Catholics who oppose the pending papal encyclical on the environment, and the sustainable development agenda more generally, understand that simply resorting to junk science is not going to cut it. So they also resort to the oldest trick in the book: raising the specter of abortion to mask their determined opposition to core aspects of Catholic social teaching. They seek a “gotcha” moment – if some of the people who lead sustainable development efforts either support abortion or have made ambiguous statements about it in the past, then we should shun them. And of course, jettison the whole sustainable development agenda with it.
But this is smoke and mirrors. As I’ve noted before, the real issue is decarbonization, not depopulation. Yet this tactic is worked so many times before. But not this time. This time, they messed with the wrong woman – Margaret Archer, world-renowned social theorist and president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. In the context of an all-too-typical hit piece from First Things, she issued a defiant response. She asks a sequence of questions, starting with this one:
“Is your sole concern with human dignity confined to the period between conception and live-birth? If so, this is a travesty of Catholic Social Teaching, whose concern is not confined to the newborn but extends to the development of all those potentialities and powers that exist only in potentia at birth (such as walking and talking) that develop or can be irreparably damaged throughout life.”
Precisely. She goes on to talk about all the good work the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has been doing on human trafficking and modern forms of slavery, and how they completely ignore that. She mocks them for being “climate change deniers” and for their flirtation with junk science. She points out that climate change affects the life and dignity of the poorest, making it a pressing concern for pro-lifers. She mocks them for singling out Ban Ki Moon, noting that the pope had a private audience with him. She asks:
“Do you really have a higher moral standard than the Pope? Or is your own minimalistic version of the Creed, consisting of the single item: ‘’We believe in the ethical depravity of abortion’ considered to be an improvement?”
And then there’s the real kicker:
“I am appointed by the Pope and responsible directly to him. I’m afraid that leaves you and your cohort out in the cold. Moreover, we work pro bono and are therefore are self-supporting, which makes me wonder which lobbyists meet your salary bill?”
Bravo! It’s time for all Catholics – for all people of good will – to speak out as strongly as Margaret Archer on these issues, and reclaim Catholic Social Teaching from those who have spent decades hijacking it. And let’s start with EWTN, where Raymond Arroyo has unleashed a campaign to undermine the encyclical (even before it is written), even giving a platform to the junk scientists in the pay of the fossil fuel industry. When Arroyo shamefully defended torture during the Bush years, very few spoke out against him. May this time be different.
Cardinal Pell's response to victims "almost sociopathic," says member of pope's sexual-abuse commission.
During the May 31 broadcast of Australia’s 60 Minutes, a member of Pope Francis’s sexual-abuse commission described Cardinal George Pell’s treatment of victims as “almost sociopathic.” The 60 Minutes segment focused on Pell’s response to abuse allegations while he ministered in Australia, including testimony alleging that the cardinal tried to buy a victim’s silence, and that he was involved in the decision to move the nation’s most notorious abuser priest, Gerald Ridsdale, between parishes—claims the cardinal denies. Pell, former archbishop of Sydney, was criticized for appearing with Ridsdale at his first trial in 1993 (Ridsdale was eventually convicted of more than one hundred counts of assault). The cardinal has a “catalogue of denials…a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness,” according to Peter Saunders, selected by Francis to serve on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Saunders explained that he based his judgments on conversations with Australian victims. The cardinal’s position as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy—the office created by Francis to oversee the Vatican’s finances—is “untenable,” Saunders said. “I would go as far to say,” he continued, “that I consider him to be quite a dangerous individual.”
Responses from Pell and from the Vatican spokesman came quickly. Before the program had even aired (after the network released promotional material), Pell issued statements calling Saunders’s comments “false” and “outrageous”—and suggested he might take legal action. (Saunders defended his remarks on June 1, saying they were “not slanderous.”) While acknowledging “the important work Mr. Saunders has done as a survivor of abuse to assist victims, including the establishment of a victims survivors group in the United Kingdom,” the cardinal suggested that Saunders had overstepped his role as a member of the pope’s sexual-abuse commission. The statutes of that body “make it clear that the Commission's role does not include commenting on individual cases,” according to Pell, “nor does the commission have the capacity to investigate individual cases.”
Fr. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, made the same point in his June 1 statement. But he went further, stating that Pell’s responses to the Australian government’s investigation of child abuse have “always” been careful and thorough. The cardinal’s recent statements about 60 Minutes “must be considered reliable and worthy of respect and attention,” according to Lombardi. No doubt the cardinal’s statements about his role in the scandal deserve both respect and attention, but have they always been reliable? An episode from the recent past suggests not.Read more
In writing on the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, E.J. discusses "The Two Santa Claus Theory" put forth by supply-siders in the 1970s and says that Sanders may be tapping into something:
The senator from Vermont has little chance of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he is reminding his party of something it often forgets: Government was once popular because it provided tangible benefits to large numbers of Americans...
Read all of "The New St. Nick" here.
And, among the highlights from our new issue is Robert Gascoigne writing on the affinities between Christians and the "secularists" who "share with Christians many of the key ethical values that can motivate and energize democratic political life."
[The] significant commonality of ethical and political ideals between secular humanism and the contemporary Catholic Church has a complex and turbulent historical background. The litany of suffering of members of the church at the hands of revolutionary political movements is a long and terrible one. Yet the relationship between the Catholic Church and movements for democratic change and social justice has happily, and surprisingly to many, developed into a shared commitment to defending human rights.
Read all of "Shared Commitments" here.
And, Rand Richards Cooper pens a Last Word on the troubling ubiquity of smartphones and the baffling "universal desire to be connected everywhere and all the time":
[T]hat’s America these days: people everywhere with their heads bent, fingertips flicking at their screens. Couples in restaurants, silently flicking. A schoolbus full of teenagers, heads bent as if in prayer.... But what happens when what we’re farming out is consciousness itself—the ability to be ourselves, with ourselves, amid the glories of creation?
As Bernie Sanders draws great crowds in Iowa, this Mother Jones profile covers his early political years, including his curious piece of writing he now likens to Fifty Shades of Grey.
CNN explains what authorities the government (temporarily) lost after some provisions in the Patriot Act expired at 12:01 this morning.
An interview with Edward Mendelson at Prospect magazine discusses how writers become more interested in religious language as they age.
Speaking of language for faith or non-faith, Molly Worthen’s column in the New York Times examines how atheists reckon with the moral and social consequences of an atheist identity.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott will sign a bill allowing guns on campus, with some provisions.
Last Sunday, I wrote “Grieving at Pentecost.” Now I would like to share with you a part of the homily I gave at Lúcás’ funeral. It’s the first section where I consider his foundational contributions to Biblical ethics. Later I spoke about ways he was a bridge-builder among friends.
In the beginning of each of his two books, Lúcás (Yiu Sing Luke) Chan, S.J. refers to building bridges. He begins his first book, The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Biblical Studies and Ethics for Real Life, with “A schema for bridging biblical studies and Christian ethics” and he introduces his second book, Biblical Ethics in the Twenty-first Century: Developments, Emerging Consensus, and Future Directions, with the overarching notion of “building bridges.”
Lúcás wrote about building bridges because he was a bridge builder. The man whose spiritual and intellectual formation, began in Hong Kong and ended in Milwaukee, had built bridges as he moved to England, Singapore, Cambodia, Macau, the Philippines, the U.S., Ireland, as well as Italy and Germany.
As a moral theologian Lúcás built the bridge between biblical theology and Christian Ethics. Lúcás’ argument was clear and critical: if someone wants to do biblical ethics they need to have the competency of a biblical theologian who can tell us what the scriptural text means and the competency of a moral theologian who knows how to think through the contemporary ethical application of the meaning of the text. As Dan Harrington noted in Lúcás’ first book on the ten commandments and the beatitudes, Lúcás makes the argument, but what is more remarkable, he “performs it.” He takes each of the ten commandments and the eight beatitudes, tells us what each means and how each can be applied by a virtue. For instance, on the second beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Lúcás shows us that the grief Jesus is addressing is not over what one person has lost, but rather whether one empathizes for another’s loss. The second beatitude follows from and is deeply connected to the first beatitude: the blessed are those mourning for those who are poor in spirit, that is, for those in the community who are struggling. Lúcás writes, “Such is the lot of the disciples of Christ- when our brothers and sisters suffer, we cannot help but mourn.” (171) Then, after describing the meaning of the text, Lúcás proffers solidarity as the contemporary virtuous application of the second beatitude. For this reason, Harrington called Lúcás’ book, “a manifesto for the double competencies of a biblically based ethics.” In America magazine, Harrington called Lúcás’s work, “a milestone.”Read more
As the congratulatory telegrams continue for Ireland's referendum last Sunday approving gay marriage and as we await the Supreme Court's decision on the issue of a constitutional right for gay marriage, we might consider some of the points Ross Douthat makes in today's column in the New York Times. It is headlined: "The Prospect for Polygamy."
Douthat grants that the issue of polygamy in the U.S. is an "outlier" among social issues, and it does seem far-fetched. Yet, it is worth thinking about his ultimate point: not today and not next year, but maybe 2040. And why not? What would keep the Supreme Court and public opinion from deciding there are no constitutional or moral bars to multi-person marriages?
For all the commentary that Charles Taylor's monumental A Secular Age has generated, I think insufficient attention has been paid his culminating chapter, "Conversions." Here he tries to chart a path beyond secularity's dominant "immanent frame." Not surprisingly he turns to the poets as lantern bearers. Péguy enjoys a certain pride of place, but Hopkins figures prominently as well. Taylor writes:
Rejecting any doctrinal compromise with the spirit of his age, Hopkins returns decisively to the central Christian focus on communion as the goal of God's action in creation. God didn't just make us so that we could live according to the laws of his creation, but to participate in his love. What is striking is the way Hopkins brings to the fore once again the deep connection between this telos of communion and a recognition of the particular in all its specificity.
On this Trinity Sunday we might ponder that if communion is God's goal, it is because God's very life is Trinitarian communion. The fulfilled created image of God will be the realization of the communion of holy ones – as Dante saw so clearly. Communion, not fusion. Communion in which the names of each will continue to resound, now in blessed, beatifying harmony.
The Eucharist I will celebrate this morning will remember two wonderful parishioners who died far too young. Yet whose presence remains palpable. And here is how the homily concludes:
We pray that Michael and Robert may attain the fullness of their personhood in the loving communion of their Triune God. And as fellow members of the communion of saints, we dare hope that our prayers may support their entry into God's embrace.
And could we venture even further? Does their attainment of the fullness of personhood depend, in some measure, upon the living, loving relationships that they continue to inspire in us? Do we, by the lives we live, by our gratitude and generosity, truly contribute to their eternal joy?
All this we ponder, as Christians ever do, in the Presence of our Three-personed God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The semi-official Vatican journal "La Civiltà Cattolica" has published an interview with Fr. Jean-Miguel Garrigues, professor of patristics and dogmatics at the Institut Supérieur Thomas d’Aquin, at the Dominican House of Studies in Toulouse, and at the Seminaire International St Cure'd Ars. He worked with Cristoph Schönborn in preparing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. With regard to issues likely to be the subject of passionate debate at the Synod of Bishops in October, Garrigues proposed a pastoral approach that takes into account the personal journeys of individuals. He offered a comtemporary analogy:
When we take the wrong street or are distracted, the apparatus recalculates the route, taking note of our mistake and adapting the route so that we can reach the destination still desired. “Analogously, every time that we go off track by sinning, God does not require us to return to our point of departure because biblical conversion of heart, metanoia, is not a Platonic return to the starting point. God re-orients us towards himself, tracing a new route toward himself. Just as the destinations do not change in the GPS, so the moral goals do not change in God’s governance. What changes–and how great they are!–is the route that each person takes in his free journey towards moral maturity before God and towards God. Think of the number of alternative journeys that the divine GPS must have pointed out to the Good Thief before that final and supremely dramatic short-cut on the Cross!”
George Weigel seems quite immune to irony. In a recent column, be opines on what he sees as “The Catholic Church’s German Problem”. Yet in the run-up to the pope’s encyclical on the environment, perhaps a more appropriate headline would be “The Catholic Church’s North American Problem”. As we all know, the sound and fury surrounding a document that has not yet been published is simply unprecedented. And it is equally clear that this sound and fury is coming overwhelming from the United States—from its noisy cabal of libertarians, free market fundamentalists, oil and gas industry vested interests, and climate science denialists.
Full disclosure: I was involved in last month’s symposium at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development”. As I noted before, this symposium brought together some of the world’s top climate scientists, development practitioners, and religious leaders, and it was opened by Ban Ki-Moon. It also had the dubious distinction of being gate-crashed by the worst emblem of this “American problem”—the Heartland Institute, which uses quack science to mock the idea of climate change while upholding the virtues of the unlimited extraction of fossil fuels. More than one person noted in private that this is indeed an American issue, and it is being driven by American financial interests.
And who provides cheap intellectual cover for these radicals and dangerous extremists? None other than George Weigel. In the aftermath of our symposium, he noted that it “assiduously excluded those skeptical of the U.N.’s global-warming orthodoxies” – as if the subject of anthropogenic global warming was actually subject to debate outside the hermetically-sealed chamber occupied by this cabal.
Circling back to his attack on the German Church, the lesson Weigel draws is that of “a cautionary tale about the effects of surrendering to the spirit of the age.” Yet I would contend that few American Catholics in the modern era have surrendered more to the spirit of the age—the age of Reagan and the resurgence of free-market liberalism and aggressive militarism—than George Weigel.Read more
In London it’s become the fashion of wealthy homebuyers to supplement already sizable residences with cavernous subterranean lairs. In Manhattan it’s to move into a sky-high aerie, priced in the tens of millions, from which it’s possible to look down on the Empire State Building. In the Bay Area it’s to snap up anything inside the city limits of San Francisco, the near entirety of which has become a bedroom community for Silicon Valley’s most monied.
Wealth has always shaped cities, but its current role in the transformation of urban centers around the world seems unprecedented, probably because there’s so much more of it, concentrated in ever-fewer hands, moving ever more fluidly and mysteriously through lightly regulated and technologically enhanced channels. Oligarch, plutocrat, or ordinary multimillionaire, the highest-net-worth property-seekers want to be in cities, or if nothing else be able to park their money in one (real estate being a good place to hide it). It may be a cliche to talk about the divide between rich and poor in places like London, New York, and San Francisco, but some cliches bear restating, especially when the divide seems increasingly inconceivable in its breadth -- the very function of a system engineered to practically ensure its further expansion. “Darwinian upscale urbanism,” as Martin Filler termed it in the New York Review of Books in April, referring specifically to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for the city he ran -- a place where the wealth of wealthy property owners was to trickle down to residents but instead, a researcher found, had “deleterious effects... on small business, the middle class, and taxpayers.”
It may not be easy to dig an enormous basement or live in a condo eighteen-hundred feet above street-level, but it would be even harder if there were not banks, developers, lawyers, real-estate firms, contractors, and politicians dedicated to making it possible.Read more
In his beautiful new book Finding and Seeking, Christian ethicist Oliver O’Donovan offers an extended critique of what he calls “anticipation” as a basis for moral deliberation. Anticipation is of a “middle-distance future” stemming from our actions, differing from the immediate “nearer future” of the specific purpose of our actions and the “further future” which, for Christianity, rests on the virtue of hope. O’Donovan suggests that good decision-making involves some anticipation, but it “must be kept in its place,” because our ability to control the middle-distance future is “fragile.” We all know this from experience: if we are contemplating a job change, we may see specific benefits and costs that will immediately result from it, and we may (as Christians) hope that we are contributing to God’s purposes for the world. But we can’t really know very clearly, five years down the road, how life will “look different” if we take the job or refuse it. What other opportunities might come along? What happens if there is a change in the business model of the company? The questions are virtually endless. Thus, if we get stuck on a “demand for definiteness” by relying on fragile anticipation, we may never decide, and we certainly won’t decide well.
O’Donovan’s larger concern here is how our public life increasingly is determined by this “demand for definiteness.” Candidates and official offer plans, and they are evaluated based on “what will happen.” This inevitably results in two problems. One, there arises “a preference for the short-term focus,” where predictability is most assured. Two, any attempts at a longer-term focus means “we must pretend to have a scientific statistical prediction, precisely in order to suit our generalized conception of what responsible decision-making ought to be.” But such “predictions” are of course exceedingly fragile, resulting in “a constant confusion of speculative anticipation with hard science.” The answer to “what will happen” if, say, the minimum wage is raised is uncertain – not entirely, of course, and economists can offer some reasonable claims about the trade-offs. If labor is more expensive, a business will have to think about various options – but even here, the options are quite different in different circumstances, with different business plans, in different places and industries. While all of this has value for prudence, it must be “put in its place” – one cannot say that minimum wage increases simply produce either “good” or “bad” results. The question must be subordinated to the question of how society as a whole maintains just wages over time.
But O’Donovan’s essay really made me think about the upcoming environmental encyclical and the place of climate change within it. “Anticipating” the effects of climate change is many orders of magnitude more difficult (but also more weighty!) than the effects of a job change or a minimum wage increase. Extreme weather events, like the unprecedented rainfall totals in Texas and Oklahoma or the ongoing drought in California, inevitably bring up the question of how temperature changes in the atmosphere affect weather patterns. THAT weather patterns are affected is not questionable; HOW they are affected is much more fragile. Certainly the possibility of extremely bad effects should weigh heavily on our minds, especially given our shockingly blasé attitude toward, say, the year 2100, a year we would expect children born today to live to see. But the contemplation of such effects can even have paradoxical effects, leading us to despair, especially when we recognize that any individual changes we make may be lost in humanity’s massive collective activity. I was in a conversation earlier this year where someone from the Boston area stated that she had long driven small cars, but that this winter, she had finally had enough and bought an SUV. What is one to do in this situation? What the person definitely knows is that the SUV will help her endure such winters, and the “anticipation” of the world in 2100 may not be a very strong counter.
All this points to something key about the environment encyclical: our news coverage and public policy is fixated on the “demand for definiteness,” and the question of what the pope has said about climate change will get a lot of attention. This is unfortunate. The moral weight of this encyclical – and any encyclical – does not rest on “anticipation.” Instead, it will likely rest on very traditional, core beliefs about two things. One, God has ordered creation. The Psalm response for today’s daily mass was “By the word of the Lord, the heavens were made.” That’s not a prediction; that is a wisdom teaching about the good order of the world, which we arrogantly mess with at our peril. It’s also not a prediction that we are messing with it; that’s just clear. We are essentially using the atmosphere as an infinite waste dump – one might not wrongly say, “by the exhaust of our cars, the heavens were remade.”
And why are we doing that? For some good purpose? The likely emphasis on “integral ecology” will suggest that our disordering of creation is intertwined with a failure to love our neighbor in the fashion Christ tells us to. Put another way, the problem with big cars isn’t (simply) the “anticipated” effects of all this fossil fuel use; rather, cars are bad for loving your neighbor. Now, I’m not saying that somehow cars are per se bad. I’m saying cars – or at least an absolute reliance on them – is bad for human ecology, not just for natural ecology. Cars may in fact be the most important social strategy in America for people to avoid the problems of the poor. But even at a simpler level, what preacher has not used the example of our “response” to other drivers as an occasion where we express blatant anger at our neighbors?
We shouldn’t make environmental issues all about one thing, like cars. It’s not. But one of the major structures of sin that make reasonable efforts to deal with climate change so hard is we’ve built a society where we’re very attached to our cars. And my point here is that the Church’s concern for natural ecology is based on a belief, already stated clearly by Popes John Paul II (Centesimus Annus, nos. 37-38) and Benedict XVI (Caritas in Veritate, no. 51), that environmental bads are rooted not only in a lack of care for creation, but in a lack of real love for our neighbors. Excessive energy use is rooted deeply in our individualism, our preference for going our own way, whatever it is, rather than cooperation and interdependence. Francis won’t need to rely on the fragile foundation of “anticipation” in order to tell us that.
Many who are responding to the 62.4% majority vote to nationally legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland are making much of Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin's frank but vague remarks in the New York Times:
The church needs to take a reality check.... It’s very clear there’s a growing gap between Irish young people and the church, and there’s a growing gap between the culture of Ireland that’s developing and the church.... [I]nside the church becomes almost alien territory to them in today’s society…
That there is a growing gap between young people and the church on this issue is not new news, nor is it exclusive to Ireland. Martin is right to point out that anyone who doesn't recognize this is in "severe denial." That's why I think this referendum is such good news. It's a reality check, yes, but it's also an opportunity to let go of the fight against same-sex marriage. If bemoaning the referendum becomes the church's basis for strengthening "its commitment to evangelization," as the Vatican's secretary of state suggests, the gap between young people and the church will only widen.
I don’t have the polling data to prove this, but I can't imagine that many young Catholics enjoy being recruited to fight a culture war, especially if the opposition includes family, friends, and peers. They find it alienating when a priest homilizes about the essential differences between men and women; they would rather hear that “all are welcome” at Mass and rather the homily stick to the gospel. When Catholic identity becomes less about spirituality and more about political battles, something essential is lost…along with thousands of believers.
Is there a way for Catholics to simply disagree with same-sex marriage supporters instead of having to “defend traditional marriage”? Is there a widespread movement to force the church to change its teaching on marriage? Why can’t traditional marriage exist inside the church, with same-sex marriage outside the church? Agreeing to disagree relieves the opposing parties of the burden of needing to win. Ireland has decided, by majority vote, to legalize same-sex marriage. At least one front in this protracted culture war has gone quiet. What a relief.
Over at NCR Michael Sean Winters wonders if it’s possible that “those Irish young people did not vote for same sex marriage despite their Catholic education, but, in part, because of it?” That’s a very good question. I suspect they did. Catholics have imagination. Tradition isn’t a force that eternally battles advancing armies. It’s the way the substance (not the accidents) of church teaching is passed down through generations of believers who contribute to this process by reexamining and reexamining again what their faith means.
Following up on Ireland’s referendum in favor of same-sex marriage, Frank Bruni’s column in today’s New York Times (May 27, 2015) provides some interesting information but stops short of the difficult question. Bruni points out that most of the countries around the world that have accommodated same-sex marriage or civil unions have large Catholic populations, and that American Catholics are the most “gay-friendly” of all Christian denominations, when it comes to questions about marriage or civil unions. But the real issue is why Catholics find themselves in this somewhat surprising position, surprising not least because church leaders, even those who ask “who am I to judge?” teach the opposite of what a significant majority of the Catholic people seem to believe. If we leave aside the tempting thought that Catholics say this because their bishops teach the opposite, what can they possibly be thinking?
One possible response to the U.S. context that would be high on the list of First Things would be to point out that the “Catholics” polled in the Pew research are always self-identified Catholics, that this includes many who are rarely if ever in church, and that the more often an individual goes to church, the more likely s/he is to be in the minority of the nay-sayers. It is also true that if you look at generational cohorts, it is in the youngest groups that the highest percentage of those favoring same-sex marriage can be found. And everyone knows, don’t they, that this is also the cohort least likely to be found in church on any given Sunday. The counter is pretty obvious: there is no litmus test for a Catholic (remember James Joyce’s “Here comes everybody!”), and perhaps the younger Catholics have experience that older Catholics don’t. In my long years as a teacher of mostly Catholic undergraduates I have found the growing support for gays and lesbians to have nothing much to do with moral relativism and everything to do with encountering and befriending gay and lesbian kids in high school.
So what other answers might there be to the question of why American Catholics are so supportive? I have three suggestions and I hope that readers will add more. First, perhaps the fact that Catholics have a celibate clergy that includes a large number of gay men means that the fear bred from ignorance is less likely to be operative than in other traditions. Second, could it be that a natural law approach to ethical questions, that is, that reason should guide our thinking and our conclusions, is bred into the Catholic bone? Third, might Catholics be so imbued with the sacramental principle that they recognize any expression of genuine love to be evidence of God’s presence in the world, and hence to be cherished rather than condemned? In Ireland or here or elsewhere, the actual principal difference between leaders and people, on same-sex issues or birth control or religious freedom or perhaps many other issues, is that the leadership thinks deductively while the rank and file think inductively. Experience trumps ideology, which—strangely enough—is Pope Francis’s consistent message!
We've just posted three new stories to the homepage.
1. In his latest Letter from Rome, Robert Mickens suggests the possible reasons behind the Vatican Secretary of State's "apocolyptic assesment of the the Irish referendum" is culture, "particularly Italian culture," because Italy is "the most conservative country in all of Europe when it comes to social conventions and customs," especially concerning the family.
Mickens also reveals who exactly has been holding "secretive meetings and initiatives" in the run-up to October's Synod on the Family that deal with "some of the more thorny issues" the bishops will be debating, including the Kasper proposal.
2. The Editors present reasons, if the Amtrak derailment isn't enough of one, for why the U.S. government’s failure to invest in infrastructure must change:
The United States now spends less than 2 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, less than half of what Europe spends—and less than half of what we were spending in the 1960s....The American Society of Civil Engineers gave [the nation's infrastructure] a grade of D+... [and] noted that the average age of the country’s 84,000 dams is fifty-two, and that one in nine of its bridges is considered structurally deficient. Every few years one of these bridges collapses, occasioning a brief outburst of bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill. Then nothing changes.
Read all of 'Signal Failure.'
3. George Dennis O'Brien, pondering the future direction of Catholic education, looks backward:
The dominant style of higher education in the ancient world was not academic but humanistic, directed at educating future political leaders who needed to learn the art of persuasion.... [T]he humanistic “classical curriculum” dominated American colleges from colonial times until the end of the nineteenth century.
Are Catholic institutions replacing the humanistic style with the "academic style of close argument and verifiable truths"?
When school ends professors go on the road. The conference season kicks into gear, and for teachers of theology it has all begun this year at Georgetown University with the 9th Ecclesiological Investigations Network International Conference, also including half a day at Marymount University across the Potomac in Arlington. Today we are wrapping up four days of talks and conversations on “Vatican II—Remembering the Future: Ecumenical, Interfaith and Secular Perspectives on the Council’s Impact and Promise.” Organized by the tireless Gerard Mannion of Georgetown University’s Theology faculty, about 250 of us from many Christian traditions have talked and listened a lot, including to three, count ‘em, three Cardinals. We began with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, whom you may remember as the slight figure who announced the election of Pope Francis from the balcony of the Vatican. Cardinal Walter Kasper was also much in evidence, delivering a major address at Washington’s National Cathedral, but it was actually the third of the trio, Cardinal Luis Tagle, who aroused most interest. If we are focused on remembering the future, the 57 year old papabile Archbishop of Manila was obviously the best fit with the conference theme. He comes across very much as an Asian version of Pope Francis. He is very unassuming and equally charming, not at all the shy and retiring figure that the media saw him as when they were handicapping the potential replacements for Pope Benedict. But while Francis’s context is the still overwhelmingly Catholic poor of Latin America, Tagle is very conscious that Asian Catholics exist as a small minority in the midst of countless millions of adherents of the ancient religious traditions of Asia. So, he has very little time for those European Catholics who bemoan the exhaustion of their continent’s Catholicism. “When they tell me they are tired,” he said, “I ask them what they are tired of.” Here in Asia, he added, “we have no time to lament and we never had anything to lose anyway.”
Before he became a leading ecclesiologist, the great Yves Congar wanted to spend his life in ecumenical work. He wrote the first serious 20th century book on ecumenism back in the 1930s but was forbidden to attend ecumenical conferences. This kind of suspicion is now thankfully long gone, though Protestants do reasonably still wonder why the Roman Church chooses not to become a full member of the World Council of Churches. As the Ecclesiological Investigations conferences show, there’s not much difference between ecumenism and ecclesiology, at least since Vatican II. You just cannot talk about the church any more and mean only the Roman Catholic Church. But it is quite wonderful to have three cardinals putting their collective approval on what, without them, would probably just be dismissed as what professors do with their long summers to keep themselves occupied.
On Tuesday morning my best friend Lúcás Chan, S.J., died at the age of 46 of a heart attack. He was the epitome of healthy living and his death is, well, overwhelming for all his friends and family.
I can’t get over that our grieving over Lúcás is going on on the eve of Pentecost. It has made me understand Pentecost in a whole different way these days because I’m preaching on Sunday evening and I’m wondering, how can I preach tomorrow without mentioning that my best friend died?
What I am learning these days is that grief is best when it’s with others. That grief alone is a painful grief. Jesus’ followers knew that too, and when the 12 are gathered in the upper room with Mary, they’re gathered there because they’re consoling one another.
They’re not going there because they’re waiting for the Holy Spirit. They’re going there because they are really sharing their grief. But their grief is not that they’re consoling one another by saying: Are you OK? Mary, how are you doing? Peter, are you OK? I don’t think that was their grief.
I think they just talked about all the love that they experienced from Jesus and also they wanted to hear from one another how Jesus was loved. And so they wanted to hear how Peter loved Jesus, how Mary loved Jesus, how Andrew and John and the others loved Jesus. And it’s in the hearing of these narratives that I think that they were consoled. And it was in that space that the Spirit found its place to enter into the upper room.
The Pentecost is not simply a sign of the Spirit’s descent or the birth of the Church as we’ve always said. It was a moment of people grieving, people consoling one another about the fact that they loved Jesus, who loved them and died for them. In that expression of how they loved, they recognized their salvation and found a way to move forward by the Spirit.
I think that’s why I gathered with his friends on Thursday at a memorial for Lúcás. We gathered because each of us, in very different ways, knew and loved him. For me, I am consoled when his friends, students, colleagues, brother Jesuits, parishioners from the Cantonese parishes, and others tell me stories about how much they love Lúcás and how much and how particularly, he loved them.
When we gather in this type of love we know that our main concern in consoling one another is not asking how we’re doing, but what did he mean to us? In that expression, what did he mean to us, we encounter the consolation of the resurrection and then can be led by the Spirit.
Ireland is holding a referendum on legalization of same-sex marriage on Friday, historic not just because of the matter at hand but also that it would be decided directly by national popular vote – not (as in the case of seventeen nations that have legalized it) by courts or legislators.
Polling suggests the Yes vote (that is, in favor of legalization) will win handily, but not everyone is so sure. One reason for the uncertainty is the inaccuracy of the polling preceding recent elections in Britain, which predicted a close finish that turned out anything but. Another is the possible role of the well-known social desirability bias – the tendency of a survey respondent not to state true preferences out of fear it might open them to criticism of their motivations. In the United States it’s become mostly associated (if not synonymous) with the Bradley effect, named for 1982 gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, an African American who was leading comfortably in pre-election and even exit polling but lost to his (white) opponent George Deukmejian. White voters who told pollsters they’d vote for Bradley did the opposite. Some reports say “a ‘shy’ No vote” is seen as a real possibility in Irish political circles, given
the social pressure to at least appear to be sympathetic to the Yes vote … being felt across the country following endorsements not just from all major political parties but state bodies too. Even Ireland’s police association, the Garda Representative Association, has come out for Yes, the first time it has taken a partisan position on a referendum.
Some recent polling says more than 75 percent of Irish voters favor altering the constitution to allow same-sex marriage, with most business and unions and even some Catholic priests publicly voicing support (the nation’s bishops are encouraging a No vote). The No side is saying that the social desirability bias is definitely at play. Dublin and other urban centers seem a definite Yes, but rural, western Ireland is trending No. Younger voters are in favor of legalization; middle-aged and older ones, less so.
An NPR report this week used the construction “conservative, Catholic Ireland” and also identified the country “one of the most socially conservative in Western Europe.” Other reports use similar language, noting the more or less familiar details that it wasn’t until 1985 that Ireland legalized the sale of contraceptives, or until 1993 that it decriminalized homosexuality, or that abortion remains illegal. Would a Yes victory amount to “a heavyweight punch to the body of the church” in a country that is more than 80 percent Catholic? Or, as Jesuit priest Oliver Rafferty, a visiting professor at Boston College, suggests in this New York Times piece, might a Yes victory actually offer a new opportunity for the church in Ireland?
If it can no longer epitomize the broader culture in Ireland, Irish Catholicism can perhaps emerge as a more caring less overtly dogmatic and oppressive feature of the Irish landscape. Its focus might be more concentrated on ministering to peoples’ actual needs than on wielding power in Irish society.
The latest numbers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show student loan debt has reached $1.2 trillion, four times the amount it was in 2004. For the Millennial generation who stepped into the job market mid-recession, these sobering numbers probably aren't surprising.
Last year, a branch of Occupy Wall Street called Strike Debt, bought and forgave almost four million in student loans held by students from Corinthian Colleges, one of the biggest for-profit college chains, which recently closed its doors without warning and filed for bankruptcy. The company was under scrutiny for over-charging students for poor-quality classes and misrepresenting its job placement rate, and by shutting down, it left many students without degrees but deeper in dept. Now that Corinthian’s unethical practices have been laid bare, Tuesday’s petition asking the Department of Education to cancel debt owed to colleges violating state law is one good step, but the legal case is complicated.
Proposals for addressing the crisis of student debt range from the relatively modest (easing the requirements for debt forgiveness in cases of fraud found in Obama’s proposed Student Aid Bill of Rights), to the sweeping, as Bernie Sanders’s proposal to address the root cause of student debt by making college tuition-free. Regardless, some kind of action is needed.
The more burdensome a college graduate’s debt obligation, the more difficult it is to establish a path toward economic security – building savings, for example, or buying a house – and to enter stabilizing relationships or start a family. Student debt also affects the well-being of the previous generation, as parents rally to help their children, sometimes by tapping into their home’s equity or retirement savings. And, when the time comes, who are they supposed to sell their homes to when an entire generation of graduates is too constrained by debt to buy? There are also new numbers on how rising tuition and student debt disproportionately hurts minorities. Hollis Phelps in Commonweal last year addressed this very topic: “In a cruel twist, the very means undertaken by my students to get themselves out of poverty threaten to continue that poverty through the debt that they now owe.” What might have once seemed like a young-person’s problem (and perhaps a privileged young-person’s problem) is now more widely felt.
We should understand the student debt crisis alongside the seriously weakened prospects for job growth that early Millennials faced upon graduation. As the first Millennial wave graduated, job definitions were changing as industries shifted and automation spread, and thanks to the recession, even the jobs that were supposed to be there as entrees to the middle-class were gone, or greatly diminished. Companies relied increasingly on contract labor to defray costs, including adjunct positions at universities (which didn’t help the students who went to graduate school hoping to ride out the economic downturn). All this meant that the “foot in the door” college was expected to provide meant something very different than it used to. If you could get an entry-level position, advancement in the same workplace over a long period of time was no longer a solid prospect. And as many discovered, an unpaid internship began to increasingly qualify you for… a different internship—a point that has even made its way into Hillary Clinton’s speeches (though apparently her foundation's policies don't necessarily reflect that concern).
Despite the occasional accusation of generational flightiness, which ignores these economic factors, Millennials say they want to make the same things happen as their parents did: a home, a stable partnership, and enough stability to raise kids. Policy changes will have to span the sprawling and slow-moving institutions of federal government, banks, and universities. But changes are slowly coming. In some states, companies that relied on unpaid internships to fill staff roles face greater restrictions. The complaints from Occupy Wall Street’s corridors about debt once sounded less urgent and pressing to the mainstream. Millennials faced a lack of institutional support to build a solid foundation, and now the problem is coming home.
In the lingering aftermath (or afterglow, depending on your degree of fandom) of the Mad Men finale, it’s worth recalling The Paris Review interview of show-runner Matthew Weiner a couple of years ago. In it he explains his method of plotting and the influence of certain films (Apocalypse Now, North by Northwest, Days of Heaven) that resisted or flouted narrative convention.
People [like] to talk about “act breaks” and “rising action” leading to a climax, but what about Apocalypse Now? Someone’s on a journey, and sure, we’re heading toward a climax, but there are so many digressions. To me, those digressions are the story. People would say to me, What’s holding this together? Or, How is this moment related to the opening scene, or the problem you set up on page 15? I don’t know. That’s where the character went. That’s the story. So many movies in the seventies are told this way, episodically, and they feel more like real life because you don’t see the story clicking.
Celia Wren, writing in our current issue, raises valid points about the occasionally frustrating aspects of Mad Men’s seven-season unspooling. While the creator of a work should not be let off the hook for its shortcomings, I think some should be seen in the context of the general challenges of television production – actors leave, schedules are delayed, budgets and salaries change, as do perceived business needs – and to the particular production of Mad Men: ninety-two period-piece episodes engaging to lesser or greater degree the cultural, political, and historical issues of a decade, filmed over eight years about a half-century after the time depicted.
A time that many can remember first-hand, and that many more have relived or experienced second-hand, and vividly, through innumerable and infinitely replayed documentaries and TV programs. The audience thus viewed it through their own filtered stores of memory and recall – as well as with the expectations cultivated by deeply internalized notions of television convention. Unhappiness with the show was inevitable, and there were suggestions of it in how energetically the final-season prediction mill churned. Would Don Draper commit suicide? (Based on what – an opening-credit sequence that showed a suited man falling? Then what about his safe landing on an office couch in iconic draped-arm pose, cigarette dangling from fingertips?). Would he prove to be seventies myth-folk figure D.B. Cooper? (Why? This would be completely outside the dramatic universe Weiner so carefully constructed). Would Peggy find love, would Joan and Roger get together, would Sally become a Patty Hearst-like figure? There was an observable method to Weiner’s Mad Men, and it was not to go out with a shocker, address a nostalgic yearning, or tidy up storylines. Though some of that was delivered after all, which proved too much for fans like The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum: “There was nothing wrong with those other, often very pleasurable stories, in aggregate, although for a person like myself, who tends to like her finales like her men, without too much closure or wish fulfillment, the fan-service element made me twitch a few times.” You can’t please everyone, not even those who like you.Read more
We had a go around last week about nail salons (and I have been chided for treating it as another NYTimes hand-wringer). Okay. Sorry to scandalize the sensitive!
I pointed out in a comment on that post that our Immigration Law Imbroglio has a lot to do with the nail scandal as well as many other ongoing industrial/commercial abuses, such as restaurants, gas stations, street repairs, etc. Thanks to Republicans our laws have not been updated; thanks to Obama the laws, such as we have, are not being enforced; thanks to the economy of low-wage jobs, ever more immigrants will come by hook or crook and be abused, many of them by their own countrymen/women and by our failure to enforce the laws that should protect them as well as our very own low-wage workers.
Jim Dwyer (no hand-wringer) has a short piece not only about workers beings abused everywhere in NYC, but about the general failure of city and state to enforce the laws that should be protecting these workers, legal or not.
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