Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Shut your computer off. Go play with your kids; eat some food; hug your spouse; go to midnight Mass ... whatever. Do something with your Christmas that isn't staring at a monitor and is engaging with the people in your house and neighborhood.

Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Virginity is Not Purity

Purity ring. (Photo source: JamesMarner.com)
There are three posts you should read: “Christians, Stop Staying Pure Till [sic] Marriage” by Sarah (last name unknown), “I Didn’t Wait For My Future Spouse, and You Shouldn’t Either” by Daniel Wilde, and “I Kept My Virginity, But Not My Purity” by Danielle Renfrow. By no means do these young Christian writers — two single, one married — suggest that other Christians engage in premarital sex. Rather, all three are critics of the Evangelical “purity movement” and the language with which it’s been taught.

Until recently, there’s never really been an explicit Christian theology of sexuality to tie the various prescriptions and proscriptions of sexual behavior together. You could even say, with some justice, that Christianity has always been ambivalent about sex.

On the one hand, the Church long ago rejected the Gnostic position that even sex for the sake of reproduction was sinful; on the contrary, she taught that marriage, childbearing and childrearing were positive goods. On the other hand, passages from both Christ and St. Paul suggest that people could pursue celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12), that there is something of value to celibacy that doesn’t obtain to marriage (vide 1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

This ambivalence persists about fornication. Considered strictly as sex between two unmarried people, with the implication that neither one intends or is committed to marry the other, it has always been considered a sin (e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II:154:2 SC); however, as a pastoral matter, its gravity was (and still is) often underplayed. And premarital sex — that is, sex between people who do intend to marry — hasn’t always been considered a grave matter in every time by every communion.

So marriage has always been good — but not better than celibacy, while fornication has always been bad — but not always as bad as other sexual sins. Nevertheless, the idea that sex is an unclean necessity isn’t authentic to the Christian tradition. That fact, however, hasn’t stopped some Christian idiots from teaching it as a “biblical” principle. (Exhibit #2,623 in the case against sola scriptura.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Final Report: three decades too late

Religious Sisters of Mercy. (Source: vocationblog.com)
Tuesday, December 16, saw the Holy See’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) release its long-awaited final report on the apostolic visitation of American institutes of women religious. Initiated during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, many of us saw it as the beginning of a thorough house-cleaning, while many nuns and liberals saw it as the beginning of a misogynistic oppression by a patriarchal Church.

The Final Report, however, was not the severe tongue-lashing many orthodox Catholics expected. Between the initiation of the visitation in December 2008 and its conclusion in 2012, the dicastery changed prefects, from the outspoken Lazarist Cdl. Franc Rode to the more conciliatory secular bishop Cdl. João Braz de Aviz. (Secular, in this context, simply means “not attached to any specific religious order”.) Both men have had concerns about the weakening of religious orders by liberalizing trends; +de Aviz said in an interview that he was nearly driven out of the seminary and the Church by liberation theology. Nevertheless, +de Aviz chose to take a more soft-pedaled approach with the skittish, distrusting women religious the Congregation would study.

As a result, the Final Report — which is more of a generalized executive summary — has copious praise for the work women religious have done and are still doing. Specific criticisms are presumably restricted to the reports the Congregation “foresees” will be issued to “those Institutes which hosted an onsite visitation and to those Institutes whose individual reports indicated areas of concern.”

Nevertheless, there is some steel underneath the velvet glove: not every paragraph is either laudatory or exculpating. Moreover, the report points to data which indicate that, for many American institutes, the visitation has come two or three decades too late to save them.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Battle at the Communion Rail

Communion rail, Church of the Holy Ghost, Tiverton, RI
(© 2012 Fr. Jay Finelli)
The new pastor of the Windy City, my fellow Omahan the Most Rev. Blase Cupich, didn’t wait too long to start the usual suspects huffing about the “Francis Effect”. In an interview with CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell, Abp. Cupich stated — or rather implied — that he wouldn’t deny participation in the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who hold positions contrary to Church teaching.

I say “implied” because, in context, +Cupich seems to be talking about an ad hoc decision during a Mass to withhold Communion: “I would not use the Eucharist, or as they call it ‘the communion rail,’ as a place to have those discussions or a way in which people would be either excluded from the life of the church.

“The Eucharist is an opportunity of grace and conversion,” he told [O’Donnell] in an interview that aired on “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It’s also a time of forgiveness of sins, so my hope would be that grace would be instrumental in bringing people to the truth.”

Naturally, this is the kind of thing that leads Huffington Post’s Carol Kuruvilla, playing the classic “good Church/bad Church” game, to gush, “Cupich’s softened approach stands in stark contrast to the position held by Cardinal Raymond Burke, a prominent conservative Catholic archbishop who has led campaigns to ban Catholic politicians who support abortions from receiving communion.” Just as naturally, it leads many in the Catholic commentariat, such as Brian Williams of One Peter Five, to wail and harrumph:

Let us hope and pray that Our Lord is not subjected to further sacrilege, and His Church to further scandal, by an outright refusal to enforce Canon 915 in Chicago. The Church loses credibility when she rightly advocates for protecting the unborn, but then gives Holy Communion to high profile, unrepentant, Catholic politicians who support the “right” to an abortion.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Are Pope Francis’ defenders missing the point?

If you haven’t been following the story of Cdl. Raymond L. Burke’s transfer from Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the High Court of the Catholic Church, if you will) to Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta … well, I can’t say as I blame you. Overall, the reactions have been a classic illustration of the Catholic Circular Firing Squad back in action: traditionalist overreaction, liberal jubilation, and my little group of ultramontanists — to be honest — somewhat missing the point.

There’s some fun to be had watching the Vatican Follies, and speculating over what happens backstage and in the wings. Nevertheless, I agree with Simcha Fisher: there’s much too much agonizing over the shambling monster Frank Weathers is pleased to call the KasperBurke.

A “Calamitous Pope”?

Michelle Arnold of Catholic Answers recently made the excellent point that to call St. John Paul “the worst pope ever” is to show an appalling ignorance of papal history. Similarly, to imply that Pope Francis is “calamitous”, as Rorate Caeli has done in a post uncritically copied and pasted by other rad-trad blogs, is to exaggerate hysterically.

But in our zeal to defend the orthodoxy of Papa Bergoglio against the cheers of the left and the jeers of the right, I’ve begun to think that we’ve discounted criticism we should be listening to, whether we agree fully with it or not. To put it differently, it’s past time for the honeymoon to come to an end and face the reality of Francis’ reign.

This started for me when The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named wrote a piece about the facepalm-inducing, completely Holy-Dude-what-were-you-thinking selection of Cdl. Godfried Danneels for the Synod on the Family — an appointment that could only be overshadowed in insensitivity by nominating Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler to head up the Office of Papal Charities. Whatever the choice says about Francis’ orthodoxy, it was a bonehead play.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beast writer confuses snark with legal analysis

A Steaming Pile of Outrage Porn


Imagine you’re Crash Davis. Yes, the minor-league baseball player memorably portrayed by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham. You know you’re not going to make it to the big leagues. You even know your team is unlikely to win in the minors. But you’re a professional, and you give it all you’ve got.
This, it seems to me, is the position of Appellate Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a respected conservative thinker who’s unlikely to make it either to the Supreme Court bench or the right side of history when it comes to same-sex marriage, but who is still a judge’s judge, a consummate professional. What would you do?

This lede, from Jay Michaelson’s “All The Wrong Reasons To Ban Gay Marriage” in The Daily Beast, tells us exactly where the author is going … and it’s going nowhere pretty. Instead of offering a thoughtful deconstruction of Judge Sutton’s majority opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder, he’s going to whine, snark and ad hominem Sutton to death.

Granted, so much is to be expected from anyone who deliberately writes for The Beast, one of too many e-zines that exist simply to grunt out steaming piles of outrage porn for the consumption of a polarized, perpetually angry public. Writing for these vendors of schlock journalism must be easy — all you have to do is emote for 1,500 words or so.

But whine, snark and ad hominem arguments aren’t legal analysis. I don’t mean they’re not legal analysis because they come from a journalist or a blogger; I mean they’re not legal analysis even if Justice Anthony Kennedy does it, as he did in United States v. Windsor (2013). Whine, snark and ad hominems are a feature of playground name-calling, which is often interchangeable with political rabble-rousing and (unfortunately) certain brands of comedy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

To a friend who is leaving the Catholic Church



A Hard Saying

I so totally admire your love of the Catholic Church Tony. I am saddened that some of the rules I can not live with and will be joining a Lutheran one that will accept me.
What could I say? Facebook is where I keep in touch with my family and friends; I don’t go there to engage in verbal fisticuffs or stand on my soapbox. And yet, I can’t help feeling the answer I gave — “Forget it, lady. You gotta do a lot worse than that to lose my friendship” — was well-meaning but unsatisfactory.

I suppose I could have been a smartass and built some quibbles based on the precepts of the Church or on canon law. But either of those sallies would have ended in an exasperated “You know what I mean!”

In fact, I do know what you meant, my friend. It’s not really the rules you can’t live with, but rather some of the teachings. It isn’t a question of whether the Catholic Church accepts you: she does, and always has. Rather, it’s a question of what you accept — or, rather, what you reject.

You’re not the first person to abandon the Church over a teaching that sticks in the craw. Read the “Bread of Life” discourse (John 6:22-66): as Jesus insists that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53), his verbs in the Greek become more graphic, switching from phagō (to eat) to trōgō (to chew, or gnaw like an animal). At the end of it, many of his disciples leave him, telling themselves and each other, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (vv. 60, 66)

Monday, October 13, 2014

What’s procreation got to do with sex?

Have you seen this child lately?

Ask a Stupid Question

I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe me. I neglected to save the link, so I can’t prove it happened; I can’t even remember which blog it happened on (either Creative Minority Report or The American Conservative … I think). But, in the midst of a discussion a few years ago — was it about gay marriage? abortion? — an apparently intelligent and educated woman asked, in all seriousness, “Who said reproduction has anything to do with sex?”

I know — “You honestly expect us to believe that? Seriously? No one’s that dumb!”

Truly, most people, when they’re thinking about it, know that you don’t get pregnant from germs spread around the office, or from a bad batch of chicken or kale you bought at Walmart. Parents who don’t stop having children, like Damien and Simcha Fisher, can testify to this common knowledge from the many stale repetitions they get of the fake-hearty jab whenever a new baby is on the way: “You do know what causes that, don’t you?”. And God knows how many times I’ve heard other people jovially refer to the act as “making babies”, even when creation of a newborn was the last thing the participants wanted.

And yet ….

If you really pay attention to arguments concerning abortion, contraception, gay marriage and other pelvic issues, you do get the sense that many people believe reproduction to be incidental to sex, even accidental, rather than its biological raison d’être. You ever notice how many times they refer to penises and vaginas as if they were the only sexually distinct organs, as if testes and uteri had no known function to fill? And that they mention ovaries only to rhyme with “rosaries”?

In less than one hundred years, we have gone from accepting pregnancy as the natural consequence of sex to regarding ourselves entitled to sex without consequences … at least, those we don’t want just right now. So powerful is this sense of entitlement that we’re driven to treat reproduction as an unnatural “occasional side effect” of sex, or even as a disease. Reality must not be allowed to intrude upon our human right to get our freak on.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pope Francis, Islam and jihad


A troubling passage in Evangelii Gaudium

Andrew Bieszad, a scholar on Islam, seems to believe Pope Francis is teaching error — or, at least, opiniones intolerata — about the “Ishmaelites”:

For Islamic scholars, there is a statement in the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, which is particularly troubling:
Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence. (p. 253)
As the situation in the Middle East escalates, and the violence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) spills rivers of innocent Christian blood, this statement seems incongruous with reality.

From Bieszad’s perspective, Francis is apparently taking an attitude not taken by our forefathers in the faith; to assert this, Bieszad not only quotes the defiance spoken by a big handful of martyrs, but also theological heavyweight Saints John Damascene, Thomas Aquinas, and Alphonse Ligouri, not to mention latter-day hero Hilaire Belloc. If Bieszad doesn’t go so far as to call the pope a heretic, he does manage to imply that Francis is both wrong and a Neville Chamberlain-type appeaser.

The funny thing, though, is that the Islamic scholar doesn’t directly dispute Francis’ assertion, “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence,” with any citation of the Koran or mainstream Islamic scholars. Rather, he seems content to let the juxtaposition of Francis’ words and ISIS’ deeds do the work for him.

Another funny thing: When I began writing about eleven years ago, I was initially writing to defend the Catholic faith against the slanders and misunderstandings of Protestants and non-believers. Now, I spend an increasing amount of time correcting fellow Catholics. And thereby hangs a point.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Free-market economics and bad philosophy

Reading doctrine through ideological glasses

The most pervasive problem facing the Catholic Church in America today is our predilection for reading both Scripture and Tradition through ideological glasses. If bad philosophy leads inevitably to bad science, it leads even more quickly to bad theology.

The left has a history of trying to reconcile Catholicism with socialism, even Marxism, despite the explicit condemnations of various popes beginning with Bl. Pius IX (cf. Syllabus of Errors). The right’s version sometimes goes so far as to baptize Randian objectivism — to which Ayn Rand herself would  have objected — but more often settles for its own version of the “health and wealth gospel”; i.e., invocation of free-market capitalism.

As I’ve outlined before, “cafeteria Catholicism” on the right tends to play a game I call the “appeal to theological weight”. If a citation of pope or dicastery runs counter to a free-market position, the tactic is to claim it sits on a level of theological certainty low enough that a Catholic of good conscience can dispute or ignore it.

Even when the authority of a document, such as Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, is treated as authoritative, it’s creatively interpreted so that all the troublesome bits get ignored. For example, read this post in Ethika Politika, in which Gabriel S. Sanchez takes Joe Hargreaves to task for his sins of omission.