Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ordination to the Priesthood, Revisited

I've revised and extended a previous post of mine in response to a recent editorial I read that advocates the ordination of women to the priesthood. The letter, written by a recently "ordained" priest-ette is embarrassingly deficient from an intellectual point of view but perhaps potent for those who are easily swayed by emotional shrills springing from the liberal Sirens from within the Church.

A recent editorial in my hometown Milwaukee’s local newspaper contained an open letter to Church leaders calling for the full inclusion of women within the Church. The recently “ordained” Bridget Mary Meehan rattled off a litany of pseudo-historical evidence and emotional platitudes that she believes bolsters her claims for why the Catholic Church should ordain women to the ministerial priesthood. Among other things, she calls for greater democratization of the “hierarchical” Church. Her letter was reminiscent of Dan Brown’s revisionist historical approach to Church history, Meehan shrewdly picks and chooses her historical evidence to suit her personal vision of what she thinks the Church should be, according to the narrow prism of the dictates of political correctness. As it is at present, the letter itself displays a glaring ignorance, not only of Church history, but also of basic ecclesiology. Her complaints are the usual talking points which emanate from that particular corner of disgruntled, angry-at-the-world Catholics. I withhold further comment on the embarrassment to which the assertions Meehan has made naturally lead. The nature of a written response limits the amount of space available to address her numberless follies, although nothing would be more easy than to expose them. For those interested in a serious explanation of the Church’s position, Pope Benedict XVI serves as an able guide for understanding the teaching.

The Church, as the mystical body of Christ, for whom He offered Himself on the cross is the central tenet upon which our faith and Sacramental life rest. This teaching has firm roots in Scripture and, in particular, within the Pauline tradition. Pope Benedict XVI elaborates on three sources of this ancient tradition. The first is what he calls the “Semitic conception of the ‘corporate personality.’” In other words, the belief in a common humanity passed down from Adam. As the Pope describes it, this concept of “corporate personality” was deconstructed in modern times somewhat by the philosophy of Descartes, which professed a radical alienation of the individual within the prison of his own thought process as opposed to a united humanity, sharing a common physical and metaphysical nature. A positive development in contemporary philosophy has been a renewed emphasis on the subject as “I” and his necessary relationship to the other, “you,” thus reestablishing the Semitic link between persons, what Pope Benedict refers to as “mutual interpenetration.” He goes on to say, “Thus, the Semitic view of the corporate personality-without which it is difficult to enter into the notion of the Body of Christ-could once again become more easily accessible.”

The Pope then turns to the concepts of “body” and “Eucharist” as the second sources of the Church’s tradition for the mystical Body of Christ. The Lord literally feeds His people with His bread, His true Body. Eating is that act which allows for an intimate intermingling of two subjects. As the Pope explains, “The formula ‘the Church is the Body of Christ’ thus states that the Eucharist…forever remains the place where the Church is generated.” The act of communion unites the believer with the Head, who is Christ, together with the other members as well. Thus, one sees a complete fusion of Christ with the entire Church, that is to say, with the body and her members.
This leads us to the final source of the tradition, what the Pope identifies as “the idea of nuptiality.” Here one sees the fulfillment of the other two sources in the intimate bond of love between the Groom, Christ, and His bride, the Church. “Christ and the Church are one body in the sense in which man and woman are one flesh.” And it is here that the heart of the Church’s teaching on the Body of Christ reaches its apex. For the union between Christ and the Church is so intimate that we speak of it in terms of the physical and spiritual unity shared between man and woman in the nuptial bond, as the book of Genesis asserts, “For this reason the man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to the woman, and they shall become one flesh.”

So in light of these truths, the Church’s position regarding the ordination of men to the priesthood is very clear and makes complete sense. The priest, standing in persona Christi, offers Himself, His very Body, to the Church as His bride in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It becomes patently ludicrous to ponder the unseemly spectacle of a woman standing in place of Christ, offering the Sacrifice of the Mass to the Church as bride. The Church has always been viewed as feminine in nature as the bride. Within the context of the “nuptiality” between the Church and Christ, by the very nature of things, the priest must be male, as he places himself at Christ’s disposal to work through him directly in this act of gift of self and love toward His one bride, the Church. No amount of historical chicanery, misplaced sentimentalism, or lofty calls for the democratization of the Church can alter the immutable truth about the nature of Christ and his Bride, the Church. Meehan, and those who follow her theological sophistry, should at the very least have the integrity to recognize this. If they refuse to, no one is forcing them to stay.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Debate Rages On

The ink from President Bush’s first veto had barely dried when an announcement by the biotech lab Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) resurrected a heated debate on a controversial subject. Dr. Robert Lanza stated that some progress had been made in finding a way to extract stem-cells lines from embryos that would not involve the actual destruction of the embryo. Some are hoping that the recent discovery will help bridge the moral gap between those who argue for expanded research on embryonic-stem-cells for research purposes and those who are concerned that such research is abhorrent since it involves the wanton destruction of human life. Lanza’s research is hardly conclusive and many questions remain over whether or not his vision is feasible and then, even if it is, would it be ethical?

The procedure is taken from a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which is used for in vitro fertilization. Lanza was able to obtain single cells from 16 embryos that had been allowed to grow to the 8 and 10-cell stage, and from there, cultivate two of those cells (taken from the original embryo) into new embryonic-stem-cell lines. Lanza asserts that embryos that have lost a cell have previously been able grown into babies after having been implanted into the mother, so this procedure should fall within the parameters of what is ethically permissible since the embryos may potentially still develop into babies. However, the crux of the problem remains.

Granted, embryos would not be destroyed outright, but they would still be tampered with for utilitarian research purposes. Certainly the new procedure may not be as evil as the original method, but it still must be rejected on moral grounds. Richard Doerflinger of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said the following, “We’re against manipulating, harming, assaulting embryos for their cells even if it doesn’t always kill them.” In Rome, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life said during an interview on Vatican Radio, that "Even if it (PGD) didn't damage the embryo, it's still an issue of an invasive, unjustified operation on a human being. ... You're going in, taking a piece of a embryo's organism to use for yourself." This new procedure reminds me of organ donation, without the vital consent of the donor. So it would not be an organ donation so much as organ thievery.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Captives Released "Unharmed"

This past weekend, the world applauded the release of “unharmed” Fox journalists in Gaza. One of the many twists in the dramatic story is that the members of the Holy Jihad Brigade forced Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig, at the point of the gun, to convert to Islam prior to their release. I think it’s fair to say that this story encapsulates what this conflict between the West and Islam is all about, a reality that few in the mainstream press seem willing to discuss at the risk of making certain people uncomfortable. Consistent with centuries of Islamic customs, members of the Holy Jihad Brigade offered Centanni and Wiig the traditional options given to a conquered people or civilization of either conversion to Islam, the payment of discriminatory taxes for infidels, or war (death). Centanni and Wiig staged a conversion, replete with new Muslim names, which they recanted and disavowed soon after being released from captivity.

Enlightened society sees an individual’s religious beliefs as the most precious inner sanctum of the person. Pope John Paul II repeatedly stressed that a person’s religious beliefs must be protected from any external coercion. For an act to be truly human, it must be freely chosen by the will. How much more does this axiom ring true when applied to the weighty decisions of the conscience with regard to religion? Encroachments on the person’s spiritual journey by violent acts of force constitute a grave offense against his dignity. In the media however, there was offered merely the superficial observation that the two men were released “unharmed”. So little priority does the media give to the person’s spiritual dimension and to religion in general that this conversion-at-gunpoint was for the most part, swept under the rug, as of scant importance. I would suggest that, far from escaping “unharmed”, the journalists’ valuable gift of freedom was seriously violated by the forced conversion and subsequently, they were indeed harmed in a profound, personal way.

Where's the Leadership?

While I’ve always been one to strongly defend President Bush on many fronts, I have to say that the recent approval of the “Plan-B”, or “morning-after” pill leaves a bitter taste in my mouth as to the current administration. No matter how you look at it, Bush was very much responsible for the approval of this measure. He strongly endorsed a questionable nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration, and has, so far, given no indication that he disagrees with the FDA’s decision last week to approve over-the-counter sale of the drug to women over 18-years of age. It’s a glaring inconsistency in Bush’s pro-life record and even more startling considering his recent veto to ban further expansion of government funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The latest development involving Plan-B highlights my growing concerns with the Republican leadership in the nation. To say that it is frustrating that a Republican president and Republican-controlled congress simply watched with tacit-consent as this measure sailed effortlessly into the harbor of our nation’s laws would be an understatement. President Bush will get it right most of the time on issues like these, but it seems that, from time to time, he becomes distracted and wanders too far from his conservative base, and acts irresponsibly. I’m reminded of the Harriet Miers fiasco. Did he honestly think he could slip that one by the very base that sent him to the White House twice? Conservatives still shake their heads asking themselves, what was he thinking?!

I’m troubled by the lack of conservative leadership in Washington right now. I cannot come up with a satisfactory answer to the question as to why Bush is not interested in leading the conservative movement, a la Ronald Reagan. To be sure, Bush utterly lacks the eloquence of the silver-tongued Gipper, but that is not to say that he couldn’t accomplish much more if he only tried, especially in light of the fact that the current president enjoys a majority in congress (for now) that Reagan could have only dreamed of. The unfortunate truth is that Bush simply is not interested in spearheading a conservative movement in this nation. He’s conservative in some things and not in others. He picks and chooses. In his economic policies and spending, he reminds me more of FDR, an eerie but unfortunate truth. Another fear I have is the ramifications this latest blunder will have, politically speaking, come November. Conservatives understandably are deeply frustrated with the long list of wasted opportunities that a sphinx-like president and spendthrift congress have let go by the wayside. This could lead to a degree of ambivalence among conservative voters who feel that they’ve been let down, even betrayed, by their representatives who simply don’t share their values. The only consolation is that the other side really offers no alternatives, only venomous rhetoric and complaints. But if self-described conservative elected officials shirk their responsibility to reflect the values of their constituents, what appealing alternatives remain for the voters? I suppose, for now at least, as the stakes are so high, we ought simply plug our noses and vote Republican.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Journalism and the Truth

CBS Anchor-to-be, Katie Couric

Researching for my thesis, I'm going through a pile of books on media in America and I came across a salient observation in "News from Nowwhere: Television, and the News" by Edward Jay Epstein. Back in the late sixties, Epstein was granted near complete access to the inner workings of the "Big Three" networks, NBC, CBS and ABC. His goal was to determine just what went into the selection process that lead to the broadcasting of this or that particular story on national news. One of the many interesting points he makes is that in broadcast news, gone are the days when the objective of the journalist was to "get to the bottom" of the story. Rather today, the objective has become achieving a perfect balance in presenting a story. While it's arguable as to whether or not news today is presented in a truly balanced fashion, (I would strongly argue that it isn't) the point is that the focus on presenting both sides of the story has replaced any idea of getting to the bottom of the story. According to most journalists, truth lies in the middle of the debate and will inevitably emerge once both sides clash in some sort of journalisitic Hegelian dialectic; antithesis and synthesis will naturally produce the desired result. As Epstein notes,

"This model of 'pro and con' reporting is perfectly consistent with the usual notion of objectivity-if objectivity is defined, as it is by most of the correspondents interviewd, as 'telling both sides of the story.' It can however seriously conflict with the value that journalists place on investigative reporting, the purpose of which is 'getting to the bottom' of an issue or 'finding the truth,' as correspondents put it." He concludes by noting that as a result, "any attempt to resolve a controversial issue and find 'the truth' can become self-defeating."

Surprisingly, within the same week of reading this passage from Epstein, Rush Limbaugh said the following on his radio show,

"They (the media) always...have to present both sides, and that is considered balance. But nowhere in there is an effort to find the truth. The theory is that the truth is somewhere in the middle, that you can't trust advocates or witnesses on either side of an event. And journalists dig deep, and they get to the very middle...Truth simply doesn't always reside in the middle."

I think it's a worthy point to consider. The media is absolved from any obligation to seriously search for the truth if it can assert that it has done its job by presenting both sides of the arguement. This allows the media to wash its hands of the messy business of serious discussion and thought while meaningless talking-points and sound bites from the dueling parties are tossed back and forth. Then the media can pat itself on the back for a job well done.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Wisdom of Webster

The following quote from Daniel Webster serves as a caution against a political agenda or world view fueled by good intentions absent a sound grasp of the real causes of society's problems.

"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters."
-- Daniel Webster

Monday, August 21, 2006

Economic Ineptitude

"Godfather" of the Austrian School, Ludwig von Mises

There’s a rising frustration among Catholic economists who subscribe to the Austrian School of economics. Of course, all people of good will share in concern for the poor. The disagreements arise once we set about identifying the causes of and cures for such social ills as poverty, unemployment, harsh working conditions, etc. Is it the “system’s” fault (the free-market) or should the blame be placed squarely on obtrusive government intervention? Well-intentioned Catholics pontificate ad nauseam about the phantom-evils of capitalism and conjure up a list of irresponsible remedies to allay the crisis. The irony is that many of the solutions proffered by these pseudo-economists actually end up harming the very people they claim to be so concerned about. Anyone interested in understanding economic principles will find the following list of websites helpful.

Dr. William Luckey: Economics 101 for Catholics

Dr. Thomas Woods: Morality and Economic Law: Toward a Reconciliation

Thomas C. Taylor: An Introduction to Austrian Economics, The Subjective Theory of Value

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.: Why Austrian Economics Matters

Dr. Walter E. Williams: Articles archive: very helpful, Williams is one of the most respected free-market economists in America

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wal-Mart on the Defensive

Democrats have recently presented a united front against Wal-Mart, alleging that the popular corporation treats its employees unjustly with regard to wages and benefits. There's more than meets the eye, however, when a liberal attacks corporations than merely a feigned concern for the so-called underpaid worker. Since Capitalism encapsulates the fruits of human freedom, and creativity, liberals see it as their religious duty to oppose it. Their objective is to control the economic sphere with an iron-grip and their tools for achieving this are taxation and restrictive legislation that stifles free enterprise through redistribution of wealth, all in the name of “fairness.” Here's a link to an excellent article that fully vindicates Wal-Mart from the spurious attacks of Socialist-lite liberals.


Here's another great article on Wal-mart's contribution toward fighting poverty in China:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Death Penalty, Revisited

"Justice" by Raphael

Leaders within the Catholic Church have voiced their support for the abolition of the death penalty in the United States. The purpose of this discussion is not so much to disagree or cause discord but to make some important clarifications that I think are being blurred in the case being made against the death penalty by many intelligent Catholics. I believe the decision as to whether or not to apply the death penalty should be determined on a case-by-case and country-by-country basis and that the call to ban it universally has become overly generalized, not taking into account the reality that prison security varies greatly from one country to the next. To begin this discussion, it should be stressed that the Church does not see the death penalty as evil per se. The Church has made it very clear that there exist four serious threats to the culture of life; contraception, abortion, the homosexual agenda and euthanasia. Excluded from this list is capital punishment. Indeed it would be a grave inconsistency to lump capital punishment together with such acts like abortion, that are intrinsically evil. Capital punishment does not fit the bill in this regard. Nevertheless, many within the Church have begun a full-fledged campaign to bring the death penalty to an end. Why?

A movement called The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty (CCEUDP) has been formed within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It states, “The Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty is another way for the Church to say no to more violence and no to our culture of death.” Indeed, there is no paucity of statements from prominent bishops regarding their general disgust for the death penalty. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington has declared, “We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing. We cannot defend life by taking life.” He added a catchy slogan, “the use of the death penalty cannot really be mended, it must be ended.” After the execution of Timothy McVeigh, one bishop’s statement read, in part, “The death penalty perpetuates a pervasive cycle of violence and further diminishes respect for life.” A brochure from the CCEUDP reads as follows, “In Catholic teaching the state has the recourse to impose the death penalty upon criminals convicted of heinous crimes if this ultimate sanction is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life. However, this right should not be exercised when other ways are available to punish criminals and to protect society that are more respectful of human life.” A 2002 USA Today article took Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to task for his disagreement with the Church over the issue of the death penalty. Scalia defended his position saying, "No authority that I know of denies the 2,000-year-old tradition of the church approving capital punishment.” However, many tried to pigeonhole the Justice by implying that he was morally inconsistent and hypocritical in that he opposes abortion yet supports capital punishment. But there is no trace of inconsistency in his position. For Scalia must be aware of the St. Thomas’ teaching on the death penalty, which holds that,

If a man be dangerous and infectious to the community, on account of some sin, it is praiseworthy and advantageous that he be killed in order to safeguard the common good, since 'a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump' (I Cor. 5:6) The life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men.... Therefore, the ruler of a state executes pestiferous men justly and sinlessly in order that the peace of the state may not be disrupted.... (Book III, ch. 146).

So the questions before us today are as follows: What is the distinction between the killing of an individual in cold-blood, and the state’s execution of a convicted criminal via the death penalty? Is the death penalty, carried out on a convicted criminal, an unjust act of violence perpetrated by the state? Does the death penalty “perpetuate a perverse cycle of violence,” as some bishops baldly suggest? How should the death penalty be understood and applied (if at all) in modern times? As it clearly is wrong for Catholics to support abortion, is it in a similar way, wrong for them to support the death penalty? Is there a distinction between the two acts or are both equally unjust since they involve the taking of a life?

There is clearly a distinction between abortion and capital punishment. The Church has always recognized the power of the state to execute perpetrators of violent crimes. There are probably few who would debate this. Although I have met a few Catholics who believe that the death penalty is a moral evil, on par with abortion. But the logical impotence of this assertion is evident enough that it warrants scant attention. Is there not a distinction between innocence and guilt? Abortion is a serious sin precisely because it is the direct killing of an innocent life. Are criminals convicted of heinous crimes innocent as is an unborn child? The important distinction is not very difficult to see. The controversy between the individual Catholic’s support for (or rejection of) the death penalty was settled several years ago by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who in 2004 stated,

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

So do recent statements by Church leaders expressing their revulsion toward the death penalty impose any moral imperative on Catholics to oppose it? If we follow Ratzinger’s statement, we must answer emphatically, no! While we should take the bishop’s statements seriously and consider them in arriving at a well-thought out position, capital punishment is certainly a topic that is up for discussion and debate. It is unfortunate, I think, when the death penalty is judged particeps criminis in enabling and perpetuating the culture of death. For capital punishment has, from time immemorial, been understood as a legitimate tool of the state, handed on from natural law, to dispense just retribution for abominable crimes.

Traditionally, a crime involves three offenses, a crime against the individual who suffered the original brunt of the offense, a disregard for the laws of the state, and ultimately, a sin against God. Punishment subsequently serves three functions,

1. As retribution, punishing the criminal for his crime
2. As a deterrent, to ward off future crimes, alerting the community at large
3. As a corrective, to recuperate the guilty member involved

Retribution is the most essential of the three functions of punishment because the guilt of the criminal necessitates retribution. Retribution is a key component of justice. The confusion arises when retribution is confused for revenge. As Fr. Fagothey explains, “Retribution is not merely adding one evil to another, unless one were to hold that justice itself is not a good.” No one is denying that the death penalty is indeed a form of retributive punishment, so statements like those made by Cardinal McCarrick that, “We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing. We cannot defend life by taking life,” seem to blur this important distinction by equating retributive justice with mere revenge perpetrated by the state. This is why determining guilt or innocence and punishments are handled by courts of law, to ensure that the verdict is not linked to personal vendettas or grudges, which would be rooted in revenge. Some may object, “But capital punishment denies the corrective function of punishment to the guilty party since he is killed, thus denying him opportunity to reform.” However, certain crimes are so heinous and pose such a threat to the common good and society that the corrective element is overshadowed by the other two functions of punishment, deterrence and retribution. While important, correction per se has never been seen as an essential element in punishment. But beyond that, it is not necessarily true that the guilty individual sentenced to death is denied, in the absolute senses, a chance for correction in the most important sense of his own personal conversion. For example, Timothy McVeigh, just prior to his execution, changed his mind and asked to receive last rites. Often, being faced with one’s imminent mortality forces one to reassess his life and actions.

Now we must address the application of the death penalty in modern society. The traditional argument against the death penalty states that in today’s world, prisons are secure enough to ensure that violent criminals are guaranteed to remain behind bars. The death penalty is simply no longer necessary in light of today’s advanced maximum-security prisons. Within the United States, this is a relevant contribution to the debate, but prison conditions in other countries demonstrate that this is hardly a realistic assumption to be applied across the board. In Brazil for example, prison riots and escapes over the past ten years have revealed a stark defect in that county’s ability to detain the most violent of criminals. There have been repeated cases of detainees communicating with the outside criminal world and directing crimes from within the walls of the prison. Prisoners have even been successful at digging escape tunnels. In 2001, 31 such tunnels were discovered at the Carandiru prison, after 101 prisoners had already escaped. And in 2003, 80 criminals escaped from one of Brazil’s top security prisons. Riots in various prisons have resulted in guards and police officers being taken hostage by prisoners and sometimes killed. Some prisoners manage to escape from prison altogether during such violent riots. So the question of prison security, at least in some countries, is worth investigating.

Certainly, in the United States, we don’t have such problems plaguing our prisons. For the most part, maximum-security prisons are virtually impenetrable. Therefore the US bishop’s arguments can be taken more seriously within the context of our nation’s higher quality prison system. But there is no such thing as a foolproof prison. In addition, it is impossible to foresee or predict the particular circumstances or magnitude of every future crime. So, in light of these uncertainties should we go down the road of a enacting a sweeping, permanent ban on capital punishment? Should there not remain some exceptions on the table, even in a country as advanced as the U.S.? It is also worth noting the many holes in our own justice system that often sees repeat-offenders released into society and returning to their criminal ways, sex offenders in particular. Before discussing whether or not the death penalty should be banned, we need to make sure that prison detention capabilities don’t fall victim to an enfeebled justice system.

Judicial Lunacy

Arch-Liberal, Diggs Taylor

Today, a federal judge in Detroit struck down a key element of the government’s war on terror. One would have thought that, in light of what happened last week in Great Britain, even liberal federal judges would reassess their unfounded suspicions regarding the Patriot Act and other programs like the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program. But political bias and personal animosity toward the president proved too powerful in the end to overcome and too difficult a pill to swallow. U.S District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the government’s wiretapping policies, aimed at intercepting terror plots, violated civil liberties. Carter-appointee Diggs Taylor wrote in her 43 page decision that the National Security Agency program, "violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III."

Ignoring the obvious and legitimate concern of court usurpation of executive and legislative powers as the far-more glaring example of very the “separation of powers” that Diggs Brown seems so concerned about, this ruling can only be seen as a blow against our efforts toward exposing terror schemes. The ruling also ignores the resolution passed by Congress shortly after 9-11 that gave the president the necessary powers to fight the war on terror. Not surprisingly, the ACLU was leading the charge to get the program axed, and the left was quick to express their joy as a defeat is handed to Bush. Liberal blogs can hardly contain their glee over the ruling. Ignored is the fact that not a single, concrete example of a citizen’s rights being violated can be proffered by opponents of the NSA program. It's all hysteria and speculation. For the ACLU, Bush’s resolve to fight terrorism seems to be a greater threat to America than the terrorists who attacked our country on 9-11 and who were planning to blow up ten planes en route to America. Fortunately, this ruling will be appealed and most likely overturned.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Politics and the "Catholic" University in America

Louisiana’s Xavier University recently hosted Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who delivered the commencement address to graduates. As one could guess from the name of the university, Xavier is a Catholic institution, at least in name. And for anyone outside of the political loop, Senator Obama is widely hailed as the future savior of the Democratic Party. He bears on his shoulders the mighty weight of a crumbling political Party. His widely acclaimed rhetorical skills made their national debut at the 2004 Democratic Convention, where he delivered the keynote address. What Xavier University witnessed last week was another in a long line of pathetic academic pandering to popular leftists opposed to virtually every letter of Church teaching on moral issues, for the sole purpose of polishing its own reputation. Xavier University’s mission statement reads as follows,

“Xavier University of Louisiana is Catholic and historically Black. The ultimate purpose of the University is the promotion of a more just and humane society. To this end, Xavier prepares its students to assume roles of leadership and service in society. This preparation takes place in a pluralistic teaching and learning environment that incorporates all relevant educational means, including research and community service.”

As one peruses Xavier’s website, it becomes clear that the university is more concerned with proving that it is a “black” university than with transmitting Catholic values to its students. That any university is Catholic ought be sufficient evidence that it is open to students of all ethnic backgrounds, as the word Catholic comes from the Greek word for “universal.” But Xavier sees it necessary to repeatedly remind visitors to its site that it is “historically black.” Ok, fine. But what do they have to say about its Catholic heritage? If the university’s actions are any indication of where they see the role of the Church within the life of the university, the outlook is grim. By inviting Senator Obama to deliver the keynote address, and by heaping its honors upon his head, Xavier has made it clear that the Church’s teachings play second fiddle to prominent, honey-lipped politicians who carry in their wake extensive media coverage and potential donors with checkbooks in hand. Let any objective observer review the voting record of the Illinois senator and he will find that Senator Obama has repeatedly placed himself in plain opposition to the Church’s most fundamental moral teachings, from the defense of the unborn, to traditional family values. Is this the university's idea of how to promote "a more just and humane society?" Obama sided with the most far-left interest groups and voted against the confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito; men who, by any impartial standard, were overwhelmingly qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court. Obama’s vote against them reveals to what radical ideology he is truly beholden.

More vexing still than Obama’s easily demonstrable leftward tilt is the fact that an ostensibly Catholic university would invite such a character to deliver an important address and further, confer an honorary doctorate on him. What does this reflect about this university’s understanding of its Catholic identity? It remains a mystery as to whether or not the president of Xavier or its Board of Trustees have ever read John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae, in which the definition of a Catholic university and its subsequent responsibilities are clearly stated. The plain truth is that many at Xavier have probably never even heard of the document and even if they have, care not to read it. Unfortunately, Xavier is one of many Catholic universities in the United States that elevate the dollar sign over the cross. I would venture to say that this endemic of weak-kneed Catholic universities across the nation has, at its most fundamental level a profound fear of being ridiculed and exiled from the inner circle of snooty academic elitism.

The Church’s teachings are a direct threat, so it is believed, to the university's pocketbook. “Thou shall not offend potential donors” is the prime commandment of many Catholic university presidents. And the most likely way to offend someone is to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel as handed down to us from the Church. Where’s the outrage when a so-called Catholic university such as Xavier places a golden laurel wreath on the brow of an ambitious senator who voted against banning partial-birth abortion?

No doubt, if confronted with these charges and asked about its Catholic identity, university spokesmen would hurriedly toss out a list of innocuous words like “tolerance,” “diversity,” and “love” but not a word would be spoken on “objective truth,” “moral relativism,” or “Pope Benedict XVI,” and for obvious reasons. “Well now, we don’t want to offend anyone.” Isn’t denial of Christ in the face persecution or ridicule exactly the sin that sent a penitent Peter into hiding, as he “wept bitterly?” How different Peter was after Pentecost, as he boldly proclaimed the truth to the very end. Catholic universities have a duty to boldly project its identity to its students and to the world. If prospective students or donors don’t like what they hear or see or are offended by the Church’s teachings, upheld by the university, then they don’t have to attend or contribute. That’s their choice. But we shouldn’t expect the university to bend and cave-in to the passing trends of the day in a sorry attempt to scoop up more students and money.

Here is the link to Ex Corde Ecclesiae:

Monday, August 14, 2006

The U.N. and International Law

Hugo Grotius

If we are to accept the widely sanctioned and most traditional definition of law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good promulgated by him who has care of the community” the question of international law can be a sticky one to answer since there is no official enforcer of such law. Sovereign nation-states have their duly elected officials who, by right of natural law, enforce the positive laws of the state. However no such body exists on the international playing field. Over the past several years, the question of international law has come under renewed analysis. Recent wars in the Middle East have sparked heated debate, centering on accusations of alleged “violations” of the international rule of law. The purpose of this discussion is not to delve into the painstaking details of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan nor to investigate the abject corruption running through the veins of the U.N., (although both would be worthy topics to address and I would be up to the challenge) but rather to extrapolate and define more clearly the important tenets pertaining to law at the international level. As the role and prestige of the United Nations expands, for better or worse, on the world stage, it would serve as a useful refresher to brush-up on some basic concepts of international law. In addition, we should address the obvious question of whether or not the U.N. possesses any juridical or legislative authority to enforce international law, in light of present realties.

With the break-up of a unified Europe in the sixteenth-century, statesmen found it expedient to acknowledge some kind of unified concept of law under which all nations, becoming more heterogeneous by the day, could come together. Francisco Suarez sought to weave together the common customs of the day, but it is Hugo Grotius who is widely considered to be the father of what we today consider international law. According to Jesuit ethicist Fr. Austin Fagothey, Grotius maintained that “in the absence of a higher tribunal, relations between nations must be governed both by the natural law, which as the law of reason is common to all men, and by voluntary agreement among states, based on their enlightened self-interest. Fagothey goes on to say, “International law, then, is not the result of any definite enactment, but of long custom and usage.” It goes without saying that a state is always going to be motivated primarily by its self-interests, and rightly so. Fagothey further adds, based on principles of natural law that, “Independence, is a state’s life; a state may defend itself against unjust attack and against undue interference by other states in its affairs.” Just how might a nation’s self-interests be clouded by the “undue interference” of other countries? The past several years remind us that the question of a country’s legitimate right to self-defense in the face of international discord and pressure is a controversial one. Does a nation’s membership within an international body in any way involve a partial surrendering of its sovereignty to the extent that its self-defense must be sanctioned by an international panel? If it proceeds without the international nod, is it a particeps criminis in the violation of international law? I think it’s fair to say that some would like to see a “new world order” that would subsume supposedly dated and dangerous nation-states into one world body. Somewhat naively, it is assumed that international conflicts would, in a more civilized way, find peaceful resolution thus putting an end to the power politics of old. The table of diplomacy would finally triumph over the sword, heralding a new era of peace. This sort of thinking has already penetrated the walls of the European Union. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi is among the most filial adherents of this new approach to government. However Margaret Thatcher put it succinctly when she said “There is no world government, because there is no world ‘nation,’ no world political identity, no world public opinion. Thus the only way to fulfill the UN Secretary General’s…aspirations would, paradoxically, be to suppress democratic instincts, resist democratic pressures, and drain democracy of all real meaning.” The idea of a world government, benignly overseeing the affairs of all the nations of the world, is not only extremely shortsighted and na├»ve, but contrary to the very idea of nationhood since sovereignty is an inherent ingredient of a nation’s existence.

The International Court of Justice

As I see it, in terms of positive law, international law pertains solely to contractual agreements and customs. There is no omnipotent enforcer of international law, despite the desire of the United Nations to graft that power onto its body. The Hague is the seat of the International Court of Justice (located in the aptly named Peace Palace, only in Europe!), but even here, both parties would be required to have given their assurances prior that they would obey the court’s ruling. The United States, fortunately has given no indication that it will sign onto this idea. The only way a country would be guilty of violating an international law would be for it to unjustly back-out of a treaty that it had signed on to or to invade another country with no motivation outside its own desires for expansion and hegemony. The United Nations can be useful as a forum for international meetings and as a hub for negotiating non-binding resolutions, etc., but it would be foolish and dangerous to accord this international body some sort of super-nation status. Jeremy Rabkin reflects that, “International human rights law is not the product of court rulings, but of international conferences.” Salient here is the point that international bodies nowadays get lost in a sea of round-table discussions and conferences, circular dialogues that go nowhere fast but give those involved the feeling that they’re doing something. Most of these international forums are counterproductive and wasteful at best and a threat to national sovereignty at worst, particularly to U.S. national interests. A red light should go up when we hear talk of alleged violations of international law without any clear definition of what exactly has been violated. The subject is far more involved than most realize. I’ll close with a great assessment of the United Nations made by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton. “There is no such thing as the United Nations. The United States makes the U.N. work when it wants it to work. If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it would not make a bit of difference.” John Bolton, February 3, 1994.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Islamic Fascism?

Certain words carry with them a cartload of negative connotations. “Fascism” is one of them. Images of Hitler and Mussolini jump to the forefront of a long line of dictators who fall under the category of brutal fascist leaders. The world is still grappling with the astonishing story of how British officials disrupted a plot to blow up a series of nine to ten commercial jets en route from the UK to the US. In his address to the nation shortly after the disclosure of the story, President Bush made the following remarks,

“The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.”

The term “Islamic fascists” created a firestorm of catcalls from Muslim groups in the US. Parvez Ahmed, of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote President Bush Thursday to express his outrage. "Unfortunately, your statement this morning that America 'is at war with Islamic fascists' contributes to a rising level of hostility to Islam and the American-Muslim community.”

Is President Bush’s terminology appropriate or even accurate? In today’s world, it has become all too common to toss around words bogged down with heavy baggage and latch them onto a particular target, often with less than one hundred percent fidelity to the original meaning of the word. So the question is worth pondering. Most people usually have a general idea of what fascism means but it is difficult to crystallize a set definition around the word. Scholars debate among themselves as to a precise definition or whether this or that dictator really fits the bill as a fascist ruler. So determining whether or not Bush’s labeling of Islamic fascism is correct is not so cut-and-dry.

Typically, fascism is described as a form of government coupled with near complete control of every aspect of societal life, ranging from the political to the cultural and economic. In addition, we can throw in a strong dose of patriotism, or nationalism, and an intense glorification of war. The principle goals of most fascist regimes are twofold: industrial growth and national unity. It rejects the idea that the system of government itself can easily become the principle threat to civil liberties and rights, a theory clearly supported by the Founders of the United States, all the while embracing an organic rather than contractual view of the state. It substitutes the class-conflict rhetoric of Marx with that of a struggle between the races. The nation or race is given priority over the individual. Also central to fascist theory is the belief that might makes right. In other words, strength and power are the keys to a legitimate rule and that victory in battle alone is sufficient proof of the moral righteousness of the overall movement. In this can be seen the influence of Social Darwinism. Typically there is a charismatic leader who is entrusted with carrying out the objectives of the particular regime. Historian Robert Paxton adds this intriguing insight into fascism when he says that fascist movements typically focus on an “obsessive preoccupation with…decline, humiliation or victim-hood…and compulsive cults of purity.”

So in light of these peripheral observations, what can we say about the president’s usage of the term? The most glaring distinction that must be made is that Islamic terrorist organizations are not nation-states. These shadow cells blend in and out of a vast spectrum of nations, similar to parasites, making them difficult to identify or classify, given their numerous compositions and complex organizational structures. Their strength lies in their ability to operate, to a large degree, in secrecy and silence, with or without the knowledge of their host nations. In this regard, they do not fit the description traditionally associated with fascism. Certainly, terror groups associate a high degree of glory and honor to war, and victory in itself is seen by them as a sign of Allah’s favor and approval regarding the ends of their designs. After the Ottoman Empire reached the apex of its power, the armies of Islam suddenly faced a series of setbacks, starting with the Battle of Vienna; defeats that were, until then, virtually unheard of, as they had been nearly invincible in their takeover of vast tracts of land. Suddenly they were faced with a dilemma that carried with it theological implications. If their cause was indeed just, how could Allah allow such humiliating defeats at the hands of mere infidels? Victory should have been inevitable. It seems that Islamic terrorists today are driven by this same distorted belief system, despite history’s lesson to the contrary.


Robert Paxton’s inclusion of decline, humiliation, victim-hood and compulsory cults of purity in his outline of fascism is worthy of special attention, especially after discussing the previous point about victory and moral righteousness. In many of the grainy videos coming from terror leaders like Osama bin Laden, there are repeated references to historical grievances against Islam and the humiliation of suffering under Western occupation. Such examples range from the defeat of the Muslim forces in Spain, the Battle of Vienna and Lepanto, and the carving up and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by Western powers during the early stages of the twentieth century.

In addition, terror groups aggressively pursue dissidents from within the walls of their faith, purging it from those they perceive as carriers of doctrinal contagions, contaminating authentic Islam. It could be argued that their wrath against fellow Muslims who lack their theological purity is more violent than the fury shown against Westerners. Here we see all the components that Paxton mentioned in his outline of fascism: victimization (blaming the current poverty in Muslim lands on Western imperialism), focus on the tragic decline (the fall of the Ottoman Empire), humiliation at the hands of the West (the carving up of their lands after the fall of the Ottoman Empire) and doctrinal purity (violent attacks on fellow Muslims).


There is no doubt that such Islamic terror groups, however disparate, widely spread and numerous, are seeking to implement a totalitarian Muslim state on a grand scale. In light of Paxton’s additional contributions to understanding fascism, the other points made and the fact that fascism itself is a somewhat amorphous term with room for evolution, I believe Bush’s description is entirely appropriate.

Newsweek has an interesting article on the term and its rising popularity within the neoconservative lexicon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rebel Without A Cause

A local woman in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee could face excommunication after having participated in an “ordination” ceremony on July 31 along with 11 other women in Pittsburgh. Kathy Sullivan Vandenberg had previously met with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who warned her that she could face excommunication if she chose to take part in what he described as an act both “simulated and invalid.” Vandenberg had proffered an unconvincing attempt at showing respect and deference toward Church leaders, all the while plowing forward with her intentions, which culminated in the controversial pageant “ordination.” In the face of excommunication, Vandenberg almost casually dismissed the very real possibility and declared, “Excommunication is simply a punishment. That doesn’t mean I’m excluded from the church. Only I can exclude myself.” To a degree, she is correct in that she understands that her freely willed actions will bear consequences. But it is precisely her blatant act of willful disobedience that would cause her to “exclude herself” from the Church. That she doesn’t see this glaring inconsistency in her own statement is alarming. She is mistaken in another regard however. In fact, while still a Christian by virtue of her Baptism, excommunication would place her in state of exile in relation to the Church as a body. Vandenberg is the latest example in a truly sad display of an all too commonly shared ignorance on the part of some Catholics regarding the Church’s position on the exclusive ordination of men to the priesthood. Her theological follies reveal an astonishingly constricted ecclesiology and Christology. The Church, as the mystical body of Christ, for whom He offered Himself on the cross is the central tenet upon which our faith and Sacramental life rest. This teaching has firm roots in Scripture and in particular within the Pauline tradition.

Pope Benedict XVI elaborates on three sources of this ancient tradition. The first is what he calls the “Semitic conception of the ‘corporate personality.’” In other words, the belief in a common humanity passed down from Adam. As the Pope describes it, this concept of “corporate personality” was deconstructed somewhat by the philosophy of Descartes, which professed a radical alienation of the individual within the prison of his own thought process as opposed to a united humanity, sharing a common physical and metaphysical nature. A positive development in philosophy has been a renewed emphasis on the subject as “I” and his necessary relationship to the other, “you,” thus reestablishing the Semitic link between persons, what Pope Benedict refers to as “mutual interpenetration.” He goes on to say, “Thus, the Semitic view of the corporate personality-without which it is difficult to enter into the notion of the Body of Christ-could once again become more easily accessible.”

The Pope then turns to the concepts of “body” and “Eucharist” as the second sources of this tradition for the mystical Body of Christ. The Lord literally feeds His people with His bread, His true Body. Eating is that action which allows for an intimate intermingling of two subjects. “The formula ‘the Church is the Body of Christ’ thus states that the Eucharist…forever remains the place where the Church is generated.” The act of communion unites the believer with the Head, who is Christ, together with the other members as well. Thus one sees a complete fusion of Christ with the entire Church, that is to say, with the body and her members.

This leads us to the final source of the tradition, what the Pope identifies as “the idea of nuptiality.” Here one sees the fulfillment of the other two sources in the intimate bond of love between the Groom, Christ, and His bride, the Church. “Christ and the Church are one body in the sense in which man and woman are one flesh.” And it is here that the heart of the Church’s teaching on the Body of Christ reaches its apex. For the union between Christ and the Church is so intimate that we speak of it in terms of the physical and spiritual unity shared between man and woman in the nuptial bond, as the book of Genesis asserts, “For this reason the man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to the woman, and they shall become one flesh.”

So in light of these truths, the Church’s position regarding the ordination of men to the priesthood makes complete sense. The priest, standing in the person of Christ, offers Himself, His very Body, to the Church as His bride in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It becomes patently ludicrous to ponder the unseemly spectacle of a woman standing in the person of Christ, offering the Sacrifice of the Mass to the Church as bride. By the very nature of things, the priest must be male, as he places himself in the position to allow Christ to work through him directly in this act of love toward His one bride, the Church.

2,000 years of unbroken Tradition, instituted by Christ

I mean, that Linda Tripp back there?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

American Dreams

After the premature death of his young wife, the devastated Thomas Jefferson accepted a ministerial stint in Paris as a way of moving on with his life and distancing himself somewhat from the still-fresh memories of their happy life together at his beautiful plantation home aptly named Monticello, in central Virginia. The Brahmin young aristocrat was an unabashed Francophile and his four-year immersion in Parisian life gave him the opportunity to take in the allure of France and Europe. While he fully enjoyed the French wine, the French art and the classical architecture of the City of Lights, the experience also served to deepen his appreciation and love for his “country,” Virginia. In those days, it was common to refer to one’s state of birth as one’s “country,” a unified national identity was still a long way down the road of an uncertain history. While living in Rome as a student, I maintain a small portable library, a sort of extension of my larger collection of books back home. Among the selection, I keep a short biography of Jefferson written by Joseph Ellis entitled American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. The author masterfully details Jefferson’s world in Paris during the mid to late 1780s. One gets the impression from reading the book however that Jefferson, while taking full advantage of the cultural pearls that Europe has to offer, left his heart in America, both at Monticello and Philadelphia, where the framers of the Constitution were hammering out the sticky details for a new nation. I’m back in the States now for a couple of months and plan on returning to Italy in September. Throughout my time spent across the pond in Europe, and even while home, I can’t help empathizing with Jefferson’s sentiment during this period abroad. While overseas, I always have an active beacon, of sorts, burrowed deep inside my consciousness that hones my thoughts west toward the United States.

I had the opportunity last week to pay a visit to Mount Vernon, the magnificent plantation home of our first president, George Washington. The land surrounding the estate has been purchased with the explicit intention of preserving it exactly as Washington himself viewed it over two hundred years ago; bucolic, sweeping, serene. Ever since, it has been a pilgrimage site for patriots. I was able to stroll the grounds on a typically hot summer day and transport myself back to the glory days of early American history. Visitors to the mansion are able to take a forty-minute cruise up and down the Potomac River and absorb the expansive natural beauty of Washington’s former stomping grounds. During the boat ride, I had some time to reflect on the Founders, my own “Jeffersonian period” abroad and my love for America.

There’s something about the United States that is indescribably appealing and refreshing and yet it’s not easy to pin down precisely what this is. Reflecting on her frequent visits to the US, Margaret Thatcher once quipped “I always feel ten years younger- despite the jet-lag- when I set foot on American soil: there is something so positive, generous and open about the people- and everything actually works.” Her feelings are, for me at least, completely understandable. Even after just two academic years abroad, whenever I come home, I am caught up with the same sentiment. Granted, I’m only 25, but even still, I always feel as though I’ve just had a shot of energy as soon as I’ve touched ground. Why is this? What can explain for this widely shared view? Certainly, there’s more to it than just the good feeling. That good feeling is, I believe, the result of a uniquely American phenomenon planted deeply within our culture and history. We are a young nation, in the historical and figurative sense. However the typical image of a rebellious youth who arrogantly ignores his past and recklessly blazes his own path is starkly contrasted to our young nation’s uncanny embrace of time-honored traditions and religious observance. When Lincoln’s “mystic chords of memory” are strummed, the music resonates deeply for the careful listener. Noted historian Richard Brookhiser recently described contemporary Europe, quite baldly, as “a big collection of countries that is aging and shriveling.” This “shriveling” is no doubt a clear reference to what George Weigel has repeatedly referred to as Europe’s “demographic suicide.” Any American who fully appreciates Europe’s contributions to our own country’s heritage must shed more than a few tears for Europe’s current cultural plight while offering supplications to heaven for her prompt conversion. Europe finds herself in the clutches of a strong suspicion toward its own ancient Christian heritage and to religion in general. This hostility might be more succinctly described in Jeffersonian rhetoric as a “theoretic and visionary fear,” traceable to the violent convulsions of the French Revolution. Ever since, the dark cloud of atheistic humanism has lingered over the entire continent and its vapors have entranced more than a few unfortunate souls. The United States, on the other hand, is certainly not a nation under the spell of revolutionary hostilities toward religion. To be certain, we too have our self-pronounced elites on the left scheming over the best way to erase references to God from the public square. Fortunately but not surprisingly, such misguided efforts have only been met with the most forceful revulsion by the vast majority of Americans. In vain would one attempt to base his arguments for radical secularization of society in the beliefs of our Founding Fathers. If there be any doubt, George Washington, in his farewell address, which was largely ghost-written by Alexander Hamilton, states clearly, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.” This belief infuses the day-to-day life of Americans to this day, making the United States one of the world’s most overtly religious societies in the world. The United States retains, embodies and projects all the features of what the ancient Greeks captured in their famous sculptures, vigorous youth, beauty, strength and virtue.