Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Apology and Spiritual Energy

SSPX Bishop Williamson has apologized to Benedict and Cardinal Hoyos--but not to the Jews.

Rome, Jan 30, 2009 / 06:10 pm (CNA).-

A bishop whose excommunication was recently lifted by the Pope has written a letter to a leading cardinal expressing his regret for the “unnecessary distress and problems” he had caused by making “imprudent” remarks allegedly denying the Holocaust.

The bishop quoted the Prophet Jonah who told shipmates “throw me into the sea” to halt a tempest.

Bishop Richard Williamson is one of the four bishops leading the traditionalist group Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). The bishops’ 1988 excommunications were lifted last week by Pope Benedict in an effort to advance Church unity.

Speaking in a November 2008 interview with Swedish public television, Bishop Williamson had denied that six million Jews were killed in the Nazi genocide. He also denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers and claimed only two to three hundred thousand Jews were murdered.

His remarks were broadcast last week, causing international uproar.

In a Friday post on his blog “Dinoscopus” Bishop Williamson published a letter he sent to Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” tasked with reconciling the SSPX to the Catholic Church.

“Amidst this tremendous media storm stirred up by imprudent remarks of mine on Swedish television, I beg of you to accept, only as is properly respectful, my sincere regrets for having caused to yourself and to the Holy Father so much unnecessary distress and problems,” he wrote. Bishop Williamson, however, did not renounce his position on the Holocaust.

For me, all that matters is the Truth Incarnate, and the interests of His one true Church, through which alone we can save our souls and give eternal glory, in our little way, to Almighty God,” he wrote. (True to form, it's all about him.)

He then quoted a passage from the Book of Jonah in which Jonah urges his shipmates to take him up and “throw me into the sea.”

“Then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you,” the bishop’s quotation of Jonah continued.

“Please also accept, and convey to the Holy Father, my sincere personal thanks for the document signed last Wednesday and made public on Saturday,” Bishop Williamson’s letter concluded, promising he will “most humbly” offer a Mass for both the cardinal and Pope Benedict. (A Mass which will still be illicit by an invalidly installed bishop--the very thing for which women are excommunicated. Will Bishop Williamson have incurred another excommunication?)

Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, spoke out against Holocaust denial in a Friday statement to Vatican Radio.

“Those who deny the Holocaust do not know anything either about the mystery of God or the Cross of Christ,” he said, according to SIR News. “The denial is all the more worrying when it comes from the mouth of a priest or of a bishop, namely a Christian minister, whether they are united with the Catholic Church or not.”


Interesting apology the good bishop has offered. It certainly seems to make clear that Bishop Williamson is indeed an unapologetic anti semite. It also seems to make very clear that he has no concept of Church as the people of God. No apology is extended to the greater Church for his embarrassing us as well, only to Cardinal Hoyos and Pope Benedict. I hardly doubt that this is the kind of man who will accept the full teaching of Vatican II.

By the way, I tried to access Bishop Williamson's blogsite 'dinoscopus' only to find out that Google issues a warning that the site might damage your computer. I've never seen that Google warning before. But in one sense it's prophetic.

Allowing the Bishop Williamson's of the world back into the Church is damaging to the Spiritual energy of the Church. It harms us. Fr. Lombardi is right. Those who deny the holocaust do not know anything about the mystery of God or the Cross of Christ. Those who willfully promote such concepts inject harmful antithetical energy into the Church. Every single time this man and his ilk say Mass it is a sacrilege, another little dose of profane energy.

I am not referencing every single SSPX priest in the above, but I am referencing every single priest of any stripe who holds any bigoted attitude directed at any single group of humanity. While it is true that such priests can not harm the spiritual energy of Christ brought to active participation in the Mass, they most certainly harm the collective human energy of Catholicism.

I've written before that I have zero objection to Benedict's moto proprio regarding the Traditional Latin Mass. What I object to is the attitudes and the subsequent energy which accompanies the proponents of this Mass. Bishop Williamson is the perfect symbol for this attitude of exclusion and self absorption in one's own salvation. His is a salvation which is principally achieved by living a ritually centered static lifestyle. This is not the Christian lifestyle taught by Jesus.

His teachings call for a total conversion of world view in which one matures in their spiritual understanding and contribution, expressing it through interpersonal action. Jesus constantly upbraids the Pharisees for their reliance on specific rituals and dogma as the sole means for insuring salvation. Salvation is not found in solo ritual acts, it is found in loving and compassionate interaction with others.

It is precisely these loving and compassionate actions which contribute light to the human part of the collective Catholic energy, making it shine brighter, making our rituals more efficacious, placing us more firmly in the collective energy of the communion of saints and angels and the spirit of Christ Himself.

It may be that Benedict and I experience the reality of Spiritual energy vastly differently. It may be that he's a hierarchical spiritual person, and I'm kind of a spiritual socialist. He seems to see the health of the spiritual body radiating from some mystical mountain and percolating down through various levels of sacramental ritual and clerical power.

I see it as a constantly changing matrix in which everyone contributes, some with great light, and some with great darkness. To me the object is to use our free choice to make that matrix so bright there is no difference between our spiritual energy and that of the angels and saints. At that point humanity will have returned to it's true home. One with Him who is in All. There is no mystical mountain. The mountain is us.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Tales Of Two Priests And Other Thoughts

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles appears to be in the process of black balling Fr. Geoffrey Farrow. See this article from Bilerico and the subsequent posting from Fr. Geoff on his own blog.

I wish I could say this surprises me. It doesn't though because I have repeatedly seen this kind of blackballing in effect in Catholic dioceses and colleges and parishes. It happens with impunity. Fr. Geoff's situation is somewhat different in that this time it didn't involve just the usual character assassination, it also involved a form of financial black mail. I guess the Archdiocese of Los Angeles hasn't had enough of swimming in the swamp of borderline criminal behavior.

Speaking of borderline criminal behavior, maybe it isn't all borderline. It seems the Feds are investigating the archdiocese. Could this be a prelude to bringing RICO charges? That could prove very costly and embarassing for the Archdiocese. What a shame.

I can see it now, Cardinal Mahoney will get a transfer to Rome right before he has to testify. Vatican State diplomatic immunity does have it uses. Cardinals seem to be immune from blackballing, unlike lowly diocesan priests, but it's all about Jesus don't we know.

My second tale of a priest involves Fr. Peter Kennedy of South Brisbane's St. Mary's parish. This is the parish which is being 'evaluated' prior to the soon to come formal announcement that it is no longer in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. St Mary's will have self excommunicated and brought the sanctions on itself. This link is to a podcast Fr. Kennedy did with ABC Brisbane. It's about 45 minutes long and really entertaining. It will make you burst out laughing and maybe shed a tear or two. Fr. Kennedy, like Fr. Farrow, does not come across as some sort of left wing fanatic. He comes across like a compassionate thinking man. A real Jesus priest.

In the interview he mentions the group of 'traditionalists' who came into the parish with video tape equipment and then went to the Vatican with their evidence. Fr. Kennedy doesn't say so, but it's common knowledge in Australia that the ring leader actually flew to the Vatican with his 'evidence', and essentially put a Vatican gun to the head of Archbishop Bathersby of Brisbane. Which I guess goes to prove when you are traditional and have money you will find comfort in the Vatican.

It's worked for Tom Monaghan. Tom now has one of the board of directors of his very own Ave Maria University as the Archbishop of Detroit. Archbishop Vigneron was one of the most outspoken of California Catholic bishops with regards to Prop 8. I imagine that Bishop Tom Gumbleton will be hearing from Archbishop Vigneron in the very near future. This Vatican appointment is another positive message to traditionalists and conservatives. Detroiters better brush up on their Latin.

It does seem as if Benedict is hell bent on leaving us with a much leaner and certainly meaner Church. I wonder when enough will be enough. Probably when Vatican II is only so much dust in the traditional wind and that wind blows through a lot more empty churches.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Christian Unity, This Time On The Backs Of Gays And Women

Historic moves afoot for traditional Anglicans

History may be in the making. It appears Rome is on the brink of welcoming close to half a million members of the Traditional Anglican Communion into membership of the Roman Catholic Church.

Such a move would be the most historic development in Anglican-Catholic relations in the last 500 years. But it may also be a prelude to a much greater influx of Anglicans waiting on the sidelines, pushed too far by the controversy surrounding the consecration of practising homosexual bishops, women clergy and a host of other issues. (There are no other issues. Who are they trying to kid?)

(Soon to read GO WITH POPE)

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decided to recommend the Traditional Anglican Communion be accorded a personal prelature akin to Opus Dei, if talks between the TAC and the Vatican aimed at unity succeed, it is understood.

The TAC is a growing global community of approximately 400,000 members that took the historic step in 2007 of seeking full corporate and sacramental communion with the Catholic Church – a move that, if fulfilled, will be the biggest development in Catholic-Anglican relations since the English Reformation under King Henry VIII.

TAC members split from the Canterbury-based Anglican Communion headed by Archbishop Rowan Williams over issues such as its ordination of women priests and episcopal consecrations of women and practising homosexuals.

The TAC’s case appeared to take a significant step forwards in October 2008 when it is understood that the CDF decided not to recommend the creation of a distinct Anglican rite within the Roman Catholic Church – as is the case with the Eastern Catholic Churches - but a personal prelature, a semi-autonomous group with its own clergy and laity.

Opus Dei was the first organisation in the Catholic Church to be recognised as a personal prelature, a new juridical form in the life of the Church. A personal prelature is something like a global diocese without boundaries, headed by its own bishop and with its own membership and clergy. Because no such juridical form of life in the Church had existed before, the development and recognition of a personal prelature took Opus Dei and Church officials decades to achieve. (Little Papal viruses in the body politic, and now we get two versions, one for Catholics and one for Anglicans.)

An announcement could be made soon after Easter this year. It is understood that Pope Benedict XVI, who has taken a personal interest in the matter, has linked the issue to the year of St Paul, the greatest missionary in the history of the Church. The Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls could feature prominently in such an announcement for its traditional and historical links to Anglicanism. Prior to the English Reformation it was the official Church of the Knights of the Garter....The rest of this article can be accessed here. (Official vaticanese for what Benedict wants Benedict will get.)


Now I begin to understand the reason for the lifting of the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops. Benedict had to make an attempt to get the reactionary Catholic schismatics in the fold before he went after the reactionary Anglican schismatics.

I am ever so proud to have been born into a church which is now fully inclusive for anti semites, misogynists, and homophobes, and then dares to call this Christian unity. I suspect for the 1.4 million reactionaries the pope will welcome into the Roman Catholic Church, 10 times that many non reactionaries will exit.

Maybe that's the whole idea, Benedict has decided to play the very 'successful' Republican strategy.

This must be the first time in religious history an official church body has decided to cut itself off from the major part of it's membership. Sort of schism in reverse on the part of the Vatican. What's a non reactionary Catholic to do? I guess we'll find out.

Steam Rollers and "The Girl Effect

The World Economic Forum is meeting in Davos, Switzerland. As one would suspect, a great deal of the current world economic crisis is being laid at the feet of the United States. That may be true, but the real problem is the failure of capitalism. If anything needs to come out of Davos, it's the recognition that two things need to be re evaluated in the global economic system. The first is the notion of economic spheres of influence (otherwise known as competition for dominance), and the second is that unlimited growth is infinitely sustainable. The current global crisis amply demonstrates that both of those notions are well past their sell date.

In view of this, what is gaining ground in Davos are notions of philanthropy and the introduction of accountability and transparency in philanthropic endeavors. (That is when speakers aren't bashing the financial industry.) The political and economic movers and shakers are seriously considering investing in people, specifically third world countries. Which is why the only non economic panel discussion is called "The Girl Effect."

God is so providential. Yesterday's posting on Bishop Williamson's ideas for modern woman rankled me to say the least. Not just because they are reactionary but because they fly in the face of everything we know about raising the lifestyles of families and communities in impoverished areas. So today I find this article written from Davos. Thank you Jesus. Take this Bishop Williamson and your like minded fellows:

By Maria Eitel January 28, 2009

I promised to blog about the girl effect from Davos, but I have to admit I didn't expect the buzz to surface before the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting had even started.
Yesterday I had coffee with Geeta Rao Gupta, President of the International Center for Research on Women. We met early on - before the traffic had picked up and well before the main program had begun (it launches today). I was surprised when she told me people were talking about the girl effect session - which doesn't even happen until Saturday - on the shuttle bus into Davos.

When I asked her why, she said, "Every other session is about the economy and the financial situation and here we are with a topic that supposedly has nothing to do with it." But Geeta and I both know well that it has everything to do with it.

Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, knows it too. One thing she said struck me in particular: "By targeting girls, you're really focused on the solution at the root cause that will have implications on problems more broadly."
She went on to point out that all of the research shows investing in girls provides the best overall outcome - both for girls as well as the economies of communities and of nations. A girl who has an opportunity to participate will be better educated and have better economic prospects. She'll be healthier, marry later and her future children will be healthier. This is important for a girl and her family, but it also addresses issues like slowing population growth, which has a broad impact on everything from health to climate change to economic viability. (What this research is really proving is that patriarchal societies based on keeping women barefoot, pregnant and UNEDUCATED don't work to insure the economic survival of the family. They insure that the poor continue to produce more poor. Using Jesus's comment that 'the poor will be with us always' to justify their exploitation is horrific spirituality.

I thought I'd ask Lee Howell, the Annual Meeting Director, for a bit of insight given that this year's meeting is unprecedented for two reasons. First, we're addressing these issues during the worst financial crisis since the Depression. Second, girls are on the Forum's agenda for the first time in the Meeting's 39-year history. Here's what he had to say:

"The reason we'd focus on the girl effect is in fact that we want to demonstrate that the global agenda needs to be looked at in its totality. If you start to look at these issues zero sum - and only look at the economic situation at the expense of development or other challenges - that's really the short-sightedness that got us to the crisis we're in today.

"When times are tough and resources are scarce, you have to think about what will give you the bang for the buck. The field work, economic analysis and experience all point to the powerful effect you'll have if you invest in girls. People have to do more with less. If that's the context we're operating in, then the girl effect is an answer for a lot of people."

A key theme in my conversations was optimism about the new Obama Administration. Geeta and Helene both referenced Secretary Clinton's confirmation hearings and her recognition of the importance of women and girls. One of the key issues that came up was a call for the United States to ratify CEDAW (the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), which was adopted by the UN in 1979. The United States is the only developed nation that has not yet done so. (Anybody want to guess why we haven't ratified CEDAW?)

Geeta and I talked about a conversation she had on the plane with the head of the Rural Development Institute about inheritance rights for girls. It's not too big a stretch to recognize that girls should be legally able to inherit property. It provides collateral, status and clout within the community. It's an asset that can help weather hardship and is a right that should be extended to all. But the other thing Geeta mentioned was legal literacy - enabling girls to know what the law allows them. She talked about RDI's model to train paralegal workers to educate girls about what their rights actually are and what they can do to make sure those rights are upheld.
It's a powerful approach and it isn't even that costly.

We've seen it in our work with BRAC in Bangladesh. In some regions, almost 90% of girls are married before 18 and every year more than 1 million girls between 10 and 18 give birth - effectively wiping out any future potential to join the workforce. The result is $1,233 in foregone income every year for every one of these girls.

BRAC is demonstrating the value of an adolescent girl as an economic actor instead of as a child-bride. They've pioneered a microfinance program in which 40,000 adolescent girls have gained the confidence, skills and capital to run their own businesses and manage their own resources. These entrepreneurs pay their own school fees and often pay their siblings' tuition. They also delay marriage - both because parents begin to recognize it's not the best option and because girls themselves are empowered to decline an illegal marriage (which is any marriage before 18).


It is the status of women, more so than any other issue, which is paramount in our current global reality. It is the mega issue. Abortion, gay rights, and traditional family values, are all issues which are being used to keep the status of women beneath that of men.

Bishop Williamson's meanderings are not just his own little myopic view. They are held in large degree by every right wing Catholic group which currently enjoys Vatican support. Benedict has on more than one occasion lost his cool over 'radical' feminism. The truth is, the feminism spoke about in the above article is not about bra burning radical feminism. It's a realistic assessment which understands women can not be purposefully held down if we are truly attempting to attain a more just global experience for everyone.

In every sense of the word this is a battle between forms of old energy and the new global reality. But the old energy is not going away because some nice words are spoken and we're all asked to play nice. President Obama is finding this out in his dealings with the Republican party. He makes some concessions and they vote in one massive block to say no, unable to comprehend they have no political power because they insisted on policies for a world which had moved beyond their politics. All they seem to want to do now is say NO, as they are being steam rolled by the new reality. (This is one tail that ain't going to wag the Obama dog.)

This is also true for Roman Catholicism. It has reduced itself the Church of NO. I almost feel sorry for Benedict, but just like Barack Obama and the Republicans, Benedict will find out that there is no compromising with the SSPX. When it comes to Vatican II the answer was and always will be NO.

The question is will Benedict allow the steam roller to flatten Catholicism. The current Vatican reality indicates this is mostly his decision alone. According to the documents of Vatican II, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Bishops and laity were supposed to have a say in the direction of the Church along side the Pope, but that went out the window with JPII.

The official future of Catholicism is firmly in the hands of Benedict and subject to his whims, but the unofficial church, the river beneath the river, is operating on a different channel and it's getting louder. It shouts the joy and hope of a new conscioussness and it's willing to trust in the unfolding of a new way of doing business. How ironic that key parts of this message are being delivered in Davos, when it should be coming from Rome.

Benedict needs to listen for the steam roller. It's coming and gestures to reactionary right wing groups won't stop it. Saying NO won't stop it. Silencing the left won't deflect it. It's too big to be stopped. Even Wall Street wasn't big enough to stop it. Their's a lesson there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More On Bishop Williamson, Anti Semitism and Misogyny

SSPX Bishop Williamson being inspired by Holy Conspirators.

I see where the Vatican is now in full spin control regarding the lifting of the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops. Not very successfully either. This is too reminiscent of Regensburg and seems to imply that the learning curve in the Vatican is not just slow, it's glacial. Orrrr, Benedict is bound and determined to say and do what he wants. He wants SSPX in the fold and damn the consequences, SSPX will be in the fold.

The blatant anti semitism of SSPX is well chronicled, and usually the official spin is that they are concerned for the soul's of their Jewish brethren. Jews must be evangelized into the one true Church in order to be saved. Jesus says so. Nostra Aetate , promulgated by Paul IV in 1965, says something different, and this line in particular causes difficulties:

"Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself."

In my research on this story, SSPX leadership is quick to point out that there is room for discussion on this and other issues because Vatican II is a "pastoral" council and therefore exempt from notions of infallible teaching. I'm sure they are right and this is the kind of Canonical thinking which will rule the day. It is about the letter of Canon Law, and not the 'Spirit of Vatican II'.

My issue with SSPX is not just confined to anti semitism, it's includes the over the top misogyny which is receiving very little press coverage. Here is a pastoral letter from Bishop Williamson on why women should not attend universities.

The deep-down reason is the same as for the wrongness of women's trousers: the unwomaning of woman. The deep-down cause in both cases is that Revolutionary man has betrayed modem woman; since she is not respected and loved for being a woman, she tries to make herself a man. Since modern man does not want her to do what God meant her to do, namely to have children, she takes her revenge by invading all kinds of things that man is meant to do. What else was to be expected? Modem man has only himself to blame. (revenge? invading? words of a true male warrior.)

In fact, only in modern times have women dreamt of going to university, but the idea has now become so normal that even Catholics, whose Faith guards Nature, may have difficulty in seeing the problem. However, here is a pointer in the direction of normalcy: any Catholic with the least respect for Tradition recognizes that women should not be priests - can he deny that if few women went to university, almost none would wish to be priests? Alas, women going to university is part of the whole massive onslaught on God's Nature which characterizes our times. That girls should not be in universities flows from the nature of universities and from the nature of girls: true universities are for ideas, ideas are not for true girls, so true universities are not for true girls. (Hang on, it's gets even stranger. I skipped the part on the nature of universities, but it is worth reading. I guess.)

For a sane grasp of woman's nature, let me appeal to the Church's Common Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, distant now by three-quarters of a millennium from our own disturbed times. The three reasons he gives in his Summa Theologiae (2a, 2ae, 177,2) why woman should not teach in Church in public can all be applied to why she should not teach or learn in a public university.

Firstly, he says, teaching is for superiors, and women are- not to be superior, but subject, to their men (Gen III,16). Secondly, women stepping up to teach in public can easily inflame men's lust (Ecclus IX,11). Thirdly, "Women are not usually ("communiter") perfect in wisdom".

To grasp these three reasons, let us back up another five millennia, to Adam and Eve. Since the word "nature" comes from the Latin word for "being born", then to study a thing's nature one goes back to its birth. Eve was created by God to be a "help" to Adam (Gen. 11,18). She was to help him, says St Thomas Aquinas elsewhere (1a,92,1), not for any other work than that of generation (or reproduction), because for any other work man could be more suitably helped by another man. It follows that woman's nature is intrinsically geared to motherhood, so that in all things pertaining to motherhood she is man's superior, in all else she is his inferior, and in none of all the things in which the two sexes are complementary are they equal. (I'll give Williamson some credit here, he at least states the true underlying philosophy behind this whole notion of sexual complementarity.)

Now to attract a man so as to marry and become a mother, to nurture and rear children and to retain their father, she needs superior gifts of feeling and instinct, e.g. sensitivity, delicacy, tact, perspicacity, tenderness, etc. by which her mind will correspondingly be swayed, which is why no husband can understand how the mind of his wife works!

For to do the work of generation, i.e. to ensure nothing less than the survival and continuation of mankind, God designed her mind to run on a complementary and different basis from her man's. His mind is designed not to be swayed by feelings but on the contrary to control them, so that while his feelings may be inferior to hers, his reason is superior. And reason being meant to rule in rational beings, then he is natured to rule over her (Gen. III, 16), as can be seen for example whenever she needs to resort to him for her feelings not to get out of control. (I must apologize and appeal to some man to save me from my feelings as this is making them get out of control.)

Correspondingly, while she senses family (and loves to talk about it), he responds to the world around and wants to master it (Gen II,15,19,20). While she is people-oriented, he is reality-oriented. (How often will a woman pull an idea or a question of reality back to family! - "You're against drink? You're attacking my husband!" This is in woman's nature. One does not mock her for it.) So while she is queen of feeling within the home, he must be king of reason over the home. So while he must love her and listen to her, at the end of the day she must obey him, because he is natured to take the broader view and to be the more reasonable. (Lest we forget, this is faith shaped by reason!)


I'm not going to comment on Bishop Williamson's thinking directly, but I do want to reitterate a point I made in a posting two days ago. I think a real case can be made for anti semitism being directly linked to mysoginy. Judaism has historically been a feminine religion concentrating on relationship. Here again is Rabbi Boteach's response to the question, Is Judaism sexist:

"No, Judaism is a deeply feminist religion. It believes that the feminine nurturing model is the way all people should live. Our great men throughout the ages were feminine figures, teachers, scholars, rather than warriors."

Virtually every single hot topic in the Church today is some form of male projection regarding the role of the feminine in the world. It doesn't really matter what side of the political spectrum one is on as evidenced by Barack Obama reaching out to Republicans by his invitation to Rick Warren and his excluding the proposed medicaid funding for birth control from his recovery package. It's almost like he's saying, "Hey, trust me, I'm really one of you real GUYS."

Benedict's rapprochement with SSPX is just another example of the Vatican championing yet another right wing group which espouses Bishop Williamson's definition of sexual complementarity. I guess we women will just have to face it, until we get out of colleges and back into the nursery and kitchen, the world will continue to circle the drain.

That very same world created almost exclusively by those men ruled by reason. Men who are represented at their best by Wall Street and the Taliban. Speaking of the Taliban, their latest crusade in Pakistan is bombing girls schools. Apparently these are the kind of men Bishop Williamson would approve. Real men protecting the real world of reasonable men from revengeful and invading and excessively emotional women--and gays--and Jews. It's their male God's will, don't we know.

Actually it's not.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Delicious Irony

Could this be the SPIRIT OF VATICAN II?

The conservatives are winning the day. I know that because conversations around the globe concerning the lifting of the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops have everyone using the language of the right. Words like heresy, excommunication, invalid, illicit, schismatic and infallibility. The language of the conversation is being conducted primarily in the terms of Canon Law.

I could kick myself sometimes when I find myself giving legitimacy to terms I truly know have no legitimacy. Excommunication is an impossibility. No one can be cut off from the quantum truth that all are connected to the Divine. Given that truth, the rest of the terminology is tantamount to an elaborate fantasy constructed around a primary false assumption.

JPII excommunicated the four SSPX bishops and BXVI has reinstated them. I'm sure both popes felt perfectly justified. Good for them, neither proclamation has any legitimate meaning. God will determine the state of these four men's souls, and God has always retained that final judgment irrespective of what either one of these Pope's think.

The Vatican under Benedict is forcing people to look these issues in the face, and this may turn out to be the biggest mistake he will have made in his entire Vatican career. When faithful Catholics come to the determination that words like excommunication have no validity, a carefully constructed house of cards starts to come crumbling down. Paul VI most assuredly tried to avoid this when he issued Humanae Vitae. All the retrenchment since then has not stopped huge numbers of people from coming to the obvious conclusion. Excommunication has no validity. No pope and no council has the inherent ability to send one to hell for one's opinions.

Traditional conservatives will dispute me. Fine, I will retort that any of them who actively participated in the SSPX is exactly like me. They didn't believe they were risking their souls by participating in a de facto schismatic church, or being damaged by receiving sacraments from illicitly ordained clergy. Their personal consciences reigned supreme over Vatican authority.

The irony is that they were exercising personal religious liberty, something Archbishop Lefebvre felt to be a major theological failing of Vatican II. How deliciously ironic.

Over on Creative Advance, Gerald Floyd has written a letter to Pope Benedict. It's well worth reading. In it he asks Benedict how it is that Benedict can ignore the critical teaching of Vat II that authority rests not only in the Papacy, but is shared with Bishops through out the world, and also resides in the entire Body of Christ. Good question since Benedict didn't even consult with his own Cardinals in lifting the excommunication, much less bishops or laity. Archbishop Lefebvre would have been proud. How deliciously ironic.

Here's some more delicious irony from Gerald's letter:

Perhaps you could explain where you get the authority to lord it over the other bodies by which the Spirit has chosen to lead the church. Perhaps you could explain what gives you the right to make common cause with those who have spent decades denying the very legitimacy of Vatican II. Perhaps, in short, you could explain how your behavior and actions are anything other than "a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."

The sentence in quotes is taken verbatim from Benedict's famous homily of April 25, 2005 which pretty much secured his elevation to the Papacy. It's a good question, when does Papal authority become a dictatorship of relativism whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires? I think we've found the answer in Benedict. And the truth is neither the right nor the left takes his pronouncements over the dictates of their own personal consciences. Viva Religious Liberty, the Spirit of Vatican II lives on even in it's opponents. How delicious the irony.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jewish Thoughts On Sex In Marriage

I've often thought that one of the biggest losses for Christianity is it's separation from it's Jewish roots regarding sexuality in marriage. Rabbi Schmuley Boteach has written a couple of very good books on sexuality in marriage. His insights fit well with what scientists have recently noted regarding the sexual responses of men and women. The following snippets are from two interviews with Rabbi Boteach. The first comment is an introduction to this internet conversation, and other parts come from this interview.

"All ancient texts warn man that the female seductresses would try to steal his innocence and his purity of character. Of course, today everyone would laugh at that stereotype, and argue that it is men who are predatory, and women who are going off sex. (Not everyone. I can think of a few places where this view still dominates.)

I contend that the main reason for this is that for a woman sex is a fully-integrated experience of body, mind and soul, and since they are now being asked to separate those entities sex is becoming boring to them. They're now seeing hugging, cuddling, romantic walks as real acts of love, and sex is really a physiological, biological endeavour. (Separating acts of love from sexuality does not work well for women's sexuality and the fact it's happening is not a healthy sign.)

You write that your emphasis is on eroticism, not sex. What's the difference?

Eroticism need not be something sexual. Eroticism is, rather, an electric curiosity for life. It is a desire to pull back the hood of existence and uncover its engine. To live erotically is to peel back the superficial layers and discover the essence in all that we experience. It is to rise above boredom and to always be engaged by life.

We have so vulgarized the erotic today that cheap, flimsy, boring porn passes for the erotic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The erotic is a magnetic desire to know our spouse in the deepest possible way. Superficial, fleshy knowledge is the most unsatisfying substitute.

The mikveh -- two weeks of forced separation, then a "honeymoon" once a month -- is lauded in the Orthodox community as a way to keep a marriage fresh. Does this still work?

What the laws of mikveh and Jewish family purity introduce is the concept of the forbidden and the sinful into a marriage. The forbidden is what creates erotic excitement. The problem is that marriage is all too legal. One of the reasons that people have affairs is the excitement of the sinful. Therefore, the idea that a husband and wife become forbidden to each other for a few days of each month is one of the most revolutionary ideas in the history of relationships, and demonstrates ingenious insight into the psychology of the erotic on the part of the Torah. (I love that notion that marriage is all too legal. Too often we really do view marriage as a series of contractual obligations-including sex-rather than a living breathing relationship which is deepened by sex.)

How does the outlook on sex differ in Judaism than in other religions?

Judaism has a very positive view of sex, referring to it as knowledge. Sex in Judaism is the essence of marriage because it brings forth our deepest emotions, unlike conversation or shopping. G-d designed for us to be lovers, not music or museum lovers.

Yes, but is it not true that in orthodox Judaism sex is thought of only as a vehicle to procreate?

Absolutely not. That's Catholicism. In Judaism, the purpose of sex is to sew two strangers together as one flesh.

When does G-d enter into the equation about sex and relationships?

I think America wants us to return to a more sacred sexuality. One based on sex as the union of souls, the rendering of two strangers into bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh. In that sense, G-d and spirituality are essential to the orchestration of two halves as one indivisible whole. The casual sexual culture we have created has actually killed off sex. The vulgarization and instant availability of sex has paradoxically led to a loss of desire. One of out of three marriages is platonic. The rest of the married couples who have sex do so, on average, for seven minutes at a time, which includes the time he spends begging. Clearly, for sex to regain its potency it must first regain its sacredness.
Page 36: "Even Sigmund Freud ... was unable to answer the simple question of what it is that a woman wants." You can answer this?

Yes, I am a man deeply in touch with his feminine side. A woman wants to be the one and only, she wants priority and exclusivity in the life of her man. She wants to feel unique, distinguished, and special in a relationship. And any man who makes her feel that way is a man who will win her heart.
I wrote this in The Kosher Sutra, only to see it corroborated in this week's New York Times Magazine cover story about female sexuality. It reinforces the main points of The Kosher Sutra and is a remarkable corroboration of the book's entire approach to sexuality. The essence of the article is that female sexuality is triggered not by the body but the mind, particularly by demonstrations of desire on the part of a man. The book charts the principal mental conditions that stimulate erotic desire in women and men and which the article says have been corroborated in clinical tests.

Do you think Judaism is a sexist religion?

No, Judaism is a deeply feminine religion. It believes that the feminine nurturing model is the way all people should live. Our great men throughout the ages were feminine figures, teachers, scholars, rather than warriors. (This is such true a statement about the intrinsic feminine nature of Judaism--- in spite of all the patriarchal language. Jesus is not a product of a macho culture no matter how His life is spun. He was a nurturer in the classic mold of Jewish prophets. I often wonder how much anti semitism is really based in rejection of this feminism.)

Does pre-marital sex lessen the chances of being happily married?

I think so. It makes us more objective about sex. A man should not be able to answer whether or not his wife is good in bed. Only, whether or not he enjoys sex with her. Men and women today are far too great experts in sex. We are becoming far too objective.

Why is being objective about sex not good?

Is it good to be objective about your children? There are those areas of life which are fundamentally subjective. Sex, is one of the those areas. It’s about putting ourselves on autopilot, behaving instinctually, not evaluating each other's performance. (Way too many marriages have sexually floundered on this rock.)

You apparently have many non-Jews who come to you for counseling about the physical parts of marriage. They feel comfortable talking about intimacy with a bearded, Chasidic-trained rabbi?

They are looking for help. People are in a lot of personal anguish. They will take it from whatever wise source they can find. And Judaism has the wisest advice to offer on relationships, even if it comes in the form of a bearded, yarmulke wearing, tzitzis-twirling Rabbi.

From your stories, you sound like the perfect husband -- wise, sensitive, passionate. Would Mrs. Boteach agree?

Most definitely not. She is good, wise, beautiful, and, above all else, long-suffering. (She has to have a great sense of humor to go along with long-suffering.)


Rabbi Boteach really does have some important wisdom to impart to Christians, especially at this time. Sexuality in marriage, if we're going to see marriage as a life long relationship, must first and foremost be about bonding and not procreation. What's the point of having children if the relationship itself is unsustainable? Sex should first and foremost be the language of knowledge-- knowledge of the other person on a deep and profound level.

Nothing we as humans do exposes us to another the same way sex does, or should. When we objectify sex to it's constituent biological parts we deny it's unifying sacredness. It may be that objectifying sexuality is seen to somehow lesson our vulnerability, but that's an illusion.

The objectification of sex is not just a problem for secular society, it's also an inherent problem in Catholic teaching. In many ways their individual treatment of sexuality is opposite sides of the same coin. In one case anything goes, in the other case practically nothing goes, but both take a very subjective human behavior and try to make it objective. There's really very little difference between rating one's self good in bed from either a gymnastics or sin point of view.

Rabbi Boteach also agrees with the Jewish Orthodox position on birth control. It's permissible after a couple have had a son and daughter, or if the woman has other issues which preclude effective parenting or birthing. Condoms are not permissible under any circumstances. There's some food for though in this position as well, both pro and con. It seems to me though that it is more compassionate and realistic than the Catholic position.

One last personal thought, it seems to me that if sexual expression is to be expressed as a sacred sharing between two people, we need to go back to Jewish concepts of sexuality in marriage---no matter how feminine that may be. Mutual nurturing is a better frame of mind in which to engage in sexuality. Especially if that sexuality is to be personally meaningful and relationally deepening.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Tail Wags The Dog

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops, including that of a Holocaust denier whose rehabilitation sparked outrage among Jewish groups.

The four bishops were excommunicated 20 years ago after they were consecrated by the late ultraconservative Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre without papal consent _ a move the Vatican said at the time was an act of schism.

The Vatican said Saturday that Benedict rehabilitated the four as part of his efforts to bring Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X back into the Vatican's fold.

But the move came just days after one of the four, British Bishop Richard Williamson, was shown in a Swedish state TV interview saying that historical evidence "is hugely against 6 million Jews having been deliberately gassed."

Jewish groups denounced the Vatican for having embraced a Holocaust denier and warned that the pope's decision would have serious implications for Catholic-Jewish relations as well as the pontiff's planned visit to the Holy Land later this year.

"I do not see how business can proceed as usual," said Rabbi David Rosen, Jerusalem-based head of interrelgious affairs at the American Jewish Committee and a key Vatican-Jewish negotiator. (Unfortunately Rabbi, in the long history of the Church, this is business as usual.)

He called for the pope or a senior adviser to issue a "clear condemnation" of all Holocaust denials and deniers.

Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris said he understood the German-born pope's desire for Christian unity, but said Benedict could have excluded Williamson. He warned that his rehabilitation will have a "political cost" for the Vatican.

"I'm certain as a man who has known the Nazi regime in his own flesh, he understands you have to be very careful and very selective," Samuels said. (He also seems to be prone to moments when he forgets about being very careful and selective.)

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Williamson's views were "absolutely indefensible." But he denied that rehabilitating Williamson implied that the Vatican shared them.
"They are his personal ideas ... that we certainly don't share but they have nothing to do with the issue of the excommunication and the removal of the excommunication," Lombardi told AP Television News. (These views may not have anything to do with the excommunication, but they have a lot to do with the views of Marcel LeFebvre the founder of the SSPX.)

Williamson's comments cast a cloud over the pope's efforts to normalize relations with the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X, which Lefebvre founded in 1969. Lefebvre was opposed to the liberalizing reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly its ecumenical outreach and its decision to allow Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin.

Despite concerns from liberal Catholics, Benedict has made clear from the start of his pontificate that he wanted to reintegrate the group back into the Vatican's fold, meeting within months of his election with the current head of the society, Bishop Bernard Fellay.

In 2007, Benedict answered one of Fellay's key demands by relaxing restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass. In lifting the excommunication decree, he answered the society's second condition for beginning theological discussions about normalizing relations. (This is classic tail wagging the dog. Benedict answering to Fellay? It's supposed to be the other way around.)

The decree from the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops said Benedict "remits" the automatic excommunication that the four bishops incurred and said the 1988 decree declaring their consecrations a schismatic act had no legal standing any longer.

In a statement Saturday, Fellay, who is one of the rehabilitated bishops, expressed his gratitude to Benedict and said the decree would help the whole Roman Catholic Church.

"Thanks to this gesture, Catholics attached to tradition throughout the world will no longer be unjustly stigmatized and condemned for having kept the faith of their fathers," Fellay said in a letter to his supporters.

Fellay, meanwhile, has distanced the society from Williamson's remarks about the Holocaust, saying Williamson only had authority to discuss matters of faith and that he was personally responsible for his own opinions.

But Fellay also berated Swedish state television, accusing it in a Jan. 21 letter of having introduced the Holocaust issue in the interview "with the obvious intention of misrepresenting and maligning," the society. (Another classic case of a traditionalist unable to let go of the victim mentality. Nobody put a gun to Williamson's head forcing him to wax deceitful about the Holocaust. He did that all on his onesie.)

While Williamson's comments may be offensive and erroneous, they are not an excommunicable offense, said Monsignor Robert Wister, professor of church history at Immaculate Conception School of Theology at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

"To deny the Holocaust is not a heresy even though it is a lie," he said. "The excommunication can be lifted because he is not a heretic, but he remains a liar."

(Sad to say, but he fits right in with too many of the rest of our hierarchy.)

The Society of St. Pius X, which is based in Menzingen, Switzerland, has six seminaries, three universities and 70 primary and secondary schools around the globe. Aside from the four bishops, it boasts 463 priests and 160 seminarians.

The status of the society's priests remains unsettled. While their ordinations are valid, the Church considers them "illicit" because they were ordained by someone who didn't have the authority, Lombardi said. Pope Paul VI suspended Lefebvre from priestly duties in 1976, but he continued ordaining priests illicitly.


This should make Mel Gibson happy. He with his own chapel, SSPX priest, and tendency to mouth anti semitic tirades when drunk.

Bishop Williamson doesn't even need to be drunk to come up with some real gems. Here's a few which are worth pondering?

'In accordance with their false messianic vocation of Jewish world-domination, the Jews are preparing the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem.' ( He also believes the Protocols of Zion are for real and that 9/11 was a Jewish/American/Masonic conspiracy.)

'Can you imagine Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music staying with the Captain if the romance went out of their marriage? Would she not divorce him and grab his children to be her toys? All the elements of pornography are there...'

'This is my diagnosis of the Unabomber. You may say what you like about him as a criminal terrorist, and much of it is true... But he still has a remotely Catholic sense of how technology brutalises man. How Catholic are those technophiles who wallow at ease in their computers? Give me the Unabomber's seriousness over their shallowness, any day of the week.'

'A woman can do a good imitation of handling ideas, but then she will not be thinking properly as a woman. Did this lawyeress check her hairdo before coming into court? If she did, she is a distracted lawyer. If she did not, she is one distorted woman.'

Bishop Williamson currently heads the SSPX seminary in Argentina. I can just imagine the wonderful formation these men are receiving and the gifts of their insight the Church will receive.

The anti semitism which is displayed by Bishop Williamson has not caused any problems with SSPX and the Vatican because the Vatican has always known about the connection between SSPX and anti semitism. Since the Vatican has never commented on these associations, it's not surprising they blow off Bishop Williamson. He's only expressing his 'personal' opinion.

SSPX was excommunicated because Lefebvre had no intention of adhering to basic teachings in the documents of Vatican II. His rejections were in three principle areas: inter religious dialogue, collegiality, and religious liberty. He equated them with the French revolution's notions of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.

Lefebvre truly believed Vatican II was the work of Jewish and protestant liberal conspirators whose aim was to destroy the Catholic church. The Latin Mass became the symbol for what was in reality a revolt against the ecumenism and collegiality espoused by Vatican II. In short Lefebvre was a life long reactionary monarchist and for him the Church was the last bastion of monarchy.

John Paul II sympathized with the Lefebvre forces, but not to the extent of tolerating direct attacks on his authority. The installation of four bishops against his express wishes was the final straw for JPII. It was the attack on his authority he cared about, not the inherent anti semitism and anti modernity in SSPX theology. JPII was no dog to be wagged by any tail. Benedict is a pope of a different stripe.

Reconciling with SSPX on their terms is a mistake. It validates Lefebvre and his thinking. It's another step backwards, not just in terms of Catholic Jewish dialogue, but also in the mindset the Church is dragging into the 21st century. It is certainly not a unifying step for Catholicism, and seems to me to be another purposeful nail in it's own coffin, especially in the educated west.

What Benedict and company fail to appreciate is that monarchical Catholicism only flourishes in a class stratified unequal society. When societies reach a certain stage in development towards Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity religions based in notions of authoritarian exclusivity do not have meaningful answers and people stop participating in droves.

The real message of this latest move with SSPX is that the Church is in it's death throws. It has to be if Benedict has decided it's better to let the very tip of the tail wag the dog rather than face reality. He may think the South holds promise, but the truth is the South is rapidly accepting the same notions of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity lived out in the West. This is why Obama's election was heralded as strongly in the South as it was here in the States. People don't want mindless traditional authority, they want freedom and equality.

This SSPX fiasco just makes me sick.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hands Down It's Needs To Be About Successful Parenting Not Traditional Marriage

This morning I was reading some of the conversation threads on Catholica Australia and burst out laughing from an observation of Brian Coyne's that marriage is wasted on the young. He was referring to how naive he and his first wife were when they originally married. Looking back on his family and his parents family gave him a perspective about marriage he could certainly have used when he married originally.

I suppose that's true for a lot of us. We actually bring into marriage understandings of marriage derived from the perspective of children raised in our parents marriage. Essentially we know how to behave as children in a given particular family structure. This does not necessarily translate into knowing how to be supportive spouses in a marital relationship. I suspect this is why if we looked at our spouses outside of our personal filters we might see way more of our parents than we ever suspected.

This phenomenon is neither good nor bad, it just is. It's first a product of neural development and secondly a product of unconscious survival selection. The brain will gravitate towards what it sees as the familiar. Add the push of sexual hormones and young people 'fall in love'. Divorce statistics tell us that half the time it's with the wrong person. That's a pretty staggering number.

It tells us that marriage, traditional or not, is no longer a stable societal institution.

I think one of the major reasons for this is that marriage has become a personal choice between two people and not a social necessity. In other words, society as a whole perceives no pressing reason to give a damn if any particular relationship succeeds. That wasn't true in the past and society revolved around young families and their needs. Even parish societies revolved around young families, hence the plethora of Catholic schools associated with parishes.

What society needs from it's members seems to be mobility, as in the ability to respond to the ever moving job market. In my own family, in one generation we went from a close knit large extended family to dispersion across the continent from New York to South Carolina to Montana, Texas and Massachusetts. Instead of having a number of cousins and second cousins to share parenting and stories and the bumpy marital road, most of us were muddling through the whole thing alone and geographically isolated. We were not living the family experience we grew up in nor did we have the kind of marital support our parents had, and because of this there were a lot of failed marriages in my generation when there had been none in my parents.

As to the next generation, well, there are a couple of marriages, but thus far no children. I suspect that will change, but not in the foreseeable future. This is a continuing trend for my family. The number of children is going down significantly with each generation and marriages are happening later and later if they happen at all. Current statistics indicate that my family is pretty the much the American norm.

There was something else at work here though, that also helped to undermine a lot of our marriages. Underneath the large extended family structure there was also a huge economically driven competition amongst my parent's generation. It was never explicitly stated but manifested in pressure to be the best and brightest, relative to one's cousins, and to have the best cars and the biggest houses in the best neighborhoods. It wasn't enough to have a successful marriage with good kids, you had to have an economically successful marriage with brilliant and successful kids. The marital stakes went up dramatically just as society was changing in ways which didn't support even the basics of marriage.

In short, like Brian Coyne, if I knew then what I know now, I would never have married, or at least I wouldn't have married another person whose family experience put the same pressures on him that mine did on me. Going through one lay off after another in the Reagan years, we didn't have a shot in hell at a 'successful' marriage, at least our perceptions of what a successful marriage was, and so it's not surprising it didn't last.

The Church's current emphasis on 'traditional marriage' is poorly conceived in my humble opinion. What worked to support marriages in the idyllic 1950's has been completely undermined by those very same generations. My parent's generation, whose lives culminated in large houses and Lincoln's and Jaguars, can not begin to conceive of the fact their children became parents, spouses, and adults in a society which could only support that same concept of family on mobility, isolation, and huge personal debt.

This form of traditional marriage is not only unsustainable, it's almost destroyed the economic and social fabric of this country. We can not go back. We must develop a concept of marriage and family which is sustainable, realistic, just, and places equal responsibility on both partners to make the parenting part work.

Marriage might be crucial to the well being of a society, at least in so far as marriages produce future generations, but all kinds of relationships can parent those future generations. Frankly I'm tired of all the rhetoric about traditional marriage. Like the rest of the country seems to be, I'm not particularly vested in the success of individual marriages, but I am vested in what happens to the children in that marriage. I'd much rather the social conversation swirled around competent parenting. Successful parenting is what the future is all about, not traditional marriage.

It's one of the lessons we should be taking from our current president. He wasn't the product of a successful traditional marriage, he was the product of successful parenting. Just because we as a society no longer do marriage all that well, doesn't mean we can't do parenting well. It's time we separated the two notions of marriage and parenting. Whether we like it or not, that's the way society is moving. Adjusting to this is not caving into secularism, it's realism, and it's about putting children first.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Change Begins--No More Amateurs With Dobermans

Interrogators are lauding President Obama for signing an executive order that will shut down secret CIA prisons and place the use of coercive interrogation techniques completely off limits.
"[The order] closes an unconscionable period in our history, in which those who knew least, professed to know most about interrogations," said Joe Navarro, a former special agent and supervisor with the FBI. (Amen brother.)

"Some die-hards on the right -- who have never interrogated anyone -- are already arguing that forcing interrogations to be conducted within army field manual guidelines is a step backward and will result in 'coddling' dangerous terrorists," retired Colonel Stuart Herrington, who served for more than 30 years as a military intelligence officer, said soon after the order was signed.

"This is a common, but uninformed view. Experienced, well-trained, professional interrogators know that interrogation is an art. It is a battle of wits, not muscle. It is a challenge that can be accomplished within the military guidelines without resorting to brutality." (This is absolutely true if the issue is valid intelligence, but if it's more about punishing than intelligence gathering, one brings out the muscle and leaves behind the wits.)

The way interrogation works is largely misunderstood by the general public and some senior policy makers, according to Navarro, Herrington and other intelligence professionals.
"Interrogation is not like a faucet that you can turn on - and the harder you turn, the more information will pour out," explains Herrington, who conducted a classified review of detention and interrogation practices in Iraq for the U.S. Army.
* * * * * *
Getting a suspected terrorist to talk is much more subtle than what one typically sees in the movies or on TV. A new book, How to Break A Terrorist by Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym), provides an inside look at how interrogation can yield more information if it is done humanely. (Again though, this is only true if one wants valid information. Bush and company seemed to be working at cross purposes, infusing interrogation with notions of punishment.)

Alexander developed the intelligence that led U.S. forces to al-Zarqawi, the former chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq. While some were using abusive techniques to try to crack detainees, Alexander used a smarter, more sophisticated approach. He learned what the detainees cared about and then used that information to get what he wanted.

For example, his first big break came when he interrogated a cleric who was an Al Qaeda operative. The cleric said he would like to "slit" Alexander's throat "and watch you die" when the interrogation began. Three days later he gave up critical info that led directly to Zarqawi.
What changed? Alexander learned, through patient questioning, that the detainee had joined Al Qaeda to keep his family safe. The cleric identified key Al Qaeda hiding places as soon as Alexander showed that he could -- and would -- protect the cleric's family. (A professional interrogator understands that under the terrorist is a human being with typical human needs and concerns. How many fathers have chosen to become that which they hate in order to protect that which they love? Dick Cheney and George Bush come to mind.)

Another recently published book, Mission: Black List #1 by Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox, shows how the author, an interrogator stationed in Tikrit, developed the intelligence that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. Maddox was hunting one of the most wanted men in Iraq. Like Alexander he did not try to "break" detainees by beating them up; he talked to them.

Maddox was an information junkie who patiently interrogated hundreds of detainees and slowly pieced together a picture that led him to Saddam. He also intuitively understood that, if possible, you want the detainees to not only answer your questions, but also tell you which questions to ask. He induced a detainee who was a close friend (and former driver) of one of Saddam's closest confidants to join his "team." The former driver joined Maddox in interrogations. Detainees "broke" the moment that Maddox and the former driver started interrogating them. (Any effective therapist knows this one. Clients tell a therapist by their behavior which are the real questions to ask.)

As Maddox and Alexander have proved, these are the sorts of techniques that work in the interrogation booth. Professional interrogators believe that the president's action not only returned the U.S. to high ground, they refocused U.S. intelligence operations on techniques that are effective. (Moral questions aside, torture does not provide reliable intelligence information. It does however give ample reasons for backlash against our own troops.)
* * * * * *
"The quality and quantity of intelligence we can gather will now begin to increase," said Torin Nelson, an intelligence professional who served as an interrogator with the U.S. Army and private military contractors.

To illustrate how torture can lead to poor intelligence, Nelson cites the case of Al-Libi, a detainee who was tortured and, under duress, gave misinformation about a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. (Secretary Colin Powell quoted intelligence gained from Al-Libi as justification to go to war with Iraq.)

Nelson, president of the Society for Professional Human Intelligence, said that he hoped we could end debate about whether or not torture works and instead work on providing interrogators with the training and resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

"The challenge we face does not have to do with so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques,' " said Nelson. "We don't want those. What we do need is to build a world-class interrogation corps. To do that, we need to pay more attention to recruiting, training, and managing interrogators. President Obama's executive order is an important first step but there is still more to do." (This is so critical. Any untrained PFC can terrorize somebody with a doberman on a leash, but it takes well trained intelligent people to actually retrieve and analyse useful intelligence.)


I've basically thought all along that the Bush administration placed far more faith in electronic intelligence gathering and used human interrogation as punishment and to send a message about how big and bad and tough the US is. Not a good idea. All it really did was pollute good intelligence with bad intelligence and made the US look like a paranoid lawless over grown bully.

The other night my daughter and I were watching an NSA analyst describe the Bush Administration's domestic surveillance. The NSA apparently has the capacity to monitor in some form or another all electronic communication. Filtering programs determine which communications are actually singled out, and then further filtering programs determine which of those communications are actually analysed by humans.

My daughter is laughing and going on about how she and her friends would try to get the system to react to their phone calls. She maintained they could hear beeps in the middle of their conversations. She squealed when the analyst mentioned one of the mega filters was numerous short cell phone calls. Apparently she and her friends have had numerous short cell phone calls.

I can only hope President Obama stops all the blanket domestic surveillance before the whole system is crashed by the millennial generation trying to trigger it. Almost makes one long for the good ole days of Nixon's 'enemies list'.

One other thing I take great hope in is the appointment of George Mitchell to be our envoy to the Palestinians and Israelis. In his speech yesterday, Mr. Mitchell cited his successful negotiations in Northern Ireland. As I mentioned a few days ago, the parallels between these two situations are not just parallels, they are linked energy. Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is a validation of this energy linkage. If anyone has the expertise and patience to make a difference in this conflict it's George Mitchell. I will be sending him many many prayers in this crucial effort.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Musings" On The Innauguration From The Catholic "Right"

Too much reality for some conservative Catholic bloggers

This will be a short post today. I am linking to two Catholic blogs which present interesting takes on the inauguration. I suspect one of them will stun any reasonable Catholic. At least I hope it will.

First though, Douglas Kmiec posted on Commonweal how taken back he was by the venom directed at him from blogs of the Catholic right. I personally sort of took that with a grain of salt. Anyone who reads blogs gets an eye full of ad hominem attacks from both ends of the spectrum. His post did however, prompt me to take a gander at some of the right wing Catholic blogs to see how they were taking Obama's inauguration and first days in office. Get ready folks, because America under President Obama is going to be slammed with vitriol like we have never seen.

Get your heads around this post on docweasel. Be forewarned, it's not not political commentary, it's pornography.

What amazes me about the docweasel post is the site from which I linked to it. The Anchoress is a Catholic site, very conservative, which has been selected as one of the blog finalists for a number of blog awards for 2008. I've generally found it a good source for insight into the mindset of conservative Catholics. I was very surprised to find docweasel was linked twice in a thread on the inauguration with zero warning as to it's content. The Anchoress also linked to this site giving commentary on Michelle Obama's inaugural wardrobe.

If this is where the Catholic right is going, Douglas Kmiec's observations are on target and this is scarey stuff. As one commentator on the Anchoress site wrote from her own unique point of view: "I don’t know how you feel about this, Anchoress, but there is going to come a point in which many on the Right are not going to take the abuse anymore. Someone is going to explode and do something he/she might regret. One can take such behavior for so long in human terms. I can now see why some are talking quietly about the possibility of secession. I would not blame them for wanting to have no part with that group of “I-want-my-money-now!” entitlement freaks."

Wow, scary stuff indeed, and not particularly Catholic, much less Christian.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inauguration of Barack Black Eagle

Yesterday was quite a day. Three things about yesterday really struck home to me. The first were these lines in President Obama's inauguration speech:

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. (This is my legacy, a second generation American of Eastern European roots, whose family history essentially stops at Ellis Island.)

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. (And died early of black lung from toiling in coal mines, as did both of my grandfathers. Men I never did get to meet as they were dead before I came on the family scene.)

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

(My brother lived through Khe Sanh. Watching the nightly news was tough, not knowing, never getting enough information. When he finally called over MARS radio, my mother passed out.)

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction." (A functioning 'we' is always greater than the sum of it's parts. One of the reasons Jesus stated that when ever 'two or more" are gathered in my name, I am there.)

It had been a long time since I though about my grandfathers. About how their absence played such a huge role in the lives of the families they left behind. My dad was forced to give up promising careers in either hockey or baseball, as he was the male member left to support his younger siblings. He went to work, forced to drop out of high school, for one of Detroit's numerous auto factories. He never ever talked about his father. I got the impression my grandfather's last torturous years were incredibly hard on his family.

My mother grew up without her father in a household of five siblings, raised by a single mother in an era in which single mothers had no social safety net at all. She kept the family together during the depression by bootlegging alcohol. Not an uncommon survival strategy for the times, and one also shared by my father's family.

President Obama's daring to couple the travails for immigrants with the black experience of slavery is not something a white politician could have ever pulled off. It's also not a coupling I've ever really thought about, but he's right. New immigrants, like blacks, have always been defined as 'others' and made to slave in one form or another for those who actually get the pieces of the American Pie. And in some respects, their experiences are worse--as in not having shelter or food and in spite of knowing all this, they still come in droves. This country represents a powerful dream, a light that still shines throughout the world.

The second thing which really struck me was watching the Horse Mounted Unit from the Montana Crow Nation riding in the van guard of the inaugural parade. Barack Obama was adopted into the Crow Nation in May of this year by Hartford and Mary Black Eagle. His native name, Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuuxshish, translates into "One Who Helps People Throughout The Land."

Our president is not just Barack Obama, he is also Barack Obama Black Eagle, and he also understands the truth of the Native American experience in the United States.

"Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, the first Americans," Obama said. "That will change when I am president of the United States."

President Obama also told his Crow family that treaties with Native Nations were 'paramount to law' and would not be ignored when Washington makes decisions concerning Indian country. Why is this an important promise to Indian country? Because these Nations sit on some very important geography when it comes to alternative sources of energy. They are crucial to his energy plans. This nation's government has historically forgotten all about treaties with Indian Nations when it comes to natural resources. Barack Black Eagle is promising a different approach. That will be a huge change for Indian country. One he signalled he hadn't forgotten as the Crow Horse Mounted Unit rode third in his inaugural parade.

My third strong hit came in remembering the words ascribed to Our Lady of America: "Dear children, unless the United States accepts and carries out faithfully the mandate given to it by heaven to lead the world to peace, there will come upon it and all nations a great havoc of war and incredible suffering. If, however, the United States is faithful to this mandate from heaven and yet fails in the pursuit of peace because the rest of the world will not accept or cooperate, then the United States will not be burdened with the punishment about to fall."

I have the very optimistic sense that the United States is finally in position to truly accept this mandate. That as a united country, we are finally beginning to understand that it is the 'we' of America that makes this American dream a reality for everyone everywhere. We are beginning to know deep down inside that everyone must be invited to the table in order for the dream to be valid and for peace to prevail. Or as President Obama said yesterday:

"They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations."

Peace only happens in an atmosphere of hope and a strong commitment to justice. We tried peace through fear, and found it didn't work. On the other hand, it may have been the only path we could have walked to get us to the understanding we seem to have now, under this president. Hopefully we will choose to cooperate with the vision of "One who helps people through out the land."

NEWS FLASH for the Vatican: Mary didn't give you the mandate to bring the peace of God's kingdom to earth, she gave it to the United States of America: One nation, under no particular definition of God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Perhaps you should meditate on the reasons for this.