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Death penalty in the Colorado gubernatorial race

Over the past few election cycles, Colorado has become an important "battleground state" and a bellwether for larger electoral trends. Featuring contested races for both a Senate seat and the Governor's mansion, it is arguably the most important site of the upcoming midterm elections. The gubernatorial contest has Bob Beauprez, an established figure in the Colorado Republican party, attempting to unseat (the previously very popular) Gov. Hickenlooper.

Social issues have entered the two campaigns in some expected ways -- abortion, health care coverage, gun safety laws, and marijuana legalization. But during these gubernatorial debates, the issue of the death penalty has also briefly held the spotlight.

Back in May, Beauprez made a campaign promise that surprised many, since he presents himself as a faithful Roman Catholic. "When I'm governor," he said during a GOP debate, "Nathan Dunlap will be executed." Or, in a headline offered by Mother Jones, "Elect Me, and I'll Kill that Guy."

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A short story for the synod?

Whether the moment was merely fortuitous or more shrewdly considered, the New Yorker is featuring a short story this week that makes for timely reading during the current synod. It’s called “Ordinary Sins,” and it’s by the young writer Kirstin Valdez Quade, whose story “The Five Wounds” appeared in the magazine in 2009 and whose debut collection is due early next year.

The title “Ordinary Sins” presumes the presence of ordinary sinners, and though such characters could be said to inhabit any piece of fiction, they are rather more clearly etched as such here, beginning with the third-person narrator/protagonist Crystal, a teenager seven months pregnant with twins and working as a parish assistant. There is also Father Paul, pastor of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, “benign and solicitous and eager for approval”; Father Leon, newly arrived from Nigeria and “traditional” (in the hesitant assessment of Father Paul), who to Crystal’s dismay preaches not of “love and brotherhood and the primacy of conscience” but against homosexuality and the tolerance of sin; and Collette, the parish secretary whose bad temper is “democratic in its reach” but also at times “very entertaining.”

Crystal and Paul comprise the key thematic pairing in a piece that features several (the unborn twins; Leon and Collette; a young, soon-to-wed couple waiting in the parish office for a “premarital-counselling appointment” with Paul; and, offstage and unseen, the vanished father of Crystal’s children and the bishop whom Paul believes to have delivered a threatening signal with the assignment of Leon). The story unfolds over the course of one Monday-morning hour, with some small and seamless expository flashbacks, but plot is secondary to the ordinary interactions among characters: the petty slights and venial offenses, the well-intentioned if misguided gestures, the willful misunderstandings and hurtful words, the impulse—often reluctant—toward trust, compassion, and forgiveness. Crystal’s pregnancy, obviously, and Paul’s gradually revealed failings provide the backdrop against which this is all depicted. When Paul’s kindness—“unconditional, holy, and inhuman,” so reliable she can afford to disdain it—is suddenly pulled away, Crystal to her astonished relief learns she “could be the kind of person who might meet another person’s need.”

Such reversals are nothing new in fiction, and a casual reading might leave the mistaken impression that “Ordinary Sins” is an ordinary story, with its plain language and seemingly too accessible emotional landscape. But there’s more at work here, like how ordinary people engage with and are engaged by the church on an everyday level, and how that might affect commitment and belief. Quade speaks to this in a brief interview accompanying the story (read it afterward), noting Crystal’s coming to grips with the church as a “human edifice” and the conflicts that this might yet create for her.

But what’s also worth noting here, I think, is that such a story would be featured in a publication like the New Yorker at this moment. Though it was probably conceived prior to last year’s conclave and obviously completed before the synod, could its subject and timing be indicative of “the Francis effect” at work in contemporary fiction?

Was Bishop Livieres sacked for abuse-related reasons or not? (UPDATED)

"Vatican Says Bishop's Dismissal Not the Result of Sexual Abuse," read a Catholic News Service headline published Saturday. The story, written by Francis X. Rocca, tut-tuts those who interpreted the firing of Bishop Livieres of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, as a sign of a Vatican crackdown on sexual abuse. The diocese was investigated by the Vatican in July after local Catholics, including the archbishop of Asuncion, Paraguay, Pastor Cuquejo--the metropolitan bishop--reportedly complained to Rome about several aspects of Livieres's leadership. Among his concerns was Livieres's decision to accept and promote a priest, Fr. Carlos Urrutigoity, who had been accused of sexual misconduct by several people dating back to the late 1980s. Rocca's story suggests that Urrutigoity had little to do with Pope Francis's decision to replace Livieres.

Coming two days after the Vatican's arrest of former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, pending a criminal trial on charges of paying for sex with boys during his time as nuncio to the Dominican Republic, the dismissal of Bishop Livieres appeared to be the latest step in a Vatican crackdown on sex abuse. But the Vatican says sex abuse was not a significant factor in Bishop Livieres's dismissal.

Here's what Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, SJ, told Rocca: "Let's not confuse Wesolowski and Livieres; one is a case of pedophilia, the other is not." Lombardi continued: "Livieres was not removed for reasons of pedophilia. That was not the principal problem." What was? "There were serious problems with his management of the diocese, the education of clergy, and relations with other bishops," Lombardi said."

That sounds a bit like what Lombardi said to the New York Times last week: “The important problem was the relations within the episcopacy and in the local church, which were very difficult.” He explained that the accusations against Urrutigoity were “not central, albeit have been debated.”

For his part, Livieres, a member of Opus Dei, maintains that he was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by nefarious practitioners of liberation theology, presumably not those who were recently invited to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith--or were they? Considering this explanation comes from a man who on more than one occasion publicly called his metropolitan gay, it may not be totally reliable.

But is Lombardi's?

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What Is a "Francis Bishop," Anyway?

The appointment of a successor for Chicago's Cardinal Francis George had been anticipated as Francis's first big chance to make a major impact on the U.S. church. When his selection of Blase Cupich was announced, the religion journalist Amy Sullivan tweeted, "Since March 2013, we've all been saying, Wait until he fills the Chicago seat--that'll tell us whether he's for real. @Pontifex is for real." The choice, many observers agreed, was proof that Francis really does want to develop a different kind of leadership, not just in Rome but in America too.

I noted in a post last week that Francis had surprised me by doing what I most hoped he would do -- articulating a vision of episcopal leadership that deemphasized culture-war posturing and called for bishops to be "dedicated to repairing divisions, not deepening them." News accounts of the "Francis effect" tend to refer to his noteworthy personal choices since he became pope -- things like living in a small set of rooms instead of the papal apartments, eschewing some of the more regal vestments of the office, and saying friendly, almost offhand things like "Who am I to judge?" when speaking to reporters about controversial issues. Certainly the pope is setting an example when he does these things. But he has also spelled out the changes he wants to bring about in explicit terms, and anyone who wants to know what a bishop in the era of Francis ought to be like need only read what Francis has said on the subject. 

Francis's apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is specifically addressed to the church's mission of evangelization, but for Francis that subject provides an opportunity to spell out in detail the ways in which the church itself needs to undergo "conversion" to communicate the Gospel more faithfully and effectively. This paragraph, in which he lays out a set of goals and desired traits for bishops, ought to  be tacked above the desk of every ordinary in the U.S. If Francis really was intimately involved in the selection of Bishop Cupich for Chicago -- which I have no reason to doubt -- it's safe to conclude that he found in Cupich a candidate likely to fulfill this vision:

31. The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law, and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.

More than what they wear or where they live or what kind of car they travel in, if you want to know whether a bishop is living up to the expectations of Pope Francis, you can look to this striking vision of pastoral leadership. It's not vague or empty of substance. It's quite specific, and demanding. (There's even a footnote in the original indicating which specific canons he refers to.) Is your bishop an "unassuming and merciful presence" in your midst? Is he doing everything he can to "reach everyone"? Is he the kind of shepherd who "above all" is concerned with "allowing the flock to strike out on new paths," as he walks behind giving merciful assistance to stragglers? That's what Francis thinks the church needs. That's a Francis bishop.

UPDATE: You can hear more from me about Francis and his plans for the church by attending the Feast of St. Francis Lecture at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on October 2. Details here.

Blase Cupich to be next archbishop of Chicago. (UPDATED)

Photo: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

Atlanta -- Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, will succeed Cardinal Francis George as archbishop of Chicago. His installation Mass will be held on November 18. The Associated Press broke the story Friday night, and was quickly followed by other outlets. Vatican Radio confirmed the appointment early Saturday morning. On Friday evening, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it would hold a press conference on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Central.

The appointment of George's successor was widely considered to be Pope Francis’s most significant decision for the church in the United States. The decision to tap Cupich to lead Chicago--the third largest U.S. diocese--signals a major change for the American church.

In 1997, Pope John Paul II selected George to be the eighth archbishop of Chicago. He was the first Windy City native to serve as archbishop, and he followed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a leading liberal churchman beloved of his people. Before long, Chicago Catholics would learn just how different George was from his predecessor. Highly regarded for his intellect, George never shied away from taking sides in the culture wars, most recently as a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act over its abortion-funding mechanism and the contraception mandate.

By contrast, Cupich is widely considered a moderate who has not always been in step with his more conservative colleagues in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For example, he has expressed skepticism about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strategy of opposing Obamacare. And when the bishops were considering a draft of a statement on the economy, Cupich criticized it with vigor: "I don't see that I would share this with anybody, or that it would make any difference." He has expressed great enthusiasm for Pope Francis, praising the pontiff's preferred style of episcopal governance. He wrote:

Rather than limiting our consultation to those with financial and legal abilities, we also need to listen to those who work side by side with the poor each day, and who are on the frontlines in health care, education and other fields of ministry. We diminish our effectiveness when we do not call on these brothers and sisters to gain insight before making decisions in these areas. But, even more importantly, we pass up the chance to see how God is working through them and to more fully know God’s will.

Benedict XVI named Cupich bishop of Spokane in 2010. The Omaha native was ordained in 1975, and holds a B.A. in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as several degrees in theology. He's served in parishes and taught high school. He's worked in priestly formation programs, and served as president of the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. And he worked in the U.S. nunciature. Pope John Paul II made him bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1998. Soon after, he led the diocese through a synod process. He has served on USCCB committees related to the protection of young people, liturgy, education, and communications.

In an August 2013 column, Cupich argued that Pope Francis "has totally changed the story about the Catholic Church in the media." Rather than talk about church scandal and corruption, "people are talking about a church unafraid to go out into the world and make a difference." In short, Cupich wrote, "Pope Francis is a game changer."

Chicago is about to receive a game-changer of its own.

***

Updates throughout the day: The Chicago Tribune on Cardinal George's legacy, along with a timeline. Crux profiles Cupich here. NCR here.

Read Cupich's recent address on Catholicism and libtertarianism here. Read him on talking about faith in a secular world here.

I Storified my tweets on the press conference here:

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Graham Greene's (Catholic) hopes for Charlie Chaplin

In marking one hundred years of publication, the New Republic is featuring a number of its most memorable articles and this week has uncovered what it calls one of “the wackiest things” in its archives: A 1952 open letter from Graham Greene to Charlie Chaplin, penned three weeks after Chaplin’s return to England amid allegations by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the FBI of communism and the revocation of his visa by the attorney general. Greene expressed hope that at least one group in the U.S., and perhaps a certain publication now celebrating its ninetieth anniversary, might publicly stand with Chaplin:

Remembering the days of Titus Oates and the terror in England, I would like to think that the Catholics of the United States, a powerful body, would give you their sympathy and support. Certainly one Catholic weekly in America is unlikely to be silent—I mean the Commonweal. But Cardinal Spellman? And the Hierarchy? I cannot help remembering an American flag that leant against a pulpit in an American Catholic Church not far from your home, and I remember too that McCarthy is a Catholic. Have Catholics in the United States not yet suffered enough to stand firmly against this campaign of uncharity? 

(The) Commonweal seems not to have come through with quite the vocal backing Greene might have anticipated, though some years later it did comment on Chaplin’s plight. This from the editors in 1958, in a piece on the Soviet “campaign of vilification” against Boris Pasternak after the publication of Dr. Zhivago:

There are some observers of the American scene…  who are as dismayed and disapproving as anyone else over this latest example of Communist brutality but who seize upon it to remind Americans of their own failings in the area of tolerance for unpopular views. It has been suggested that America's treatment of Charlie Chaplin or, even more, of artists and writers who suffered from professional "blacklisting," is much like the Soviet treatment of dissenter Boris Pasternak….

The case of Charlie Chaplin seems … inapplicable. Most of the criticism of Mr. Chaplin is wholly unofficial; and, if his critics have sometimes taken the tone or the assumptions of the critics of Pasternak, they are in the minority. (It might also be noted that Mr. Chaplin's strictures on conditions in America lack the reasonableness and the weight of evidence that Boris Pasternak brings forth.) And if Mr. Chaplin has suffered economically for his unpopular views, it is because he has flouted public opinion--a freedom which must always be paid for--not because of any campaign to seek vengeance.

Which isn’t to say that the magazine was not critical of McCarthy, or that the Catholics of the United States in whom Greene placed his faith were as a whole particularly supportive of the senator—a fact noted in 1953 by the same New Republic, which after conducting a poll “estimated that McCarthyism was not representative of Catholic thought,” according to Rodger Van Allen in The Commonweal and American Catholicism. And though a January 1954 Gallup Poll “showed 58 percent of American Catholics favorable to the senator,” that number dropped to 46 percent by April, during the Army-McCarthy hearings. As for the hierarchy, and Cardinal Spellman specifically, Greene was probably right to be pessimistic about their support.

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Someone linked to Fordham will be New York governor

Well, someone already is, and he’ll probably keep his job. But if Andrew Cuomo (class of ’79) manages to lose, New York’s Jesuit university will still be represented. His Democratic primary opponent Zephyr Teachout is on the faculty of Fordham’s law school, while Republican challenger Rob Astorino is a 1989 graduate.

Fordham has noted the connection (“We’re pleased, if not surprised that our alumni are represented in the governor’s race,” says Fordham spokesman Robert Howe), and a group of students had already tried to raise support for a debate among the candidates on campus. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out—though even the candidates are learning, firsthand, how aloof, to put it politely, Cuomo can be: just watch the brush-off Teachout gets from the governor at the weekend’s Labor Day parade in the video below. Not very collegial!

Ducking debates isn’t all that uncommon a maneuver for incumbents, though Cuomo’s defense—that they’re “a disservice to democracy”—is new. One could reasonably counter that the governor’s unilateral, premature dissolution of a commission he formed to investigate political corruption performs a similar disservice, whether or not that investigation might have led in the direction of the governor (which it did, and now there is a federal investigation into possible obstruction of justice). It was a move that cost Cuomo the presumptive endorsement of the New York Times and helped win Teachout the outright backing of, among others, the state chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Sierra Club, the Public Employees Federation, and The Nation—which compares her progressivism favorably to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s. Even if, as likely, Cuomo wins Tuesday’s primary, that progressivism could still find representation in Albany via Teachout’s running mate Tim Wu (McGill ‘95, alas): the lieutenant governor is elected separately in New York, and Cuomo’s choice, former congresswoman Kathy Hochul, is not quite the lock that he is. Regardless of what happens, writes John Cassidy, Cuomo will emerge “a diminished figure." Even a respectable finish for Teachout, The Nation says, “could illustrate the strength of the progressive base and keep the proposals that Teachout and Wu have been fighting for alive.”

Oh yes – Astorino. He won elective office even before graduating Fordham, taking a board of education seat in suburban Mount Pleasant, New York, and he’s held a number of other offices since, including, currently, Westchester County Executive. But did you know he was the first program director at the Catholic Channel on Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, where he also hosted a weekly radio show from St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Cardinal Edward Egan and, later, Timothy Dolan? "I think it's a great opportunity not just for the archdiocese but for the Catholic Church as a whole to reach out to people across the country with a message, and have a two-way conversation," Astorino said in a 2006 interview about the Catholic Channel. If (let’s say when) Cuomo and Astorino meet in the general, perhaps the governor will by then have reconsidered what constitutes a disservice to democracy and agree to have a two-way conversation in the form of a debate, if not several. It’s the least he could do for a fellow alum, not to mention fellow New Yorkers.

Sorry, influential Catholics: it's not so easy to get in to see Pope Francis

John Allen's new project for the Boston Globe, Crux, launched with a lengthy interview with New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan. The first section, published yesterday, focused on Dolan's impressions of Francis, and (as ever) the Cardinal strikes a very cheerful note. "Look, as a local bishop, I’m pretty pragmatic," Dolan said. "My question remains, is the pope helping me or hurting me? This pope is helping me immensely. At this stage, it’s not about specific programs, but it’s a matter of persona, of tone, of personality."

But there is one area, he admitted, where the transition has been a challenge:

I will tell you that there are some aspects [of the Vatican under Francis] that are frustrating. For instance, as a bishop, one of the things you want to do is to get people access to the pope. In the old days, when I had an influential person I wanted to get into the line at the audience to shake the pope’s hand, or into his morning Mass, that used to be easy because you knew who to go to. Now, you don’t. I can write, and they seem very attentive, but it doesn’t seem as predictable as it used to be.

For instance, I’ve got the coach of the New York Giants, an influential Catholic who takes his faith seriously, who says to me, ‘Cardinal Dolan, I’m going to Rome. Would it be possible to get into the pope’s morning Mass?’ I have to say, ‘Coach Coughlin, I hope you can. Something tells me that if the pope knew you were coming, he’d sure like you there. I don’t quite know how to do it now, but I’ll try my best.’ There’s an area where some of the wondering, and the benevolent confusion, might be a little frustrating.

What the Cardinal is describing is influence peddling, however benevolent, and while it would be naive to be shocked by its existence, it is surprising to me to hear him describe it so candidly as part of his job as a bishop ("These are just housekeeping details," he goes on to say). That fundraising for major projects, like the ongoing renovation of St. Patrick's Cathedral, requires massaging the egos of our nation's very sensitive super-rich is not news; recall the sound of the world's tiniest violin playing for Ken Langone, who took his hurt feelings over Francis's critiques of exploitative capitalism to CNBC.

Still, if church leaders have to act like politicians, they might at least be a little embarrassed about it. I don't begrudge any particular person, influential or otherwise, his chance to shake the pope's hand, but it seems like an impertinence to expect the pope to make room at his morning Mass for, say, an American football coach on vacation. So, although Dolan may not see it this way, to me his newfound troubles granting privileged access to the pope reflect well on Francis. Evidently his talk about wanting "a church that is poor, and for the poor" is not just talk, or an act for special occasions. In his Vatican, making it easy for the well-connected to get close to the pope is not a priority. Considering what can happen when the very wealthy and well-connected enjoy privileged access to the pope, this change in policy is potentially a bulwark against corruption.

Remembering James Foley

After his release from his first captivity in Libya James Foley wrote this letter to his alma mater, Marquette University. He said:

Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.

I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed.
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

At LCWR Assembly, Elizabeth Johnson Speaks Her Mind

You may recall, from Grant's coverage on this blog or from the column I wrote in May, that Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dressed down the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for its decision to present Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, with an award at this year's assembly. The award, Müller said, was an “open provocation against the Holy See,” because Johnson had been criticized by the U.S. bishops for alleged doctrinal errors in her book Quest for the Living God.

As I wrote at the time, Müller's presumption of bad faith on the part of the nuns -- and of correct judgment on the part of the bishops -- did not seem to leave much of an opening for a mutually respectful and collaborative process of reform. After all, as Müller might have known if he'd looked into it, the USCCB's doctrinal committee's indictment of Quest was a pretty shoddy piece of work, one that even contradicted its own claims in its rush to condemn Johnson for "undermin[ing] the Gospel."

Johnson accepted that award on Friday, at the end of the LCWR's annual assembly. For the most part, according to reporters who covered the event, the conflict with the CDF was absent from the group's public talks and deliberations. But in her acceptance speech, Johnson addressed it directly -- deciding, I gather, that since the honor had already been labeled a "provocation," she might as well say what she thought. And did she ever. David Gibson has the full transcript at RNS, and it's excellent: a forthright, clear-eyed, and (in my opinion) very astute analysis of what motivates the hierarchy's suspicion of American sisters and what would be necessary to overcome that tension.

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Dotty Lynch

There were only two obituaries in the New York Times on Tuesday, August 12. One was of Robin Williams, starting on the front page and continuing inside at great length. The other was of a friend and occasional contributor to CommonwealDotty Lynch.

The Times obituary quoted something that Dotty wrote for American Catholics and Civic Engagement, one of the two volumes edited by Margaret O’Brien Steinfels that emerged from Commonweal’s American Catholics in the Public Square Project. 

“I thought growing up an Irish Catholic Democrat in Brooklyn in the 1950s was about the best thing anyone could be,” Dotty wrote, “and I treasured each one of those labels.” If I weren’t 150 miles from our copies of that book I’d quote more. 

Dotty was an incurable political junkie. She started work at NBC News in 1968.  For two decades after 1985 she was the political editor and polling analyst at CBS News. In between she had been a leading pollster for several Democratic presidential candidates, a pioneer among female political pollsters and one of the first analysts to spot the importance of the gender gap. 

Dotty popped up now and then on CBS or the PBS Newshour, but she was the quintessential behind-the-scenes force, feeding crucial information to the on-camera correspondents for their election night coverage, their interviews with candidates, or their questions in presidential debates. And she was dedicated to mentoring others, most recently as a professor at American University in Washington.

Of course, it all began earlier. As a high-school student, she caught the fervor of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign. With a close friend, the daughter of Hugh Carey, then running for what would lead to seven terms in Congress and the governorship of New York, Dotty made her political debut. Wearing red, white, and blue and belting out campaign songs, she sat in an open Cadillac criss-crossing Carey’s Brooklyn district. When I last saw her a few years ago, it was easy to imagine her still doing the same. By that time she undoubtedly knew all there was to know about the down and dirty and disillusioning sides of politics. But she seemed as convinced as ever that it was a high calling essential to the common good. 

Her emails last spring expressed enthusiasm for Pope Francis. Ever the pollster, she griped about a Pew poll focusing on whether Francis’s popularity was boosting church attendance. She believed that it should have tried to measure whether the pope had boosted poverty on the church’s agenda. R.I.P.

The archdiocese & the arts: What’s your angle?

Peter Steinfels’s post on CNN’s framing of a report on the multimillion-dollar residences of U.S. archbishops got me thinking about coverage of another story concerning use (and re-use) of church property. Here in New York, the annual International Fringe Festival opens tomorrow, and among the more than twenty venues at which performances will be staged is the new Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center, “a 25,000-square-foot arts center at Bleecker and Elizabeth streets with two theaters and four rehearsal studios available for rent” operated by the Archdiocese of the City of New York.

The quoted passage above comes from a March 16 Wall St. Journal report, a straightforward account focused mainly on the center’s mission as “‘a place to showcase Christian humanism—the true, the good and the beautiful,’" said executive director Msgr. Michael F. Hull.” (Hull later in the story describes himself as “a card-carrying member of MoMA,” the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.) Six paragraphs into the story—after information on artistic director Jessica Bashline and the type of events she’d like to see staged—the reporter notes that the building is located “near the Bowery” and “dates to the early 1920s, when it served as a parish school and center for the Italian-American community. In 1938, it became a shelter for homeless men and remained as such until 2009.” And that paragraph is followed by this one:

"It wasn't viable to run it, and the neighborhood had changed so much," said Msgr. Hull, describing the evolution of the build's use as a reflection of the changing needs of New York. "We served the Italian immigrants, then homeless men, and now the arts community."

The story then gets to the arts-community angle: how expensive it is to find rehearsal and performance space in New York as real estate costs have shot up, how even though Fringe Festival content might “raise the eyebrows of conservative churchgoers” the only caveat from the archdiocese on style and content is that there’s nothing “hateful about one group of people.” Headline of the Journal piece: “A Marriage of Church and Stage.”

Fast-forward to August 3, when the New York Times ran a story concerned less with the cultural center’s mission and performance schedule than the history of that “building near the Bowery” and the community it once served. Headlined “On the Bowery, Questions About the Church’s Shifting Mission,” the piece quotes several people who either worked at or found meals and showers at the former shelter, which was called (a detail not noted in the Journal story) the Holy Name Center for Homeless Men.

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Mary Gordon on "Francis and the Nuns" in Harper's

In my column last month, I asked, "Why hasn’t Pope Francis stepped in to get the Vatican off the nuns’ backs" and revoke the CDF's mandate to reform the LCWR? "If Francis really wants a less authoritarian, more mission-focused church," I wrote, "shouldn’t he have called this whole thing off already?"

Mary Gordon asks a similar question in the August issue of Harper's, in an essay titled "Francis and the Nuns." It's a strong piece of writing and a very good summary of the tensions between U.S. sisters and the Vatican. Harper's readers will be well caught up on where things stand and how they got that way. And the piece ends with an interview with Simone Campbell, SSS, that gives a personal dimension to the way she and her fellow sisters from LCWR congregations have responded to the scrutiny and censure directed their way from Rome.

But when it comes to the Francis angle, Gordon's analysis is less solid. That's because there simply isn't much to go on. "Is the new Vatican all talk?" the essay's subhed asks. But on this subject Francis has hardly talked at all, so that anyone who wants to build a case for or against him has to resort to reading tea leaves. And silence has many interpretations, after all.

After an introduction that sums up the remarkable shift in tone and priorities that Francis has brought about since taking office, Gordon brings in the nuns as a test case. I think she's right to propose the U.S. sisters as the embodiment of what we might call the Francis agenda:

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Is there a Christian Left?

Writing today at Salon, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig rounds up recent polling on religious attitudes in order to propose that the Religious Right is in its twilight years and the "Christian left" is on the ascendant:

With millennial religious and political attitudes in flux compared to our predecessors, the upcoming years could be the Christian left’s big moment.

There are certainly data that prima facie support this analysis, but does it hold up to sociological scrutiny?

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Archbishop Nienstedt under investigation. (UPDATED)

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis is being investigated for “multiple allegations” of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men, according to the archbishop’s former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger. The investigation is being conducted by a law firm hired by the archdiocese. Nienstedt denies the allegations.

The investigation was spurred by information the archdiocese received late last year, according to another person with knowledge of the investigation. (This inquiry is not related to a December 2013 accusation that Nienstedt touched a boy’s buttocks during a confirmation photo shoot. The archbishop denied that allegation, and, following an investigation, the county prosecutor did not bring charges. Reportedly the case has been reopened.) Near the end of the year, it came to light that a former Twin Cities priest had accused Nienstedt of making unwanted sexual advances.

The archbishop agreed to hire an outside law firm to investigate the accusation. By early 2014, the archdiocese had selected the top-ranked Minneapolis firm of Greene Espel. Nienstedt, along with auxiliary bishops Lee Piché and Andrew Cozzens, flew to Washington, D.C., to inform the apostolic nuncio of the allegations. Over the course of the investigation, lawyers have interviewed current and former associates and employees of Nienstedt—including Haselberger, who resigned in protest in April 2013.

“Based on my interview with Greene Espel—as well as conversations with other interviewees—I believe that the investigators have received about ten sworn statements alleging sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop dating from his time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit, as Bishop of New Ulm, and while coadjutor and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” Haselberger told me. What’s more, “he also stands accused of retaliating against those who refused his advances or otherwise questioned his conduct.”

The allegations are nothing more than a “personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage,” Nienstedt said in a written statement. He also suspects that accusers are coming forward because of “difficult decisions” he has made, but, citing privacy laws, he would not elaborate.

“I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and certainly have not made any sexual advances toward anyone,” Nienstedt told me. “The allegations are a decade old or more, prior to my service as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” he continued, emphasizing that “none of the allegations involve minors or illegal or criminal behavior.” The “only accusation,” Nienstedt explained, is of “improper touching (of the person’s neck),” and was made by a former priest.

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Massachusetts' Minimum Wage Hike Is A Catholic Victory Too

Yesterday Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation raising the state's minimum wage from $8.00/hour to $11.00/hour, by Janury 1, 2017.  That's the highest statewide minimum wage in the country.  It means full-time minimum wage workers in the Bay State can look forward to an additional $6,000 in annual income. 

Boston magazine's David Bernstein, one of the savviest political reporters in the commonwealth, noted earlier today that the minimum wage increase is further proof that Massachusetts has entered "a new Golden Age of Law-Making By Threat of Popular Vote", adding "I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but it’s definitely a thing."

It's also a sign of the Catholic Church wielding political power in a different way than it sometimes has in the past.  At the heart of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition that gathered over 350,000 signatures to put initiatives to raise the Minimum Wage, and to create an Earned Sick Time benefit for all Massachusetts workers, before the legislature and the electorate are several faith-based community organizations affiliated with the Massachusetts Community Action Network.  Other faith-based community organizations (including the Merrimack Valley Project where---full disclosure---I do some work) also participated in the campaign.

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Does the Man with the Ball Get to Define the Game?

David Cloutier says the point of Paul Griffiths's talk is to ask the question "what is theology"? But why do we have to accept his question as THE question, let alone his answer?

As I said at the session, I think Griffths's talk was a jeremiad. It was an indictment of the CTSA, which he himself acknowledged.

But he doesn't have actual jurisdiction, let alone subpoena power. So CTSA members don't need to accept his framing of the charge. And one point of my piece is that I don't think they should.

I really don't see why the narrow defnitional question "what is theology" needs to be the CTSA's question, collectivley, although it may indeed occupy a number of its members. In fact, I suspect insisting upon a precise, exhaustive, definition of theology before moving on to other questions is an unhealthy preoccupation with methodological prolegomena. CTSA members don't need a precise answer to the question in order to do good and fruitful work. In social ethics and moral theology, we live with unclear and sometimes contested and contestible boundaries. Does it really matter whether John Courtney Murray was doing theology all the way down, or was mixing theology and insights from democratic theory? Did he have to get that definitional question right before moving on to address religious liberty? Is it essential to separate his anlysis of the American situation from the rethinking of the doctrine on church-state issues, even if we can distinguish some strands? Those questions are important to ask in some cases, I think. But I don't think there was any way they could have been settled in advance

The Church, after all, baptized elements of Greek philosophy and Roman law, integrating it with insights from Jewish sources. And to the extent that "natural law" is a key aspect of Catholic moral thinking, streams are muddled here as well. Do we need to "purify" all the water in advance?

I still don't know, positively, why members of ACT would want to join CTSA—any more than why someone convinced that philosophy was only analytic philosophy would want to join a group with a substantial number of continental philosophers.  

I would be grateful if someone would answer that question.

Theology and Other Catholic Sports

Paul Griffiths’ plenary address at the CTSA (the full text is now available here) has raised many productive questions. Meghan Clark has responded that theology is messier than Griffiths suggests. Cathy Kaveny just posted a thoughtful comment indicating that the main issue is the CTSA as more “open” and “free-wheeling” than the ACT.

These analyses are on to something, and I would love to engage them in more detail, but I fear that it becomes easy to fall into a dualism—the inclusive liberals over here, the exclusive conservatives over there—that misses the central points of Griffiths’ talk. It is not primarily about tidiness versus messiness, nor about open discussion versus more narrow inquiry. It is an attempt to define more carefully what the enterprise of theology actually is, and thus delineate in more detail why there is contention over it.

Griffiths’ primary contention in the address is that many members of the CTSA do not have an adequate understanding of what Catholic theology is. He is not saying that their work is not intellectually able, and even “beautiful” (a word he uses)…the question he poses is whether it is Catholic theology. Hence, his primary metaphor of arguments between proponents of cricket and proponents of baseball—or the problems with inviting cricket teams to take part in the World Series. It’s not meant to be a point about cricket being worse than baseball…or better. The point is: cricket is one game, baseball is another. The implication: CTSA has people playing cricket and calling it baseball. Doing one thing (which is not theology), but calling it theology.

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USCCB meeting live

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets today. Watch live here.

Meet your newest Tea Party Catholic

If you haven’t already collected your share of fast facts on David Brat, who primaried congressional majority leader Eric Cantor out of office yesterday, here are some worth starting with:

He ran with strong Tea Party support and largely on an anti-immigration message, referring to undocumented migrants as “illegals.”

He’s a professor of economics at Randolph-Macon University in Virginia, where he also teaches ethics; he holds a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary; he describes himself as a "free-market, Milton Friedman economist" and his scholarship includes work with titles like "God and Advanced Mammon — Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?" and "An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand"; he says he stands for the main tenets of the “Republican creed: free markets, equal protection under the law, fiscal responsibility, constitutional restraint, strong military and belief in God.”

He is a Roman Catholic, though his position on immigration puts him politically far more in line with white evangelicals, among whom support for immigration has dropped to 48 percent; 63 percent of Catholics support immigration reform, as do 68 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

He is either still celebrating or may need to brush up on actual policy, if this exchange from "Morning Joe" is any indicator. A snippet of his answer to a question from Chuck Todd about the minimum wage: 

"Minimum wage, no, I'm a free market guy," Brat responded. "Our labor markets right now are already distorted from too many regulations. I think Cato estimates there's $2 trillion of regulatory problems and then throw Obamacare on top of that, the work hours is 30 hours a week. You can only hire 50 people. There's just distortion after distortion after distortion and we wonder why our labor markets are broken."

Todd then pressed Brat on the question.

"Um, I don't have a well-crafted response on that one," Brat finally conceded. "All I know is if you take the long-run graph over 200 years of the wage rate, it cannot differ from your nation's productivity. Right? So you can't make up wage rates."

As for arming Syrian rebels: “I'd love to go through all of this but my mind is — I love all the policy questions but I just wanted to talk about the victory ahead.”

And as of 10:50 a.m. eastern, his website is down.

The post-mortems on Cantor also make for good reading, starting with E. J. Dionne Jr.'s take, now featured on our homepage.

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