Last fall, the Archdiocese of Boston released an ambitious plan designed to stem the decline it has experienced—in priests, Mass attendance, and treasure—since the 2002 wave of sexual-abuse scandals. Whether the plan will work remains an open question. That something needs to be done is a sentiment shared widely among Boston-area Catholics.
Pope Francis looks poised to address Vatican reform with his appointment of an international panel of cardinals charged with making recommendations to improve the Roman curia. Bringing outsiders in for a close look seems to be the point, but it’s not the first time this has happened.
Lawrence Wright's Going Clear is less a general history of Scientology than a consideration of some of its particular aspects as a “new religious movement.”
The Faith of a Catholic Novelist
Religious Freedom & State Power
Karen Kilby views Balthasar as a fascinating thinker, but she is skeptical about his reputation as a theological innovator and giant, and seeks to provide a more balanced view.
Saving Chesterton from the Chestertonians
Despite Evangelical Catholicism’s hectoring tone and the particular set of political judgments into which it straitjackets John Paul II, readers ultimately can’t afford to ignore George Weigel.
Pope Francis’s choice of title and his actions in his first days as pope indicate that he places humility and compassion for the marginalized at the heart of his ministry—“servant leadership,” in today’s church parlance.
Catholics at both ends of the ideological spectrum look to a new pope for encouragement. And from the moment he made his first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s, Francis seems to have given nearly everyone a reason to cheer. But whatever the direction in which the new pope steers the church, U.S. Catholics struggling to make a life of faith in what is admittedly a vertiginous moral and cultural landscape will continue to take surprising turns, confounding the usual categories.
From Chile to Mexico—and among U.S. Latinos—there was a collective gasp of excitement over the election of Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis. To assess the possible impact of the new pope on Latin-American Catholicism, however, it is necessary to understand several complex and deeply entrenched challenges.
Virtually everyone in Latin America (and North America as well) has every reason to be thrilled with the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy. Still, there are some who continue to raise questions about his actions during Argentina's guerra sucia.
In winning election as Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio defied the papal pundits, even though they should have seen him coming. His rise marks the decisive shift within Roman Catholicism toward Latin America and the developing world.
Written by and for women who wholeheartedly embrace church teachings concerning sexuality and gender, the essays in this collection may evoke indifference among some readers and anger among others.
What can the next pope learn from Benedict, and what should we seek from him? Our special series concludes with new stories from William L. Portier and Richard R. Gaillardetz.
The humility of Benedict's decision to give up power will affect future papacies, all to the good.
John Thavis presents many stories that will make you laugh. Others may make you cry.
Divisions in the church are usually seen as mimicking those of secular politics. Conservatives or traditionalists are pitted against liberals or progressives. But Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican friar and the former head of his order, suggests a more fruitful way to understand the Catholic split.
Evaluations of Benedict's tenure have balanced the pros and cons of his deeds according to the lights of the balancer. What is untallied, except for his failure to unmistakably demand accountability in regard to clerical sexual abuse, is what has remained undone. Underlying conditions like the limitations of the clergy or the eroding credibility of church teachings on sexuality are no better than when he took office.
Even Benedict's most ardent supporters concede that his papacy has been marred by too many scandals and too many gaffes. And the courtly secrecy surrounding the deliberations to elect the next pope provides a reminder of the lack of transparency and accountability in the operations of the entire hierarchy.
Now It's Rome's Turn
Benedict, Eight Years Later
This is the long-term historical context of the papacy Benedict XVI will resign: one that became more monarchical in the nineteenth century (as a reaction against the democratization of modern political systems), and that is now more centralized than ever before—despite Vatican II.
Benedict is a traditionalist who was affected by modernity. He would not be troubled that he had to reach far back to find a precedent for papal resignation. He knows that a pope hobbled by sickness and weakness would be a dispiriting symbol in a media age. Then again, perhaps his traditionalism inclined him to this decision.
Garry Wills wants to eliminate priests from Catholicism, arguing that there is only one priest as such in the New Testament, Jesus Christ—and that even the scriptural designation of Christ as priest (in Hebrews) is problematic.
Ongoing News, Analysis & Opinion
To understand dissent, you first have to understand authority. Authority in the church must be based on truth. Episcopal authority is not the source of truth, as some would have us believe.
A Friend Remembers Dorothy Day
In October 1963, Bishop Luigi Bettazzi addressed the Second Vatican Council on the need for collegiality. He was the newest bishop participant and, at thirty-nine, one of the youngest. Now eighty-nine, Bettazzi is the most active of the five surviving Italian participants, keeping faith with the council by writing and lecturing about it tirelessly.
Christmas wasn’t only a happy day for children, my mother reflected in a quieter tone; it celebrated God becoming a human being.
The Case for Women Deacons
The Catholic Right’s False Nostalgia
My high-school teachers were worried that I would lose my faith. They were right, but only in the long run.
Does regulation of an Orthodox practice associated with circumcision constrain the free exercise of religion?
Who better than a group of women who have consecrated their lives to the Almighty to remind us that our decisions in November have ethical consequences? Those who serve the impoverished, the sick and the dying know rather a lot about what matters -- in life, and in elections.
In the fall of 1965, I worked in the final session of the Second Vatican Council. A young priest and doctoral candidate, I was tasked with distributing documents and collecting votes and amendments from my assigned section of bishops. Almost half a century later, a bound set of those documents holds a prized place in my library—and the events and personalities of those days hold a prized place in my memory.
What the CDF Gets Wrong about the LCWR
The Freedom from Religion Foundation may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can't ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and laypeople who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.
The Life and Death of René Page
Familiar, If Troubling, Questions
What the Benedictines Built at Collegeville
In the days after Vatican II, confession slipped its old juridical moorings, with its distinctive laws, regulations, judgment, and penance. At the moment it is searching for new moorings. What will confession look like once it finds them?
After I published a piece on Alison's suggestion that Benedict XVI was preparing for a change in church teaching on homosexuality, the theologian sent me a kind note. So began an exchange that led to this interview. Wouldn't it be interesting for him to be interviewed by someone like me—sympathetic to the plight of gay Catholics, but unconvinced by arguments to change church teaching? Here's what he had to say.
What’s a Remarried Catholic to Do?
On a hot day in Rome not long ago, I crossed St. Peter’s Square, paused beneath a curving flank of Bernini’s colonnade, and continued to a Swiss Guard standing at a wrought-iron gate, the Porta Cavalleggeri. He examined my credentials, handed them back, and saluted. I hadn’t expected the gesture, and almost returned the salute, but then realized it was intended for a cardinal waddling into the Vatican behind me.
To write a biography of Avery Dulles is to enter the vitriolic conflict over interpretations of the legacy of Vatican II, the current state and future prospects of Catholicism in the United States, and the health of Catholic theology. There is much to be said for Carey’s way of organizing the myriad events and scholarly works in the life of a very public intellectual. Yet it finally fails to capture the complexity of the figure that emerges in the pages of this book.
A Tribute to Gregory Baum
Must the church always call evil plainly by its proper name, whatever the consequences? Can her priests keep silent in the face of abomination, in the hope of rescuing something positive from chaos, or so that tyranny may bear down a little less cruelly on those who must endure it? Those were the dilemmas confronting Eugenio Pacelli, pope during the Second World War, a diplomat who found himself sitting in the seat of prophecy.
Before I began researching a book about Francis, I’d had the idea that, given his powerful sense of God’s presence, he was always carefree and happy. The truth is more complicated: Francis’s life was encumbered by dark shadows, to the point that he experienced long periods of anguishing separation from God.
Robert Barron's 'Catholicism'
How a rectory saved me
The trouble with the new Roman Missal
The liturgical wars heat up
How not to write about the cardinal & his time
The case for the Vatican diplomatic corps
Make it humble & make it persuasive
An excerpt from Jennifer Haigh's 2011 novel 'Faith.'
To attribute sympathy or “solidarity” to God is to make him seem less involved with us than, as Creator, he must be.
If George Weigel had lived in nineteenth-century France, he would have been termed an ultramontane—one who looked beyond the Alps to Rome. Instead, he looks from Washington to Rome.
A homilist's education
Garry Wills's 'Outside Looking In'
It was in Rome during the heady days of Vatican II. There was to be a meeting of the Consilium, the commission for the reform of the liturgy, where the subject of deaconesses was raised—and not one woman was in the room.
Lisa Sowle Cahill’s middle way
Benedict & condoms
If we forget the Bible, in what sense are we Christian?
‘Three Faiths’ at New York’s Public Library
Raimundo Panikkar's long theological journey
“Nothing changes” is one definition of ritual. And top to bottom the Mass is still a ritual, with little room for deviation. The priest now does a few things he did not do before Vatican II, but the list of changes is quite small and the essence of the liturgy is unaltered. Nothing in the Mass is likely to take you by surprise.
What was Pius XII's opinion of the Jews?
A review of The Divine Sister, a loving sendup of convent pictures
Why some devout Catholics are leaving the church
Letter from Sierra Leone
Could the vogue for Herbert McCabe portend a renaissance of liberation theology and the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s? His admirers have not linked his Catholic faith and his socialist politics, and McCabe himself denied an intrinsic connection. Still, there exists a bond between his theology and his radicalism, a bond particularly worth examining today.
Way back in the twentieth century, when I decided to pursue doctoral work in theology, I never imagined that I would one day teach in an Oxford college. Neither did I imagine that John Henry Newman, of all people, would come to loom large in my day-to-day life.
The story of the first member of Focolare to be beatified
This book is sensible, judicious, well written, and filled with aptly chosen quotations, from Newman himself, and from friends and foes alike.
Newman's recent beatification has occasioned several appreciative essays in secular publications. But for Christians, Newman is something more, one of the finest religious minds of his century, whose work exerted a profound influence on the Second Vatican Council and thus on twenty-first-century Catholicism.
A short & unfinished history
Stealing Fatima is memorably many things: a story of discovery and surprise, of friendship and love, of the intricate web that binds our personal and social lives with our lives of faith.
The legacy of Avery Dulles
'The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from Burgundy'
Extending the argument against sex-selective abortion
In his new book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, Fr. James Martin tries to introduce a new generation of spiritual seekers to the Jesuit tradition.
A pope who can and cannot change
A selection of articles from Commonweal on Benedict XVI.
A profile of the ethicist Gilbert Meilaender
No, this “Year of the Priest” has not been the best for priests or for any Catholics. Just when some of us thought we might be turning the corner, moving on, re-establishing some level of trust, it turns out the wounds are far deeper and much more widespread than we thought.
Stanley Hauerwas & the Christian Difference
The New York Times's worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But what makes the Times unique is that it is not just the nation's self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church.
From the Archive: Why Is Rome Investigating U.S. Nuns?