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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Sir Martin Gilbert, rest in peace.

Sir Martin Gilbert, the great historian and biographer of Winston Churchill, died today at the age of 78.

He will be greatly missed. His works are well worth reading, and several are mandatory for the shelves of anyone who aspires to a love of history.

May God rest his soul.


And now for something completely different...

...a new phrase for your water cooler conversations: "Amoral familism." To quote from the link, it is

Social action persistently oriented to the economic interests of the nuclear family. In a controversial account of poverty in a village in southern Italy (The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, 1958), Edward C. Banfield argued that the backwardness of the community was to be explained ‘largely but not entirely’ by ‘the inability of the villagers to act together for their common good or, indeed, for any end transcending the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family’.

A similar ethos obtains elsewhere, as in the grim Arab proverb: "Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, and me and my cousin against the stranger."

And it also applies increasingly to American culture, as we see in this jackass spectacle of a wealthy cardiologist expressing no empathy whatsoever for people outside of his immediate family. It started with a plea from a pediatrician and parent of a leukemia victim:

Dr. Tim Jacks, an Arizona pediatrician, wrote a blog post chastising  parents whose are not vaccinating their children after his two children were exposed to measles by a woman who reportedly picked up the disease while visiting Disneyland. Adding to Jacks’ concern is his 3-year-old daughter, Maggie, who suffers from leukemia and whose immune system is compromised due to chemotherapy, making her vulnerable to the disease which can lead to death.

Jacks wrote, “I assume you love your child just like I love mine. I assume that you are trying to make good choices regarding their care. Please realize that your child does not live in a bubble. When your child gets sick, other children are exposed. My children. Why would you knowingly expose anyone to your sick unvaccinated child after recently visiting Disneyland? That was a bone-headed move.’

He went on to say the family had to cancel a trip in order to monitor the children for measles as well as protect against any other infections, writing, “Thanks for making us cancel our trip to the snow this year. Maggie really wanted to see snow, but we will not risk exposing anyone else. On that note, thanks for exposing 195 children to an illness considered ‘eliminated’ from the U.S. Your poor choices don’t just affect your child. They affect my family and many more like us.”

Now, perhaps Dr. Jacks could have phrased it more gently and irenically--in fact, he probably should have. But at least he tried to credit love and a little good faith to the other side.

Enter the heart (the much-abused irony meter explodes again...) doctor:

Responding to Jacks’ post, Arizona cardiologist Wolfson said the familiy’s health issues are theirs, and he shouldn’t have to keep his unvaccinated children away from other kids.
Wolfson, who refuses to vaccinate his two young sons, said, “It’s not my responsibility to inject my child with chemicals in order for [a child like Maggie] to be supposedly healthy. As far as I’m concerned, it’s very likely that her leukemia is from vaccinations in the first place.”

“I’m not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure,” he added. “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.”

Asked if he could live with the idea that his unvaccinated child could cause another child to become gravely ill, the cardiologist was dismissive.

“I could live with myself easily. It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child,” he said,before adding, “If a child is so vulnerable like that, they shouldn’t be going out into society.”

Translation--screw you and your kids. Only mine count.

And lest you think Dr. Lucius "Purity!" Malfoy was misquoted or something, here he is revelling in the attention and offering conspiracy theories worthy of a man who debates lampposts.

I would like to report that Dr. Malfoy is an outlier, but he's not. Thankfully few anti-vaxxers are this brazen, but too many of them are incapable of expressing even the slightest empathy for the elderly, the infant, the weak and the medically-compromised. They can't even fake it. I spoke with a couple yesterday before leaving the conversation in disgust. They differed only in degree from the heart doctor. Not in kind.

I'm not in favor of mandatory vaccinations. We ourselves vaccinate, but I think there should be the option to refuse vaccines in certain situations. However, I have no problem with affixing financial, insurance and legal liabilities to those who refuse. It's all part of the calculation of risk.

And, yes, of course your kids are your first responsibility. Nobody's arguing that. But you don't live in a vacuum, and probably not even in an isolated area. We are social beings, and we owe certain responsibilities to each other in order to make civilization work. At a minimum, it requires an effort to understand each other and to not contemptuously dismiss real and valid medical concerns.


The bottom line is that if a mandatory vaccination program is ever imposed, it will owe a lot to the callousness of anti-vaxxers, and their inability to express even a modicum of sympathy for the weak.

[Update: And, just to be abundantly clear, I will not be hosting a vaccination debate here. If you'd like to post something along those lines, there are plenty of such places on the internet where you can do so.]

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Along the way.

"The groundwork is being laid. I'll be even stronger than Msgr. Pope: any attempt to separate Christ from His words by invoking some modern notion of how merciful He should be preaches another Christ. Back when the Church listened to St. Paul, that was a serious problem. 

One of the things I always liked about Catholicism was that it had a full life of the mind. Now I'm not so sure: hardly a day goes by without the Pope, his inner circle, defenders of his initiatives or his vociferous fans insulting my intelligence. The past two years have been a cult of personality and papal positivism run amuck.  But I'm the problem because I'm believing my lying eyes.

I'm so tired of it. Spiritually,  emotionally,  and even physically. So very tired."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's baaaaaack!

I have been assured, over and over again, sometimes condescendingly and sometimes not, that the Kasper Proposal is a dead letter. 

First it was Cardinal Muller's letter in L'Osservatore Romano. Then it was some random papal comment affirming marital indissolubility (which ignored the fact Cardinal Kasper swearsies he's all about keeping marriages intact). Then, most recently, it was the supposed door-slamming vote at the end of the Synod, which asserted that the matter was--this time for sure, how could you ever doubt it?--done. Over. Locked into a safe, wrapped in chains and dumped square in into Challenger Deep, where it could never be seen again, thanks to our Papal Guarantee of Unassailable Orthodoxy. Take that, Huns!

Well, I was skeptical about that. Very much so.

And it appears my skepticism was warranted. Like the villain in a bad horror movie, the damned thing keeps rising from assured death to menace the protagonists again. Behold Question 38, straight from the Pope's handpicked secretary at the Vatican:

38. With regard to the divorced and remarried, pastoral practice concerning the sacraments needs to be further studied, including assessment of the Orthodox practice and taking into account “the distinction between an objective sinful situation and extenuating circumstances” (n. 52). What are the prospects in such a case? What is possible? What suggestions can be offered to resolve forms of undue or unnecessary impediments?

So much for the matter being closed, shut, finito. There's a wake-up call, for those so inclined to grab the receiver.

And then there's the Pope's words, just this week, offered in the Time-Honored Magisterium of Newspaper Interviews:


[Q:] In the case of divorcees who have remarried, we posed the question, what do we do with them? What door can we allow them to open? This was a pastoral concern: will we allow them to go to Communion?

[A:] Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration. They have not been excommunicated, true. But they cannot be godfathers to any child being baptized, mass readings are not for divorcees, they cannot give communion, they cannot teach Sunday school, there are about seven things that they cannot do, I have the list over there. Come on! If I disclose any of this it will seem that they have been excommunicated in fact!
Thus, let us open the doors a bit more. Why cant they be godfathers and godmothers? "No, no, no, what testimony will they be giving their godson?" The testimony of a man and a woman saying "my dear, I made a mistake, I was wrong here, but I believe our Lord loves me, I want to follow God, I was not defeated by sin, I want to move on."
Anything more Christian than that? And what if one of the political crooks among us, corrupt people, ate chosen to be somebody´s godfather. If they are properly wedded by the Church, would we accept them? What kind of testimony will they give to their godson? A testimony of corruption?
Things need to change, our standards need to change.
 "Communion alone is no solution." That's an...interesting formulation. There are other problems with the interview, too, as someone less biased on the topic than I am has noted. This one is particularly insightful, and warrants a careful read.

Those of you who are Anglicans will have seen this movie before: dialogue does not end until the proper result is reached. Then it becomes the Laws of the Medes and Persians, hater.

Given what the Vatican just issued, the most recent interview shows the Pontiff's mind quite clearly (not that it was particularly opaque before). Throw that in with the papal power-invoking rhetoric in the wildly-overpraised speech he gave at the conclusion of the 2014 Synod (reinforced by more explicit authority to depose), and I think it's more likely than not that he forces through some variation on the Kasper proposal in 2015.

Welcome to horribly interesting times. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pope Benedict's Big Edit.

It appears that Pope Benedict XVI did not care at all for Cardinal Kasper's attempt to press-gang him into supporting the latter's assault on indissolubility. 

How do we know that? According to the largest newspaper in his homeland, the Pope Emeritus has removed his previous (1972) support for giving communion to civilly-remarried divorcees from the official collection of his theological works. Instead, he now favors a revised annulment process. The editorial framing notes this development with disapproval, calling it "political."

For those who have made politics a substitute religion, I imagine it is.

For those who care about the Catholic teaching on marriage, this is big news. And a most welcome note of support.

[Update, 11/19/2014: Father Zuhlsdorf has more detail about the story, including the fact Pope Benedict addresses his change of mind in the introduction.]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The problem with letting a smile be your umbrella?

You get soaked.



Never go full ostrich, son.


Yes, Burke was purged. The happy-clappy interpretations are...less than, he says as gently as possible.

Two critical facts missed in all of the "hey, it was term limits!" arguments:

First, this is the second kick from the Pope this year, with the first being from the Congregation of Bishops. After which, we got Cupich in Chicago, for starters. Anybody else gotten a double removal like Burke? Nope.

Second, Burke being shuffled to a sinecure means he won't be able to participate in the 2015 version of the Synod. Just when his voice will be needed most, after a year of Cupich-y or Leow-ish appointments to the episcopate, he'll be on the outside looking in.

But, you reply, what about Muller and Pell?

It is true that Muller has been a godsend on marriage, but he's also a fan of liberation theology. I don't know how that squares with any sensible definition of "conservative," and his stance on liberation is no doubt a big plus in the pontiff's book. 

Pell is the best argument to the contrary, I grant. But it would be hard for the pope to boot Pell from the inner circle after inviting him there in the first place. It would reflect on his executive judgment, in much the same way a President will stick with one of his cabinet appointees, come hell or high water. Still, I think it would be worth watching to see if the Australian cardinal is gradually frozen out as the 2015 synod session approaches. And, yes, while it is nice that Melbourne got a good appointee, it's worth noting that Australia's Catholic population tops off at 5.6 million, whereas there are 2.3 million in the Archdiocese of Chicago alone. Put differently, Pell won't have any say in selecting bishops for my neck of the woods.

Still, why should you care? 

Number 1, "Vatican politics" gives you your bishop. Cupich, remember. In other words, "Personnel is policy." If it's "clericalism" to worry about who your shepherd is going to be, then we should all be clericalists. 

Second, there's a trend here, and it's pretty much all bad:

Pope Francis has made statements against the two tendencies of progressivism and traditionalism, without however clarifying what these two labels encompassed. Yet, if by words he distances himself from the two poles which confront each other in the Church today, by facts all tolerance is reserved for “progressivism”, while the axe falls upon what he defines as “traditionalism”.

Precisely. If you're a solid progressive, you get high-profile invites to significant Church events even if you're a coddler of abusive priests. [Read more about the dreadful Danneels in the reliably rad-trad Tablet.] Sadly, it appears that mercy is only for those of confirmed progressive bona fides. Whereas demotions, removals and defenestrations of entire orders are reserved only for those with the odor of Tradition.

But I'm sure none of that would ever percolate down to the local level, right?