Who brought down the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston? A survey of print and broadcast media around the country produces no dissent from the answer: Bernard Law was brought down by the agitation of lay people and priests who are regularly described as “reformers,” and by determined investigative reporters who relentlessly exposed his sins of nonfeasance and malfeasance. After his fall, there were occasional expressions of regret, statements that he was a good man who let things get out of control, and even talk about Greek tragedy.
There were sobering reflections also from non-Catholics. The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, a black minister of the American Baptist Church and longtime Harvard chaplain, wrote in the Boston Globe: “When lawyers, the courts, and the media all seem complicit in the cycle of vengeance and blood and no closure short of decapitation seems acceptable, then we have reason to worry about the climate for justice, mercy, and charity; and Salem in 1692 seems not so far removed in moral climate from Boston in 2002.” Then there are those who all along have attributed the Boston storm, and the entire scandalmongering of the past year and more, to anti-Catholicism. That view gets impressive scholarly support from Philip Jenkins’ book, The New Anti-Catholicism, out soon from Oxford University Press.
There is no doubt that the Catholic Church has been “singled out”; that the incidence of sexual abuse in other religious communities, in public schools, and in social services is as high, and possibly higher, than it is in the priesthood. Those institutions, however, are not subjected to a sustained storm of public scandal and outrage. Some Catholics complain about the double standard; others take the targeting as a perverse compliment, remembering comedian Lenny Bruce’s quip that “The Catholic Church is the church we mean when we say ‘the Church.’” Outside the South, a toppled Methodist bishop or Baptist superintendent makes the news on page sixteen below the fold. Anti-Catholicism is an old and complicated story. It is, as Jenkins notes, the last respectable prejudice. Others, paraphrasing Peter De Vries, have observed that anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the cultural elites. Then there are those who claim that the targeting of the Catholic Church is not anti-Catholicism but simply reflects the fact that people expect more of the Church. That may be true in some limited instances, but as an explanation of what is happening it is, I am sorry to say, a sweet delusion.
The View from Rome
As interesting and important as such considerations undoubtedly are, at the end of the day the fact is that Cardinal Law brought down Cardinal Law. Already last April he had offered his resignation to the Pope, but it was not accepted. The approach in Rome was, and apparently still is, that bishops should stay on the job to clean up the messes for which they were largely responsible. Of course, there was also the fear that the Church would be perceived as caving under pressure from the media and, especially, from civil authorities. That concern looks very different when viewed from Rome than from New York or Boston. Of the 180-plus countries in the world, many have governments that are overtly hostile to the Church, and media that do the government’s bidding. Over the centuries, the Church has contended fiercely for the freedom to govern itself (libertas ecclesiae), and what happened in Boston and may be happening elsewhere in this country cannot help but send shivers down the backs of those who were formed by that corporate memory. When the attack comes from the outside, even bad bishops are sometimes kept in place. As a demonstration of the Church’s resolve. As a lesson to them that they must bear the cross of dealing with the consequences of their mistakes.
But in December the decision was made that Cardinal Law had lost his ability to govern the Archdiocese of Boston. The Cardinal concurred in that decision. It was a long time coming. Priests credibly accused of abuse were given new assignments where they could, and did, abuse again. Perhaps most damaging were public assurances by the Cardinal that every case had been addressed, which assurances were then followed by the public exposure of yet further instances of wickedness. I do not think it is true that, as his critics charge, the Cardinal intentionally lied. All who know him know him to be a man of great integrity, talent, and devotion to Christ and the Church. That cannot be gainsaid. I, for one, am among the many who pray him well with what I hope will be his continuing ministry in a position appropriate to his considerable gifts.
But he could no longer lead the Archdiocese of Boston. It is right that he stepped down. His “mistakes and shortcomings”—that is what he calls them, and I believe that is what they were—were confusedly entangled with his virtues. He was too modest in his deference to the “expert” opinion of psychologists and others who assured him that abusing priests could be safely returned to ministry. (The deeply dubious role of St. Luke’s in Maryland and other treatment centers for offenders in this Long Lent, now extending beyond 2002, has yet to be adequately told.) He understood the need for priestly fraternity and trust, but did not see how insidiously fraternity and trust can become clericalism’s habit of protecting what must never be protected. He cared passionately about the reputation of the Church, but did not understand how practices once thought judicious are now ammunition for destroying that reputation in a new world where confidentiality is condemned as secrecy and discretion as dissembling. Especially odious were the attacks occasioned by the Cardinal’s letters of sympathy to priests removed from ministry. Critics exploded in high dudgeon because he wrote to one priest who was apparently guilty of serial abuses that his ministry had been a blessing to “many people.” No doubt his ministry, despite all, had been that. The repentant priest is still a brother in Christ and ontologically—as in “a priest forever”—still a priest. The critics would not forgive the Cardinal for not being as mean-spirited as they are.
Yet it was right, and it was necessary, that he step down. He had lost his ability to communicate effectively, and communication, as in being a teacher, is the first responsibility of a bishop. In addition to the pressure of hundreds of lawsuits and a financial crisis pointing toward bankruptcy, there was the relentless, indeed merciless, determination of the media to give him every blame of the doubt, led by the Boston Globe, which is salivating to outdo its parent company, the New York Times, in the winning of Pulitzers and other plaudits bestowed by journalistic peers. We should and should not blame the media. On the one hand, without the media we would not know what went so very wrong in Boston and elsewhere. On the other hand, they have been vicious, dishonest, and guilty of violating the most elementary rules of journalistic ethics, if indeed one can still speak of journalistic ethics with a straight face.
The Rev. Gomes speaks of “a climate of hysteria and manipulation that has been created and sustained for nearly a year.” He adds, “Where we might have hoped for a level of calm analysis and civic, even civil, discussion of the case in all of its humanity and complexity, we have been given little more than banner headlines, orchestrated press conferences, serial fascination with priestly deviancy, and plaintiff strategy.” Headlines routinely trumpet as “news” what is no more than the latest charge by lawyers who have lined up more than five hundred clients to bring suit against the Boston archdiocese. Think low. We’re talking money, really big money, here. Every day lawyers, reporters, victim organizations, and a passel of disgruntled priests became more and more explicit; they were set on bringing down Cardinal Law, they would settle for nothing less than blood. The Rev. Gomes again: “The victims would have themselves a victim; the lawyers would be able to proceed without credible opposition in the search for compensation; liberal voices for reform in the Church would see a nemesis removed; and the press would have brought down a mighty figure in a near-Watergate victory with Pulitzers all around.”
Boston is a peculiar place. The Brahmins who once indisputably ran “the hub of the universe” and still control the media have never really accepted the presence of the great unwashed of Irish and Italian immigration. Catholic politicians, prosecutors, and judges who want to ingratiate themselves with the establishment seem to vie with one another to prove themselves as anti-Catholic as their betters. This is the country of Kennedy Catholicism, formed by that dynasty’s creed that the ethnic accident of religion must never be permitted to interfere with the real world of ambition. Of course there are devout Catholics of influence in Boston, but, with a few honorable exceptions such as Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School and Raymond Flynn, the former mayor, they were strangely silent throughout this ordeal. It is not that they should have defended the Cardinal’s errors, but they could have protested the climate of hysteria and manipulation, they could have called for elementary fairness and decency. Just once more, the Rev. Gomes: “Those who not long ago were pleased to be pictured with the Cardinal, kissing his ring and attending his charitable events and proud to be known as archdiocesan insiders, now, like the disciples on Maundy Thursday, have forsaken him and fled.” The Cardinal did not always act the role of a Christ figure in this drama, but the rest of the analogy holds. To the great shame of the Catholic lay leadership of Boston.
Then there are the clergy of Boston. The press, when trying not to be too egregious in gloating about its triumph, gives a measure of credit to others. Here is a story reporting that “the end was in sight when his strongest supporters, the priests of Boston, called for his resignation.” Not quite. Not by a long shot. Fifty-eight priests signed that call. There are 887 diocesan priests in Boston and another 715 priests of religious orders. The fifty-eight priests are, as Captain Renault says in Casablanca, “the usual suspects.” Among them are longstanding advocates of gay causes, habitual ranters against Rome’s putative oppression, and those who go far beyond respectful dissent in publicly declaring that authoritative teachings of the Church are simply false. However useful they were to the media story line, their utterly predictable opposition to the Cardinal carried no weight at all. As one veteran priest put it, “Some of us might have signed a letter asking the Cardinal to consider resignation, but in no way were we going to associate ourselves with those guys.”
Whoever succeeds Law as archbishop should, it has been suggested, keep that list of fifty-eight handy, for they represent the subculture of infidelity that is the source of priestly miscreance in doctrine and life. Why should anyone be surprised that scandals result when priests and teachers of theology make no bones about saying that the Church does not mean what it says about sexuality, celibacy, chastity, and sacred vows, or when they publicly declare that the Church is just wrong in what it teaches? And why are they still priests and teachers of theology? These are questions that Cardinal Law and too many other bishops apparently have not asked, or at least have not answered with clarity and firm resolve.
The press appears to temper its self-congratulation also by attributing the Cardinal’s resignation to lay agitations. An organization called the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) is routinely described as “rapidly growing.” Over the months, the figure given for its national membership varies between 25,000 and 45,000. Apparently nobody knows. There is little evidence that VOTF has expanded beyond the familiar activist orbit of Call to Action, We Are Church, and similar groups pressing an anti-Rome and anti-hierarchy agenda in the name of “Americanizing” Catholicism. And there is little doubt that, if Rome had perceived the problem chiefly in terms of a bishop under attack from rebellious laity and a cabal of maverick priests, Cardinal Law’s resignation would not have been accepted. In that case, Rome would likely have given assurances of support and told him to stay at his post and fight.
Cardinal Law brought down Cardinal Law. When the troubles began in January of last year, some urged him to take the initiative, to get the full story out quickly, and explain how and why the archdiocese had done what it did. But he didn’t do that, perhaps on the advice of legal and financial counselors. It might have made a big difference. His standing and credibility were then very high. As it happened, the media, and especially the Globe, called the tunes, and the Cardinal and archdiocese were playing defense all the way. Another way of putting it is to say that the Cardinal was brought down by the system that lifted him up to such an eminent place in that system. Call it clericalism or call it the hierarchical habits of mind that too often prevent cardinal archbishops from being bishops. They are elevated to the sphere of universal responsibilities, serving on sundry congregations and councils in Rome, negotiating ecclesiastical problems among the nations. Others are left to mind the diocesan shop. On many things for which the bishop is responsible, I believe Cardinal Law when he says he did not know what was happening in Boston. This problem, too, is very insightfully analyzed by George Weigel in The Courage To Be Catholic, undoubtedly the best book on what has gone wrong and what might be done about it.
No “Domino Effect”
Boston is Boston and, contrary to media hopes for a string of ecclesiastical Watergates, is not likely to precipitate a “domino effect” across the country. In some other dioceses, things will unravel in their own way and on their own schedule, depending in large part on the plans of prosecutors and of lawyers bringing suit. The legal action, including possible criminal actions, along with huge financial claims, is now gravitating toward the other coast, with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles being the prime target. One watches with interest whether West Coast scandal will sustain or revive such intense national interest. Both there and in the rest of the country, people are not easily scandalized by what happens in California. As important—and although the Los Angeles Times is no doubt hungry for a share of the journalistic prizes—there is not on the coast the concentration of high-powered media that dominate the Northeast, and the nation.
When Can We Move On?
This will go and on, and we must be braced for the duration. Bishops will cope as best they can. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has provided a model of the vibrant orthodoxy that addresses the doctrinal deformations at the source of the scandals, provides a shepherd’s care for all the flock, and preserves the necessary bonds of trust between bishop and priests. Chicago, the archdiocese next largest to Los Angeles, has been relatively unscathed, and Francis Cardinal George has clearly emerged as the senior voice of the Church in the U.S., now that Cardinal Law and the late John O’Connor of New York are gone. Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend has become an example for others. He had been an auxiliary in Boston and early on warned the archdiocese about the dangers of reassigning priests who had been “cleared” by St. Luke and other centers of putative expertise on sexual pathologies. Along with Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, D’Arcy has been outspoken in warning against homosexuality in the priesthood. As the scandals began to break last year, he took the initiative in publishing a series of very persuasive articles in regional newspapers. (They are available free in booklet form by writing him at 150 East Doan Drive, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46806.) Then there is Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who was a member of the group that worked out with Rome the rules for dealing with abusive priests, and has demonstrated how they can work in a way that is both responsive to victims and fair to the accused. Other bishops might be mentioned, but suffice it to say that every diocese is different, and no other diocese is Boston.
There is Baltimore, for instance. William Cardinal Keeler released to the press a long list of names of priests who had over the decades been accused of some kind of sexual abuse. Many of them were retired and in nursing homes, many of them were dead. There were names of priests who had not been found guilty of any wrongdoing; nor was it claimed that the accusations were even credible. It was simply publicized that they had been accused, of something, by somebody, as long as forty years ago. Then there is the interesting Baltimore case of Father Maurice Blackwell. A black priest, he is something of a maverick and is popular with many, as mavericks often are. A young black man, Dontee Stokes, now age twenty-seven, walked up to Fr. Blackwell on the street and shot him three times. He claimed that when he was a teenager he had been sexually abused by Fr. Blackwell. Fr. Blackwell has not been charged with wrongdoing.
After the shooting, Cardinal Keeler very publicly befriended Stokes and his family. At Stokes’ trial for attempted murder and other serious charges, Cardinal Keeler testified on his behalf. Stokes was acquitted of everything except a couple of minor gun offenses and is expected to serve several months of probation. All agree that the national scandal of priestly sex abuse weighed heavily with the jury. The prosecutor was outraged by the decision. The word is now out, he said, “In Baltimore City, if you have a difference with someone, you can settle it by shooting [him].” Others observed that in Baltimore it is now open season on priests. After his release of the list of infamy and his role in the Stokes trial, Cardinal Keeler is receiving very favorable reviews in the press. The Baltimore Sun has declared him “an example of openness and transparency.”
And so it is that bishops are—with varying degrees of competence and ineptness, of courage and cowardice, of forthrightness and pandering—responding to sins, crimes, and other shames in their local churches, none of which is Boston but none of which is unaffected by what has happened in Boston. Out of all this, one continues to pray and hope, will come purification and renewal, although the signs of that springtime are still far off. I see that the editor of Commonweal is weary of my “mantra-like” call for fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. I’m sorry about that, but I can’t get over the idea that, if priests and bishops had been faithful to the teaching of the Church and their sacred vows, there would have been no scandal in the first place. And the closely related idea: that the responsibility for the shameful fact that some, and not just a few, were not faithful rests primarily with bishops. Until there is evidence that more of them are seeing it, I suppose some of us will just have to go on saying it. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity. I think of it not as a mantra but as a prayer. Everybody is eager for healing, reconciliation, and moving on. But none of that will happen except on the far side of an answer to that prayer.
It’s the Theology, Stupid
What went wrong, and when, and why? Father Robert W. Crooker of the University of St. Thomas in Houston offers an interesting take on how to explain, at least in significant part, the priestly scandals. In short: it’s the theology, stupid. Like others, Crooker notes that some of the most notorious serial offenders were ordained before Vatican II, in “the good old days” when seminaries insisted on obedience to the Magisterium, scorned effeminacy, and were strict about “particular friendships.” The same is true of almost all the bishops and religious superiors on whose watch these bad things happened. Crooker asks, “Was there, then, some weakness in the Church of the 1950s that would have been vulnerable to the upheavals of the 1960s, even without the excitement and confusion over aggiornamento after the Council?” His answer is yes, and he believes the Council tried to address such weaknesses. For instance, the decree on the training of priests said: “Special care is to be taken for the improvement of moral theology. Its scientific presentation, drawing more fully on the teaching of Holy Scripture, should highlight the lofty vocation of the Christian faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world.”
What was wrong with the moral theology conventionally taught is that it had very little to do with theology. Morality was mainly a matter of learning the list of duties and prohibitions necessary for hearing confessions. At stake was access to the sacraments and therefore a soul’s salvation. It follows that a certain leniency, if not laxity, is in order, and that resulted in a garden variety of “probabilism.” Meaning the confessor would not insist on an obligation that “approved authors” held to be doubtful. What the confessor must insist upon is not the good but the tolerable. This was joined to a kind of legal positivism: acts are seen as bad because they are forbidden rather than forbidden because they are bad. This invited the suspicion that one had a better chance at eternal salvation by remaining blamelessly unaware of the harder obligations. In other words, the legal opinion favoring freedom from obligation, if supported by probable opinion, may be followed with moral integrity even if the opinion favoring obligation is more probable.
Following the lead of the Council, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church begins with theology—the human person made in the image of God and called to share in the life of the Trinity. The Catechism goes on from there to treat the beatitudes, the virtues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and only then takes up the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Decalogue. Had the Council been understood and implemented, says Fr. Crooker, “It would have made a wonderful difference in the ministry of penance to ordinary, good people struggling with human weakness: the discipline of regular confession, instead of falling into general disuse, would have found fresh vitality and fruitfulness.” But on this score, as on many others, the Council was not understood or implemented. For most priests, “moral theology” continued to mean probabilistic casuistry, with the very big difference that, after the Council, there was no limit to the number of “approved authors” offering probable opinions. Any professor of theology, especially if he had been a peritus or “expert” at the Council, was now an authority. The Catholic Theological Society of America could produce a book on human sexuality that put contraception, masturbation, adultery, homosexuality, and maybe bestiality on the list of doubtfuls.
Crooker thinks conservatives make a mistake by coming back with the argument that the Church’s teaching on these questions is infallible. That plays into the hands of laxists who argue that the criteria for infallible teaching have not been met beyond reasonable doubt. “Non-infallible,” it is gleefully pointed out, means “fallible,” which is only a short step, in the minds of some, from being “probably false.” A bishop was hard put to hold priests to traditional teaching when they could so readily produce “approved authors” in favor of their dissenting position that they are bound only by what has been, beyond doubt, infallibly declared infallible. Thus the pre-conciliar legalism reappears in a post-conciliar form. Moral theology is reduced to a matter of do’s and don’ts. Fr. Crooker opines that “some of us need a fear of mortal sin to get us safely past a really strong temptation; we aspire to something higher, but in a real Chinch the prospect of hellfire, like that of hanging, wonderfully concentrates the mind.” A priest who started out as “a probabilist for his penitents but a tutiorist [or rigorist] for himself” may find it hard to deny himself the benefit of the doubt when the temptation to sin is really strong.
”What we priests need to live our celibacy faithfully and joyfully is a moral perspective that sees ourselves as made in God’s image and called to eternal communion with Him, rather than one based on casuist haggling over the sixth and ninth commandments,” says Fr. Crooker. “And while we won’t deny absolution to anyone that a good and zealous probabilist would absolve, we’ll be far better able to help and guide those thirsting for something more.” That something more, I would add, is compellingly on offer from the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers. His Sources of Christian Ethics is a magisterial account of what went wrong with moral theology and, more importantly, how to understand the Christian life as a journey toward the good, as a call to holiness, rather than as a roadmap for avoiding the impermissible. The perspective is set forth in a more accessible form for the nonspecialist in Pinckaers’ little book Morality: The Catholic View.
Fr. Crooker speaks from many years of experience as a priest, confessor, and moral theologian. He does not take issue with my repeated assertion that the remedy for our present circumstance is threefold: “Fidelity, fidelity, and fidelity.” But his comments help us to see that we must also ask, Fidelity to what? In an odd way, post-conciliar laxity is a perverse form of fidelity to a pre-conciliar and a-theological understanding of moral theology. “Special care is to be taken for the improvement of moral theology,” said the Council. In this instance, too, the great task continues to be the genuine reception of the Council and its authoritative interpretation in the Catechism and magisterial statements such as the encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). But you knew that.
Re-Evangelizing a “Post-Christian” World
Inveighing and evangelizing go hand-in-hand as Robert W. Jenson, a noted Lutheran theologian, responds to the question, “What Is a Post-Christian?” He begins with the counsel of Chesterton’s Father Brown to a young secularist friend about his secularism: “It’s drowning all your rationalism and skepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition. . . . It’s the first effect of not believing in Cot that you lose your common sense and can’t see things as they are. Anything that anybody talks about, and says there’s a good deal in it, extends itself indefinitely like an endless vista in a nightmare.”
Jenson started out many years ago being convinced by the “secularization theology” of Friedrich Gogarten (1887-1967), and Jenson is still convinced today, despite the ways in which that theological initiative has been distorted. Biblical truth does demythologize the world, says Jenson, but replaces the myth of beginnings, gods, and goddesses with the message of the promised Kingdom. “Thus the faith of Israel, and so of the Church, is eschatological, independently of particular passages of her Scripture or particular developments in her religious history. Scripture does not find the truth of things in what they have been and therefore are, but in what they will be beyond themselves, that is, in what they will be in God, for God is all there is beyond creatures.”
Absent that eschatological hope, people embrace an “almost-nihilism,” which is manifestly pseudo-nihilism in its eagerness to construct new gods. “The mark of almost-nihilism’s religiosity is that it is made up, and known by its devotees to be made up. It is nihilistic religiosity in that its objects are known to be—nothing. To observe such arbitrary religious invention happening, you need only attend that remarkable caricature of the American religious scene, the annual national convention of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), most sessions of which will be devoted to considering what parts of what ‘traditions’ can be crafted together to make a religion satisfactory to some group and/or set of interests. All of what Fr. Brown calls the ‘bestial gods of the beginning’ are indeed inspected for what use we might make of them, i.e., what role they might play in our superstition, while the more conservative handle Christian ‘symbols’ and ‘metaphors’ and ‘concerns’ in just the same way. It is important to realize that these self-appointed religious founders-out-of-nothing are quite aware and deliberate about what they are doing. Or merely consider how the teachings and rites of our churches are often treated by their supposed members as a smorgasbord from which to assemble a religion to their taste, often enough making it quite explicit that this is what they are doing.”
The general public rhapsodizes about “spirituality” while evangelical Protestant writers wax enthusiastic about “theism,” as though Christianity is one of many species of a genus, all with interchangeable parts. So who is a post-Christian? Jenson answers: “Well—there are whole immense congregations, of all denominations or none, that are post-Christian at least in their public self-presentation. Their theology is a collection of cliched abstractions—‘love’ and ‘acceptance’ and ‘empowerment’ and ‘peace-and-justice’ (one word), and so on—and they could easily make any hero or mythic figure at all be the loving or accepting or empowering one, or the guru of peace-and-justice, instead of Jesus, and sometimes do.”
Christianity, on the other hand, is persistently particular: “Sherlock Holmes famously said that when you eliminate possibilities until finally only one is left, that is the solution no matter how improbable. That a first-century Palestinian Jew, precisely as the individual person he is, should be the structuring point of the universe, would not be the first guess of minds schooled by the great Greek thinkers. But the long experiment of Western Civilization has eliminated all the mediating possibilities, reducing them to superstition. We have left just the two: waiting for nothingness and waiting for Jesus. And since nihilism is demonstrably not an intelligible thought, waiting for Jesus is the rational choice.”
I expect a good many readers will recognize what Jenson is getting at when he writes, “A great deal of our preaching and teaching is exactly backwards. So, for example, the preacher will say that what a text from one of the Gospels, about a miracle or parable, ‘is really about is acceptance of people in all their diversity.’ A true sermon would go just the other way: ‘What our talk of acceptance and diversity etc. is really trying to get at is Jesus.” The alternative to Christianity is superstition, which, as Fr. Brown knew, is an “endless vista.” It is everything in general and nothing real or true in particular. Jenson’s inveighing may be, as inveighing tends to be, exaggerated, but it is a salutary exaggeration. If the gospel were authentically preached and lived, he writes, “our churches will of course get much smaller than they are. It is all very well to denounce such theologians as Stanley Hauerwas for ‘sectarianism,’ but they have much the right of it against their critics.”
A New Christendom
I’m not sure at all. Presiding at the altar of Immaculate Conception on Fourteenth St. and First Ave., with hundreds and hundreds of ordinary Americans, I am consistently impressed by the intensity of the response to the particularity of Bible story, of bread and wine, of body and blood, of confession and absolution, of lively interaction with Mary and all the saints, and, yes, of miracles—and all this concentrated as concentrated can be on Jesus Christ incarnate, present, helping, judging, forgiving, and coming again. What Jenson says about the generalized and instrumental religiosity of AAR, of psychobabbled spiritualities, and of religion in the employ of sundry empowerments is all true enough. Today’s task of re-evangelizing may be, in some sectors of our society, more difficult than was evangelizing in, say, the fourth century, mainly because in the West so many people think, mistakenly, that they know “the Christian thing.”
Jenson writes: “When Constantine, speaking for a dying antiquity, called the Church to be the moral and intellectual restorer of late Mediterranean civilization, I do not see how the Church could have refused this service of love. But equally, as the West now defines itself against the faith, the Church only perverts herself when she tries to hang on to her Constantinian position, by bowing and scraping to the culture.” I would suggest that the service of love, then and now, is to effectively proclaim the gospel, as in, “God so loved the world....” The restoration of civilization may or may not be a consequence of such effective proclamation. The hoped-for public influence of the Christian message should not be derided as trying to hang on to a mythical “Constantinian position.” Bowing and scraping is of course to be condemned, but alertness to the sensibilities of the culture is not bowing and scraping. It can be and should be understood as a necessary part of effective communication.
So I am ambivalent about Jenson’s analysis. To be sure, the Church must be prepared to be countercultural, and when the crunch comes—as in the conflict between the culture of life and the culture of death—even contra mundum. But the driving force of evangelizing and re-evangelizing is love for the world, as God loves the world. When the Church is against the world, it is always against the world for the world. Admittedly, these are large and complicated questions, and I am keenly aware that also the faithful gathered at Immaculate Conception are often inwardly torn between Christian particularity and the superstitions and idolatries of the pseudo-nihilism in much of the surrounding culture. Yet the churches, however debilitated their proclamation and enervated their discipleship, are flourishing in America. Some may think it a sadness, but they are not likely to grow smaller in the foreseeable future. Whether it is a curse or blessing, we do not live in a post-Christian society but in an incorrigibly and confusedly Christian America.
Reflecting on related questions in the 1930s, T. S. Eliot contended that a society is not post-Christian until Christianity is formally rejected and replaced by another understanding of reality, something definite and with a name. That happened in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It may be happening in Western Europe, although the replacement has not yet a name, except for “secularization,” which denotes simply the decline of Christian faith and public influence. Those who are excessively impressed by the academy, the editorial page of the New York Times, and powers claiming to control what are called the commanding heights of culture may think America is post-Christian. It is not. It is, as it has always been, a maddeningly muddled Christian society. And perhaps becoming more so. Compared with accepting the responsibilities and addressing the problems that attend Christian America, coping with post-Christianity is a breeze. One can simply join up with a small and ever so much more satisfactory society of other true believers. As is the way with sectarianism. I do not think Jenson is proposing that, but I know no other way to read much of the writing of Stanley Hauerwas.
Our circumstance is not all that new. To our individual and communal circumstance St. Paul said what always needs saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12). Whether in the first, fourth, or twenty-first centuries, Christians have never quite gotten the knack of distinguishing between transforming and conforming. Then too, America is not the world. The assumption of a post-Christian world offered by Jenson and others is very much attuned to our American situation and, to a lesser degree, to Western Europe. We Euro-Americans are a small, and becoming ever smaller, minority of the Christian movement. In Latin America, Asia, and Africa, the gospel—although alloyed, as always, with cultural counter-gospels—is exploding with the force of fresh discovery. Viewed on this larger screen, perhaps the Christian motto of the twenty-first century should be “Forward to Constantinianism!” It would be a very different Constantine and a very different Christendom than anything known in the past, but, like earlier times, it will be recognizable as yet another episode along the embattled, splendored, and stumbling way of the Church toward the historical vindication of the Jesus for whom we wait.
While We’re At It
• “It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive.” That’s Charles Péguy, early-twentieth-century French essayist and Catholic of sorts. I say “of sorts” because in his mid-thirties he renounced his atheistic socialism and returned to the Catholic faith, but not to full communion. Orwell said something similar about the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive, but Péguy said it better. I have had occasion to cite that epigram in recent months in response to people who ask how some bishops could have done what they did, and not have done what they should have done. If the scandals are, at their very core, about fidelity to the Church’s teaching and sacred vows, why did so many bishops, over a very long period of time, not discipline the proponents of infidelity? See Péguy on cowardice. Péguy is not very well known today. Perhaps his most familiar one-liner is, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” There are occasions beyond number for using that one. And sometimes you run across this one: “Homer is new and fresh this morning, and nothing, perhaps, is as old and tired as today’s newspaper.” Or this: “A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” Péguy published a journal of opinion and in my capacity as an editor I especially like this: “A review only continues to have life if each issue annoys at least one-fifth of its readers. Justice lies in seeing that it is not always the same fifth.” Liberty Fund has recently reissued, with a foreword by Pierre Manent, Péguy’s Temporal and Eternal, which was first published in English in 1958 and is well worth a read. But the present reflection on Péguy is occasioned by Roger Kimball’s new book of essays, Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence (Ivan R. Dee, $28.95). I will not repeat here my words of heartfelt praise for the achievements of Mr. Kimball (see FT, January 2001). Readers of the New Criterion, of which he is managing editor, need no persuasion on that score. In addition to Péguy, the new book examines, inter alia, Raymond Aron, Walter Bagehot (Kimball says he would be quoted more if people were not afraid of mispronouncing the name-it is Ba’-jet), Schiller, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Trollope, and-along with such heavyweights because Kimball thinks he is underestimated-P. G. Wodehouse. Among the attractive features of Mr. Kimball’s writing is what might be called intellectual humility. He does not pretend to know more than he does. He readily acknowledges that he is reading some of these worthies for the first time, and is eager to share his discoveries. We all have, more than most of us are inclined to admit, literary and philosophical gaps in our education. Lives of the Mind invites the reader to join Mr. Kimball in finding out what may have been missed. And, if you’re not all that earnest about continuing education, I should add that it is also a great pleasure to read.
• James C. Kopp says that he shot Buffalo, New York, abortionist Dr. Barnett A. Slepian but did not intend to kill him. His purpose, he says, was to wound Slepian so that he could not kill the babies scheduled for abortion the next day. “If you did the same thing to protect a baby that was one day old,” Kopp asserted, “it would never be considered a crime.” There is truth in that, of course, which is what makes it a morally seductive line of argument. The seduction should be relentlessly resisted for many reasons that I will not rehearse here but are explored thoroughly in an earlier symposium, “Killing Abortionists.” Interested readers are referred to the December 1994 issue, which can also be accessed on the FT website
• George Lindbeck was an official Lutheran observer at the Second Vatican Council and he recalls a meeting with John XXIII when the Pope spoke on some of his favorite words from Scripture, “the mercies of the Lord are new every morning.” The Pope said he had a hard time deciding what to do on any given day, but the Lord was merciful: He always told him every morning. Lindbeck thought he was referring to his convoking of the Council, which took everybody by surprise but which the Lord presumably told him to do. He adds: “John XXIII would repeat those words if he were with us now. He was basically a traditionalist rather like Mother Teresa, for example, and I suppose he would be appalled at much of the aftermath of the Council. Perhaps he would sometimes even wonder, as Luther did after the Reformation after a comparable lapse of time, whether it was really worth it. Yet the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. What stops these words from being Pollyannish is their context: they come from Lamentations (3:22-23). Even in our day, cheerfulness keeps breaking through.”
• You may have noticed that the term “paleoliberalism” is gaining currency. George McGovern is taken as representative of the breed. Mark Shea watched his television commentary on the 2002 election and observed that some people have lived thirty years since 1972 while McGovern has lived 1972 for thirty years. Here’s a distressed Democratic editorial on the election: “Bush’s political genius can be exaggerated. . . . Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein both help explain Bush’s ‘triumph.’ . . . Politically, the nation remains deeply and evenly divided. Republicans would be foolhardy to think that their slim majority in Congress represents a right-wing mandate for change. Having convinced the American voter of the fiction that moderation is the soul of their party, however, it is a good bet that Republicans will now find the temptations of ideology irresistible.” No, that’s not the New York Times, although the Times‘ editorial following the election was almost identically worded. It’s Commonweal, which, as its departing editor has pointed out, does not bill itself as a Catholic publication. That perhaps explains why, among all the factors addressed in its assessment of the election, there is no mention of the remarkable pattern of the defeat of hard-core pro-abortionists and the victory of pro-lifers in contests where abortion was a deciding issue. That is no cause for cheer among paleoliberals who are determined to keep the faith. No, not that faith.
• The Jesuit Conference has written President Bush seconding the bishops’ statement that the U.S. has a moral right and duty to defend the common good against aggression. The terrorist threat, the letter notes, “may require a carefully measured military response, which should be pursued only after all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted.” The letter says there are “approximately four thousand U.S. Jesuit priests and brothers working abroad and in our domestic projects.” In 1965, Jesuits in the U.S. numbered 8,393. A recent issue of National Jesuit News reports that, at the present rate of new men entering the Society and completing their formation, there will soon be one thousand Jesuits in the U.S. Excluding those who are still in formation and those who are over seventy, there will be about 525 Jesuits in active ministry. The good news is that many of those over seventy are very active indeed
• Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum renders an important service in his assiduous chronicling of threats posed by militant Islam, or Islamism. I think, however, he misreads the lessons to be drawn from Philip Jenkins’ writing about “the next Christendom,” referring to the explosive growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere. Pipes’ commentary is titled, “What Next? Militant Christianity?” In the liberal North, Pipes writes, “religious beliefs and practices are ever more removed from traditional Christianity,” and he seems to think that a good thing. The rapidly growing Catholic, evangelical, and pentecostal movements in the South, by way of contrast, are orthodox, traditional, and militant. “To understand the future of Christianity,” Pipes concludes, “keep your eye on those Southern believers who reject the North’s liberal outlook and who increasingly dominate the faith.” The assumption appears to be that the future of liberal democracy depends upon secularization and, more particularly, a religious liberalism “ever more removed from traditional Christianity.” If that is the case, liberal democracy faces a very grim future in a world in which de-secularization seems to be the order of the century. Christianity-and, I would add, Judaism-are demonstrably compatible with liberal democracy and, I would argue, are the chief source of the constituting principles of a liberal political and social order. We can only hope that Islam can develop within its own tradition the resources for affirming the kind of liberal order that we cherish. It is a potentially fatal move to depict our cause, as Pipes seems to do, as that of secularization vs. traditional religion. In a religiously resurgent world, that puts us on the losing side. As important, that depiction is false to history and deeply offensive to traditional Christians and Jews
• An “ERC” is an evangelical Protestant who has become a Catholic, and Scott McKnight of North Park University in Chicago examines current examples of the species in “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic.” Writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, the author draws two conclusions that should be of interest to both evangelicals and Catholics: “First, until the evangelical churches can get a firmer grip on authority, unity, history, liturgy, and a reasonable form of certainty on interpretation, there will continue to be plenty of ERCs. I am not saying that ERCs are led into the RCC for psychological reasons-though I would be a fool to think psychological studies would not reveal some things for consideration. No, what I am saying is that there are some serious challenges here that will take plenty of planning and consideration. Furthermore, until evangelicals learn to take seriously the importance of liturgy and aesthetics as a true embodiment of the gospel, they will lose converts to those sectors of the Church that do so. Thomas Howard once said accurately that ‘all buildings are icons’ and that ‘ceremony does what words alone can never do. It carries us beyond the merely explicit, the expository, the verbal, the propositional, the cerebral, to the center where the Dance goes on.’ This aesthetical and liturgical dimension of the gospel interweaves its presence in each of the five crises analyzed above. If it is not a major catalyst of conversion for the ERC, for some it plays an important role. Second, I lay down another observation: until the Roman Catholic Church learns to focus on gospel preaching of personal salvation, on the importance of personal piety for all Christians-and abandons its historical two-level ethic-[on] personal study, and on the Bible itself, there will be many who will leave Catholicism to join the ranks of evangelicalism. There is something wrong in Rome that leads so many to Wheaton, or to Willow Creek! And the rhetoric of ERCs is not going to convince most evangelicals until these features become a central aspect of Catholic life.
• In a phrase that should be included in books of quotations for a long time to come, Daniel Patrick Moynihan described our cultural problem as one of “defining deviancy down.” The dynamics of the descent are maddeningly complicated, involving ever-shifting notions of compassion, sensitivity, victimization, and offense. Drug abuse, teenage promiscuity, suicide-all come close to being “normalized” in a society that, at the same time, increasingly rejects the idea that anything is normative. What was once deviant, for instance homosexuality, is now declared normal, while questioning that change is “homophobia” and is declared deviant. Little wonder that many people are confused. You can’t tell the cultural players without a scorecard and such a scorecard is provided by Ann Hendershott in The Politics of Deviance (Encounter, 190 pages,, $26.95). The author is professor of sociology at the University of San Diego and provides an evenhanded account of how we got to where we are. Her book is part history, part social criticism, part moral reflection, and in large part an effort to rescue sociology as a discipline. The constituting idea of the social sciences, going back to defining figures such as Durkheim and Weber, is that a society requires boundaries or fairly clear and stable notions of what is “social” and what is “antisocial,” what is “normal” and what is “deviant.” In recent decades, however, the social sciences have joined hands with advocacy groups and a sympathetic media in defining deviancy down, or even defining it away. Charles Krauthammer, on the other hand, has suggested that what we are witnessing is “defining deviancy up”-meaning that something has to be way over the top before it qualifies as deviancy. That, too, is a big part of the truth. My own view is that we are witnessing the inversion of deviancy. Here, for instance, is a front-page story in the New York Times about an American nurse shot dead by a Muslim in Lebanon. She was working with an evangelical aid group that cares for children, mainly Muslim children, in need. The word got out that she was also telling the Muslim children about Jesus, and so she was killed. In what used to be the usual view of things, murder is definitely a deviant act and is severely censured. The Times story, however, is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the killer, instructing the reader on how very offensive a Christian presence, never mind any hint of missionary activity, is to Muslims. In this telling of the story, the American nurse is clearly the one engaged in deviant behavior that violates Muslim sensibilities. The moral is not that Muslims need to develop a greater respect for human rights and religious freedom but that Americans-and especially Americans prone to something so louche as sharing their faith-need to respect Muslim disrespect. A quite perfect inversion of deviance. But I wander. Anne Hendershott’s book is about what is happening on the homefront, not about today’s clash of civilizations. On second thought, maybe it is about a clash of civilizations, at home. In any event, it is very much worth a read. The title is The Politics of Deviance
• In “A History of Their Own“ (October 2002), I mentioned the hopes and frustrations of Poles and others in Central Europe in telling their stories about the Nazi and Soviet times, and their present struggles to become “normal societies.” That comment elicited a number of responses, including a letter from Professor John Radzilowski of the University of Minnesota, who helps edit a very handsome publication, Periphery: Journal of Polish Affairs. It is published by Ave Maria University in Michigan and is available for $16 per issue by writing the university at 3535 Indian Trail, Orchard Lake, Michigan 48324
• Writing on another matter, Nino Langiulli of Lynbrook, New York, mentions in passing his unhappiness with John Stuart Mill’s doctrine that the test of an action being morally good is the amount of pleasure or happiness it produces for others. Mr. Langiulli quotes an observation of the ever-quotable Edmund Burke with which I was not familiar: “The great inlet by which a color for oppression has entered the world is by one man’s pretending to determine concerning the happiness of another, and by claiming to use what means he thinks proper in order to bring him to a sense of it. It is the ordinary and trite sophism of oppression.” Of course some of us do have definite ideas on what would make others happy, as in blessed. The crucial difference is between using persuasion or coercion to bring others to a sense of it. Even the great Burke sometimes sacrificed precision to quotability
• In March 1993, we published “Mainline Churches: The Real Reason for Decline“ by Dean Hoge and his colleagues, who had done a careful study of the Presbyterian Church (USA). When all the other variables are taken into account, they argued, the real reason is a lack of belief. R. Scott Appleby, professor of history at Notre Dame, applies that analysis to contemporary Catholicism. “The challenge of Catholic education and formation in our media-driven, cyberspace age is no less than this: older Catholics must be restored to and younger Catholics introduced to a sense of Catholicism as a comprehensive way of life-as a comprehending wisdom and set of practices that bring integrity and holiness to individuals and to the families and extended communities to which they belong and which they serve.” The years after Vatican II, he writes, saw the rise of the first “post-ethnic generation” of American Catholics, people for whom Catholicism was no longer an intact culture (or subculture) but one choice among others in the religious marketplace. In addition, Catholicism today is marked by many voices-right and left, liberal and conservative-claiming to define what is authentically Catholic. “In the realm of ideas and Catholic self-understanding, change came most powerfully with the introduction of genuine pluralism into American Catholic theology once Thomism was supplemented, and in many arenas supplanted, by narrative, feminist, liberationist, and other inductive theologies grounded in experience.” The result is “a rich farrago of theological options, many of them rich and enlivening but experienced by Catholics piecemeal and without benefit of an overarching view of ‘the Catholic thing.’“ In his address to the Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals, Appleby concludes with this: “Catholic communicators must be leaders among those who package the faith, not as a series of discrete bits and bytes but as organic, interdependent sets of beliefs, insights, and practices by which one may lead a morally coherent and spiritually fruitful life.” Mr. Appleby’s cultural critique is, I believe, pretty much on target. He is also right in understanding our current circumstance in terms of a crisis of belief. But is the problem that a manualist Thomism has been displaced by narrative, feminist, liberationist, and other inductive theologies? In religious studies courses, perhaps, as well as in many departments of theology misleadingly called Catholic. Without discounting the influence of the systematic academic unlearning of Catholic teaching that students had never learned in the first place, most Catholics have never heard of the liberationist and other theological fashions Appleby cites. What they have heard and believed and internalized is that there is no such thing as authoritative Catholic teaching; that Catholicism is a matter of “discrete bits and bytes” to be accessed according to felt needs. We do not need communicators who will “package the faith” more attractively. We need teachers and exemplars-parents, priests, bishops, religious, academics-who invite a new generation to the high adventure of living the faith. That adventure is compellingly depicted in Scripture and living tradition, including Vatican II and its authoritative interpretation by the Magisterium, and not least by John Paul II. Mr. Appleby is right in saying that Catholicism is a comprehensive and coherent culture shaped by a story entailing truth claims that require a response of faith. What is missing from his account is any reference to where and how that story is authoritatively told. I am not sure that the faith can or should be “packaged,” but I am sure that no skills of the communication arts will make up for uncertainty about the faith to be communicated
• It would seem that the New Republic has a Christian problem, and, more specifically, a Catholic problem. The longest article in its long history was Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s slashing attack on Pius XII, “What Would Jesus Have Done?” (January 21, 2002). The article has now been expanded into a book, A Moral Reckoning. The Archdiocese of Munich went to court and succeeded in having the book sent back to the printers to correct Goldhagen’s misidentification as a Nazi sympathizer of a cardinal who, in fact, heroically resisted Hitler. (One notes that the error is not corrected in Knopf’s American edition.) Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of TNR, writes that the Church “caught Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in one tiny mistake,” and its going to court is an instance of “reviving the index of what it does not want people to read.” Goldhagen’s fault is hardly limited to one tiny mistake. In the June/July 2002 issue of FT (“Goldhagen v. Pius XII”), Ronald Rychlak specified in great detail dozens of misrepresentations, calumnies, and outright lies in Goldhagen’s TNR article. They are repeated in A Moral Reckoning. On another front, Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of TNR, has taken on William F. Buckley, Jr. and your scribe. Buckley’s offense was to take exception to a Catholic statement, which has since been withdrawn, that suggested Christians should eschew evangelizing Jews. Wieseltier writes, “Buckley will have none of this decency.” Buckley’s “affirmation of the Christian mission to the Jews is a delegitimation of Jewish belief, and a delegitimation of Jewish belief is downright un-American, for it flies in the face of the pluralist revolution in religious life that is one of the glories of America.” No, to assert Christian truth claims is, at some crucial points, to disagree with Jewish belief, and pluralism means that we engage disagreements within the bond of civility, not pretend that there are not disagreements or that they do not matter. Later, Wieseltier turns to another complaint. “A few months ago Richard John Neuhaus alleged in First Things that I ‘make no secret of [my] contempt for Christianity.’ I know what he means. But my ‘contempt’ for Christianity is only intellectual, and I may just as plausibly be accused of ‘contempt’ for Judaism.” There are, he writes, claims made by Judaism that “strike me as false, as fantasy, and so I cannot accept them.” He continues, “But I have never encountered an idea more unacceptable to my frail, sweating mind than the idea of the Incarnation, of the paternity of God, of the word made flesh. I have always been grateful that this philosophical absurdity is not my problem, that I may dismiss it without a tremor of treason.” This is a statement of raw emotivism. An intellectual owes more to his readers than a report on how he feels. I suppose one might even say that his statement is a delegitimation of Christian belief, and a delegitimation of Christian belief is downright un-American. I wouldn’t say that, but one might. Wieseltier is not finished. “And I plead guilty to Neuhaus’ charge in one further respect. There is one other stumbling stone. It is the Vatican.” He wants it understood that, in addition to all the terrible things the Vatican has done to Jews, he has slight respect for this pope and “I rather resent the media’s promotion of John Paul II into a teacher of all the world. . . . There is no way, no way at all, ever, that the pope, this pope, any pope, can have spiritual authority for me.” Dare one say that the man doth protest too much? He says his view is “gracious” and “the name of this graciousness is democracy.” If this be graciousness, give me contempt. Better still, give me reasoned argument rather than the bald assertion of prejudice. Some months earlier, Wieseltier criticized me for writing that his disposition toward Christianity is a “teaching of contempt.” He was offended that I used a phrase that is ordinarily associated with advocating anti-Semitism. I assume we can now agree that his disposition is one of contempt. That leaves only the question of whether his writing is teaching or simply venting
• The very next issue of TNR has Michael Sean Winters assaulting “George Weigel and his fellow neocons.” The occasion is Weigel’s book, The Courage To Be Catholic, and Winters is particularly offended that Weigel is not, as it is said, gay-friendly. “Weigel talks about the need for every Catholic to be more faithful. But he makes it sound so easy, nothing more complicated than keeping our pants zipped.” Yet throughout the book, and beginning with the title, Weigel’s argument is that faithfulness is a difficult but high adventure requiring courage, discipline, self-sacrifice, and sustaining grace. Winters does not see it that way. Weigel and the neocons are guilty of Pelagianism, intellectual pride, triumphalism, aversion to debate, and thinking they have all the answers. I, for one, plead innocent on the Pelagianism charge.
• What Garry Wills is for the New York Review of Books, Mr. Winters may be becoming for the New Republic, the house authority on all things Catholic. A 1999 TNR article by Winters is a five-page attack on neoconservatives in the guise of a review of David Schindler’s Heart of the World, Center of the Church, which book is, in turn, an attack on neoconservatives in the name of the great Hans Urs von Balthasar. “Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and George Weigel are probably the three best-known Catholic intellectuals in America,” writes Mr. Winters, and they are dangerous because “the disposition to unite [Throne and Altar] burns with Metternich-like ferocity in the neoconservative breast.” He allows that “the throne of their desire happens to be a democratic polity and a capitalist economy; but theologically speaking, a state is a state, a throne is a throne, worldly power is worldly power.” Monarchy or republic, despotism or freedom, what’s the difference? According to Winters, the neocons believe that all the theological questions have been settled “and the only challenge that remains is the challenge of politics.” Never mind that the first sentence in the editorial launching the premier issue of this journal forcefully rejects such a view, asserting that the first thing to be said about religion and public life is that public life is not the first thing. Few themes in these pages have been so sustained and emphatically asserted over the years as the relativizing of politics. Apparently you don’t have to attend to what authors say when you know what burns in their breast. As for Professor Schindler’s book, Winters says it is “the most important Catholic text to be published in the United States for some time.” And it is that because it “introduces Balthasar to an American audience.” Balthasar, in this reading, is everything the neoconservatives are not. Again, never mind the frequent and appreciative treatment of Balthasar in these pages. Apart from its “introducing” Balthasar, however, Mr. Winters, it turns out, does not think much of the Schindler book. It is hard to read, suffers from an “inalertness to history,” and perpetuates a “crude and hoary” concept of the masculinity of men with which Mr. Winters expresses strong disagreement. (For Balthasar, Winters says, Christianity is not a moral code but “a stupendous claim about the supernatural.” He does not say why one should exclude the other, and in fact Balthasar wrote extensively on the moral life as the way of Christ.) There is perverse amusement in Mr. Winters’ cockeyed eccentricity, but his very long essay finally disserves almost every subject it touches. David Schindler’s arguments are deserving of more serious treatment. It is hardly accurate, however, to say that his recent book “introduces Balthasar to an American audience.” That tribute might fit Edward Oakes’ justly acclaimed 1994 introduction to Balthasar, Pattern of Redemption, but the truth is that a number of publishers, chiefly Ignatius Press, have been bringing out Balthasar volumes by the dozens for many years, and his influence is now comparable to that of John Paul II among those who have sensed the possibility of what one neoconservative author has called “the Catholic moment.” But enough, or else this will turn into that extended response to Winters that I decided not to write.
• Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News have long known that Jesus on the cover is a real sales-booster. Now here is Popular Mechanics with a cover story, “The Real Face of Jesus: Forensic Science Reveals the True Image of Jesus.” Never mind that it’s a journalistic scam. According to Cover Analyzer, an outfit that measures single-copy sales on three hundred consumer magazines, Jesus on the cover results in an average 45 percent increase in sales. The Bible is the next best thing, while any mention of God on the cover also does the trick. The one thing that doesn’t sell is scandal. Cover stories on the Catholic sex abuse problems consistently underperformed against average sales. There is no doubt some deep religio-cultural truth to be mined from this, but I will leave that to others
• “Our sin is that of the Jerusalem of Jeremiah: idolatry. The World Trade Center (the name implies the sin), together with the Pentagon, are quite literally places of worship. There, world domination, monetary and military, is cozened, calculated, paid tribute.” So writes Father Daniel Berrigan in his new book Lamentations: From New York to Kabul and Beyond (Sheed & Ward). Of September 11, he writes, “Fallen, fallen is babylon the great . . . they see the smoke arise as she burns.” He alone is left to speak the truth. “And what of the Church, what response to the war? Not a word of contradiction or rebuke. Let the inflexible dogma of the innocents (ourselves), grossly wounded by the guilty (your President knows who)-let this stand unchallenged. . . . Church and state, it shortly became clear, stood foursquare in close collusion. A crusade! The bishops, demoralized by scandal, evangelically illiterate, walked peri passu with the warmaking state. The twin towers fell to rubble. The twin powers turned to war.” So far our reading of Lamentations. Last October, the Pax Christi organization invited me to “debate” Fr. Dan at Riverside Church up on Morningside Heights. It was not much of a debate. I used my thirty minutes to present the just war doctrine and the questions it raises about the war on terror. Fr. Dan used most of his in reading a 1991 editorial by a Jesuit condemning the Gulf War of that time. There was little real exchange, in part because of the wretched acoustics of Riverside Church, in larger part because Fr. Dan is old and weakened and hard of hearing. He can still write vigorously, as witness Lamentations. The crowd was his-veterans of peace movements past. The mood was nostalgic, and more sad than angry. Fr. Dan was introduced as “the Isaiah of our time,” and accepted the tribute with humility. There were friends of mine there, too, from a time long ago, as Fr. Dan and I were friends a long time ago. Now, it would seem, there is no point of meeting. Except the most important: we are-profound disagreements notwithstanding-servants of the same Lord. At least I earnestly hope that Fr. Dan believes that is the case. But, to tell the truth, I am not sure he does. If not, that would be the deepest sadness
• In my comment on Bishop Wilton Gregory’s presidential address to the bishops in November, I quoted his statement that some “have chosen this moment to advance the acceptance of practices and ways of life that the Church cannot and will never condone.” On the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the bishop later explained that he had in mind abortion, same-sex unions, and women’s ordination. The editors of Commonweal complain about the “easy conflation” of the three questions. They are not “the triumvirate of heterodoxy that Gregory suggests, but discrete and important issues. They should be treated as such.” Ah, yes, let us not be simplistic but deal with these complex questions in a nuanced manner, and so forth. On all three of the practices mentioned, the Catholic Church has spoken with full authority, saying that they cannot and will never be condoned. Except for abortion, Commonweal does not assent to the Church’s teaching. It is not, as they would have it, that the editors are more nuanced and appreciative of complexity than Bishop Gregory. It is that they disagree with him and with the teaching authority of the Church. The continuing conversation would be enhanced by a greater measure of candor and clarity.
• The Calvinists of the Strict Observance who edit Nicotine Theological Journal offer some thoughts on the differences between Protestants and Catholics: “This is not a cheap shot at Roman Catholics (at least it is not the intent). The difference between Rome and Protestantism these days on good works actually works toward Roman Catholicism’s favor. The church that once accused Luther’s teachings of antinomianism has consistently made room for repeat offenders, the kind of sinners whom Protestants are quick to remove from church rolls. Roman Catholic history is filled with examples of believers who fall off the wagon, repent, confess their sin, and find forgiveness in the church’s ministry. From whiskey priests to mafia dons, the Roman Catholic Church has been a communion, despite its teaching on the relationship of faith and works, where the believer’s ongoing battle with sin is frankly acknowledged and accommodated. This makes it one of the great ironies in Western Christianity that the ones who originally accused Luther of sanctioning immorality have been the communion to provide what appears a roomier basis for fellowship than Protestants can muster.” At least that’s the way things used to be. But now NTJ wonders whether, in the process of “becoming an American church,” Catholicism has not been “infected” with Protestant legalism, what with all the strange talk about “zero tolerance” and “one strike and you’re out” aimed at those who have sometimes failed in their “ongoing battle with sin.” We Catholics should listen carefully to our Calvinist brethren, and not just for reasons of ecumenical politeness
• There is Christianity Today, the magazine. And then there is Christianity Today International (CTI). If evangelical Protestantism, which defines itself over against mainline Protestantism, itself has a mainline, Christianity Today reflects it, and does so in a very thoughtful manner. CTI, on the other hand, is a big business with many holdings, including Christianity Today. CTI has just announced that it has struck a deal with the publisher Tyndale House to manage the electronic end of the “Left Behind” series, which is a very big business indeed. The nine “Left Behind” books, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, have sold more than fifty million copies. Business is business. What grates is the smarmy rationale offered by the CEO of CTI: “While opinions vary about the books’ eschatology, it is clear that they introduce to American culture themes of God’s holiness, judgment, and redemption-themes largely lost to the public consciousness. We hope this collaborative effort will encourage many additional responses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Sorry, “while opinions vary” doesn’t quite do the job. Billy Graham founded CTI in 1956 in order to publish Christianity Today, and its founding editor was theologian Carl F. H. Henry. As much or more than any single figure, Henry led American fundamentalism into intellectual engagement with other Christians and with the larger culture. At first he and his hearty band were called the “neo-evangelicals,” and they laid the groundwork for the multitude of ministries and institutions that are today known simply as evangelical Protestantism. Among the chief purposes of Christianity Today was to combat the wooden literalism, Bible prophecy sensationalism, and dispensationalist deliriums so successfully peddled by the “Left Behind” series. It would have been better if the CEO had said that business is business and left it at that
• I mentioned earlier the March 1993 FT article by Dean R. Hoge and his associates on how young people reared as Presbyterians had slight denominational loyalty and later drifted away. That article became part of the book Vanishing Boundaries (Westminster/ John Knox). Now Hoge-who is a Presbyterian and long a professor at Catholic University of America-and his colleagues have published Young Adult Catholics (University of Notre Dame Press). In a national in-depth survey of Catholics under forty, they find that only 10 percent no longer consider themselves Catholic, and that holds for both Latinos and non-Latinos. On some core teachings of the Church, these young people are generally orthodox. Over 90 percent affirm the divinity of Jesus, 80 percent believe in “a divine judgment after death,” and 90 percent “strongly agree or moderately agree [that] in Mass the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.” Three out of four non-Latinos and four out of five Latinos cannot imagine themselves “being anything other than Catholic.” All good news, or so it would seem, except that only one out of five attends Mass weekly, and half of them agree that “all the great religions of the world are equally true and good.” At the same time, three-quarters agree that “the only absolute Truth for humankind is in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” Go figure. Father Andrew Greeley has popularized the phrase “communal Catholic,” meaning those who remain profoundly Catholic in their sensibilities but are detached from the actual life and practices of the Church. Hoge & Co. say that today’s young adults are not communal Catholics but the children of communal Catholics. “Their knowledge of the language and symbolism of the tradition is more limited and sparse-as is their experience of Catholicism as a tight-knit cultural system.” In a generally sympathetic review of Young Adult Catholics, Peter Steinfels writes: “The authors hypothesize that assimilation will come much more slowly for Latinos than for earlier immigrant groups, a conclusion that seems to rest on one-part wishful thinking by scholars protective of Latino identity and three-parts unwillingness by political liberals to admit the openness of American society and economy to outsiders. My guess, however, is quite the opposite: the pace of change will accelerate; Latinos will assimilate far more rapidly than European immigrants, especially to a popular culture that is quite ready to incorporate Latino elements in its voracious wooing of new consumers.” Steinfels suggests that we are living off the Catholic capital and may one day discover that the capital is exhausted. When that happens, he writes, “It will simply be too late.
• To the distress of some readers, I am not a proponent of the death penalty, but I do wish its opponents showed a bit more respect for the intelligence of those who are. Theodore Cardinal McCarrick heads the domestic policy committee of the bishops conference, and had this to say upon the announcement that one hundred people have now been cleared and released from death row: “It is yet another sign that our nation should turn away from the death penalty.” To which one might respond that the extraordinarily careful and expensive process of appeals and challenges, including DNA testing, effectively rebuts those who claim that the death penalty is imposed in a reckless or unfair manner. The remarkable thing is that none of the many studies conducted by opponents has come up with an instance of an innocent person executed in at least the last quarter century. McCarrick continues: “The increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us, increases disrespect for human life, and offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing.” That the penalty “diminishes all of us” is an assertion and not an argument, and can readily be countered by the assertion that the ultimate penalty is evidence of a commitment to justice that enhances all of us. To the claim that it increases disrespect for life, it is countered that precisely the opposite is the case, that it demonstrates that we respect life so much that those who take the lives of others must forfeit their own lives. But most insulting to intelligence is the claim that the penalty “offers the tragic illusion that we can teach that killing is wrong by killing.” By that logic, we should abolish punishment tout court. It is not a tragic illusion but the very rationale of punishment to teach that injuring is wrong by injuring. Catholic social doctrine, including the Catechism’s discussion of the death penalty, affirms that appropriate punishment is required by justice. The argument is over what is just, what is appropriate, what is prudent. It is not an argument between the bishops-or the Pope, for that matter-and people who disagree because they are just too dumb to understand
• Columnist Mark Lowry of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reviews what is billed as the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and complains, “A recreation of the biblical Christmas story, complete with live animals, wise men, and shepherds drags on for a good twenty minutes. . . . To lure spectators of all faiths (and non-faiths) with the promise of an entertaining holiday revue, and then to ambush them with Christian theology, is dated and borderline offensive, especially at a time when understanding of other cultures and beliefs is more important than ever.” Christmas at a Christmas show. Actually celebrating Christian culture and beliefs. What won’t they impose upon us next
• Beware of Leon Kass! That’s the gist of Sherwin B. Nuland’s review of Kass’ Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity (see review elsewhere in this issue). Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Nuland, who made a hit with his How We Die some years ago and is also the bioethics guru of the New Republic, heaps praise on Kass, who is the head of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Kass’ writing “illuminates the human condition” and is marked by “elegance” that reflects “the sweep of his erudition.” He is “that rarest of bioethicists-one who has had rigorous training in basic science.” “A reader’s mind is lured by the learned assurance in which Kass touches his argument,” but then the qualification: “until its implications are considered.” Don’t be taken in by Kass, Nuland warns. For all his learning and elegance, he is a conservative! Worse than that, he is a supporter of “absoluteness” who believes that human life at the earliest stages of development has a moral claim upon us, that cloning human beings for any reason is wrong, that physician-assisted suicide should not be legalized, and that genetic engineering “leads all the way to the world of designer babies-reached not by dictatorial fiat, but by the march of benevolent humanitarianism.” So you can see what a dangerous fellow Leon Kass is. Nuland proposes an alternative approach to assisted suicide, cloning, and eugenics. He writes, “But most will read the necessities of our humanness differently, and recognize the need for flexibility.” Ah, yes, flexibility. Of course the issues are terribly tangled, the dangers are very real, and the potential for evil great. But, faced by the “moral complexities” of experimenting with what he recognizes could be monumentally wrong, Dr. Nuland urges flexibility. Kass believes it is a necessity of our humanness not to do wrong. He warns against embarking upon experiments that will turn our humanness into the object of uncontrolled and uncontrollable experimentation. He is clearly an extremist. Nuland fears that Kass may persuade us that he is right. His review ends with a single word: “Beware.” One hopes that readers will ignore Nuland’s warning and take to heart the argument of Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity. One hopes that most of us, rejecting the counsel of Nuland, believe that “flexibility” in dealing with great evil is itself evil. On that score, we should not hesitate to sign up with Leon Kass in the party of “absoluteness.”
• Long ago, when I was a student at Concordia College (now Concordia University) in Austin, Texas, I was greatly impressed by a sermon that kept returning to the theme, “God has no grandchildren. He only has children.” The preacher’s point was that faith cannot be inherited; that each of us become children of God by our own act of faith. I do not reject that insight when I observe that, in saying Mass today, there are few parts of the rite that so consistently touch my heart as the phrase before the Sign of Peace, “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.” The Church does believe with me, and for me. We do have grandparents and brothers and sisters and cousins and a host of the faithful both here and in glory who sustain us in faith. This truth was brought to mind in reading an address on “The Question of Authority” by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster, England. He cites the commentary by Henri de Lubac on the statement by the third century Origen, “For myself, I desire to be truly ecclesiastic.” I have written a good bit on what it means to be an “ecclesiastical Christian,” and some say they are puzzled by the phrase. I mean what de Lubac writes in The Splendor of the Church: “Anyone who is possessed by a similar desire will not find it enough to be loyal or obedient to perform exactly everything demanded by his profession of the Catholic faith. Such a man will have fallen in love with the beauty of the house of God; the Church will have stolen his heart.” Which is to say that Christ has stolen his heart. Murphy-O’Connor notes that today the word “authority” is so problematic because it is habitually associated with power. But ecclesial authority is grounded in love, the love of God in Christ. He writes: “The Church has nothing to offer but Jesus Christ. The reality that the Church offers to our world is Christ, his gift of forgiveness and his gift of love. These are given in his word, in his sacraments, in his presence, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Like Peter in the Acts of Apostles, we say, ‘I have neither silver nor gold but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, walk,’ and Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up (Acts 3:6-7). If Christ’s is the authority of the Church, Peter is the model of its exercise. He is also a sign of the paradox which is our experience of human weakness and God-given strength. Peter was given the power of the keys, but it was not because he was strong or because he was faithful. He was, for some considerable time, neither. He betrayed Jesus out of his own mouth. His shame and his moral collapse at that moment was utterly disabling. Surely Peter is the least authoritative and trustworthy of founders? One might think so; but it is here that something of the mystery of God’s graciousness and freedom is revealed and, as with the cross, we discover a truth which is a source of incomprehension (perhaps even scandal) to many. The answer is that we can trust Peter precisely because he has fallen, because he is weak, because he is forgiven, and because he is raised up to service. We trust him because in him we see God’s power working in our human weakness. Peter knew from his own experience the depth of the gift he offered; he knew that it was neither his gift nor his authority but that of the One he denied and yet loved. Like each one of us, he experienced not only his own need of forgiveness; he experienced first hand from where that forgiveness comes. He was both empowered and commissioned to go out and to offer that same forgiveness to the whole of mankind. He was indeed the rock on which the Church was founded. She, like Peter, speaks not out of any kind of false strength, but out of her experience of weakness. And she speaks God’s truth that she lives and experiences every day. This is the authentic voice of the Church, a voice enriched with the gifts our Lord has given her and emboldened and quickened with the authority with which he has invested her: ‘Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and know that I am with you always, even to the end of time.’
• Carnegie Hall and the Atlanta Motor Speedway were big jobs, but the real hope for expansion is in installing upholstered theater-style seats in churches, says Les Lundberg of Irwin Seating in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a major manufacturer. Business is booming with Protestant megachurches. “They’re almost looking for a non-church look,” says Lundberg. The business hopes to break into the Catholic market. “We’re never going to sell there until we develop a kneeler option,” Lundberg observes. “What you fight is really tradition.” When it comes to giving churches a non-church look and fighting tradition more generally, Irwin Seating is joined in the battle by numerous Catholic wreckovators of recent decades. Their record of success is depressingly impressive.
• Splendid. J. F. Powers’ novel, Morte d’Urban, has been reissued by New York Review Books. It is the unforgettable (at least for me) story of Father Urban-his ambitions, follies, and final fidelity. I was going to say more about the book, but then I came across this fine appreciation by Terry Philpot in the Tablet: “This is a picture not only of souls seeking salvation against humdrum temptation but trying to live out their call in small-town, rural 1950s America. It is about men living in community with their misadventures, squabbling, jostling for position underpinned by life’s comedy; they seek preferment, they drink beer, they play golf. Their petty rivalries stand against larger ones that beset the orders of the Clementines and the Benedictines and (most especially) the Jesuits. Their spiritual lives are hardly ever shown, their youthful vocations and their relationship with God never stated, save by implication. They are resolutely, fallibly human. They muddle through. And as they do so Powers not only illuminates a way of life and type of person but also creates comic creations, who, against the odds, occasionally exhibit an everyday saintliness.” That doesn’t say it all, but it says a good part of it. J. F. Powers died in 1999 and is not much read now. ‘Tis a pity. He was such a scrupulously slow writer that there is not as much of J. F Powers to read as one would wish. But start with Morte d’Urban.
• My aversion to cruelty prevents me from providing the details on the demolition of a new book by John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas, by Oxford philosopher Anthony Kenny. Suffice it that he says the book “is full of sophistical legerdemain,” and makes a convincing case in support of that judgment. In the same essay, however, Kenny is sympathetically critical of Ralph McInerny’s Gifford Lectures, Characters in Search of Their Author. McInerny, as you undoubtedly know, is a Thomist of the strict observance who says he is a Christian because it is simply the most reasonable thing to be. Kenny writes: “Professor McInerny urges that theism has a better claim than atheism to be the default position of the human mind. He writes explicitly as a Christian philosopher, and admits to an antecedent expectation that the natural theology project can be successfully completed. This is no lapse in philosophical integrity, he claims. Every philosopher, atheist as well as theist, brings to his task antecedent convictions, and neither side can claim monopoly of willingness to follow the argument where it leads. There is, however, an important difference here between the believer and unbeliever. An unbeliever can contemplate without guilt the possibility of changing his mind and accepting belief; the believer, on the other hand, holds that it would be sinful for him to change his mind and lose his faith. This does not, in itself, make faith irrational; after all, a secular liberal must surely believe that it would be wicked for him so to change his own mind as to become a Nazi. It does, however, undermine McInerny’s claim that the believing philosopher is as open-minded as the unbeliever.” That is an argument frequently heard, but it has never seemed to me very persuasive. If a person’s deepest commitment is to seek the truth by following reason wherever it may lead, and if a Christian thinker is led to the conclusion that Christianity is not true, then he would not hold that it is sinful for him to abandon Christianity. That is what he would have held when he was a Christian, but he is no longer a Christian. Similarly, the secular liberal who changed his mind so as to become a Nazi would not think it wicked to be a Nazi, or else he would not become a Nazi. Both the Christian and the secularist might have vestigial guilt feelings about having abandoned their former beliefs, but, to the extent they are rational, they would view such feelings as irrational. Anthony Kenny is wrong and Ralph McInerny is right. Somewhere Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that he was a Christian because, of all the ways of understanding reality that he knew about, Christianity made more sense of more facts. That’s not the whole of the matter, not even by a long shot. But it is a crucial part of the matter that McInerny vindicates in a lucid and accessible manner in Characters in Search of Their Author.
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Fr. Robert Crooker on theology and the scandals, personal correspondence. Robert W. Jenson on a post-Christian world, from The Strange New Word of the Gospel (Eerdmans, 2002).
While We’re At It: On James C. Kopp, Buffalo News, November 20, 2002. George Lindbeck on John XXIII and the Council, Commonweal, November 22, 2002. On paleoliberals, Commonweal, November 22, 2002. Jesuit numbers, National Jesuit News, October 2002. Daniel Pipes on “militant Christianity,” National Post, November 26, 2002. R. Scott Appleby on packaging the faith, Origins, November 7, 2002. Michael Sean Winters on George Weigel et al., New Republic, November 11 and November 18, 2002; on David Schindler’s Heart of the World, Center of the Church, New Republic, August 30, 1999. Jesus sells, Folio, October 2002. On Bishop Gregory’s “triumvirate of heterodoxy,” Commonweal, December 6, 2002. Protestant legalism in the Church, Nicotine Theological Journal, October 2002. Christianity Today today, CTI press release, December 11, 2002. On Young American Catholics, Commonweal, November 23, 2001. Cardinal McCarrick on the death penalty, ZENIT, May 3, 2002. Mark Lowry on the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 17, 2002. Sherwin Nuland on Leon Kass, New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2002. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor on authority, Origins, November 7, 2002. The non-church look, Seattle Times, November 28, 2002. Anthony Kenny on Ralph McInerny, Times Literary Supplement, October 5, 2001.