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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.

Deciding not to have children

How to read a collection of essays on the “childless by choice” called Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed? You could take the title as an accurate indicator of what’s inside, your assumption reinforced by the book’s subtitle: “Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.” It’s bad enough getting unsolicited, aggrieved explanations for a life-defining decision without getting them from a bunch of people who provide their unsolicited thoughts for a living.

Of course, that’s the anticipatory response editor Meghan Daum meant to provoke in selecting those words for the cover in the first place. I can’t speak for every mother and father, but there comes a point in the slog of child-rearing when a parent looks enviously (murderously?) on those who’ve opted out of procreation and issues – silently, or not so – just that verdict. Most of the contributors here report having been condemned in similar fashion, the opprobrium overt and subtle, coming from family, friends, and strangers, from quarters low, high, and in between. Pope Francis himself, in declaring early this year that “life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies,” said explicitly that choosing not to have children is “selfish,” which in spite of the slightly more nuanced context of his larger remarks won’t endear him to those who feel they have good reasons for not participating in the “valiant attempt to ensure the survival of our endangered species and fill up this vast and underpopulated planet.”

That line comes courtesy of Geoff Dyer, one of three men represented in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed. I dispense with him early because he, along with contributor Tim Kreider, has the relative luxury, I think, of deploying humor in his effort to explain (Kreider: “Whenever someone asks me whether I’d like to hold the baby, I always say ‘No thanks.’ I have been advised this is an impolitic response”). This has the effect of distancing its user from the matter at hand: As men, even men who’ve thought about it carefully, they can afford to joke about it, and they seem to know it. The more sober assessments come from those representing the other half of humanity, whom the question concerns in a significantly more encompassing way.

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The Pope on Earth Day

Zenit reports on the pope’s earth day message:

“I exhort everyone to see the world through the eyes of God the Creator," the Pope said, namely that "the earth is an environment to be safeguarded, a garden be cultivated.”

“The relationship of mankind with nature," the Jesuit Pope stated, "must not be conducted with greed, manipulation and exploitation." Rather, he said, "it must conserve the divine harmony that exists between creatures and Creation within the logic of respect and care."

It is interesting to juxtapose this with recent conservative worries about the upcoming encyclical. As rendered by the Action Institute’s blog, the main issues are (a) the climate is always changing, so we shouldn’t be too hasty in saying we have a problem, (b) international government action is the wrong way to go about acting, (c) materialism is a “cultural” problem, but not a problem with the free capitalist economy itself.

The pope’s brief message is a clear response to these points. First, the pope seems clear that the beginning of any solution must be to acknowledge the problem. Words like respect, care, protection, and harmony are not the words that spring to mind in characterizing present practice. Would Mr. Jayabalan argue that in fact we are exercising these things? Second, the environment is the quintessential common good; it is inherently something that is shared. For a long time, strongly free market economists have tried to argue that even problems of pollution can be solved by market transactions; but the language of protection signals that there is no way for the environment itself (nor for future generations) to be a part of the contractual transaction. Shared action is necessary, and it should be on the appropriate scale. The appropriate scale for the atmospheric issues involved in climate change is the global one. Third, “greed, manipulation, and exploitation” may not be inherent properties of markets, but they are all too often systemic problems in our present form of globalized markets. I am the first to say that personal virtue is absolutely necessary to address environmental problems, and Americans should be first in line in renewing practices of restraint, of minimizing waste, and the like. But let’s not pretend that our present system is somehow neutral: consumer capitalism thrives on a lack of restraint, a lack of respect, a lack of conservation. Markets aren’t the problem; globalized consumer capitalism, on the other hand, is not interested in conservation, thrift, and the like.

In all of these cases, there is a denial of reality, because acknowledging the reality would require giving up the ideological claim that free markets and limited government are always best, and that they have some special relationship to Christianity, as well. On this Earth Day, it would be nice to imagine that the encyclical would at least lead to an acknowledgement of reality, so that perhaps those who favor different courses of action might get together and collaborate on creative ways forward. Can markets help solve environmental crises? Sure. But in order to have that conversation well, it needs to be recognized that there are serious problems in the present, and by their nature, they are not going to be addressed simply by markets or by proceeding largely with the status quo.

Pope Francis removes Bishop Finn.

In a one-sentence bulletin released this morning, the Vatican announced that Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who was convicted of failing to report child abuse in 2012, has resigned. Pope Francis accepted Finn's resignation "in conformity with canon 401, paragraph 2"--the statute that covers bishops who cannot fulfill their duties because of poor health or "other grave reasons." News of the resignation follows months of speculation, which had intensified over the past week, that Pope Francis was poised to remove Finn. In September 2014, the National Catholic Reporter revealed that a Canadian bishop had been sent by the Holy See to Kansas City to investigate Finn. Just last November, Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, president of the pope's new commission on child protection, told 60 Minutes that the Holy See had to "address urgently" the case of Robert Finn. Less than six months later, Pope Francis has done just that.

What might it mean?

1. Yes, Pope Francis is serious about accountability for bishops. Pope Francis's early comments on the sexual-abuse scandal were hardly encouraging. But before long he sent a message to the world's bishops asking them to get behind his new commission for the protection of minors. Over the past year, some members of that commission have suggested that they would walk if they didn't see accountability for bishops who enabled abusers. They had seen the pope move against the so-called Bishop of Bling for financial mismanagement. They knew that he had ousted Bishop Livieres in Paraguay, but the Holy See's statements about that decision curiously avoided acknowledging that it had anything to do with the fact that Livieres had promoted a priest long accused of sexual misconduct. More recently, two members of the pope's child-protection commission openly criticized his decision to appoint Chilean Bishop Juan Barros to a new diocese, despite allegations that he had covered up--and  witnessed--acts of abuse committed by his mentor. Just yesterday, one of those commission members, Marie Collins, told Crux that the pope was considering a proposal on bishop accountability. She even name-checked Finn: "I cannot understand how Bishop Finn is still in position, when anyone else with a conviction that he has could not run a Sunday school in a parish." That won't be a problem anymore.

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The CDF vs. the LCWR: postgame analysis

Now that hostilities have ceased between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, it is hard to resist the temptation to declare a winner. Certainly, the conclusion of the whole unfortunate episode, with this week’s release of a brief and anodyne “joint final report” and follow-up meeting between LCWR leadership and the pope, has been as positive an ending, from the sisters’ perspective, as anyone could have hoped for. Some credibility was salvaged for the CDF, as (and, I would argue, because) the sisters held their ground on their commitment to collaborative leadership and mutually respectful dialogue. But nobody really won—no one could have won a conflict that never should have happened this way to begin with, one that exposed real fault lines in the church relating to sex and power and the relationship between the two and ended without directly addressing, much less repairing them.

The first thing that strikes me about the “final report” released last week is that it is a “Joint Final Report.” The whole thing started with the CDF attempting to bring the allegedly out-of-line nuns to heel with an exercise of authority whose origins were muddled and unexplained. It was hard to imagine back when Cardinal Levada was charging the LCWR – a stand-in, it seemed, for various individuals and communities among its member organizations, who went mostly unnamed in the CDF’s complaints – with being soft on doctrine and derelict in supporting bishops’ initiatives and priorities that the whole episode would end with anything other than another authoritative “assessment” from the Vatican. One could only hope the CDF’s conclusion would be a little more informed about what the LCWR actually is and does and a little less hostile to the work sisters do and the faith that informs the choices they make. But enter Pope Francis – and Cardinal Gerhard Müller as the new head of the CDF, and Archbishop Peter Sartain to take charge of the CDF’s reform mandate – and, praise the Lord, we find ourselves ending with a collaborative statement signed by both bishops and nuns, as though they had been pleasantly investigating each other all along.

The statement, it seems clear to me, is designed to allow both sides to save face. It describes various measures being undertaken by the LCWR, but few radical changes – the revision of the LCWR’s statues was already underway before the investigation began, and the promises that speakers and publications will be responsibly vetted seem to address the CDF’s broad concerns while not necessarily requiring any departure from the LCWR’s current procedures. The most embarrassing parts of the CDF’s assessment, meanwhile, are ignored. There is no response to the expression of concern that “feminism” might be taking root among women religious. There is no reference to the accusation that the sisters have been “silent on the right to life” or have not spent enough time and effort on supporting their bishops’ priorities. And the whole thing concludes with a kind of mission statement that reads more like a commendation than an admission of fault or a concession of defeat:

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Our Spring Books issue is live

Our Spring Books issue has just been posted to the website. Among the highlights:

Jackson Lears on William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep, “a devastating critique of the idea that college education is simply about learning marketable skills [and a] compelling case for the humanities. … One thing is clear from Deresiewicz’s interviews [of college students]: the ‘meritocratic’ atmosphere is death to intellectual seekers, who feel they’ve been sold a bill of goods and often keep searching after they get out. Somehow the job at Goldman Sachs just doesn’t satisfy.” Read the whole thing here.

Gary Gutting on Michael Ruse’s “kinder, gentler atheism”:

[I]n popular discussions of religion, the “new atheists” (led by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens) have made quite a splash with their aggressive attacks on religion. But Michael Ruse, a distinguished philosopher and a reflective atheist, is not impressed. “They are,” he writes, “hectoring and arrogant; they are unfair to and belittling of others; they are ignorant of anything outside their disciplines to an extent remarkable even among modern academics.” … [Ruse’s new book] is in fact a refreshing contrast to much of the polemics of the New Atheists. Although he too writes for a popular audience with verve, wit, and passion, his discussion is far more informed and intellectually sophisticated.

Read it all here.

Maria Bowler on Edward Mendelson’s Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers:

With each subject, Moral Agents focuses on the tension between the private writer and the public man who wrote to lead. Mendelson reads Lionel Trilling’s diaries, full of conflicted ego, as if to say, “Aha! I knew it.” The diary entries reveal that Trilling associated creative genius with amoral chaos, and so was irritated at having to present himself as a civilized gentleman; his moral struggle took the form of repression. With Bellow, Mailer, and Kazin, the conflict appears as a subverted masculinity that haunts their work and their lives. The moral concerns taken up in their art are set against the background of their actual behavior, including how they treated their wives. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their abstract commitments didn’t always translate into kindness or humility.

Read the whole thing here.

Also featured: Poems from Nellie Hill and Sarah M. Brownsberger, Cathleen Kaveny on the “fundamental difficulty with RFRA jurisprudence” made clear by Indiana’s recent religious-freedom legislation controversy, and Agnes R. Howard and Thomas Albert Howard on the smallness of “Big History” (subscription). See the full table of contents for our Spring Books issue here.