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Friday, December 20


Our contributing editor Rod Dreher praises the movie The Two Towers in his column for National Review Online, Tolkien's Clash of Civilizations. I think Rod reads into the movie much that he has gotten from the book that is not so clearly in the movie, as in his article he refers mostly to the first, but he may be right that the movie conveys these things too. I hope he is, because they are things worth conveying.

I went to see it on Wednesday with our two eldest children, and we all thought that The Two Towers was all right as a movie (not great, by any means) but bad as a movie of the book. It makes too many pointless changes to the plot and to the characters, and thereby misses too much of Tolkien's meaning - and indeed loses much of the story's power.

Before the opening day, I had grown suspicious that this might be the case when the director and writers kept insisting in news story after news story that they were being true to Tolkien's intention and meaning (I think those were the words they used). Not only were they protesting too much, but the insistent claim that they were being true to Tolkien's intention suggested that they were not being true to his story.

If you have not seen the movie yet, you may want to stop reading here, because I am going to describe some of the things that happen - events that you will not be able to anticipate because they are not in the book and you, if you are the normal reader, would not expect anyone (screenwriters, for example) to make them up.

Rod quotes a few lines from Sam Gamgee's speech near the end, which is the rhetorical climax of the movie and the place at which its mind is made explicit:

"There are things that people hold onto to keep them going," says his faithful servant Sam Gamgee.

"What are we holding onto?" Frodo asks.

"That there is some good in this world, and that's worth fighting for," Sam replies.

That looks banal on the printed page, but the line has great force in the film.

Actually, it sounded banal in the film as well. The whole speech was lame. (My children, who have read the book many times, thought so as well.) The writers had taken some lines from various parts of the book and added a good deal of their own, but it did not work. Sam sounded like an optimistic modern American, not a creature of a world with a more profound and sophisticated understanding of good and evil - an understanding even a gardener might have, if he were as wise and good as Sam, because his world thought that way. Tolkien knew how to write a rhetorically effective speech that the character could well have given, but the screenwriters do not seem to be able to do this.

(This reminds me that one character - Theoden, I think - says "A parent should never have to see their child die," though "parent" and especially "parent" matched with "their," is something no character in the story would ever say. They did not "genericize" their relations the way moderns do. To the linguistically-sensitive, the line stood out as starkly as one of the characters carrying a machine gun would have stood out in the battle scenes. There are many other places where the dialogue clangs similarly.)

I need to think this through, but I think the chief flaw of the first two movies is that the director and screenwriters simply do not understand what one might call a life of reasoned virtue and as much as they have tried to make it a story of good and evil they misunderstand the way good and evil work in the world of Middle Earth (and in our own). They believe in good and evil, but they seem to believe that - at least, they have told a story as if - these are discerned through feelings or instinct or intuition. In the book, the creatures who live by the moral law (or don't, or don't always) make moral decisions by doing or refusing to do what this law requires. Even when they seem to act on instinct, it is not instinct, exactly, but the intuition of the moral man.

You see this explained in Gandalf's long talk with Frodo in the second chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the spiritual heart of the story, and enacted at the Council of Elrond. The Ring has to be taken to Mordor because the reality and the moral law leave them no other choice, and Frodo is the one to take it because it is the "task appointed" for him, though one he must willingly accept.

In the movies, moral decisions are made by instinct or feeling. You see this at the end of the first movie, when in Parth Galen Aragorn lets Frodo go off alone to Mordor, a thing Aragorn would not do, for no reason other than his feeling that to go alone is Frodo's destiny. In the book, as I explained in my article in the special Tolkien issue of Touchstone(available here), the plot, and indeed the salvation of Middle Earth, hinges on Aragorn's choice to bury Boromir because it is the right thing to do in his world, even when the pragmatic mind would say to leave the body to the vultures and start chasing the orcs.

Aragorn does not feel he ought to bury Boromir, he feels he ought to leave him, but in the end does what he knows he ought to do. And as I show in the article, this starts a string of events, each dependent on the preceding, that leads to the salvation of Middle Earth.

In other words, the Providence that is guiding the world works primarily through events and men's rational and moral response to them, not through their feelings. If Frodo has a destiny, it is one the working out of events will reveal, not one discerned by his feelings at the Council of Elrdon or Aragorn's feelings in Parth Galen, and one he will only know by doing what he knows is right, as impractical or foolish as it may seem at the moment. It is one Frodo will find by doing the best he can with the light he has, with no assurance that things will work out but only the moral imperative to do what he knows he has to do.

So, for example, The Two Towers portrays Faramir not as in the book, understanding Frodo's mission (and also trusting the authority of Gandalf) and therefore giving him leave to go, when letting two hobbits and their dubious guide take Sauron's Ring to Sauron's land seems insane. The movie has him insisting that the Ring be taken to Gondor only to be dissuaded when he sees Frodo try to put on the Ring - that is, tries to enslave himself and deliver the Ring to Sauron - when a Ringwraith flies near.

Ignoring the fact that this decision makes no sense - why would Faramir let Frodo get any closer to Mordor, having just seen how he seemed compelled to give up the Ring in the presence of a Ringwraith, more of whom he is likely to encounter in Mordor? - the scene does not portray the idea of a virtuous man in the way Tolkien intended, and loses the book's clear contrast of Faramir with his brother Boromir. In the movie, Faramir acts upon a feeling or instinct, and not a particularly wise one, not upon the reason of a virtuous man he showed in the book.

And so, to give another example, the movie portrays the Ent Treebeard as refusing to help the Free Peoples of Middle Earth in their battle, till, having been tricked into going near Isengard, he finds that Sauron has cut down lots of trees. He immediately calls the other Ents to war. In doing so he acts on feeling - a justified feeling of righteous wrath, mind you - but not the reasoned consideration of what needs to be done and what the Ents can and should do, which in the book they decide in a marathon meeting. It would have been just as easy, and just as dramatic, and taken no more time, to have told the story the book's way.

What we have in the first two movies is Tolkien's story and moral vision adapted by people who have modern secular minds, who seem sincerely to think they understand good and evil, and seem sincerely to think they are telling Tolkien's story, but do not understand them and are not telling his story. They are not as far from it as one would expect, as their Christian fans keep saying over and over, but nevertheless they are not as close as they should be. The difference between the two visions or right and wrong is perhaps a small one, when most people are relativists, but it is a profound one nevertheless.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

That said, I thought the movie did several things very well. Gollum, for one, both in look and character. The scene in which his two halves argue with each other is quite moving, though several morons in our theatre laughed throughout. (A response the movie makers invited by including a few lines of dialogue that were amusing - or would have been had the character not been arguing about his own salvation. To put funny lines in the scene was a mistake.)

The battle scenes are very well done, for example, though I did find the new style of filming them with very short and confusing shots wearing and finally uninteresting. I suspect the director was trying to show the chaos of such battles, but a little chaos goes a long way. I think the longest sustained shot in this part of the movie is Legolas surfing down the steps on a board while firing arrows at the orcs, which was cute, I suppose, but just a tad gimicky. It might as well have been subtitled "scene to appeal to teenage boys."

On the other hand, Rohan's cavalry charge in the Battle of Helm's Deep did not last nearly as long as I expected. It was a dramatic moment I would have expected - and wanted - the director to milk much more than he did. You can't beat galloping horses for visual beauty or a last minute rescue when all hope has been lost for thrills. The same is true for the Ents' sacking of Isengard, which was quite violent but - I'm not quite sure how to put this - dramatically satisfyingly so.

The movie's other flaws were the results of the director's trying, as he said in some interview, to be as faithful to Tolkien's vision as he could be and make as successful (that is, money-making) a movie as he could. As in the first movie, he adds action scenes at the expense of conversation and character, which I think has, ironically enough, the effect of reducing the movie's real drama and impact. At least for adults.

I assume the director chose to have Theoden exorcised for the same reason, that it provided lots of action. Gandalf exorcises Saruman from King Theoden by holding his staff to Theoden's chest, which gives us a scene with lots of shaking and flashing light. In the book, Theoden had let himself drift into despair by listening to the advice of Wormtongue (Saruman's agent), who knew the king's weaknesses and the right way to exploit them, and Gandalf calls Theoden back to full life by a moral appeal to be the king he is, for the good of his people. (I think, for what it's worth, that this is one of the few weak scenes in The Lord of the Rings, because Theoden responds too quickly to Gandalf's appeal.) If this were the only example of liberties taken to provide more visual action, I wouldn't object, but it is annoying as part of the package.

1:56 PM


Associate Editor Thomas Buchanan just sent me this story from the Sunday Tasmanian about a cloned baby to be born:

The world's first cloned baby will be born in Belgrade in January, controversial Italian gynaecologist Severino Antinori said in an interview in the Serbian weekly Nin. "I think we have made a revolution in the field of genetics and Serbia will be one of three countries which will go down in history," Antinori was quoted as saying.

Dr. Buchanan comments: "As I recall from my history books, it was a Serb who started the Great War. What Dr. Antinori does not understand is that •going down in history' describes most great evils in the world. Not a legacy one should wish for."

1:13 PM


Cardinal Law's problem was poor management, according to How the Church Went Wrong: The real problem with Cardinal Law by Andrew Bushell, writing on the Slate website. Bushell is a journalist and management consultant who spent twelve years studying to be a priest, according to the author biography on the site.

I won't repeat his careful explanation, but it is an interesting one and quite possibly true, and simply put is that the cardinal invented a management structure in the diocese that distanced him from the diocese and its life. I don't think this theory explains everything, by any means, but it does explain a lot. I would say, as I've said here before, that Law failed as a pastor and a father to his people, and if Bushell is right Law failed in part because he off-loaded his responsibilities upon subordinates in order to do other things, like speak "on broad policy ideas and national issues such as housing for the poor, ecumenical relations, and forming better relations with Jews in the diocese."

I do think that Bushell misses the point in his conclusion, which at least overstates the case.

Bishops should begin thinking of the church as business and not family. They should acknowledge that a parental approach of tough love and therapy for misbehaving priests does not work. They should recognize the laity as shareholders. And shareholders love transparency. . . . Problems should be openly discussed, and the church's hierarchy made more responsive. The church should set up a mini-MBA course for bishops or at least a series of management seminars. Whatever happens, it's clear that the bishops' alternative - being three priest transfers ahead of a problem - does not work.

Part of the problem with this answer is its exclusive categories: either business or family. Another part of the problem is that the answer is so abstract. What would "laity as shareholders" and "transparency" a "hierarchy made more responsive" actually mean in practice? This question can be answered in a hundred very different ways.

But the greatest part of the problem is that the Church is not a business but a family, or something like a family, for which the New Testament uses organic, relational metaphors like "Body" and "sons of God" but not one metaphor from the world of business. The answer is not a Christian answer and therefore cannot long sustain the Church.

And anyway, if Bushell is right in his description of Law's management style, he (Law) seems to have thought of the archdiocese of Boston as a business, which is why he gave so much work and so much authority to his underlings. He was just a bad businessman.

As are most bishops. We shouldn't be encouraging them to think of themselves as businessmen, unless we want (literally) to bankrupt dioceses.

This gets back to the question I asked a few days ago. Why are dioceses so darn big? (Bushell says that the archdiocese includes 1,653 priests and almost 3,000 nuns and monks working in over 360 parishes.) No bishop of a diocese the size of the archdiocese of Boston can govern it as he should. The shepherd must know his sheep.

11:56 AM

Thursday, December 19


To remind us all of the origins of the pro-abortion movement, from this week's PRI Weekly Briefing from the Population Research Institute, a quotation that appeared in the June 1931 issue of Planned Parenthood's Birth Control Review:

"Too many Negroes are born [and] consume energy that might otherwise be accumulated for advancement. So the Negro's program should include the conservation of vital energy. The best way and perhaps the only practical way [to conserve vital energy] is to control the birth rate. Birth control propaganda and techniques should be disseminated till no more Negro babies are born than can be properly cared for and prepared for efficient citizenship.

"I wish to reiterate that all objections to birth control can be met unanswerably except one that the human race will degenerate if the superior races and the superior classes among civilized races will curtail the number of their offspring while inferior races and the inferior strata in civilized countries will continue their high birthrate. This must be
prevented by all means, and it can be if we go about it earnestly and zealously, and if the civilized governments give us their cooperation."

The Briefing suggests that abortion is now doing what the birth control campaign could not:

During 1980-1996, 25.5% of White women's pregnancies have ended in abortions, while 40.1% of minority women's pregnancies have been aborted.

That in one group one out of every four babies is aborted is bad enough, but that in another group four out of ten are aborted is genuinely horrifying. I can't imagine what damage such a rate of destruction do to a culture and a people. The group that has the highest rate can only be harmed in comparison with the group that has the lower rate.

Given that, it is interesting that a media and academia who find every racial difference a matter to protest have been absolutely silent about this one, which suggests that, whatever they may say about race, they don't mind the racist effects of abortion. I am not saying they consciously approve, but only that the absence of their accustomed indignation reveals the orientation of their hearts.

6:33 PM


I remember some years ago when Ronald Reagan made some comment to the effect that without women men would still be living in caves. Some feminist leader, perhaps the head of NOW, howled in protest that he had demeaned women, etc. What he had said, of course, was that women were the civilizing force in human life, which is about the highest compliment one can pay. Watching the feminist leader howl anyway, one could only think that she was fool and/or a knave.

Things have not changed much. In yesterday's "Goldberg File", Jonah Goldberg dissected the feminist reaction to Trent Lott's comment on Hooters and what it shows about their inability to make basic distinctions that mature adults make as a matter of course. Several days after Lott made his racist remarks,

the National Organization for Women (stop laughing) realized how outraged they were at Lott's "objectifying" comments about women, specifically Britney Spears and the feminist scholars who serve buffalo wings at Hooters. Among the outrageously insulting truths Lott dared to utter: "What is Hooters, if it's not about breasts, if it's not about the women's physiques?"

"Lott not only insulted millions of African Americans last week, but he also offended women," NOW's President Kim Gandy shrieked in a prepared, though still tardy, statement. "The Thurmond birthday celebration sounds like a toast to the 'good old white boys.' Lott clearly yearns for a time before women and people of color crashed the party." "It was all about sexual innuendoes, using women as objects," NOW vice president, Olga Vives, sniffed to the press.

As you will have seen, these responses are not any brighter than the response of Reagan's critic. Goldberg notes that:

One need not dwell long on the desperate me-tooism at work here. But it is amusing to consider that what Lott said was, almost precisely, what every NOW-feminist says about Hooters: that it objectifies women. In fact, NOW suggests that one way to fully celebrate "Love Your Body Day" is to boycott Hooters precisely because it objectifies women's bodies.

NOW's hysteria is obviously the natural reaction of overly serious people who are not to be taken very seriously.

In the rest of the column, Goldberg analyses the differences between men and women that our feminists fail to see, which is one of the big reasons they are not to be taken very seriously. There is real misogyny in the world, and it is a serious sin that turns the fruitful diversity God created into a sterile, and sterilizing, antagonism. But feminists who start squawking and howling and hissing without actually thinking are doing nothing to challenge it. Indeed, they are doing much to encourage it.

2:39 PM


In response to my "An Agnostics' Shabbat" posted yesterday, a reader sent a quote from John Calvin's Institutes:

They deem it enough that they have some zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard; that he can never deny himself, and is no spectre or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individual's caprice. . . . superstition, with its false glosses, mocks God, while it tries to please him. . . . indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits. Hence that vague and wandering opinion of Deity is declared by an apostle to be ignorance of God: "Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods." (Gal. 4.8).

Calvin had a point. I had said in response to the Jewish family's adoptation of a modernized Shabbat, "Such practices are better than nothing, I am sure, but they are also unlikely to lead anywhere, at least anywhere specifically - and savingly - religious." On second thought, I'm not so sure. In fact, I think I was wrong. The fact that their modernized Shabbat is so unlikely to lead anywhere perhaps makes the practice worse than nothing. Should these parents, who have faced real questions about the nature and ends of human life, have to face the void of a godless world without this sort of halfway measure to comfort them and take their minds off what they have seen, they might be forced to seek God Himself.

7:50 AM


Ecumenical News International (18 December 2002) reports:

Almost four out of 10 children in Germany do not know the Christmas story, a survey carried out by a German market research company has found.

The poll of 733 children aged between 6 and 12 found six per cent were unable to give any answer at all when asked why Christmas was celebrated, and 15 per cent had a vague notion that Christmas "had to do with Jesus."

Another 18 per cent gave answers such as "because it is winter," "because the shops want to make more money," "because Santa Claus died on that day," or "because Grandma visits."

But the majority-61 per cent-knew that Christmas was linked to the birth of Christ.

"This mirrors our society," said Michael Kuehn, a Roman Catholic priest and head of the department for children's pastoral care of the German (Roman Catholic) Bishops' Conference (DBK).

"One third of the population are members of the Protestant Church, one third of the Roman Catholic Church and one third are members of other religions or without any church affiliation," Kuehn told ENI.

That third group, because of immigration and a very low indigenous German birthrate, is rapidly growing in proportion to the other groups. Which means that a growing proportion of the population-now at 40 percent among children according to the poll-will not know that Christmas is about Jesus' birth. Which means not merely that the knowledge of Christmas is fading, but also that fewer and fewer will know anything about Jesus other than that he has something to do with Christianity. Maybe.

Such is the power of a commercially-driven media that has taken over Christmas in a secularizing culture.

7:25 AM

Wednesday, December 18


An interesting article, "A Family Follows Its Own Rituals" from today's New York Times about an agnostic Jewish family keeping a modernized form of Shabbat. The parents, both pediatricians, observe a Shabbat that includes such untraditional practices as drinking vodka gimlets and letting their children watch videos.

The husband had had to face the question of death as he saw so many of his young patients dying of AIDS. The wife had had to face the question of meaning and identity when her grandfather died and no one in the family could say Kaddish for him. They enrolled their two daughters in Hebrew school and adapted the Shabbat.

Their interpretation of the ritual of keeping the Sabbath holy is not only part of their effort to reconcile the demands of modernity and faith, but also to retain a spiritual core at the center of their lives.

"I suppose some traditionalists would be appalled at our lack of adherence to the letter of the laws of Shabbat," Dr. Marx said. "Shabbat TV is, of course, an oxymoron. Shabbat candles are supposed to be lit 18 minutes before sundown, not when everything is ready. Television and cooking are prohibited once Shabbat begins. Gimlets are not even on the radar screen. But these are our rituals. They are part of our struggle to honor if not the letter of Shabbat then the spirit of Shabbat."

The practice, adapted as it is, they feel to be counter-cultural.

"We do not want to make religious ritual oppressive," Dr. Marx said. "We want to come together as a family after we have been atomized for the week. There is a counterculture quality to this moment. Shabbat is the antidote to popular culture. It is designed to make you think, to fight the forces of materialism, selfishness, acquisition, competitiveness, self-gratification and entitlement. Maybe there are other ways to carry on this struggle. I am not a Buddhist. I do not meditate. We do it through Judaism."

I never know what to think about such things, though I have heard and read such stories before. I don't object to religious practice without religious belief, if practiced by non-believers. It may be, we pray it is, the beginning of their movement to God. But the sort of practices such people invent are very thin, even very worldly. This family is doing something countercultural but on their own terms and to suit their own desires and needs.

Such practices are better than nothing, I am sure, but they are also unlikely to lead anywhere, at least anywhere specifically - and savingly - religious.

12:37 PM

Tuesday, December 17


In PBS, Recruiting for Islam, the international relations scholar Daniel Pipes examines on the new documentary PBS has helped create on the life of Muhammad, which he describes as "an airbrushed and uncritical documentary" that ignores the

ongoing scholarly reassessment of Muhammad's life that disputes every detail - down to the century and region Muhammad lived in - of its film. This is especially odd when contrasted with the 1998 PBS documentary, "From Jesus to Christ," which focuses almost exclusively on the work of cutting-edge scholars and presents the latest in critical thinking on Jesus.

Far from being critical of its subject, though PBS and its allies feel perfectly happy peddling the most critical and anti-Christian views of Jesus,

The film treats religious beliefs - such as Muhammad's "Night Journey," when the Quran says he went to heaven and entered the divine presence - as historical fact. It presents Muslim wars as only defensive and reluctant, which is simply false. All this smacks of a film shown by missionaries.

9:05 PM


To an article, sent out by a conservative Anglican group, claiming that the celebration of Christmas wasn't Christian, because the day itself and some of the expressions were taken from paganism, Dr. William Tighe responded with some pique. Bill is a correspondent for Touchstone and a professor of history at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

I pass it on for those who find such things interesting. I think rejecting the celebration of the birth of our Lord because it is an adaptation of a pagan festival - spoiling the Egyptians, as it has been called - is, even were this theory true, just a little bit loony.

I am speaking about all those people, pagans and "fundamentalists" alike who agree that "Christmas isn't Christian". It is all based on the idea, first invented in the late 17th Century, that the celebration of Christ's nativity on December 25th, was an attempt to "Christianize" a pagan festival.

This "tale" has been all-but-completely exploded by Early Church historians and liturgical scholars over the past 40 years. It now seems likely that the Roman Emperor Aurelian (d. 275) invented and established the "Feast of the Unconquered Sun" on December 25th to provide a government-sponsored pagan festival on a day of significance to Christians in Rome. It is true that the first evidence we have for a liturgical celebration of Christ's birth comes from ca. 338 AD, but the Latin Christian writer Tertullian gave December 25th as the date for Christ's birth writing around 220 AD, a half-century before the Emperor Aurelian established his new pagan festival on December 25th, and that fact alone ought to give the "Christmas is pagan" crowd pause.

The best book on the subject is
The Origins of the Liturgical Year, by Thomas J. Talley, an Episcopalian clergyman and retired professor at General Theological Seminary in New York. (The book is still in print and available from The Liturgical Press.) Talley's argument is essentially this: that in the Second Century there is evidence that Christian thinkers in both the Greek East and Latin West of the Roman Empire wanted to establish the date on which Christ died, but they went about it in different ways.

Greek Christians wanted to "translate" into their own solar calendar the date 14 Nisan in the Jewish lunar calendar, on which date Christ died (on the Eve of Passover) according to John's gospel. They simply chose the date 14 Artemision of the Greek calendar, both Nisan and Artemision being the months in their respective calendars in which the Spring equinox falls. When the Greek calendar was superseded by the Roman calendar around AD 300, 14 Artemision became 6 April.

Latin Christian thinkers wanted, rather, to establish the historical date on which Christ died, and came up with March 25, 29 AD. This is surely wrong; it can, in fact, have happened only in 30 or 33 AD, but that is what they thought. Next one has to consider a common Jewish belief at the time that all the great prophets died or were killed on the same day as that of their birth or conception, Talley continues. If Christ was conceived on the same calendar date as his supposed death, then one adds 9 months to 6 April and gets 6 January, which is Epiphany, or 9 months to 25 March, and gets 25 December, which is Christmas.

And in fact, in the Greek East, down till around 385 AD when they adopted it from the West, the Eastern Christians did not celebrate Christmas at all, only Epiphany, as Christ's manifestation in the world - at his birth in Bethlehem, to the Three Magi, and at his Baptism in the Jordan, all in one feast. (The Armenian Church never has adopted Christmas, and still celebrates "ancient Epiphany" alone on January 7th.) St. John Chrysostom in a sermon preached in his native Antioch around 390 AD speaks of the "recent adoption" of the December 25th feast. And in the Latin West, December 25th alone was celebrated for many centuries, and when the West did adopt the January 6th Epiphany from the East it never made much of it.

The point of all this is that the idea that Christmas (December 25th) as a Christian festival was an adoption of a "pagan" festival is almost certainly false. It had a certain degree plausibility at one time, but is now completely indefensible. Ironically, the idea was invented in the late 17th Century by a couple of hyper-calvinistic scholars who wished to "prove" that Catholicism was really a pagan religion with a superficial Christian veneer, and in their notions about the origins of Christmas they thought that they had struck gold.

8:57 PM

Monday, December 16


In response to my comment in "An Answer to Boston's Problem" (below), Mr. Joe Blake responded:

Amen to that. Your reference to corporate style management is also quite correct. I have often thought you could be equally successful as a cardinal, commissar at the Kremlin, or Executive VP at GM. They are primarily administrative in character and mangers of process. When real challenges come up their entire experience is all wrong - why? Because the VP is not an entrepreneur, the cardinal is not a saint, and the commissar is no revolutionary. Inevitably human organizations that are inbred and never promote from outside become complacent and self-serving.

What we see happening among the top echelons of the Church right now is exactly this - smug complacency reinforced by a firm believe that God is on their side. There needs to be accountability and openness fast or their credibility on issues that really matter will go down the drain very quickly- infallible or not. If the experience of large corporations is any guide, fire the top brass and bring in some outsiders - in a three month period in 1993 that is exactly what GM, Eastman Kodak, and American Express did to change direction.

How the Catholic Church can do this I will leave to better heads but what they are doing now is too little, too late. The evidence is very clear that they were warned back in 1985 that there was a serious problem, but nothing was done (except to shoot the messenger), just as if Ford or Firestone had been told certain tires were likely to fail and used them anyway.

3:41 PM


In response to my "Ecumenical Insensitivities" (posted Friday, December 13th), an Anglican priest, Fr. Robert Hart, wrote to share his thinking in the question. It is an example of thoughtful and principled approach to one of the practical problems presented by the current division of the traditions.His principles are not exactly mine, but they exemplify the way all Christians ought to think and act in these matters.

I have given sacramental ministry to Roman Catholics on very few and rare occasions, but only after laying all my cards on the table and then having the person urge or plead that I minister anyway (and I add conditions even to this). This is different from what Mark did, because I have not concealed my true identity, but have been very honest (strictly for the other person's sake I might add, since it is not acceptable theology to us to consider our orders defective).

The most pressing case was that of a woman who expected with good reason that she was not going to live for more than maybe a few minutes. Her priest had not come to the hospital (being one priest for thousands of people), but I was there. She knew I was Anglican, but insisted that I hear her confession, which I agreed to do. I gave her absolution. I anointed her, as she wanted, and prayed. By the way, she did not die, but strangely enough, or not so strangely, recovered against all expectations.

What is more interesting still, is that my action caused her daughters and their husbands to repent of very non-religious lives and return to active faith and participation in their own Roman Catholic Church, for which I am only too happy. And she went back to her Church, once able to do so (partly at my urging), for the first time in years.

What is the point of my telling this story? Only this: Moral Theology can have but one genuine problem, and that is when two right principles appear to be in possible conflict. In such a case one's decision must be based upon the highest principle. Ultimately, the highest principle cannot be anything other than charity, and whatever seems to be the only charitable course must be followed.

This means that I was forced to weigh the demands of charity against the demands of another Church's canons, and to do so in an emergency situation (besides, if I were not a real priest so what? She simply unburdened herself of all guilt, and got a little oil on her head - nothing to constitute "uncircumcision"). This was a dying Christian, and I am a priest; ecumenical sensitivities will have to be put on hold.

My question to Mark Pearson would be, "What was the emergency? What was the dilemma which required the reasoning that we only use in a case that validly demands the considerations reserved normally to questions of Moral Theology? What was so urgent?" The problem is that eveyone's theology is right in his own eyes. From what I know of Mark's orders I would agree that they are valid; but right theology is no excuse for bad ethics.

9:53 AM

Sunday, December 15


Michael Novak offers his explanation of Cardinal Law's fall in The Boston Disease. He gives as one of the reasons things worked out as they did:

His fall is tragic because it was through a weakness of his own (a weakness internal to one of his virtues) that he did himself in. He believed it a bishop's duty to be a father to his priests, to be especially compassionate to them, to nurse them along - and he did so, the record shows, most unwisely, and in the end destructively, both of some of them and of himself, and of the reputation of the archdiocese. Meanwhile, he lost sight for far too long of the gaping wounds inflicted on vulnerable young people, on families, on the confidence and trust of the laity.

I am sure Cardinal Law wanted to be a pastor to his priests, but it does seem to stretch the word "compassion" a bit too far to call his shuffling them around when they went bad "compassionate." The fact that he let them do what we know he knew they did (I hope that's clear) does not strike one as particularly compassionate, even to the priests. And the news stories depict a corporate rather than pastoral relationship.

A few months ago I got into a rather heated argument about the Boston problem with a man (a layman) who was chancellor of another diocese and wanted to explain to me how dioceses really work. (I don't mean to imply that he did so rudely, by the way.) He said that some of the incriminating letters the Cardinal sent to his child-molesting priests were written by others and the Cardinal signed them without reading them. They were not to be held against the Cardinal, in other words.

I suspect this is true, but I also think it suggests one of the big problems, a problem so big that it can bring down even good men. Whatever Cardinal Law wanted to do, and whatever he did wrong, the diocesan structure worked against him. It is much too big.

A man can't be a shepherd or a father to 900-some men. The question I have yet to see anyone comment on is: why have such large dioceses? Why not divide Boston into fifths or eighths or tenths? Better bishops known to the priests and people than princes not known, and therefore not knowing.

11:05 PM

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