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The Real Rudy?

Newsweek has a lengthy profile of Giuliani that burrows into his youth to explain Rudy the Politician. The piece quotes from the John Judis piece in The New Republic, which we posted earlier, that tries to explain Giuliani's authoritarian streak in terms of traditional Catholic thought. To me, the Newsweek profile (lengthy and meaty) does more to explain Rudy simply by setting out the Catholic culture he grew up in, the tribalism, and the style of Catholic education. Such as the Christian Brothers who used corporal punishment as a matter of course--and were thanked by the senior Giulianis for doing so.

"Corporal punishment was routine at Bishop Loughlin. Adolescent anarchy was a fearful thing; the Brothers beat it out of kids. Some students were afraid. "When you see someone picked up by the shirt and tie and punched in the face, or other teachers throwing chalk across the roomit was very scary," says Joseph Sicinski, who was Giuliani's classmate."

"At Bishop Loughlin, Giuliani was a catechist, a student who instructed younger children in Catholic doctrine. Giuliani was not remarkably pious, but like many dutiful boys of his time and background, he seriously considered the priesthood. (He would later joke to friends that he gave up his priestly ambitions because "celibacy ain't for me.") But Giuliani wound up applying for a college scholarship "to study law or medicine," the classic roads of upward mobility for the sons of immigrant families."

This and other pieces also try to explain Giuliani's soft spot for his oft-times nefarious friends (and, presumably, his peace with his rather wayward personal life) as part of the Catholic understanding of "that fine, blurry line between saint and sinner."

David Brooks tried a similar tack in a recent column, The Real Rudy in which he (somewhat cloyingly) praises Giuliani's "inner light"--that is, his former, more liberal views on immigation and gays and abortion--and wonders why he has abandoned his true self.

I'm not so sure that washes. Maybe what we see is Rudy's true self. I do think it will be fascinating to see (esp after yesterday's revelations of taxpayer funds used during his extramarital affair) how--and whether--Giuliani will play out as a "Catholic" candidate.

UPDATE: Two stories out now that could have more impact on Giuliani's chances than his Catholic education. One is from the Village Voice on Rudy's ties to Qatar sheiks who were cozy with the kind of folks Rudy likes to denounce.

Second is a story on the front of today's Times, Citing Statistics, Giuliani Misses Time and Again about Giuliani's "misstatements." Money quote:

"All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong."

If only the Christian Brothers could get their hands on him now...I have a sense this truthiness will come to haunt him, esp as Huckabee marches on.

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Christian Brothers! That explains it. One of them broke my dad's left eardrum with a swift clap to the ear when he misbehaved on one of several occasions in high school. And I knew of another at a rival to my own (Holy Cross) high school who would rip the hair out of a kid's head if it went past his collar. The good old days...

Are we talking here about the Irish Christian Brothers or the Brothers of the Christian Schools? Some of us are aware of the distinction, although there is a tendency to call them both the simply the Christian Brothers. If one is going to rehearse tales of brutishness, it is preferable to use precise nomenclature.As for R.G., it is my understanding that his first marriage was "annulled", as they say, on the grounds that he and the woman he married were second cousins, a fact so obscure as to have escaped attention beforehand. This story, if it is true, says a great deal.

I'm not referring to the Lasallians.

Thank goodness I had the Jesuits in high school. No corporal punishment there. We were constantly reminded about the privilege of being students in that school. You act up, you're out, and to the administration's credit, the policy was applied across the board to students from both affluent and much less affluent families. As to the R.G. story Joseph Gannon relates, that's what I've read, too. In addition, R.G. supposedly didn't discover the second cousin relationship (he has said he thought they were third cousins at the time they were married) until the marriage was about 15 years along, though the couple had separated at some point years before the marriage ended. R.G. was purportedly already living with Donna Hanover, who would become his second wife, at the time the annulment came through. And one further factoid: the annulment process was allegedly helped along by Fr. Alan Placa.(Back to my job at the Enquirer.)

Jug, Mr Collier!

BillActually the Jesuits in the seventeenth century seems to have been very progressive educators, perhaps later as well. I learned about this from reading about the education that Descartes received from themGrantAs for the "Lasallians" I attended La Salle Academy in Providence and never heard that term used. We thought of them as the Christian Brothers, as a conveniently short form of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. When I migrated to New York I heard tell of the Irish Christian Brothers, who were not knonw to me previously. Perhaps you asume that when you characterize the "Christian Brothers " as you do there is no need to add "Irish". I am not sure everyone would agree.

Jug and I were well-acquainted, Unagidon. My sense of humor and practical jokes were, shall we say, years ahead of their time and underappreciated by those in authority. Regrettably, that's still the case. ;)

Joseph,I take your point, but it's not as though the disciplinary habits of some Irish Christian Brothers are a secret.

Joseph--I have nothing but good things to say about my 8 years of Jesuit education, my well-deserved jugs in high school included. I also admired that it took about 15 years of formation before a Jesuit seminarian was ordained, and that during that period the "scholastics" were required to participate in several real-world activities beyond their theological studies--e.g., spending 2 or 3 years teaching miscreants like me, working for 2 or 3 years in a foreign country or among the poor in the U.S., etc. It's just my opinion, but that diversity of experience must be a great influence in their lives as ordained priests, too. Fr. James Martin, for example, writes movingly in his book "My Life with the Saints" about the influence that his time as a seminarian in Africa had on his vocation and role as a priest.

Are we not somewhat off the subject of whether Giuliani will play out as a "Catholic" candidate? I don't think that any serious Catholic would consider him a representation of the faith in political life. Our previous Catholic candidates have been Al Smith, who lost because he was a Catholic and John Kennedy, who won in spite of being a Catholic. While they may not have been exlemplary Catholics, neither of them were as far out of the faith as Giuliani with his third marriage. Should we want a "Catholic candidate?" I don't because I don't want an Evangelical or Muslim or any other candidate who claims to make decisions on the basis of his or her faith rather than on his or her oath to uphold the Constitution.

Giuliani seem impatient of facts that would be contrary to the story he tells himself--and the world--about himself and about his world. I don't think this is a peculiarly Catholic trait. I do think I have detected it in some Church leaders. It is often accompanied by an inflated self-confidence and sense of mission.

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.