Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Austrian Bishops Say Vatican Communication Skills Impeding Pope, Need Improvement

Reuters reports that on Monday Austria's bishops chided Pope Benedict XVI for inadequate communication skills and pledged that unlike the pope's recent attempt to appoint an ultraconservative as auxiliary bishop of Linz they would ensure their involvement in future nominations of Austrian bishops. While the rebuke was not as harsh as it might have been, it at least allowed a theologian at the University of Vienna to cheer that the bishops had overcome an attempt by Austrian church conservatives to sideline them. The Reuters report follows.

Austria's diocesan bishops on Monday urged the Vatican to improve its inadequate communication skills, after holding an emergency meeting to discuss a crisis of confidence in the Catholic church.

Austrian Catholicism is in turmoil because Pope Benedict, one week after readmitting Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson, named an auxiliary bishop in Linz who said Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was God punishing New Orleans for its sins.

"We hope inadequate channels of communication in the Vatican can be improved so the Pope's service to humanity is not impaired," Austria's bishops said in a statement after their day-long meeting.

The Williamson case and the appointment of Gerhard Maria Wagner in Linz sparked doubts about the Pope's leadership and concern the church was taking an increasingly conservative turn.

Both decisions were apparently taken without consultation with local churches.

Last week, 31 of the 39 deans (senior priests) in the Linz diocese passed a declaration of no confidence in Wagner, a rare event in the tightly governed Catholic Church. Wagner withdrew on Sunday, and the Vatican accepted his decision, the Catholic news agency Kathpress reported.

Austria's bishops said it was essential for the Pope to have reliable and thorough briefings before appointing bishops.

Faced with rising numbers of Catholics quitting the church and protests from clergy, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn called all diocesan bishops to Monday's meeting to "give our best to overcome the crisis."

The bishops expressed solidarity with the Pope but linked the communication problems and lack of adherence to official nomination procedures to the disputed promotion of Wagner.

"We bishops will do everything within our power to insure the upcoming bishop nominations are conducted according with the official procedure, in close cooperation with the relevant Vatican officials," they said.

Paul Zulehner, a theologian at the University of Vienna, called the Wagner nomination a putsch by church conservatives in Austria and an attempt to sideline the official church leaders.

"The seizure of power by the right-wingers has now failed, apparently through the clear intervention of several Austrian bishops," he said.

"I think people will now say: 'it is really good that Cardinal Schoenborn has taken over the leadership of the Church again'," Zulehner added.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Jon Boyle)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Austrian Bishops Hold Emergency Meeting on Church Crisis; Bishop Nominee Withdraws

The week begins with media outlets reporting new developments in Austria in the aftermath of the recent crisis of authority in the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI provoked a worldwide crisis by welcoming back a schismatic ultraconservative bishop who denies the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council and the actuality of the Holocaust--and a crisis in Austria in particular by promoting as an auxiliary bishop of Linz, Austria's third largest city and a major academic center, pastor Gerhard Maria Wagner, who has claimed that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for New Orleans' sins, the Harry Potter books are satanic, and homosexuality could be cured.

Reuters reports that Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn called all of the Austrian bishops to the one-day meeting today in an attempt to calm the uproar. A few paragraphs from the article:

The two appointments, both apparently without consultation with local churches, sparked doubt about Benedict's leadership and concern the Church was turning increasingly conservative.

Schoenborn said the uproar had caused "irritation and resignation" and the Church needed "damage control" for the sake of its future, according to the Catholic news agency Kathpress.

Four times as many Catholics have officially quit the Church in Linz so far this year as in early 2008, the Austrian Press Agency APA reported, and departures have also been running higher than usual in Vienna, Salzburg, Tyrol and Lower Austria.

On Tuesday, 31 of the 39 deans (senior priests) of the Linz diocese passed a declaration of no confidence in Wagner, who has condemned the Harry Potter books as satanic, said homosexuality was curable and ruled out lay participation in Church affairs.

Schoenborn's spokesman Erich Leitenberger said the timing of Wagner's appointment fueled an uproar unleashed by the lifting of excommunications against Williamson and three other bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

"The proximity of those two events has for some people created the impression there was a masterplan, that the Church wanted to roll back the Second Vatican Council," he said, referring to major Church reforms from the 1960s.

Meanwhile, Google is carrying an Associated Press report from yesterday that the Bishop of Linz issued a statement that Wagner has asked Benedict to reverse his appointment as auxiliary. The bishop declined to comment on Wagner's request, but said that more information would result from today's meeting of the bishops.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin -- And Thanks for "Questioning the Unquestionable."

Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and CNN has a good article explaining why his description of evolution is such a significant turning point in human self-understanding and particularly in the fields of science, history, politics, philosophy and theology.

The writer reminds us of something that Darwin fans and foes tend to forget: that among Darwin's academic achievements was a degree in theology from Cambridge. Perhaps that helped Darwin to appreciate the significance of his discoveries and motivated him to promote that significance publicly.

The article notes that in the United States today only 14% of people polled accept evolution exactly as Darwin taught it. The same poll found that 44% cling to a literal reading of Genesis and another 36% believe that evolution happened over a much longer time frame, but led and guided by God. That makes God's role, if any, an appropriate topic in philosophy and theology classrooms and journals, but not for the biological sciences.

The article also notes that Abraham Lincoln shared the exact same birth date--and notes the curious parallels that both felt a calling to put an end to slavery and that Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation just a few years after Darwin published "On the Origin of Species" in 1859. Most of CNN's article follows:

Before there was an extensive fossil record, DNA sequencing or even a basic understanding of genetics, there was Charles Darwin.

Today, the world commemorates the 200th birthday of a man who single-handedly revolutionized biology with an explosive theory that challenged the core of our existence.

"Darwin wrote about who we are," said historian and author James Moore, who has cowritten a new book on the famous evolutionist. "He gave us a re-interpretation of the history of humans on earth, and what we can become."

Darwin's theory of evolution proposes that humans evolved over millions of years from animal species, specifically apes. Such thinking, which challenged the biblical account that a deity created the Earth in six days, was considered radical, even blasphemous, when Darwin published it in 1859.

A century and a half later, the legacy of history's most noted naturalist continues to make headlines.

After a contentious debate, the Texas Board of Education is set to vote in March on how evolution should be taught in the state's public schools. Last week, actor-comedian Ben Stein backed out of giving a commencement speech at the University of Vermont because of student complaints about his views challenging the theory of evolution.

The most recent Gallup poll on the issue, conducted in May, found that only 14 percent of Americans believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. Forty-four percent believe that God created human beings almost overnight within the past 10,000 years, and another 36 percent believe that God guided humans' evolution from animals over a much longer period of time.

"The problem is, there are a number of fundamental people on both the left and the right extremes," said Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, which seeks to find common ground between scientists and the clergy.

"Most people think you can't believe in evolution and have faith," added Zimmerman, a dean at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. "Faith does not mean that you have to give up common sense. Faith is deeper than that."

Darwin devoted much of his adult life to questioning the unquestionable. Born February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England, he earned a degree in theology from Cambridge University and was known for his obsession with collecting things, especially beetles.

His outlook on life changed after he embarked in 1831 on a five-year voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle, a British naval ship. His observations during the journey inspired Darwin to develop his theory of natural selection, the process by which organisms that are best adapted to their environment produce more offspring while those less suited eventually die out.

After spending 20 years meticulously crafting and weighing the implications of his theory, Darwin finally went public with his life's work. "On the Origin of Species," his landmark book about evolution and natural selection, was published in 1859.

Darwin was an unassuming scholar who wanted to make a humble contribution to the world of science, but his ideas on evolution were heresy to much of 18th-century England. The implication that our past, present and futures are all connected in an integrated web shook the biological, religious and political foundations of life as it was believed to be.

"The world was not the same after its publication," said Sean B. Carroll, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at the University of Wisconsin and author of a new book, "Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species."

Central to Darwin's thesis was his scientific explanation of life's diversity: that all life evolved from a common lineage through the process of natural selection. This egalitarian view was not popular with those who professed their anthropological superiority over people of other races.

"Darwin's theory challenged the notions of human exceptionalism and brought to light this idea that humans are a result of natural processes, meaning we were not as 'special' as [we] once thought," said Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist and the executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

Darwin shares a birth date with Abraham Lincoln, who sought to end slavery in the United States soon after "On the Origin of Species" was published. A major driving force behind Darwin's research was his own disdain for slavery, prejudice and human suffering.

"He had a deep regard for humanity and living entities," said Moore, who co-authored a new book, "Darwin's Sacred Cause," about the influence of slavery on Darwin's thinking. "There was no high or low, better or worse. Things were just different."

But most of Darwin's theories are now accepted as a foundation of biological science.

"The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. We can see it all around us," said Carroll, the University of Wisconsin professor. "He teaches us that life is continually adapting to keep up with a changing Earth."

This continual fight for survival may resonate more loudly today than ever. In the 21st century, climate change is forcing species to evolve more quickly to survive on a warming planet, scientists say.

If drought conditions intensify and deforestation continues, many scientists expect to see great changes in the biological compositions of ecosystems over the coming decades.

In other words, Darwin's theory of natural selection is still very much in evidence.

"Changing ecological systems are causing intense environmental pressures on organisms," said Scott, of the National Center for Science Education. "We are seeing rapid species growth and waves of extinction all at the same time."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

European Theologians and Faithful Petition Rome to Abide by Teachings of Vatican II

Queering the Church, a Catholic blog written near London, reports that theologians and Christians in Germany, Austria and Switzerland plan to send a petition to Rome, calling on the pope to refrain from undermining several of the decrees of Vatican II, fully implement all of the council's decrees, and pursue dialogue with all movements in the church, not just those on the far right. The petition is being circulated in England by We Are Church UK. The petition follows, along with a link that encourages concerned believers to sign it.


The papal cancellation of the excommunication of bishops from The Society of St. Pius X signifies the reception into full communion with the See of Rome those who have consistently opposed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Regarding the anti-Semitic remarks and the denial of the German national-socialist persecution of the Jews by Bishop Richard Williamson and his followers, we share the indignation of our Jewish sisters and brothers. Moreover, we state that the SSPX’s attitude towards Judaism does not correspond to the Council’s understanding of and commitment to Jewish-Christian dialogue.

We support the recent statements of Bishops’ Conferences, and others, all over the world, on this issue. We also welcome the recent statements made on these matters by Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

We believe that the close correlation between the excommunication’s cancellation and the 50th anniversary of the calling of a General Council of the Church by Blessed Pope John XXIII gives a clear indication of the direction which the present Papacy wishes to take. We sense a desire to return to a pre-Vatican II Church with its fear of openness to the breath of the Holy Spirit, a positive appreciation of ’the signs of the times’, and the values of democratic institutions.

We are very concerned that this act of rehabilitation heralds a turn-around on important documents of Vatican II, for example, the decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, the declaration on non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate, the declaration on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. Such an act will have a disastrous effect on the credibility of the Roman-Catholic Church. For Catholics who love their Church, the price is too high!

The Pope hopes this act will help unify the Church. However we think it is particularly outrageous that the Vatican’s renewed overtures to a schismatic traditionalist movement have been undertaken without the imposition of any conditions whatsoever. In June 2008, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Lefebvre’s excommunication, the SSPX rejected the invitation of the Holy See towards theological reconciliation. Likewise, the fraternity rejected the invitation to sign a five-topic declaration containing conditions for its re-integration in the Roman Church.

A return to full communion with the Catholic Church can only be made possible if the documents and teachings of the Second Vatican Council are fully accepted without any reservations, as requested by the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, on the topic of the Tridentine rite. It is also imperative that the papal ministries of Blessed Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI are recognised and accepted.

The Church of Rome, perceived as the Barque of St Peter, lists heavily as long as the Vatican:

+ only rehabilitates the ‘lost sheep’ at the traditionalist edge of the Church, and makes no similar offer to other excommunicated or marginalised Catholics

+ persists in preventing progressive theologians from teaching

+ refuses dialogue with all movements in the Church

We Are Church UK 5 February 2009

(Based upon an original text by Prof. Dr. Norbert Scholl, Angelhofweg 24b, D-69259 Wilhelmsfeld published in Essen on 28 January 2009)

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Post-Postings: Progress on Guns on Campus; Regress on Saving Live Oak Trees

Every so often, a news or opinion item notes novel developments on issues I've addressed in previous blog postings. As luck would have it, two appeared in the opinion section of today's Houston Chronicle.

One is an editorial calling recently proposed laws to allow concealed guns on Texas college campuses "not such a bright idea."

Such proposals are not new, whether from a Texas perspective or even nationwide. But they reached a fever pitch in the wake of the on-campus shootings at Virginia Tech on April 18, 2007. Two days later I decried the complete insanity of the idea in a posting entitled Nothing a Few More Guns Wouldn't Fix! The concern was also in the background when I argued that the Supreme Court's subsequent gun ruling mistakenly found in the 2nd Amendment A New Right to Kill, but virtually ignored clear historical evidence on the real right to bear arms that the Founders codified--evidence which no Supreme Court justice disputed.

So it will come as no surprise that I find the Chronicle's arguments against arming college students to be persuasive. More importantly, so does everyone at Virginia Tech today, along with the student government of the University of Texas in Austin.

But until the editorial I was not aware of an even more positive development: "After the horrendous carnage on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007... Seventeen states introduced measures to allow guns on campus. Voters turned them all down." It's especially gratifying that after extensive public discussion voters in one-third of the states have agreed that guns on campus is a lame-brained idea that, as the Chronicle says, would only "increase the vulnerability of students and others on campus."

The other topic was protecting live oak trees, one of the few natural assets in the Houston metropolitan area. This was the subject of my post on June 24, 2008, which highlighted efforts by "Trees for Houston" to prevent the city from destroying 126 live oak trees for the wholly unnecessary widening of a major thoroughfare. It was also addressed in a posting October 7, 2008, about the mayor's support for planting a million new trees in Houston over the next five years.

An opinion piece in today's Houston Chronicle reports some potential back-tracking on efforts to save the live oaks--this time by the City Council's Quality of Life Committee, no less--and urges the citizenry to oppose it.

What's new is proposed revisions to Houston's tree and shrub ordinance after so many trees broke power lines during Hurricane Ike. The column points out, however, that no one has documented power-line damage by any live oak tree--because all of the damage was done by higher-growing, less flexible trees, such as tall pines, water willows, red oaks and post oaks.

For this reason, the advisory committee that recommended the ordinance changes did not prohibit live oaks under power lines. But after receiving the advisory committee's report, the Quality of Life Committee inserted the words "small tree" in the power line section, expressly to include live oaks. The council committee did this without telling the advisory committee, and the advisory committee has cried foul.

The author of the opinion piece appears to know what he's talking about: Hugh Rice Kelly is a retired executive vice president and general counsel for Houston's Reliant Energy! He says the real reason the Quality of Life Committee now wants to authorize destruction of live oak trees under power lines is that CenterPoint Energy is "tired of spending money to trim trees." Its previous tactics have included "a new kind of Texas chain-saw massacre: Mangle people's live oaks badly enough and maybe they will just give up and plant little bushes that don't hide the power line."

Kelly says people plant the live oaks because the power lines are ugly and the trees do the best job of hiding them. He urges the public to pressure the Houston City Council to back-off more live-oak destruction. The trees are worth a lot more to the region than the electric providers' bottom lines.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Rome Must Address New Questions Before It Can Make Its Abortion Teaching U.S. Law

Recent articles and letters in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) raised significant new questions about the Vatican's on-going efforts to enact laws that would ban all abortions in the United States.

Several challenge the official church position that conception occurs and human life begins the instant a sperm fertilizes an ovum. Another charges that the U.S. bishops departed from their own long tradition of social justice leadership by saying so often that abortion is the most serious social evil in U.S. society.

In the December 26th NCR, William B. Neaves, president and CEO of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., asked simply, When does a person become a person?

His starting point is that Dignitas Personae, the new Vatican bioethics document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, "accords the dignity of a person to the first cell that results from fertilization of an egg by a sperm."

Against this, Neaves reminds us that:

(1) in 1974 the same CDF said that it is not within the competence of human knowledge to determine when God infuses an immortal soul into a developing person;

(2) this built on the position of St. Thomas Aquinas eight centuries ago that it was the embryo's physical development that built a suitable home for the soul; and

(3) around the same time Dante conveyed the contemporary Catholic opinion that ensoulment could not take place until the embryo developed a functioning brain.

Neaves also raises two other, more contemporary challenges to making fertilization the moment of conception or personhood.

One is that a substantial number of fertilized eggs do not become pregnancies: "in many (and probably most) instances, the single cell resulting from fertilization of an egg by a sperm perishes in the woman’s reproductive tract and never implants in the uterus. Only after implantation does a birthed baby become highly probable. Would God have ordained that most people should die in the first two weeks of existence, long before seeing the light of day?"

A second issue is that sometimes two separately conceived fraternal twins fuse in the mother's reproductive tract and merge into a single embryo that comes to term. If fertilization is the first moment of personhood, how do the two separately conceived persons become one person?

To address these problems, and to reaffirm the insights of Aquinas, Dante and the CDF in 1974, Neaves likes a better option: "An alternative point of view to the Vatican’s, embraced by many Christians, is that personhood occurs after successful implantation in the mother’s uterus, when individual ontological identity is finally established."

This would obviate several positions that Dignitas Personae is forced to take by defining the start of personhood too soon in the reproductive process: "In the alternative moral framework, taking a pill to prevent the products of fertilization from implanting in a uterus is morally acceptable. Using in vitro fertilization to complete the family circle of couples otherwise unable to have children is an unmitigated good. Encouraging infertile couples with defective gametes to adopt already-produced embryos that will otherwise be discarded is a laudable objective. And using embryonic stem cells to seek cures becomes a worthy means of fulfilling the biblical mandate to heal the sick."

Three letters to the editor in the January 23rd NCR expanded on Neaves' concerns.

Bob Fehribach noted a different quandary in the case of identical twins: "In this situation, the developing embryo splits into two identical embryos. If personhood is determined at the time of fertilization, a similar question arises of how one person becomes two people."

Br. Finbar McMullen, FSC, quoting from Bernard Lee's The Future Church of 140 B.C.E.: A Hidden Revolution, cited two more examples from church history:

“The catechism of the Council of Trent holds that through miraculous intervention the human soul was joined to the matter from the first instance in the case of Jesus. Nobody can doubt that this was something new and an admirable work of the Holy Spirit, since in the natural order nobody can be informed by a human soul except after the prescribed space of time.” The implication is that for the rest of us, "the prescribed space of time" is some time after fertilization.

“The Holy Office declared in 1713 that a fetus can be baptized ‘if there is reasonable foundation for admitting that the fetus is animated by a rational soul. If, however, there is no reasonable foundation, it may by no means be baptized.’ ” The implication is that there is some period of time when the fetus is not animated by a rational soul.

Lucille Oliver voices the most extreme departure from the Vatican position: "A woman’s fertilized egg is no more a human than a walnut tree. Both have the potential of their God-given destinies, but the tree is dependent on proper earth care and nurturing. The egg-turned-fetus will live in symbiosis with the mother for six to seven months before it is able to live, even with help, outside the mother’s womb. At that point, it is a human being, not before." While equating viability with the beginning of human life moves the event later than Aquinas and the other commentators would, there is nothing in Christian or Jewish scripture that rules out Oliver's view.

Meanwhile, a February 2nd article on the NCR website reported that at a symposium on January 29th Leslie Woodcock Tentler, a professor of American Catholic history at the Catholic University of America, said the dominant approach of the current U.S. bishops on the abortion issue was out of character with their advocacy of social justice positions in the past, including positions on sexual ethics.

As background, the article says, Tentler listed several positions of "the 1919 'Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction,' the first statement issued by the then newly formed National Catholic War Council, the original organization of what is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops." She said the statement was in many ways a charter for what became FDR's New Deal. Of the eight provisions Tentler cited, not one mentioned the evil of abortion.

Even when the bishops did get around to a sexual ethics concern, their focus was on birth control, which some of them considered a graver sin than abortion. But given the political position of the Catholic church at the time, the bishops never took the position that the Catholic opposition to birth control should be written into U.S. law. The NCR article continued:

"'Anti-Catholicism was still a powerful emotion in American culture,' and the bishops had decided that in any battle against contraception they needed to have non-Catholic allies and needed to frame the public argument in ways that 'were not specifically religious,' she said. 'Among those nonreligious arguments was the family wage, a centerpiece of the 1919 bishops’ program. A truly just society, according to the bishops, is one that pays male workers enough to support a large family in comfort and security. An unjust society pays poverty wages, forces married women into the workforce and tells the poor to avoid having children.'

"She said the bishops eventually lost their fight against liberalized legal access to contraception, but her point was to highlight the difference between how that struggle was waged and how some bishops in recent years have been waging the fight against legalized abortion.

"'They consistently framed the debate in terms of values that nearly all Americans shared.'"

This echoes the theme of several Catholic Democrats, who argued during the last election that persuasion and cooperation with other people of good will would go much farther toward reducing the number of abortions in this country than trying to impose the official Catholic position as a matter of U.S. law.

The Vatican and the U.S. bishops have yet to address any of these questions successfully. They need to--before trying to impose Catholic abortion strictures on a society that includes believers and non-believers with multiple convictions on when life begins and when abortion should be banned.

German Jews Know Vatican II Requires All Catholics to Repent of the Holocaust

Reuters reports that Germany's Central Council of Jews sees yesterday's Vatican statement that Catholic traditionalists must explicitly accept all of Vatican II--including its rejection of anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews as Christ-killers or God-killers--as a direct result of Chancellor Angela Merkel's criticism of the pope and an affirmation that the pope himself will adhere to Vatican II. The Reuters article follows:

Germany's Central Council of Jews welcomed the Vatican's decision to order a traditionalist bishop who denies the Holocaust to recant Wednesday, saying it could lead to a resumption of ties with the Catholic Church.

Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Council of Jews, said the Vatican's move was a positive signal and a reaction to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's demand for clarification after Pope Benedict sparked outrage over his rehabilitation of the bishop.

"It is a first step which could lead to a resumption of dialogue with the Catholic Church," said Knobloch in a statement which struck a conciliatory tone after she said last week she was breaking off ties with the Catholic church.

She had been angered by the German pope's rehabilitation of Bishop Richard Williamson, who denies the extent of the Holocaust in which Nazis killed 6 million Jews, and that of three other members of the ultra-traditional Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

Knobloch also welcomed the Vatican's statement earlier that SSPX must accept all the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which urged respect for Judaism and other religions.

"That would mean the brotherhood would have to publicly retract their statements that Jewish citizens are murders of God, and to firmly condemn every form of Holocaust denial," Knobloch said.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Vatican: Traditionalists Must Profess "Full Recognition of the Second Vatican Council"

In its first real concession to Catholic progressives since the papacy of Benedict XVI began, the Vatican said today that the ultra-traditionalist Society of St. Pius X cannot be reconciled to the Catholic Church until its members profess "full recognition of the Second Vatican Council"--and that until that time the society "does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic church" and the four bishops whose excommunications were rescinded will not be allowed to function as Catholic bishops.

After criticism from the Chancellor of Germany, the Archbishop of Vienna and the U.S. Catholic Bishops among others, the Vatican also said that Bishop Williamson in particular cannot resume episcopal functions unless and until he repudiates his denial of the Holocaust "in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion."

The following is the National Catholic Reporter's translation of the Vatican statement:


Following the reactions generated by the recent Decree of the Congregation for Bishops, with which the excommunications of four prelates of the Society of St. Pius X were rescinded, and in relation to the declarations denying or minimizing the Shoah on the part of Bishop Williamson of this same society, it is regarded as opportune to clarify certain aspects of this affair.

1. Remission of the Excommunication

As has already been published, the Decree of the Congregation for Bishops, dated January 21, 2009, was an act with which the Holy Father kindly responded to repeated requests on the part of the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X.

His Holiness wished to remove an impediment that prevented the opening of a door to dialogue. Now he is waiting for equal openness to be expressed by the four bishops, in total adhesion to the doctrine and discipline of the church.

The extremely grave penalty of excommunication latae sententiae, which these bishops incurred on June 30, 1988, which was then formally declared on July 1 of the same year, was a consequence of their ordination by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

The lifting of the excommunication has freed the four bishops from a most grave canonical penalty, but in no way has it changed the juridical situation of the Society of St. Pius X, which, in this moment, does not enjoy any canonical recognition in the Catholic church. Also the four bishops, despite removal of the excommunication, do not have any canonical function in the church and do not licitly exercise any ministry in it.

2. Tradition, doctrine and the Second Vatican Council

For any future recognition of the Society of St. Pius X, a full recognition of the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself is an indispensable condition.

As was already affirmed in the Decree of January 21, 2009, the Holy See will not fail, in ways judged opportune, to purse the questions which are still open with the interested parties, thus to be able to reach a full and satisfying solution to the problems that gave rise to this painful fracture.

3. Declarations on the Shoah

The positions of Bishop Williamson on the Shoah are absolutely unacceptable and firmly rejected by the Holy Father, as he himself remarked this past January 28, when, referring to that brutal genocide, he reconfirmed his full and indisputable solidarity with our brothers who received the First Covenant, and affirmed that the memory of that terrible genocide must lead “humanity to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the human heart,” adding that the Shoah remains “a warning for all against hate, against denial or reductionism, because violence against even a single human being is violence against all.”

Bishop Williamson, in order to claim admission to episcopal functions in the church, must distance himself in absolutely unequivocal and public fashion from his positions regarding the Shoah, which were not known by the Holy Father when the excommunication was lifted.

The Holy Father asks accompaniment in prayer from all the faithful, that the Lord may illuminate the path of the church. May the commitment of the pastors and all the faithful grow to sustain the delicate and weighty mission of the Successor of the Apostle Peter, who is the “custodian of the unity” of the church.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Pandering to Conservatives Could Prove Fatal to Obama's Stimulus Plan

He should have stuck with "I won."

That, reportedly, was President Obama's response to Republican Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill January 23rd, when they greeted his outreach for support of his economic stimulus package with a chorus of gripes--mostly to the effect that their pet theories about the economy, disgraced before the election and overwhelmingly defeated during it, weren't being considered.

"I won" was precisely the right response: the conservatives have done more than enough for the economy, and the nation needs no more of their failed 'solutions.'

And yet, despite the House Republicans' zero vote for his stimulus bill, the president continues to give bipartisan support for it higher priority than enacting a bill that will counter the conservative delusions that got the economy where it is today.

Several columnists who support Obama are expressing grave concern that continuing to pander to the conservatives will doom the stimulus to fail.

In yesterday's Washington Post, columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. asks "Bipartisanship at What Price?"

Dionne acknowledges that Obama's outreach is politically popular "because a streak of anti-partisanship has run through the American soul since the founding of the republic." On the economy in particular, he also salutes Obama's emphasis that "Americans will have more confidence in the future if they see the nation's politicians cooperating to resolve the crisis."

But the emphasis needs to be on inviting the Republicans to bipartisanship and inviting American wrath if they decline, not encouraging them to use the stimulus package to reassert ideas and approaches that have already proved useless and the electorate rejects. Otherwise, Obama squanders what he won and concedes the political high-ground pointlessly. Dionne argues:

"If achieving bipartisanship takes priority over the actual content of policy, then the Republicans are handed a powerful weapon. In theory, they can keep moving the bar indefinitely. And each concession to their sensibilities threatens solidarity in the president's own camp."

For, as Dionne points out, the so-called 'partisan' bill the Republicans accused Speaker Pelosi and her lieutenants of pushing was based hugely on the administration's own proposals. Following Rahm Emanuel's dictum "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," Obama wants to use the stimulus bill not only to promote job-creation, consumer spending, freer credit and the like, but also to begin movement toward some of his larger objectives--especially, reforming our health care and education systems. Obama should not allow these objectives to be delayed "in pursuit of a nebulous cross-party comity."

Also pointless pandering to conservatives is making continuing private ownership of failed banks a higher priority than getting a return on the billions of taxpayer dollars already invested in those banks. Indulging in this fiction is just as self-defeating.

Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for economics, says "We can't afford to squander money giving huge windfalls to banks and their executives, merely to preserve the illusion of private ownership." He argues that "Pumping in enough taxpayer money to make the banks sound would, in effect, turn them into publicly owned enterprises."

In his latest weekly address, Obama called Wall Street bankers who gave themselves nearly $20 billion in bonuses from Bush bailout funds shameful and irresponsible.

But as Krugman and Pulitzer Prize-winner Maureen Dowd both point out, Tim Geithner at Treasury and Barney Frank in Congress are reluctant to make tight restrictions on executive pay a condition for getting government aid, because it could keep some firms from seeking it. Yet this leaves Obama's outrage so much bluster, with no consequences for the bank executives and no program to ensure that additional bailout billions won't become more undue executive rewards.

Krugman is correct: the point of giving the banks taxpayer money is not to enrich the executives or the stockholders. The point is for taxpayers to own the banks and return them to solvency until new private buyers can be found. Otherwise, we simply pump billions down a hole.

Dowd is correct: "Anyone who gave bonuses after accepting federal aid should be fired, and that money should be disgorged to the Treasury."

Will that keep some businesses from seeking aid? Perhaps. But it won't be deserving businesses who agree to play by the rules. The only losers will be those who deserve to lose: those who will not join the rest of us in making the patriotic sacrifices required to get the economy off public life-support.

Do they wish us well? Hell, no. Why should we give a damn about them?