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Touchstone's editors on news and events of the day.

Saturday, May 18

TOUCHSTONEÍS SECRETS REVEALED: Touchstone readers no doubt yearn to eavesdrop on the intellectually and spiritually profound e-mail exchanges that go on among the editors. Good taste, good sense, and the libel laws prevent us from sharing most of them with you, but I think all may profit from this advice extended to an adult about to be received into the church (chrismated) who inquired whether he needed to have godparents. X had replied he should. Our editor however advised:

[XÍs] recommendation, though doubtless inspired by charity and a just measure of concern for the safety of your manifestly imperiled soul, does not a mandate make. You may pick godparents or not pick them, according to your own best lights.

The original purpose of godparents was to guarantee to the congregation that the one joining the Church was a good guy, not a drunkard or a carouser, not given to lust and debauchery, not a criminal wanted by the law, not a terrorist pursued by Interpol, not a secret informant who would sell the Church out to the Roman persecutors, not a polygamist who owed a great deal of back child support, not a clandestine pagan looking for a silly thrill, not a pervert who would get his jollies by pouring poison into the Communion Cup, not a trapeze artist with secret designs on the church tower and bell ropes, not a juggler who hoped to become an acolyte and carry candles, not an unbearable bore with an endless repertoire of sad jokes for parish suppers, not someone enamored of tasteless clothing and improbable hats, not a devotee of crime in the streets and trial liturgies, not a transvestite who admired liturgical vestments, not a person likely to experiment with a fire hose during baptisms.

In the case of children being baptized (which doesn't apply to you), the godparent also assumes responsibility to make sure the kid gets to church
regularly and learns his prayers. This may and sometimes does mean putting pressure on the parents to do their duty. Such pressure may include, but is not limited to, calling the parents at all hours of the night and addressing them in terms of obloquy, playing a trombone off-key in their front yard during supper, arranging to have their credit cards canceled, throwing dead cats into their swimming pool, denouncing them to the school board, having them visited by a social worker, letting the air out of their tires, following them around town and jotting down things in a spiral notebook.

If you wish to have a godparent, you may. My family did not have godparents when we were chrismated. Given the canonical complications (and these are very real) that can later arise by reason of the "canonical affinities" created thereby (their daughter cannot marry your son, for example), I am less than enthusiastic about the value of godparents in cases (like yours) where they are not canonically required. But suit yourself.


I hope all will take this counsel to heart.

PS My wife wishes to add that the editor forgot the prime duty of godparents: to provide a supply of silver teething rings, mugs, and picture frames engraved with storks.


2:42 PM


VATICAN LIMITS BISHOPS RESPONSE TO CHILD ABUSE: Bishops have only limited responsibility for the actions of their priests, according to a New York Times report on a Civilta Cattolica article by Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, dean of the canon law faculty at Gregorian University.

Father GhirlandaÍs observations are in part commonsensical:

From a canonical point of view, the bishop or religious superior is neither morally nor legally responsible for a criminal act committed by one of his clerics.

However, he wrote, if a bishop knew of accusations and failed to investigate, or if he failed to remove a known abuser from the ministry, then under canon law he would have some legal and moral responsibility.

That is, if a bishop has no idea that a priest is committing crimes, he can hardly be held responsible for them. Only if a bishop has some knowledge of misbehavior and refuses to act is he responsible.

However, then Ghirlanda goes on to a more dubious statement. He writes:

...that a priest who is reassigned to a new parish after being treated because of a history of sexual abuse should not have his "good reputation" ruined by having his background revealed to the new parish. It would be better simply not to place the priest in a new parish if the bishop lacks confidence about the priest.

This implies that no one should be told about a priest who has committed sexual crimes, not even previous parishes that may not have been aware of the crimes. The only way to keep a new parish from knowing is not to tell previous parishes. Children who have been abused will often become self-destructive, even to the point of suicide. If a parish is not told that a priest has committed sexual abuse, parents have no way of knowing that a childÍs erratic behavior may be a sign that he has been abused. Ghirlanda places a priestÍs right to a good reputation, even when it is undeserved, above the safety of children.

Ghirlanda goes on with a further defense of priestsÍ rights:

...an accused priest should not be forced to take psychological tests because it is a violation of his right to privacy under canon law.

Psychological evaluations are hardly infallible. A sexual abuser is often a con man and can con a psychologist as he conned his victims. But an evaluation may be useful, and a priest may reveal during the evaluation the names of victims who can be sought and offered help.

Archbishop Herranz, who is the president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, has said that bishops should not report all abuse allegations to civil authorities. It is true that some allegations may be false or impossible to substantiate, but the hierarchy has shown itself incompetent to handle abuse allegations, and the civil authorities could hardy do a worse job

Ghirlanda and Herranz reveal that a clericalist mentality is present at the highest levels of the church; the laity are unimportant, the priest is everything. His rights to a career and an undeserved good reputation are to be upheld, even at the cost of childrenÍs innocence and sometimes even their lives (remember the suicides). This poisonous clericalism is enough to make a Protestant of a Breton peasant -- and it may lead to a rupture in the American church, if Catholic parents realize that the Vatican and bishops disregard the safety of their children.


1:05 PM


Thursday, May 16

PRIEST SHOT IN BALTIMORE: Dontee Stokes shot Maurice Blackwell, a suspended priest, in Baltimore. (Baltimore Sun). Stokes said that he had been molested for three years by Blackwell when Stokes attended a Catholic high school. In 1993 Stokes reported the abuse to the police, who refused to press charges. Stokes reported it to Cardinal Keeler, who removed Blackwell temporarily and sent him to the Institute for Living (which returned many pedophiles to Boston) for evaluation. Blackwell came back with a good report, and the black parish that Blackwell headed demanded Blackwell back. Keeler reinstated him.

A lay board that Keeler has set up to review abuse complaints interviewed Stokes and found his allegations credible. Stokes passed two polygraph tests. The panel recommended that Blackwell be suspended, but the recommendation was ignored by Keeler. The panel, composed of lawyers and other prominent Baltimoreans, was so disturbed that it wrote an open letter in the Baltimore Catholic Review criticizing KeelerÍs action. KeelerÍs defense was that the board had not seen the psychological report, and it did not have the benefit of talking to Blackwell, and seeing what a wonderful person he was.

In October 1998 Blackwell was suspended (but still paid) after another allegation surfaced that he had had a homosexual liaison with a minor in the 1970Ís, before Blackwell was ordained.

During recent months Stokes obsessively read newspaper articles on the abuse scandals. Then he got a .357 and went to demand an apology from Blackwell. He saw Blackwell on the street, and Blackwell refused to talk with him, Stokes drew the gun and fired three times.

After shooting Blackwell, Stokes went to his motherÍs church. It was having an altar call. Stokes came forward, weeping, and prayed the sinnersÍ prayer. After the service he went to the minister, confessed what he had done, and was told to turn himself in. Stokes turned himself in to the police, and awaits charges that could bring a life sentence.

What happened? The police and Cardinal Keeler refused to take the 1993 accusations seriously, although the panel believed Stokes, who passed polygraph tests. Keeler and the police must have known that Stokes was telling the truth. But Blackwell was the only black priest in the archdiocese, he was popular, his parish wanted him back. What did it matter what he had done to a high school boy? Stokes attempted suicide in 1993 after Cardinal Keeler and the police repulsed him.

Homosexual abuse of boys causes deep wounds because it makes boys question their masculinity, and their masculinity is more important to males than life itself (see what Tony Hillerman said in my comments on him). Boys and young males will do anything to defend their masculinity, especially young black boys in poor neighborhoods who have so few role models of responsible, adult masculinity. Boys will die to defend their masculinity ¿ or they will kill.


4:43 AM


Wednesday, May 15

TONY HILLERMAN IN THE WAR: Tony Hillerman, the only mystery writer all of whose books I have read, was raised as a Catholic on a poor, Dust Bowl Oklahoma farm. He has written his autobiography, Seldom Disappointed. He was exempt from the draft because his brother was drafted and his mother was a widow. He volunteered and ended up fighting in the same area of the Vosges in Alsace in which my children and I hiked one summer. The quiet lanes were then filled with German tanks that were defending home territory. When the fighting got very dangerous, he realized all he had to do to get out of it was jump down on his bad ankle. It would break, and he would be out of the war, having made his separate peace. He decided against it:

I think it was because I didnÍt want to miss whatever lay ahead, or I didnÍt want to go through life knowing I was a sissy.


Men desire combat, because it is the most extreme experience known to mankind. Men want to know what it is like, and they want to know whether they are man enough to endure it. Hillerman was.

After the war Hillerman returned to the Vosges, and met a German farmer who had been wounded at Kiev.

We shook hands and embraced him. The infantry makes brothers of all who have done their term in the valley of death.

The German and American young men often tried to avoid killing their enemies. Hillerman came across two German soldiers enjoying a sausage. He coveted the sausage, and neither of us liked the idea of killing those picnickers.

The Germans surrounded and captured an American headquarters and a field medical unit so suddenly that no one knew what was going on. Some wounded Americans were being bandaged in a cellar. They heard tanks arrive, and then heard a voice at the top of the stairs call in perfect America English: This is Lieutenant Remington. If thereÍs anyone down there, come on up. It was a German. The wounded Americans survived the war.

Hillerman knew it was standard practice in both armies to deal with dubious cellars by tossing down a grenade first, and then asking questions. The German took a chance because he didn't want to kill wounded Americans. Hillerman witnessed Americans shooting German POWs. There were good men and bad men (or really, 17-19 year old boys) in both armies.

The U.S Army, unlike the British, kept its riflemen in combat until they were wounded or died.

On average an infantryman in a line unit lasted about five months before he was killed or wounded badly enough to be shifted into a safer environment. Hillerman expected death that last great adventure, but instead stepped on a mine, had his legs mangled, and was blinded. He slowly recovered the sight in one eye. But he was lucky, compared to the others in his ward, who had half their faces shot away, or were totally paralyzed.

Hillerman didnÍt find that war made men better Christians:

I always wondered who invented the absurd lie that proclaimed there were "no atheists in foxholes." Where else could atheism better thrive than in the killing fields where homicide was honored.


Hillerman confessed his sins, including his killing of a German at point blank range, but thanked God for his wound, which would get him home. He had endless nightmares of combat; neither his mind nor body would ever be whole again in this life. However, having seen the worst in combat, he could look unflinchingly at the sadness and evils of life in his mystery stories, and leaves behind a legacy of spiritually profound mysteries. When I have time to reread all his books, I will finish my article for Touchstone, ñThe Navajo Theology of Tony Hillerman.î


6:56 AM


Tuesday, May 14

SIGNS OF RENEWAL?: According to Ecumenical News International:

ñPoll finds Canada may be experiencing a period of spiritual renewal. A recent survey by Canada's foremost religion pollster suggests that the country may be experiencing a period of spiritual renewal--one not limited to churchgoers.

A survey of 3,500 Canadians revealed that weekly church attendance had increased, the core membership had stabilized, and those who attend church infrequently were not 'deserting the ship.' The trend was particularly obvious among mainline Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Canada, and Roman Catholic churches.

'If we use cold marketing language, there has been a demand for religion,' said Reginald Bibby who teaches sociology at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. He has monitored religious trends in Canada every five years since the 1970s. His most recent survey suggests that a 30-year downward trend in church attendance has been halted and that attendance of youth has rebounded.î

Comment: I don't know about Canada, but over the years I have read various polls or stories speculating about signs of renewal in the United States. Genuine renewal, I would think, might include not only repentance but also signs for which polls are unecessary: a dramatic decrease in the number of abortions, crime, divorce, consumption of drugs, pronorgraphy, gambling, child abuse, a clearing up of the backlog in our courts and a growing vacancy rate in our prisons. Reportedly during the time of John the Baptist there was a religious revival of sorts going on, but I doubt that he would have told a reporter from the Jerusalem Post that he was only responding to a "demand for religion."


12:59 PM


WORLD YOUTH DAY CHAIRMAN SUPPORTS GAY DATING IN CATHOLIC SCHOOL: Like avalanches in the Canadian Rockies, liberal court decisions in Canada threaten to wipe out years of patient human work. A seventeen-year-old in a Catholic school in Ontario wanted to take his 21-year-old boy friend to the prom. The school said no; the student took the school to court; the court said yes. This school upheld Catholic principles, but not every Catholic school does. The National Post article continues

Several Catholic school boards in Quebec and Ontario have permitted gay dating "without a fuss," Mr. Corbett said. "We just don't think this is nearly so fundamental to religion as they suggested ... This [decision] may be an opportunity for them to reflect on whether they got it right."

One of my Canadian friends is unhappy but not surprised:

Unfortunately, a number of "Catholic" voices lined up with the gay couple (included Dr. Mihovec, Toronto city chair of the committee on World Youth Day, representatives of Catholic Teachers Union, etc.). The decision (only one judge presiding, no jury) is being described as a "landmark" decision, and, unfortunately it is. The judge was clearly aware that he was riding roughshod over the rights of religion in order to affirm the right of an individual to impose a particular form of sexual conduct on a public institution. This act of juridical aggression stakes out the authority of the courts to impose sexual conduct codes on Catholic schools. The case will be appealed and will go to the Supreme Court.

Mihovec is organizing the World Youth Day in Toronto. I fear that he will use it for homosexual propaganda: perhaps the Pope (if he makes it) will have a gay couple serving his mass.


4:28 AM


Sunday, May 12

SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION: The Bush administration has given its support to single-sex schools. Both boys and girls do better in them. Karen Stabiner in her article Boys Here, Girls There: Sure, If Equality's the Goal in todayÍs Washington Post writes

single-sex education can be a valuable tool -- if we target those students who stand to benefit most. For years, in the name of upholding gender equity, we have practiced a kind of harsh economic discrimination. Sociologist Cornelius Riordan says that poor students, minorities and girls stand to profit most from a single-sex environment. Until now, though, the only students who could attend a single-sex school were the wealthy ones who could afford private tuition, the relatively few lucky students who received financial aid or those in less-expensive parochial schools. We denied access to the almost 90 percent of American students who attend public schools

Stabiner focuses on the benefits to girls; those benefits are real. Having been an adolescent boy, I would not inflict the presence of large numbers of adolescent boys on my daughters. We have home schooled all our children, and our older daughter is now at Wellesley.

Boys also benefit. Undergraduate enrollment follows the same pattern as church attendance: 60% female, and 40% male. Boy, especially poorer boys, drop out of school. They feel that education is effeminate; real men lead a rough life (often criminal) or go into technical work (which pays well in the current boom). But women dislike marrying men who are less well educated then they are. Where will all the college-educated women, especially black women, find equal partners?

In Baltimore most upper-middle class parents send their children to private schools, and almost all of those schools are single-sex. In the 1960Ís I went to Calvert Hall College, a Christian BrothersÍ high school, and to City College, a public all-male high school. I went to Providence College when it was all male. I am therefore one of the handful of Americans who had a single-sex education from 9th grade through my B.A. Dating was not very important in my high schools. My close friends were all boys, and that was true of most students in these schools

Our children are educated at home, and have many friends, so they are not isolated form the opposite sex. But they show no interest in dating, a characteristic they share with home-schooled children, no matter why the parents choose to home school. Perhaps there is something chemical going on in coed schools: pheromones do exist. Or perhaps the social pressure to date in a coed environment is overwhelming.

Father John McCloskey, who heads the Catholic Information Center in Washington and who was a chaplain at Princeton, has written on the advisability of single-sex education from early childhood through college in Coeducation Revisited for the 21st Century. He focuses on the moral problems.

But the educational problems, as Stabiner points out, are also very serious, and are more likely to be considered by public decision-makers. Boys and girls are not only an enormous distraction to each other; they learn at different rates and in different ways. Stabiner writes:

But brain research has shown us that girls and boys develop and process information in different ways; they do not even use the same region of the brain to do their math homework

Their brains develop on different schedules. By adulthood they are roughly equal, but they arrive at adulthood by different paths. Trying to teach boys and girls in the same way hurts both.


10:59 AM




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