Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reformed Criminal Benchmarks

The reason the Lampstand Foundation has established eight benchmarks (on our website’s program model page, fourth paragraph) that should be met prior to a reformed criminal being able to effectively work as a transformative leader in the reformation of other criminals, is that without the work to achieve the benchmarks, the knowledge resulting from achieving them, and the spiritual development accompanying the achievement, criminals who feel they might be reformed actually might not be, and can become leaders that possibly will do harm rather than good.

This could be what has happened in Boston, as this report from The Crime Report notes.

An excerpt.

“Next week, experts from six cities will gather at a Washington ‘summit’ to discuss tackling the national epidemic of youth violence. An approach used by one of those cities—Boston—is already sparking debate.

“When deadly gun violence happens in Boston, the killing zone is mostly concentrated along a four-mile North-South route in the city named Blue Hill Avenue. And it affects for the most part one segment of the population who are either perpetrators or victims—young men between the ages of 16 and 24.

“Those two facts have focused the minds of people determined to find a way to curb an epidemic of death by guns that has plagued Boston for nearly a decade.

“The solution seemed logical: develop an intervention program that targeted both the Blue Hill Avenue neighborhoods where most of Boston’s gun homicides were occurring, and the youthful population that was responsible for the killing.

“So, with help from the Boston Foundation, one of the city’s leading non-profits, a program called StreetSafe Boston was launched in the summer of 2009 to do exactly that―but with a controversial added feature. Twenty former gang members were hired to work in so-called “hot-zone” neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue, from the South End through Dorchester and Roxbury to Mattapan—the places where young men tend to meet insults with gunfire, and gunfire with revenge.

“The short-term results were not promising. By the end of 2010, the number of Boston homicides not only failed to drop―it increased to a worrying new high of 72. That continued an upward trend from the year ending in December 2008, when 63 Bostonian homicide victims were recorded—more than half of them under the age of 30.

“Nevertheless, StreetSafe’s defenders and staff say the grim stats don’t tell the whole story of what has been achieved on Boston’s streets. They point for example to the fact that the program has been able to connect with 300 so-called “impact players” responsible for violence in the target neighborhoods, all of them gang members.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bishop to Bishop

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who are continents away, (and who have been portrayed as “the theological arm of the Democratic Party” for decades) says the war in Libya is, apparently, a just war, while the Bishops of North Africa, who are right there, denounce the war.

An excerpt about the US Bishop’s position from Catholic Culture.

“Military intervention in Libya, in the judgment of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), “appears to meet” the just-cause criterion of Catholic teaching on just war. The USCCB, however, cautioned that it has “refrained from making definitive judgments” in light of “many prudential decisions beyond our expertise.”

“In Catholic teaching the use of force must always be a last resort that serves a just cause,” Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote in a letter to National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church limits just cause to cases in which ‘the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations [is] lasting, grave and certain’ (#2309). The just cause articulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to demand ‘a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians’ appears to meet this criterion in our judgment.”

An excerpt on the North African Bishop’s position from EnerPub.

“Catholic bishops in Africa denounce Obama's war in Libya

“Catholic bishops of Libya and other countries of North Africa are calling for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in which NATO, the US, and other countries are taking part.

“The Bishops of CERNA recognise that during the recent events that have occurred in the Maghreb countries, there has been a “legitimate claim for freedom, justice and dignity, particularly by the younger generations. This demand translates into a desire to be recognised as responsible citizens with the opportunity to find a job that allows them to live decently, excluding all forms of corruption and cronyism.”

“Today,” continues the statement, “this wind of change passes through Libya. And we especially unite with our brother Bishops in Tripoli and Benghazi, and with all communities in the Country.”

“The Bishops of Northern Africa also reaffirm their opposition to violence and war: “We know that war solves nothing, and when it breaks out, it is just as uncontrollable as the explosion of a nuclear reactor! The first victims are always the poorest and most disadvantaged. Moreover, whether we like it or not, the war in the Near East, and now in the Maghreb, will always be interpreted as 'a crusade'. This will have inevitable consequences on the friendly relations that Christians and Muslims have woven and continue to weave in the newspaper.”

“The Bishops of CERNA call for a diplomatic mediation, and appeal for humanitarian aid. “We pray to the Almighty to inspire the leaders of nations to find the path that leads to Justice and Peace,” the statement concludes.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Catholicism: Tradition & Dissent

In this excellent article from The Catholic Thing we are reminded about the truths of Vatican II, though I would disagree with the author that the ordinary form of the mass “became less beautiful” as a result.

The ordinary form of the mass—with the exception of the sign of peace which disturbs the contemplation congruent with the liturgy—can be very beautiful, as can the extraordinary form of the mass; it all depends on the priests (I attend both forms as I am able).

An excerpt from The Catholic Thing article.

“With apologies to Leo Tolstoy: All faithful Catholics are alike; every unfaithful Catholic is unfaithful in his own way. To be faithful is to give heart-and-soul assent to the Church; to popes, to Creed, and to Magisterium.

“A traditionalist argues that the Church has veered off course, as a ship would when captain and crew have abandoned their duties, and the traditionalist and his confreres see themselves engaged in a kind of first-class passengers’ mutiny. Meanwhile, down in steerage, restless liberationists – convinced the ship has gone full stop – are jettisoning everything they consider dead weight.

“Catholic” dissent is about course correction – it is anyway in the minds of the dissenters, right or left. And both agree the course we’re on was set by Vatican II. So: “Turn hard starboard!” say the traddies.“Tack hard to port!” say the libs. To them the Church some sort of yacht or cargo ship.

“Actually, the Church is an ark, floating in the flood. But enough of nautical analogies.

“Traditionalists would roll back the “reforms” of Vatican II and the liberationists would push on in the “spirit of” Vatican II. Both agree that recent popes have been misguided. On the far edges, you have sedevacantists and revolutionaries: the outright vertical and the downright horizontal. Both are deeply nostalgic – one for an ancien régime, the other for a dream deferred.

“Nobody has better analyzed this discontent than our dear, late The Catholic Thing colleague Ralph McInerny. In What Went Wrong with Vatican II?, written thirty years after the Council ended, Professor McInerny made clear his opinion that the four Dogmatic Constitutions, three Declarations, and nine Decrees of the Second Vatican Council do not represent a break with Sacred Tradition. And he had a message for traditionalists: “That which makes Vatican II valid is what made Vatican I, the Council of Trent, and every other council valid. To accept one council is to accept them all; to reject one . . . is to reject . . . all; we cannot have pick-and-choose conciliarism.”…

“Neither John XXIII nor Paul VI, neither any subsequent popes nor Vatican II, are to blame for the “crisis” dissenters bewail. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t create the historical and cultural situation in which its teachings came to be considered out of step and which it tried to address at Vatican II. The Council itself officially changed very little – even including the reformed Mass, although the sacrament certainly became less beautiful (but Christ is there!). Still the Council became, alike for it-went-too-far Lefebvrites and it-didn’t-go-far-enough Liberation Theologians, an excuse to assume equality with papal and conciliar authority, to become shadow churches.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hilaire Belloc

He is one of the most important Catholic thinkers of the past century, and this new book, profiled in The Catholic Thing is one I also would recommend. Even though I have several of Belloc’s books—and his The Great Heresies is one every Catholic should read—having many of his most cogent thoughts in one place is a real treasure.

An excerpt.

“The book is The Essential Belloc: A Prophet for Our Times. It consists entirely (save for the general introduction, preface, and chapter intros) a collection of the writings and sayings of Belloc. My friends – Scott Bloch, Brian Robertson, and Father C. J. McCloskey – are the editors, not authors.

“I did not come of age in a Catholic household, and having absorbed the prejudices of my culture, I thought of Belloc, if I thought of him at all, as I thought of Chesterton, that is, as a curmudgeon. This was a prejudice, rather than an opinion formed by reading him. But I imagine it is still widespread in an American youth-culture, even among Catholics – when they have even heard of Belloc – not overly concerned with the four last things. At any rate, I came to him late, after years of practicing and teaching law in Washington, D. C.

“The occasion was likely (I am not certain) a dinner put on by the Belloc Society of Washington, a miraculous thing all by itself, but also a club where men could smoke and drink. The founder of the society was, I believe, Scott Bloch, one of the editors. I came not having read Belloc much, if at all, but for the fellowship and the drink and the cigar-smoking, little knowing that this was a very Bellocian thing to do.

“At any rate, imagine my astonishment when perhaps the greatest American Catholic essayist of our time, Father Jim Schall, came up to me at this dinner and said, “Belloc is the greatest essayist in English ever.” (Fr. Schall explains and amplifies this point and others in his preface to The Essential Belloc.) Then and there, I determined to read Belloc.

“And I have, though I freely confess I haven’t read all he has written (he must have published well over sixty books), but what I did read arrested me.

“Belloc was a historian with a concrete grasp of details. For the first time in my life, I understood how the geography of the Crusades (that is, the actual lay of the land) made it possible for a relatively small group of knights to hold Palestine and beyond (by controlling the key chokepoints of the ravines that ran down from the great highlands to the sea). No one else had ever explained it as he did; such was the evocative power of his language that one could almost see it.

“I also read his book The Great Heretics (not perhaps a happy term in these ecumenical days), and grasped, for the first time, that the intellectual vigor of Protestantism stems chiefly from John Calvin. Belloc’s treatment of Calvin was typical of him. He was generous in his evaluation of the greatness of the man, while he lamented that such greatness outside the Catholic Church inevitably lead to great error, and – this is the astonishing thing – he predicted that the entire dynamic future of Protestantism lay with the spiritual heirs of Calvin, as it has proven to be.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

College Education in Prison

While it is a powerful tool of rehabilitation, the case can be made that providing it free when state budgets are shrinking and no one else gets it for free, is not a good idea, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

Hopefully, criminal justice/rehabilitative stakeholders in Texas will seek to replace the funds that might be lost with private philanthropy.

An excerpt.

“For the past decade, Texas' imprisoned criminals have been allowed to work on college degrees and take vocational courses while behind bars.

“They're supposed to repay taxpayers once they get out. But of the more than 22,000 felon-students who are out of prison, only 6,630 have repaid the state in full, to the tune of $4.2 million, according to state records.

“The remaining 16,088 ex-convicts owe the state $9.5 million, the records show.

“Over the 10 years the program has been in effect, the state has spent $26.9 million on higher education for inmates, while getting reimbursed only $4.7 million.

“Overseen by the prison system's embattled Windham School District, which legislative leaders last week threatened to whack from the budget to save money, the little program is now the target of a move to shut it down, as well.

"We don't provide free college tuition for anyone else like this, so with the budget crisis we're facing, why should we for convicted felons?" said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who said he wants the program eliminated.

"The idea of having anyone paying us back in a program like this is ludicrous. There's no way to collect."

“Despite the criticism, Windham officials say the intent of the program is good: to help convicts advance their knowledge and skills so they will stand a better chance of becoming law-abiding citizens once they leave prison.

"The statistics show more inmates who participate have a lower recidivism rate," said Windham Superintendent Debbie Roberts. "There is an advantage from a program like this.

"We have some inmates who are continuing to send us checks after they get out — not many, but some."

“Under the program, convicts who are within seven years of release, who have a record of good conduct and who meet the entrance requirements for the courses taught by the 17 Texas junior colleges that participate can enroll.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Father John Corapi

He has been placed on administrative leave, as reported by the Catholic News Agency, and Fr. Corapi responds on his website.

An excerpt from the article from the Catholic News Agency.

“Corpus Christi, Texas, Mar 21, 2011 / 05:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Popular speaker and author Fr. John Corapi has been placed on administrative leave by superiors within his religious order following recent allegations of misconduct.

“Fr. Corapi said in a March 19 statement that a 3-page letter submitted by a former, unidentified female employee was entirely “false.” The letter claimed that the priest took part in sexual encounters with several adult women and engaged in habitual drug use.

“Fr. Corapi – a member of Texas-based Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity – is an internationally-known speaker and author who has appeared regularly on Catholic television and radio programs.

“He gained a widespread audience with his conversion story. After a prominent career as a wealthy businessman, his life spiraled out of control due to a cocaine addiction, eventually leading to him living on the streets. He later joined the Catholic Church and was ordained a priest.

“On March 18, Fr. Gerry Sheehan, Regional Priest Servant for the society, issued a statement saying that Fr. Corapi had been placed “on administrative leave from priestly ministry, in accordance to the Code of Cannon Law of the Catholic Church.”

“We have an allegation that Father Corapi has behaved in a manner unbecoming of a priest and are duty-bound to conduct an investigation in this accusation.”

"Fr. Sheehan said it was “important to keep in mind that this action in no way implies Fr. Corapi is guilty of the allegation.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Interior Life

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange—who played a prominent role in the group around Jacques and Raissa Maritain, two influential evangelical Catholics who set in motion much of the reemergence of the devotion and study of St. Thomas Aquinas—wrote a two volume work, The Three Ages of the Interior Life which is a sure guide for the teaching of advanced souls, as this excerpt reveals.

“In these questions [of spirituality] we have followed particularly three doctors of the Church who have treated these matters, each from his own point of view: St. Thomas [Aquinas], St. John of the Cross, and St. Francis de Sales. In the light of the theological principles of St. Thomas, we have tried to grasp what is most traditional in the mystical doctrine of The Dark Night by St. John of the Cross and in the Treatise on the Love of God by St. Francis de Sales.

“We have thus found a confirmation of what we believe to be the truth about the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith, which seems to us more and more to be in the normal way of sanctity and to be morally necessary to the full perfection of Christian life. In certain advanced souls, this infused contemplation does not yet appear as a habitual state, but from time to time as a transitory act, which in the interval remains more or less latent, although it throws its light on their entire life. However, if these souls are generous, docile to the Holy Ghost, faithful to prayer and to continual interior recollection, their faith becomes increasingly contemplative, penetrating, and full of savor, and it directs their action while making it ever more fruitful. In this sense, we maintain and we explain what seems to us the traditional teaching, which is more and more accepted today: namely, that the normal prelude of the vision of heaven, the infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith, is, by docility to the Holy Ghost, prayer, and the cross, accessible to all fervent souls.” (p. vi)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tradition & Reason

In this book review from the Wall Street Journal, another writer attempts to undercut the legitimacy of the science of sacred doctrine, which St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica notes:

“I answer that, Since this science is partly speculative and partly practical, it transcends all others speculative and practical. Now one speculative science is said to be nobler than another, either by reason of its greater certitude, or by reason of the higher worth of its subject-matter. In both these respects this science surpasses other speculative sciences; in point of greater certitude, because other sciences derive their certitude from the natural light of human reason, which can err; whereas this derives its certitude from the light of divine knowledge, which cannot be misled: in point of the higher worth of its subject-matter because this science treats chiefly of those things which by their sublimity transcend human reason; while other sciences consider only those things which are within reason's grasp. Of the practical sciences, that one is nobler which is ordained to a further purpose, as political science is nobler than military science; for the good of the army is directed to the good of the State. But the purpose of this science, in so far as it is practical, is eternal bliss; to which as to an ultimate end the purposes of every practical science are directed. Hence it is clear that from every standpoint, it is nobler than other sciences.”

An excerpt from the book review.

“It has long been assumed that Western society in the modern age—with the rise of science and the broad intellectual legacy of the Enlightenment—must become increasingly secular. What is modernity if not the movement from the authority of tradition to the authority of reason? In this view, made famous by the German sociologist Max Weber, the "disenchantment" of the world is the price one pays for leaving the charms and consolations of religion behind. The non-believing Weber was himself nostalgic for an age when faith imbued life with meaning and purpose. But he never ceased to identify secular thinking with a decisive advance in human self- understanding.

“In "Holy Ignorance," the French social theorist Olivier Roy sets out to modify this secularization theory and to overturn its triumphalist message. He begins by noting that religion, though still obviously an important part of modern society, has been relegated to the private sphere, becoming mostly an "interior" search for spiritual well-being. In such a world, "faith communities" of every stripe increasingly withdraw from the broader culture, defending their doctrinal purity against the onslaught of coarse secular trends, what Mr. Roy calls "neo-paganism." This withdrawal, though understandable, is a danger in itself. "Faith without culture," Mr. Roy says, "is an expression of fanaticism."

“By fanaticism, Mr. Roy does not mean merely extreme fundamentalist belief. He argues that all faith, in its isolated, separatist form, gives rise to a disdain for "profane culture"—everything that is not derived from religion—and to a preference for "pure religion," a form of religious belief that is unmediated, unstructured and unconnected to the larger society. Pure religion, in Mr. Roy's view, not only tends to fanaticism but lacks any grounding in a common world. Such religion loses touch, he says, with "religious knowledge itself." It fails to acknowledge its dependence on a dynamic cultural tradition. He sees the spread of Pentecostalism, the world's fastest growing religion, as evidence of the rise of "holy ignorance." Its adherents "speak in tongues," in a language that is understood only by those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit.

“Mr. Roy's category of "holy ignorance," though illuminating, can be too broad and indiscriminate. He never explains why one form of holy ignorance, such as Pentecostalism, avoids political extremism while other forms do not: Many adherents of Salafist Islam, for instance, endorse violence in the name of fidelity to the Prophet. Mr. Roy's holy-ignorance category includes even Pope Benedict's call for the enhanced use of Latin in the Catholic liturgy, part of the church's effort to restore a sense of the sacred to the Mass. Yet for Mr. Roy even a partial return to a Latin liturgy is the "use of a new mantra" aimed at "magical" effects; it is, for him, an instrument for isolating religion instead of bringing it into contact with contemporary culture. But surely Latin is not so esoteric that it cannot speak to at least some believers today. And a pope who repeatedly argues for the "acculturation" of faith in the civilization of the West—who argues for joining faith to reason, without which religion becomes mere superstition—makes a poor proponent of holy ignorance.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Protestant Catholics

Many Catholics are really Protestants, but rather than actually becoming a member of a Protestant community, they try to remake Catholicism into one; with some success over the years, especially since Vatican II.

This article in The Catholic Thing, examines the latest attempt.

An excerpt.

“In anticipation of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Germany later this year, more than 200 German “theologians” have issued “The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure.” In this laborious piece of prose, they explain how the Church has to change. The usual thing . . . ordination of women and so on! The imperative is theirs, based on the imagined “magisterium” of the university. This institutional conceit has been an issue since the sixties, although there have been attempts to try to link it back to the service of the University of Paris in the Middle Ages, when that institution was a center of research on questions that were posed by various bishops.

“Something that the “Catholic theologians” – in inverted commas because it’s difficult to say how such freelancers are related to the historic Catholic Church – do not seem much to consider is that they are in a country with a Protestant majority. Perhaps such a national setup puts pressures on Catholic thinking when people do not take the necessary care to identify where they get their premises.

“The classic case of course was Karl Rahner, S.J.’s insistence on the ordination of women based on the cultural argument that, if patriarchalism is dead in the culture, then women should be ordained in the Church. This might be plausible if the original choice of apostles was purely cultural. But if we take a step back to THE priest in whose priesthood priests participate, then we come to Christ himself and the non-accidental act of God in incarnating himself as a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Male priests express the male priesthood of Christ. Culture is more of a surface expression, while gender is ontological, i.e., it has to do with our very being. And in this case it is tied to the decision of God to incarnate as a male.

“The word Protestant implies defining oneself in reaction against something. It imposes an a priori framework on the formation of concepts. The adversarial stance removes something substantial, namely: “All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials.” (Vatican II) This is not simply an authoritarian statement. Rather, it is authoritative because the truth is unitary and it exists in the “Catholic Church [which] has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace.” (Vatican II) Of course, the German way is to approach this adversarial structure intellectually and to frame the challenge in an intellectual way.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Latin Mass

It is one of the deep joys of Catholicism and one we have been able to partake of, as a parish devoted to it is in Sacramento, St. Stephen The First Martyr Parish, served by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, and its North American District, an order that was given Vatican approval 20 years ago to offer the Latin Mass exclusively.

It is also one looking more attractive by the day as the Church changes its missal again, while the one used by St. Stephen is the Missal of the Tridentine Rite, which has not changed at least since 1962 when this Baronius Press edition was published.

There is something to be said for constancy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Private Prisons?

Though the jury is still out on the effectiveness of private versus public prisons in terms of recidivism rates, the good pay and job security offered by the public sector—which is well deserved by correctional professionals—is an asset that should not be lost in any transfer to private control, as this article from the Columbus Dispatch reports is being considered in Ohio.

An excerpt.

“While Gov. John Kasich's plan to sell four prisons promises to raise much-needed cash for the state, the news isn't so good for affected employees who could see their pay cut by one-third and lose paid health-care benefits.

“Kasich is expected to propose selling the prisons, plus the closed Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility, in his two-year budget plan to be unveiled today.

“That budget is expected to include few gimmicks but a wide variety of cuts, including a significant whack to local governments, both in the direct local-government funding and in reimbursements for the eliminated tangible personal-property tax. And while grades K-12 and universities are going to see cuts because of the loss of federal stimulus money, sources say they are not expected to be as dire as some have predicted.

“Kasich is expected to focus on government reform today when he officially rolls out his two-year plan, stressing ways for government to do things differently, and with less money. He is expected to introduce a plan to privatize Ohio's liquor-sales operation to help fund JobsOhio, his new public-private entity that is taking over the state's economic-development efforts. The introduced version of the budget is not expected to include a leasing of the Ohio Turnpike, but the idea is likely to get continued discussion. Same goes for an elimination of the estate tax, which is under debate in the legislature.

“If approved by the General Assembly in the budget process, the prison sales would produce an estimated $200million for state coffers. In addition, there would be annual savings on operating costs, probably a minimum of 5 percent as required by current state law. The state would contract with the new owner-operator to house and care for inmates.

“It also would mean that about 800 employees, including 475 corrections officers, would lose state jobs. Sources said employees would receive hiring "preference," but not guarantees, from the new owners.

“The silver lining for the communities could be new property-tax revenue when prisons go from tax-exempt state ownership to taxable private ownership. One source estimated that to be from $400,000 to $1 million per year for each institution.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Catholic Bishops: Failure & Influence

This article from Catholic World Report correctly notes that in the ongoing struggle with the ever more secular government of Ireland, the bishops are at a disadvantage, but rather than merely “one hand tied behind their back”, the recent revelations of the predatory evil of sexual abuse occurring under their watch, virtually renders them powerless to, in any meaningful way, counteract the growing secularism.

The influence for a deeper Catholic impact on social change will most likely be coming—in America as well as Ireland—largely from the devout ranks of the laity and those individual bishops and priests untainted by the sexual abuse.

An excerpt.

“Ireland’s new coalition looks set for a collision course with the Catholic Church after agreeing upon a program for government that will see a raft of liberal social reforms, including proposals on same-sex marriage and reducing the Church’s influence in education. The document, Towards Recovery: Program for a National Government 2011-2016, also contains an oblique but ominous plan to “regulate” stem cell research, which some activists are reading as a “green light” for experimentation with embryos.

“The center-right Fine Gael (Irish for Gaelic Nation) and the leftist Labor Party agreed upon the document after no party won an overall majority in the February 25 general election. The plan will see the two parties take power for the first time in 14 years. The last time the parties were in government together, a constitutional referendum narrowly overturned the country’s ban on divorce. However, a later Supreme Court ruling found that the government had misused public funds to influence the vote in favor of a change.

“The new program for government proposes holding a special constitutional convention to redraft the Irish Constitution, including plans to introduce same-sex marriage and remove the crime of blasphemy. Some activists fear that all references to God will also be removed from the document….

“The bishops do, however, enter the debate with one hand tied behind their back. More than 15 years of scandal have left many people in the Church exhausted and bishops’ moral authority diminished. Some politicians, for their part, have never missed an opportunity to capitalize on the Church’s misfortune. Ireland is undoubtedly in for some bruising battles on social issues, and the Church will have the difficult task of convincing the faithful that some things really are more important than the economy.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Church Tradition & Vatican II

This cogent article from The Catholic Thing, while examining the possible return to the Church of the Society of St. Pius X, also touches on the great disorder and chaos that emanated during and after Vatican II.

An excerpt.

“I was tempted to begin this column by saying that Traditionalist hearts began to beat a little faster last fall when formal talks with Rome began, talks that might lead to a rapprochement between the Society of St. Pius X and the Catholic Church. But I really do not believe their hearts beat any faster at the prospect of communion with Rome. They are dug in and will likely never come back, short of Vatican II being totally repudiated and their leader, Bernard Fellay, being elected Pope Marcel I.

“The talks have broken down, as almost anyone could have predicted.

“The Society was begun in anger and suspicion, some of it justifiable, no question about that. It was born at the dawn of the crazy 1970s when the wheels seemed to be coming off everything, the Church included.

“Vatican II had happened and was almost immediately hijacked and perverted by the progressives. The liturgy was uprooted and in some cases even debased. Priests and nuns started disregarding their vows and even began canoodling with each other. Some French seminarians in Rome went to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and asked what they should do.

“He directed them to an acceptable Swiss seminary and then founded his own, along with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X for the seminarians who studied with him. He even received official sanction for all of this. But that did not last long. Within a few years, approval was withdrawn, as were Lefebvre’s faculties, meaning he could no longer perform the sacraments, including ordinations. All of this, he ignored.

“In 1988, at the age of 81, without Vatican approval, he ordained four bishops so that his work could go on after he died. For this, he and the four were formally excommunicated. John Paul II said these acts constituted acts of schism. Three years later, Lefebvre died without being reconciled with the Church.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Opus Dei Movie

Opus Dei, and the writings of the founding priest, St. Josemaría Escrivá, played a strong role in my conversion to Catholicism, and this news of a new movie about Opus Dei is welcome.

An article in the National Catholic Register comments on the movie.

An excerpt.

“Six years ago I published a book on Opus Dei, attempting to sort myth from reality about the controversial Catholic group. One question I hoped to answer was this: What was it about St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, which inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world, far beyond the group’s relatively meager membership of roughly 90,000?

“I presumed that all those people weren’t drawn to Opus Dei’s reputation for being a fanatical right-wing cabal seeking to hijack financial markets, topple governments,
and restore the church militant. So beyond that black legend, what was it about Escrivá that people found compelling?

“This spring, a new movie, which is sure to set Catholic tongues wagging, tries to offer a dramatic answer to that question: “There Be Dragons,” written and directed by acclaimed director Roland Joffé, whose previous works include classics such as “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields.”

“Depending on how things break, “There Be Dragons” could stir the same sort of ferment as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” – fierce devotion in some quarters, and strong backlash in others.

“The movie features some major Hollywood talent, such as Derek Jacobi and Wes Bentley (of “American Beauty” fame), as well as Brazilian soap opera star Rodrigo Santoro. The role of Escrivá is played by English actor Charlie Cox.

“There Be Dragons” premiers in Spain on March 25, and in the United States on May 6. Last Friday, I was part of a small group invited to see an advance screening of the movie in Rome.

“From a journalistic point of view, it’s tempting to style “There Be Dragons” as a sort of anti-Da Vinci Code – a pop culture portrayal of Opus Dei, in the person of the group’s founder, which makes the group seem as heroic and sympathetic as Dan Brown’s potboiler, and the subsequent film, made it appear weird and menacing.”

Monday, March 14, 2011

James Q. Wilson

Certainly the best thinker on crime and public policy in our lifetime and this profile in the Wall Street Journal is excellent.

An excerpt.

“Notwithstanding his status as America's greatest thinker on crime, punishment and social order, James Q. Wilson's toleration for minor deviancies, his own and other's, is notable.

“In the garage of his light-filled suburban home sits a feral-looking BMW M3—a V8 monster that Mr. Wilson assures me will get a workout on the local roads as soon as the weather improves. If past is prologue, this will provide an opportunity for the white-haired and grandfatherly Mr. Wilson to get to know the local police. Too, he freely admits that his young career, at a crucial point, was advanced by a "white lie"—though, it should hastily be added, not a lie perpetrated by himself.

“Mr. Wilson is most famous for the phrase "broken windows," but he is quick to point out that it didn't originate with him. Philip Zimbardo of Stanford conducted an experiment in which he found that a car parked on a sedate street in a middle-class New York neighborhood would sit unvandalized for days—that is, until Mr. Zimbardo himself came back with a hammer and broke the first window.

"Out of this," says Mr. Wilson, "we coined the phrase 'broken windows,' suggesting public order is a fragile thing, and if you don't fix the first broken window, soon all the windows will be broken."

“By "we," he means that much of the legwork for his now-famous article in the March 1982 issue of the Atlantic Monthly was done by his co-author, George Kelling, then the research director of the Police Foundation. At the foundation, Messrs. Kelling and Wilson had sponsored a series of experiments, one of which, conducted in Newark, N.J, sought to find out if increasing officer foot patrols in high-crime neighborhoods would bring down the crime rate.

“As Mr. Wilson tells it: "We interviewed several police chiefs and they laughed at the idea. 'It's absurd,' they said. We did the experiment. George Kelling ran it. And we found that the police chiefs were exactly right. It didn't drive down the crime rate—but the people loved it. It reintroduced a sense of order. It gave them a sense that the police and the good guys were in control of their neighborhood."

“The resulting article, "Broken Windows," had a "galvanic effect" on police departments around the country. For decades, departments had fielded complaints from the public about broken streetlights and unfilled potholes, only to respond that these weren't "police matters." Now the cops started to see things differently. "The broken windows idea affected the police long before there was any data showing it actually had an impact on crime rates," says Mr. Wilson. "It affected them, I think, because it gave them a way of responding to some of the most common requests they get when they go out and meet with the community in church basements....

“Today, he says, we know a great deal about the genetic and familial factors that help determine why some are criminals and some aren't—a subject covered in his magisterial book, "Crime and Human Nature," written with Richard Herrnstein. We know that, in good times and bad, and in all countries, the majority of crime is committed by a small minority of young men. A landmark study by Marvin Wolfgang, for instance, showed that 6% of 18-year-olds were responsible for 52% of the crime committed by the cohort.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Where are the Good Men?

Though many are in Church leadership, still it is a question to be asked as so many continue pandering to public leaders rather than adhering to Church doctrine, as this article from Catholic Culture—and note the comments—reports.

An excerpt.

“The bishops of New York met today with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“In light of the highly publicized flap recently over Cuomo's decision to receive Communion-- despite the scandals caused by his relationship with a live-in girlfriend and his support for legal abortion and same-sex marriage-- you might be wondering whether that topic came up in his conversation with the bishops.

“No, it didn't.

“Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, who administered the Eucharist to the governor, said that the Church does not comment "when it comes to judging the worthiness of Communion." (Presumably he meant worthiness for Communion.) Sorry, but that's just plain wrong. Speaking through the Code of Canon Law (915), the Church says that those "who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."

"There is some disagreement among bishops about using the Communion line as a place for confrontation, and I don't think the bishops in New York State feel that's appropriate," Bishop Hubbard continued. You might rephrase that, to say that there's a disagreement among bishops about whether or not to carry out the clear duties imposed by Canon 915. But leave that aside. Today the bishops did not meet Cuomo in the Communion line; they met for a private conversation.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sexual Abuse in the Church

It remains an ugliness American Church leadership still has not been able to resolve, as this article from Phil Lawlor—author of a seminal book about sexual abuse in the Church, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture—writing at Catholic Culture reports.

We’ve previously posted on the available resources, beyond those provided by the Holy Father, necessary to understand this evil that courses through the Church.

An excerpt from the Catholic Culture article.

“Among the news offerings of the past weekend, three stories remind us that the ugly era of the clerical sex-abuse scandal is not nearly over.

“The New York Times shines the spotlight on the Philadelphia archdiocese, where a grand jury has charged that Church leaders have allowed priests to remain in ministry despite solid evidence of abuse. The charges in Philadelphia, arising nearly a full decade after the American bishops approved the Dallas Charter, demonstrate that no policy—no words on paper—can restore trust in a hierarchy that has lost the confidence of the public.

“From 2002 forward, the policies were in place to remove abusive priests from circulation. But then again, even before 2002, the provisions of canon law required bishops to protect their people from such predators. If clerical discipline was not enforced before 2002, why should the public expect the shiny new policies of the Dallas Charter to be enforced afterward?

“The policies were never the problem. The problem was—and, alas, apparently still is—the people enforcing the policies.

“Next, from the Los Angeles archdiocese, comes an AP report that “dozens of former and current priests and religious brothers accused of childhood sexual abuse…now live unmonitored by civil authorities.” Here we have a common-sense reminder that if a priest is a threat to children, removing him from active ministry does not necessary remove the threat.

“A pedophile who is suspended remains a man with perverse impulses that may not be under control. If he is still a priest, and his bishop takes responsibility for monitoring his behavior, there is at least some hope that—if the bishop fulfills his duty—the priest will be kept away from children. But victims’ advocates have been pressing constantly for the Church to laicize (“defrock”) such priests. And once they are laicizing, cut loose from the authority of the Church, they are no longer under anyone’s control.

“The story from Los Angeles includes another disturbing reminder: the fact that a priest has been accused of sexual abuse does not necessarily mean that he is guilty. Worse, the fact that a diocese has paid out tens of thousands of dollars in a sex-abuse settlement does not mean that the accuser’s case has merit. The lawyer for the Church in Los Angeles makes the point. “The archdiocese believes, however, that many of the priests whose addresses appear on the list were wrongfully accused. The archdiocese included those clergy in the $660 million payout without admitting wrongdoing, simply to settle the claims, Hennigan said.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Daily Practice

This is a wonderful article from Catholic Culture about the daily practice that bind us to the Church, to the supernatural, to God; and help bring us to that life we know in our hearts is the way we are meant live.

An excerpt.

“The alarm clock sounds. A young man rises and makes a morning offering to his Lord and Savior. He will mark the rest of the day with remembrances of God: Mass in the morning, the Angelus at noon, grace before each meal, a brief prayer whenever it is time for a new appointment, or whenever he goes out or comes in. He will do some spiritual reading after dinner, and say a Rosary as well. Before retiring, he will examine his conscience and offer some final prayers. He has not only habituated himself to certain devotions at certain times; he is also practicing the presence of God.

“Or take another image. A mother of three young children tries occasionally to take them to Mass, and she makes a point of her daily Rosary too. But she has also developed a number of “holy tricks” that help her keep a proper spiritual focus throughout the day. Each time she is interrupted, she uses it as a reminder to invoke God’s blessing. As she attends to her children’s needs, she asks Mary to help her to respond in union with her Immaculate Heart. When the phone rings (always at the worst of times) she prays for patience. At nap time, she takes a few moments deliberately to recollect herself, placing herself before the infant Jesus at one with her child, and gazing on Him with love.

“Or perhaps each time a plumber is called to a home, he prays that the grace of baptism will reach and cleanse each member of that household. A loan officer at a local bank may ask God on behalf of each new client for the wisdom to use resources prudently and for His glory. A road worker might offer quick petitions for the safety of the motorists who must navigate the work zone. An elderly man could choose to invoke Saint Joseph every time he feels his age in the pain of muscle or joint.

“Few of us live in religious communities in which the hours of the day are marked by calls to prayer, or in small villages in which a church bell reminds everyone of the divinely ordered passage of time. The rest of us need to do things all on our own. First, we must schedule certain regular patterns of prayer and meditation, set periods in which we deliberately place ourselves in the presence of God in an extended way. Second, we must take advantage of little things that occur in the normal flow of our day and make them “Church bells” that remind us to raise our minds and hearts to God.

“As the examples above suggest, these little things can be anything we want to use—small triggers to which, with some effort, we can learn to respond by emerging from the business at hand to acknowledge God. Some people set regular alarms on their computers, cell phones or wrist watches. But others use the normal pace-changers of the day: Opening or closing a door, getting up from one’s desk, going to a meeting, shifting from one task to another, and so on. The key is to let something pull us out of our normal concentration from time to time so that we can take a moment to offer everything to God, ask his blessing, pray for any special intentions, or simply reaffirm our wish to live always in His presence.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Paul Johnson on America

This is a wonderful must-read article about the conservative Catholic author Paul Johnson, entitled Why America Will Stay on Top. Johnson is an eminent British historian—whose books should all be read and to whom President George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006—and the article is from the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

“In his best-selling history of the 20th century, "Modern Times," British historian Paul Johnson describes "a significant turning-point in American history: the first time the Great Republic, the richest nation on earth, came up against the limits of its financial resources." Until the 1960s, he writes in a chapter titled "America's Suicide Attempt," "public finance was run in all essentials on conventional lines"—that is to say, with budgets more or less in balance outside of exceptional circumstances.

"The big change in principle came under Kennedy," Mr. Johnson writes. "In the autumn of 1962 the Administration committed itself to a new and radical principle of creating budgetary deficits even when there was no economic emergency." Removing this constraint on government spending allowed Kennedy to introduce "a new concept of 'big government': the 'problem-eliminator.' Every area of human misery could be classified as a 'problem'; then the Federal government could be armed to 'eliminate' it."

“Twenty-eight years after "Modern Times" first appeared, Mr. Johnson is perhaps the most eminent living British historian, and big government as problem-eliminator is back with a vengeance—along with trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. I visited the 82-year-old Mr. Johnson in his West London home this week to ask him whether America has once again set off down the path to self-destruction. Is he worried about America's future?

"Of course I worry about America," he says. "The whole world depends on America ultimately, particularly Britain. And also, I love America—a marvelous country. But in a sense I don't worry about America because I think America has such huge strengths—particularly its freedom of thought and expression—that it's going to survive as a top nation for the foreseeable future. And therefore take care of the world."

“Pessimists, he points out, have been predicting America's decline "since the 18th century." But whenever things are looking bad, America "suddenly produces these wonderful things—like the tea party movement. That's cheered me up no end. Because it's done more for women in politics than anything else—all the feminists? Nuts! It's brought a lot of very clever and quite young women into mainstream politics and got them elected. A very good little movement, that. I like it." Then he deepens his voice for effect and adds: "And I like that lady—Sarah Palin. She's great. I like the cut of her jib."

“The former governor of Alaska, he says, "is in the good tradition of America, which this awful political correctness business goes against." Plus: "She's got courage. That's very important in politics. You can have all the right ideas and the ability to express them. But if you haven't got guts, if you haven't got courage the way Margaret Thatcher had courage—and [Ronald] Reagan, come to think of it. Your last president had courage too—if you haven't got courage, all the other virtues are no good at all. It's the central virtue."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Europeans Fund US Death Penalty Abolition Groups

This report from The Foundry should not surprise us. Europe is an aggressively secular culture that is working—though the European Union—to end the influence of Catholicism, and picking away at a fundamental and traditional tenet of Catholic social teaching, support for capital punishment, is a clever strategy that too many Catholics have bought into.

Lampstand has published a book, Capital Punishment & Catholic Social Teaching: A Tradition of Support—free to members or available at Amazon—and excerpts are posted to our website.

An excerpt from the Foundry article.

“Why on earth are British taxpayers being forced to fund European Union lobbying for policy campaigns in the United States? Furthermore, why is the EU directly interfering in domestic political debates in America, and so far without Congressional oversight? As the research detailed below demonstrates, the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) is spending millions of Euros on US-based campaigns against the death penalty. An extraordinary development.

“The EIDHR project list for 2009 (the latest year for which a full itemised list is given), unearthed by my intrepid colleague Sally McNamara, is a real eye-opener. While most of the projects focused on developing countries, several million Euros were actually set aside for projects in the United States, specifically for groups opposed to the death penalty.

“This extremely unusual funding for US groups – by a taxpayer-funded foreign entity to advance a political cause – deserves to attract a great deal of public attention, including Congressional scrutiny in Washington and parliamentary scrutiny in London.
On Capitol Hill both the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, should apply oversight on EU funding for American groups. And this could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of EU money flowing to US organisations on any number of causes.

“Here is a list of US recipients of EU EIDHR aid in 2009, which amounted to €2,624,395 ($3,643,951). The recipients of EU aid include the rather wealthy American Bar Association, whose annual budget approached $150 million in 2008.

“American Bar Association Fund for Justice and Education: EU grant: €708,162 ($983, 277)
Project: The Death Penalty Assessments Project: Toward a Nationwide Moratorium on Executions

“Death Penalty Information Center: EU grant: €193,443 ($268,585)
Project: Changing the Course of the Death Penalty Debate. A proposal for public opinion research, message development, and communications of capital punishment in the US.

“The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty: EU grant: €305,974 ($424,829)
Project: National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Intensive Assistance Program”

Monday, March 7, 2011

Archbishop Gomez

Our prayers are with the new Archbishop of the largest diocese in the country and this article from California Catholic News examines the change.

An excerpt.

“Orthodox Catholics are waiting to see what changes will occur in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles now that leadership has officially passed to Archbishop Jose Gomez, who was ordained a priest of Opus Dei more than 30 years ago.

“Pope Benedict XVI has “accepted the resignation from the archdiocese of Los Angeles, U.S.A., presented by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, upon having reached the age limit,” noted a brief March 1 announcement by the Vatican Information Service. “He is succeeded by Coadjutor Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.”

“Before a crowd of 3,500 faithful at Los Angeles' Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Cardinal Mahony ceremonially passed on his crozier to Archbishop Gomez, investing him with the traditional staff that symbolizes the leadership of the local bishop,” reported CNA/EWTN News. “On that same day, his 75th birthday, the cardinal submitted his resignation in a faxed letter to Pope Benedict XVI.”

“Archbishop Gomez will celebrate his inaugural Mass as Archbishop of Los Angeles on Sunday, March 6.

“‘LA is home for me now,’ the Mexican-born archbishop told the cardinal and the assembled worshipers at a Mass marking the transition of leadership on Feb. 27,” reported CNA/EWTN News. “‘I pray that I will be worthy of continuing the work that you have begun here.’”

“In a report by Benjamin Mann, CNA/EWTWN said, “At the transition Mass, Archbishop Gomez graciously thanked the cardinal for his leadership of the archdiocese over the course of 26 years. Cardinal Mahony's legacy, he said, is ‘a Church that radiates the love of God and the truth of the Gospel.’”

“As the largest archdiocese in the country, Los Angeles is home to more than 5 million Catholics, 70 percent of whom are Hispanic,” said the report. “Archbishop Gomez, who was born in the Mexican city of Monterrey and later became a U.S. citizen, will be the first Hispanic Archbishop of Los Angeles.”

“Orthodox Catholics are waiting to see if Archbishop Gomez will bring the same style of leadership to Los Angeles he showed during his tenure as Archbishop of San Antonio, where he had served since 2005 before being named coadjutor of Los Angeles in April 2010. While in San Antonio, Archbishop Gomez distinguished himself as a theologically solid Catholic leader unafraid to step into controversy whenever the need arose.”

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Alma Mater

The University of San Francisco is mine and though I am very satisfied with the great education I received there, it does seem to be a home for dissention, as this January 2010 article from New Oxford Review—a full read requires a subscription, which I suggest you get, great magazine!—notes.

An excerpt.

“Sometimes, in the summer, I go to Mass at St. Ignatius Church, on the campus of the University of San Francisco. The church is large but the congregation is usually small. It's a bit like sitting amidst a busload of spectators at an empty stadium. Most of the pews are unoccupied. Almost all of the confessionals have been removed, and most of the Jesuits who once heard confessions have either died or been sent off to the Jesuit retirement home in Los Gatos.

“The university itself grows ever more secular. It claims to deliver a "Jesuit education" but it would be a mistake to assume that that is a Catholic education.

“One Sunday this past August, Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., was the celebrant at the church. Until 2005 he edited the Jesuit magazine America, and when he resigned from that position rumors circulated that he had been fired by the new Pope. These days, Fr. Reese, 64, is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

“Fr. Reese's claim to fame is the frequency with which he is quoted in news stories about the Catholic Church. He seems to be in every journalist's Rolodex. For reporters with newspapers like the Washington Post and The New York Times, he is the go-to guy for the adversarial quote, perhaps in nuanced disagreement with a statement by the Vatican; perhaps putting a different spin on it and always a liberal spin.”

Friday, March 4, 2011

Rehabilitating Violent Sex Offenders

Our position is that they cannot ever be rehabilitated and evaluative research, properly done, supports that position; so this new effort by Minnesota, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio, jeopardizes public safety.

An excerpt.

“St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota state officials have signed a contract with a nonprofit agency to house and treat the state's most dangerous sex offenders if they're released from civil commitment. The contract represents a big shift for the state.

“For decades, Minnesota has indefinitely detained people committed for the most heinous sex crimes. Until now, no one has been permanently released from that civil commitment, partly because there hasn't been a secure program to take them.

“People who are civilly committed -- nearly all of them men -- have been convicted for the most violent sex crimes. They served their prison sentence, and then they went before a panel that decided they were too dangerous to release.

“In Minnesota, that means they go to a facility in Moose Lake. It's a treatment center that looks like a prison. People who graduate through treatment end up at a less restrictive facility in St. Peter. Until now, no one has ever been permanently released from that program.

“The contract signed Monday is between the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which runs the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, and a Minneapolis-based nonprofit named Community Re-entry Services. Its parent organization, 180 Degrees, already runs a number of community-based sex offender treatment programs.

“It's possible a review panel of the Minnesota Supreme Court will soon agree to the first permanent provisional release for a man in civil commitment.

“That man is John Rydberg, 68. More than 30 years ago, Rydberg was convicted of committing two sexual assaults at gunpoint in Wisconsin.

“He escaped twice from a treatment program in Wisconsin. The second time he traveled to Minnesota, where he sexually assaulted a Blue Earth County woman while her three children were in the room.

“Rydberg was civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. He spent decades in treatment and has completed the sex offender program. His lawyer, Brian Southwell, says a special review board has already approved Rydberg's provisional release.”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Catholics & the Unions, Part II

A good article from the Acton Institute following up on yesterday’s post—including a quote from Pope John Paul II—and the extended quote from his 1981 Encyclical, Laborem Exercens is very instructive in the current situation.

“Just efforts to secure the rights of workers who are united by the same profession should always take into account the limitations imposed by the general economic situation of the country. Union demands cannot be turned into a kind of group or class "egoism", although they can and should also aim at correcting-with a view to the common good of the whole of society- everything defective in the system of ownership of the means of production or in the way these are managed. Social and socioeconomic life is certainly like a system of "connected vessels", and every social activity directed towards safeguarding the rights of particular groups should adapt itself to this system.

"In this sense, union activity undoubtedly enters the field of politics, understood as prudent concern for the common good. However, the role of unions is not to "play politics" in the sense that the expression is commonly understood today. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them. In fact, in such a situation they easily lose contact with their specific role, which is to secure the just rights of workers within the framework of the common good of the whole of society; instead they become an instrument used for other purposes.” (#20)

An excerpt from the article from Action.

“There is a long-standing bias in Catholic social teaching toward unions, and this dates from the long history of labor struggles for fair wages and safe working conditions. There is a romance associated with this history, and it is bound up with strong moral concerns. And it is not just historical. The Catholic Church played a heroic role in the fall of Communism in Poland through its influence on labor unions that were striking against oppression, which is to say state coercion.

“Pope John Paul II, who knew something about the social role of labor unions, also warned about their drift into politics. In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, he wrote: “Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them.”

“The reality with all public affairs, however, is that conditions change. Just because something is called a union does not make it automatically good and moral. Essential considerations of justice and freedom must be in place. Generally speaking, the long history of unions has been bound up with the right of free association. So far as I can tell, the current practice of public-sector union organizing has little or nothing to do with this principle, so it is right and proper that Catholic social teaching should also recognize this.

“This reality comes to mind because of the protests in Wisconsin against proposed changes in collective bargaining for public-sector unions. But the driving force behind the budgetary move has nothing to do with human rights, unless one considers the rights of Wisconsin taxpayers.

“The alarming reality of state and federal overspending and debt is something that cannot be denied. Prudent and necessary cuts must be made in the Wisconsin budget, and state employees must be part of that plan. How do public-sector unions fit into this? It is nearly impossible for anyone to work for the public sector without being a member, and unions collect dues, which operate like taxes for most everyone else.

“This was not always the case. Public-sector unions emerged after World War II in the wake of the crack-up of many big-city political machines, and they were a convenient way for government employees to extract higher salaries and benefits at public expense.

“What does this have to do with the freedom of association? Industrial unions have been on the decline for decades precisely because of the freedom of association. Organizing activity for years has shifted to the public sector, where union political contributions carry a lot of weight. Unions that remain strong are that way because they push against the freedom of association, denying alternatives to workers and taxpayers.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Catholics & the Unions

As public employee union's struggle with state governments continues to dominate the news, the response of American Catholic leadership is instructive, as this article from the Catholic Register reveals.

An excerpt.

“MADISON, Wis. — Union protests in the Midwest have prompted a muted response from local Catholic bishops, signaling that the once close bonds of Church and labor leaders have loosened in recent decades. But it also indicates that a new generation of bishops approach hot-button economic issues in a more nuanced way.

“Last week, as throngs of public employees converged on the Madison statehouse to protest legislative efforts to curb their right to collective bargaining and cut benefits in Wisconsin, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee issued a carefully worded statement that acknowledged the rights of workers, but included a pointed caveat: “It does not follow from this that every claim made by workers or their representatives is valid.”

“Every union, like every other economic actor, is called to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities,” said Archbishop Listecki, president of the Wisconsin Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“This week, as union protests spread from Wisconsin to Ohio and Indiana — and, possibly, Oklahoma and Tennessee — Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also issued a statement of “support for and solidarity” with the Wisconsin bishops’ statement on the rights of workers.

“Bishop Blaire’s letter, released on Feb. 23, seemed to give additional weight to the rights of workers, within the framework of Catholic social teaching.

“But the day after his letter was released, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison also issued a statement that made a point to describe the Wisconsin bishops’ position as “neutral.”

“Should one support or oppose the legislation which regulates union procedures? The Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) has chosen a neutral stance because the present dilemma comes down to either a choice for the common good, of sacrifice on the part of all, at times that pose immense economic threats, both present and future on the one hand, and on the other hand, a choice for the rights of workers to a just compensation for services rendered, and to the upholding of contracts legally made,” wrote Bishop Morlino in a Feb. 24 column in his diocesan paper, The Catholic Herald.

“As Catholics, we see both of these horns of the dilemma as good, and yet the current situation calls many of us to choose between these two goods. Thus the WCC [Wisconsin Catholic Conference] has taken a neutral stance, and this is the point of Archbishop Listecki’s recent statement, which I have echoed,” said Bishop Morlino.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Light of the World

The new book by Pope Benedict XVI is marvelous and this review from 30 Days is wonderful.

An excerpt.

“I was impressed by the authenticity and simplicity of the things said by Benedict XVI in the book-interview Light of the World, published by CTS, Ignatius, which brings together his conversations with the journalist Peter Seewald. In many pages of the book one encounters a relaxed, confident Pope, expressing himself freely without hiding anything. A Pope who speaks with the same simplicity both of his daily life with members of the papal household and of the major issues that touch upon the life of the whole Church.

“In many pages there is a clear confidence in the current and future state of the Church in the world. The Pope does not appear distressed. He says clearly that the Church may seem in decline if looked at from a European point of view. But he adds that he believes “it’s only one part of the whole”. In fact, “the Church is growing and thriving, she is quite dynamic”, and “we on the continent of Europe are experiencing only one particular side but not the great dynamic of a new beginning that is really present elsewhere and which I encounter again and again on my journeys and through the visits of the bishops” (p. 12).

“One wonders where this confidence comes from. The Pope notes without complaint secularization, relativism, the loss of the sense of God that prevail in the lived reality of many people. Faced with these phenomena, his hope and peace of mind does not seem to depend upon some invented notion, on some recipe, or on the promptings of some paradigm old or new, setting out the line and assuring a good “state of health” or even the “success” of the Church. Benedict XVI simply repeats that what keeps alight the living flame of faith in the Church is Jesus Himself, since “only the Lord himself has the power to keep people in the faith as well” (p. 7). Only on this basis, experienced now in his condition as successor of Peter, does the hope and confidence of the Pope rest: “When we see what men, what the clergy have done in the Church, then that is nothing short of proof that he founded and upholds the Church. If she were dependent on men, she would long since have perished” (p. 37).

“This is the mystery of the Church which emerges in the very way in which Benedict takes on the task to which he has been called.

“Even at the moment when it hit me, all I was able to say to the Lord was simply: ‘What are you doing with me? Now the responsibility is yours. You must lead me! I can’t do it. If you wanted me, then you must also help me!’” (p. 4): so he recalls in the very first pages of the book the day of his papal election. And this is the leading thread that runs through many of his answers, with interesting corollaries from the ecclesiological point of view also. For Benedict XVI the Pope “too is a simple beggar before God – even more than all other people” (p. 17). In plain and simple words, the charism of infallibility is described in terms proper to Catholic doctrine, setting aside all “infallibilist” doubt: “Usually the Bishop of Rome acts like any other bishop who professes his faith, who proclaims his faith, who is faithful in the Church. Only when certain conditions are present, when tradition has been clarified and he knows he is not acting arbitrarily, can the Pope say: This is the faith of the Church – and denial of it is not the faith of the Church” (pp. 7-8). According to the Pope Vatican II “correctly taught us that collegiality is a constitutive element in the structure of the Church. That the Pope can only be first together with others and not someone who would make decisions in isolation as an absolute monarch and do everything himself” (p. 71). So, citing the last Ecumenical Council, Pope Benedict XVI reiterates that the shared responsibility of bishops is a constitutive datum of the very nature of the Church itself. And his are not statements of principle or formulas of the moment: you see from the importance he attaches to the Synod of Bishops and the care and willingness to listen with which he meets individual bishops on ad limina visits. One is well aware that through these precious meetings Benedict XVI is in direct contact with the problems, the trials and consolations of the people of God experienced in various local situations, such as the human and social devastation linked to drug trafficking of which “many, many bishops, above all from Latin America” (p. 60) have spoken.

“The Pope also replies to the question of the possibility of summoning a Vatican Council III. For him the moment is not yet ripe. But certainly the criterion of collegiality outlined by him may have major developments in ecumenism, especially with regard to relations with the Eastern Churches. These Churches, Benedict XVI repeats, “are genuine particular Churches, although they are not in communion with the Pope. In this sense unity with the Pope is not constitutive for the particular Church”, although the lack of such unity “is a defect in the living cell of the particular Church, as it were. It remains a cell, it is legitimately called a Church, but the cell is lacking something, namely, its connection with the organism as a whole” (p. 89).”