Mollie Wilson O'Reilly

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an associate editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

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Sorry, influential Catholics: it's not so easy to get in to see Pope Francis

John Allen's new project for the Boston Globe, Crux, launched with a lengthy interview with New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The first section, published yesterday, focused on Dolan's impressions of Francis, and (as ever) the Cardinal strikes a very cheerful note. "Look, as a local bishop, I’m pretty pragmatic," Dolan said. "My question remains, is the pope helping me or hurting me? This pope is helping me immensely.

Francis wants more women theologians advising the CDF

In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano (not yet published in English Update: strike that, here it is), Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, revealed that Pope Francis has directed that more women be included in the Vatican's international theological commission.

No, Marcial Maciel was not like Mary Magdalene, at all - UPDATED

Don't miss Jason Berry's lengthy update on the Legion of Christ's ventures in the Holy Land, in the National Catholic Reporter this week. How has the order coped with diminishment and disgrace following the belated exposure and censure of its founder, serial sexual abuser and all-around con artist Marcial Maciel? Oh, you know, they're working on it.

"Marcial Maciel's initials are also MM, just like Mary Magdalene. She had a problematic past before her deliverance, so there's a parallel. Our world has double standards when it comes to morals. Some people have a formal, public display and then the real life they live behind the scenes.

"But when we accuse someone else and we are quick to stone him, we must remember that we all have problems and defects. With modern communications so out of control, it is easy to kill someone's reputation without even investigating about the truth. We should be quieter and less condemning."

Berry quotes the above from a booklet promoting the Legion's new project, the $100 million Magdala Center at the Sea of Galilee. (Learn more at this website -- but be warned, there's a startling autoplaying introductory video.) The author is Fr. Juan María Solana. [UPDATE: Solana has apologized and the booklet has been withdrawn: see below.]

When the allegations against Maciel were first surfacing in the media, I remember hearing that rank-and-file Legionaries themselves were shielded from the worst of it. That, at least, was the excuse offered for why some priests didn't leave the order sooner. Given the amount of control Maciel and his fellow leaders exerted over the lives of their recruits, it seems plausible. But Maciel is dead; his corruption and crimes are definitively exposed; the order is supposedly reforming itself under Rome's supervision. So what's the excuse now for someone in a leadership position with the LCs to be referring to Maciel as having had any kind of "deliverance" (when, in fact, he and the order denied the allegations against him to the end of his life, even after Benedict removed him from ministry and ordered him to a life of repentance), or using his story as an example of how "We should be quieter and less condemning"?

I understand how awkward it must be for anyone who remains with the Legion of Christ to talk about their founder, given that the order itself has always been directly based in the spiritual leadership of Maciel. But if you can't talk about him honestly, non-defensively, with a sense of shame and sorrow and not self-pity, then maybe just don't talk about him at all.

At LCWR Assembly, Elizabeth Johnson Speaks Her Mind

You may recall, from Grant's coverage on this blog or from the column I wrote in May, that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dressed down the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for its decision to present Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, with an award at this year's assembly. The award, Müller said, was an “open provocation against the Holy See,” because Johnson had been criticized by the U.S. bishops for alleged doctrinal errors in her book Quest for the Living God.

As I wrote at the time, Müller's presumption of bad faith on the part of the nuns -- and of correct judgment on the part of the bishops -- did not seem to leave much of an opening for a mutually respectful and collaborative process of reform. After all, as Müller might have known if he'd looked into it, the USCCB's doctrinal committee's indictment of Quest was a pretty shoddy piece of work, one that even contradicted its own claims in its rush to condemn Johnson for "undermin[ing] the Gospel."

Johnson accepted that award on Friday, at the end of the LCWR's annual assembly. For the most part, according to reporters who covered the event, the conflict with the CDF was absent from the group's public talks and deliberations. But in her acceptance speech, Johnson addressed it directly -- deciding, I gather, that since the honor had already been labeled a "provocation," she might as well say what she thought. And did she ever. David Gibson has the full transcript at RNS, and it's excellent: a forthright, clear-eyed, and (in my opinion) very astute analysis of what motivates the hierarchy's suspicion of American sisters and what would be necessary to overcome that tension.

House Museums and the Pressures of Preserving the Past

The weekend "Ideas" section of the Boston Globe featured an article by Ruth Graham titled "The Great Historic House Museum Debate," with a subtitle that asked, "Do we have too many?"

An abusive "culture of violence" at Rikers's youth prisons

The front page of today's New York Times reports on the findings of the U.S. Attorney's Office that there is a “deep-seated culture of violence” in the prisons that hold adolescent inmates on Rikers Island.

David Frum's "skepticism" and the Israel-Palestine conflict

There's no foreign-policy issue I've found as frustrating and hard to get a grasp on as the Israel-Palestine conflict. When a conflict flares up, especially one with longstanding roots, the natural thing for someone like me to do is try to get up to speed on the basics: What did I miss while I was growing up (or not yet born) that will help me understand what's going on now? But when it comes to Israeli politics, that neutral accounting of facts has always been nearly impossible to find. Try to find someone who can explain what's going on over there, and they skip directly to an impassioned rebuttal of the other side's views. Everyone wants to tell you why the other side is wrong and their own side is misrepresented. Everyone wants to tell you how it's all about bias. It's the one issue that, to judge from the public discussion, seems to be ideology all the way down.

That's finally changing for me; with this latest flare-up I finally feel like I can get a handle on what's happening and why. I'm skeptical of "how social media changes everything" arguments, but in this case I do think there's a lot to be said for the power of Twitter in helping me find arguments and reporting and images I wouldn't have seen otherwise -- a lot of it coming from journalists in my age cohort who, I assume, are also fed up with the "pro-and-anti-Israel" posturing that has dominated any discussion of Israel and its actions (and U.S. involvement in same) throughout our lifetime. They want to move beyond the calcified positions and tired slogans and try to see what's really happening now, because that might lead to a way out instead of just more retrenchment and identity politics. (Read Paul Waldman's excellent post at the American Prospect on that.) I finally feel like I can follow the events as they unfold without having to choose a side first.

Which is why I've been so fascinated by what's been happening with David Frum, now a Senior Editor at the Atlantic, regarded by many as an independent thinker because, after serving as a speech writer for George W. Bush, he distanced himself from and became highly critical of the radical elements in the Obama-era GOP. Frum is smart and sharp and right about a lot of things, but also smug, and surprisingly sloppy in his thinking when it suits his ideology. (Just because he's not totally partisan doesn't mean he's not ideological.) And when the subject is Israel, he puts his critical-thinking skills on a shelf and goes all in on the propaganda. He has become a vivid illustration of the poisonous conversation around Israeli politics, and the way it reduces otherwise responsible thinkers to frothing idealogues eager to jump to the worst conclusions about anyone who they think might see things differently than they do.

Mary Gordon on "Francis and the Nuns" in Harper's

In my column last month, I asked, "Why hasn’t Pope Francis stepped in to get the Vatican off the nuns’ backs" and revoke the CDF's mandate to reform the LCWR? "If Francis really wants a less authoritarian, more mission-focused church," I wrote, "shouldn’t he have called this whole thing off already?"

Mary Gordon asks a similar question in the August issue of Harper's, in an essay titled "Francis and the Nuns." It's a strong piece of writing and a very good summary of the tensions between U.S. sisters and the Vatican. Harper's readers will be well caught up on where things stand and how they got that way. And the piece ends with an interview with Simone Campbell, SSS, that gives a personal dimension to the way she and her fellow sisters from LCWR congregations have responded to the scrutiny and censure directed their way from Rome.

But when it comes to the Francis angle, Gordon's analysis is less solid. That's because there simply isn't much to go on. "Is the new Vatican all talk?" the essay's subhed asks. But on this subject Francis has hardly talked at all, so that anyone who wants to build a case for or against him has to resort to reading tea leaves. And silence has many interpretations, after all.

After an introduction that sums up the remarkable shift in tone and priorities that Francis has brought about since taking office, Gordon brings in the nuns as a test case. I think she's right to propose the U.S. sisters as the embodiment of what we might call the Francis agenda:

Hobby Lobby: A victory for religious liberty?

Among those who celebrated the Supreme Court's decision in favor of Hobby Lobby (which Grant Gallicho covered here) was the USCCB. "We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business," the bishops conference said in a statement June 30. "Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom."

Getting lost and finding yourself in books

In the current issue of Commonweal you'll find my review of Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch, which I recommend highly, especially but not only to fans of the George Eliot novel. Mead writes perceptively about Middlemarch and Eliot, but also about reading and literature in general. Here's a passage that I especially admired: