20 years ago today: JP2 in Central Park

Today’s a good day for a look back at my post of last year on this date: “Only the Lover Sings.” It’s about Pope John Paul II in Central Park, 20 years ago today. Have a look.

New review of my Murray book

My book on John Courtney Murray reviewed in the new issue of the Journal of Jesuit Studies. Below is the full text of the review, which is by Fordham University’s William Gould. (It can also be found online here.)

Murray’s story is an utterly fascinating, timely, and yes, dramatic one, and it was a pleasure to retell it in this book. I’m relieved to think I succeeded to some degree. My thanks to William Gould and the Journal of Jesuit Studies!

. Collegeville: Liturgical Press. Pp. 216. Pb, $19.95.

American Jesuit John Courtney Murray (1904–1967) is well known both for his work as a public philosopher, as exemplified in his celebrated book , and as a leading architect of the church’s “Declaration on Religious Freedom” () at Vatican , which affirmed religious freedom as a fundamental civil right. In , Barry Hudock focuses chiefly on Murray’s contribution to church teaching on religious liberty.

Concerned that most younger Catholics are unfamiliar with Murray and his achievement, Hudock wants to make Murray’s work better known to them and to the larger community. As he indicates in his Introduction, his book is a successor to Donald Pelotte’s earlier work (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1976), which covered much of the same ground. While acknowledging the value of Pelotte’s book, Hudock notes that it is out of print, and that in the nearly four decades since its publication important new resources have appeared, including major articles by Joseph Komonchak, and the personal correspondence of Joseph Clifford Fenton, that greatly enrich our understanding of Murray’s achievement. In addition, the Pelotte book is scholarly in nature, while Hudock intends to offer something more accessible to the general public, which not only describes what Murray accomplished, but captures the personal drama he experienced.

The result is a lively, fast moving narrative in the form of “a theological adventure story” (as Hudock characterizes it), whose leading characters are Murray and his two principal antagonists, Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton, a theologian at Catholic University and editor of the influential , and Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The story is set against the background of the pre-Vatican church’s support for the confessional state and the old thesis/hypothesis framework whereby the Catholic ideal was that in countries like Spain, with a predominantly Catholic population, Catholicism should be the state religion and restrictions should be placed on the freedom of other religions (the thesis), whereas in countries like the United States, where Catholics were in the minority and a Catholic confessional state was not feasible, the right to religious freedom was accepted (the hypothesis).

Hudock explains how Murray, beginning in the 1940s, responded to this situation by adopting an historically-minded approach to the way the relation between church and state is to be understood in the Catholic tradition, seeking to separate the permanent or transtemporal elements in that tradition from those that were historically conditioned. Murray argued that with the Gelasian dyarchy (from Gelasius I in 494), Christianity inaugurated a distinction between spiritual and temporal authority that gave rise to a nascent constitutionalism in the Middle Ages, but that with the subsequent emergence of the nation state the Gelasian principle took two divergent paths: in continental Europe, it suffered rejection, first at the hands of royal absolutism and then, following the French Revolution, from a virulently secular, anti-clerical liberalism. It fared much better in the Anglo-American world, particularly the United States, where the Gelasian dyarchy found substantial, if imperfect, expression in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Murray argued that condemnations of the separation of church and state and of religious freedom by nineteenth-century pontiffs reflected justified opposition to the laicism of continental liberalism, but did not apply to the American version of church-state separation (with which the popes were not familiar). Murray further contended that the encyclicals of Leo XIII, on which he wrote extensively in , the Jesuit journal he edited, constituted a revival of the Gelasian principle. Furthermore, this principle was further developed by subsequent popes, particularly Pius , along lines reflecting support for limited constitutional government and the rights associated with modern democratic states, including the right to religious freedom.

As Hudock recounts in detail, Murray’s interpretation of Leo XIII and the contribution of more recent popes met with stiff opposition from Monsignor Fenton and his Catholic University of America colleague Father Francis Connell, who rejected Murray’s historically-conscious approach and pointed out numerous papal texts that challenged Murray’s claims. Monsignor Fenton also sent a number of private communications to Cardinal Ottaviani, expressing concern about Murray’s views and calling for action from Rome against him. After a speech at CUA in 1954 on Pius ’s address to Catholic jurists, , in which Murray claimed that the pope had repudiated the thesis-hypothesis model of church-state relations, as well as also making remarks that were interpreted as critical of Cardinal Ottaviani, such action came. In 1955, Murray was required to cease publishing on church-state issues and his last major article on Leo was withheld from publication.

Hudock then describes in detail Murray’s subsequent vindication at Vatican II. Although absent from the first session of the council (from which Murray said he was “disinvited”), Murray was chosen by Cardinal Spellman as a for the second session and played a key role thereafter both as a major contributor to the many drafts of the document that eventually became and as an advisor to the American bishops, whose support for in debates on the council floor proved crucial to its approval. Hudock does a good job of capturing the tense and at times dramatic atmosphere in which the supporters, like Murray, of the document endorsing religious freedom and those, like Ottaviani and his allies, who opposed it, clashed. Ultimately, of course, Murray’s side triumphed, and he is credited with making a major contribution to the development of doctrine in this area.

This is a valuable book for anyone interested in Murray, but I think it will be especially so to readers new to the man, for whom it will serve as a good introduction. I can see it working well in undergraduate courses, for example. It is not, however, an in-depth study of Murray’s life and thought. One hopes that someday someone (Father Komonchak, perhaps) will give us this kind of intellectual biography of Murray.

As the Synod begins

In the conversation about marriage and family life that Pope Francis initiated over a year ago within the Catholic Church, we have heard a lot about what is and isn’t faithful to church teaching. More “progressive” figures, such as Cardinal Kasper, have proposed new pastoral approaches for our consideration, while more “conservative” minded figures, like Cardinal Burke, have rejected them as being unfaithful to Scripture, tradition, and Church teaching.

Having spent a good portion of the last several years exploring the thinking and the story of Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, I have to say the current situation has a very familiar ring to it. Murray got himself into trouble with the highest authorities in Rome for suggesting that, despite what might seem to be the case, support for the idea of religious freedom as a human right was not contrary to Church teaching and is in fact a true and important element of that teaching. He was criticized for contradicting the magisterium and Scripture. His work was condemned as erroneous by the Vatican’s doctrinal authorities.

And then, a decade later, he was dramatically vindicated in almost the weightiest way possible: through a declaration of an ecumenical council of the Church.

Just because someone — even someone with great ecclesial authority — thinks a proposition is contrary to Church teaching does not mean it is. It may be, of course. Some ideas are. But to treat as a villain — as a certain Catholic cable news channel has done for going on two years now — faithful pastors and theologians who work hard to offer new pastoral approaches in ways that is faithful to the Gospel and to the Church is wrong and does a disservice to the Church and to the truth.

Come, Holy Spirit, upon the Synod. Enlighten those participating in it with your holy Wisdom.

On the reading list

I’m excited to see that my book, The Eucharistic Prayer: A User’s Guide, is required reading for Timothy Brunk’s course on Liturgy and Justice at Villanova University this fall. All the more exciting to see the short list of other required books. Wow, that’s humbling company to be in. (Every student who looks at that list is thinking, “Who’s that last guy?”)

You can see Professor Brunk’s summary of the course, which sounds excellent, and its reading list here.


I’ve been having a little fun over the last few days reading and adding to tweets with the #PopeASong hashtag. Folks have been tweeting “Catholicized” (or Popized or Francisized) versions of popular song titles, like “Every Rosary Has Its Thorn” and “I Wanna Dance With Psalmbody” and “Who Let The Dogmas Out.” You get the picture. Anyway, here are my own entries, all in one place:

“White Smoke on the Water”

“Hot for Preacher”

“The Bishop Is Back”

“I Love Rock ‘n Rome”

Pachelbel’s Canon Law

“Your Love Is Lifting Me Hierarchy”

“Summer Knights of Columbus”

“Proud Virgin Mary”


Wham!’s “Careless Vespers”

The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Zuchetto) Satisfaction”

“Carmelite Chameleon”

“A Hard Dorothy Day’s Night”

“The Plates Fly Like an Eagle”

City of saints

Philadelphia, which will host Pope Francis next week for the World Meeting of Families, is a city of saints. Saints John Neumann, Katharine Drexel, and Frances Xavier Cabrini each helped shape the Church there in fascinating and inspiring ways. And their influence ultimately was felt way beyond the City of Brotherly Love.

In my brand new article, published in the current issue of Our Sunday Visitor, you can read about how Bishop Neumann became one of the primary founders of the Catholic school system in the United States, Mother Drexel and her sisters faced down the KKK and violent segregationists, and Mother Cabrini educated immigrants and protected them from exploitation. 

The article is available here online.

New Romero article

The September/October edition of The Catholic Answer magazine features an article I wrote on Oscar Romero, called “‘No to Violence!’ Who Is Oscar Romero?” You can find that article online here.