Harriet Miers continues to be pilloried by numerous conservatives, and some of them are being quite nasty about it, as Matthew Scully notes on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Scully is the author of Dominion, a book on human responsibility for animals that has received major attention in FIRST THINGS (see "Wild Moralists in the Animal Kingdom," April 2003), and he served for several years as a White House speechwriter, working closely with Miers. After citing some of the put-downs employed by his conservative friends, Scully writes: "Overlooked in all this caviling is the actual ability and character of the person in question. Indeed, about the best quality to recommend Harriet Miers just now is that she is not at all the sort of person who goes about readily and confidently dismissing other people as third-raters, hacks and mediocrities. She has too much class for that." Nor, Scully writes, is Miers likely to be taken in by "news media flattery" that, if she "grows" leftward, the "O'Connor court" could become the "Miers Court." Says Scully, "They can save their catnip for the next nominee." Scully concludes, "Whatever the president's reasons, what America got is a nominee of enormous legal ability and ferocious integrity, and in the bargain a gracious Christian woman only more qualified for her new role because she would never have sought it for herself. And in a few years, when the same critics we hear now are extolling the clarity, consistency and perhaps even the 'brilliance' of judicial opinions, that's when you'll know it's the Miers court." Since it is not likely that Harriet Miers will withdraw or be withdrawn, I sincerely hope that Scully is right.
Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas says the country has "re-engaged with its faith," and notes that "the last time you had this many people of faith coming into the public square and the body politic" was almost a hundred years ago. It is thought that Brownback, an evangelical who entered into full communion with the Catholic Church three years ago, is running for the Republican nomination in 2008. David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times compares his candidacy with the previous efforts of Pat Robertson and John Ashcroft. The Kirkpatrick story is alerting the readers of the New York Times to the arrival of another religious kook in presidential politics, although allowing that "Mr. Brownback has also taken up causes not traditionally associated with conservatives like protecting human rights abroad, providing aid to Africa and building an African-American history museum." So he's a religious kook who, for some inexplicable reason, also supports some causes favored by the New York Times. The paper has not a clue as to why all this sounds so condescendingly silly to people who live outside its parochial little world. Senator Brownback is a bright, personable, and articulate political leader who has earned the great respect of his more thoughtful colleagues. The Republican Party could do a lot worse than have him as its candidate in 2008, and quite possibly will.
Reporting on the Synod of Bishops in Rome, John Allen writes, "If there were to be a serious push for a return to the pre-Vatican II Mass under Benedict XVI, one would have expected it to arise here, at the synod dedicated to the Eucharist." He says the question of the Tridentine or Pius V Mass has been a "non-issue" at the synod. I'm not a big proponent of the Latin Mass, whether in its Tridentine or Novus Ordo form. The current rite, despite its frequently debased English, provides every opportunity for a dignified and solemn celebration. But I don't understand Allen's implying that people were pushing for a "return" to the Tridentine rite. What some people are pushing for is that bishops would be more accommodating in allowing its celebration under the indult granted by John Paul II in 1988. Some bishops, apparently in fear or resentment of those who prefer the "Old Mass," high-handedly forbid it altogether.
Mr. Allen also interviewed Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. bishops conference. Despite his diocese of Spokane being in bankruptcy as a result of sex abuse pay-outs, Skylstad seems to be upbeat about things in general. He defends the high rate of annulments in the U.S. and says our marriage tribunals are something of a model for other countries. He recognizes ecumenical problems but adds, "There are lots of creative things we can do together. When I get home, I'll preach at an ecumenical service." The synod does "feel some urgency to move to greater unity about who we are as faith believers." As he might have added, there are no doubt also those who feel a measure of urgency about what it means to be a faith believer. Some bishops are concerned about the state of liturgy but, says the Skylstad, "I have the sense that the guys in general don't feel that way." On what to do about politicians who defy the Church's moral teaching: "I think the vast majority would like to approach this from the point of view of catechesis and dialogue rather than coming down in a harsh way. It's a very difficult question, of how to make your personal belief and the teaching of the Church consistent with your public role. We need to dialogue about this, and address it." With a strategy that combines dialogue and addressing it, the bishops may be on the way to a resolution. Bishop Skylstad is in favor of meetings. "We recently had Father Ron Rolheiser in Spokane, who pointed out that the Holy Spirit actually came for the first time in a meeting, meaning the gathering of the disciples in the upper room, so I'm hopeful." Of the synod, he says, "There's a collective wisdom that occurs when a group comes together." Wherever wisdom occurs, collective or otherwise, attention must be paid. The occurrence of wisdom is, after all, a rare thing. As to whether it is occurring at this meeting in Rome we will have to, on the evidence of this interview, take the bishop's word for it.