At least one reason I stay Catholic

The Globe has an article today on Matthew McGarry, a Massachusetts native working in Darfur for Catholic Relief Services. Reading about people like him and knowing lots of people like him often makes me want to quit the academic path and head off somewhere to get my hands more dirty. Does anyone know of academics who have taken sabbaticals to do relief work or a service year somewhere?

At least one thing I can do is encourage you to make contributing to the work of organizations like this a part of your budgeting, rather than an afterthought. CRS has a "sustainers" program, where you can have a small amount ( $5, $7, or $10...or more, if you wish) taken out of your bank account monthly. It's a good way to circumvent one's tendency to procrastinate. More information is available on their website.


Follow up on Schoernborn

I briefly discussed Cardinal Schoernborn's remarks in the NY Times last week, and focused upon his dismissal of John Paul's 1996 letter to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Today's Word from Rome by John Allen of the NCR suggests that that letter might have had even more significance, in an interview with Fr. George Coyne, S.J. (they're always S.J.'s, aren't they? Maybe Maria Doria Russell was on to something), who is the director of the Vatican observatory. There's also an interview with Niccola Cobbibo, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. They might help suggest to my worried scientist friends (including my chemist and copyeditor brother) that the Catholic position on evolution isn't quite as clear, or as foolish, as Schoernborn might have suggested. The concern is to guard against what Cobbibo infelicitously refers to as "evolutionism" (too close for comfort to the original, for most anglophones at least), that is, an understanding of the theory of evolution which moves beyond a description of the workings of the phenomenon to an assertion of those workings as a justification for atheism.


For Boston, for Boston!!!

"We, the depraved citizens of Boston, would like to thank Sen. Santorum for recognizing our city as the modern-day Gomorrah that it is, and pointing out all the ways that Boston has led to the moral decline of the nation."

See Michael Blanding's open letter to Rick Santorum, on behalf of our fair city...

Catholics on the Court

David Brooks writes in today's Times about his love for judicial nominee John Roberts.

In an aside, though, he makes a fascinating and, IMHO, very perceptive observation about the way in which some recent judicial nominee conflicts, especially a few of our more recent Supreme Court conflicts, were in some ways proxy fights for substantive intra-Catholic conflicts. He writes

Confirmation battles have come to seem of late like occasions for bitterly divided Catholics to turn political battles into holy war Armageddons. Most of the main Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are Catholics who are liberal or
moderate (Kennedy, Biden, Durbin, Leahy), and many of the most controversial judges or nominees are Catholics who are conservative (Scalia, Thomas, Pryor). When they face off, you get this brutal and elemental conflict over the role morality should play in public life.
Roberts is indeed a Catholic (if he's confirmed, there will be four on the court, three Protestants and two Jews), but he's not the sort to spark the sort of debate that leads to bitter Catholic vs. Catholic meshugas.

As someone unfortunate enough to often end up in the middle of said meshugas, this is a pretty plausible hypothesis. It also fits with the interesting fact that, in a large institution, when denied a forum to debate their issues within the structures of the church (or whatever institution happens to be involved), people will find somewhere else to hash out their disagreements. For Catholics, witness the Catholic v. Catholic blogosphere, as well as arcane arguments over the celebration of the liturgy in your local parish. As a member of the Paulist Center Catholic community in Boston, I also saw a lot of this sort of conflict at the ground level during the arguments over John Kerry's Catholicism during the last election. Now, I don't think that the lack of a working structural synodical system among American Catholics is likely to undermine the Republic anytime soon, but it is a fascinating phenomenon that while one hundred years ago, Catholics were regarding with suspicion in part because of their tendency to act as a unified bloc (possibly at the direction of a "foreign power"); today, we still have the same tendency towards unity, but are finding ourselves increasingly united in two distinct groups, with all of the suspicion and occasional bitterness to be expected among estranged relatives...

This isn't simply a political problem -- this is a theological problem. The Christian church's divisions stemming from Chalcedon, from 1054, and from the Reformation, already hinder our sacramental mission of showing the world the unity in love to which Christ calls us. The ecumenical movement has done much to begin healing those wounds, but we are failing in our Christian mission to the extent that our divisions hinder our mission "to be one, that the world might believe." We who are members of the Catholic church should be very nervous if our role in public life increasingly brings division to our nation and communities. I don't have any easy solutions; disregarding the questions of faithfulness to the truth of the Gospel in a relativizing way would be as irresponsible as not trying to heal the divisions at all. But when our internal divisions become so bitter that the first thing non-catholics see in the Catholic church is a bringer of "brutal and elemental conflict", we should be concerned about how faithful our witness to the love of God in Christ is.


Fiddling with my website...

So today, instead of writing my dissertation, I fiddled around, learned some more html tricks, and re-designed my Boston College website. I'm very proud that I taught myself how to use frames, file hierarchies, etc....

I'd rather not have the whole world connecting BaptizedPagan with my real life identity, but if you know me from somewhere else and want to check it out, you can look me up by my last name here.


Gabe is Back!!!

Red Sox nation...or at least about half of it, give or take, rejoices....

Former player and ├╝ber-hottie Gabe Kapler is, according to the AP, returning to Boston after a one-year stint with the Yomiuri Giants that didn't go so well.

If you want to learn more about Gabe, or just see some more pictures of his arms, check out the Gabe Kapler Tribute Site.

Also, in addition to those arms, he's a good guy, and was very supportive in helping his wife Lisa recover from domestic violence. Since then, Gabe and Lisa have used Gabe's celebrity to help raise money and awareness of domestic violence, particularly with Jane Doe, the Massachusetts Coalition against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

Welcome back to Boston Gabe!


Harry Potter, Undertaker

"Then again, I really don't go out a lot."

No, apparently you don't, Mr. Potter. Cute story.


The Definition of Santorum

Sen. Kennedy is going to bat for Massachusetts.

Perhaps Sen. Santorum should be studying that catechism a little more closely.

And it begins...

So there's currently a minor tempest-in-an-espresso-cup over remarks made by Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn of Vienna on evolution in last week's New York Times. The discussion continues all over the place; basically Schoenborn seems to be throwing his weight, and attempting to suggest the Catholic Church has already thrown its weight, behind an "intelligent design" theory of creation.

Other Catholic theologians and scientists are better equipped to challenge the questions of evolution at issue; suffice it to say that, from a non-specialist perspective, Schoenborn's comments seem to be quite the opposite of the most common trend in recent teaching. One might want to consult Rahner and others on the controversies surrounding monogenism earlier in the past century.

Ecclesiologically, what is fascinating (and what the title of this post refers to) is that this may be the first marginalization of John Paul II that I've seen so far in print. Friends asked me how much influence John Paul, particularly through his copious theological and spiritual reflections, would have after his death. After all, particularly in curial and in some theological circles, no speech, essay, or paper was complete without a heavy seasoning of references to John Paul's encyclicals and audiences. But if one looks back at the late 1970s, one finds exactly the same pattern of references to the writings of Paul VI, which continued, unabated, for a few years after his death. But, as times moved on, references to Paul declined and to JPII increased. As the old saying goes, no one is more dead than a dead pope. So, cautiously, one might expect to see the same pattern with regard to John Paul II; his encyclicals will continue to be studied, no doubt, and there are many stronger institutions and think tanks to directly keep his memory and thought alive. But, as these things happen, history will begin sorting out where his writings make a real contribution and where a reference to Augustine, Aquinas, or, perhaps, Benedict XVI, might be clearer or politically preferable.

But Schoenborn goes one step further in beginning this process of sifting out John Paul's legacy. He writes, in regard to a letter outlining the Catholic position on evolution, "While his rather vague and unimportant 1996 letter about evolution is always and everywhere cited..."; he then contrasts this statement with remarks from a 1985 general audience. Hermeneutical issues aside about what John Paul "really" thought of evolution, it would have been unimaginable, even a few months ago, to describe any word that fell from the mouth of John Paul as "vague" or "unimportant", especially in public or in print. Again, no one is more dead than a dead pope. But rather than being a cause for yet more chuckling about those crazy Catholics, we who are Catholic might see this as a good chance to remember the relative unimportance of the papacy in the grand scheme of things. While secular culture and globalization, as well as elements in the church itself, might push us towards a cult of personality around our pope as a "worldwide bishop", the process of more critically evaluating John Paul's legacy might be a helpful warning to avoid our temptation to "papolatry" with regard to any of his successors.


Catholics and Same-Sex Marriage

David O'Brien, professor of Roman Catholic studies at Holy Cross, had this op-ed on Sunday regarding Catholics and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Two great points: 1) when we're talking about same-sex marriage, the real issue is same-sex sex...it's often the first thing people think of it, and its the real crux of the issue. 2) O'Brien writes about what many of us know has already been happening for some time: while official teaching is staying in one place, on the ground, more and more people are talking with and listening to the experiences of same-sex couples. A particularly well-phrased paragraph:

So, too, in most Catholic conversations, among people and pastors when bishops aren't listening, you hear about persons, sons or daughters, neighbors or friends. Often the story will be about how a particular gay person, like so many straight people, moved beyond immature behavior and found a partner, with whom he or she seemed to have a deep, committed, faithful relationship, and how that person now seems to flourish.


From One CEO to Another

In today's Boston Globe, the former CEO of John Hancock, David D'Alessandro, in an essay "Sell art, and keep parishes open," suggests that the Vatican sell off some of its minor art collections in order to financially support places like Boston which are reeling from the costs of abuse settlements. Writing from Italy, the whole thing has a Luther-esque feel of disillusionment with the grandeur of Rome.

In the essay, D'Alessandro uses the language of "parent" companies to describe the relationship of Rome to Roman Catholic dioceses, which brings up an interesting ecclesiological issue. Any ecclesiologist worth her salt will talk about how the church is not supposed to be conceived of as a central office with "branches" in the various parts of the world; Joseph Komonchak of Catholic University has done more to contest this viewpoint than almost anyone. With a few exceptions, even those most insistent on the 1870 definition of papal "universal jurisdiction" at the First Vatican Council (rightly understood by our Orthodox and Protestant brothers and sisters to be far more dangerous, and far more incongruous with the wider Christian tradition, than the definitions of infallibility) regard universal jurisdiction as a guarantee of last resort, rather than an ideal for ecclesial governance.

And yet, as D'Alessandro's article makes clear, current Catholic praxis looks much more like that of Starbucks or WalMart. All rhetorical nods to the centrality of the local church aside, current Roman Catholic praxis, from the appointment of bishops to the setting of "the rules", as D'Alessandro phrases it, make it easier to see the papacy as an office more analogous to a CEO than to a primate -- even defining what primacy means for most Catholics. Even so-called renewal groups in the Catholic church like the local Voice of the Faithful maintain a very ultramontanist ecclesiology: I was amazed that at the first VOTF conference one of the major actions envisioned was a mass petition...to the pope. Here was the conflict of a movement towards renewal with deeply ingrained issues of identity that didn't challenge the ecclesiological presuppositions that had contributed to the crisis as much as the actual decisions of Cardinal Law and his assistants.

Now, as a Roman Catholic, I'm not dissenting from the 1870 definitions outright, because I do think that the petrine ministry involves exactly the sort of "last appeal" which the definitions envision; see Jean Tillard's The Bishop of Rome for a reading of Pastor Aeternus that many other Christians might be comfortable with, without denying the centrality of papal primacy to either the Catholic faith or current Roman Catholic ideas of identity. But it should give us pause that the identification of the pope as "CEO of the Catholic Church" comes to the pen of D'Alessandro and to the minds and experience of most Catholics so easily.

Additionally, D'Alessandro's ideas are intriguing; his tone of anger is quite honest, as is his obvious love for the church, particularly his local church of Boston, struggling under the weight of the last five years. His solution stays well within an understanding of church as Walmart, though, but that might be the wise thing to do. Is it acceptable that the Roman Catholic church maintains a praxis of centralization except in those situations where the center might be held institutionally (read: financially) responsible? Why is the language of subsidiarity, of the integrity of the local church, not invoked when bishops are appointed for a local church, but is dusted off and re-used when those same bishops make a wreck of it? Two ecclesiologies are operative here, and are being used ideologically, that is, different systems of understanding the relations between Rome and the local church are invoked depending upon which system is more convenient for the problem at hand. I might want to see more responsibility taken at the local level for the local church, both in good and bad, but D'Alessandro's proposal at least has the merit of calling the Vatican to a responsibility for the mistakes of its "franchises" consistent with its praxis. You can't have as much of a role in managing the life of the local churches as Rome currently has and then beg off responsibility for those churches in trouble by appealing to a different ecclesiology.

(And who ever said ecclesiology, or theology for that matter, was abstract or boring?!)


Threefold Withdrawal

1) California withdrawal. Just left a week of beautiful weather in the Bay Area and, while I hate to admit this and am going to catch no end of @#$% from my California-born-and-bred-BF for this, I was rather disappointed to get off the plane and wander into the cold remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy working their way across New England. As much as I'm a partisan of Boston and booster of the charms of New England, somehow we even manage to take something entitled "tropical" and turn it into cold, damp wetness.
2) Sleep withdrawal. Flew in on a red-eye. It was JetBlue, so it could have been a lot worse...I highly recommend them, but cross-country travel is just never fun. Got some sleep, but still not enough, and am now desperately trying to stay up until later tonight to try to reset on east coast time. I have that fun metallic feeling behind my eyes by which my body is saying "what the hell are you doing to me???"
3) Internet withdrawal. Not only did the lovely neighbors on whose wireless I was piggybacking move out, but my phone line is also dead right now. So no internet. I'm actually doing the free day of "T-Mobile" and have sold my soul and identity to yet another large corporation...just to get my fix...so here I am, in a Starbucks, T-Mobiling, trying to satisfy at least one of my cravings...


Celebrate Independence: Supersize It!

Far too few Americans remember that the Founding Fathers, authors of modern liberty, greatly enjoyed their food and drink -- from drafting the Declaration of Independence over pints to serving French fries in the White House. Now it seems that food liberty -- just one of the many important areas of personal choice fought for by the original American patriots -- is constantly under attack. Don't let the tyrants rule your food choices.

From the Center for Consumer Freedom, a "coalition of restaurants, food companies and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices." Read Krugman's op-ed today to learn more about obesity.

Benedict the Gentle (?)

Today's Times has an article on how our new pope's style is winning over suspicions...but again, as I suggested earlier, I'm not that surprised that people are surprised. The "Grand Inquisitor" image was much more of a caricature, the requisite "bad cop" to JPII's "good cop." That's not to say that Benedict doesn't have firm theological opinions, or that he isn't comfortable invoking a very strong sense of papal authority to enforce those opinions. Behind his more gentle, less secularly charismatic persona is a very strong, very determined leader. But what struck me most in the Times piece was the description of him as "down to earth". For the current chapter of my dissertation (thanks to the Holy Spirit and the College of Cardinals, it's much easier to get Ratzinger in translation now!), I'm doing a pretty close read of Ratzinger's writings, including a recent collection, Pilgrim Fellowship as Faith: The Church as Communion. Now, some of these essays are talks, while others are pretty high-level theological reflections, but what has struck me more than the content is the tone of practicality; the language is still explicitly pious Christian language, but we are worlds away from some of the theological flights of fancy that you found in John Paul. Ratzinger avoids too much speculation and, at least in my reading, seems to want clarity of thought and of teaching not for its own sake, but in order to help Christians be better Christians. I don't think he's quite hit the mark in some of his conclusions or even premises, particularly in his ecclesiology, but one does have the sense that he's not doing academic theology for the sake of himself, but for the sake of getting it right. This tendency to step back from the spotlight, to make the shared faith more central than his person, might be the greatest gift he brings to the papacy to complement (contrast?) the intense personality of JPII.


Beatification of JPII

The official beatification website is now up and running...email in those miracles!

Congrats Fr. Shanley!

Fr. Brian Shanley, O.P., is being installed today as the 12th President of Providence College. There's an article in today's Projo (but you might have to register to read it...crazy Rhode Islanders!). You can also read the press release from P.C. back in February, when Fr. Shanley was first appointed.

I'm privileged to say that Fr. Shanley was an advisor and teacher of mine back at Catholic University, and that I learned as much from him about Aristotle, philosophy, and passion for academic inquiry as from any other teacher I've had. The honors program at C.U.A. has a philosophy track with a two-year Aristotelian studium, and due to some administrative shuffling in my time there, I had Fr. Shanley twice.

He'll be a great president of P.C. for two complementary reasons. First, to be frank, he can be a hard-ass. The weightlifting and martial arts give you a sense of his personality...some of my friends, whom I won't name, referred to him as the ├╝berpriest after we read Nietzsche together in his class. He's a very intense guy with a lot of active energy, and he doesn't put up with half-hearted work in or out of the classroom. I almost always did my best work for him, because I knew that he expected it. Second, and perhaps because he is so confident of his abilities and positions, he's very good at engaging in dialogue with difference. A quick look at this blog will show that Fr. Shanley and I are unlikely to agree on every point, but he not only treated those differences of opinion with respect, he was very good at questioning me and my friends in a respectful way. While he walks into a room with strong positions, they aren't prejudices, and so he's genuinely interested to ask questions, even if he has reached a provisional answer to that question. It's as if all those years of Aristotle and Dominican life in search of truth had sunk in or something...

Note: I'm in California now, enjoying less humidity than New England, getting work done, etc...peripatetic life is not the life for me, I've discovered...