Sunday, November 15, 2009

Comments on Time magazine's nonsense

Since it's stirred up a lot of controversy lately, and since I want to do a series of posts on mis-reportage of Catholicism in the secular press, I've decided to do a Fr. Z-style (for those of you familiar with the What Does the Prayer Really Say blog) parsing of Amy Sullivan's piece from Time magazine "Priests Spar Over What It Means to be Catholic."

As I've done before, I will use [Bracketed Blue Italics] to show my comments


The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church traditionally couch even the harshest disagreements in decorous, ecclesiastical language. But it didn't take a decoder ring to figure out what Rome-based Archbishop Raymond Burke meant in a late-September address when he charged Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley with being under the influence of Satan, "the father of lies."   [False.  Archbishop Burke did use the phrase "Father of Lies," but not in specific reference to Cardinal O'Malley.  He said that "One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal. "  This is hardly the same thing as implying that Cardinal O'Malley has a secret pact with Satan.] 

Burke's broadside at O'Malley was inspired by the Cardinal's decision to permit and preside over a funeral Mass for the late Senator Ted Kennedy. And it has set the Catholic world abuzz. [Really?  I was unaware of all this buzz, and I'm usually pretty up on my Catholic news.] Even more than protests over the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak, disputes over the Kennedy funeral have brought into the open an argument that has been roiling within American Catholicism. The debate nominally centers on the question of how to deal with politicians who support abortion rights. Burke and others who believe a Catholic's position on abortion trumps all other teachings have faced off against those who take a more holistic view of the faith. [Ah.  I see.  Those who oppose Archbishop Burke have a more holistic view of things.  Because, ignoring certain core teachings of the Church is "holistic."] But at the core, the divide is over who decides what it means to be Catholic.

A Bull in a China Shop
It strikes no one as surprising that the 61-year-old Burke is at the center of the current fight. The former Archbishop of St. Louis made national headlines in 2004 when he became the first Catholic leader to say he would deny the Eucharist toDemocratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He led an unsuccessful drive to bar Communion for politicians who support abortion rights. And as Election Day approached in 2004, Burke issued a warning to Catholics in the key swing state of Missouri that they should not present themselves for Communion if they voted for pro-choice candidates. [While I overall support Archbishop Burke, I will admit that I don't really see that voting for a pro-choice candidate in itself removes someone from communion with the Church.  While I would not vote for a pro-choice candidate myself, I think that it is theoretically possible that in some instance one could believe that it was the right thing to do even if they were solidly pro-life.  That said, if you've been voting for pro-choicers, please give heavy consideration to the prime importance of the abortion issue.]

The Archbishop's outspoken comments did not go unnoticed in Rome. In June 2008, Burke was unexpectedly transferred to the Vatican. The move was widely interpreted as a way to put some distance between Burke and the political contest in the States. [I don't buy this idea] "It was not unrelated to issues of political timing," observes Mark Silk, a professor of religion at Trinity College.  [And obviously Mark Silk is the unquestionable authority on the Vatican's motives.]

Burke's new assignment came with an impressive title: Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura — essentially chief justice of the Vatican's highest court. But the job, which involves hearing appeals of lower-canon-court rulings on issues like annulment requests, did not stop him from commenting on American politics. [Is there something wrong with that, Ms. Sullivan?  Bishops should not be silent on moral issues, and as an American citizen, Burke has every right to express his views on American politics, anyway.]  In January he charged that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was responsible for Obama's victory because it overwhelmingly approved a document suggesting that Catholics could consider issues besides abortion when deciding how to vote. The conference's in-house news service, he added, failed to highlight Obama's moral failings in its campaign coverage. And he called Health andHuman Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a pro-choice Catholic, a "source of deepest embarrassment to Catholics." [I'm embarassed...]

Burke's confrontational approach doesn't always mesh with the more discreet diplomacy favored by his Italian colleagues. "He's seen as a bull in a china shop," says an American priest and longtime Rome resident. "I've seen Italian bishops roll their eyes."  [Who is this "American priest?"  Given the dishonesty Ms. Sullivan employs in this piece, I wonder if he even exists.  Plus, what's the significance of his opinion, anyway?  And, whoever may "roll their eyes," Burke was recently appointed to the powerful Congregation for Bishops... so he's hardly being marginalized at the Vatican.]

In retrospect, it should have been obvious that the funeral plans for Kennedy would reignite a lingering dispute within the church. The question of whether the Senator should even be described as a Catholic because of his support for abortion rights and his checkered life history was hotly debated on Catholic blogs and religion websites like Right-wing Catholics lobbied the Boston archdiocese to refuse the Kennedy family a church funeral. [Most of the objections I heard were to the tenor of the funeral, not its occurence.]  Robert Royal of the Faith & Reason Institute called O'Malley's decision to go ahead with the Mass a "grave scandal" on a par with the sexual-abuse crisis.  [Mr. Royal claims he never said such a thing here]

But it's one thing for partisans and bloggers to disparage a Mass for a dead Senator; it's quite another for a Vatican official to do so. Even some leading conservative Catholics may find they cannot support Burke's latest salvo. When told of the Archbishop's assertion that pro-choice Catholics should not be permitted funeral rites, Princeton professor Robert George was taken aback: "That's a very different, and obviously graver, claim than that with which I would have sympathy. I haven't heard before any bishop say that pro-abortion politicians should not be given a Catholic funeral." [Professor George claims that his quote here was misrepresented.]
Friends of O'Malley's say the cardinal was stunned by the criticism. [I don't know how Cardinal O'Malley feels about much of anything, having never met the man, but after a long series of lies, I'm disinclined to take seriously the alleged claims of Ms. Sullivan's anonymous "friends"] The 65-year-old O'Malley is temperamentally Burke's opposite, a shy man who dislikes celebrity and shuns politics — a major reason he was appointed to the sensitive post in Boston. With his full beard and preference for wearing the brown robe of a Capuchin friar, the man who goes by "Cardinal Sean" is not easily identified as a Prince of the Church. When O'Malley received his red hat in 2006, he persuaded some friends to go out for a late-night snack in Rome after a long day of ceremonies. But he ran into some trouble when he tried to return to his quarters. The Vatican guards didn't believe that the casually attired man who smelled of pizza was a newly minted Cardinal. [So, you see, Cardinal O'Malley likes pizza, and the media has determined that he and Archbishop Burke are at loggerheads.  Therefore, we should all disagree with Archbishop Burke.]

Though he has presided over the difficult task of closing parishes and schools within the archdiocese, O'Malley is well liked in Boston and the broader Catholic community. He celebrated his inaugural Mass in Boston at a Spanish service, and he once joked that his scarlet Cardinal's robes would come in handy if Dick Cheney ever invited him to go hunting. O'Malley, however, should not be mistaken for a liberal member of the hierarchy. He is a conservative on matters of doctrine, and for the past few years, he has been the face of the church's opposition to Massachusetts' gay-marriage law.

But O'Malley did not hesitate to push back against the uproar that surrounded the Kennedy funeral. In a Sept. 2 post on — he is the only Cardinal with a blog — O'Malley wrote, "In the strongest terms I disagree" with those who believe Kennedy did not deserve a funeral Mass. "We will not change hearts by turning away from people in their time of need and when they are experiencing grief," he continued. "At times, even in the Church, zeal can lead people to issue harsh judgments and impute the worst motives to one another. These attitudes and practices do irreparable damage to the communion of the Church."

It was the first time a Cardinal had directly and publicly challenged the Burke position. O'Malley's statement was followed by another from Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., who lamented that "the death of Senator Kennedy has called forth at least an apparent rejection of mercy on the part of not a few Catholics." [Is Sullivan honestly trying to pretend that Bp. Morlino, of all people, is against taking a hard line on the abortion issue?  Bp. Morlino got national attention when he berated Joe Biden and Kathleen Sebelius "because they claim to be Catholic," for "confusing God's good people."  He's not exactly encouraging of pro-abortion "Catholics."]  It was inevitable that Burke would emerge to fire back. At a Sept. 18 dinner in Washington sponsored by the conservative media outlet Inside Catholic, Burke declared that "neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to [pro-choice] politicians." [Note that she edited Burke's statements to use the word "pro-choice," since that suits her political sensibilities.  Lifesite covered what he REALLY said] The audience gave Burke a prolonged standing ovation. 

Silence from Rome
The American hierarchy has been divided before, most recently in the 1990s by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's argument that abortion is not the only issue in the "seamless garment of life" that Catholics are called to promote. [That, too, was a rather contrived controversy.  Contrary to the picture some would like to paint, Cardinal Bernardin was not denying the moral significance of the abortion issue.] But the current debate, which is expected to surface again when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) holds its general meeting later this month, is the bitterest yet. [And boy is it bitter ] A minority faction of bishops had hoped Pope Benedict XVI would lead the way in punishing those who dissent from church teaching.  His preference for avoiding the political fray has both frustrated them and emboldened them to act on their own. 

The question now is whether the Vatican will move again to muzzle Burke. [Because the Vatican has "muzzled" him in the past?]  When he criticized Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl last spring during a videotaped interview, he was forced to apologize less than 24 hours after the video aired.  [Forced to apologize?  He made the mistake of trusting Randall Terry (of Operation Rescue).  Terry interviewed him and misrepresented the context of his remarks to make it sound like he was condemning Archbishop Weurl when he never intended to do so.  He apologized for the confusion.  Why, exactly, should we assume that the apology was forced?]  In early September, the bishop of Scranton, Pa. — a Burke protégé — abruptly resigned after a stormy tenure and was not reassigned.  [While I don't really know the details of Bp. Martino's resignation, he claimed he was resigning because he was sick.  That would explain why he wasn't reassigned.  It's very unlike the Vatican to kick a bishop to the curb over a few anti-abortion remarks...] Veteran Vatican watchers took it as a sign that some Burkean antics — such as threatening to refuse Vice President Joe Biden Communion and disparaging the USCCB — would not be tolerated. [Was that a consensus among "veteran Vatican watchers?"  Wait?  It wasn't!?!?!  I'm shocked... SHOCKED, I tell you... that Amy Sullivan would try to mislead us!]

Rome has been silent about Burke's most recent public statements. [Sometimes, silence is not a statement.] In late September, O'Malley was named to the Pontifical Council for the Family, a minor and expected appointment, but also a reminder that the Boston Cardinal has friends in high places. [And, as I mentioned before, Archbishop Burke recently got a major appointment to the Congregation for Bishops.  The Vatican doesn't care about stupid media-fabricated faux-feuds.]   "From the point of view of doctrine, Benedict has absolute firmness," says a Vatican insider. "But he does not want to see it play out in a confrontational way."

There are other signs that the word has gone forth, at least for now. In years past, the annual Red Mass held the Sunday before the U.S. Supreme Court's term opens has been so heavily steeped in pro-life rhetoric that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg now declines to attend. This year's service, however, featured a homily by the new chair of the bishop's pro-life committee that included only the subtlest of references to abortion. [This new chair, Archbishop DiNardo, was the first bishop to criticize Notre Dame over the Obama debacle... so, don't think that he's averse to speaking strongly on these matters.]   More striking was the image of Biden taking Communion without incident.


While I'm sure that each bishop has their own preferred way of dealing with controversial matters, it looks to me like the bishops are, if anything, more united now than they traditionally are.  You can see it in the widespread calls from our bishops against Notre Dame's honors for President Obama.  You can see it in the unprecedented effort they've undertaken against abortion in healthcare.

Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Burke might have very different personalities, and might have differing opinions on how an isolated incident here or there should be handled.  Our bishops, however, seem unified in their increasing call that we reaffirm our Catholic identity and embrace what it really means to be a part of the Church.  

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Fair Trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

There's been a lot of controversy about how the United States should go about bringing  to justice Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorists held at Gitmo.  Attorney General Holder announced that KSM and four other detainees will be tried in a US civilian court in New York City.

I have serious doubts that this was the correct decision.  My worry is not so much about NYC's security, which I think federal authorities and the NYPD should be able to handle.  I simply don't believe that the US courts can competently provide justice to these (alleged) terrorists.  I'm also not sure that the civilian standards for justice are practical in these circumstances.  There are countless examples of standards for our civilian trials that cannot be applied here.  For example, our usual rules of evidence might be inappropriate in these cases.  Rather than discuss all of them, though, I'm going to focus on just one: the use of an "impartial jury of peers."

First, who, exactly, are KSM's peers?  Doesn't the fact that a jury would be made up of US citizens already preclude it from having a balanced "peer group?"  Must the jury include Muslims?  If so, does their personal version of Islam matter?  The detainees religious views are usually on the fringe.  Should we have a muslim extremist on the jury?  Then, do we have to include people of the racial or ethnic groups of the detainees on the jury?  More directly, I don't believe that any group of twelve Americans can really be considered a group of peers of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

More critically, though, I don't think any jury in the United States is impartial about figures like KSM.  We've been hearing about these cases for years.  These detainees have been (probably rightly) demonized for years.  Any jury pool you find in the United States will be tainted.

Quite frankly, I believe that a military tribunal, where judgements are made by intelligent people trained to make judgements in these difficult cases, would be more capable of fairly administering justice in these cases.  It seems to me that Holder's plan will inevitably lead to either hung juries or, more likely, after these detainees are rightly found guilty, constant legal challenges about the validity of the trials.  Honestly, those legal challenges will be the responsible response from lawyers for detainees, because it seems highly unlikely that these trials could possibly meet the standards for fairness we apply to our civilian courts.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Message to Senator Bob Casey

Senator Bob Casey told CNSNews that he wasn't in favor of "drawing lines in the sand" with the healthcare bill, including with regards to abortion funding.

I understand his reluctance to make hard and fast statements that would prevent him from effectively negotiating creative solutions to legislative problems, so I don't want to overstate my criticism on this point.  Still, the pro-life people of Pennsylvania need to make perfectly clear to Senator Casey that abortion funding is not an arbitrary "line in the sand" matter.  Senator Casey claims to agree with us, and his Church, that abortion is an objective moral evil.  Forcing Americans to pay for this evil is, thus, also wrong.  Senator Casey should keep this straight going into discussions about healthcare.  Some principles should not be compromised.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Maine: The Aftermath

First, I'd like to congratulate the State of Maine on upholding Marriage as defined by the Natural Law and as set forth by God's plan for us.  May we never lose sight of the beauty and uniqueness of the union of man and woman, where man finds the suitable partner God made for him "and the two of them become one body."

After offering up a great Deo Gratia, and our thanks to Bishop Malone (of Portland, ME) for his courageous support of the campaign for Traditional Marriage, it's time to start looking the challenges facing us in Q1's aftermath.

I'll start with the less important.

I was tipped off to this blog post by our friend, the American Papist, Thomas Peters.  In it, lesbian blogger Bridgette LaVictoire wrote:
Maine voters have decided that they would rather be bought out than uphold the traditions of liberty and freedom that have made New England a haven for those seeking rights away from the tyranny of others. They have bowed their heads to the nameless, faceless financiers of campaigns which continue to sew bigotry, hatred, and suspicion of their fellows. They have bowed their knees to potentates in the Catholic and Mormon Churches and claimed that this was about their freedom of religion...

The day will come very soon when Maine will regret turning its back on equality. It is time that the legislature of Maine strip the Catholic Church of all its exemptions.

First, let me just point out the absurdity of the assertion that those who voted yes on 1 were "bought out" or, as she implies later, were like Judas "accepting those pieces of silver to betray" what is right.  No one was paid to vote "yes."  This was plainly not about money.  The "No on 1" campaign had four times the funding of the "Yes" campaign, anyway.

Still, she is not alone in suggesting retaliation against the Catholic Church.  This would obviously be a huge blow to the Church, financially.  It would ultimately hurt not only Catholics in the state, but also the poor, the elderly, and the children who the Church aids.  It's also a big mistake for the "gay lobby."  Yes on 1 made their case largely by pointing to the militancy of gay "rights" advocates and claiming that gay marriage is just one step in their war on traditional values.  Do gays really want the "Homosexuals attack Church" headline to succeed the ones about Kevin Jennings trying to "Queer the Schools" ?  Additionally, I've gathered from some probing around her blog that Ms. LaVictoire is an abortion "rights" supporter.  If we're going to reexamine tax exemptions, I'd be thrilled to have the tax exemptions of the social left examined.  If her camp wants to play scorched earth they better consider all that dry brush on their side of things.

To me, though, this seems like a lot of sour grapes that isn't going to go anywhere.  There may be some post-Prop 8 style hate crimes perpetrated by militants from the gay lobby, but Christianity has always endured that nonsense.  Odds that they would succeed in stripping the Catholic Church (the world's largest provider of charitable services) of its tax exemption are quite small.

In my opinion, the more important issue is where we go from here.  As I mentioned before, the Yes on 1 campaign focused mostly on the gay lobby's militant opposition to traditional values.  They specifically relied on the (largely true) assertion that where "gay marriage" goes, it is quickly followed by a radical sexual agenda in public schools.  Basically, they warned that if gay marriage came to Maine, it wouldn't be long before Kindergartners were learning to read from "Heather has Two Mommies" and "One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dad."  This, historically, isn't entirely false, and it's probably the best approach to defeating "gay marriage" in a brief political campaign.  While a decent short term tactic, though, I don't think that this should become a long term strategy.

This issue is not only an attack on Traditional Marriage.  It's a symptom of the deterioration of the standing of Marriage in society.  Many people think homosexual marriage is a good idea because they don't understand Marriage at all.  With the prevalence of cohabitation, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, marital infidelity, etc., these days people don't understand what Marriage is.  They see it as, at best, a declaration of love, or at worst, just a financial structure.  And, if that's all Marriage is, it'll be a hard case that it should be confined to straight couples.  If it's just a structure to be entered and exited at will for some tax benefits and a cloak of legitimacy on sexual relations, then the battle for Traditional Marriage is lost.

Moving forward, our focus cannot be solely on decrying the ills of homosexuality or the gay lobby.  Campaigning against gay marriage is not enough.  If this struggle is to have any value, it has to be a struggle for all the things marriage should be, not just a statement of what it's not.  We have to go out and teach people about the total self-giving that should really make two people become one flesh.  We have to teach the value of motherhood and fatherhood, the importance of the virtue of Chastity, and the beauty of sex in its proper context.  We have to show the complementarity of the sexes in action in our own lives.  We have to show that it's not just a cheap slogan when we quote the Book of Genesis saying that "a man ...clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body."

Our zeal should come not from hatred of the gay brothers and sisters we're called to love but from love and respect for the divine plan for Matrimony. This campaign will be long and difficult, but it is the one we're called to undertake as bearers of God's message of love and mercy.  If we succeed here, the defeat of gay marriage will be only a small side story to our victory over so many problems that plague modern American society.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guess who's back...

So, after a long absence, I've decided to try to revive this blog.  The few of you who subscribed to this feed... COME BACK, PLEASE.