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Seeing things.

Dear readers, I'm afraid I owe you an apology. Last week, I criticized members of the media for their coverage of Pope Francis's meeting with President Obama. Before the meeting, some commentators suggested that the pope was planning to confront the president about his support for the contraception mandate and abortion rights. And after the meeting others contrasted the Vatican's press release with Obama's recollections at a press conference. I wrote:

There's nothing perplexing about the differences between a formal Vatican statement and a president's ad libbed remarks to the press. The Vatican's news release was never going to contain revealing language about the pope's emotional response to meeting Obama. It was never going to go on at any length or in any detail about what they discussed. When Benedict XVI met with George W. Bush in 2008, for example, it was, yes, awesome, but the joint statement of the Holy See and the White House didn't exactly describe the visit in florid terms. That's just how these things go.

How mistaken I was. If only I'd waited a couple of days to post, I would have had my illusions dispelled by George Weigel's analysis. He, too, took issue with pre-meeting speculation, noting that some of it caused "confusion" that was "instructive on several counts." According to Weigel, that shows just how "poorly equipped" most of the media is "to cover the Vatican and its ways." But those ways are right in Weigel's wheelhouse, so he attempts to sort through them for the rookie Vaticanista, beginning where so many of Catholicism's riches lie: symbolism, especially photographic symbolism, particularly photographic symbolism that entails the appearance of popes with other world leaders.

Pope Francis conducted his conversation with President Obama across a desk — a stage-setting exercise on the Vatican’s part that one canny media veteran thought “a tad aggressive” and another observer said resembled a school principal having a firm talk with a recalcitrant student.

I hadn't considered that. But now that Weigel mentions it, I see his point. How many office-hours have I spent sitting across the desk from a teacher who offered firm rebuttals to my half-baked musings on this or that theological problem? Of course, I may have been too arrogant to understand how thoroughly my incompetence had been exposed. But I had no illusions about who had authority and who did not.

See for yourself:

There you have it. On one side: Leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, chosen by the College of Cardinals to serve for the rest of his life, whose approval ratings are the envy of elected officials across the globe. On the other: president of a country of about 320 million, half of whom aren't happy with his leadership, and a tiny fraction of whom cares enough to vote. Could Pope Francis have been any clearer? When a pope places a desk between a world leader and himself, it's obvious to anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church that he is signaling the distance between the two--if not his outright disapproval.

Just look at how Pope John Paul II handled talks with his collaborator--or at least pen pal--Ronald Reagan:

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McCarthyism or Corporate Survival?

Mozilla Firefox is my browser and it works. Every now and again I get an update; sometimes a note asking for a contribution to what is largely/wholly a public-spirited effort to keep the internet open source (or something like that). For some reason, I thought it was an Italian effort (as in Mozarella), but it turns out it organizes itself right here in the U.S. drawing on sources from global techies.

Brendan Eich, its recently appointed CEO is now its recently resigned former CEO. The issue: he donated a thousand dollars to California's proposition 8 campaign in 2008. It was an effort to turn back a California court decision allowing same-sex marriages in the state. Apparently when this contribution was discovered, there was a social media uproar (didn't see it on Mozilla though). There were calls for his resignation, and according to this story in the NYTimes, he did resign.

The great debate: Should Eich have been penalized for his views and his contribution? Andrew Sullivan thinks not in this post on the Dish, "The Hounding of a Heretic."  And continues here. And on Sunnday posted this [HT: Ann Olivier]. Meanwhile,  Farhad Manjoo explains at the NYTimes  why Eich had to go: The very nature of Mozilla required it.

UPDATE: Saturday's NYTimes story: The issue of Mr. Eich's social skills comes up. What would social skills consist of in a libertarian context? The story suggests to me that no Mozillian has much in the way of social skills! Or at least, it can't be much of a job requirement.

UPDATE2: Many comments here link to posts elsewhere on this issue. Michael Kelly @4/7,9:04 quotes some particularly interesting comments on the Supreme Court's treatment of donor lists.

Suspended belief.

Today the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that it has suspended a high-school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her students this year. Which is what a diocese does when it learns that one of its employees may have abused a minor. But what does a diocese do when it also learns that the staff member who first received the allegation waited weeks to report it? Turns out this one suspends that employee too--and names her (and the accused) in a public statement and a letter to parents.

A number of weeks ago, Annette Goodman, the school’s librarian, learned about the allegation. Maryland law and the policies of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Curley High School require that allegations of child abuse be reported to civil authorities and to the head of the school as soon as possible. Ms. Goodman reported the information to the school’s administration on April 1.

There's transparency and then there's transparency.

Maryland law requires mandatory reporters--which includes educators--to orally notify civil authorities of suspected abuse "immediately" (they have forty-eight hours to file a written report).

You may recall a somewhat similar case involving a diocesan staff member who came to suspect one of his priests was in possession of child pornography. He was eventually found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. But he wasn't suspended, and he remains in the position he held when he broke the law: bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

We'll know whether this amounts to a real shift in church policy when the people who get suspended for failing to report include the men responsible for creating this scandal.

(H/T Michael Paulson.)

They'll Go like Hotcakes

Tomorrow's L'Osservatore Romano reports:

During the Sunday Angelus, and on various other occasions, Pope Francis has urged the faithful to carry a pocket-sized book of the Gospels and to read it often to meditate on Jesus' words and deeds, especially those referred to in the day's liturgy, on which Pope Francis himself has commented.

To help put this suggestion into practice, and communicating a clear message, next Sunday during the Angelus in St. Peter's Square, several thousand pocket-sized copies of the Gospel will be distributed free as a gift to the faithful at the behest of the Pope.

The book, printed by the Vatican Typography (in a special edition for this occasion, which will not be available for sale), contains the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and begins with the Pope's words from the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

At the end of the book will be printed a prayer by Cardinal Newman that Mother Teresa asked her Sisters of Charity to pray each day:

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance
everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us, and be so in us,
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us
but only Jesus!
Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine
as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others;
the light, O Jesus, will be all from you,
none of it will be ours;
it will be you, shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.
Let us preach you without preaching, not by words
but by our example, by the catching force,
the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love
our hearts bear to you. Amen.

National Poetry Month - Spencer Reece

To celebrate National Poetry Month, every Friday during April I will be recommending a contemporary poet worth checking out. Today, I suggest you give Spencer Reece a try.

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Persecution from Without and Within

In his homily this morning at Santa Marta, Pope Francis spoke of persecution faced by Christians. He said:

All the people whom the Holy Spirit chooses to tell the truth to the People of God suffer persecution." Jesus “is precisely the model, the icon.” The Lord took upon Himself “all the persecutions of His people.” The Holy Father went on to note that Christians continue to suffer persecution even today. “I dare say,” he added, “that perhaps there are as many or more martyrs now than in the early days, because they tell the truth and proclaim Christ Jesus to a worldly society in love with ease and desirous of avoiding problems.”

“There is the death penalty or imprisonment for having the Gospel at home, for teaching the Catechism, today, in some parts of the world. A Catholic from one of these countries told me that they cannot pray together. It is forbidden. People can only pray alone and in secret – but they want to celebrate the Eucharist and how do they do so? They throw a birthday party, they pretend to celebrate the birthday there and [have Mass] before the ‘party’. It has happened. When they see the police arrive, they just hide everything and [continue with the birthday party-cover]. Then, when [authorities] leave, they finish the [Mass]. They have to do so, because it is forbidden to pray together: in this very day.”

But he also commented on those who suffer from opposition within the Church:

"Many thinkers in the Church were persecuted, as well. I think of one, now, at this moment, not so far from us: a man of good will, a prophet indeed, who, in his writings reproached the Church for having lost the way of the Lord. He was summoned in short order, his books were placed on the index, they took away his teaching positions – and thus, this man’s life ended – and it was not so long ago. [Now] time has passed, and today he is Blessed. How is it, though, that he, who yesterday was a heretic, is today a Blessed of the Church? It is because yesterday, those who had power wanted to silence him because they did not like what he was saying. Today the Church, who, thanks be to God knows how to repent, says, ‘No, this man is good!’ Moreover, he is on the way to sainthood: He is a Blessed.”

I suspect that the Pope is speaking of the 19th century Italian priest and philosopher, Antonio Rosmini, whose book, The Five Wounds of Holy Church, had been placed on the Index for a time. Rosmini was praised in John Paul II's encyclical, Fides et Ratio, and beatified under Benedict XVI.

What’s up with 59 percent of white Catholics?

A new Pew survey shows “modest decline” in support for the death penalty, with 55 percent of U.S. adults saying they favor it for people convicted of murder and 37 percent opposing, as opposed to 62 percent favoring and 31 percent opposing in 2011, the last time Pew asked the question.

Any drop comes as good news for those opposed to capital punishment, but as usual the drill-downs turn up the interesting information. Take race: Many more whites (63 percent) continue to support the death penalty than do Hispanics (40 percent) or African Americans (36 percent). Or religion-and-race: 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 64 percent of white mainline Protestants support the death penalty; for Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants, support is 37 and 33 percent, respectively. And white Catholics? Support for capital punishment is higher than the overall number, at 59 percent.

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In search of the honest political commentator

Noting that a great many politicos have confidently declared that Obamacare was doomed to inglorious failure over the past few weeks, months, and years, our own E. J. Dionne opens his new column with a question that sounds almost quaint:

Is there any accountability in American politics for being completely wrong? Is there any cost to those who say things that turn out not to be true and then, when their fabrications or false predictions are exposed, calmly move on to concocting new claims as if they had never made the old ones?

It's a very valid question, of course. In fact I would say it's the question that a great many prominent people should be expected to answer before they go on to give their opinions about anything new. What makes it quaint is that we know that the answer is "no." No, there is no accountability, certainly not in American political opinion writing.

We know this because a number of Dionne's colleagues at the Washington Post and his fellow opinion columnists at the New York Times -- to say nothing of those who write for openly propagandistic outlets like the Wall Street Journal op-ed page or the Weekly Standard -- have demonstrated time and again that no concerns about accountability constrain them.

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Jesuits march ahead

The first laywoman to head a Jesuit school likely to be named soon!  Washington Post.

Confirmed: America.    HT: Gene Palumbo

Faith-quake

Ben Myers is an Australian theologian, a member, I believe, of the Uniting Church of Australia. In addition to numerous writings he has a blog, "Faith and Theology," where he recently posted a Lenten reflection on the "Apostles Creed."

Here is an excerpt:

The third day he rose again from the dead

His life and death were not an inspiring illustration. He was not a symbol of a higher truth (that spring follows winter, that every cloud has a silver lining, that things will generally work out in the end if only you believe in yourself). Was not resuscitated. Was not hallucinated back to life by his grief-stricken companions. Deep in the world of flesh, the tectonic plates were shifting and Big Things happened. He had clutched death by the roots and dragged it up. When the grieving woman saw him at the tomb, she thought he was a gardener. She thought he had been weeding. So well she knew him.

The rest is here.

HT:RS

On abortion, Hobby Lobby looking wobbly.

The owners of Hobby Lobby want you to know they take their moral commitments seriously. The Green family's stores don't sell shot glasses. They're closed on Sundays. They don't even allow their trucks to "back-haul" beer shipments. As supporter Ben Domenech pointed out, all those practices "could make them money, but they just bear the costs." The Greens are so serious about their Christian beliefs that they've made a federal case out of their objection to paying insurance premiums that would allow their employees to choose to receive contraceptive products that the Greens deem no different from abortion. That's why Domenech wrote, "I doubt this is the type of company to spend one dime on this contraception mandate. They will just drop coverage, and pay employees the difference...rather than compromise their beliefs." Except it looks like they've been doing just that.

Over at Mother Jones, Molly Redden reports that Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plan "held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions." And Hobby Lobby makes significant matching contributions to the 401(k)--nearly $4 million in 2012, according to the company's 2013 disclosure to the Department of Labor. In other words, Hobby Lobby invests millions in companies that manufacture the very products they want to be exempt from covering in their employee health plans--products they believe cause abortions. As Redden notes, other holdings in Hobby Lobby's mutual funds include companies that make drugs used to induce abortion, drugs administered during abortion procedures, and insurers that cover surgical abortions.

This raises an obvious question: If the Greens are so committed to the belief that they cannot in good conscience pay health-insurance premiums that might result in employees using products that could prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, then why are they OK with spending millions annually on companies that manufacture drugs that will certainly cause abortions? In other words, as Nick Baumann put it, "either remote cooperation with abortifacients is a red line for you or it's not."

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An April Fools' Day Joke? Paul Ryan Proposes a Budget

More of the same from Paul Ryan

A full repeal of the ACA? Check. Cuts in food assistance? Check. Medicaid cuts? Check again. All these cuts add up in Ryan's mind to economic growth and a balanced budget. It boggles the mind. 

I think I've plumbed the depths of the impoverished libertarian vision; what I find baffling about Ryan's proposal is its purported moral (and even religious) message. It seems like nothing more than a mobilization of the Calvinist distinction between the damned and the Elect. And what a wonderful world in which to be one of the latter. Has conservative Catholicism crossed over to the side of radical puritanism?  

The U.S. Bishops' Border Mass for Immigration Reform

Today at noon (Eastern time), a group of U.S. bishops, led by Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, will say Mass at the border wall between Mexico and the United States in Nogales, Arizona. "Following the example given by Pope Francis at the Italian island of Lampedusa, where where the Holy Father remembered migrants from Africa who have died trying to reach the island and Europe, the bishops will call attention to the humanitarian consequences of the broken U.S. immigration system."

You can watch a livestream of the Mass, and learn more about the Justice for Immigrants effort, here. It will be followed by a press conference. [UPDATE: Watch the whole thing below.]

Why Nogales? Read Ananda Rose Robinson's 2009 Commonweal article "Borderline: Stranded in Nogales" for a look at what conditions are like there for immigrants, and those who help them.

 

Even the NYTimes Objects

Maybe this is too parochial, but... even the NYTimes thinks the Sheldon Adelson Republican primary is a shocking travesty...though their news columns didn't seem to pay much attention.

Here, from the Editorial Page Editor's Blog (who knew?) is David Firestone's comment under the headline: "The Line to Kiss Sheldon Adelson's Boots."  Well you know what they mean but it's not fit to print.

"It’s hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One by one, they stood at a microphone in Mr. Adelson’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas and spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition (also a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr. Adelson), hoping to sound sufficiently pro-Israel and pro-interventionist and philo-Semitic to win a portion of Mr. Adelson’s billions for their campaigns."  And it gets better: NYTimes

Hobby Lobby invests in same drugs to which it objects?

Today Molly Redden at Mother Jones reports that Hobby Lobby holds mutual funds that invest in the manufacturers of the same pharmaceuticals and devices to which the company claims religious objection.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby's retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby's health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

There would have been many ways to avoid this, since "faith-based investing" in funds that avoid "vice" industries or other objectionable companies is a well-known phenomenon with competitive rates of return.

All nine funds—which have assets of $73 million, or three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan's total assets—contained holdings that clashed with the Greens' stated religious principles.

Hobby Lobby and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the conservative group that provided Hobby Lobby with legal representation, did not respond to questions about these investments or whether Hobby Lobby has changed its retirement plan.

I would have assumed a company taking the issue of corporate free exercise all the way to the Supreme Court would have looked into this. I doubt it would have affected the case's outcome, but it certainly could have affected the oral arguments by forcing the plaintiff to distinguish degrees of cooperation between providing health insurance options and providing retirement plan options. If these drugs and devices aren't too objectionable to invest in for your employees' retirement plans, a justice might have asked, why are they too objectionable to include as options in your employees' health insurance plans?

Read the details here.

Archbishop Gregory apologizes.

Last week I pointed out that Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta had recently moved into a $2.2-million, 6,200-square-foot home--an expense made possible by a $15-million bequest. Gregory had been living at the cathedral rectory, but apparently that parish is growing rapidly. The rector of the cathedral asked Gregory whether the parish could purchase the property from the archdiocese, and Gregory agreed. That's why he built the new residence. But in January, Gregory met with parishioners who weren't happy with that plan. They wanted him to sell the new building, move into the old one, and use the money to help the poor.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month, Gregory and McNamee said the expenditures were necessary for their living arrangements and that it was too late to reverse course. They also noted the plans had been approved by governing bodies within their respective institutions.

“To undo what has been publicly announced for two years wouldn’t be a prudent use of archdiocese resources,” Gregory said.

Gregory also said he thinks the new home would have the pope’s blessing.

“He wants his bishops to engage with his people,” said Gregory, who was installed as archbishop in Atlanta in 2005. His new home, he said, allows for larger groups to visit; the grounds also are good for cookouts and other outdoor activities. In this way, said Gregory, he can follow the pope’s admonition to “smell like the flock” — to be close to parishioners.

“It’s important for me to connect,” he said. “And that’s another dominant theme for Pope Francis.”

The archbishop has had a change of heart. Yesterday he issued a long, remarkably candid apology, leading with a tough letter he received from a parishioner. “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for," she wrote.

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New issue, now live

Our April 11 issue has just been posted to the website. Among the highlights: “The Odd Couple” (subscription), John Wilkins’s piece on the upcoming canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II and how the legacies of these two very different popes relate to each other.

Both popes brought about revolutions, John XXIII in the church, John Paul II in the world. When John called a council, he was asked why it was needed, since popes were infallible now. The story is that he went over to a window in his study and flung it open: The church needed fresh air. …

John Paul II’s revolution started at once. His 1978 inaugural sermon in St. Peter’s Square electrified Eastern Europeans, who, watching it on television and hearing it on radio, could discern what it portended, and it emboldened some evangelical pastors daunted by secular culture in the West as they sought to proclaim Jesus Christ. John Paul II showed them how. “Open wide the doors for Christ!” he exhorted. “To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development!

“Do not be afraid! Christ knows what is in man. He alone knows it.”

Read the whole thing here.

Also in the new issue: George Scialabba on Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke; John Garvey on Audrey Assad and what’s lost when faith is identified with fundamentalism (subscription); Celia Wren on the new TV series Fargo (subscription); and Kaitlin Campbell’s Last Word on "becoming a character-composite of every nun I knew" to make it through a few tense moments at a lonely Oakland bus stop (subscription). See the entire table of contents here.

All is well: voting restrictions are really about ‘uniformity’

One of the first things you learn in high-school political science is that high voter turnout tends to favor one party while low turnout favors the other. Back when this was basic enlightening fact was made known to me, there weren’t the early voting, weekend voting, extended polling, or same-day registration-and-vote options as we’ve come to know them– although there were still plenty of fresh tales about the kind of suppression efforts, from the comprehensive to the spontaneous, that had spurred passage of the original Voting Rights Act in 1965 and given Congress in the intervening years ample reason to reauthorize it multiple times. Still, for a class of high-schoolers grappling with the particularities of the most recent reauthorization (this was 1982, for the record), it was generally much easier to view the axiom in meteorological terms: sunny voting days favor Democrats; rainy and snowy ones, Republicans.

Currently unable to dictate the weather, Republicans in swing states are finding ways to make conditions as inclement as possible. “Uniformity” is now the stated objective of their mission, which has gained urgency and speed since last summer’s Supreme Court ruling rolling back the preclearance requirements of the VRA. In places like Ohio and Wisconsin and Texas, making everything uniform basically means making it harder for the people who don’t fit a certain (shall we call it “uniform”?) demographic to cast their votes.

As a justification, it’s probably a less impeachable one than limiting fraud—evidence of which has been scant to nonexistent. It’s harder to argue against efforts to restore an unquantifiable “orderliness” to a process that for some has grown too unruly.

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Can't be too careful

Governor Chris Christie, otherwise known as Governor Bridgegate, personally misspoke (he can't blame Bridget Kelly) at a Republican gathering in Las Vegas, otherwise referred to as the Sheldon Adelson Republican primary. The major potential Republican 2016 candidates were auditioning their ideas to some of the richest men in America, along with the richest, Adelson himself.

Christie referred to the "Occupied Territories," let it be said, in way wholly sympathetic to Israel. But the phrase is forbidden in Adelson land, and Christie quickly apologized for the slip-up--unlike some of the other slip-ups he's made. The territories, i.e., the West Bank, are not occupied because they belong to Israel from time immemorial, or so Adelson insists. Politico

The potential anti-Semitic fall-out from the whole meeting has been thoroughly discussed by J.J. Goldberg at The Jewish Daily Forward under the headline: A GOP Plan to Save the Jews: Buy White House.

Where is George Orwell when we need him?

Juan Cole offers five signs that the West Bank might be said to be occupied:

1. The UN General Assembly partition plan for British Mandate Palestine in 1947, which was extremely generous to the Jewish settlement community of the time, did not award them Gaza or the West Bank, where there were at that time virtually no Jews!

2. Israel militarily conquered Gaza and the West Bank only in 1967. Typically you refer to territories not belonging to a country, which it holds during wartime, as “Occupied Territories”

3. Israel is in violation of over 30 United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding what the UNSC explicitly calls the Occupied Territories....

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A model penitent

In connection with what I wrote here a few days ago, I must confess to being fascinated by this brief video clip -- see below -- of Pope Francis receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at a Vatican penance service yesterday. He seems to have taken Msgr. Marini by surprise -- something Marini must be getting used to by now -- as Carol Glatz reports for CNS.

What a great idea -- a way to demystify both the papacy and the sacrament itself. Despite the joke about "Is the pope Catholic?" it does keep coming as a surprise to see the pope acting like just another Catholic.

That video led me to this one, from Rome Reports, of Francis talking about Reconciliation at an outdoor audience. For all that I've read about (and by) Francis, I haven't seen him speaking all that much, which is a shame, since his personal, one-believer-to-another style is especially obvious in his manner of speaking (even when you don't understand Italian). I also like his proposal that we think of the sacrament not as an obligation, but a right.

For the past several years the archdiocese of New York has had a day set aside in Lent and Advent -- "Reconciliation Monday," this year, the Monday of Holy Week -- when parishes are expected to offer confession for a significant portion of the day. It's meant, I think, to remove one obstacle to returning to the sacrament, by making it very convenient. It also restores a communal dimension to this very private sacrament. And I'm always grateful for the extra push to do my Easter duty. What about where you are: does your diocese do anything similar to encourage people to receive the sacrament of Confession? Does it pay off?