Monthly Archives: May 2009
As I prepare for some surgery this coming week to dig out some melanoma or pre-melanoma (docs still aren’t sure) from my back, I caught the last Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I haven’t watched late night talk shows regularly since Letterman back in the 80′s- but I like watching end of an era type programs because everyone seems to be in a more profound mood.
Jay Leno apparently caught that spirit. In his final moments in thinking of his legacy, he said his first reaction was something like- hey I tell jokes, make people laugh- what more do you say. But then he related how one of the band member’s had a child born shortly after he began as the Tonight Show host- and the child was featured briefly on the show. He then brought out the child who was now 17, and this led to his end game. He pulled back the curtain after describing how so many of his crew members met, married and had kids while being part of his show. The curtain revealed 68 kids and young adults, and Jay was beaming at how his show had a big part in bringing people together and making these children a reality.
I am quite certain that there was no political message embedded in this curtain call and speech about legacy- but it was hard to miss that what is of ultimate value is not all the temporary laughter over the years, it is the eternally significant lives of human beings, who may be mysteriously connecting in even the most insignificant of settings. If Jay Leno gets that, then God bless. I think God is always hiding in the most natural and normal of circumstances- the natural family is the greatest supernatural boost to many people’s spiritual growth. Maybe Leno missed out on that while focusing on his career, with no children of his own- or adopted- he and his wife apparently thought they were fine without children at home. But now he seemed to be finding his larger purpose in the children of his employees- which is a good development I think.
Christopher West came in for some criticism recently, much of it deserved, for his appearance on Nightline. In one sense, I sympathize with the critics. I have heard West speak, and found the simplification (bordering on sensationalization) of certain aspects of Theology of the Body somewhat off-putting. In a perfect world, people would read the writings of John Paull II and others to acquire a sophisticated, nuanced grasp of the subject matter. Nevertheless, that is not the world in which we live. That being the case I think, on balance, West’s work is valuable, difficult, and necessary.
And so I was somewhat surprised to see Dr. Schindler take the recent brouhaha as an opportunity to rather harshly criticize all of West’s work. The tension between academics and popularizers is nothing new (even writers as brilliant as C.S. Lewis and Chesterton had and have their academic detractors); but one would hope for a more restrained and sympathetic treatment given the difficulty of presenting the Catholic understanding of sexuality in the modern United States. I think the following defenses by Dr. Janet Smith and Dr. Michael Waldstein help provide a better context for understanding West and his work:
UCLA professor Peter Baldwin pens an interesting priece for the UK’s Prospect in which he argues that the differences between the US and Europe are not as great as is often claimed. Baldwin’s point of view strikes me as left of center, but his argument (mainly a comparison of statistics to see how the US really measures up to various EU countries on questions like poverty, education, environmentalism, etc.) is fairly non-ideological and the overall result is interesting.
Left open ended (though he provides a few thoughts on the matter) is the question of why both Americans and Europeans like to perceive such strong differences between themselves, and what exactly that means about the two cultures.
"Is There a Common Ground on Life Issues?" — A discussion with Robert P. George and Doug Kmiec, moderated by Mary Ann Glendon
Robert P. George and Doug Kmiec engaged in a discussion of the topic, “The Obama Administration and the Sanctity of Human Life: Is There a Common Ground on Life Issues? What is the Right Response by ‘Pro-Life” Citizens?” at Washington, D.C.’s National Press Club, Thursday, May 28, 2009. The discussion was moderated by Mary Ann Glendon.
Nat Hentoff’s characteristically blunt and ‘no b.s.’ columns used to be one of chief attractions of the Village Voice, before they made the foolish mistake of letting him go. Politically he’s not one you can apply a label to — in 2003 he supported the removal of Saddam Hussein’s murderous dictatorship on humanitarian grounds, but as a supporter of the First Amendment and civil liberties, harshly criticized the more excessive measures taken by the Bush administration.
Unapologetically pro-life, he is a staunch opponent of the death penalty and abortion (the latter apparently causing some tension with his liberal colleagues at the Voice) and vigorously opposed the court-ordered murder of Terry Schiavo.
Not surprisingly, he established a rapport with the feisty John Cardinal O’Connor, about whom he wrote an appreciative biography.
A self-described “member of the Proud and Ancient Order of Stiff-Necked Jewish Atheists,” he is also one who might merit the attribution: “on the side of the angels.”
Now, he takes aim at President Obama’s faux-support for “dialogue” at Notre Dame:
Father Alberto Cutié has abruptly left the Catholic Church and has joined the Episcopal church today. Father Cutié was recently caught in a scandal involving a woman in a two year affair and asked and received an indefinite leave of absence from Archbishop John C. Favalora. This has come as sudden and unexpected news to the Church. Archbishop Favalora of Miami has not spoken with Alberto Cutié since his request and has expressed shock at the news.
“I am genuinely disappointed by the announcement made earlier this afternoon by Father Alberto Cutié that he is joining the Episcopal Church,”
[quoting a pro-choice advocate covering Obama's Notre Dame address]
Good, I thought. It will be from the parent of the mentally retarded high school student who was gang raped, the doctor of an 11 year old incest victim, or possibly a woman with four kids already whose husband has just lost his job and medical benefits along with it.
Boy, was I wrong.”
The above desired examples of women (or girls) seeking abortion are precisely the kind of examples that do nothing whatsoever to further the purpose of honest debate about abortion in this country. Women (or girls) in such circumstances are chosen as examples because theirs are the stories most likely to evoke sympathy from most people (even if they do not sway the edicts of the Holy See). That Ms. Burk would cherry-pick them is not surprising, but nor does it speak to her desire to see abortion honestly discussed.
My trouble with her examples stems from my own experience as a doctor in New York City. For a few years, I worked in a clinic that provided free care to adolescents and young adults. I saw many, many young women who had become pregnant unintentionally. Many of them went on to deliver and parent their babies. Many opted to abort. (Before moving forward, I should clarify that our clinic did not provide abortions, but did serve as a point of referral.)
Miguel H. Diaz has been chosen by President Obama, peace be upon him, as the new ambassador to the Holy See. The secular media and Catholic Left has been hailing Mr. Diaz as a Rahner scholar and “pro-life” Democrat. Jesuit Father James Martin of America magazine, who recently claimed that Obama is not pro-abortion, has praised Mr. Diaz for being a Latino, in addition to being a “faithful” Catholic and for receiving a degree from the University of Notre Dame.
Abbot John Klassen of St. John’s Abbey had this to say about Mr. Diaz’s Latino and theological credentials [emphasis mine]:
“He is a strong proponent of the necessity of the Church to become deeply and broadly multi-cultural [I guess we need priestesses to be more multi-cultural], to recognize and appreciate the role that culture plays in a living faith [sounds too much like a living, breathing constitution]. Born in Havana, Cuba [Being born in Havana, Cuba is a good start in creating his Latino credentials.], he is a leading Hispanic theologian in United States.”
In the same week of his nomination of a Hispanic Catholic for the Supreme Court of the United States, President Obama has finally named Havana-born 45 year old Miguel H. Diaz, an associate professor of theology at St. John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. Eric Gorski (Associated Press) reports:
Professor Douglas Kmiec recently gave a “reflection” over President Obama’s speech at the University of Notre Dame last week. No surprises there. It appears that Kmiec is still campaigning to be Ambassador to the Holy See. But this was not his point here. We might call that a “background fact.”
Still obsessed with statistics and raw data, he noted that the President received the vote of 54% of self-identified Catholics on November 4, 2008 in the presidential election and that more than two-thirds of Catholics supports the Obama Administration. Why? Social justice–which includes a litany of issues that we terribly are far behind on because of “conservative partisans” who wish to keep Catholics in a “one-issue pocket,” which, in turn explains the “neglect” of social justice matters in “far too many parishes.”
Obama at Notre Dame: Incomplete Eloquence by Prof. Douglas Kmiec
The presidents were there in splendid form; the bishops were not.
Three presidents stood upon the stage: Father Jenkins, the embodiment of academic integrity informed by faith; Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president emeritus and civil rights champion, and Barack Obama, whose inauguration just months earlier was greeted with virtual national euphoria, but whose visit to campus was claimed to be “in defiance of church teaching.”
And the bishops? Sadly absent. Some, no doubt, honestly believed the President to be their antagonist. Most were silent. Notwithstanding repeated entreaties, the pastoral shepherds of the Church chose not to extend a simple pastoral blessing upon the graduates of the flagship Catholic university in America and their families.
The protests around Obama’s honorary degree from Notre Dame University had many of the more politically progressive Catholic voices complaining that pro-life advocates had moved into a practice of loudly protesting absolutely everything that seemed vaguely positive for Obama without regard for whether it was an important issue. As someone who cares about the integrity of Catholic education, I think they were wrong in regards to Notre Dame’s decision to give Obama an honorary law degree — it was a big deal and it was appropriate to decry the choice.
However, I think that Jay Anderson and Feddie are right in making the case that the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is not something that pro-life groups should be knocking themselves out to contest.
Given how early it is in his presidency and how high his political approval ratings are, Obama could have decided to spend political capital and put a top notch, liberal intellectual ideologue on the court who could work to shift the balance strongly to the left. Instead, he made the fairly bland, identify politics “first” pick which had been conventional wisdom in Democratic circles for some time, despite the doubts of those who wanted to see a more intellectual and ideological pick. As pro-lifers, we certainly don’t need to praise this pick. She is doubtless pro-choice and will work to support Roe and other Culture of Death decisions. But we also don’t need to pick this to raise a stink over. She will be confirmed regardless, given the composition of the senate, and if we can both conserve our political energy and provide Obama with some positive reinforcement that sticking to bland conventional wisdom candidates will be rewarded with a lack of partisan rancor, so much the better.
Again, I’m not saying that pro-lifers need to praise or support Sotomayor, but Obama could have stuck it to us a lot worse — and since kicking a fuss will achieve nothing other than encouraging the administration to play only to their base next time with a strictly ideological pick (and win the pro-life movement more of a reputation for constant shrillness) this would be a good time for us to hold our fire and concentrate on other things, like the next crop of pro-life candidates.
Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report had an interesting exchange with recent Catholic convert Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker who converted last March was on his way to Europe working on a documentary* on Pope John Paul II’s 1979 trip to Poland where Mr. Gilgoff asked if “he expected this trip to be different from previous visits”:
I don’t know that it’s much different. That’s part of what led to my conversion is the first time we [he and Callista**] went to St. Peter’s together. It’s St. Peter’s. I mean, you stand there and you think, this is where St. Peter was crucified. This is where Paul preached. You think to yourself, two thousand years ago the apostles set out to create a worldwide movement by witnessing to the historic truth they had experienced. And there it is. The last time we were there we were allowed to walk in the papal gardens and you get this sense that is almost mystical.
The perpetual virginity of Mary has always been reconciled with biblical references to Jesus’ brethren by a proper understanding of the meaning of the term “brethren.” The predominant view in Latin Christianity is the “cousins theory” mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea as a belief of some Christians, but more widely supported by St. Jerome in De Viris Illustribus in the 4th century, as he sought to defend the doctrine of Mary as Ever-Virgin. This biblical interpretation found favor with the Pope at the time and became widely promulgated, eventually becoming the non-official, but majority view of the Roman church.
With great respect and love of St. Jerome, a celebrated saint and Father of the Church, dare I say, I would like to boldly make a theological argument against his position and that of the majority of Catholics and delineate a just as valid, but arguably more reasonable theological opinion.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, let thy protection be upon all those who are in the service of our country; guard them from all harm and danger of body and soul; sustain and comfort those as home, especially in their hours of loneliness, anxiety, and sorrow; prepare the dying for death and the living for your service; give success to our arms on land and sea and in the air; and grant unto us and all nations a speedy, just and lasting peace. Amen.
– Prayer in Time of War
It has become an oft repeated trope of Catholics who are on the left or the self-consciously-unclassifiable portions of the American political spectrum that the pro-life movement has suffered a catastrophic loss of credibility because of its association with the Republican Party, and thence with the Iraq War and the use of torture on Al Qaeda detainees. Until the pro-life movement distances itself from the Republican Party and all of the pro-life leadership who have defended the Iraq War and/or the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on detainees, the argument goes, the pro-life movement will have no moral authority and will be the laughing stock of enlightened Catholics everywhere.
Regardless of what one thinks about the Iraq War and torture (myself, I continue to support the former but oppose the latter) I’m not sure that this claim works very well. Further, I think that those who make it often fail to recognize the extent to which it cuts both ways.