Monday, December 22, 2008

Vatican: Decriminalize Homosexuality, But Don't Grant Gays Equal Civil Rights

The National Catholic Reporter is carrying a report from Religion News Service that the Catholic Church now officially favors the portions of the "Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," currently before the U.N. General Assembly, that call for all nations to remove criminal penalties for homosexual behavior.

This at least pits Catholicism against those nations whose laws make homosexuality a crime, including the the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The article reports that "The non-binding declaration, which was sponsored by France and backed by the 27-member European Union, received 66 votes in the 192-member UN General Assembly on Thursday. Aside from the Holy See, opponents included China, Russia, the United States," as well as the Muslim nations.

However, the Vatican remains opposed to gay people having equal civil rights, especially any move to equate same-sex unions with marriage. It even opposes the declaration's use of the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity," on the grounds that the terms have "no established meaning in international law."

This, of course, ignores several decades of agreement among psychologists that the terms have quite specific meaning as phenomena experienced on several continents. The basic thrust of the declaration is to have international law recognize realities which psychology has recognized already, and to adopt psychology's verdict that homosexual orientation is not a pathology that needs to be cured.

Support for decriminalizing homosexuality is certainly enlightened and welcome. However, by continuing to treat same-sex orientation as a defect that warrants lesser treatment under civil law, the church is sanctioning transferring the bigotry from criminal law to the arena of civil rights.

Meanwhile, the possibility raised here multiple times--of treating all couples equally under civil law and leaving the definition and application of marriage to the churches, for their own members--is still something the Vatican never considers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Pictures Tell the Story: Earliest Snow in Houston and New Orleans for Decades

Snow accumulation in Houston's South Shore Harbour Resort last night.

The snow moved east and greeted New Orleans at daylight.

And our house in New Orleans has never looked cozier.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

“Pastoral Message To Homosexual Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles”

Gay activists at the Vatican December 6, 2008.
Not to be outdone by the Archbishop of San Francisco, his counterpart in Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, and his six auxiliary bishops have issued their own apologia for supporting Proposition 8.

They posted their “Pastoral Message to Homosexual Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles” on the archdiocesan website December 3 and in the online version of The Tidings, the archdiocesan newspaper, on December 5.

The December 3rd posting offers complete .pdf versions in English and Spanish. They are followed by a 19-page appendix in English that tries to support a central argument of the document: that the Hebrew scriptures, the Christian Scriptures and the Muslim Koran have always understood marriage “as the life-long relationship of a man and a woman ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of their children.”

The appendix includes: four pages of “Jewish Scripture References to Marriage,” one page of “Christian References to Marriage,” and 12 pages of “Qur’an References to Marriage” (the last made available in English, Arabic, English transliteration of the Arabic, and listening-reciting versions in three Arabic dialects).

A final page of the appendix tries to document another key theme—that “California affords domestic partnerships most of the same rights and responsibilities as marriages under state law (Cal. Fam. Code §297.5).” It duplicates a Wikipedia list of those rights.

The pastoral message is effusive in repeatedly assuring gay Catholics “that you are cherished members of the Catholic Church;” that “passage of Proposition 8…does not diminish in any way the importance of you, our homosexual brothers and sisters in the Church;” that “Proposition 8 was never intended, directly or indirectly, to lessen the value and importance of gay and lesbian persons;” and that “We are committed to find ways to eliminate discrimination against homosexual persons…”

However, like the apologia from San Francisco, the Los Angeles statement never addresses the California Supreme Court’s finding that refusal to call the state’s domestic partnerships marriages rendered them lesser arrangements, which denied gay partners first-class citizenship with equivalent rights under the state constitution.

Moreover, to claim that the three monotheistic world religions have an identical understanding of marriage today, or that their understanding has been identical in the past, is a canard both inaccurate and dishonest. The most obvious contrast is the historic encouragement of polygamy by Jews and Muslims, and the contemporary belief by at least some Muslim males that their reward in heaven will include endless polygamous bliss.

Compounding that inaccuracy, the document announces that “‘Marriage’ is not merely a religious concept, but is so fundamental to human experience that it cannot be redefined legally." This does violence to several facts, including: (1) that marriage has been redefined legally in numerous times and places over centuries; (2) that the California Supreme Court found that marriage had already been redefined by the California State Constitution as a set of rights to which all couples were entitled; and (3) that Proposition 8 itself was yet another effort to redefine marriage legally.

Those three misrepresentations speak much more loudly than the pastoral commitment the bishops claim to have toward gay people. And, like the Archbishop of San Francisco, the L.A. bishops never considered if the California Supreme Court’s finding could be remedied by some equitable alternative instead of Proposition 8, or how they plan to achieve equity if the Court allows Proposition 8 to remain in the state constitution.

It does not help that Cardinal Mahony, the lead signer of the pastoral message, has also been accused numerous times and in multiple venues of facilitating and failing to stop the activity of hundreds of pedophile priests in Stockton and Los Angeles, and that he and the archdiocese have agreed to a $660 million settlement with 508 victims.

Adding insult to those injuries, Mahony joined Catholic officials in Rome to scapegoat gay priests as the main perpetrators of the pedophilia, when it is well known that the preponderance of male pedophiles are heterosexuals with arrested emotional or psychological development, many of them also abused as children.

Meanwhile, in a timely rejoinder to the religious thinking behind Proposition 8, Newsweek posted on December 6 one of the cover stories of its December 15 edition, which focuses on gay rights. In a link to the article yesterday, MSNBC characterized it aptly as a religious argument for gay marriage.

The authors do an excellent job contrasting what the Hebrew and Christian Bibles say about marriage with the definition of marriage that Catholics, Mormons and other religious-right devotees imposed on California November 4.

After offering several specific examples that do not support the Proposition 8 model, they conclude:

“First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's—to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes.”

They add: “We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future. The Bible offers inspiration and warning on the subjects of love, marriage, family and community. It speaks eloquently of the crucial role of families in a fair society and the risks we incur to ourselves and our children should we cease trying to bind ourselves together in loving pairs.”

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8 - The Musical: Actors Roast Its 'Pick n Choose' Theology--and Its Fiscal Myopia

The Associated Press and MSNBC alert us to a three-minute internet video with a blockbuster cast posted on Stars include Jack Black (as Jesus), John C. Reilly and Allison Janney (as a conservative church leaders), and Neil Patrick Harris (singing that gay marriages can save the economy--and in great voice, by the way). It's enough to make Catholic and Mormon officials smile!

CA Supreme Court Asks Prop 8 Combatants to Address Two Constitutional Questions

Covering an appeal from the Archbishop of San Francisco for mutual respect and tolerance between those who supported Proposition 8 and those who found it offensive, the National Catholic Reporter says that the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases that seek to overturn the state-constitution amendment, approved by a slim margin November 4th:

On Nov. 19 the California Supreme Court agreed to decide constitutional issues stemming from voters' approval of the initiative but has denied requests to suspend enforcement of the initiative until the questions are resolved.

In issuing its order on Proposition 8, the California Supreme Court directed supporters and opponents of the initiative to submit written arguments on three questions:

-- Is it invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?
-- Does it violate the separation-of-powers doctrine under the California Constitution?
-- If it is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?

The court issued its order in three cases protesting Proposition 8 as an unconstitutional override of the high court's ruling in May that same-sex couples have a right to designate their unions as marriage.

The parties in the cases include same-sex couples and a number of cities and counties that want to issue marriage licenses under the ruling. They claim the measure denies same-sex couples equal treatment under the law.

NCR's coverage tries to focus on positive aspects of Archbishop George H. Niederauer's plea, issued in his weekly column in Catholic San Francisco's December 5th issue--including his appeal to churchgoers to "speak and act out on the truth that all people are God's children and are unconditionally loved by God. Whoever they are, and whatever their circumstances, their spiritual and pastoral rights should be respected, together with their membership in the church. In that spirit, with God's grace and much prayer, perhaps we can all move forward together."

NCR also noted Niederauer's call for civility from both sides: "We need to stop hurling names like 'bigot' and 'pervert' at each other. And we need to stop it now." He added that both sides "need to stop talking as if we are experts on the real motives of people with whom we have never even spoken."

The article acknowledged that the column is also an apologia for the role of the California bishops in passing Proposition 8 and specifically for Niederauer's role in drumming up support from the Mormon Church--which reportedly contributed $22 million of the $35 million which backers spent to get it passed.

However, NCR also provides a link to the archdiocese's website. And the complete text of the column makes it clear that he devotes a lot more words to defending the churches' role and his tactics than to reconciliation--and that his stance actually impedes reconciliation.

Although Niederauer denies that the San Francisco Archdiocese or any other California diocese contributed funds directly to the Proposition 8 campaign, the column makes it clear that they did fund the cost of pamphlets printed for it and that he did indeed use Mormon contacts he developed during 11 years as Bishop of Salt Lake to secure LDS political and financial support for Proposition 8.

He devotes the bulk of the column to reiterating religious conservatives' usual boilerplate rationale for making the rights of gay couples less than those of straight couples:

Quite a number of important political issues regularly touch upon the ethical, moral, and religious convictions of citizens: immigration policy, the death penalty, torture of prisoners, abortion, euthanasia, and the right to health care are some such issues.

Members of churches who supported Proposition 8 sincerely believe that defining marriage as only between a man and a woman is one such issue. They see marriage and the family as the basic building blocks of human society, existing before government and not created by it. Marriage is for us the ideal relationship between a man and woman, in which, through their unique sexual complementarity, the spouses offer themselves to God as co-creators of new human persons, a father and mother giving them life and enabling them to thrive in the family setting.

Are there many instances in which this ideal fails to be realized? Of course there are. Single parents, grandparents, foster parents and others deserve praise and support for their courage, sacrifice and devotion in raising the children for whom they are responsible. Still, the proponents of Proposition 8 subscribe to a definition of marriage that recognizes and protects its potential to create and nurture new human life, not merely a contract for the benefit of a relationship between adults.

Whatever others may say, the proponents of Proposition 8 supported it as a defense of the traditional understanding and definition of marriage, not as an attack on any group, or as an attempt to deprive others of their civil rights. The fact remains that, under California law, after the passage of Proposition 8, same sex couples who register as domestic partners will continue to have “the same rights, protections and benefits” as married couples. Proposition 8 simply recognizes that there is a difference between traditional marriage and a same sex partnership.

In its original ruling, of course, the California Supreme Court disagreed that California civil unions afforded gay partners the same rights as straight partners. The issue the court now faces is whether the state's initiative process can validly be used to remove an existing right from the state constitution by a simple popular majority.

Meanwhile, the Archbishop's plea for tolerance rings untrue, because the churches who gave Proposition 8 impassioned support and millions of dollars never considered a better alternative to the court's ruling: the proposal raised elsewhere and supported here, to make civil unions the partnerships which states recognize for ALL couples and leave the definition and recognition of marriage a matter between each church and its adherents.

It is the religious right's single-minded insistence that gay unions must be treated legally as something less than heterosexual unions and its closed-minded refusal to consider this other alternative that make their anti-gay bigotry crystal clear.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Brad Pitt Won't Quit New Orleans: Six Houses Built, Twelve Dozen to Go

The Associated Press and report that Brad Pitt was on hand in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward as families moved into the first six houses built through his Make It Right foundation for their first holidays since Hurricane Katrina. Pitt, who said he was really happy for the families, was still frustrated that the project has 144 more homes to build. But he forecast 100 homes in the area by the end of 2009. Some paragraphs from the article follow:

Pitt said that by December of 2009, the Lower 9th Ward should be one of the nation's largest "green" neighborhoods.

"This place that suffered such injustice and so much death can become one of the primary examples of a high-performance neighborhood. It really is amazing."

While the homes built by Pitt's project are more contemporary than the Creole cottages and shotgun-style homes typical of New Orleans, they incorporate some elements used in the area for generations, such as high ceilings and shaded porches.

The homes also have solar panels and other features that help cut energy bills by at least 75 percent, Pitt said. Other architectural elements address challenges of the area, including ventilation and mold- and termite-resistant materials.

Speaking of architecture, Elizabeth Sneed, a Los Angeles Times blogger, notes that Pitt's efforts will be covered in the January issue of Architectural Digest. She quotes the magazine's entire PR preview of the article. Much of it follows:

In its January ’09 issue, Architectural Digest catches up with Pitt when he returns to welcome Katrina victim Gloria Guy back to her new home built by the actor’s Make It Right Foundation.

A year after the New Orleans storm, Pitt was horrified at the lack of progress in repairing the damage it wreaked, especially in the devastated African-American populated Lower Ninth Ward. “I couldn’t believe nothing was going on. I recalled the pictures of people on roofs, begging for help and I couldn’t believe that this was our America.”

Determined to put his dual passions for architecture and environmentally-sound development to work, he and several partners started the Make It Right Foundation, whose aim is to build 150 homes for residents of the lower Ninth Ward -– one of the hardest hit during the ’05 hurricane. He invited architects from around the globe to New Orleans to submit sustainable -– and affordable housing solutions.

Pitt convened a meeting with the architects, residents and community leaders to establish guidelines for rebuilding the neighborhood. “I never had any idea that so many people would show up for this. The model works and it’s replicable.”

Although many thought the Lower Ninth Ward should be abandoned because its land was below sea level, Pitt argued that other wards -– some populated by white and middle class were on lower ground and nobody suggested abandonment there. “It seems to me that this is about fairness. We may have been designed equal, but we certainly weren’t born equal. I feel great happiness whenever we level the playing field.”

Six of the originally-planned 150 homes have already been built through the Foundation. Looking to the future, Pitt believes Make It Right is a model for projects around the world. “We’ve cracked something here … these houses redefine affordable housing … this is a proving ground for a bigger idea that could work globally. This project is not mine anymore. It’s so beyond me.”

But the day AD talked to Pitt, the day he helped Gloria Guy and her family move back in, crystallized why he put his passions and his celebrity behind the Foundation he created. “You have no idea,” he says, “what a high it is for me to see the delight on people’s faces when they see how these homes work.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reagan Jurist Decries ‘Judicial Subjectivity' of the Supreme Court’s Gun Ruling

In a posting on August 27, 2008, I documented how the five justices who found in the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment an individual right to bear arms had really engaged in a blatant exercise in conservative judicial activism.

I showed that all nine justices had presented evidence that, out of several precedents they knew about and could have placed in the Constitution, “what the Framers chose to codify was not some cosmic right to bear arms to defend self and property, but a right to keep and bear arms in order to be militia-ready, to be available if called to active militia duty.”

Rather than spell out what this right means in a post-militia age, the majority concocted a new individual right to kill, while the dissenters denied its legal and logical legitimacy.

No one has offered any comment on my analysis. But it did my heart good to learn from a
George Will column in Sunday’s Washington Post that a conservative judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1984, also sees judicial activism in the gun-right decision, albeit for reasons I think are less germane.

Will says that J. Harvie Wilkinson, “writing for the Virginia Law Review,” charges that the majority’s behavior in District of Columbia v. Heller showed that “orginalism” is in fact no obstacle to “judicial subjectivity.” His take is that orginalism alone is not sufficient to ensure conservative judicial restraint. As Will summarizes it: “when conscientious people come to different conclusions about the Framers’ intentions, originalist judges must resolve the conflict by voting their preferences.”

The Virginia Law Review website says Wilkinson’s article has not been published yet. The site has
an abstract of Wilkinson’s essay, but the Review does not plan to publish it until the April 2009 edition. Thus I rely on Will’s column for the some of the content of Wilkinson’s critique.

According to Will, Wilkinson insists that all of the justices, by referring to original documents that contained conflicting positions, in fact had originalism on their sides. Given that, it was not at all conservative for the majority to impose the position they derived from their preferred sources as the sole meaning of the 2nd Amendment. This is what bothers Wilkinson most about the majority position.

In contrast to the majority’s tactics, Wilkinson argues that a truly conservative approach would have given legislatures broad latitude to decide which of the original positions make most sense in their specific jurisdictions: “Wilkinson says that when a right's definition is debatable, generous judicial deference should be accorded to legislative judgments--particularly those of the states, which should enjoy constitutional space to function as laboratories for testing policy variations.”

In other words, although Wilkinson joins me in seeing unjustified conservative judicial activism in the Supreme Court’s decision, he couches it differently and proposes a different path he thinks the justices should have followed.

I did not conclude in my August 27th analysis that the justices were faced with conflicting original positions they needed to resolve. I said, rather, that the conflicting original positions reflected the variety of precedents from which the Framers could choose. However, it was the Framers themselves who resolved those conflicting precedents. Purposefully and explicitly they excluded several proposed versions of a right to bear arms and instead based the right on the responsibility of the states to assemble militias completely independent of the national military. All of the opinions, majority and dissenting, agreed: what the Framers codified was a right to bear arms in order to be militia-ready.

This still leaves ambiguity for legislators to resolve. But it’s not the ambiguity that Wilkinson sees. The ambiguity is how the flesh out the right to be militia-ready in a modern society where there are no longer state militias and where their closest lineal descendants, each state’s National Guard, are not nearly as independent of the federal military as the militias were supposed to be.

What the Court needed to do was to give state and local legislative bodies guidance on what the 2nd Amendment’s right to be militia-ready permits and precludes in our post-militia society. What does the right to be militia-ready tell us about possession and use of firearms for target-practice, hunting, or defense of self, family and property?

That is the ruling the Court should have made. That is what remained unaddressed by the conservatives’ judicial activism and the dissenters' attempt to block it. And that is the decision the Court is still going to have to make some day down the road, when the Court revisits the shortcomings of its new right to kill.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Baltimore to Richmond: Where to Park and House 4 Million Inaugural Visitors

CNN political contributor Donna Brazile posted a reflection today on how big an event Barack Obama's January 20th inauguration will be, not only because of its overwhelming historical significance, but also because it will present logistical challenges that the District of Columbia has never experienced before. Excerpts from the posting follow.

Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, is a political contributor for CNN. She also is the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and founder of Brazile & Associates, a Washington-based political consulting firm. Brazile, who was the campaign manager for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket in 2000, wrote "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics," a memoir about her life in politics.

Relatives, friends, casual acquaintances and complete strangers are suddenly ablaze with desire to connect with Washington area residents: They are all planning to descend on the nation's capital for the inauguration ceremonies of the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama.

For both those who never knew what it was to live through segregation and those who had to drink at separate water fountains, this is the moment to proclaim freedom and love of country. And every single one of them wants to either participate in it or give witness to its rebirth in 2009.

People aren't just fired up and ready to celebrate Obama's inauguration. In what will be a perfect storm of jubilation and celebration, 2009 is the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's birth, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the NAACP, and the 80th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King's birth.

A sister of one of my best friends from elementary school e-mailed to tell me that she's bringing three busloads of people from my hometown of New Orleans. Three busloads of folks from my hometown who love the Mardi Gras -- during good and bad times. I told them to come on and we'll see what's cooking on the stove.

Knowing Louisiana people, they will have something spicy or cold ready to go when they stand along the Mall to view the procession from the U.S. Capitol. Many of these people lost everything just a few years ago. And if they have saved up to come, well, come on. Some of us still remember what it was like to sleep four to five to a room.

So, with Washingtonians like me being set upon as if we were the last lifeboat on the Titanic, I have one burning question. Where are all these people going to sleep? Will churches open up their basement floors or pews? Will recreation centers and college stadiums allow buses to park on their expansive lots so people can just catch the Metro downtown?

Well, as a former community organizer, let me offer some advice.

If you're lucky enough to get a ticket from your member of Congress, get ready for a massive crowd of people. We're talking crowds expected to number up to 4 million people.

Hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, couches, and air mattresses located inside the beltway are already filled. So do what are others are doing and extend your search south into Richmond and north into Baltimore.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty is working hard to open up as much public space as possible.

But it's up to federal officials to leave the area from the base of the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument open and to extend the viewing area to the Lincoln Memorial so more people can get a taste, if not a glimpse, of history in the making.

Some people will decide not to bother with all the fuss, especially when their television set offers them a front-row seat. They'll find ways to celebrate right where they are. In the end, they may prove to be the wisest among us.

Let us call upon ourselves to celebrate Obama's inauguration and next year's anniversaries with a renewed commitment to public service, cooperation, and common sacrifice.

Let us focus not on our own wants but the needs of one another.

Let us bring alive in our daily actions King's dream of a promised land, an America reborn in equality of opportunity.

No matter if you come here or stay home, let us together make the inaugural celebration of our nation's 44th president a time of rejoicing, remembrance, and renewal.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Acting Head of Diocese Says Priest Who Told Obama Voters to Repent Went Too Far

The National Catholic Reporter's website has a report from Religion News Service that the administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, SC, acting head of the diocese since its bishop was transferred last year, has issued a statement that a local priest was out of line when he said Obama voters must repent and receive absolution before sharing in the Eucharist. Catholic News Service carried a similar report the same day the statement was released, but the RNS version below is a bit clearer:

A South Carolina Catholic priest was wrong to warn parishioners who voted for President-elect Barack Obama to confess their sin before receiving Communion, according to the head of the priest's diocese.

Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin, administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, said in a statement late Friday (Nov. 14) that "if a person has formed his or her conscience well, he or she should not be denied Communion, nor be told to go to confession before receiving Communion."

Last week, the Rev. Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, said that by receiving Communion, Obama supporters "drink and eat their own condemnation," because the president-elect supports abortion rights. Newman later said he would not deny the sacrament to anyone "based on political opinions or choices."

Newman's statements "do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church's teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated," Laughlin said. He added that Newman pulled the church's moral teachings "into the partisan political arena" and "diverted the focus from the church's clear position against abortion."

Laughlin cites the Catholic Church's catechism, which states that "man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions."

"Christ gives us the freedom to explore our own consciences and to make our decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith," Laughlin said. "We should all come together to support the president-elect and all elected officials with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection of the unborn child."

Laughlin was appointed the interim administrator of the statewide Charleston diocese when Bishop Robert J. Baker was transferred to Birmingham, Ala., last year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Columnist's Not-at-All Modest Proposal: Let Steve Jobs Save GM Jobs

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman says he is really skeptical about proposals that the federal government give General Motors and the other U.S. automakers another $25 billion in recovery funds, on top of the $25 billion in loan guarantees the same companies have already squandered.

Friedman says he's "as terrified as anyone of the domino effect on industry and workers if GM were to collapse." But if we're going to use more tax dollars in another attempt to head that off, it needs to come with several conspicuous strings attached. Friedman starts by seconding the view expressed in Monday's Wall Street Journal by Paul Ingrassia, the Journal's former Detroit bureau chief:

“In return for any direct government aid,” he wrote, “the board and the management [of G.M.] should go. Shareholders should lose their paltry remaining equity. And a government-appointed receiver — someone hard-nosed and nonpolitical — should have broad power to revamp G.M. with a viable business plan and return it to a private operation as soon as possible. That will mean tearing up existing contracts with unions, dealers and suppliers, closing some operations and selling others and downsizing the company ... Giving G.M. a blank check — which the company and the United Auto Workers union badly want, and which Washington will be tempted to grant — would be an enormous mistake.”

I would add other conditions: Any car company that gets taxpayer money must demonstrate a plan for transforming every vehicle in its fleet to a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capability, so its entire fleet can also run on next generation cellulosic ethanol.

Lastly, somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesn’t need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if he’d like to do national service and run a car company for a year. I’d bet it wouldn’t take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vatican Plans to Excommunicate 36-Year Cleric for Supporting Women Priests

Today the National Catholic Reporter has posted a copy of a letter from Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation told him he will be excommunicated unless by November 21 he recants his support for ordaining women. Bourgeois tells the congregation his conscience will not allow him to recant. His letter follows.
November 7, 2008

I was very saddened by your letter dated October 21, 2008, giving me 30 days to recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or I will be excommunicated.

I have been a Catholic priest for 36 years and have a deep love for my Church and ministry.

When I was a young man in the military, I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I entered Maryknoll and was ordained in 1972.

Over the years I have met a number of women in our Church who, like me, feel called by God to the priesthood. You, our Church leaders at the Vatican, tell us that women cannot be ordained.

With all due respect, I believe our Catholic Church’s teaching on this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny. A 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission supports the research of Scripture scholars, canon lawyers and many faithful Catholics who have studied and pondered the Scriptures and have concluded that there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women from the priesthood.

As people of faith, we profess that the invitation to the ministry of priesthood comes from God. We profess that God is the Source of life and created men and women of equal stature and dignity. The current Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women implies our loving and all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, somehow cannot empower a woman to be a priest.

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood. Who are we, as men, to say to women, “Our call is valid, but yours is not.” Who are we to tamper with God’s call?

Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral.

Hundreds of Catholic churches in the U.S. are closing because of a shortage of priests. Yet there are hundreds of committed and prophetic women telling us that God is calling them to serve our Church as priests.

If we are to have a vibrant, healthy Church rooted in the teachings of our Savior, we need the faith, wisdom, experience, compassion and courage of women in the priesthood.

Conscience is very sacred. Conscience gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do the right thing. Conscience is what compelled Franz Jagerstatter, a humble Austrian farmer, husband and father of four young children, to refuse to join Hitler’s army, which led to his execution. Conscience is what compelled Rosa Parks to say she could no longer sit in the back of the bus. Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood. Conscience is what compelled my dear mother and father, now 95, to always strive to do the right things as faithful Catholics raising four children. And after much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.

Working and struggling for peace and justice are an integral part of our faith. For this reason, I speak out against the war in Iraq. And for the last eighteen years, I have been speaking out against the atrocities and suffering caused by the School of the Americas (SOA). Eight years ago, while in Rome for a conference on peace and justice, I was invited to speak about the SOA on Vatican Radio. During the interview, I stated that I could not address the injustice of the SOA and remain silent about injustice in my Church. I ended the interview by saying, “There will never be justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained.” I remain committed to this belief today.

Having an all male clergy implies that men are worthy to be Catholic priests, but women are not.

According to USA TODAY (Feb. 28, 2008) in the United States alone, nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 12,000 children. Many bishops, aware of the abuse, remained silent. These priests and bishops were not excommunicated. Yet the women in our Church who are called by God and are ordained to serve God’s people, and the priests and bishops who support them, are excommunicated.

Silence is the voice of complicity. Therefore, I call on all Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and all Church leaders at the Vatican, to speak loudly on this grave injustice of excluding women from the priesthood.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated because of his defense of the oppressed. He said, “Let those who have a voice, speak out for the voiceless.”

Our loving God has given us a voice. Let us speak clearly and boldly and walk in solidarity as Jesus would, with the women in our Church who are being called by God to the priesthood.

In Peace and Justice,
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M.
PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903

Friday, November 07, 2008

Forgive Us Our Debts: The Chief Sacrifice Obama Must Ask? Live Within Our Means!

Houston Chronicle business columnist Loren Steffy noted today how much Barack Obama emphasized the need for sacrifice in his victory speech election night. Steffy says the biggest sacrifice needed, nationally and from each household, is to break out of the "borrow-and-spend" pattern that has been so popular for the last decade. It is especially good to hear this from an experienced business analyst. Several of Steffy's paragraphs follow.

One word, nestled amid the eloquence of Barack Obama’s victory speech, lingered long after the cheers subsided.


It’s a word too long absent from the political discourse, one that speaks to the change that Obama claims his presidency will represent.

We cannot fix our finances without it. We can’t address our foreign oil dependence without it. We can’t repair our broken health care system without it.

We can’t simply shop our way through the crisis, and we can no longer afford to delude ourselves into thinking we can.

The Obama presidency faces the worst stock, bond and commodity markets in three decades. Even strong performers such as oil companies are now facing the prospect of weaker earnings because of lower commodity prices.

No stimulus, no bailout, no amount of hope and soaring rhetoric can succeed if it’s not accompanied by fiscal responsibility.

At some point, higher taxes are inevitable to bring the deficit back in line, and Obama’s plan to limit the increases to the rich aren’t likely to be enough.

That is the sort of sacrifice we must make to resolve the crisis.

We must make sacrifices at the personal level, too, by reducing our use of credit and curtailing our spending, building our savings so that we are better prepared.

This is a crisis spawned, in large part, by our own delusion.

We wanted to believe in ever-rising stocks, in a shop-till-the-terrorists-are-defeated foreign policy and homes that were worth whatever our mortgage broker told us.

For eight years, our government borrowed to pay for wars, tax cuts and prescription drugs, while we borrowed to pay for HDTVs, iPhones and Xboxes. Buy now, pay later wasn’t just a sales pitch, it was fiscal policy.

Later is now. To fix our economy we first must change our views of debt and savings.

That will take sacrifice, the one word from the president-elect’s speech that we must hear before all others.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Why Not Equal Civil Unions for EVERYONE—With Churches Deciding Which Ones to Bless?

As the sun rose on California this morning, it was clear from the Los Angeles Times’ county-by-county map of election results that with 95% of the vote counted, Proposition 8—the state constitution revision which “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry”—had passed statewide by a margin of 52% out of 10 million votes. Click here for the updated map.

‘No’ votes prevailed in 16 of California’s 58 counties: 12 along the Pacific Coast from Salinas to Eureka, Napa and Yolo Counties just inland from Sonoma, and Alpine and Mono counties along the southern Nevada border.

But by that hour, 100% of the vote had been counted in 15 of those counties, and there were not enough uncounted in the sixteenth (Monterey County) to overcome the statewide ‘Yes.’ Nor were there enough votes left in Riverside County, which includes gay-friendly Palm Springs, to overcome the 64% yes-vote margin there. Los Angeles County may have been the closest in the state: with 100% of the votes counted, Proposition 8 won there by less than 1%: yes 1,317,125 (50.4%); no 1,296,319 (49.6%).

Even if Proposition 8 had failed, California would be one of only three states that permit gay marriage (with Massachusetts and Connecticut). Such marriages would remain unrecognized at the federal level, and married gay couples still would not enjoy any of the
1,000-plus legal rights that federal law confers on U.S. married couples.

Moreover, gay people married in California would continue to face opposition from well-meaning people like Stafford Betty, a professor of religious studies at California State University in Bakersfield. Writing in the October 31 edition of the National Catholic Reporter, Betty said his friends include committed gay couples whom he loves and admires, “But we are different in one important respect. When a man and a woman marry, they can have children in the way nature planned. And most do. When gays or lesbians unite, they cannot. They can adopt, and lesbians can get pregnant with the help of a sperm bank. But most do not choose to bring up children. For these reasons I would say that a heterosexual union is one kind of thing, and a homosexual union is another. Therefore, I would prefer different names for them.”

One can quibble with Betty’s logic. But the fact remains that voters in most states find it persuasive, and they aren’t likely to be persuaded otherwise in the foreseeable future.

What should that tell us? It says that trying to get gay unions included in the legal definition of marriage is barking up the wrong tree. Even when the effort moves forward in a specific state, conservatives usually succeed in reversing it and in blocking any progress toward equal federal rights. Trying to make civil marriage the goal, as an expansion of civil-union rights, seems doomed to fail. But with a little imagination, the tables can be turned.

What would be wrong with pushing, instead, for civil unions with equal rights as the legal norm for everyone? Marriage ceremonies performed by clergy could still be available for those who value them. But, for heterosexuals or homosexuals, the durable coupling registered with the state would be a civil union. Church weddings would be a religious add-on to civil unions, conferring whatever significance the church desires, but no superiority in the eyes of the law.

This reform would get the state out of the marriage business altogether. The state’s role would be to acknowledge publicly that a couple has agreed to live together, mingling their income, their assets, their liabilities and their lives. All couples so recognized would have identical rights under state and federal law. Whether a given civil union would also be regarded as matrimonial would be between the couple and their religious community of choice.

Historically, the church got into the civil marriage business to assist Constantine with the civil administration of his empire. The main service the church provided was record keeping. But eventually the churches got into the position of defining what marriage is from a legal standpoint. That may have had value in an age when most nations had an established religion. But once separation of church and state was formalized by the U.S. Constitution, it became impossible for any one religion’s understanding of marriage to remain the legal norm.

That, of course, has not stopped the religious right from trying. But the way to stop them from denying gay couples equal rights is not to fight for inclusion in the right's particular definition of legal marriage. Rather, it is time to challenge their right to define legal marriage at all.

The churches certainly have the right to decide what constitutes matrimony or religious marriage for their members. What they do not have the right to do is define legal marriage in a way that rewards some couples and punishes others.

Let’s work to make civil unions the form of domestic partnership which the state guarantees for all durable couples who seek public recognition. Let the churches fight within themselves and among themselves about God’s requirements for marriage. But let’s remind them that, under the First Amendment, they may not dictate such requirements to the nation or it states.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bishop Terminates Gay Priest's Job, Faculties, Salary and Health Benefits

In an article in today's print edition the National Catholic Reporter says that the bishop of Fresno has suspended Geoffrey Farrow, the diocesan priest who said the California bishops were wrong to oppose gay marriage (see post of October 9th, below). A Google search on the priest's name finds more information than NCR included in its report.

First, Father Geoff started
a blog October 7th to address the rationale for his actions and chronicle the fallout he was sure would follow. The blog begins with the text of his October 4th Sunday sermon, discusses his suspension, and has postings through yesterday on his continuing efforts to defeat California's Proposition 8. He also has a national and international audience so far of 166 people who have listed themselves as followers of his blog.

Second, an article published October 13th by two staff writers in the
Los Angeles Times makes it clear that "suspension" barely begins to describe the extent of the bishop's retaliation.

Farrow, 50, has been a priest for 23 years, but except for coming out to his family and a few close friends over the years, never thought of declaring his sexuality publicly or challenging the church's political stance on gay rights.

That changed after he read the bishop's June 30th pastoral letter against gay marriage, which he found at odds with contemporary psychology, his personal experience and the church's own statements that some people experience homosexual orientation as a given that cannot be changed.

But when he did, the bishop not only removed Farrow from his job as pastor of St. Paul Newman Center, which serves students and faculty at Cal State Fresno; he also revoked his faculties to function as a priest anywhere in the Fresno diocese and terminated Farrow's salary and benefits, including health insurance. According to the Times, the bishop also hinted he might remove Farrow from the priesthood altogether.

The bishop has yet to address the central questions Farrow raised in his sermon: "How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives?"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jewish Visitors Understand Pope to Say He Is Considering Freezing Pius XII Sainthood

It well may come down to what exactly Pope Benedict XVI meant by the word ‘it,’ but members of an international Jewish delegation who met with him today perceived him to say he is considering freezing the sainthood process for Pius XII, who was pope during the Holocaust. This, of course, would be very good news for Catholic-Jewish relations. Parts of the report from MSNBC and Reuters follow:

Pope Benedict on Thursday told Jewish leaders he was seriously considering freezing the sainthood process of his Nazi-era predecessor Pius XII until historical archives can be opened, a Jewish leader said.

Some Jews have accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked behind the scenes and helped save many Jews from certain death during World War Two.

Rabbi David Rosen, a leader of a Jewish delegation that met the pope on Thursday, said the subject came up in conversations after formal speeches were delivered.

"One member of our delegation told the pope 'please do not move ahead with beatification of Pius XII before the Vatican archives can be made accessible for objective historical analysis' and the pope said 'I am looking into it, I am considering it seriously'," Rosen told reporters.

Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Some Jews have asked the pope to hold off on beatifying Pius until more information on his papacy can be studied.

Pius did not come up in the formal speeches between the pope and Rosen, but the Jewish leader did repeat a request for the Vatican archives to be open for study.

"We reiterate our respectful call for full and transparent access of scholars to all archival material from the period, so that assessments regarding actions and policies during this tragic period may have the credibility they deserve both within our respective communities and beyond," Rosen told the pope.

A Vatican statement said another six or seven years of preparatory work would be needed before the archives on Pius' period could be opened to scholars and the pope would have the final decision.

At issue is whether Benedict should let Pius proceed on the road to sainthood — which Catholic supporters want — by signing a decree recognizing his "heroic virtues." This would clear the way for beatification, the last step before sainthood.

Benedict has so far not signed the decree — approved last year by the Vatican's saint-making department, opting instead for what the Vatican has called a period of reflection.

This month, Amos Luzzatto, president emeritus of Italy's Jewish communities, said making Pius XII a saint could open a "wound difficult to heal" between Jews and Catholics.

"I ask myself why Pius didn't do the same thing to call European Catholics to action. These are questions that haunt us Jews," he said.

As in 1930s, Will Banks Lend Federal Bailout Dollars Until the Government Forces Them?

On 10/28 Houston Chronicle business columnist Loren Steffy said that in its bailout efforts to date, the U.S. Treasury Department has yet to jettison Alan Greenspan's benighted notion that banks will regulate themselves productively apart from government coercion.

The Treasury has given banks billions so that they can resume making loans and unfreeze the credit markets. Yet, Steffy notes, instead of lending the banks are hoarding the funds. Compounding the problem, some banks are using the money to buy up weaker ones.

Steffy says that's because the bailout law actually incents them to do that more than to make loans, "Who can blame them? A provision of the $700 billion bailout plan provides a tax deduction for bad assets when one bank buys another." Unfortunately, that only worsens the credit crunch: "That may remove some struggling players, but we’ll be left with fewer banks making fewer loans."

Steffy says the Treasury needs to do what it said it would do, and what European governments have already done: use the government's new ownership of preferred stock in the banks to demand seats on the banks' boards and to demand that the banks resume lending.

Yet history shows even that may not be enough. What Steffy fails to take into account was covered 10/18 in another Houston Chronicle column, this one an op-ed piece by Steven Fenberg, who has done documentaries and a biography of Jesse H. Jones, the Houston financier who headed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) during FDR's New Deal.

The original RFC law, passed under Herbert Hoover in 1931, allowed the government to make loans to ailing banks and insurance companies; but that just put them deeper in debt and more employees out of work. Jones, an original member of the RFC board, was apparently the first to suggest that the government directly buy stocks in the banks. Right after his inauguration (3/4/33) FDR submitted an Emergency Banking Act that included that provision, and Congress passed it in less than seven hours.

Although initially the banks would not sell stocks to the federal government, it wasn't long before the government owned stock in half the nation's banks. Unfortunately, however, Jones experienced what Steffy is describing today: they hoarded the cash and would not lend.

Fenberg says the government had to take several additional actions to unfreeze credit. First, "After hounding them for more than a year to loosen up, the RFC finally stepped in and made government loans to consumers, businesses, cities, disaster victims, home owners, farmers and railroads. Jones safeguarded taxpayers by only making loans against marketable collateral."

That worked until 1937, when Roosevelt stopped the program, as part of a premature effort to balance the budget. The economy spiraled downward again. To fix that, in 1938 FDR asked Jones to "organize a national mortgage association in Washington and to provide it with management." It became the Federal National Mortgage Association, known today as Fannie Mae.

So based on the experience of the 1930s, even with owning preferred stock in banks and getting seats on bank boards, the government may still not be in a position powerful enough to force the banks to resume lending. It may again have to cajole the banks into lending by doing more lending of its own. That probably would have to be in conjunction with reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But it certainly looks unavoidable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Global Gluttony for Meat Becomes a Deadlier Sin--Stuffing Our Guts and Starving the Poor

In a persuasive op-ed piece in today's Houston Chronicle, nurse practitioner Caroline Trapp says the growing global appetite for meat has a double effect so obvious and ominous that someone should have noticed it before. In fact, she says, someone did: President Harry S. Truman, fifty years ago this fall!

Trapp, who is also director of diabetes education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, thinks Truman got it when he "called on Americans to avoid meat one day a week to free up grain to feed millions of starving people in a war-ravaged Europe."

Trouble is, as war-ravaged Europe recovered, well-off consumers there and here forgot that grain used to feed cattle is eventually grain not available to starving people around the globe who need it just to survive. So now we have Americans eating an average of over 200 pounds of meat a year, "about double the global norm," with the upwardly mobile in China and India doing all they can to ape our opulence.

If Trapp is right that it takes as much as ten pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef, it becomes pretty clear why that leaves less grain for the less affluent. Trapp argues it's the primary reason that the number of people on the brink of starvation doubled in the last year--from 110 million to 220 million--and why "The World Bank expects that the number of malnourished people in the world will rise to nearly 1 billion this year."

But it isn't just starvation that's doubling. Also growing alarmingly, Trapp notes, are "rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to high-fat, high-calorie diets." As a result, "Here in the United States, one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life..." Already, "More than 1,600 diabetes-related amputations are performed every week in the United States," and some experts fear our gluttony will double our amputee population by mid-century. In other words, as we starve more people to death we impose more death-penalties on ourselves.

Trapp's analysis is yet another argument that the only Western diet that has proven truly healthy and worth emulating is the so-called Mediterranean diet, rich in nuts, fruits and vegetables. Trapp hopes that the next U.S. president will have the wisdom and the courage to echo Truman's call for more meatless meals.

As she warns, "If we can't find the will to change our meat-heavy eating habits, millions of people around the world, rich and poor alike, will pay a terrible price."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Memphis and Los Angeles, Bishops Say Catholics Cannot Be One-Issue Voters

The National Catholic Reporter says bishops in Memphis and Los Angeles have denied claims by more conservative prelates that Catholics can be one-issue voters or that bishops may instruct them to be:

Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib this week called upon Catholics to avoid being one-issue voters. He asked them to follow their consciences and weigh all the moral issues they face before casting their ballots.

“We must recognize,” he wrote, “that God through the church, is calling us to be prophetic in our own day. If our conscience is well formed, then we will make the right choices about candidates who may not support the church's position in every case.”

Citing words from a statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a voting guide issued last November by the bishops of the United States, Steib wrote that "there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil."

“A person might choose not to vote, but voting is a necessary part of our witness to Jesus Christ and a witness to our baptism. So, sometimes hard choices will have to be made.”

Steib wrote that within the past few weeks some denominations have taken on the task of challenging the policy of the Internal Revenue Service concerning the church and politics and that they were deliberately endorsing candidates and urging people in their congregations to vote for those persons in order to force the IRS to determine if the current policy of forbidding such endorsements is proper.

He said he disagreed with the approach because of his “deep respect” for the nonestablishment clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

He wrote that some Catholics have been asking their bishops to endorse candidates.

Continuing, he wrote that he has been among those bishops who have received letters from “well-meaning people” telling him for whom he should vote and how he should inform parishioners regarding the candidates for whom they should or should not cast their ballots.

He wrote, “It is not my duty nor is it my role to tell the members of the community of faith in the Diocese of Memphis how to vote.”

Rather he felt the need, he wrote, "to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ as announced in scripture and articulated by the church.”

“Politics,” Steib wrote, “is not just a game; it is instead a part of the commonwealth of our lives. Just as we cannot avoid drinking water in order to live, so also, as faithful Christians we cannot avoid being involved in the political process and remain good Christians. But if we are to be involved in the political process by voting, then we must have formed our consciences well.”

He called upon Catholics to be prudent when they form their consciences. “Prudence is not easy to define, but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence helps us to ‘discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.’"

He posed the question facing many Catholics, asking what is a voter to do when presented with candidates whose views do not reflect the full teachings of the church.

To help answer the question he quoted the spiritual writer Fr. Ronald Rolheiser who wrote the following in his book Secularity and the Gospel:

“In an age of increasing violence, fundamentalism, and the myth that God wishes to cleanse the planet of its sin and immorality by force, perhaps the first witness we must give to our world is a witness to God's nonviolence, a witness to the God revealed by Jesus Christ who opposes violence of all kinds, from war, to revenge, to capital punishment, to abortion, to euthanasia, to the attempt to use force to bring about justice and God's will in any way."

Steib wrote that he understood Rolheiser to be saying Catholics cannot be one-issue people.

In a similar light, in an interview this week, Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles archdiocese, said his fellow bishops have long insisted that "we're not a one-issue church," a view reflected in their 2007 document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

"But that's not always what comes out," said Zavala in the Los Angeles Times. Zavala is bishop-president of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA. "What I believe, and what the church teaches, is that one abortion is too many. That's why I believe abortion is so important. But in light of this, there are many other issues we need to bring up, other issues we should consider, other issues that touch the reality of our lives."

Steib and Zavala’s remarks come in the wake of a number of U.S. Catholic bishops who in one manner or another have called upon Catholics to vote to oppose any candidate that does not support an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion in the United States.

The most recent in a string of such bishops are Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput and Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn.

Chaput recently labeled Barack Obama as “the most committed” abortion-rights candidate from a major party in 35 years. Chaput emphasized he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Denver archdiocese. He made the case it is immoral to vote for Obama.

Chaput had already said that Obama running mate Joe Biden, a Catholic, should not present himself for Communion because of his abortion rights position.

Similarly, Finn wrote last week in his diocesan paper that pro-choice candidates are "inviting Catholics to put aside their conscience on this life and death issue." He added: “They want us to deny our conscience and ignore their callous disregard for the most vulnerable human life."

And earlier this month, Bishop Joseph Martino of the Scranton (Pa.) diocese issued a letter warning that "being 'right' on taxes, education, health care, immigration, and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life." He added: "It is a tragic irony that 'pro-choice' candidates have come to support homicide — the gravest injustice a society can tolerate — in the name of 'social justice.'"

Six Catholic Scholars Question If Pius XII Did All He Could for the Jews, or Soon Enough

In a letter to The Times of London, six Catholic scholars from Europe, Canada and the United States join three Jewish colleagues to say it is premature for the Catholic Church to canonize Pope Pius XII until all the material in the Vatican archives "is made available and scrutinised and a wider scholarly consensus is achieved regarding his response to the Holocaust." The complete text of the letter follows, along with a list of the signers and their academic affiliations.

As scholars committed to the Christian-Jewish dialogue, we express our concern about any imminent beatification/canonisation of the wartime Pius XII (Pope 1939-58). His pontificate has stirred considerable controversy, with some claiming that he knew much and did little of importance while others argue that he did all he could under very difficult circumstances.

As Pope he condemned the effects of the war on its innocent victims, but did not single out the persecution of Jews, either during or after the Holocaust. Pius XII made some diplomatic interventions regarding Jewish safety but lived during a time, before Vatican II, when anti-Jewish prejudice was common in Christianity. The Vatican has yet to release much archival material that should be opened up with deliberate speed and examined by scholars. We are also deeply concerned about the impact of beatification/canonisation on the remaining survivors of the Holocaust, making the rush to canonisation seem inappropriate.

The evidence released thus far does not satisfactorily respond to whether Pius XII acted soon enough and decisively enough. A more extensive study is still required, one that would draw in the best available scholars in the field. The Vatican will not achieve credibility on the question of Pius XII’s wartime record by relying solely on the work of defenders of Pius XII. We therefore respectfully urge Catholic authorities to continue to hold on a consideration of his canonisation until all relevant archival material is made available and scrutinised and a wider scholarly consensus is achieved regarding his response to the Holocaust.

Until then, it will remain uncertain whether the Pope did all he could and whether he did it soon enough.

Dr Edward Kessler
Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths, Cambridge

The Rev Professor John T. Pawlikowski, OSM
Cardinal Bernadin Centre, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

Dr Michael Berenbaum
American Jewish University, Los Angeles

Professor Mary Boys, NDS
Union Theological Seminary, New York

Dr Hans Hermann Henrix
Bischofliche Akadmie des Bistums Aachen, Aachen

Rabbi Professor Dr Ruth Langer
Centre for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College

Professor Michael R. Marrus
University of Toronto

Professor Didier Pollefeyt
University of Leuven

Dr Kevin P. Spicer, CSC

University of Notre Dame

Monday, October 20, 2008

Globalization Giveth, and Taketh Away. And, Shall We Pray, Saveth?

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman holds out the hope that the "globalization of finance," which helped so many large developing countries start an ascent from poverty but then bit us all in the foot, may yet be the engine that saves the day. Maybe. See the reservations I raise after some of Friedman's paragraph's, below.

So think about it: Some mortgage broker in Los Angeles gives subprime “liar loans” to people who have no credit ratings so they can buy homes in Southern California. Those flimsy mortgages get globalized through the global banking system and, when they go sour, they eventually prompt banks to stop lending, fearful that every other bank’s assets are toxic, too. The credit crunch hits Iceland, which went on its own binge. Meanwhile, the police department of Northumbria, England, had invested some of its extra cash in Iceland, and, now that those accounts are frozen, it may have to reduce street patrols this weekend.

And therein lies the central truth of globalization today: We’re all connected and nobody is in charge.

Globalization giveth — it was this democratization of finance that helped to power the global growth that lifted so many in India, China and Brazil out of poverty in recent decades. Globalization now taketh away — it was this democratization of finance that enabled the U.S. to infect the rest of the world with its toxic mortgages. And now, we have to hope, that globalization will saveth.

The real and sustained bailout from the crisis will happen when the strong companies buy the weak ones — on a global basis. It’s starting. Last week, Credit Suisse declined a Swiss government bailout and instead raised fresh capital from Qatar, the Olayan family of Saudi Arabia and Israel’s Koor Industries. Japan’s Mitsubishi bank bought a stake in Morgan Stanley, possibly rescuing it from bankruptcy and preventing an even steeper decline in the Dow. And Spain’s Banco Santander, which was spared from the worst of this credit crisis by Spain’s conservative banking regulations, is purchasing America’s Sovereign Bankcorp.

I suspect we will soon see the same happening in industry. And, once the smoke clears, I suspect we will find ourselves living in a world of globalization on steroids — a world in which key global economies are more intimately tied together than ever before.

It will be a world in which America will not be able to scratch its ear, let alone roll over in bed, without thinking about the impact on other countries and economies. And it will be a world in which multilateral diplomacy and regulation will no longer be a choice. It will be a reality and a necessity. We are all partners now.

So far, so good. What troubles me is the sentence, "We're all connected, and nobody is in charge." What's troubling is not its accuracy, but Friedman's failure to analyze it and challenge it (as he has in other columns).

It is the job of governments to be in charge of the global economy. And the fact that just about all significant governments have been asleep at the switch is the main reason globalization was allowed to run amok. Governments need to place financial globalization within globally agreed limits. And until governments do, globalization is more likely to give less and take more--from everyone.

Friday, October 10, 2008

High-Profile U.S. Catholics Challenge Some Church Officials' Abortion Politics

Tom Roberts, the National Catholic Reporter's News Editor and Editor-at-Large, has posted an outstanding analysis of the success high-profile U.S. Catholic lay leaders and organized lay groups are having in challenging some church officials' position on the duty of political leaders to outlaw abortion. He also notes support for them from at least one high-profile theologian at Notre Dame. Most of Roberts' paragraphs follow.

For the first time since the abortion issue began to dominate the Catholic political discussion 35 years ago, groups have organized and high-profile Catholics have gone public to insist that Catholic teaching does not prohibit a vote for a pro-choice politician.

Much to the contrary, in fact, groups like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United note that the teaching explicitly prohibits bishops from endorsing or opposing specific candidates, from instructing Catholics on how to vote or from arguing that Catholics need consider only one issue in determining how to vote.

The same point was emphasized in
a talk given Oct. 4 in Kansas City, Mo. by Notre Dame theologian, Father Richard McBrien who cited last November’s election policy statement, which reads: “The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. ... Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace ...”

“I think they’ve changed the conversation on abortion,” said Peter Steinfels, long time church observer and writer of the Beliefs column for The New York Times, referring to emerging Catholic lay voices.

Referring to figures like lawyers
Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi, both of whom own unassailable pro-life credentials and have publicly endorsed Barack Obama, Steinfels said, “I think that by disconnecting their moral opposition to abortion from their political support for Republican candidates, they’ve actually returned emphasis to the moral question.

"They’ve provided a witness to the moral seriousness of what’s involved in abortion.”

How much that witness influences Catholics, who have a solid record of voting for the popular vote winner, will be apparent in the post-Nov. 3 analyses. We’ll also know then whether a vocal minority of bishops will have convinced Catholics that, as Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton put it, “pro-choice candidates have come to support homicide” and that seeking a legal ban of abortion is the greatest good.

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke also declared recently from his new post in Rome that Democrats risked becoming
“a party of death.”

Steinfels said of bishops who appear to see only one political approach, a total legal ban, to the abortion issue: “I think they’re going to harm the church in the long run and the pro-life cause.”

More distressing to him, however, is the silence of the majority of bishops who refuse to publicly explain that the bishops’ own documents on political responsibility prohibit a one-issue approach as well as either endorsing or condemning individual candidates.

“I feel there is a kind of leadership failing on the part of other bishops who are not happy with that kind of statement,” said Steinfels, referring to the bishop of Scranton. Privately, other bishops will say they disagree, said the journalist and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

“The only way in this media conscious world – if they’re not going to allow the Bishop of Scranton to speak for the U.S. hierarchy – is they’ve got to take a public stand.”

Kmiec, a former official in the Reagan White House who worked on briefs seeking to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, announced his support for Obama last spring.

“I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence, and genuine good will. I take him at his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides and that he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights.”

In a later panel discussion, Kmiec defended his decision to support Obama, despite the candidate’s pro-choice position on abortion and Kmiec’s earlier work to overturn Roe v Wade.

“We have been at the business of trying to find the elusive fifth vote on the Supreme Court for 30 years,” he said. “We haven’t found it and even if we do find it, overturning Roe would not save a single life, but instead merely return the question to the state. While that would be important, it is not intended and never was intended to close the American mind or, for that matter, the Catholic mind to different or alternative ways to discourage abortion.”

He said one thing he liked about the Democratic Party platform this year “is that it incorporates some of these alternative ways, alternative ways that for far too long have been closed to the Catholic imagination, if you will, because of the way in which the abortion discussion has been conducted.”

Both Kmiec and Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer and former dean at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh, emphasize that it is wrong to conclude from Catholic teaching that Catholics can not vote for Obama because he is pro-choice. Each also asserts that overturning Roe would not end abortion, but merely turn the question back to the states, so that abortion would remain legal in some states and illegal in others.

Given that circumstance, they say, they have opted for the candidate and the party that has placed a new emphasis on programs that would aid in reducing the number of abortions.

Of course, when Catholic politicans like Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have made arguments similar to those of Kmiec, Cafardi, Steinfels and McBrien, bishops of the ilk they are challenging have been quick to slap the politicians down, claim they are disloyal Catholics and in some cases deny them access to communion. It will be interesting to watch whether any of these bishops try similar tactics against the individuals Roberts profiles.

At least one of the lay leaders covered above has taken a pro-active step to head off such a move. A Catholic News Service link within Roberts' article notes that the day before Roberts' posting, Cafardi resigned from the board of trustees at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, as a direct result of his support for Obama.

While the university did not exactly force Cafardi to resign, its president made it clear they were taking heat from the Catholic right both about Cafardi's endorsing Obama and Carfardi's argument that Obama's approach to reducing abortions is politically more achievable than trying to outlaw them nationally. Cafardi said he resigned to prevent those Catholics from "using my association with Steubenville to try to harm that great university."

What may transpire between now and election day is anybody's guess.