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Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has a rich history of journalistic professionalism and is a leader in the world of Catholic and religious media. With headquarters in Washington, offices in New York and Rome, and correspondents around the world, CNS provides the most comprehensive coverage of the church today. Website URL: http://www.catholicnews.com/

Movie review: 'Winchester'

There are many interesting things to know about the life of arms heiress Sarah Winchester (c. 1840-1922). For one, she was fabulously wealthy. For another, she believed she was cursed.
 
To stave off the effects of the latter condition, moreover, Sarah was apparently under the delusion that she must maintain constant construction on the San Jose, California, house in which she lived — something she proceeded to do for nearly four decades and only stopped doing because she died.
 
The architectural curiosity resulting from her mania, dubbed the Winchester Mystery House, has since become a popular tourist attraction. All very intriguing.
 
How, then, one wonders, can a horror movie riffing on these historical circumstances turn out to be such a bore — all the more so, given that the formidable Helen Mirren stars as Sarah? Yet such is the painful truth about "Winchester" (CBS Films), a dud if ever there was one.
 
Perhaps it's the scattershot approach adopted by co-directors and brothers Michael and Peter Spierig. Seemingly in an effort to try a little bit of everything, they mash up the haunted house, angry ghost and possessed kid subgenres, all to no avail. There's a lot going on but none of it works.
 
Witnessing all the mayhem is Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a man with a turbulent past of his own. Commissioned by the board of directors of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. to assess their majority shareholder's state of mental health, Eric has become one of Sarah's rare houseguests.
 
Of course, his initial outlook on the situation is one of resolute scientific skepticism. But, by the time he finds himself barricaded in an attic trying to protect Sarah from the rampaging specter of a Confederate soldier who has been dead for 20 years, he seems to have changed his point of view.
 
Sarah's claim about that curse, which also takes in her family — here represented by her niece (Sarah Snook) and young grandnephew (Finn Scicluna-O'Prey) — now appears, to Eric at least, well-founded in eerie fact.
 
The script's peaceable theme — the spirits bugging Sarah were all killed by Winchester guns, and she tries to calm them by communicating her sincere remorse — is certainly in keeping with Gospel values. Aspects of Eric's lifestyle, by contrast, though only hinted at, are clearly contrary to Scriptural norms of behavior.
 
A troubled widower, he has developed a laudanum addiction and enjoys consorting with ladies of the evening. Precisely what he gets up to with the streetwalkers we see hanging around his house in one scene — either individually or collectively — is, thankfully, kept decently obscure.
 
Such potentially sordid details, however, together with some of the elements listed below, makes "Winchester" strictly grownup fare.
 
The film contains occult themes, gunplay and other stylized violence with little gore, drug use, implications of promiscuity and possible group sex involving prostitutes, a couple of profanities, a milder oath and at least one crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
 
  • Published in Reviews

Pope: Blessed Paul VI to be canonized this year

Pope Francis told pastors in the Diocese of Rome that Blessed Paul VI would be canonized this year.
 
The pope's announcement came at the end of a question-and-answer session with the priests Feb. 15; the Vatican released the text of the exchange three days later.
 
Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, papal vicar for Rome, had told the priests that they would be receiving a book of "meditations" about priesthood drawn from speeches from each pope, from Blessed Paul VI to Pope Francis.
 
That prompted Pope Francis to comment, "There are two (recent) bishops of Rome who already are saints," Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II. "Paul VI will be a saint this year."
 
The sainthood cause of Pope John Paul I is open, he noted, before adding, "Benedict (XVI) and I are on the waiting list; pray for us."
 
The cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation for Saints' Causes reportedly voted Feb. 6 to recognize as a miracle the healing of an unborn baby and helping her reach full term. The baby's mother, who was told she had a very high risk of miscarrying the baby, had prayed for Blessed Paul's intercession a few days after his beatification by Pope Francis in 2014.
 
The theological commission of the Congregation for Saints' Causes had voted in December to recognize the intercession of Blessed Paul in the healing.
 
Although Pope Francis announced the upcoming canonization, he still has not formally signed the decree recognizing the miracle nor held a consistory — a meeting of cardinals — to set the date for the ceremony.
 
La Voce del Popolo, the newspaper of Blessed Paul's home diocese, the Diocese of Brescia, Italy, had reported in December that it is likely Pope Francis will celebrate the canonization Mass in October, during the meeting of the world Synod of Bishops, an institution Pope Paul had revived.
 
Blessed Paul, who was born Giovanni Battista Montini, was pope from 1963 to 1978.
 
  • Published in World

Acknowledge sin, but look for signs of God at work, pope tells priests

While it is true that the world is full of sin and sinful behavior, priests must learn to scrutinize the "signs of the times" for new trends and attitudes that are good and healthy and holy, Pope Francis told pastors from the Diocese of Rome.
 
While there is "moral conduct that we aren't used to seeing," such as the normalization of living together before marriage, there also is a greater awareness of human rights, a push for tolerance and equality and appreciation for the values of peace and solidarity," he said Feb. 15.
 
"We should not be frightened of the difficulties, but discern the signs of the times, the things that come from the Spirit" and then "help with the others," he said, according to RomaSette, the diocesan newspaper.
 
As is customary on the day after Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis spent the morning with the pastors in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Rome cathedral. The session began with a penitential liturgy and with the pope spending almost an hour hearing confessions.
 
Afterward, he responded to some of their questions. The event was closed to the press, although the Vatican Media website and RomaSette provided some information later in the day.
 
The questions were submitted by groups of priests according to how long they had been ordained.
 
The younger priests asked how they could fully live their vocation. Pope Francis has three recommendations: first, learn to balance commitments; second, "find your own style"; and finally, spend time in private prayer and find a good spiritual director with whom to talk over what arises in prayer.
 
While forgiveness always is available, the pope said, a person needs to learn how to examine the things that lead to sin in their lives and, especially for that reason, a mature spiritual guide is necessary.
 
To priests who are 40 to 50 years old and have been ordained a bit longer, Pope Francis said theirs is a time when ideals tend to become weaker and when the weight of ministry and administrative duties start to be felt.
 
The approach of middle age is a time of "many temptations," he said, but also the time of a "second calling from the Lord," a call to greater realism about ministry and greater maturity.
 
"One cannot continue without this necessary transformation because if you keep going like this, without maturing, making a way for crisis," the pope said, "it will end badly. You'll end up living a double life or leaving everything."
 
The older group of priests, those ordained more than 35 years ago, asked the pope about handling change, saying "we cannot always draw on our experience to respond to new questions" raised by society. They also asked the pope how he handled that mature phase of his ministry.
 
While the pope said he understood their unease with the fast-changing culture, he insisted that what people need most today are things they are more than able to provide: a smile, a listening ear and "offering pardon without condition in the sacrament of reconciliation."
 
Elderly priests, he said, know the trials of life and the difficulties and pain that people experience. They don't have to talk much, but they should listen a lot.
 
In his own life, when he faced big changes in his ministry, he told the priests, what helped most was to spend more time in prayer and adoration before the tabernacle.
 
  • Published in World

Catholic leaders caution that federal spending must safeguard common good

Catholic leaders cautioned that federal spending must safeguard the common good after the White House released its fiscal year 2019 spending plan that boosts military spending and cuts human services, environmental protection, diplomacy and international humanitarian assistance while assuring that the budget deficit will grow over the next decade.
 
The chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees joined Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA officials in expressing concern that the proposed budget disproportionately cuts programs assisting the poor and elderly, placing human life and dignity in danger.
 
The White House plan, "Efficient, Effective Accountable: An American Budget," proposes slashing federal spending by billions of dollars on food stamps, federal housing vouchers and health care for the poorest Americans even as defense spending would rise by tens of billions of dollars.
 
The proposal from the Office of Management and Budget at the White House cuts $17.2 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, and more than $1.1 billion from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It eliminates the requirement to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and caps the amount of money states receive for the program. It also widens work requirements to receive federal assistance in some cases.
 
Others set for elimination include the Community Development Block Grant ($3 billion), Community Services Block Grant ($715 million) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. ($3.4 billion).
 
Overall, the proposal eliminates 66 programs for a savings of $26.7 billion. The cuts are in line with President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to reform the federal government and reduce the federal workforce.
 
The budget proposal also serves to acknowledge that the $1-trillion tax reform law passed in December will spur long-term deficits that will not be offset by projected economic growth.
 
Reminding Congress that the federal budget is a moral document that sets forth the country's priorities, the USCCB chairmen urged lawmakers to "ensure a budget for our country that honors our obligations that build toward the common good."
 
"Budget decisions ought to be guided by moral criteria that safeguard human life and dignity, give importance to 'the least of these' and promote the well-being of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity," Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, said in a Feb. 13 statement.
 
"Our nation must never seek to balance the budget on the backs of the poor at home and abroad," the statement said in calling on Congress and all Americans "to evaluate the administration's budget blueprint in light of its impacts on those most in need."
 
The White House budget is unlikely to be adopted. Congress adopted a two-year budget plan as part of the latest stopgap spending measure passed early Feb. 9 after a brief government shutdown.
 
While the measure only funds the government through March 23, it included a broad spending outline covering two fiscal years. It kept social services spending largely intact while giving the president his much-desired increase in funding for the armed forces.
 
Congress still must write an omnibus spending bill to keep the government in operation through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2018.
 
Congressional observers believe lawmakers will continue to stay the course and only tweak federal spending especially in an election year when every seat in the House of Representatives and one-third in the Senate are on the November ballot.
 
Even so, the prospect of having to defend vital human needs funding from cuts in the face of more military spending is troubling to leaders within the social service and humanitarian aid fields.
 
Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for CRS, said that the agency's concerns center primarily on the administration's proposal to reduce funding for international humanitarian aid, especially the elimination of food assistance.
 
While Congress is expected to write its own budget plan that funds key aid programs, uncertainty remains in what the amount of funding will be, he told Catholic News Service.
 
"(The agencies) know that Congress is going to reject the budget, but they're hearing from the administration that this is the budget," O'Keefe explained. "The last time we saw that some part of the government acted as if the president's budget was going to be the budget. Other parts of the government acted with knowledge that Congress was going to overturn it. That created uncertainty and inconsistency.
 
"Helping people in communities requires that when you say the funding is going to be there, then it's going to be there. Relationships depend on trust and trust depends on reliability. This undermines that trust," he said.
 
O'Keefe expects Congress will fund programs targeted for elimination such as McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Food for Peace "because millions of lives depend on it."
 
"Fortunately a bipartisan consensus in Congress is well aware that as the richest country in the world we have a responsibility to help the more vulnerable," he added.
 
Giulia McPherson, interim executive director at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, told CNS the agency's focus will be with Congress to pass a spending plan that holds the line on international humanitarian funding, which makes up about 1 percent of the federal budget.
 
Under the administration's budget, the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development would see more than 30 percent of their allocations slashed.
 
McPherson worries that the Trump budget signals to the world that the U.S. is withdrawing from its long-held leadership role in providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and forcibly displaced people.
 
"The U.S. historically has invested in these kinds of programs and has demonstrated the kind of leadership that brought other countries on board," she said.
 
Any rollback in funding for international humanitarian and food assistance likely will worsen, not lessen, dangers to U.S. security, she added.
 
"Without education for example, people would be recruited into other armed groups or would face things like early child marriage or would be on other paths that could lead to broader insecurity. There are clear links in investment and humanitarian programs that would lessen the need for (more spending on) security measures."
 
Agency representatives such as McPherson, O'Keefe and others know they have a large task ahead with Congress. They told CNS they will press the moral arguments that the church has long made about the importance of protecting the most vulnerable people in the U.S. and abroad.
 
  • Published in Nation
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