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

Truth. Delivered daily.

Get FREE pro-life, pro-family news delivered straight to your inbox. 

Select Your Edition:


Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, speaks to Thomas McKenna of Catholic Action Insight. Catholic Action Insight
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Catholics shouldn’t sue one another: Cardinal Burke comments on Fr. Rosica’s lawsuit against blogger

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

ROME, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Citing Scripture, Cardinal Raymond Burke told an interviewer this week that Catholics should not sue each other: “Our Lord in the Gospel and St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians instruct us not to take our disputes to the civil forum, that we should be able, as Catholics, to resolve these matters among ourselves.”

The cardinal’s comments to the Traditionalist Catholic website Rorate Caeli follow an uproar in the Catholic media world last week when it was revealed that Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica has threatened to sue a Canadian blogger for defamation in the civil courts.

Cardinal Burke, who served under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis as the head of the Vatican’s highest court, is a noted expert on canon law. He told Rorate Caeli, “Unless the blogger has committed a calumny on someone's good name unjustly, I certainly don't think that that's the way we as Catholics should deal with these matters.”

“I think contact should be made. I presume that the Catholic blogger is in good faith, and if there’s someone in the hierarchy who is upset with him, the way to deal with it would be first to approach the person directly and try to resolve the matter in that way,” Burke added.

Fr. Rosica, a Canadian Basilian, is the English language press officer for the Vatican and founder of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Television network.

He sent the legal letter to David Domet, a Toronto music composer and part-time Catholic blogger who has long criticized what he says are Fr. Rosica’s departures from Catholic orthodoxy. The priest’s lawyer told Domet to remove nine separate items from his blog and apologize, but added that this would not necessarily remove the threat of the civil action.

The conflict was covered in a feature by Michael Voris’ Church Militant TV, and the internet’s Catholic blogger world exploded with indignation. So furious was the backlash that it got coverage by the US conservative news site, Breitbart. This followed dozens of blog posts, nearly unanimously calling the threatened legal action of a well-placed priest against a lay pensioner a “PR disaster” for Rosica. 

The uproar has launched Domet’s small blog, Vox Cantoris, into the international limelight, and has earned Fr. Rosica an avalanche of criticism. “Though Rosica publicly defends the right to freedom of speech and press, he is attempting to silence the blogger who has criticized him,” Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, wrote for Breitbart.

Among Domet’s criticisms of Fr. Rosica is his apparent support for the proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and others in “irregular” sexual unions, to receive Holy Communion.

Fr. Rosica has also recently come under fire for comments he made a year ago, in a lecture in Windsor, Ontario, in which he argued that Catholic doctrine could change. (See video below. Quotes can be found at 48:12.)

“Will this Pope re-write controversial Church doctrines?” Fr. Rosica said in the lecture, which was posted to Youtube. “No. But that isn't how doctrine changes. Doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particularly doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God's transforming love.”

Fr. Rosica continued: “Doctrine changes when the Church has leaders and teachers who are not afraid to take note of new contexts and emerging insights. It changes when the Church has pastors who do what Francis has been insisting: leave the securities of your chanceries, of your rectories, of your safe places, of your episcopal residences go set aside the small-minded rules that often keep you locked up and shielded from the world.”

In the Rorate Caeli interview, Cardinal Burke refuted the idea that the Church can change its “pastoral practice” without changing doctrine.

“I think it’s very important to address a false dichotomy that's been drawn by some who say, ‘Oh no, we’re just changing disciplines. We’re not touching the Church's doctrine.’ But if you change the Church’s discipline with regard to access to Holy Communion by those who are living in adultery, then surely you are changing the Church's doctrine on adultery.”

“You’re saying that, in some circumstances, adultery is permissible and even good, if people can live in adultery and still receive the sacraments. That is a very serious matter, and Catholics have to insist that the Church’s discipline not be changed in some way which would, in fact, weaken our teaching on one of the most fundamental truths, the truth about marriage and the family,” Cardinal Burke said.

Fr. Rosica recently criticized Cardinal Burke on his Twitter account by posting an article by Washington, DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl on “dissent” in the hierarchy, saying, “Cardinal Wuerl’s response to Burke (and dissenters).”

The priest has also had a confrontational relationship with the pro-life movement for years.

In 1996, Fr. Rosica called the police on pro-life advocates who were leafletting in protest at a lecture by famous dissident Gregory Baum at the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre.

In 2009, Fr. Rosica wrote against objections to the lavish Catholic funeral for US Senator Ted Kennedy’s in Boston. He excoriated the pro-life movement for what he called their lack of “civility.”

“Civility, charity, mercy and politeness seem to have dropped out of the pro-life lexicon,” Fr. Rosica wrote. “To recognize and bring out the sin in others means also recognizing one’s self as a sinner and in need of God’s boundless mercy.

“Let us pray that we will become more and more a people, a church and a community overflowing with mercy.”

Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Greg Rohrbough, J.D.

Duck Commander Phil Robertson’s CPAC speech was viral in so many ways

Greg Rohrbough, J.D.
By

Last week, the winner of the 2015 Citizens United/CPAC Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award was “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson, paterfamilias of the Duck Dynasty Robertson family. In doing so, they were giving Phil the CPAC stage for a speech, knowing that he would speak his unvarnished thoughts. One doubts they expected his topic.

After bringing out his heavily-duct-taped Bible and telling politicians to keep theirs with them, Phil went on the offensive – against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). He quoted the federal Centers for Disease Control, which estimates that more than 100 million Americans now have a sexually transmitted infection.

“I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early,” Robertson said.

Phil’s solution? One older than Christianity, as old as common sense itself. “If you’re disease-free, if she’s disease-free, you marry. You keep your sex right there. You won’t get sick from a sexually-transmitted disease!”

Logic and mathematics would seem to agree. According to Robertson, his goal was to show love to the listeners. But several left-wing websites didn’t see it that way.

“He certainly used his speech to hate very well. I guess that's the criteria. Who can say the sickest, most vile things about center-left Americans wins!” according to John Amato of Crooks & Liars.

The Huffington Post took offense at his attributing the rise in STDs to the beatniks and hippies.

To their credit, MSNBC acknowledged Phil’s numbers, saying, “For the record, Robertson’s [sic] has his numbers correct. A CDC report from February of 2013 estimated more than 110 [million] cases of sexually transmitted infections in America with about 20 billion [sic, MSNBC’s number] new infections each year at a cost of ‘nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs.’”

The network site then blasted him for comparing ISIS to the Nazis, Communists, and Imperial Japanese.

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

Robertson clearly didn’t care what MSNBC thought, though. “You want a Godly, Biblical, medically safe option? One man, one woman, married, for life,” he said.

“What do you call the 110 million people who have sexually transmitted illnesses?” he continued. “It’s the revenge of the hippies! Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll have come back to haunt us in a bad way!”

But the big question is – is Phil right or wrong? According to the CDC’s website, “Almost every sexually active person will acquire HPV [Human Papillomavirus] at some point in their lives.”

“Sexually active” would seem to indicate activity with new or multiple partners, rather than this Duck Doctor Phil’s Prescription.

But still – “Almost every…person.” That’s quite a few – the website also says, “about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year.” While it is the most prevalent venereal disease, HPV is only one of many.

Generally, HPV’s symptoms are more a painful nuisance than life-threatening – genital warts, often only appearing years after the initial infection. But there are also life-threatening illnesses such as cervical cancer, which HPV causes.

Much more frightening, however, is the specter of HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, there are about 1.2 million people currently living with HIV, and as many as 50,000 new cases a year, with 63 to 66 percent of those being “MSM,” or “Men who have Sex with Men.” Sadly, the lion’s share of new HIV infections is found in the 13-24 age group; despite being 16 percent of the nation’s population, they account for 26 percent of all new infections, with 72 percent of those being young MSM. While HIV is treatable, there is still no cure.

Although HIV, as well as the current increase in syphilis and hepatitis, are primarily targeting homosexual males, heterosexuals with multiple partners are by no means off the hook. As well as HPV, herpes, drug-resistant gonorrhea and chlamydia are on the rise, as well. The year 2013 saw 1.4 million cases of chlamydia and 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea, and the CDC estimates that one person in every six in the U.S. between the ages of 14 and 49 has herpes.

Criticize Phil all you like, folks – he doesn’t mind. He’s only saying this because he cares.

Listen to him again: “I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early.”

“And if you hate me because I told you that,” he said, “I told you, my love for you is not contingent on how you feel about me. I love you anyway. I don’t want you to see you die early or get sick. I’m trying to help you, for cryin’ out loud! America, if I didn’t care about you, why would I bring this up?”

From this CPAC attendee’s perspective, Phil’s speech was not only important from a physical health perspective, it also, along with that duct-taped Bible of his, reminds us of the words of Charles Spurgeon: “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”

Greg Rohrbough, J.D., has been director of government relations for the Meredith Advocacy Group since 2006.

Advertisement
Featured Image
CBC video screenshot
Steve Weatherbe

Former abortionist who failed to kill unborn baby hit with $1 million lawsuit: baby was born with hole in heart

Steve Weatherbe
By

OTTAWA, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Ontario mother of a baby born by mistake is suing the former doctor who botched her abortion for $1 million for his “gross negligence” and “medical malpractice.”

Tania Brown already had four children when she went to Dr. Michel Prevost in Almonte, Ontario in early 2011 for a medical (or pharmaceutical) abortion to prevent a fifth, which her doctor had advised might have birth defects. Several months later she suspected Prevost’s one-two punch of methotrexate (a poison to kill the baby) and misoprostol (to expel the corpse a week later) had not worked. An ultrasound confirmed a beating heart.

Too late for an abortion now, she gave birth, in May, to a baby with “a smaller brain; he had a hole in his heart; he had something wrong with his palate.” She gave him up for adoption.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

Dr. Prevost relinquished his medical licence earlier this month with the certainty that if he didn’t, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons would expel him after an investigation found him “incompetent in his practice of obstetrics and gynecology.”  They looked into 28 abortion cases, two so badly “botched” that the babies survived.

Small wonder the whole business sent Brown into a “debilitating depression,” but her lawyer Ralph Lee told the CBC the case “brings up larger issues…the issue of a woman’s access to abortion.”

Basically, Prevost couldn’t get the dosages right. Methotrexate, MedicineNet.com warns, “has infrequently caused serious (sometimes fatal) side effects.” These include severe azotemia (too much blood urea nitrogen), severe blood infection, stomach and intestinal bleeding, and perforation.

Advertisement

Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook