Friday, April 26, 2013

Walking the Way

Paul Adams

In a couple of hours (DV), I will be on my way to Barcelona and thence to join the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James in northern Spain, with my adult daughter Katryn.  That means there will be a three-week hiatus in my blog.

I have been asked about blogging the experience day by day.  I expect to write about it when I return but there are several reasons not to do it day by day.  One of them is that there is a very fine blog of that kind already by a father, Webster Bull, who walked the whole 500 miles of the camino with his adult daughter last year.  It is beautifully done and fascinating.  Father and daughter respectively are ten years younger than me and my daughter, so their experiences were inevitably different but his troubles sleeping in the albergues certainly reinforced my determination to bring a large supply of ear-plugs.

Each day's post is linked to the next so you can read it like an e-book.  I was reassured by his observation that, despite expecting to feel a certain superiority to those who joined the pilgrimage, as we will, at Sarria, the last place on the French route you can do so and still put in the 100 km you need to get a certificate--but he found that many of these pilgrims were Spaniards with jobs and families using their vacation to do a religious pilgrimage.  That gave him a fresh respect for them, since both he and his daughter are serious Catholics, whereas many who do the whole camino--as we know from The Way (the movie with Martin Sheen) are non-religious, spiritual-but-not-religious, or even anti-Catholic.

A favorite part of the blog is the account of their time in Santiago de Compostela, including this anecdote from June 18, 2012, about Pope Benedict XVI.  It starts like this:
In Seattle you have the Space Needle, in Paris the Eiffel Tower. In Santiago de Compostela, the number-one tourist attraction seems to be the Botafumeiro, the giant censer propelled on a pendulum swing by six rope-pulling stewards and spewing scented smoke in front of the altar before the final blessing, especially at SRO pilgrim masses. It's a sensation, hurtling on its trapeze like a death-defying circus artist or a space capsule out of control. 
It's most of what you hear about. A couple from Holland here on holiday asked me during the Spain-Croatia soccer match tonight if I had seen the Botafumeiro yet. A fellow pilgrim and a Protestant complained to me that the Botafumeiro was "too commercial," and proved his point by standing with hundreds of other gawkers to snap still and video images when it swung into action at the end of noon mass on Sunday. When the giant, flaming ball was wrestled to earth by a courageous caped attendant, the cathedral broke into applause. Before giving us his final blessing, the celebrant made the best of an awkward moment by saying that he hoped we were applauding the Lord and not the Botafumeiro. 
A pilgrim who had been following Webster's blog as it unfolded and who was on pilgrimage at the same time, told him that
when the Pope was in Santiago a couple of years ago, everyone was eager to see his reaction to the Botafumeiro. Some thought he would look up in wonder. Some thought he might even gesture approvingly. 
Instead, our Pope kept his head lowered in prayer throughout the swinging, which lasts at least 45 seconds. He never looked, never flinched. He just waited for the censing to be done with, then delivered his blessing. 
I have concluded, and this anecdote reinforces my conclusion, that it is impossible to make a proper judgment of the Catholic Church without having lived inside it seriously. Few have lived longer or more deeply inside the faith than Pope Benedict.

To all my fellow peregrinos, I wish buen camino.  See you soon.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Remembered

Here is a comment by Gertrude Himmelfarb on Margaret Thatcher's endorsement of "Victorian values--better yet, Victorian virtues"--a charge from critics that, like the epithet "Iron Lady," Mrs. Thatcher enthusiastically embraced.  Himmelfarb points out that Thatcher was not an "individualist" who held an atomized view of the autonomous unencumbered self as the alternative to statist collectivism.  In contrast, she stood in the line of those, like (in their different ways) Burke, Tocqueville, Acton, and Novak (as well as the popes from Leo XIII to John Paul II), who emphasized the importance of the intermediate structures or associations that stood between individual and state.
It is curious that the champion of Victorian values​—​better yet, Victorian virtues​—​should be accused, by some social conservatives as well as liberals, of elevating the “self,” the autonomous individual, above “society”; indeed, denigrating society in the interest of the self. Margaret Thatcher addressed this objection in her autobiography, insisting that she, like the Victorians, consistently saw the individual in the context of community, family, the other agents of society, and, not least, the nation. It was in that context, she said, that she promoted entrepreneurship, privatization, social mobility, a dynamic economy, and a limited government. She praised “the American theologian and social scientist” Michael Novak for stressing the fact “that what he called ‘democratic capitalism’ was a moral and social, not just an economic system, that it encouraged a range of virtues, and that it depended upon co‑operation not just ‘going it alone.’ ” 
For Novak's personal recollections of the Iron Lady, see this post at Huffpo.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Note: For one compelling answer, see Mary Eberstadt's new book about the relation between family (and fertility) and faith.  It offers persuasive answers to this question in the course of laying out a new theory of secularization.  I plan to review it shortly.  PA

Carolyn Moynihan 

Why is Europe committing demographic suicide?

Frankly, not even the experts have the faintest idea.

Everybody knows about the economic woes of Europe. In the media you cannot get away from it. What we seldom hear about is a problem that puts debt crises and austerity riots in the shade: the region’s demographic suicide. Europeans, on the whole, are not having enough babies to replace themselves -- a trend which threatens the workforce, support of the aged and even the continued existence of some nations. It is a problem that goes back well before the recent housing bubbles and busts, bank failures and bailouts. It is probably a cause of the latter.

Yet it is a mystery to the people we rely to predict such things. Demographers, economists and psychologists are scratching their heads over a phenomenon that breaks all their statistical models and paradigms of human behaviour. Why would people who are prosperous (and, despite the current situation, western Europe is) not want to do what human beings have always done and leave a posterity? How can they contemplate the eclipse of their nation?

One answer might be that the public is simply not aware of what is happening. Lant Pritchett, an economist and Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, told MercatorNet: “Scientists of perception study ‘change blindness’ and can show people have a hard time even visually seeing gradual change, much less gradual change at the social level. Unlike the advocates for climate change there are no ‘extreme events’ like Hurricane Sandy in demography so it is hard to get attention onto the inevitable consequences of current fertility.”

Dr Pritchett and colleague Martina Viarengo are the authors of an essay, “Why Demographic Suicide? The Puzzles of European Fertility”, which is part of a collection of essays published recently by the New York based Population Council in honor of a distinguished scholar, Paul Demeny. The papers are heavy going but repay the effort to grasp what population experts are saying right now.

This is certainly the case with “Demographic Suicide…”, which states clearly the seriousness of persistent low fertility and the fact that the usual experts simply do not know how to account for it, let alone come up with a remedy. The authors speak of below replacement fertility (BRF) as “a revolution in human affairs”, a “paradigm-shattering phenomenon”. They are not exaggerating. They end by posing the “big open question of how children fit into an overall pattern of ‘family’ in the post modern era.”

“Replacement” as the goal of population policy

Sixty years ago the question was completely different. Influential people like the founder of the Population Council, John D. Rockefeller III, were worried about population growth in the developing world resulting from the fall in death rates (thanks to better health care) and continuing high fertility. They thought that people could not have good quality lives with so many mouths to feed. The fact that former colonies of Europe were becoming independent and you never knew what they might do politically added to First World jitters. Nothing but a concerted effort to stabilise population would do. Demographers did their projections and “replacement fertility” (2.1 children per woman) became their holy grail.

With backing from the UN and the cooperation of Third World governments the “war against population” (as economist Jacqueline Kasun has called it) was launched. The contraceptive pill was rapidly deployed with government subsidies. Abortion became a reproductive right. These methods had their strongest effect in the rich countries, where fertility had been in decline anyway but was boosted by the post-war baby boom. Developing countries took to draconian methods such as sterilisation campaigns in India and the one-child policies in China. Economic development, education and health care also contributed to lower birth rates.

Globally, the goal of replacement level fertility is now within reach. According to the UN’s medium estimate the average woman today will have 2.36 children – down from 4.95 in the early 1950s. New research suggests the 2.1 mark will be reached by around 2050. The trouble is that, while some countries will still be above that magical figure, some will be well below. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that even globally population will stabilise; decline is more probable. Already half the world’s nations, including many of the less developed, have total fertility rates (TFR) below replacement.

Some of the lowest rates in the world are in East Asia, but among the 27 countries of the Europe Union not one currently has a TFR of 2.1 or more, although Ireland, Iceland, Turkey and perhaps France are around 2, and the UK and the Nordic countries have rates between 1.87 and 1.98. At least a dozen EU countries are under 1.5; Spain and Germany are on 1.36 and Italy 1.41 (2010-2011 figures).

Behind these figures are the decisions of women and men shaped not by the imperatives of evolution or the rationales of economics – let alone the assumptions of demographers -- but by factors that experts in those fields are not even equipped to understand.

Demography, as Pritchett and Viarengo point out, is a descriptive discipline and cannot make predictions without a behavioural theory to go with them – which is did not have when its practitioners assumed that fertility would magically stabilise at replacement.

Evolutionary psychology, a popular source of behavioral theory, might (might) tell us what humans will do about procreation in the context of limited resources (have fewer but better quality offspring), but it seems quite useless to explain why people whose wealth and social status are increasing would stop having children. “BRF in Europe seems a paradigm-shattering phenomenon for evolutionary psychology,” Pritchett and Viarengo note.

The economic model

That leaves economics, Pritchett’s own discipline and one that he admits is also at a loss to fully account for persistent low fertility. “The joke about economists is that they are people with a head for numbers that lack the personality to be actuaries,” he told us in an email.

We had asked what could motivate nations to turn this problem around. He said: “I am pretty good with numbers but not only do I not know the answer to this question, being a new phenomenon, we have yet to discover numbers and data from experiences of turning it around so I don't know even what to do to begin answering this question: that is why the piece was titled ‘puzzles’ not ‘answers’."

All the same, economics has a lot to say about procreation and most of it is a little bit shocking to the layperson who comes across it for the first time. Roughly it goes like this.

Children are “complex capital goods” in whom parents invest with the expectation of a return, or “child services”. These services can be produced by a large number of low quality children or a small number of high quality children. In conditions of rising income people want fewer but higher quality children, investing more in their education and so on. 
This drives up the price of a child -- together with an opportunity cost in the form of the time it takes to consume the services (pleasure or satisfaction) a child produces -- compared with other goods, such as a summer holidays or a better house.

The trouble with this type of behavior is that children can be priced off the market completely – and perhaps unintentionally – because once you get down to one child the next step is not a “little bit” of high quality child, but none at all; not a gradual change but a “massive discontinuous drop in the demand for child services,” as Pritchett and Viarengo put it. This can be seen in rates of childlessness in a few European countries at or approaching 20 percent among women aged 45. (There are sub-regional differences which are interesting and worth looking up in the essay.)


Clearly, childlessness is the biggest challenge for population theorists. What might people be choosing instead of a child? Pritchett and Viarengo look at possible substitutes for the “little hedonic bundle” that a baby represents and find two likely candidates.

The first is social security for the aged, which replaces the support aged parents once expected from their children – something that is unsustainable, though, in conditions of population decline. The second is the market work that women have embraced and that may return them more meaning and status than motherhood has done up until now.

When it comes to a substitute for the love and intimacy that having children provides in traditional family life, however, the authors of “Demographic suicide” are stumped.

They note that “sexual activity, childbearing and marriage have become disconnected so that increasingly it is socially acceptable to have one without either of the other two,” particularly in northern and western Europe. But: “It is not at all obvious to us what is going on with the ‘demand for intimacy’.” While in some countries people continue to have children without getting married, and in others to marry but have very few children, there are signs (in Finland, for example) that marriage and fertility – especially through an increase in childlessness – are declining together.

“What is substituting in the lives of women and men for the love and intimacy that came from parent–child relationships? It is certainly not a significant increase in marital love and intimacy without children substituting for less marital love and intimacy with children—particularly in countries where marriage and long-term cohabitation have declined.”

One answer to this question might be “same-sex relationships”. But even where children are added to these partnerships by technical means they can hardly solve the social problem of low fertility. And even if they are regarded as married that is not going to boost the birth rate.

Yet marriage, properly defined, does seem to be the answer – the only one we know from long experience -- to the demand both for intimacy and for enough children to give the human race a future. Pronatalist policies such as baby bonuses, paid parental leave and gender equity in the workplace appear to have made some difference to the birth rate in countries where they have been introduced, but there are human motivations that such incentives do not touch – things like till-death-us-do-part commitment to a spouse and the willingness to sacrifice easier pleasures for the joy of seeing mutual love bear fruit in the form of a child.

The question, finally, is what can foster such motivations. In the past it was religious faith. Is there any substitute for that? 

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.

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From Joke to Dogma in Ten Years: Gay Marriage, Conformism, and the Breakdown of Moral Argument

Paul Adams

One of the extraordinary features of the SSM 'debate' is the absence of serious moral argument, or indeed any coherent argument in which the two sides connect, consider, and dispute.  Proponents of SSM resort mainly to name-calling and vilification, as if everyone before them for millennia were, in their view of marriage, motivated only by bigotry and hatred.  The absurdity of the position is matched by the intensity and vitriol with which it is promoted.

In place of argument, we have opinion polls.  It is true that in 32 states where the issue has been put to the people in a referendum - including liberal states like California and Wisconsin - the conjugal view of marriage as between one man and one woman has prevailed.  In some cases, constitutions have been amended by popular vote, in others representatives have enacted statutes to the same effect.  As Anderson, Girgis, & George say, "All told, the people of forty-four states have affirmed the conjugal view of marriage by direct voting or through their representatives."

But polls show opinion shifting rapidly in favor of SSM, especially among younger voters. One can explain this in terms of the pill, the sexual revolution it enabled, the separation of sex from marriage and both from children, the consequent rapid decline of marriage, family, and faith, especially among those in the lower socioeconomic strata--see Mary Eberstadt's outstanding work on this in Adam & Eve After the Pill and her new book, How the West Really Lost God.  The result has been the erosion, not only of marriage itself,  but of the conjugal understanding of marriage as a comprehensive union, permanent, exclusive, and monogamous, of man and woman, in body and mind, rooted in and consummated by the one and only sexual act that can produce new life, and ordered to the procreation and education of children (if any) who result from that union.  With that erosion has come the revisionist view of marriage as rooted in emotions, in the feelings of adults without reference to children or even to sex, and lasting as long as the feelings last.

That revisionist view may be incoherent--unable to explain how that relationship they want to call marriage is different from friendship (which the state does not certify or enforce, or generally involve itself in); from the committed, longterm, financially interdependent relationship of two sisters or two brothers who share a residence; or why such a relationship should be limited to only two adults.  But it "finds overwhelming support among intellectuals, journalists, and entertainers, indeed nearly all our cultural elite" (Girgis, Anderson, & George, 2012).  Especially lawyers.

Here Fr. Robert Barron draws attention to the lack of any serious moral argument on the issue.  Citing Alasdair MacIntyre, he wonders about the possibility of moral argument in our society.  A fundamental. civilizational shift is under way without any serious public consideration of the issues and arguments.  As if poll trends were arguments, as if public support for something--say dropping the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 or slavery in 1825--made it right and were sufficient argument in itself.

One of the few voices decrying the elite's rush to conformism and its imposition on the rest of society through legal coercion and single-minded propagandizing by the mainstream media, is Brendan O'Neill.  A former Marxist, O'Neill describes himself as an "atheistic libertarian," now edits Spiked Onlineand writes for many other publications.   He co-founded the Manifesto Club, an organization "with the aim of challenging cultural trends that restrain and stifle people's aspirations and initiative."In his latest essay, O'Neill takes up the question of how this conformism came about and swept so much of elite, and then public, opinion before it, without either a mass movement or a serious public debate or even a coherent argument.  He says: 
I have been doing or writing about political stuff for 20 years, since I was 18 years old, during which time I have got behind some pretty unpopular campaigns and kicked against some stifling consensuses. But I have never encountered an issue like gay marriage, an issue in which the space for dissent has shrunk so rapidly, and in which the consensus is not only stifling but choking. This is the only issue on which, for criticizing it from a liberal, secular perspective, I’ve been booed during an after-dinner speech and received death threats....
Is this sudden shift in opinion, accompanied by intolerance of any discussion or questioning and by vitriolic denunciation of any dissent,  threats to jobs and businesses (not to mention the death threats) of those who don't quickly fall into line, healthy?
How do we account for this extraordinary consensus, for what is tellingly referred to as the ‘surrender’ to gay marriage by just about everyone in public life? And is it a good thing, evidence that we had a heated debate on a new civil right and the civil rightsy side won? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can even call this a ‘consensus’, since that would imply the voluntaristic coming together of different elements in concord. It’s better described as conformism, the slow but sure sacrifice of critical thinking and dissenting opinion under pressure to accept that which has been defined as a good by the upper echelons of society: gay marriage. Indeed, the gay-marriage campaign provides a case study in conformism, a searing insight into how soft authoritarianism and peer pressure are applied in the modern age to sideline and eventually do away with any view considered overly judgmental, outdated, discriminatory, ‘phobic’, or otherwise beyond the pale.

This is not a mass movement like the civil rights movement or the pro-life movement, but an elite-driven campaign led by lawyers and the elite media, one that brooks no dissent or even discussion.  O'Neill again:
In truth, the extraordinary rise of gay marriage speaks, not to a new spirit of liberty or equality on a par with the civil-rights movements of the 1960s, but rather to the political and moral conformism of our age; to the weirdly judgmental non-judgmentalism of our PC times; to the way in which, in an uncritical era such as ours, ideas can become dogma with alarming ease and speed; to the difficulty of speaking one’s mind or sticking with one’s beliefs at a time when doubt and disagreement are pathologized. Gay marriage brilliantly shows how political narratives are forged these days, and how people are made to accept them. This is a campaign that is elitist in nature, in the sense that, in direct contrast to those civil-rights agitators of old, it came from the top of society down; and it is a campaign which is extremely unforgiving of dissent or disagreement, implicitly, softly demanding acquiescence to its agenda. 

And in an additional brief comment on his video, Father Barron answers a further question on the subject: "What is the framework for having a good moral conversation?"

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Music and Drama at Ave Maria University

Vanessa Tompkins as Desdemona singing the Ave Maria from Verdi's Otello

Despite limited resources and institutional investment, with fewer than a thousand students, Ave Maria University has displayed some remarkable artistic talent.

Last month, the Ave Maria University Chamber Choir combined with the Philharmonic Chorale in brilliant performances of “Carmina Burana” at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples.

AMU has no drama department, yet has produced extraordinary work under the leadership of Renaissance man and Shakespeare scholar, Travis Curtright - author of the new book that definitively rescues St. Thomas More from his revisionist detractors, The One Thomas More.

Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Curtright, begins April 11, 2013. The T-shirt carries the play's title on the front and, on the back, the line from it, "The world must be peopled!" Curtright also organized a Homerathon, a 24-hour reading of Homer's The Iliad in its entirety, concluding with a reading of the final book by Stanley Lombardo, whose translation the students used.

Michael Novak reviewed last year's extraordinary production of As You Like It. which he and I and others who saw it rated the most thoroughly enjoyable and engaging production of a Shakespeare play we had ever seen in our long lives.  Not bad for one section (the only one) of an undergraduate class on Shakespeare in Performance at a very small Catholic college in southwest Florida.  Novak wrote:

Last night it was my turn to see the show, and I am still exhilarated. The actors and actresses came from a single class, Professor Travis Curtright’s, in Shakespearean Performance. The cast simply adapted a large classroom into a “Theater in the Round” (well, three sides). They wrote and adapted their own music, in the spirit of the play, while the audience assembled, during the intermission, and (not a little) throughout the play.  Marvelous music, sprightly, with some haunting new love songs familiar to the students in the audience (but not to me), who joyfully sang along.  The music, arranged by Philip Barrows of Frederick, Md. (a veteran of high school musical comedies, like several others in the cast, plus a few from big city Children’s Theaters), was emblematic of the performance – it was developed by the students in their own idiom and their marvelous talents (male and female) for flirtation with the audience.

Read the whole review on the outstanding website of AMU’s Shakespeare in Performance. Novak's verdict is in the headline: More Artistic Talent per Student Than Any Other Campus in America.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back to the Bad Old Days? OR Giving 'jesuitry' a bad name?

Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters begins his comments on Pope Francis’s decision to disregard liturgical law by washing the feet of two women in the Holy Thursday Mandatum rite by noting that “The background to this controversy is the antinomianism that prevails today.”  The Vatican Press Office explanation, he argues, just adds to the confusion.  We are passing through “a period in which the relationship between ecclesiastical law and the life of faith is widely misunderstood and the very content of Church law is often poorly explained.”

Peters actually favors changing the law to allow the washing of women’s as well as men’s feet, but is concerned about the implications and example of disregarding the law that other priests are expected to follow in the meantime.  Again, his concern is not with some abstract legalism, but is in the context of the period of antinomianism through which we have been living, which reached its low point in the dark days of the 1970s.  On the antinomianism of our own day see Daniel Ciofani's reflections on the question raised for him by the 2012 election: How can Christians of all kinds "all across the country vote so consistently to outlaw [their faith's] own historical and religious values?"   (See Ciofani's essay, Antinomianism: The Soft Heresy.)

In another column he also posted yesterday, Dr. Peters comments on an egregious case in which the president of a Jesuit high school, Fr. Edward Salmon, explains his reasons for allowing two male students to attend the McQuaid Jesuit High School 2013 prom as a couple.

Catholics who were mercifully spared the “Church of the 70’s” might find illuminating Salmon’s letter; it’s vintage what so many of us were force-fed for ten dark years: condescending, platitudinistic, partial quotes of Church  documents used to justify the exact opposite of what the Church wants her members to know about Christ and his Gospel. Folks may read the letter for themselves and reach their own conclusions on it.  Here I address only one assertion by Salmon: “I am not encouraging nor am I condoning homosexual activity just as I do not encourage or condone heterosexual activity at a dance.”

What on earth is Salmon talking about? He does not “encourage or condone heterosexual activity at a dance.” Of course he does! And he should!

The whole point of a high school dance, in America, over the last century or so, was precisely to encourage “heterosexual activity” in a relatively controlled environment where men and women who were moving toward making selections for life-long partnerships of the whole of life (Canon 1055 on the definition of marriage, anyone?) could interact publicly as part of the dating/courtship sequence. The formal prom was just a more grown-up version of the mixer, conducted in recognition of the fact that the youth were approaching adulthood and should know how to dress the part.

Read his comments in full HERE.

Anti-Catholic Fiction Taken for Truth...Again: From the Da Vinci Code to The Magdalene Sisters

Ronan Wright | Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The truth of the Magdalene Laundries emerges

A report by the Irish government fails to back widely-accepted allegations of abuse by Catholic nuns.

‘... Absence of direct information about the living and working conditions within the Magdalene Laundries has been largely replaced by historical (pre-State) experience and fictional writings or representations. It is also likely that assumptions have been made regarding these institutions based on the evidence of the grievous abuse suffered by male and female children in Industrial and Reformatory Schools in Ireland throughout the twentieth century’. - The McAleese Report.  

Peter Mullen’s 2002 film The Magdalene Sisters is about the legacy of abuse in state run institutions, depicting life in the Magdalene Asylums or ‘Laundries’ in 1960s Ireland. Anyone without prior knowledge of the Magdalene Laundries scandal would indeed be scandalised after having seen the film or read about it.

The media reception in the US among mainstream critics testifies to this. Their response to a film about another Catholic Church related scandal was understandably hostile. In 2003Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert voiced the concerns of a shocked public in his review of the film. ‘Here is a movie about barbaric practices against women, who were locked up without trial and sentenced to forced, unpaid labor for such crimes as flirting with boys, becoming pregnant out of wedlock, or being raped’, says Ebert, astounded that ‘these inhuman punishments did not take place in Afghanistan under the Taliban, but in Ireland under the Sisters of Mercy. And they are not ancient history.’ Similarly, Steven D. Greydanus of The Decent Film Guide asked, ‘Did these horrors really happen?’

Stephen Holden, in the New York Times, compared the conditions of the laundries (as portrayed in the film) to those of a women’s prison. ‘Even though the setting isn't a penal institution but a convent, Peter Mullen's grim, powerful film fits snugly into a long line of heartsick dramas in which innocent people endure the degradation of prison. The inmates, all female, are the victims of a stringently moralistic brand of Irish Catholicism, now on the wane, that used to punish unmarried young women (many in their teens) for premarital sex’.

As Holden observes, there was significant precedent for this perception in the public square of Irish-run institutions.
However, Mullen’s film, which portrays conditions in the laundries and the treatment of the young women who lived there by the nuns who ran them in the worst possible light, has been undermined by the recent publication of The McAleese Report. Published by the Irish Government’s Department of Justice and Equality, the McAleese Report is the fruit of an inter-departmental committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, to ‘establish the facts of state involvement with the Magdalene Laundries’.

The report states unequivocally that the prevailing mindset about the Catholic Church’s involvement in these institutions, and what went on in the institutions themselves, was misguided and ill-informed. In an article for the London Telegraph’s news blog titled ‘Catholic-bashers have embellished the truth about abuse in Catholic institutions. It’s time to put the record straight’, Brendan O’Neill observes that the publication of the McAleese Report ‘...has led even The Irish Times, which never turns down an opportunity to wring its hands over Catholic wickedness, to say: "There is no escaping the fact that the [McAleese] report jars with popular perceptions."’

Do The Magdalene Sisters and media fuelled assumptions about the laundries ring true? Or is it simply another excuse for ‘Catholic-bashers’, as O’Neill calls certain elements of the media in Ireland and elsewhere, to carry on bashing?

‘The authors of the McAleese Report, having like the rest of us imbibed the popular image of the Magdalene laundries as nun-run concentration camps,’ says O’Neill, ‘seem to have been taken aback by ‘the number of women who spoke positively about the nuns’. O’Neill admitted in his article that he resented being branded a ‘pedant’ by Humanist Life magazine because he was ‘committed to historical accuracy rather than to the grander goal of making the Catholic Church appear as rotten and warped as possible, regardless of the facts’.

O’Neill went on to say that ‘even atheists like me, who are genuinely interested in truth and justice should definitely be concerned that films and news reports may have left the public with the mistaken belief that women in Magdalene laundries were stripped and beaten and that thousands of Irish and American children were raped by priests’.

Outraged at the purported abuses of so many innocent and vulnerable young women in these Catholic-run institutions, many Catholics in Ireland were naturally shocked and struggled to digest this most unpalatable of assumed truths, forced by the media down the throats of a nation already at sea with ongoing child sex abuse scandals. Doubtless the intentions of some journalists are upright and honest. Perhaps they hoped to draw further attention to the bitter sense of injustice which still rankles among disillusioned faithful in Ireland and boils the blood of countless onlookers elsewhere.

Mullen’s film has hardly furthered the cause for understanding among those who lack closure on a difficult time in their lives, as well as a confused and frustrated public who seem, in light of the report’s findings, to have been short-changed by a culture of media hounds habitually baying for Catholic blood. Although Mullen’s film does not hide the fact that, in spite of their time in the now infamous Magdalene laundries, some of the women remain devout Catholics, this is not a detail congruous with the popularly publicised perception of the reported abuses.

It is a detail, however, which nevertheless poses another more significant question in relation to the laundries and the media’s coverage of the abuse reported there. In relation to yet another scandal attributed to the Catholic Church, how does the commonly espoused fiction stand up to the now public knowledge of the facts? Could it be that in faithfulness to what O’Neill calls ‘their fashionable and irrational new religion of anti-Catholicism’, critics of the Catholic Church have sought to sweep under the already lumpy media perpetuated carpet of popular opinion, unfashionable and incongruous details, and even stone cold facts, which fly in the face of the public perception of these instances?

It is important to remember that these and other reported abuses surrounding the Catholic Church in Ireland, and the media circus that loves to put them all under the same tent and charge for a quick peek, are peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Catholic Church.

With regard to the Irish government’s involvement in the Magdalene laundries, which the McAleese Report was commissioned to investigate, it is a widely held belief by many in the media that if the Irish government was not directly involved in the reported abuses, it sanctioned them and helped to create an environment in which institutionalisation was commonplace.

The fact that many women were placed in institutions, often for unclear reasons, was, as David Quinn remarked for the Independent, ‘testament to the often harsh climate of the times’. It is worth pointing out that the Irish Government’s own report to the United Nations committee on their investigation into the abuse in Irish state run institutions, broken down by year and reason for admission, clearly show that the overwhelming majority of women who were admitted to the Magdalene laundries were there voluntarily or ‘self’ admitted.

Furthermore, The McAleese Report found ‘not a single incident of sexual abuse by a nun in a Magdalene laundry. Not one’. The vast majority of those interviewed for the McAleese report about abuses said they were never physically punished while in the laundries.

 One woman said, ‘It has shocked me to read in papers that we were beat and our heads shaved and that we were badly treated by the nuns… I was not touched by any nun and I never saw anyone touched.’ These are important testimonies which help to put the reported actual abuses into context while bursting the swollen media bubble of scandal and intrigue. A small number of incidents of corporal punishment were reported to McAleese and consisted of the kind of punishment, being caned on the legs or knuckles being rapped, that were carried out by many normal schools as recently as the 1980s.

Admittedly, real and lasting damage was done to some of the women who entered the Magdalene laundries, many of whom are no less devout and practising Catholics to this day. There is no getting around this fact. As David Quinn points out in his attempt to ensure the integrity of the available data on the laundries, ‘before proceeding any further, let's be clear about one thing: abuses without doubt happened in these institutions and the women who were abused deserve justice’.

In light of the revelations of the McAleese Report, it can now be hoped by victims and onlookers of the historical and ongoing reporting of the Magdalene abuses, that the long overdue justice due the women actually abused, can finally be sought on the basis of fairer and untainted evidence.

Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity.

This article is published by Ronan Wright and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact MercatorNet  for permission and fees. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Making Marriage the Cornerstone, Not the Capstone

"Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you're fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life. "
Mark Regnerus

The Case for Getting Married Young

It can be beneficial to make marriage the cornerstone, rather than the capstone, of your adult life.


Touchstone Pictures
A compelling case can be made for the advantages, particularly for college-educated women, of delaying marriage until after the mid-twenties, as Eleanor Barkhorn recently wrote here. As a math-phobic English professor, I'm not one to wrestle with statistics, but I believe a robust case can be made, alternatively, for young marriage.


Yes, I think we are crazy

... if marriage is only a lifestyle choice. But for us it's much more.
tristan veronika
Recently MercatorNet published "My marriage and modernity" by Veronika Winkels who, at 20, is soon to be married. Here her 22-year-old fiance adds his perspective.
* * * * *
"Hi, I’m Serge. I’m here for a good time.” His smooth, measured voice showed confidence in himself and his new environment. Given the circumstances, that was a very valuable gift to have.

It was day one of acting school in New York City. There were fifteen of us sitting in a circle in a small, blank, white room, introducing ourselves and talking about our backgrounds. Usually an exercise like this would be met with hesitation by those asked to participate, but not in acting school. There it’s the opposite. The circle is everyone’s time to shine, time to show you’re funny, quirky, flirty; a chance to prove you’re different from the person sitting next to you.

The introductions continued. “Hi, I’m Clara. I’m in America with my boyfriend and following my lifelong dream of acting.” “I’m Lucia. I’m from Brazil and I sort of have a boyfriend back home but not really.” Serge smirks and looked across the room at her. There were only a few people left before it was my turn. I began to feel hesitant, uncertain that I was going to fit in with this group. I listened to their stories, why they were there and what they were looking for. Clara was raised in Italy as a Catholic, but she didn’t see any relevance in her faith now. She just wanted to have fun.

The guy on my left spoke, “Hi, I’m Muriz. I’m from Germany, I’m here to pursue acting. Oh and maybe meet some nice American girls, but don’t tell my girlfriend at home I said that.” Everyone laughed, and the acting teacher gave him a wink of respect.

It was my turn. How was I going to get on side with the teacher if I wasn’t funny or loose like the others? Luckily I didn’t have time to think, fourteen pairs of eyes were trained on me, waiting for me to speak, so I did just that.

“Hi, I’m Tristan. I’m twenty-one, I’m from Australia and I got engaged the day before I flew here.” There was silence in the room, a stunned, unnerving pause. I resigned myself to the fact I was going to be the odd one out -- that weird engaged guy. A few more anxious moments passed, and then something happened that was so unexpected that I sat there as stunned as they had been by my introduction. Everyone started clapping. They clapped and cheered and individually congratulated me. I don’t think anyone there had heard of someone in their generation getting engaged so young – and, come to think of it, nor had I.

Our class finished and a couple of students came up to me afterwards and asked me questions which got me thinking how it happened that I was engaged at twenty-one. “Dude, you’re twenty-one, why would you get married?” And, “Have you been friends since you were kids?”

The answer to the last question stunned them more than my initial announcement: “We met just under a month ago.”

For some that part was too much. “Wait up. You’re twenty-one, you met this girl a few weeks ago, proposed -- and came to America without her?”

I knew the answer to these questions in myself, but how could I say it without them writing me off as crazy? Which made me think, “Maybe we are crazy! Yes, I think we are crazy in the eyes of the world.”

So, what do Veronika and I find so enticing about getting married, let alone getting married at this age?

I don’t think we are blindly entering into it. Sure, our understanding now of what we are getting ourselves into is limited, but as the youngest in a family of nine, with all my siblings married, I hope I’ve acquired some idea of the daily joys and sacrifices that this amazing sacrament and vocation involves, as I believe my fiancée --who’s third eldest of ten -- does also. For most of society, marriage is seen as a lifestyle choice: “We’ve been together for five years and might get married but aren’t bothered either way.”

Marriage is, I believe, a supreme calling from God which will require our humbly saying “Yes!” to our particular vocation and to repeat that “yes” each and every day of our lives to make sure we are living it out as completely and truthfully as possible.

Pop culture tells us love is easy. The lyrics of McFly’s latest song show this so clearly: If this is love then love is easy. It's the easiest thing to do. I’d have to wonder whether he’s singing about true love there.

Love is amazing. It’s invigorating, uplifting and euphoric; it makes you want to conquer the world… But -- it takes commitment. It’s a decision, a conscious decision whose consequences have to be lived in difficult as well as easy times. And because it has to endure pain as well as joy, love is far from easy. So then, is it just “lovey” love that makes us want to get married?

I don’t think so. If only the romantic element of love was involved, it wouldn’t take long for the relationship to cool down. It’s impossible to sustain the level of euphoria often depicted in Hollywood films. But rather than being a disappointment this should be celebrated, because in the case of sincere love this indicates that romantic love is not the full story.

Marriage has been described as the ultimate friendship. This friendship should be founded upon a true and authentic love that wants, more than anything else, the good of the other. First and foremost it’s a team, a partnership, a union of two best friends.

I can say the eight months of our engagement have been the best and most exciting times of our lives, and I look forward to sharing the years and exhilarating road ahead with my fiancé, my best friend.

The last scene of the movie Into The Wild comes to mind. Chris McCandless spends his youth travelling across America searching for the meaning of happiness. Moments before this lonely search brings him to his last breath he scribbles down that ‘happiness is shared’.

I’m glad that my fiancé and I are so blessed as to be able to make this decision so early in our lives. We know we will only be able to fulfill this by God’s grace; but the excitement of the shared journey ahead definitely surpasses any fears of which, surprise, surprise, there are some.

Tristan McLindon worked in the Queensland Parliament for three years before completing a Diploma in Acting and Film in New York and Los Angeles in 2012. He has recently moved to Melbourne in preparation for his marriage in July.

Editor's note: See also "The Case for Getting Married Young", published in The Atlantic magazine this month.
This article is published by Tristan McLindon and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.