Month: February 2006

IHS Press, Potential Fascist & Antisemitic Connections, Etc.: A Chronicle of Disturbing Patterns

I usually am not inclined to blog on this kind of topic, but having conducted several weeks’ investigation into this matter I believe the questions raised by fellow Catholic Matthew Anger (Fringe Watch) are credible, and that this issue, disturbing as it is, should be brought to the greater attention of the public. Please note that as any more information pertaining to this issue becomes available this post may be updated in the future — Thanks, CB].

In September 2001, John Sharpe and Derek Holland founded IHS Press, its stated mission “to bring back into print the classics of last century on the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church” — which the publishers hope will be “a welcome and refreshing change for any socially-conscious reader who, in a search for a humane solution to modern social problems, is looking for a break from worn-out theories.”

In December 2005, IHS Press, under the imprint “Light and Darkness,” published the two-part anthology Neo-Conned and Neo-Conned Again. Featuring “20 months of extensive research” and the contributions of a broad range of authors (a “who’s who” of those who opposed the Iraq war), including “paleoconservative” Pat Buchanan (The American Conservative), Joseph Sobran, Deacon Keith Fournier (former editor of TCRNews.com), Paul Likoudis (The Wanderer), William T. Cavanaugh, Ph.D. (author of Torture and Eucharist), Scott Ritter (former chief UN weapons inspector for UNSCOM), journalist Robert Fisk, Professor Noam Chomsky, Justin Raimondo (antiwar.com), Mark & Louise Zwick (Houston Catholic Worker) and E. Michael Jones (Culture Wars) — with endorsements by everyone from Dale Vree (New Oxford Review) to Howard Zinn (historian, Boston University) to Bishop Williamson (SSPX). . . . in the publisher’s words, “a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred examination of the immorality, the injustice, the illegality, and the insanity of America’s aggression against Iraq.”

* * *

In December 2005, Matthew Anger (who some might recognize as a frequent contributor to the Seattle Catholic) launched a blog called Fringe Watch, its primary aim “a study on the Third Positionist neo-fascist infiltration of conservative/traditional Catholic circles,” but extending its investigation into such controversial figures as Bishop Williamson (SSPX), Fr. Leonard Feeney (1897-1978) . . . and IHS Press founders John Sharpe and Derek Holland. The relevant posts from his blog are as follows:

Readers curious in making the connections can read the relevant posts; but to summarize Anger’s investigation: IHS Press founder John Sharpe, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, former submarine officer and media spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet, has ties to Legion of St. Louis, a traditionalist website which peddles anti-semitic/anti-Judaic literature such as Henry Ford’s International Jew, A.K. Chesterton’s The New Unhappy Lords (what Anger describes as “the Mein Kampf of British neo-fascism by A. K. Chesterton, founder the racialist National Front“) and Judaism’s Strange Gods by Holocaust-revisionist and “white-separatist” Michael Hoffman II.

It also appears that the co-founder of IHS Press is none other than Derek Holland (presently going by the name of Deric O’Huallachain), a former International Third Position (ITP) leader with a sympathy for anti-American Arab governments, having traveled to Libya in 1988 (a field trip organized by Ayran Nations Australia leader Robert Pash).

According to Wikipedia’s biography:

Holland’s last public appearance was at a Swedish nationalist convention in 2002 (hosted by Nationaldemokratisk Ungdom, the youth wing of the National Democrats). Since that time the ITP appears to have gravitated towards the European National Front, and Holland has retired from active involvement in politics, though his Political Soldier writings are still circulated amongst radical nationalists.

Holland has received considerable treatment in works on European extremist nationalism, including Fascism: A History by Roger Eatwell (1997) and Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (2002). Holland’s writings on the Political Soldier are also featured in Fascism: A Reader published by Oxford University Press (1995).

According to Matt Anger, Derek Holland now resides in Ireland and sits on the board of directors of IHS Press:

From the moment that IHS Press was established in 2001, people expressed concern, but were reassured (as was this writer) that Holland had put his extremism “behind him.” Apparently that didn’t stop him from being guest speaker at the February 2002 racial nationalist Nationaldemokratisk Ungdom (NDU) in Sweden. In March of that year the German neo-nazi Deutsche Stimme (German Voice) featured his essay, “Theory and Strategy: The Path of the Political Soldier.” An overnight transition from political radicalism to religious orthodoxy seems improbable. And his activities in Ireland have covered as recently as 2005 in the Brandsma Review.

Roberto Fiore, Holland’s close collaborator, was a member of the political wing of the Armed Revolutionary Nuclei which claimed responsibility for the 1980 Bologna bomb attack which claimed 85 lives. In 1997 Fiore came out of hiding in the UK to head the openly fascist Forza Nuova party in Italy.

What is the link to Neo-Conned? Fiore, as part of the ITP, helped set up the St. George Educational Trust which is the UK counterpart to, and collaborator with, Sharpe’s pseudo-Catholic Legion of St. Louis. [More on this later on — CB]

* * *

Having blogged previously on the disturbing presence of anti-semitism in “radical traditionalist” circles — Dubious Sources in Catholic Family News May 17, 2003; Anti-semitism: Another Obstacle to SSPX Reconciliation Against the Grain Dec. 28, 2003; Pope Benedict XVI, the SSPX and Impediments to Reunion Sept. 10, 2005 — I took an immediate interest in Matt Anger’s investigation. (And lest you suspect Anger of possessing “neocon” affinities like myself, do read his Anti-War Conservatives vs. Subversives: A Clarification Fringe Watch Jan. 20, 2005).

* * *

Where is all this heading? — Back in January I had touched on John Sharpe’s dubious connections in my introduction to Matt Anger’s blog. I was at the time greatly disturbed by these revelations concerning IHS Press, on account that various bloggers and websites I knew(TCRNews.com, for instance) were vigorously promoting the Neoconned series.

Likewise, I myself had promoted IHS Press on my website The Church and the Liberal Tradition (focusing on Catholic social doctrine and the debate between “Whig-Thomists” and “Augustianian Thomists”), and listed one of their books, Dr. Amintore Fanfani’s Catholicism, Protestantism, and Capitalism.

Others, however, were somewhat dismissive of Matt Angers’ investigation. One commentator protests:

. . . As for Sharpe’s views on “the Jews,” which I knew nothing of until reading Matt’s piece, that is separate. We at our end believe we can praise one work while deploring the rest. We do the same with First Things all the time, which we consider theologically very substantive though politically compromised (again, from our point of view; no offense intended to anyone here).

I responded in turn that this was a grave mistake: perhaps one can separate the content
from the source, “praising the work while deploring the source” — but in this case, I would be pressed to ask whether, under the present circumstances, it is right to further the financial gain of this kind of publisher without at least inquiring more closely about their political/ideological views?

Another friend urged me to write John Sharpe and IHS Press regarding these allegations, and I agreed it would be the best idea to confront them directly. On February 8, 2006, I emailed the publishers at IHS Press, by way of their own website as well as their Neoconned promotional page, inquiring about the present connections of John Sharpe to the Legion of St. Louis and IHS Press’ co-founder Derek Holland’s relationship to the International Third Position (as described in the article Faith-based fascists bridging the waters, Searchlight March 2004). (Recieiving no response, I wrote them again on Februrary 21st).

On February 21, 2006 I received the following response from IHS Press:

I write on behalf of IHS Press as the editor. You should contact the Legion of St. Louis for information on their status or activities. IHS Press is not connected to the Legion of St. Louis.

As an aside, as for the books you mention, I have not read Ford’s so could not comment on its quality one way or the other, but the Michael Hoffman book you refer to is an excellent and balanced treatment of an obviously difficult question. His treatment is not unlike the treatment of the question by orthodox Catholics of the 1800s and 1900s. No doubt you’ve read it, since you seem to take exception to it. On the off chance that you haven’t read it, I recommend you do so, both for the possibility that it will make a more favorable impression upon you than you seem to have of it currently, and for you to have your facts assembled if you do intend to further criticize it.

As for the ‘political affiliations and views’ of Mr. O’Huallachain, our co-editor and co-publisher, I suggest you provide some specific questions which I would be happy to forward to him. Regarding lectures or interviews he may have given, these are matters for him to discuss and are of no concern to the Press. We don’t make it our business to “authorize” or otherwise get involved in the private or non-IHS Press-related activities of our staff, provided of course that these activities do not contravene either Catholic doctrine and morality or the law, which I am quite certain — in this case — they do not.

We are greatful to hear of your promotion of Fanfai’s great book. We’d be pleased if that promotion could continue. If you enjoyed the editors’ introduction to that volume you might reflect upon it as an illustration of the orthodoxy of the Press’s editors. As an additional aside regarding whatever your questions might be about the editors’ ‘views or political affiliations,’ you may rest assured that our views are expressed in what we publish and, more specifically, what we have written as introductory material to what we publish.

We’d be happy to answer any further or more specific questions.

Mr. Sharpe and I corresponded further on the above topics, although his responses to my inquiries regarding the Legion of St. Louis and Derek Holland’s background were in large part the same and stuck to the above points. My observations are as follows:

John Sharpe and the Legion of St. Louis

Mr. Sharpe advises: “You should contact the Legion of St. Louis for information on their status or activities. IHS Press is not connected to the Legion of St. Louis.” (He reiterated this point in our subsequent correspondence). Now, while this is “factually” true (there is indeed, no formal connection between the two organizations), it remains the case that the founder of “The Legion of St. Louis” is none other than John Sharpe, as documented by the “founding email” of the organization, reproduced here on The LeFloch Report, and this article in the Dec. 13, 2002 edition of Seattle Catholic.

John Sharpe’s Commentary on 9/11

[Note: This particular section has been revised on 3/1/06 in light of additional documentation uncovered from MediaMonitors.net — CB]

Furthermore, as “editor of the Legion of St. Louis”, Mr. Sharpe authored a series of essays on 9/11 for conspiracy website MediaMonitors.net, in which he airs views that would be of concern to most Catholics. In the first essay, “Thou Shall Not Kill Sept. 17, 2001, Sharpe suggests that the United States pretty much brought 9/11 on itself. Citing the work of (suprise!) “the master of secret history, Michal A. Hoffman, II,” Sharpe muses that “there remains the possibility that that official story [of 9/11] will be a cover for something else, and that there are individuals who benefit from the results . . . who are other than the hypothetical crazy Arabs,” speculating in his second essay (The Mainstream Media Reaction to the Attacks: Who’s Pulling the Strings? Sept. 19, 2001) that the culprits may very well be “The Mossad or the U.S. Govt.”

In this third essay, Islam vs. the West: Is This Another Crusade? October 18, 2001, Sharpe charges that:

Commentary on the geopolitical situation of 2001 can be neither complete nor sufficient if it fails to take into account the Jewish Nation. The temporal power that the Jews have achieved since, picking a somewhat arbitrary date, 1789, is both pervasive and relatively unchallenged. Some readers will doubtless call this extremism, anti-Semitism, and, God-forbid, some strange brand of Nazi fanaticism. On the contrary. It is simply a fact. The forces of high finance, government, and the media have been in largely Jewish hands for some time now; we should therefore expect that the direction in which the world is guided by those forces (or at least in which those forces attempt to guide the world) largely corresponds to a generally Jewish aim.

Sharpe goes on to discuss the Catholic response to 9/11 from the Vatican (“little more than a nicely robed fan club for everything modern”) and Pope John Paul II (“of scandalous Koran-kissing fame”) — such references to the Holy Father are to be expected — before concluding:

1. The current and historical mortal enemy of Christian civilization is Judeo-Masonry. There can be no doubt about this fact from an analysis history, both recent, and that which dates from the time of Our Lord. Islam is a sideshow, albeit a powerful and vigorous one, to the main drama. It has been a tool of Jewry and may in fact be so in this case.

2. There is nothing to suggest that bin Laden, assuming he is the guilty party – or whoever is responsible for the attacks of 9-11 – considered the attacks to be an assault on the West, insofar as it is the uniquely Christian West. [. . .]

4. In truth, there is no longer a Christian West to attack. To suggest that the US of A is the last bastion of Christian civilization is a sad mockery of the truth. It has been a greater Israel for many years; the rise of Hollywood, Wall Street, the Fed, and Roosevelt’s State and Treasury departments assured that.

Part III of Sharpe’s 9/11 commentary ends with the anticipation that he “will try to pull together what is known about the “official story” and why it doesn’t wash. It will also consider just what role this ‘greater Judaism’ may have had in 9-11, particularly in light of the ideological gains which it continues to reap in the name of pluralism and tolerance.”

The Sept. 11, 2002 – “9/11 Anniversary Edition” of the LSL’s Legion News & Views [available here on the restored website of the LSL, or via the Google cache], again indulges in wild conspiracies about 9/11, recommending the conspiracy-theory websites The Abbé de Nantes” and http://www.whatreallyhappened.com — speculating (from the former) that Bin Laden is “the secret ally of the United States”; (from the latter), that the Zionists, again, were the true perpetrators of the crime.

John Sharpe’s endorsement of Judaism’s Strange Gods, by Michael Hoffman II

Mr. Sharpe recommends Michael Hoffman’s Judaism’s Strange Gods as an “excellent and balanced treatment of an obviously difficult question.” Who is Michael Hoffman II?

Michael Hoffman II is a conspiracy-theorist and Holocaust-revisionist, who heads the revisionist website Campaign for Radical Truth in History. He has authored a number of books such as Hate Whitey – The Cinema of Defamation (“tracking Hollywood’s psychological war against whites, Christians, Germans and gentiles”); Witches and Rabbis: Legacy of the Reagan White House (the chapter titles alone are a good indication of the content: “Reagan’s Kosher Cash Cow; Greatest Presidential Friend of the Israelis; Patron Saint of the Holohoax Lobby,” etc.); on revisionisthistory.org, he bemoans the fact that

“The white race –at least in its current degenerate state as manifested in modern America– is now the golem of the rabbis. Without the unstinting financial and military support of America’s white leaders and white voters, the Israeli Zionists would not have one-tenth their power in the world today. The supremacy of whites in America such as George W. Bush, Donald Rumsefeld, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, George Bush Sr., Justice Antonin Scalia, . . . is synonymous with the rise of Judaic supremacy. I repudiate white supremacy and Judaic supremacy with every ounce of my being.”

In subsequent correspondence with Mr. Sharpe I pointed out Michael Hoffmann II’s rather dubious connections and asked, whether in light of his other writings as a Holocaust revisionist, Hoffman’s Judaism’s Strange Gods could honestly be considered to offer a “excellent and balanced” exploration of Judaism. Mr. Sharpe responded:

I am not aware of the books of his that you say indulge “in the worst form of ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-esque conspiracy-theorizing”, whatever that means exactly. Notwithstanding your own point of view of Mr. Hoffman, his book on Judaism is balanced and enlightening. I suggest you read it before you comment on it one way or another.

Although Sharpe professes an ignorance of Hoffman’s other works, he has
freely cited Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare in his speculations on 9/11. Although he may not be aware of his other works, I admit I was greatly disturbed by his apparent lack of concern about Hoffman’s connections when I pointed these out to him.

Truth be told, I have not bothered to read Strange Gods of Judaism. While I am somewhat familiar with the selective-quotation from the Talmud by anti-semites (see the Anti-Defamation League’s The Talmud in Anti-Semetic Polemics February 2003, which addresses the spurious charges of Michael Hoffman II and white-supremacist David Duke), the fact that Michael Hoffman II is a celebrated author of, and heavily marketed by, white-nationalist, neo-nazi, “revisionist history” and “New World Order” conspiracy-theory organizations is enough to repel me.

With regards to learning about Judaism as a religious tradition, I have found Hayim Halevy Donin’s To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life (Basic Books, 1991) particularly helpful, along with Back To The Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts (Simon & Schuster, 1986); I suppose Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History wouldn’t hurt, either. And to understand Judaism from a Christian/Catholic perspective, one might read Roy H. Schoeman’s Salvation is From The Jews (Ignatius Press, 2004).

Point being: if you want to learn about contemporary Judaism, ask a Jew. Better yet, ask a religious orthodox Jew, not a conspiracy-theorist with a background in “white-separatism” and Holocaust-revisionism.

John Sharpe’s Lack of Concern about Derek Holland

That IHS Press’ founder should plead ignorance of and willful disregard for the past activities of Derek Holland is extremely troubling for this reason: according to Matthew Anger,

The [International Third Position] has long been involved in a scheme of Marxist style “entryism” – with the aim of co-opting groups which profess non-mainstream views (not extremist per se) in the hopes of bringing them under their neo-fascist umbrella. But a breakthrough came with the ITP’s St. George Educational Trust (SGET) set up in the early 90s as a “Catholic charity” organization (an investigation of the group by the UK Charity Commission took place in 1997).

But a breakthrough came with the ITP’s St. George Educational Trust (SGET) set up in the early 90s as a “Catholic charity” organization (an investigation of the group by the UK Charity Commission took place in 1997).

[For more on the investigation into the ‘St. George Educational Trust,’ see “Two ‘Catholic’ charities linked to Nazis, says report”, by Paul Kelso The Guardian Sept. 18, 2000, and “Charities told to sever link to far-right nationalists”, The Guardian May 21, 2001]

It has to be understood that within European “revolutionary nationalism” there are two trends: one, professedly neo-pagan and even anti-Christian; the other, espousing a selective religiosity (not unlike the Klan and “Christian Identity” racialists in the US). But when push comes to shove, all such extremists put aside personal differences to unite in their hatred of Jews, non-whites and the United States. It is the totalitarian tendency which trumps everything else.

The problem with Sharpe’s activities is not just a question of overlapping ideas, but of overlapping resources. A look at my library shows that the SGET, whose books are sold by the [Legion of St. Louis], has the same mailing address as the ITP’s Legion Books at Forest Place in Hampshire, England.

The SGET/LSL pamphlet Catholic Action: Uses, Abuses and Excuses is written by Derek Holland under the pen name of “Liam Connolly.” The article “Why Catholics Are Cowards” by Liam Connolly was published by the LSL and SGET in the booklet Faith and Fear. It first appeared in the Christmas 1998 issue of Candour, an anti-Semitic newsletter run by the ITP (now operating in the UK as “England First”).

In subsequent correspondence, John Sharpe reiterated his position that

IHS does not scrutinize the activities of its staff provided those don’t violate either the moral or the civil law, and, to repeat, Mr. O’Huallachain’s activities – whether or not you endorse them – don’t violate either. Therefore they are of no concern to IHS Press.

In light of the fact that 1) IHS Press co-founder Derek Holland/Deric O’Huallachain has a known history of involvement in British fascism, including the origination of the International Third Position; 2) Derek Holland’s comrade, Italian fascist Roberto Fiore, masterminded a plot in the 1990’s to fund “nationalist commmunes” in Spain through “Catholic charities” which purported to be merely thrift stores and distributors of traditional Catholic literature; 3) that, as late as 2002, Derek Holland had a speaking engagement to a convention of the German NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands) . . . then, in this writer’s humble opinion, it probably would be in Sharpe’s best interest to evaluate his background before entering into a joint publishing venture.

* * *

In the past several years, IHS Press has received recognition as a mainstream Catholic publisher. In September 11, 2003, Zenit News Service interviewed Mr. Sharpe on the founding of IHS Press and the revival of Catholic social doctrine (“As a complete sociopolitical creed the social doctrine really is a third way that isn’t just between the Left and Right — it rather transcends both Left and Right and rises above them with its own vision of social order”). They have received a fidelity rating of “excellent” by CatholicCulture.com; and in a November 2004 book review for the New Oxford Review, Thomas Storck commended their publication of Chesterton and Belloc, “their efforts to provide American readers with these foundational works cannot be praised too highly.”

In addition to its promotion of traditional Catholic works, IHS Press has, through its “Sheffield Hallam University Press” imprint , published several books on economic socialism, including study of the controversial publisher Alfred Richard Orage and Gary Taylor’s Socialism and Christianity: The Politics of the Church Socialist League — a study of late 19th, early 20th century Christian socialism in England which challenges the notion that “socialism is anti-Christian”.

Under its “Traditionalist Press” imprint, IHS Press also published the book The Rural Solution: Modern Catholic Voices on Going “Back to the Land”, an anthology which argues “why city-dwelling Catholics should settle and work in the country.” The authors of the text are listed as:

Richard Williamson is a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Peter Chojnowski is a teacher of religion, philosophy, and social thought at Immaculate Conception Academy. Christopher McCann is an associate of Angelus Press, a Catholic publisher of books about contemporary issues of the Catholic faith. John Marx was a professor of social science and economics at Catholic University of America. Willis Nutting was a frequent contributor to the Catholic journal Integrity.

Now, Bishop Williamson is more than “a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church,” being in fact excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in 1988, along with the other leaders of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) (see John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei Adflicta); Angelus Press is more than “a Catholic publisher” — being the inhouse publisher of the SSPX, and Peter Chojnowski currently teaches for the Society of Saint Pius X at Immaculate Conception Academy in Post Falls, ID.

I should also mention that Richard Williamson also has a history of extremist views that mirror those of Sharpe and Derek Holland (see The Politics of Bishop Richard Williamson Fringe Watch January 25, 2006).

While it appears that the publishers’ description of Williamson, Chojnowski and McCann could be construed as a willful attempt to conceal their controversial membership in the SSPX, one should also note that, according to Matt Anger, “whether one agrees with the SSPX or not, it is clear that Bishop Williamson has been an extremist and divisive force in Catholic tradition,” and that many within the SSPX remain severely critical of Richard Williamson’s relationship with Sharpe, Holland, and their involvement in neo-fascism.

Likewise, we should distinguish between those within the SSPX militantly opposed to Rome (like Williamson) and those who are not averse to entering into dialogue with Benedict XVI, with the goal of reconciliation.

IHS Press has also been vigorously marketing the Neo-Conned series, which received positive reviews by Dr. John Hubert TCRNews.com, Catholic “traditionalist” Michael Semin, and, curiously, a group called Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth (the latter reviewer has his own distinct criteria for determining the book’s quality: “I went back through the book counting the 9/11 references. According to my quick survey, Neoconned Again includes 14 references (in ten essays) that take the official story [of 9/11] for granted; ten that cast doubt upon it indirectly or through innuendo; and three clear statements that the official story of 9/11 is a lie”).

Over the past months, John Sharpe has also done promotional spots on left-wing radio (AntiWar.com’s “Weekend Interview”) and television (Dr Hesham Tillawi’s “Current Issues” interview no longer available online but Sharpe’s photo is posted). He will be presenting his work on Neo-Conned and Neo-Conned Again: Hypocrisy Lawlessness and the Rape of Iraq an an Arab/Islamic Center on March 31, 2006.

* * *

The publishers of the Neo-Conned volumes present themselves in a rather innocuous light:

J. Forrest Sharpe is the publisher and managing director of IHS Press. He is a student of Catholic Social Doctrine and the English Distributist movement. D. Liam O’Huallachain is the editorial director of IHS Press and is a student of Catholic Social Doctrine, the English Distributist Movement, and contemporary alternative political movements. Both have edited and annotated editions of works by 20th-century social thinkers such as G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Vincent McNabb, Fr. Heinrich Pesch, and Dr. George O’Brien.

But as we have seen in this post, there is more to D. Liam O’Huallachain’s study of “contemporary alternative political movements” than a cursory or academic interest.

At the time of this writing, it also appears that the domain name “http://www.legionofstlouis.com/” expired (on February 6, 2006 to be precise). Perhaps we may take this as a sign that Mr. Sharpe intends to abandon his earlier project and concentrate fully on the advancement of IHS Press. One may hope as much — but in light of Sharpe’s past editorship of the Legion of St. Louis, his co-founder’s questionable political activities (which continued even after the founding of IHS Press), and the many controversial connections unnearthed by Matthew Angers’ Fringe Watch investigations, serious questions and concerns remain.

Had Sharpe expressed the slightest bit of concern over Michael Hoffman II’s writing and views on Judaism, or Derek Holland’s ideological history as a Third Positionist; or admitted that he was indeed the founder of Legion of St. Louis, but had repudiated the opinions he was disseminating at the time as editor, I would have been inclined to let the matter rest and give IHS Press “the benefit of the doubt.”

But the fact that he immediately went on the defensive in his support for Michael Hoffman II’s Strange Gods of Judaism, his utter lack of concern for Derek Holland and his connection as founder of the Legion of St. Louis prompted the writing of this article.

Given their ideological background and connections, is it a good idea to lend one’s support to these publishers by way of promoting their books?

And what of the “neo-fascist infiltration of conservative/traditional Catholic circles”? — in addition to the left-wing and “paleoconservative” authors who penned works for the Neo-Conned volumes, there were also good Catholics who supported this project, either by contributing their work or lending their voice in endorsement.

Would they have done so as readily had they been fully aware of the ideological affiliations of its publishers?

Updates (1/28/06)

  • Matt Anger brings to my attention a third essay on 9/11, available on the website of the Legion of St. Louis, which claims that “Bin Laden’s call to attack the West lacks a supernatural geo-political perspective because it is concerned ONLY with defending the rights, albeit in some cases legitimate, of Muslim states. The media perspective is faulty because it equates the West with the Enlightenment, secularism, and materialism. And the analysis put forward by some Catholic parties is flawed not so much in itself as in what it leaves out of consideration – Judeo-Masonry.”
  • A Final Conflict NewsEmail dated March 20th, 2001, a nationalist “skinhead” Third Positionist publication, contains a note attributed to “info@legionofstlouis.com” (One observes as well a mutual interest in Michael Hoffman II (“a seminal piece which exposes Judaism’s dualistic Kabbalah/Talmud based faith . . . Judaism has NOTHING to do with Christianity or even the Old Testament — but is essentially occultist”), which of course begs the question: what is a Catholic organization doing fraternizing with this kind of movement?
  • The August 25, 2002 edition of Legion News & Views [Google cache] contains a review of an IHS Press book on Chesterton, confirming that that the organization was in existence and functioning at least a year after the founding of the publishing company. Matt Anger notes (Legion of St. Louis Website: Gone But Not Forgotten Fringe Watch Feb. 27, 2006):

    . . . the LSL site was in place in October 2001 and the IHS Press site went up no later than November of that same year, demonstrating that Mr. Sharpe was promoting supposedly Catholic publications via IHS at the same time that he was peddling anti-Semitism and neo-fascism with the LSL; and Derek Holland, veteran British neo-fascist, is a member of the IHS Press board of directors and was openly involved in extremist activities even after IHS Press was founded.

  • As of March 1, 2006, the Legion of St. Louis website appears to be “back in business,” the domain name renewed on March 1, 2005 — although the registrant’s identity is removed.
  • I. Shawn McElhinney (Rerum-Novarum) notes that “some who have been zealously promoting this series have sought to take a moral theology approach to justifying these books propagation amongst their readers” — he responds in On IHS Press, Potential Fascist Connections, Antisemitism, Etc. (Aka “Hand Caught in the Cookie Jar” Dept.).

  • In studying this topic I am also indepted to Bill Cork’s extensive investigation “Antisemitism and the Catholic Right, an investigation of Robert Sungenis.

The Danish Cartoon Protests: The Vatican Responds

This is part III of a three part roundup on the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Protests of February 2006. The first post is titled: “The Danish Cartoon Protests: Spontaneous Indignation or Orchestrated Hatred?”; the second post, “Clash of Civilizations”? – Reactions & Commentary

On February 5th, 2006, the Vatican — by way of an unsigned statement released by the Vatican press office — “condemned the publication of caricatures of Mohammed in the Western press, as well as the violent reaction of the Muslim world” (Zenit News Service). The statement, in full, reads as follows:

1. The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. This principle applies obviously for any religion.

2. In addition, coexistence calls for a climate of mutual respect to favor peace among men and nations. Moreover, these forms of exasperated criticism or derision of others manifest a lack of human sensitivity and may constitute in some cases an inadmissible provocation. A reading of history shows that wounds that exist in the life of peoples are not cured this way.

3. However, it must be said immediately that the offenses caused by an individual or an organ of the press cannot be imputed to the public institutions of the corresponding country, whose authorities might and should intervene eventually according to the principles of national legislation. Therefore, violent actions of protest are equally deplorable. Reaction in the face of offense cannot fail the true spirit of all religion. Real or verbal intolerance, no matter where it comes from, as action or reaction, is always a serious threat to peace.

Needless to say, reactions were . . . mixed.

  • UCLA Law professor Professor Bainbridge conveys his disappointment at the Vatican’s tepid response: “It reflects a cramped understanding of freedom of speech that seems to blame the victims more than those who commit violence.” Nor was Eugene Volokh and Jody Bottum impressed, the latter describing the statement as one “in which obtuseness seemed caught in a death struggle with inanity.”
  • On the other hand, Fr. Robert Araujo, SJ (Mirror of Justice) sees the Vatican’s statement an underlying concern for the Church at large (Cartoons and Violence: “Is that all, Folks?” Feb. 8, 2006):

    “[T]he need to remember that presently the Holy See has diplomatic relations with 174 countries in the world, including the US, members of the European Union, many Arab or Moslem countries, and others . . . One can argue the merits of diplomatic relations, but they are a fact of life. It is sometimes said that diplomats — like lawyers — do not receive high marks in the public’s estimation. Regardless of one’s take on diplomats, they often provide the last opportunity for using reasoned discourse rather than force to resolve the problems of the world.

    The fact that “clerics, men and women religious, and many laity have been physically targeted, sometimes with deadly force” in other parts of the world — as evidenced by the murder of Italian Catholic priest Andrea Santoro — may be the likely reason behind the Vatican’s conciliatory remarks. (On February 7 Reuters reported that “Turkish security forces arrested a high school student on Tuesday over the killing of an Italian Catholic priest . . . The student told police he was influenced by cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad, NTV commercial television said. The report could not be immediately confirmed.”)

  • However, I cannot help but be reminded of Fr. Neuhaus’ observation from two years ago (The Vatican vs. “Americanism” First Things 148, December 2004):

    In the background of that European attitude, and not very far in the background, hovers the fear of huge and restive Muslim populations in countries such as France and Germany. In a global conflict with an enemy motivated by Islamic fanaticism, these Europeans, and perhaps some in the Vatican as well, do not want to be perceived as being on the Christian side. To be sure, the Vatican has a singular responsibility to cultivate dialogue with Islam, but that dialogue will be neither credible nor fruitful if the Vatican is not clearly on the Christian side. That does not mean that in every instance the Vatican should be on the American side. A great deal of delicate diplomacy and careful thought is required. But this much is certain: in the new configuration of world power and influence, the United States is, on balance and considering the alternatives, on the Christian side.

    We should all understand why President Bush refuses to speak about a clash of civilizations or to describe our circumstance as one of religio-cultural warfare. But we should all know that that is what, in fact, it is. Or, as the report of the 9/11 Commission prefers, it is an ideological conflict inescapably tied to religion. It would be an exquisite irony of history if, when war is declared on the Christian West by those inspired by a possibly perverse but undeniably Islamic ideology, the Vatican refused to take sides; thus, willy-nilly, taking the other side. The Curia’s cosmopolitanism, sophistication, devotion to dialogue, and long-term perspective shaped by centuries of diplomacy can all be assets. They can also induce a blindness to the fact that an enemy has declared war and sides must be taken. The Europeans who run the Vatican are right in believing that the Vatican must not be a chaplain to American hegemony; a critical distance is required. When that distance becomes disdain, however, the credibility of the Church’s political guidance and the defense of our common civilization are gravely weakened.

The Danish Cartoon Protests: "Clash of Civilizations"? – Reactions & Commentary

This is part II of a three part roundup on the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Protests of February 2006. The first post is titled: “The Danish Cartoon Protests: Spontaneous Indignation or Orchestrated Hatred?”

Orchestrated or not, Muslim anger over the Jyllands-Posten cartoons provoked an internal debate among bloggers, pundits and journalists over a number of issues, including the treatment of religion by the media, the limitations of “free speech,” the character of Islam and Christianity,
the threat of dhimmitude and the spiritual welfare of Europe.

  • Symposium: The Clash to End All Clashes? Feb. 7, 2006. National Review Online asked some experts on Islam and/or the Mideast for their read on what’s going on and what can/should be done. The questions posed to each member: Is this a clash of civilizations we’re watching? What can be done? By Muslims? By everyone else? — Among those participating were a number of Muslims, including Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish Muslim writer based in Istanbul, Turkey (and blogging at The White Path) — pointing out that “if this reaction were not nationalist, but purely religious in nature, then it would also follow on the mocking of Jesus Christ and Moses. After all, the Koran regards these holy men as God’s chosen messengers.”

    Also joining in the discussion was Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (“It is not a “clash of civilizations” that is taking place. It is a clash between civilization and barbarism — which currently expresses itself most forcefully and lethally as Militant Islamism”); Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes (contending that “It certainly feels like a clash of civilizations. But it is not”) and Bat Ye’or, author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1996) and Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005), who counters:

    We have always been in a clash of civilizations. The fact that our European leaders choose to deny the reality is not an argument to dismiss what is so obvious to everyone. But having a clash of civilizations does not entail a global war of all against all. On the contrary, it imposes a need for a deeper dialogue — a type of dialogue that has been prevented by our leaders, busy to protect the virtual and sanitized image of Islam they tried to impose on Europeans for 30 years, through a culture of self-flagellation, self-guilt, obfuscations, denials, obsequiosity, anti-semitism and anti-Americanism: what we call politically correct and totalitarian language.

  • Jonah Goldberg argues that “this isn’t about cartoons”:

    We’re not talking about “religion.” We’re talking about a specific religion — Islam. Does anyone truly think that the burning of Danish embassies and calls for the “slaughter” of those responsible by Muslim protestors have really taught the BBC or the New York Times to be more polite to evangelical Christians or Orthodox Jews? Does anyone really think that Arabic newspapers — often state-owned — are going to stop recycling Nazi-era images of Jews as baby killers and hook-nosed conspirators because they’ve become enlightened to the notion that words can hurt? Considering that an Iranian newspaper just announced a contest for the best Holocaust cartoon, the odds seem slim. Besides, why belittle the Holocaust in response to something a Danish newspaper did?

  • “Religion of Peace” or Riots?, by George Neumayr. NRO February 6, 2006:

    Uproars over criticism of radical Islam almost always follow the same ironic trajectory. First, someone makes an observation about the violent character of Mohammed or Islam. Then what follows? Violent protests and rioting, which serve to illustrate and confirm vividly the criticism that occasioned them.

    Only radical Muslims would consider rioting a rational rebuttal to descriptions of Islam as violent. What other religious group riots or issues death threats after it is criticized? It is precisely because Christianity is so tame that Western liberals often feel safe to lampoon its history as violent. They wouldn’t dare level similarly harsh criticism of Islam.

  • Noting that Denmark is our ally in the war on terror, Redstate.com‘s Paul J. Cella characterized the defiance against the enemy; RedState colleague Erick dissents:

    As the State Department, I think rightly, said, we should respect the freedom of the press, but there must be responsibility in that freedom. These cartoons were drawn mockingly in a nation where ethnic tension between the native and Muslim has been growing. Perhaps we mature Christians are just use to the scorn and derision of secular society, but Muslims are not. And while I think their outrage has been disproportionate to the offense, at least they are willing to protest the mocking of their faith instead of being willing to accept the secular world’s constant peeing on their faith.

    Had it been Christ or the Virgin Mary instead of Muhammad, I guess we would also be supporting the Danish media against the protests of Christians.

  • Picking up from an earlier post (What’s at stake in the war with radical Islam Feb. 1, 2006), Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae) believes we are witnessing “that double standard again”:

    Say what you want about the emotions aroused by violation of religious sensibilities. Nobody would give Christians a free pass for doing such things, and Muslims shouldn’t be either. And some Muslims even say so. But almost to a person, Muslims really want it to be illegal, even in non-Muslim countries, to do things that so deeply offend Muslim sensibilities. From a moral standpoint, I could accept that if the same consideration were extended to every religion—even though such a law would arguably be unconstitutional in the United States. But of course such consideration isn’t extended equally to all religions, nor could it be. Muslims cannot be reasonably required to refrain from publishing anything deeply offensive to non-Muslim sensibilities; that would mean, among other things, forbidding them to publicly affirm some things in the Qu’ran. That would be persecution, which nobody wants. So how can non-Muslims reasonably be expected to refrain from publishing anything deeply offensive to Muslim sensibilities?

    There’s only one answer: the double standard arising from the natural Muslim belief that their religion is true and all others are inferior if not thoroughly false and contemptible. That is the double standard that must be resisted. Failure to resist it would be dhimmitude, which is morally unacceptable by humanist as well as Christian moral standards. That’s why I support Denmark and urge you to do the same.

  • Speaking of double-standards, Amy Welborn takes aim at the New York Press, responding to the news that the entire editorial staff of the alternative NYPress walked out and quit because the paper’s management refused to print The Cartoons:

    This is perhaps the most amazingly brazen moment of inconsistency we’ve seen yet in the press treatment of this material. The paper’s management doesn’t want to offend religious sensibilities? Really?

    How quickly they forget

  • Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus (First ThingsOn the Square) concurs that the root issue is dhimmitude:

    [T]he most frontal challenge imaginable has been put to the West. It is a challenge that may soon be backed up by a nuclear threat from Iran. The challenge is simply this: A very large sector of the Islamic world is now demanding that the West live by Islamic rules. . . .

    The current explosion of violent protest is to be understood as a demand that Denmark, and the West more generally, subject itself to Islamic rules about what can and cannot be published. The European response to date, unfortunately aided by pusillanimous comments by our State Department, is an instance of what Margaret Thatcher called “going wobbly.” Warnings by some that Europe is on the way to becoming “Eurabia” have gained further credibility.

    A free press is by no means an unmixed blessing, but it is an essential part of the democratic way of life that we cherish and, as a nation, intend to advance elsewhere. It could turn out to be the case that most of the Islamic world, under the control of those who hold political and religious power, ends up by rejecting the democratic way, which would be very sad. But there should not be the slightest hesitation on our part in making clear that we will not compromise our freedoms by submitting to their rules. Unfortunately, we are witnessing a great deal of timorous hesitation at present.

    Dhimmitude has been a concern of Fr. Neuhaus for some time now — in 1997 he spoke of “The Approaching Century of Religion” (reviewing Bat Ye’Or’s classic work The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude), and in the following year defended Ye’Or’s work against the critics from CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) in “Islamic Encounters” (First Things 80, February 1998).

  • Multiculturalism vs. Liberalism. Ohio University professor Scott Carson (An Examined Life) on “the intellectual fascists of our time”:

    I think it’s important to remember that for every weirdo throwing a Molotov cocktail there are many thousands of devout Muslims who would never dream of acting violently towards even the worst of sinners. Islam, like Christianity, worships the God of Mercy and Compassion. The violent folks are not acting qua Muslim when they act violently. There are Christians who sometimes act that way too, though you don’t hear about them very often, and they are not acting qua Christian when they act that way, either. These people are not religious fanatics, they are simply fanatics.

    For people like that, democracy is actually a Bad Thing, since it tolerates dissident views. In this sense these fanatics are no different from the Communists or the Fascists, for whom the elimination of opposing views by whatever means necessary is licit if done in service to The Cause. . . .

  • For Mark Shea (Catholic and Enjoying It), this is a good time for Europe to pause and reflect:

    As I’ve insisted all along, a diseased and inflamed spirituality cannot be healed by a diseased and anemic one. But the Holy Spirit has his own plans. History is not about Islam. It’s also not about America or Europe. It’s about Jesus Christ and the fullness of his body, which is the Church. Islam, like everything else (including the depraved West) is going to ultimately end up bending the knee to Christ. But the defeat of Islam will come through the Cross more than it will through force of arms (though I think arms are going to be necessary at times).

    Meanwhile, as unpopular as this will make me, let me say that, for the sake of prudence, post-Christian Europe should consider whether it is really able to fight the fight it is warming to with the thin-skinned bullies of Islam. It feels good to tell these pinheads off, I know. And perhaps some kind of conflict is inevitable. The Danish cartoons represent one of those thrilling moments in a movie when the brute who has just deliberately spilled three glasses on the hero’s suit finally gets the drink in the face he richly deserves.

    However, after that is the little problem of the logistics of the barfight. Can a Europe that believes in nothing, including life or love, actually sustain a conflict with a culture that very definitely believes in higher things?

    Good question. And in case you’re wondering, Mark also explains why this blog has not run the Danish cartoons.

  • When political cartoons criticize or mock Christianity… – Carl Olson (Insight Scoop provides a roundup of mixed reactions. “Meanwhile, the riots continue and the death threats keep rolling in. All this from folks who go violently nuts over cartoons, but regularly produce copious amounts of anti-Semitic literature and anti-Christian ugliness . . . “
  • Teófilo (Vivificat) has a three-part series of posts as well on the “Islamic cartoon rage” (On Mohammmed, caricatures and cross-worshipping; Dinesh D’Souza on Blasphemy and More on the Muslim Reaction), including this observation:

    I remind our Muslim friends of what we did here in the States to squash the rebroadcasting of the South Park episode which many Catholics like me found offensive and tasteless: we wrote letters to parent companies, we appealed to the hearts of a few individuals of Viacom’s (the parent company of the Comedy Channel) Board of Directors and to those who purchased advertisements in the program, which threatened the wallets of all involved. What happened? The episode is not going to be broadcasted again, neither in the U.S. nor in the U.K. . . .

    Muslims in traditionally Islamic countries can learn from these grass-roots approach. In fact, they must learn it if they want to foster rational discourse within their own countries, and not sucumb to mob rule, nor to increased government censorship over their media. Considering where the protests are taking place–Syria, Iran, Lebanon–the reaction has been pretty hypocritical in my view. These repressive states allow these protests as a safety valve, for their citizenry to vent their frustrations and emotions against “foreign threats” and not against the ills brought to them by their own regimes.

  • Love and Malice Feb. 7, 2006. Teresa Polk (Blog by the Sea) offers a spiritual reflection, introducing the counsel of Holy Scripture, the Holy Father’s encyclical and the wisdom of a Desert Father:

    In seventh century Sinai, there was a desert monk who lived in a time when Christian monks in Sinai had to be careful what they said as the early Muslims attacked other monasteries in the area and took political control. It is often thought that he and his fellow monks must have struck a deal, that they would be careful what they said about the Muslims and, in turn, the Muslims would not attack their monastery as they had attacked some other Christians. The references to Islam in John Climacus’s Ladder of Divine Ascent are subtle and cautious and few. And yet he counseled his fellow monks . . .

(Part III: The Danish Cartoon Protests: The Vatican Responds).

The Danish Cartoon Protests: Spontaneous Indignation or Orchestrated Hatred?

This is part I of a three part roundup on the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Protests of February 2006.

Back in September 2005, the Danish daily periodical Jyllands-Posten apparently printed twelve cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed.

In what you might call a “delayed reaction,” the Islamic world erupted this past week in an “international day of anger” (and another! and another! and . . .), protesting that “all images of The Prophet are prohibited in Islam.”

Flags were burned, embassies were stormed, figures were burned in effigy. On Thursday (2/2/06), Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank got a bit carried away and kidnapped a German [teacher] after demanding an apology for the offensive caricatures (The hostage, Christoph Kasten, was reportedly freed by Palestinian police an hour later).

On Friday (2/3/06), Palestinians threw a bomb at a French cultural center in Gaza City, and an imam at the Omari Mosque (Gaza City) told 9,000 worshippers that those behind the drawings should have their heads cut off. Such threats were echoed by a London protest where Muslims brandished signs “FREEDOM GO TO HELL”, “BE PREPARED FOR THE REAL HOLOCAUST,” “EUROPE, YOU WILL PAY, 9/11 IS ON ITS WAY” and “MASSACRE THOSE WHO INSULT ISLAM” (“In Their Own Words”, Michelle Malkin Feb. 3, 2006).

All in all, not a very good day for CAIR or those touting Islam as the “religion of peace.”

There are posts and commentary a-plenty for those who are following this story (and who isn’t?); in a three-part series, here are some that caught my eye. We begin, however, with some recent and suprising reports about the nature of the protest itself:

  • Creating Outrage NRO (National Review Online). Lorenzo Vidino, terrorism analyst and author of Al Qaeda in Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad (Prometheus Books, 2005), introduces us to Ahmed Abdel Rahman Abu Laban, a 60-year-old Palestinian imam who has resided in Copenhagen since 1993 and has “cunningly orchestrated” the Muslim over-reaction to the cartoons:

    In September, the imam immediately condemned Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons and led protests at the local level. Danish politicians and media, busy with local elections, ignored him. But Abu Laban is not the kind of person who gives up easily. After having contacted ambassadors from Muslim countries in Copenhagen, he put together a delegation with the goal of touring the Middle East to “internationalize this issue so that the Danish government would realize that the cartoons were not only insulting to Muslims in Denmark but also to Muslims worldwide,” as he explained in an interview with “Islam Online”. The delegation met with, among others, Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, and Sunni Islam’s most influential scholar, Yusuf al Qaradawi. The delegation showed each of these leaders the 12 cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten, along with others that had never been published by any Danish publication. The new cartoons were every more offensive, as showing the Prophet Mohammed with a pig face or having sexual intercourse with a dog. While the delegation claimed that the differentiation was pointed out to their interlocutors, there is no other evidence, and rumors about the more blasphemous images began to circulate in the Middle East. Moreover, the booklet that was presented by the delegation contained several other lies about the “oppression” of Muslims in Denmark, claiming Muslims do not have the legal right to build mosques and are subjected to pervasive racism.

    With emotions about the cartoons mounting, Qaradawi, the real brains of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international network and a key opinion maker in the Middle East thanks to his weekly show on al Jazeera, attacked Denmark directly, warning that an apology would not be sufficient, and that “a firm stance” should have be taken by the Danish government. . . .

    As Lorenzo Vidino reveals, there is much more to Abu Laban than meets the eye, including ties to the Egyptian militant Islamic movement Gamaa Islamiya.

  • As usual, Michelle Malkin has an expansive roundup on the bogus cartoons from the the lying Danish imams February 8, 2005:

    In addition to the fake drawings and photos and the other lies included in the Danish imams’ propaganda pamphlet posted over at The Counterterrorism Blog, my reader reports that Danish radio has enumerated additional falsehoods.

    The imams reportedly spread lies that the Jyllands-Posten had 120 cartoons, not 12, and that the paper was owned by the government. (There are no state-run newspapers in Denmark.) In addition, the imams reportedly claimed that the Danish government would censor the Koran, burn the Koran, and that Danes were planning to make a blasphemous movie about Mohammed.

    And, as Michelle reports, a Danish TV reporter aggressively interviewed Danish imam Ahmed Akkari, who was part of the traveling delegation, challenging him on one of the doctored photos used as propaganda. The photo in question was revealed by blogger NeanderNews to be that of Jacques Barrot, a pig squealing contestant at the French Pig-Squealing Championships in Trie-sur-Baise’s annual festival. All in good fun or a sure sign of anti-Islamic bigotry?

  • And on a related note, the blog Freedom for Egyptians reveals that the Egyptian newspaper, Al Fager (as pronounced in Egyptian Arabic) published the Danish Cartoons five months ago, on Oct 17, 2005, during the Islamic month of Ramadan — “not a single protest was called in Cairo against Denmark or the newspaper.” Whattupwiththat?!? (Via Andrew Sullivan‘s Daily Dish Feb. 9, 2006).

(Part II: “Clash of Civilizations”? – Reactions & Commentary).

Dale Vree and the New Oxford Review

New Oxford Review editor Dale Vree’s been the topic of furious discussion on two blogs this week:

Dr. Blosser* mounts a defense of Vree because:

. . . I have consistently found its journalism of unique value over the past decades, and I have felt it (and its editor) unjustly — I repeat UNJUSTLY — maligned and marginalized over the last few years by people who are not regular readers of NOR, who are not familiar with its writings or with its editor’s perspective or aims. In some cases, they give little impression of knowing what they are even talking about.

I read the New Oxford Review throughout my years at college and enjoyed it immensely — my father kept old copies in his office and I plundered his cache on many an occasion. When I graduated, I found them at a newsstand near work and kept on reading. I’m probably not as well acquainted with the more recent issues as others, but they do fall into my hands from time to time.

At some point, I can’t remember precisely when, New Oxford Review lost its appeal to me. Was it their bold, stubborn orthodoxy that I found intimidating? — I’m inclined to say no. After all, around the same time I stopped buying NOR at the newstand I discovered the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger. But there was something that prompted my lapse in purchasing NOR while retaining my subscription to, say, First Things and Crisis: I found in the overall tone of Dale Vree’s editorials (the ‘New Oxford Notes’) an increasing spirit of rancor that inevitably tainted my appreciation of the magazine itself.

I do not dispute the fact — commenting on Dr. Blosser’s post — that “the possibility of theological universalism, a feminine Pneumatology, or administrative malpractice at Ave Maria” (to name some of the most controversial issues) aren’t subjects worth discussing. In fact, I think Fr. Neuhaus, Scott Hahn, Fr. Fessio, Cardinal Dulles (to name a few of the more prominent targets) are perfectly capable of taking criticism (see, for instance, the letters section of First Things or Crisis; both periodicals which are often host to substantial criticism, howbeit with a tad more respect and comparatively less sniping).

The problem I find is that sometimes (more often than not?) the manner in which Vree engages in criticism — his caustic “pit bull” approach — is ultimately counterproductive, rendering those whom he criticizes deaf to anything of value he has to say. Vree doesn’t take kindly to John Courtney Murray, but during the course of this weeks’ discussion of The New Oxford Review and the merits of its editor, I was reminded of this famous passage from We Hold These Truths:

Barbarism likewise threatens when men cease to talk together according to reasonable laws. There are laws of argument, the observance of which is imperative if discourse is to be civilized. Argument ceases to be civil when it is dominated by passion and prejudice . . . when dialogue gives way to a series of monologues . . . when the parties to the conversation cease to listen to one another, or hear only what they want to hear, or see the other’s argument only through the screen of their own categories; when defiance is flung to the basic ontological principle of all ordered discourse, which asserts that Reality is an analogical structure, within which there are variant modes of reality, to each of which there corresponds a distinctive method of thought that imposes on argument its own special rules. When things like this happen, men cannot be locked together in argument. Conversation becomes merely quarrelsome or querulous. Civility dies with the death of the dialogue.

* * *

I came across this exchange between Vree and Weigel in the December 2004 issue of the NOR which I is characteristic of what I find wrong with his approach, especially with respect to orthodox Catholics who are, in the end, on his side in the culture war:

George Weigel: The rest of the country has often had reason to wonder about the contents of the Berkeley water supply. Whatever is going on in your fair city now appears to have degraded your Editor’s capacity to read.

Contrary to your Editor’s polemic in your September issue (“George ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Weigel”), I have never written that “freedom” is “another name for virtue.” In the column that so offended your Editor, what I noted parenthetically was that “habit” is “another name for ‘virtue.’” Those capable of reading English understood this — except, evidently, those looking to deal the dread neoconservative beast another lick. I might also point out that my snapshot description of the meaning of freedom in that column — “doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right way, as a matter of habit (which is another name for ‘virtue’)” — leans on the work of Fr. Servais Pinckaers, O.P., one of the principal influences on Veritatis Splendor and the leading contemporary interpreter of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Before he charges his sundry bogeymen with “rhetorical witchcraft,” your Editor might do them the courtesy to read what they write with that minimum of care nominally associated with the office of “Editor.”

George Weigel
Ethics and Public Policy Center
Washington, D.C.

Weigel, of course, is a bit snippety in the opening of his letter — there is just something in Vree’s style which often provokes the worst kind of spirit in people. Here is Vree’s response:

The Editor Replies In your original piece and in your letter, you said “freedom” is “doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right way, as a matter of habit,” and you said “doing the right thing…as a matter of habit” is “another name for ‘virtue.’” What’s not to understand? What you wrote is crystal clear: Freedom is habit is virtue. Therefore, freedom is virtue. Sorry, but there’s no “plausible deniability” here. You can’t wiggle out of it. You said it, and you can’t pass the buck on to Fr. Pinckaers.

All this stuff about what’s in the Berkeley water supply, our inability to read English, and denying what you actually wrote just proves our point: You are indeed a practitioner of rhetorical witchcraft.

Now, were Vree genuinely interested in a constructive debate with Weigel, he could acknowledge that he might be in error in interpreting him. This seems to me a likely possiblity, especially in reading Weigel’s original article (“A Nation Defining Election”, The Tidings April 2004):

[Weigel:] The second great issue underlying the 2004 campaign involves the nature of freedom. Is freedom a means to satisfy personal “needs”? Or does freedom have something to do with moral truth — with goodness? Is freedom doing things “my way”? Or is freedom doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right way, as a matter of habit (which is another name for “virtue”)? Once again, the parties, the candidates, and the nation seem sharply divided here.

Likewise, had Vree bothered to consult the Catholic Enyclopedia, he would of course find:

Taken in its widest sense virtue means the excellence of perfection of a thing, just as vice, its contrary, denotes a defect or absence of perfection due to a thing. In its strictest meaning, however, as used by moral philosophers and theologians, it signifies a habit superadded to a faculty of the soul, disposing it to elicit with readiness acts conformable to our rational nature.

But rather, Vree is so utterly convinced of his interpretation that he goes on to reiterate the charge in his hatchet-job of a review of Weigel’s book, The Cube & the Cathedral. The review is titled (as if you had to guess) “Rhetorical Witchcraft” (New Oxford Review January 2006):

. . . Of freedom, Weigel says: “Freedom is the capacity to choose wisely and act well as a matter of habit — or, to use an old-fashioned term, as a matter of virtue.” Sorry, but freedom is not another name for virtue. No dictionary defines freedom as virtue.

Politically correct liberals redefine and euphemize words to suit their purposes: Homosexuals are “gay,” pornography is “adult entertainment,” abortion is “choice” or “reproductive rights,” etc. This is rhetorical witchcraft. And now we’re supposed to believe that freedom is “virtue”? This is just more rhetorical witchcraft.

Remember: this takes place after Weigel has written Vree, to correct him as to what he intended by the phrase.

Read Vree’s “review” of Weigel’s book and judge for yourself — is it an above-the-board assessment of Weigel’s actual thought on these matters? Or is this just another opportunity for Vree to engage in invective against a despised neocon? Consider this excerpt:

Europe is decadent, as is America. They are free societies where, as Rumsfeld says, people “commit crimes” (which is what Vatican II called abortion) and “do bad things” (we would include homosexual acts, premarital sex, extramarital sex, pornography, euthanasia, contraception, etc.). Weigel, however, is worried about the Muslims flocking into Europe. But observant Muslims are opposed to abortion, homosexual acts, premarital sex, extramarital sex, pornography, euthanasia, and they have large families. That’s why Muslim countries have been the greatest allies of the Holy See at the UN. If Weigel is so interested in virtue, why does he want war against observant Muslims?

Weigel quotes John Paul’s signature phrase, “Do not be afraid.” But Weigel is very afraid of Muslims. Have Catholics ever thought of evangelizing the Muslims coming into Europe? Or have Catholics given up on evangelization since Vatican II? Could be. But it shouldn’t be, for then Weigel and those who think like him wouldn’t be afraid. John Paul believed in evangelization and he was not afraid.

Weigel also says freedom is “freedom for [moral] excellence.” Ah, but who defines moral excellence? The Church? If so, it’s a theocratic society, not a free society. Weigel believes in separation of Church and State, so it cannot be the Church. So who defines excellence? In a free, democratic, pluralistic society, no one has a monopoly on defining moral excellence; it’s up to the ndividual.

To note briefly three things about this correspondence between Weigel / Vree:

  • In linking freedom to “moral excellence”, Weigel is simply restating the understanding of freedom common to Lord Acton (freedom is not moral libertinism, but “freedom to do what one ought). Weigel clearly isn’t a moral relativist. Nor does he suffer from utopian delusions regarding the moral perfection of Western civilization — those who are familiar with his writings know he is a fierce critic of the decadence and moral bankruptcy of (secular) Western culture, wrought by a false conception of freedom as the gratification of ego. (Weigel, one might also recall, is also the official biographer of Pope John Paul II and closely familiar with his thought).

    It is unfortunate, then, that in a manner that is characteristic of The Remnant‘s skewing John Paul II’s encyclicals, Dale Vree takes a single line from Weigel and fashions from it something completely inimical to Weigel’s intended meaning.

  • However much Vree praises “observant Muslim” societies, it remains the case that virtue imposed through threat of physical violence, even upon pain of death, as is unfortunately the case under Sharia law, is hardly virtue at all. Did those living under the Taliban in Afghanistan, with weekly beheadings in the stadium, exemplify “moral virtue” in such conditions?
  • Let’s go over Vree’s last musing again: “Who defines moral excellence? The Church? If so, it’s a theocratic society, not a free society. Weigel believes in separation of Church and State, so it cannot be the Church. . . . In a free, democratic, pluralistic society, no one has a monopoly on defining moral excellence; it’s up to the individual.”

    In his defense, Dr. Blosser asserts Vree’s “careful reasoning,” but I find it very hard to see what he’s getting at in his simplistic reading of Weigel (who has explored this topic in great depth, for instance, in Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism). The separation of divine and temporal authority isn’t necessarily a concrete either/or choice between a “theocratic state” or “rampant individualism.”‘ Cardinal Pell recently challenged this distinction in his article Is There Only Secular Democracy? Imagining Other Possibilities for the Third Millennium (Markets & Morality Volume 7, Number 2 Fall 2004).

    God forbid Vree approach Benedict XVI’s articulate and nuanced discussion of the role of the Church in political life in Deus Caritas Est with the same attitude as he does Weigel.

I suspect that if Weigel and Vree got together over a beer at the next “Theology On Tap,” they would have much to discuss and might even find themselves agreeing on those things that matter most (excluding Vree’s curious preoccupation with Israel and animosity towards “neocons”).

I also think that underneath Vree’s vituperation there are raised pertinent questions about a neoconservative support for President Bush, and what is intended by the Bush administration’s campaign to spread “freedom” across the globe. By all means, these are issues worth talking about.

But it is precisely the manner in which Vree raises these questions — couched in satire, snide remarks, and dripping condescension, especially toward one’s fellow Catholics who strive to be orthodox and who would probably be in substantial agreement with him on many issues — that present a severe impediment to a serious discussion ever getting off the ground.

I am sure Weigel isn’t alone here in protesting that his remarks have been unfairly presented (the December 2004 letters section also contains a letter from Avery Cardinal Dulles, disturbed over Vree’s presentation of his remarks at a National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (“neoconservative front group,” in Vree’s words).

[Note: Since the link to Dulles’ address was kindly provided by a commentator, I have expanded the following remarks on the Vree/Dulles dispute – CB 2/12/06]:

In the letters section, Dale Vree fiercely chastises Cardinal Dulles for kowtowing to the neocons:

You gave your speech to a bunch of neoconservative war hawks and Republican faithful. President Bush has repeatedly said he wants to spread freedom all over the world. He does not say “authentic” freedom. When America invaded Afghanistan and toppled its government, one of the first freedoms given to women was the right to abort. We deprived many Afghan women of their “authentic” freedom, and gave them American-style freedom. If the same happens throughout the Muslim world, “authentic” freedom will diminish and the Muslim world will “gravitate toward hedonism and moral chaos,” which is what you say is happening in America. . . . You had a great opportunity in your speech to speak as a prophet, to point out that in key areas there’s more “authentic” freedom in the Muslim countries than there is in America, and that maybe America shouldn’t try to remake the Muslim countries in America’s image. It’s a shame you failed to do so.

One problem as I see it, is that Vree reads both Weigel and Dulles through the lens of his criticism of the neocons and the war in Iraq. For example, in his book review of Cube and the Cathedral, he remarks regarding Weigel’s praise of “the Slavic view of history”:

“Why is Weigel so hot for the Slavic part? We’d guess because certain of those countries sent troops to Iraq.”

I have yet to read Weigel’s book myself, but as I recall his basic argument was expanded from the article Europe’s Problem – And Ours (First Things 140 February 2004), in which he clearly explains that “the slavic view of history” is

. . . the conviction that the deepest currents of history are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic. In this way of thinking, history is not simply the by-product of the contest for power in the world—although power certainly plays an important role in it. And neither is history the exhaust fumes produced by the means of production. Rather, history is driven, over the long haul, by culture—by what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; by what societies deem to be true and good, and by the expressions they give to those convictions in language, literature, and the arts; by what individuals and societies are willing to stake their lives on.

Careful reading on Vree’s part?

Returning to Cardinal Dulles, here is the Cardinal expressing his subservience to “neocon warhawks and the Republican faithful”:

Our nation, to its credit, has helped to overthrow tyrannous regimes abroad. But it seems unable to create anything more than a moral vacuum, which is hastily filled by the demons of fraud, drugs, and violence. In post-Communist and post-Taliban societies too many citizens begin to hanker for a return of the ousted rulers, who provided a least a minimum of order and security.

The basic error, I suggest, is the practice of defining freedom in terms of its negative pole alone. To be free from coercion would be pointless unless we were free for something. Every choice requires that the will be actuated by an object that is, or appears to be, good. As rational beings we are required to discern what is truly and abidingly good. Positively defined, freedom is the quality of choices that are made responsibly with a view to goodness and truth. . . .

Nothing is so liberating as the love of God. Most human beings, driven as they are by the attractions of ease and comfort, can easily be manipulated by threats and by torture. But the martyrs, with their hearts set on God alone, are able to stand up against every human adversary. Except for Christ, the saints are the freest persons on earth.

A missed opportunity to “speak as a prophet”? — Vree’s take on Dulles is titled “Can You Be Two-Thirds Free & One-Third Slave?” (New Oxford Review Sept. 2004); the original text of Dulles’ inaugural prayer breakfast address is available here. Does Vree offer a fair evaluation? Judge for yourself.

Perhaps Vree’s “faithful pit bull” approach has its place — but sometimes I think he just needs a muzzle.

Related Links


* I have more affectionate titles for The Pertinacious Papist as he is my father, but online I respectfully defer to his academic office. =)

Pope Benedict XVI Roundup!

The big news, of course, is the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. For those who’ve missed it, I’ve posted a lengthy roundup of reactions and commentary to the encyclical last week. What follows is the usual roundup of various events and Benedict-related material that caught my eye.

  • February 2006 will see the publication of Benedict XVI’s latest book, Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, co-authored by Marcello Pera, president of the Italian Senate.

    There was a minor flap on Amy Welborn’s over the fact that Ignatius didn’t get dibs, but as Mark Brumely clarified: “Ignatius Press was asked to take a pass on the book, notwithstanding our ongoing relationship with B 16. Since we already have half a dozen other B 16 projects in the works, we did as we were asked.” (Two of those books “in the works” is God’s Revolution, an anthology of the Holy Father’s addresses during Youth Day; another being Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, collecting then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s addresses on the erosion of Europe’s Christian roots).

    A rather hostile review of Without Roots by Domenico Pacitti has already been posted to justbookreviews.com, while Commonweal‘s editor(s) provide a brief summary (A Hospitable Place Volume CXXXIII, Number 1. Jan. 13, 2006):

    Benedict’s concern over the secularization of Europe and his hopes for its re-evangelization are widely known. Without Roots developed from a 2004 exchange then-Cardinal Ratzinger had with Marcello Pera, a secular philosopher and president of the Italian Senate. Pera’s analysis of Europe’s moral malaise is essentially compatible with the pope’s own assessment. Both men think Europe’s alleged loss of identity and vitality requires “primarily cultural remedies,” remedies that can shore up social institutions such as marriage and the family while combating the materialistic and utilitarian biases of science and secular morality. To that end, Pera proposes the cultivation of a “nondenominational Christian religion” or “Christian civil religion.” At first blush, one would hardly expect Benedict to warm to what sounds like a doctrinally anemic version of the faith. Yet he welcomes Pera’s advocacy of a “consensus that, irrespective of membership in a specific faith community, accords a public, sustaining value to the fundamental concepts of Christianity.”

    Benedict is too grudging in acknowledging the peace, prosperity, and democracy Europe has achieved over the last sixty years, much of it the work of Christian Social Democratic parties. Still, his discussion of the continent’s religious and secular history is provocative, and his high regard for the American tradition of separation of church and state may also come as a surprise. His feel for the dynamism of religious communities in the United States and his critique of the weaknesses of mainline Protestantism has a familiar neoconservative ring to it, but it is good to hear the pope affirm the need for compromise in the political sphere. “The church,” he writes, “does not wish to impose on others that which they do not understand.”

    Subscribers of First Things have already received a preview, as a chapter was published in the January 2006 issue under the title Europe and Its Discontents.

  • On Reading the Pope, Pt. 1 and Part II, by Fr. James V. Schall. Ignatius Insight “Already in reading the remarkable amount of material the present Holy Father writes each week, it is clear, as in the case of his predecessor, that it is a full time job just to keep up with him.” Fr. Schall offers a valuable guide to the topics touched on by Pope Benedict in recent letters and addresses.
  • Likewise, Providence College assistant professor of biology and adjunct professor of theology Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco lends some assistance Reading Genesis with Cardinal Ratzinger (Homiletic & Pastoral Review).
  • Pope Benedict has released his Message for Lent 2006, touching on themes familiar to his first encyclical. Recalling his predecessor’s observation that “The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudo-science of well-being.” The Holy Father reminds us that

    the primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples does not consist merely in material means or technical solutions. Rather, it involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ, Who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all the questions of humanity. . . .

    The examples of the saints and the long history of the Church’s missionary activity provide invaluable indications of the most effective ways to support development. Even in this era of global interdependence, it is clear that no economic, social, or political project can replace that gift of self to another through which charity is expressed. Those who act according to the logic of the Gospel live the faith as friendship with God Incarnate and, like Him, bear the burden of the material and spiritual needs of their neighbors. They see it as an inexhaustible mystery, worthy of infinite care and attention. They know that he who does not give God gives too little; as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta frequently observed, the worst poverty is not to know Christ. Therefore, we must help others to find God in the merciful face of Christ. Without this perspective, civilization lacks a solid foundation.

  • The Year of Two Popes, by Paul Elie. Readers might recognize Elie as the author of the biography The Life You Save May Be Your Own (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), an impressive biographical study of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor. Unfortunately, Amy Welborn reviews Elie’s article and finds it lacking:

    I think what is missing in this piece is an understanding of how serious Christians understand service and discipleship. No one argues that ego can always get injected into the mix, or that motives, even of good people, are always pure and unmixed. But Elie, while not ascribing outright deviousness to Ratzinger, does indeed imply that he was angling for the job of running the Church his own way. But even based on his own evidence, one can come to a very different conclusion, based, as I said, on a different understanding of what should motivate Christians, and, indeed, does motivate many of them: to discern the call of the Spirit to do what is necessary. So if John Paul was unable to engage substantively with visiting bishops, and if ad limina visits are supposed to serve a certain purpose which and if the Pope cannot engage or make use of the information that might come out of those meetings…why should everything come to a halt? Someone needs to step in and hear those concerns and make sure that the process works the best it can under the circumstances. And if, during those meetings, Ratzinger was, indeed, interested and attentive (which is what I’ve heard , and what Elie reports) – why does that imply that he’s interested because he’s trying to curry favor or make a good impression in order to serve his own interests – for that is the implication of this article. Why can’t it be that Ratzinger truly was concerned and interested? One of the things that has struck me about this Pope since I started reading and paying attention to him, is not just how intellectually deep and adept he is, but of how understanding he is of the human condition, and not just abstractly, but as it is lived in 2006. That “desert” imagery in his homily at his inaugrual Mass sealed the deal for me on that score, and nothing I’ve heard since has disappointed me.

    The Catholic Outsider also offers a substantial three-part critical review of the article (The Atlantic and How Benedict was elected January 12, 2006).

    Rocco Palmo, on the other hand, apparently loved it (“It’s worth the five bucks. Don’t walk — RUN . . . Elie’s dead-on with his analysis, mostly as he’s saying a lot of things I’ve been saying for months”) but points out some discrepancies in Elie’s rendering of John Paul’s opening of the Holy Door at St. Paul Outside the Walls.

  • Pope Benedict to visit the United States in 2007? — The story began with a comment made by Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore during a radio interview. Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia) has additional speculation as to the time and motivation for the visit.
  • The Vatican has recently reasserted its legal ownership of the copyright to works by Pope Benedict XVI. The news that a Milanese publishing house had already been sent a bill for more than $18,000 to a Milanese publisher for the inclusion of 30 lines from B16’s speech to the conclave in an anthology has prompted some to charge the Vatican with “cashing in” [on the Pope’s words] (Richard Owen, Times UK Jan. 23, 2005), but Catholic News Service has further details:

    . . . in a Jan. 23 statement the Vatican publisher said the introduction to the 124-page book explicitly told readers, “Everything you will find here, after the introduction, comes from the pen or the voice of Joseph Ratzinger,” now Pope Benedict.

    The book was being sold for about $12 a copy, and it was published without the knowledge or consent of the Vatican, the Vatican said.

    Francesca Angeletti, who handles copyright permissions for the Vatican, told Catholic News Service the Vatican wanted to ensure the integrity of texts attributed to the pope and to prevent publishers from making money off his works without the knowledge of the Vatican and without giving the Vatican appropriate compensation.

    Newspapers, magazines and bishops’ conferences, she said, still may publish papal texts without paying royalties as long as the texts are not changed and a line is included saying the text has been copyrighted by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

    Question: how does this affect the frequent citation of the Holy Father’s works by Catholic bloggers and periodicals in the United States?

  • On January 8, 2006, Benedict performed the first baptisms of his pontificate, abandoning the prepared texts for the occasion to launch an impassioned denunciation of irresponsible sex and a “culture of death” (Crispian Balmer / Reuters. January 8, 2006). Here is the transcript of Benedict’s baptism homily, courtesy of Zenit News Service.
  • No place like home: Papal apartment gets extreme makeover, by John Thavis. Catholic News Service January 5, 2006, covering the transformation of the papal apartment, badly in need of renovations. I only mention the article as it notes the Holy Father’s reaction to his new library:

    . . . while the pope didn’t whoop or jump up and down at the unveiling, he made it clear he was pleased with the results.

    “I can only admire the things you’ve done . . . I really like my new library, with that antique ceiling. For me it’s like being surrounded by friends, now that there are books on the shelf,” he said.

    The floors were the original 16th-century marble slabs and inlay, restored to their original luster. The library solved the problem of where to put the pope’s 20,000 books, which he did not want to leave in storage somewhere.

    Twenty thousand! — Oh, to browse the shelves of the Holy Father’s personal collection. I know I am not alone in this wish. =)

  • Pope Benedict XVI’s Emerging Papacy: ‘A Service to Joy’ – a profile of the Holy Father by Tablet writer Robert Mickens. St. Anthony Messenger February 2006.
  • According to a “recent” survey (February 2002), Pope Benedict XVI has written “some 86 books, 471 articles and prefaces, and 32 other contributions.” Concentrating on the scholarly works, the Reverend D. Vincent Twomey, SVD, a former doctoral student of the Holy Father, takes on the ambitious task of presenting The Mind of Benedict XVI, The Claremont Review Dec. 23, 2005.

    According to Twomey, the “central question” of Benedict’s thought on Christianity and the modern world is: “How can Christianity become a positive force for the political world without [itself] being turned into a political instrument and without on the other hand grabbing the political world for itself?” — Much of Benedict’s thought on the respective boundaries of church and state and their interrelationship as presented in Twomey’s summary is reminiscent of the latter half of Deus Caritas Est.

  • In February of 2005, Sandro Magister speculated that “Among the typically Wojtylian battles that have distinguished [John Paul II’s] pontificate, the defense of life is almost certainly destined to continue with his successor as well, unlike other matters that will slip into the shadows, like the interreligious meetings such as the ones in Assisi and the ‘mea culpas.'” (Lent in the Vatican: The Pope, the Curia, and the Conclave, http://www.chiesa Feb. 2, 2005)

    The prospect of the Assisi gatherings “slipping into the shadows” was discussed by Bill Cork and myself on this blog (John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Lessons of Assisi 1986/2002 Against The Grain Feb. 14, 2005).

    Now, Alejandro Bermudez revisits the issue, with a buzz from “Vatican circles that Pope Benedict is thinking of pulling the plug on the interreligious prayer meetings for peace, the last of which took place in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, on January 24, 2002.” (Auf Wiedersehen to Assisi? Catholic Outsider January 25, 2006). No sources are cited, but given then-Ratzinger’s criticisms of the event as well as the recent conciliatory gestures made towards the SSPX, I wonder if this is indeed a possibility.

  • Speaking of the SSPX, John Allen Jr. has The latest on Lefebvrites; Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD (In the Light of the Law) takes a look at the possible reunion and its difficulties from a canon law perspective, and Alejandro Bermudez (Catholic Outsider revits the 2003 expulsion of Father Aulagnier from the SSPX — suffice to say the reasons don’t bode well for those who hope for “a faster, full reconciliation with Rome.”

    Nevertheless, it appears that Pope Benedict XVI (bio – news) will meet with leaders of the Roman Curia on February 13. “The top item on the agenda for discussion, according to an Italian media report, will be the Vatican efforts to achieve a reconciliation with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).” (Catholic World News, Feb. 3, 2006).

Previous Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI Roundups in 2005: 4/11/05; 4/15/05; 4/18/05; 4/23/05; 5/01/05; 5/21/05; 6/6/05; 6/25/05; 7/10/05;7/14/05; 7/25/05; 8/15/05; 9/12/05; 9/27/05; 10/26/05 and 11/29/05 and 12/21/05.

Stephen Crittenden, Charles Curran, Rocco Palmo on ‘Deus Caritas Est’

This news comes by way of Rocco Palmo of “Whispers in the Loggia”: “Benedict Genius Est” – A panel discussion on “The Religion Report,” headed by Stephen Crittenden religion correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The show features “Leading Catholic moral theologian Charles E Curran” — did he say “leading?” — journalist Rocco Palmo of “Whispers in the Loggia,” and the Jack de Groot- the National Campaign Director of Caritas Australia. (The show appears in a variety of downloadable formats, or read the transcript.

Like a few other voices from the Catholic left, Crittenden interprets B16’s encyclical in opposition to JPII:

“[Ratzinger] is a famous theologian, but he resists the opportunity to give a turgid theology lesson. This is above all a pastoral encyclical, and it wears its learning lightly. The style is relaxed and easy to understand, even humorous in places. There are no syllogisms, no talk about essences, no norms, no endless footnotes quoting his papal predecessors, in short, it’s nothing like an encyclical by Pope John Paul II. Above all, it is emphatically not an encyclical about sex, and not a papal fatwa. There is no mention of procreation, or contraception, or Humanae Vitae, or Pope John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body.'”

Little wonder that Charles Curran is invited to weigh in, portraying the encyclical as “a huge relief” to the vast world of Catholics (expressing his initial concern that Benedict’s encyclical might have chosed to meditate on — horrors! — truth).

The interview is interesting, as Crittenden and Curran basically feed off each others’ mutual resentment toward John Paul II, “conservative Catholics,” repressive Catholic moral doctrine and what Curran calls the “almost peripheral document” on gays in the seminary:

[Crittenden]: “Of all the virtues, the one that has been missing the most in the last 25 years is charity. I mean charity of Catholics towards each other. We saw a bitterly divided rancorous church at times. It strikes me too that a lot of that was driven by conservative American Catholics who really kind of heated up the whole debate around sexuality. Presumably there will be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth when they read [the encyclical].”

They crow over the citation of Nietzsche and Julian the Apostate (“this document dialogs with everybody!” — again, not a suprise for one familiar with Benedict/Ratzinger’s written works), and Crittenden fondly quotes “what, for [him], is the most significant passage in the document”:

According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice.[1] Here the German philosopher was expressing a widely-held perception: doesn’t the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn’t she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator’s gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?

Again, as with any papal document, selective quotation reveals the readers’ prejudice. It does, however, jive rather well with the take of Fr. O’Leary, our online manifestation of “The Spirit of Vatican II” or parody thereof.

Rocco discusses the portrayal of Ratzinger as Prefect (“panzerkardinal“, “Vatican Enforcer”) vs. the astonishing revelation of his gentle pontificate (“he reminds me of the best qualities of Pope Paul VI”) and the Vatican’s rapprochement with the SSPX.

Buried in the discussion are gleams of insight and snatches of good commentary (even from Curran) — but the prevailing tendency to pit Benedict XVI against his predecessor, manifested in Crittenden’s interpreting the Benedict’s encyclical as a return to “a moderate, more inclusive” church vs. John Paul II’s pontificate, led by what he characterized as “a right wing faction leader,” is ultimately disappointing.

Listening to Curran, I am reminded that shortly after Benedict’s election he authored the critical editorial “A Place for Dissent” (Commonweal May 6, 2005 / Volume CXXXII, Number 9), which demanded that

Catholic theology and practice provide some breathing room to those who disagree on some noncentral issues, especially in moral matters. People can make their own conscientious decisions and continue to participate in the life of the church despite practicing contraception, being divorced and remarried, or living in a committed gay or lesbian union.

In 1993, then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave a written interviewed to Time, in which he commented on the Vatican’s stripping of Charles Curran’s theological credentials (“The Future Pope Speaks” Catholic World News May 2005): “With his theory of dissent Father Curran moved beyond individual questions to challenge the Church’s teaching office as such. He wanted to accord dissent itself an official teaching role.”

Crittenden, Curran and company — Hans Kung takes a similar approach in his latest press release — may hope that Pope Benedict has changed his mind on the matter, or at least is willing to downplay faithfulness to the moral teachings of the Church in the interest of promoting love and Christian unity. However, I’m inclined to think that Benedict would recommend love for Christ and his Church is expressed and demonstrated precisely in obedience.

Rocco has of late taken to characterizing a few unnamed “St. Blog’s ‘faithful'” on his blog as “angry, love challenged”. This is reflected in the interview as well:

[Benedict] looks at a lot of his people who claim to embody the Church, and he’s asking a very pointed question: How much love is there here? How much real love, not “I will say I love you, and proceed to judge you, and call you out for everything that conflicts with my worldview.” How much real love is there?

I think that one could definitely say that Christian charity calls for civility and respectfulness in dialoging with the opposition. For example, on the RFC’s online forum and email list I’ve urged members to abide by Pope Benedict XV’s admonishment (Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 1914)

“As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline – in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See — there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.”

And with more success than not, I’ve tried to follow the same in discussions on this blog as well.

On the other hand, does “real love” necessarly preclude judging? Is it possible to disagree in charity and yet, criticize those who conflict with one’s worldview (particularly if that “worldview” coincides with, say, the moral teachings of the Church”)?

Does Benedict’s call for charity call for a suspension of criticism of, say, the Rainbow Sash movement and the movement’s protest against the Catholic Church? Should Catholics refrain from ‘calling out’ say, Senators Kerry or Kennedy (or a Governor Schwarzenegger, for that matter) for presenting the “pro-choice Catholic” position as a legitimate one within the Church?

That would be my question for Rocco.

On a related note . . .

  • The Discipline Love Requires, by Al Kimel (Pontifications). Feb. 3rd, 2006:

    “I have not yet read Pope Benedict’s new encylical; but when one finds Hans Küng, Charles Curran, Luke Timothy Johnson, Joseph O’Leary, and Andrew Sullivan applauding the document, one gets a bit nervous . . .”

  • I’m Shocked–Shocked!–to Find Love Being Praised Here!, by Scott Carson (An Examined Life): “What struck me about the various voices heard from in the excerpts was not so much how little these people appear to understand Benedict XVI, but how very badly they understand Roman Catholicism.”
  • Deus Caritas Est: Still Catching Up On Love?, by David (Cosmos, Liturgy, Sex). February 5, 2006:

    The “love” pundits are still roiling over B16’s first Encyclical. They cannot for the life of them, figure out how the Church can be positive about eros and still consider sex outside of marriage (between one man and one woman) sinful.. . .