Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

Paris Cardinal, several other bishops defend anti-Christian play

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
By Jeanne Smits
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PARIS, November 7, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Since On the Concept of the Face of the Son of God opened in Paris on October 20th, young French Catholics have peacefully but relentlessly organized nightly prayer vigils in front of the two theaters showing what they consider to be a grossly blasphemous play. Several hundred people, mostly young adults, have participated every night, with many arrested and taken into 48-hour or even 72-hour custody.

Dozens of the protesters have been charged with “interfering with freedom of artistic expression using violence,” the “violence” being defined as “praying and singing religious chants,” according to their lawyers. Three have lost their jobs when their employers noted their presence at the demonstrations in photos or videos posted on the internet.

Romeo Castellucci’s 55-minute “contemporary art” play features a blubbering old man wracked with diarrhea, whose son regularly comes to change his nappy and clean up his mess, until the incontinent father ends up covering the scene with pints of brown feces. All the while a portrait of the face of Christ by Italian Quattrocento painter Antonello da Messina covers the back of the stage.

Versions of the play differ from one night to the other. It included young children bombarding the portrait with plastic hand grenades when it played at the Festival d’Avignon this summer. All versions climax with the old man leaving the scene to climb a ladder behind the portrait, which is being torn open to violent and strident sounds, and then pouring brown liquid out of its eyes. At this point a strong smell of feces invades the theatre. The words “You are my Shepherd” then appear to cover the portrait in letters of light, with the word “not” flickering on and off to belie the statement. At the end, the portrait of Christ reappears intact.

The play was produced in Paris in two heavily subsidized theaters and will shortly be moving to the provincial towns of Rennes, Toulouse and Villeneuve d’Ascq, where more demonstrations are being organized against what is being criticized as sacrilege and a scandalous use of tax-payers’ money.

Since the first night, when unrelated groups organized protests inside and outside the theatre, and were subject to police brutality, access to the show has taken place under heavy police protection.

On one occasion, 150 people, mostly girls aged 18 to 25, were apprehended by the police as they were coming out of the busy central Metro station “Châtelet”, which is near the “Théâtre de la Ville”, to join the protest. They were then whisked away in police vans to stations in the North of Paris and charged after a two-day wait. Most police officers are reported to have indicated they were unhappy with the task and told the young Catholics that their orders had come from very high up.

A few young people bought tickets to attend the play and were promptly moved out by police when they got up and protested against the desecration of the Face of Christ.

The prayer vigils, as well as a demonstration organized on Saturday 29th October - over 5,000 attended at the call of “Civitas,” a lay movement associated with the traditionalist Fraternity of Saint Pius X - were overwhelmingly peaceful and prayerful. One isolated incident involved two students throwing eggs and engine oil at theatergoers as they entered the building.

By that time the mainstream press had already been piling criticism on the young Catholics, accusing them of violence and extremism. They are being portrayed as Christian “fundamentalists” and lowbrow reactionaries incapable of entering into an intellectual “dialogue” with the modern world of art.

Christine Boutin, leader of the French Christian Democrat Party, was quick to disassociate herself from the protesters, labeled “Catholic integrists,” alleging they had been “manipulated” by political or extreme religious movements into protesting against a play which is in no way a “sacrilegious provocation” but “a message about compassion.”

Especially discouraging for the protesters has been the fact that several bishops, including the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, and the bishop of Rennes, Mgr Pierre d’Ornellas, were publicly interpreted Castellucci’s dung-carting “work of art” as a legitimate portrayal of human decadence and a thought-provoking show.

The cardinal, referencing a term coined by Lenin, named the protesters “useful idiots” and called for the public demonstrations to stop. Mgr d’Ornellas asked Catholics to “take time to understand” the play: while the stage-play is “provoking”, he wrote, no “christianophobia is involved” and should only help remind everyone about “the most ordinary of trivial sufferings: man’s comedown in old age” answered by the “profound manifestation of love” on the part of the son. The old man “emptying himself of his dignity” should remind us of Christ “emptying Himself ‘unto death, and the death of the Cross’”, he added.

The bishop’s text made no mention of the omnipresent feces: he asked all Catholics to see Castellucci as someone who is on a quest for God. “Dialogue between the Church and contemporary art is a necessary (if difficult) approach to evangelization”, he wrote.

Many ordinary Catholics have found this intellectualism hard to swallow. They have been asking the Church hierarchy not to brush over the fact that an image of the Saviour is being deliberately covered with what looks and smells like human feces in a heavily subsidized public play.

The protesters also felt strongly betrayed when three Catholic priests of the Paris region, a philosophy master, a TV producer, a well-known blogger, as well as a Christian pop group, co-signed an op-ed in the mainstream, strongly anti-Catholic Le Monde newspaper last Friday. 

While asking for “respect” for the “symbol of Christ”, the op-ed assured that demonstrations against Castellucci’s play have given a caricatural image of Catholics when they should have been choosing to show a “desire for dialogue” instead of “withdrawal”. They added that the bishops should “have the upper hand when it comes to discerning” at what point Christian beliefs are “really being insulted”.

However, a dozen French bishops did give their written support for the actions against “christianophobia.” Mgr Centène of Vannes wrote a firm letter invoking the example of persecuted Christians in the Near and Middle East.

“I congratulate and encourage all those who, consistently with their faith, do not hesitate to act publicly, and who, although never using violence, either verbal or physical, are apprehended by the police force and kept in custody, when they demonstrate, in all justice, their disapproval of performances which are appalling beyond belief”, he wrote on October 27th to “Civitas”, the group organizing the large demonstrations in Paris, Rennes (next Thursday) and Toulouse in two weeks’ time.

Catholic journalists are analyzing Romeo Castellucci’s other works and his fascination with bizarre scenes and inverted beliefs.

On the Concept of the Face of the Son of God is said to have obvious Freudian associations with its obsessive portrayal of excrement. Previous plays include Gènesi, which shows God as an ineffectual Creator of an evil world of horror where Lucifer symbolizes art, and a trilogy from Dante’s Divine Comedy, where Heaven is a depersonalizing place in which all identity is lost to the unending boredom of eternal worship and Hell, a place where horror is rife but man is himself and finds “paradoxical sweetness”.

A former adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil shocked the London public a few years ago with a scene showing the main character pushing shards of glass into his anus while saying the name of Our Lord. This play will shortly be showing again in Italy.

The AGRIF, (Alliance against Racism and for the respect of French and Christian identity) filed two emergency lawsuits against public authorities for having funded and displayed “On the Concept of the Face” in two Parisian theaters. Both were lost, and in both cases it was decided that no attack against Christian’s dignity and religious rights was involved.

Public disavowal of Catholic protesters by certain members of the Catholic hierarchy are suspected of influencing the decisions. But the AGRIF, which gets little or no publicity in the mainstream press, has been receiving letters of encouragement and e-mails by the hundreds.

In spite of the odds, the AGRIF is preparing for a new legal battle against Golgota Picnic, which will open shortly in Toulouse before coming to Paris in December. This show by Hispano-Argentian contemporary playwright Rodrigo Garcia is considered even more blasphemous and obscene than the Romeo Castellucci play.

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Jeb Bush has already ‘evolved’ on marriage, and his advisers are at war with social conservatives: analysts

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The fact that Jeb Bush has surrounded himself with campaign advisers who have been hostile to social conservatives is just one sign that the former Florida governor has secretly “evolved” in his views of gay “marriage,” according to several figures who have spoken with him privately.

Bush, a leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has been hiring national staffers who have actively campaigned for the GOP to capitulate and embrace the redefinition of marriage or at least capitulate to judicial rulings that overturn the will of voters.

“When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year, he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching [marriage redefinition] for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay,” writes McKay Coppins in BuzzFeed.

The Bush 2016 campaign staffers include:

“In a word, if personnel is policy, Jeb is telling the pro-family community to drop dead,” said Bryan Fischer, host of Focal Point on AFR Talk.

Campbell told Buzzfeed that the staffing decisions reflected Jeb Bush's ideas of who would be best for the position, and “Gov. Bush’s position on gay marriage is clear. If he pursues a run, it will be premised on his agenda and views, not anyone else’s.”

But insiders say it is not merely his closest advisers and operatives who embrace a redefinition of marriage; several people who have spoken with Jeb say he secretly supports gay “marriage” or, at least, will offer no opposition to it.

One such donor, namely David Aufhauser, who signed the amicus and has co-hosted a fundraiser for Bush in Virginia, said, “His thinking [on marriage equality] appears to have evolved.” Other donors, who preferred to remain anonymous, agreed.

Bush's public stance has certainly shifted. As a conservative candidate running for governor of Florida in 1994, Jeb Bush wrote that he opposed conferring special rights on homosexuals: “[S]hould sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No.”

But according to the New York Times, Sally Bradshaw “helped recalibrate Mr. Bush as a more moderate candidate” in 1998. Today, donors who have spoken with Bush tell Buzzfeed they have walked away convinced that he quietly supports same-sex “marriage” or is ambivalent on the subject. They hope he will announce his support for redefining marriage after the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the subject this summer.

A senior Republican fundraiser said fleeing any opposition to homosexual “marriage” is a necessity to get any funding from the party's donor class. Although support for redefining marriage “hasn’t become a litmus test yet,” a senior Republican fundraiser said prospective candidates “have to be approaching the LGBT issue with a new mindset in order to be taken seriously” by the party's megadonors.

Sen. Rob Portman, as vice chairman of finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced his newfound support for gay “marriage” shortly after holding a dozen meetings with major campaign donors in New York who were unhappy with the party's pro-family platform.

Bush, who hopes to raise as much as $100 million before he formally enters the presidential contest, is the elite contributors' favorite now that Mitt Romney has declined a third presidential bid and Chris Christie stumbled during a meeting with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

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Billionaire Paul Singer, who has devoted more than $13 million of his own money to promote homosexual "marriage" in the GOP, is said to view Bush in a positive light.

Bush has also attracted the support of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-abortion Republican who ripped pro-life and pro-family conservatives as “narcissists and ideologues” imbued with an “unacceptable rigidity and self-righteousness on social issues” and who secretly promote “tyranny.”

The split between the Republican Establishment and its grassroots conservative base foreshadows a harder than expected fight for Jeb Bush in the primaries. “Endorsing gay marriage would make it difficult to win Iowa, even with Kochel on board,” conservative political analyst Jim Antle writes at The Week, “and would probably prevent Bush from emulating his brother's 2000 nomination strategy: combining establishment and evangelical support to prevent the emergence of a viable conservative alternative.”

But others warn it forebodes something more serious – yet another Republican presidential loss in 2016. Mike Huckabee and Gary Bauer, among others, have threatened to leave the Republican Party if it abandons its support of traditional marriage – one of two reasons the GOP was founded in the 1850s.

“Not all social [conservatives] will feel that way but a few hundred thousand spread across swing states are potentially the difference between winning and losing,” the blogger Allahpundit wrote at HotAir.com. “The right’s perennial fear of 'moderate' Republicans is that they campaign as conservatives and govern as independents. Jeb’s not even campaigning as a conservative.”

Fischer foresees another Bush candidacy depressing voter turnout and handing the election to a Democrat like Hillary Clinton.

“If conservatives want to save their party, and more importantly save America, step one is stopping Jeb Bush dead in his tracks,” he said. 

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When he began shooting a film on a pastor saving disabled babies, he had no idea God was planning to save him

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By Pete Baklinski
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Babies Pastor Lee has brought into his home through the drop box. Arbella Studios

March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Brian Ivie, 25, grew up in California dreaming about making movies. He loved making homemade movies with his friends and eventually went to school to learn how to make them professionally. He was always on the lookout for that one story that he would turn into a movie that would be his ticket to the Sundance Film Festival and rocket him to fame and fortune.

While flipping through the L.A. Times one morning in June 2011, Brian came across the story of a man in Korea who saved unwanted babies by having a baby box installed on the side of his home where parents could drop them off anonymously.

“That alone was compelling to me, the fact that this existed at all,” he told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview.

Brian immediately saw the story’s potential. Here was the golden opportunity he had been looking for. He contacted the reporter who put him in touch with Pastor Lee Jong-Rak of Seoul, South Korea, the man behind the drop box.

Six months later he was flying to Korea with a team of friends to film a documentary.

“I went to Korea, planning to use this family to be my golden ticket to Sundance,” he said.

Before leaving, Brian picked up a cheap cross necklace so he could wear it to create “some sort of trust between me and this Pastor.”

“I didn’t really know what the cross meant. I just knew that it was this rallying cry for Christendom,” he said.

Brian had grown up thinking he was basically Christian, but having a real relationship with God was something that he had never factored into his life.

“I honestly thought I was a Christian, because I wasn’t a Muslim. I thought I was a Christian because, you know, it’s like you’re American, you’re a Christian, like apple pie and the Bible.”

“I just figured I was a Christian because I didn’t smoke cigarettes, and I watched Fox News with my mom. It was a very cultural label for me. It was a very decorative thing, like a decorative cross you put in the house, but you have no understanding of what it is.”

“My understanding of God, because of the media, was very warped,” he said.

When Brian arrived at Pastor Lee’s home in Seoul, what he experienced made him rethink his entire life. In Pastor Lee, Brian encountered a man who had been rescued out of the gutters of alcoholism and rage to do a work that most people would recognize as utterly selfless and heroic.

“He was not a natural born hero. This is an ordinary man who made a lot of mistakes and needed forgiveness, and once he received that and was saved from his own sin and from hell, then he went out and saved and rescued other kids,” Brian said.

Pastor Lee created the baby box because of the number of babies being abandoned on the streets, many of them dying from exposure before help arrived. The baby box would be a safe harbor to welcome and care for these babies. More than 600 babies have now come through the baby box.

“They’re not the unnecessary ones in the world. God sent them here for a purpose,” Pastor Lee says in the film.

Brian returned to California with his footage, but he was constantly haunted by what he had witnessed in Pastor Lee. He felt like something was missing from his own life, but he could not put his finger on it. Then one day while listening to a podcast about why Jesus died, he suddenly realized what that was.

“This podcast was all about how Jesus Christ took our place. When I heard that, it was like a movie through my own head.”

Brian started imagining Jesus suffering in his place for the six years he had been addicted to pornography, for his abusive relationships with girls, and for his loud and violent outbursts of anger toward his friends, girlfriends, and co-workers. He saw Jesus take it all upon himself and suffer for it all on the cross.

“So, I broke down. I started crying. All I could say was: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Even for a guy who didn’t lead some extreme life — I wasn’t the leader of some Mexican cartel, I didn’t almost overdose on heroine, I didn’t murder anybody in cold blood — but I needed to be forgiven, because I had done some shameful things, especially towards God. I realized all that, and knew that I needed to be saved too.”

“I hated myself for a while. But what changed all that was the Father’s love which said ‘I still want you, and in fact, I want you so much that I sent my Son because I’m willing to give everything for you, even though you don’t deserve it.”

Brian began connecting the dots between his filming in Korea about the drop box for babies and his own need to be saved.

“The drop box is the place we all belong. It’s the place we find ourselves when we go: ‘You know, gosh, I need to be saved. I need to be rescued from sin and from this place I’m running to which is called hell, which is the place where I am separated from God. I’m running there and Jesus can save me.”

“The drop box symbolized that to me because it’s the place where you are bound up in the dark, totally helpless and incapable of doing anything about it, and you need a father to come pull you out through the laundry room and into the light,” he said.

With his new spiritual insight, Brian traveled back to Korea in August 2012 to retell the story, this time from the perspective of love.

“The goal was to tell the story that I had experienced of the Father’s love as shown through this man, Pastor Lee.”

Brian’s film The Drop Box, released through Focus on the Family and Pine Creek Entertainment, has already won numerous awards at film festivals. It is opening this week in 800 theaters across North America.

Brian now realizes that his biggest mistake in life is thinking he was too good to need God’s forgiveness.

“My hope is that people realize that they need to be saved and that they would see themselves in these kids and God as Pastor Lee. Because to me, he's living proof of a loving God, and God is putting himself on display through this man.”

“What I see in this film is a man who has given up everything in his life for these children who have been lost on the street. I hope what people see is a picture of something much higher than that, which is really God giving everything on the cross for all of us lost people,” he said.

The Drop Box opens in U.S. cinemas today and in Canada tomorrow. Find a list of U.S. theaters here. Find a list of Canadian theaters here

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Lisa Bourne

San Francisco archbishop under attack: critics of Catholic school reforms hire high-profile PR guru

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By Lisa Bourne
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Public relations specialist Sam Singer

SAN FRANCISCO, March 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Critics of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone have raised the stakes in their opposition to improving the Catholic identity of the city’s Catholic high schools by hiring a high-profile PR strategist.

“Concerned parents are footing the bill” to hire “media relations heavyweight” Sam Singer, reports SF Weekly.

Singer specializes in crisis communication for high-profile figures and describes himself as The Fixer and Top Gun for Hire on his website. He’s also been called The Master of Disaster for his public relations work, which includes representing the San Francisco Zoo in the 2007 killing of a young man by the zoo’s Siberian tiger, and where, according to the news outlet, Singer “shaped hearts and minds to sympathize with the tiger.”

While media reports are not clear about who specifically is behind hiring Singer, the move shows the broad nature and depth of the battle against the archbishop’s efforts to uphold Church teaching.

At the same time Singer told SF Weekly, “he hopes the archbishop sees that the ‘loyalty oath’ he's asking of teachers does 'not keep with Catholic values'," he also said he didn’t accept the job of countering the archbishop’s efforts to maintain Catholic identity because “he himself is religious, necessarily.”

"I'm half Catholic, half Jewish," Singer said. "I like to say I'm the most guilty, most worried man alive." 

The archdiocese announced February 3 that they would add statements on morality to faculty handbooks, as well as three new clauses to teacher contracts, all derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Cordileone explained at the outset that the intent was not to target anyone, but rather to clarify Church teaching and the long-established expectation of Catholic school employees to not publicly contradict the faith.

It is something he has continued to emphasize, along with the need for Catholic schools to be clear in imparting Catholic principles.

“We’re not on a witch hunt; we’re not looking to terminate teachers,” Archbishop Cordileone told the New York Times this week.

He said he was introducing the new language because “young people are under intense pressure today to conform to certain standards that are contrary to what we believe,” and he had focused on “hot-button issues” to clear up “the confusion.”

The archbishop also told the newspaper that he knew that not all teachers at the schools were Catholic, and he affirmed again that a teacher’s private life would remain private. He said his concern was that in their public lives faculty “don’t do anything to compromise the mission of our schools.”

Eight Democrat California lawmakers wrote a letter February 17 pressuring the archbishop to back down on the efforts. But the archbishop responded, “Would you hire a campaign manager who advocates policies contrary to those that you stand for, and who shows disrespect toward you and the Democratic Party in general?” 

“My point is: I respect your right to employ or not employ whomever you wish to advance your mission,” he said. “I simply ask the same respect from you.”

Two of the lawmakers then called for an investigation of working conditions at high schools administered by the archdiocese by the state’s Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“California cannot become a laboratory for discrimination under the guise of religion,” the two Democrats told CBS San Francisco.

They said the archbishop’s measures to uphold Church teaching “set a dangerous precedent for workers’ rights through manipulations of law that deprive employees of civil rights guaranteed to all Californians.”

After a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board on February 24, the paper reported that Cordileone was backtracking, but the archdiocese denied it in a follow-up statement.

The archbishop did agree, however, that they would not classify teachers as “ministers,” which teachers feared would remove them from federally-recognized civil rights protection.

“The Archbishop has not repealed anything,” Father John Piderit SJ, Vicar for Administration for the archdiocese and Moderator of the Curia said in the statement. “He is adding explanations, clarifications, and material on Catholic social teaching, via a committee of religion teachers he is establishing.” 

“The committee is to expand some areas of the material to be included in the faculty handbook, and clarify other areas by adding material,” said Father Piderit, who was also present at the meeting. “Nothing already planned to go in is being removed or retracted or withdrawn.”

The archdiocese stated the word “ministers” is no longer being considered to classify faculty, however the word “ministry” remained part of the language, and the archbishop was working to identify language that satisfies two needs, one to protect teachers’ rights and the other the right of the archdiocese to run Catholic schools that are faithful to its mission.

“Even if a substitute for ‘ministry’ is found,” Father Piderit said, “the substitute must guarantee that the teachers in the Catholic archdiocesan high schools promote the Catholic mission of the institutions."

Singer persisted in the apparent push for the archbishop to back down after the meeting.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Singer told the online magazine Crux. “So we’ll have to take a look at what the archbishop comes back with. But this is certainly a step in the right direction, and is welcomed by many of the parents, teachers and alumni. But there is still much work to be done.”

The Chronicle subsequently made a video of the meeting available, which was published by the archdiocese.

“The point I want to emphasize most of all though, is that everything that we do is for our students,” Archbishop Cordileone said in the meeting with the newspaper. “My primary concern and the most important thing, and that of everyone involved in the educational ministry of our archdiocese, is for the good of our students.”

Media reports also continue to highlight resistance to the archbishop’s efforts, and misunderstanding of Church doctrine in the moral issues the Church statements concern, such as homosexuality.

The Church teaches that while all people are deserving of respect as children of God, homosexual acts are immoral and can never be accepted.

“We pray for the archbishop that his heart is changed,” Gus O’Sullivan told the New York Times. The openly gay senior at one of the schools spoke at a candlelight protest, reportedly part of the Singer campaign.

Michael Vezzali, a teacher at one of the schools and a union official, said the archbishop was “a very wise man,” but “we feel our schools are places where we’re supposed to share the gospel of Jesus and love, no matter what.”

“Our community is in pain; our teachers are scared,” said Jessica Hyman, another senior at one of the archdiocesan high schools.

“We sent our kids to these schools because they uphold the fundamental principles of our faith of love, acceptance and respect,” said Kathy Curran, a mother of freshman. “This language says some people are not O.K. — and that’s not O.K.”

Archbishop Cordileone’s language “is very, very hurtful,” but “he is representing exactly the Roman Catholic sexual doctrine,” Santa Clara University Associate Professor of Moral Theology Lisa Fullam told the New York Times. “Bishops do have a lot of authority in their own diocese.”

Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire, and co-author of the book American Catholics in Transition, which chronicled changes in Catholics’ attitudes and behavior from 1987-2011, said what’s happening in San Francisco reflects the attitudinal wavering among Catholics.

“The church wants people to be aware of official church teachings because they think there is confusion in the culture,” Dillon told the New York Times. “A lot of Catholics aren’t confused. They simply ignore the church’s teachings.”

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