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Archive for August, 2012

Prolife (Wink, Wink)

It is a time honored tradition for Republicans claiming the mantle of “prolife”, going back to President Reagan, to make sure that their women send other, reassuringly prochoice, messages. While this is usually the candidate’s wife, Mitt Romney apparently found it handier to use his sister, Jane, to reassure prochoicers. The other day she said that a ban on abortion was “never going to happen” under her brother’s presidency.

“It’s not his focus,” Jane Romney said at a talk here on Wednesday. “He’s not going to be touching any of that.”

Indeed, coming in the wake of Mr Romney’s assurance that, contrary to the Republican platform, the innocent children of rapists will be continue to be executed under his administration, and that abortion will continue for reasons of the “health of the mother”, a broad category indeed, it is hard to understand why antiabortion people have not responded with outrage.

Indeed, it is hard to understand how antiabortion voters can continue to argue that the Republicans are sincere in their prolife convictions.

But then, conservative American prolifers are eager to be seduced, in spite of their long history of being betrayed.

They are like the jaded woman who continues to hope, in spite of her long experience, that her latest date will respect her in the morning after her latest one night stand.

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An Americanist Prays

I’m pretty sure God threw up last night, anthropomorphically speaking.

As I listened in growing dismay to Cardinal Dolan’s benediction at the Republican convention this morning I thought to myself that this was American civil religion 101. The unspoken creed was the Americanist one, not the Apostolic one. There was very little to challenge American- or Republican- hubris. Here is the text to the prayer, with the Americanisms highlighted:

With firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, let us pray:

Almighty God, father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, we beg your continued blessings on this sanctuary of freedom, and on all of those who proudly call America home.  We ask your benediction upon those yet to be born, and on those who are about to see you at the end of this life.  Bless those families whose ancestors arrived on these shores generations ago, as well as those families that have come recently, to build a better future while weaving their lives into the rich tapestry of America.

We lift up to your loving care those afflicted by the recent storms and drought and fire.  We ask for the grace to stand in solidarity with all those who suffer.  May we strive to include your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, in the production and prosperity of a people so richly blessed.

Oh God of wisdom, justice, and might, we ask your guidance for those who govern us, and on those who would govern us:  the president and vice-president, the Congress, the Supreme Court, and on all those who seek to serve the common good by seeking public office, especially Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan.  Make them all worthy to serve you by serving our country.  Help them remember that the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself.

Almighty God, who gives us the sacred and inalienable gift of life, we thank you as well for the singular gift of liberty.  Renew in all of our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first most cherished freedom. Make us truly free, by tethering freedom to truth and ordering freedom to goodness.  Help us live our freedom in faith, hope, and love; prudently, and with justice; courageously, and in a spirit of moderation.  Enkindle in our hearts a new sense of responsibility for freedom’s cause.  And make us ever-grateful for all those who, for more than two centuries, have given their lives in freedom’s defense; we commend their noble souls to your eternal care, as even now we beg your mighty hand upon our beloved men and women in uniform.

 May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.  Give us the good sense not to cast aside the boundaries of righteous living you first inscribed in our hearts even before inscribing them on tablets of stone.  May you mend our every flaw, confirming our soul in self-control, our liberty in law.

We pray for all those who seek honest labor, as we thank you for the spirit of generosity to those in need with which you so richly blessed this nation.

We beseech your blessing on all who depart from here this evening, and on all those, in every land, who seek to conduct their lives in freedom.

 Most of all, Almighty God, we thank you for the great gift of our beloved country.For we are indeed “one nation under God.”And “in God we trust.”

Dear God bless America. You who live and reign, forever and ever, Amen.

Apart from these Americanist sentiments, note what is missing from this prayer: Any challenge to the American tendency toward messianic nationalism. Any mention of our long wars or our belligerent foreign policy. Any suggestion that the poor are to be given priority when making policy, or that there are institutional structures that oppress the poor and workers. Any suggestion that the federal budget should not be balanced on the backs of the poor, or that military spending is excessive.

Or, basically, anything that would challenge anyone present to consider anything but America’s greatness and goodness.

It is clear that the Catholic Church’s tax exempt status as a nonprofit entity was not threatened last night.

Nor was the Cardinal’s non-prophet status.

While I fixed the worst part of this, there are still superfluous quotation marks. Lest there be any confusion, let me make it clear that the non-italicized comments after the prayer are my commentary…

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Fr Benedict

Fr Benedict Groeschel, a man I admire and whom I once knew, the other day made outrageous comments to the effect that sometimes priests who sexually abuse youngsters are actually the victims of kids, who are sometimes the seducers. He also stated that first offenders should not be punished with jail time.

There was of course an outcry; The Community of the Franciscan Renewal, the reform- minded congregation that Fr Benedict helped found, denounced the remarks, as did a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, where Father lives and works.

But the most revealing statement came from Fr Benedict himself:

“I apologize for my comments. I did not intend to blame the victim. A priest (or anyone else) who abuses a minor is always wrong and is always responsible. My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be. I have spent my life trying to help others the best that I could. I deeply regret any harm I have caused to anyone.”

My mind and my way of expressing myself are not as clear as they used to be.

To anyone who has known Fr Benedict and has listened to him on the radio recently this has been apparent for some time. His health has long been failing, and to listen to him stumble over his words or draw a blank in the middle of a sentence  is painful.

Father has done much good in his life, but this incident reveals that it is really time for him to retire from public life.

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Quinn and Rose

I must begin with a confession: I listen to right wing talk radio. Not a lot; I don’t have the stomach for that. But enough.

This morning I was listening to “The War Room”, a morning program that features Jim Quinn and Rose Tennant. It really is among the worst, and that is saying something. Quinn and Rose- she just goes by the handle “Radio Rose” -combine the gentle courtesy of Mark Levin, the intellectual acumen of Sean Hannity, and the humility of Rush Limbaugh.

They are that bad.

This morning Rose was reporting live from the Republican convention. While I listened she interviewed former governor Mike Huckabee and former RNC chairman Ken Blackwell. They were chatty and at ease with her; Huckabee at least had talked to her before; she has been a guest host on the Hannity program when he was on vacation. She apparently has arrived; these mainstream Republican pols certainly seemed at home talking to her.

Rose Sanno Tennant is a strange woman. While her maiden name and Italian looks suggest a Catholic upbringing I have never heard her mention it (Quinn has mentioned parochial school). What she is now is a vocal evangelical Christian. She can wax pious, going on like evangelicals do about how the Lord has done thus and such in her life, but that doesn’t seem to affect wide areas of her outlook. Here she is on President Obama: “I hate him. I just hate him. Can I hate him, Jimmy?”

One of the regular features on their program is the “Religion of Peace Update”. This begins with a few bars of the gospel hymn “On the Wings of a Dove” followed by an Indian war whoop and an explosion. While most on the right take pains to stress that they are not hostile to Muslims, only to extremists, Quinn and Rose’s hostility to Islam is red hot and out front. They broadly stereotype Muslims as terrorists, never nuancing or noting the tremendous diversity within that faith. Mr Quinn has called Islam a “neanderthal religion”.  Probably the worst thing I heard Rose say was a couple of years ago. She informed the audience that she had coated all her bullets with lard, so that she will be ready when it is time to kill Muslims.

I waited for an outraged reaction and seeing her fired for this blatant hate speech. But nothing of the kind happened.

Nothing like a pious hater.

And now Radio Rose is right at home at the Republican convention, schmoozing with the pols.

Right at home.

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Cardinal Dolan’s Moment

After the initial report that Cardinal Dolan’s offer to deliver the closing prayer at the Democratic convention was declined, it turns out that the Party has invited him to do just that. And he has accepted.

Apparently the Democrats rethought their refusal, and someone saw political expediency in inviting him; I would like to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation.

This is, I believe, unprecedented. At least I don’t remember a Catholic prelate offering prayers at both national political conventions. And Cardinal Dolan, as the cardinal archbishop of New York City, is sort of the unofficial primate of the American Church.

I wonder what he will do with this historic opportunity. He is going to pray, of course, not offer a speech, but one can be prophetic in prayer.

Prayers for respect for human life from conception until natural death, for example. Or prayers that the concerns of the poor have priority in forming policy. Prayers that America may turn from its nationalistic messianism, prayers that we turn from our warlike ways.

You get the idea.

We will soon see if he rises to the occasion.

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Fallujah burns

“Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fallujah . . .

And so it turns out that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, though not until we arrived and started using them.

Along with whatever else we did to Fallujah — exacted collective punishment on a defiant city (a war crime) in November 2004, killed thousands of civilians, shattered the infrastructure (nearly six years later, the sewage system hasn’t been repaired and waste flows in the streets) — we also, apparently, nuked the city, leaving a legacy of cancer, leukemia, infant mortality and genetic abnormality.

Freedom isn’t free. Remember when that was the go-to phrase of the citizen war zealots among us, their all-purpose rebuttal when those of us appalled by this insane war cited civilian casualty stats? Discussion over. Thought stops here.

This is the power of language. Call it “war” and along come glory, duty, courage, sacrifice: the best of humanity writ large. The word is impenetrable; it sets the heart in motion; God makes an appearance, blesses the troops, blesses the weapons. Operation Iraqi Freedom: They’ll greet us with open arms.

At what point do we learn our lesson, that “war” is a moral cesspool of horrific consequences, especially, and most troublingly, unintended ones?

Thus last November, a group of British and Iraqi doctors petitioned the U.N. to investigate the alarming rise in birth defects at Fallujah’s hospitals. “Young women in Fallujah,” they wrote, “. . . are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukemias.”

The official U.S. response was that the doctors’ letter was anecdotal: There have been no studies to verify that anything is truly amiss in Fallujah, beyond the devastation caused by U.S. troops and bombs. Now that has changed.

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has just published an epidemiological study, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009,” which has found, among much else, that Fallujah is experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki did in 1945.”

Read more here.

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Dolan and Duplicity

Much has been made of Cardinal Dolan’s offer to deliver the invocation at the Democratic convention in the wake of his announcement that he would do the same for the Republicans.

His offer, I suggest, is showboating of the worst sort. He well knew that the Democrats would decline. After all, he has been very vocal in (rightly) criticizing the HHS mandate requiring contraceptive coverage by Catholic institutions. The Dems would be crazy to offer him a platform. And while the Cardinal has criticized Congressman Ryan’s budget plan, apparently the GOP is not worried about him reiterating that criticism at the convention. Would that they were wrong, but I fear they are not.

It is not unlikely that he will use the opportunity to criticize the HHS mandate, which is being used to convince Catholics that there is no choice but to vote for Romney in the general election.

While I heartily believe the State has overstepped its bounds with the mandate, and rather stupidly, and I believe that a secular state should adopt a maximalist approach to religious freedom, I also think much of the outrage among Catholic institutions a bit hypocritical.

It is hypocritical, first, because while contraceptive use is widespread among the faithful, the hierarchy and clergy of the Church have shown little concern. I have attended liturgy on Sundays for many decades and have heard contraception mentioned from the pulpit once or twice. The official teaching remains on the books, but it seems to the faithful that it is delivered with a wink. If the hierarchy really believed that the vast majority of married couples were in danger of losing their salvation, wouldn’t there be more concern?  They certainly don’t act like men with a salvific crisis on their hands.

And secondly, it is hypocritical because many Catholic institutions violate official Catholic moral teaching with impunity. One study showed that 48% of Catholic hospitals performed contraceptive tubal ligations (http://www.thecatholicthing.org/columns/2012/sterilization-at-catholic-hospitals.html) Of those that don’t, most have physicians associated with the hospital that will do them in private practice.

And when I attended a Catholic college in the 80s- one not notably “liberal” in reputation- the student health clinic dispensed birth control pills. And provided abortion referrals. I doubt very much that this was an isolated instance.

I am not saying that one should vote for Obama. And I am not saying that issues of religious freedom are not important. I am saying that there are many other very important issues, that this election is not so simple, and I am saying that it would take very little in the way of investigation by the Democrats or by journalists to make a lot of these outraged prelates look pretty stupid.

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