Monday, March 27, 2006

A College Boy

My college classes start tomorrow morning. I'll have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and soon I will have a part-time job on the alternating days. This is not to mention that I also plan to have a social life of some sort! This all adds up to the probability of much less blogging which will probably be restricted to weekends or the very limited free time I'll have through the week. And since I already have responsibilities that I have to meet at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and the Christian Alliance for Progress, this blog may not see more than a post or two per week, at the most. I just wanted to make sure all of my readers know that I won't be around as much.

As for school, I'm really excited about it! I'm majoring in political science, which I think is a pretty good fit for me. I would appreciate your prayers as I start this new chapter of my life.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ohio's 6th District (D-Bridgeport) is running for Congress in Ohio's 6th congressional district, a seat that's been vacated by Rep. Ted Strickland (D), who is running for governor. St. Sen. Wilson has repeatedly been endorsed by, which adds a twist to the usual debate between pro-life Republican Catholics on the one hand and pro-choice Democratic Catholics on the other. Of course his opponent, St. Rep. Chuck Blasdel (R-East Liverpool), has also been repeatedly endorsed by Ohio Right to Life.

Confession: Good for the Soul

"Confession is good for the soul." Interesting piece of trivia: This often repeated quote is actually an English proverb from the mid-17th century.

I went to confession before Mass yesterday for the first time in about a year. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't intimidated; I've built up a lot of sins to confess over the past year, both mortal and venial. But it was still very liberating to hear the words of absolution and to know that my sins, no matter how grievous or how minor they may have been, are all forgiven. It didn't take long for me to commit a plethora of venial sins after Mass. Just a few minutes after Mass I was overly critical of a decision that my diocesan bishop has made. While we were at Wal-Mart shopping for school supplies later, I was visited by the ogling demon and I invited him in for a cup of tea. And I concluded the Wal-Mart adventure by having an argument with my mother that was at least partially my fault. This all occurred within two or three hours after Mass. For me, it certainly drove home St. Paul's point:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Why do we "rejoice" on the Fourth Sunday of Lent? After Laetare Sunday, the journey to the Cross begins in earnest. And yet we rejoice. We rejoice because God is bringing us out of our exile, just as he brought the Jews out of exile in Babylon (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:14-23; Psalm 137). We rejoice because "God, who is rich in mercy" (Ephesians 2:4), has saved us by his grace through his gift of faith. We rejoice because Christ has been lifted up on the Cross for us "so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). We rejoice because "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins." We rejoice because, like the prodigal son, the Father comes to meet us and to forgive us while we are "still a long way off" (Luke 15:20). We rejoice because even though there is horror in the Cross, the Lord Jesus endured that horror for us.

If you haven't been to confession for a while, you don't know what you're missing. You're missing your chance to run back to the Father, who loved us so much that he sent his own Son to meet us on the Cross while we are "still a long way off." Confession won't make us instantly perfect; it's not a magic formula to turn us into saints overnight. It's our opportunity to turn back to the Father and say to him: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers" (Luke 15:20-21). But we know in the sacrament of reconciliation that the Father is running toward us while we are still so far away, and that he is waiting to celebrate a feast with us in the Eucharist.

"Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment in her consoling breasts." Amen. Let us find contentment in the Church which offers us Christ's forgiveness and enables us to receive him as true food and true drink, the nourishing Lord who, little by little, turns sinners into saints.

Friday, March 24, 2006

What I'm Reading

I finished reading Truly Our Sister and By Little and By Little some time ago, although I didn't get a chance to write reviews for either of them. The former did impact posts I wrote for Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and the Christian Alliance for Progress, and the latter also inspired another post I wrote for the Christian Alliance for Progress. I suppose you could read those posts to get a glimpse of what I got out of these two books.

I've just finished reading God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church by George Weigel, and now I'm working on Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings edited by Marcus Borg (who, thankfully, has very little to say and leaves the talking to Jesus and Buddha).

Regarding God's Choice, I think it's safe to say that there are a number of things I don't agree with George Weigel about. Perhaps the most notable among these disagreements is George Weigel's conservative interpretation of the just war doctrine and my near-absolute opposition to all war (even that which meets the criteria of the just war doctrine). With that said, though, I respect Weigel as a historian and as a biographer, and he didn't let me down with this new book about Pope Benedict XVI and the direction his pontificate could go in.

I think what I took away from Weigel's book is the profound sense that God's hand guided the death of Pope John Paul the Great, the interregnum period, and the conclave. For instance, did you know that Pope John Paul died after celebrating Mass for the Vigil of Divine Mercy -- the liturgical feast based on the apparitions to St. Faustina Kowalska, a liturgical feast he instituted based upon apparitions to a Polish saint he canonized? And did you know that Pope Benedict XVI was elected to the Chair of St. Peter on the Memorial of Pope St. Leo IX, the last German pope before Pope Benedict? Even skeptics would have to admit that this confluence of events is too astonishing to be dismissed as mere coincidence.

Another crucial thing that I took away from Weigel's book is Pope Benedict XVI's personality, which is remarkably like my own. As a youth, he was quiet but passionate about life; shy, introverted, and intellectual. He hated sports because he was no good at them, and he was overjoyed when his school moved to a place that was more conducive to outdoor activities like hiking (which I also enjoy) instead of team sports. As much as I loved Pope John Paul the Great, we had little in common: he was charismatic, he was an actor, he was an extrovert, he loved sports as a youth and even as an older man. He was many things I'm not. While I loved Pope John Paul II and while I've struggled with the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I'm beginning to realize that Pope Benedict is in many ways more "my pope" than his predecessor ever was. Now that I've decided to let myself, I find that I can relate to this pope better than I ever thought I could, and it's helping me to overcome the negative feelings I had for him before. If for nothing else, I appreciate Weigel's book for this reason.

- - -

Note: Yes, both the adorable little boy and the handsome young priest (with a bad hair day!) are Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). I know this may come as a shock to some who believe that the pope came up from the seventh circle of hell as a superhuman (subhuman?) "Great Deceiver." Deep breaths!

Darth Benedict, Redux

From Gerald Augustinus (The Cafeteria is Closed): Apparently, this week must have been Hate the Pope Week and someone forgot to send me the memo. This time it's a column in the San Francisco Chronicle written by a former Catholic, Gustavo Arellano, who apparently could deal with the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Diocese of Orange but who couldn't take the election of Pope Benedict XVI to the Chair of St. Peter. Arrelano just couldn't deal with the election of a man who "represents a step back into the darkness, away from the light of ecumenism, of giving the faithful a greater voice in running the church. Away from a church of love."

Really? A step away from ecumenism? Perhaps Arellano is referring to a different pope; surely he is not referring to the pope who mentions Christian unity in just about every address, speech, and homily he delivers, who has made ecumenism one of the cornerstones of his pontificate from the very beginning. Are we really moving away from "giving the faithful a greater voice in running the church"? It's true that Pope Benedict XVI (and, with him, most Catholics) affirm the hierarchical nature of the Church. We are not a congregationalist Church, nor are we a democratic Church. Pope Benedict XVI does not believe that truth can be made subject to a majority vote, and neither do most Catholics. But I don't think it's fair to say that Pope Benedict XVI is against lay involvement in the Church, even in its governing structures. This is the same pope who was recently praised by the press for talking about opening new doors to women in the Church's institutional structures. And what about that "church of love" thing? Well, Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical was titled Deus Caritas Est -- God is Love.

Given the tone of his article, it seems that Arellano is the one who has abandoned the concept of a "church of love." Two of my favorite descriptions of the pope are "Great Deceiver" and "shape-shifter," descriptions which lead one to wonder if Arellano has found a new home in one of the fundamentalist Christian churches which still refer to the Vatican as the Whore of Babylon and the pope as the Anti-Christ. If Satan is the father of lies, what does it imply when one calls Pope Benedict XVI the "Great Deceiver" in capital letters, as if this is a title he should list along with "Supreme Pontiff" and "Bishop of Rome"?

If you couldn't already tell, Arellano's column is long on vitriol but short on facts. One cannot be sure how many errors are Arellano's and how many belong to the book he's reviewing which was written by Robert Blair Kaiser, a book referred to by Arrelano as the "gospel" of disgruntled and former Catholics who either have left or are thinking about leaving the Church over the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Kaiser apparently launches a full out assault against the Church by chronicling "the major schisms, popes, reforms and problems", "the various maneuverings, murders and malaise" -- "enough to make any Catholic turn Episcopalian." His answer to all of these problems? Catholics standing up and claiming "ownership, and, just as important, citizenship" in the Church. Funny, I was under the distinct impression that Jesus Christ is the sole owner of the Church, and I didn't think that the People of God were citizens of a state, or members of a social club, but parts of the Mystical Body of Christ. For us to stand up and claim "ownership" of the Church for ourselves is for us to become the guillotine severing the Head from the Body, removing Christ from the Church. Is that what Arrelano and Kaiser want?

After subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) declaring that the Catholic Church should set itself ablaze and rise from the ashes as Christianity Lite, Arrelano and Kaiser go on to demonize Pope Benedict XVI and make him the scapegoat for all of their complaints in a kind of unholy parody of Yom Kippur. Reading the column further, we are told that Pope John Paul the Great was some kind of idiot, a puppet controlled by Cardinal Ratzinger.

It was Cardinal Ratzinger, after all, who "put a clamp on the liberation theology movement" -- even though Pope John Paul the Great himself was rather outspoken against liberation theology, working to undermine (for instance) the Sandinista government of Nicaragua which was often supported by the liberation theology movement. Both Pope John Paul the Great and Cardinal Ratzinger were critical of liberation theology because it was and is Marxist ideology which makes use of Christianity to further its agenda; not because they did not believe in the liberation of the poor in Latin America. Both Pope John Paul the Great and Cardinal Ratzinger expressed their strong support for human liberation, but they believed that this liberation must be firmly rooted in the Gospel, in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. They did not believe in a false liberation which cooperates with and at times endorses atheistic communism.

Moving on. While Pope John Paul the Great "made nice with other religions," Cardinal Ratzinger was undermining "his boss in 2000 by publishing Dominus Iesus, a 2000 document that stated that 'there is no salvation outside the Church.'" Oh, the fallacies! These are the reasons that I was so unhappy, miserable really, with Catholic liberalism. It must first be pointed out that if Pope John Paul the Great's work with other religions was being undermined, then it was he who was doing the undermining: he authorized Dominus Iesus with a special authorization, referred to as in forma specifica, meaning that he invested it with his own personal apostolic authority instead of the general authority of the Roman Curia. It must also be pointed out that the quote attributed to Dominus Iesus in this column cannot actually be found in the document. "There is no salvation outside the Church" -- this is not a quote from Dominus Iesus. One would think that Arrelano (or Kaiser, if the quote came from him) could have actually read the document before trying to speak authoritatively about it.

Although I have been rather critical, I actually feel bad for Arrelano (having not read the book and knowing virtually nothing about him, I don't know yet if I feel bad for Kaiser). I have hated Pope Benedict XVI this much. I have participated in the unholy parody of Yom Kippur which loads the burden of my own problems onto the back of the pope and sends him off into the desert with them. Some would say, given my own past remarks about the pope, that I have no right to criticize Arrelano. But it's precisely because of my own past remarks that I can't continue to let these kind of things go. The hate fest against Pope Benedict XVI, which is being perpetuated by the dying liberal movement in the Church and by a media hungry for controversy but bored with facts, has to stop. Pope Benedict XVI was elected by at least a two-thirds majority of Cardinal Electors. He did not appoint himself pope, the Cardinal Electors did that; he did not appoint himself prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope John Paul the Great did that; he did not appoint himself bishop, Pope Paul VI did that; he did not appoint himself an expert at the Second Vatican Council, the Archbishop of Cologne did that; he did not ordain himself a priest, the Archbishop of Munich-Freising did that.

It's time for Arrelano and so many others to come to terms with the fact that their real problem is not with Pope Benedict XVI, but with the Catholic Church. It is a problem with Pope John Paul the Great, Pope John Paul I, Pope Paul VI, even the much-idolized Bl. Pope John XXIII, and with all of their predecessors before them. It is a problem with innumerable cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and lay faithful. It is a problem perhaps with God himself: with a Father who loves too much to let his children trade freedom for anarchy; with a Son who loves too much to let the lost sheep wander off into oblivion; with a Holy Spirit who loves too much to leave us in the sad condition we're in. But we want our anarchy, we want our oblivion, we want our spiritual malady. We are angry that God will not let us have it, that he will not give up on us, and we hate him for it -- but rather than admitting that hatred, we transplant it, we redirect it. We don't want to think that we hate God, that we hate the Church, that we hate the bishops, that we hate the cardinals, that we hate Pope John Paul the Great. And so we just hate Pope Benedict XVI, because it's easier somehow.

I pray that God will open the eyes of all who hate him in his servant to the servants of God, as he has opened my own, so that they can turn away from their hatred and live with him in the love that he's still offering from the Cross. He is Love, and we can have him if we want him.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Woo Hoo, 22

Today was my birthday -- I'm 22. It was a pretty good day; nothing spectacular, but the really exciting birthdays are 16 (driving), 18 (voting), and 21 (drinking). The next exciting birthday will be my 25th, when I will no longer be eligible for the draft. After that, I'm pretty sure birthdays just get depressing!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Darth Benedict: "Turn to the Anti-Gay Side"

From Gerald Augustinus (The Cafeteria is Closed): The National Catholic Reporter has an editorial online about the ban on gay adoptions by Catholic Charities of Boston and the general "boosting" of "the anti-gay troops." I don't really want to discuss the gay adoption ban since it's been discussed endlessly already. Actually, I'd rather discuss NCR's subtle demonization of Pope Benedict XVI:

There is much in the Catholic air these days about homosexuality. Pope Benedict XVI, as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has provided much of the content, from the assertion that gays are "objectively disordered" to the 2003 document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Ratzinger then headed, that called gay parenting "gravely immoral" and said permitting gay couples to adopt "would actually mean doing violence to these children."

He has certainly emboldened the troops . . .

It's not that there's anything untrue about what NCR has written in the above quote. What's remarkable is how they place all of the blame for the Church's teaching on homosexuality squarely on the shoulders of Pope Benedict XVI, even before he was elected to the Chair of St. Peter. The determinations of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under his prefecture were his fault, even though the media usually blames the reigning pope or "the Vatican" in general for curial decisions. Look, for example, at the ban on gay seminarians issued recently by the Congregation for Catholic Education. Did you see even one media report single out Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski (who?), the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education? No. Instead, the media focused on "the Vatican" ban, and many blamed Pope Benedict XVI directly for the ban, even though it was Cardinal Grocholewski's signature on the document just as it was Cardinal Ratzinger's signature on the documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. So why has Pope Benedict XVI always had to bear the blame for the Church's teaching on homosexuality, even when he worked under his predecessor?

I think there are basically two reasons for this.

The first reason is denial. I know a lot about this one, because I have been guilty of demonizing Pope Benedict XVI because I was living in denial. Many people, even those who vehemently disagreed with him, liked and even loved Pope John Paul the Great. They do not want to hate him for teachings they cannot accept, so they live in denial pretending that such teachings were not his own. Instead, these teachings must come from a nefarious anti-John Paul II, and in Cardinal Ratzinger they had found just such a caricature. Cardinal Ratzinger was blamed for all manner of controversial Church teachings during Pope John Paul the Great's pontificate, but he was especially blamed for that pontificate's teachings on homosexuality. Even after the death of Pope John Paul the Great, this living in denial has continued for many. Refusing to accept that most of the world's bishops and clergy agree with the Church's teaching on homosexuality, or at least with most of it, Pope Benedict XVI is solely blamed for that teaching and subsequently ignored as a homophobic bigot.

The second reason is convenience, and I think this may be the reason that applies to NCR. It is inconvenient for the media to blame and demonize Pope John Paul the Great for the Church's teaching on homosexuality. How might the millions of faithful who stood in St. Peter's Square and chanted "Santo Subito!" -- "Saint Now!" react to a demonization of their late, charismatic, beloved pope? In many ways, Pope Benedict XVI has always been a victim of Pope John Paul the Great's charisma. Because the media is too afraid of the backlash that would result from attacking Pope John Paul the Great, they have always chosen instead to attack the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict XVI is quiet, he is introverted, he is scholarly. In short, he does not have the cult of personality that accompanied Pope John Paul the Great. Thus, the media (including much of the Catholic media) has always attacked him for teachings which rightly belonged to his predecessor, and they still continue to do so.

For example, Pope Benedict XVI was named anti-gay person of the year by the Washington Blade for teachings which were really his predecessor's, and no one even batted an eyelash. The Washington Blade would never have had the intestinal fortitude to name Pope John Paul the Great its anti-gay person of the year, not while he was alive and certainly not now that he has fallen asleep in the Lord. So they attack and demonize his successor because it is convenient for them.

It's time for everyone -- those who support the Church's teaching on homosexuality and those who oppose it -- to start telling the truth. The demonization of Pope Benedict XVI for the Church's teaching on homosexuality must stop. Yes, it is true that Pope Benedict XVI authored several documents clarifying the Church's teaching on homosexuality as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But it is equally true that not one jot or tittle comes forth in an official document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or any other curial dicastery without the approval of the reigning pope: in other words, Pope John Paul the Great. It is also true that most documents which are published by curial dicasteries were actually commissioned by the pope, so that it was probably Pope John Paul the Great who requested that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarify the Church's teaching on homosexuality. It is unlikely that the current pope would have taken his own initiative as the prefect of that dicastery. Pope John Paul the Great was directly responsible for the Church's teaching on same-sex marriage and gay adoption.

What about more recent developments? Notable among these developments is the ban on gay seminarians published by the Congregation for Catholic Education. It is true that Pope Benedict XVI bears some responsibility for this ban, since he was the pope who approved it. But it is also true that it was Pope John Paul the Great who commissioned the document quite some time before he passed away, so that responsibility for the ban is shared between the current pontificate and the previous one -- it is not all Pope Benedict XVI's fault, as so many have either stated or implied. And let us not forget that the ban on gay seminarians and priests predated even the new document by the Congregation for Catholic Education, since a document published in the 1960s had already banned the ordination of gay men but was subsequently ignored.

Although Pope Benedict XVI is his own pope with his own pontificate, it is also true that he has done nothing new in regard to homosexuality. His opposition to same-sex marriage in Spain, his opposition to gay adoption throughout the world: these are not really new developments, but only continuations of what Pope John Paul the Great was already teaching. And indeed, these new teachings to address modern situations are only continuations of what the Church has always taught in regard to homosexuality, so that even Pope John Paul the Great cannot be blamed and demonized for them. When we blame and demonize Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul the Great for the Church's teaching on homosexuality, we do the same to all of the popes before them, to the Church Fathers and to many saints, to St. Paul who began the Church's teaching on homosexuality, and to the prophets of the Old Covenant who preceded St. Paul.

Am I saying that Pope Benedict XVI bears no responsibility for the Church's teaching on homosexuality, either as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or as pope? Of course not; that would be to deprive him of his own teaching authority. My point is simply that it is dishonest and wrong to blame him for his predecessor's teaching on homosexuality, which was itself a continuation of what the Church has always taught in regard to homosexuality. Pope Benedict XVI is not some kind of anti-gay demon; he is a man, who is also the pope, who is continuing to teach what the Church has taught before him -- whether we like it or whether we don't.

Patriarch of the West, Redux

From Domenico Bettinelli: The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has explained the pope's reasoning behind dropping the papal title "Patriarch of the West" -- although, I must confess, I don't think I understand any better after reading the explanation than I did before reading it. If anyone does get it, feel free to clue me in.

Altar Girls and Priestly Vocations

Many of you have probably already heard that the Diocese of Arlington has authorized two indult Tridentine Masses to be celebrated in different regional locations within the diocese, and that the bishop has also authorized young women to serve at the altar along with young men if the pastor believes that such is pastorally wise after consulting his parishioners. This is a first in the Arlington diocese's history.

There are some Catholics who believe that we should not have altar girls. Although I do not count myself in their company, I wonder if Catholics who support female altar service have ever bothered to consider the argument offered by those who oppose female altar service, or if they are even aware that there is an intelligent argument. Most seem to assume that opposition to female altar service arises out of sexism, either: a) the belief that the presence of women in the sanctuary profanes it; or b) the belief that young women serving at the altar can lead young men to feel insecure in their masculinity. Maybe there are Catholics who believe this way, but when I've talked to most Catholics who oppose female altar service, they oppose it for totally different reasons than the ones I've mentioned.

Most Catholics who oppose female altar service feel the way they do because they believe that altar service is connected to the priesthood, and that allowing young women to serve at the altar obscures this connection to the priesthood and leads to universal confusion. Whereas young men would once have looked on their altar service and seen a connection to the priesthood which might have led them to discern a vocation to the priesthood, opponents of female altar service believe that young women serving at the altar leads young men to lose sight of this connection to the priesthood and thus to lose a path to discernment for the priesthood. Opponents of female altar service also believe that allowing young women to serve at the altar can be confusing for them, insofar as it might lead them to feel that they have a vocation to the priesthood when the Church teaches that such a vocation is impossible. In short, opponents of female altar service generally oppose it because they feel that it confuses both the young men and the young women who serve at the altar, and the rest of the faithful along with them.

It is interesting to note that many who advocate for the ordination of women to the priesthood and for an end to mandatory celibacy for priests often claim to do so in the name of the vocation shortage. There are too few priests, they say, so perhaps we should begin opening the priesthood to married men and to women who feel called to serve Christ and the Church in priestly ministry. If we accept that this issue is similar to other controversial issues in which some are expressing legitimate concerns and others are only using the crisis at hand to support their own preconceived agendas, we can accept that it is likely that some are legitimately concerned about the vocation shortage and that some are only using the vocation shortage to bolster their agenda. In any event, I'd like to know what Catholics concerned about the vocation shortage think about what Catholics opposed to female altar service are saying. Since there is a vocation shortage, is it pastorally prudent to open altar service to young women when this might lead to fewer young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood? And is there really any connection between allowing female altar service and the decline in priestly vocations?

Mind you, I do not oppose female altar service. I just thought this would be an interesting issue to discuss.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Reforming the Reform

From Gerald Augustinus (The Cafeteria is Closed): Apparently, the apostolic exhortation that Pope Benedict XVI will publish in response to the most recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops, tentatively scheduled for release in October, will deal with a "reform of the reform" in regard to liturgical norms. The exhortation will apparently encourage greater use of Latin in the liturgy (but not in the Liturgy of the Word), greater use of Gregorian Chant and classical polyphony, elimination of secular music or lyrics, and elimination of instruments which are "inadequate for liturgical use." The apostolic exhortation is also expected to call for the exclusion of dance and applause in the liturgy, which makes sense to me -- we're not going to see a show.

One area in which I've remained consistently conservative is the area of the liturgy. Although I don't favor a complete return to Latin, especially not a sudden return, I recognize that Latin is the official language of the Roman Church and that it was the liturgical language of the Roman Rite for centuries prior to its replacement by the vernacular following the Second Vatican Council. Catholics should know Latin, and we should celebrate the liturgy together in Latin as a sign of our unity in our catholicity. I also believe that Gregorian Chant and polyphony hold a pride of place among liturgical music forms in the Roman Rite, and that these should be used more widely and should largely replace the ultrasaccharine folk music so common in the United States (especially music with questionable lyrics, like "Ashes").

One reservation I have is that I hope provisions will be made for cultures which are radically different from the European culture and its offspring, the North American and Latin American cultures. I'm thinking primarily of African Catholics and Asian Catholics. Some talk has been circulating that the African and Asian Churches should be given autonomous status similar to that of a patriarchate and freedom to develop their own liturgical norms. Until that discussion can be translated into action, perhaps Rome should at least allow the African and Asian bishops some freedom to inculturate the liturgy in their regions.

With that said, I don't think that this same freedom of inculturation should be extended to North America, and probably not to Latin America either, since our cultures are not so radically different from European culture that inculturation of the liturgy would be justified. Liturgical dance in America, for instance, has nothing to do with our culture, since we have never (until now) danced around in tutus and tights to worship God. But liturgical dance in Africa is quite different -- dance is deeply embedded in African culture as part of divine worship. Some provision should be made for authentic cultural expression, so that both the unity and the catholicity of the liturgy is preserved. While we're at it, though, let us not forget the holiness and the apostolicity of the liturgy; these have, to some degree, been abandoned in the postconciliar reform.

Another Prayer Request

This time from Susan Rose Francois at Musings of a Discerning Woman:

Back to a serious blog post, but this is important. I went to the hospital this evening to visit a friend from church and her daughter Gigi. Gigi is 4, almost 5 year old, and is in the pediatric ICU with encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

When I taught the Sunday pre-school Gigi was always one of my favorites. She is bright, inquisitive, a little willful and has wonderful fashion sense. She always had accessories that matched her dress! It was heartbreaking to see her in the hospital bed with tubes and wires and the ventilator coming out of her.

Please keep little Gigi and her mom, dad and little brother in your prayers.

Catholic Carnival LXXI

Catholic Carnival LXXI (that's 71) is up at A Song Not Scored For Breathing. My post on the labor riots in France and labor rights in general is featured.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Prayer Request

Christopher Blosser (Against the Grain) reports that Stephen Hand, the editor of TCRNews, has received tragic news about his son:

Today my family and I were given heartbreaking news, that my son's cerebral cortex, which controls cognition / thinking, has been damaged beyond human hope due to having been deprived of oxygen "for apparently a long time" sometime between Sat 12:30 AM and 1 PM (an 11.5 hr window). This means, we were told, the "thinking part" of his brain is "gone forever," barring a miracle, and that within 48 hours we should make a decision to take him off artificial life support "and give him peace". We asked for a second opinion and received the same answer, breaking our hearts altogether.

The situation is made even worse by a complex end of life decision, and Stephen appeals to priests and theologians for help in deciding what to do:

Apparently this morning, at the same time, they began feeding my son liquid nutrition / food through a nasal tuble. When I asked the doctors whether he would die from just the removing him from artificial life support, they told us not necessarily. He would, they said, because of his youth, more likely die first of dehydration and lack of nutrition. This means starvation and filled me with anxiety. We need help here to be morally certain in making a family decision. Is this removing of a nasal tube identical to the situation Terri Schiavo was in? Would this mean "actively killing" my son? Please, if you can find it in your heart to send me a brief, preferably official document, clarifying this for us, I / we would be most grateful. I am very reluctant to remove nourishment for the very same reasons the Schiavo's were. Am I missing something here? Is there some factor which makes the cases different in any essential way? Under what terms, if any, is it allowable, according to the Church, to remove nutritional support once it has been introduced?

Please pray that God's will is done, and for my family. The agony of watching a beloved son in what is being called an irreversible coma, is almost too much to bear. So we cling to the cross. Help us, if you can, to know what His will is in Heaven in regard to all this. Perhaps I should know all this myself, but I feel shamefully in deep confusion. Thank you. Send your replies to and thank you in advance for understanding that I may not be able to reply immediately. ---Stephen Hand

Eternal rest grant unto their son, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for them.
St. Joseph, pray for them.
Terri Schiavo, pray for them.

If Eight Priests Were Laicized...

...and the mainstream media only counts seven, were there really eight priests laicized?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Priests, Love Your Faithful...

From Damien's Spot: According to Catholic News Service, Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, used a recent homily for the installation of a new rector at the Pontifical North American College to take up his predecessor's favorite pastime: gay-bashing. Not only did Cardinal Levada say that the new instruction against the ordination of gay seminarians is relevant to the U.S. sexual abuse crisis, implying that gay priests bear the primary responsibility for that scandal -- he also misused the scriptural and traditional imagery of Christ and the Church as Bridegroom and Bride to assault the priestly ministry of existing gay priests:

The doctrinal chief said he wanted to look specifically at "the situation of the gay priest who announces his homosexuality publicly, a few examples of which we have recently heard reported" in reaction to the Vatican document.

"I think we must ask, 'Does such a priest recognize how this act places an obstacle to his ability to represent Christ the bridegroom to his bride, the people of God? Does he not see how his declaration places him at odds with the spousal character of love as revealed by God and imaged in humanity?'" he said.

The spousal imagery of Christ and the Church is a favorite theme of Vatican discrimination; the Vatican has been using the same spousal imagery since at least the publication of Inter Insigniores in 1976 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explaining in part that women could not be ordained to the priesthood because they cannot, so the Congregation said, properly image Christ as Head of the Church. Thus the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith established in 1976 that priests must be men like Christ. Apparently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would now like to establish that priests must be heterosexual men like Christ -- although, mind you, there is no evidence that Christ actually was heterosexual (or homosexual), unless you believe Dan Brown.

And I wonder how far this ontological similarity is going to be carried? Perhaps soon we will have to begin forcing Jews to convert to Christianity again, since Christ was a Jew. Does that mean that all priests must be Jewish Christians in order to image Christ properly? Are all sacraments invalid if presided over by Gentile priests? For that matter, are all sacraments invalid if presided over by gay priests? If the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith establishes that gay men cannot properly image Christ and thus cannot receive the sacrament of holy orders -- and that's the direction it's headed in, from the way Cardinal Levada is talking -- that means that gay men were never able to properly image Christ, that they never validly received holy orders, and that all sacraments presided over by gay priests would have been invalid. That's quite a pickle! Maybe we should bring back Limbo after all. Do you know how many baptisms, confirmations, eucharists, reconciliations, anointings, marriages, and ordinations would be invalid now? There would be Catholics walking around who may never have received a valid sacrament, dead Catholics who were never baptized, never had Last Rites. It would be the biggest sacramental crisis in the history of the Church.

Of course, there is no crisis if you're still a Catholic who repudiates the Donatist heresy. That heresy was condemned by St. Augustine and several popes. But it seems that Donatism is once again on the rise.

There is a scriptural basis for the spousal imagery of Christ's relationship to the Church; it's found in Ephesians 5:21-33, building upon what Christ had already taught about his spousal relationship to the People of God:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

This passage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians has always been used by the Church for the purpose of discrimination. In earlier times, Ephesians 5 was used by the Church to encourage the subjugation of women in marriage, completely ignoring the responsibility that a husband has to his wife (which is seemingly much more important in the passage since more time is spent discussing it). Since at least 1976, the Church has officially used the imagery of Ephesians 5 to exclude women from the priesthood. And now it seems that Cardinal Levada would like to use the imagery of Ephesians 5 to exclude gay men from the priesthood.

This imagery can be taken too far, and it has been. Are we really to believe that the reason Jesus and St. Paul used spousal imagery was to provide ammunition for the Church to later use against female and gay ordination? Was Jesus really trying to set rigid gender restrictions by speaking of himself as Bridegroom to the Church, and was St. Paul really trying to set rigid gender restrictions by expanding Christ's teaching? It seems that the Church's teaching authority is missing the point entirely, but we'll get to that in a moment.

How much further are we supposed to take the gender restrictions that are supposedly imposed by this spousal imagery? If those who represent Christ (priests) must exclusively be heterosexual men in order to image his spousal relationship to the Church, doesn't it follow that the Church's faithful must all be heterosexual women in order to image the Church's spousal relationship to Christ? Does that mean that the Church should excommunicate all heterosexual men who are not priests and all homosexual women? And what about those priests? It's true that priests stand in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), which is why the Church says that they must be men -- and now heterosexual men. But it is also true that priests stand in persona Ecclesiae (in the person of the Church). How can they do that if they're men? Are we saying that priests in the Catholic Church must all be bisexual and intersexual?

Saying that the faithful must all be heterosexual women or that all priests should be bisexual and intersexual is, of course, absurd. But it's precisely in this absurdity that the absurdity of the teaching authority's position is revealed. If it is absurd to follow the argument to its logical conclusion, then the argument itself is absurd from its beginning. The teaching authority's argument has misused the beautiful spousal imagery foreshadowed in the Old Testament, proposed by Christ, and expanded by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians and by the Church's apostolic tradition. The spousal imagery was not intended to establish rigid gender restrictions for the priesthood, and the spousal imagery should not be misused in this way.

That doesn't mean that the spousal imagery applied to Christ and the Church has no meaning for the Church today. The most obvious meaning is the one that St. Paul gives to the imagery: that husbands and wives should behave toward one another in the same way that Christ and the Church behave toward one another, with absolute love, fidelity, and respect. I daresay that these principles of love, fidelity, and respect could even be applied to relationships between people of the same gender, although the teaching authority would reject that idea out of hand.

But does this spousal imagery have any implications for the way the ordained priesthood and the lay faithful behave toward one another? Of course it does. But the meaning doesn't lie in the rigid gender restrictions currently proposed by the teaching authority. The real meaning of this spousal imagery for the way that the priesthood and the faithful interact is lost on the teaching authority, because the teaching authority has become unaccustomed to behaving as Christ would to the faithful. But the real meaning behind this spousal imagery could have a revolutionary impact on the way that priesthood and faithful relate to one another, if we'd let it. If we'd let it, this teaching could establish a relationship between the priesthood and the faithful which would be based upon love, fidelity, and respect like that found in marriages or, more perfectly, in the way that Christ himself relates to the Church.

The problem is that this teaching would require everyone from the pope to the last deacon, and all clergy in between, to love the faithful "even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her." It would require all clergy from the pope to the last deacon to love the faithful "as their own bodies," realizing that pastors who love their parishioners love themselves. "For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body." Some priests and deacons already relate to the faithful in this way. My own pastor is one of them. Certainly, many gay pastors also relate to the faithful in this way. But I don't think I'll hold my breath for the pope and some of the bishops.

I think they should work on it, though. Maybe when they do, the rest of us will think about working on that gender thing. But then again, maybe when they do, nobody will be thinking about that gender thing anymore.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Guest Blog at SRS

I just wanted to let everyone know that we've introduced a new guest blogging program at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, in which a blogger from another Christian Church or a non-Christian faith community will contribute a post at the end of each month. This month, Jo Guldi from CrossLeft has been kind enough to debut our guest blogging program for us, offering a post in which she discusses the recent Progressive Christian Leadership Summit and all the many ways that progressive Christians can get organized.

So check it out, and if you like it, feel free to share it with others.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Note on Judaism & Islam

In a couple of previous posts, both of which were rather lengthy, I made some comments related to Judaism and Islam.

The comments related to Judaism, in part:

If Jesus had opted for the "lesser of two evils," Christianity as we know it would not exist. Jesus would never have found the strength to challenge the deep systemic problems within the Judaism of his day. He would never have found the strength to heal lepers, the most rejected of all outcasts in Jewish society at the time. He would never have found the strength to heal the paralytic and pronounce his sins forgiven. He would never have found the strength to not only forgive the woman caught in adultery, but to turn the whole situation around and transform it into a referendum on her accusers. He would never have found the strength to tell revolutionary parables like that of the Good Samaritan, or to drink water and share the Gospel with a Samaritan woman.

And the comments related to Islam, in part:

It seems that Sr. Chittister's primary concern is avoiding more violence, and with this concern I can sympathize. But it would be wrong to deny the sanctity of a man who clearly was killed out of hatred for his faith just to avoid more violence. What would that say about our Church's commitment to faith and truth? As I've already pointed out, I also think it's a bad idea to do anything to appease violent Muslims. What kind of message do we send if we refuse to recognize a martyr for who he is because we don't want to provoke violence from Muslims? We send the message that violence can quiet us and lead us to attempt appeasement, that we will give them what they want if they kill enough of us. We send a message that we are ready for them to make more martyrs who we will not recognize as martyrs. It would be far better to send a message to the Muslim faith that we believe one of their people killed one of our priests out of hatred for his faith, that we're going to recognize his faith and that he was killed for it, and that we expect better from them. We expect to be tolerated and respected as we have tolerated and respected them.

As I've gone back over these two posts, it's occurred to me that I may have seemed overly antagonistic toward both Judaism and Islam, and that I may have also seemed overly triumphalistic as a Christian. I've received no e-mails or comments saying as much, and it may be that I'm being a bit too critical of my own writing, but I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not intend to be antagonistic toward either religion, nor did I intend to depict Christianity in a triumphalistic manner.

I should begin by saying that I have become less than enthusiastic about all organized religion. My criticism is certainly not reserved for other people's faith traditions, and in fact I make an effort to avoid criticizing other people's traditions and to focus instead upon reforming my own faith tradition. For instance, earlier this month I condemned the Polish Catholic bishops for their part in the persecution of Polish gays and lesbians. I also wrote a scathing letter to Fr. Frank Pavone for his extremist position on abortion, the division he's bringing to the Church and to America, and the profanation of his priestly ministry. I believe that organized religion is a positive institution that can be misused in very negative ways, and when I see it being misused I tend to react to that misuse very frankly and sometimes rather harshly.

I also want to point out that I don't believe in discrimination against people of other faith traditions. Earlier this month, I blogged about Starbucks committing an act of religious discrimination against a Wiccan employee in New York. Now, it's important to understand that Wicca, as one of the faiths outside of the so-called "American mainstream," is among the religions that American Christians least understand and least respect. Wiccans are frequently libeled as Satanists, and any number of immoral and frightening behaviors are attributed to them. But I know better, and I don't put up with discrimination against Wiccans or people of any other faith tradition. There are better ways to discuss our differences than by promoting discrimination, intolerance, and fear.

Finally, I want to emphasize how much I respect both Judaism and Islam.

I believe that the Jews are our elder sisters and brothers in faith, and that we are all children of one God. I condemn and reject all of the anti-Semitism that has been perpetrated against Jews by Christians over the centuries, and I accept the understanding of Reflections on Covenant and Mission which holds "that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God" and that "their witness to the kingdom [of God], which did not originate with the Church's experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity." As someone with Jewish ancestry, I have only the most profound respect for the Jewish people. My comments were only meant to point out problems in the Jewish system at the time of Jesus, most of which have been resolved since then. In fact, in many ways, Jews have surpassed Christians in fidelity to the principles of justice, mercy, and love. If my comments have offended any Jewish readers, I sincerely apologize.

To Muslim readers, I would like to say that I have deep respect for Islam and that I believe it is a religion of peace which appeals to a great variety of people, as is evidenced by its growth -- it is, after all, poised to replace Christianity as the world's most populous religion. In my comments, I was referring very specifically to radicals and terrorists who are Muslims, who distort the Muslim faith to support their radical agenda and acts of terrorism. Even today, we Christians have radicals among us who distort our faith to support their radical agenda; and even today, we Christians have terrorists among us who have blown up abortion clinics and night clubs in the name of our God. And sadly, our past is even more violent than our present, and our own violent past is no doubt part of the reason that some Muslims have turned to radicalism and terrorism in the present. I look forward to working with Muslims in pursuit of a nonviolent future, and I apologize if anything I have written has offended any Muslim readers

If in the course of my writing I have ever offended Jews or Muslims, or people of any other faith, I sincerely apologize. I firmly believe that people of all faiths are striving to know, love, and serve God in the best way each of us knows how, and I pray that God will bless all of us who are on this journey together.
On February 10, I posted about a new bill in the Ohio House of Representatives: H.B. 515, the Adoptive and Foster Children's Protection Act, which would ban GLBT Ohioans and anyone who resides with us from adopting or fostering children. It was cosponsored by ten representatives, all of them Republicans, and is just another example of Republicans trying to promote their warped vision of family values as a way to divide the electorate at the expense of actual children and families.

In any event, I thought I'd update my readers on what's going on with the bill.

Essentially, the bill is dead on arrival. Without the support of Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted (R-Kettering, pictured above), and with opposition by both Republicans and Democrats, it's very unlikely that H.B. 515 will make it out of committee to even be voted on. And Speaker Husted's chief of staff has condemned the bill as "divisive," stating that Speaker Husted would prefer to focus on job creation during this legislative session. While it doesn't look like H.B. 515 will be going anywhere, I've already submitted an article condemning the bill to which will probably appear in the March/April edition when it comes out in a few days, and I will continue to keep track of H.B. 515.

I'm Boston

You Are Boston

Both modern and old school, you never forget your roots.
Well educated and a little snobby, you demand the best.
And quite frankly, you think you are the best.

Famous people from the Boston area: Conan O'Brien, Ben Affleck, New Kids on the Block

What American City Are You?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

So You Say You Want a Revolution?

I'd say that I'm in my first day of recovery from the flu, since today I can do basic things like a normal person without feeling winded, nauseated, or otherwise debilitated. While I've been sick, pretty much the only thing I've been able to do is lay around, watch TV, and read. I've just finished reading Matt Taibbi's Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season. I highly recommend it; it reminded me of my reasons for leaving the Democratic Party, a reminder I needed as I have lately been succumbing to the old "lesser of two evils" and "electability" traps.

I became eligible to vote around the same time that I was involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), so since the very beginning I have looked at voting through the eyes of faith. The 2004 election season was an agonizing time for me, in which I almost decided to vote for President Bush based primarily upon his opposition to abortion rights. At the last minute, I voted for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). The driving force behind both of these choices -- the initial choice to vote for Bush, and the last minute decision to vote for Kerry -- was the "lesser of two evils" mentality. Both candidates are really bad, but which candidate would do the least harm? This mentality is quite common among Catholic voters; I suspect the same is true among other Christian voters as well, and perhaps among other people of faith.

I wonder now what I was thinking. Christianity would look very different now if Jesus had opted for the "lesser of two evils." Christ believed that there was something seriously wrong with the Jewish religious and societal system; it's going too far to say that he believed the whole thing was evil, but it's not going too far to say that he saw very serious and very deep systemic problems. And he saw these problems among all of the various Jewish sects, or "parties" if you will. What would have happened to Christianity if Jesus had decided not to challenge the entire system, but rather to align himself with the sect that would have done the least harm in his view? What if he had opted for the Pharisees over the Sadducees, because at least the former believed in the resurrection? Or what if he had opted for the Essenes over the other two, because at least the Essenes had rejected the corrupt Temple system?

If Jesus had opted for the "lesser of two evils," Christianity as we know it would not exist. Jesus would never have found the strength to challenge the deep systemic problems within the Judaism of his day. He would never have found the strength to heal lepers, the most rejected of all outcasts in Jewish society at the time. He would never have found the strength to heal the paralytic and pronounce his sins forgiven. He would never have found the strength to not only forgive the woman caught in adultery, but to turn the whole situation around and transform it into a referendum on her accusers. He would never have found the strength to tell revolutionary parables like that of the Good Samaritan, or to drink water and share the Gospel with a Samaritan woman.

If Jesus had not found the strength to challenge the Jewish system of his day, Christianity would not exist today -- because it was based upon Jesus' own revolutionary and inclusive teaching that the Church later opened its arms to the Gentiles, an act which could never have been tolerated in the Jewish religious and societal system.

I see now how fruitless it is to accept one party over another in our governmental system, to believe that there can be any benefit in choosing the "lesser of two evils" in a system that is evil in and of itself. It doesn't much matter whether there's a Democrat or a Republican in office, because the Democrats and the Republicans are hardly the issue; they are only two faces of the corporate oligarchy that has complete control of our government and our society, an oligarchy which bought both parties before I was even born. The power of this oligarchy is obscured by the media, which is now also owned by the oligarchy. The media spins every campaign and election to make us believe that we're really making a crucial choice, when in fact the only choice we're making is how the same corporate oligarchy will continue its totalitarian rule for the next four years. Ours is a smart dictatorship, effectively hiding from the oppressed that we are under the rule of tyranny by keeping up the appearance of two party government and democratic elections.

Despite the media's best efforts, this inevitable oligarchy and the farcical nature of our elections became apparent during the last presidential election, but many of us still refused to see it. The two parties presented us with candidates who did not differ at all on the most important issues. On the matter of the Iraq War, the only difference between the opposition candidate and the incumbent was that the former would kill Iraqis differently than the latter. On trade issues, inarguably the most important factor in our economic devastation, the only difference between Sen. Kerry and President Bush was that the former would toss economic justice and labor rights over his left shoulder rather than his right, while the President tossed them over his right shoulder rather than his left. On health care, the only difference between the Democrat and the Republican was that the former would substitute his own idiotic-failure-in-the-guise-of-a-real-plan for the President's.

There was only one Democrat who even came close to offering a real alternative to President Bush and the corporate oligarchy, and that was Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Unlike the other Democrats, Kucinich opposed the Iraq War from the beginning and believed that our troops should have been withdrawn immediately. Several of the Democrats (including both Sen. Kerry and Sen. Edwards) voted for the war and for its continued funding in the Senate and the House, while the ones who didn't vote for the war wouldn't commit to troop withdrawal. Unlike the other candidates, Kucinich opposed NAFTA and other economically devastating "free trade" agreements and promised to withdraw from them. Several of the Democrats voted for NAFTA and other debilitating "free trade" agreements, while the ones who didn't vote for such agreements wouldn't commit to withdrawal from the agreements. Unlike the other candidates, Kucinich promised universal health care for all Americans. None of the other Democrats would commit to universal health care, and all of their plans would have left some Americans deprived of health care -- even though health care is recognized as a human right by the United Nations, and provided as a human right by the governments of most industrialized nations.

What happened to Rep. Kucinich? First, the corporate oligarchy's propaganda department, also known as our free press, ignored and isolated him because he wasn't "electable." When he wouldn't go away quietly, the media ridiculed and laughed at him. And the American people followed the media's lead. I confess to being guilty of this myself, even being stupid enough to initially support the most shallow of the Democratic candidates, Sen. John Edwards (D-NC). And I confess that it was because I liked his hair, I liked his tan, and I liked his Southern accent.

There are no signs that this situation is going to change in time for 2008. Certainly not for 2006. None of the names floated for the 2008 Democratic primaries -- with the possible exception of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) -- would represent any kind of significant change. It would be more business as usual, electing a President who will kill Iraqis differently, who will screw America's workers differently, who will deprive us of health care differently. But any possibility that we'll stop killing Iraqis? Nay. Any possibility that we'll insist upon economic justice and labor rights? Nuh-uh. Any possibility that we'll extend health care to all Americans? No way. For Pete's sake, we may end up with Sen. Kerry, of all people, as the Democratic contender again -- his name appears in close proximity to Sen. Hillary Clinton (the early frontrunner) in every poll, often along with Sen. John Edwards, Gen. Wesley Clark, and even Al Gore. Maybe the Democrats' 2008 campaign slogan will be: "We Recycle!"

So who will get the Democratic nomination? If you're still asking this question, you're not getting it. The point of this whole post is to say that it doesn't matter, because the corporate oligarchy will ensure -- as it always does -- that whoever gets the Democratic nomination will be "one of them," a person (and probably a man) who governs only slightly differently than the Republicans in order to keep up the appearance that we still have a two party government and a stable democracy. Incidentally, I don't think Sen. Clinton will get the nomination; sure, she's the frontrunner now, but that's only because the people don't know the other candidates yet but know her very well -- you'll note that the ones who are directly behind her in the polls are also candidates the people know, but don't like as much (Kerry, Edwards, and Gore, oh my). I suspect that, when the time comes, the media will screw Clinton over with the "electability" card -- and I strongly suspect that Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), fiercely loyal to the corporate-controlled Democratic Leadership Council, will get the nomination.

But like I said: It doesn't matter!

It all sounds pretty hopeless, but I don't think that it is. Even though our democracy has been locked away for decades by the corporate oligarchy, the fact of the matter is that the people still have the power -- which is why the corporate oligarchy doesn't opt for outright fascism. We can change the course of our government and our society, but not by simply going to the polls and electing the guy the media tells us to, or the person we see as the "lesser of two evils." We have to stop listening to the media, stop listening to buzz-words like "electability," and start listening to our minds and our hearts. They're a bit rusty, perhaps, but most of them still work. Part of this is about doing what many Americans are terrified of doing: thinking outside the box. If I have to draw a picture for you, it's time to start electing independent or third party candidates who aren't funded and thus controlled by the corporate oligarchy.

We shy away from independent and third party candidates, often afraid to even consider voting for them. Why? Because we are told, again and again, that the threat to our nation is too great to risk losing to "the other guy" by giving too many votes, but not enough votes, to an independent or third party candidate. We've seen it a million times -- with Clinton and Dole, with Bush and Gore, with Bush and Kerry. No to Ralph Nader, no to David Cobb, no to Michael Badnarik, and all because Clinton, Gore, and Kerry had to win. Sisters and brothers, I have two things for you to consider:

  1. The Democrats are losing anyway! Do you see a President Gore or a President Kerry in the White House? No, and although they love to blame the former defeat on Ralph Nader, the latter candidate lost even though Nader and other independent/third party candidates were removed from ballots across the country.

  2. The Republicans are only going to destroy our nation and the world slightly faster than the Democrats, but either way, they're both still going to destroy our nation and the world -- because they're still serving the same greedy, power-hungry creeps bent on having and consuming (and by consuming, destroying) everything. Voting for either party is a vote for the destruction of our nation and the world -- so how can voting for someone else be worse?

And that brings me to my final and most disturbing point. In response to the manipulation of the political discourse by the Religious Right in the 2000 and 2004 elections, a new coalition has come together to build the Religious Left. I have been and remain supportive of this initiative, but not if it's going to become for the Democrats what the Religious Right has become for the Republicans. For one thing, such an endeavor would be completely hypocritical. It's natural for the Religious Right, which does not believe in the Separation of Church and State, to illegally intervene in elections and use their religious influence to get their candidates elected, expecting in return an imposition of their beliefs upon all Americans. But this would be unacceptable for the Religious Left, we who do believe in the Separation of Church and State. How can we say that we believe in this fundamental constitutional principle but then seek to intervene in elections on behalf of the Democrats?

But the Constitution, the First Amendment, and the Separation of Church and State are almost beside the point. What's really at stake here is religion. We need a Religious Left, but not in order to take religion out of the hands of the Republican Party and put it into the hands of the Democratic Party. We need a Religious Left in order to liberate religion from all political parties. The last thing America needs right now, in the face of religious nutjobs supporting President Bush and the Republicans, are more religious nutjobs supporting Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. What America needs now are religious people who actually value their respective religions enough to stand up against their profanation at the hands of diabolical politicians, religious people who will -- like Jesus Christ himself, but also like Moses the Law-Giver, like the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), like Siddhartha Buddha, like Artemis the Huntress -- stand up and challenge the system itself and the unjust burdens it lays on its people.

Sisters and brothers, our American system is rotten at its core. This is the elephant in every American living room, and the reason that between 35-40% of Americans don't vote. Our politicians can be easily bought and then sold to the highest bidder. In turn, these same politicians -- who are really only puppets -- have made it legal for corporations to buy the media, and now the media can also be easily bought and sold to the highest bidder. In our nation, truth itself has been made subject to a free trade agreement. When we fought the American Revolution, we fought to liberate ourselves from a monarchy imposing unjust burdens upon us. We must now fight an organized, nonviolent Second American Revolution against the corporate oligarchy in control of our government and society. We must replace our appointed corporate puppets with real elected political leaders.

This is the cause that all Americans should be fighting for, and especially American people of faith -- we should not be fighting over which corporate puppets we're going to elect this year.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Flu, Redux

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had the flu and that I would probably be blogging more as a result, since I didn't have much else to do. What I wasn't anticipating was that I would feel so bad that I wouldn't even feel like blogging -- but that's exactly what happened. So that's where I've been for the past couple of days. There will likely be light blogging until I'm feeling better, and no Lisping Lector this weekend.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Life and Health Exceptions

Michelle Strausbaugh (Behind the Surface), one of my fellow contributing editors at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, disagrees with my position on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act and its constitutionality. I have the utmost respect for Michelle and her opinions, and I'm fine with the fact that we disagree over some issues; I doubt any two people agree over every issue, and I have always hoped for a diversity of liberal and moderate opinion to be found in the pages of Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Michelle pointed me to a blog post written by Rob (UnSpace) to help explain why she disagrees with me, and I would like to respond to this post.

Before I begin what will likely be one of my lengthier posts (consider yourselves warned), I want to restate my position on Roe v. Wade and abortion in general. I believe that abortion is objectively immoral; that is, that there is never a case in which abortion can be morally justified, regardless of the circumstances involved. I believe that Roe was wrongly decided and that there can never be any legal justification for a violation of the right to life, which is the most fundamental human right from which all other human rights are derived. Nevertheless, I value the health and lives of women enough to believe that overturning Roe, even though it was wrongly decided, would constitute a serious risk to a significant number of pregnant women who would seek illegal and unsafe underground abortions.

So while I have no respect for Roe v. Wade and believe that the choice to have an abortion is always immoral, I do not advocate for the overturning of Roe at this time. I believe instead that we should work to reduce and eventually eliminate the economic and social pressures which lead women to seek abortion, working to create a culture of life in which all human life is welcomed and respected.

This puts me outside of both the pro-life and pro-choice camps, although for the record I do consider myself pro-life. I'm fine with the fact that I do not belong to either of these movements, and I think it does lend some credibility to what I have to say since it is evident that I am not approaching this from a position of ideological loyalty. My opinion is nuanced and I like to think I keep an open mind, listening to what both sides have to say and offering my own opinions only after careful consideration.

It is from this non-ideological perspective that I hope to approach this issue.

The most fundamental problem with Rob's post is that it is based upon a factual error. Rob states at the very beginning of his post that the problem with the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is that "it contained no exception if the life or health of the mother required it" (emphasis mine). In fact, however, Section 3a of the act explicitly states that the ban on partial birth abortion "does not apply" if it is "necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself." Clearly, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does contain an exception for the life of the mother -- Rob is simply in error here.

This critical error undermines much of the rest of Rob's post, which is based primarily upon what the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act would mean without an exception for the life of the mother. Rob does point out that there are risks to both the life and health of the mother in every pregnancy, but these everyday risks cannot possibly constitute sufficient reason to permit a partial birth abortion. If these everyday risks were to become more verifiably serious in the third trimester and if they were to constitute a serious threat to the mother's life, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act would allow a partial birth abortion. It is also important to point out that partial birth abortion itself carries with it a number of risks to the mother, as Rob, to his credit, has pointed out.

What about the health of the mother? Why didn't Congress include an exception for the health of the mother? After nine years of investigation, Congress has determined that it is unnecessary to include an exception for the health of the mother. By his own admission, all of the health risks that Rob brings up in his post, including the frequently mentioned mental health risks, can be addressed well before the third trimester and with other abortion procedures. Any serious health risk that would arise in the third trimester would likely also be a threat to the mother's life, so that the ban would not be applicable. This does beg the question: If partial birth abortion would never be necessary for the health of the mother, why not just include an exception for the mother's health anyway and appease the federal courts?

The reason is that pro-choice advocates and doctors frankly cannot be trusted. There is a very real probability that a broad health exception would be abused, allowing doctors to perform partial birth abortions for virtually any reason as long as they can cite some vague health reason, including vague appeals to mental and emotional health. A broad health exception would undermine the authority of Congress to govern, and the continued insistence upon this requirement by the courts would upset the balance of power between the judicial and legislative branches of government. The courts can interpret the Constitution, but they cannot so severely limit the Congress that the legislative branch's power to make law is effectively crippled -- and that is exactly what a broad health exception has done and would continue to do. It is imperative that such a broad exception be left out of this ban.

There are two other, more specific problems with Rob's post:

  • Rob mentions that partial birth abortion is the preferred method for dealing with a child who dies late in utero, and that the application of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act may prohibit such uses of partial birth abortion. This is not the case. The act makes clear that the ban only applies when a "physician . . . knowingly performs a partial-birth abortion and thereby kills a human fetus" (emphasis mine). Later in the act, it is again made clear that the fetus must be "a living fetus."

  • Rob also mentions the possibility that "a mother, grieving over the loss of her child" might have to face prosecution. Again, this is not the case. The act only applies criminal penalties to doctors, and explicitly states that "a woman upon whom a partial-birth abortion is performed may not be prosecuted".

Finally, Rob made a comment in his post that I can't let go:

Some Catholics have even argued that because sex carries the taint of sin with it, and because the mother chose to have sex, the mother should be willing to die rather than be a participant in the death of an innocent -- even if in dying the child will also die.

I would love to be introduced to these Catholics. If they truly exist, and I apologize for having trouble believing that they do, they are no doubt products of an era in the Church when the faithful were improperly catechized, because what is described in Rob's post is not Catholic teaching by any stretch of the imagination.

Catholic teaching regards all human activity since the original sin as having the taint of that original sin and the potential for more sin, and sexuality is certainly not exempted. But there is no special taint that comes with sex that would require a woman to give up her life, and such an idea has no basis in Catholic teaching. In fact, according to the principle of double effect, if the unintended loss of a child's life is necessary to save the life of the mother, then saving the life of the mother is morally licit even if it would result in the unintended loss of the child's life.

Rob may be referring here to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, canonized in 2004, who opted for risky surgery to remove a uterine fibroid (a benign tumor on the uterus) rather than opting for the low risk hysterectomy which would have saved her life but would have cost the life of her child. St. Gianna died as a result of the surgery, but her child did live. It is important to point out that even though St. Gianna's self-sacrifice is rightly considered a heroic virtue, she was not bound by Catholic teaching to choose the risky surgery over the low risk hysterectomy; she could have morally chosen the hysterectomy, and by all accounts she knew that she could have made this choice. Furthermore, St. Gianna was a doctor. She was fully aware of the risks involved in the surgery, and chose to take the risk anyway.

Far from making an ignorant choice based upon a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching, St. Gianna went above and beyond the moral requirements and entered into the same love lived by the Lord Jesus, love which is totally self-giving and does not count the cost. Because she so selflessly gave herself that her child might live, the Church believes that she now lives in the eternal love of he who gave himself that all of the Father's children might live. That is why St. Gianna was canonized. The beauty of St. Gianna's love is that it was freely chosen; it was not imposed upon her by the Church.

In any event, now that I have clarified Catholic teaching on the principle of double effect, I would respectfully ask Rob to amend his post to reflect a more balanced approach to what the Catholic Church teaches and what Catholics believe.

I think what Rob's post and my response illustrate is the importance of knowing and sticking to the facts when it comes to issues as controversial as abortion. Although I am not familiar with UnSpace, there is no doubt in my mind that Rob is a very intelligent individual and that he is striving to live an upright life committed to social justice. I don't hold the errors I've cited against him, and I hope that my pointing them out doesn't become a source of conflict between us. With all of the ideological posturing going on between the pro-life and pro-choice movements, it's easy to pick up on misinformation dressed up to look like fact. Goodness knows I've picked up plenty of misinformation myself and believed that it was factual. The important thing is being open to further discussion and correction; I'm confident that Rob will be open-minded enough for that, and I hope that I will be as well.

To conclude, all of my readers know how loathe I am to support any Republican-led initiative. I see alterior motives in virtually everything the Republican Party does, and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is no exception. I know that Republicans hoped and continue to hope to use abortion and the controversial issues surrounding it to divide and confuse the electorate, and I have trouble believing that most Republican politicians are very concerned about respecting the dignity of human life given their abominable record with helping the most poor and vulnerable among us. That doesn't change my conviction that a ban on partial birth abortion is not only reasonable but morally imperative, that this ban is reasonable and meets the requirements of the Constitution and Roe v. Wade, and that this ban should be upheld as constitutional. While I am reluctant to join with Republicans on any matter, my conscience does not allow me to move in any other direction when it comes to this issue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Partial Birth Abortion

The Supreme Court today agreed to hear Gonzales v. Carhart, a case on the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by the 108th Congress in 2003. Three lower courts have ruled that the ban is unconstitutional because it does not include an exception for the health of the mother, even though nine years of congressional investigations have revealed that partial birth abortion is never necessary for the health of the mother.

It's possible (perhaps even likely) that the Supreme Court will overrule the lower courts and uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. The last Supreme Court decision on partial birth abortion struck down a Nebraska state ban in Stenberg v. Carhart -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the deciding vote in that 5-4 decision, and it's likely that her successor, Justice Samuel Alito, will swing the court in favor of the dissent which held that Nebraska's ban on partial birth abortion was constitutional. Of course, this is also dependent upon Chief Justice Roberts sticking with the dissenting opinion of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Planned Parenthood has responded to the Supreme Court's decision to hear Gonzales v. Carhart, referring to the decision as "a dangerous act of hostility aimed squarely at women's health and safety." Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, added references to "judges far outside the mainstream" and "anti-choice politicians" for safe measure -- even though most Americans oppose partial birth abortion. Unfortunately, Ms. Richards did not address the argument involved in Gonzales v. Carhart, that Congress has already determined that partial birth abortion is never necessary for the health of the mother and that a provision for the health of the mother would therefore be superfluous. Maybe far-left rhetoric will win the battle for partial birth abortion in the court of public opinion and maybe it won't, but I doubt that it will carry much weight with any serious jurist concerned about upholding the law rather than appeasing Planned Parenthood.

The fact of the matter is this: Almost a decade of congressional investigation has determined that partial birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of the mother, meaning that partial birth abortion is an unnecessary and barbaric abortion procedure which actually takes the lives of viable babies who could be brought to term and live. We cannot allow such a grievous and indefensible violation of the most important and fundamental human right, the right to life, to be protected by our nation's highest law and those responsible for interpreting it. A federal ban on partial birth abortion is long overdue, and it is time for the Supreme Court to uphold it and stop abusing the Constitution to protect the most serious abuse of human rights that our nation is currently engaging in. History will look back on Gonzales v. Carhart and see either a ruling which upholds the dignity of the human person like Brown v. Board of Education, or a ruling which denies the dignity of the human person like Dred Scott v. Sandford. It will be up to the justices what kind of history they're going to make.

In the meantime, while it is true that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act would put an end to a brutal abortion procedure, it is also important to point out that it would not prevent a single late term abortion. There are three other late term abortion procedures, all of which are more painful for the child and all of which are more painful and dangerous for the mother. If the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, Congress cannot be satisfied -- it's time for a ban on all late term abortion procedures, all of which are flagrant violations of human rights and none of which are necessary to preserve the health of women. In the meantime, pro-life Catholics must work for both social justice and charitable endeavors which would reduce and eventually eliminate the factors which lead women to seek abortion so that we can truly create a culture of life in which all human life is welcomed and respected.

Adventures in Blogging

I'm honored to announce that the Christian Alliance for Progress has invited me to be one of their full time bloggers; this will make me the first Catholic and the first gay man asked to frequently contribute to the Alliance's blog. My assigned day of the week will be Tuesday, and I'll be starting next Tuesday. I can't express how humbled I am to join the Alliance's contributing bloggers -- many of whom I've looked to as examples of how progressive Christian bloggers should interact with the Church and the world.

I'll be sure to post a link to my first post next Tuesday.

Woo Hoo, the Flu

I'm unhappy to report that I've caught the flu. The up side for my readers is that I'll likely be blogging more this week, since that's about all I'll have to do with my free time. I try to look on the bright side.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Episcopal Nominees for California

Karen (Kinesis) reports that the Episcopal Diocese of California has selected its nominees for the next diocesan bishop. Their resumes are available here. It turns out that one of the nominees is a gay man (Very Rev. Robert Taylor) and another is a lesbian woman (Rev. Bonnie Perry). Integrity USA has released a statement (it's in PDF format), and there is also a non-PDF version of the statement available at Orthony.

GLBT issues aside, it seems to me based upon their qualifications and past experience that either Rev. Jane Gould or Rev. Robert Taylor would be the best fit for California. Then again, I'm not Episcopalian nor do I live in California -- and I've never been one to tell other Churches how they should do things.

It almost goes without saying that the nomination of a gay man and a lesbian is causing an uproar, and there are already charges that the Episcopal Diocese of California has abandoned the Windsor Report. Right, because Anglican conservatives have done such a good job of respecting the Windsor Report. Sure. And how does one abandon a non-binding set of recommendations from a non-authoritative ecclesiastical commission, anyway?

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