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Anticipation and Climate Change

In his beautiful new book Finding and Seeking, Christian ethicist Oliver O’Donovan offers an extended critique of what he calls “anticipation” as a basis for moral deliberation. Anticipation is of a “middle-distance future” stemming from our actions, differing from the immediate “nearer future” of the specific purpose of our actions and the “further future” which, for Christianity, rests on the virtue of hope. O’Donovan suggests that good decision-making involves some anticipation, but it “must be kept in its place,” because our ability to control the middle-distance future is “fragile.” We all know this from experience: if we are contemplating a job change, we may see specific benefits and costs that will immediately result from it, and we may (as Christians) hope that we are contributing to God’s purposes for the world. But we can’t really know very clearly, five years down the road, how life will “look different” if we take the job or refuse it. What other opportunities might come along? What happens if there is a change in the business model of the company? The questions are virtually endless. Thus, if we get stuck on a “demand for definiteness” by relying on fragile anticipation, we may never decide, and we certainly won’t decide well.

O’Donovan’s larger concern here is how our public life increasingly is determined by this “demand for definiteness.” Candidates and official offer plans, and they are evaluated based on “what will happen.” This inevitably results in two problems. One, there arises “a preference for the short-term focus,” where predictability is most assured. Two, any attempts at a longer-term focus means “we must pretend to have a scientific statistical prediction, precisely in order to suit our generalized conception of what responsible decision-making ought to be.” But such “predictions” are of course exceedingly fragile, resulting in “a constant confusion of speculative anticipation with hard science.” The answer to “what will happen” if, say, the minimum wage is raised is uncertain – not entirely, of course, and economists can offer some reasonable claims about the trade-offs. If labor is more expensive, a business will have to think about various options – but even here, the options are quite different in different circumstances, with different business plans, in different places and industries. While all of this has value for prudence, it must be “put in its place” – one cannot say that minimum wage increases simply produce either “good” or “bad” results. The question must be subordinated to the question of how society as a whole maintains just wages over time.

But O’Donovan’s essay really made me think about the upcoming environmental encyclical and the place of climate change within it. “Anticipating” the effects of climate change is many orders of magnitude more difficult (but also more weighty!) than the effects of a job change or a minimum wage increase. Extreme weather events, like the unprecedented rainfall totals in Texas and Oklahoma or the ongoing drought in California, inevitably bring up the question of how temperature changes in the atmosphere affect weather patterns. THAT weather patterns are affected is not questionable; HOW they are affected is much more fragile. Certainly the possibility of extremely bad effects should weigh heavily on our minds, especially given our shockingly blasé attitude toward, say, the year 2100, a year we would expect children born today to live to see. But the contemplation of such effects can even have paradoxical effects, leading us to despair, especially when we recognize that any individual changes we make may be lost in humanity’s massive collective activity. I was in a conversation earlier this year where someone from the Boston area stated that she had long driven small cars, but that this winter, she had finally had enough and bought an SUV. What is one to do in this situation? What the person definitely knows is that the SUV will help her endure such winters, and the “anticipation” of the world in 2100 may not be a very strong counter.

All this points to something key about the environment encyclical: our news coverage and public policy is fixated on the “demand for definiteness,” and the question of what the pope has said about climate change will get a lot of attention. This is unfortunate. The moral weight of this encyclical – and any encyclical – does not rest on “anticipation.” Instead, it will likely rest on very traditional, core beliefs about two things. One, God has ordered creation. The Psalm response for today’s daily mass was “By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made.” That’s not a prediction; that is a wisdom teaching about the good order of the world, which we arrogantly mess with at our peril. It’s also not a prediction that we are messing with it; that’s just clear. We are essentially using the atmosphere as an infinite waste dump – one might not wrongly say, “by the exhaust of our cars, the heavens were remade.”

And why are we doing that? For some good purpose? The likely emphasis on “integral ecology” will suggest that our disordering of creation is intertwined with a failure to love our neighbor in the fashion Christ tells us to. Put another way, the problem with big cars isn’t (simply) the “anticipated” effects of all this fossil fuel use; rather, cars are bad for loving your neighbor. Now, I’m not saying that somehow cars are per se bad. I’m saying cars – or at least an absolute reliance on them – is bad for human ecology, not just for natural ecology. Cars may in fact be the most important social strategy in America for people to avoid the problems of the poor. But even at a simpler level, what preacher has not used the example of our “response” to other drivers as an occasion where we express blatant anger at our neighbors?

We shouldn’t make environmental issues all about one thing, like cars. It’s not. But one of the major structures of sin that make reasonable efforts to deal with climate change so hard is we’ve built a society where we’re very attached to our cars. And my point here is that the Church’s concern for natural ecology is based on a belief, already stated clearly by Popes John Paul II (Centesimus Annus, nos. 37-38) and Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate, no. 51), that environmental bads are rooted not only in a lack of care for creation, but in a lack of real love for our neighbors. Excessive energy use is rooted deeply in our individualism, our preference for going our own way, whatever it is, rather than cooperation and interdependence. Francis won’t need to rely on the fragile foundation of “anticipation” in order to tell us that.

Gay-friendly Catholics

Following up on Ireland’s referendum in favor of same-sex marriage, Frank Bruni’s column in today’s New York Times (May 27, 2015) provides some interesting information but stops short of the difficult question. Bruni points out that most of the countries around the world that have accommodated same-sex marriage or civil unions have large Catholic populations, and that American Catholics are the most “gay-friendly” of all Christian denominations, when it comes to questions about marriage or civil unions. But the real issue is why Catholics find themselves in this somewhat surprising position, surprising not least because church leaders, even those who ask “who am I to judge?” teach the opposite of what a significant majority of the Catholic people seem to believe. If we leave aside the tempting thought that Catholics say this because their bishops teach the opposite, what can they possibly be thinking?

One possible response to the U.S. context that would be high on the list of First Things would be to point out that the “Catholics” polled in the Pew research are always self-identified Catholics, that this includes many who are rarely if ever in church, and that the more often an individual goes to church, the more likely s/he is to be in the minority of the nay-sayers. It is also true that if you look at generational cohorts, it is in the youngest groups that the highest percentage of those favoring same-sex marriage can be found. And everyone knows, don’t they, that this is also the cohort least likely to be found in church on any given Sunday. The counter is pretty obvious: there is no litmus test for a Catholic (remember James Joyce’s “Here comes everybody!”), and perhaps the younger Catholics have experience that older Catholics don’t. In my long years as a teacher of mostly Catholic undergraduates I have found the growing support for gays and lesbians to have nothing much to do with moral relativism and everything to do with encountering and befriending gay and lesbian kids in high school.

So what other answers might there be to the question of why American Catholics are so supportive? I have three suggestions and I hope that readers will add more. First, perhaps the fact that Catholics have a celibate clergy that includes a large number of gay men means that the fear bred from ignorance is less likely to be operative than in other traditions. Second, could it be that a natural law approach to ethical questions, that is, that reason should guide our thinking and our conclusions,  is bred into the Catholic bone? Third, might Catholics be so imbued with the sacramental principle that they recognize any expression of genuine love to be evidence of God’s presence in the world, and hence to be cherished rather than condemned? In Ireland or here or elsewhere, the actual principal difference between leaders and people, on same-sex issues or birth control or religious freedom or perhaps many other issues, is that the leadership thinks deductively while the rank and file think inductively. Experience trumps ideology, which—strangely enough—is Pope Francis’s consistent message!

Now on the homepage

We've just posted three new stories to the homepage.

1. In his latest Letter from Rome, Robert Mickens suggests the possible reasons behind the Vatican Secretary of State's "apocolyptic assesment of the the Irish referendum" is culture, "particularly Italian culture," because Italy is "the most conservative country in all of Europe when it comes to social conventions and customs," especially concerning the family.

Mickens also reveals who exactly has been holding "secretive meetings and initiatives" in the run-up to October's Synod on the Family that deal with "some of the more thorny issues" the bishops will be debating, including the Kasper proposal.

Read the full Letter from Rome here, and if you need to catch up, here's all of them.

2. The Editors present reasons, if the Amtrak derailment isn't enough of one, for why the U.S. government’s failure to invest in infrastructure must change:

The United States now spends less than 2 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, less than half of what Europe spends—and less than half of what we were spending in the 1960s....The American Society of Civil Engineers gave [the nation's infrastructure] a grade of D+... [and] noted that the average age of the country’s 84,000 dams is fifty-two, and that one in nine of its bridges is considered structurally deficient. Every few years one of these bridges collapses, occasioning a brief outburst of bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill. Then nothing changes.

Read all of 'Signal Failure.'

3. George Dennis O'Brien, pondering the future direction of Catholic education, looks backward:

The dominant style of higher education in the ancient world was not academic but humanistic, directed at educating future political leaders who needed to learn the art of persuasion.... [T]he humanistic “classical curriculum” dominated American colleges from colonial times until the end of the nineteenth century.

Are Catholic institutions replacing the humanistic style with the "academic style of close argument and verifiable truths"?

Read all of 'Incarnation U,' and if you want more of the higher education debate, read Jackson Lears's excellent review of William Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep.

Grieving at Pentecost

On Tuesday morning my best friend Lúcás Chan, S.J., died at the age of 46 of a heart attack.  He was the epitome of healthy living and his death is, well, overwhelming for all his friends and family.

I can’t get over that our grieving over Lúcás is going on on the eve of Pentecost.  It has made me understand Pentecost in a whole different way these days because I’m preaching on Sunday evening and I’m wondering, how can I preach tomorrow without mentioning that my best friend died? 

What I am learning these days is that grief is best when it’s with others.  That grief alone is a painful grief.  Jesus’ followers knew that too, and when the 12 are gathered in the upper room with Mary, they’re gathered there because they’re consoling one another. 

They’re not going there because they’re waiting for the Holy Spirit.  They’re going there because they are really sharing their grief.  But their grief is not that they’re consoling one another by saying: Are you OK?  Mary, how are you doing?  Peter, are you OK?  I don’t think that was their grief. 

I think they just talked about all the love that they experienced from Jesus and also  they wanted to hear from one another how Jesus was loved.  And so they wanted to hear how Peter loved Jesus, how Mary loved Jesus, how Andrew and John and the others loved Jesus.  And it’s in the hearing of these narratives that I think that they were consoled.  And it was in that space that the Spirit found its place to enter into the upper room.

The Pentecost is not simply a sign of the Spirit’s descent or the birth of the Church as we’ve always said.  It was a moment of people grieving, people consoling one another about the fact that they loved Jesus, who loved them and died for them.  In that expression of how they loved, they recognized their salvation and found a way to move forward by the Spirit. 

I think that’s why I gathered with his friends on Thursday at a memorial for Lúcás.  We gathered because each of us, in very different ways, knew and loved him.  For me, I am consoled when his friends, students, colleagues, brother Jesuits, parishioners from the Cantonese parishes, and others tell me stories about how much they love Lúcás and how much and how particularly, he loved them.

When we gather in this type of love we know that our main concern in consoling one another is not asking how we’re doing, but what did he mean to us?  In that expression, what did he mean to us, we encounter the consolation of the resurrection and then can be led by the Spirit.

Reading the Same-Sex Marriage Polls in Ireland

Ireland is holding a referendum on legalization of same-sex marriage on Friday, historic not just because of the matter at hand but also that it would be decided directly by national popular vote – not (as in the case of seventeen nations that have legalized it) by courts or legislators.

Polling suggests the Yes vote (that is, in favor of legalization) will win handily, but not everyone is so sure. One reason for the uncertainty is the inaccuracy of the polling preceding recent elections in Britain, which predicted a close finish that turned out anything but. Another is the possible role of the well-known social desirability bias – the tendency of a survey respondent not to state true preferences out of fear it might open them to criticism of their motivations. In the United States it’s become mostly associated (if not synonymous) with the Bradley effect, named for 1982 gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, an African American who was leading comfortably in pre-election and even exit polling but lost to his (white) opponent George Deukmejian. White voters who told pollsters they’d vote for Bradley did the opposite. Some reports say “a ‘shy’ No vote” is seen as a real possibility in Irish political circles, given

the social pressure to at least appear to be sympathetic to the Yes vote … being felt across the country following endorsements not just from all major political parties but state bodies too. Even Ireland’s police association, the Garda Representative Association, has come out for Yes, the first time it has taken a partisan position on a referendum. 

Some recent polling says more than 75 percent of Irish voters favor altering the constitution to allow same-sex marriage, with most business and unions and even some Catholic priests publicly voicing support (the nation’s bishops are encouraging a No vote). The No side is saying that the social desirability bias is definitely at play. Dublin and other urban centers seem a definite Yes, but rural, western Ireland is trending No. Younger voters are in favor of legalization; middle-aged and older ones, less so.

An NPR report this week used the construction “conservative, Catholic Ireland” and also identified the country “one of the most socially conservative in Western Europe.” Other reports use similar language, noting the more or less familiar details that it wasn’t until 1985 that Ireland legalized the sale of contraceptives, or until 1993 that it decriminalized homosexuality, or that abortion remains illegal. Would a Yes victory amount to “a heavyweight punch to the body of the church” in a country that is more than 80 percent Catholic? Or, as Jesuit priest Oliver Rafferty, a visiting professor at Boston College, suggests in this New York Times piece, might a Yes victory actually offer a new opportunity for the church in Ireland? 

If it can no longer epitomize the broader culture in Ireland, Irish Catholicism can perhaps emerge as a more caring less overtly dogmatic and oppressive feature of the Irish landscape. Its focus might be more concentrated on ministering to peoples’ actual needs than on wielding power in Irish society.

Video: Peter Steinfels with a Proposal for the Next Synod

Now on the homepage we're featuring “Contraception & Honesty: A Proposal for the Next Synod,” by Peter Steinfels. In this video interview, Peter explains what prompted him to write “Contraception & Honesty” and talks more about the issues he raises in it. There was a “glaring gap” in the work of last year’s synod, Peter says: "[T]he lack of attention to the question of contraception. Why did the synod appear to treat so perfunctorily the issue that was, and is, the starting point for the unraveling of Catholic confidence in the church’s sexual ethics and even its credibility about marriage?" From his story:

A synod that grabs headlines about remarried or cohabiting or same-sex Catholic couples but says nothing fresh about the spectacularly obvious rift between official teaching and actual behavior in Catholic married life is an invitation to cynicism. It could prove to be a crucial test of Pope Francis’s papacy.

But even if the real issue is acknowledged, “what can the upcoming synod do about it? How can the synod fathers, in a two-week session, realistically address a problem that has been festering since 1968?” First, talk candidly about “the pain and division that have wracked the church for decades now over contraception.” Then, “urge a renewed study renewed study of church teaching on marriage and sexuality” with 2018 as a target date. That would be the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae vitae.

You can read all of “Contraception & Honesty” here.

Goodbye, Christians.

The percentage of Americans who call themselves Christian has dropped significantly since 2007, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. Mainline Protestants and Catholics have experienced the largest losses (-3.4 percent and -3.1 percent, respectively), Evangelicals the smallest (-.9 percent, just over the margin of error). While the dip in Christian affiliation has occurred across all age cohorts, the younger you are, the more likely you are not to identify with any religious tradition. While non-Christian faiths saw modest bumps in affiliation (+.5 percent for Muslims, +.3 for Hindus), no group grew more than the "nones," who make up nearly 23 percent of the population--a gain of 6.7 percent since 2007. There are now more nones than Catholics.

Mainline Protestants have suffered the largest losses in absolute numbers--there are 5 million fewer today than there were in 2007. Like the Mainlines, Catholics are decreasing as a percentage of the population and in terms of raw numbers. Pew Research notes that Catholic losses may total no more than 1 million, accounting for margins of error. A number of studies over the past twenty-five years have come up with differing estimates of the size of the U.S. Catholic population over time. Some have found steadier numbers than Pew Research (until about 2010-2012). But one of those surveys did not interview as many young people as Pew did, and interviewed more Hispanics. The losses found by this Pew Research study--based on a sample size of 35,000--track closesly with the organization's monthly polls.

The decline among Christians comes at a time when they are becoming more ethnically diverse. Since 2007, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Evangelicals all saw their ethnic and racial minority populations grow by about 5-6 percent. Today 41 percent of Catholic Americans are members of racial and ethnic minorities.

Read more

Virtual Pilgrims

Last month, Jim Martin, S.J., went with a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land and invited others to be virtual pilgrims with him on the journey. Seeing Martin's virtual pilgrimage brought to mind the very invention of the Stations of the Cross.

As a devotional practice, the Stations began as a pilgrimage in Jerusalem, going from site to site, marking the way of the cross. Rather quickly, however, there was an instinct to offer Christians the opportunity to be virtual pilgrims of the way. For instance, Bologna’s fifth century Saint Stefano’s linked together a series of chapels, beginning with the courtyard of Pilate and ending at the Holy Sepulcher.

In the fifteenth century Christians, unable to travel to the Holy Land, were offered opportunities of a visual though “constructed” experience of following in the footsteps of Jesus as he went to his death. For instance, Dominicans at a friary in Cordova built a series of chapels, each painted with a principal scene of the passion and death of Jesus.  Entering the first chapel, pilgrims entered Pilate’s House; entering the last one, they stood before the tomb.

The Poor Clares did the same in Messina. Others built them in Görlitz and at Nuremberg. In the early sixteenth century, these were reproduced elsewhere, notably at Louvain, Bamberg, Fribourg, and Rhodes.  Moreover, since Jerusalem had fallen under the Ottoman Empire, these practices of walking the way of the cross commonly occurred not in Jerusalem, but in Europe. There, Christians developed accompanying prayers and meditations for the devotional procession of the Stations of the Cross.

By the end of the eighteenth century, this devotional practice became a mainstay in parish life. First, in 1686, the Franciscans, long time governors of the Christian sites in Jerusalem, received from the pope the right to erect the Stations in all their churches throughout the world. He also granted to the Franciscans who walked the Stations in whatever place the same indulgences as those who walked the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem. In 1726, the indulgences were granted to all Christians who did the devotional exercise and in 1742 all priests were exhorted to establish the Stations in their churches.

This practice of bringing Jerusalem to the pilgrim instead of the pilgrim to Jerusalem should not be missed. To his credit, Jim Martin follows in significant footsteps, capturing a long-standing practice and making it all the more real for the 21st century.

Gustavo Gutiérrez awarded President's Medal at Fordham

Last night at Fordham University, Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez was awarded the President’s medal—an award given about thirty times in the university’s history. The award came as a surprise, at the conclusion of a conversation he had with Fordham theologian Michael Lee. Gutierrez, widely regarded as the father of liberation theology, spoke softly in a thick Peruvian accent. He was very expressive with his hands, and hit the table often, drumming a rhythm to his words. He repeated words, and simple phrases. By academic standards, the conversation didn’t “say anything new” but it said the important stuff Jesus had to remind his disciples of all the time, over and over again: that God loves everyone, especially the poor.

The auditorium was packed with theology students, professors, priests, journalists, a significant number of bright-suited nuns and Commonweal editors (including Grant Gallicho who live-tweeted and took some video), readers, and writers. Gutierrez’s fame meant the event was oversubscribed. So when he first spoke, I felt a slight, guilty, let down. I expected an orator, someone who would rouse in me the kind of inspiration “liberation theology” ought to inspire. This happened, but quietly.

The talk came a week before Gutierrez will travel to Rome to meet with the pope and speak at the annual gathering for Caritas Internationalis. Pope Francis has chosen him to be one of the lead figures in the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy.

Lee began by asking about Gutierrez’s relationship with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Last year, when Gutierrez was a surprise guest speaker at the cardinal’s book launch, the irony wasn’t lost on many who remembered when the liberation theologian was investigated by the CDF under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He’s been friends with Mueller since “1988, the last century,” and said the cardinal is “one of the best” when it comes to understanding the perspective of liberation theology. He also praised Mueller for spending his summers teaching theology in parts of Peru where even some Peruvians won’t go. “I have never seen one liberation theologian take his vacations on the beach.”

Other subjects avid readers of the Catholic blogosphere might find most interesting, he found less interesting. When asked whether, as some have recently claimed, his 1971 book A Theology of Liberation, was authored by the KGB, he swatted the air and twirled a finger around his temple: “I have to laugh.” When asked about the last time he spoke with Archbishop Oscar Romero, he made sure to qualify the story afterward: “But my personal relations with Romero aren’t important.” What’s more important is the meaning of “the poor, the painful riches of the church, the Latin American martyr…there are hundreds of thousands.” When asked what advice he would give to future theologians: “I don’t care about the future of liberation theology. All I care about is my country and my people.” He told the story of the time a U.S. Evangelical theologian asked him what liberation theology had to say about the conflict in Israel and Palestine—he responded, “Do you think liberation theology is a political party and I’m its general secretary?”

No, what he kept returning to was the preferential option for the poor. He spoke at some length about the meaning of the preferential option: Jesus saves all of humanity, but he is very close to the poor; the church is a church of everyone, especially a church of the poor. “The preferential option for the poor is 90 percent of liberation theology; it comes from the Bible…. When we take the question of the poor it is not an obsession, it is to underline the central point of Christianity.” But, he points out, “preference does not conflict [or] contradict with universality. Are they in tension?” He shakes both fists “Yes!” “Even the poor must make the option for the poor,” he continued. “It’s one universal question; the poor are also first for the Christian poor…the option for the poor is a theocentric option…. We believe in the God of justice who is the source of this. We have human resources, but there is pride. It’s a problem…. I have great respect for non-Christian believers doing the option for the poor.” 

With this core principle established, Gutierrez spoke about what liberation theology actually is: “Maybe we don’t need the name 'liberation,' because it means salvation. The theology of liberation is the theology of salvation, which is to say communion with God, between us.” He reminded the audience that his theology of liberation originated “not in theological institutions,” but in the concrete experience of poor people. Other theologies of liberation: Black theologies, feminist theologies, mujerista theologies, these also come from the experience of being poor, of being “a person who does not even have the right to have rights,” as he paraphrased Hannah Arendt.

Gustavo Gutierrez did not propose a theory of implementation of, raise an argument for, or give a defense of Liberation Theology in the context of the modern world. But he made a clear point.

Progressive/liberal Catholics: what do they think?

Last Tuesday Paul Baumann posted “An unbroken tradition?”—an analysis of an article by Ross Douthat in The Atlantic.  Paul’s post drew almost a hundred comments.  Some expressed indignation that anyone claiming intellectual credibility might say anything positive about Mr. Douthat.   Others advanced to a lengthy and very substantial discussion of Catholic teaching on marriage.  All too belatedly I reintroduced one of the main points of Paul’s original post.  By that time, of course, virtually everyone had moved on.  Allow me to try again:    

Having admitted that Garry Wills is an “outlier” among progressive Catholics, Douthat nonetheless stated that what most progressives share with Wills is a belief “that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.” 

Paul indicated that he shared some of Douthat’s worries “about how far the sort of church reform called for by some “progressive” Catholics can go before it damages something essential in Catholicism’s DNA."

“The problem,” he immediately added, “is determining what is essential and what isn’t.”

Now I, too, sometimes share these worries about the loss of essentials and the challenge of defining them.  But by and large I find—and I'd guess Paul does as well—that Douthat’s generalization about progressive Catholics’ almost nonchalant readiness to alter or abandon “many once-essential-seeming things” hugely exaggerated. 

Am I wrong?   And if there is not solid evidence for such a generalization, where does it come from?

Hebdo & PEN, the Archbishop & the Quran

The Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz said this week he will stop inking images of the prophet Muhammad, explaining that it no longer interests him: “I got tired of it, just like I got tired of drawing Sarkozy.” His announcement comes as France also follows the case of Sarah K., the fifteen-year-old student sent home for wearing a long skirt her principal deemed an “ostentatious sign” of the girl’s Muslim faith – an action the Collective Against Islamophobia in France called “really an excessive interpretation” of the 2004 law prohibiting students to wear visible signs of their religious affiliation to school.

Meanwhile, the public spat among authors continues ahead of next week’s PEN gala in New York, where Charlie Hebdo will receive the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award “for its dauntlessness in the face of one of the most noxious assaults on expression in recent memory.” Six writers scheduled as table hosts announced over the weekend they would not attend the event, including Francine Prose, a former president of PEN American Center. About two dozen more writers (including Joyce Carol Oates and Junot Diaz) have since added their names as signatories to a public letter of protest over the award: “PEN is not simply conveying support for freedom of expression,” reads the letter, “but also valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the western world.” Prose and the five others who first withdrew have come under fire from, among others, Salman Rushdie -- who has called them “fellow travelers” of “fanatical Islam, which is highly organized, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.” (He used some other choice words too.) To which Prose has responded:

Why is it so difficult for people to make fine distinctions? … [We] stand fully behind Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish whatever they want without being censored, and of course without the use of violence to enforce their silence. … But the giving of an award suggests that one admires and respects the value of the work being honored, responses quite difficult to summon for the work of Charlie Hebdo. Provocation is simply not the same as heroism.

There’s a more irenic exchange going on at John Carroll University, as can be heard in a segment from today’s NPR Morning Edition on retired archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, an expert on Islam currently teaching a class on the Quran.

Read more

New stories on the website

We've posted two new stories to the homepage.

First, Robert Mickens reports in his weekly letter from Rome that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila will replace Honduran Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga as president of Caritas Internationalis,"the church’s leading advocate of Catholic social teaching and human development in the international arena."

And, provoking “volcanic enthusiasm” from leading women in Rome, Pope Francis has been confronting historical gender bias and economic discrimination against women during his Wednesday audiences.

...what is sure to surprise some, [the pope] refused to blame the crisis of marriage on the women’s liberation movement, though he didn’t use those exact words. “Many people hold that the changes these past decades were put into motion by the emancipation of women. But this argument is not valid, either. It’s an insult!” he said, again to loud applause. “It’s a form of machismo, which always tries to dominate women.”

Read the entire "Letter from Rome" here

Second, the editors comment on the pope’s ousting of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who was convicted of failing to report child abuse in 2012 and how it might mean that the era of “tolerating bishops who fail to protect the most vulnerable under their care has come to an end. This pope will hold them to account.” Some have criticized Francis for taking too long to remove Finn, but:

Francis is running a church with five thousand bishops. In order to educate himself about the controversy in Kansas City, a diocese of about 133,000 in a country he’s never visited, Francis initiated an investigation last September. He allowed that process to run its course, despite increasingly strenuous calls to sack Finn. The pope’s favored methods of listening and deliberation—most evident in the Synod on the Family—are themselves instruments of justice.

Read the entire editorial, “Held to Account,” here.

An unbroken tradition?

Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is among the most intelligent and fair-minded commentators on Catholic issues writing today. I often disagree with him, but even when I do I tend to share his reservations about how far the sort of church reform called for by some “progressive” Catholics can go before it damages something essential in Catholicism’s DNA. The problem, of course, is determining what is essential and what isn’t. The history of Catholicism can be quite surprising in that regard, as Frank Oakley’s article in our ninetieth anniversary issue demonstrated (“Authoritative & Ignored”).

Less compelling is Douthat’s tendency to wave the bloody shirt of schism when struggling to come to grips with a pope who is clearly not as punctilious when it comes to doctrine and discipline as were his immediate predecessors. Douthat has a long article in The Atlantic, “Will Pope Francis Break the Church?” that rehearses many of the arguments he has made on his blog and occasionally in his columns about the dangers of “a kind of progressive ultramontanism.” Unfortunately, beyond a brief indictment of Garry Wills, when it comes to the errant views of Catholic progressives Douthat does not name names. Wills’s views are fairly unrepresentative, even idiosyncratic, as Douthat himself concedes. But what most progressives share with Wills, Douthat insists, is a belief “that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.” Worse, “progressives” think “a revolution from above can carry all before it.”

I have made the acquaintance of many so-called liberal Catholics, and a desire to strengthen Rome’s hand for any reason has never been high on their wish list. Indeed, for most liberal Catholics a revolution from above would not be a liberal solution at all. I have, however, heard many conservative Catholics say something about the need for “a revolution from above” when waxing on about how the steely witness of John Paul II and Benedict righted the church’s sinking ship. George Weigel, for one, won’t stop proclaiming the resounding success of that revolution.

Still, Douthat is right to ask hard questions about what in the church can change and what cannot.

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The Cradle of Civilization!! Going, going....

Didn't Christopher Dawson--or someone, maybe Nietzsche?--trace the excellence and superiority of the West back to the Greeks? Now this: "The Greeks are not Western."

"The imperial giant driving a wedge through European unity and the tiny state drowning in debt are locked in a controversial canoodle. Call it an Orthodox big wet kiss, but modern ties between Greece and Russia are cementing ancient ones."

Clinching argument: Greece became independent of the Ottoman Empire only in 1830.  Would this make the U.S. the cradle of civilization? May Zeus forefend.

 

Transcending polarization

What can be done about polarization in the American Catholic Church? A conference next week at the University of Notre Dame aims to address the causes of polarization and advance ideas for healing some its wounds.

Monday night’s opening panel will be live-streamed here, with contributions from Most Rev. Daniel Flores (Bishop of Brownsville), Rev. John Jenkins, CSC (President, Notre Dame), Prof. Julie Hanlon Rubio (theology, St. Louis Univ.), Prof. Christian Smith (sociology, Notre Dame), and Michael Sean Winters (journalist for The Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter).

This will be followed by Tuesday sessions and working groups. I’ll be part of a group proposing constructive actions that can be taken to heal divisions in the church. In preparing for that, I’ve been working through some of the causes of political polarization in the United States, to see which of these might have explanatory power for polarization in the church.

Political scientists agree that the United States has become increasingly polarized over the past forty years. Analyzing the possible causes has become a hot topic for peer-reviewed scholarship, op-ed pages, and blogs. (Some recent round-ups of scholarship can be found here and here.)  Was polarization catalyzed by Roe v. Wade? Or Bush v. Gore? Or the partisan onslaught of 24-hour cable news? In any case, it’s hard to remember the map before it showed red and blue states.

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Pope Francis removes Bishop Finn.

In a one-sentence bulletin released this morning, the Vatican announced that Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who was convicted of failing to report child abuse in 2012, has resigned. Pope Francis accepted Finn's resignation "in conformity with canon 401, paragraph 2"--the statute that covers bishops who cannot fulfill their duties because of poor health or "other grave reasons." News of the resignation follows months of speculation, which had intensified over the past week, that Pope Francis was poised to remove Finn. In September 2014, the National Catholic Reporter revealed that a Canadian bishop had been sent by the Holy See to Kansas City to investigate Finn. Just last November, Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, president of the pope's new commission on child protection, told 60 Minutes that the Holy See had to "address urgently" the case of Robert Finn. Less than six months later, Pope Francis has done just that.

What might it mean?

1. Yes, Pope Francis is serious about accountability for bishops. Pope Francis's early comments on the sexual-abuse scandal were hardly encouraging. But before long he sent a message to the world's bishops asking them to get behind his new commission for the protection of minors. Over the past year, some members of that commission have suggested that they would walk if they didn't see accountability for bishops who enabled abusers. They had seen the pope move against the so-called Bishop of Bling for financial mismanagement. They knew that he had ousted Bishop Livieres in Paraguay, but the Holy See's statements about that decision curiously avoided acknowledging that it had anything to do with the fact that Livieres had promoted a priest long accused of sexual misconduct. More recently, two members of the pope's child-protection commission openly criticized his decision to appoint Chilean Bishop Juan Barros to a new diocese, despite allegations that he had covered up--and  witnessed--acts of abuse committed by his mentor. Just yesterday, one of those commission members, Marie Collins, told Crux that the pope was considering a proposal on bishop accountability. She even name-checked Finn: "I cannot understand how Bishop Finn is still in position, when anyone else with a conviction that he has could not run a Sunday school in a parish." That won't be a problem anymore.

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Cardinal Francis George, R.I.P. (UPDATED)

Cardinal Francis George, who served as archbishop of Chicago for nearly two decades before retiring in November, died this morning after a years-long struggle with cancer. He was seventy-eight. Read the Chicago Tribune obituary here. The archdiocese's memorial page hereLive coverage here. Archbishop Blase Cupich delivered the following remarks this afternoon:

A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord.
Our beloved Cardinal George passed away today at 10:45 a.m. at the
Residence.

Cardinal George’s life’s journey began and ended in Chicago. He was
a man of great courage who overcame many obstacles to become a priest.
When he joined the priesthood he did not seek a comfortable position,
instead he joined a missionary order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
and served the people of God in challenging circumstances – in Africa,
Asia and all around the world.

A proud Chicagoan, he became a leader of his order and again traveled
far from home, not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal
for bringing the promise of Christ’s love where it was needed most.
When he was ordained a bishop, he served faithfully, first in Yakima,
where he learned Spanish to be closer to his people. He then served in
Portland, where he asked the people to continue to teach him how to be a
good bishop. In return, he promised to help them become good
missionaries.

Cardinal George was a respected leader among the bishops of the United
States. When, for example, the church struggled with the grave sin of
clerical sexual abuse, he stood strong among his fellow bishops and
insisted that zero tolerance was the only course consistent with our
beliefs.
He served the Church universal as a Cardinal and offered his counsel
and support to three Popes and their collaborators in the Roman
congregations. In this way, he contributed to the governance of the
Church worldwide.

Here in Chicago, the Cardinal visited every corner of the Archdiocese,
talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction. He
pursued an overfull schedule-- always choosing the church over his own
comfort and the people over his own needs. Most recently, we saw his
bravery first hand as he faced the increasing challenges brought about
by cancer.

Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more
steadfast and a lot more loving. This is the surest way to honor his
life and celebrate his return to the presence of God.

As we celebrate in these Easter days our new life in the Risen Lord,
join me in offering comfort to Cardinal George’s family, especially
his sister, Margaret, by assuring them of our prayers, thanking God for
his life and  years of dedication to the Archdiocese of Chicago. Let us
pray that God will bring this good and faithful servant into the
fullness of the kingdom.

May Cardinal George rest in peace.

I'll update this post throughout the afternoon.

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Vatican ends LCWR oversight: No ‘oops’ in Latin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s one of the responses to the unexpected news today that the Vatican has ended its three-year oversight of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Quoted in an AP story, Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey, “called the announcement a complete vindication of the sisters' group and American nuns in general. ‘Anything coming out of the Vatican this morning is nothing other than a fig leaf because they can't say “oops” in Latin.’

David Gibson at RNS calls the end of the “controversial investigation of American nuns” a “face-saving compromise that allows Pope Francis to close the book on one of the more troubled episodes that he inherited from his predecessor, Benedict XVI.”

Josh McElwee at NCR characterized the announcement as a “curt and unexpected end” and quoted from LCWR president Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland’s statement “that the oversight process brought the sisters and the Vatican to ‘deeper understandings of one another's experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. … We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.’” And from Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Vatican doctrinal congregation: “[H]is congregation is ‘confident that LCWR has made clear its mission to support its member Institutes by fostering a vision of religious life that is centered on the Person of Jesus Christ and is rooted in the Tradition of the Church.’” 

Fr. James Martin in a Facebook post: “The LCWR agreed to implement some changes, mainly regarding speakers and liturgies at its annual conventions. But overall, the operations of the LCWR remains intact ….  In the end there is one thing to say to the Catholic women who have worked so hard in the Lord's vineyard: Thank you, sisters.”

Twitter roundup:

 

Rock, Pope Francis, hard place.

"It's an outrage," Peter Saunders told the National Catholic Reporter, that Pope Francis appointed Juan Barros--a man accused of covering up and witnessing a priest's acts of sexual abuse--bishop of Osorno, Chile. (Barros denies both allegations.) "That man should be removed as a bishop because he has a very, very dubious history--corroborated by more than one person," according to Saunders, a member of the pope's new Commission for the Protection of Minors, and a clergy-abuse victim. Saunders went so far as to say that he would consider resigning if he doesn't get an explanation. He wasn't the only commission member who was shocked by the pope's decision. "As a survivor, I'm very surprised at the appointment in Chile because it seems to go against...what the Holy Father has been saying about not wanting anyone in positions of trust in the church who don't have an absolutely 100 percent record of child protection," said Marie Collins. On March 31 the Holy See announced that the Congregation for Bishops had found no "objective reasons to preclude the appointment."

That did not sit well with Saunders, Collins, and two other members of the commission (there are seventeen in total). So they flew to Rome last weekend for an unscheduled meeting with Cardinal Sean O'Malley, president of the body. What a difference a day makes. "The meeting went very well and the cardinal is going to take our concerns to the Holy Father," Collins told NCR on Sunday. The group issued a brief statement explaining that while they are not charged with investigating individual cases, "The process of appointing bishops who are committed to, and have an understanding of child protection is of paramount importance." The statement continued: "In the light of the fact that sexual abuse is so common, the ability of a bishop to enact effective policies, and to carefully monitor compliance is essential. Cardinal O'Malley agreed to present the concerns of the subcommittee to the Holy Father." That's quite a bit different from decrying the appointment as an outrage. Did Cardinal O'Malley bring them back from the brink simply by listening? What's going to happen after he shares their concerns with Pope Francis?

Tough to say. It's not as though the pope is left with any good options. Leave Barros in, watch the Diocese of Osorno burn, and risk blowing up the sex-abuse commission. Remove him and earn the ire of the world's bishops for giving in to the mob. (I wouldn't downplay that worry; it would be widely viewed as a dangerous precedent.) Should the appointment have been made in the first place? I don't think so. But it's been made. And now that the Congregation for Bishops has announced that there is no objective reason not to have appointed Barros, the pope's hands are pretty well tied. Do commission members appreciate that bind? I hope so. Because this already confounding case won't be clarified any time soon. This may not be the hill they want to die on.

The "Good News" From Peru

As the first Jesuit missionaries spread out across the globe, Ignatius of Loyola and his brother Jesuits were confronted with the problem of how to keep the order together—how to find out what was happening with the brothers in Japan and China, New Spain and New France, Goa and Germany.  The solution (or at least, a key part of it) was letters. Every Jesuit missionary was required to write regularly to his superior—about his mission, the people he encountered, their culture and beliefs, the plants and animals, the land, the state of his own soul, the progress of his work and the challenges he faced. With a Jesuit volunteer in the family—now just a few months into his two-year mission in Andahuaylillas, Peru—I like to think that Ignatius would recognize and appreciate the blogs created and used by so many young Jesuit volunteers across the United States and around the world as a twenty-first century adaptation of that old Jesuit practice.

For those of us "back home," it's a way to get a glimpse of the breadth and depth of the Church's experience in communities that are, in many ways, very different from our own and yet are recognizably part of the same human (and church) family. For example, we all have joyous Easter songs:

"This is my favorite of the songs we sang for Easter mass. The singer isn't joking around. This isn't a picture of Easter painted with the same pastel colors used to dye eggs. This is a picture of the resurrection painted with the thick, bold strokes of a Diego Rivera painting."