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00Monday, February 8, 2010 4:48 PM

The great global warming collapse

As the science scandals keep coming, the air has gone out of the climate-change movement

by Margaret Wente

Feb. 4, 2010

In 2007, the most comprehensive report to date on global warming, issued by the respected United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made a shocking claim: The Himalayan glaciers could melt away as soon as 2035.

These glaciers provide the headwaters for Asia's nine largest rivers and lifelines for the more than one billion people who live downstream. Melting ice and snow would create mass flooding, followed by mass drought. The glacier story was reported around the world.

Last December, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental pressure group, warned, “The deal reached at Copenhagen will have huge ramifications for the lives of hundreds of millions of people who are already highly vulnerable due to widespread poverty.”

To dramatize their country's plight, Nepal's top politicians strapped on oxygen tanks and held a cabinet meeting on Mount Everest.

But the claim was rubbish, and the world's top glaciologists knew it. It was based not on rigorously peer-reviewed science but on an anecdotal report by the WWF itself.

When its background came to light on the eve of Copenhagen, Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, shrugged it off. But now, even leading scientists and environmental groups admit the IPCC is facing a crisis of credibility that makes the Climategate affair look like small change.

“The global warming movement as we have known it is dead,” the brilliant analyst Walter Russell Mead says in his blog on The American Interest. It was done in by a combination of bad science and bad politics.

The impetus for the Copenhagen conference was that the science makes it imperative for us to act. But even if that were true – and even if we knew what to do – a global deal was never in the cards.

As Mr. Mead writes, “The global warming movement proposed a complex set of international agreements involving vast transfers of funds, intrusive regulations in national economies, and substantial changes to the domestic political economies of most countries on the planet.” Copenhagen was never going to produce a breakthrough. It was a dead end.

And now, the science scandals just keep on coming. First there was the vast cache of e-mails leaked from the University of East Anglia, home of a crucial research unit responsible for collecting temperature data.

Although not fatal to the science, they revealed a snakepit of scheming to keep contradictory research from being published, make imperfect data look better, and withhold information from unfriendly third parties. If science is supposed to be open and transparent, these guys acted as if they had a lot to hide.

Despite widespread efforts to play down the Climategate e-mails, they were very damaging. An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian – among the most aggressive advocates for action on climate change – has found that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed, and that documents relating to them could not be produced.

Meantime, the IPCC – the body widely regarded, until now, as the ultimate authority on climate science – is looking worse and worse. After it was forced to retract its claim about melting glaciers, Mr. Pachauri dismissed the error as a one-off. But other IPCC claims have turned out to be just as groundless.

For example, it warned that large tracts of the Amazon rain forest might be wiped out by global warming because they are extremely susceptible to even modest decreases in rainfall.

The sole source for that claim, reports The Sunday Times of London, was a magazine article written by a pair of climate activists, one of whom worked for the WWF. One scientist contacted by the Times, a specialist in tropical forest ecology, called the article “a mess.”

Worse still, the Times has discovered that Mr. Pachauri's own Energy and Resources Unit, based in New Delhi, has collected millions in grants to study the effects of glacial melting – all on the strength of that bogus glacier claim, which happens to have been endorsed by the same scientist who now runs the unit that got the money.

Even so, the IPCC chief is hanging tough. He insists the attacks on him are being orchestrated by companies facing lower profits.

Until now, anyone who questioned the credibility of the IPCC was labelled as a climate skeptic, or worse. But many climate scientists now sense a sinking ship, and they're bailing out.

Among them is Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria who acknowledges that the climate body has crossed the line into advocacy. Even Britain's Greenpeace has called for Mr. Pachauri's resignation. India says it will establish its own body to monitor the effects of global warming because it “cannot rely” on the IPCC.

None of this is to say that global warming isn't real, or that human activity doesn't play a role, or that the IPCC is entirely wrong, or that measures to curb greenhouse-gas emissions aren't valid. But the strategy pursued by activists (including scientists who have crossed the line into advocacy) has turned out to be fatally flawed.

By exaggerating the certainties, papering over the gaps, demonizing the skeptics and peddling tales of imminent catastrophe, they've discredited the entire climate-change movement. The political damage will be severe.

As Mr. Mead succinctly puts it: “Skeptics up, Obama down, cap-and-trade dead.” That also goes for Canada, whose climate policies are inevitably tied to those of the United States.

“I don't think it's healthy to dismiss proper skepticism,” says John Beddington, the chief scientific adviser to the British government. He is a staunch believer in man-made climate change, but he also points out the complexity of climate science.

“Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can't be changed.” [An attitude that even anyone who has had any basic training as a scientist would instinctively take - since climate change is a cosmic phenomenon that goes through major and minor cycles, that can last eons as in the various Ice Ages, or decades in the case of micro-environments, and that it is difficult to predict even with computer modelling because it is multi-factorial and becoming more so as the global environment is being altered by manmade activity.]

In his view, it's time to stop circling the wagons and throw open the doors. How much the public will keep caring is another matter.

The ideology-driven scientists of climate change should at least have had the humility to acknowledge that climate-change prediction is uncharted territory and unlikely to produce definitive conclusions within the comparatively short time span of a few decades.

They could have stuck to drumming on the message that greenhouse gas emissions had certain definite and quantifiable harmful effects that require urgent attention without resorting to unfounded catastrophism.

Did they learn nothing from the alarmism against DDT whose drastic elimination in Africa has cost far more in the death toll from unchecked malaria than the putative damage it was supposed to cause to crops?

Or from the 1970s hysteria over the so-called 'population bomb' which has proven completely off the mark? The biggest famines in our day are not due to lack of food but due to the effects of various wars resulting in mass dislocation of peoples and widespread loss of agricultural activity.

Advocates who become too fanatical over any cause end up being irrational and blind to anything else that does not fit their world view. Science cannot afford partisan fanatics, because science should not take sides a priori if it is to remain objective as it should be.

I'm a lifetime member of the Sierra Club and contribute regularly to the World Wildlife Fund because I do support their sensible conserevation projects, but I certainly oppose their far-out activism that has become openly unscrupulous in pushing the extreme items on their agenda.

The role of the WWF in perpetrating at least two of the major myths in the IPCC report is unforgivable, although the IPCC 'scientists' are more to blame because they should not have given scientific weight to the anecdotal accounts which were never validated by standard scientific studies.

00Friday, February 12, 2010 7:16 PM

The erosion of
religious freedom

February 3, 2010

Connoisseurs of political kamikaze runs will long debate what finished off Martha Coakley in the recent Massachusetts election to fill the seat Edward M. Kennedy held for 47 years.

The baseball fan in me likes to think it was Coakley’s bizarre charge that Curt (“Bloody Sock”) Schilling was a Yankees fan — a gaffe in Red Sox Nation commensurate with claiming that the late Senator Kennedy had been a George W. Bush fan.

Yet there was another clumsy Coakleyism that ought to have enraged a considerable part of the Bay State electorate. Pressed by an interviewer on what Catholic physicians, nurses and other health-care workers should do when they cannot in conscience provide certain services or conduct certain procedures, Coakley replied, “You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

A month earlier, speaking at Georgetown University, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered a similarly diminished view of religious freedom when she declined to use that term, substituting “freedom to worship” in a catalogue of fundamental human rights that included a striking innovation.

Asserting that people must be free to “choose laws and leaders, to share and access information, to speak, criticize and debate,” the secretary of state then averred that people “must be free … to love in the way they choose.”

For those with ears to hear in Gaston Hall that day, the promotion of the so-called LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgendered) agenda had just been declared a human rights priority of the United States, in the same sentence in which the secretary of state had offered an anorexic description of religious freedom that even the Saudis could accept (so long as the worshipping was done behind closed doors in a U.S. embassy).

One has to wonder if there is a connection here.

Religious freedom is already under assault from proponents of the LGBT agenda in Europe and Canada. Rocco Buttiglione’s convictions about the immorality of homosexual acts prevented his becoming Minister of Justice of the European Union, despite a lifetime in defense of the basic human rights of all and an explicit assurance that he would scrupulously enforce the EU’s equal-protection laws.

The Canadian Revenue Agency (their IRS) has recently removed the tax-exempt status of a Calgary church, in part because it spends more than 10 percent of its funds and time preaching and teaching against same-sex “marriage” (and, to compound the offense, euthanasia and abortion).

Anyone who imagines that this can’t happen in the Great Republic need only consider the recent efforts by the Washington, D.C., City Council to bring the Archdiocese of Washington to heel over the marriage question.

And now we have the successor of John Quincy Adams and William H. Seward, Elihu Root and Cordell Hull, George Marshall and Dean Acheson suggesting that the defense of the LGBT agenda will, as a human rights issue, be considered on a par with such basic human rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and religious freedom — and that no small part of the substance of religious freedom may have to be sacrificed, if necessary, to advance that agenda.

Religious freedom, rightly understood, cannot be reduced to freedom of worship. Religious freedom includes the right to preach and evangelize, to make religiously informed moral arguments in the public square and to conduct the affairs of one’s religious community without undue interference from the state.

If religious freedom only involves the freedom to worship, then, as noted above, there is “religious freedom” in Saudi Arabia, where Bibles and evangelism are forbidden but expatriate Filipino laborers can attend Mass in the U.S. embassy compound in Riyadh.

In its glory years, the State Department’s human rights bureau was a stalwart friend of those brave men and women in communist countries who were asserting, in addition to their right to worship, their rights as believers to be fully participant in society.

That noble legacy should cause the present guardians of U.S. human rights policy to think very carefully about the path they seem to be taking in this field.

00Saturday, March 6, 2010 9:07 PM

Prof. Rice is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. The following article was written as the author's regular column for The Observer, the university's student newspaper. For the first time since he started writing for the newspaper, the editor refused to print it on some flimsy and false pretexts. First here is the article, which is a good brief presentation of the Catholic teching on homosexuality, and then Prof. Rice's reply to the rejection letter.

Catholic reflections
on homosexuuality

March 1, 2010

A big issue at Notre Dame a few weeks ago was "sexual orientation" and the status of the Notre Dame Gay/ Lesbian/ Bisexual/ Transgender (GLBT) community. Enough time has passed to make it useful to review some of the governing principles as found in the teaching of the Catholic Church. That teaching includes four pertinent elements:

1. Homosexual acts are always objectively wrong. The starting point is the Catechism:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction to persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures.

Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, Tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (No. 2357)

Homosexual acts are doubly wrong. They are not only contrary to nature. They are wrong also because they are extra-marital. The Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, issued in 1986 with the approval of John Paul II, said,

It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally. To choose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals of the Creator’s sexual design. (No 7)

2. Since homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," the inclination toward those acts is disordered. An inclination to commit any morally disordered act, whether theft, fornication or whatever, is a disordered inclination.

"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies," says the Catechism, "is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial" (No. 2358). That inclination, however, is not in itself a sin.

3. The Catechism says: "Men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided"[No. 2358].

In a culture which tends to marginalize and disrespect those with physical or psychological disorders, it will be useful to recall the admonition of the 1986 Letter that

The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation.... Today the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she...insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God and, by grace, his child and heir to eternal life [No. 16].

The prohibition of "unjust" discrimination, however, does not rule out the making of reasonable and just distinctions with respect to military service, the wording of university nondiscrimination policies and other matters including admission to seminaries.

As the Congregation for Catholic Education said in its 2005 Instruction on the subject, "the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture'" [No. 2].


Men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies.... are called to fulfill God's will in their lives, and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition….

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection ]Catechism, nos. 2358, 2359].

The positive, hopeful teaching of the Church on marriage, the family and the transmission of life is founded on the dignity of the person as a creature made in the image and likeness of God.

The "gay rights" movement is, instead, a predictable consequence of the now-dominant contraceptive ethic. Until the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930, no Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be objectively right. The Catholic Church continues to affirm the traditional Christian position that contraception is intrinsically an objective evil.

Contraception, said Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968, is wrong because it deliberately separates the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act.

If sex has no intrinsic relation to procreation and if, through contraception, it is entirely up to man (of both sexes) whether sex will have any such relation, how can one deny legitimacy to sexual acts between two men or between two women? The contraceptive society cannot deny that legitimacy without denying itself.

Further, if individual choice prevails without regard to limits of nature, how can the choice be limited to two persons? Polygamy (one man, multiple women), polyandry (one woman, multiple men), polyamory (sexual relations between or among multiple persons of one or both sexes) and other possible arrangements, involving the animal kingdom as well, would derive legitimacy from the same contraceptive premise that justifies one-on-one homosexual relations.

It would be a mistake to view the homosexual issue as simply a question of individual rights. The militant "gay rights" movement seeks a cultural and legal redefinition of marriage and the family, contrary to the reality rooted in reason as well as faith.

Marriage, a union of man and woman, is the creation not of the state but of God himself as seen in Genesis. Sacramento coadjutor bishop Jaime Soto, on Sept. 26, 2008, said: "Married love is a beautiful, heroic expression of faithful, life-giving, life-creating love. It should not be accommodated and manipulated for those who would believe that they can and have a right to mimic its unique expression." Space limits preclude discussion here of the "same-sex marriage" issue, which we defer to a later column.

Here is the professor's letter to the editor who rejected the article:

From: Charles Rice
Sent: Tuesday, March 02, 2010 3:04 PM
To: Matthew Gamber
Subject: Rice Column on Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality

Thank you for your email informing me that my column presenting the teachings of the Church on homosexuality will not be published. Since 1992, I have been privileged to publish every two weeks a column, entitled "Right or Wrong," in the Observer. I emphasize my appreciation for the unfailing professionalism and courtesy of the Observer editors with whom I have had contact over those years.

You mention the column "far exceeded our word limit guidelines." It is in fact significantly shorter than each of the three previous columns published this semester in the Observer. I was not asked to shorten any of them.

The rejected column accurately presented relevant teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality. I understand why you are concerned over the content of the column. You further propose that if I examine the topic of homosexuality in the future, "we thought it might be beneficial to do so in a point-counterpoint format, perhaps with an author of an opposing or differing viewpoint. That way, each 'side,' so to speak, would have the opportunity to present relevant facts, evidence and analysis to define its position."

In a university that claims to be Catholic, I am not willing to restrict my presentation of Catholic teaching to a format that treats the authoritative teaching of the Church as merely one viewpoint or "side" among many. If you require that future columns of mine on homosexuality comply with a format such as you propose, it will be inappropriate for me to continue writing the column for the Observer.


Charles E. Rice
Professor Emeritus
Notre Dame Law School

00Tuesday, April 6, 2010 5:54 PM
The scandal driving
the Church sex scandal

By Selwyn Duke

April 2, 2010

We've all heard the story. Hundreds of young sexual abuse victims long afraid to come forward for fear of embarrassment and scorn, abusers escaping prosecution and quietly moving to different jurisdictions, authorities covering up the crimes to avoid scandal and litigation. It's a saga of grave, grave sin.

Of course, you would assume that I'm talking about the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

And you would be wrong.

I'm describing the situation in America's schools — something that, although mirroring the problems dogging the Church, is strangely ignored.

Let's examine the similarities using statistics from the United States. According to the John Jay Report, 10,667 people made allegations of child sexual abuse (not all were substantiated) committed by priests between 1950 and 2002; according to an AP investigation, at least 1,801 educators committed sexual misconduct involving minors between 2001 and 2005. So the per annum tally is:

Number of people making allegations against priests — 205

Criminal educators — 360

Now, since it's logical to assume that numerous individuals made accusations against the same priests, the number of clerical transgressors is no doubt less than 205. Yet even if we use the 205 figure, the number of offenders appears to be approximately 76 percent greater among educators. But that doesn't even begin to tell the whole story.

While it's obvious that a certain percentage of cases must have gone unreported in both education and the Church, the latter has been subjected to intense media scrutiny while the former has remained off the radar screen. Thus, it's reasonable to assume that the percentage is higher in education.

As to this, the AP tells us about a Congress-mandated study placing the number of students sexually abused by an education worker at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade at 4.5 million. Furthermore, the AP found that most of this sexual abuse is never reported and that even when it does come to light, often no action is taken.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that the number of teachers nationwide is greater than that of priests, so a raw-numbers analysis may be deceptive. So let's examine the rate.

Wapedia reports the following: "A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse by Dr. Thomas Plante of Stanford University and Santa Clara University states that 'available research suggests that approximately 2 to 5% of priests have had a sexual experience with a minor' which 'is lower than the general adult male population that is best estimated to be closer to 8%.'"

Now let's look within the numbers, at the nature of the abuse and abusers. While we hear a lot of media reports about sultry female teachers seducing young teenage boys, the reality is that almost nine out of ten school offenders are male. It's also true that in the cases of both the Church and the schools, the abuse is, by definition, not pedophilia, as the abused were mainly adolescents, not children.

Here critics may point out that there is a difference: The abuse among priests is mainly homosexual in nature. This is true, but I can't imagine that it would bother the secular left very much. After all, this is the set that for years has maintained that there is a moral equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual behavior and that saying otherwise is bigotry. Unless they're now changing their tune...

Another similarity is the cover-up by school officials, who, as stated earlier, were motivated by the same priorities as the most remiss bishop: a desire to avoid embarrassment, scandal, and punitive court judgments.

As an example, the AP presents the story of Gary Lindsey, an Iowa teacher who was fired from his first job for sexual misconduct but then allowed to work elsewhere for about thirty more years. During these decades, Lindsey transgressed against other students, dodging the hangman every time with the complicity of school administration. And his is no isolated case.

In fact, the practice of transferring sexual predators is so common that it has become known as "passing the trash," and the abusers have been dubbed "mobile molesters."

Despite this, we currently have trash being passed daily — it's called media reportage. Why don't we hear stories about people who believe that the schools should be defunded, or that parents should stop sending their children to them (similar things are said about the Church)?

Why has the Vatican been placed in the unenviable position of having to defend itself with the "Look, others have the same problems" argument? Why does Rome have to take up the cudgels for itself and point out that its woes just reflect the wider society? It's because the media aren't doing their job.

...That is, at least, what their job should be. What some within the mainstream media see it as being — to attack traditionalist institutions — they're doing very well.

The Church receives such disproportionate scrutiny for the same reason why the media will happily smear Pope Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer when he was possibly WWII's greatest hero and why they paint the Crusades as imperialistic wars when they were but a defense against Muslim aggression:

The media views the Church as an enemy. They despise its teachings on abortion, the all-male priesthood, and, in particular, sexuality. You see, if the schools taught such things, then they too would surely be in the crosshairs. But their embrace of all the left's favorite isms grants them great immunity.

Now, this might be where I'm supposed to issue the obligatory statement about how we're all appalled by the sex crimes in question.

But it's not really true.

And what comes to mind is late Massachusetts congressman Gerry Studds. In 1983, it was revealed that he had had sexual relations with a 17-year-old male page, which, as ephebophilia (attraction to older adolescents), is precisely that of which many transgressing priests are guilty. And what was his punishment?

The liberals in his district reelected him six more times until his retirement in 1996.

By the way, some may point out that Studds' behavior was legal, as the age of consent in Washington, D.C. was 16. Of these people, I would ask: Are you equally charitable with priests who had "legal" relationships with teenage boys?

Then there is serial sex criminal Alfred Kinsey, the bug researcher-cum-human sexuality "expert" who ran a pedophile ring disguised as a research team. If you read the piece I wrote about him (and trust me, this one is worth the time), you'll find that his research included things such as encouraging pedophiles to continue committing crimes so that he could collect more "data."

Yet there has never been a hue and cry for a pound of flesh from the Kinsey Institute; the University of Indiana in Bloomington, where the deviant plied his trade; or Paul Gebhard, a still-living Kinsey co-author and partner in crime. On the contrary, the left not only defends Kinsey, but it even lauded him in a whitewashed 2004 film.

So do the Church's critics really care about sexual abuse? Some do, for sure. But there's no doubt that many of those using the issue to attack the Church do not. And "using" is the key word.

If they truly cared about sexual abuse of youth, they would take pains to emphasize that it isn't limited to the priesthood. Oh, I'm not saying that they would necessarily do this to defend the Church; they would do it to truly expose the problem.

Instead, they're simply interested in exposing the Church to ridicule, and to this end, they use these abuse victims as a convenient vehicle through which to attack a hated adversary. This is typical of the left, which makes a practice of using people as human shields, props, and political hammers.

Of course, crimes against innocence are abhorrent, and those committing them should be rooted out wherever and whoever they may be. Likewise, those who knowingly and negligently facilitate their abuse must be punished harshly, and the incompetent should lose their positions. But this just states the obvious. If we really want to move toward a more sexually sane society — get at the root causes, as it were — then we must delve more deeply.

We can argue about facts and figures. We can debate whether sexual trespass is worse in schools or in churches, and many will, no doubt, try to make the case that the secular world is a safer place. But of this there is no doubt: The social phenomena making us a more libertine and morally unmoored civilization are the handiwork of the left.

It was not the Church that sexualized society with Kinseyesque sex miseducation and prurient messages everywhere — in movies, shows, music and on the Internet. That was leftist academia, Hollywood, and their brothers in porn. It was not the Church that expanded the First Amendment to include protection of obscene imagery. That was leftist judges. It was not the Church that spread moral relativism and its corollary, "If it feels good, do it," an idea that can find pedophilia no worse than peanut butter. That was leftist philosophers and the millions who wanted freedom to sin. It was not the Church that, reducing man to mere beast, found a basis for his behavior in the animal kingdom. That was leftist anthropologists and their acolytes. And it was not the Church that first subordinated punishment to "rehabilitation" and subscribed to slap-on-the-wrist pseudo-justice. That was leftist psychology. Of course, insofar as the Church has allowed itself to become infected with the spirit of the age, it is culpable. But know that it is the infected, not the infection.

As for the cure, the Church has done much in recent times to root out sexual abuse — far more than the schools. Even closer to the point, its teachings provide necessary guide rails for man's sexuality. Yet critics call this age-old wisdom "antiquated." The left obviously prefers to take its lead from the Kinsey Distorts, Hugh Hefner, and Hollywood. But if the pleasure principle is going to be our master, then we shouldn't wonder why we're taking our children on a field trip through Caligula's court.
00Tuesday, April 13, 2010 1:07 PM

An Israeli Jew took the trouble to read all of the papal Preacher's Good Friday homily - and finds out unprecedented statements of religious goodwill towards the Jews.... Which, of course, went unread and unreported, since the media simply focused on one paragraph from that homily, and even that wringly, as we all know....

We are bad listeners

April 11, 2010

The writer is director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, headquartered in Jerusalem.

There was so much more to the papal preacher's homily than comparing the treatment the Church has been receiving over pedophilia scandals with anti-Semitism.

Last week has provided us with some important lessons on Jewish-Christian relations, and in particular on how storms on the horizons of these relations come and go.

Just a week ago, in his Good Friday sermon, the Papal household preacher, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, compared the treatment the Church is currently receiving in conjunction with the international pedophilia scandals with anti-Semitism.

The statement was clearly outrageous and drew immediate, and well-justified condemnation from Jewish spokespersons. Fr. Cantalamessa issued an apology to whomever he may have unwittingly hurt. For all intents and purposes the storm was over.

Revisiting these events provides some important lessons on how the public perception of Jewish-Christian relations has fallen into the pattern of moving from scandal to scandal, while failing to recognize the real changes that are quietly taking place before our eyes. As we watch the news, we remain blind to the real news. Sensationalist news headlines make us lose sight of what is truly worthy of note, novel and inspiring.

I assume none of the Jewish speakers who reacted to the preacher’s statement even read his homily. They were probably reacting to a journalist who asked for a comment on some statement, and offered an appropriate response. Journalists, lifting a quote from a longer piece, set the agenda, Jewish spokespersons respond, a story is told, a scandal is created and thus our “relationships” are built.

A look at what the Franciscan preacher actually said tells another story, that at the very least offsets the negative impressions generated by the statements that have made headlines.

Let us remember the moment. It is Good Friday Mass. The homily for Good Friday was the moment most dreaded by Jews for centuries. Following this homily, mobs would set to the streets, and Jews feared for their lives. Passion plays enacted on Good Friday were a constant source of violence towards Jews. More recently, Good Friday has constituted a problem for Jewish-Christian relations, in view of the new Latin version of the prayer for the Jews, released by Pope Benedict.

With this background, it is striking to note what Father Cantalamessa makes of the opportunity. He uses the moment at St. Peter’s Basilica, in the presence of the Pope, to wish Jews a “Good Passover.”

Reading this, I asked myself, when before was a Good Friday sermon used for such purposes? Probably never. Why do we take this gesture of goodwill for granted? Why do we gloss over it in silence? To think of the Jews as brothers in faith during a Papal Good Friday service is the fruit of decades of labor in the field of Jewish-Christian relations. That this could be said so casually and naturally is the real news.

But he does not stop here. He greets us, Jews, with words from the Mishna, quoted in the Hagadda, the most popular of Jewish texts, and echoed in Christian liturgy, a sign of bonding and unity between our communities.

How often have we complained that Judaism is not simply the Biblical root, of which Christianity is the branch? How often have we emphasized the need to refer to latter day Judaism in its own right, respecting it as a self-standing religion, and not simply as the Old Testament?

Does not greeting us on Good Friday in words taken from the Mishna-Haggada deliver a powerful message that something here is right and that we have made progress?

We didn’t hear all this because we only noted the comparison of violent attacks on the Church with those perpetrated against the Church. But even here, we failed to hear the Jewish voice quoted by the Franciscan Father, in its fullness. It spoke of living with a common Messianic hope that will reunite us in the love of our common Father.

Need I query once more when was the last time that such words were uttered at St. Peter’s on Good Friday? To all this, there is only one appropriate response, recognition and acknowledgement of the quiet yet profound significance of the moment, and so – Thank you, Fr. Cantalamessa.

Reading the homily in its entirety, I am convinced that Fr. Cantalamessa’s intention was misconstrued. It is becoming harder and harder for religious people to deliver a thoughtful message, with some complexity, nuance, and historical and theological depth, without worrying about how one motif will be taken out of context and create headlines, the wrong headlines.

Clearly, Cantalamessa didn’t think through the possible consequences of his statement, relying naively on the fact that they were authored by a Jewish person as a guarantee of their acceptability to Jewish ears.

He has been legitimately called to task and has appropriately apologized. But we too need to express our regret at failing to hear the message as it was delivered and for allowing the media to create the wrong story, while missing the true story. The battle against selective and superficial representation of our religious message is a common battle, on which thoughtful religious voices from all religions must collaborate.

The theme of the preacher’s homily was going beyond violence. The last few couple of days show us yet again that bad listening is itself a source of violence.

00Friday, May 21, 2010 8:09 PM

Initial post ... I have not had time yet to check out the informed commentary.

Scientists create
first synthetic cell

by Tim Hornyak

May 20, 2010

Scanning electron micrographs: Left, a colony of M. mycoides synthetic cells; right, the synthetic cells dividing - reproducing themselves - on their own. (Credit: J. Craig Venter Institute)

Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have created a synthetic cell that can survive and reproduce itself according to an artificial DNA sequence, promising designer genomes with which researchers can produce sophisticated artificial organisms.

The new bacterial cell, "Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0," is the result of a 15-year, $30 million effort by genetics pioneer Craig Venter. The study, led by the institute's Dan Gibson, is reported in the May 21 edition of the journal Science.

The team of 25 researchers took Mycoplasma capricolum bacteria and completely rewrote its genetic code of more than 1 million base pairs of DNA. The data was sequenced as chemical DNA fragments and sewn together using yeast and E. coli bacteria.

The synthetic genome was transplanted into empty Mycoplasma mycoides bacteria, which were transformed into a new species. The creature's software-like name, JCVI-syn1.0, reflects its status as the first of its kind.

To prove the genome is synthetic and to assert their ownership, the scientists even "watermarked" it by forming encoded words with the alphabet of genes and proteins. They included three quotations, among them a line from "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce: "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life." They also added a URL and e-mail address to allow researchers who decode the words to notify the institute.

Venter intends to patent the new cells, produced with funding from Synthetic Genomics, a genomics company that he founded in 2005.

Although the cell is primitive and lacks its own membrane, the techniques developed to create it promise groundbreaking advances in gene engineering and the rise of designer genomes. The achievement also raises ethical questions, not only about the creation of artificial life but the legitimacy of patenting it.

"The ability to routinely write the software of life will usher in a new era in science, and with it, new products and applications such as advanced biofuels, clean water technology, and new vaccines and medicines," the institute, located in Rockville, Md., and San Diego, said on its Web site.

Scientists who were not involved in the study are cautioning that the new species is not a truly synthetic life form because its genome was put into an existing cell. But they are also hailing the results.

Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, biologist Richard Ebright of Rutgers University called it "a turning point in the relationship between man and nature."

Researchers say they have
created a ‘synthetic cell’


Published: May 20, 2010

The genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has taken another step in his quest to create synthetic life, by synthesizing an entire bacterial genome and using it to take over a cell.

Dr. Venter calls the result a “synthetic cell” and is presenting the research as a landmark achievement that will open the way to creating useful microbes from scratch to make products like vaccines and biofuels.

At a press conference Thursday, Dr. Venter described the converted cell as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”

“This is a philosophical advance as much as a technical advance,” he said, suggesting that the “synthetic cell” raised new questions about the nature of life

Other scientists agree that he has achieved a technical feat in synthesizing the largest piece of DNA so far — a million units in length — and in making it accurate enough to substitute for the cell’s own DNA.

But some regard this approach as unpromising because it will take years to design new organisms, and meanwhile progress toward making biofuels is already being achieved with conventional genetic engineering approaches in which existing organisms are modified a few genes at a time.

Dr. Venter’s aim is to achieve total control over a bacterium’s genome, first by synthesizing its DNA in a laboratory and then by designing a new genome stripped of many natural functions and equipped with new genes that govern production of useful chemicals.

“It’s very powerful to be able to reconstruct and own every letter in a genome because that means you can put in different genes,” said Gerald Joyce, a biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

In response to the scientific report, President Obama asked the White House bioethics commission on Thursday to complete a study of the issues raised by synthetic biology within six months and report back to him on its findings. He said the new development raised “genuine concerns,” though he did not specify them further.

Dr. Venter took a first step toward this goal three years ago, showing that the natural DNA from one bacterium could be inserted into another and that it would take over the host cell’s operation. Last year, his team synthesized a piece of DNA with 1,080,000 bases, the chemical units of which DNA is composed.

In a final step, a team led by Daniel G. Gibson, Hamilton O. Smith and Dr. Venter report in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science that the synthetic DNA takes over a bacterial cell just as the natural DNA did, making the cell generate the proteins specified by the new DNA’s genetic information in preference to those of its own genome.

The team ordered pieces of DNA 1,000 units in length from Blue Heron, a company that specializes in synthesizing DNA, and developed a technique for assembling the shorter lengths into a complete genome. The cost of the project was $40 million, most of it paid for by Synthetic Genomics, a company Dr. Venter founded.

But the bacterium used by the Venter group is unsuitable for biofuel production, and Dr. Venter said he would move to different organisms. Synthetic Genomics has a contract from Exxon to generate biofuels from algae. Exxon is prepared to spend up to $600 million if all its milestones are met.

Dr. Venter said he would try to build “an entire alga genome so we can vary the 50 to 60 different parameters for algal growth to make superproductive organisms.”

On his yacht trips round the world, Dr. Venter has analyzed the DNA of the many microbes in seawater and now has a library of about 40 million genes, mostly from algae. These genes will be a resource to make captive algae produce useful chemicals, he said.

Some other scientists said that aside from assembling a large piece of DNA, Dr. Venter has not broken new ground.

“To my mind Craig has somewhat overplayed the importance of this,” said David Baltimore, a geneticist at Caltech. He described the result as “a technical tour de force,” a matter of scale rather than a scientific breakthrough.

“He has not created life, only mimicked it,” Dr. Baltimore said.

Dr. Venter’s approach “is not necessarily on the path” to produce useful microorganisms, said George Church, a genome researcher at Harvard Medical School.

Leroy Hood, of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, described Dr. Venter’s report as “glitzy” but said lower-level genes and networks had to be understood first before it would be worth trying to design whole organisms from scratch.

In 2002 Eckard Wimmer, of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, synthesized the genome of the polio virus. The genome constructed a live polio virus that infected and killed mice.

Dr. Venter’s work on the bacterium is similar in principle, except that the polio virus genome is only 7,500 units in length, and the bacteria’s genome is more than 100 times longer.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, denounced the synthetic genome as “dangerous new technology,” saying that “Mr. Venter should stop all further research until sufficient regulations are in place.”

The genome Dr. Venter synthesized is copied from a natural bacterium that infects goats. He said that before copying the DNA, he excised 14 genes likely to be pathogenic, so the new bacterium, even if it escaped, would be unlikely to cause goats harm.

Dr. Venter’s assertion that he has created a “synthetic cell” has alarmed people who think that means he has created a new life form or an artificial cell. “Of course that’s not right — its ancestor is a biological life form,” said Dr. Joyce of Scripps.

Dr. Venter copied the DNA from one species of bacteria and inserted it into another. The second bacteria made all the proteins and organelles in the so-called “synthetic cell,” by following the specifications implicit in the structure of the inserted DNA.

“My worry is that some people are going to draw the conclusion that they have created a new life form,” said Jim Collins, a bioengineer at Boston University. “What they have created is an organism with a synthesized natural genome. But it doesn’t represent the creation of life from scratch or the creation of a new life form,” he said.

00Tuesday, June 1, 2010 4:45 PM
An intriguing line of thought but poorly developed in this brief article.

Relativity and relativism;
Something higher than the 'I'

By Tom Bethell

June 1, 2010

The day before he was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger addressed the cardinals assembled in St Peter's and warned that society was "building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive." The "I" becomes "the ultimate measure."

That was in April 2005. Just 100 years earlier, Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity.

Relativism and relativity are said to be quite different. One is a philosophy in the realm of culture and morals; the other is strictly scientific. But I wonder how different they really are. When I wrote Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (Vales Lake, 2009) I realized that the central claims of relativity and relativism are very similar.

My book was based on work by Petr Beckmann, a Czech immigrant who defected to the U.S. and taught electrical engineering at the University of Colorado. He was a genius, and a friend of mine, but his book was technical and a plain-language version was needed. He died before I could finish it.

His main point was that the physical anomalies that led to relativity can be explained without it. For example, the famous equation "E = mc2" was derived using relativity theory. But later Einstein re-derived it, this time without relativity.

A frequently heard statement of cultural relativism goes like this: "If it feels right for you, it's OK. Who is to say you're wrong?" One individual's experience is as "valid" as another's. There is no "preferred" or higher vantage point from which to judge these things. Not just beauty, but right and wrong are in the eye of the beholder. The "I" indeed is the "ultimate measure."

The special theory of relativity imposes on the physical world a claim that is very similar to the one made by relativism. Here is a brief summary.

In the 1880s a scientist named Albert Michelson searched for the "ether" - the medium in which light waves were thought to travel. But his equipment could not detect it, and that came as a big surprise. It was as though a man running with his shirt off could feel no wind on his chest.

Einstein resolved the problem by claiming that a light ray keeps moving toward you at the same speed no matter how fast you move toward it. Light's speed is unaffected by the observer's velocity, Einstein said. That was strange because other waves don't behave that way. Move toward a sound wave, and you must add your speed to that of the oncoming wave to know its approach velocity. That didn't apply to light, apparently.

So how come the speed of light always stays the same? Einstein argued that when the observer moves relative to an object, distance and time always adjust themselves just enough to preserve light speed as a constant. Speed is distance divided by time. So, Einstein argued, length contracts and time dilates to just the extent needed to keep the speed of light ever the same.

Space and time are the alpha and omega of the physical world. They are the stage within which everything happens. But if they must trim and tarry whenever the observer moves, that puts "the observer" in the driver's seat. Reality becomes observer-dependent.

Again, then, we find that the "I" is the ultimate measure. Pondering this in Prague in the 1950s, Beckmann could not accept it. The observer's function is to observe, he said, not to affect what's out there.

Relativity meant that two and two didn't quite add up any more and elevated science into a priesthood of obscurity. Common sense could no longer be trusted.

The contraction of space and the dilation of time are deductions from relativity. But they have not been observed. In easy Einstein books, drawings of spaceships that are shortened because they are moving at high speed are imagined by artists in accordance with theory. No physical experiment has ever detected length contraction.

Atomic clocks do slow down when they move through the gravitational field. But the slowing of clocks and the slowing of time are very different things. GPS has "relativistic" corrections to keep its clocks synchronized. But those corrections depart significantly from Einstein's theory. They refer clock motion not to the observer but to an absolute reference frame, centered on the Earth.

So there are reasons to think that experiments with atomic clocks have falsified special relativity. (The general theory is another matter. Beckmann said it gave the right results by a roundabout method.) Anyway, consider this: Relativity and relativism arose at about the same time, and the scientific claims surely bolstered the cultural applications. Now there is skepticism about both. Maybe, in time, they also will fade together.

00Monday, June 21, 2010 12:30 AM
The 'state of the world' is so bad, geopolitically and economically, not to mention socially and culturally, that humor seems to be the only way to deal with issues that we as individuals can do nothing about. David Goldman, aka Spengler, proves this in his latest column in Asia Times - in which much of the apparently humorous is really sardonic truth. It's also a good way to update the Forum on recent significant developments around the world that form the backdrop for Benedict XVI's Pontificate other than Church affairs.

The state we're in
(The Middle East)

Jun 15, 2010

Dear Spengler,
I won the Nobel Peace prize for reconciling Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. I'm presently on a ship in the Mediterranean trying to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza, but the Israelis won't let me. What should I do?
Baffled from Belfast

Dear Baffled,
Load your cargo onto camels and head for Kyrgyzstan. They need it more there.


Dear Spengler,
I am prime minister of a Muslim country with 75 million citizens. Our empire once ruled the Muslim world and a great deal besides, and we very much would like to do so again.

Recently I have asserted our leadership of Muslim causes, for example, breaking Israel's blockade of Gaza. What should I do next?

Anxious in Ankara

Dear Anxious,
Your problem is that the sort of rhetoric that plays well with the local audience makes you sound like an evil clown in the United States. Whatever Israeli commandos did on the Mavi Marvara, it's not a "war crime" or an act of "state terrorism", as your government proclaims.

You need to work on your image in order to avoid the impression that your country is crawling with violence-prone barbarians with a paranoid chip on their collective shoulder.

The world still remembers the murder of perhaps three million Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Christians between 1914 and 1925, not to mention the killing of as many as 40,000 Kurds by Turkish security forces during the 1980s and 1990s.

It doesn't help when two groups of ethnic Turks, the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, slaughter each other. When you expostulate about Gaza but say nothing about massacres in Kyrgyzstan, your credibility goes down the drain. It betrays a narrowly political motivation, rather than religious or even national concern.

My advice: Announce that you will go to Kyrgyzstan to mediate between the warring ethnic groups. Stay there as long as possible.


Dear Spengler,
I'm the legitimate, internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people and the prospective president of a future Palestinian state, but I get no respect.

My security people got knee-capped and pushed off rooftops in Gaza when Hamas took over in 2007. Now even the Americans are talking about lifting the embargo on Gaza - not to mention the Europeans - which would make Hamas look like a legitimate representative of the Palestinians and leave me in the cold. What should I do?

Rattled in Ramallah

Dear Rattled,
You're suffering from a martyr gap with the competition. Hamas gets respect because its supporters are happy to commit suicide. As they keep saying, "You love life; we love death."

The Turks sent a boat full of prospective martyrs eager to die at the hands of the Israelis, and managed to produce nine corpses. Hamas rocket attacks on Israel are designed to draw Israeli counter-attacks which produce corpses, civilian or not. The horror evoked by suicide hurts Western morale more than the fear of terrorism.

Muslims perpetrated 1,944 suicide attacks between 2001 and 2008, not counting the efforts of Hamas, Hezbollah, and others to provoke Israel into counter-attacks that claim civilian lives as collateral damage.

The West is founded on the notion of redemption, that is, the hope that in every human being there exists some inclination towards the good. Suicide is a real conversation-stopper. The West cringes in horror at thought that a combatant culture can field an arbitrarily large number of suicides.

All the evidence in the world that the prospective shahids on the Mavi Marmara intended to die won't cure the queasiness of Western stomachs. The fact of nine corpses on the deck overwhelms the sensibilities of Western liberals, no matter how they got there. Your problem is that you don't have enough corpses to lay out for the news media.

If you don't like how you're being treated, ask a few of your security people to kill themselves in front of your office every morning. If they won't do that, order them to kill some Hamas people in retaliation for all the murders of your people in Gaza. The first will get you sympathy, and the second will get you respect.

If you can't persuade your people to do either, even after all the American training and weapons they've received during the past few years, you're out of options. Seek political asylum in another Muslim country - Kyrgyzstan, maybe.


Dear Spengler,
I'm the prime minister of a small Jewish country in the Middle East. No matter what we do, we get blamed for brutality.

We tried to handle the Gaza blockade-runners like errant hippies, and boarded the Mavi Marmara with paintball guns. We have videos proving that our soldiers acted in self-defense and nobody seems to care.

We've captured whole shiploads of Iranian missiles headed for Gaza. The French blew up a Greenpeace ship and nobody treated them this way. What can I do to get a fair hearing in the world?

Jittery in Jerusalem

Dear Jittery,
There isn't a lot you can do, except in the United States, where most people still believe in fairness, and a lot of people think that the Biblical reasons for your country's founding are valid.

You might want to produce a brief television commercial showing some of the 7,000 Gazan patients treated each year at Israeli hospitals; the Israeli field hospital in Haiti manned by a 200-person relief team that was first on the scene after the earthquake; and other humanitarian aid provided by your country. And you might want to contrast this with footage of the effect of terrorist bombings and rocket attacks, as well as the video footage from the boarding of the Mavi Marmara. That won't make much of a difference, because American support for Israel already is at a record high.

Your success, even your existence, is an affront to most Muslims. Polls show that only a fifth of Arabs would accept a Jewish state in the Middle East under any circumstances. That is because the return of the Jewish people to Zion, not to mention their military, commercial, scientific and cultural achievements, undermines Islamic triumphalism.

Muslims ask themselves: How can the Koran be God's final revelation, if the perfidious Jews enjoy strength and riches, and their false prophets appear vindicated, while the faithful wallow in weakness and humiliation?

As for the Europeans, there isn't anything you can do to bring them around. They have abandoned the Christian faith that created Europe in the first place and have reconciled themselves to extinction.

They abhor the idea of a Jewish state, because they abhor anything that calls to mind their own Judeo-Christian foundation. And they like to think of Jews as malefactors because it assuages their lingering guilt over the Holocaust.

Worst of all, they wish to appease a growing Muslim population which over time will replace their own infertile people. The Europeans, in short, are a race of cowards for whom truth does not exist if it is inconvenient.

Your trading partners in Asia all have substantial Muslim minorities and have no reason to rile them up by supporting you. Most of them privately hope that you will succeed, but will not say so.

The Russians believe that America needs you as an ally in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the president of the United States seeks to reduce rather than aggrandize America's influence in the world; apart from his sentimental predilection for Islam, he is in principle against allies that strengthen America.

Therefore the Russians will do everything in their power to wreck your relationship with Washington, the better to hurt America. If by chance you survive, they will be happy to buy your drones and sell you military aircraft.

My advice is to defend yourselves as you see fit. You only have to make sure to win. And remember: No good deed goes unpunished.

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, senior editor of First Things (

00Monday, June 21, 2010 12:35 AM
The oil drilling disaster
in the Gulf of Mexico

June 18, 2010

For over two months now a river of oil has been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from a well in the seabed, ruptured in the aftermath of an explosion at a BP drilling platform. The dimensions of the disaster are difficult to calculate. What is certain is that it is of enormous proportions, and getting worse.

Other serious environmental disasters related to human activities come to mind, such as the one at the chemical factory in Bhopal, India in 1984, or that of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986, which caused casualties and even greater damage to people.

What is striking in this case is the sense of powerlessness and delay in finding a solution to this disaster faced by one of the largest and most technologically advanced oil multinationals in the world, but also by the most powerful country on earth. It seems incredible, but it is a fact.

This is not the eruption of a volcano, but a relatively small man-made hole in the seabed. Yet, in two months, expert scientists and technicians, leaders in their field, have failed to plug it.

Will we draw a lesson of prudence and care in the use of the earth’s resources and natural balances of the planet from this?

Of course, from now on. much will change in oil extraction to make it safer. But perhaps we can also draw a lesson in humility. Technology will advance. But if a relatively simple production process leaves us so helpless, what will we do if much more complex processes get out of hand, such as those affecting the energy hidden in the heart of matter or moreover in the processes of the formation of life?

Benedict XVI had good reason to conclude his last encyclical on the great problems of humanity today with a chapter on responsible use of the power of technology.

And the view from my currently favorite conservative columnist, who is syndicated in hundreds of US papers but is mainly an Op-Ed columnist for the Washington Post. His irony is delicious - so well-put and spot-on! He is also a Harvard-trained physician psychiatrist, so he is not naive nor ignorant about science. (I have always maintained, from my own experience, that the best preparation for a journalistic career is a science degree because it trains you to approach everything systematically, with an open mind, critically and objectively) ....

Obama and the vision thing

Friday, June 18, 2010

Barack Obama doesn't do the mundane. He was sent to us to do larger things. [So he believes!]

You could see that plainly in his Oval Office address on the Gulf oil spill. He could barely get himself through the pedestrian first half: a bit of BP-bashing, a bit of faux-Clintonian "I feel your pain," a bit of recovery and economic mitigation accounting.

It wasn't until the end of the speech -- the let-no-crisis-go-to-waste part that tried to leverage the Gulf Coast devastation to advance his cap-and-trade climate-change agenda -- that Obama warmed to his task.

Pedestrian is beneath Obama. Mr. Fix-It he is not. He is world-historical, the visionary, come to make the oceans recede and the planet heal.

How? By creating a glorious, new, clean green economy. And how exactly to do that? From Washington, by presidential command and with tens of billions of dollars thrown around.

With the liberal (and professorial) conceit that scientific breakthroughs can be legislated into existence, Obama proposes to give us a new industrial economy.

But is this not what we've been trying to do for decades with ethanol, which remains a monumental boondoggle, economically unviable and environmentally damaging to boot? As with yesterday's panacea, synfuels, into which Jimmy Carter poured billions.

Notice that Obama no longer talks about Spain, which until recently he repeatedly cited for its visionary subsidies of a blossoming new clean energy industry.

That's because Spain, now on the verge of bankruptcy, is pledged to reverse its disastrously bloated public spending, including radical cuts in subsidies to its uneconomical photovoltaic industry.

There's a reason petroleum is such a durable fuel. It's not, as Obama fatuously suggested, because of oil company lobbying but because it is very portable, energy-dense and easy to use.

But this doesn't stop Obama from thinking that he can mandate into being a superior substitute. His argument: Well, if we can put a man on the moon, why not this?

Aside from the irony that this most tiresome of cliches comes from a president who is canceling our program to return to the moon, it is utterly meaningless.

The wars on cancer and on poverty have been similarly sold. They remain unwon. Why? Because we knew how to land on the moon. We had the physics to do it.

Cancer cells, on the other hand, are far more complex than the Newtonian equations that govern a moon landing. Equally daunting are the laws of social interaction -- even assuming there are any -- that sustain a culture of poverty.

Similarly, we don't know how to make renewables that match the efficiency of fossil fuels. In the interim, it is Obama and his Democratic allies who, as they dream of such scientific leaps, are unwilling to use existing technologies to reduce our dependence on foreign (i.e., imported) and risky (i.e., deep-water) sources of oil -- twin dependencies that Obama decried in Tuesday's speech.

"Part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean," said Obama, is "because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water."

Running out of places on land? What about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the less-known National Petroleum Reserve -- 23 million acres of Alaska's North Slope, near the existing pipeline and designated nearly a century ago for petroleum development -- that have been shut down by the federal government?

Running out of shallow-water sources? How about the Pacific Ocean, a not inconsiderable body of water, and its vast U.S. coastline? That's been off-limits to new drilling for three decades.

We haven't run out of safer and more easily accessible sources of oil. We've been run off them by environmentalists. They prefer to dream green instead.

Obama is dreamer in chief: He wants to take us to this green future "even if we're unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don't yet precisely know how we're going to get there." [The good old American straight talk for that is 'selling snake oil' - and Obama is teh squeamiest snake-oil salesman there ever was!]

Here's the offer: Tax carbon, spend trillions and put government in control of the energy economy -- and he will take you he knows not where, by way of a road he knows not which.

That's why Tuesday's speech was received with such consternation. It was so untethered from reality. The gulf is gushing, and the President is talking mystery roads to unknown destinations. That passes for vision, and vision is Obama's thing. It sure beats cleaning up beaches.

BTW, in a poll last week, Americans said by 53% to 45 that George Bush handled Katrina better than Obama is handling the oil spill, and Obama's approval rating is down to 41. Independents and even some Democracts are publicly admitting on TV now that they have a bad case of buyer's remorse!

I still do not undertsand how Obama managed to delude so many Americans when it was always very clear that his whole motivation is ego-driven, for the greater glory of Obama, not for anyone else! God help the USA! 2012 cannot come soon enough.

00Tuesday, July 20, 2010 11:21 PM
Many things I did not know about the burqa...

The welcome French ban on the burqa -
which is not an Islamic norm at all!

by Samir Khalil Samir, SJ

Beirut, July 15 (AsiaNews) - What happened? Two days ago the French parliament passed a law banning the complete covering the face in public places, making it illegal to wear a burqa.

The amazing fact is the unanimous nature of the vote (355 out of 500, only 1 against). There has been talk of banning the burqa for over a year in France. Initially, a police survey stated that the phenomenon involved a few hundred.

But today - in a similar manner to Islamic countries - there are at least 2,000 people who wear the full veil in France. Likewise, in Egypt, from a few hundred in 2001, that number has now reached up to 16% of women.

Now France is talking about 2000, but if nothing is done, the problem will mushroom. It will spread because it is born of an ideological position. Where does this desire to completely cover women come from?

The burqa is not Islamic

From the start, it needs to be said that there is not the slightest reference in the Koran or Islamic tradition (Sunnah) regarding this issue. Therefore it is not an Islamic norm. None of the Koranic scholars dare say so, but there are many who claim that it is a religious norm.

Its use however is widespread in some countries of Muslim tradition: Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan. The chador has nothing to do with the burqa or the niqab (Arabic word).

The burqa is therefore an exception and not a rule at all. But unfortunately these countries - particularly Saudi Arabia - dominate ideology in the Muslim world, and their customs, thanks to Saudi Arabia’s money, are becoming more widespread.

For example, millions of Egyptian workers, on returning from working in Saudi Arabia, start living according to Saudi tradition (not Islamic!) forcing their wives to follow suit. Sometimes they even receive financial support. [From Saudi Arabia?]

The Egyptian man, seeing Saudi women completely covered, grows used to it and feels heartened in his manhood, which moreover is supported – in this case yes – by the Koran itself. [NB: The full veil is not a precept of the Koran, but the absolute authority of man over woman is part of Islamic tradition and Koranic law.]

Thus, the traditional woman has always understood that to be religious she must be obedient to her husband. So much so that if her husband forbids her to go to pray in the mosque and she goes anyway, she is actually committing a greater sin than by not going to the mosque!

There is therefore a predisposition in both sexes to keep wives fully covered, which stems from male jealousy and the subjugation of women. Some women, wearing the burqa, feel protected from inquisitive eyes of men.

It must be said that in many Muslim countries the burqa has been banned because (as in Tunisia), “it is not part of our tradition ". In Turkey it is forbidden in the name of secularism.

In Egypt, in November 2009, the late Rector of the Islamic Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, the highest religious authority in Egypt, banned it, saying to students: "The niqab is only a custom, it has no link with Islam, neither close or distant!". In February 2010, Egyptian Prime Minister Nazif, called it "a denial of woman"!

So who are those people who want to wear it at all costs in Europe? And why? Usually they belong to the Salafi trend, which preaches a return to the tradition during the first century of Islam. This is common in many groups of Islamic activists, who attract many European women often through marriage.

Years ago I was invited to lecture at Göttingen (Germany) on women in Islam. Those who attacked me were not the Muslim Turks in the room, but only three German women doctors, who had converted to Islam. Wearing the veil, they continued to claim that Islam is the best religion for women.

In fact, in France the full veil is worn by women who have never worn it before aas well as by converts. For this. we can conclude that the choice to wear the full veil is not born of tradition or religious values, but a ideological spirit that preaches a return to the cultural tradition of seventh century Arabia, often in opposition to the West.

Moreover, its overnight appearance and its spread is due to recent publicity regarding its use in the Islamic world. With the burqa, they claim to be the only truly authentic Muslims.

The European reaction to the full veil

Europe is reacting to the burqa in a firm and decided manner: Since yesterday, France has banned it. But in Belgium, there has been a law banning the full veil for several months. It is banned in Barcelona, and similar bans are being discussed in other parts of continent.

Europeans are against the burqa because it goes against the European tradition: wearing it is in fact a way to reject integration into European culture.

The phenomenon is small - for now - and involves a few thousand women, but creates immediate revulsion. This dress in one piece of cloth, black, a sort of " woman’s grave" that makes them seem like "walking ghosts". It has become a symbol of the subjugation of women and contravenes equality between men and women.

For some time now attempts have been made in the West to reject visible distinctions that create divisions between men and women. But in Arab world as well, since the 1920’s there has been a massive movement, with demonstrations and sit-ins against the veil.

And there is a whole genre of feminist literature in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere, part of the 1930s campaign against the veil which was a great success. Some imams supported their position. At that time there was no talk of the full veil, even the simple veil was condemned.

Reading the text of the 2007 "Riyadh Declaration", we note that invited Muslim countries start with a premise: We want to reach the world and move towards progress. But this wave of the return of the burqa goes in the opposite direction to progress and is motivated by ideological ends!

On the other hand, the West has its own ideology and sees its use as a humiliation of women. The text of the French law, proposed by Justice Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said that full covering of the face is contrary to the values of the republic.

It only seems right that the French should defend their culture. The parliamentarians reaction was completely unanimous (only one vote against) . Even the French Socialists – who abstained - have always been against it. Likewise, when the law was passed in Belgium, there were only two against.

This consensus shows that we are touching something important in Western minds. If one considers the ease with which France gives citizenship to migrants, one concludes that the nation has a strong desire for integration. [Perhaps the more correct statement is that France welcomes immigrants but it expects them to integrate into the host society, as should every country that welcomes immigrants.]

But if the persons in question react by rejecting French or European culture, while simultaneously wanting to live in France or in Europe, then this creates a contradiction and a problem.

The Muslim response

According to the reactions I've read and after participating in several forums on the French law, I can say that the majority of Muslim men and women are against the full veil. Only the fundamentalists (the Salafis) are in favour of it.

Yet the majority of Muslims in Europe and France seem to be against this law. I can think that this is only for psychological reasons.

"We are the community", they say, "that is always pointed out as dangerous, we are victims of Islamophobia, it is an attack against Islam, we are always painted as the bad guys ...."

Actually it is the other way round: there is a campaign against Western culture in the Islamic world - at least by a part of Muslims.

So who is the aggressor and who the aggrieved? Each group can certainly make judgments about the goodness or otherwise of one or another culture.

But if a Westerner is to live in Egypt and then spits on Egyptian culture, at best he should leave. If he does not like the culture if there is no shared feeling, why stay? My culture may have some flaws, but then let us work to change it together, do not despise it from the outset.

Yet, I have rarely seen Muslims who encourage fellow Muslims to integrate and fit into the community where they live, into the culture of the country where they are. Yet this should be their first natural attitude: gratitude to the country where they are and pride of belonging to this country.

And this raises a question: is being a Muslim or Christian or Jew antagonistic to being Italian or Moroccan or Russian? Can we equate religious identity and national identity?

Still today, in the West, if people are introducing themselves to a group, they say: "I'm German, or Polish, or Egyptian", but no one thinks of saying "I am a Christian."

For the Muslims, the answer is often "I am a Muslim”, as if it indicates belonging to a homeland. The result is a dual belonging, as if saying "I am French, but Muslim."

This evokes the attitude of the Jews in 1800, analyzed by Karl Marx in his book "The Jewish Question" (Zur Judenfrage, 1843) in response to the study of the theologian Bruno Bauer, published a few months before with the same title.

I would therefore like to say to the Muslims; it is up to you to educate your people, encouraging them towards integration and not confrontation.

Why do your thousands of imams - often paid for by Muslim countries and not by communities in Europe - not teach integration with European culture? Maybe because they are in the front line of those who are anti-Western!

Instead of criticizing the French government or some other European government, why not undertake a little self-criticism, condemn terrorism and those who oppose integration!

In France the Muslim community do not favor violence, but no Muslim ever come out onto the streets to condemn fundamentalism and Salafism. Yet the struggle against fundamentalism is one of the most urgent priorities of the same Islamic countries.

It is now clear that it is fundamentalism that is holding back the development of the Muslim world, right up to the point of becoming fanaticism, which can lead to terrorism.

The law, an invitation to the Muslims of Europe

The recently voted French law seems balanced. It provides for six months to allow people become used to the new rules, to allow reflection and evolution.

The wording is very cautious: it does not talk about the full veil, rather it refers to the complete covering of the face. It explains exactly how and when it is forbidden, it also outlines exceptions (illness, medical bandages, carnival, etc ...).

This law does not want to be anti-Muslim - even if it was occasioned by the full 'body and face' veil - but as a more general rule that applies to everyone, a standard of living together. The penalties are also interesting: a fine of 150 Euros or citizenship education, a kind of educational training for coexistence.

The law presents a large difference between the penalty for those who wear the burqa (150 Euros) and for those who force others to wear the burqa: a fine of 30,000 Euros a year in prison (twice if it involves a minor).

It also explains the following types of cases: men or women (not just husbands or fathers) who by threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power, abuse of authority force someone to cover her face. This shows that the purpose of the Act is to achieve the values of equality and freedom.

Was this law really necessary?

Was it really necessary to do this? Building on the experience of Muslim countries, where the full veil is increasingly becoming the norm despite the desire of those in charge to stop it, I think that without a law, the ideological context of the current Muslim world would drive more Muslim women to wear it.

Therefore this law is both important and beneficial, because it addresses an ideological mentality of opposition and rejection, which ultimately brings more harm to the Muslim community and society overall.

The full veil is a symbol that clearly says "No to your civilization." This symbol is disputed in most Muslim countries in the world!

But it is equally important that the French Muslim community, the largest in Europe, enters the playing field and cooperate with all possible means in thr new law.

Beyond the veil, it is about the global attitude to Western society, which is certainly different from Muslim society, better in some aspects but worse in others, which is entitled to exist and to be law. Because they are French Muslims - like all citizens - they have a double duty to defend this civilization and criticize it.

Islam is growing in Europe through migration and demography. Are Muslims ready to accept this society where they are a minority (although I always repeat "it is the second religion of Europe")?

It would be important to help the Muslim community to integrate into European culture, albeit with the necessary corrections. The Muslims of Arabia will be the ones to make this integration possible, rather than the Muslims who already living in Europe.

Until the 1970s, the Muslim world tried to assimilate modernity, by reflecting on its culture. But the Salafis have chosen to reject modernity, other than the advanced technology it produces. In short, they are willing to harvest the fruit without learning how to produce it because it's too dangerous!

The new French law is more of an invitation to the Muslim community rather than something against Islam. It is a way to reconcile being part of French civilization while keeping the Islamic faith, deeply lived and rethought.

00Thursday, July 22, 2010 3:30 PM

Italy, supported by ten other European nations, has appealed the infamous ruling above, and the court is expected to announce its decision in the autumn.

Will Europe admit to being Christian?
European Court ponders crucifixes in public…
and Europe’s character


July 19, 2010

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights recently heard a case that could decide the future of the public expression of Christianity in Europe.

Last year, a lower human-rights court ruled that Italy’s placement of crucifixes in the classrooms of public schools violated the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights that guarantee the right to education and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Italy appealed, joined by 10 other European nations. The Grand Chamber is expected to render its decision later this year.

The case explicitly confronts the central issue facing Europe: whether it will acknowledge its Christian heritage, or surrender to a false “neutrality” that really means uniform submission to a certain understanding of secularization.

Pope Benedict XVI has sounded this theme repeatedly, advising Europe not to forget its roots. In a recent address, he stated that “Modern culture, particularly in Europe, runs the risk of amnesia, of forgetting and thus abandoning the extraordinary heritage aroused and inspired by Christian faith, which is the essential framework of the culture of Europe, and not only of Europe.”

New York University law professor Joseph Weiler, who happens to be Jewish, argued on behalf of eight countries granted the right to intervene for retaining the crucifixes. He pointed out that different European countries deal with their religious heritage in different ways.

France, for example, has a strong tradition of what is called laicité, which treats religion as a strictly private matter. Italy and other countries handle their religious heritage in a more public way, without infringing on the rights of nonbelievers. The imposition of a uniform vision of secularity — which would deny to European countries the particular expression of their religious traditions — is unjust and contrary to the Convention of Human Rights.

The crucifixes in Italian classrooms are a reminder of that heritage, Weiler argued. Such expression does not affect the secular curriculum or its adherence to religious freedom. But to deny the fact that Italy is mostly Christian, or that its Christian past still informs its national character, would be to deny history and logic.

Indeed, the lower court acknowledged that Catholicism was both the majority religion in Italy and that placement of the crucifixes was accomplished in part through the political process “by the need for compromise with political parties of Christian inspiration.”

However, the lower court went on, crucifixes in public classrooms infringed the rights of religious freedom because they are incompatible with the “state’s duty to respect neutrality in the exercise of public authority, particularly in the field of education.”

The court, remarkably, further opined that the presence of crucifixes in public classrooms was somehow incompatible with fostering “the habit of critical thought” among students.

While there is no dispute that the Italian state should be, and in fact is, neutral in matters of religion, this case risks making a fundamental mistake. There is no question that nonbelievers are being forced to believe, only that the minority might feel that the state somehow supports Christianity against other religions.

But if the Grand Chamber affirms the lower court, the majority of Italians, who are Christian, will see crucifixes removed from the classroom. This, too, will send a message: that the European Court of Human Rights believes that their religion is somehow too dangerous.

This case brings to light exactly the risk against which Benedict has warned. On the one hand, the secular European human-rights courts feel free to disregard two millennia of history of Italy as a Christian nation, even though there was no actual harm shown in this case.

Rather, the court relies on an abstract definition of “rights” that trumps not only history but also political compromise. The thrust of the plaintiff’s case was essentially that her children might feel uncomfortable or pressured by the presence of the crucifixes, even though there was no religious instruction in the schools.

A defeat for Italy here will open the way — as it has in the United States — for an assault on any accommodation the state makes to religious groups.

But on the other hand, Christians too should be wary of crucifixes in the classroom, for their own reasons. Italy was left to argue that the crucifix is a cultural symbol, one by this point devoid of religious significance. Even some Church leaders defended the crucifixes on these grounds.

But this position is simply another version of the “amnesia” of which Pope Benedict warns. The crucifix is a “sign of contradiction,” indeed, of a revolutionary view of the human person. To reduce it to a mere cultural symbol or adjunct to the state is to grant the point the secularists want to make: If it has no deeper meaning, why have it?

This case may prove a flash point in the religious history of Europe and should, in any event, cause the Church to heed Benedict’s call to remember.

Gerald J. Russello is a fellow of the Chesterton Institute at Seton Hall University.

00Saturday, September 4, 2010 2:51 AM

God’s design
by Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY, Sept. 3 (CNS) — Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, has triggered strong reactions from religious leaders.

The book by the British author is due to be released next week — just a week before Pope Benedict XVI’s scheduled visit to Great Britain Sept. 16-19.

In his new book, Hawking, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, poses the question whether the universe needs a creator; he concludes that God is not a necessary part of creation because the laws of physics and gravity show that something can come from nothing.

In the past he has asserted that religious beliefs and science were not incompatible — a postion the Vatican does agree with.

While the Vatican hasn’t come out with a reaction to the book yet, one of our favorite Vatican astronomers, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, just sent us his reaction to Hawking’s claims:

The ‘god’ that Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in, is one I don’t believe in either. God is not just another force in the universe, alongside gravity or electricity. God is not a force to be invoked to ‘swell a progress, start a scene or two’ and fill the momentary gaps in our knowledge.

God is the reason why existence itself exists. God is the reason why space and time and the laws of nature can be present for the forces to operate that Stephen Hawking is talking about.

I need to get more items related to Hawkings's book, but I find Fr. Consolmagno's reply brilliant!

00Friday, October 8, 2010 1:11 AM
Hundreds of Kenyan teachers sacked over sex abuse
BBC News Africa: 7 October 2010

More than 1,000 teachers have been sacked in Kenya for sexually abusing girls over the past two years, the authorities say.

Senior government official Ahmed Hussein told the BBC that most of the victims were aged between 12 and 15.

He said a nationwide confidential helpline set up to help victims had revealed that the problem was much more widespread than previously thought.

Most of the cases have occurred in rural primary schools.

Court convictions?

"Initially we were not able to know what was happening in the country because of the poor communication, but now communication is everywhere - there's mobiles across the country," Mr Hussein, from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development, told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Last year, 600 male teachers were dismissed and so far this year 550 teachers have lost their jobs for either kissing, touching or impregnating girls out a total teaching staff of 240,000 countrywide.

"A number of them have been taken to court, and they have been sentenced accordingly," Mr Hussein said.

Brian Weke, programme director for the Cradle, a child rights foundation in Kenya, agreed the problem was widespread.

He gave an example of a case in Nyanza province last year: "I found that in one primary school we had over 20 girls who were pregnant and nearly half the number were actually impregnated by the teachers themselves."

However, he said the officials investigating the abuse were not passing on vital information to get convictions.

"Our biggest problem is the fact that the district education officers - they do not report the matters to the police," Mr Weke told the BBC.

The BBC's Will Ross in the capital, Nairobi, says often teachers who are caught defiling their students end up paying the parents in order to prevent cases going to court.

Jane Thuo, a former teacher now with the Association of Media Women in Kenya, says female teachers are also starting to have illicit liaison with young boys.

"We see young men having affairs with older women and it is being replicated at school," she told the BBC.
00Saturday, October 16, 2010 12:04 AM
Books will be written, documentaries are even now being put together, and movies will be made of one of the most amazing and compelling stories in recent years - the trapped miners of Chile and their rescue. To anyone who followed the story even superficially from the time they told the world they were still alive when they had been given up for dead 17 days after the mountain caved in over them, the religious dimension of their experience was obvious - from what they wrote and said then to the time they emerged from 69 days of being buried alive. The following is one of the best reflections I have read about the obvious faith that sustained their hope and spirits...

Why there were no atheists
in the San Jose mine


October 15, 2010

Religious belief allows people to hope against hope when the odds are stacked against them.

I was in Rome last week attending a conference on the Catholic media with 200 other journalists from 85 countries. Most were from Spanish-speaking countries, including a delegation from Chile.

During one of the sessions, a member of the Chilean delegation unfurled the Chilean flag and on it was written the signatures of the 33 miners who have been pulled out of their underground prison over the past couple of days.

On Thursday, the last day of the conference, the flag was presented to the Pope in person. This was only one small example of the role, the overwhelmingly positive role that religion and faith has played in this drama.

Every inch of the way, the miners and their families have been fortified by their own prayers and the prayers of millions upon millions of other people.

The rescue operation was called Operation San Lorenzo, after St Laurence, the patron saint of miners. In August, when they found the men, a statue of San Lorenzo, complete with miner's hat, was brought to the site and an impromptu shrine set up that people prayed at day and night.

The Chilean president had a statue of the saint brought to the presidential palace.

Underground, the miners set up their own shrine and were each provided with a set of rosary beads blessed by the Pope. They knew he was among the millions of other Christians praying for them.

As the men emerged from their ordeal one by one, many of them blessed themselves or fell on their knees or looked heavenward.

The second man rescued, Mario Sepulveda, the one who hugged everyone he could find, told the cameras a little later how he had met both God and the devil while he was trapped down below, but that God had won and his faith had helped to sustain him.

Another miner said he had been "praying to God all the time".

Jonathan Vega, the brother of Alex Vega, yet another of the miners, said, "God has given me a lesson about life."

When people face adversity like this it is religion they frequently turn to and this has been shown time and again.

When Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River in January 2009, many of the passengers told journalists about how they had prayed their way through the ordeal.

Similarly, many of those who lived (or died) through the events of September 11 turned to their faith for strength.

When the Asian tsunami killed a quarter of a million people in 2004 most of the families of the victims, to judge from reports, didn't turn away from God, they turned towards Him.

In 1972, a plane crash-landed in the Andes and the survivors famously sustained themselves physically by cannibalising the dead passengers. But their faith played a huge part in sustaining them psychologically, as documented in the book and the movie, 'Alive'.

(By the way, why is it that in real-life disasters people almost always pray, but almost never in disaster movies, 'Alive' being an exception, seeing as it is based on real life?)

The media reporting on the rescue of the miners spent a lot of their time talking to psychologists and other counsellors about the likely psychological effects of the ordeal upon the men.

They would have been better off speaking to chaplains about the role religion plays in helping people to cope with adversity. And it does help. We know this now from research.

For example, people who practise a religion live longer on average than those who don't. One reason for this is that they tend to be healthier because they're less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, for instance.

Religious believers are also less likely to commit suicide, or succumb to depression. They recover faster from serious illness. They get over a bereavement faster.

One reason believers can cope better with adversity is because they have a source outside themselves to which they can turn and that helps them to accept whatever is in store for them.

It allows them to hope against hope when the odds are stacked against them, and when all is lost, it allows them to accept that fact, not to rage against it, and to seek forgiveness for any wrong they may have done and therefore go to God in peace.

Of course, this doesn't prove that there is a God. Nor is it saying that people who don't practise religion can't cope with adversity, because many can, sometimes better than people who do have faith.

But research shows that, on average, it is better in these situations to have a religious faith and it is completely natural to think of God and to pray in such circumstances because religion is a natural and ineradicable part of human nature.

The story of the Chilean miners proves this yet again. Faith is what helped many of these men to cope with their ordeal. The old adage says, 'no atheists in foxholes'.

Now we know there are no atheists in collapsed mines either.

I wonder what it would take for arch-atheists Dawkins and Hitchens and all their fellow Ditchkinses to find God? Facing a terrorist's hatchet? Being on an airplane about to crash?

And might there have been so much faith if the accident had happened in secular Europe rather than Catholic Chile?

00Thursday, October 21, 2010 12:30 AM

I should modify the banner to show the equally serious and far more insidious hate attacks on Christianity and the Church by MSM and their liberal fellow travelers.

More from the Times

Archdiocese of New York
October 19th, 2010

I know, I should drop it. “You just have to get used to it,” so many of you have counselled me. “It’s been that way forever, and it’s so ingrained they don’t even know they’re doing it. So, let it go.”

I’m talking about the common, casual way The New York Times offends Catholic sensitivity, something they would never think of doing — rightly so — to the Jewish, Black, Islamic, or gay communities.

Two simple yet telling examples from one edition, last Friday, October 15.

First there’s the insulting photograph of the nun on page C20, this for yet another tiresome production making fun of Catholic consecrated women. This “gleeful” tale is described as “fresh and funny” in the caption beneath the quarter-page photo (not an advertisement).

Granted, prurient curiosity about the lives of Catholic sisters has been part of the nativist, “know-nothing” agenda since mobs burned the Ursuline convent in Boston in the 1840’s, and since the huckster Rebecca Reed’s Awful Disclosures made the rounds in the 19th century. But still now cheap laughs at the expense of a bigoted view of the most noble women around?

Maybe I’m especially sensitive since I just came from the excellent exhibit on the contributions of Catholic nuns now out on Ellis Island. These are the women who tended to the homeless immigrants and refugees, who died nursing the abandoned in the cholera epidemic, who ran hospitals and universities decades before women did so in the non-Catholic sphere, who marched in Selma and today teach our poorest in our inner-city schools. These are the nuns mocked and held-up for snickering in our city’s newspaper.

Now turn to C29. This glowingly reviewed not-to-be missed “art” exhibit comes to us from Harvard, and is a display of posters from ACT UP. Remember them? They invaded St. Patrick’s Cathedral to disrupt prayer, trampled on the Holy Eucharist, insulted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was here for a conference, and yelled four- letter words while exposing themselves to families and children leaving Mass at the Cathedral.

The man they most detested was Cardinal John O’Connor, who, by the way, spent many evenings caring quietly for AIDS patients, and, when everyone else ran from them, opened units for them at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center and St. Clare’s Hospital. Too bad for him.

One of the posters in this “must see” exhibit is of Cardinal O’Connor, in the form of a condom, referred to as a “scumbag,” the “art” there in full view in the photograph above the gushing review in our city’s daily.

Thanks for your patience with me. I guess I’m still new enough here in New York City that the insults of The New York Times against the Church still bother me. I know I should get over it. As we say in Missouri, it’s like “spitting into a tornado.”

00Friday, November 5, 2010 4:50 PM
Where is the justice and common sense in enacting laws to protect the 'rights' of a minority at the expense of the genuine fundamental rights of a far greater part of the population? This whole unhinged idea of political correctness has imposed a virtual tyranny of the minority in countreis that claim to be democracies! You do not protect the special rights for a group of people by mindlessly trampling on the long-established fundamental rights for everyone else!

Anglican bishops warn against
effects of gay rights laws
on Christians and free speech

By Sam Greenhill

Nov. 1, 2010

Gay rights laws are eroding Christianity and stifling free speech, Church of England bishops warned yesterday.

Senior clerics, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, spoke out ahead of a High Court ‘clash of rights’ hearing over whether Christians are fit to foster or adopt children.

The test case starting today involves a couple who say they have been barred from fostering because they refuse to give up their religious belief that homosexuality is unacceptable.

Supporters hope their legal challenge will set a precedent for the rights of Christians to foster children without compromising their faith.

But senior bishops fear that if the ruling goes against them, it could have devastating consequences for those with religious beliefs.
Either way, they believe the case will determine whether Christians can continue to express their beliefs in this country

In an open letter, they warned that Labour’s equality laws put homosexual rights over those of others, ‘even though the Office for National Statistics has subsequently shown homosexuals to be just one in 66 of the population’.

The letter is signed by Lord Carey, the Bishop of Winchester Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Chester Rt Rev Peter Forster, and Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester.

They wrote:

The High Court is to be asked to rule on whether Christians are “fit people” to adopt or foster children – or whether they will be excluded, regardless of the needs of children, from doing so because of the requirements of homosexual rights.

Research clearly establishes that children flourish best in a family with both a mother and father in a committed relationship.

The supporters of homosexual rights cannot be allowed to suppress all disagreement or disapproval, and “coerce silence”.

The couple in the High Court test case, Eunice and Owen Johns, said Derby City Council’s fostering panel rejected them as carers because they would never tell children a homosexual lifestyle was acceptable.

Mrs Johns said: ‘The council said: “Do you know, you would have to tell them that it’s OK to be homosexual?” ‘But I said I couldn’t do that because my Christian beliefs won’t let me. Morally, I couldn’t do that. Spiritually I couldn’t do that.’

The Pentecostal Christian couple from Derby, who have fostered almost 20 children, are not homophobic, according to the Christian Legal Centre, which has taken up their case.

But they are against sex before marriage and do not recognise as marriage civil partnerships between gay couples.

Their beliefs are at odds with Derby City Council’s equality policy, which was drawn up under the terms of the Sexual Orientation Act brought in by Labour.

The Christian Legal Centre, which campaigns for religious freedoms, said in a statement: ‘The case will decide whether the Johns will be able to foster without compromising their beliefs.

‘The implications are huge. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of Christian foster carers and adoptive parents hangs in the balance.

‘It may not be long before local authorities decide that Christians cannot look after some of the most vulnerable children in our society, simply because they disapprove of homosexuality.’

However Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights charity Stonewall, said: ‘Too often in fostering cases nowadays it’s forgotten that it is the interests of a child, and not the prejudices of a parent, that matter.

‘Many Christian parents of gay children will be shocked at Mr and Mrs Johns’s views, which are more redolent of the 19th century than the 21st.’

The case is due to be heard in the High Court sitting at Nottingham Crown Court.

00Friday, November 26, 2010 3:40 PM

Until I can properly open a LOTW thread, let me park this discussion here first... Also, right now I do not have the time to properly 'format' the post, so I will leave it as in the original post (large blocks of text, which I generally would break up into easier-to-read 'paragraphs'.]

Also, from time to time, check out Ignatius Press's official blogsite for LOTW
which tries to keep up with the flood of commentary about the book.

On the Pope's condom remarks
by Steven A. Long
Professor of Theology
Ave Maria University

The world is currently much exercised by the remarks of the Holy Father in his interview book Light of the World, to the effect that although condom use is not a "moral solution" it may nonetheless for some be a beginning of an awareness of responsibility for the consequences of one's action on others that could eventually lead to genuinely moral reflection. To consider the English translation:

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way towards recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can only really lie in a humanization of sexuality.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
This is often portrayed as though the Pope is saying that the disordered sexual act of sodomy is morally bad, but condom use, as something incipiently responsible and moral, is nonetheless good. That is precisely what the Pope is not saying. That is why he says the Church does not regard it as a moral solution. He well realizes that condom use introduces no new species in a homosexual act, because no contraception takes place. Rather, the condom use is wholly predicated upon, and willed as a function of, the intention of sodomy, and condom used participates the species of the sodomitic act. Hence the condom use is morally evil, and indeed gravely evil. Janet Smith, who has written penetratingly about this, notes that all that condom use does is make an already gravely evil act slightly less evil, but that the Church is not in the business of directing people to perform grave evils in a slightly better way.

But what, then, of the papal language? Can a gravely evil act really be such that "there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality"? Certainly in the epistemic order, a person who is morally coarse and living sinfully, may in beginning to reflect on the consequences of his action for others and beginning to take responsibility for these, move in such a way that were it to continue he would eventually enter into genuinely moral considerations. If this is what the Pope means, then it is surely defensible, although the language even so seems somewhat rhetorically over-freighted: simply doing an evil act in a way that prevents infection does not necessarily suggest anything other than that the homosexual prostitute does not wish his customer to die, which frankly could be from venal or vicious motives; and if it is from a better motive, the act is still similar to a strangler who gives all his victims the opportunity to make a good act of contrition, and whom he calms and kills in as gentle a fashion as possible: all of which hardly seems to count as "a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way" of living. The Church is not in the business of endorsing grave evils when they are "lesser"--because grave moral evil may never rightly be done by anyone. The rhetoric of "first step" towards "a more human" sexuality makes the epistemic motion seem more proximate to the good of a more human sexuality than in fact it is. The "first step" is, in the epistemic order, toward a moral awareness generally speaking, which must be developed and enriched far more in order to constitute any specific movement in the practical moral order toward a "more human" sexuality.

Nonetheless one must give due credit to the "can" of the Pope's formulation--something that expresses raw possibility. And it is true that those who do move from moral evil to moral good, must epistemically at some point begin to be aware of their responsibility, and such a beginning might be found in someone who before had cavalierly exposed others to infection whilst sodomizing, who then tries to minimize the occasion for giving infection. But "first step"? Normally the first step toward a purpose partakes of the genus of that purpose. If the end is genuinely moral, then the use of the condom is not a "first step" any more than the gentler strangler is taking a first step toward a moral way of living and honoring the good of life. The "first step" of the Pope's example must be understood as nakedly epistemic, not in the least moral, but with the possibility that it could lead at some point to the genuinely moral. All the efforts to speak of the instance to which the pope refers as an exceptional case or circumstance for which the Holy Father has distilled the right moral theological understanding seems thus utterly wrong, because the Pope is not saying that condom use is morally good.

Given the refined nature of these reflections, one may also think that the Holy Father perhaps placed too great a weight upon a fragile medium which cannot sustain it--but from the best of motives, the desire to manifest the true nature of the papal service to the world, and openly to engage common questions and inquiries. Further, his words appear far better than Lombardi's explanation of them, which tries to render the entire matter a function of moral theology, whereas part of the Holy Father's treatment is simply and purely epistemic, something that the media probably will never be able to grasp.

Given the massive misunderstanding and malappropriation of the pope's words, a brief clarification from the Pontiff himself would be inestimably helpful, making clear a) that condom use in sodomitic sex partakes of the evil species of the disordered act, and is not morally good but morally evil--not because it introduces a new species, since there is no contraception, but because the condom use is wholly and formally predicated on the willing of the evil act and so is contained within the species of that act; b) that the sense in which the use of a condom might signal an awareness that could become moral, is epistemic not moral, but that some such an awareness can and indeed must be occasioned by something in those who recover moral equilibrium. Surely the cognitive pre-history of such development from immoralism to moral responsibility has unexpected sources having to do with awareness of the nature of responsibility and of the consequences of one's action for the good of others. Hence concern to minimize infection could be such a factor for someone.

Of course, there are many who wish to use the lines of the Holy Father to promote a different agenda, the agenda of permitting condom use in all sorts of "exceptional" cases, including, according to Sandro Magister, the use of condoms by spouses who are HIV positive. Hence he writes "A use that Catholic moral doctrine already acknowledges--on a par with recourse to condoms by spouses when one of them is infected with HIV--but is publicly approved of by a pope for the first time here." But the Church has never "approved" of such a "recourse to condoms by spouses when one of them is infected with HIV". This is pure fiction, albeit fiction which some in the Church would like to manipulate into the Church's teaching. Would it be a mistake to see those at L'Osservatore Romano who made this small part of the Pope's book public before the date of the coordinated release with other publishers that they had agreed to honor, as consciously seeking to promote an agenda?

Lombardi speaks of the Pope as clarifying what appears to be a problem in moral theology, as addressing: "an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person. In such a case, the pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality, but maintains that the use of the condom to diminish the danger of infection may be 'a first assumption of responsibility', 'a first step in a movement toward a...more human sexuality', as opposed to not using the condom and exposing the other person to a fatal risk."

Lombardi then goes on to speak of "numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical figures" who "have maintained and still maintain similar positions". He is, in other words, reading the Holy Father as providing a casuistry of an exceptional case, and then pointing toward unnamed but authoritative figures whose ineffable nimbus of authority seconds the papal motion. This seems to me neither close to the meaning of what the Holy Father actually wrote, nor in the least helpful. Indeed, if in the interview he gave, this is what the Holy Father intended, then I would be inclined to say: this is an interview, not an act of the magisterium, and this is an error. But I do not believe that the Holy Father thought of himself as developing a moral theology of condom use, nor addressing condom use in general--he says expressly the contrary, which Fr. Lombardi acknowledges. Further, the Holy Father says that condom use is "not...a real or moral solution". Why, then, does Lombardi depict the Holy Father as addressing the morality of an exceptional situation--"an exceptional situation in which the exercise of sexuality may represent a real risk to the life of another person"--when nowhere does the Pope present himself as providing a casuistic treatment along these lines?

Lombardi also notes that the Holy Father has said to him that his example could have extended to a female prostitute:

I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations.

Here, of course, there is a contraceptive species added to the act; and this makes all the clearer why the Pope's point is directly epistemic and only remotely moral. It also shows how dangerous it is to start speaking of these as "exceptional" situations and promulgating dubious moral judgments of them. Nonetheless, the same point obtains: epistemically, a female prostitute too might become more aware of consequences to others and responsibility, which followed all the way out lead toward moral modes of engagement. But it alters nothing of the moral evil that constitutes the acts being performed. To treat the lesser evil as a moral good, to speak of it in terms of an "exceptional situation" in which somehow because of its epistemic implications for possible moral consciousness it is therefore good, is a great mistake. This is a mistake toward which Lombardi's comments seem to verge.

Finally, was it prudent, given all that we know about the media, for the Holy Father to have given such an answer? In one sense, perhaps not, because the antecedent understanding of basic elements of Catholic life necessary in order not to read the prose wrongly, is predictably too great for the journalistic medium--or for the average reader, even the average academic reader--to bear. Further, such interviews can, given the difficulty in delimiting positions comprehensively in such a format, set off accidental depth charges affecting the magisterium. And, in fact, books of papal interviews are not acts of the magisterium. Yet the answer in question is part of the Holy Father's effort to engage genuine questions, and the book is profound and beautiful. It is a shame that those with agendas other than that of the Church should contrive to make the book known first and most universally solely in terms of a difficult formulation easily misunderstood. But the more general witness of the book will still be given. We should be thankful for a Pontiff who is willing to take risks in witnessing to the truth. Especially if he issues further clarification, this will indeed have proven a "teachable moment". But it is also instructive to consider how much wider the frame of reference of Benedict the XVI is by comparison with most of our contemporaries, and how essential this is both for the task of understanding what he has to say and for fathoming the gravity of his words.
00Monday, November 29, 2010 5:10 AM
Condoms, Catholicism and Casuistry

Nov. 23, 2010

Amid the ongoing furor surrounding Pope Benedict’s comments about condom use in his latest book-length interview with Peter Seewald, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that Seewald and Benedict (then Joseph Ratzinger) have discussed the question of contraception. In their first interview, published as “Salt of the Earth” in 1996, Seewald asked Ratzinger if he understood why so many Christians find the Church’s teaching on birth control so incomprehensible. The then-cardinal replied as follows:

Yes, I can understand that quite well; the question is really complicated. In today’s troubled world, where the number of children cannot be very high given living conditions and so many other factors, it’s very easy to understand. In this matter, we ought to look less at the casuistry of individual cases and more at the major objectives the Church has in mind.

…. the first and most fundamental is to insist on the value of the child in society. In this area, in fact, there has been a remarkable change. Whereas in the simple societies of the past up to the nineteenth century, the blessing of children was regarded as the blessing, today children are conceived of almost as a threat. People think that they rob us of a place for the future, they threaten our own space, and so forth. In this matter a primary objective is to recover the original, true view that the child, the new human being, is a blessing. That by giving life we also receive it ourselves and that going out of ourselves and accepting the blessing of creation are good for man.

The second is that today we find ourselves before a separation of sexuality from procreation such as was not known earlier, and this makes it all the more necessary not to lose sight of the inner connection between the two … [Third], the Church wants to keep man human … we cannot resolve great moral problems simply with techniques, with chemistry, but most solve them morally, with a life-style. It is, I think — independently now of contraception — one of our great perils that we want to master even the human condition with technology, that we have forgotten that there are primordial human problems that are not susceptible of technological solutions but that demand a certain life-style and life decisions … I would say that in the question of contraception we ought to look more at these basic options in which the Church is leading the struggle for man. The point of the Church’s objections is to underscore this battle. The way these objections are formulated is perhaps not always completely felicitous, but what is at stake are such major cardinal points of human existence.

At this point, Seewald pressed him further. “The question remains whether you can reproach someone, say, a couple who already have several children, for not having a positive attitude toward children.”
And Ratzinger replied: “No, of course, and that shouldn’t happen, either.” Then Seewald again: “But must these people nevertheless have the idea that they are living some sort of sin if they …” And Ratzinger interrupts:

I would say that those are questions that ought to be discussed with one’s spiritual director, with one’s priest, because they can’t be projected into the abstract.

More even than in the latest interview, in this decade-old exchange with Seewald I have the sense that Ratzinger understands both the power and the weakness of Catholic teaching on contraception.

As a critique of culture, and as an expression of the gulf between the modern West’s understanding of sexuality and the traditional Christian approach to love and sex and marriage, the Church’s brief against artificial birth control looks, if anything, much more compelling today than it did when Pope Paul VI reaffirmed it in the famous/infamous 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

The Church was right to prophecy that a contraceptive-friendly culture would become increasingly hostile to traditional Christian sexual ethics across the board. (Many critics of traditional Christian sexual ethics would happily concede this point — Andrew Sullivan’s argument that “we are all sodomites now”, for instance, is premised on the assumption that heterosexual contraceptive use has played a significant role in undercutting the old Christian sexual consensus — and many Protestants have gradually become more sympathetic to the Catholic position for exactly this reason.)

Likewise, the Church’s assumption that the widespread use of artificial birth control would lead to more divorces and more abortions (rather than fewer of both, as many voices argued in the ’60s) was largely vindicated by subsequent trends.

The Church was also right to worry, as Paul VI put it in his encyclical, that advocates of contraception wouldn’t stop with protecting individual choices, and instead would ultimately “give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.” (The whole sorry story of population control efforts testify to papal prescience on this front.)

It was right to suspect that the advance of artificial reproductive technologies wouldn’t stop with ortho-trycyclen, and that the quest for technological “solutions” to intimate problems would lead to the commodification of human life on a grand scale.

And it was right (and is right) to argue that condoms by themselves do not represent a solution to the problems of disease and deprivation in the developing world, and to suggest that Western man is rather too quick to just hand out Trojans and declare victory.

The problem is that the power and persuasiveness of this critique diminishes when the subject turns from the broader cultural issues back to what Benedict/Ratzinger termed “the casuistry of individual cases.” (“Casuistry” is case-based moral reasoning; the term is often used pejoratively because of the way it was allegedly abused by certain 17th-century Jesuits.)

Here I don’t just mean individual cases like the kind the pope alluded to in his more recent comments — cases where someone is going to commit a serious sexual sin anyway, whether it’s prostitution (male or female) or adultery or something else, and the question is whether using a condom makes the sin worse or whether it can be instead (as Benedict puts it) “a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.”

Nor do I mean the arguably more pressing question of whether condoms can be licit in cases where a husband has AIDS and his wife does not (or vice versa), and the prophylactic is being used primarily to prevent infection rather than to forestall conception.

I mean the more common kind of case that many people stumble over, and that Seewald brought up in 1996: The Catholic married couple that’s just trying to space out their children, whether for financial or emotional or medical reasons, and that either has trouble practicing natural family planning, or simply can’t grasp the distinction between using N.F.P. and occasionally using a condom.

Here the Church struggles and struggles, in ways that it doesn’t on other controversial issues, to make its teaching understood and its moral reasoning transparent. (This is apparent in polling data: There are many millions of Catholics who accept the Church’s demanding, countercultural teachings on divorce, premarital sex, priestly celibacy, embryo-destruction and abortion, but then look more like dissenters when the subject of artificial birth control comes up.)

Orthodox Catholics sometimes argue that the problem is simply that the teaching hasn’t been adequately explicated and defended, whether by bishops or priests or laypeople — and there’s truth to this. But the problem probably runs deeper than that: It isn’t just that the arguments for the teaching aren’t advanced vigorously and eloquently enough; it’s that the distinctions that the Church makes bump up against people’s moral intuitions more than they do on other fronts, and the Church’s arguments often take on a kind of hair-splitting quality that’s absent on other hot-button questions. (As in: The natural law permits me to rigorously chart my temperature and/or measure my cervical mucus every day in an effort to avoid conception, but it doesn’t permit me to use a condom? Really?)

I think a lot of Catholics can follow the argument that contraceptive use is an occasion of sin, or even that it reflects a kind of “social sin” (to borrow the jargon of progressive Catholicism for a moment), but then still have trouble getting all the way to the logic of the absolute ban, or grasping the distinction between barrier methods and fertility charting as means of regulating family size.

Which is why, more than in other instances, the Church’s leadership tends to fall back on the arguments from tradition and authority: You rarely hear Catholic bishops saying of abortion, “we won’t change the teaching because we can’t change the teaching,” but you’re more likely to hear that argument when the subject turns to birth control, because (I suspect) they’re less confident about the other arguments at their disposal.

Now for a serious Catholic, the argument from tradition and authority is a real argument, not just the dodge that many people assume it to be. And the fact that the Church’s moral reasoning seems unpersuasive may just reflect the distorting impact of a contraceptive culture on the individual conscience. (I imagine that would be Elizabeth Anscombe’s view of the matter, for instance, if the great Catholic philosopher were alive to elaborate on her famous 1972 essay on this subject.)

But whatever the impact of cultural prejudices, the problem of widespread unpersuasiveness remains, and I think you can see that difficulty at work in the way Ratzinger talked about the issue in 1996, and the way (as Benedict) he talks about it today.

In what he chooses to emphasize and what he chooses to downplay, he seems aware that the Church’s view of contraception is more easily grasped in the general than in the particular, and more compelling in its judgment of Western culture than in its condemnation of every individual case where contraception is employed.

[Benedict XVI is very well aware that some Catholic teachings are probably more honored in the breach, and he says so in the new book when he talks about Humanae vitae, referring to the 'minorities' who gind its precepts 'fascinating' and live it as a model for all those we might call 'conscientious objectors'.].
00Tuesday, November 30, 2010 3:19 PM

For now, I am posting this without any comments....i do not want to be cursory. DICI is the information site of the FSSPX.

FSSPX note on the remarks
of Benedict XVI concerning condom use


In a book-length interview entitled Light of the World, which was released in German, Italian and English on November 23, 2010, Benedict XVI admits, for the first time, the use of condoms “in certain cases” “to reduce the risks of infection” by the AIDS virus. These erroneous remarks require clarification and correction, for their disastrous effects — which a media campaign has not failed to exploit — cause scandal and disarray among the faithful.

1. What Benedict XVI said

To the question, “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?” the Pope answered, according to the authorized English translation of the original German version, “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

To illustrate his statement, the Pope gives only one example, that of a “male prostitute”. He considers that, in this particular case, it “can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.”

The case in question, therefore, concerns someone who, while already committing an act contrary to nature, for mercenary reasons, would take care not to infect his client fatally in addition.

2. What Benedict XVI intended to say, according to his spokesman

These remarks by the Pope have been perceived by the media and by militant movements in favor of contraception, as a “revolution”, a “turning point”, or at the very least a “break” in the constant moral teaching of the Church on the use of contraceptives.

That is why the spokesman for the Vatican, Fr. Federico Lombardi, issued an explanatory note on November 21 in which we read: “the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat for the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection may be ‘a first act of responsibility,’ ‘a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality,’ rather than not using it and exposing the other to risking his life.”

It is appropriate to note here, to be exact, that the Pope speaks not only about “a first act of responsibility” but also about “a first step in the direction of a moralization”.

Along these same lines, Cardinal Georges Cottier, who was the theologian of the papal residence under John Paul II and at the beginning of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, had declared during an interview with the news agency Apcom on January 31, 2005: “In some particular situations — and I am thinking about environments where drugs are circulated or where great human promiscuity and great poverty prevail, as in certain regions of Africa and Asia — in those cases, the use of condoms can be considered legitimate.”

Legitimacy of condom use, regarded as a step toward moralization, in certain cases: that is the problem posed by the Pope’s remarks in Light of the World.

3. What Benedict XVI did not say
and what his predecessors have always said

“No ‘indication’ or necessity can turn an intrinsically immoral action into a moral and licit act” (Pius XII, Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives, October 29, 1951).

“No reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good” (Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, 54).

Now the use of condoms is contrary to nature inasmuch as it deflects a human act from its natural end. Their use therefore remains immoral always.

To the journalist’s clear question, ““Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?” the Pope answers by citing an exceptional situation, and he does not recall that the Church is always fundamentally opposed to condom use.

Now the fact that condom use is an intrinsically immoral action, and matter for mortal sin, is a constant point in the traditional teaching of the Church, for example in the writings of Pius XI and Pius XII, and even in the thought of Benedict XVI when he says to the journalist who is questioning him, “[The Church] of course does not regard [the condom] as a real or moral solution,” but nevertheless the Pope allows it “in certain cases”. But that is inadmissible from the perspective of the faith.

“No reason,” Pius XI teaches in Casti Connubii, 54, “however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good.” Pius XII recalls this in his Address to Midwives (October 29, 1951): “No ‘indication’ or necessity can turn an intrinsically immoral action into a moral and licit act.” Saint Paul condemned the opinion that evil may be done so that good may come of it (see Romans 3:8).

Benedict XVI seems to consider the case of the male prostitute according to the principles of “gradual morality” which claims to allow certain less serious crimes so as to lead delinquents progressively from extremely serious crimes to harmless behavior. These lesser crimes would not be moral, no doubt, but the fact that they are part of a path toward virtue would render them licit.

Now this idea is a serious error because a lesser evil remains an evil, whatever improvement it may indicate. As Paul VI teaches in Humanae vitae (no. 14), “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Romans 3:8)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general.”

Tolerating a lesser evil is not the same as making that evil “legitimate”, nor including it in a process of “moralization”. Humanae vitae (no. 14) recalls that “it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong,” just as one must say that it is an error to propose the idea that a condom, which in itself is wrong, could be made right by the hoped-for path toward virtue of a male prostitute who uses it.

As opposed to a weaning process that would lead from a sin that is “more mortal” to one that is “less mortal”, evangelical teaching clearly affirms: “Go and now sin no more” (John 8:11) and not “go and sin less”.

4. What Catholics need to hear from the Pope’s lips

Certainly, a book-length interview cannot be considered an act of the Magisterium [i.e. of the Church’s official teaching authority], a fortiori when it departs from what has been taught in a definitive, unchangeable way.

Nonetheless the fact remains that the doctors and pharmacists who courageously refuse to prescribe and deliver condoms and contraceptives out of fidelity to their Catholic faith and morality, and in general all the many families devoted to Tradition, have an urgent and overriding need to hear that the perennial teaching of the Church could not change over time. They all await the firm reminder that the natural law, like human nature upon which it is engraved, is universal.

Now in Light of the World, we find a statement that relativizes the teaching of Humanae vitae by describing those who follow it faithfully as “deeply convinced minorities” who offer the others “a fascinating model to follow”.

As if the Encyclical by Paul VI set an ideal almost out of reach, which is what the great majority of bishops had already persuaded themselves of, so as to slip that teaching more readily under the bushel basket — precisely where Christ forbids us to place “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

Should the demands of the Gospel become, unfortunately, the exception destined to confirm the general rule of the hedonistic world in which we live? The Christian must not be conformed to this world (see Romans 12:2), but rather must transform it as “the leaven in the dough” (see Matthew 13:33) and give it the taste of Divine Wisdom as “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13).

Menzingen, November 26, 2010

00Friday, December 10, 2010 9:06 AM

December 9, 2010

Science, unlike philosophy and metaphysics, cannot deductively prove a creation or God. Science is an empirical and inductive discipline, meaning that it cannot be certain that it has considered all possible data that would be relevant to a complete explanation of particular physical phenomena or the universe itself.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable and responsible to attribute qualified truth value to long-standing, rigorously established theories until such time as new data requires them to be changed.

This is what enables science to 1) identify, aggregate, and synthesize evidence indicating the finitude of past time in the universe and 2) to identify the exceedingly high improbability of the random occurrence of conditions necessary to sustain life in the universe.
-- Robert Spitzer, S.J., New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 2010), 73.


In the first book I wrote, Redeeming the Time (1968), one chapter was entitled "The Cosmos and Christianity." Even then, I was concerned with the question of whether, as many then assumed, science had somehow made faith —o r the particular version of it known as Christianity — to be impossible.

But was there not evidence for another relationship? That is, Christianity and science were rather closely related. Both sought objective truth. Both were concerned with the origin and meaning of the whole physical cosmos. Both presupposed or needed the other for their respective completions. They were not intrinsically contradictory to each other. Neither could definitively exclude the other, however much they might try.

Thus, the subtitle of the chapter was: "The World Is for Man." These were the days before Stanley Jaki's The Road of Science and the Ways to God (1979) or William Wallace's Modeling of Nature (1996), which made the compatible relationship between science and revelation more plausible.

The cosmos, in other words, was not just sitting out there with God, as it were, even though He created it, looking on wondering what in blazes to do with it. An inner order or plan was there from the beginning, one that did not satisfy itself by knowing what were the principles of nature, however important these were. The cosmos itself was related to something within it which pointed, in its turn, to what transcended it.

Fr. Jaki, in fact, argued that the possibility of science itself depended on certain theological propositions without which science does not appear in any culture.

Science depends on the notion that a real world exists. It is not an illusion. It has within it stable secondary causes open to investigation by human intelligence and techniques. We can learn something from it because something is there to be learned. Scientific principles do not just explain themselves, even when known. They are already operative within the cosmos before any finite mind ever thought to articulate what they meant.

Theories of divine or cosmic voluntarism, moreover, in which the opposite of any fact could be at the same time possible or true, make science impossible. If the world depends on an arbitrarily changeable will, nothing can really be known. Both the existence and the explanation of the world rather depended on principles that seemed anything but arbitrary.

In the beginning it was not clear whether the world and its principles always existed or whether it came into existence at some definite point in the past, however long. The history of modern cosmology has reached a solid consensus on this issue. The cosmos did have a beginning, approximately 13.7 billion years ago. Time itself began with that beginning.

In any case, I had somehow read enough in Heisenberg, KoyrŽ, Bondi, and others to suspect that the cosmic or scientific case against Christianity was not as strong as it might at first have appeared. The jumpiness over Galileo or evolution might be understandable, but it was not conclusive.

The argument for the compatibility of science and Christianity seemed rather more persuasive than the view that they could not stand together. One did not have to be false because the other was true. Both were true in their own orders. We needed rather to see how they addressed each other in such a way that what one knew supplied what was lacking in the other.

I was particularly stuck by Chesterton's remark that we should not confuse size with spirit. It might well be, and in fact seems to be the case, that the mysteries connected with a single human person are quite as complicated as the complexity of the universe itself. I believe Einstein himself also said this of politics.

It did not necessarily take mystics to make us aware of this free will-based complexity that stands over and above the universe itself. The free creatures within the cosmos weave a complexity that is not automatic, but it is real.


In this light, I was particularly pleased to read Father Robert Spitzer's new book on the proofs for the existence of God. As I have known and admired Father Spitzer for some time, I had been awaiting this book to be finally published.

Spitzer is an extraordinarily learned man in many areas. He taught here at Georgetown for some three years over a decade ago before he was mandated to go to Gonzaga University in Spokane to become its President.

He is what I can only call a "Pied Piper," his teaching and lecturing can be mesmerizing. His eyesight has long been a problem; for all that, he does not seem to miss a thing even with the thickest of glasses. Himself very widely read, he has studied many areas from business to science, theology, and philosophy. His earlier book Healing the Culture sets up a basic agenda for confronting the aberrations of our time.

As I did my early studies at Gonzaga also, we have several much admired professors in common, notably Father Clifford Kossel, S. J., whose work on metaphysical relations is seminal in any understanding of the Trinity, and Fr. John H. Wright, S. J. whose 1958 essay in the Gregorianum, "The Consummation of the Universe in Christ," I cite in my chapter and is directly related to the overall scope of Spitzer's own thought.

Fr. Spitzer studied at the Gregorian University in Rome. He did his doctoral degree at the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, the very best place. His mentor was the famous Professor Paul Weiss. The subject matter, which comes up importantly in this book, concerned the nature and reality of time, no doubt the most abstruse of all metaphysical questions.

Of late, Fr. Spitzer was on the Larry King TV show with Stephen Hawking and others discussing Hawking's dubious claim that everything could be explained about the universe without God.

Spitzer made it quite clear that, on scientific grounds themselves, this was not true. It is always amusing to realize that philosophy remains the primary grounds on which the possibility of Christianity must be defended. This was something both C. S. Lewis and Chesterton understood.

So here we saw Fr. Spitzer in Roman collar arguing with a scientist, himself very physically impaired, about science. While we might hold that the universe was created by God from reading Genesis, we might also believe it because, when sorted out, the evidence points this way, whether we give a hang about Genesis or not.

In the end, it seemed quite clear on that particular television show, that, on this core issue, the cleric knew more about science than the scientist. If one is a Catholic, he has no problem with holding that this grounding is the way it should be. We do not bring in revelation until we first face the issue as it exists in reason.

Hawking was right that science could explain many principles that demonstrated the workings of the universe. But once we have arrived at these principles, as Spitzer indicated, we cannot just leave them there. The principles do not explain themselves — they do not, as it were, create themselves. What indeed is the origin of the truth of the principles already found operative and constitutive of the cosmos?

Since leaving Gonzaga, Fr. Spitzer has formed the Magis Institute, a think-tank, if you will, in which he devotes full time to basic theoretical issues, something often less possible in politically correct universities.

Though a perfectly normal and engaging man, I am not sure if any "small" thought has ever entered into Fr. Spitzer's head. He intends to make all the big thoughts as widely known as possible. He may even suspect that a university might just be an impediment in this project. The web site of his Magis Institute is worth a look in this regard.


The present book is tightly organized and carefully argued. Spitzer makes all the proper distinctions between philosophy and science, between theology and philosophy.

Indeed, strictly speaking, nothing "Christian" comes up in this book. Reading the book, one is reminded of the philosophic discussions of Aquinas about God and what exists outside of God. We find in the Spitzer book no mention of Incarnation or Trinity.

The word "Creator" does appear, but not from Genesis. It appears solely as the conclusion of a strict philosophical argument about finite existence or about the beginning of time, or about the peculiar configuration of the cosmos.

And even here the notion of creator is different if we are talking about what we know from science and what we know from metaphysics, neither are revelational sources or arguments.

This book is about science and philosophy. It recognizes and demonstrates the legitimacy of both but also their inter-dependence. In that sense, we speak of first principles and proof, the latter structured in the form of an argument, a syllogism. One step builds on the next.

The reader of Spitzer has to read him carefully. This book is not a novel. It requires active thinking through a series of observations, premises, and intermediate conclusions to the end. The book has an engaging clarity. It knows that definitions and arguments need repeating.

Spitzer writes as if he knows that a live audience is out there, some of whom are not quite used to the rigors of intellectual discourse. But they are willing and anxious to understand the argument being proposed.

We have here, in short, several "proofs" for the existence of God. Every principle or idea is defined clearly and repeated again and again. When earlier discussions or proofs come up, the text refers us back to them.

The book is a pedagogical masterpiece. Scientific theories are explained. Numbers, equations, and estimates are identified and labeled. Their sources are indicated. Spitzer has carefully read the scientists that he deals with. He explains how he understands them, what he judges about the validity of their experiments or conclusions. He allows us, challenges us to check his sources or his arguments. He is concerned with the truth of the issue.


Spitzer proceeds in three steps. First he examines the question of whether science can prove the existence of God. The word "prove" is a technical word. It means a consistent, logical argument from first principles either of induction or deduction.

First principles, however, have no "proof." That is why they are called "first." Such a first principle means that, once the terms of the proposition are understood, nothing is clearer. Their very denial involves their affirmation of the principle. The human mind understands some basic first principles. Otherwise it could not be a mind; it could not begin.

Suppose, for example, I say that something can be true and false at the same time, in the same way. The statement itself is either true or false. If it is true, then it must be false. If it is false, it must be true. Once we understand their premises, we cannot find something more clear. They are "immediately" known, that is, without the medium of a minor premise.

The principle of contradiction — a thing cannot be and not be at the same time, in the same way — governs both reality and our argument. Basically, Spitzer holds that science can, in its own terms, reasonably show that God exists. But science does not prove it conclusively in the sense that new evidence may come up that would challenge the present scientific basis of the proofs.

The book, therefore, shows both what the best thinking in science holds and what a metaphysical argument shows. Basically, it shows that they support each other, but after the manner of their own disciplines.

Secondly, Spitzer asks the question of whether metaphysics, the science of being as being, contrasted to science, which deals with empirical data, can prove the existence of God.

The validity of scientific principles themselves depends on metaphysics. He explains why this is so. Thirdly, he asks, in effect: "What does this God look like (how are we to understand Him) if in fact He does exist?"

The latter part of the book is extremely interesting in dealing with simplicity or unity, truth, beauty, love, and the good. These latter discussions, as Spitzer points out, do not have the strict probative power of the proofs themselves that he presents. But they do follow from them in a consistent fashion.

When all three sections are taken as a whole, we are left with a coherent, systematic, and well-reasoned argument about the existence and nature of God based on both science and reason.

It can be said, and Spitzer intimates this understanding, that human intelligence, at its best, exists precisely to understand the existence of God and its relation to what is.

If we can put it this way, the cosmos does not ultimately exist for itself. In principle, the cosmos cannot understand itself, even though, in investigating it, we find that constants, relations, and consistencies are found that hold firm. The human mind can comprehend them.

The activity of understanding, that is, the scientific and metaphysical enterprises, has been a corporate endeavor of men almost from the beginning of human existence on this earth. This speculation becomes even more interesting when we calculate how old the earth is, how old the cosmos is, how long human life has existed, and how long since we began to reduce our thinking to consistent order.

It begins to look like Plato was quite right in supposing that the universe is not complete unless within it is found some finite being that can understand it. The glory of science consists in its own wonder about this search.

It turns out that this being, which can understand the universe, may or may not exist only on one planet within the cosmos, the one we are on. No evidence of life elsewhere really exists, only speculation. Spitzer will note the probabilities of rational races in other planets.

But the primary question is not whether other rational beings exist, but how odd it is that any rational beings such as we know them in ourselves exist. A striking theme in this book, one following on the question of the provability of God's existence from cause, time, or order, or consciousness, is the utter unlikelihood that the cosmos could have ever been designed such that human life could exist anywhere within it. But it does. Here at home.

This unlikely probability constitutes what is known as the "anthropic" principle, that a great number of wholly unlikely moments and principles had to exist in coordination with each before men or any rational beings could exist. All of this had to happen before any actual man appeared. Indeed, they had to be in place when the universe was first formed.

Thus, it seems that in the structure of the universe from its utterly singular beginning, we can posit a transcendent, completely self-sufficient intelligent principle capable of ordering such a sequence so that men would finally exist.

The question of why this "God" might want such beings to exist does not come up in this book except briefly in the discussion of love as a transcendental. The revelational answer to this question is not considered though it is fully compatible with the arguments that Spitzer spells out.

The very openness of the question leaves us with the wonderment of whether we have heard everything from this source when we have engaged in philosophic and science discourse. That is, could the originating source or cause reveal Himself in other ways, in later times.

The arguments for the existence of God in this book do not directly relate to the widely discussed "intrinsic design" theses which are mostly rooted in biology and the requirements of living organisms.

Spitzer bases his argument rather on the questions of conditioned and unconditioned reality. In any case, New Proofs for the Existence of God is a must read. Even though it is a clear and well presented book, it demands careful reading and thinking. It deals with the highest things.

What is presented here will never be found as well formulated or argued elsewhere. It is not, I think, a "Catholic" book, but one designed to any mind willing to think the issue through. The Catholic mind is simply one that wants to think these same issues. It is often the only mind willing to do so.

The implications of the Spitzer book are vast. This book will no doubt frighten many simply because of what it concludes. The fright, as I think, is due to the suspicion that, after all, the existence of God does make sense. One cannot really pretend otherwise.

Science does not "prove" or even imply that perhaps He does not. The supposed underpinnings of a good deal of modern culture are simply gone. The existence of God is a conclusion of carefully argued reason about which any serious person can see the evidence.

Spitzer presents the evidence clearly and intelligently. Little more can be asked. Even though the book is a demanding read, the book is a delight of reason. Spitzer, as it were, lights up the universe in a way that enables us to see it. This is what, ultimately, intelligence is about.

00Thursday, December 23, 2010 1:19 PM
I think the title is an exaggeration - in the same way that Fr. James Martin, SJ, of AMERICA magazine has asserted that 'We have lost the war on Christmas'... But nonetheless, these are new aggravations to add to the load on the camel's back, though not yet the last straw... Buchanan is a Catholic.

Christian rout in the culture war
by Patrick J. Buchanan


A Democratic Congress, discharged by the voters on Nov. 2, has as one of its last official acts, imposed its San Francisco values on the armed forces of the United States.

"Don't ask, don't tell" is to be repealed. Open homosexuals are to be welcomed with open arms in all branches of the armed services.

Let us hope this works out better for the Marine Corps than it did for the Catholic Church.

Remarkable. The least respected of American institutions, Congress, with an approval rating of 13 percent, is imposing its cultural and moral values on the most respected of American institutions, the U.S. military.

Why are we undertaking this social experiment with the finest military on earth? Does justice demand it? Was there a national clamor for it?

No. It is being imposed from above by people, few of whom have ever served or seen combat, but all of whom are aware of the power of the homosexual rights lobby. This is a political payoff, at the expense of our military, to a militant minority inside the Democratic Party that is demanding this as the price of that special interest's financial and political support.

Among the soldiers most opposed to bringing open homosexuals into the ranks are combat veterans, who warn that this will create grave problems of unit cohesion and morale.

One Marine commandant after another asked Congress to consider the issue from a single standpoint:

Will the admission of gay men into barracks at Pendleton and Parris Island enhance the fighting effectiveness of the Corps?

Common sense suggests that the opposite is the almost certain result.

Can anyone believe that mixing small-town and rural 18-, 19- and 20-year-old Christian kids, aspiring Marines, in with men sexually attracted to them is not going to cause hellish problems?

The Marines have been sacrificed by the Democratic Party and Barack Obama to the homosexual lobby, with the collusion of no fewer than eight Republican senators.

This is a victory in the culture war for the new morality of the social revolution of the 1960s and a defeat for traditional Judeo-Christian values. For only in secularist ideology is it an article of faith that all sexual relations are morally equal and that to declare homosexual acts immoral is bigotry.

I think we should nonetheless be happy about the following:

But while this new morality may be orthodoxy among our elites in the academy, media, culture and the arts, Middle America has never signed on and still regards homosexuality as an aberrant lifestyle, both socially and spiritually ruinous.

To these folks, homosexuality is associated with a high incidence of disease, HIV/AIDS, early death, cultural decadence and civilizational decline. And no sensitivity training at Camp Lejeune is going to change that.

Behind these traditionalist beliefs lie the primary sources of moral authority for traditionalist America: the Old and New Testaments, Christian doctrine, natural law. Thomas Jefferson believed homosexuality should be treated with the same severity as rape.

And 31 consecutive defeats for same-sex marriage in state referenda testifies that Middle America sees the new morality as the artificial invention of pseudo-intellectuals to put a high gloss on a low lifestyle.

Not until recent decades have many in America or the West argued that homosexuality is natural and normal. As late as 1973, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Today, anyone who agrees with that original APA assessment is himself or herself said to be afflicted with a mental disorder: homophobia.

The world has turned upside down. What was criminal vice in the 1950s -- homosexuality and abortion -- is not only constitutionally protected, but a mark of social progress.

Yet, just as busing for racial balance led to violence, white flight and the ruin of urban schools, this social experiment is not going to be without consequences. And it is the military that will endure those consequences.

Yet, again, if we believe our armed forces to be the best in the world, why are we doing this, against the advice of countless senior officers and NCOs? What is the motivation other than the payoff of a campaign debt?

What happens now to Evangelical Christian and conservative Catholic chaplains who preach that homosexuality is a sinful and shameful practice? Will they be severed from the service as homophobes?

That cannot be far behind when the Family Research Council, a respected organization of religious and social conservatives that has fought the homosexual agenda from same-sex marriage to gay adoptions, has now been declared by the Southern Poverty Law Center to be a "hate group."

The advance of what was once a radical agenda has accelerated.

In 2004, John Kerry may have lost Ohio and the presidency because same-sex marriage was on the ballot in almost a dozen states, bringing out committed social conservatives to the polls. Six years later, the gay rights agenda is imposed by Congress and Obama on the 82nd and 101st.

Let the reader decide if the direction America is headed in is toward those "sunny uplands," or straight downhill.

00Thursday, December 23, 2010 4:09 PM

I am posting this here, because the story per se - about some second-level diplomat's impressions of Vatican diplomacy - is peripheral to the Holocaust-Pius XII narrative, but on the other hand, emblematic for wider issues, in this case, the now-ingrained MSM bias against Pius XII and the by now-ingrained second nature in MSM to twist the news to their purposes.

The following story carries a deliberately false headline - as the story clearly shows, the Vatican did not veto anything (nor is it in a position to do so in international organizations where it only has observer status); if the US cables are to be believed, it simply decided not to press for observer status in this Holocaust task force, where, one imagines, it would simply be a whipping boy endlessly castigated because of the Black Legend about Pius XII's 'silence' about the H9locaust....It must be remembered the Guardian leads the UK establishment media in anti-Church hostility, and always seeks to paint the Church in the worst light in anything it reports about the Church, the Vatican or the Pope.

Wikileaks cables: Vatican vetoed
Holocaust memorial over Pius XII row

by Andrew Brown

Dec. 21, 2011

The Vatican has withdrawn from a written agreement to join an international Holocaust memorial organisation because of tensions over the activity of Pope Pius XII, the pope during the second world war, American diplomatic cables show.

Relations have become so frosty that the Vatican "rowed back on a prior written agreement" to take up observer status on an international organisation dedicated to remembering the Holocaust and transmitting its lessons to the future, according to Julieta Valls Noyes, the number two at the American embassy to the Holy See.

In October 2009, she reported that the plans for the Vatican to take up observer status at the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research "had fallen apart completely … due to Vatican back-pedalling".

She was unclear whether this was attributable to the newly-appointed deputy foreign minister of the Vatican, Mgr Ettore Balestrero, whom she described as "relatively inexperienced", adding that "this would not be the first time he has complicated Vatican foreign relations".

But she thought it might also indicate that the Vatican "may ... be pulling back due to concerns about ITF pressure to declassify records from the WWII-era pontificate of Pope Pius XII".

Pius XII has long been a controversial figure for his failure publicly to denounce the Holocaust in 1941 or 1942, when the Vatican was first informed of what was going on.

Before becoming pope, he had served as the Vatican ambassador in Berlin. Some Jewish groups have accused him of anti-semitic attitudes; his defenders, among them many other Jews, have argued that any more overt resistance to the Nazis would have been counter-productive, citing the example of the church in the Netherlands, where savage repression and the deportation of many more Jews followed a denunciation of Nazi policies from the pulpit.

Both sides believe they will be proved right by papers in the Vatican archives, but their release has been extremely slow.

The American diplomatic cables show a long and increasingly futile effort on behalf of the embassy to mediate between the Vatican archivists and outside historians, bedevilled by mutual mistrust. [What a presumption to think the US embassy could 'mediate' this in any way. It's a physical problem - too many documents available - with a magnitude that the Vatican cannot be expected to consider a priority in its disbursement of resources better spent in its many social projects around the world. The Vatican has already said that all the Pius XII archives will be open to researchers by 2014. Meanwhile, the critics are completely ignoring that the most important and pertinent documents were already published in a monumental 12-volume undertaking from the 1960s. Do none of these obvious factors come in at all into Ms. Noyes's cavalier conclusions????]

The story starts in 2001, when the first attempt to negotiate a solution had already broken down. Father Peter Gumpel, a German Jesuit priest and admirer of Pius XII, who was keeper of the archives, threatened to sue a journalist who suggested that he or his family had been Nazis, the cables show.

"Gumpel also expressed concern about references in the media and in other comments to him as the 'German Jesuit'. Gumpel [said] his family had been victims of Nazi persecution and several had been killed by the Nazis.

He himself had to flee Nazi Germany as a refugee, first to France and then later to Holland. He recalled that at one point a reporter had planned to print an assertion that Gumpel was a Nazi himself – something Gumpel said was libellous, and which he was more than willing to go to court to fight."

The next year, Cardinal Walter Kasper, another German, attempted to restart the dialogue over the papers. The-then American ambassador, Jim Nicholson, reported a conversation with him on December 18 2001. "[Kasper] said that Father Gumpel was the Vatican's best informed living expert on the papacy of Pius XII."

Two months later, partly responding to American pressure, Pope John Paul II, who also wanted his predecessor canonised, authorised the early release of documents relating to Pius XII's earlier career as the Vatican's ambassador to Germany.

Nicholson reported: "The decision … appears to be an attempt by the pope to silence accusations of anti-semitism levelled against his predecessor Pius XII. It may also herald renewed Vatican interest in beatifying Pius XII – free from the pall of scandal and derision.

The decision by Pope John Paul II to dispense with standard operating procedures in this case comes after years of Vatican protestations that this material could not be released because it was not yet properly catalogued. The decision shows that whatever the pope wants, does in fact happen."

[I must check back on these assertions, because as I understood it, those documents of Pius XII's pre-papal career were made public because they were part of the Vatican Archives of the 1930s that had already been catalogued, and even more were released later during this Pontificate as the archivists progressed in their cataloguing.]

But this would not be true for very much longer. As John Paul II sank into the Parkinsonian condition that would eventually kill him in 2005, the Vatican drifted. There is reference to the shortage of researchers, and by the time the subject resurfaces in 2009 all hope of compromise seems gone. [Whatever that dubious phantom compromise is, the fact is that more documents from the 1930s were made public during this Pontificate.]

Noyes reported that only six or eight researchers were working on the 16m documents, stored in hundreds of crates, that are left over from Pius XII's papacy. It had earlier taken a team of four Jesuits, working full time, 17 years to produce 12 volumes of his diplomatic correspondence.

One well-informed Jewish observer remarked that the desire to canonise Pius XII stems almost entirely from internal Catholic dynamics.

What really mattered in the struggle between liberals and conservatives was the interpretation of the reforming Second Vatican Council, called by his successor, John XXIII.

Was this a break with the past, as liberals believe, or merely a development, as conservatives see it?

So long as John XXIII is on the road to sainthood, and Pius is blocked, it is harder to maintain that the two men pursued that same policy.

[PHOOEY AND BALONEY! The Jewish observer cited is obviously making self-serving statements. And the rest is idle conjecture.]

In this context, the Holocaust is not the most important fact about Pius's pontificate, as for Jews it must be. This kind of disagreement could not be solved even if the archives were entirely open, and all the facts were known, and agreed.
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