Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

A Catholic conversation: how to save the world at lunch

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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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Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Clinton: US needs to help refugee rape victims… by funding their abortions

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

CLINTON, Iowa, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that U.S. taxpayers should be on the hook for abortions for refugees impregnated through rape.

"I do think we have to take a look at this for conflict zones," Clinton said at an Iowa town hall, according to CNN. "And if the United States government, because of very strong feelings against it, maintains our prohibition, then we are going to have to work through non-profit groups and work with other counties to ... provide the support and medical care that a lot of these women need."

Clinton also said that "systematic use of rape as a tool of war and subjection is one that has been around from the beginning of history" but that it has become "even more used by a lot of the most vicious militias and insurgent groups and terrorist groups."

The prohibition referenced by Clinton – and named by the woman who asked Clinton about pregnant refugees – is known as the Helms Amendment. Made into law in 1973, it prevents U.S. foreign aid funds from being used for abortion.

Abortion supporters have urged the Obama administration to unilaterally change its interpretation of the amendment to allow exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, and if the mother's life is in danger. They argue that because the law specifically states that "[n]o foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning," women who are raped should be excepted.

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In August, 81 Democrats signed a letter to President Obama that urged this course of action. CNN reported that while Clinton didn't call for the Helms Amendment to be changed or re-interpreted, she did support other actions to increase women's access to abortion facilities.

If the United States "can't help them [to get an abortion], then we have to help them in every other way and to get other people to at least provide the options" to women raped in conflict, she said.

"They will be total outcasts if they have the child of a terrorist or the child of a militia member," according to Clinton. "Their families won't take them, their communities won't take them."

A study of women who bore their rape-conceived children during the Rwanda genocide found that "motherhood played a positive role for many women, often providing a reason to live again after the genocide."

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Cardinal George Pell Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews
Andrew Guernsey

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Cardinal Pell bets against the odds: insists Pope Francis will strongly reaffirm Catholic tradition

Andrew Guernsey
By Andrew Guernsey


ROME, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Contradicting the statements of some of the pope’s closest advisors, the Vatican’s financial chief Cardinal George Pell has declared that Pope Francis will re-assert and “clarify” longstanding Church teaching and discipline that prohibits Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried in public adultery without sacramental confession and amendment of life.

In a homily on Monday, Pell stressed the importance of fidelity to the pope, especially today as “we continue to look also to the successor of St. Peter as that guarantee of unity in doctrine and practice.”

Pell was offering Mass at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome on the feast of Pope St. Clement I, notable in history for being one of the first popes to exert Roman papal primacy to correct the errors in the doctrine and abuses in discipline which other bishops were allowing.

Turning to address the issues at the Synod on the Family, Pell rebuked those who “wanted to say of the recent Synod, that the Church is confused and confusing in her teaching on the question of marriage,” and he insisted that the Church will always remain faithful to “Jesus’ own teaching about adultery and divorce” and “St. Paul’s teaching on the proper dispositions to receive communion.” Pell argues that the possibility of Communion for those in adultery is “not even mentioned in the Synod document.”

Pell asserted that Pope Francis is preparing “to clarify for the faithful what it means to follow the Lord…in His Church in our World.” He said, “We now await the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, which will express again the Church’s essential tradition and emphasize that the appeal to discernment and the internal forum can only be used to understand better God’s will as taught in the scriptures and by the magisterium and can never be used to disregard, distort or refute established Church teaching.”

STORY: Vatican Chief of Sacraments: No pope can change divine law on Communion

The final document of the synod talks about the “internal forum” in paragraphs 84-86, refers to private discussions between a parish priest and a member of the faithful, to educate and form their consciences and to determine the “possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church,” based on their individual circumstances and Church teaching. The selective quoting of John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio that omitted his statement ruling out the possibility of Communion for those in public adultery has given liberals hope that this “fuller participation” could include reception of Communion.

Pell’s prediction that the pope will side with the orthodox side of this controversy lends two explanations. On one reading, Pell is uncertain what the pope will do in his post-synodal exhortation, but he is using such firm language as a way of warning the pope that he must clearly uphold Church teaching and practice, or else he would risk falling into heresy at worst or grave negligence at best in upholding the unity of the Church.

On another reading, Pell may have inside information, even perhaps from the pope himself, that he will uphold Church teaching and practice on Communion for those in public adultery, that the pope’s regular confidants apparently do not have.

This hypothesis, however, is problematic in that just last week, Pope Francis suggested that Lutherans may “go forward” to receive Holy Communion, contrary to canon law, if they come to a decision on their own, which suggests agreement with the reformers’ line of argument about “conscience.” And earlier last month, the pope granted an interview to his friend Eugenio Scalfari, who quoted the pope as promising to allow those in adultery back to Communion without amendment of life, even though the Vatican refused to confirm the authenticity of the quote since Scalfari does not use notes.

If Pell actually knew for certain what the pope would do, it would also seem to put Pell’s knowledge above that of Cardinal Robert Sarah, who in what could be a warning to Pope Francis, declared last week in no uncertain terms that “Not even a pope can dispense from such a divine law” as the prohibition of public adulterers from Holy Communion.

STORY: Papal confidant signals Pope Francis will allow Communion for the ‘remarried’

Several members of the pope’s inner circle have said publicly that the controversial paragraphs 84-86 of the Synod final document have opened the door for the Holy Father to allow Communion in these cases if he so decides. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a close friend of Pope Francis and the editor of La Civita Catholica, a prominent Jesuit journal in Rome reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, wrote this week that the internal forum solution for the divorced in adultery is a viable one:

The Ordinary Synod has thus laid the bases for access to the sacraments [for the divorced and civilly remarried], opening a door that had remained closed in the preceding Synod. It was not even possible, one year ago, to find a clear majority with reference to the debate on this topic, but that is what happened in 2015. We are therefore entitled to speak of a new step.

Spadaro’s predictions and interpretation of the Synod are consistent with the public statements of liberal prelates, some of whom are close confidantes to Pope Francis, including Cardinal Schönborn, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Nichols, and the head of the Jesuit order, Fr. Nicolás. Fr. Nicolás, in particular, first confirmed that there would be an apostolic exhortation of the pope, and said of Communion for those in public adultery:

The Pope’s recommendation is not to make theories, such as not lumping the divorced and remarried together, because priests have to make a judgment on a case by case and see the situation, the circumstances, what happens, and depending on this decision one thing or the other. There are no general theories which translate into an iron discipline required at all. The fruit of discernment means that you study each case and try to find merciful ways out.

Although in the best analysis, Pell’s prediction about what Pope Francis may do in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation remains just that-- a prediction—he is drawing a line in the sand that if the pope chooses to cross, would bring the barque of Peter into uncharted waters, where the danger of shipwreck is a very real threat.


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Lianne Laurence


Jennifer Lawrence just smeared traditional Christians in the worst way

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – It’s no surprise that yet another Hollywood star is mouthing the usual liberal platitudes, but the fact that this time around it’s Jennifer Lawrence, a mega-star and lead in blockbuster series Hunger Games, brings a particular sting of disappointment.

That’s because the 25-year-old, effervescent and immensely talented star often comes across not only as very likable, but also as someone capable of independent thought.

But apparently not.

Or at least not when it comes to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk famously thrown in jail for refusing to obey a judge’s order that she sign marriage licenses for homosexual couples.

Davis, Lawrence tells Vogue in its November issue, is that “lady who makes me embarrassed to be from Kentucky.”

“Don’t even say her name in this house,” the actress told Vogue writer Jonathan van Meter in an interview that happened to take place the day after Davis was released from her five-day stint in jail.

Lawrence then went on a “rant” about “all those people holding their crucifixes, which may as well be pitchforks, thinking they’re fighting the good fight.”

RELATED STORY: Wrong, Jennifer Lawrence! Real men don’t need porn, and women don’t need to give it to them

She was brought up Republican, she told van Meter, “but I just can’t imagine supporting a party that doesn’t support women’s basic rights. It’s 2015 and gay people can get married and we think that we’ve come so far, so, yay! But have we? I don’t want to stay quiet about that stuff.”

After conjuring up images of Christians as bug-eyed hillbillies on a witchhunt with her reference to “crucifixes as pitchforks,” Lawrence added darkly: “I grew up in Kentucky. I know how they are.”

Perhaps one should infer that it’s lucky for Lawrence she escaped to Los Angeles and its enlightened culture. That hallowed place where, according to van Meter, Kris Jenner (former spouse of Bruce Jenner, who infamously declared himself a woman) brought Lawrence a cake for her birthday that was shaped like excrement and inscribed: “Happy birthday, you piece of sh*t!”

Lawrence is reportedly now Hollywood’s most highly paid actress. Not only is she the star of the hugely popular and lucrative Hunger Games franchise -- the last installment of which, Mockingjay, Part 2 opened November 20 -- but she won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and starred in several others since her breakout role in the 2010 moving and moody indie film, Winter’s Bone.

Lawrence has every right to express her opinion, although no doubt it will be given more weight than it deserves. It is unfortunate, however, that she’s chosen to wield her fame, shall we say, as a pitchfork against Christian moral truths.



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