Sursum Corda
"an insightful Catholic Blog that eschews extremism in any direction."
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Saturday, July 27, 2002
THANK GOD! Associated Press is reporting that the nine miners trapped in a flooded mineshaft in Somerset, Pennsylvania are alive! Rescue workers made contact Saturday with some of the nine miners who have been trapped underground for three days via a telephone dropped through a pipe, according to rescue officials.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:40 PM
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THE FUTURE IS IN GOOD HANDS: At a prayer vigil associated with World Youth Day in Toronto, a young pilgrim made the following statement, which was sent to me by a regular reader. I thought you might enjoy reading it as much as I did.

I was saddened tonight by the comments made by Mr. Macedo from Peru about his living conditions and his unjust inprisonment. I want spiritual conversion for the people of Peru -- for the people of the world. I want justice to reign in all lands. I want to hear that nobody suffers from poverty and despair.

It is sad that, in his case, a poor man from Peru must talk about his sacrifices to help his poor brothers and sisters. I want to support that young man in any way I can to bring the Kingdom of God more to life in this world, but I wanted that message to come from
someone else.

I want someone from the rich part of town to say that they cannot sleep another night knowing that prosperity for a few comes at the expense of others.

I want young rich people to follow the example of Saint Katherine Drexel. I don't want people to simply be moved by the words of the poor young man from Lima; I want people to become poor so that the poor of Lima can grow. Giving money might not solve everything in some respects, but when it is both given and spent prudently, it can build many clinics, schools, and churches.

It hurt to hear how the young man was abused by his fellow countrymen -- fellow Catholics. I am sure that some of these men are/were very devout. I am confident that these oppressors know how to say and do various rituals. Yet the words of Saturday morning's first reading from the prophet Jeremiah come to mind. These oppressors said, "The Temple of the Lord!" over and over -- while they violated the living temples who are their brothers and sisters -- through torture and political heavy-handedness.

We need to pray for the intercession of Archbishop Oscar Romero. He wanted to spread the Gospel. He wanted to live the Gospel. He wanted all people to proclaim the Gospel through the way that they lived their lives. The power of the Gospel must transcend all forms of politics, whether in civil government or within the Church. It should not be a poor man, such as the prophet Hosea, who cries at the unjust practices of the so-called "good people". These very people need to see their sinful lives for what they are. Those who hoard their treasures should repent about their conduct much earlier than the time that the poor cry out against it. By the time that we hear the cry of the poor, we are also hearing the wailing of mourners.

Believers in Jesus should not have to wait for joy. Maybe we must suffer somehow, but not as a result of unjust practices by our own brothers and sisters, especially those who are of the same faith.

There is far too much talk about being loyal to the Magisterium. We are called to be loyal to the Magister, the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ. I hope that any loyalty -- any orthodoxy that we have -- flows only from love of Jesus and that love alone.

If we are orthodox in that way, then we will bring the Kingdom to life. It will not be a speculation. It will not be a Pastoral Plan. It will be a fulfillment of the charge that we have been given by our Lord.
I think the future is in good hands, don't you?

posted by Peter Nixon 8:27 PM
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Friday, July 26, 2002
CLONING: POLICY OPTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: Today I conclude my chapter-by-chapter summary of the new report issued by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. You can read my summary of Chapters 1-6 below by scrolling down (I no longer trust the Blogger archive links). I am going to summarize Chapter 6, “Policy Options,” and Chapter 7, “Policy Recommendations,” together because it seems to make sense to do so.

The policy options that were open to the Council were fairly obvious. They could choose to advocate nothing. They could support a complete ban on all forms of cloning, both cloning-for-children and cloning-for-research. They could recommend allowing one form of cloning, but not the other, with the former being subject to some kind of regulation. Finally, they could support a moratorium on either form of cloning in lieu of a ban.

The report reveals that the Council members were unified on the question of cloning-for-children, but divided on the question of cloning-for-research. On the former issue, all 17 active members of the Council voted in favor of a complete ban on cloning to produce children. With regard to cloning-for-children, there were 7 votes in favor of permitting it now (with regulation), 7 votes in favor of a complete ban, and 3 votes in favor of a four-year moratorium.

In the end, the Council members in favor of a moratorium joined with those in favor of a complete ban to produce a majority (10-7) proposal in favor of 1) a complete ban on cloning-to-produce-children and 2) a four-year moratorium on cloning-for-research to allow for further ethical deliberation on this issue.

Next week, I will offer some of my own thoughts on the report. Be sure to tune in.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:28 AM
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THINGS FOR LIBERALS TO PONDER: Father Ron Rolheiser offers three things for religious liberals--Catholic or otherwise--to ponder (conservatives will get their own questions in next week's column). Chief among these questions is the difficulty that religious liberals seem to have in passing down their faith to their children:

For all of our work at affirming human dignity, spreading the democratic principle, highlighting the plight of the poor, working at eliminating racism, pushing for gender equality, furthering ecological sensitivity and affirming non-violence, we haven't been able to inspire our own children to follow us in the path of the faith and in the path of adult commitment. Former generations, whatever their faults, did this better. Whether that fault is inherent in liberal ideology itself is not the point. We haven't been able to do it and it's something we must examine ourselves on.
The flip side of this is the tendency of liberals to disparage movements within the Church--he cites things like Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, Promise Keepers, and the Charismatic Renewal--because they appear to contain strains of patriarchy, fundamentalism, and uncritical submission to authority:

Offended in our liberal sensitivities, we become fundamentalist ourselves -- uncompromising, unnuanced, locked into a pre-prescribed view, unable to see that sometimes the cruder discipline of authority is needed before someone can live the fuller freedom of the Gospel. Promise Keepers, for example, may not be a spirituality for a mature Christian, but anything that helps get millions of men back home, faithful to their wives, and back to prayer and church should certainly not be seen as the enemy. Liberal assessment of these movements has sometimes been far from compassionate and wise.
Be sure to read the whole column.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:59 AM
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IF NECESSARY, USE WORDS: Amy Welborn posted the question the other day, "how do you evangelize a culture that doesn't think it needs evangelizing?" A Sursum Corda reader, writing in response to my "why bother?" post earlier this week, supplies the answer:

My own experience was very much like yours, in that I was drawn deeper into faith by the actions of someone else. This is probably the most mundane story you'll ever hear, but if you have a minute, I'd love to share it with you. About a year ago, my 14-year-old son got into some trouble in gym class. He's no athlete, and the other kids were tormenting him during volleyball games. In frustration, he kicked in a suspended, etc. I felt so bad for him....I knew he was hurting and wanted to do SOMETHING to help him, but didn't know what, and the school was of absolutely no help. I remembered that one of the gym teachers at the school is also a deacon in the local Catholic parish, and on a whim, I sent him a note explaining the situation and asking him for I didn't even know what....whatever he could do to help Eric, even just dropping into the detention room...I didn't know this guy from Adam, but just had a sense he might be able to help.

To make a long story even longer, that same day, he called me. He had gone down to the detention room and talked at length with addition, he went to the guidance office and made arrangements for Eric to be in HIS gym class, where he could look after him and take him under his wing. I can't tell you how much that meant to first, I was just so grateful that someone had reached out and could see that Eric was hurting, but it became much more than that. It dawned on me after a while that THAT'S what it means to "bear witness". That's what Christ wants us to do....and, like you, I thought "He has something that I, that I NEED"....I started going to church, listening to him preach, exploring just who God is and asking God how I can be the kind of person who will bear witness so beautifully as this man did.

A year later, my heart is still literally on fire in search of God, and it all started with that single act of kindness....earlier this month I went on an 8-day silent, directed retreat at a Jesuit retreat center in PA. I spent some time asking myself the question you posed in your essay, and, in the end, the only answer I could come up with was Brother Lawrence's..."God said it, I believe it, that settles it."

posted by Peter Nixon 10:01 AM
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Thursday, July 25, 2002
YES, IT DOES WORK: Professional optimist Greg Easterbrook makes a compelling case in the New Republic that foreign aid works and the United States should do more of it:

[Many Americans] expect foreign aid to banish developing-world poverty and to build liberal democracies across the globe; by that standard, aid indeed has failed. But that's the wrong standard. The realistic benchmark is whether international assistance has made the world better than it would otherwise have been. And by that standard, foreign aid has not only been a success; it has been a triumph. In most developing nations, living standards are rising, and health care and education are improving, in part because of foreign aid. Billions of people are better off today thanks to Western help, however inconsistent and snafu-prone that help has often been.
As is his wont, Easterbrook lays out an impressive stable of facts and is equally tough on the isolationist Right and the anti-Globalization Left, both of whom he thinks are standing in the way of effective aid programs.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:39 AM
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ROWAN WILLIAMS WOULD BE PROUD: My four-year old son went to Bible camp last week and has been regaling us this week with slightly altered versions of some of the stories. Here’s the one he told me this morning:

Once upon a time there were three wise men: Joseph, Tommy, and Calvin. And they saw a star and went to see the Baby Jesus. But then Tommy said, “we should go to Disneyland.” But then Joseph said, “we can’t go to Disneyland. It’s not in the book.” So they rode on their camels to see Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph and gave them presents. The end.
His favorite story so far seems to be the one about “King Solomon cutting the baby in half. Except he was just pretending.” Out of the mouths of babes...

posted by Peter Nixon 11:18 AM
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PRAY: There are nine Pennsylvania coal miners trapped in a flooded mine shaft in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The shaft flooded when the miners breached an old abandoned mine that was flooded, but did not appear on their map. They were able to warn other miners via radio, but were not able to escape themselves. Rescue efforts are underway. Please pray for these men and their families.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:59 AM
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Wednesday, July 24, 2002
AS THE SPARKS FLY UPWARD: There's an old Peanuts cartoon that takes place on a baseball field. After a run of bad luck, Charlie Brown asks Linus why they always lose. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward," replies Linus, quoting the Book of Job. This starts a whole theological discussion among the team with Lucy memorably chiming in "What about Job's wife? I don't think we hear enough about her." "I don't have a team," sighs Charlie Brown, "I have a theological seminary."

So it has felt like at Saint Blog's this week.
Amy Welborn's "Why Bother?" post has generated a considerable amount of comment, primarily through her own site's comments function, but also here at Sursum Corda (see below), Minute Particulars, and Nota Bene. I'm sure others will be weighing in soon.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:45 PM
. . .
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
WHY BOTHER? Amy Welborn has posted a very thought provoking post on her site today. In it, she wonders whether the Church is adequately answering the question of why faith is important. While you should read the entire post, here is a representative paragraph, in which Amy speaks in the voice of contemporary unbelief:

It all comes down to this, in my mind: Why Jesus, why here and why this way? What difference does it make? And don't tell me about your healed lives and your warm hearts. If I, the casual unbeliever, can go out on the street and find people who have equally healed lives and warm hearts for reasons that have nothing to do with your church, why, again, should I bother with your church or any of them?
I think that to answer the question “why Jesus?” I really have to answer two questions. Because for the people who pose this question, it is not the truth of Christianity per se that is really at issue. Why should someone bother with any of our churches, temples, or mosques? Why belong to any religious tradition at all? It is only when someone accepts the seriousness of the religious enterprise in the first place that the answer to a question like “Why Jesus?” becomes intelligible. We need to make the case for having a Lord before we can make the case for Jesus as Lord.

Why do I need a Lord?

The affliction of many young people today is not a militant atheism. Rather, it is a corrosive agnosticism that makes them skeptical of any serious philosophical or religious commitments. I think there is a parallel in how many young people today view marriage. Many believe they can have the “benefits” of marriage—companionship, sex, etc.—without having to make a serious commitment. But I’ve never met a married person who wanted to go back to just “living together” with their spouse. There is an understanding—even if it’s not always easy to articulate—that married life is deeper and richer than a relationship that lacks real commitment.

To go through one's life never having made such a commitment is to have failed to live out the fullness of one’s humanity. We must surrender ourselves to something. We must have a Lord. The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich talks about this when he refers to God as the “object of ultimate concern,” the organizing principle of a man’s life. He argues that life is impossible without having such a concern because man is, by nature, a creature who seeks meaning and purpose in his actions. Our ultimate concern may be a false God. It may be riches, fame, political power, or the respect of our peers. But it must be something.

But to make anything less than God our “ultimate concern” is to be ultimately unsatisfied. As Saint Augustine said, “you made us for yourselves, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This is not always obvious to the young, because they often place their hopes in the future, assuming that once they get ‘there,’ their hunger will be fulfilled. Often, it is only as we age that we are confronted with the truth that the world can never fully satisfy what we long for. As Karl Rahner once said, “in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.”

Why Jesus as Lord?

But, it may be countered, what is there to distinguish one religion from the other? Can’t I just “surrender” to the Divine in the privacy of my apartment? Why do I need to go to church? Why does Jesus need to be my Lord? Why not Allah? Or Vishnu?

The first thing I would say is that if you truly believe that Allah or Vishnu is your Lord, then you should certainly follow him. But usually, that question is offered as an excuse for following no one. The contemporary agnostic is paralyzed by indecision. He is so busy pointing out the various trails that lead up the mountain that he refuses to place his feet on any of them. Or perhaps he dabbles, jogging a few feet up one trail, then another, never committing himself to the task at hand: “You must prove to me your way is correct before I follow it.”

Well I can’t. I can’t sit here with a stack of scriptures from various religious traditions and prove to you by citing texts that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It can’t be done. I can sketch out all kinds of arguments that suggest that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the very basic longings of the human race, but I can’t imagine they would be convincing to someone who doesn’t already believe.

So are we Christians lost? Are we unable to give an account of our hope? I don’t think so. We need to remember that, ultimately, we are meant to be the argument for the truth of Christianity. Christians live their lives in a particular way because they profess Jesus Christ as their Lord.

Many years ago, when I was somewhat estranged from the Church, I went to see the movie Romero, a dramatic retelling of the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. There is a scene in the movie where Romero and another priest have been driven out of a rural church by a group of soldiers who proceed to shoot the place up. We see the car carrying Romero drive away, and then return. Romero gets out of the car, walks up to the solider at the entrance to the church and demands to be let in so that he can retrieve the Blessed Sacrament, now scattered on the floor because the soldiers have shot up the Tabernacle. He could have been killed at any moment, but he showed no fear.

I remember being galvanized by this scene. From somewhere deep within me, I felt a presence pointing at the screen and saying “That! That is what you want!” And it was true. I wanted what Romero had. I wasn’t even sure at that point what it was. But I knew that I wanted it, and that I would never be at rest until I had it.

So it has been since the very beginning. People didn’t follow Jesus because he made wonderful rational arguments. He spoke in parables for Pete’s sake! People listened because He embodied the truth, He gave it flesh. And so it has been since His time, with saints—both official and otherwise—giving flesh to the same truth.

And once one is attracted to a particular individual—be it Jesus, Oscar Romero, or some other holy person—then one is inevitably drawn to the community behind the individual. If I want what Oscar Romero has, then I have to know what shaped him. When I discover that it is a particular community that shaped him, there arises in me a powerful desire to subject myself to the discipline of that community—to worship as it worships, and to believe what it believes.

And one of the things that the Christian community believes is that we are destined for ultimate union with that which created us. How we live our lives today will determine whether we experience that union as suffering or joy. So yes, it does matter how we live. Although I cannot know for certain, I suspect that a person who can never subject himself to the discipline and commitment of faith will experience the beatific vision as painful, a searing gaze that will lay bare to him the ways in which he has fallen short of what he has been called to be. I also suspect—no, in this case, I know—that many of us who profess to have faith are also going to suffer under that gaze.

Will we suffer for all eternity? I certainly hope not. For the searing gaze is also a loving gaze and the pain is one of purgation. Of course, it is possible that a man might prefer to separate himself from the gaze rather than undergo that purgation. I cannot imagine anyone, knowing what was at stake, taking this course of action. But it has to remain a possibility.

So in the end, the only argument I can offer for the truth of Christianity is my life and the lives of those who believe as I do. If the modern world no longer finds Christianity compelling, we may have to ask whether this is because we have ceased to make it compelling. If the agnostic can see no difference between the Christian and the unbeliever, is that his fault or ours?

posted by Peter Nixon 4:45 PM
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A BOY OR A GIRL, YOU PICK: Yesterday, it was about avoiding genetic disease. Today, it’s about selecting the sex of your child. Tomorrow, perhaps, it will be about mental aptitude, or athletic ability, or—take a deep breath—skin color. As this article from today’s Los Angeles Times suggests, he technology of Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) has raced far, far ahead of our ability to grapple with its ethical implications. Does the philosophy of “reproductive liberty” acknowledge any limits? If so, its advocates better start making them clear.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:50 PM
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THE ETHICS OF CLONING FOR BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH: This week I am continuing my chapter-by-chapter summary of the new report issued by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. You can read my summary of Chapters 1-5 below by scrolling down (I no longer trust the Blogger archive links).

As with Chapter Five, the arguments presented here are detailed and complex. I will not be able to do them justice in this short summary and I hope merely to whet your appetite for a close reading of the actual text.

Chapter Six tackles the difficult issue of cloning for biomedical research. The Council ended up narrowly divided on this question. Their solution was to present comprehensive arguments for and against cloning for research. What makes this an interesting approach is that all of the members of the Council were asked to review and comment on the arguments for both sides, regardless of their personal position.

This is not to say that the two sides were divided on everything. Both agree that biomedical research is tremendously important. It is research aimed at the relief of human suffering. The freedom of inquiry that makes biomedical research possible should be restricted only for the most important reasons. Both sides also agree, however, that there are moral limits on what we do to relieve suffering. “We are morally obliged to seek relief of suffering, but only in ways that preserve our humanity.”

Another area where both sides agree is that research using cloned human embryos may lead to treatments for diseases that are significant sources of disability and death, such as Parkinson’s disease. In general, those who support cloning-for-research are more sanguine that it will yield specific benefits in the near term. But even opponents of cloning-for-research, who tended to be less hopeful about the near-term benefits, did not deny that those benefits were quite possible.

Where the consensus breaks down—not surprisingly—is the issue of the moral status of the human embryo in its earliest stages. For the proponents of cloning-for-research, the early human embryo “has a moral status somewhere between that of ordinary human cells and that of a full human person.” Thus they believe that “the embryo can be used for life-saving or potentially life-saving research while still being accorded the ‘special respect’ it deserves.” They would limit research to embryos who had not yet reached 14 days of development.

The argument for this position is more or less as follows: while the early human embryo possesses genetic individuality, it does not possess other characteristics of an individual human person. Prior to implantation, the embryo may twin, suggesting that its individuality prior to implantation is not entirely stable. There is also the significance of implantation itself. Prior to implantation, there is no possibility of development to birth, while after implantation that possibility exists. Finally, there is the fact that human beings respond do not respond to the killing of a human embryo as they do to a fully-formed child. The 14-day mark, while admittedly arbitrary, is a point after which twinning is resolved, the embryo is implanted, and the first “primitive streak” of nerve tissue has appeared.

Council members who support cloning-for-research believe that while early human embryos “special respect,” they are not inviolable. Something that is inviolable can never be used as a means to another end, but there are circumstances under which something due ‘special respect’ can be so used. The report draws an (admittedly imperfect) analogy between religious laws governing the killing of animals for food. These laws serve, in part, “to demonstrate respect for beings that command our affection and our wonder, because they are (like us) part of the mystery of existence.”

The supporters of cloning-for-research also try to address the argument that even if one grants that early embryos are not inviolable, it is wrong to deliberately create them for use in research. They counter that if it is permissible to use early embryos at all, then it is permissible to use them regardless of how they were created.

The Council members who oppose cloning for research oppose this argument on virtually every count. They argue that the 14-day mark “does not represent a biological event of moral significance; rather, changes that occur at fourteen days are merely the visible evident culmination of more subtle changes that have taken place earlier and our driving the organism toward maturity.” They also dismiss the idea that an embryo created in a laboratory has less moral status than an embryo that has been implanted in a woman’s uterus.

The opponents of cloning-for-research also argue that, even on its own terms, the argument made the proponents of cloning-for-research is incoherent: “We do not understand what it means to claim that one is treating cloned embryos with special respect when one decides to create them intentionally for research that necessarily leads to their destruction.” The opponents concede that it is possible, as in the case of hunters and fishermen, to have reverence for a life that one kills. “But it seems difficult to claim…the presence of reverence once we run a stockyard or raise calves for veal—that is, once we treat the animals we kill (as we often do) simply as resources or commodities.”

Having laid out their case that the early human embryo should be inviolable, that opponents of cloning-for-research go on to argue that one need not accept that conclusion to object vigorously to cloning-for-research. To engage in such research requires the irreversible crossing of a very significant moral boundary: the creation of human life expressly and exclusively for the purpose of its use in research, research that necessarily involves its deliberate destruction. If we permit this research to proceed, we will effectively be endorsing the complete transformation of nascent human life into nothing more than a resource or a tool.

The opponents of cloning for research conclude their argument with a consideration of what we owe to those who suffer. It may seem cruel to close off any avenue of research that could lead to a relief of their suffering. But there are moral limits on what we can do in the name of relieving suffering:

Suppose, then, that we refrain from such research and that future sufferers say to us: "You might have helped us by approving cloning for research, but you declined to do so." What could we say to them? Something like the following: "Yes, perhaps so. But we could have done so only by destroying, in the present, the sort of world in which both we and you want to live -- a world in which, as best we can, we respect human life and human individuals, the weak and the strong. To have done it would have meant stepping across boundaries that are essential to our humanity. And, although we very much want to leave to our children a world in which suffering can be more effectively relieved, that is not all we want to leave them. We want to bequeath to them a world that honors moral limits, a world in which the good of some human lives is not entirely subordinated to the good of others, a world in which we seek to respect, as best we can, the time each human being has and the place each fills."
Chapter Seven, which I will consider tomorrow, tries to analysis the policy options for regulating human cloning. Hope to see you then.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:50 AM
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THE FALLOUT: This week's America (subscription to the print edition required for access) has an article by Sister of Mercy Camille D’Arienzo that raises some hard questions about the "zero tolerance" policy adopted by the bishops in June. She talks about the case of one priest, a chaplain at an all-girls high school in Brooklyn, who was recently removed from his post there. "The nearly 20 years that he spent there have been unblemished by any suspicion of indiscretion," writes D'Arienzo, and goes on to wonder:

No one knows what led to his suspension. Let us suppose that at some earlier time, perhaps a quarter century ago, he was found guilty of fleeting, inappropriate sexual conduct (exclusive of pedophilia, which requires its own response). Let us imagine, furthermore, that he had accepted censure and treatment and, most important, had experienced remorse sufficiently profound and durable to foreclose any recurrence of that behavior. If this is true, what else should be demanded of him? Does the goodness, the generous self-sacrifice of the intervening years count for nothing? Are we willing to judge another human being by the worst thing he has done, as if it were the only thing he has done? How would any one of us fare were someone to broadcast the worst thing we’ve done, as if it were the solitary expression of our life on this earth? What will this suspended priest do with the rest of his life—perhaps the 30 or 40 years that await him? What will the church do without him? Is this to be his death sentence? Will no one demand a moratorium for those who have paid for their crimes and for those who, though accused, are innocent?
The problem, of course, is that we don't know what happened. How "fleeting" was the sexual conduct? How did his victim experience it and what have the intervening years been like for him or her? And even if we feel that such a priest could continue in some kind of active ministry, are we really comfortable leaving them in a role where they minister to children and adolescents on a daily basis?

For many laypeople, what it comes down to is whether we trust our bishops to make the right call in these hard cases. I actually do trust my own bishop, who I think has done very well in dealing with this issue. But I can understand why Catholics living in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles feel differently. I think it would be easier for many priests to accept what must happen if they could see that the bishops who have failed would also share in their penance. But it does not seem like that will be the case. I think that is unfortunate.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:40 AM
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IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, IT'S NEW TO YOU: I've added a few blogs to my bloglist. Admittedly, most of these folks aren't "new." I've just taken some time to get around to checking them out. Disputations has a Dominican bent. Everyone already knows about the Heart, Mind and Strength weblog, which features Amy Welborn and will soon feature Emily Stimpson. The New Gasparian offers a window into the spirituality of the Precious Blood. Finally, check out Dappled Things from Father Jim Tucker, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:50 AM
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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SCRIPTURE REFLECTIONS? Some folks have asked what happened to the daily scripture reflections I used to post. I just couldn't keep it up. Writing a coherent 500 word reflection on a scripture passage is a lot tougher than writing short paragraphs on various new items. I think I will start doing them again for Advent, but for now I need a break.

However, you need not fret because, quite frankly, Sean Gallagher over at
Nota Bene does a better job than I ever did. He usually tries to tie all three daily readings together, as opposed to just reflecting on the Gospel, which was my practice. So make Nota Bene one of your first stops every morning.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:15 AM
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Monday, July 22, 2002
AT SEMINARY, UNEASE OVER GAY PRIESTS: Many Bloggers are commenting on a piece that ran in Sunday’s Washington Post about the Theological College at Catholic University. Amy Welborn’s post generated a number of comments, including one by the much-missed Father Shawn O’Neal, who was a seminarian at TC and disagrees with the depiction of TC in the article. You’ll have to scroll down through at least a dozen posts to get to this, as Amy has been busy today. Mike Hardy also has some comments worth reading, as does David Morrison. In the unlikely event that you are interested in my views on the issue, click here, which will take you to an archived piece of commentary that ran on the site a couple of months back.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:12 PM
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AN AMERICAN PROBLEM? I'm still seeing comments from Church officials outside the United States, particularly in Rome, that suggests that they haven't quite shaken the view that the clerical sexual abuse scandal is an "American problem." Perhaps the widening scandal in Germany will convince them otherwise. But I'm not holding my breath.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:09 PM
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FUN WITH BREAST CANCER NUMBERS: I’ve seen a number of comments posted about the recent study linking a reduced risk of breast cancer with breast feeding and the number of children a woman has. It has been suggested that this somehow confirms the wisdom of large families and is yet another blow to the contraceptive mentality of the decadent West.

Well maybe, but I doubt it. A lot of people seem to be confusing statistical significance and practical significance. The former merely means that the observed differences between the treatment population and the control population are too large to have happened by chance. In a study as large as the recent breastfeeding study (20,000) women, even very small differences can be statistically significant. That doesn’t mean that they have a lot of practical significance for an individual woman who is trying to reduce her risk of breast cancer.

The average woman in the industrialized world has a 6.3 percent chance of getting breast cancer by age 70. Let’s say this woman has one additional child—which according to the study will reduce her risk by 7 percent—and breast feeds that child for a year—which reduces risk by 4.3 percent. Her “new” risk of breast cancer would be roughly 5.6 percent.

Okay, let’s see a show of hands. How many women out there are willing to have one more child and breast feed them for a year just so you can reduce your lifetime risk of breast cancer by less than one percentage point. What, no takers?

But it gets even more complicated. Having more children can put women at risk of other health problems that can increase the risk of mortality from other causes. Women who, during a previous pregnancy, been diagnosed with gestational diabetes are more likely to have it again in a subsequent pregnancy. Women who have had gestational diabetes are more at risk of developing Type II (adult onset) diabetes down the road, which puts them at greater risk for heart disease and kidney failure, both of which are associated with higher mortality. In the end, a reduced risk of breast cancer may well be offset by an increased risk of other health problems, and the result is likely a statistical wash.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against large families and I’m a very strong advocate of breast feeding. The evidence of the latter’s health benefits to children are overwhelming. But the idea that women should make decisions about family size and breastfeeding just to obtain extremely small reductions in their lifetime risk of breast cancer seems absurd to me.

The bottom line is that there is not a whole lot that women can do to make a large dent in their risk of breast cancer. That is why early detection remains so important and why women should know how to do a
breast self-exam and should talk to their physician about how often they should receive a mammogram. This is important even for women who have large families and who have breast-fed their children.

Not a happy conclusion? Well what if I told you that there was something we could do to significantly reduce the risk of death for women? Guess what the number one cause of death for women in the United States is? Hint: it’s not Breast Cancer. No, it’s Heart Disease. Heart Disease is a preventable illness, and I’m not just talking about the importance of diet, exercise, and quitting smoking (although all three are very important). Physicians have an ever-increasing array of medications that are capable of controlling high-cholesterol and high-blood pressure. Women—particularly those with a family history of heart disease—should have their cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly by their physicians. A lot of women are still under the impression that heart disease is a “man’s disease.” It’s not.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:52 AM
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CORPORATE SCANDALS MAILBAG: One reader wrote in to comment about my little rant about the market collapse that I posted on July 12th:

My wife and I also tried to take financial responsibility for our future. As an ex-MCI employee she contributed the maxim amount to her 401k and purchase WCOM/MCI stock through the company. We have two children ages 16 yrs and 11 months. I have written several letters to the White House and my Senators expressing my outrage. At these events. I am sadden by the lack of response and commitment by our officials. However, the real problem is how corrosive corruption is to both the body and the sprit.

We lost estimated $60.000 -- $70.000 in WCOM alone. While Bernie Ebbers made millions each year and received a loan for $400 million. He hopes WCOM will fail as then he'll no longer be responsible for paying back the loan to a debunked company. Meanwhile Scott Sullivan continues to build a 14 million dollar home in the safe bankruptcy harbor of Baco Raton. Believe me none of these men will suffer any public humiliation. They children will go to our best schools. Their wives while profiting from an affluent life, will still shop and lunch with all the best ladies in town. They will not be barred from any Country Club. Or lectured by their Priests or Rabbis from the pulpit. They will not suffer at all for their actions. Oh to be sure they will have to spend maybe a million in hiring Legal Mercenaries to defend their Fortress for next ten years. But their public lives will be as rich and plentiful as any ordinary multimillionaire.
Worldcom declared bankruptcy yesterday, the largest such filing in U.S. corporate history.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:10 AM
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