Thursday, February 28

Done. I can't believe it, but I got the whole book review article written, which was preceded, of course, by two days of non-stop reading, including an eight-hour marathon spent on Ireland's Holy Wars: Struggle for the Soul of a Nation 1500-2000, which is not exactly light reading. If you're interested in either Irish history or Catholic matters past and present, check it out, though.

The other book was a dramatic contrast: The Monks of Tibhirine about the seven Trappist monks kidnapped and beheaded in Algeria in 1996. The question both books raise is: how can strong adherents to different religions co-exist? The issues raised are about fear, domination, humility, the relationship of religious faith to social, political and cultural structures and power. One might argue that the monks' way, which was the way of simply loving as Christ loved, can't be the answer the question of co-existence since they were robbed of existence. But then, we're moved to ask again, is that finally the point? Is that what Jesus calls us to? Cling to earthly existence no matter what the price to our souls or cost to others? Or does he call us to something different?

Famous last words: Washington Archbishop tells area Catholics not to worry about any sex scandal in their archdiocese. No, I don't know anything, but I'm just sayin'. Famous last words.

Wednesday, February 27

More questions about the Archdiocese of Boston, but on a different issue:

... the Director of Counseling Services at Catholic Charities in Dorchester, a facility that counsels pregnant women, volunteers his Saturdays escorting women into Planned Parenthood's abortion clinic in Boston. The paper confirmed with Catholic Charities spokesperson, Maureen March that Howard M. Brown is a counselor at the centre and further published a photo of Brown in his "Planned Parenthood Escort" uniform.

Here's the original article from the Massachusetts News. And for additional edification on the the problematic nature of many Catholic Charities offices and the relationship of that problematic nature to government funding, see How Catholic Charities Lost its Soul from the City Journal.

A must-read from the New York Times Magazine about the meanness of girls. I'm absolutely serious about this: if you are a parent, teacher, or anyone who lives or works with pre-teen or adolescent girls, read this. It's true, and it's scary.

This focus on the cruelty of girls is, of course, something new. For years, psychologists who studied aggression among schoolchildren looked only at its physical and overt manifestations and concluded that girls were less aggressive than boys. That consensus began to change in the early 90's, after a team of researchers led by a Finnish professor named Kaj Bjorkqvist started interviewing 11- and 12-year-old girls about their behavior toward one another. The team's conclusion was that girls were, in fact, just as aggressive as boys, though in a different way. They were not as likely to engage in physical fights, for example, but their superior social intelligence enabled them to wage complicated battles with other girls aimed at damaging relationships or reputations -- leaving nasty messages by cellphone or spreading scurrilous rumors by e-mail, making friends with one girl as revenge against another, gossiping about someone just loudly enough to be overheard. Turning the notion of women's greater empathy on its head, Bjorkqvist focused on the destructive uses to which such emotional attunement could be put. ''Girls can better understand how other girls feel,'' as he puts it, ''so they know better how to harm them.''

Brings back memories. None of them good!

The writer, Margaret Talbot, adds some very wise thoughts of her own:

I would never counsel blithe ignorance on such matters -- some children are truly miserable at school for social reasons, truly persecuted and friendless and in need of adult help. But sometimes we do seem in danger of micromanaging children's social lives, peering a little too closely. Priding ourselves on honesty in our relationships, as baby-boomer parents often do, we expect to know everything about our children's friendships, to be hip to their social travails in a way our own parents, we thought, were not. But maybe this attention to the details can backfire, giving children the impression that the transient social anxieties and allegiances of middle school are weightier and more immutable than they really are. And if that is the result, it seems particularly unfortunate for girls, who are already more mired in the minutiae of relationships than boys are, who may already lack, as Christopher Lasch once put it, ''any sense of an impersonal order that exists independently of their wishes and anxieties'' and of the ''vicissitudes of relationships.''

I think I would have found it dismaying if my middle school had offered a class that taught us about the wiles of Marcie and Tracie: if adults studied their folkways, maybe they were more important than I thought, or hoped. For me, the best antidote to the caste system of middle school was the premonition that adults did not usually play by the same rigid and peculiar rules -- and that someday, somewhere, I would find a whole different mattering map, a whole crowd of people who read the same books I did and wouldn't shun me if I didn't have a particular brand of shoes. When I went to college, I found it, and I have never really looked back.

The words of Christopher Lasch, which I bolded above, are particularly important. Dealing with these kinds of problems should be much less complicated and more straightforward in religiously-grounded schools: no dissection of relationship dynamics or sociological cant is necessary: Look to Christ: That's how we treat each other. Boys, girls, teachers, parents, administrators. Period.

Oh, my word: Sicily plans Catholic Mount Rushmore:

Looking for an edge in the battle with Greece and Spain for tourists, Sicily has devised a masterplan: a Roman Catholic Mount Rushmore.


There are plans for the faces of the Pope, Mother Teresa and Padre Pio, a miracle-working friar, to be carved into the hills of Segesta in an effort to corner the lucrative pilgrim tourist niche. If the local mayor has his way, the sculptures will be big enough to be seen from space and will draw 250,000 visitors annually

One can only imagine what the proposed honorees would have to say about such a spectacle.

An excellent, challenging piece from the Telegraph (UK) on secularization arguing that the churches have only themselves to blame for the phenomenon:

People are astonishingly ignorant of Christian teachings, and regard themselves competent to define religious positions for themselves, based on their supposed emotional needs, and without any reference to long-established traditions of thought and practice.

This extraordinary departure derives in part from the scorched-earth policies adopted by the Church itself in relation to its own schools back in the 1970s. It was then thought that the teaching of Christianity as a matter of instruction in a received tradition was illiberal.

Christianity was relativised by being represented as one of a number of faiths. Its doctrinal structure was neglected - almost entirely - and in its place a diluted version was conveyed to children scarcely capable of judgments that adults find difficult enough. For the Church schools, the result was plain: they ceased to be recruiting grounds for Christian adherents.

Tuesday, February 26

You remember that New York's Attorney General has gone to battle with Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Here's an interesting column that addresses the question of "why" with the most dependable answer of all: $$$$$
Here's my response to this week's Newsweek cover, featuring Cardinal Law in all his glory and the headline, "Sex, Shame and Catholic Church." Thanks a lot, guys. A big, hearty thanks from all of us out here trying, in our own small ways, to share the Catholic faith with the world, whether it be in the classroom, in the family, in RCIA, or in the workplace. Thanks a lot for putting something -what? - clerical culture, a fear of exposure - before the well-being of children and the real needs of the Church. Thanks for interrupting the Catholic Moment for a very, very long time.

Good, sad, reflection by Kenneth Woodward, though.

A gorgeous snow last night. It started falling about eleven, the rain that had been coming down suddenly changing clothes and putting on thick, fluffly white jackets. There is nothing more hauntingly beautiful than a steady snowfall in the dark of night.

And for the school kids, the best of all possible worlds: A two-hour delay of the opening bell. They got that extra sleep they always crave, but they don't have to miss a whole day which would, at this point in the game, have to be made up at the end of the year.

Monday, February 25

Good News: Joseph's two top teeth are coming in nicely.

Bad News He's discovered the art of grinding his top and bottom teeth together. Aaaargh.

I've posted a list of speaking engagements and appearances on the home page.
John Wayne's grandson is a newly-ordained Catholic priest.
Well. Light at the end of one tunnel reached. New tunnels on the horizon.

I finished Prove It: Prayer over the weekend and sent it to my editor. I'm pleased with it. The next task is to revise my outline for the long-awaited sequel to The Loyola Kids' Book of Saints and then work on the book on Jesus' parables.

I had a nice radio interview this morning with Kay Browne, host of a program called "Music and More" on WCAR, Michigan Catholic Radio. It's taped, so I don't know when the interview will air.

Saturday, February 23

Good, although complicated things going on in a Perpetual Adoration Chapel in Fall River, Massachusetts: homeless people taking shelter.
A poignant, personal remembrance of Mexico's anti-Catholic past from a 91-year old religious sister.
This article ticked me off. It's about the Project Rachel post-abortion support program in the Diocese of Orlando. What angered me is the reporter's use of "mental health professionals" to question the group's methods, fretting that there are no "licensed counselors" involved, merely "facilitators."

Oh.

Do they have the same criticisms of AA or any of the other countless support groups out there? I doubt it.

Do they consider that perhaps the reason this program lies outside traditional mental health counseling is because most mental health practitioners, from psychiatrists to your basic MA in social work, are trained to do nothing but blow off abortion and cover up the true nature of the act? One of the "professionals" worries that the groups might "increase guilt" feelings. Therein lies the problem. You minimize, cover-up and hide appropriate and necessary guilt, you end up with a demolished and fractured self.

I've forgotten to mention that my son David got his driver's license last week. I've sent him out on several short trips to the grocery store, barbershop,etc. in the past few days, but this afternoon he's gone on a more challenging journey: to see The Lord of the Rings (for the fifth time) at a movie theater halfway across town, and with a friend. It will be an afternoon of frayed nerves for me, at least, until he returns. I really love it when my kids are able to drive, and take care of more of their own needs themselves, but the first month or so is really scary.

Thursday, February 21

Still fretting about the "great" job non-Catholics do with youth? Still envious of their programs? Read this story and be appropriately chastened.

-- Four families have filed suit against a Crown Point church, alleging activities at its popular New Year's Eve overnight lock-in harmed their children.

At the heart of the suit against the Living Stones Fellowship Church is the allegation that the adults who ran the church lock-in at Omni 41 Health and Fitness Connection in Schererville pressured the minor children into activities that caused them physical and mental harm.

Merrillville attorney John Bushemi, who represents the families, alleges in the suit that two of the children, 13- and 14-year-old boys, were pressured into drinking a mixture of dog food, salsa, sauerkraut, sardines, potted meat, eggnog and cottage cheese.

The mixture was first chewed by a church employee, then spit into a cup from which the children drank while crowds cheered them on, Bushemi said.

Speaking of education, I just returned from a school-supply store where I bought science fair paraphenalia. Prominently displayed was the newest in classroom management: a "Yacker Tracker", a traffic light you can set to moniter acceptable levels of classroom noise. Interesting concept that evokes positive and negative responses in me. Positive: it's objective. Negative: Why can't teachers get students to respond them without gizmos anymore?
Exactly. Excellent piece in the National Review pointing out the inconsistency in attitudes towards educational vouchers. Pell Grants that may be used in religiously-rooted colleges? OK. A program giving federal funds to day care centers, including those run by churches? OK. Vouchers that give parents the ability to choose a school for their elementary-aged child? Somehow, not okay. Wondering why? Three little letters - N-E-A What a blight on education.
Went to Mass last night and heard a fairly decent, positive homily about Lenten observances, in contrast to the Ash Wednesday homily at a different parish in which the priest dramatically dissed "giving things up" for Lent, saying that was old school, passe (can't do the accent mark, but you get it), and so on. We should be "doing" for Lent, not "giving up." Evidently, Father had missed the class in seminary in which they went over the stuff about self-denial being a way to a) acknowledge and live out our radical dependence on God instead of "stuff" to make us happy and b) to clear our lives of clutter, making room for us to more clearly tune in the Spirit which is calling us to - yes - "do stuff."

Soup after Mass. Pretty good. Good crowd, too - probably 150 people, at least.

Joseph news: He's waving all the time now, and clapping his hands. Over the past few days, he's discovered the fascination of putting things in other things. He has a toy that's basically five little nesting bowls, and he takes great pleasure in putting one inside the other. He says "Ha" in repsonse to "Hi" and whenever he sees Katie, he lets loose with a torrent of "Ka-ka-ka-ka" syllables that he doesn't say in relation to anyone or anything else.

And he still hates to sleep.

Boy, are people STUPID these days. I mean, really, really dumb. There's a mural in a classroom at Indiana University in Bloomington (my birthplace) painted by Thomas Hart Benton. It's about the history of Indiana, and includes a small scene portraying a cross-burning by the KKK. Now, this is a rather important part of Indiana history. The Klan was basically rebirthed here in the 1920's, and was very strong. In fact, Our Sunday Visitor was started in direct response to Klan anti-Catholic propoganda.

So? Well, it seems as if some students are ....offended by the mural. As the article in The Weekly Standard says,

Last week, the Black Student Union held a town hall meeting with administrators to complain about the artistic depiction of the Klan in a classroom, where, they point out, students cannot avoid it. A columnist for the student paper, the Indiana Daily Student, agreed, saying the mural should be removed to a museum (a move that might damage the mural), so that students who are offended by it could avoid seeing it. The fact that the painting is actually anti-Klan is immaterial, the writer argued: "Many students have found it offensive over the years. While it might be educational to many, this isn't enough to risk offending even a handful of students."

Silence, please, as we remember the countless times those offended by, say, anti-Christian art in public places have been told to pipe down and grow up.

Silence, please, as well, as we remember those who cannot deal with history as it was. Benton's piece is not pro-Klan. It's simply portraying an important part of Indiana history, one which we should not forget.

An odd story from down Tampa way. Another article that goes to show that secretive ecclesiastical ways are by no means exclusive to Catholics. It's the story of an Episcopal priest who has been suddenly and mysteriously removed from his parish. He's a former RC, and was studying to be a deacon while teaching at my old stomping grounds, Santa Fe Catholic HS in Lakeland, when he decided to become Episcopalian.

Wednesday, February 20

Supreme Court Justice Scalia has recently opined on the death penalty and, more specifically, a Catholic jurist's attitude towards it. He begged to differ with JPII on the legitimacy of capital punishment and said that any Catholic who agreed with the Pope shouldn't be adjudicating cases in which the death penalty is an option.

Brief thoughts, before I have to get back to work and finish That Darn Book. Today, by golly.

Emotionally, I'm all for the death penalty, especially when it comes to mass murderers and child-killers. At the time, I was willing to put Susan Smith in a car and push her in a lake to drown personally. Andrea Yates evokes the same emotion. But...

At the end of the day, I have to say no. My reasons are not particularly spiritual or high-flown, but they all come down to this: capital punishment isn't equitably meted out. It never has been, and it never will be. In contemporary America, your chances of being executed have much less to do with the crime you've committed than with a) your income , b) where you live and where your case is being tried c) who your victims were. To put it very simply, rich people don't get executed when they commit murder. Heck, rich people hardly ever go to trial when they commit murder.

To emphasize: I have no sympathy with killers whatsoever. I also think it's disingenous for Catholic death penalty opponents to pretend that the present opposition of the Pope to the death penalty isn't a bit of a departure from the bulk of Catholic tradition on the subject. But what we have to remember is this: aside from issues of justice for crimes (a sticky philosophical matter), the death penalty was a part of past society's for one essential reason: Most societies didn't have the means to protect themselves from dangerous criminals aside from killing them. We have those means. And we should use them.

In reflecting on this Andrea Yates case, I see how our discussion about what to do with her would be simplified by taking the death penalty out of the equation. It's obvious the woman should be locked up for the rest of her life, and have her mental illness treated so some day, the reality of what she did can settle into her consciousness and haunt her for the rest of her days.

Quick thoughts. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Well, I guess we shouldn't be surprised, considering the title of her second book was Bitch. Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of the aforementioned tome and Prozac Nation, has weighed in on September 11.

"I just felt, like, everyone was overreacting," Wurtzel told a Canadian journalist last week about her experience being near Ground Zero on Sept 11. "People were going on about it. That part really annoyed me."

Wurtzel - whose debut book "Prozac Nation" is being made into a movie starring Christina Ricci, while her follow-up, "Bitch," flopped - also declares that when her mother called to tell her a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers, "My main thought was: What a pain in the ass."


She may not have been moved by the horrific spectacle of the massacre but, in retrospect, Wurtzel says, the towers' destruction "was a most amazing sight in terms of sheer elegance. It fell like water. It just slid like a turtleneck going over someone's head. It was just beautiful."

Summing up her feeling post-9/11, Wurtzel muses: "You know what was really funny? After the fact, like all these different writers were writing these things about what it was like, and nobody bothered to call me." Of course, she says, "I don't want to tell other people's stories."

The New York Post has the article. (Link will only be good today.)

A fascinating, witty police log published in the Northern California weekly the Arcata Eye. I thought it was a joke when I first start reading it, but evidently, it isn't.

Tuesday, February 19

If you've not already escaped from AOL Hell, here's another reason to do so, from the Weekly Standardarticle below:

AOL is quietly weighing the pros and cons of informing on dissidents if the Public Security Bureau so requests; the right decision would clearly speed Chinese approval for AOL to offer Internet services and perhaps get a foothold in the Chinese television market.

A while back, it was "just following orders."

Now it's "just providing what the consumer wants." In this case, the consumer being the Chinese government and Internet services:

The former Yahoo! rep also admitted that the search phrase "Taiwan independence" on Chinese Yahoo! would yield no results, because Yahoo! has disabled searches for select keywords, such as "Falun Gong" and "China democracy." Search for VIP Reference, a major overseas Chinese dissident site, and you will get a single hit, a government site ripping it to shreds. How did Yahoo! come up with these policies? He replied, "It was a precautionary measure. The State Information Bureau was in charge of watching and making sure that we complied. The game is to make sure that they don't complain." By this logic, when Yahoo! rejected an attempt by Voice of America to buy ad space, they were just helping the Internet function smoothly. The former rep defended such censorship: "We are not a content creator, just a medium, a selective medium." But it is a critical medium. The Chinese government uses it to wage political campaigns against Taiwan, Tibet, and America. And of course the great promise of the Internet in China was supposed to be that it was unfettered, not selective. The Yahoo! rep again: "You adjust. The crackdowns come in waves; it's just the issue du jour. It's normal."

Theoretically, China's desire to be part of the Internet should have given the capitalists who wired it similar leverage. Instead, the leverage all seems to have remained with the government, as Western companies fell all over themselves bidding for its favor.



Here's the entire, depressing article from the Weekly Standard

Hah. Remember my column on the impossibility of selecting a single book for an entire diocese to read, along the lines of Chicago's "One book, One city" program?

Well, New York is having the same problem.

Before the meeting to pick a book, the organizers e-mailed an agenda listing some considerations: "Themes: overcoming diversity, embracing city's multicultural population, NYC backdrop?" The committee quickly agreed to favor books that were not too familiar from school reading lists, and not as predictable as other cities' picks.

Quickly discarded were scores of contenders including "Washington Square" by Henry James, "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren, "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote and "Underworld" by Don DeLillo. One of the early nominees was Chang-rae Lee's well-received second novel, "A Gesture Life," but its story of Korean "comfort women" during World War II was deemed too remote, too racy and too controversial.

Eventually, the list dwindled to a final four: "Native Speaker," "The Color of Water," "Ragtime," by E. L. Doctorow, and "Report From Engine Co. 82," a fireman's 1972 memoir by Dennis Smith. The nomination of the last book was inspired by the attack on the World Trade Center. It was one committee member's passionate favorite but evoked private eye-rolling from others as too parochial. Several committee members said "Ragtime" seemed overexposed and insufficiently multicultural.

Read the NY Post's Andrea Peyser on the opening day of the Yates trial in Houston. The defense approach of avoiding the use of the word or even the suggestion of "killing" is not surprising, but it should remind us all of the same kind of dissembling that takes place in regard to the most frequent kind of child-killing practiced in America, abortion.

-- It was like watching Andrea Yates' children die again.
To hear the defense tell it yesterday, Yates did not kill her babies, she "interrupted their lives."

When Yates chased down her five kids and held their struggling heads under water, one by one, until they stopped breathing, it was not murder. It was an "incident."


Monday, February 18

Diocese of Witchita is spending $$$ to keep up a little church with few parishioners because of its association with Fr Emile Kapaun who

... was born and raised on a farm south of Pilsen. He became a priest who worked at his home parish and went on to serve with such distinction as a military chaplain that soldiers who knew him are promoting his case for canonization

More on Fr. Kapaun.

Chefs compete in Spam cookoff. I saw someone buying Spam in the grocery store the other day. In fact, she was discussing whether she should buy regular Spam or or Turkey Spam. Tough decision, I guess.
I still have nightmares, regularly, about being late for an exam or having an exam in a class which I haven't attended all semester. Here's a real-life version of that nightmare, only worse. A violinist misses his concert - with the Philadephia Orchestra, no less.
Why Catholics don't take their leaders seriously part 357:

Last year, our little town gained some national notoriety because of a proposed production of the play Corpus Christi, in which the gospel story is recast as some sort of gay-rights gala, was being produced at the local branch of Indiana University/Purdue. Don't use our taxes to fund anti-Christian propoganda, and so on. Catholic League got involved, as did our bishop, who wrote against it in the local paper.

This year, Notre Dame University is sponsoring TWO productions of - what else - The Vagina Monologues. Next week.

Bishop? Your opinion? Your control over the university that's in your diocese? Silence.

See, this just doesn't work. You cannot credibly tell society at large how to run its business and then cede all moral authority within your own community. Can't do it.

Same old story in Tuscon about covering up sexual abuse by a priest.

There's a lot of talk about these cases in the Catholic community, of course, and some of the more "conservative" discussions I've read over on email lists and bulletin boards are almost totally focused on defending clerical celibacy in the wake of these scandals, or blaming the media for jumping on these cases when "just as many" teachers, scout leaders, Protestant ministers, etc. are guilty of being sexual predators.

Well.

Let's take the second point first. What? We should be glad that Catholic priests don't prey on young people in any greater numbers than others who are in contact with youth? Shouldn't we be despondent that any priest is guilty of this crime?

On the first point. Sure, it's tempting to take the bait of liberals who use this as a way to attack the practice of clerical celibacy, but we shouldn't for two reasons. First, mandatory clerical celibacy is for the birds. It grew out of particular historical circumstances (concern for using clerical office as part of a family patrimony to pass on to heirs, a negative view of sexuality and women in the culture, and so on), and was an attempt to solve certain problems by applying a monastic ideal to a non-monastic circumstance. It doesn't work, and never really has. Reactors rightly point out that clerical celibacy doesn't directly lead to sexual abuse (many sexual abusers are married, anyway), but the protective culture spawned by mandatory celibacy doesn't help us as a church deal with these issues openly and honestly, either.

Finally, these "conservative" and self-proclaimed "orthodox" reactors are totally missing the other half of the scandal. The sexual predators in clerical collars are bad enough. Just as bad is the cover-up and the criminal way church bureaucrats have dealt with the problem when confronted with it. That's what bothers people just as much as the acts themselves.

Interesting. A former seminarian from the Diocese of Camden is suing the diocese for breach of contract because, he claims, he was basically sexually harrassed out of the seminary. It's a unique angle: he's claiming that since the priesthood presents itself in a certain way (uh...celibate) and what he encountered was anything but, that dissonance between ideal and reality constitutes a type of fraud. I wish his lawyer hadn't cited Gary Wills as part of his argument, but it remains an interesting one nonetheless.
This article says that the Pope has performed three exorcisms during his pontificate.
Look for more blogging later. At the moment, I'm trying to recuperate from a week of tending to sick people (Katie, then David), people who don't sleep (Joseph) and a very nice visit from my good Florida friend, Dorothy, who came up for the weekend with her niece Emily. We did the usual Northern Indiana things - A little bit of Amish gawking, Lincoln Museum, ice skating (the girls, not Dorothy or me.) Now it's back to work!

Friday, February 15

World Youth Day is coming up in August in Toronto and liberal/radical groups are ready to helpfully give voice to all those messages they - ahem - never hear. About condoms and stuff.

But World Youth Day organizers, who had 100,000 people from more than 115 countries registered by the end of January, say it's the church's message that doesn't get heard enough by young people.

"The message they will hear at World Youth Day is the one they would not normally hear," said Paul Kilbertus, the event's communications director.

"This event is not for people who live in isolation from the world."

He said youth hear anti-Catholic messages such as `use condoms' every day in the media and on television, even in Catholic strongholds like South and Central America.

"If anything, we are putting forward a counter-cultural message that people will not normally hear."

And, affirming our sense of the IQ of the "alternative" crowd, one of them declares, in the face of half a million Catholic kids descending on Toronto, that

Reformers say that if the church changed some of its traditional stances to accommodate an ever-changing world, more people would come back into the fold

Thursday, February 14

Richard John Neuhaus debates Peter Singer.
Australian priest problems.

Apparently, the guy won a competition which then enabled him to do a Survivor- type stint in a prison for three weeks. Some of the challenges he was asked to perform were not exactly in tune with his station:

During the competition the 38-year-old priest was made to share a cell with a strip club manager and read an extract from Penthouse magazine as part of one of the challenges

He won. And donated his winnings to a charity. But - all was not well up on his return:

But after he returned to Sydney he discovered his parish priest Brian Larkey had resigned in protest over the incident and Father Kevin was asked to move to Penrith in Sydney's outer west after many of the older parishioners complained.

Italian priest problems.
The Vatican's missionary news service says that dozens of Roman Catholic priests and bishops are being detained or watched in China. I like this part:

Fides also accused the European Union and the United States of being sympathetic to China "because of its enormous market and its support for the war on terror."

"In this context, human and political rights are the last worry," Fides said.

Good quiz that someone has posted on the FreeRepublic Website asking you to identify the speaker of various quotes: Is it Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger or Aryan Nation leader Tom Metzger?
Bill O'Reilly goes after HBO's top programming executive for his networks supposed near-pornography. Geez, Bill. Did you know HBO was a subscription service that you have to pay for to have come into your home? Did you know that the Fox network isn't? Did you know that for the most part, Fox network programming is wall-to-wall garbage, the trashy ads for which, from Boston Public to That 70's Show routinely air on Fox sporting broadcasts, broadcasts that are viewed by kids? Go after the dirt in your own house, please.
New York Crisis Pregnancy Centers are fighting back against their state's Attorney General, who has recently started legal action clearly intended to shut the places down. Good for them - for helping women and children, and for fighting back.
Another good page of Lenten resources from the University of Dayton

Wednesday, February 13

Some reading notes:

I'm currently reading Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy for pleasure, and Ireland's Holy Wars:The Struggle for a Nation's Soul 1500-2000 by Marcus Tanner and Patrick: the Pilgrim Apostle of Ireland by Máire B. de Paor for work.

Today is Ash Wednesday of course. A couple of good starting points for Lent links:

here for an ecumenical set and here for a more exclusively RC look.

Here's a very good page with links to lots of appropriate Lenten readings from the like of St. Augustine, Cardinal Newman, Alphonsus Liguori, and others.

Ed Asner satisfied with his own television portrayal of Pope John XXIII for Italian television. Well, if he's happy, I'm happy.
A short article from the New York Post on Pierre Toussaint, a possible future saint.
As if we didn't know: Documents reveal Chinese animus against religion.

Several documents describe efforts to infiltrate religious groups using secret agents, as well as members who are "forced upon secret arrest to work for us." One refers to an order to establish "mobile reconnaissance teams" throughout the country to conduct electronic surveillance of suspects.

"Secret forces are the heart and soul in covert struggles and the crucial magic weapon in our battle against and victory over the enemy," it says, urging security agents to focus on Falun Gong members, underground Catholics and private businessmen with complicated political backgrounds, as well as university professors and students.

A Chicago priest doing good fights his transfer to another parish.

Tuesday, February 12

The truth about "campaign-finance reform" and free speech from Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee:

Big Media loves these kind of speech regulations, which only apply to players other than themselves. If the panoply of restrictions in the bill actually became law, perhaps the biggest single beneficiary would be Big Media: Those who own and produce the content of the news sources on which many Americans already are overly reliant. Under these restrictions, Big Media would have even greater power to define the public-policy agenda, and the average citizen would be even more dependent on the biases of media gatekeepers.

Signs of Changing Times.

Local communities join to preserve religious orders' property. Not that the religious orders are interested in seeing them preserved, mind you.

...residents believed the Mallinckrodt convent would remain safe in the hands of Loyola University. The university has taught classes in the building off Ridge Road since 1991, leasing it until 1998. Loyola bought the property for $11.6 million from the Sisters of Christian Charity and recently stunned the community with its announcement that it intends to sell the land to a developer.

Residents immediately objected to plans by developer Edward James and Valenti Builders to raze the historic 180,000-square-foot building to construct 60 new homes.

Pardon my skepticism, but... I can't help it when reading this report of a supposedly stigmatic priest on tour.

The Rev. Zlatko Sudac, 31, who arrived here on temporary assignment five months ago, has stunned an ever-growing number of worshipers with other astounding claims, among them the ability to heal, levitate, be in two places at once and know the future.

He's got a cross embedded on his head.

Note to up-and-coming mystics: This is not the way of authentic mystical experience. Mystics like Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and so on didn't "go on tour" and make "claims" about their experiences. They tried to do what Jesus said to do about prayer and spirituality: Keep it quiet and do God's work of love.

Remember what I wrote about below? About sexually abusive priests remaining on diocesan payrolls? Here's an example.

Worcester diocese officials acknowledged yesterday an accused pedophile priest long deemed ``missing'' has been receiving a regular check from the church - even though he runs an English teachers training school in Mexico and Boston.

Kane was located last week in Guadalajara, Mexico, from where he sent Houston attorney Daniel Shea an e-mail stating, ``Greetings from the city of eternal springtime . . . living here in Mexico for five years now and love it.''




Monday, February 11

In the final stretch. With just a few more good days, I should be able to finish Prove It:Prayer by the end of the week. I have about three more chapters to write, and I've already revised everything up to this point three times, inserted quotes, and so on, so those last three chapters should really be it. I'm excited. I'm ready to move on to my Loyola book on Jesus' parables, as well as the thrilling sequel to The Loyola Kids' Book of Saints.
Padre Pio, All the Time, Any Time. This piece is a must-read:

An Italian town dubbed the Roman Catholic Las Vegas has set up a television station devoted to Padre Pio, a monk credited with performing miracles who is expected to be canonised in the next few months.

Capuchin friars at San Giovanni Rotondo launched Tele Padre Pio at the weekend in the first phase of a plan to beam the monk's face around the world.



The town apparently draws about 7 million pilgrims a year, and hundreds of hotels have sprung up to house them. In addition:

A £1m bingo hall has opened near the crypt and some pilgrims are accused of seeking Padre Pio's intervention to guarantee the right numbers.


Science and religion: The Never-Ending Story. This article highlights a recent, 800-patient Mayo Clinic study on prayer and healing that appears to undercut the results from previous studies, which had indicated a positive connection between prayer and healing. The author also touches on Lourdes miracles and studies tracing meditative states to brain chemistry:

For example, another recent study found that by brain scanning the spiritual while they were meditating, it was possible neurologically to account for the religious sense of transcendence - oneness with nature or unity with God. The brain scanner showed that during meditation the part of the brain responsible for orientation of the body in physical space, the parietal lobe - near the top of the brain - went to sleep

What the author, and most people writing about this, don't understand, is that the Christian view is not that God's work occurs outside of human nature - it occurs within it, and uses it. Christianity is not angelism - it's a faith that is centered on the Incarnation, for pete's sake. So our answer to "discoveries" like those above should be, "So what? That's how God works."

Planners in D.C. failed to notice that the date they'd selected for a high-profile marathon also happens to be Palm Sunday.

.At Asbury United Methodist Church, located at K and 11 streets, worshipers will accommodate the runners, said the Rev. Eugene Matthews. "We have worship at 8 and 11 a.m. I'm hoping we can come to some accommodation. I'm not too happy that a marathon dictates how we worship."


Sunday, February 10

Very clever little parody of Blogdom from the Weekly Standard. Be sure to scroll down and catch the paragraph on the Pope's blog.

Saturday, February 9

The Archdiocese of Boston continues to bleed credibility by the day. Lies, cover-ups, untold damage to kids and families, and, if all of the lawsuits go through, undoubtedly total financial ruin of the Archdiocese, which means the ruination of schools, parishes and other ministries.

So. Was it worth it, guys?

The question that most reasonable people can't help asking is - why? Why didn't the powers-that-be handle these cases and get rid of the offending priests? Here are the answers, as unpleasant as they may be:

A cycle of subtle-almost-blackmail that exists within ministerial circles. In short, the unspoken threat that if "you hurt me, I'll reveal your sins."

The priest shortage. Most dioceses are absolutely desperate for priests, ordain anything with the right chromosones that walks, and have hardly anyone in seminary. You let ten percent of your priests loose, you only make it worse.

Fear of appearances. Irrational, of course, but that's the way it works with sin. You cover up at first, thinking that will take care of it, and that covering up is better than letting people know the sin has occurred, because the general knowledge of this sin would, you fear, cause a whole lot of unpleasant consequences for your institution. It's a view that pays scant attention to two factors: the victims and reality.

Another question that all of this information should raise in the informed mind is the startling difference between the way these criminal priests were treated by their archdioceses and the way that priests who leave active ministry for various reasons, above-board and with clear consciences, are treated. Do you think they are left on the diocese's payroll for years? No. In most dioceses, they may be given some initial support after they leave, but then they're cut off in every concievable way: they're even officially banned from publicly participating in most aspects of church life (parish work, teaching, etc), although most bishops are quite flexible on this score, recognizing the lunacy of not using the gifts and talents of good men in whom the church has made an investment.

More dreck on the horizon: Tim LaHaye has been paid $45 million by Bantam for a series of four novels relating the adventures of a Christian Indiana Jones-type archaelogist. This is interesting. Why didn't LaHaye stick with Tyndale, publisher of the Left Behind series? And who's going to write the books? All LaHaye did was outline the Left Behind books. Jenkins really wrote them, and he's not mentioned in this story as a co-author.

45 million dollars.

WWJD?

Thursday, February 7

Cal Thomas on some current legislation designed formally allow churches to engage in political speech without losing their tax-exempt status. I say "formally" because, as Thomas points out, there is an enormous double standard at work in regard to the current situation:

Though the measure is rarely enforced, the political activism of some conservative Christians over the past two decades has caused religious and political liberals to demand that the tax-exempt status of some conservative ministers be revoked. These same people are mostly silent about the political activism of liberal clergy, especially those who are African-American who preach politics, lobby Congress and endorse candidates from the pulpit.

Thomas is skeptical about the proposed legislation, and instead suggests that churches should just be willing to give up their tax-exempt status voluntarily, a position with which I agree:

But if clergy choose to be political, they don't need special privileges from government. If they choose to eschew politics, they don't need government subsidies, unless God has run out of money.

One can't help but wonder if fear of losing that sacred 501(c)(3) status has more to do with the largely ineffectual and low-key anti-abortion "efforts" of most RC bishops over the past three decades.

Today is the feast day of St. Giles Mary-of-St.-Joseph, who couldn't be a priest in his religious order, but "only" a lay brother and was given the job of porter. That's a fascinating little subset of sanctity: monastery porters. Blessed Andre Bessett and Venerable Solanus Casey were also porters - men whose job it was to welcome and screen visitors and who, by their position at the door of the monastery, became the first person those in need would meet.
Michael Novak on the return of good and evil :

Most of what passes for relativism today is fake. Your average relativist is only a relativist when she is trying to discredit your standards. Try lighting up a cigarette too close to her, you'll find out how relativist she is!

Not so long ago, a friend of mine was debating on talk radio someone described as a "former nun lesbian abortion rights activist" (I kid you not), when the question came up of belief in moral standards. The former nun was having none of it--no talk of "medieval absolutes and all that baggage." The host asked my friend if he believed in absolutes, but before he could answer, the former nun burst in: "Name one."

My friend didn't have time to think, but by a gift of grace shot back immediately: "Thou shalt not rape."

On the air hung three delicious seconds of silence

Actually, a response that gets to an even more fundamental level would be this: To say that there are no absolutes is...a statement of an absolute. That's the philosophical conundrum that relativism ultimately can't fix.

Mormons whining about media coverage. Too bad. Here's my main complaint about Mormons: their deceptive, manipulative evangelization tactics. Many years ago, just to see what would happen, I let a couple of Mormon missionaries give me their sales pitch over a three weeks' time. Never did they mention anything substantive about Mormon theology - the stuff about human souls being the fruit of God the Father's procreation with God the Mother or Jesus being married or anything else. Their whole pitch played on fears about the afterlife. "Wouldn't it be great," they asked, "if you could be with your family forever?" Interesting...other religions emphasize individual salvation, but the Mormons talked about eternity in terms of family life. You can see the appeal.

Wednesday, February 6

More on the Ecstasy-peddling, bleached-blonde priest from Pensacola and Bourbon Street.
My children have all gone to Catholic schools and have, at some time or another, all been exposed to diagramming sentences. I was in public schools when they still did it - 8th grade English at Bearden Junior High School in Knoxville, to be exact. Apparently, diagramming is out - and even the National Council of Teachers of English has highly discouraged any teaching of grammar. (Need we keep asking the question "why don't schools teach our kids?" Aren't the answers obvious?)

Columnist Linda Chavez writes of a 30-year old high school teacher in Maryland who has re-introduced diagramming into her classroom. Interesting.

My mother liked to tell the story of someone she knew who, during a perfectly miserable stint in the Pacific during World War II, passed the time by diagramming The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Come to think of it, such activities aren't a total thing of the distant past. One of my former colleagues, an English teacher, told me that he had a professor at William and Mary (in the early 90's) who had his class diagram the first book (I think....) of Paradise Lost.

You'd think that in these days in which educators are so keen on students' different "learning styles" and the importance of the visual for some learners, that diagramming would be the rage. Of course not. Silly me.

Now we have waving. Joseph (10 months old, if you're not keeping up), can now wave good-bye and hello, and in general, is mastering the art of imitation. I hope to get more photos up soon.
New Jersey representative Chris Smith has received something called the Wilberforce Award from the Prison Fellowship:

the award is given in honor of William Wilberforce, an 18th century British parliamentarian who stood against his party in his campaign to abolish the slave trade.

"In his 22 years of service as a U.S. Congressman, Christopher Smith has led high profile, often controversial, legislative crusades for human rights, both nationally and around the world," the press release stated. The Washington Post has called Smith a "hero" in the human rights field, "always ready to take up the cause of foreign political prisoners, child laborers or those who suffer religious persecution," including Christians in China.

Chris Smith is, indeed, one of the few people of real integrity in Congress. Along with his activism for the rights of already-born humans, he's unswervingly pro-life.

Jim Towey, Bush's new choice to head his faith-based initiatives program, is an interesting person. A Catholic who worked with Mother Teresa, he's from Florida and worked in Lawton Chiles' administration.
Not so good. The John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington D.C., a kind of museum of Catholic teaching, has dropped its admission fee in an attempt to bolster attendance.

Officials had hoped the center initially would draw an average of 500 people a day, and eventually bring in about 1,300 daily visitors. The daily flow, however, has been about 150 people -- about 41 percent of whom hail from the District, Maryland or Virginia, officials said.

Yikes. 150 a day. One more chapter for "Great Stories of Catholic Evangelization."

Today is the feast day of St. Paul Miki and the other 16th century Martyrs of Nagasaki.

Here's a good page dedicate to these martyrs, as well as modern martyrs for Christianity.

If you've not read Shusaku Endo's novel about the persecutions, Silence, you really should. Paradoxical and powerful. Just like faith.

Andrew Greeley weighs in on The Sopranos, mostly in ignorance. In one of his regular columns for the Chicago Sun-Times, Greeley says that he was given the set of episodes from the second season as a gift, and found it dull -well, that figures, considering he hadn't seen the first season. The Sopranos is convoluted enough, and coming into it in the middle is a recipe for even greater confusion.

But what's amusing is Greeley's critique of the series for its language, violence and nudity. Andrew Greeley criticizing a cultural product for being vulgar? Really? Tell me more.

He also faults the series' portrayal of Catholicism, a criticism with which I agree, but not quite for the same reasons. The language used to talk about faith in the series is always a little off, and never quite rings true. But what's good about this dimension of the series is that Carmella's "faith," as awkwardly expressed as it is, is an important part of her character because it exposes her deep hypocrisy, something that comes out with great poignancy in the third season.

He also says that there's not a priest to be found who would advise Carmella to stick with Tony. I don't know. You can find priests who do a lot of things these days: abuse kids, cover up for abusers, sell Ecstasy, or manufacture date-rape drugs. Finding one who'd tell a rich mafia wife to stay with her husband might not be so hard.

I'm not one of those who would proclaim that The Sopranos is the greatest thing ever to hit television, but I would say that it has had some excellent moments and is working at a theme that Greeley just doesn't seem to grasp. I think the fundamental theme and tension of The Sopranos is not about the whole therapy/Mob thing. It's about the incredibly hypocrisy of Carmella and Tony as human beings, and particularly as parents: On their kids to constantly be good, succeed, punishing them for breaking curfew, engaging in vandalism, back talking, when they are pretty much immoral creeps, both in their own way. It will be interesting to see how David Chase continues to work with this in the fourth season. If it ever comes.

Tuesday, February 5

A couple of weeks ago, I read Bernard Goldberg's book, Bias. It was a short, entertaining read, although the most entertaining parts had already been generously excerpted in various reviews and articles. It was, I should add, more than a little self-serving.

Another book on media bias is out, one that's apparently more balanced in tone and a little deeper in argumentation: Coloring the News by William McGurn.

A good blog about media matters by an anonymous media guy is Media Minded. Well worth reading is his continuing saga of slipshod, lazy, stereotype-bound reporting he's encountered in Profiles in Discourage.

An essay on anti-Semitism from the WSJ (originally in Commentary). A valuable corrective to the overwrought and misguided concern about anti-Muslim feelings post 9/11. Attacks against Muslims haven't risen in the past six months, especially in Europe. Attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions have.

Monday, February 4

Hmmm. A few months ago, the American Spectator changed format and direction, and along with it, dropped its website. Apparently, some associated with the old Spectator have started a new website that's designed to provide much of the same content as was found at the old website. There. Here it is if you'd like to take a look.
Interesting. Judge Scalia comes out of the closet on the whole Catholic/Death penalty thing:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday criticized his church's position against the death penalty, saying that Catholic judges who believe capital punishment is wrong should resign.


The devout Roman Catholic said after giving it "serious thought" he could not agree with the church's stand on the issue.

The Vatican under Pope John Paul II has been strongly anti-death penalty, and the pope has personally appealed to leaders to commute death sentences. In 1999, he said capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are part of a "culture of death."

Scalia told Georgetown students that the church has a much longer history of endorsing capital punishment.

"No authority that I know of denies the 2,000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment," he said. "I don't see why there's been a change."



Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) has signed on to play Martin Luther in a film.. What, is he going to do a Robert "Raging Bull" DeNiro and gain like a million pounds?

By the way, Joseph is, of course, the brother of Ralph. Both are the children of the late Jennifer Lash, a writer who penned a very nice little book called On Pilgrimage about her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the wake of cancer treatments.

Nice idea An Anglican parish in Canada has produced saints cards featuring the portraits of local townspeople. (via Relapsed Catholic.)
A good introduction, if you're not already familiar with him, to Michael Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University whose questioning of Darwinian theory is quite suggestive, even to a non-scientist:

According to Behe, he does not infer design from what we do not know, but rather, from what we do know. “To Darwin, the cell — and every microbiological function — was an unknowable black box; that is, it did neat and interesting functions, but nobody knew how it actually worked. Now that it is possible to look into this box, it is necessary to try and apply Darwin’s theory to it.”

And the results? Surprising.

Who says they don't make Catholic movies? Did you see the ad during the Super Bowl for 40 Days and 40 Nights? The plot: After being dumped, a young man decides to give up sex for Lent. Spirituality lives in the cinema.
Apparently New York's attorney general is backing off a bit from his threat to pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. Michelle Malkin writes that after some protests, the AG has let some conciliatory comments emit from his office. But, as she points, out, the backtracking comes with no thanks to New York Republicans or even the Archbishop of New York. (Bishop of Buffalo chimed in loud and clear though. Good for him.)
You know we're in the midst of some kind of cultural shift when even The New York Times is willing to report, at great length, that the whole self-esteem movement is absolutely bogus and ill-founded:

Last year alone there were three withering studies of self-esteem released in the United States, all of which had the same central message: people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem and feeling bad about yourself is not the cause of our country's biggest, most expensive social problems.

What's next? A front page story in the NYTimes about the connections between abortion and breast cancer?

Nah.

Anyway, read this article. If you're a teacher or someone who has to deal with administrators, counselors and others telling you to always put "self-esteem" at the center of your concern for children or youth, copy this and force them to read it.

Did I mention that we sat in the front row at the circus? I mean - the front row. On the floor. Ten feet from the elephants. Also ten feet from the tiger act, featuring Bruno, a paunchy, shirtless Teutonic-looking trainer with a mess of wild blond hair, a fellow who obviously had seen better days. One of the tigers was particularly unimpressed - kept disembarking from his stool, messing with one of the other tigers, messing on his platform, snarling at Herr Bruno. Joseph did a lot of wide-eyed staring during the first part of the circus. Then he fell asleep.

Saturday, February 2

Micro-blogging these days, I know. I 've been occupied...doing...what? I don't know. Went to the circus Friday night with Michael, Joseph and Katie. David declined. Go figure. Spent today doing some cooking, then cleaning the mess, then playing double solitaire with Katie, encouraging Joseph to try to walk (foolish me), then reading. Went to Mass, too. And, mentally, I've been all Prove It:Prayer, which I have two weeks to finish. It's driving me crazy, and I just want to be done with it, and then write something - anything!- for grown ups. More tomorrow, probably during the Super Bowl.

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