Social Teaching

The Catholic Teenager Who the Media Lynched at the March for Life

Deal W. Hudson

January 21, 2019

The mainstream media, with few exceptions, have become haters. They don’t hesitate to ruin a person’s life if they think it will score points for the Democrats and against President Trump. Case in question: a young man at the March for Life, a student from Covington Catholic High School (Kentucky) was excoriated by all the big media outlets, except for Fox, for something he didn’t do, namely, castigate and racially demean Nathan Phillips, a native American activist.

The young man whose life has been permanently changed is Nick Sandmann, a high school junior, whose statement explains what actually happened. While waiting for their bus to return, the Covington students were taunted by four African-American protestors who called them “racists,” “bigots,” “white crackers,” “faggots,” and “incest kids.”

They asked one of their chaperons if they could sing a school chant to drown out the harassment. “At no time did I hear any student chant anything other than the school spirit chants. I did not witness or hear any students chant “build that wall” or anything hateful or racist at any time. Assertions to the contrary are simply false.”

That’s when Nathan Phillips and other Native Americans protestors stepped forward. Phillips puts his face in front of Nick’s face, invasively so, while he and his group beat native drums and sing tribal chants. “He locked eyes with me and approached me, coming within inches of my face. He played his drum the entire time he was in my face.” Nick did not speak to him and did not make any rude gestures. Things were said by the Native Americans, such as “you stole our land” and you should “go back to Europe.” But Nick remained never reacted to any of this aggression.

“I believed that by remaining motionless and calm, I was helping to diffuse the situation. I realized everyone had cameras and that perhaps a group of adults was trying to provoke a group of teenagers into a larger conflict. I said a silent prayer that the situation would not get out of hand.” Subsequent videos of the episode corroborate Nick’s statement. But that was after a video went viral making it look like Phillips was being mocked. Conservatives are always quick to betray their own. Some prominent Catholic bloggers swallowed the hook and had to apologize later on. Even National Reviewpiled on: NR’s writer Nicholas Frankovich wrote, “it appears” that the students “mock a serious frail-looking older man and gloat in their momentary role as Roman soldiers to his Christ.” The headline read, “The Covington Students Might as Well Have Just Spit on the Cross,” The article was later pulled.

Naturally, both the Catholic Diocese of Covington and the high school both issued apologies before knowing the facts: much better to sacrifice the reputation, and ruin the future, of a Catholic teenager than being associated with the charge of racism. Institutional Catholicism lacks all backbone except when it comes to global warming and open borders.

Writing for Fox News, Todd Starns declares that none of the major media outlets who ganged up on the student from Covington Catholic High School will apologize. Even though, “now, thanks to irrefutable video evidence, we know that the entire story was a hoax – a flat-out lie.”

How many teenagers going to the March for Life expect to become a national object of hate while riding back on the bus to their home town? Nonetheless, Nick had the largeness of heart to congratulate the man who maligned him for his service to the nation: “I have read that Mr. Phillips is a veteran of the United States Marines. I thank him for his service and am grateful to anyone who puts on the uniform to defend our nation. If anyone has earned the right to speak freely, it is a U.S. Marine veteran.”

Faux Catholic conservatives like the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat pontificated, “Don’t let your Catholic school’s students wear MAGA hats on a field trip for the March for Life.” Seriously? Blaming the victim is bad enough but singling out for blame a “Make America Great Again” hat only confirms the media’s all-out effort to make support for our President toxic. Would Douthat blame Obama hat wear if white extremists taunted marchers in a Martin Luther King parade? No.

From the Book of James, Chapter 3, verses 5-6. ” Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” The lies were deliberately told and encircled Nick Sandmann so quickly they could not be called back. I hope the Catholics of Covington, KY, and perhaps elsewhere, will take this young man under their care. He will need support and prayers, and in the future, he will need friends who will defend his reputation and secure his place in the community.

The lesson to be learned here is not the supposed bad judgment in wearing a MAGA hat. The lesson is this: If you are a Christian and pro-life, the media hates you. And that’s a reality not just for those in the public eye, but any of us.

Senator Feinstein, Is There Anything You Won’t Say or Do?

Deal W. Hudson

September 24, 2018

Dear Sen. Dianne Feinstein, I am writing to you to ask a simple question, Is there anything, morally speaking, you just would not do?  I ask because what you are doing to Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee is something I could never do, no matter how much I detested a liberal court nominee.

‘What did I do? you ask.

You introduced an allegation about Kavanaugh in the last days of a long Senate integration. This allegation of Prof. Ford was known to you since July! Why did you wait so long to “bring it in as evidence?” Basic fairness to both parties required you to bring to light right away. No, you waited until neither parties would be able to speak to the issue. I can only conclude you deliberately inserted the allegation to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination and, in the process, ruin his reputation, traumatize his wife and children, and dishonor your sworn oath as a U.S. Senator:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Your withholding of so-called evidence against Brett Kavanaugh for several months is a clear violation of your promise to “well and faithfully discharge” your duties as a Senator.

So I ask you again, Senator Feinstein, how were you able to act in a way that most people would consider morally repugnant, even at first glance?

That you were able to do this tells me that you have no real moral conscience — your actions are guided purely by political outcomes. Facts do not matter; procedural fairness does not matter; slander and calumny do not matter; all that matters to you is your advancement — a tough reelection is coming up — and the advancement of the Democratic Party’s agenda.

For you, Senator Feinstein, getting the results you want is your only ‘moral compass.’ Do you realize what kind of person that makes you? Do it even matter to you that you have sold your soul as clearly as if you had met Beelzebub in Daniel Webster’s farmhouse. You’ve made yourself into the stereotype of the corrupt politician directors like Frank Capra made movies about. Remember, Jimmy Stewart in Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). You were six years old when that film was released.

You remember that film, don’t you, Senator Feinstein? You might remember the famous scene of Jefferson Smith’s (Stewart) filibuster when he said:

Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. . . . And it’s not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!

This country is bigger than you, Senator Feinstein, in spite of your attempt, along with your collaborators, to drag it through your mud of lies and deceptions.  Whether this good man, Brett Kavanaugh, is confirmed or not this country will not belong to you or the likes of you. Why? Because Frank Capra knew something about America you don’t — we have plenty of people who deal in corruption and self-aggrandizement but they are gradually mown down by the deeply-rooted decency of the American people, decency that does not depend on political affiliation.

I will understand if you don’t answer this letter, Senator.  We all know why you are fighting without honesty or honor — It’s all about abortion, isn’t it, Senator? It’s all about protecting your supposed right to kill innocent children in the womb.

From this perspective, Senator, knowing your bottom line, I suppose I should not be surprised at all. In being a long-time, a militant supporter of abortion you destroyed your conscience long ago — so, why not try to ruin the life of a good man his family while spreading toxic scurvy tall through our public discourse. For you and your collaborators, nothing is more important than continuing to kill babies. There’s no place in your world for the likes of Jefferson Smith or any other honest man or woman. 

When Catholics Lost Their Cultural Clout — A Lesson for Today

Deal W. Hudson

September 21, 2018

Catholics of my generation probably only dimly remember, if at all, the furor provoked among Catholics by films in the 1950s directed by Luis Buñuel, Los Olivados (1950); Roberto Rossellini, The Miracle (1951); Otto Preminger, The Moon is Blue (1953); Elia Kazan, Baby Doll (1956); Roger Vadim, And God Created Woman (1956); and Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot (1959).

Most people to think of today’s “culture wars” began in the 60s — Vietnam War protests, Hippies, and Nixon’s Watergate — but the tremors of that struggle can be traced back to the postwar period when major filmmakers decided to free themselves from the bonds of the Catholic-inspired Motion Picture Production Code that had governed Hollywood productions since 1930.

It was Hollywood’s fear of Catholic opinion that led to the creation of the Code in the first place. Martin Quigley, a Catholic layman and film writer, had been pushing for such a code since the early 20s.  He asked Rev. Daniel Lord, S.J, of St. Louis University to draft something for moguls at Warner Brothers, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, and RKO. Father Lord had already been a technical advisor to Cecil B. DeMille for his silent film version of King of Kings (1927). What Father Lord draftedis far from a puritanical screed. Though it does set definite limits on what films can show on the screen, especially about sex, the MPPC is highly sophisticated in a way that reflected the work of a deeply educated and aesthetically sensitive Jesuit.

The major studios, however, assumed they could play fast and loose with the Code’s requirements, but Catholics, in particular, did not let them get it away with ignoring it. The National Legion of Decency was founded by Catholics in 1933 to fight against the immoral influence of Hollywood films, which, it must be said, were challenging the moral boundaries of mainstream America. That led to the hiring in 1934 of another Catholic layman, Joseph Breen, to head of a new Production Code Office.  (The films between 1930 to 1933 are now called the “Pre-Code” era mainly due to the sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, and unredeemed violence that they portrayed.)

Breen had to approve every script before it went into production which gave him considerable power. Breen himself was neither a prude nor an unreasonable man, but producers, directors, screenwriters, and actors naturally grew weary of his ‘censorship.’ One magazine wrote in 1936 that Breen had “more influence in standardizing world thinking than Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin.”

The power of the Production Code Office held sway through the end of WWII. As the “Mad Men” decade of the 50s began, filmmakers began to challenge Breen, the Code, the power of the National Legion of Decency. The first direct challenge came from the Italian director, Roberto Rossellini and the U.S. film distribution company that brought to film to be screened in New York City.

It was 1950, Rossellini’s film, The Miracle (Il Miracolo) opened at the Paris Theater, on 58th just west of 5th Avenue, one of the oldest ‘art houses’ in the United States. The National Legion of Decency denounced the film as “anti-Catholic” and a “blasphemous mockery of Christian-religious truth,” giving it the C rating — signifying “condemned” — a judgment that was previously feared by Hollywood studios. The Legion’s rating led the New York State Board of Regents, in charge of film censorship, to revoke its license to be shown in movie theaters.

Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York never saw the film but issued a statement to be read at every Mass in every parish of the New York Archdiocese.  He condemned it as “a despicable affront to every Christian” and “a vicious insult to Italian womanhood,” eliciting demonstrations in front of the theater where it was being shown. The protesters carried signs which read, “This Picture Is an Insult to Every Decent Woman and Her Mother,” “Don’t Be a Communist,” and “Don’t Enter the Cesspool.” Nine years earlier, Cardinal Spellman’s public condemnation of Greta Garbo’s Two-Faced Woman (1941) had caused MGM to withdraw and re-release an edited version.

But a sea-change had occurred in American culture following World War II, and the movie’s distributor Joseph Burstyn, sensing this, initiated a lawsuit that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, the Court ruled the film’s artistic expression was guaranteed by the First Amendment — freedom of speech. At the same time, the Court’s decision overthrew legal precedents going back to 1915 that allowed the public censorship of films.

The Supreme Court decision marked not only an end to the power of the Code but was also a sign that the cultural clout of Catholics was coming to an end. However, by putting it so bluntly, I don’t want to be misleading. It was a certain kind of clout, a form of Catholic Puritanism, that was defeated.

The sophistication seen in the original Code written by Rev. Daniel Lord, S.J., had been turned into a fear-driven attempt of the Legion to act as parents looking out for a nation of impressionable children. In doing so, the Legion’s condemnations showed no appreciation of, or respect for, film as an art form, in the manner contained in Rev. Lord’s original Code.

It was by “crying wolf” too often about artistically important, well-made films, the Legion and its supporters became irrelevant. These denunciations were based not on seeing the actual films but what was read about them. Thus, a simple, one-sentence summary of The Miracle, certainly makes the condemnation sound plausible: “A poor shepherdess named Nanni who believes herself to be the Virgin Mary is seduced with liquor drink by a wanderer whom she thinks is St. Joseph.”

Yet, after viewing the film itself, one Catholic critic called The Miracle a story of “unregenerating suffering.” What is still considered a consummate performance by Anna Magnani, as a “holy fool,” demonstrates how easy it is to caricature in verbal terms what is far more complex when seen on the screen. As was mentioned, Cardinal Spellman never saw the film about which he required all his priests to read a statement from their pulpits.

It should be added that the same year, 1950, Roberto Rossellini made what is arguably the best film ever made about the life of St. Francis, The Flowers of St. Francis (Francesco, giullare di Dio). Also co-written with Fellini, the film about St. Francis was called, in l995 by the Vatican, one of the 45 greatest films ever made.

The moral of the story? Catholics lose cultural influence when they act like parental arbiters of public taste, especially when they refuse to acknowledge excellence in works of art they find somehow objectionable or dangerous.

Less than a decade after the furor over Rossellini’s film, the United States would elect its first Catholic president, and during the same period a number of Catholic writers would become celebrated among the elites of the literati, including Flannery O’Connor, J. F. Powers, Graham Green, Muriel Spark, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Paul Horgan. All of these writers would not have passed the scrutiny of those at the National Legion of Decency.

Merely contrasting the work of these celebrated Catholic writers with the narrow Catholic mentality behind the condemnation of films by Buñuel, Rossellini, Preminger, Vadim, Kazan, and Wilder provides a lesson that many Catholics, 67 years later, have still not yet learned.

Further reading:

William Bruce Johnson, Miracles and Sacrilege: Roberto Rossellini, the Church and Film Censorship in Hollywood, University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Laura Wittern-Keller, Raymond J. Haberski, The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court, University Press of Kansas, 2008

From 2002 — Washington Post Calls Cardinal McCarrick, ‘Vatican’s Man of the Hour’

Deal W. Hudson

July 25, 2018

I am posting this article from the Washington Post as a reminder of how Cardinal McCarrick took hold of drafting the sexual abuse policy adopted by the U.S. Bishops at their June 2002 meeting. I have bolded some of the more interesting observations made by the authors, Carlyle Murphy and Alan Cooperman — about McCarrick’s ‘zero tolerance policy’; his ‘not tainted by scandal’ record; his filling the ‘leadership vacuum’; and how he would want ‘wiggle room’ in cases where the victim was not a child but an adolescent.’ The remainder speaks for itself as well.

Deal Hudson, Publisher/Editor, The Christian Review.

Vatican’s Man of the Hour

By Caryle Murphy and Alan Cooperman

Washington Post, April 28, 2002

Resplendent in their red hats and elegant black robes, the American cardinals stepped into the Roman sunshine and swept down the stairs of the fortresslike Pontifical North American College. Most passed in silence before a gaggle of TV crews and boarded a shuttle bus to their next meeting.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick was in no hurry, however. On a shady patch of grass off to one side, the 71-year-old Washington archbishop chatted amiably with reporters last Tuesday. After a half-hour, his press secretary gently stepped in to warn him that he had to move on — or he might miss the bus.

At a time when many leaders of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church have been criticized as arrogant, secretive and uncaring, McCarrick has given the scandal-battered institution what it so badly needs: an attractive public face.

Assuming the role of leading spokesman for the U.S. cardinals during their meetings with Pope John Paul II on the sexual abuse crisis, McCarrick came across to many as candid, compassionate and committed to strong reform. In one interview after another, he spoke of a uniform national policy of “zero tolerance” toward priests who molest minors.

“I think he has emerged as a national leader, and I thought his voice was the most sensible voice,” said Scott Appleby, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “He does get it, and he understands the depth of the problem and the need to address it transparently. . . . If his style of leadership were emulated, I think the church would be in better shape.”

But at times it seemed that McCarrick’s public outspokenness was greater than his influence behind the scenes. A few hours after he told journalists that the U.S. cardinals had agreed on a “one strike you’re out” policy toward priests who abuse children, the cardinals issued a final communique that did not go that far. And though he was one of the four men who drafted the communique, McCarrick did not seem to realize, until a reporter pointed it out, that the document did not contain any reference to lay involvement in disciplinary decisions.

“We had it in there last night, but words are in and words are out,” he said, momentarily flustered. “We certainly want to tell the laity they must have a role.”

McCarrick’s political skills will be put to the test over the next six weeks. He will be actively involved in drafting proposals on sexual abuse policy that will be presented to the nation’s nearly 300 active bishops at their June 13-15 meeting in Dallas. The bishops’ challenge will be to adopt a policy tough enough to satisfy Catholics angry about past leniency toward priestly abuse, yet acceptable to Vatican officials who are protective of priests’ due process rights.

McCarrick, a former university president who speaks five languages, arrived in Washington 16 months ago after serving 14 years as archbishop of Newark. Although the Rome summit gave him a new prominence, he is a veteran of politically sensitive missions. The New York-born prelate has made Vatican-sponsored trips to China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe, among other places, and he has been an advocate for the church on human rights, religious freedom and Third World debt relief.

While in Newark, he also won favor with the pope by ordaining more priests than any other U.S. bishop. And he has been a prolific fundraiser, demonstrating an ease with the rich as well as the poor.

At last week’s meeting of the U.S. cardinals, McCarrick filled a leadership vacuum. Traditionally, the most influential voices in that group have been those of the most senior U.S. cardinal, currently Boston’s Cardinal Bernard F. Law, and the archbishop of New York, now Cardinal Edward M. Egan.

But Law and Egan are embroiled in the sexual abuse scandal, facing criticism for failing to report priests’ misconduct to civil authorities and for shuttling the priests from one parish to another. Another prominent cardinal, Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, riled the Vatican just before the summit by calling for a reconsideration of mandatory celibacy for priests.

By contrast, McCarrick does not question papal doctrine. He is a staunch defender of celibacy and the male-only priesthood. He is effusive in his praise of the pope. And he has not been tainted by the scandal.

When he arrived in Washington, the archdiocese had stringent child sexual abuse policies that had been in place for several years. They require the reporting of allegations to police and immediate suspension of the accused from priestly duties. As archbishop of Newark, McCarrick instituted similar policies there in the early 1990s.

Before that, as bishop of New Jersey’s Metuchen Diocese, McCarrick allowed a priest from Boston who had pleaded guilty to raping an altar boy to work in Metuchen parishes for seven years. McCarrick said he had been assured by the Boston archdiocese and by medical personnel that the priest was rehabilitated. The priest was not accused of sexual misconduct again. In a recent interview, McCarrick said he “would never” agree today to accept such a priest.

Although McCarrick achieved his visibility at the Rome summit in part by default, his folksy style and affable personality also played a part.

“He’s got a winsome way about him,” said the Rev. James Coriden, who teaches at Washington Theological Union, a Catholic seminary in Northwest Washington. “He’s articulate, cheery . . . and he speaks in ordinary human language, not like a lawyer. He sounds like a pastor.”

Part of McCarrick’s charm is his self-effacement. “It’s the dumb ones who give a lot of interviews,” he said last week of his propensity to talk with the news media. “I believe in the ultimate goodness of people, including the press.”

The five-point program that McCarrick wants the U.S. bishops to adopt in June includes reporting all allegations of child sexual abuse to civil authorities; placing the accused priest on administrative leave pending an investigation; having the priest undergo therapeutic evaluation; caring for the victim; and appointing a review board of lay people to advise the bishop on the priest’s future.

Yet while urging a policy of zero tolerance last week, McCarrick also sought some flexibility on that issue, introducing what some may see as necessary nuance and others as wiggle room.

McCarrick said he supports zero tolerance for future instances of abuse. But, like many bishops, he left open the possibility that some priests accused of abuse in the past might be allowed to remain in ministry if the incident took place long ago and there had been no whiff of misconduct since. He also suggested that some leniency might be appropriate if the victim was an adolescent rather than a small child.

“If the person has been diagnosed as a pedophile, goodbye. But if he hasn’t been diagnosed as a pedophile and if there have been no other incidents, do you say, ‘One strike you’re out’? I don’t know the answer to that,” McCarrick said. He added that in such cases, he would pray for guidance and “talk to the laity.”

McCarrick could well have been describing a recent case in his own archdiocese. Last month, Monsignor Russell L. Dillard, the popular pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Northwest Washington, was placed on administrative leave after a woman accused him of having a romantic relationship with her almost 20 years ago when she was a teenager. McCarrick has not decided Dillard’s future.

McCarrick’s high profile in Rome last week was evident to his flock, the half-million Catholics living in the District and five Maryland counties that make up the Washington Archdiocese.

“Hey, what about Theodore McCarrick? I tell you, he’s front and center!” said Andy Ellis, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County police and a Catholic. “I think it’s a positive thing.”

Although there was some griping among Newark’s 1.4 million Catholics that McCarrick spent too much time traveling and was perhaps too close to the rich and glamorous, those complaints have not followed him to Washington. In his brief tenure so far, he has won points with priests for asking their advice and showing his appreciation of their work, sometimes telephoning them to pass on a compliment. He also has made it a goal to visit every parish, hitting two or three on many Sundays.

Within weeks of his installation in January 2001, McCarrick hosted a dinner at his home for newly arrived President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. The archbishop demonstrated his political savvy, noted one observer, by also inviting to the dinner the then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The really important thing to say about Theodore is that he is a collegial fellow,” said the Rev. Raymond Kemp of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington. “He is a great believer . . . that all the guys together will make more sense out of this than a few cardinals.”

McCarrick’s performance in Rome was not without blemishes. He used a poor turn of phrase while describing the pope’s love for children, saying that “the Holy Father is turned on by children.”

“I didn’t know whether to cringe or laugh,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Catholic magazine America. “But when people see him on TV, they say, ‘This is an honest man who is answering the questions that are given to him to the best of his ability.’ “

Ten Books That Have Taught Me About America

Deal W. Hudson

July 4, 2018

Though I have not read as widely in American history as I should have, some books have remained with me since I read them.  They have shaped for me a deeper understanding and appreciation of my native country. I’m not going to list some of the obvious suspects such as The Federalist Papers, although that should be at the top of anyone’s list. Instead, I offer a personal list chosen out of my unsystematic reading on the subject.

  1. 1777 by David McCullough (2005). I have no idea how close we came to losing the American Revolution until I read McCullough’s dramatic account. Neither was I aware of George Washington’s true stature behind all the stories so often repeated.
  2. Truman by David McCullough (1992). Need I apologize for two by McCullough in a row? Absolutely not! At a personal level, Truman is a story about a mid-westerner with little formal learning but remarkable commonsense and a more remarkable work ethic who rises to the occasion when suddenly faced with the necessity of negotiation with Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and Douglas MacArthur. As a work of history, Truman illuminates how the American character overcame powerful temptations to divide into a factionalism which would have weakened our resolve to end the war in Europe and the Pacific.
  3. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (2016). I grew up in a relatively safe middle-class household shield for the most part from afflictions described by Vance about his youth in a Rust Belt Ohio town. His world of drugs; child and spouse abuse; debilitating poverty; constant job insecurity, poor education; and pervasive lack of hope was one I knew next to nothing about. To be confronted so vividly with that world and the twists of fate, or grace, that save only a few greatly enlarged what I understood about the limitations of the American Dream.
  4. Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer (2009). This book came as a sort of revelation — I had never read anything in depth about the founding of America from the North, a story of how two nations, Canada and the United States, grew out of the encounter between French and British explorers with the native inhabitants along the lakes, rivers, and bays of 17th century exploration. The hero of Fischer’s book — Samuel de Champlain — can stand aside any of our nation’s heroes in determination to secure human rights and religious toleration.  
  5. Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment by Patrick K. O’Donnell  (2016). The best way I can describe this delicious book is a more thorough treatment of account by McCullough in 1776 of how Washington’s army overmatched in every way eventually prevailed. O’Donnell’s account of the early clashes around Manhattan, notably the Battle of Brooklyn, formed no part of my education in American history, and what a story! Washington’s army could have been destroyed had it not been for the sacrificial effort of 256 ‘Maryland Heroes’ who gave the Commander time to evacuate his remaining men. Also quite astounding was the sheer arrogance of the British leadership in failing to recognize the opportunity to end the rebellion right then and there.
  6. American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their LovesTheir Work by Susan Cheever (2007). In the middle of the nineteenth century, a remarkable gathering of intellectual talent lived in the same city of Concord, MA, a group whose writing would leave as deep a stamp on the American character as the Founders themselves a century earlier. Emerson served as the godfather to the group which inevitably created barely concealed rivalries with writers of equal talent, particularly Hawthorne and Thoreau. And, yes, there were other barely concealed dynamics as well, none evidently consummated — they were all heirs to New England Puritanism thought they sought refuge in prodigious learning, transcendentalism, and a form of Christianity resembling classical humanism. 
  7. Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America: The Colonial Experience by Kevin Starr (2016). I had the privilege of interviewing the author about this book twice before he was suddenly taken away from us. To those who believe all the roots of America are Protestant, this book is a definitive refutation. In fact, one country in the Americas, the United States had Catholic roots growing from all geographical directions. Yes, the Founding elite were almost all Protestant, but as Starr shows parts of the vast territory eventually unified as the United States had a Catholic character long before the rise of the WASPs! 
  8. Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation by Steve Vogel (2013). As I said about McCullough’s 1776, I did not know how close we came to be reconquered by Great Britain following the August 24, 1814 raid on Washington, DC which caught our leaders and military entirely unawares, leaving the White House and the Capitol destroyed by fire. As the heavily manned British fleet sailed up the Chesapeake towards Baltimore, if it had not been for command of Major General Samuel Smith Baltimore would have very likely been taken, with nothing standing in the way of the British all the way up the Eastern coast of the US.
  9. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz (2011). I had always thought John Brown was just a maniac, and then I read this book. Yes, he was a maniac of a kind but with deep intelligence, flamboyant personality, and irresistible leadership. Horwitz hour by hour account of the showdown in Harper’s Ferry is riveting, especially given Brown was under attack by U. S. soldiers under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Lee, we are told, did everything he could to keep deaths to a minimum, which he did in spite of Brown’s unwillingness to surrender. Most memorable, however, is Horwitz’s account of John Brown’s capture, trial, and execution — how those around him, even Lee, began to admire him.
  10. A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ’20s by Roger Kahn (1999). What an eye-opener this book was! Boxing in the sport in our nation long before football, baseball, and basketball began competing to be the nation’s favorite pastime. Boxing events and personalities, such as Dempsey, became the foundation of mass entertainment, beginning with July 21, 1921, the first-ever live radio broadcast of a world title fight between Dempsey and Georges Carpenter in Jersey City. Kahn connects Dempsey to the Roaring 20s, the Flappers, Babe Ruth, Lindbergh, Coolidge, segregation, and organized crime.

Bishop Gracida Calls Excommunication Over Immigration Policy “Scandalous”

Deal W. Hudson

June 20, 2018

In a radio interview taped today with me, Bishop Rene Henry Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, sharply criticized comments made by Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tuscon regarding canonical penalties for civil servants implementing present immigration policy.

“It’s scandalous for the bishop to say that! They did not write the law but are enforcing it….it’s absurd and it’s idiotic.”

In the early 1970s, Bishop Gracida was appointed Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration and Tourism with the responsibility for overseeing the work of the large Migration and Refugee Services Department of the N.C.C.B.  During his spent 14 years in that position, he worked with both the United States and Mexican governments, and their border patrols, on immigration reform — “to relieve the suffering of people crossing the deserts led by ‘coyotes.’”

He knows what he is talking about.

Bishop Gracida went on to say that Catholics must recognize, first of all, that the “current administration is charged with enforcing laws passed by President Obama.” Neither the Trump Administration nor the GOP has passed any immigration laws, he added.

This above is only a portion of what Bishop Gracida had to say about the present controversy over immigration. The conversation naturally turned to the issue of abortion which he said had become “toxic” among his fellow bishops.

My interview with Bishop Gracida on ‘Church and Culture‘ will be broadcast on the Ave Maria Radio Network this Saturday at 3 pm and Sunday at 7 am.

Prepare for some straight talk!

You need to watch this German masterpiece

Deal W. Hudson

February 28, 2019

Never Look Away tells kind of the story that invites superlatives and deserves them. Based upon the life of painter Gerhard Richter, it tells the story of an artist who lives through the Nazi horror and the communist stranglehold, then escapes to West Berlin where, after much trial and error, he earns success and recognition.

This narrative could have descended into kitsch, but Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck makes it entirely convincing. Max Richter’s score is so beautiful in places it nearly overwhelms the visuals, but that is offset by deft touches of Morricone-like dissonance and playfulness.

Never Look Away was released last year in Germany and has just opened in US theatres. At 3 hours and 9 mins, it should feel epic, but it doesn’t: World War II and the Cold War serve as background to a story which becomes more and more personal as it unfolds.

It begins with a teenager, Elizabeth May (Saskia Rosendahl), being taken away by the Nazis because the family doctor reported an episode when Elizabeth sat at the piano at home, completely naked, playing Bach. When asked why, she answered: “Playing a concert for the Führer.” Her younger brother, Curt (Tom Schilling, pictured with Paula Beer), is a young child when he witnesses his beautiful and charismatic sister taken away. Her last words to him are “Never look away”, a dictum which takes him 20 years to understand.

Curt marries Ellie Scheeben (played by Beer), the daughter of a respected doctor who is played by Sebastian Koch. Koch, who starred in Donnersmarck’s 2006 The Lives of Others, convinces as Dr Carl Scheeben, a gynecologist tapped by the Nazis to head the Court of Hereditary Health, making him responsible for choosing who is to be incarcerated, sterilised or killed. Very subtly, Koch allows a crack in his soul to be seen in his reaction to the order – he’s shocked but takes a deep breath and carries it out.

Tom Schilling makes the character of Curt intriguing: this is not just another confused artist, but one who seeks the “truth” in an era of lies. Donnersmarck includes a send-up of performance art that had the audience laughing out loud.

Curt endures much (spoiler alert), including the sight of his father, reduced to serving as a janitor, hanging from a rope. Curt’s talent is supported as long as he sticks to the “Timeless values of the people”, whether Nazi or communist. After escaping to West Germany, he meets an eccentric art professor, skilfully underplayed by Oliver Masucci, who recognises a bottled-up talent in need of some rough handling. Looking at Curt’s initial efforts, he says with near-bluntness: “This is not you.” Stung by the comment, Curt remembers what his sister Elizabeth said – “Never look away” – and then his true talent begins to emerge.