Month: June 2005

Here and There . . .

An irregular roundup of blogs, articles and commentary.

In Politics and Public Life . . .

  • At Catholics in the Public Square Oswald Sobrino on Terri Schiavo’s autopsy:

    Even if one should accept the conclusion that Terri’s brain damage was untreatable in any way or form, the immorality, the evil, of starving her remains. She was not dying. The courts killed her precisely because she was not dying. The feeding tube was not damaging her, but rather keeping her alive. She did not have a disease that was causing her crucial organs to stop functioning.

    And so the question becomes: do you deny the ordinary care of a feeding tube to someone whose severe brain damage seems to be beyond treatment of any kind? The answer is no because in these circumstances denying the feeding tube is an act of mercilessness and cruelty. Ordinary care is that care which is the basic minimum required by mercy. In the medical circumstances of Terri Schiavo, mercy required nutrition and hydration. Those who ruled otherwise damaged themselves severely by making themselves merciless. If sin is self-mutilation, then the judges who favored removing the tube in this particular case mutilated themselves morally. And so a moral autopsy of our judicial system would read: “cause of moral death: lack of mercy.” As others have said, in moral terms, the one most damaged by evil is the evildoer.

    Michelle Malkin — a journalist and a credit to her profession — provides “a sober look” at the autopsy results, with hard words on “the callous gloaters on the other side of this debate . . . who can only talk about the sanctity of life if it’s enclosed in ghost quotes and pronounced with a sneer.” She provides a good roundup as well of other blogger responses.

  • The Death of Terri Schiavo, by Fr. Robert Johansen, originally published in the Catholic World Report is now available online: “If the courts had reconsidered the facts, if doctors had followed procedures, if reporters had asked obvious questions, if bishops had spoken out boldly-a gross injustice might have been averted . . .”
  • Meanwhile, Terri’s husband/murderer Michael Schiavo attempts to get the last word in on the subject: Terri’s grave: Adding insult to injury, from the blog Excessive Catholicism.
  • David from Catholics for Bush and Catholics in the Public Square has completed the second part of a very worthwhile project, one that every Catholic voter should be made aware of:

    [David says] I have put together a report on how the 131 Catholics in the U.S. House of Representatives AND Senate, voted/acted on the non-negotiable issues of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and torture. I looked at 14 different actions (votes, co-sponsorship status, co-signing of letters of support). An introduction and links to the report in Excel and HTML formats can be found here. I hope it generates discussion and thought. Of course, comments, complaints, etc. are welcome.
  • Property rights are civil rights are human rights – Eric Johnson (Catholic Light) comments on the recent decision of the Supreme Court authorizing the appropriation of houses by multi-million dollar corporations — sorry, “private developers” — if the owners refuse to sell. Further commentary by Jeff Jacoby (Eminent injustice in New London Boston Globe June 25, 2005). Peter Sean of Lex Communis posts Justice Thomas’ dissenting remarks, noting that the decision impacts poor and minorities most. Michelle Malkin provides a comprehensive roundup of reaction.

In Religion . . .

  • In Defense of “Cruise Ship” Spirituality. Greg Mockeridge defends Catholic apostolates such as Catholic Answers and Envoy Magazine, and Catholic singles groups like Ave Maria Singles and CatholicSingles.Com, against criticism by an irate Catholic for hosting “cruise-ship vacations.” I’ve never been on a cruise-ship myself but perhaps someday. The late Gerard Serafin of A Catholic Blog for Lovers was quite fond of cruises, and judging by his reports and photos it sounds like a wonderful adventure.
  • Paper Tiber: How Pope John Paul’s Critics Would Tame the Church of Rome, by David Mills. Touchstone Vol. 18, No. 5 (June 2005):

    Perhaps the most interesting of the responses to the death of John Paul II were those of critics who used his death to offer their vision for the Catholic Church, and by extension for Christianity in general. It may be useful to look at what they said, because they followed a pattern used whenever a major orthodox religious figure needs taking down a peg. . . .
  • Writing for Christianity Today, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom ask: “Is the Reformation OVER?” (Via Carl Olson).
  • Francis Beckwith — of the blog Right Reason — is starting another:

    I am developing a new website and blog that are dedicated to supporting the political liberty of religious citizens to participate in America’s liberal democracy. The website is The Atheocracy Report ( The blog can be found here. I don’t know how much time I can dedicate to this. But I thought it would be a good idea to get the ball rolling.

    It seems like a good project, and I hope Mr. Beckwith can keep up with it. From the website itself: intends to accomplish two goals: (1) To offer a positive case for the right of religious citizens to participate in America’s liberal demorcacy by critically assessing the burdens placed on them by those who mistakenly claim that an atheocratic public square is a neutral one; (2) To document and offer commentary about unjust and uncharitable discrimination, depictions, and marginalizaiton of religious believers who seek to participate as citizens in the public square and shape the laws and policies of their communities. Because this injustice is often supported and perpetuated by groups and individuals that maintain that all religious belief is irrational and thus ought to be sequestered from the public square, we refer to these groups and individuals as atheocratic, which literally means supporting “atheistic government.”

    These atheocratic groups and individuals often misrepresent, charicature, and engage in ad hominen attacks against serious religious believers. The Atheocracy Report maintains that church and state ought to separate, and that a theocracy is just as bad as an atheocracy. However, religious believers often come to the public square, not merely with blind faith and sacred Scripture, but with arguments and reasons that are distinctly public. We believe that these ought to be assessed on their own terms. Citizens should not be dismissed by an atheocratic litmus test that excludes them from the conversation because they happen to be religious believers, or requires that their arguments be ruled out a priori because they happen to be consistent with views congenial to belief in God and inconsisent with atheocratic views on the nature of law, morality, the good life, or human beings.

  • Behold a Pale Writer: The Pastel Heresies of Matthew Fox by Francis Fidelis. June 25, 2005:

    In heresy, as in theft, a key to long-term respect is to think big. As my mother always said, if you decide to steal, make it a million dollars, not two hundred bucks. Willie Sutton was a great thief. Valentinus thought big, heretical thoughts. Matthew Fox is a cut-rate heresiarch, a fourth-string muddler of the Tradition, the New Age’s Andy Gibb to mainstream Protestantism’s Barry, the theological equivalent of carob: a minor nuisance to the unsuspecting, a petty falsehood avoided by anyone of taste.
  • The Need for New Religious Terminology – Hunter Baker of the blog Reform Club on the original background and misappropriation of the term “fundamentalist” by liberal critics of religion.
  • REAL NUNS! — I mean as in wearing a traditional habit, non-disgruntled, with happy expressions on their faces taking pride in their vocation to Christ and his Church. Amazing, isn’t it? — Signs of a Religious Vocation from A Penitent Blogger — photos from the The Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus.
  • June 22nd was the feast day of St. Thomas More. Pro Ecclesia * Pro Familia * Pro Civitate posts the biography of “The Man for All Seasons”, along with a compilation of links.
  • Catholic Triumphalism – Peter Sean (Lex Communis) on H.W. Crocker’s article “What’s So Great About Catholicism”, Crisis 20, no. 10 (November 2002), and the contributions of the Catholic Church to promoting and ensuring human freedom, with a look at the 1937 encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge:

    Catholicism historically advanced the cause of freedom by dividing loyalty. There never was a time in the Catholic West when the temporal and spiritual powers were in the hand of the same person, or where the spiritual powers were officially subordinated to that of the temporal power. Accordingly, there was always the possibility of a development in the understanding of freedom of conscience, even to the point that gets us to where we are today.
  • Petrine Offices and Particular Churches by Henri DeLubac, S.J., circa 1970’s — reproduced by Fr. Kimel (Pontifications):

    I want simply, first of all, to clarify a few points regarding the idea of collegiality, which seems to me rather important, and on its possible relation to the idea of bishops’ conferences. Next, I want to emphasize the role of the successor of St Peter as bond of the college of bishops and center of Catholic unity, as it follows from the Gospel. In conclusion, we shall examine some new tendencies or suggestions on this point. . . .

    I thought about posting an excerpt to whet the reader’s appetite but I decided against it. There are so many good points that I’d be guilty of quoting too liberally and hijacking the post. In other words: read the whole thing. =)

  • Cruising into an irrational, paranoid future? – Carl Olson @ Ignatius Insight provides some helpful links on the “religion”/cult/philosophy of Scientology, Dianetics, L. Ron (“Elron”) Hubbard, Thetans, audits, and related matters.
  • Stephen Riddle @ Flos Carmeli on the experience of a good confession:

    I just had the most harrowing (and gratifying) encounter ever in the confessional. I had never had a priest accost me in quit the way this priest did. Apparently this man believes in the destructive power of sin. I felt like I was at the inquisition and it was wonderful. All too often, I go into the confessional and I get a priest who will tell me how what I think is a sin is not really all that sinful. This priest harangued me about the horrors of mortal sin and the path to which it led. It was frightening and exhilirating. I walked out of the confessional with a sense that I had actually participated in a Sacrament. More, the ordeal was such that any penance afterwards would be incredibly light. . . .

And on a lighter note . . .

  • Are you a Papist?, asks Amy Welborn, discussing the perjorative use of the term. One reader answers:

    You MIND? You DO? Why on earth? The badge of distinction of the Roman Catholic Church is that we recognize that the Petrine Authority lives and continues in the line of the Bishops of Rome.

    We are Papists, Papists, Papists; we are, indeed. “Christian” also originated as a term of abuse. So what? We are Christians, too! And we acknowledge the jurisdicition of the Pope, we are his flock. We are Papists, doggone it!

    Another says:

    “Papist is a term which has outlived its history; its origins are in the late 16th century, it lived throught the 16th, the 17th, and the 18th century, and still had emotional force in the 19th . . . but I think by the 20th few could use it unselfconsciously any more. By now I think it is mostly a joke as an insult and has its best use as an affirmation.

    What do you think?

  • New York Times Calling . . . – Barbara Nicolosi (Church of the Masses) provides a “somewhat paraphrased and somewhat literal” transcription of phone interviews with a Times‘ reporter concocting an investigative report about the funneling of money from evangelical Republicans in DC to conservative Christians in Hollywood. Hilarious!
  • The Society of St. Pius I” “To be any more Trad, you’d have to be Jewish”:

    nlike other wimpy neotraditionalist groups who attach themselves to various other Piuses, we at the SSPI make absolutely ZERO compromises with modernism. We reject not just one, but BOTH “Novus Ordos”—the Novus Ordo of 1970 promulgated by Paul VI, and the Latin Vulgate Mass of 400 A.D. promulgated by Innocent I and Pope Gregory I, which we call the “Vulgar Mass” . . .
  • The Curt Jester does it again:

    You’ve have heard such songs a “Gather Us In” by Marty Haugen and “Blest Are They” by David Haas that are so sickly sweet that you were sure you gained a couple of pounds listening to them in your church. So sweet that you wish they were a flavor of ice cream. Well wish no more . . .
  • From the Weight of Glory blog, a theatrical trailer for a new film:

    Now available: the movie trailer for this summer’s most anticipated film, Lord of the Thing (formerly called Mordor in the Cathedral). It’s a movie in which Middle Earth meets the twenty-first century Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

    The premise of the film? When I first visited the Cathedral in Los Angeles in the fall of 2003, I was struck by how the art design looked like something from Peter Jackson’s Mordor… the angels look like Nazgol, the writhing figures under the altar look like Gollum, the stark towering angles of the Cathedral remind one of the unholy city . . .

  • Amazon review for Mortimer J. Adler’s How to Read a Book by C. Akre “Computer Professional”:

    Now, living in a digital age, I’ve never needed to read a book, since all useful knowledge is available in DVD or Playstation formats. But I’ve always wanted to try a book, and so I ordered this product with the expectation that it would provide the necessary instruction. This could not have been farther from the truth. When the package arrived, it was a flat rectangular thing about the density of light pine. It did not ship with instructions, so I proceeded to try to discern the proper method of operation. There was no obvious power switch, no place to insert batteries, no AC power adapter, nothing. It was obviously on, since it was displaying an image on top, so I assumed it used solar power. The device must have crashed, since the display was frozen, and I could not find the reset switch.

    Since it was broken, I decided to open it up see if any components had come loose from their sockets during shipping. It opened extremely easily with a screwdriver inserted into the side, and a small amount of vertical force applied. Inside was a system of type I had never seen before. Thin white flexible PCBs with the source code imprinted directly on the boards! This was easier than I expected, the process did not require any kind of debugger or data reader to gain access to the source. I didn’t not recognize the software language the source was written in, perhaps it was some hybrid language, with the verbosity of Java and the relaxed grammar of Perl. I Googled some code samples, but was unable to find a compiler. At this point I gave up, I never called Amazon for an RMA number as I’m sure I voided the warranty by disassembling it, but I did get some nice digital pics of the interior for my website.


Pope Benedict and Father Leon Dehon

This past week we learn that Pope Benedict XVI was acclaimed by The Jewish Week by his decision to halt the “fast track beatification” of French priest Father Leon Dehon (1843-1925) due to allegations of anti-semitism, prompting a formal inquiry by the Church (Important Gesture by Pope Benedict, by James D. Besser. The Jewish Week June 17, 2005).

The beatification of Fr. Dehon by Pope John Paul II was scheduled on April 24, 2005 during the Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter’s Square. Jews took the Holy Father’s move as a sign of his sensitivity to important issues in Jewish-Christian relations and that he would carry on his predecessor’s commitment to fostering good relations between the Church and the Jewish people:

“This is exceedingly important,” Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, interfaith director for the Anti-Defamation League, told The Jewish Week.

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor was part of a 25-member Jewish delegation who met with the new pope last week. “This gesture is much appreciated and bodes well for the future,” the rabbi said. . . .

Earlier this year, historians in France uncovered anti-Semitic writings by Father Dehon, who died in 1925, including his contention that Jews are “united in their hatred of Christ” and that the Talmud is a “manual for the bandit, the corrupter, the social destroyer.”

The hold on beatification — which was not a result of last week’s meeting with the Jewish delegation — also could point to a new Vatican sensitivity on other outstanding issues between the two communities, including the drive to elevate Pope Pius XII, the Holocaust-era pontiff, to sainthood.

“If this means they would consider slowing down the process on Pius XII until all the records are made available and analyzed, that would be a very good thing,” Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said. “That is an issue we have raised repeatedly. We will have more opportunities to raise it again when we are there in September and October.”

Further discussion can be found, of course, at Amy Welborn’s blog (“Second Thoughts” June 10, 2005), where the commentators appear divided regarding the decision, with some proposing that the priest’s sentiments should be taken in light of the historical context, especially given the fact that past Christian saints have also expressed claims about the Jews that could be judged anti-semitic in content.

Others question the basic prudency of beatifying any Catholic who expresses anti-Jewish opinions following the Holocaust, especially since, in the rise of anti-semitic incidents in Europe and worldwide, they may be fuel for misinterpretation and confusion regarding the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people. Sandra Meisel muses:

The newspaper account says that this cause had been closed on account of the candidate’s anti-Semitism in 1952. His attitudes were well known in France. So who saw fit to revive the cause and why? To catch the rising wave of European anti-Semitism? And why would the late Pope approve this, given his warm feelings toward Jews? Was information witheld?

Yes, we’d had anti-Semitic saints in the past, including St. Louis IX and St. John Capistrano. One would think this would be an easy call, post-Holocaust, but the Church recently ignored anti-Semitic elements in Anna Catharina Emmerich — who made the blood libel — and beatified her. We should be most grateful that this cause was stopped in time.

I don’t see how one can impute deceptive motives on the part of Dehon’s supporters in making their case for beatification. After reading about his life and vocation on the website of The Priests of the Sacred Heart, you see there is much one can admire: his devotion to Christ in prayer and veneration of the Eucharist, his solidarity with the poor and working class, his recognition of the “inalienable dignity” of every human being by virtue of their God-given soul (“whether in the body of a worker at the bottom of a dark coal mine, or in the body of a well-fed financier living in the lap of luxury”).

According to the SCJ’s vocation website, there are approximately “130 SCJ priests and brothers living and working within the United States [and] about 2300 SCJ priests and brothers world-wide,” seeking to be “prophets of love and servants of reconciliation” in carrying out a variety of ministries in the world (including, for example, a ministry to the Native Americans from South Dakota to Wisconsin, Mississippi, Illinois, Florida and Texas).

In their defense, it is completely understandable that they would harbor a particular affection for the life and vision of their founder, and wish to see him recognized as a saint. Pope John Paul II also recognized the worth of their charism in his address to the Priests of he Sacred Heart of Jesus (Dehonian Fathers) on June 10, 2003:

This year is the 125th anniversary of religious life of Venerable Léon Dehon. You have wished to commemorate it with a special Dehonian Year that ends on 28 June, the day when you will be commemorating his first religious profession. He himself recognized it as the day on which your Congregation came into being. I hope that this will be an incentive to you to go back to your origins with that “creative fidelity” (cf., Vita Conscrata, n. 37) which will keep intact your charism, distinguished by constant contemplation of the Heart of Christ, conscious participation in his reparative sacrifice and zealous dedication to spreading the Kingdom of the Lord in souls and in society, since it is precisely the rejection of God’s love which is the root cause of the evils in the world (cf. Constitutions, n. 4).

However, one must recognize the fact that whatever qualities are good and worthy of admiration in Fr. Dehon, his perception of the Jews in those statements attribute to him are indeed hateful and indefensible, justly meriting condemnation by the Church. And for that reason I concur with those questioning the prudency of such a beatification and the consequent decision of the Holy Father in calling for a formal investigation of the matter. To quote Lee Podles (on Amy’s blog):

The poison of anti-Semitism has to be purged from the Church. The beatification of a recent figure who made such anti-Semitic statements would hinder this necessary purification. Can you imagine the legitimate furor if a German Pope canonized an anti-Semite, making excuses for the remarks?

* * *

According to the same article in the Jewish Week, the meeting of the Jewish delegation and Pope Benedict led some participants to speculate on the prospects of a more theologically-oriented dialogue between Jews and Christians:

“He’s a different person,” [director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism Mark] Pelavin said of Pope Benedict. “He’s a theologian by training and practice. That will color the dialogue. I think it will be more theological in nature. There will be a greater exploration of the idea of the Jews’ covenant with God, and how that relates to Catholic covenantal thinking. Those are things that will have an impact not so much in the political arena but in the teachings the Church uses.”

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said the meeting suggested Catholic-Jewish relations are poised to jump to a new level.

“After 40 years, the time has come for us to engage in mature theological dialogue,” he said. “It’s time for us to recognize that we have very different ways of looking at texts; basic concepts like covenant and mission mean different things. This meeting signaled that it’s time to start unpacking those issues. We have to learn to celebrate our differences, not try to sweep them away.”

Several participants commented on Pope Benedict’s demeanor at the meeting.

“At the beginning he seemed as taciturn and as sharp in his bearing as I would have expected,” said one. “But as soon as we were finished with the formalities and he stepped down to greet each of us individually, the warmth and kindness were unmistakable.”

Related Links:

Pope Benedict XVI Roundup!

  • The usual line of criticism is that it’s The Church that’s preoccupied with sex, or “the pelvic issues.” Not so, according to John Allen Jr.:

    Earlier this week, headlines in the American press reported that Pope Benedict XVI had attacked gay marriage. Though the statement fell into the “Dog Bites Man” category of utterly predictable news, it nevertheless illustrates how any pronouncement by an official of the Catholic church on a sexual topic will draw attention.

    One point perhaps worth noting: In his 48,978 words of teaching as of June 9, Benedict XVI had used the word “sex” exactly once, while the word “Africa,” mostly in the context of an appeal for attention to the problems of Africa, appeared 11 times. It’s no mystery which has been given greater prominence in the international press. . . .

    From the news coverage, one could get the impression that Pope Benedict’s statement was primarily “about” gay marriage, since that’s all that was quoted. In fact, the line above was one sentence in a 3,000-word speech delivered at a convention on the family for the diocese of Rome. The broader theme was the Christian concept of the family.

  • At audience, pope speaks on mobile phone, dons fire chief’s helmet, by Cindy Wooden. (Catholic News Service June 15, 2005):

    A middle-aged man in a wheelchair, who was among dozens of people led up to the pope at the end of the audience, handed Pope Benedict a mobile phone and asked him to talk. The pope did so. . . .

    [Italian News Agency] ANSA later interviewed the cell phone owner, Emilio Testa, and the 44-year-old nun with cancer, Sister Maria Cristina, a member of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist in Angri, Italy.

    “When I heard his voice I could not believe it was Pope Ratzinger,” the nun said. “I thought it was a dream, but instead it was real.

    “He asked me how I was, he told me to stay calm and that he would pray for me,” she said. “The most surprising thing was that he remembered my name. He kept calling me Sister Maria Cristina, almost like we already knew each other.”

    Testa told ANSA: “I knew how badly Sister Maria Cristina wanted to see the pope, but her health would not permit it. So when I saw the pontiff, I did not think twice. I got close, kissed his hand and, without pausing, asked him to pray for Sister Maria Cristina and perhaps say hello to her on the phone.

    “The pontiff immediately said ‘yes,’ took my cell phone and, smiling, began to speak to her,” Testa said.

    “When it was all over, I started bawling like a baby. I realized that something extraordinary had just happened,” he said. “I was happy because I knew that with that call Sister Maria Cristina’s heart filled with joy.”

  • In Search of Freedom; Against Reason Fallen Ill and Religion Abused, on the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy. It was initially published in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and was translated from the German by Jeffrey Craig Miller. Logos Vol. 4, Issue 2 (Spring 2005). The Holy Father addresses on a number of pertinent issues: “the breakdown of the sustaining power of law” and the rise of terrorism (“in order that force in the defense of law and right shall not be itself do wrong, it must subject itself to stringent measures. It must pay heed to the causes of terror, which so often has its source in standing injustice”); the relationship of Islam and the West (“what is it, the West? And what is Islam? Both are multi-layered worlds with great internal differences – worlds that, in many ways, also intersect. In this respect, the crude antithesis West-Islam, does not apply”), political order (“Christian belief – following in the way of Jesus – has negated the idea of political theocracy. It has – to express it in modern terms – produced the worldliness of states, wherein Christians along with the adherents of other convictions live together in peace”). As usual, a very provocative essay and one worth discussing at length. I’ll probably return to it in a later post but wanted to note it for the benefit of my readers.
  • Benedict XVI less conservative, more pastoral than expected: New pontiff warms to papacy, by Ann Rodgers. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 13, 2005.
  • A friend noted recently in his email:

    Apropos of the compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in an interview in the April 2003 issue of 30 Giorni magazine, the then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said that in some circles “there is a certain opposition to any attempt to ‘crystallize’ a doctrine in words, in the name of flexibility.”

    “The post-conciliar catechetical movement accentuated the anthropological aspect of the question and believed that, if a catechism is too doctrinal, it would be an impediment to the necessary dialogue with the man of today,” the future Benedict XVI noted.

    “We are convinced of the contrary,” he said. “To dialogue well, it is necessary to know what we must talk about. It is necessary to know the essence of our faith. For this reason, today a catechism is more necessary than ever.”

    As a veteran fighter of the liberal catechetical establishment in Australia, to hear words like that are music to one’s ears. For so long the conventional wisdom here has been “Don’t teach the kids doctrine, but good Christian living”. Yeah, but orthopraxis proceeds from orthodoxy. How wonderful that the man who uttered the highlighted words is now the pope, and shared our concerns.

  • A new book by Cardinal Ratzinger entitled The Europe of Benedict: In the Crisis of Cultures was published this past week in Italy, according to Catholic World News (“Pope’s new book affirms Europe’s Christian roots” June 22, 2005). The book was introduced in Rome on June 21, at a press conference chaired by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar for the Rome diocese, who discussed the themes of the book:

    Cardinal Ruini, in introducing the book, told reporters that Pope discussed “the fundamental points of European culture in relation to Christianity,” adding that the faith remains a dominant formative influence on European society.

    The ties between Europe and the faith, the cardinal continued, “today are at risk of being broken, not by accident” but through the influence of an aggressive secularism. Cardinal Ruini spoke of an ideology which believes that “God does not exist, or at least doees not have to be accepted, and thus no reference to Him can be made in public life.”

    The Italian prelate added that in the book, Pope Benedict/Cardinal Ratzinger appeals to lay Catholics to combat the spread of that ideology, and to “orient their lives as if God exists.

    The three speeches contained in the Pope’s new book are “What it Means to Believe,” delivered in 1992 at Bassano del Grappa, Italy; a talk on “The Right to Life in Europe,” delivered at a pro-life conference in 1997; and a speech on “The Crisis of Cultures,” delivered on April 1 of this year– the eve of the death of Pope John Paul II at Subiacco, where St. Benedict founded his first monastery in the 6th century, as Cardinal Ratzinger received the “St. Benedict for Europe” prize.

    Catholic News reports that “shortly after his election, the Pope assigned all the rights to his works to the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana” — I’m curious as to how this affects the Pope’s relationship with Ignatius Press, which was the authorized translator / publisher of the Holy Father’s books in English?

  • On the subject of books, Zenit News Service interviewed Ave Maria University’s Father Matthew Lamb, discussing Joseph Ratzinger’s “Primer on Ecclesiology”: Called to CommunionPart I ; Part 2. June 23/24, 2005.
  • Finally, for all the clubbers out there, Jamie McMorrin gives us Pope Benedict XVI: The Dance Mix – “a re-mix of the announcement from that glorious day when our Holy Father ascended the throne of Peter.” =)

Archbishop Levada.

(Via Carl Olson at Insight Scoop) — An American assumes Benedict’s previous post in the Vatican, by John Mallon. Inside the Vatican . According to Mallon, “No one we talked to wanted to go on record [about Benedict’s selection of Levada], but speculation all ran along similar lines”:

Levada is certainly academically qualified for the post and is familiar with the workings of the Congregation, having worked there from 1976 to 1982 under both Cardinal Franjo Seper and then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

Some of the speculation goes that Benedict wants to retain strict oversight of his former office, and his past friendship with Levada will help him do that.

To some it is puzzling that an American would be chosen for such an important post, but perhaps that’s the logic of it. The United States is certainly a trouble spot when it comes to matters of doctrine. Many Americans, conditioned by American democracy, have difficulty accepting Church teaching when they (mistakenly) believe it will impinge on their personal liberties.

As an American, Levada may be just the man for understanding and communicating the issues to uncomprehending Americans and theology professors.

Further speculation: Why Levada? – post and commentary on Amy Welborn’s blog, from the bitterly disappointed and the cynical to those who would simply trust in Benedict’s decision and “wait and see what happens” with occasional insights into Levada’s views on various theological topics.

In the News

By Levada

On "The Preferential Option for the Poor"

Catholics who are the least bit aquainted with the social doctrine of the Church have encountered the term “preferential option for the poor.” According to Charles Curran, the phrase has its origins in the “liberation theology” espoused by radical Catholic theologians in Latin America (excerpt from Catholic Social Teaching Georgetown UP, 2002).

In an article for the U.S. Catholic (Why the preferential option for the poor is not optional, November 1997), Jack Jezreel chronicles the use of the phrase from a 1979 pastoral document by the Latin American Bishops, to the 1986 statement “Economic Justice for All”, revisited in 1994’s “Communities of Salt and Light”, as well as pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

[Update 6/19/05 — According to one reader, the phrase “first appeared in official episcopal documents in the SECOND Latin American Episcopal Conference, that of Medellin, in 1968 — the Liberation Theology movement in many ways grew out of this meeting. It is in the last pages of the Medellin documents, under the heading “Preferencia y Solidaridad”.” Thanks!]

Pope John Paul II spoke of this preferential option on many occasions, preferring the term “preferential love for the poor” — the website The Social Agenda, a collection of Magisterial texts compiled by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, from which we offer two excerpts that convey a sense of this “preferential option”:

It will not be superfluous therefore to reexamine and further clarify in this light the characteristic themes and guidelines dealt with by the Magisterium in the recent years. Here I would like to indicate one of them: the preferential option or love of preference for the poor. This is an option, a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning our ownership and the use of goods. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 42)

In seeking to promote human dignity, the Church shows a preferential love of the poor and voiceless, because the Lord has identified himself with them in special way (cf. Mt 25:40). This love excludes no one, but simply embodies a priority of service to which the whole Christian tradition bears witness. This love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, those without hope of a better future. (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 34)

It should not suprise us that the phrase itself is subject to a wide variety of interpretations, often reflecting the political and spiritual orientation of the individual.

For instance, operating in the spirit of St. Francis, the Catholic Worker movement advocates the adoption of voluntary poverty. According to the Catholic Worker “Manifesto” Aims and Means:

“The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge and belief in love.” (Dorothy Day) By embracing voluntary poverty, that is, by casting our lot freely with those whose impoverishment is not a choice, we would ask for the grace to abandon ourselves to the love of God. It would put us on the path to incarnate the Church’s “preferential option for the poor.”

In his thoughtful post Blessed Are They The Poor in Spirit: A Catholic View of Economics (Cooperatores Veritatis June 7, 2003) Greg Mockeridge contends that the “preferential option” entails the necessary inclusion of those in need, helping the poor to better themselves, to improve their economic conditions by putting their creativity to use in the workplace and becoming financially self-sufficient:

The genius in the cultivation of resources and economic success finds its fulfillment in the preferential option for the poor. A society whose economic activity is exclusive to anyone because of race or social class cannot truthfully claim economic prosperity despite superficial appearances of it. In ignoring the poor, society not only fails in its duty to help those in need, but also deprives itself of the beneficial contribution of ingenuity that is gained by those who, through their circumstances, have discovered ways to make astoundingly productive use from the most meager resources. Growing up in a large blue-collar family myself, I know first hand how to make abundances from the scantiest of means. This sort of ingenuity has been the hallmark of American economic prosperity. We have seen immigrants come to this country with nothing more than faith in God and gratitude for their freedom build economic empires. The preferential option for the poor is not a political play toy exploiting the needy by creating an unhealthy dependence on government programs nor is it “…exclusive or discriminatory toward other groups”, (Centesimus Annus n 57), but a recognition that the economic chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

In Reforming Our Attitudes (Religion & Liberty September / October 1995), Fr. Robert Sirico, President of the Acton Institute, discusses how we can practice Christian charity in ways which recognize the innate human dignity of the poor:

First, we can no longer believe that the call of compassion is satisfied by simply writing a check. The poor are asking for much more than our money. We must begin to make the more difficult sacrifices of our time, energy and talents. We must go to the poor where they live and enter into their poverty in order to help them rise above it. In our efforts to help those suffering the effects of poverty, dollars may be the least important consideration.

Another attitude that must change is our tendency to believe that as individuals we cannot make a meaningful contribution. When faced with a homeless person, the temptation is to think “What could I, with my limited experience and resources, do?” We therefore turn to simply giving money. We need to rethink this response and consider other ways we can contribute; perhaps volunteering at a private shelter, or maybe starting a shelter where there is none, or even having a conversation with a homeless person, as a person, and ask them what they truly need. This is the more radical approach because it requires that we listen to the poor and allow them to become part of the solution — not just the target of our pity.

A third attitude we must adopt is that we no longer view the poor as incapable. One of the most egregious faults of current government programs is the hidden assumption that the poor will always remain poor. While admitting that some people suffer from more than the effects of poverty which prevent them from becoming productive members of society, many of those receiving government assistance can contribute to the elevation of their standard of living. The poor themselves have to be a part of the solution to their own problems. Requiring some level of participation and responsibility on the part of individuals will offer the opportunity for more than dollars or a job, it will offer the opportunity for self-esteem.

Fr. Sirico’s approach strikes me as being suprisingly close to Dorothy Day’s — at least in spirit, if not in policy. Browse through her extensive writings and you’ll encounter a strong believer in personal responsibility and self-empowerment, highly critical of state-sanctioned welfare and handouts which leave the poor in a state of dependency.

Contrary to the Catholic Workers of today who indulge in either general dismissals or denunciations of “the neocons”, I believe Ms. Day would have the desire and the capacity to truly listen to somebody like Fr. Sirico, or Michael Novak for that matter. They may not see eye to eye on the merits of the free market, but it’s likely that they would have discovered common ground in an appreciation of the personalism and social thought of Pope John Paul II.* * *

In his pastoral letter A Time for Honesty, addressing the scandal of “pro-choice politicians” and the argument that “the Church has many social teachings and abortion is one of them,” Rev. John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark, took a moment to clarify the Church’s position on social teaching — given the nature of this post it seems fitting to close with his words:

The Church’s social teaching is a diverse and rich tradition of moral truths and biblical insights applied to the political, economic, and cultural aspects of our society. All Catholics should form and inform their conscience in accordance with these teachings. But reasonable Catholics can (and do) disagree about how to apply these teachings in various situations.

For example, our preferential option for the poor is a fundamental aspect of this teaching. But, there are legitimate disagreements about the best way or ways truly to help the poor in our society. No Catholic can legitimately say, “I do not care about the poor.” If he or she did so this person would not be objectively in communion with Christ and His Church. But, both those who propose welfare increases and those who propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy may in all sincerity believe that their way is the best method really to help the poor. This is a matter of prudential judgment made by those entrusted with the care of the common good. It is a matter of conscience in the proper sense.

Related Links & Resources

The online archives of The Acton Institute offer much food for thought on how we can engage in effective compassion and assist the poor and financially impoverished. Here are just a few:

  • In Human Capital and Poverty (Religion & Liberty January/February 1998), Gery Becker notes that “Human capital, e.g., the skills, education, and values of an individual, constitutes our most valuable and available resource for ameliorating poverty.”
  • In Effective Aid to the Poor, Dr. Digby Anderson, Director of the London-based Social Affairs Unit, addresses the two challenges which poverty-relief faces: Generosity and Efficiency:

    Giving away money is easy, provided you’ve got enough in the first place. But giving away money efficiently is very difficult. And that remains true whether the donor is the state, a voluntary association, or an individual. . . . The modern church rightly tells the rich to give to the poor. It presents the problem as one of lack of generosity. And so, in part, it is. But the church has little to say about how the poor are to be identified, how much each one should get, how to establish priorities among claims for charity, which forms of help are best, and how to avoid help becoming harm.
  • In Poverty, Virtue, and Grace (1996 Lord Acton Essay), Fr. Robert Johansen — yes, of the blog Thrown Back — draws upon the thought of Lord Acton, who “held the conviction, expressed by Christian thinkers throughout history, that poverty is not a merely material problem, but a moral and spiritual problem as well.”
  • John Paul II’s Use of the Term Neo-Liberalism in Ecclesia in America, by Michel Therrien. Based on a paper delivered at the Pontifical College Josephinum April 8, 2000.
  • Finally, Fr. Neuhaus illustrates the need for civil dialogue on such matters between Catholics in “Against Neoliberalism” (First Things 95 August/September 1999: 80-99.):

    The Zwicks’ essay is an extended polemic against neoconservatism, a.k.a. neoliberalism, a.k.a. capitalism. So, as might be expected, Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Father Robert Sirico come in for very unfavorable mention. The neoliberalism supported by this writer and his friends, say the editors, “mows down people who are in other countries through slave wages, international trade agreements and torture taught at the School of the Americas to ensure that ‘freedom’ prevails. It is very violent.” But the Zwicks go beyond the usual suspects. They write, “Another well–respected priest, Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J., defends slave wages as being better than no wages.” Fr. Dulles is not simply a well–respected priest, he is undoubtedly the most widely respected Catholic theologian in the United States (to whom, not incidently, Appointment in Rome is dedicated). And, if one really wanted to press the point, might one not be able to make the case that low wages, even very low wages, are better than no wages at all? But, in fact, what the Catholic Worker says is false.

    Fr. Dulles tells me that he remembers meeting the Zwicks at a meeting in Washington and, in private conversation, asked them what they thought of the argument of an acquaintance of his who does business in Latin America and claims that, although the wages he pays are low by North American standards, they are much higher than his workers could otherwise obtain. He says he does not recall how the Zwicks responded to his question, if they did. Since then, however, they have more than once published the claim that Fr. Dulles “defends slave wages” in Latin America. Such libel does nothing to enhance the legacy of Dorothy Day which the Catholic Worker supposedly champions.

    Surely, as reasonable Catholics, we can do better?

Update – A good follow-up discussion of this issue at the Catholic legal theory blog Mirror of Justice:

  • Mark Sargent asks How Elastic Is the Preferential Option for the Poor? (6/20/05)
  • MOJ colleague Rick Garnett counters inThe Prefential Option: A follow-up (6/21/05)
  • Another lively discussion by the Commentariat at Amy Welborn. (6/22/05)
  • A thought in progress @ Disputations:

    If poverty is an economic problem to be solved, then it’s not my problem; I can barely handle my own economic problems, much less help others with theirs. If it’s an economic debate, it’s not my debate.

    And if it’s an economic problem or debate, it’s not really the Church’s problem or debate, in any particular way. All the Church would have to do is remind everyone of the basic moral principles, then let the economists and policy makers go to town.

    But I don’t think that’s what the Church says. I don’t think she regards poverty as a problem to be solved so much as a sorrow to be joined in. . . .

    The Gospel is not an economic development plan. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or of drinking. Those of us who can speak of “the poor” rather than “we poor” must be in communion with those who can’t, to share the life of the Spirit with them. Not in a patronizing way, assuring them they’ll be just fine once they’re dead; but in the way Christians were once known for loving each other.

Here and There . . .

An irregular roundup of blogs, articles and commentary.

In Political Matters

  • “Every child born or unborn ought to be protected in law and welcomed in life.” Sound familiar? According to Stuart Buck the phrase — alternatively rendered as “welcomed in life and protected in law” — has been Bush’s mantra on abortion since his 2000 presidential campaign. However, the original source of the phrase happens to be from a 1996 Statement published in a distinguished ecumenical publication we all know and love. As Stuart concludes: “I had never noticed this connection before, and — as far as LEXIS and Google are concerned — neither has anyone else. Some would say that Bush has been using “code words.” But it is not a very successful use of code words, if only a handful of people in the entire country would know what Bush has been quoting.”
  • “Lo, the U.N. By What Name Do We Call Thee?” — Bruce Thornton on the “failed, useless, dubious, impotent, pernicious, morally exhausted” United Nations:

    Such global parliaments had been the stuff of numerous utopias over the years, a dream particularly attractive for those horrified by the nationalist-inspired carnage of modern warfare and enamored of the idea that humans could progress beyond war and violence, which were considered primitive vestiges of a less civilized world rather than eternal realities of human nature.

    But that dream is itself based on a questionable assumption: that rational negotiation, discussion, and appeals to self-interest and material benefits can trump force. In fact, rational discussion and negotiation work only when everybody at the table respects them, bargains in good faith, and sincerely desires peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, history teaches us that for those who respect only force and see it as an instrument for realizing their ambitions, or for those driven by irrational motives like fear or the lust for domination, such discussion, diplomacy, and negotiation will be mere tactics for furthering those strategic goals. Finally, negotiated settlements and resolutions are only as good as the credible threat of force backing them. Lacking that credible threat, and cursed with these false assumptions about human nature and the self-interested behavior of states, the U.N. could only degenerate into a politicized body in which every state sought to advance its own interests.

    The sorry history of the U.N. demonstrates precisely this truism. When it hasn’t been a cash-cow for venal international bureaucrats, a venue for the machinations of corrupt autocracies, an anti-Semitic and anti-American megaphone, or a tool for furthering the totalitarian designs of Communist nations, the U.N. has been good only for issuing high-minded resolutions that it can’t or won’t back up, all the while corrupt regimes pursue their oppressive ends. . . .

  • Last week, the Daily Demarche invited bloggers from the left and the right to pair up for cross-blog debates on “the future of global democracy and the role that the United States should play in the spread of democracy to oppressed or less developed nations.” Marc Schulman of American Future and Eric Marten of Total Information Awareness do just that. You can find the links to their debate — now in its fifth round — here.
  • On the Iraq War, Potential Future Wars, and the Probable Positions of the Popes Thereof – “Tales of the Mailbag” Dept., I. Shawn McElhinney corresponds with critic of the Iraq war. Here is a continuation of the same discussion. Shawn notes that the person with whom he is corresponding is a polite and principled individual — apparently a rare combination in the anti-war crowd.
  • “Fusion? or just Overlap?” – Someguy from Mystery Achievement reflects on the much-discussed article by Jody Bottum (The New Fusionism First Things 153 June/July 2005):

    The pro-life/anti-war squad needs to take seriously the possibility that there are times when they do not make clear the distinction–to themselves or others–between innocence and guilt, and consider the impact of the failure to make that distinction on life and family issues like abortion, gay marriage, and fetal stem cell research. As one who has lived in anti-war, anti-death penalty Europe for going on a decade-and-a-half now, I can tell you this: Where that distinction is lost, the result is not that all killing stops. The result is that, whether you’re talking about abortion clinics or Bosnia, only the killing of the guilty stops. Then, too, there may also be some correlation between the lack of belief in anything worth killing or dying for, and the lack of a will to produce a human future by having families. You know; something to which one is willing to pledge his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.

    The pro-war/pro-social engineering squad needs to ask itself whether some of its own goals and means of accomplishing them might not harm, rather than sustain, our ability and willingness to fight and defeat Islamofascism or any other outside threat. For example: Was the Lawrence vs. Texas decision worth the price of employing extra-national law to support it? Is it one we’ll pay for later (and dearly) if our sovereignty becomes so compromised that we can no longer defend ourselves without asking someone else’s permission (which we almost surely will not get)? And don’t condemnations of Islamists who enslave non-Muslims (as happens in Sudan and other parts of Africa) sound a little hollow coming from a source that endorses fetal stem cell research? Don’t both practices treat the human person as commodity and product; as an object to be used and disposed of?

    Someguy claims that Bottum’s editorial is of historical importance, being the first occasion that the editorial staff of First Things discover blogs. Or, rather, actually cited bloggers as sources of commentary. Not necessarily so — it seems that FT has recognized blogs/bloggers in its pages on several occasions, mostly in the context of Fr. Neuhaus’ column “The Public Square”:

    • disassociating himself from them in December 2002 (“Don’t get me wrong; I rather like the blogger insurgency. I quickly learned it can be addictive; going from link to link, you discover that you’ve wasted an hour or more on mildly entertaining ephemera. So I have a rule of giving the bloggers no more than fifteen minutes per day, which has the happy effect of cutting about the same amount of time from reading the Times“);
    • crediting “that notable blogger Mark Shea, who is concerned about what he calls the Lidless Eye Crowd on the rightmost fringes of Catholicism” in January 2003;
    • acknowledging the Anglican blog TitusOneNine as a source in February 2004,
    • and actually publishing an editorial by Brooklyn blogger Noah Millman in the very same issue


    The author of the Catholic blog Cries in the Night posts some good thoughts on Bottum’s essay as well, particularly his explanation why “faith-based initiatives are such a dangerous idea for the lives of welfare programs.” (And if that isn’t enough, there is, as always, Amy Welborn’s commmentariat).

On Religion . . .

  • Gerald Augustinus (“The Cafeteria is Closed”) has an interesting post on Hitler, Nietzsche and religion, responding to a commentator who alleges that Hitler was a devoted Christian. Apparently this is a popular contention among some critics of the faith. However, it is readily apparent that Hitler’s approach to Christianity was purely utilitarian — he being a master of propaganda and a sucker for a photo-op that would appeal to the masses. At the same time, perhaps it can be argued that he was more sincere in his vegetarianism than his “practice” of Christianity.
  • James V. Schall on Lumen Gentium and universalism – Dr. Blosser directs our attention to a provocative observation by Fr. Schall in the latest issue of Crisis on the question of salvation by “invincible ignorance.”
  • In the wake of his announcement that he is, at long last, becoming a papist, Fr. Kimel responds to the question Why not Eastern Orthodoxy?, regarding which he offers two criticisms: first, the inescapable “Easternness” of Orthodoxy, that is to say, “The coherence and power of Orthodoxy is partially achieved by excluding the Western tradition from its spiritual and theological life”; and secondly, “the absence of a final court of appeal in controversies of faith and morals.” Suffice to say there are plenty of responses from the commentariat (217 and counting . . .)
  • Edward Short has a good piece in the May 2005 issue of Crisis Magazine (back issue now online) on The Catholic Novels of Graham Greene, whose tales of disgruntled and lapsed Catholics, reflecting his own struggles of the faith, serve as a testimony in and of themselves:

    Suggesting that Greene can be read without reference to his Catholic faith is like suggesting that Surtees can be read without reference to fox hunting. Suggesting that his faith was bogus, or assumed to sell books, is simply untrue. Greene’s faith was central to his being. That he failed to adhere to certain Church teachings does not invalidate his recognition of the binding truth of those teachings or brand him a hypocrite. He saw his failings clearly enough and never tried to appear better than he was. If anything, like Swift, he delighted in appearing worse.

    In all events, in failing his faith, he blamed himself, not the Faith. In “A Visit to Morin,” one of his later short stories, a lapsed Catholic novelist declares:

    I can tell myself now that my lack of belief is a final proof that the Church is right and the faith is true. I had cut myself off for twenty years from grace and my belief withered as the priests said it would. I don’t believe in God and His Son and His angels and His saints, but I know the reason why I don’t believe and the reason is—the Church is true and what she taught me is true. For twenty years I have been without the sacraments and I can see the effect. The wafer must be more than wafer.

  • Neophilia, the hankering for the new, the devotion of the month disease apparent in the Church may, in some instances, be symptomatic of good old-fashioned sloth,” says Disputations. (And yes, one can only marvel at Chris Sullivan’s skill in turning this, of all topics, into an opportunity to direct criticism at “U.S. Catholics support theological novelties which coinicide with the Imperial Interest” — Is this a hobby of sorts?). See also the Thomistic musing “Whether neophilia is a daughter of sloth”.
  • John Heard, aka. DreadNought stands his ground:

    The usual suspects will assail my response, but I don’t care. It is far more noble to stick at something worthwhile, no matter how hard it might at first appear, than to give up and run away. Particularly when the thing in question is salvation and immortality. Perhaps, after all, God has made homosexuals to furnish a caste of hyper-saints, tested so sorely on earth that through prayer, grace and sheer determination, we come at last to heaven shriven by a lifetime of spiritual suffering met with loving submission. I’d prefer such a life, however extreme, to an arrogant and ultimately pessimistic rejection of Christ’s Church.

    What can one say but, AMEN.

  • “Feeding the Flock” – Nathan Nelson offers a stirring meditation on the Gospel reading (Matthew 9:36–10:8), the relationship of doctrine to the Catholic faith, and reflections on Dominus Iesus (published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger, in August 2000).

On a lighter note . . .

  • Lauren undertakes the excruciatingly painful and “Herculean” task of reading The DaVinci Code.
  • What is the Problem with Blogs? — Valerie Schmalz polls various members of “St. Blog’s Parish” in the conclusion of Ignatius Insight’s four-part series on the subject. (In case you missed it, here is Part One; Two and Three).
  • Sudoku Clarification – Eamon Fitzgerald provides some background on a logic-game that’s captured my interest as of late. It was introduced to me by a friend who plays it every morning. “Better than coffee,” she says. I’m not sure I’d make the same comparison, but it is enjoyable and — warning! — potentially addictive.
  • Did you know Franklin Herbert — most popular for his SF novel/series Dune — wrote a novel loosely-based on the philosophy of Martin Heideggar, of all people? It’s called The Santaroga Barrier. The Heideggerian philosophy blog Enowning relays the story and a brief critical review. For those who aren’t amused and/or impressed by Herbert’s literary exercise, try browsing a copy of Heidegger’s 1927 Sein und Zeit [“Being and Time”] next time you’re at a bookstore, and imagine rendering it as fiction.
  • Francis Beckwith @ Right Reason:

    What if it turned out that the guards at Gitmo did in fact flush a Koran down the toilet, but that they did so because they received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to photograph the “event” and display it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City under the title “Flush Koran.” It would not be unlike what happened in the late 1990s when NEA recipient Andres Serrano offered to us for public display the now infamous “Piss Christ,” a crucifix upside down in a jar of urine. Liberals, as you recall, decried the “intolerant” Christians for asking the government not to fund this “art.” (These Christians did not ask that the law obstruct Mr. Serrano’s freedom of expression; all they wanted was for him to pay for it on his own dime, not their’s). In any event, if “Piss Christ” is art, so is “Flush Koran.”

Have You Thanked a Catholic Apologist Today?

Four hours with a Master Catholic Apologist – Teófilo (Theophilus) @ Vivificat writes of his encounter with Dave Armstrong (of the website Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, a treasury of Catholic links and information, and a prolific writer of Catholic apologetics) in Detroit:

It is easy to form opinions of people from what one reads on-line. Many times, literary personalities are quite different from one’s live persona. That has happened to me, and as a matter of personal policy, I myself try not to fall into the same error.

This is an error many fall into when it comes to Dave, since he rises to any challenges against the Catholic faith coming his way. He’s exhaustive, punctilious and for most of his adversaries, quite aggravating. He’s the Catholic that no one can seem to shut up, and this grates on the nerves of anti-Catholic controversialists, whether of the scholarly kind, or of demagogues, bigots, and sophists. Dave will perform a real analysis of their postulates, atomize their arguments into individual thought components, and judge every single one individually on its merits, and also within their literary context. Anti-Catholics lose patience very quickly under this kind of scrutiny; many of them escape it by attacking Dave personally.

Yet the man is completely unassuming, a simple soul, living simply with no pretensions at anything. I would say that his is a monastic life of work, prayer, and vast amounts of writing. . . .

Some people are inclined to dismiss Catholic apologetics as a divisive venture, one to be subordinated to the call of Christian unity as we bask in the warm fuzzies of post-Vatican II ecumenicism. Unfortunately, the hard truth is that while some good Protestants are involved in ecumenical dialogue with his Catholic neighbor, there are others who are engaged in fierce opposition with the Church, bitter opponents who would like nothing better than to see a soul forsake the Catholic faith. (Those who are curious need only turn to Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism for an introduction).

In an Envoy profile of “The Catholic Answers Man”, Karl Keating notes that we live in a time where many Catholics do not benefit from a Catholic education, and where even those that do are insufficiently taught. “If people were getting all the answers they needed from the pulpit, there would be no need for a lay organization such as Catholic Answers.” In the event that they find themselves facing Protestants or non-Christians in conversation on issues of Catholic doctrine, Catholics all-too-often find themselves woefully unprepared.

It is in responding to Protestant apologists and anti-Catholic “ministries” that these Catholic apologists, many of them converts themselves, are of benefit — people like Dave Armstrong, Mark Shea, Peter Vere, Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, James Akin, Patrick Madrid, Art Sippo, the people behind websites like Catholic Answers and Envoy. They perform a necessary witness, and one greatly underappreciated. It’s not easy writing an article, much less a book — and I can only admire their patience and dedication they put into their work.

So, I will take this momen tin joining Teófilo in expressing my thanks for Dave Armstrong and the many other Catholic Apologists who serve Christ and His Church, online and in print.