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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Lisa Bourne

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Archbishop Chaput: Obama’s White House ‘may be the least friendly to religious concerns in our history’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

PHILADELPHIA, PA, April 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Philadelphia’s archbishop told a group of young men preparing for the Catholic priesthood that under the Obama administration hostility toward religion has reached an unprecedented level.

“The current White House may be the least friendly to religious concerns in our history,” Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap, stated in an address at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

With religious liberty at the top of news headlines, the archbishop spoke to the seminarians March 17 in observance of the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II and its Declaration on Religious Liberty – Dignitatis Humanae. He talked about the decline of religious practice in the U.S. and the various ways religious liberties are being eroded in the country, forewarning of what’s to come with the nation on its current path.

“We’ll see more of the same in the future,” Archbishop Chaput said. “Pressure in favor of things like gay rights, contraception and abortion services, and against public religious witness.”

“We’ll see it in the courts and in so-called ‘anti-discrimination’ laws,” he continued. “We’ll see it in ‘anti-bullying’ policies that turn public schools into indoctrination centers on matters of human sexuality; centers that teach that there’s no permanent truth involved in words like ‘male’ and ‘female.’”

Archbishop Chaput detailed religious persecution across the globe currently and in the past, before delving into the present climate in America.

“We’ll see it in restrictions on public funding, revocation of tax exemptions and expanding government regulations,” the archbishop stated. “We too easily forget that every good service the government provides comes with a growth in its regulatory power. And that power can be used in ways nobody imagined in the past.”

Archbishop Chaput expressed how certain terms so prevalent in American culture today - justice, rights, freedom, and dignity - are used with conflicting meanings, rendering public discourse futile in addressing truth.

“Our most important debates come down to who can use the best words in the best way to get power,” he said. “Words like ‘justice’ have emotional throw-weight, so people use them as weapons.”

Reports of Archbishop Chaput’s remarks come as the state of Indiana and its governor face tremendous hostility for its recently adopted religious freedom law.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence has spent the last few days retreating after a national barrage of attacks on the law, which mirrors that of 19 other states and was shaped from 1993 federal legislation passed by a Democrat Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton.

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Opponents claim the law amounts to state-sponsored discrimination, despite the fact its purpose is to protect religious liberty against government overreach.

In speaking to the seminarians from his archdiocese, Archbishop Chaput said we are lying to ourselves if we think we can keep our freedoms without revering the biblical vision--the uniquely Jewish and Christian vision--of who and what man is.

“Human dignity has only one source. And only one guarantee,” he said. “We’re made in the image and likeness of God. And if there is no God, then human dignity is just elegant words.”

The archbishop stressed for the young men that the faithful must live out religious liberty by practicing faith in their lives and by defending it.

“We need to remember two simple facts,” Archbishop Chaput said. “In practice, no law and no constitution can protect religious freedom unless people actually believe and live their faith – not just at home or in church, but in their public lives.” 

“But it’s also true that no one can finally take our freedom unless we give it away,” he said.

The archbishop closed by cautioning against becoming a cynic, saying there’s too much beauty in the world to lose hope.

“In the end,” he said, “there’s too much evidence that God loves us, with a passion that is totally unreasonable and completely redemptive, to ever stop trusting in God’s purpose for the world, and for our lives.”

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Rachel Lu

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Dissent trumps Faith in new ‘Catholic’ LGBT film

Rachel Lu
By Rachel Lu

April 1, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- “Human beings procreate male-female, but human sexuality isn’t just about that. It’s about so much more, which is self-evident.”

So says Fr. Patrick Conroy, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, at the outset of a recently released short film promoting the normalization of LGBT lifestyles within the Catholic Church.

The film is entitled “Owning Our Faith,” which is richly ironic in ways that the director, Michael Tomae, surely did not intend. Except for Catholic writer Eve Tushnet (a complicated case, whose work has been discussed on Crisis in the past), all the featured participants clearly and openly dissent from Catholic teachings on sexuality. They are indeed interested in “owning” their faith. But the ownership they seek is of a distinctly proprietary nature.

There’s little point in trying to refute the film’s arguments as such, because there really are none. If the word “Catholic” were omitted from the audio track, almost nothing would suggest to a listener that the content of the film had anything to do with the Catholic tradition. There is no serious discussion of theology or doctrine. The quote from Fr. Conroy above is the closest it ever comes to “engaging” the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics. It’s clear throughout that the individuals featured are not interested in learning what their faith might have to teach them. As they see it, they are the teachers, appointed to remake the Church in their own image.

Thus we see Fr. Conroy lamenting that gay and lesbian Catholics cannot be “fully participating in the sacramental life of our Church.” In case anyone is unclear as to what he means (because of course, experiences of same-sex attraction do not exclude anyone from full participation in the Church’s sacramental life), this is juxtaposed against “married couple” Matt and Rick Vidal discussing why they choose to remain “faithful Catholics,” despite criticism from their LGBT friends. “We are the Church,” declares Rick, “and if we leave it, if we abandon the Church, then it’s never going to change, so we have to continue living here, being an example, and encouraging other people to be that example, because that’s what’s going to change the Church.”

Is there anything these men like about Catholicism as it is? Any reason not to seek out one of the (numerous) other communities and churches that would be happy to affirm them in whatever sexual lifestyle they might choose? They don’t say, and neither do any of the other featured speakers. Here and elsewhere, we are left with the distinct impression that most of them remain in Catholic communities primarily as a favor to the rest of us, so that we can benefit from their gifts and unique insight. A review of the film at National Catholic Reporter stated that, “Not every viewer will agree with every opinion expressed in ‘Owning Our Faith,’ but only the most rigid of believers would question the love these Catholics have for their church.” At the risk of joining the ranks of the rigid, I do indeed feel moved to ask: what do these Catholics love about their church? They don’t tell us. We only hear about what needs to change.

It’s difficult to argue with a film that isn’t working on the level of rational argument. Nevertheless, it’s worth responding to the general thrust and ethos of the film with three important points.

The first relates to the claim, made on the film’s website and in other promotional materials, that productions of this sort are created as part of an effort to “promote open dialogue” about same-sex attraction and related issues. This is exactly the opposite of their intent, and it’s important to be clear on this point. Propagandistic videos of this sort are intended to bypass, or even to shut down, any real or serious discussion of the moral dimensions of same-sex attraction.

In a dialogue, morally relevant issues are stated clearly so that they can be analyzed and considered. What we have here is a long string of emotional appeals. “My gender transition was immensely spiritual to me,” says Mateo Williamson, who self-identifies as a transgendered man. “Sexuality is how we express our inner soul, our inner energy,” enthuses Mike Roper who self-identifies as gay. In a particularly shameful piece of emotional blackmail, grandmother Nana Fotsch urges parents of same-sex attracted Catholics to accept their children’s declared sexual identity and related lifestyle choices or “you’re going to lose them.” (Don’t all of Christianity’s hard teachings have the potential to alienate us from loved ones? Shall we just jettison the whole Catechism right now? Our Lord has some rather stern words about those who prioritize family relationships above the truths of the Gospel.)

Though there’s nothing Catholic about its message, Owning Our Faith pursues a strategy that is entirely consonant with a larger (and thus far, remarkably successful) progressive project. Don’t try to win the argument about sexuality and marriage. Play for sympathy. Appeal to emotion. People today are so thoroughly confused about sex and marriage that they have few defenses against an onslaught of politically loaded sentimentalism. And you can’t lose an argument that you never have.

This leads us to the second important point. Uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, loving people just doesn’t entail approving everything they do. Neither should we accept anyone “exactly as he is,” because of course all of us are sinful, fallen and in need of transformation by grace.

This is not a message that these “owners of faith” want to hear. Katie Chiarantona, one of the film’s representative “straight” contributors, sums up the film’s prevailing view even more neatly by declaring that she cares enormously about the place of homosexuals in the Church because she has many LGBT friends and, “it is unconscionable and unthinkable for me to support an institution that doesn’t celebrate them and encourage them to live fully as who they are.”

Who among us can really say with any confidence that we know who our friends (or we ourselves) really are? This is a dangerous conceit. None of us here below have yet realized our perfected state. Most of us, I expect, still have a significant way to go. But progression towards supernatural fulfillment is not possible if we begin by issuing ultimatums to God about the conditions under which we will accept divine grace.

Such an effort brings to mind the parable of the wedding banquet, in which a king invites all and sundry (including the poor and commoners) to his son’s wedding, but ends up evicting one guest owing to a lack of appropriate wedding attire. Quite obviously, the king in the story is not a philistine when it comes to standing on ceremony; he’s just ushered the local riff-raff into the most formal of state affairs. Nevertheless, the guest who refuses to dress properly is forcibly removed. Clearly there is a lesson about the importance of accepting grace on God’s terms, and not our own. All of us are welcome at the Lord’s table, but we may not simply come as we are. Being Christian means looking for faith to change us, not the other way around.

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This leads to the final point. While there is some space for discussing the appropriate pastoral response to deep-seated same-sex attraction, the Church’s broader position on same-sex attraction is perfectly clear. It is intrinsically disordered, and homoerotic relationships are immoral. There is no reason to think that this teaching can, should, or ever will change. Quite the contrary, once one understands the Catholic position on sexuality, it becomes clear that it cannot possibly be tweaked in such a way as to allow disgruntled LGBT activists the affirmation they seek.

Fr. Conroy’s position, as stated in the opening quote, is a straw man. Of course no reasonable person supposes that sexuality is “only about” procreation, if by that we mean that sex should be viewed in a coldly clinical light as a utilitarian means to achieving pregnancy. Clearly, erotic love involves far more than that, and how could it not, given the magnitude of what procreation really is? To even begin to do justice to that tremendous good (the begetting of immortal souls and perpetuation of the human race) erotic love must be a noteworthy thing indeed.

However, the Church has consistently maintained that erotic love, at least among mere humans, must be ordered towards procreation. Every effort to slice and dice the relevant pieces of the conjugal package into more-palatable portions (by sanctioning sex without marriage or marriage without permanence or erotic relationships of multiple sorts that are intrinsically closed to life) has been rejected by the Church, and for good reason. Embracing the life-giving nature of sex is the key that enables Catholics to articulate a noble, elevated and meaningful portrait of erotic love, which makes sex into something more than a tangled mash-up of bodies and emotions.

The conversation that dissenting LGBT Catholics (and their “straight allies”) want to have is already over. On some level they know this, which is why they seek sympathy instead of engagement. But there is some good news. For those who really do love their Church, full participation in its sacramental life is always available. They need do only what all Catholics are expected to do: stop trying to fix our faith, and pray instead for it to fix us.

Reprinted with permission from CrisisMagazine.

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During his political days, Andy and his wife Angela with George and Laura Bush
Andy Parrish

On the fast track to political stardom, recent LSN hire gets more than he bargained for…

Andy Parrish
By Andy Parrish
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Andy Parrish

I’ve been a Chief of Staff to Rep. Michele Bachmann, I’ve managed multiple Congressional, Senatorial and Ballot Initiatives, some would say I’ve even ‘made’ members of Congress.

I’ve been a Senior Political Advisor to a Presidential candidate and I’ve sat across from President George W. Bush and advised him on political matters.  

I did most of that by the time I was thirty-three. I was on the fast track and no one was going to stop me.

Well, Jesus had other plans for me.

Even though I was on the fast track to the top it came at a significant price. I was putting me first and my family second.  

That’s not what Angela had signed up for when we got married and it’s certainly not right for my children. Nor is it the way God designed marriage.

After suffering a few defeats, I made the decision I didn’t want to be in politics anymore. But it was all I knew how to do so I started my own business and Angela kept encouraging me to seek out contracts in areas that I was most passionate about.

I was looking for contracts and stumbled upon an opportunity at LifeSiteNews.com that I never would have expected. I’ve been passionate about the life issue since I was three years old. My first memory in life was outside of a Planned Parenthood abortuary.

Providentially, a few weeks later I was on board. I thought it would be a simple job, you know one of those that you didn’t have to invest much into.  

I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  

It only took a few days for me to realize that this isn’t a job at all: this is a mission.

What amazed me most is these people just don’t talk the talk. Every one of them walks the walk, and they all put their faith and families above anything else.

Since starting work at LifeSite, I have followed the example of my co-workers and I’ve learned to show my family how much I love them by putting them first again.  

At LSN we start everyday and most every meeting with either a devotion or prayer (of course it’s voluntary).  We pray for you the readers of LSN, we pray for our supporters, we pray for each other and we pray for the success of LSN.

I’ve also found that LSN isn’t about any one person, it’s about a mission and it is larger then anyone who works here. We all trust that Jesus will continue to make LSN successful and will continue to be a blessing to our families and to you.  

LSN has given me so much.  They’ve given me my priorities back, they’ve given me more than I can ever give them and I am just one story.

I ask that you continue to pray and support the mission of LSN. We are changing hearts and minds with the truth and we are changing lives. As we end our Spring campaign, I hope you will consider clicking one of the donate buttons on our site to help us reach our goal.

Andy Parrish, Public Relations and Media Specialist for LifeSiteNews

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