Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

A Catholic conversation: how to save the world at lunch

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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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

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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Lisa Bourne

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

Click "like" to support Catholics Restoring the Culture!

"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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