Social Teaching

Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’ is badly misunderstood

Deal W. Hudson

February 7, 2019

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, recently condemned the New York Times for using a picture of “a nun in habit standing behind a jail-like façade” to accompany a review of Jacques Rivette’s 1966 film La Religieuse (“The Nun”). Based on a novel by Diderot, it depicts the life of a nun who is constantly beaten, tortured and, finally, pressed by a lesbian Mother Superior for sex. Donohue asks, “Now who would concoct such trash?”

Well, Diderot had his reasons, but another writer and film-maker told an equally disturbing story about nuns. Aldous Huxley’s 1952 novel, The Devils of Loudun, was based closely on historical events of 1652 that took place in that city, and in 1971 a Catholic director, Ken Russell, released The Devils, based on that novel. The Devils starred Oliver Reed, in the best performance of his career, as Father Grandier, and Vanessa Redgrave as Sister Jeanne, who convinces us of an almost unimaginable character – an Ursuline Mother Superior with a badly humped back and an erotically obsessive crush on the handsome Grandier.

One aspect of the film now jumps out at me: Loudun was a city with high, impregnable walls that allowed the persecuted Huguenots to live in safety alongside Catholics. In one of the opening scenes, Father Grandier celebrates the walls, created by special dispensation from Louis XIII, as providing both protection from religious persecution and individual freedom.

It’s understandable why Mark Kermode, in his introduction to my Criterion Collection DVD of the movie, calls this Russell’s greatest film, because for the first time he combined his extraordinary visual and musical sensibility “with a solid political underpinning”. Wait? Isn’t this a film about the Catholic Church? Yes and no, because Cardinal Richelieu is merging the power of Church and state while Louis XIII entertains at his decadent court, brilliantly portrayed in the film’s opening scene where a practically naked king arises on stage as Botticelli’s Venus.

I watched The Devils one more time after having just seen Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), another film based on historical fact – the script is taken directly from the court record of
her trials. St Joan and Father Grandier are each put to death for political, not religious reasons, though churchmen used accusations of heresy to burn them, in spite of knowing these were not true. So it follows, at the moment of Grandier’s burning, the city walls of Loudun explode and come tumbling down. And Grandier’s last words are: “Don’t look at me, look at your city, your city is destroyed, your freedom is destroyed also.”

The orgiastic scenes with lots of female nudity have aroused intense controversy since its appearance, but they are secondary to the plot. Compare those scenes, and the characters central to them, to the figure of Father Grandier. The former are cartoonish and recognised as such by the townspeople who look on. The latter, Grandier, has enjoyed carnal love with women and become secretly married to a woman he loves, but undergoing severe torture will not confess to a heresy he did not commit. He dies a true martyr with a nobility similar to St Joan of Arc.

Those who, in the name of God and decency, have condemned The Devils, have been ill-served by their preoccupation with nakedness and sex. They missed the meaning of Russell’s masterpiece.

Tim Kaine must not get away with styling himself a ‘Pope Francis Catholic’

Deal W. Hudson

August 9, 2016

With the nomination of Senator Tim Kaine, American Catholic voters once again face a decision about whether to send a pro-abortion, dissenting Catholic to Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States.

For the past eight years Vice President Joseph Biden has lived there, an abortion supporter for sure, but he never pitched his Catholic credentials to the voters in the way that Hillary, her surrogates, the Democratic Party and Kaine himself have done from the get-go.

Kaine, unlike Biden, was chosen because he’s Caucasian and Catholic. But not just any Catholic. He’s a product of a Jesuit education: Rockhurst High School in Kansas City and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Honduras. As Mayor of Richmond, Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Virginia, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Virginia’s sitting Democratic senator, Kaine has remained true to the now dominant Jesuit version of Catholicism: love the poor but don’t make a fuss about the unborn. The poor deserve “preferential treatment” but the babies belong to Herod, so let him have them.

From the perspective of Catholic teaching, of course, this is schtick of the deadliest kind. A recent, and very telling, example was published in the Jesuits’ own magazine, America, following the announcement by the Clinton/Kaine campaign that the vice-presidential nominee would join Hillary in eliminating the Hyde Amendment. (The amendment, first passed in 1976, prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of incest, rape or to save the life of the mother.)

The editors of America found Kaine’s capitulation a bit too much for the newly nominated Catholic VP candidate, so they opined, “Defend the Hyde Amendment”. Why? They explained: “The only nuance Mrs Clinton has shown on abortion in this campaign may be in her selection of Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate.”

As I said earlier, Kaine was chosen because he was Caucasian and Catholic, the intended effect being to mollify enough “swing” Catholic voters to ensure control of the White House. But Kaine’s sudden willingness to completely compromise all Catholic principle to be on the presidential ticket spurred the editors at America to demonstrate their political savvy by hauling their student into the boiler room for a few hard whacks.

It worked. The next day America magazine proudly reported that Senator Kaine did, in fact, support the Hyde Amendment in spite of what was announced by the campaign.

To cover his tracks, however, Kaine had to adopt another Hillary tactic: outright lying. When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper about the flip-flop, Kaine replied: “That is not accurate, and I don’t think Robby has said that, Jake.” (“Robby” Mook is Hillary’s campaign manager, and here is a tweet that tells a different story.)

Lest the reader be moved to congratulate America’s editors for their success, I should point out that the editorial is just another example of eloquent Jesuit schtick. They rightfully take on Kaine’s dichotomy of being “personally opposed” to abortion but publicly supportive, but spin it this way: “But incoherent as it is, being ‘personally opposed’ at least maintains some minimal contact with the difficult moral reality of abortion” (emphasis added).

Are we to conclude that the editors of America consider Kaine’s “minimal contact” enough to rescue his Catholic conscience, and theirs, and make him worthy of America’s support as well as that of Catholic voters?

Indeed, America’s editorial suffers from another sort of dichotomy. How can the magazine not conclude that Kaine, viewed as a Catholic politician, has failed to meet the minimal standard of the values a Catholic politician should represent?

“But as long as Mr Kaine refuses to recognise the unborn among the marginalized and to include them among the children for whom he promises to fight, he has not yet fully embraced the mission of social justice,” the editorial says. “As long as he continues to accept the moral myopia that pretends abortion can fix our society’s failure to offer women the support necessary to feel secure even in unplanned or difficult pregnancies, he has not yet fully responded to the Gospel’s call to care for those in need.”

I’m all for incrementalism, but this stretches it beyond breaking point. Kaine’s “minimal contact” with the “moral reality of abortion”, coupled with his 100 per cent pro-abortion voting record and his full support for abortion provider Planned Parenthood, provides no foothold at all upon which to work towards even the lowering the number of abortions – a position espoused by America’s editors.

Kaine is already on the stump reaching out by name to “Pope Francis Catholics”, as he did in Philadelphia on August 1. The last time I looked, Pope Francis had not changed the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception or, for that matter, the selling of a dead child’s body parts – all of which Kaine implicitly supports.

Will the editors of America, and the Jesuits in general, allow Kaine to describe Pope Francis in this way? Or will Pope Francis, and his Vatican spokesmen, allow Kaine to describe Pope Francis in this way?

I’m guessing that Senator Kaine will get bitten for invoking the Pope’s name – and he should, for a multitude of reasons.

Deal Hudson is the publisher and editor of The Christian Review

Pete Buttigeig: What You See Is Not What You Get

Deal W. Hudson

March 31, 2019

Mayor Pete Buttigeig of South Bend, Indiana is a full-blown relativist. He views the world through the lens of multiculturalism, historicism, gay rights, and radical feminism.

Buttigeig hopes to secure the Democratic Party nomination in order to become President of the United States. If elected, there would be no First Lady. He married his partner Chasten Glezman in June 2018.

His candidacy is showing traction, as Buttigeig puts it, “There’s this intangible energy you can just feel when I walk into a room.”

Like Bill Clinton, Buttigeig attended Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Like Bill Clinton, he speaks well, dresses conservatively, and has sizable charm. And also like Bill Clinton, what you see he is not what you get.

Like Barack Obama, Buttigeig opposes laws forbidding partial-birth abortion. In spite of allowing newborns to be killed, Buttigeig believes in “inclusion and love”! For Buttigeig, love means ignoring Scriptural teaching that “reflect the moral expectations of the era in which they were recorded.”

I wonder where Buttigeig stands on “Thou shall not kill”? Do we toss that out too? Sorry, I forgot, Buttigeig already tossed that out by supporting partial-birth abortion.

His reason? Buttigeig worries “the involvement of a male government official like me is not helpful.” I’m not sure why maleness should preclude us men from objecting to killing babies at the moment of birth.

An Episcopalian, Buttigeig also ignores the scriptural teachings on marriage and homosexuality as a product of the past. My gut tells me being in a gay marriage will help him get the nomination. If the Democrats can’t elect the first woman president, they would settle for the first gay president.

Charles Kaiser writing for The Guardian describes a plausible scenario which pro-life Catholics should take seriously:

Is it too much to imagine that America could elect a gay president? I don’t think so. If the disaster of George Bush’s administration was sufficient to elect the first black president, I believe the catastrophe of Donald Trump could be just enough to put the first openly gay man in the White House. Especially a man like this.

The new ultra-liberal leadership of the Democratic Party would be ecstatic to have a gay nominee. They’ve thrown any notion of truth out the window, especially if it benefits Donald Trump.

Case in point, another Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders, refused to recognize the devastation of Venezuela by President Maduro and support the global effort to legitimize Juan Guaidó.

If elected President, Buttigeig hopes the United States will take the lead on LGBT issues. In the same interview, Buttigeig accuses the Trump White House of dividing the country with “white identity politics.” He promises a “political rhetoric to make people feel big-hearted.”

I guess the protection of innocent babies isn’t part of feeling “big-hearted.”

As mayor of South Bend, Buttigeig has been a leader in denying the rights of pro-life groups. He used his veto power to negate a zoning decision of the South Bend city council allowing a pro-life organization to relocate to property next to an abortion clinic.

That’s the kind of “inclusion and love” we can expect from Buttigeig if he’s elected President.

Buttigeig has made it clear he will talk about his faith on the campaign trail. He believes there is a “Religious Left” which will help him get to the White House. That’s the same crowd who backed Hilary Clinton to the hilt on the issue of immigration.

From a Catholic perspective, Buttigeig can count on the Nuns on the Bus,AmericaCommonweal, and the National Catholic Reporter. No doubt ninety percent of the Notre Dame faculty will pitch in to help.

Having watched Buttigeig interviewed, what struck me the most what his calm response to challenging questions. Buttigeig doesn’t depend on the histrionics of Bronx Congresswoman of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to make his point. This will earn him the attention of a public tired of the screaming.

We are tired of far-left politicians flailing us with hardly-repressed anger and hardly-disguised accusations of bigotry. Buttigeig knows this, and his communications strategy is to get his foot in the door just by projecting a nice-guy image.

Make no mistake, this is a nice guy who wants to strip America of a moral legacy that he considers outdated. He will use as excuses his sensitivity to the ways whiteness and maleness have “misshaped” our cultural attitudes.

Buttigeig promises “inclusion and love” for everyone who agrees with his pro-abortion and pro-LBGT agenda. The rest of us will be dismissed as “divisive” and “puritanical.”

At present, Buttigeig is enjoying the “intangible energy” he feels walking into a room of supporters. Buttigeig, if nominated, will find the waters less calm, and his earnest conviviality will be tested by encounters with less infatuated voters.

Immigration and the Golden Ticket

Deal W. Hudson

February 24, 2019

In the last decade, the topic of immigration has become as divisive in the Catholic Church as the issue of abortion. Like abortion, immigration is now at the center of national politics—it was the centerpiece of the 2016 presidential election. The election of 2020 promises more of the same debate but more fierce in tone and, also, more significant for the future of our nation.

Some argue that the principle of solidarity should inform a public policy that allows immigrants to enter the United States with only a minimal challenge at the border. The USCCB has consistently taken this position as stated in “Welcoming the Stranger: Unity In Diversity” (November 2000). The Bishops’ “call to solidarity” calls for the utilization of all governmental and church services to provide total care for immigrants who cross the border whether or not they cross illegally. In “Welcoming the Stranger,” the Bishops explain it this way:

“Without condoning undocumented migration, the Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the respect of the human dignity of all—especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances. We recognize that nations have the right to control their borders. We also recognize and strongly assert that all human persons, created as they are in the image of God, possess a fundamental dignity that gives rise to a more compelling claim to the conditions worthy of human life.” (Emphasis added)

In other words, although the Bishops recognize the right of a nation to control its borders, they trump that right with a “more compelling claim.” That claim is nothing less than persons are created in the image of God. Possessing the imago Dei, persons can claim “the conditions worthy of human life,” meaning enter the United States freely and receive all the goods and services “worthy” of their human dignity.

If the need for secure borders and national security is overridden by the created nature of each person, one wonders how far the Bishops want to extend this as a principle. Does the imago Dei get people released from jail?

If the imago Dei is a “Golden” ticket enter the United States illegally and remain here illegally, then the imago Dei is being made the enemy of the rule of law. Without laws, human solidarity is impossible. Solidarity demands order and respect for lawful authority. Look at countries like Mexico where the rule of law is ignored and see the human misery that results. This is a very dangerous principle to put in place.

The Catechism teaches that persons should be subject to the governmental authority that “seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it” (#1903). Why, then, are those who support secure borders, even the building of a protective wall, so quickly accused of contradicting the principle of solidarity? In other words, it’s the prerogative of the government to create and enforce laws consonant with the common good of society.

The more specific question is whether the Bishops consider the present immigration laws as “morally licit” when immigrants are stopped, questioned, and housed before the U. S. government makes a decision about admitting, or not admitting, them to the country. From all that I have read and heard the answer is ‘no.’

What we see right now at our all-too-porous southern border is beginning to resemble Mexico: sex trafficking, drugs, crime, gangs, not to mention potential terrorists. The Catechism recognizes the necessity of laws to regulate immigration:

The common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense. (Emphasis added, #1909)

The Bishops’ statement also brings us back to passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the obligation of wealthy nations, “to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (Emphasis added, #2241). Who decides the “to the extent they are able”? Answer: Our Congress and President working cooperatively to weigh national resources against the needs of immigrants.

The Bishops, as they often do, are attempting to influence both lawmakers and voters to regard our nation as able to provide more resources than are doing. With all due respect, they are not in the position to know the requisite facts regarding the nation’s resources. They do, however, know better than anyone what the Church can do at the diocesan and parish level. I’m certain they would not want politicians judging their use of resources.

The Catechism makes it clear whose job it is to make these prudential judgments: “Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions.  . . . ” (Emphasis added, #2441).

The Catechism, at least, states that a nation’s laws should me obeyed by persons, regardless of their imago Dei.

So Much for Dialogue: Cardinal Tobin Talks Past Trump

Deal W. Hudson

January 31, 2019

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin published an opinion piece in the New York Times about “The ‘Ethics’ of Trump’s Border Wall” (January 30, 2019) Tobin’s argument is presumptuous, accusatory, and riddled with factual errors. In that way, it’s no different from most of what we read and hear from liberals who attack President Trump.

Tobin starts by asking if the border wall is moral. In his conclusion, he admits, “A wall itself is not immoral,” but can be immoral if “it can be constructed for an immoral purpose.”

That explains why Tobin spends his 800 words struggling to explain why President Trump is operating with an “immoral purpose.” Just what does he count as evidence for proving the President’s immoral purpose?

First, the bishop writes, we must consider the wall’s “effect on humans.” OK, but for the sake of argument, Tobin narrows that down to the possible “harm” to immigrants and refugees at the Southern border of the United States. And, oh yes, let us remember they “are equal to us in the eyes of God.” I’m pretty sure President Trump would agree with this statement—in fact, he hasn’t said anything to the contrary.

Tobin worries that a wall would repel immigrants to “more remote areas of the desert or mountains, possibly to their deaths.” It seems to me if those immigrants were smart enough to view the US as a place where a better life might be had, they wouldn’t suddenly become stupid and head for the desert.

Then Tobin says something very perplexing. He claims since the mid-1990s nearly 8,000 migrants “have died in Arizona and parts of Texas since the construction of the San Diego and El Paso sectors of the wall….” Scratching my head, I want to ask the bishop how he can blame the wall—they died on the other side of the border, in the US!

Tobin then describes the recent immigrants from Central America who, as we have seen, have been organized into caravans of thousands. He argues they are “in compliance with our domestic and international laws” when, pay attention to the wording, “they cross the border and ask for protection.”

That’s true. However, the purpose of the wall is to keep them from crossing the border. Those who successfully cross, whether legally or illegally, are being treated according to the law.

Tobin recognizes this, noting a wall would present them from crossing the border, which he calls “their right under law.”

Wrong. No one has a legal “right” to cross our border. Their legal rights begin when they succeed in crossing. The only group that has ever been granted the right to cross US borders are Canadian-born Aboriginal citizens according to the “Jay Treaty” of 1794.

I agree with Tobin when he says we should seek “more humane ways to achieve border security” through technology. But Tobin has something different in mind, such as “additional legal avenues for entry and policies that address the factors pushing migration.”

In other words, change the law.

At this point, Cardinal Tobin argues we must look “at the intent of someone who wants to construct a wall to determine its morality.” What he claims next about President Trump is factually wrong and morally presumptuous: “In this case, it is clear that Mr. Trump wants to deny entry to anyone crossing the southern border, even those who have a right to cross and seek protection and are no threat to us.”

“Clear?” It’s not clear to me or the millions of American who voted for President Trump. When has the President even hinted that he wants to end all immigration at the Southern border? I’ll tell you: Never!

When anyone attacks a public figure, who he does not know, about that public figure’s “intent,” we know it’s personal.

Tobin wants to indict President Trump’s personal moral character. Somehow the bishop has seen into the President’s heart and knows he intends to keep anyone from entering the US from the South.

And having claimed this, Tobin doesn’t stop: “Mr. Trump is not acting with concern for the impact of the wall on their lives, including those of children, who would remain subject to danger.”

Just how does Cardinal Tobin know that? Is he the new Padre Pio, a reader of souls?

For some reason, unexplained, the bishop adds that the wall will have an “adverse impact” on the environment, causing harm to “wildlife and vegetation.” True, the wall will cast a long shadow in the morning and late afternoon, blocking the full heat of the sun.

Whether this is a welcome respite for plants and animals could be debated, but environmental arguments don’t belong in this column.      

Tobin castigates the “Remain in Mexico” policy that keeps immigrants outside the US until their hearings because “that could keep them vulnerable to organized crime for months or years.”

Other than the fact that some illegal immigrants have brought crime to the US—the M13 gang from El Salvador—Tobin doesn’t mention anything about the responsibility of other countries to protect their own citizens from harm.

If you want to address “root causes,” as Tobins suggests, why can’t the US help these nations shut down their organized crime?   

Tobin makes another broad claim, that the President wants “to rid the United States of as many immigrants—legal or otherwise—possible.”

He cites as evidence the ending of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and doesn’t mention the the district court decision that determined that DACA was very likely “unconstitutional,” because Congress never passed it, or that the President recently offered Democrats a plan to reimplement DACA permanently in exchange for border wall funding.

Tobin also laments the change in Temporary Protected Status. He doesn’t mention TPS was created to help refugees to enter the US from countries where conditions have become extremely unsafe. The recent changes under this administration only extend to Yemen, Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador, and are not intended as permanent.

If anyone doubts Cardinal Tobin has made this personal, read this:

The way in which Mr. Trump has argued for a wall also is instructive. In trying to secure funding, he has cast all immigrants as criminals and threats to national security by spreading misleading and inaccurate information about them.

As a rhetorical flourish, this is overkill and weakens his argument. He goes on to accuse President Trump of “lies and smears,” yet that is precisely what Tobin is doing to Trump.

Then Tobin makes this factual claim: Trump “fails to point out that immigrants commit crimes, including violent ones, at a much lower rate than [US] citizens.”

What Tobin says is factual, if his two cited studies–reported by the Washington Post–are true. Except for “gambling, kidnapping, smuggling, and vagrancy,” immigrants were convicted of far fewer crimes than native-born residents, according to the Cato Institute 2015 study. I think this fact should become more prominent in the public debate. It surprised me.     

Cardinal Tobin ends with the example of the Berlin Wall, “which prevented millions in the Soviet Bloc from seeking freedom in the West.”

He also could have mentioned the wall built by Israel to lessen terrorist attacks, which it has, from the Occupied Territory of Palestine. Also not mentioned was the 14-mile wall built south of San Diego over twenty years ago. This wall succeeded in lowering illegal immigration from 100,000 per year to 5,000.

Then there are the great walls of history: The wall of Jericho recorded in the Book of Joshua; Hadrian’s Wall; and the Great Wall of China. Each did the job it was intended to do: protect those who built it from harm.

The Vatican Wall is sometimes laughed at when brought into the discussion, but should not be. It was built 39 feet high during the 9th century as a barrier against Muslim pirates who attacked from Southern Italy, which they controlled.

All this makes the point: When danger threatens, who blames the potential victim for building a wall?

To tell the truth, the bishops have shown little or no concern for border security. A common argument against border security is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2441): The “first duty” of the government is not to protect its citizens but,

to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate, and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nation.

What bishops, like Tobin, often forget is that what the Catechism calls the “second duty:” “to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good” (2441).

The language of the Catechism will startle those who have been listening to the bishops on immigration during the past few years:

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially concerning the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

If only bishops like Tobin would embrace the wise balance of the Catechism’s social teaching rather than ranting about the horror of the Wall.

That’s why there are two duties, to make sure that generosity does not become a danger, or that national security does not close our open arms.  It’s the responsibility of President Trump–and a Catechetical mandate–to “enforce the law for the sake of the common good.”