Treason of the Clerisy

I foresee churches with their Jesuit bureaucrats open daily from 9-5, closed on weekends.
                                                       Georges Bernanos

Jesuits are blameless here but the point stands. The debacle at Our Saviour is a symptom of bureaucratic conditions more critical than any clash of taste in church décor. Umbrage over “the integrity of the art” is a red herring. If that were the essential factor, this would be a minor local foofaraw. But it is not minor; and the breach of trust on display extends beyond locale to the temper of our clerical bureaucracy itself.

Gustave Doré. Illustration for Gargantua by Rabelais. (19 C.)

At its simplest level, the stripping of the icons is a case study in pastoral stupidity. One pastor’s distaste for his predecessor’s design decisions is no basis to eliminate elements that contributed to revival of a once-failing parish. No sensible steward destroys the heart of the renascence with which he has been entrusted. Those icons were sign and symbol of that very rebirth craved by the New Evangelization.

This disaster cannot be neatly shoehorned into the confines of rivalry between traditionalists and modernizers. Fr. Rutler introduced a Latin Mass into the parish schedule, but he himself presided at the Novus Ordo. And he never used his prerogatives to move the free-standing altar back to its original position against the east wall of the sanctuary. Ideology rears its ugly head largely in the fact that the two parishes to which Fr. Rutler was reassigned—pastor of one, administrator of the other—were slated for closure within a year of his arrival.

Nothing explains Fr. Robbins’ behavior, or supposed archdiocesan ignorance of it, except institutional rot. This is an instance of clerical corruption, a fiduciary and ethical betrayal. The treason of the clerisy is an assault on the integrity of those moral ideals they are pledged to preserve. It is an assault on their own calling and on our fidelity to it.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Pissing on the Moon (16th C). Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp.

In many respects, this havoc is a reprise of last year’s Michael Hull affair. Think back. Msgr. Hull misspent parish funds on a palatial renovation of his rectory only to go AWOL with a young intern at the newly created Sheen Center. Now married, he is a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Once the darling of Cardinal Egan, Hull was sheltered behind institutional silence. No word of his canonical status appeared in letters to priests or in Catholic New York, the archdiocesan house organ. (The omission was unprecedented, according to a diocesan priest.)

One high profile crack-up might be taken as an anomalous burst of opéra bouffe. A second, more virulent one, following on its heels raises worry of a pattern. How many other pastors are playing fast and loose with parish funds for the sake of power or creature comforts?

Ambroglio Lorenzetti. Avarice, detail from Allegory of Bad Government (14th C.) Palazzo Publica, Siena.

The turmoil at Our Saviour’s is neatly summarized by an open letter circulating by a prominent layman and philanthropist. It reads in part:

Father Rutler turned a bankrupt and virtually empty church into a world-famous spiritual center, paid off the mortgage and long-standing debts, virtually rebuilt the infrastructure and exterior walls and roof, installed a magnificent new organ and many other improvements (and left well over 2 million dollars in the bank) and did much of the interior painting, gold leafing and decorating himself (he never takes a vacation) and produced a record number of candidates for the priesthood.

The author does not mention that the cost of the icons and their installation was met by two major private donations. These were gifts, not a drain on parish funds. The letter continues:

Father Robbins is on vacation in his villa in the opulent Hamptons. In less than two years, Rutler's successor, Father Robbins, has dismantled much of the interior of the church, alienated most of the parishioners, and nearly bankrupted the parish, spending vast sums on virtually reconstructing the plain but comfortable rectory (where Father Rutler happily hosted as guest Cardinals and other prelates and distinguished laypeople) - but which Father Robbins told people was a “slum” - so that the rectory is now a luxurious home for Father Robbins and his organist who also resides there.

Note the excess of two million dollars depleted in less than two years by Fr. Rutler’s successor. That kind of money does not go unnoticed by the chancery. Yet in a meeting with a representative of Archbishop Dolan earlier this week, artist Ken Woo was told that this was new news—a totally unexpected revelation—at the chancery. Woo was instructed to say nothing more about the discussion.

The chancery’s innocent ear is as believable as President Obama’s claims that he never heard about this-or-that crisis until he read it in the newspapers. Equally preposterous is the imposed gag order, redolent of the secrecy and dissembling of power politics.

Edme-Gustave Brun. God Rewards His Own (1874). Musée des Beaux Arts, Dôle, France.

By law, any capital improvement costing more than $30K has to be approved by the archdiocese. The COS rectory, gutted to its shell, rebuilt and redecorated over the course of one year, ran significantly over the discretionary limit. Either Robbins did not disclose the amounts—in which case disciplinary action is in order—or the archdiocese approved. One way or the other, this is a scandal of prodigality and, it would seem, complicity. (A blind eye is a species of collusion.)

And the live-in organist? Rumors of domestic partnership have been loud and angry enough to have reached the chancery. They were sufficiently vocal to cause Fr. Robbins to complain from the pulpit about attacks from parishioners. It is an easy bet more than one of these “attacks” were forwarded to the archdiocese. If they are unfounded slanders, the chancery should say so.

The philanthropist’s letter concludes:

. . . but the mystery is why Cardinal Dolan favors and promotes him [Robbins}. If Cardinal Dolan does not intervene to stop this literal iconoclasm, the real guilt is his. As a layman of many years, active on the boards of several charities, I am beyond being scandalized by some of the things I see in the Church and especially here in New York, whose archdiocese is shrinking as fast as the city is expanding and thriving, but I am quite bewildered to explain this.

Francesco Bartolozzi. The Alderman's Dinner (18th C). Guildhall, Southampton, NY.


tuart Chessman, on his lovely weblog at St. Hugh of Cluny, has the single most incisive commentary from an architectural/historic standpoint. [I learned Fr. Rutler is not guilty of those gingerbread Stations of the Cross. Carved versions of cut-paper silhouettes, they pre-dated his tenure. They could have gone.] Chessman’s July 22nd posting examines Fr. Robbins' frail apologia for the remodeling, and closes with this:

It is an indictment of the organization and management of the Roman Catholic Church that entirely optional and decorative projects like this are cleared based exclusively on the decision of the pastor. This, at a time when so many Catholics are losing their own parishes allegedly because of financial difficulties of the Archdiocese. . . . We know of other, very recent abuses of clerical power in this region. With such clericalism the Catholic Church is only continuing the long-term process of digging its own grave.

Digging its own grave. Just so. In his 1985 Report, then-Cardinal Ratzinger deplored a “hedonistic and cynical upper bourgeoisie.” He might have been describing a class of ecclesiastics.

Vandalism With Intent

Something unedifying is under way at the Church of Our Saviour, on lower Park Avenue in Manhattan. This alert from a knowledgeable source came Tuesday morning and has been circulating:

I am informed that having [been] officially appointed Pastor of COS, Father Robbins is in the process of removing the other icons and also wants to remove the large Pantocrator. The demolition is in process, and the intention is to finish it before anyone can protest. So immediate action is needed. The Cardinal must be flooded with messages, and there should be notice on as many liturgical/arts websites as possible. Any delay will be too late.

For those of you unfamiliar with the backstory:

Fr. George Rutler was pastor of Our Saviour from 2001 until he was transferred in 2013 across town to St. Michael’s, a less prominent location. In the twelve years of his service to COS, he proved himself a gracious and effective steward. He reversed the parish’s decline, eliminated its debts, enlarged and revivified the congregation. Most visibly, he renovated the church building with great sensitivity.

View of the renovated sanctuary as it stood when Fr. Rutler left Church of Our Savior.

The cornerstone of that renovation was the suite of contemporary icons that graced the sanctuary. Ken Woo’s stunning magnification of Christ Pantocrator (based on the original in St. Catherine’s, Sinai) was a technical tour de force that presided in triumph within the architecture of the sanctuary. In concert with a series of icons of individual saints on four enveloping pilasters, the Pantocrator set a tone of majesty.

And the ensemble was gorgeous. The gilding, the patterning of costumes, the hieratic gestures—the sum of this lovely assembly of panels conspired in drawing attention toward the high altar. Far from diminishing the altar, the splendor of the surround ennobled it. Woo’s icons were not conceived to function as separate decorative entities. They were meant to function together as an atmospheric unit. And they did, until Fr. Rutler was reassigned and Fr. Robert Robbins took over.

The new pastor began his tenure by making liturgical changes and, to the dismay of parishoners, by removing fourteen of the most prominent icons. In a gesture mimicking the iconoclasm of sixteenth century Reformers, the denuded pillars were white washed. On Tuesday we learned that the remaining ones, included the magnificent Pantocrator, are slated for eviction. Why? Is Fr. Robbins acting on his own initiative or at the behest of higher-ups? Certainly, a pastor has both his druthers and his prerogatives. But the severity—the totality—of this de-adornment gives off an odor of reprisal. It is hard not to sense malice at work. Whose? To what end?

The foremost pilasters denuded.

Last August, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf—our online Fr. Z—articulated what Catholics familiar with the situation were thinking: that this was not a renovation at all but an ideological move. Fr. Z wrote:

What’s going on there? Is this “Get Rutler!” time in NYC? Deface Rutler’s work at Our Saviour? Slate St. Michael’s and Holy Innocents for closure a year after he arrives? By next year he’ll be pastor of a cardboard box over a grate near the Hudson.

Suddenly, the erasure is worsening. A company named Renovato Studios has been contracted to remove the remaining icons, including—according to reliable voices—the great Pantocrator. This latest move follows on the heels of Rutler’s essay “The Pope’s Off the Cuff Remarks in Turin” appearing in Crisis on June 30th. The essay took issue with Pope Francis’ impromptu aim at the weapons industry in what read as a naïve replay of Dwight Eisenhower’s famous 1961 warning against the military-industrial complex. Rutler wrote:

The Pope’s comments did not engage the issue with the perspicacity and experience of Ike who seldom spoke off the cuff. Inasmuch as papal guards carry Glocks and Sig 552’s, the earnest Pope knows that weapons are necessary. The problem is that he called those who manufacture them un-Christian.

Ken Woo. St. Chrysostom. Among the first panels to be removed.

Having written a book on the moral reasoning behind military actions in the Second World War, Rutler knows considerably more about the issue of arms than does Francis. In a deft marriage of courtesy and rebuttal, he underscored Francis’ deficit:

As for the hypocrisy of those who invest in such manufactures, that would seem to be an unqualified criticism of a large number of investors in a complicated and interlocking world of investments. For example, the Pietro Beretta Company, which is the largest arms manufacturer in the world, is now controlled by the Beretta Holding S.p.A. It is also probably the oldest. The Republic of Venice, in consort with Pope St. Pius V contracted the company to provide the arquebuses that helped to defeat the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. One was used to shoot Ali Pasha. During his reign (1823-1829), the della Genga pope Leo XII, enlarged the papal artillery and, a skilled marksman himself, often relaxed by shooting birds in his gardens.

The essay puts paid to simplistic indictments of Allied actions based on superficial understanding. It deserves to be read in full. Read it for its intelligence; and also for the illustration it offers of why a priest like Fr. Rutler might run afoul of establishment progressives. Was his unapologetic conservatism a thorn in the side of the archdiocese and, possibly, beyond? Impossible to say. But this gratuitous vandalism at Our Savior is not a small thing.

Here, with the white washed columns after the first round of removals.

And it is not about Ken Woo or the imagined “moral rights” of an artist, however sympathetic. Woo was paid for his work just as Richard Serra was paid for the popularly rejected Tilted Arc. Neither is it an issue of the award-winning status of the icons. Aesthetics is a secondary matter here. No, above all else, this is about what appears—on its face—to be a calculated effort to delete evidence of a particular priest’s presence in a place that he served and transformed.

Fr. Rutler drew congregants to a house of worship that was a model of prayerful decorum, an oasis in a debased liturgical climate. That, in addition to conservative sensibilities and candor in expressing them, can raise hackles in some quarters.

Ken Woo. Christ Pantocrator in situ behind the altar.

Our Saviour’s website devotes a page to the church’s tabernacle and the sanctuary marble (“quarried in Pakistan near the Vale of Kashmir, a focal point of the war in which our nation is now engaged”). But nothing is said about major elements added during Fr. Rutler’s term. You have to enter Ken Woo’s name into the site’s search function to find any reference to the commission. No image of the interior appears on site. A small reproduction of the original Sinai panel floats free on the page, but there is no image of the artist's enlarged version installed in the sanctuary.

Physical evidence of Fr. Rutler’s tenure is being erased in the fashion of Soviet-style historiography. This is not remodeling. This is hierarchical politics on display. Nicholas Frankovich, writing for First Things, named it seven months ago in his essay “This is What Clericalism Looks Like.” The most instructive commentary to date on the lamentable destruction, it closed with this:

All sensible Catholics join the pope in deploring clericalism, but definitions of it are necessarily broad. We also need descriptions of it. Its faces are many. This is one of them.

The hope, now, is simply to save the Pantocrator. Interested readers can reach the chancery by email: or by phone: 212.371.1011 Ext 2935. Letters marked “Personal and Confidential” can be sent to His Eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 1011 First Avenue, New York 10022.

Indulgences: Counted & Forfeited

I counted indulgences when I was a child. Quite likely, some of you did the same, though maybe not as fastidiously as I did. Every First Friday and First Saturday, there I was indemnifying myself against the wages of sin. My insurance agent was St. Helena’s Church on Olmstead Avenue alongside the IRT Pelham Line; my carrier, Catholic devotions in all their gaudy splendor.

Heinrich Voghherr. A Preacher Reading Out an Indulgence (16th C).

Sparkhill Dominicans assured me His eye was on the sparrow. But that was no guarantee it was on a latchkey kid in the Bronx. Lest the Creator of all things visible and invisible be preoccupied elsewhere, I kept a ledger for tallying up my earned assets. (Just in case He lost track and needed a reminder.) It was one of those black-and-white marbled Mead composition books that had been a staple of classroom technology in the analog days.

Like any childhood game, my variant of double-entry bookkeeping was played in earnest. Saturday afternoon confession took care of the debit side. My little ledger memorialized the credit side. Pages were ruled in half to make two columns. I pored over them both: one for partial indulgences, the other—marked in the margin with a star—for plenaries. It added up to an enviable reckoning.

Five years for every Apostles Creed; three years for each Act of Faith, Hope, Love and Contrition. (That last was a favorite back then. Still is.) The Angelus, though, defeated me. What was a ten-year rebate against eternity? That was not sufficient motivation for the job of reciting it three times a day. At dawn, I was still asleep; at noon, in school; eventide was time for Black Beauty or Heidi. So you can see how impossible it would have been to try for a plenary indulgence by saying the Angelus every day for a whole month.

Albrecht Durer. The Lamb of God from the Apocalypse suite (1508).

The Memorare came more easily. It brought only a three year indulgence for hit-or-miss recitations but promised a full reprieve if recited daily for a month. That I could do. Quite a few gold stars racked up next to entries for the Memorare. All the approved litanies were another good investment: seven years for the Holy Name of Jesus, seven for the Blessed Virgin Mary; five for St. Joseph. (Only five? There began my sympathy for the underdog.)

Lent and Advent were a time to luxuriate in a riot of penances. The Forty Hours Devotion was a carousel that spun from St. Helena’s to St. Raymond’s, on to St. Mary Star of the Sea, and back again. Trekking across neighborhoods from one church to the next, a brass ring in view, absorbed the loneliness of a solitary child.

Indulgences accumulated. Years of remission turned into centuries. If my ledger was telling the truth, my collected IOUs stretched into the eons. It was a cache that no one person could ever empty. No glutton, I began signing them over in secret to other people, bequeathing them where they might be in demand.

Grandpa Powey was old. He would be needing them soon. Grandpa Harry was not Catholic so he probably really required some. Did anyone bother about Crazy Aunt Mary who kept a kitchen knife in her bedroom? No doubt she could use an indulgence or two. On it went. My philanthropy was as exhilarating as delinquency.

Inexorable and merciless as the tides, the sins of childhood slowly receded. The sins of an adult advanced. The Cross lengthened with them; it grew larger and blistering hot. Incandescent, it scorched my ledger to ash. The soul’s green eyeshades fell away. I stopped counting.

It has been years since I remembered my childish account book. It came to mind yesterday during the Missa Cantata of a newly ordained young priest. After Mass, the priest invited the congregation to come forward and kneel for his first blessing. It is a gracious ritual. There is something in the laying on of hands that reaches to the marrow, touches the blood. 

Fr. Sean Connolly bestowing his first blessing to the Latin Mass congregation in Sleepy Hollow, NY.

The blessing ends with the congregant kissing the priest’s consecrated fingers. On queue to the altar, a shadow fell; something in me balked. I could not do it. I stepped suddenly off the line. Might I accept his blessing without kissing his hands? For reasons too many and too dense to explain in this context, the kiss would have been dishonest—a fraud enacted in display of a piety that I neither felt nor assented to.

I brought my question to a second priest standing in choir. Yes, it was permissible to kneel for the blessing yet omit the kiss. No slight to the priest was involved. But, he reminded, an indulgence attaches to the kiss. That would be forfeited without it.

Adult sins have consequences felt in the lives of other people. It is rash, unfitting, to presume to erase consequence to ourselves when we cannot, in charity, undo the realities of cause and effect. We will be judged in relationship to Christ, to Him Whom we meet—fail to meet or wound—in others. Those failures stand and others' wounds still bleed, no matter the total of indulgences.

This was a forfeiture I owed.

Note: My apologies for turning Ben Franklin into Little Richard in the previous post. (All fixed.) There is no copy editor here. I rely on the line-item kindness of readers.

Notes on the Vatican Climate

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.
                                                                        —Daniel J. Boorstin

“Religions die.” Those two words open Philip Jenkins’ The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died. It is a stark beginning. We prefer to keep our eyes on the West’s relics of a not-so-distant Christendom and avoid the sweep of Christian history filled with reminders of the transience of human affairs.

Jenkins’ book turns attention back to the catastrophes and extinctions that brought ruin to ancient Christian communities. For those who believe, as Christians do, that God speaks through history, these annihilations are tidings. But of what? Remembrance is the axis of discernment:

Losing the ancient churches is one thing, but losing their memory and experience so utterly is a disaster scarcely less damaging. To break the silence [of God], we need to recover those memories, to restore that history.

Mazarine Master. Sassanian King Shapur II Persecuting Christians (15th C.) Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

On the face of it, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber’s appointment to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is incomprehensible. We can only make sense of it if we ask ourselves an unwelcome question: Is the Academy risking—if not engaged in—guerilla war against the pro-life movement?

The sole scientist participating in the unveiling of Laudato Si, Schellnhuber is a member of the Club of Rome, an international clique of Malthusian alarmists. (Obama’s advisor John Holdren is a former member.) Acolyte of Gaia and a darling of George Soros, Schellnhuber is a zealous promoter of the theory of man-made climate change and advocate of population control.

He has lobbied for an Earth Constitution to replace national constitutions and the UN Charter. He seeks creation of a Global Council, and establishment of a Planetary Court. This last would be a transnational legal body with enforcement powers on environmental and population issues. Everywhere. [Not without cause does Czech physicist Lubos Motl label him “a doomsday crackpot who calls himself a physicist.”] In short, as I wrote for The Federalist, Schellnhuber is the Vatican’s advance man for bureaucratic tyranny on a global scale. His appointment is as contradictory as it is ominous. The “global regulatory frameworks” desired by Laudato Si will crush orthodoxy without scruple when it suits.

Notwithstanding the encyclical’s affirmation of the Church’s traditional position on abortion, elevation of Schellnhuber saps—subverts—the pro-life movement. Vatican confederacy with highly placed population control sages and bureaucrats negates the very thing that Laudato Si affirms. Joel Kotkin, writing on The Daily Beast, put it well: 

It is dubious that the Church's credibility will be well served by a neo-feudal alliance dominated by those who abhor the Church's other core values.

Add Vatican courtship of Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and we are through the looking glass. Klein is a pro-abortion, anti-corporate, anti-free enterprise agitator with no expertise in science or economics. Her credential is the ideological bias that brought her to Liberty Plaza in 2011 to address her soul mates in Occupy Wall Street. “I love you,” she shouted to the crowd. “Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is the most important thing in the world.” Now she is a Vatican-ordained evangelist for our evolving green Church and its vision of a this-time-sustainable Eden.

Among several cherished mottoes at my house is a venerable bit of street wisdom: “Lie down with dirty dogs, you get up with fleas.” Usually attributed to Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, it is also believed, in some corners, to date back to Seneca who might have said it this way, if he said it at all: Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent. Pick the English vernacular or the Latin. Either way, the dictum is eternally applicable to machine politics, whether in Vatican City or Brooklyn Borough Hall. 

Green ambition aligns the Vatican with such eco-thinkers as Jonathan Porritt, environmental advisor to Prince Charles. Porritt recommends that Britain work to halve its population as a means of emissions reduction. Having more than one child—if that—is irresponsible. Also among the Vatican's new friends will be Peter Kareiva, head scientist for the Nature Conservatory. He caps Francis' caution against breeding like rabbits with an insistence that the best way for those in the First World to reduce emissions is not to have children at all. 

Whether the smoke of Satan or the ghost of Deng Xiaoping, something dark hovers.

Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. Gambling Dogs (early 1900's). Private Collection.

Catholics are neither accustomed nor disposed to resisting their pope. We incline toward a code of obeisance that permits criticism aimed in all directions but one. It is permissible to fire at advisors, courtiers, and apologists—the attendant lot of ambitious retainers that buffer the crowned head from challenge. But toward the sovereign himself, politesse is mandatory. And comfortable.

For some, this is a practical matter. Careers are at stake within the Church bureaucracy, its corresponding network of lay satellites, and the Catholic commentariat. Nevertheless, the greater part of reluctance to demur, let alone oppose papal behavior and utterance, is respect for office. But if a man strays from the contours of his office—bends magisterial capacity to purposes for which it is not intended—what then is tact? 

How do we distinguish between the office and the office holder? Is it wise to try? Might effort at distinction be little more than a shield against the inadmissible? William Butler Yeats offered an answer posed as another question. “Among School Children” closes with the words: How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Hans Holbein the Younger. Danse Macabre (16th C).

Note: It is Poor Richard's Almanack, as every school child knows. All fixed now.

Tabloid Climatology

When did the online weather report become so rococo and alarmist? It was not until the ornate graphics reached critical mass that I started paying attention to the content’s mission creep. Garish and over-elaborate, has swollen into the Gospel of Extreme Weather.

The weekend began with Extreme Weather Events Will Be ‘Beyond Comprehension' in Decades. READ THE STORY. Saturday’s forecast for my zip code huddled in the lower left corner of a blazing header that screamed: 20% of Bangladesh Could Be Lost to the Sea. READ MORE. Sunday brought this: Retired Brigadier General Stephen Cheney: 70% of the Worlds’ Militaries Are Preparing for Climate Change. READ MORE. (Islamist brigades and Soldiers of the Caliphate must be gleeful. But I promise not to digress.) 

Anonymous etching. Storm on Lake Como, Italy (19th C.). Photo: Album/Art Resource NY

All I want when I dial up the Weather Channel is to find out if I need to take an umbrella with me. Will I need a sweater later, or will a long-sleeved shirt be enough? Should I wear into the city my old Arche heels, the pair I save for rain, or can I risk the new ones? Or—worst case—am I going to regret not having bought those cute Kate Spade rubber boots? has outgrown all that. Old time weathercasting has buckled to tabloid climatology. Useful daily data survives largely as a come-on for a more thrilling agenda: Apocalypse watch. You are just looking for the day’s temperature? Armageddon presses its nose to your screen and bangs on the glass with prophecies of ecological end times.

Tex Antoine (d. 1983) with Uncle Wethbee, a staple of NYC weathercasting for nearly three decades.

It is 72° in Weekawken as I write this but that is beside the point. Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation, has the real news: Every Decade We Wait is a Thousand Years of Pain. On the same web page, a smiling woman in a sunny yellow blouse chirps about the onset of Near Record Wind Shear. Day before yesterday typhoon Chan Han was a Fourth of July threat. (It’s Strengthening & We’re Worried About its Path). Now we learn that the unprecedented wind shear reduced Chan Han to a mere tropical storm. But eco-porn addicts need not lose hope. As wind shear ebbs, Chan Han will Strengthen Into a Typhoon again on Sunday or Monday.

Alarms roll in, inexorable as the tide. Here come storm, flood, and earthquake alerts; the multi-state threats; the all-time heat records here, all-time lows there. More Records Broken. Do not forget the hurricanes. They are rare in July but, these days, anything goes. Besides, shark attacks are on the rise. And you know what that means. So stay on your toes: Are You Ready For the Next Storm?

Anonymous. Waterspout (c. 1910). Photo: Adoc-photo.

By the time you’ve scrolled all way down, you need a little relief. Something to celebrate, maybe. Here is an item for you: Upcoming Anniversary of the Devastating 2005 Season. Then there is Heat Drives Man to Song. You can raise a glass to that.

How did naturally occurring weather events and virtually imperceptible, century-scale temperature changes become both so personal and so tied to global political interests? Why has weathercasting become a revival tent for the next Great Awakening?

Francesco Casanova, Storm Scene (18th C.). Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, FR.

Meteorologist Anthony Watts can explain. He is the amperage behind Watts Up With That? a prominent website in the climate debate. Retired after twenty five years in TV broadcasting, Watts continues to work in the field of weather technology, skilled in the measurement, processing, and presentation of weather data. No, he is not an accredited climate scientist. But as he reminds his audience, neither is Al Gore.

You can read his C.V. on his website. What matters here is his clear, technologically informed description of the theater business that weather reportage has become. His essay “Extreme Weather and Global Warming,” appears in Climate Change: The Facts, published this year by the Institute of Public Affairs, Melbourne.

He provides NASA data to illustrate the flaws in global warming claims that derive from the smallest of variances from a baseline period (1950-80) that was the coolest period of global temperature in the twentieth century. For nearly two decades now, there has been a hiatus in temperature rise altogether. Thus, terminology changed from global warming to climate change, then to global climate disruption. a term invented whole cloth by John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Popular belief that extreme weather is happening more frequently, despite data to the contrary, is media-induced. Live broadcasting is invested in emotional appeal, not the dry matter of factual content. Sensationalism sells and is easy to come by:

Weather appears more extreme today, not because it is, but because we hear about it nearly instantly, and such reports saturate the electronic media within minutes of occurrence. . . .
The speed of weather tracking and the communications technology curve aids in our “common perception” of extreme weather events, but the reality [of them] is actually quite different. While we may see more extreme weather on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, that happens only because there are millions more eyes, ears, cameras and networks than ever before.
Extreme weather was always there, but up until recently in human history there was no way to record it and share it quickly . . . within minutes of occurrence.

A 2012 Nature editorial disclaims evidence of a causal relation between between extreme weather and climate:

Better models are needed before exceptional events can be reliably linked to global warming . . . . To make this emerging science of ‘climate attribution’ fit to inform legal and societal decisions will require enormous research effort.

In other words, no matter what you call it—global warming, climate change, or climate disruption—it is, in Watts’ summation, “a dead issue with true science at the moment, and the value of such wild claims trying to link extreme weather with climate exists only as a recruitment tool for climate activists and zealots.”

Watts’ essay makes no mention of the latest encyclical. Still, it raises the specter of a Pontifical Academy of Sciences preferring TV-grade para-science to its mission to honor pure science and ensure its freedom.