Pontifications

Pontifications

The Catholic case for “another” US-led invasion…

posted by David Gibson

No, not an incursion into the Middle East. Neither the Vatican, nor the Pope (current or past), nor the bishops, nor church teaching or tradition supported the American invasion of Iraq. But when President Bush, the author of that terrible tragedy, meets his new BFF, Pope Benedict XVI, in the Vatican later this week, the pope may want to bring up another idea: Invading Myanmar, aka Burma.
This would not be an attempt to overthrow the oppressive regime, but rather a humanitarian intervention under the rubric of the “responsibility to protect.” (How bad is it in the wake of May’s cyclone? Check out this TNR piece by Alvaro Vargas Llosa.) France’s foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, raised the intervention idea last month as the toll of death and misery sparked by the terrible cyclone was transformed into a catastrophe by the intransigence of the brutal Myanmar regime, which would not open its doors to international relief. As a New York Times story relates,

In 2005, the United Nations recognized the “responsibility to protect” doctrine when governments could not or would not protect their citizens, even if this meant intervention that violated national sovereignty. But it has been rarely applied.

The doctrine grew out of the West’s sense of guilt from our collective inaction in the 1990s over the ethnic cleansings in the Balkans and Rwanda, to take two prime examples. The French under Mitterand were a lone voice for action in Serbia and Croatia, just as they led the opposition to the 2003 Iraq misadventure. Now the Sarkozy government is proposing intervention in Myanmar. Time to give the French their due?
If giving Paris props is too much to bear, then how about the pope? One of the many overlooked (because they were overly-complex) passages from Benedict’s speeches in America in April was this central appeal from his address to the United Nations:

Recognition of the unity of the human family, and attention to the innate dignity of every man and woman, today find renewed emphasis in the principle of the responsibility to protect. This has only recently been defined, but it was already present implicitly at the origins of the United Nations, and is now increasingly characteristic of its activity. Every State has the primary duty to protect its own population from grave and sustained violations of human rights, as well as from the consequences of humanitarian crises, whether natural or man-made. If States are unable to guarantee such protection, the international community must intervene with the juridical means provided in the United Nations Charter and in other international instruments. The action of the international community and its institutions, provided that it respects the principles undergirding the international order, should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty. On the contrary, it is indifference or failure to intervene that do the real damage…When faced with new and insistent challenges, it is a mistake to fall back on a pragmatic approach, limited to determining “common ground”, minimal in content and weak in its effect.

Powerful stuff. Benedict traced the history of the principle of the “responsibility to protect” back to the first great theologian of international law, the sixteenth-century Dominican Friar Francisco de Vitoria, and he wraps it in his favored principles of human dignity and natural law. A strong editorial from the Jesuit weekly America also lays out the case for intervention.
Unfortunately, the moral standing of the United States in the wake of the Iraq debacle makes it difficult to make such an argument, and the responsibility would fall largely to the Europeans, who have been far too passive when we have been far too assertive. Moreover, if any papal-presidential conversation along these lines does take place in the Apostolic Palace, it will likely be in private, as Benedict has shown no willingness to pressure Bush, whom he apparently likes, on issues about which they disagree. That wouldn’t be sad. It’d be tragic. Let’s pray for a different outcome.

Catholic guilt? Try again…

posted by David Gibson

Confess%202.bmpWhenever someone tickles the hair-trigger of my seemingly congenital guilty conscience, the response to my reflexive mea culpa is that I am s-o-o-o Catholic. Well, yes, I hope so. Then again, the Pilgrim tradition of my youth is no slouch when it comes to guilt, so I can’t say as I took that on with my Catholic baptism. For that matter, would Jewish humor–or Judaism itself–exist without the emotional straight man of the guilty conscience?
And now comes a study showing that we Catholics (as well as other Christians) are actually no more guilt-ridden than anyone else. (Well, Jews will be studied next, so maybe they’ll stay true to tradition.) According to this write-up from Yonat Shimron, the religion writer par excellence at the Raleigh News &Observer, Roman Catholic teens feel no more guilty than other U.S. teenagers:

If they cheated on an exam, lied to their parents or engaged in serious petting, it’s not bearing down on their conscience, according to a study by UNC-Chapel Hill researchers. At least it’s not making them feel more guilty than their non-Catholic peers.
The emotional fallout of transgressing the Catholic Church’s long list of sins — venial and mortal — may be a thing of the past. Blame the decline of ruler-wielding nuns at Catholic schools, or assimilation into the wider society.
The study, to be published this month in the Review of Religious Research, is based on data from the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted by sociologist Christian Smith, now at the University of Notre Dame and Stephen Vaisey, at UNC-CH. The survey included 3,290 teens, of whom 819 were Catholic — about 24 percent, roughly equivalent to the proportion of Catholics in the U.S. population.

No doubt many doomsayers will view this as more evidence of the widespread loss of a sense of sin. But it may be more symptomatic of a hangover from the longstanding misuses of sin, and guilt, as a means of social control by religious folks (pastors and parents and the rest). Sin and guilt are useful as paths to reconciliation. I have always found the lack of a belief in forgiveness as the real nettle to grasp, and the true heart–and toughest part–of the Christian message. People of all ages resist burdens of guilt not only because they are transparently used as ways to get them to do something (and not necessarily something God wants them to do), but also because they see no way out of the bind of a guilty conscience.
It is noteworthy that the study also showed that for Catholics, going to confession did seem to lighten the burden that was felt.

Never too hot for risotto!

posted by David Gibson

risotto.jpg…Especially if it’s the Pope’s Risotto. Sure, we’re sweltering here in New York, and it’s likely worse elsewhere. But summer is still a few days away–officially–so before it gets hotter or later, let’s whip up a steaming plate of the risotto that Lidia Bastianich made for Benedict XVI when he visited in April. I can’t help myself–I actually fried baby artichokes last night (actually, they are small adult artichokes, so don’t get queasy) because they were there, at Fairway. Besides, Lidia–who I revere in things culinary as I do the Pope in things churchly–made a risotto with spring vegetables. It’s light, seasonal, and not spicy–all requirements for Benedict’s palate.
The indefatigable New York Times foodie, Kim Severson, wrote about Lidia’s risotto–just one platter from two sumptuous meals she and her gourmand son prepared for the pope and his party during their New York stay. And Severson scored the recipe
If you’re like me, you’ll notice right off that Lidia calls for “ramps” as an ingredient for the pesto flourish, which would qualify as one of those recipe “deal breakers” that Severson wrote about earlier this month in a perceptive piece. But she also offers sensible alternatives in the form of young leeks or chives.
For the backstory to this meeting of pope and chef, Frank Bruni had a column when the story broke, and the NY Daily News also had a nice piece. The indispensible itme, however, is from Ed Levine at Serious Eats…He has a roundup of Lidia’s perosnal story and connection to Rome, as well as all the menus at all the New York papal meals–many of them to be found in Lidia’s Italy, her latest book.
So I’ll try it this week, and let you know how it comes out. Or let me know what I should beware of if you brave the heat in the kitchen first.
PS: Dessert next.

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