Friday, April 30, 2010

values and principles

I am wondering why the NASW Code of Ethics derives principles from values instead of the other way around? Etymologically and, I think, in common usage, principles by definition come first (in principio creavit; in principio erat verbum, etc.).

Logic has a core principle--both p and not-p cannot be true at the same time (or something like that). Without that principle you cannot do logic--other things perhaps, mysticism, poetry, Zen, etc., but not logic. In ethics the core principle is, I think, that people (do or should or think they should) do good and avoid evil. Without such a core principle, ethics becomes something else--psychology or neurology or something else.

Values (if the term is meaningful) can be derived from principles, but not the other way round. If this is wrong and the NASW approach is right, where do values come from? Are they only matters of agreement or consensus among a group of people that could equally well be the opposite of what they are? Just wondering.

You might say that in NASW’s usage, values reflect the preferences of an individual or a group, while principles, as rules, are more concrete and are used to guide behavior. One could say that values are concepts and principles are the operational definition of those values. Principles here are not fundamental laws or truths or postulates, but rules of behavior. This makes sense of what the Code does.

The problem for me, then, is to understand what anchors those value preferences. Do they have any basis in the way we humans are or what in reality makes for the well-being of individuals and communities, or are they just tastes, like a preference for vanilla over strawberry ice cream?

Are Satanists and social workers just people with different moral tastes, with no way to determine which flavor is to be preferred except in terms of some other, no less arbitrary set of preferences?

Or must such preferences be rooted in some intrinsic or absolute good? So exercise may be valued because it contributes to health as an empirical fact, but that makes sense as a value only if health is good in an absolute sense.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Amartya Sen on Adam Smith

In this article from the New Statesman (UK), Nobel prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, offers a clear, accessible explanation of why the 18th century moral philosopher Adam Smith's first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is "one of the truly outstanding books in the intellectual history of the world." Critically acclaimed upon publication in 1759, his work in ethics--emphasizing the Enlightenment themes of impartiality and universality--were overshadowed by Immanuel Kant's much more influential contributions along similar lines. And his discussion of political economy in relation to ethics was overshadowed by his later Wealth of Nations (1776)--which as a result has been misread ever since as a celebration of the unfettered free market.

In his understanding of the "demands of rationality, the need for recognizing the plurality of human motivations, the connections between ethics and economics, and the co-dependent rather than free-standing role of institutions in general and free markets in particular, in the functioning of the economy," argues Sen, Smith is of continued global relevance today.

"The global reach of Smith's moral and political reasoning is quite a distinctive feature of his thought, but it is strongly supplemented by his belief that all human beings are born with similar potential and, most importantly for policymaking, that the inequalities in the world reflect socially generated, rather than natural, disparities."

In short, Sen concludes, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a global manifesto of profound significance to the interdependent world in which we live."

His work is also important for the question that divides modern psychologists and moral philosophers on the relation of emotions to moral judgments. See, for example, Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis and his studies in social intuitionism. For a different view, see Paul Bloom, "Why Do Morals Change?" in Nature 464, 490 (25 March 2010) at

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Values Talk in Social Work: What's It Worth?

1.0 Values have a special place in social work
1.1 The profession’s mission “rooted in a set of core values,” which “are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective” (NASW Code)
1.2 The NASW Code of Ethics places values ahead even of principles and derives principles from values

2.0 But can values bear the weight placed on them?
2.1 Values are subjective, relative, matters of opinion
2.1.1 For Nietzsche, this was what made them preferable to virtues—they had no anchor in what was necessary for human flourishing or the good life
2.1.2 For Weber, they are the non-rational, arbitrary part of the fact-value distinction
2.1.3 This founds the profession in nothing more solid than convention or consensus [for emotivist and other subjectivist moral philosophy, this is no different from ethics in general]
2.1.4 To the extent that social work rests on values that have no intrinsic or objective moral authority, the boundaries of acceptability in the profession become a matter of power, not evidence or argument—which are cut off by appeal to an essentially arbitrary Code of Ethics

3.0 Do values distinguish between social work and other professions or the larger society?
3.1 E.g., medicine—cf. Pellegrino and self-effacement, autonomy, doing no harm, etc.
3.2 They have an altruistic aspect, as do other professions like medicine, law, nursing
3.3 They include the dignity and worth of the human person—a central feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition and Catholic social teaching in particular—so seem to rule out compatibility with strong forms of collectivism, such as fascism, Stalinism, traditional or indigenous cultures that subordinate individual to collective or accord dignity and worth only to some

4.0 Within those limits, do social work values enable us to distinguish one view from another within social work?
4.1 Social work values exclude some positions, such as strong collectivism, or a practice aimed at defending the privileges of the affluent (see Spano & Koenig’s example)
4.2 But even that claim is open to argument—for example, by those who view social work as precisely, if not consciously, about defending the status quo through social control of the deviant. See for example, the 58th (1926?) annual report of the London COS, entitled 'Bolshevism and its only true antidote: being the 58th Annual Report of ... claimed that 'the only real antidote to Bolshevism is good casework'
4.3 More important, social work values do not help us decide between the major positions of left and right in American politics with respect to major social welfare policies or approaches to practice
4.3.1 Many secularist liberals and now the Democratic Party as a whole support positions that subordinate the weak to the strong and refuse ascription of human dignity and worth to the weakest—unborn children. Many social workers support assisted suicide, the manufacture of “designer babies,” infant euthanasia, and abortion without seeing these positions as contradictory to basic social work values at their core. To be coherent, they have to hold to a strong body-mind dualism--that the dignity of the person is not at issue because personhood implies consciousness, so a physical human body like a fetus, someone in a coma or with advanced dementia, a deformed infant, etc., is not really a person—i.e., a person is a mind
4.3.2 Or what about the systematic subordination of the needs of children to the rights of adults in recent law and social policy, documented in The Revolution in Parenthood?
4.3.3 The assumption that liberals are caring and compassionate and hence more closely aligned with social work values does not withstand scrutiny—Brooks found the reverse (but cf. Haidt). Are liberal social workers an exception to the rule?
4.3.4 Take the (social work) value of social justice. This seems a strong case of a social work value that distinguishes between the main political positions of left and right. But this is not so.

5.0 Defining social justice
5.1 Barry—social justice as social democracy
5.2 Rawls vs. Nozick
5.3 MacIntyre’s critique and the Catholic social justice tradition
5.4 Subsidiarity and empowerment—the little platoons
5.5 Mediating structures—Berger & Neuhaus  patch, FGC/’Ohana Conferencing, social work as empowering, as partnering of state and family or community, strengthening marriages, families and neighborhoods rather than substituting for them, interweaving formal and informal care and control—community social work in UK
5.6 Gilbert’s Transformation of the Welfare State—across political boundaries and advanced liberal democracies—from state as provider to state as enabler, etc.
5.7 Centre for Social Justice (UK), Phillip Blond’s “Red Tories” (UK); red Tories Canada? A definition of social justice that is exactly not about big government as provider.

6.0 Do social work values help social workers choose among these conceptions of social justice in theory or practice? Can the matter be settled by appeal to the Code of Ethics?
6.1 This is Spano & Koenig’s idea, but
6.2 There is nothing in the value of social justice as described in the Code that helps us in this regard, contrary to S&K’s claim—does appealing to conventional understandings among social workers amount to more that groupthink?
6.3 Nor should there be. A profession is not a political party.

7.0 Values are largely useless in distinguishing between conceptions of the social good, in distinguishing social work from other professions like medicine and law that rest on appeal to a higher social good (health, justice), or even in guiding social workers in such a core area as social justice
7.1 Does “values” add anything to the classical ways, East and West, of thinking ethics in terms of the virtues, happiness, the good, and eudaimonia (the notion common to social work and Aristotle alike, of human flourishing, or the well-being of individuals and communities)?
7.2 Except, that is, relativism and subjectivism?
7.3 Which become, in their imperviousness to reason, a matter of the will, the dictatorship of relativism, and power?
7.4 Is it time to junk the concept of values altogether?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Open Letter to Hans Kueng by George Weigel

As John Gray puts it in his review of A.C. Grayling, quoted in my last post, "Indeed, the realization that history will not go his way might account for the shrill, peevish and increasingly baffled tone of Grayling’s polemics. There is nothing as dead as the opinions of the day before yesterday, and Ideas that Matter contains little else. Yet, despite the fact that it points to the past and not to the future, there is something to be prized in this volume. With his mix of adamant certainty and high-minded silliness, Grayling has captured for posterity a glimpse of that soon-to-be-extinct species, the late-twentieth-century bien-pensant."

How exactly right this is about Hans Kueng, the dissident theologian who championed a view of Vatican II as representing a complete rupture with the Tradition of the Church. He saw the future of the Church as lying in a kind of Protestantization and accommodation to modernity--the very path to oblivion taken by the mainline Protestant denominations. He seems to have learned nothing since making his name as a dissident celebrity and darling of the media. His open letter to the bishops published in the Irish Times exceeds all bounds of decency. It is only with the greatest effort that one can refrain from describing this once-distinguished theologian as a scum-bag.

Here is George Weigel's response to Kueng. Skip the red car story at the beginning. The rest of it is excellent.

Philosophy for the All-Too-Common Man

This review by John Gray of the latest book by A.C. Grayling, who really should try writing less and thinking more, delightfully punctures the pretensions of the kind of bien-pensant who presents the conventional ideas of his time as if they were the independent thought of a non-conformist and courageous mind.

"Indeed, the realization that history will not go his way might account for the shrill, peevish and increasingly baffled tone of Grayling’s polemics. There is nothing as dead as the opinions of the day before yesterday, and Ideas that Matter contains little else. Yet, despite the fact that it points to the past and not to the future, there is something to be prized in this volume. With his mix of adamant certainty and high-minded silliness, Grayling has captured for posterity a glimpse of that soon-to-be-extinct species, the late-twentieth-century bien-pensant."

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous: Nietzsche and the New Atheists

Here is a review essay by the brilliant Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, author of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its fashionable Enemies. As always, his reviews are fun to read, as any highly critical review by an intelligent, witty, scholarly reviewer who actually knows what he is talking about tends to be.

Believe It or Not | First Things

But the last part is of particular interest to me. Nietzsche, after all, was an atheist one cannot but respect. He understood how Christianity revolutionized human sensibility and morality, and he understood that the ethics of love that Christianity inserted into a brutal pagan world would not long survive the faith that animated it. He did not celebrate the "Death of God," but saw how it was also the death of man. Without facing these realities, atheism seems too cheaply bought, a sentimental, sanctimonious appropriation of Christian ethics without its foundation in the death of God on the cross. Nietzsche's madman in The Gay Science who announces the death of God

despairs of the mere atheists—those who merely do not believe—to whom he addresses his terrible proclamation. In their moral contentment, their ease of conscience, he sees an essential oafishness; they do not dread the death of God because they do not grasp that humanity’s heroic and insane act of repudiation has sponged away the horizon, torn down the heavens, left us with only the uncertain resources of our will with which to combat the infinity of meaninglessness that the universe now threatens to become.

Because he understood the nature of what had happened when Christianity entered history with the annunciation of the death of God on the cross, and the elevation of a Jewish peasant above all gods, Nietzsche understood also that the passing of Christian faith permits no return to pagan naivete, and he knew that this monstrous inversion of values created within us a conscience that the older order could never have incubated. He understood also that the death of God beyond us is the death of the human as such within us. If we are, after all, nothing but the fortuitous effects of physical causes, then the will is bound to no rational measure but itself, and who can imagine what sort of world will spring up from so unprecedented and so vertiginously uncertain a vision of reality?

For Nietzsche, therefore, the future that lies before us must be decided, and decided between only two possible paths: a final nihilism, which aspires to nothing beyond the momentary consolations of material contentment, or some great feat of creative will, inspired by a new and truly worldly mythos powerful enough to replace the old and discredited mythos of the Christian revolution (for him, of course, this meant the myth of the √úbermensch).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not What You Might Think

Brendan O’Neill
The Secular Inquisition

The campaign to arrest the pope is the product of an increasingly desperate secularism, which can only find meaning through ridiculing the religious.

Not the work of your typical papal apologist (like me!).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

On "Liberal" Dissidents and the Crisis

In the thread mentioned in my last post, Anne Rice often quotes dissidents--even extreme ones like Hans Kung--and columnists as vehemently opposed to the hierarchy and Magisterium as Maureen Dowd of the NYT. When the anti-papal and anti-Benedict bias of these sources is pointed out, Ms. Rice observes that they are sincere and we can learn from them. Both points are true as far as I know, but there is much more to be said about the dissidents' own role and responsibility in this sordid saga. And saying it cannot be dismissed as mere defensiveness. Here is my response:
There is clearly a difference of perception here and repetition and autobiographical statements do not make the assertions more persuasive. (I do not mean that disrespectfully--I am a huge fan of Ms. Rice's recent work.)

On the question of "liberals" (those who have consistently and often contemptuously opposed the leadership of JP II and Benedict), they may well be sincere and we should learn from opponents as well as friends.

But if we want to understand the current scandal and crisis in the Church, we have to face up to these "liberals'" (or dissidents may be a better term) contribution to it. These include a semi-secularization of Catholics who are terribly under-catechized and whose beliefs and behavior are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from the rest of society, on matters from abortion to the Real Presence, as well as sexual permissiveness. It seems the rate of sexual abuse of adolescents by clergy also rose in this period to approximate much of the rest of the male population.

This atmosphere of permissiveness, dilettantism, a gay subculture that disdained the vow of chastity and the Church's moral guidance in general, permeated the seminaries and infected the priests who graduated from them. The problem was exacerbated enormously by theologians like Kung and Curran who treated almost everything in the Church's teaching on faith and morals as up for grabs. (The Church is also not a graduate theological seminar or playground for academics and intellectuals.)

If we want a full accounting for the abuse scandal and assurance it will not be repeated, we need to face up to this issue and not sweep it under the rug.

Clergy Abuse and the Pope: A response to Anne Rice

For a couple of weeks now I have been participating in an discussion thread begun by Anne Rice, a writer whose recent work I greatly admire. I have made several contributions but become increasingly frustrated by the way this (like other threads) quickly starts going round in circles with no real movement in response to postings from different perspectives. Repetition and autobiographical statements produce no value added. The thread is at

A new participant, NY2VA, has made an excellent, clear contribution that does actually clarify things and take the discussion forward. Whether it goes forward from here remains to be seen. NY2VA has kindly agreed to allow me to repost her or his post with the disclaimer that the points it makes derive from conversations with others. (Don't they always?) Here's the post. It is a response to Anne Rice's points.


Posted on Apr. 18, 2010 1:48 PM PDT
Last edited by the author 2 hours ago
NY2VA says:
As a gifted and skilled author you appreciate the value of words, what they mean, and the importance of their proper usage when reasoning through a problem in order to arrive at valid conclusion. We are told to let yes mean yes and no mean no. Just so.

Pedophilia is the inherently abusive commission of sexual relations with prepubescent children. The sexual abuse committed by some Catholic clergy does not fit the definition of the word being applied. So, why such insistence on using the word? Some 80% of the sexual abuse cases in the US involved boys between the ages of 11 and 17. That makes them adolescents. Male adolescents. In the spirit of calling things what they are, there is no pedphlilia scandal. There is an ephebophilia scandal. The men in question abandoned their sacred vows and succumbed to male hebephilia, attraction to pubescent male children. Ergo, there is a homosexuality problem.

The problem is that homosexual men who did not control their sexual desires were given positions of authority and trust, and placed in close proximity to adolescent boys. And when they victimized them, they were counseled and transferred - often based on the "best," most current psychiatric theory - instead of being arrested and imprisoned. The blame for the problems belongs to the men themselves, and the bishops of those times, predominately the 60's and 70's, not to the pope of today.

Regarding your oft repeated, loyal Catholic, hypothetical inquiry as to whether Pope Benedict XVI should be punished if he is found to have done wrong, of course he should. If he cheats at cards, he should expect to be horsewhipped. If Tony Blair is found to have embezzled millions from the Bank of England, he should be jailed. If LeBron James hacks an opponent, he should be whistled for a personal foul. If you do 85 mph in a 45 mph zone, you should be ticketed for reckless driving. And the point is?

I see no constructive use in hypothetical questions. Talking about what someone thinks should happen if something that probably did not happen but possibly might have happened actually did happen is a pointless (at best) and destructive (more likely) parlor game. If you want to discuss the scandal of homosexual abuse of adolescent boys by men who broke their vows and betrayed the trust placed in them by the Catholic Church, and the failure of their superiors to protect their flocks, you will be discussing something real. And some good might come of it.

The use of the political terms liberal and conservative is likewise misguided. The Catholic Church is not a political institution. There is no liberal or conservative Faith. There is orthodox and there is heterodox. Period. One is either obedient, the antidote to the greatest of sins - pride, or one is disobedient, Non serviam! We are all sinners. The priests who broke their vows and abused their charges were disobedient sinners. Had they and the bishops and therapists who enabled their abuse been faithful to the Magisterium, no scandal of this scale would exist. It is only when we insist on being our own Magisterium - Non serviam! - that we go wrong.

God love you.

Viva Cristo Rey.


For those who do not know, the last words of the above post were made famous as the last words of a great Catholic martyr of Mexico's secularist government, the Jesuit priest Miguel Pro. He was killed by firing squad in front of news cameras November 23, 1927. (See Robert Royal's inspiring book, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Long Lent | First Things

George Weigel

Another Long Lent | First Things

The Passion of Pope Benedict: Six Accusations, One Question

Sandro Magister has an excellent short essay on his blog at

which reviews six areas of strongest leadership of this pontificate. He shows that pedophilia is only the latest weapon aimed against Joseph Ratzinger. And each time, he is attacked where he most exercises his leadership role. Wherever Pope Benedict has most effectively moved the Church forward. Where he has addressed problems that had gone unattended or broken deadlocks (ecumenism, relations with Islam or the Jews), there he is most attacked by his liberal enemies. Having hoped for one of their own, they have never forgiven him for being elected pope and continuing in the path of John Paul the Great.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Maureen Dowd and the New Anti-Catholicism

In her latest column in the NYT, Maureen Dowd introduces her brother Kevin with a comment about how, since she gets attacked "vitriolically" for her anti-Catholic series of columns and is not taken seriously as a woman, perhaps "they" (the bishops of the Church) will listen to her brother, a man and a faithful, conservative Catholic. Incidentally, she mentions, no doubt to the astonishment of many of her readers, that she is herself a Catholic.

Her remarks are interesting on several levels. First, she herself has just written some of the most vitriolic attacks on a religion and its leaders ever to appear in the New York Times. Second, she treats the bishops and the pope with complete disrespect and yet complains in a rather hurt tone that she is not respected. Not because she is rude, belligerent, and completely unfair. Not because she is reckless and irresponsible in her fueling a new wave of anti-Catholicism in North America and Europe. (Two friends already have sent me her columns by way of saying that I ought to leave the Church.) Not because she attacks personally the head of the Church, who precisely has been resolute and effective in addressing the clergy abuse issue and who is completely innocent, personally, as former head of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith and now as pope. Not because her columns have been full of factual errors for which she has not apologized or provided corrections. Not because, unlike her target of attack Pope Benedict, she offers no constructive way forward. But because she is a woman.

Finally, her remarks and previous columns are typical of a trend within the Church among liberal elites--declining in numbers but still full of resentment and bile--to attack the Church and its teachings especially on matters of sexual morality in terms as extreme as almost any outright enemy of the Church. They use as outlets for their attacks reputable publishers and newspapers many or most of whose readers are secularist enemies of the Church. (Every time Dowd publishes one of these columns in the NYT, it is followed by hundreds of comments vehemently denouncing, not just a Church policy or leader, but Catholic Christianity as a whole.) It is the phenomenon of the anti-Catholic Catholic. This open attack on the Church from people themselves claiming to be Catholic provides the cover for expression of some of the deepest prejudice and bigotry, not in fringe nativist or Klan papers but in mainstream secular-liberal newspapers like the New York Times. In this sense, Dowd's columns are symptomatic of something larger than her own tendency to express herself in the form of intemperate rants.

There's an excellent book by an Episcopalian, Philip Jenkins, called The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. It is very insightful about U.S. history beyond its immediate topic. It is unsparing about some of the more embarrassing figures in American Catholicism, like Fr. Coughlin and Sen. McCarthy, but he has a good analysis of the deep anti-Catholicism in the U.S., both at the nativist level of the KKK and fundamentalist (and until recently, even mainstream) Protestants on one hand and among academics and the media on the other. On the first, Jenkins points out (in a context very different from that of the Vatican preacher's recent comment--that of a serious analysis of anti-Catholicism in its historical and contemporary forms) how similar the images and themes of anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism are--sexual depravity, danger to children, divided loyalties, etc. That was of course big still in the 1920s, with the populist response to Al Smith's candidacy and the KKK's propaganda and thuggery against Catholics, Jews, and Blacks. (None of which is to say that the current wave of anti-Catholic media attacks can be compared with the killing of six million Jews--no-one made such a comparison of verbal attacks with physical genocide, including the Vatican preacher. Father Cantalamessa's comparison of anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic stereotyping was nevertheless grievously inappropriate and insensitive because it was, precisely in its context, so open to that kind of interpretation.)

Jenkins describes well the huge shifts that occurred in the 1970s, with the sexual revolution, abortion, contraception and the corresponding shift in the base and nature of the Democratic Party. From a time when almost all Catholics were instinctively Democrats, mainly on class grounds as well as because the Church's teaching on social justice is more naturally aligned with the DP, the party has become uninhabitable by faithful, orthodox Catholics. The party downgraded class in favor of identity politics, took up abortion as the litmus test for any DP leader (leading such luminaries as Jesse Jackson, Edward Kennedy, Al Gore, and even Bill Clinton to abandon their pro-life positions). I think the Obamacare vote was the last gasp for pro-life Democrats--they really showed there was no place for them in the party and the question will never be even discussable again in it.

The relevance of all this is that this huge sea change we usually call the Sixties for short--sexual liberation, moral relativism, abortion, contraception, along with collapse of family structure, etc., etc.--was not only a big pressure on the Church to secularize and accommodate as the mainstream Protestants did (thereupon rapidly disappearing or breaking up in disarray like the Anglicans). It was also a big pressure within the Church. So you had seminaries becoming places of active gay culture, rejecting celibacy and chastity as unrealistic, and generally treating the moral teaching of the Church over the previous millennia as old hat. (This is well documented in a study by Michael Rose, Goodbye, Good Men. It shows how pious, orthodox, and "manly" applicants were turned away--generating a shortage of priests that fueled a push for married and women priests--in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.)

All this led to several investigations that cleaned up the seminaries--which Dowd conveniently ignores when denouncing the equally necessary investigations of the rapidly declining sisters' communities. Their problem had a different aspect, in that it led to a strongly New Age, separatist-feminist wackiness and joined up with the anti-Catholic Catholic stream associated with people like Garry Wills, John Cornwell, and James Carroll. Whenever the Church comes under attack and has its back to the wall, these people join in the fray...against the Church. This is a new trend in anti-Catholicism. In the past Catholics would close ranks in face of external attacks in a deeply anti-Catholic culture. Now the anti-Catholic Catholics provide cover for the most vicious and strident bigotry, as we are seeing now.

So back to Maureen Dowd. The first of her columns lionized the dissident nuns who broke with the bishops in a letter saying that the health bill did not open loopholes for federal abortion funding and would not lead to a big increase in abortions. This is an empirical question that calls, one would think, for an examination of the facts--by looking, for example, at the wording of the legislation then before the House. Given Dowd's claim in this latest column that it was not the devil, but the facts that led her to launch her attacks, you would think she would have some interest in the facts of the matter. But no, she launches into a gender-based rant about the excellence of the nuns and the rottenness of the bishops, as if that settled the point at issue. I think the old exorcist was probably closer to the truth than the amazingly insight-lacking Dowd. In the course of that column and subsequent ones, she showed an equally reckless disregard of the facts. For example,
• she follows the dissident nuns and some major media outlets in stating as a fact that the signatories of the letter represented 59,000 nuns in the U.S.--i.e., the sum total of American nuns. The truth is that we don't know what the dissident group represents in the way of sisterly opinion, but we can be sure it is nothing like the numbers claimed. We do know that a real, recognized group of nuns with 10,000 members signed a letter supporting the bishops. These are the nuns that like the younger JP II priests and seminarians of the last decade or so, are orthodox, loyal, and deeply religious unlike the "liberal" old guard from the 1960s and 1970s. (Those seminaries and religious communities are thriving by the way--for an example of their spirit, see the story of the young nuns who appeared on Oprah recently;
• she plays up the case of the Wisconsin priest Murphy as grounds for attacking the pope personally and calling for his resignation; but after the whole argument has been debunked as factually wrong without anyone producing a shred of evidence that Ratzinger or his office did anything wrong, she offers not a hint of retraction or apology;
• she ignores the fact that sexual abuse is a plague across society and the world, no more common in Catholic settings than any other, and today much less so. Most sexual abuse of children happens not by celibate clergy but in the children's own homes, from parents, live-in boyfriends, etc.
• she demonizes the Pope in the most intemperate way, when a cursory knowledge of the facts reveals that he has done more than anyone in the Church and probably the world to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse of children;
• relatedly, none of these cases is less than ten years old, and Catholic clergy abuse has virtually ended in the U.S., which cannot be said of public schools, Orthodox Jews, or many (any?) other religions or child settings;
• today, the Church and its schools are the safest place for boys (and the abuse has nearly all been homosexual in nature, involving for the most part not young children but adolescents and homosexual priests at a time when open homosexuality was practically the norm in seminaries);
• the media, and Dowd in particular, have singled out the Church (and Ratzinger in particular) for relentless and vicious attack in a way that no-one would dare publish against any other religious group, Muslims and Jews included (see NY archbishop Dolan's column at which the NYT declined to publish). Only fundamentalists who see the Church as the new Babylon and the pope as the anti-Christ approach such extremes of bigotry and hate.

In her latest column, just published in the NYT, Dowd hands over the space to her brother Kevin, whining that she is not being taken seriously because she is a woman. Her own columns are as nasty and vitriolic as anything I have ever seen in the NYT, yet she complains that she has been attacked (in vitriolic terms, even!) by those who have come to the Church’s defense.

But unlike her rants, Kevin's comments are worthy of respect, not because he is a man, but because he offers a much clearer perspective on the Church than Ms. Dowd. He acknowledges the seriousness of the problem in past decades--though neither he nor anyone offers a shred of evidence that it was ever more serious in the Church than anywhere else--but he does not incite a wave of anti-Catholic bigotry and hatred as did Ms. Dowd with her venomous columns--just look at the hateful and bigoted anti-Catholic comments her columns elicit by the hundreds. Kevin also accurately identifies the corrosive effects of the post-Vatican II changes, the destruction of sacred liturgy, the stripping of the altars, the erosion of piety and traditional devotions, and most damningly, the corruption of the seminaries and religious communities.

Most important, he doesn’t follow Maureen and the rest of the mainstream media here and in Europe in targeting the one man who, apart from being innocent, has done most to correct these abuses. No-one in the Church, and probably in the world, has done more than Pope Benedict to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse of young people, with the result that all these abuses are over ten years old and nowhere are children and adolescents today safer than in the Church, its schools, and other bodies. But the real agenda of the attack on Pope Benedict is to bring down this close ally of John Paul II who, with him, helped save the Church from the ravages of post-Vatican II liberalism. That is why he is attacked most vehemently precisely in the areas where he has done most good (for a good essay on this point, see Sandro Magister’s “The Passion of Pope Benedict: Six Accusations and One Question” (

As for celibacy as the problem, which Kevin suggests, let's not forget that most sexual abuse occurs in families. It was not the standard and vow of celibacy that were the problem. As Kevin himself points out by reference to Rose's Goodbye, Good Men, it was rather precisely the loosening and relativizing of the Church's moral teaching among liberal Catholics and in the gay subculture of the 1970s seminaries--from which pious, orthodox, and upright men were systematically excluded according to Rose's report—that led to this spate of homosexual encounters between priests and young men in this period.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Charity Reconsidered Pt.1

Some questions I am thinking about.

Social work came as a profession out of the perceived need in the nineteenth century to make charity more organized and scientific. Random and sentimental charity needed to be replaced by a more systematic approach resting on a base of knowledge and skill aimed at truly helping those in need. By the turn of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, the term charity itself became something of an embarrassment. It had roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition and, as with science and philosophy, some of its professional advocates sought to develop it as a secular activity independent of theology or religious duty.

Charity came under even stronger attack from Social Darwinists and eugenicists like Herbert Spencer and in the 1920s and 1930s, Margaret Sanger. The Great Depression and the rise of the welfare state further marginalized charity. The concept of individual rights—as understood historically and by the American Founders as a negative freedom from state interference—expanded into a claim on state provision. As this happened, social workers and statist liberals saw help for the poor as progressing “from charity to justice,” to a matter of rights or claims on the public purse rather than either gratuitous self-giving or a casual handout.

In more recent decades, the corporatist and statist assumptions of the welfare state came increasingly under critical scrutiny. This was partly as a result of concerns about long-term dependency and demoralization; partly because of the rising costs and perceived threat to competitiveness in a global economy; and partly because of a concern that services had become bureaucratic, fragmented, disempowering, and generally unresponsive to those they were meant to serve.

The earlier critiques of charity have thus lost much of their force in face of the problems of its statist alternative. (That charitable activity—in the sense of the voluntary giving of time, treasure, and talent to help others—is still in a kind of hydraulic relation with state, tax-funded provision is shown in the path-breaking work of Arthur C. Brooks (see his Who Really Cares? America’s Charity Divide—Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters). That is, the more you favor public, tax-funded provision, the less you yourself give voluntarily to charity. There is a big gulf between the level of charitable giving between Europe (low) and the U.S. (high); between the secular (low) and religious (high); between liberals (low, except for religious liberals) and conservatives (high). It seems that modern social welfare, no less than its historic predecessors, cannot be understood without reference to charity and its interaction with state provision.

Is it time to reconsider the concept, history, and meanings of charity in a new, less dismissive light?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI: How it looks to an American in the Vatican

by Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In our melting pot of peoples, languages and backgrounds, Americans are not noted as examples of “high” culture. But we can take pride as a rule in our passion for fairness. In the Vatican where I currently work, my colleagues – whether fellow cardinals at meetings or officials in my office – come from many different countries, continents and cultures. As I write this response today (March 26, 2010) I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.

I say this because today’s Times presents both a lengthy article by Laurie Goodstein, a senior columnist, headlined “Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest,” and an accompanying editorial entitled “The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal,” in which the editors call the Goodstein article a disturbing report (emphasis in original) as a basis for their own charges against the Pope. Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting.

In her lead paragraph, Goodstein relies on what she describes as “newly unearthed files” to point out what the Vatican (i.e. then Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) did not do – “defrock Fr. Murphy.” Breaking news, apparently. Only after eight paragraphs of purple prose does Goodstein reveal that Fr. Murphy, who criminally abused as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1974, “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, according to the documents and interviews with victims.”

But in paragraph 13, commenting on a statement of Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) that Church law does not prohibit anyone from reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, Goodstein writes, “He did not address why that had never happened in this case.” Did she forget, or did her editors not read, what she wrote in paragraph nine about Murphy getting “a pass from the police and prosecutors”? By her own account it seems clear that criminal authorities had been notified, most probably by the victims and their families.

Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.

The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.

It seems to me, on the other hand, that we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors. These efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope. That the Times has published a series of articles in which the important contribution he has made – especially in the development and implementation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, the Motu proprio issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 – is ignored, seems to me to warrant the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper.

Let me tell you what I think a fair reading of the Milwaukee case would seem to indicate. The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these “newly emerged files.” Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse. The Congregation approved his decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.

Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken. Goodstein infers that this action implies “leniency” toward a priest guilty of heinous crimes. My interpretation would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying. Indeed, I have recently received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it. But Fr. Murphy had died in the meantime. As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.

Goodstein also refers to what she calls “other accusations” about the reassignment of a priest who had previously abused a child/children in another diocese by the Archdiocese of Munich. But the Archdiocese has repeatedly explained that the responsible Vicar General, Mons. Gruber, admitted his mistake in making that assignment. It is anachronistic for Goodstein and the Times to imply that the knowledge about sexual abuse that we have in 2010 should have somehow been intuited by those in authority in 1980. It is not difficult for me to think that Professor Ratzinger, appointed as Archbishop of Munich in 1977, would have done as most new bishops do: allow those already in place in an administration of 400 or 500 people to do the jobs assigned to them.

As I look back on my own personal history as a priest and bishop, I can say that in 1980 I had never heard of any accusation of such sexual abuse by a priest. It was only in 1985, as an Auxiliary Bishop attending a meeting of our U.S. Bishops’ Conference where data on this matter was presented, that I became aware of some of the issues. In 1986, when I was appointed Archbishop in Portland, I began to deal personally with accusations of the crime of sexual abuse, and although my “learning curve” was rapid, it was also limited by the particular cases called to my attention.

Here are a few things I have learned since that time: many child victims are reluctant to report incidents of sexual abuse by clergy. When they come forward as adults, the most frequent reason they give is not to ask for punishment of the priest, but to make the bishop and personnel director aware so that other children can be spared the trauma that they have experienced.

In dealing with priests, I learned that many priests, when confronted with accusations from the past, spontaneously admitted their guilt. On the other hand, I also learned that denial is not uncommon. I have found that even programs of residential therapy have not succeeded in breaking through such denial in some cases. Even professional therapists did not arrive at a clear diagnosis in some of these cases; often their recommendations were too vague to be helpful. On the other hand, therapists have been very helpful to victims in dealing with the long-range effects of their childhood abuse. In both Portland and San Francisco where I dealt with issues of sexual abuse, the dioceses always made funds available (often through diocesan insurance coverage) for therapy to victims of sexual abuse.

From the point of view of ecclesiastical procedures, the explosion of the sexual abuse question in the United States led to the adoption, at a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference in Dallas in 2002, of a “Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse.” This Charter provides for uniform guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, on structures of accountability (Boards involving clergy, religious and laity, including experts), reports to a national Board, and education programs for parishes and schools in raising awareness and prevention of sexual abuse of children. In a number of other countries similar programs have been adopted by Church authorities: one of the first was adopted by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in response to the Nolan Report made by a high-level commission of independent experts in 2001.

It was only in 2001, with the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST), that responsibility for guiding the Catholic Church’s response to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This papal document was prepared for Pope John Paul II under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Contrary to some media reports, SST did not remove the local bishop’s responsibility for acting in cases of reported sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Nor was it, as some have theorized, part of a plot from on high to interfere with civil jurisdiction in such cases. Instead, SST directs bishops to report credible allegations of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is able to provide a service to the bishops to ensure that cases are handled properly, in accord with applicable ecclesiastical law.

Here are some of the advances made by this new Church legislation (SST). It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. This has been of particular advantage in missionary and small dioceses that do not have a strong complement of well-trained canon lawyers. It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The Congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for “historical” cases. Moreover, SST has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today. It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests’ cases. Perhaps most of all, it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today’s Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen. Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.

After the Dallas Charter in 2002, I was appointed (at the time as Archbishop of San Francisco) to a team of four bishops to seek approval of the Holy See for the “Essential Norms” that the American Bishops developed to allow us to deal with abuse questions. Because these norms intersected with existing canon law, they required approval before being implemented as particular law for our country. Under the chairmanship of Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and currently President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, our team worked with Vatican canonical experts at several meetings. We found in Cardinal Ratzinger, and in the experts he assigned to meet with us, a sympathetic understanding of the problems we faced as American bishops. Largely through his guidance we were able to bring our work to a successful conclusion.

The Times editorial wonders “how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period.” I can assure the Times that the Vatican in reality did not then and does not now ignore those lessons. But the Times editorial goes on to show the usual bias: “But then we read Laurie Goodstein’s disturbing report . . .about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest … But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.” Excuse me, editors. Even the Goodstein article, based on “newly unearthed files,” places the words about protecting the Church from scandal on the lips of Archbishop Weakland, not the pope. It is just this kind of anachronistic conflation that I think warrants my accusation that the Times, in rushing to a guilty verdict, lacks fairness in its coverage of Pope Benedict.

As a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See’s tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times’s subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd’s silly parroting of Goodstein’s “disturbing report.” But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his “successor” Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today, I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on.

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