Friday, April 30, 2010

Biggest baby-killing center to open

Magister Christianus has the story.

In case you're forgetting, this is the death mill that looks so startlingly like the ancient centers of human sacrifice of the old pre-Christian world:

Abortion mill:

Mayan temple of human sacrifice:

There is no doubt in my mind that this so-called "clinic" is going to be a center of demonic power, and that the souls of anyone connected with it in any way are in terrible jeopardy. Such a lust for the blood of the innocent is one of the most persistent markers of the presence of evil.

UPDATE: Magister Christianus reminds me that he has posted a countdown clock on his blog to remind people to pray as the "clinic" prepares to open, which it will on May 11. Please pray that God will defeat the evil that is planned for this place.

Parental rights and education

It's a story you might read or hear on the news a lot here in Texas: local school officials plan major curriculum changes, parents object, and the changes end up being scaled back or modified out of sensitivity to the parents. Here in Texas, the parents would be Christians, and the news spin would probably blame fundamentalist religious beliefs for the objection to the curriculum materials.

But there's a twist to this one, written about by Brian Lilley at MercatorNet:
Last January, with little fanfare, the ministry of education released a revised curriculum for all students in grades 1 through 8; the subject area sex education. Now it is important to point out that this is a revised curriculum and that sex education has been a mainstay in the province's schools for nearly 30 years. The fight over whether to have it or not is long over; the fight now is what to teach. [...]

The fight over the new curriculum has more to do with the explicit nature of some of the material aimed at later grades. By the third grade, which in Ontario generally means children aged 7 or 8 years old, teachers would introduce topics such as homosexuality, gender identity and sexual orientation. In grade six, masturbation would share time with grammar and complex math problems, while in grade seven, children would begin to learn about oral and anal sex.

If any of this makes you shake your head in wonder then you are not alone. While much of the commentary in the Canadian media has focussed on Premier Dalton McGuinty caving in to the "religious right" this is only half the story. Just days before the premier announced that "we should give this a serious rethink", a group of Evangelical Christian groups announced that they planned a mass protest on the lawn of the legislature to denounce the government's plans as "indoctrination." These groups are now blamed for the program's cancellation, but they simply raised the alarm on the issue. They had no power to stop it because, quite simply, the Christian right in Canada is not that strong.

Yes, Ontario's publicly funded Catholic school system balked at teaching these subjects, but in reality, their unique position in both constitutional and legislative terms means they never had to teach this material, regardless of ministry directives.

In the end though, what stopped the program from going ahead was the reaction of many parents, "You're going to teach my child what?"

In picking up the phone to call their local representative or a talk radio program, parents let their voices be heard. The government is now promising greater input from parents in the revision of the revised curriculum, "I think we have learned, in this particular case, that parents do want to know when there are changes.", Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky told reporters after the program was cancelled.
In this Canadian version of a familiar story, it wasn't just religious right parents or even Catholic parents (since Catholic schools weren't impacted) whose objection to the revised curriculum led to its cancellation. It was just parents; it was a widespread, community effort from people who looked at the materials and said, in effect, "No way. You're not teaching this graphic, unnecessary, inappropriate material to my child."

And that's a good sign, because there's every reason to believe that these fights are just beginning.

One one side of the battle are professional educators, bureaucrats, and the state itself, all in collusion to insist that they know what is best for children, and that the children themselves have the right to whatever education the professionals decide they should have, regardless of parental beliefs--even when the professionals think it's fine to teach relatively young children about oral and anal sex in a morals-free context.

On the other side, of course, are parents, who believe that their right to direct the upbringing and education of their own children is a God-given right which existed long before the modern state, and that their children have the right not to be taught one set of values at home, only to have those values contradicted, ignored, marginalized and overridden in the classroom, creating confusion and turmoil for the child.

Parents who are generally described as members of the Religious Right have been engaging in these battles, at least in America, for some time now. But if parents are going to defend parental rights against the modern state, it will be necessary for parents from every sort of background to agree to the general principle that parents do, indeed, have the right to direct the upbringing and education of their own children.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Prayer request

Those of you who know my sweet sister-in-law have read her recent sad news. She is asking for prayers, particularly for tomorrow morning.

I would like to gather some prayers for her here. If you will say an "Our Father" or a "Hail Mary" before tomorrow morning for my sister-in-law as she grieves her loss, will you say so in the comment box?

Thanks so much!

A post full of links

Once again, it's Thursday, choir practice day, and I'm out of time to blog; I've got to start making dinner in a few minutes.

So I'll just share a few of the things I "collected" this week, in no particular order:

1. The pope asked bloggers to give the Internet a soul. Tragically, several top Catholic bloggers thought the pontiff said to give the Internet "soul," not "a soul," and immediately translated all their posts into jive. And if you don't get that joke, you're a lot younger than I am. :)

2. Following the nasty attack on the Holy Father by idiot wunderbrats at Great Britain's Foreign Office, UK Telegraph blogger Damian Thompson asks, "Well, really, were you surprised?" Given that thanks to the British education system nearly one in five Brits thinks that "haggis" is a wild creature that roams the hills of Scotland, well, no, I'm not, actually.

3. Christmas in April? LarryD has the scoop: British madness apparently doesn't end with pope-bashing and haggis-sightings. It's just too inconvenient for some, apparently, to have to deal with church-stuff at Christmas--why, people have better things to do at Christmas than go to church, especially if those things involve bashing the pope, consuming large quantities of inebriating beverages in the company of family and friends, and trying to outdo Americans in terms of trite consumerism.

4. While the Arizona immigration law is worthy of intelligent discussion, and while I hope to do some at least quasi-intelligent discussing of it myself in the coming days, the MSM proves that even on a serious issue like immigration it's possible for them to be unbelievable idiotic, as this tv newsflash headline proclaiming "Arizona Law 'Makes it a Crime to be Illegal Immigrant'" illustrates amply.

5. Finally, while lots of people have written about the terrific new Oklahoma law requiring women to have ultrasounds and hear a description of the baby's development, I was amused at this AP article's quote from the "Center for Reproductive Rights," as follows: "The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights has said it is one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country." This law doesn't stop a single woman from having a single abortion, but it's one of the "strictest" pro-life laws because women have to look at the living, moving child inside them before signing off on the contract to kill?

That's it for today!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


First, click here.

Then, click here.

(Okay, so we have to wait until Advent 2011, most likely, to start using them at Mass. But still.)

A very important concept

John Zmirak has written a truly interesting, thought-provoking article at InsideCatholic today:
There's something else going on. As Dorothy Sayers once observed of Goethe's Faust, "He is much better served by exploiting our virtues than by appealing to our lower passions." Some of the worst crimes in European history were committed by men devoted to Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. These values, as John Paul wrote in Memory and Identity, are secular forms of the theological virtues Faith, Hope, and Charity. Why should it surprise us that the Father of Lies can mislead men into misreading even these? I've written here before of the toxic trap that Mother Angelica calls Misguided Compassion. What if we are nowadays facing, even among the most sincere Catholics, distortions of the theological virtues -- Blind Faith, False Hope, and Bankrupt Charity? While the genuine articles are infused directly by God, such counterfeits are cobbled together out of one-sided theology and our sentiments.

There's one sure test for determining whether an action really lives up to the theological virtue we hope we're practicing. It's simple: Does this action violate any natural virtues along the way? For instance, a citizen who listens to clerics pontificate about politics and follows their lead in supporting policies that destroy the sovereignty and civic order of his country may think that by deferring to churchmen he is practicing the virtue of Faith. But if the laws he favors violate Justice, he's deeply mistaken. A priest who fears that his congregation won't obey the moral law, so for the sake of their salvation he decides not to preach on controversial topics like contraception -- how sound is his Hope for their souls?

Coming back to Cardinal Castrillón: When he held the paternal bond between a bishop and his priest as more sacred than the right of the community to punish sex abusers, was he upholding the bond of Charity that ought to unite those who head the Church to its members? It must have seemed so at the time. Such sins smell and look like lilies. But they flank a coffin.

Lying dead and stiff inside that box is natural Justice, an attribute of God as much as His Mercy. Simple Justice is what each of us owes the other in an unconditional debt. We cannot violate that Justice in pursuit of Faith, Hope, or Charity. When we contemplate any action that stokes in us the sentiment that we're being "more radically Christian" and really "living the gospel" by going beyond "merely natural" virtues, every alarm bell in our conscience should start going off. We can no more attain theological virtues by violating the natural ones than we can build the dome on a cathedral by pulling steel from its foundations.
I can't tell you how important I think this is, and how few Catholics there are who understand it; I myself have only really started to understand this within the recent past. The four cardinal natural virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and as this article so clearly points out, these virtues are not to be dismissed just because we think a theological virtue (faith, hope, or charity) demands it. Yet to look at just one example--how many members of the Legion of Christ or Regnum Christi understood this? How many times were they asked to ignore prudence ("Sure, you can take on another apostolate for the Kingdom! God is asking you!"), justice ("Your family will just have to learn that your work for the Movement is important, more important than fulfilling your wifely or motherly duties!") fortitude ("Stay away from all those anti-Legion websites and their hurtful rumors, or your faith might be shaken!") or even temperance ("You know, other families in your daughter's Challenge group bought ten tickets each for the PureFashion show...").

But I'm not just singling out the Legion here. I've heard good, intelligent Catholics of every sort react to the notion that prudence should have some play in their decision-making as if the person making the suggestion was in league with the Tempter; why, faith in God is all that is necessary, even if one's actions repeatedly cause one to end up broke, or exhausted, or the victim of some new swindle dressed up to look like a legitimate Christian ministry. Justice and fortitude are perhaps less often swept aside, at least from the vantage point of an ordinary Catholic laywoman, but temperance--ah, temperance! Within the Catholic world, as within the wider secular world, there are two extremes when it comes to temperance, which the Catechism defines in part as "...the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods." (CCC 1809). Catholics, no surprise, are often as bad as everybody else when it comes to pursuing the consumerist dream our culture holds out as the highest possible human achievement--but what really makes it bad is when some fellow Catholic has bought into that "Prayer of Jabez" nonsense and decided that God really, really wants His friends to be rich and successful.

The point is, God never asks us to lay aside prudence, justice, fortitude, or temperance--or, indeed, any other virtue--as a test of our faith, or of our hope, or of our charity. He may, and does, ask us to lay aside other things to follow His will: selfishness, laziness, fear, inertia, anger, pride, and so forth; but these things are not even remotely virtuous, and laying them aside to embrace His will is a natural and necessary thing to do.

Restore the order!

There's a mildly amusing joke told, that goes something like this:

Three men, an Evangelical pastor, a Lutheran minister, and a Catholic priest were conversing about various problems they had. The Evangelical pastor announced, "We're having a terrible time with bats in the church attic. I've prayed to the Lord to make them leave, and some men of the congregation put traps in the attic, but no luck."

"I have the same problem!" exclaimed the Lutheran minister. "I hired an exterminator, at great expense, but we still have bats. How about you?" he added, turning to the Catholic priest.

"Oh, we got rid of our bats," the priest replied.

"How did you do it?" the others asked eagerly.

"Simple," said the Catholic priest. "I had the bishop come out to the parish and administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to all the bats. We haven't seen them since."

For Catholics, this joke's "wince factor" comes from the unpleasant truth of it. So many young people seem to stop coming to Mass altogether once they've been Confirmed, as if they were only staying for that sacrament to please their parents. Thus far, many bishops seem to try to handle the problem by pushing the age of Confirmation back later and later--to eighth grade, ninth, tenth, or to the age of sixteen, and so on. In addition to that there are all sorts of strange "requirements" added to the pursuit of Confirmation, including "community service" projects of sometimes dubious value and mandatory overnight co-ed retreats, not exactly the sort of thing Catholic parents want their teens to be doing. But, after all, goes a common train of thought, if the Sacrament of Confirmation is all about one's child making his own choice to practice the faith, if it's about his maturity and commitment to the Church, then what's wrong with requiring these sorts of things?

The trouble is, the Sacrament of Confirmation isn't about any such things, as Msgr. Charles Pope so brilliantly writes here:
Some one once said that Confirmation is the Sacrament in search of a theology. While not true the statement does capture that there is a lot of incorrect and sometimes silly teaching about this sacrament to young people. It is the season for Confirmations and I want to explore the what the Catechism teaches about the sacrament but first exclude certain common but incorrect notions about Confirmation.

1. Confirmation is not a Sacrament of Maturity – Canon Law (891) states that Confirmation is generally to be administered at about the age of discretion, which age is understood to be seven (Canon 97.2). It may be administered earlier if there is “danger of death” or “grave cause,” The same Canon allows the conference of bishops to determine another age” for reception of the sacrament. While one may argue that a later date for the Sacrament is pastorally advisable, (e.g. to keep young people engaged in catechetical instruction) one simply cannot argue that it is a “Sacrament of maturity” when Church law generally presupposes its celebration at the age of seven. This is made clearer by the fact that most Eastern Churches, and the Orthodox confirm infants.

2. Confirmation is not “becoming an adult in the Church.” – This is just plain silly. I was taught this as a mere seventh grader and found it laughable even then. Seventh graders are not adults. They are children and remain so even after confirmation.

3. Confirmation is not a sacrament where one claims or affirms the faith for himself – Baptism confers faith. To claim that Confirmation “allows me to speak for myself” is to imply that this is how faith comes about. It is to imply that baptism somehow did not actually give real faith and now I am getting it by “speaking for myself.” Faith is a gift, it is not something I cause by speaking for myself, it is something I receive as unmerited and as free. I received faith at baptism. Confirmation strengthens faith that is already there but it does not cause it. Further it is a bit of a stretch to say that seventh or eighth graders really “speak for themselves.”

4. Confirmation does not “complete Christian initiation” and “make me a full Catholic.” – One of the problems with delaying confirmation is that the three sacraments of initiation are celebrated out of proper order. The proper order of celebration is: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion. Hence it is Holy Communion that completes initiation not confirmation. That we celebrate it out of order creates a lot of confusion and makes initiation a little murky. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults observes the proper order. Some diocese in this country have returned to this for children as well. In a couple of diocese of which I am aware the bishop comes to the parish and confirms the seven year old children and then, at the same Mass, gives them First Holy Communion.

Do read the whole post to see Msgr. Pope's equally brilliant explanation of what confirmation actually is.

The trouble with making confirmation a sort of (forgive me!) "Rite of Hanging On to Our Teenagers in Church As Long As We Possibly Can and Making Them Jump Through Dozens of Hoops in order to Receive Sacramental Grace They Could Have Used Starting About Ten Years Ago" is that the beautiful reality of what Confirmation is--or is not--is blurred, and the whole Sacrament of Confirmation starts to look more and more like a sort of Catholic Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah, which, of course, it isn't.

Worse, the ancient order of the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, then Confirmation, then First Holy Communion, is completely disrupted. While this order is still in force in the case of converts received into the Church, as Msgr. Pope points out above, for cradle Catholics the "final" Sacrament of Initiation, First Holy Communion, can be and often is received nearly a whole decade before Confirmation!

The past two popes have spoken about restoring the order of the Sacraments of Initiation. Some Catholic bishops have started to move toward this restored order, and individual pastors have also done so. I think it would be wonderful if in the Roman Rite this order were formally required except in individual cases of pastoral necessity.

The idea that moving Confirmation to the "last place" position among the Sacraments of Initiation would somehow increase the maturity and responsibility of adult Catholics--even though that's not at all what the sacrament is about--can be shown to have been a bad idea without much effort at all. While catechesis is a life-long occupation of the serious Catholic, merely dangling Confirmation over the heads of young adults as some sort of "carrot" that will somehow lead them to follow the "stick" of Catholicism--at least until they are 16--is ultimately a notion that presupposes that Catholicism has nothing of value to offer to teens and young adults, who must be made to stay in the Church by external means.

But perhaps, if the strengthening of the faith which is one of the effects of Confirmation were to be received much earlier, we would not have to "trick" young adults into remaining active Catholics. It might be possible for them, without any dumbing-down or cheesy pandering at all, to appreciate, love, and treasure the gift of their Catholic faith--aided, of course, by the Holy Spirit Whom they have received, along with the outpourings of His generous gifts.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Good thing I'm not in charge

My second post from this unusual source is coming from one of their blogs, written by Bryan Cones. Cones is writing about the Legion of Christ--and he isn't pulling any punches:

The Maciel case is a perfect example of seeing only what one wants to see, and one reason why victims of child sexual abuse are rarely believed. Who could imagine that someone so "holy" could ever be guilty of such crimes?

Maciel's victims, including his own biological children, continue to suffer, and the fact that the Legion of Christ still exists is a scandal. It was created completely in immorality through a web of deception and abuse woven by a man whose behavior can only be described as sociopathic. The order purchased its influence with the kind of bribery that would make the characters of the Godfather blush. And through its many arms, including Regnum Christi and the National Catholic Register, it has sown nothing but discord in the Body of Christ.

There is only one remedy for this corruption, and that is to eliminate it. The Legion of Christ must be suppressed, along with Regnum Christi. Its members must be helped to discern new communities in which to live out their vocations, and the order's billions of dollars in assets and institutions must be investigated and disposed of according to church law.

I have an easy time sympathizing with these words. But I recognize that the Holy Father may choose to act in a different manner, out of concern for those people, priests and lay, who are still so bound up in the Legion. I think the end result--the eventual disappearance of the Legion--will be the same whatever intermediate actions may be taken; I just realize that the Holy Father's pastoral care for the people still very much caught up in the Legion may make the total suppression of the Legion at this time not the best option (however much I might personally think it a good idea).

To put this in blunt language, I'd be pretty happy if the Holy Father also decided to suppress some of the orders--or at least local houses of orders--of nuns who may have been found to be more or less openly heretical during this apostolic visitation. I can't be sure how the blog writer at U.S. Catholic would feel about that, though. I think it's possible that he might argue that among those congregations were entirely innocent members who perhaps misunderstood or failed to grasp the seriousness of the group's slide into heterodoxy. Those members should be treated with pastoral concern, should they not?

Again, I'm not saying that out of my own desires. If it were up to me, I'd probably suppress the Legion outright and shut down all dissenting religious orders; then I'd can a couple hundred bishops (worldwide) and give Father Z. a red hat and make him head of the CDF (accepting Cdl. Levada's retirement, of course).

Good thing I'm not in charge. :)

A sign of hope

My posts today are coming from a source I don't usually read, let alone quote from or link to. Let's face it, the publication U.S. Catholic has not exactly been a hotbed of orthodoxy--though I find it extremely interesting that on that main page to which the first link takes you, there is a poll about what language people would prefer to hear the Mass prayed in, and Latin is winning at 58% of the votes (with 29% for "in a translation of Latin that is as literal as possible" and only 13% for "in a translation that is in natural, easy-to-understand English").

Still, I found this article to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read:
As a younger generation of priests joins and replaces an older generation, parishes across the country are feeling the change. City by city, diocese by diocese, it is a changing of guards that is neither swift nor soundless and comes with no choreography to guide the steps.

Many young priests arrive with an unabated zeal for the church, a solid grasp of liturgical rubrics, and a preference, if not insistence, for traditions of the past. They call themselves “JPII priests” because their formative years were shaped by Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. They are unafraid to preach on touchier moral teachings and eager to share rituals they consider timeless—ones their gray-haired peers often interpret as a step backward from the hard-won changes of the Second Vatican Council.[...]

All Catholics are priests, prophets, and kings,” says Father Randal Kasel, 37, who serves at St. Charles in Bayport, Minnesota . “The priest in a particular way is meant to be a priest at a parish, and he has all those roles. That’s why there needs to be a sense of closeness but also just a little bit of distance. It’s hard for priests to do, because I want people to like me. But I can’t be true to myself and reject my role. What happens when you’re too close to people who you also have to govern? What happens when you have to say something a little difficult or you need to correct someone?”[...]

Kasel looks at his relationship with his parish through a different lens. “I love being a priest,” he says. “But it’s not easy. It’s a lot about being willing to suffer with people and for people. The priesthood is an intense life of grace with Jesus, to lead others to him and to face the same things he did—the opposition as well as the blessings, the miracles and the great disappointments. At my parish I’m trying to do what the church wants, and I’m doing it as generously, charitably, and patiently as I can.”

That can result in policies that ruffle feathers, such as Kasel’s emphasis on boy altar servers—without rejecting the girls who had been on board. “If they wanted to stay on, I’ve told them they could,” he says. A few have.

Kasel explains: “Only men can be priests, and the church sees serving at the altar as the first step toward being a priest. Is it really fair to the girl to have her at the altar if she can’t become a priest?”

But it can be hard to swallow if your daughter wants to be an altar server, as was the case for Bridgann Overmann, 68, of Marion, Iowa, when her daughter was young and their priest did not allow her to serve.

“I was not happy about it at all,” recalls Overmann, who didn’t want any obstacles to her daughter’s engagement in the church.

Overmann also resists the use of Latin in Mass. “I don’t think that’s moving forward,” she says. “Latin is a beautiful language, but we don’t understand it.”

Do go and read the whole two-page article. The author, Christina Capecchi, does a good job of showing some of the conflict and tension that can arise when a new, young, traditional priest arrives at a parish where an older, less traditional priest--or parish mindset--has been the dominant force. Of course, a more traditional publication would point to this mindset, or this "older" pastoral style, as having arisen mainly from misunderstandings about the Second Vatican Council, and of being deficient in many of its ideas about the priesthood, the role of priests vs. the role of the laity, and so on--but Capecchi does illustrate that whether we more traditional sorts like it or not, the greatest opposition we are likely to have to what our Holy Father calls the "reform of the reform" is not coming from the clergy, but from the people in the pews.

I've seen this attitude myself, in both of the parishes I've been a member of in the last decade. In the first, some of the older choir members were dismayed by a plan to sing more Latin at Mass--for them, Latin conjured up images of dark, silent churches, a priest with his back to the people, women forbidden from any participation other than membership in the Altar Society, etc. In the second, a gentleman spoke quite passionately to me about his dislike of the "old, traditional" music we were singing (most of it English) because he thought the young people would be driven away from the Church with all of that musty old stuff that wasn't "relevant" to their lives. I've also heard people praise some rather ugly modern hymn with "Oh, I'm so glad you sang that! I love that song--I've loved it for years!" and that sort of thing.

It will surprise no one that I think these attitudes are entirely erroneous. For the first, I think honestly that the women--and it's always women--who tearfully or angrily say such things are confusing the Church with their memories of what life in general was like for women in their young days. Though many people coat the past in rosy hues, it's quite discernible from history that women weren't always treated as if they were intelligent, capable, thoughtful equals to their male counterparts (just do a search for sexist vintage advertising, if you don't believe me--but be careful; some of those ads are shockingly unfit for children's eyes). Sadly, I think that some older Catholic women associate those attitudes with the Church; they may even have encountered them in their parishes when they were young. So anything that even reminds them of those past days becomes coated in their memories with a whole lot of other, negative memories or emotions--leading to a reflexive rejection of Latin or of anything that smacks of tradition.

As for the other attitudes--the idea that young people need the Church to be "hip" or "relevant" or that one's personal tastes are enough to guide the Church in matters of liturgy and worship--they are both based on a misunderstanding of who the Church is and what her mission is. The Church is the bride of Christ, and her mission is the salvation of souls. She transcends the things of earth, even when she is making use of them. Thus, the idea that to attract young people the Church needs to employ various trendy songs or art or architecture is tragically wrong--especially so when the music, art, architecture etc. is not even remotely trendy, but was momentarily popular approximately forty years ago. There is nothing a young person of today will find less appealing than the music his parents or grandparents sang at Mass forty years ago. Nothing sounds more horribly dated than something like this, and teens today are going to reject it as hopelessly lame, not appreciate it as something that is in any way relevant to them.

And that's the problem--the Church, which is ancient and universal, simply can't bend to the immediate tastes and trends of one location in time and space. She will do better to reach out to young people--and all people--with what is true, and beautiful, and lasting, and good. Music like this, perhaps, and art like this, and architecture like this.

That the new, young, "JP II" priests understand this is a sign of hope for the Church.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Any greater indication

I found this interesting:
Pope Benedict XVI is about to release a letter announcing the creation of a new Vatican dicastery called the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. The new department will be aimed at bringing the Gospel back to Western societies that have lost their Christian identity.

Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican correspondent for the daily Il Giornale who is usually well-informed on new appointments at the Vatican, wrote today that “Benedict does not cease to surprise: in the upcoming week the creation of a new dicastery of the Roman Curia dedicated to the evangelization of the West will be announced, and be presided over by Archbishop Rino Fisichella.”

The new dicastery is aimed at evangelizing “countries where the Gospel has been announced centuries ago, but where its presence in their peoples' daily life seems to be lost. Europe, the United States and Latin America would be the areas of influence of the new structure,” Il Giornale says.

According to Tornielli, the new dicastery would be “the most important novelty of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, a Pope that, according to the expectations, was supposed to slim down the Roman Curia.”

Hmm. Countries where, to quote the excerpt with a little added emphasis, "...the Gospel has been announced centuries ago, but where its presence in their peoples' daily life seems to be lost."

Including the United States. Not to mention Europe and Latin America.

If there is any greater indication of the failure of the bishops of the present age to present the truth of Christianity as an alternative to the despair, sinful carnality, unthinking consumption and ceaseless demand for mindless entertainment of questionable value as the pinnacles of human existence which characterizes these regions of the world than the creation of this dicastery, I simply can't imagine what it would be.

The Personhood of Truth

In the aftermath of the tragic plane crash that killed Poland's president along with 96 other people, many of them high-ranking political officials, the president's identical twin brother has decided to run for election:

Polish opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced Monday that he would run in June's snap election to become president in succession to his identical twin who was killed in an air crash in Russia.

The controversial former prime minister had kept Poles guessing about his plans since the April 10 disaster that killed president Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other senior Polish political and military figures.

"Poland is our common, great responsibility. It demands that we overcome personal suffering to take action despite a personal tragedy," Kaczynski said in a statement on the website of his Law and Justice (PiS) party.

I haven't written much about this tragedy for the simple but unfortunate reason that like many Americans, I lack enough knowledge about the political realities of foreign countries to comment intelligently about them. I didn't know, for instance, that Lech Kaczynski was considered a pro-life leader until after his death, even though in 2006 he and his twin brother opposed changing the status quo of Poland's present laws in favor of an all-out ban on abortion. I don't know about the political climate of Poland from which arose some of the protests over the decision to bury Lech Kaczynski at Wawel Cathedral.

What I can say is that in some ways this whole matter is a tragedy, and soon it will be a history--that is, it will become part of the history of Poland, a nation that has had more than its share of tragedies. What it could never be, though, is fiction--at least, not outside of a certain fiction market in which tragic plane crashes and identical twin brothers is part of the ordinary fare.

The little adage "Truth is stranger than fiction," is tossed around so much that it has almost become a cliche in its own right--and it brings to mind an even older quote, to the effect that there is nothing new under the sun. Taken together, these things point to something rather interesting: truth is older than humanity, and stranger than all of man's inventions.

There is a tendency in the modern age to think quite the opposite. There is a tendency to think that "truth" means what can be empirically proven to have some physical existence, and that anything which can't be reduced to its physical components must not actually be true. Even though there are plenty of moderns who will voice exactly that, there are few willing to take this hideous notion to its terminal points--for if truth equals empiricism, then tragedies and histories, poetry and art, emotion, reflection, memory, and all such things are not really an experience of what is true, but only a pleasant sort of fiction which each person decides upon for himself, based on a few random biochemical reactions entirely out of any person's control.

Oh, sure, science is capable of smiling at the evidence of history, of saying, "Yes, certainly, a great battle took place here, for we still observe the scarring of the land and the bits and pieces left of the implements of doom." But the reasons for the battle, the heroism and nobility of some and the cowardice and treachery of others, fades into an indistinct fog, capable of endless variations of interpretation, as human inventiveness unconsciously strives to become stranger than truth. In the end, scholars of history, or of literature, or of a million other things that don't mean much when observed under a microscope, are left saying, "Well, that might be true for you, but it isn't true for me," in areas ranging from theology to applied economics (in proof of which, see only the recent financial crises).

With this kind of attitude, not even the facts of history are all that safe. Conspiracy theories are already swirling around the story of the plane crash in Poland; ideas about what the effects of the tragedy will be for the nation are voiced; and in the endless streams of chatter the very facts may end up obscured, give or take a few hundred years' progression in time.

So what is true? What is truth?

Pontius Pilate asked that question, too. And, indeed, it seems to me that the only way for the whole notion of Truth to make any sense at all is to see it not as some abstract and beautiful ideal or quaint and old-fashioned notion, but as a Person.

A Person, who knows each of us and loves us beyond our imaginings. A Person, who records not only the fall of the sparrow but the final moments of a plane-full of terrified people, and of the elderly person slowly wearing out his or her days, and of each of us, young or old, who has shared for even the tiniest of moments in this thing called human life. A Person who has seen everything, from the dawn of time--yes, before recorded history--to the end of the world. A Person who not only understands fully the laws of science, but who authored those laws.

To seek the Truth is to seek to grasp, for one brief moment, one tiny glimpse of the smallest corner of the mind of God. Compared to the great vastness and depth and strength of Truth, it is no wonder that mere human fictions are enormously tame and predictable, and that a real tragedy however big or small eclipses the best efforts of the most creative tellers of tales.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Massive spring cleaning is in progress at the Manning house.... expect blogging to resume really late tonight. Or else tomorrow.

See you soon!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A different kind of Stockholm Syndrome

I'm pressed for time this afternoon, but I didn't want to forget to post this outrageous story:

STOCKHOLM, April 21, 2010 ( – Swedish authorities will convene soon to decide what to do about seven-year-old Dominic Johansson, who was seized by Swedish police and social workers last year because his parents chose to educate him at home.

The Home School Legal Defense Association reports they have learned that the "Swedish Social Services Committee" has scheduled to meet on April 23 to decide whether or not they will return custody of Dominic to his parents, Christer and Annie Johansson.

In June, the Johannsons watched in horror as police snatched their son off the plane they were taking in order to move to Annie’s homeland of India. Police boarded the plane just one minute before its scheduled take-off and placed Dominic in the custody of social services.

Since that day, authorities have allowed the Johanssons only one-hour visits with their son – once every five weeks.

"Sadly, there has been no other change in the status of 7-year-old Dominic Johansson, forcibly separated from his parents, Christer and Annie, more than 10 months ago,” HSLDA said in a statement. “Dominic continues to be held in state custody in a foster home. His parents are allowed monitored visits with him only once [for an hour] every five weeks. The situation remains one of intense difficulty for the family.”

See, if you're trying to homeschool in Sweden, apparently moving to a different country in order to be free to homeschool is not an acceptable way to thwart the government goons who think the state owns the child.

There are links at the original article to help you express your outrage directly to Swedish officials. In the meantime, I'm toying with the notion of encouraging homeschoolers to boycott every product made in Sweden or sold by any company headquartered there. There's a helpful list here, if anyone thinks this might be a good idea; for myself, I'm thinking that the only power big enough to thwart the will of an out-of-control government are those huge corporations who rely on international sales (particularly lots and lots of American dollars) to keep going.

If you've got better ideas, please mention them in the comment box! Like I said, I'm a bit out of time today--but the whole notion that a government could deprive a family of their son for the "crime" of homeschooling, even when that family was in the very act of moving to a less-totalitarian country, should give everyone chills.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sauce for the gander

Well, now, this is interesting:

Three bisexual men are suing a national gay-athletic organization, saying they were discriminated against during the Gay Softball World Series held in the Seattle area two years ago.

The three Bay Area men say the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance in essence deemed them not gay enough to participate in the series.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle accuses the alliance of violating Washington state laws barring discrimination. The alliance organizes the annual Gay Softball World Series.

Beth Allen, the alliance's attorney, said the lawsuit is unwarranted and that the three plaintiffs "were not discriminated against in any unlawful manner."

In any case, Allen said, the alliance is a private organization and, as such, can determine its membership based on its goals.

Whether the alliance is public or private will likely have to be determined in court, since the plaintiffs characterize the alliance as a "public accommodation" that's open to the public and uses public softball fields. [...]

Each of the three plaintiffs was called into a conference room in front of more than 25 people, and was asked "personal and intrusive questions" about his sexual attractions and desires, purportedly to determine if the player was heterosexual or gay, the lawsuit alleges. The alliance has no category or definition for bisexual or transgender people in its rules, the plaintiff's attorney said.

At one point during the proceedings, the lawsuit alleges, one of the plaintiffs was told: "This is the Gay World Series, not the Bisexual World Series."

The alliance ruled the three men were "nongay," stripped D2 of its second-place finish and recommended that the three players be suspended from participating in the World Series for a year, according to the suit.

The men are asking for $75,000 each for emotional distress. They're also seeking to invalidate the alliance's findings on the men's sexual orientations and to reinstate D2's second-place World Series finish.

See, now, I'd tend to agree with the alliance, though our views about the morality of homosexual sex are worlds apart. If they're a private organization, then they have the right to set the rules about who is allowed to join their teams.

The problem is that the homosexual community have been the ones insisting that the Boy Scouts of America are a "public accommodation" and should be kicked off of public lands, fields, etc. for their continuing practice of barring homosexual Scout leaders. If they're going to use public facilities, argue the gay activists, then they can't bar homosexuals from acting as Scout leaders.

But that kind of rule is a double-edged sword when applied to gay groups wishing to set their own memberships. By the gay community's own arguments against the Boy Scouts, unless the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance is willing to rent or buy private land on which to hold their practices and games, they are engaging in an unjust and possibly illegal discrimination to forbid bisexuals, transgendered people, or even heterosexuals from joining their teams.

It's funny, but it doesn't seem to have occurred to same-sex advocates that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander--and what is sauce for one sort of gander is sauce for any other sort. If the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance is forced to choose between renting private fields or allowing as many heterosexuals/bisexuals/etc. to join their teams as request to join, then they'll be in pretty much the same position that gay activists have been trying to put the Boy Scouts in all these years.

Marriage is a dance

Ninety-four year old Mary Coffey is dying of congestive heart failure. Well, that's okay, she says--she's lived a full life. But there was one last thing she wanted to do:
Her late husband proposed to her while they were dancing the waltz. She said she believed it was their weekly ballroom sessions that kept the marriage alive. [...]

Coffey has congestive heart failure and doctors have given her six months to live. Volunteers at Mesquite's Christian Care Center asked Coffey what she still wanted to do before she dies; what was on her bucket list?

"She said she would like to have a waltz, one last waltz," said Georgia Place, with the Christian Care Center.

So Place said she and some others decided they would make Coffey's dream come true. They found her a pink dress, tiara, a live band, limo, and – of course – dance partners.

The Dallas Arboretum served as the backdrop during Tuesday night's Concert Series In The Park. The first song ended up being Coffey's last dance.

"If I go tonight, I know I will go to a better place and happy because I have relatives to see," she said.

When asked how Coffey felt about her "last dance," she said it was the last one on this planet but there is still a place where she will have another spin on the dance floor: Heaven.
If you can go to the link and watch the video to the right of the story without tearing up, you're made of much sterner stuff than I am.

Now, I'm a terrible dancer myself, though Thad is a great one. I remember when we were dating, and we were invited to the wedding of friends of his, he tried to teach me to dance, just a few ballroom steps. We had a tape-player (yes, cassette tapes, for the younger of my readers) and a space in the upstairs hallway of my parents' home which was free of furniture and thus less risky for an utter klutz like I am. I didn't learn to dance, but I did learn that this man I was falling in love with was patient, kind, with a good sense of humor and plenty of determination. I can't hear the song Cherry Pink and Apple-Blossom White without remembering those dance sessions, and the feelings I was starting to have for the sweet man who was trying against insurmountable odds to teach me to dance.

But whether you can dance or not, it's true that marriage is a dance. It takes a man and a woman acting with the same kind of unity that dance partners exhibit--a unity which respects the individual, but is ordered toward a reality greater than each. In marriage, the equation is not one plus one equals two; it is one plus one plus God equals--one. We could never achieve that unity without the sacramental grace of the sacrament, just as the dancers would find it hard to achieve unity without dance steps and music.

Tomorrow Thad and I will celebrate our anniversary. I still can't dance--but that doesn't stop me from understanding Mary Coffey's story, from understanding that the dance of love that is at the heart of marriage is something transcendent and lasting. I'm blessed beyond words to be married to someone who exhibits that understanding of love and marriage in everything he is and does, every day we share in the sacramental unity of our lives together.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We interrupt this blog to clean out music...

I did plan to blog today--honest. :)

But I've been putting off a certain chore, the "organize the choir music" chore, far too long. When you have five copies of just about every piece of vocal music handed out or purchased for your parish choir over the last several years, with three different choir directors (with their own ideas about music etc.) in that time, you end up with a lot of music.

So, I've dumped folders and arranged songs in alphabetical piles preparatory to placing them back in portfolios so we can, hopefully, find music, psalm settings, etc. as each liturgical season approaches, instead of scrambling around and acquiring new copies of things we probably already have. Now I just have to put things away--and haul out to the trash the overstuffed bag of lists, extras, and pieces we don't need anymore.

A piece I wish we could sing is the one embedded below. Alas, we have no basses, we have no organ, and the congregation would never put up with six whole minutes (give or take) of music after Communion. But one can dream.

The price of choice

I'm up too late, absolutely in awe of the videos at this site.

The EHD, or Endowment for Human Development, takes a neutral position on bioethics issues (e.g. abortion, etc.). This should make it clear that the materials on the site are not driven by some sort of pro-life agenda and thus, to some people, dismissible--the governing principle here is science.

Consider that according to the information here the embryo by six to eight weeks following conception can move her hands and demonstrate right or left-handed preferences, will show a startle response and can hiccup, and that her ovaries are identifiable by seven weeks; her heart has been beating from 3 weeks, one day after fertilization and some primitive brain activity can be measured by six weeks, two days after fertilization. (I would defer to Dr. Gerard Nadal if any of this information is incorrect.)

When do most women have abortions? Over half of all abortions take place in the first trimester. Aside from so-called "medical abortions" such as those using RU-486, though, most surgical abortions aren't done until the sixth week of pregnancy--for the gruesome reason that performing a surgical abortion earlier might fail to remove all of the tiny embryo, and leaving anything behind increases the woman's risk for a repeat abortion or for infections.

So the vast majority of abortions in America are killing a little girl like the one whose ovaries are visible at seven weeks in the video you can see here, or a little boy the same age, fingers, toes, brain, heartbeat, and all. Our culture has decided that the price of "choice," which requires the brutal tearing apart and destruction of these living beings and the disposal of their tiny bodies as so much garbage, is a perfectly acceptable one to pay.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The idea is crazy

This may be one to watch: a Christian student group wants to be a recognized group on a university campus, but the university won't let them--because they want to restrict the membership to Christians:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seemed to split sharply Monday on whether a law school can deny recognition to a Christian student group that won't let gays join, a case that could determine whether nondiscrimination policies trump the rights of private organizations to determine who can — and cannot — belong.

In arguments tinged with questions of religious, racial and sexual discrimination, the court heard from the Christian Legal Society, which wants recognition from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law as an official campus organization with school financing and benefits.

Hastings, located in San Francisco, turned them down, saying no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

The Christian group requires that voting members sign a statement of faith. The group also regards "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle" as being inconsistent with the statement of faith.

"CLS has all of its activities entirely open to everyone," lawyer Michael McConnell said. "What it objects to is being run by non-Christians."

The case could have wider ramifications, though:

"If Hastings is correct, a student who does not even believe in the Bible is entitled to demand to lead a Christian Bible study, and if CLS does not promise to allow this, the college will bar them," said McConnell, a former judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

University lawyer Gregory Garre pointed out that it requires the same thing from all groups that want to operate on campus.

"It is so weird to require the campus Republican Club to admit Democrats, not just to membership, but to officership," Justice Antonin Scalia said. "To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes, right? That's crazy."

Other justices questioned where a ruling for the Christian group would lead.

I think this case is an interesting one because it doesn't just involve freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but also the freedom of assembly and association. People can (and will) argue that the Christian group is free to meet--off campus, with no official recognition by the school, and with no access to the funding that other student groups can access, but that's the price they have to pay for being "intolerant" and "exclusive."

But that's really just begging the question. The Christian group has said that its activities will be open to anyone--there's no secret purpose of discrimination here. What they want is to keep the voting membership to those who share the group's values and purpose for existence. But apparently in twenty-first century America such a mild request is proof of discriminatory intent and hostile bigotry against those who aren't Christian.

Taken to its logical conclusions, though, as Justice Scalia does, the idea is crazy. College Republicans shouldn't have their agendas set by voting members who are Democrats; a same-sex advocacy student group shouldn't have to allow fundamentalist Christians to vote on their policies or agenda items; a Jewish student group shouldn't have to let Muslims be voting members; and a Christian student group should not have its policies and goals at the mercy of atheist students. To demand this is to make all groups exercises in futility and lunacy, and to teach students the lesson that individuality of thought and ideas is the one form of "diversity" which simply isn't permissible, and has to be stamped out at all costs.

The sad thing is that this is, indeed, what society things of individuality of thought and ideas. It doesn't matter, for instance, to our consumerist monolith if you are a Coke addict, a member of the Pepsi generation, or even a coffee achiever, so long as you represent a diversity of caffeine consumers. But it does matter, and matters very much, if you are a serious person of faith who questions all consumption, or if you are an independent thinker who likes fountain sodas from a tiny old-fashioned soda shop, or if your religion rejects caffeine altogether; those aren't ideas to be accommodated, but crazy notions which require the bare minimum of tolerance. The analogy of beverage purchasing can only go so far, but the idea is simple: our culture loves diversity, so long as it's shallow, skin-deep, and concerned primarily with external qualities--but our culture hates the diversity that lets a serious Roman Catholic defend his Church's teachings against homosexual sex, or a serious Christian stand vigil outside an abortion clinic, or...but you get the idea.

However this case is decided, the freedoms we cherish of assembly and association are going to come under attack with greater frequency in the coming decades--because the right to gather with like-minded people will be seen as intolerant and bigoted, something that challenges our culture in ways it would rather not be challenged.

Conduct unbecoming a journalist

As covered by Life-after-RC and other sites, Father Owen Kearns issued an apology that will appear in the April 25 print edition of the National Catholic Register. You can read the whole thing here; I'd like to focus on this part:

I publicly defended our founder as spokesman for the Legion of Christ in early 1997 and as publisher in the National Catholic Register in November 2001 and May 2006. On each of these occasions I believed completely that the allegations against Father Maciel were false. I trusted him and his profession of innocence. I know now that I was wrong.

The 1997 allegations of Father Maciel’s sexual abuse came as a complete shock to the Legionaries of Christ. We couldn’t believe that the allegations against our founder were true, because they were so incompatible with our experience of him. We tended to interpret them as one more attack — something normal in the life of many founders.

Even when the Vatican invited Father Maciel in 2006 to a retired life of prayer and penance, and it was obvious to many that he was considered guilty, the absence of a public explanation for the move allowed me to hope against hope that he was innocent.

Nothing in my experience of our founder prepared me to believe his victims — nothing, that is, until I learned that he had fathered a daughter. The conclusive evidence that he had done things incompatible with religious and priestly life made me rethink everything.

In February 2009, in the edition that covered the news, I wrote that I was saddened first of all for all those hurt by his misdeeds, and I asked Register readers to pray for his victims.

Since then, other shameful and reprehensible facts we never imagined about our founder have come to light. All of these revelations have been extraordinarily difficult for me to comprehend, let alone assimilate. To avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, the Register recused itself from further reporting of the events. We adopted the objective policy of covering the scandal by using reliable news reports produced independently of the Register and of the Legionaries.

Father Kearns goes on to apologize to the late Gerald Renner and to Jason Berry by name, and to Father Maciel's victims.

Now, I'd like to begin by saying that I don't think much of the modern habit of parsing apologies to a minute degree. If someone is saying he is sorry, I think civility, let alone Christianity, demands that we take the person at his word.

However, taking someone at his word does mean being aware of his words. As the recent case of Father Pfleger illustrates, while we should be willing to accept someone's apology we can only accept what they've actually apologized for, and we can further come to some understanding of where they are by being aware of what they chose to say, and how they choose to say it. Far from "parsing" an apology, such a reading is being careful to listen to what the person is actually saying, neither to put words in his mouth nor to take away from what he has said. In Father Pfleger's case, it is not being harshly judgmental at all to say that Father Pfleger essentially apologized for being caught saying what he said, and for offending people. He did not apologize for his heterodox opinions, and indeed such an apology would be unbearably facile, when evidence indicates that he still holds those opinions, and is not even willing to admit that they are heterodox.

Thus, when reading Father Kearns's apology, I can say without any fear of being accused of rash judgment or jumping to conclusions that Father Kearns's apology is, at its core, an admission of Father Kearns's utter and abject failure--not as a Catholic priest, which is, of course, not my business to judge, but as a journalist.

Father Kearns says, in the paragraphs I quoted, that he trusted Maciel and believed in the latter's innocence at the time of the 1997 reports. Any halfway-decent journalist, however, would have spent some considerable time tracking down the allegations Berry and Renner made, and would, even in early-Internet days, have seen the disquieting similarities between what Berry and Renner were alleging and the whispered reports of problems dating back to before the foundation of the Legion, including the investigation that took place in the late 1950s. Any tenacity at all in trying to come up with evidence that would either support or deny the allegations would have led to some hard questions, even back in 1997.

But suppose we accept that Father Kearns had no reason to believe the allegations were more than malicious lies, and that Maciel's denials were convincing. We are left with the disquieting admission by Father Kearns that he continued to defend Maciel in 2001 and 2006 specifically--with, perhaps, implicit defense in the years stretching between and beyond those two points. We are further left with Father Kearns's own words that he was continuing " hope against hope..." in Maciel's innocence, even after Maciel was "invited" to retire to a life of prayer and penance.

As actions consistent with a member of a religious order and, in particular, a member of the Legion of Christ, Father Kearns's actions here are understandable--deplorable, perhaps, but understandable. But as actions consistent with those of a journalist Father Kearns's actions, or more specifically his long-continued lack of any journalistic action whatsoever, are so below the very barest minimum standard of what ought to be expected from an honest member of any branch of media as to defy description.

One might object that this is unfair, that we ought not hold Father Kearns to a journalistic standard. Consider this line, though, from Father Kearns's biography at the National Catholic Register's site: "Father Owen Kearns, a Legionary of Christ, Publisher and Editor in Chief since the Fall of 1996 of the National Catholic Register, a weekly newspaper reporting on the Catholic views of cutting edge issues." If the Register is a newspaper which reports on Catholic views of cutting edge issues, as is stated, and Father Kearns is the Publisher and Editor in Chief, then Father Kearns is a journalist, and has been one for at least fourteen years now (give or take).

Father Kearns seems to be aware of journalistic standards himself: witness that last paragraph I quoted, in which Father Kearns says that in the present time the Register has recused itself from reporting on the developing Maciel scandal to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. But there was a conflict, and that conflict was never more apparent than when Father Kearns was defending Maciel from all charges in earlier years--even if that defense gave the implication that the journalists in question were either lying or misled, and that the allegations were false and unfounded. One can't, as a journalist, have it both ways, and maintain silence once accusations have been found to be credible--but be only too willing to denounce those accusations at first reading, and while any sort of proof of the truth of those allegations is thought to be impossible, or at least highly unlikely to manifest itself.

Plenty of Catholic writers, bloggers, and commenters have been accused recently of attacking the media on the Scandal rather than dealing with the allegations. This, however, is a false charge for the most part. As a tiny and insignificant opinion blogger I have no delusions of journalism--yet common sense has led me to evaluate each new "smoking gun" pointed at the pope based on the evidence at hand. In each case the "smoking gun" has turned out to be the phantasmagorical reflection of a dripping water pistol, brought on by rich food, East Coast cocktail parties, and newsprint-fumes; but if some "bombshell" revelation really did exist independently of someone's fertile imagination, the only thing to do would be to deal with it honestly, to investigate it thoroughly and to go wherever the truth led--a job that would involve the Catholic press much more so than mere Catholic Internet commenters.

Is the National Catholic Register up to that job? By Father Kearns's extraordinary apology, it would seem that it is not. There was plenty of time between 1997 and 2006 for a Catholic newspaper to investigate the growing allegations against Maciel, the striking similarity of so many of the allegations, the mysterious travels and expenses of the founder, or so many other clues that all was not rosy in the Legion garden. The paper's Editor-in-Chief admits that he did no such thing--he simply defended "Nuestro Padre" against all such allegations, based only on his own experience with and knowledge of the man, though both led him woefully astray. Again, this may be perfectly understandable behavior for a Legion priest at that time--and it is utterly unacceptable conduct on the part of a journalist. There were too many jarring inconsistencies between the Legion founder's facade and his reality for any journalist worth his salt to ignore them all from 1997 to 2009, the year when the news of Maciel's daughter finally caused Father Kearns to begin, as he admits, to grapple with the truth.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Budget? What budget?

Now that yesterday's Tax Day has come and gone, I thought this budget-related humor from Stephan Pastis might be appropriate:

Pearls Before Swine

I really, really relate to Pig in this strip. :)

Happy birthday to two great fathers!

Today, of course, is Pope Benedict XVI's 83rd birthday, and despite all the absurd headlines following the media template (I swear, I saw one that said "Amid scandal, pope celebrates birthday...") most Catholics are quite willing to wish our Holy Father a happy birthday and pledge our support and prayers as he does more than anybody else has to tackle the problem of child sexual abuse (including the United Nations, which still allegedly has workers who have exploited children all over the globe, but it's not like there's a cover-up or anything going on there--those people, you see, have the right ideas about condoms, abortions, mindless sex acts for pleasure and the dehumanizing of the participants, etc., and thus can be indulged when they go trolling for a little third-world exploitation of underage boys and girls).

Many people are praying for Pope Benedict XVI, via special novenas and other devotions. On his birthday I'd like to add in one special prayer: this one, with the intention for the protection of the pope:
Glorious Saint Benedict, sublime model of virtue, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me humbly kneeling at your feet. I implore you in your loving kindness to pray for me before the throne of God. To you I have recourse in the dangers that daily surround me. Shield me against my selfishness and my indifference to God and to my neighbor. Inspire me to imitate you in all things. May your blessing be with me always, so that I may see and serve Christ in others and work for His kingdom.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces which I need so much in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Your heart was always full of love, compassion and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. You never dismissed without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to you. I therefore invoke your powerful intercession, confident in the hope that you will hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I earnestly implore. {mention your petition} [That Pope Benedict XVI will be protected against harm and strengthened in this hour of trial.]

Help me, great Saint Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to run in the sweetness of His loving will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.
The second father I'd like to wish a happy birthday to is my own father, who shares the pope's birthday (but is quite a bit younger). :) Though we don't live close enough to my parents to take part in Dad's birthday celebrations, I'm grateful for my dad's presence in my life. Many people still don't realize how often the situation of fatherlessness leads to the exploitation of children. If we are angry that children are taken advantage of and abused, we ought to be even more angry at our culture which continues to insist that there's no fall-out whatsoever from the sexual revolution. A father is an irreplaceable force in his children's lives, and our culture's constant marginalization and denigration of fathers is only going to lead to more vulnerable children with more risk for abuse, not fewer.

Dad, happy birthday! Thanks for being there for us! We wish we could be with you today, to celebrate you, to raise a glass in your honor, and--let's face it--to help you enjoy whatever totally awesome dessert Mom's got planned for tonight. ;)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The kangaroo court of public opinion

Mark Shea, doing what he does best here:
The state-owned media in Australia offers a sober assessment of the Church and a clear-headed and calm way forward in dealing with Benedict XVI:
Why then do we not bomb the Vatican and obliterate Italy for harbouring this criminal mastermind, this known protector of evil predators? Why do we not pursue him through the sewers of Europe and riddle his corpse with bullets?
Turns out the answer is not, "Because that is the demented spewing of a mind warped by insane hatred of the Catholic faith" but rather "Because Benedict is white."

This, among many other reasons, is why I find it so hard to credit the constant recommendation of MSM journalists that I get down on my knees in gratitude to them for their sterling and knightly high purpose of Reforming the Church. To quote Robert Bolt's St. Thomas More, "This is not Reformation. This is war on the Church." And it is using abused children as human shields. These people have not the slightest interest in knowing or caring what they are talking about. Point out that a slanderous misrepresentation of Pope Benedict has not a dram of truth to it, and the reply is: "So, once again, you fail to see the real issue here, and are more concerned about the problems of the Church and its survival, than of ridding the organization of pederasts and their enablers." Because, of course, the only way to Save The Children is to lie about the Pope. Conversely, any attempt to say, "But the Pope is not the Bad Guy here" is to ignore the victims. It's classic mob mentality. [...]

Me: I don't buy any of this media BS. Once the frenzy is over, we will be pretty much where we were before the frenzy. There is simply no evidence at all that Benedict transferred pedophiles, covered up acts of perversion, endangered children, or did any of the other hideous things that our lying journalist class has now convicted him of in the court of public opinion. The day, I pray, will come when the public will wake up with a hangover and realize they have participated in the maligning of a very good man. Similarly, the day will, I pray, come when Catholics stop stupidly believing that the key to reformation of the Church is "listen to those who wish to destroy the Church and sow salt on Her ashes." This, like those stupid revisionist accounts of the gospel were Jesus says to Judas, "You're the only one who really understands me" is, what's the word?, oh yeah, "idiotic". Reformation will come by living out the teaching of the gospel. [All links in original--E.M.]
As Mark--astonishingly!***--admits, believing that Pope Benedict XVI is a good pope who is doing his best does not mean that Catholics are obligated to believe our Holy Father never ever made any prudential errors during his tenure at the CDF, or indeed, at any point along the way of his life of ministry.

But being a halfway decent human being, let alone being a good Catholic, requires one to, you know, actually pay attention to details and weigh evidence and look at these cases in context, not pontificate that we know the Pope was involved in cover-ups, because we know, because everybody knows, because it's common knowledge, because the New York Times said, because we heard it from somebody somewhere, etc. The Court of Public Opinion is a kangaroo court; it makes daytime television look balanced, and reality TV look intellectual.

Nobody is denying that the Scandal has been devastating, first and most of all for the innocent victims for whom we should have the greatest concern. Nobody is denying that it would be a good idea if the Church would universally adopt rules not unlike the Dallas Charter (taking into consideration local conditions and needs, of course; in countries where the victim is likely to be more in danger from being publicly identified in a court case, for instance, it might not be good to mandate handing things over to state authorities). Nobody thinks that reform is unnecessary.

But siding with the "any stick to beat the Church" crowd has never turned out well for the Church, or for Christianity generally. And scapegoating the one person who has both the power and the will to effect reforms in the Church would be an act of cutting off the nose to spite the face--an act of stupid futility.

***Because, of course, only rigid clericalism which thinks that no priest anywhere has ever been in the wrong could be behind an attitude which says the pope isn't a bad sort, at all, and ought to be given a chance to fix things.

An ideal that sacrificed the intellect

If you haven't already seen these blog posts via Life-after-RC, do go and read them--it's a two part account from a former Regnum Christi member:

Struggling with the Elephant in the Living Room: Part 1

The Elephant in the Living Room: Part 2

I want to highlight a bit from that second post:

And then, in 2009, the news of Fr. Maciel’s scandalous behavior, the founder of Regnum Christi, was released to the lay people.

I thought I had moved past RC, for the most part. I thought I was an outsider… but it turns out I wasn’t. I was angry at the news. Hurt. Betrayed. Bewildered. And I knew I had to drive the long drive into town, early in the morning, to meet with my dear sisters and support them in this horrible trial.

What I discovered was a mixture of reactions, which is to be expected of any group of people, considering different personalities and pain thresholds. But I did encounter one reaction more common than my own… that ‘tranquil peace’, the ‘joy’, the gratefulness that Fr. Maciel was also a sinner like the rest of us… the ‘let’s move on’ attitude, especially from our suffering priest leaders…

My reaction then turned to shock. Having been actively away from the movement for over a year, I could not believe what I was hearing, and I discerned that truly, what didn’t sit right with me was not a matter of personal preference. It was the belief in an ideal that sacrificed the intellect; that asked us to continue down a road when we had been lied to by the founder of our group and his cohorts… grave lies and deception, and that we were supposed to believe that our remaining associated with the founder and his movement would bear good fruit, and we were supposed to gloss over it, move on, and simply focus on Christ.

Don’t get me wrong… there has been tremendous good fruit borne from people in Regnum Christi. I myself grew spiritually while I was part of the movement. There are amazing RC apostolates that continue to help build up Christ’s people and His Church… But I believe these good fruits do not spring from Fr. Maciel or even the Regnum Christi movement iteself. They spring from the goodness of God and His Church, and the holy people that would be responding to Him no matter what movement they are a part of.

Emphasis is in the original; do look, though, at what the blogger is saying here. She is saying exactly what I have been saying from the outside: that the good being done by LC/RC members is being done apart from, and even in spite of the Legion and Regnum Christi.

Worse, the spiritual formation that makes everyone default to a Pollyanna-like "everything is good, everything is fine..." attitude, and the notion that this is what is required of good, holy Catholic people, to see everything as what the blogger calls a "case study" and to draw a bright line between the critical, judgmental, secular world and the serene, untroubled, tranquil LC/RC member, are among the most ingrained and entrenched problems in the Movement. Even if some RC apostolates are doing good work in spite of Maciel and the Legion, they have been very, very wrongly taught in terms of how Catholics should think about things--or, indeed, as to whether Catholics ought to be thinking much at all.

It is, as the blogger so pithily puts it, "...the belief in an ideal that sacrificed the intellect." But no valid Catholic movement would ever teach its members not to value the intellect, not to respect its proper role in the life of every human being, not to raise questions in prudence and to seek truth even in "negative" situations.

Regardless of any isolated "good works" being done in LC or RC apostolates, it is crucial that these erroneous ideas be rooted out everywhere they exist, most especially in any organizations that involve the young: schools, Challenge/ConQuest clubs, and so on. Catholic children need to be capable of counteracting the evil of the world with a synthesis of faith, intellect, sound teaching, and conformity of the will to God's will; they will not be able to counter the world and its darkness by merely spinning as much as they can, "charitably," to be not really so dark, after all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Prudence and the clothing swap

I was planning to blog much earlier today--I even had some semi-coherent thoughts about various topics I've been meaning to discuss. But that was before I realized this afternoon that one of my least favorite chores, the seasonal clothing swap, had to happen--and fast.

With the daily forecasts into the 70s and 80s (though not, as yet, amazingly, beyond), I couldn't put off the process of lugging into the house two boxes of summer clothes, sorting them, making Hatchick (who is always the most clothes-laden by the end of this process) try many of the items on, rounding up sweats and fleece sweaters from drawers and closets to put into the boxes to put back in the garage, and then tidying up those drawers and closets so all the shorts and t-shirts could replace the bulkier clothes we took out.

The girls help, of course. But it's a long, drawn-out process, in which some favorites in good condition are set aside for some slightly younger girl cousins (yes, my friend, we have one more bag for you!), some other things in good condition are set aside for charity, and those things that were worn to death are tossed altogether; there are lots of pauses ("do I really have to hang this up right now?") and questions ("I like this...but it seems tight when I sit down. Is that okay?") and all in all, the whole day disappears while we get the last stacks of usable items put away in their proper places. And then, of course, I ponder the mystery that at least one daughter always seems to have nothing at all to wear, and make plans for some late night online browsing to see if what can be purchased on our budget.

I once told Thad that my idea of wealth, of luxury, of riches beyond our wildest dreams, would be--a house with closets big enough for all the summer and winter clothes to be stored indoors. At the same time.

Of course, part of the problem is the Texas climate, with its totally strange capabilities. We can, and did this year, have snow--it can be in the teens, sometimes, in the winter--so we do need heavy, bulky clothes, even if we only need them for about four months out of the year. But at the other end of the scale we have triple-digit temperatures, and can be in the 90s by late April or early May, so it's not much fun to go digging around past corduroy and long-sleeved tops to try to find something one won't swelter in, and only realize at that point that one outgrew those things and gave them to one's little sister last summer--as my girls could tell you.

I used to make the mistake of doing this clothing swap far too early in the season. Midwestern me, silly woman, would be fooled by the first wave of seventy to eighty degree weather and would drag the boxes inside and sort, fold, pile, reject, store, hang, remove, box up, and return to storage--only to have the capricious spring weather coyly throw a couple of raging thunderstorms our way, after which the temperatures would drop back into the forties. Then, of course, I'd drag the boxes back into the house so everyone could find a couple of warm outfits, and sometime in June I'd realize that the reason the closets were so packed was because there were still winter garments hanging with impossible heaviness among the wisps of cotton and colorful short-sleeved shirts.

But waiting too long to do the swap isn't a great idea, either--so at some point you have to look at the weather forecasts, make a leap of faith, and box up winter and put it away--with, perhaps, a pair of slacks and a cardigan or two to handle any of Nature's tricks.

Life would be easier if we didn't have to make those sorts of decisions at all, if I had the house with big enough closets to store all the clothes. It would also be easier if I could be certain before deciding to do the clothing swap that the weather wasn't going to change--that, from here on out, there would be increasingly hot temperatures, blue skies, and no need for warm clothes until sometime in late fall. But life doesn't work that way.

God doesn't put us somewhere where we don't have to make decisions. There's no "one right way" to live our daily lives, no shortcut to holiness where all the bothersome decision-making and choices are taken away from us, so that we can let someone else call all the shots and relax, knowing that morally speaking we're off the hook, that we're just following orders.

Of course, we have lots of guidance. We have Christ and His Church, which the Holy Spirit guides; we have the Church's teachings, her Catechism, her doctrines and rules--and these are greatly helpful, especially in keeping us away from serious sin; we have her priests and religious and wise laity to give us advice and counsel.

If I ignore the weather forecasts and take all of the winter clothes out to the garage too early, or fail to bring the summer clothes inside until there's a desperate need for them, I have no one but myself to blame for acting imprudently. The same thing is true if I ignore the Church's counsel and act imprudently in some moral area; the virtue of prudence helps us, the Catechism says, to "...apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid." Bringing the summer clothes in too early involves only an inconvenience; failing to apply moral principles correctly to things like abortion, torture, unjust war, illicit sex, pornography and the like has far more disastrous consequences for the immortal soul.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Living in a glass house, tossing stones

You probably saw, earlier today, the story of Father James Scahill and his call for the Holy Father to resign:

EAST LONGMEADOW — The Rev. James J. Scahill describes himself as “rather a reclusive person.’’ He insists he is no rebel.

But the parish priest from East Longmeadow was fielding media calls from around the country yesterday about his request from the pulpit on Sunday that Pope Benedict XVI step down over his handling of clergy sexual abuse.

In an interview, Scahill sounded exhausted but firm as he reasserted his critique of the pope: “The right thing is to be truthful, and if he is not up to dealing with this, then he should have the integrity to resign.’’

Scahill has been an outspoken critic of the church’s handling of sexual abuse cases since shortly after he arrived at St. Michael’s church in 2002, the year the clergy abuse scandal exploded in Massachusetts. [...]

Yesterday, walking from his office to the church where a local television crew was waiting, Scahill said the reaction to his homily has been overwhelmingly supportive.

“I’m simply speaking the truth,’’ he said. “Sometimes the truth can be harsh.’’

He said he hoped there would be “a grass-roots insurrection of calling for accountability.’’

Unfortunately for Father Scahill, an intrepid local TV station decided to look a little closer at Father's 2003 deposition in an abuse case. The deposition is here; the TV station reports:

East Longmeadow, Mass. (WWLP) - Just a few days after an East Longmeadow Priest calls for the Pope's resignation, 22News digs up an important document.

We wanted to know what first hand knowledge this priest had regarding the church abuse scandal and when.

We got that answer from a deposition dating back several years.

Father James Scahill in recent days has been quite vocal about the Pope's handling of the church abuse scandal.

Father James Scahill said, "People have solid ground to have doubt because of what our leadership is telling us as to when they knew about the abuse in children and minors and who knew."

But we wanted to know if and when Father Scahill knew anything about minors being molested by priests.

According to this deposition, Father Scahill knew about Father Lavigne bothering children and didn't do or say anything back in the early 1990's.

When asked what parishioners told Scahill regarding Lavigne he stated, "About the fact that their son had been bothered, that he had a reputation for sleepovers at the rectory."

Rev. Scahill went on to say, "The spirit in the parish was good so I just went with that."

Note to Father Scahill: if you're going to throw stones, you'd better check first to see if your own house is not chiefly composed of a manufactured form of silicon dioxide.

Reasonable discussion of modesty

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington has an interesting blog. While I don't always find myself in total agreement with the good monsignor, his posts make me think, and sometimes bring a lot of clarity to issues Catholics discuss.

One such issue is the perpetual discussion of modesty as a Catholic principle. Msgr. Pope has an interesting post on that matter, titled Modesty and Men:
  1. Tight and tiny swimwear for men seems just as inappropriate for men as for women. There is simply no good reason to wear tiny speedo suits outside of certain very limited swim-racing situations. The purpose is obviously to arouse sexual interest and to display what ought not be displayed. Further, I will say, most men look just plain silly wearing such swimwear. Larger “boxer-shorts” style bathing suits seem far more appropriate.
  2. Going shirtless should be limited. I am not aware that women are all that tempted by shirtless men, even those who are slender and muscular. But if the women on this blog tell us men that it is at times problematic then we ought to stop. A further concern about going shirtless other than in beach settings and limited sports settings is that it just seems a bit rude and far too casual. Our society has become so casual about everything. Men walking through city parks without shirts just seems too informal and frankly I don’t care for it. Such behavior was not commonly accepted in this country prior to the 1960s. Find a cool and comfortable shirt men and wear it. It does not belong tied around your waist. Neither should your t-shirt be pulled up over the back of your head to expose your belly and chest. It’s just ugly, inelegant and far too casual for public parks. Save it for the back yard or the beach.
  3. Saggy drawers have to go – no one cares to see your underwear. Please! Pull your pants up. This dumb trend that emerged from gansta culture is thankfully on the wane but it isn’t disappearing fast enough.
  4. Tight fitting jeans and open shirts are retro and wrong. Back in the 1970s we went through a lot of dopey stuff where men’s fashions started to take on rather feminine notions. The disco era brought this to its high point. It was an era of extremely tight jeans. Men started unbuttoning their shirts two and three buttons down. In those days hairy chests were in and an exposed hairy chest with gold necklaces was not uncommon. Jeans were worn low and large belt buckles to draw the look below the belt were being worn. Boots were also often worn. It was all silly and stupid looking: Men getting dolled up. The purpose was to strut your stuff. Men trying to sexualize themselves. I don’t really remember what the women thought at that time. Were they attracted by this? That seems to have been the purpose and if it was meant to tempt women, it was wrong. Every now and then these retro fashions try to make a come back. Bottom line is that men should dress modestly in loose fitting comfortable clothing. Shirts should be buttoned. Large belt buckles or things to draw attention to the waist are inappropriate and can be sinful.
Msgr. Pope offers some more valuable thoughts; particularly, to me, the admission that since men are more visual the burden of modesty often seems to fall on women--but that this does not mean that women have some kind of obligation to be invisible. Msgr. Pope reminds men that custody of the eyes is their job, and that while a good Catholic woman will do what she can to make that job easier, she shouldn't have to feel as though a head-to-foot covering is her only modest option.

I think that often times these conversations are derailed by a lack of what Msgr. Pope calls for: reasonableness. A man may reasonably ask that women not wear tight-fitting, revealing, skimpy clothes so that he can battle the impulses he might have toward illicit or lustful thoughts--but a woman may also reasonably point out that garments which show her elbows or her knees are not necessarily immodest. A man may reasonably object to skinny jeans on women; a woman may reasonably point out that looser-fitting slacks have become such a customary item of female attire that the proposition "slacks are immodest on a woman" is no longer really tenable.

Catholic men and women really should consider each other's immortal souls, and how the choices they make--in dress, conversation, manner, etc.--impact those souls. A modestly-dressed woman may be quite immodestly flirtatious with men to whom she is not married, and if her argument is that she's merely being "feminine" and enjoying the male attention with no harm done, she may be ignoring the impact she's having on those men; a modestly-dressed man may tell all sorts of "off-color" jokes under the impression that these are acceptable in present-day culture, and ignore that he is leading others to sin by these sorts of stories.

The consideration of the souls of others, and how they may be affected by our choices, is a reasonable and prudent sort of consideration to make. We may not always choose rightly, and sometimes our actions may have effects we could never have considered, but we will be held accountable for those times or circumstances when we should have known better, or chose thoughtlessly or in spite of morality. Looking at the modesty debate through this lens makes the whole subject--what was that word, again? Oh, yes: reasonable.