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Moral Voices from The East

On Monday afternoon we finished, here in Bangalore, our first ever Pan-Asian Conference of Theological Ethicists: “Doing Catholic Theological Ethics in a Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Asian Context.”  There were 95 ethicists, among whom were 14 plenary speakers and another 36 presenting paper during concurrent sessions.

One of the finest plenary sessions, “Doing Interfaith Ethics in Asia” involved three speakers from countries where Catholics are very much a minority. Delivering a flawless paper, “A God by any other name,” Sharon Bong covered the trajectory of lawsuits filed by the Catholic church in Malaysia against its government’s decision to permit only Muslims to use the word “Allah” in referencing God. For twenty centuries, Malay-speaking Christian Malaysians have used “Allah” as their word for God, easily predating the Muslim use of the word. In 2008, the Catholic press was banned from using the word, or else it would forfeit licensing. With a final court decision ultimately upholding the government ban, Bong entertained whether forgiveness or resistance marks the proper ethical response.

Haruko Okano from Japan proposed an argument on how feminist Catholic writings on “moral responsibility” could help contemporary Japanese ethics. Explaining how much a shaming culture inhibits any autonomous accountability, Okano considered how often a Japanese apology is a face-saving action that has little to do with assuming personal or social moral culpability. When asked what was the meaning of the Japanese apology for World War II, she answered that it was a way of simply saying, let bygones be bygones, a reply that left the audience speechless.

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Talk about wasting your money!

AIPAC, Sheldon Adelson, and some other members of the U.S. Jewish establishment have announced their intention to spend millions (maybe billions!) to defeat the Iran nuclear deal.

And Yet...the dependable J.J. Goldberg of The Forward tells us that much of the Israeli military and intelligence establishment thinks Israel should support its passage. Instead of being obstructionists, they argue, Israel should work with the Obama Administration to insure its implementation. What a great idea!

P.S. Saudi Arabia appears to be on board with the agreement.

Elsewhere

From the London Review of Books, an excellent piece by Tariq Ali about the current situation in Greece. He begins by comparing the Syriza government's capitulation to E.U. demands with the U.S.-backed military coup in 1967:

The date 12 July 2015, when Tsipras agreed to the EU’s terms, will become as infamous as 21 April 1967. The tanks have been replaced by banks, as Varoufakis put it after he was made finance minister.

Greece, in fact, has a lot of tanks, because the German and French arms industries, eager to get rid of surplus hardware in a world where wars are fought by bombers and drones, bribed the politicians. During the first decade of this century Greece was among the top five importers of weapons, mainly from the German companies Ferrostaal, Rheinmetall and Daimler-Benz. In 2009, the year after the crash, Greece spent €8 billion—3.5 per cent of GDP—on defence. The then Greek defence minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who accepted huge bribes from these companies, was convicted of corruption by a Greek court in 2013. Prison for the Greek; small fines for the German bosses. None of this has been mentioned by the financial press in recent weeks. It didn’t quite tally with the need to portray Greece as the sole transgressor. Yet a Greek court has been provided with conclusive evidence that the largest tax avoider in the country is Hochtief, the giant German construction company that runs Athens airport. It has not paid VAT for twenty years, and owes 500 million euros in VAT arrears alone. Nor has it paid the contributions due to social security. Estimates suggest that Hochtief’s total debt to the exchequer could top one billion euros.

From the New York Times, Carl Cederstrom on the "dangers of happiness":

When happiness is recast as an individual choice, attitude becomes everything and circumstances are made irrelevant. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, has worked hard to spread this message, referring to studies that suggest that victims of car crashes are, on the whole, neither less nor more unhappy than lottery winners.

Even if we find such insights interesting or inspiring, they do not form a particularly helpful basis when we seek to make happiness the goal of politics. If we may all be equally happy, irrespective of our circumstances, then that would equip politicians like [Jeb] Bush with a convenient excuse to stop looking at structural issues like class, social and economic inequality or poverty.

It is tempting to see the Conservative British prime minister David Cameron’s sudden interest in happiness in this light. When he decided a few years ago to initiate a so-called happiness index, he did so at the height of austerity, when public spending was being cut, and the “circumstances” were made worse for many people, especially those on benefits. As it happens, this survey was inspired by Mr. Seligman, producing an echo of the “circumstances make no difference” mantra.

What's the problem? UPDATE

July 26 Update: Douthat is on the case.

Today's (July 21) NYTimes has a sort-of interview with the man who made the "fetal parts available" video. "Sort- of" because as David Daleiden says, "I don't think I'm the story." Distributing organs from aborted fetuses in a non-profit way seems to be legal as Planned Parenthood claims. So I suppose the view of the media is that this isn't about Planned Parenthood, but about Daleiden: "What's his problem."

Daleiden has posted a second video and promises more. He has strategically released these to churn the Republican presidential race. At the moment, the Democrats are saying that Planned Parenthood is doing a good job of defending itself (they don't need our help!).... We'll see how that goes.

If Planned Parenthood's charging for processing, handling, and postage is not illegal (I don't actually know that), than what about the moral status of this practice?

1. Giving the woman having the abortion the right to informed consent to this practice seems wobbly. She doesn't want the baby. What claims does she have in distributing its parts?

2. Who actually buys the parts. Daleiden, in order to give his inquiries legitimacy, set up a dummy corporation that appears to do research but doesn't. Does Planned Parenthood (or others) practice due dilligence in distributing the organs. Who do they actually distribute them to? Is there a list?

3. Is the research done on these organs being done ethically? There are established federal regulations about the use of fetuses and/or their organs in medical and scientific research. Are these being observed?

4. I'm sure you can think of more!

Daleiden has an interesting bio included in the interview.

Sr. Mary Scullion Writes on the Firing of Margie Winters

dotCommonweal reader Jack Marth and members of the Waldron Mercy Academy parent community have highlighted a column in support of the school’s former religious instruction director Margie Winters, whose dismissal I wrote about last week. One of the co-authors of the piece is Mary Scullion—a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy and co-founder and executive director of Project H.O.M.E., an organization devoted to ending homelessness in Philadelphia. Scullion is well known both inside and outside the city, having received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 2011 and being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009. Joan McCannon—co-founder of Project H.O.M.E., fellow recipient of a Laetare Medal, and parent of a Waldron graduate—also lent her byline, as did philanthropist James J. Maguire, president of the Maguire Foundation. Scullion’s input on the firing comes as a welcome development to the parents I’ve been in touch with, many of whom had been hoping for her to comment.

From the column, which appeared yesterday on Philly.com:

The recent controversy at Waldron Mercy Academy brings to light that we are at a critical moment for the Catholic Church, and for all persons of faith and conscience in this country. It is a moment rife with pain and struggle, but also hope. ...

[W]e believe that the Church’s truest integrity is at risk when it emphasizes orthodoxy and doctrine without meaningful engagement with human and historic realities. We love the Church: We draw deeply from its rich traditions of spirituality, compassion, service, and justice. But we also recognize (and need to take responsibility for) our many historic blind spots—persecution of heretics, oppression of indigenous peoples in the name of “mission,” and second-class status for women.

While it is painful for us to have to publicly dissent, we are convinced that this is a moment when insistence on doctrinal adherence is clashing with what we believe the Spirit is unfolding in our history—just as it has in the past, with issues like slavery, the rights of women, and the environment. Many Christian denominations have listened to the movement of the Spirit and moved toward both full inclusion and full embrace of the gifts of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers.

The Church is at its best when it listens to the Spirit speaking in our times and through human experiences. As we listen, we hear the Spirit speaking through the testimony of hundreds of parents and former students, who affirm that Margie has been a marvelous teacher and influence. She has been a gift to the Church, nurturing the faith and morals of countless young people, fostering a spirit of mercy, compassion, and justice.We believe the controversy surrounding Margie Winters is the Spirit inviting us to reflect on Church doctrine that upholds the dignity of every person. ...

As we work through the pain and conflict, as we listen to each other, as we struggle to make sense of the power of tradition and the challenge of newness, we believe this can be a moment of hope and grace.

Mayors Gather at Vatican to Urge Climate Pact

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called it "an extraordinarily effective act" -- the Vatican's move to draw together 60 mayors from around the world to sign a statement today that "human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity." 

Of course, it's easy to be skeptical of the value of high-minded but non-binding statements like this one. But on a number of counts, it seems to be a very smart form of political engagement.

First of all, it's meant that Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' is playing on the evening news once again in 60 cities, and then some. Second is that the national leaders who've been slow to respond to global warming are being circumvented with a pitch to big-city mayors , who have to deal up close with poverty and the extremes of weather that may be caused by climate change. And, depending on the country and region, the mayors do have local authority in such areas as transportation, local real estate development, taxes and so forth. The mayors can push their national governments to do more--and they gain some political cover by being able to portray themselves as carrying out the mission of  a popular pope. De Blasio, who is not affiliated with any religion, described Francis in his speech at the conference as "the highest moral authority." 

It's worth noting, as the Guardian did, that all of the U.S. mayors who participated--they included Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis; Ed Murray of Seattle; Edwin Lee from San Francisco; Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans and Boston's  Martin Walsh--were Democrats. "While some Republican mayors were invited to attend the function, a person familiar with the organisation of the conference said that none accepted," the Guardian reported.

Whether Francis's visit to the U.S. in September can help to encourage a consensus remains to be seen.

Kasich Enters the Race, Which Makes... How Many?

There are about 470 days left until the 2016 presidential election, almost as many as the number of candidates there are for the Republican nomination, a group that grows one larger today with the entrance of Ohio governor John Kasich. For a primer on Kasich--whose nickname in childhood was "Pope" and who once considered the priesthood--you could do worse than read E. J. Dionne Jr.'s latest column, which we're featuring here. He assesses Kasich mainly in contrast to another midwestern governor, Wisconsin's Scott Walker, contending that the former deserves a fuller hearing given, among other things, his support for the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion in his state--a case he made on moral grounds, "arguing that at heaven’s door, St. Peter is 'probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.'” Kasich, too, though undeniably a conservative, sensibly "recalibrated" after Ohio voters rejected his bid to end collective bargaining for public union employees, then reached out to "his previous enemies" so successfully he won the endorsement of the Carpenters' Union last year.
 
Just where this sensible approach will help him wedge into the clown car is questionable, especially with the manspreading Donald Trump taking up more than his fair share of space. Trump is at the top of the most recent polls at 24 percent, double the support of the second-place Jeb Bush, although most of the survey was taken before his comments denigrating Sen. John McCain's war record and imprisonment, and now the DesMoines Register has called for him to drop out. But Rush Limbaugh says Trump can survive it. Voters, he told his listeners Monday, "have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down and tell everybody to go to hell ... Trump is not following the rules that targets are supposed to follow. Targets are supposed to immediately grovel, apologize." It's hard to think that there are American voters who are so disaffected that Limbaugh will prove right.
 
Donald Trump.... Is there another public figure aside from maybe Al Sharpton who has so conclusively disproved the adage that if you ignore something long enough it will go away? Nearly thirty years ago, in my first job out of college, my colleagues and I were already following his skewering by the old satirical magazine Spy--which unfailingly referred to him, at every mention, as "short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump." I'll risk speaking on behalf of New Yorkers in saying we've been especially oppressed by his presence these many decades since.
 
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Summer Reading

Maybe no scene from a television series speaks so perfectly to my life as this one from season two of Gilmore Girls:

Like Rory, I spend far too much time debating which books I should bring with me when I leave the house. And like Rory, I always decide that loading up is the safer option than winnowing down. Just last week, I went to the doctor’s office and, before leaving my apartment, convinced myself that I needed to bring a book of poetry (Marie Ponsot’s Springing), a work of nonfiction (Clifford Thompson’s Twin of Blackness), and a novel (Octavia Butler’s Dawn). Rationally, I know that this kind of overpacking is unnecessary, even neurotic; emotionally, I’m panicked if I’m not carrying a library with me.

(For the record, I didn’t end up reading any of the above books in my five minutes in the waiting room. I found another novel, Adam Thirlwell’s Lurid & Cute, in the car and read that instead.)

This tendency to overpack causes a real problem when I go away for vacation. If I need three books for a trip to the doctor, how many do I need for a week away from home? In the hopes of helping out others out who suffer from this very particular literary problem, I’ll list five books that I’ve read so far this year that would be worth the precious space in your suitcase:

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What's in a Name?

David Brooks wrote recently in the Times about what he calls “The Robert E. Lee Problem.” The column assesses the implications of scrubbing symbols of the Confederacy from the South and elsewhere. By now the Confederate battle flag has come down from the South Carolina statehouse and elsewhere (I’m fascinated by the tipping-point dynamics of this move -- once Walmart gets on board, you know the thing is irreversible). But what about other symbols and figures that may bear a similarly odious taint?

Among the historical figures dear to the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee is paramount – and the map of the South is dotted with sites bearing his name. Brooks notes that Lee was, in his private life, a man of rectitude, intelligence and charm. Yet he joined the slave-owning insurgency, betrayed his oath of duty as an officer, owned nearly 200 slaves himself, and led the forces of a rebellion that triggered the deaths of 750,000 Americans. Should he come down, along with the Stars and Bars?

Brooks says yes. “Every generation has a duty to root out the stubborn weed of prejudice from the culture,” he writes. “We do that, in part, through expressions of admiration and disdain.” He goes on to recommend removing Lee’s name from “most schools, roads and other institutions.”

I lived for years in Germany, among places and institutions dedicated to opponents and victims of the Nazis – all those Bonhoeffer Platzes and Sophie-Schollstrassen, streets and schools named for the rejected and reviled, the murdered and the martyred. There were no Himmler Parks to be found anywhere. Nor would anyone expect there to be. When a country is vanquished, or a despised ruling power toppled, the transitions of memorialization are simple: the statues come down. In a civil war, the challenge can be more complicated – especially one, like ours, in which a high premium was placed on national political reconciliation, and certain core conflicts and resentments were never worked out. 

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What is "I Refuse"?

The fiction of the Norwegian writer, Per Petterson, particularly his Out Stealing Horses, published almost a decade ago, has received general critical acclaim. Character, setting, mood and landscape open up a world familiar and strange. When I read him, I find a singular point of view, a consciousness shaped in a world in extremis – and all the more dramatically powerful for that.

The phrase, “I refuse” occurs three times by my count in Petterson’s new novel of the same name. It is spoken as an encouraging assertion of life over death – as in “I refuse to die.” So Tommy, one of the chief characters, to his mortally sick, adoptive father Jonsen – who dies soon after.  It is also a denial of family or marital obligation. Tommy refuses to bear responsibility for his aged, abusive, real father; and a waitress, Berit, refuses to wear her wedding ring, despite her husband’s demands, to free herself for an assignation with Tommy. Refusing becomes a form of independence, an assertion of the self, against the constraints of family ties, vows, or the menace of death. In their contexts, the refusals seem desperate, and ultimately unfulfilling. The sources or motivation for the decisions “to refuse” lie unexplored, rather stated as facts.  The Norwegian world of Per Petterson is not simply physically chilling, but deeply emotionally so.

This is a complex and teasing narrative, built around sharp disjunctures in time sequence and narrative voice. First person accounts by the two principals, Tommy and Jim, extremely close boyhood friends, reveal their chance meeting at the very beginning of the novel.  They have not seen each other for over thirty-five years. There are third person accounts of the events that caused the break in their friendship and reveal how Tommy’s mother disappeared and how he came to be raised by Jonsen. Siri, Tommy’s sister, recounts her brief romance with Jim, and his painful, inexplicable rejection of her.

The plot, if plot there is, takes its energy from the first, chance meeting, and through time shifts, alternation of voices, works its way to the frustration of any future meeting, and suggests the major theme of the novel – the isolation of each of us, and the corresponding inability to know the other person. Deeper still, Jim, whose adolescent ability in school, and his blond good looks, appear to set him apart and give him the advantage over his rough and unpredictable friend Tommy, suffers deep emotional depression, and scarcely survives a suicide attempt.

One typical Petterson scene points both to the inscrutability of motive and the lingering effects of guilt.

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Calvarium

In Pope Francis's carefully constructed encyclical, Laudato si', chapter three is entitled "The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis." In it the pope seeks to go beyond the symptoms of the crisis, graphically depicted in chapter one, to its deeper causes. Foremost among these he singles out the dominance of the "technological paradigm" that shapes and distorts actions and perceptions. "This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. ..... It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation." (#106)
 
Francis counters this "anthropology" of the detached and dominating subject, with a vision of the radical interconnectedness of reality, especially human reality. And he is not reluctant to draw out the implications of that vision. "Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?" (#120)
 
He goes on to lament the tendency "to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development." (#136)
 
In today's Washington Post Michael Gerson comments on the "sting video" that caught the medical director of Planned Parenthood speaking about the extraction of body parts from aborted fetuses. She says:
We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part. I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium, in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex. . . . So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there’s dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last step, you can evacuate an intact calvarium at the end.”
"Control over an external object," "something formless, completely open to manipulation." Calvarium indeed.

The Future of Heythrop College

I was in London last week and all the Catholic talk was of the impending closure of Heythrop College, the Jesuit school of philosophy and theology that has been a constituent component of the University of London since 1970 and that has existed in some form or other for exactly 400 years. Evidently this is a decision that the British Province of the Society of Jesus took only reluctantly and a significanbt blow to lay theological education in the United Kingdom. But why and how it came to this is, if not exactly shrouded in mystery, quite hard for an outsider to determine.

The venerable London Tablet had no doubt that the problem was caused by the Jesuits' unwillingness to part with more of their legendary cash. In what seemed like a foray into the worst kind of tabloid journalisn, The Tablet asked on its front page if the Jesuits were "bailing out" of Britain, listing several other Jersuit institutions that had been closed or transferred in recent years. The body of the article explained the failure of merger talks between Heythrop and St. Mary's University iin Twickenham, west of London, a less prestigious but more comprehensive institution, as Jesuit reluctance to part with even more of their wealth than they had already poured into keeping Heythrop afloat in recent years. Quoting a figure of about $800 million of investments and a campus in upscale Kensington worth at least $350 million, the implication was that the Jesuits were being incredibly ungenerous. 

The disturbingly one-sided Tablet account needs to be questioned, though this is made more difficult by the tight-lipped silence on the Jesuit side. In the first place, the demise of Heythrop is a result of the failure of talks with St. Mary's, but there were two sides to these conversations. Both sides wanted a continuing Jesuit presence and probably the Heythrop name. But no one seems to be saying what it was that St Mary's wanted that Heythrop wouldn't or couldn't supply. Did St. Mary's have its eye on the valuable Kensington campus, which is owned by the Society and leased to Heythrop? That would surely raise the profile of St. Mary's, but to what purposes would it be put, and who would pay the rent? And what was the cash price that St. Mary's was asking in order to cement the agreement? The Tablet was quiet on all this, but the question remains: while it is clear that St. Mary's would benefit significantly from the deal, it is not all clear what the Jesuits stood to gain. The Tablet blamed the Jesuits. A more responsible article might have questioned whether St. Mary's didn't overreach itself, wasn't even being just a little bit greedy, and so contributed to what all must agree is a tragic loss to British theological education. It seems that the Jesuits intend to find a way to continue educating candidates for the priesthood, but no more laypeople. The responsibility for this deplorable development cannot be laid, as The Tablet seems to wish to do, entirely upon the Society of Jesus which, as far as I can tell, has no plans to abandon the United Kingdom.

[Full disclosure: I received a Licentiate in Philosophy from Heythrop Pontifical Athenaeum, the immediately previous incarnation of Heythrop College in London, and a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Heythrop College of the University of London.]

July 17, Bangalore: The Opening of the First Ever Pan Asian Conference of Catholic Theological Ethicists

Later today we open, here at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, a conference with a lot of intentionality, Doing Catholic Theological Ethics in a Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Asian Context.

Last night, as a group of us were returning from dinner, we walked into a young Filipina ethicist, Anthonette Mendoza, who flew 12 hours from her university, Louvain, to get here.  Another, Kristin Heyer, one of the leaders of our Planning Committee, had just flown from California to Dallas to Boston to Frankfurt to Bangalore to get here.  As we were returning to the university Guest house where 45 of the 90 guests are staying, we ran into Vimal Tirimanna who had just flown in from Sri Lanka and Bernhard Kieser from Indonesia.

This conference is the brain child of Lúcás Chan, the Jesuit ethicist from Hong Kong who met Shaji George Kochuthara the Indian Carmelite ethicist at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, three years ago.  The two began planning immediately.  They recruited Agnes Brazal from the Philippines, Sharon Bong from Malaysia, and Robert Gascoigne from Australia.  With them they developed a network of consultation and collaboration.

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Fr. Cyprian Davis, RIP

This is, by now, old news, but I don't think we've had a chance to discuss it yet here at dotCommonweal. Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB, a monk of St. Meinrad archabbey in Indiana, died on May 18 at the age of 84. His 1990 book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States is one of a handful (no matter how small your handful may be) of essential historical works about the American Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church was African before it was European.  What became the US Catholic Church was Black and Spanish-speaking for nearly a century before the first English-speaking Catholics arrived.  Black Catholics were (and are), of necessity, a largely lay-lead community, often appealing (successfully) to Rome for support when they were confronted by racist behavior from local bishops, priests and seminary rectors.  Recovering and retelling all that history---and more---was at the heart of Fr. Davis' work.

In his preface to The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Fr. Davis wrote, "(T)oo often the presence of black Catholics through the centuries has been a muted one, a silent witness, an unspoken testimony.  It is the historian's task to make the past speak, to highlight what has been hidden, and to retrieve a mislaid memory."

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Prophecy and Prose

Pope Francis’ recent speech in Bolivia has rekindled the debate over Pope Francis’ views on economics and inequality.  Francis’ defenders have argued that the pope is merely offering a robust presentation of Catholic social teaching.  His more fevered critics see him as a herald of a resurgent Marxism.

The frustrating thing about this debate is that it usually operates at a level of abstraction, as if the choices facing policymakers really did boil down to a choice between capitalism and, well, something else.  To a great extent, this reflects the penchant of American conservatives branding even modest efforts to redress economic inequality as “socialism.”

As fond as I am of Francis, however, I think the pope also bears some responsibility for this.  Phrases like an “economy that kills” and “an economy of exclusion” remind me of John Paul II’s “culture of death” and Benedict XVI’s “culture of relativism.”  In none of these cases do I find the phrases adequately descriptive of the phenomenon in question or analytically helpful in developing remedies.

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The Future of Catholicism in the U.S.

This week the folks over at Patheos are hosting a "summer symposium" on the Future of Catholicism in the United States.  A few are past and present Comonweal contributors including Eve Tushnet, Michael Novak (okay, admittedly that was a while ago) and this rather obscure fellow from Northern California.  Somthing to tide you over until the next issue of Commonweal, perhaps?

Pope Francis and Archbishop Hughes on Capitalism

Pope Francis’s rhetorical attack on the excesses of capitalism, a prominent feature of his recent Latin American trip, is troubling to many Catholic conservatives and others in the United States. 

In particular, he declared: “An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the `dung of the devil.' The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth.”

This led Patrick Buchanan to ask: “Why not leave the socialist sermons to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?” 

But  Francis’s talk reminded me not of leftwing political speeches but of an address delivered by the very icon of conservatism in the American Catholic Church: Archbishop John Hughes.   It is called “A Lecture on the Antecedent Causes of the Irish Famine in 1847” -- an important historical document.

Long before Pope Leo XIII started the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching with his 1891 encyclical and a year ahead of the publication of “The Communist Manifesto,” Hughes criticized the excesses of capitalism as it existed in his time. Much as Francis looks at the world from the perspective of the Latin American poor, Hughes saw it from the point of view of the Irish at the height of the Great Famine.

“The newspapers tell us that this calamity has been produced by the failure of the potato crop; but this ought not to be a sufficient cause,” he said. Instead, he pointed to three larger causes: historical inequities resulting from the British conquest of Ireland; bad government; and “a defective or vicious system of social economy.”

Hughes condemned colonialism, just as Francis now assails “the new colonialism,” declaring, “The invaders regarded the natives as illegal occupiers of the soil -- as barbarians, who stood between them and the peaceable possession of their property.” 

Of the economic system, Hughes explained: “By social economy I mean that effort of society, organized into a sovereign state, to accomplish the welfare of all its members. The welfare of its members is the end of its existence - - `Salus populi, suprema lex.’” Hughes decried “the free system--the system of competition,--the system of making the wants of mankind a regulator for their supplies.” He continued:

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Key Changes

I found myself wincing at a recent article in the Times, titled “The Slow Extinction of Keys in a Digital World,” reporting on the dwindling use of traditional car keys and their replacement by various digital devices. The article describes the efforts of Tesla, BMW and other upscale car manufacturers to develop iPhone apps that let you unlock the car, start the engine, turn up the AC, and so on.

And I think, no, not keys!

I’ve often noted this instinct in myself, and a corresponding paradox: liberal in my political views, I’m temperamentally conservative in my approach to daily life. (Turns out it’s a fairly common paradox, and vice versa as well.) Put bluntly, I can’t stand change. All too often, my secret plea to the world boils down to a high-school yearbook banality: Don’t change! Stay as you are!

And change, of course, is life.

At least regarding technology, this aversion to change is clearly tied to aging. Anxiety about functioning in a world ever full of new gadgetry is a hallmark of middle age, especially in a youth-glorifying and technologically dynamic culture like ours. I recall my astonishment, twenty-five years ago, when my father – who was sixty at the time -- mentioned that he didn’t use ATMs. I asked why not.

“I don’t know how they work,” he said, sheepishly.

I was incredulous. “Dad, you’re a brain surgeon!” And took him to the nearest ATM and showed him how to use it.

But there’s also your sense of yourself in your world, in your life, and how you engage it, not so much functionally as existentially. The temperamental conservative wants the world to stay as it is – even, or perhaps especially, in the trivial, physical furnishings and realities that make up the dailiness of one’s life. Brand names and packaging, who’s on the ten dollar bill, state license plates, the musical theme introducing the nightly news, and on and on. Stay as you are!

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Fighting a Firing in Philadelphia

The first tuition payment for the 2015-2016 school year at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia is due Wednesday. How many families will choose to meet this deadline, however, is unclear. A number in this tight-knit community of parents plan to withhold payment to protest the recent firing of long-time religious education director Margie Winters.

Winters’s dismissal shares some similarities with the firings of staff and teachers from Catholic schools around the country in recent years: personal details (in this case, a same-sex marriage) come to light; a disapproving parent lodges a complaint; a beloved figure is relieved of duties; students and parents rally in support. While such movements may lose steam in the face of long odds against reinstatement, the parent community of Waldron thinks it can keep the pressure up through the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia so that it will still be an issue when Pope Francis visits in September. And an open letter to Francis from Winters’s wife, Andrea Vettori, that is now being shared across social media and news outlets is providing further energy. “Waldron is a community that acts when there is a crisis,” said Diana Moro, who is in charge of the Facebook page StandWithMargie, which has garnered more than 10,000 likes in just over a week.

How realistic are their hopes?

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Can President Obama convince Tom Friedman

Today's New York Times is full of news and analysis about the P5+1 agreement with Iran. Much of the coverage quotes critics of the agreement (or so it seemed to me). That's what makes Tom Friedman's interview with President Obama a breath of fresh air. Friedman on this issue has been critical with a somewhat open mind. He appears to remain so, but in this interview, he gives the president a chance to defend the agreement.

Obama begins with what the agreements does not do: “We are not measuring this deal by whether it is changing the regime inside of Iran,” said the president. “We’re not measuring this deal by whether we are solving every problem that can be traced back to Iran, whether we are eliminating all their nefarious activities around the globe. We are measuring this deal—and that was the original premise of this conversation, including by Prime Minister Netanyahu—Iran could not get a nuclear weapon. That was always the discussion."

And what it can do: "And what I’m going to be able to say, and I think we will be able to prove, is that this by a wide margin is the most definitive path by which Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, and we will be able to achieve that with the full cooperation of the world community and without having to engage in another war in the Middle East.”

It is always possible that the agreement will fall apart, espcially if the U.S. Congress overcomes the president's veto in the 60 plus days that lie ahead. Critics of the agreement need to say, as Dennis Ross, of all people, said on the Newshour, "What is the alternative?"