If you did that in Austria, the police would be in here immediately.

MM: What [symposium organiser] John Rao is doing is recreating Christendom. Saying this is what it feels like. This is what it looks like and smells like and tastes like. And this is how fun it was. And this is what we’re fighting to preserve and restore.

TS: This is the real thing you’re experiencing here, not something artificial. It is not the Disneyland version of history here. It’s not a Christendom theme park. 

MM: So culturally, spiritually, academically, it’s a restoration that’s going on here. And that’s why everyone is so happy here, because they sense that this is real. And what’s happening back in the States or at the EU and in the UK is not real. Everyone senses it’s not real which is why there’s so much discontentment. And here you find something that really works. In fact, it worked for nearly two thousand years.

LSN: So I’ve heard people here say that you can’t take the constitutive ideas of a modern liberal democracy, these Enlightenment ideas of authority deriving from the bottom up, and Christianize them, and make them work to restore a rational social order, one where the unborn and elderly and vulnerable are protected and everyone has a meaningful place in society. And life makes sense, according to the Natural Law…

CF: Leo [Pope Leo XIII, r. 1878-1903] makes this clear in his encyclicals on this question that the form of government …we all agree that monarchy would seem to be the most natural form of government, the universe after all is ruled by a Monarch … But Leo was at pains to say again and again and again, that democratic institutions as such are not irreconcilable with the faith provided the proper source of political authority is recognised.

If rulers recognise the source of authority, and respect it there will be self-imposed limitations on what legislatures do, what presidents do and what tribunals do.

LSN: So you can trust your rulers not to be crooks. But we’ve got a situation now where the people are radically divorced from the political class that rules them because these rulers represent an ideology that is completely anathema, unknown and unlovable to the ordinary people, and to the Natural Law.

CF: Francis Fukuyama says in his book, The End of History and the Last Man, that the modern liberal state, founded by the philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, is in a state of constant struggle with its own subjects. But that’s the liberal state. But if you take the democratic form, invest it with a Christian understanding of the source of authority, the subjection of positive law to divine and Natural law, and make it work.

AB: We have to remind people, ‘Where are the sainted politicians?’ as opposed to the sainted medieval kings and queens? The only one that comes close is Gabriel García Moreno [president of Ecuador 1869 – 1875, who reformed Ecuador, fought government corruption and gave his salary to charity and was the only ruler in the world to protest the loss of the Papal States to the secularists in 1870] Why don’t we demand this kind of moral virtue, even heroic virtue from our rulers?

CF: Moreno was assassinated for reconstructing Catholic social order. He used democratic institutions, and predicted his own assassination.

LSN: So how do we bring about such a reconstruction now? Preferably without getting assassinated.

CF: You need believing Catholics and evangelical Protestants to form an alliance, which is exactly what happened in Hungary. And with the new Hungarian Constitution.

LSN: …that the EU is howling about, furious. But they can’t stop it…

CF: Yes. That was pushed through by an alliance of Protestants and Catholics.

LSN: And something similar has been happening in the pro-life movement since the 1970s. So, how do we at the Roman Forum forward these great societal goals by coming to Gardone and having lunch together every day?

CF: Well, we don’t. We’re having a good time and exchanging ideas. But you hear about them here, you clarify them, and then you go back where you live and spread them, and promote them. Don’t forget that the most influential books in the history of the western world were only ever read by about 5000 people. You just have to reach the right 5000 people. Speaking for myself, it’s a stimulus in terms of researching and thinking …it’s been like a graduate school for me.

You need little cells like this to get things moving.

TS: There are people who are interested in keeping this knowledge from coming out. And we have to break through that barrier.

~ * ~

I have now attended two of the summer sessions and my own experience of the Roman Forum has been that it is more like a club than a conference. In fact, I might go further and say that it has an almost tribal aspect. Bill, an engineer from Ottawa, when we were on our charter bus to Milan airport, pulling away from Gardone and waving madly to the few staying behind, remarked, “Only here can you come in a complete stranger, and go away feeling like you’ve found your long-lost brothers.”

This tribal experience of the Roman Forum is something that I’ve experienced in the pro-life movement and I think is the most important characteristic of the Christian community as a whole. Though we may be widely separated by geography, no one, once brought into the tribe, is ever again really alone.

This is the essence of the Roman Forum, and its great value. At it, we attempt, with some success, to recreate some of the humane intimacy, the inter-connected, inter-dependent community that was the norm of human life in Christendom for the first 1500 years of its existence.

The atomisation, the isolation that modernity creates is deadly. Literally. It is probably the single most common motivation behind abortion, which has taken uncountable millions of lives. In nearly every case, women who abort their children can only do so because they are or believe themselves to be profoundly alone. We have created a society addicted to individualism, in which those who cannot cope have only the state to turn to.

On its face, this year’s symposium was about the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church, what they really are, how they have been mostly abandoned by both the secular world and the Catholic intelligentsia since the 1960s, and how they can be revived and applied to our current situation.

But the purpose of the gathering, its real heart, was to live those Social Teachings day to day, in this little town, talking and briefly living together in community, as a tiny microcosm of that old, pre-revolutionary world. And as an experiment to get a taste of what it would be like if the whole world were to return to that communitarian way. At the end of the two weeks, of course we all go home to our respective countries, families and work. But we are refreshed, not exhausted, and are given a hope that the lessons of Gardone can be given out to the whole aching and confused world.

A day in the life of the Roman Forum

Christopher Ferrara on the Roman Forum

FREE pro-life and pro-family news.

Stay up-to-date on the issues you care about the most. Subscribe today. 

Select Your Edition:


Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

,

TLC pulls ‘19 Kids and Counting’ from schedule following Duggar molestation allegations

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

SPRINGDALE, AR, May 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The television network TLC has removed the Duggar family's reality show, “19 Kids and Counting,” from its schedule, at least temporarily.

Multiple news outlets have confirmed that the show, featuring the large and expanding evangelical Christian family, will not be on the air until the network makes a final decision about the program's fate.

The network had previously removed “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” from its network after “Mama June” Shannon had been seen associating with convicted child molester Mark McDaniel, possibly exposing her children to a sexual predator. Shannon has told the entertainment news outlet TMZ that she would sue the network for unfair and inconsistent treatment.

TLC has not made a final determination as of yet and aired a Duggar marathon Thursday evening as the controversy brewed.

Friday's move comes after media outlets obtained police records showing Josh Duggar, as a young teenager 12 years ago, inappropriately touched as many as five girls, often while they were sleeping. The police records show the incidents began in March 2002, the month the oldest Duggar child turned 14. He admitted the incident to his parents that July, but another incident took place in March 2003. At that time, the family sent him to a program that required counseling and hard physical labor.

Three years later, a letter containing details of the molestation was found, and its recipient notified police, who launched an investigation.

One of his victims told police, after Josh returned in July 2003, he had clearly “turned back to God.” No further incidents have been alleged.

Duggar's wife of six-and-a-half years, Anna, said Josh revealed the painful episode to her two years before they got engaged.

Since the allegations have been made public, Josh Duggar admitted his long ago wrongdoing, calling his teenage actions “inexcusable.” He also resigned his job at FRC Action, a pro-family lobbying organization.

Click "like" if you say NO to porn!

Some figures have offered the Duggars their reassurance that, whatever sins Josh committed as a teen, he can be – perhaps has been – forgiven by God.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a presidential hopeful, said that Josh “and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

He said those who leaked the story were motivated by “insensitive bloodlust” to destroy the Duggar family. “There was no consideration of the fact that the victims wanted this to be left in the past, and ultimately a judge had the information on file destroyed—not to protect Josh, but the innocent victims.”

God, Huckabee said, forgives all sins.

“In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption,” Josh wrote.

Advertisement
Featured Image
Rebecca Kiessling of Save the 1 - United States Steve Jalsevac/Vatican City
Rebecca Kiessling

I told her I was conceived in rape. She told me to prove I shouldn’t have been aborted.

Rebecca Kiessling
By Rebecca Kiessling

(Savethe1) - Why should I have to prove my worth and my right to life? When I first learned at the age of 18 that I was conceived in rape, I instantly felt targeted and devalued by our society because I’d heard what people said about pregnancy “in cases of rape.” Right away, I felt I was in a position where I would have to justify my own existence – that I would have to prove to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living.

I’ve since found my own value, identity and purpose in Christ, being created by God, in His image, and for a purpose, so I no longer feel I need to prove my worth to others in order to feel worthy. Instead, I share my worth out of gratitude for my own life being spared and in order that others may see the value of those who are still at risk – those who are in harm’s way as yet unborn and being targeted for abortion in the clinics, in legislation, and in people’s hearts and minds.

Whenever I speak, I share this aspect of my journey, but people are shocked to hear that I actually do get challenged to prove my value, to demonstrate my positive contribution to society and to justify my right not to have been aborted. This recent e-mail is a case in point. It was a tough inquiry to receive, but you’ll see my hopefully patient (and prayerful) responses below, and the ultimate outcome of the exchange:

I’m feeling sad and skeptical about rape babies.  I’d love to consider myself pro-life due to biblical reasons, but I just don’t really see what good can ever come out of a rape baby. I still think that it sometimes furthers the victimization of a rape victim. And it’s also because I’m very sad and disturbed by your blog.

I just think sometimes that it would be better if these babies never existed -- that every single one would naturally be miscarried by God’s will, so no one could bully them for their skeleton in their closet. Like I said, the subject manner disturbs me to the point where I vomit. I wish that every child was conceived in love and not violence because that's the way it should be. And I'm sad to say that the only way I could fully believe all of you rape mothers and children is if you were to pray for the peace of God that transcends all my futile understanding and my volatile, overly-sensitive emotions. 

There is no story in the whole world that can fully change my mind. The only way I could ever is if I were to befriend a victim or become the Bride of a man whom was the product of abuse. I'm so sorry to be brutally honest; it's just that my heart grieves to the point where I feel the struggle to overcome the sin of prejudice. I'm so angry at God that he allows this to occur.

Dear __, I appreciate you going to our blog and taking the time to reach out to us.  Your concerns are the most common, but research shows that rape victims are four times more likely to die within the next year after the abortion vs. giving birth. Dr. David Reardon's book Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault explains this.  So it's a myth which gets perpetuated -- that a rape victim would be better off after an abortion, that her child would be a reminder of the rape, and that she would even see her child as a "rape baby," as you put it.

I understand a lot of what you're saying.  You would definitely feel differently if you knew someone personally.  I wished I wasn’t conceived in rape, but I do believe now that God definitely brings good out of evil, and uses tragic situations to bring healing.  He doesn't intend the evil of course, but his trademark is redeeming really awful situations.

-- Rebecca

Her reply (again, challenging for me to read, but I think she candidly articulates a lot of what most people really wonder or think):

What has God done in your life personally besides this blog that has made your tragic family life worth the pain? Tell me what you have been doing: like marriage, dating, children, jobs, friendship, volunteer work; any of that. I am curious to see how God has given your life joy and purpose. I'm sorry if I have ever been difficult to handle. I'm emotionally impulsive when I hear something sad.

First of all, my birthmother and her husband legally adopted me 3-1/2 years ago because my adoptive family was really screwed up (long story of abuse and abandonment.) My own adoption by my birthmother was our fairy-tale ending.  She says I'm a blessing to her, I honor her and I bring her healing! I love adoption -- my two oldest are adopted (very open adoption,) and we adopted a baby with special needs -- Cassie -- who died in our arms at 33 days old. It was an honor to take care of her and was definitely one of the most important things I'd ever done in my life. She died because of medical malpractice.

Married for nearly 17 years, we have 5 children now – two adopted sons and our three biological daughters.  Here's my son's story. He wrote it last September at 12 years old.

Besides being the president and founder of Save The 1, I also co-founded Hope After Rape Conception. I'm a family law attorney, though I closed my law practice to have my children and to home school until 2-1/2 years ago.

I make baby quilts which I donate to pregnancy resource centers and I give to moms in unplanned pregnancies. My birthmother taught me to sew! I also taught my children to quilt, as well as many of my friends and their children. I've volunteered with orphan care, Sunday school, feeding the disadvantaged, free legal work, volunteer work for a maternity home, and helping in various ways with pregnancy resource centers. I changed the hearts of Gov. Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich on this issue during their presidential campaigns!

A large part of what I do is helping others to understand their value, identity and worth because lots of people struggle with these issues -- not just those conceived in rape. I hope this helps!  -- Rebecca

Her final response – from someone who said “there is no story in the world that can fully change my mind”: 

Dear Rebecca, thank you so much for your time to straighten out my emotional acting out -- I'm really glad you told me about your life. I really think I'll be okay now. I still wish that men wouldn't rape, but at least the world knows a lot more than they used to and I can say that I'm pro-life to my college professors without paranoia or anxiety. I even talked about helping people like you with my mom and dad. They told me I'm too sensitive in personality to be involved directly in domestic politics; yet, I'm praying about being a free English tutor for troubled families as well as being an anti-pornography informant or activist. After all, the porn industry has been statistically linked to the sexual violence pandemic. I'm so glad that you are living life well and to the best of your ability; keep telling people that just because your birth father was an evil scumbag doesn't mean that you are. Thanks Rebecca, you have really touched and strengthened my heart. With much sincerity.

 

BIO: Rebecca Kiessling was conceived in rape and nearly aborted, but legally protected by law in Michigan pre-Roe v Wade.  She's an attorney, pro-life speaker and blogger, and President of Save The 1. Her own website is www.rebeccakiessling.com

Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

,

Boy Scouts president: We need to allow open homosexual leaders

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

May 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Boy Scouts of America president Robert Gates says the youth organization must change with the times and allow open homosexual men to serve as Scout leaders.

Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, said in a speech at the 2015 Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Annual Meeting Thursday that the Boy Scouts would have to adjust to "the social, political, and juridicial changes taking place in our country -- changes taking place a pace this past year no one anticipated."

According to Gates, the way to balance the religious affiliations of "some 70% of our scout units" and avoid "a broad [court] ruling that could forbid any kind of membership standard" is to offer individual troops a flexible membership policy. 

"For me, I support a policy that accepts and respects our different perspectives and beliefs, allows religious organizations -- based on First Amendment protections of religious freedom -- to establish their own standards for adult leaders, and preserves the Boy Scouts of America now and forever."

"I truly fear that any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement," said Gates, who said that BSA should "seize control of our own future, set our own course, and change our policy in order to allow charter partners -- unit sponsoring organizations -- to determine the standards for their Scout leaders."

This is not the first time that Gates, who led the military to end its two decades-long Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, has supported gay Scout leaders. Last year, he said that he "would have supported having gay Scoutmasters, but at the same time, I fully accept the decision that was democratically arrived at by 1,500 volunteers from across the entire country."

In 2013, BSA allowed openly homosexual scouts for the first time. That policy reads: "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone,” and took effect on January 1, 2014.

A year ago, Gates said he "was prepared to go further than the decision that was made" to allow gay Scout members, but decided that "to try to take last year's decision to the next step would irreparably fracture and perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement - with the high likelihood neither side would subsequently survive on its own."

This week, though, Gates said that "events during the past year have confronted us with urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore."

"We cannot ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy, from some councils... in open defiance of the policy," said Gates. 

However, Gates' remarks may have come too late to prevent internal challenges from splitting BSA. Due to the 2013 vote, a number of Scouting alternatives launched, including the organization Trail Life USA. The latter group says it aims "to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens." 

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

In January, Trail Life USA said it has "over 540 Troops in 48 states and the registration of nearly 20,000 adults and boys..."

Furthermore, the decision by BSA to allow gay scouts has led to criticism from people on both sides of the debate. Homosexual activists say the group did not go far enough, whereas many Christian parents and organizations say BSA is bowing to public pressure from homosexual advocates to affect its membership, despite its Christian roots.

Corporate pressure has also been aggressive. Last year, Walt Disney World threatened to not allow employees to volunteer for BSA as part of its VoluntEARS program in 2015 if the organization does not allow gay Scout leaders. Diversity Inc. reports that Merck & Co., Ernst & Young, Major League Baseball, and AT&T are just some of the other companies that have pressured BSA to further change its policies.

LifeSiteNews asked BSA whether Gates' comments indicated support for a totally flexible scout leadership policy, or just related to gay scout leaders, as well as whether BSA would take a stand against state and local laws that deny First Amendment rights to people who oppose same-sex "marriage."

BSA declined to comment, telling LifeSiteNews in a statement: "Dr. Gates’s remarks speak for themselves. ... It is important to note that no decisions were made during the National Annual Meeting. A decision is expected no later than the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board meeting in October."

A video of Gates' remarks is below. The comments about membership standards begin at 8:40.

Advertisement

Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook