Since you asked, last Friday's 222nd Annual Dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick was a memorable occasion. It's a black tie affair with several thousand men (it is the sons of St. Patrick, after all) packed into the main ballroom of the Sheraton Towers, a few of us being honorary Irishmen for the day.
Cardinal Egan was there, of course, as were Mayor Bloomberg and other dignitaries. It must be a burden to sit through three to four hour formal dinners several nights a week, but maybe not. It's a time for informal schmoozing, and maybe a little meditation while the speeches go on, and on. Bloomberg received a bigger ovation than Egan, but former mayor Eddie Koch bested them both. I doubt if Egan minded; he's not running for anything.
Some while back in FIRST THINGS I wrote about a huge bash celebrating Abe Foxman of the ADL at the Waldorf Astoria. I expect there was more money there than at the Friendly Sons, at least the conspicuously monied were more on display, along with show-biz celebrities. But an air of foreboding hung over that affair. Before we got to the first course, there were two hours of documentary clips about the Holocaust, and repeated reminders that it could all happen again if people did not generously support ADL's relentless war against anti-Semitism.
Both dinners, that of the ADL and that of the Friendly Sons, were intended to celebrate an immigrant struggle vindicated by success and prosperity. The felt difference between the events is that the Jews were sure they had arrived but worried about how long it would last, while the Irish, still feeling freshly arrived, were less certain about flaunting their influence beyond tribal boundaries.
Senator John McCain was the main speaker last Friday. He needs some help. He started out on the wrong foot by making a point of his being a Scotsman, although ancestors passed through Ireland on their way to putting down roots in America in the early 18th century. In getting to his main point about welcoming undocumented immigrants from Latin America today, we were informed that his distinguished family of admirals, generals, judges, and people of sundry other distinctions had welcomed earlier immigrants, such as the Irish, giving them a chance to get their hands on "the bottom rung of the ladder" of the American dream. He probably didn't mean it quite this way, but he came across as saying that, since we authentic Americans let you Irish get your hands on the bottom rung, you should give the Mexicans their chance at it.
There was audible hissing at points during his talk, but his patriotic peroration brought the crowd to their feet. McCain is, of course, a war hero, and he reminded the audience that more Irish had won the Medal of Honor than any other ethnic group. Apparently, everybody there already knew that, but they liked being reminded.
It was, all in all, an interesting evening. And I was glad to meet the many FIRST THINGS subscribers who introduced themselves. Impressive also were the number of men who told me about their work with inner-city schools and other church-related good causes. In his opening remarks, Alfred E. Smith IV, the great-grandson of the 1928 presidential candidate, explained that the "friendly" in the Friendly Sons originally meant charitable. That, too.
Allan Carlson has for years been leading the cause for the "family wage." It is a cause that has deep roots in Catholic social doctrine and also in an older "progressive" tradition in American politics. Teddy Roosevelt is, in this connection, one of Carlson's heroes. In this reflection in The Weekly Standard, Carlson examines the ways in which corporate America conspires (for lack of a better term) to force women into the labor force, with the predictable consequence of sharply reducing the number of children married couples have.
Up until quite recently, Carlson notes, the Democrats were much more family-friendly than the Republicans. Then Reagan embraced the "family issues," which contributed powerfully to producing "Reagan Democrats," but neither he nor other Republican leaders have been prepared to follow through on the policy implications of that embrace. Carlson writes:
Moreover, when push comes to shove, social conservatives remain second class citizens under the Republican tent. During the 2004 Republican convention, they were virtually confined to the party's attic, kept off the main stage, treated like slightly lunatic children. Republican lobbyist Michael Scanlon's infamous candid comment--"The wackos get their information [from] the Christian right [and] Christian radio"--suggests a common opinion among the dominant "K Street" Republicans toward their coalition allies.
Contemporary Republican leaders need to do better--much better--toward social conservatives. They must creatively address pressing new family issues centered on debt burden. And they must learn to say "no" sometimes to Wall Street, lest they squander the revolutionary political legacy of Ronald Reagan.
I'm not persuaded that Carlson has the whole story. But he raises important questions about the politics and policies of those who purport to be "family friendly."
The Catholic teaching on ordaining women as priests is really very modest. The teaching is that the sacraments are instituted by Christ and are not the property of church authority to revise according to our preferences. The Church cannot ordain women because she is not authorized to do so. One might add that, even if there were a doubt about it, the Church cannot ordain in doubt, for that would have the inevitable consequence of throwing the entire sacramental order into doubt.
Yet there are Catholics who continue to agitate for the ordination of women, claiming among other things, that it would resolve the problem of the priest shortage. In that connection, a recent report from the Episcopal Church is of interest.
According to Alan F. Blanchard, in Clergy Wellness and the Stewardship of Abundance, recently released by the Church Pension Fund of the Episcopal Church, the number of young men being ordained has plummeted more than 90%-- from an average of 278 a year in the 1960s to 25 a year since 2000, while the number of older men is fairly steady. Younger women represent a small fraction of ordinations, and their number has dropped substantially since the 1980s. Women over 35 filled the ranks in substantial numbers after ordination for women was approved in 1976, averting a critical shortfall in qualified clergy.
Were, per impossible, the Catholic Church to ordain women, it seems likely that in a generation or so the majority of priests would be middle-aged and elderly women. It has not escaped the notice of many that the feminization of the Church, with the consequent alienation of male leadership, is already evident in parishes where a host of female altar servers and "extraordinary" eucharistic ministers surround a priest who looks rather out of place at a rite of the women's sodality.
Despite all, on this score and others, we can be confident that the Catholic Church is not going to follow the lead of Episcopalians in progressing into oblivion. The encouraging, if still inadequate, increase in the number of men responding to the priestly vocation in recent years is cause for hope, especially because, with exceptions, they are men who seem to understand that ministry is in service to Christ and not to the engineering of a religious society according to current fashion.
In addition to which:
In the April issue of FIRST THINGS, two seminary professors explain why the question of homosexuality and the priesthood goes far beyond concerns about sex abuse, as important as those concerns are. Father Guy Mansini of St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana and Lawrence Welch of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis write: "There are serious implications to the attempt by some commentators to interpret the recent instruction [from Rome] as being concerned primarily with self-definition. There are implications for the morality of homosexual acts. There are implications for the psycho-physico-spiritual unity of man. There are implications for the theology of holy orders. And there are implications for marriage. All these implications are contrary to the established, universal, and constant teaching and practice of the Church." Isn't it time for you to become a subscriber to FIRST THINGS?
Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School says of Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth:
"The author of The Catholic Moment has done it again. From its opening meditation on the death of the Pope that Neuhaus was one of the first to call 'the Great,' to the closing notes on the conclave that elected Benedict XVI, this beguiling book brings the reader into conversation on the current state of the Church with one of the great Catholic thinkers of our time. No one is better than Father Neuhaus at reminding us why, even in times of confusion and controversy, it's a joy to be Catholic!"
The book can be ordered from Amazon here.