Thursday, March 31, 2011

UD grads: what's going on?

I read this yesterday:

IRVING, Texas — The University of Dallas has always prided itself on its faithfulness to the magisterium, but only quick action by the administration and local bishops fended off a sudden rebellion of undergrads, alumni and parents seeking to defend UD’s orthodoxy against perceived threats.

Triggering the insurrection was an open letter from a high-profile father of five UD grads objecting in advance to the imminent approval of a new undergrad program for parish lay ministers at UD’s School of Ministry, which some have called “doctrinally challenged.”

The letter went viral among campus bloggers, sparked dozens of incendiary emails to UD’s president, Thomas Keefe, and a petition with several hundred signatures (UD has 1,400 students). The university’s board of trustees nonetheless approved the new program on March 3.

“Heresy is not being taught at the University of Dallas. Blasphemy is not being taught at the University of Dallas,” Keefe told the Register. “Any faculty that do not comport with the teachings of the Church will not be teaching at this university.”

The parent who raised the alarm is Patrick Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. His letter began: “Depending on how the board of the University of Dallas votes tonight, I (proud father of five UD alumni children) may well be telling folks: ‘Don’t send your kids to UD. It used to be great but now is a danger to their faith.’”

I know there are a lot of University of Dallas graduates out there, so my questions are to them: what, exactly, is this all about? Is there any reason to be worried about UD's committment to orthodox Catholicism? Is the original parent who complained out of line, or are various statements by Bishops Farrell and Vann (of Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively) enough to satisfy critics of the proposed School of Ministry?

For all readers: what do you think of a Catholic university having an undergrad program for lay ministers? Is that blurring the lines between the laity and the priesthood, or simply a pragmatic response to the increased role of the laity in parish life?

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this matter in the comment boxes--I really do want to hear what others are thinking about this.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the University of Dallas page discussing the controversial new undergraduate degree in pastoral ministry, and here is the page describing the major. Frankly, I find it rather vague. What sort of "ministries" are the lay majors supposed to be trained to do?

UPDATE 2: A reader writes:

This past weekend I attended a Catechetical weekend sponsored by my diocese. OSV brought in Bill Huebsch, who is an adjunct professor at UD's school of ministry AND who taught in their 'semester in Rome' program for 2010.
He spoke AGAINST infant baptism, claimed the adoption of the Nicene Creed turned the Church from a community of believers into a 'social club', and mentioned that 'before Vatican 2, it was a sin for Catholics to read the Bible.' Oh, yeah. And before V2 all Catholics were mindlessly obedient robots who were sure they'd go to hell if they accidentally ate meat on a Friday, and after Vatican 2, we all are full of faith and good feelings and blah, blah, blah... you know the standard baby boomer drill.
This gives me a better idea of the "meat" of the controversy. Some of what I read made it seem as though merely having an undergrad degree in pastoral ministry was the main issue (and for some it may be) but this reader's experience shows that the largest area of concern is that the students selecting this major may be taught heterodox and even heretical material by teachers who do not accept the fullness of Catholic teaching.

And that simply perpetuates the problems we have now, of lay pastoral ministers, DREs, catechists etc. being woefully ignorant about the real teachings of the Catholic Church, but ready to spout off any amount of total nonsense inflicted upon them by "scholars" who are functionally heretics in terms of their acceptance of and adherence to Church teachings as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

If I were a UD grad, I'd be mad about this, too.

The ghetto or the Benedict Option?

Well, I'm back!

I read today this blogger's denunciation of the Catholic ghetto mentality, and her rejection of the same. Her post got me thinking about to what extent I disagree with her assessment, and why.

In the first place, I'd like to make it clear that I don't entirely disagree. I've met Catholics who play the "my ghetto is purer and holier and more authentically Catholic than your ghetto" game, and that quickly gets tiresome and obnoxious. Naming no names, I will simply mention a time when a bright, sweet young Catholic homeschooling girl I know was rejected as a friend by another such girl because the first Catholic girl wears slacks and couldn't name a specific family devotion her family always enjoys, and the second girl was skirts-only and praised the daily family rosary as a sort of high point of her life. Of course, that second girl would be quickly put in her place and rejected in her turn by another such girl whose family made daily Mass and the daily rosary indispensable habits and abhorred short-sleeved shirts; but you see what I mean. There is nothing charitable or kind or good about that sort of conduct, and to the extent such Catholics withdraw to their particular ghettos--well, I won't be chasing after any of them and begging to be admitted.

But this begins to be complicated when we start seeing, as the alternative, a full immersion into a completely secular life. The question of whether one's children should play with the neighbor children, for instance, gets brought up a lot in these conversations--and my answer is: it depends on the neighbor children! Most of our neighborhood kids in our girls' age ranges are boys, and while I used to let the girls play with them on occasion I got rather tired of the potty-mouth, disrespectful, name-calling behavior--and so, frankly, did my girls, who knowing other children their ages (yes, home-schooled children) who are polite and friendly and will take it seriously when an adult says something like "I'd really rather you didn't ride back and forth across the street without checking for traffic," (and even say, "Gosh, sorry, Mrs. M!") were not much inclined to want to keep playing with the neighbor boys. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to force my children to play with kids whose bratty bad behavior alternately embarrasses and puzzles them--and if that's a ghetto mentality, then so be it.

On the other hand, I've known people who live in neighborhoods where the children all come from intact homes with happily married parents who are as much sticklers for discipline and good behavior as any home-schooling mom, who can let their kids run free to their hearts' content without any worries. That's great--but is that a reason to judge the parents who won't let their children play over at the house where the divorced dad and his current girlfriend have no qualms about getting into noisy fights in front of their own children/stepchildren and any friends that might be over to play? I think we're all inclined to presume that all neighborhoods are the same, that all neighbor kids are the same, and that any parents who won't let their children play with anybody who happens to live in the general vicinity must be those "ghetto Catholics" who think nobody is good enough, or who judge other families by the size of the Sacred Heart or Padre Pio picture in the living room.

But in some neighborhoods you'll find kids like these:

A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Dallas accuses the Joshua school district and several school officials of violating the civil rights of 13-year-old Jon Carmichael by ignoring repeated acts of bullying against him along with his pleas for help in the days leading up to his suicide.

The suit was filed by Carmichael's parents on the first anniversary of his death and seeks damages and compensation for his estate and heirs.

Carmichael was a student at Joshua's Loflin Middle School, where the suit states that he was repeatedly bullied.

School employees failed to intervene when he was bullied in physical education class and when he was thrown into a Dumpster, the lawsuit alleges. In another incident, students saw -- but did not report -- that his head was placed upside down in a toilet and "flushed several times," it says.

Perhaps the most serious allegation involves one bullying incident that was posted on the Internet.

"Just prior to his death, he was stripped nude, tied up and again placed into a trashcan," the lawsuit says. "The event was videotaped, put on YouTube but was later taken down, at the direction of an unknown staff member, who also failed to report the incident."

On the day he died, the lawsuit states, Carmichael told another student that he was prepared to commit suicide and the girl told him to "do it, that no one cared."

I don' t know if it makes me an evil Catholic ghetto parent or not, but there's no way my girls are ever going to play with that girl.

Here's the problem: we have such a fractured, broken, dysfunctional culture. Public schools produce absolute gems like our choir's young pianist, who is now in college, and who couldn't possibly be a nicer young man; they also produce the kids who egged on young Mr. Carmichael to take his own life. Catholic schools are no different. And even among home schooling families you may find secret dysfunctions--or, simply, obnoxious or spoiled children who've never been taught to behave.

Because our whole culture is broken, you aren't going to find towns or communities untouched by violence, drug use, sexual misconduct among adults and abuse among children; you aren't going to know families left unscarred by the ravages of divorce and the numerous dysfunctional arrangements in which children are raised, many of them rather haphazardly; you aren't going to be secure, as a parent, in the knowledge that this church group or that school activity or the other community opportunity is really going to be a positive and safe experience for your child; you aren't going to escape the brokenness. I think, as a parent, that parents have two choices in the face of this reality: we can gradually prepare our children for our culture's sheer mind-boggling level of total dysfunction, while grounding them firmly in the positive culture of our ancient faith--or we can throw them into the dysfunction while they're still young and hope they keep their heads above the muddied waters long enough not to drown in them.

The would-be-third option, the "Catholic ghetto" option, isn't really workable. But what Rod Dreher used to call the Benedict Option may be: we may be able to form intentional communities centered around our faith where as parents we share the goal of forming our children and arming them against the culture, instead of surrendering them to it.

I'm not convinced that the Benedict Option communities Rod talked about have to be physical places, either. I think that the Catholic blogosphere has started to become something of an intentional community in its own right, in that people choose to belong to it, seek those aspects of it which strengthen their faith and help them in their vocations, and prepare them for secular attitudes and challenges that might once have caught them off guard (because forewarned is forearmed, as they say). I'm sure that other religious groups have found virtual community on the Web as well, and I see that as a good thing.

The point is that seeking a community of like-minded people is not necessarily the same thing as withdrawing to a ghetto, just as refusing certain kinds of social interactions which take us too much into the mess that is our culture (such as believing that all neighbor kids are equally appropriate playmates for all of our children) is not necessarily withdrawing into a ghetto. We're all called to be in the world, but not of it; how we figure this out may differ widely from family to family, but no one option (probably, alas, not even the Benedict Option) is going to be the best option for all.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Brief blogging break

Yes, I'm one of those obnoxious bloggers who feels compelled to tell her readers that she's taking a short blog break. I plan to be back Thursday, "Good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise," as they say around here. :)

I've got a few projects going, including a writing project I hope to tell you about after Easter, and what with one thing and another I just think a little break would come in handy right about now.

Thanks for your patience, and see you Thursday!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Saying "yes" to God's will

As I mentioned in the post below this one, today is the great Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of Our Savior. Mary's "Yes!" to God has been the subject of many reflections and wise meditations; alas, it has also sometimes been something more like a hammer used as a weapon against each other.

Mary, of course, was the one merely human being who was, from the moment of her Immaculate Conception, perfectly attuned to God's will. When the angel voiced his great message, Mary's one question, "How can this be since I do not know man?" must be understood in that context: she, who already perfectly understood God's will of pledged and perpetual virginity for her, was asking how this new aspect of God's plan would accord with what she had already perfectly discerned. I sometimes think this point gets missed, a little; unconsciously, we think of Mary as like ourselves, saying, perhaps, "Oh, wait--I thought God wanted me to live a life of virginity. Okay, so He has something else in mind?" That's not it at all: Mary knew as we with our clouded intellects and imperfectly attuned wills can't possibly know what God had already revealed about His plan for her--and as that part which she knew about was perpetual virginity, she was asking the angel, "How will this new part of God's plan for me include the part I already know about?" She asked the question trusting that the angel's answer would make sense of it all--as it did; reassured as to God's plan of virginity being part of this new plan, Mary's "Fiat!" was swift and joyful.

We, unfortunately, as I said, having intellects darkened by original sin, emotions and passions not perfectly subordinated to our wills, and wills themselves that are inclined toward weak vacillations, do not always perceive God's will in our lives as clearly and distinctly as Our Lady did. Sometimes we are completely, peacefully convinced that He has told us exactly what He wants, and we begin to act, only to discover that we are muddling disastrously though something that we ourselves wanted strongly enough to convince ourselves that He was calling us, when in fact we were only hearing the echoes of our own desires. The opposite can be true, too--we can take action hesitantly, uncertainly, doubting ourselves and what we are doing, only to find that we are indeed doing His will, and are being abundantly blessed for it.

Since it is so difficult, so fraught with peril, for us to determine God's will in our own lives, is it not the height of hubris to think we can tell God's will for someone else? I speak here not of the general duty every Christian has to follow God's laws, to listen to His Church, and to form our consciences in accordance with His teachings and commands; I am speaking here of specific and individual calls to--well, to specific individuals--which we can't really determine from the outside. Yet we are so good at pretending, even to ourselves, that we know with no doubt whatsoever what God wants someone else to do, even if we insist that we don't know what He wants us to do.

Are people who use NFP doing God's will? Are providentialists and quiverfulls? Are homeschoolers doing God's will? Catholic schoolers? Public schoolers? Are stay-at-home moms doing God's will? Moms who work outside the home? Men who are self-employed? Men who work for huge corporations? Men who travel on business, or men who never do?

Are bloggers doing God's will? Non-blogging Facebook posters? Twitterers? Authors of deeply scholarly theological books that everyone pretends to have read but almost no one actually has? Authors of popular theology books of the sort that are displayed like coffee-table credentials in some Catholic homes?

Are Extraordinary Form Mass attendees doing God's will? Are Novus Ordo Mass attendees doing God's will? Are male altar servers doing God's will--and are female ones? Are lay Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion doing God's will? Are permanent deacons who are married and who don't think they're excused from paying the marriage debt to their wives by virtue of ordination doing God's will?

Are we, when we rile each other up about these and dozens of other things, doing God's will?

If we are very devout, very much in pursuit of holiness, very humble and very wise, we may sometimes have a tiny fraction of Mary's certainty that we might just maybe be doing God's will in our own lives. It is impossible for us to know with even that tiny fraction of certainty if anyone else is. And using that phrase, "But you're just not saying "yes!" to God!" as we try to convince others to do what we do or join some cause or apostolate or get involved with some political party or take upon ourselves some extra work or duty outside of our vocation's requirements is trying to use Mary's "Fiat!" as a hammer, to beat other people into submission not to God's will, but to our own.

To love Mary is to love her Son

A lovely and historic find:
Shipwreck experts are evaluating a centuries-old 40-inch gold chain plucked from the seafloor while searching for a 17th-century sunken Spanish galleon off the Florida Keys. [...]

The chain has 55 links, an enameled gold cross and a two-sided engraved religious medallion featuring the Virgin Mary and a chalice.
Go here to see a picture.

The medallion described seems to me to have more than a mere chalice; it seems to be a representation of the Holy Eucharist. How fitting to have Our Lady depicted on one side of this medal, and the Eucharist on another; Mary, the first Tabernacle of Our Lord, always points the way to her Son.

Someone once calculated that from the moment of Mary's Fiat, which we celebrate today as the great Feast of the Annunciation, until the birth of Christ, Mary had Jesus within her for so long that we would have to be daily communicants for seventy-five years to approach the same amount of time with Him. I don't know if that's a literal truth or a pious reflection, but either way it makes me think about how much less often I am in His company. UPDATE: Reader John E. has done the math--see the comments--and yes, if you received communion daily for 75 years and if Our Lord was present for about 15 minutes each time (which is about what the Church seems to think) you would have "carried" Our Lord as much as Mary did during the nine months of her pregnancy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The keeper of all crowns

A Texas beauty queen will get to keep her crown after pageant officials took it away:

A Texas jury ruled Thursday that a 17-year-old beauty queen allegedly told to "get off the tacos" after gaining weight was wrongly stripped of her crown and has had it returned by a judge.

Domonique Ramirez won her lawsuit against the Miss San Antonio pageant, Luis Vera Jr., her attorney, told The Associated Press.

"She won 100 percent," Vera said.

Judge Barbara Nellermoe then restored Ramirez's crown, clearing the way for her to compete for Miss Texas and Miss America, according Court Clerk Grace Montalvo. After deliberating 11.5 hours over two days in the weeklong trial, the Bexar County jury of five men and seven women found that pageant officials, not Ramirez, breached the contract.

Ms. Ramirez denied gaining weight, as well as the other allegations made by the pageant officials--that she was chronically late for assignments, skipped lessons, and didn't write thank-you notes, all apparently called for in her contract. Jurors sided with Ms. Ramirez who is now cleared to compete in further pageants.

I'm no big fan of beauty pageants. I think that they tend to be exploitative and ultimately demean women. But since I also believe in giving credit where it's due, I have to say that Ms. Ramirez's actions described below are very admirable:

Immediately after the trial, Ramirez went to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to place the crown on its altar as a gift to the patroness.

"She's the queen of all queens, the keeper of all crowns. I wanted to give my crown to her," Ramirez said, adding that she could buy a replacement crown for the upcoming Fiesta and Miss Texas appearances that go with the title. "I just wanted to send a message I'm very grateful and she has answered my prayers."

Now that is truly beautiful.

Cradle to grave...and beyond

Human beings can be pretty terrible to each other.

A family in Pennsylvania lost their precious baby boy last August. The child had a rare liver disease, and died at the tender age of ten months. The family, overwhelmed with medical bills and unable to afford a burial plot, buried their son in their backyard--a perfectly legal option at the time. It's what's happened since then that is so shocking:
A Colebrookdale Township man who had his 10-month-old son buried at home said Wednesday that grief and financial troubles have prevented him from complying with township demands for a zoning waiver.

"I chose to do this version of home burial because he's very young," James A. Dodson explained. "I can't even describe the sadness. We simply couldn't afford to go buy a plot."

Dodson was reacting to an article in Wednesday's Reading Eagle about the Colebrookdale commissioners' decision to cite him due to delays in pursuing a zoning waiver.

The commissioners have said they are not against the private burial but that certain conditions must be met because the residential property is not zoned as a cemetery.

Dodson said he and his wife, Chantal, are "barely making ends meet" and can't afford the zoning application fee, which he said is $650.

He said the couple's financial problems are caused by medical bills exceeding $30,000 for their son, Jesse Alexander Dodson, who was diagnosed with a liver condition at birth. The child died in August, and Dodson said the family didn't have enough money to bury him in a cemetery.

Township officials have known about the burial for months, and in November the board enacted an ordinance making it unlawful to bury a deceased person anywhere in Colebrookdale other than a cemetery.

Although the Dodson burial preceded the ordinance, the township still wants zoning conditions met, including provisions to maintain and mark the burial site. The Dodsons also would need an access easement to visit the site if the property is sold.
Read the rest here.

So, after the family buried their son, the township commissioners passed a law making home burials illegal (something that would have shocked our liberty-loving founders, I'm sure, since home burials have a long and honorable history). Then, legally unable to exert their will on the family whose child had already been buried in this way, they have proceeded to insist on a zoning waver and money the family doesn't have to spare, adding injury to the terrible grief the family is already suffering.

We sometimes say jokingly that our nanny state government is involved in its citizens' lives "from the cradle to the grave." We may have to add, "...and beyond" to that phrase, since even the grave of this tiny child isn't left undisturbed by the greedy and pinching hand of government authority.

There is no reason at all for the township to interfere with this family, but in our present reality, government interferes for interference's sake, and needs no other reason for its pettifogging smallness and blind trampling over the kinds of liberties our ancestors took for granted.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nuts to school?

A child in a Florida school has a life-threatening peanut allergy--and parents of other students there are finding the whole thing difficult:
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Some public school parents in Edgewater, Florida, want a first-grade girl with life-threatening peanut allergies removed from the classroom and home-schooled, rather than deal with special rules to protect her health, a school official said.

"That was one of the suggestions that kept coming forward from parents, to have her home schooled. But we're required by federal law to provide accommodations. That's just not even an option for us," said Nancy Wait, spokeswoman for the Volusia County School District.

Wait said the 6-year-old's peanut allergy is so severe it is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To protect the girl, students in her class at Edgewater Elementary School are required to wash their hands before entering the classroom in the morning and after lunch, and rinse out their mouths, Wait said, and a peanut-sniffing dog checked out the school during last week's spring break.

Wait said school leaders will meet this week with parents to address concerns and try to halt inaccurate rumors that children's mouths were being wiped with disinfectant.
My first thought upon reading this article was that it's simply amazing to me that in my lifetime homeschooling has gone from being perceived as a suspicious activity engaged in only by hippies, government conspiracy theorists, and ultra-religious cultist types to being so acceptable that mainstream public school parents would suggest it as an option for the parents of a child with life-threatening allergies.

My second was that I do have some sympathy for this little girl and her parents. They may be unable to homeschool, or be unwilling to send their child the message that her very scary allergy is a reason for her to be isolated from other people. That's not something you want a six-year-old to believe.

But my third thought was that overall my sympathies lie with the parents of the other children in the classroom. It is one thing to require students not to bring peanuts or peanut products in their lunches, a reasonable accommodation that is made in plenty of places for children with these allergies; it is another if the child's allergies are so severe that the traces of a food processed in the same plant as peanuts (as many foods are) must be eliminated by careful hand-washing and mouth-rinsing when the children enter the classroom in the morning and before the children return to the classroom after lunch. This, in a way, places the child's life and health in the hands--literally--of a group of her peers and a busy teacher; one slip-up, one child whose hands don't get washed thoroughly enough, one nut-containing snack from home unconsciously left in a jacket pocket, and this child could actually die.

And what about the copy repairman who shows up with a Payday (tm) bar in his pocket? What about the visitor to the school who has been eating sunflower seeds--processed in peanut oil--before making a stop at the child's classroom? What about the school library book a child checked out and read at home, his hands leaving peanut-butter smudges on some of the pages? There are just so many ways for a tragedy to occur in a situation like this.

If you think I'm exaggerating, consider this tragic story:

CHICAGO (CBS) - The family of a Chicago Public Schools student, who died last year after suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts at her school, is suing the Chinese restaurant that supplied the food.

Thomas A. Edison Regional Gifted Center student Katelyn Carlson, 13, died after eating peanuts inside food her seventh grade teacher ordered from Chinese Inn Restaurant for a Dec. 17, 2010, class holiday party, according to a suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

The suit claims the teacher told an employee of the Chinese Inn Restaurant the food was for a class party and students in the class had peanut allergies and the restaurant agreed to provide food that was free of peanut oils, peanut derivatives and peanut flavorings.

But officials said in January that the food might have been cooked in peanut oil, despite the teacher’s instructions.

Carlson was pronounced dead at 5:40 p.m. Dec. 17, 2010, at Children’s Memorial Hospital, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. An autopsy determined she died from anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) to food allergy and her death was ruled an accident. [Linked paragraph in original--E.M.]
This recent article contains the information that lab testing on the Chinese food served showed that it contained trace amounts of peanut products. Trace amounts were, apparently, all it took to cause this tragic death.

The young lady in this sad story was thirteen, and had been dealing with her allergy all her life. But the young lady in the Florida school is only six--is she supposed to have better awareness of her environment and its unique dangers to her than a girl more than twice her age?

I know the parents in Florida are trying to do what is best for their daughter, and I hope everything will be resolved in a way that benefits her and puts her safety first. That said, if I had a child with so severe an allergy, I would want to teach her at home. I couldn't imagine getting the kind of phone call Miss Carlson's parents might have gotten on that terrible day when being in school proved fatal to their child.

What the words "credible accusation" mean

This was going to be a comment left in the increasingly tangled comment box over at Mark Shea's blog, where Mark's excellent advice to everybody to pray and mind their own business over the Father Corapi matter has been used as a jumping-off place for people to ride their own pet hobby-horses for a while now. Sic semper commentae cistae, one might say, if one's Latin is as bad as mine.

But I realized as I began thinking about what I wanted to say that I was probably going to get a bit wordy, and that it would be better to write a separate small post on the subject.

Several people, among them one gentleman whom I won't name but who is a frequent commenter there, seem to believe that Father Corapi's order, SOLT, is acting unjustly both by commencing an investigation process and by placing Father on administrative leave while the process is underway, despite the fact that this is standard procedure not only for clergy but for many lay people in many situations. (The further allegation, that SOLT is acting in violation of canon law, seems completely unfounded at this point given that SOLT's statement on the matter specifically refers to their following of canon law, and must be dismissed out of hand at this point if we are to be charitable to all concerned.)

As I read these various comments, I begin to see a pattern in them. Specifically, it seems that those who believe Father Corapi is being treated unjustly are pointing to the fact that "one letter" has been written and received, and based on the allegations in "one letter," unsubstantiated, as far as anyone knows, by hard evidence, this administrative leave has been imposed and this investigation begun.

Now, it is possible that some sort of hard evidence was presented, although it is not mentioned in any way--but I think it is quite likely that the letter with its multiple allegations remains the only item of evidence thus far. Nevertheless, the letter itself might have been sufficient to trigger the investigation without any uncharity or injustice toward Father Corapi being involved, even if he is, as one must devoutly hope of any accused person, completely innocent of all charges.

How could that be? Isn't that terribly unjust to our priests, that they could be placed on leave (which, remember, carries no imputation of guilt at all) based on one single letter full of unsubstantiated accusations?

Well, if priests could be punished on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, that would indeed be unjust. But since all allegations may be said to be unsubstantiated at the outset, then the fact that the allegations presently consist of one unsubstantiated letter doesn't make it unjust for an investigation to be underway.

What really triggers the process, from what I understand, of any investigation of this nature, whether in the lay, secular world or in the clerical one, is not whether the allegations are unsubstantiated, but whether they are credible.

Here's where I think the language starts to get us in trouble. Many people seem to think "credible" means "Oh, yes, we could see Mr. X or Father Y or Sister Z committing this inappropriate act--we could believe it." But that is not at all what a "credible accusation" means. I am sure that Father Corapi's nearest and dearest believe with all sincerity and to the very core of their beings that he is incapable of the acts mentioned in the letter full of allegations, and they may be--and, let us hope fervently, are!--totally right about that. All that a credible allegation means is that the alleged acts could have been committed as described.

Let us take this outside the clerical realm and into a similar realm, the realm of allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. Suppose a man is accused of sexually harassing an employee by inappropriate talk, off-color jokes, inappropriate physical conduct, or the like. The employee goes to Human Resources and files a written complaint. But the first thing that those responsible for investigating realize is that most of the dates and times on which the employee alleges the acts have occurred, the person she is accusing was either traveling out of the country on company business--trips which she did not make herself--or on vacation. The handful of times when the person she is accusing was actually on the same premises as his accuser, he spent his whole workday in meetings at which at least a dozen people were present; when questioned, none of them recalls seeing any inappropriate activity or hearing any inappropriate speech, and the accuser only attended one of the meetings--and took notes the whole time on a company laptop which were stamped with the date and time electronically.

If such a case occurred, it is probable that either no administrative leave would be necessary or that it would quickly come to an end if it had been instituted; the allegations are simply not credible, and the evidence swiftly reveals that fact.

But if the same employee bringing the same charges--assuming that she is still lying for motives of her own--had very carefully gone over her schedule as well as her boss's, and had thus created her allegations in such a way that the dates and times did correspond to times when she and her boss were working together, it's likely that a full investigation with, perhaps, a protracted leave of absence might be necessary. Even if the allegations still could be proved false, they are credible, because the employee and her employer were actually working together and seen to be working together on the dates and times when she is alleging that harassment occurred.

The problem, of course, is that the credibility of an accusation of misconduct, whether against a priest, a lay person, a teacher, a coach, etc. says nothing about the truth or falsehood of those allegations. There can be credible accusations which turn out to be true, and credible accusations that turn out to be false. The only kinds of accusations which can be dismissed out of hand without triggering an investigation process or procedure, regardless of the organization etc., are those which have no credibility at all, which are clearly fabricated, or which the accuser recants.

In Fr. Corpai's situation, the former employee has, according to Fr. Corapi's statement, accused him of "...everything from drug addiction to multiple sexual exploits with her and several other adult women." Father then goes on to say the following:
There seems to no longer be the need for a complaint to be deemed “credible” in order for Church authorities to pull the trigger on the Church’s procedure, which was in recent years crafted to respond to cases of the sexual abuse of minors. I am not accused of that, but it seems, once again, that they now don’t have to deem the complaint to be credible or not, and it is being applied broadly to respond to all complaints. I have been placed on "administrative leave" as the result of this.
I've said many times that I know nothing personally about Father Corapi, but I would guess, from the frustration he appears to be expressing, that he is using the word "credible" the way most people would; that is, in that narrow sense meaning "Do we really believe this particular person could even possibly be guilty of such actions?" I can understand that frustration to a certain extent.

But I'm convinced that "credible," in the way it is used to determine whether a complaint must be investigated or not, has the much broader meaning I've used above: that is, that all Father's order could do as a preliminary investigation was to find out whether the woman in question did in fact work with Father Corapi, whether the other women mentioned in the complaint had as well or were known to be associated in some way with him, and whether or not any dates or times mentioned were not completely impossible.

I could, of course, be wrong about this, in which case Father Corapi's superiors really ought to be releasing a ringing vindication of him any minute now; if the accusations could easily be proved not credible in the sense I mean then they probably have been or will be almost immediately. And, yes, in that case it would certainly be appropriate to call for more just procedures--but it is not particularly appropriate, to me, to be assuming that SOLT has acted unjustly or uncharitably by giving non-credible allegations the same treatment to which they would give credible ones. But we can only say that if we realize that a credible allegation means only that it is theoretically possible, no matter how remotely, for the allegations to be true; it most emphatically does not mean that the person accused is presumed in any way to be guilty of any charge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

All quiet on the blogging front

I can tell we've passed the Second Sunday of Lent. My Google reader hasn't been this quiet since Christmas.

Did everybody give up blogging for Lent?

Just for fun, let's have a survey (with my usual low-tech approach to such things):

1. Do you give up blogging/reading blogs for Lent?
a) Yes, always, and I'm cheating right now to read this.
b) No, never.
c) Sometimes.
d) I'm not sure.

2. Do you think that blogging or reading blogs is a waste of time?
a) Yes, always. Except for this blog. Or blogs written by priests. Or...something.
b) No, never. Blogging is a good hobby and reading blogs is fun.
c) Sometimes--but only when I'm writing or reading when I'm supposed to be folding laundry.
d) I'm not sure.

3. Which activity is most like writing or reading a blog?
a) Writing or reading cereal box panels.
b) Writing or reading great literature. Or at least interesting letters.
c) Writing or reading blurbs in the local newspaper.
d) I'm not sure.

4. Which activity is more important than blogging?
a) Watching paint dry.
b) Watching the pope on TV. So long as it's not an EWTN rerun.
c) Watching the toddlers in one's home.
d) I'm not sure.

5. My favorite bloggers...
a) roughly twice a year except when they're on sabbatical.
b) several times a day, and never post anything shorter than 300 words in length.
c) four or five times a week, but only if they have something worth saying.
d)...I'm not sure.


Mostly A: Gosh, you really don't like blogs very much, which means it's a huge compliment that you read mine. ;)

Mostly B: Gosh, you LOVE blogs! Thanks for being such a great reader! Please don't stop reading!

Mostly C: You're a measured and balanced sort of person, and the kind of reader bloggers everywhere want to have.

Mostly D: You are the sort of person who spends fifteen minutes in the cereal aisle. Go on, admit it. :)

How did you do?

Battle of the sexes

Simcha Fisher writes today about two things: 1. that boys and girls are different, and 2. that saying so in public is so politically incorrect that you might as well keep your piehole closed. Preferably around pie. Or waffles, apparently.

Coincidentally, or maybe not, a report today comes out saying that while boys and girls have different brains in early childhood, the differences may disappear earlier than was once thought:

Boys' and girls' brains are different—but not always in the ways you might think.

A common stereotype is that boys develop more slowly than girls, putting them at a disadvantage in school where pressure to perform is starting ever younger. Another notion is that puberty is a time when boys' and girls' brains grow more dissimilar, accounting for some of the perceived disparities between the sexes.

Now, some scientists are debunking such thinking. Although boys' and girls' brains show differences around age 10, during puberty key parts of their brains become more similar, according to recent government research. And, rather than growing more slowly, boys' brains instead are simply developing differently.

So there may be more similarities in our brains--but does that mean men and women are roughly identical and interchangeable? Well, no:

A female war photographer from the New York Times revealed tonight how she was repeatedly sexually assaulted during her nightmare hostage ordeal in Libya.

Lynsey Addario was one of four Times journalists have now been released after being held captive by pro-Gaddafi forces.

During their six-day detainment, the Americans were beaten and threatened with being decapitated and shot.

Miss Addario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, gave a harrowing account of her brutal treatment at the hands of their Libyan captors in an interview given just hours after her release.

After she and her colleagues were hauled out of a car at a checkpoint near the eastern city of Ajdabiya, one of the Libyans punched her in the face and laughed at her.

Then I started crying and he was laughing more,’ she told the Times.

One man grabbed her breasts – the start of a pattern of sexual harassment she endured over the ensuing 48 hours.

There was a lot of groping,’ she said. ‘Every man who came in contact with us basically felt every inch of my body short of what was under my clothes.’

When I first saw this article, I noticed that a commenter had expressed concern that a female photographer would be put into such a situation--only to be chastised by other commenters for saying any such thing. Women can do everything men can do--and if the price paid is a little sexual assault in conditions where men are merely beaten, well, so what? was a common sort of attitude in the responses. Feminism should be proud--I guess.

I do think there are significant and real differences between men and women, differences that go far beyond the "swathed-in-pink girly girl" on the one hand, and "scruffy-tool-wielding he-men" on the other. To the extent that there has been a reaction against that idea, I think the reaction has come from the tendency some people have either to insist that the stereotypes are the reality, to the extent that a woman who isn't strongly domestic or a man who isn't strongly gifted in typical masculine pursuits has been considered less a woman or less a man, as the case may be. Then, too, there has been the equally unhelpful tendency to view one gender through a completely negative lens, and to say things about how women are less intelligent or less capable than men on the one hand, or that men are less civilized or less capable of emotional depth on the other.

I think it is a little stupid and even a little dangerous to deny that men and women are different, or to pretend that they are equally at risk or not at risk in combat zones, or that they are equally gifted in all areas of life; but I also think it's a little stupid and more than a little dangerous to pretend that either men or women are superior solely by virtue of their genders, or that one's gender makes some particular types of tasks (N.B.: tasks, not occupations or vocations) completely impossible for all members of that gender, or that while men's and women's gifts are different they are not somehow both equally valuable.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What's wrong with Catholic celebrity?

Sorry for the late blogging--Monday, and all that.

Our diocese participates in a vocational prayer program that many other dioceses around the country have also adopted. It's called the Chalice Program, and the idea is simple:
What is the Chalice Program?

Many parishes throughout the diocese have implemented the Chalice Program to encourage families to pray for religious vocations. A chalice (or another symbol) is presented to a volunteer family at each weekend liturgy for the family to display in their home while offering prayers for vocations throughout the week. The family brings back the chalice the next weekend when they attend Mass, and the chalice is presented to another family.
There is a special prayer for vocations which accompanies this parish program. In our parish, the prayer for vocations reads as follows:
Lord, guide all who are seeking You. May Your Spirit direct all who are called to a religious vocation and strengthen those who have committed themselves to priesthood or religious life. Inspire men and women to serve Your Church, and keep us all in Your grace. Amen.
Yesterday our family received the chalice and took it home in its special box to place it in a place of prominence so we would remember to pray for vocations. That place is on top of the computer armoire where I am sitting right now as I write this; not only is it a central spot in our living room, but has the added advantage of being one of the handful of places Smidge, our auxiliary back-up cat, has not been able to reach by jumping or climbing.

I was thinking about our participation in this program as the story about Father Corapi broke this weekend. My reaction to the story has been much like that of Mark Shea: we don't really know what is going on, it's not our business to interfere in an investigation either by being outraged that the investigation is taking place, or by being outraged by the mere existence of accusations, and the proper response to the whole thing is simply prayer for all concerned. I myself have never heard Fr. Corapi speak, nor watched him on television, nor heard him on the radio, nor read any of his writings--I truly know nothing about him other than that he is very popular. That popularity, on the one hand, is producing some people who are heaping scorn and anger on his accuser and on those responsible for his suspension during this investigation (despite the fact that this is pretty much standard procedure even for lay people accused of harassment or some such thing, and thus not all that horrifying), and on the other, people who are pointing to his popularity and the trappings of fame as proof that there's probably something behind the charges.

Neither of those responses are valuable. If anything, though, they are both driven by our culture of celebrity, by our tendency, in America, to become fiercely partisan over our movie stars and sports figures and politicians, to defend hotly the ones we personally like or approve of and to rejoice in the downfall of the ones we don't like at all.

Translated to the Catholic sphere, we've become rather enamored of the idea of turning some of our religious figures into celebrities in their own rights. We like the idea of the famous priest, the monk we've seen on TV (and not the crime-solving fictional layman character, either), the nun whose order is known for its humble holiness so much so that it's become a sort of brand identity for the convent or order; we even like the idea of lay Catholic cult figures, the rock-stars of the pro-life community, the "in" crowd of the Catholic blogosphere, the Catholic homeschooling guru or the popular author of "keeping it real" vocation-of-motherhood books aimed at Catholic moms from the boardroom to the playground to the kitchen-table school.

We like fame, we Americans. We like celebrity. But the danger of insisting that our favorite Catholic figures be celebrities is that we end up trying to turn holiness into one of those "set-apart" things that we like about celebrities. It's the Catholic version of being able to get reservations at swanky restaurants at the last minute or being given bucketloads of free stuff in exchange for endorsements: holiness is seen as one of the "perks" of being a Catholic celebrity, a quality that both elevates certain well-known Catholics to celebrity status and proves that they're worthy of that status in the first place.

There are tons of things that are wrong with this view. The most obvious is that holiness is a call for everyone, not just for the people who make it big in the relatively small Catholic pond. Another is that assuming the Catholic celebrities we like are already holy diminishes them a little as people, making us incapable of seeing them as capable of struggle, pain, suffering, temptation, and sin--which they are, as we all are.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of viewing holiness as a sort of perk of Catholic celebrity is that we reduce holiness to an outward quality, a thing discernible by how well someone writes or speaks or inspires or challenges or converts others, a quality that automatically follows words like "orthodox" or "reverent" or "inspirational" or "on fire."

We should know, we who are familiar with the Gospels, how wrong that is, how possible it is for a charlatan, a fraud, a hypocrite to appear orthodox, reverent, inspirational, or even on fire for God. Jesus confronted such people frequently--they were the Pharisees, who made such a show of their religious observances that ordinary people looked up to them as if they were holiness-celebrities, people who had it all right and had figured it out, people who were conferring honor upon God instead of it being the other way around by their demeanor and habits. Inside, of course, they were what Our Lord called rotting sepulchers--full of deeply ingrained sins, bad habits, contemptible practices--people, that is, like us.

The truth of the matter is that we can't tell how holy someone is from the outside. We simply can't. We don't know whether someone is a troubadour for God or a noisy gong, a clanging symbol--not until they've left this life, and the Church has examined their lives and declared some of them saints. Only then can we call them "holy" and know that this is the simple truth.

That is why it is appropriate to pray for priests, for nuns, for bishops, for cardinals, for the pope himself. That is why it is appropriate to pray humbly for each other, regardless of our status or lack thereof in the Catholic celebrity world. A vocation is not a guarantee of holiness; gifts of teaching or preaching are not guarantees of holiness; dedicated lives of service are not guarantees of holiness--nothing, in fact, that we can see from the outside of a man is a guarantee that he is holy. Only God, who sees the heart, really knows.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A suggestion for a new law

Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has signed into law an ordinance which may be unconstitutional demanding that crisis pregnancy centers make a series of ten disclosures in their signs, writing, advertising, and interactions with clients to let them know that--newsflash!--crisis pregnancy centers don't kill babies.

Dr. Alvada King has a good question:

Dr. Alveda King, a pro-life advocate who is the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that abortion providers would not appreciate being forced to make disclosures similar to those being asked of crisis pregnancy centers.

“We help women, and we help babies,” she told CNA. “Why don't the abortion clinics put up signs, saying 'We kill babies, we often hurt mothers, and our clinics are unregulated and often not up to good standards'? Why don't they put up those signs?”

I think that's an excellent question. In fact, I have the wording for a sign I think should be required, by law, to be placed in every abortion butchery in the nation--in red, below:

Notice: This is an abortion clinic. We do not want you to choose life, as we will then lose the $350-$1000 we would otherwise make by killing your unborn child. We will not counsel you to choose life. We will not ask you if you are sure you want the abortion or if you have considered adoption for your baby. Rather, we will insist that your baby is a clump of tissue. We may tell you the following things, all of which are false after the sixth week of gestation:

  • that your baby does not have a heartbeat
  • that your baby is simply "a few cells" in size
  • that your baby does not yet have a head, arms, or legs
  • that your baby can't yet move in the uterus
  • that there is no difference between your baby and an animal embryo
or anything else that dehumanizes and depersonalizes the child you carry inside you.

In fact, we will never use the words "child" or "baby" except in extremely negative contexts. Rather, we will say "cells," "the pregnancy," "the embryo," or, perhaps, "the fetus." We will imply that whatever is inside you, it has nothing to do with those images of unborn babies you sometimes see.

We will not provide you with an ultrasound of your baby unless the state requires it. We will not tell you about fetal development or your baby's gestational age and development unless the state requires it. Even if the state requires it we may fail to meet state requirements; we will definitely encourage you to sign away your rights to see such images or to hear about your baby's development as state laws generally permit, on the grounds that it interferes with your "choice" to think for even a moment that you are carrying a living human being inside your body.

You are carrying a living human being inside of you, and your abortion will end the life of the developing human being inside of you. He or she will likely be either dismembered alive and removed, shredded alive via a suction device, poisoned to death and delivered, or simply delivered alive and left to expire. You will not cease to be a mother via this abortion, as you will remain the mother of a dead human child. If you are having an abortion because you are poor, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or in a bad relationship, you should be aware that after the abortion you will still be poor, addicted, or stuck with the kind of jerk who doesn't want children. Abortion will not solve any of your present problems and may create future ones. If you are unhappy about your abortion, your abortionist does not offer any money-back or other guarantees, as once he has killed your child he doesn't give an expletive deleted about what happens to you, and isn't about to refund any of your cash, most of which is conveniently untraceable by government taxing authorities.

Our clinic is not in the business of helping clients straighten out their lives after their abortions. In fact, we hope you will continue to make the kind of choices that lead to unplanned and unwanted pregnancy; repeat business is good for our bottom line. Unlike many crisis pregnancy centers, we will not help you finish your education, find a job, or learn the kind of life skills you will need to be a good and responsible parent. We would rather keep you in a state of perpetual irresponsibility so you will continue to need our services.

If you expect us to care about you as a person, to offer you life counseling or any other form of compassion--get over yourself. We kill human babies for a living, and we're proud of it. That should tell you something about what kind of people we are.

I think we should start requiring abortion clinics, by law, to post that or some similar notice. At least then the crisis pregnancy centers wouldn't be the only ones in the position of having to advertise what they don't do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not really on our side

With all of the Planned Parenthood/Lila Rose/vote to defund news having died down somewhat as we wait to see whether the defunding will actually proceed or die in the Senate, I thought this article was a timely reminder of why some of us don't really trust the Republicans on issues dealing with abortion and contraception:
Trends within politics rarely occur in a vacuum. Instead, they develop within a broader ideological and historical context, which accounts for individual elected officials’ political motivations to this very day. Planned Parenthood, for instance, has always enjoyed the support of a notable component of the Republican Party, especially its moderate or Rockefeller wing, comprised of influential Establishment elitists, internationalists, and environmentalists.

The seven Republicans who voted in favor of retaining federal funding for Planned Parenthood, in addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, all hail from this tradition. Beyond their obvious support for pro-choice causes, these individuals are also characterized by a commitment to centrist policies and fiscal largesse — all indicative of their opposition to the principles of traditional, constitutional government.

Ever since its earliest days, Planned Parenthood has counted among its supporters prominent members of the Republican Party. As early as 1942, Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush (picture, above)[picture at link: E.M.], grandfather of President George W. Bush, was a supporter of Margaret Sanger’s American Birth Control League, and in 1947, served as the treasurer for the first national campaign for Planned Parenthood. The political repercussions hit hard. Prescott Bush was knocked out of an expected victory for a Senate seat in Connecticut in 1950 after syndicated columnist Drew Pearson declared that it "has been made known" that Bush was a leader in the "Birth Control Society" (the original name of Planned Parenthood was the Birth Control Federation of America). Prescott Bush won a Senate seat two years later, and his son George and daughter-in-law Barbara continued to support Planned Parenthood even after George's election to Congress from Texas. In fact, he was such an advocate for family planning that some House colleagues nicknamed him "Rubbers."

In addition, Prescott’s son George H.W. also supported family planning efforts while serving as a Texas congressman. President George H.W. Bush was best known for his opposition to Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics, rooted in the free-market ideas of Hayek and Friedman, deriding the conservative Reagan as a proponent of “voodoo economics.” He wrote a constituent in 1970: “I introduced legislation earlier this year which would provide federal funds for research in family planning devices and increased services to people who need them but cannot afford them. We must help our young people become aware of the fact that families can be planned and that there are benefits economically and socially to be derived from small families.” ("George Bush to Mrs. Jim Hunter, Jr., Oct. 23, 1970" [Virginia B. Whitehill Papers, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University].)

The author spends some time talking about Barry Goldwater's support for abortion and his wife's involvement with Planned Parenthood, before continuing with present-day Republicans:

Romney has flip-flopped egregiously on the question of abortion. In 2002, he announced that he supported a “woman’s right to choose,” and in 1994, said he supported Roe v. Wade. Later that year, according to the Boston Herald, he "came down more firmly in the abortion rights camp,” declaring his support for the "morning after" pill and a federal bill protecting visitors to health clinics from anti-abortion violence. In a debate later that year against Ted Kennedy, Romney said that he had supported abortion rights consistently since 1970 when his mother Lenore ran as a pro-abortion rights candidate for the U.S. Senate in Michigan. He linked his support for abortion rights to the death "many years ago" of a "dear, close family relative" following a botched illegal abortion. "You will not see me wavering on that," he added.

Later in 2002, Romney claimed he would "preserve and protect" abortion rights in Massachusetts, and told activists from NARAL Pro Choice America that “you need someone like me in Washington," according to notes taken by a member of NARAL. NARAL officials interpreted this as a reference to his national political ambitions. In addition, he answered "yes" in a questionnaire from Planned Parenthood in 2002 on whether he would support "efforts to increase access to emergency contraception."

Read the whole article here.

There's a reason why some Catholics are starting to realize that neither party is really all that committed to protecting and preserving human life from conception until natural death. True, there are pro-life Republicans who are also opposed to IVF, ESCR, and similar evils--but almost nobody opposes governmental funding and distribution of contraception. It is taken for granted that it is an unqualified good to keep certain segments of the population from reproducing, even if they have to have free pills, shots, or condoms to decrease their reproduction to socially acceptable levels.

We may, at times, form alliances with Republicans to achieve some of our pro-life goals--and that's fine. That's politics. But we're being stunningly naive if we believe that the vast majority of Republicans share our committment to the protection of unborn human life, or will work with us on issues like ESCR--or even to end the funding of Planned Parenthood. Plenty of Republicans think birth control is morally good, and that it's especially good when being used to keep the American underclasses from becoming too numerous.

St. Patrick's Day--in space!

This is awesome:

Irish-American astronaut Cady Coleman has not forgotten her Emerald Isle roots, even as she sails high above Earth on the International Space Station. The NASA astronaut marked St. Patrick's Day in space by playing a solo on a 100-year-old Irish flute.

"I love St. Patrick's Day," Coleman said in a NASA video released today (March 17). "In my family, we are a quarter Irish on each side and somehow that adds up to much more than a half."

When she launched toward the space station in December on a Russian spacecraft, Coleman — a hobby flutist — made sure to take a bit of that Irish heritage along for the ride. She packed away two Irish instruments — an antique wooden flute and a shiny pennywhistle — that were loaned to her by the members of the Chieftains, an Irish band.

"St. Patrick's Day is a day when people all over the Earth recognize their Irish heritage," Coleman said while wearing an appropriately green shirt. "And now we're doing that from space as well.

The wooden flute is owned by Chieftains member Matt Molloy, and the pennywhistle is one used by his bandmate Paddy Maloney, Coleman said.

"I might not have mentioned that the trip would have been six months long and that their flutes would have traveled millions of miles before they came home, but I'd like to reassure them that their treasures are just fine," Coleman said. "They're actually never far from home because we fly over Ireland several times a day."

Here's a video of Coleman playing a tune on one of her flutes.

Happy St. Patrick's Day--wherever in, or out of, the world you are! :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...

I've got to admit: the highlighted phrase in this news article produced a sardonic chuckle or two:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wholesale prices jumped last month by the most in nearly two years due to higher energy costs and the steepest rise in food prices in 36 years. Excluding those volatile categories, inflation was tame.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February -- double the 0.8 percent rise in the previous month. Outside of food and energy costs, the core index ticked up 0.2 percent, less than January's 0.5 percent rise.

Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Most of that increase was due to a sharp rise in vegetable costs, which increased nearly 50 percent. That was the most in almost a year. Meat and dairy products also rose.

Energy prices rose 3.3 percent last month, led by a 3.7 percent increase in gasoline costs. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

Saying that "outside of food and energy costs" the economic news isn't so bad is a bit like the famous joke question, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

Does anyone doubt that in a Republican administration, the news that food prices were higher than they had been in 36 years, since November of 1974, would lead the evening news, top all the headlines, and be the subject of "talking head" discussions on every major news channel?

I can't help but wonder if the Democrats are going to be blindsided by the depth of the public's frustration over jobs, the economy, and the rising prices of necessities like food and energy. After all, the mainstream media is busy telling us all that everything is okay--and nobody but pajama-wearing bloggers thinks otherwise, right?

Fear of babies

Writer Mary Kochan has an interesting piece on why people fear babies:

I’ve just had to ponder this. What is it about a baby? A baby! That creates such murderous rage in the hearts of people that they would collude in his destruction, that the worst news they could receive would be that he is alive and well? Because make no mistake, for the Canadian hospital and their court system, the worst thing that could happen at this point would be that Baby Joseph survives.

We have a Pennsylvania abortionist going on trial for killing infants that survived his crude late-term abortion attempts. We have a president who, while in the Illinois legislature voted against protecting the lives of babies born alive during attempted abortions. In both cases the most unwelcome conclusion was that the babies live. Why? I can’t get that question out of my mind. Unlike Kafka’s hapless protagonist, these babies cannot ask “why” for themselves – they cannot protest, as an assertion of their human dignity, being killed “like a dog.” But the question should haunt the rest of us.


Mary's conclusion, that every baby is a reminder of the Incarnation and is thus hated by post-Christian societies, is an intriguing one--but I wonder if there isn't something a little more basic going on.

I think the fear of babies, the fear that leads to women gulping contraceptive chemicals like candy regardless of what these things may do to their bodies, that leads men to abandoning pregnant girlfriends or wives, that leaves to both men and women fearing and hating each other's reproductive ability even within the context of a loving marriage, and drives some people to the abortion clinic, is rooted in a truly deep and ugly fear: the fear of having to give up one's own carefully structured selfishness and, with it, the desire to remain a child.

When you become a mother or a father, you can't live your life putting yourself first anymore. You can't ignore your child's immediate and several and time-consuming needs. During the child's infancy and toddlerhood you may find yourself doing things you would never have imagined to take care of your little one. As the child grows, there are fresh areas of concern: schooling, medical needs, activities, growing responsibility and awareness. And all of that happens before the teen years, with their own new set of challenges and demands on parents.

Parents know that the rewards far outweigh what we must give; in fact, the very maturity and responsibility that comes with parenthood is a great plus in itself, before we even start to list such things as the amazing sound of a cooing, happy baby or the tug of pride when a child crosses a milestone, whether that milestone is toilet training or college graduation or anything in between. But to people who aren't parents, these rewards are too ephemeral to understand, while the sacrifice of giving up the freedom to do whatever one wants whenever one wants to do it, in exchange for poopy diapers, colic, and endless "Dr. Seuss" marathons, is too horrible to contemplate.

Of course, we all owe our lives to people who weren't afraid to be the grown-ups and to have us and raise us--but that's easily forgotten by the fearful, who see only the negatives when confronted with a positive pregnancy test, and who seek the abortion clinic with the notion that they'd rather sacrifice their child's existence than their own preferred mode of living.

The origami swan

Back on his old blog, Rod Dreher used to talk about the "Black Swan" theory expounded by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the idea that some very rare events which have major impacts aren't even remotely predictable (and are rationalized by hindsight).

Obviously, not every disaster (natural or man-made) is going to be a Black Swan. Some have only localized impacts, some aren't all that rare, and some can be predicted (even if the predictions weren't heeded). Not only that, but some that are rare, unpredictable, and have major impacts can't be rationalized by any hindsight--there's no talk along the lines of "we should have seen that coming," with the associated idea that in future, we will, and thus will avoid similar catastrophes.

All of that said, I confess that I've been wondering whether the events in Japan will someday be looked on as a Black Swan event. No, earthquakes aren't terribly predictable; that is, we may know that a region is prone to them and that a large one may be coming, but we never know the day or the hour, so to speak. Tsunamis may be relatively predictable in that they follow earthquakes, but again, their exact location, scope and impact aren't known ahead of time. Nuclear accidents as a result of an earthquake are--well, unprecedented--but could it have been foreseen? And various results of this trilogy of disasters may also have Black Swan-like attributes--for instance, if Japan must rely on foreign oil for a time that could impact prices at a time when prices are already high, spreading the effects across the global economy. That's just one example, though; there are probably dozens of ways that the devastation in Japan might impact the rest of the world.

According to Taleb's theory, a Black Swan event has three characteristics: the event was a surprise, the event has a major impact, and after the event people begin to believe that they should have seen it coming. I think the situation in Japan satisfies the first two criteria, but it's too early to tell about the third. Clearly, few people really believe that we should have seen the March 9 earthquake in Japan, a 7.2 magnitude quake, as the foreshock it actually was; and tsunamis which follow earthquakes are as unpredictable as the earthquakes themselves, as I said above. The focus will likely be, then, on the impacts of these events, including the nuclear situation, and whether those things and their effects on the rest of the world (if any) should have been foreseen.

What do you think? Is the situation in Japan an example of a Black Swan unfolding in our time, or not?

There's a story here

I've been watching lots of videos of the tsunami/earthquake and its aftermath. While there is a great deal of sorrow, there have also been happy moments, reunions, and good news.

I don't think anything moved me as much as the end of this video, though. Beginning at the 2:08 mark and continuing to the end, we see the story of a man who was the president of a now-destroyed sake factory which employed fifty people. This man told his employees after the earthquake that they could decide whether to go home or go to shelters; after the tsunami, he made contact with twenty-two employees--and then searched shelters every day to try to find the rest. The video shows him meeting a twenty-third employee and locating three more. The emotion on the gentleman's face when he meets his employee--the genuine relief and happiness at one more found alive--made more of an impact on me than anything else I've seen. The video is here:

This kind of thing witnessed in the aftermath of tragedy tends to give one faith in humanity, after all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Today's must read: on the manufacturing of humans

The Archbolds have a guest blogger, and you've got to read what she writes:
Five human lives have been created and put in "storage" until they are ready to "use" as the St. Lawrence's "project" to provide themselves "insurance." (Her words not mine.) There was a time we used "gift" and "blessing" when referring to children but in this Brave New World, "project" and "insurance" are more appropriate. IVF is now being used for human manufacturing to specifications. In this case, ordered with delayed delivery.

What is particularly chilling (no pun intended) is Gillian's description of how she weighed the pros and cons of freezing her offspring as if she was deciding whether the lasagna she made the night before would freeze well enough to still taste good in a few months.
IVF is not, and never has been, about healing infertility. IVF is, and always has been, about the commodification of human beings for manufacture to specifications. IVF creates leftover people who can then be discarded or experimented upon with no consideration for their human dignity. And it makes parents into the ultimate consumers, trading the natural protective bond of parents and children for a manufactured relationship where the awareness that "I created and threw away three more just like you!" spoils the integrity of the parent-child bond.

In fact, I once met a dentist whose son had been created this way--and on our first (and only--I chose a different dentist) meeting he went on and on about how his son wasn't what he'd expected and how he was sure "they" had left some important bits (brain cells, he alluded) in the tube where the boy had been created. It was absolutely clear that this man was a disappointed customer; it was equally clear that he had no idea how utterly revolting his attitude towards his child was.

Children are not consumer goods. But IVF blurs the line, and makes customers where parents once were. It is evil, and must be opposed.

Can you sing?

As if he doesn't get into enough blog-related trouble already, the indomitable Mark Shea today tackles an issue so divisive and so controversial that he is likely to ruffle the handful of Catholic feathers he has thus far managed to avoid ruffling: bad liturgical music:
As a resident of the Soviet of Washington, I have endured my share of "Hey! Check me out! I'm a MUSIC MINISTER!" "ministry". We all have, no doubt, our horror stories. I figure there are two basic ways to approach such matters. One is to lose your Christianity and call it "righteous anger" (a favorite approach of the anger addicts so often found in the reactionary dissent wing of the Church who snort bitterness like crystal meth and tell themselves they are thereby accomplishing some great good for the Kingdom of God). I have never seen any good--any good whatsoever--proceed from this approach. All it does is corrode and destroy the life of grace in the soul, alienate people who might otherwise have been attracted to the faith, and ensure that harried priests and music ministers who might otherwise be open to reason are frightened off by that pissed-off guy in the back pew who does nothing but murmur, grumble and complain. [...]

That said, of course, there is, as well, the fact that some music comes close to (and some music actually constitutes,) if not sacrilege, then at least an assault on the ears, on good theology, and on the prayers of the people (as in your case). Reactionary dissenters are often very quick to leap to 'sacrilege' as the charge. I'm not so convinced. Often music ministers are doing the best they know how with a willing heart of praise. To spit on their efforts too swiftly may put you in the position of spitting on the widow offering her mite: something I would not advise having on your resume at the Pearly Gates. But other times, you may really be dealing with the raw insertion of ego into the liturgy (I remember a woman in our parish who just could not refrain from jamming in a lick from Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" at the end of the (admittedly dreadful) "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" (both are in 5/4 time).) All it did was shout "Hey! Look at me! Aren't I witty?"

The first recommendation of the tradition to such little mustaches being painted on the Mona Lisa of the Mass is prayer. If we feel anger (and emotions will do what they do) then our task is to turn it to action, not just sit there stewing. A quiet and supportive word to the pastor--mainly emphasizing that you appreciate his hard work, while sandwiching in some positive way of directing the music toward its focus (i.e. God, and not the music ministers or our celebration of our Usness), with another slice of living bread again thanking him for his hard work and pledging what support you can give him--can go a long way. It's more or less what you want to hear on your job, right? Do you want to hear "You suck, you incompetent moron! Do better!" or do you want to hear "I'm with you all the way. Here's a place I think could improve the already fantastic job you are doing so that you will rock even more!"
Read the rest here.

Regular readers already know that I'm a member of my local parish choir, also known as the "music infliction team." (Just kidding. Sort of.) As a choir member with strong traditional leanings, I love it when we sing great old music and well-done newer stuff; I also hate it when we sing the gobs of utter dreck out there, most of it newer for the simple reason that the really old dreck doesn't tend to survive all that long (for an example of old dreck, see here. Yes, some traditional-minded people would argue that this piece is lovely and wonderful just because it is old, but I'm sorry--this is bad on so many levels: theologically, musically, poetically--"By the light of burning martyrs..."?? Really?? etc.). The point is that bad music existed before the Second Vatican Council, but bad music couldn't really do all that much to the tone of the Mass when hymns were relegated to an opening and closing hymn on occasion, with choir-produced chant, motets, etc. filling up the rest of the musical "space," so to speak.

Of course, even before Vatican II there were sometimes problems with a "runaway choir" which dragged out long chant settings and left Father waiting at the altar to proceed with the Mass. And the often-quoted passage by then Cardinal Ratzinger, “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and has been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment...” is not exclusive to the post-Vatican II Mass; one problem (mainly in Europe) before Vatican II is that some tourists and other non-Catholics had a tendency to treat Masses as free concerts, to show up when some really good choir had some particularly challenging classical Mass setting planned in order to listen (and applaud) just as if they were in a concert hall. It is sobering yet funny to realize that at least our terrible post-Conciliar music has all but ended that practice, as you can hear better music almost anywhere besides a Catholic parish these days.

One of the biggest problems I have as a choir member is that the music books we use--the dreaded OCP hymnals--contain a large selection of music which is simply not good; some of it is theologically wrong, while other pieces are just trite or silly. I have more patience for the trite and silly than I used to, though, because I've encountered many people, both in real life and online, who tell stories of how this or that hymn means so much to them because it was sung at a relative's funeral or a wedding Mass or some other deeply moving occasion. For the theologically inept, though, I have less patience, and have voiced my opinions on occasion to our choir director, who is a thoroughly nice person and a good friend. The problem, though, is that the theologically bad stuff is there, in the hymnal, with the bishops' approval, and without the leadership of a good, musically inclined pastor it's almost impossible to get rid of that stuff altogether--I've even had pastors (in the past) who enthusiastically like some of the terrible stuff so much that they are pleased when it is scheduled and will ask for it when it's not. How are mere lay people supposed to say, "But, Father, doesn't this hymn really contain the heresy of consubstantiation?" when nobody else seems to have a problem with the piece?

Some people hear their parish choirs singing that sort of thing, and just give up. They close their hymnals, glare, and dream of better days. I used to be one of those people--until I realized that, having a fairly decent singing voice, I could probably do more good by being involved in the parish choir, even if it meant occasionally singing stuff I hate. And the truth is, most choirs are sorely in need of people who can sing and will show up for practice (mostly men; there are usually enough women, though not always). The funny thing is that since I've been in the choir I've realized that some of the traditional hymns will cause the same hymnal closing, glaring behavior among those people who hate the "old stuff," either because they associate it with bad memories from their young days, or because they are convinced that we have to "stay relevant" in order to attract teens, who apparently love music that was written in the 1970s or something.

If you can sing or play the sort of instrument that is appropriate for sacred music, and if you are not already so over scheduled in your life that a weekly hour or so of choir practice would be impossible--yet you prefer instead to sit in the pew and grumble about the music--then, my friend, I'm sorry to have to tell you, but you're part of the problem. I was, too (though there were some years when my girls were too young for me to contemplate being in choir; I don't want to make things harder for moms of young children who would love to be singing but can't for the near future). It's true that you won't transform a V-II choir into a schola cantorum overnight (and the thing that's holding us back from attempting some of that lovely Latin music is that', but I found a lovely 4-part piece for Easter the other day and realized that since the parts separate and layer and weave in and out we can't do it without experienced basses), but you'll never be able to expect that a handful of people who can barely (but enthusiastically) sing the melody line of rather simple pieces are going to be transformed into a choir capable of sacred polyphony unless you're willing to lend a hand.

Now, I realize that for many good singers the issue really is time, or the scheduling of practices, or a bad past experience with a choir director who refused to sing anything but "Gather Us In," or some such thing. But for others it's the same issue that keeps them from volunteering in other capacities at church: a fear of the committment, and of getting in over your head in some way. Still--why not try? We've had a few people join but then leave when they couldn't make practices or found the music too challenging--but there were no hard feelings, and we'd welcome any of them back in a second even if they only wanted to sit with us for one Mass and sing the melody line of the hymns.

Can you sing? If you can--and note, I'm not asking if you're a trained singer and can sight-read music and so forth--then instead of complaining about the dreadful music at Mass, why not see about joining the choir, provided you can make the time in your schedule without being overwhelmed? If you like good music, if you'd like the music at your parish to improve, if you'd be willing to work on and practice the good pieces to the best of your ability, if you can make even the not-so-good pieces sound better by using your good voice to give it a full, rich sound--why not try? If it's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, surely it's better to sing a clear, pure note than to cover your ears against the discord, right?

40 Days for Life--Day Seven, already!

I can't believe I wasn't paying enough attention last week to realize that the 40 Days for Life campaign had started up again. Now it's Day Seven, and I have yet to do a single dedicated post on abortion, prayerful witness, or any related topic! I could blame all the time I've spent reading earthquake/tsunami news for my inattention, but since 40 Days for Life started last Wednesday and the earthquake happened Friday I'm afraid it's a poor excuse.

Sometimes, though, our Lent tends to go this way. We have some vague ideas of sacrifices we want to make or prayers we want to say or spiritual reading we want to do--and a whole week (or so) into Lent we realize we're not doing much to put it all into practice. The temptation, then, is to give up, to say, "Oh, who am I kidding, anyway?" and return to our usual practices.

But it's never too late to start trying to do something good. I may have missed the first six "40 Days for Life" pro-life posts I usually write during this time of the year, but there's no reason for me to abandon the whole notion because of my inattention and stupidity. If your Lenten resolutions are still "resolutions" instead of daily habits, or if you totally forgot about the one really meaningful thing you planned to do this year--hey, we're barely a week into Lent; it's not too late.

Today, I'd like to focus on some news out of the 40 Days website: as of yesterday, 35 babies have been saved from abortion by the presence of the prayerful, peaceful protesters outside abortion clinics in America.

Those babies were scheduled to be killed, and now they won't be. In less than nine months' time they will be born, all because people cared enough to stand for a few hours outside a pro-death clinic and offer a real, viable, heartening message in favor of choosing life, along with whatever help the desperate mothers needed to turn away from the evil they were contemplating.

It doesn't take shady tactics to end abortion--it takes love, offered freely to mothers and their babies by prayerful witness and a message of hope.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A quick survey on blog rolls

A reader noticed that I'd recently deleted CMR from my blog roll, and thought I was "excommunicating" the CMR guys over my disagreement with Patrick Archbold. No worries--they're still on my Google Reader feed along with all of my other must-read daily blogs; I was actually in the process of paring down my blog roll, and had removed about five (including CMR) the other day before getting interrupted and forgetting about the whole thing.

The truth is, there are several key Catholic blogs I read daily: CMR, Catholic and Enjoying It, Acts of the Apostasy, and about a dozen others, in addition to a handful of Christian blogs and blogs that are more news-oriented or political in focus. All of these blogs are on my Google Reader, because that way I don't have to waste time checking them when they haven't updated. Not only that, but all of these are quite popular blogs--nobody's going to come to my tiny and insignificant blog, see a link to CMR or CAEI, and think "Oh, I've never heard of this blog--I should check it out." Which is why I started wondering recently why I had such a large blog roll, and whether anybody even uses blog rolls anymore.

I talked to my sister-in-law, who said she hasn't used one on her blog in years. Glancing around, I found that some blogs have them, some don't, and some have a small list of unusual blogs or family members' blogs or some such thing. I realized that I'd be a lot more likely to click on a link in the middle of a small list of blogs I'd never read than to scroll through a list of dozens of popular blogs in order to find one I'd never seen before.

So, as I said, I started the process of paring down, but got interrupted, and forgot to come back and finish.

When I resumed the paring process--brought on by my reader's comment, which reminded me what I was doing in the first place!--I realized that approximately six blogs on my list were no longer active at all, and two or three others had been changed to totally different blogs by their authors. A handful more had updated approximately once or twice a year for the past three or four years. And, as I said, the popular blogs certainly didn't need a link from me (my CAEI link existed only because I had problems loading Mark's blog for a while if I tried to come to it from Google, but that's no longer the case).

Right now the list contains my husband's blog and a few other small blogs that I find interesting; I plan to keep the total number to fewer than ten, with the notion that more people will look at ten links than a hundred. I'm adding a new blog, too; the Far Above Rubies writer is so consistently interesting and thought-provoking that I hope she'll gain a wide readership.

Tell me, in the comment boxes: do you make use of bloggers' blog rolls? Do you use them frequently enough for them to be an important feature of any blogs you visit? Do you find them a convenient "short cut" to good blogs, or an annoying page clutterer?