Friday, May 29, 2009

Texas Senate Ousts Creationism Proponent from State Board of Education Chairmanship

The Houston Chronicle's Austin Bureau reported late yesterday that Democrats in the Texas State Senate had blocked Gov. Rick Perry's attempt to reappoint creationism proponent Don McLeroy as chair of the State Board of Education.

McLeroy's Republican supporters were quick to say that his ouster was retaliation for his self-styled 'Christian beliefs,' which for him include creationism and the conviction that the Earth is no more than 6,000 years old.

Democrats said their issue was not "evolution versus creationism," but that McLeroy had allowed his personal religious beliefs to polarize the board and to try to get the board to ignore experts' advice not only on guidelines for the science curriculum, but also on English, language arts and reading skills.

Despite McLeroy's attempts to lead the board in his direction, the board did vote in late March to stop requiring Texas science teachers to address "the strengths and weaknesses" of Darwin's theory of evolution. But at the same time the board also passed another policy that could be used to water down the teaching of evolution--"creating expectations that students analyze and evaluate such issues as fossil data and the complexity of the cell," but without any specific reference to common ancestry or natural selection.

Clearly the Senate vote trumpets the message that attempts to foist creationism or intelligent design on public school students--which the federal courts have already declared an unconstitutional establishment of religion--can have political consequences too, even in Texas. I think that's a very good thing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Obama Nominates Hispanic Theologian as the Next U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican

The National Catholic Reporter says President Barack Obama has nominated a highly regarded Hispanic theologian as the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican--and U.S. Catholics and Catholic theologians think it's a superb choice. Several paragraphs from NCR's article follow. NCR's link lists 13 notable career accomplishments not duplicated here.

A Hispanic Roman Catholic theologian who was an adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign will be nominated to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, the White House announced Wednesday.

Miguel H. Diaz, 45, an associate professor of theology at St. John's University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, would be the first Hispanic to serve as ambassador to the Vatican since the United States and the Holy See established full diplomatic ties in 1984. Diaz was born in Havana.

Díaz, viewed as a dark horse candidate for the post, is the co-editor of the book "From the Heart of Our People: Explorations in Catholic Systematic Theology" and author of "On Being Human: U.S. Hispanic and Rahnerian Perspectives", named "Best Book of the Year" by the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Díaz taught Religious Studies and Theology at Barry University, the University of Dayton and the University of Notre Dame. From 2001 to 2003, he taught and served as Academic Dean at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida.

“Professor Miguel Diaz is a skilled Trinitarian theologian who is passionate both as a teacher and a scholar,” said Benedictine Abbot John Klassen of Saint John’s Abbey. “He is a strong proponent of the necessity of the Church to become deeply and broadly multi-cultural, to recognize and appreciate the role that culture plays in a living faith.

Catholics in Alliance, a Catholic lobbying group, praised the Diaz appointment.

"A theological consultant to, and commentator for, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Professor Dìaz has always connected his impressive body of academic scholarship and intellectual rigor with an unwavering commitment to living out the social justice tenets of our faith," the group said.

Catholics United executive director Chris Korzen also issued a statement praising the Diaz appointment:

“Catholics United is thrilled to learn that Dr. Miguel Diaz has been nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Dr. Diaz is a devout Catholic, a respected theologian, a leader in the Catholic Latino community, and a dedicated husband and father of four children. We have full confidence that he will serve our nation well and we invite all Catholics to join us in celebrating this historic nomination.”

The Administration and the Holy See share many common concerns, such as protecting the environment, fostering peace in the Middle East, disarming nuclear arsenals and cultivating international development, especially for the poorest nations of the world. Dr. Diaz’s ability to work constructively for common ground makes him a superb choice for this position."

Diaz was far from the most visible—or controversial—Catholic to campaign for Obama. Douglas Kmiec, a Catholic law professor and former Reagan administration lawyer, was targeted by conservative Catholics and denied Communion by one priest for his support for Obama.

The Associated Press reported that Kmiec, who was mentioned as a possible Vatican envoy, applauded the choice of Diaz on Wednesday, calling him "a gifted theologian and a natural teacher. And his love for the faith is unquestioned."

In a comment posted to the NCR web site, Carmen Nanko-Fernández, president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United State, said the association was "encouraged" by the nomination. "This nomination affirms the important contribution that Hispanics are making as part of the fabric of our nation," she wrote.

A statement on the academy's web site,, praised Diaz: "Díaz embodies in his scholarship and commitments a profound respect for human dignity and a passion for justice. A Catholic layman, Díaz and his family are devoted participants in the life of the Church."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vatican Newspaper on Notre Dame Speech: Obama Sought Abortion "Common Ground"

My immediate reaction to the success of President Obama's speech at Notre Dame's commencement Sunday? Exhilaration. A resounding Hallelujah that, for the the first time in a long time, the right-wing nut bishops--who so desperately covet a monopoly on American Catholicism--had been thwarted.

They did not succeed in bullying Notre Dame's president and trustees and faculty and students from continuing their tradition of cordially welcoming presidents of the United States, regardless of their views on specific issues.

They did not succeed in scaring the very popular president of the United States from accepting an opportunity to explain his particular position on abortion.

As significantly, they did not succeed in drumming pro-choice Catholics out of the church. The above cartoon aptly portrays what the result of that would have been!

Icing on the cake?

Reports today that L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's daily newspaper, had nothing negative to say about Obama's Notre Dame speech--and nothing at all to acknowledge that any American bishop had opposed it.

Instead, as several news outlets including Catholic News Service report, the Vatican daily wrote approvingly of Obama's efforts at Notre to seek "common ground" on ways to reduce abortion and his confirmation that enacting the so-called Freedom of Choice Act was really low on his legislative agenda.

The conservative Catholic blogs are aghast that some heretic has captured L'Osservatore Romano. They need to grasp what the Vatican daily has: the pope does not agree with them.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time to 'Defend' DOMA? Removes Repeal from Civil Rights Goals

WorldNetDaily, edited by a founder bent on "taking back America" from the liberal elites, is no great friend of gay rights or Barack Obama.

It should come as no surprise, then, that "the fiercely independent newssite committed to hard-hitting investigative reporting" can barely contain its manic glee in reporting Unhitched! White House scrubs marriage promise: Obama's pledge to homosexuals disappears from official agenda.

The report appears to convey accurately how the White House website has changed.

According to WorldNetDaily, the Civil Rights page at used to say that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) needs to be repealed so that "the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions."

It now says more generically that President Obama "supports full civil unions and federal rights for LGBT couples and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage." The Civil Rights page confirms that this is the current wording.

However, I suspect what the report has totally missed is the most likely reason for the change and its timing: that the White House is strategizing how to 'defend' the constitutionality of DOMA against a federal lawsuit filed against DOMA by GLAD "on behalf of eight married couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts who have been denied federal legal protections available to spouses." I covered the significance of the lawsuit here on April 28th.

The lawsuit puts a president who wants to repeal DOMA in the dicey position of having to defend it. Yet it gives the president a tempting opportunity: he could easily sink DOMA by having his Solicitor General simply concede in court that GLAD is right--that DOMA deprives legally married same-sex couples of the equal protection of federal laws that apply to married people. But Obama almost certainly will not yield to that temptation, because it would drive social conservatives back into the Republican Party at a time when he needs them to accomplish other important items on his agenda.

What he is more likely to do is have the Solicitor General offer a tepid defense of DOMA--which is, after all, about the best even the most dedicated government attorney could achieve--and let the federal courts sink DOMA on its own demerits. It would be, to put it politely, awkward to have a White House that is 'defending' DOMA still attacking it on its website. But eliminating mention of Obama's specific opposition to DOMA makes perfect sense if the White House thinks it can play into GLAD's hand. That would allow Obama to accomplish DOMA repeal yet divert conservative wrath to the judiciary.

If I am right about this strategy, it's worth acknowledging that it is not risk-free. The courts--and especially the Supreme Court, if it comes to that--may not agree that DOMA is as constitutionally bereft as GLAD and other progressives think it is. But the risk is probably worth taking, because it could accomplish Obama's DOMA objectives without putting other major reforms in jeopardy. If GLAD does not succeed, there will still be time to work on legislative reversal of DOMA down the road.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Most Catholics Are Not Listening to U.S. Bishops--For a Bunch of Good Reasons

Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, former editor of America (a Catholic weekly magazine) and currently Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center in Washington D.C., posted an excellent commentary on the Washington Post website May 5th on why few Catholics are listening to the U.S. bishops.

Reese writes that "part of the problem is that the bishops stopped listening and teaching and started ordering and condemning. With an educated laity it no longer works to simply say, 'it is the teaching of the church.' This is the equivalent of a parent shouting, 'Because I said so.'

"The bishops must persuade and convince with arguments not by turning up the volume. When they resort to commanding and threatening punishments, people are turned off. Banning speakers, denying Communion, silencing theologians is a sign of weakness not strength. Censorship and violations of academic freedom come across as admissions that their arguments are not convincing and therefore the opposition must be silenced."

He also notes that conservative U.S. bishops are being egged on by conservative Republicans who are still smarting at losing to Barack Obama so badly. "They want the Catholic Church to be the Republican Party at prayer. Some bishops are falling for this."

Unlike them, however, the Vatican is maintaining very cordial relations with Obama--to the point that a recent article in the Vatican daily newspaper "stated that the first 100 days of the Obama administration have not confirmed the Catholic Church's worst fears about radical policy changes in ethical areas."

Connecting this with the recent conservative opposition to Notre Dame inviting pro-choice Obama to its graduation, Reese notes that the Vatican position is much closer to that of the 50% of U.S. Catholics who say it was right to invite Obama, than the 28% who say it was wrong.

Reese concludes: "The bishops who oppose the President's presence at Notre Dame are going to be embarrassed by the warm welcome he receives from the commencement audience. Every round of applause will be a repudiation of their condemnations.

"The bishops will also be embarrassed when Pope Benedict welcomes President Obama at the Vatican, or are all these people going to tell the Pope that he cannot talk to a pro-choice President?"