Monday, July 6, 2009

In But a Few Hours...

...we will have the new encyclical from the Holy Father. I am very eager to read it, for I believe it will very evenhandedly present the Church's Social Doctrine and the current state of world economics in terms of a moral crisis.

Stay tuned for my take on the encyclical.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ghost Town

On a much lighter note, Mrs. UC and I watched the movie Ghost Town last night...and again this evening. It was that good. There are scenes of comic genius, and the film manages to avoid the sacarine blah that I had fully expected from a story about a man who starts to see ghosts after his near-death experience and is roped into trying to break up the impending marriage of a ghost's widow. So many things could go wrong here. But they never did. The casting, the acting, the writing, the directing, the music was all of it wonderful.

Go rent the movie. You will laugh.

CUA "Discussion"

Alright so I just finished watching the "discussion" between Robbie George and Doug Kmiec on life issues and the Obama administration. The verdict? While it wasn't a debate, strictly speaking...I mean, you know, they were just "discussing" things... but George wiped the floor with Kmiec.

I know, I know. I always hate it when people say such things. Victory is in the eye of the spin doctor. But here the issues were clear cut. As Mary Ann Glendon said at the end, it was wonderful that we finally had clarity about the disagreement between the Kmiec-pro-Life Obama supporters and the pro-Life anti-Obama folks. We now know where Kmiec stands...and he teeters on the edge of orthodoxy.

His interlocutors, be they Hadley Arkes or Robert George, have been exceedingly generous in always assuming the good will and right intention of Kmiec. To my eyes, Kmiec has displayed himself yet again as being a man who is struggling mightily to live between two worlds...and even his physical demeanor (severely slouching during the question period) demonstrates that he is being torn apart.

Now I feel sorry for the man.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Kmiec...the Lawyer Within

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…

And so ends Hopkins’ poem "The Times Are Nightfall." It is a simple poem that ends with inviting the reader to think about the commonweal in each of us. The outside world is out of our control, but we have the law over ourselves. We can take control of our inner sanctum and “root out there the sin.” Why do we fail to do so?

I thought of this poem as I read this part from chapter five of Kmiec’s book, page 51:

Matters get tangled, deliberately so, when desperate Republican Faith Partisans seek to indenture the Catholic voter, who would otherwise gravitate toward the hopeful ideals of Barack Obama. The basis for this electoral enslavement? The unfounded claim that the Catholic voter is obliged to vote in a manner that either 1) recognizes only one acceptable means to address abortion (overturning Roe) and/or 2) disregards the full, comprehensive social teaching of the Church, except for addressing abortion by whatever means.
Note, please that the following is an “unfounded claim” by those SOB RFPs: there is only one acceptable means to address abortion and that is overturning Roe. Where, for Pete’s sake, could these RFP dodos get such a goofy idea as the notion that the only acceptable means of addressing the daily killing of innocent children is making it illegal?

Certainly it wasn’t from Faithful Citizenship, the document from the U.S. Bishops which states that

22. There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society,because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.
Sooo, the bishops seem to be saying – and it is the bishops here and not Catholics in Alliance – they are saying that a “legal system,” mark that Professor-of-Constitutional-Law Kmiec, a legal system that allows for abortion is “fundamentally flawed.” But nope, according to the good Professor of law, when addressing the legal killing of innocent children…you know…abortion, it is ridiculous to claim, as those bastard RFP’s do, that there is only one acceptable way to address it, namely making it illegal.

But, you might say, Professor Kmiec goes on to write, “and/or disregards the full, comprehensive social teaching of the Church.” Right, right. Surely we cannot subjugate all the rest of the Church’s social teaching to addressing the banning of abortion. What are those damned RFP’s thinking after all? Have they read Pope John Paul II’s Christifidelis laici where the pontiff writes:

The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, finds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.
Okay, so let me get this straight. The RFP’s are batty because… because they make the unfounded claim that there in only one acceptable way to deal with legalized murder and because in holding up abortion they are ignoring all the other wonderful aspects of social doctrine about health, home, and work? I see. So given the quotes from the bishops and the Pope – I mean the real bishops and the real Pope – what does Professor Kmiec have to say for himself? Not much I suppose.

That’s alright though. We have the world within. Our will is law in our small commonweal, and if we want to decide that the murder of innocents is alright, well then to hell with those RFPs. Obama’s got “hopeful ideals”…”hopeful ideals”!

JustFaith is JustCrap

So I'm supposed to be looking over the JustFaith program as part of my job. I hadn't heard of it, but I ask a buddy of mine if he had. He had. So I ask him for the book list and the videos and all the stuff that comes with the program, because JustFaith only gives that stuff to you piecemeal. I would have to wait until the end of the program to know all the stuff it uses. Anyway, I'm going over the stuff that JustFaith has you read and watch, and - holy mounds of crapola, batman - JustFaith is a mess.

There are some good, nay...there are some great parts of the program. Some of the videos are spectacular. A couple of the books I would recommend to friends and enemies alike. But most of the books and one of the videos range from muddy-thinking-bad to heresy-incorporated-bad.


Take the video "Portrait of a Radical." This dude Richard Rohr - google him for a moment and you'll come up with all sorts of wonderful things - basically denies the divinity of Christ. Oh, and by "basically deny" I mean he says, "Jesus did not go around calling himself God. But it did not take us long before we made him into a God figure." Ahhhh. Or take this book by Walter Wink The Powers That Be. At one point Wink tries with all his might to avoid pantheism by saying that he believes in panentheism. Distinction? All the world is not god, but god is in all the world. We cannot say that any one thing is not part of god. Ahhhh.

If you are at a parish somewhere, and you are considering using JustFaith...just pass on it. Pass right on by.

I could give a myriad of examples, but it's late and I don't feel like it. Honestly, though; craptaculous.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

St. Winifred

I am not left even this;
I all my being have hacked in half with her neck: one part,
Reason, selfdisposal, choice of better or worse way,
Is corpse now, cannot change; my other self, this soul,
Life’s quick, this kínd, this kéen self-feeling,
With dreadful distillation of thoughts sour as blood,
Must all day long taste murder. What do nów then? Do? Nay,
Deed-bound I am; one deed treads all down here cramps all doing. What do? Not yield,
Not hope, not pray; despair; ay, that: brazen despair out,
Brave all, and take what comes—as here this rabble is come,
Whose bloods I reck no more of, no more rank with hers
Than sewers with sacred oils. Mankind, that mobs, comes. Come!

Are you not familiar with this text? It is from Act II of Hopkins’ St. Winifred’s Well. It is all dark and brooding as it is part of a monologue by the evil Caradoc, responsible for the murder of Winifred, whose head was severed for the crime of refusing his advances. It is a Medieval story which Hopkins takes up, but it is a not too uncommon thing even in our day.

Think of this: Caradoc strides onto the stage, bloodied, his sword stained crimson with Winifred’s essence. For what? For chastity?

Who suffers now for chastity? Certainly women and men, save that now the bloodied are the children in the womb and the doctors who, well-paid, sever the bodies of these modern innocents. It is a horrid thought, I know. But there is just something about all this intellectualizing and distinction-making and rhetorical pap that makes my stomach turn. Honestly, is it so difficult to understand human speech?

Caradoc understood precisely what he did. All his life, all of him is now stained with murder. He did not shy, either, from the consequence. Mankind, that mobs, comes. Come! Today we hide behind the verbiage of civility. Doug Kmiec says in chapter four of his book, page 48,

“Senator Obama is not pro-abortion, but instead tolerant of an existing legal structure that permits the mother to make the decision, while further pledging to work toward a more just social system devoted to encouraging a culture that is welcoming to life.”
Obama is “tolerant.” That word suggest that the actor who is tolerating considers the thing being tolerated as something bad. One does not, after all, tolerate a good. And yet, this is what Obama said on July 17, 2008 in front of members of Planned Parenthood,

“I have worked on these issues for decades now. I put Roe at the center of my lesson plan on reproductive freedom when I taught Constitutional Law. Not simply as a case about privacy but as part of the broader struggle for women’s equality.”
The right to abortion is at the center of Obama’s notion of reproductive freedom and Constitutionality. It is a part of women’s very equality with men. And, yet, Professor Kmiec says that Obama is not pro-abortion, he is tolerant of it.

Despair, ay, that; brazen despair out; for if someone as intelligent as Doug Kmiec cannot see the gratuitously simple truth that Obama is devoted to abortion as a fundamental right for women’s equality, and not as something merely to be tolerated, then, yes, brazen despair out. Mankind, that mobs, comes. Come! And bring legion with you, so that we can confront the devil straightforwardly and not get lost in the ruin of rhetoric.

Are you that liar?

What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?

So ends Hopkins’ poem “The Candle Indoors.” It has me thinking what it is that makes a man like Douglas W. Kmiec write such drivel as that which appears in his book Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question About Barak Obama. In my previous post I listed some of the problems that exist in Kmiec’s arguments, not the least of which was the claim that the Republican Faith Partisans (insert ominous organ music here) aim to throw teenagers, priests, cabbage-patch dolls, and M. Night Shyamalan (what was “The Happening”…seriously?) into jail. This is why the RFP’s want to overturn Roe: to throw people in JAIL! (thunder claps echo and rattle over a desolate, dark plane)

In chapter two of the book, Kmiec continues with his word games and twisting, only at one point he actually comes very close to out and out lying. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kmiec wants to make the argument that it is at least silly if not bordering on heresy for the RFP’s (shriek!) to suggest that the Church would ever tell someone how to vote. He writes on page 39, “The American Bishops properly remind us that the Church corporate never tells parishioners for whom to vote by name. Nor do they proclaim that one issue overrides all others in the proper discernment of the Catholic voter.” Hmmmm, “never”? “rightly”?

So let’s get this straight, Kmiec would say that if the bishops were to find themselves in a country where a single population was being rounded up for mass murder – this is just a hypothetical mind you – where this population was forced to wear a patch or something…umm…let’s just say…umm…a yellow star, and if there were two major candidates one of whom advocated for, wanted to increase funding to, and pledged to continue the process of deportation and the other one didn’t…well Kmiec says that the bishops would be right in refusing to condemn voting for this pro-deport-Jews-so-as-to-kill-them candidate. He says they would never proclaim that the issue of mass deportation of an entire ethnic population for the purpose of extinction outweighs… wait…“overrides all others in the proper discernment of the Catholic voter.” They just don’t do this.

To this, my question runs this way: If the bishops would rightly never proclaim that the issue of organized, government-sanctioned and funded mass murder overrides all others, then what in blazes are the bishops good for? What ought to bishops say in such a case? But I am getting far afield.

Professor Kmiec then invites us to read a 2006 statement by the Illinois Conference of Catholic Bishops of which Cardinal George is the president. Kmiec quotes it on page 39 and following:
Thus as Catholic citizens, we inform and form our consciences as citizens in accordance with the principles of Catholic social teaching. The first and most essential principle of our social teaching is the dignity of every human person and each one’s basic right to life from conception to natural death. Respect for human dignity is the basis for the fundamental right to life. This is a non-negotiable principle that is supported by our beliefs but is logically independent of our faith. Many non-Catholics think a society dedicated to the common good should protect its weakest members. Other principles include the call to community and participation, the centrality of the family, the dignity of work and rights of workers, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity,and the commitment to stewardship of the environment.

Catholics should always vote for that person most committed to being a public servant dedicated to the common good. This being said, it should be noted that any candidate who supports a public policy where part of humanity (such as the pre-born, the elderly, the handicapped, or the sick) is excluded from the protection of law and treated as if they were non-persons is gravely deficient in his or her view of the requirements of a just society.

To this Kmiec then provides a gymnastical reimagining of the words of the Illinois Bishops and Cardinal George. He writes, “Fourth, it defines as a ‘suspect’ or ‘deficient’ candidates who disrespect life by excluding the most vulnerable from society, which might well mean the destruction of the unborn, but equally tragically, the marginalization of the poor, the handicapped, or the elderly.”

Why “equally tragically?” Is there a legal ruling on the books that makes it a Constitutional right to make people poor, a word that does not appear in the bishop’s text by the by? Or is this talk about the “protection of the law” meant to refer to those who are liable to being legally murdered in this country, i.e. the pre-born through abortion, the very old and demented, or the very ill through euthanasia? What is Kmiec getting at anyway?

Well the fog starts to clear in the next paragraph or two when Kmiec addresses what is generally considered to be a devastating argument against pro-choice adults. He quotes Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. On page 41 we read Fr. Pavone’s argument as it is presented by Kmiec, “Suppose a candidate came forward and said, ‘I support terrorism.’ Would you say, ‘I disagree with you on terrorism, but what’s your health care plan?’ Of course not. Similarly, those who would permit the destruction of innocent life by abortion disqualify themselves from consideration.” In answer to this Kmiec brandishes this piercingly ridiculous commentary:
“With respect, Father Pavone’s statement, while memorable for its clever wit is also regrettable for its oversimplification of Catholic belief and its sweeping moral condemnation of the beliefs of other religions.”
Huh? How exactly did Fr. Pavone insult other religions by pointing out the Catholic position? Kmiec enlightens us,
In a free society made up of different religious beliefs, including religiousbeliefs that differ substantially on when life begins, it should not be easy to deny someone permission to believe differently than ourselves. More on this point of religious freedom in Part Two, but even accepting the Catholic view to be exclusionary of all others, Father Pavone’s summary of what counts as Catholicism is obviously far less full and comprehensive than that of Francis Cardinal George. The Bishops in their collective and separate statements have
sought to counter the misguidance that voting in a given way can be assessed as sin. For example, in “Voting for the Common Good,” the idea that one voter can judge whether another’s vote is a sin is rejected, “Any attempt to scare others into voting for or against a candidate violates Catholic teaching on conscience,prudence, and human freedom,” it says.
Wow…where to begin. All of a sudden the standard for assessing Fr. Pavone’s argument is not to actually address the point, the conclusion of the argument. Rather, it is dismissed as all too witty and downright offensive to non-Catholics. It is ecumenically obtuse because Fr. Pavone presumes to enforce the Catholic viewpoint on when life begins on the rest of society. Hmmm. What if Fr. Pavone had said, “The first and most essential principle of Catholic social teaching is the dignity of every human person and each one’s basic right to life from conception to natural death”? Isn’t this statement the principle upon which Fr. Pavones is arguing? Fact is, Professor, the Illinois bishops argue for the imposition of this “first and most essential principle” about when life begins. Somehow they are nuanced but Fr. Pavone is a kook? This is a double standard, if ever there was one.

And anyway, how is that Fr. Pavone is denying “someone permission to believe differently than ourselves”? I’m quite sure that Professor Kmiec would have studied this little factoid in law school, perhaps he might have even taught it, but the truth is that everyone is free to believe whatever they want. It is when their beliefs result in the dismembering of their neighbor that folks like Fr. Pavone and I get antsy. But anyway, the good Professor will explain this later in the section on religious freedom. You’ll just love it. Until then, we must mire through this quicksand of inanity, for it only gets worse.

Kmiec wrote that many bishops in their “collective and separate statements” have condemned the notion that a vote can be determined to be sinful. In the very next sentence he then writes, “FOR EXAMPLE, in ‘Voting for the Common Good’ etc.”

Now follow this closely. “Voting for the Common Good” is an example of what? Answer: of a “collective or separate” statement by the bishops, presumably. That is the obvious implication here as the words “for example” follow the claim about the bishops’ statements.

The problem is that “Voting for the Common Good” is not even remotely a statement by the bishops or of even one bishop or a bishop’s aid or a bishop’s conference committee. It wasn’t looked over by the bishops, or given an imprimatur, or a nihil obstat, or a “looks good to me.” It carries not the slightest whiff of approval from any one or all the bishops. “Voting for the Common Good” is a document put out by various Democratic PAC organizations in the efforts to undermine the influence of the pro-life movement on the Catholic electorate which has voted Republican more than it has voted Democratic in the past several elections.

The endnote which Kmiec has in the text directs one to the following: 16. Catholics in Alliance, Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics, available at

Who is Catholics in Alliance? Their full name is Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. They were founded in 2005 by various Democratic individuals some of whom had worked for the Clinton administration. The list of their Board of Trustees is also available online, and it can be plainly seen by the list of names that they are not a bi-partisan alliance.

But all of this is not the point. Kmiec lies to us when he says that the “Voting for the Common Good” is an example of a statement of the bishops. It is no such thing. Indeed, what is so shame-making about this little slip of Kmiec’s is the fact that the Voting for the Common Good document is called Platform for the Common Good. In its tightly packed eight pages it does not once, not once call for the end of legalized abortion. It does not even mention embryonic stem cell research or euthanasia or the sanctity of marriage. None of these things are part of this “Voting for the Common Good” because all of these things are issues which divide the Platform of the Democratic Party from the teachings of the Catholic Church.

To my mind, Kmiec ought to answer for what is nothing other than a lie…and he should apologize to Fr. Pavone…and he should probably stop using the term RFPs. Otherwise he could turn into that liar, who, cast by conscience out, loses the grace of God and becomes like salt that has lost its taste. I know I have a bad taste in my mouth from reading this stuff.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Poor Margaret is weeping.

It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

So ends Hopkins’ poem on the inevitability of life’s sorrows. And it is what struck me while reading Professor Kmiec’s book, namely a deep sorrow for someone whose clearly expansive mind stretches and twists and aches to justify a position he must know is so fundamentally fallen.

I came to Kmiec’s Can A Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barak Obama with a sincere hope that this would be some seminal effort at creating a salve for the deep wounds that exist in our mother church, the Roman Catholic Church. I had the audacity to hope that some splinter of truth would shine forth from it and explain away all my nascent tendencies to dismiss and distrust those who would support the most actively pro-abortion candidate this nation has seen since the Roe decision of 1973. Against my baser inclinations I ferreted out a copy at the local library and poured over it in hope.

That hope, however, was dashed against the adamantine facts of reality and reason. I could barely read five paragraphs of Kmiec’s text without finding a glaring error, a straw man, a verbal bait and switch, a train wreck of argument and obfuscation and agenda.

Chapter One provides several examples, for in his attempt to discredit those he refers to as Republican Faith Partisans (RFPs), a ridiculous moniker that reeks of puerile name-calling, Kmiec lays out the RFP misleading and erroneous logic by writing,

“Correct Major Premise: Abortion is an intrinsic evil (in Catholic terms a'grave sin') to be discouraged.”
From the starting gate, Kmiec stumbles. He makes abortion something “to be discouraged,” as though it were poor manners akin to slurping your tea. No Mr. Kmiec. Abortion is to be outlawed. This is the point which the “RFPs” and the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops and your colleagues have been making for years now, for as Faithful Citizenship makes clear, any legal system that sanctions the killing of millions of human lives is “fundamentally flawed.” Such flaws, Professor, ought to be more than just “discouraged.” They must be firmly corrected by good law.

Next, Kmiec writes,
“Misleading Minor Premise: Obama doesn’t support reversing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that leaves this decision to the potential mother. (Correct, but misleading and incomplete. Obama believes there is a better way to reduce the incidence of abortion than reversing a court decision that will do nothing other than toss the issue back to the states – namely, to improve the prenatal, maternity, and, if needed, adoption resources of expectant mothers and to better educate un-marrieds about the serious side of sexual intimacy and the importance of responsible parenting.)”
Laying aside for the moment the fantastical claim that first, Obama believes this and that second, what he believes is true, one ought to be struck by the astounding phrase “potential mother.” Perhaps Professor Kmiec is too strict in his definition of motherhood to see that there is nothing “potential” about the fact that every pregnant woman has a human life inside of her at the moment of conception, a life for which she is responsible the moment she becomes aware of it. Furthermore, the objection against Obama is not just that he does not support overturning Roe but rather the whole host of policy positions in favor of extending access to, funding for, and legal defense of abortion on demand. More on that later.

Lastly, Kmiec writes,

“Faulty Conclusion: Obama is ‘participating in or cooperating with’ evil and anyone voting for him is, too. (No, as the discussion in this book will reveal, this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church).”
Excuse me Professor but it is certainly the teaching of the Church that civic leaders who, like Obama, willfully extend access to, funding for, and legal defense of abortion on demand are participating and cooperating with evil. Anyone who votes for this leader, knowing full well of their position, is cooperating with evil, even if it is remote material cooperation.

In the end, Kmiec’s opening salvo falls well short of the standards of honest reason. The tragedy does not end there though. Speaking again about these RFPs, a dastardly collection of rabble-rousers no doubt, Kmiec writes that the performance of abortion is wrong and participating in it is never justifiable no matter what good may come of it. He continues,

“However, that does not mean that public officials cannot work to restructure, for example, tax or economic conditions that make abortion less likely. It would be absurd to call that ‘participating in or cooperating with’ abortion just because the public official thinks it unwise to overturn Roe for the purpose of then convincing the individual states to enact laws that would send the mother or doctor, and the father or clergy person if they were consulted by the mother, as co-conspirators to jail. It certainly does not mean that Catholic voters cannot make candidate choices that can reasonably be thought to establish social justice policies that advance the culture of life.”
Did you, dear reader, catch that? Of course you did. Kmiec states that it is absurd to claim cooperation with evil just because a public official wishes to care for the poor instead of throwing teenagers and their priests into jail, which is what would happen if Roe were reversed of course.

Does the good Professor really think us so dull witted? Does he really mean to say that those who wish to overturn Roe seek that Supreme Court decision “for the purpose” of throwing women and their priests into jail? There are straw men…and then there are straw men. And this straw man smothers a large swath of land when he falls in the next sentence, for Kmiec says that the choice is between those who would imprison wayward girls, impoverished mothers and well-meaning pastors and those who wish to “establish social justice policies that advance the culture of life,” indeed those who advance the cause of sugar and spice and everything nice.

Forgive me for the sarcasm. It is my effort at lightening the mood, for we have here a well respected and nationally recognized Constitutional lawyer who is falling faster than the leaves in Hopkins’ poem, falling far too quickly, for we are only on the third page of Kmiec’s argument. Poor Margaret is grieving.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A House Divided

After having read Doug Kmiec's book the third of fourth time, you know after having gone over the horrifically bad argumentation, the tricks of debate that include straw men the size of William Shatner's ego (I just had to with the new movie coming out, sorry), the basic errors in doctrinal understanding that he passes off as Gospel truth, and the out-and-out deception, after all of that there were a number of things that I came away with. One of them is that Professor Kmiec shouldn't have had communion denied him. It was against Canon Law, and anyway, he mentions it every time he speaks in public as something to hide behind instead of having to answer tough questions. But another thing I got from the book was just how close we are in this country to seeing a real break in the Church.

Now, I am not talking about the American Catholic Church, or the Catholic Church of America that threatened to emerge while I was growing up in the 70's and 80's. I don't mean any real schism by women in roman collars and men in leotards who want their own cosmic liturgies. That's not what I mean, and I want to make it clear that I don't think this is what Kmiec was striving for in his book.

What he accomplishes, however, and as Martin Sheen intimates in his little blurb on the back cover, is that this is the first great mainstream attempt by a well known and respected pro-life believer to justify a theology, a reasoning, a model of Church which is simply not supportable by the Magisterium, or to quote Sheen directly, this book "may very well become the most important comprehensive document written to date on American Catholics, abortion, and candidates for public office." Kmiec's book, even if unintentionally, is the manifesto for a progressivist, American Catholicism that sees virtue, actual virtue in the conversation between good and evil instead of in the effort by good to stand up to evil with force.

Now, while everyone and their brother has blogged on the issue of Obama's trip to Notre Dame, I would only want to add my two cents by positing that there will be a real and true exposition of the break that already exists within Catholicism. In one single event, in the kind of event that history professors require their students to remember for exams, American Catholicism will be on the national stage as a broken body that will force the country's Catholics and non-Catholics to actually ask the question: "What does it mean to be a Catholic?"

When the Pew Research Center, which has recently given us so many statistical insights into our religious experience here in the United States, tells us that self-identified Catholics are split down the middle on whether Obama should be honored by Notre Dame while it simultaneously tells us that the position on Obama's visit is directly proportional to weekly attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when the Pew survey tells us this, then we don't have to guess anymore at a break. It already exists. Will Catholics follow Kmiec's terrible reasoning? Or will they stay true to the opposition to abortion? Will they heed what John Paul II says in Christifidelis laici that all the other justice issues (health care, just wage, religious freedom) are "false and illusory" if the right to life is not defended with "maximum determination"?

The real question, though, the question the answer to which provides the answer to where Catholics will go, is what are the bishops going to do about it. At last count (the last figure I saw was from May 3rd) the number of U.S. Bishops who have spoken out against Notre Dame's decision is up to 68. That amounts to about 35% of the U.S. Bishops. Never in my adult life as a Catholic have I ever seen the Bishops of the U.S. so unified around a single issue like this where it was not in their monetary interest be so. And of course this is just the number of Bishops who have spoken out about it. How many agree with their brother bishops but simply can't speak out about it for fear of pissing off the presbyterate or the donors that help keep their schools open.

What is clear to me is that Kmiec's book exemplifies the good and bad of the liberal Catholic position. There is heart in it. There is a lived reality which is informing their theology, and however poor that theology is, charity demands we take account of that lived reality. But there is also deception, mostly self-deception, and there is obfuscation, and there is relativization. These things ought to be address honestly and forthrightly.

Perhaps we can do so here on this blog.


If you haven't see the Russian film "Ostrov," or "The Island," you must. You simply must. This not to be confused, mind you, with the 2005 film by the same name with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.

Ostrov is about...well...I won't say anything now. I'll wait a bit before posting on the movie, but it is a must see.

You can get it through Netflix. If you don't have Netflix, buy, beg, and/or steal to see this film. Find a friend who has Netflix and convince them to put it in their queue. Then convince them to put it at the top of their queue. And if they refuse, threaten to harm their pet. And if they don't have a pet, well you should feel free to call them "fatty" or something.

You must see this flick! See it!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The heresies I've known and loved to hate

Part of my job is to try to read some of the stuff that goes across the transom of the average lay person's field of knowing. Among these is the book The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching by a fellow named Mich. I've read the entirety of the book and I think Mr. Mich a genuine individual, with a good head on his shoulders, and a great big heart. But I cannot deny my having nearly wanting to go bat shit angry when I read about a Sr. Elizabeth Johnson C.S.J. who argues, get this, that we need some humility as a species.

That's right, brother, there is no need for us to feel special about being human just because we can calculate the velocity and force of a large volume of Shakespeare released upon Sr. Johnson's head from a height of two stories. No, no. We're just another species on this great mother goddess earth of ours with nothing but death and destruction to add the great mix of things.

What was that? Oh, that was the sound of Sr. Johnson's cursing in a manner consistent with the highly developed language skills of a homo sapiens after having been struck by the weight of a single volume of one of mankind's greatest achievements. Oh, but I said "mankind." Sorry, sorry, I meant to say "humankind's."

Never mind the fact, of course, that the good Sister finds herself at a point in history where she, an educated woman, gets paid to spit out drivel at Fordham University. Last I checked there were no dolphins teaching courses on great porpoise literature. But I do believe there are several jackasses in the current administration in Washington, and some monkeys as well. But then again, progressive politics is supposed to be one step ahead of us all.

God's Grandeur

You can try to ignore it if you want, but Spring is about us, and even if you do suffer the allergies that I suffer, you can still take some time to try to appreciate the fierce-wonderful glory that surrounds us during this time of year.

I get to walk to work and the past couple of days have been a joy...particularly while listening to Magnificent on U2's new album.

Anyway, in honor of the new Spring I provide the reader with this, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
.....It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
.....It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
.....And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
.....And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
.....There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
.....Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
.....World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

One man's myth is another man's handgun

While I was over at Vox Nova recently I noticed a provocative title for a post suggesting that the use of a handgun in self-defense is intrinsically evil. The post, as I noted in the comments, was less than stellar. But in the other comments there was a mention of the "myth of redemptive violence." I have only just recently discovered what it is that the phrase refers to, and I find it as annoying as another commentator X-Cathedra, who offers a long - and I think good - reflection on the idea.

First let me just try to sketch what this myth is. The phrase was coined by Walter Wink, a theologian of questionable status. I say this because he denies that Christ's death was redemptive at all. There is nothing unique about the death of Jesus is what he literally says in his book The Powers That Be. The myth is the notion that good can be drawn from violence. Redemption - not from sins mind you, because of course there is no such thing as personal sin - redemption from the effects of the domination systems of the world is truly possible only through non-violent means.

Now, I will admit that Wink's argument is compelling in parts. He gives the example of a man who broke into a woman's house, presumably to violate her, and who was stopped because of the non-violent, personally engaging, and empathetic tactics used by the woman. She managed to convince him to not bother her but to sleep downstairs. In the morning - she didn't sleep a wink - they sat over a cup of coffee and he left peaceably. She was terribly shaken by the whole incident. This is a wonderful story, and I do not doubt that it is 100% true. Of course, what we don't hear is that the man went on to rape a woman who did not have the non-violence training this woman had. Well, maybe that didn't happen, but maybe it did.

Here's the point. I get the idea that non-violence is the greater ideal towards which we ought to strive as Christians. I totally agree that the vast majority of instances of violence are done for ingenuous, sinful reasons. I also get that part of the non-violent argument regarding self-defense is that we ought to have the power as Christians to lay down our lives for our brother, even if that brother is the one killing us, to witness to the Gospel teaching about non-violence. Indeed, that is what Jesus did and asks us to do. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for their friend...and of course our friend is everyone.

What Christ never said was that it is any kind of loving act to stand aside righteously hanging onto our purity-from-violence and allow someone else to lay down their life for my witness to the Gospel.

We believe in a God of mercy and not of justice (praise be to Jesus now and forever). And the myth of redemptive violence folks want to focus in on that mercy. Fine, but I cannot collude by omission in allowing an objective injustice to happen to someone else who positively does not want to lay down their life for the Gospel. That is an injustice... and when did we get so disturbingly twisted as to believe that we are morally obliged to engage in injustices for the sake of proving a point of our faith.

When faced with the prospect of someone in danger...whether they are drowning or being beaten to a pulp by a gang of act and you act in the most effective way possible. Violence, not always deadly mind you, but violence is what is called for when our neighbor's life is in danger. In this way I lay down my own purity-from-violence for the sake of my neighbor.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sin is a many splendored thing

As we toil away, trying to understand the vicissitudes of human existence, we have as a race come up with some pretty spectacular ideas to explain away some rather disturbing tendencies. What makes men be so cruel to one another?

Well for some it is society's fault. I'm not quoting some early '80s psychologist, I'm quoting Rousseau, who lived to the middle end of the 18th century and who believed that what made men bad were the poor societal structures that they lived in. Without civilization to corrupt us we would be noble savages. Rousseau, mind you, fathered several bastard children and gave them up to certain deaths in the orphan homes.

For some, we are bad because we've been bred badly. That's right, we've got the wrong genes. Luckily Planned Parenthood and the eugenicists are here to help us. They've figured out that if we can just have fewer children from the unfit, well then all society will fall into one harmonious groove. Indeed Margaret Sanger said just that very thing, "More children from the fit, less from the unfit---that is the chief issue of birth control." Ahhh...she had such a way to stir the soul. Never mind who gets to decide who is fit and unfit. Margaret and her white, bourgeois, atheistic pals will figure that out for you.

For some, the explanation for why men do bad things is economic inequality. Oh, if only we could simply get rid of the economic differences between men, well then all will fall into place. Marx argued that in fact this is what needed to happen and if it required a violent revolution...well then so be it. You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs, now can you? Never mind the tens of millions of needless deaths.

For some, the explanation for evil is our physical world. We need to let go of our physical selves, you see. It is our bodies that cause all the harm. Why if only we could just cut loose of them, then all would fall into place. There are very few people who hold this view as most of them have committed suicide and or refuse to reproduce.

Finally, at least for the purposes of this posting, there are those who want to say that there is actually something wrong with us...yes, us. There is something disturbed about us. We are fallen. Whether you want to call it original sin or what-have-you, it does not matter to me very much at this point. The idea is really quite simple. It is not society, or our bodies, or economics, or bad genes. It is us. We are sinners.

Here, then, to relate all of this to my last post, is the point. If we cannot make the person in the pew come to the conclusion that this world is flawed somehow and that this flaw is in us, if we cannot connect with the average Joe in the pew and their own personal sense of sin and unworthiness and self loathing which is almost certainly there and almost always acknowledged to some degree, well then...we cannot preach to them Christ. And if we cannot do that, then we cannot evangelize them. And if we cannot evangelize them, well then Pew Research will be busy counting up all the ex-Catholics.

Fr. Neuhaus said many times in the pages of First Things that if we are not sinners then there is no need for a savior and Christ Jesus becomes the quirky, ancient fellow who accidentally started a revolution.

John Paul the Great said that at the center of our world's many problems with regard to social structures (he wrote this in Centesimus annus), at the center of so many of the misguided steps taken over the century since Leo XIII wrote Rerum novarum is bad anthropology. You see, so many have this sense this vision that if we just find the right formula or put the right guy in charge...well then everything will work out alright. Like Plato we think if we can just find, elect, formulate, enforce, coerce, demand, insist that everyone follow the philosopher king then all will be well.

The problem of us still remains however, and the process of convincing everyone else to follow the great philosopher king can get ugly, ugly and deadly.

A friend told me of a conversation he had with a security guard at a university in the U.S. The undergraduate student body at the school is usually very wealthy and they are all very, very bright young people. But there is great sin there. My friend asked the security guard, who is a Christian, what he does with these white, middle-class, comfortable young who are caught doing the unspeakable. The guards response went something like this:

"You let 'em know they done something wrong." Exactly. Then maybe they might come around to hearing about the Gospel.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I think it was Jean Danielou who said that we believe in a Church "mudsplashed with history." Working for the Church, seeing the inner machinations of the curial structures and political infighting, brings the "mudsplashed" bit into real focus.

A Pew Research study just came out today about the retention of various religions in the U.S., meaning how do those who are raised Catholic, Protestant, Hindi, whatever, how do they fare in "the open market" of religious pluralism in our society? It turns out that Catholics have the highest retention rate. Now, what the Pew Research study means by "Catholic" I don't know. One imagines they mean self proclaimed Catholics. In an earlier 2008 study the same research group determined that active Catholics were those who attended church at least once a month. So take that figure with a grain of salt.

At any rate, it got me thinking about the rates of Catholics who come and go in the Church. It was reported that this past Easter the Church in the U.S. received somewhere around 150,000 new Catholics. This is new adult Catholics and does not include all the baptisms throughout the year. This is amazing. Furthermore, this is and has been a regular trend over the past couple of decades.

So where are all these new Catholics? Well, it turns out that about half (that's right half) of the 150,000 new Catholics entering the faith on Easter Sunday leave by the end of the first year. After five years the number is something close to 75%. So really, of the 150,000 that enter every year, after five years just under 40,000 of them remain Catholic, that is attending Mass at least once a month...which is itself a huge problem since they are supposed to be attending every's not optional.

As the ecclesial structures of the Church or, as a character in the 1944 film Keys of the Kingdom put it, as the "ecclesial mechanics" employed by the Church attempt to figure out the reason why things are so dismal, all sorts of keen programs are put into place. The suggestions include greeters at the Church doors, more involvement in the liturgy (because of course you can't ever have enough EMHC's), saying hello to your neighbor in the pew just before Mass starts, or other things like making the music more contemporary, setting sacred texts to show tunes (I'm not joking), and on and on. Meanwhile, the Church is still bleeding numbers.

But I've never liked the numbers game. It's not about numbers.

So let's talk about those in the pew. How are they doing? What do they feel? Well, for starters, the vast majority of them don't know if they are even going to be in the pew on any given Sunday. The Real Presence is a foreign concept, and in the end apparently only something like 40% of "practicing" Catholics believe that there is a personal God, which means a God that actually has a care about our everyday lives.

The "ecclesial mechanics" might protest that the loss of Catholics or the disengagement of Catholics in the U.S. is due to the sex scandals, to rigid rules, to guilt complexes, to impossible moral standards, to doctrinal differences. But the Pew Research study that came out today notes that actually, the vast majority of Catholics or any religious people lose their participants because they just drift away. It is rarely some singular event like abuse or a harsh word from a priest or some other traumatic experience. In other words, in the blindingly affluent society in which we live, people just drift away from faith, from even needing anything more grounded than their relationships with their iPod.

This raises some serious problems for retention and evangelization. More on that later.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Not awful...awful

My family and I attended Mass at a different parish this Sunday than is our norm. We walked into the lovely neo-gothic style Church that looked like it could have come out of an English countryside (the fact that it was cold and rainy today lent to the whole mystique of the thing). We were immediately struck by the wood and the stone and the beautiful vestments of the celebrating priest and his deacon.

Then this voice from above came crackling over the PA: "Good morning folks. Our opening hymn..."

"FOLKS? Did I just hear him say 'folks?'"


Strum, strum, dee dumditty, strum. Yes it was a guitar.

Now let me stop you, the reader, right there. I have nothing against the guitar Mass per se. I lived through them at the Jesuit parish growing up, and I lived through them at school, and eventually through college. They didn't bother me then...when I didn't know, didn't really know that there was anything else.

My first argument here is not primarily theological, it's aesthetic. If we were in one of those gymnasium churches where one could hold a pot-luck or a battle of the bands without feeling discomfited either way, then, yes the guitar would not have bothered me as much. But to have the guitar there, at this gorgeous church...well... it was like being forced to listen to a old man play the spoons (as cool as that is) while I'm contemplating the architectural significance of Rome's Pantheon. Or, conversely, being forced to listen to Mozart while contemplating the significance of rural Indiana architecture. They just don't fit together.

My second argument is more theological and I will borrow a few lines from Dorothy Day for this one. Dorothy lived the America of the 20th century about as fully as anyone could (It would have been fascinating to see what she would have said to the success of the Reagan administration in ending the Cold War peaceably as a result, at least in part, to the arms race that Dorothy rightly condemned, or what she would have thought of Pope John Paul II who was only Pope for two years when she died. Anyway, here is what she wrote:

"But there is also the attempt made by some young priests to reach the young, to make the Mass meaningful to the young (the bourgeois, educated, middle-class young), where novelty is supposed to attract the attention but which, as far as I can see, has led to drawing these same young ones completely away from the ‘people of God,’ ‘the masses’ and worship in the parish church. There is the suggestion of contempt here for the people and for the faith of the inarticulate ones of the earth, ‘the ancient lowly,’ as they have been called.

"I do love the guitar Masses, and the Masses were the recorder and the flute are played, and sometimes the glorious and triumphant trumpet. But I do not want them every day, any more than we ever wanted solemn Gregorian Requiem Masses every day. They are for the occasion. They are joyful and happy Masses indeed and supposed to attract the young. But the beginning of faith is something different. The ‘fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Fear in the sense of awe."

Where is the "awe" in a guitar Mass?

I was joyful on my wedding day, but I wasn't giddy. I wasn't bopping around, groovin' to the loads of people and friends and family who were all there to witness something cool. I was much so that I had to steel myself with a dram of spirits. I was fearful, but I wasn't scared. But, hell, even if I was scared I believe that is the appropriate response to such a life transforming moment. I felt very much like how I imagine Chesterton felt when, on his wedding day, he stopped on the way to the church to purchase a glass of milk and a revolver, both of them purchased for fortitude's sake. On that wedding day we are in awe of something beyond the two of us. We come to recognize and submit to the bond which God calls us. The awe of which Dorothy speak is an appreciation for something transcendent, something other, something more than us, even something that calls us to something more, something better.

The guitar at Mass communicates something, and Dorothy is right in that it communicates joy and glee and the youthful abandon that I am sometimes taken by when I revel in the fact that I am loved so immeasurably by Christ. That first time I heard U2's Beautiful Day, though, it gave me the same feeling . I'm glad to be alive. This is fine, but a faith built on enthusiasm is doomed to die a miserable death in lugubrious loneliness.

Like the Bible says, "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." "Fear in the sense of awe," says Dorothy. So don't give me something awful with the guitar. Give me the awful truth of the Mass, the awe-inspiring wonder of Christ's presence among us.

Hello Newman

This little bit of news across the transom ought to give us great joy.

Newman: Beato subito

The prospect of beatifying John Henry Cardinal Newman is exciting if for no other reason than merely the thought that some may actually pick up his works and read them, and in them find a great many answers to our current struggles within the Church. It is also comforting to hear that the current Holy Father is keen on canonizing this great (future doctor?) of the Church.


The monikers are ridiculous, and I have been known to throw them about at times.

The Bard wondered what is in a name, and the answer is apparently an aweful lot, because everyone seems to want to go out of their way to avoid certain labels and attract other ones. It reminds me of the Max Lucado story I have read many times to my son...the one about the dots and the stars. We all do tricks, jump through hoops to get the proper label. Punchenello gets caught up in the labels and loses himself. But in the end most of us would leap for joy if those we loved or hoped to love slapped a big star on our back.

This is no judgment. It is life, after all, a human trait. We all want to belong.

Have you ever noticed that Wes Anderson's movies tend to revolve around the theme of belonging? Dignan sought with all his misguided might to belong to Mr. Henry's crowd. Max Fischer wanted to belong at Rushmore. Everyone wanted to belong to the great myth of the Tennenbaum family, most especially Mr. Tennenbaum...and on and on.

Labeling is part of what we do, because we all want to belong to something. Hell, even the rebels all dress the same.

A problem I see is when labels become just labels. What I mean is that there are labels that are words or a phrases artificially slapped onto someone or something that need not hold even the sparest of thin links to anything real about the person or thing or movement. But we often treat words like liberal, progressive, conservative as though they are just labels when they actually do communicate something that is real about the person or thing or movement. If I label someone a conservative Catholic for you, you now know that in all likelihood that person doesn't believe that women can be priests, that folks ought not play pokey-pokey under the sheets before marriage, that John Paul II was a great man and not a genocidal maniac, etc. There are people...yes even Catholics...that hold different views on this.

Yes labels are limited and can be dangerous, but that is because people start to use them in ways other than they are intended. Labels are shorthand. They have their use.

For me, I will call myself a proto-paleo-jurassic-crusty-con...because I can.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Caller ID

The music of U2 has been Christian for a very long time, and by that I mean informed by a Christian world view. What does such a worldview mean or look like in rock'n'roll?

"Unknown Caller", the fourth track on U2's latest album No Line on the Horizon, and the title of this new blog, is nothing if it is not stirring musically and structurally. Beyond this, though, the song is about the prayer of a sinner and the results. It is a wonderfuly limited summation of the kerygma of Christianity.

The song opens with hope: Sunshine, sunshine. The Christian is to work out his salvation in fear and trembling, as St. Paul said, but he can have confidence in the fact that there is a salvation made available, already won in a sense because it is attainable. However, sin is still a reality and the sinner in the song is

... lost between the midnight and the dawning
In a place of no consequence or company.
3:33 when the numbers fell of the clock face.
speed dialing with no signal at all.

Like many of us, this sinner finds himself totally alone and in a dark night, wondering where it is that he ought to turn. The hour is 3:33 (between midnight and dawning) and this is the witching hour, literally. It is exactly the oposite time of day from when Christ died on the cross and won us that sunshine. In this moment of darkness, then, the sinner is searching for hope. He can do nothing else but pray, even though he does not know if there is anyone on the other end of the line, "speed dialing" even, just going through the motions of a prayer he's said a million times. But low and behold, unexpectedly, God answers.

Go, shout it out, rise up.
Escape yourself, and gravity.
Hear me, cease to speak, that I may speak.
Force quit and move to trash.

In Christianity we don't conjure God or make him into anything we want. He comes to us. He reaches out when we are lost. Even when we don't believe in him he can give us hope and tell us to rise up, get over our sinfulnes and the gravity of despair and trust in his mercy. We need to silence ourselves to be able to listen to him, however, to be able to quit the program of constant desparation and toss it out with the trash.

The song continues, then, with the sinner who is back to recalling his own sins:

I was right there at the top of the bottom,
On the edge of the known universe
Where I wanted to be.
I had driven to the scene of the accident
And I sat there waiting for me.

Searching for ourselves we often only find the worse part of our pasts. We want to be fulfilled, but can find only the "accidents" of our sins. We end up, then, like St. Augustine who wrote that he was hiding behind himself from God. He sat there in sinfullness waiting for himself only to find misery. He and we are restless. But then God speaks again:

Restart and reboot yourself
You're free to go
Shout for joy if you get the chance
Password, you, enter here, right now.
You know your name so punch it in.
Hear me, cease to speak, that I may speak.
Shush now.
Then don't move or say a thing.

Be born again. Baptism is a restarting, a recreation of what we are and can be when we accept the salvation which Christ offers us. We are free to go in order to do good, to shout for joy, and to enter into the fulfilling and authentic humanity that we have been seeking. Indeed, once we have accepted this freedom offered to us by Christ crucified, we who were restless can now rest in him and not move or say a thing.

Bono once wrote about the wonder of grace. It is popular now, and has been for some time in the West, to talk about Eastern mysticism and religion as though they are comparable, or "pretty much the same thing" as our Western religions. At the center, however, of the doctrine of Karma is the notion that we get what we deserve, that over time, over incarnations we ultimately pay for all the sins we commit. What goes around comes around, the great circle of life. Christianity is different. Grace is different. In the turning of the wheel Christ bursts in and forgives us. We ultimately don't pay for our sins. Purgatory is a sad comparison to the suffering we ought to endure for the sins we commit. No, at the Christic point of history grace breaks the chain of Karma, of getting what we deserve, and introduces mercy so that like the sinner in the song, we are no longer lost but found and found out by God.

So who is the Unkown Caller? We are, in a sense, if we are still searching for ourselves. But I believe that God is the ultimate Unknown Caller. He calls unexpectedly, not allowing us to prepare ourselves before we smugly answer the call knowing who's on the other end. It is God who moves in mysterious ways.

Shush now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The voice of God

Go, shout it out, RISE UP
Oh, ohhh
Escape yourself, and gravity
Hear me, CEASE TO SPEAK that I may speak
Shush now
Oh, ohhh
Force quit and MOVE TO TRASH