Month: June 2016

Audiobooks, The Word Spoken

By Deal W. Hudson

Homer, the first great poet of the West, wasn’t a writer but a performer, with the dining halls of ancient Greece as his stage. Before the advent of written literature, the medium of poetry was dramatic utterance and song. Eyes were no more necessary to the enjoyment of words than they were to blind Homer’s creation of his epics.

Now, thanks to sprawling suburbs and lengthy job commutes, united with the digital age, the Homeric practice of listening to literature rather than reading it is back in fashion with the burgeoning business of audiobooks. Taped literature originated in 1932, when the American Foundation for the Blind created the Talking Book on long-playing records (themselves an innovation). Two years later, the Library of Congress introduced the Readophone, which could contain as much as two hours and 20 minutes of literature and music.

The modern “recorded book” was launched in a moment of glory in 1952, when Dylan Thomas recorded his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” for Caedmon at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. This may still be the most nearly perfect recording of anything by anyone. Listening to “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and other recordings of Thomas reciting his own poetry-or his lectures, often delivered while he was intoxicated, will likely convert anyone to the recorded-book medium. The unmatched beauty of Thomas’ voice will stick in your memory and become the measure of everything else you hear.

Several other early “star” readers deserve to be mentioned along with Thomas in the audiobook hall of fame. Sir John Gielgud left a large legacy of recordings, from early Argo vinyl disks to readings of Pilgrim’s Progress and Brideshead Revisited on the Caedmon label. Unfortunately, Gielgud’s version of the Brideshead is abridged. Jeremy Irons, the star of the 1982 television miniseries version of Brideshead, has an unabridged version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel nearly as good. Jeremy Irons made splash some years ago with a complete recording of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for Random House to complement his appearance as Humbert Humbert in the 1998 film version of that novel. The reading is a total tour de force, for adults only, of course.

The recorded audiobook, so convenient for automobile listening, had its beginnings in 1948, soon after Ampex started mass-producing the tape recorder. The first taped audiobooks were designed not for commuters but for blinded veterans of World War II. Philips produced its first mobile audiocassette, known as the 8-track, in 1963. By 1975, the smaller cassette had replaced the 8-track in most cars and homes. The biggest boost to recorded books came in 1979, when Sony introduced the Walkman, adding joggers and bus riders to its pool of listeners. Then came digital files that could be downloaded and stored, or streamed through, on personal computers, tablets, iPhones, and Androids. You can listen to an audiobook anywhere.

A sure sign that recorded books came of age was novelist-journalist Tom Wolfe’s decision to write the first stand-alone audiobook, Ambush at Fort Bragg (1997), read by Edward Norton (Bantam Audio). That same year, Audible came into being offering digital audio players four years before the iPod was introduced. In 1998, Audible created its first website for downloading books onto personal computers. Though struggling in the first few years, Audible has experienced a meteoric rise in visibility and sales. This growth was stimulated largely by the launching of Audible Air in 2005, making it possible to directly and wirelessly download books to PDAs (personal digital assistant) – no computer needed. Audible’s content has burgeoned to over 150,000 audio programs amounting to over 1,500,000 hours of programming.

I joined Audible in March 2003, almost 10 years ago, and have experienced its move into the wireless age. So it seems like an appropriate time to take stock. Here are all the books I’ve downloaded in the past decade, and if I have listened to them completely I have rated them in tiers from 1 to 6, with two additional tiers to indicated those I have not finished or those I plan to read in the future. That I did not finish should not necessarily be regarded as a lack of a recommendation because my lack of interest could have been due to my mood at the time. More than once, I have returned to a book I didn’t care for in the past and enjoyed it thoroughly, Proust’s Swann’s Way comes to mind – loved it the second time around. A good audiobook will remind that the origins of storytelling, of all fiction, are in the word spoken.

Before the tiers, may I first offer a few awards to:

Most Enjoyable: Frank Langella, Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them
Most Deeply Moving: Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel
Best Memoir: William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf
Best Classic Novel: Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Montecristo, read by John Lee.
Biggest Disappointment: Tom Wolfe, Back to Blood
Best Self-Help, Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
Most Funny: Justin Halpern, I Suck at Girls
Most Laughs: Stephen King, 11-22-63: A Novel
Most Touching: Tony Bennett, Life is a Gift
Best American History: Winston Groome, Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans
Best European History: Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
Best Celebrity Bio: William J. Mann, How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood
Biggest Scare: Reginald Hill, The Woodcutter
Most Gripping: James L. Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer
Best Poetry: William Shakespeare, Ages of Man, read by Sir John Gielgud
Best Performance: Hartley & Hewson, Macbeth: A Novel, ready by Alan Cumming
Best Portrait of the Present Age: Deborah Moggach, The Ex-Wives, a novel.

Tier 1: The Best: a great place to sample an audiobook if have been reluctant or uninterested.

1. James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
2. Philip Roth, American Pastoral
3. Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel
4. Paul Collins, The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars
5. Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Montecristo
6. Tony Bennett, Life is a Gift
7. Steven Pressfield, The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great
8. Roger Kahn, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ’20s
9. James L. Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer
10. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
11. Neal Bascomb, Hunting Eichman
12. Stephen King, 11-22-63: A Novel
13. Robert Zorn, Cemetery John: The Undiscovered Mastermind Behind the Lindbergh Kidnapping
14. Margaret George,The Autobiography of Henry VIII
15. Winston Groome, Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans
16. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
17. William J. Mann, How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood
18. Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
19. Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone
20. Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fy: A Novel
21. Compton MacKenzie, Whisky Galore
22. Emma Donohue, Room: A Novel
23. Frank Langella, Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them
24. Reginald Hill, The Woodcutter
25. James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime
26. William Shakespeare, Age of Man, read by Sir John Gielgud
27. James Lasdun, Give Me Everything You Have

Tier 2: Please read this: (Which also applies the tier above)

1. Anton Chekhov, The Short Stories, v. 1
2. Somerset Maugham, Short Stories, v. 3
3. Carl Hiaasen, Skin Tight
4. Guy de Maupassant, Short Stories, v. 1
5. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
6. William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow
7. Joe R. Lansdale, Sunset and Sawdust
8. Erskine Caldwell, Tobacco Road
9. Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers
10. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories
11. Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
12. William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf
13. William Maxwell, The Chateau
14. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
15. James Agee, A Death in the Family
16. Michael Caine, The Elephant to Hollywood
17. Jess Walter, The Financial Lives of Poets
18. Max Hastings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945
19. Ford Maddox Ford, Parade’s End
20. Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
21. John Green, The Fault in Our Starts
22. Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
23. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
24. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
25. Hartley & Hewson, Macbeth: A Novel
26. Rachel Joyce, Perfect: A Novel
27. Donald Dewey, James Stewart: A Biography
28. Donald Spoto, Marilyn Monroe: The Biography
29. Philipp Meyer, The Son
30. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
31. Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles: A Novel
32. Theresa Anne Fowler, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
33. Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
34. Justin Halpern, I Suck at Girls

Tier 3: A strongly recommended read:

1. Mike Waltari, The Egyptian
2. Nancy Mitford, The Sun King: Louis XIV at Versailles
3. Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
4. Elmore Leonard, Pagan Babies
5. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
6. A. J. Langguth, Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence
7. Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins
8. Bob Rotella, Putting Out of Mind
9. Emile Zola, Therese Raquin
10. Marion Meade, Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties
11. Anthony Doerr, About Grace
12. Edith Wharton, False Dawn
13. Boris Akunin, The Winter Queen
14. Ernst Junger, The Storm of Steel
15. George Eliot, Middlemarch
16. Simon Sebaq Montefiore, Young Stalin
17. Multiple authors, The Chopin Manuscript: A Serial Thriller
18. Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy, Book 1
19. Jane Harris, The Observations
20. Adam Carolla, In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks
21. Kenneth S. Lynn, Charlie Chaplin and His Times
22. David Thompson, The Moment of ‘Psycho’
23. Tony Horowitz, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
24. S. J. Watson, Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel
25. Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
26. Michael Hauge, Screenwriting for Hollywood
28. Barbara Tuchman, The Zimmerman Telegram
29. Carl Hiaasen, Strip Tease
30. John Dos Passos, 1919
31. Gillian Flynn, Dark Places: A Novel
32. Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
33. Melvyn Bragg, A Time to Dance
34. Compton MacKenzie, Monarch of the Glen
35. Andrew L. Mellen, Unstuff Your Life: Kick the Clutter Habit
36. Thomas, Hardy, Wessex Tales
37. Selden Edwards, The Lost Prince
38. Devin McKinney, The Men Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda
39. John Banville, Ancient Light
40. Patricia Wentworth, Spotlight
41. Maggie Shipstead, Seating Arrangements
42. Sol Stein, Stein on Writing
43. Robert McKee, Story
44. Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
45. Michael Frayn, Skios
46. Julian Fellows, Snobs
47. Judi Dench, And Furthermore
48. Patricia Highsmith, Selected Novels and Short Stories
49. Medavoy & Young, You’re Only as Good as Your Next One; 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for which I Should Be Shot
50. Bart & Gruber, Shoot Out: Surviving Fame and (Mis)Fortune in Hollywood
51. Deborah Moggach, The Ex-Wives
52. Jason Zinoman, Shock Value
53. Julian Fellows, Past Imperfect
54. Wyn Craig Wade, The Titanic: Disaster of the Century
55. Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
56. Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter
57. Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins
58. Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses
59. Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie
60. Joe Lansdale, Edge of Dark Water
61. Donald L. Miller, Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought Against Nazi Germany
62. Ethan Mordden, The Hollywood Studios: House Style in the Golden Age of Movies
63. Classic Christmas Stories
64. Classic Christmas Radio Plays
65. Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery Novel
66. Elizabeth von Arnim, Love
67. Edward Ball, The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures
68. Diana Preston, Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love and Politics in the Ancient World
69. James Dickey, Deliverance
70. Jane Ellen Wayne, Clark Gable: Portrait of a Misfit George Saunders, Tenth of December
71. D. J. Taylor, Derby Day: A Novel
72. Robert Lewis Taylor, W. C. Fields: His Follies and Fortunes
73. Holly Goddard Jones, The Next Time You See Me
74. Dan Schultz, Dead Run: The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West
75. Michael & Elizabeth Norman, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March
76. Erskine Childers, The Riddle of the Sands
77. Emma Donohue, Landing
78. William Landay: Defending Jacob: A Novel
79. Louise Penny, The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel
80. Bram Stoker, Dracula
81. Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent
82. Alyson Richman, The Lost Wife: A Novel
83. C.V. Wedgwood, The ThirtyYears War
84. Tony Bickham, The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, the War of 1812
85. Javier Marias, The Infatuations
86. Charles Bukowski, Hollywood
87. Michael Dibdin, Cabal: Aurelio Zen, Book 3
88. Scott Weidensaul, The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America
89. Fred Anderson, The War That Made America
90. Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin
91. Simon Winchester: The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible
92. Ross King, The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism

Tier 4: A worthwhile and enjoyable read:

1. Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
2. James Meek, The People’s Act of Love
3. Rumer Godden, The Greengage Summer
4. Thomas Hardy, Two on the Tower
5. Guy de Maupassant, Normandy Stories
6. Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat
7. Stendhal, Scarlet and Black
8. Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers
9. Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness
10. Joanne Harris, Blackberry Wine
11. Cormac McCarthy, The Road
12. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, v. 1 & v. 2
13. Crimes of Passions (various short stories)
14. Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of the Four
15. Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children
16. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles
17. Tiny Fey, Bossypants
93. Elmore Leonard, Road Dogs
94. Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich
95. Jo Nesbo, The Redbreast
96. P. G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Bertie and Jeeves, v. 1
97. Dennis Miller, Ranting Again
98. Michael Diblin, End Games
99. Noel Coward, The Noel Coward Reader
100. P. G. Wodehouse, A Pelican at Blandings
101. T. C. Boyle, The Women: A Novel
102. G. J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-1918
103. Stephen Simpson, Play Magic Golf
104. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
105. Brett & Kate McKay, The Art of Manliness
106. Martin Cruz Smith, Polar Star
107. Graham Gardner, Inventing Eliot
108. Joseph Parent, Golf: The Art of the Mental Game
109. Bob Rotella, The Unstoppable Golfer
110. Patricia Highsmith, Ripley Under Water
111. Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies
112. Martin Sixsmith, Russia: Part One: From Rulers to Revolutions
113. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
114. Mark Kermode, It’s Only a Movie
115. Barbara Comyns, The Vet’s Daughter
116. Andrew Miller, Pure
117. Sean Ryan, Be the Ball
118. Suzanne Fagence Cooper, Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin, and John Everett Millais
119. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Master of Ballantree
120. Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat
121. Alex Grecian, The Yard
122. David Morrell, The Successful Novelist
123. Robert Goddard, Caught in the Light
124. Wiley Cash, A Land More Kind Than Home
125. Elfriede Jelinek, Greed
126. Gregory A. Freeman, The Forgotten 500
127. Gregg Hurwitz, They’re Watching
128. Robert W. Merry, A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent
129. Susan Wise Bauer, The History of the Renaissance World
130. Ian Burma, The Year Zero: A History of the Year 1945
131. Schmidt & Rendon, Writers Between the Covers
132. Eve Golden, John Gilbert
133. Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violent
134. G. J. Meyer, The Borgias: The Hidden History
135. Dan Callahan, Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman: Hollywood Legends (read the new bio by Victoria Wilson)
136. Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
137. Lawrence Durrell, The Black Book
138. Michael Paterson, A Brief History of Life in Victorian Britain
139. Peter FitzSimons, Nancy Wake
140. Reginald Hill, A Cure for All Diseases
141. John Creasey, The Toff and the Fallen Angels
142. Barbara Leaming, If This Was Happiness: A Biography of Rita Hayworth
143. Stephen King, Joyland
144. Billy Crystal, Still Foolin’ Em
145. Matthew G. Lewis, The Monk

Tier 5: Should have been better:

1. Tom Wolfe: Back to Blood
2. Julie Andrews, Julie Andrews, Home: A Memoir of My Early Years
3. Karen Russell, Swamplandia
4. Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan
5. John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History

Tier 6: Avoid

1. Nick Tosches, Me and the Devil: A Novel
2. Kyung-Ran, Tongue

Tier 7: Left unfinished:

1. Peter Cary, My Life as a Fake
2. Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Count Luna
3. Collins and Lapierre, O Jerusalem
4. James Shapiro, A Year in the Life of Shakespeare
5. R.D. Wingfield, A Killing Frost
6. William Murray, City of the Soul
7. Eleanor Updale, Montmorency
8. Halldor Laxness, Under the Glacier
9. Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time: First Movement
10. Daniel Suarez, Daemon
11. Margaret MacMillan: The Modern Scholar: Six Months That Changed the World
12. Michelle Moran, Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution
13. J. Randy Taraborrelli, Elizabeth (The Mann bio is so much better!)
14. Elizabeth Douglas Jackson, Caligua
15. Justin Cronin, The Passage
16. Alexander Soderberg, The Andalucian Friend: A Novel
17. Michael Korda, Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia
18. John Connolly, The Gates
19. Glenn Frankel, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend
20. Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
21. David R. Gillham, City of Women
22. Alison Moore, The Lighthouse
23. James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
24. Cervantes, Don Quixote (this is just so long!)
25. John Boyle, The Absolutist
26. John D. McDonald, The Deep Blue Good-By
27. A.L. Kennedy, The Blue Book
28. Stephen Harrigan, Remember Ben Clayton
29. George & Weedon Grossmith, The Diary of a Nobody
30. Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World

Tier 8: On my reading list for the future.

1. Mitchell Zuckoff, Robert Altman: The Oral Biography
2. LeRoy Ashby, With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830
3. George Simenon, Pietr the Latvian
4. Amy S. Greenberg, A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln and the 1946 Invasion of Mexico
5. Ross King, Leonardo and the Last Supper
6. Terence Stamp, Double Feature
7. David Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It
8. Henry James, Portrait of a Lady
9. Andrei Makine, A Hero’s Daughter
10. Andrei Makine, Music of a Life
11. Robert Goddard, Past Caring
12. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
13. Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now
14. Florian Illies, 1913: The Year Before the Storm
15. Bruce Courtenay, The Potato Factory: The Australian Trilogy, Book 1
16. Ivan Turgenev, Torrents of Spring
17. Charles Emerson, 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War
18. Edmund Crispin, Swan Song
19. Marisha Pessi, Night Film: A Novel
20. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
21. Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War

Published at Catholic Online, 2002.

 

Catholic Opinion by the Numbers: A Revealing New Poll

By Deal W. Hudson

Nanci Pelosi calls herself a conservative Catholic. Sure, she may be in favor of abortion, women priests, and homosexual marriages, but according to the House minority leader, that has no bearing on her life as a Catholic.

How does she define “conservative Catholic”? In a January interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Pelosi explains, “I was raised… in a very strict upbringing in a Catholic home where we respected people, were observant, [and where] the fundamental belief was that God gave us all a free will and we were accountable for that, each of us.”

Pelosi’s brand of Catholicism—one concerned with culture, roots, and a vague notion of “respect”—is fairly common in the ranks of Catholic politicians. Believing their faith to be merely a cultural heritage rather than a living guide, they are happy to call themselves Catholic at election time and then, once in office, behave in conspicuously un-Catholic ways.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem reserved for campaigning politicians. Catholics in all walks of life, prelate and layman alike, manage to rationalize the disjunction between the demands of their faith and the reality of their voting habits. In an attempt to shore up the distance between faith and practice, the Vatican published its Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life earlier this year. Put simply, the document points out that “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals,” specifically including such divisive issues as abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual unions.

Whether they are simply unaware of this fact or choose to ignore it, studies have shown that Catholic voting trends on these issues tend to be no different from those of the general public. Such studies have led many pundits to disregard the possibility of a unified Catholic vote to which a politician could appeal with any sort of regularity. Catholics may account for a quarter of the nation’s population and a third of its voters, but these numbers alone aren’t enough to effect any sort of positive change.

However, what the pundits fail to recognize—but most any Catholic could tell you—is that there’s a significant difference between the habits of a practicing Catholic and one who, like Pelosi, keeps the title as a cultural reference only. The number of such “inactive” Catholics is relatively high, and their voting practices will not differ substantially from the population at large. Group all these Catholics together in an opinion poll and the results will be inconclusive at best, with no clear voice prevailing.

This realization was the driving force behind a survey conducted by Crisis in 1998. The poll asked self-identified Catholics questions on issues of politics, faith, and morals, and responses were broken down according to how often that person attended Mass in a standard month. The results were telling: The more often a person attended Mass, the more likely his answers were in line with Church teaching. After clearing away the various views of inactive Catholics, what was left was a relatively uniform group of Catholic opinions. With a solid core of committed Catholics, the survey proved that active Catholics were indeed a well-defined constituency. Based on an analysis of their past voting trends, these Catholics were found to be moving out of the Democratic Party, where they had long been entrenched, and instead becoming the swing voters in any given election.

As a follow-up to the 1998 survey, Crisis conducted another survey in November 2002 structured in a similar fashion with many of the same questions regarding political and moral issues (for the full results of the survey, visit our Web site at http://www.crisismagazine.com). This second survey established once again that when it comes to voting and public opinion, the distinction between an active and an inactive Catholic is crucial. Even then, however, Catholics still have a long way to go in acting consistently on the teachings of the Faith.

The Laity

No matter how else they may disagree, Catholics of all stripes identify the decline of individual morality in America as a serious problem. Seventy-three percent of all Catholics and 79 percent of active Catholics acknowledge the reality of this crisis, while similar numbers attribute the problem to the negative influence of popular culture. It can hardly be surprising that there should be such consensus, especially given recent revelations about the sex-abuse scandal in the Church. If such an erosion of personal morals could be found among leaders of the Church—the very institution responsible for guiding the laity in matters of morality—then it’s no wonder that Catholics have little faith in society at large.

But while both active and inactive Catholics can agree on the existence of a moral crisis, the two groups have little in common when it comes to political legislation regarding moral issues. Take the question of same-sex marriage: Inactive Catholics are generally opposed to laws that would grant married status to homosexual couples (66 percent), while active Catholics would oppose such a motion much more frequently (75 percent). The same holds true for abortion:

Only 36 percent of inactive Catholics would favor “enacting legal restrictions on abortion in order to reduce the number of abortions being performed,” compared with 55 percent of active Catholics. In the case of human embryo cloning, not even a majority of inactive Catholics would outlaw it: 55 percent would allow cloning for medical research, while 58 percent of active Catholics would outlaw cloning in all cases.

One may ask how inactive Catholics could be so out of step with Church teaching. The more pressing question, however, is why aren’t active Catholics more in step with that teaching? Though the numbers may be higher than a similar response from the general population, the fact that only 55 percent of regular church-goers would favor restrictions on abortion is baffling. Indeed, it seems to fly in the face of everything one would expect from committed Catholics. How could it be possible?

It’s likely that had the question been worded differently to emphasize the morality of the issue rather than the legislative procedures surrounding it, active Catholics might have stood more firmly behind the Church’s teaching on such issues. A small comfort, however, when one considers the implications of holding such beliefs without the commitment to act on them. As a result, many Catholics have fallen into a sort of Cuomo Catholicism, one that is active in private worship but not in public practice.

This sad conclusion is consistent with the reaction of some Catholics to political and moral questions of a lesser magnitude that were also in the survey. Seventy-six percent of active Catholics are in favor of school vouchers, for example, and 68 percent would oppose forcing Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptives and abortions to its patients. Just as these Catholics seem hesitant to force their beliefs on society, so too would they resent the advances of society on their own institutions and beliefs. The “live and let live” approach sits well with such Catholics.

But the Vatican says that isn’t enough. The doctrinal note maintains that “there cannot be two parallel lives in [Catholics’] existence; on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.” The dignity of life is not the private opinion of select Catholics but a truth that transcends human institutions. “Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles,” the note states, “which are the underpinning of life in society.”

The Bishops

While it’s ultimately the responsibility of the laity to make the connection between beliefs and voting habits, blame for letting such behavior pass without comment has often been laid at the feet of the bishops. Members of the clergy are called to task for being conspicuously silent on the standard hot-button issues of abortion, euthanasia, and their respective counterparts. After reports of sexual abuse surfaced, however, similar silence was seen not only as irresponsible but morally reprehensible. The lack of action by certain bishops is jeopardizing the authority of all bishops.

Should they think otherwise, the bishops need only read the results of the survey. Only a slim majority of active Catholics-52 percent—is supportive of the manner in which the bishops have responded to the abuse crisis; inactive Catholics are much more critical, with only 35 percent being satisfied by the bishops’ response. There is no group firmly in the bishops’ corner; even large donors and those who attend Mass more than five times a month have a high rate of dissatisfaction. Given that much of their support—monetary or otherwise—generally comes from these groups, all bishops will likely feel a strain in clergy-laity relations as a result.

The approval ratings for bishops may gradually recover over time. A more disturbing and, perhaps, more lasting trend is that a large percentage of Catholics have less faith in the moral teachings of the Church as a result of the scandal. Sixty-six percent of active Catholics claim their faith is unshaken, but the fact that even 29 percent would now doubt those teachings is a serious issue (5 percent remained unsure). And unfortunately, those in the best position to reassure the doubters are part of the cause for doubt.

Bishops can do a number of things to stave off further disappointment and disaster. For one, they must remain diligent in their work to repair past cases of abuse. But the laity also needs proof that everything possible is being done to prevent these crimes in the future. A full 65 percent of all Catholics believe the abuse is still occurring today, so an appeal to forgiveness for past mistakes will not be enough to allay those fears. Visible, public steps must be taken at this point: Whether going into seminaries or going out to comfort the abused, members of the flock need to feel that their shepherd is leading the fight in this scandal, not being dragged along unwillingly.

Once again, the Vatican has clear directives for those in power: “A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.” The bishops must shoulder this responsibility if the laity will ever be encouraged to follow.

The President

With such emphasis placed on the laity’s involvement in the political sphere, it becomes important for politicians—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—to understand where the support of active Catholic voters is likely to be found. The political press core identified the 1998 poll as providing a valuable tool to then-Governor George W. Bush in his campaign for the White House. President Bush was able to appeal to specific concerns and interests of active Catholics, attracting support with his platform of “compassionate conservatism.”

The work paid off: Bush was elected and is currently enjoying fairly regular support from Catholics. Seventy-two percent of active Catholics approve of the job Bush is doing as president (well above the usual numbers for general public opinion), and 57 percent feel that he’s supportive of Catholic values. One could say that Bush has won the respect of active-Catholic voters, but there are still a lot of voters who need to be convinced of his dedication. It’s one thing to note that 22 percent of active Catholics don’t think he’s supportive of their values; the fact that 22 percent aren’t sure one way or the other shows that Bush still has a lot of room to persuade them.

Part of the reason for this ambiguity among Catholics may be the result of the president’s stand on the war in Iraq. In a departure from the usual trend, support is greater among inactive Catholics on the issue. Only 52 percent of active Catholics favored intervening in Iraq. Most likely, the words of the bishops condemning the idea of war had a great impact on active Catholics—a reality that could be problematic for a president who may be largely remembered for his stand against Saddam Hussein.

How, then, does one win back those active Catholics who did not support the president’s stance on the conflict? This subsection tends to be more disapproving of Bush’s job as president, with only 50 percent supporting him, and is more skeptical of his support for Catholic values (32 percent). There’s room for improvement, however: 27 percent of these Catholics are unsure of his commitment—a window of opportunity for the president to convince them otherwise.

Most active Catholics who opposed Bush on Iraq identify themselves as Democrats; they were more apt to vote for Al Gore in the last election than the general population of Catholics but consider themselves more moderate than anything else. They had the same ambiguity regarding the question of abortion legislation, and yet—curiously enough—would more readily identify themselves as pro-life.

Bush can appeal to these voters by raising the bar. These Catholics are attracted to the ideas of compassionate conservatism: work permits for immigrants, protection of the unborn, tuition vouchers for schoolchildren. They want government out of Catholic institutions and evidence that the president is fighting the general moral decay they see in society. The answer is not to vacillate on these issues in the hopes of attracting greater numbers but to demonstrate that he will be a champion for life and those policies he already supports. Bush cannot present himself simply as the lesser of two evils but must be seen as a proactive leader who will attain results.

Whatever choices the candidates represent, however, the responsibility ultimately returns to the laity. Without the dedication to vote their Catholic conscience, an army of committed Catholic politicians will be of no use. Catholics—those in public office and those who vote for them—need to be reminded of their duty to the universal truths taught by the Church and upheld by natural law, a responsibility that can never be shirked.

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2003.

How Catholic Universities Fool Their Donors

By Deal W. Hudson

During my eight years at Crisis, the conversation that most often reoccurs is the one about the fate of the Catholic university and college. It begins inevitably with an alumnus complaining about the latest anti-Catholic outbreak on the hallowed grounds of their former college campus and ends with their asking me for advice. I always respond by asking them whether or not they’ve spoken to the administration with their wallets, either threatening to end donations and/or actually pulling the trigger. Nine out of ten times they shake their heads sadly saying, “No, I can’t do that; it’s better to keep a place at the table or the problem will only get worse.”

Wrong answer.

Most college graduates are nostalgic: Carefree days filled with books, sports, and sporting around. It’s difficult to get hard-hearted toward all that, especially when you add nuns and priests who taught you the Faith and the lessons of life. When the experience becomes multigenerational, the bonding to a particular campus is almost irresistible. And Catholics are nothing if not loyal. History has shown that they’ll forgive anything—from a decade of losing football teams to a theology department full of professors eager to bash, or slyly subvert, the Church in the national media.

By staying in touch with these alums, I’ve been able to observe how their colleges try to soothe them and keep them assured of their Catholic identity. The most obvious scheme is for the development department to ask them for a targeted gift—one that goes directly to some program that seems to reinforce orthodoxy. So programs in Catholic studies, lecture series, or campus ministries are created and offered to skeptical donors as a way of sticking with the institution while—wink, wink—the tenured faculty retires or moves on and younger, more faithful professors are hired.

Such philanthropy may salve the donor’s conscience, but it does nothing for the Catholic identity of the institution except distract everyone’s attention away from its primary concern: what’s being taught in the classroom. What good does it do to pay for a tasty dessert when the main course remains undercooked? Does an occasional lecture from George Weigel change the character of a university? (Even Weigel isn’t that good!) Does taking a group of existing courses from different departments and lumping them together under “Catholic Studies” ensure the Magisterial position is being taught and defended in the classroom? No—in fact, such programs may compound the problem, since the course on feminist interpretations of the “three Marys” is no longer solely in the province of the English department.

Next in line is what I call the “Ex Corde Ecclesiae Shuffle”—quite popular among college presidents and development directors. Concerned alums ask how the implementation and mandatum are going only to be warned of “those people in the Vatican” who are afraid of an educated laity. The inside story of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the alums are told, is that mean old Cardinal Ratzinger was uncomfortable with the “academic excellence” of the U.S. Catholic colleges and universities and didn’t really understand the tradition of “academic freedom” in this country. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, they’re told, is just another attempt by the Vatican to control the U.S. Church.

Perhaps the Vatican is concerned about an uneducated laity…one that’s uneducated in the Faith. Indeed, the anti-Roman antagonism on Catholic campuses rarely shows its face directly; rather, blunt comments are limited to the ears of those cognoscenti who earnestly wish for a “progressive” successor to John Paul II. For outsiders, it’s there to be seen and heard in the body language, the silences, and emphatic focus on “peace and justice” issues.

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t appear that any of the major Catholic institutions that fit this profile have any financial problems, although some smaller and mid-size schools have struggled and gone out of business. It may be that the more established schools have passed successfully through the period where donor pressure might have produced reforms: It’s unlikely that graduates from the 1970s will care enough about Catholic identity to withhold their money. Sadly, it appears that Catholic schools since the early 1970s have been producing the perfect donors: well-educated in the world of commerce and able to make enough money to give it away, but uneducated in the Faith and incapable of knowing when their beloved alma mater has drifted from its mission.

Published in Crisis Magazine, May 1, 2003

Passion, Not Prejudice-Mel Gibson’s Christ

By Deal W. Hudson

Mel Gibson’s Passion is finally in movie theaters. Now people can see for themselves what all the hubbub is about. Most, I believe, will leave the theater shaken to the core by the terrible beauty of Gibson’s masterpiece. The media-driven expectation of an anti-Semitic portrayal of the Jews will be swept away by the spectacle of a man of peace abused, scourged, crucified, betrayed, and abandoned by all but a few of his family and friends.

When the ridiculous charges of anti-Semitism have finally passed, two questions will have to be asked. First, why was the attack on Gibson so pro-longed, so vicious, so multifaceted? Second, why did none of the liberal crowd who joined in the public hounding of Gibson ever concern themselves with his artistic freedom?

It was not that long ago when Andres Serrano was dipping a crucifix in urine to the delight of the New York Times and the anti-Catholic elites of the art world. Catholics who were offended at such vulgarity on display in an exhibit funded by public dollars were accused of censorship and the Philistine refusal of artistic license. Indeed it has been a virtual calling card of the left to place unflattering portrayals of Christianity in the arts beyond criticism. How, they ask, can the imagination of the artist be measured by the traditional religious creeds?

But what happens when an artist puts the central fact of the creed—”He suffered, died, and was buried”—on a movie screen? Apparently, concern for Gibson’s freedom as an artist no longer applies. When a major movie star employs all his talent and celebrity to put a conventional Passion play on film, everyone from seminary professors to movie critics and liberal pundits forget their defense of film director Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ a generation ago.

Once we acknowledge that the intelligentsia defends anything religiously heterodox, it then becomes apparent why Gibson’s film has drawn so much heavy fire. It’s perfectly fine if the meaning of Christianity is seen through the humanist vision of a Martin Scorcese or a Martin Sheen. Soon we’ll have a film version of The Da Vinci Code with its preposterous thesis about the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and about which liberal scholars and critics will say nothing.

But a film about Jesus Christ by Mel Gibson simply cannot be allowed. First, he’s a genuine celebrity, a mega-star whose film will be influential for that very fact. Second, he really believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that his death was not simply an example of love for his fellow man but the redemption of humankind. Third, as witnessed in Braveheart, Gibson is capable of making a classic film sure to be admired as long as film endures.

All this adds up to a movie that will be a powerful witness to the truth of traditional Christianity, precisely the force that liberal elites have been trying to still for decades. It’s Christianity—and especially orthodox Catholicism and evangelicalism—that denies them their total victory in the culture wars. Proponents of abortion, gay marriage, radical feminism, multiculturalism, and postmodernism all harbor a deep fear of the truth claims of Christianity about the fixed nature of God’s creation.

Gibson surely knew that making a film about Christ was scandalous to the unbelievers in Hollywood, but I doubt if he realized the threat it represents to the intellectuals who employ a neutered Christianity for their own ideological enterprises.

One final word on the question of anti-Semitism (an ugly and destructive force both here and in Europe): It’s possible that some bigots may have their prejudice reinforced by Gibson’s film. But that doesn’t make the movie anti-Semitic, nor does it justify the attacks on Gibson. Films are released every week that exacerbate the sick tendencies of child molesters, rapists, murderers, and Rambo wannabes. We can’t censor ourselves just because some nut somewhere may be influenced negatively by our work.

I thank Mel Gibson for his film and for all he was willing to endure in making his faith public. His life and career will never be the same—would it were that more men had such courage.

Addendum: Subsequent events in Mel Gibson’s life did reveal his anti-Semitism. His film, however, does not, in my opinion, express an anti-Semitic point of view, an opinion I am prepared to defend as I have in the past (June, 2016).

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2004

Mary’s Shadow and Protection

By Deal W. Hudson

Having never been to a ma­jor Marian shrine, I didn’t know quite what to expect. So on my way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, I consciously put aside all preconcep­tions about what I should experience. I wanted just to let it happen.

Over the years I’ve become in­creasingly aware of the importance of this shrine, only a few kilometers from the heart of the city. The image of Mary given to Juan Diego through an armful of flowers holds immense significance for Catholics around the world—es­pecially in Hispanic regions. But Our Lady of Guadalupe is the Lady for all the Americas, and it was well past time for me to pay my respects.

Mexico City, if you’ve never been there, is filled with both the worst traffic and the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Each day there I marveled that people could remain so kind, so generous and smiling, when it took forever to drive even short distances. And yet I would return to the city just for the pleasure of spending time among them.

The shrine, when you first ap­proach it, appears as a cluster of old and new church buildings sitting on Tepeyac Hill, surrounded by the har­um-scarum sprawl of one of the largest cities in the world. Like most pilgrims I tried to visualize the moment nearly five centuries ago when this rocky hill stood far apart from the palaces of the Aztec empire.

The words I particularly kept in mind were those that Mary spoke to Juan Diego on the day he was avoid­ing her and seeking a priest for his dy­ing uncle, Juan Bernardino:

Listen, and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son. Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there any­thing else you need?

Among the many aspects of this story, this was the one most meaningful to me: How can any of us be so consumed by life’s tasks—even a task as impor­tant as tending a dying relative—that we forget to ask for divine help?

The shrine itself and the plaza that fronts it bear the stamp of Sev­enties utilitarianism in architecture, but once you enter the sanctuary that houses the sacred tilma (cloak), all those concerns are swept aside by the peace that descends upon the pilgrim. I arrived just in time to light my can­dles, ride the moving sidewalk under the tilma, and join the other pilgrims for Mass.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the sense of total comfort in an otherwise strange place. I had been advised by a bishop who loves the shrine to “ask for something big.” But Mary gave me something I didn’t ask for—an ease in prayer that was totally unexpected, as if something that had been clogging the lines of communication had been suddenly removed.

After Mass I went back down be­hind the altar for another look at the tilma but stepped aside to observe in­stead the faces of those pilgrims gaz­ing up at it. The radiance of piety transcends language and culture—its impact is universal. No wonder our Holy Father has been commending Marian pilgrimages from the earliest days of his pontificate. I’m sorry it took me so long.

I walked up the lovely ceramic-lined steps to the top of the hill and down to the gardens on the other side. But I didn’t want the solitude offered by the gardens; I went back to the plaza to look at the pilgrim faces and become one more face among them, transport­ed by the sense that nothing needs to be withheld from Mary’s care.

Published in Crisis Magazine, October 1, 2004

An Interview with John Cornwell

By Deal W. Hudson

John Cornwell is controversial. The best-selling author of Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII has been widely condemned both for the quality of his research and for the alleged heterodoxy of his Catholic faith.

In his newest book, Breaking Faith: The Pope, the People, and the Fate of Catholicism, Cornwell opens himself up to still more criticism by taking on Pope John Paul II and the conservative current in the Church.

But if you think Cornwell is a mere toe-the-line theological liberal, you’re wrong. Deal Hudson sat down with him at his home in England to talk about Pius XII, liturgy, and the future of the Church.

Deal Hudson: When I first saw the title of your book, Breaking Faith, I thought it meant that the Holy Father had broken faith with the Church, but it has a very different meaning, doesn’t it?

John Cornwell: I wanted the book to have an arresting title, as well as a true one. Breaking Faith refers mainly to my own loss of faith, which happened in about 1965, when I was 25 years old, and took me away from the Church for more than 20 years. Although my book is not an autobiography, I wanted it to have a subjective, autobiographical dimension. When one writes about the faith, leaving out the phenomenology of personal belief, there is a danger that you’re telling people everything and yet telling them nothing. Sociological and journalistic accounts that attempt to be totally objective are always flawed. So Breaking Faith is certainly a survey—where the Church is at this time—using the Church’s own statistics, or the Vatican’s statistics, but it is also about one individual’s sense of the faith.

And I have to say that my own break with the Church was a crucial and positive thing in my life; it was providential, because I returned with a much stronger, more mature approach to belief. One would never advocate apostasy, but sometimes it may be necessary for those whose faith is immature and based on egotism and self-seeking.

In the first few chapters of the book, you describe the hurt you felt over the reception of Hitler’s Pope, the book on Pius XII and Hitler. Do you feel like your intentions or motives for writing that book were misunderstood?

I did not object to those who criticized the arguments and disputed the historical evidence. But I was dismayed by those who used ad hominem arguments, claiming that I was not a Catholic and disputing that I had started out intending to defend Pius XII. The facts are these: I spent an evening with some young Catholics who were arguing that the Church had sided with all the worst right-wing elements in the history of the 20th century. I did not believe that this was true. About that time, I had read a book by the historian Owen Chadwick called Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War, which seemed to me to be an important defense of Pius XII’s conduct during the war—certainly the best to date.

But Chadwick’s book was very academic—an uninviting sort of book.

It seemed to me that if I took that as a basis and I did the whole of Pius XII’s life, including his undoubted growth of spirituality, his youth, it would provide a riposte to the young critics I had talked to. But that’s not the way it worked out. As I went through the documents, I got a completely different picture of him. I had to revise my opinion of Owen Chadwick’s work. After the book came out, a segment of the Catholic media simply focused on whether I was lying about being a Catholic, making me out to be part of an almost demonic conspiracy to undermine the Church. Ronald Rychlak, for example, has written almost a whole book about how I was a liar and apostate.

In Breaking Faith, you have a chapter about coming back to the Church after 20 years and being horrified by the liturgies that you experienced. I was surprised when I realized this chapter could have been published in Crisis. You write about the dumbing-down of liturgical music and the banality of the “me-ism” in hymns. Yet you also seem to be struggling to accept the way God may be speaking to people through this form of music, though you find it unpleasing. Where do you stand on that question at the present time? Do you still grudgingly accept it or feel like it’s just not your cup of tea?

Well, what really concerns me about liturgy is the Mass itself. It’s not so much the translations I oppose or the music accompanying it; it is that the Roman missal has been undermined in a way that aids this general process of Pelagianism in the Church, robbing us of our sense of unworthiness and also robbing us at the very heart of the Mass of the sense of the Trinity.

You mean as in, “Lord, I am worthy to receive you”?

Yes. So I have to make that the starting point. It’s not a question of taste in music, although I must say that I deplore the dumbed-down jauntiness and egotism of much that passes for Church music, or even the loss of dignity and elegance. My greatest concern is the loss of the repetitions and the doxologies, which exemplify the truth of the Holy Trinity. I have to say I am deeply depressed about it, because I don’t know how, when, and where that will be rectified.

Conservatives believe those you call the “progressives” are trying to make being a Catholic easier for people. They do this by allowing people to measure Catholic issues by a personal standard. In doing this, liberals want to lower the bar, lower the standards, of both belief and action. I detect a tension between the higher standard for liturgy that you would like to see and your insistence that the Church become more inclusive and more participatory.

Surely, the inclusive, participatory Church doesn’t imply a destruction of the traditional liturgy. This was not envisaged by the Second Vatican Council.

Let me give an example. You tell a lot of poignant stories about people who have been divorced, and they don’t want to get an annulment, so they are excluded from partaking of the Eucharist. You seem to be suggesting that this is a barrier that should be removed. Now, isn’t that an example of lowering a standard and thereby making people who don’t want to go through the annulment process seem OK with where they are?

You are right of course. I guess we can’t have it both ways. But we are living in very difficult and confused times within the Church itself. A very large proportion of Catholic marriages founder: It is the way the whole of our culture and society is drifting. But are we right to use annulment as a form of divorce by another name? There are, I should think, hundreds of thousands of people who get annulments even though they know that they were married. Some 60 percent of all annulments in the Church occur in the United States. This can’t be right. It is beginning to look like a cynical exercise in legalism and suggests that perhaps we need a new theology of marriage and annulment.

I must confess that I feel muddled, as do many Catholics, because part of me feels very firmly that the Eucharist is a litmus test of our Catholicism. I believe that those Catholics who do not go up to the Eucharist because their situation is not right in terms of marriage—remarried divorcees, for example—are acting as witnesses for other Catholics. Part of me agrees with that. But part of me also knows, and especially from the research I did for Breaking Faith, that there are millions of Catholics drifting away from the Church because of sheer spiritual inanition. I do think that compassion and love and sympathy have got to reign, because it’s such a prodigious problem involving millions of people across the world who are being lost to the Church.

I am conscious that this is a muddled answer. But I hope that I make myself clear about one thing: Receiving the Eucharist is a huge privilege. If one’s personal situation, or marriage situation, is not right, being deprived of the Eucharist is a form of desert spirituality; it can be a positive thing. But not all of us are capable of seeing it in that light, and it worries me that so many millions of people are drifting away.

The thrust of your new book, if I understood it correctly, is that under the pontificate of John Paul II, there has been almost a parallel phenomenon. On the one hand, John Paul II has tremendous personal appeal, both to Catholics and to non-Catholics, and in this sense, the Church has benefited from his pontificate. But on the other hand, in terms of the infrastructure and management of the Church, it has been a negative experience because of the centralization, the management style—the micromanagement style—the multiplication of strictures on bishops. Do you think that those conservatives who read this entirely differently simply have a fundamental blind spot when it comes to that second issue?

We could argue forever about the issue of centralization and collegiality in the Church—whether we have the balance right. I’m not a Church historian or a theologian; I’m just trying to make a contribution from the periphery to a debate. And it’s a debate that has so many dynamics.

For example, much of my thinking on these questions comes from the work of Henri de Lubac, the Jesuit theologian who inspired much of the thinking and direction of Vatican II. And yet, de Lubac turned out by 1970 to be one of the sternest critics of the progressives, and in a curious way, he’s probably right. It’s just absolutely undeniable that people went shooting off in all kinds of damaging directions. I guess that we’ll still be arguing about the balance between collegiality, subsidiarity, and centralization of Vatican II in a hundred years’ time.

But the point I tried to make in my book on Pius XII is, I hope, a valid one for discussion. Excessive centralization, I argue, weakened a powerful German Church during the 1930s, rendering it weak in the face of Nazism. Contrast that with the strength of the local German Church during the Kulturkampf 60 years earlier, which took on Bismark and won. Think, too, of the strength of the local Church in Poland through the grassroots power of Solidarity. These are issues we need to discuss and to debate openly within the Church, and I hope that I have at least made a contribution.

Published in Crisis Magazine, March 1, 2002

The Spin to Come-The Death of John Paul II

By Deal W. Hudson

The television and radio interviews are already taped and waiting to be broadcast. The passing of Pope John Paul II will unleash a media spin on his papacy guaranteed to make you nauseous: This was a pope who cared about the poor but did not engage in dialogue, a pope who traveled the world to speak but not to listen, a pope who electrified crowds with his charisma but did not trust the leadership in his church, a pope who was a serious and prolific writer but rolled back the reforms of Vatican II, blah, blah, blah.

This will be the spin of dissenters and left-wingers frustrated by a pope who didn’t give them what they wanted, what they thought should belong to them—namely, a Church reorganized along the lines of the Episcopal church (which is presently falling apart over the appointment of an openly gay bishop).

I’m confident that CRISIS readers will be ready to challenge this spin for the rot that it is. The talking points are simple. The pope did listen to dissenting opinions on Humanae Vitae and the priesthood, rejecting their arguments and offering his own in 14 encyclicals, along with the new Code of Canon Law and Catechism of the Catholic Church. The pope did participate in dialogue, not only within the Church but with leaders of all religious traditions—especially the Jews—with whom he met on his travels. The pope did implement the reforms of Vatican II, not the ersatz “spirit of Vatican II,” accomplishing a genuine updating of theology, liturgy, and lay participation in ministry. Finally, the pope did trust his bishops, by forging close working relationships with cardinals like Ratzinger, Schonborn, and Arinze, thus bitterly disappointing the self-appointed leaders of democratization in the Church.

The authors of this spin were youthful in 1978 when John Paul II took office and expected the millennium to herald a Church of woman priests, birth control, and localized control of parishes and chanceries. Now they’re older and have left Call to Action to seek legitimacy in Voice of the Faithful and other organizations. They talk openly about a successor to John Paul II who will “listen,” but what they actually mean is a pope who will do their bidding.

At present in the United States, there are Catholics who hope the next pope will be more “open” to the selection of priests and bishops by the laity. Jim Post, cofounder of Voice of the Faithful, has finally come clean expressing his support for the lay selection of bishops and providing an example of what his organization means by “structural change.” Post and his supporters want to reverse the authority structure of the Church by making it democratic. Democracy is good for government but undermines the tradition and form of the Catholic Church. The legacy of John Paul II—particularly his enormous paper trail—has insured that it will never happen.

Other mainline Christian denominations have listened to such voices and, as a result, have been lured into the irrelevancy of cultural assimilation. One denomination after another has adopted modish, politically correct causes at the expense of the faith’s core message of spiritual salvation. Christianity is not primarily an earthly program for political change, psychological comfort, or the satisfaction of media outlets. John Paul II took his message directly to the people, thereby forcing the media to cover his message and leaving the malcontents to fume at the outer boundaries of cable news and talk-radio shows.

The brief feeding frenzy after the passing of John Paul II will be a period of payback against the pope whose wisdom and goodness overwhelmed the cunning of his detractors. But have no fear. The white smoke will herald the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing the Church another leader who will again. outsize those who would tailor the Church to their own measurements.

Published in Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2003