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For the record: Wal-Mart has apologized for what it describes as “the inappropriate and inflammatory comments” to which I called attention a couple of days ago. The comments had to do with a rather bizarre account of the history and meaning of Christmas. A threatened boycott by the Catholic League has been called off. The Wal-Mart spokesman says, however, that they’re sticking with the policy of encouraging employees to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Customers are permitted to greet at will.

I commented earlier this week on a brouhaha over whether the IRS was on the case of a Pasadena church because of a sermon against the Iraq war and George W. Bush. A lawyer in Washington, DC, who is familiar with IRS actions says the agency did send out in 2004 notices informing some churches that they were not permitted to endorse candidates. He writes, “A threatening letter on IRS letterhead, like those generated by the 2004 program, ups the ante significantly. It can pack quite an emotional wallop for the pastor of a small parish, or for the volunteer administrator of a small charity. It is likely to stop them from saying things that they are actually allowed to say.”

That’s entirely on target, I think. From time to time the US bishops conference sends out to priests such a caution, with the inadvertent effect of encouraging self-censorship, so fearful are they of jeopardizing their tax exemption. I have also heard the complaint that the prohibition of “politics” in the pulpit is the reason some priests give for not addressing, for instance, the defense of the unborn. As Paul says to Timothy, “We have not been given the spirit of timidity.”

John Allen’s “Word from Rome” is, as usual, instructive. This time he interviews Francis Rooney, the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Rooney is the seventh ambassador in this position, a devout Catholic, and a strong supporter of President George W. Bush. He has made his bundle with the Manhattan Construction Company, based in Oklahoma and founded by his immigrant Irish father.

Allen writes: “Among Manhattan Construction’s most famous projects would be the Prayer Tower on the campus of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa¯ironically, this quintessential Irish-Catholic family built the signature structure on a campus long a bastion of conservative Protestant hostility to Roman Catholicism.”

Ironically? Maybe. I expect Mr. Rooney would say that business is business. And the university’s hiring of Mr. Rooney’s firm may suggest that its hostility to Catholicism is not unremitting.

Among other major projects of the Rooney firm is the building of the new Benedictine monastery in Clear Creek, Oklahoma, which I discussed in a posting earlier this week. According to Thomas Gordon Smith, the noted architect of Notre Dame, it is being built “to last a thousand years.” That probably wouldn’t sit well with the fans of the Left Behind series at Oral Roberts.

The Clear Creek project will cost more than ten million dollars before it is completed, and there is to date firm but still modest progress toward that goal.

A kind reader forwarded some items from a blogsite run by Andrew Sullivan. It seems Mr. Sullivan is tying himself into knots over his relationship with the Church, excommunicating himself because he feels excommunicated by the Church’s unwillingness to join in his celebration of buggery.* And then there is his argument that the Church contradicts herself by saying that a pro-abortion politician may be excluding himself from communion while it is all right for a judge to read the Constitution in a way that upholds the abortion license. This is to ignore the crucial difference between the legislative and judicial branches.

A judge has a very modest task. He is to deal with a case according to an honest reading of the constitutional text. That is his narrowly defined job. As much as is humanly possible, his preferences and convictions, even his most deeply held moral convictions, do not determine his judicial conclusions. He may be strongly opposed to abortion, but that stance does not prevent him from doing his job anymore than a strongly pro-life police officer or fireman is prevented from protecting an abortion clinic. (In traditional language, the crucial difference is between degrees of complicity¯direct and voluntary or remote and involuntary.)

The circumstance of the legislator is dramatically different. Unlike the judge, his job is to make law, and to make law in accord with his best understanding of justice. That best understanding is determined by conscience informed by the truth. A legislator who supports laws withdrawing protection from the unborn and countenancing the direct and intended killing of the innocent is in clear conflict with natural justice and the teaching of the Church, and that of necessity has grave consequences for his communion with the Church. It seems odd that Mr. Sullivan has so much difficulty understanding that.

Or maybe it is not so odd. As most priests know from long experience, when someone attacks the Church, it often takes only a little probing to discover that, in more cases than not, their anger is the result of a morally disordered life. In Mr. Sullivan’s case, it takes no probing at all, since he is so very, so incessantly, public about it.

* Please hold the letters about the use of “buggery.” It’s a fine English word, although unfairly attributing a nasty practice to Bulgarians. In a more cosmopolitan time, before perversions transmogrified into social causes, it was understood that some people did queer ** things in private. The story is told of Winston Churchill encountering on a social occasion a member of parliament who had been arrested for soliciting in a public loo. Churchill said, “Oh, so you’re the chap giving buggery a bad name, are you?”

** Ditto re a more cosmopolitan time.

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