Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Scoundrel Time(s): NY Times Reaches a New Low

Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly. Proverbs 26:11.

This information was found online at:

For more on this topic, see the Ethics and Public Policy Center website, particularly these links: (Spreading the Big Lie)


and especially the excellent column by Elizabeth Scalia replete with further helpful links

Scoundrel Time(s)
By George Weigel
Posted: Monday, March 29, 2010

First Things -- On the Square
Publication Date: March 29, 2010

The sexual and physical abuse of children and young people is a global plague; its manifestations run the gamut from fondling by teachers to rape by uncles to kidnapping-and-sex-trafficking. In the United States alone, there are reportedly some 39 million victims of childhood sexual abuse. Forty to sixty percent were abused by family members, including stepfathers and live-in boyfriends of a child's mother-thus suggesting that abused children are the principal victims of the sexual revolution, the breakdown of marriage, and the hook-up culture. Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft reports that 6-10 percent of public school students have been molested in recent years-some 290,000 between 1991 and 2000. According to other recent studies, 2 percent of sex abuse offenders were Catholic priests -- a phenomenon that spiked between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s but seems to have virtually disappeared (six credible cases of clerical sexual abuse in 2009 were reported in the U.S. bishops' annual audit, in a Church of some 65,000,000 members).

Yet in a pattern exemplifying the dog's behavior in Proverbs 26:11, the sexual abuse story in the global media is almost entirely a Catholic story, in which the Catholic Church is portrayed as the epicenter of the sexual abuse of the young, with hints of an ecclesiastical criminal conspiracy involving sexual predators whose predations continue today. That the vast majority of the abuse cases in the United States took place decades ago is of no consequence to this story line. For the narrative that has been constructed is often less about the protection of the young (for whom the Catholic Church is, by empirical measure, the safest environment for young people in America today) than it is about taking the Church down -- and, eventually, out, both financially and as a credible voice in the public debate over public policy. For if the Church is a global criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their protectors, then the Catholic Church has no claim to a place at the table of public moral argument.

The Church itself is in some measure responsible for this. Reprehensible patterns of clerical sexual abuse and misgovernance by the Church's bishops came to glaring light in the U.S. in 2002; worse patterns of corruption have been recently revealed in Ireland. Clericalism, cowardice, fideism about psychotherapy's ability to "fix" sexual predators -- all played their roles in the recycling of abusers into ministry and in the failure of bishops to come to grips with a massive breakdown of conviction and discipline in the post-Vatican II years. For the Church's sexual abuse crisis has always been that: a crisis of fidelity. Priests who live the noble promises of their ordination are not sexual abusers; bishops who take their custody of the Lord's flock seriously, protect the young and recognize that a man's acts can so disfigure his priesthood that he must be removed from public ministry or from the clerical state. That the Catholic Church was slow to recognize the scandal of sexual abuse within the household of faith, and the failures of governance that led to the scandal being horribly mishandled, has been frankly admitted-by the bishops of the United States in 2002, and by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland. In recent years, though, . . .

Read the full piece online at First Things,

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, is the author of The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (Basic Books).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Less than meets the eye: Planned Parenthood head thanks rebellious nuns

The story of the rebellious nuns who, in opposition to the Bishops, signed a letter about the health care legislation then in Congress is a sad commentary in so many ways. One way has to do with the nuns themselves and the deterioration of their orders. But another has to do with the uncritical way in which their gross misrepresentation of who they are and what they represented was taken up uncritically and amplified through the mainstream media without retraction or apology, as far as I have seen.

From the CNA article linked below:

"The group NETWORK claimed in a March 17 letter to the House of Representatives that it represented 59,000 women religious across the U.S. It urged members of Congress to support the bill.

"Their statement was uncritically reported by the Associated Press. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and others working to pass the legislation invoked the sisters’ endorsement for support.

"On March 18 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) spokeswoman Sr. Mary Ann Walsh said NETWORK “grossly overstated” their numbers.

“'The letter had 55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons. One endorser signed twice,” she added. “There are 793 religious communities in the United States,' Sr. Walsh said.

"Another group of women religious, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), issued a statement saying it represented 10,000 sisters and supported the U.S. bishops’ criticisms of the Senate health care bill."

Planned Parenthood head thanks rebellious nuns
Planned Parenthood head thanks religious sisters for ‘critical support’ of health care bill :: Catholic News Agency (CNA)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Keeping the record straight on Benedict and the crisis | National Catholic Reporter

Keeping the record straight on Benedict and the crisis | National Catholic Reporter

Media Attacks on Pope Benedict and Responses

More on the NYT Campaign Against the Pope: From the Benedict Blog

Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI and "The Murphy Case"

First, the charge:
• Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys, by Laurie Goodstein (New York Times March 24, 2010) charges that "Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church":
The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal. ...

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee’s archbishop at the time. After eight months, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican’s secretary of state, instructed the Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy’s dismissal.
But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations.
“I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood,” Father Murphy wrote near the end of his life to Cardinal Ratzinger. “I ask your kind assistance in this matter.” The files contain no response from Cardinal Ratzinger.

The Times cites as evidence " letters between bishops and the Vatican, victims’ affidavits, the handwritten notes of an expert on sexual disorders who interviewed Father Murphy andminutes of a final meeting on the case at the Vatican."

According to the Times, "Father Murphy not only was never tried or disciplined by the church’s own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims":

Three successive archbishops in Wisconsin were told that Father Murphy was sexually abusing children, the documents show, but never reported it to criminal or civil authorities.

Instead of being disciplined, Father Murphy was quietly moved by Archbishop William E. Cousins of Milwaukee to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin in 1974, where he spent his last 24 years working freely with children in parishes, schools and, as one lawsuit charges, a juvenile detention center. He died in 1998, still a priest.

From the Vatican, the full text of the statement given to the New York Times on Wednesday by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office:

The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.

During the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy's victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.

It has been suggested that a relationship exists between the application of Crimen sollicitationis and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities.

In the late 1990s, after over two decades had passed since the abuse had been reported to diocesan officials and the police, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented for the first time with the question of how to treat the Murphy case canonically. The Congregation was informed of the matter because it involved solicitation in the confessional, which is a violation of the Sacrament of Penance. It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.

In such cases, the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state (cf. Canon 1395, no. 2). In light of the facts that Father Murphy was elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested that the Archbishop of Milwaukee give consideration to addressing the situation by, for example, restricting Father Murphy's public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts. Father Murphy died approximately four months later, without further incident.

Further responses
• "Shame on the New York Times" says Michael Sean Winters (America):
... I will grant that there is something to the argument that the victims’ right to have their story told, to receive justice for the crimes against them, demanded a canonical trial of the priest no matter his physical condition. I will grant that there is a coldness in the correspondence that seems more focused on the reputation of the Church than on the rights of the victims. I will grant that it was the victims of this priest’s abuse, not Cardinal Ratzinger, who had a right to decide when and how to show mercy to Father Murphy. It is not difficult to see that Cardinal Ratzinger might have made the wrong decision in this case, but I submit that there is nothing in the documents the Times presents that suggests Cardinal Ratzinger’s moral culpability for the abuse itself or for any cover-up of that abuse. And the Times article certainly suggests moral culpability even though the documents do not support the charge.

• The Pope and the Murphy case: what the New York Times story didn't tell you - Phil Lawler ( examines the evidence and finds that
... his is a story about the abject failure of the Milwaukee archdiocese to discipline a dangerous priest, and the tardy effort by Archbishop Weakland--who would soon become the subject of a major scandal himself--to shift responsibility to Rome.
Lawler lists six notable points:

1. The allegations of abuse by Father Lawrence Murphy began in 1955 and continued in 1974, according to the Times account. The Vatican was first notified in 1996: 40 years after Church officials in Wisconsin were first made aware of the problem. Local Church leaders could have taken action in the 1950s. They didn't.

2. The Vatican, following the standard procedures required by canon law, kept its own inquiries confidential. But the CDF never barred other investigations.

3. Milwaukee's Archbishop Cousins could have suspended Father Murphy from priestly ministry in 1974, when he was evidently convinced that the priest was guilty of gross misconduct. He didn't.

4. Having called the Vatican's attention to Murphy's case, Archbishop Weakland apparently wanted an immediate response, and was unhappy that the CDF took 8 months to respond. But again, the Milwaukee archdiocese had waited decades to take this action.

5. This was, in effect, the final result of the Vatican's inquiry in this case; Father Murphy died just months later.

6. The correspondence makes it clear that Archbishop Weakland took action not because he wanted to protect the public from an abusive priest, but because he wanted to avoid the huge public outcry that he predicted would emerge if Murphy was not disciplined.

• Damien Thompson (The Times UK) "smells a stitch up":
Murphy? Guilty as hell. Various bishops? Likewise. But the fact that in 1996 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger may have approved the decision not to pursue complex canonical procedures against Murphy on the grounds that the guy was dying anyway doesn’t strike me as much of a smoking gun.
I do, however, get the very strong feeling that the Pope’s enemies, including his enemies in the Church, are trying desperately hard to discover serious complicity on his part in a child abuse case. Because that would be just so convenient, wouldn’t it?

• As Riccardo Cascioli of Avvenire concludes: The documentation published by The New York Times contradicts its own thesis, which accuses Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of not being sufficiently energetic in the case of an American priest who the Church punished for acts of pederasty.

Retrieved March 28, 2010 from

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Response to the New York Times - Father Raymond J. de Souza

The New York Times, always anti-Catholic, has now launched a vicious and apparently concerted campaign againt Pope Benedict. This response from Father Raymond de Souza, addresses one aspect of the campaign. Maureen Dowd has written two extraordinarily nasty columns (the latest at ) attacking the pope in an uninformed and almost uncontrolled way. She and the dissident nuns she praises provide cover for those who hate and deride the Church on other grounds. These are the anti-Catholic Catholics who, whenever the Church comes under attack from the forces of secularism, join the attack.

Almost giving the impression of fairness, the NYT publishes a column today ( ) by the liberal catholic reporter John Allen, who himself wrote a highly critical biography of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now the Holy Father. Allen has since come to a more sympathetic and insightful understanding of the pope, and in his column points out how no Church leader has done more than Ratzinger/Benedict to change the culture and practices of the Church with regard to dealing with sexual abuse seriously as a criminal activity, not simply an internal matter.

Dowd, incidentally, complains of the Vatican's visitations of women's religious orders in the U.S. as bullying, but ignores the earlier visitations of American seminaries, which had become infested with a sexually casual gay subculture that sneered at popular devotion and regarded priestly (or other) chastity as outmoded and unattainable, repelled good, pious men from the priesthood (see Michael S. Rose, Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church . It was this spirit of the 60s and the so-called "spirit of Vatican II" (which contradicted what the Council actually said) that created the environment 40 years ago for the sexual abuse that ensued, not the many centuries-old traditions of priestly celibacy.

The changes resulting from the Vatican investigations were highly positive and made the seminaries once again habitable by young orthodox committed and enthusiastic Catholics, who came in time to be known as JPII priests. To the dismay of the aging Catholic or more commonly ex-Catholic veterans of the 1960s sexual revolution, secular liberalism, and moral relativism--the sources of vigor and renewal in the Church, its priests and consecrated religious men and women, and the youth who love Benedict as they did JPII and study his writings, all stand in opposition to the path of accommodation and dissolution.

A Response to the New York Times - Father Raymond J. de Souza - The Corner on National Review Online

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Secularist's View of Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity

Not all atheists hate Christianity! Some even consider it useful as providing an ethical basis for society that secularism/atheism cannot supply. This is an interesting article from the American Thinker, a "daily internet publication." The author, an atheist who sees himself as free of the religious illusions of the masses, nevertheless argues a point often argued by Catholic and other Christian intellectuals--that the success and survival of Western civilization rest upon the foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Secularism offers no basis for a shared morality or a free society, but renders those who confidently abandon the faith of their fathers ideologically and morally helpless in the face of the enemies of both Christianity and secularism. Cicero held a similar position--he did not believe in the gods himself, but thought that general belief in and public recognition of them essential to the survival of Rome. What the Roman gods provided was different, however--a political glue that held the polis together, not a moral foundation for ethical behavior--that, after all, was not something the Roman gods were known for!

This essay reminds me too of the exchange between a Pacific Islander and Christopher Hitchens in the 2007 debate between Hitchens and Dinesh D'Souza. The debate brought out how the transformation of cultures throughout the world by Christianity represented a great gift (and not just or only an alien imposition) as it established the equal and intrinsic dignity and worth of all as a recognized, if not always practiced universal principle. One of the most interesting questions in the debate was posed to Hitchens by a man from Tonga. Before the Christians came to Tonga, he said, the place was a mess. Even cannibalism was widespread. The Christians stopped this practice and brought to Tonga the notion that each person has a soul and God loves everyone equally. The man from Tonga asked Hitchens, "So what do you have to offer us?" Hitchens was taken aback, and responded with a learned disquisition on cannibalism in various cultures. But he clearly missed the intellectual and moral force of the man's question. The man was asking why the Tongans, who had gained so much from Christianity, should reject it in favor of atheism [from my post of September 4, 2009].

Habermas, also a secularist who is tolerant of Christianity and sees its centrality as the foundation of Europe, puts it like this: 'Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter' [also quoted in my September 4 blog. But note the comment by Thomas Gregersen of denmark and my response].

American Thinker: Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

so what just happened?

We may be forgiven for wondering what the health bill as voted on by the House and signed by the President actually says and means in terms of federal funding for abortion and a big increase (or decrease) in abortions carried out in the U.S. Time will tell on the last point. A good FAQ explanation of the first can be found at First Things:

A confused situation was muddied further by an appalling column by Maureen Dowd in the NYT at

Dowd makes much of the public disagreement of a group of dissident nuns (absurdly misrepresented by Newsweek and the Washington Post to represent 59,000 sisters, about the total of all nuns in the U.S.) over the meaning of the Senate bill and whether or not it allowed for federal funding of abortion. This is an empirical question that could have been addressed by examining the Bishops' statement (at, reading the bill, and determining who was right. It is not that hard to do.

Instead, so typically for the NYT and to the delight of its readers, Dowd pays no attention whatever to the facts of the matter and launches into a tirade against the leaders of the Church, the bishops and the Pope, dragging in their handling of sex abuse scandals, and claiming that therefore [really!] the nuns had more authority to instruct the faithful on the contents of the bill. The argument is silly on so many levels and so completely ducks the factual point at issue, that one ought perhaps to be amazed at the way it was heralded by so many as a wonderful column. If the column leaves its readers completely uninformed on the matter at hand, it tells us much about the anti-Catholic prejudices of the NYT and its secular-liberal readers. Also about the dire state of the older religious orders of women which, inspired by the spirit of feminism and New Age religion, have gone off in some very strange directions. One result of this is that these orders are shrinking and aging at an extraordinary rate, while newer, orthodox orders are full of young sisters and are thriving. Why after all, take the trouble to commit to the rigors of a consecrated religious life in order to end up looking and sounding for all the world like an aging Unitarian? Another result is that the orders are being investigated by the Vatican--and not a moment too soon--both in terms of their practices and beliefs, and because they are withering on the vine.

That people could find the column persuasive--one colleague sent it to me with a note urging me to read it and THINK about it (in block caps, no less)--is testament to two things in my opinion. One is the poisoning of any discussion involving religion in general and Catholicism in particular by the prevailing secular-liberal assumption that people of faith are terminally stupid and therefore the use of rational argument and evidence is neither necessary nor useful. A couple of knock-down arguments about other topics is all you need to silence your religious interlocutor. The other thing is the catastrophic decline of catechesis of lay Catholics over the past forty years as experiential learning replaced clarity and substance of instruction.

It is little wonder that there are so many adult Catholics in high places who seem neither to understand nor believe the central tenets of the faith and who have no idea of the structure of authority in the Church. In the end, as the term "cafeteria Catholics" denotes, you pick and choose those teachings on faith and morals you feel "comfortable" with, elevating your own opinions above the teaching of the Church.

And then, as Philip Jenkins says in his The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, anti-Catholicism in the U.S. is nothing new. What is different this time around is the extent to which many the fiercest anti-Catholic writers themselves claim to be Catholic, while rejecting every identifiable aspect of Catholic faith, morals, and tradition. Little wonder then, with the failure of the Church to catechize its members since the heady days of the Sixties and Vatican II, the abandonment by "progressive" nuns of their habits (literally) and their vows of obedience, and the new phenomenon of vitriolic anti-Catholic Catholics like James Carroll, that the likes of Nancy Pelosi can claim to be Catholic and sneer dismissively that no bunch of bishops was going to tell her she was or wasn't. (But of course, that is precisely a question within the jurisdiction of her bishop.)

The language and loopholes of the Senate bill are matters of fact. But if the Senate Bill really left the Hyde restrictions in place as these nuns claimed, why make such a fuss about refusing language that made the fact clear--that's all Stupak and the Bishops asked?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blond, Burke, and the new radical conservative communitarianism

Blond's article arguing for a radical, progressive conservatism or conservative communitarianism resembles the pioneer work of Berger & Neuhaus ("To Empower America") and the liberal communitarianism of Michael Sandel.

Blond's argument, though, is distinctive in that it situates itself squarely in the English conservative tradition of Edmund Burke, whose radical conservatism rested on the "little platoons" or, as Berger & Neuhaus put it, the mediating structures of family and civic association that mediate between unencumbered, alienated individual and leviathan state.

"These ideas are grounded in a conservatism with deeper roots than 1979," Blond says, referring to the year of neoliberal Margaret Thatcher's election victory, "and whose branches extend into the tradition of communitarian civic conservatism—or red Toryism. This is more radical than anything emerging from today’s left and should be the way forward for the right. The opportunity to restore a radical, and progressive, Toryism must not be lost to the economic downturn."

Like the philosopher and Burkean conservative Roger Scruton, Blond grew up in an English working-class environment and saw the devastating effects of both

1) the cultural revolution of the left that destroyed traditional manners and mores along with a legal revolution that subordinated responsibilities of "reciprocal indebtedness" (MacIntyre) to the rights of the individual as unencumbered self; and the welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations; and

2) the market revolution from the right that produced an unprecedented "centralization and concentration of capital"--Marx's term for competition leading to fewer and bigger capitals, as one capital kills many--that is, giant chains like Wal-Mart drive out local shop owners and the fishmongers, butchers, and grocers of yore become their employees.

Scruton has made clear his discomfort (to say the least) with both the upper-class Toryism of garden parties and with the ruthless libertarianism of Margaret ("there is no such thing as society") Thatcher. Blond doubtless feels the same way.

What he is proposing is a manifesto for Britain's Conservative Party as it heads into an election period in which its commanding lead over the hapless governing Labour Party has shrunk dramatically. Blond argues that the idea of the "market state" on which political consensus rested for the last 30 years is now obsolete. His approach to social justice is that of the U.K.'s Centre for Social Justice, which also offers the Tories and their leader David Cameron a way forward in fixing what they have rightly dubbed "Broken Britain."

His prescriptions are bold and sweeping, yet with plenty of historical Tory precedent--from Burke's little platoons, through Disraeli's "one-nation" conservatism, to the idea of a "property-owning democracy" in the 20th century. Here is a flavor of them:

"The next step for conservatism is to reverse the old politics of class, by restoring capital to labour. Cameron should reject the Marxist narrative that paints Tories as wedded to a disenfranchised proletariat. On the contrary: conservatives believe in the extension of wealth and prosperity to all. Yet the great disaster of the last 30 years is the destruction of the capital, assets and savings of the poor: in Britain, the share of wealth (excluding property) enjoyed by the bottom 50 per cent of the population fell from 12 per cent in 1976 to just 1 per cent in 2003. A radical communitarian civic conservatism must be committed to reversing this trend. This requires a considered rejection of social mobility, meritocracy and the statist and neoliberal language of opportunity, education and choice. Why? Because this language says that unless you are in the golden circle of the top 10 to 15 per cent of top-rate taxpayers you are essentially insecure, unsuccessful and without merit or value. The Tories should leave this bankrupt ideology to New Labour and embrace instead an organic communitarianism that graces every level of society with merit, security, wealth and worth."

Blond is director of the progressive conservatism project. I wish him well and I understand his article has caused a stir in the Tory party; but I suspect that in winning the party to this political platform, he and his project have their work cut out for them.

Rise of the red Tories

This is an important article by Phillip Blond, an English writer who proposes a communitarian alternative to Labour's statism and the Tories' free market neoliberalism, both of which, he argues, lead to a hypertrophied state and atomized individuals.

Here is the lead-in: The crisis is an opportunity to sweep away the rotten postwar settlement of British politics. Labour is moribund. But David Cameron has a chance to develop a "red Tory" communitarianism, socially conservative but sceptical of neoliberal economics


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The overpopulation myth


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Media Malpractice: WashPost Reports that All 59,000 Nuns in the U.S. Support Obamacare

Media Malpractice: WashPost Reports that All 59,000 Nuns in the U.S. Support Obamacare

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Visions of Social Justice 1: Christians and Democrats

Visions of Social Justice

“Social justice” has become a pale shadow of its former self, in the following sense. Both in the U.S. and the U.K., it has become associated with a narrow statist politics and liberal religion. An important aspect of conservatism in its historical context and of Judeo-Christian orthodoxy, it has lately elicited a dismissive rolling of the eyes from those quarters and a passionate advocacy of ever more governmental intrusion into every aspect of life from its liberal-statist advocates. Social justice is one of the core values of professional social work, according to the NASW Code of Ethics and CSWE’s EPAS. But in the absence of any serious examination, the concept becomes—if not, as Glenn Beck called it, code for extremist political ideas akin to those of Nazis and Communists—a symptom of the kind of ideological conformism of which Tocqueville warned in his Democracy in America.

The Devil is in the Definition
Beck, on a recent talk show, urged his audience to abandon any church that espoused social justice. His comments are themselves an extreme reaction against a kind of “mission creep” in the liberal churches and among liberal Catholics, where advocacy and lobbying for social justice largely substitutes for liturgy and worship, sacraments and prayer. Rev. Jim Wallis, author of the modestly titled manifesto, “God’s Politics,” argues that “Social justice is an integral part of God’s plan for humanity” but proceeds to conflate the concept with strong political partisanship and a statist vision of social reform. It is an understanding of social justice that, with or without reference to the Judeo-Christian and especially Evangelical roots of the profession and the Social Gospel tradition, is largely taken for granted in social work. (For more on this, see my exchanges with two University of Kansas professors, Spano and Koenig, in the online Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics.)

In a recent column on this phenomenon, Colleen Carroll Campbell argues that social justice is indeed a key element of the Christian Gospel, from which no believer is exempt, but at the same time it has been claimed as the monopoly of a partisan politics that privileges the secular and promotes a disempowering statism. “The promotion of leftist politics as infallible religious dogma by pastors such as [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright [the ranting preacher whose Chicago church Obama attended for decades] and, to a lesser extent, Wallis, goes a long way to toward explaining public fatigue with the term.” That fatigue, she points out, extends beyond Protestants into Catholic circles, where the phrase “social justice” has its origins.

“The Catholic Catechism defines social justice as a situation in which people are able to 'obtain what is their due' and says such justice 'can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man.' The church lays out a few non-negotiable principles when it comes to respecting this personal dignity -- defense of the right to life is preeminent among them -- while leaving many public policy decisions subject to the prudential judgment of individual Catholics.

“Catholicism is not libertarianism by any stretch; government is expected to have a role in protecting the poor and weak. Yet the church also defends the principle of subsidiarity in political life -- the idea that the people closest to a problem should be the ones to solve it.

“Despite these careful doctrinal distinctions, many Catholics -- like many mainline Protestants -- assume that social justice demands their reflexive support for unlimited expansion of the social welfare state, even when a new government program may not be the most effective way to help the poor. Meanwhile, many of these same Catholics ignore the Church's clear admonition to defend social justice by defending the right to life of the unborn from abortion and the elderly from euthanasia.

“The call for social justice is an outgrowth, not a perversion, of the Gospel. But the devil is in the definition. Christians concerned about mission creep in their churches should not abandon social justice. They should fight to reclaim a fuller understanding of it, one independent of any narrowly partisan political agenda”

The Catholic Bishops in the U.S. have been consistent in their support of social justice, so understood. That does not mean—but nor does it reject—expansion of government programs. It does mean commitment to the poor, the disabled, the homeless. It also includes defending the right to life of the unborn from abortion and the elderly from euthanasia. Stripping legal protection from the most vulnerable promotes a culture of death where the unencumbered self has the right to rid itself of such encumbrances. Removing that most basic of rights--the right to life--puts all other rights at risk. Without life, no other rights can be enjoyed or assured. Talking of social justice while denying this most basic right for the most vulnerable is best compared to claiming to support slavery and justice at the same time. Of course, supporters of either or both may claim they are not pro-abortion or pro-slavery. Still, if you say you personally would never buy or own a slave, but you defend the right of others to do so, I would say, you are not pro-choice but pro-slavery.

Democrat’s Dilemma
Herein we find a problem for those who accept a consistent concept of social justice that includes protection for the most vulnerable among us, from conception to natural death. Most social workers and other champions of “social justice” in the U.S. identify with the Democratic Party. The U.S. bishops lean strongly to the Democratic Party. Working-class Catholics have traditionally been strongly Democratic. Yet the party, above all on the matter of abortion and embryo-destructive research, has become the party of death, of the denial of social justice to those most dependent and vulnerable.

The recent and ongoing struggle over a form of national health insurance illustrates this clearly. The Democrats, once the more pro-life of the two main parties, has become increasingly inhospitable to and intolerant of leaders who adhere to the traditional pro-life position of the Church (and of Evangelicals, for that matter). Pro-life Democrats survive in shrinking numbers but they have no prospect even of being taken seriously unless they are the margin in a crucial vote. Even then, they are subjected to intemperate invective and abuse—see Maureen Dowd’s all too typical column in the NYT and the hundreds of comments supporting it eraser&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=print .

Showing themselves incapable of even understanding the pro-life position, many Democratic commentators made an interesting charge against Bart Stupak, who at the time was holding out against his party’s health bill because of the loopholes it allowed for federal funding of abortion. (In the end, Stupak caved on the promise of an executive order from Obama that would affirm the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition of such funding—a hollow promise that our most pro-abortion president ever can rescind at any time.) Several comments on Dowd’s column and elsewhere said that Stupak was holding the health care of millions hostage to this single issue of abortion.

The significant truth, of course, is just the other way around. For the Democratic leadership, abortion trumps all other issues, including health care for millions. They insisted on language in the Senate Bill that—in the eyes of their pro-life supporters--left open the possibility of federal funding for abortion, putting the whole bill in jeopardy when it came to the House. They refused to make any change or even discuss the matter despite, amazingly, claiming that the language of the bill already met all the demands of pro-life supporters of national health insurance like Stupak and the Catholic bishops. So they seemed willing until the last minute to let the whole thing go down to defeat rather than accept changes that they claimed made no difference.

There could hardly be a clearer statement of the Democratic Party’s unshakeable commitment to abortion and its willingness to sacrifice all else to the cause. Pro-life Democrats can do nothing to change this from within. It seems they have reached the end of the road and there is no longer a place for them in the party. There is no longer a way to be a Democratic politician and not be complicit in the deliberate destruction of innocent human life on a truly horrific scale and hence in a politics deeply antithetical to social justice at its most fundamental level. The gap can only grow between the leadership and money of the party on one hand, and the mass of voters who remain unaware that abortion on demand is the law of the land or that their leaders support that position, on the other. The issue of abortion has become a litmus test, the key requirement for inclusion in the Democratic leadership. Countless politicians like Edward Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Joe Biden, and Bill Clinton abandoned their pro-life positions as the pro-abortion forces consolidated their grip on the leadership and funding of the party. That switch has been catastrophic for the party and will continue to inflict immense damage on it as its grass-roots supporters figure out what is going on, according to a post at First Things--see .

Does the Republican Party, now solidly anti-abortion, offer an alternative to those committed to social justice? Many pro-life Democrats must now be asking themselves this question. A postive answer, though, seems doubtful, given the contradiction between the party's notion of social justice, which in some sections embraces a strong libertarian individualism that recalls Ayn Rand, Frederich Hayek, or even Ludwig von Mises, and the clear teaching of the Gospel and Catholic social doctrine. But that’s a matter for another post.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sowell, Sandel, and Neil Gilbert: A Mother's Work

Paul Adams

Sowell, Sandel, and A Mother’s Work
In A Mother’s Work: How Feminism, the Market, and Policy Shape Family Life, Neil Gilbert (2008) examines how capitalism, feminism, and the state influence lifestyle choices and the changing role of motherhood. They do so, he argues, by generating norms, values, and hence social pressures that subordinate motherhood to the market. Gilbert, the social policy professor for whom I worked as a graduate student at the School of Social Welfare, U.C. Berkeley, thirty-six years ago, argues that the main policy approaches to harmonizing work and family—“family-friendly” and gender-neutralizing policies—both subordinate family to work. They assume and support the male model in which paid work starts early and is continuous. The traditional model of a father who provides and protects and a woman who manages the home and nurtures the children has given way to one in which both parents give priority of time and effort to the labor market. Periods in which the mother absents herself from work in order to have children are seen as “interruptions” and the aim of policymakers and feminist pundits—is to get mothers, whether they are on welfare or pursuing high-powered careers—back into the labor market as early as possible.

Gilbert shares the general view that “something must be done” to harmonize work and family life. But what? There are, he says, two common policy approaches to this challenge:
1) So-called family-friendly policies; and
2) Gender-neutralizing policies.

1) “Family-friendly” measures to allow mothers with young children to work include, for example,
a. Early child care
b. Paid parental leave
c. Part-time work
d. Such voluntary measures as flexible hours, special family leave, telephone access.

Gilbert illustrates this approach with the example of the University of California system, which provides its tenure-track faculty with day care for toddlers; two years’ leave from the tenure track; a part-time option; paid maternity leave; and paid relief from teaching for two semesters (p.161).

2) Gender-neutralizing policies aim at modifying traditional gender roles in relation to both work and family life by such measures as:
a. Parental leave reform (so that the full benefit requires fathers to take some of the leave).

This second approach is a remarkable case of what Sowell calls the unconstrained vision. Here “surrogates”--policy-makers and “gender feminists”--differ markedly from the mass of the population—in Sweden, the pioneer of such policies, as in the U.S. In both countries less than half of parents think that men and women should participate equally in paid employment and child care. Swedish men take a small percentage of the leave they are entitled to and the men who take such parental leave are concentrated among highly educated men in the public sector. There is a common notion that such fathers as do take the leaves, time them to coincide with major sporting events like the Winter Olympics. But the truth seems to be that they are taken in the summer and around Christmas as a way to extend vacation time.

The views of those who developed and passed such policies into law are in stark contrast to the views of most married parents now as in the past. Women as well as men find substantial benefits for the family in a degree of specialization and division of labor. That, as Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher (2000) argue, is an important advantage of marriage in the first place (The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially). In Sowell’s terms Waite and Gallagher respect the collective, historical wisdom implicit in the ways millions of people over many generations have shaped the institution of marriage through living out their lives and passing on to their children what they have learned from experience and the experience of earlier generations. The policy elites see the masses as lagging behind the views of the enlightened. Their policies are based, not on what women actually want, but on what enlightened elites think they should want. This divergence does not seem explicable in terms of the masses of women lagging behind their more advanced leaders but all moving in the same direction. “From 1997 to 2007,” according to a Pew Research Center study that Gilbert cites, “the percentage of both employed and at-home mothers who considered full-time work to be their ideal situation declined by one-third” (p.170).

Most important from Gilbert’s perspective, both the “family-friendly” and gender-neutralizing approaches to harmonizing work and family life do so by subordinating the latter to the former. The aim is to increase and maintain female labor force participation by moving mothers with young children into paid employment on the male model. (Hence the quotes around “family-friendly” since these policies seek to increase women’s paid work by easing the competing demands and “interruptions” of children. Thus gender feminists, in particular, favor for women an early start on their careers and continuous work to retirement with minimal or no interruption for raising even young children.

In contrast to these work-oriented policies that promote mother-child separation in order to promote lifelong paid work on the male model, Gilbert proposes an alternative. He does not seek to scrap these separationist policies (Eberstadt’s term) that ease female labor force participation, but proposes increasing the options for women in ways that allow for them to choose to give higher priority to their children.

This alternative to the male model Gilbert calls the sequential pattern of labor force participation and parenting at home. In line with the constrained vision, he does not offer either a comprehensive list of policy options or a blueprint for any particular initiative. Rather, he says, “My purpose is to broaden public perceptions of the choices and help reframe the debate...” (p.165).

Possibilities for policy that supports the sequential pattern and widens the lifestyle options for mothers of young children are:

3) Sequential pattern
a. Home care allowance (but for families without a breadwinner, this would require alternatives to employment-based health insurance)
b. Credit-sharing—e.g., community property laws and credit splitting for Social Security and pension benefits, dividing equally the rights to such assets acquired since marriage.

Here I do not plan to describe or critique Gilbert’s evidence and arguments, though I find them persuasive. (Gilbert has braved much controversy and hostility in the politically correct world of social work and social welfare to follow the evidence and the logic of his argument.) Rather, I want to look at his position through the lenses of Sowell’s and Sandel’s dichotomies as discussed in earlier posts here.

Two aspects of Sandel’s argument are especially pertinent. The first is the voluntarist conception of the unencumbered self implicit in current liberal theory. The other is the notion of a procedural republic that is neutral about matters of morals and religion, values and the good life. In this conception of the procedural republic, citizens are not formed, as a matter of policy or practice, with the capacity to deliberate well on such things, but are expected to bracket them off and treat them as irrelevant and inadmissible to political debate in the public square.

The unencumbered self

In the republican theory of Aristotle and the Founding Fathers, as well as modern communitarians like Sandel, liberty depends on sharing in self-governance, which in turn “means deliberating with fellow citizens about the common good and helping to shape the destiny of the political community.” The habits of the heart required for and developed by self-governing members of a particular family, community, and nation are those of a situated, encumbered self. In this narrative conception of personhood, we develop in “reciprocal indebtedness” (MacIntyre, 1999), from total dependence to a degree of autonomy through ties to family and community, culture and tradition.

In contrast, the liberalism of recent years “conceives persons as free and independent selves, unencumbered by moral or civic ties they have not chosen.” This conception of rights and individual autonomy “assumes that freedom consists in the capacity of persons to choose their values and ends.” One key practical expression of this shift in liberalism is the subordination of the rights and needs of children to the freedoms of adults. (On the extensiveness and significance of this shift, see Elizabeth Marquardt’s The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs.)

In her book Home Alone America, Mary Eberstadt argues that children have been the major victims of the absence of adults from their own families—fathers, mothers, and extended family. The adoption of the male model of work life—early entry and continuous employment—by mothers has been in part a result of the rise in divorce and illegitimacy. With the absence of a father to provide for his family and share the work of parenting and domestic life, many women have had no alternative but to enter the workforce full-time. But for others it has been a freer choice, an expression of the new increased options for meaningful careers outside the home and the arguments of feminists for women with higher education to Get to Work, as Linda Hirshman’s polemic puts it. In her view, women should not waste their educations raising kids. As Eberstadt observes, a large literature about this unprecedented social experiment in parent-child separation, whether enthusiastic or critical, has been focused on “grown women and what they want and need.”

Gilbert’s book, unlike Eberstadt’s, does not seek as its primary purpose to address this imbalance by illuminating the impact of absent mothers and fathers on children, young people, and society. Rather, it seeks to show how feminism, the market, and social policy shape family life. In different ways, these material and ideological pressures all work together to push women into the male career model, prioritizing work over family life from the earliest years of motherhood. Eberstadt notes that the adverse consequences of millions of individual decisions were unintended by the individuals making those choices. While Sowell emphasizes the aggregate wisdom of millions of choices made for self-interested reasons--as compared with the comprehensive-rational planning of enlightened officials--Eberstadt asks whether in this case the multiplication of millions of individual decisions results in an outcome that no-one intended. Among the outcomes, “Time in front of the screen is up; exercise and outdoor play of any kind is down; and kids, in the United States and almost all comparable countries, are fatter than ever.”

Gilbert examines the forces that shape those millions of individual decisions—feminism, capitalism, and policy. All, he argues, seek to harmonize work and family at the expense of family. They are not neutral about the matter, seeking only to expand women’s options. Like Hirshman, they all prioritize mothers’ labor force participation on the male model—work early and work continuously.

Gilbert’s book implicitly casts doubt on the notion that the market is a process whereby millions of individual choices are aggregated in such a way as to result in the common good. This in two ways. First the individual choices are shaped not only by the market, but also by ideology and policy in interaction with the knowledge and wisdom that arise from relations of reciprocal indebtedness within networks of family, community, and culture.

Second, the aggregate of such individual choices, even if made for millions of individually defensible reasons, may result in aggregate results that no-one wants. For example, the March 4, 2010 Economist article on “Gendercide: The War on Baby Girls” points to three main causes of the 100 million missing baby girls as the ancient preference for boys, the modern preference for smaller families, and the modern technology of ultrasound and abortion. Even without a government one-child policy, millions of individual decisions to abort baby girls, impelled in part by the subordination of family to work on the male model as driven by market and ideological (feminist) forces, results in an unbalanced sex ratio, with the prospect of millions of “surplus” young men roaming a country untamed by the traditional lifescript of settling down, marriage, and family.

The millions of individual choices are thus 1) not the acts of autonomous unencumbered selves, and 2) result in the aggregate in a situation that no rational person could consider an expression of the collective wisdom or common good.

With admirable restraint, Gilbert does not respond to this “market failure” with the unconstrained vision of the enlightened policy analyst who proposes a comprehensive policy to provide mothers and women in general what he thinks they should want. Instead, he modestly suggests ways to widen our thinking about policy options that would widen the range of choice for women who want to have both motherhood and careers, if not all at the same time. He offers modest suggestions for bringing policy more closely into line with the preferences of the large majority of women who want to spend time with their children and who are not in any case on the fast track to brilliant and fulfilling careers, as well as the wants and needs of their children (see, e.g., Eberstadt, 2004).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gendercide: The war on baby girls

Killed, aborted or neglected, at least 100m girls have disappeared—and the number is rising

Mar 4th 2010 | From The Economist

This is a very interesting article from the Economist. It raises troubling questions about the lethal combination of ancient prejudice and modern technology.

Among the ethical issues these data raise is the way people in our generation are deciding--without their consent--what future generations will be like, even what our species will look like. In the new eugenics, individual decisions like sex selection via ultrasound and abortion can lead to disastrous social consequences for future generations (a huge gender imbalance with hordes of young males untamed by the traditional lifescript of marriage and family), consequences for which no-one is accountable. Few would object to genetic engineering to eliminate muscular dystrophy, but to create super-athletes, or enhanced memory, height, or other genetic traits of our children? Or consider the controversy over the Maryland lesbian couple, Duchesneau and McCullough, themselves deaf, who sought a sperm donor to ensure as far as possible that the baby would be deaf. (They succeeded in having a baby born deaf by design.)

A couple of recent books--by two of my favorite authors--address these troubling issues in a serious, accessible, interesting way: Michael Sandel (The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering) and Juergen Habermas, (The Future of Human Nature).

In the third of his Theses on Feuerbach (1845), Marx points out the authoritarian implications of social engineering by experts or utopians: "The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society."

Cannot precisely the same point be made about genetic engineering when aimed at selective breeding of humans--it divides people into the breeders and the bred?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

venom and hatred from the devotees of reason

I just came across an interesting essay on the tendency of those who comment electronically to resort to irrational hatred of a kind rarely found in crank letters in the past. It seems that atheists and academics--especially atheist academics--are particularly prone to such displays of venom, even when commenting on the blog of a prominent atheist like Richard Dawkins. For that reason, Dawkins (felt he) had to close down the comments section of his own blog.

What's up with that? Is it the new technology that requires so little effort compared with taking the trouble to write and mail a letter? Is it something about academics who are used to going unchallenged in their own milieu? Is it about a romanticism that values the expression of feeling for its own sake no matter how far it goes beyond the limits of civility and rational discourse? Or is it something about a particular kind of devotee of reason that makes him or her particularly prone to the irrational?

Read more here:


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Soul Music — Roger Scruton on Music and Morality

Soul Music

Saturday, February 27, 2010

How we describe pop music proves that we find moral significance in music. How do we tell what music we should and should not encourage?

“The ways of poetry and music are not changed anywhere without change in the most important laws of the city.” So wrote Plato in The Republic (4.424c). And Plato is famous for having given what is perhaps the first theory of character in music, proposing to allow some modes and to forbid others according to the character which can be heard in them. Plato deployed the concept of mimesis, or imitation, to explain why bad character in music encourages bad character in its devotees. The context suggests that he had singing, dancing, and marching in mind rather than the silent listening that we know from the concert hall. But, however we fill out the details, there is no doubt that music, for Plato, was something that could be judged in the same moral terms we judge one another, and that the terms in question denoted virtues and vices like nobility, dignity, temperance, and chastity on the one hand, and sensuality, belligerence, and indiscipline on the other.

Plato’s argument targeted not individual works of music or specific performances, but modes. We don’t exactly know how the Greek modes were arranged; they conventionally identified styles, instruments, and melodic and rhythmical devices, as well as the notes of the scale. Without going into the matter, we can venture to suggest that Plato was discriminating between recognizable musical idioms as we might discriminate jazz from rock, and both from classical. And his concern was not so very different from that of a modern person worrying about the moral character, and moral effect, of death metal, say, or musical kitsch of the Andrew Lloyd Webber kind. Should our children listen to this stuff? Thus question modern adults, just as Plato asked, “Should the city permit this stuff?” Of course, we have long since given up on the idea that you can forbid certain kinds of music by law. We should remember, however, that this idea has had a long history, and has been a decisive factor in the evolution of the Christian churches, which have been as censorious over liturgical music as over liturgical words, and indeed have hardly distinguished between them.

Soul Music — The American, A Magazine of Ideas

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