Monday, January 31, 2011

David Berger on Benedict's Legacy: Lavishly Pulling Extreme Forces to Very Center of Church

I just wrote about how, as a voice speaking about the Catholic experience in the U.S. considered authoritative by the mainstream media, John Allen has consistently sought to move the defining center of Catholicism more and more to the right.  And how he is now defending a new president of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, Timothy Dolan, as non-extreme, when Dolan has taken positions on a number of issues that place him far to the right in the American political and religious sphere.  And has allied himself with people widely considered to be religious and political extremists.

John Allen Moves the Center to the Right: Timothy Dolan Not An Extremist

Here's an example of that process of redefining the center, always ever more to the right, as the pendulum swings rightward in various areas: John Allen defines the new head of the U.S. Bishops' Conference Timothy Dolan as not in any sense an extremist.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kate Childs Graham on Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy of Catholic Institutions: Continuing an Important Conversation

Yesterday, I wrote about my experience teaching theology in a Catholic university in the 1980s.  I noted that, like me, every gay or lesbian faculty, staff, or administrative person at the school of which I had any inkling was strictly closeted, as were almost all gay or lesbian students I encountered.  I also stated that there was (and still is, in most Catholic workplaces) no other option for gay faculty, staff, or administrators (and for gay students in a large percentage of Catholic universities).  Though, increasingly, gay and lesbian students at Catholic universities are refusing to live in the closet, and are beginning to challenge the institutionalized homophobia of these universities.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Anglican Priest* Disrupts Funeral of Murdered Gay Ugandan Leader, Shouts Homophobic Slurs

As a solemn, horrifying postcript to the recent murder of Ugandan gay leader David Kato, there's this story: if you ever doubted that hateful words (and silence in the face of hate) from religious groups can do a world of harm in the lives of gay and lesbian people the world over, I recommend that you pay attention to this report of what took place at Kato's funeral.

I Remember John Paul II: The New Orleans Visit

Have I ever shared my encounter--loosely speaking--with John Paul II?  I don't think so.  Since it may offer comic relief to any reader who may, like me, be struggling with the announcement of the impending beatification of the previous pope, I'll do so now.

Fr. Eric Hodgens on John Paul II Legacy: Monumental Lust for Power, Leaving the Church High and Dry

When I linked yesterday to recent commentary by Fr. Eric Hodgens in the Sydney Morning Herald about a "come-home" ad campaign that Cardinal Pell is considering for the Catholic church in Australia, a wonderful reader of this blog, Kathy Hughes, reminded me that she had previously sent me another article by Eric Hodgens.  This is an essay that Hodgens published in December at the Australian Cath News site, which then promptly removed the commentary from its site.  But the article had already appeared in a publication of the Australian priests' council, The Swag, and is still online at that site.

Eugene Kennedy on John Paul II's Beatification: The Saint Who Kept Looking Away

Eugene Kennedy's reading at National Catholic Reporter this week of what the beatification of John Paul II will signify for many Catholics is thought-provoking.  And, as with everything Kennedy writes, masterfully written.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Catholic News: Come Home Ad Campaigns, Anti-Gay Slurs, Berlusconi Embarrassment, and Playboy Priest

A number of items in the news today with import for those following current Catholic issues or discussions:

Arkansas Store Censors Magazine Cover with Elton John's Family, Then Rethinks Its Censorship

This local (local for me) story illustrates why I wanted to stress the role of unvarying principle recently, as I thought about the story of Peter and Hazelmary Bull in England.  The Bulls are the English couple who refused a room with a double bed at their Cornish hotel to a gay couple in a legal civil union, and whom some sectors of the British media are now defending, though the court has fined them for contravening the nation's anti-discrimination laws.  

Thursday, January 27, 2011

P.S. to Posting re: Nicholas Kristof on "Tussling Over Jesus": Kristof Features NCR Reporter Jamie Manson

This is a quick p.s. to my posting earlier today about Nicholas Kristof's op-ed piece in the New York Times today entitled "Tussling Over Jesus."

Gay Leader Murdered in Uganda: Hateful (Religious) Words and Hateful (Religious) Ideas Have Real-Life Consequences

And this kind of horrific event is what we can expect when popes and bishops and many other religious leaders remain completely silent as a climate of hateful demonization of a despised minority develops in a nation.  While a pope speaks about the civil marriage of gay persons as an incomparable threat to the human race, and characterizes the human rights of gay and lesbian human beings as "alleged rights."

Making Things Tic: A Codger's Ruminations on Literacy Today (and What the Lack Thereof Portends for Our Future)

Is Conor Friedersdorf intending to be cute with this coy use of the word "tic"--"What makes you tic, sir?"--or does he really not know how to spell the word "tick" (and that we commonly ask what makes things tick, not tic)?  If the latter, then I'm baffled.  I'm increasingly baffled by the shaky literacy of graduates of  even elite universities these days.  I've just read a novel by an English writer who's a graduate of New College, Oxford, and a former Conservative MP, who appears not to know that the case of the pronoun "whoever" is governed by its use in the clause in which it appears, and not by the preposition or verb setting the clause into motion.

Ira Chernus on Obama's Semi-Niebuhrianism: Shadows and Suffering, Heading Nowhere

Ira Chernus's critique of the "semi-Niebuhrianism of Mr. Obama (and of almost all media pundits who sling Niebuhr's name around today) is brilliant.  As I've noted for some time now, the highly selective use of Niebuhr's theology to justify a principles-lite "realism" that sanctifies the status quo is a bastardization of Niebuhr's theology, which is rooted in the social gospel.  And that's to say, it's rooted in a powerful tradition of American theology that sees the status quo as always susceptible to change and always in need of reform, from the vantage point of the prophetic insights of world religious traditions.

Nicholas Kristof on "Tussling Over Jesus": The Two Faces of Contemporary Catholicism

Nicholas Kristof's op-ed piece, "Tussling Over Jesus," in today's New York Times continues a theme he began developing last April in an op-ed piece about the two Catholic churches he encounters as he travels around the world.  One is the church of a self-absorbed, self-protective patriarchal old boys' club that puts its own power and privilege above the needs of the church as a whole.  A self-absorbed, self-protective old boy's club that puts the continuation of its power and privilege above the future of the church itself.  And above the gospels.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Bull Case in England: Concluding Remarks

It's possible, I suppose, to make too much of the story of the Cornish hotel owners recently fined for discriminating against a gay couple, about which I blogged several days ago.  But since media discussion of this case continues in the British Isles, and since the gay couple who sued and won this case are still being  pilloried in the British media, I want to offer some concluding thoughts about the Bull case.

Mourning Reynolds Price, "Outlaw" Christian

Carolyn Disco asks a significant question, as bloggers at the America site mourn Reynolds Price: she asks,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Benedict to Christian Leaders in Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Pro-Life Means Anti-Gay

And in case we don't get the point that I emphasized in my posting yesterday commenting on Archbishop Timothy Dolan's "state of the union" address to Congress--that being pro-life now means, for Catholic leaders, being anti-gay, and that gay and lesbian human beings are, simply by virtue of being gay or lesbian, in some sense a threat to the sanctity of life--John Allen helpfully spells it out for us today in commentary on a warning Pope Benedict just issued to leaders of non-Catholic churches.

Robert Kuttner on Mr. Obama's Centrism: Get Ready for "Triangulation II"

Robert Kuttner gets the centrist game exactly correct: as the political trend has moved relentlessly right for almost half a century now, the center moves right as well.  And so when people talk about being centrists (because it's always far more comfortable and rewarding to go along with the prevailing trend of power and to please and be rewarded by the powerful), what they're actually talking about is letting those on the right control.  While marginalizing the left.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Archbishop Dolan's "State of the Union" Address: Opposition to Gay Rights Part of Pro-Life Message

The new president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference, Timothy Dolan, has written a "state of the union" address to the new Congress.  And the document continues the rather unwise rhetoric of many U.S. bishops in recent years, linking the right-to-life cause of abortion to same-sex marriage--as if gay rights somehow fall under the rubric of pro-life concerns.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

From Alleged Rights to No Rights at All: Benedict on No One's Right to Marriage

If news reports today are accurate, Pope Benedict told the Roman Rota today, "No one can make a claim to the right to a nuptial ceremony."  The report by Nicole Winfield to which I've just linked says that Benedict also stressed the need for better formation of couples preparing to marry--which strikes me as a valuable point on which to insist.

The Bull Case in England: Hotel Owners Fined for Discriminating Against Gay Couple (and American Religious Right Is Strangely Silent)

Interestingly enough, the story of a recent court ruling in England fining a couple who own a hotel for refusing a room with a double bed to a gay couple in a civil union is not getting much play in right-wing anti-gay American political circles.  And I suspect I know the reason why--and, if you'll bear with me a moment, will talk about that in a minute.

Friday, January 21, 2011

More Responses to 1997 Vatican Letter to Irish Bishops, and a Response to Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs' Ex-Gay Program

Andrew Sullivan's take on the 1997 Vatican letter instructing the Catholic bishops of Ireland to handle abuse cases entirely within canonical structures, evading the police as they did so: Sullivan wonders about the wisdom of the current Vatican rush to canonize John Paul II immediately, as one revelation after another about the sordid way the church did business during his papacy, vis-a-vis those reporting childhood sexual abuse by priests, comes along:

Diseased Gays and American Catholic Center: A Response to Discussion of Ex-Gay Program of Colorado Catholic Diocese

In the past day or so, I've linked to a discussion at the "In All Things" blog of America magazine, which has been talking about a new "pray the gay away" program sponsored by the Catholic diocese of Colorado Springs.  As I've mentioned, after having found myself censored at this blog when I sought to counter some of the outrageous anti-gay rhetoric of bloggers at this Catholic blog site, I've stopped contributing to discussions at America.  This doesn't stop me from reading blog discussions and articles at the America site, however.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Child-Rearing by Gay Couples More Common in the South?

I'm not surprised by the recent finding that same-sex couples in the South tend to raise children more than same-sex couples do in other sections of the country.  To use the old phrase of the Scottish Enlightenment, this finding "stands to reason" for me, for all kinds of reasons:

New York Times Editorial on 1997 Vatican Letter to Irish Bishops: New Doubts about Claim that Vatican Has Not Impeded Criminal Investigation of Abuse

This will have the apologists for the current leaders of the Catholic church up in arms: the New York Times dares again to address the abuse crisis, and not in a way that flatters church authorities.  The Times editorializes today about the latest finding of a Vatican cover-up of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church, the 1997 letter to the Irish bishops.  The editorial concludes:

Marci Hamilton on Vatican Response to Disclosure of 1997 Letter to Irish Bishops: Tangled Web

Marci Hamilton's analysis of the Vatican's attempt to dodge the significance of the latest document revealing that the cover-up of clerical abuse has been orchestrated from the very top of the church--in this case, the document is the 1997 letter to the Irish bishops--is, as usual, brilliant.  And brimming with moral insight.

"Boy in the Striped Pajamas": Acts of Violence Begin with Murderous Thoughts and Words

Steve and I watched "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" yesterday evening.  We found it disturbing, raising probing questions about how different our moral optic is on situations when we ourselves (or our own kind) happen to be the ones subject to social censure and even violence.  And so the constant challenge, what might be called the fundamental moral imperative: to develop our imaginative ability to place ourselves in the situations of those on the margins of society, those most susceptible to denigration and abuse in our particular society.  I won't say too much about the plot, in case any reader hasn't seen this 2008 film (or read John Boyne's novel with the same title, on which it's based).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Theological Relevance: Real People, Real Lives, Real World, Real Church


In posting after posting since the new year began, I've been noting the need to keep it real, if we who do theology and were trained to think about how faith communities engage the surrounding culture expect anything we say to be relevant to the culture at large.  Several days ago, I wrote that the very backbone of theology in the Catholic church following Vatican II, and of similar strong movements in all the Christian churches in the same period, has been the attempt to connect the dots between abstract theological ideas and the lived experience of human beings, an attempt at dot-connecting that tries to make sense of the truth claims of religious groups by examining the effect of those truth claims on the real lives of real human beings.  And, in particular, real human beings living on the social margins throughout the world.

Defensive Reactions to Disclosure of 1997 Letter to Irish Bishops: Predictable and Tired

The apologetic maneuvers in light of the disclosure of that 1997 Vatican letter to the Irish bishops that I discussed in two postings yesterday (and here) are predictable: through a lawyer, the Vatican tells the public and Catholic faithful worldwide, yet again, that we just don't know enough to understand the subtle inner workings of its little nation state.  And Vaticanologist and ultimate insider John Allen says much the same at NCR.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New York Times Reports on 1997 Vatican Letter and Cover-up of Abuse Cases in Irish Church: Huge International Significance

As TheraP notes in a comment on my posting earlier today about the 1997 Vatican letter on which the Irish media reported this weekend, instructing Irish bishops not to report cases of clerical sexual abuse to the police, but to refer them directly to the Vatican, the New York Times now has a report on this story.  Linked to the Times report is a copy of the letter in question.

Eric Deggans on Martin Luther King's Legacy: Why Do the Media Still Give Time to Anti-Gay Spokespersons?

A day late, but Eric Deggans' commentary on Martin Luther King's legacy in light of the  contemporary struggle for LGBT rights deserves wide readership.  Deggans asks--an extremely important question--why major mainstream media outlets like CNN, which wouldn't dream of pretending to offer "balanced" coverage to issues like racism or segregation by inviting rabid racists onto their programs, still think it's legitimate (and necessary) to give air time to rabid homophobes whose only arguments against gay rights are that they themselves find gay and lesbian persons distasteful.

Story about Irish Catholic Church and Vatican Breaks: Irish Bishops' Hands Tied by Vatican in Abuse Cases

If this story breaking in Ireland the past weekend is true--and I have every reason to think it is--then how does Pope Benedict expect to be believed, when he seeks to depict the abuse situation in Ireland as a case apart, one due to the unique malfeasance of the Irish bishops and the secularization of Ireland?  (Addendum, later in the day: for the New York Times report on this story, which has a copy of the Vatican letter, see my next posting on this topic in the same day).

What is now being reported is that the hands of the Irish bishops were tied when they sought to deal with priests abusing minors within their church.  Tied by the Vatican itself.

National Organization of Marriage's 2009 Tax Returns: Catholic Values Still for Sale?

In the final months of 2010, I spent quite a bit of time reporting on and critiquing the decision of the Catholic bishops of Minnesota to accept what is thought to have been a sizable donation from an unnamed donor or donors, permitting the bishops to produce a video attacking same-sex marriage and to mail that video to every Catholic household in the state.  As my several postings about this event note, there are a number of troubling aspects to this story: these include the decision of a group of bishops to make an issue out of something that had not been raised as a significant issue in the 2010 election in their state; their decision to attack a vulnerable minority for the political benefit of a particular political party; and their willingness to weigh into the election debates in a clearly partisan way.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

David Brooks on the Atrophy of Theology Today: A Matter of Perspective

I'm not surprised to see a number of leading figures of the American Catholic intellectual center celebrating David Brooks' recent observation that our culture has a hole in it caused by the atrophy of philosophy and theology.  My centrist brothers and sisters seem unable to understand that what Brooks persistently decries, as he decries the loss of theology in our culture, is the very backbone of theology in the Catholic church following Vatican II, and of similar strong movements in all the Christian churches in the same period: the attempt to connect the dots between abstract theological ideas and the lived experience of human beings, an attempt at dot-connecting that tries to make sense of the truth claims of religious groups by examining the effect of those truth claims on the real lives of real human beings.

Traditional American Gun Cultures and Today's Gun Culture: Worlds Apart

I grew up in the gun culture.  I reckon.

Mitchell Bard points out, rightly, that guns mean different things to different sets of Americans, depending on the historical circumstances that have shaped our regional cultures.  And as I think about it, I realize that I grew up with guns somewhere in my family's house, but when I try to think of precisely where those guns were stored, or of any active role they played in our family life, I draw a total blank.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pastoral Leadership of Bishops and the Exodus from the Catholic Church: Is There a Correlation?

In my previous posting about Eugene Kennedy's critique of John Allen's attempt to spin Cardinal Francis George as the U.S. Catholic bishops' "thinker-in-chief," I suggested that what perturbs me about Mr. Allen's (persistent) spin-doctoring when it comes to church officials is this: he does one somersault after another to  try to turn mediocre thinkers and mediocre shepherds of the flock into intellectual and pastoral giants.

John Allen on Cardinal George as U.S. Bishops' Thinker-in-Chief: Eugene Kennedy Responds (Say Whaaa?!)

Yesterday, I noted a lecture that the outgoing president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Francis George, gave in December at Boston College.  As I indicated, in his remarks at Boston College, George stated that supporters of same-sex unions have "lost touch" with humanity.  

Catholic League's Bill Donohue Spins Tucson Story to Support Censorship

And in other absurdist Catholic news today, if you were hoping that Bully Bill Donohue couldn't try to find a way to twist the Tucson story and President Obama's praiseworthy speech about this in a hysterical Catholic-defensive (and anti-gay) direction, think again.

Here's Right Wing Watch reporting on Donohue's reaction.

This story makes me wonder all the more what in God's name the president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, imagines he's doing for his flock in defending Donohue (and here).

Pope Announces that Gay Marriage "Penalizes" Traditional Marriage

And the attack on same-sex marriage (and on gay and lesbian human beings) continues, with top members of the Catholic hierarchy: a Catholic News Service article picked up by National Catholic Reporter today states that Pope Benedict announced yesterday that same-sex unions "penalize" traditional marriage.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Paul Krugman on the Two Moralities of Contemporary American Culture: How to Move Forward

In contrast to David Brooks' moralizing analysis of the current state of affairs (political and cultural) in the U.S. about which I've just blogged, Paul Krugman's essay in the same issue of the New York Times about the two moralities that compete for our attention as we analyze our present malaise is enlightening.  Where Brooks' essay seeks to capture exclusive moral ground for the powerful and privileged of our society, while blaming everyone else for our current problems, Krugman sees two radically different understandings of morality competing for attention in our cultural and political life.

Darin Murphy on the Palin-Obama Performance: Win for Obama

Darin Murphy's analysis of Ms. Palin's post-Tucson performance is, to my ear, pitch-perfect, both in its understanding of her intent in pre-empting Mr. Obama's own performance, and in the failure of Palin's attempt at theater.  As Murphy notes, Palin had a chance to lead by granting absolution to members of her party whose fierce reaction against criticism following the Tucson shootings reveals deep, unresolved, and unacknowledged feelings of guilt.

David Brooks on Niebuhrian Need for Renewed Sense of Sin: Where Does Incivility Arise in American Society?

Moderate conservatives like David Brooks are eager to bring civility back to American society--to retie the now-frayed ties that bind us.  And, as a critique of any theological and political analysis that might point to a progressive solution to our problem of civility, moderate conservatives like Brooks propose a highly selective reading of Niebuhr which removes from Niebuhr's theology its very foundation: the social gospel presuppositions out of which this theology moves, even as it eclipses those presuppositions with Christian realism.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pawlenty Situates Himself for Post-Tucson Presidential Run

The developing (and sleazy, to my mind) playbook of Republicans trying to situate themselves for a presidential run, after Sarah Palin went up in flames (or may have done so) with her response to the Tucson shootings:

My Real Rights Trump Your Alleged Rights: Catholic Officials Keep Appealing to Religious Freedom While Urging Discrimination

In several postings as the new year began, I predicted that we'd see much more of what I regard as a subject-changing rhetorical ploy of Catholic officials today: when the subject needs to be, as Nicole Sotelo argues, an honest and effective engagement of the longstanding cover-up of cases of clerical abuse by members of the Catholic hierarchy, the issue that the top Catholic leaders want to press today is the issue of religious freedom, instead.  With the attendant claim that the Catholic church is under attack by those who do not want to respect its right to religious liberty, and who do not recognize that religious freedom is the fundamental right on which all other human rights depend.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Andrew Sullivan on Sarah Palin's Reponse to Tucson Events: "Something Menacing"

Andrew Sullivan's conclusion, as he assesses Sarah Palin's gigantic failure to be a leader (or even a decent human being) in response to the Tucson events, is chilling.  And absolutely correct.  

Sullivan writes,

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Susan Meld Shell Cautions Against Radical Redefinition of Marriage: My Response

I posted the following piece yesterday, and it was subsequently swamped by a number of other pieces I posted the same day.  Since I think that this discussion remains very important, I'm bumping this posting back up in my queue of postings.

Anne Burke's Advice for Catholic Laity as New Year Begins: Keep Faith in Truth

Given our short attention span and truncated memories, I'm not sure many of us in the U.S. recall some of the most significant revelations of the past decade, when it comes to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church.  Do many of us remember, I wonder, the shock of learning, as the U.S. Catholic bishops met in Dallas in 2002 when the abuse cases in Boston were breaking wide open, that two-thirds of sitting bishops had knowingly shielded a credibly accused priest who had molested minors?

Monday, January 10, 2011

More on the Arizona Shootings: Naming the Problem, Facing It Resolutely

Though I haven't blogged today about the shootings in Arizona a day ago, they remain very much on my mind--in particular, the horrendous loss of life that has just taken place.  I'm not entirely what I can add to what I posted yesterday on this subject.  

Martha Kumar on Robert Gibbs: One Could Have Imagined Something Better

"One could have imagined something different, and better."

Martha Kumar, Towson University professor of political science, commenting on the departure of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, and the missed opportunity of the Obama administration in crafting a new, healthier, better relationship between the White House and the press.  Kumar is cited in an article on Gibbs by Dan Froomkin at Huffington Post today.

Cindy Jacobs Explains It All for Us: DADT Repealed, Birds Fall from the Sky

Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times blog notes (citing Right-Wing Watch) that right-wing Christian nutcase homophobe evangelist Cindy Jacobs explains it all for us: Jacobs explains why birds fell from the sky on New Year's eve in Beebe, Arkansas, that is.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Violence in Arizona, and the Backdrop of Social and Economic Violence in American Culture: From What Roots Does Violence Spring?

In every era the attempt must be made to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.  The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist.  Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins and this enemy has not ceased to be victorious (Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt [NY: Shocken, 1969], p. 255).

It is easy to look at the tragic events that occurred in Arizona yesterday and to talk about the increasing normalization of violence in American political (and cultural, and media) discourse.  It's easy to decry the easily discerned trend to make violence ever more thinkable--the random violence that appears to be the act of madmen, but which is ultimately a tool of repression used by those who own the vast majority of the resources of the nation, against those who increasingly lack the necessities of life.