See this charming New Yorker article by Daniel Mendelsohn on the Vatican Library. (Abstract only for now). I’ve worked there, briefly, and Mendelsohn does seem to get the atmospherics right (including enthusiasm for the coffee bar in the courtyard of this Renaissance palazzo, and the widespread sense that Benedict XVI understands the ideals of a great research library better than John Paul II). What Mendelsohn doesn’t touch on, although his interlocutors do, is the most remarkable fact: that Catholicism, the papal court and western humanism remain so deeply intertwined.
Archive for December, 2010
A new word entered the Big Apple lexicon this week, and it’s not a happy one.
Tertiary, despite managing to simultaneously sound like both euphemistic bureaucratese and ripping flesh, is a Latinate word that means, simply, third. In a classification system with only three levels, tertiary, alas, means last.
And in New York City, tertiary means it takes three days for the city to plow your street.
That’s not its literal meaning, of course. In plowman’s parlance, tertiary streets are the ones that feed into (and get plowed after) secondary streets, which are streets that feed into (and get plowed after) arterial streets, also known as thoroughfares and main drags.
But the effect is undeniable: New Yorkers ended up feeling like third-class residents of a third-rate burg, left to clutch their bronze medals in the race for basic city services.
However, at the bottom of Pandora’s box lurks … :
And those of you who blame Mr. Bloomberg for this whole mess, remember: his mayoralty is in its tertiary stage.
The Jewish Journal has named the top ten Jews of the year and included a Catholic on their list. Guess who? Don’t peek until after you’ve named a name. Number 11 is….
Credit card companies are pushing plastic again, consumers are shopping till they drop, and Wall Street had a great year. So this development was predictable, as per today’s Washington Post:
SUVs lead U.S. auto sales growth despite efforts to improve fuel efficiency
If U.S. consumers are in the midst of a green revolution, the news hasn’t reached car buyers.
With the end of the recession, bigger vehicles have made a comeback, sales figures show, and it has come at the expense of smaller, more-efficient cars…
…”You have about 5 percent of the market that is green and committed to fuel efficiency,” said Mike Jackson, the chief executive of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer in the country. “But the other 95 percent will give up an extra 5 mpg in fuel economy for a better cup holder.”
I like to think that nations have characters much as people do, and there is of course so much talk about how great ours is — American exceptionalism was one of the defining beliefs of the recent election cycle. But there was also much talk about how the recent economic shock would change us for the better, return us to a virtuous state that we apparently had left behind somewhere.
Or not. Or maybe we were always thus.
Since there has been some discussion in recent posts about the New York Times, and in particular its Christmas editorial (sans reference to the origin of the holiday), I can’t resist offering you this little tidbit.
In a review of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new film “Biutiful,” critic A.O. Scott (!) notes that the protagonist of the story, played by Javier Bardem, is a fairly obvious Christ figure.
But Scott is unimpressed by González Iñárritu’s theology. He contrasts the gritty naturalism of the film’s visual style with a sentimentalized version of redemption that reminds him of a Nicholas Sparks novel. The result being “a feel-bad art film with an uplifting message for everyone.”
Here’s the paragraph that caught my eye:
Mr. González Iñárritu does not have the stomach for the stringent moral and spiritual vision of authentically (or even experimentally) religious filmmakers like Carl Dreyer, Robert Bresson or the Dardenne brothers. Instead he traffics in a vague theology of uplift, wherein the road to an entirely abstract heaven is paved with noble instincts.
I don’t think that needs any comment. But I did find it refreshing. Coming, as it does, from the New York Times. ;-)
About five years ago, I began to write occasional articles that questioned the validity of New York City’s crime statistics reported through CompStat, a vaunted crime-fighting tool that has been emulated across the country. I noted the discrepancy between publicly reported crimes on the FBI’s index of seven major crimes and the comparable lesser crimes that received little attention – for example, serious assaults vs. misdemeanor assaults, or grand larceny vs. petit larceny. All the numbers dropped sharply the first two years after CompStat was introduced, but after that golden era, the “index” crimes kept dropping sharply while the non-index offenses leveled off. For example, from CompStat’s first full year in 1995 to 2002, “index” or aggravated assaults dropped 33 percent, while non-index, or lesser, assaults stayed about level, dropping 3 percent. This was consistent with what the city’s police union had charged in 2004: that crimes were being routinely downgraded. Crime was down, for sure, but not as much as the numbers showed. If the union was right, fraud was endemic. The numbers alone suggested the need for an independent investigation.
After 2002, the NYPD refused to release the numbers for non-index crimes. I and others filed numerous Freedom of Information Law requests, but the department flouted the law. (My last appeal wasn’t even answered.) But the New York Times recently noted that the numbers were being withheld and filed suit to get this data. Now, under cover of a blizzard, the NYPD has released the numbers.
The new numbers for non-index crimes are in a different format from the past, making a precise comparison impossible. But there is still enough information to spot broad trends.
The numbers show that the drop in major, publicly reported crimes has continued to outpace the drop in lesser offenses by a significant margin (although not as sharply as in the past). Aggravated assaults dropped 12 percent from 2003 to 2009, while lesser ones remained about level, falling 2 percent. Meanwhile, city hospital records have shown an increasing number of people hospitalized for assaults.
Downgrading crimes is just part of the problem. Recent news coverage has shown how crime victims are systematically discouraged from reporting crimes – say, if a commanding officer insists that complaints will only be taken if the victim goes to the precinct station house. This was documented by a police officer in Brooklyn who secretly recorded the roll calls in his precinct. Newspaper reports detailed the scheme.
We live in a society that places too much faith in data – school reading scores, earnings reports, and many other performance indicators. It’s good to have the data, but when too much rides on the numbers, watch out.
Often, the supposed watchdogs are those most likely to rely on questionable data. The editorial board of the New York Daily News is a prime example. It’s often astute, but time and again, it blindly attacks those experts who have questioned the credibility of the police crime reports. Now, it claims that the trends in the new numbers just released are “more or less parallel” – that the 12 percent drop in serious assaults is pretty much the same as the 2 percent drop in lesser assaults.
I don’t think News owner Mort Zuckerman would view such a difference in his circulation figures the same way.
Jeffrey Goldberg blogging at the Atlantic asks: “What if Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?” If Goldberg, an American journalist and ardent supporter of Israel, is worried about the democratic future of Israel, then the scenario he presents is either inevitable or the Neocon community is having a reality check about the West Bank. Which is it? HT: TPM And read David Remnick’s comments here.
And here’s MJ Rosenberg on the possible significance of Goldberg’s question.
Mr. Powell goes on to opine:
Our mayor comes with great reluctance to “I feel your pain” moments, calling to mind a Park Avenue dowager donning a sack cloth. But there he was Tuesday, standing in one of those emergency management headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn, speaking of sanitation workers laboring ’round the clock, of blood shortages and esprit de corps, and, finally, this: “The fact remains that many New Yorkers are suffering serious hardships.”
Implicit in this sentence was the acknowledgment — Hizzoner’s first since that howling blizzard descended on the city — that a snowpack acceptable on a Himalayan trail is quite a bit less so on Marlborough Road in Brooklyn two days after a storm.
And he concludes:
Perhaps the true comfort to be derived from the mayor’s performance Tuesday was that in the end, the man remained true to himself. He can do humble but for only so long — perhaps 20 minutes. His conciliatory summary went well enough. Then reporters took to tossing their impertinent questions and the mayor nearly twitched with the effort to keep his eyes from rolling sarcastically.
Mr. Mayor, a reporter demanded, do you regret the response to the snowstorm? Mr. Bloomberg’s look went deadpan.
“You know, I regret everything in this world,” he said. It’s another way of saying “whatever.”
When the Times goes pay-as-you-read, I’ll swing for the “City” section over “Editorial” every time. Reporting live from the still-snowed-in Bronx …
On the fourth day of Christmas friends in Brooklyn report being Times-less. So, as a public service (and in partial reparation for perceived slights):
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg admitted on Wednesday that his administration’s response to the blizzard that buried New York this week had been inadequate, and he pledged to hold himself and others accountable as the city continued to work its way to normalcy.
Speaking at a hardware depot in Hunts Point, the Bronx, the mayor said he was “extremely dissatisfied” with the performance of the city’s emergency management system. He said the reaction to the snow as it accumulated was “a lot worse” than after other recent snowstorms and was not as efficient as “the city has a right to expect.”
The rest is here.
And then there’s this:
This week, as Mr. Bloomberg conceded that the city’s response to the blizzard had been inadequate, many theories, in both shouts and whispers, have been offered to explain the shortcomings: the Sanitation Department had undergone staffing cuts; the ferocity of the snowfall and the power of the accompanying winds had presented extraordinary challenges to the city’s snow plows; angry sanitation workers had sabotaged the efforts; city residents had ignored common sense and wound up stranding their cars in streets across the five boroughs.
On Wednesday, the mayor and his commissioners pledged to get at the truth. Once the streets have been cleared, they said, all aspects of the response will be analyzed, and changes, if necessary, will be made.
“I could stand here and list maybe 10 or 12 items and say this is what my problem was or that’s what my problem was,” John J. Doherty, the sanitation commissioner, said at a news conference with Mr. Bloomberg. “The mayor has pointed out there will be a postmortem on this storm. I’m not here to make excuses right now.”
Any post-mortem, then, seems destined to scrutinize the city’s decision not to declare a snow emergency, the transit agency’s delay in invoking a full-scale emergency plan, and the seemingly late and limited bid for outside help.
Looks like The Bronx is now the command-center. Score one for the outer-boroughs!
So, who’s making New Year’s resolutions this year? Any thoughts on the practice in general? As a virtue ethicist, I’m interested in all the ways people take the opportunity for self-examination and changes of practice, even (and perhaps especially) in fairly small matters. Small things do add up, if only as a habit of making small improvements! What are your past successes with resolutions?
And–for the brave–what are your resolutions this year? Careful now–once you put them here, you’ll be more accountable than for resolutions kept in pectore. However, perhaps you can also count on the support of those of us on the blog for (good) resolutions noted here.
And I resolve, among other things, that I won’t page back next year and ask folks how they did with resolutions mentioned here…
Commonwealer Melinda Henneberger (also my editor at PoliticsDaily as well as a devoted Notre Dame alum) has been reporting on a terrible story out of South Bend about the suicide of Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old Saint Mary’s College freshman who committed suicide 10 days after accusing a Notre Dame football player of molesting her in his dorm room on Aug. 31. At the time of her death, the campus police to whom she reported the incident still had not interviewed the player.
The investigation was concluded on Dec. 16 with an announcement that no charges would be filed against the player. But numerous questions remain about the incident and the university’s response, or lack thereof, and the sway of the football program. (Notre Dame’s struggling team, at 7-5, is to play Miami in the Sun Bowl on Friday.) Seeberg had received text messages after the incident from a fellow student warning her not to mess with the football program. Lizzy Seeberg, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook and had suffered from anxiety and depression since her freshman year in high school, died of an intentional drug overdose of the anti-depressant drug Effexor.
The case also overlapped with the October death of 20-year-old Declan Sullivan, the football team videographer who was up on a scissor-lift in a wind twice as strong as any in which he should have been allowed up on the tower. Melinda reports that Indiana’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating Sullivan’s death, and the U.S. Department of Education is launching an inquiry into the way Notre Dame handles sexual harassment complaints.
In the Seeberg case, ND president Father John Jenkins just gave an interview to the South Bend Tribune attributing the 15-day delay in interviewing the accused to “discrepancies” between the hand-written account Seeberg wrote immediately after the incident and an account she provided to police a few days later.
That assertion contradicts what Seeberg’s parents say they were told by police investigators. During a five-hour interview with Politics Daily on Dec. 15, Tom and Mary Seeberg said those investigators told them back in September that the two accounts were “materially the same,” though the second was more detailed. The Seebergs also said in that interview that police had told them the player’s account of the evening was essentially consistent with their daughter’s — except that he had characterized the fondling Seeberg described as frightening as consensual…
…The Seebergs are a Notre Dame family — 11 of them have attended the school over the last century — and their loss has been compounded by Jenkins’ refusal to meet, talk to or even read a letter from them. Other than the school’s lawyers, the only Notre Dame official who has met or spoken with them is Father Tom Doyle, vice president of student affairs. Doyle is a friend of a priest friend of Lizzy’s, and someone Lizzy’s father met briefly at her memorial service at Saint Mary’s; since then, the two have spoken on the phone a number of times.
In the Tribune interview, Jenkins says he avoided the family in an effort to remain innocent of the facts of the case: “I’m the ultimate court of appeal in disciplinary matters,” Jenkins said. “And consequently, I try to remain somewhat distant so I’m not tainted by one side or another presenting their side of the story.”
He did not explain how, if he still does not know the details of the case, he could be so sure that the investigation had been handled well. Or if he does now know the facts of the case despite his best efforts to steer clear, why has he still not picked up the phone and called the Seebergs?
And Father Jenkins in the interview acknowledges that perhaps Notre Dame officials could have acted more quickly but he stressed that due diligence was more important than speed. But the slowness of the investigation and the involvement of ND authorities in this case seems to raise all manner of issues related to Catholic identity and big time college sports and the influence of such a large institution. Melinda notes that the local prosecutor who eventually agree with the findings of ND authorities that the case was handled well is the father of Notre Dame graduate Ryan Dvorak, who is running for mayor of South Bend.
And Lizzy’s mother said police investigators told her it might take time to wrap up their investigation: “They said they were pretty busy because it’s football season,” she said, “and there’s a lot of underage drinking.”
In her account and in conversations with family and friends before her suicide, Lizzy Seeberg said the player told her to pee in the sink instead of going to the bathroom (she didn’t) and he complained that the first three weeks of football training had been a nightmare because it was the longest he’d ever gone without having sex.
The player has hired a Notre Dame grad and high-powered Chicago attorney who told the Tribune that his client is mulling legal action against what he called the “false accusations” that he “raped Seeberg or otherwise attacked her sexually.” The attorney says the young man “did nothing wrong.” In fact, he said, “he was a complete gentleman.”
Father Jenkins told the South Bend Tribune that he was speaking out now because “I cannot stand by and allow the integrity of Notre Dame to be challenged so publicly. The values at issue go to the very heart of who and what we are at Notre Dame.”
That last statement seems to be the one indisputable lesson from this ongoing tragedy.
By and large, I try to resist commenting on this blog’s frequent references to the New York Times, burdened as I am by actual knowledge of the place, of many people who work there, and of its culture – actually I should say cultures because they vary from one department or section of the paper to another.
The Times does many things that are egregious. But of course the Times also does many things, period, things often entailing rare skills, unusual dedication, exhausting work, sacrifice of corporate profits, not infrequently even risk of life. Sportswriters, unlike media critics, do not judge a .400 hitter by the other 6 out of 10 times at bat. And the Times’s record is well above that average, although as anyone knows who has either been the subject of a news story or has had to write one in seven hours and eight hundred words, it is unheard of to get everything completely and exactly right.
The Times, to repeat, prints many egregious things. Mollie Wilson O’Reilly recently posted an example from the “Vows” column in the Sunday Style Section. I was taken aback by Bill Mazella’s naïve defense of this as a simple case of neutral news coverage, something quickly rebutted by Mollie and others. Could Bill imagine, I wondered, the disdain in which such features are commonly held by many of the paper’s own reporters and editors? What in our household have long been termed the “greed sections” of the Times were widely tolerated in the Times newsroom as an ingenious invention by Abe Rosenthal to bring in advertising revenue that has allowed the paper to maintain serious bureaus in Afghanistan and Iraq and send reporters to Central Asia and the horn of Africa and many parts of the globe now abandoned by most of the news media. For many, including many of those who at various times put their lives on the line to get important stories, the entire Styles Section and its like are at best necessary evils. (I hope that this will not provoke further reflections on the pope and condoms.)
But the Christmas editorial discussed below is something else. It is not the editorial I might have written had I ever been invited (or accepted) to join the editorial page. There are many Christmas editorials, including some redolent with explicit celebration of Christ’s birth, that I might not have written. But they don’t stir my ire or sense of victimization either. Here we have four paragraphs of admirable, if somewhat bland, Christmas-related sentiments. It could have been written, for all I know, by an editor who was at Midnight Mass. But he or she consciously wrote it from a religiously neutral standpoint, except perhaps for the final endorsement of “prayer.” And it was written for a readership about whose religious convictions no assumptions could or would be made. This is, it seems to me, not the only possible but nonetheless a very plausible and respectful reflection of our contemporary pluralism. There really are many people who are not out to get us but who sincerely and thoughtfully don’t believe in Christ or Christianity. Are we shocked, shocked, by that? I think we should get used to it.
Those, fortunate enough not to have to venture out in the blizzard-challenged Northeast, can catch up on accumulated newspapers. They might even pause over The New York Times “Christmas” editorial.
The newspaper of record suspects something happened in Bethlehem. “To Christians everywhere, Christmas comprises, above all, a decree from Caesar Augustus and in the same country shepherds abiding.” But, beyond these facts, the Times is not prepared to pronounce. It might be construed as partisan editorializing.
Perhaps someone with a poetic turn might update Robert Southwell’s “The Burning Babe” and offer a meditation on “The Missing Babe.”
Needless to say “Holy Family Sunday” passed unmentioned.
I am not generally a liturgical fuss budget, but what a mess we are up for. Today’s Holy Family celebration had a reading in which the Magi having departed, Joseph has a dream and flees with the family to Egypt–notwithstanding that magi and camels are still on the other side of the altar (probably just edging across the Jordan River).
And then, Roman-rite wise, the magi arrive on January 2 (next Sunday, the Epiphany), six days before they are said to have arrived, and with the family already in Egypt (per today’s reading).
Who’s in charge here? The same crowd that has done the new mistranslation?
At Midnight Mass in Saint Peter’s Pope Benedict concluded his homily with these words:
Saint Luke does not say that the angels sang. He states quite soberly: the heavenly host praised God and said: “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:13f.). But men have always known that the speech of angels is different from human speech, and that above all on this night of joyful proclamation it was in song that they extolled God’s heavenly glory. So this angelic song has been recognized from the earliest days as music proceeding from God, indeed, as an invitation to join in the singing with hearts filled with joy at the fact that we are loved by God. Cantare amantis est, says Saint Augustine: singing belongs to one who loves. Thus, down the centuries, the angels’ song has again and again become a song of love and joy, a song of those who love. At this hour, full of thankfulness, we join in the singing of all the centuries, singing that unites heaven and earth, angels and men. Yes, indeed, we praise you for your glory. We praise you for your love. Grant that we may join with you in love more and more and thus become people of peace. Amen.
I’m a few days late on this, but it makes for good Christmas Eve reading: an online article from the New York Times‘s David Borenstein about the 100,000 Homes Campaign, an attempt to address chronic homelessness in more than 60 communities.
Each day, roughly 700,000 people in the country are homeless. About 120,000 are chronically homeless. They often live on the streets for years and have mental disabilities, addiction problems and life-threatening diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They are also five times more likely than ordinary Americans to have suffered a traumatic brain injury, which may have precipitated their homelessness. Without direct assistance, many will remain homeless for the rest of their lives — at enormous cost to society and themselves.
The 100,000 Homes Campaign aims to get these people into housing, realizing that a stable home must be the first step, not the last, in addressing their other problems. The campaign is a project of New York-based organization Common Ground, which was founded by Roseanne Haggerty, a longtime friend of Commonweal. Borenstein quotes her and others on the challenges of dealing with chronic homelessness, and what past attempts have taught them that could make this campaign successful.
Ethan Bronner has this report in Thursday’s Times: “In the three months since Israel ended its settlement construction freeze in the West Bank, causing the Palestinians to withdraw from peace talks, a settlement-building boom has begun, especially in more remote communities that are least likely to be part of Israel after any two-state peace deal.
“This means that if negotiations ever get back on track, there will be thousands more Israeli settlers who will have to relocate into Israel, posing new problems over how to accommodate them while creating a Palestinian state on the land where many of them are living now.”
Among the memorable meditations in Commonweal’s Christmas issue, Leo O’Donovan’s “Fugitives” has particular relevance to the feast we are about to celebrate. It is a theological and aesthetic reflection upon St. Matthew’s narrative of the flight into Egypt — one that is also searing in its actuality. O’Donovan writes:
Unless we appreciate the desperation of this moment in Matthew’s story, we cannot grasp the full import of the family’s being called “out of Egypt.” In fact, this is the story of a new exodus: As Moses, saved from Pharaoh’s wrath, later led his people from persecution toward a promised land, so Jesus escapes Herod but returns as the Messiah of his people—king in a far truer sense than Herod could ever be. Not that he returns immediately in glory: his ministry of redemption germinates for many years. When he enters upon it, he finds not only disciples but also ardent enemies who will eventually drag him to an agonizing death “outside the city.”
The flight into Egypt thus foreshadows the full humiliation that Jesus would experience on the Cross. And to whom can it speak more directly than to the millions upon millions of immigrants, refugees, and displaced persons in today’s world?
Two fine artistic reproductions accompany the article: a painting by Fra Angelico and one by Caravaggio. But O’Donovan mentions other depictions including several by the African American artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner. Here is one:
Last summer, Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix asked Catholic Healthcare West to provide a moral analysis of the case that started this controversy. So CHW secured the services of the moral theologian M. Therese Lysaught. Her analysis, sent to the bishop in October, was rejected by Olmsted last month. We have obtained Lysaught’s cover letter to CHW along with her analysis.
In her cover letter, Lysaught summarizes her conclusion: “The procedure performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center on November 5, 2009, cannot properly be described as an abortion. The act, per its moral object, must accurately be described as saving the life of the mother. The death of the fetus was, at maximum, nondirect and praeter intentionem. More likely, the fetus was already dying due to the pathological situation prior to the intervention; as such, it is inaccurate to understand the death of the fetus as an accessory consequence to the intervention.”
Lysaught’s analysis includes a detailed summary of the medical condition of the mother. In October 2009, the mother’s doctor counseled her to terminate the pregnancy because the symptoms of her pulmonary hypertension were worsening. He estimated that, given the advanced state of her disease, she would have a 50-50 chance of surviving the pregnancy. The mother, a Catholic with four children, decided against ending the pregnancy. Less than a month later, she was admitted to St. Joseph’s with more severe symptoms.
A cardiac catheterization revealed that the woman now had “very severe pulmonary arterial hypertension with profoundly reduced cardiac output”; in another part of the record, a different physician confirmed “severe, life-threatening pulmonary hypertension,” “right heart failure,” and “cardiogenic shock.” The chart noted that she had been informed that her risk of mortality “approaches 100%,” is “near 100%,” and is “close to 100%” if she were to continue the pregnancy. The chart also noted that “surgery is absolutely contraindicated.”
As Lysaught makes clear, the pregnancy itself exacerbated her symptoms. Owing to physiological changes accompanying pregnancy, the mother’s heart could no longer supply enough oxygenated blood to sustain her organs–or the fetus. “In short,” Lysaught writes,
in spite of the best efforts of the mother and of her medical staff, the fetus had become terminal, not because of a pathology of its own but because of a pathology in its maternal environment. There was no longer any chance that the life of this child could be saved. This is crucial to note insofar as it establishes that at the point of decision, it was not a case of saving the mother or the child. It was not a matter of choosing one life or the other. The child’s life, because of natural causes, was in the process of ending.
There’s much, much more in the rest of the document–including Lysaught’s analysis of the intervention based on the work of Fr. Martin Rhonheimer and Germain Grisez, along with her response to the National Catholic Bioethics Center’s analysis and an application of the USCCB statement [PDF] responding to the controversy. The whole document is worth your time.
NCR‘s story on Olmsted’s decision to revoke CHW’s Catholic status is here (be sure to follow their helpful links).
The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has removed St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center’s status as a Catholic hospital for failing to strictly adhere to Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s demands that the hospital comply with church moral teaching.
The decision, announced at a Tuesday news conference by the diocese, came after negotiations between Catholic Healthcare West and the bishop failed to resolve major ethical differences.
The ultimatum from the bishop followed his request over the summer that CHW provide him with a moral analysis of the case. The request for the analysis was passed on to Lysaught in August. She completed her work and forwarded her analysis to Lloyd Dean, CHW president, in late October. By the end of November, the bishop had rejected her conclusions.
Apparently the clock ran out.
…But better than nothing, Benedict seems to be saying in an extensive clarification issued today by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the “lesser evil”. This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, n. 75-77). An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil. The Church teaches that prostitution is immoral and should be shunned. However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another – even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity. This understanding is in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church.
The Vatican statement follows an ongoing debate among ethicists and moral theologians, many on the conservative side of the spectrum, who were battling among themselves over what the pope really meant and whether he was wrong or right or just misguided.
I think this clarification — which will itself be chewed over no doubt — pretty clearly gives the nod to Father Martin Rhonheimer, an Opus Dei priest whose Tablet article in 2004 really spurred the debate.
Rhonheimer’s recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor and Austen Ivereigh’s analysis at America’s blog (from whence I first learned of the new Vatican statement) seem to presage quite accurately this latest Vatican explainer.
A couple of thoughts: The pope clearly wants to state that his remarks did not signal a change on church teaching on contraception, which seemed clear from the start, though there were apparently some initial misconstruals.
He also says that “to use condoms to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is completely arbitrary and is in no way justified either by his words or in his thought” and that his remarks were not meant to refer to “conjugal morality.” But it seems inevitable that the AIDS example could have some resonance there given that deadly and dangerous situations can also arise in the marital context. (Humanae Vitae in fact states that a contraceptive used for wholly other intentions could be licit.) There seems no way to escape the weight of intention to some degree, it seems.
Also, Benedict has always been hinky — as have many ethicists, I believe — about the use of the term “the lesser evil,” fearing it could lead to proportionalism (bad) or simply divert attention from the relational aspect of the whole problem, which is where the focus should be. And yet the lesser evil does seem to be inherent here, if only by another name.
John Allen’s take, just in — a sample:
In effect, the doctrinal congregation’s concern appears to be that calling condom use a “lesser evil” could suggest it’s morally legitimate, something that can be chosen with a clear conscience. Instead, the congregation appears to be saying, the use of a condom in certain circumstances may be “less evil” than some alternatives, but it still falls short of the moral ideal.
There are moments when the New York Times style section lives up to its reputation as a morally relative mirror for shallow, wealthy white people so perfectly that you have to wonder if they’re doing it on purpose. This week’s “Vows” column is one of those times.
“Vows” is a weekly feature on the “Weddings and Celebrations” page. Sometimes sweet, often obnoxious, it blows up one of that week’s wedding announcements into a soft-focus feature story, telling how the couple met and got engaged, with the wedding as the happy ending. Usually the couple has a once-in-a-lifetime meet-cute tale or a quirky wedding ceremony, but sometimes they’re just notable and/or well-connected people who apparently like publicity. And sometimes, selling the fairy tale requires papering over some inconvenient facts along the way — like when you can’t explain “how they met” without admitting that one or both parties were in other relationships at the time. Past “Vows” columns have tried to wave those details away — the conceit is that this couple, now getting married, are obviously Meant For Each Other, and everything else is just water under the bridge. New York magazine’s “Daily Intel” blog noted this last year and pronounced it “Gross.” This week, an update: “Times No Longer Even Euphemizing Spouse-Dumping.”
That’s not quite true — the NYT‘s capsule summary of this installment of “Vows” is nothing if not euphemistic. “After a first attraction when they were each married to someone else, a couple are married after intervening years.” Despite those two “afters,” you’ll find their how-we-got-together story is really more “during.”
You really have to read this one to believe it, so I won’t spoil the details. But besides the obvious “What were they thinking?” I am also finding myself wondering what the writer was thinking — the writer they convinced to write this self-justifying and tin-eared press release — and, even more, what the editor was thinking. Somebody read this pitch, and then read the finished copy, and said, Yes, this is the sort of thing we want to feature in “Vows.” Is it possible they couldn’t predict the response (revulsion, in most quarters) — did they really not know that readers would identify with the jilted spouses and resent the attempt to sell the “happy ending”? Or did they know and run it anyway, as a kind of attention-getting prank? Which is worse?
Cathleen Kaveny’s column “The Long Goodbye: Why Some Devout Catholics Are Leaving the Church” caught the attention of several writers, making it one of the most-read columns on our Web site. One commentator even made a video about it.
Fr. Robert Barron teaches theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, and is a gifted evangelist. He has written well on a wide range of subjects, including a helpful piece on celibacy for Commonweal. Often, even when I disagree with Fr. Barron’s conclusions, I find his analyses interesting and his arguments careful. This isn’t one of those times.
The good news first: the Senate passed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There were 33 votes against, if you can believe it, and leading the charge: Senator John McCain. Who would have thought he’d want to be remembered for fighting to keep gay soldiers from disclosing their sexuality without fear of reprisal?
It was a big day for John McCain, who also voted against the DREAM Act — and found himself on the winning side this time. Please remember that John McCain was once a sponsor of the DREAM Act — more than once, actually. And in fact, what he supported was a much more generous version of the DREAM Act, as the restrictions on who would be able to apply for citizenship and how have been made much stronger in the current bill, in hopes of attracting more Republican votes. But that was before the new, “I never considered myself a maverick” McCain came on the scene. Still, the vote was 55 to 41 in favor of the bill — but it still loses, because nothing short of 60 votes can stop a Republican filibuster. (Special thanks, then, to the five Democrats who voted against it.)
The shopping I am doing to celebrate Christmas seems to lead inevitably to products manufactured in China, where, the Vatican reminds us in a strongly worded statement issued Friday, there is “intransigent intolerance” for religions lacking state approval.
The statement follows reports that Roman Catholic bishops and priests were forced – literally dragged by police – into attending a convocation of the state-run Catholic Patriotic Association, which the Vatican does not recognize. It says:
This was imposed on numerous Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful. The manner in which it was convoked and its unfolding manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China. The persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens’ lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church does no credit to China. On the contrary, it seems to be a sign of fear and weakness rather than of strength; of intransigent intolerance rather than of openness to freedom and to effective respect both of human dignity and of a correct distinction between the civil and religious spheres.
This is of course part of a larger story about systemic abuse of human rights in China – overlooked by nations as they seek to sell their wares there … and by me, as well, as I do my Christmas shopping.
Jean Raber mentioned on another thread the use of lard in baking. One of my sisters is coming down from New Hampshire on Tuesday, eager to start the baking, making ample use of lard. She still laughs at the woman who, seeing her put lard on the moving band at the check-out counter, exclaimed, “Do you know that’s just pig fat?” And my sister replied: “Yes, and nothing is as good for baking.” She makes wonderful date cookies.
At the Monastery of Bose a few years back, at the end of a conference, we had a wondeful meal, the first course of which was bread sticks and lard, with a wonderful local wine.
My brother is in the kitchen at the moment at a huge mixing bowl to make our traditional Slovak Christmas rolled cakes with almond or walnut or prune or poppy seed filling. He just showed me the huge ball of dough that will be put aside to rise during the day, punched down three or four times. The other day he made hundreds of ceregi, known to many as angel-wings; see here. All made, of course, with the feshest of eggs.
Another sister specializes in kolachki, small cakes (some people use that word of the nut rolls).
So the wonderful traditions continue: from my Slovak grandmother to my Irish mother to her children and on to theirs.
So who’s going to be baking? (With or without lard?) And what are the seasonal favorites?
…and takes the mickey out of a few Christian conservatives who seem to misread the Bible. Or love Ben Franklin. Must-see TV for your holiday:
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat|
John Boehner is taking it on the chin for his propensity to tear up and weep. Gail Collins has this in the NYTimes: “We’ve had to adjust to so many strange developments lately. I’m sure we’ll get used to having a speaker of the House who weeps a lot. That would be John Boehner, the new guy.
“He is known to cry,” the outgoing speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told Deborah Solomon in The Times Magazine. “He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills.”
“Pelosi, of course, does not cry in public. We will stop here briefly to contemplate what would happen if she, or any female lawmaker, broke into loud, nose-running sobs while discussing Iraq troop funding or giving a TV interview.” Here “The Crying Game.”
And Collins is correct, girls in Congress can’t cry. But I want to remind those over about 45 that we know better. Marlo Thomas song from 1972, “It’s all right to cry,” opined that it was all right for boys to cry TOO, meaning they could join girls in crying. And just a little nostalgia: here is the line-up from the album, “Free to Be…You and Me.” Right after the fold:
The New York Times reports today that there are now two civil unions contracted for every 3 marriages. Civil unions are available to heterosexuals, and “the overwhelming majority” of those unions are straight couples.
There are a number of ways to think about this, some under the rubric of “glass half empty” and others “glass half full” (and some completely “full” or empty”, perhaps,) for those of us who value marriage. Among them:
1. Marriage is seen as a serious commitment, not one leapt into without thought. At the same time, mere cohabitation is too insecure legally to make sense long-term, especially if there are children involved. For some, civil union is a first step toward a final commitment, much as betrothal was in eras past.
2. Marriage is seen as laden with institutional, legal and religious “baggage” that no longer makes sense for couples. Neither state nor Church has made a convincing case for marriage. But people still value some social/legal recognition of their unions. So since civil unions are available…
3. What started as a “concession” to gay people–to recognize same-sex unions in some second-class way–seems to have undercut straight marriage, not because gay unions were recognized, but because gay people weren’t welcomed into the same social/legal status as straights. Instead of maintaining a “back of the bus” status for gay people, straight people went to join them there. (Indeed, I know of straight people who refuse to marry until the institution is open to gay and lesbian couples as well as straights.)
4. Fear of all the legal mess of divorce motivates some. People still commit to each other, but in a way that may be dissolved without a legal gauntlet to run. I assume the emotional trauma is similar–so it’s not that people are avoiding emotionally-resonant unions, but that they don’t want to be dragged into court for failing at them.
NB: This is about civil marriage, not Church marriage, so doesn’t directly address issues of declining Church marriage.
A front-page story in today’s New York Times reports inside details of the Justice Department’s investigation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This raises the question of whether Assange is now himself the victim of illegal leaks.
The Times story avoids attributing any details to federal prosecutors, yet manages to read their minds. It reports that Justice Department officials are trying to find out if Assange encouraged Pfc. Bradley Manning to leak classified documents, and that “If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.”
Under Rule 6e of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, it is unlawful for a government attorney to “disclose a matter occurring before the grand jury.” And there is reportedly a federal grand jury, empaneled in Alexandria, Va., investigating the WikiLeaks disclosures.
The Times story, scrubbed of attribution in all the key paragraphs that reveal the Justice Department’s strategy in the investigation of Assange, evidently attempts to extricate Justice Department officials from problems with Rule 6e:
Justice Department officials have declined to discuss any grand jury activity. But in interviews, people familiar with the case said the department appeared to be attracted to the possibility of prosecuting Mr. Assange as a co-conspirator to the leaking because it is under intense pressure to make an example of him as a deterrent to further mass leaking of electronic documents over the Internet.
Having spent seven years as a reporter in federal courts for The Associated Press and New York Newsday, I’m familiar with the sort of code being used here. If Justice Department officials think they can disclose their strategy for a criminal probe that is ongoing before a grand jury without disclosing “a matter before a grand jury,” they are walking a very fine line.
At Fordham’s event on Cardinal Dulles last night, his research assistant, Anne-Marie Kirmse, OP, offered the following:
Cardinal Dulles thought this was a subject that needed to be handled more with education and pastoral sensitivity than with authoritative pronouncements, especially in the public sphere, she said.
“Shortly before he lost the ability to speak, the cardinal shook his head sadly and said, ‘Catholic politicians will have to choose between their faith and their ministry in the public arena. Eventually, Catholics will not choose politics as a career, and we will lose our place at the table and our voice in the public arena.’”