Touchstone Magazine HomeHome
Touchstone's Editors on news & events of the day.with Patrick Henry ReardonOrder our publications...Speakers bureau, Chicago Lecture Series, and more...Browse back issues...All the information you need

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

Saturday, June 8

CIVILIZATIONS DO DIE: In her latest column for The Wall Street Journal the always interesting Peggy Noonan has written that ˝One has a sense of a quickening of history, of a gathering of its forces, of things hurtling toward some unknown end,ţ yet the Congress and the media and all the other ˝institutions on which we rely for relief, inspiration, guidance and succor are fallen or falling, or at least failing.ţ We know the terrorists will strike again, and probably harder, but we are not really doing much about it. As she notes, the security officers at airports frisk little old ladies and let by men who might actually be terrorists.

˝Our intellectuals,ţ she writes, ˝are off on various toots, most of them either irrelevant -- the latest edition of the New York Review of Books leads with stories on David Brock, Clarence Thomas, Sexy Puritans, Peggy Guggenheim and Noel Coward -- or all too relevant and wrong.ţ Congress is busy looking busy, and (this is my comment, not Noonan═s) the President has just made a big fuss about reorganizing ˝homeland security,ţ as if a new bureaucratic arrangement, which will disrupt things for months till it all gets worked out, if it ever does (bureaucrats would fight bitter turf wars even when they were dying of radiation poisoning), will make much difference. She continues:

Here is a great irony: We are distracting ourselves from our predicament by obsessing on our tragedy. We are investigating the systems failure of Sept. 11, and while we investigate it we are contributing to the next systems failure. Every minute, every bit of energy and focus we give to Sept. 11 is stolen from the amount of time we have to concentrate on how to avoid the next Sept. 11 -- and what to do if we fail and it happens. What should we be giving our attention to? What should we be passionate about, dedicated to, focused on? Here is one of many things: making sure our children are inoculated against smallpox. We know bioterrorism is more than possible, and we know few Americans under 30 have been vaccinated; we wiped out world smallpox, and stopped vaccinating in 1972. My son was born in 1987. When were your kids born?

The eldest of our four was born in 1986. I will say what Noonan is perhaps too polite to say: my children═s lives are endangered because, as she notes, ˝We could dispatch all questions quickly if the senators didn't have to have their airtime. Each senator must be seen on TV grilling the FBI director. This slows things, but it is assumed it will play well back home.ţ Seen grilling the FBI Director, but not actually doing their job. An epidemic of smallpox could leave our home empty: the beds unslept in, the clothes unworn, the bicycles unridden, the books unread, two places set for dinner rather than six, the toys neatly stored in their boxes, the house silent all day, the evenings suddenly free, or empty.

I know, and Noonan knows, that finding out what went wrong might help us in the future. But those in authority seem to be taking a bit too much time talking about what went wrong, and not nearly enough time doing what we already know ought to be done. ˝Why aren't we addressing these things?ţ Noonan asks.

In part I think because humans just aren't good at facing terrible things that are future things. They face today and think of yesterday. And in part because we are distracting our officials with the demand that they make their lame explanations for how they failed last time.

This must be part of it, but in my gloomier moments I wonder if America has made itself incapable of acting quickly and well even in self-defense. Civilizations do come to an end, ˝not with a bang but a whimper,ţ as Eliot wrote. We have great wealth and power, and the prophets and our Lord warned us of the effects of wealth and power, one of which is to blind us to realities that are right there in front of us. Remember the Pharisees, remember the rich young ruler, remember the unrepentant thief on the cross. And it is not just our political and intellectual leaders who seem to suffer from sloth, but most of the rest of us as well. How much did most of us change our lives after September 11th? Do we think more seriously about death? Do we act as if we might meet our Maker any moment? Do we act as if we have enemies in the world who want to hurt us? Do those of us who are Catholics go to confession more often?

In the traditional Christian understanding of things, this condition is called sloth, or accidie, one of the seven deadly sins and often said to be the root of all the others. Civilizations can die of sloth. Sloth does not mean laziness but not caring, not loving the good as it ought to be loved and pursued. The slothful can actually do a great deal -- you can suffer from sloth and yet be the busiest person in your circle -- they just can't bring themselves to do what they ought to do. Sloth means fiddling while Rome burns, or holding hearing after hearing on what went wrong on September 11th, and then holding more hearings. The slothful will not do what obviously needs to be done.

If America does, as a nation, suffer from sloth, we can be sure our enemies have seen this, and calculated accordingly. They will provide the bang, and we will provide the whimper.

12:30 PM

MUCH TOO MODEST: When the newly -elected Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., questioned the bodily resurrection of our Lord in his Easter sermon -- surprise! -- an Episcopal priest from San Diego protested to The Washington Times that "The resurrection is real for millions and millions of Christians." Not real, period, mind you, which is what the Nicene Creed this clergyman leads his congregation in saying every Sunday says, but just real for millions and millions of Christians. (And presumably unreal for millions and millions of other Christians and for every one else in the world.)

It is disheartening, how many conservatives use the relativist language, and thereby reduce theological heresies to social offenses. They must have so internalized the culture's understanding of "tolerance" and of the way religious people must speak in the public square, that they instinctively avoid the objective language normal and natural to Christianity -- and still normal and natural to feminists, deconstructionists, academic marxists, racial activists, environmental activists, health activists, spokeswomanpersons from the National Organization of Women and Planned Parenthood, and anyway else with a cause, no matter how dodgy. Christianity in America would be much healthier if the clergy learned to talk like Eleanor Smeal. (Excepting those who want to be Eleanor Smeal.)

It would have been refreshing had this conservative clergyman just said "The bishop has denied the fundamental historical claim of the faith he claims to represent and thereby is leading people away from the resurrected Lord who can change their lives and bring them to Heaven. This is very wicked."

7:55 AM

Friday, June 7


One of our Protestant editors comments:

As a Protestant graduate student I took several classes at a Catholic school of theology. Before this I had no exposure to Catholic higher education of any sort, and was surprised (not shocked, for I had by then been around the block several times) to find the Catholic teachers teaching in exactly the way Lee Podles describes. There was, on one hand, "official doctrine," which we were led to think of in terms of "what Catholics used to believe and what uneducated or reactionary Catholics still believe," and on the other hand, the "real stuff"--revisionist Catholicism--liberal Protestantism in Catholic dress, and nothing new to us Protestants. The main difference is that the language was sneakier than liberal Protestants used. Clearly the authors we read--major Catholic theologians all--wanted to make it difficult to identify them straightforwardly as heretics. At the end of the day, however, their message was indeed heresy, its theme being the unending questioning (that is to say, denial) of official teaching. I was reminded of a quotation I once heard attributed to a demon, drawn out during an exorcism--and a little gem of demonism it is: "We don't hate Jesus, we just question him."

The "Holy Father" was mentioned often, but soon enough it became apparent that the actual semantic value of this seemingly respectful title was, "that old fool in Rome whose opinions are his own." I left the school with the opinion that if the Holy Father didn't do something about these mangy dogs, his church would pretty soon have an incurable case of mange itself. I also gained, quite contrary to my teachers' expectations, a good deal of respect for the Pope and the magisterium. If they were against these guys, they were on the right track.

12:07 PM

NO ONE WAS EVER RUINED BY A BOOK? Following Scriptures═ positive attitude to procreation, the Catholic Church teaches that a Christian should not will to have any sexual experiences, mental or physical, outside marriage, and that within marriage procreation was never to be excluded by a deliberate act. This is a hard saying for the human race, but is clear and logical, and consistent with the Scriptures. The Church has always been merciful to the sins of the flesh, since the human sexual appetite is hard to keep within these strict boundaries.

However, in the 1960s Catholic moral theologians competed with each other in dissenting from this teaching. Richard Neuhaus in First Things notes:

For a long time, most blatantly in the organized opposition to the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, systematic dissent was inculcated, also in the seminaries. In 1972, the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) established a commission whose findings were published in a 1979 book from Doubleday, Human Sexuality. The seeds of everything that has come to light in recent months are to be found there.

Human Sexuality was "received" by the CTSA, which also "arranged" for its publication "as a service to the membership of the Society and a wider public of interested persons." The book is thoroughly revisionist from A to Z, flying in the face of the Church's teaching on contraception, celibacy, chastity, homosexuality, and even--albeit more delicately--on bestiality. Had the CTSA formally approved the study, it would have created a frontal confrontation with the Magisterium. But the book has been widely used in seminaries. Seminarians and priests of the time who had a woman or a male lover on the side could, and did, cite Human Sexuality to reasonably claim that a very large part, if not the majority, of the academic theological establishment countenanced their behavior.

Situation ethics ruled supreme. If seminarians were taught the traditional doctrine, it was presented only as the ˝official teachingţ while dissenting theologians were presented as ˝current theological thinking.ţ The dissent reached into the very basis of ethics, and situation ethics became the solvent of all traditional teaching on moral absolutes.

Samuel Johnson observed of a moral skeptic, ˝If he does really think that there is no distinction between virtue and vice, why, sir, when he leaves our houses let us count our spoons.ţ If a priest is indoctrinated in situation ethics, let us not allow him near our sons and daughters (especially the sons, for some reason).

Dissenters of course claim that there is absolutely no connection between dissent and the pedophilia scandals. The National Catholic Reporter has published an account of his life by a priest who was sexually involved with a teenaged boy. The priest says:

I read a book on situation ethics. The basic theme was that no act is objectively evil; its morality or immorality depends on the situation. I reasoned from this that all sex acts are basically good since God had created us sexual beings, or at least they were morally neutral. They are only evil if they harm someone (like rape or incest or infidelity).

There is nothing good or evil in itself; only the consequences make it so. Everyone is having sex in some way; it can═t be wrong.

Then I read a statistic, reported in a newspaper, that 99 percent of adolescents masturbated. I believed it and thought maybe I was strange. So, a period of sexual exploration began. It started with masturbation, and later I had several sexual encounters with classmates in the seminary. It was pleasurable.

When the young priest, full of the latest moral theories, is ordained and sent off to a parish, he meets a teenager, ˝Bill.ţ

I had known him a year or so when we first had sexual contact. It started gradually and built up to the real thing. He was 16 then. I had suspected he was gay, and he was. He liked me and admired me. If he felt any shame, it was apparent to no one. We stayed friends and had sex off and on, but that was not the center of our relationship for either of us.
I did not feel guilt at the time, or at least I deluded myself into thinking I actually was doing something good for Bill. I did not want him to live his youthful years suppressing his sexuality as I had done. I wanted him to feel liberated, like I thought I was. I wanted to be a positive role model

The priest decides that perhaps he should not continue such sexual encounters; he meets a sympathetic woman, gets close to her, but remains celibate. He becomes a pastor. Years later, Bill sues him and the diocese for these sexual activities. The bishop sends the priest for treatment; he is pronounced ˝curedţ (of what? Sexual desire? Heresy?). He wants to remain in ministry, and pleads against a zero-tolerance policy.

Catholic seminaries have taught and are still teaching false doctrine. What do they expect when they teach young men that sexual activity outside marriage can be acceptable? Don't they know anything about young men? Such heresy is pouring gasoline on fire, with predictable results.

Those who complained that the seminaries were teaching false doctrine were told that they didn't know what they were talking about, that all seminaries were perfectly orthodox, that conservatives were simply mean-spirited cranks. Now critics are told that all the problems, which of course did not exist in the first place, have been corrected. But are all the false teachers gone, or do they remain in place, poisoning the minds of future priests?

6:36 AM

Thursday, June 6

THE BISHOP'S REWARD: In a laudatory profile in The Washington Post, a woman praises the new Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C. -- previously dean of the cathedral in San Diego, where he advocated the approval of homosexual relations -- because "He will not do something because it is politically right or will put him in a better light."

Uh huh . . . And who just went from being the dean of a cathedral in one of the country's vacation spots to getting elected bishop of one of the wealthiest and most prestigious dioceses in the country? And does anyone really think he has paid a price for rejecting the Christian moral teaching? Does anyone not believe that he has risen to these heights in part because he has rejected the Christian moral teaching? One ought not to be praised for moving with the current.

12:53 PM

UNEXPECTED COSTS: Infobeat News reports that the FDA has rejected a medicine, called Picovir, that will cure the common cold. Americans, it says, suffer one billion colds each year. Why would the FDA reject a medicine that will make nearly every American feel a lot better, keep people working untold thousands of days, make social contact much less, um, sticky, and keep millions of children in school? The FDA says that "the drug's potential side effects . . . make it unacceptable to treat what is mostly a nuisance illness rather than a serious medical condition." Does it cause cancer, hurt the heart, ruin the kidneys, what? Reports the story: "Most notabl[e]" of the side effects is . . .

Wait for it.

You're not going to believe this.


"cutting the effectiveness of birth control pills."

Because some women with a cold might not pay attention to the warning label, the rest of us -- all 200 million-some of us -- have to sniffle and snort and ache and lay in bed feeling awful when we could be doing something useful. It is more important to the FDA to ensure that some people can have sex without having babies than to let everyone else feel a lot better and do a lot more. We live in a very strange world.

12:33 PM

STATES OF PERFECTION: Three states of life have been recognized in the Church: Marriage, celibacy, and virginity. Celibacy and virginity have almost always been recognized as higher and more perfect than marriage. This has created some confusion.

The first is that the person who vows celibacy or virginity is a better person because he is in a better state of life. Of course, a married person who lives up to the vow of matrimony is better than a celibate person who does not live up to the vow of celibacy. Is a celibate person who lives up to the vow of celibacy better than a faithful married prison?

Better? Who knows? But more perfect ┐ yes.

Perfection implies completion. The house is more perfect than the pile of construction material, the oak tree is more perfect than the acorn, the adult more perfect than the child.

All of us will be celibate one day, God willing, in heaven where there is no marrying or giving in marriage. Critics, like Eugene Kennedy, who attack celibacy, often attack belief in the Virgin Birth.

God does not simply restore the harmony of creation by the Redemption. There is no going back to the Paradise of Adam and Eve. The Paradise that lies before us and to which we are called transcends the natural world of birth and death. Death will be no more, and therefore birth and marraige will be no more. The City of God will be complete, and the Virgin Bride will forever rest with the Bridegroom.

Therefore celibacy and even more so virginity are the goals of all Christians; virginity is the most perfect state. This is the opposite of the natural sequence. Virginity is seen as imperfection, incompleteness, and marriage as completeness. In the paradoxes of Christianity, marriage is incompleteness, imperfection; virginity is completeness and perfection.

The Latin Church thinks that the ordained priesthood has a close (although not necessary) connection with celibacy because the priest is the channel through whom the powers of the world to come are sacramentally active in this world. He especially makes present the virginal body of the Lord, whose virginity is not an accident or a sign of incompleteness, but a sign of fullness and perfection.

6:37 AM

Wednesday, June 5

MAIDA DOUBTS THAT NEW PROPOSAL HAS TEETH: Cardinal Maida of Detroit has become realistic about the way his fellow bishops behave, and says they need oversight. He likes the zero tolerance for future offenses, the Free Press reports,

But that strict rule for the future must be buttressed by a nationwide system of accountability, Maida said, starting with a national Office for Child and Youth Protection that will publish an annual audit on how well dioceses coast to coast are complying with the new policy.

Maida likes the American system:

Maida, who has degrees in church law and is a civil lawyer licensed to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the church needs a national review board that would function like a Supreme Court to consider appeals by disciplined priests or disappointed victims.

Thomas Reese of America thinks that public opinion will work to make the bishops follow the guidelines:

"They're proposing an annual report that will show how each bishop has implemented this charter and to what extent," Reese said. "So if they're not with the program, everybody is going to know about it. That's going to put the bishops' feet to the fire to make sure this program is implemented."

The Vatican will not enforce laws to protect children. Europeans are too used to corruption and horrors (2,000,000 German girls and women were raped by Russian soldiers after WW II) to be bothered by the rape of a few children. Americans are fickle and have a short attention span. This episode may turn out to be a moral panic of the type that Phil Jenkins describes, and the public may start worrying about global warming rather than pedophilia. However, it is good for the Church that the press is so anti-Catholic. Our enemies keep us honest.

9:10 AM

BISHOPS PLAN TO PROTECT CHILDREN - MAYBE: Next week the American bishops will discuss how to handle sexual molestation cases. They propose: 1. To ask Rome to defrock any priest who in the future gets sexually involved with a minor; 2. To ask Rome to defrock any priest who up to the present has more than one sexual involvement with a minor. Priests who in the past have had only one sexual involvement will be judged on a case-by-case basis.

This proposal has many weaknesses:

The bishops meeting in Dallas have no power to pass a law. All they can do is ask Rome to make their proposal a law for America.

Even if this proposal becomes a law, there is no enforcement mechanism. Bishops who have ignored their own policies in the past will be free to ignore the new policy.

Many Vatican officials are clericalists who see the preservation of a priest═s career as the supreme good. I have heard that Cardinal Law had to make a trip to Rome to plead that a notorious offender be defrocked. Rome does not like to defrock priests.

No bishop has ever been disciplined for his failure to follow church law, civil law, or common decency in handling child abuse cases. They know this, and they know they will never be disciplined in the future no matter what they do or fail to do.

The proposal is a PR exercise. They could all do this without a national meeting, but the bishops have to appear to do something.

5:11 AM

Monday, June 3

ROME IGNORED AS USUAL: The Rev. Stephen V. Sundborg, a Jesuit priest, president of Seattle University, writes in the Seattle Times:

We reaffirm the dignity of homosexual persons, welcome their contribution to the church, and renew our pastoral care of them. In light of the present crisis we affirm unmistakably the suitability of homosexual persons to be ordained as priests and to live faithfully the requirements of celibacy. We apologize for any statements on our part that have called their lives and ministry as priests into question.

In 1961 the Vatican had issued an instruction to all religious, including the Jesuits:

Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders
(S. C. Rel., 2 Feb., 1961).

An Instruction, Religiosorum institutio, to the Superiors of Religious Communities, Societies without vows, and Secular Institutes on the careful selection and training of candidates for the states of perfection and Sacred Orders is as follows.

30. Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.

Rome institutes a discipline; American Catholics decide to do the opposite. The clergy becomes heavily (20%, 50%, 70%?) homosexual, and homosexuals are: 1. More likely to be involved with teenaged boys than heterosexuals are with teenaged girls; 2. More likely to be promiscuous and to fear exposure; 3. More likely therefore to tolerate pedophilia lest they too be exposed.

Rome═s chief failure is to have no mechanism to enforce policies. It issues laws that are in fact mere exhortations and are totally ignored, because everyone knows there is no penalty for ignoring them.

8:22 AM

Sunday, June 2

MORE SENSITIVE THAN THOU: The New York State Regents tests have been dumbing down literary selections for years. The New York Times has finally had enough: The Elderly Man and the Sea? Test Sanitizes Literary Texts

In a feat of literary sleuth work, Ms. Heifetz, the mother of a high school senior and a weaver from Brooklyn, inspected 10 high school English exams from the past three years and discovered that the vast majority of the passages ä drawn from the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anton Chekhov and William Maxwell, among others ä had been sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason.

Any mention of anything to do with a religion is eliminated:

In an excerpt from the work of Mr. Singer, for instance, all mention of Judaism is eliminated.

Nationality and state of adiposity are too sensitive to handle:

In an excerpt from "Barrio Boy," by Ernesto Galarza (whose name was misspelled on the exam as Gallarzo), a "gringo lady" becomes an "American lady." A boy described as "skinny" became "thin," while another boy who was "fat" became "heavy," adjectives the state deemed less insulting.

The official "sensitivity review guidelines" call for rewriting anything that anyone for any reason might find objectionable.

Even teetotalers are spared the horror of any mention of drinking:

In a speech by Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, in addition to deletions about the United States' unpaid debt to the United Nations, any mention of wine and drinking was removed. Instead of praising "fine California wine and seafood," he ends up praising "fine California seafood."

The authors (and Author) of the books of the Bible do not get as much respect as Singer and Annie Dillard, whose literary integrity has been defended by the Times. Gender neutral versions of Scripture seek to eliminate the hated difference between male and female and between masculine and feminine. Scriptures can sound so harsh: the words hurled against ˝the blind,ţ ˝hypocrites,ţ ˝Jews,ţ ˝sinners,ţ ˝apostates,ţ ˝seed of Satan,ţ ˝whited sepulchers,ţ etc. Mincing words was not a Semitic habit; but mincing is much in fashion these days, as everyone strives to be more sensitive than the next person is. I believe that at the court of Louis XIV there was a noblewoman who managed to outdo everyone by fainting at the word ˝lobster.ţ ˝'Homard'...aaahhh!ţ ˝Heţ has as similar effect on feminists and clerics. It is a word far too harsh for their tender ears.

6:50 AM

For previous blogs, click here.

Home - Mere Comments - Daily Reflections - Store - Speakers & Conferences - Archives - Contact Us