Saturday, March 28, 2009

Condom Quandary: Lancet, Facebook Join International Criticism of Pope's Remarks

CNN reports that the British medical journal Lancet and Facebook groups based mainly in Europe have joined the chorus of governments, AIDS-awareness and health agencies criticizing the pope for his gratuitous remarks that condoms do nothing to combat the spread of HIV, the virus which causes AIDS.

The pope's restatement of a long-held Vatican position sheds more public light on a major flaw in the official Catholic stance on human sexuality, pointed out by moral theologian Charles E. Curran and others: that by focusing too prominently on the physical structure of the act of reproduction, it prevents appropriate appreciation of other aspects of sexual acts, including their potential role in endangering public health and the best ways to avert that impact. Excerpts from the CNN report follow:

Critics took to the social networking site Facebook to voice their fury over Pope Benedict's remark that condoms do not prevent HIV.

Thousands have pledged to send the pontiff millions of condoms to protest the controversial comment he made to journalists as he flew to Cameroon last week.

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," the pope told reporters. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."

Pope Benedict XVI has made it clear he intends to uphold the traditional Catholic teaching on artificial contraception. The Vatican has long opposed the use of condoms and other forms of birth control and encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease.

About a dozen Facebook groups have sprang up (sic), mostly from European countries, criticizing the pontiff.

The online campaign added another voice to a deluge of criticism, which includes the governments of France, Germany and Belgium. Aid agencies and other health organizations have also chimed in.

The Lancet, a British medical journal, urged the pope Saturday to issue a retraction for the "outrageous and wildly inaccurate" statement to journalists aboard his plane.

"When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record," The Lancet said in an editorial.

"Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pope Needs to Fire Vatican's Archbishop Burke for Threatening U.S. Bishops

Archbishop Raymond Burke is at it again: trying to force every U.S. Catholic bishop to adopt his view that Catholic politicians who won't outlaw all abortions must be denied holy communion. Although the bishops declined to adopt his position when he was a member of their conference, he is now using his new job as a top Vatican official to tell them they were wrong and to say, in effect, "my way or the highway."

At first he was content to impose the policy in LaCrosse, WI, where he was archbishop from 1995 to 2003. But when he was made archbishop of St. Louis in 2004, Burke upped the ante--by raising the issue against the presidential candidacy of John Kerry.

Also that year, Burke led a minority group of bishops who wanted to make the policy mandatory for all U.S. bishops. But the bishops did not agree and decided instead that each bishop would have the final say in his own diocese.

Not happy with that outcome, Burke went on to tell Catholics that if they voted for a pro-choice candidate, they were committing grave sin and they could not receive communion either.

Burke also meddled in the 2008 presidential campaign, again admonishing Catholics that they could not vote for a pro-choice candidate and again pressing other bishops to extend his ban to other Catholic politicians. Burke gained few converts in either audience.

In June of 2008 many in the United States breathed a sigh of relief at the news Burke had been named to head the Apostolic Signatura, also known as the Vatican's supreme court. But others expressed concern that with his quirky way of applying canon law to reception of communion, Burke could do more damage there. Those fears, it turns out, were well founded.

Speaking from Rome in January Burke condemned the election of pro-choice candidate Obama and placed much of the blame on a U.S. bishops' election guide that he considered lukewarm in opposing abortion.

Now we learn from the National Catholic Reporter and other media outlets that Burke is aiding an anti-abortion terrorist who wants the Vatican to remove any U.S. bishops will not deny communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians.

Burke made his remarks in a videotaped interview with Randall Terry, the former head of Operation Rescue, who was arrested more than 40 times for illegal anti-abortion activities. Terry is now a Burke disciple. Terry has been campaigning to have Rome remove U.S. bishops who will not take Burke's position on communion.

Burke said he "would encourage the faithful when they are scandalized by the giving of Holy Communion to persons are publicly and obstinately in sin, that they go to their pastors, whether it’s their parish priest or to their bishop, to insist that this scandal stop."

Contrary to the U.S. bishops, Burke also said it is the responsibility of all who distribute communion--whether bishops, priests or lay ministers--to identify such sinners and refuse them communion.

Burke soon apologized to "my brother bishops" after Terry played the videotape March 25th at the National Press Club. But he did not withdraw his criticism, his advice to parishioners, or his instructions to ministers of communion.

It is quite evident that Burke has no intention of abiding by the U.S. bishops' ruling that denying communion to politicians is a decision the only the local bishop can make. The only way to stop him from misusing his Vatican office to oppose the bishops' policy is to remove him from office.

He needs to be removed because his office gives him no authority to undermine the bishops on this issue.

He needs to be removed because he arrogates to himself the authority to judge that an individual Catholic politician "is publicly and obstinately in grave sin," simply because that politician is not convinced that outlawing abortion is the best way to protect human life in utero.

In taking that absolutist position, Burke goes well beyond Rome's official guidance, as voiced for example in these words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: "As John Paul II has taught in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae regarding the situation in which it is not possible to overturn or completely repeal a law allowing abortion which is already in force or coming up for a vote, 'an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality.'"

That is in fact what most pro-choice Catholic politicians are trying to accomplish. Granting due weight to their oaths of office, the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, and the majority sentiment of the voters, they recognize that current U.S. law cannot be overturned and seek more realistic ways to reduce the number of abortions. That was also the position of pro-life Catholics who nonetheless supported Barack Obama.

For Burke and other ultraconservative bishops to berate and condemn them for that is unconscionable. For the pope to allow Burke to use his Vatican office as a new club to attack politicians and bishops who are following papal teaching is even worse. That is particularly so when the pope himself, on his last visit to the United States, made no issue whatsoever of pro-choice Catholic politicians who received communion at various papal masses.

Such a canon-law maverick has no business occupying the church's highest judicial office short of the papacy. Burke must go!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

G0P: "Like an Arsonist Who Complains That the Fire Department Is Wasting Water"

CNN Political Contributor Paul Begala says it takes amazing chutzpah for conservative critics to be complaining that President Obama is trying to do too much at once and spending too much to do it, given that every major problem he's attacking was created or exacerbated by eight years of conservative technical stupidity, reckless deficit spending, regulatory malfeasance and repeated mismanagement of the federal government:

Obama inherited an ungodly mess: a $1.2 trillion deficit, an economy that was careening from recession into depression, a collapse in effective demand, the disintegration of the real estate market and a financial meltdown that spanned the globe and brought multibillion-dollar institutions to their knees. That's not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea and the Mexican drug war.

If this were "Sesame Street," the announcer would be saying, "This program brought to you by the letters G, O and P." None of the crises the president is addressing were of his creation. All of them were created or worsened by the Republicans who ran the House of Representatives, Senate and White House for years.

And so the American people turned to Obama to bring change -- and change he has brought. He's moving on all fronts: addressing the housing foreclosure crisis, the banking crisis, the unemployment crisis. Did I mention that all of these crises were courtesy of the Republicans who ran this country for years? Good.

Now the Republicans have what we Texans call the chutzpah to criticize Obama for doing too much. Maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have to be fixing so many problems if the Republicans hadn't created so many problems.

The Republicans are like an arsonist who complains that the fire department is wasting water. Obama is trying to handle an immediate crisis while also laying the foundation for long-term growth. The Republicans are doing neither. They have no plan to stop the loss of jobs or to get capital markets functioning properly -- and they certainly have no plans for health care, education or energy, which are the keys to both long-term economic growth and long-term deficit reduction.

All the energy -- indeed all debate -- is on the progressive side of the aisle. The Obama administration's only intellectual challengers are on the left, where economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and others are offering a vigorous critique and proposing alternative solutions. But where are the Republicans? Doing nothing but complaining. Unless and until they do offer an alternative, they really have no right to whine about the president. For now at least, GOP stands for "Got 0 Plans."

Angry at $165 Million in AIG Bonuses? Get Angrier at $13 Billion Goldman Got from AIG

Houston Chronicle Business Columnist Loren Steffy says the public's anger over paying for AIG's $165 million in bonuses is understandable, but as "one one-millionth of the total amount we've pumped into the foundering insurance shop," the bonus boondoggle pales in comparison to the $13 billion in bailout funds that AIG funneled to Goldman Sachs.

The $13 billion was used to pay swap contracts that Goldman bought from AIG--meaning that AIG irresponsibly sold $13 billion more insurance on other deals than it had the resources to cover. Thus taxpayer funds were used simultaneously to relieve AIG of a debt and make creditor Goldman whole.

The move also might allow Goldman, although claiming that the $13 billion was "immaterial," to return $10 billion in TARP bailout funds after finding the government controls that came with it too confining. That way Goldman gets even more taxpayer billions through AIG, but with no government regulation whatsoever.

As Steffy suggests, the public and politicians need to direct their anger at Goldman's really big ripoff, compared to which the AIG bonuses are truly chump change.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Community Reinvestment Act Did Not Cause Mortgage or Credit Crises, Data Show

Relaxing with friends this weekend in the Texas hill country, I discovered that the bogus argument that loans to poor people caused the mortgage and credit crises--debunked here last October--is still making the rounds. Getting back to my regular reading this morning, I came upon the following editorial in the March 20th print edition of the National Catholic Reporter (posted online March 13th). It explains quite succinctly what other media sources have said repeatedly for several months: the Carter-era Community Reinvestment Act, which encouraged banks to lend in neighborhoods where they do business, was responsible for less than 10% of the subprime loans. The blame-worthy lenders and borrowers were those involved in the 90% of the subprime loans that were not made to the poor.

Each week, in our depressed economy, another 40,000 U.S. homeowners face foreclosure (see story, Page 1). So who is to blame for the implosion of the U.S. housing market, the engine that drove our false sense of prosperity over the past decade?

It's the poor. They, with a little help from the government, did it to themselves.

That, at least, is the emerging consensus of free marketer pundits who dare not place blame where it truly belongs: on the false god of a freewheeling and virtually unregulated subprime mortgage marketplace.

The villain in this fictitious but ideologically convenient tale is something called the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a Carter-era initiative that put some mild requirements on federally insured depository institutions (banks and thrifts) to lend in neighborhoods where they do business.

"Beginning with the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, the political system helped create this mess," Michael Novak, a one-time supporter of CRA and other community-based efforts to support neighborhoods, wrote in First Things earlier this year. Novak argued that government programs like CRA ultimately forced lenders to make loans to people who could not afford them, resulting in a worldwide economic meltdown of Depression-era proportions.

Similar sentiments have been voiced by Lawrence Kudlow of CNBC, Neil Cavuto of FOX News (who placed the blame on banks that lent to "minorities and risky folks"), syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and George Will, and many others over the past few months.

The central problem with this argument is that there is no data, absolutely none, tying CRA in any significant way to subprime lending practices now fueling the foreclosure crisis.

Former Federal Reserve Gov. Randall Kroszner, speaking late last year, used actual facts, data even, to explain the situation.

More than half of subprime loans went to middle-class or higher-income borrowers, while fewer than 6 percent of loans made by CRA-covered lenders to low-income borrowers in recent years were of the subprime variety, said Kroszner.

Based on research (imagine that!), Kroszner concluded, "The loans that are the focus of the CRA represent a very small portion of the subprime lending market, casting considerable doubt on the potential contribution that the law could have made to the subprime mortgage crisis."

Meanwhile, Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan, a Bush appointee, noted, "CRA is not the culprit behind the subprime mortgage lending abuses or the broader credit quality issues in the marketplace. Indeed, the lenders most prominently associated with subprime mortgage lending abuses and high rates of foreclosure are lenders not subject to CRA."

For 30-plus years, CRA has been a modest but useful tool in providing capital and credit to individuals and community-based organizations trying to improve neighborhoods through homeownership, affordable rental housing and economic development programs.

It is part of the solution, not a cause of the problem.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2nd Amendment Ruling Shooting Blanks, So Far, New York Times Correspondent Says

In a February posting I applauded the lack of success to date of the movement to allow guns on college campuses and provided links to previous postings on that subject and on the Supreme Court's mistaken conclusion nine months ago that the U.S. Constitution's 2nd Amendment codified an individual right to kill.

I draw additional encouragement from a March 17th report by New York Times Supreme Court Correspondent Adam Liptak that in terms of overturning gun-control laws, the Heller decision is "firing blanks."

Liptak reports that in deciding more than 80 cases after the Supreme Court's decision, lower federal courts have, in the words of Adam Winkler, a University of California law professor, “not invalidated a single gun control law on the basis of the Second Amendment since Heller.”

Liptak's summary of the laws the courts have upheld is impressive: "The courts have upheld federal laws banning gun ownership by people convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors, by illegal immigrants and by drug addicts. They have upheld laws banning machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. They have upheld laws making it illegal to carry guns near schools or in post offices. And they have upheld laws concerning concealed and unregistered weapons."

In a not unmerited dig against gun advocates, Winkler wrote in the UCLA Law Review “So far, the only real change from Heller is that gun owners have to pay higher legal fees to find out that they lose.” This, of course, supports the view of critics right after the Heller decision that it had left so many legal loose ends that it would prove a bottomless resource for litigators.

Liptak observes that one question the Supreme Court left open is whether the 2nd Amendment, as interpreted in Heller, also applies to the states. Most legal scholars suspect that it does, but Liptak believes that state courts probably have to follow older decisions until the Supreme Court rules on that issue specifically.

Liptak concludes with this sage advice from Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas: “My own bet is that Heller will more likely than not turn out to be of no significance to anyone but constitutional theorists.”

Richardson Signs Death Penalty Repeal, after Visiting Inmates, Officers, Victims & Church

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that last night, with the support of the Catholic Church and considerable personal anxiety, Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill that repealed the death penalty in New Mexico.

The article says Richardson reached his decision only after a very gut-wrenching process, during which he went to Mass, visited death row and the state's 'death house,' made eye contact with one death-row inmate and an inmate awaiting trial for murdering a deputy, and listened personally to corrections officials and the families of two murder victims.

Richardson said he was still wrestling with whether he's for or against the death penalty and with whether he made the right decision.

But in signing the bill he added: "Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime. If the state is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong."

He said after visiting death row, "I came to the conclusion that those cells may be worse than death" and that life without parole is "a just punishment."

The Catholic Church has long favored abolition of the death penalty everywhere, in part for the reasons Richardson mentioned and also because it may deprive those executed of the opportunity to repent and victims' loved ones of time to foresake vengence and forgive. Beside Richardson when he signed the bill was Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces. The bishop noted that Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe also favored the repeal but currently was out of the country.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Will the New English Liturgy Be Seen as Another Papal Departure from Vatican II?

Google News has a link to an Associated Press article and others reporting that premature use in South Africa of a new English liturgy based on a more slavishly literal translation of Rome's official Latin is causing local Catholics and even one bishop to question if it is yet another papal effort to undo Vatican II.

The negative reactions echo concerns I raised in the first posting on this blog in July of 2006, A Better Way to Change Catholic Liturgical Language, which analyzed the changes planned for the U.S. English liturgy and found most of them seriously deficient and likely to cause unnecessary grief for the people in the pews. My chief suggestions were that in changing liturgical language, the church should do two things to assist believers who found the new language jarring or even unacceptable: (1) officially condone several settings where the prior language could be retained, so that those who favored it could still enjoy it; and (2) officially promote and sponsor other specific locations where newer versions of the liturgy could be crafted, celebrated, tested by the local community and, if fruitful, offered to the larger church for official adoption.

Several paragraphs from the AP article follow:

A new translation of the Roman Catholic Mass that is to be introduced worldwide in a few years is getting an accidental trial run in South Africa, where some parishioners are complaining it's too hard to understand.

The controversy comes as Pope Benedict XVI travels Tuesday to Cameroon on his first papal pilgrimage to the continent that has the fastest growing congregation of Catholics.

Critics say the new, more literal word-for-word translation is part of an attempt to roll back the progress made decades ago when the church halted its insistence on Latin.

In a misunderstanding, some South African church leaders started using the new version prematurely in some parishes, even though the English-language prayers won't be approved for global use for at least a couple of years. But instead of pulling back in the face of their mistake, they are continuing to use the liturgy.

Distribution of the prayers has fueled debate over whether the new translation — meant to more closely follow the original Latin text — will help deepen parishioners' prayer life or alienate them from the church.

"I think the church has been very lucky that the South Africans jumped the gun because it's showing the Vatican that there is going to be a worldwide problem when these new translations are put into effect," said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"Once again the Vatican isn't listening to the critics, and we're going to have another major embarrassment to the pope when these translations are put into effect and are forced on the people in the pews," he said.

The Rev. Efrem Tresoldi warned in The Southern Cross, a regional Catholic weekly: "I've heard it said that younger people are leaving the Church because, among other things, the language used in our liturgy sounds foreign to them. I think this new version of the order of the Mass is even more alienating."

In an article in The Southern Cross, Bishop Kevin Dowling agreed.

"I am concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II."

The Rev. Russell Pollitt also questioned whether nonnative English speakers in South Africa, where there are 11 official languages, would understand the more abstract concepts.

"The new text seems almost to imply that there is something inherently holy about Latin and inherently unholy about proper English," English Professor Colin Gardner said.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Pope Benedict XVI Can Avoid "becoming a sort of Dali Lama in papal dress"

The National Catholic Reporter has a translation of a very insightful March 14th commentary on the current crisis of authority in the Catholic Church by Italian political scientist and philosopher Ernesto Galli della Loggia, a lay professor at the University of San Raffaele in Milan. NCR says Della Loggia is widely regarded as one of Italy’s foremost commentators on Catholic affairs, despite being a self-professed nonbeliever himself.

Speaking of the pastoral letter Benedict XVI sent to the world's bishops to address negative reactions to his leadership among Catholics, Jews and secular Europeans, Della Loggia writes: "The letter and its contents betray feelings of anxiety and disappointment which, in reality, bring something much more important into view: a basic crisis of authority that today is felt at the very top of the church.

"Contradictions accumulated over the last half-century are coming to a head with regard to the role of the pope, which has undergone a profound historical transformation. That transformation has two principal causes, with which popes have had to come to terms: the advent of television, and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65)."

Della Loggia recalls how John XXIII, in leading the church and convoking the council, realized the importance of communicating through television and used it sagely to cultivate his media persona as "good Pope John." Unfortunately, della Loggia suggests, this tended over time to make the pope dependent on the approval of the public who watched TV, and accountable to their sense of political correctness. Always craving favorable media attention, the pope runs "the risk of becoming a sort of Dali Lama in papal dress."

Coupled with that, della Loggia adds, was Vatican II's role both in bringing liberal and conservative political parties to light within Catholicism and in fueling their competing positions going forward. Both sides realized the importance of using the media to press their positions publicly on the pope and to criticize him publicly when he departs from their vision of what the church is, what positions it should take, how it should be operated, and the like.

Della Loggia concludes that having to account to the public and these Catholic parties can tend to rob the pope of the spiritual independence he used to have and can, as it appeared to in the current controversy, leave him "painfully, irrevocably alone."

I think della Loggia's analysis is accurate for the most part. I would modify it, however, by arguing that despite John Paul II's superior skill at manipulating the media to endear himself to the public and the faithful, the pope never had as much spiritual independence as della Loggia suggests, or as the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) wanted him to have.

Moreover, one of the accomplishments of Vatican II, one which may yet prove enduring, is that it situated the authority of the pope in the context of other authorities--especially the pope and the bishops teaching together, and all of them on concert with carefully schooled theologians and devoted lay people.

Despite the conservative-liberal disagreement, the bishops, theologians and lay experts at the Council achieved consensus on an amazing variety of issues. The pope avoids becoming "a Dali Lama in papal dress" by repeatedly upholding that consensus, and by insisting that any changes to it are made only after a new consensus is worked for and achieved.

And that isn't restricted to changes conservatives want or changes liberals want or changes desired by dialogue partners like Jews and Muslims and non-believers. It also includes changes theologians want and changes the pope himself favors. He remains relevant by promoting dialogue and mutual persuasion, and by insisting that no parties of lesser authority than the Second Vatican Council get their way until they can forge a new consensus similar in scope, breadth, depth and weight. Until then, those individual wants are proposals, having no official prominence until enough believers find them persuasive.

This has been my issue with all of the popes since Paul VI issued Humanae vitae in 1968 and began what is now a 40-year papal attempt to make Vatican II say things it never said and support interpretations of Catholic church history which it never endorsed.

Benedict XVI still has a chance to become the first post-Vatican II pope to resume the models of church teaching and church governance that Vatican II favored. Given his track record as Cardinal Ratzinger and pope, I do not hold my breath. But who knows what surprises the Spirit who inspired the Council may have in store?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Benedict Reforms Vatican to Head Off New Mistakes, Yet Still Waffles on Vatican II

Multiple news outlets are reporting that on March 10th Pope Benedict XVI issued a pastoral letter to all Catholic bishops, apologizing for the controversy he caused by lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop and changing some Vatican structures and procedures to reduce the chances of such mistakes in the future. However, in defending his attempts to reconcile Catholic ultraconservatives with the church, the pope continued to voice the same kind of tepid support for Vatican II that caused such a hostile response from Catholic progressives in the first place.

Spiegel Online International offered this summary of the pope's letter: "Pope Benedict XVI has made a rare admission of a 'mishap' in the Vatican's handling of Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson. A cardinal partly to blame for the debacle has been stripped of his power, and the pope says the Vatican ought to make better use of the Internet--to inform itself about crises more quickly."

The article continued: "The Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission, which was responsible for the Richard Williamson case, is being dissolved and will be merged with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith... As a result, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, who triggered the Williamson debacle in mid-January, has been deprived of his power and, at almost 80, will slip into a well-earned retirement. 'Now that was quite a crash,' a prelate who witnessed the events said on Wednesday afternoon "

The article also noted that, in a substantive effort to improve communications within the Vatican bureaucracy, the pope appeared to be specifically directing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to use a regular Wednesday meeting of Vatican department heads to ensure that all of them were on the same page on issues of major significance.

The Vatican issued official translations of the pope's letter this morning. The English translation confirms the points Spiegel emphasized. The pope acknowledges that the nearly simultaneous lifting of the excommunications and Bishop Williamson's reiteration of his Holocaust denial "caused, both within and beyond the Catholic Church, a discussion more heated than any we have seen for a long time." He said it was "An unforeseen mishap for me...that the Williamson case came on top of the remission of the excommunication."

The pope said he did not intend lifting the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops to be seen as turning back the clock on Vatican II, either in general or in its specific condemnation of anti-Semitism and its outreach to the Jewish people.

Yet the pope placed most of the blame for the Catholic outcry he provoked on critics he believes are too devoted to the changes decreed by Vatican II. Thus he says: "I was saddened by the fact that even Catholics who, after all, might have had a better knowledge of the situation, thought they had to attack me with open hostility." Even while making it clear to the Society of St. Pius X that "the Church’s teaching authority cannot be frozen in the year 1962," Benedict feels compelled to add: "But some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life."

The pope goes on to accuse such defenders of Vatican II of misusing their freedom, "biting and devouring" those they criticize like the people Paul chastized in Galatians 5:13-15, and of attacking him merely because he tried to reach out to estranged fellow Catholics: "At times one gets the impression that our society needs to have at least one group to which no tolerance may be shown; which one can easily attack and hate. And should someone dare to approach them – in this case the Pope – he too loses any right to tolerance; he too can be treated hatefully, without misgiving or restraint."

I join those commentators who have already found this over-wrought. But I am also afraid it indicates that the pope did not entirely 'get' what his critics were saying. By over-emphasizing how much Vatican II shares with the doctrinal history of the church, and by under-emphasizing the many ways in which the Council was a true reform of the past, the pope continues to exhibit the kind of tepid support for the Council for which he was criticized in the current controversy and in previous ones. Until he gives Vatican II its due, in word and in deed, he should not expect the proponents of Vatican II to agree with him or trust him or be silent when he tries to diminish the Council's importance.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Former Catholic Ultraconservatives Again Refuse to Accept Second Vatican Council

It appears that Pope Benedict XVI's effort to reconcile the Society of St. Pius X (devotees of the late schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre) with the Catholic Church has hit the same obstacle that blocked outreach attempts by previous pontiffs: the Vatican insists that they must accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council in full, but the former Catholic ultraconservatives still decline to do so.

So says a report from Catholic News Service, linked by the National Catholic Reporter. It reports that self-styled bishop Bernard Fellay, Lefebvre's successor as head of SSPX and one of the five Lefebvre-consecrated bishops whose excommunication Benedict lifted, remains "not ready to accept Vatican II."

Evidently SSPX and the five bishops have misread Benedict: they see the pope's outreach as an opportunity to negotiate with Rome about which Vatican II teachings the pope should overrule.

Fortunately, it appears that Benedict may finally gotten the point that overruling anything solemnly taught by the bishops and pope at Vatican II is not within the scope of his authority. Let us pray that he will be steadfast in the position that Vatican II is non-negotiable.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Proposition 8's Gay Marriage Ban Back Before the California Supreme Court on Thursday

MSNBC and the Associated Press report that on Thursday opponents of California's Proposition 8--which took away the right of gay couples to marry, even though the California Supreme Court said the state constitution protected it--will return to the court to argue that Proposition 8 itself is unconstitutional.

Experts noted that it would be highly unusual for a state supreme court to overrule the will of the people in passing a state initiative. Opponents are arguing that Proposition 8 was not just an amendment to the state constitution but a substantial revision, which under state law should not have been submitted to the voters until it was first approved by the state legislature. They also note there is no precedent in California allowing voters to take rights away from minorities--and that other minorities should feel as threatened by the move as gay people do. In the words of the article:

"Legal experts say Proposition 8, which won 52 percent of the vote, would almost certainly stand if not for one notable fact: the marriage amendment represents the first time in California history that the constitution was changed at the ballot box to deprive a protected minority group of a right expressly carved out by the court.

"'It would be unprecedented for the court to overturn Proposition 8 only because Proposition 8 is unprecedented,' said Dale Carpenter, a University of Minnesota constitutional law professor."

The article adds that California Attorney General (and former governor) Jerry Brown has refused to defend the initiative and is asking the justices to invalidate it.

Interestingly, there is precedent for a court to overturn an initiative passed by a majority of California voters. In 1964 California voters favored Proposition 14, crafted to overturn the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of housing "because of ethnicity, religion, sex, marital status, physical handicap, or familial status."

In 1967 the initiative itself was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, on grounds that it violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court made it clear that no constitution gives California voters an absolute right to enact anything they damn well please.

Holocaust-Denying 'Bishop' Gets More Just Deserts; Vatican Keeps Distancing Itself

The National Catholic Reporter and Google are linking to an Associated Press article which says that traditionalist 'bishop' Richard Williamson continues to suffer church and state consequences for denying the magnitude of the Holocaust--thereby gracing the Vatican with further opportunities to distance itself from him and uphold the Second Vatican Council's teachings on the Jewish people's unique and unsurpassable role in salvation history.

One of last week's civil consequences for Williamson was that the government of Argentina ordered Williamson to leave because of his remarks. On arriving in his native Britain, Williamson told the media he would never have made them had he known "the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise."

According to AP the Vatican said Friday that that wasn't good enough and that Williamson has to repudiate his views if he wants to serve as member of the Catholic clergy. The Vatican had already made this a non-negotiable condition for Williamson to return to official ministry, but Friday's statement underscored that Rome is in earnest about it and will not relent until Williamson does.

Meanwhile, another civil consequence looms. State prosecutors in Regensburg, Germany, (where Benedict XVI was a professor from 1969 to 1977) already had opened a preliminary investigation into whether Williamson broke German laws against Holocaust denial. AP said that on Friday the German justice minister said she is considering issuing a Europe-wide arrest warrant for Williamson on hate-crime charges, because Williamson made his remarks in Germany in an interview with Swedish television.

If continued exclusion from Catholic ministry is not enough to dissuade Williamson, perhaps a jail cell will be.