Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Latest in Stem Cell Research and Cloning

An end of summer Q & A update—Part I

stem cells Buried under all the uproar over proposed healthcare reform legislation, there has been some significant news this summer regarding stem cell research. To begin, let’s recall some of the basics of this issue.

What are stem cells?

Maureen Condic, Senior Fellow with the Westchester Institute, concisely responds to that question in a recent article in Ethics and Medics:

A stem cell is any cell that exists in a relatively immature state, and is able to divide to produce one cell that replaces itself and one that will go on to become a more specialized cell type. Because stem cells replace themselves every time they divide, they are considered self-renewing, or “immortal.”

There are three broad classes of stem cells: embryonic, adult, and reprogrammed. Human embryonic stem cells are obtained by the destruction of human embryos that are between three and six days old. At this early stage, cells of the embryo are still very primitive and are pluripotent; i.e., they are able to produce all of the cell types found in the mature human body.

In contrast, any stem cell that is found in a specific type of tissue (whether in an older embryo, a fetus, or a more mature individual) is considered an adult stem cell. Adult stem cells are thought to be more limited, making only the types of cells appropriate to the tissue in which they reside. Thus, they are seen as merely “multipotent.”

Finally, recent studies have shown that adult body, or “somatic,” cells can be reprogrammed to a state very similar to a human embryonic stem cell. These induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, are not identical to embryonic stem cells, but they are functional equivalents.

Why is stem cell research important?

It is hoped that stem cell research will unearth scientific clues that will one day lead to remarkable breakthroughs in dealing with diseases treatable by tissue replacement therapies.

Does the Catholic Church oppose stem cell research?

The Catholic Church has enthusiastically supported the better part of stem cell research, especially adult stem cell research and new techniques such as cell reprogramming. We cannot, however, support research which involves the creation and destruction of human embryos.

What is happening with adult stem cell research?

Scientists in this specialized area of stem cell research continue to be fully engaged in their work and well funded, even though adult stem cell research gets much less media attention. Do No Harm, the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics keeps a running tally on reported applications of adult stem cells that produce therapeutic benefit for human patients. Experts are currently at work on updating that list, but estimate that approximately 80 different diseases have now been shown to be treatable in some degree by adult stem cells.

Are scientists still trying to clone human embryos?

Some scientists continue to be irreversibly committed to using cloning techniques to create human embryos which, after about six days of development, would then be destroyed to cull embryonic stem cells from them. These stem cells would be genetically matched to the donor who was the source of the cloning; tissues derived from the cloned cells could then potentially be used to treat the donor.

This prospect, of course, has proven to be easier said than done. To date, only three research teams are known to have successfully cloned human embryos, but no team was able to derive stem cells from the clones. Technical hurdles remain which make human cloning extremely difficult, inefficient, and expensive. One lingering hurdle is the dearth of available human eggs for such experiments. Given the paucity of women willing to undergo the dangerous procedure of ovarian stimulation for the retrieval of their eggs, at least one British team of researchers attempted a repulsive variation of human cloning using bovine eggs, the resulting product of which has been termed a ‘cybrid’.

Next week, in part II of this column on stem cell news, I’ll explain how the dearth of available human eggs for stem cell research has led to a cash-for-eggs scheme in New York, and I’ll discuss recent breakthroughs in ethically acceptable areas of research.

Friday, July 31, 2009

True Friendship -- None of that Sissy stuff

Are you tired of those sissy 'friendship' poems that always sound good, But never actually come close to reality?

Well, here is a series of promises that actually speak of true friendship.

You will see no cute little smiley faces on this card -- Just the stone cold truth of our great friendship.

1.... When you are sad -- I will help you get drunk and plot revenge against the sorry bastard who made you sad.

2.. When you are blue -- I will try to dislodge whatever is choking you.

3.... When you smile -- I will know you are thinking of something that I would probably want to be involved in.

4.. When you are scared -- I will rag on you about it every chance I get until you're NOT.

5.. When you are worried -- I will tell you horrible stories about how much worse it could be until you quit whining..

6.. When you are confused -- I will try to use only little words.

7.. When you are sick -- Stay the hell away from me until you are well again. I don't want whatever you have...

8.. When you fall -- I will laugh at your clumsy ass, but I'll help you up.

9.. This is my oath.... I pledge it to the end. 'Why?' you may ask; because you are my friend.

Friendship is like wetting your pants, everyone can see it, but only you can feel the true warmth.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Assassination Ever Justified?

The recent disclosure that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was developing a program to track down and kill individual Al Qaeda leaders has re-awakened legal and ethical questions about assassination as a tool of national policy. The program had been kept hidden from Congress until this spring, when it was uncovered and cancelled by the current C.I.A. director, Leon Panetta. In a succession of executive orders, Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan had proscribed assassination as a policy of the U.S. government.

President George W. Bush, in “an intelligence finding,” without formally rescinding the earlier prohibitions, authorized “lethal covert actions” against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operatives. Previously, the government had been using pilotless aircraft to target terrorist camps. The new plan involved deploying teams of assassins to kill individual senior terrorists, requiring the assassins to strike “at two feet instead of 10,000 feet,” according to an intelligence official quoted by The Washington Post. The anticipated benefit of assassination over drone attacks is a potential decrease in “collateral” civilian casualties.

The new program, according to some analysts, violated the spirit, if not the letter, of executive orders issued by previous presidents. Those executive orders came in the wake of a series of government reports on U.S. intelligence activities in the 1970s that detailed abuses of power. Among the matters investigated were attempts to assassinate foreign leaders, including Fidel Castro of Cuba and the brothers Ngo Dinh Diem and Ngo Dinh Nhu of Vietnam.

Just War Analysis. The new disclosures have prompted a debate about how government-sponsored assassination should be viewed in light of the Catholic moral tradition on just war theory. Traditional just war theory was inclined to prohibit assassination of political and military leaders on two grounds. The first was that to “decapitate” the enemy might make negotiation of peace more difficult and lead to protracted fighting as a result of chaos or competition for command in the enemy ranks. The other was that civilian political leaders were technically “innocents”—that is, they were not bearing arms and directly threatening the other side. Armed personnel were permitted to attack only other armed personnel.

The emergence of global terror networks intent on mass terror raised new questions. Are terrorists, who are not members of a national army, but are carrying out lethal attacks often under civilian cover, open to direct attack as if they were armed military? Is the fight against terrorism best carried out as “a war against terror” or as an international police action?

David L. Perry, a former ethics professor at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., addressed the matter in a 1995 issue of The Journal of Conflict Studies: “Just as it is not a crime to kill the enemy during wartime, so too should it not be regarded as a crime or a morally reprehensible act when a nation, acting in concert with its obligation to protect its own citizens from harm, seeks out and destroys terrorists outside its borders who have committed, or are planning to commit atrocities on its territory or against its citizens.” Yet “the assassin in effect acts as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner combined; the target is precluded from being represented by counsel before an impartial court,” added Perry.

Gerard F. Powers of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, distinguished among targets of assassination. “You’re not talking about killing political leaders. You’re talking about killing Al Qaeda leaders. You’re talking about killing terrorists,” he said. “If terrorism is treated primarily as a crime, then the targeted killings would probably be problematic, unless they occurred in the effort to arrest. And all the normal rules of police work apply,” Powers added.

“But to the extent that terrorism can be seen as an act of war, then the targeted killings of known terrorists who are actively engaged in terrorism, or actively planning terrorist acts, then the terrorist becomes more like a combatant in war,” he explained. “And the same criteria that would apply to war would apply to the killings of terrorists.” In the case of Al Qaeda, Powers said, there “are elements akin to war” and “others more akin to crime. That’s where the issues become blurred.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Oft-forgotten Catholic rite is revived - Springfield, IL - The State Journal-Register

Oft-forgotten Catholic rite is revived - Springfield, IL - The State Journal-Register

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A Disturbing Finding on the Abortion Front

Use of RU-486 quietly on the rise
July 21, 2009

Special Note: Please visit our new blog, "While We're at It," dedicated to enriching the quality of contemporary moral discourse. We hope you'll stop by often.

ru486 Planned Parenthood, the nation's single largest provider of abortions, has recently engaged in some damage control to mend its image, tarnished by association with the chemical abortifacient RU-486. First some background.

RU-486, the "abortion pill" (chemical name mifepristone and not to be confused with the "morning after pill" Levonorgestrel, an over the counter emergency contraceptive) was approved by the FDA in 2000.

Mifepristone works by blocking the normal functioning of progesterone, a hormone necessary for the maintenance of pregnancy. The immediate consequence is the degeneration of the uterine lining and the blocking of nutrition to the fetus resulting in its death. Mifeprex is used in combination with a prostaglandin called misoprostol which then causes the cervix to dilate, and the uterus to contract and expel its lining and the now-deceased child.

RU-486, we might add, is also the only FDA-approved drug that has as its purpose the death of a living human being.

The drug's approval was forced through by President Clinton's administration, which dubiously approved the drug under a provision of drug law reserved solely for drugs developed to treat "serious or life-threatening illnesses" (of which pregnancy is not).

RU-486 was under intense scrutiny by the House of Representatives' Drug Policy Subcommittee before the Democrats took over the majority in 2006. The Subcommittee reported that as of April of 2006, the FDA acknowledged the deaths of six women associated with the drug, nine life-threatening incidents, 232 hospitalizations, 116 blood transfusions, and 88 cases of infection.

The high infection rate, deaths of otherwise healthy women who took this drug, and the intense scrutiny (at the time) of Congress and the FDA prompted Planned Parenthood, in particular, to change the way it administers the drug.

Tragically, use of RU-486 has slowly been on the rise, and according to the most recent study, accounts for 25 percent of all early abortions (abortions through 9 weeks gestation).

Under the FDA-approved protocol for administering the drug, it must be administered within 49 days gestation; patients are to be given 600mg of Mifeprex to consume at once; they are then to be instructed to return two days later to consume orally 400mcg of misoprostol. Many providers, including Planned Parenthood, deviated from the FDA protocol by extending the use of RU-486 to as long as 56 and even 63 days of gestation, cutting the dose of Mifeprex by two-thirds, and providing patients with misoprostol pills to insert vaginally at home two days later. In 2006, there were two more deaths of women who received RU-486 from Planned Parenthood facilities. For its part, the nation's biggest abortion provider quickly corrected itself to get in line with the FDA protocol. But its image was tarnished.

That brings us to last week's news that Planned Parenthood has sponsored a study which found that the altered regimen (providing antibiotics and administering the drugs orally according to the FDA protocol) causes fewer severe infections in the women taking the drug.

The study was blatantly self-serving for PP, but then again, that doesn't surprise us, does it?

So fewer women are developing infections and other severe health effects, but babies continue to be aborted. That RU-486 accounts for 25% of all early abortions is a sobering and disturbing statistic. And abortion providers are taking advantage of that stat to present this procedure as a "safe," (notwithstanding the lingering dangers) "natural" (because it mimics a natural abortion, or miscarriage) and convenient (do-able "in the privacy of your own home" though in actuality it involves at least 3 visits to the abortion provider).

A convenient, safe, natural way of surmounting the inconvenience of an embryonic human life.

Fortunately, the science of human embryology continues to steer our culture -- and the language we employ to talk about the human embryo -- toward clarity, honesty and truth. Truth on the beginning of human life, and the dangers to women's health in the age of chemical abortions, cash-for-eggs and other schemes, is the only way ahead.


Rev. Thomas V. Berg, is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Married and Ordained

The ministry of deacons
William T. Ditewig | JULY 20, 2009
the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

I had been a deacon for about a year and was on active duty in the U.S. Navy as executive officer of the Security Group Activity at Hanza, Okinawa, Japan. My family lived on Kadena Air Base, where I served at the Kadena chapel—the only deacon on Okinawa. One day I received a call from the senior Catholic chaplain, a friend. Laughing, he told me of a conversation he had just had with a young Air Force man reporting to Kadena for duty. Father Mike explained the chapel programs, and the young man said he had been to Mass there. Father described the pastoral staff, including the participation of a Navy Commander (me) as deacon. “Oh, was he the tall man who preached last Sunday?” the young man asked. “That’s right,” Father replied. The young maån complimented my homily, but complained that he had seen me do something “just not right” after Mass: he saw me get into a car “with a woman and her children” and drive off! Father Mike explained that I was a married deacon, and that “the woman and her children” were my wife and our children. The young man said he knew deacons could be married, but that I should not have driven off with my family like that. Cognitively, he understood; affectively, he couldn’t imagine a married cleric.

In another story of confusion, a woman visiting our parish once asked my wife, “When you die, will Bill become a real priest?”

For more than a millennium, Latin Catholics saw an overwhelmingly celibate corps of ordained ministers, though for the last 40 years a new pattern has emerged that includes deacons who are both ordained and married. It is not surprising that confusion persists over the “double vocational sacramentality” of a married deacon.

Scholarship also lags behind current practice, with centuries of writing on the relationship of celibacy to ordained ministry, but nothing comparable on the relationship of matrimony and holy orders. One exception is Chapter Five of Sacrament of Service: A Vision of the Permanent Diaconate Today, by Patrick McCaslin and Michael G. Lawler (1986). This did not reverse the trend, but it does, I hope, offer food for conversation and understanding.

Just as the permanent diaconate is not only for celibates, neither is it a “married ministry,” though currently most deacons are married. Rather, the permanent diaconate is a major order of ecclesial ministry open to married and to unmarried men.

While much theological and pastoral work is needed to help the church recognize the blessings of a married ordained ministry, work is also needed on the celibate permanent deacon, who lives a significantly different state of life than do transitional deacons and priests.
A Theology of Marriage and Orders

Centro Altagracia presnts Noche de Cancion con Hna. Glenda. Oprime aqui para mas informacion.

Until the renewal of a permanent diaconate, most discussion of “vocation” presented an either-or approach: a man could either marry or enter religious life/priesthood; a woman could either marry or enter religious life. Those were the vocational choices in the Latin Church.

The Second Vatican Council reminded the church that the source and foundation of Christian vocation is sacramental initiation itself. In his homily to the bishops at the end of the council, Pope Paul VI declared that underlying the council’s work was the identity of the church as servant to the world. Vocations must be seen first through this lens: that all disciples are called to pour themselves out in service to others, following the kenotic example of Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, reflecting conciliar teaching, describes the sacraments of matrimony and orders as having a mutuality of purpose. Both are “directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God” (No. 1534). The catechism goes on to describe both sacraments in terms of consecration: the ordained are consecrated “to feed the Church by the word and grace of God,” and Christian spouses are consecrated “for the duties and dignity of their state” (No. 1535). This mutual approach to both sacraments builds on the consecration to discipleship celebrated through the most basic sacraments of vocation: the rites of Christian initiation. The sacraments of matrimony and orders add a leadership responsibility and specificity to the baptismal vocation—a particular responsibility for another person in a covenant marriage, and particular pastoral responsibilities toward a portion of the people of God.

The two sacraments share a common foundation. Both make unique demands on the time and resources of the married deacon’s family. These demands must be carefully balanced, but the sacraments are relational, not conflictual. There is no point where the sacrament of matrimony is not graced by the sacrament of orders, and no point where the sacrament of orders is not graced by the sacrament of matrimony. At no point does one sacrament end and the other begin. The two sacraments become one in the person of the deacon and in the married state of life shared with spouse and family.

In marriage, spouses are called to give themselves totally to each other in love; this is nothing more or less than a kenotic diakonia: a self-emptying in service to another. The married deacon has a responsibility based on ordination to be a public and permanent ecclesial leader-in-service who not only speaks of such diakonia but who lives it within the sacramental covenant relationship of matrimony. Both sacraments call those who receive them to model Christ and, through their respective consecrations by the Spirit, to extend this model to the church and world at large. One could easily say that matrimony focuses on the domestic church while orders focuses on the broader community. But this would be far too facile a contrast, because both rites of initiation carry a leadership dimension within the family circle itself and to the wider world.
Priorities and Obligations

Deacons must be masters of balance. Married deacons must juggle the obligations of marriage, job and ministry. It became very popular in the early days of the renewal to speak of the “deacon’s priorities”: first in relationship to God, then to family, to job (because deacons are required to provide for themselves and their families by secular occupations) and to ecclesial ministry. Many people have come to see the list as impractical and theologically problematic. If approached incorrectly, the list tends to compartmentalize the Christian vocation of discipleship. Some people have used the list as a checklist, though its simplicity is a weakness: discipleship and the choices we must make are often messy.

A deacon must find balance between the obligations of matrimony and orders; he cannot routinely shirk one to attend to the other. It has been said that because matrimony precedes ordination, marriage has a fundamental priority over ordination. While I agree up to a point, I think it cannot be an absolute priority. Ordination carries its own obligations, which one freely accepts when requesting it. Married couples travel the formation journey together so that both have a sense of what they are undertaking. My family and I have worked hard at balancing the demands of public ministry with family privacy. The fact that I am a public minister does not mean the whole family wants to be that.

Shortly after my ordination and assignment to a new parish, the pastor approached my wife, Diann, and asked what he could expect her role to be there. We struggled with how to respond. Neither of us wanted to disappoint the pastor. But Diann did not want to take on a public role; she did not feel called to do so, and she felt she needed to stay focused on our home and children. Other couples might have reached a different conclusion.

Diann used to love to sing in the church choir. As we were assigned to different parishes, however, something began to change. Choir directors sometimes assumed she would want to sing solos or be a cantor because “she’s the deacon’s wife.”

One night I came home from work to find my youngest daughter very upset. A religion teacher had taken her to task for not knowing the names of the Twelve Apostles. “Why don’t you know that? Your dad’s a deacon!” My daughter didn’t understand. “Dad, you’re the deacon, not me!”

Then I took a job as associate principal and dean of students at a Catholic high school, where our oldest daughter was an incoming freshman. Not only did she have to make an adjustment from elementary school to high school, she had to do it with her dad as the school disciplinarian and a deacon.

Such pressures have made us careful to preserve and protect family privacy. But they have also helped me to understand other family dynamics better. When someone approaches me about a family situation, I appreciate not only the challenge, but the courage it takes to tell someone else about private matters. Being married with children and grandchildren gives me a solid grounding in something all families face: how to do what is good for each other. “Kenotic self-sacrifice” is not just a theological concept; it is, “Dad, please help that person out; we’ll go to the movies later.”

Since this article focuses the discussions our church should be having on the relationship of matrimony and orders, I have set down four other issues that theologians, formation programs (for lay ecclesial ministers, deacons and priests) and anyone else interested in ministry in today’s church would do well to consider.

1) More theological attention should be paid to the relationship of the diaconate to the presbyterate and the episcopate. For half of the church’s history, deacons were understood as “priests-in-training” (or as a theologian once quipped, “priests junior grade”). Recently, however, theologians have begun to articulate areas in which deacons are not “priestly.” While there is a common foundation of ordination, each order is unique; the unique features of the diaconate need more theological and pastoral reflection.

2) Because deacons are not priests, the work of theologians and historians like Gary Macy and Phyllis Zagano must be considered vis-à-vis the ordination of women as deacons. The history of the church is clear: women have been ordained to diaconal ministry in the past and they could be again. The entire church would benefit from a full and open conversation on this issue.

3) The practical impact of diaconal service on a deacon’s family needs greater scrutiny. Yes, “only the husband is ordained.” But that truism ignores an adequate theology of matrimony in which “the two become one flesh.” Since a deacon’s spouse and children are all affected by ordination, any suggestion that attention need be paid only to the deacon is problematic. Experience gained in diaconate formation has made clear that if the spouses are to grow together, they need to share the personal, spiritual and intellectual growth offered through formation. If they do not, divisions can occur and problems result. This insight is often ignored after ordination, however, as pastors and others begin their new relationship with the deacon.

4) Attention must also be paid to the “role” of the deacon’s spouse. There is no singular role. Some wives share in a “couples’ ministry” with their husbands, giving retreats, teaching, sharing hospital or prison ministry and so on. Other wives prefer to minister in areas different from their husbands. Still others have no interest in or availability for participation in public ministry. Each response must be respected by pastors and parishioners, as well as by deacons and spouses themselves. A deacon’s spouse responds to God’s call to discipleship in ways as diverse as those of any other Christian, and ought not be “pressured” into ministry. Conversely, some spouses, highly educated and experienced ministers, are suddenly relegated to the sidelines “because they are the deacon’s wife.”

With more than four decades, since Vatican II, of a diaconate open to both married and single men, it is time for all the baptized to engage in a healthy, lively conversation about the opportunities and challenges that the renewed diaconate offers the church.

Deacon William T. Ditewig, ordained in 1990, was for five years executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for the Diaconate and the Secretariat for Evangelization. He is currently a professor of theology and director of graduate programs in theology at Saint Leo University, near Tampa, Fla.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Liturgy translations fall short of two-thirds; mail balloting needed

BISHOPS-MISSAL (UPDATED) Jun-18-2009 (950 words) With photos posted June 17 and 18. xxxn

Liturgy translations fall short of two-thirds; mail balloting needed

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

SAN ANTONIO (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops will have to poll members missing from their spring meeting in San Antonio before it's known whether they have approved liturgical prayers, special Masses and key sections of an English translation of the Order of the Mass.

Five texts being prepared for use in English-speaking countries failed to get the necessary two-thirds votes of the Latin-rite U.S. bishops during the June 18 session of the bishops' meeting.

With 244 Latin-rite bishops in the United States eligible to vote on the questions, the required two-thirds would be 163. With 189 eligible bishops attending the meeting, only 134 voted to accept the first section, Masses and prayers for various needs and intentions.

On four subsequent translations, the votes also failed to reach two-thirds, meaning the 55 bishops not present will be polled by mail on all five parts. That process is expected to take several weeks.

The items that failed to pass contain prefaces for the Mass for various occasions; votive Masses and Masses for the dead; solemn blessings for the end of Mass; prayers over the people and eucharistic prayers for particular occasions, such as for evangelization or ordinations.

The section receiving the highest level of approval -- with a 159-19 vote, with three abstentions -- was the Order of the Mass II, with its prefaces, blessings and eucharistic prayers.

The bishops did have enough votes to approve a sixth action item from the Committee on Divine Worship, a Spanish-language Lectionary. After that vote of 181-2, with three abstentions, the bishops' conference president, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, joked: "Ahora, vamos a continuar en espanol," or "Now we will continue in Spanish."

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, warned that delaying approval or failing to send the Vatican guidance by the end of November will risk shutting the U.S. bishops out of the English-language translation approval process.

Bishop Donald W. Trautman of Erie, Pa., had several times raised questions about the timetable for submitting the liturgical texts and voiced frustration with their grammar, sentence structure and word choices that he said were not suited to contemporary worship.

"I say yes to more accurate Latin translation ... yes to a more elevated tone," Bishop Trautman said from the floor. "But a resounding no to incomplete sentences, to two and three clauses in sentences, no to 13 lines in one sentence, no to archaic phrases, no to texts that are not proclaimable, not intelligible and not pastorally sensitive to our people."

In an interview with Catholic News Service Bishop Trautman singled out for example a phrase included in the translations for votive Masses and Masses for the dead: "May the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Lord, cleanse our hearts and make them fruitful within by the sprinkling of his dew."

"What does that even mean?" he asked, citing frustration also with phrases such as "the sweetness of your grace."

"I don't think the word 'sweetness' relates to people today," at least not in the way the translation intends, he told CNS.

Bishop Serratelli, a member of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, known as ICEL, told the meeting that ICEL members pray the texts aloud as they draft the English versions. ICEL is made up of representatives of 11 main English-speaking bishops' conferences.

He also emphasized that after an eight-year process to get to this point, the Vatican is waiting on the U.S. bishops to weigh in with their approval.

"We're at the end of the process," Bishop Serratelli said. Of the missal text, he said it's "a very, very good text. ... It's not perfect, but we're at the end of a long, healthy process."

In June 2008 the Vatican granted its "recognitio" or confirmation to the translation of the main parts of the Mass, which the U.S. bishops had voted to approve in June 2006.

Bishop Serratelli told reporters at a news conference that he expects enough votes among the bishops being polled by mail to approve all of the texts. If any fail to get two-thirds support, those pieces will come back to the bishops as a whole at their November meeting.

Typically, attendance is higher at the November meeting, which is where the USCCB conducts most of its conference business.

In November 2008 the U.S. bishops signed off on another section, the Proper of the Seasons, which includes the proper prayers for Sundays and feast days during the liturgical year.

Yet to come for approval by the U.S. bishops are new translations of the Proper of the Saints, propers for the dioceses, antiphons, eucharistic prayers for Masses with children, introductory material and appendices. The propers are expected to be taken up by the U.S. bishops at their regular business meeting in the fall.

When the material was introduced a day earlier, among a handful of questions raised was Bishop Trautman's about the timetable for sending the finished missal changes off to the Vatican and what he found to be too short a time for review.

Noting that the text came to the bishops at a very busy time of year, close to Holy Week and Easter, he said its 812 pages -- 406 each of English and Latin -- meant few bishops had time to do detailed reviews.

Bishop Serratelli disagreed that time was too short, saying the material went to the bishops for review in March.

"The Holy See wants it in November," he said.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Response to immigration a ‘test of our humanity,’

Response to immigration a ‘test of our humanity,’ Archbishop Chaput says at forum
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Archbishop Charles Chaput

Denver, Colo., Jun 13, 2009 / 04:31 pm (CNA).- Saying the immigration crisis is “a test of our humanity,” Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput on Saturday told an open forum on immigration reform that Catholics must not ignore immigrants in need and cannot remain silent about flawed immigration policy.

He also noted that Catholics’ commitment to the immigrant arises from the same source as Catholics’ commitment to the unborn. The archbishop spoke at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the Denver suburb of Northglenn on Saturday afternoon. He was joined by Congressmen Jared Polis (D-CO) and Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL).

Archbishop Chaput opened with a prayer asking God to help man “build a culture of life” and to “live the Gospel.”

“Make us quick to forgive each other, quick to listen to each other, and eager to serve those who are suffering and in need,” he prayed. “And finally Lord, in all things, fill us with the courage to follow St. Paul when he urges us to ‘speak the truth in love.’”

Beginning his remarks, the archbishop said that immigration reform has been “gridlocked” for more than three years. He blamed both Democrats and Republicans for creating “paralysis.”

“We made our immigration crisis in a bipartisan way. Now we need to solve it in a bipartisan way that involves good people from both parties or no party.”

He noted that he and Rep. Polis, who is openly homosexual and a supporter of abortion rights, would disagree “vigorously” on “some very serious social issues.”

However, the archbishop said the agenda for that day concerned the improvement of immigration laws.

“We have a mutual interest in that important work -- and I respect the congressman’s sincerity and energy in trying to do something about it,” he said.

“The Catholic commitment to the dignity of the immigrant comes from exactly the same roots as our commitment to the dignity of the unborn child,” since being pro-life also means making laws and social policies that will care for “those people already born that no one else will defend.”

“In the United States today, we employ a permanent underclass of human beings who build our roads, pick our fruit, clean our hotel rooms, and landscape our lawns,” Archbishop Chaput remarked.

Stating that most immigrants are law-abiding and “simply want a better life for their families,” he noted that many have children who are American citizens or have been in America for most of their lives.

These people live in a “legal limbo,” he stated.

“They’re vital to our economy, but they have few legal protections, and thousands of families have been separated by arrests and deportations,” he reported.

“We need to remember that how we treat the weak, the infirm, the elderly, the unborn child and the foreigner reflects on our own humanity. We become what we do, for good or for evil.”

Archbishop Chaput insisted that the Catholic Church respects the law, including immigration law, and also respects those who enforce it.

“We do not encourage or help anyone to break the law. We believe Americans have a right to solvent public institutions, secure borders and orderly regulation of immigration.”

However, he said Catholics cannot ignore those in need and cannot be silent about laws that “don’t work” and also create “impossible contradictions and suffering.”

Characterizing the present immigration system as one that adequately serves no one, he urged reform that will address economic and security needs while regularizing “the many decent undocumented immigrants.”

“We become what we do, for good or for evil. If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be.”

He said he hoped those present at today's forum will all take part in immigration reform.

“The future of our country depends on it,” he concluded.

The June 13 forum is part of a national outreach tour called “Familias Unidas.” The tour will visit 22 major cities across the United States and is intended to advance a better understanding of the harm caused to individuals and families by the present immigration system.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cash-for-Eggs Scheme

Press Release

June 8, 2009

9:30 AM EST

Ethicist and Women Bioethics Leaders Criticize New York Stem Cell Board for Pursuing Cash-for-Eggs Scheme

"Cash-strapped and college-aged women will be exploited by the state in this scheme."

ALBANY, NY, JUNE 8, 2009 -- New York's Empire Sate Stem Cell Board (ESSCB) is considering a plan that would pay women to provide human eggs for research purposes.

Bucking a national trend seen in states like California and Massachusetts, which prohibit payment for eggs for research, the ESSCB Ethics Committee voted at its May 12 meeting to recommend that state research funds be provided to researchers who pay women for their eggs, making New York the only state in the union to tacitly endorse a cash-for-eggs scheme. At its upcoming meeting on June 11, the ESSCB will consider providing state money for direct payments to women to try to obtain human eggs for research.

"In a desperate quest and unprecedented measure to obtain women's eggs to create embryos for research purposes, New York will waste taxpayers money on unproven science, and women who take the bait will be risking their health and future fertility," said Fr. Thomas Berg, a member of the ESSCB's Ethics Committee, and Executive Director of the Westchester Institute, a Catholic think tank. "I can assure you, it won't be the upper-class set who responds to state inducement and risks potentially life-threatening side-effects of human egg harvesting; it will be the vulnerable classes of cash-strapped and college-aged women who will be exploited by the state in this scheme," said Fr. Berg.

Jennifer Lahl, founder and national director for the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, addressed the risks that are involved in the egg harvesting procedure: "The egg donation process has well documented risks associated with the dangerous drugs taken to produce abnormally large numbers of eggs along with the risks of anesthesia and surgery to remove the eggs. Added to these dangers are the longer term risks associated with cancers and damage to the donors' future fertility.

"In an effort to encourage cures for the sick, the NYESSCB is considering a dangerous campaign to permit them to compensate healthy young women for their eggs. It is a twisted sort of logic that seeks cures for some while ignoring the risks to healthy young women," said Ms. Lahl.

Dorinda Bordlee, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the Bioethics Defense Fund, also criticized the ESSCB plan in light of recent scientific advances in the field of stem cell research. "It is outrageously irresponsible for the New York Stem Cell board to incentivize the exploitive practice of paying cash-strapped young women thousands of dollars to be injected with high doses of hormones to produce eggs for embryonic stem cell research. This unethical move that endangers women's health is completely unnecessary given the breakthrough methods that produce patient-specific stem cells without the need for cloning, embryos or eggs," said Ms. Bordlee.

Fr. Thomas Berg discusses more fully the exploitation and consent issues in a special commentary, "Scrambled Ethics," posted June 2 on National Review Online.

The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human person was founded in 1998 to renew, deepen, and promote the Western tradition of moral reflection. The institute pursues its objectives in cultural, political, and academic settings. Through seminars, lecture series, and research fellowships, the Westchester Institute seeks to reinvigorate contemporary moral discourse at all levels.

More information: Contact Daniel Kane at or visit

Copyright 2009 The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Gingrich's Film Project; Brothers Helping Others

Former Speaker Highlights John Paul II in Documentary

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JUNE 4, 2009 ( An event which took place 30 years ago this week would change the world forever.

Over just nine days, from June 2-10, 1979, John Paul II made what was probably his most historic apostolic trip, a pilgrimage back to his native Poland.

He landed in communist Warsaw on the eve of Pentecost, and went on to give 37 speeches and homilies that articulated what most Poles had felt for years: that Poland was a Catholic nation, cursed with a communist state. In doing so, he unleashed a spiritual and political revolution that would eventually free Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from the shackles of Marxist rule.

In particular, it led to Poland's communist government agreeing to recognize the legality of "Solidarność" - the "Solidarity" trade union movement. Together with the help of international political leaders and the Church, it would become the leading force in the collapse of the communist regime.

Now, 30 years on, a group of filmmakers led by the American politician Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista, are making a 90-minute documentary on that momentous papal pilgrimage. Called "Nine Days that Changed the World," and set for release in the fall, the film aims to take the viewer through those pivotal events, but also to lay out the context of the visit. The program begins with John Paul's election and goes on to make brief references to Karol Wojtyla's life, first under Nazism, then Stalinism, and his vocation to the priesthood.

Last week, as the filmmakers visited Rome to shoot footage of St. Peter's basilica, I spoke with Kevin Knoblock, the program's writer, producer and director, to find out more. The idea for the documentary, he said, came after he and the Gingriches had made a recent film on Ronald Reagan. "When doing that film, we saw the three key players in the founding of the Solidarity movement," he explained. "Reagan had a huge influence, also Thatcher, but most importantly, John Paul II."

The crew had already filmed in various places on John Paul II's 1979 pilgrimage including Krakow, Auschwitz, Czestochowa and Victory Square in Warsaw -- the location of a huge papal Mass that attracted 250,000 people.

John Paul II's famous motto -- "Be Not Afraid" -- was, Knoblock explained, not just an exhortation to be unafraid of opening one's arms to Christ, "but also to be unafraid of the changes and challenges that will come ahead -- the challenges of the Soviet regime and totalitarianism."

He recalled how nine out of 10 Poles heard or saw the Pope speak during those nine short days, and how every effort the regime made to try to prevent the pilgrimage from taking place almost comically backfired.

In its promotional material, the filmmakers say the program will show how John Paul II "helped the Poles find their courage and reclaim their culture." Moreover, they say the documentary aims to express the Pope's message that contrary to the lies of Nazism and communism, "authentic human freedom is only possible through the truth of Jesus Christ."

Such a momentous time continues to be relevant today, Knoblock said. "There's always a need to remember what can happen under authoritarian regimes, always important to remember freedom and religious freedom, and John Paul II certainly brought that to the people of Poland."

The documentary will eventually be available on DVD in English, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. For more information, visit:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One of South Carolina's first deacons turns 100


At left, Deacon Joseph Kemper Sr. talks with his son, Joe Kemper Jr., during a birthday celebration held for the permanent deacon, who turned 100 on May 29.
Miscellany Photo/Joe Benton
At left, Deacon Joseph Kemper Sr. talks with his son, Joe Kemper Jr., during a birthday
celebration held for the permanent deacon, who turned 100 on May 29.

MOUNT PLEASANT — Joseph Kemper, one of the Diocese of Charleston’s first permanent deacons, reached another landmark on May 29. He turned 100 years old.

Family members and friends traveled to Sandpiper Village Senior Living Community to celebrate with him.

Deacon Kemper was ordained with two other men in August 1971, by Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler as the first permanent deacons in the state of South Carolina.

After Pope Paul VI issued the Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem in 1967, the U.S. bishops received permission to ordain permanent deacons in 1968. The first group of ordinations took place in May 1971.

Deacon Kemper retired from the diaconate in 1999, but remained active in his ministry for several more years, conducting communion services, visiting the poor and writing.

Today, his small room at Sandpiper Village is a testament to the humble way he has lived in service to God. The only picture hanging in his room is a portrait of St. Peter. Next to that hangs a crucifix and a clock just below.

“The clock represents the world, with Christ ruling over it,” Deacon Kemper told The Miscellany in an interview.

He has worked hard and helped others almost all of his life, according to his family.

“My father started working on the farm at age 8 and was expected to be responsible for his mother, brothers and sisters,” said Claire Kemper Johnson, his daughter from Charlottesville, Va. “I can’t help wishing he had more of a real childhood. Without his intervention, I know his siblings would not have the success stories they did. He has given, given, given.”

Deacon Kemper was a woodworker and cabinet-maker by trade who owned his own business in New Jersey for many years.

After spending time in Florida with his wife Eleanor, who was dying of cancer, he returned to New Jersey to do missionary work with the church. He moved to South Carolina for his ministry of service in 1966.

“I arrived in Charleston, drove to Broad Street, parked my van in the Cathedral school yard and met with Msgr. Bernardin and then the bishop,” he said.

For the next five years, Deacon Kemper served throughout the state, working in construction and driving the bishop around the country. In 1967, Bishop Unterkoefler was the only American bishop summoned to Rome to advise Pope Paul VI on the need for a permanent diaconate.

“The bishop related to the Holy Father my work in South Carolina as an example of why permanent deacons were needed in the church,” Deacon Kemper said.

Later that year, the pope established the order of the permanent diaconate and Deacon Kemper began intensively training and preparing for ordination.

Msgr. John Simonin, retired pastor of St. Mary Church in Charleston, fondly remembered his 27 year association with “Deacon Joe.”

“We started at St. Patrick’s, and he went with me to Nativity, St. Joseph’s and finally St. Mary’s,” Msgr. Simonin said.

Utilizing talents he learned as a young man, Deacon Kemper did much of the construction and repair work around the parishes in which he served. He built portable confessionals, rebuilt rectory porches, rewired electrical circuitry or whatever needed to be done.

“Msgr. Simonin and I did 27 building projects together,” he said. “He was a wonderful man to work with.”

Michael Robinson, a longtime St. Mary parishioner and finance council chair, said Msgr. Simonin and Deacon Kemper were quite a team for 17 years.

“They left our parish in very sound financial and structural condition,” he said.

One side of the man that most people never saw was his willingness to help the poor and those in distress. Regina Alberti, former St. Mary housekeeper, recalled a lady in the community with a severe kidney illness which required numerous medications she could not afford.

“Deacon Kemper befriended her and paid for the medicines out of his own pocket for years, and no one ever knew,” she said.

Alberti said people would knock on the front door of the rectory and the deacon would help them out.

“Under a sometimes gruff, temperamental exterior was a heart of pure gold,” she said.

Now Deacon Kemper spends his days in prayer, reading the Bible, and talking with his many visitors at Sandpiper. On his 99th birthday, his family surprised him by driving him to St. Mary for Sunday Mass followed by a reception.

“He talked about that day for months, and how many old friends he met that were mere children when he first knew them,” his daughter said. “It was a wonderful day.”

Published June 4, 2009, The Catholic Miscellany

Friday, May 29, 2009

Stem cell breakthrough gets closer to the clinic

CHICAGO (AFP) — The technology for versatile, grow-in-a-dish transplant tissue took a step toward clinical use Thursday when researchers announced they have found a safe way to turn skin cells into stem cells.

Researchers say the method is so promising they hope to apply for approval to begin clinic trials by the middle of next year.

"This is the first safe method of generating patient specific stem cells," said study author Robert Lanza, the chief scientific officer at Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine International.

"This technology will soon allow us to expand the range of possible stem cell therapies for the entire human body," Lanza told AFP.

"This allows us to generate the raw material to solve the problem of rejection (by the immune system) so this is really going to accelerate the field of regenerative medicine."

The research builds on an award-winning breakthrough in 2007 by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University.

Yamanaka and his team introduced four genes into skin cells, reprogramming them so that they became indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.

That achievement conjured the distant vision of an almost limitless source of transplant material that would be free of controversy, as it would entail no cells derived from embryos.

But the downside of the technique for creating these so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) is that the genes are delivered by a "Trojan horse" virus.

Reprogramming cells using a virus modifies their DNA in such a way that they cannot be given to patients without boosting the risk of cancer and genetic mutation.

Other researchers have succeeded in delivering the genes with a method called DNA transfection or using a chemical wash, but these techniques also posed health risks.

Lanza and the team led by Kwang Soo Kim of Harvard University succeeded in delivering the genes by fusing them with a cell penetrating peptide which does not pose the risk of genetic mutation.

While this method took twice as long to generate pluripotent stem cells, Lanza said he believes his team can increase the efficiency of the transmission by purifying the protein.

The study was published in the online edition of Cell Stem Cell.

Stem cells have excited huge interest over the past decade.

Promoters say this material could reverse cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and other diseases and also allow researchers to grow patient-specific organ and tissue transplants which will not require harmful anti-rejection drugs.

But the dynamic has been sapped by opposition from religious conservatives, who argue that research on embryos -- the prime source of stem cells so far -- destroys human life.

Generating stem cells from skin cells bypasses the controversy and also dramatically increases the availability of patient-specific stem cells.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is Mary the "Coredemptrix" of Humanity?

May 26, 2009

by Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY -- When Pope Benedict XVI told a crowd in St. Peter's Square in April that the Virgin Mary "silently followed her son Jesus to Calvary, taking part with great suffering in his sacrifice, thus cooperating in the mystery of redemption and becoming mother of all believers," most listeners probably heard nothing remarkable in the statement.

After all, devotion to Mary is a pervasive element of the Catholic faith, and one of the features that most clearly distinguishes it from Protestantism.

Yet for one group of devotees, Benedict's statement was a milestone -- a sign that he had moved one step closer to granting their wish for a new dogma on Mary's contribution to human salvation.

At least 7 million Catholics from more than 170 countries, including hundreds of bishops and cardinals, have reportedly signed petitions urging the pope to proclaim Mary "the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the coredemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race."

In other words, the Virgin Mary -- though always subordinate to and dependent on the will of Christ -- plays an active, unique and irreplaceable role in helping her son deliver mankind from sin and death.

Proponents say that such a statement would represent the culmination of the church's traditional teaching on Jesus' mother, and bring the world untold spiritual and material benefits.

But critics of the proposed dogma say it would exaggerate Mary's true importance and undermine efforts toward unity with other Christian denominations.

The idea of Mary as Christ's collaborator in the redemption of humanity is deeply rooted in Catholic tradition, said Monsignor Arthur B. Calkins, an American priest working at the Vatican who has written extensively on the subject.

"The church has been meditating on this role for two millennia," Calkins said in an interview, "and so the Holy Spirit continues to draw forth what is there already in seed."

According to Mark Miravalle, a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, the new dogma would mean the "climax of the `Age of Mary'," a period that began in 1830 with apparitions of the Virgin in France, and witnessed papal proclamations of her Immaculate Conception (1854) and bodily Assumption into heaven (1950).

Supporters of the dogma of Mary Coredemptrix began petitioning the Holy See in the 1920s, Miravalle said, but it was in the 1990s that the movement drew millions of supporters and its goal began to appear within reach.

Pope John Paul II publicly used the term "Coredemptrix" at least six times in his pontificate, and at one point Miravalle predicted that he would proclaim the dogma before the millennial year of 2000.

The professor now believes that John Paul was persuaded not to act by advisers who feared that the new dogma would pose an obstacle to ecumenical dialogue.

At least one non-Catholic participant in that dialogue says such fears were well-founded.

"Anglicans require that any dogma be provable from Scripture," said the Rev. William Franklin, academic fellow at the Anglican Centre in Rome and a visiting professor at the Vatican's Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Anglican ecumenists are still struggling to reconcile their beliefs with the papal dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, Franklin said. "Making a new Marian dogma would complicate the journey toward full communion between our two churches," he said.

Proponents of the dogma insist that it would actually promote ecumenism by dispelling any ambiguities about Catholic doctrine.

"This would bring new clarity that Catholics do not adore Mary as a goddess," Miravalle said. "It would underscore what Catholics do believe
-- that she is your spiritual mother -- but at the same time that she is not the fourth person of the Blessed Trinity."

By far the most significant criticism, if only on account of its source, has been that of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.

Ratzinger told a German interviewer in 2000 that the "formula `Co-redemptrix' departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and of the (church) Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings," threatening to "obscure" the status of Christ as the source of all redemption.

"I do not think there will be any compliance with this demand (for papal proclamation of the dogma) within the foreseeable future," he said at the time.

But Benedict has shown increasing openness to the dogma in the years since, proponents say, even though he has never used the word "Coredemptrix" as pope.

"Joseph Ratzinger has never been more Marian than since he became Benedict XVI," Miravalle said.

Calkins, who carefully tracks the pope's statements on "Mary's role in the work of our redemption," said Benedict's words on the subject already fill up 25 pages.

Most of the church's academic experts on Mary continue to oppose the dogma, however, deeming it unnecessary to encourage a proper devotion to Christ's mother.

"To give Mary honor, I would institute a new feast, or a special title," said the Rev. Johann G. Roten, director of the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, Ohio, and a member of a Vatican panel that unanimously advised against the new dogma in 1996.

Yet Miravalle says papal recognition of Mary as Coredemptrix would be more than a formality; it would lead to an "outpouring of grace," helping to dispel a range of contemporary problems, including abortion, terrorism and natural disasters.

"To the extent that we acknowledge Our Lady's roles, to that extent God allows her to fully exercise those roles," he said. "And we can use some extra grace at this time."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Angels and Demons - Dan Brown's America

May 19, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

The movie treatment of his novel, “Angels and Demons,” is cleaning up at the box office this week. The sequel to “The DaVinci Code,” due out in November, might buoy the publishing industry through the recession. And if you want to understand the state of American religion, you need to understand why so many people love Dan Brown.

It isn’t just that he knows how to keep the pages turning. That’s what it takes to sell a million novels. But if you want to sell a 100 million, you need to preach as well as entertain — to present a fiction that can be read as fact, and that promises to unlock the secrets of history, the universe and God along the way.

Brown is explicit about this mission. He isn’t a serious novelist, but he’s a deadly serious writer: His thrilling plots, he’s said, are there to make the books’ didacticism go down easy, so that readers don’t realize till the end “how much they are learning along the way.” He’s working in the same genre as Harlan Coben and James Patterson, but his real competitors are ideologues like Ayn Rand, and spiritual gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. He’s writing thrillers, but he’s selling a theology.

Brown’s message has been called anti-Catholic, but that’s only part of the story. True, his depiction of the Roman Church’s past constitutes a greatest hits of anti-Catholicism, with slurs invented by 19th-century Protestants jostling for space alongside libels fabricated by 20th-century Wiccans. (If he targeted Judaism or Islam this way, one suspects that no publisher would touch him.)

But Brown doesn’t have the soul of a true-believing Enemy of the Faith. Deep down, he has a fondness for the ordinary, well-meaning sort of Catholic, his libels against their ancestors notwithstanding. He’s even sympathetic to the religious yearnings of his Catholic villains — including, yes, the murderous albino monks.

This explains why both “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” end with a big anti-Catholic reveal (Jesus had kids with Mary Magdalene! That terrorist plot against the Vatican was actually launched by an archconservative priest!) followed by a big cover-up. A small elect (Tom Hanks and company, in the movies) gets to know what really happened, but the mass of believers remain in the dark, lest their spiritual questing be derailed by disillusionment and scandal. Having dismissed Catholicism’s truth claims and demonized its most sincere defenders, Brown pats believers on the head and bids them go on fingering their rosary beads.

In the Brownian worldview, all religions — even Roman Catholicism — have the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It’s a message perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized “religiousness” detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.

The polls that show more Americans abandoning organized religion don’t suggest a dramatic uptick in atheism: They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional religion’s dogmas and moral requirements shorn away. The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal and conservative believers often encounter a God who’s too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they’re making or how many times they’ve been married.

These are Dan Brown’s kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who’s a thoroughly modern sort of messiah — sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

But the success of this message — which also shows up in the work of Brown’s many thriller-writing imitators — can’t be separated from its dishonesty. The “secret” history of Christendom that unspools in “The Da Vinci Code” is false from start to finish. The lost gospels are real enough, but they neither confirm the portrait of Christ that Brown is peddling — they’re far, far weirder than that — nor provide a persuasive alternative to the New Testament account. The Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — jealous, demanding, apocalyptic — may not be congenial to contemporary sensibilities, but he’s the only historically-plausible Jesus there is.

For millions of readers, Brown’s novels have helped smooth over the tension between ancient Christianity and modern American faith. But the tension endures. You can have Jesus or Dan Brown. But you can’t have both.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama Scored Big at Notre Dame

Seldom does dawn rise on an America where the morning's New York Times displays a more intuitive grasp of a story than the New York Post. The coverage of Barack Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame, however, was such a day. Where the Post headlined an inside spread with "Obama In the Lions' Den," the Times front page was dominated by a color photograph of a beaming president, resplendent in his blue-and-gold Notre Dame academic gown, reaching out to graduates eager to shake his hand or just touch his robe.

It was precisely the message President Obama wanted to send: How bad can he be on abortion if Notre Dame is willing to honor him?

We cannot blame the president for this one. During his campaign for president, Mr. Obama spoke honestly about the aggressive pro-choice agenda he intended to pursue -- as he assured Planned Parenthood, he was "about playing offense," not defense -- and his actions have been consistent with that pledge. If only our nation's premier Catholic university were as forthright in advancing its principles as Mr. Obama has been for his.

In a letter to Notre Dame's Class of 2009, the university's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, stated that the honors for Mr. Obama do not indicate any "ambiguity" about Notre Dame's commitment to Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life. The reality is that it was this ambiguity that the White House was counting on; this ambiguity that was furthered by the adoring reaction to Mr. Obama's visit; and this ambiguity that disheartens those working for an America that respects the dignity of life inside the womb.

We've been here before. In his response to an inquiry from this reporter, Dennis Brown, the university's spokesman, wisely ignored a question asking whether "ambiguity" would be the word to describe a similar decision in 1984 to give Mario Cuomo, then governor of New York, the Notre Dame platform he so famously used to advance his personally-opposed-but argument. Or the decision a few years later to bestow its highest Catholic award on Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another supporter of legal abortion. It seems that whenever Democratic leaders find themselves in trouble over their party's abortion record, some Notre Dame honor or platform will be forthcoming to provide the needed cover.

Probably Notre Dame is rich enough that it can safely thumb its institutional nose at the 70 or so bishops who publicly challenged the university for flouting their guidelines on such invitations. Nor can we expect much from Notre Dame's trustees. At a time when Americans all across this country have declared themselves "yea" or "nay" on the Obama invite, the reaction of Notre Dame's board is less the roar of the lion than the silence of the lambs.

Pro-lifers are used to this. They know their stand makes them unglamorous. They find themselves a stumbling block to Democratic progressives -- and unwelcome at the Republican country club. And they are especially desperate for the support of institutions willing to engage in the clear, thoughtful and unembarrassed way that even Mr. Obama says we should.

With its billions in endowment and its prestigious name, Notre Dame ought to be in the lead here. But when asked for examples illuminating the university's unambiguous support for unborn life, Mr. Brown could provide only four: help for pregnant students who want to carry their babies to term, student volunteer work for pregnant women at local shelters, prayer mentions at campus Masses, and lectures such as a seminar on life issues.

These are all well and good, but they also highlight the poverty of Notre Dame's institutional witness. At Notre Dame today, there is no pro-life organization -- in size, in funding, in prestige -- that compares with the many centers, institutes and so forth dedicated to other important issues ranging from peace and justice to protecting the environment. Perhaps this explains why a number of pro-life professors tell me they must not be quoted by name, lest they face career retaliation.

The one institute that does put the culture of life at the heart of its work, moreover -- the Center for Ethics and Culture -- doesn't even merit a link under the "Faith and Service" section on the university's Web site. The point is this: When Notre Dame doesn't dress for the game, the field is left to those like Randall Terry who create a spectacle and declare their contempt for civil and respectful witness.

In the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian, there is a wonderful photograph of Father Ted Hesburgh -- then Notre Dame president -- linking hands with Martin Luther King Jr. at a 1964 civil-rights rally at Chicago's Soldier Field. Today, nearly four decades and 50 million abortions after Roe v. Wade, there is no photograph of similar prominence of any Notre Dame president taking a lead at any of the annual marches for life.

Father Jenkins is right: That's not ambiguity. That's a statement.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guest Commentary: The Bishops Who Speak... And Those Who Don't

By Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

Inside Catholic

As Catholics face important issues today, many are looking to the bishops to speak out. Both the bishops who are speaking out on issues as well as those who do not may be saying something about the Catholic Church in the United States.

WASHINGTON (Inside Catholic) - A popular pastime among Catholic commentators lately could be called "counting the bishops." In the last election, we counted the bishops who spoke out regarding their document on voting, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," or on the qualifications of Barack Obama as a Catholic candidate. With the latest controversy over the upcoming Notre Dame commencement, another count is underway: 68 bishops have criticized the choice of President Obama to receive an honorary degree.

This is a noteworthy trend in the postconciliar Church that doesn't go back far: Between the late 1960s and the 1990s, it was very unusual for a bishop to address an issue (outside the collective voice of the bishops' conference) that had either national significance or tacitly challenged brother bishops to greater action.

The exceptions to this rule are few: John Cardinal O'Connor and Bernard Cardinal Law during the pro-life skirmishes of the 1980s; and from the left and right of the Church, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. There were often consequences for bishops who ignored the code of collegiality -- isolation or, sadly, retribution.

The reticence of bishops to put aside collegiality started to diminish during the 2004 presidential campaign. Many prelates began going public to defend Archbishop Raymond Burke, then from St. Louis, who was being hotly criticized for his comments to the St. Louis Post Dispatch that presidential candidate John Kerry "should not present himself for communion."

More than 20 bishops made statements that supported Archbishop Burke's position, and among them some familiar names: Chaput, Wenski, Aquila, Smith, Olmsted, Sheridan, Saltarelli, Harrington, Hughes, Boland, Finn, Gracida, Gossman, and Myers. (One significant preview of what lay ahead in 2004 was Bishop William Weigand's warning to Gov. Rick Davis in January 2003 not to receive communion.)

The bishops' growing willingness to speak individually has blunted the power of official statements issued by the USCCB. The commitment to collegiality had given greater authority to conference statements, but often at the cost of sending a forthright and prophetic message about the growing acceptance of abortion. The latest document, "Faithful Citizenship," is an example of how a "compromise statement," representing all the bishops, can contain language which is confusing at best and, at worst, subversive of pro-life aims.

Now that "counting the bishops" has become a factor in determining the direction of the Church, it will be necessary to count those who do not speak. Or, at least, it is important to consider the meaning in the silence of those bishops. The 2008 election did produce one episode that suggests what the silence means for some bishops.

The Sunday before the election, Mass was held by the bishop of a major Midwestern city, one of the key war zones between McCain's and Obama's Catholic supporters. (It is not necessary for me to reveal the name of the bishop.) After Mass, the bishop held a question-and-answer session, which became quite heated when he did not answer questions about the priority of life issues to the satisfaction of some present.

One of those dissatisfied waited to speak with the bishop after the session was over. She asked him why his comments sounded so out of line with the many bishops who had spoken publicly to underscore the importance of voting pro-life. The bishop replied testily, "Well, there are many of us who are not speaking out," then turned and walked away.

In other words, there were bishops in the 2008 election who purposely did not speak out, and who did not agree with those who did. Their silence implied consent to the way Catholic teaching was being construed by Obama supporters like Doug Kmiec and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

What does this tell us about the silence of the remaining bishops on the upcoming commencement at Notre Dame? Certainly there are those who agree with the 68 who have gone on the record against his selection. Perhaps they think the issue has been sufficiently flogged, especially with the public statement by USCCB President Francis Cardinal George.

But how many simply disagree with those bishops and think Notre Dame is doing the right thing by honoring President Obama? Is this the meaning of their silence? Do the majority of U.S. bishops agree with Notre Dame? If so, that may well be one of the reasons Notre Dame's officials felt free to issue the invitation in the first place.


Deal W. Hudson is the director of and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon and Schuster).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Torture Memos

What Catholic Teaching Has to Say


WASHINGTON — The release of an official memorandum outlining U.S. government-approved torture of suspected al-Qaida operatives has provoked a national debate on the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

Yet, the ensuing political firestorm not only reveals widespread confusion and disagreements regarding the morality, lawfulness and effectiveness of torture; it also exposes fissures within the Catholic community regarding the relationship between the moral prohibition against torture and Church teaching on other life issues.

While experts debate whether or not water boarding constitutes torture, many Catholics suggest that in cases of imminent threat, the “ends justify the means.”

Seeking to educate their flock and influence public policy, the U.S. Catholic bishops have presented the moral foundations of the Church’s position on torture in statements issued over the last year.

At a January press conference organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, John Carr, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, reviewed the fundamental moral principles at work.

“Pope Benedict XVI has said that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.’ Simply put, torture is a classic moral case of ends and means,” said Carr. “Good ends cannot legitimize immoral means. In the context of torture, we cannot defend our life and dignity by threatening the lives and attacking the dignity of others.”

But recent polls signaling increased support for the use of torture during times of national crisis suggest Church leaders will have to work harder to impart Catholic teaching, particularly when they seek to influence a debate that has become deeply politicized.

“The teaching of the Catholic Church could not be more clear,” said Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell. “In Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), one of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council, in Veritatis Splendor (Pope John Paul II’s encyclical The Splendor of Truth), and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, physical and mental torture are deemed intrinsically evil.”

The Church, said O’Connell, is in the forefront of supporting the principles that provide the foundation for international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. “Convention Against Torture.” “Universal law and moral principles bind us as a community,” she noted.

A legal expert on interrogations married to a former military interrogator, O’Connell describes torture as “always immoral, unlawful and impractical.”

In her classroom, however, some students question this assessment, arguing that torture “works” and helps keep America safe. O’Connell said it can be a struggle for students to understand that “as Catholics, we should resist attempts to place the United States, or any state, above the law.”

‘A Nation of Laws’

When the Department of Justice released the four classified memos on the interrogation of suspected terrorists issued by the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005, President Obama issued a statement outlining a number of practical reasons for releasing the memos and for prohibiting the application of techniques that “undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer.”

“Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure,” Obama said. “A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals.”

The president’s statement affirmed that the “United States is a nation of laws. My administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals.”

Then, during a visit to the CIA designed to reassure intelligence officers and field agents that he backed their efforts, the president went a step further and acknowledged that his anti-torture policy carried a measure of risk.

“I’m sure that sometimes it seems as if that means we’re operating with one hand tied behind our back or that those who would argue for a higher standard are naive,” he told agents. But “what makes the United States special … is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy.”

The president’s implicit acknowledgement that — with regards to torture — the ends do not justify the means, earned approval from Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. bishops’ Pro-life Secretariat.

“It was a good statement against a utilitarian approach to the government’s treatment of human beings,” said Doerflinger. “Logically, these values and ideals should be applied in all contexts and across the entire spectrum of human life.”

A pro-life activist who spends a good deal of time drafting statements opposing Obama’s policies on abortion and embryo-killing stem-cell research, Doerflinger has long observed the inconsistent application of moral principles on Capitol Hill. “Each society and political faction has its exceptions and its blind spots,” he said. “But the Church is against any attack on the dignity of the human person.”

During one week in January, he recalled, the U.S. bishops issued statements applauding Obama’s executive order banning torture and criticizing his reversal of the Mexico City Policy banning U.S. funds for abortion advocacy abroad. “A cynic might say that the president should respect embryos with the same commitment that he respects suspected terrorists,” observed Doerflinger.

Practical and Moral

In fact, while Obama has remained an outspoken opponent of the use of torture, his recent public statements have not specified the precise national “ideals” or moral principles violated by the Bush policy condoning the coercive interrogation of three terrorist suspects from 2002 to 2005.

Further, judging from the “memos” and other recent news stories retracing the internal debate within the Bush administration and the CIA regarding the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the Office of Legal Counsel also kept the focus on “the facts” that provided the necessary context for evaluating the utility and legality of the methods under review.

Patrick Buchanan, the conservative commentator and author, understands why the memos focused on “the facts” that provide the context for the interrogations, though he is cautious about endorsing or repudiating the legal counsel they supply.

“I don’t like the term, ‘torture.’ I’d rather focus on the moral action itself. If it is moral at times to take human life in self-defense, then it may be moral, at times, to do something much less serious — inflict pain for the purpose of saving the lives of thousands from an imminent terrorist attack.”

Buchanan says he would like the “people who recommended this policy to stand up and defend their decision.” But the spectacle of Bush-era lawyers publicly defending their legal judgment appears unlikely, to say the least. Republicans worry that the memos’ release has harmed national security, but they also fear that politically dominant Democrats may prosecute Bush administration officials who provided legal approval for torture.

Michael Novak, the theologian and author, questions whether critics of the Bush White House have fully considered the moral and practical complexities attendant in the post-9/11 era. “I respect those moralists who say, ‘never,’ and I believe we must come as close to ‘never’ as the extremities of some human situations allow,” said Novak, “and even in such extremities, great legal, medical and moral care must be used so as not to do lasting harm to the one interrogated.”

After a moment’s reflection, Novak proffers, “a test case for every moralist to answer truthfully: Would they allow such strictly limited interrogation in order to save the lives of the 10 or 12 people they love the most, or would they allow those people to perish for want of timely information? Either way, each moralist is complicit in the outcome.”

Clearly, some Catholics believe it is unjust to condemn as “torturers” government officials who issued legal judgments intended to protect American lives.

But Thomas Romig, the dean of Washburn University School of Law and the former judge advocate general of the U.S. Army from 2001 to 2005, wants the public to grasp the strong connection between the moral and practical reasons for prohibiting torture.

“It’s a very slippery slope when you make an exception to the ban on torture. Once the word got out that we were making exceptions, it caused serious confusion in detention centers,” Romig recalled.

“We have always been the gold standard in the treatment of detainees and people captured on the battlefield,” he said. “If we want to see treaties enforced, we have to live up to a high standard.”

Joan Frawley Desmond writes

from Chevy Chase, Maryland.