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Saturday, July 12


Two useful stories from the latest from Zenit:

"Losing Ground: 54 Nations Are Worse Off Economically" reports that in many places, life is getting harder. For example:

Some 54 nations are poorer now than in 1990. In 21 countries, larger shares of the population are going hungry. In 14, more children are dying before age 5. In 12 nations, primary school enrollments are shrinking. In 34, life expectancy has fallen.

. . . in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Arab States, Central and Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa the number of people living on less than $1 a day increased. Moreover, at the current pace, sub-Saharan Africa would not reach the target for poverty reduction until 2147 and for child mortality until 2165. And both HIV/AIDS and hunger in Africa are heading up -- not down.

Regarding economic growth the report notes that in the 1990s average per-capita income growth was less than 3% in 125 developing and transition countries, and in 54 of them average per-capita income fell. Of these 54 countries, 20 are from sub-Saharan Africa, 17 from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, 6 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 from East Asia and the Pacific and 5 from the Arab States.

"The Roots of Terrorism: Economic Injustice Downplayed as a Cause" argues that the usual line blaming terrorism on poverty is at least partially mistaken.

Krueger [Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton University] returned to the theme in a May 29 opinion article for the New York Times. "Most terrorists are not motivated by the prospect of financial gain or the hopelessness of poverty," he said.

New research on the background of Palestinian suicide bombers, for instance, found that 13% came from impoverished families, compared with about a third of the Palestinian population that lives in poverty. No fewer than 57% of suicide bombers have some education beyond high school, compared with just 15% of the population of comparable age, Krueger noted.

He also analyzed the data the State Department collects on significant international terrorist incidents. It turns out that more terrorists do come from poor countries than from rich ones. But this, he argued, is because poor countries tend to lack civil liberties. Once a country's degree of civil liberties is taken into account, he explained, income per capita bears no relation to involvement in terrorism.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which are the homes of many terrorists, are rich economically but lacking in civil liberties. By contrast, poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn terrorists.

5:43 PM


Click here for the sermons that won the Acton Institute's 2003 Homiletics Award. Seminarians and graduate students were invited to submit sermons on Matthew 22:15-22, which includes the passage to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

5:40 PM


My colleague and friend Steve Hutchens responds to yesterday's blog "Ruined Choirs":

A very good point. Although church choirs are famously plagued by home grown prima donnas who hear marvels in their own voices otherwise undetectable to the human ear, problems can be multiplied when there is what amounts to being a professional choir. While some of its members may belong to the church and hold to its views, a stronger influence in the life of the musician is frequently the arts community as represented by the local opera chorus, choral union, or university music department. The pro-homosexuality sympathies of this world are well-known, arising, I believe, from a narcissism shared by many artists and homosexuals in which self-expression is the summum bonum. The natural accompaniment to this is hatred of any authority that would limit it, especially on grounds that the unregenerate heart is a stinking well of iniquity with a tendency to express itself in abominations.

Where this infection is present the choir does not identify with the church or its doctrine, and forms, as David notes, a separate, foreign, typically volatile, and sometimes hostile community within the church. If, as many of my clerical friends have indicated, choirs of church
members are notorious trouble spots for pastors, then a fortiori choirs that are for the most part not - or choristers whose church membership does not indicate submission to the church's teaching. All this is why every book of order or canons or discipline I know makes it clear that the pastor has complete authority over church music. There are very good reasons for this, not the least of which is analogous to the reason that the lieutenant does not give orders to the general, however much better he thinks he understands the field.

A minister I know recently sacked his choir director for deliberately and consistently ignoring his instructions. Her reason for doing so was that she "knew music" better than he, so he had no excuse for interfering with her work. He was to keep to his area of competence and leave her to hers. His attempts to educate her failed. She knew what direction she was taking the church in music, and was convinced it was her professional responsibility to do as she thought best. Her dismissal upset some people in the church, but there was no major upheaval, since the pastor was fully backed by his elders.

With respect to the anger and defections within the congregation in view, I would not be surprised to find lack of clear, effective teaching of Catholic doctrine as though it was something by which people were expected to live and have their opinions formed, or at least something to which the church could be assumed to hold, whatever disagreement it might encounter.

One notes that in circumstances like this "preaching to the choir" would mean quite the opposite of what is normally intended by the phrase.

8:50 AM


In case the news stories you saw didn't include the list, here are the Republicans who voted to overturn President Bush's order blocking American funding of pro-abortion international population control groups. Eight Republicans joined 45 Democrats (the other four Democrats did not vote) to overturn the order. They were:

Murkowski (AK), Stevens (AK), Collins (ME), Snowe (ME), Smith (OR), Specter (PA), Chafee (RI), and Warner (VA).

Nevertheless, it is striking that all the voting Democrats voted unanimously to overturn the order.

The groups in question generally agree not to use American funds for abortion, which only means that they use the funds for other things, which frees up other monies to fund their abortion programs. Hence the need simply to refuse them money.

8:21 AM


Two good quotes, sent along by Jim Forest of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. From the French writer Simone Weil (1909-1943):

To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal.

And from the American writer Thomas Merton, from his book The Living Bread:

We enter into the Mystery of the Holy Trinity not so much by thinking and imagining, as by loving. Thought and imagination soon reach the limits beyond which they cannot pass, and these limits still fall infinitely short of the reality of God. But love, overstepping all bounds and flying beyond limitations with the wings of God's own Spirit, penetrates into the very depths of the mystery and apprehends Him Whom our intelligence is unable to see.

8:15 AM


The head of theology at Villanova, the Augustinian Father Arthur Chappell, has gotten canned. His past came out.

In the mid 70s he was the spiritual advisor of 18 year old Gary Belkot. Gary says:

"We would pray together. He would hear my confession and being vulnerable he would initiate the sexual abuse. He would say this was the way Jesus and the beloved apostle John were close."

The homoerotic relationship of John and Jesus was the burden of a series of articles that the Baltimore Catholic Review published under Archbishop Borders. The author was Father Paul Thomas; the articles were a sanitized version of his column in the Washington Gay Blade. Thomas is archivist in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He keeps the secret archives about priest abusers. The former chancellor under Borders, Rev Michael Schleupner, celebrated mass for Dignity, which met at the Jesuit church in Baltimore, St. Ignatius until 1992

But then, bad theology never hurt anyone, so we don't have to worry about what was taught, publicly or privately, in the seminaries for this past generation.

8:15 AM

Friday, July 11


I thought the full allusion ("bare ruined choirs") not quite appropriate in this case. In "Gay choir leader's firing turns into a test of faith", the Chicago Tribune reports on the firing of a homosexual choir director who would not renounce his lifestyle, with predictable bias. The lead runs:

ROCKFORD -- The new choir director was one of the best things that ever happened to Holy Family Catholic Church. Everyone said so.

He brought together businessmen and blue-collar workers, students and senior citizens to make music that lifted the whole parish - until last month, when church officials learned he is gay.

A lawyer and two priests confronted Bill Stein on June 17 and asked him to renounce his partner of 10 years, Stein said. When he refused, they fired him.

It continues in the usual way. Those of you who read the secular press's reporting of traditional religious matters will recognize the form. For example, always quote indignant old people (because who'd expect them to be liberal?) and disillusioned young people (to show what damage traditional religion is doing).

But to be fair to the reporter, she included a lot of comments from people who agreed with the decision and a couple of good quotes from the diocesan spokesman. The bias comes not in the content of the article as in the arrangement of the material, starting with the lead (above) and ending with the closing:

Parry said Stein's choir had given her "a spirituality with God that I hadn't had before. I don't know how to express the joy that the choir has given me. Now it's gone."

Proudfoot recalled that "sometimes when we sang, the sound he got out of us, it gave you goose pimples. You should have seen us. It was wonderful.

"He taught us how to sing to God."

Notice the one sentence closing paragraph.

When he saw the story, a friend who knows the parish wrote that he was disappointed in it, because it "was considered to be pretty conservative - a ´healthy' parish with many good things going on."

I think he may have been unfair to the parish, though I don't know it. In my observation of Episcopal parishes over the last twenty-five years, the choir is the place the malcontents and misfits congregate - artsiness associated with "open-mindedness" and the like being a good sign of heresy, to put it bluntly.

In fact, I was recently listening to two Episcopal priests I know talking about their parishes. One described a drive in his parish to do all sorts of bad things led by a small group of about fifteen people. The other priest said "They're in the choir?" and the first said "yes," without any surprise that the second had guessed.

The pastor can't easily stop such people from joining the choir, so you wind up with conservative churches with choirs like this one. Especially if the choir is led by a charismatic director who forms them into an alternative community within the parish. If he is living unchastely and perversely, as this director was, something of his distance from the Christian tradition seems bound to affect his work and speech, and affect those who have placed themselves under him.

The director forms a community, mind you, simply by doing his job: people who meet regularly and share a unique work that costs them time and effort, will naturally tend to bond together and identify themselves in distinction from the rest of the parish, even if they aren't artsy. I suspect the more serious and capable the choir, the more danger of its becoming a dissenting community rather than a community of submission and service.

A Presbyterian friend tells me the situation is the same for them and I'm sure it's the same for Catholics, Methodists, and every one else.

I'm not a pastor and would be interested to know what pastors think of this. If I am right about the dynamics of the dissenting choir, what does a good pastor do about it?

Three cheers for the Diocese of Rockford, by the way. Make that five. Six. Ten.

8:16 PM

For those who like light verse: "The Creeps of Modernism" or ("Amoral Acid Reigns") by Tom Graffagnino. It begins:

The Creeps of Modernism
Aren't just knocking at the door;
They're leaking through the windows
And they're seeping through the floor.

And it includes some particularly nice, and memorable, quatrains like:

It's hard to stand on Principle,
If all Principle's denied....
Who wants to die for "Maybe!"...
If there's no True Reason why?

8:10 PM

Wednesday, July 9

If you want a neat (i.e. tidy not cool) example of the liberal view of Christian morality see Gays win the numbers game from the English newspaper The Guardian, which is like The Washington Post only much more so. The article is subtitled "When is the C of E going to realise that homosexuality is now more popular in Britain than Christianity?".

In describing the debate, the author writes:

First, the extremists, or evangelicals, or whatever else you choose to call the homophobes in the church when, for some reason, "bigots" won't do, say that homosexuality is forbidden in the Bible. Then the "liberals" (who would, in any other gathering, be called "the normal people") say that the Bible forbids or endorses a number of things that the modern world would deem acceptable or unacceptable (respectively). They often mention slavery in Leviticus.

The extremists, unwilling to say: "Well, yes, we're exactly the kind of people who would have stood against the tide on that one as well," instead fall back on: "That wasn't the same." And then they're all stumped. The liberals have to admit that, no, exploiting a human life through bondage was not exactly the same as discriminating against a human on the basis of his or her sexuality.

They have to accept that they're dealing with opponents who do not understand logic or analogy. And the extremists have to accept that there are some funny old coves out there - but, not to worry, armed with enough scripture, you can hammer them into submission.

Now, we have to accept that we're dealig wth opponents who do not understand thinking in general, never mind logic. They do not understand the rather basic point that a thing may be true even if its truth is not immediately obvious, and that an error, even a very serious error, may look at first glance, or to the biased, true. This ability to understand a question is what we call thinking, but those, like this writer, who most value thinking in theory are often the least adept at it in practice.

7:00 AM

Monday, July 7


Our own James Hitchcock is quoted to good effect in a blog on the Catholic World News site titled "I'm diverse, you're divisive". The blog deals with a liberal Catholic theologian who finds himself worrying about diversity when exercised by an orthodox group, though it is a thing he praises when his crowd want their independence from Church authority. This situation most Christians in most Christian bodies will recognize.

Jim's article can be found here.

8:03 PM


In "Abortion and women's health: A hidden price" offers a very useful summary of the studies of the effects of abortion upon women, which counters the common claims that abortion has no negative effects. (Other than those upon the unborn child, that is.)

It begins with the findings of a meeting of the National Cancer Institute that abortion did not increase the risk of breast cancer, a finding the usual media played up. After explaining the Institute's argument, the story noted the evidence that seems to show that having an abortion does increase a woman's risk of having breast cancer. For example (this is only one of the studies the article refers to):

In an article in the Summer 2003 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Karen Malec cites numerous studies that identify a link between abortion and breast cancer. Malec is president of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.

She noted that in 1973, the year abortion was legalized in the United States, the incidence of breast cancer was 82.6 per 100,000, and it was considered a disease of elderly women. By 1998, the incidence of female breast cancer had increased more than 40% to 118.1 per 100,000 - and had become a young woman's disease.

It covers often health matters, as well. For example, though the facts about death and abortion are hard to find, one study

cites data from Finland, which maintains a careful registry of births, deaths and abortion.

The maternal death rate after abortion is four times higher, at 100.5 per 100,000 women, for women who aborted than it was for women who gave birth. This contradicts the widely repeated claim that abortion is safer than childbirth. The Finnish data also show that women who have an induced abortion are more than three times likely to commit suicide within a year than women who gave birth.

For more such useful stories, see their "Weekly News Analysis".

7:50 AM


Also reported by the Catholic news service, the increasing persecution of Christians by the Communist government of Viet Nam. "Viet Nam's rocky road for religion" reports that Aid to the Church in Need's just released report Violence Against Christians in the Year 2002

The report accused the Hanoi government of "misleading the international community by pretending to be making improvements in human rights and religious freedom." In fact, authorities have been intensifying the anti-Christian campaign, notes Aid to the Church in Need. People who convert to Christianity face discrimination and government surveillance, and risk losing their jobs. Their children might be banned from schools.

Hardest hit are the Hmong of the Chinese border region, the report said. They number about 600,000. Part of the difficulties stem from long-standing animosities between the Hmong, who fought as U.S. allies during the Vietnam War, and the Communists. Many of the Hmong Christian pastors have been hauled from their homes at night and imprisoned in forced-labor camps.

After a detailed description of the persecution of Christians of all sorts in Viet Nam, and Buddhists as well, the article concludes:

And things could get worse. On Jan. 28, Compass Direct reported that authorities are determined to intensify their campaign against believers. The 7th Plenum of the Central Committee of Vietnam's Communist Party, held Jan. 13-21, passed a resolution calling for the establishment of cells of Communist Party members within the approved religious organizations.

The government also called on religious believers to "volunteer" in the struggle "to foil hostile forces who abuse religious and ethnic minority issues to sabotage the great national unity and act against the political regime." Religious believers have a lot to pray about.

By the way, Zenit has been trying to raise money for its work. I get their free daily digest of stories and often find them very helpful - and not just on Catholic affairs but, as this and the following story show, on matters of interest to all Christians. If you'd like to contribute, click here.

7:48 AM

Sunday, July 6


The trial of Paul Shanley, the Boston priest who has been accused of child rape, was scheduled for November 5, 2002 but was postponed and it is now July 2003 and no sign of a trial.

Shanley was a street priest in the 1970s, praised by the liberal establishment for his advocacy of homosexuality. He was involved with Dignity and NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association). He is very ill and if the trial is postponed much longer may not be able to stand trial or may die.

Why has the trial been postponed? Who profits? The prosecutor is unlikely to be in a mood to be nice to the archdiocese of Boston. The only other group that would be hurt by Shanley's testimony is Boston homosexuals. Shanley is the parent's nightmare of a homosexual: a predatory child abuser. Shanley was also prominent in the Boston homosexual community, and alleges that he was molested by a Cardinal when he was a seminarian, and that the Boston seminary was full of wilder teachings than any of his (and he defended bestiality).

The natural question about the postponement: cue bono? The victims? No. The State? No. Boston homosexuals? Yes.

Anyone in Boston have any information about what is going on?

1:32 PM

For previous blogs, click here.

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