The Public Square
Aftermath does not mean it is over. The word literally means a second-growth crop or, more simply, the continuing consequences of what has gone before. The comprehensive report of the National Review Board (NRB), along with recommendations, is still scheduled for February 27. The bishops are bracing themselves for it. Some are unhappy that a demand to vet it in advance was denied. I am among those who thought the bishops made a big mistake in effectively declaring their inability to govern themselves by appointing the NRB. But the bishops created the board and gave it its mandate, and it is my impression that the members of the board are conscientiously doing what they were asked to do. The report is informally called the Bennett Report, since the chief writer is the prominent Washington attorney Robert Bennett. Also on February 27, the report of the research team put together by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice will be released.
The John Jay report will be in the mode of televisions Sergeant Joe Friday, Just the facts, maam. Since 1950, how many priests have engaged in, or been accused of, sexual abuse of minors; how many young people were victimized; how much has the Church paid out in damages or settlements. Several sources close to the research suggest that all three figures may be higher than has been generally estimated: perhaps five percent of priests nationwide, with eleven thousand victims, and a payout of about a billion dollars. Others, however, claim to know that those figures are too high. Presumably, we will all know come February 27. All but a handful of dioceses are reportedly cooperating fully with the John Jay team. On January 6, Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops conference, is scheduled to release a report of several hundred pages on the compliance of dioceses with the provisions adopted by the Dallas 2002 meeting of bishops. It is said that, with a relatively small number of exceptions among the 194 dioceses, bishops have complied with Dallas, although sometimes grudgingly. More intense public attention will likely be focused on the two reports of February 27.
Anecdotal evidence gives reason to believe that, as I have said before, in a few years the Catholic Church may be viewed as the very model of squeaky-clean precautions for protecting children. In one diocese it has been ordered that church choirs, if they have any members under eighteen, must be fingerprinted. This sounds ludicrous, and it is, but bishops are keeping their eyes on prosecutors, trial lawyers, and insurance companies, determined to deprive them of any chance in the future to claim there was carelessness in overseeing church-related activities that even marginally involve young people. A little of the ludicrous, it is thought, is a small price to pay for preventing the scandalous. If it is objected that a climate of trust is being replaced by narrow-eyed suspicion, the answer given is better safe than sorry.
The written guidelines of another diocese prescribe that priests and other adult church workers must never under any circumstance be alone with a minor. Old-fashioned confessionals having been tossed out long ago, the rule is that reconciliation rooms must have a clear window with somebody posted outside to keep an eye on things. In that diocese such precautions are probably unnecessary since confession”now called the Sacrament of Reconciliation by almost nobody”has long since fallen into desuetude. But then, by now so much that was once deemed confidential and even protected by the confessional seal is in the hands of prosecutors or served up for the delectation of the public in the morning paper.
One priest who doesnt understand the new rules went to his bishop with a personal problem (unrelated to sex abuse) and was flatly told, Dont tell me anything you dont want the district attorney to know. That is, perhaps, an extreme case. When I mentioned it to a crusty veteran who has been a priest for more than forty years, he said, So whats new? From the time I was in seminary we knew that any priest who went to his bishop with a personal problem that could ever be used against him was simply an idiot. Maybe so, but that isnt the way it was supposed to be. In any event, it will possibly be a very long time before bishops can again believably present themselves as fathers and brothers to their priests. Come to me if you have any problems, when said by a bishop, may take its place alongside gag lines such as, Im from the government and Im here to help you.
If the February 27 report of the NRB gives a high grade for policing measures put in place, it will likely offer a grim assessment of the nature of abuse in the past and how cases were handled by many bishops. The now common estimate that less than two percent or even less than one percent of priests were involved may be countered by data from some dioceses indicating a rate of involvement many times higher. There will be most particular interest in what the NRB report has to say about homosexuality in the priesthood. When the scandal broke two years ago, the word routinely used was pedophilia, perhaps because the press was taken by the nice alliteration of pedophile priest. In fact, pedophilia, the abuse of prepubescent children, was a very small part of what went wrong. The overwhelming majority of cases, most observers think 90 percent or more, involved adult men with older teenage boys. The word for that is homosexuality, but among the bishops, it seems, that is still the disorder that dare not speak its name. And not only among the bishops, of course. Most reporters are terrified of anything that might be viewed as gay bashing. It is not a question of gay bashing. It is a question of facing up to the fact that a large number of priests”nobody knows how large”suffer from same-sex attraction, and a significant number of them act on that desire. Keep in mind also that the above research and report does not address the number of priests engaged in noncriminal sex with adult men.
When the Pope called American cardinals and bishops to Rome in April 2002, it was announced that there would be a new and relentlessly searching visitation of seminaries. A decade ago there was such a seminary visitation which, almost everybody agreed, resulted in marked improvements, although many think that visitation was not as thorough as it should have been. Also after April 2002, word was put out that the Holy See was preparing new and rigorous guidelines about ordaining men with homosexual proclivities. Inquiries have been made, and it seems nobody knows for sure what is happening with these initiatives, although they have not been officially terminated.
Possibly a Blessing
The various dicasteries, or curial offices, in Rome are reportedly not agreed on what the policy should be in ordaining men suffering from same-sex attraction. Some influential prelates, both in Rome and this country, insist there should be an absolute ban on such ordinations, while others argue that, with proper formation, such men can be good and faithfully celibate priests. There will be most particular interest in how the Bennett Report addresses this and related questions. I will be surprised if the NRB gets into matters of faith, morals, or long-established ecclesiastical discipline, all of which are outside its mandate. But if it is going to do its job, it cannot help but speak candidly to the question of homosexuality in the priesthood. Positively stated, one hopes for a clearer recognition that celibacy is not just a matter of not having sex”whether with females or males of whatever age”but is a charism and calling that requires intense spiritual and moral formation. My hope is that the lay people of the NRB will bring a fresh perspective to this vexing question and maybe come up with proposals that transcend current ecclesiastical defensiveness, on the one hand, and liberal agitations for abandoning celibacy, on the other. Again, I thought the NRB a bad idea in the first place, but since we have it and since it has been going about its business with such seriousness, I am more than open to the possibility that, on this and other matters, it will turn out to be a blessing.
With respect to homosexuality, anyone familiar with American seminaries knows that we are a long way from the pink palaces of the 1970s and 80s described by Michael Rose in his somewhat sensational book Goodbye, Good Men . There has been a marked turn; seminarians and younger priests today are, in general, robustly orthodox, manly, and excited by the challenge of uncompromised fidelity. But that does not address the problem posed by those ordained earlier who constituted a lavender mafia that is still influential in some seminaries and diocesan chanceries. Anything smacking of a witch-hunt must, of course, be firmly rejected. But if the purpose is to get to the root causes of a scandal created by priests having sex with teenage boys, one might think that attention should be paid to priests who are prone to having sex with teenage boys. I know that suggestion has been called simplistic, but it is hard to stifle the intuition that there may be more than an element of a cause-effect connection there.
Many priests have been removed or suspended from active ministry. The lowest estimate is a thousand; others who have been tracking developments say it is closer to two thousand. A relatively small number were charged, tried, and convicted. In many more cases, bishops and diocesan review boards have decided there is a credible accusation against the priest. In numerous cases, priests insist that they are innocent of any wrongdoing and dont know why they were removed. It is not, they say, just a matter of being judged guilty until proven innocent; they dont even know what they are supposed to be guilty of. This, too, is a result of the panicked provisions adopted by the bishops at Dallas in June 2002. The niceties of canon law, due process, and elementary decency have in many instances taken a beating. As one cardinal archbishop said after Dallas, it may be necessary for some priests to suffer injustice for the good of the Church. In the course of history, Caiaphas has not been without his defenders.
The Dallas provisions are provisional, and Rome is said to be keeping a close eye on how they are implemented, but to date there are no reports of direct interventions to right wrongs. A number of groups have sprung up to help priests who may be subject to unfair treatment, including Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a group of lawyers for which Avery Cardinal Dulles and I have agreed to serve as theological advisors. Catholics typically have a very high esteem for priests and the priesthood. I remember an ordination service some fifteen years ago where the bishop said to the newly ordained, You are now priests. You would have to work very hard at doing things very bad in order to persuade the Catholic people not to love you. Obviously, many have taken up the challenge and succeeded.
When one brings up the question of priests being treated unfairly, reactions vary. By some the question is dismissed as a distraction from the greater wrong of what was done to the victims of sex abuse. The implication is not so much that two wrongs may make a right; it is just that we can only address one wrong at a time. Another reaction claims to be realistic, which is to say hardnosed: its too bad some innocent priests may be hurt, but you cant make an omelet without breaking eggs, etc. Charming. But then, bishops have their own leadership credibility to worry about. One bishop of a large diocese publicly released the names of every priest who in the past fifty years had ever been accused of a sexual offense. Some of the priests, along with their unnamed accusers, were long since dead. Others were in nursing homes with Alzheimers. The press praised the bishop for his transparency. He burnished his reputation by trashing the reputations of his priests. Some father. Some brother. He is not alone in what he did. Other bishops were appalled, but the rule is that bishops do not criticize other bishops. It is called collegiality, which some people confuse with clericalism. There is a difference, although the difference is sometimes exceedingly difficult to define.
The absence of fraternal correction among bishops is a real problem. There is no necessary virtue in bishops publicly disagreeing with one another, although in the history of the Church some of the greatest bishops”Augustine, Anselm, and Borromeo come to mind”had the virtue to do it when necessary. Nor need the disagreement be public. Consider a recent meeting in which a lay person questioned leaders of the bishops conference about their appointment to the NRB of a layman who had a long record of very public support for the unlimited abortion license. The answer given was that the layman had been approved by his own bishop, and bishops do not question the judgment of a brother bishop. Little wonder some critics complain that the bishops run the Church as though it were their private domain when apostolic leadership is trumped by club rules.
The bishops must hold themselves, and be held, accountable. That has been said incessantly over these two years, and with justice. As for it happening, the picture is very mixed. Despite the universal acknowledgment that the bishops have primary responsibility for the scandals, not one bishop has voluntarily resigned. A few bishops who were complicit in abuse stepped down, but only after their wrongdoing was publicly exposed. And, of course, Cardinal Law was compelled to resign when it was apparent to all that the mess in Boston had spun out of control and, with Rome and the world claiming his attention, he was not minding the local store. In the corporate world, top leaders resign when things go radically wrong. Yet we have been treated to depressing vignettes of bishops in court copping a plea, earnestly declaring their deep, deep sorrow over what they did and failed to do, striking a deal with prosecutors in exchange for the freedom of the Church to govern itself, which it is not the bishops right to surrender, in order to have charges dropped. Then, having been forced to confess themselves miserable failures and having traded away the rights of the Church, they gather about themselves the tattered vestiges of their episcopal dignity and declare that they have absolutely no intention of resigning. Some accountability. And Rome, for its inscrutable reasons, appears to do nothing.
At this point comes the obligatory proviso that the above does not describe most of the bishops. Not by a long shot. There are almost two hundred ordinaries, meaning bishops who head dioceses, and most of them are doubtless good, devout, hard-working, and reasonably competent. But the general picture is one of evasion, denial, and a reflexive bent to return to business as usual. Call it collegiality or call it clericalism or call it whatever, there seems to be a determined effort to, in the favored phrase of the justly embarrassed, move on. A reporter who covered the November meeting of the bishops conference says, Watching management go about its usual business, one might get the impression that the scandals never happened. No doubt some bishops will take that as a tribute to their adroit handling of the recent unpleasantness. Two years ago, even one year ago, observers were calling it the greatest crisis in American Catholic history. Some bishops were calling for a plenary council or extraordinary synod of bishops to examine what went so radically wrong and to amend their ways. Some bishops were speaking candidly about homosexuality in the priesthood, and also about the dangers of scapegoating innocent priests. A few even publicly agreed that there were three answers to the catastrophe: fidelity, fidelity, and fidelity.
But now the storm seems to have passed. That may change with the release of the report from the NRB. But no matter how bad the news, the media are distracted by a presidential election, and you can only go with so many stories about how many priests did what to whom and how many bishops paid what price to escape prosecution. After a while, episcopal plea bargaining will seem routine. People get used to almost anything. It is, I suspect, already the case that, for priests and people, bishops dont matter so much anymore; not as much as they were supposed to, and sometimes did. Catholicism in America has, unknowingly and perhaps ineluctably, taken another big step toward congregationalism. On the ground”with the exception of a few places such as poor, devastated Boston”parish life goes on, and even flourishes. There are thousands upon thousands of adult converts, renewal movements abound, collections are generous. Ask sixty-six million Catholics in the U.S. about the bishops and the usual answer, I expect, would be, What bishops? There are bishops, I do believe, who are greatly gratified that they have succeeded in making themselves largely irrelevant to the life of the Church as it is actually lived. Being irrelevant is better than being a public embarrassment.
Out of it all one might come to the conclusion that God loves babies, drunks, and the Catholic Church in America. There are bishops who have let me know that they think I have been entirely too hard on them. And after this little reflection, I suppose I will hear that again. But there is this that must be understood: many Catholics really believe that the bishops are successors to the apostles; that, in communion with Peter among us, they are anointed by God to teach and sanctify and govern; that they are to exemplify the courage of leadership with apostolic zeal; that they are to embody the holiness to which we are together called.
They believe that bishops should be the leaders that John Paul II said they should be in his apostolic exhortation of this past October, Pastores Gregis . Bishops must be, he said, faithful and effective teachers of the fullness of the Churchs teaching. Being pastoral does not mean, at least not first of all, being a good listener and keeping all viewpoints in play. Nor does it mean knocking heads, although sometimes heads must be knocked to get the attention of those who are not listening. The choice is not between being a thug or a wimp. Being pastoral means being a good shepherd who feeds the flock with the life-giving food of Catholic doctrine. It means proposing the truth, in season and out of season, when it is popular and unpopular. Of course one must engage those who dissent from the truth, but one engages in order to persuade, and persuasion requires both patience and persistence. The salvation of souls is at stake, and a bishop or priest who does not believe that should find another line of work. Catholicism is an invitation to live the high adventure of fidelity, which is never confining but always an opening toward the immeasurably more that is promised and present in Christ and his Church.
Thoughtful Catholics know that it has not always, it has not even usually, been that way with bishops. They are not scandalized that bishops fall short of what Pastores Gregis says a bishop should be. But they also know the way it is supposed to be, and they have not given up on the way it is supposed to be. They remember what the Holy Father said at that April 2002 meeting, that out of the unspeakable sadness of this Long Lent must come a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church. And they weep for the bishops and the Church because there is slight evidence of that happening.
The Passion of Christ
The next issue will offer an extended discussion by Russell Hittinger and Elizabeth Lev of Mel Gibsons film The Passion of Christ , which is scheduled for public release on Ash Wednesday. I was invited to a screening of the almost-final version a while back. There were still some small technical wrinkles to be worked out, and special effects to be added. It is a gross understatement to say that it is an extraordinary film. It is certainly the best cinematic treatment of the passion or, indeed, of any biblical subject that I have ever seen. I strongly urge everybody to see it. (No, of course I dont get a cut.) The rating calls for parental discretion, and some parents tell me they would not let their younger children see it, while others disagree. It is not violent, but it is extremely brutal”as brutal as the events it depicts.
Ive been thinking a torrent of thoughts about the film, and maybe will have more to say when I see the final version after its official release. For the moment, just a word on the much, and inevitably, discussed issue of anti-Semitism. Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, saw a screening in Rome and flatly declares: There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish about Mel Gibsons film. I agree. Di Noia adds: What happens in the film is that each of the main characters contributes in some way to Jesus fate: Judas betrays him; the Sanhedrin accuses him; the disciples abandon him; the crowd mocks him; the Roman soldiers scourge, brutalize, and finally crucify him; and the devil, somehow, is behind the whole action.
There is a complication, however, in that the film”in an unusual but by no means unprecedented way”portrays Pontius Pilate sympathetically. His What is truth? is presented not as cynically dismissive but as earnestly inquiring. So who are left as the really, really bad guys, the people who hated Jesus and were adamant that he be killed? By default, the answer is: the religious leaders and the mob they whip into a frenzy of bloodlust, all of whom are Jewish. But then, so are the members of the Sanhedrin who protest the proceedings, so are a large number in the crowd who are depicted as sympathizing with Jesus, so are Mary and the disciples, and, above all, so is Jesus. Jews one and all.
All that being said, is it possible that untutored viewers will come away from the film with the distinct impression that the Jews killed Jesus? It is more than possible. The same impression is more than possibly gained by reading the Gospel accounts, especially the Fourth Gospel. The film, with a few embellishments drawn from traditional piety, closely tracks the Gospels. The undeniable reality is that the salvation story”in all its dimensions of darkness and light, hatred and love, faith and unbelief”is enacted within the history of Gods chosen people, the children of Israel. It is, through and through, an intra-Jewish story. How odd of God indeed, but so it was and, in ways that St. Paul calls a great mystery, so it is and will be until the End Time.
After the destruction of the second temple in a.d. 70, the Judaism of Jesus time divided in two directions: the rabbinical Judaism that is today simply called Judaism and the Church which, in time, was composed mainly of non-Jews. That is to say, Gentiles were incorporated into the children of Israel by being incorporated into Christ, the Jew, who is the fulfillment of Israels messianic hope. That at least is the Christian account. Contemporary accounts that are so fearful of any hint of supersessionism that they refuse to say that the Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah got it right and the Jews who rejected him got it wrong are not believably Christian. Nostra Aetate , the document of the Second Vatican Council that is rightly viewed as the Magna Carta of a new era in Jewish-Catholic relations, does not hesitate to speak of the authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead in connection with responsibility for the death of Jesus. What it insists upon is that the descendents of those Jews are not guilty of what their forebears did. What the Council might have said more explicitly is that their forebears are also our forebears. As I argued in Salvation Is from the Jews (FT, November 2001), Nostra Aetate invites that affirmation in its opening line: As this Sacred Synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it recalls the spiritual bond linking the people of the New Covenant with Abrahams stock. Jews and Judaism are not alien, a reality outside the mystery of the Church, but are to be engaged by penetrating more deeply into the mystery of the Church, which is to say, into the mystery of Christ. Of course Jews, whether of the first century or the twenty-first century, object to being co-opted into the Christian story, but the Christian story is the only story that Christians have. And it is the only story that solidly grounds Christian solidarity with Jews and Judaism in something more than sentiment.
In any event, the Christian answer to the question of who killed Jesus is that we all did. Fr. Di Noia points out that the so-called blood curse”Let his blood be upon us and upon our children”is more a prayer than a curse; a prayer that we may all be washed in the blood of the Lamb, the blood we are guilty of shedding. If the untutored viewer of The Passion of Christ comes away thinking that the Jews killed Jesus, the fault is not with the film. The fault is with the many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, who do not understand the inescapably Jewish matrix of the story of salvation. For that failure, Christian teachers bear the chief responsibility.
For the last couple of years, the leftward press has been agitated about the neoconservative conspiracy that has presumably taken over the country. People frequently call me a neoconservative and I dont take it as a hanging offense. I was once regularly called a liberal, and sometimes a radical, but I just went about my business in accordance with a guiding quadrilateral that I adopted many years ago: I hope always to be religiously orthodox, culturally conservative, politically liberal, and economically pragmatic. The big difference now, of course, is the debased definition of politically liberal, a debasement effected, above all, by planting the liberal flag on the side of the unlimited abortion license.
Recall the aphorism of Irving Kristol, the celebrated godfather of neoconservatism, that a neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. A few years ago, Kristol said that neoconservatism was no longer a distinct movement, having been absorbed into mainstream American conservatism. Writing in the Weekly Standard he now takes that back. The Neoconservative Persuasion: What It Was, and What It Is argues that neoconservatism is precisely that, a persuasion. It is, he says, the persuasion of those who want to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy. He continues: Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the American grain. It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic.
Neoconservatism is also very different from conservatism in Europe, which is either nostalgic, dyspeptic, etc., or is what in this country is called libertarianism, meaning a fixation with economic and other freedoms but indifferent to culture. In America, Kristol writes, there is a quite unexpected alliance between neocons, who include a fair proportion of secular intellectuals, and religious traditionalists. These unwonted allies are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the like, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the governments attention. The influence of neocons, says Kristol, is derived from that alliance. Because religious conservatism is so feeble in Europe, the neoconservative potential there is correspondingly weak.
Neocons, says Kristol, agree, inter alia, that patriotism is a healthy and natural sentiment, that the dream of world government in all its forms is a formula for tyranny, and that statesmen should be able to distinguish the nations friends from its enemies. The last touches on foreign policy and the uses of military power, the questions that most concern the proponents of the neocon conspiracy. Kristol writes, Behind all this is a fact: the incredible military superiority of the United States vis- -vis the nations of the rest of the world, in any imaginable combination. This superiority was planned by no one, and even today there are many Americans who are in denial. The superiority came from Americas direct involvement in major conflicts over the last fifty years. The result was that our military spending expanded more or less in line with our economic growth . . . . The magic of compound interest over half a century had its effect on our military budget, as did the cumulative scientific and technological research of our armed forces. With power come responsibilities, whether sought or not, whether welcome or not. And it is a fact that if you have the kind of power we now have, either you will find opportunities to use it, or the world will discover them for you.
Irving Kristols summary description of neoconservatism is brisk, quotable, and for the most part right. I have no proprietorial interest in challenging the description. And he is, after all, the godfather. He once wrote a book titled Two Cheers for Capitalism , and that is about the measure of my enthusiasm for neoconservatism as he now describes it. There is also, however, a shadowed side of history, including American history, to which attention must be paid. Pondering it can be a way of wisdom, and need not be lugubrious. Forward-looking cheerfulness can easily slide into boosterism, and Im not at all sure that opportunities is the right word for the use of our military superiority. These are not necessarily disagreements with Irving Kristol; they are more in the nature of cautions, and cautions that he would likely have included were he writing a longer article. Certainly there is no question about the need for a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy. As to whether the politics that claims my support will in the future be called conservative or neoconservative or something else, see the aforementioned quadrilateral.
The Nuechterlein Factor
Among the constants since the premier issue of March 1990 has been the masthead listing of James Nuechterlein as Editor. With our next issue, his name will be replaced by that of Damon Linker. Jim has retired and moved back to Valparaiso, Indiana. He and Dot have been planning this for a long time, and all my arguments to the contrary were of no avail.
Jim was present at the creation. A good case can be made that, without him, there would be no FT. I invited him to New York to edit the predecessor publication, a quarterly called This World . I was then writing a monthly newsletter, The Religion and Society Report . When our association with our previous sponsor was rudely terminated in 1989, we combined the two publications and FT came to be. In the world of intellectual journalism, FT is a remarkable success, and I am often asked about the factors contributing to that. One indispensable factor has a name: Jim Nuechterlein.
Nuechterlein. As the receptionist has explained thousands of times over the years, it is pronounced NICKterline. And as I would add, it rhymes with constancy. Oh wad some power the giftie gie us / To see ourselves as others see us, wrote Robert Burns. Jim is what one sees and, so far as I can tell, sees himself as others see him. He elevates from banality the phrase, What you see is what you get. Greeting Nathanael for the first time, Jesus said, Behold, an Israelite without guile. Nathanael, because he was without guile, asks, How did you know me? Jim is an Israelite without guile.
He was editor of the Cresset, a publication of Valparaiso University, when I in my immaturity published a book commissioned by the Lutheran Council-USA, Christian Faith and Public Policy: Thinking and Acting in the Courage of Uncertainty . Jim wrote a lengthy review of the book, obviously relishing what he discerned to be the birth of a neoconservative. He, by way of sharpest contrast, was a conservative pure and simple, having been, I suppose, mugged by reality in the cradle. Since then, we have both survived several seasons of political labelings, and have ended up being, well, whatever FT is. Ten years after that review, I asked him if he knew a young person who could help with the editing of This World and he, to my delighted surprise, volunteered his middle-aged self. Fourteen years later, he has, to my distressed surprise, succumbed to that curious convention called retirement.
There have been disagreements over the years, but never rancor or distrust. I wish he had written more for FT, and I think I have his promise that he will. As longtime readers know, his writing is marked by clarity, incisiveness, and charity, if not always respect, for opposing views. His virtues as a writer are his virtues as an editor. We are on the receiving end of an unremitting flood of unsolicited manuscripts, and for a while Jim assigned the job of first reading to junior editors. But then he thought better of it, fearing that wheat was being discarded with the chaff, and took upon himself the onerous task of reading everything, frequently discerning possibilities unseen by others. Nuechterlein rhymes also with conscientiousness. I suppose that I could count on the fingers of one hand the articles we published that he opposed, as well as those he favored that we declined, and, in retrospect, he was mostly right. (I expect he has been waiting a long time for that admission.)
It is not sufficiently appreciated that editing is a self-effacing vocation. An editor is the servant of both author and reader, although authors are sometimes less than grateful for the help. To be an editor is to be aware of the road not taken. When editing the work of others, ones own goes unwritten. The field of expertise pertinent to Jims unwritten books is American political and cultural history. Maybe now they will get written, although not, I hope, at the expense of what he should be writing for FT. As an editor, he has given himself selflessly and without complaint. Ambrose Bierce somewhere said that a saint is a dead sinner well edited. I dont know about that, but I know we have published many splendid articles resuscitated by Jim Nuechterlein.
Jim worries that, with his departure, the journal might suffer from a deficiency of Protestant, and specifically Lutheran, sensibility. He is inclined to forget that the formerly Lutheran Editor-in-Chief is still in recovery. Moreover, and like most Lutherans, he is inclined to claim a Lutheran copyright for all aspects of the tradition he finds agreeable. If there is a sensibility that most marks this journal, I expect it is best described as Augustinian. After each months issue we do a postmortem, and the most I could ever get out of Jim is that an issue is very good. With some degree of frequency, I thought an excellent was warranted. But that is mainly a matter of different dispositions. We were always agreed, in good Augustinian fashion, that in a fallen world our best is but a faint intimation of, a feeble gesture toward, what ought to be.
I will sorely miss Jim. He has been an indispensable colleague and faithful friend. With gratitude and confidence, I welcome Damon Linker as his successor. Damon was chosen for many reasons, not least because Jim thought him the man for the job. It will be a touch lonely, however, going on without Jim. You may be assured-or warned, if you prefer-that I have no intention of joining him in retirement. There is always the tantalizing prospect of producing an issue that even Jim will admit is just a little better than very good. Meanwhile, for Jim and Dot we pray ad multos annos , and from Jim we look forward to all that writing he put aside for fourteen years in order to serve grateful authors, some of whom were not as grateful as they should have been, and none of whom was as grateful as I was, and am.
While Were At It
You will soon notice a new name on the masthead. J. A. Gray succeeds Damon Linker as Associate Editor. John is a Californian, demonstrating the lengths to which we will go in preserving the ecumenical character of the journal. His wife and children have equipped him with an array of winter togs worthy of the Arctic, which shows, I suppose, how Californians view more normal parts of the country. John is an accomplished generalist-something much more special than being a specialist-with a background in editing, free-lance writing, and helping religious and other institutions get their message out. So far, he is getting along with everyone here and everyone is getting along with him, so we look forward to a long, productive, and convivial association. He also writes beautifully, so I hope readers will become accustomed to seeing his name on more than the masthead.
In the October 2003 issue, the editors set out in some detail what we think is the compelling case for a federal marriage amendment. An update on several aspects may be in order. Since the Massachusetts high court, by a 4-3 vote, mandated same-sex marriage, all the polling data indicate a growing rejection of the idea, plus rapidly increasing skepticism about gay rights more generally, especially when presented as a parallel to the civil rights movement of the last century. President Bush has declared that he supports marriage as an exclusive union between a man and a woman and has, albeit somewhat ambiguously, indicated his support for an amendment. Last fall there were efforts by backers of the amendment to add a provision that would ban, or at least discourage, states from passing civil union or domestic partnership laws. The amendment to the amendment would have specified that such arrangements could not discriminate against people in a nonsexual partnership. So, for instance, a daughter taking care of her mother could get whatever benefits gays might claim. Those efforts failed, and the wording of the amendment remains as cited in our editorial, although it is likely there will be changes by the White House or Congress along the way. Much attention has been paid a few conservatives who oppose the amendment. David Brooks, who left the Weekly Standard to become a columnist for the New York Times , has made clear that the papers solid phalanx on the wrong side of the culture wars will not be broken. He now indicates that he is pro-choice on abortion and in favor of same-sex marriage. He apparently thinks the latter will, inter alia, domesticate the wild promiscuity of the gay subculture. This at a time when HIV and AIDS are again skyrocketing among gays who, it would seem, are not inhibited even by the prospect of disease and death. Brooks writes: We are not animals whose lives are bounded by our flesh and by our gender. Were moral creatures with souls, endowed with the ability to make covenants, such as the one Ruth made with Naomi: Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay . . . . I dont know what Brooks thinks he knows about Ruth and Naomi that he doesnt know, but it is true that we human beings have souls. We are ensouled bodies or, if you prefer, embodied souls, with an embodied difference that becomes one flesh in marriage. If we are really as unbounded by body and gender as Brooks suggests, perhaps he should make the argument that gays become straight. Conservative voices have also argued against the amendment because it is bitterly opposed by too many people. The response is obvious: if it is opposed by too many people, it will not pass. In fact, the campaign for the amendment is hardly underway, and we will see whether it does or does not command the favor of the overwhelmingly majorities required for passage. A more substantial conservative voice is that of columnist George Will, although in this case Im afraid his argument is less than substantive. In a November column he says we need more research on whether gay marriage is good for children. I dont think so; no more than we need more research on whether polygamy is good for women and children. He speaks of gays being excluded from marriage when, in fact, only by a radical deconstruction of marriage could they be included. Finally, he says we should be wary of putting social policies into the Constitution, and I readily agree. The question, however, is whether same-sex marriage will be put into the Constitution by court rulings or will be precluded by the democratic deliberation and decision-making of the amendment process. The Constitution will be amended one way or another, either by the people or by their robed masters. My hunch is that Mr. Will has not said his last word on this. I expect the marriage question will play a large part, directly and indirectly, in the presidential campaign. The word is that President Bush doesnt want to get into a public argument about the issue. One White House aide says privately, The President doesnt want to have to say the words sex or sexual in public. He probably doesnt have to. If he says marriage is between a man and a woman and he supports an amendment to that effect, thats enough. The question is there in the public mind, and will undoubtedly loom larger as people become more aware of what the courts are up to. Of course, the amendment may not become law, but at this point it would seem to be the only means to protect the public institution of marriage and check the further judicial usurpation of politics.
The world must know. The words have been repeated by witnesses beyond number to unspeakable horrors, from the Holocaust to the Gulag Archipelago and the massacres of Rwanda. The world must know. Meaning that surely the world knows and does not care. Or meaning that the world must be told, and then, maybe, will do something about it. David Hawk is a remarkable man who has spent almost the entirety of his life trying to make sure that the world knows. Once the executive director of Amnesty International/USA, he was in the 1980s a key figure in exposing to the world the killing fields of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. In the 1990s he documented the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. In the last three years he has turned his attention to studying in excruciating detail the concentration camps of North Korea. The Hidden Gulag , published by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, is a carefully documented report of what he has discovered about the conservatively estimated 150,000 to 200,000 North Korean”men, women, and young children”consigned to the camps for many years or until they are worked and starved to death. Anne Applebaum, author of the extraordinary book, Gulag: A History (see FT, November 2003), writes in the preface to the report: In the fullest possible sense, the contemporary leaders of North Korea are the intellectual and moral descendants of the Stalinists . . . . Some, of course, will avoid reading [this report], fully knowing that if they do read it, they will have to change their tactics, or at least think differently about the political problems posed by North Korea. Certainly after absorbing such details, it will be more difficult for Americans or Europeans to sit down and negotiate, coldly, with their Koreans counterparts and not mention human rights violations. South Koreans, when they know the details of life in the North, will also find it more difficult to argue in favor of appeasing the Northern regime. If these stories filter back to the North Korean police and administrators, those officials too will find it more difficult to justify their own behavior, or to claim that they dont know what is really happening in the countrys concentration camps. And if the full truth about the camps becomes known to the wider population, then whatever support remains for the state constructed by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will begin, even more decisively, to ebb away. This is not to say that words can make a dictatorship collapse overnight. But words certainly can make a dictatorship collapse over time, as experience during the last two decades has shown. Totalitarian regimes are built on lies and can be damaged, even destroyed, when those lies are exposed. The greater and more detailed evidence that can be provided, the more damage the truth can do. To obtain the full report, write David Hawk at U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 1101 15th Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington D.C. 20005. The world must know.
It says here that an important document from the official Lutheran-Catholic dialogue will be released in April. It is called The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: Its Structures and Ministries. Auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee, Richard J. Sklba, is quoted by Catholic News Service: Five years of intensive and meticulous research have produced a striking consensus within our dialogue group. It has become very clear to me that the differences between our respective Lutheran and Catholic notions and practices of ministry are not church-dividing. Among Lutheran notions and practices today are these: an absence of the ordained diaconate, the election of pastors to the title of bishop without ordination to the episcopate, the ordination of pastors, including women, by other pastors, and, in the absence of an episcopal magisterium, the determination of matters doctrinal, moral, and institutional by majority vote of a dominantly lay assembly. We continue to pray for the gift of reconciliation for our churches, said Bishop Sklba. And so must we all, while some of us might be forgiven for also harboring a measure of skepticism about the aforementioned differences not being church-dividing. On the other hand, who knows what may be possible when dogma, doctrine, and apostolic precedent are more flexibly understood as notions and practices? With strenuously disciplined enthusiasm we await the April document. A specific date is not given, but one assumes it will not be April 1. (In truth and very seriously, I expect the document will be a significant theological statement and that the bishop in his remarks was just momentarily carried away.)
Carl F .H. Henry has died at age ninety. A big man, his life and work embodied a big part of American religious history. In 1947 he published The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism , which called upon conservative Protestants to return from exile and reenter the public square by accepting responsibility for the culture and, most important, by making the intellectual case for orthodox Christianity. Those who heeded his call were at first called neo-evangelicals and later-because nothing neo can remain forever new-just evangelicals. Among this happily combative company were friends from Wheaton College days-Harold Lindsell, Ken Taylor, Richard Halverson, and, most notably, Billy Graham. In 1955, Graham urged Henry to launch Christianity Today , now the mainstream evangelical magazine, which Henry edited until 1968. He wanted the magazine to be at the intellectual and cultural edge, and often spoke of his deep disappointment with its more popular turn. Carl was an indefatigable world traveler in his promotion of evangelical causes, and I was privileged to serve with him on several ecumenical boards. He was also quick in making a point. The story is told of a lunch held by mainly liberal religious leaders to honor the Swiss theologian Karl Barth. About two hundred people were present and Carl rose to ask a question, introducing himself as the editor of Christianity Today . To the great mirth of the crowd, Barth responded, Do you mean Christianity today or Christianity yesterday? Without missing a beat, Carl answered with a smile, Yesterday, today, and forever. While he was always ready to join with other Christians in cobelligerency on public issues of moral consequence, he withheld his public support of the project Evangelicals and Catholics Together, indicating his worry that evangelicals were not prepared for the theological engagement that effort entailed. Toward the end of his life, he expressed a very doleful view of the state of evangelicalism, fearing that it had fallen captive to the market dynamics of American religiosity. He once remarked that, if he had the energy for it, he might write a book titled The Uneasy Conscience of Contemporary Evangelicalism . He said that, as I recall, with a smile. As I was privileged to know him, Carl Henry was that rare thing, a Christian gentleman whose graciousness of manner was on easy terms with the clarity and confidence of faith. May choirs of angels welcome him on the far side of Jordan.
What on earth do those people think theyre doing? That has been the response of innumerable people watching the Episcopal Church, and perhaps the Anglican communion, on its course of self-destructing. In these pages, Philip Turner, a distinguished Anglican priest, missionary, and theology professor, writing in sorrow laced with anger, gave one answer to the above question (see FT, November 2003). It is easy to dismiss people with whom we strongly disagree as being either ignorant or crazy, or both. But we owe them and ourselves the effort of trying to understand what they think they are doing, and why. Leander Harding, rector of St. Johns Church in Stamford, Connecticut, makes that effort, employing a 1992 book by the noted literary critic, Harold Bloom. In The American Religion , Bloom contended that religious America”whether it is Southern Baptist, Methodist, or even Mormon”is, at its heart, Gnostic. We are, Bloom wrote, a religiously mad culture, furiously searching for the spirit, but each of us is subject and object of the one question, which must be for the original self, a spark or breath in us that we are convinced goes back to before the creation. I will let Harding take it from there: The quintessential American Religion is the quest for the true and original self which is the pearl of great price, the ultimate value. Finding the true self requires absolute and complete freedom of choice unconstrained by any sources of authority outside the self. Limits upon personal freedom and choice are an affront to all that is sacred to the American Religion. When the self-determining self finds the real me salvation is achieved and the ultimate self has achieved contact with the ultimate reality. Finding your true self is to the contemporary Gnostic the same thing as finding God. For the Gnostic the purpose of the religious community is to facilitate the quest and validate the results. The contemporary Gnostic church, which can appear in both conservative and liberal forms, is the community of those who know that they have found God because they have found their own uncreated depths. Both devotees of the New Age and many in some conservative Christian circles see salvation as purely a matter of personal experience, which can only be validated by those who have had similar deeply personal experiences. Notice how perfectly the contemporary presentation of homosexuality fits the American Religion. A person who discovers that he or she is gay has recovered his or her true self and come out and come through what the Gnostics called the aeons, in this case levels of personal, familial, and social oppression that hinder and constrain the true self. It is a heroic and perilous journey of self-discovery which would be familiar to a first-century Gnostic like Valentinus. That the means of liberation is sexual practice is even a familiar theme. Some ancient Gnostics were ascetic but others counseled sexual license. Both stratagems can come from the same contempt of nature and are different ways of asserting the radical independence of the self. Here is the point. Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Church in New Hampshire not in spite of being gay, not as an act of toleration and compassion toward gay people, but because he is gay and as such is an icon of the successful completion of the quest to find the true and original self. He has been chosen for high religious office because he represents high religious attainment. He is being recognized and receiving regard for being an accomplished practitioner of the American Religion. According to this Gnostic logic, divorcing his wife and leaving his family to embrace the gay lifestyle is not some unfortunate concession to irresistible sexual urges but an example of the pain and sacrifice that the seeker of the true self must be willing to endure. That natural, organic, and conventional restraints must be set aside is time-worn Gnostic nostrum. From the point of view of this contemporary Gnosticism, if the Church does not validate such a noble quest for enlightenment then it invalidates itself and shows that it is no help in the only spiritual struggle that counts, the struggle to be the real me. Because Gene Robinson has found himself he has according to the Gnostic logic of the American Religion found God and is naturally thought to be a truly spiritual person and a fit person to inspire and lead others on their spiritual journey which is to end in a discovery of the true self which is just so the discovery of the only real god, the Gnostic god. Seeing the elevation of Gene Robinson through the lens of the mythos of the American Religion explains some of the fanaticism of his defenders, explains why so many bishops of the Episcopal Church including the Presiding Bishop would be willing to take such institutional risks. Here is a paradigm of salvation that echoes deeply in the American soul and promises to restore a sense of purpose to a mainline church which has lost confidence in the story of salvation told by the orthodox tradition of the Church. Inclusion becomes the fundamental value for the Church because it allows the Church to have a real purpose of validating that people have indeed found their true identity, and thus found God. Gay people become icons of hope. To celebrate gays in the life of the Church, not accept but affirm and celebrate, is to celebrate the Church as a truly spiritual community with real spiritual power which can facilitate and validate the salvation of souls. The church leaders who are risking everything for Gene Robinson are in their own way and according to an heretical but powerful vision trying desperately to find a spiritual vocation for the Church that has some liveliness and connects deeply with the deepest yearning of the American soul. The Presiding Bishop and his company of supporters think they are regaining the lost keys of heaven. That these newly discovered keys are not the real thing but Gnostic imitators of the keys of St. Peter will be lost on those who are drunk on the promises of the American Religion of the true, free, and uncreated self.
Last year at this time protestors of U.S. policy in Iraq were happily claiming the support of John Paul II, even though he had been very guarded in his comments, pointing out that war always reflects a human failure, an observation with which no morally sane person would disagree. Much less guarded was Jean-Louis Tauran, a Frenchman who was the Holy Sees foreign minister. He declared the liberation of Iraq a crime against humanity and came close to suggesting that those who supported it were guilty of a mortal sin. Then there was Renato Cardinal Martino, formerly the Holy Sees man at the United Nations and now president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who pronounced that there was no such thing as a just war, despite 1,500 years of Catholic teaching to the contrary. Tauran, at age sixty, was recently reassigned to a quiet post as head the Vatican library. Martino has been replaced at the UN by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, an articulately thoughtful diplomat of wide experience. For months, the Vatican newspaper, LOsservatore Romano , had been leading the charge against U.S. policy, but seemed to do something of an about-turn after the November 12 attack in Iraq in which nineteen Italian soldiers were killed. Similarly, the Jesuit publication La Civilt Cattolica had for months been lambasting Americas so-called war on terror and downplaying the threat of radical Islam. Even before the Italian casualties, it appeared to shift direction, publishing a long article explaining that in all of its history, Islam has shown a warlike and conquering face; that for almost a thousand years, Europe lived under its constant threat; and that its offensive continues to this day, as shown by the perpetual discrimination and sometimes bloody persecution to which it subjects Christians and other non-Muslims. Moreover, when new cardinals were named last October, observers noted the conspicuous non-elevation of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who many thought to be too compliant in dealing with Islam. Of particular importance is the role of Camillo Ruini, the cardinal vicar of Rome, who is very close to the Pope and the force behind a number of influential institutions, including the newspaper Avvenire . He preached at the Mass for the Italian soldiers: To love even our enemies, this is the great treasure which we must not allow to be stripped from our conscience and heart, not even by terrorist assassins. We will not run away. On the contrary, we will confront them with all the courage, energy, and determination in our capacity. And yet we will not hate them. Instead, we will never tire of making them understand that the effort of the whole country of Italy, including her military involvement, aims at safeguarding and promoting a human society in which there is a place and dignity for each nation, culture, and religion. With respect to moral duty in a time of war, there is a year later less doubt”if any doubt was warranted”about the tradition holding.
When sensible people hear the word multicultural, theyve learned to brace themselves for another assault on a cherished particularity in the name of vaulting universalisms. And countries that have Ministers of Multicultural Affairs are usually unsafe for ideas and practices that have nothing to recommend them other than tradition, common sense, and popular devotion. In delightful violation of that depressing rule is Gary Hardgrave, Australias Multicultural Affairs Minister, who this year urged schools to set up nativity scenes, throw Christmas parties, and tell again the story of the Babe of Bethlehem. We should get out there and flaunt it rather than having people retreat from it, he told the Australian . Children, he said, are missing out on the constituting traditions and values of Australian culture because schools and businesses are afraid of offending those of other faiths. There is no way on earth people have to concede traditions that have been important to them and their families for generations. Those who worry about offending, he said, have got it completely wrong. Whether or how to celebrate Hanukkah or the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr is up to each school to decide, he opined. Our culture, our tradition, is something that has attracted people from all around the world to come and live here and be part of. We have an opportunity to learn from the cultures they brought to Australia, but we were here first, our framework was in place because of all of the efforts of previous generations. Our framework is what made it possible for all those people to come, and we should never be afraid of it. Maybe the U.S. could use a Minister of Multicultural Affairs after all, if it is understood as Mr. Hardgrave understands that multiculturalism”i.e., an interest in and eagerness to engage other cultures”depends upon the affirming of our culture which, alone of world cultures, thinks multiculturalism a very good thing. It is not, one notes, just a question of who got here first. Its a question of who got here first. Call contemporary America pluralistic or call it a melting pot or call it a gorgeous mosaic, it didnt just happen. It happened because a people formed by biblical religion believed that hospitality to other cultures is a virtue. Todays multiculturalists who insist that all cultures are equal except our own are, by repressing the public expression of the religious grounds of that belief, inviting a resurgence of the nasty nativism that reduces cultural differences and tensions to the bullying question of who got here first. Genuine multiculturalism is the product of a particular culture and will not survive its public demise.
In this effort we must be principled, courageous, and wise. We need to persuade, not just proclaim, to engage, not condemn. But we also must tell the truth. So said Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee at last Novembers meeting of U.S. bishops. He heads a task force that is to shape the American response to last years document from the Vaticans doctrinal office, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. The document addresses the public scandal of Catholic politicians who persistently and contumaciously oppose the Churchs teaching without any appropriate response from their pastors. It says that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The fundamental contents of faith and morals seems to be somewhat stretched in Bishop Ricards report. In the first meeting of the task force, he says, The important role of the laity was highlighted as was the need to not limit our concern to one issue, no matter how fundamental that issue is. Politicians need to be challenged, he continues, first and most fundamentally on the defense of unborn life, but also on the use of the death penalty, questions of war and