Clerical Scandal and the Scandal of Clericalism
Russell Shaw admits that some people think he has become a nag on the subject. He has written several books and many more articles on the evils of clericalism. Charmingly titled is his 1993 book, which plays off the answer of an English bishop who was asked about the role of the laity— To Hunt, to Shoot, to Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity. Now Shaw has a new book coming out from Ignatius Press— Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church.
Shaw knows whereof he speaks. He was for several years an official spokesman of the United States bishops’ conference and has ample experience with the secretive ways of church leaders who, as the old saw has it, think that the chief and maybe only role of the laity is to pray, pay, and obey. A strength of the new book is that Shaw knows that, both canonically and in pastoral common sense, there is a legitimate and necessary place for confidentiality and secrecy. Shaw is also well aware that the Church is not constituted as a democracy, as he also knows how frequently the observation that the Church is not a democracy is misused to avoid addressing the problem of clericalism.
He is notably faithful to the teaching authority of the Church, and, in fact, it is the authority of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent popes, especially John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI, that he repeatedly invokes in support of his indictment of clericalism. Although his book is not chiefly about the sex-abuse scandal that broke in January 2002, he leaves no doubt that the scandal and the bishops’ response to the scandal are part and parcel of the evils of clericalism.
“By clericalism,” Shaw writes, “I mean an elitist mindset, together with structures and patterns of behavior corresponding to it, which takes it for granted that clerics—in the Catholic context, mainly bishops and priests—are intrinsically superior to the other members of the Church and deserve automatic deference. Passivity and dependence are the laity’s lot. By no means is clericalism confined to clerics themselves. The clericalist mindset is widely shared by Catholic lay people.”
The National Review Board, composed of laity, reported in March 2004: “Some witnesses likened the clerical culture to a feudal or a military culture and said that priests and bishops who ‘rocked the boat’ were less likely to advance. Likewise, we were told, some bishops did not want to be associated with any problem for fear of criticism because problems arose on their watch. As a result, problems were left to fester.” The board also said: “In many instances, church leaders valued confidentiality and a priest’s right to privacy above the prevention of further harm to victims and the vindication of their rights.” “Indeed, church officials seemed to want to keep information from themselves.” Contributing to the problem, said the board, was the “haughty attitude” of some bishops and the practice of placing priests on “a pedestal far above the laity.”
Hard words, no doubt, but hard words that nobody should want to deny. Clericalism is the shadow side of Catholicism’s high doctrine of ministry. In celebrating the sacraments, the priest acts in persona Christi. It is a breathtaking dignity and responsibility. In reflections on the priesthood, the words of the nineteenth-century writer Father Jean Baptise Lacordaire are frequently invoked: “To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures; to be a member of each family, yet belonging to none; to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets; to heal all wounds; to go from men to God and offer Him their prayers; to return from God to men to bring pardon and hope; to have a heart of fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity; to teach and to pardon, console and bless always—what a glorious life!”
The glory is not diminished but in an odd way intensified by the unworthiness of the priest. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” said St. Paul, and there is a tendency in some veins of Catholic thought to exult in the earthenness of the vessel. Recall the whisky priest of Graham Green’s The Power and the Glory. Hounded and hunted by the anti-Catholic Mexican regime, he is in every way a broken man, until he remembers that, despite all, he still possesses the priestly power to put God on the tongues of men. Is it clericalism to exult in the indelible mark of holy orders heroically manifested under conditions of moral disorder and duress?
“This Is Not for You”
In Milestones, a memoir of his life before John Paul called him to Rome, Joseph Ratzinger writes about his ordination to the priesthood. His Bavarian village was given over to days of feasting and festivities in gratitude that a young man from among them had been made a priest. It was a heady experience for that young man, says Ratzinger, and he remembers whispering to himself again and again, “This is not for you, Joseph, this is not for you.” This festivity, this honor, is not a tribute to him but a popular outburst of devotion to Christ and the ministry of his Church.
Whatever else may be meant by clericalism, it has its roots in the demonic twist by which the priest or bishop whispers to himself, “This is for me.” Russell Shaw and others speak of clericalism in terms of elitism, and there is a great deal to that. But it is not quite right. The Church teaches that there is a “universal vocation to holiness.” The only sadness, wrote the French novelist Leon Bloy, is not to be a saint, and he is right about that. Not everybody responds to the call to be a saint, or responds with the same radical openness to letting Christ actualize his holiness in their lives. Those who do, by the grace of God, give such unqualified permission are the saints, the elite to whose company we aspire. So there is elitism, and then there is elitism.
In the Catholic way of being Christian, great goods such as holiness are not left as free-floating ideals but seek instantiation—embodiment—in the forms of the Church’s life. Thus, for instance, in the 1996 apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, John Paul revived the language of higher and lower vocations. I say “revived” because, after the Second Vatican Council, such language was widely viewed with disfavor. The emphasis was on the universal call to holiness, and the universal priesthood of the Church in which all the faithful participate. While in no way denying those great truths, Vita Consecrata accents that there must be particular forms that communally embody the universal to which all aspire. Thus the consecrated life is objectively a higher expression of a universal vocation. Which in no way denies that, subjectively, a devout taxi driver may be closer to sainthood than a self-righteously comfortable monk at his prayers.
“This is not for you, Joseph, this is not for you.” Would it have been better if those Bavarian villagers had had a less exalted view of the priesthood? Is the antidote to clericalism a reduced respect for the priestly office? One cannot help but suspect that this would result in the abandonment of something that is at the heart of The Catholic Thing. The remedy, rather, is a radical redirection and elevation of priestly dignity in terms not of power but of ministry. “The Son of Man came,” Jesus said, “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). That is to be the defining truth also for those who serve in persona Christi. There is no institutional fix for the perennial problem of clericalism. The answer is daily conversion by priests and bishops to our servant Lord.
Russell Shaw and other laypeople who decry the evils of clericalism put the Church in their debt. They are not anticlerical. They want priests and bishops to be the shepherds they are ordained to be. They are rightly disappointed and rightly outraged when clergy act like petty tyrants or sputtering bureaucrats defending their institutional turf. They are scandalized when, in response to the sex-abuse scandal, bishops treat their priests as expendable temporary employees. One bishop under legal and financial pressure infamously described his priests as “independent contractors.” Attempting to ward off outside threats, bishops have self-servingly tried to demonstrate their “transparency” by publicly revealing the names of elderly and deceased priests against whom there was a rumor or allegation of misconduct from twenty, thirty, or even fifty years ago. In some cases, the allegations were investigated, in others not, and in almost all cases they are now beyond fair investigation. Their once honored reputations now destroyed, such priests are deemed guilty until proven innocent, and, from their nursing homes and from their graves, they are in no position to protest their innocence.
This is a great miscarriage of the “zero tolerance” policy adopted by the bishops in Dallas in 2002. It has not escaped the notice of many observers that zero tolerance has not been applied in like manner to bishops who were complicit, or more than complicit, in the sexual abuse of minors. Never mind similar patterns of cover-up and corruption in religious orders or the lavender priests, both religious and diocesan, for whom the chief lesson learned from the sex-abuse crisis is to make sure their sexual partners are of legal age.
It is an unspeakable sadness. A sadness compounded by the fact that there has not been to date a collective statement by the bishops confessing their errors and their wrongs, and asking the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness of the Catholic faithful. “Mistakes were made” is not an act of contrition. Their lawyers strongly advise against such a statement, pointing out the legal liabilities entailed. One hopes that, in addition to consulting their lawyers, bishops have consulted their conscience, that “aboriginal Vicar of Christ” (Newman), and have pondered the much more ominous liability entailed by impenitence. Public offenses call for public penitence.
Contra some episcopal statements, the sex-abuse crisis is not “history.” The invitation to “move on” is respectfully declined. The scandal has cost $2 billion to date, and there is no end in sight. A greater cost is the betrayal of filial and fraternal trust between bishops and priests. And the cost to the victims of abuse is beyond measure. The criticism is raised that some of those who have most strongly decried the miscarriage of the “zero tolerance” policy and the consequent injustices perpetrated against many priests have not been as vocal in addressing the crimes and sins against the victims of abuse.
About zero tolerance of sex abuse there cannot be even the smallest scintilla of equivocation. Sex abuse is not limited to its legal definition but includes illicit sexual relations with those who are, by however thin a margin, of age. Some clergy speak of “sexually mature” homosexual relations that are said to be morally unproblematic. A chancery official tells the press that a priest who has been charged had sex only with young men who were of the age of consent, and therefore, he said, “there is no problem.” The very real problem is not whether the other person was sixteen or eighteen.
Numerous bishops have engaged in long “listening sessions” with victims from which they emerge, sometimes teary-eyed, proclaiming that they were shocked, shocked, to discover the psychological and spiritual damage done to young men. At news conferences, surrounded by their lawyers and the lawyers of those who have been abused, or claim they have been abused, and are seeking large damages, bishops announce that their eyes have been opened. Perhaps so, but there is something just a little smarmy and manifestly self-serving in these carefully choreographed reeducation sessions. Until confronted by evidence of psychological damage and the threat of massive financial penalties, these bishops were not shaken, outraged, scandalized, by the knowledge that priests were violating their sacred vows and leading others, whether young or not so young, into grave sin?
Of course, the sex-abuse crisis is about more than clericalism, and clericalism is about more than the sex-abuse crisis. Russell Shaw’s Nothing to Hide has useful suggestions for creating a broader and collaborative relationship of mutual respect between clergy and laity. He notes, for instance, that there was great interest in diocesan councils and parish councils in the period following Vatican II, but in recent years that interest has dramatically declined. Bishops and priests say that the councils were more hindrance than help, that laypeople simply don’t understand the complexities of diocesan and parish governance. Shaw protests the circularity of this line of reasoning: People are excluded because they don’t understand and don’t understand because they are excluded.
A Neurotic Vigilance
Like other critics of clericalism, Shaw addresses the long, long aftermath of the trusteeship controversies of more than a hundred years ago. With great difficulty, the bishops turned back the efforts of some Catholic laity to establish in this country a Protestant ecclesiology of congregational independence and lay control. A persuasive argument can be made that the bishops succeeded all too well. And parish pastors, too, who understand themselves to be bishops, or even popes, in their own domain frequently exhibit a neurotic vigilance against the real or imagined ghost of trusteeism.
There are many parts to the corruption that is clericalism. Would the Church be better governed with the active participation of competent laypeople in decision making? I expect the answer is yes. Would bishops and priests be more effective shepherds and less prone to defensiveness and secrecy if they cultivated patterns of trusted collaboration with the laity? Surely the answer is yes, as is demonstrated by bishops and priests who do precisely that.
In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, many laypeople of an anticlerical disposition seized on the teaching that the Church is the “People of God.” Predictably, their anticlericalism met with a reaction of reinforced clericalism. That was dramatically the case in connection with the disastrous 1976 “Call to Action” conference in Detroit, where lay delegates, largely composed of church workers of one kind or another, led an attempted insurrection not only against episcopal governance but against the teachings of the council in whose name the conference was convened.
These and other convolutions notwithstanding, the Church is the People of God, and the clergy, from the pope to the most recently ordained deacon, have no reason for being other than to serve the People of God in their ministry of service to God and his world. Asked by a bishop what he thought about the laity, John Henry Newman replied that we clergy would look pretty foolish without them. To which it needs only to be added that the laity are not there to prevent the clergy from looking foolish.
Lay participation in decision making is no panacea. And most laypeople most of the time have better things to do than to sit in meetings making decisions that they would just as soon, most of the time, leave to the clergy. Their participation does not necessarily result in better decisions made, but it is a service to clergy who need to cultivate the habits and arts of collaboration. To say that they are there for the sake of the clergy might, I suppose, be construed as another form of clericalism. There is no guaranteed way to counter the evils of clericalism. Russell Shaw and others make promising institutional suggestions, but, as aforesaid, there is no institutional fix.
The problem is perennial. Clericalism is the shadow side of the glory that is the Catholic priesthood. The best we can hope for is priests and bishops who in every circumstance emulate the young Father Ratzinger who whispered to himself, “This is not for you, Joseph, this is not for you.”Paradigm Me No Paradigm
It’s always an encouragement to see a bishop speak truth to twaddle. The National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry chose as the theme for its meeting in San Antonio “Paradigmatic Changes in Hispanic Ministry.” The archbishop of that fair city, Jose Gomez, said in his address to the council, “The Scriptures don’t talk much about paradigm change. Instead, the Bible talks about kairos—the time of decision. . . . . The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real paradigm that matters. The time is fulfilled. The kingdom is at hand. The decision each of us has to make every day is this: Will we repent and believe? Will we continue our daily conversion to Christ? Will we try every day to more and more conform our lives to Christ and to his teaching?”
We talk a lot about poverty, discrimination, and lack of opportunity for Hispanic people, he said. Those are necessary and urgent concerns. “But we also see many signs of moral and spiritual poverty. We don’t talk about that too much. But we need to start.” There are “darker forces” at work, indicating “something gone wrong in our community.” He then addresses alarming rates of births out of wedlock, abortions, school drop-outs, and defections from the Church. He describes a Bible study for Latinos that the archdiocese is developing. The introduction asks, “Who is Jesus in my life?” and “Who is Jesus for us as a community of disciples?” The text is accompanied by pictures of Jesus as Anglo, black, Chinese, and a Native American medicine man.
The archbishop says, “I came to the conclusion that it’s hard to picture Jesus. Nobody knows what he looked like. Then I thought: Not one of these pictures even attempted to portray the Jesus we find described in the Gospels. The real Jesus. The Jesus who was a Jew. A son of David and a son of man. The Jesus who at the same time was also the son of God and the man of heaven. The Jesus who took flesh and blood in the womb of Mary and who rose from the tomb by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the real Jesus. The Jesus who dwelt among us at a concrete time in history and at a concrete place. A Jesus who is with us today in Word and sacrament. All these other Jesuses are just abstractions. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples: ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Mt 16:15). Notice. That’s a very different question than, ‘Who is Jesus in my life and for my community?’ To ask who Jesus is in my life has the danger of turning the question inside out. Suddenly we’re not talking about Jesus anymore. We’re talking about ourselves. About our expectations, our grievances, our needs. When you ask the question that way, you end up with a Jesus who looks a lot like you. Or like the people in your community.”
There is more: “Our people are hungry for the word of God. La palabra de Dios. . . . Our people do not want or need a Jesus who looks like them. We need the true Jesus who calls each one of us to become like him. . . . The fashions of pastoral ministry come and go. But Jesus Christ remains the same—yesterday and today and forever. Let us make the Gospel our only paradigm. Let us make ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’ our only mission statement and our daily task.”
I am reminded of James Burtchaell’s wry observation in The Dying of the Light, an invaluable study of how Christian colleges and universities abandon their religious identity. When Christian institutions start writing mission statements, said Burtchaell, it is almost always a sign that they’ve already lost their mission. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1951, and educated in Mexico and Spain, Gomez was auxiliary bishop in Denver with Archbishop Charles Chaput until appointed Archbishop of San Antonio by John Paul II in 2004. To paraphrase that Southern Baptist’s famous comment about John Paul the Great, it seems that San Antonio got a bishop who sure knows how to bishop.
• Drew G. Faust is the new president of Harvard University, and on October 12 she delivered her inaugural address. There is much to admire in what she said, particularly her criticism of a purely instrumental view of the purposes of a university. For instance, she said: “The essence of a university is that it is uniquely accountable to the past and to the future—not simply or even primarily to the present. A university is not about results in the next quarter. . . . It is about learning that molds a lifetime, learning that transmits the heritage of millennia. . . . Universities make commitments to the timeless, and these investments have yields we cannot predict and often cannot measure. . . . We are uncomfortable with efforts to justify these endeavors by defining them as instrumental, as measurably useful to particular contemporary needs. Instead we pursue them in part ‘for their own sake,’ because they define what has over centuries made us human, not because they can enhance our global competitiveness.” Let the people say Amen. She alluded to John Winthrop’s famous sermon aboard the Arbella in 1630 about being a “city upon a hill.” But now the cause is not the gospel of Christ or the errand of Israel into the wilderness but the intellectual eminence of Harvard. Later, she is more explicit. “The ‘Veritas’ in Harvard’s shield was originally intended to invoke the absolutes of divine revelation, the unassailable verities of Puritan religion. We understand it quite differently now. Truth is an aspiration, not a possession. Yet in this we—and all universities defined by the spirit of debate and free inquiry—challenge and even threaten those who would embrace unquestioned certainties. We must commit ourselves to the uncomfortable position of doubt, to the humility of always believing there is more to know, more to teach, more to understand.” Dr. Faust does not possess the truths that she is so vigorously pronouncing? Is not her imperative of doubt an unquestioned certainty? Far from being an “uncomfortable position,” one might suggest that the denial that truth can be possessed is the orthodox prerequisite of being comfortable at Harvard and institutions with a similar self-understanding. Does she suppose that the universities of Paris, Bologna, Oxford, and Cambridge in the High Middle Ages denied that “there is more to know, more to teach, more to understand”? As I said, there are many good things in this inaugural address. But, whatever its merits, it does not reflect an understanding of education that is “timeless,” nor is it informed by the truths that “define what has over the centuries made us human.” In its basic presuppositions about truth and learning, her address obediently conforms to the historical, conceptual, and social parochialism of Harvard at the beginning of the twenty-first century—and of other institutions that mistakenly believe that Harvard defines what it means to be a university.
• Here’s a book that I expect many readers will warmly welcome. With all the talk about Mormonism, people who are not going to become experts on the subject of Mormonism want a reliable guide to what they believe that we also believe and what beliefs are in conflict. For such people, Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate by Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott is just the thing (Brazos Press). I have mentioned Millet before. He’s a Mormon who has done pioneering work in establishing closer bonds with various Christian communities. McDermott is a theologian at Roanoke College. He is an Episcopalian with broadly evangelical sympathies and is committed to the Great Tradition of conciliar Christianity. The book might have been titled a Mormon-Christian debate, but that of course would have preempted the question at issue, namely, whether Mormonism is Christian. Of most particular importance is that the authors are close friends. The exchanges are mutually respectful. There are no cheap shots on either side. Subjects covered include historical evidences, God or Gods, Son of God, Trinity, creation, atonement, scriptural canon, and church and sacraments. McDermott interestingly contrasts the Mormon “American Christ” with the biblical “Palestinian Christ” and draws fascinating parallels between the way Christians view Mormons and the ways in which Jews of biblical times viewed the Samaritans. Come to the crunch point, and no matter how sympathetically one may try to interpret the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, McDermott concludes that we cannot worship with Mormons in the confidence that we are worshiping the same God. Claiming Christ is a rare and instructive exercise in which learning, candor, and friendship join in search of truth.
• I don’t know where to register a complaint because I don’t know who is responsible. So I’ll register it here. In the last year or two, the term religiosity has gained wide currency when what writers mean is religious belief, commitment, adherence, or almost anything else associated with religion. The word religiosity has been around for a long time, and it means, as Webster’s Third International puts it, “intense, excessive, or affected religiousness.” It has an emphatically negative connotation and should be reserved for occasions when that connotation is intended. Religiousness is clunky, and writers are looking for one word to refer to a phenomenon of myriad dimensions. We don’t need it, anymore than we need one word for everything associated with business, politics, entertainment, sports, music, or other human activities. So consider my complaint registered. Be sure you will never see religiosity used in these pages, except in quotes or when protesting its use—or when what is meant is “intense, excessive, or affected religiousness.”
• Here is a report on a new study of Americans that finds “very low levels of religiosity in terms of actual behavior.” The researchers, using time-use data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that the average American spends a total of three minutes on “religious and spiritual activities” in the normal weekday. In ranking activities, “personal care, including sleeping, was first, while religious and spiritual activities were last.” Oh dear. Leaving aside whether sleeping is an activity, the finding does not surprise. Apart from Catholics who attend daily Mass, and others who set aside a period of the day for Bible reading or some other discipline of meditation, it is not entirely discouraging that the average American spends three minutes a day in what they identify as “religious and spiritual activities.” I suppose that most of the respondents mean by that time devoted to prayer. And I expect a very large percentage of them would say that the entirety of their “actual behavior” is religiously informed or inspired. You know there is something deeply suspect about a study that claims to measure “the consumption of religion.” How much religion did you consume today? I hope that whoever paid for this study gets their money back.
• It comes too late for Terri Schiavo, who died in March 2005, but the timing is not bad for a Church that thinks in terms of centuries. In fact, Catholic teaching was firm and clear, but some Catholic academics and a few bishops shamelessly waffled on, and a few expressed support for, the decision to kill Terri Schiavo by starvation and dehydration. So the American bishops’ conference asked for guidance from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Question: “Is the administration of food and water (whether by natural or artificial means) to a patient in a ‘vegetative state’ morally obligatory except when they cannot be assimilated by the patient’s body or cannot be administered to the patient without causing significant physical discomfort?” The CDF’s answer, explicitly approved by the pope: “Yes. The administration of food and water even by artificial means is, in principle, an ordinary and proportionate means of preserving life. It is therefore obligatory to the extent to which, and for as long as, it is shown to accomplish its proper end, which is the hydration and nourishment of the patient.” The bishops asked if such support might be discontinued “when competent physicians judge with moral certainty that the patient will never recover consciousness?” The answer: “No. A patient in a ‘permanent vegetative state’ is a person with fundamental human dignity and must, therefore, receive ordinary and proportionate care which includes, in principle, the administration of water and food even by artificial means.” William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the CDF, added, “The provision of water and food, even by artificial means, always represents a ‘natural means’ for preserving life and is not a ‘therapeutic treatment.’” The CDF response says nothing new, but, as Dr. Johnson observed, we—including also bishops and moral theologians—have a greater need to be reminded than to be instructed.
• Perhaps you can put up with one more word on a subject that has been beaten to death. The headline in Religion Watch reads: “What’s New About the ‘New Athiesm’?” Well, the spelling of atheism for one thing. Typo aside, this is a thoughtful reflection on the significance of the spate of militantly atheistic books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and others. The article quotes George Weigel, who notes that the new atheism is so very angry. Dawkins, for instance, argues that early religious formation is a form of “child abuse.” Says Weigel, “In the early 19th century, it was thought that an atheist could not be a gentleman; today the atheists argue that religious conviction is for slobs and morons.” The RW article opines that atheists (who often preferred to be called freethinkers or secular humanists) are frustrated by “the failure of progressive secularism” and are now seeking a niche for themselves among the unchurched and “secular seekers” in order to build a new community of support. They are also becoming more overtly “evangelistic,” in admitted imitation of assertive Christian witness. And they are into “identity politics,” increasingly presenting themselves as a minority whose rights are threatened and making an explicit connection with the women’s and gay-rights movements. For instance, atheists frequently speak about “coming out of the closet.” The article concludes that “the anger, energy, and new strategies of the new atheists” may turn out to do more for their cause “than the older and faded dream of building a secularist society.” I expect that there is more than a little to that analysis. Contrast Harris, Dawkins, et al. with the “Humanist Manifesto” of 1933, in which distinguished intellectual and cultural leaders, with the venerable John Dewey at their head, confidently predicting the demise of religion and the triumph of what was frankly described as secular humanism. So which is the oppressed minority—atheists or believers? Activists in both camps lay claim to the title. Among the asymmetries, however, is that there is a constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion, while the free exercise of atheism consists chiefly in attacking the free exercise of religion. Proving that you can fight something with nothing. Winning is another matter.
• The funny thing about “funny” is that sometimes it’s not. As a friend who teaches at a Jesuit university likes to say, “Those Jesuits are a funny bunch, and I mean funny oh-oh, not funny ha-ha.” News about the Jesuits all too frequently occasions a Reaganesque “There they go again.” Here’s an item from the National Seminar on Jesuit Higher Education. Father Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., ticks off the usual “notes” of a truly Jesuit university: students working in soup kitchens and AIDS hospices, classes in liberation theology, Habitat for Humanity, demonstrating against the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Schroth then observes, “That’s good, but not enough.” There is nothing distinctively Catholic about “a commitment to the poor and oppressed,” good though that commitment is. Maybe the C in Catholic education requires reference to Christ, as the J in Jesuit education could also refer to Jesus. Funny that a Jesuit should think of that—funny as in welcome. As of this writing, the leadership of the Society of Jesus is meeting in Rome to elect a new father general and attend to other business. I would not be surprised if there is occasion to comment on that next month.
• A young woman of my acquaintance was heartbroken. She had just broken up with a fellow who had prompted dreams of a lifetime together. As it happens, I knew the young man as well. He explained that she, like most women, takes these things too seriously. In this, he shared the view of Karl Kraus, that wicked sage of Viennese café society, who said, “Female desire is to male desire as an epic is to an epigram.”
• Camille Paglia has always had a fiercely independent voice. Many years ago, her essay “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex” offered a brilliant diagnosis of the naïve silliness of revisionist sexual morality in Christian circles. Paglia is, I’m sorry to say, an atheist, but she is also that increasingly rare thing, a genuine liberal. She cares about human flourishing, and in that old essay she worried very much that pretending that our sexual impulses are not often dark, dangerous, and most of all very, very complicated will lead us to live in a sanitized fantasy world. Her true love, however, is art, and in a recent essay she contends that the chief problem with contemporary art is its antagonism to religion. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that “American conservatives on the whole, outside of the New Criterion magazine, have shown little interest in the arts.” That is a mostly true generalization. And it is mostly true because the arts reflect “the crazed system of our grotesquely overpriced, cafeteria-style higher education, which for thirty years was infested by sterile and now fading poststructuralism and postmodernism.” The consequence is, among other things, a “religious deficit” in today’s art, writes Paglia. “Supporters of the arts who gleefully cheer when a religious symbol is maltreated act as if that response authenticates their avant-garde credentials. But here’s the bad news: the avant-garde is dead. It was killed over forty years ago by Pop Art and by one of my heroes, Andy Warhol, a decadent Catholic. The era of vigorous oppositional art inaugurated two hundred years ago by Romanticism is long gone. The controversies over Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Chris Ofili were just fading sparks of an old cause. It is presumptuous and even delusional to imagine that goading a squawk out of the Catholic League permits anyone to borrow the glory of the avant-garde rebels of the past, whose transgressions were personally costly. It’s time to move on.” Moving on means the arts “must recover their spiritual center. Profaning the iconography of other people’s faith is boring and adolescent.” On that she will get no argument here. A further problem, however, is that, when groups such as the Catholic League protest such profanation, it lends notoriety to the work in question, thus boosting its price in the decadent marketplace of contemporary art. On the other hand, some contend that the art scene would be even more debased in the absence of such public protests. So perhaps we need the Catholic League to continue what Paglia calls its squawking. Most certainly we need artists who are addressing the “religious deficit.”
• No two times and no two places are entirely alike, and no time and place was very much like Quebec in the 1960s. As Father Raymond Leclerc says in the 2003 film Les Invasions Barbares: “You know, way back, everybody here was Catholic, just as in Spain or Ireland. And then, at a very specific moment—it was during the year 1966—in only a few months, the churches suddenly emptied out. A very strange phenomenon, one that nobody has ever been able to explain.” You cannot get very far into academic discussions about “secularization” and somebody will bring up the strange case of Quebec. The fictional Father Leclerc may be right that nobody has been able to explain what happened in Quebec, but it is not for want of trying. Here are two fresh and very helpful attempts by Michael Gauvreau, a historian at McMaster University in Ontario, and Kevin J. Christiano, a sociologist at Notre Dame. Their essays appear in a new book from Catholic University Press, The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholicism since 1950 in the United States, Ireland, and Quebec. Both writers agree that it began long before 1966. As Gauvreau and many others depict it, the “Quiet Revolution” ( Revolution tranquille) began as a reaction against the almost total synthesis of Church, culture, and state under the auspices of the Union Nationale party led by Maurice Duplessis, who ruled, with one brief interruption, from 1935 to 1959. The Quiet Revolution, writes Christiano, was “the veritable coming of age of a people in its belated encounter with modernity.” The Quiet Revolution is usually dated from 1960, but it began decades earlier, with unexpected consequences of mostly good intentions gone wildly awry. Charles Doran, an American scholar, is quoted: “The clergy that had saved Quebec from the neglect of Louis XV and his court, and from the hardships of survival in a rough land, now became a burden. A Catholic faith that had provided the social cement for the colony, as well as solace from fear and from societal and job exclusion for its members, became an embarrassing reminder of a past that everyone wanted to forget.” The fate of the Church in Quebec is an illustration in spades that no good deed goes unpunished. Not that the Church didn’t make mistakes, beginning with its uncritical alliance with Duplessis. Until the Liberals took power in 1960, almost all the educational and social services of Quebec were run by the Church. Within, it seems, the blink of an eye, the Church retreated and the state took over. For the most part, the Church willingly, even eagerly, retreated. It is not too much to say that the Church led the retreat, and did so in the name of a more “authentic” Catholicism.
• The state of Catholicism in Quebec today is grim. Sociologists describe it as a free fall. To be sure, 80 percent of Quebecers say they are Catholics, and many still expect certain services from the Church, but their relationship to the Church is much like their relationship to the company that provides gas and electricity. As one observer describes it: “Citizens approach it to provide specialized services of a religious nature: baptism, first communion, confirmation, marriage, funerals, etc. It becomes, in a manner of speaking, a place for the production and distribution of symbolic goods of a certain kind. The relationship that it establishes with a majority of parishioners succeeds in resembling very much that which a utility fosters with its users.” In 1966, there were 8,800 diocesan priests; today there are 2,600, most of them older and many in nursing homes. In 1945, weekly Mass attendance stood at 90 percent; today it is well under 20 percent, and much lower in the large urban areas. Hundreds of religious communities have simply disappeared. The birth rate has fallen from an average of four children per couple to 1.5, well under what demographers call the replacement rate. And most of them are not born to couples. At present, 55.3 percent of births are to single mothers who have never been married. A magazine in western Canada ran an article under the impolite title “A Province of Bastards.” And, of course, the number of abortions has soared. As for the public role of the clergy, they are treated, says Christiano, with “polite indifference.” The new “bishops” providing moral guidance to the public, one observer notes, are the sociologists and other academics at the universities of Montreal and Laval. Thousands of parish churches, many of them bereft of people, are physically maintained by the provincial government under its “heritage” program. As a tour guide in the provincial parliament building explains to a tourist puzzled by the prominence of a crucifix, C’est l’histoire, madame—“Madam, that is history.” The official motto of Quebec, emblazoned on its license plates, is Je me souviens—“I remember.” Among the things they remember, along with the endless battles with English Canadians and the struggle to assert themselves as a “nation within a nation,” they remember when Quebec was Catholic. A few remember it fondly; most remember it in order, by remembering, to make sure it will not return.
• Michael Gauvreau’s essay is, I think, a particularly insightful analysis of what happened in Quebec. It is not so simple a matter, as old-fashioned secularization theorists would have it, of “confronting modernity.” Nor was it just a matter of escaping from an oppressive and stifling cultural-political hegemony. Nor was it a case of the putative “renewal” mandated by the Second Vatican Council running amok. The council concluded in 1965, by which time the Quiet Revolution was triumphant. The revolution got underway long before that. Its young leaders in Catholic Action were “the brightest and the best” and were inspired by Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical on social doctrine, Quadragesimo Anno. They construed that teaching in a way that created a category of “youth” that was depicted as modernity pitted against the way of their elders. The Catholic Action renewal proceeded, as Gauvreau writes, “from a negative reference point: the values of previous generations could offer no guidance or salvation for young Catholics confronted with the pressures and challenges of modern society.” Many bishops and priests ardently supported this youthful demand for an “authentic” Catholicism. The leaders of Catholic Action believed themselves to be fervently Catholic in seeking a more genuine form of lay Catholicism. The male leaders who dominated Catholic Action were disdainful of “feminized” popular piety and devotions centered on the family and extended families of parish communities. They were inspired also by the 1930 encyclical, Casti Connubii, which places a new emphasis on the spiritual and sexual dimensions of marriage. An enormously popular marriage-preparation program was launched that promoted a “sanctification of sex,” strongly favoring the nuclear family and mutual satisfaction over traditional familial patterns. Marriage was elevated over celibacy, and it was urged that the clergy had little to say about how the faith should be lived in the real world. The new approach was described as “personalist,” in contrast to the cultural and routine Catholicism of the past. Marriage was centered in a mutual “gift of self.” (Readers may, with reason, be reminded of the language of John Paul II’s “theology of the body.”) Having children was subordinated to the greater value of the mutual satisfaction of the couple, from which the extended family was excluded. The marriage-preparation movement promulgated the idea that both husband and wife needed to achieve, and maybe were entitled to, complete orgasm. Long before the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, the great majority of priests said there was no problem with the pill and other contraceptives. By 1968, the Church’s teaching on this question, and almost everything else, was a dead letter. Key to the Quiet Revolution was contempt for the past. As one of the most prominent leaders of Catholic Action, Fernand Dumont, declared, the old Catholicism in Quebec was “a dog’s breakfast of pseudo-beliefs that are in reality superstitions barely disguised by a thin coat of Christian veneer.” Such leaders styled themselves as a “Christian left” in close imitation of their French hero, Emmanuel Mounier. With the support of the more influential clergy, it was proposed that there are two Catholicisms: “one authentic, heroic, spiritually pure, communitarian, appealing to masculine reason, and the other routine, sentimental, unthinking, overly pious, excessively individualistic, appealing primarily to women and the less educated.” As Gauvreau notes, there was also a strong dose of anti-Americanism in the ideology of the leaders of the Quiet Revolution. Quebecers are, after all, French in more than language. And the most “progressive” among them tend toward a fierce nationalism. Many today lament the break of the link between Catholicism and the operative values of the people of Quebec. To which Gauvreau responds with a question: “After two decades of increasingly shrill hectoring and denigration by a self-appointed spiritual elite, why would the masses even be remotely interested in a project of defining a synthesis between Catholicism and nationalism in which their religious experience was no longer included?”
• Quebec is in some ways sui generis, but that does not mean there are not lessons applicable to other times and places. As longtime readers know, I spend part of the summer at the family cottage in Quebec and have over the years read a great deal of literature, and talked with numerous clergy and laypeople, about the Quiet Revolution, its sources and consequences. The essays in The Church Confronts Modernity, and especially that by Michael Gauvreau, throw valuable light on the subject. It is not unproblematic to speak of the debilitating influence of “elites.” After all, elite is closely related to the aspiration toward excellence. And it is a good thing that young people are seized by a vision of renewal, for surely the Church should be and can be different—proposing a high sense of spiritual, moral, and intellectual adventure in response to the call to holiness. All that is true, and importantly true. The fateful turn in Quebec was to pit youth against parents, elders, and ecclesial leadership, ending up with “two Catholicisms.” Mutatis mutandis, the same thing happened here with a “post-Vatican II Church” pitted against a “pre-Vatican II Church,” and it goes a long way toward explaining why liberal Catholicism is now, also in this country, an exhausted project. Those who marched under the banner of “renewal” and “reform” too often exhibited a contempt for the fervent piety and frequently heroic labors of prior generations. There was a desperate eagerness to distance themselves from the “immigrant” and “ghetto” Catholicism of the past. A now elderly priest who has never grown beyond being a very progressive priest of the 1960s once told me, “The reform of Vatican II will not be implemented until the last bead-banging bingo-playing blue-haired old biddy suffers a fatal heart attack at the last novena.” That’s gross, of course, but not unrepresentative of a certain liberal vision of renewal that exercised great influence for four decades.
• Contempt for the tradition that one would renew is lethal. Clergy and lay leaders do well to keep in mind an observation of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Whom you would change, you must first love, and they must know you love them.” It is an encouragement that the many youthful renewal movements in the Church today, although sometimes marked by elitism in the pejorative sense of that term, are typically devoted to the Church’s tradition in faith and morals, and respectful of popular devotions. More or less self-consciously rebelling, as youth will rebel, against two generations that equated progress with the jettisoning of the past, they want the Church to be more not less Catholic. Of even greater importance, they refuse to conform to the notion that rebellion is the normal mode of being young. One might say that they are rebelling against the imposed disposition of rebellion. (This phenomenon is insightfully addressed by Joseph Bottum in “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano,” October 2006) These young people know that there is much they do not know, and they are not embarrassed to acknowledge that their disposition is that of learning. Perhaps some of them have even read the words of Goethe:
What you have as heritage
Take now as task;
For thus you will make it your own.
I do not want to exaggerate, but such is my impression from the young Catholics I encounter on campuses around the country, in our international summer seminar in Poland, and, not least, on our staff here at First Things. You may object that they are not representative, that they are the elite. Yes, I suppose so. Which means they are the leaders who are redefining the meaning of renewal and reform. Which means they are very much unlike the elitists of Catholic Action in Quebec and their counterparts here in decades past who, in their no doubt well-intended efforts, precipitated such spiritual and institutional devastation.
• And, with your permission, one more thing. I mentioned in passing John Paul II’s “theology of the body” (now available in an improved translation as Man and Woman He Created Them). That is among the many gifts of the late pope that are today warmly embraced by many young Catholics. But, as mentioned earlier, some of the themes of the theology of the body are not new to the Catholic tradition; for example, a “personalist” understanding of the marital union and sexual relations as a “mutual gift of the self.” The use of these themes by the leaders of Catholic Action in Quebec led to a “sanctification of sex” and unrealistic expectations, resulting in dissatisfaction with the lived experience of marriage, in fewer children, and in more divorce. This is a real danger also among evangelical Protestants today who have produced a stream of books on how “everything goes better with Jesus”—including, maybe especially, sex. There is ample research suggesting that deeply committed Christians do have more and better sex in their marriages. But, while all of life, including sexual relations, should be holy, the “sanctification of sex” can distract attention from the virtues of patience and forbearance, and the inevitability of disappointments in marriage. It is wonderful when one’s duty is delight, but frequently duty is just duty. Marriage is sustained by love, and at times it is the case that love is sustained by marriage. Of course such wisdom is contained in the “theology of the body,” but this caution to some of its more enthusiastic proponents may be in order. And with that I conclude this reflection on what happened in Quebec, which, please God, will not happen here. Did I mention that some Catholics in Quebec, including some priests and bishops, have learned these lessons, and that there are, here and there, flickering signs of recovery? Maybe I’ll come back to that another time.
• I was for sixteen years editor of Forum Letter, a Lutheran publication, and I still read it with great interest. Lutherans have, with very few exceptions, been very kind to me since I became a Catholic eighteen years ago. They invite me to speak and do not take it amiss when I occasionally comment on their affairs—which are, after all, our affairs in the one community of Christians. I trust that will continue to be the case. In the January 2008 issue of Forum Letter, the current editor, Pastor Richard Johnson, discusses the ELCA’s forthcoming social statement on sexuality and suggests that no substantive statement could get the two-thirds vote necessary for approval. He goes on to wonder whether a social statement on the subject is really called for, since social statements usually deal with public policy, while ELCA confusions and conflicts have to do with internal questions such as ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians. Pastor Johnson writes: “If we don’t need it, and if it seems unlikely that a social statement can muster a 2/3 vote anyway, why must we go through the agony and turmoil of taking something to a vote? Perhaps the best thing the task force could do would be to admit, ‘We have no consensus—not just about homosexuality, but also several other aspects of sexual morality.’ . . . It’s generally wiser, if you don’t have anything useful to say, to keep quiet.” The “other aspects” presumably touch on questions such as marriage, divorce, and abortion. The suggestion that the ELCA has nothing useful to say on such matters is striking. The Lutheran confessional writings of the sixteenth century boldly and repeatedly assert, “We believe, teach, and confess . . .” That, one might think, is what churches do; it is what constitutes them as churches. In his monumental work The Christian Tradition, the late Lutheran-turned-Orthodox Jaroslav Pelikan saw that threefold commitment—to believe, teach, and confess—as a mark of the Church. Pastor Johnson’s distinction between statements on public policy and statements on internal order (what Catholics call ad extra and ad intra statements) is important. Immeasurably more important is whether an ecclesial community is capable of saying anything useful, or true, about what it believes, teaches, and confesses with respect to the right ordering of the Christian life.
• A friend who is very supportive of efforts to advance a greater measure of Christian unity, especially between Catholics and Protestants, asks me to put in a plug for Ecumenism and Philosophy by Father Charles Morerod of the Angelicum in Rome (Sapientia Press), which I am glad to do. Father Morerod persuasively argues that longstanding disagreements about nature and grace, divine initiative and human cooperation, are rooted in philosophical errors. Moderns such as Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche saw themselves as completing the work of Luther and Calvin, who set up God and man as rivals, by eliminating God altogether. Morerod urges that ecumenical efforts would be enhanced if we could all agree with St. Thomas’ understanding that grace perfects nature rather than pitting grace and nature against one another. He is no doubt right about that. While Morerod helpfully illumines the ways in which theological disagreements frequently have philosophical sources, one hopes that Catholic theological dialogue does not depend on making Thomists of its Protestant interlocutors. Although it can be helpful to bring the philosophical dimension into play, theological dialogue must continue to be focused on the theological. That having been said, Ecumenism and Philosophy highlights the ways in which theological disagreements can, at times, be as much philosophical as they are theological.
• About 20 years ago, a number of evangelical Protestants, led by Peter Gillquist of Campus Crusade for Christ, came to the conclusion that there was not enough uppercase Church in the evangelical churches and decided they should become Orthodox. At first, they established their own Evangelical Orthodox Church, but then, realizing that there is something very Protestant about establishing your own church, even if it claimed to be Orthodox, they sought affiliation with a part of the Orthodox Church. In 1987, most of the members were received into the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, a body of about 47,000 people, the majority of whose members and priests are former evangelicals. The New Republic recently ran a positive story on these developments and quotes Jordan DeRenzo on why she became Orthodox: “But it wasn’t just the foreignness of the Orthodox Church; it was its bigness that appealed to DeRenzo, as well. Indeed, as she continued to talk, it became clear that, as an evangelical, she had felt very small and alone. It was a surprising sentiment to hear from someone about the evangelical movement. After all, ever since the rise of the Moral Majority, American evangelicals have arguably been the most politically powerful religious group in the country. But perhaps the most telling revelation of the Orthodox conversion trend is that this political power has not translated into a sense of spiritual power—or belonging. For these converts, it seems, the Orthodox Church has solved the unbearable lightness of being evangelical. ‘When I was in [an evangelical church], I was thinking, “This is great, I love this,”’ DeRenzo said. ‘But I thought, and I don’t mean to be morbid, but eventually some day this pastor is going to die or I’m going to move away, so if this is the only place in the world where the truth is, that’s tragic.’ DeRenzo paused and looked around the sanctuary at the icons and the candles. She went on, ‘Coming to the Orthodox Church means that I am in communion with that church no matter where I am in the world, that I can go into that church wherever I am and have the same liturgy and celebrate the same way. I’ll be in communion with other people. And that is so huge. That hugeness is so exciting.’” It is, of course, a way of thinking more commonly expressed by Catholic converts, but that is another story.
• Make no mistake about it: Psychotherapist Gary Greenberg wants society to be more approving of homosexuals and homosexuality. But he thinks the gay movement has taken a wrong turn by attempting to make its case on the basis of science. “This is the way I was born.” Or “This is the way God made me.” “I have no choice.” “Love me for who I am.” We have all heard those claims times beyond numbering. Greenberg’s article “Gay by Choice? The Science of Sexual Identity” appears in the very leftist Mother Jones. In it, he takes a very different tack: “Sexuality, profoundly mysterious and irrational, will not be contained by our categories. . . . It is time to find reasons other than medical science to insist that people ought to be able to love whom they love.” Greenberg notes that “all the major psychotherapy guilds” have bought into the “I have no choice” position and rigorously exclude any consideration of reparative therapy for those who do not want to be homosexual. From his own practice and from the pertinent research, Greenberg says that “sexual orientation is more fluid than we have come to think.” People, women more frequently than men, “do move across customary sexual orientation boundaries.” There are, he says, ex-gays, just as there are ex-straights and gays by choice. “Much of this research has stayed below the radar of the culture warriors, but reparative therapists are hoping to use it to enter the scientific mainstream and advocate for what they call the right of self-determination in matters of sexual orientation. If they are successful, gay activists may soon find themselves scrambling to make sense of a new scientific and political landscape.” Of course, there have long been groups that have challenged the thought patrol of the major psychotherapy guilds. There are, for instance, the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), Exodus International, Courage (a Catholic group), and True Freedom Trust. But it is of more than passing interest to see these arguments advanced in Mother Jones.
• One may be opposed to the use of the death penalty and still not terribly cheered by the vote of the United Nations General Assembly in favor of a global moratorium against it. John Allen writes that it may be too much to say the vote was “a victory for the Catholic Church,” but it is “difficult to imagine without the Catholic contribution.” The campaign for the vote was pressed and coordinated by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a movement within the Church, and greatly assisted by the Holy See mission at the U.N. and by key players in mainly Catholic countries. A nonbinding resolution of the General Assembly is, well, very nonbinding. But supporters of the resolution say it “establishes a new moral consensus among nations” and puts nations who use the death penalty on the moral spot. The vote was 104 nations in favor, 54 (including the United States) opposed, 29 abstaining, and 5 not present. So 104 voted for the resolution and 88 did not. I suppose it depends on the meaning of consensus. As it happens, 90 nations have already officially abolished capital punishment and 43 are said to have done so “de facto” by virtue of not executing anyone in at least ten years. So it seems that the 104 countries favoring the moratorium are 29 fewer than those that have officially or unofficially abolished capital punishment. Allen interviewed a spokesman for Sant’Egidio who said the campaign got a big boost from Renato Cardinal Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who said in a public statement, “The death penalty is homicide.” The spokesman notes, rectly, that “that has never been said at such a high level before.” Cardinal Martino is well known for offering revisions of the Church’s teaching on his own initiative. Some will say that the U.N. resolution is a nonevent. To which the spokesman says: “My response is that if this is truly meaningless, then why was there such fierce opposition for fifteen years? There was strong, at times almost violent, debate in the hall. The best of the U.N. were involved, first as individual states and then as groups, going over the resolution line by line and word for word. It was extremely arduous work. It’s hard to imagine so many people would have invested this much time and effort on something that doesn’t mean anything.” It is really not so hard to imagine. As an informal observer of the U.N. over the years and as a member of the United States commission to examine this country’s relationship with the U.N., I rather expect the General Assembly to be intensely engaged in the arduous labor of disputing line by line and word by word, and nearly coming to blows over, drafts of myriad resolutions. The General Assembly has little else to do. General Assembly politics is, as the late Pat Moynihan observed about academic politics, so intense and nasty because so little is at stake. I do not say that the resolution on capital punishment is “truly meaningless.” Truly sets a pretty high standard. But it is no occasion to crow about the “Catholic contribution” to international affairs, never mind “a victory for the Catholic Church.”
• Dean Jonathan Swift’s epitaph refers to his “savage indignation,” but you might not have suspected that from his satirical writings. Father George Rutler draws a larger lesson: “Swift’s satire was a sincere bit of acting. There is a tendency among Americans to suspect that acting is insincere, which is why they prefer their actors be celebrities rather than be able to act. The more ironic English assume that any form of sincerity is bad acting, and so their celebrities must be actors. It is according to an unwritten constitution, and the monarchy itself, to be sincerely constitutional must be a very high and noble act. Their Established Church is entirely an act, created by an act, and sustained by acts, and imperils itself when it dabbles in religion.” That is from Father Rutler’s divertingly instructive little book Coincidentally, recently published by Crossroad. Among its charms is the author’s penchant for so successfully hiding the instruction in the diversion that the reader can hardly help but let down his guard against learning. For instance, there is this: “An evil generation seeks signs and wonders, and I am not the first to say it. But a stupid generation ignores signs and wonders. Whether or not synchronicity is a science (and I think it is not because science calculates according to observable patterns, and there is no predictability in coincidences, which is why we remark them), something can be read into any coincidence. The question is whether anything can be read out of it. When it comes to linking coincidence with providence, I remain on the whole prudently agnostic. . . . Those who take a tabloid approach to the Scriptures and other venerable texts use the synchronicity in them as a template for their own idiosyncrasies. . . . The only reason for asking if a coincidence of things has a purpose is the belief that there is a purpose behind things. It is not a question for the Atomist. It is a plausible question for everyone else. The problem is, does a postmodern cultural analysis have the logical equipment to avoid both superstition and skepticism?” In Coincidentally, Father Rutler talks of many things, including, if I remember correctly, cabbages and kings. I cannot check that out, however, because his book has no index. Anticipating my difficulty, the author cites this advice, which he came across, quite coincidentally, in the 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalogue: “If you do not find it in the index, look carefully through the entire catalogue.”
• A reader sends a Christmas card produced by UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. I do believe that fellow leading a donkey with a woman on its back is Joseph. Somewhat surprising for UNICEF, but very nice. Then there’s this on the backside of the card: “UNICEF promotes the basic right of birth registration, so the rights of children are protected from the first moment of life.” Well, from the first moment of birth, which is usually about nine months after the first moment of life.
• Robert P. George recently offered a thoughtful response upon receiving the Sidney Hook Memorial Award at the meeting of the National Association of Scholars in Cambridge, Massachusetts. George is a frequent contributor to these pages, the Erasmus Lecturer of 2007, and professor of jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals at Princeton University. The energy and diversity of intellectual life at Princeton, due in large part to the work of Robby George, is a thing to behold. In his address, he notes that similar initiatives are well advanced at Brown and Duke. So what does George think is going on? “We demand more than freedom for ourselves and others who dissent from campus orthodoxies, though we certainly demand that. We aim to reform, renew, and revitalize the academy. . . . Vast swaths of academia remain untouched by reform. . . . We must be doggedly persistent. We may, from time to time, retreat to regroup or re-evaluate strategic options; but we must never regard a defeat in any area as permanent. There are no unreformable disciplines or institutions. There are only disciplines and institutions awaiting reform. . . . A reform-minded potential donor is not helping when he takes the position that, say, Harvard, with its multibillion-dollar endowment, isn’t going to get any of his money. Unless he or people like him step forward, a reform-minded program will not be built at Harvard. . . . Those of us who hold secure positions in our disciplines and institutions would prefer to go about our normal business of conducting research and teaching our students. . . . But the fact is that somebody [has to lead in the reform]. And only scholars with secure positions and standing in their institutions can do it. . . . [Reform] requires only two ingredients, but both are in relatively short supply: money and faculty leadership. . . . Because forces of resistance will always be on the lookout for points on which to attack but, more importantly, because the integrity of our programs itself demands it, we must avoid the reality and even the appearance of being conservative catechetical institutes. We must not commit the sins of the other side. [We need] forums for real debates, including courses, where the best arguments for competing points of view—including those we ourselves reject—are given a full airing and fair hearing. . . . Fear of being labeled as ‘conservative’ institutes must not deter us from doing that. The sad truth is that if we do not provide the forums for conservative and classical liberal thought on our campuses, few such forums will be provided.” Faculty members in secure positions and potential donors take note. Professor Robert P. George is nothing less than eager to provide further information.
• Rabbi David Novak is no stranger to our readers, and he has a new book out from Georgetown, The Sanctity of Human Life. Drawing deeply from Jewish Scripture and tradition, he makes careful and compelling arguments about “hot button” bioethical questions and explores unfamiliar dimensions of doctor-assisted suicide, and suicide more generally. The chapter “A Jewish Argument for Socialized Medicine” is intentionally provocative, accenting the ways in which health care is never an entirely private matter. Novak is professor of both religion and philosophy at the University of Toronto and, for his staunch defense of innocent human life, has over the years taken heat in Jewish worlds that are largely alienated from the religious and moral legacy of Judaism. Few have contributed so much to the cooperation of Christians and Jews in the public square, or done so in such faithful engagement with our shared allegiance to the God of Israel.
• Can you get a divorce without a marriage? The Supreme Court of Rhode Island says not. Cassandra Ormiston and Margaret Chambers live in Rhode Island but were wed in Massachusetts in a same-sex ceremony that the Bay State calls marriage. A year later, citing irreconcilable differences, they applied for a divorce in Rhode Island. That state has this odd law that says you have to be legally married to get legally divorced, and a marriage is between a man and a woman. Moreover, because of a residency requirement, they can’t get divorced in Massachusetts either. They’re not interested in living together in Massachusetts, or anywhere else. So it seems they’re in a fine pickle of their own making. Cassandra in Greek means “she who entangles men.” Homer might not believe what Cassandra is up to today.
• Harry Mount, author of Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life, will get no argument from me when he proposes that our culture would be better off if young people, and not-so-young people, knew more Latin. In an op-ed in the New York Times, he writes, “The novelist Allan Hollinghurst describes people who know history’s turning points as being able to look at the world as a sequence of rooms: Greece gives way to Rome, Rome to the Byzantine Empire, to the Renaissance, to the British Empire, to America.” What’s missing here? Well, about a thousand years, usually referred to, if referred to at all, as the Middle Ages. It’s a rather big lacuna in an essay urging upon us a greater awareness of history. There is Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury, Peter Abelard, Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of Saint-Victor, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and a host of others. And all of them writing in the Latin that Mr. Mount wants to promote. The problem, presumably, is not that they are dead white Europeans but that they are dead white Christian Europeans. I don’t know how else to explain why an essay urging a better grasp of history skips from Byzantium to the Renaissance, the British Empire, and America. Mr. Mount and others who offer a bowdlerized version of Western history should go back and check out the house. There are many more rooms to be explored, some of them quite splendid, and all of them with much more Latin than the British Empire and America.
• Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything. That’s a complaint heard about the breakdown—no, the near-disappearance—of marriage in black America. Sometimes doing something about a crisis begins with talking about it, and that is definitely beginning to happen. In 1999, the Institute on American Values issued a report, “Turning the Corner on Father Absence in Black America,” that was signed by more than fifty scholars and policymakers, among them prominent black intellectuals such as William Julius Wilson and Elijah Anderson. More recently, there was that Meet the Press hour with Tim Russert discussing Come On, People: On the Path from Victim to Victors, a book by comedian Bill Cosby and Harvard psychologist Alvin Poussaint. Poussaint said on the Russert program: “I think a lot of these males kind of have a father hunger and actually grieve that they don’t have a father. And I think later, a lot of that turns into anger. ‘Why aren’t you with me? Why don’t you care about me?’” Now the Institute for American Values has published another study, “Baby Fathers and American Family Foundation” by Ronald Mincey and Hillard Pouncy. So the long-delayed discussion is getting underway. To stay abreast of it and see what is being proposed, contact the institute at 1841 Broadway, New York, New York 10023 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
• I am not given to reading books with titles such as Interview with the Vampire, The Mummy, The Witching Hour, and The Tale of the Body Thief. In fact, I don’t read them at all. Those are among the titles with which Anne Rice won fame and fortune. I knew who she was. A friend in New Orleans pointed out to me her gothic mansion in the Garden District. And I had heard about her conversion, with its consequent and radical change in her writing. I had not read the first book in her Christ the Lord series, Out of Egypt, and it received a rather cool notice in these pages. Then she sent me the second, The Road to Cana, with such a gracious inscription that I felt obliged to take a look. A couple of hours later, I put it down with a sense of great appreciation. Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, to be published this month by Knopf, is a remarkable achievement. From the beginning of the Christian movement, writers have been trying to fill in the details of “the hidden years” of the life of Jesus before he began his public ministry. Thus the fanciful tales contained in the pseudo-gospels of the early centuries. The serious Christian cannot help but wonder what it was really like in the household and workplace of Nazareth. Mel Gibson was delicately attentive to that curiosity in his film The Passion of the Christ. The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola include “compositions of place” that entail such exercises of the imagination. Questions about what Jesus was thinking when this or that happened involve mysteries of his divine and human nature. Scholarly tomes have been written about, for instance, his “messianic self-consciousness.” Such imaginative reconstructions can end up in treacly Bible storybooks or in bizarrely muddled fantasies such as Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son. Ms. Rice’s The Road to Cana is a rare achievement: an engaging story told within the structure of biblical narrative and theological orthodoxy. Of course, there are those who will say that, if God wanted us to know the details of those hidden years, he would have inspired the gospel writers to tell us. I think they are wrong about that. With our capacity for reason, God gave us curiosity and imagination to be employed to his glory. That is the employment to which Anne Rice has turned her storytelling talents. She does not claim to know what happened; she is simply saying how it might have been. This is a novel, after all. I do not say that this is great literature; Dostoyevsky need not fear for his preeminence. But The Road to Cana makes more vivid the Word—both the person and the text—and that is no little accomplishment.
• He has served as a foreign-service officer and a Senate staff member and is now professor of international relations at Boston University and vice-chairman of the U.S. Army War College Board of Visitors. So I expect he has given the matter some serious thought and knows what he is talking about. His observations reinforce the analysis offered by another foreign-service veteran, Thomas Farr, in “The Diplomacy of Religious Freedom” (May 2006). Angelo M. Codevilla writes in the Claremont Review that indifference to religion is one source of America’s problems in Iraq and elsewhere. “Because the U.S. foreign policy establishment is religiously illiterate, because none of its members can imagine serious people taking God seriously, it cannot understand a world that is overwhelmingly religious. Having concluded that mankind is outgrowing religion, our experts react to religion’s presence in the Islamic world—and in America—by inventing the distinction between ‘moderate’ religion, acceptable because not taken seriously, and ‘fundamentalism,’ i.e., actually believing in God and His commandments, the immoderate first of which reads in part: ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ . . . For those who see the world through this lens,” Codevilla continues, “no religion is better or worse than any other, and certainly no truer, and the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy is merely between winners and losers. Hence U.S. establishmentarians, who regard all religion as hokum, cannot fathom the differences between Sunni and Shia variants of Islam. Hence our experts have been unable to tell the difference between serious Muslims and the secular legions that clothe their hate and contempt for us in Muslim garb. Our establishment thinks that because religion is the mother of strife, the enemy of modernity, it must be humored and subdued in the short term, then marginalized and eventually eliminated. This mindset prevents intelligent judgments about why we might prefer some religious expressions to others, and ensures the enmity of all who believe in God.” It’s hard to believe that none of the folks who carry weight in foreign-policy circles have a working knowledge of the religious mind. Condoleezza Rice is, I understand, in a position of some influence. But Professor Codevilla has seen the establishment close up, and I expect his generalizations are on target. Ah, but, one might think, the next generation emerging from schools such as Harvard will be different. Not if Steven Pinker, the Johnstone professor of psychology, can help it. Harvard has been debating whether to include religion as a required topic for undergraduates. Says Professor Pinker: “For us to magnify the significance of religion as a topic equivalent in scope to all of science, all of culture, or all of world history and current affairs, is to give it far too much prominence. It is an American anachronism, I think, in an era in which the rest of the West is moving beyond it.” Secularization theorists have long since abandoned the idea of “American exceptionalism” in matters of religious belief and practice. But American anachronism? Perhaps it is a good thing for Harvard students to be exposed to a specimen of eighteenth-century Enlightenment orthodoxy preserved in amber. But after reading Angelo Codevilla, one cannot but have a twinge of anxiety that some of them who have foreign-policy aspirations may mistake Professor Pinker as an authority on the world of the third millennium.
• Stanley Hauerwas is in fine fighting form, smiting hip and thigh the contemporary university for its subservience to “the modern state” and the liberal capitalism that it serves. As is so often the case, I find myself cheering Hauerwas on as inveighing he goes in the essays collected in The State of the University: Academic Knowledge and the Knowledge of God (Blackwell). No reader can complain about the absence in this space of critical commentary on the state of the university. And yet, in his review of Hauerwas, Thomas Albert Howard of Gordon College in Massachusetts has more than a point. He writes: “One observes, for example, a salient difference in the effects of state formations on higher education in North America and in Continental Europe. Hauerwas’ arguments apply well to European realities, but less so to those in North America. More than a few modern-day Tocquevilles have been struck by the relative freedom and diversity of higher education in this country: private Ivy Leagues, church-related colleges, denominational seminaries, community colleges, diversely funded foundations and think tanks, massive educational philanthropies, independent liberal arts colleges, and so forth. The creeping reach of the state (and unsavory aspects of the market) on these institutions should be a genuine cause of concern, but the enduring existence of this diversity, in contrast to a more statist Europe, should not be elided in the headlong rush to prophetic lamentation. Hauerwas’ own professional path—Yale (private Ivy), Augustana College (Lutheran), Notre Dame (Catholic), and now Duke Divinity School (Methodist)—bears witness to a vocational trajectory, and a heady theological cross-pollination, improbable in many other countries where the state has had more homogenizing, secularizing effects on education. At the very least, let theological prophets and provocateurs alike consider sparing our Republic a few lashings for its artful midwifery in rendering prominent the very distinguished, very distinctive mind of Stanley Hauerwas.” Well, maybe a few.
• Carl Stern, legal director of the American Jewish Congress, says the train wreck is inevitable. The collision is between the free exercise of religion and what the gay-rights movement calls nondiscrimination. In Massachusetts, Catholic Charities recently went out of the adoption business altogether rather than cave to state demands that it place children with same-sex couples. My own view is that Catholic Charities could have put up a much better fight, but that’s another matter. On campuses around the country, student religious groups are under fierce pressure because they “discriminate” against gays. But sometimes justice and common sense prevail. World Vision, an evangelical group, received a government grant to combat juvenile delinquency. World Vision requires that its employees remain chaste, not engaging in extramarital sexual activity, including, of course, homosexual activity. It also seemed the better part of prudence not to have active homosexuals working with juveniles. Of course, World Vision was charged with discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. This time, the Department of Justice, which administers the grant, ruled in favor of World Vision on the basis of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Carl Esbeck, a law professor at the University of Missouri, notes that “secular organizations receiving government grants freely hire based on their core mission, such as Planned Parenthood requiring that employees be pro-choice or Sierra Club asking applicants their view of global warming.” Core mission is the key term, and there is no doubt that the core mission of World Vision includes a commitment to Christian sexual morality as that is defined by World Vision. But what if a religious group said that its core mission included discriminating on the basis of race? Esbeck writes: “While the Constitution ascribes no value to racial discrimination, discrimination on the basis of religion is often protected as a matter of free exercise. One who has never disagreed with others about religion is not thereby tolerant but is treating religious differences as trivial, as if religious beliefs do not matter. That is just a soft form of religious bigotry.” Carl Stern’s train wreck is still happening, but it’s good to know that, at least in the case of World Vision and work with juveniles, the Justice Department threw the constitutional switch marked Free Exercise.
• That magical company, The Inklings, that met at the Oxford pub The Eagle and the Child (“The Bird and Baby”) under the inspiration of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien has frequently been accused of nurturing a fusty reaction against all things modern, and there is something in the charge. Here is, for example, Lewis lampooning T.S. Eliot:
For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening—any evening—would suggest
A patient etherised upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.
As a great admirer of Eliot, I’m allowing myself only a very small chuckle.
• That estimable theologian Robert Jenson and his wife, Blanche, have not let us down. Their annual card arrived on time:
So it was gifts they came with, gold and such.
Suspect behavior surely—have we not learned
To spy the hope of recompense that lurks
Behind apparent tokens of regard?
Magoi they were, “consultants,” we might say;
When he was king, they’d claim their inside spot.
Yet we may hope for them, since they went home
And maybe never thought of it again.
Religiosity, Religion Watch, Dec. 2007; food and water, Catholic News Agency, Sept. 14, 2007; Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, Fall 2007; Religion and Art, Arion, Spring/Summer 2007; evangelicals and Orthodoxy, New Republic, Aug. 27, 2007; Mother Jones, Aug. 27, 2007; John Allen, National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 21, 2007; Princeton, Academic Questions, Winter 2006-7; Mount, New York Times, Dec. 3, 2007; Statecraft, Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2007; Steven Pinker, Harvard Crimson, Oct. 17, 2006; Hauerwas, Books & Culture, Nov./Dec. 2007; Carl Esbeck in The Hill, Oct. 30, 2007; Eliot, Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 14, 2007.