Month: January 2007

Necessary Distinctions – Prudential Judgement & Catholic Social Doctrine

Evangelical Catholicism offers some thoughts today on ” Three main weaknesses of today’s Catholics”, in which Katerina disputes First Things‘ Robert Miller).

In the comments, Michael Joseph takes a jab at the “neoconservative Catholics”:

What’s interesting about Miller’s article is the utter indefensibility of his claims that bishops do, in fact, have a ceratin “arena” in which their authority properly operates. The separation he artificial creates between the area of “faith and morals” and “political judgments” is not only historically implausible, it is a non-ecclesial importation which creates an a priori framework with which Miller evaluates and gauges episcopal statemets. His separation is a growing trend among some self-styled “neo-conservative” Catholics who, most times unwittingly, filter ecclesial statements into contrived categories such as “absolutes”, “doctrinal inference” and “prudential judgment”. And yet, where in the history of our Church does such a filter derive other than in our modern times?

I would never advocate an all-out surrender of thinking or a blind obedience to the bishops or the pope. Such is not real faith. However, the subject and object of all magisterial statements is God, and by extension through the Body of Christ, man himself. Thus, political and social teachings of the magisterium are rooted in the very same doctrinal tradition as faith and morals. The similiarities between many “progressive” Catholics and many “neo-conservative” Catholics are become clear: the tendency to dash the synthesis of doctrine, morals and social teaching to pieces on the rocks of their a priori, uncritical, compartmentalizing limitmus tests.

Again, I would have to point out Benedict’s observation that “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia,”, that some areas are open to legitimate differences of opinion — namely in the application of Catholic social doctrine to particular circumstances. Presumably this room for legitimate disagreement between Catholics extends to economics, welfare reform and resolution to the problem of illegal immigration as well.

In discussions of such topics, charity and civility should prevail. Benedict XV, a notable influence on our present Pope, offered some wise advice in Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (Nov. 1, 1914):

23. 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.

24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as “profane novelties of words,” out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved” (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim “Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,” only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

It’s fairly common practice for us to throw around labels when debating fellow Catholics — “progressive”, “neocon”, “neo-Catholic”, et al. But I do think that Benedict XVI’s advice strikes a chord of truth and is something we should take to heart. (“Neocon”, for the record, is one label that has been abused to such a great degree that it is often used in complete ignorance of its intellectual roots. I can’t think of many self-styled neoconservatives — I suspect that the trio of Catholics to whom the “neocons” label is commonly applied by their critics, Fr. Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Michael Novak, would probably eschew it if they could).

I agree with Michael that “lack of knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching can result in perceiving the Church’s statements on political, economic, and social matters as mere sentimentalism with no adequate application to the world we live in today.” To dismiss the teachings of the popes and our bishops in such a manner is certainly a temptation and weakness. But I think it describes but one erroneous and dangerous trait that is present in Catholics today. The other, as Prof. Miller rightly observes, is that:

. . . many Catholics, even highly educated ones, are so poorly catechized that they don’t distinguish between statements they are required to believe with theological faith, statements to which they ought give a religious submission of will and intellect, and other statements that they need only respect and consider in forming their own judgments.

This is not to say that bishops should never speak on questions beyond faith and morals, including on particular questions, such as the execution of Hussein. When they do so, however, it would be better if they were clear on the nature of the statements they are making and the kind of deference faithful Catholics should give them. As things are, such statements tend to engender more confusion than clarity.

Worse, the current situation is ripe for abuse: Bishops, like everyone else, prefer it when people agree with them, and so some bishops are tempted to enunciate positions and invest them with the authority of their office, even when those positions go beyond matters of faith and morals and depend on particular, even idiosyncratic, views about empirical circumstances. There is a danger, in other words, of bishops leveraging their legitimate authority in faith and morals into the political arena by implicitly passing off empirical judgments as if they were teachings on faith and morals commanding the assent of faithful Catholics.

I wonder if such an unjustified extension of ecclesial authority that Prof. Miller has in mind is the 2003 statement by Bishop Botean of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of St. George in Canton, Ohio, charging that “any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin,” — and going on to equate “direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion.” These are lengths that not even the Pope, nor Cardinal Ratzinger, nor the USCCB, would go to in their opposition to the war.

The distinction between faith and morals” and “political judgments” is more than “artificial” and “contrived”, as Michael asserts. In fairness to Prof. Miller, contra Michael’s characterization I don’t think he is insisting that “the magisterium should stick to faith and morals instead of making statements about ’empirical judgments'” — but only that Bishops, when rendering prudential judgements on political (or economic) matters, should do so with clarity about their nature, lest they perpetuate the present confusion. Even Dietrich Von Hildebrand in The Vineyard of the Lord cautioned against the inclination “to adhere with complete loyalty to whatever our bishop says” and a “false idea of loyalty to the hierarchy” which failed to make such necessary distinctions.


  • Vatican Official Notes Catholics’ 3 Weaknesses – secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi. Zenit News Service January 29, 2007.
  • 3 Weaknesses of Modern Catholics Deal Hudson responds:

    The American Catholic Church has certainly experienced this since Vatican II. Just yesterday we lost an icon of Cafeteria Catholicism, Father Robert Drinan, my former Congressman from Massachusetts, who many see as one of the founding father’s of a failed philosophy that promotes a false dichotomy between faith and politics. When given an opportunity during the 2004 presidential election to present a unified voice on the sanctity of human life and the centrality of the Church’s teaching on this issue, the USCCB punted and allowed each bishop to develop their own approach in dealing with wayward politicians.

  • Another example of why distinctions matter would be the thankfully now-defunct Presidential Questionnaire from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As Austin Ruse noted (Holy Democrats National Review Sept. 14, 2004):

    The questionnaire is presented every four years by the USCCB to the major party candidates. It is supposed to help Catholic voters determine which candidate best reflects the teachings of the Church. What has happened is that, through it, some candidates have been able to show that even though they support abortion they still merit the votes of faithful Catholics because they happen to be good — that is to say liberal — on gun control, the environment, immigration, and the minimum wage.

    One of the weaknesses of the questionairre was equating hard and fast (Karl Keating would say “non-negotiable”) teachings of the Church on abortion and euthanasia with other issues permitting a variance of opinion between Catholics — the end result being that when

    Democratic Senator Richard Durbin prepared a legislative scorecard drawn up using these same legislative priorities of the USCCB lobbyists. The list included all and sundry Democratic proposals and Durbin discovered — voila! — that John Kerry was the best Catholic in the Senate.

    As Michael Joseph will no doubt agree, promotion of Catholic social doctrine in a “systematic and comprehensive” manner should not be confused with an erroneous conflation of doctrinal and prudential judgements as occurred in 2004. (I expect we’ll see more political deceptions of this kind in the advent of the 2008 Presidential campaigns).


Feast Day of St. Thomas Aquinas

Response to Bob Sungenis (Part II)

Bob Sungenis has replied to my response (Carl Schmitt, Israel Shamir and Robert Sungenis Against The Grain January 19, 2007). While I’d prefer not to turn Against the Grain into a perpetual discussion of Catholic extremism, I’ll address a few of his points further.

Read More . . .

  • R. Sungenis:

    “Responding in writing to a particular article” is not debating. It is merely Mr. Blosser’s opportunity to do more of the same that he already does on his blog — make unsubstantiated accusations based on his own personal fears and biases without being challenged immediately and promptly in a public debate.

    I understand debate to be an exchange of views and a challenging of positions. In his prior response Sungenis defended his use of Carl Schmitt, asserting that “Schmitt was not actually IN the Nazi party, much less had an “active role” in the party.” — I challenged it. Sungenis asserted that, based on his reading of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, “it looks like every good Catholic who is faithful to his religion is now classed as an anti-semite by the U.S. government” — I demonstrated how this interpretation was erroneous and largely inferred from the biased reading of the “Reverend” Ted Pike.

    I’ll reiterate my response to Campbell: Public speaking [in the form of public debating on stage] is not my forte. However, I may be persuaded to respond in writing to a particular article he has written on Zionism, Judaism, etc. Although I don’t promise on devoting too much time to debating Catholic extremists.

  • R. Sungenis:

    I didn’t defend Schmitt. I merely pointed out the duplicity of the article that said he was both an anti-semite and an anti-nazi, depending on whether he was being castigated by Jews or Nazis. I wouldn?t defend Schmitt in either case. By posting Shamir’s article, I simply wanted to alert Catholics to the liberalism inherent in Judaism and Zionism, no more, no less.

    Bob, your challenge: “So which is it, Mr. Blosser? Was Schmitt anti-semite or anti-Nazi? Curious minds want to know” certainly sounds like a defense to me.

    While one can point to “liberal tendencies” in secular or reformed Judaism, or various forms of Christianity, it seems to me that Israel Shamir’s point is somewhat different from your own, in that he contends that “the ‘liberal democracy and human rights’ doctrine carried by the US marines across the Tigris and the Oxus is a form of secularised Judaism.”

    Sungenis [now] professes concern about the threat of liberalism within Judaism [secular or otherwise].
    Shamir is concerned about the threat of Judaism within “liberal democracy and human rights’ doctrine.”

    Two different things, and given Shamir’s explicit bias, probably all the more reason why Sungenis should have reconsidered using him as a source. But my hunch is that Sungenis was initially attracted to Shamir because of his ideological bent — that, or this is another example of Sungenis uncritically posting a dubious source without careful consideration.

  • R. Sungenis: This is a watershed moment. Mr. Blosser has put himself on the line by attempting to define “anti-semitism.” According to him, it is not merely racial hatred of Jews but “animosity” towards Jews, and he is apparently claiming that I have such
    “animosity.” But the first problem is, Mr. Blosser doesn’t define what “animosity towards Jews” is, and thus he hasn’t advanced the discussion any further.

    Funny, since in the very article I conveyed my agreement with Fr. Flannery’s description of anti-semitism as “a hatred, contempt and stereotyping of the Jewish people as such.”

    Sungenis protests:

    . . . let me say loud and clear to Mr. Blosser and to all my critics: I have no animosity toward Jewish people. I am a Catholic apologist and I write books, articles, give lectures and do debates against people who either attack the Catholic faith or have an opposing religion to the Catholic faith. […] When I first started in the early 90s, Protestants were my main source of contention, yet no one in the Catholic world said I did so because I had ?animosity? toward Protestants. They knew I did so because Protestants were attacking and weakening the Catholic faith.

    Let’s see, in his fourteen years of service as a Catholic apologist:

    • Where has Bob said that Protestants “want to rule the world, and the Catholic Church too?” — He said that about the Jews:

      But the Jews haven’t been humble at all. They do intend to rule the world. And now the problem is that they want to rule the Catholic Church, too.

      [Source: R. Sungenis: CAI Q&A, #46; November, 2006; see also “Genesis and the Jewish Connection”, Part I].

    • Where has Bob referred to “Protestant control of the media” or “the Protestant agenda of Hollywood’s elite”? — He said that about the Jews.

      (“Jewish critics such as the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen are far outnumbered, however. The number of pro-Israel/pro-Zionist media outlets in America is staggering . . .”

      [See: “Neocons and the Jewish Connection”; Robert Sungenis and the Jews section 2].

    • Where has Bob suggested that Disney movies used to be of a higher moral quality because Walt Disney had a policy of not hiring Protestants? — He said that about the Jews:

      A telltale sign in the movie industry of the shift in mores was demonstrated no better than in the Walt Disney corporation. Founder Walter Disney was well-known in the 50s and 60s for wholesome family entertainment. Interestingly enough, Walt had a policy of not hiring Jewish people.

      [Source: “Neo-Cons and the Jewish Connection” – the last sentence was removed when Sungenis was confronted by Michael Forrest’s expose; however, one does not have to read through the remainder of the paragraph without noticing the same inference: Disney was fine until the Jews took over.]

    • Where has Bob questioned the political motives and policies of any of our Protestant presidents, based on their Protestantism?He did so with regard to FDR and his supposed Jewish ancestry.
    • Where has Bob said that Protestants are “inherently violent” and “some of the most ruthless people” when they come into power? Where has he suggested that “real Protestants consider all non-Protestants to be “less than animals”?He said that about the Jews.:

      [R. Sungenis]: Christianity is certainly not inherently violent, but unfortunately, Judaism tends to be, because real Judaism considers all non-Jews goyim that are less than animals, and this precipitates a loathing and violence against non-Jews. You can read all about this in the Babylonian Talmud and the Encyclopedia Judaica. Fortunately, Judaism is such a small enterprise today that they neither have the power or will to exercise these ideas in large part, and most of today’s Jews are quite liberal and could care less about Judaism. But when they come into power, as they did in the communist regime under Lenin and Trotsky, they can be some of the most ruthless people on the face of the earth.

      [Source: “Question 8- Muslims, USA and the Jews, Part 2” Catholic Apologetics International Q&A January 2006]

    Certainly no stereotyping of the Jews as such — Just plain and simple political criticism, right? I think if you invited a sampling of Jews to survey Catholic Apologetics International with its curious preoccupation, the majority of them would leave confused and outraged by Bob’s attitude and behavior and the kind of language that is used.

  • Responding to my observation that “Fahey’s restricted definition of anti-semitism didn’t prohibit him from indulging in fantasies of Judeo-Masonic conspiracies so off the wall that Hillaire Belloc was moved to say ?The thing is nonsense on the face of it,” Sungenis notes that “Fahey wrote his work in 1950. Hillaire Belloc wasn’t writing any comments at that time because he had a stroke eight years earlier which totally incapacitated him.”

    Fair enough. Nonetheless, Belloc was discussing the notion of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, which was espoused by Fahey. According to Dennis Barton In Defense of Hilaire Belloc, “Belloc denied the anti-Semite belief that the Jews were responsible for modern Capitalism ((HBJ 52)). He ridiculed The Protocols of The Elders of Sion, a book which was being treated like a ‘Bible’ by Anti-Semites.” According to Belloc himself:

    “… these explanations of the Russian revolution are very good specimens of the way in which the European so misunderstands the Jew that he imputes to him powers which neither he nor any other poor mortal can ever exercise. Thus we are asked to believe that this political upheaval was part of one highly-organised plot centuries old, the agents of which were millions of human beings all pledged to the destruction of our society and their acting in complete discipline under a few leaders superhumanly wise! The thing is a nonsense…”

    Incidentally, Sungenis in a dialogue with an individual named Mark discusses the Belloc quote, and Fahey had disputed Belloc’s criticism in relation to his own views in The Kingship of Christ
    and The Conversion of the Jewish Nation

  • Regarding Sungenis’ assertion that “the State Department’s Report on Global Anti-Semitism . . . contains 12 descriptions of “anti-semitism,” — twelve points which I found to be contained nowhere in the report itself but rather resided in a news alert by the “Reverend” Ted Pike, Sungenis now concedes:

    Ted Pike made a summary of the document based on the history of cases prosecuted recently for anti-semitism. Culture Wars picked up the summary and mentioned it in an article several months ago, which is my source. The official government document can be found here:
    Official dialogue on it can be found here:

    Sungenis took his info from E. Michael Jones. Jones makes the same erroneous assertion — “Mr. Rickman will not have to define anti-Semitism. His state department office has already done that for him [referring to the twelve points]” — without documentation. (The Conversion of the Revolutionary Jew October 2006).

    Regretfully, the first link that Sungenis provides is non-functional, and the latter two (the 2005 Report on Global Anti-Semitism, which I had already linked to; and the second, a 2005 briefing with Ambassador Michael Kozak and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ambassador Edward O’Donnell, do not contain the “twelve points.” So again, we’re at a loss and I am not prepared to take E. Michael Jones’ or Ted Pike’s “summary” of what The Global Holocaust Report means on faith. As I indicated to our readers, it’s far better to simply read the government report and come to your own conclusions.

    Sungenis proceeds:

    Regarding the official Congressional Act, in mentioning their desire to ?enforce laws relating to the protection of the right to religious freedom of Jewish people? (p. 3),
    although I realize that the United States grants religious freedom to everyone, I?’m concerned that a reference to the religion of the ?Jewish people? is specified. All that needs to be reiterated is that the United States gives religious freedom to everyone, not that the United States protects a specific religion out of the myriads of religions existing. As it stands, a judge could take upon himself to interpret the new Congressional Act to mean that ?vociferous? criticism of Judaism, the Talmud or Kabbalah would constitute an infraction of the law against anti-semitism.This concern of mine is supported by the sentence on page 2 where it attempts to define “anti-semitism” by pointing out that “Anti-Semitism has at times taken the form of vilification of Zionism, the Jewish national
    movement, and incitement against Israel.” Again, a judge favoring Israel and the Jews could easily interpret “vilification” or “incitement” as including any criticism of the aforementioned. The fact that Judaism and its political offshoots are now, under US law, a state-protected religion, should alarm anyone who understood the US as a republic that separates church and state. No other religion enjoys this status.

    First, Sungenis’ clarification here sounds a tad more self-composed, for which I’m appreciative. It’s possible to discuss this without jumping to conclusions like “every good Catholic who is faithful to his religion is now classed as an anti-smite by the U.S. government.”

    If we turn to the report itself, we’ll see that the State Department is concerned with distinguishing between real acts of anti-semitism and criticism of Israeli policy:

    For the purposes of this report, anti-Semitism is considered to be hatred toward Jews—individually and as a group—that can be attributed to the Jewish religion and/or ethnicity. An important issue is the distinction between legitimate criticism of policies and practices of the State of Israel, and commentary that assumes an anti-Semitic character. The demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue. Global anti-Semitism in recent years has had four main sources:

    1. Traditional anti-Jewish prejudice that has pervaded Europe and some countries in other parts of the world for centuries. This includes ultra-nationalists and others who assert that the Jewish community controls governments, the media, international business, and the financial world.
    2. Strong anti-Israel sentiment that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.
    3. Anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by some in Europe’s growing Muslim population, based on longstanding antipathy toward both Israel and Jews, as well as Muslim opposition to developments in Israel and the occupied territories, and more recently in Iraq.
    4. Criticism of both the United States and globalization that spills over to Israel, and to Jews in general who are identified with both.

    Granted that these examples are not clearly defined — any legal case or attempt to prohibit anti-semitism will entail the need for distinctions. But I think one might offer examples of what would be considered manifestations of anti-semitism (as opposed to mere “political criticism”):

    As I mentioned in my initial response, if you examine the actual U.S. Report on Global Anti-Semitism, the displays of anti-semitism the State Department is largely concerned about involve direct acts of desecration and violence — vandalism of Jewish gravesites, synagogue-burnings, racially-motivated beatings, etc.

    Not every political cartoon that has the object of their criticism the state of Israel is anti-semitic. At the same time, it is true that many (particularly within Arab media) perpetuate old stereotypes and caricatures of the Jew as such, or notions of a Jewish global conspiracy. (See Major Anti-Semitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons, and illustrated interview with Dr. Joël Kotek), in much the same manner as anti-Catholic cartoons of the 19th century relied upon certain stereotypes and falsehoods.

    “Criticizing the Talmud” or “saying an unkind word [about the Kabbalah]” isn’t necessarily anti-semitic, or will be deemed such by the U.S. government. Madonnah is not likely to be labeled an anti-semite for becoming disillusioned with the Kaballah center — a far cry from the original esoteric tradition — think of Fr. Matthew Fox’s “techno-mass” as compared to the original Latin). On the other hand, employing criticism of the Talmud in such a way as to “paint Judaism as an immoral religion that preaches hatred for non-Jews and promotes obscenity, criminality, sexual perversion and other immoral acts” probably is. (See the ADL’s The Talmud in Anti-Semitic Polemics.

    Again, I think that, were a Jewish reader to stumble across Catholic Apologetics International‘s obsessive preoccupation with the Jews and “real” Judaism, he would question Sungenis’ motives in doing so. Just as one would question the motives of a Protestant website that was inordinately preoccupied with publishing anti-Catholic propaganda and perpetuating an attitude of general hostility towards Catholics in general.

Reflections on the Jewish Covenant and its people: An Enduring Relationship?

Bob denounces “Judaism, Zionism, Talmudism, Jewish nationalism, liberal Jewish groups, Evangelical Protestants favoring Israel, and even Catholic converts advancing their Jewish views of religion” of possessing a fallacious and dangerous notion:

They all
seem to be working under the premise that the Jews are still “God’s chosen people”, . . . the false premise that God still has some special relationship with the Jews above his relationship with the Gentiles, or has a distinctive ?covenant? with the Jewish people in the same way that He did in the Old Testament. These are grave errors in theology and politics, and every Catholic apologist should be condemning them. Unfortunately, there are only a handful that are doing so. The rest have been deceived. The Jews are no different than any other group of people on the face of the earth. There are no “special relationships” with God based on one?s ethnic background or heritage.

In October 2004 I carried on a 3-part discussion with Jeff Culbreath on “Jewish rejection of the Messiah” and contemporary Jewish-Christian relations, exploring the thought of Cardinal Ratzinger in Many Religions, One Covenant. You can find the concluding reflections and remarks for a summmary. It was a learning experience and I thank Jeff Culbreath for patiently indulging me. I suspect Jacob Michael has provided a much more coherent investigation in Never Revoked by God: The Place of Israel in the Future of the Church (e-book available for download), and so I’ll leave specific discussion of the particular status of the Jewish covenant to more qualified hands.

That said, I want to touch on the question of what kind of spirit should one embody in conveying theological disagreement with and/or engaging in interreligious dialogue with the Jewish people.

In my last post I noted the possibility of offering criticism of Zionism without succumbing to the kind of malevolent stereotyping — as demonstrated by Denis Fahey, Fr. Coughlin, Sungenis and others. I assert that the same possibility exists in expressing theological disagreement in Jewish-Christian dialogue. Note for example, that Father Avery Dulles took a position critical to the joint publication of Reflections on Covenant and Mission which aroused Sungenis’ initial ire back in 2002. (“Covenant and Mission” Vol. 187 No. 12 October 21, 2002). Observe how Cardinal Dulles is perfectly capable of mounting comparable criticism of the document (and its theological constructs) without resorting to the kind of polemic fury that mired Sungenis in controversy and tarnished his career as an apologist. (Cardinal Dulles would revisit the issue in 2005, and provoke a bit of controversy as well, when he rejected “the two-covenant concept — a valid covenant for Jews made at Mount Sinai (the life of Torah) and a valid one for Christians made at Calvary (the resurrection of Jesus),” provoking the criticism of Rabbi James Rudin. See my discussion “To evangelize — or not to evangelize?” Against The Grain March 21, 2005).

I would add that Fr. James V. Schall SJ, Dr. Ronda Chervin, Fr. Francis Martin, Mark Drogin and David Moss all voiced their criticism of the document in a symposium for the National Catholic Register — David Moss conveying that he was “embarrassed and irritated” — embarassed by Catholic leaders, who after two decades could produce something inconsistent with the Catholic faith, and irritated, that the document was released without undergoing more careful scrutiny by the USCCB. Likewise, Jewish convert Roy Schoeman expressed his strong displeasure and in fact, wrote the book Salvation is From the Jews in large part as a refutation of the document.

Again frustrating Sungenis’ stereotype of a Neocon-ZionistTM, Deal Hudson, then-publisher of Crisis magazine, asked, “If we’re saved only through Jesus, how can we say that God’s covenant with the Jews ‘is a saving covenant’?” (“Rome Rejects While the Bishops ‘Reflect'”).

By no means would I compare my own work to the likes of Dulles or the rest of these scholars, but one of the very first essays I posted to the RatzingerFanClub’s discussion forum was entitled Jewish-Christian Relations: Mixed Signals from the Vatican, which was a joint reaction to the vitriolic response of Christopher Ferrara, Robert Sungenis, and John Vennari and to offer my own criticisms of Reflections on Covenant and Mission and the CDF document Dominus Iesus, noting conflicting positions of Cardinals Kasper and Ratzinger in their presentation of the Church’s attitude towards fulfilling the Great Commission.

It’s interesting to note that at no point did any of the aformentioned scholars allude to Vatican or USCCB complicity in a Zionist agenda. Each of these individuals take issue with Covenant and Mission, yet the very spirit they embody speaks volumes.

* * *

Let’s turn for a minute to the thought of the two most recent Popes on their relationship with contemporary Jews.

On April 13, 1986, John Paul II made a historic visit to the Synagogue in Rome. In his address to the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community, the Pope reiterated the fundamental points of Nostra Aetate, the first of which was that

the Church of Christ discovers her “bond” with Judaism by “searching into her own mystery.” The Jewish religion is not “extrinsic” to us, but in a certain way is “intrinsic” to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You (the Jews) are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.

I think we can assert with confidence that John Paul II wasn’t only speaking of our relation to Jewish converts, but to the Jewish people in general.

Turning to an early essay by our present Pope, then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Interreligious Dialogue and Jewish-Christian Relations Communio 25, no. 1 (1998): 29-41), it is important to examine not only the content, but the overall tone of Ratzingers’s remarks:

“Even if Israel cannot join Christians in seeing Jesus as the Son of God,it is not altogether impossible for Israel to recognize him as the servant of God who brings the light of his God to the nations.” The converse is also true: even if Christians wish that Israel might one day recognize Christ as the Son of God and that the fissure that still divides them might thereby be closed, they ought to acknowledge the decree of God, who has obviously entrusted Israel with a distinctive mission in the “time of the Gentiles.” The Fathers define this mission in the following way: the Jews must remain as the first proprietors of Holy Scripture with respect to us, in order to establish a testimony to the world. But what is the tenor of this testimony? . . . I think we could say that two things are essential to Israel’s faith. The first is the Torah, commitment to God’s will, and thus the establishment of his dominion, his kingdom, in this world. The second is the prospect of hope, the expectation of the Messiah — the expectation, indeed, the certainty, that God himself will enter into this history and create justice, which we can only approximate very imperfectly. The three dimensions of time are thus connected: obedience to God’s will bears on an already spoken word that now exists in history and at each new moment has to be made present again in obedience. This obedience, which makes present a bit of God’s justice in time, is oriented toward a future when God will gather up the fragments of time and usher them as a whole into his justice.

Christianity does not give up this basic configuration. The trinity of faith, hope, and love corresponds in a certain respect to the three dimensions of time: the obedience of faith takes the word that comes from eternity and is spoken in history and transforms it into love, into presence, and in this way opens the door to hope. It is characteristic of the Christian faith that all three dimensions are contained and sustained in the figure of Christ, who also introduces them into eternity. In him, time and eternity exist together, and the infinite gulf between God and man is bridged. For Christ is the one who came to us without therefore ceasing to be with the Father; he is present in the believing community, and yet at the same time is still the one who is coming. The Church too awaits the Messiah. She already knows him, yet he has still to reveal his glory. Obedience and promise belong together for the Christian faith, too. For Christians, Christ is the present Sinai, the living Torah that lays its obligations on us, that bindingly commands us, but that in so doing draws us into the broad space of love and its inexhaustible possibilities. In this way, Christ guarantees hope in the God who does not let history sink into a meaningless past, but rather sustains it and brings it to its goal. It likewise follows from this that the figure of Christ simultaneously unites and divides Israel and the Church: it is not in our power to overcome this division, but it keeps us together on the way to what is coming and for this reason must not become an enmity.

Consider as well the Holy Father’s December 2000 essay, The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas (December 2000):

We know that every act of giving birth is difficult. Certainly, from the very beginning, relations between the infant Church and Israel were often marked by conflict. The Church was considered by her own mother to be a degenerate daughter, while Christians considered their mother to be blind and obstinate. Down through the history of Christianity, already-strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes, which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent, loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetrated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology, which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians.

Perhaps it is precisely because of this latest tragedy that a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). In the same way, let us pray that he may grant also to the children of Israel a deeper knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth, who is their son, and the gift they have made to us. Since we are both awaiting the final redemption, let us pray that the paths we follow may converge.

We are left with the question of how Pope Benedict might encourage “a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today” — if as Sungenis asserts, the Jewish people enjoy no such relationship and are “no different than any other group of people on the face of the earth.” On the contrary, it seems to me that for some mysterious reason, God’s friendship for the Jewish people remain intertwined with their heritage such that, even today, they constitute a precious witness.

Perhaps no more tragic an affirmation of the continued significance of the Jewish people can be found in the concentrated efforts of the Third Reich to obliterate them from the face of the earth. As Benedict noted in his address at Auschwitz:

Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone—to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful.

Again, I would encourage a reading of Ratzinger’s Many Religions, One Covenant (Ignatius Press, 1999).

As he explains, the proper context for discussing the Jewish-Christian relationship is not one of mutual antagonism — of setting the Old and New Testaments against each other, of pitting Jews against Christians (either then or now) — but of looking at both in relation to the covenant of Abraham. The New Covenant is an extension of the Lord’s abiding covenant with Abraham. In Christ, God’s covenant with the Jews is universalized, “opens up” to encompass Jews and gentiles. It is hard to do justice to his work here, but I have found Ratzinger’s exposition of Church teaching on the covenant and Jewish-Christian relations to be beneficial to this discussion.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl – Aiding & Abetting Nancy Pelosi?

LifeSiteNews’ carries a disappointing story on the new Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl, who has decided to pursue a path of steadfast faithfulness to . . . . imitating the scandalous complacency of his predecessor Cardinal McCarrick towards “pro-choice Catholic” legislators. LifeSiteNews reports:

Perhaps it was a bad omen when at the installation Mass for the new Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl last June, pro-abortion Democratic Senator John Kerry was given Holy Communion and caught on camera in the act. During the entrance procession, Archbishop Wuerl shook hands with Kerry and Senator Ted Kennedy. (see coverage)

Now, Archbishop Wuerl, who replaced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, has said publicly that he would not discipline or direct priests to deny communion to pro-abortion Catholic politician Nancy Pelosi who was just made speaker of the House of Representatives.

When California Catholic Daily reporter Allyson Smith inquired during an interview as to whether Wuerl planned to “discipline her at all for being persistent and obstinate about supporting abortion and same-sex marriage,” Wuerl responded, “I will not be using the faculty in that, in the manner you have described.”

See also Amy Welborn’s extensive coverage of the Pelosi / Wuerl scandal, in which she comments:

I think what Archbishop Wuerl and others fail to understand is the impact of things like this on the lay Catholic who is struggling to be a faithful disciple in the world. The message that is sent by silence is strong, in terms of the lay apostolate in the world, in terms of the unity of faith and life.

Nancy Pelosi is not “struggling” with the Church’s teaching on abortion, trying to work for the protection of unborn human beings within the constraints of the current U.S. law. As we noted before, she is unapologetically, strongly supportive of abortion-rights and unborn children don’t even enter into her radar (publicly, at least) as human beings. . . .

But resting on Archbishop Wuerl’s statements alone, which do not indicate that there’s anything problematic about Nancy Pelosi’s way of living a Catholic life, and which, I admit, simply might be an expression of a reticent style that only answers the questions posed, I’ll just say this again.

If this woman, engaged in a public role, very publicly works against the teachings of the Church to which she professes a very public tie isn’t publicly challenged by even one of the primary teachers of the Church – the bishops – the rest of us – lay Catholics, living and working in the world, every day facing decisions on how to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of the complexities of our professions, some of us who really suffer because of the things they refuse to do because of their fidelity to Christ – we get a message.

And the message we get is that – it doesn’t matter. Do whatever you want.

* * *

Note to Archbishop Wuerl — here’s an excerpt from a noteworthy memo from then-Cardinal Ratzinger to your predecessor (“Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion — General Principles” L’espresso, June 2004):

. . . Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

Earlier this month, The National Abortion Rights Action League commended self-styled “Catholic grandmother” Nancy Pelosi for championing “pro-choice values” for nearly 20 years — a pretty consistent — or obstinant — record on abortion, wouldn’t you agree?

* * *Observing the complacency of the bishops to discipline Michael Liccione wonders What is our problem?:

People being what they are, there must be a measure of “organization”—buildings, offices, procedures, finances, programs, and the like—if the Church is to do her work. But after a certain point, the instinct for institutional self-preservation outweighs the desire for evangelical credibility.

Beneath all the legalistic mumbo-jumbo about bishops’ rights to differing “pastoral styles,” this is why learned, doctrinally orthodox bishops such as Wuerl allow Catholics in public life who facilitate abortion, gay marriage, and embryonic-stem-cell research to remain in ostensibly “full communion” with the Church. Beneath the facile and fallacious clichés about “conscience,” this is why most bishops would discipline a priest under them who started denying the Eucharist to parishioners aware of, but staunchly unwilling to abide by, the Church’s teaching on contraception. Some of those bishops are ones who for too long failed to discipline child molesters and remained in denial about that problem; the reasons for each policy are closely related. Beneath the apparently flexibility and sophistication of “the internal forum,” this is why many so many priests incorporate, as a matter of course, divorced people who have remarried without annulment into parish life on the same level as other Catholics who have adhered, at great cost to themselves, to Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. For the most part, the hierarchy are terrified that schisms, be they de facto or de jure, would reduce the Church to institutional rubble. And let’s be clear: such rubble is exactly what would we’d get if they got serious about challenging people to follow Christ in the pelvic area.

* * *At least one reader of Deal W. Hudson is contemplating civil disobedience in the event of witnessing another “pro-choice Catholic” profane the Eucharist:

If these “Catholic” politicians keep persisting in walking up the communion aisle, why can’t the communicants in their seats stand up and stop them by merely standing in their way much like that young man in Tiannamen Square before the tanks?

Nancy Pelosi and Company have run over innocent life long enough.

* * *

Lastly, Fr. Neuhaus on “ambivalence and resolve about Roe (First Things‘ “On the Square” – January 19th, 2006):

When the aforementioned Nancy Pelosi orchestrated a four-day gala in Washington celebrating her familial, ethnic, and—very explicitly—Catholic identity, people were alert to what would be said by the new archbishop of Washington, Donald Wuerl. He said nothing. Part of the festivities was a Mass at Trinity College, a Catholic institution in Washington. The celebrant of the Mass was Father Robert Drinan, a Jesuit who, more than any other single figure, has been influential in tutoring Catholic politicians on the acceptability of rejecting the Church’s teaching on the defense of innocent human life. Asked by a reporter, Archbishop Wuerl responded that Fr. Drinan has “faculties” in Washington, meaning he is authorized to celebrate the sacraments. That was it.

Also recently, Edward Cardinal Egan of New York gave a rare television interview in which he was persistently asked whether the pro-abortion position of Catholic politicians, notably Rudolph Giuliani and outgoing governor George Pataki, posed a problem for him. He just as persistently said he refused to be drawn into politics and answered, ‘They are my friends.’ But of course he was making a statement of momentous political consequence, in that he seemed to be saying, as far as he is concerned, that the Church has no problem with pro-abortion politicians. It is understandable that Catholics and others have drawn the conclusion that, for both Wuerl and Egan, bishops of the two most prominent sees in the country, rejecting the Church’s teaching on the human dignity of the unborn child is not a big deal.

Related “Must Read” Posts:

Carl Schmitt, Israel Shamir and Robert Sungenis

A response to Robert Sungenis’ “Christopher Blosser and the Catholic ADL: A Review of Mr. Blosser’s Website”

Last week I had posted a brief notation on Sungenis quoting Shamir quoting Schmitt, responding to one of Catholic Apologetics International’s “news alerts” promoting Israel Shamir’s essay “The Tyranny of Liberalism” to CAI readers. (Note: Sungenis has since removed it from his “news alerts” page in light of this recent controversy).

It’s not the first time Israel Shamir has been promoted by an extremist self-styled “traditionalist” Catholic. Back in July we had noted E. Michael Jones’ “Culture Wars‘ Troubling Praise of Israel Shamir” (Fringewatch July 3, 2006) and Shamir’s own controversial reputation among the left. Apparently once a darling of the Palestinian cause, his anti-semitism proved so toxic that he was deemed a public relations disaster and eventually disowned by his comrades (See Nigel Parry’s The Israel Shamir Case and Roland Rance’s Israel Shamir: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?, from the Socialist Viewpoint). One might get a sense of Shamir’s worldview by his conclusion from his recent essay that:

Armed with Schmitt’s thesis and Bauer’s testimony, we may conclude: “the ‘liberal democracy and human rights’ doctrine carried by the US marines across the Tigris and the Oxus is a form of secularised Judaism. Considering the predominance of Jews in mass media and especially among the media lords, it is only natural that the ideology they promote is so close to Jewish heart.

Shamir’s writings are similar to that of other anti-semites: society’s ills perceived through the lens of a global Zionist conspiracy, “Talmudic” (or in some cases, secular) Judaism set against Christian civilization.

In this particular article Shamir makes use of Carl Schmitt, a Nazi legal scholar whose writings laid the ideological groundwork for the Third Reich. As I noted in my original post, while I am not necessarily opposed to an academic study of Carl Schmitt, in light of Shamir’s own reputation and polemical worldview it certainly made for a curious picture to find Sungenis quoting Shamir quoting Schmitt — so soon after last year’s controversy when Sungenis was once again outed for his reliance upon questionable ideological sources (See Michael Forrest’ Sungenis and the Jews).

Sungenis has posted a response to CAI entitled “Christopher Blosser and the Catholic ADL: A Review of Mr. Blosser’s Website” [.pdf format]. (In the event Sungenis decides to remove this piece following this critique, you may read it in its entirety here).

I am sorry to disappoint Sungenis, but his response to me reveals his knack for using dubious sources and a consistent failure to check his facts.

[Read The Rest . . . ].

My Refusal to “Debate” Sungenis:

Sungenis begins with the charge:

When I was alerted to Mr. Blosser’s website, I told Chris Campbell (our CAI promotional director) to ask Mr. Blosser if he would like to debate this and other Jewish issues in a public forum. Mr. Blosser returned the email stating: “debating is not my forte.”

Not true, and easily refuted by recourse to the historical record. Christian Campbell contacted me on 1/11/07 with the inquiry:

Do you wish to debate Sungenis about this and/or other topics (Zionism, Judaism, etc) in a public forum?

We would be happy to accommodate you. Sungenis is more than willing to debate and more then willing to remove anything that is questionable. As he is very busy, often times sources fall through the cracks.

I wrote back to Mr. Campbell:

Public speaking is not my forte. However, I may be persuaded to respond in writing to a particular article he has written on Zionism, Judaism, etc. (as time permits).

While I’m not enthused about speaking in public (being rather stage-shy in front of an audience), this is not to say I would be averse to responding online. I made this perfectly clear to Mr. Campbell in my response to his email, who then responded:

“I will forward on this email to Sungenis to see if he wants to debate with you online, via your blog and CAI’s site, etc.”

Consequently, I question Sungenis’ skewed presentation of my response to Campbell. A disappointing, but from what I have seen, not entirely unexpected move on Sungenis’ part.

Sungenis’ Defense of Schmitt

Getting to the heart of his attack, Sungenis defends Carl Schmitt:

For the record, let’s examine Mr. Blosser’s accusations. Blosser says Carl Schmitt
“had an active role in the Third Reich.” But the website he gives for verification (which is written by a Jewish author no less), never says that Schmitt “had an active role in the Third Reich.” The closest it says is that he had “ties to Nazi ideology and party.” ( So according to even this Jewish author, Schmitt was not actually IN the Nazi party, much less had an “active role” in the party. In fact, in a closing paragraph, the Jewish author admits:

“the SS publication Das schwarze Korps accused Schmitt of being an opportunist and called his anti-semitism a mere mock-up, citing earlier statements in which he criticized the Nazi’s racial theories.”

So which is it, Mr. Blosser? Was Schmitt anti-semite or anti-Nazi? Curious minds want to know.

Contra Sungenis, we find — from the same source — ample evidence that Schmitt, while not a racial anti-semite (true), nevertheless bore a personal animosity towards the Jews and played an active role in the Nazi party. According to the article in question:

Schmitt’s theories in [“The Concept of the Political”] were later used by the Nazis for an ideological foundation of their dictatorship, and Schmitt was later accused of having justified the “Führer” state with regard to legal philosophy. In fact, Schmitt, who became a professor at the University of Berlin in 1933 (a position he held until the end of World War II) joined the NSDAP on May 1, 1933; he quickly was appointed “preußischer Staatsrat” by Hermann Göring and became the president of the “Vereinigung nationalsozialistischer Juristen” (“Union of National-Socialist Jurists”) in November.

Half a year later, in June 1934, Schmitt became editor in chief for the professional newspaper “Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung” (“German jurisprudents’ newspaper”); in July 1934, he justified the political murders of the Night of the Long Knives as the “highest form of administrative justice” (“höchste Form administrativer Justiz”).

Schmitt presented himself as a radical anti-semite and also was the chairman of a law teachers’ convention in Berlin in October 1936, where he demanded that German law be cleansed from the “Jewish spirit” (“jüdischem Geist”); nevertheless, two months later, in December, the SS publication “Das schwarze Korps” accused Schmitt of being an opportunist and called his anti-semitism a mere mock-up, citing earlier statements in which he criticised the Nazi’s racial theories. After this, Schmitt soon lost all of his prominent offices, and retreated from his position as a leading Nazi jurist, although he remained as a professor in Berlin.

One can charitably conclude that, in his haste to respond to me, Sungenis might have neglected to read the full text of the article.

Schmitt and Heideggar

As a study in intellectual capitulation to National Socialism, Carl Schmitt might be compared to his contemporary, the German philosopher Martin Heideggar — both were initially enthusiastic about the advent of the Third Reich. Both joined the Party in 1933 of their own volition, and came to be appointed to signifiant academic positions within the Reich. Neither of whom were motivated by a racial hatred of the Jews, and yet their influence

Heideggar is a fascinating case, in that he perceived National Socialism as the realization of his own philosophical “revolution of Authenticity” — when the Reich failed to live up to his metaphysical expectations, he bailed; the Nazis in return questioned his loyalty to the cause. I very much recommend Rudiger Safranski’s Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil (Harvard UP, 1998) as an accessible study of this tragic yet captivating figure. As Safranski notes:

‘We are faced with a Heidegger who is woven into his own dream of a history of being, and his movements on the political state are those of a philosophical dreamer. In a late letter he would concede to Jaspers that he had dreamed “politically” and therefore had been mistaken. But that he was politically mistaken because he had dreamed “philosophically” — that he would never admit, because as a philosopher who wished to discover the essence of historical time he was bound to defend — even to himself — his philosophical interpretative competence for what was happening in political history.’ [p. 234]

On the other hand, Carl Schmitt’s infatuation with National Socialism appears to be motivated by something more than a philosophical interest. The blogger Waggish in his discussion of Carl Schmitt (12 June 2006) mentions some troubling biographical notes from Schmitt’s academic career under National Socialism:

  • In June, 1934, when he called Hitler’s “Long Knives” purges “the highest form of administrative justice.”
  • In October 1936, Schmitt declared to a convention of law professors that German law must be cleansed of the “Jewish spirit.”
  • October, 1936 again, Schmitt also quoted Hitler: “In that I defend myself against the Jews, I struggle to do the work of the Lord.”
  • In 1938, Schmitt wrote that Jews sit around waiting for Christians to die in battle and “then eat the flesh of those killed and live off it” (The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes).
  • Months and years after the war, Schmitt wrote in his journals such statements as “Jews remain Jews while Communists can improve themselves and change. The real enemy is the assimilated Jew.”

Racially-motivated or not, ideas have consequences. And if you take all of Schmitt’s quotations together, I would say that they imply a personal attitude toward Jews (I dearly hope Sungenis would agree with me here) that most Catholics today, including Pope John Paul II and our present Benedict XVI, would find deeply disturbing and objectionable.

This particular subject is explored at length in Raphael Gross’ Carl Schmitt and the Jews, recently translated into English and due out in June 2007 by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Gross questions the “antisemitism of opportunity” thesis — that Schmitt’s anti-semitism was a temporary affectation to gain favor with the Nazis:

Through a reading of Schmitt’s corpus, some of which became available only after his death, Gross highlights the importance of the “Jewish Question” on the breadth of Schmitt’s work. According to Gross, Schmitt’s antisemitism was at the core of his work—before, during, and after the Nazi era. His influential polarities of “friend and foe,” “law and nomos,” “behemoth and Leviathan,” and “ketechon and Antichrist” emerge from a conceptual template in which “the Jew” is defined as adversary, undermining the Christian order with secularization. The presence of this template at the heart of Schmitt’s work, Gross contends, calls for a major reassessment of Schmitt’s role within contemporary cultural and legal theory.

Looks to be an interesting read, howebeit not one likely to be mentioned by or endorsed on Catholic Apologetics International.

Q: What is “anti-Semitism”?

A common strategy of those who intellectually flirt with (or worse, embrace) the ideological right is to confine the definition of antisemitism to a purely racial hatred of the Jewish people, so as to excuse or explain away any other form of animosity toward the Jewish people. It is not suprising, then, that Sungenis has posted to his website — perhaps as a defense — Fr. Denis Fahey’s oft-cited explanation of anti-semitism, which proceeds along these lines:

. . . many Catholic writers speak of papal condemnations of Anti-Semitism without explaining the meaning of the term and never even allude to the documents which insist on the rights of Our Divine Lord, Head of the Mystical Body, Priest and King. Thus, very many are completely ignorant of the duty incumbent on all Catholics of standing positively for Our Lord’s reign in society in opposition to Jewish naturalism.

The result is that numbers of Catholics are so ignorant of Catholic doctrine that they hurl the accusation of Anti-Semitism against those who are battling for the rights of Christ the King thus effectively aiding the enemies of Our Divine Lord. Secondly, many Catholic writers copy unquestioningly what they read in the naturalistic or anti-supernatural Press and do not distinguish between Anti-Semitism in the correct Catholic sense, as explained above, and “Anti-Semitism,” as the Jews understand it. For the Jews, “Anti-Semitism” is anything that is in opposition to the naturalistic Messianic domination of their nation over all the others. Quite logically, the leaders of the Jewish nation hold that to stand for the Rights of Christ the King is to be “Anti-Semitic.”

Unfortunately, Fahey’s restricted definition of anti-semitism didn’t prohibit him from indulging in fantasies of Judeo-Masonic conspiracies so off the wall that Hillaire Belloc was moved to say “The thing is nonsense on the face of it.”

This is a bit of a tangent, but a fair, yet critical treatment of Fr. Fahey is Sr. Mary Christine Athans’ The Coughlin-Fahey Connection: Father Charles E. Coughlin, Father Denis Fahey, C.S.Sp., and Religious Anti-Semitism in the United States, 1938-1954 (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1991), an appraisal of Fahey’s life and thought along with a look at his considerable influence over the “radio priest” Fr. Charles Coughlin. (Given that it’s out of print and rather pricey, I may write a lengthier review of Athan’s book if readers are interested).

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “anti-semitism” was coined in 1879 by Wilhelm Marr to designate anti-Jewish campaigns in central Europe at that time. Although it is a misnomer (implying discrimination against all semites), it is commonly understood to mean “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group” (Merriam-Webster).

In 1964 Fr. Edward Flannery published The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism, according to whom:

The distinguishing mark of anti-semitism is a hatred, contempt and stereotyping of the Jewish people as such. . . . it should be distinguished therefore from indiscriminate hostility to which all peoples and groups have been prey; from anti-Judaism, a theological construct, with which it has often been intermingled; and from anti-Jewish manifestations that may lead to — or in history have led to — but do not possess the attributes specified above.

Flannery’s book documents many kinds of anti-semitism, from the classical anti-semitism of Greeks & Romans (motivated by offense at the Jewish refusal to conform to the religious and social standards of Hellenistic culture) to the religious anti-semitism and anti-Judaism of the Christian Church (manifesting itself in persecution, pogroms, massacres, social degradations, and forced baptisms) to the contemporary, racial anti-semitism of modern times (motivated by economic resentment and racial hatred, and culminating in the Holocaust).

The Anguish of the Jews, revised and updated in 1984, is considered to be a classic history of the subject. I agree, as Flannery does, that one must make distictions: neither disagreement with Zionism nor theological differences alone constitutes anti-semitism. But when manifested in such cases as Fr. Fahey’s wholesale denunciation of “Jewish naturalism”, or Carl Schmitt’s call for a purge of “the Jewish spirit” from libraries, or Fr. Coughlin’s serializing of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his weekly Catholic paper, the line is blurred, and the consequences of such actions are all too similar to those brought about by a purely secular, racial hatred.

Upon reading Flannery’s history one can only conclude that Fahey’s equasion of anti-semitism with racial hatred, while etymologically correct, is gravely insufficient.

Global Anti-Semitism Review Act: “Marriage of State and Synagogue”?

The rest of Sungenis’ response is rather trivial and covers old ground — jabs at Jacob Michael (Sungenis and the Jews: Comments on a Controversy), Michael Forrest, and David Palm, erstwhile colleagues of Sungenis who have since distanced themselves in light of Sungenis’ increasing radicalism. All of whom have already written replies to Bob’s most recent accusations, and whose responses can be found here); likewise jabs at Jewish converts Roy Schoeman and David Moss and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (“lackeys for Zionism and Judaism”); the ecumenical journal First Things — all of whom together with yours truly constitute a “Catholic Anti-Defamation League” utterly beholden to “Neocon/Zionist political and religious ideology.”

On the other hand, Sungenis appears to be quite perturbed over the passing of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 and the appointment of Gregg Rickman in May 2006 to the post of Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism.

According to the State Department:

Shaped by Senator George Voinovich (Republican of Ohio) and Representatives Christopher Smith (Republican of New Jersey) and Tom Lantos (Democrat of California), the act mandates a one-time State Department Report on Global Anti-Semitism and subsequent inclusion of information about anti-Semitism in the department’s annual reports on human rights and on international religious freedom.

Concern over the rising tide of anti-semitism in the world today? — Surely a good thing. At the same time, the Pittsburgh Jurist reports that unnamed sources in the State Department did express criticism that this move constitues a “bureaucratic nuisance”, creating yet more paperwork — which I think is a valid concern. For Sungenis, however, the advent of the Act implies something more . . . devious:

In introducing Mr. Rickman to the job, the State Department gave him the Report on Global Anti-Semitism soon after his installation. It contains 12 descriptions of “anti-semitism.” Number 4 on the list says the following:

“Criticism of the Jewish religion or its religious leaders or literature
(especially the Talmud and Kabbalah) is anti-Semitic.”

Number 7 says:

“Blaming Jewish leaders and their followers for inciting the Roman crucifixion of Christ is anti-Semitic.”

So, it looks like every good Catholic who is faithful to his religion is now classed as an anti-smite by the U.S. government. If you criticize the blatantly anti-Christian literature known as the Talmud, you are “anti-semitic.” If you even say an unkind word about the preposterous mystical musings of Jewish sages who wrote the Kabbalah, you are an “anti-semite.”

Some key problems with Sungenis’ warning:

  1. The 2005 Report on Global Anti-Semitism” mentioned in Sungenis’ paper and allegedly given to Rickman upon his appointment engages in a brief discussion of what constitutes anti-semitism and documents some blatantly anti-semitic incidents (desecration of Holocaust gravesites; vandalism of synagogues, an arson of a Jewish school, etc.). Anyone can read through the list and one gets a sense of precisely the kind of incidents the State Department is justifiably concerned about.

    However, what it does not contain is “12 descriptions of anti-semitism” as Sungenis describes. I’ve searched in vain for the specific quotations and am unable to turn up an itemized list of any sort, much less specific charges that “Criticism of the Jewish religion or its religious leaders or literature (especially the Talmud and Kabbalah)” or “blaming Jewish leaders for inciting the Roman crucifixion of Christ”, in any context constitute anti-semitism. However, if we do a quick google-search we discover . . .

  2. . . . the source of Sungenis’ news is none other than a frequently quoted source of CAI’s “news alerts”: the hyperbolic rantings of the “Reverend” Ted Pike ( “The Real Motive Behind the Department of Global Anti-Semitism). The “twelve points” Sungenis discloses are actually presented by Ted Pike himself, and are not actually conveyed in any kind of itemized format in the Report on Global Anti-Semitism. Yet this is deliberately inferred in Sungenis’ presentation of events and his conclusion that “every good Catholic who is faithful to his religion is now classed as an anti-smite by the U.S. government.”

    Sadly, again, a use of dubious sources and failure to do some simple fact-checking — and Sungenis doesn’t even have the integrity of crediting the source of this claim.

Sungenis concludes:

If you think about it, it turns out that the very country that claims it separates Church and State is now the very country that protects one religion above all
others. It is a fact that Judaism is now protected like no other religion in the history of the
United States, complete with laws against anyone who would dare criticize it. It is our
first State-protected, State-advanced, religion. My, my, they certainly have some
chutzpah, don’t they? I wonder what George Washington would say?

And who was behind this blatant censorship of our freedom of speech? That’s
right, the ADL and the Jewish lobby in Congress. And do you know what is going to
happen if these Jewish lobbyists get Congress to enforce this and other “Hate Crime” bills? Anyone who transgresses item Nos. 4 and 7 can be arrested and thrown in jail, including Mr. Forrest, Mr. Michael, Mr. Suprenant and Mr. Blosser, not to mention being thrown in jail for transgressing items 1 through 12, which, to varying degrees, are as ludicrous as Nos. 4 and 7. So, if you are wondering why I’m on this warpath, this is it; not to mention that the quagmire we now know as the “War in Iraq” (which has put the whole world on nuclear alert) was instigated mainly by the Jewish advisors in Bush’s

Never mind that Sungenis’ tone sounds like that of Fr. Coughlin with every passing day, please read the text of the State Departmment’s report itself, and the nature of the incidents which are of concern to those who penned the Act: signs of an impending Global Zionist Domination or a legitimate cause of concern, worthy of monitoring in light of, say, past history? — In the words of then Secretary Powell: “We must not permit anti-Semitic crimes to be shrugged off as inevitable side effects of inter-ethnic conflicts. Political disagreements do not justify physical assaults against Jews in our streets, the destruction of Jewish schools, or the desecration of synagogues and cemeteries. There is no justification for anti-Semitism.”

You can imagine the same indictment coming from our own Holy Father, as when he met with met with the Anti-Defamation League in October 2006.

In his response to me, Sungenis remarks that he has made

“a concerted effort to clear up the so-called “source problem,” as miniscule as it is [by assigning] my capable assistant, Mr. Benjamin Douglas (who is also known for his impeccable scholarship) to be the fact-checker and
source-exonerator for CAI articles on Jewish issues.”

Perhaps Douglas should have taken a look at Sungenis’ response to me before it went to press. I am open to correction, if Sungenis can in fact provide a link to the U.S. Report on Global Anti-Semitism which indicates what he says they mean.

My own hunch is that Sungenis simply read Ted Pike’s own “news alert” and — in typical fashion — conveyed it verbatim.

Lastly, a clarification about my “other websites”

Sungenis accuses me of “running” a number of blogs and websites. Again, as Sungenis didn’t check his facts, some clarification is in order:

  • Fringewatcher, with Matt Anger — which, according to Sungenis, “alerts his audience to people like me who expose his NeoCon/Zionist “FIRST” and Catholicism second, political beliefs.” Readers are invited to review the archives and judge for themselves. On a historical note, I was invited to this blog back in 2005, at the time I assisted Mr. Anger in compiling research into the ideological background and radical ties of John Sharpe and Derek Holland of IHS Press. I continue to contribute on occasion.
  • I also, apparently, “run a website totally devoted to the cause of Israel,” entitled Catholic Friends of Israel — again, a collaborative effort, founded by Don Kenner in September 2005. I joined the following year (July of 2006) with minor contributions of under a dozen posts, Don taking on the lion’s share of the work and to whom I give due credit.

    To frustrate Sungenis’ one-sided stereotype of “Neocon-Zionists”, I might add that, from our correspondence with each other, Don is actually far more sympathetic to paleocons than the neocons, and in fact disagrees with me on the Iraq war (“before the Iraq war even began”, he recently reminded me). However, we are mutually agreed on Israel’s right to defend its existence as a nation against those who wish to obliterate it and the Jewish people. But again — I am merely a participant of this website.

  • On the other hand, I do maintain and take credit for a website and blog on The Catholic Church, Iraq, and the Just War Tradition — which “advances the war in Iraq and US/Israeli hegemony . . . a virtual “Who’s Who?” among Neocon warmongers and ideologues.” The purpose of the website itself is to document, for research purposes, the Catholic debate over the legitimacy of the war. As readers can see, it is neutral in its effort to garner the viewpoints of those both pro and con: Michael Novak, Fr. Neuhaus, then-Cardinal Ratzinger,

    My blog is admittedly a little more biased — for example, in “Pope Benedict, Modern Weaponry and Civilian Casualties”, I disagree on Pope Benedict’s prudential observation that “given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war.'” The last time I checked, however, the application of just war criteria was an area which Pope Benedict himself himself recognized “a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics.”

  • According to Sungenis, “Blosser runs another blog designed to support NeoCon Catholic Republicans.” While I do maintain the blog, its purpose is clear — during the Presidential Campaign of 2004 we had a collective blog entitled Catholic Kerry Watch, a vehicle to give voice to those scandalized by Kerry’s persistent claims that one could be a “pro-choice Catholic” on abortion and consistently support legislation in opposition to the clear teaching of the Church on any number of life issues (abortion, euthanasia, embroynic stem cell research). As the “pro-choice Catholic” phenomenon extends well beyond Senator Kerry to Catholic politicians on both sides of the partisan isle (Sen. Ted Kennedy, Governor Arnold Schwarcheneggar, Mayor Rudy Giuliani), Catholics in the Public Square was a natural offshoot of this project.
  • Finally, I’d like to thank Sungenis for recognizing The Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club; howbeit given notable events of April 2005, we now have The Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club, and I blog at The Benedict Blog.

    Against The Grain remains a vehicle for personal expression, whereas The Benedict Blog is exclusively devoted to monthly news “roundups” about our Holy Father.

In closing

As stated in my original post, I am certainly not opposed to a study of Carl Schmitt. One might benefit from a study of his work and a number of scholars have done so. However, any scholar bearing a personal animus toward Jews (fairly explicit — in the case of Shamir, and certainly of concern in Schmitt as well) should be treated with caution and a degree of “academic objectivity.”

I also think it is entirely possible to offer criticism of the Bush administration’s proposal to roll back the tide of terrorism by transplanting liberal democracy on foreign soil — and I think you’ll find some conservatives who have done so without allusions to the expansion of “US / Israeli hegemony” and global Zionist conspiracies. Fr. Richard Neuhaus, for instance, offered a cogent discussion of this topic in his “Public Square” column (“Internationalisms” (First Things 148 (December 2004): 64-84).

My own personal opinion is that in light of Sungenis’ past reference and persistent use of dubious sources (as documented by Bill Cork in 2002, and Michael Forrest in 2006), he does not at this time possess the ability to maintain a critical distance. This is evident in the general quality of websites that he uses has his sources (The Reverend Ted Pike, Israel Shamir, Michael Hoffman II, the National Vanguard, among others).

Sungenis quoting Shamir quoting Schmitt does not imply that Sungenis “is a Nazi.” Nonetheless, I maintain that promoting an essay by Israel Shamir as a “news alert” to readers (not all of whom are, I would imagine, as intellectually discerning as Sungenis) seems to me a cause for concern, especially for a Catholic organization which had formerly indicated to its readers in September 2006:

. . . ever since our critique of the Reflections on Covenant and Missions statement was issued in 2002. We began to focus on politics, culture and other peripheral issues that were not the frame and substance of our former work, which started in 1993. Although those areas certainly have their merit, they have detracted from the expertise we offered to the public in the area of biblical studies. Hence, we are retreating from those more controversial areas for the foreseeable future so that we can concentrate on our areas of strength.

Elizabeth Fox Genovese 1941-2007

Elizabeth Fox Genovese died on January 2nd, at the age of 65. The blog Cosmos Liturgy Sex provides a welcome roundup of memories and tributes – In Memory of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese: Secular, Liberal to Pro-life Feminist:

Elizabeth began her career as an atheist, feminist scholar but her sharp mind and open heart soon led her to the truth about abortion and eventually to her conversion to the Catholic Faith. She was an active member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, a recognized expert in the history of the American South, and a critic of radical feminism.

Elizabeth offered some reflections on her conversion in a Crisis 2002 magazine article, The Way of Conversion:

What I believe I can say with some confidence, but without pride, is that conversion never stops. Each day, each of us faces fresh challenges to live and act and speak in fidelity to the gospel, and none of them is easy.

But of this we may be sure: If we back away from all of them and retreat into the comfort of the prevailing consensus, we will lose the substance of our conversion. It is common to see the convert as the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable and, I suspect, no less common for faithful Catholics, including converts, to identify with the older son, for whom no fatted calf is killed. In slipping into that view of ourselves as having been converted-having attained a status-we lose sight of the parable’s deeper meaning: namely, that we always remain the prodigal son and always remain in need of the Father’s unqualified welcome.

The Execution of Saddam Hussein and Church Teaching on the Death Penalty

NOTE: This is a supplement to a prior post, Capital Punishment, Cardinal Martino and the Catholic Church Dec. 29, 2007

John Allen Jr: “ontic” and “practical” absolutes?

This week’s National Catholic Reporter: “Church opposition to execution ‘practically’ absolute” – an assessment of Catholic debate over the death penalty by John Allen Jr., both theoretical and in the context of the execution of Saddam Hussein:

one could argue that the reaction from the Vatican and from senior Catholic officials around the world to the Dec. 30 execution of Saddam Hussein, and its broader opposition to the war in Iraq in the first place, collectively mark a milestone in the evolution of yet another category in Catholic teaching: Positions which are not absolute in principle, but which are increasingly absolute in practice. Opposition to war, unless undertaken in clear self-defense or with the warrant of the international community, and the use of capital punishment are the leading cases in point.

In effect, recent Vatican interventions on matters such as the Hussein execution suggest the Catholic church now has two categories of moral teachings: what we might call “ontic” or “inherent” absolutes, such as abortion, euthanasia, and the destruction of embryos in stem cell research, which are considered always and everywhere immoral because of the nature of the act, and “practical” absolutes, i.e., acts which might be justified in theory, but which under present conditions cannot be accepted.

In discussion the arguments against the execution of Saddam Hussein, Allen mentions the “seamless garment” position offered by some members of the Vatican curia:

. . . there’s the principled argument that the right to life must always be upheld. This point was made in a Dec. 30 interview in Ansa, the Italian news agency, with Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

“Man cannot simply dispose of life, and therefore it should be defended from the moment of conception to natural death,” Martino said. “This position thus excludes abortion, experimentation on embryos, euthanasia and the death penalty, which are a negation of the transcendent dignity of the human person created in the image of God.”

Note that Martino listed capital punishment on a par with key life issues long understood to admit of no exceptions.

Two Discussions

There are two discussions going on — the first centering on justifiability of the execution of Saddam Hussein per se; the second spurred by Cardinal Martino’s framing of the issue, the merging of prudential judgement and Church teaching and the confusion that characterizes many discussions of this issue.

I think there were some good arguments for and against the execution of Saddam Hussein. I also think that while the execution of a bloody tyrant is just in principle (a case for Saddam’s execution being made by Prof. Stephen Bainbridge), the practical manner in which it was carried out left something to be desired. If the New York Times‘ reporting of the actual situation is accurate (Before Hanging, a Push for Revenge and a Push Back From the U.S.), the Vatican’s concerns about the execution seem to be vindicated. And it seems a good number of American officials on the ground had similar concerns as well.

As Richard. B. Woodward mused (Subtext Message: The cellphone video of Saddam’s execution OpinionJournal January 4, 2007):

in everything from the partisan chants of Shiite bystanders to the grainy, low-lighted jumpiness of the footage and the horror-movie ski masks of the executioners, the video images of the execution contradict the fragile message that a secure and democratic government is in charge, rendering justice to someone who deserves to die.

IraqPundit put it more bluntly: Coming to a Bad End” – January 2, 2007:

I would never have thought it possible that by executing a ruthless mass murderer, Iraq would find a way to disgrace itself. Saddam deserved to hang, yet thanks to the breathtaking stupidity of Nouri Al Maliki’s government, not only have Iraqis been further divided by the hanging, they have been diminished by it.

The second discussion — the larger issue of the death penalty itself and the present confusion in debate over the Church’s teaching — is of greater interest to me, personally. I took issue in my last post with the manner in which Cardinal Martino framed his opposition to the execution — describing it simply as “a crime” and now, according to John Allen, JR., embracing a “seamless garment of life” ethic (“Man cannot simply dispose of life, and therefore it should be defended from the moment of conception to natural death”) ignores the complexities of the Church’s position and leads the unwary reader to believe the Church’s stance is abolitionist in principle.

Cardinal Dulles, IMHO, possesses more intellectual credibility in his effort to interpret the practical judgement of John Paul II in light of a “hermeneutics of continuity,” seeking to reconcile it with Catholic tradition, and likewise asserting that “if the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millenia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture.”

First Things‘ Robert Miller – Need for Clarification

In a post to First Things‘ blog — Reading the Bishops Rightly — Robert T. Miller affirms the importance of distinguishing various levels of Church teaching:

This is not to say that bishops should never speak on questions beyond faith and morals, including on particular questions, such as the execution of Hussein. When they do so, however, it would be better if they were clear on the nature of the statements they are making and the kind of deference faithful Catholics should give them. As things are, such statements tend to engender more confusion than clarity.

Worse, the current situation is ripe for abuse: Bishops, like everyone else, prefer it when people agree with them, and so some bishops are tempted to enunciate positions and invest them with the authority of their office, even when those positions go beyond matters of faith and morals and depend on particular, even idiosyncratic, views about empirical circumstances. There is a danger, in other words, of bishops leveraging their legitimate authority in faith and morals into the political arena by implicitly passing off empirical judgments as if they were teachings on faith and morals commanding the assent of faithful Catholics. We should resist this. One can oppose the naked public square without thinking that it ought to be dressed up in just any old garb whatsoever, no matter how tatterdemalion.

* * *

There is an ongoing exchange between several Catholic bloggers — Dr. Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae), Tom Kreitzberg (Disputations) and Paul (sorry, last name?) on this topic, which may be of interest:

  • “Yes, and . . .” – Dr. Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae January 25, 2007) concurs with Prof. Miller that “that Catholics may legitimately dissent from moral judgments made by Church leaders, including the pope, if and when those judgments themselves depend on “empirical” judgments that may reasonably be disputed.” The “reasonably disputed” is the qualifying factor.
  • “The scope of “prudential” dissent for Catholics” Sacramentum Vitae January 5, 2007), with attention to Cardinal Ratzinger’s Doctrinal Commentary on the Professio Fidei and teachings which while “non-definitive”, still require “religious submission of will and intellect” from Catholics. (Response: On the prudential 153: Catholic Deep Fishing January 6, 2006).
  • “Can you repeat the question?” Disputations January 5, 2007. Tom Kreitzberg agrees w. Mike, though cautions: “when you’re not taking a test in a for-credit course on Catholicism, I hope you say, ‘Frankly, I care a lot more about whether I’m wrong than about whether I’m a bad Catholic.'” (When the disputed question is which question is to be disputed – Response by Michael Liccione.

Similarities in the “Just War Debate”

As John Allen Jr. and Michael Liccione have both observed, the discussion of the death penalty closely mirrors that which is occuring over just war. There is no dispute over the fact that John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger opposed the war in Iraq, or that Benedict has taken a staunch position against war in his pontificate (’s Angelo Matera’s series in the National Catholic Register: Benedict, The Peace Pope September 3-9, 2006; Catholic Hawks Circle Benedict September 24-30, 2006). However, as in the death penalty debate, there seems to be a similar erroneous conflation of prudential judgement and Church teaching.

I discussed the present confusion in the just debate in last year’s Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition Against The Grain May 18, 2006. By way of a more recent example, the New Oxford Review recently criticized the Catholic Church with exhibiting:

. . . a fundamental discontinuity between the Church’s [own] opposition to the war in Iraq and her position with regard to individual support for it, or participation in it. More specifically, despite her well-known opposition to the war, the Church has failed to impose moral sanctions against those who directly or indirectly support it. The incongruity between her words and her actions substantially undercuts the Church’s moral position on Iraq, and reduces the NOR’s editorial position from championing Catholic truth to advocating an editorial opinion.

(“Should Catholics Defend America?”, by Paul R. Muessig. New Oxford Review July /August 2006).

After a jab at “neoconservative cabalists . . . foisting their Zionist vision of an uncritically pro-Israel American Empire on a complacent and largely ignorant American public”, Muessig directs his attention to Catholics who “claim to be orthodox but support the war”:

there’s not an honest one in the bunch. They are no better than the cafeteria Catholics who support abortion, picking and choosing by which of the hard moral teachings of the Church they will abide. Given the choice between serving God or mammon, they have chosen the latter.

Muessig will no doubt remain unsatisfied until Fr. Neuhaus, Michael Novak or George Weigel receive some moral sanction at the hands of their bishop.

James Turner Johnson, in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future, criticized the guiding hermeneutics of the Catholic Bishops in the debate over Iraq which contrasts with the classical just war tradition. To quote directly from Johnson:

. . . As the bishops have developed and applied a ‘presumption against war’ in various contexts since 1983, they have transformed the traditional just war categories from moral concerns to guide the practice of statecraft into a series of moral obstacles that, as described and interpreted, are arguments against the use of moral force’s ever being justifiable. The regular advancing of worst-case scenarios as unbiased moral advice underscores the opposition to uses of armed force as such and distorts the application of just war reasoning. The result is functional pacifism, despite the claim that this is what the just war idea requires. [p. 49]

I am unable to do Johnson justice in my blog, but encourage a reading of his book. An earlier portion of the text was published in First Things as Just War, As It Was and Is First Things 149 (January 2005): 14-24.

George Weigel has also offered a study of the transition of Catholic thought on war and peace in Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace, Oxford University Press, 1987 — dwelling chiefly on the Second Vatican Council and positions on war taken by U.S. Catholic Bishops. (See this Review by Charles J. Leonard. Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly Newsletter Vol. 10, No. 4. Sept. 1987).

Bracketing for a moment the specific case of the war in Iraq, I think Dr. Johnson has demonstrated that there has been intellectual transition in contemporary Church thought on the interpretation of just war teaching which stands in sharp contrast to ‘classical’ Catholic tradition. More often than not, the Vatican, while registering its practical judgement on empirical matters regarding the war and the death penalty, has not adequately clarified or conveyed its present position in a way that reconciles it to past teaching.

According to John Allen, Jr.:

Indications from the Vatican and from a wide swath of Catholic officialdom suggest that in practice, it’s unlikely there will ever again be a war (defined as the initiation of hostilities without international warrant) or an execution the church does not officially oppose.

At the level of application, at least, it would seem the debate is almost over, and the abolitionists are winning.

A conclusion that I find personally troubling, in light of the widespread confusion it has wrought and its tenuous relationship with — echoing Cardinal Dulles — “two millenia of Catholic thought.”