Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Good news

I think it's about time we had some good news around here:

A major breast-cancer charity has cut off support for Planned Parenthood because of controversy over abortion and the group’s standing as a provider of generalized women’s health services. Planned Parenthood accused Susan G. Komen for the Cure of giving in to political pressure.

“We are alarmed and saddened that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation appears to have succumbed to political pressure. Our greatest desire is for Komen to reconsider this policy and recommit to the partnership on which so many women count,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. [...]

The Susan G. Komen Foundation did not return an immediate request for comment. According to the Associated Press, Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said that the charity cut off ties with Planned Parenthood because it is under investigation by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., concerning the possible improper spending of federal funds on abortions.

I'm totally for free and/or low cost mammograms for poor women. I'm totally against letting Planned Parenthood have the cash to do that sort of thing, because of the obnoxiousness of Planned Parenthood's overall agenda, because Planned Parenthood is up to its dirty eyeballs in abortion funding, and because Planned Parenthood clinics alone are responsible for roughly three hundred thousand of America's annual 1.2 million feticides (that's "abortions" for those of you unfamiliar with the term).

There are better ways to make sure that poor women have access to breast cancer screenings, and I think the pro-life community has an opportunity to step up to the plate to make that happen. In the meantime, perhaps the best thing the pro-life community can do is publicize this important decision by the Komen foundation, and show our support for their actions.

UPDATE: Seconds after I hit the "post" button, I received this link from a reader giving more details about this news. :)

Monday, January 30, 2012

In America, there's no such thing as a virtuous woman

I'm battling a little cold today, and am not really up to the task of writing a whole blog post from scratch. But I wanted to share a few points here that I left in a comment box at Rod Dreher's blog last week; the post was this one, but I warn you that posts move so quickly off the main page at that blog that you probably won't get any responses if you comment over there.

In any case, what I wanted to share were these points I wrote regarding the HHS contraception mandate and my own views of artificial contraception as a woman:

1. Fertility is not an illness.
2. Pregnancy is not a disease.
3. It is not necessary to render women chemically sterile to make them free. In fact, all this does is make them more available to men who don’t have to commit to them or take any responsibility for their actions.
4. Promiscuity, unmarried sex, contraceptive sex–these things are not freedom. They are dead ends for women and soul-killers for men.
5. If the only principle America stands for is that everybody has the right to as much consequence-and-morality-free sex as possible, then America stands for nothing. It will be replaced by some society and culture which still thinks of sex as sacred and children as blessings, probably sooner than we think, at which point all of the hand-wringing in the world about how contraception is just the bestest stuff ever and those meanies in the Church won’t hand it out for free at First Communions and Sunday Mass and in the confessional etc. is going to seem pretty stupid.

To expand on the above combox comment of mine, I think we should recognize that what the HHS mandate says to American women is this: Look, we know there's no such thing as a virtuous woman in America anymore. In fact, we've redefined the whole idea of virtue so that modesty, chastity, and sexual morality have nothing to do with it. These days in our enlightened nation, a virtuous woman is one who is lasciviously and rampantly promiscuous before marriage and, should she actually marry, concerned primarily with being sexually available to her mate every single day of her life in spite of that pesky natural fertility of hers. It is therefore imperative that we in this nation wage an all-out chemical warfare against the natural fertility of human women because that natural fertility leads to unplanned voters and unwanted constituents and citizens.

Moreover, we think that women are stupid, lacking in self-control, unable to understand and appreciate their natural fertility and work with it instead of attacking it and rendering it, and themselves, at least temporarily sterile, and otherwise incapable of thinking for themselves. So we will mandate that it is the job of their employers (and how creepy is this, really?) to buy them birth control pills and devices, abortifacient pills, and to pay for them to be sterilized. Because the American Primary Value of sex without consequences only works if women are willing to participate in their own objectification, to embrace the mandates of contraceptive imperialism, to be brainwashed into believing that their healthy, natural fertility is an illness or a disease in need of "treatment," and to accept the new idea of virtue which means that women have a positive duty to make themselves both sexually available and incapable of pregnancy until or unless some man agrees that he'd actually like to be a father.

The HHS mandate tells us Catholic women that our Church is oppressing us because the Church don't agree with their worldview. Well, I am proud to reject theirs, which is so demeaning and dehumanizing to women that it's hard to know where to start.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Bookgirl!

Today our beloved Bookgirl turns 15! I can't believe it--they're all growing up so fast!

Bookgirl is, as her name suggests, a lover of books and reading. She's also a very talented artist who loves to draw and create art! She shares her talents with us all, and even made each of us a drawing to celebrate her birthday today.

As I have for the past few years now, I will turn this blog post over to Bookgirl herself:

Hi! Bookgirl here. Wow, I can't believe I'm turning 15! It seems like the past year has just gone by so fast. As has been said, I love to read. I'm always on the lookout for anything new and interesting in books. I especially enjoy fantasy, which I often incorporate into my own art.
I am also a big fan of the Japanese Manga styles, w
hich is what I base most of my drawings on.

As I am a bit shy still about writing on the blog, th
is post will be short. But I will add two of my own sketches to the post. I am steadily improving and hope to continue to do so in the next year.

Friday, January 27, 2012

No time to blog today...

...but there will be a post tomorrow!

A birthday post. For (and by) our own Bookgirl.

Stay tuned! :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's torture when they do it

(Cross-posted at Coalition for Clarity.)

The medical group Doctors without Borders is leaving detention facilities in Libya over allegations that they were being used to facilitate the continued torture of prisoners:
Medicins San Frontieres pulled its staff out of detention facilities in a Libyan city yesterday after witnessing more than 100 cases of torture against inmates by the revolutionaries that overthrew Col Muammar Gaddafi.

MSF said it was withdrawing staff because it was effectively keeping prisoners alive so that authorities could continue to torture them. [...]

Christopher Stokes, the General Director of MSF, said the scale of torture in two detention centres in the city of Misurata was accelerating despite repeated pleas from the organisation for mistreatment to stop.

Some of the 115 inmates among the 1,500 strong prison population that MSF staff treated after torture were beaten so badly they could not stand, had suffered kidney failure and bore signs of electric shock.

Hundreds of prisoners, many of them black Africans, also told the organisation of suffering torture.

Mr Stokes said MSF medics feared that their work could be used to sustain the process of torturing prisoners. "When you patch people up and then they get taken back to be tortured again in the same evening, you become part of the process," he said.

"We have protested and in some cases they have said they will stop but in other cases they say it happens everywhere, like Abu Ghraib. If anything, the number of cases has been accelerating."

Poor Mr. Stokes appears not to realize that it's not fair to bring up Abu Ghraib in this context. The prisoners at Abu Ghraib were only being subject to enhanced interrogation, enhanced detainment, and enhanced violation of human dignity. It's perfectly obvious that these prisoners in Libya are actually being tortured, because it's always torture when someone other than Americans is doing it.

You see, what matters is not whether rubber hoses, electric shocks, beatings, cold cells, waterboarding or some similar method is employed. What matters is whose hands are on the other end of the rubber hose, the electric switches, the sticks or rods, the climate control settings or the flood of merciless water poured out to cause controlled drownings. If those hands belong to citizens of any nation in the world aside from the United States of America, then what we're talking about is clearly torture. But if those instruments are being employed by patriotic Americans keeping America and her allies safe from terrorism, then all of a sudden we just don't quite know what we're describing. Prisoner discomfort? Enhanced interrogation? A little splash of water on the face--quite nice, actually, considering that the prisoner may still be dripping salty perspiration into open wounds from the last bout of Congressional-approved enhanced chatting with a hostile detainee he just endured...er, experienced. In any case, it's not torture, because good red-blooded patriotic Americans don't torture people.

It's amazing to me how clear it is that torture is what is being alleged and what is being described in detention centers in Libya, when nobody could quite seem to see it happening in our detention centers, under our watch. Such loyal, patriotic myopia is also quite good in noticing specks and even planks protruding from the eyes of citizens of other nations, while utterly ignoring that our straining to see these things and avoid seeing our own similar defects has made us morally blind.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I won't miss Starbucks at all

As you may already know, Washington State is the newest state trying hard to pass a new law that will legally define all Catholics as bigots legalize so-called gay marriage. I lived in Washington State back when I was in high school, and the real surprise here is that Washington State hasn't managed to do this long before now, being all cool and hip and trendy and totally in love with how cool and hip and trendy they are. I mean, Iowa--Iowa!--beat them to sodomite marriage. Hard to believe--really, now, does Iowa even have tofu or a Subaru dealer? Shocking.

And just as it's not surprising that Washington State would be rushing to be one of the cool kids by declaring that marriage has nothing to do with reproduction and that children don't need a mother and a father, one of each insisting that two men are a husband and wife and two women are a husband and wife just exactly like a man and a woman are a husband and wife, it's also not surprising that corporate sponsors of state-approved sodomite relationships are eagerly signing up to show their support for the whole business. Microsoft and Nike apparently want you, Christian and Catholic Americans, to know that while they'll grudgingly sell you their products you are bigoted and evil for thinking that marriage actually means something other than a fabulous party and tax breaks; and now Starbucks has signed on:
Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) said in a statement Tuesday that it was "proud to join other leading Northwest employers in support of Washington state legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples."

"This important legislation is aligned with Starbucks' business practices and upholds our belief in the equal treatment of partners," the statement read.

Last year, Starbucks was among a group of 70 businesses and organizations that filed a brief in federal court opposing the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts the definition of marriage to that between a man and a woman.
Because, you know, nothing reminds people so much of perverted sexual morality and the rush to deconstruct marriage like a cup of overpriced mediocre coffee.

To be honest, I think it's abysmally stupid for corporations to take positions on hot-button political issues. This is because I think most giant corporations are run by people who would sell one-way tickets to Hell to orphaned third-world refugees if the return on investment were good enough; they're not exactly shining moral guides. Having a corporate goody-two-shoes lecture me about how my Catholicism makes me an evil bigot unfit to live and work in this nation is sort of like having a celebrity lecture me about environmentalism and my "footprint" right before she jets off for her fifth vacation so far this year. Sorry; can't hear you over the blaring hypocrisy.

Luckily, I've pretty much kicked the coffee habit, and rarely drink it anymore; even more luckily, there is apparently no one in the entire Starbucks corporate world who knows how to make a decent cup of tea. So I won't miss Starbucks at all. Other Catholics and those Christians who share our view that holding to the notion that marriage is a man and a woman is not only not bigoted, but a sane and rational viewpoint expressing what humans have thought for centuries now, and that having to add the adjective "traditional" in front of the noun "marriage" so that people will know we aren't referring to sterile unions of same-sex pairs ought to be wholly unnecessary may wish to consider whether or not they want to continue to purchase their daily caffeine fix from people who think they are nasty bigots and that their religious views make them haters.

Because this isn't about equality at all--it is, and always has been, about pushing religion out of the public square. It may--just barely--be tolerated for a church to preach that sodomy is intrinsically evil. But it won't, very soon now, be possible to live as though you think that's actually true. And people who sell us computers, tennis shoes, and coffee apparently think they have the right to define Catholicism as bigotry and Catholics as bigots for embracing and accepting our faith's deeply held teachings--that's what they mean by "tolerance."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

An Immodest Proposal

[This post is satire, in case the title didn't give it away.]

You have, by now, read about the slight kerfuffle between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church; the Obama administration wants to force Catholics to pay for birth control, abortifacients, and sterilizations for its employees, while the Catholic Church holds to the quaint view that people who are bound and determined to go to Hell ought to pay for their tickets themselves.

Of course, the Obama administration thinks that fertility is an illness, pregnancy a disease and babies a punishment, so it's not that surprising that they think of sex rendered purposefully sterile as healthy. In fact, I think that most of modern America thinks of sex as an activity somewhere in between a mildly athletic sport, sort of like golf, and a cheap alternative to professional adult entertainment--to which it is probably inferior but less expensive and more accessible.

That being the view modern Americans have of sex, it then follows quite naturally that the government would be concerned that people should have access to contraceptive sex rather than the other sort, which leads to unwanted constituents and unplanned voters. Just as the government wants its citizens to have phone service, Internet access, and cable television, then, the government also wants its citizens to have contraceptive sex, and views any sort of morality issues about sex in general or contraception in particular as being somewhat on a par with the moral concerns of those weirdos who don't own TVs and have never seen a Kardashian.

Having decided that contraceptive sex is "healthy," then, the government wishes to force health insurance plans to cover contraception and to force churches to pay for such plans, even when the Church in question has clearly stated moral principles which say that sex isn't just for entertainment and that contraceptive sex is intrinsically evil. In our diverse nation, there's just no room for the kind of diversity that calls evil, evil and good, good; we only like it the other way around, because the other way around lets people screw each other without ending up becoming parents.

Since, however, it is clear that the government of the United States of America in the year 2012 is ready to stand up and fight for the principle that people have the right to sex without consequences, the question becomes: why are contraceptives not freely available in every store, over the counter? Why should a woman have to have the inconvenience of interrupting her work schedule to visit a doctor to get her stash of anti-child pills? Why should a shy, blushing teenage girl who has only had sex with six or seven guys so far have to sneak out to a clinic for her Depo-Provera (tm) shot? Why shouldn't all of these things be available at the local Walmart (tm) in the aisle with the condoms, or at the pharmacy counter like the annual flu shots? And why shouldn't they be available for purchase with cash, tax credits, or even food stamps, if they're so terribly important to our nation's committment to the ability of all people everywhere to have as much sex as they want without getting pregnant? Why should health insurance be involved at all?

Do we make people use health insurance to buy golf balls or pay for cable TV? Of course not. So why should we make people use health insurance for contraceptive sex, when it's the one and only form of sex our nation finds good, virtuous, moral, noble, chaste, holy and wise?

Imagine the outcry if men had to visit doctors to get condom prescriptions and then had to use health insurance to pay for the visit and to get the condoms. Why, there would probably be marches on Washington, as men demanded the right to latex, available when and wherever they want to buy it. If my local big-box store can sell (yes, this is a real thing) a "date night" condom pack which comes with vouchers for free movie tickets (I guess the idea that the girl only owed you sex if you paid for the movie tickets is antiquated these days), then why in the ninth circle of Hell can't we just throw boxes of birth control pills up there right next to these products?

Sure, if we make contraception that available, we'll have to realize that children as young as eleven or twelve might buy it. So? We send teaching materials into the classrooms of children that young to make sure they know correctly how to masturbate as well as perform oral, vaginal, and anal sex, so it's a bit naive of us to expect that they'll magically wait until they're eighteen or so before trying out any of that stuff. Again, it's clear: America stands for contraceptive sex, and if you need contraception at eleven in order to fool around with your science report buddy without getting pregnant, then it's your constitutional right to be able to get it without Mom or Dad finding out. And, sure, you can already get it for free at most Planned Parenthood outlets, but maybe it's easier for you to pick it up when you're buying school supplies--so, again, why not?

The only liberty America really stands for any more is sexual libertinism. So maybe the government can avoid this showdown with people of faith by admitting that making women go to the doctor for their "I'm sexually available without consequences!" drugs and devices is an old-fashioned idea that needs to go away. The War on Fertility won't be won by forcing Catholics to pay for other people's contraceptives; the War on Fertility will be won when you can pick up your birth control pills in the aisle next to the soap opera magazines or condoms or other cheap symptoms of a culture that is rotting from the inside.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Less than perfect mothers

As the March for Life takes place today, as President Obama declares that abortion is necessary so our daughters have the same freedom to fulfill their dreams as our sons (because apparently embracing rampant sexual immorality and the ability to kill one's offspring is essential in order to be just like a man), I'd like to share some words from a reader, words which I think are both true and hopeful:
But then we have to move on to the reality that we are, in many cases, not offering women in crisis pregnancy situations much help. That gets all caught up in moralizing and the politics of welfare, etc. While, like you, I believe a child is best nurtured in a loving home with biological parents, I also think that current conservative positions harden us against the people who most need us. That is a concern. If I may be so crude, screw how a baby got there - we have to offer every child the best our society can, even if their life is imperfect. I mean, we don't think it's okay to abort children with Downs, so why would we cut off support for the children of less than perfect mothers?

It's a conundrum, isn't it?
It is, but it's one that we have to face.

I know there are many pro-life volunteers out there who do work in crisis pregnancy centers offering non-judgmental support, love, and practical help to women who are faced with an unexpected pregnancy. But there are--and it must be said--groups of people who are "Randian Conservatives" whose attitude towards unwed mothers is: "Hey, they got themselves into trouble by making bad decisions. It's not society's job to pick up the pieces when the baby-daddy moves in with someone younger and hotter (and maybe less fertile). Why should my hard-earned money go to bail out someone who didn't have the self-control to keep from having sex in the first place?"

I would say that most of these people, while technically opposed to abortion, have a ways to go before reaching what the religious view of being "pro-life" actually is. (So, to be fair, do some religious-minded conservatives, who fail to embrace the fulness of their churches' teachings on the intrinsic dignity of all human beings.) Sadly, these voices are sometimes rather loud in the conservative sector, drowning out those who say what my reader has said above: the time to debate morality and virtue and public policy is before conception, but once the baby is there in her mother's womb, it's time to put those issues on the back burner and just offer help.

One of the side effects of the embrace of abortion is that women who are in less than perfect situations are often left alone when they accept an unplanned pregnancy. Their post-abortive friends may walk away, unable to face the reality of a better choice. Their parents may pressure them to abort and then wash their hands of the situation should the woman's choice be to give birth instead. The child's father may offer to pay for the "procedure" and to drive his girlfriend home afterwards, but may get angry when these generous offers are rejected and then dump her; he may even become violent, since her choice is one that leaves him financially on the hook for the next 18 years--and why should he have to pay for what he never wanted? Why should a little casual bed-hopping cost him so much, when society says the most he should have to cover is about $500 paid to his child's legal killer?

And here's where the cost of tribalism may come into play: the young woman knows perfectly well that there are such things as crisis pregnancy centers, that there are places she can go where she will be helped to have this baby and to decide whether to raise her or give her up for adoption, that there are people who will give her the welcome and love she so desperately needs right now--but she may be afraid of them, afraid they will judge and condemn her, afraid they will see her as a welfare-mom wannabe or a promiscuous or "loose" woman, afraid that they are what a few media caricatures of pro-life people have made her think of them all. She may read comments on Internet news stories or hear a bit of talk radio and come away convinced that all people who oppose abortion think that people like her, unwed mothers, are a drain on society, a burden and an expense. Her own thoughts about abortion may even still be ambiguous, in a state of flux: she doesn't want one herself, but she's not ready to say that nobody should have one, not yet--and especially not if saying so makes her one of those pro-life people she's secretly rather afraid of.

What I wish I could say to women in that situation is this:

So, you're in a situation where you may be a less than perfect mother. I only know of one perfect mother, and after all, her Son was perfect, too. The rest of us are all less than perfect mothers. We don't always know what we're doing, we're not always the models of patience and joyful motherhood we'd like to be, we're sometimes tired or frustrated or at our wits' ends with our little (and not so little) bundles of joy. None of us is capable of doing this alone--and to the extent that some of us may really promote the idea of celibacy before marriage, it's because we know from our own experiences that it's not an accident that parents come in sets of two.

But just because you didn't live up to that ideal doesn't mean it's our business to scold (that's between you and God, and perhaps your pastor or spiritual adviser if you have one). We also know that it takes two to tango, and that the man who participated in the creation of this baby has plenty to answer for. Society makes it much easier for him--and then society holds out the evil of abortion to you as if it's something good, something that lets you, too, walk away from this baby and pretend she never existed. You know better, and many post-abortive women will tell you that you never forget her existence, or the day you let them kill her.

So we do want you to choose life for your baby, because we think that you, as a woman, deserve better than the false promise of abortion. You deserve better than being told to deny your very nature and shut off all compassion for the little one you may have had a name for years ago, when you dreamed of starting a family. Your dreams may have been different, but then our dreams and our realities aren't usually a perfect match. It's okay to be less than perfect in this; you know that life also tends to get better than we ever think it will in our darkest hours.

Maybe you already know you want this baby to live; you just haven't figured out the "hows." How will you finish school? How will you keep working? How will you arrange your life, in the face of this new reality? How will you ponder adoption, or know if giving up your baby to a loving couple is the right decision?

We have a "how" for you, too, and it's this: How can we help?

Can we help you with insurance and doctor appointments? Can we help you approach your employer to adjust your hours or the type of work you're doing? Can we help you find someone to be there for your birthing classes who will be with you when you go into the hospital to deliver this baby? Can we provide counseling? Can we arrange for you to meet with people qualified to help you consider raising the baby yourself vs. placing her for adoption? Do you need a place to live? Do you need basic things like food, maternity clothing, and supplies for the baby?

I know that many crisis pregnancy centers can provide access to all of these services and more. The diocese where I live offers the Gabriel Project, which includes many services directly to women in crisis pregnancies, as well as referrals to crisis pregnancy centers in the diocese.

As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and mourn the deaths of fifty-three million American children, let's realize that abortion is horrible for women, that it is destructive, that it is dehumanizing, and that it is the last thing women need in order to be equal to men--in fact, it's downright insulting to women to say that we need abortion in order to fulfill our dreams.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Choose goodness and life, not evil and death

Today is January 22, 2012, the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. If you are the sort of person who thinks that it's a grand and glorious thing for a woman to have the right to choose to pay a hired killer to rip her baby apart in her womb and suction out the pieces, I imagine you're going to celebrate today. (Here's a hint: don't bake a "deathday" cake; there's no room on any cake ever baked to put 53 million candles, one for each American 39 years old and younger who is not here today because his or her mother chose to pay an abortionist to end his or her life instead of allowing him or her to be born. Though I have to admit: if you're committed to legalized abortion on demand, you'd probably enjoy the symbolism behind snuffing out all of those candles.)

Now, I don't believe that most people who think of themselves in some sort of vague way as being "pro-choice" really celebrate abortion (though there are some who do). But I also think that most people who think of themselves in a vague sort of way as "pro-choice" don't really think about what they mean when they speak of "choice" in the context of abortion.

The wonderful Jill Stanek is hosting a blog event today to counteract all the baby-killing celebrating that will be going on in the pro-death world in honor of the 53 million women who chose to pay someone to kill their own flesh and blood. Jill's event is called, "Ask Them What They Mean by Choice?" because so many "pro-choice" people will go on and on today about "women's rights" and "reproductive freedom" and "personal liberty" and "the right to choose," and they will conveniently avoid words like "kill," "death," "feticide," "baby-killing" and similar words that define what abortion really is.

In fact, a simple definition of abortion might read as follows: an act which directly and intentionally kills an innocent human being at any point between conception and the completion of birth. "Pro-choice" people will rarely define abortion this way, though, preferring to leave the "innocent human being" part out of the equation. The human being in question doesn't count because she is small and totally dependent on her mother for a period of no more than nine months. Why, say "pro-choice" people, should any woman have to put up with nine whole months' worth of the inconveniences of pregnancy just to give another human being the chance to continue to live and to be?

Abortion is the choice to be selfish. Abortion is the choice to be afraid. Abortion is the choice to be abused by a boyfriend or pressured by one's parents. Abortion is the choice to turn away from the helpless person who needs you because you can't handle that reality of her existence and her need for you, her mother. Abortion is the choice to end that human being's life forever.

It's so tragically sad that women have become convinced that children are the enemy, that children are impossible, that a child will end their freedom or autonomy or happiness. Children give so, so much more than they ask for in return; any parent will tell you this. But abortion has been sold to women because some people think that women, in order to be free, must be like men: capable of meaningless sexual exploits complete with the ability to walk away from any responsibilities or consequences of their actions.

I'd like to end this post with a couple of images. First, this is what they--the abortion supporters-mean by choice: (Update: Picture removed.)

And this is is a picture of someone who chose to embrace God's will for her, a will that included marriage and nine children:

The woman I'm talking about here is the one seated next to the arm of the bench on the left (as you look at the picture), the smiling woman in the blue skirt. She is the mother of nine of the people in that photo; the other person, the silver-haired gentleman seated by the arm of the other bench, is the father. They are my mother and my father, and their choices for good, for love, for self-sacrifice, for life, are so completely opposite from the cold and selfish choice to abort the very person one has participated in creating that I can't even use the same words to describe such different choices. Because one is a choice for goodness and life, and the other is the choice for evil and for death.

And that woman in the picture, my mother? Today's her birthday. Happy birthday, Mom! Thanks for being a witness and an example of the incomparable goodness of choosing life!

Comments are closed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Like veils; marching through law

As I mentioned in the update to the post below, Mark Shea quite reasonably explains away my tortured tearing at Canon 216:

This, by the way, explains both Italian drivers and the bizarre phenomenon of Americans who stop at stop signs in the middle of the Mojave desert when there is nobody around for a hundred miles. The Latin conception of law is articulated well in Pirates of the Caribbean: “It’s not really a code. More like a guideline.” The Anglo conception is “It’s not a good idea. It’s the law!”

Canon law is emphatically Latin. We Americans are emphatically Anglo. So we encounter this loosey goosey application of law and are driven mad trying to obey every jot and tittle when the Church often takes a much more casual approach. Canon law is there to maintain a semblance of order in the vast herd of cats that is the Catholic Church. Now and then it gets updated (last time was in 1983, long before the Internet) to reflect reality. Canon 216 simply did not envision the possibility of 50 million people starting blogs called “Catholic Cats and Wacky Videos”. Dioceses simply do not have the capacity to police stuff like that. And, in any case, it is deeply counter to the Catholic spirit to even *try* to police stuff like that. The Church is fond of eccentrics, free associations among members, and people who wear their faith on their sleeve. So there is almost no interest in running around trying to tell people to stop calling themselves Catholic. What then prompts a diocese to (on very rare occasions) enforce canon 216? Basically, if you make a big and loud enough spectacle of yourself saying things that make the Church look bad or ridiculous. Bob Sungenis achieved this with his anti-semitic rants (and to his credit, semi-obeyed his bishop) by changing “Catholic Apologetics International to Bellarmine Theological Forum, the better to continue with his anti-semitic rants and quack science. The National Catholic Reporter and Catholics for a Free Choice have likewise achieved this dubious form of notice, but have simply ignored the command of their bishop to stop using “Catholic” in their names. Not too shocking since we already know their reputation of contempt for the Magisterium when it inconveniences them.

See, now, this makes sense.

I was approaching the notion of canon law as if canon law is sort of like the Catechism: basic Catholic "stuff" that Catholics should do their best to understand, appreciate, and, where applicable, follow. Mark's explanation makes canon law seem (and, like all analogies, this is imperfect) like the rules of an organization which club presidents are supposed to impose and enforce, but actually there's a rule in there reminding everybody that the club president has quite a bit of statutory leeway and there are some rules which are mandatory and binding, but others which the club president can choose when, how, and even whether to enforce in regard to individual members.

So it seems to me when it comes to really important canons (and I'm not even going to try to find an example because I'll probably get it wrong) the club president--bishop--can't just ignore the canon and do whatever he wants (and I suppose that there are canons which spell that sort of thing out, too). But when it comes to other canons dealing with areas where the bishop's prudential judgment has a lot of scope, the bishop can choose to apply the canon strictly to anyone to whom it technically applies, or he can choose to apply it when the people to whom it ought to apply make trouble (as in Mark's examples) or, I suppose, he could choose not to mention it at all for some sufficient pastoral reason.

Which means that my definitely Anglo view of things which said that if using the word "Catholic" is wrong without approval then it's wrong for everybody who uses it and the bishop, to correct the situation, ought to inform everybody and set up a hotline in the chancery for every bookstore, blog, website, small business, etc. in his territory to check in and get approval or rename their enterprise posthaste was erroneous precisely because I made the assumption that laws are things which everyone can know about and everyone can--and, indeed, must--follow. Certainly in secular American law you can't tell a judge, "Oh, sorry, I didn't know about that law, and in any case, surely it doesn't apply to me?" because there's a deep understanding behind the American legal system that the law always applies equally to everybody and ignorance of a law is no defense when one is found to have broken it; where the judge gets to act like "club president" is not in enforcing the law, but in handing down the sentence (in which case he might quite reasonably let somebody off with little or no punishment for breaking some small and recently enacted law that the offender clearly didn't know about).

The difference appears to be that lots of individual Catholics might technically be in violation of lots of canon laws, but that technical violation isn't (again, apparently) really important and isn't held against them unless the bishop says it is. So there doesn't appear to be any positive obligation on the part of every Catholic bookstore in America with the name "Catholic" in its title to check in with the appropriate chancery and get approval for using "Catholic" in its name. There is, however, a negative obligation (if I can use such clunky phrasing) for a Catholic bookstore which is caught selling and promoting as good anti-Catholic materials or pagan materials etc. either to stop selling these things or stop calling themselves Catholic, should the bishop be made aware of the situation.

Of course, if a Catholic bookstore were told it could no longer call itself "Catholic Books and Gifts" because they carried books by people the bishop disapproved of such as Mother Angelica or Scott Hahn, while across town the people running "Catholic Gifts, Books, and More" had a large framed photo of the bishop posing happily with the owner next to the piles of books on the enneagram and the racks of liturgical dancewear, the first bookstore might have a legitimate complaint. I honestly believe that this is how the supporters of Michael Voris--and, again, I'm not one, and have watched a total of about two minutes of one of his videos and otherwise know nothing about him--see the situation. On the other hand, the people in the chancery may see it as if the first bookstore were selling nothing but racks of books detailing how Protestants, non-Christians, communion-in-the-handers, and anybody who has ever sung a Marty Haugen song are going to Hell, none of which (naturally) carry imprimaturs.

But is my view here of canon law even beginning to approach the correct view? It struck me today that it probably is more correct than my former view, for a reason I can sum up in a word: veils.

From sometime in the late 1960s until the present Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1983, women were technically still under the obligation to cover their heads in church. I was born in the late 1960s, and turned 15 in 1983, and yet I only recall wearing some sort of hat or veil to Mass a handful of times: a few childhood Easters, my First Communion, and so on. And while I can't remember the earliest years, of course, I don't ever remember seeing my mother wear a hat or veil to church, either. In fact, I don't remember seeing women cover their heads at all in those years (though I might have missed a hat or two).

Granted that the post-conciliar years were confusing ones, and granted that many women may have been erroneously told that they no longer needed to cover their heads in church by well-meaning officials who thought that was the case. But still, for a period of at least fifteen years before the change in the law became an official one, women were mainly not covering their heads. Were they all, objectively anyway, sinning, or at least in serious violation of canon law?

The way it seems now, if a bishop had specifically and directly told the women in his diocese that they had to cover their heads in church, then yes. But otherwise, no. And it seems to me that in any case the bishop would probably not have directly ordered the women in his jurisdiction to cover their heads in church, but would have ordered the pastors in his diocese to do so, following the proper chain of command, so to speak, unless the situation was very grave and in need of immediate correction.

So did each individual woman have some sort of positive obligation to call her chancery and find out once and for all if she were required to cover her head in church? Not if the principle outlined in the case of tiny Catholic enterprises calling themselves "Catholic" applies. So long as she wasn't show up to Mass creating scandal by wearing a hat designed to honor a demon or something, she was probably never going to hear from the bishop one way or another about it, unless the Code of 1983 had gone out of its way to inform women that fashion changes notwithstanding they were still obligated to cover their heads in church, complete with a canon or two about what the local authorities should do about the situation--and it didn't, so we're not, and they didn't have to do a thing.

And though my somewhat legalistic mind finds this all extraordinarily hard to grasp, I think I'm getting there. Your patience as I've pondered this all out loud has been greatly appreciated.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Leave "Catholic" for the experts

Mark Shea points out that Ed Peters is writing about the Michael Voris/Real One True Church Founded by Christ for the Salvation of Mankind Which I Cannot Name For Canonical Reasons TV situation; Mark has checked with his chancery about the name of his own blog, Catholic and Enjoying It, and been told, essentially, not to worry as the chancery has better things to do than become the Archdiocese of Seattle's Catholic Blogosphere Canon 216 Enforcers.

Of course, Mark then quotes Dr. Peters (.pdf here) as follows:
I don’t know how many small initiatives by Catholics use the word “Catholic” in their title nor, of those that do, how many have no authorization for it. Let’s assume, lots. If the Voris/RCTV matter is a wake-up call against slapping the label “Catholic” on every activity carried on by Catholics, fine by me. But, as a practical matter, I doubt that ecclesiastical authority is going to see grandma’s blog, “Catholic Cookies and Milk”, wherein she recounts what’s being read by the parish book club and how much her cats hate the snow, as topping their to-do list. If, later, though, CC&M morphs into a multi-million dollar broadcast operation self-appointed to expose lies and falsehoods among Catholics and throughout the world, I might reconsider.
Did we all get that? So long as Catholics in America use the word "Catholic" without express ecclesiastical permission to describe endeavors which are trivial, unimportant, not particularly educational, and not particularly representative of the faith in any terribly noticeable way, they might be technically in violation of Canon 216, but it's unlikely that they'll get into any trouble for it. But if Catholics in America wish to use the word "Catholic" to identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ and His Church in some mission, apostolate, or other faith-filled activity which they have begun out of zeal for the Lord, they'd better think of Canon 216 as some sort of combination between a business license and a franchise permission, and haunt the chancery until someone gives them permission to use "Catholic" in their name--and they'd darned well better get that permission in writing. Now, the problem is that chanceries being chanceries they've got a snowball's chance in Dallol, Ethiopia of actually getting that permission should the endeavor in question be the slightest bit more orthodox than the USCCB; and if the endeavor also looks as though it might be profitable, there's simply no chance at all--unless, of course, the chancery in question is located in Lincoln, Nebraska, or one of a relatively small number of other dioceses in America, in which case you've got a shot.

Just so we're all clear.

Of course, there's an abysmally simple solution to this problem: don't call yourself a Catholic. Oh, sure, in casual conversation you're probably safe, and so long as And Sometimes Tea doesn't turn into a multimillion dollar broadcast operation any time soon (ha!) I can probably leave up my "About Me" bit in the sidebar despite the renegade, non-Canon-216 approved identification of the blog author as a Catholic (perhaps by adding a prominent disclaimer that I don't speak for the Church, have never spoken for the Church, and that any similarity between anything I might ever say or write and actual Church teaching is purely coincidental, and indeed, totally inexplicable given the rotten catechesis dished out to my generation). Come up with names for blogs or similar endeavors such as "Liturgical Year Cooking" or "Real Live Rosary Renegades" and you'll be just fine; bury your Catholic identity as much as possible in any public works or activities, and you'll never have to worry about running afoul of Canon 216 or any similar law or policy.

Otherwise, we should leave the word "Catholic" alone, secure in the knowledge that it's being protected by our bishops in the proper exercise of their ecclesiastical authority. Why, just look at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which does not only have ecclesiastical approval for the use of the word "Catholic" in its name, but also has the full support of the USCCB for its charitable activities of community organizing, empowerment, and the funding of left-wing political activities! Of course, a few grumpy people keep complaining that the CCHD is funding stuff that, you know, really isn't Catholic. Stuff like an immigrants' rights group/CCHD grant recipient getting caught handing out condoms quite likely bought and paid for with Catholic money--which, it's quite fair to say, the Catholic officials at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development might never have noticed had it not been for a concerned group of people whose religion I cannot mention for canonical reasons who issued a report mentioning this agency (along with 54 other agencies engaged in practices contrary to Catholic teaching while still receiving largesse from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development) and its violations.

But we can trust the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to remain fully, devotedly Catholic, right? Why, they demonstrated their Catholic values by loudly dismissing the complaints the group already mentioned made about the other 54 agencies for such things as promoting gay rights and signing statements of support for Planned Parenthood. These shining gems of Canon-216 Catholicity assured the rest of us that the research American Life League did was outdated research and merely Internet research and thus not accurate (except for the condom bit, which was devastatingly and provably accurate) and that ALL is motivated by their hatred of Democrats, immigrants, and the poor and marginalized (except for unborn poor immigrant marginalized Democrats, of course). Which is not rash judgment unbecoming to a Canon 216 Follower for excellent reasons that will occur to me sometime after someone orders hot chocolate and electric blankets in this geographic location.

No, the Catholic Campaign of Human Development stands as one scintillating example of why lowly small-potatoes followers of Christ would be better off naming their endeavors directly in His honor. Leave the name "Catholic" for the experts, who prove to us time and time again that they know what they're doing.

UPDATE: Mark Shea addresses my concerns on his blog, and does so in a way that makes total sense to me. More on that later, the good Lord and this stupid migraine willing (yes, I've been having them a bit frequently; yes, our weather has been going like this: 52-68-52-77, which last is today's forecasted high, which explains things).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The January blahs

I've been suffering from a case of the January Blahs lately. Have you?

It's not really a case of post-Christmas stagnation, or of winter weather; I find a lot of the commercial Christmas hoopla over-the-top and exhausting anyway, and I can't really complain about the weather since we've been drifting between the 50s and the 70s around here (and, no, I'm not talking about the music in Church--at least, not today).

It's not a case of ordinary boredom, either. The truth is, I have tons of things to do, which is why I'm blogging later and later each day. It's just that the creative, fun things I really want to do get squeezed into the cracks and edges of my time, while the mounds of laundry seem to loom larger than ever (note to self: the laundry basket is not encouraging laundry reproduction; it's just that fleece takes up more room than, say, cotton tee-shirts and thus the basket appears to be full faster and faster at this time of year).

So what I really think is behind the January blahs is that all the pre-Christmas chore shirking has finally caught up with me right at the time when my mind has cleared enough from gingerbread and sugarplums to want to focus on my creative writing projects. And there simply aren't enough hours in the day.

Of course, one thing that has contributed to my present case of January Blahs is a dearth of bloggable news. Don't get me wrong: I realize that we've had a major cruise ship disaster and reams of political spats to read about--but when all is said and done, I don't feel extraordinarily inspired to write about these things just now. Maybe it's the lack of time, or maybe I should just put up a blog badge that reads "I'd rather be writing children's science fiction of no discernible value!" Or something.

Some other Catholic bloggers are doing their best in these dull days to keep the fires burning. One has a take on how a captain abandoning ship is just like abortion; another explores the question of whether night owls are morally inferior to morning birds; still another wades into dangerous territory as he discusses a campaign to end the practice of people of one faith spitting on people of another. I appreciate all these efforts, and am glad that not all Catholic bloggers are as stuck in blah-dom as I am this week.

But I think one reason I'm struggling to write about anything is that as I read the news this week so far, my reaction has been: "Hmmm. I'm not surprised." For instance:

One of these days I'm sure I'll read something in the news that actually does surprise me, and then the January blahs will slip away like a Texas snowfall. Either that, or we'll be gearing up for the annual "My way of doing Lent is perfect and spiritual and yours is seriously lacking in Christian charity and the sort of heroic self-sacrifice that gets Catholic bloggers admired and voted for in blog contests" fights, which, I admit, tend to perk me up for all the wrong reasons. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Life unworthy of life?

I read this story just a little while ago; the mother of a disabled child was told the child did not qualify for a kidney transplant because of mental retardation:

He says about three more sentences when something sparks in my brain. First it is hazy, foggy, like I am swimming under water. I actually shake my head a little to clear it. And then my brain focuses on what he just said.

I put my hand up. “Stop talking for a minute. Did you just say that Amelia shouldn’t have the transplant done because she is mentally retarded. I am confused. Did you really just say that?”

The tears. Oh, the damn tears. Where did they come from? Niagara Falls. All at once. There was no warning. I couldn’t stop them. There were no tissues in conference room so I use my sleeve and my hands and I keep wiping telling myself to stop it.

I point to the paper and he lets me rant a minute. I can’t stop pointing to the paper. “This phrase. This word. This is why she can’t have the transplant done.”


I begin to shake. My whole body trembles and he begins to tell me how she will never be able to get on the waiting list because she is mentally retarded.

Fortunately, this story is attracting national attention:

Amelia "Mia" Rivera has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a complex genetic disorder that causes mental and physical impairments, and her family said that the 3-year-old will die if she does not get a kidney in the next six months to a year.

Mia's mother Chrissy Rivera has said the family is willing to donate a live organ, but Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has reportedly told her that they will not recommend transplantation for the toddler because of her disabilities.

Rivera blogged about her daughter's plight last Friday, and now more than 20,000 online supporters from 15 states are petitioning the hospital to give the toddler the kidney they say she needs to survive.

"I didn't think it was going to be an issue," said Rivera, a 35-year-old high school English teacher from southern New Jersey who has two other children, aged 11 and 6.

When the family went to CHOP last week to discuss the transplant, Rivera said she "thought we were just finding out how transplant works and how we could be a donor."

"But then, I was told we couldn't because she was mentally retarded," she said. "Those were the exact words on a piece of paper."

The hospital says it can't comment on patient cases.

I know there are sometimes situations in which a patient doesn't qualify for a transplant--but those situations are usually based on the patient's own needs and interests. If a patient is unlikely to survive transplant surgery or can't tolerate immunosuppressive medications, for instance, it is quite likely that the patient's doctor will tell him or her that a transplant is not an option.

But in this case--if you read Mrs. Rivera's blog--you will see that the child's nephrology doctor told the Riveras that they had six months to a year before their daughter would need a kidney transplant. Apparently, no one said anything about little Amelia having some underlying health condition that would make a transplant impossible until the parents met with the transplant team, at which point they were told that her mental retardation made her ineligible--not, according to Mrs. Rivera, that there was some physical impairment that would hinder the surgery or make it unlikely to be successful.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not all that surprised by this. Angered, yes, but not all that surprised.

I've heard stories time and time again from parents of children who are disabled about how callously, negatively, unkindly and coldly they are treated by medical professionals--not all, certainly, but enough to place a barrier of distrust between parents of children with disabilities and their doctors. A certain percentage of American doctors seem to have absorbed the phrase that originated in Nazi Germany: Lebensunwertes Leben, or "Life unworthy of life." They see no merit at all in the life of a child who will probably die young, who is physically and/or mentally impaired, who may never reach--in that ugly phrase--his or her "full human potential" (and I'd like anyone to demonstrate who, exactly, has done so?). They may start out by counseling parents somewhat kindly, especially if the child's condition is diagnosed in utero--but let the parents show a bias for life for their child, and they will often grow increasingly hostile. Once the child is actually born, the attitude is often: well, you selfishly chose for this child to experience suffering and a less-than-perfect life, so don't come running to us when he or she is ill or needs help; the sooner he or she dies of some natural cause or progression of the disability, the better for everyone.

Like I said, there are heroic doctors and nurses who reject this attitude with horror, but that doesn't mitigate the suffering inflicted upon the families of the disabled by those who display this attitude--and, sometimes, open contempt--to the parents. In addition to the ordinary difficulties and struggles of raising and caring for a child with disabilities is added this crushing weight of derision, this tendency to view the child as being somehow unworthy of life, of medical resources, and of transplants that should go to "normal" kids--even if, as in the Rivera's case, the family is offering to find a donor kidney from among Amelia's own relatives.

Long ago, I took a class at a Catholic college in which we discussed life issues, and I recall the teacher saying that the "choice" of abortion would quickly become an obligation for some women, from society's viewpoint. I thought at the time that this was a bit farfetched, as pro-life as I was and still am. How could the pro-abortion side, so enamored of "a woman's right to choose" to have her child slaughtered in utero, stand idly by should women be pressured or coerced to do so? But the subtle coercion that is out there takes many forms, from the daughter who is told she'll be thrown out of the house to the woman with disabilities ordered by a judge to abort to the pervasive attitude out there that children with disabilities don't deserve to be born and should die as quickly as possible. All it takes is the belief that there is such a thing as "life unworthy of life" for these things to happen, and we are much further along that path now than I ever thought we would be in my lifetime.

UPDATE: It appears that the hospital is reconsidering (hat tip: Mark Shea). Good! If no parent ever has to hear again that their child isn't a candidate for surgery or transplant solely because of a mental disability or cognitive impairment, then little Amelia and her parents have done a great thing for those with disabilities by raising awareness of these sorts of policies.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Whom would you vote for if the election were tomorrow?

Sorry for the late posting; I've been battling a migraine today that has made it even more difficult than usual for me to be coherent. :)

Did you watch the South Carolina debate tonight? Me neither. But I did read some of Rod Dreher's liveblogging of it:

UPDATE.9: Great line from the Economist’s live blog:

This is Jon Huntsman’s best debate by far.

UPDATE.10: Romney had a couple of good zingers against Gingrich on the Super PAC thing, forcing Gingrich to admit that Romney can’t do what he wants him to do, and for calling Gingrich’s anti-Romney Super PAC ad “the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.” I still don’t understand why Romney is not tearing into Gingrich about that ad, unless he figures that he’s got more to lose by drawing attention to it.

UPDATE.11: So, who won? Well, look, it was depressing. But aren’t all these debates depressing? I’d say Gingrich had the best night, followed closely by Santorum. Romney, bland and robotic, for the most part. Biggest disappointment was Ron Paul. As for Perry, well, he’s a cartoon, ain’t he? He’s dragging bottom in the polls, and seems to exist now to throw bloody chunks of flesh into the crowd for effect. I must say that I thought Newt was over after Iowa, but to give him credit, he’s kept this thing alive. True, he’s something like 11 points behind Romney in South Carolina, but after tonight’s savaging of Romney by both Santorum and Gingrich, it’s conceivable that Gingrich might pull off an upset — but only if the Santorum vote coalesces behind him. To be fair, Santorum had a pretty good night too; conceivably the anti-Romney vote could coalesce behind him. Tonight’s debate did not clarify who the anti-Romney will be, however. There’s one more debate in South Carolina, two days before the January 21 vote. That showdown is going to be decisive. [Links and emphases in original--E.M.]

If you did watch the debate--what do you think? Does Rod have it about right? Or is somebody already shaping up as the one who is going to give Romney a run for his money?

Okay, unscientific reader poll time: if the general election were going to be held tomorrow, whom would you vote for? Gingrich? Paul? Perry? Romney? Santorum? Obama? Or a dq3 candidate/none of the above? Explain who and why in the comment box, please.

Anonymous commenters--please remember to use a nickname!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Random Mommy Bloggish Links Post

I'm afraid I'm out of time and out of notions for today's blog post. Thus, I hope that you will forgive me if I lapse into "mommy-blog" mode for just a bit; I'm sure it won't last (sadly). So, without further ado:

Random Mommy-Bloggish Links

1. We had some company this week, and I wanted to make homemade rolls to serve with dinner. Alas, my best homemade roll recipe is time-intensive with lost of on-the-clock, last minute stuff to do: so much time for prep, so much time for the first rise, so much time for the punching down and shaping of rolls, so much time for the second rise, and then so much for the baking. Fine for a day when I've got a slow-cooker soup going, but not so fine when I'm cooking other food for guests.

Enter: this awesome recipe. I agree with the commenters that you should probably decrease the water by 1/2 cup, because otherwise you end up adding some additional flour. But I've never used a refrigerated yeast roll dough recipe that ended up being so much like ordinary yeast rolls in terms of taste, texture, ease of shaping, etc. Best of all--once it starts rising in the fridge (and it needs at least eight hours) you have tons of time to deal with the roll shaping, second rise, and baking part.

2. I loved this Forbes article titled 9 Common Myths about Clearing Clutter. The "myth" I'm most susceptible to: number 3:
“I need to run out and buy some inventive storage containers.” See #1. I love cunning containers as much as anyone, but I’ve found that if I get rid of everything I don’t need, I often don’t need a container at all.
Yes, yes. I can't tell you how many times I've thought that the key to dealing with the clutter can be found at this place, instead of by being realistic about the stuff I don't use and don't need and just getting rid of it. What about you? Any of these nine myths your particular stumbling-block to a good clearing-out?

3. I have to admit to both a grin and a grimace as I read this piece. The author details ten types of moms that other moms should just avoid. I've got an 11th type: the mom of a fourteen-month-old who thinks she's already got all the other moms out there pegged. My advice: lighten up. Sure, there are truly toxic moms out there, but unless you know the substance-abuse mom, or the in-and-out-of-jail mom, or the will-drop-all-her-kids-at-your-house-at-the-slightest-encouragement mom, or the thinks-it's-cute-that-her-kids-are-destructive-bullies mom, you probably haven't got all that much to worry about.

4. January is the month where, everywhere you turn, you see weight-loss articles and tips. Which is why it was--interesting--to read that most models are now 23% slimmer than average women (compared to 8% slimmer twenty years ago) and that while plus-sized models used to wear sizes 12 to 18, today's plus-sized models wear sizes 6 to 14. Yes, all you skinny size-six ladies out there: you can dream of a plus-sized modeling career! I know that obesity in America is a serious problem, but I can't help but wonder, as someone who has struggled with yo-yo dieting and other unhealthy habits in my life, whether the fashion industry's constant refusal to accept that normal women do not look like skin-covered skeletons isn't a contributor to the problem. I mean, if size 6 is "plus-sized," why bother to try to be thin?

5. I think Pat Archbold deserves some thanks for his post about hating it when he's with men who are ogling the women around them. Even if I'm sort of late mentioning it.

I wonder, though, whether some men who would totally agree with Pat and who go out of their way to avoid objectifying women don't, sometimes, fall prey to a different sort of sexist (if you'll forgive the word) behavior?

When I first started commenting on blogs back in the dark ages when everything was DOS and computer games didn't have pictures (okay, okay, it wasn't that long ago), I timidly ventured forth into this strange wilderness and...chose a nice, non-gender-specific nickname because I wasn't crazy enough to dream of putting my real name and identity out on this newfangled World Wide Web business. Eventually, of course, I got more comfortable and started using my real name on my opinions--and something strange happened, in particular to the men I used to engage in discussion with the most on a handful of blogs. Some of them didn't treat me any differently; some of them no longer addressed me at all; and some of them who used to write things like, "That's a really good point, but I disagree with X," now would write things like, "Clearly you have no idea what you're talking about, and I'm not going to waste my time instructing you in the basic knowledge you'd have to have before any conversation with you could be profitable." There was a definite ghost of the phrase "silly woman" hovering over that last.

I've heard from other women who've had similar experiences: comment as "Interested" or "Packers Fan" or "XYZZY" and you'll be treated one way by the self-identified male commenters on some blogs and forums--but create a new identity as "Dolly" or "Mrs. Q" or "Felicia" and suddenly some of the men will treat you entirely differently. Not all, but some.

Are they the same men who ogle women and otherwise dehumanize them? Or is this more subtle sexism more widespread, affecting some men who are chivalrous and honorable in their ordinary dealings with women? I can't help but wonder.

That's it for today! I'll resume my usual cantankerous church-and-state-and-culture-centric blogging on Monday, Good Lord willing!

UPDATE: I clicked away from writing this post and found another good mommy-bloggish thing to share! Here's why your home will never look like one featured on TV or in a magazine. Good to know!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shepherds and the art of cat-herding; three brief points

I only have time for a brief(ish) post today, but I didn't want to let this post by Msgr. Pope, linked to by Dr. Peters in my comment boxes, pass by without remark:

Cardinal George in his recent ad limina visit to Rome summed up the difficulty the bishops face here in America in the following way:

The Church’s mission is threatened internally by divisions which paralyze her ability to act forcefully and decisively.

On the left, the Church’s teachings on sexual morality and the nature of the ordained priesthood and that the Church herself are publicly opposed, as are the bishops who preach and defend these teachings.

On the right, the Church’s teachings might be accepted. But the bishops who do not govern exactly and to the last detail in the way expected, are publicly opposed.

The Church is thus an arena of ideological warfare, rather than a way of discipleship, shepherded by bishops. And so, the Church’s ability to evangelize is diminished. Cardinal Francis George, May 28 2011 Ad Limina Visit.

In other words, trying to lead Catholics is like herding cats. And our descent into ideology stabs unity in the heart and gravely wounds our ability to impact our culture in any real effective and unified way. Consider that there are as many as 70 million Catholics in the U.S. Were we really together on any one topic, we would be a force to reckoned with. But we are not, and are thus largely ineffective as a force for positive change.

And it is always easy to say “It’s that other slob who is responsible for the disunity.” But as Cardinal George notes, the bishop’s aren’t getting much support from any sector of the Church. [All emphases in original--E.M.]

As I said above, I don't have time to delve into this in quite the depth that I'd like to, but I do want to make just a few remarks:

1. I find it disturbing that Cdl. George would conflate actual disobedience to the Magisterium with quite possibly legitimate criticism of prudential matters including Church governance. To put it in the most extreme example possible, there is a huge difference between a congregation defying its pastor and "voting" to "ordain" a woman, and a congregation complaining to the bishop because the pastor refused to listen to highly qualified lay people, hired substandard contractors to build a parish hall, and then openly chastised those who pointed out that almost immediately after the construction the flooring was already failing and certain other construction issues were arising--for their "disobedience" in criticizing the pastor (that second situation actually happened at a parish I'm aware of). One's legitimate obedience to and respect for one's pastor does not require one to suspend disbelief and pretend that one's pastor is a skilled general contractor when that is obviously not the case! And to see these sorts of complaints as exactly the same thing as dissent about abortion, homosexual acts, contraception etc. is--to me--part of the problem.

2. Respect is a two-way street, and it is highly disrespectful of the laity to refer to them as "cats" who are resisting being "herded." We are, in a perfectly legitimate Biblical metaphor the depths of which have yet to be fully plumbed, sheep in need of shepherds--but the truth is that every bishop should see his flock as individual children of God with priceless immortal souls every one of which his excellency will be called to account before God in his individual judgment one day. I once had a wonderful pastor who would say this of his parish--that he was responsible for our souls, and that if by his actions or negligence he was complicit in either failing to see that we were falling away from God and His Church, or actively driving us away from them, he would tremble to face our Lord on the day of his own death. How inspiring such a statement is, especially when, as it was in my pastor's case, it is backed up by a life of exemplary personal habits of prayer and sacrifice and constant service! How much respect could be restored for the bishops of America if each of them would truly take this same sentiment to heart!

3. The biggest barrier to the kind of automatic obedience, trust, and respect Catholics ought to have for our bishops is, perhaps, the one thing that both should be addressed and is nearly impossible to address: our bishops are strangers to us, for the most part. Sure, in some smaller dioceses, or paradoxically in some larger archdioceses where several auxiliary bishops serve, Catholics may find their bishops approachable, willing and able to spend time in conversation, happy to be involved in the lives of the people in their flocks, and eager to reply to legitimate concerns when these arise. I have, alas, never lived in such a diocese. At this point, I'm truly grateful that my bishop writes a blog (as a priest once said when I admitted to reading it, "It's a great way to know if the bishop is in town or not!") because I can at least read his thoughts and ideas on matters. But if I needed to bring up a problem, I would just look on the diocesan website for the appropriate chancery official and send the letter directly to him or her; there might not be any greater chance of anything happening, but I'd at least be saving the bishop's secretary the task of figuring out who should receive my letter, since the only person who never would, under most circumstances, is the bishop himself. This is not--let me be clear!--the bishop's fault. I can't imagine how he manages to do the half of what he does. It is simply impossible for him to be present to everyone in the diocese, to be father and friend to each Catholic in this large flock. And I imagine this is true for most Catholics in America--yet without any sort of personal relationship to go on, how easy it is to fall into attitudes of suspicion and distrust on both sides! Is it surprising that some bishops cringe when Mr. Average Lay Person approaches, sure that he's going to receive an angry tirade of complaints none of which are really important, only to be deeply surprised and even shocked when Mr. Average Lay Person, the parish finance committee chair, perhaps, is polite, respectful, and hates (and this one is totally hypothetical--I want to be clear) that he has the unpleasant duty of sharing with the bishop the hotel receipts his pastor and the parish secretary racked up on their shared vacation (which, even if platonic, violates the diocese's strict policy against such things)?

I'm not sure what the solutions here are. Prayer, of course. But then?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The first casualty of betrayal

I am not picking on noted canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters. Really. It's just that twice in the last two weeks he's posted something I want to comment about, and he doesn't have comments on his blog.

What I want to comment on today is a part of his most recent post; specifically, this part:

Speaking more generally, now, I often explain and defend in my blog legitimate exercises of ecclesiastical authority. I do this because we live in an age that distrusts exercises of authority in general and ecclesiastical authority in particular. Even within the Church, exercises of ecclesiastical authority are often suspect, nay guilty, till proven otherwise. Part of me understands that suspicion, at least when it arises from ‘the right’: I grew up with happy-clappy catechesis, suffered through clown Masses, watched the devastation wrought on religious life, mourned the closing of one Catholic school after another, etc, etc, etc. In short, I grew up waiting for somebody to do something besides, as Fr. Z so wonderfully put it, blowing more happy gas. And I was often disappointed.

But, by the grace of God, I never let my disappointment ossify into distrust. As a result, I do not cling to my opinions about how things should be done in the Church (however sound my views might be) in the face of legitimate ecclesiastical determinations otherwise. I know all about Canon 212 § 3. It’s Canon 223 I’m concerned with now.

Widespread, knee-jerk distrust of ecclesiastical authority is perhaps the most crippling legacy left to the John Paul II generation of Church leaders by the past. This distrust is, of course, unfair to that new generation—who have done nothing to deserve it—but it is also increasingly incongruous to them. They didn’t grow up with the wackiness that many of us remember, and so they don’t understand the animus that is often directed by some otherwise orthodox Catholics against Church leaders just because they happen to be, well, leaders in the Church. Occasionally, when I see a solid young priest or seminarian suffer such prejudice, I call him aside and explain what things were like back in the day, and why patience is called for in this case or that. He listens, nods his head, and says, “Yes, I see what you mean, it must have been terrible. Well, time to get over it.” These guys are great.

Now, I read the whole post, and you can too, but even if you don't read it I can assure you that it's missing one very important phrase. See if you can find it...I knew you could! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, the phrase this post is missing is:

The Scandal.

We can't--we just can't--talk about the widespread distrust Catholics have for ecclesial authorities in 2012, ten years after The Scandal first broke here in America, and just gloss over the fact that the reason for the pervasive distrust of bishops and chanceries stems not just from happy-clappy Masses, not just from systematic liturgical wreckovation, not just from the closing of parishes or schools, not just from poor catechesis, terrible music, and dodgy homilies. The reason many Catholics find it almost impossibly hard to trust their bishops or their diocesan chancery offices is because for a lengthy amount of time the main response of many noted Catholic bishops and chancery officials to serious and credible allegations of child sexual abuse was to move the offending priest somewhere else in the hopes that, no longer exposed to those particular bad children, the priest would live as a model of holiness, or something. Oh, and to chastise the victim, the parents, the concerned observers whether clergy or lay, etc. for bringing the matter up in the first place.

Carol at The Tenth Crusade (HT: Joe H. in the comments under the previous post), from the Boston epicenter of the Scandal earthquake, puts it this way:
This is what it was like before:

Catholics who called the Chancery to report corruption, crimes, were 'listened to'.

When the listening was over, that was the end of their actions on the matter. Naive people who are 'listened to' inside of the Catholic Church feel a tremendous sense of relief. They did the right thing. It is implied in the listening that the people they told will then 'do something' about it.

But, they don't. They only veil it or shuffle it.

Some whistleblowers returned to a Chancery to insist something be done about it.

That's when they did something.

They used money, 'obedience', a sob story, to get people of good will to be silent.

If the whisteblower wasn't satisfied with those offers, they would circle the wagons to slander him or her as a whackadoo. They were bullied, threatened, shunned.

The priest being reported was protected. Some of them honored with public statements from the Archdiocese saying what a swell guy he was. Sometimes, they roasted them with honors.

You know what has changed from the above?

Not a thing.

In my opinion, the whole dynamic is worse than it ever was.
She then goes on to make some rather good points about the recent revelations regarding the Bishop Zavala matter, points along the lines of how the heck does a Catholic bishop carry on the sort of affair with a woman that results in two children without anybody noticing? Sure, there are some married men who manage to do the same sort of thing, but within the Church this is supposed to be the age of accountability and transparency, right?

Now, within the offices of various dioceses, within the chanceries, among the bishops I think it's fair to say that there's a certain feeling of frustration with people like Carol. The Scandal--well, that was ten years ago! And it's been adequately addressed! By making lay Catholics attend endless classes proving they're not criminals and can be trusted around children! And priests have to take similar classes! So what more does the laity, who can never seem to be satisfied anymore, want???

The problem with this attitude, as any parent knows, is that just because someone apologizes for his or her egregious offenses, reforms, and promises to live a blameless life forevermore, it takes a good bit of time to restore the broken trust that is the first casualty of betrayal. Ten years is a blink of the eye in Church years, and I would say that until the "Circle the wagons!" first response of Church officials and employees stops being the knee-jerk reaction to any sort of criticism, we've still got a very long way to go.

It's like the teenager who, caught violating his curfew in order to drink stolen beer at a friend's house before driving home under the influence, complains bitterly to his friends that his parents still don't trust him. "Come on!" he rants. "That was a whole month ago!" (since a month in teenager years is not unlike ten years in Church years). The parents still love their son, despite the disappointment, and they really do wish the best for him as time goes on. But the time to hand him the car keys, let alone leave him in charge of the house while they go away for a weekend, is very, very far off.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hope for the future of homiletics

It should be said that any Catholic blogger approaches with extreme trepidation the writing of a post which may even have the appearance of the mildest sort of criticism of anything that Father Zuhlsdorf has written. But my favorite poet has written something apropos regarding fools rushing in and angels fearing to tread, and I'm certainly not an angel.

Besides, this post has been nagging at me since I read it yesterday:
A reader writes asking about “bad homilies”:

Every once in a while, you get a real clunker, one that isn’t just theologically weak, but turns what should be a feast into over microwaved junk. What is the proper response?

You want to know what to do?

Get down on your knees and pray for the priest who gave it.


Do penance for his intention.

Be happy you have a priest when many – many – don’t.

That is what you do.

There is more in the same vein here.

Now, I want to begin by saying this as clearly as possible: I do not disagree with Father Z.

Let me say that again: I do not disagree with Father Z...

...if, and ONLY if, by "clunker" and "over-microwaved junk" the original letter-writer is not referring to heretical or borderline-blasphemous homilies, but only weak, silly, or poor ones.

If the letter writer was referring to heretical or blasphemous homilies, then--and note well--I still do not disagree with Father Z. The first course of action should still be to get on your knees.

The only slight mild sort-of disagreement I would have at that point would be to say that the matter ought to rest there--which, again, I will say to be clear, is not something Fr. Z. has actually said, so I don't know if you can even properly call it a disagreement.

I think that pastors, vicars general, vicars of priests, and bishops have the right to be informed when a priest under their jurisdiction is regularly delivering homilies in which the priest's regular attempts at theological creativity strays into actual heresy.

"But, Red! But, Red!" some of you might say at this point. "How is a lay person supposed to be qualified to recognize homiletic heresy, as opposed to a bad day or really unfortunate phrasing or a fine point of theology which the lay person himself might not fully understand?"

Simple. First, note my use of the word "regularly." A one-off situation in which a priest slips up should be viewed with the utmost charity; we have all experienced what some call "foot-in-mouth" disease.

Second, any lay person can double-check, using both online and offline sources, some homiletic statement or theme that seems too odd to be Catholic. Is it true, what Father said, that the Church teaches Mary didn't suffer the loss of her virginity even though she gave birth? Um, yes, actually. Is it true, what Father said, that Mary was only the mother of Jesus in His human nature and should not really be called the Mother of God? Um, no, of course not.

Some might wonder whether heresy actually crops up in homilies these days. Sure, maybe back in the bad old 1970s, but now? Alas, here are some things I've actually heard at Masses much more recently than that:
  • Mary was an ignorant peasant girl who never really understood anything the Angel told her.
  • Mary and Joseph had a normal married life and had other children together; the Church just doesn't want to admit that, because, you know, sex and all.
  • It's perfectly fine to refer to God as "She." I've heard this in several forms, ranging from the idea that since God is genderless He didn't really choose to present Himself using male pronouns to an apparent belief that one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is a woman, or at least ought to be.
  • From a deacon who was also a guardian ad litem: if he'd been assigned Mary and Joseph as a case, he would have assigned Jesus a social worker because of their poverty and lack of decent transportation, their homelessness, and the fact that the Child didn't have a car seat. (Now that was an interesting Christmas Mass homily, let me tell you.)
  • On All Souls' Day a few years ago, the priest saying Mass got so heated during his homily in which he ranted that the Church was wrong, wrong, wrong to view All Souls' Day as a penitential day and mandate violet vestments when we should be celebrating because all of our loved ones are now in heaven with God--that he tore off those vestments and said the rest of Mass in his white cassock.

There could be more, but to be honest I've developed a habit of a sort of protective tune-out when homilies start getting too, too strange; I figure that in terms of sinfulness, I'm caught between the Scylla of not paying full attention to the homily and the Charybdis of percolating to a boiling point of unholy wrath in the middle of Mass. I suppose I could use the homily as the opportunity to pray for the priest when this sort of thing happens, except that the one thing that will really get you noticed is any attempt to pray during Mass, as that is the one thing that must never happen.

Bottom line: if you are complaining about homilies just because they are sort of canned, or dull, or weak, or repetitive--follow Father Z.'s excellent advice. I've known priests who speak in a nearly-inaudible monotone about nothing I can ever remember; I've known priests who use repetitive catchphrases so much that when those start cropping up I have to fight to stay with the homily, because the temptation is to think I've already heard this one; I even know a dear, kind, fully orthodox, marvelously reverent priest whose Masses are a delight to God and man, and yet whose homilies--I must be honest--are so lengthy, so tangential, so lacking in a coherent theme, and so strangely organized that I keep expecting Nicholas Cage to show up in them. :) But to complain about any of these sorts of things, ever, really would smack of the sort of lay ingratitude that I suspect Father Z. is addressing; thankful prayers are much more appropriate.

However, if you are complaining about homilies that betray, to be as charitable as possible, a woeful and concerning lack of understanding on the part of the homilist regarding some key teaching of the Catholic faith, it may--may!--be both just and right to write a letter to the appropriate authority. The letter should be kind, and short, and to the point. You should not be surprised or disappointed if you never hear back, or if the only thing you receive in reply is a letter which reads something like this:

Dear Lay Person,

Thank you for your concerns about Father Whosis's ministry and service at St. Whatsit Parish. St. Whatsit Parish is deeply blessed to have the ministry and service of Father Whosis, who sets a tremendously important example for us all of ministry and service. We hope that you will agree that the ministry and service of Father Whosis to St. Whatsit Parish are tremendously important.

Sincerely, etc.

Which, translated into common speech, means: "Dear Spoiled Catholic Brat: Quit your sniveling. Sincerely, etc."

Still, if enough concerned letters about Father Whosis are received, someone may realize that something more important than Spoiled Catholic Brat syndrome is going on, and may investigate--which is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and all that.

I have great hope for the future of Catholic homiletics, however. It's not because of the reform of the reform, though that helps. It's not because of the new Mass translation, though that will likely help too. It's not even because of the influx of well-trained former Anglican priests who are coming into the Church, though the absolute best homilist I have ever known, bar none, is a former Anglican, now Catholic priest who serves in our diocese.

No, my hope for the end of the lightly-heretical homily rests elsewhere. In a word: YouTube. Priests who used to delight in Dan Brown-esque dabblings and "new" ideas (which actually date back to the Arians, the Albigensians, or the Manicheans, among others) now must fear that any yokel parishioner with an iPhone and a YouTube channel can, with one recording, get him in the kind of ecclesial hot water that no priest ever really wants to face. And should the video go viral...! The horror.

So our children may never hear, from the pulpit anyway, random speculations about whether the Trinity exists, or whether Jesus thought St. John the Baptist might be the Messiah for a while, or whether the early Church hated and feared women and that's why we don't have female priests--all because of YouTube. For which I am truly thankful.

UPDATE: I "borrowed" (ahem) the Nicholas Cage line from the brilliantly funny Bad Banana; the original line Bad Banana wrote was that his day was so awful, he kept looking around to see if Nicholas Cage was in it. :)