Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dispatch from the Front: But Benedict Remained Silent


For years, Jörg D. was plagued by feelings of shame, insecurity and rage. Finally, on Sept. 17, 2009, he sent the pope a four-page letter describing his plight. "I beg you for help, in whatever form possible," he wrote.

But Benedict XVI remained silent. To this day, Jörg D., now 25, has not received a response, "not even a two-liner, nothing, nothing at all."

I understand that popes and bishops are busy folks.  I understand that they must get a lot of mail.

Dispatch from the Front: Maggie Gallagher Notes Majority Support for Same-Sex Marriage Among Youth


NOM's Maggie Gallagher loves to natter on--and on--about how the rights of gay human beings ought to be up for grabs through popular vote.  Let the majority rule, Maggie insists, when the majority agrees with her.

But now Maggie's defending a homophobic California beauty queen, who quotes Leviticus to suggest that gays should be put to death, by noting that 45% of Californians aged 18-29 voted to remove the right of marriage from gay citizens with proposition 8.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cooking to Save the Planet: Making the Earth Say Beans


“. . . . [M]aking the earth say beans instead of grass . . . ” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden).

Evagrius, you’ve encouraged me to keep writing about food, though I’m down these days.  Others have issued similar appeals to me. 

So though it seems a bit like going from the sublime to the ridiculous to talk about beans when I’ve been talking about popes and presidents, maybe that subject does, indeed, deserve equally serious attention.  Or perhaps more serious attention than popes and presidents deserve.

DNC Asks Me for Money: No Human Rights Focus, No $$


I received my Democratic National Committee (DNC) survey yesterday—the one that has been discussed at various websites recently, including Americablog.  It informed me that I am a valued leader who has been specially selected for participation.

And then, of course, it dunned me for money.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dispatch from the Front: What Kind of Leadership Is This?


A response of a reader (the username is Associate) to the National Catholic Reporter article to which I linked yesterday, about the despair of many Irish survivors of childhood clerical sexual abuse following the recent meeting of the pope with the Irish bishops:
What kind of leadership is this? John Paul, the original master of the sex abuse cover-up, adds 5 new decades to the Rosary instead of responding to the needs of his worldwide flock. Benedict, co-conspirator in the cover up revises the Missal instead of acting to resolve the situation.

What kind of leadership is this?  Hurting people asking to be recognized as human beings, and we get new decades for the Rosary and priests turning their backs on the people of God at prayer.

The answer to the question is, It's certainly not pastoral leadership.

It has nothing at all to do with the Good Shepherd and how he instructed his followers to deal with the wounded members of the flock.

Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the Coming Hard Turn to the Right


Rachel Maddow interviewed Melissa Harris-Lacewell yesterday about the “hard right turn” Virginia has taken recently—though it voted Democratic in the 2008 federal elections.  Evidence of the hard right turn?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dispatch from the Front: Gays Under Siege in Africa


Andrew Sullivan is reporting today that gays in Africa are increasingly under siege.  Gays are being rounded up and arrested in Malawi.  There has been a sudden anti-gay pogrom in Kenya.  The kill-the-gays bill remains on the table in Uganda.

Things are getting really bad out there.  And I'm not seeing much news coverage of these developments.  Nor am I hearing people of faith speaking up against the violence and oppression.

Dispatch from the Front: Irish Survivors of Clerical Sexual Abuse Close to Despair

Cian Molloy of Catholic News Service is reporting at the National Catholic Reporter website that Irish survivors of Catholic clerical sexual abuse are “close to despair because the church will not take full responsibility for covering up the abuse.”  Survivors maintain that Benedict continues the cover-up, and that the recent meeting with the Irish bishops was a complete charade. 

The sticking point: the pope refuses to admit responsibility for the crisis—the responsibility the Vatican itself bears for enabling child molesters for years.  And he will not meet face to face with survivors to hear their stories.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dispatch from the Front: Kiss My Ring in Private

David Quinn, writing in the Independent (Dublin) about the p-r disaster that was the pope's recent meeting with Irish bishops:

Right at the start, when the bishops first met the Pope, the optics were wrong. They were filmed kissing the papal ring. There is no way they weren't going to do this. It is always done.

One veteran Rome correspondent told a colleague that he has never come across another group of reporters complaining about this gesture, which is simply a mark of respect for the office.

But he didn't count on Irish journalists in their present mood. In their present mood the gesture was equivalent to nationalists having to watch an Irish politician bow to the Queen of England circa 1955. I remind you again that church-bashing is the new Brit-bashing.

Given these realities, this first meeting with the Pope should have taken place in private, away from the cameras. Pope Benedict should have been filmed with the bishops later.

Yes.  That's it: kiss my ring in private.  That will help heaps.  Should go a long, long way towards resolving the problems in the church today, healing shattered souls, restoring battered confidence in the church's moral authority.  

Kiss my ring.  But just do it in private.

A Reader Writes: Awaiting the Springtime of Reborn Faith

Terry writes:

Bill, I cannot share your pessimism. Badly as the church treats us at present, they used to be very mush worse - with several thousands burned at the stake, or otherwise executed, in Europe and the America's.  . . . I know you find it hard to believe right now, but Spring for the Church will come too: possibly earlier than anyone expects. 

And I respond:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Another Dispatch from the Front: Speaking of Singing (Nuns)


Ken Briggs at National Catholic Reporter on Mother Mary Clare Millea's attempt to soft-sell the Vatican's current (hard and dirty) investigation of American nuns (which is all about $$$--about assuring that as communities of nuns dwindle in numbers and eventually may have to close shop, the bishops and Rome have clear title to their considerable property):
Mother Millea almost makes it sound as if the lucky few communities are about to get a call from the Welcome Wagon made up of cheerful agents more like singing nuns than strict superiors. It'll be more like a carefree summer picnic. All they really want to do, she says, is to gather the inspiring stories of the exemplary sisters who live there.

What could be wrong with that?
 Yes, what could be wrong with that, indeed?

Dispatch from the Front: Catholics and Mormons United in Defense of Religious Freedom


For those who may have missed this dispatch from the front elsewhere online: Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who recently slammed New Ways Ministry's pastoral outreach program to gay and lesbian Catholics, is headed to Salt Lake City next week.

To talk about Catholics and Latter-day Saints as partners in the defense of religious freedom.

Hat tip to Dennis Coday at National Catholic Reporter.

Singing, Strange Land: Lenten Questions Circling Through the Soul

Circling through my soul these days: more mobs every day now in some parts of the world, calling for the blood of gay folks.  The Uganda bill remains on the table: possible capital punishment for people simply because of who they are, because they’re gay.

And in this country, a Catholic journalist guru defending—laughing about—torture.   And the bishops totally silent as this goes on.  While a strong segment of American Catholics—the same people who do everything in their power to demean and dehumanize their gay brothers and sisters—not only tolerate but defend this behavior.

The Thing with Feathers: Learning the Tune Without Words


Okay, I’ll nibble—a bit.  You know the key to unlock this gay man’s heart and make him talk, Coolmom: quoting Emily Dickinson.  And about hope, no less.

Someone recently posted a blog piece about how to motivate Catholics to sing.  I think it was Margaret O’Brien Steinfels at Commonweal.  This is a recurring topic that still—amazingly—cycles around in liberal Catholic circles. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter, Discontent, and the Ashes of Hope: The Pilgrimage Continues

Winter.  Discontent.  I believe some famous quipster once made a comment about the connection between the two.

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting here lately.  Here’s why.  Well, what follows is the best explanation I can muster of a process that reaches deeper into my soul than I may be able to verbalize.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Students at Notre Dame and John Carroll Universities Protest Discrimination vs. Gays


I find it fascinating that students at two leading Catholic universities in the U.S. have recently staged protests against ongoing discrimination against gays and lesbians on their campuses.  This past Wednesday, hundreds of students at Notre Dame marched to protest a gay-bashing cartoon recently published in the Notre Dame student newspaper.  The students are also asking that Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, add sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination statement.  Jenkins has refused to do that.

In the same week, students at John Carroll University staged a sit-in to disrupt a university basketball game in protest of a decision by John Carroll’s president, Rev. John L. Niehoff, SJ, not to add sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination statement.

Asceticism and the Call to Discipleship: A Gloss on the Discussion of Penitential Practices


Signposts, as I try to live the gospel in my own life, in the place in which I find myself now:

Signpost 1: this is a literal signpost.  It’s one I pass almost daily as I drive around my city running errands.  Prominently displayed in a yard of a house on a busy major artery out of the city, an artery from the inner city to its affluent, largely white suburbs, is a sign with a loud political (and ethical) slogan.

I haven’t copied the sign.  I’m quoting from memory, and summarizing as I do so.  It says something like, “Vic Snyder—DEMOCRAT.  Tried to destroy your good health insurance.  Are you happy?”

I don’t know who has put this sign up, whether an individual or a political party.  The context is clear to me.  As I noted here some months back, Mr. Snyder is the U.S. representative from my area, and when the health care reform bill was presented to the House, he voted in favor of it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Banks, Big Businesses, and the Waning Power of Consumers to Be Heard


I’ve blogged before (most recently here) about Steve’s and my futile attempts to renegotiate the loan for a house we bought in Florida several years ago because a former friend asked us to work with her at a university there, promised us jobs up to retirement, and then turned on us after a year.  That leaves us with a house we bought solely for the period we were to live in Florida, and solely on the basis of promises our former friend broke.

As I’ve noted, though I am unemployed and the mortgage is now upside-down (the house’s value has fallen by $88,000 in three years)—and though the federal government gave lavishly to banks to assist people in precisely this situation—we have been unable to refinance the loan and make the mortgage payment on this house possible, without depleting our savings.  The sticking point is the precipitous decline in the house’s value.

Brian Fischer of American Family Association: Continued Attacks on LGBT Citizens


I blogged Wednesday about statements Brian Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA) made on his radio show at the end of January, and on which he expanded in a subsequent blog posting calling for legal sanctions against homosexual behavior.  In Wednesday’s posting, I noted that Fischer’s extremist views had not attracted much mainstream media attention—but that those of us concerned about the future of our democracy need to monitor such rhetoric carefully.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Response to John Allen re: "Evangelical Catholicism" among Catholic Youth


One of the privileges (or is the proper word “temptations”?) of having a blog of one’s own is that one can make a statement even when another blog chooses not to permit that statement to be heard.  Or when, perhaps, some glitch in the transmission of a response to a blog posting causes that response not to appear on the thread discussing that posting.

I don’t know which of the preceding two options explains the fact that a response I made to a recent article of John Allen’s at the National Catholic Reporter website failed to appear on the thread discussing the article.  For charity’s sake, I’ll assume that, even though the website confirmed that my comment did go through and would be considered for posting, something happened to prevent its transmission to NCR.

Harbingers of the Attack on Attempt to End DADT: A Sign of What's to Come?


I blogged yesterday about the threat that extremist views of theocratic groups like The Family continue to pose to our vulnerable democratic institutions.  The heartening statement of Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, re: DADT to the Senate Armed Forces Committee yesterday, is definitely a step in the right direction, for those of us who think that democracy matters and that the rights of gay citizens have something to do with democracy.

I’m particularly encouraged that Admiral Mullen frames the debate about don’t ask, don’t tell, in terms of integrity and of doing the right thing.  It should be framed that way.  It’s a debate about the core values that define our civic life and that norm our democracy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Robert Reich on Our Incredible Shrinking Democracy

As the day goes on, and in case some readers think I am overstating the case for the serious threats to democracy represented by groups like The Family (and its Catholic counterpart Opus Dei), I'd like to draw attention to an article that has just appeared at Alternet.  It's Robert Reich's "Our Incredible Shrinking Democracy." 

Reich argues that more and more decisions that should be made democratically "are being shunted off somewhere to a few people who make them in back rooms."  To be healthy, democracy requires 1) that important decisions be made in the open, 2) that the public has an opportunity to debate them, 3) and that those who make the big decisions be accountable to the public.  

The modus operandi of groups like The Family--their secrecy; their behind-the-scenes maneuvering; their disproportionate influence on all of us through highly placed allies in the government--these aspects of The Family and similar theocratic organizations is deeply troubling.  It should be of concern to all of us who care about the future of democratic institutions.

Encroachment of Theocracy on Democracy in U.S. Today: Two Signposts


As a brief gloss on the piece I’ve just posted, which notes the dominant influence of theocratic groups and ideas in American culture at present, I’d like to point to two signposts that indicate—to my way of thinking—just how far we’ve come down the theocratic road at present.  And how hard it will be to reverse that path, now that the presuppositions of right-wing religion dominate the discourse and thought of an increasing number of Americans . . . .

What fascinates me in both of these signposts is how they demonstrate that the burden of proof is increasingly on those who resist even the most outré manifestations of right-wing religion—as if the worldview on which right-wing Christianity rests is a reading of reality, and those who question that worldview in any respect are questioning reality itself.

Controversy about the National Prayer Breakfast: Parallels between The Family and Opus Dei


As I continue reading about that powerful, shadowy group The Family, which was in the spotlight last year due to its ties to those promoting kill-the-gays legislation in Uganda, I’m struck by the significant number of strong parallels between this group and Opus Dei about which I blogged a few days ago. 

The Family is back in the news right now, because it sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast to be held in D.C. two days from now—and which President Obama will attend.  As Adele Stan reports at Alternet, this event is usually the only annual sighting of the shadowy group called The Family, and the by-invitation-only breakfast is not even open to the media, at that.  Stan notes the dominant influence The Family exerts over the U.S. government and its foreign policy: hence the president’s decision to attend the event, though Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is urging Mr. Obama to reject the invitation because of the “cult-like” characteristics of The Family (see also Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post).

Monday, February 1, 2010

James Carroll on John Paul II re: Culture of Death

James Carroll, Practicing Catholic (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2009):
Under its sweeping rubric "culture of death," the encyclical (Evangelium vitae) effectively equated genocidal murderers and couples using birth control, state executioners administering lethal doses of poison and genetic scientists inventing reproductive technologies.  The divorced, the gay and lesbian, the bisexual and transgendered, the boys who masturbate, the thinkers who defend notions of relativism, the pluralists—such were the citizens of the culture of death.  The Manichean divide embodied in the cultures of death and life boiled down to the distinction between the fallen world and pope-obeying Catholicism (p. 246).

The graphic is Joachim Jean Cosson and Joseph Burn-Smeeton's "Good in the Form of God and Evil in the Form of the Devil Are Present the World Over,"  depicting the Manichean worldview.

Power, Sociopaths, and Social Intelligence: Dacher Keltner on the Paradox of Power


I’m fascinated by the research of psychologist Dacher Keltner re: power, which I’ve recently discovered through Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog.  Keltner notes that a power paradox is at work in many of our social institutions.

On the one hand, psychological research is increasingly demonstrating that most social groups place a premium on social intelligence, when it comes to identifying and rewarding those with the promise to be powerful leaders.  But on the other hand, once many of those identified as leaders assume the reins of power, they begin to behave like sociopaths.  They behave in a way that undercuts their claim to power and negates the social intelligence that placed them in the seat of power in the first place.  Keltner defines the paradox of power as follows: “The skills most important to obtaining power and leading effectively are the very skills that deteriorate once we have power.”

Paul Raushenbush to the President: Mr. Obama, Find Your Inner Niebuhr


A month ago, I blogged about Niebuhrian influences on President Obama’s political philosophy.  I noted that it has long been fashionable for some politicians and intellectuals to invoke Reinhold Niebuhr when they want to give the impression that their political philosophy has theological depth and warrant.  Among beltway politicians and in the ivy-league universities that supply the beltway and corporate world with many of its leaders, Niebuhr is treated as a theological bulwark against progressive political ideas and movements. 

As my posting about Niebuhr and Mr. Obama notes, many of those citing Niebuhr as a hard-nosed realist who scorned progressivism obscure the complexity, nuance, and above all, social gospel roots of Niebuhr’s—in the same way that these same circles and the mainstream media that take their cue from them constantly cite Pope John Paul II’s (neoconservative) theology of the body while completely ignoring his powerful (progressivist) encyclical on the priority of labor.