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Monday Morning Links: May 4

Two gunmen were killed near Dallas after shooting an unarmed security officer outside an exhibit and “cartoon contest” depicting the prophet Mohammed. The Washington Post profiles Pamela Gellar, the exhibit’s organizer and self-described anti-Jihadist, who is also responsible for incendiary ad campaigns across the country.

 

In G.O.P. presidential candidacy news, Ben Carson will officially announce his campaign, and The Atlantic looks at his grassroots support. Carly announced her candidacy today, and The New Republic examines her strategy as the anti-Hillary

 

The LA Times covered Pope Francis’s remarks on Father Junipero Serra and his canonization, which Robert Mickens also discussed in this Letter from Rome.
 

How does a city like Baltimore find its citizens trapped in poverty? The New York Times looks at a study which finds “geography does not merely separate rich from poor but also plays a large role in determining which poor children achieve the so-called American dream.”  

William Pfaff, R.I.P.

William Pfaff, long-time contributor to and two-time editor at Commonweal, has died. He was eighty-six. The New York Times obituary will tell you the important facts of Bill's life. He wrote prodigously for over sixty years--first for Commonweal, then for publications with a wider readership: the New Yorker, the International Herald Tribune (work that was syndicated to two dozen newspapers), the New York Review of Books. He wrote his own books, eight of them, one of which was a finalist for the National Book Award (Barbarian Sentiments, 1989).

Bill was unswervingly skeptical of the projection of U.S. power, and had no qualms about criticizing American interventions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. For this, the Times expains, he was sometimes called anti-American. But he always considered himself a patriot. “He lashed out at America because he loved it," his wife Carolyn told the Times. "But he became sadder and sadder about the nation that was so great, yet was belittling itself. He wanted America to stay home and fix its own country.”

“He rejected the messianic illusions of successive American administrations,” said a longtime friend, John Rielly, president emeritus of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Although many American pundits consider him a liberal, he was in many respects a classic Christian conservative — one who was skeptical about liberal notions of inevitable progress and always aware of the limitations of human activity.”

Giving Bill an award in 2006, the Times reports, the American Academy of Diplomacy called him the "dean" of American columnists, lauding “his moral vision of the proper uses of power and limits on its abuse.”

Bill and I exchanged e-mails over the years, a correspondence that began after I was fortunate enough to be tasked with asking him to write something for us. I can't locate my initial request, but I recall putting a foot wrong in my note, perhaps misidentifying a counrty or a capital, and Bill correcting me in the most diplomatic way possible. I was so green, and he was so kind.

In his correspondence with the magazine, he always showed an editor's anxiety over factual errors. When the New York Review of Books asked him to review a book by Garry Wills, Bill initially begged off, sure he lacked the expertise. After finally accepting the assignment, he asked whether we might read a draft to make sure he hadn't "made some enormous gaffe concerning the church." He planned to identify himself as a former editor at Commonweal. "If I make a fool of myself," he wrote, "there could be an effect on Commonweal's reputation (and mine!)." His concern was unfounded.

Bill reflected on his career in a lovely article for Commonweal's ninetieth-anniversary issue (a piece he was reluctant to write because he didn't think he could be as funny as Wilfrid Sheed was in his eightieth-anniversary remembrance). He took an entry-level position with the magazine right out of college, against his father's wishes (he thought his son should embark on a career in the Foreign Service, rather than work for some periodical he'd never heard of). One of Bill's early duties was to travel down to the printers to "read the stone"--to make sure the magazine was free from errors after the type had been set and proofs pressed. Over the next sixty-five years, as he watched the United States repeatedly advance foreign-policy aims premised on an often misguided understading of its own destiny, Bill caught more errors than most. He never stopped reading the stone.

Requiescat in pace.

Judith Miller and Jon Stewart on journalism

"All journalists are manipulated." I have to say, that line Judith Miller used in her interview with Jon Stewart this week is irking me. It's probably true, certainly for myself, that at some time or another, skillful PR people have managed to mislead, sidetrack, obstruct and otherwise manipulate every reporter. 

But part of the job is to recognize when that's being done, and Miller, promoting her new book The Story, comes across under Stewart's questioning as willfully oblivious to that.

During the interview, Stewart calls Miller's  attention to a September 8, 2002 front-page New York Times story Miller wrote (with Michael Gordon, as she noted) showcasing the Bush administration’s contention that Saddam Hussein had “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.”

Stewart pointed out the phrase that says administration “hard-liners” were arguing that the first “smoking gun” to be sighted from Saddam's supposed build-up could be a “mushroom cloud.”  (Condoleeza Rice used the  line publicly the same day, and President George W. Bush repeated it in a speech the following month.)

“It’s a very powerful line, and it explains their thinking,” Miller responds.

Stewart retorts that the phrase originated with a White House speechwriter, Michael Gerson. “It’s a political line directly tied to the White House,” he says. In other words: recognize that it's spin.

"Jon, were we not to report what it was that had the community, the intelligence community to be  so nervous about Saddam?" Miller replies. "Were we supposed to keep that from the American people?"

Stewart: "No-- you should have reported it though, in the context that this administration was very clearly pushing a narrative and by losing sight of that context  by not reporting"--

Miller: "I think we did, the story said"--

Stewart: "I wholeheartedly disagree with you."

Miller: "Now, that’s what makes journalism."

Stewart: "It’s actually not what makes journalism, so let’s continue with this."

 

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Trollope's Perspicacity

I have a good friend who religiously reads or re-reads a Trollope novel every summer. Sluggard that I am, I have not read one since pre-pre-Kindle college days. That may now change thanks to a splendid and nuanced essay on the English novelist by Adam Gopnik in the current New Yorker. I resonated in a particular way to this reflection:

It’s a sign of Trollope’s gift for imagining the internal politics of large, self-approving bureaucracies that every one of his Barsetshire character types can be found in any American university. Trollope’s Low Church Bishop Proudie would today be a newly appointed university president, eager for online courses and increased enrollment; the High Church party of the Arabins would be found in the humanities faculty, distraught at having to prove that esoteric comp-lit studies are in any sense “profitable.” The Reverend Dr. Stanhope, the clergyman called back from a long holiday in Italy, is a professor summoned from a sabbatical at the American Academy in Rome and ordered to start teaching freshmen again. Even the condition of Trollope’s curates, like poor Mr. Quiverful, is exactly reproduced by those long-term adjuncts who teach semester to semester and live contract to contract.

Presumably, emeriti/ae are spared, being only destined to fade away, or as a recent Commonweal piece unsentimentally put it: "fall apart."

Report on Vatican climate change symposium

This past Tuesday, I had the great joy and privilege of attending a Vatican symposium entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignity Humanity: the Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development”. Three separate groups sponsored this gathering: the Pontifical Academy of Sciences/ Social Sciences, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (housed at Columbia University’s Earth Institute) and Religions for Peace. It brought together a who’s-who of top climate scientists, development experts, as well religious leaders from the world’s major traditions - Christian (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox), Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh. There were also some business leaders present, plus two heads of state (President Mattarella of Italy and President Correa of Ecuador). And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the symposium, fresh from his bilateral meeting earlier that morning with Pope Francis.

The purpose of this unique summit was to build momentum ahead of the pope’s much-anticipated encyclical on the environment, to focus squarely on the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable development – especially through its effect on the poor. It was remarkable and inspiring to see top scientists and top religious leaders singing from the same songbook – the religions affirmed the science, and the scientists affirmed the moral dimension of the problem. As Ban Ki-moon said in his speech, “there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science on the issue of climate change”.

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More new stories on the website

E.J. Dionne Jr. provides a deeper look into social problems in Baltimore--how globalization of the economy, technological change, and deindustrialization have taken manufacturing jobs out of the city without ever replacing them. Dionne interviews Thomas J. Vicino, author of Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia: Decline in Metropolitan Baltimore, who explains:

“This is a double-whammy for poor black people left in the city....They are not in a position to share in the development downtown and, with the loss of manufacturing jobs, they are left, at best, with access to relatively low-paying service jobs. This, in turn, creates a spiral for those left behind, damaging families and devastating neighborhoods.”

This cycle hurt working-class whites as well, Vicino added, “but whites were in a better position to move elsewhere, whereas black mobility was limited by housing discrimination.”

Reading all of "The Roots of Baltimore's Anguish" is worth your time.

Also, in “Does the Earth Have Rights?,” Robin Darling Young writes on the anticipation (and political polarization) surrounding Pope Francis's upcoming encyclical on the environment. Both Climate skeptic Catholics and non-Catholics with assumptions about the church's views on science will be surprised to learn just how traditionally Catholic progressive scholarship is. In Young's view this raises serious questions:

 How [are we] to balance individual moral responsibility, described in the moral teachings of the church, against a general Catholic or human responsibility as developed in more than a century of modern Catholic social teaching?

More broadly and just as important:

What could it mean for nature itself to have rights—rights that are being flagrantly violated by human beings? And what could it mean for Catholic theology  if a pope says this?

Read the whole thing (and get thinking) here.

Hebdo & PEN, the Archbishop & the Quran

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

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

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

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

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National Poetry Month: Danielle Chapman

Danielle Chapman is a poet sensitive to life's intensities. Her new collection, Delinquent Palaces, regularly charts the fierceness of sensory experience, how the world, in its overabundance and strangeness, can strike us like revelation, as when she describes a "wad of gum" being dropped into a glass of ginger ale: "Bubbles rose like souls / unburdening from selves, bearing tiny spheres / of bliss that broke upon the surface / like sleepers to the touch of consciousness."

These lines, with their intricate linking of sound (bubbles/unburdening/bearing/bliss/broke), indicate another kind of intensity that Chapman is sensitive to--musical intensity, the way that language, in its play of sounds, can bear meaning beyond the merely semantic. Here is the opening to "Rituxan Spring," which echoes the opening of Gerard Manley Hopkins's "As kingfishers catch fire": "As derricks draw ink / from parched plains / we've struck / Time, silky and game / as a stick streaming / snake roe."

This isn't the only time I heard Hopkins haunting the background of Delinquent Palaces. Like Hopkins, Chapman is a poet of religious intensity. Her poems engage with suffering head-on, looking to God not as a way to forget about loss but as a way to think through and with it. Here is the concluding stanza to "In Order":

Now that that grief's gone and others come

I come back again to understand

the first one, plum blossoms brushing

the attic window as I look out upon

a yard that has been left untended

by any hand but that of God.

And here she is in "Believer," which begins with the declaration that the speaker "hadn't wanted to believe myself / numbered among the unlucky ones" and ends with this description of the beautiful and haunting complexity of suffering :

In fact it seemed a blessing or a talent

sometimes, or its own kind of deeper luck,

the way I walked into each suffering

which was its own intricate world complete

with wild children wrangling to be king

of every broken square of concrete

and market stalls of shrimp kept cool on ice

whose infinitesimal limbs caught light

as if hauled glittering into genesis.

Finally, Chapman's poems return, again and again, to one of the primary intensities of lyric poetry: the intensity of love. We hear that "To love you is to love the grackles screaming / in Starbucks/ single tree"; to love you is "to build a teensy fortress of Dante's hell / within the real one, to read / while the underworld takes Texas back again." We hear of Chapman's love for her twin daughters: "You / murmur rapture / Life out of nothingness / Mother of beauties / you come through me / Unto us / Twice."

"Expressway Song" begins like this:

The expressway encircled me

and this was why I'd come: to love, 

believing in a love like work,

knowing the true work is waking

to pierce each morning with intent

and evening with irreverence

until the city surrenders,

lifts its iron, and lets one in

with the grace of a raising bridge.

And it ends like this: "a voice fell through me like cold chrome-- / we come to love what turns to stone." For Chapman, love is a matter of piercing, irreverant enchantments and chastening tragedies, a symbol of grace and an inevitable source of pain.

The poems in Delinquent Palaces show this again and again, and they suggest what poetry offers its readers, not just in National Poetry Month but the whole year-round: a reminder that, if we look, we will see a world bathed in beauty and terror, "the fire hydrants redder / than berries of blood on islands of thorn." 

New stories on the website

We've posted two new stories to the homepage.

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

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

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

Read the entire "Letter from Rome" here

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

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

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

Fordham Rallies Against Torture

Fordham students and faculty gathered last Thursday to present a petition to Fordham president Fr. Joseph McShane, S.J. to revoke the honorary degree granted to CIA director John Brennan in 2012. The video below covers the event.

The petition indicts Brennan for his complicity in war crimes of “enhanced interrogation” and “extraordinary rendition”—euphemisms for torture and kidnapping. He has publicly defended these practices:

As Director of the CIA, Mr. Brennan continues to defend the use of torture. In a formal response to the Senate report, he praised CIA officers for acting “in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided.” Mr. Brennan is referring to the “torture memos,” a series of discredited legal briefs produced under the Bush administration that wrongly permitted such atrocities as rectal feeding, isolation, physical beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and sexual humiliation. Moreover, despite the Senate report’s unequivocal condemnation, Mr. Brennan remains willing to torture others in the future. Asked whether he would endorse further uses of torture, Mr. Brennan replied, “I defer to policymakers in future times.”

The petition only mentions Brennan’s most egregious violations of human rights and Catholic moral teaching (including Fordham’s mission statement).  As Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama, Brennan has been a "chief architect" and defender of President Obama’s extrajudicial drone campaign, about which he falsely claimed in 2011, “there hasn’t been a single collateral death.” Brennan has recently made the news when the CIA illegally hacked into Senate computers. He then denied this to Andrea Mitchell of NBC News: "As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn't do that. I mean, that's—that's just beyond the—you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do."

We will see in the coming months if Fr. McShane and other Fordham leaders decide (however belatedly) to practice the Jesuit ideals they proudly profess.

An unbroken tradition?

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

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

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

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

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Monday Morning Links: April 27

The trial of James E. Holmes, the Colorado man who killed twelve and injured seventy in a movie theatre shooting, begins today. As in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial, the defense will focus on keeping their client from receiving the death penalty. 
At the New York Times:

Leading the prosecution is George Brauchler, the elected district attorney, who is seen as a possible Republican candidate for governor. Two years ago, during a hearing, Mr. Brauchler stood up before the judge to say that after prosecutors consulted with hundreds of people touched by the shooting, he determined that in this case, “justice is death.”

Mother Jones has been asking, since the shooting, how much does gun violence cost our country? 

Loretta Lynch will be sworn in as Attorney General this morning. Lynch was a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and, according to the Atlantic, “13 of the 18 black women in Congress today belong to one of the four national black sororities.” The Atlantic article examines the role of black sororities in political power. 

If it's good enough for Charles Dickens... can serializing novels invigorate the publishing industry?  The Washington Post makes a case.

For a brief summary of the latest updates on the earthquake and relief efforts in Nepal, the BBC’s coverage has several videos and infographics, and links to stories with further analysis. 

Hillary Clinton on religious beliefs

During her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton talked a great deal about religion. At one point, she and Barack Obama faced off in a “Compassion Forum” in which they were interviewed about their beliefs.  Clinton used the occasion to continue assailing Obama for his quote that some embittered Americans "cling to guns or religion": 

… from my perspective, the characterization of people in a way that really seemed to be elitist and out of touch is something that we have to overcome.

You know, the Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn't understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans.

And I think it's important that we make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being; it is what gives them meaning in life, through good times and bad times. It is there as a spur, an anchor, to center one in the storms, but also to guide one forward in the day-to-day living that is part of everyone's journey.

Contrast that to the speech Clinton gave last Thursday at the Women in the World Summit in New York:

Yes, we’ve cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth. All the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.

That last sentence was an applause line, as you can see from the video (at 8:55). The italics are mine, but they reflect the emphasis Clinton put on these words through a change in tone, cadence and gesture.

The remark can be decoded in a variety of ways, but a reasonable reading is that Clinton called for efforts to change religious beliefs that oppose abortion. (I directed an email to the campaign press operation to ask if this was so, but received no response.)

 

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

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

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

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

 

The Catholic Common Ground Initiative--Still Relevant?

In his comment on Michael Peppard's post "Transcending Polarization" below, Peter Steinfels writes; "The Catholic Common Ground Initiative was the first major effort to address the issue of polarization in the U.S. Catholic church.  I think that its charter statement bears rereading." Joe Komonchak made the same point in the thread. I would like to echo their emphasis--and add my own concern about the Notre Dame event.

What I find find to be a shame about this event at Notre Dame is that it appears to be completely ignoring the Catholic Common Ground Iniitiave, which attempted to do the same thing--and in a theologically repsonbile and sophisticated way, as the charter statement shows. And which is still ongoing, although in a smaller fashion. There doesn't even seem to be one person in the Notre Dame event who was invovled in the Common Ground Initiative, and not one person from the Iniative (now housed in Chicago) was apparently invited to this event. 

Why is that? I  have to say I think this attempt to reinvent the wheel without learning form the recent past is unfortunate. One lesson from the past might be relevant:  The Common Ground Iniative had trouble attracting conservatives (who saw no need, since they were on the political and ecclesiastical upswing at this point in time); in contrast, this event seems to be full of political onservatives. This time, will it be the progressives, who see themselves on the ascendency, who won't  come?

Consider, for example, this passage from Called to Be Catholic

  • What will it take for the Catholic Church in the United States to escape from this partisanship and the paralysis it threatens to engender?
  • Jesus Christ, present in Scripture and sacrament, is central to all that we do; he must always be the measure and not what is measured.
  • Around this central conviction, the church's leadership, both clerical and lay, must reaffirm and promote the full range and demands of authentic unity, acceptable diversity, and respectful dialogue, not just as a way to dampen conflict but as a way to make our conflicts constructive, and ultimately as a way to understand for ourselves and articulate for our world the meaning of discipleship of Jesus Christ. This invitation to a revitalized Catholic common ground should not be limited to those who agree in every respect on an orientation for the church, but encompass all--whether centrists, moderates, liberals, radicals, conservatives, or neoconservatives--who are willing to reaffirm basic truths and to pursue their disagreements in a renewed spirit of dialogue.
  • Chief among those truths is that our discussion must be accountable to the Catholic tradition and to the Spirit-filled, living church that brings to us the revelation of God in Jesus. To say this does not resolve a host of familiar questions about the way that the church has preserved, interpreted, and communicated that revelation. Accountability to the Catholic tradition does not mean reversion to a chain-of-command, highly institutional understanding of the church, a model resembling a modern corporation, with headquarters and branch offices, rather than Vatican II's vision of a communion and a people.

So let the Notre Dame organizers do their own thing. But there still is a question for all those who were or are involved in the Catholic Common Ground Iniative: what went wrong?  Should we try to revivify it? It's no secret that it was the dying Cardinal Bernardin's project--and that Cardinal George didn't have much use for Catholic Common Ground. But it's a new day in the Windy City.

Your Congress at work for the West Bank Settlements

As the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" makes its way through the U.S. Congress, the trade agreement (with Pacific and Asian countries) is being amended to penalize BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) efforts against the West Bank Settlements.

The amendments from House and Senate committees "require U.S. trade negotiators to 'discourage politically motivated actions' by foreign countries and international organizations that aim to 'penalize or otherwise limit' commercial relations with Israel or 'persons doing business in Israel or in territories controlled by Israel."

"Territories under the control of Israel," of course, refers to the occupied land beyond Israel's 1967 borders. The measures are directed primarily at European countries and businesses who are increasingly opposed to the West Bank Settlements and to Israel's refusal to recognize a Palestinian state. The Occupation of the West Bank is against international law. If passed, these amendments would contervene long-standing U.S. policy opposing the Settlements.

Recall that the BDS movements was started as a non-military, non-violent protest against Israel's Occupation of Palestinian Territory. The movement has garnered more sympathy in Europe than in the U.S.; but even in Europe little has come of it.

How exactly is the U.S. Congress empowered to limit the free speech and political decisions of European countries? Why not ask your Senator or Representative?

J.J. Goldberg of The Forward has the story and the language of the amendments.

House Bill.  AIPAC Press Release: House Fast Track Bill Targets Economic Attacks against Israel.

Transcending polarization

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

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

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

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

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Class warfare or 'gambling society'?

For four out of five Americans, earnings from capital gains amount to well under 1 percent of annual income.  For the richest one percent, on the other hand, these gains from investments amount to over a third of their income and for the top tenth of that one percent, about half their income.  No surprise, then, that these gains are taxed at much lower rates than ordinary wages.  And no surprise that questions have been raised about the wisdom and justice of that differential. 

When liberal politicians raise those questions, they are of course waging class warfare.  When Laurence D. Fink raises them, he is, well, he is Chairman of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, overseeing something approaching $5 trillion of investments.

Last week Mr. Fink sent a letter to the chief executives of Fortune 500 companies.  His basic point was that instead of using corporate earnings to build up productive capacities—like “innovation, skilled work forces, or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth,” he wrote—too many corporate leaders were buying back stock and paying out dividends, even with borrowed money, to please shareholders and aggressive investors with quick returns.

A major incentive for this short-term outlook, Mr. Fink argued, is the capital gains tax advantage. 

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Starbucks locks up--really

There have been vague rumors and news snippets that Starbucks has started to lock up its bathrooms.   It's true!

Out and about in NYC in the last two weeks, I have taken advantage of Strbcks ubuquity to have my favorite, a Grande Capuccino caffinated and whole milk with lots of foam. While not personally in search of a bathroom, the five Starbucks I have been in had people, perhaps tourists, shocked to find the bathrooms "unavailable." I chalked that up to too many tourists.

Today, in my non-touristy neighborhood, in my own Starbucks,  the bathroom had a large combination lock on the door. Shocking! When a woman asked the barista for the combination, she was reluctant to give it, I asked why. According to the barista there had been a change in policy meant to close the bathrooms to non-customers. And customers too? I asked. She gave the woman the number--written on a piece of paper (with invisible ink?). 

I have always thought that Starbucks went above and beyond with its open bathroom policy. Truly altruistic. Truly philanthropic. So Now?  Once again, the decline of civilization.

'The Pope and Mussolini' Has Won the Putlizer

David Kertzer's biography The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe was awarded a Putlizer Prize earlier this week. Kertzer was able to write it because of the recent opening of the Vatican archives covering Pius XI’s papacy. The complex details of the seven years it took Pius and Mussolini to negotiate two agreements--a political treaty that recognized the pope’s sovereignty over Vatican City and a concordat that regulated the church’s position in the Italian state--is the subject of this book, told through vivid biographical sketches of Pius and Mussolini's personal lives leading up to their positions of power, and how these personalities both clashed and compromised:

With strong opinions and an increasingly authoritarian manner, the pope shared the fascists’ opposition to communism even as he continued to distrust their sincerity and press for greater influence over Italian society.

If you're thinking of reading it, James Sheehan wrote a great review for us last September.