My, my, but aren’t we important. A few years ago a bishop remarked about a Catholic academic who blamed all the troubles of the Church on the fact that the bishops had over the years been ignoring his advice, “Father ________ suffers from a severe case of self-referentiality.” It’s a clumsy but useful term, and it came to mind while reading Nicholas D. Kristof’s column in the New York Times this Sunday. Who would have thought that Mr. Kristof is at the epicenter of the storm over the Plame leak and the indictment of Mr. Lewis Libby? Nobody but Mr. Kristof, it seems. He had picked up a rumor “that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were upset in May and June 2003 by a column of mine from May 6, 2003, in which I linked Mr. Cheney to Mr. Wilson’s trip to Niger.” Imagine that. They were upset for two months over Mr. Kristof’s column. Imagine further that, in all the millions of words written about that Niger trip and Mr. Wilson’s subsequent charges against the administration, nobody had noticed that it was Mr. Kristof who had the scoop on the connection with Vice President Cheney. It’s about time somebody set the record straight, and who better to do it than Mr. Kristof? He continues: “If Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby thought that my column was unfair, or that Mr. Wilson was exaggerating his role, they had every right to ask for a correction or set the record straight.” Well, that is decent of him. Without exaggerating his role in all this, Mr. Kristof does allow that the Vice President of the United States has the right to appeal his decisions. “But,” Kristof writes, “they never raised the issue with me.” No, don’t tell me. Just who do they think they are? Mr. Cheney is the vice president, but he won’t be very long if he continues in his impertinent ways. Unless he is more forthcoming, writes Mr. Kristof, “he should resign. And if he won’t resign, Mr. Bush should demand his resignation.” You have been put on notice, Mr. Vice President. Nicholas D. Kristof is very unhappy with you. Self-referentiality. It’s a useful term.
Friday and Saturday in the Twin Cities left some distinct and positive impressions. There was the Paul Holmer Lecture under the auspices of the MacLaurin Institute, with an overflow crowd at the Hubert Humphrey Center. It amazed me that people drove seven hours from the Dakotas to be there, but then I was told that, in that part of the country, a seven-hour trip is not unusual for an evening out. The MacLaurin Institute is a mainly evangelical program aimed at encouraging Christian scholarship at the University of Minnesota. Speaking of creative academic programs, at least a dozen people wanted to tell me about the Catholic studies project at the University of St. Thomas, and were pleased to know that I was very much aware of it. In fact, that project has gained national attention and is seen as a model to be emulated at other universities. Then there was a talk at the sparkling new Law School of St. Thomas University in downtown Minneapolis. As in a few other places—Notre Dame and Villanova come to mind—the law school is playing a leading role in strengthening the university’s Catholic substance and witness.
Saturday morning was a talk at the remarkable Providence Academy in nearby Plymouth, Minnesota. Started only a few years ago and offering a solid Catholic education in grades one through twelve, Providence has over 600 students, with more than a third being evangelical Protestants. It is the brainchild of Bob Cummins, a high-tech entrepreneur, and Todd Flanders who is the headmaster. Todd is a 1994 alumnus of our Tertio Millennio Seminar in Krakow, Poland, and has obviously found his vocation in implementing in education the vision of John Paul the Great.
Impressive also is the promising turn in priestly vocations and seminary training in the Twin Cities. Those in charge give every indication of having internalized the lessons of what went wrong in recent decades and are determined to set it right. I am told the archdiocese this year ordained more priests than in any year since the 1960s, and that in the formation program there are large numbers of manly young men, intellectually and spiritually prepared to shepherd the Church in the years ahead.
Yes, I know, I was there for only a couple of days, and you might think I let myself be too impressed by people eager to sell a visitor on the good things happening in the Twin Cities. I don’t think so. For starters, in a lot of places I visit people don’t even try to put a good face on things. The comments of clergy and lay people reflect discouragement, ranging from malaise to disaster. In the Twin Cities, among both evangelicals and Catholics, there was a contagious sense of excitement about Christian renewal and mission.
Among Catholics there are, of course, different evaluations of the leadership of Archbishop Harry Flynn. He doesn’t usually show up on anybody’s list of “John Paul II bishops.” And there is still a good deal of flakiness in the archdiocese, as witness the flak over the toleration of Rainbow Sash gay activists at the altar. But people again and again spoke of his personal orthodoxy and piety. One priest put it nicely: “He’s a great hirer but a lousy firer.” By that he meant that, when there is an opportunity for renewal, the archbishop puts the right people in charge, but he shies away from confronting doctrinal and moral miscreants. That’s far from everything that might be desired, but it’s more than can be said of many bishops.
In any event, Minneapolis-St. Paul now has a more prominent place on my personal map of far less than a thousand points of light in the cause of Catholic renewal.