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Dredging Wobegon.

In early December a judge ordered the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to release its list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. Plaintiffs' attorneys received the names in a 2009 lawsuit, but the court sealed the list. The archdiocese long fought its release, but reversed course after Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported that for years bishops had failed to inform police about a priest who had admitted to molesting boys. Archbishop John Nienstedt made the list public on December 5. It included the names of thirty-three men. But last week MPR reported that the actual number of accused priests was seventy. "Some of the...men remain in ministry," according to MPR. "Others are long dead." They worked in nearly every parish in the archdiocese.

(The same judge also ordered the archdiocese to release the names of all priests accused of abuse--not just those "credibly accused"--by February 18. The archdiocese appealed the order on that date, and has until February 26 to provide answers to a judge's questions.)

The archdiocese disputes MPR's account. In a statement released the day after MPR published its report online, the archdiocese claimed that "the twenty-eight clergy members identified by MPR have not been publicly disclosed by the archdiocese because they do not, to date, constitute substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor." The statement continued: "At least sixteen of the twenty-eight clergy members identified by MPR were the subject of false, meritless or unsubstantiated accusations against them."

What about the other twelve? "Over ten" of them, the archdiocese claims, "are not from our archdiocese and the allegations against them concern alleged conduct that occurred outside of this archdiocese." Still, they worked in the Twin Cities. According to the statement, such priests "are subject to the authority of other orders and dioceses and...the archdiocese does not have sufficient information or even jurisdiction to determine whether those foreign claims are credible or have been substantiated."

The list of the thirty-three released by the archdiocese was originally compiled by then-Vicar General Fr. Kevin McDonough in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' first sexual-abuse audit. So why did MPR find more than double that figure? The archdiocese, it turns out, had more than one list. "There were handwritten lists and e-mailed lists and memos about lists stored on computers and in filing cabinets at the chancery," according to MPR. Perhaps that's why in 2004 the archdiocese publicly acknowledged that it had received sixty-nine allegations over the previous fifty years, but two years later an internal memo obtained by MPR listed one hundred eighty victims. Obviously the record-keeping was a mess.

Apparently not all of it was accidental.

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Why the sacramental break between East and West?

Well-educated Catholics know a thing or two about why the Great Schism, separating the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, occurred in the eleventh century. But most of us know just that -- only a thing or two. I'll include myself in that group: when students ask me, I say something about the filioque and papal authority.

A recent piece by historian George Demacopoulos posted on the blog of the Greek Archdiocese of North America shows the importance of contextualizing the split in the fuller contexts of canon law and the Crusades. He asks: "[H]ow exactly did it come to pass that the Orthodox Church forbid sacramental union (baptisms, marriages, the Eucharist, etc.) with Western Christians in the first place?"

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Francis on the Chair of Peter

On this Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Pope Francis held his first consistory to appoint nineteen Cardinals. A historic feature of the event was the presence of Pope Emeritus Benedict at the liturgical ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica. As a number of writers have speculated: in the Basilica were not only the present Pope, but a former and, perhaps, a future Pope. Be that as it may, there is only one Chair and one Successor of Peter called to "confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith."

In his homily Pope Francis struck a chord particularly dear to him:

“Jesus was walking…”. This is something striking about the Gospels: Jesus is often walking and he teaches his disciples along the way. This is important. Jesus did not come to teach a philosophy, an ideology… but rather “a way”, a journey to be undertaken with him, and we learn the way as we go, by walking. Yes, dear brothers, this is our joy: to walk with Jesus. And this is not easy, or comfortable, because the way that Jesus chooses is the way of the Cross.

 

Franck vs. Posner on 'Notre Dame vs. Sebelius'

Matthew J. Franck is not happy with Judge Richard J. Posner. He doesn't like how Posner treated attorney Matthew Kairis during oral arguments at the Seventh Circuit Court last week (which I wrote up here). Kairis represents Notre Dame in its lawsuit challenging the HHS contraception mandate. Franck writes:

In a colloquy with Matthew Kairis...Posner badgered, interrupted, and demanded yes-or-no answers to questions so badly framed that they had to be either evidence of Posner’s failure to grasp the issues in the case, or of his intention to trap counsel in a corner of some kind.

Of course, Posner has never been known for going easy on lawyers. One law blogger said this was Posner "at his cantankerous best." Others weren't so sure. But whatever you make of Posner's approach, Kairis didn't help matters by talking over the judges and failing to answer their questions directly--or without speechifying. "Any law student who has done a moot court argument in school learns that you don’t interrupt the court, talk while the court is talking, or irritate the judge by trying to sidestep a direct question," wrote lawyer and blogger Bill Wilson.

Franck's displeasure isn't limited to Posner's attitude. No, he thinks Posner has missed entirely the point of Notre Dame's complaint. Actually, it's worse than that. Franck believes he's identified "Posner's inability to perceive what's at stake in this case" (my emphasis). But judging from Franck's post, it's not clear that he has a terribly firm grasp of the issues in play.

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"Heaven is thrilled over this"

Robert McCullough at the CNS blog has posted a video message from Pope Francis to a gathering of Pentecostal pastors in the United States. It's a wonderful message, and well worth watching. Very affecting, and well-chosen to reach his intended audience.

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Praying with the Psalms, Part II

The first thing that struck me in reading André Chouraqui’s essay on the psalms (see Praying with the Psalms Part I) was his passionate and lyrical affirmation of a kind of mystical reality that speaks both to Israel and to the whole of humanity through the psalms. Here is how he describes it:

In this book the world has come to know and recognize itself. Just as it narrates the history of us all, it becomes the book of all, the untiring and penetrating ambassador of the word of God to all peoples here on earth. …

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Praying with the Psalms, Part I

On a thread initiated by Fr. Robert Imbelli earlier this month (“The Whole Christ” February 7), a question arose about praying with the psalms. I mentioned a couple of essays on this subject that I have found helpful, and Bob, seconded by Tom Blackburn, kindly invited me to share some insights from these works. I wrote a bit at that time, but other duties intervened and I was unable to finish. Thinking (rightly or wrongly) that others too might be interested in these ideas about the psalms, and given the fact that the older thread is now unlikely to be visited by any but the most obsessive blog followers, I’m posting some of this material here, in two parts.

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What does Notre Dame want?

Last month, the University of Notre Dame announced that it would comply with Obamacare's contraception mandate, after the school's legal challenges failed. "Pursuant to the Affordable Care Act," a university statement explained, "our third-party administrator is required to notify plan participants of coverage provided under its contraceptives payment program." In other words, university employees would receive contraceptive coverage at no cost to them. But the statement warned that “the program may be terminated once the university's lawsuit on religious-liberty grounds...has worked its way through the courts."

That dismayed some of the university's more conservative critics. Notre Dame law professor Gerard V. Bradley, for example, argued that the university's compliance with the mandate amounted to "facilitating abortions." And Notre Dame historian Wilson Miscamble, CSC, worried that the university's heart wasn't really in the fight. But after listening to Notre Dame counsel's oral arguments last week at the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, they may have something else to worry about.

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Catholic Schools--The Next Casualty of the Culture Wars?

Professor Robert P. George has responded to this post of mine over at Mirror of Justice. 

A couple of points:

1. Professor George  made an authoritative  pronouncement about how a hypothetical Muslim school should decide an internal personnel matter. But making those sorts of pronouncements really does require the extensive knowledge and training of a  mullah—a common term for a Muslim scholar who is an expert in Islamic law and theology, just as making an authoritative pronouncement about an internal personnel matter in a Jewish day school really requires the extensive knowledge and training of a rabbi.  My point was that a Catholic really can't be a mullah—or a rabbi—and shouldn't act as though he or she is. One has to wonder why George would automatically conclude that the term “mullah” is itself an insult.

2. Is there a difference between questioning Professor George and attacking him? But let’s push through the fulminations and focus on the answer to my question. He writes:

If [the teacher] were repentant, then I, as her fellow sinner, would support keeping her on. I’d even host the baby shower. The example being set for the school children in that case would be one of repentance and forgiveness—loving the sinner, even while rejecting the sin. Of course, if her intention is to flout the Church’s teachings, then it’s a different story. That’s what is going on when a teacher, say, moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex—or goes into the strip club business.

So...the baby shower sounds good. (Don’t forget the gift.) But let’s think about this analysis. How would we know she’s repentant? Would she have to publicly repent? (If so, we’re getting a little too close to the Scarlet Letter here for my taste.) How would you communicate to the kids that she had sinned? Wouldn’t that disclose too much information, at least at the elementary-school level?

George writes: “If her intention is to flout...” But "flouting" generally connotes some form of open and public contempt. Can one disagree with a particular communal norm, not follow it in one’s own life, and yet still not be guilty of "flouting" that norm?  Looking at the polling data on these matters, we may have a situation where a) the unmarried woman doesn't think the norm about premarital sex holds in her particular case and relationship, but b) has no intention of publicizing her view in any way at work. But she gets pregnant. She's not flouting the norm—but her body is definitely revealing a violation of it. You might say the baby is flouting the norms!

When it comes to Catholic moral teaching, I just don’t see “moves in with his or her boyfriend or girlfriend or enters into a civil marriage with a person of his or her own sex” as comparable with “goes into the strip-club business.”

In the end, I think there are four points to be considered in this controversy.

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From Our Window

Last night at 1:30 AM (that is, early this morning) a New York City garbage truck pulled up to our building. The last several snow storms have left garbage uncollected and buried not only under a mountain of snow but behind the cars encased in snow.

Amazing performance by two sanitation workers. One clambered over the mountain of snow and began throwing the black garbage bags out to the street; the other grabbed them and threw them into the maw of the garbage truck. Bundeled up, the two looked like the Goodyear tire man, stiff and imoblile. Yet they had a rhythm and a grace, yes, even in 14 degree weather, that was impressive. Bravo!!

The Law of Christ

The twelfth century Cistercian reform movement was characterized by both mystical sensibility and practical wisdom. Among its lesser known figures (but one deserving to be better known) is the abbot, Isaac of Stella.

Today's "Office of Readings" offers an example of the concrete teaching he gave to his community:

  This is what the law of Christ is like, the Christ who bore our griefs in his passion and carried our sorrows in his compassion for us, loving those whom he carried and carrying those whom he loved. On the other hand, whoever turns on his brother in the brother’s time of need, who exploits his weakness, whatever that weakness may be – without doubt he has subjected himself to the law of Satan and is carrying it out. Let us have compassion for each other and love the brotherhood we share, bear each other’s weaknesses and fight against each other’s vices.
 
  Whatever religious practice or observance it leads to, any teaching or discipline that fosters a stronger love of God and, through God, of our neighbours, is most acceptable to God for that reason. This love is the reason why things should be or not be, why they should remain the same or be changed. This love should be the reason why things are and the end to which all things are directed. For nothing can be considered wrong that is truly directed towards and according to that love.
A fine presentation of the great Cistercian writers, including Isaac, can be found in volume two of Bernard McGinn's monumental, The Presence of God: A History of Western Mysticism.

Wait, I thought that was a Muslim thing?!

A Christian husband and wife, both wearing traditional Jordanian head scarves, after a Mass celebrated by the Latin Patriarch near the site of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River.

On a bright, sunny morning in central Jerusalem, two friends and I approached a domed house of worship. A sign outside the door asked us to remove our shoes, so we slipped off our sandals and walked inside, where elaborate carpets covered the floors. A woman wearing a long floral skirt and a sweeping white headscarf bowed and prostrated in prayer, her forehead and lips touching the ground. These images and practices were ones I was used to encountering in Muslim communities, both in the United States and the Middle East. If it weren’t for the icons and crucifixes on the walls, I would have thought I was visiting a mosque. 

But this place was an Ethiopian Orthodox church, a Christian sanctuary. Many of its features—a shrouded altar for consecration, images of Mary and St. George, and twisting crosses that reminded me of Celtic ones—gave away its Christian affiliation. But other qualities, like the practices and attire of those who prayed there, to me were reminiscent of Islam. 

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Survey says.

Last week, Univision released a survey of twelve thousand Catholics in a dozen countries across five continents. The idea occurred to them after the Vatican asked the world's bishops conferences to find out what their people think about a range of social issues and report back. But, as the Univision survey's executive summary notes, "the papal questionnaire is not an opinion-gathering instrument." True, it's not exactly reader-friendly (several dioceses chose to adapt it in order to make it more intelligible to the people whose views it was designed to gather). Nor were its results easy to compile. So Univision sponsored a large-scale survey that would adhere to contemporary standards of data collection, and allow us to say with a measure of confidence: This what the world's Catholics think now.

The results won't shock you. (The German and Swiss bishops certainly weren't surprised.) They represent "an alarming trend for the Vatican," because the "majority of Catholics worldwide disagree with Catholic doctrine on divorce, abortion, and contraceptives," according to Bendixen and Amandi International--the communications firm that conducted the study. (It's been published a few ways: as an interactive feature, a slideshow, and an executive summary--which explains the survey's methodology.)

The country-by-country breakdown also holds few surprises. Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the less likely its Catholics are to fully agree with certain church teachings. So, while a significant majority of U.S. Catholics (59 percent) say that women should be ordained priests, 81 percent of Ugandan Catholics disagree (the breakdown is similar on the question of married priests). Of course huge majorities of American Catholics (88 percent) have no problem with the use of artificial contraception. Ninety-four percent of French Catholics support the use of contraceptives--edging out Brazil's 93 percent to take the top spot in that category. And when it comes to divorce, the percentages line up similarly: 60 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that being divorced and remarried outside the church should not bar one from receiving Communion, while 72 percent of Catholics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo agree with that church teaching. On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.

The abortion results are more interesting.

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The new issue is live

Just posted to the homepage, our February 21 interreligious issue. Anchoring it is a four-part exchange on Catholic-Jewish dialogue, “Getting Past Supersessionism,” with contributions from Steven Englund, Jon D. Levenson, Donald Senior, and John Connelly. From Englund’s opening piece (subscription):

I believe that to foster a more productive Catholic-Jewish dialogue we need to pose two further questions, one backward-looking and one forward-looking. The first is “What harm have we done to the Jews?” and in addressing it I shall take a longer view than the three admittedly crucial decades covered by Connelly in his book. My reflections will present us with a contemporary situation rather more problematic than we tend to acknowledge—one that calls for stronger medicine as we answer the second question: “What more can we do to undo that harm?”

To begin with: How do we portray the ur-conflict, the “impossible relationship” between an old immovable object and a new irresistible force as they collided in antiquity? What shockwaves still reverberate from that Big Bang that was, for so long, an intra-Jewish religious schism, turning on the refusal of most Jews to adopt their neighbors’ view of the messiahship of Jesus? At the start we should observe that while Christians were wrong to see the Jews as “willfully blind”—the refusal to accept a contested claim is not willful blindness—it was nonetheless true that most Jews did not acknowledge Jesus as Lord.

It would be hard to exaggerate the shock and distress this turn of events produced in the first Jesus-followers, as gradually but inevitably there developed a widening separation and deepening conflict between them and their fellow Jews. From the outset, the Jesus movement included talented apologists and evangelists who created a corpus of oral and written stories and myths about Jesus Christ—the basis of future dogma and doctrine—that inscribed the rejection of Christ as foreshadowed in the Jews’ earlier rejection of their covenant with God. In time the refusal to acknowledge the Messiah became equated with an outright denial of God and the forfeiture of all claims to address God as father. The viewpoint dispossessed the Jews as sole interpreters and guardians of their own sacred writings. Thus, Justin Martyr: “These words were laid up in your scriptures, or rather not in yours but in ours for we obey them, but you, when you read them, do not understand their sense.” Or as a modern Jewish theologian, Ben Zion Bokser, summed up the charge: “Authentic Judaism is really Christianity.”

See the entire exchange on Catholic-Jewish dialogue here (subscription).

Also in the new issue, Charles R. Morris on the paradoxes of income inequality; George M. Marsden on Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicism; Eve Tushnet on Kathryn Edin’s and Timothy J. Nelson’s Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City; and Rand Richards Cooper on Spike Jonze’s Her. Full table of contents right here.

Vatican responds to UN report on sexual abuse.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report strongly criticizing the Vatican for its handling of the sexual-abuse crisis. It hasn't gone over very well. John Allen argued that it might actually hurt the reform movement within the Catholic Church. Austen Ivereigh called the committee a "kangaroo court." (While I don't agree with everything Ivereigh has to say about the report--for example, he claims the Holy See has been a "catalyst" on abuse reform "at least since 2001"--he's catalogued its many mistakes.) Michael Sean Winters declared, "To hell with the UN." Mark Silk criticized the report for treating the Holy See as it would any other state, calling it "worse than idiotic. It's counterproductive."

Apart from that significant error, the report foolishly wades into doctrinal waters, suggesting the Vatican revise its teachings on abortion and contraception. The committee urges the Holy See to provide "family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counselling and social support, to prevent unplanned pregnancies." At one point the UN committee asks Rome to remove from Catholic-school textbooks "all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities." At another it complains that the Code of Canon Law refers to children born out of wedlock as "illegitimate." The report says that in canon law instances of sexual abuse ought to be "considered as crimes and not as 'delicts,'" seemingly ignorant of the fact that "delict" means crime. (The committee's work is so sloppy that it doesn't even seem to know where to cut off a quote: That part of the report reads, "Child sexual abuse, when addressed, has been dealt with as 'grave delicts against the moral' through confidential proceedings...")

Even when the committee bumps up against a good idea, it seems uninterested in context. For example, it asks Rome to establish "clear rules, mechanisms and procedures for the mandatory reporting of all suspected cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation to law enforcement authorities," but fails to note that the world's law-enforcement authorities are not all made in the image and likeness of North America's and Europe's. That's why some diocese--in Africa, for example--haven't implemented mandatory-reporting rules. Shouldn't a UN committee show some awareness of that?

Some of their confusions could have been cleared up with a few clicks of a mouse, or by speaking to someone who knows something about the inner workings of the church. Apparently that didn't occur to the them.

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The "Whole Christ"

Saint Augustine, building upon such Pauline insights as "you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it ... If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1Cor 12:27,26), articulated his key insight into the "totus Christus," the whole Christ.

Strikingly, Augustine applied this insight to the Church's praying the psalms. They are the prayer of the whole Christ: Head and members, though prayed diversely by each according to the content of the psalm, whether penitential, petitionary, or praising.

When praying the liturgy of the hours, I try to be mindful of the fact that I am praying in union with the whole body of believers, united with Christ our Head. I try to do so, not only at the time of the specific petitions, but throughout the praying of the psalm. When praying alone, I modify the invocation: "O God, come to our assistance; o Lord, make haste to help us!"

Friday Lauds always begin with the great penitential psalm 51, in which we cry: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me."

The whole Christ prays today for and with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

New stories on the homepage

Two new stories to highlight on our homepage. First, in "Botched Arguments," the editors comment on political gestures and the pro-life cause, in light of a recent New Yorker article that

makes the case that desperate women will seek abortions regardless of the dangers, and that restricting access to the procedure only guarantees their further victimization. This has long been the argument for keeping abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” If the prolife movement is going to respond to it persuasively, it will have to convince Americans that its concern for the women involved in abortion is as great as its compassion for the unborn. As Peter Steinfels wrote in these pages (“Beyond the Stalemate”), the movement needs to shift more of its energies from partisan gestures and all-or-nothing legal gambits to the tasks of persuasion and witness. Gestures like the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” will change no one’s mind—and are not intended to. Neither do they protect the unborn—and they are not expected to.

Read the whole thing here.

And, in "Secularists for Christmas!," Albert Wu discusses the rise of groups in France like Résistance Républicaine that are wielding an old notion of "secularism" (laïcité) in a new way:

[T]hese groups employ the term as a form of aggressive anti-Islamic politics. They take pride in their contempt: the Résistance Républicaine website proclaims, “Islamophobia is not a crime…. It’s legitimate defiance,” and, “I’m an Islamophobe and I’m proud.” At [a] December demonstration, marchers switched seamlessly from chanting “Hands off Christmas” to “Islamists, fascists, killers.”

It might be easy to dismiss this hyperbolic rhetoric as limited to fringe groups. A routine demonstration against unemployment and inequality earlier in December attracted four thousand (about four times as many people as the Résistance Républicaine rally drew). An antigay marriage protest in May brought out nearly a hundred fifty thousand. But defining laïcité in a way that preserves France’s Christian identity is far from a marginal idea. It is also taught to new immigrants at a “day of civic formation,” a full-day class on French law, history, culture, and “Republican values.” Attendance is mandatory for all who wish to obtain a long-stay visa. Truancy can result in the rejection of future visa applications.

Read it all here.

The prosecution rests.

Last Wednesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced that he would not charge Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis officials with failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer. (He's still investigating several others.) In November 2012, Wehmeyer pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct and seventeen counts of possession of child pornography. He's serving a five-year prison term. Civil authorities began investigating after Minnesota Public Radio reported that the archdiocese had known about Wehmeyer's sexual misbehavior for years, failed to inform his parish staff, and left him in ministry--with disastrous results. (In another case, Washington County prosecutors announced that they would not charge a priest with possession of child pornography--more on that later in the week.)

Minnesota law requires a priest to notify the police when he suspects child abuse--within twenty-four hours, unless he acquires the information during confession or spiritual counseling. The archdiocese claims it received an allegation against Wehmeyer on June 19, 2012, and reported it to police the following day. "It is our belief," Choi explained at last week's press conference, "that a criminal jury would conclude that members of the archdiocese did not fail to comply with the mandatory reporting law in this case." At the same event, St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith claimed officers lacked probable cause for a subpoena or a warrant to search archdiocesan files. Hours later, MPR published a document signed by Archbishop John Nienstedt indicating that the archdiocese had received the allegation on June 18--two days before the archdiocese reported it to the police.

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Telling Jesus to shove off

Listening to the Gospel reading today, Mark 5: 1-20, about the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, I remembered that great poem by Richard Wilbur, "Matthew 8, 28 ff," concerning the same story as recorded in Matthew.  We (okay, not we…I) always seem to pay too much attention to the healing of the demoniac and not enough to the unwillingness to “resign/Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.”

Catholic Schools Week

Last week was "Catholic Schools Week" in the United States; a program dedicated to celebrating and promoting the vast amount of good that Catholic schools have done in this country. 

I think that's all to the good--Catholic schools should be celebrated and promoted.  They are a wonderful gift. I do get a little worried, however, when the celebration and promotion takes the form of generalized contempt and pity for students who attend public school.  I am not disinterested: my father was a public school principal, I attended public school, and got a good education at public school.  And I know lots of fine, upstanding Catholics who also attended public school, and either Catholic or public or private colleges. 

I think most parents try to make the best decision for their child, given their resources.  I think the decision about where to send a particular to child to school is always highly specific, looking at the child, the schools, the options, and the needs of other kids.

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