NEWSMAX

The Bishop’s and Pope’s concern for immigrants is bogged down in politics

At NEWSMAX, I discuss how unintelligible it is when Pope France says the rights of immigrants “always” override national security concerns. That makes no sense at all if you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

https://www.newsmax.com/dealhudson/alitalia-chartered-children-holy/2018/07/06/id/870296/

A Catholic Bishop Threatening Excommunication Over Immigration Policy?

Deal W. Hudson
June 20, 2018

Last week, Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson called upon his fellow bishops to issue a “prophetic statement” on immigration that would support “canonical penalties for Catholics who are involved” in implementing President Trump’s immigration policy.

Why would the thought of excommunication even enter the mind of Bishop Weisenburger? Does he mean to say that any Catholic Border Patrol Agent or ICE Officers enforcing the law are “obstinately preserving in manifest grave sin”?

If so, what is the “grave sin” that meets the criterion of excommunication according to Canon 915?

The 19,500 employees of the U. S. Border Control and the 20,000 of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have the job of enforcing the law of securing our national borders. (There are approximately 20,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements Officers. Of the 19,437 Border Agents, 16,605 are assigned to the Southwest Border.) None of these are responsible for our nation’s immigration laws or for the administrative policies of implementing them.

These are the same agents and officers who, under President Obama, deported a record 2.4 million immigrants between 2009 and 2016. Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of La Raza called Obama the “Deporter-In-Chief.”

Where was the bishop’s outrage then, towards President Obama or the ICE and the Border Patrol employees enforcing his policies?

Bishop Weisenburger believes that these same employees, working under President Trump, are now in spiritual danger; canonical penalties are needed “for the salvation of those people’s souls.” It should be noted that Bishop Weisenburger mentioned other “border bishops” who shared his pastoral concern.

Imagine being a Border Patrol officer reading the paper at breakfast and learning you are targeted for “canonical penalties” just for doing your job. He asks himself, “Do I have to confess my occupation to my priest in confession?”

So much for the “who am I to judge” spirit expressed by Pope Francis.

The Bishops have already started preparation to deny President Trump a second term in office. I’m sure I’m not the only Catholic to think it unnecessary, even cruel, to threaten all the Catholics among the 39,500 federal employees of ICE and the Border Patrol with excommunication.

Some bishops justify their high dudgeon by arguing that asylum is a life issue, “an instrument to preserve the right life.” By using the term “asylum,” the bishops are trying to link immigration directly with escape from torture or persecution.

That argument digs the Bishop’s hole deeper. Let’s assume immigration actually has the status of a life issue. If so, where are the bishop’s public threats of excommunication toward all the Catholics in Congress who support abortion-on-demand and the funding of Planned Parenthood? (Only two of the 89 Catholic Democrats in Congress are pro-life.)

Let’s face it, the bishops have lost all credibility when it comes to abortion. Any attempt to connect the moral seriousness of abortion to immigration is a non-starter. The laity won’t buy it any more than they did in the 2016 election.

Bishop Weisenburger himself resides in a state where three of its Catholic members of Congress are rated 100 percent pro-abortion by Planned Parenthood (Tom O’Halleran, Raul Grijalva, and Ruben Gallego, all Democrats). Has he publicly stated any concern for the salvation of their souls?

What makes the situation all the more absurd is the fact that immigration is not a life issue the way abortion is a life issue. There is no single solution to the immigration problem — it’s a prudential matter allowing disagreement among Catholics regarding law and policy, including disagreements with the Bishops.

Many bishops have become dismissive of this point when it is raised. Newark’s Cardinal Tobin thinks those who call immigration a prudential matter are seeking to reduce its importance, concluding, “I don’t have a whole lot of time for people who reduce things to prudential judgment.”

What does the Cardinal think about the Catechism’s teaching on just war?

“The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good” (2309). Immigration policy is precisely that kind of issue. Abortion, however, is wrong “under any circumstance” (2258).

Cardinal Tobin has no time for such distinctions.

However, the crucial distinction is alive and well in the 2015 “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” — “Decisions about candidates and choices about public policies require clear commitment to moral principles, careful discernment and prudential judgments based on the values of our faith.”

The intention of using excommunication to force Catholics into line about immigration policy is demeaning. It won’t be viewed as an opportunity for spiritual healing but as punishment for being part of the Trump administration.

For decades, pro-life Catholics have begged the bishops to get tough with pro-abortion politicians. A few stepped up to the plate only to be scorned and isolated by their brother bishops (Bishop Gracida, Bishop Bruskewitz, and Cardinal Burke).

This level of hostility towards Trump, his staff, employees, and supporters is dividing even further an already divided Church. I’ve yet to hear a single bishop object to threats of excommunication over disagreements on immigration policy.

None of them, evidently, wants to disrupt the episcopal momentum towards the defeat of President Trump in 2020.

Read Newsmax: A Catholic Bishop Threatening Excommunication Over Immigration Policy? | Newsmax.com
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Catholic Bishops Gear Up to Beat Trump in 2020

Deal W. Hudson
June 18, 2018

The Catholic bishops met in Fort Lauderdale a few days ago. The dominating topic of discussion was politics, specifically, their official guide to Catholic voters, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.

The Pope Francis faction, led by Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, called for a complete rewriting of the document since it no longer represented “the new body of teaching” as taught by the present pontiff, specifically mentioning climate change, poverty, and immigration.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego went a step further saying the present document doesn’t represent “Catholic teaching as it is now.”

These two are not the only ones who believe that in the space of five years, since Bergoglio’s 2013 election, the moral and social teaching of the Church has been so fundamentally altered Faithful Citizenship no longer speaks with the true voice of the Church. So much for an institution considered slow to change.

Other leading bishops, however, including Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles, opposed writing a new document, arguing what was needed was a more straightforward, significantly redacted version of Faithful Citizenship along with an accompanying video for YouTube, etc.

When the votes were tallied, 77 percent of the bishops voted for the creation of shorter materials — a letter, video, and other “resources” to supplement Faithful Citizenship.

During this discussion there was no mention of Trump being the most pro-life president in our nation’s history. It should not surprise us at that omission since the intent behind the beefing up of Faithful Citizenship is to deny Trump a second term in office.

The bishop’s present silence about the president’s achievement is only another iteration of their attempt during the campaign itself to camouflage Hillary Clinton’s pro-abortion stance by arranging with moral indictments Trump about “The Wall.”

The strategy didn’t work. Faithful Catholics would not be bullied into seeing moral equivalence between killing the unborn and insisting on secure national borders.

Trump/Pence won 52 percent of all Catholic votes and 56 percent of mass-attending Catholics. In the election aftermath, the weeping and wailing at the USCCB must have matched that of Hollywood, the EU, and the mass media.

As it stands, the 2015 version of Faithful Citizenship is a flawed document. A close reading of it offers the Catholic voters several loopholes allowing them to ignore a candidate’s abortion stand if other “morally grave reasons” prevail. It remains to be seen, whether the new supplements will magnify these flaws or keep them buried in theological mumbo-jumbo where they belong.

We can fully expect, however, the redacted version of Faithful Citizenship to put the immigration issue front and center. This placement will create the impression of a de facto moral equivalence with settled life issues such as abortion. The bishops approved language that virtually guaranteed these new shorter materials will “apply the teachings of Pope Francis to our day.”

But just as in 2016 when the bishops pressed the immigration issue, it won’t work in 2020. For one thing, Pope Francis has spent all the capital of good will created by his election and his successful U.S. visit. Pope Francis, as it were, has no ‘coattails.’

If the bishops produce election materials that recast Faithful Citizenship to fit the Pope’s vision, it will only create greater distance between the bishops and their faithful. They will be relegating themselves to becoming just another cadre of grumpy Never-Trumpers.

At the very least, the bishops could have expressed common ground with the Trump administration on his efforts to defuse the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. After all, doesn’t this come under the rubric of “world peace”?

The bishops, instead, focused on the president’s decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement. The USCCB itself has been asked to sign the Paris declaration by its own Catholic Climate Covenant created in 2006. How much money will it cost Catholics if the bishops decide to play in European politics on that issue?

Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, the bishops ignored the opportunity of voicing solidarity with the president’s pro-life agenda and his the quest for peace between North and South Korea. Instead they prepared to sharpen their knives for the 2020 election. Is this what we now call “evangelization”?

Read Newsmax: Catholic Bishops Gear Up to Beat Trump in 2020 | Newsmax.com
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Pope Can’t Equate Caring for Immigrants With Abortion

Deal W. Hudson
April 10, 2018

Pope Francis get’s it. He understands why 52 percent of Catholic voters helped to elect Donald Trump in the face of fierce resistance from nearly all the of the U.S. Bishops, and the pontiff himself.

What Pope Francis gets is precisely what has historically pushed Catholic Democrats to vote for Republican presidents such as Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump — the abortion issue.

To remedy this, the pope has published an Apostolic Exhortation, On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” with the resulting headline from The New York Times: “Pope Puts Caring for Immigrants and Abortion on Equal Footing” (Jason Horowitz, April 9, 2018).

The headline, unlike most on the Catholic Church, is not an exaggeration, as seen in the following from the Pope, “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.”

This is no mere throw off line; he reiterates it, connecting the issue of abortion and immigration directly to politics: “Some Catholics consider it [migrants] a secondary issue compared to the ‘grave’ bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. (Emphasis added) “Such a thing is understandable,” yes, Pope Francis gets it — he realizes that a political candidate who is pro-life will attract Catholic voters when pitted against a rival who supports abortion-on-demand while insisting our national borders remain porous for the thousands of illegal immigrants who cross it each month.

The context of these statements in an exhortation on the “Call to Holiness,” suggests Pope Francis realizes the issue of abortion for Catholic voters is not a “single issue” at all — abortion connects to concerns about the moral dissipation of the culture in general.

Catholics regard a pro-life candidate as someone who will stand against the increasing tawdriness of culture which mocks religion and puts deviance on display. In other words, a pro-life candidate resonates with the still socially conservative America. (This is why I predicted pro-life Catholics would support Trump as early as February, 2016).

In 2016, Catholic voters rocked the liberal, Democrat-aligned, Catholic establishment by ignoring the nonstop attacks on Trump and his “wall” by Catholic bishops, priests, nuns, professors, and journalists. Indeed, their voices chimed in with the same message throughout the campaign: Immigration is a “life issue,” putting it on par with the defense of innocent life. Pope Francis now seeks to codify that message. But it won’t succeed, and I will explain why.

His apostolic exhortation ignores the basic moral problem in equating immigration with abortion: prudential judgment (see my explanation here). Any Catholic’s opinion and action on what the bishops have called “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us” has no single answer.

Do we support the “catch and release” ordered by President Obama? Do we support enforcing our laws pertaining to entering the United States? Do we build walls? No church teaching obligates a Catholic to a specific answer to these questions of public policy.

On the other hand, the question about whether to abort or not to abort has only one answer — no. Abortion is not a prudential matter. Some have called it one of the “non-negotiables,” others a “settled issue,” but the moral difference is clear.

Certainly Pope Francis is right about this: at a general level, both abortion and immigration do meet on equal ground — the principle of loving one’s neighbor. But, as has been explained, that moral equality doesn’t confer equality on type of moral judgments Catholics are obliged to make, one is liable to a variety of answers, the other is not.

To give an example of the distinction, here is a portion of letter written by then President of the USCCB, Archbishop Wilton Gregory to President Bush about the Iraq War: As Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, then president of the USCCB, wrote to President George W. Bush: “People of good will may apply ethical principles and come to different prudential judgments, depending upon their assessment of the facts at hand and other issues” (“Letter to President Bush on Iraq,” Sept. 13, 2002).

I’m not convinced that Pope Francis recognizes the “good will” of those Catholics who disagree with his view of immigration. As he puts it, “This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad. In today’s world too, we are called to follow the path of spiritual wisdom proposed by the prophet Isaiah to show what is pleasing to God.”

Pope Francis has done his best to prop up the those Catholic Democrats who continue to promote abortion, support government funding of Planned Parenthood, and ignore the church’s teaching on life. His apostolic exhortation does not to change Catholic moral teaching because, as I have shown, the claim the Pope is trying to make cannot be rationally defended.

In spite of the headlines, the Pope’s gift to the Democrats will not be of much use to them in propping up their Catholic credentials. Lay Catholic voters will see through this claim just as they saw through the church’s barrage of anti-Trump rhetoric in the historic 2016 presidential election.

Read Newsmax: Pope Can’t Equate Caring for Immigrants With Abortion | Newsmax.com
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NEA Funds Anti-Christian ‘Jerry Springer’ Play With Taxpayer Money

Deal W. Hudson
January 30, 2018

Once again the National Endowment for the Arts is in hot water, and deservedly so. A musical entitled, “Jerry Springer, the Opera,” is now being performed in previews at an off-Broadway theatre, The New Group. The musical is ferociously and deliberately anti-Catholic, while The New Group receives substantial NEA funding.

The question being raised by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, at his January 23 press conference is simple: if the government is forbidden from funding projects that promote religion, why is the NEA allowed to fund a project that directly attacks religion?

Donohue is no stranger to this debate. Over the years he has led the fight against government funding of other anti-Catholic artists such as Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and David Wojnarowicz. His success in challenging all of them is a tribute both to his ability to influence public and elite opinion by razor-sharp arguments rather than emotional outrage.

His strategy is this case is similar. Rather than calling for protests or boycotts, he has written a letter to President Trump asking that the next chairman of the NEA “not continue to fund anti-Christian grantees, exhibitions, or performances.” The present chairman, Jane Chu, will be stepping down in June, and Trump will likely be announcing his replacement nominee in February.

Donohue has also written to Dr. Jane Chu asking two questions: why she funded the “most obscene anti-Christian play ever performed,” and why she funded The New Group in a way that violates NEA guidelines which clearly state no funding can be provided for “general operations or seasonal support.” Yet, Chu signed off on a 2009 $50,000 grant to The New Group because of “the current economic downturn.”

This grant evinces blatant disregard for the responsible use of taxpayer money because some sort of favored status of the theatre group in the eyes of its chairman. Donohue has also written a letter to chair of the Congressional Committee responsible for NEA oversight, Cong. Ken Calvert pointing out Dr. Chu’s “clear violation” of NEA funding regulations.

Jerry Springer, the Opera” is no opera, it’s a 2003 Broadway-style British musical first performed in London and eventually winning four Laurence Olivier Awards. That such an adolescent and musically-dull musical could have won such prestigious awards is bizarre. I watched the entire 2-hour BBC production. Its entire narrative is adolescent and it’s musically completely undistinguished.

It relies on one repeated conceit: the juxtaposition of profanity in the context of a Broadway musical devoted to religious issues. In other words, when a character steps forward, Sondheim-style, to deliver a love song, we are treated to a description of how she urinates on a naked man in her bathroom. Yes, that kind of thing is repeated over and over until the BBC audience itself stops laughing out loud and fails to applaud at the “big moments.”

Act I of the show is an actual Jerry Springer TV show where the participants talk and sing about the various iterations of their sexual lives and their hatred of the Christian faith. One repeated refrain of all the characters is “Eat, excrete, and watch TV.” One male character, Montel, dressed in a diaper, sings to his girlfriend that he would prefer she treat him as her “baby,” and proceeds to defecate in his diaper.

After a brief Act II stop in purgatory, the show moves to hell in Act III, and the Montel character, still in a diaper, is now called Jesus. He squares off against Satan who declares the injustice afflicted upon him by God. Satan is joined by Eve who also complains of being too harshly judged and grabs Jesus by the genitals under his diaper. (I’m using the least offensive examples from the musical in order to spare the reader.)

The NEA funding to The New Group is an embarrassment on artistic grounds and a direct insult to Christians.

Established in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts reached its apogee of funding in 1992, over $170,000,000. Then it suffered a deep decline to under $1,000,000,000 due to similar controversies generated by its grants. Funding did not begin to recover fully until the appointee of President George W. Bush, Dana Gioia, became Chairman of NEA. Gioia, who served from 2003-2009, demonstrated how the NEA could fulfill its original mission, “to strengthen the creative capacity of our communities.”

Bill Donohue, like President Trump, believes the NEA should be eliminated. The Congress, however, disagreed with the president and included NEA funding in the 2018 budget. Thus, a new chairman will soon be appointed.

I strongly suggest the president and those responsible for choosing the nominee look closely at the extraordinary programs created by Dana Gioia at the NEA. Those include: “The Big Read” which was designed to address the national decline in literacy with a “one city, one book” approach reaching over 25,000 communities; “Poetry Out Loud” is a national poetry recitation contest attracting over 375,000 students each year; “NEA Jazz Masters” created the highest award in the jazz world and sought to raise the visibility of jazz artists; and “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience” offered writing workshops for veterans and their families leading to the publication an anthology, Operation Homecoming.

I’m a Catholic conservative who believes passionately in the power of the arts to benefit all of us individually and collectively. The amount of federal money being spent is minuscule compared to the monumental waste of taxpayer dollars elsewhere. The NEA needs to be given another chance to prove the worthiness of its cause.

Read Newsmax: NEA Funds Anti-Christian ‘Jerry Springer’ Play With Taxpayer Money | Newsmax.com
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Buckley’s ‘Republic of Virtue’ Chronicles America’s Fight for Integrity

Deal W. Hudson
December 18, 2017

Frank Buckley, a law professor at the Scalia School of Law at George Mason University, has written an extraordinary book that deserves to find a wide readership and, hopefully, to wield considerable influence on the future of U.S. politics. Why such large claims? Simply put, “The Republic of Virtue” pinpoints and clarifies the issue of political corruption responsible for the widespread confusion, frustration, and growing cynicism about the power of the presidency and the sadly comic mayhem exhibited by the Congressional branch of government.

What seems an impossible task is achieved by Buckley by skillfully weaving together seemingly disparate main narratives — the debates over the Constitution, the Clinton Foundation scandal, the corruption of the Mississippi judiciary, and the search for campaign finance reform. Several shorter narratives — the IRS persecution of Tea Party groups, the 1972 bribery trial of Sir Francis Bacon, and the 1976 Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo, shed further historical light the issue of the corruption in American politics.

It’s interesting that Buckley relegated “corruption” to the subtitle of the book, giving pride of place to “virtue,” but his reason becomes apparent as he traces the self-conscious attempt of the Founders to write a Constitution that would avoid the corrupt practices that dominated the British political system. The end sought by the Founders was precisely a framing of what would become, “The Republic of Virtue.”

The word “virtue” throws many people off who immediately associate it with the Neo-puritan demands for men and women in politics who have never misstepped in matters either sexual or obedience to the demands of political correctness. The virtue the Founders had in mind both more simple to explain and reasonable to expect — to put the interests of the nation, its common good, ahead of personal interests such as money, power, and advancement. Republican virtue requires the sacrifice of self-interest to the good of the nation. The Founders took as the “ideal of Republican virtue” the founder of the Roman Republic (509 B.C..), Lucius Junius Brutus, who overthrew Tarquin the Proud but subsequently had two of his sons executed for attempting to restore the monarchy.

At the heart of his book, Buckley describes how the focus of the Constitutional Convention was to prevent “importing corruption” from the Britain they had rebelled against. Thus, they were determined not to have a strong presidency, a monarch-in-disguise. Thus, “Our government was designed to resemble a parliamentary regime, with the president selected by the House of Representatives or by electors exercising their own discretion.” Buckley argues for the superiority of a prime minister who must defend his government on a daily basis in a House of Commons, rather than a President who is nearly impossible to remove from office and are “relatively immunized from accountability.…”

This is not to suggest that the author, a Canadian by birth, is snootily anti-American — far from it. He points out that the final outcome of the Framers’ deliberation was masterful compromise between the competing faction of those wanting a powerful central authority — the Federalists — and those who wanted to preserve the power of the States. For example, when the Framers decided on “electors” it was assumed that presidential elections would end up in the House of Representatives where the president would be chosen, where an educated elite would make the final decision. This assumption preserved the kind of “filtration” process favored by James Madison and others would did not trust the unwashed and uneducated to elect a presently directly. “In essence, they [the Framers] thought they had agreed upon a Congressional elected president.”

Buckley lithely points out that the delegates could not have anticipated the broadening of voting rights to all adults, the direct election of Senators (17th Amendment), and the resulting choice of electors directly by the voters. The process of filtration was doomed without the delegates in Philadelphia knowing it, and as a result: “The Framers meant to produce a corruption-free government, but like a boomerang their Constitution flew back and hit us on the head.”

The growing power of the presidency, spurred by the introduction of the spoils system by Andrew Jackson in 1828, was not the only way the Constitution failed to meet its goal. The separation of powers itself, as Buckley argues, created a government susceptible to corruption “in ways the Framers would not have imagined,” for example, members of congress who are able to channel tax dollars to their local districts through “earmarks” Did you know, for example — I didn’t — that there over fifty Robert Byrd Centers “for This or That” in West Virginia? Earmarks are a way spending federal money without interference from the executive branch while buying the good will of voters for next election.

Interestingly, another result Buckley descries is “technological change and the rise of democracy broke down the electoral process that were expected to filter out ignoble politicians.” The author, as far as I can tell, does not tie this insight specifically to any of the further narratives; however, I see them closely connected to his discussion of bribes, “crony capitalism,” lobbying, and campaign finance through which money passes hands in exchange for political influence and, most of all, legislation.

What all these have in common are certain degrees of hiddenness, actions either deliberately secretive, hidden from view by legal means, or by the difficulty of tracing the paperwork. It’s commonsense, in my opinion, to think a person’s character, nobility or ignobility, is measured by what he or she will do when no one is watching or no one will find out (supposedly).

Buckley provides plenty of examples of financial corruption where large sums of money are taken by elected politicians in exchange for influence and legislation that will gain the buyer many times what was paid. But rather than spending much time of condemning these practices, he offers some very sensible suggestions for reform which could actually be done without causing further harm: 1) Require all political contributions be anonymous; 2) Restrict gifts from pay-for-play donors; and, bar certain donors from accepting positions in government and prohibit congressman and their staffers from becoming lobbyists after they leave government.

This gist of his argument, which I find compelling, is as follows: Actual anonymity would end the quid-pro-quo expectation between the donor and the politician. Donors groups such as government contractors should not be allowed to donate to the politicians who pass the appropriate bill, an obvious conflict of interest. Donors compete for various appointment goodies, such as ambassadorial posts which leads to wealthy but unqualified individuals representing the U.S. around the world, and former Congressmen and staffers are often influenced while in office by offers of employment in a lobby firm if they lose the next election or chose to “cash in” by stepping down.

“The Republic of Virtue” is a rich book, well-written, often humorous, and impossible to summarize in short review such as this. But as I said at the outset, Frank Buckley has put his fingers on what is alienating the American voters from politics, and he has offered both an explanation of what has happened and prescription for what needs to be done.

Read Newsmax: Buckley’s ‘Republic of Virtue’ Chronicles America’s Fight for Integrity | Newsmax.com
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New Production of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ Magnificent

Deal W. Hudson
October 30, 2017

From its first performance in 1951, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” an opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams has suffered from a checkered history on stage. Its Covent Garden premiere was criticized for its lack of “theatricality,” and the attempt at a revival the following year was a failure.

A subsequent and successful performance by the Royal Northern College of Music of Vaughan Williams’ “morality,” as he preferred to call it, and probably saved the piece from being assigned to musical oblivion. And, it was the same John Noble who sang the Pilgrim in 1954 who sung the role for the 1971 recording by Sir Adrian Boult for EMI/Angel.

The late conductor Richard Hickox championed “Pilgrim” with a Chandos recording in 1998 and a Sadler Wells performance in 2008, but it wasn’t fully staged again in the UK until 2012. The English National Opera production was praised for its music but, once again, questions about its “dramatic viability” were raised by the critics.

Those of us who greatly admired the recordings of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and knew about its rocky performance history have wondered if a concert performance was the best way to hear what is one of this composers’ masterpieces. I can now safely claim, however, that such a conclusion would be wrong. The performances held on October 27 and 28 at the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts, prove that “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is indeed an opera, and a very good one.

The internationally known choir Gloriae Dei Cantores and the Elements Theatre Company combined with invited soloists and members of the Community of Jesus to mount this production with 40 in the cast, 60 in the chorus, and a full orchestra, providing a near one-to-one ratio of audience to performers inside the cathedral-like Church of the Transfiguration, itself a wonder to behold.

Dr. James Jordan conducted with a fully idiomatic feel for various sound worlds of Vaughan Williams. The opera was written over a space of 40 years, thus, containing the pantheistic majesty of the 1st “Sea” Symphony (1910), the English pastoralism of the 3rd Symphony (1921), the dissonant anxieties of the 4th (1935) and 6th (1948), the probing, inward spirituality of the 5th (1943), and the roguish charm of the Tudor Portraits (1935). The orchestral soloists, in particular, rose to the occasion when the musical narrative fell to them alone.

Director Sr. Danielle Dwyer, however, has to be congratulated on demonstrating the true operatic nature of Vaughan Williams “morality.” Employing three screens as backdrops, Sr. Danielle worked with projection designer Kay Tucker to create a backdrop that not only provided a dramatic visual context but also kept the audience oriented to the Pilgrim’s place in the journey.

Given the performance space of the nave and the choirs, the stage was placed on one side of the aisle and the audience on the other. The stage created by placing one fixed platform in the middle and two movable ones to the sides. The 300 original costume designs were an integral part to the performance’s visual impact.

Whoever it was who criticized the lack of “theatricality” in the work’s premiere would have to eat his words after seeing this production. Soloists, chorus, and cast members moved back and forth the length of stage, often within arm’s length of the front row of the audience. They sang, danced, contorted, prayed, tempted, and convincingly blandished swords and staffs.

But “The Pilgrim’s Progress” cannot work without great singing and lots of it — there are over 41 solo roles. But even more challenging is the need to have tenors, baritones, and sopranos who can sing the composer’s sometimes subtle, sometimes soaring, melodies with firm pitch and legato. On that score, they all delivered.

Richard R. Pugsley fully embodied the anguish and searching Pilgrim and made the most of Vaughan Williams’ greatest moments, such as the encounter with the “Shepherds on the Hill” which was musically thrilling. Paul Scholten, playing both John Bunyan, who appears at the beginning and the end, and one of those Shepherds, but he also delivered the famous “Watchful’s Song” with complete authority and tender beauty. John. E. Orduña’s playing the demanding role of the Evangelist never wavered, singing the demanding role, lying high in the baritone range, with ringing security and felt devotion.

At the other end of the morality scale came Lord Lechery who was deliciously, and unapologetically, portrayed by Doug Jones. Andrew Nolen used his beautiful base to be appropriately menacing as Apollyon and bring a dandyish charm to Lord Hategood. Aaron Sheehan was a comic and vocal standout as the disingenuous Mister By-Ends and well-partnered by Sr. Melody Edmonds his Madam By-Ends. Br. Richard Cragg who sang the Interpreter and one of the Shepherds showed particular sensitivity in the vocal lines he shared with the Pilgrim. Soprano Eleni Calenos sung the roles of the Branch Bearer and the Voice of the Bird effortlessly, her high notes firm and clear. (However, her “Bird’s Song,” sung from behind the screen could have been less covered by the men’s voices on stage.)

Special mention should be made of the Gloriae Dei Cantores’ contribution to the performance — every chorus was delivered with a precision of beauty that would compare to the world’s greatest choirs. Along with Jordan’s conducing, they created a seamless operatic performance out of an opera long thought to be dramatically episodic. Bravo!

“The Pilgrim’s Progress” will be repeated on November 3 and 5 at the Church of the Transfiguration. Call 508-240-2400 for tickets.

Read Newsmax: New Production of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ Magnificent | Newsmax.com
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