Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Cardinal & The Politician

Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archbishop of New York, took one of his flock to task for improperly receiving communion, and thereby helps reinforce the traditional Catholic teaching regarding Catholic politicians who publically support abortion receiving communion.

The Forum: Cardinal Egan's rebuke to Giuliani: important subtleties
by Phil Lawler
Special to

Apr. 29, 2008 ( - In his public rebuke to Rudy Giuliani for improperly receiving Communion during Pope Benedict's visit to New York, Cardinal Edward Egan raised two subtle but very interesting points. First, the cardinal says that Giuliani should not receive the Eucharist because of his support for legal abortion; he does not base his argument on Giuliani's irregular marital status. Second, the cardinal reveals that he had reached a quiet agreement with Giuliani. The former New York mayor violated that agreement-- apparently for his own political purposes.

But before discussing those rather subtle aspects of Cardinal Egan's message, let's begin with the obvious. Cardinal Egan deserves praise and thanks for his public statement, in which he shows himself to be a leader, a teacher, and a pastor of souls.

By emphasizing the gravity of support for the legalized killing of the unborn, the cardinal takes a strong stand in defense of human life. Since Giuliani is not currently a candidate for political office, the cardinal's statement cannot be misinterpreted as a partisan gesture. Rather, he is using an opportunity to instruct the faithful.

At the same time, the cardinal is protecting the Church from further scandal. And as a pastor he is showing his concern for Giuliani, who is endangering his own soul by receiving the Eucharist improperly. The cardinal's message should not be lost on countless other Catholics who are receiving Communion while in a state of serious sin; in that respect, too, his is a valuable pastoral statement.

In all these respects, Cardinal Egan's statement stands in stark contrast to the official silence from Washington's Archbishop Donald Wuerl after several prominent pro-abortion Catholics-- most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy-- received Communion during the papal Mass in that city. Although these prominent politicians had indicated beforehand that they planned to receive the Eucharist, the archbishop made no statement to discourage them or to indicate to the public that they would be receiving Communion in violation of Church law. A spokesman for the US bishops' conference issued only a lame statement: "People go to church and people go to Communion if they feel in their heart they are prepared to receive Communion.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

America is Exceptional

As the world beats a steady path to our door these past two centuries, we who love America instinctively believe that our country is indeed special and it appears social science has made a case our belief is true.

A large part of this is our strong belief in God and the Pope’s visit reaffirmed that, as leaders of all faiths and political positions shared in the huge welcome he received.

Understanding American Exceptionalism
By Karlyn Bowman Monday, April 28, 2008

An ambitious new book explains how and why the U.S. is so different from other countries around the world.

“America is indeed exceptional by any plausible definition of the term and actually has grown increasingly exceptional [over] time.” This is the conclusion of the editors of a new volume, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation (PublicAffairs, $35). At an American Enterprise Institute conference on April 22, Peter H. Schuck and James Q. Wilson introduced the collection of essays, which is designed to probe Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation that America is “exceptional,” or qualitatively different from other countries. The book, which examines 19 different areas, marshals the best and most current social science evidence to examine America’s unique institutions, culture, and public policies.

During his introductory remarks, AEI president Christopher DeMuth said that no effort to understand the meaning of American exceptionalism had been “more ambitious and far-reaching” than this book. Not only does it describe the ways—both good and bad—in which Americans differ from people in other nations, DeMuth said, it also considers whether American exceptionalism is likely to continue, and how it matters to the world. DeMuth noted that Americans are more individualistic, self-reliant, anti-state, and pro-immigration than people in many other countries. They work harder, are more philanthropic, and participate more in civic activities. On the negative side, America also has a higher murder rate than some other countries.

Wilson noted that one of the best ways to understand American exceptionalism is to look at polls. Three-quarters of Americans say they are proud to be Americans; only one-third of the people in France, Italy, Germany, and Japan give that response about their own countries. Two-thirds of Americans believe that success in life depends on one’s own efforts; only one-third of Europeans say that. Half of Americans, compared to one-third of Europeans, say belief in God is essential to living a moral life.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Benedict in America

As we begin to reflect on the impact of the Pope’s visit to our country, the thoughts of George Weigel—Pope John Paul II’s official biographer—should be helpful.

Pope brought America new perceptions and challenging ideas, says George Weigel
Washington DC, Apr 26, 2008 / 09:04 am (CNA).-

As Pope Benedict XVI’s presence and words linger with Americans, George Weigel is offering his analysis of last week’s trip in an article for Newsweek. The Pope, Weigel says, not only managed to deftly change the false perceptions of many, but also delivered words of challenging wisdom to Americans.

“From his first moments at Andrews Air Force Base,” Weigel begins, “it was clear that this was no hard-edged theological enforcer, no Rottweiler. Instead of the cartoon Ratzinger, America was introduced to a modest, friendly man, a grandfatherly Bavarian with exquisite manners and a shock of unruly white hair, full of affection and admiration for the United States.”

This changed perception of Benedict XVI was also accompanied by the crumbling of any anti-Catholic prejudice on behalf of the U.S. government, Weigel writes.

“Now, an evangelical Texas Methodist pulled out all the ceremonial stops to welcome the Bishop of Rome on the south lawn of the White House – and the Bishop of Rome, a former American POW, could be seen singing the refrain of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' along with the U.S. Army choir.”

The change in the perception of Pope Benedict changed within the Church too, says Weigel. “The transformation of the papal image was complete when Benedict XVI surprised everyone (including many senior churchmen) by meeting privately for conversation and prayer with five Boston-area victims of clergy sexual abuse.”

According to Weigel, this transformative chapter began even before the Pontiff landed on American soil. “On the flight to America, the Pope had forthrightly seized control of this issue, speaking of his own ‘shame’ over the behavior of priests who had abused the young; he later acknowledged the parallel and related disgrace of bishops who had failed in their duty to protect the flock."

"Still, it took that meeting with those who had suffered at the hands of something both they and he loved – the Catholic Church – to drive home the point that Benedict XVI was not just a friendly scholar. By meeting, praying, and, by all accounts, crying with those who had been deeply hurt, Benedict made unmistakably plain what those who had known him already knew: that he is a man with a pastor’s heart and a true priest’s compassion.”

Benedict XVI’s pastoral touch could also be seen when he preached at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. His forthright challenges to his listeners, whether young or old, serve as a “reminder to pastors of all denominations that ‘preaching up,’ rather than ‘preaching down,’ is the way to inspire and nourish,” Weigel asserts.

All of this was accompanied by the pomp and ceremony that surrounds a papal visit, but to only see the glitz would be to miss the substantial ideas the Holy Father proposed, says Weigel.

Most notable for George Weigel are the Pope’s ideas “about the way the world works, ideas about inter-religious dialogue, and ideas about Christian ecumenism.” All three of these categories of thought are united by a common thread: “the Benedictine project of turning noise into conversation through the recovery of moral reason,” he proposes in his Newsweek article.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Better Dead

This is the thrust of a book—"Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence"—that carries the environmentalist generated concept that humans are a virus on the earth and the philosophy known as utilitarianism, to its bitter end by proclaiming that it would be better for all life if human life were reduced, drastically.

Google led me to this blog posting about this philosophy from last year, pretty good comments.

Michael Cook | Tuesday, 2 October 2007
The ultimate miserabilist

Just when you thought philosophers couldn't get any more pessimistic, one of them surprises you.

What is there about utilitarians that makes them such miserabilists? The greatest happiness for the greatest number is the heart of their philosophy, but just try to find a happy utilitarian. The first of them, Jeremy Bentham, was such a sourpuss that he seemed pickled in vinegar. And in fact, he was, sort of. His embalmed body (pictured) still sits in a cabinet in University College London, one of its principal tourist attractions. He had no wife and no children. The greatest of them, John Stuart Mill, made utilitarianism a mainstream philosophy. But he suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 20, stole another man's wife and had no children of his own. And while Peter Singer, the most notorious of contemporary utilitarians, may be a karaoke champ in private life, his writings suggest otherwise.

However, these are bit players in the drama of miserabilism compared with South African academic David Benatar, author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Although the book has not been widely reviewed in the popular press, it was published by Oxford University Press and has been presented as a serious contribution to the increasingly influential philosophy of utilitarianism.

Professor Benatar's thesis is that life is so horrid that we all would be better off had we never existed. And not just us, but all sentient life. He introduces his thesis with a Jewish witticism: "Life is so terrible, it would have been better never to have been born. Who is so lucky? Not one in a hundred thousand!"

But Benatar is serious. "The central idea of this book is that coming into existence is always a serious harm." And, he continues, "coming into existence is always bad for those who come into existence. In other words, although we may not be able to say of the never-existent that never existing is good for them, we can say of the existent that existence is bad for them."

How does he reach this conclusion, which, even by his own reckoning, seems absurd and repellent? As a utilitarian, he calculates the benefits of existence by balancing benefits against harms. What possible benefit could a non-existent person receive that would outweigh a pinprick of pain? Since most people find this hard to accept, Benatar spends a chapter demonstrating that "human lives contain much more bad than is ordinarily recognised".

Given his distaste for life, why has he hung around so long? Hard to say. Perhaps he agrees with American writer Dorothy Parker:

Razors pain you, Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you, And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful, Nooses give,
Gas smells awful. You might as well live.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Catholic Priests as Politicians

This is an issue that has caused some controversy in the past and is again, as a suspended Catholic Bishop has been elected president of Paraguay, reported by Catholic World News.

The dilemma was also at the center of the liberation theology movement in Latin America many years ago when active Catholic priests took positions in the Marxist government of Salvador, and others became part of other local revolutionary movements throughout the region.

The struggle to improve the world often draws individuals of good will into active participation and priests are also influenced, presenting the Vatican with a decision to make.

Paraguay's new leader poses challenge to Vatican

Asuncion, Apr. 23, 2008 ( -

The election of a suspended Catholic bishop as president of Paraguay presents the Vatican with an important policy decision:

Should further disciplinary action be taken against Fernando Lugo Mendez?

Lugo, whose election on April 20 ended 61 years of rule by the Colorado party in Paraguay, was suspended a divinis in February 2007, after he ignored repeated Vatican directives to remove himself from a partisan political campaign. In informing Lugo of the suspension, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re (bio - news), the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, hinted that other disciplinary could follow if Lugo persisted in his presidential campaign.

Lugo is not likely to be deterred by any Vatican action. Before beginning his political campaign he announced his intention to resign from the priesthood entirely. The Vatican responded by pointing out that priestly ordination cannot be undone, nor can a priest "resign" from the clerical state. However, Paraguay's incumbent President Nicanor Duarte accepted Lugo's statement as reason to suspend enforcement of a law that forbids clerics from entering a presidential race.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cardinal Pell, “Global warming is over!

In this excerpt from a Catholic News Agency story, the Australian Cardinal analyzes the current state of the science, exercising the importance of religious leaders intervening in the public square when it is crucial to do so.

The complete article is on the Archdiocese website.

Cardinal Pell disputes global warming hypothesis

Sydney, Apr 22, 2008 / 06:00 am (CNA).-

In the April 20 edition of the Australian newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph, Cardinal George Pell expressed his concern regarding the “global warming hypothesis” in an article titled, “Global warming is over.”

Cardinal Pell began his article by giving recent examples of countries that have experienced more bitter temperatures and heavier snow than usual.

“Canada has just experienced the coldest winter and the heaviest snowfalls since 1970-71, which was called a once-in-1000-years event. Another 18cm of snow would set an all-time record.”

“In China, the Chinese New Year coincided with a fierce cold snap and snowstorms, which prevented many city workers returning to their villages for the celebrations. Police had to deal with the ensuing riots. London has just experienced snow at Easter.”

The cardinal stated that while “the world is much bigger than both China and Canada combined, which might be the exceptions to the new rule of man-made global warming, but they are inconvenient facts for the climate-change bandwagon.”

“And it is an intolerant bandwagon with loud, exaggerated claims that the issue is settled and that an unchallenged consensus among scientists confirms the hypothesis of dangerous, humanly caused global warming. In fact, the issue is far from settled.”

Though skeptical politicians would need “unusual courage” to resist these claims in the public sphere, Cardinal Pell argued that “the rest of us are not so constrained and we should consider all information.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Access to Knowledge

Few things cause greater empowerment to the individual than access to knowledge and the birth of the internet has caused that access to explode, which this article from the Wall Street Journal explores.

For Catholics it also means we can follow the daily words of Peter, be taught regularly by the Holy Father, a great boon to the faith.

Optimism and the Digital World
April 21, 2008; Page A15

In the 1850s, James Rothschild complained that it was a "crying shame that the telegraph has been established" because suddenly anyone "can get the news." The Rothschild banking empire was built through private couriers who ponied from one European trading center to another, profiting from market-moving news about business and trade. The telegraph ended such exclusive access. Almost as annoying, information became a constant. Rothschild complained, "One has too much to think about when bathing, which is not good."

This early Information Age became real time when Queen Victoria sent President James Buchanan the first trans-Atlantic cable. "The Atlantic is dried up, and we become in reality as well as in wish one country," editorialized the Times of London. "The Atlantic Telegraph has half undone the Declaration of 1776." Tiffany's crafted jewelry out of unused cables, and a popular novel of the era was "Wired Love," a Morse Code-era version of online matchmaking. The telegraph shrank the world, upended business practices, democratized information and confounded government regulators.

Today's digital world makes these challenges of the telegraph era seem quaint. Modern-day Rothschilds, and even the more workaday among us, are tethered to BlackBerrys. Our digital-native children simultaneously instant message one another, listen to iPods and watch videos – while doing their homework. Scientists now suspect that this next generation may be developing a different brain structure, reflecting online activity from toddler age.

This Information Age and how it affects us as consumers, businesspeople and citizens seems like a timely topic for a new column. My sensibility on these issues is that of a media practitioner for some 25 years so far, running media and information businesses, including as a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal. The focus will be on the accelerating impact of new technology. This column will also comment on public policy, seeking to discourage restraints on innovation while protecting sometimes conflicting concerns such as national security and privacy.

The media was one of the first industries to be roiled by new digital technology. Retailer John Wanamaker once quipped that he knew that half his advertising spending was wasted – he just didn't know which half. As a result of the efficiency of the Internet and other targeted media, many newspapers, magazines and broadcasters have had large declines in revenues and profitability. The largest media company in the world is Google, which produces little original content and indeed would instead call itself an engineering company. Silicon Valley is driving consumer choice and behavior at least as much as Madison Avenue.

We have many new choices in how we access news, information and entertainment. The number of professional journalists continues to fall, but the potential good news is that technology makes it possible for anyone to write and build an audience. New forms of online journalism are already filling the gaps. It was a Barack Obama-supporting blogger, citing her journalistic duty, who broke the recent big story of his comments in San Francisco about the bitterness of small-town voters.

There are hard questions to consider. For example, does the easy availability of information necessarily mean the advance of knowledge and wisdom? Endless information from many sources may or may not be as trustworthy as information handled by trained editors or through analog-era processes like academic peer review or independent ratings of financial instruments. Part of the answer may be new tools to capture the wisdom of crowds, such as the information art form exemplified by Wikipedia. The good news is that almost all public information is now available at the click of a mouse; the bad news is that unfiltered information overflow can leave people as confused as James Rothschild once was.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bush & Benedict

They are bound by the strongest bonds of all, the protection of innocent life, a fundamental rock of character for people of good will.

Main Street
The Pope and the President
April 22, 2008; Page A23

He came. He spoke. He confounded.

In the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to America, the assurance was that the Bishop of Rome would take the president of the United States to the papal woodshed. One of the more wishful versions appeared in the Washington Post, whose author confidently asserted that "Pope Benedict XVI will show how much his worldview differs from President Bush's when he denounces the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq before the U.N. General Assembly."

As it happened, Benedict said nothing remotely close to denouncing the "occupation of Iraq." One reason, perhaps, is his knowledge that a U.S. withdrawal before there is an Iraqi government in place that can defend its people is a prescription for a bloodbath.

That doesn't mean that Pope Benedict doesn't have his disagreements with President Bush. As a cardinal, Benedict was on record as opposing America's entry into Iraq, and on this trip he alluded to his belief that the proper way to resolve conflicts is via international organizations such as the United Nations. The differences are real. But they do not override the great respect these two leaders have for each other, on full display this past week.

We saw a bit of this at the arrival ceremony at the White House.

It was a glorious spring morning. The affection of the crowd was palpable. And for those who listened, the pope's remarks, invoking George Washington and lauding the timeless truths embodied in the American founding, dovetailed beautifully with the president's words about the common law written on every human heart, and the threat to human dignity posed by the "dictatorship of relativism."…

At the White House dinner Thursday night with Catholic leaders… "On the fundamental questions of life," the president told an appreciative audience, "the Catholic church has been a rock in a raging sea. And my prayer is that this will never change."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pope Benedict’s Visit

I doubt if anyone can reflect and write as well about the remarkable visit of Pope Benedict XVI to our country, as has Richard John Neuhaus, in an article posted at First Things, from which here is an excerpt.

The Papal Week That Was
By Richard John Neuhaus
Monday, April 21, 2008, 7:51 AM

Triumphalism, as we all know, is a very bad thing. On the other hand, defeatism is worse. In any event, I am persuaded that the apostolic visit just completed was a triumph. As is probably evident from my earlier postings on the visit, as well as some of my comments on EWTN, I was not sure about that before the visit got underway, nor was I at all sure during the first days in Washington.

The theme that Benedict chose for the visit was “Christ Our Hope.” That determinedly Christocentric focus was sustained through these days. Permit me a brief word on the several events. The first was not on the official program. It was the news conference on the plane coming over. The first question, not surprisingly, was about the sex abuse crisis. Benedict’s response might be described in other contexts as a preemptive strike. By addressing the question so directly and candidly, and then doing that again in following days, he decisively put to rest all the speculation about how he would handle the matter, or whether he would touch it at all.

Of particular importance in this connection was the meeting with the five victims of priestly sexual abuse. That occasion was reminiscent of John Paul the Great’s meeting in jail with the man who tried to assassinate him in 1981. The authenticity of the encounter, Benedict’s listening, holding hands with the five one by one, and praying with them was powerful. This was movingly confirmed by the victims who spoke about the meeting afterward.

This encounter was in dramatic contrast with many statements on the subject by the American episcopacy since 2002, statements that too often were defensive in nature, statements of the “mistakes were made” variety. Again and again, it seemed that bishops here had legal and financial considerations in mind when they spoke on the scandal, and were seeking their own rehabilitation in the eyes of the public by talking incessantly about what they are now doing to “protect the children.” In fact, they have done a great deal on the last score, making the Catholic Church in this country probably the safest institution for children in the entire country.

What had been missing from the years of public statements was a clear articulation of the reality that is at the heart of being the Church—sin, repentance, and the grace of forgiveness. That was the essential note struck by Benedict. This does not mean, as some of our bishops have suggested, that we can now put the scandal behind us. But Benedict has pointed the way through the difficulties that lie ahead.

A moment of historic importance was the magnificent reception at the White House the morning after the pope’s arrival. The administration pulled out all the stops in a symbolic act of closure in the country’s tangled history of anti-Catholicism—or at least of suspicion about the place of Catholicism in our common life. Beyond that, it was a striking response to the larger question of what someone has called the naked public square—public life devoid of religion and religiously grounded moral discernment. In the concluding Mass in Yankee Stadium, Benedict spoke of the “false dichotomy” between Christian faith and the public square, as he did also in his address at the United Nations in New York. His several statements underscored the powerful symbolism of the White House reception. The image of the president and the pope on the South Lawn, along with what each said, deserves a prominent place in any honest history of the Republic.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Catholic Higher Education

The Catholic Church founded the Western system of college education and it was built on disseminating the revealed truth housed within the mission of the Church.

Over the past couple of centuries, the relativism of truth has degraded that ancient tradition to the point where it is difficult even to find Christ’s message within the coursework of the typical Catholic university, which I can attest to as a former student of a Catholic university.

During the Pope’s visit he spoke to Catholic educators about this and his address was pointed, noted in this excerpt from a post on the Catholic World News site.

Pope speaks on academic freedom, Catholic identity
Washington, Apr. 18, 2008 (

Pope Benedict XVI asked American Catholic educators to "reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions," during an April 17 address to the leaders of Catholic colleges and universities.

About 600 educators attended the papal address, which he delivered at Catholic University. Also on hand were 195 directors of diocesan education programs.

The speech to Catholic university leaders was generally regarded as one of the more delicate tasks on the Holy Father's schedule during his American visit. With a few noteworthy exceptions-- mostly young Catholic schools that proudly proclaim their loyalty to the teaching magisterium of the Church-- most Catholic institutions of higher education in the US have adamantly resisted compliance with the standards set by Ex Corde (doc) Ecclesiae (doc), the apostolic constitution promulgated by Pope John Paul II (bio - news) in 1990 governing Catholic universities. (Ex Corde Ecclesiae calls for theology instructors to receive a mandatum, indicating approval from the local bishop. Few theologians at American Catholic colleges have applied for a mandatum, and many US bishops have indicated that they would be uncomfortable judging a scholar's academic credentials.)

Rather than confronting the dispute over Ex Corde Ecclesiae directly, Pope Benedict centered his talk on the need to create a distinctively Catholic identity. That identity, he explained, would be determined not merely by counting the number of Catholic students and professors, but by asking a few key questions about the school's allegiances: "Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools?" A Catholic university exists to spread the truths of the faith, the Pope told his academic audience. Because the purpose of academic freedom is to serve the cause of truth, and because some truths have been defined by the teaching magisterium, "any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ground Zero Prayer

A moving event for the final day of his visit is the Pope’s visit to ground zero in New York, excerpted here from an article posted on Zenit.

This will have a great impact—as will all of the events of his US visit—on the relation of all religions with public policy and that is a very good thing.

Blesses Site of 2001 Terrorist Attacks

NEW YORK, APRIL 20, 2008 ( Benedict XVI began the final day of his U.S. visit by blessing the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and meeting with survivors and relatives of the victims.

During the Pope's solemn visit to ground zero today he appealed to the God of peace to "bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth."

The Holy Father arrived at ground zero in the popemobile, on an overcast, chilly morning. He walked a short way to the site by the north tower's footprint and knelt in private prayer. After a few moments he rose to light a memorial candle, and then recited a prayer aloud in which he prayed for the victims and survivors of the tragedy.

"O God of love, compassion, and healing," the Pontiff said, "look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain."

"Give eternal light and peace to all who died here," he continued, remembering the first-responders, firefighters, police officers, emergency service workers and the Port Authority personnel, and "all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on Sept. 11, 2001."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Joint Statement of the United States and Holy See

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and President George W. Bush met today in the Oval Office of the White House.

President Bush, on behalf of all Americans, welcomed the Holy Father, wished him a happy birthday, and thanked him for the spiritual and moral guidance, which he offers to the whole human family. The President wished the Pope every success in his Apostolic Journey and in his address at the United Nations, and expressed appreciation for the Pope's upcoming visit to "Ground Zero" in New York.

During their meeting, the Holy Father and the President discussed a number of topics of common interest to the Holy See and the United States of America, including moral and religious considerations to which both parties are committed: the respect of the dignity of the human person; the defense and promotion of life, matrimony and the family; the education of future generations; human rights and religious freedom; sustainable development and the struggle against poverty and pandemics, especially in Africa. In regard to the latter, the Holy Father welcomed the United States' substantial financial contributions in this area. The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents. They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights.

The Holy Father and the President devoted considerable time in their discussions to the Middle East, in particular resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict in line with the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security, their mutual support for the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon, and their common concern for the situation in Iraq and particularly the precarious state of Christian communities there and elsewhere in the region. The Holy Father and the President expressed hope for an end to violence and for a prompt and comprehensive solution to the crises which afflict the region.

The Holy Father and the President also considered the situation in Latin America with reference, among other matters, to immigrants, and the need for a coordinated policy regarding immigration, especially their humane treatment and the well being of their families.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pope, Public Policy, & Time

The difficulty many people have with the thinking around the thoughts and ideas commonly expressed by great Catholic theologians, such as Pope Benedict XVI, particularly within the format of the papal magisterial writings, is that they deal with the full stretch of human time and beyond to eternity; and that type of thinking—for which human beings are most admirably equipped to engage in once educated and trained to do so—is often difficult to understand in the context of how it is written.

When I was in the process of conversion to became a Catholic, it was the papal encyclicals and the writings of the ancient and current theological writers that most drew me to the ancient faith.

It is this deep vision aspect of the Roman Pontiff that George Weigel touches on in this article.

A Pope of Historic Vision
By George Weigel
Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Publication Date: April 16, 2008

John Paul II arrived in Warsaw on June 2, 1979; there and then, he ignited the revolution of conscience that would give birth to the Solidarity movement, the Revolution of 1989 -- and the end of European communism. Distinguished secular historians of the Cold War now argue that John Paul's first pilgrimage to Poland, from June 2 to June 10, 1979, was one of the pivots of twentieth century history.

What seems obvious now, however, wasn't quite-so-clear at the time. On the fourth day of the June 1979 papal pilgrimage, for example, the New York Times concluded its editorial, "The Polish Pope in Poland," in these striking -- and, as things turned out, strikingly myopic -- terms: "As much as the visit of John Paul II must reinvigorate and inspire the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, it does not threaten the political order of the [Polish] nation or of Eastern Europe."


On the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI's address to the United Nations and his first pastoral visit to the United States, let's consider the possibility that his "June 1979" has already happened and that, just as in the real June 1979, most observers missed it. And by Benedict XVI's "June 1979 moment," I mean the most controversial event of his pontificate, his September 12, 2006, Regensburg Lecture on faith and reason. Widely criticized as a papal "gaffe" because Benedict cited a robust exchange between a Byzantine emperor and a Persian Islamic scholar, the Regensburg Lecture now looks a lot like June 1979: a moment in which a pope, cutting to the heart of a complex set of issues with global impact, re-arranged the chessboard in a dramatic fashion, with historic consequences.

In June 1979, a pope challenged the orthodoxies of what the Times called "the political order" in Poland and throughout the old Warsaw Pact; in September 2006, a pope challenged the shopworn conventions of interreligious dialogue. In June 1979, a pope set in motion a revolution of moral conviction that eventually replaced "the political order" in east central Europe with something far more humane; in September 2006, a pope may have set in motion a process of intellectual and spiritual awakening that could help resolve the centuries-old question of whether Islam and pluralism can co-exist, and in such a way as to safeguard the religious freedom of all.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


This article, from the London Times, is a very interesting take on the American Catholic Church.

April 15, 2008
American Catholics must stop and listen to the Pope

American Dwight Longenecker lived in England for 25 years. After 10 years working as an Anglican vicar he converted to Catholicism and in 2006 returned to America to become a Catholic priest. As a newcomer to the American Catholic Church, he gives his personal impressions of the Church as it prepares to greet its shepherd

by Dwight Longenecker

The American Catholic Church is big, rich and powerful. Compared to the marginalised Catholic Church in England, American Catholicism is a global force to be reckoned with. Time magazine, in a recent feature on the Pope's visit to the US, recognises that Benedict XVI understands and is intrigued by America’s "totally modern, yet totally religious" worldview.

The American Catholic Church is also highly polarised. At one extreme are the ‘rad traddies’. They argue for the Latin Mass and support schismatic groups opposed to modernising the Church. These radical traditionalists want to turn back the clock to some golden age before the Second Vatican Council. They live in a black and white world where anyone outside their group is a damnable moderniser. They come across as angry, self-righteous kooks.

At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘rad trendies’. These ‘Spirit of Vatican 2’ Catholics mistake every politically correct cause for the teaching of the Catholic faith. They seem oblivious to any traditional aspects of Catholicism, and feel compelled to reinvent the faith according to the latest ideas of popular culture. With their liturgical dance, ecology stations of the cross and encouragement of sexual ‘diversity’, they come across as wounded, angry victims who, like their opposite numbers, seem to be self- righteous kooks.

In between the ‘rad traddies’ and ‘rad trendies’ are the largest group which my friends refer to as ‘AmChurch.’ These bishops, clergy and laity do not take particularly radical views either in the ‘traddy’ or ‘trendy’ directions. Instead they follow a bland, comfortable kind of American Catholicism with a mix of traditional devotions, parish social events, mediocre modern music and social action. Moving here from England, this in between ‘AmChurch’ seems cut off from any real sense of the historical and cultural continuity of the Catholic faith. In a country separated geographically from the rest of the world, AmChurch Catholics also seem distanced from the traditions of the Catholicism, which would give their faith depth and universality.

At the end of the 19th century, the Catholic Church was highly suspicious of all things American, and even coined a name for a new heresy called 'Americanism.' Pope Leo XIII’s analysis rings true: In his 1899 encyclical, Testem benevolentiae nostrae, Leo criticised Catholics who would, in order to “attract those who differ from her…shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions.”

This pretty much sums up the problem of AmChurch: It reveals the extreme position of the ‘rad trendies’ and the extreme reaction against it evidenced by the ‘rad traddies’, but is left in the mushy situation of most in between Catholics.

The answer to the problem is the present Pope’s emphasis on the “hermeneutic of continuity”. It is a splendid sounding phrase, but what does it mean? “Hermeneutic” refers to a perspective, a method of interpretation. A "hermeneutic of continuity," means that the past informs the present and guides us into the future. Benedict wishes our understanding of the Catholic faith to be guided by that continuity.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pope Benedict

During the visit there will be much written about him, and this is one of the good ones, from National Review.

April 15, 2008, 6:00 a.m.
Ratzinger Road Map
Meeting the pope.
By Delia Gallagher

Rome — Pope Benedict suffers a very basic image problem; there is a wide gap between who he is and who he is perceived to be. If he were a candidate in the U.S. elections, someone would be running to get the pope an image consultant. But he is at the Vatican and here, what the world thinks is not a top concern. On the eve of his visit to the U.S., a “road map” to the pope might be useful: the first part a personal portrait of who Joseph Ratzinger is; and the second, one aspect of the pope’s larger vision of the Catholic Church that is often overlooked.

Reluctantly Pontiff

Less than a week after being elected pope, Benedict XVI revealed to a German audience at the Vatican what he had felt that morning in the Sistine Chapel:
“When, little by little, the trend of the voting led me to understand that, to say it simply, the axe was going to fall on me, my head began to spin. I was convinced that I had already carried out my life’s work and could look forward to ending my days peacefully. With profound conviction I said to the Lord: Do not do this to me!”
At every major step in his rise through the Catholic hierarchy, the pope admits he was reluctant. “I felt called to a life of study,” he says in his memoirs, Milestones, “I never had anything else in mind.”

In the same memoirs, he recalls St. Augustine, who was also called from a life of study to become bishop of Hippo: “He had chosen the life of a scholar, but God had chosen to make him into a ‘draft animal’ — a good, sturdy ox to pull God’s cart in this world. How often did he protest vehemently against all the trifles that continually blocked his path and kept him from the great spiritual and intellectual work he knew to be his deepest calling!”

The pope, then cardinal, called Augustine’s meditation on this predicament, “a portrayal of my own destiny.”

The pope has a little white house in Regensburg, Germany, bought in the hopes of retirement. He had it built in the seventies for himself and his sister Maria. He was teaching at the University of Regensburg; Maria helped him transcribe his writings. His brother, Georg, an important director of music in the same town, came by often. He transferred the graves of his parents to the nearby cemetery.

He describes his years in Regensburg as some of his happiest. He was teaching and surrounded by his family. “We were once again together,” he says, “in our own home.”

No one now lives in the house in Regensburg. His sister Maria has died; the pope’s cat Chico wanders in the garden and is looked after by the neighbors, Rupert and Terese Hofbauer, who also send jars of honey to the pope in the Vatican from the honeycombs in his garden. The calendar in the house is stopped at Friday, January 7, 2005, the last time the Joseph Ratzinger slept there, just a few months before becoming pope.

This frank portrait the pope paints of himself shows Benedict to be a sort of everyman; every man who thought his life might turn out differently.

It is a very different image than the one circulated in the media at the time of his election: that he wanted the job and indeed campaigned for it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

President Bush a Closet Catholic?

This article validates what many in the Catholic community who were unaware of the back story, have felt for some time. President Bush acts often in congruence with Catholic social teaching and it makes sense that he was interacting with many Catholics around the intellectual and faith issues involved.

I began this blog shortly after reading the book Heroic Conservatism by a presiential speech writer, which made the claim that Catholic social teaching was one of the most deeply studied intellectual currents in conservative Republican circles.

Now, after reading this article, excerpted here, that seems even more accurate.

A Catholic Wind in the White House
By Daniel Burke
Sunday, April 13, 2008; B02

Shortly after Pope Benedict XVI's election in 2005, President Bush met with a small circle of advisers in the Oval Office. As some mentioned their own religious backgrounds, the president remarked that he had read one of the new pontiff's books about faith and culture in Western Europe.

Save for one other soul, Bush was the only non-Catholic in the room. But his interest in the pope's writings was no surprise to those around him. As the White House prepares to welcome Benedict on Tuesday, many in Bush's inner circle expect the pontiff to find a kindred spirit in the president. Because if Bill Clinton can be called America's first black president, some say, then George W. Bush could well be the nation's first Catholic president.

This isn't as strange a notion as it sounds. Yes, there was John F. Kennedy. But where Kennedy sought to divorce his religion from his office, Bush has welcomed Roman Catholic doctrine and teachings into the White House and based many important domestic policy decisions on them.

"I don't think there's any question about it," says Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and a devout Catholic, who was the first to give Bush the "Catholic president" label. "He's certainly much more Catholic than Kennedy."
Bush attends an Episcopal church in Washington and belongs to a Methodist church in Texas, and his political base is solidly evangelical. Yet this Protestant president has surrounded himself with Roman Catholic intellectuals, speechwriters, professors, priests, bishops and politicians. These Catholics -- and thus Catholic social teaching -- have for the past eight years been shaping Bush's speeches, policies and legacy to a degree perhaps unprecedented in U.S. history.

"I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than on any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century," said former Bush scribe -- and Catholic -- William McGurn.

Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation. He has wedded Catholic intellectualism with evangelical political savvy to forge a powerful electoral coalition.

"There is an awareness in the White House that the rich Catholic intellectual tradition is a resource for making the links between Christian faith, religiously grounded moral judgments and public policy," says Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things who has tutored Bush in the church's social doctrines for nearly a decade.

In the late 1950s, Kennedy's Catholicism was a political albatross, and he labored to distance himself from his church. Accepting the Democratic nomination in 1960, he declared his religion "not relevant."

Bush and his administration, by contrast, have had no such qualms about their Catholic connections. At times, they've even seemed to brandish them for political purposes. Even before he got to the White House, Bush and his political guru Karl Rove invited Catholic intellectuals to Texas to instruct the candidate on the church's social teachings. In January 2001, Bush's first public outing as president in the nation's capital was a dinner with Washington's then-archbishop, Theodore McCarrick. A few months later, Rove (an Episcopalian) asked former White House Catholic adviser Deal Hudson to find a priest to bless his West Wing office.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pope Will Arrive Tomorrow

This is one of the better stories from the mainstream press regarding his visit (the Boston Globe) and here’s an excerpt.

A critical visit for Benedict, US flock
A chance for Americans to 'take the cut of his jib'
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff | April 13, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, who has praised the United States for its religious freedom but rued its increasing secularization, arrives this week for a six-day, two-city visit in which he will introduce himself to a nation enamored of his predecessor but largely unsure what to make of the new pontiff.

He will discuss public policy at the White House and the United Nations, will preach the Gospel at Yankee Stadium and Nationals Park, will roll through the streets of Washington and New York in his bulletproof Mercedes-Benz popemobile, and will kneel in silent prayer at ground zero.

But mostly, he will offer Americans and, in particular, American Catholics, a chance to take the measure of this spiritual leader, who despite three years in office remains a relative unknown. Those who follow him closely, eager to find quirks of humanity in this stern-seeming man, have fixed on a handful of colorful details - his fondness for cats, his skill at the piano, the fluffy fur-trimmed hat, and the striking red loafers that may or may not have been styled by Prada. He is dogged by his reputation as a doctrinaire hatchet man for John Paul II, but most often described by those closest to him as a brilliant and prolific theologian seeking to inspire, not chastise, his large but troubled flock.

"The pope is coming to the church in the US at a time when American Catholicism is in a very serious crisis," said Russell Shaw, an author and commentator who is the former communications director for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Some people would say it's too late, that the church is in an irreversible downward spiral in the United States. I think it can be turned around, but we've suffered enormous losses in numbers and commitment over the last 40 years. The pope is not going to turn it around by magic, but I hope what he will do is begin to address these problems seriously."

The Catholic Church, with 67 million adherents in the United States, is the nation's largest religious denomination. But it is hemorrhaging members - 10 percent of the American adult population is made up of former Catholics - and its overall population level is stable only because of immigration, according to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey released in February. The church is also reeling from the effects of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, which has harmed Mass attendance, financial contributions, and seminary enrollments in Boston and beyond.

Benedict anticipated the demographic quandary in 2004, writing in a book, "One cannot hide the fact that in the United States, also, the Christian heritage is falling apart at an incessant pace, while at the same time the rapid increase in the Hispanic population and the presence of religious traditions from all over the world have altered the picture." Benedict has made several gestures in the direction of the growing Hispanic population, which now makes up about one-third of the nation's Catholics; he appointed the first cardinal in Texas, an area of considerable Hispanic growth, and his video greeting to the United States, released last week, included a section in Spanish.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pope Benedict & America

A very nice reflection by John Allen on Pope Benedict’s existing relation with America—on the eve of Benedict’s visit—beginning with when he was an American prisoner of war during the Second World War.

Benedict on America: In his own words
By John L Allen Jr Weekly
Created Apr 11 2008 - 09:16

As Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in the United States approaches, the media is chock full of pieces outlining the challenges the pope faces in America, and trying to anticipate what he might do or say to address them. Perhaps it's fitting that the last word before the curtain goes up, however, should belong to Benedict himself.

By that, I'm not referring to the brief video message to the American people from the pope released by the Vatican this week. Instead, I have in mind the various reflections on the United States offered by Joseph Ratzinger over the years, much of which dates from the period before his election to the papacy.

Despite protesting in 1996 that he has "little knowledge of America," in truth Benedict XVI probably came into office with more direct insight into the United States than any other pope in history. For one thing, he is the first pope ever to have been an American prisoner of war. After deserting from the German army in May 1945, Ratzinger was sent to an American POW camp in Ulm, Germany, until his release on June 15, 1945. (By the way, the future pope filled his days by penning Greek hexameters in a notebook.)

In his role as the Vatican's top doctrinal official, Ratzinger visited the United States five times. Over the course of more than 20 years in Rome, he also met the a wide cross section of American bishops, clergy and religious, theologians, politicians, social activists, and ordinary people. Predictably, the pope has also read widely about America, developing a special fondness for Alexis de Tocqueville.

As a footnote, from 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has had canonical responsibility for reviewing allegations of sexual abuse against priests, which means that over four years Ratzinger became deeply familiar with the contours of the American crisis.

Among the best sources for gaining a sense of Benedict XVI's attitudes towards the United States:

• The 2004 book Without Roots, which reproduces a lecture Ratzinger delivered to the Italian Senate in May 2004, followed by an exchange of correspondence with Italian politician Marcello Pera;

• A 1996 interview with German journalist Peter Seewald that became the book Salt of the Earth;

• The 2002 book God and the World, another lengthy interview with Seewald;

• The pope's Feb. 29 address to Mary Ann Glendon, the new Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See.

The following represent some of the highlights from that material.

Religious Vitality

Probably the top note of Benedict's thought is appreciation that the United States remains a deeply religious society. Despite the inroads of secularism, it still has a lively appreciation for the public contribution of religion. The pope quotes de Tocqueville as epitomizing the American spirit: "Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot."

Also following de Tocqueville, Ratzinger wrote in 2004 that democracy in the United States is based on moral and religious values derived from Christianity.

"No one prescribed or defined these convictions, but everyone assumed them as the obvious spiritual foundation," he wrote. "The recognition of this basic religious and moral orientation, which went beyond the single denominations and defined the society from within, reinforced the corpus of the law. It defined the limits on individual freedoms from within, thereby creating the conditions for a shared, common freedom."

The pope believes this basic consensus is fragile today, but intact.

"One could say, at least in my opinion, that in the United States there is still a Christian civil religion, although it is besieged and its contents have become uncertain," he wrote.

In Benedict's mind, the appreciation for religion in America stands in sharp contrast with contemporary Europe.

"In the United States, secularization is proceeding at an accelerated pace, and the confluence of many different cultures disrupts the basic Christian consensus. However, there is a much clearer and more implicit sense in America than in Europe that the religious and moral foundation bequeathed by Christianity is greater than that of any single denomination. Europe, unlike America, is on a collision course with its own history. Often it voices an almost visceral denial of any possible public dimension for Christian values."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

200 Years Later

The Catholic Church, though having a strong early presence in the western United States, when it was still Mexico, is only about 200 years old in the east and Phillip Lawler, an important Catholic thinker, (see his absolutely-must-have latest book, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture, which, while focusing on Boston where he has personal knowledge, is really about the nation as a whole), notes it in this excerpt from Catholic World News, also founded by Lawler.

The Forum: Today's somber 200th anniversary
by Phil Lawler
special to
Boston, Apr. 8, 2008 (

- April 8 should be a festival day for Catholic Americans. But America's oldest Catholic communities aren't really in a mood for celebration.

On this date in 1808, the Vatican established three new dioceses to serve the growing Catholic communities of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The Baltimore diocese, already in existence, was elevated to the rank of archdiocese on the same date; and a fourth new diocese was set up in Bardstown (now Louisville), Kentucky, for Catholics on the western frontier.

Throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th, those young Catholic communities prospered. Immigrant families poured into the East Coast cities, gained a foothold, and quickly began the massive project of building parishes, parochial schools, convents, and seminaries. Once viewed with suspicion by nativists as an alien presence, Catholics won grudging acceptance into the American mainstream. The grandchildren of illiterate immigrants who had huddled on Ellis Island now sat in corporate board rooms and city-council chambers. Soon the Catholic presence was indelibly stamped on the culture of each city.

But after all those decades of spectacular successes, East Coast archdioceses face their bicentennial celebrations with a somber frame of mind. Catholic influence is visibly waning. Parochial schools are being closed; parish churches shuttered and sold. Attendance at Sunday Mass has been dropping for years. If Catholic politicians call attention to their faith, it is frequently by defying the teachings of their Church; if clergymen are in the headlines, it is usually because of their scandalous behavior.

The sex-abuse crisis has rocked the Church in America, and made it possible once again, for the first time in a century, for "respectable" critics to voice anti-Catholic sentiments in public. But the downward trend in Catholic influence was visible long before the eruption of this scandal. For more than a generation-- since the 1960s, when a period of radical social change coincided with widespread doctrinal and disciplinary uncertainty following the Second Vatican Council-- Catholic influence has been on the ebb.

Early in March, the Pew Forum's comprehensive "US Religious Landscape Survey" confirmed what perceptive observers already knew: "No other major faith in the US has experienced greater net losses over the last few decades as a result of changes in religious affiliation than the Catholic Church." One-third of the adult Americans who were raised as Catholics have left the Church, the Pew survey found. Former Catholics now account for 10% of the nation's adult population.

Thanks to the large number of Hispanic Catholic immigrants, the Catholic proportion of overall US population has held steady in recent years, the Pew Forum found. But apart from those immigrants, for every adult convert who enters the Catholic community, four "cradle Catholics" leave. In other words the Church is hemorrhaging believers, with the effects only masked by constant transfusions. This is not the portrait of a healthy community.

So the 200th-anniversary festivities will be muted, if there are festivities at all. A celebration of the past invites comparisons with the present. It is all too painfully evident today that the engine of growth that propelled American Catholicism for some many decades is now sputtering. Investment bankers and corporate lawyers are somehow unable-- or rather unwilling-- to keep open the suburban parishes that were built with the nickels and dimes sacrificed by bricklayers and housemaids.

Yet the future of American Catholicism need not be grim. Indeed when Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) arrives on these shores later in April he will bring a message of hope for the future, as well as guidance on how that hope can be fulfilled.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Iraq War & Just War

One of the benchmarks for meeting the criteria for a just war—blogged about here—under Catholic teaching is: “there must be serious prospects of success”.

One of the major benchmarks of success for our going to war in Iraq is the growth of a democratic government able to handle its own affairs and serve as a stable democracy in the often turbulent Middle East.

According to this remarkable article by the Iraqi ambassador to the US, that is occurring, and we should feel the same great sense of pride as he does, in the work of the Iraqi people.

Iraq's National Identity Is Alive and Growing
April 10, 2008; Page A15

Five years after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power, Iraq and the U.S. face important choices for their future relationship – choices that will have profound long-term ramifications for both countries.

Iraq, freed from a ruthless dictatorship, has chosen plurality, democracy and federalism as a system of government. It is struggling to implement them against a formidable set of internal and external challenges. The leaders of the new Iraq must further demonstrate resolve to defend their choices and rise above parochial interests.

Having intervened and committed itself so deeply, the U.S. is debating the level and cost of its engagement. I submit that it cannot afford to lose this fight to its enemies. The destinies of the U.S. and Iraq have become intertwined and their national interests very closely linked.

The big test for Iraq is to find the necessary internal accommodations between competing political interests, enabling the country to keep outside interference at bay and ensure its internal cohesion and national unity. The big test for the U.S. is to maintain its resolve while adjusting its tactics and policies to achieve success in Iraq.

Those who see only serious problems within the Iraqi government and society miss the point. Iraqis are the first to admit to their shortcomings. What is important is that they are determined to overcome them. They also know it will be a long and painful process of incremental progress, punctuated by setbacks.

Those who argue that Iraq is fractured and hopelessly broken – a Humpty Dumpty that can never be put together again – are wrong. Many countries have experienced great difficulties and emerged united and strong. Iraqi national identity has been weakened, but it is alive and kicking, and will embarrass all of those who rushed to write its obituary.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pope Benedict’s Message to USA

The Pope will be here next week and has sent a message to the United States in advance of the trip and here is an excerpt from the full message posted on the Catholic World News site.

Pope sends advance message to US
Vatican, Apr. 8, 2008 (

- Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has released a message to the people of the United States, in preparation for his trip to America next week.

In his message the Holy Father says that he is coming to the US to proclaim that "Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture, and social condition." The Pontiff also confirms that in his address to the UN he will emphasize the importance of natural law, "the law written on the human heart."

The papal message, released by the Vatican press office on April 8, came in the form of a video. The message was released one week before the Pope is scheduled to arrive in the US. The Pope spoke mostly in English, with a brief portion in Spanish.

The full text of the Pope's message follows:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the United States of America,

The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you! In just a few days from now, I shall begin my apostolic visit to your beloved country. Before setting off, I would like to offer you a heartfelt greeting and an invitation to prayer. As you know, I shall only be able to visit two cities: Washington and New York. The intention behind my visit, though, is to reach out spiritually to all Catholics in the United States. At the same time, I earnestly hope that my presence among you will be seen as a fraternal gesture towards every ecclesial community, and a sign of friendship for members of other religious traditions and all men and women of good will. The risen Lord entrusted the apostles and the Church with his Gospel of love and peace, and his intention in doing so was that the message should be passed on to all peoples.

At this point I should like to add some words of thanks, because I am conscious that many people have been working hard for a long time, both in Church circles and in the public services, to prepare for my journey. I am especially grateful to all who have been praying for the success of the visit, since prayer is the most important element of all. Dear friends, I say this because I am convinced that without the power of prayer, without that intimate union with the Lord, our human endeavors would achieve very little. Indeed this is what our faith teaches us. It is God who saves us, he saves the world, and all of history. He is the shepherd of his people. I am coming, sent by Jesus Christ, to bring you his word of life.

Together with your bishops, I have chosen as the theme of my journey three simple but essential words: "Christ our hope." Following in the footsteps of my venerable predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, I shall come to United States of America as Pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture, and social condition. Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through him, our lives reach fullness, and together, both as individuals and peoples, we can become a family united by fraternal love, according to the eternal plan of God the Father.

I know how deeply rooted this Gospel message is in your country. I am coming to share it with you, in a series of celebrations and gatherings. I shall also bring the message of Christian hope to the great assembly of the United Nations, to the representatives of all the peoples of the world. Indeed, the world has greater need of hope than ever: hope for peace, for justice, and for freedom; but this hope can never be fulfilled without obedience to the law of God, which Christ brought to fulfillment in the commandment to love one another. Do to others as you would have them do to you, and avoid doing what you would not want them to do.

This "golden rule" is given in the Bible, but it is valid for all people, including non-believers. It is the law written on the human heart; on this we can all agree, so that when we come to address other matters we can do so in a positive and constructive manner for the entire human community.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Just War & Iraq War

It is important to discuss the Iraq War from a Catholic just war perspective.

In my opinion, it is a just war.

Here is the definition of just war from the Catechism

"2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:

"- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

"- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

"- there must be serious prospects of success;

"- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

"These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

"The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good." (Vatican Website Catechism)

Here, in my opinion, is the response to that definition from the perspective of the war in Iraq.

The damage inflicted on our nation by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the killing of thousands of innocent people, was lasting, grave, and certain.

Virtually all attempts to defeat terrorism throughout history have generally met with failure.

Attacking terror-supporting states like Afghanistan and Iraq, where terrorism has shown potent growth, with the long-range goal of creating a democratic society where tyranny once ruled, has a serious chance of succeeding.

The care of the use of arms which US troops have generally demonstrated has not produced evils or disorders graver than that which they seek to eliminate

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Marketing the Church

A wonderful use of marketing, and a reminder of the great call of Vatican II to each individual to reach out and bring people to the truth through whatever personal or organized apostolate they are called to be part of.

Here is some information from the magisterium about the apostolate, followed by an excerpt from the article

“Apostolate: “The activity of the Christian which fulfills the apostolic nature of the whole Church by working to extend the reign of Christ to the entire world. (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Glossary, p. 867)

“ The apostolate: “The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is “sent out” into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, through in various ways. “The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.” Indeed, we call an apostolate “every activity of the Mystical Body” that aims “to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth.”” (CCC, Section 863)

"Millions of people, who, spurred on by the social Magisterium, have sought to make that teaching the inspiration for their involvement in the world. Acting either as individuals or joined together in various groups, associations and organizations, these people represent a great movement for the defense of the human person and the safeguarding of human dignity. Amid changing historical circumstances, this movement has contributed to the building up of a more just society or at least to the curbing of injustice." (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, Introduction)

Catholic website drawing thousands back to faith
Phoenix, Apr 7, 2008 / 10:28 am (CNA).-

In less than three weeks, 3,000 Catholics returned to the Church in the Diocese of Phoenix due to the effort of a new lay apostolate, The program consists of a website and commercials aired on local television that effectively portray the truth and goodness of the Catholic Church.

In an interview with CNA, Catholics Come Home, Inc. founder and president, Tom Peterson explained that the ads are designed to take people to the website,, where they can find answers to questions about Church teachings, and also to put them into contact with their local parish to be led home, back to the Catholic Church.

Prior to founding Catholics Come Home, Peterson worked in advertising until he attended a retreat that completely changed his life. It was then that he knew God was calling him to use his advertising talents for evangelization.

Years later, he was contacted by the Diocese of Phoenix to help start a three-week campaign which was launched last month. In Phoenix, the commercials were aired on all major television networks and also ESPN, Lifetime, FOX News and others.

After the first commercial campaign, not only did the diocese report a marked increase in Mass attendance, but over “31,000 unique visitors came to the website from Phoenix and other US cities plus 60 foreign countries, with questions, to look up Mass times, to read information on marriage issues, to watch testimonies or to order Matthew Kelly’s book, ‘Rediscovering Catholicism.’”

The commercials aired on television are produced by Before airing the ads, two of the clips, “Epic”, and “Movie,” were shown to a focus group that consisted of former and practicing Catholics, non Catholic Christians, as well as those without any faith.

The feedback received from the group was outstanding. Seventy-eight of the 100 participants had positive responses to the ads. In another assessment, the organization found that before watching the videos, 90% of the participants had negative impressions of the Catholic Church. After viewing ads one time, 54% had a much more favorable impression. Hearts and minds were changed after viewing these creative and inspired ads.

The first commercial, “Epic” portrays the history, beauty, and spirituality of the Church that Jesus started 2,000 years ago. Peterson mentioned that “many people don’t realize the history of the Church. They don’t realize that Peter – the Apostle from the Bible – was the first Pope. They don’t realize the vast accomplishments that the Church has made over the centuries.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pope Benedict & America

The strong religious grounding our country retains from its founding has slowly won over the often cranky relations that have historically defined Rome and America. It was not that long ago that one presidential candidate had to specifically promise that his Catholic faith would have no impact on his political decisions to even be elected; something that seems unthinkable today in an atmosphere where Catholics constitute a majority in Congress and on the supreme court.

Now, as this excellent article excerpted here, notes, there has been quite a change.

The America of Benedict XVI, a Model for Catholic Europe
The agenda of the papal voyage to the United States. And a major study by the Pew Forum. On the nation in which the religions are the most changeable in the world, losing or gaining faithful each day
by Sandro Magister

ROMA, April 4, 2008 – When, in mid-April, Benedict XVI lands at the military airport of Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, the United States will take the lead in the list of the countries most visited by the popes, tieing Poland for the number of visits, with nine, and Turkey for the number of popes who have visited, with three, following his predecessors Paul Vi and John Paul II.

The latter, a ceaseless traveler, made the rounds all over the United States. During his first visit, in 1979, he visited seven cities in six days, delivering 63 speeches. The more sedate Joseph Ratzinger, who also make a visit of seven days, will instead stop in only two places: Washington – where he will meet George W. Bush at the White House on April 16 – and New York. He will deliver just 11 speeches. But the mere announcement of at least two of these are already causing jitters, after the current pope showed the world in Regensburg to what daredevil extremes he is willing to go. These will be the speech on April 17, in Washington, to representatives of Judaism, Islam, and other religions, and the one on April 18, in New York, to the general assembly of the United Nations.

In Regensburg, Benedict XVI denounced as the chief errors of today's world its separation of faith from reason, of which he accused Islamism, and the loss of faith and reason, which he instead imputed to the dominant culture in Europe and America. It's a good bet that he will go even farther at the podium of the UN, and will offer the world a primer on peace founded upon natural law, on the inviolable rights engraved in the conscience of each person, but also written in the "universal declaration" that marks its 60th birthday in 2008.

This is an easy forecast to make, if one only looks at what the pope said last February 29, while receiving the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon. For Benedict XVI the United States is a model to be imitated by all. It is the country born and founded "on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights," among the first of which is liberty.

With this pope, the United States is no longer held up for scolding by the Vatican authorities. Until a few decades ago, it was tasked with being the temple of Calvinist capitalism, of social Darwinism, of the electric chair, with a hair trigger in every corner of the world.

Today these paradigms seem to have been set aside to a great extent. The Church of Rome vigorously contested the military attack on the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Even Benedict XVI. But it is not now pressing for the withdrawal of the soldiers. It wants them to remain there "on a peacekeeping mission," including the defense of the Christian minorities.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit to the United States

This is a very important event for the people of the United States, in particular the Catholic community, and this recent forum features two prominent writers discussing what to expect from the visit.

Event Transcript
The Pope Comes to America
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Washington, D.C.

Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the U.S. as pontiff comes amid a turbulent election year. He has planned stops at the White House, the U.N. and the Sept. 11 “Ground Zero” site. How should we assess the first three years of Pope Benedict’s papacy? How has the global role and influence of the papacy changed under this pope? How has the Vatican’s relationship with the U.S. Catholic Church changed over the years, and what is its current state? What are the political implications of this trip?

To discuss these issues, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life invited John Allen, Vatican correspondent at National Catholic Reporter and Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR, and George Weigel, distinguished senior fellow with expertise in Vatican issues at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Vatican analyst for NBC News.


John Allen, Vatican Correspondent, National Catholic Reporter

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center


Luis Lugo, Director, Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

LUIS LUGO: Well, good afternoon to all of you, and thank you for joining us today. I’m Luis Lugo, the director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which is a project of the Pew Research Center. The center is a nonpartisan organization and does not take positions on issues or policy debates.

This luncheon is part of an ongoing Forum series that brings together journalists and policy leaders to discuss timely topics at the intersection of religion and public affairs. I am pleased to welcome you today to a discussion on Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to the United States.

If the interest you folks have shown in this is any indication, then the pope’s visit is sure to attract considerable attention. Now in this roundtable, we want to discuss where things stand with Pope Benedict three years into his pontificate, as well of course as what his visit might mean for Catholics and other Americans. To help us explore these issues, we are delighted to have with us two very distinguished experts…

George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center here in Washington, D.C., in fact just a couple of blocks away, where he serves as the chair of the center’s Catholic Studies Project. George is also a Vatican analyst for NBC News and a regular contributor to Newsweek.

John Allen is a senior correspondent for National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR. He is the author of Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith, about the future pope’s years as a cardinal…

JOHN ALLEN: I thought what I would do first is just give you a couple of basic facts and figures about the pope’s trip, which may be helpful for those transition graphs in the pieces you have to do, or the set-up comments on your broadcasts. Then I’d like to say a little bit something about what we might expect to hear from Benedict XVI when he is in the States. And then I’ll touch on a couple of questions that, in my experience of doing media about the pope, repeatedly surface, and I’ll try to engage those. One would be what we might expect to hear and not hear from the pope on the sex abuse crisis, and then also some comments about the pope and politics, looking ahead to the ’08 elections.

But, first, some just basic data. This is the ninth visit of a pope to the United States. The first was Paul VI on Oct. 4 of 1965. There were then seven visits by John Paul II, that is, assuming that you want to count two refueling stopovers in Alaska. But the Vatican counts them, and so I suppose we have to too. And then this of course is the first by Benedict XVI.

This trip actually will pull the United States into a tie with Poland for the most-visited country outside of Italy by popes in the modern era. It is also – and here is a bit of trivia that, if you’re blogging on this or if you have to do a box on, a kind of cover about the pope in America, this may be a good nugget – Benedict XVI will be the third pope to visit the United States, that is, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But he will actually be the fourth pope to set foot onto American territory. And the way that works is this: In 1849, Pius IX was taking refuge in Naples because he had been kicked out of Rome by Garibaldi and the revolutionaries. And one bright spring day, King Ferdinand of Naples, who was his host, was invited to tour the USS Constitution, which happened to be anchored in a port near Naples.

Pius IX tagged along. It was actually a breech of protocol for the captain of the ship, a guy by the name of John Gwinn, to allow the pope on board because the United States was officially neutral on the contest between the pope and the Italian revolutionaries. The captain was actually submitted to a court martial for allowing Pius IX onto the ship, but he actually died of a cerebral hemorrhage before the trial could reach conclusion. One other footnote: Pius IX is reported to have become seasick while he was aboard the Constitution and actually had to take a nap in the captain’s quarters before he left. So the fourth pope to be in American airspace.

One other point is that there are only seven countries that have received at least five visits by popes in the modern era. The United States is the only one that is not a majority Catholic nation. I think that and the fact that it will now become, again, tied with Poland for the most-visited nation clearly is a recognition of the importance that the Holy See, the Vatican, attaches both to the political and cultural role of the United States on the global stage, and also to the importance of the Catholic Church in this country. Seventy million Catholics, representing one-quarter of the national population, the United States is the third-largest Catholic country in the world after Brazil and Mexico, and just ahead of the Philippines. So clearly, all of this suggests to us this is an important moment for the Vatican and for Benedict XVI.

Now just a couple of words about what we might expect. Typically speaking, when the pope travels, he has two audiences in mind. He has the audience of the country he is visiting – that is, the broad public, Catholic and not – and he would have sort of social, cultural, political messages for that broad audience. And then he will have something to say of course also to the Catholic community in that place, so a kind of insider Catholic message.

Now, on this trip, there are actually three audiences in mind because Benedict XVI is also addressing the United Nations on the morning of April 18, which means that in a sense he’s also talking to the whole world. And, by the way, this will be the fourth time a pope has spoken to the U.N. Paul VI did it in 1965. John Paul II did it in 1979 and again in ’95.

So just a quick word about each of these levels – first of all, his message to the world. I think in the U.N. address you will get the kind of standard checklist of Vatican diplomatic concerns, so things like peace in the Middle East, responsible transition in Iraq, concern for religious freedom around the world – the kind of standard, global concerns that we’ve come to expect when popes speak on global policy.

But I think the heart of his pitch before the U.N. probably will cut a little bit deeper. It will be Benedict’s argument that what the world desperately needs today is a global moral consensus – that is, a consensus on fundamental moral truths that are universal and unchanging that can serve as a basis for things like protection of human rights and human dignity. I think his analysis is that in an era in which you have several important players on the world stage – China and Iran come to mind – arguing that the whole concept of human rights is a sort of Western cultural artifact, I think the pope believes that the construction of a kind of moral consensus that we can all agree upon based on truths about human nature and open to the wisdom of spiritual traditions and religious traditions is a critical priority.

And I think that probably will be the heart of that speech.

In terms of his American message, again, this standard checklist of concerns I would expect. You will hear the Holy Father talk about the defense of human life, beginning with unborn life. I suspect there will be references to the defense of marriage based on union between a man and a woman. I think there will also be references to the Vatican’s concern about the ongoing carnage in Iraq and elsewhere, and the desire to see peace restored to Iraq and to other parts of the world.

Probably there will be at least veiled references to the Vatican’s desire to see the Holy See operate in a somewhat more multilateral fashion in its approach to global policy, foreign affairs.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Iraq, Rome & Washington

Contrary to the narrative prevalent around many college campuses, the streets of Berkeley, and various media newsrooms, Iraq policy is congruent with Vatican policy, as George Weigel notes in this insightful article.

The amazing outflow of the Regensburg address continues to energize the dialogue around religion and violence, and that is also addressed in this excerpt from his article.

March 31, 2008, 1:00 a.m.
The McBrien Prize
And the winner is...
By George Weigel

By combining low-grade sourcing, a faux-authoritative voice, and leftist political spin in equally impressive measures, Michael Sean Winters and the editors of the Washington Post’s “Outlook” section have won the pole position in this year’s chase for the coveted Father Richard McBrien Prize in Really Inept Vaticanology (named for the Notre Dame theologian who memorably announced that Joseph Ratzinger couldn’t possibly be elected pope, less than 24 hours before Ratzinger was elected).

In “Not Eye to Eye: Wholly Different Angles on the World,” a front-page “Outlook” piece on March 30, Winters claimed that, during his forthcoming visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI will “show how much his worldview differs from President Bush’s when he denounces the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq before the U.N. General Assembly — a denunciation that’s expected to be especially harsh after the recent martyrdom of a Chaldean Catholic archbishop killed by insurgents in Mosul.” In that one sentence, Winters managed to commit several of the capital sins of Vaticanology: He confused the views of low-ranking bureaucrats with the thinking of senior Vatican officials, the pope’s own thinking, and the official position of the Holy See; he assumed that the pope comes into international forums like the U.N. as a policy proponent rather than as a voice of moral reason; and, perhaps worst of all, he somehow imagined the Benedict XVI would cheapen the sacrifice of the slain Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho by using the Chaldean prelate’s death as a way to score a political point.

In my own conversations with senior Vatican officials over the past 18 months, I have been struck by the fact that the debates of 2002-2003 are over. That there was serious disagreement between the U.S. government and the Holy See prior to the invasion of Iraq is, and was, obvious. Today, however, the page has been turned, and despite what Winters’s Vatican leakers may be telling him, the people who make the decisions tell me, as they have told the Bush administration, that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for both Iraq and the entire Middle East.

Pope Benedict will likely urge President Bush to demand that the Iraqi government be more assertive in defending the Christian minority population of Iraq; but that means more and stronger American involvement in the evolving politics of Iraq, not the end of an “occupation.” As for a papal “denunciation” at the U.N., Winters and his friends among Catholic Democrats are likely to be disappointed; Benedict XVI is far too shrewd to give fall campaign sound-bites to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton (either of whose victory in November would cause nightmares for the Holy See at the U.N. and other international agencies).

Moreover, the pope is coming to the U.N., not to give a pontifically guided tour of the world scene, praising this and lamenting that. In this 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he is far more likely to challenge the world body to take more seriously the moral truths that undergird the human dignity the U.N. was founded to defend — moral truths that can be known by reason.
Winters also argues that the Vatican’s “foreign policy” apparatus thinks rather like the Eurocrats in like Brussels. There is a truth here, but Winters misses it, badly.

Yes, the default positions in the Second Section of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State (usually referred to as “the Vatican’s foreign ministry”) tend to reflect the default positions in chancelleries and foreign ministries in western Europe. But to conclude from this that those defaults are shared by Benedict XVI and his most senior advisers on world politics is to make a very serious mistake. If the permanent bureaucracy in the Vatican Secretariat of State had had anything to say about it, Benedict XVI would never have given his historic Regensburg Lecture on faith and reason in September 2006 — the lecture that caused a firestorm of protest in parts of the Islamic world.

Eighteen months later, however, Benedict has been thoroughly vindicated in his challenge to Islam to think seriously about religious freedom and the separation of spiritual and political authority in the state. For the Regensburg Lecture, as intended, dramatically reshaped the Catholic-Islamic conversation, focusing it on the issues where Islamist aggression makes pluralism and peace difficult, rather on the exchange of banalities that too often characterizes interreligious dialogue. The new Catholic-Muslim Forum that was established following last year’s “Letter of 138” Muslim leaders (itself a response to Regensburg) is one example; negotiations with the government of Saudi Arabia on the construction of a Catholic Church in the kingdom are another; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s call for a new dialogue among the monotheistic religions is yet another. None of this would have happened had Benedict XVI deferred to those of his diplomats who “think Brussels.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Race in America

It is a volatile subject and one most of us really are tired of talking about, optimistically believing that, for most Americans, the horrors of slavery and segregation are past, and as the glittering images of Oprah, Condoleezza, Colin, and Barack so clearly show, there is as little resisting force stopping blacks from succeeding in this country and culture as there is stopping women, and that is a very good thing.

What is transpiring for political speech around this subject over the past few weeks is dismaying, and Fr. Neuhaus puts it in perspective in his admirable and scholarly way, in this excerpt from a First Things article.

The Strange Ways of Black Folk
By Richard John Neuhaus
Friday, March 28, 2008, 6:23 AM

“To understand all is to forgive all.” It’s a beguiling French adage, although of doubtful truth. Senator Barack Obama, we were told, has invited America to engage in a “national dialogue about race.” This morning’s paper describes the dialogue as “last week’s big story.” So quickly do national dialogues come and go. It is worth staying with this one for a while.

Obama’s Philadelphia speech in response to the furor generated by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s preaching was in many ways brilliant and admirable. Mitt Romney’s speech on faith in America was also remarkable, but it bore all the marks of a staff product with carefully calibrated sound-bites. We are told that Obama spent two days in isolation writing this text, and I believe it. No doubt staff members went over it and offered suggestions, but every line has the feel of a thoughtful man’s long-considered judgments on a vexing cluster of questions surrounding race in America. Is there any other national politician today capable of offering in public such a candid and personal reflection on an issue of such great moment? The question answers itself. Not wishing to invoke the ghost of Ronald Reagan, Obama partisans shy away from calling him the great communicator, but he is that.

Conservatives have not been inhibited in pointing out gaps, inconsistencies, and even contradictions in the speech, and all three are there to be derided. Yet I expect that many, if not most, conservatives experience a measure of ambivalence. They think that, all things being equal, it would be a fine thing to have a black president. Not because they want a dialogue on race but because they want to get beyond tedious and rancorous disputes about race, and a black president would put a stake through the heart of liberal guilt-mongering about our putatively racist society.

Of course, all things are never equal. In the speech, Obama once again invoked the boilerplate leftisms of class warfare and the grievances of what he depicts as a nation, black and white, of seething resentments. Without using the phrase, he calls for a new war on poverty and massively increased spending on urban public schools, even though such spending has been multiplied in recent decades to no discernible effect. The teachers’ unions make sure that the alternative of school choice never gets mentioned.

In this speech, he did not mention abortion, the single most polarizing question in our public life, but his promise is to move us beyond our divisions by taking a position so extreme that he refuses to support even the “born alive” legislation that would protect the lives of infants who survive the abortion procedure. Not for nothing is he rated the most liberal member of the Senate. His call for national reconciliation, however rhetorically appealing, is more believably a call for capitulation by those who disagree.

But our subject is the Philadelphia speech and race in America. Watching the speech on C-Span, one noticed that the usually exuberant Obama crowd offered only occasional and tepid applause, except for the familiar populist passages excoriating our exploitation by the rich and powerful. They seemed uneasy about his decision to put race front stage center in his campaign. But this is obviously something he thought he had to do, if only to return the subject to the wings.

Slavery is, politically speaking, the “original sin” of our national founding, just as Obama says. And he is surely right in forthrightly condemning the “incendiary” words of his pastor. The great offense is not in the Reverend Wright’s “God damn America.” Biblical prophets called down the judgment of God on their people. But they invoked such judgment in order to call the people to repentance. They spoke so harshly because they had such a high and loving estimate of a divine election betrayed. The Reverend Wright—in starkest contrast to, for instance, Martin Luther King Jr., whose death we mark next week—was not calling for America to live up to its high promise. He was pronouncing God’s judgment on a nation whose original and actual sins of racism are beyond compassion, repentance, or forgiveness. He apparently relishes the prospect of America’s damnation.

And he does so for reasons that are, not to put too fine a point on it, simply crazy. For instance, the claim that the government unleashed the HIV virus in order to exterminate people of color. The question inevitably asked is why Senator Obama, for fifteen or more years, attentively listened to, generously supported, and submitted his children to the ministrations of a man who espoused such odious and bizarre views. To ask the question is not to deny that, as the senator emphasized, the Reverend Wright also did and said many good things. That a peddler of hate and vile slanders is not without virtues is quite beside the point.

…Perhaps the single most telling statement in the Philadelphia speech is this: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.” The most reasonable interpretation of that statement, maybe the only reasonable interpretation, is that the Reverend Wright represents “the black community.” This ignores the great majority of blacks in America, who are in the working and middle classes and participate fully in the opportunities and responsibilities of the American experience.

The senator lends his prestige to the claim promoted by sundry race hustlers that Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, and Bill Cosby, along with millions of other black Americans, are not black enough to be part of “the black community.” One can understand why a Harvard law-school graduate born in Hawaii with a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas would, for political and perhaps personal reasons, seek the street credential of having “roots” in a militantly black sector of the intensely race-conscious city of Chicago. But complicity in the explicit slander of America and the implicit slander of most blacks in America is a very high price to pay for a ticket of admission to “the black community.”

…I don’t know what all this means for the presidential election. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote some while back that the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama depends on whether Americans feel more guilty about their sexism or their racism. It seems now that Obama will be the Democratic nominee. Most Americans do not feel guilty about either sexism or racism, and are thoroughly tired of being incessantly nattered about both. Those who do feel guilty about racism may feel they have now been given a pass by the depiction of blacks as incorrigibly irresponsible children.

In any event, and whoever is the Democratic nominee, it is worth remembering that running on a platform of America’s guilt has not usually been an electoral winner. Political punditry is not my forte, but, as I watch this race develop, I can’t help thinking about George McGovern in 1972.