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UPDATED Melinda Henneberger to speak on Pope and Politics (Fordham)

UPDATE: event to be rescheduled due to weather and campus closing on February 3.

In the past month, several major news outlets have raised the question of whether Pope Francis is having an effect on political figures in the United States. Kathleen Hennessey's A1 story in the Los Angeles Times reported on how and why President Obama, for example, had come to quote the Pope.

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Cardinal George revises history.

On Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Chicago released six thousand pages of documents related to the cases of thirty priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. The files, made public as part of a settlement with victims' attorneys, offer a predictably depressing view of archdiocesan failures over the past several decades. You know the dirge: priests quietly shuttled from parish to parish, civil authorities kept in the dark about some cases (and colluding with church officials to keep others from public scrutiny), laypeople and clergy failing to report allegations, bishops refusing to suspend dangerous priests.

For releasing these documents and for making public the names of known abuser-priests, Cardinal Francis George--archbishop of Chicago since 1997--takes some credit. "Publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes," he wrote in a letter warning Chicagoans about the document dump, "raises transparency to a new level." Perhaps. But he didn't volunteer these files. They wouldn't have come out if it hadn't been for victims who pressed for their release as part of a legal settlement. Still, it's difficult to take seriously Cardinal George's brief for transparency when he seems so intent on obfuscating his own role in the scandal.

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Band of Sisters: NYC Premiere

Band of Sisters, a new documentary film now showing at New York City's Cinema Village until January 30th, features sisters from eleven different congregations who all share the unique story of being American Catholic nuns who entered convents before Vatican II, and whose vocations were radically transformed by the council's documents.

American women religious are portrayed as themselves -- obedient risk-takers whose elevation from selfess servants to community leaders is natural and justified. The sisters narrate their story against a backdrop of juxtaposed images and stories: black-and-white footage of thousands of habits bending to pick lillies on convent grounds; today's sisters in overalls showcasing their organic farms; hundreds of pews full of heads bowed in prayer; nuns well into their eighties lobbying for access to immigrant detention centers; the letter from Pius XII urging U.S. congregations to create "a network" that would become the LCWR; Rome's investigation of the LCWR's "faithfulness to mission" under Benedict XVI; collared schoolmarms keeping order in classrooms; grey-haired women getting arrested at the School of the America's protest; and much more.

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Shrugging toward St. Peter's.

Last August, just five months after Pope Francis was elected, Damon Linker emerged from the balcony of St. Wieseltier's to dump a vat of cold water on the gathering masses anxiously awaiting the doctrinal liberalization of the Catholic Church. Progressives who thought Francis's pastoral gestures heralded the end of the celibate priesthood, or the reversal of church teachings against contraception, birth control, and sex outside of marriage, were deluding themselves, Linker argued. "Even an analyst normally as sober and sensible as John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter," he wrote, "has gone so far as to conclude that nothing less than a Vatican 'revolution' is underway. It isn’t."

Perhaps the New Republic's editors thought Linker's observation that a new pope wasn't about to upend Catholic doctrine amounted to big news. For my part, I don't know anyone who's expecting Francis to abrogate Humanae Vitae. So I found the piece largley unobjectionable, apart from Linker's misperception of the extent to which a pontiff can remake the Curia in his preferred image. "A new pope," Linker claimed, "has comparatively little freedom to remake the ideological cast of the Roman Curia." He "must choose new appointees solely from the existing ranks of cardinals and archbishops, all of whom will have been promoted to their positions by his predecessors." Well, yes. But that doesn't mean the world's bishops are carbon copies of the popes who appointed them. After all, the man who made Bergoglio archbishop of Buenos Aires was John Paul II.

Of course, Linker's TNR piece was written five months ago. Today at the Week, he's back with a reassessment of liberal Catholic hopes for the new pope. Have the past five months changed his opinion of them, or of Francis's pontificate? The shakeup at the Congregation for Bishops? The Vatican's attempt to get parishioners to weigh in on controversial church teachings like gay marriage and contraception? The fact that almost none of Francis's first cardinals are professional theologians, and most are from the global south? What about that time he baptized the baby of a couple who were married outside the church--a first for a pope? Not really.

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New issue, now live

Just posted to the website, our January 24 issue. Among the highlights: The first part of an exclusive excerpt from Elizabeth A. Johnson’s forthcoming book, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God Love (subscription required). An excerpt from the excerpt:

“Ask the beasts and they will teach you,” we read in Job (12:7). My new book takes its title from that verse, placing the natural world as envisioned by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in conversation with Christian belief in a loving God who creates, redeems, and promises a blessed future for our world. When we ask the animals and plants about their origin and relationship with God, a picture emerges of how they are cherished by divine love prior to, and apart from, the emergence of humanity. The evolution of the human species introduces sin into the world, seen today in our destruction of habitats and the resulting extinction of species. In this context, listening to the beasts fosters a deep ecological ethic as humans aim to replace their domination over nature with mutual regard and responsible care in the community of creation. The goal of this dialogue is to discover how love of the natural world is an intrinsic part of believers’ passion for the living God—to practical and critical effect. In this essay, the first of a two-part series, I hope to make clear how Darwin’s work changed our understanding of nature and humankind’s place in creation.

Also featured in the new issue: Jo McGowan with a personal reflection on moving her aging father into assisted living, Margaret O’Brien Steinfels on the peril of letting an ally determine our foreign policy, and Nick Ripatrazone on a new book of poems from Averill Curdy.

And we’ve also posted E. J. Dionne’s latest column, on the problems New Jersey governor Chris Christie could face with conservatives in the still unfolding “Bridgegate” scandal. 

What do people see when they see Francis?

The question posed in that headline is a paraphrase of one used by James Carroll in a new interview in which he discusses how Pope Francis is effecting a potentially “radical” change in how the Church is viewed by the world. “What do people see when they see you?,” according to Carroll, is the question Francis has, at least figuratively, put to his fellow clerics in seeking to emphasize simplicity and draw attention to the plight of the poor – and in the process do some much-needed image improvement at the institutional level.

Is it working? And are the pictures, images, and accounts of this papacy perhaps more carefully crafted and less spontaneous than they seem?

The answer to the first question, at least according to Carroll, is yes—mainly. There are tangible innovations like the survey on family life being conducted in advance of the synod this coming fall, which in asking for information on issues like contraception and divorce and remarriage “signals a shift already underway” in the way power may be exercised. There are the less tangible qualities attaching to the man himself—whose capturing of the world’s attention, Carroll says, can be explained by the fact that he “represents an ancient human need, an ancient human longing for symbols and signs of the mysterious experience we all have of life on this planet.” The only thing marring this picture is Francis’s response to the sexual abuse scandal, which Carroll describes as a disappointment and quantifies as “all too little.”

The answer to the second question is also yes, says Mary E. Hunt in a piece at Religion Dispatches titled “The Trouble With Francis: Three Things That Worry Me.” Things one and two are what she sees as the immutable hierarchical structure of the church and the status of women and gay people. Thing three is what, in an otherwise unsurprising critique, caught my attention: “the remarkable, even enviable public relations success, not to say coup, that the papacy of Pope Francis represents.” 

I am not suggesting that there is no substance to Francis’ agenda, that change does not underlie it. Conservatives would not be so hot under their collective collars if that were not the case. But I am cognizant of the very powerful public relations machine that has turned an ecclesial ocean liner on a dime, transformed an all but written-off patriarchy into one of the most inviting, benevolent monarchies the world has seen in modern times….

Surely some of the “credit” for this PR blitz goes to former Fox News and Time writer, Opus Dei member and Midwestern Catholic, Greg Burke. He became senior communications advisor to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in June 2012, well before the new pope took over. Mr. Burke is commonly associated with moving the papacy toward a more hip, social-media savvy approach to getting out its word. It works. Papal tweets are new. But more important than 140 characters at a time are the remarkable visuals, photo ops that don’t quit, moving gestures of a humble, caring man projected for the world to see and imitate. Only a craven critic would pass over these as trivial.

David Gibson wrote here about Burke and Pope Benedict’s then-new Twitter account just over a year ago, noting the early growing pains and concluding that “there’s no better communications strategy than having a good product to sell.” How much has changed since then? Many would say there’s a better product to sell. How much is a communications strategy helping in selling it? And how much faith should be placed in, or attention paid to, images like the one in this post? What are we seeing when we see this pope?

Built Chiefly by the Pennies of the Poor

credit: Library of Congress

If Pope Francis' words really are causing Cardinal Dolan, billionaire businessman Ken Langone, and others at the heart of the fundraising campaign to restore St. Patrick's Cathedral to lose out on "major gifts" by wealthy would-be benefactors, they can take some measure of comfort from the cathedral's original construction.

In his terrific 1997 book, American Catholic, Charles R. Morris uses the dedication of the still-unfinished cathedral on May 25, 1879 as his starting point for understanding the history of the US Catholic Church. 

"The brute fact was that the Catholics of New York could not afford the cathedral that Renwick had designed...." (p. 17)

"(Archbishop) Hughes' cost estimate, unfortunately, was at least three or four times too small, and he also greatly overestimated how much money he could raise from the wealthy...." (p. 17)

When Hughes' successor, Archbishop McCloskey restarted construction after the Civil War, "there was no place to turn to for the $2 million or so still required, except to working-class Catholics". (p. 18)

At that magnificent opening Mass, Bishop Patrick Ryan of St. Louis highlighted this history in his homily:

"And what shall I say to you---the children of toil---who...glory in what has been said, as if in reproach, 'that the great Cathedral of New York was built chiefly by the pennies of the poor.'  The pennies of the poor! . . . It is appropriate that the poor whom (Christ) so honored should aid in the building of His house which is also their home.  We accept, then, the imagined reproach as an honor, and we ask in turn where in this great city have the thousands of bondholders erected a temple like this temple, built up and adorned by the 'pennies of the poor.'"  (p. 20 - 21, emphasis added)

Apparently no wealthy US Catholics in 1879 thought to warn Bishop Ryan that "you get more with honey than with vinegar".

High Dudgeon

Comments on the three posts just below are amazing in their variety of snark and disdain. Gene McCarraher is in high gear and that is always bracing.

I knew nothing of the TV interview with Langone, only what I have read here. But the name struck a bell. I looked it up and found that the Langone Medical Center at NYU is named after Kenneth (the wicked) and Elaine Langone who contributed $200 million to the Center (in keeping with Christian humility they probably should have kept their name off...Peter and Paul not knowing, etc.).

Recently wandering through its lobby on the way in and the way out of the hospital, I was struck by how many halt, lame and the poor were sitting there, or coming and going like me, well not like me; I had a coat. So if I had $200 million!! Maybe I wouldn't give it to NYU, but I wouldn't give it for the renovation of Saint Patrick's either. On the other hand, the Langone Center has probably done more for the halt, the lame, and the poor than Saint Patrick's ever has [I do not speak of Catholic Charities, etc.].

Wiki: "In 2008, Kenneth and Elaine Langone made an unrestricted $200 million gift—the largest in the Medical Center's history—and the NYU Medical Center was subsequently renamed the NYU Elaine A. and Kenneth G. Langone Medical Center. Kenneth Langone is the chairman of the board of trustees."

Justice Sotomayor delays contraception mandate.

Late yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted the request of a community of nuns in Colorado to delay enforcement of the Obama administration's contraception mandate. Her order applies to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado and other nonprofit groups whose health plans are administered by Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust. Sotomayor intervened after a U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver denied the nuns' request earlier on New Year's Eve.

Most news reports lead with the claim that Sotomayor's order blocks the Obama administration from forcing these groups to "provide contraception coverage" to their employees. But of course that's where the dispute lies. The Little Sisters of the Poor claim that the mandate forces them to act against their religious convictions, which, they say, do not allow them to "facilitate" the procurement of artificial contraception. (I find that claim tendentious.) The Obama administration says that religiously affiliated employers don't want to provide such coverage they can opt out, in which case a third party will offer it to employees. I imagine that will be more or less what administration lawyers will say in their reply to Sotomayor's order. She's given them until Friday to respond.

Top stories (and top posts) of 2013

In a year that saw a papal resignation (and consequent conclave) and the public embrace of the new pope, it's not surprising that among our most-read articles and blog posts of 2013 are items on these stories, such as our exclusive interview with Francis. But readers also responded to stories on same-sex marriage, public-education reform, and the relationship among work, material necessities, and "the good life." Below are the top ten stories from Commonweal and blog posts from dotCommonweal this year. As this is simply a data-generated tally, are there other stories and posts from 2013 not represented here that are nonetheless worth a mention? Any particular favorites - or further thoughts? 

Top stories

“The Things We Share,” Joseph Bottum

“Less Please: Capitalism & the Good Life,” Gary Gutting

“A Chat with Pope Francis: The Commonweal Interview,” The Editors

“Beyond the Stalemate: Forty Years after Roe,” Peter Steinfels

“Reform of the Reform,” Jackson Lears

“Regime Change: Benedict & His Successor,” William L. Portier

“The Big Chill: ‘Humanae Vitae’ Dissenters Need to Find a Voice,” Cathleen Kaveny

“A New Balance: What the Pope’s Interview Reveals,” The Editors

“Historical Amnesia: When Catholic Leaders Misread the Past,” Nicholas Clifford

“The Big Dig: Reconfiguring the Church in Boston,” Luke Hill
 

Top blog posts

“No, the Pentagon won't court-martial service members for sharing their faith,” Grant Gallicho

“NYT’s ironic fact-check error,” Michael Peppard

“Archdiocese of Wobegon,” Grant Gallicho

“Washing feet,” Rita Ferrone

“Apostolic Nuncio to USCCB: Be pastoral, not ideological,” Grant Gallicho

“Francis: women are the first communicators of the Resurrection,” Grant Gallicho

“Interregnum report, March 6,” Dominic Preziosi

“The conclave bird: a distinctively Roman omen,” Michael Peppard

“When ‘allegedly prolife’ groups attack,” Grant Gallicho

“Pontifex legibus solutus?” Joseph A. Komonchak

Nienstedt's apologia tour.

Two days before the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced that it had received an allegation of sexual misconduct against Archbishop John Nienstedt, he visited a parish to apologize for the way he responded to accusations of sexual abuse by priests.

When I arrived here seven years ago, one of the first things I was told was that this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately I believed that. And so my biggest apology today...is to say I overlooked this. I should have investigated it a lot more than I did. [When the story broke] at the end of September, I was as surprised as anyone else.

Really? Because in 2009 Nienstedt's former top canon lawer, Jennifer Haselberger, warned him not to promote a priest with a history of sexual misconduct. Nienstedt made him a pastor (the priest was already administrator of the parish, thanks to the previous archbishop's bad judgment). The priest went on to abuse children in the parish. Haselberger provided Nienstedt with a golden opportunity to "investigate it more." Why wasn't he more alarmed? Where was his sense of urgency? Calmed by the assurance that in the Twin Cities "this whole issue of clerical sex abuse had been taken care of"?

And just last year Haselberger informed Nienstedt about another time bomb--this one was sitting in the chancery basement: a report indicating that "borderline illegal" pornographic images had been found on a priest's computer. Nienstedt did not report it to the police (in Minnesota, priests are mandated reporters). Haselberger did, just before she resigned.

Nienstedt was so troubled by the case that he considered contacting Rome for advice. In a detailed unsent letter to the Vatican, he acknowledged that this priest had possessed "borderline illegal" photographs of young people. He explained that he and the archdiocese could be subject to criminal prosecution for possessing such images (some were kept in the priest's long-buried personnel file). Nienstedt even expressed his "hesitation to assign [the priest] to any form of parochial ministry, given my doubts regarding his fitness for ministry and the potential harm and scandal that could ensue." That letter is dated May 29, 2012. But the archbishop wants Twin Cities Catholics to believe he was surprised when all this made headlines last September? Does he think they don't read the news?

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Are we at ‘peak Pope’?

Maybe it’s not a crisis of continued supply -- just the opposite, in fact -- but the unregulated flow of Francis coverage in the mainstream media suggests some decline in production is inevitable. Doesn’t it?

Andrew Sullivan has been writing with the unrestrained giddiness he’s reserved mainly for Barack Obama -- and now there’s his inaugural “long-form” piece on the pontiff for the Deep Dish spin-off of his daily blog. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (“I am not a Catholic but there's something about this pope...”) is running a multi-part report with reader contributions. This is on top of reports about Francis celebrating his seventy-seventh birthday with four homeless people; the news about his stint as a bouncer at a Buenos Aeries nightclub; and of course his selection by Time as its person of the year, which really should have been the pinnacle but then here came The Advocate to second the honor. Which itself was followed this week by approving stories on changes to the influential Congregation for Bishops and mostly glowing coverage of the pope’s apparent comfort with public breastfeeding—a development meriting both an email blast from my parish priest and a dotCommonweal post from Mollie Wilson O’Reilly. (Then there are posts like the one you’re reading, which in covering the coverage add to the flow without necessarily getting any closer to its subject.)

James Carroll’s feature on Francis in the current New Yorker (its tagline “a radical pope’s first year” blurring the fact that it’s really only been about nine months) is both an example and a partial examination of the phenomenon. (It’s currently sitting atop the most popular list at the magazine’s website.)  Carroll covers some by-now familiar ground (the interviews and off-the-cuff remarks of last summer; Jorge Bergoglio’s actions during Argentina’s dirty war) and wanders down some thoroughly trod paths in an obligatory-feeling section on the sexual abuse scandal. But Carroll also gives proper due to the resonant field-hospital metaphor from the Spadaro interview, and he introduces a new (to me) detail from the Bergoglio biography about his “extraordinary” boss at a Buenos Aires laboratory, a “great woman” to whom Francis has said he owes “a huge amount” and who for helping victims of the junta was later dropped from a helicopter into the sea. “I loved her very much,” Francis is quoted as saying. And through an interview with former president of Ireland Mary McAleese—whom some have said Francis is considering for appointment to the College of Cardinals—Carroll gets, if briefly, into “the prospects for women under the new Pope” and curial reform.

If all of this makes the story seem a typically wide-ranging magazine feature intended for a general readership – well, it is. But then there’s the fact that it appears at all. Why, Carroll asks, has

the response to the Pope been so outsized? Catholic enthusiasm is understandable, but the globe’s? … The press is obsessed with him… . Francis is clearly a world figure, but a figure of what? Does Francis’s explicitly Christian message of a loving, merciful God survive, even in the secular age, as an inchoate symbol of the human being longing for transcendence?

The questions aren’t explicitly answered, of course, but a personal anecdote in the first part of Carroll’s long story, about a memorable audience with Pope John XXIII, is suggestive: “Lately,” Carroll writes, “the fact that I once sought transcendence in the presence of a Pope has stopped seeming naïve.”

You can read Carroll’s full article here; you can hear him talk about it on NPR’s Fresh Air here. And to bring this item full circle: Does the New Yorker cover depicting a (cartoon) Francis making a snow angel say anything more about the media response?  

On the homepage: Minimal wages; Kaveny on ACLU & bishops

Two new items featured on the homepage today. First, the editors on working for less than a living wage:

Contrary to popular misconceptions nourished by some in the media, most of the low-wage workers who would benefit from a higher minimum wage are not teenagers earning a little pocket money and learning some basic job skills. More than 90 percent of them are adults and almost a third are parents. The federal government spends around $7 billion a year on public assistance just for the families of fast-food workers. If conservative lawmakers are serious about streamlining entitlement programs and promoting self-reliance, they should be lining up behind proposals to raise the minimum wage.

So why aren’t they? It isn’t for lack of public support. A large majority of voters from both parties are in favor of raising the minimum wage. Whatever their opinions about welfare, most Americans agree with Adam Smith that those who work for a living should actually make one. Opponents of a higher minimum wage say it will only hurt the poor by reducing the number of jobs: when labor costs are higher, they warn, employers will hire fewer workers. This argument has a certain intuitive force, but several recent studies suggest that modest minimum-wage increases have no significant effect on employment levels. Lobbyists for retailers and fast-food restaurants also argue that higher wages will drive up business costs, which will be passed along to consumers as higher prices. But research suggests that a $10.10 minimum wage would add only a few pennies to the price of a hamburger. The lobbyists don’t mention that the big corporations they represent could also absorb some of the higher labor costs by accepting lower profit margins.

Read the whole thing here.

Also, Cathleen Kaveny looks deeper into the ACLU's complaint against the USCCB in the case of Tamesha Means, who allegedly received medically negligent treatment in the course of her pregnancy and miscarriage at a Catholic health facility:

The alleged negligent act: promulgating the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

According to the complaint, the USCCB is responsible because it “directed the course of care Plaintiff received.” ... According to the plaintiff, Directive 27 does not require Catholic hospitals to disclose the option of a “previability pregnancy termination,” because (she claims) the church does not see it as morally legitimate. The plaintiff also blames Directive 45, which prohibits abortion. That directive reads: “Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo.” The plaintiff contends that Directive 45 prevented [the hospital] from either completing the miscarriage or referring her to a place that would do so.

But has Means identified the right defendants? Contrary to popular belief, the USCCB does not have the power to tell individual bishops—or Catholic health-care systems—what to do and what not to do.

Read the whole thing here.

Archbishop Nienstedt steps aside after sexual-misconduct allegation.

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has stepped aside after it was alleged that he inappropriately touched a minor on the rear end during a group-photo shoot in 2009. In a letter to Twin Cities Catholics, the archbishop denies the allegation. "I do not know the individual involved," he wrote. "He has not been made known to me. I presume he is sincere in believing what he claims, but I must say that this allegation is absolutely and entirely false." After consulting with the papal nuncio, Nienstedt decided to voluntarily relinquished his public duties until an investigation is complete (Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché will take over).

"Upon learning of the allegation last week, the archdiocese instructed the mandated reporter to make the matter known to the police," according to a diocesan statement. The archdiocese promises to cooperate with civil authorities. Nienstedt's decision to withdraw from public ministry, the statement claims, demonstrates "the archdiocese’s commitment to disclosure. These steps further confirm that all within the archdiocese will be subject to the internal policies we have established."

For months the archdiocese has been buffeted by a seres of damning revelations about the way Nienstedt and his predecessors have handled abuse allegations. News of this allegation comes just as Nienstedt has started working to restore his people's trust (more on that later). But even if the allegation seems difficult to believe--no one else noticed a bishop touching a kid's buttocks during a post-confirmation group photo?--it won't help his cause.

Pope Francis remakes bishop-naming team in new image.

This morning the Vatican announced the revised membership of the influential Congregation for Bishops--that would be the body that recommends the men who run Catholic dioceses around the world. Pope Francis confirmed Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the congregation, but he removed ultraconservative Cardinal Raymond Burke--he of the substantial vestment--and Cardinal Justin Rigali, long known as a bishopmaker in the U.S. church. The pope added Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., as well as Cardinal João Braz de Aviz--a semi-papabile who has said that the crackdown on U.S. women religious caused him "much pain."

This is a big deal. And if the Vatican ever figures out how to create stable web links, I'll happily drop one into this post. Till then, here's the full announcement:

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Peter Steinfels responds to George McKenna

Over at Human Life Review, Peter Steinfels has a response to George McKenna's critique of Peter's June 2013 Commonweal article "Beyond the Stalemate." (You'll remember that in October, Commonweal editor Paul Baumann weighed in on McKenna's piece on our blog.) Here is an excerpt from Peter's response: 

It does not matter that McKenna’s critique contains a number of nasty barbs aimed at me and my religious views. What matters is that, while I strongly doubt that Human Life Review readers (or for that matter Commonweal readers) would completely agree with “Beyond the Stalemate” in undistorted form, an open-minded and accurate reading might at least provoke constructive thought. But that would require a return to the central concerns and argument of my article rather than what “successive readings” convinced McKenna I was really up to.

And what was that? My “underlying point,” he claimed, is to propose a “grand bargain” between the species of liberal Catholics he labels Commonweal Catholics and their “pro-choice brethren on the left.” And what were the terms of this “grand bargain,” in McKenna’s view? “We will eschew any more public rhetoric about a ‘moment of conception’—if you will just agree with us that at some point in the pregnancy the occupant of the womb can be called human and thus entitled to the same legal protections we give to the already-born.”

All very interesting. And completely false.

You can read Peter's response in its entirety here.

Is Catholicism compatible with libertarianism?

It's hard to believe that question is still being debated, isn't it? For over 100 years, the definitive answer is No. Pope after pope after pope, right up to Benedict XVI, has explained this in the most magisterial ways.

But perhaps it has taken Pope Francis's singular history, style, and gift for communication to break through the noise of American-style capitalism. Or perhaps the underbelly of globalization has finally come to light, through a combination of the explosion of financial capital, the worldwide recession, and the opportunities afforded by the Information Age for learning about the distant effects of almost-unregulated markets.

Whatever the reason, Pope Francis is getting through. He is obviously not a Marxist or socialist. But he is leveling strong critiques of the current state of global capitalism -- as it is actually being employed.  And to my mind, one of the best interpreters of his message (especially for those reading from the right-wing) has been Michael Gerson.

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New issue, new stories

We’ve just posted the latest issue to the homepage, and here are some of the highlights:

  • J. Peter Nixon writes there’s still reason to be optimistic about Obamacare – but that “to understand why, it helps to know a few details about the law.”
  • David Cloutier writes on how luxury compromises Christian witness: “If many Catholics are more willing to admire someone like Dorothy Day than to follow her example, that is also partly because many of us have adapted to our country’s consumer culture—a culture in which affluence is morally innocent or even commendable.”
  • John Garvey on the importance of vows – and “the difference vows can make in a culture where many expect them to be broken” [subscription].

See the full table of contents for the December 20 issue right here.

Also featured today, E. J. Dionne Jr. on the return of the working-class hero: “For the first time in a long time, working people are making their way back into the news.” Read the whole column here

Weekend reading: David Schickler

Now on the website: Jerome Kramer reviews David Schickler's memoir The Dark Path, and interviews the author. From the review (which you can read in full here):

In a few strokes, Schickler [sets] up the twin impulses that propel his provocative and ambitious book. He loves girls to the point of distraction, is fascinated by them, moved by them, pulled to them, wants to marry and sleep with them; he is also drawn to Catholicism and specifically, he thinks, to its priesthood—which is, problematically, celibate. So what’s a passionate young man to do?

And something from Schickler himself, in the interview (read it all here):

Honestly, if I hadn’t been raised Catholic, or raised religious, and I heard the kind of bubbly-safe stuff that some religious people say, I would dismiss it. I would think: This is silly. I mean, I do believe in a leap of faith—at some point reason is only going to get you so far—but reason brought me to my faith, as opposed to crushing it like a bug. But my point is, I recoil from safey-safe, kid-glove approaches to talking. Christ wasn’t like that.

Special feature: Bernardin’s consistent ethic of life, thirty years later

Thirty years ago Friday, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin came to Fordham University to deliver a follow-up lecture on the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace” [.pdf], a presentation in which he introduced his formulation for a consistent ethic of life [.pdf]. 

I was a freshman at Fordham in December 1983; dealing for the first time with end-of-term papers and final exams, I did not attend the lecture. But it was big news on campus (and off), its key passages highlighted in the official student paper and discussed in my theology, philosophy, and political science courses in the semesters to come. To an eighteen-year-old recently compelled by the 1980 proclamation from President Carter to register for the draft, and made further anxious (like many of my classmates) by the belligerence of the Reagan administration’s nuclear-weapons rhetoric—limned with references to scripture—Bernardin’s wedding of issues made sudden, stunning sense. A pro-life position consisted of more than focusing singularly on abortion; it also meant opposing what he called “the moral and political futility of nuclear war” and directing states “against the exercise” of capital punishment. A formulation like “consistent ethic of life” provided shape for inchoate railings against what I was beginning to think of as the injustices of the day, coming along in time for the moral and political awakening common to first-year students. I still remember the weather (pouring Bronx rain) and how my mother drove the seventy miles from New Jersey to hear Bernardin in person, a basket of all my younger brothers’ laundry in the back seat because the washing machine had broken down and she needed to stop at a Laundromat on the way home.

That’s my personal reflection, in service of directing you to a more thorough and informed discussion over on our website. To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Bernardin’s lecture, we’ve asked four contributors to reassess his idea for a consistent ethic of life and to comment on its influence and its relevance today. Lisa Fullam, David Cloutier, Robert P. Imbelli, and Cathleen Kaveny are the participants in the discussion, “Consistent Ethic of Life, Thirty Years Later,” which you can find here. Once you’ve read it, come back to this post to share your comments.