So, will there be further installments of this running commentary, Scandal Time IV through XIV, ad infinitum? Maybe not. After the Dallas meeting of bishops, some believe that while the fire is not extinguished, it appears to be contained. Dallas was about many things—there were moving, even inspiring, moments, and occasional hints of something like renewal—but the meeting was chiefly about damage control. By that measure it may be judged a limited success. If that turns out to the case, it is no little achievement. Although, as we shall see, it might have been purchased at the price of things more important than damage control.
The fire that prompted the bishops to action was a conflagration of ugly publicity, a media blitz of unprecedented intensity in American religious history and with few parallels in other aspects of our national life. Back in April, during Holy Week and at the height of the firestorm, a reporter with a national paper asked me in obviously innocent puzzlement, “We did Watergate and Nixon fell, we did Enron and it fell, how come the Church is still standing?” The question reflects the touching self-importance of the media, and their not so touching ignorance of the nature of the Church. Let it be said, though, that many bishops were as terrified by the media as the media thought they should be. And maybe it is just as well that they were. Otherwise, Dallas would not have happened, and, all in all, it was necessary that Dallas happen.
It was humiliating, of course, to see the solemn assembly of bishops, archbishops, and cardinals jumping through the hoops and slithering under the bars held by the media ringmasters. Dallas was a classic instance of what social scientists call the rituals of self-denigration. Almost three hundred bishops sat in mandatory docility as they were sternly reproached by knowing psychologists, angry spokespersons for millions of presumably angrier lay people, and, above all, by those whom the bishops learned to call, with almost cringing deference, the “victim/survivors.” At times the meeting took on the appearance of a self-criticism session in a Maoist reeducation camp. But it was all in the good cause of finding a way to “move on,” as it is said, from an undoubted catastrophe. It would be cynical to deny that there were signs of deep remorse, contrition, and penitence. There were. Even if it was a bit much to have reporters counting how many bishops shed tears as they listened to the victim/survivors. Tears earned a gold star and welling eyes an honorable mention from the media masters of the rites of self-denigration. Like schoolboys, the bishops anxiously awaited the evening news to find out their grades.
Some bishops chafed under the reproaches and prescribed responses. It is not the way bishops are accustomed to being treated. Some still complain, although privately, that the entire crisis, the Long Lent of 2002, was manufactured by the media and motivated by anti-Catholicism. There is only some truth in that. Without the media there would have been no felt crisis. There is a generous measure of anti-Catholicism in the media, as elsewhere, but without the deeper crisis of the infidelity and negligence of bishops, the media could not have produced the public and, consequently, episcopal sense of crisis. The scandal was in the chanceries, parishes, and seminaries before it was on the front page or television news. Whatever their motivations—and their chief motivation is to attract a paying audience, followed by the winning of journalistic honors—editors and reporters served a higher purpose. It is hardly without precedent that God uses even their enemies to discipline His wayward people. There is Isaiah 10, for instance. “Assyria is the rod of my anger, the staff of my fury,” says the Lord. And so, with Psalm 23 in mind, the bishops should say of the media assault, “Your rod and your staff, they discomfort me.”
It has been said that the aim of good preaching is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Bishops have been anything but comfortable since the scandals went big time with the Boston exposures back in January. The day following the one-sided vote in Dallas on the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” (there were only thirteen nays), the New York Times expressed satisfaction in an editorial titled “Seeking Atonement in Dallas.” The editors opined that the action shows that “the leaders of the American Church are at last ready to confront the extraordinary moral and managerial carelessness that allowed so many abusive priests to flourish for so long at such great cost.” So the bishops earned provisional absolution from the Times.
Of course the vote was the top front-page story for the Times, as for other papers. The Times headline—or, more precisely, subhead—is a classic. “Bishops Set Policy to Remove Priests in Sex Abuse Cases: No Vatican Reply.” The Dallas vote was taken late afternoon when it was early morning in Rome. The first edition of the Times goes to press a little before midnight in New York. “No Vatican Reply.” Presumably the Pope should have been up at two a.m., prepared with an immediate statement upon the Dallas vote. Or maybe the Times was upset that he was not awakened to return their reporter’s phone call. Just who does he think he is? It used to be said that Rome thinks and acts in terms of centuries. Now it is thought to be news when it does not respond in a New York minute. “No Vatican Reply.” File that one for ready reference when the subject turns to media delusions about how history must jump through their hoops.
The No-Mercy Route
On the other hand, there was a curious story in the Times, also on the front page, only two days later. Written by Laurie Goodstein, it worried that the bishops may have been too responsive, that by caving so completely to media pressure they had lost even more of the little moral authority they had left. It used to be, she writes, that the bishops could prophetically challenge popular opinion on questions such as abortion, welfare reform, capital punishment, and foreign policy, but now they are on the run. More important, by caving to demands for “one strike” and “zero tolerance” policies that will remove from ministry faithful priests who did one bad thing thirty years ago and have since had an impeccable record and are clearly no threat to anybody, Dallas may have changed the very self-understanding of the Church.
Goodstein writes: “Ultimately, [the bishops] opted for the no-mercy route despite arguments from some bishops that they should adopt an approach that acknowledges that each case is different, and that some abusers can with therapy be rehabilitated and continue to be of service. They took this step despite dreading that they must now return to their dioceses and tell seventy-year-old Father X that he will have to pack up and leave his parish in shame.” Some bishops have already done that and she notes that in recent months there have been instances when parishioners have rebelled against the removal of beloved pastors. The shaming has had other consequences. “Two priests have committed suicide,” she observes. “There could be more.” Where there is no mercy, there is no hope. I expect Goodstein is not alone among reporters who are surprised and disappointed by the spinelessness of the bishops. After all, they as reporters were just doing their job in applying the pressure. They expected bishops of the Catholic Church to do their job, to respond as bishops. Instead, as Goodstein puts it, there is the perception that they “behaved more like Senators or CEO’s engaged in damage control than as moral teachers engaged in the gospel.”
At least in large part, damage control was achieved, but at an unconscionable price. Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, usually thought to be solidly in the liberal camp of the episcopal conference, spoke up against “zero tolerance.” He pointed out that just last year the bishops issued a statement calling for the rehabilitation of prisoners and advocating “restorative justice.” “Do we advocate this biblical concept for the community at large, but not for our own priests?” he asked. The hall fell silent when the revered Avery Cardinal Dulles moved to the microphone. The proposed charter, he said, “puts a very adversarial relationship between the bishop and the priest. The priest can no longer go to his bishop in confidence with a problem that he has. He has to be very careful what he says to the bishop because the bishop can throw him out of the ministry for his entire life.” The bishops listened respectfully, and rejected his counsel.
Two orthodox stalwarts, Cardinals George of Chicago and Bevilacqua of Philadelphia urged support of the charter, but with heavy hearts. Cardinal Bevilacqua said, “It hurts to say I support zero tolerance. I wish I didn’t have to do that. I wish our circumstances were different. But, at the same time, in our present crisis we must place the common good of our Church first.” With respect, isn’t that the way of thinking that produced the crisis in the first place? The good of the Church was defined in terms of avoiding scandal; thus the pattern of evasion, denial, hush money, and cover-up. It was necessary, it was said, to do some shady things to avoid scandal, all of which resulted in monumental scandal. Now, morally dubious measures are necessary for the good of the Church, in order to put that scandal behind us. The result may be a greater scandal; not, to be sure, in the eyes of the media but in the understanding of those whose chief concern is for the integrity of the Church’s faith and life.
The Word is Scapegoating
Now that the bishops have chosen what Goodstein aptly calls the “no-mercy route,” consider the aforementioned Fr. X. In his opening address at Dallas, Bishop Wilton Gregory said that priests who had ever had even one abusive incident with a minor, even if it was many years past, should tell their bishops. Right. So that the bishop can boot them out of ministry forever. No matter that it was thirty years ago, that he had repented, that by the grace of God his life was put back in order, that he has been for decades a faithful, effective, and beloved priest. Zero tolerance! Out! How many Fr. Xs are there? Now we will almost certainly never know. And that because few will be inclined to volunteer themselves for clerical execution, and that with good reason. They may well tell themselves that they cannot in good conscience be complicit in destroying the ministry they have been given by God and the Church. The bishops have not the authority, they have not the right, to demand that as a price for the public relations advantage of making themselves look tough on sex abuse. Another name for the zero tolerance policy adopted at Dallas is scapegoating.
In setting themselves against their priests, the bishops have turned themselves into assistant district attorneys determined to prove themselves tougher than their bosses. Note what counts as an offense for which a priest is removed from ministry for life. A sexual offense, the charter says, is not “necessarily to be equated with the definitions of sexual abuse or other crimes in civil law.” You think civil law is rigorous? Just wait until you see the gospel at work. Here is the definition of sexual abuse adopted by the bishops: “Sexual abuse includes contacts or interactions between a child and an adult when the child is being used as an object of sexual gratification for the adult. A child is abused whether or not this activity involves explicit force, whether or not it involves genital or physical contact, whether or not it is initiated by the child, and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome.”
There need be no fondling, no pinch, no touch, no words, no discernible harm. Indeed, it would seem that the “victim” need not even be aware that he or she was the object of abuse. The priest falls into erotic musing as an attractive sixteen-year-old passes by, and receives a measure of sexual gratification. Jesus called it committing adultery in the heart, a sin Jimmy Carter famously confessed in a Playboy interview many years ago. A good thing Mr. Carter did not want to be a priest. After the vote some bishops said that everything was so rushed and they did not know the definition of abuse was so loose and potentially abusive of priests. You voted for it, sir. You voted to make it mandatory, with absolutely no exceptions, that a priest be excluded forever from ministry for anything that might fall within the above definition of a sexual offense. This is not for “the good of the Church.” This has nothing to do with “the protection of children and young people.” This is panic, and panic results in recklessness.
This is also among the things that canon law, developed over the centuries, is designed to prevent. Astonishingly, many of the bishops are trained in canon law. Canon lawyers who were not at the epicenter of the panic in Dallas point out that, for all the tough talk, the charter adopted has no juridical force whatever. A priest who is booted under the Dallas dictates could presumably appeal for due process under canon law. In any event, it is confidently asserted, Rome will never give its approval to the charter. The problem is that Rome may take months to respond to Dallas, and meanwhile hundreds of priests may be publicly shamed and exiled from the Church’s ministry. Ah, well, when you’re into scapegoating, you accept that sacrifices must be made. Wasn’t it John F. Kennedy, that fine Catholic, who observed that life is unfair?
Not, of course, that the bishops let themselves off entirely. In the same speech, Bishop Gregory says that any bishop who is guilty of even one offense, no matter how long ago or what his life and ministry have been since, should tell the papal nuncio so that he can report it to Rome. Right. Maybe some bishops will do that, but we will likely never know. Rome, however, is not patient with ploys such as zero tolerance, and will probably tell any such bishop to go back to work and clean up any messes he has made. Having been told by Rome to stay on, it is doubtful that bishops will step down.
But it is objected that a draconian, no mercy, zero tolerance rule is necessary to “protect the children.” That is another untruth added to all the other untruths in this sordid crisis. Let us stipulate that reprehensible things have been done to children and young people. That is heartbreakingly evident to anyone equipped with common sense and a conscience. My point here is that there is not a scintilla of evidence that a person who did a stupidly wicked thing many years ago and is repentant and has rendered decades of faithful service without a hint of suspicion poses any threat whatever to children or anyone else. We used to call that redemption. Such a person is not to be thrown out as an abuser but welcomed as a forgiven sinner to the company of forgiven sinners that is the Church. The bishops are paying a high price for making themselves look good in the eyes of a media that is largely indifferent to the gospel that bishops are to serve. Pity the priests who are on the receiving end of this punitive policy, and their people. But the bishops, too, bear a burden. For instance, wrestling with their consciences about how to square “one strike and you’re out” with the teachings of the One who spoke about forgiving seventy times seven. He did not say to the one who denied him three times, “Sorry, Peter, one strike and you’re out.” The morning after the Dallas vote, all the bishops celebrated Mass. I wonder how many noticed how often the words of the Mass appeal for mercy, declaring our utter dependence upon forgiveness. And if they did, I wonder if they thought about their vote the day before. I hope that at least some of them were worrying that, just maybe, they had tried to save their public relations skins at the price of betraying the gospel.
Sins Against Justice and Mercy
Among the most elementary of elementary rules in every recognized system of justice is that you cannot make laws that apply retroactively. That is precisely what the bishops did in adopting zero tolerance and draconian punishment for vaguely defined incidents not only of the present and future but also of the past. Priests who for years have been thanking God that they are forgiven, healed, and restored to faithful ministry are now told to take back their gratitude. They are instructed that the good of the Church, meaning the public image of the bishops, is not compatible with the gift of redemption. Another elementary rule of justice is the presumption of innocence. Now, it would seem, an accused priest is guilty until proven innocent. The bishops quote the words of the Pope in their April meeting: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” That is certainly true, but is there any credible evidence that this priest would harm the young?
The bishops do not trust themselves to make that judgment because they believe, with reason, that they are not trusted to make that judgment, especially by the media. There was much talk in Dallas about the need to restore trust in the bishops. Abandoning one’s responsibility to make judgments is an odd way of restoring trust in one’s ability to make judgments. The accused are to be peremptorily removed from ministry, with all the public shame attendant upon such removal. The charter considerately adds: “When the accusation has proved to be unfounded, every step possible will be taken to restore the good name of the priest or deacon.” Right. The bishops had a historic opportunity to show, with the whole world watching, how Christians deal with sin and grace, mercy and justice. Sadly, the opportunity was missed. Life provides many occasions when we must deal with offenses and alleged offenses of various kinds, and then we pray that we will sin neither against mercy nor against justice. The bishops in Dallas managed to sin against both.
In an op-ed article in the Times before the Dallas meeting, Cardinal Dulles expressed his hope that Rome would correct mistakes the bishops might make in the “panic” of their reaction to the crisis. It is no secret that some bishops not only share his hope but count on Rome to reject or revise the policies they voted for. The cynical view, unfortunately not entirely without warrant, is that Rome will once again have to take the heat for reining in the American bishops. The bishops can then say that they tried to be tough, determined, and uncompromising, but Rome wouldn’t let them. This line plays to the amusing proposition that the American bishops can and should govern the Church in America without the restraints imposed by Rome, a proposition wondrously vindicated, the jaded might observe, by the current scandals.
The bishops in Dallas called for an end to paying hush money to accusers. Hush money is the somewhat unfair term for out of court settlements that include a confidentiality agreement. In the business, medical, and other worlds, out of court settlements, with or without confidentiality agreements, are a daily routine of American life, and there is a great deal to be said for settling disputes out of court. But now the bishops say there will be no confidentiality agreements, unless the accuser insists upon it. The big losers here are the lawyers who have been “bundling” accusations. Even if they had but the flimsiest evidence, their threat of creating public scandal induced dioceses to pay big money to keep the accusations secret. The bright side, so to speak, of the bishops’ public humiliation may be that the threat will no longer work. A diocese can challenge lawyers to prove their case in court. As for the scandal when the accusation is made public, if you’re already covered with mud one more splattering hardly matters.
Despite elements of evasion, panic, scapegoating, and other desperate efforts to wriggle out of their bad fix, the bishops will not get off scot free. Far from it. They have already suffered severely, and the Church with them. They are not trusted, and they have exacerbated the distrust by making it painfully clear that they do not trust themselves to do the job that bishops are ordained to do, which is to be episcopoi, meaning overseers. They have set up a national, and presumably independent, body to oversee the overseers. The body is headed by Frank Keating, the Catholic governor of Oklahoma. It includes also Robert Bennett, who defended Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair. He knows about sleaze. The board of overseers does not include his brother Bill, perhaps because Bill has publicly called on at least two-thirds of the bishops to resign their offices.
In the second installment of these scandal reflections, I mentioned that I had been told that, before all this is over, there will be bishops in jail. At the time I thought that pretty far out, but I wrote that it seemed ever more possible. Now it seems to be edging up toward probability. It appears that Governor Keating may agree. He writes in an op-ed piece that “where a bishop is found to have provable knowledge of illegal activities committed by a priest under his charge, and where that bishop knowingly covered up such activities, he should also be held legally accountable as an accessory to the crimes involved.” From published accounts and from confidential reports, it would seem that quite a few bishops meet that description. Four bishops have already resigned in scandals involving homosexual activity, and a fifth, my friend James McCarthy, auxiliary bishop of New York, resigned over affairs with women. (“It’s a relief to know that he’s orthodox,” a colleague quipped.) Two-thirds of the 194 ordinaries, or heads of dioceses, are charged in the press with having engaged in some kind of cover-up or complicity in criminal activity. But most of these do not meet the description of miscreance offered by Keating. I would not be surprised if we see more episcopal resignations in the months ahead, with bishops in the dock and a few in jail. It is not a pretty prospect.
A Story That Will Not Die
Yet Dallas was a limited success as an exercise in damage control. One way of understanding what has happened is that the media firestorm was contained. It will continue to smolder, flickering upon each new exposure of clerical abuse, and breaking momentarily into flames if a cardinal archbishop resigns or a bishop goes to jail. But, in this view, there is a natural life cycle of even big stories. The dramatic script or story line of this one has played itself out, or so some believe. It began with scandals in Louisiana in the mid-eighties; it gained momentum, reaching for national play, but then it was aborted, or at least derailed for a time, by the false charges against Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago. It returned in fury with the exposures in Boston last January, reached a crescendo around Holy Week, and resolved into closure, as they say, with the capitulation of the bishops in Dallas. That’s one way of understanding the drama. For obvious reasons, most of the bishops hope it turns out that way.
I expect they will be disappointed. From the media perspective, this story is just too good to let it die. Having the Catholic Church—the oldest and most venerable, the most loved and hated, institution in the world—on the defensive is a journalist’s dream. The opportunity to probe its previously secret inner workings, and to bring into disrepute its moral authority (now portrayed as hypocritical moral pretensions), is simply irresistible. Every issue in the culture wars—most of them tied in one way or another to sex, sex, and sex—is deliciously engaged. In addition, the Catholic Church—unlike other institutions, religious or otherwise—is so very “colorful,” what with popes and miters, saints and incense, exorcisms and miracles, Inquisitions and Crusades, not to mention the enticingly mysterious worlds of monastic vows and the confessional seal. This story has everything—power struggles, conspiracy, holiness, corruption, victims, victimizers, and, of course, sex, sex, and sex. I do not say that all journalists are anti-Catholic. Many of them are not; some of them are deeply devoted to the Church. But all of them are journalists, and journalists love a good story. This is a great, maybe even a historic, story. It is irresistible. They will not let it die.
One angle with rich possibilities is what will be depicted as the conflict between Rome and the American bishops. Admittedly, that’s an old story, but now with the different dimension of a more cautious and even compassionate Rome pitted against bishops determined to prove their toughness by casting priests into the outer darkness. That different way of staging a familiar conflict may be confusing at first and could go in unpredictable directions, but it will be greatly enlivened by the prospect of a conclave and the election of a new pope in the offing. For Americans whose view of the universal Church is a little like that famous New Yorker map of a world dominated by Manhattan, everything happening in Rome will be about scandals here.
The story will be given additional legs as the Dallas charter is implemented and good and beloved priests are removed from ministry. There may be hundreds of such dramas. In many cases, priests will not have to turn themselves in. Their offenses from the distant past are already in the bishop’s files. These dramas are even now being enacted in the press. The depiction of good guy/bad guy pits faithful and popular priest against vindictive and unforgiving bishop. Parishes may rise in rebellion, and some priests will not go gently into the night of banishment. The perception of the Catholic Church might be substantively changed. No longer will the Church be understood as, in James Joyce’s marvelous phrase, “Here comes everybody.” It may come to be seen as a community for people who do not have some awful secret in their past. People burdened with a past may begin to seek out some other church community that, following a venerable precedent, “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
As I say, the possible twists and turns of this story are unpredictable, but the story is not going to go away. In Dallas, following the advice of their hired public relations experts, the bishops capitulated in order to avoid further embarrassment, and the consequence will be greater embarrassment and demands for further capitulation. (Have I mentioned that many bishops are good, devoted, and honorable men? Let the record so show. Although it is rather beside the point.) The bishops assiduously avoided any mention of the H-word, and that may have been prudent. There may be oblique reference to the problem in the charter’s words on seminaries and priestly formation, but the bishops knew that the H-word is a media H-bomb, and they cringed at the thought of the almost certain headline if they had used it: “Bishops Mandate Witch-hunt Against Gays.” Undoubtedly, they are all keenly aware that homosexuality in the priesthood is, as Mary Eberstadt put it in her much-discussed Weekly Standard article, “the elephant in the sacristy.” Most reporters don’t want to mention it. Others almost dare the bishops to mention it and thereby detonate the charge of homophobia. But it seems the policy at present is to tiptoe around the elephant in the hope that it will go away. One may be permitted to doubt that the elephant will be so accommodating.
I have said it so often on television, radio, and in print that I begin to sound like a broken record, to myself if not to others: this crisis is about three things-fidelity, fidelity, and fidelity. The simple and irrefutable fact is that if bishops and priests had been faithful to the Church’s teaching and their sacred vows, there would be no crisis. That is the fact quite totally evaded at Dallas.
Where We Have Been
Since this is probably not the last installment of “Scandal Time,” it is worth recalling where we have been and then bring it back to the present. The first installment in April set forth why this really is a crisis, and why it is both false and self-defeating to blame it on the media or anti-Catholicism, or a combination of both. This is our crisis. It cannot be understood apart from the cultural milieu of the sixties when, in a confused concatenation of events, the aggiornamento proposed by the Second Vatican Council was hijacked to mean that the Church should conform itself to the culture, just at the time when the culture was being radically deformed. A critical turning point was the organized and public defiance by Catholic theologians and some bishops of Paul VI’s encyclical on human sexuality, including contraception, Humanae Vitae. The failure of the bishops to respond to that defiance and to vigorously communicate the message of the encyclical constitutes the moment at which the American bishops ceased to be teachers. (Bishops are ordained to “teach, sanctify, and govern,” and the first of these is to teach.) In a very real way, they stopped being bishops and became business managers and practitioners of group dynamics in an amorphous and increasingly fractious constituency, their chief job being to keep all factions on board and to avoid “divisiveness.” Truth and fidelity can sometimes divide. So much for truth and fidelity.
The 1968 recognition that the Church’s teaching on faith and morals could be defied with impunity ushered in a period of “wink and nudge” also with respect to sexuality, in its sundry expressions. After being hit with scandals, lawsuits, and multimillion-dollar settlements, the bishops, in the early 1990s, tried to bring the situation under control, especially in the seminaries. This met with a measure of success, and it is notable that almost all the known instances of abuse date from the seventies and eighties. When the dam of past episcopal miscreance broke in Boston last January, district attorneys began to be more assertive about the possible complicity of bishops in criminal acts, and bishops felt forced to compromise traditional and legal prerogatives related to the Church’s right to govern itself. I observed that the compromising of the right of ecclesial self-governance (libertas ecclesiae) may have deeply troubling consequences for the future of the free exercise of religion, and not only for Catholics.
In the second installment (June/July), I noted that what was at first called a “pedophilia” crisis was now recognized by almost everyone as a crisis created by adult men having sex of various sorts with adolescent and older teenage boys. The H-word is unavoidable, although many strive mightily to avoid it or to complexify it into oblivion. I surveyed the rapidly accumulating literature in support of the significance of the homosexuality factor, and criticized those who try to change the subject by advocating the relaxation of the discipline of celibacy. I described the role of the Catholic Theological Society of America in promoting deviance from Catholic teaching and the trumping of the doctrinal by the therapeutic. This invited an extended reflection on Philip Rieff’s classic work The Triumph of the Therapeutic, and its prescient analysis of what would happen if, after Vatican II, Catholic leaders replaced the spiritual with the psychological (or equated the two), turning therapy into something very much like a new religion. I concluded by saying that Dallas would be a debacle if the bishops did not address in a straightforward manner the three causes of the crisis-infidelity, infidelity, and infidelity.
Meanwhile in Milwaukee
That brought us up to the April meeting with cardinals and bishops convened by the Pope in Rome. But before getting to that, there was another development deserving of at least brief notice, the resignation of Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee. Actually, he had resigned a little earlier at the mandatory age of seventy-five, but his resignation was swiftly accepted when it was revealed that he had paid $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to a blackmailer with whom he had an affair almost twenty years earlier, when the young creep was in his early thirties. Many conservatives indulged the sin of Schadenfreude (what in older moral manuals is known by the delightful phrase “morose delectation”) upon Weakland’s downfall, for he was the most conspicuous of the decreasing minority of unabashedly liberal bishops. It was a sleazy affair, with the newspapers publishing Weakland’s long and maudlin love letter to the young man-a letter not untouched by poignant moments of contrition. Here was a man in his mid-fifties, once abbot of a prestigious monastery, then world leader of the Benedictine order, and for years head of a major archdiocese, a man of cultured achievement and exquisitely correct opinions who was long accustomed to being lionized by the liberal media, now exposed as besottedly in love with a hustler whom he begs to believe that he has no more money with which to buy him off. But, as it turned out, the archdiocese did have money. It was not an edifying spectacle.
Reacting to the exposure, Margaret Steinfels, editor of the liberal Commonweal, complained about a “witch-hunt” and spoke glowingly of Weakland’s leadership in favored liberal causes. The public exposure of a long-past affair, and the publication of the painfully personal letter, would seem to violate journalistic boundaries, were they not unavoidably related to what is undeniably a story of legitimate public interest, namely, the Archbishop of Milwaukee was for eighteen years under the threat of blackmail, and paid off with $450,000 of archdiocesan funds. His humiliating exit was made the more humiliating by his claim that he had over the years given his income from honoraria and royalties to the archdiocese, and that amounted to more than the money paid in blackmail. It turned out that his gifts to the archdiocese were less than half the payout, but the more troubling thing is that he seemed to believe that what he had given was still his to use for his personal purposes, which suggests that he had not really given anything at all. It appears the man is terribly confused.
With embarrassed haste, the sponsors of the annual Cardinal Bernardin Award for distinguished church leadership, an award closely associated with Commonweal, canceled the June gala at which it was to be bestowed upon Rembert Weakland. I can honestly say that I took no satisfaction from his crashing in flames. His airs of superiority and his incessant boasting that Rome viewed him as a “maverick” could be galling at times. But he was also a man of notable talents and considerable charm, to whom everything had been given. He could have been a contender for something great. It is an unspeakable sadness. I do not give up on the hope that, after some years of penance, a chastened Rembert Weakland might write a reflective memoir, having by then discovered, please God, a measure of the wisdom that was so conspicuously absent from a brilliant career built upon prideful foundations that now, through a combination of tragedy and farce, lie in ruins.
The Most Important Thing
Turn now to the April meeting convened by the Pope. Among the many important things said by the Holy Father, I believe the most important was this: “The Catholic faithful must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.” In other words, if bishops and priests do not keep their vows, how can lay people be expected to keep their vows of fidelity in marriage? In the official statements surrounding the Dallas meeting, and in the charter adopted, words of the Pope in the April meeting are frequently cited. The above statement is not mentioned once. At Dallas, fidelity was not on the agenda.
The Pope said something else in the April meeting that was conveniently ignored at Dallas: “We cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change.” In the public relations game plan of responding, with the whole world watching, to relentless activists possessed by an insatiable appetite for vengeance (a.k.a. closure), the bishops adopted the alien vocabulary of “zero tolerance” and “one strike,” a vocabulary in which there is no place for words such as conversion, repentance, soul, and redemption. A gospel response, the experts told them, would not play, and the bishops, some of them with obvious reluctance and uneasy conscience, went along with the game plan “for the good of the Church.” They supinely agreed to prove they were tough by adopting a punitive policy of unforgiving vindictiveness. The Pope was wrong: we can forget the power of Christian conversion.
In all this Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the episcopal conference, played a notable role. He had been widely viewed as a company man, a product of Bernardin’s Chicago machine of church politics, who was, at least in part, elected president, it was said sotto voce, because it would look good to have a black man in that very public post. In fact, Bishop Gregory has demonstrated that he is a man capable of vigorous leadership and not devoid of courage. Prior to the Dallas meeting he several times dared to use the H-word, expressing in public the concern that the priesthood may come to be perceived as dominantly homosexual. Presiding at Dallas, he ran a tight ship, keeping the bishops on message. Regrettably, by then it had become the wrong message.
There were some fine moments, rhetorically and substantively, in his opening address at Dallas. For instance, he told the bishops:
We are the ones, whether through ignorance or lack of vigilance, or-God forbid-with knowledge, who allowed priest abusers to remain in ministry and reassigned them to communities where they continue to abuse.
We are the ones who chose not to report the criminal actions of priests to the authorities, because the law did not require this.
We are the ones who worried more about the possibility of scandal than in bringing about the kind of openness that helps prevent abuse.
And we are the ones who, at times, responded to victims and their families as adversaries and not as suffering members of the Church.
Bracing stuff, that. But, by the end of his address and by the end of the meeting, it was obvious that the message is, “They are the ones.” Zero tolerance, one strike, boot them out of ministry. Of course the victim activists are still not satisfied, and, sadly, may never be satisfied, but the bishops have succeeded in scandalizing the faithful anew by adopting a thoroughly unbiblical, untraditional, and un-Catholic approach to sin and grace. As in Shakespeare’s “strange eventful history,” they end up adopting a policy that is sans repentance, sans conversion, sans forbearance, sans prudential judgment, sans forgiveness, sans almost everything one might have hoped for from bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ.
In his address, Gregory said, “We need to put aside that which could distract us and set our sights solely on the task at hand: a full and recommitted effort toward the protection of our children and young people.” The protection of children and young people is an imperative beyond question or qualification, and of course anyone who poses a credible threat to them must have no place in the Church’s ministry. It is not a “distraction,” however, but the hard and central fact that so many children and young people have been abused because it is manifestly not the case that “bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality.” John Paul challenged the bishops to confront the hard and central fact of infidelity. The bishops at Dallas put the challenge aside, lest it distract them from the game plan.
There is no end to what might be said and should be said about the Long Lent of 2002. The books are already appearing. Most of them, to judge by what I’ve seen of them and their advance notices, are by authors who want to change the subject-to what’s wrong with church teaching on sexuality, to celibacy, to women’s ordination, to democratizing decision making, to anything but fidelity. I’m looking forward, however, to George Weigel’s book occasioned by the scandals, The Courage to be Catholic, which should be out in a few weeks from Basic Books.
Bishop Gregory had it right in the first part of his address: the bishops are the ones. They have not covered themselves with glory. There are very good, holy, competent, courageous, and devoted bishops. Others no doubt have their lists of such bishops and I have mine. Admittedly, my list is a short one, but then virtues, especially courage, are always in short supply. And if some whom I esteem failed at Dallas, I’m certainly not going to take the position of one strike and you’re off the list. We hear calls that all or most of the bishops should resign forthwith. There are at least two things wrong with that. For all their carefully choreographed image of sensitivity as good listeners, I doubt that many bishops have an open mind to the idea that they should step down. The second thing wrong with the idea is its assumption that there is a second and better team to replace what we have. There is little reason to believe that is the case. In any event, some bishops, perhaps many, will be stepping down, whether they think it a good idea or not.
In Distressing Disguise
Mother Teresa said that in the poor we are to see Christ in distressed disguise. And so in the bishops we are to see the apostles, whose successors they are, in distressing disguise. The distressing disguise is reinforced by a culture of clericalism in which bishops and priests, and especially priests who would be bishops, tacitly assume that they are the Church which it is the purpose of the laity to keep in business. Living in a clerical cocoon, they are accustomed to a deference that most of the faithful are happy to render. Peggy Noonan, reflecting on the traditionally preeminent status of the archbishop in the life of Boston, says she has over the years watched politicians and other public figures who move in a bubble of prestige surrounded by taken for granted deference. “In my experience,” she writes, “the star treatment has never improved anybody’s character.”
Yet we believe that this is how Our Lord has structured his Church-with bishops as successors of the apostles, with and under the successor of Peter-and we should be most reluctant to second-guess Our Lord. In short, these are the bishops we have, and there is no structural change that can make them better be the bishops that God called them to be, that they were ordained to be, and that the faithful have a right to expect them to be. Only personal conversion can do that. Respect for the bishops is probably at its lowest ebb in the history of the Church in America. Pray that their conversion may be completed.
In his memoirs of his early years, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes about his village in Bavaria and how, when he was ordained priest, the people declared a festival of several days with endless processions and feasting, and he was the center of attention. It was a heady experience. Ratzinger writes that he had to tell himself again and again, “Joseph, this is not for you. This is for Christ and his Church.” And so outraged and disappointed Catholics will swallow hard and continue to honor and, when put to it, even obey their bishops, all the time making clear, “This is not for you. This is for Christ and his Church.” They will continue to see in their bishops the apostles whom Jesus appointed, no matter how distressing the disguise.
Do I continue to hope, as I wrote earlier, that this Long Lent will bring us to resurrection and renewal, that the time of mea culpa will be succeeded by felix culpa, the celebration of happy fault that occasioned so great a redemption? Oh yes. I do not know, mind you, but I hope, as must we all. It may be five years or fifty years from now, but I hope and I believe that the time will come when Catholics in America will look back on 2002 and thank God that He visited us with “the rod of His wrath and the staff of His anger.” It will then be seen as the winter of painful purification, opening the way to a springtime of renewal. I am praying that will be the case, even as evidence accumulates that there will almost certainly have to be a “Scandal Time IV,” and who knows how many after that.
The Adversarial Courts
In November 1996, we published a symposium, “The End of Democracy?”, on what we called “the judicial usurpation of politics,” and it stirred up quite a storm. The essay by the distinguished jurist and constitutional scholar Robert H. Bork on “lawless law” was an important part of that symposium, and he returns to that subject in a comprehensive and devastating article in the New Criterion, titled “Adversary Jurisprudence.” He employs as an epigraph an assertion by Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The prophecies of what the courts will do in fact, and nothing more pretentious, are what I mean by law.” That is juxtaposed with a statement by the contemporary professor of law, Lino Graglia: “The nightmare of the American intellectual is that the control of public policy should fall into the hands of the American people. . . . Policymaking by the justices of the Supreme Court, intellectuals all, in the name of the Constitution, is the only way in which this can be prevented.”
Bork surveys a long and depressing series of decisions-on free speech, pornography, contraception, abortion, sexual equality, etc.-in which the Supreme Court, claiming the authority of the Constitution, has taken public policy out of the hands of the people and their elected representatives. Driving such judicial usurpation of politics is not only intellectual hubris but also a curious notion of individual rights. Bork cites instances relative to the alleged “establishment” of religion. “The same radical individualism determined the result in Santa Fe Independent, School District v. Doe (2000). The school district authorized two student elections, one to decide whether invocations, messages, or statements should be delivered at home football games and a second to select a student to deliver them. The Court held the school district’s policy a forbidden establishment of religion. Dislike of majority rule surfaced injustice Stevens’ opinion for the majority: ‘[T] his student election does nothing to protect minority views but rather places the students who hold such views at the mercy of the majority. School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.” Religious speech must have extraordinary political power. All of us have heard actual political speech with which we heartily disagreed without feeling any the less members of the political community. But where religion is concerned, even imaginary discomfort to a hypothetical individual overrides the reasonable desires of the community.”
But the current Supreme Court, Bork writes, is relatively “balanced” in comparison with what is being taught in law schools today. The legal theories that dominate the schools take it for granted that the challenge of lawyers is to get the courts to remake society along the lines they favor. Quaint notions about what the Founders intended or what the Constitution actually says will have to go the way of antiquated ideas about representative democracy. “Perhaps there is no remedy for judicial activism, perhaps a preference for immediate victories and short-term gratification of desires is characteristic of the spirit of our times. The public does seem ready to jettison long-term safeguards and the benefits of process for the short-term satisfaction of desires. That is always and everywhere the human temptation. But it is precisely that temptation that a constitution and its judicial spokesmen are supposed to protect us against. Constitutions speak for permanent values and judges are supposed to give those values voice. Instead, representatives of our judiciary are all too often, and increasingly, exemplars of disrespect for the rule of law. That situation is inconsistent with the survival of the culture that has for so long sustained American freedom and well-being. The example of lawless courts teaches a lesson of disrespect for process to all other actors in that system, the lesson that winning outside the rules is legitimate, and that political victory is the only virtue.”
But what about the people and their elected representatives? Any impulse to rebellion is effectively sedated. “A Court that in one context after another lays down general principles of emancipation commends that principle to public attention and imitation and thus affects legislative opinion. Many people assume that what is legal is also moral, and they are all too likely to believe that what has been declared unconstitutional is immoral. Resistance to judicial imperialism in the name of the Constitution itself comes to be seen as immoral.”
Bork’s conclusion is nothing if not straightforward: “Unless it takes its law from the original understanding of the Constitution’s principles, the Court will continue to be an adversary to democratic government and to the morality of our traditional culture.”
The Supreme Court and the other courts following its lead have become the adversary of democratic government and of the morality affirmed by the great majority of Americans. This is a profound violation of what the Founders understood as just government derived from the consent of the governed. In 1996 we were widely criticized for describing this state of affairs as an illegitimate regime. A regime is a mode of rule or management; in this instance a mode of misrule and mismanagement. It is contrary to our constitutional order and is therefore illegitimate. But is it the case that, after so long a time of misrule, the governed have in fact given their consent to the abrogation of the principle that just government is derived from the consent from the governed? We must fervently hope that is not the case. It is no criticism to observe that Robert Bork’s “Adversary Jurisprudence” does not say much that is new. But it must be said again and again. The stakes are very high. There may not be a hope of remedy in sight, but we dare not let ourselves get used to this illegitimate regime.
The Wisdom of the Elders
It was that time of year again, and thousands of commencement speakers hoped that millions of graduates would remember their words better than the speakers remember what was said when they commenced. At the University of Rochester, James O. Freedman, former President of Dartmouth, held forth. “Someone once asked Woodrow Wilson when he was President of Princeton University what the function of a liberal education ought to be. And Wilson replied, `To make a person as unlike his father as possible.’“ So much for education as the transmission of a heritage. I don’t know if Wilson actually said that, but, if so, it would be a kindness to his memory to forget it. A liberal education, Freedman went on to say, “ought to make a person independent of mind, skeptical of authority and received views, prepared to forge an identity for himself or herself, and capable of becoming an individual not bent upon copying other persons—even persons as persuasive and influential as one’s father.” There you have it: independence, skepticism, individualism, forging a unique identity—I wannabe Me! One does hope the students were skeptical of the authority of their commencement speaker.
At the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, the actor Alec Baldwin dispensed wisdom. Mr. Baldwin, it may be recalled, raised hopes when he said he would leave the country if George W. Bush became President, but then reneged on his promise. Baldwin told the students of fashion that “billions of people around the world” buy all kinds of things in order to “make a statement to the best of their ability, and within the boundaries of their own tastes and budgets, about who they are.” The problem is that “most of them are not creative people. They just don’t have that gene. They haven’t developed that muscle. So the uncreative people of the world rely on the creative people of the world to help them.” There you have it: a perfect match of creative speaker and creative graduates, locked in mutual admiration. None dare call it elitism.
Julian Bond of the NAACP did the honors at Susquehanna University, a putatively Lutheran school in Pennsylvania. He quoted someone who had escaped from the World Trade Center on September 11 who said, “If you’d seen what it was like in that stairway, you’d be proud. There was no gender, no race, no religion. It was everyone helping each other.” To which Mr. Bond commented, “But away from that stairway—in America’s streets—there is gender, there is race, there is religion.” Mr. Bond has, over his many years, done his bit to get rid of gender and religion, even as he has made his living by race, the difference that, one might suggest, should make the least difference.
Then there was Anna Quindlen at Sarah Lawrence College. “When I quit the New York Times to be a full-time mother, the voices of the world said I was nuts,” she declared. Think of that. From Hamburg to Bangladesh, from Stockholm to Shanghai, from Honduras to the remotest reaches of Siberia, the voices of the world joined in declaring, “Anna Quindlen is nuts!” Ms. Quindlen exhorted the students to be radical individualists, following her example. “Each of you is as different as your fingertips. Why should you march to any lockstep? Our love of lockstep is our greatest curse, the source of all that bedevils us. It is the source of homophobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism, terrorism, bigotry of every variety and hue, because it tells us there is one right way to do things, to look, to behave, to feel, when the only right way is to feel your heart hammering inside you and to listen to what its timpani is saying.”
One imagines a graduate of independent mind in the audience whose timpani was telling her that Anna Quindlen is the quintessential representative of the self-flattering feminism that has turned the lives of so many women into a misery. Ms. Quindlen would, in no uncertain terms, let such a student know that that is the wrong response and she had better get back in step with folks like her who repudiate marching in lockstep. That’s the logic that has always prevailed among the herd of independent minds.
In hope of relief from the deluge of commencement bullfeathers, I turned to the famously conservative novelist Tom Wolfe, who spoke at Duke University. He’s interested in neuroscience and said, “Let’s not kid ourselves. We’re all concatenations of molecules containing DNA, hard wired into a chemical analog computer known as the human brain, which as software has a certain genetic code. And your idea that you have a soul or even a self, much less free will, is just an illusion.”
There you have it: the elders offering final counsel to the successor generation, the beneficiaries of the greatest educational system in the world, the bearers of civilization’s legacy across new frontiers of human aspiration and achievement. Another generation of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s children, exhorted to preen themselves on their individualistic conformism, remembering always, of course, that none of it is true.
time to time to share concerns and get to know one another. Indeed, there are so many assurances about what CCTUSA is not intended to be that nobody seems to have much of an idea about what it is intended to be. The operative words are tentative, preliminary, exploratory, and so forth. Another meeting is scheduled for January. What we seem to have at present is an idea aborning, or maybe just a provisional report of pregnancy. We will keep a sympathetically skeptical eye on developments.
While We’re At It
• Venom delivered with strained cleverness. That pretty much describes Maureen Dowd’s column in the Times. She’s hardly an equal opportunity hater; on almost every question of consequence she’s on the left. Yet she can be as spiteful about Bill Clinton as about George W. I stopped reading her regularly many months ago, although I do sometimes glance at the column to see what sparked today’s tantrum. Then I stumbled across this item in a review of Richard Blow’s book on the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his unfortunate magazine George. Dowd panned it after the first issue appeared, and then responded to a note of protest with this: “Don’t be mad at me. I’m paid to be a baby curmudgeon, and it’s no fun. I’d go back to reporting in a minute. I’ve subscribed and I promise only plugs from now on.” That would seem to explain what has gone so sour with her column. She believes the Times pays her to write infantile snits, so that is what she writes. So don’t write to the Times complaining about her silly nastiness. Write urging them to put her back on the beat. She’d be happier, and it’s not beyond possibility that the Times might replace her with a columnist who can be read with less pain, to herself (or himself) and others.
• “The National Council of Churches’ (NCC) devotion to its decades-long tradition of pandering to dictators while condemning democracies has been faithful and predictable. From Brezhnev and Castro, to Kim Il Sung, Daniel Ortega, and Yassir Arafat, the NCC never encountered an anti-American despot undeserving of its affections.” That’s Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy commenting on a recent NCC fact-finding mission to the Middle East. I’m not sure he’s entirely right. For instance, I do not recall any NCC defense of Zimbabwe despot Robert Mugabe in the last ten years or so. Of course, Mugabe may have been dropped from the most favored despots list because of his outspoken contempt for same-sex rutting. His threat to enforce a prohibition of such expressive behavior almost led to the canceling of a World Council of Churches confab in Zimbabwe a few years ago. Mugabe finally agreed not to interfere with the church leaders’ free exercise of libido and the meeting went ahead. I may be wrong, however, about why Mugabe is not on the NCC’s most favored despot list. After all, Castro and Kim Il Sung are also world-class homophobes. In any event, the NCC missionaries to the Middle East were received by the dictator of Syria, the king of Jordan, and by Palestinian leaders, all of whom explained why U.S.-supported Israeli aggression is the source of all the troubles in that part of the world. Of that the NCC delegation did not need to be persuaded. The report of the NCC mission reliably parroted the position of Israel’s neighboring enemies while omitting any mention of, inter alia, the anti-Semitic hatred daily spewed by the Arab media, official Arab support for Palestinian suicide bombers, Muslim prohibition of Christian (and, needless to say, Jewish) religious practice, and the conspicuous absence of democracy or freedom of expression in all the countries of the region except Israel. Nothing new in that. It is, as Mr. Tooley says, part of a “long tradition.” NCC general secretary Bob Edgar was particularly impressed by Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, calling him “articulate, clear, and thoughtful.” Edgar added, “He gave insights and a sense that Christians and Muslims and Jews can live together.” That happy prospect, it appears, awaits only Israel’s decision to acquiesce in its own destruction. While its public credibility passed on many years ago, the institutional shell of the NCC is sustained on life-support. One cannot help but wonder how an organization that is paying its overdue telephone bills on the installment plan manages again and again to find the money for pastoral visitations in support of the world’s misunderstood enemies of religious and political freedom. Of course, in a region where former President Bill Clinton can pick up $750,000 for a speaking engagement, as he recently did in Saudi Arabia, money is not an object. Whether or not they paid for this junket, if they are thinking of footing the bill for others in the future, even despots with unlimited slush funds might ask whether the NCC today has any influence worth buying.
• What I said is that I hope that nothing I write here is caustic or nasty. I didn’t say anything about appreciating the acrid talents of others. There is, for instance, James Woolcott’s review of Carol Gilligan’s The Birth of Pleasure. Ms. Gilligan, as you probably know, is the much-celebrated theorist of the male’s cold and calculated reasoning that stands in sharpest contrast to the female’s intuitive and nurturing “ethic of care.” Her 1982 book, In a Different Voice, is an academic version of men are from Mars, women from Venus. The present book, she announces, “was conceived in love.” Let Mr. Woolcott take it from there: “Like many a militant sentimentalist, Ms. Gilligan is serenely humorless, not realizing the absurdity of drawing parallels between herself and Anne Frank. True, Ms. Gilligan writes, I never suffered through poverty, anti-Semitism, war, or rape, ‘but I did experience a shocking break in my relationship with my mother.’ It came when the twelve-year-old Gilligan returned home from camp to find that her mother had asked her beloved grandfather, Popsy, to move out of the house and find his own apartment. Popsy, gone! Setting aside the grim irony that Anne Frank never got to come home from her camp (how I wish writers would quit appropriating Anne Frank for their own agendas), it’s worth noting too that this pushy narcissism isn’t an isolated instance. Elsewhere Ms. Gilligan has the gall to compare her professional quest to Charles Darwin’s (‘Adolescent girls became the Galapagos of my journey’). What’s astounding is that so many benefactors are willing to fund Ms. Gilligan’s fountain of soap bubbles. On each page banalities pop before your eyes. ‘Maybe love is like rain,’ she repeats on the last page, bringing the book full circle, like a bad folk song. There’s no dark, destructive side to love in Ms. Gilligan’s cosmology, no disruptive fury in her conception of nature. Her ‘radical geography of love’ never leaves the campus grounds. With this book Carol Gilligan crowns herself earth-goddess of the cognitive elite.”
• There is an “unlovely tendency” in certain kinds of liberalism, writes Peter Berkowitz in the Wilson Quarterly, to assume that people who disagree with you are simply unreasonable. The title of his essay is “John Rawls and the Liberal Faith,” and the occasion is the publication of Rawls’ Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. Rawls’ 1971 book, A Theory of Justice, is justly called the most influential work in political philosophy of the last century, at least among academic philosophers. Many of us who have written about Rawls’ argument have noted that the people behind his famous “veil of ignorance” are a peculiar kind of people (i.e., people very much like John Rawls) and therefore can hardly serve as the normative deliberators producing universal moral principles. Berkowitz also makes that point, but focuses on the thinly disguised “faith” assumptions in Rawls’ theory, such as human dignity, equality, and concern for the disadvantaged. Berkowitz ends his argument with this:
In trying to come to grips with the foundations of liberalism, Rawls offers conflicting ideas. On the one hand, he holds that the founding moral intuitions are self-evident. On the other, he holds that they rest on faith. Yet if good arguments can be made on behalf of both propositions, then by definition the moral intuitions cannot be self-evident. What is evident is the doubt about how precisely to understand liberalism’s moral foundations. So at minimum it is reasonable to pursue the fecund thought that Rawls’ freestanding liberalism actually stands on an act of faith. Perhaps Rawls’ conflicting accounts can be reconciled, as in the Declaration of Independence, through the idea that a certain faith impels us to hold as self-evident the truth that all people are by nature free and equal.
No one is saying that liberalism requires you to be religious or that religious people are more amply endowed with the liberal spirit. But for those who care about understanding liberalism, a more precise knowledge of its foundations should be welcome. And as a practical matter, for those who care about freedom and equality, knowledge of the foundations of the truths we have long held to be self-evident can contribute to our ability to cultivate the conditions under which we can keep our grip on them firm.
Berkowitz is on to something important when he says that, as in the Declaration, “a certain faith impels us to hold as self-evident the truth that all people are by nature free and equal.” One does not begin with the self-evident truths and then say that they are also endorsed by the Creator, presumably because the Creator is such a reasonable chap. One rather begins with the Creator and the order of creation (“Nature and Nature’s God”)-in the case of the Founders, the biblical God, even if for Jefferson and a few others attenuated by Enlightenment rationalism-from which understanding certain truths are established as self-evident. That is, such self-evident truths are not understood as the discovery of free-standing reason but as affirmations entailed and made morally obliging by a prior understanding of Nature and Nature’s God. Berkowitz’s critique of Rawlsian liberalism is incisive, and his conclusion is suggestive. Yet he, like Rawls, is still operating with a dichotomy between “reason” and “faith” that is a vestige of an earlier rationalism that refused to see how all reason necessarily entails faith. For this problem, it seems to me, the best antidote is still Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge. But that is for another time. Suffice it to say that Peter Berkowitz’s essay on Rawlsian liberalism and its restrictive notion of what counts as “public reason”-a notion that has everything to do with maintaining the naked public square-is very much worth reading.
• Homosexual? Gay? Or a victim of Same Sex Attraction Disorder (SSAD)? The last terminology is favored by some proponents of therapy for homosexuals but, given the acronym, is not likely to catch on in wider circles. I continue to press for a clear distinction between homosexual orientation and same-sex attraction, on the one hand, and being gay, on the other. The former is something about a person, while someone who says he is gay has made a decision to define who he is by that something. John O’Sullivan discusses this intelligently in “Mistaken Identities,” an essay appearing in the New Criterion some while back: “To the old question, Is there a ghost in the machine? we can now answer: No, but there is a consumer.
“The consumer selects his new identity from the vast range of moral possibilities that the modern world throws up. In its simplest form, the new identity is constructed by selecting one facet of someone’s real given identity, and elevating it to the whole, or at least to a dominant part, of the personality. George Orwell forecast this process of reification in a 1948 review of Sartre’s Portrait of an Anti-Semite.
“‘The’ anti-Semite, he seems to imply all through the book, is always the same kind of a person, recognizable at a glance, and, so to speak, in action the whole time. Actually one has only to use a little observation to see that anti-Semitism . . . in any but the worst cases is intermittent. But [this] would not square with Monsieur Sartre’s atomized view of society. There is, he comes near to saying, no such thing as a human being, there are only different categories of men, such as ‘the’ worker, and ‘the’ bourgeois, all classifiable in much the same way as insects.
“A recent example of this kind of identity-building is the gay identity. For a gay is not simply a homosexual; he is someone who has made homosexuality the basis of an entire personality and outlook-morals, politics, and social relations. This will tend to make him, or her, hostile to societies traditionally organized to favor heterosexuality and the family, and persuade him to advocate policies that seek not tolerance but the transformation of popular or traditional attitudes toward homosexuality.
“Needless to say, this kind of response is by no means universal among homosexuals. Even today when pressures such as ‘outing’ seek to enforce a gay identity on all homosexuals, many of them take the view that homosexuality is just one facet of their identity-whether an advantage, or a curse, or simply a slightly awkward fact about themselves-which has little bearing on the rest of their lives outside the bedroom. Their support for sexual reform will tend to go no further than social tolerance and the repeal of punitive laws. They may find the gay identity mysterious, alien, too narrow to express their entire personality, and even repellent.
“Here, in a passage from Noel Coward’s diary, is the response of one such homosexual (by no means a repressed one) to the gay milieu of Fire Island in New York:
I came back last night having spent Saturday and yesterday on Fire Island. I don’t think I shall ever go again. It is lovely from the point of view of beach and sun and wearing no clothes, but the atmosphere is sick-sick-sick. Never in my life have I seen such concentrated abandoned homosexuality. It is fantastic and difficult to believe. I wished really that I hadn’t gone. Thousands of queer men of all shapes and sizes camping about blatantly and carrying on-in my opinion-appallingly. Then there were all the lesbians glowering at each other. Among this welter of brazen perversion wander a few “straights,” with children and dogs. I have always been of the opinion that a large group of queer men was unattractive. On Fire Island it is more than unattractive, it’s macabre, sinister, irritating, and somehow tragic.
“Self-conscious identity-building is very different from the earlier argument of Bill and Shirley Letwin that traditional identity can be modified by reason’s deciding to emphasize some aspects of one’s environment at the expense of others. The difference is subtle but important and it has immense consequences. It is the difference between piecemeal self-improvement and the wholesale reconstruction of the personality. Someone attempting piecemeal reform will usually refer to what he is doing in modest terms-‘I’m trying to be more punctual.’ Someone engaged in ideological reconstruction of himself will, appropriately enough, see it in dramatic, even religious terms, as becoming a different sort of human being. He will be re-making himself in accordance with some revelation, either some new principle of reason outside himself, or some inner prompting of the personality, or even both-some impulse extracted from inside himself and expanded into a universal truth about human nature. Thus a lesbian, uncomfortable with femininity, will eventually be struck by the blinding revelation that all gender roles are socially constructed.”
• Everything is ship-shape. That was the reaction of America, the Jesuit magazine, to the highly critical book Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits by Peter McDonough and Eugene Bianchi. The book did not occasion the slightest smidgen of self-criticism. Commonweal, however, is not a Jesuit magazine. It is edited by fiercely independent, albeit liberal, lay Catholics. Commonweal‘s response to the book? Everything is ship-shape in the Society of Jesus. It is allowed that back in the 1960s and ‘70s, when some of those interviewed for the book were Jesuits, there may have been problems such as gays and straights sleeping around, rebellion against ecclesial authority, and flirting with Zen-inspired syncretisms. But no longer. Of course there is great diversity of talents and interests in the Society, “But what the authors of Passionate Uncertainty misunderstand is that this is the great strength of the Society, not its great weakness,” etc., etc. Again, not the slightest smidgen of self-criticism. Which is perhaps not surprising, since the reviewer is a Jesuit and, oh yes, an associate editor of America. In marked contrast to this circling of the wagons is the review of Passionate Uncertainty by the distinguished Jesuit, Avery Cardinal Dulles (FT, April).
• He was among the dearest of friends. We went way back, Jim Finn and I. We first met when he came to interview me at the rectory of my Brooklyn parish for his book, Protest, Pacifism, and Politics, a book still very much worth reading to get a sense of the mid-sixties and the protest against the war in Vietnam. We both opposed the war and also came to be critical of much opposition to the war. Jim loved a good argument, but he was not contentious. He was an irenic soul, and determined to be fair-minded above all. He was an editor of Commonweal for six years, and later wrote for this journal, as well as the New Republic, Commentary, and Crisis. From the beginning, he also served on our editorial advisory board. In the early seventies he and I launched and edited together a monthly called Worldview, published by the Council on Religion and International Affairs (now the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs).Worldview was in important ways the forerunner to First Things. I suppose we spent thousands of hours in discussion over drinks and good food, the latter often prepared by his wife Molly, an accomplished chef and author of cookbooks, whom to know is to love. Jim was learned, literary, and possessed a capacity for criticism that was incisive but never cruel. This I think I remember most: he lived gratefully. One might say eucharistically. After dinner of an evening, we were discussing his and Molly’s misadventure in Brooklyn real estate. They bought a house that required endless repairs and finally sold it at a considerable loss. “Some day we really should add up how much money we wasted on that house,” remarked Molly. To which Jim said, “Why?” And that was that, and that was Jim. May choirs of angels sing him to that place of gratitude vindicated, finally and forever.
• One imagines the organizers saying, “Oh, it’s Palm Sunday too?” A reader sends along a map published in the Washington Post, indicating the nineteen churches that would be affected by street closings for the first Washington, D.C., Marathon, which kicked off at 7 a.m. and ended at 1:14 p.m. You couldn’t get to church on Palm Sunday? Too bad, but first things first.
• People for the American Way (PFAW) is one of the most strident, and effective, left-liberal lobbying groups in the nation. It is regularly covered by the major news organizations, and almost always quite favorably. That is not entirely surprising, since it is also financially supported by those organizations. At its annual fundraising dinner here in April, the New York Times, Time, Inc., CBS, NBC, and Disney (owner of ABC) all bought tables at $500 to $600 per seat. I know that, at this late date in the game, media bias may hardly seem worth mentioning, but some readers tell me they keep clippings on the matter and they might want to add this to what are no doubt their overflowing files.
• I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen Oprah Winfrey on television. I do not make the confession reluctantly, since I expect the great majority of Americans have not watched her show. According to a long article in Christianity Today that tends toward heavy breathing, Ms. Winfrey has an “audience of more than twenty-two million mostly female viewers, and has become a postmodern priestess-an icon of church-free spirituality.” The article quotes without smirking a 1994 Vanity Fair claim that “Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps the Pope.” The “arguably” is a nice out. CT says that Oprah “could be viewed as a window into American spirituality at the beginning of the twenty-first century-and into the challenges it poses for the Church.” Well, yes, she could be if one were so inclined. The article notes that her program boosts a gang of New Ageish gurus and never includes an explicit altar call to make a decision for Jesus. One may agree with the article that what people are really looking for, if only they knew it, is “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” without buying into the hype that Ms. Winfrey’s success is an “icon” or “window into” anything especially noteworthy about American culture. I imagine at any given moment there are at least twenty-two million women in America with nothing better to do with their time and looking for a little cheering up. The men probably get it watching the sports channels. Without researching the matter by, for instance, actually watching the program, I gather that Ms. Winfrey is a particularly successful entertainer specializing in self-affirmation with intimations of the religious. That’s as American as cherry pie. The combined wisdom of Chesterton and Barnum applies here. America is a nation with the soul of a church, and successful churches attract a paying crowd. You keep the crowd by sticking to generalities that require little thought and less commitment. “Spirituality,” for instance, is a sure winner. Oprah Winfrey is downmarket uplift for people who are “inspired” by the Hindu insights of Deepak Chopra and then go to church on Sunday to praise Jesus. I’m not sure about that, mind you. As Will Rogers might have said, I just know what I read in Christianity Today.
• Gibson Winter was a big name and big influence in oldline Protestantism. An Episcopal priest, his 1962 book The Suburban Captivity of the Churches inspired a generation of young clergy, including this writer, in their commitment to inner-city ministry. Gibson Winter died at age eighty-five in Chesterton, Maryland. Then there is another obituary. Most people knew him as Xavier Rynne, the pen-name he used for his reports in the New Yorker on the Second Vatican Council. Francis X. Murphy, a Redemptorist priest, perhaps did as much as any one person to popularize the liberal vs. conservative, “spirit” vs. “letter,” understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Council over the past decades. He was a very likable fellow who, in his charming innocence, really believed that one was either his kind of liberal or a pre-Vatican II right-winger. Francis X. Murphy died at age eighty-seven in Annapolis, Maryland. May choirs of angels welcome them, after due purgatorial corrections, to the eternal convivium where such disputes are no more than the stuff of amused remembrance.
• “I would have described an evangelical as a socially stunted wannabe-a fundamentalist with a better income, a slightly more open mind, and a less furrowed brow.” That, says popular writer Philip Yancey, is how he thought in college. But then he ran into G. K. Chesterton, and it made all the difference. Evangelical Protestants usually are not big on the cult of the saints. But then there are those shrines to the likes of C. S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, and J. R. R. Tolkien at Wheaton College. (None of those worthies, it has been noted, would have been permitted to teach at Wheaton.) Chesterton has not been canonized by evangelicals, however, and I’m glad to see that Yancey is bringing him to their attention. GKC, the prophet of mirth, represents a distinctive way of being Christian in the world. “The worst moment for the atheist,” he wrote, “is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” Yancey puts it nicely: “In addition to the problem of pain, G. K. Chesterton seemed equally fascinated by its opposite, the problem of pleasure. He found materialism too thin to account for the sense of wonder and delight that gives an almost magical dimension to such basic human acts as sex, childbirth, play, and artistic creation.” I know what he means when he speaks of going back to GKC again and again. “Whenever I feel my faith going dry again, I wander to a shelf and pick up a book by G. K. Chesterton. The adventure begins all over again.” This is from Yancey’s new book, Soul Survivor. I am not sure that GKC would have approved of the subtitle, however: How My Faith Survived the Church. A more Chestertonian subtitle might be How the Church Survived My Faith. But then, Yancey is talking about a different church.
• Said a friend of FT who is also a friend of Commentary, “I see Commentary has declared war on you. Or is it the other way around?” I sincerely hope that neither is the case. It is true that I have, ever so delicately, expressed regret that our friends at Commentary have published strident attacks on Pius XII for his “silence” about the Holocaust and what I believe is a very unfortunate attack on Dabru Emet, a statement by Jewish scholars on how Jews should understand Christianity. And I did question an assertion of Hillel Halkin in “The Return of Anti-Semitism.” He wrote in Commentary, “One cannot be against Israel or Zionism, as opposed to this or that Israeli policy or Zionist position, without being anti-Semitic. Israel is the state of the Jews. Zionism is the belief that Jews should have a state. To defame Israel is to defame the Jews. To wish it never existed, or would cease to exist, is to wish to destroy the Jews.” I pointed out in response that, however wrongheaded we may think them to be, there are people, including Jews, who think the establishment of the State of Israel was a mistake, and some people think it would be better for Jews if they emigrated elsewhere-to the United States, for instance-where they would not be under the constant threat of annihilation. In neither instance is it true that such people “wish to destroy the Jews.” After all, most Jews in the world, although supporting Israel, do not live there. To equate the Jewish people with the State of Israel, as Mr. Halkin at least implicitly does, is contrary to fact. To claim that the belief that the establishment of Israel was a mistake or that Israel is not sustainable is the same thing as “to wish to destroy the Jews” is a calumny. I concluded my reflection with this: “Hillel Halkin is certainly right in saying that, after September 11, the perceived risks in U.S. support for Israel are greatly increased. There needs to be a civil conversation about why we should be prepared to accept those risks. It is distinctly unhelpful to poison public discourse with the suggestion that those who disagree or have doubts are, in fact, simply anti-Semites.” Returning to the discussion, Gabriel Schoenfeld, senior editor of Commentary, describes me as among the “avowed friends of the Jewish state” but deplores my comments on Halkin’s article. “Such,” he writes, “are the tortuous rationalizations to which the swell of worldwide anti-Semitism has led.” (I note, but decline to entertain, the possibility that Mr. Schoenfeld is suggesting that anti-Semitism led me to write what I did.) My reflection, I am persuaded, was neither tortuous nor a rationalization. It was a straightforward clarification of a serious confusion in Mr. Halkin’s argument. There is a worldwide swell of anti-Semitism, except for, thank God, the United States. As American support for Israel becomes ever more crucial, those of us who advocate such support should not accuse everyone who disagrees of being anti-Semitic or of wishing to destroy the Jews. To divide Americans between those who support U.S. policy toward Israel and those who wish to destroy the Jews is, I believe, false, uncivil, and counterproductive. This may be a disagreement with Commentary. It is certainly not a war.
• Is there no end to the abuse? And this time by a cardinal! ABC News reports that its man Brian Ross accosted Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on a street in Rome, demanding his comment on an alleged cover-up of a sex abuse case. Ratzinger told him to make an appointment to see him. The accompanying picture shows Ross sticking a mike into the Cardinal’s face. Then this: “Ratzinger became visibly upset and actually slapped this reporter’s hand.” Oh, dear. How could a cardinal be annoyed by an importunate reporter? As for what was probably a tap on the hand, poor Brian Ross is lucky that the Cardinal did not have with him the ruler with which he raps the knuckles of miscreants. The report does not say whether Mr. Ross was admitted to the hospital for treatment of his injured feelings.
• Following up on “Don’t Mention the Jews” (Public Square, May), I see that Vanderbilt and a host of other colleges and universities are becoming quite explicit about wanting more Jewish students. They are candidly operating by the stereotype, reinforced by the ample evidence, that Jews tend to be smart. The national average in SAT scores, which are crucial for admission to schools, is 1020. Students connected with the very small Unitarian Universalist Association average 1209, and Jews are second with 1161. (Religious affiliation in descending order, down to 1092: Quaker, Hindu, Mennonite, Reformed Church in America, Episcopal, ELCA Lutheran, and Presbyterian [USA].) Jews are two percent of the population but 23 percent of students in Ivy League schools. At the University of Pennsylvania, they’re over one-third. Vanderbilt and others are taking aggressive measures to recruit smarter students. The issue of stereotyping, Assistant Provost Greg Perfetto says, never crossed his mind. “It isn’t that we were targeting Jewish students,” says Mr. Perfetto. “If we were doing anything, we were targeting Vanderbilt. We were saying, ‘How does Vanderbilt need to change to be attractive to this population?’“ Being translated, they’re targeting Jews. Susquehanna University, a Lutheran school in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, a town without a synagogue, started a Jewish Studies program, offering a minor in the field, and runs a Jewish cuisine class that offers bagels, matzo, and gefilte fish. Jews are only two percent of the student body, but this year the number of Jewish applicants has doubled, thus, in the words of the admissions director, “increasing the quality of our applicant pool.” As might be expected, the liberally orthodox are made nervous by this kind of profiling and stereotyping. If it must be done, it should not be admitted. An administrator at Vanderbilt says he is not against recruiting Jews-as long as it’s “done with wires invisible.” The way it used to be done in the bad old days when quotas were designed to keep Jews out. In this instance the adage applies: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
• The two best-selling books last year were The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson and Desecration, a title in the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, according to Publishers Weekly. The former sold eight million and the latter 2.9 million copies. Speaking recently at an evangelical college, I recalled a meeting we sponsored at which Tim LaHaye was a participant. On the evening of the first day he suggested we go running the next morning, and I agreed. I did a little jogging back then, but quickly discovered that Tim was a serious runner. I told the audience, “I was soon left behind, way behind.” Not everybody took that in good humor, one student pressing me on whether I was not worried about being left behind. The answer is that, when it comes to running and book sales, I’m resigned to being left behind Tim LaHaye. As for End Time scenarios, I pray I’ll be ready for whatever comes, which I expect will be a great deal more mysterious, and more interesting, than what is suggested in the little I’ve read of the Left Behind books. (Perhaps I missed the best parts.) Publishers Weekly also reports that LaHaye is signing a four-book contract with Bantam Dell for an estimated $45 million. The new series will, it is said, feature an archaeology theme similar to that of the Indiana Jones films. It will also be “a little lighter theologically.”
• The headline was accurate enough: “Homosexuality in Priesthood Is Under Increasing Scrutiny.” And I did say what the New York Times quotes me as saying. But I’m not surprised that the item puzzled some readers. The story ends this way: “Ultimately, many Catholics say, the idea that the Church will purge itself of gay priests is unlikely. There are too many homosexuals in the hierarchy, too many gifted gay men serving in a church that is starved for priests. Even a conservative like Father Neuhaus said he was not in favor of banning gay men from the priesthood. ‘I think we would probably discover we would be retroactively excluding a good many canonized saints over two thousand years,’ he said.” The problem here is that I was making a distinction between those whom we today describe as having a homosexual orientation and those who call themselves gay, meaning that they identify themselves by the desires on which they act. The confusion is caused by the Times‘ policy of using “homosexual” and “gay” interchangeably, the latter term being preferred to the former. So is it probable that, among the thousands whom Catholics recognize as saints, some or many had a homosexual orientation? Given the commonality of wayward human passions, it seems more than probable. Saints are not saints by virtue of not being tempted, but by virtue of grace in overcoming temptation.
• Justice Byron White has died. He was one of the two dissenters from the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, calling it “an exercise of raw judicial power.” He allowed that the Court “perhaps has authority to do what it does today,” but added that “in my view its judgment is an improvident and extravagant exercise of the power of judicial review that the Constitution extends to this Court.” He noted that the majority was not able to discover anything in “the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment” and therefore had to discover a constitutional “penumbra” claimed to be somehow embedded in the “right to privacy.” Since Roe v. Wade, an estimated forty million unborn children have been denied the right to life. The Dred Scott decision of 1857, declaring slaves not to be persons under the meaning of the Constitution, was also 7-2. After the most tumultuous conflict in our history, the nation looks back on that decision with shame. One day, please God, Roe v. Wade will also be reversed or effectively nullified. Then Byron White, who we pray rests in peace, will have his posthumous vindication.
• You probably don’t read the masthead regularly and over the years there have been few changes, but if you did read it this time, you may have noticed the absence of Stanley Hauerwas from the Editorial Board. He believes that his well-known commitment to pacifism is incompatible with the position of the journal as expressed in our December editorial “In a Time of War,” and makes it necessary for him to discontinue his formal association. We agree on the incompatibility of positions regarding the war against terror, but disagree on the desirability of continuing our association. The decision to resign from the Editorial Board is entirely his; the disagreement is amiable; we are grateful for the assurance of his continuing friendship; and we will persist in holding many of his contributions to Christian moral thought in high regard. He may not appear on the masthead, but do not be surprised if his contributions continue to appear in these pages.
• I’ve mentioned before the bishop, a certified expert on matters liturgical, who followed a Mass with stopwatch in hand and reported that for more than half the time “the people were doing nothing.” To adore, to meditate, to wonder, to quietly pray is, presumably, to be doing nothing. In a 1998 address, John Paul II said: “Worshipers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and the music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty.” It is commonly said today that a liturgical practice “works” or does not “work.” As someone who has presided at thousands upon thousands of liturgies, I think I know what can be meant by that expression, but too often it reveals a utilitarian or psychological mindset that is antithetical to the spirit of liturgy. Worship is the one thing in the world that is an end in itself. Thus the great Romano Guardini: “It is in this very aspect of the liturgy that its didactic aim is to be found, that of teaching the soul not to see purposes everywhere, not to be too conscious of the end it wishes to attain, not to be desirous of being over-clever and grown-up, but to understand simplicity in life. The soul must learn to waste time for the sake of God and to be prepared for the sacred game with sayings and thought and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’ It must learn not to be continually yearning to do something, to attack something, to accomplish something useful, but to play the divinely ordained game of the liturgy in liberty and beauty and holy joy before God.” Anne Husted Burleigh puts the matter very nicely: “If we are to foster the awe, reverence, and adoration through which we may know the Word of Christ, then we must love, and not fear silence and stillness in the Mass and in our life. From silence comes the Word. From silence God spoke and created the world. From silence He spoke to Mary and came to dwell in her womb. From silence He sent His Holy Spirit at Pentecost to lead the Church. Meditative quiet, as the Pope laments, is neither favored nor fostered in our culture. Yet there is no getting around the simple fact that only in stillness do we learn to listen with the interior ear. Only in stillness do we calm down enough to sense the Lord’s presence. Only in stillness do we find out that the Lord loves us and that we are made to love him. Silence, then, is not a den of terror; it is rather the place where we fall in love.”
• Okefenokee Swamp. I lived there a long time, at least in imagination. Now all eleven volumes of Walt Kelly’s Pogo have been reissued (Fantagraphics, $9.95 each, paper). I still have the original books, although I noticed the other day that they’re mildewed and falling apart. In addition to the irresistible Pogo, there were countless characters who filled my youthful mind and playfully muddled my vocabulary, especially Albert the Alligator. And the little rabbit who, in times of catastrophe, would show up in the lower corner of a strip with a fire hose. While others squabbled over what to do about the disaster at hand, he would say, in small letters, “I carry the hose.” “I carry the hose” has been my mantra over the years when I have occasion to be impressed, as I have frequent occasion to be impressed, by how small is one’s part in the larger picture. But Kelly gave Albert some of the best lines. Brad Leithauser has a whimsical review of the reissued books in the New York Review of Books. He writes, “Albert was certainly a cheering presence. Few things in the world have so dependably amused me, over the years, as images of Albert wearing a look of indomitable shrewdness as he prepares to plunge once more into bottomless folly.” Of the achievement that was Pogo, he says, “It had depth, a madcap unpredictability, and restive verbal playfulness; it was, in short, the only comic strip spun through the mind of a poet.” When I go back to Pogo today, as I infrequently do, the fun is spoiled just a bit by Kelly’s strident leftism. I didn’t mind that in the fifties and sixties, but then I shared his prejudices. Leithauser observes that the satirical novel belongs to a tradition of indignant conservatism-Swift, Waugh, Wodehouse, Kingsley Amis, et al.-while clever comic strips, except for the later Al Capp, creator of Li’l Abner, are almost always products of the left. I suppose he is right about that, and one wonders why that should be, since comics, more than novels, are presumably read by ordinary folk more given to conservatism of a populist kind. I don’t think he is right, however, about Kelly’s Swamp being such an innocent place. He writes, “Those twin mainstays of adult existence, work and sex, have no place in it. . . . Kelly’s creatures belong to the world before Adam’s curse has descended upon it.” Work and sex there may not be, but all the other ravages of the Fall-pride, ambition, greed, anger, covetousness, envy, and sloth-are ever on ludicrous display in Okefenokee Swamp. Only Pogo himself is prelapsarian. Except, perhaps, for sloth. I wouldn’t want to be fifteen again. But I would dearly love to discover Pogo for the first time.
• In the pecking order of influence, it is said that the Wall Street Journal is edited for the people who run the world, the New York Times is edited for the people who think they run the world, and the Washington Post is edited for the people who think they should run the world. “Bishops at the Crossroads,” an editorial in the Times a few days before the Dallas meeting, is suggestive of that paper’s understanding of its reach. “We do not favor defrocking one-time offenders who have rehabilitated themselves. . . . Like the bishops, we believe in recovery and redemption. We just don’t want abusers as ministers.” As Tonto said to the Lone Ranger, What do you mean “We”? Perhaps the item was written by one of the Catholics on the editorial board and just slipped through. I don’t think publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger wants what used to be called the newspaper of record to be on record as agreeing with Catholic teaching on the meaning of redemption, or that he really believes that the Times is part of the Catholic “we” and thus entitled to a say in who should or should not be a priest. On the other hand, if you think you’re running the world . . .
• A third or more of our subscribers teach in colleges or universities, and we’ve been thinking about how to turn that to the journal’s advantage, and to the advantage of younger thinkers who should be reading FT. So here is what we came up with. If you teach at a college or university and have two or three students who graduated this past spring who you think would benefit from reading FT and might become long-term subscribers, please send us their names and addresses and we will send them a one-year subscription absolutely free. In the hope, of course, that they will renew on their own. And, with your permission, we will tell them that the subscription is given on your recommendation. But please, no more than three or it will bust our budget. Send names and addresses to First Things, 156 Fifth Avenue, Suite 400, New York, New York 10010. Thank you.
Sources:Robert Bork on adversary jurisprudence, New Criterion, May 2002. Commencement bullfeathers, New York Times, June 2, 2002.
While We’re At it: The courts and kosher food, New York Sun, May 23, 2002. National Relationship Week, Tablet, March 16, 2002. On Dabru Emet, Commentary, April 2002. New profiles in courage, Publishers Weekly, April 8, 2002. Cousins having children, New York Times, April 4, 2002. Anthony Kenny on Kai Nielsen, Times Literary Supplement, January 18, 2002. Raymond Tallis on Jeremy Campbell, Times Literary Supplement, December 21, 2001. On “pre-Vatican II” priests, catholic trends, March 2, 2002. Catholics vs. Canadians, Catholic Civil Righs League of Canada, May 10, 2002. Maureen Dowd’s true vocation, New York Sun, May 6, 2002. Mark Tooley on the NCC, Institute on Religion and Democracy press release, May 9, 2002. James Woolcott on Carol Gilligan, Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2002. Peter Berkowitz on John Rawls, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2002. John O’Sullivan on sexual identity, New Criterion, September 1996. On the Society of Jesus, Commonweal, May 3, 2002. On the People for the American Way fundraiser, Media Research Center, April 30, 2002. On Oprah Winfrey, Christianity Today, April 1, 2002. Philip Yancey on Chesterton, Christianity Today, September 3, 2001. Commentary on RJN on the Jews, June 2002. Ratzinger’s “slap,” ABC News, April 26, 2002. New quotas for Jews, Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2002. On Tim LaHaye, Christian Century, April 10-17, 2002. RJN on homosexuality in the priesthood, New York Times, April 19, 2002. John Paul II, Romano Guardini, and Anne Hustead Burleigh on silence in the liturgy, quoted in Priestly Identity by Thomas McGovern (Four Courts Press, 2001), pages, 294-95. Brad Leithauser on Pogo, New York Review of Books, April 25, 2002. The Catholic “we,” New York Times, June 9, 2002.