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

Friday, July 04, 2003
PRINT IS NOT DEAD: Those of you who are U.S. Catholic readers might notice that I have an essay in the July issue. It's on the topic of pro-choice Catholic politicians with a particualr focus on California Governor Gray Davis. Since USC did not choose to make the essay among those offered on its web site this month, I'm going to respect that decision and not post it here while their July issue is "live." But I'll try to post it once the August issue comes out

posted by Peter Nixon 9:01 PM
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Thursday, July 03, 2003
BLOGWATCHING: Eve Tushnet takes on Michael Kinsley (who recently argued in the pages of Slate that the government should get out of the marriage business entirely: "How could anyone look at marriage in America today and think it needs to become more ad hoc, more centered on the individual contracting adults and not on the children and the wider society, more do-it-yourself?"

Camassia answers those who wonder why, with all her obvious skepticism about Christianity and religion in general, she still feels strongly attracted to it. The closing paragraph is wonderful:

Basically, I feel that I'm "wired for God" in some way, and that many of my troubles have come from this desire being misdirected, warped, or unsatisfied. I don't know if I'm wired for the Christian God; sometimes it seems like I am and sometimes not. But I do feel that I was not made for the materialist life that I have been expected to have. I've been fascinated by religion since I was a child, and have examined various different ones. I don't know where it's all going to end up. But one thing I do know: I go on because I can't not go on. There is no going back.
Moving over to Noli Irritare Leones, we find that Lynn has a detailed post on some of the methodological issues involved in "historical Jesus" research. Katherine at Not for Sheep has some amusing thoughts on "When It's Dangerous to Go to Church." One Pilgrim's Walk has a great recounting of a visit to a prison chapel. Flos Carmeli has a wonderful post on detachment. I think that ought to hold ya for awhile...

posted by Peter Nixon 2:17 PM
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THE WORD FROM ROME: John Allen is posting his Word from Rome a day early in deference to Independence Day. Topics include the O’Malley appointment; an interview with Archbishop Dolan; and some speculation on whether Anglicans frustrated with the appointment of homosexual bishops would defect to Rome (probably not). Allen also has some discussion about the forthcoming document on liturgical practice and abuses that will be the disciplinary follow-up to John Paul’s recent encyclical, Ecclesia De Eucharistia.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:34 PM
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ALL BOSTON, ALL THE TIME: National Catholic Reporter has set up a weblog to track news about the O'Malley appointment.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:21 PM
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AT THE SPIRIT CAFE: Interesting piece in the Tablet about CaFE (Catholic Faith Exploration), which is a video program (featuring the preacher to the papal household Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa) that can be used with existing small groups or as part of a parish adult education or renewal program.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:56 AM
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PERFORMANCE ART: Elena Curti attends a Tridentine Mass in South London and talks to some of those who attend regularly. Many hold that they are merely trying to preserve "diversity" in the liturgy, an argument that seems oddly contemporary given the traditions they are trying to preserve. One wonders whether the Church should concede the irreconciliability of liturgical "tastes" and allow for more such diversity, or whether the solution is to bring a greater sense of mystery and reverence into the current rite. A tough call, to be sure.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:48 AM
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Wednesday, July 02, 2003
BAD LAW? Yale Law professor Stephen Carter (who is author of too many books to list here) argues that whatever one thinks of the Roe v. Wade decision on moral or policy grounds, the decision is clearly bad Constitutional law. It's sort of odd to see this piece run now, rather than back in January, and I'd be interested to get Carter's views on the intersection between Roe and the recent Lawrence decision.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:42 PM
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PROGRESS AND PERILS: Interesting new study of women's social and political views. The findings on abortion (e.g. that a majority of women would support more restrictive abortion laws than we have at present) are getting a lot of play around the blogosphere. But the study is definitely worth reading in its entirety. Regular readers know my weakness for stat heavy research studies...

posted by Peter Nixon 2:59 PM
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A GOOD DEATH: U.S. Catholic interviews Dr. Myles Sheehan, S.J., a Jesuit physician who focuses on geriatric medicine. He talks about his experiences in caring for the elderly and the dying and offers some ideas of what a "good death" means. Sheehan also offers some thoughts on how the Church can counter the movement for assisted suicide:

We should not blow it, as we have done in the abortion discussion, by focusing only on the legal aspects. That doesn't mean to be naive about lawmaking, but it also means that we shouldn't react simply out of fear. Instead, let's recognize the power of our tradition to create substantial change in society by bearing witness: by taking care of people when they're old and sick, loving them, giving them reasonable medical care, and not shoving tubes down their throats when they're dying. We pray for them before they die, as they die, and after they die.

If the church would effectively and publicly witness to that, we could change the culture of dying in the U.S. But we have not adequately shared our vision of an alternative way of dying that involves the love of a believing community.

People support assisted suicide because they fear dying, and that's because of their experience of poor care. If we could emphasize pain control, symptom control, adequate care, and hospice, what a difference we could make.

In our control-freak culture, dignity means sphincter control. People say, "Isn't it disgusting?" when somebody is incontinent. Not really. It's beside the point. It doesn't surprise me that people are driven to despair by the loss of control. But what we need to say is: Control is nice, but it's not everything.

Our tradition has so much more potential than just giving in to polarization on this issue. We can really prove what it means to be, as the pope has said, a civilization of love within a culture of death.

Catholic leaders also need to lay down the law about standards our church has set for care at the end of life, just as we lay down the law about not allowing abortions or sterilizations in our hospitals. I would like to see that same intensity applied to the church teaching that pain is to be treated and people are not to receive excessive and burdensome treatments. Bishops should say, "I will take very seriously cases of untreated pain as a violation of Catholic ethical guidelines. Dying in untreated pain is an offense against God and against humanity."

posted by Peter Nixon 11:59 AM
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PADRE SEAN: Wonderful piece in the Washington Post about the new Boston Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley (have I mentioned that I love the name?). A Franciscan who once lived in a dangerous apartment building in Washington, DC for several years, O'Malley has suggested that the quarters of the previous archbishop might be a little extravagent for his taste. He also struck the right chord with regard to the various lawsuits pending against the diocese:

"I have always told diocesan lawyers in the past that settlements are not hush money or extortion or anything other than the rightful indemnification of persons who have suffered gravely at the hands of a priest," he said. "Even when I have been told that there is no legal obligation, I have always said if there is a moral obligation, then we must step up to the plate."

posted by Peter Nixon 11:27 AM
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I’VE GOT A LITTLE LIST: There is a fair amount of discussion going on about the decision of the leadership of Holy Family Parish in Rockford, Illinois to fire a gay music director after he refused a request that he promise to lead a "chaste" life. The decision has divided the congregation, with some applauding the decision and others opposing it. Click here and here for some coverage.

The principle that underlies the decision is understandable. To live in Christ is not merely to give intellectual assent to a set of propositions, but to open oneself to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Since the earliest days of the Church, the Christian community has had to make judgments about how that transformation should manifest itself in the lives of believers. To place in leadership positions persons whose lives are in some way in obvious contradiction with what the Church teaches certainly does create the possibility of confusion and scandal.

So there is no question that the parish leadership had the right to do what they did. The question is whether they were wise to do so. I am not yet convinced that they were.

First of all, one wonders whether the underlying principle is going to be applied fairly and uniformly. Are we going to start asking volunteer catechists with small families whether they are contracepting? Will those in civil marriages who have not been married in the Church be barred from serving as chair of a fundraising committee? Will next year’s “ministry fair” feature detailed questionnaires about our personal lives which must be filled out prior to volunteering? As Gilbert and Sullivan might put it, we all have our little lists of those who never would be missed. But if the principle is not going to be applied fairly and uniformly, are we suggesting that homosexuals are somehow worse sinners than the rest of us?

The second question I have relates to the question of leadership. What exactly is a position of “leadership?” Is the choir director a leader? In one sense, the answer is obviously yes. But it is leadership of a very particular type, based on competence in a particular discipline. If Mr. Stein was an accountant, would the pastor have barred him from serving on the parish’s Finance Committee? It would be one thing if Mr. Stein had been put in the position of explaining what the Church teaches about sexuality morality to others. But this is not the role of a choir director. I am not even necessarily convinced that a choir director needs to be Catholic as long as he or she is competent. I know, for example, that one of the paid choir section leaders for many years at the National Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC was a notoriously devout Methodist (the wife of a friend of mine).

In the end, the question has to be raised about whether the actions of the parish’s leadership did more harm than good. It has obviously exacerbated divisions within the parish and has created, in its own way, a kind of scandal. There are times, of course, when pastors and leaders have a responsibility to take a stand in defense of what the Church teaches, even if it leads to division within the community. The question is whether this was one of those times. The pastoral issues raised by the presence of gay men and lesbians in lay ecclesial ministry are going to be with us for a while. I think we are going to have to find better ways of dealing with those issues than the approach taken by Holy Family.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:18 AM
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Monday, June 30, 2003
WORSE THAN ROE? Yes, says law professor and Jeff Rosen, writing about last week's Lawrence decision in the New Republic. For some years now, Rosen has been both a political liberal and a strong defender of judicial restraint. He supports keeping abortion legal, but is a strong critic of the Roe decision (click here to read his essay on the topic).

Rosen's arguments against both Roe and Lawrence are similar: whatever one thinks of the outcomes of these cases as a policy matter, the decisions have dubious Constitutional roots. When the Court acts to preempt the role of the legislative branch in a hotly disputed issue, it risks having the losing side see themselves as victims of "judicial imperialism" rather than losers in a democratic policy debate. The Court's past weakness for this kind of behavior is one of the reasons that the judicial nominating process has become such a partisan slugfest.

[The] grandiosity of the Lawrence decision reveals how little liberal and conservative justices have learned about the hazards of activism in the 30 years since Roe was decided. There were moments on the Rehnquist Court when it seemed as if the justices had gotten out of the business of reading broad rights of personal autonomy into the Constitution--most notably in the right to die case in 1997, where they unanimously refused to create a broad right of physician-assisted suicide. But in a single, unnecessarily dramatic gesture, those bipartisan murmurings of restraint went out the window. The fact that the Court is likely to get away with its activism--as a political matter, few Americans will march to the barricades on behalf of sodomy laws--can't undo the damage of another self-inflicted wound. For when the next confirmation conflagration comes, the conservative minority that has lost the culture war in the political arena will be able to attack the Supreme Court for having turned them into victims, rather than being forced to acknowledge their failure to convince their fellow citizens of the rightness of their cause. "The Court has taken sides in the culture wars," Scalia charged in a foreshadowing of the conservative attacks to come. Absent Lawrence's muddled reasoning, on the other hand, the truth would have been impossible for conservatives to ignore: Far from taking sides in the culture wars, the Court only ratified a national consensus in favor of sexual autonomy after it was too obvious to be denied.
Having read a liberal willing to attack the Lawrence decision, I'd be interested in finding a conservative willing to defend it. I'm just contrary that way...

posted by Peter Nixon 4:37 PM
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LAWRENCE: Newsweek does a post-mortem on last week's Lawrence v. Texas decision.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:00 PM
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KAFKESQUE? Josh Marshall relates the bizzare story of how Iraqi nuclear scientist Mahdi Obeidi (the guy with the uranium enrichment hardware buried under a rose bush in his backyard) tried desperately to find someone among the U.S. forces of occupation to whom he could surrender himself and his materials. The Army ended up arresting him two days after he had already talked to the CIA and surrendered the hardware. It was all cleared up in a day, but man oh man...

posted by Peter Nixon 12:42 PM
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MEND: Looking for some positive news? Check out this story about MEND (Meeting Every Need with Dignity) an organization founded by a lay Catholic couple 35 years ago that now provides a range of health care services to the uninsured in Los Angeles.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:30 PM
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DOT VA: CNS has an amusing story about how the Vatican web site got off the ground.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:26 PM
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