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

Saturday, June 22

MORE ON ISLAM: One of our readers wrote (in part): "Rev. Tarsitano's item in Mere Comments today, 'AS GOOD AS ISLAM?' seems rather unfair. He implies that the chief criticism of the statement made at the SBC convention was 'Islam is not just as good as Christianity.' However it was Episcopal News Service, not Bishop Smith, that chose that quote as the way of summarizing the statement that triggered the bishop's response. Rev. Tarsitano completely ignores the labeling of Mohammed as a 'demon-possesed pedophile.' This characterization is indeed inflammatory and inaccurate."

The poet Dante had an even less-positive view of Mohammed than the Southern Baptists do, but the last I heard, he has still escaped the condemnation of an "interfaith" confab. Nevertheless, Dante's, the Southern Baptists', and other rather ordinary condemnations of Mohammed spring from the same root--the observation that Mohammed's doctrine has divided the world into unavoidably hostile spheres, enslaved millions, ruined nations (ask the Indians about the Moghuls for a non-Christian perspective and corroboration), and dishonored the daughters of Eve. It is reasonable to attribute such a doctrine to a malignant source and to find the particular applications of such a doctrine in Mohammed's own life unsavory. The Koran is not an Arabic bible. It is an Arabic Mein Kampf--an outline for the totalitarian conquest of the world.

Where I was perhaps unclear was in expressing my sense that the Episcopal News Service's approach to the matter and its selection of quotes was comically anticlimactic. I will stand, however, by my own observation that the defense of Islam from traditional Christian criticisms is an odd activity for a bishop.

I doubt that our reader will find this the soft answer that turneth away wrath, but I do appreciate his writing and respect his opinion. I merely disagree with it.

8:33 AM

Thursday, June 20

CREEPING (OR GALLOPING) UNIVERSALISM: The Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, have suffered deflation: no one denies death (alas, it is undeniable), and Christians assume that they (if not everyone) will go to heaven, but the idea of judgment is fading, and the threat of hell has almost vanished, according to the LA Times.

Among Protestants the new seeker-friendly churches find the doctrine of hell to be a downer.

The tendency to downplay damnation has grown in recent years as nondenominational ministries, with their focus on everyday issues such as child-rearing and career success, have proliferated and loyalty to churches has deteriorated.

"It's just too negative," said Bruce Shelley, a senior professor of church history at the Denver Theological Seminary. "Churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented. Churches today feel the need to be appealing rather than demanding."

Evangelicals ignore the topic:

Even among some "born-again" churches, hell is a rare topic of conversation. Born-again Christians believe in hell, but they also believe that their decision to embrace Christ has earned them a one-way ticket in the other direction.

The mainline Protestant churches maintain a discrete silence, and the Catholic Church has softened its approach:

Individual priests kept hell's fires burning for years, aided by a Catholic catechism of beliefs published in 1891 whose tone one priest calls "positively medieval." A new catechism, published in 1994, uses gentler language and emphasizes that hell's chief punishment is the separation from God.

"When you take [hell] away as a threat, everything changes," said the University of Chicago's Marty. "Who goes to confession anymore? Time was, a [Catholic] church had 16 booths and people snaked around the block. Today, a church might have one left."

Good old-fashioned Catholic confession has evaporated. My parish, the Cathedral in Baltimore, sent out e-mails encouraging everyone to come to confession at the beginning of Lent. My family showed up: no one else did ¿ not even the priest. It was all a PR move. The parish didnÍt actually expect anyone to come to confess his sins. Why bother? What differences does it make?

The fear of God has also vanished. Why else could priests rape children, and why else would bishops allow them to do so decade after decade? Clerics know that their failures have no consequences in this life; why should there be any consequences in the next?

7:19 PM

Wednesday, June 19

IS CLERICAL HOMOSEXUALITY THE PROBLEM?: The media repeat the mantra that homosexuality has nothing to do with the pedophilia crisis, and the American bishops rebuffed Bishop BruskewitzÍs suggestion that they study the problem.

Even when they choose partners above the age of consent, clerical homosexuals are disruptive. They hardly set a good example, and their bishops protect them. The New York Times reports that Barbara Samide, the principal of St. ElisabethÍs parish school on Queens, several dozen times reported to officials in the Brooklyn diocese that

the Rev. John Thompson, the parish's pastor, had an 18-year-old gay lover living in the rectory and was lavishing gifts on him that were paid for with school funds; the school's budget was nearly $300,000 in the red, and Father Thompson had disbanded the parish committee charged with overseeing tuition collection; many parishioners had already sent a letter to the diocese expressing concerns, and were in near revolt.

Father Thompson was leading a colorful life paid for by parish funds:

She said he participated in an Internet chat room where his nickname was Papi Chulo, a Spanish slang term with sexual overtones, and his profile listed his interests as "men, music and the beach."
But in late 2000 and early 2001, Mrs. Samide said, the pastor's conduct became almost absurdly provocative. He made no effort to hide that he was living and sleeping with a young man in the rectory. The pastor told her to find work for the young man at the school, Mrs. Samide said.

By mid-January, Father Thompson was taking the young man on vacations to resorts in Florida, including the Blue Dolphin in Fort Lauderdale, which advertises its clothing-optional pool area, Mrs. Samide said. She said the trips were ultimately paid for out of school money over which Father Thompson had asserted nearly complete control.

Thomson even steals candy from children:

The money from fund-raising events, including $14,000 from a chocolate sale, disappeared, they said.

The diocese has not learned the inadvisability of secrecy:

The diocese's response, she said, never varied for more than a year and a half: keep quiet, its officials told her.

The priest was transferred but remains a priest in good standing. The lay Catholic who reported the situation is under attack by the diocese:

Moreover, Mrs. Samide, who went ahead and notified prosecutors, has been instructed by diocesan officials not to speak about what happened. Last week she said she had been reprimanded by diocesan officials for cooperating with detectives with the Queens district attorney's office, which has now empanelled a grand jury to investigate the situation at St. Elizabeth's.

The principal has noted the discrepancy between what the bishops said in Dallas and how Bishop Daily is treating her:

"The bishops just spent three days in Dallas talking about being honest, candid and forthright," Mrs. Samide said, "and yet, right here, the message they're sending is shut down, don't cooperate. It's scary."

Bishop Daily of Brooklyn was an aide of Cardinal Law and was involved in the cover-ups in Boston. His current actions indicate that all the rhetoric in Dallas was simply hot air; the business of protecting abusive clerics will go on as usual.

5:23 AM

Tuesday, June 18

FESSIO TO HEAD NEW CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY IN NAPLES FLORIDA: The Catholic News service has just reported that Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., has been appointed as chancellor of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida.

Father Fessio ran afoul of his Jesuit superiors and was assigned as an assistant hospital chaplain in a small California town. Father Fessio founded Ignatius Press and the Ignatius Institute within the Jesuit University of San Francisco. The Institute preserved traditional Jesuit education. Fessio was removed from the institute, and in response started Campion College independently of the Jesuits. This latter action provoked the wrath of his superiors.

However the Jesuits have allowed him to accept the new position at Ave Maria University.

Tom Monaghan, who founded and then sold DominoÍs Pizza, backs Ave Maria University (see Naples News). I reside part of the year in Naples, and I have helped a little with the preparations for the university. Father FessioÍs arrival will help immensely in getting such an enterprise off the ground.

Naples (other residents inform me) is starved for intellectual and spiritual nourishment. Well-to-do Midwesterners retire there to play golf, and discover boredom.

When I hosted the Touchstone editors in Naples, we dined one evening at my beach club, and were making our usual puns in patristic Greek, and our pointed rejoinders to heretics who have been dead 1500 years, when a follow clubman stopped by and asked if he could sit in. He was tired talking about nothing but golf and money, and yearned for the life of the mind. So perhaps with the advent of Ave Maria University Naples will discover that margaritas under the palms arenÍt everything (although they aren't bad).

5:43 PM


(ENS) For the third and final time, Canadian Anglicans in
the Diocese of New Westminster have voted to approve
a rite for blessing same-gender relationships. The June 14
vote, held at the annual diocesan synod in Vancouver,
was 215 in favor and 126 opposed, a margin of 63

Similar motions at previous synods, in 1991 and 1998,
passed by margins of 51 and 56.5 percent, but Bishop
Michael Ingham had said he would not implement the
change until the margin exceeded 60 percent. Ingham
immediately gave his assent to the measure.

"No one is being excluded from our fellowship today. We
have not taken sides with one group in our church against
another. We have chosen to live together in mutual
respect," Ingham said in a statement released after the
vote. "In this we ask for the support of the wider church,
not condemnation, and patience from those who live in
very different social contexts from our own."

My comment: "No one is being excluded"? How about those who believe that "same-sex" activity is morally wrong? That blessing it in front of the altar of Christ is an abomination? Opponents are suppose to sit there and still feel included? "Not taken sides"? The claim is always made that we are just not excluding anyone„except for those who think that some exclusions are, in fact, necessary for the health of the Body. Do they let their children eat just anything, even dirt?

2:54 PM

Monday, June 17

AS GOOD AS ISLAM?: The Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports the following: "Missouri Episcopal bishop George Wayne Smith led an interfaith defense of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed during a news conference June 12, called in response to an attack on Muslims by leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)." Here are the main offending words, the "attack," as quoted by the same source: "Islam is not just as good as Christianity."

Why exactly, one wonders, would anyone belong to a religion that he did not believe to be better than all the others? Simple logic would suggest that one should only entrust his soul to whatever religion he held to be best-suited to provide communion with God, eternal life, peace, happiness, or whatever benefit that he holds to be the highest purpose of religion.

I've certainly never met a Muslim who would say, "Islam is okay, but there are a lot of good religions out there." But that's what the Episcopal Bishop of Missouri, the supposed head of his diocese, is saying about his politically correct version of Christianity--"It's all right, but be sure to shop around." This sort of thing could only happen in an ecclesiastical setting. The manager of the local Ford agency wouldn't keep his job five minutes if he were ever quoted as saying, "I like Fords, but they're no big deal when you compare them to other cars."

I happen to agree with what the Southern Baptist leaders had to say about Islam, but nobody in his right mind ought to have any problem with the fact that they said it. If Southern Baptists (or any other religious group) don't believe that they are serving the True God as well as they can, then they aren't a "church" at all. They are a spiritual suicide pact.

10:11 AM


From Catholic News Service:

DALLAS (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops June 14 overwhelmingly approved a national "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" that says no priest or deacon can return to any form of ordained ministry if he has ever sexually abused a minor.

By a vote of 239-13 the bishops approved the document after six hours of intense discussion behind closed doors June 13 and a five-hour open floor debate June 14.

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, head of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, called the action "a defining moment for us bishops" in their efforts to "root out a cancer in our church."

Comment: What remains to be addressed is the matter of ordaining homosexual priests in the first place. It has been increasingly acknowledged by observers (and not all conservative by any means, e.g. Andrew Greeley) that there is a network of homosexual priests in the Catholic church. According to canon law, such men cannot be ordained; but this has been ignored for some time. So what the bishops, in effect, have said is: "If you get caught doing it with minors, you will lose your job." Such a policy certainly would have prevented the multiple-abuse cases now being brought to light. But none of this would have happened in the first place if canon law had been followed. The question remains whether the bishops of the Church have the will to address the question of homosexuality along traditional lines and risk appearing out of step with the mainstream culture. If they fail to speak out, the Catholic church will have joined many of the mainline denominations that have either officially caved in on the issue or have avoided it and not kept teaching the traditional Christian doctrine (that homosexual practice is a sin), thereby allowing a growing cancer to sicken the Church and weaken its witness to Christ the Savior.

9:47 AM

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