Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, November 22, 2002
MIND THE GAP: In his weekly column, John Allen speculates on the “cultural gap” between the United States and the Vatican on issues such as the reporting of abuse complaints to civil authorities. Italian Church officials are deeply skeptical about the impartiality of the secular courts when it comes to issues involving the Church.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:48 PM
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HAPPY 20th ANNIVERSARY: Fr. Ron Rolheiser celebrates 20 years of his weekly column. The original title of the column was “In Exile.” Why this title?

I chose this title because all of us live in exile in a real way. As St. Paul puts it, we see as "through a glass, darkly," through an enigma, separated always partially from God and each other. We experience some love, some community, some restfulness, but never these in their fullness.

In this life, as Henri Nouwen puts it, there's not such a thing as a clear-cut, pure joy. Rather, even in our most happy moments, there is a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limit. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance.

In all forms of light there is some knowledge of surrounding darkness. Karl Rahner once said that "in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we learn that here, in this life, there is no finished symphony."

Yes, we do live in an enigma. The God who is omnipresent cannot be sensed, only known at some deeper level; others, who are as real as we are, are always partially distanced; and we, in the end, are fundamentally a mystery even to ourselves. We're a long ways from home.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:37 PM
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Wednesday, November 20, 2002
COMMENTS HAVE ARRIVED: Yes, I've finally yielded to peer pressure and set up a comments function on the Blog. You can find the link after a post, next to my name. I'm not sure I'll keep the link there, but we'll see how it goes. Feel free to keep sending e-mail, if that's what you prefer. I'm cool either way. You now have permission to move about the airplane...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:14 PM
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WISDOM FROM THE DESERT: Karen Knapp over at From the Anchor Hold has been running some nice stories from the Desert Fathers.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:50 PM
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SURVEY SEZ... Amy Welborn provided a link to this interesting survey of Catholics from Crisis Magazine. Crisis decided to create two categories of Catholic. "Actives" attend mass an average of four times a month and account for about half the sample. "Inactives" attend less often and account for the other half. I probably would have cut the data a little finer myself (do we really think there's no distinction between folks who attend twice a month and those who only show up at Christmas?). It's hard not to suspect that Crisis wanted to produce results that suggested that most American Catholics had the same politics as Crisis readers. But there definitely are some interesting tidbits:

Does being an active Catholic make you more politically involved? "Active" Catholics are more likely to be Strong Democrats (25%) and Strong Republicans (21%) than "Inactives" (22% and 17%) respectively. Also, only 9% of active Catholics failed to vote in the last Presidential election, while 24% of inactive Catholics failed to vote. In this past election, only 15 percent of active Catholics failed to vote, versus 25 percent of in active Catholics.

Not big spenders: The majority of active Catholics give less than $100 a month to Catholic churches and organizations.

Slightly more conservative than liberal: Active Catholics were more likely to say that they were conservative than liberal. But the inactives were not dramatically more liberal than the actives. The most popular category for actives was "fairly conservative" (31%). The most popular for inactives was "moderate" (35%).

Big differences on abortion and cloning: 75% of active Catholics described themselves as pro-life or strongly pro-life, while 52% of inactive Catholics described themselves as pro-choice or strongly pro-choice. The same split was observed on cloning. Interestingly, 20% of those who attend mass every week described themselves as pro-choice or strongly pro-choice.

Pro-Death Penalty: Both active and inactive Catholics support the death penalty, but active Catholics support it less than inactive Catholics.

Difference on Bishop's response to scandal: A slim majority of active Catholics is satisfied with the way the Bishops have responded to the scandal, compared to only 35 percent of inactive Catholics.

Older No surprise here. More than half (56%) of active Catholics are 50 years of age or older. Inactive Catholics tend to be younger. Will they get more active as they get older?

Women Almost two-thirds of active Catholics are women. Is merely a factor of an older population? Or are other factors at work?

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a numbers nerd and I love stuff like this.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:37 PM
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I really wanted to be Karl Rahner but...

"What a mystery is this, that Christianity should have done so little good in the world!
Can any account of this be given? Can any reasons be assigned for it?"
You are John Wesley!

When things don't sit well with you, you make a big production and argue your way through everything.
You complain a lot, but, at least you are a thinker and not afraid to show it. You are also pretty
liked by people, and pretty methodological about your life and goals. You know where you're going.
Some people find you irritating, so watch out for people leaving you out of things they do.

What theologian are you?

A creation of Henderson
I think I liked the result from the Buffy survey better.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:53 PM
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IRAQ REDUX: Eve Tushnet has a very fair-minded assessment of a recent debate at Georgetown University (ah, how I miss DC) on war with Iraq. Tom Kreitzberg over at Disputations has a couple of good posts on the Bishop's statement. Also, in the interest of fairness, a reader has sent me a link to an essay by Jesuit ethicist Simon Harak that is a detailed argument against invading Iraq. I'm not sure I concur with all the assertions made in the essay, but it makes some good points.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:31 AM
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ABORTION REDUX: Some good writing on abortion over at Kairos and Noli Irritare Leones. I haven't even bothered with direct links, as they are so unreliable these days. You'll just have to scroll down a bit. But both are worth reading. Most of the writing one reads on abortion is written by strong pro-life or pro-choice advocates. But so many Americans have views that don't fit neatly into those little boxes. I think Lynn and Brian are good examples of this.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:27 AM
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Tuesday, November 19, 2002
S.O.A. WATCH: I have a couple of friends down at the demonstration at the (now renamed) School of the Americas. I was heartened by the comments in the article from Ft. Benning commanding General Paul Eaton, who said the peaceful protest was "America at its finest." General Eaton clearly shows an understanding of the Constitution that he has sworn to protect. I guess the question is whether the graduates of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (the SOA's new name) understand the role of peaceful protest in a democratic society as well as General Eaton seems to.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:24 PM
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THE THREATENING STORM: I want to recommend a book to you about the Iraq debate. It is entitled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. The author is Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council staffer during the Clinton Administration. No matter what position you have on this issue, this book is a must-read.

Pollack’s core thesis is that efforts by the United States and our allies to contain the Hussein regime in Iraq are failing, partly due to our own mistakes, but also because of the desire of some of our allies (particularly France and Russia) to do business with Iraq. The United States is left with few good policy options if it wishes to prevent Hussein from reconstituting his military arsenal and further developing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.

Pollack is moderate, dispassionate and non-ideological. He lays out—in considerable detail—the strengths and weaknesses of the various options for dealing with Iraq. Although he is a supporter of military action against Iraq, he does not shy away from enumerating the many dangers of this approach.

There were two things about the book that I found particularly compelling. The first is Pollack’s analysis of Hussein’s decisionmaking. Some have argued that even if Hussein develops nuclear weapons, he can be deterred from using them because he would know that the United States would respond in kind. Critics of this position often overreach, claiming Saddam is “irrational” and a “madman.”

What Pollack makes clear is that you don’t have to be irrational or a madman to make very bad decisions. Most of the people around Hussein are afraid to tell him the truth, and this fear filters down the Iraqi chain of command. Time and time again, Hussein has made catastrophically wrong decisions because either did not have accurate information or because he and the people around him did not draw the correct conclusions from that information. Containment worked with regard to the Soviet Union because the Soviets were fundamentally a conservative, risk-adverse regime, while Hussein is almost the exact opposite.

The scenario that Pollack most fears is not that Hussein would, having acquired a nuclear weapon, would suddenly launch it at Tel Aviv. The problem is that Hussein believes that his possession of nuclear weapons would deter action against him if he decided, for example, to invade Kuwait again. In this, he is certainly wrong. The result is that Hussein could blunder into a war that would lead to his destruction. In such a situation, it is quite conceivable that his final act could be launching a nuclear weapon at Tel Aviv or the oilfields of Saudi Arabia.

The second interesting thing about the book is the question that Pollack raises about preventive war. He cites the example of World War II. Knowing what we know now about how devastating and destructive the Second World War was, it is easy to conclude that Great Britain and France should have acted sooner. Pollack cites 1937 as the point where the German threat was obvious, but before Germany had fully reconstituted its military forces. Should Britain and Germany have launched a preventive war against Germany at that point? This is probably a hard question for those os us who adhere to the Catholic Church’s teaching about “just wars,” which has generally excluded the idea of preventive war.

I am not completely convinced—yet—by Pollack’s arguments. I think that with vigorous United States leadership, there may be more life left in the “containment” approach than he believes. But if opponents of war against Iraq want to be taken seriously, they had better be familiar with the information and the arguments in Pollack’s excellent work.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:06 AM
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Monday, November 18, 2002
THE BROAD AND DEEP MIDDLE: Scott Appleby reviews George Wiegel's The Courage to Be Catholic in this week's America. It is a fair-minded review, and Appleby seconds many of the observations that Wiegel makes. But in the end, Appleby finds Wiegel to be part of the culture of what he calls "Crossfire Catholicism," where pundits like Wiegel on the Right and Gary Wills on the Left fire rhetorical fusillades at one another while those of us in the "broad and deep middle" try to sort it all out:

’Tis a pity. But we who prefer to make our ecclesiastical home in the broad and deep middle will not be seduced into either of these sometimes appealing camps. We have learned to operate the “cut and paste” button on our word processors. Alongside Weigel’s stirring defense of the priesthood as the epicenter of Catholic ministry “to the world for the sake of the world,” we paste Wills’s eloquent celebration of the laity’s newfound theological sophistication, pastoral presence and social justice. Alongside Wills’s criticism of the papacy’s “dishonest” and “repressive” sexual ethic, we paste Weigel’s warning of the perils of a culture “saturated in sex” and given over to shallow self-expression and self-construction. And so on.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:53 PM
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ANOTHER CATHOLIC BLOG: And he's not on Blogspot. Is this a trend? Say hello to One Pilgrim's Walk.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:12 PM
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BEHIND THE SCENES: The Tablet has been running a series of articles to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Vatican II. Most of them, alas, have not been posted on-line. However, this week's entry, a retrospective on the German theologian Hans Kung, is definitely worth reading. Kung played a critical behind-the-scenes role during many of the deliberations on key Vatican II documents.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:06 PM
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Which Buffy archetype are you?

brought to you by Quizilla
It's kind of scary how accurate these things can be.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:13 AM
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