The Public Square
Talk about revolutions and semi-revolutionary changes in the Catholic Church has been a commonplace since the Second Vatican Council. Such agitations have, not to put too fine a point on it, become something of a bore.
There is another movement afoot, however, that could portend a very big change. Whether that prospect is hopeful or ominous, you will have to decide. The initiative is called the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, and the moving spirit here is Geoffrey Boisi, a major player in New York financial circles and former chairman of the board of Boston College. Also at the center of these fascinating developments is Francis J. Butler, the highly respected president of an organization straightforwardly named Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, Inc. (FADICA).
The Roundtable project got its start with a meeting at Yale in March 2003 and a follow-up meeting the next July, to which Geoffrey Boisi invited a group of mainly liberal usual suspects to think and plan about the future of the Church in America. He described the group as our friends from FADICA, America, Commonweal , the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, Zogby International, and leaders from various [mainly Jesuit] Catholic universities. The July meeting was held at the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, with Theodore Cardinal McCarrick in attendance. When word of the meeting got out, there was a protest that no conservatives had been invited. In response, there was a later meeting with conservatives to hear, so to speak, the other side. That meeting did not go well. Los Angeles Lay Cath Attentive to the possibility of the project being viewed as a liberal conspiracy, Mr. Boisi has since reached out to noted conservatives, as well as others who at least are not notably liberal, to include them in the program of the Roundtable. I was invited but declined for reasons that will become evident. Other conservatives and moderates”please forgive the use of the almost unavoidable labels”also declined. As it stands, the Roundtable is a collaborative effort of wealthy East Coast Catholics, academics, editors, and Church activists who are determined to devise a strategy for establishing a major role for the laity in the governance of the Catholic Church in this country.
The initiative has produced a book, Governance, Accountability, and the Future of the Catholic Church , and a report, The Church in America: The Way Forward in the 21st Century. (Information is available on the website of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Life, which is directed by Alan Wolfe.) In its initial and subsequent meetings, the Roundtable has continued to advance its goal, which, according to Mr. Boisi, is to provide a check and balance on the role of the bishops and, according to Mr. Butler of Foundations and Donors, to allow lay people to speak in the name of the Church.
Undoubtedly, some who have been recruited by the Roundtable only want to assist the bishops in their leadership of the Church. And nobody would dispute that the bishops need all the help they can get in improving management and financial practices, and, to that end, should draw more fully on the talents of lay people. Yet it seems evident that the Roundtable has much bigger things in mind. The apparent goal is to create an institutional structure that will propose itself as representing the lay people in speaking for the Catholic Church, whether in tandem with or as an alternative to the voice of the bishops. The further apparent goal is to gain control of”or at least to exercise major influence in”a large measure of Church governance, employing the immense wealth to which the Roundtable has access.
These are goals long espoused by the academics, editors, and Church activists associated with this project. In its more modest statement of purpose, the project is to be a clearinghouse for the bishops, providing them with best practices in business management. But there is also the plan to establish a permanent national Leadership Roundtable of up to 225 members. Such an institution seems disproportionate to the task of giving the bishops business advice. Not surprisingly, some think they detect an effort to democratize the Church by establishing”somewhat along the lines of the Episcopal Church”a house of delegates composed of laity to balance the house of bishops. If that is the long-term goal, it would indeed be a radical change in the way the Catholic Church understands her constitution.
The tone adopted by those leading the Roundtable initiative is generally moderate. They say they do not intend to intervene in doctrinal matters; they are not, for instance, urging the ordination of women or the popular election of bishops. On the other hand, the leaders of this initiative are thinking long term, believing that they have time and resources on their side. In Governance, Accountability, and the Future of the Catholic Church, Francis Butler writes that the initiative will marshal the talent, education, and experience of the best lay Catholic leaders in government, business, charitable, and other sectors to help chart a course of reconstruction in the church’s administrative life. He proposes that this could begin as an independent initiative of the laity, akin to a blue-ribbon panel, with the informal encouragement and participation of leading members of the American hierarchy to give it standing and yet the freedom to speak with independence.
The project is developing into something more like a permanent assembly than a blue-ribbon panel, and it is reported that such an assembly will meet regularly, much as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops does, and have its own staff and programs to speak in the name of the laity. Once the Roundtable is perceived as a legitimate part of the structure of Catholicism in America, it would be in a position to raise funds in the name of the Church. That is a task for which its business and financial leaders are well suited. Presumably, bishops would be invited to submit applications for funding for their various institutions and programs.
If the 225 members of the Roundtable were subject to term limits, this would create an ever-expanding membership and perhaps lead to the establishment of Leadership Roundtables at the diocesan level. Such a lay management ecclesiology might be envisioned along the lines of the way that Jesuit and other universities have developed lay control in recent decades. The bishop would keep his teaching and sacramental roles intact but would share governance with those who define best practices and are in a position to give or withhold funding for preferred practices. Of course, it is not inconceivable that the definition of best practices could impinge also on what, from a business and marketing perspective, is deemed prudent in many other areas of the Church’s life and mission.
A commentary in the Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission is sharply critical of the Roundtable. There it is said that the collaboration models that the recommendations suggest smell more of a board of company stockholders than a plebiscite. We have here nothing so hopeful as a peasants’ revolt but something more tedious”a corporate takeover, for instance, or a parliamentary power play. That may be overheated, but it is not without support in some of the documents and statements surrounding the Roundtable initiative.
The people associated with the Roundtable project are experienced, resourceful, and possessed of expertise in long-term planning and institutional management. Bishops who might welcome the help offered by the Roundtable project in its early phases may later find that those who only wanted to be of assistance have effectively taken over a large part of the decision-making authority traditionally belonging to the episcopal office. He who pays the piper, and all that.
An additional concern expressed by lay critics of the Roundtable project is that it would create a small elite of wealthy lay people and progressive activists falsely claiming to represent the millions of lay faithful. In response to this concern, it is said that the Boisi group is only taking the initiative in a restructuring of the governance of the Catholic Church that will, in its successive phases, expand to include democratically elected representation at every level of the Church’s life.
Catholics who have for so long been agitating for the revolution that they believe was mandated by the Second Vatican Council may be somewhat disconcerted to discover that their cause has been hijacked (as they might well see it) by the leaders of business and finance. But, as one has numerous occasions to observe, history has many ironies in the fire. And, of course, it is possible that Geoffrey Boisi and others connected with the Roundtable project really do have nothing more in mind than providing business advice to the bishops. Admittedly, the history of the project to date does not support such a modest reading of its leaders’ intentions.
The introduction to notes that the book’s essays focus on the urgent and far-reaching changes in ecclesial governance, administrative style, and financial accountability called for if the congregation of the faithful in the future is to fulfill its hallowed aspiration to be the salt of the earth and the light of the nations. In his own essay, Francis Butler writes, Many, if not most, bishops have proven themselves unable to measure up to the demands of running the multimillion-dollar organizations which U.S. dioceses have become.
Again, nobody should deny that the bishops need all the help they can get. But talk about far-reaching changes in ecclesial governance would be less problematic were it more obvious that those pressing for such changes have a firm understanding of and commitment to the ecclesiology by which the Catholic Church is constituted.
And You Were (Are) There
To have lived in the Athens of Socrates, the Rome of Augustus, the Christendom of Charlemagne, or the Philadelphia of the Constitutional Convention”ah, what stories we would have to tell. Yet all of us, even most young people among us, have lived in a period of the highest historical drama. To mention it now, however, is so, well, so yesterday. The drama was the Cold War, and it will likely be a long time before the story is so well told as it is told by John Lewis Gaddis, the distinguished professor of history at Yale University, in The Cold War: A New History.
For all its dangers, atrocities, costs, distractions, and moral compromises, the Cold War”like the American Civil War”was a necessary contest that settled fundamental issues once and for all. We have no reason to miss it. But, given the alternatives, we have little reason to regret its having occurred. That’s a big judgment, and maybe Gaddis is right. One can imagine other ways in which the question of slavery in America might have been settled once and for all. And, by his own telling, Gaddis knows that there were contingencies and personalities that might have made the Cold War something very different from what it was. Further, I’m not at all sure about that once and for all. I suppose it depends on what fundamental issues one has in mind. The conflict between truth and freedom, on the one hand, and oppression in the service of a beguiling delusion, on the other, is never definitively settled. At least not before Our Lord’s return in glory.
At its beginning, the outcome of the Cold War was by no means self-evident, given the correlation of forces, as Marxists used to say. It was at least as easy to believe in 1945, writes Gaddis, that authoritarian communism was the wave of the future as that democratic capitalism was. In resisting Communist advances in Greece and Turkey, a much-scorned and widely underestimated American president announced in 1947 that it now must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures . . . . We must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way. That was the Truman Doctrine that gave formal shape to a war that lasted more than forty years.
From the beginning through to the end, the conflict was shadowed by the threat of atomic and hydrogen weaponry. Millions of Americans alive today remember crouching under school desks in practice alerts. In the early 1950s, George Kennan, father of the doctrine of the containment of communism, noted that the use of force had historically been a means to an end other than warfare, . . . an end which at least did not negate the principle of life itself. All that changed with the possession of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Kennan wrote: [These weapons] reach backward beyond the frontiers of western civilization to the concepts of warfare that were once familiar to the Asiatic hordes. They cannot really be reconciled with a political purpose directed to shaping, rather than destroying, the lives of the adversary. They fail to take into account the ultimate responsibility of men for one another, and even for each other’s errors and mistakes. They imply the admission that man not only can be but is his own worst and most terrible enemy.
The lesson he drew was from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida :
Power into will, will into appetite
And appetite, a universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce a universal prey
And last eat himself up.
Throughout his life, Harry Truman claimed in public that he had not lost a moment’s sleep over his decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. His actions and his private reflections suggest otherwise. On the day the bomb was first tested in the New Mexico desert, he wrote in his journal that machines are ahead of morals by some centuries, and when morals catch up perhaps there will be no reason for any of it. A year later, he wrote, The human animal and his emotions change not much from age to age. He must change now or he faces absolute and complete destruction, and maybe the insect age or an atmosphereless planet will succeed him. We owe it to Truman, writes Gaddis, that he removed decision-making control over atomic weapons from the military. He reversed a pattern in human behavior so ancient that its origins lay shrouded in the mists of time: that when weapons are developed, they will be used.
Throughout the Cold War, there were anti-anti-Communist liberals who belittled the reality of Soviet espionage. Worry about Communist spies and sympathizers was dismissed as McCarthyism, referring to Senator Joseph McCarthy who did so much to discredit the cause that he claimed to serve. But the espionage was real. Gaddis writes, It is likely, indeed, that during the first years of the postwar era, Soviet intelligence knew more about American atomic bombs than the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff did. Moscow’s spies”having penetrated the top levels of the British intelligence establishment”were that good, while Truman’s determination to maintain civilian supremacy over his own military establishment was that strong.
Eisenhower, says Gaddis, was at once the most subtle and brutal strategist of the nuclear age. War means a contest, he told a friend, but what kind of contest is it when the outlook comes close to destruction of the enemy and suicide for ourselves? In 1959 he declared that, if war came, you might as well go out and shoot everyone you see and then shoot yourself. Yet Eisenhower insisted that if the Soviets launched an atomic attack, the United States would respond in kind. It was, writes Gaddis, as if Eisenhower was in denial: that a kind of nuclear autism had set in, in which he refused to listen to the advice he got from the best minds available. Then Gaddis adds, In retrospect, though, it appears that Eisenhower’s may have been the best mind available, for he understood better than his advisers what war is really like.
Enter M.A.D.”Mutual Assured Destruction”under John F. Kennedy and Robert McNamara. After the Cuban missile crisis, the point at which the world came close to a nuclear exchange, the doctrine was that the horror of nuclear war was the best guarantee that there would be no nuclear war. Gaddis observes: That, however, was simply a restatement of what Eisenhower had long since concluded: that the advent of thermonuclear weapons meant that war could no longer be an instrument of statecraft”rather the survival of states required that there be no war at all. It should be noted, however, that war continued, and continues, to be an instrument of statecraft”so long as it does not involve the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons .
A War of Ideas
The Cold War was, at bottom, a war of ideas. It began long before what we call the Cold War with Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points of January 1918, which Gaddis calls the single most influential statement of an American ideology in the twentieth century. It was a direct response to the ideological challenge posed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and there began at this point a war of ideas”a contest between visions”that would extend through the rest of World War I, the interwar years, World War II, and most of the Cold War.
Many American thinkers were made uneasy by Wilson’s absolutism. Many openly sympathized with the Soviet Union, seeing it as the future that works. Others were deeply ambivalent. In 1943, a noted theologian wrote, Russia has less liberty and more equality. Whether democracy should be defined primarily in terms of liberty or of equality is a source of unending debate. That was, in 1943, the tough-minded Reinhold Niebuhr, who later would become among the staunchest of anti-Communist liberals.
Here is how Gaddis describes the conflict of visions that defined the Cold War: Both of the ideologies that defined those worlds were meant to offer hope: that is why one has an ideology in the first place. One of them, however, had come to depend for its functioning on the creation of fear. The other had no need to do so. Therein lay the basic ideological asymmetry of the Cold War. It needs to be added that the cultivation of a well-founded fear that the other side might prevail was essential to maintaining popular resolve in the defense of freedom. Then, as today, those who deny that there is a real and threatening enemy accuse the defenders of fearmongering. The question is whether, in fact, there is an enemy to be feared.
The beginning of the end of the Cold War”although the end was long delayed”began, says Gaddis, with Khrushchev’s address to the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist party in 1956. There he denounced the cult of personality and the monstrosities perpetrated by Stalin. I was obliged to tell the truth about the past, he later recalled, whatever the risks to me. But the risks were not just to Khrushchev but also to the entire Soviet system. Gaddis writes: The system he was trying to preserve had itself been based, since the time of Marx and Engels, on the claim to be error-free. That was what it meant to have discovered the engine that drives history forward. A movement based on science had little place for confession, contrition, and the possibility of redemption. The problem Khrushchev created for himself and for the international Communist movement, therefore, began almost from the moment he finished speaking.
The Marxist ideology provided a rationale for the killing of at least a hundred million people, some say many more than that. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a sign went up on an East German factory: To the workers of the world: I am sorry. As Gaddis wryly notes, There hardly needed to be a signature.
June 2, 1979
Gaddis gives all the major players”such as Thatcher, Gorbachev, Havel, Reagan, John Paul II, Nixon, Kissinger”a fair and dispassionate assessment in their part in ending the Cold War. (Kissinger does not come off well.) As he was preparing to run for president, Ronald Reagan offered his view of the much-vaunted policy of détente: Isn’t that what a farmer has with his turkey”until Thanksgiving Day? His background in the movies led many people to underestimate Reagan, says Gaddis, for Reagan was as skillful a politician as the nation had seen for many years, and one of its sharpest grand strategists ever. His strength lay in his ability to see beyond complexity to simplicity. And what he saw was simply this: that because détente perpetuated”and had been meant to perpetuate”the Cold War, only killing détente could end the Cold War. Although it was then condemned as recklessly simplistic, few today would dissent from Reagan’s description of the Soviet Union as an evil empire.
Gaddis gives a starring role, if not the starring role, in the ending of the Cold War to John Paul II, although his account might have benefited by drawing on George Weigel’s The Final Revolution and Witness to Hope . Gaddis writes, When John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport on June 2, 1979, he began the process by which communism in Poland”and ultimately everywhere else in Europe”would come to an end. Stalin’s jibe about the pope having no divisions was soon to receive its definitive answer. As the Cold War was rooted in a conflict of ideologies and visions, so it was a drama unfolding in narrative form, and nobody could equal John Paul as a master of the dramatic arts.
In a chapter focusing on the chief actors in the end of communism, Gaddis employs three crucial epigraphs: John Paul’s Be not afraid, China’s Deng Xiaoping’s Seek truth from facts, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s We can’t go on living like this. A great deal was risked in the Cold War, and dangerously wrong judgments were made on all sides. But most readers will agree with the author’s judicious conclusion:
Still, for all of this and a great deal more, the Cold War could have been worse”much worse. It began with a return of fear and ended in a triumph of hope, an unusual trajectory for great historical upheavals. It could easily have been otherwise: the world spent the last half of the 20th century having its deepest anxieties not confirmed. The binoculars of a distant future will confirm this, for had the Cold War taken a different course there might have been no one left to look back through them. That is something. To echo the Abbé Sieyes when asked what he did during the French Revolution, most of us survived.
As I say, it will likely be a long time before we have another historical account of this drama as well-informed, judicious, and readable as John Lewis Gaddis’ The Cold War . The success of U.S. policy, supported by our allies, was in largest part the work of those whom Secretary of State Dean Acheson described as being present at the creation. Especially in the immediate postwar years, they were the representatives of a clear-thinking, tough-minded liberalism that Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once called, a long time ago, the vital center.
Today we are confronted by a different ideologi-cally driven enemy. Islamist jihadism is different also, in that, unlike Marxism, its cause is not susceptible to historical falsification. As Gaddis notes, Marxism was a quasi-religious faith in a scientific explanation of history. Beginning with Khrushchev’s 1956 speech, it suffered blow after blow, and the presumably infallible explanation was finally shattered by the history it claimed to explain. The jihadists, instead, are sustained by faith in the will of God by which their victory may be long delayed”they speak of a war of two hundred years”but is absolutely certain. In resisting them, geopolitical containment along the lines of George Kennan’s answer to communism will not work because they are not limited by geography or nation states. Religious-ideological conversion seems improbable.
Of course, American leaders, too, invoke the will of God and declare their faith in the ultimate triumph of freedom. There is no moral symmetry here, however. The cause of freedom, democracy, peace, and development is posited against a brutally aggressive war declared by the jihadists. Whether or not he invokes God explicitly, in opposing that aggression, no morally sane person engages in a conflict without believing, or at least hoping, that he is on the side of a transcendent justice. After all the nuances and complexities are given their due, it really does come down to choosing sides.
In the situation after the attacks of September 11, 2001, some say we are engaged in World War IV, referring to the Cold War as World War III. Many Americans seem to be uncertain about whether we are at war at all. They will be momentarily awakened by the next attack, and may be wide awake if they are not among the victims of a nuclear or biochemical attack in a major metropolitan area. Meanwhile, however, they are vaguely aware of a threatening presence”both external and internal”that they would much prefer to be handled by diplomacy and police action. Talk about war strikes them as disquietingly overheated.
And if it really is war, they would much prefer that it be led by almost anybody other than the current administration. This is the theme developed in Peter Beinart’s recent book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals”and Only Liberals”Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again . Beinart is the former editor of the New Republic and he deplores what has happened to liberalism at the hands of the Democratic party. The McGovern revolution of 1972 continues today, he believes, in holding liberalism hostage to the leftist escapism of Michael Moore, Howard Dean, and John Kerry, for example.
The philosophical hero of The Good Fight is the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who in the aftermath of World War II rallied liberals to a moral realism in defending the free world (without sneer quotes) against communism. The problem is that there are today few liberals of that type to rally. And even fewer with any influence in the Democratic party. Witness the isolation of Senator Joseph Lieberman for his support of the war on terror. Niebuhrian liberals are today the former Democrats or nominal Democrats who are commonly called neoconservatives.
In his animus against President Bush and his administration, Beinart neglects an elementary truth that Niebuhr well understood: In the real world of conflicting powers and ambitions, we do not often, or even usually, get to select our enemies and allies. As an enemy, terrorism is more amorphous than were the Soviet Union and Mao’s China during the Cold War, but the enemy is no less real. One may wish Beinart well in his effort to recall liberalism to a Niebuhrian appreciation of the present danger. It does not seem natural that one party should have a near-monopoly on the allegiance of the grown-ups.
The McGovern revolution, however, has not yet run its course. If anything, the intensity of partisan anger against the person and policies of the president seems to grow and grow. To speak of our president or of our foreign policy or even of our troops is to invite outraged reaction. What Peter Beinart knows and yet, perhaps admirably, refuses to accept is that many of those whom he is trying to persuade have somewhere along the way decided that this is not their country. Which is not to say that they are not patriotic, but they are patriots of another America”an America of their preference, an America at peace, an America without enemies.
John Lewis Gaddis tells the story of blindness, delusions, and blunders. But, in the main, it is the story of grown-ups who saw their duty and did it, and by the grace of God, they prevailed. Now we are engaged in another long twilight struggle, as John F. Kennedy called the Cold War. There have been and will be blindnesses, delusions, and blunders aplenty. Whether there will be another generation prepared to see its duty and do it is at this point an open question.
Person, Charism, and the Legionaries of Christ
This past May, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), with the approval of the Holy Father, issued a communiqué indicating that the decision had been made to invite Father Marcial Maciel to a reserved life of penitence and prayer, relinquishing any form of public ministry.
Fr. Maciel is the founder of the Legionaries of Christ and its lay association, Regnum Christi. The Legion has more than 600 priests and 2,500 seminarians in some twenty countries, while Regnum Christi has more than 65,000 members around the world. The congregation and the lay movement are marked by apostolic zeal and vibrant orthodoxy. Both were strongly supported by Pope John Paul II.
As with other new movements in the history of the Church, the Legion and its lay association have had their share of critics. In addition to those who disliked the Legion’s firm adherence to Church authority, there were those who accused it of being elitist, secretive, and excessively interested in cultivating the rich in order to fund its ambitious program of building educational and other institutions. Much of the criticism, I expect, is generated by envy of the Legion’s success, especially in attracting priestly vocations in a time when vocations to most other religious orders are in sharp decline. But there are additional dynamics in play.
Fr. Maciel retired from active leadership in 2005. Beginning in the 1990s, a number of charges of sexual wrongdoing, related to alleged events in the 1940s and 1950s, were brought against Fr. Maciel by former members of the Legion. The CDF conducted an investigation of the charges, but because of Fr. Maciel’s fragile health and advanced age of eighty-six, it did not conduct a canonical hearing. Since there was no canonical hearing, there is no canonical judgment of his guilt or innocence regarding the alleged wrongdoings.
The most precise statement of what has happened, I believe, is that, in the judgment of the CDF and the pope, it is in the best interests of the Church, the Legion, and Fr. Maciel that he relinquish his public ministry and devote the remainder of his life to penitence and prayer. It should be noted that penitence in this connection need not connote punishment for the wrongdoing of which he was accused. All Christians are to be engaged in penitence and prayer. At the same time, the invitation to remove himself from public ministry is undeniably a form of censure. Making a clear distinction between the founder and the work he launched and led, the Vatican statement also said that the worthy apostolate of the Legionaries of Christ and of the association Regnum Christi is gratefully recognized.
Although I have no formal connection with the Legion or Regnum Christi, I have over the years been a strong supporter of both. They have in the past, do now, and will, I pray, in the future provide vibrant apostolates in the service of Christ and his Church. When the charges against Fr. Maciel first surfaced, I studied the matter with care and had detailed discussions with knowledgeable people on all sides of the ensuing controversy. I then said that I was morally certain that the charges were false. Moral certitude, it should be noted, is a very high degree of probability that justifies action but is short of certitude described as absolute, mathematical, or metaphysical.
I do not know all that the CDF and the Holy Father know and am not privy to the considerations that led to their decision. It is reasonable to believe that they concluded that Fr. Maciel did do something very seriously wrong. To censure publicly, toward the end of his life, the founder of a large and growing religious community is an extraordinary, perhaps unprecedented, measure in Catholic history. Moreover, because the only public and actionable charges against Fr. Maciel had to do with sexual abuse, the clear implication is that that was the reason for the censure. In view of the public knowledge of the charges, it is not plausible that he was censured for some other and unknown reason.
The official statement of the Legion says: Fr. Maciel, with the spirit of obedience to the Church that has always characterized him, has accepted this communiqué with faith, complete serenity, and tranquility of conscience, knowing that it is a new cross that God, the Father of Mercy, has allowed him to suffer and that will obtain many graces for the Legion of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement. The Legionaries of Christ and the members of Regnum Christi, following the example of Fr. Maciel and united to him, accept and will accept always the directives of the Holy See with a profound spirit of obedience and faith. We renew our commitment to work with great intensity to live our charism of charity and extend the Kingdom of Christ serving the Church.
The Legion statement also says, Facing the accusations made against him, [Fr. Maciel] declared his innocence and, following the example of Christ, decided not to defend himself in any way. The venerable spiritual tradition being invoked here is that of purification through suffering, in the confidence that Fr. Maciel will one day be vindicated. It must in fairness be noted that there is ample historical precedent of holy men and women who were unjustly treated by church authorities. That possibility cannot be categorically excluded in the instance of Fr. Maciel.
It was hardly the only factor, but one of the many factors that entered into my earlier judgment regarding Fr. Maciel’s innocence was my great respect for John Paul II and his repeated statements of support for the Legion and its founder. It also seemed to me that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to adjudicate fairly charges based on various stories about what happened fifty and sixty years ago. With similar respect for the office and person of Pope Benedict, I cannot protest the directive implying that Fr. Maciel is guilty of grave wrongdoing. Again, it is obvious that the CDF and the Holy Father know more than I know with respect to evidence supporting the guilt or innocence of Fr. Maciel.
What We Know
When the Vatican communiqué was issued, the New York Times reported that I continued to believe that the charges were groundless. That is not true. The fact is that I simply do not know, and none of us may ever know for sure. We can be sure that the CDF and the Holy Father did not act without good reason. Some of the accusers and the reporters who have been publicizing their cause for years suggest that their claims have been entirely vindicated. That, too, is not true. As others among the accusers have complained, the Vatican communiqué does not state any findings of guilt. Things are left in the realm of implication and inference.
This is not how the Church is ordinarily supposed to operate. Ecclesiastical procedures are supposed to be a mirror of justice in which accusations, evidence, and judgment are clear to all concerned. It is not explained why age and fragility of health precluded a canonical procedure. Reliable sources say that, to their knowledge, Fr. Maciel is in reasonably good health. After years of the mishandling of sex-abuse accusations by bishops in this country, there is a widespread and understandable skepticism about whether either accusers or accused are treated justly. In the extraordinary instance of Fr. Maciel, we are asked simply to accept the decision of the CDF and the Holy Father. This faithful Catholics will readily do, although not without noting that no luster has been added to the mirror of justice.
Now comes a time of daunting challenges for the Legionaries of Christ. At the highest level of the Church’s leadership, a deep shadow has been cast over their founder. In view of his age and the way the decision was made, it is almost certain that the shadow will not be lifted in his lifetime, if ever. In the historical experience of religious orders, the founder and the charism -meaning the distinctive spirituality by which the community is formed”cannot be easily separated. The Legion has been particularly intense in its devotion to its founder, who has been revered as a living saint. It is understandable that Legionaries who have known Fr. Maciel for many years simply cannot bring themselves to believe that he is guilty of the charges that have been brought against him. Whether misplaced or not, such devotion is not untouched by honor and faithfulness to a father and friend. But, in the future of the Legion and Regnum Christi, belief in the innocence of Fr. Maciel cannot be made an article of faith.
Nor is it helpful to speak of the Holy See’s decision as yet another cross imposed on Fr. Maciel and the Legion. A cross may mean any burden to be borne, but, in this context, bearing the cross clearly suggests a wrong or injustice. The cross imposed on Christ was unjustly imposed. To continue to speak of the censure as a cross imposed could have the effect of putting the Legion on a collision course with the papacy. At the heart of the congregation’s charism is wholehearted adherence to the ministry of Peter among us. The leadership of the Legion has unambiguously reaffirmed that adherence in a private audience with the pope following the censure of Fr. Maciel.
Again, it is possible that Fr. Maciel is entirely innocent. Popes, too, make mistakes. I have heard it proposed by more than one friend of the Legion that the pope, faced with the publicity of the charges and the impossibility of adjudicating the matter to anyone’s satisfaction, simply asked Fr. Maciel to take a bullet for the sake of the Church, and Fr. Maciel agreed. However messy, that at least would dispose of the matter. That explanation is, I believe, quite implausible. Not least because it would be a grave disservice of the truth to clearly imply, as the decision does clearly imply, that an innocent Fr. Maciel is guilty, at least in part, of the wrongdoing of which he was accused.
The future of the Legion and Regnum Christi cannot depend on the innocence or guilt of Fr. Maciel. Founder and charism may not be entirely separable, but they can be clearly distinguished. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, said St. Paul. That Fr. Maciel may have been much more earthen than was believed by those who admired him does not negate the treasure of what God did through him, including the spiritual writings so valued by the Legion. By their fruits you shall know them, said Our Lord. The mighty works of God that have been done and are being done by the Legionaries and Regnum Christi are manifest to all whose vision is not clouded by prejudice.
Obviously, I care deeply about this movement of the Spirit, and I know that many readers share that devotion. I have over the years encountered in the Legion and Regnum Christi priests and laypeople as faithful, joyful, dedicated, and talented as any it has ever been my blessing to know. The months and years ahead must be a time of profound self-examination, reform, and renewal. Earnestly and confidently I pray, and invite all to pray, that the magnificent apostolates of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi will continue to flourish in the service of Christ and his Church.
Totalitarian movements, such as National Socialism, seek to reorganize the entirety of human life. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed for his resistance to the Nazis, believed that there was a deeper resistance built into the order of nature. Bonhoeffer was ambivalent toward the tradition of natural law, insisting that the natural order must be understood Christocentrically, that is, in relation to God’s saving purposes in Christ. But there is no doubt that he had a profound respect for the natural, as is evident in the following from his Ethics:
The fact that it is at all possible to injure the natural is adequately explained by the relative liberty of the preserved life. In the abuse of this relative liberty some given entity within the fallen world posits itself as an absolute, declares itself to be the source of the natural, and thereby disintegrates the natural life. There now begins a struggle between the unnatural and the natural, in which the unnatural may for a time forcibly prevail, for the unnatural consists essentially in organization, and the natural cannot be organized but is simply there. It is possible, for example, to organize the undermining of children’s respect for their parents, but respect for parents itself is simply practiced and cannot by its very nature be organized. For this reason the natural may be temporarily overcome by the unnatural. But in the long run every organization collapses, and the natural endures and prevails by its own inherent strength; for life itself is on the side of the natural. In the meanwhile, however, there may indeed have occurred serious disturbances and revolutionary changes in the external forms of life. But, so long as life continues, the natural will always reassert itself.
While We’re At It
Eccentricities, and downright craziness, in judicial rulings on church-state questions are nothing new. One is sometimes inclined to think they are the norm. But in the annals of judicial curiosities, Judge Robert Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa is deserving of a special mention. The case is Americans United for the Separation of Church and State v. Prison Fellowship Ministries . The case has to do with InnerChange Freedom (IFI), a program sponsored by Prison Fellowship to reduce recidivism. Under a contract with the state of Iowa, similar to contracts with several other state prison systems, IFI works with prisoners to get their lives together before being released. Nobody disputes that the program is entirely voluntary and remarkably effective. The complaint of Americans United for a Naked Public Square is that the program involves”yes, you guessed it”spiritual counseling, Bible study, and prayer. Not only, ruled Judge Pratt, is this an establishment of religion (40 percent of IFI funding came from the state), but it is an establishment of a particularly sinister religion called evangelicalism. He ordered the program disbanded and the money returned to the state. Of course, the case will be appealed, but what is noteworthy is the way Judge Pratt (representing the state!) inserted himself into religious disputes, resulting in a violation of the free exercise guaranteed by the First Amendment. I’m afraid the judge is somewhat deranged or culpably ignorant, or maybe both, which may be a mitigating factor in his staggering arrogance.
Herewith a few items from Judge Pratt’s opinion. Evangelicalism, he says, is quite distinct from other self-described Christian faiths, such as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Greek Orthodoxy . . . and is also distinct from the beliefs held by self-described Protestant Christian denominations such as Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian, again to name only a few. (One notes the oddity that Mormonism is named as solidly in the historic tradition of Christian faith.) The fact, of course, is that evangelicalism”understood in terms of being born again, believing in the Bible, and wanting to share one’s faith with others”is widespread throughout Catholic and Protestant communities. Prison Fellowship’s statement of faith, opines Judge Pratt, contains beliefs common to many types of Christian groups, but it is also significantly different in many respects. Never mind that the statement of faith was cooperatively produced by Christians from a variety of denominations and in consultation with notables such as Avery Cardinal Dulles. The evangelical Christian stance towards religious institutions is one of suspicion, says Judge Pratt. Exactly. Those evangelicals would never think of getting involved with institutions such as the Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family, or for that matter, Prison Fellowship. Evangelicals are anti-Catholic and contemptuous of Roman Catholic reliance on papal authority, Marian devotion, and veneration of the saints. You can be sure that an evangelical such as Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, would not be found dead cosponsoring anything like Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The judge continues: The Prison Fellowship and InnerChange believe in the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus, which reflects a legalistic understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus and is likewise not shared by many Christians. As if that isn’t bad enough, they believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ, which, the judge notes, is a belief not shared by many non-evangelical Christians. The judge adds the clincher: A key concept in Chuck Colson’s writings is that people must be born again. Well, that does it. In sum, thirty-five of the forty pages of Judge Pratt’s decision is given over to establishing that the evangelicalism to which Prison Fellowship and IFI are committed is a sinister, schismatic cult that is trying to entice prisoners into its clutches. Which is pretty much the caricature peddled by Americans United and uncritically repeated by Judge Robert Pratt. Never mind that prison authorities in Iowa, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Minnesota welcome the help of Prison Fellowship and IFI in dramatically reducing recidivism. The really interesting question here is why a federal judge thinks First Amendment law authorizes a court to make theological judgments about what kind of religion does, and what kind does not, pass muster for constitutional protection. The Supreme Court, it should be noted, has in recent years been moving toward greater clarity in church-state law. As that movement advances, it may yet be recognized that the First Amendment religion clause is just that, one clause, with a no establishment provision entirely in the service of the goal of free exercise. When that happens, Prattism may be a term of choice in describing the past half-century of eccentricity and downright craziness.
Alas, poor Yale Divinity School, I knew it well. But let us not dwell on the greatness that was when our attention is invited to the squalor that is. The handsomely produced spring issue of Reflections , the divinity school’s journal of theology, so to speak, is devoted to Sex and the Church. I haven’t read all of it, but the message seems to be: Sex good, Church bad. The lead article is by a former Catholic priest turned psychologist, Daniel Helminiak, who is also the author of Wh at the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. (Bible says homosexuality just fine.) He writes that because our own spirit seems to operate from beyond ourselves, . . . people tend to attribute spiritual experiences to things outside of themselves, most commonly to God.’ . . . I have attributed spirituality to an aspect of our own beings. This, be assured, does not make theology irrelevant, since fidelity to the human spirit could not but lead godward. (Quite why he has to put God in quotation marks but not godward is unclear.) There are several other articles excoriating the churches for their blindness to the splendors of sodomy, and I haven’t gotten to the article titled Are There Really Only Two Genders? by Virginia Ramey Mollencott. Why do I think I know what her answer will be? The editor of Reflections , Jamie L. Manson, says it is hoped that the issue will help religious communities undo the tragedy of Adam and Eve, by facing their our own [sic] sexuality, accepting it as a gift from God (and therefore very, very good), and re-integrating it into healthy and whole vision [sic] of themselves as body, mind, and spirit. (Good diction is apparently not a requirement for editing the journal.) The Yale Divinity School of H. Richard Niebuhr, Hans Frei, Paul Holmer, and George Lindbeck taught that the Cross had something to do with the undoing of the tragedy of Adam and Eve, but that was back in the days when the school did not put God in quotes. Oh yes, there’s another article listed as Black Church Homophogia: What to Do About It? by Kelly Brown Douglas. I think she means homophobia and is strongly against it. I’m going to skip that one. Then there’s an article on Homosexuality and Dr. Dobson by Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, referring to Jim Dobson of Focus on the Family. It addresses the hypermale and the hypo-male gay and concludes with the observation that folded into the production of an ever-instable [sic] normative masculinity is a potent discourse on nature and grace. No doubt, but don’t tell Dr. Dobson.
The last great liberal cause that now meets with almost universal approbation was the civil-rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. That began in 1956, now half a century ago. Since then, numerous causes have claimed the mantle of civil rights. Jesse Jackson extorts corporate payoffs in the name of Dr. King. Sundry feminists and gay activists claim to be the continuation of the movement, as do, with greater justice, pro-lifers. Now African-American Muslims, many of whom were converted to Islam in the American prison system, are joining with Muslims from South Asia and the Middle East to lay claim to the legacy of Selma, Bull Connor, and the great drama that was the civil rights movement. According to Religion Watch , African-American Muslims who once felt marginalized by other Muslims are now more prominent in the mosques because it is thought that they have experience with the discrimination now felt by Muslims in this country. The civil-rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s was a singular moment in American history that successfully addressed the singular American wrong of the legal segregation of American blacks. In subsequent years, it became the catchall symbol seized on by everybody who wanted the benefits of being recognized as a victim. One can imagine few more wrongheaded, implausible, and self-defeating strategies than for the several million Muslims in America to join with alienated blacks in blaming their problems on the consequences of slavery and segregation. Presumably, Muslims did not come to this country in order to be permanently marginalized.
It is common practice that cardinal archbishops who are in good health are allowed five or more years in office after the mandatory submission of a letter of resignation at age seventy-five. There is understandable speculation, therefore, about why the recent resignation of Theodore Cardinal McCarrick as archbishop of Washington was accepted so promptly. One claim is that Rome was displeased with his public statement that he had been extended for two more years. Another is that there was deep unhappiness with the curious way he represented to the American bishops the position of Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) on Catholics in public office during the controversies of 2004. In any event, his resignation was accepted. McCarrick was generally popular in Washington. There is no doubt that he enjoyed a good press. There have been many events marking his retirement, and in June he held a going-away lunch for reporters at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. He said to the assembled journalists, You told them I was a good person, and they believed you. Reporters are sometimes made uneasy by the suggestion that they have been used. When a cardinal is invested, he is reminded that his red robes represent the blood of the martyrs, and that he is to be prepared to bear witness to the truth, no matter how controversial, with apostolic zeal, even to the point of surrendering his life. One of the events surrounding McCarrick’s leaving office was an interview with National Public Radio in which, according to the transcript of the program, he was asked about his understanding of leadership in the Church. As a leader, he said, I make sure that I’m teaching what the Church teaches. That being said, he offered his guidelines for effective episcopal leadership. You know, if the archbishop is a little on the left, he’s not going to be able to talk to the right. If he’s a little on the right, he’s not going to be able to talk to the left. They won’t trust him. With specific reference to John Kerry and other pro-abortion Catholics, he said, And I think before you react so strongly and say, You’re a sinner, you can’t receive communion,’ I think you have to really see what’s in a person’s heart. There is nothing really black and white, you know, because we’re dealing with human beings and we’re all such complex people. The interviewer observed that Pope Benedict has the reputation of being quite a tough defender of the faith, to which McCarrick responds that he is, in fact, very moderate. I think the job of a priest always forces you to the middle, said the cardinal. Against those who say that means mediocrity, he says, It’s not. It’s really courage to be able to stay in the middle and to resist the extremes. His style of middle-of”the-road leadership, he said, was inspired by the example of Pope John Paul II. He tells the story of John Paul visiting Newark, New Jersey, where McCarrick was then archbishop. At the entrance of the cathedral, John Paul looks and he stops for a moment, and then he puts himself right in the middle and he walks down the aisle, right in the middle. And people on the left, people on the right, can grab his hand. For me, that is the symbol of where the Church has to be. The depiction of the late pope as a leader who declined to take sides is, one must acknowledge, an original contribution to the understanding of the man and his pontificate. What is missing from Cardinal McCarrick’s view of leadership, one might respectfully suggest, is the distinction between placing oneself in the midst of the great questions of the time, which John Paul certainly did, and placing oneself in the middle of the great questions of the time, which he certainly did not. But there is no doubt that Cardinal McCarrick received a good press from those who were generally not on the Church’s side. A farewell lunch to thank reporters for depicting him as a good person seems only fitting. Philip Graham of the Washington Post once said that journalism is the first draft of history. As we all do well to remember, it is the final draft that counts.
Christian Century , which regularly and rightly deplores the fierce polarization in our public discourse, takes favorable note of the statement of Michelle Bachelet, the president of Chile who was jailed under the Pinochet regime: Because I was the victim of hatred, I have dedicated my life to reverse that hatred and turn it into understanding, tolerance, and”why not say it”love. In the same issue, on the same page in fact, the editors refer to President Bush’s approval of domestic wiretapping of terrorist suspects without requiring court warrants. This is compared to a 1934 speech by Adolf Hitler in which he said, In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became supreme judge of the German people. Understanding, tolerance, and”why not say it”hate. Or is it not hateful to compare the president of the United States with Adolf Hitler?
Benedict XVI has received his report card from the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, Alan Wolfe director. A day-long conference with members of the Boston College theology department”Thomas Groome, James Weiss, Mary Ann Hinsdale, and Kenneth Himes”examined the pope’s first year and agreed that Pope Benedict has so far shown great humility in his stewardship of the papal office, demonstrating a less autocratic, more self-effacing approach to his leadership of the Catholic Church in comparison to his predecessor. Dr. Himes said the first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est , had good things to say on love but shortchanged social justice. Dr. Hinsdale issued the overall grade for the first year: C+++. The report from the Boisi Center does not say whether a resolution was passed to keep Benedict on for another year”on a continuing trial basis, of course.
Damon Linker’s book is scheduled for release in September and I have seen an advance copy. An expanded version of Mr. Linker’s long article in the New Republic of April 3, 2006, it is called The Theocons: Secular America Under Sieg e. The message of the book is printed on the front of the dust jacket: For the past three decades, a few determined men have worked to inject their radical religious ideas into the nation’s politics. This is the story of how they succeeded. The determined men are those of us associated with First Things . Mr. Linker provides a relentlessly tendentious commentary on items appearing in these pages. A point-by-point correction of the book’s many misrepresentations would be exceedingly tedious. A word is in order, however, on the origins of the book. Mr. Linker worked for First Things from May 2001 through January 2005, first as associate editor and in his last year as editor. He was a speech writer for Rudolph Giuliani when he applied for the position as associate editor. At First Things he was a cooperative colleague and gave no indication that he was not completely supportive of the mission of the magazine. During his years with us, the only policy concern he ever expressed to me was that he thought the magazine should be more critical of U.S. actions in the Middle East. That is a question on which colleagues can and did disagree without personal rancor. In the fall of 2004, he indicated to me that he was weary of the long commute to Connecticut and would like at some point to get a large enough advance for a book so that he could become a full-time writer. I was entirely sympathetic. A few weeks later, he told me he was thinking of writing a book about First Things and its editor in chief. He explained that the book would be a critical appreciation of the achievements of the magazine. I said I would be happy to cooperate with such a project but I didn’t think there would be enough interest in the subject to elicit a large advance from a publisher. Moreover, this would be a first book by a relatively unknown writer. In early December, he told me that several publishers had indicated intense interest in the book he was proposing and that Doubleday had offered an advance of $160,000. He wanted to leave at the beginning of 2005 to start writing. Surprised but pleased by his good fortune, I congratulated him and renewed my offer to be of assistance with the book. I then said it might be helpful in that connection if I could see the proposal he had submitted to publishers. At this he blanched and, with obvious embarrassment, said that would not be possible. This was the first indication that he had agreed to write what in the publishing business is known as an attack book, which, unfortunately, is the genre to which The Theocons belongs.
Some studies say 30 to 35 percent, others say 40 percent, of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic. Father Thomas Rausch of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles buys the higher figure in an informative article on Ecumenism for America’s Hispanic Christians. Slightly more than 70 percent of Latinos in this country are Catholic, and 77 percent of the others are Protestant of one kind or another, mainly evangelical and Pentecostal. The Catholic percentage drops with second-and third-generation immigrants, as does the number affiliated with any Christian community. Nonetheless, because of high birth rates and continued immigration, the number of Latino Catholics continues to grow in absolute terms. Rausch writes, Ecumenism begins with friendship, and laments the fact that Catholic and non-Catholic religious leaders do not know one another and do not work together in pressing publicly the social and moral issues on which they are, for the most part, in agreement. Of course, as Rausch notes, there is a long history of mutual antagonism between Catholics and Protestants that is rooted in centuries of Latin American history. Important in this connection, however, is the fact that many evangelicals and Pentecostals do not identify themselves by reference to the sixteenth-century conflicts, which makes ecumenism in this context different from theological dialogues with, for instance, Lutheran or Reformed Christians. A major problem in these newer non-Catholic movements is a lack of education in theology and Christian history. Rausch writes, Though Latinos presently account for about 13 percent of the U.S. population, only 2.5 percent of divinity students across the country are Hispanic/Latino. Rausch observes, approvingly, that Catholic bishops have been in the forefront of advocating a more open immigration policy, while Latino ministries are less accommodating to those here illegally, counseling them to obey U.S. immigration law. This deserves further exploration.