Sursum Corda
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Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, June 20, 2003
POLLACK WEIGHS IN: I was wondering when we were going to hear from Ken Pollack on the subject of our failure to find Iraq's WMDs. This piece in the NYT is good and I recommend reading it back to back with the Judis piece in TNR that I blogged below. I don't have time to comment on Pollack's arguments now, but I may later.

posted by Peter Nixon 5:10 PM
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UNDER ATTACK: A guerilla movement in Uganda has ordered its troops to destroy church missions and kill all priests in northern Uganda. Rebel leader Joseph Kony leads a movement known as the Lord's Resistance Army, which has waged a war of maiming, abductions and killings for the last 17 years

posted by Peter Nixon 5:03 PM
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BY THE NUMBERS: Fascinating piece from CNS on statistical trends in the Church. All in all, the Church continues to grow, although its rate of growth since 1978 (40.5%) is just a tad below the rate of growth for the world population as a whole (45.8%). Biggest growth, not surprisingly, is in Africa, while the smallest growth is in Europe.

The vocations numbers (the article only talks about priests) are interesting. Africa and Asia are experiencing dramatic growth in the number of seminarians, while North America has seen a 40 percent decline. However, priest-to-population ratios continue to increase in most parts of the world.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:59 PM
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THE FIRST CASUALITY: In this week's New Republic, John Judis makes a detailed and persuasive case that the Bush Administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq in the runup to the war. I thought one of his concluding paragraphs was particularly on point:

The Bush administration took office pledging to restore "honor and dignity" to the White House. And it's true: Bush has not gotten caught having sex with an intern or lying about it under oath. But he has engaged in a pattern of deception concerning the most fundamental decisions a government must make. The United States may have been justified in going to war in Iraq--there were, after all, other rationales for doing so--but it was not justified in doing so on the national security grounds that President Bush put forth throughout last fall and winter. He deceived Americans about what was known of the threat from Iraq and deprived Congress of its ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take the country to war.
I know that there are those who would argue that under the terms of the applicable U.N. resolutions, it was not our job to prove that Saddam had WMDs. It was his job to prove that he didn't have them, and this he demonstrably failed to do. Point taken. But the decision of how to respond to Hussein's failure to comply with a U.N. resolution should have remained with the Security Council. The Bush Administration essentially argued that the United States couldn't afford to wait any longer and that argument was based heavily on the evidence that Judis skillfully deconstructs in this article.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:47 PM
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Thursday, June 19, 2003
IRAN: Buzz Machine has an interesting list of Iranian bloggers who have been blogging about the ongoing demonstrations.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:30 PM
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MAKING SAINTS: Interesting piece in Saint Anthony Messenger about New Mexico's santeros, or "saint makers." A Spanish tradition, saint-making dates to the 1700s. Lacking statues and crucifixes in the outback missions, as one legend has it, Franciscan friars taught peasants to carve santos and Cristos. Three centuries later, saint-making remains a revered craft, perpetuated by descendants of the original santeros and "santeros-come-lately."

posted by Peter Nixon 1:18 PM
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ARE THERE NO SAINTS? Fr. Jeff Keyes has a thoughtful post this morning where he asks, using the Book of Acts as a starting point, whether we are too focused on Ananias and Sapphira and not enough on Barnabas. Or, as Jeff also puts it, "Are there no saints? Is it all sinner? Must we focus so intently on Ananias and Sapphira? Can we look for Barnabas too?"

Fr. Jeff's question is a fair one, and he poses it to both Catholic bloggers and journalists. Are we too focused on the negative? It's a tough call. We can't run away from the scandal and pretend that the terrible events that have led to the scandal haven't happened and that they continue to happen. We cannot live in truth unless we are willing to face the truth about what has happened in our community. If we fail to do this, we should not be surprised if our efforts to preach the Gospel fall on ears deafened by our own obvious hypocrisy.

But we need to find ways to be critical in ways that build up our community rather than tear it down. On the Internet, the rhetorical heat often gets turned up pretty high. Sometimes I wonder what impression of the Church that non-Catholics, encountering this little corner of the Internet we call Saint Blogs, walk away with. How are we being ambassadors for Christ? I don't think this means that we avoid using strong words when strong words are called for. But if those are the only or even the habitual words we use, we should not be surprised if they gradually become less effective.

When I am "looking for Barnabas," as Fr. Jeff might put it, I always like to seek out the essays and interviews of Fr. George Anderson, S.J. in America magazine. For the last several years, Anderson has been writing stories about people (mostly, but not exclusively Catholic) involved in feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned and the other works of mercy that Jesus asked of us. In the most recent issue, he writes about Maureen O'Neal, a Redemptorist lay missionary who works in a medical facility for those living with AIDS. The article, alas, is only available to subcribers but I would say that the ability to read the work of Anderson and others who write about the same topics is an excellent reason to subscribe.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:58 AM
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PLEASE PRAY for Margaret, the mother of our pastor, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 91. She was a remarkable woman who raised some remarkable children.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:24 AM
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Wednesday, June 18, 2003
A CATHOLIC PERSPECTIVE ON HUMAN RIGHTS: Cherie Blair, who is, among other things, the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, delivered the 2003 Tyburn lecture on the topic "A Catholic Perspective on Human Rights." The lecture is meant as a memorial to the English Catholic martyrs of the Reformation era.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:02 PM
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LEAVE IT BEHIND: The Catholic Bishops of Illinois have issued a statement condemning the Left Behind series as "a marketing tool for fundamentalist preaching about the end times and a thinly disguised polemic against the Catholic Church." In the books, an American cardinal becomes Pope and joins forces with the AntiChrist. The statement also notes that "Catholic catechists have been observed confusing and even frightening children in religious education programs by teaching the 'rapture' as if it were an article of Catholic faith."

posted by Peter Nixon 1:50 PM
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AFTER KEATING: A good piece of news analysis in the New York Times today (thanks to Amy Welborn for the link and see her blog for some discussion on this)about the implications of Keating's resignation for the Bishop's sexual abuse panel.

One of the most interesting points in the article is that there is a lot of resistance to the panel's work here in California. While it's tempting to chalk that up to Cardinal Mahoney's influence, I think there are also other factors at work. Last year, the state passed a bill lifting the statute of limitations on sexual abuse lawsuits for one year. There seems to be a great deal of concern among the Bishops that any information they provide to the panel could be used against them in litigation. However, it's likely that the information would probably be discoverable in any case, so there is little point in not providing it.

I work for an organization that has often been a tempting target for trial attorneys. What often happens when organizations face legal issues is that the organization's lawyers take control. They tell the CEO that if they don't do x, the organization is facing huge liability. The CEO often meekly submits, deferring to the presumedly greater wisdom of the attorneys. But attorneys are famous for tunnel vision, focusing almost entirely on the need to protect the organization in the legal arena, and often ignoring the potential for reputational damage created by the use of hardball legal tactics.

At the same time, you can't just roll over when the plaintiffs attorneys start knocking at your door. Many of these guys, quite frankly, are shakedown artists. They like to threaten financial and reputational damage so that you'll settle and they get to walk away with a third or more of the take. Not every allegation is true and the facts of every allegation don't always support the amount of damages sought. I think that any organization, including the Church, has a right to protect itself from "greenmail." Obviously there are ethical bounds to this and the Church should be particularly scrupulous about adhering to them. But when dioceses are looking at the prospect of having to defend themselves in court against allegations that are 20 or 30 years old, we've reached a new level of legal absurdity that simply has to be looked at critically.

Just so there is no misunderstanding of my position, I believe that the bishops should comply with the Board's requests for information. But I also think it is entirely legitimate for the bishops to insist that the Board conduct its work in ways that limit the opportunities for predatory behavior by ambulance chasers. I wish it were otherwise. But that's the world we live in right now.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:42 AM
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Tuesday, June 17, 2003
HOW WOULD JESUS TAX? The stereotype of evangelical Christians is that they are politically conservative. Some are, to be sure, but others are not. A few months ago we saw a coalition of evangelicals asking the question "What Would Jesus Drive?" and raising questions about the impact of large automobiles and SUVs on the environment.

In Alabama, they are asking
"How Would Jesus Tax?" A coalition of religious groups is raising questions about the regressivity of the state's tax system. While Catholics and mainline Protestants are well represented, the coalition also includes the state's Southern Baptists, who are not generally considered a bunch of raving socialists. You might also check out this piece by Ronald Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action, about federal tax policy where he argues that "biblical principles of justice support a graduated, progressive tax system in which those with more wealth pay a larger share."

posted by Peter Nixon 12:57 PM
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SHOULD I WORRY? There is a rather traumatic scene at the beginning of the new Pixar film Finding Nemo where an entire family of clown fish--with the exception of the father (Marlin) and one of his sons (the eponymous Nemo)--is devoured by a barracuda. This is meant to explain Marlin's overprotectiveness of Nemo which is one of the film's central themes.

So which character in the film does my son want to be? The devoted--albeit neurotic--Marlin? Nah (too much like his own father, no doubt). The loyal--if forgetful--Dory who accompanies Marlin on his quest to find Nemo? No way. The laid back Crush, a "surfer dude" turtle? Uh-Uh. My son wants to be the barracuda.

Finding Nemo is a great film by the way. Like other films by Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters Inc., etc.), there are lots of jokes for the adults that go way over the kids heads, so you don't get bored the way you do with, say, Piglet the Movie. The animation is beautiful. Even if you don't have kids, it's worth your while.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:30 AM
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Monday, June 16, 2003
HIT AND RUN: In a sad development, the Associated Press is reporting that Bishop Thomas O'Brien of Phoenix was arrested today in a fatal hit-and-run accident after police traced a license plate number to his car and found the windshield caved in. You may remember that earlier this month, it was announced that O'Brien had relinquished some of his authority in an unprecedented agreement with prosecutors that spared him from indictment on obstruction charges for protecting priests accused of sexual abuse.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:31 PM
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THE REALITY PRINCIPLE: Tom Friedman wonders whether both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have gotten to the point where self-defense crosses the line into self-destruction. "You know that both sides are in self-destruction mode," writes Friedman, "when you can look at their military actions and say that even if they succeeded they would be worse off."

But if the U.S. has the right to go after Al-Queda, shouldn't the Israelis be able to go after Hamas? Certainly, but Friedman quotes Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi to illustrate a crucial difference: "America will never have to live with Mr. bin Laden's children. They are far away and always will be. Israel will have to live with the Palestinians, after the war. They are right next door and always will be." Friedman suggests that Israel needs to give Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas the political space (and, Friedman hints, the covert intelligence and military support) to rein in the militants on his own. It may be that this is impossible, but if so the future is quite bleak:

If the two sides cannot emerge from this dead end, then you can forget about a two-state solution, which is what both Hamas's followers and the extremist Jewish settlers want. They each want a one-state solution, in which their side will control all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The one-state solution would mean the end of the Zionist enterprise, because Israel can rule such an entity, in which there would soon be more Arabs than Jews, only by apartheid or ethnic cleansing. It would also mean the end of Palestinian nationalism, because the Israelis will crush the Palestinians rather than be evicted. That is the outcome we are heading toward, though, unless the only reality principle left, the United States of America, really intervenes — with its influence, its wisdom and, if necessary, its troops.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:26 PM
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THE MEANING OF JESUS: There is a great discussion going on between Camassia, Telford Work, Disputations and Noli Irritare Leones (apologies if I’ve missed anyone) about the book The Meaning of Jesus , which is written as sort of a debate between Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright, both of whom are scholars of the historical Jesus.

I own the book and enjoyed reading it. My position tends more toward Wright than Borg in most cases. I’m not a great fan of what passes for biblical scholarship among many of those associated with the Jesus Seminar (for a tough, critical look at the Jesus Seminar that never descends into mere polemic, read Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Real Jesus). For my money, the best work in this tradition is A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, a multi-volume work written by Catholic biblical scholar John Meier. Meier has published three volumes of what is likely to be a 4 or 5 volume work.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:22 PM
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PASTOR: Many longtime readers remember Fr. Shawn O’Neal, who had his own blog known as Onealism for several months and now posts his homilies at Sean Gallagher’s Nota Bene. Sean is reporting that Fr. Shawn will become pastor of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Bryson City, NC and its mission church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Cherokee, NC. Congratulations to Fr. Shawn! You and your new flock will be in our prayers.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:27 AM
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WHAT DID THEY KNOW AND WHEN DID THEY KNOW IT? Nick Kristoff walks us through the chain of events through which senior figures in the Bush Administration came to know that documents suggesting that Iraq was attempting to purchase uranium from Niger were forgeries.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:29 AM
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KEATING TO RESIGN I'm probably way behind on this story after having been on holiday the last two weeks, but in case you missed it, here is a link to the NYT's coverage of Frank Keating's decision to resign as head of the U.S. Bishops sexual abuse panel. It's easy to see this as a defeat for efforts to hold the bishops more accountable for their handling of sexual abuse cases, but I'm not so sure that is the correct reading. Keating's fondness for rhetorical shots from the hip not only antagonized the bishops, but also led to him losing the confidence of his own panel. The panel's Executive Director, Kathleen McChesney, has also been quite tough with the bishops, but does not have Keating's weakness for rhetorical overstretch.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:02 AM
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Sunday, June 15, 2003
WE'RE BACK from Lake Tahoe. Lots of thoughts to post, but it may take me some time to get to them. I'm terrified at the thought of walking into the office tomorrow morning and finding something in the neighborhood of 400+ e-mails to sort through. I'll check in as soon as I can.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:36 PM
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