The big story of the past seven days
✣ Catholic students caught in media backlash
A Catholic school in Kentucky faced a backlash after some of its students engaged in a stand-off with a Native American protester at the March for Life in Washington, DC. The incident, recorded in a short video, drew fierce condemnation. Howard Dean, a prominent Democrat politician, said Covington Catholic High School seemed to be a “factory of hate” and suggested it should close. As the Herald went to press, 20,000 had signed a petition calling for the principal to be sacked.
What the media are saying
Early coverage portrayed the incident as a mob of schoolboys trying to intimidate an elderly Native American man drumming a peace song. The man, Nathan Phillips, told the Washington Post he was trying to leave the area when a student in a Make America Great Again hat “blocked my way and wouldn’t allow me to retreat”.
The school as well as the Diocese of Covington condemned the students’ behaviour, saying they would investigate and take appropriate action, “up to and including expulsion”.
Yet longer videos of the incident showed that, first, Phillips had approached the boys, not the other way round. Second, a few members of a fringe group called the Black Hebrews had been verbally abusing the boys for some time, calling them “faggots”, “crackers” and paedophiles. A man with Phillips also swore at the students, telling them to “go back to Europe”. (Phillips told one interviewer: “These young men were beastly and these old black individuals was their prey, and I stood in between them.”)
At Reason.com, Robby Soave called it “one of the biggest major media misfires in quite some time”, concluding: “There’s shockingly little evidence of wrongdoing, unless donning a Trump hat and standing in a group of other people doing the same is now an act of harassment or violence.”
Theologian Chad Pecknold defended the young man in the stand-off with Phillips, whose smile was widely interpreted as a jeer. “Nick Sandmann’s parents should be very proud of how their son handled himself, with grace and calm in the face of unprovoked hostility,” he wrote on Twitter.
The most overlooked story of the week
✣ Bishop ‘to move in with the SSPX’
A Swiss bishop has decided to live out his retirement with the Society of St Pius X (SSPX), according to reports at the blog Le Salon Beige.
Bishop Vitus Huonder, expected to step down as Bishop of Chur this Easter, will move to Institut Sancta Maria, a private school run by the SSPX in eastern Switzerland.
Why was it under-reported?
The significance of the news is unclear. The post at Le Salon Beige said Pope Francis had “endorsed” the bishop’s retirement move and that the pair had a good relationship. (Bishop Huonder, despite being regarded as an “ultra-conservative” in Switzerland, has been kept in place at the Diocese of Chur for two years past his 75th birthday.) The traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli declared that the move, along with the abolition of the Vatican commission Ecclesia Dei, was part of the “regularisation by instalments” of the SSPX taking place under Francis.
What will happen next?
According to one line of thinking, Pope Francis is regularising the SSPX in practice, if not officially, through small steps such as recognising sacraments administered by its priests (in particular, Confessions and marriages). Bishop Huonder’s retirement is seen as another such step: a sign, as Catholic magazine Monde & Vie argued, that “one can live out one’s retirement with the SSPX as with any other religious congregation”. At any rate, doctrinal talks will continue, with the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation rather than Ecclesia Dei.
The best of the web
✣ Highlights from the week online
An ancient vision of faith… and cheese
Is cheese neglected in the European literary canon? GK Chesterton bemoaned the silence of great writers on the subject in a witty 1936 essay, recalled Elizabeth Klein at Faith and Culture. But, she argued, the subject had not entirely escaped attention. She cited appreciative lines by Virgil, the Roman playwright Plautus, and in the Book of Job, where Job compares cheesemaking to his own creation by God.
But her favourite reference to cheese, she said, was found in an early Christian story called “The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity”. The protagonist, Perpetua, has visions of her martyrdom and future glory. In one, she climbs a narrow ladder covered with weapons and, as she reaches heaven, “is given cheese by Christ who appears in the guise of a heavenly shepherd”. This, she said, “shows a regard for cheese which not even Chesterton could outdo”.
A strong faith may help you sleep well
People with a strong faith in God are likely to sleep better, according to a report by Tracy Simmons of the Religion News Service. A study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that those who believe in salvation and have an unshakeable relationship with God tend to sleep longer, fall asleep faster and feel more rested in the morning, she wrote. Terrence D Hill, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Sociology, explained that such beliefs improved sleep by helping to reduce stress and depressive symptoms.
“If you believe a higher power is out there looking out for you, then what you’re going through now is temporary,” he said. “These worldly experiences are temporary.”
The study found that praying or reading Scripture on one’s own can also relieve stress, if one feels a secure attachment to God.
Will Catholics now be kept off juries?
Last August Pope Francis declared his opposition to the death penalty. However, rather than sway the American public against capital punishment, this may have the unintended effect of increasing the number of death sentences that are imposed in the United States, wrote law professor Aliza Plener Cover at the Washington Post.
That is because judges and prosecutors have the power to block potential jurors if they are opposed to executions – specifically, if they are found to be “substantially impaired” in their ability to fairly consider capital punishment. This process of “death qualification” particularly affects Catholics, who are slightly less supportive of the death penalty than Americans generally. One 2010 study found that in a mock capital sentencing proceeding, Catholics were more than twice as likely as others to be excluded from juries.
Before last August, she wrote, a Catholic interviewed by a prosecutor might have been more likely to say they would consider imposing the death penalty in rare circumstances. Now, a Catholic might be more likely to say it conflicts with their conscience as a Catholic. “The jury selected as a result would probably be less Catholic and more strongly pro-capital punishment.”
✣ A couple who met at World Youth Day in Poland have had their dream wedding in Panama. Jakub Włoch and Martyna Gergont got married in front of 300 Polish pilgrims in the Panamanian town of Monagrillo. World Youth Day was due to begin in the country a week later.
Fr Jakub Szyrszeń, concelebrant of the wedding, told ACI Prensa: “Jakub and Martyna … consider the whole group of pilgrims as if they were their true family.”
Their parents, ACI Prensa noted, were unable to attend.
✣ A man walked 2,800 miles to attend the March for Life in Washington last week. John Moore, a retired teacher and Knight of Columbus, started in San Francisco last April. He was accompanied by his daughter Laura, who drove along the route, making sure he had food and water and picking him up at the end of each day. He carried two crosses alternately, one displaying the Divine Mercy, the other the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“I’m kind of a big chicken,” he told Columbia magazine. “I hate heights and have to go over big bridges. And the further east we go, all this traffic makes you anxious … It’s a matter of keeping a promise – a promise I made to the Knights, to the people at the March for Life, to the unborn and to God.”
The week in quotations
“These kids are taking all sorts of abuse they do not deserve”
Rand Paul, Kentucky senator, on the Covington students
“Zimbabwe is burning”
Zimbabwe bishops’ conference
“The term ‘indoctrination’ was flippant and poorly understood on my part”
SNP Stewart McDonald says he regrets a 2011 tweet about Catholic schools
Scottish Catholic Observer
“A huge albatross”
Archdiocese of Glasgow spokesman on a ruined seminary which is also an acclaimed work of modernist architecture
Statistic of the week
Number of abortions Planned Parenthood carries out for every adoption referral
Source: PP report
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