Sunday, September 24, 2006

A quote

One of my favorite authors, Neal Stephenson, has a main character in his books who is a Catholic priest. In his novel Crytonomicon, the priest character in an email explains his conception of the highest calling of a priest. This passage has since I read it given me much to ponder and I thought I'd pass it along for general consumption.

It is conventional now to think of clerics simply as presiders over funerals and weddings. Even people who routinely go to church (or synagogue or whatever) sleep through the sermons. That is because the arts of rhetoric and oratory have fallen on hard times, and so the sermons tend not to be very interesting.

But there was a time when places like Oxford and Cambridge existed almost solely to train ministers, and their job was not just to preside over weddings and funerals but also to say something thought-provoking to large numbers of people several times a week. They were the retail outlets of the profession of philosophy.

I still think of this as the priest's highest calling-or at least the most interesting part of the job-hence my question to [the book's main character]...

Monday, September 18, 2006

So it goes

Jury: Diocese must pay victim $1.5 million

By Dustin Lemmon | Monday, September 18, 2006 | (7) Comments | Rate this article

BREAKING NEWS: (4:43 p.m.) A Scott County jury has awarded Michl Uhde $1.5 million in damages from the Diocese of Davenport for sexual abuse he suffered more than 40 years ago.

The jury deliberated for six hours Monday before returning its verdict around 3 p.m. The $1,536,800 covers future medical expenses, lost wages, lost function of the mind, and pain and suffering.

The amount doubled the $744,000 that Uhde and his attorneys had asked for. The diocese had said it was going to court because it couldn’t afford to settle any more cases regarding alleged sexual abuse by its priests.

The trial in Scott County District Court started Sept. 11 and ended with closing arguments Friday afternoon. Jurors heard testimony from Uhde, who recounted abuse by Monsignor Thomas Feeney that occurred from 1957 to 1963, starting when he was 7.

After the verdict Uhde said the case was never about the money but getting answers from the diocese.

“This is about the victims,” he said. “I feel better. Hopefully, we’ll get some help for other people.”

Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or

The Bishop going into the trial wrote this in the Messenger and then had this to say today after the verdict.

As His Excellency stated in the first letter, the point of going to trial was that the diocese had no money to pay out. The second letter outlines what is next, i.e. belt-tightening on a massive scale and serious consideration on filing for bankruptcy.

And this is only the first trial. As the first letter explained, there is another one in the offing... For a diocese that is largely rural outside of the Quad Cities and Iowa City, this is going to be very tough for everyone.

Reader response

It has come to my attention via Site Meter and looking at those sites that are referring readers to this blog that there has been some hostility over my comments found here. It is important to remember for those who think that I am just being dramatic and over-generalizing that a book about assassinating the Pope is a bestseller in Turkey even before the Pope's lecture the other day.

As John Allen describes (thanks to Amy for the link):

In a little more than 300 pages, Kaya manages to weave the Turkish Secret Service, the infamous Masonic lodge P2, and (of course) Opus Dei into his plot line. Inevitably, Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981, also makes an appearance.

All this might seem comical were it not for the fact that in the last seven months, three Catholic priests have been attacked in Turkey, beginning with the murder of Italian missionary Fr. Andrea Santoro on February 5. Bishop Luigi Padovese, a 58-year-old Capuchin from Milan who serves as the region's apostolic vicar, and who was Santoro's superior, has warned of a "rising tide" of anti-Christian propaganda in Turkey.

"There's a strong current of religious extremism, and that climate can fuel this sort of hatred. It's passed along in families, in schools, in the newspapers," he said in a February interview with NCR.

And that is just Turkey, the most secularly governed Muslim state in the world.

If anyone would like to contact me and have a reasonable discussion with facts, figures and links to scholarly sources, the comment box is open 24/7.

Monday morning

Benedict XVI in his Sunday Angelus comments apologized for hurting anyone's feelings.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Pastoral Visit which I recently made to Bavaria was a deep spiritual experience, bringing together personal memories linked to places well known to me and pastoral initiatives towards an effective proclamation of the Gospel for today. I thank God for the interior joy which he made possible, and I am also grateful to all those who worked hard for the success of this Pastoral Visit. As is the custom, I will speak more of this during next Wednesday’s General Audience. At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. Yesterday, the Cardinal Secretary of State published a statement in this regard in which he explained the true meaning of my words. I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect. This is the meaning of the discourse.

The BBC, always unfailing in its efforts to broadcast the Muslim sentiment around the world, reports that the Pope's apology has placated some, but not very many.

Sandro Magister has a piece with a fine summary of events. He concludes with these paragraphs dealing with the trip to Turkey and reason:

One the other hand, there is growing hostility in the Turkish media toward everything that is Western, European, and Christian. Secular opinion is outstripped by opinion with an Islamist imprint, which is increasingly more combative. An extremely mediocre book of political fiction published in Turkey at the end of August and written by a journalist who specializes in intrigues, Yücel Kaya, has had spectacular commercial success. The title says it all: “Attack on the Pope: Who Will Kill Benedict XVI in Istanbul?”

The Turkish chapter is the first one against which the new Vatican foreign minister, Mamberti, must test himself.

As for Benedict XVI, he knows that he hasn’t made his trip to Turkey any easier. But it is the pope’s firm conviction that a visit prepared and carried out only under the shield of reticence, silence, purely ceremonial dialogue, and submission would have done more harm than good – both to the Church and to the Muslim world.

But if everyone takes seriously in hand, and reads from beginning to end, the hymn to reason that he raised in Regensburg... Because at bottom, in the view of Benedict XVI, the heart of the question is always the same one that the emperor of Constantinople and his learned Persian counterpart discussed in 1391: “Not acting according to reason is contrary to the nature of God.”

And finally, al-Qaeda, having nothing better to do with its spare time while not battling it out in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world through its various affiliates in its ongoing jihad against the United States of America and the West in general, has threatened jihad over the Pope's remarks.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A course of action

Let us be clear:
Large segments of the Muslim world are not capable of thinking rationally. The Pope can go on and on with rational arguments that are brilliant pieces of logic and forethought, but one whiff of criticism of Islam and the mob is back in the streets firebombing churches and burning the Pope in effigy.

Even moderate Muslims on TV in the last few days have criticized the Pope for making such comments when he ought to know better rather than condemning their brethren for proving the West right with their stupid barbaric behavior. The biggest problem with moderate Islam is that they have no cohesive PR strategy. If moderate Islam is in fact serious about reining in the extremists and preventing Muslim youth from being recruited, its visibility is non-existent. Then so-called 'moderates' get on CNN and complain that the West ought to know better. Moderate Islam's credibility with the West crumbles every single time it fails to face reality.

The question is then what ought to be Benedict's strategy? Being upset at the idea that his remarks have caused offense is not the answer. He may really be upset, but Benedict is a brilliant man. He ought to know better that his remarks will be misinterpreted and cause the firestorm that they have. However, this does not mean that he should not make them. On the contrary, sugar coating his remarks would only make him appear weak and wishy-washy. Being firm is no crime, no matter how many people burn him in effigy.

Benedict XVI is the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church and his ultimate function on earth is the saving of souls, not being cushy in the arena of 'dialogue' and 'engagement'.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The rumor

I have been informed of the possibility that the trip to Turkey in November may be cancelled. According to my friend in Italy, Turkish authorities are suggesting that it would be too dangerous for the Pope to go visit.

EDIT 9/16: The way things are going and from the comments coming out of Turkey, I think this could very well come about. What would be really courageous is for the Pope to go anyway unless the Turks refuse to allow him entry.

More as it becomes available.

This just came up!

Key excerpts: The Pope's speech from the BBC

Perhaps we should be glad that the Pope's speech is getting wider coverage... Hmm?

A round-up of outcry

The BBC has its usual summary article of what's going on, general details, little in the way of specifics.

Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution on Friday criticising the Pope for making "derogatory" comments.

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood said the Pope's remarks "aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world".

Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution demanding that the Pope retract his remarks "in the interest of harmony between religions".

"The derogatory remarks of the Pope about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Mohammed have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions," the AFP news agency quoted the resolution by the country's national assembly as saying.

The remarks prompted fears of unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, as a result of which two separatist leaders were put under house arrest.

Meanwhile, the "hostile" remarks drew a demand for an apology from a top religious official in Turkey.

Ali Bardakoglu recalled atrocities committed by Roman Catholic Crusaders against Orthodox Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims, in the Middle Ages.

In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood head Mohammed Mahdi Akef said the Pope's words "do not express correct understanding of Islam and are merely wrong and distorted beliefs being repeated in the West".

The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference also said it regretted the Pope's remarks.

Arab News has an in-depth article with various quotes from Muslim scholars. One Muslim professor's comments sum up the general argument:

Dr. Jameel H. Al-Lowahiq, professor of Shariah at the Taif University, said the remarks reveals “the enmity and grudge the new pope” harbors “toward Islam and our Prophet.”

“The lecture of the present pope, particularly at the time of deep international crisis, betrays the utter lack of prudence and propriety in sensing the consequences of making such a statement,” said Al-Lowahiq.

He added that that the pope was probably not aware of what the English philosopher Bernard Shaw said about the Prophet, in that the world badly needed a man like the Prophet Muhammad who placed his religion at an honorable position.

“I hope the pope will realize what Western and Christian historians wrote about Islam. The pope’s statement shows his and the entire Vatican’s weakness or rather nonexistent knowledge of Islam. It also reveals the psychological hatred the pope has of Islam and the Prophet,” added Al-Lowahiq.

“He should have more knowledge of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, he is quoting a Byzantine ruler and ignoring the writings of honest Christian researchers who speak with credibility,” he said.

The Times of India has an article in which a valiant spokesman defends the Pope's comment. In the same article, a professor is not as kind in his assessment.

Fr Charanghat [the spokesman in Mumbai] pointed out that pulling a few lines from an eight-page speech meant for a specific audience of theology students had distorted its true meaning and intent, causing it to be labelled a "veiled attack on Islam".

He said the Pope was only trying to explain the reality of terrorism, more specifically jihad, as understood by extremists who are using it as a theological justification for violence.

"It was necessary to use the quote from a 1391 debate on Islam which would perhaps throw light on why a concept so rich as jihad as explained in the Koran was being misused by a minority of this great religion," he said.

Fr Julian Saldhana agreed the comments on Islam were part of the Pope's larger speech on faith and reason but felt that the quotation chosen was significant.

"The Pope has reproduced a quotation which is derogatory of the prophet Mohammed, without refuting it or showing that he disagrees with it," he said.

"I cannot agree with this comment, which is incorrect and lacking in sensitivity and respect. As for spreading Islam by the sword, we know that Muslim scholars, like Christian scholars, confronted with holy wars in the Old Testament in the Bible, know how to interpret the holy Koran in keeping with reason," he said.


And finally we have Pink News which started off with this:

The leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination has followed up his homophobic comments last week with alleged anti-Muslim remarks.

And that is a round-up of the thought processes that pervade modern intellectualism in the great universities and organizations of Islam (and the militant gay crowd in the UK).

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Now who has the moral high ground?

A class action law-suit in Miami has been filed against the ruler of Dubai and his brother. The BBC: "The action claims Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, his brother Hamdam and 500 others are responsible for abducting and trafficking the children." The children, mostly from southern Asia and Sudan, are kept in deplorable conditions and forced to serve as camel jockeys in Dubai.

So ah... Muslim world... You were complaining about the Pope quoting someone who's been dead for over half a millennium?

This is typical

The Turks are complaining about Benedict's quoting a comment made by the Byzantine Emperor Emperor Manual II Paleologos. The quote: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Now the Turks are asking for an apology, etc. The other references to Muslim outrage are from a Pakistani cleric and a mention of Kashmiri police seizing newspapers carrying coverage of the Pope's words. That was a bid to prevent tension in the far corner of India.

The inferiority complex of institutional Islam once again shows itself. Let us all pray that the teenagers of Turkey don't take this slight as personally as they did the cartoons and start attacking priests.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In the Great War Against Wahhabi Extremism, we are 12 years into the struggle. In 1993, I was home from school the day that truck bomb exploded in the garage under one of the towers. Are we any closer to winning? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. The brother told me the other day that he had come to the conclusion that the definition of winning the war was that every last one of the terrorists had to be hunted down and killed. If there is one thing 9/11 accomplished, it is that we now know our enemy. He is faceless and ephemeral, but he is there and we are on guard.

The problem with the Pearl Harbor analogy is that Pearl Harbor was followed by a lot of other things. The Philippines were conquered, Singapore fell, a lot of US territory in the Pacific became de facto Japanese property. Five years ago, 9/11 happened and then we were invading Afghanistan in search of Osama ibn Laden.

We took the hit in 1993. It was a small hit. It was handed over largely to law enforcement and then largely forgotten. Other attacks occurred, but they were either small or far away in places like East Africa. Then 9/11, a much larger and more visually stunning hit than a truck bomb in a garage, but again, it was but one day. In the aftermath, law enforcement took a backseat to military intervention. But with its justification fading into the background over time, military intervention has lost its luster in a protracted struggle.

Is withdrawal the answer? (And no, this is not a discussion of Iraq.) Would our efforts overseas be more effective solely under the aegis of international law enforcement? The problem with the law enforcement solution is that where the military operates today is pretty much beyond the reach of law enforcement. The long arm of the FBI doesn't extend much farther than civilization and the mountains of Afghanistan for instance are beyond civilization, certainly our own.

This is the end of part one. I may or may not revisit this. Comment as you wish.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The evening stuff

The International Herald Tribune looks at the Pope's trip to Germany and the circumstances of Europe's godlessness.

While the decline of the church itself is undeniable, many studies show a rising interest in Europe in faith more generally. Pilgrimages are newly popular. A recent British television series on men entering a Catholic monastery attracted millions of viewers. The funeral of John Paul II also drew millions, and Benedict himself attracts hundreds of thousands every time he says a public mass - without, though, any increase in ordinary church-going.

"The challenge for anybody in religious leadership is what they do in that oddly paradoxical combination of circumstances, which is the continuation of decline, but a rise in interest," said Grace Davie, a professor of the sociology of religion at the University of Exeter in England. "I would not presume to say whether the pope is doing a good job or not. But I would say that the opportunity lies in capturing the moment."

But Germany has warmed to him, and in Regensburg the streets now ripple with the Vatican flag. Part of that appeal has been Benedict's quiet and intellectual style, which, while decidedly not compromising on the faith, has largely sought to avoid strident condemnation on moral issues.

"If you look at the Catholic Reformation, the state of the church in 1520, how did the church pull itself together then?" asked Philip Jenkins, professor of religion studies at Penn State University. "It was not to focus on every little political and social issue," he said. "It was a new focus on sanctity, new religious orders and, above all, a focus on Mary. And their view, I think, is: 'If we do it again, maybe the 21st century will look more like the Catholic Reformation.'"

Aye, but which order is going to step up or will it be the mass movement of lay organizations that pulls off the rebirth? Probably the latter, as such Jesuit-emulators as the Legionaries of Christ have yet to break through to world-wide recognition and status.

Then there is the reality that the church, to many, simply seems irrelevant, given all the modern world has to offer. Ferenc Acs, 35, a Ph.D. candidate in neuropsychology at Regensburg, was baptized a Catholic and said he was relieved that Benedict "seems to be more moderate than expected."

But Acs did not expect much change in church doctrine he disagrees with. He does not expect to return to church. And he had no plans to attend the pope's mass next Tuesday. "If you're going to hike five kilometers for a spectacle," he said, "I prefer rock concerts."

I'm sure Herr Acs will be able to meet plenty of deceased rockers in a rather fiery place should he keep up his unrepentent attitude. (Oh, wait! Triumphalism is out of style, I forgot, sorry. :/)

Frank Hilario has a piece on Mother Angelica and EWTN in the context of TV as cultural medium, etc. Fairly typical analysis, but worth a read if you're a fan of the nuns down there. In the previous story in the IHT, the 'We Are The Church' gang was complaining about the lack of a role for women in the Church. Obviously they don't tune in to watch the international TV superstar and her brethren. Tsk.

‘Because He Was a German!’, a book by Jerome-Michael Vereb on the role of Cardinal Bea in making triumphalism politically incorrect and ecumenicalism cool and modern, is reviewed by Peter J. Bernardi, S.J., a professor of theology at Loyola University, New Orleans for America magazine. (That was a great run-on sentence by the way. :D)

The book relates the beginnings of ecumenical activities in the 20th century, with special attention to the “German theater.” Why Germany? Several factors conspired to produce an ecumenical kairos in the “country” that was the cradle of the Reformation. First, the collapse of the Reformation principle cuius regio, cuius religio at the end of World War I and then the nightmare of the Third Reich stimulated a new appreciation of the church’s nature and the shared Christian call to holiness. Second, ressourcement in Reformation historiography by Lutheran and Catholic scholars helped to set aside sterile polemics and clear a path for dialogue. Third, prophets of “spiritual ecumenism,” notably Max Metzger and the Una Sancta movement, placed high value on lived experience and promoted exchanges with ecumenically minded Protestants. Vereb cites Cardinal Willebrands, co-founder of the Catholic Conference for Ecumenical Questions and subsequently secretary and then president of the S.P.C.U., who stated that the “single greatest cause for the dynamic of the ecumenical movement” was “the ‘life together’ of Protestant and Catholic clerics in concentration camps.”

Pretty straightforward stuff. Maybe I'll even splurge and get a copy of the book. But it'll have to wait until after I've waded through the Divine Comedy.


Cell phones and the Eternal City

That is, when Romans had their cell phones turned on. Telecom Italia, Italy's main telephone operator, has partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a real-time mapping system that tracks how people move in urban spaces.

This part looks interesting:

Real Time Rome is also being used to figure out how tourists in Rome move throughout the city and can show where spikes in the volume of calls happen. One sample image from the project, for example, shows spiked cell phone usage around Olympic Stadium in Rome and the Vatican during Madonna's infamous on-the-cross appearance last month. Another shows Rome's population movement around the time of Italy's World Cup win.

Of course, there is the usual talk about personal privacy and such. I don't really carry a cell phone with me a whole lot, so such issues are hardly a concern. Besides, what is very interesting about tracking Romans sitting in gridlock? Hmmm?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A few things this evening

A UK couple named their baby after the Holy Father.

Kevin and Amanda Lonergan, whose son was born on Easter Sunday, called him Benedict after Pope Benedict XVI.

Kevin, who works for Lancashire-based charity, Galloway's Society for the Blind, wrote to the Vatican about the role of Catholicism in his work and explained that his new baby son was named after the Pope. To mum and dad's surprise, the Pope, with whom baby Benedict shares a birthday, wrote back.

"The letter says the Holy Family is pleased to learn of the arrival of baby Benedict and assured us of his prayers," Kevin told the Lancashire Evening Post.

That's a nice idea, I agree. My one thought is that since Benedict was born on the feast of St. Joseph and was himself named Joseph, why didn't they just name their kid Joseph?

According to a website, The Los Angeles Times has nothing better to do than document clerical abuse cases all around the nation.

In the front section of today's Los Angeles Times (Tuesday, September 5, 2006) is an article, "Sex Charges Shadow a Local Curiosity in Texas: Five monks at the Christ of the Hills Monastery are accused of abusing boys. Police also say the church's famous crying icon was 'a scam'" by Times staffer Lianne Hart. The piece is accompanied by three color photos and a small map of Texas (to illustrate the location of the story, Blanco, Texas (population 1505)).

"Christ of the Hills," "Monastery," "Father," "urban mission," "monks," "Virgin Mary" ... Another example of abuse in the Catholic Church, right? At first glance, it would appear so. But it isn't. Buried more than halfway through the article is the fact that the monastery was affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and they cut ties with the monks seven years ago. Why are these facts practically hidden in the article? Deception, anyone?

If that wasn't so pathetic, it would almost be funny. The entire piece has lots of quotes from other LA Times articles and lots of links.

Papabili Watch

Cardinal Rivera Carrera, listed as numero uno on Neil Young's list of top candidates to succeed Benedict when the time comes, has a chance to show his credentials to the world at large.

Mexico is going through something of a crisis at the moment. The opposition candidate who lost the presidential election is crying foul and saying he doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the election. Some of his supporters are calling for the formation of a parallel government. The poor and downtrodden have been disappointed so often that they can't get their man into office, observers believe this is the breaking point that could lead to civil conflict. Mexico's electoral system is said to be one of the most well-designed and implemented in the world, but the opposition is still crying foul.

I have yet to see anything in English on where the Church falls in all this. Certainly the Cardinal-Archbishop of Mexico City has a position. Where has he fallen? On the side of the legitimacy of the state and the properly elected president? Or has he fallen on the side of the opposition who are frustrated by their constant defeat at the hands of Mexico's silent majority?

Something else:
In considering this, an interesting parallel can be drawn between Mexico and Lebanon. Ninety years ago, Pancho Villa, the revolutionary general of Mexico, invaded the United States of America and attacked the town of Columbus, New Mexico. Villa's forces killed several US citizens and then proceeded to burn down the town. To counter this blatant violation of its sovereignty, the United States sent General Black Jack Pershing on the Mexican Expedition to capture Villa.

What was then viewed as a protection of a sovereign state's integrity is now viewed as excessive and unjustifiable by those who think that Hezbollah kidnapping Israeli citizens off Israeli territory is hardly cause enough to warrant any kind of response...

Worth a read

from Catholic Church: Celibacy Is Not The Problem.

There was a question for the good father who answers questions in the local paper from the diocese the other day. It asked why in the General Intercessions it's all about social justice and how other things like chastity are never mentioned.

In a world where such virtues are hardly ever mentioned in a regular way, it's certainly understandable that the sexually active masses would think that that perverse attitude can only lead to more perversity in general.

Call your parishes and ask for a note about chastity to be inserted this Sunday into the list of intercessions asked for.

The next German trip

Program of the Pope's Apostolic Trip to Germany

The typical stuff that the Pope usually does on his journeys abroad.