Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Use 70% of Antibiotics on Feedlots--And Pass Their Drug-Resistant Infections to Us

MSNBC has posted the third of a five-part Associated Press series documenting how the overuse of antibiotics is accelerating the growth of drug-resistant infections worldwide. The report is entitled Drug-resistant infections lurk in meat we eat: Animals routinely fed antibiotics harbor virulent germs that jump to people. A key paragraph from the article:

Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year — more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs — 28 million pounds — went to pigs, chickens and cows. Worldwide, it's 50 percent.

The article says that antibiotics are fed to U.S. feedlot animals mainly to speed their growth. While that is one of the reasons meat producers use antibiotics, it is far from the only one.

Michael Pollan focused on two others in his groundbreaking 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

The first reason applies mainly to feedlot cattle: because it is cheaper to supply and because it makes them grow much faster, they are fed on corn rather than grass. But their systems are not evolved to digest corn, and antibiotics are required to fend off various diseases that corn-eating inflicts on them. So even before antibiotics speed the cows' growth, they are used to treat corn-induced diseases that cows grazing on grass never experience.

The second reason is that all feedlot animals are raised in inhumanely packed conditions crawling with all kinds of disease-causing organisms. Most prominent among the filth? Their own feces. Tim Flannery, writing in the New York Review of Books, summarizes what Pollan says about feedlot cattle (but also applies to pigs and chickens):

Cows have not evolved to feed on corn. Nor are they suited to living in crowded conditions while standing up to their ankles in feces. In the feedlot, however, they have little choice. The corn diet induces indigestion, which must be treated with repeated courses of antibiotics, and the cows seem to be miserable or vacant a lot of the time. They are subjected to this regime because it makes them grow fast, and in times past they were even fed the offal from other slaughtered cows, which is how mad cow disease came into the food supply.

Pollan describes a Karmic cycle in which the poor health of the feedlotted cows is visited on their consumers. Because they are not allowed to eat grass, their meat is higher in dangerous fats and lower in good ones than that of cows leading a more natural life. And the abattoirs where they are slaughtered need to be absolutely fastidious about hygiene, because bacteria on their skins thrive in the crowded, fecal conditions, and could easily contaminate their meat. Despite all of this, grain-fed beef has a cachet in America, where it is preferred by many for its alleged tenderness. I'm often offered it with pride, even by up-market restaurants that don't seem interested in serving meat from cows that have lived their life on the range. Having read Pollan's book, I'm now ordering buffalo.

Pollan makes it clear that there is no escaping overuse of antibiotics if the feedlot method of producing meat is allowed to continue. He acknowledges that returning to grass grazing for cows and other more natural settings for pigs and chickens is much more expensive financially. But like the AP reporters, he argues that unless feedlot production is replaced, drug-resistant infections eventually will kill millions of human beings. What feedlots save us in the short term will cost us dearly in later years.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seems We've Been Looking for Other Earths in Not Enough Places

Starting yesterday several websites were excited about the news that astronomers have discovered a so-called Super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star a mere 40 light years from our own planet. The links include:
  • a press release yesterday on EurekAlert! from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics;
  • an analysis on MSNBC's by Cosmic Log's Alan Boyle; and
  • a separate analysis by John D. Sutter on CNN.
All three refer to an article by the researchers in today's edition of the journal Nature; but there is no on-line link to the full coverage without purchasing it or subscribing to Nature.

Philosophically speaking, the critical point about the new discovery is that we have been too narrow in where we have looked for other planets like ours. When the focus was only on stars in the range of our sun's size and intensity, the results were paltry. But very shortly after researchers went unconventional and allowed themselves to look in the direction of dimmer stars, they started to find Super-Earths much faster. Imagining greater possibilities unveiled a more complex reality.

Apart from the full article, CNN is best at explaining the significance of the new find. Here are excerpts from its analysis:

While the planet probably has too thick of an atmosphere and is too hot to support life similar to that found on Earth, the discovery is being heralded as a major breakthrough in humanity's search for life on other planets.

"The big excitement is that we have found a watery world orbiting a very nearby and very small star," said David Charbonneau, a Harvard professor of astronomy and lead author of an article on the discovery, which appeared this week in the journal Nature.

The planet, named GJ 1214b, is 2.7 times as large as Earth and orbits a star much smaller and less luminous than our sun. That's significant, Charbonneau said, because for many years, astronomers assumed that planets only would be found orbiting stars that are similar in size to the sun.

Because of that assumption, researchers didn't spend much time looking for planets circling small stars, he said. The discovery of this "watery world" helps debunk the notion that Earth-like planets could form only in conditions similar to those in our solar system.

"Nature is just far more inventive in making planets than we were imagining," he said.

In a way, the newly discovered planet was sitting right in front of astronomers' faces, just waiting for them to look.

There were no technological reasons the discovery couldn't have happened long ago, Charbonneau said.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grass Roots Oppose Liturgy Changes: Seattle Cathedral Pastor Asks, What If We Said 'Wait'?

A few hours after my posting yesterday about the Catholic bishops' repeated departures from Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the National Catholic Reporter posted an article on an unprecedented new development: Seattle pastor begins effort to review new missal translations.

The article reports that Father Michael G. Ryan, pastor of Seattle's St. James Cathedral for more than two decades, has launched a grass roots drive to put planned changes to American Catholic liturgical language on hold for a full year, so they can have "a trial run" in a few designated places before being officially implemented.

The drive includes a new website, What If We Just Said Wait? It offers a "Statement of Concern" for signers to "earnestly implore the bishops of the English-speaking world to undertake a pilot program by which the new translations -- after a careful program of catechesis -- can be introduced into some carefully selected parishes and communities throughout the English-speaking world for a period of one (liturgical) year, after which they can be objectively evaluated." As of this posting, there are nearly 2700 signers from the U.S. and other English-speaking countries. The count grows by the hour.

NCR and the website also link to another important part of the effort, an article by Father Ryan in the December 14th print edition of America magazine, entitled What If We Said 'Wait'? The case for a grass-roots review of the new Roman Missal. The article provides the theological basis for Father Ryan's proposal, grounding it solidly in specific provisions of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Reminding us that the bishops at Vatican II passed the liturgy constitution by an overwhelming vote of 2,147 to 4, he shares my dismay at how the bishops have departed from it over the last 45 years. He even notes that Section 40 of the document "wisely made provision for times of experimentation and evaluation ... something that has been noticeably missing in the present case."

Especially heartening to me personally is that Father Ryan's proposal is something I have been advocating for several years. I launched this blog on July 17, 2006. My first posting, A Better Way to Change Catholic Liturgical Language, was a reflection on many of the changes that Father Ryan is questioning. I argued for experimentation before new liturgical changes were implemented, as well as for continuing celebrations of older liturgies in ways that did not detract from the normativity of new ones. I have returned to this theme in several other postings. So I am beyond delighted that at long last a veteran liturgical leader has been brave enough take up the cause.

I encourage everyone who treasures what the Spirit achieved at Vatican II to go to Father Ryan's website and sign the "Statement of Concern." Because the America article is of great significance, for the present and the future of the English liturgy, I re-publish it in full below:

It is now 45 years since the Second Vatican Council promulgated the groundbreaking and liberating document on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. As an eager and enthusiastic North American College seminarian at the time, I was in St. Peter’s Square on the December day in 1963 when Pope Paul VI, with the world’s bishops, presented that great Magna Carta to the church. The conciliar document transcended ecclesiastical politics. It was not just the pet project of a party but the overwhelming consensus of the bishops of the world. Its adoption passed overwhelmingly: 2,147 to 4.

Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas. And now on the horizon are the new translations of the Roman Missal that will soon reach the final stages of approval by the Holy See. Before long the priests of this country will be told to take the new translations to their people by means of a carefully orchestrated education program that will attempt to put a good face on something that clearly does not deserve it.

The veterans who enthusiastically devoted their best creative energies as young priests to selling the reforms of the council to parishioners back in the 1960s will be asked to do the same with regard to the new translations. Yet we will be hard put to do so. Some colleagues in ministry may actually relish the opportunity, but not those of us who were captivated by the great vision of Vatican II, who knew firsthand the Tridentine Mass and loved it for what it was, but welcomed its passing because of what full, conscious and active participation would mean for our people. We can see the present moment only as one more assault on the council and, sadly, one more blow to episcopal collegiality. It was, after all, the council that gave to conferences of bishops the authority to produce their own translations (S.C., Nos. 36, 40), to be approved, it is true, by the Holy See but not, presumably, to be initiated, nitpicked and controlled by it. Further, the council also wisely made provision for times of experimentation and evaluation (S.C., No. 40)—something that has been noticeably missing in the present case.

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

Prayer and Good Sense

I know it might smack of insubordination to talk this way, but it could also be a show of loyalty and plain good sense—loyalty not to any ideological agenda but to our people, whose prayer the new translations purport to improve, and good sense to anyone who stops to think about what is at stake here.

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful. During a recent dinner conversation with friends, the issue of the new translations came up. Two at the table were keenly—and quite angrily—aware of the impending changes; two were not. When the uninformed heard a few examples (“and with your spirit”; “consubstantial with the Father”; “incarnate of the Virgin Mary”; “oblation of our service”; “send down your Spirit like the dewfall”; “He took the precious chalice”; “serene and kindly countenance,” for starters), the reaction was somewhere between disbelief and indignation.

One person ventured the opinion that with all that the church has on its plate today—global challenges with regard to justice, peace and the environment; nagging scandals; a severe priest shortage; the growing disenchantment of many women; seriously lagging church attendance—it seems almost ludicrous to push ahead with an agenda that will seem at best trivial and at worst hopelessly out-of-touch.

The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations. Some of them have merit, but far too many do not. Recently the Archdiocese of Seattle sponsored a seminar on the new translations for lay leaders and clergy. Both the priest who led the seminar (an accomplished liturgical theologian) and the participants gathered there in good faith. When passages from the proposed new translation were soberly read aloud by the presenter (I remember especially the phrase from the first eucharistic prayer that currently reads “Joseph, her husband,” but which in the new translation becomes “Joseph, spouse of the same virgin”), there was audible laughter in the room. I found myself thinking that the idea of this happening during the sacred liturgy is no laughing matter but something that should make us all tremble.

There’s more: the chilling reception the people of the dioceses of South Africa have given the new translations. In a rare oversight, the bishops of that country misread the instructions from Rome and, after a careful program of catechesis in the parishes, introduced the new translations to their people some months ago. The translations were met almost uniformly with opposition bordering on outrage.

It is not my purpose here to discuss in detail the flawed principles of translation behind this effort or the weak, inconsistent translations that have resulted. Others have already ably done that. Nor do I want to belabor the fact that those who prepared the translations seem to be far better versed in Latin than in English. No, my concern is for the step we now face: the prospect of implementing the new translations. This brings me back to my question: What if we just said, “Wait”?

What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?

Heeding Our Pastoral Instincts

The bishops have done their best, but up to now they have not succeeded. Some of them, led by the courageous and outspoken former chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., tried mightily to stop the new translation train but to no avail. The bishops’ conference, marginalized and battle-weary, allowed itself slowly but steadily to be worn down. After awhile the will to fight was simply not there. Acquiescence took over to the point that tiny gains (a word here, a comma there) were regarded as major victories. Without ever wanting to, the bishops abandoned their best pastoral instincts and in so doing gave up on the best interests of their people.

So the question arises: Are we priests going to give up, too? Are we, too, going to acquiesce? We do, of course, owe our bishops the obedience and respect that we pledged to them on the day of our ordination, but does obedience mean complicity with something we perceive to be wrong—or, at best, wrongheaded? Does obedience mean going against our best pastoral instincts in order to promote something that we believe will, in the end, actually bring discredit to the church and further disillusionment to the people? I do not think so. And does respect involve paying lip service to something to which our more instinctive reaction is to call it foolhardy? Again, I don’t think so.

I offer the following modest proposals.

What if pastors, pastoral councils, liturgical commissions and presbyteral councils were to appeal to their bishops for a time of reflection and consultation on the translations and on the process whereby they will be given to the people? It is ironic, to say the least, that we spend hours of consultation when planning to renovate a church building or parish hall, but little or none when “renovating” the very language of the liturgy.

What if, before implementing the new translations, we do some “market testing?” What if each region of bishops were to designate certain places where the new translations would receive a trial run: urban parishes and rural parishes, affluent parishes and poor parishes, large, multicultural parishes and small parishes, religious communities and college campuses? What if for the space of one full liturgical year the new translations were used in these designated communities, with carefully planned catechesis and thorough, honest evaluation? Wouldn’t such an experiment yield valuable information for both the translators and the bishops? And wouldn’t such an experiment make it much easier to implement the translations when they are ready?

In short, what if we were to trust our best instincts and defend our people from this ill-conceived disruption of their prayer life? What if collegiality, dialogue and a realistic awareness of the pastoral needs of our people were to be introduced at this late stage of the game? Is it not possible that we might help the church we love avert a debacle or even disaster? And is it not possible that the voices in the church that have decided that Latinity is more important than lucidity might end up listening to the people and re-evaluating their position, and that lengthy, ungainly, awkward sentences could be trimmed, giving way to noble, even poetic translations of beautiful old texts that would be truly worthy of our greatest prayer, worthy of our language and worthy of the holy people of God whose prayer this is? (If you think the above sentence is unwieldy, wait till you see some of the new Missal translations. They might be readable, but border on the unspeakable!)

“What If We Just Said No?” was my working title for this article. “What If We Just Said, ‘Wait’?” seems preferable. Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated. So let the dialogue begin. Why not let the priests who are on the front lines and the laypeople who pay the bills (including the salaries of priests and bishops) have some say in how they are to pray? If you think the idea has merit, I invite you to log on to the Web site www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org and make your voice heard. If our bishops know the depth of our concern, perhaps they will not feel so alone.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Before He Was Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger Thought Vatican II Brought Real Change

Analyzing recent thoughts of Chicago's Cardinal Francis George on "the relationship between bishops and ordinary Catholics," Tom Roberts, editor at large for the National Catholic Reporter, documents how Joseph Ratzinger in 1963 believed that the Second Vatican Council had made revolutionary changes in Catholic liturgy and Catholic ecclesiology, the study of the church, church structures and who gets to decide what in the Christian community.

This, of course, is diametrically opposed to Ratzinger's later position--first as John Paul II's chief doctrinal enforcer (head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as The Inquisition) and then as Pope Benedict XVI--that Vatican II was in complete continuity with traditional Catholic theology and made no significant breaks with the past.

In a recent book and an interview with NCR's John Allen, said Roberts, "the cardinal expressed his weariness with the Catholic liberal-conservative divide, suggesting that each was similar to the other in the exaggerated attention they give to intrachurch politics and in focusing far too much on bishops, the power they have and the way in which they exercise it, and not enough on Christ.

"The inference to be drawn from it all is that...if laypeople would concentrate more on being 'simply Catholic' and less on what goes on in hierarchical venues, there would be less contentiousness all around."

Roberts argues, however, that George is distorting history, probably on purpose: to suggest that the contentiousness George bemoans is caused by lay people obsessing on the bishops is a massive exercise in misplaced concreteness. It is based, rather, on the bishops' failure to adhere to the teachings of Vatican II--and the refusal of others in the church to acquiesce. Roberts traces this failure and the controversy it generated directly to the conservative claim that Vatican II changed nothing at all.

Here's Robert's chronicle of Joseph Ratzinger's departure from Vatican II and how it has reinforced conservative claims in liturgy and ecclesiology; I add bold-face to the more significant points:

The council is fading into history as a marker of a certain generation of contemporary Catholics. However, how that council is interpreted — indeed, whether some of our bishops today are willing even to concede that anything significant occurred at the council to change the church — will continue to have an effect on Catholic life for the foreseeable future. The effects of the council are somewhat akin to the effects of the feminist or civil rights movements. Young people today do not have to worry about the same battles that their parents fought, but the benefits that both women and minorities today can take for granted are both a direct result of those earlier efforts and something to be diligently guarded.

And while the council was hardly a movement — indeed, it was far more formally structured and produced a body of documents approved by the world’s bishops — what some would perceive as its benefits or gains are now far more disputed than those achieved in matters of race or the rights of women.

A reading of even a portion of the record on liturgical reform shows that the council inspired deep shifts in ecclesiology, as well as the role of bishops in relation to the way we pray. The essential nature of the changes underway was noted in 1963 by then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, today’s Pope Benedict XVI.

As a peritus, or expert, at the council, he wrote: “The first chapter of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy contains a statement that represents for the Latin church a fundamental innovation. The formulation of liturgical laws for their own regions is now, within limits, the responsibility of the various conferences of bishops. And this is not by delegation from the Holy See, but by virtue of their own independent authority.”

He termed the development “especially important” in “the decentralization of liturgical decision-making.”

It is clear that the Ratzinger view contained in those comments has undergone substantial change since. But what invalidates his understanding back then that “this small paragraph, which for the first time assigns to the conferences of bishops their own canonical authority, has more significance for the episcopacy and for the long desired strengthening of episcopal power than anything in the Constitution on the Church itself”?

By extension, what invalidates others’ similar understanding that, in Ratzinger’s earlier view, the council had, “without fanfare, and largely unnoticed by the public … produced a work fundamental in the renewal of ecclesiology”? It is a conclusion far different from that expressed by some today that the council merely confirmed a continuation of what had gone before.

While George asserts that Catholics should pay less attention to bishops, it was bishops — he among them — who have argued that those who hold the early Ratzinger view of the council as marking a fundamental change in ecclesiology are wrong and that liturgical renewal has gone off in the wrong direction.

It was bishops who, in 1997, convened a committee of 11 men who met in the Vatican to secretly overhaul the translations of the American lectionary, or the scripture readings used at Mass.

Overturned by the committee was a translation process that had been in use since the council and that was broadly consultative and had included a number of women. Only one of the men on the new committee held a graduate degree in scripture studies; two were not native English speakers; and several had a history of objecting to inclusive-language translations, including two of the American archbishops and the lone scripture scholar. Three American bishops who had worked most closely on the lectionary and were themselves Bible scholars — including Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., currently the lone voice of opposition to certain translations in the missal under consideration by the bishops — were excluded from the group. They were replaced by conservative prelates Bishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa; William Levada, then of San Francisco and now a cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Justin Rigali, then of St. Louis and now cardinal in Philadelphia; and Cardinal Francis Stafford, then head of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

In 2002, leadership of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, known as ICEL, was replaced under pressure from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship with bishops more congenial to that congregation’s view of how translation should be effected.

Roberts documents unassailably that the contentiousness that has developed in the church since 1965 must be traced directly to conservative theologians and bishops playing disingenuous mind games with the teachings of Vatican II--all rehashing the bogus claim that the council really taught nothing new. Repeating the claim does not make it true, but it does tend to make church-going Catholics forget the truth.

That reiterates how we got here. However as those of us faithful to the council age and die off, it does not tell us how we are going to salvage Vatican II and its ecclesia semper reformanda eccelesiolgy for the church of today and tomorrow.

And so we pray the Spirit who inspired Vatican II to surprise us so much will find new ways to out-wit those who idolize the moribund theology that the council laid to rest.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Zero Decade: Lesson to Be Learned? Elect Zeros, And They Will Deliver Zero

Leonard Pitts Jr., editorial columnist for the Miami Herald, posted a delightful commentary today, suggesting that the most fitting description of the aughts or the naughts--the first decade of the 21st century--is "the Uh Ohs. As in that interjection you mutter when the excreta hits the ventilation device, that word you whisper when the wheels come off the bicycle, that thing you say when things fall apart."

Pitts offers an extensive catalogue of the things that fell apart from 2000 to 2009. Uh Oh has indeed been on our lips a lot more than it used to be. Scanning his list, however, I thought a more apt description might be The Zero Decade--as in what happens when ill-informed and sometimes willfully ignorant voters, egged on by cheerleaders on talk radio and cable and the Internet, elect total incompetents to office year after year: absolute zeros produce absolutely zero and perch the world on the edge of chaos. Things didn't just "fall apart." Things were shattered, by several bulls in several china shops.

It's not that the best and the brightest can't do the same. After all, John Kennedy's brain trust gave us Vietnam. Bill Clinton's cleverness brought us prosperity, but with the pitfalls of failed health care reform, Don't Ask Don't Tell, too little regulation and way too much Monica Lewinsky. But 'electing' George W. Bush and his ilk to office virtually guaranteed how awful eight years of the decade would be. Everything on the list except 9/11 can be chalked up to the zeros who tried to run the zeros. And invading Iraq as a response to 9/11 was perhaps their most misplaced goose egg.

Alas, the supply of ill-informed and willfully ignorant voters still seems all too real--blithely denying that conservative ignorance brought on a world a grief and clamoring loudly for even more. Whether the United States has a future is largely a race between ignorance and fact. As we move into 2010, I fear the outcome is by no means clear.

Below is the very prescient cover The Nation ran on 11/11/2000. After it are excerpts from Pitts' litany of things that fell apart in The Zero Decade.

The Ohs were a whole decade in which things fell apart -- things you'd thought were built to last, things you depended on without having to think too much about them, things that were the very bones and core and soul and sinew of who we are. Or at least, of who we thought we were.

Then democracy fell apart in a blizzard of hanging chads, a presidential election whose winner no one really knows to this day, a decision by the Supreme Court that chose our 43rd chief executive.

Our sense of security fell apart, foreign terrorists bringing their grievances to our shores in a spectacular fashion never seen before, proud towers disintegrating, an iconic building pierced, smoke rising above a Pennsylvania field, 3,000 people gone.

American exceptionalism fell apart, our understanding of ourselves as history's white hats and good guys crumbling under revelations of torture and malfeasance starkly at odds with that benign and reassuring self-image.

Can-do fell apart, civilization fell apart, New Orleans drowning and its trapped people turning feral and mean while those whose job it was to rescue them bungled, bickered, pointed fingers, and otherwise acquitted themselves with all the smooth efficiency of the Keystone Kops.

The economy fell apart, wealth disappearing, jobs vanishing, surplus shrinking to deficit, the nation in hock to China to bail out banks too big to fail and brother, can you spare a dime?

Journalism fell apart, the very idea and ideal of authoritativeness and indisputability lost in a static of Tweets and blogs, of newspaper deaths, fair-and-balanced bias and competing truths.

The world fell apart, glaciers turning to icebergs, icebergs turning to ice water, dire predictions of irrevocable change due to planetary warming caused by human behavior, the snows receding on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

And yet, we're still here, still standing. There is something to be said for that; it is no small feat to still be standing in times so tumultuous, times when the very bedrock of your identity wobbles like Jell-O. That was the Uh Ohs and the best thing you can say about them is that they are almost over.

We are people of an astounding capacity for resilience, redemption, renewal, reinvention. Change is our birthright -- for proof, look no further than the new guy in the White House. So this era of hardship is finite by definition. This too shall pass away.

Something to remember in the last minute of Dec. 31st as the clock ticks relentlessly toward the new, the next. A toast to give when you raise your glass high.

Here's to better days.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Stupak Amendment Will Strip Abortion Coverage from All Health Insurance Policies

The National Catholic Reporter, for decades a voice of reason and restraint in the debate about how far the Catholic Church may go in turning its teaching on abortion into U.S. law, suddenly has departed from that stance. In an editorial posted November 23rd, NCR praised the U.S. bishops for lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives into adopting the Stupak Amendment to its health care reform bill.

According to the editorial, "The Stupak Amendment articulated a position that the Catholic bishops had rightly and forcefully advanced in the run-up to the final vote... The hope is that the bishops, having won a restriction on abortion, will argue as forcefully and expend the same energy in rallying the Catholic community to push for approval of a similar bill in the Senate."

But whether the position adopted in Stupak is one that the bishops had the right to advance is hardly a foregone conclusion. It is even called into question by a separate analysis by NCR contributor Michael Sean Winters, which NCR posted the same day. Winters wrote:

"The amendment did more than bar federal funding for abortion in both the public option and in any plans purchased through the “exchanges,” the markets the legislation sets up if those plans were subsidized by the federal government. The bill requires that any insurance company plan that covers abortion offered in the exchanges, even one being purchased by someone with their own money and no federal subsidy, has to be matched with an identical plan that does not include such coverage.

"The Stupak Amendment does not forbid the purchase of plans that cover abortion, but the actuary for the insurance companies said that functionally no companies would offer such plans because the pool of applicants would be too small to make them economically feasible." (The bold-face is mine.)

So it is inaccurate and disingenuous for anyone to assert that the Stupak Amendment aims merely to ensure that there is no expansion of federal support for abortion. In fact, the bishops have already been quite successful in ensuring that currently there is no such federal support.

Stupak, however, construes the existing federal exemption of employer payments for health insurance as de facto federal support for abortion (for those private policies that cover it). And Stupak tries to stop that too. Indeed, by making it financially impossible for insurance companies to offer plans with abortion coverage, it denies women the right to purchase any abortion coverage whatsoever, even if they have the means and the desire to use their own taxable income. And, of course, it prevents women who lack such means from having a medically safe abortion anywhere. Obviously this is a massive new contraction of women's ability to exercise a right which the Supreme Court has ruled they have.

So Stupak is much more than "a restriction on abortion," as the NCR editorial so meekly describes it. In fact it is a radical new tactic for the bishops to gain through health care reform legislation what they have been unable to gain through decades of electoral politics, relentless lobbying and court cases: imposing the Catholic moral teaching on abortion on Americans whose religions and individual consciences do not accept it.

How does that not violate the First Amendment's clause that Congress may not establish a particular religion? How does that not violate the First Amendment's clause that Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion?

Once more, in the name of stopping abortions, the bishops are pushing an assault on the U.S. Constitution. In the past, the National Catholic Reporter has consistently understood that such action is completely out of bounds. What makes it laudable now?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

U.S. Bishops Allowed Vatican to Usurp Their Responsibility for Liturgical English

The National Catholic Reporter posted an excellent editorial yesterday supporting Bishop Donald Trautman's charge that the U.S. bishops conference allowed Vatican bureaucrats to usurp its responsibility for approving changes to the English used in U.S. rituals, in blatant violation of the procedures mandated by the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

NCR notes that it is symptomatic of their fidelity to Vatican II that when Bishop Trautman questioned the most recent example of their dereliction, conference president Cardinal Francis George elicited a "wave of laughter from the assembled bishops" by saying flippantly, "I must have signed it." Cardinal George has no authority to do that, and the bishops have no authority to depart from Vatican II, much less mock those who uphold it. The editorial follows.

An exchange at the Nov. 16-19 U.S. bishops’ meeting between Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., and Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops’ conference, gave a glimpse into a key underlying issue in the decades-long process of translating texts for liturgical use by the English-speaking church.

Trautman asked how the translation of the antiphons used in the liturgy had been ceded to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship without debate or a vote from the U.S. bishops’ conference.

George, informed of the existence of a letter from the conference to the Holy See accepting its suggestion that the Vatican take over the translation of antiphons to expedite the process, said, “I must have signed it,” eliciting a wave of laughter from the assembled bishops.

Trautman asked, “How can this be? This was not a collegial process.” The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, he insisted, had made the bishops’ conference responsible for translations.

George noted the objection and said that it would be taken up as “a question of governance” after the bishops had completed the voting on the translation drafts before them.

The English version of the Roman Missal is now one step closer to publication and use in all Catholic parishes. Like the Lectionary, the book of scripture readings proclaimed at Mass, the missal will reflect a heavy-handed reassertion of Vatican control over every aspect of the translation process that was to have been the work of national bishops’ conferences. This reassertion included replacing the approved guidelines for translation, dismantling the commission assigned to produce English texts and dumping their work, rejecting the Lectionary approved by the U.S. bishops and replacing it with a text produced by its own 11-man commission. The Vatican’s stated emphasis on fidelity to the Latin and “sacred style” will soon face the test of “proclaimability” and grammatical fluency raised by critics when the new missal is used publicly.

The question of governance will remain. Just why did Rome deem it necessary to override its own rules from Vatican II, which held that bishops’ conferences were best suited to decide vernacular translations in their own languages? Was it really about keeping the renewed liturgy from creating a different church than the one Rome prefers in which a cultic priesthood is sole guardian of the higher mysteries that must be mediated to the rest of the baptized? Is the often arcane, transliterated Latin a further indication of the return to the Tridentine mode and ad orientem posture and throne room protocols that protect a monarchical church and its indispensable ranks of clergy?

The more significant question for our own bishops, entrusted with the welfare of the American church: Why have you conceded control so easily? Trautman’s interventions over the years were not just about good English but about affirming the conference’s legitimate authority and pastoral responsibility.

It has always been a question of governance, and for those who still believe in the renewal of the church, no laughing matter.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gay Priests Wrongly Scape-Goated for Sexual Abuse Scandal, U.S. Bishops Study Finds

The National Catholic Reporter today has posted a Religious News Service article saying that the initial findings of a multi-year study of the clergy sexual abuse scandal--a study commissioned by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, no less--show that gay priests are no more likely than straight ones to sexually abuse minors.

The study debunks the assumption, widely held by the bishops and by the Vatican, that most of the priests who abused children were gay. It also says that excluding gay candidates from seminaries on the grounds they are more likely to abuse minors cannot head off future abuse, since candidates with a heterosexual orientation are at least as likely to abuse.

The report also said that bishops dead-set against having gays in the priesthood are unlikely to give the conclusions of their own study a fair hearing. Since the facts refute their ideology, they will boldly deny the facts. Excerpts from the report follow:

Gay Catholics and victims of clergy sexual abuse are hailing preliminary results of a study commissioned by U.S. Catholic bishops that says gay priests are no more likely than straight clergy to sexually abuse minors.

Still, some bishops gathered here Nov. 16-18 for their semi-annual meeting said it is premature to say whether the church leaders who had asserted such a link were wrong.

Researchers from New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday (Nov. 17) presented initial findings from their multi-year study of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which has resulted in some 14,000 claims of abuse and cost the U.S. Catholic Church about $2.6 billion in settlements since 1950.

The study, which is due to be completed next year, was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after the scandal overtook the U.S. church in 2002.

In a presentation to the bishops Nov. 17, Margaret Smith of John Jay said: "What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be separated from the problem of sexual abuse. At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now."

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the gay Catholic group DignityUSA, called the report "very welcome news for gay people, gay priests, and our families and friends."

She said the John Jay report confirms other studies in concluding that sexual orientation is not connected to pedophilia or other sex crimes. "We hope that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church will finally accept this finding, since it has been borne out through their own study," Duddy-Burke said.

Smith and her co-author, Karen Terry, stressed Nov. 17 that access to young boys, rather than a homosexual orientation, was largely responsible for the high percentage of male abuse cases. "It's important to separate the sexual identity and the behavior," Terry said. "Someone can commit sexual acts that might be of a homosexual nature but not have a homosexual identity."

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said Nov. 18 that the researchers' conclusions still "need to be teased out."

"I think it needs to be explained better then it was," he said. "I think that's why you saw some of the bishops challenge (the researchers)."

In 2005, the Vatican issued new guidelines barring men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" from the priesthood. Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., asked Smith and Terry Nov. 17 whether homosexuality should continue to be a factor in excluding some clergy candidates.

"If that exclusion were based on the fact that that person would be more probable than any other candidate to abuse, we do not find that at this time," Smith responded.

But the view that gay men are largely responsible for the sexual abuse scandal pervades the church hierarchy, said David Gibson, a Catholic journalist and author, and will not necessarily be overcome by the John Jay study.

"I think it will give cover to the bishops who want to continue to admit gay men into the seminary, as I think a majority of them want to do," Gibson said. "For those bishops dead-set against having any homosexuals in the priesthood, it won't make a difference."

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that "the fixation on gay priests" as the cause of the sex scandal "is part of a long litany of simplistic, wrong-headed solutions and scape-goating," by the Catholic hierarchy.

"Sadly, many Catholics have already reached that conclusion though, due to the bishops' spin," Clohessy said. "The real issue continues to be the bishops' bad behavior."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Federal Judge: Army Corps Was “Substantial Cause” of Vast New Orleans Flooding

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reports U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr."ruled late Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers' mismanagement of maintenance at the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet was directly responsible for flood damage in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina." Four paragraphs from the newspaper's coverage are particularly important:

The corps allowed the channel to attack the levees in three ways, Duval said, allowing the levees to slump under their own weight, failing to armor the channel's banks against ship wakes and allowing saltwater to exacerbate the loss of wetlands throughout the area.

Duval dismissed Justice Department lawyers' arguments that the corps' decisions were discretionary policy judgments of their professional staff and thus protected under federal law.

"Ignoring safety and poor engineering are not policy, and clearly the Corps engaged in such activities," he said.

"The loss of wetlands and widening of the channel brought about by the operation and maintenance of the MRGO clearly were a substantial cause of plaintiffs' injury," he said.

The New York Times also had coverage, noting that even though the ruling fell short of what some New Orleans area residents wanted,

It was the first time that the government has been held liable for any of the flooding that inundated the New Orleans area after Aug. 29, 2005, vindicating the long-held contention of many in the region that the flooding was far more than an act of God.

The judge had earlier ruled he would not consider that the construction of the canal led to widespread flooding. As a result, Wednesday’s decision was limited to the maintenance of the canal, and the liability applies only to damage around the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish, east of the city.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case said that 80,000 people lived in the area for which the corps was held liable. Though the judge granted six of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit a total of less than $750,000, tens of thousands of other property owners could now try to join class-action lawsuits against the government under the same legal reasoning.

“The implications are billions of dollars of liability for the government,” said Pierce O’Donnell, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The government is expected to appeal the ruling.

The plaintiffs had to make a complicated argument. The Flood Control Act of 1928 protects the government from lawsuits over failures in flood control projects. But the judge allowed the suit to proceed in March of this year, ruling that it is a navigation channel, not a flood control project.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that the Army Corps had not exercised “due care” in its maintenance of the channel, and that the maintenance that was done, like dredging, only made things worse. The corps’ actions, they said, brought salt water into the New Orleans area, killing off marshes; eroded the banks on which levees sat; and more than doubled the channel in width, giving water driven by hurricanes an unobstructed path to the city.

In his decision, Judge Duval largely agreed with this argument, at least as it pertained to St. Bernard and the Lower Ninth Ward. He was highly critical of the government, which had argued that the hurricane and its massive storm surge was simply more than the system had been designed to handle, and said the corps had manipulated facts.

"The corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so,” he wrote. “Clearly the expression ‘talk is cheap’ applies here.”

Given the new potential for an enormous amount of liability on the part of the government, the lawyers for the plaintiffs urged the government to consider making a settlement with everyone who was affected by the floods in the greater New Orleans area — even residents of zones where Judge Duval has already ruled the corps is not liable.

“The government should come to us in good faith and find a settlement for the people of New Orleans,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Contrary to the New York Times, the narrow focus of Judge Duval's ruling may be its best protect on appeal. By not treading on the Corps' immunity from liability for flood control projects and by focusing solely on its mismanagement of the MR-GO, the judge gave the federal government little to challenge, if anything. Besides, further judicial review runs the risk of a finding that the MR-GO negligence impacted other levee systems beyond the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish--which would extend the Corps' liability and cost the government even more.

Attorney General Holder and President Obama had better recognize that the ruling leaves the government's legal position unsustainable, and bless just the kind of settlement that the plaintiffs' attorneys suggest.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Benedict's Anglican Ploy: More Reactions, and More Chickens Coming Home to Roost

The National Catholic Reporter today has an excellent article on further reactions to Pope Benedict's strategy for bringing disaffected Anglican congregations into the Roman Catholic Church. I'm gratified that I am not alone in some of the "unintended consequences" I warned about yesterday. Below are excerpts from the article that expand on my concerns and raise additional ones.

Andrew Brown, a columnist for the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper called this "the end of the Anglican Communion."

"One of the things that this development means is that the Roman Catholic church is no longer even pretending to take seriously the existence of the Anglican Communion as a coherent body," Brown wrote. "Instead there are various sections of 'the Anglican tradition' (not 'church' or 'communion'), some of which are still properly Christian and so able to become Roman Catholic."

But traditionalists in the United States were more circumspect.

Robert Duncan, who as bishop of Pittsburgh led his diocese out of the Episcopal church and is now archbishop and primate of the Anglican Church in North America, issued a statement on the Web site Standfirminfaith.com.

"We rejoice that the Holy See has opened this doorway," he wrote, but "we believe that this provision will not be utilized by the great majority of the Anglican Church in North America's bishops, priests, dioceses and congregations."

They still have problems with the Roman church, Duncan points out, namely: "historic differences over church governance, dogmas regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary and the nature of Holy Orders."

According to Stuart Laidlaw, faith and ethics reporter for The Star of Toronto, conservative Anglicans in Canada showed no interest joining "the pope's new church."

"This is not just a matter of wearing different clothes or having a few more rules," Bishop Don Harvey of the Anglican Network in Canada told Laidlaw.

Harvey said while conservative Anglicans share many theological beliefs with Catholics — both oppose same-sex marriage and gay clergy, for instance — there are still many differences between the two.

Anglicans, he said, would chafe at any notion of the infallibility of the pope, and do not accept Catholic teachings about Mary's immaculate conception, her assumption body and soul into heaven, or the transfiguration of Christ.

The announcement left Roman Catholics, too, thinking about what this means for their church.

British Catholics are worried, according to Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for The Times of London. She wrote: "In the [Vatican] curia itself and in particular in the College of Cardinals, there were — and there remain — deep divisions about the appropriate response to Anglicans and former Anglicans seeking some form of corporate unity.

She notes that worldwide the number of conservative Anglicans who would take up the Vatican's offer would be miniscule compared to the number of Catholics. But in Great Britain, the proportions are reversed, with 25 million baptized Anglicans but 4 million Catholics.

Writing online for The Washington Post, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said, "Catholic liberals, especially Catholic feminists, fear that an influx of conservative Anglicans will further discourage reform in the Catholic church."

In this regard, though, he suggested, "Someone should warn these Anglicans that two out of three U.S. Catholics support the ordination of women. They will not find in Catholicism a controversy-free zone."

Reese continued: "But if the new procedures are used by large numbers of Anglicans, the result will be a more liberal Anglican church and a more conservative Catholic church, especially if liberal Catholics decide to go in the other direction."

Picking up on this theme was NCR senior correspondent John Allen, writing for The New York Times: "There's also nothing preventing the Anglican Communion from creating similar structures to welcome aggrieved Catholics who support all the measures these disaffected Anglicans oppose. Certainly, after today, the Vatican would have no basis to condemn such a move as an ecumenical low blow."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Catholic Church May Regret Benedict's Anglican Ploy, British Writers Say

The British blog Thinking Anglicans has links today to additional U.K. commentaries on Pope Benedict's move to bring disaffected Anglican congregations into a structurally modified Roman Catholicism. Several suggest that the Catholic church will live to regret the pope's surprise, not only because its consequences were not well thought out, but also for the important players it excluded in both communions.

The Guardian editorialized that not even Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William's supporters quite believed his press-conference remark that the Vatican's ploy was "not an act of aggression." The Guardian said the radical new policy smacked of "a move to asset-strip the Anglican communion of those bits the Vatican might find useful." The newspaper cautioned that the full impact of the policy will not be known until it is published in February. But it said the Vatican had seriously undermined Williams' efforts to hold the Anglican Communion together.

In a commentary in The Telegraph Damian Thompson said that the Anglican bishops of the United Kingdom were not the only church officials angry at being excluded from Rome's discussion. Their anger is shared by a number of Catholic bishops and theologians whom the Vatican also ignored. These included the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, regarded as too progressive to deal with conservative Anglicans directly, and even "the Vatican's own professional ecumenists in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity."

In a commentary in The Independent Paul Vallely noted an important figure was absent when the pope's initiative was announced in Rome by Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: "Cardinal Walter Kasper, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was noticeable by his absence. The word was that the Vatican's leading ecumenists had fought the move behind the scenes – and lost." Ironically, Vallely says it was Kasper who told the last Lambeth Conference, evidently on orders from Benedict, that the moment of truth was at hand: "Cardinal Kasper told Anglican bishops that they had to choose between being a church in the first-century apostolic tradition, or one in the 16th-century reformed tradition." Vallely says Pope Benedict felt they chose the reformed tradition, and the new policy is his response.

Rome Absorbing Anglicans: Unintended Consequences for Both Communions?

Multiple outlets are carrying the news that the Vatican is planning to create new church structures that would absorb disaffected Anglicans but allow them to retain their distinctive liturgy and spiritual practices, including at least some married priests. The outlets include the National Catholic Reporter, CNN, USA Today, the Associated Press, and the Toronto Star.

The news was most unsettling in London. There The Times has run several articles about it in the last two days, including two in banner headlines at the top of its front page, along with numerous commentaries.

Wednesday's front page screamed "Papal gambit stuns Church" and included the picture of a very distraught-looking Archbishop of Canterbury in the middle of the page. The online version was entitled "Pope's gambit could see 1,000 quit Church of England." It suggested as many as 1,000 priests could leave the Church of England, and perhaps thousands more from Anglican churches in Australia and America. It said Pope Benedict's planned decree "is a serious blow to attempts by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to save the Anglican Communion from further fragmentation and threatens to wreck decades of ecumenical dialogue." The Times characterized Dr. Williams' at a joint press conference with the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster as "uncomfortable," and said that in a letter to Anglican bishops and clergy Williams acknowledged being blind-sided.

A related article published online the night before said "Vatican moves to poach traditional Anglicans." The Times said the Vatican made its decisions after secret negotiations in Rome with at least six traditionalist Anglican bishops and with no direct discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury--not alerting him to the radical nature of the changes until two weeks ago, not giving him formal notice until last weekend, and basically roping him into a hastily called joint press conference with the Archbishop of Westminster.

Thursday's front page had a huge picture of Pope Benedict, under a headline that read, "When in Rome: 400,000 Anglicans plan to convert." The online version was entitled, "400,000 former Anglicans worldwide seek immediate union with Rome." It reported: "Archbishop John Hepworth, the twice-married Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, who led negotiations with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, said he was 'profoundly moved' by the Pope’s decision and would immediately seek the approval of the group’s 400,000 members worldwide to join."

Obviously the move is a big deal for the Anglican Communion--and perhaps Rome's most effective challenge to the Church of England in the 450 years since Henry VIII. But it is important for both communions to recognize that the papal initiative may have several unintended consequences for Catholics as well as Anglicans--consequences that may prove far more significant and even more enduring than whatever Benedict may gain in the short term.

The official Vatican announcement, made October 20, 2009, portrays Rome's move as a pastoral response to Anglicans who are distressed about specific recent developments in their communion and who "have declared that they share the common Catholic faith as it is expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and accept the Petrine ministry as something Christ willed for the Church." The announcement added: "At the same time, they have told us of the importance of their Anglican traditions of spirituality and worship for their faith journey." Evidently the Vatican considered accommodating the latter a small price to pay for gaining these Anglicans' adherence to official church teaching.

The document is not coy about which Anglican developments caused the distress Rome wants to relieve: "In the years since the Council, some Anglicans have abandoned the tradition of conferring Holy Orders only on men by calling women to the priesthood and the episcopacy. More recently, some segments of the Anglican Communion have departed from the common biblical teaching on human sexuality...by the ordination of openly homosexual clergy and the blessing of homosexual partnerships." The immediate impact of absorbing Anglicans who cannot abide these positions will be to increase the ranks of Catholics who support the Roman alternatives.

Those are the intended consequences, at any rate. Yet other consequences can be envisioned which Rome clearly does not intend.

One is that it will strengthen the more liberal position of those who remain in the Anglican Communion, not only in the Church of England but also in Canada and in the Episcopal Church USA. Rowan Williams may end up presiding over a considerably smaller Anglican Communion, but it will be comprised of Christians who are firmly committed to changes they believe God's Spirit has inspired. They will no longer feel the drag of those who believe otherwise.

The Times of London articles already speculate that it will accelerate the ordination of female bishops in the Church of England, which had been on hold in deference to those who already disapproved of female priests. It should also strengthen the existing practice in the United States. It will also embolden bishops and national Anglican churches who strongly believe that blessing same-sex unions is an important matter of justice and equal treatment of baptized Christians.

It should also strengthen those in other Protestant denominations that have adopted the controverted Anglican practices, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which in August decided to accept noncelibate clergy members and lay leaders who are in "lifelong" and "monogamous" same-sex relationships. Bilateral agreements between American Lutherans and Episcopalians will take on new importance and additional ones would become more likely.

By allowing married Anglican priests to serve as Catholic priests in its new Anglican ordinariates, Rome's move may actually strengthen the tradition of married clergy in the Anglican Communion. The message Rome is conveying, after all, is that Christians have found some value in married clergy. How can this not increase the commitment to married clergy among Anglicans who remain?

It should also give new impetus to their objection to Rome's earlier declaration that Anglican orders are "null and void." The Anglican clergy have long held that Rome's position was historically inaccurate in the first place, that it was eclipsed by subsequent events, and that even prominent Catholic bishops no longer consider it appropriate. Even though the Vatican is insisting on re-ordination of the Anglican clergy before they can function as Catholic priests, the fact that this apparently will be done with ease and with no additional doctrinal formation will tend to reinforce the Anglican position that their priests and bishops have always been validly ordained.

It may also impact the celibacy policy of the Roman church itself. The Vatican is at pains to distinguish the status of married Anglican clergy who now wish to profess allegiance to Rome from Catholic priests who vowed celibacy and then married. But allowing married former Anglican clergy to serve as married Catholic priests is sure to modify Catholics' perception of what a Catholic priest needs to be, and to highlight that celibacy is a policy choice and not the unchangeable essence of the priesthood.

The Vatican announcement implied that seminarians trained for the Anglican ordinariates would continue to be allowed to marry. However, an article today from Religion News Service waffles on that: "Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's doctrinal office, suggested on Tuesday that the new dioceses will not ordain married men unless they have already started their preparation in Anglican seminaries, or permit unmarried priests to take wives after ordination." The article implies that if that Vatican does not make provision for a permanent married priesthood in the Anglican ordinariates, it will be a deal-breaker for some Anglicans. But even allowing existing seminarians to marry before ordination means that Rome will face pressure to allow more marriages when new seminarians are recruited for the Anglican structures.

A scenario that could result from Rome's new policy would place Rome in an interesting quandary. It is unlikely but not unthinkable that there are female Anglican priests who (obviously) favor ordination of women but not ordination of gay people or the blessing of same-sex unions. If such a female priest were to apply for admission as a Catholic priest, Rome would not be able to accept her because of its position that ordaining women is impossible. Yet Rome would be turning down an Anglican who professes everything else required by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It would also face pressure from Catholic women who would regard the Anglican female priest as the embodiment of what is indeed possible in the Catholic church. Clearly the Vatican does not intend by this initiative to strengthen the women's ordination movement in Catholicism. But that result may not be avoidable.

Nearly everyone will agree that Pope Benedict's gambit is a game changer for Anglican-Catholic relations. But what Benedict wants may not be what Benedict gets. There are other players with other agendas in both communions and in the other Christian churches. It will be interesting to see if Benedict has out-maneuvered them, or just out-witted himself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Opposition to Obama: Is It Racism or Populist Anti-Elitism? Isn't It Quite a Bit of Both?

On August 13th, decrying the fascist, racist tactics being used at town hall meetings in an attempt to bring down health care reform, I posted It's Time to Tell the Fascists: This Was Never Your Country, and You Can't Have It Back.

By now, of course, the town halls are history, and the tactics have largely disappeared from the daily news. Given the depth of hostility that was on display, it would be fool-hearty to think the right-wing has had a change of heart. But at least health care proponents had the good sense to stop providing them public venues to publicize their hate. After President Obama's national address on health care, Senator Baucus largely succeeded in moving the debate behind closed doors. The next opportunity for the tactics to resume will probably be during the floor debate, coming soon.

In the meantime, there have been a couple thoughtful analyses of the primary issue I raised, namely, efforts by the right to keep other Americans from speaking their minds on health care.

An exception was some feedback I received here. Typical was a gentleman who resented my condemnation of the people who painted swastikas on the office sign of a Georgia member of Congress who is black and who shouted down others at several town halls. His gripe? My accurate description of hate speech was--drum roll please--hate speech! The profundity was breath-taking. I saw no need to share it with a wider audience.

One of the the analyses worth listening to was published September 17th by New York Times op-end columnist David Brooks. In a column entitled No, It's Not about Race, Brooks argued that the passions of the health care debate were a replay of the early American disagreement between the Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians--the former characterized by "urbanism, industrialism and federal power," while the latter "were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government."

Brooks says the Jeffersonian view spawned the populism of Andrew Jackson, which has had both right-wing and left-wing descendants in the decades since. But the populism of the moment is very right-wing, and it was already apparent in the presidential primaries that it would be at odds with anyone its proponents found elitist. Brooks says those who stir up the right-wing populists have been very successful in painting Obama and his administration as elitists, which "guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin color."

The analysis is somewhat helpful. It reminds us that race is not the only emotion the right-wing is channeling at the moment. But it does not quite succeed in removing race from the equation. If it is accurate that right-wing populists hate elitists, it is also accurate that right-wing populists have a special, more vitriolic hatred for highly educated black elitists. Brooks is right to situate the current acrimony in the populist-elitist tension that has always characterized the United States. But he may not leave out the racist hatred of blacks and especially black intellectuals that has always been part of right-wing populism.

Another thoughtful analysis came from Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, in a September 16th piece that covered the Fiery rhetoric of Obama's critics. Page said it was good politics for the White House to contend that racism had nothing to do with Tea Party protests and loud protests against health care reform. But in practice, said Page, "Race still matters, although it's not always easy to say how much."

Page noted some indicators that others have pointed out. Like the sign photographed by the TV networks at the Tea Party protest on the Washington Mall: "The zoo has an African lion. The US has a lyin' African." Or other signs that said "that Obama is not really a naturally born citizen or that maybe he should just die."

But what Page found most telling were the pre-printed signs the organizers distributed that read, "Not a race issue, not a party issue, just an old American freedom issue." Page's response: "Dear sign carriers: I'm sure you mean well, but every time a black American of my generation hears someone say, "It's not a race issue," I immediately think, yup, it's a race issue."

I found Page's concluding remarks quite accurate:

"In judging Obama's performance it would be wrong to make too much of the role played by race, although it would be foolish to make too little of it... How do you separate the racial backlash against him as the first black president from the political backlash against his taking on so many problems on Day One?

"Still, I am amused by the conservatives like Rush Limbaugh who insist that racism has absolutely nothing to do with Obama's problems. Only a few months ago they were blaming white guilt for his success. Folks, you can't have it both ways."

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Excellent Article on "Ministerial Religious Life" from Sister Who Is Professor at JSTB

The Master of Divinity that I earned before my Ph.D. was awarded by the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB). So I am always delighted when scholars still affiliated with the school produce remarkable theological work. It doubles my pleasure when the work lends support to the methodology and conclusions of my Ph.D. dissertation, The Creativity of Church Teaching, which is at the top of the web sites listed on this blog.

So it is with great joy that I direct attention to "The past and future of ministerial religious life," an outstanding essay in the October 2, 2009, edition of the National Catholic Reporter by Sandra M. Schneiders, professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at JSTB and a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan.

At a time when the Vatican is questioning if the way female religious orders evolved in the United States is valid, the essay is especially momentous. With painstaking historical accuracy, it documents how the female orders responded coherently and faithfully to the mandate first of Pope Pius XII and then the Second Vatican Council to return to the spirit of their founders--even though in many instances church officials had spent decades getting in the founders' way.

Professor Schneiders acknowledges that the earliest form of Christian religious life was monasticism, starting in the 4th century in Eastern Church and the 6th century in the Western Church, codified in the Rule of St. Benedict around 530 CE.

Although monasticism was predominant through 1500, the same period saw the rise of less successful efforts to introduce itinerancy into ministerial works: the nascent efforts by the military and Hospitaler orders and then various mendicant groups. Schneiders sees these as among the earliest seeds of a form of religious life that would eventually surpass monasticism in popularity. She dubs this counter-movement "ministerial religious life."

She then traces the 16th century rise of the Redemptorists and the Jesuits. From this standpoint, the Jesuits "made the sharpest and most substantial break from monasticism," by deciding that reciting the Liturgy of the Hours in common was not compatible with their apostolic vocation.

Women, however, had to wait several centuries longer to enjoy this form of religious life. It was not as though several women's religious order founders, male and female, didn't try. But a ruling by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298--absolutized by subsequent pontiffs and the Council of Trent--excommunicated religious women who did not observe monastic cloister.

Creative founders tried various ways around the ban, some declaring their sisters "not religious," others supporting cloister in theory but, in the name of effective ministry, violating it in practice. Some groups of women succeeded; some were drummed out of the church.

It was not until 1900 that Pope Leo XIII "formally recognized as an authentic form of religious life noncloistered apostolic congregations... It was the public recognition of a fait accompli, namely, that over the course of nearly 400 years a new form of women's religious life had emerged and its validity, long recognized by the people of God and by civil governments..., required acknowledgment by the institutional church." This culminated in the moves by Pius XII and Vatican II to have these women religious reform themselves according to the charism of their founders.

Professor Schneiders also makes an important contribution by tracing the communal, itinerant style of ministerial religious life directly to the preferences of Jesus himself for his own ministry and that of his closest disciples. She finds this style unique to Christianity: "Unlike monasticism, which is a feature of all literate religious/spiritual traditions, there is no analogue outside Christianity for ministerial religious life."

She is careful to stress that Jesus proposed several forms of discipleship, "none of which is superior to any other." Therefore, she writes: "Only a mutually appreciative complementarity of and collaboration among disciples called to follow Jesus in a wide variety of ways will allow the church to be and do what it must if the world God so loved is to be served and saved."

This emphasis, however, seems somewhat at odds with identifying ministerial religious life as Jesus own personal style of ministry, and the one he challenged his closest disciples to pursue. Professor Schneiders makes the case the religious ministerial life emulates how Jesus himself lived and ministered. But there is a danger of over-emphasizing the similarity or making it too exclusive--so that once again Catholics assign ministry by baptized Christians in general to some lesser status than ministry by vowed religious.

"Mutually appreciative complementarity...and collaboration" should be the dominant note. Singing the praises of one form of ministry too loudly creates a disharmony that ill-serves God or God's creation.

As I said at the outset, what especially pleases me about this analysis is its compatibility with my doctoral dissertation, both in methodology and conclusions.

The middle section of my effort tried to show instances of creativity in nine Christian teachings, first Christology, and then four of faith and four of morals. Professor Schneider's excellent scholarship could serve as a tenth example, documenting moments of creativity in the movement to establish ministerial religious life, from Jesus' own ministry, through two millenia of efforts by nonmonastic religious orders.

Thus the history of ministerial religious life provides additional evidence supporting a model of Whiteheadian creativity in church teaching, in which old affirmations are upheld but found to have new limits, luring forth new teachings and new models to include what the old affirmations left out. This is exactly how creativity worked in the other areas I researched, and exactly how we should expect to experience it on the road to the kingdom Jesus promised.