April 27, 2010


The Oscar-nominated animated gem (or shall I say "emerald"?) "The Secret of Kells" is a definite "must-see." No excuses. Make an effort. The DVD isn't out yet, but the film will be returning to the Siskel Film Theater (State Street, Loop, Chicago) June 25--July 7, as it tours other cities. You DO want to see this on a big screen, and although I'm NO fan of 3-D, the hyper-creative, ever-in-motion, mixed-art-style graphics would have been marvelous in 3-D. There's even a scene where our little hero, Brendan, battles illuminations-come-to-life (you know those Celtic-knot snakes?) in a "Harold and the Purple Crayon" kind of way.

The "Book of Kells," of course, is an ancient (9th century) embellished Irish manuscript of the Four Gospels on view at Trinity College in Dublin. Its adventurous history (Viking raids, theft, lost cover, etc.) has now been given a completely new life with this partially-fictitious account, bringing the printed/illustrated Word of God to the cinema, and from there, of course, to all the new media! Erin go bragh! (The film is actually a collaboration among Irish, French and Belgian entities.)

Brendan is a red-haired lad who lives at a monastery with his uncle, the sad, stern, red-haired Abbot, and an international community of monks: Italian, African, Chinese, German (?!). They live under the ever-looming, certain threat of the Norse invasion and ensuing destruction. The Abbot's all-consuming preoccupation is to build a huge wall around the monastery for protection, although by all counts fleeing is the only way to face these marauders. Master-illuminator of manuscripts, Brother Aidan (a Willie Nelson lookalike), arrives from the island of Iona, where everyone has already been killed. (The Vikings resemble huge, dark mailboxes with glowing red eyes. They're scary, but not too. The most gore/bloodshed we see is a stick arrow piercing the Abbot's ample robes. Even wee ones would probably be able to handle this.)
Aidan enlists Brendan's help in completing a manuscript—much to the Abbot's displeasure—which requires Brendan to foray into the outside world, specifically a beautiful but treacherous forest inhabited by a friendly girl-fairy, Aisling (who wears white bell-bottoms). The only flaw in the narrative is an abrupt break after Brendan encounters the nebulous evil "Crom Cruach" in the forest and returns unscathed. It seems to me that perhaps there should have been a price to pay.

"The Secret of Kells" is a multi-level, multi-purpose experience. Written for children, it is full of fun (humorous animals and other antics) and fantasy (it mixes in Irish fairytales and legends). It's a tale of faith and art, beauty and "light." (The borders and drawings of "The Book" are called "illuminations.") Light is a big theme in "The Secret." Although "prayer," "miracles" and other Godtalk are manifest, there is no mention of "God," "Jesus," or any of the actual text of the Gospels (the focus is on the artwork), but the fact that The Book dispels darkness is very prominent. "The Secret" is an excellent springboard to diving into Celtic Christianity, culture, art, history, legends, monasticism, and, of course, what gives the Book of Kells its true power: God's Word!

There are maxims and deep conversations about overcoming fear and doing the right thing that adults, too, will ponder. Brendan states that he's "not afraid of imaginary things" (which can be taken two ways in the film). Are you?


--Other morsels about The Book: When it was stolen, the bejeweled cover was ripped off (and never recovered). The Book was found in a ditch and sustained some water-damage. Other than that, the 680 individual pages are extremely well-preserved. Only two of the pages lack any ornamentation, while entire pages are primarily decoration. Some of the workmanship is so finely detailed that it can only be seen clearly with magnification.

--There's an underlying love of books here. Brendan: "Not everything is written in books." Brother Aidan: "Yes, I think I read that somewhere."

--Nature (the woods) as a "book of revelation" is also a wonderful motif. (This is where Theology of the Body would come in. Also, the theme of light and seeing: "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness." Luke 11:34)

--If you go to Dublin to see The Book of Kells, beware! Sinners will go blind when they look at its pages! (Just go to Confession first.)

--Some of the animation reminds me of "Bullwinkle and Rocky" and "Watership Down."

--SOK follows a (pre-Franciscan) Irish tradition of communing with nature and animals (see the lives of Sts. Kevin, Columba (Columbkille), Brendan, Bridget)

--For further reading: "How the Irish Saved Civilization" by Cahill, "Brigid's Cloak" by Milligan (fantastic kids' book!)

--In addition to the mystical/magical soundtrack, check out the 90's Christian album "Book of Kells" by Iona (a group who puts the Gospels to song).

--"The Secret of Kells" (and other award-winning children's films) is distributed by http://www.gkids.tv/

--If there isn't already one, a wonderful (Christian) study guide should be written for SOK! (E.g., What were the Norsemen looking for? What did they miss? What is true treasure? Why do you think the Abbot gave up illuminating and was against it?)

--Full disclosure: I'm Irish. Real last name: Byrne (got messed up in Immigration).

April 12, 2010


I so wanted to like the new comedy "Date Night," pairing one of THE funniest women in America (Tina Fey) with one of the THE funniest men in America (Steve Carell). I was all set to laugh. Heartily. But this is one of those movies where you really HAVE seen all the good gags and heard all the good lines in the trailers and previews: "Honey, get up: NOW!" "Kill shot!" "I don't want the kids to stay with your mother—she's awful!"

The premise is solid: a "boring" New Jersey couple go out for an extra special date night and--due to a case of mistaken identity--get entangled in New York's criminal underground. Needless to say, their date night IS extra special. How could anything possibly go wrong or unfunny with Fey and Carell? Editing. Big editing problems. Pacing. Big pacing problems. Writing. Big writing problems. Shall I go on? Fey and Carell's comedic acting is fine (as is a nice turn by a blank-faced and shirtless Mark Wahlberg—the shirtlessness is important to the plot, trust me), but the chemistry between them is just a tad lackluster. Editing and pace: This movie needed to be way faster-paced and snappy, at least after Act One. It goes at a snail's pace that never really alters except for a rather hilarious chase scene that involves a sportscar and a taxi stuck to each other. Writing: could have been much sharper with more jokes. Music: the music is NOT fun and sounds like it goes with a serious Lifetime Movie Network biopic. It's hard to believe this flick's multiple problems are the fault of director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum 2").

Every so often, the movie gels, like the quiet scene in the midst of mortal danger, when wife and hubby pull off to the side of the road (in their stolen getaway car) to have a marital dispute about the little things that aren't so little. I love this because it says that, yes, how this relationship fares IS the most important thing in the world. (How every marital relationship fares is the most important thing in the world, or as JP2G says: "The future of civilization depends on what she will be for him and what he will be for her.") The dialogue at this point is quite sober, and reminds me of the honest, realistic dialogue between husband and wife (about the "little things") in the overlooked recent movie, "Motherhood," starring Uma Thurman.

The movie lands on a truly sweet and specific (concrete proof of true love) note.

But now. PG-13. Really? It's rated PG-13 for "sexual and crude content throughout, language, some violence and a drug reference." One of the last scenes is a prolonged and, again, unfunny trip to a strip joint/brothel. Sigh. True, this kind of stuff is all over TV (which of course doesn't make it "right") but movies are bigger, "paid for," public, you know—the whole experience is just different. Do we really need to see MORE of stripper culture? This ploy just felt desperate.

I find the newish write-ups for the movie rating system of WHY the thing is rated what it is to be very helpful. And in this case, accurate: "crude content throughout." I wish I had a clicker (or plenary indulgence) for every tired use of the "p" and "v" word. Hey, this couple from New Jersey really IS boring! Sex is not "dirty," and it can be funny, but to expect audiences to giggle childishly at the repeated mention of "unmentionable" body parts, is, well, childish.

What should have been a rollicking good time never quite frolics. Even the bloopers at the end don't bloop. "Date Night" is one for your "skip list," unless you enjoy meh.


--One very funny joke that works is how shocked everyone is (EVERYONE) that Fey and Carell's characters took someone else's dinner reservation. (This IS New York, remember.)

--"This gun sucks!" (another good line in context)

April 6, 2010


The Wall Street Journal also has an op-ed piece today about lawyer Jeffrey Anderson's
involvement. http://www.bridgeportdiocese.com/talk.3.31.2010.shtml

The Holy Father That I Know

by the Most Reverend William E. Lori, S.T.D., Diocese of Bridgeport, CT
March 31, 2010

It is Holy Week, that time out of time, when we remember the most
important events of all time: Jesus' suffering, His crucifixion, and
His conquest of death. The world, of course, is filled with
distractions. In this holy season some, especially the news media,
want us to focus instead on the supposed failures of our Pope,
Benedict XVI. The New York Times is again leading the attack, now
accusing the Holy Father himself of being complicit in "the widening
sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church." I want to share with you my
reflections about this subject.

It appears that the timing of these articles is calculated. The March
25 New York Times story suggesting that then-Cardinal Ratzinger
permitted a known offender to continue in ministry for almost thirty
years was based upon documents provided to it by Jeffrey Anderson, an
attorney who has received over $100 million suing Catholic
institutions and who is now suing the Vatican itself. Mr. Anderson
received these documents in discovery in December 2008. Why did he
wait until now to hand them over to the Times? Was it to help his suit
against the Vatican? Was it to coordinate with claimant groups
protesting in the Vatican on the very day of the Times report? Was it
to promote legislation friendly to plaintiffs' lawyers such as we are
fighting here in Connecticut and elsewhere? Was it to sully the
holiness of this week? We don't know. We do know that Mr. Anderson
controlled the timing, and the Times helped.

The truth is that there is no widening problem of child sexual abuse
in the Catholic Church, at least not in our country. A comprehensive
"Causes and Contents" study conducted by the John Jay College of
Criminal Justice showed that, by the early 90s, this problem was
largely corrected because many bishops already had in place safe
environment programs and zero tolerance policies. In 2002 the U.S.
bishops took additional steps to reach out to victims and to ensure
the safety of children and young people by issuing their landmark
Charter and Norms. For our Church serving almost 70 million American
Catholics, there were six allegations of childhood sexual abuse by
priests occurring in 2009. No other institution working with children
gets close to this level of safe environment.

Let us now focus on the stories in the New York Times regarding
Reverend Lawrence C. Murphy, the deceased Milwaukee priest who was
accused of molesting young people during the 1960s and 70s when he
headed a school for the hearing and sight impaired. To be sure, his
heinous behavior was utterly reprehensible and destructive. At the
same time, however, the Times' story incorrectly reports that Cardinal
Ratzinger was complicit when, "instead of discipline," Father Lawrence
Murphy was "quietly moved" to the Diocese of Superior where he
continued "working freely with children in parishes" for twenty-four
years until he died in 1998. The police looked into the allegations
regarding Father Murphy in 1974 and apparently found insufficient
evidence to take any action. Nevertheless, Murphy lost his job as head
of the school for the hearing and sight impaired in 1974. The
documents the Times itself posts show that his removal was not "quiet"
but that the police were informed, that there were protests and
leafleteering, and that there was "disclosure and public humiliation
in 1974."

Finally, the Times states that Murphy was "never disciplined." This
simply is not so. The Times does not tell its readers that, shortly
after new allegations came his way in 1993, Archbishop Weakland
promptly suspended Murphy's faculties and ordered him to cease all
public ministry, all unsupervised contact with children, and all
contact with persons, places, and situations giving rise to
temptations. The Times either hid the fact that Murphy was disciplined
by suspension of his faculties because it did not comport with the
story it wanted to tell, or because Mr. Anderson withheld the
documents from the Times that detailed this discipline.

In fact, if the New York Times had bothered to check with Father
Thomas Brundage, JCL, the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of
Milwaukee from 1995-2003, they would have been found that at the time
of his death, Father Murphy was still a defendant in a Canonical trial
(an internal trial conducted by the Church) in Milwaukee for the
crimes of sexual abuse and solicitation within the confessional. Thus,
the New York Times either was less than forthcoming in stating that
Murphy suffered no discipline, or Mr. Anderson, through selective
document disclosures, played the New York Times like a fiddle. The
shameless and reckless assertions by the Times and other media outlets
that then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, somehow
interfered with the trial by the church are categorically false. Fr.
Brundage, who was the presiding judge of the Canonical trial, says
unequivocally "with regard to the role of then Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in this matter, I have no reason to
believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his
doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information."

Here's what I know about Pope Benedict XVI and sexual abuse. As
detailed by John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter, when
Cardinal Ratzinger became the Vatican's "point man" on the problem in
2001, he personally reviewed hundreds of files. He then wrote the
bishops of the world that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith would henceforth handle all sexual abuses cases involving
priests. Under his leadership the Congregation provided bishops with
crucial direction and support in canonically removing offending
priests from ministry. In most circumstances, the Congregation
approved direct administrative actions so that bishops could
discipline and remove priests without the delays of full canonical

In 2002, I assisted in writing the Charter and Norms for the
Protection of Children and Young People. I was also one of the four
U.S. diocesan bishops who went to Rome to secure approval of the
Norms. I personally witnessed the pivotal and positive role that
Cardinal Ratzinger played in helping the American bishops to respond
to the sexual abuse crisis. Thanks to Cardinal Ratzinger the United
States Norms won approval from the Holy See. Together with the Charter
for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Norms have helped
the U.S. Bishops to bring about a true culture change in the Church.
State of the art safe environment programs have been developed.
Countless victims have been assisted. Priests who posed a danger to
young people are out of ministry. Dioceses cooperate closely with law
enforcement officials (contrary to yet another faulty op-ed piece in
the New York Times). The Congregation also helped bishops of other
countries deal with the sexual abuse crisis. When he became Pope,
Benedict XVI made resolution of the abuse problem a priority. Instead
of attacking this Pope, we should be thanking him for helping the
Church confront this crisis in a way that benefits victims, the
Church, and society.

There is an additional problem with the New York Times report worth
mentioning. It states that Father Murphy "also got a pass from the
police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims." This
clause is the entire comment that the Times gives to the failure of
the one government entity that had the greatest power to conduct an
investigation and remove an alleged sexual perpetrator from being
around children. The Church has no search warrants or prisons. The
police do. When government fails to manage the risk of sexual abuse,
the New York Times and other media too often give government a pass.
If we really care about protecting children, then the fourth estate
needs to focus its spotlight on those institutions with the greatest
problems. In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Justice
reported that one out of ten young people incarcerated in
government-run detention facilities were sexually victimized by their
guards during the single year of 2008. This represents 2,370 victims.
Where was the Times report? And the number of sexual abuse victims in
public schools dwarfs the problem in juvenile detention facilities.

The Times sued our Diocese to acquire privileged documents from court
files so that it could re-publish stories of long settled sexual abuse
cases that occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. Yet it ignores that
since 1992 in Connecticut alone, 112 Connecticut public school
teachers and coaches have lost their license to teach because of
sexual contact with students; and since 2006, 19 foster parents paid
by the State of Connecticut have been disciplined for sexually abusing
the children in their care. Where's the outrage and the calls for
resignations? Having the Pope and the Catholic Church bear the entire
blame of childhood sexual abuse may benefit the trial lawyers and
serve the agenda of their media partners, but it does nothing to
protect children today. Transferring billions from Catholic dioceses,
religious orders, and their charitable and educational ministries in a
time of economic crisis only creates new victims. It is time that
Church-bashing give way to responsible reporting and even-handed
public policy.