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

Friday, August 08, 2003
BOSTON SETTLEMENT: According to the Associated Press, the Archdiocese of Boston has offered $55 million to settle more than 500 clergy sex abuse lawsuits. The Archdiocese declined comment on the story. Attorney Jeffrey Newman, whose firm represents more than 200 of the alleged victims, called the offer "a significant showing of good faith by the archbishop," but said it is far from a done deal. "We think it's a very good start, but it's only a start."

posted by Peter Nixon 4:10 PM
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NO COMMENT: A toy company has just released a 12-inch action figure of President George Bush dressed in the naval aviator flight uniform he wore when he flew out to the USS Abraham Lincoln to announce the end of the war in Iraq.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:02 PM
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REACTIONS: Christianity Today's weblog has a number of links with reactions to the ECUSA's decisions to appoint Gene Robinson Bishop of New Hampshire and allow bishops to decide locally whether they will approve the blessing of same-sex unions.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:27 PM
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SEARCHING FOR SOMEONE: Fr. Ron Rolheiser talks about freedom this week. We are too often in thrall to a false notion of freedom that sees it merely as freedom from external constraint and the "freedom" to follow our own desires. Although Fr. Ron doesn't mention him, it's worth recalling Kant's dictum that a person who merely follows their desires is not in fact free, but subject to the "heteronomy of nature." Fr. Ron does, however, invoke Simon Weil, who was once asked what she was searching for. "I'm searching for someone to be obedient to," she replied, "because without obedience we inflate and grow silly, even to ourselves."

posted by Peter Nixon 11:17 AM
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JOHN ALLEN is back from vacation and provides some helpful context about this 1962 document about secrecy in sexual abuse cases that seems to be getting more publicity. Also, Allen has an interesting take on the CDF's recent instruction regarding same-sex marriage. He notes that the only thing that is particularly new in the document are the instructions requiring Catholics not to cooperate in the enactment and implementation of laws allowing gay marriage or civil unions. This suggests to Allen that the Vatican recognizes that it has already lost this battle in Europe, and may be on its way to losing it in North America as well. The question now is how the Church should react to this new situation. Allen suggests that Catholics who work with families (family therapists, educators, marriage registrars etc.) may "find themselves in much the same situation as Catholic health care professionals, who have long had to negotiate matters of conscience on issues such as abortion, birth control, and artificial reproduction."

posted by Peter Nixon 11:08 AM
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SUMMIT: A.P. is reporting that "the archbishop of Canterbury has called an extraordinary meeting of the world's Anglican primates, with much talk of schism and few hints of compromise in the air after the U.S. Episcopal Church confirmed the election of an actively gay bishop."

posted by Peter Nixon 10:58 AM
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Thursday, August 07, 2003
CHRISTIAN JOY: Fr. Jim Tucker has an absolutely fabulous reflection on the importance of joy in the Christian life. It reminds me of the old joke of a priest looking out at a collection of sullen faces one Sunday morn and saying "Dammit people, look redeemed!. I really loved this paragraph:

In the context of this discussion of the "liturgy of life" and the call to pray without ceasing, the injunction to set our minds upon what is noble and lovely and to be transformed takes on a new character. This is more than a suggestion to be optimistic. Rather, God is surely present here: will you give Him your attention and the reverence of your worship, or will you distract yourself by a consideration of what is wrong? To carp, nag, moan, and rehearse a litany of all the bad things and bad people that make the world evil (usually in ways that will never actually change anything at all for the better) is something akin to reading the newspaper during Mass or planning your supper while you're saying the rosary. God stands before us in the midst of the world and says, "Worship Me," and all that we can think of is how the lighting really could be improved.
We buried my friend Nancy today. If there was one word I could use to describe her it would be "joyful." She would walk into a room and it was if the energy level had just been cranked up several notches. Last night at the vigil, each of her ten children spoke about her ability to make people feel like they were very special to her. Fr. Jim is right. It is the Nancys of the world that should be our models. Thanks, Fr. Jim, for writing just the thing I needed to read this evening.

posted by Peter Nixon 8:39 PM
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CRIMES AGAINST THE SACRAMENT? I haven't been paying as close attention as I probably should to this story about a 1963 Vatican document that allegedly instructs bishops to keep cases of clerical sexual abuse secret. A CNS story today suggests that it's actually a little more complicated than that, since the document only covers sexual misconduct suggested or carried out by a priest in the context of offering sacramental confession. There was a plaintiffs attorney on CBS Radio News this morning saying he was "shocked" by the document, but it seemed pretty clear that he was salivating at the prospect of filing a large class action suit against the Vatican itself. We'll see where this goes.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:39 AM
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IF THEY CHANGE JUST ONE MORE THING... Interesting differences in coverage between the Post and the Times about yesterday's decision by the ECUSA to allow a "local option" for blessing rites for same-sex unions. The headline on the Times article is "Episcopal Leaders Reject Proposal for Same-Sex Union Liturgy." The headline on the Post article is "Episcopal Vote Allows Blessings of Gay Unions". What happened is that the delegates rejected a call for an official rite that would be included in the official liturgical book of the ECUSA. However, they adopted a recognizing that the blessing of same-sex unions was occuring in a number of dioceses and leaving up to the local bishop to decide what practice to adopt.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:22 AM
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"I WILL PUMP UP SACRAMENTO": The Terminator throws his hat in the ring. Okay, I want to see a show of hands. How many of you non-Californians think we've gone completely nuts? Those of you who thought we were completely nuts before don't count...

posted by Peter Nixon 9:12 AM
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NOT A PROTECTED CLASS? Josh Marshall takes issue with Senator Santorum's argument that Alabama Attorney General William Pryor’s nomination to the federal appeals bench amounts to a "religious test" for public office. Here's a question to think about: if Catholics who hold to the Church's teaching about the death penalty cannot serve on juries in capital murder cases, does that amount to a religious test for jury service?

posted by Peter Nixon 9:09 AM
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Wednesday, August 06, 2003
MOVING DAY: Amy Welborn has moved to a new bloghost, known as Typepad and changed the name of her blog to Open Book, because "with a blog, that's what your life is like." Very nice digs. One of these days, I may try to add some visual appeal to Sursum Corda, but don't expect it anytime soon.

posted by Peter Nixon 12:09 PM
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Tuesday, August 05, 2003
ROBINSON CONFIRMED: The Associated Press is reporting that the Rev. Gene Robinson, who was seeking to become the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church was confirmed by a vote of the House of Bishops this evening. Earlier in the day, Robinson had been cleared of the misconduct allegations that had threatened his chances of being confirmed.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:16 PM
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ARE WE BODIES? There has been a fair amount of blog traffic about this essay from Richard Brookhiser about gay marriage. Thanks to Eve Tushnet for the link.) The essay rambles a bit and Brookhiser’s position isn’t terribly clear. But it is this concluding paragraph that seems to be drawing a lot of favorable attention:

Are we bodies, and if so, what effect does that have? Emerson wrote about "the iron wire on which the beads are strung." He thought the iron wire that controlled our destinies was temperament. Is there also a dash of biology in the alloy? Do our bodies give us options, and limit options? Are we discarnate souls, or dying animals? And should the law care?
If I may pilfer a bit from Reinhold Neibuhr, the question Brookhiser seems to be asking is this: what does our life as embodied creatures tell us about the “nature and destiny of man?” Is there a natural order written into our physics and biology that we transgress at our peril? If so, how are we to come to know this order? Can we know it through the use of our reason?

Since I am a Catholic and thus heir to a long tradition of natural law thinking, I am tempted to answer the question in the affirmative. But I find myself increasingly skeptical that an honest “reading” of nature gives us much moral guidance at all. Consider the following questions:

What does it mean that human beings are estrous all the time, instead of only when the female of the species is fertile?

What does it mean that many of the higher primate species (e.g. apes, chimps, etc.) regularly engage in sexual activity aimed at a number of purposes other than procreation, e.g. reconciling after a fight, establishing or changing social hierarchies and relationships, etc?

What does it mean that homosexual activity can be found among some animals, although it is clearly as strongly in the minority in those species as it is in humans?

What does it mean that one of the constitutive characteristics of the human species is that we don’t take our natural environment as given? What does it mean that we are capable of building shelter, engaging in agriculture and irrigation, practicing medicine, etc?

What does it mean that temperament research has shown almost as much variability among men and women as between men and women?

Does the fact that our bodies or part of our bodies is clearly designed for one purpose preclude other purposes? Does the fact that my ears are designed for hearing preclude piercing the lobes for purposes of adornment? Does the fact that my teeth are designed for consuming food preclude my use of them to hold a pencil while I tie my shoe?

Is the fact that human beings evolved through competition and natural selection give a moral priority to the strong over the weak?
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I don’t think you can simply look at the natural world and find an easily discernible set of norms to guide human life and flourishing. Even when one looks at very basic norms like “do not kill, do not steal,” the historical practice has been to apply these to your family, clan or tribe. All bets are off for the stranger.

To be fair, the Catholic natural law tradition has never been quite this one-sided in its analysis of the natural world. Unlike the Stoic philosophers, Catholic theologians like Aquinas and Augustine were guided by revelation in their appraisal of the natural world, even if they believed that the natural law could be discerned through reason. However, critics of the natural law tradition, such as Stanley Hauerwas, argue that “natural law” is what you get when you look at the natural world through Christian lenses. As our culture has become more secular, it is perhaps not surprising that we see more disagreements about the lessons that the natural world is teaching us.

posted by Peter Nixon 3:21 PM
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RUNNING WITH THE BULLS: CNS has a story about a priest of the Archdiocese of Kansas City who "ran with the bulls" in Pamplona this year. I have to confess that I've wanted to do this since I read Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, but the older I get the less likely it is to happen.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:02 AM
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A QUESTION OF TRUTH: Charles Curran reviews A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality by the late Dominican theologian Gareth Moore. Moore argues that the arguments put forward to defend the position that all homosexual genital acts are morally wrong are not convincing. Curran generally agrees with his approach, but quibbles on a few points.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:59 AM
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TEST TUBE IDOLATRY: John Habgood (retired Anglican Archbishop of York) writes in the Tablet about proposals to regulate (or allow) IVF embryos to be selected for sex. Habgood has a pretty good idea where this is heading and it may not be a place we want to go.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:53 AM
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Monday, August 04, 2003
VOTE ON ROBINSON POSTPONED: According to the Associated Press, plans by Episcopalian leaders to vote on confirming the church's first openly gay elected bishop were thrown into turmoil Monday when allegations emerged that he inappropriately touched a man and was affiliated with a youth Web site that had a link to p-rn ("o" deleted to avoid spammers, etc.).

posted by Peter Nixon 3:20 PM
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STRUGGLE: Amy Welborn has a good post on, well, quite a lot of things: Andrew Sullivan, the sacramentality of sexuality, the struggle we face when our deeply felt desires lead us in the opposite direction from what the Church teaches. Worth reading.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:51 AM
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28 PAGES: In TNR, John Judis and Spencer Ackerman report that "an official" who has read the recently released report on 9-11 reports that the 28 pages that the Administration has not declassified contain some serious allegations against that Saudi regime: "there's a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone's chasing the charities," says this official. "They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We're not talking about rogue elements. We're talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government."

posted by Peter Nixon 11:43 AM
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Sunday, August 03, 2003
REST IN PEACE: Please pray for our friend Nancy who passed away last night after a mercifully brief battle with lung cancer. Nancy was "one of the saints," as the saying goes. She and her husband raised ten children and just this year celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Nancy was an active member of our parish community, a Cursillista, and a member of our small faith sharing group. Her love of Jesus infused her every word and gesture. We will miss her and look forward to the day when we shall all be reunited in the resurrection. Please pray for her husband Jim and their family.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:42 PM
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