Thursday, October 11, 2018

But are the bishops qualified?

You may have already seen this--and really, it comes as no surprise--but the Youth Synod's bishops don't seem to think much of homeschooling:
At the Youth Synod in Rome this week, one of the bishops’ discussion groups made some disappointing and ignorant comments about Catholic homeschoolers. 
It’s a sad reminder that, while homeschooling seems to be gaining support from many bishops in the United States, other bishops here and abroad have yet to embrace one of the most promising developments in the Church today. Earnest and faithful homeschooling parents deserve encouragement and not derision from their shepherds. 
The report from the English-language Group C bishops—whose names have not been published—reads: 
  • USA has many home schoolers – bishops in USA are not united, as homeschooling can have an ideological basis – kids may have special needs
  • are parents qualified to homeschool them? 
It is certainly true that the American bishops are not united in supporting homeschooling, and that is a shame. But what’s the “ideological basis” for homeschooling? Do the bishops perceive some absolute opposition to organized education? It’s not true; many homeschooled students have, at one time or another, attended schools or participated in collaborative programs.
Read the rest here.

In all honesty, as I said above, this does not surprise me. While you would think that Catholic parishes, Catholic priests, Catholic bishops, and Catholic lay people would all support Catholic homeschooling, you would be wrong. Many Catholic homeschooling families have faced more opposition to homeschooling within their own dioceses and parishes than they have faced almost anywhere else. And even as the secular world's attitude toward homeschooling was shifting from a view that it was some kind of weird, almost-cultish behavior that only fringe groups indulged in to the view that it is a perfectly legitimate way to educate your child, there were many Catholics who did not make that shift, and who still think that homeschooling is something to be deplored and discouraged.

Sadly, I think that those bishops and priests who do discourage homeschooling tend to hold certain unfounded beliefs about it. One of those is that all homeschoolers are capital-T Traditionalists, and that the main reason they eschew the parish school is their fear that their children will come into contact with the ideas and liturgies of Vatican II. Another is that homeschoolers are cheapskates who could easily afford parish schools if they'd just quit taking vacations every year and buying a new car every two years, or at least lay off the avocado toast; this view does not consider that tuitions of $5,000 per child per year (the current average tuition cost for Catholic elementary schools) does not work well for a young, growing family with three or four school-aged children and a total family income near the national average of $56,000. Still another is that homeschoolers are antisocial weirdos whose main motivation in homeschooling is to shield their children from other children whose parents allow them free access to TVs and smartphones, and that sort of thing. 

The problem is that you could probably find some radically traditionalist homeschoolers, and some cheapskate ones who could afford parish schools, and some antisocial weirdos, just like you can find all of these people in your parish; Catholicism is the "here comes everybody" religion, after all. So some bishops and priests may have met some people who have led them to think poorly of homeschooling and are now judging all homeschoolers by those experiences.

But homeschoolers are a diverse group, and in your parish there may be homeschoolers who join in parish ministries, homeschoolers who have no problem with Vatican II, homeschoolers who could not afford the parish school unless mom put the youngest babies in daycare and went to work outside the home (surely not an ideal for all women, right, Fathers?) homeschoolers who are making the same careful calculations about how much screen time is allowable that the "regular school" folks are trying to make, homeschoolers who are happy to help with the bake sales and the car washes and the other fundraisers, homeschoolers who are as active and involved in the parish as anybody (and more than many). And yet the negative stereotypes about homeschoolers persist so much that they crop up in a Youth Synod document, of all places.

It's honestly a bit discouraging, just as it was once a long time ago when I wrote a nice, respectful letter to a bishop asking why Catholic parents using Catholic materials to teach Catholic religion classes at home were required to sign their children up for parish religious education, instead of the homeschooled children being treated like the Catholic school kids. The reply I got back--not from the bishop, but to the lay religious education coordinator to whom the letter had been forwarded--said, "Oh, no, we don't make homeschooled kids jump through special hoops. Everybody has to take religious ed. to get the sacraments. Sure, the Catholic school kids get to take those classes in the schools, but since homeschooled kids aren't in Catholic schools..." Sigh.

I'd like to challenge the bishops who are negative about homeschooling to do one thing: find out how many Catholic school kids are still going to Mass on Sundays at the age of 25, and then find out how many homeschooled Catholic kids are. Sure, there will be fallen-away Catholics in both groups, but I'd be willing to bet that the percentage is a lot higher among the Catholic school crowd. Maybe instead of worrying about whether parents are qualified to direct their children's education, we should start asking if the bishops are.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Exactly the same thing as oppression

I have been critical of Pope Francis in the recent past over his handling of the Vigano letter, the McCarrick situation, and related matters, and I will probably continue to be. Nonetheless, the Holy Father does deserve credit for ruffling a few feathers today in a good way:
The pope denounced what he called the contradiction of allowing “the suppression of human life in the mother’s womb in the name of safeguarding other rights”. 
“But how can an act that suppresses an innocent and helpless life that is germinating be therapeutic, civilized or even simply human?” he said. 
“I ask you: ‘Is it right to ‘take out’ a human life to solve a problem? What do you think? Is it right? Is it right or not?” he said in unprepared remarks. 
Many in the crowd shouted “No”. 
“Is it right to hire a hit man to solve a problem? You cannot, it is not right to kill a human being, regardless of how small it is, to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hit man to solve a problem,” he said.
Now, you would think this would be an rather ordinary sort of thing for a pope to say, but the media never loses an opportunity to remind its audiences that opposition to torturing and murdering very tiny humans is strictly a Catholic value, as the next paragraph in the article quoted above shows:
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception and ends at the moment of natural death. It also forbids euthanasia but says that a family or a patient can decide to stop using extraordinary means to keep people alive.
See, it's not like science has any opinion about whether an embryo or a fetus is actually alive or anything. Even if there's some sort of "life" going on, it's just a sort of biological process we can't quite explain; it's not like the human gestating in her mother's womb has any value of her own--not, as every good modern progressive knows, until the fetus has passed through the magical birth canal and suddenly, magically, mysteriously becomes a human being with personhood and full legal rights (well, unless Peter Singer is anywhere in the vicinity). Up until then, you can stab her in the head with a pair of scissors and vacuum out her brain and crush her skull, and it's all fine--only weird, medieval, vaguely misogynist religious types ever think otherwise.

Of course, you don't have to have her killed. You can decide, graciously and magnanimously, that she's allowed to be born. You can thrown her a party before she even gets here, and reveal her gender and tell everybody her name and start decorating her room. But she doesn't actually exist, or have any rights, until she's born. Everybody knows that, and it makes perfect sense somehow.

Why, you can even have her (or him; let's be inclusive here) operated on in utero--but how exactly a doctor can operate on a hypothetical human person is sort of weird. Maybe doctors who practice fetal medicine are sort of Schrodinger's physicians, able to work in a plane of existence where the child is living and valued and yet is perfectly legal to kill all at the same time.

Whatever the case, the talking heads in the progressive media are, as usual, shocked and disturbed that the pope, who is quite scientific when it comes to things like environmentalism and climate change, has to revert to that old medieval superstition that says human beings exist before they are actually born. Nobody among the Right Sort of People actually believes that, and everybody knows that forbidding women from paying someone to terminate the existence of the vaguely human but not alive non-person creature who is occupying her uterus before he is born (at which point he might grow up! and call her "Mom"! and one day take her out for Mother's Day brunch! the horror!) is exactly the same thing as oppression.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Averted, for now

So...that was not a brief blog break. I'm sorry.

As it turned out, I discovered that once the move from Createspace to Kindle Print is complete, books in progress would be pretty much in need of a complete do-over.

I had six books in progress.

So, between Aug. 30 and Oct. 5 I published all six new books, which brings my current total of published works to fourteen. (And I would be deeply honored if you would check out that link, especially if you have children ages 8 and up who enjoy books of magic and adventure.)

The nice part of all of that was that I was so busy during the Kavanaugh circus that I was able to restrain most of my impulses to write about it. It's not that I didn't have anything to say, but that other, better, more political commentators were already saying what I would. Regular readers of both this and my old blog know that in the years since I started blogging, I went from being a GOP supporter to being a politically homeless independent who wishes every election cycle that there were better choices.  I haven't voted for Republicans for years, and I've never voted for a Democrat (because the opportunity to vote for a pro-life one has never existed anywhere that I've lived).

So my opinions in the matter of the Kavanaugh confirmation were not partisan; rather, they were motivated by the issue of the rule of law. Many people pointed out that Kavanaugh was not on trial and that the standard of "innocent until proven guilty" need not apply, but I was struck by the number of times observers used the civil law's standard of proof--that is, that it takes a preponderance of the evidence to impute guilt. The one time I was summoned for potential service on a civil case (I was not one of those selected for the jury) the lawyers spent a good bit of time discussing that standard, and what it means, as I understood it (and I may be wrong), is that if the evidence tilts as little as 51% in favor of one person or the other, you have to rule in favor of that 51%.

But in the case of the Ford allegations there wasn't anything like a weight of 51% of the evidence on her side. She could not recall the date of the event or the exact location. The number of people she said were present changed from one account to another. She was not old enough to drive, but she couldn't remember how she got to the party or how she got home after allegedly fleeing the house. And none of the people she alleged were present could verify that the gathering had even happened, let alone remember that Ford fled the house earlier than anyone else and presumably found some way to go home.

I think it's important to be respectful of Dr. Ford. She certainly seems to have had a traumatic experience and to believe that Brett Kavanaugh was the person responsible for her trauma. But memory can be a fickle thing, and without at least one person able to say that they recalled that party or could confirm the date and year it took place, there just wasn't anything like a corroboration of her story.

Do I think Kavanuagh will be a brilliant justice, that he will overturn Roe v. Wade, that he will bolster religious liberty and defend the Constitution? Well, it would be nice, but let's face it: there's no way to know. Plenty of justices appointed by Republican presidents have been just plain awful. We wouldn't be in the cultural and societal mess we are in without willing and eager collusion between both parties, who are not as different as we like to believe every two to four years.

But I think that something was averted with this confirmation and what it was can be summed up as the loss of the rule of law. We don't want to select our judges based on which side of the aisle can scream louder or hold more protests. We don't want to hand the governance of our nation over to whichever party can throw the biggest tantrums. We don't want Social Justice Warriors crafting party platforms behind the scenes under the threat of blockades and violence.

We got a look at what that would be like, and for once, the American people decided not to embrace that kind of progressivism as the Next Big Thing. I think that means we can breathe a sigh of relief.

For now.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Brief blog break ahead

I hate to do this, especially just now, but I'm going to have to take a brief break from blogging.

As many of you know, I self-publish children's books through the CreateSpace platform. I have done so for years, and have also used Kindle Direct Publishing to generate the e-book format of my books. I have enjoyed using CreateSpace and have highly recommended it to others.

Unfortunately, Amazon has purchased CreateSpace and has decided to merge CreateSpace with their Kindle Direct system, forcing all current users (myself included) to migrate our books over to Kindle Print. Early reports are not encouraging; some authors who decided to migrate their books instead of waiting for Amazon to do so have reported blank books, missing covers, and other nightmares. Kindle Print's cover options in particular are coming in for a lot of negative commentary; while CreateSpace's cover creator has its faults and needed some new image files, the creator wasn't hard for even a non-tech person like me to use without too much trouble, and apparently that is not the case for Kindle Print.

Payment is also a question; some have reported that the Kindle system makes authors wait sixty days instead of thirty for payment. While this doesn't impact someone like myself whose sales are sporadic, other authors who make a decent living with their self-published books are understandably irate.

Some authors are so upset they are planning to migrate all current and future books to other platforms altogether. Unfortunately, there are a lot of self-publishing/small publisher systems that work more like the old "vanity press" outfits in that they saddle authors with a lot of up-front fees. And while many of them promise to be able to list books on Amazon (which is vital for any author, self-published or traditionally-published) not all of them seem to be able to carry through on that promise. It does a self-published author no good to move to a third-party self-publishing platform that works extremely well but can't guarantee book listings on Amazon (let alone through the more complex web of expanded distribution channels).

I can understand this move on Amazon's part; having purchased what was arguably the best self-publishing platform out there, CreateSpace, it was only a matter of time before they would want to merge it with their own Kindle Direct Publishing to make one unit. What is frustrating to me and to other self-published authors is that as of this time they seem not to care about migrating the good technology from CreateSpace but doing away with it in favor of a Kindle Print system that, as one annoyed writer pointed out, has been stuck in an unsatisfactory "beta" level for multiple years.

Adding to my own personal frustration is the fact that I just began the uploading of a new book to CreateSpace, and must now decide whether to rush the "proof" process through CreateSpace so that the final publishing (which as of now looks like it will have to happen through Kindle Direct) will be, hopefully, a simple matter of making last-minute changes to an existing book, or to accept the inevitable, wait for the migration, and then start all over with this particular title in an unfamiliar platform and with no chance of using a cover creator that a) is familiar to me and b) actually works.

One final frustration: I found out about all of this only by searching for the information. Amazon has apparently not had the courtesy to inform current CreateSpace users via email or otherwise that our titles were about to vanish and be recreated over at Kindle Direct. I am sure that for some authors, who may only have a title or two, the whole thing will come as a most unpleasant surprise.

In any case, I will probably show up to comment on anything earthshaking (as you know), but otherwise I need to focus on this situation for the time being. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Waiting for the other shoe

Since the Vigano letter appeared on Saturday, things have started to get a little...well, quiet.

Oh, not on social media. On social medial the armchair detectives and pocket inquisitors on both sides have been busy. But in spite of their noise, and in spite, even, of the divide between Catholics on the left and on the right, I see people of good faith saying: investigate. Uncover the truth. Doesn't matter who is proved right or wrong; doesn't matter whose ox is gored. The protection of the innocent comes first, and that means that we need to know if, in fact, a long-standing cover-up of the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults has gone on all this time in spite of what we already went through back in 2002, or if that is a figment of one archbishop's imagination.

No, when I say that things are quiet, I mean that there is no new information. In spite of journalists actually attempting to get to ex-Cardinal McCarrick and ask him some of the important questions about who might have known about him and what they might have known, there has been a lot of silence from official channels and from anybody who might possibly be able to confirm or deny the charges made in the Vigano letter.

Anybody who has ever been a parent of toddlers knows that when it pays to pay attention when things start to get too quiet.

Because in spite of the reality that I know some Catholics just wish this whole thing would go away, I highly doubt that will happen. The specific allegations made are too serious, the number of names mentioned in the letter is too large, the fact that numerous bishops and cardinals--not just in the US, though many are--have chimed in to say that the Church needs to conduct a full and open investigation into the allegations Archbishop Vigano made--all of these things add up to a situation where a graver scandal might be caused by simply refusing to talk about any of it at all than to hold such an investigation.

And some aspects of what ought to be investigated are particularly linked to questions Catholics in America were already asking, even before Archbishop Vigano published his letter. How much, for instance, did Cardinal Wuerl know, and when did he know it? What about other bishops mentioned in the PA grand jury report? How many of the people in McCarrick's inner circle covered up his habit of coercing seminarians into sexual behaviors, and for how long? Did their conduct in covering things up mean that McCarrick's child victims had to wait even longer for justice than they should ever have waited?

If the Vigano letter were by some amazing turn of events proved to be a complete fabrication tomorrow, these questions would remain--and so, I'm afraid, would the question of how much about McCarrick was known in Rome, and by whom. This is not going to go away, and the brief lull we are hearing is only the pause we hear when waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

We can't afford to bury the truth

I've got to admit that some of my Catholic friends on the more "left" or "progressive" side of things have got me a bit confused right now. Not about my own opinions: I still think the Vigano charges are serious, credible, and need to be investigated properly. But I'm a bit surprised to hear the vehemence with which some Catholics on the left are expressing the idea that this whole thing is nothing but a clever, dastardly right-wing plot to derail Pope Francis and end his papacy. The narrative goes something like this: a secret cabal of wealthy Trump-supporting Francis-haters somehow got Archbishop Vigano to put his name on a letter they pretty much wrote for him, all of it totally false, with the sole purpose of forcing the suddenly-beleaguered pontiff to resign. But the heroic pope refused to answer their questions which were, in a stroke of evil genius, arranged just in time to be asked aboard the papal plane after the Ireland visit, in the belief that the pope would have no choice but to answer them. In a masterful move, though, the Holy Father chided the journalists to do their jobs and refused to answer, pulling the rug out from under the schemers who had hoped to trick Pope Francis into saying something incriminating. Sadly, though, the right-wing conspiracy continues with those wicked fools demanding the immediate resignation of the pope without any investigation an immediate and thorough investigation into the claims made by Archbishop Vigano, which just proves somehow that they don't actually want an investigation, because everybody knows the New York Times and the National Catholic Reporter have already thoroughly discredited Vigano and have also proved every single allegation false. Not only that, but Cardinal Blase Cupich has assured everybody that this whole situation is but a rabbit-hole we're not going to go down; the pope has a bigger agenda, which includes talking about the environment and protecting migrants, so really it's obvious that anybody who isn't just moving on from all of this is part of that secret right-wing cabal of Francis-haters, right?

Well, not exactly.

Leaving aside that the majority of the voices I'm hearing from both the left and the right pews of the Church want the same thing--a full investigation of the claims made in Archbishop Vigano's letter, regardless of where the truth leads us or whose "side" contains more alleged villains--there are also three things we ought to remember about all of this.

The first is that the victims of sexual assault who were further harmed by cover-ups, or indeed, those victims who were only harmed because an abuser's previous crimes or sins were ignored and covered up, should be our first priority here. When we start creating conspiracy theories to account for Archbishop Vigano's letter we are indulging in a particularly heartless form of ignoring the victims. Their suffering is real, many of them still bear the emotional and psychological wounds from what they endured, and regardless of what an investigation of the claims made by Archbishop Vignano might reveal--even if they reveal nothing at all and cannot be substantiated--we owe it to the victims to take the claims seriously enough to investigate them all. This is the job which journalists should, and must do, and perhaps other authorities as well; after all, Pope Francis has given them his blessing.

The second is that far more names than that of Pope Francis were contained in the letter and referred to people who allegedly knew about McCarrick's behavior with adult seminarians at the very least. There are a great many people who might have known not only about McCarrick but about the ongoing misdeeds of other clerics as well, and an investigation might bring those things to light. If it could be proved that in fact Pope Francis was not aware of McCarrick's behaviors at all, it might still be the case that many within his own inner circle did know, and hid that knowledge from him. It would be very pusillanimous for the Church to refuse to permit an investigation simply because the pope might be harmed by it; the point ought to be not to go after any one person mentioned in the letter specifically, but to investigate anyone and everyone who is now alleged to have participated in a cover-up of sexual abuse.

The third and final point is this: soon enough it may be the case that an investigation or series of investigations will happen and will be done not by the Church's own appointed agents (whether clergy, lay, or both) but by the secular authorities. Consider this news article, published in that well-known right-wing Catholic paper (ha!) called USA Today:
The firestorm surrounding Pope Francis over allegations of sexual abuse by priests grew more heated Tuesday when Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said he had evidence the Vatican was aware of efforts to cover up sexual abuse in his state.

Shapiro, who acknowledged he could not link the cover-up directly to the pope, last week issued a bombshell report accusing at least 300 Pennsylvania priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 victims over seven decades. Shapiro accused church leaders of transferring accused priests to other parishes and pressuring victims not to report alleged crimes.

“We’re seeing institutions ... putting their own institutional reputation above the welfare of children," Shapiro told the 'Today' show Tuesday. "We will not tolerate that in Pennsylvania.” [...]

The pope has plenty of other problems. Francis, in a visit to Ireland over the weekend, apologized for an abuse scandal there. On Tuesday he said he would personally handle the appeal of Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron, found guilty of unspecified claims after a Vatican panel investigated multiple allegations of sexual abuse against him.

In the U.S., Missouri is among states starting or considering a probe of the church. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has promised a probe similar to Pennsylvania's mammoth, two-year grand jury effort.

"I encourage anyone in the state who has any information about any sexually inappropriate behavior involving a member of the clergy or church in Illinois to contact my office," Madigan said Monday.
I don't think anyone can accuse the secular authorities looking into these crimes and cover-ups of being part of a vast, right-wing Catholic conspiracy. But that's the point. Like it or not, the gravely wicked crimes of sexual abuse of children and of vulnerable adults did happen and may be continuing to happen, in spite of charters and policies and procedures and lay training. As awful as that is to contemplate, the situation is only made worse when the bishop who leads a diocese deals with these matters by sweeping them under the rug, and then losing the rug in the nearest landfill. And no matter who those bishops are, no matter how many of them wear red hats, and no matter what diocese they lead--even if that diocese is Rome itself--we can't afford to bury the truth.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Vigano letter: this is no time for partisanship

The biggest Catholic story I can remember in my lifetime broke on Saturday evening, and I...went to bed, because I had to get up early for Mass. (This didn't stop me from being awake too long and sneaking occasional peeks at Twitter, but that happens a lot when I try to go to bed at a decent hour; I'm not used to being asleep before two a.m., and even when I have to be up at six or earlier I can't quite shake the night-owl tendencies.)

And then on Sunday, I had church and family commitments that filled up the whole day, so like any good Catholic on the occasion of such earth-shaking news, I--kept peeking at Twitter and fretting that I couldn't settle down to a wholesale reading of All The News Articles And Blog Posts And Tweets of Note because after all it was Sunday and I had other things to do.

So then today, I woke up with one of those blinding migraines where light doesn't seem like a very good notion at all, and screens are instruments of torture, and unfortunately while things have gotten a bit better in the migraine symptom department there's still a lot of room for improvement, so to speak.

All of that is probably a good thing, because given the remarkable and extraordinary claims made by Archbishop Vigano in his eleven-page letter (you can read it in its entirety here), the last thing anybody needed was a bunch of my half-baked and preliminary notions (though if you follow me on Twitter you probably saw a handful of those anyway).

What do we know so far?

We know that a former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, has claimed that many upper-level officials both in the US Church and in the Vatican, up to and including Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis, were aware from at least 2013 (and some of them as many as seven or so years earlier) that Cardinal McCarrick was sharing a bed with seminarians and engaging in gravely sinful and abusive conduct unbecoming to the least important parish priest, let alone to a cardinal archbishop. Archbishop Vigano has also claimed that some of the people he named in his letter were actively involved in a cover-up of McCarrick's misdeeds. Archbishop Vigano has further claimed that Pope Benedict XVI had placed sanctions on McCarrick which McCarrick and those around him ignored and which Pope Francis lifted. Finally, Archbishop Vigano has identified the long-suspected gay subculture in the Church as the reason this sort of behavior gets overlooked or actively covered up by those in authority.

We also know that Archbishop Vigano may not be a completely objective whistleblower and that he himself seems to have participated in a cover-up involving Archbishop Nienstedt, which seems to call for some explanation. UPDATE: An explanation has already been offered, and can be read here.

We know Archbishop Vigano has claimed that documents corroborating many of his claims are available in various places, but as yet that claim has not been proved or refuted.

We know that Pope Francis refused to address the Vigano letter and its allegations, instead telling journalists to do their jobs.

Some journalists do appear to be doing their jobs, and a few bits of corroboration have appeared to come out so far. I'm not going to list them here as of yet, because we're still in the back-and-forth tussle days of investigative journalism, and what seems like corroboration sometimes ends up evaporating under strong light. But I will say that my own belief is that Archbishop Vigano is telling the truth about several key aspects of this story based on two things: one, that corroborating details have started to appear even in places where you wouldn't expect them (i.e., in pro-Pope Francis articles from the times in question), and two, there has been no easy refutation from anybody in a position to know the details. That second part is important: if it could be proved by someone's testimony or other evidence that something in the Vigano letter is simply wrong, such testimony or evidence would likely already be making the rounds. The only thing even close anybody has come up with is evidence that McCarrick wasn't acting like he had already been sanctioned by Pope Benedict--but the whole point of Vigano's letter is that McCarrick defiantly ignored the sanctions, and no further disciplinary actions were taken. (As an aside, I have been slightly amused by those who seem to think that McCarrick, though credibly accused of molesting minors and long-known to have abused seminarians, would be too morally upright to ignore papal sanctions.)

The other thing we know, or at least have observed thus far, is that there is a concerted effort to make this a left vs. right or Pope Francis supporters vs. Pope Francis detractors kind of thing. I do not think that will work, in the end. Nobody, left or right, wants to be on the side of child molesters or those who cover for them. This isn't about the Palestrina wing of the Church fighting with the Haugen/Haas wing, or the EMHC/Communion in the hand division engaging with the priest-only and receive on one's knees division. It isn't even about the "sex sins are no big deal" faction at war with the "sex sins are grave matter, mortal under the usual conditions" faction. Trying to split things up that way isn't going to stick; I've been a supporter of Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate, but if he truly decided to put McCarrick back into circulation while knowing of his sexual misconduct and abusive behaviors then there is no way to look for the best possible interpretation of those facts--Pope Francis' own harsh words against those who shield and protect abusers must be the measure against which he himself should be evaluated.

And I do not think that this situation will remain ambiguous for long. The things Archbishop Vigano have alleged are not shadowy whispers, hard to take hold of or disprove, but concrete accusations against many powerful churchmen both inside and outside of the Vatican. Things will not remain as they are today; there will either be a solid body of evidence disproving Archbishop Vigano's claims within a relatively short period of time, or there will be a solid body of evidence proving his charges to be true, accurate, and correct. We should work, pray, and hope for the clarity that true evidence will bring, no matter what it consists of. This is no time for partisanship; the Barque of Peter has suffered a hull breach and is taking on water, and the only way to repair the damage is to replace the rotten boards with strong ones that can withstand the coming storm.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Burying one's head in the sand

I'm seeing a new talking point about Scandal 2.0 emerge among some of the more left-leaning or progressive Catholics whose writings I see in various places on the Internet (including in comment boxes; I'm always willing to chat with anybody who is willing to be civil). The talking point goes like this: No, the Scandal doesn't have anything to do with gay men being ordained to the priesthood, and the sexual harassment, abuse, or rape of boys isn't a homosexual act. Rape is about power, and victims are usually people the rapist has access to, so since priests really only have access to boys more boys were harmed than girls. Blaming gay men or same-sex attraction is really just a form of bigotry, usually only indulged in by right-wingers who vote Republican and commit other horrible crimes.

I think the technical term for this sort of thinking is: balderdash.

To be fair, there have been times when priests were more likely to have access to boys. But let's face it: Church history is rife with reports of priests breaking their vows and behaving badly with--women. Adult women. Women who might be sort of known in the village as the priest's mistress, and who might even raise his children. It wasn't, at certain times, all that uncommon, even. If anything, it was even more common in ages when you might think a priest would have a hard time sneaking off to spend time alone with a female sex partner than it is in our more flexible age.

Now, cloistered monasteries may have been a different story. Monks who wanted to behave badly might not have had access to anybody but other monks, and given the way male sexual appetites work it might not have been all that surprising if the youngest and best looking novices were approached the most often by older monks with nefarious agendas. But the Church in general is not a male-only environment like a men's prison or a sixteenth-century sailing ship; men who had ordinary heterosexual  appetites and who decided to break their vows of celibacy didn't pine for a willing lass but settle for the nearest altar boy because that's all that was available. Show me a time in Church history when there were no willing lasses at all, and I'll show you the cover of somebody's fiction book because that's the only place anything like that will ever exist.

As many of us have learned in the light of all this horror, true pedophilia often includes men of no discriminating appetite: a child, any child, so long as the child is young enough to inflame the diseased desire which is all that matters. But as has been discussed ad infinitum, most of what has happened in the Church has not been true pedophilia. It has been ephebophilia, the sexual abuse and rape of children who have begun or passed through puberty. And overwhelmingly those children were boys.

Here's the part where this gets complicated, though: many of the abusers we're talking about today, such as McCarrick or the priest mentioned in my blog post yesterday--Father Art Smith--did not solely harass or abuse or rape children between the ages of 12 and 17. They did allegedly abuse children of those ages--but they also abused or attempted to abuse men over the age of 18 as well. And the second priest mentioned in yesterday's post sexually harassed adult men and adult men alone--he is not known to have been an abuser of children at all.

Is it even possible to talk about adult men who choose to engage in sexual behaviors with other adult men (whether those men are willing or not) and NOT use the words "homosexual" or "gay"?

It isn't that all rapes don't have, at their core, a twisted power dynamic. But when an adult man pursues other adult men sexually and also pursues minor males sexually (grooming them, giving them access sometimes to alcohol or drugs or porn, tricking them into believing they have consented, etc.) this is not easily brushed aside as having nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality. It is not homophobia in the least to point out that a heterosexual man will not have multiple sexual relationships with adult males and also pursue boys sexually when there are plenty of women around (and anybody who says with a straight face that a priest could not, at any time in the last twenty or twenty-five years, find any women or girls serving in ministries at the altar to whom he might theoretically have easy access has obviously been asleep for a couple of decades).

That brings me to my final point: while some of the cases that stretch very far back, to, say, the 1930s (as I believe some cases in Pennsylvania did) could hypothetically have been argued as crimes of access completely separated from the sexual orientation of the perpetrator, the reality here is that most of the present outrage has been over cases from the more recent past, and especially those cases which happened after the Dallas Charter in 2002. Just as no one can pretend that bishops moving accused priests around after 2002 simply didn't understand what might happen, so too can we say that by 2002 priests had plenty of access to girls (with nearly a decade of female altar servers by 2002, it might be more true that by 2002 priests were having a harder time gaining access to boys!). And, sadly, some cases of abuse did indeed involve female victims, both minors and adults.

But while in the secular world more females will be raped or sexually assaulted or sexually harassed/abused than boys, in the Church the statistics are exactly opposite. More boys than girls were raped or otherwise sexually abused even in the modern era, when priests had access to children of both sexes. To say that this problem has nothing whatsoever to do with the ordination of same-sex attracted men to the priesthood (let alone openly gay men) is to bury one's head in the sand. This crisis is inextricably linked to the unchaste and active practice of homosexuality, and it requires a lot of twisted thinking to ignore that fact.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

This level of episcopal malfeasance

If you haven't already seen this, you really should go and read the whole thing:
Bishop Richard J. Malone has described the problem as one he inherited, stressing that there’s nothing being hidden in Buffalo anymore. 
But a 7 Eyewitness News Investigation based on hundreds of internal church documents shows that in the case of one accused priest, Bishop Malone, between 2012 and this year: 
--Returned the priest to ministry after a previous bishop removed him
--Ignored three new allegations against the priest
--Misled others about the priest’s history and repeatedly put him around young people despite clear warnings from parents and school officials
Let me say it again: you really need to click on this link and go and read the whole piece, which includes copies of actual diocesan materials and letters written about the priest in question, a Father Art Smith.  Just as a quick summary, Father Smith was credibly accused of trying to groom an eighth grade boy at an elementary school attached to the parish where Father Smith was assigned back in 2011. After Father Smith was removed from ministry and sent for counseling, he came back to work at a nursing home. But he showed up at the school again and also got sent to hear confessions at the diocese's annual youth conference in 2013.

Later in 2013 Father Smith was accused by two young men aged 19 and 25 of inappropriate touching; both young men were employees of the nursing home to which Fr. Smith had been assigned. In spite of this, and in spite of other incidents that had been revealed, and even in spite of the fact that Father Smith wrote to the pope complaining about his removal from ministry (!) and Bishop Malone defended his actions in removing Smith from parish ministry on the grounds of all this inappropriate behavior--Bishop Malone wrote a recommendation letter for Father Smith to serve as a chaplain on cruise ships, saying; "I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.”

And if all of this isn't enough to turn your stomach and boggle your mind, you ought to go and check out Part Two of this news media's stunning investigative report, which details the case of another accused priest, Father Robert Yetter. In spite of repeated, credible, substantiated allegations of inappropriate contact and sexual harassment of young men over the age of 18 (and thus not included in diocesan child safety regulations) Father Yetter continues to serve in a parish, though he plans to retire in September.

This level of episcopal malfeasance is hard to fathom. This isn't a case from the ancient past; the earliest allegations mentioned here occurred in 2007, with many other incidents within the last five or six years. Nobody can possibly plead ignorance; there's no "How could we have known?" defense this time. What we see on display here is nothing but a vile and sickening indifference to the problem of predatory priests. In the case of Father Smith in particular Bishop Malone seems to want to have his cake and eat it too; defending himself to the pope for removing Smith from ministry he lists all the problematic reasons why Father Smith should stay away from children, but in the same time period he assures a cruise ship company that there's no reason to think Father Smith would be a problem.

There is no excuse for this, none whatsoever. If the facts prove to be as Buffalo's 7-I team has reported, then Bishop Malone should resign at once. It is as simple as that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The eyes of the Queen

Today is the feast of the Queenship of Mary--or, well, it was; I'm writing late again, and it will be after midnight by the time I post this. If you don't know about this feast, you can read more about it here.

In light of the continuing mess that is Scandal 2.0, I wondered a little bit about how the apostles faced Mary in the immediate aftermath of the Crucifixion. 

St. John didn't have anything to worry about. He was there. He stood beside Mary at the foot of the Cross, enduring with her the agony of watching Jesus suffer and die. He heard Christ's words, "Behold your mother," and understood them, taking Mary into his own home after the terrible day was over. 

But the others--the rest of the eleven, since Judas had already died by his own hand after his terrible betrayal of the Master--what about them? None of them had remained with Jesus, or stood by Mary's side. All of them had fled, terrified, hiding, afraid they would be next. They were still hiding. And Peter had denied Christ, just as Christ had said he would. Not one of them had been able to summon the courage to remain with Jesus; not one of them was, on that day, willing to die with Him, apart from John. Did any of the rest of them see Mary, His mother, during those awful days when the Lord lay quiet in His tomb? Would any of them have had the courage to face her, to look into her sorrowful eyes, to fall to their knees and beg her forgiveness for their cowardice?

Scripture is silent about that, and we can only guess and wonder. But while I am wondering, I also wonder how the successors to the apostles, the bishops, can face the Queen of Heaven when they so callously and negligently ignored the torture and spiritual murder of so many of her children at the hands of the priests to whom they are supposed to be spiritual fathers, leaders and guides in their vocations.

Ours is a faith that honors Mary. We do so because no matter how much we honor her, we can't even begin to think more highly of her or love her more than her own Son does. In our prayers we beg her intercession; in our feasts we remember that an angel declared her blessed among women and that she herself told Elizabeth that all generations would echo that phrase; in our devotional practices we are grateful for her presence in our lives of prayer--never as an object of worship herself, but always as a kind mother who leads us to her Son.

On many occasions at Mass some little mention of Mary is made: on feasts and solemnities, at times when the Scripture readings contain references to her, in some of the songs and hymns we sing at various seasons of the year, particularly in those months thought of as Marian months because of the number of Marian feasts contained within them.

So I know that bishops who presided over the hideous levels of injustice done to victims of child sexual abuse would, in the course of their daily liturgical celebrations, have fairly frequently been reminded of their mother--of our own mother--of Mary, who is mother of all Christians in our brotherhood with Christ. I would think that even one opportunity to reflect on the Blessed Virgin would cause a pang to pierce the hearts of men whose response to weeping or terrified victims was to lecture them (and/or their parents) sternly on the need to protect the Church at all costs, but clearly I am wrong about that. Not the loveliest of hymns, not the most poignant of Gospel readings, not the most beautiful art or the most moving of statutes depicting Our Lady with her Son clasped firmly in her arms served, apparently, to remind these bishops that the innocent, the children, the victims, should have been at the center of their every thought and action in those awful situations and crimes they discovered. Instead, they went about the business of covering those crimes up, operating out of the same sense of fear and shame and self-preservation that caused the apostles to flee from the Cross; the bishops, too, could not bear to witness the crucifixion of innocence, or to accept their own blame in what had happened. Too much of comfort and safety and security might be lost; too much was at stake, and it was expedient that the innocent should suffer so that the prestige and reputation and financial stability of the diocese might not decline in any way.

But Mary, like her Son, is always on the side of the innocent, especially those who have been hurt so grievously and wounded so permanently. Like any good mother she does not buy the excuses and explanations and self-exculpatory phrases buried deep in bureaucratic non-apologies. She holds those of her children called to serve the Church as bishops and priests to a higher standard than that. And I think that at least a few of the men whose names have been prevalent in the discussion of the cover-ups should be very much afraid to meet her eyes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Micromanaging kids' meals in California

A proposed law in the state of California would require restaurants to offer the following beverage choices as the "default" kids' meal beverages: water, sparkling water, or flavored water; or unflavored milk or a nondairy milk alternative. Some news outlets immediately ran with the story that California was "banning" children's sodas or forbidding parents to buy sodas for their children, but the law actually says otherwise: a parent can request a soda for their child. It just isn't supposed to be the "standard" option on the kids' meal anymore.

How you see this really does depend a lot on your political viewpoints. Here, we have one take:
In the latest episode of “Banished!” by the People’s Republic of California, Governor Jerry Brown is likely to sign a bill that prohibits restaurants from offering anything other than milk or water with their kids’ meals, under the pretense of preventing obesity.
Effectively they’re telling parents they’re not capable of being trusted with their children’s health. It’s Big Brother Knows Best vs. mom and dad. 
They want to control what little Johnny and Susie drink with their kids’ meal. If restaurants don’t play along they could be fined up to $500. So now California isn’t just the nanny state, it’s also the bully state. 
Parents are apparently still permitted to order a separate drink but the restaurant can’t market the drink on the kids’ meal.
Showing just how easily false information can spread on social media “Fox & Friends,” The Hill and Drudge Report all incorrectly summarized legislation successfully moving through the state legislature which would require restaurants to offer water, sparkling water, flavored water or unflavored milk or a nondairy milk alternative as the “default beverage.” 
“Default beverage,” as defined in the bill, refers to a beverage automatically included or offered as part of a children’s meal unless a costumer asks for an alternative. Other options are not outright banned, as it says right in the text of the legislation. 
“The bill would not prohibit a restaurant’s ability to sell, or a customer’s ability to purchase, an alternative beverage if the purchaser requests one,” it says.
One thing that remains unclear to me is this: do parents have to pay an additional charge to add a soda to the children's meal? Will child-sized sodas even be available anymore? 

To be perfectly honest, I come down on the side of the people who oppose this sort of legislation for the most part. That's because I actually took a minute to check out the restaurant menus of a few places that offer kids' meals. Most places offer one percent milk, which is about 100 calories in the prepackaged serving. A child's size soda contains--you guessed it--about 100 calories (fewer if you add ice or if your children never finish their drinks anyway).

Granted, soda calories are "empty" calories that contain no nutritional value, while milk is nutritious. But if the real concern was to limit calories, why would zero-calorie or "diet" sodas be banned? Disclaimer: I personally hate diet sodas and am not convinced they are good for anybody; having said that, though, does it make sense that California would ban even zero calorie sodas from kids' meals in an effort to fight childhood obesity while still allowing milk on the kids' menu?

One good thing may come of this legislation, though: restaurants might start offering more beverage choices for children and adults alike, including sparkling waters and other items not currently on a whole lot of menus. I'd be fine if the idea here was to encourage and motivate restaurants to do so. I just don't like the idea of letting politicians micromanage restaurants and their kids' meal offerings, especially when some of these politicians are likely to do other things that increase childhood obesity: making school days longer, trimming recess times, cutting down physical education requirements, removing funds from sports programs, and otherwise making sure that before they go out with Mom and Dad for that kids' meal they've pretty much been sitting down all day long.