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Creative Advance



"The many become one, and are increased by one." Inspired by the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, who saw creativity as the ultimate metaphysical principle luring the universe into novelty. The primary interest is identifying, analyzing and



Updated: 2015-09-17T01:16:33.091-05:00

 



Jesuit School Theologian Proposes "Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation"

2014-09-04T09:00:57.223-05:00

Lisa Fullam, Th.D. (Harvard Divinity School), has been Associate Professor of Moral Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley since August 2003.Last April she wrote an academic treatise entitled "Civil Same-Sex Marriage:  A Catholic Affirmation."  It was published approvingly in Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry, whose mission is "Building Bridges Between the LGBT Community and the Catholic Church."Professor Fullam's analysis is significant because it argues -- in my view, successfully -- that the Catholic moral tradition on civil law should prompt Catholics and church leaders to affirm civil same-sex marriage, even though what is normative for marriage within the Catholic church may not change.Given that "there has been considerable development in authoritative sexual teaching over the centuries," Professor Fullam at one point questions if "sexual teaching as we have it now has reached perfection."  And she is particularly adept at documenting how official teaching on the ends of marriage changed dramatically from what the bishops gathered at Vatican II said in Gaudium et Spes (1965) to what Pope John Paul II said in a series of weekly lectures from 1979 to 1984.  Her analysis shows that John Paul II's position was a step backward in the development of church teaching on human sexuality and on marriage.  Yet it has dominated all official teaching since.But her primary interest is to show that the Catholic church has never insisted that civil law incorporate every position of official Catholic moral theology -- and that forcing civil law to reflect official Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage does real violence to human beings and to the common good which civil law exists to promote.When I first read this strategy, I had reservations.  My personal preference is to attack deficient theology head on and try to show how it can be corrected.  But the genius of Fullam's approach is that it uses very traditional Catholic positions on civil law to show why it is counter-productive -- and destructive -- to insist on enshrining the official Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage there.  Outlawing same-sex marriage within Catholicism has one set of consequences.  But trying to outlaw it in civil society as a whole escalates those consequences in a manner that imperils individuals and the common good.It would not surprise me if Professor Fullam was influenced to adopt this strategy by her contacts with Rev. Charles E. Curran, with whom she co-edited the two most recent books in the Paulist Press "Readings in Moral Theology" series (volume #s 16 and 17).  It is, at any rate, the practical kind of tactic Curran would pursue when he saw an opening:  we may not be able to change what is being taught within the church, but when those teachings have negative impacts on human welfare and human society, we are responsible for reversing those impacts.Fullam begins with the traditional Catholic concept of the natural law, "best understood as the use of human reason in line with first principles, aimed at the common good... To see how the natural law guides us in a given situation is to think deeply about how the question before us is best resolved for the flourishing of ourselves and our societies."Civil law, she says, is a narrower category.  It cannot contradict the natural law, but "civil law does not prohibit all vices or prescribe all acts of virtue.  The end of civil law is to uphold the common good, either directly or indirectly.  She quotes Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae:"[H]uman laws do not forbid all vices...but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained:  thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like."Pausing her analysis of civil law, Fullam then addresses why same-sex marriage is disallowed in off[...]



You Must Remember This: A Kiss Is Just a Kiss, Unless It's the Kiss of Peace

2014-08-05T14:57:18.984-05:00

National Catholic Reporter Senior Analyst Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., comments on the recent decision by the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) to leave the contentious Kiss of Peace where it is in the Eucharistic Liturgy.If the CDW would read Reese's piece, they would learn that their refusal to follow the request of the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist -- to move the Kiss of Peace to the end of the Liturgy of the Word -- further corrupts what the kiss meant in the most ancient of Christian liturgical texts that liturgical scholars have found.Not only are Reese's comments educational; they are also very entertaining.  And for my purposes, the history of the Kiss of Peace is another great example of how the creativity of church teaching sometimes moves forward only after church leaders turn into cul-de-sacs.  More on that in a moment.Reece's wry comments include:"Only in the Catholic church is a kiss never just a kiss."And, the CDW's letter "shows why liturgical scholars have been praying for a new prefect of the congregation."And, "Kissing at the conclusion of prayers appears to have been a common Christian custom."And finally, "The Catholic community, no matter what the Vatican may want, has made the kiss of peace in its current place a joyous symbol, and no amount of catechesis will change that."What is less entertaining -- and more ironic, really -- is that on one of those rare occasions when the Synod of Bishops actually got something right, the Vatican's response is to ignore them, and the very decent theology that Reece finds their request at least implied (whether or not they fully appreciated it).Reece documents that in the most ancient text known to liturgical scholars, the first Apology of Saint Justin in the mid-second century, "the kiss occurred immediately after the prayers that concluded the liturgy of the Word.  Today this would mean placing the kiss of peace after the prayer of the faithful."It is mistaken, Reece says, to see the Kiss of Peace as "a preparation for the Eucharistic sacrifice..."  Rather, he says, "The kiss at the end of the Liturgy of the Word symbolizes the community acceptance of the message they have just heard.  They are 'shaking on a deal.'  They are agreeing to a covenant."Of course, the message the community has just heard in one way or another always involves reconciliation with one another and communion with each other.  So as the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word, that process is a sine qua non for the communion with the Risen Lord brought about in the actions of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.Reece says "Liturgical historians believe that the kiss moved to its current location when the Lord's Prayer was moved from the end of the prayer of the faithful to its current location prior to Communion."  An unintended consequence of moving the kiss with the Lord's Prayer was that the meaning of the kiss became confused.  And it has remained open to confusion for centuries since.The history of the Kiss of Peace is another excellent instance of how the creativity of church teaching -- the subject of my doctoral dissertation -- works over time.  New developments in theology are not often straight-forward, upward progressions in the quest for accuracy and truth.  Sometimes progress is erratic and messy.  Sometimes the church must take a wrong turn, discover after a time (sometimes a very long time) that it has lost its way, then go back to earlier practice to learn where the wrong turn was made and what better alternative was possible.In this case, liturgical scholarship has identified the wrong turn and, at least in 2005, convinced the Synod of Bishops to call for a correction.  (Of course, the bishops may have been more concerned with the community's serenity leading up to Communion than with the actual history of the Kiss of Peace.  But their request in fact would restore a better appreciation for the kiss th[...]



Mary "Monster Monstrance" Posting from 2008 Gets Its Eighth Comment in Six Years

2014-07-30T12:59:16.384-05:00

This blog has been silent for the last three months, waiting to see if Pope Francis will actually deliver on his promising start as Bishop of Rome.  His revival of a liberation-theology approach to Catholic evangelization remains strong.  But for me the ultimate test is whether the upcoming Synod on the Family will actually produce much needed changes to official teaching on human sexuality, same-sex marriage, birth control, divorce and remarriage, and the church's stance on the civil treatment of these issues.  Or will the synod focus solely on the tactic that the teachings are sound but mercy should be shown to those who are incapable of living them?The global invitation for people to comment on the issues raised the hope that the lived experience of real human beings might finally be taken seriously -- and respectfully.  However, the bland discussion document generated by Vatican officials to summarize that vast input was disappointing:  rather than considering that any of those teachings could be improved or updated, the officials dug in their heels and suggested that the problem was not deficient doctrines but inadequate communication of teachings that were not only sound but unsurpassable.  Once the bishops assemble for the synod, they may dismiss the document as the poppycock it is and actually debate the real issues -- as the bishops did at the Second Vatican Council when they were offered other reactionary drivel as discussion starting points.  But until the synod starts, it's impossible to know if that will happen, unless Francis plays some other card(s) in the intervening months.Meanwhile, since life goes on in the months before the synod, my concrete discussion of specific church teachings probably needs to resume.  Among the first postings will be one on an academic paper by a theologian at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley (one of my almae matres) about the church's position on civil same-sex marriage.  The paper offers a way that the church could accept civil same-sex marriage without changing how it treats marriage internally.But the immediate occasion for today's posting is a new development on a previous one from June 12, 2008, Mary Quite Contrary:  Monster Monstrance Promotes Mariolatry and Wafer Madness.  That posting commented on the public unveiling, with huge fanfare, of a 700-pound, nine-foot monstrance in the shape of the Virgin Mary at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Chicago.  More or less in the area of the statue's uterus was a 12-inch consecrated host.  The point of my comments was two-fold:  the monster monstrance was bad theology of Mary and bad theology of the eucharist.The new development is that the 2008 posting has just received its eighth comment in six years.  When I made the comments, I did not expect them to garner more feedback than any other posting since I started the blog (in 2006).  The feedback has been positive and negative and often quite heartfelt.In response to some of the more negative feedback, I have said more than once that I would do a more elaborate blog posting on the subject of eucharistic adoration.  But as I have re-read my original analysis and my responses to many of the comments, I don't think there is really too much to add.The eucharistic theology I was taught in graduate school correctly emphasized that the Real Presence of the Risen Lord during the liturgy came about through actions (blessing, breaking, sharing, eating, drinking), and not through the kind of metaphysical change envisioned by theories such as transubstantiation.  I believe that Real Presence based on liturgical actions remains a sound theology, and that any theory that implies change to the bread and wine at an elemental (or even physical) level is a dead end.  Some who have read the original posting get that, and some deny that.  But saying more on the subject will probably convince no more readers than have b[...]



Why John Paul II Does Not Deserve Symbiotic Sainthood with John XXIII

2014-04-26T12:34:24.482-05:00

Religious and public media are abuzz with tomorrow's planned joint canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in Rome -- a first in the history of the Catholic Church and also the first time the current pope will celebrate the ritual with his retired immediate predecessor among the concelebrants.There is also much discussion of which pope is the real saint being recognized and which one is enjoying a sort of symbiotic sainthood.The most popular coverage would have it that world-stage extrovert John Paul II, the first of the two to be fast-tracked heaven-ward, is the big fisherman in this tale, with Pope John XXIII as a jolly afterthought -- even though it was John XXIII who convoked the revolutionary Second Vatican Council, pushed it toward aggiornamento with the modern world, and (among other things) made a non-Italian pope a real possibility for the first time in centuries.Count me part of a less visible but more vocal crowd who finds this thinking entirely backwards.  Not only is John XXIII the real saint, with Vatican II the only miracle anyone should need for proof.  More than that, John Paul II does not deserve to be called a saint at all -- and it is demeaning to the memory and accomplishments of John XXIII to attach John Paul II symbiotically to the real sanctity of Good Pope John.The primary reason this symbiosis is so irrational and unjustified is that John Paul II dedicated his entire papacy to trying to undo what John XXIII and Vatican II accomplished.  Until the election of Pope Francis, I feared that John Paul II had largely succeeded.  Francis, fortunately, put the breaks on many of John Paul's reactionary moves, including neo-clericalism, neo-ritualism, and above all, the Vatican opposition to liberation theology.It's nice of Francis to placate the John Paulistas with canonization, and to provide cover for John Paul's apostasy toward Vatican II by letting him bask in the long-deserved glorification of John XXIII.  But let's be clear:  it's John XXIII, whose style and substance Francis reflects so genuinely, who deserves to be called a saint -- not the pope who tried to scuttle John XXIII's reforms.In the case of John Paul II, what should have been the straw that broke sainthood's back was his failure to stop the priestly pedophilia crisis, which he knew about as far back as 1984.  If trying to destroy Vatican II was not enough, surely punishing sex abuse victims and their families with disinformation campaigns and legal stonewalling should have been more than sufficient to derail his train to glory.In this regard, Father Thomas Doyle has a commentary just posted by the National Catholic Reporter, in which he gives his own first-hand account of what John Paul II knew about the crisis and when he knew it.  Doyle, a canon lawyer who has represented priest abuse victims for thirty years, knows what he's talking about:  he was on the staff of the papal nuncio at that time and was the staffer who prepared briefings, incident reports and in-person orientations for the highest ranking Vatican officials.  John Paul II had direct knowledge of the scope of the problem and did nothing about it for years -- except to make the scope and the duration of the problem worse.Of John Paul II's canonization, Doyle has this to say:"The past 30 years have led me to the opinion that his sainthood is a profound insult to the countless victims of sexual assault by Catholic clergy the world over. It is an insult to the decent, well-intentioned men and women who were persecuted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during his reign, and it is an insult to the memory of Pope John XXIII, who has the misfortune being a canonization classmate." Father Doyle takes on "some of the bizarre statements John Paul's two main cheerleaders have been making..." -- referring to long-time John Paul American apologist George Weigel, who has slithered his way[...]



Sr. Joan Chittister Lambasts "Religious Freedom" Pretext for Shunning Gays

2014-03-19T15:40:45.449-05:00

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes a regular column for The National Catholic Reporter called "From Where I Stand."  In the latest column, New 'religious' group just as deadly as the ones that preceded it, she likens those who would deny services to gay people on the grounds of a bogus "religious freedom" to those who previously excluded -- and killed -- blacks, Jews and women.She notes that the effort recently defeated in Arizona has also been proposed in several other states.The column follows in full.Here's the problem with religion. You never know which religion you're going to meet: the "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" kind or the "Get thee behind me, Satan" kind. You have to be very careful not to confuse one with the other. Your very life could depend on it.The golden-rule types take people into the center of the community; the get-out-of-my-sight kind keep people out of it. One kind of religion embraces those who are different from themselves; the other excludes those who are different, the ones who are not like them: blacks if they're white; Jews if they're Christian; women if they're men.Some people have lived restricted lives and even died at the hands of those who sought to restrict them -- some for trying to eat at white lunch counters or sitting down on buses; some for having ancestors in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago; some for serving soup that was cold or not ironing the shirts right.The important thing to remember is that it doesn't really matter how the transgressions were defined. What matters is that the arguments in defense of doing it were always the same: God didn't want mixed races, or God wanted women to obey men, or God wanted Jews punished because the Romans crucified Jesus. Go figure.And we forswore them all and thought we had learned something.Until, lo and behold, we now discover that we have a new group developing, just as deadly, just as "religious" as the ones that preceded it. This new group made its first great public move in Arizona last month, just after the country in a great sweeping gesture of goodwill voted against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.Most disconcerting, perhaps, is the fact that this group's power grab was as bold and shocking as the exclusionists before them. It was done as if we never learned anything from all our previous attempts to exclude multiple other groups before this -- Native Americans, women, the Irish, Eastern Europeans, anyone who fell outside the pale in the past.This time, they wanted to discriminate against people in the name of "religious freedom" -- read lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They wanted public businesses that had been formed under the auspices of state law for the sake of public commerce to have the legal right to refuse to serve patrons who seek the services promised to the public under those same laws.It was a matter of "religious freedom," they said. A business owner could refuse service to those whose lives offended his/her religious beliefs. It was a personal matter, they argued, a matter of private conscience.But the argument is not all that simple.The state that gives businesses tax breaks and public security protections and requires quality control of goods and services for the sake of the public good has the right to require that those services be available to the public. Or forget the tax breaks and the public police and fire protection and the legal recourse to protection of that business under the law.After more than a century of segregation, people across the country stood up to refuse another century of shunnings in the name of God.We have all watched our gay children committing suicide to avoid the bullying and social discrimination that dogged their lives. This time, Arizona said, "Enough of that."We all see young gay women and men doomed to lives of rejection and ridicule for choices not their own, and people everywhere are beginnin[...]



With Francis, "The Message of Those in the Margin Has Been Heard in the Halls of Power"

2013-12-06T12:40:17.118-06:00

Jeff Dietrich, who has been a member of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker for over forty years, has published in the National Catholic Reporter a commentary hailing Pope Francis that I find just excellent.Dietrich praises Francis for speaking with the authority of the Roman Catholic Church itself what the Catholic Worker people have been living and proclaiming from the margins for decades.Below is the entirety of Dietrich's piece, including the following picture that NCR posted with it.Pope Francis leads a meeting with the poor in the archbishop's residence Oct. 4 in Assisi, Italy. The meeting was in the famous "stripping room," where St. Francis stripped off his rich clothes, gave them to his father and began a life of poverty dedicated to Christ. (CNS/Paul Haring) I have never expected to be affirmed for the work that I do. So it was shocking and a little disorienting to receive affirmation for my often-less-than-appreciated efforts from the very last place I would expect: the highest authority of the Roman Catholic church. I have been working at the Catholic Worker soup kitchen on Los Angeles' Skid Row for over 40 years. I have published articles and books that have criticized prelates and politicians. I have occupied the cardinal's bell tower and his bulldozer to protest the exorbitant expense of a new cathedral. I have blockaded the mayor's bathroom, calling for porta-potties for the homeless. I have laid my body under city dump trucks to protect the personal property of the homeless from confiscation by city officials. I have gone to jail twice with the Occupy folks, protesting the excesses of Wall Street. I have always taken the part of marginal people, suffered the ire of the powerful, and felt the sting of being on the margins myself.So I was thrilled to read Pope Francis' manifesto sharply criticizing the excesses of capitalism, calling for "a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets." This is not the church I have known since my days at St. Mary's Grammar School. It sounded a bit like what I have been doing for the last 40 years. I felt like the spy who came in from the cold, the voice in the wilderness suddenly propelled from the margins to the center of the very church I have spent my entire adult life criticizing.Now for the first time in my life, I could hear a voice within the institutional church that echoed my own. Pope Francis' two fundamental issues are the same as mine: "the inclusion of the poor in society and ... peace and social dialogue." His is a strident voice calling for priests to leave the confines of their cozy rectories and secure sanctuaries and head out to care for and defend the victims of unmerciful financial markets. It is a voice that is not afraid to attack the only true "religion" of our era: capitalism. He tells us that "everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless."While I do not agree with every papal utterance, especially those regarding women and sexuality, this may be a revolution in rhetoric only with no official policies to make structural changes within ossified church structures. For instance, I don't expect the pope to sell off the treasures of the Vatican and give it to the poor anytime soon or to fire all of the conservative prelates appointed by his predecessor. But in the meantime, I don't care.This is a pope who cooks his own food and refuses to fly first class, live in a papal palace, ride in a limousine or wear the royal trappings of his office. This is a pope who is the solitary world figure with institutional authority that has the temerity to speak out against the idolatry and misanthropic nature of the world capitalist system. This is the only world figure to speak out boldly against the systematic starvation of the poor.This is a pope who occupies the bulliest of all bully pulpits in the world and has radicall[...]



If Pope Francis Puts People First, They Will Reform Deficient Doctrines

2013-12-04T09:48:22.071-06:00

In an important new article in the National Catholic Reporter, Hans Kung -- the theological nemesis of every pope since Vatican II -- suggests that (1) the current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has not bought into the pastoral outreach which Pope Francis has emphasized pretty much daily since his election, and (2) that, on the pope's specific outreach to divorced and remarried Catholics, the CDF has already taken steps that aim to prevent it.

Because Joseph Ratzinger headed the CDF under John Paul II and then incorporated CDF's conservative positions into his own papacy as Benedict XVI, Kung used to find himself criticizing the CDF and the pope simultaneously.  But with the election of Francis, a pope he clearly treasures and finds much more agreeable, Kung now gets to champion the pope against the CDF.

Beyond divorce and remarriage, Kung lists several issues on which Pope Francis and the CDF now seem to be pulling in opposite directions.

The significance of this cannot be exaggerated:  although this pope's instinct is to tackle pastoral outreach and pay as little attention as possible to "settled" church teachings, the CDF is not inclined to let him do that.

But in that stance, the CDF may actually be doing Francis and lay people a huge favor:  because the insistence of Vatican II, especially in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, is that the signs of the times and above all the lived experience of ordinary people must be allowed to reveal deficiencies in church doctrines and ways those deficiencies can be corrected.

So if he continues the inspired course he has followed since his election on March 13, 2013, Francis sooner or later will have to face the fact that pastoral outreach -- which means taking lay people seriously -- will lead inexorably to new teachings that will put new limits on the teachings they replace.

As my doctoral dissertation argues, this process is precisely the way church teachings change over time.  If the pastoral outreach does not lead to better teachings, then lay people will not have been taken seriously and the pastoral outreach will be regarded as bogus.

Francis has given every indication that in fact he does take lay people seriously.  Let us pray that he understands where this conviction must lead, and that he will have the strength and courage to lead us there.



Theologians Call Catholic Sexual Teachings "Incomprehensible," Urge Lay Input

2013-11-22T12:19:55.376-06:00

The National Catholic Reporter has also posted an important article noting that over fifty Catholic academics in a dozen countries have signed a statement calling "the church's teachings on marriage and sexuality 'incomprehensible' and . . . asking bishops around the world to take seriously the expertise of lay people in their preparations for a global meeting of the prelates at the Vatican next year."

The signers urge the synod bishops to listen carefully to the experience of ordinary people who find unlivable the traditional church teachings on divorce and remarriage, cohabitation before marriage, same-sex marriage and contraception -- and they also urge all Catholics to take every opportunity to voice their experience by participating in the pre-synod questionnaire.

What is gratifying to me in particular is that the academics' critique of church teachings on human sexuality is sometimes a verbatim statement of the comments I made when I completed the church reform groups' survey.



National Catholic Reporter Offers More Ways to Give Input to Family Synod

2013-11-22T12:07:00.073-06:00

The National Catholic Reporter has run several more articles on the questionnaire issued to prepare for the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family.

Among the most helpful was Lay Groups Launch Surveys to Answer Vatican Questionnaire, posted on Nov. 16, 2013.  It announces two surveys posted online for Catholics to communicate their input.

One of them, posted by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good on Nov. 1st at http://papalsurvey.com/, is not as helpful as some, because in allows for feedback only in narrative form.

However, the other is better:  it allows for multiple choice answers to many of the questions, followed by narrative comments if desired.  Launched by a coalition of 15 church reform groups, it's open for input through Dec. 15th. at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SynodOnFamilyUS.

The church reform groups, primarily members of Catholic Organizations for Renewal, include Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, FutureChurch, DignityUSA, the Women's Ordination Conference, and CORPUS (which originated as the Congress of Resigned Priests United States, but now dubs itself simply as "a ministerial community").

I completed the church reform groups' survey and found it very helpful in providing my input.  Being able to use the comment fields after the multiple choice questions allowed me to give the rationale for several of my answers.  I highly recommend it to anyone who would like their input heard.



There Are Ways for Catholics to Participate in the Vatican Survey on Family Synod Issues

2013-11-15T09:29:28.819-06:00

There has been quite a buzz over the announcement November 5th that, in preparation for a 2014-2015 Synod on the Family, Pope Francis has asked for input from Catholics around the world on several controversial issues impacting family life today.The controverted issues include divorce and remarriage, contraception, cohabitation without marriage, same-sex marriage, as well as how to provide pastoral care and inclusiveness to people who find themselves in such "irregular" situations (as the Vatican document describes them).There is disagreement regarding the significance of the Vatican initiative (does it go beyond previous pre-synod practice, for example?) and whether the Vatican expects national bishops' conferences to get actual input from the people in the pews, or even perhaps the unchurched (the Bishops of England and Wales turned the questionnaire into a web link where anyone can give their opinions; still digging in their heels against "the Francis effect," the U.S. Bishops seem determined to avoid the laity at all costs).But as the New York Times reported, this particular Vatican pre-synod initiative seems to go well beyond previous ones in the scope of its outreach and in unusually detailed content -- and to be unique because it seems to be in preparation for two back-to-back synod gatherings in 2014 and 2015.Regardless of the U.S. Bishops' ultimate strategy on the questionnaire, there are ways for individual U.S. Catholics to participate in giving their personal opinions on the questions asked.The National Catholic Reporter provides links not only to the questionnaire itself, but also to various cover letters that distributed it and contain physical addresses where written responses may be sent.The Bishops of England and Wales are also open to survey answers on their website from Catholics in other countries (and apparently anyone who cares to join in).    But they have set a November 30th deadline for completing their survey online.Progressive Catholics who have lobbied fifty years for more input from the baptized and more collegial decision-making in updating church teachings should not miss out on this historic opportunity:  Tell church leaders what we think and how they ought to extend pastoral outreach, care and inclusion to those who object conscientiously to church teachings grown out of touch with the deepest longings of the human heart.[...]



From Free-Market Icon to Unperson: Alas, Milton Friedman, They Hardly Know You

2013-08-13T11:26:29.278-05:00

This blog has repeatedly referred readers to columns by Paul Krugman, Nobel prize-winning economist in 2008 and, since 1999, op-ed columnist for the New York Times.  Sometimes this is not entirely productive, since Krugman tends to harp repeatedly on a few key themes.  Chief among them:  the failure of conservative economists to learn the lessons of the Great Depression and how mistakes by the federal government inadvertently extended it.So it is not surprising that Krugman returns to this theme in his criticism of the economic ideas of the two politicians most highly regarded by Tea Party Republicans:  Sen. (Ayn) Rand Paul and Congressman Paul (Ayn Rand) Ryan.  (Did I mention both worship Ayn Rand?)What is noteworthy about Krugman's latest foray, though, is that he commends the late Federal Reserve Chairman Milton Friedman, "who used to be the ultimate avatar of conservative economics," for making concessions to reality in an effort "to save free-market ideology from itself," and then shows how far Paul/Ryan have devalued Friedman -- and Friedman's humility and wisdom.His point is that Friedman could be swayed by reality and modify his theories to deal with it, while "the modern right...rejects reality" -- which, Krugman says snidely, "has a well-known liberal bias."Krugman's column shoots down Paul/Ryan's flight from reality so brilliantly that I could not resist sharing it in full below:Recently Senator Rand Paul, potential presidential candidate and self-proclaimed expert on monetary issues, sat down for an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. It didn’t go too well. For example, Mr. Paul talked about America running “a trillion-dollar deficit every year”; actually, the deficit is projected to be only $642 billion in 2013, and it’s falling fast.But the most interesting moment may have been when Mr. Paul was asked whom he would choose, ideally, to head the Federal Reserve and he suggested Milton Friedman — “he’s not an Austrian, but he would be better than what we have.” The interviewer then gently informed him that Friedman — who would have been 101 years old if he were still alive — is, in fact, dead. O.K., said Mr. Paul, “Let’s just go with dead, because then you probably really wouldn’t have much of a functioning Federal Reserve.”Which suggests an interesting question: What ever happened to Friedman’s role as a free-market icon? The answer to that question says a lot about what has happened to modern conservatism.For Friedman, who used to be the ultimate avatar of conservative economics, has essentially disappeared from right-wing discourse. Oh, he gets name-checked now and then — but only for his political polemics, never for his monetary theories. Instead, Rand Paul turns to the “Austrian” view of thinkers like Friedrich Hayek — a view Friedman once described as an “atrophied and rigid caricature” — while Paul Ryan, the G.O.P.’s de facto intellectual leader, gets his monetary economics from Ayn Rand, or more precisely from fictional characters in “Atlas Shrugged.”How did that happen? Friedman, it turns out, was too nuanced and realist a figure for the modern right, which doesn’t do nuance and rejects reality, which has a well-known liberal bias.One way to think about Friedman is that he was the man who tried to save free-market ideology from itself, by offering an answer to the obvious question: “If free markets are so great, how come we have depressions?”Until he came along, the answer of most conservative economists was basically that depressions served a necessary function and should simply be endured. Hayek, for example, argued that “we may perhaps prevent a crisis by checking expansion in time,” but “we can [...]



Jesuit at 80: "I Defrock Myself...to Serve God More Faithfully, Truly, and Universally"

2013-07-18T14:33:41.141-05:00

The National Catholic Reporter posted an article July 15, 2013, about Bert Thelen, a Jesuit priest almost 80 years old who is resigning from the order and the priesthood after 45 years of service -- to protest the official church's "world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity."Father Thelen sees himself drawn to a new calling:  "It is time for the Church to turn her attention from saving face to saving the earth, from saving souls to saving the planet. It is time to focus on the sacred bond that exists between us and the earth. It is time to join the Cosmic Christ in the Great Work of mending, repairing, nurturing, and protecting our evolving creation."While he says he is de-frocking himself to return to his original baptismal state, what Thelen is really doing is calling attention to the priesthood of all believers and attempting in his remaining years to embody how that priesthood might be lived.His letter to his friends and colleagues explaining his decision follows.May the Grace of Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Peace of the Holy Spirit be with you! I am writing to tell you about what may be the most important decision of my life since entering the Jesuits. With God's help, at the behest of my religious superiors and the patient support and wise encouragement of my CLC group and closest friends, I have decided to leave ordained Jesuit ministry and return to the lay state, the priesthood of the faithful bestowed on me by my Baptism nearly 80 years ago. I do this with confidence and humility, clarity and wonder, gratitude and hope, joy and sorrow. No bitterness, no recrimination, no guilt, no regrets.It has been a wonderful journey, a surprising adventure, an exploration into the God Who dwells mysteriously in all of our hearts. I will always be deeply grateful to the Society of Jesus for the formation, education, companionship, and ministry it has provided, and to my family for their constant support. I can never thank God enough for the loving and loyal presence in my life of each and every one of you.  Why am I doing this? How did I reach this decision? I will try to tell you now. That is the purpose of this letter. For about 15 years now, as many of you have noticed, I have had a "Lover's Quarrel" with the Catholic Church. I am a cradle Catholic and grew up as Catholic as anyone can, with Priests and even Bishops in our household, and 17 years of Catholic education at St. Monica's Grade School, Milwaukee Messmer High School, and Marquette University. I took First Vows at Oshkosh in the Society of Jesus at age 25 and was ordained at Gesu Church to the priesthood ten years later in 1968. I have served the Church as a Jesuit priest in Milwaukee, Omaha, and Pine Ridge for 45 years, including 18 years on the Province Staff culminating in my being the Wisconsin Provincial for six years and attending the 34th General Congregation in Rome. My last 14 years at Creighton and St. John's have been the best years of my life. I have truly enjoyed and flourished serving as pastor of St. John's. I cannot even put into words how graced and loved and supported I have been by the parishioners, parish staff, campus ministry, Ignatian Associates, and CLC members! It is you who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful "Yes." You have done this by challenging me to be my best self as a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim boldly His Gospel of Love, and to widen the horizons of my heart to embrace the One New World we are called to serve in partnership with each other and our Triune G[...]



Pope Francis: We Have Not Done "Everything the Holy Spirit Was Asking" at Vatican II

2013-04-16T12:55:21.815-05:00

An article posted this morning in the National Catholic Reporter by publisher Thomas C. Fox says Vatican Radio reports that in a homily today at the communal residence where he lives, Pope Francis called the Second Vatican Council "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit."  Francis lamented that fifty years after Vatican II, some Catholics were still resisting implementing it.This, of course, is music to the ears of progressive Catholics around the globe.The NCR article follows:Pope Francis on Tuesday offered his most explicit support in his young papacy to the work of the Second Vatican Council, saying it was "a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit." He made his remarks in a homily at a Mass celebrated at the Santa Marta residence inside the Vatican. He criticized those who resist change and "wish to turn back the clock" and "to tame the Holy Spirit," asking if, 50 years after the council, "we have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council?"The answer is "no," Francis said, according to a Vatican radio report."We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don't want it to upset us. We don't want to change and what's more there are those who wish to turn the clock back." This, he went on, "is called stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit." Francis' homily was centered on the theme of the Holy Spirit and our resistance to it. It took its inspiration from the first reading of the day, which was the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen who described his accusers as stubborn people who were always resisting the Holy Spirit.He said: "The Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the church forward." He said it's wrong to try to tame the Spirit, adding, "the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it's what gives us the strength to go forward, but many find this upsetting and prefer the comfort of the familiar."Nowadays, he went on, "everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit but it's not really the case and there is still that temptation to resist it."He concluded his homily by urging we not resist the pull of the Holy Spirit. "Submit to the Holy Spirit," he said, "which comes from within us and makes go forward along the path of holiness."[...]



What If God Were...Just a Stranger on the Bus, Trying to Find His Way Home?

2013-04-12T15:23:18.154-05:00

In this 2008 photo, Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, second from left, travels on the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio, was known for taking the subway and mingling with the poor of Buenos Aires while archbishop. (Pablo Leguizamon/Associated Press)It has been thirty days since Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope on March 13, 2013.  And thirty days since he stunned everyone by announcing he would be called Pope Francis.Not only the first to be so named in the history of Roman Catholicism, but also the first to say that his name was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi and the saint's lifelong commitment to the poor, the marginalized and the innate sanctity of all God's creatures.And for thirty days, I have held my breath -- and my tongue! -- hoping ... against hope ... that the most promising new pope since John XXIII would not disappoint, would actually turn out to be the genuine breath of fresh air that the church has needed desperately, for too many decades.After railing for years against the relentless reversal of Vatican II -- by Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI -- I think it's time for me to say that the election of Pope Francis has good chance of being an achievement that I never expected the current College of Cardinals to deliver:  it opens up opportunities for the Catholic church that I feared I would not see in my lifetime.As I watched TV in the moments leading up to Bergoglio's election, I thought to myself, half-joking, that the seagull perched stubbornly atop the Sistine Chapel smokestack might mean that the Holy Spirit was watching over the proceedings inside.  Maybe that thought wasn't as whimsical as it seemed.Of course, the story of Pope Francis will be whether he can capitalize on those opportunities and bring them to fruition.  But the first thirty days have been an impressive beginning -- impressive enough that I dare to hope for more.The most moving first impression was on the balcony, right after Francis was introduced to the waiting world.  When he asked the crowd in St. Peter's square to bless him, before he would bless them, I dissolved into tears.  It was exactly the right thing for him to do -- and a telling departure from the self-important, imperial papacies of the last fifty years.And the hits just kept on coming.  His insistence on not lording it over his fellow cardinals.  His refusal of elaborate liturgical brocade for his first papal blessing.  Paying his own bill at the place he lodged during the conclave.  Declining, so far at least, to live in the elaborate papal apartment or use the papal limo or ride in the bulletproof popemobile.  Insisting that he be able to touch actual human beings physically, even if it causes his security staff conniptions.The simple attire for the first papal blessing was only the beginning of a liturgical modesty and warmth that contrasted sharply from the pomp of his predecessors -- and from the totalitarian worship of rubrics that they tried to impose on Catholic churches everywhere.  Might we actually be witnessing a return to the style of worship that Vatican II proclaimed as the baptismal birthright of every Christian?This Franciscan style of liturgizing reached its most poignant expression to date on Holy Thursday, when the new pope washed the feet of two young women (leaving the rubricists aghast) and a Muslim (leaving the ecclesial traditionalists aghast).  If Pope Francis keeps this up, he may well repeal the suppression of liturgy begun by John Paul II and pursued to extreme by Benedic[...]



Georgetown Senior Fellow Says American Catholics Should Consider Resigning Too

2013-03-01T11:32:22.786-06:00

A non-Catholic friend in the San Francisco Bay area, who knows my passion for getting Rome to end its treason toward Vatican II, alerted me to an excellent op-ed piece posted yesterday in the New York Times.Paul Elie, a senior fellow in Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, suggests that if Pope Benedict XVI could resign from the papacy, U.S. Catholics who still go to church should consider resigning from their pews for at least one Sunday -- or maybe even several Sundays.I think it's an excellent proposal.  And I also share Elie's conviction that "change in the church can happen, even dramatically" (italics mine).But if the moribund College of Cardinals follows its track record since the death of Pope John XXIII and elects yet another pope hell-bent on reversing the Second Vatican Council, the resignation from Catholic pews should last at least as long as that papacy.Here's Paul Elie's op-ed:AT 8 p.m. last night in Vatican City, Benedict XVI resigned the papacy. Now American Catholics should consider resigning too.The conventional wisdom has it that Benedict’s resignation sharply reduced the aura of the papal office, showed a tender realism about old age, and made clear that even ancient Catholic practices could be changed. That is all true, but the event’s significance is more visceral than that. It has caught the mood of the church, especially in North America.Resignation: that’s what American Catholics are feeling about our faith. We are resigned to the fact that so much in the Roman Catholic Church is broken and won’t be fixed anytime soon.So if the pope can resign, we can, too. We should give up Catholicism en masse, if only for a time.We are in the third week of Lent, a six-week season of reflection and personal sacrifice when Christians prepare for Easter by taking stock of their religious lives. In recent centuries Roman Catholics have observed Lent by giving up a habit or pleasure, whether red meat, chocolate, soap operas or Facebook, to simplify their lives and regain their independence from worldly attractions — their religious freedom, if you like.Two years ago, Stephen Colbert gave up Catholicism itself. As the comedian told it, he swore off Catholicism on Ash Wednesday and made it as far as Good Friday, when he went on a “Catholic bender.” His riff inverted the old saying that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. Mr. Colbert beat the pope to the punch.In traditional parlance, Benedict’s resignation leaves the Chair of St. Peter “vacant.” So I propose that American Catholics vacate the pews this weekend.We should seize this opportunity to ask what is true in our faith, what it costs us in obfuscation and moral compromise, and what its telos, or end purpose, really is. And we should explore other religious traditions, which we understand poorly.For the Catholic Church, it has been “all bad news, all the time” since Benedict took office in 2005: a papal insult to Muslims; a papal embrace of a Holocaust denier; molesting by priests and cover-ups by their superiors. When the Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned on Monday amid reports of “inappropriate” conduct toward priests in the 1980s, the routine was wearingly familiar. It’s enough to make any Catholic yearn to leave the whole mess for someone else to clean up.Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is a theologian. He would not have stepped down if he did not think he was setting a sound precedent: a resignation prompted by physical, not institutional, weakness. That he felt free to resign suggests that he thinks the church is doing f[...]



At Least Three Catholic Officials See Latest HHS Compromise as a Step Forward

2013-02-28T10:07:43.359-06:00

My posting on February 6th wondered if the Obama Administration's latest olive branch on contraception coverage would prove to be a win for Catholic progressives.Well, as The National Catholic Reporter notes, several of the most conservative bishops continued to dig in their heels on the need for a "conscience exception" for any employer -- religious or not -- who wants to veto employees' rights to contraception coverage.Their predictable response not withstanding, it is encouraging that at least three U.S. church officials have called the most recent administration position a positive step in the right direction.Moreover, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current president of the U.S. bishops conference, felt the need to nuance his somewhat negative February 7th statement on behalf of the conference with a February 8th statement on his archdiocesan blog that the bishops had not rejected the new proposal and that they would "take seriously the Administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments."  So at least officially, the bishops and the Administration are still talking.Two of the church officials who spoke positively about the new accommodation for non-profits were bishops.One was Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL.  His remarks are especially significant because he's also a member of the board of the Catholic Health Association, which represents the Catholic-affiliated hospitals in the United States.  NCR reports that, writing on February 9th, Lynch said:"Clearly, the Administration has been desirous of listening to and accommodating the concerns of Catholics and other people and institutions of conscience, like myself.  One would be hard put to find any other segment of the American public whose concerns about the Affordable Health Care Act have attempted to be dealt with than those of the Catholic bishops."Lynch added that the bishops should "consider ourselves lucky" that the Administration is "still talking to us."Also weighing in with positive remarks was Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, WA.  In a letter to his diocese on February 11th, Cupich said, "This latest response of the government appears to provide some new openings, which we need to explore and for which we should express appreciation."  He added that he was "confident that we can find a way forward."The third church official to value the Administration's olive branch was the president of the Catholic Health Association, Daughter of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan.  She differed with the bishops by supporting the Affordable Care Act, but also lead in trying to get the contraception policy modified in a way that would better allow Catholic institutions not to actively countermand the bishops' official position on contraception.Keehan said in a statement February 13th that while her organization was still evaluating the HHS proposal, some of the latest provisions were "a great relief our members and many others.  CHA looks forward to working with our members, the leadership of the Bishops' Conference and the Administration to complete this process."Keehan certainly qualifies as a Catholic progressive.  Hopefully other Catholic progressives will follow her in valuing the latest policy proposal as one which protects the bishops' legitimate concerns without allowing them to trample on the religious freedom and freedom of conscience of the employees of church-related institutions.Catholic progressives could also make a contribution by insisting, again, that a "conscience exception" for any other employer is neither morally justified nor Constitutional.[...]



Is Latest Olive Branch on Contraception Coverage a Win for Catholic Progressives?

2013-02-06T15:43:59.438-06:00

On February 1, 2013, the Obama administration offered a new olive branch to the Catholic Church in the controversy over the contraception coverage mandated for all health insurance policies by the Affordable Care Act.In an analysis posted the same day, Washington Post Opinion Writer E.J. Dionne Jr. argued that "The decision ought to be taken by the nation's Catholic bishops as a victory, because it is."But what Dionne's full analysis shows is that the government's latest proposal may well be a more important victory for "Catholic progressives" -- because what persuaded Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was not the bishops' disproportionate, hysterical ranting about an attack on their religious liberty, but rather the Catholic progressives' concern that Sebelius had defined the term "religious organization" too narrowly and failed to accommodate religious institutions that self-insure.As Dionne recounts it, the original rules that Sebelius offered said that "If a religious organization did not have 'the inculcation of religious values' as its purpose and did not primarily employ or serve those who shared the faith, it got no exclusion at all."  By contrast, says Dionne, "The HHS rules announced Friday scrapped this offensive definition in favor of long-established language in the IRS code."  By substituting the existing language of the Internal Revenue Code, Sebelius in effect broadened the term "religious organization" to include all Catholic entities doing charitable work and probably even those promoting social justice.Dionne notes that Sebelius has also addressed the concern that many Catholic institutions self-insure and did not want to pay for "any contraception coverage to which they object on religious grounds."  The remedy for that concern is that employees of such institutions who want contraception coverage will be able to get "stand-alone coverage from a third party" without anything being paid by the institution -- "covered by small offsets in the fees insurers will have to pay to participate in the new exchanges where their policies will be on sale."I did not share the Catholic progressives' view that the original definition was offensive.  But I did agree that it was unlikely to fly politically.  Coming to the same conclusion, Sebelius gave Obama and Catholics a way out of the controversy.So will the new proposal prove to be a victory for Catholic progressives?  I say maybe, because the Catholic progressives don't get the final say on this.  A few future developments may prove critical:First of all, how will the U.S. bishops react?  If they deem the latest from Sebelius to be acceptable, the controversy will end based on terms pushed primarily by Catholic progressives.  So yes, a gain for them.Second, however, if they do find the latest proposal agreeable, what rationale will the bishops give for their shift?  Dionne argues that "The church made a mistake in arguing its case on the grounds of 'religious liberty.'  By inflating their legitimate desire for accommodation into a liberty claim, the bishops implied that the freedom not to pay for birth control rose to the same level as, say, the freedom to worship or to preach the faith.  This led to wild rhetorical excesses..."  If the bishops try to twist the olive branch into a victory for their 'religious liberty' position, they will be distorting what the Catholic progressives worked for and achieved.And third, whatever response and rationale the bishops give, how does this play out among ordinary Catholics?  Although it was bogus, theolo[...]



"Why Does It Have to Be This Difficult? Because...Otherwise It Doesn't Work"

2012-11-20T15:43:37.493-06:00

The headline to this post is a quotation from award-winning Director Ang Lee.  It's part of his lengthier comments on the arduous, multi-year process during which he led 2,000 people to turn Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning 2002 best-seller "Life of Pi" into what is expected to be an outstanding 3-D film.  Given Lee's previous achievements -- "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" -- some expect "Life of Pi" to become a classic.As testimony to the creative process required to make the movie, the comments are valuable in their own right.  But borrowing from Alfred North Whitehead's method of descriptive generalization, I would also like to note how they exemplify Whitehead's notion of creativity in general--and how, more particularly, they can teach patience and equanimity to those of us who are frustrated with the glacial pace of movements to reform the Christian churches.Lee made his remarks in an interview with freelance writer Pam Grady, posted yesterday on the new "premium website" of the Houston Chronicle (www.houstonchronicle.com).  In comments toward the end of the interview, Lee notes how much of the movie's action takes place on water.  He notes that no one previously had much success capturing water in 3-D, then describes how hard they labored to overcome the challenge of water's reflectivity:"You're so helpless... Water is really hard to deal with, especially a large quantity of water.  It's hard digitally when you're creating an image.   It's hard when you're shooting.  It's just very difficult.  Sometimes, between the 3-D and the water, we could spend 12 hours, all night long, and not get anything done.  You just curse and curse and curse, look up at God, 'Why?  I'm trying to make a stupid movie.  Why?'"We sort of became the movie we were making...  It always happens that way, and I picked the hardest one, I think, this one.  You look up at God, 'Why does it have to be this difficult?,' but eventually God answers, 'Because it has to be that way, otherwise it doesn't work.'  You learn from those things, it's inspiring.  Everything goes, your imagination goes.  If it's too easy, it wouldn't be as provoking and solid as it should be."To really understand how what Lee went through exemplifies Whitehead's creativity, I'll have to refer readers to my PhD dissertation, linked in the column to the right of these postings.  But in summary form:Whitehead sees God offering each creature multiple opportunities to bring novelty to the universe and multiple means to give novelty life.  The process hinges on God's persistence in luring forth new creations, our creativity in responding to those lures, and God incorporating and harmonizing the results of our efforts into his ever-enlarging cosmic self.  Whitehead's capsule expression of this ultimate metaphysical principle appears at the very top of this blog:  "The many become one, and are increased by one."Just before reading Lee's interview, I had read another article reporting that this week the Church of England is having a synod in London, where three houses (laity, priests and bishops) are being asked to decide if the Church of England will have female bishops.  The article prompted several emotions about the state of church reform.One emotion is frustration that the Church of England is still struggling with this issue, when (unlike the Roman Catholic Church) it has no problem with women priests:  the article repo[...]



Government for, by the Corporation: Why a Houstonian Dreads Citizens United

2012-11-08T15:30:21.715-06:00

Most Texans think the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case was a perfectly fine idea.Since it allowed mega-rich corporations the legal status of individual persons and afforded them virtually unlimited free speech rights, there is now nothing to stop such business entities from spending as much as they want to buy politicians who will do their bidding in office.One Texan not among them, though, is Cele S. Keeper, a social worker, group therapist and writer who, in her 85th year, grasps quite lucidly that the decision enables a corporate takeover of government at any level the corporations choose.She spelled out her dread of the decision in a recent essay on the editorial page of The Houston Chronicle.  She marshals several arguments against the wisdom of Citizens United, and makes it clear that, if the decision stands, the country cannot.I would argue that, short of a future reversal by the Supreme Court, the nation requires a constitutional amendment:  it would say that (1) corporations (and churches and political parties and unions) are never individual persons, (2) the Bill of Rights does not apply to them, and (3) Congress has a duty to regulate campaign spending so that no entity can ever corrupt the electoral process or buy its winners.Keeper's excellent essay follows:Foreboding thought for today: The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision may herald the unraveling of our precious democracy.Now well after midnight, it certainly is keeping me awake. I'm trying to get my head around the idea that a corporation is a person who can buy chosen candidates to further its agenda and therefore buy duly elected representatives and senators who will then pass legislation that makes that agenda into law. That sounds not like a government takeover, but a takeover of government.The Citizens United decision held that corporations are people and, thus protected by the majority's (5-4) interpretation of the freedom of speech clause in the First Amendment, are permitted to have a voice not unlike that of any individual voter.Further, the court gave permission for the formation of Super PACs that can lavish money upon a candidate provided he or she has no contact with the chosen candidate's campaign apparatus. (That was a joke.)Living in a perpetual conundrum in my 85th year, I love politics and loathe most politicians. In addition to the falsifying, denying, conniving, exaggerating, manipulating, self-serving diatribes to which they subject us while attempting to procure our votes, they are now (thanks to the Court's outrageous ruling) loaded up with gazillions of dollars supplied by corporations that need not disclose their identities and whose agendas are promoted by self-interest (read: influencing, even writing legislation.)My single vote (and yours) has little or no influence beyond my family and friends. Although, of course, I can work with groups of like-minded folks to urge the election of a favored candidate.But while earnest neighbors are walking the blocks in their precinct, knocking on doors, or addressing flyers and licking envelopes, a single TV ad by a Super PAC can be repeatedly pounded into the eyes and ears of thousands or millions of potential voters. Such ads are paid for by gobs of money channeled from outside the state in which the election is being held into a particular race to take down or propel a targeted candidate out of or into office.If all of that's not bad enough, forget about accuracy, which is in short supply in the cacophony of babble on our television screens. Al[...]



Invited Episcopal Bishop of California Barred from San Francisco Bishop's Intallation

2012-10-25T15:18:30.390-05:00

I did not become aware until this morning, but the National Catholic Reporter informed us on October 5th that, the day before, the Very Reverend Marc Andrus, the Episcopal Bishop of California, was refused admission to the installation of San Francisco's new Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone--even though Andrus had been formally invited to attend.A spokesman for the archdiocese said the slight was unintended, claiming it happened because Andrus arrived late.  In fact, however, Andrus arrived early and was prevented from joining the entrance procession by an archdiocesan employee who seemed to be in charge.Speculation was that Andrus was kept out of the interfaith event because he publicly disagrees with Cordileone on gay rights and marriage equality--both of which Cordileone opposes.  If true, the incident would be yet another instance of the U.S. Catholic Bishops insistence that their religious freedom gives them a right to impose their teachings on adherents of other faiths.The following is the text of NCR's report by Dennis Coday:Bishop Marc Andrus of the Episcopal diocese of California, an invited guest for the installation of San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, was not allowed to be seated for the service, according to a report by Pacific Church News, the news service of the Episcopal diocese of California.Andrus, who three days earlier had written a letter pledging to work with Cordileone but remaining firm in supporting gay rights and marriage equality, which Cordileone opposes, was escorted to a basement room at St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral and “detained by an usher until the time the service began, whereupon Bishop Andrus left the cathedral,” according to the report. The spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese told the Associated Press that Andrus’ exclusion was due to a misunderstanding. Spokesman George Wesolek said that Andrus had arrived late and missed the procession of interfaith clergy.Church staff, said Wesolek, were looking for an opportunity to bring the bishop in without disrupting the service. "We had no intention of excluding him at all," Wesolek said. "If he felt like because of the wait that was insulting to him, we certainly will apologize." Andrus, however, said that he was not late. In a statement released on his blog this morning, the Episcopal bishop said he waited in the basement with other invited interfaith dignities. When Andrus attempted to enter the church with the other dignities, the bishop claims, he was stopped.“An archdiocesan employee attempted to escort me upstairs with the Greek Orthodox group, but was stopped from doing so by the employee to whom I had first identified myself. This person, who appeared to be in a superior role, instructed another employee to stand with me,” Andrus’ statement reads.“At this point no other guests remained in the downstairs area. The employee and I chatted while waiting. I began to wonder about the time holdup. I checked my phone; it was 1:50 PM. I asked the employee standing with me if the service indeed started at 2, which she affirmed.”“At 2PM, when the service was to begin, I said to the employee, 'I think I understand, and feel I should leave.' Her response was, 'Thank you for being understanding.' I quietly walked out the door. No one attempted to stop me. No attempt was ever made to explain the delay or any process for seating. I arrived early, before the time given my assistant, and waited to leave until after the service had begun.” [...]



Lutheran Bishop: Catholics Have No Right to Prevent Gay Non-Catholics from Marrying

2012-10-18T10:07:27.727-05:00

Thanks to Dennis Coday of the National Catholic Reporter for focusing national attention on a Lutheran bishop's argument that Catholic bishops have no right to impose their official opposition to gay marriage on non-Catholic citizens of the United States.The specific context for the Lutheran bishop's argument is a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution that would outlaw same-sex marriage.  It is, of course, one of such measures up for a vote in several states on November 6th.The Lutheran bishop who opposes the amendment--and the Catholic bishops' right to support it--is not just any Lutheran bishop.  He is Herbert W. Chilstrom, former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA).His argument takes the form of a "Dear John" open letter in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The John being addressed is Catholic Archbishop John Nienstadt of St. Paul-Minneapolis. At one point in his letter, Bishop Chilstrom contrasts Nienstadt's theology and politics with that of "Raymund Lucker, your predecessor as bishop of the Diocese of New Ulm..." who "clearly understood that one could be a good Roman Catholic and still be open to change."Bishop Chilstrom challenges his counterparts on constitutional and religious grounds, and both arguments are important for the ongoing concerns of this blog.  What I find most significant about Bishop Chilstrom's stance is that it basically enlists the First Amendment to argue that no group of church leaders have the right to impose their church's moral position on members of other religions and citizens of no religion at all who are not governed by the church's beliefs.Bishop Chilstrom's open letter follows:Dear John:Having served as a Lutheran bishop in Minnesota and then as the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), I write as one who stands on level ground with you. Like you, I have a deep sense of call to the ministry of the Gospel.On the marriage amendment, you are described in the media as having "drawn the line."In my judgment, you have drawn the line at the wrong place.I recognize your authority in formulating positions for your own flock in Minnesota. That is one thing. But for you and others to campaign for an amendment that imposes your stance on all citizens in Minnesota, including other Christians, believers of other faith groups and nonbelievers, is overstepping your bounds.History is our teacher.Eight hundred years ago, Pope Innocent III presided over church and state in most of what is now Western Europe. He left no room for dissent. Non-Catholics, including Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers, were even required to wear clothing that distinguished them from the church's faithful.Several centuries later, John Calvin held monumental sway over society in Switzerland, fostering regulations that prescribed much of daily life.For years kings and heads of the churches in Scandinavia allowed only Lutherans to hold worship services. Believers who gathered without the presence of a clergyman were imprisoned.Since Israel became a sovereign nation after World War II, some Orthodox Jews have tried to form a government ruled by religious law. They have been firmly resisted.But in neighboring Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is now attempting to force Islamic law on every citizen.As these efforts have failed in the past, I believe they will fail in the future as well.The genius of America is that we separate church from state. As we say in our Pledge of Allegiance, we are committ[...]



The "47%" Are Not Freeloaders, and the Top Bracket Gets a Lot More Tax Breaks

2012-09-19T15:02:31.715-05:00

There have been plenty of responses to Mitt Romney pronouncement that half of all Americans are freeloaders.  Just about all have said that Romney is wrong.  (Well, there's Rush Limbaugh.  But as usual, he's the exception that proves the rule.)I want to publicize one response in particular, because I think it does an outstanding job explaining not only why Romney is way off-base about the "47%," but also why Romney is wrong about the rest of the populace who do pay income taxes.  The content of the response is precise and well documented.  But what's most significant is who's making it:  Loren Steffy, the business columnist for the Houston Chronicle.What I like about Steffy is that, even though he's unquestionably a business Republican, he's generally quite careful to separate political dogma from economic facts.  In this case, the economic fact is that the "47%" pay no federal income taxes because Congress has created tax breaks that allow low-income households to reduce their taxable income to zero.  This does not mean that these households pay no sales taxes or payroll taxes or, in many cases, real estate taxes.  It simply means that as a matter of national policy we have decided as a country that some incomes are too low to tax without creating economic hardship.Moreover, Steffy is excellent at pointing out the self-serving hypocrisy of Romney's position.  That is revealed by this contrast:  those in the very bottom tax brackets get to take advantage of only about 20% of the tax breaks available in the Internal Revenue Code; but those in the top tax bracket get to utilize about 60% of the tax breaks.  So if someone wants to say that the poor, the sick, the elderly and the under-employed are coddled by the tax code, how much more is that true for the well-off?  Romney, in short, needs to be candid:  the rich get a lot more government welfare than the "47%" do!The ultimate point, of course, is that all of us are so under-taxed that the federal budget cannot be balanced, even with draconian cuts to domestic services and defense.  How to fix that without damaging the vulnerable even more is the great moral challenge of this decade.  Here's Steffy's column:The 47 percent may not be who you think.A video released Monday shows Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, speaking at a private fund raiser in Boca Raton, Fla., citing an often-used statistic that 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income tax.Romney went on to imply that all of them are likely to vote for President Barack Obama because they people who "are dependent upon the government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them ..."In other words, almost half the American people are freeloaders.I'll leave it to my colleagues on the Opinion page to assess any political fallout from this statement, but the issue of those who don't pay taxes is an important economic problem that transcends politics.First, Romney's numbers pertain to 2010. In 2011, the number dipped to 46 percent. Also, he's talking only about those who don't pay income tax; he wasn't saying they pay no taxes at all. Many still pay payroll and excise taxes, sales tax and so forth.The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, dug into the issue last year.The center's study found that about 78 million Americans didn'[...]



U.S. and Egyptian Coptic Officials Repudiate Makers of Anti-Islam Commercial

2012-09-18T11:23:27.373-05:00

Citing reports from Religion News Service and Catholic News Service, the National Catholic Reporter says that the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Southern California and Hawaii, and Egypt's Roman Catholic Vicar for Latin-Rite Catholics have repudiated the three self-styled Copts who claimed responsibility for the anti-Islam YouTube commercial that has led to violent demonstrations in a score of Islamic countries.NCR's article follows.Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 20 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.“We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film," the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement Sept. 14. "Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions.”Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Morris Sadek - all Coptic Christians who live in the U.S. - have emerged as the producers and promoters of the anti-Muslim film. Called “Innocence of Muslims,” the crude film depicts Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert. Protests against the film began in Egypt Sept. 11 and have since spread to nearly two dozen countries, including Libya, Yemen, Bangladesh, Sudan, Qatar, Kuwait, Indonesia and Iraq, according to international reports. Four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed in Libya last Tuesday. The Obama administration is investigating whether that attack was tied to the film.Joseph Nassralla, as he is known, heads a Christian charity, and Nakoula is a convicted felon. Both live near Los Angeles, according to reports. Sadek is an incendiary activist who lives near Washington. Coptic leaders said they are investigating what ties - if any - the men have to mainstream Copts in the United States.There are about 300,000 Copts in the United States, most of whom live in California and the Northeast. Copts in Egypt, where the faith was born, regularly face discrimination and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority, according to the State Department.Since the film is associated with the Christian West, Copts and other Christians in Muslim countries can become possible targets of extremist behavior."What happens outside the country is very dangerous for us because it is perceived to be related to us inside," said Bishop Adel Zaki of Alexandria, Egypt's vicar for Latin-rite Catholics.The film was released in July but went almost completely unnoticed in the Middle East until a preview of it was translated into Arabic.In an interview at his Cairo residence, Zaki told Catholic News Service that Egypt's Catholics condemned defamation of other religions, in line with what he called "the Vatican decree which commands respect for those of other faiths."But when products or policies deemed anti-Arab or anti-Muslim surface in the U.S. and in other Western countries, Egypt's Christians, who account for about 8 million of the country's more than 82 million people, often feel the brunt, he said.People in other countries "should keep in mind that there are repercussions for Christians here. The level of fanaticism grows," he said.Newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a conservative Muslim, has de[...]



School Vouchers ≠ Less Government, REPUBLICAN Warns the Radical Right

2012-09-18T11:02:36.372-05:00

In an op-ed piece in today's Houston Chronicle Ronald L. Trowbridge warns radical right Texas officials that vouchers for private schools will lead to more government, not less.  And for good measure, he argues that the vouchers will cause private schools, including religious schools, to lose some of the freedom they now enjoy.The radical right will, no doubt, dismiss his advice.  But what is remarkable is that Trowbridge is what was formerly known as a conservative Republican, having worked for President Ronald Reagan and served as Chief of Staff to Chief Justice Warren Burger.  So when Trowbridge urges these Tea Party darlings to reject school vouchers, you know they've really deluded themselves.  Maybe at least Trowbridge can keep them from deluding the rest of us.  Here's his op-ed column (along with the links in the Chronicle's web posting):As one who worked for President Ronald Reagan, then later was chief of staff to Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, I wish to explain why I believe that Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Education Commissioner Michael Williams and state Sen. Dan Patrick are misguided on public vouchers for private schools.Giving government money to private schools would inevitably make them government schools, as political strings always come attached with government money.It defies history and logic to assert that a permanent firewall can be built between government grant givers and private grant recipients. Moreover, such a wall would be a bad idea because state legislators have a fiduciary responsibility to require accountability for public funds given to the private sector.It is in this area of accountability that political interventions can be mandated. Whether one favors it or not, the "10 percent rule," mandating college admission to all students who graduate in the top 10 percent of any Texas high school, is an example of political intervention. I can easily envision that the Texas Legislature will one day mandate that private schools receiving public vouchers must make demonstrable efforts toward diversity. Republicans focus on efficiency and productivity; Democrats on diversity and social justice.Many argue that government grants and loans should be directed to parents or to students themselves and that therefore schools would not be recipients of government money.Not so. In l984, the Supreme Court ruled in Grove City v. Bell that federal aid directed to students or parents, then passed on to a schools, made that school "a recipient of federal financial assistance" and therefore required to comply with certain government regulations.In l988, Congress, under the Civil Rights Restoration Act, broadened the term "recipient" to include an entire school. This rule would apply to any "local educational agency, system of vocational education or other school system." Note that this would include elementary and secondary schools.The same applies to state financial assistance, making a school subject to state regulations - which can indeed be political.To be sure, private schools do not have to take public vouchers. But we know through research that most private schools would take the money. Under a present plan recommended in Texas, a government/taxpayer stipend of $5,143 per year would be given to each student attending a private school.Private schools will become heavily reliant upon these large government stipends and will n[...]



Why So Many Horrific Gun Killings in the U.S.? Because It's Too Damn Easy to Get Guns

2012-08-11T12:35:49.695-05:00

In a column slated to appear in the August 20th print edition of Time Magazine, Fareed Zakaria explains that we have so many more horrific gun killings in the United States than any place else on earth -- not because we have more crazy people but because we make it easier than any other country for just about anyone to acquire a gun.And we make it so easy for two reasons.  First, in  the face of this obvious causality, otherwise intelligent people abandon thought in favor of mindless political dogma.  Second, the gun lobby has sold the public on an interpretation of the Second Amendment that is a bogus departure from how the country controlled guns from the earliest days of the Republic.  As conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger put it after he retired, "one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word fraud--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."Zakaria's excellent column follows.After the ghastly act of terrorism against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5, Americans are pondering how to stop gun violence. We have decided that it is, in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks, a problem of psychology, not sociology. We are trying to fathom the evil ideology of Wade Michael Page. Only several weeks ago, we were all trying to understand the twisted psychology of James Holmes, the man who killed 12 innocents at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Before that it was the mania of Jared Loughner, who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords last year.Certainly we should try to identify such people and help treat and track them. But aside from the immense difficulty of such a task--there are millions of fanatical, crazy people, and very few turn into mass murderers--it misses the real problem.Gun violence in America is off the chart compared with every other country on the planet. The gun-homicide rate per capita in the U.S. is 30 times that of Britain and Australia, 10 times that of India and four times that of Switzerland. When confronted with such a large deviation, a scholar would ask, Does America have some potential cause for this that is also off the chart? I doubt that anyone seriously thinks we have 30 times as many crazy people as Britain or Australia. But we do have many, many more guns.There are 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the U.S. In second place is Yemen, with 54.8, then Switzerland with 45.7 and Finland with 45.3. No other country has a rate above 40. The U.S. handgun-ownership rate is 70% higher than that of the country with the next highest rate.The effect of the increasing ease with which Americans can buy ever more deadly weapons is also obvious. Over the past few decades, crime has been declining, except in one category. In the decade since 2000, violent-crime rates have fallen by 20%, aggravated assault by 21%, motor-vehicle theft by 44.5% and nonfirearm homicides by 22%. But the number of firearm homicides is essentially unchanged. What can explain this anomaly except easier access to guns?Confronted with this blindingly obvious causal connection, otherwise intelligent people close their eyes. Denouncing any effort to control guns, George Will explained on ABC News that he had "a tragic view of life, which is that ... however meticulously you draft whatever statute you wind up passing, the world is going to remain a broken place, and things like th[...]