Jesus: Was He a Gay Rights Activist?

Lesbian Methodist minister Beth Stroud is probably a very nice person. But it's a shame that the United Methodist Church has chosen to reinstate her, reversing an earlier decision. Stroud was defrocked because she was in violation of the church's rule against openly gay ministers.

From CBS:

"The church is not free to disregard the standards of justice and inclusiveness that are preached by Jesus Christ ... and are a part of church law," Stroud said after church authorities read their decision at a hotel.

Yes, Christ is inclusive--but it's hard to see him as a gay rights activist. Ms. Stroud is really twisting Christ's preaching. Moreover, it's sad to see the church of the Wesley brothers heading into the trendy irrelevance of their Episcopal brothers and sisters.

A Different Path

Unlike the Methodists who reinstated Beth Stroud, the cardinals who elected Benedict XVI did not choose a path of accommodation. George Weigel suggests that this is the real meaning behind the elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger to the papacy:

"Ever since the Second Vatican Council, some Catholics and most of the world media have expected--and in certain cases, demanded--that the Catholic Church follow the path taken by virtually every other non-fundamentalist western Christian community over the past century: the path of accommodation to secular modernity and its conviction that religious belief, if not mere childishness, is a lifestyle choice with no critical relationship to the truth of things....

"[I]t was expected that the Catholic Church would, indeed must, take the path of accommodation: that has been the central assumption of what's typically called 'progressive' Catholicism. That assumption has now been decisively and definitively refuted. The 'progressive' project is over--not because its intentions were malign, but because it posed an ultimately boring question: how little can I believe, and how little can I do, and still remain a Catholic?

"In choosing a pope with an unparalleled command of ancient, medieval and modern theology, the College of Cardinals has sent a clear signal to the entire Catholic Church: The really interesting question is, how much of this rich, vast, subtle tradition have I made my own? At the same time, the College of Cardinals, by electing Pope Benedict XVI, has told both the church and the world that the evangelical adventure of dynamic orthodoxy launched by John Paul II will not only continue, but be deepened."

Why They Don't Like Us

Theoretically, we admire the person or nation courageous enough to do the right thing in the face of public opprobrium. Theoretically. In reality, of course, politicians and journalists fret incessantly about why people abroad don't like us. Ever think it might be because we're doing the right things?

Historian Victor Davis Hanson suggests that this is the case:

"The Egyptian autocracy may have received $57 billion in aggregate American aid over the last three decades. But that largess still does not prevent the Mubarak dynasty from damning indigenous democratic reformers by dubbing them American stooges. In differing ways, the Saudi royal family exhibits about the same level of antagonism toward the U.S. as do the Islamic fascists of al Qaeda - both deeply terrified by what is going on in Iraq. Mostly this animus arises because we are distancing ourselves from corrupt grandees, even as we have become despised as incendiary democratizers by the Islamists. Is that risky and dangerous? Yes. Bad? Hardly.

"At the U.N. it is said that a ruling hierarchy mistrusts the United States and that a culture of anti-Americanism has become endemic within the organization. No wonder - the Americans alone push for more facts about the Oil-for-Food scandal, question Kofi Annan's breaches of ethics, and want investigations about U.N. crimes in Africa. If we are mistrusted for caring about those thousands who are inhumanely treated by a supposedly humane organization, then why in the world should we wish to be liked by such a group?"

Bad News for Condom Nation

Swami and the gang had a big har-de-har-har about reports that teen abstinence programs are counterproductive. Now hear this.

One Day It Could be a Grade-A Relic

A metallic gray Volkswagen Golf, circa 1999, that is said to have belonged to the former Cardinal Ratzinger is for sale on the German ebay site. "It drives like heaven," the current owner is quoted saying.

It Started at Sinai...

Loose Canon loves going to the movies, but more and more Hollywood belittles what she holds dear. So I am delighted to learn that a group of Jewish intellectuals is coming to the rescue. Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, organized by some of my favorite columnists, held a press conference in Washington earlier this month:

"JAACD President Don Feder observed, 'Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation was organized because we understand that Christians are the last remaining obstacle to the moral deconstruction of America.'

"Feder continued, 'Christians are under assault because of the values they embrace. But the morality of Christianity is also the morality of Judaism. By maintaining their loyalty to the eternal values revealed at Sinai, Christians have become pariahs in the eyes of the establishment but heroes in our eyes.'"

Why Are the Dems Still Dissing Religious Voters?

Loose Canon is still reeling from the fallout from "Justice Sunday"--which, if you are a blue state sophisticate, I'm-so-angry-I-could-spit-Sunday might have been a better name. But I don't think the hysteria (including the New York Times' overwrought editorial about the falling wall between church and state cited yesterday) bodes well for the Democrats.

Mort Kondracke of Roll Call also took note of the Democrats' high-decibel reaction to Justice Sunday:

"[T]he level of outrage expressed by Democrats and various liberals over the rally could only lead religious conservatives to conclude that, despite their 2004 vows to respect people of faith, the Democrats still don't get it.

"Some liberal commentators, led by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, were contemptuous of the rally, its participants and, by implication, religious conservatives in general. Rich dubbed the rally 'humbug,' dismissed participants as a 'mob' and likened [Senator Bill] Frist to Sinclair Lewis' 1920s evangelist phony, Elmer Gantry."

The Democrats began denouncing Frist--who actually made a measured statement devoid of religious content on the show--as a radical the second he agreed to be on the broadcast. Like the authors of the New York Times editorial, Democrats seem to believe that, anytime somebody expresses religious values, the republic is in danger:

As Kondracke noted:

"[Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama] said that, with exceptions, it's 'totally bogus' that religious voters want to 'impose their views on everybody.' Rather, 'they feel disrespected and misunderstood, especially by the media.' And, they think that the courts are determined to 'secularize America far beyond what the people want to do.'

"In the last election, he said, Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, "seemed to say, 'I am a religious person. I have religious values, but I am not going to let them impact what I do.' President Bush said, 'I have religious values. They are important to me and they help guide my decisions.' It became a big deal in the election."

Thank Heavens Not All Mayors Are Like Gavin Newsom

Kudos to a brave mayor in Spain who plans to act on his Catholic conscience.

Oh, Grow Up!

Columnist Suzanne Fields says that Democrats are "supping at the children's table:"

"It's a cliche of punditry that Republicans are the Daddy Party and the Democrats are the Mommy Party. The metaphors are out of date. We must look at the Republicans as the Adult Party and the Democrats as naughty children sent to sup at the children's table.

"Republicans lead, Democrats rebel. George W. nominates serious judges and the Democrats throw tantrums. Conservatives, dominant in the Adult Party, who try to conserve traditional ideals are, ironically, in the vanguard. Conservatives have come to the majority by expressing new ideas with passion and the liberals at the children's table throw tantrums: 'Look at me, look at me.' The betting here is that the new liberal radio and television talk shows and celebrity blogs won't catch Rush Limbaugh, Fox News or Matt Drudge any time soon."

Cardinal Ratzinger's "Secret" Letter

Swami had a post the other day about an article in England's Observer newspaper alleging that Pope Benedict XVI had obstructed justice in the investigation of sexual abuse cases. As Cardinal Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he ordered bishops to investigate allegations of the sexual abuse of children in secret. The report came from a "confidential letter sent to every Catholic bishop in 2001."

Swami quoted from the Observer piece (which I suggest you read in full):

"[The letter] asserted the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as John Paul II's successor last week."

As a proponent of the Why-Didn't-They-Call-the-Cops school of thought on sexual abuse by priests, I was disappointed. But I longed to read a copy of the confidential letter, which was not included in full in the article. My wish was immediately granted: In a package of four articles on the confidential letter, Catholic World News reports:

"[T]he CDF letter is so secret that it's been posted on the Vatican website for some time now. I noticed it months ago. It's in Latin because it is addressed to all the bishops of the world, and it is common Vatican practice to send out important communications in one common language rather than in umpteen vernacular versions. For those whose Latin is rusty, some versions of the CDF letter include links to websites that translate Latin vocabulary."

A canon lawyer explained the purpose of the letter:

"[T]he CDF letter had as one important aim to settle certain procedural questions among canonists as to which canonical crimes are 'reserved' to CDF per 1983 CIC 1362, that is, which ecclesiastical offenses are considered serious enough that Rome itself could adjudicate the case instead of allowing the normal canons on penal jurisdiction to operate (e.g., 1983 CIC 1408, 1412). These canons were on the books long before the clergy sexual abuse crisis erupted, but their interpretation had been disputed. CDF's letter cleared up much of the confusion."

This is where, in my opinion, Rome erred: The Vatican acted as if the Church had the right to adjudicate certain cases instead of allowing the normal penal system to operate. This is the very issue over which Thomas a Becket and Henry II quarreled, and if you remember, Henry was actually the winner.

I hope that Church has learned that in the case of sexual abuse cases the best policy is always to let the cops and courts operate without interference.

But the charge that this was a sinister plot contained in a secret letter is false.

Yes, the Pope's Catholic

Loose Canon regrets that she's just now getting around to plugging Phil Lawler's excellent piece last Friday on why some are so dismayed by the election of Benedict XVI. "Yes, the pope is a Catholic," writes Phil. "Yet that unsurprising result has clearly shaken many secular liberals--and more than a few liberal Catholics--who feel that they have been somehow cheated of an opportunity."

For those who'd like to delve into our Catholic pope's thoughts on the liturgy here is an excellent spot. Read it to find out why Benedict believes that singing comes ultimately from love and why "modern theo-ries of art think in terms of a nihilistic kind of creativity."

Will Benedict Revive Latin?

The word is out: Pope Benedict XVI loves to chant in Latin. He has even preached his sermons in the language that the Church customarily used until the mid-1960s:

"Now scholars such as David Jones, chairman of the classics department at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich., wonder: 'Is this pontiff riding a trend -- or pushing it?'"

Loose Canon has always felt that the liturgies of the Church should be in a language "understanded of the people." But I wonder: Isn't it quite possible that people comprehended the Mass better before it was put into graceless vernacular translations?

As long as the vernacular remains an option, I hope that Benedict will push Latin, and I suspect he is going to do so. LC has taken to attending a Latin Mass lately, and the quiet and beauty are to be recommended.

But I'm not just thinking about the Church. Benedict's advocacy of Latin might trigger more interest in secular education. The classics in their original languages of Latin and Greek were once the staple of education, as if modern civilization called across the abyss to what was great in ancient civilization.

There are so many reasons to study Latin. It helps one with English vocabulary, and it helps one learn to organize thoughts. But these are not the best reasons to study Latin. That reason was summed up in an article in a magazine I once edited, The Women's Quarterly, (sadly not online) by classicist Susan Kristol, who wrote, "The best reason to study Latin (and Greek, for that matter) is to confront the amazing truth that some of the best literature of all time is also the first literature of all time."

"The Right Bull for the U.N. China Shop"

The most amazing thing about the opposition to John Bolton for the job of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. is where it's coming from--first, there's Melody Townsel. Ms. Townsel wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee to say that eleven years ago Bolton got mad and chased her through the hotel corridors in Kyrgystan. But now it turns out that Ms. Townsel has "a plagiarism problem."

"Tonight, my deepest fears regarding my pending testimony in the John Bolton nomination process have come true: Republicans have dredged up an unfortunate chapter of my life and, clearly, are about to announce it to the world," Ms. Townsel writes on the Daily Kos.

The "unfortunate chapter" concerns plagiarism-and actually, there seem to be two unfortunate chapters. But let Melanie continue:

"I want to tell you all this story, first and personally, before the Bush camp works its special brand of magic -- and I would deeply appreciate your help in posting this letter as many places as you can in advance of my testimony. Even as I write this, the Bush team is working overtime to destroy my life and business, telling and retelling the things I'm writing here. I just received a phone call from a Christian newspaper reporter."

"Horrors! A Christian newspaper reporter!" exclaims my colleague Charlotte Allen, who did a good exegesis of the Melody saga.

Another person who has stepped forward to vilify Bolton is Frederick Vreeland, who is described simply as a "former colleague" of Bolton's by the Associated Press. Actually, the invaluable Powerlineblog studied the resumes of Bolton and Vreeland and concludes that it is just possible that their paths did cross briefly at some point.

Further study of Vreeland by Powerline turned up a piece he wrote that blamed the U.S. for bombings in Morocco by Islamic terrorists in 2003 on the United States:

"The irony is that these terrorist acts, like the similar ones a few days earlier in Saudi Arabia, are collateral damage from the U.S. strategy designed to rid the world of terrorism. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, anti-terrorism has become a vital and valid national objective, but if it is pursued in a counterproductive manner, Americans could soon find themselves living in a perpetual state of red alert."

By the way, if the name Vreeland rings a bell, he is the son of legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Perhaps Bolton also offends Vreeland's fashion sensibilities, as he clearly did in the case of Washington Post fashion scribe Robin Givhan, who was quite merciless about Bolton's "geek" glasses.

Even though the fashionable people are against Bolton, he's "The Right Bull for the U.N. China Shop."

More on Scary Conservative Christians

The New York Times was definitely riding the theocracy's-a-comin' train yesterday with an overwrought editorial about "Justice Sunday."

"To the dismay of many mainstream religious leaders, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, participated in a weekend telecast organized by conservative Christian groups to smear Democrats as enemies of 'people of faith.' Besides listening to Senator Frist's videotaped speech, viewers heard a speaker call the Supreme Court a despotic oligarchy. Meanwhile, the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, has threatened the judiciary for not following the regressive social agenda he shares with the far-right fundamentalists controlling his party."

I agree with Charles Krauthammer that DeLay was wrong to attack the judicial branch of government. But, frankly, the New York Times was almost as hysterical as DeLay yesterday.

Just because Christian activists don't want anti-abortion candidates automatically deemed unfit for the bench doesn't mean they are about to breach the wall between church and state.

A young Protestant blogger named Travis McSherley, who presides over Filling Up Space, suggests that any invocation of religious values in society is scary to the editorial writers at the Times:

"For all this harsh criticism, I fail to see anything that constitutes an 'establishment of religion' by the US government. Tom DeLay and his 'far-right' friends are entitled, I would think, to share however 'repressive' a social agenda as they want, without having charges leveled that they are smashing America's constitutional foundation.

"The Times' problem seems to be that this agenda for a conservative culture coincides with a faith in a real, sovereign God and His inspired Scripture. While they accuse the right of taking bricks out of the 'wall of separation,' they would apparently prefer the wall to be made with reinforced steel. Yet such an impenetrable divide between faith and society finds no support in the US Constitution or in our political or legal traditions."

I Think Therefore I Dissent?

A provocative thought from Catholic historian James Hitchcock on why Benedict annoys the media: "For forty years it has been customary in the media to equate 'thinking Catholics' with dissenters, and the new pope annoys his critics in part because they cannot dismiss him as intellectually deficient not only he is more learned and intelligent than practically all of his critics, he also understands modernity better than they do."

Whose Life Is It Anyway?

"Whose Life is it Anyway?" was originally a London play about a male quadriplegic who wanted to end his life. Now it's being revived with (as film critic James Bowman puts it) a sex-change: Kim Cattrall, who adds a certain fillip to the role because audiences will remember her as sexy Samantha from 'Sex in the City,' plays the quadriplegic. But the title question is the same: Whose life is it anyway? Does the quadriplegic have the right to end her life because she can't bear to live in her current state?

It's a profound question, of course. I'd submit that on its answer hinges much of the reason for Swami and Loose Canon's being so at odds over the movie "Million Dollar Baby" (in which a friend "helps" a paralyzed friend by ending her life). Swami loved MDB; LC was appalled.

For most contemporary theatre goers, of course, it isn't even a question: Whose life is it? Well, the answer is almost certain to be an indignant or perplexed my life:

"Atheists," notes Bowman, "will naturally assume that their lives are their own--Who else's would they be?--while theists will with somewhat less predictability assume that, as they have learned to regard their lives as gifts from God, they cannot therefore be their own to do with as they wish. From the answer to this question all else follows. Belief in a Creator-God entails belief in a purpose to His creation. And if creation, particularly the creation of life, has a purpose then it is very hard indeed not to suppose that our lives are given to us with the purposes of the Creator in mind and not as absolute possessions to do with as we like."

The Fourth Great Awakening?

Loose Canon is frankly amused by the ravings of the theocracy-is-nigh crowd. There's no way I can convince Swami and others that theocracy is not creeping up on us. But it may be that America really is in the midst of something almost as bad in their eyes: a totally unexpected religious revival.

As columnist Michael Barone notes in a piece on the future of religion in America:

"No religion is going to impose laws on an unwilling Congress or the people of this country," writes Barone. "And we have long lived comfortably with a few trappings of religion in the public space, such as 'In God We Trust' or 'God save this honorable court.' The real question is whether strong religious belief is on the rise in America and the world. Fifty years ago, secular liberals were confident that education, urbanization and science would lead people to renounce religion. That seems to have happened, if you confine your gaze to Europe, Canada and American university faculty clubs. ...

"America has not moved in the expected direction. In fact, just the opposite. Economist Robert Fogel's 'The Fourth Great Awakening' argues that we've been in the midst of a religious revival since the 1950s, in which, as in previous revivals, 'the evangelical churches represented the leading edge of an ideological and political response to accumulated technological and social changes that undermined the received culture.'"

What? No Reference to Torquemada?

Nice to be able to insult the new pope and Delay in one tidy paragraph: Loose Canon is reserving judgment on Tom DeLay until she knows how many other esteemed solons have had tacky trips to Europe paid for by a lobbyist. But, if you want to see the mentality that's really behind the movement to hammer the Hammer, just unpack these sentences in a column in today's Washington Post:

"The avuncular Dennis Hastert may be speaker of the House, but DeLay is known as the man who really runs the Hill, enforcing discipline and keeping the troops in line--our own Cardinal Ratzinger, without the vestments. At the moment, he's being kept in power by two things: gratitude, because so many congressional Republicans owe their seats to his smart political machinations; and fear, because you don't attack the king unless you're sure he's going down."

"Vee Haf Vays of Making You Pray"

Journalist Michael McGough, writing in the Los Angeles Times, claims credit for one of the pope jokes making the rounds:

Have you heard the one about the German pope? If so, you may have me to thank. After Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the papacy Tuesday, a friend e-mailed me: 'A German pope? Yikes!' To which I replied: 'Vee haf vays of making you pray!' Little did I know that this frail jest, which would soon make its way back to my inbox from other correspondents, would be among the better jokes about the changing of the guard at the Vatican. ...

I have been listening to - and making - Catholic jokes since my days at Sacred Heart Grammar School in Pittsburgh, where a beloved young priest broke us up by referring to a visiting friar as a 'Capuchin monk-ey.' At my high school, a Christian Brother (one of the most devout Catholics I ever met) told our class that he had been leaked the contents of the Third Secret of Fatima vouchsafed to Portuguese children by the Virgin Mary in 1917: It was, he said (wait for it!), the bill for the Last Supper.

Why are there so many Catholic jokes? I have a couple of theories. Catholicism, even post-Vatican II, is otherworldly, sublime - and juxtaposing the sublime and the ridiculous is the essence of a certain kind of humor. The late Johnny Carson joked about a Catholic church in Beverly Hills that was so trendy there was a salad bar next to the communion rail.

Moreover, Catholicism with its vestments and candles is rich with resources for a prop comic. Father Guido Sarducci with his broad-brimmed Vatican cleric's hat wouldn't have been nearly as funny if he had been dressed like Billy Graham.

Writer Hilaire Belloc once wrote: 'Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine / There's always laughter and good red wine.'

Or a stein of Bavarian beer."

O Lord, Save Us from Non-Temptations

The new dean of Washington's National Cathedral is said to be a lovely man. But what did he choose to deplore in his first sermon in that job? Yes, fundamentalism. I doubt if this is a big issue at the notoriously trendy Cathedral where LC once heard a sermon on the Holy Family as an "alternative family" (Mary was a pregnant teen). Was it C.S. Lewis who once said that we're always being warned about things that don't really tempt us?

Justice Sunday: Was It Really a Good Idea?

Loose Canon continues to go back and forth over Justice Sunday. It's true that judicial nominees who have opposed abortion-which is more often than not a religiously-based view-are the ones being denied a vote in the Senate by pro-choice Democrats. But is it a good idea for supporters of these nominees to directly inject the religious issue into the argument? Columnist John Leo says no.

Te Deum 2

Loose Canon got her to hear her Te Deum-the Church's ancient hymn of thanksgiving was sung after the Mass LC attended to celebrate our new pope, Benedict XVI. Amy Welborn's open book has a nice thread in which people wrote in their experiences at Mass yesterday.

In Benedict's first sermon as pope, he spoke most eloquently of modern alienation and the shepherd's job with regard to those who suffer this modern malaise:

"The pastor must be inspired by Christ's holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God's darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth's treasures no longer serve to build God's garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, toward the place of life, toward friendship with the Son of God, toward the One who gives us life, and life in abundance."

Meanwhile, John Paul II's biographer and one of the world's most seasoned Vatican watchers, George Weigel, says that people who know Benedict XVI say the Rottweiler rumors are rot. B-16 is actually a Mozart Man.

A new poll shows that "nearly 73" percent of American Catholics are happy about the election of Benedict. So where are all those Catholics who are demanding "change" in dogma?


Swami has generously decided that the former Cardinal Ratzinger "gets a pass on his Nazi affiliations when he was a teenager because he wasn't old enough to make an adult, rational choice. Ok, in the interests of intellectual and moral consistency, what about juveniles who commit crimes that merit a death penalty sentence--did they make adult, rational choices to kill?"

I suspect that the only reason that Benedict XVI "gets a pass" from Swami on what the Uptown seer calls Benedict's "Nazi affiliations" is that there's nothing there. Not only did the young Ratzinger, who was forced to join the organization as a 14-year-old, not commit a crime, he has always had particularly good relations with members of the Jewish faith.

On the other hand, Christopher Simmons, whose death sentence was overruled by the Supreme Court, which has now outlawed capital punishment for crimes committed by those who aren't yet 18, did commit a crime. Here is a description of his crime. You will see that he made an adult, rational decision to kill. Simmons deserved the death penalty. It would have been just.

One More Reason to Love Him

Loose Canon and other cat lovers are delighted to learn that Pope Benedict XVI is a fellow cat fancier:

"When he was a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI often delivered sermons at the German-language church in Campasanto Teutonico near St. Peter's Basilica, but his most heartfelt talks may have been the ones he gave after celebrating Mass.

"'I went with him once,' said Konrad Baumgartner, the head of the theology department at Regensburg University. 'Afterwards, he went into the old cemetery behind the church. "'It was full of cats, and when he went out, they all ran to him. They knew him and loved him. He stood there, petting some and talking to them, for quite a long time. He visited the cats whenever he visited the church. His love for cats is quite famous.'"

Benedict hasn't had a cat of his own in Rome, but the feline who lives at his house in Regensburg is the closest there is to the Pope's cat.

There's a rumor that the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club (which has adjusted the language to take note of our favorite rock star's new position) is offering T-shirts featuring the immortal words of Maureen Dowd ("The cafeteria is officially closed.") Can't find the Modo T-shirt but there are lots of other nice items, including Benedict XVI mugs and a billed "Papist" baseball cap available.

Faith and the Filibuster

A New York Times headline today reveals that Majority Leader Bill Frist is drawing fire from "some" religious leaders for his plan to appear on a religious telecast Sunday. The telecast will portray the fierce Democratic opposition to certain judicial candidates as being "against people of faith."

You didn't have to read the story to guess who "some" religious leaders are. The usual suspects, including, the National Council of Churches. Meanwhile...

"The theme of the telecast, which is called Justice Sunday and will be broadcast to churches and Christian radio and television networks, is 'The Filibuster Against People of Faith.' Its sponsors argue that by blocking judicial nominees who oppose abortion rights on religious and moral grounds, Democrats are effectively discriminating against those nominees."

Loose Canon may have originally been queasy about invoking religion in the judicial nominee battle. But why not just come out and say it? Abortion is the factor that has made Capitol Hill fiercer than the Roman Coliseum.

David Brooks made this point brilliantly in a column denounced by Swami for not having a lot of "our bodies/ourselves" palaver. Brooks argues that the abortion battle rages on so mercilessly because, instead of being decided by legislature, it was done by judicial fiat.

"Liberals lost touch with working-class Americans," writes Brooks, "because they never had to have a conversation about values with those voters; they could just rely on the courts to impose their views. The parties polarized as they each became dominated by absolutist activists.

"Unable to lobby for their pro-life or pro-choice views in normal ways, abortion activists focused their attention on judicial nominations."

The story notes that one of the participants in the Sunday telecast is Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., who is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Mr. Mohler has said that "the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel" and "the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office."

Of course, I disagree with Mohler. But there's nothing wrong with his making such statements. As long as he's not trying to burn us papists at the stake--and I'm glad to report that Dr. Mohler has exhibited no tendencies in that direction--he has every right to express his views. That's what pluralism is all about--it's not about softening your religion into some relativistic stew; it's about expressing divergent views with civility.

The story in the Times has a quote on the expression of religious view from Senator John Kerry. If you read it without snickering, then you still don't know why he lost in November.

I'd Go To Church More Often If ...

The line in the press has been that the Catholic Church would fare better if Pope Benedict (love saying that!) would dump some doctrines. And maybe some stuffy old practices, too. But do we really need women priests to stay in business?

Amy Welborn of Open Book spotted a piece by Ross Douthit in--of all places--The New Republic that tends to refute that notion. TNR requires registration, but Amy quotes a goodly chunk:

"Even in Europe, where Catholicism virtually collapsed during John Paul's pontificate, liberal Protestantism is weaker still. Perhaps if the European Church were to heed its critics and drop its ban on, say, married priests and birth control, it would be rewarded by a surge in mass attendance or vocations. But it's more likely that it would quickly come to resemble the Lutherans in Scandinavia, or the Anglicans in England, both of which have seen their congregations dwindle even as their teachings have become increasingly in tune with the continental zeitgeist.

"Catholicism in England, for instance, has seen mass attendance plummet since the '60s--but on any given English Sunday, roughly 23 percent of Catholics are in church, compared to just 4 percent of Anglicans. Or again, in Catholic Spain, only a quarter of the population are churchgoers--but in Lutheran Sweden, the figure is just seven percent. And as in the United States, Europe's fastest-growing faiths are Evangelical and Pentecostal (and Muslim), which is hardly the image of the religious future that so many liberal Catholics cherish.

"I'd go to church more often if only the Church would do X, or Y, or Z, disaffected Catholics often insist. But 50 years' experience with a liberalized Christianity suggests that they probably wouldn't--that if anything, a progressive Catholic Church would see its pews and altars empty faster than ever before. It's not that many devout gays or pious divorcees or deeply religious feminists wouldn't eagerly rush back to Rome should the Church take a more liberal turn. But there aren't enough of them, if the Protestant experience is any guide, to make up for the fact that liberal Christianity is for most people just a rest stop on the highway to Christmas-and-Easter Christianity, or a vague and self-satisfied spirituality, or finally secularism itself."

Loose Canon has been thinking about the "empty pew" story that is so popular with newspapers and magazines. Where are the researchers finding all these empty pews? They might be empty in Europe, but, whether Loose Canon attends the Latin Mass or the trendy 5:30 Mass, she finds the church filled. What gives with the empty pews?

Forget that Glow-in-the Dark Holy Water Font

Word is out that a Holy Father Beanie Baby is coming soon. It will commemorate the life of Pope John Paul II. We never had neat stuff like this when I was an Episcopalian.

Out of Africa

There's been so much nonsense lately about Pope John Paul II's "rigid" stands having contributed to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, with one article calling his pontificate a "complete failure" because it didn't provide guidelines on how to engage in safe sex.

In case you don't regularly peruse the mini-board next to my blog, I want to quote in full an interesting recent post on this subject:

"I live and work in Africa and the problem there is a lack of respect for human rights in the various governments around the continent and their total lack of interest in the welfare of their own people. The RCC does it's best here and saves many lives. The traditional people I work with (who are 99% of Protestant faiths) - the men especially - DO NOT routinely use condoms, and have numerous sexual contacts with numerous women - their wives do not know about this infidelity. The unmarried ones also sleep around and the women have little or no say as to whether they can abstain from sex or not. If these people took the RCC message to heart maybe they would not be getting as much HIV, Hepatitis B and other STIs.

As for rape in Rwanda, well change has to come from within, rape and child abuse is very prevalent in South Africa. We routinely hear stories of 6 month old babies raped by 60+ year old men and traditional healers recommend that sex with little girls heals AIDS. SA is not a Catholic country either."

The Benefits of Vitamin B-16

Witty blogger Court Jester has taken to referring to Vitamin B-16, and sometime blogger Mark Shea says, "You're XVI, you're beautiful, and you're mine."

"Here are two things you need to know this week about Joseph Ratzinger, a k a Benedict XVI," writes Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal. "He fulfilled the first requisite for being Pope: He looks good in white. And in Germany his book 'Salz der Erde' (Salt of the Earth) dislodged Harry Potter as Amazon's No. 1 bestseller."

A third thing Henninger says you need to know about Benedict XVI: He prefers St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas, the gold standard in pre-Vatican II theology:

"Anyone familiar with Augustine and Aquinas would at least pause to reflect on this remark from a man characterized in the press as an inquisitor, rottweiler, enforcer.

"Augustine is the more mystical personality, closer in some ways to the 'new age' impulses of our times. In the writings of Augustine, arguably the most complex mind Christianity has produced, the exercise of deep faith carries with it the possibility of what I would call a 'high' experience in one's pursuit of and relationship to God. That was the Church of the 5th century. In our time, religion has become freighted with correct politics (the Left) or correct morality (the Right), rather than the substance of one's relationship with God.

"I get the impression that Joseph Ratzinger--who reveres the early, transcendent Church Fathers (its 'founding fathers')--is at heart more a vibrant 5th-century Christian than a stale 19th-century dogmatist; as conceivably was John Paul II, who often let himself slip into an Upward-directed reverie in public. In short, Benedict XVI looks to be very different from the stolid, authoritarian German described this week in the public prints."

And here's a defense of Benedict for those of you who've been convinced by the press that he is a panzer pope.

Just Who Were You Expecting?

Why couldn't we have a Hindu pope? Or maybe an Episcopalian? Columnist James Lileks continues to be amazed at the number of people who're shocked to learn that the cardinals have selected a Catholic for the job:

"I'm still astonished that some can see a conservative elevated to the papacy and think: a man of tradition? As pope? How could this be?

"As if there was some golden moment that would usher in the age of married priests who shuttle between blessing third-trimester abortions and giving last rites to someone who's about to have the chemical pillow put over his face. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious: It's the Catholic Church, for heaven's sake! You're not going to get someone who wants to strip off all the Baroque ornamentation of St. Peter's and replace with IKEA wine racks, OK?"

Relapsed Catholic spotted a conversation in a similar vein between conservative blogger and author Hugh Hewitt and columnist Mark Steyn:

HH: "I want to start with Benedict XVI. Rarely have I seen mainstream media turn and bare their teeth as quickly as they have towards Benedict, Mark Steyn. Why? And what does it tell us about media?"

MS: "Well, I think they were rooting for Ellen Degeneres or Rupert Everett. And the fact that the new Pope is, in fact, a Catholic, seems to have come as a great surprise to them. And, you know, each to their own. But if, for example, social conservatives were to complain that the new editor of the New York Times wasn't Rush Limbaugh or you or William F. Buckley, that would sound equally ridiculous." Is the New York Times Really the Holy Spirit in Disguise?

Shepherd or Sheep?: Please tell me Cardinal Theodore McCarrick isn't implying he voted for Cardinal Ratzinger because he read in the paper that that was what he was supposed to do:

"Asked when the cardinals began focusing on Ratzinger as a candidate, McCarrick replied with a grin: 'When we read the newspapers. Because the newspapers were telling us that Cardinal Ratzinger is the favorite. So we see, the Holy Spirit may speak through the newspaper--sometimes even the Italian newspapers."

Impressed by the pomp and circumstance of Rome, columnist Tina Brown zeroes in on what's really important: "The scarlet and gold glory of the spectacle. The civilized tranquillity of the crowds ('Italians look so good, too,' one cable anchor told me. 'No one's fat over there.'). The heady mixture of the modern and the medieval as cell phone cameras were held aloft to snap Pope John Paul II's pointy feet in their dressy shoes when the bier passed by. 'Those were his favorite traveling shoes,' an ex-altar-boy-turned-surgeon told me authoritatively at an arty dinner party downtown. Everyone at this gathering rhapsodized about the splendor of the ritual and the beauty of the liturgies until a glossy magazine editor begged for mercy. 'Stop, stop!' she shrieked. 'You're all papists!'"

A Radical Idea

Somebody writing under the pseudonym Spengler (you know, as in, Decline-of-the-West Spengler) puts forward a radical proposal for preventing the Islamicization of Europe. Spengler suggests that Europe handle the current wave of Muslim immigrants the same way it has handled previous ones:

"Europe in the 8th century was a depopulated ruin. The loss of half the Roman Empire's population by the 7th century left vast territories open to Islam, which rapidly absorbed the formerly Christian Levant, North Africa and Spain. By converting successive waves of invading pagans - Lombards, Magyars, Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Slavs - Christianity reinvented Europe, and held Islam at bay."

The piece came out while Ratzinger was still merely the front runner rather than pope. But Spengler did mention him: "Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is one of the few Church leaders unafraid to raise the subject. Hedonistic dissipation well may have condemned the existing Europeans to infecundity and extinction, but that does not prevent Europe from getting new ones. It has been done before."

Benedict has been a voice for missionary work. But the path Spengler suggests would nevertheless be a radical change from current Vatican policy with regard to Islam. Pope John Paul II made it a point to visit mosques and viewed Muslims as "prospective allies against secularism, and believed that the popular piety of Islam offered something of a bulwark against the soulless direction of the modern world. In particular, John Paul II seemed impressed by the fact that the Koran acknowledges the Virgin Mary, a point emphasized in the Second Vatican Council's ecumenical statement, Nostra Aetate."

In Memoriam

Loose Canon wants to note the recent death of conservative Christian leader Diane Knippers, "an intellectual heavyweight" and the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington. The daughter of a Methodist minister, Diane became an Episcopalian and fought the good fight in that straying communion. She died of colon cancer at the age of 53.

One eulogist had this to say:

"In every generation there are those who, when the battle is hard, are called to stand in the breach and give strength and confidence to others in the fight for what is pure, holy and of good report.... and she has been one such."

A Great Gnashing of Teeth--or Is It Dentures?

Loose Canon is reminded of Tertullian's unfortunate remark that the blessed would enjoy watching the sufferings of the damned from heaven. Yes, it was wrong of Tertullian. But I know what he meant.

The rage of the Catholic left is something to behold. But it's impotent rage--there's nothing they can do about it. Except throw tantrums. "The time for nuance is over. Let the unholy war begin," fumes Frances Kissling of the oxymoronically named Catholics for a Free Choice.

Andrew Sullivan went completely 'round the bend on learning that Cardinal Ratzinger had been elected. "Thanks for your emails both sympathizing and telling me to leave the Church entirely. But I am still in shock," Andrew wrote.

A popular blog called Professor Bainbridge found Andrew's response "so over the top that it defies parody." Loose Canon reluctantly agrees. Did Andrew--who wrote quite brilliantly on Catholicism before gay "marriage" became his one overriding concern--really expect a pope who'd ditch Catholic teaching on homosexuality?

The thing that has struck me most about the doddering Catholic left is that it's over for them. They've been deluding themselves, hanging on for the next pope, the pope of their imagining, the pope who'd come after John Paul II and who'd tell them that whatever they wanted to do or however they wanted to believe, it was okay with him. Well, the next pope is here. Their other problem is their ideas seem so stale. Was it Chesterton who said that orthodoxy is always new and fresh?

The Cafeteria Is Officially Closed

Cokie Roberts looked like she'd eaten something disagreeable on the edition of "Nightline" devoted to the new pope last night. The MSM (mainstream media), like the aging Catholic left, is in high dudgeon.

The Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last has compiled a list of the "clichés [that] are already hardening around Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, just hours after becoming Pope Benedict XVI. Will they brook any dissent from the caricature they're drawing? "

My personal favorite is a headline in a San Francisco paper: "Sadness for Gay Catholics."

Interestingly enough, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was being sarcastic but she actually hit the nail on the head: "The white smoke yesterday signaled that the Vatican thinks what it needs to bring it into modernity is the oldest pope since the 18th century: Joseph Ratzinger, a 78-year-old hidebound archconservative who ran the office that used to be called the Inquisition and who once belonged to Hitler Youth. For American Catholics - especially women and Democratic pro-choice Catholic pols - the cafeteria is officially closed."

Oh, and about that Hitler Youth stuff--it's going to be the cry of those who don't like this pope, as they try to Pius XII him.

"The Ratzinger-was-in-the-Hitler-Youth looks to be the liberal MSM's first sortee against the new Pope. If this non-story is the best they have, they may as well go home now and renew Michael Jackson coverage," says Roman Catholic Blog.

The delightful Professor Bainbridge (twice in one day!) deals with this charge in a post that begins...

"Blawgger Eric Muller starts his post on the new Pontiff by acknowledging that "look, folks, the new pope is obviously no closet Nazi." But he then proceeds to claim that former Cardinal Ratzinger 'has been untruthful about the role that Nazism played in his childhood.'"

The Benedict Who Saved Civilization

When I was talking about previous Benedicts in the history of the Church yesterday, I failed to mention the one who seems the most likely candidate as Benedict XVI's inspiration. Brit journalist (and Catholic convert) Charles Moore has the scoop:

"Why has this learned man, the theologian who debated with John Paul, the philosopher, chosen the name Benedict? In part, maybe, out of respect for the last pope of that name, who was mocked by both sides for trying to bring peace in the First World War.

"But I would suggest a historically more distant inspiration as well: St Benedict, the man who had given birth to monasticism in the twilight of the Roman Empire. His 'rule' - his instructions to monks - laid the foundations, Ratzinger believes, for the methods of democracy. His spiritual spark kept the light of Christianity alive through centuries of darkness."

Cardinal Roger Mahony has more insight into the choice of a name.

Roman Holiday

From a "report" on Catholics in Rome during the interim between the two popes: "We all mourned John Paul II's death," said Verrazetti, who was at St. Peter's Square for the former pope's funeral. "But when Vatican officials said that final 'Amen,' you could feel something change in the air. Someone screamed 'festa!' and pretty soon Catholic women were going wild, running topless in the streets. Last month, seeing a woman with no clothes on would have sent me straight to the confessional. But without a pope around, well... Let's put it this way. For a couple weeks, Catholics the world over adopted the motto, 'If it feels good, do it.'"

Fortunately, this was from the Onion, the satire magazine.

Te Deum

Talk about being surprised by joy! I had not let myself seriously entertain the notion that it could actually happen. Now that it has, I'm thunderstruck. He is exactly what the Church needs at this moment in history. Many thanks to the Holy Spirit!

A Te Deum is certainly in order. I never allowed myself to hope, even in the face of heavy media speculation that Cardinal Ratzinger had a good chance of becoming pope. "Went in a Pope, came out a Pope. A German cardinal is now Pope Benedict XVI," comments Relapsed Catholic. (Here's a list of papal names from the second up to John Paul II.

One of the main thrusts of Benedict XVI's papacy will be will be to fight the notion that all truths are relative and, P.S., nothing's really true anyway. "We are moving," Ratzinger has said, toward "a dictatorship of relativism ... that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure." Not everybody is going to be as happy as I am because they know that our new Pope Benedict XVI will stand for the truth the Church has on offer.

This seems to perplex many, especially in the media. "When the conversations veered toward various social issues -- gays, abortion etc -- there seemed to be a strong undercurrent of shock that the former Cardinal Ratzinger is -- wait for it! -- Catholic!" Jonah Goldberg notes on The Corner.

I suspect that columnist E. J. Dionne, a liberal Catholic, is not as overjoyed as I am. Dionne had a piece this very morn (before the white smoke) on "the Ratzinger challenge." Like many liberals, Dionne believes that "the battle over relativism is far less important than the poverty that afflicts so many of their flock. Some of these cardinals -- Claudio Hummes of Brazil is a representative figure -- may share points in common (!) with Ratzinger on doctrine. But for them the struggle against suffering and social injustice is part of their lives every single day."

It's not an either/or. The Church will always labor to feed the poor. But the particular battle confronting us today is what Ratzinger knows it to be: relativism. He is intellectually well-equipped to engage the forces of relativism. Somebody wisely resurrected a nice piece on Ratzinger written late last year by Michael Potemra, a Protestant:

"Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is not just the Catholic Church's enforcer of theological orthodoxy; he is also one of Christianity's most valuable contemporary thinkers. In his new book, "Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions" (Ignatius, 284 pp., $15.95), he tackles the issue of the plurality of religions with intelligence and insight. 'Today's man,' he writes, is 'inclined to recognize himself in the Buddhist parable of the blind men and the elephant': A king summoned all the blind men in his city to have them feel different parts of an elephant, and naturally the blind men disagreed about the nature of the creature they were touching -- and eventually came to blows, as each contended that his own generalization from the part he was touching was the fundamental truth about the elephant. Is this not, modern man asserts, an apt metaphor for mankind in its religious quest?

"No, says Ratzinger: 'Someone who is born blind knows that he was not born to be blind ... Man's resignation to the verdict that, when it comes to what is essential, that on which his life ultimately depends, he was born blind is merely apparent.... Man cannot come to terms with being born blind, and remaining blind, where essential things are concerned. The farewell to truth can never be final.' The thirst for truth is innate, whether that truth makes itself available through the natural reason, or through divine revelation, or through both. All people have dignity in the eyes of God, and should be treated with respect, but not all truth claims are equal. 'For Christian faith,' Ratzinger writes, 'the history of religions is not a circle of what is endlessly the same, never touching the essential thing, which itself ever remains outside of history; rather, the Christian holds the history of religions to be a genuine history, to be a path whose direction we call progress and whose attitude we call hope.'"

Maybe the motto for the new papacy should be the truth, the *whole* truth, and nothing but the truth.

Oh, and one other thing: Based on what he has written and said, our new pope understands the importance of beauty and a sense of sacredness in the liturgy. Isn't it just about time to put the altar back where it belongs?

How Did the Holy Spirit Do It?

We've been hearing a lot lately about the Holy Spirit's definitive role in selecting popes of the Catholic Church. Okay, I give up: How does the Holy Spirit pull it off?

A former seminarian, theologian Michael Novak sheds some light on this question:

"[W]hen Catholics speak of the 'Holy Spirit' playing a role in the conclave, don't try to imagine a puppeteer pulling strings. The better image is that of the novelist, creating free, living, breathing, conflicted characters who make choices, and in doing so tell with these choices a magnificent story of liberty. The novelist who plays puppeteer convinces few readers that his characters are real. Real artistry lies in creating characters who are free, and who act from within the depths of their own liberty. So it is with the Artistry of the Holy Spirit in the theater of the conclaves down the centuries - a free God, Who chooses to be honored by the flawed efforts of free humans to respond to Him in their own liberty."

According to Novak, Ratzinger (takes a few days for me to get used to his new name) once "told a reporter that there is plain evidence that the Holy Spirit does not always make the choice of a pontiff. The dispositive evidence? There were more than a few, he noted tartly, that he would be quite reluctant to blame on the free choice of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he couldn't even imagine the Holy Spirit picking some historical popes he could think of."

The Ratzinger Media Hype

Yesterday, I took note of the media hype on the possibility that Cardinal Ratzinger might become pope. It made me suspicious: Was it an attempt to make Ratzinger's support evaporate if he wasn't elected on the first vote? As I wrote the item, I thought I've seen this somewhere else. Now I know where. Trolling the blogs this morning, I spotted a similar post by Domenico Bettinelli, one of my frequent stops. Is it a case of all great minds think alike (just kidding), or did I inadvertently borrow from Domenico? I simply don't know.

What's in a Name?

One of the first things a new pope has to do is pick a new name for himself. An article in the Detroit News explains the process and why people watch it so carefully:

"The new pope will be free to pick from any of his 264 predecessors, use his own first name or come up with something new.

"Vatican-watchers will read the choice like tea leaves offering clues to the spirit of the new papacy.

"'If he chooses the name Pius XIII, it is a clear signal that he didn't like Vatican II and wants to move the church backwards,' said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, referring to the conservative stance of Pope Pius XII, who died in 1958.

"Taking the name John XXIV would signify 'a desire to continue the Second Vatican Council,' Reese said. Pius XII's successor, John XXIII, called the international gathering of prelates from 1962-65, which was credited with modernizing the church through its liberalizing reforms....

"Over the centuries, the most popular name has been John. Twenty-three popes have taken the name of Jesus' most beloved apostle, followed by 16 Gregories, 15 Benedicts and 13 Leos.

"Benedict, which comes from the Latin for 'blessing,' is one of a number of papal names of holy origin such as Clement ('mercy'), Innocent ('hopeful' as well as 'innocent') and Pius ('pious')."

The Benedicts have been a mixed lot, including a saint and an antipope. The last Benedict canonized Joan of Arc and spent much of his brief papacy trying in vain to end World War I. Interesting choice for our new pope. Any folks out there with ideas about what it might signify for the coming pontificate?

Fasten Your Seat Belts!

We could have a new pope this week, and Loose Canon is excited--and nervous as a kitten. But John Paul the Great said the important thing: Don't be afraid. By now you probably know that there was no white smoke, the signal that a new pope has been elected, coming from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel today.

There were two beautiful quotes from cardinals in a report on the conclave in this morning's Washington Post.

"During a sermon at the church of San Giovanni della Pigna, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria told the congregation that the next pope 'should be a preacher' and 'a shepherd who sacrifices himself for the people of God.'

"At the church of San Andrea delle Fratte, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, the archbishop of Florence, said: 'The new pope has already been chosen by the Lord. We just have to pray to understand who he is.'"

Those of us who prize orthodoxy have had a halcyon quarter century, popewise. We complained bitterly (and justly) about the liturgy; some of us felt that John Paul the Great, while saintly, failed to govern his church. But, basically, we knew that the shepherd was imbued with a love of the fullness of the gospel and a determination to present it in its fullness.

The Washington Times has a thoroughly alarming commentary piece on "the liberal conclave:"

"John Paul II appointed more than 95 percent of the cardinals. Paradoxically, however, most of the prominent cardinals hold leftist positions that depart from the traditional Catholic moral teachings he defended. In 1978, when John Paul II became pope, radicals and conservatives were fighting over what the church would become when the dust settled from the revolutionary Second Vatican Council of 1962-65. Today, there are no pre-Vatican II traditionalists left in the hierarchy. ...

"European ecclesiastical leaders are as liberal as their secular counterparts. Four prominent cardinals from the old world are Brussels Archbishop Godfried Danneels, Scot Keith O'Brien, and Germans Walter Kasper and Karl Lehmann. These European cardinals have opened the door for changing church law against divorce, contraception, women and married clergy and more flexible positions on abortion and homosexuality."

I am a post Vatican II traditionalist--you can't be Catholic and reject an ecumenical council. But what if the man chosen as pope is a cardinal who has opened the door for change in classical Christianity? I don't think it will happen, but: What If? We believe that God protects the Church from error in faith and morals. The barq of Peter has often had to sail in troubled waters.

Sourpuss LC can't help sensing something sneaky behind the media hyping of LC's favorites, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Cardinal Francis Arinze, who have been featuring heavily in my prayers (if it's Thy will). Was it to somehow set them up so that support would evaporate quickly when neither was elected on the first ballot?

Writing in the New Republic (sorry, it requires registration) Erica Walter, who wrote her master's thesis on Ratzinger, is less suspicious than evil-minded old LC:

"If the rumors coming from Rome this week are correct about Ratzinger's front-runner status to become the next pope--he's reputed to have already secured between 50 and 60 of the 77 votes needed to win the papacy--I need no longer worry about his theology being obscured by his image. That theology will soon be discovered by the whole world.

"The most obvious argument for Ratzinger stems from his close association with John Paul II. His supporters see him as the man most able to seal the legacy of the previous pope. George Weigel, John Paul's biographer, predicted back in January that the next Pope would have to be someone who could carry on Karol Wojtyla's legacy: 'An emerging consensus among a significant number of cardinal-electors,' he wrote, 'is that one of the next pontificate's principal tasks will be to concretize in the Church the profound and challenging vision articulated by John Paul II.'"

The Next Pope's Biggest Challenge

Calling the Vatican "109 acres of faith in a European sea of unbelief," George Will gets to the heart of the matter:

"The challenge confronting the church can be expressed in one word: modernity. The church preaches that freedom is life lived in conformity to God's will as manifested in revelation and interpreted by the church. Modernity teaches that freedom is the sovereignty of the individual's will -- personal volition that is spontaneous, unconditioned, inviolable and self-legitimizing.

"John Paul II's mastery of the presentational aspect of the papacy -- a mastery dependent on two modern technologies, television and jet aircraft -- may cause the conclave to seek a candidate with similar skills. But the substance of what he presented did not amount to accommodation with the culture of modernity."

Why Doesn't Satan Get His Act Together?

My friend the Swami raised an awfully interesting point last week. It concerned Satan: Why does he keep at it when he knows he's going to loose?

Swami wrote:

"Satan's like Darth Vader, right? I mean: He was at God's right hand before he went bad. That tells me Satan unequivocally knows something the rest of us don't: God exists. More: Satan knows how the story ends.

"So why does Satan challenge God? I mean, if you know you're going to lose, why go to war?

"By the same token, if Satan knows what Heaven is like, why doesn't he reform so he can go there? Who'd choose the fires of Hell over a peaches-and-cream heaven populated by bodacious blondes in togas? Not me."

You'd think Satan would have enough sense to reform, wouldn't you? Swami received several intriguing answers to question about Satan's refusal to reform. I'm not a theologian, but I want to take a shot at answering the question: Why doesn't Satan reform so he can go to Heaven?

The short answer is: Non Serviam. I will not serve. Those are Satan's famous words--he refuses to serve, in this case to serve God. Yes, it seems so simple: Reform and get the goodies. So much pleasanter in the long run than going about the world seeking the ruin of souls, you'd think.

For Satan to reform, he would have to admit he'd been wrong. But like all of us, Satan has a hard time doing this. If it's hard to admit you've been wrong for fifteen minutes, think how hard it would be to admit you were wrong for thousands of years.

Why Aren't We More Alarmed?

One of the most alarming phenomena in the world today is the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. This is something that we should worry about more:

"Hostility to Jewish students at British universities could escalate this week with moves by academics to boycott Israeli goods and set up links with Palestinian organizations.

"Luciana Berger, 23, a close friend of Euan Blair, the prime minister's son, described last week how she had been forced to resign from the executive committee of the National Union of Students (NUS) after being abused and spat at by left-wing undergraduates and Muslim activists because she is Jewish."

You Call That Conscience?

"Keep Conscience to Yourself," the headline on an Ellen Goodman piece urged. What kind of conscience is that? It brings up all sorts of possibilities: Secretly, the SS officer disapproved of the Gestapo but he kept his conscience to himself. Sadly, the headline, captured all too well the essence of the column.

Goodman was writing about the controversy over whether pharmacists have a right to refuse to fill prescriptions for drugs that do things they find morally abhorrent, namely the "morning after" pill and contraception.

"The pharmacist who refuses emergency contraception is not just following his moral code, he's trumping the moral beliefs of the doctor and the patient," she opines. Goodman quotes Anita Allen, law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "The New Ethics": "If you open the door to this, I don't see any place to draw a line."

Truer words were never spoken--open the door to coercing the pharmacist to fill prescriptions he sees as wrong, and you won't see any place to draw a line. Does a woman's legal right to choose obliterate all other rights that might conflict with it? Apparently so.

The Naked Truth

Medieval scholars sometimes kept a skull in their studies to remind them of the end to which we must all come. It is the Church's job to prepare us for this. John Paul II wanted his cardinals to think about the this while electing his successor. USATODAY reports that the pope wanted the cardinals to contemplate Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" (the USA TODAY article has a nice reproduction), which is in the Sistine Chapel where the deliberations will take place:

"The pontiff wrote, 'During the conclave, Michelangelo must teach them - Do not forget: All things are naked and open before His (God's) eyes. You who see all, point to him! He will point him out.'"

Let's hope the Holy Spirit will point out to them the errors of a nascent new Vatican stance towards Islam that could increase difficulties and dangers for Catholics in Islamic countries.

Papal Parlor Game

An intriguing piece by Kenneth Woodward notes the mistakes scribblers customarily make in covering the period between two popes:

"In retrospect, two errors made consistently in interregnum papal journalism stand out. The first is how often the press has overlooked lines of continuity - how the innovations of a new pope were usually prefigured by his predecessor. Pius XII began planning a council before John XXIII convoked Vatican II; from his own writings we know that John's spirituality was of a more conservative kind, and it seems unlikely that he would have embraced all the changes that some progressives claimed were in his 'spirit.' Likewise, it was the cautious Paul VI who abolished the Latin Mass in favor of the vernacular and gave sanction to liberation theology. And it was John Paul I - not his illustrious successor - who first dropped the papal 'we' to speak in his own voice."

Here's the parlor game: What aspects of Pope John Paul II's pontificate will be carried on as apparent innovations by the next pope?

Godless Praise

Loose Canon shares National Review contributor Andrew Stuttaford's chagrin that The London Spectator no longer allows free access to its website. Because of this, the public will miss Matthew Parris's "brilliant-and curiously moving-article" on the state of the Church of England.

Noting that it's "never easy to explain the traditional English attitude to religion (which used to find many an echo over here, too) to those outside Albion," Stuttaford gives Parris, who is an atheist, by the way, high marks. Fortunately, Stuttaford gives us a tantalizing tidbit from the Spectator piece:

"The Established Church...understood in her bones two great truths: the English are wary about religion; but the English do not want to be atheists. To the English mind, atheism itself carries an unpleasant whiff of enthusiasm. To the English mind, the universe is a very mysterious thing and should be allowed to remain so. And so the English church became what up to our own day it has always remained: a God-fearing receptacle for intelligent doubt; the marrying of a quietist belief in order, duty, decency and the evident difference between right and wrong with a shrewd suspicion that anyone who thinks he can be sure of more than that is probably dangerous...That right at the center of [English] national life, should for so long have stood this great and lovely edifice of sort-of religion, adorned (through her buildings, her rituals, her art and her music) with so much beauty, so much grace and so much balm for troubled spirits, and served in her priesthood by so many luminously decent men, has surely for centuries helped confound atheism on the one hand, and serious religious enthusiasm on the other. Not so much religious belief as religious relief, this has calmed everybody down. 'You really don't need to decide,' has been Anglicanism's refrain, 'and besides, who knows?'"

Amen, says Stuttaford. Well, yes. Up to a point. But sometimes you really do have to decide.

Thirty Years of "Choice"

Whatever the outcome of Terri Schiavo's autopsy, her death by starvation was a turning point in our society. Loose Canon agrees with James Bowman, who regards the court's decision that her (estranged) husband had the right "to starve her to death just because she is prevented by illness from protesting about it" as "one of those moments when the abyss seems to open up at one's feet."

"The ugly fiction of 'choice' as the justification for appalling barbarity towards the innocent and helpless has never been more naked," Bowman writes. What was so appalling (besides the starving of Ms. Schiavo) was that so many people approved. My colleague the Swami went so far as to call Ms. Shiavo "a total gorp." (Gorp is a sort of trail mix with raisins.) The religious right, as usual, was castigated for wanting to allow Schiavo's willing parents to take their daughter home to care for her.

The Weekly Standard had a good piece on the moral questions surrounding Ms. Schiavo's death:

"If Andrew Sullivan and other critics are worried about 'theocons' using the power of the state to undermine the right to self-determination, are they willing to use the power of the state to impose death when families choose life? Is this what their idea of 'autonomy' really requires?

"And this leads us, finally, to the ethics of medicine. We have already gone very far in turning medicine into a service industry and doctors into technicians who simply use their skills to do our bidding. The physicians who perform abortions when the life and health of the mother are not in danger, or the cosmetic surgeons who give breast implants to healthy women, or the doctors who prescribe growth hormone for kids of average height are not really practicing medicine; they are serving desires. Most doctors take their medical oath seriously, struggling daily and often heroically to provide for those entrusted to their care. But some have succumbed to various forms of utilitarianism, or simply believe that people with cognitive disabilities are already humanly dead. In cases like Terri Schiavo's--a disabled woman, not dead or dying, whose feeding was keeping her alive without imposing additional burdens--it is hard to see how any doctor could ethically remove a feeding tube. And if we are to respect medicine as a moral profession, no court should compel doctors of conscience to do so."

Yes, we've reached a turning point, but it's not too late to turn in another direction.

A Famous Atheist's U-Turn on God

"Of course he believes in God. He's 81-years old," Jay Leno joked when word spread last summer that the eminent philosopher Anthony Flew, once England's top atheist, was having doubts. Some suggested that senility had prompted Flew to change his mind, and the philosopher's own daughter wanted to know if they were going to be saying grace at meals. All this ridicule and the poor guy isn't even a Christian. He's a deist, for heaven's sake.

Christianity Today reports:

"Flew is not worried about impending death or post-mortem salvation. 'I don't want a future life. I have never wanted a future life,' he told me. He assured the reporter for The Times: 'I want to be dead when I'm dead and that's an end to it.' He even ended an interview with the Humanist Network News by stating: 'Goodbye. We shall never meet again.'

"Flew's U-turn on God lies in a far more significant reality. It is about evidence. 'Since the beginning of my philosophical life I have followed the policy of Plato's Socrates: We must follow the argument wherever it leads.' I asked him if it was tough to change his mind. 'No. It was not hard. I've always engaged in inquiry. If I am shown to have been wrong, well, okay, so I was wrong.'"

Conclave Mania!

Loose Canon is getting excited about the conclave to elect a new pope. Yes, she has her picks (Cardinal Ratzinger or Arinze would be nice) but realizes that the Holy Spirit is more knowledgeable and may have other plans in store for us.

The invaluable Catholic World News lays out the procedure (as released by the Vatican):

"Upon arrival in the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals will take their oath--first as a group, then one by one--in which they will swear to respect the secrecy of the conclave and to eschew all outside interference in the process of voting. After a final meditation preached by Cardinal Tomas Spidlik, they will then proceed with a first ballot.

"During their procession, the cardinals will be accompanied by a choir and a liturgical master of ceremonies. Only the cardinal-electors and a few specialized personnel-- all personally approved by the camerlengo-- will be allowed to enter the Sistine Chapel. The non-electors who will have access to the Chapel (but not to the deliberations of the conclave) are listed in the April 12 Vatican announcement."

When the votes are cast, the cardinals will place their ballots in newly made silver and bronze covered urns made by Italian artist Cecco Bonanotte. The Associated Press has a brief synopsis of the rules and voting procedure.

Loose Canon's choices, you'll note, are not Italians. "The biggest question in my mind," writes one of the commentators on Catholic World News, "is whether or not we will have another Italian pope. There are good reasons to pick or not to pick another Italian. But one thing seems clear to me: The electors all will understand that, if they do pick a second non-Italian, they will be burying the Italian pope tradition."

It makes me very nervous that some reports are saying that Ratzinger is going into the conclave as the favorite. The old adage, he who goes in a pope comes out a cardinal, has me thinking my candidate probably won't be elected.

Bishop Javier Echevarría, head of Opus Dei, has written letter to his flock that has some good observations about the coming conclave, though the language is going to be off-putting to those who regard Opus Dei mainly as a weird secret society.

Echevarria urges Catholics to put aside "considerations foreign to supernatural logic:" "There comes to mind the memory of the first audience that Paul VI granted to our founder, in January 1964. At the end, Don Alvaro also came in, and the Pope said to him: we have known each other for so many years, and 'sono diventato vecchio,' I have become old. Don Alvaro immediately replied: 'No, Santita, lei è diventato Pietro,' you have become Peter. Since the beginning of this year, I have been asking everyone to pray the aspiration Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam: all with Peter, to Jesus, through Mary. These words that I heard from St. Josemaría take on special meaning during these days. We don't know who the next Pope will be, but whoever he is, he will be Peter."

When Conscience Is Inconvenient

One of the more shocking recent developments is a move to force pharmacists to fill prescriptions for the morning after pill, which causes an abortion, even if their consciences tell them that it is wrong. The argument is being couched mostly in terms of the inconvenience to women rather than the conscience of somebody being asked to break a moral code: "Some women in Tennessee could find it more difficult to get birth control and emergency contraceptive 'morning after' pills if the state passes legislation that intertwines religious belief and the dispensing of legal drugs. That's because it would allow any of the 5,200 licensed pharmacists in the state to refuse to sell any drug they find objectionable on either 'ethical or religious principles.' The proposal is the latest example of the national culture war, this time with the battle being fought across pharmacists' counters in more than a dozen states this year." Can you imagine being forced to sell drugs you object to on ethical or religious grounds? Nazi Germany analogies should be used sparingly, but perhaps one is applicable here.

Could You Just Step Over Here, Your Eminence?

Amy Welborn spotted what Andrew Sullivan might call "the money quote" in Melinda Henneberger's piece on the embarrassing Cardinal Law: "Inside the basilica, the ornate surroundings did not exactly work to Law's advantage, either. High above the center aisle, a sculpture I'd never noticed before shows St. John Bosco-protector of children and young people-whispering a warning to two urchins hiding behind his skirts, and pointing accusingly towards the altar where Law said mass yesterday."

Let me check my book: Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that six U.S. cardinals snubbed Law by not attending his Mass.

Legal Abortion and the Crime Rate

Maverick economist Steven Levitt suggests that legal abortion is the reason for falling crime rates. Before you decide that this is a good argument in favor of abortion, maybe you should consider yet another utilitarian hypothesis: "Then it's on to another question, and another and another. Were lynchings, as their malevolent perpetrators hoped, an effective way to keep Southern blacks 'in their place'? Do real-estate agents really represent their clients' interests? Why do so many drug dealers live with their mothers? Which parenting strategies work and which don't? Does a good first name contribute to success in life?"

Using Divorce to Argue for Gay "Marriage"

One of the favorite arguments of those who entertain the curious notion that people of the same sex can marry each other, something heretofore untried in human history, is that straights haven't done such a good job with marriage either. Columnist Dennis Prager notes that the argument appeals to those on both the left and the right: "This is too bad, because the argument is a meaningless non sequitur," Prager writes. "First, while divorce ends a given marriage, it does not threaten marriage as an institution. Of course, many marriages fail and end in divorce--while some other marriages fail and do not end in divorce--but why does this threaten marriage as an institution?

"To understand the foolishness of the argument 'divorce threatens marriage,' let's apply this principle to other areas of life. Let's begin with parenthood. It is undeniable that vast numbers of people fail--and have always failed--as parents."

Prager is weak on the notion that a marriage must be permanent to be deemed a success, but this is a provocative column with good arguments.

The Embarrassing Cardinal Law

Somebody on the mini-board pointed out that I had not commented on disgraced former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's high profile at the pope's funeral and celebrating one of the main Masses of the nine days following the death of a pontiff. Even though Law's role was ex officio, I do so wish he'd had the grace to absent himself.

"Even his staunchest supporters might have wished Cardinal Law had been sent to Brescia for three days to look for a replacement belt for the vacuum cleaner, instead of taking an embarrassingly conspicuous role in the pre-conclave ceremonies," notes Catholic blogger Diogenes.

A good piece in the National Catholic Reporter notes that Law was there because of his position as archpriest of the church of St. Mary Major, a position regarded as a gentle way of letting him down after he was quite rightly disgraced. And why didn't the Vatican send Law out for that vacuum replacement?

NCR's John Allen writes:

"Finally, another illustration of the cultural gap: If the Vatican were at all sensitive to public relations in the conventional sense, they certainly would not have issued what was, in effect, an engraved invitation to the American press to resurrect the sex abuse story after a week of uninterruptedly positive coverage tied to the life and legacy of John Paul II. If the Vatican were a Fortune 500 corporation, someone in the public relations office would be out of work. Obviously, however, the Vatican simply does not think in these terms."

Law, who admitted that he reassigned priests knowing of accusations against them (but only after documents were unsealed), did a terrible job in the sex abuse scandal. He fully deserves his status as a disgraced man. But the attempt by SNAP, an organization representing victims of priestly abuse, to have Law barred from saying Mass, the main obligation of a priest, is too vindictive. I do hope that Law will go back into hiding and the abuse victims will one day find some solace. Vindictiveness is probably not the shortest route there.

The Embarrassing United Nations

Since Loose Canon belongs to the we-need-the-United-Nations'-permission- like-we-need-a-hole-in-the-head school of thought, I wanted to pass along a Washington Post (!) op-ed piece by a former U.N. official who saw that institution corruption from the inside:

"Anyone who was shocked by the most recent revelations of sexual misconduct by United Nations staff has never set foot in a U.N.-sponsored refugee camp," writes Peter Dennis. "Sex crimes are only one especially disturbing symptom of a culture of abuse that exists in the United Nations precisely because the United Nations and its staff lack accountability.

"This lack of accountability is the central blemish on today's United Nations, and it lies behind most of the recent headlines. Whether taking advantage of a malnourished refugee or of a lucrative oil-for-food contract, the temptation is there, the act is easy and the risk of punishment is nil."

Cool It on the Miracles, Swami

One of the things I tried to stress in writing about John Paul II and instant sainthood is that the Church in her wisdom traditionally tries to let public fervor cool before considering somebody's cause for sainthood. Well, we have just seen why:

"Italian newspapers have been rife with reports of alleged miracles attributed to Pope John Paul II, fueling speculation he may soon be put on the path to sainthood."

This gives the unfortunate impression that the Church doesn't investigate miracles, which, of course, she does. It's not unsurprising that people get carried away like this, though it did give Swami a chance to write a preening and superior piece mocking the alleged miracles. Can't you find a harder target, Swami? By contrast, Christopher Hitchens' vicious attack on the Holy Father, however misguided, was actually witty. Hitchens' criticisms were also made last week, before the pope was buried; they therefore lack the good little boy being bad only when it's safe quality. Principles over posing, you might say.

Look It Up

Speaking of Swami, he has issued yet another of those Swami Challenges to poor old Loose Canon. This challenge concerns a passage for an Ann Coulter column to which I had linked.

Here are the words in question:

"Liberals would approve of a nice Christian girl like Smith going to the Middle East only if she went as a Marine or - better! - if she were getting herself run over by a tank while defending a PLO tunnel into the Gaza Strip used by suicide bombers. Sadly for liberals, feminist lunacy doesn't convert and transform, it browbeats and harangues. The only miracle it has ever performed is getting people to listen to Nancy Pelosi."

Here is what Swami says:

"What grabbed my attention was the reference to Rachel Corrie, the young woman who died in Gaza two years ago. She has nothing to do with the real subject of Coulter's rant. She's collateral damage to Coulter, a person of no consequence."

Here's the Loose Canon challenge: Do you see Corrie's name in what Swami quoted? I reread the original Coulter column several times, searching in vain for a reference to Rachel Corrie, a young woman whose story is indeed heartrending. But her name was nowhere in the column.

And then I realized it: Swami doesn't know the difference between an "allusion" and a "reference." I am not at all sure that Ann ever alluded to the tragic story of Ms. Corrie. But I am a hundred percent certain that she did not refer to it.

Swami, dear, I am sending you gift-wrapped editions of both Fowler's Modern English Usage, and The Elements of Style, both of which feature diverting and enlightening essays that will reveal the difference between an allusion and a reference.

As I said, however, I am not convinced Coulter even alluded to Rachel Corrie. Could Swami's pretending to believe that she did be a form of s-o-p-h-i-s-t-r-y?

Their Manifold Sins and Wickedness

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the former Camilla Parker Bowles, who is married in the eyes of God to Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, have confessed their "manifold sins and wickedness" to the Archbishop of Canterbury. It's a formula LC remembers well from the old Book of Common Prayer. But it is not enough. Camilla is who Charles should have married-she clearly loves him and he her, and she fits in well with the House of Windsor. The hats she has lately taken to wearing are just so perfect, aren't they? If only she weren't married to Mr. Parker Bowles!

A Reading List for the Next Pope: Adam Smith

The English journalist William Rees-Moog has been thinking what to send the next pope. He's come up with the perfect gift: a copy of Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations." Rees-Moog realizes that the next pope will be "a holy man because the cardinals understand the nature of prayer" and "a capable bishop, because the cardinals understand the nature of Church administration" and a "powerful personality" because cardinals know that, too, is necessary to run the Church.

But he will be all wet on economics:

"The next pope will be a socialist; no doubt a democratic socialist, but a socialist all the same. Almost every cardinal and bishop in the Roman Catholic Church, and probably every bishop in the Anglican Church, is a socialist. They are socialists in the same sense as Tony Blair, or Gerhard Schröder, or Jacques Chirac, or Bill Clinton. They are all socialists because they have never studied the liberal argument. That is a pity; liberalism may not be enough, but it is the basis of our culture. ...I've often noticed that bishops, of all Christian denominations, have never read Adam Smith, but know intuitively that they disagree with him. My first thought, therefore, was that I might send a copy of The Wealth of Nations as an inaugural present to the next pope, whoever he might be."

From Adam Smith, the next pope might learn that "economic competition is not a zero-sum game. Free competition creates complex mutual benefits, by what Adam Smith called 'the hidden hand.' Liberalism has changed the world because it works and socialism does not. The history of liberal theory explains why that is so."

Can you imagine how batty the media would go if confronted with a pope who not only upheld doctrine (as the next pope will, goes without saying) but also believed in the rough-and-tumble of economic competition as a way out of world poverty? Boggles the mind.

Bet They Don't Have the Nerve to Say This to an Imam

Speaking of media pique that was manifest in last week's coverage of the pope's funeral, columnist Mark Steyn spoke with blog-meister Hugh Hewitt about the special pleading for gay "marriage," women priests, and all that jazz: "What we have here is, if you compare, for example, basically the grievance that the New York Times and Christiana Amanpour and everyone have with the Pope, is that he didn't accommodate their views on homosexuality, abortion and contraception. You know, fair enough. But they wouldn't dream of making that same critique of Islam. They wouldn't, for example, demand that Islam introduce female Imams. You just don't see stuff like that. So in a sense, that proves the point that the world we live in, regardless of where you are in it, is essentially a Judeo-Christian world."

The eagle-eyed Relapsed Catholic spotted this gem.

A Libertarian on Gay "Marriage"

One of the things that bothers me most about advocates of gay "marriage" is that they are willing to ditch an institution that has been with us for the entire history of civilization (and before) us without much discussion. Hey, want to be hip? Be for gay marriage.

Sadly, libertarians, with whom I often have lots in common, seem to be largely in favor of gay "marriage." But Jennifer Roback Morse is an exception. Looking at a larger picture, she regards the current debate about whether two people of the same sex can be properly said to be married as "a parenthetical issue. The more basic question is the meaning of love, marriage, sexuality, and family in a free society. I define marriage as a society's normative institution for both sexual activity and the rearing of children. The modern alternative idea is that society does not need such an institution: No particular arrangement should be legally or culturally privileged as the ideal context for sex or childbearing."

Here is a snippet of what Morse says about marriage and what is currently happening to the institution, in part because of the gay "marriage" debate:

"...a naturally occurring, pre-political institution that emerges spontaneously from society. Western society is drifting toward a redefinition of marriage as a bundle of legally defined benefits bestowed by the state. As a libertarian, I find this trend regrettable. The organic view of marriage is more consistent with the libertarian vision of a society of free and responsible individuals, governed by a constitutionally limited state. The drive toward a legalistic view of marriage is part of the relentless march toward politicizing every aspect of society."

A Celebration of Life

My friend Scott Walter got such a nice note from a Carmelite priest in Rome. The Carmelite had been sleeping with his window open to listen for the bells that would announce the pope's death. Here is what Rome was like for him:

"I am just amazed at what is happening in Rome. The atmosphere is incredible. The crowds, while huge, are both enthusiastic and serene, there is a tremendous spirit of people being knit together into the sort of world that John Paul had envisioned and called us to. There are no displays of grief, or even sorrow, but a calm and buoyant faith, shot through with deep appreciation for what this pope meant to so many. Very little talk about the conclave (grazie Dio) at least until after the funeral. It really is the celebration of a life.

"I was in the square Monday when the body was transferred to the basilica, and it was both solemn and festive. Later that night I went to the basilica and, while I am not fond of dead bodies, especially ones that are rather poorly embalmed, I found myself very deeply moved as well as impressed by the elegance of how things were being done and how the crowd was behaving. Since then, I have mostly wandered around watching the crowd and seeing the stories unfold. I am close enough to the Vatican that I can hear the music through the window so we will see."

Scott wrote back, mentioning that he stopped in a deli and "discovered it was run by a Lebanese who had his TV set to an Arabic-language station that was broadcasting nonstop papal coverage!"

I do think that the funeral knitted the world together for a few days.

Hammering the Hammer

Loose Canon feels distaste at some of Tom Delay's recent shenanigans (I refer to his lavish but dubiously financed trips and those not illegal but still malodorous payments to his own family members), but it is clear from this piece that the mainstream media is out to get him. I think he overstepped in talking about the judiciary. But he's right about the arrogant and dictatorial nature of our judicial system. As Pat Buchanan said on the McLaughlin Group, the arrogant judiciary is a good issue for Republicans.

Should John Paul Be an Instant Saint?

Although his funeral took place only this morning, there is already talk about the canonization of Pope John Paul II. "The funeral crowds are already calling him Pope John Paul the Great," notes a report from Rome. "Is this a prelude to fast-track sainthood?"

While Pope John Paul expedited the process for Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, and has already been declared blessed, one step from sainthood, it is highly unlikely this will happen to John Paul. As a rule, the Church doesn't even begin to consider a cause for the canonization until somebody has been dead at least ten years.

This is precisely because of emotional situations like the one we find ourselves in now as we bid farewell to a beloved pontiff. A human outpouring of emotion is a testimony of our love for John Paul, but human emotion is fallible. I firmly believe that John Paul II is a saint--but I could be wrong. It is possible to be carried away by our emotions. That is why the Church waits for the fervor to cool and then begins the investigation that determines if somebody is a saint.

A saint is simply somebody the Church deems to be in heaven, but the process for determining sainthood is long and complex. Often people in a particular diocese will decide that somebody was so holy that they have gone to heaven and begin the process. If the bishop accepts the "cause" of that person, there is an exhaustive study of every aspect of his or her life. If nothing contrary to sainthood is found, then the cause can be presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome for even more investigation.

A martyr who died for the Church can become a saint without performing miracles but for others it is necessary to have one miracle to be declared blessed and two to make it to sainthood. The miracle is evidence that the person is, in fact, in heaven and can do miraculous things. The Church relies on medical doctors to help determine if the event in question was a genuine miracle or could have been produced by natural causes.

After an investigation of the person's life and the requisite miracles, the pope can decide to declare the person a saint. It was not always such a formal process. "In the first centuries the popular fame or the "vox populi" represented in practice the only criterion by which a person's holiness was ascertained," a good brief article on the making of saints declares. But popular fame can be wrong. Famously, the Church has been forced to remove from the calendar some of the saints so-created. The formal process is designed to prevent mistakes. Most theologians argue that when the pope creates a saint it carries the weight of infallibility.

In the case of Pope John Paul II, it is most likely that Catholics of Krakow in Poland, where John Paul began his priesthood, will have the honor of "entering" his cause, though theoretically anybody can do it. No matter who inaugurates his cause, there will be an investigation.

One nineteenth century cardinal, John Henry Cardinal Newman, the famous English convert, has never been able to get the miracle required to move from Venerable (an early stage in the process) to Blessed. A friend of mine jokes that it's because Cardinal Newman's following is so cerebral that they're too busy reading his writings to pester him for a miracle. John Paul won't have that problem-we have seen his widespread appeal to people in every walk of life over the last week. Get busy, John Paul fans, ask him for a miracle. Ten years will fly by, and he'll be on the road to sainthood.

Ioannes Paulus Magnus

Did the crowds in St. Peter's Square really shout "Magnus! Magnus!,[Great! Great!]"? I think just maybe they did. Papal biographer George Weigel, who commented on the pope's funeral for NBC, heard them do so. Even if the word magnus was not actually used--and it might have been, I suspect Weigel's aural Latin is better than Loose Canon's--the intention of the crowd was obvious. We the laity don't determine dogma, but we do get to decide when a pope is to be called "the Great," and I think we just did it. We now know the sound of millions of hands clapping.

Here is a bit from MSNBC's account of the funeral (which has some beautiful pictures):

"Applause rang out as John Paul's plain cypress coffin adorned with a cross and an "M" for the Virgin Mary was brought out from St. Peter's Basilica and placed on a carpet in front of the altar. The book of the Gospel was placed on the coffin and the wind lifted the pages.

"After the Mass ended, bells tolled and 12 pallbearers with white gloves, white ties and tails carried the coffin on their shoulders back inside the basilica for burial - again to sustained applause from the hundreds of thousands in the square, including dignitaries from more than 80 countries.

"Chants of 'Santo! Santo!' - urging John Paul to be elevated to sainthood immediately - echoed in the square."

Magnus or Santo, we loved him. That was so obvious. "Choked with emotion," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, preached on two words "Follow Me," spoken by the risen Christ to the first Peter. Reflecting on the ways in which Karol Wojty3a followed Christ throughout his life, Ratzinger ended with a masterstroke:

"None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi. We can be sure that our beloved pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us. Yes, bless us, Holy Father. We entrust your dear soul to the Mother of God, your Mother, who guided you each day and who will guide you now to the eternal glory of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."

A Special Kind of Reporter

Unlike Christine Amanpour, Catholic blogger Diogenes, who has been watching the pope's funeral TV, noticed that there were an awful lot of people in town:

And here's to you, Christine Amanpour, for providing us with the most... um... unusual insight on the current doings in Rome. The sage of CNN opined:

"The real question, of course, is how the Church will keep itself relevant in the centuries to come, or even in the next generation."

Amanpour made this comment from her vantage point in Rome, where the largest crowd in human history (composed mostly of people younger than she is) has gathered for an event that will command the attention of the entire planet. It takes a special kind of reporter to see the crowds, the outpouring of emotion, the tributes from world leaders, the fascination with ritual-- and conclude that Catholicism is becoming irrelevant. Here's an interesting idea: The press seems to think you become "relevant" by saying what everybody else is saying. There's no more certain way of being "irrelevant." It means you have nothing, really, to add to the discussion.

National Review also picked out some eyebrow raising moments in CNN's coverage of the pope's death.

A Last Glimpse

We have moved on from the body on its bier to our sure and certain hope. Just a few backward glances, though. If you haven't yet read Beliefnet's Paul Wilkes terrific piece on viewing the body of the pope, do. There is also a more complete version of the pope's will in the New York Times. It is more compelling on the pope's dictum that we should all give thought to death and more moving on his memories of his parents and brother. He also thinks of a sister who died before he was born.

Snapping Pictures of the Pope: Is It Okay?

Some of my friends have commented on the bad taste of pilgrims who snap pictures of the dead pope with their camera phones. Well, it's terrible taste, but at the same time rather nice and it strikes me as very Catholic. I think it has something to do with being grounded in the notion that death isn't final. There's a great story of a well-known novelist, a Catholic, who set a funeral in St. James Church, a fancy Episcopal church on New York's Upper East Side. He had an open coffin funeral. An editor had to tactfully explain that Episcopalians don't do open coffin. I once attended a Catholic funeral and, before the coffin was closed, the words "I will shew you a mystery," oddly enough with the spelling of the Book of Common Prayer, flashed in my mind. Seeing the body runs counter to the modern tendency to hide from death-and to hide death.

Running for Pope?

You almost get the feeling that consultants and pollsters have been called in from the hyperactive tenor of a misguided Wall Street Journal Wall Street Journal piece (subscription required) on cardinals who are "running" to be pope.

And how are these cardinals throwing their red hats into the ring? Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone of Genoa has "raised his international profile by organizing a seminar calling for a boycott of ... Da Vinci Code, which some perceive as anti-Catholic," while Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany "gave what some Vatican watchers consider to be a stump speech two weeks ago," railing against 'filth ... in the church, and even among those in the priesthood.'"

Loose Canon loves that "which some perceive as anti-Catholic!" But I'm not sure these actions, normal for cardinals, really mean they're getting secret advice from Karl Rove. "New Pope Won't Be a Clone" is truly one of the most unfortunate headlines Loose Canon has seen in a long time, but the piece is excellent. It explains why the Holy Father wouldn't want us to want a man just like him and includes a funny tidbit on novelist Evelyn Waugh's vain attempt to lobby the Second Vatican Council.

On Not Laying Up Treasures on Earth

Isn't is interesting that the man whose death has stretched to the limits Rome's capacity to accommodate pilgrims and drawn presidents and princes to his bier had laid up for himself almost no material possessions? Read the Holy Father's will (here and here), which speaks about the pope's acceptance of death. Todd Lindberg reflects on the pope's death and the importance for all of us of reflecting on death.

By the way, the program for the pope's funeral tomorrow is on the Vatican website (in Latin and Italian, with nice artwork). Reuters has a list of the dignitaries who'll attend the funeral.

Roe v. Wade: The Road Taken

Are the rancorous battles over judicial nominations the results of unfinished business? Not surprisingly, Duncan Currie, a reporter for the Weekly Standard, sees Roe v. Wade as a key factor. And he has an interesting notion on how it might have been avoided:

"To a casual European observer, the row over President Bush's judicial picks may seem a bit dippy," writes Currie. "Democrats fight tooth-and-nail to block mid-level nominees. Republicans talk of a 'nuclear option' to break the impasse. Democrats warn they'll bring Senate business to a halt. Republicans dare them to try. ...

"In 'The Right Nation,' their 2004 treatise on American conservatism, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge probe why Europe settled its abortion debate long ago but the United States didn't. They cite three key factors: religiosity (secular Europe vs. devout America), fundamentalism (technocratic Europe vs. moralistic America), and the American right's knack for cultural politicking.

"But here's the needle that sews these threads together: 'European countries liberalized abortion through legislation and, occasionally, referenda. This gave legalization the legitimacy of majority support, and allowed countries to hedge the practice with all sorts of qualifications.' In America, by contrast, the Supreme Court took the matter out of politicians' hands--and thus ramped up the stakes. 'By going down the legislative road,' Micklethwait and Wooldridge write, 'the Europeans managed to neutralize the debate; by relying on the hammer blow of a Supreme Court decision, the Americans institutionalized it.'"

When Nobody Is Looking

John Paul II has lived his life in the public eye since being elevated to the papacy. But it's what we do when nobody is looking that reveals our true character. Roger Cohen has a touching piece in the New York Times about his mother, a nearly-starved Jewish girl of thirteen, who had been in a Nazi work camp in Czestochowa, and who was helped by a Polish seminarian who would one day become pope. Cohen draws the right conclusions:

"Pope John Paul II is widely viewed as having been a man of unshakable convictions that some found old-fashioned or rigid. But perhaps he offered his truth with the same simplicity and directness he showed in proffering tea and bread and shelter from cold to an abandoned Jewish girl in 1945, when nobody was watching.

"It was based in the belief that, as he once put it, 'a degradation, indeed a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human being' was at the root of the mass movements of the 20th century, Communism and Fascism."

What Would It Take for the Left to Love Ashley Smith?

The American left never really took to Ashley Smith, the woman who got courtroom shooter Brian Nichols to surrender by reading to him from "The Purpose Driven Life." What would it have taken to make them like her more?

Ann Coulter has an idea:

"Liberals would approve of a nice Christian girl like Smith going to the Middle East only if she went as a Marine or - better! - if she were getting herself run over by a tank while defending a PLO tunnel into the Gaza Strip used by suicide bombers. Sadly for liberals, feminist lunacy doesn't convert and transform, it browbeats and harangues. The only miracle it has ever performed is getting people to listen to Nancy Pelosi."

Gallup to God: Whaddaya Think?

The coverage of the pope's death and the surrounding ceremonies has been quite beautiful. Nevertheless, the press can't resist lobbying for "change" in the Church. Various polls are inevitably cited to prove that U.S. Catholics are clamoring for "change." Well, don't hold your breath.

The Church is "not a focus group," even though the press goes out of its way to lionize weak-willed religious leaders who, subject to such blandishments, ditch classical truths and become more popular. Notes the American Spectator's Hunter Baker:

"One of the great themes in popular coverage of religion is 'Religious Leader Bravely Modernizes.' That's the glowing profile a cleric gets when he decides to jettison a highly cherished tenet of the Christian faith as a tribute to some abstract concept of religious progressivity enabled by 'new' knowledge about the human condition. There have been several cycles of this particular story including clergy endorsement of deconstructionist readings of the Bible, liberalized abortion laws, the acceptability of sex beyond the confines of marriage, and radical re-configuration of ordination requirements. John Paul II had little interest in making the church a servant to fashion, political or otherwise. Thus, a poll undercuts glowing tributes."

On the same theme, Thomas Bray of the Detroit News, explains what the press really means when it describes John Paul II as a "polarizing" figure:

"Translation: Yes, he might lay claim to secular greatness as a Cold War leader, but by refusing to throw millennia of church teaching out the window, he showed only spiritual feet of clay. The term 'polarizing' suggests something beneath the dignity of debate, unpleasant little speed bumps on the way to the sunny uplands of human enlightenment."

National Review editor Rich Lowry adds a few thoughts on how odd it is that this week we celebrate a man grounded in eternal verities: "The word 'theocrat' is a rapidly emerging swearword in American politics," writes Lowry. "If someone opposes gay marriage, or supports giving sustenance to Terri Schiavo, or has any strong moral convictions that inform his policy positions, he is a 'theocrat' who secretly wishes to begin burning people at the stake. How odd, then, that this week we mourn the death and celebrate the life of a man, Pope John Paul II, who had 'theocratic' trappings and convictions and yet is universally regarded as a great warrior for freedom."

Breakfast with the Pope

Susan Vigilanti, a fine writer and old friend, offers some delightful reminiscences about meeting the pope. They are from a forthcoming memoir entitled "Breakfast with the Pope." Two snippets deserve to be quoted:

First the serious one:

"Like every other pope watcher," Susan writes, "I had read accounts of papal Masses that went something like, 'John Paul II is a powerful presence in the liturgy. In his hands the sacrament of the altar takes on a different meaning...' My experience bore no resemblance to any of those tales. For me the most powerful impression was not of his presence but his absence, as if Mass began he seemed to recede. I am a contemporary American woman who's as star-struck as the next girl and certainly no stranger to distraction at Mass. But that summer morning, in that tiny chapel with the most famous man in the world a few steps away, all I focused on was the Eucharist. That was John Paul's gift to us during Mass. Not presence but absence. He led us to Jesus, which is after all a priest's job. We followed where he went."

Then Susan and her husband, Richard Vigilanti, and others adjourned for breakfast with the pope. The Vigilantis and the pope had a mutual friend, identified in the piece only as Sheila. The pope, mock-solemn, was teasing her in this snippet:

"The Holy Father paused thoughtfully and looked over the nuns in their newly designed and approved but not terribly attractive habits. He nodded gravely. 'Yes. Yes. It must be the work of the Holy Spirit, if it has gotten Sheila to wear that.'"

What Will the Pope's Funeral Be Like?

Here's a nice piece that tells us some of the traditions that will be observed at the pope's funeral:

"The funeral Mass is preceded by a short ceremony in which the Pope's coffin is sealed. First the body of the deceased Pope, which has been lying on public view in the basilica, will be placed in a cypress coffin. After a short period of prayer, the master of liturgical ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini, and the late Pope's private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, will draw a white silk cloth over the Pope's face. Then the camerlengo, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, will bless the body with holy water.

"Next Archbishop Marini will observe an old Vatican tradition, putting a small purse into the coffin at the Pope's feet, containing specimens of the coins that were struck by the Vatican during his pontificate. ..."

Thunder on the Right

You may have the impression that all the pope's critics are on the left. Not so. Hugh Hewitt has a piece on critics from the Catholic Right, meaning the folks who are even more hidebound than Loose Canon. Bet you thought that wasn't possible.

What's the Evidence?

Loose Canon got out her blood pressure medicine to read a column by Paul Krugman in which Republicans were portrayed as basically so backward they hate science. How good is Mr. Krugman's--er--evidence of this?

Smith economics professor James D. Miller argues that "recent events at Harvard indicate that it's the academic left that rejects science." He's referring, of course, to Harvard President Larry Summers' career-imperiling remark that men and women may be mentally different (an idea further suggested, by the way, by recent research into autism).

"Much of the left in humanities departments doesn't believe in science. They feel that it's wrong to privilege scientific over other types of knowledge. ...New York University professor of physics Alan Sokal, himself an 'unabashed Old Leftist,' was bothered by the anti-scientific viewpoints of many left-wing humanities professors. These professors often used their French literary theories to attack science..."

I Love Being Catholic

No matter how sad you may be at the death (please don't say "passing!") of John Paul II, you have to admit: Being Catholic is fun. Has the Church ever looked more beautiful? The nighttime shots of the statues of the Apostles above St. Peter's were particularly breathtaking. In a way, the Church is beautiful because she does not flinch from reality--we see the dead body of the Holy Father carried by pallbearers. No hiding from death.

Amy Welborn of Open Book expressed both reservations about photographs of the Holy Father's body being carried from his apartment in the Clementine Hall to the Vatican basilica for public veneration and interesting thoughts on the theology of the body. And the juxtaposition of John Paul's death and the celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation (it's supposed to be March 25th but it was later this year because that was Good Friday) moved Amy to reflect eloquently on the beauty and Catholicity of the Church:

"It's an ancient jewel, a well-polished glass through which the events of the present moment are so much more than they may seem on the surface, as light from the centuries, from Scripture, from tradition, shines on these events, these moments, illuminating them, bringing out meaning that, on our own, we're too limited to see. We're not just individual believers, sitting in a room with our Bibles, or even in our church down the street with its decade-old history in a single, culturally-constrained corner of the world.

"We consider the death of a Pope, but because of who we are and the deep waters in which we swim, we also consider so much more: Our own stance on suffering and mortality. Yesterday during Mass, the words in the Eucharistic Prayer, '...a death he freely accepted' struck me like thunder. ..."

Sede Vacante

One of the Church's pleasingly odd traditions is the sede vacante crest, which the Vatican website features when the Holy See is vacant. (Thanks to Zadok the Roman for noticing this.)

Glad to Get That Cleared Up

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, denies that he said Christ was also gay: "[W]hen asked yesterday about whether Christ could have been homosexual, Robinson dismissed the suggestion out of hand.

'We have absolutely no indication of Jesus' sexual orientation. Absolutely none. Therefore, it would be totally inappropriate for me to speculate about it,' Robinson said.

"As for his remarks, Robinson said yesterday he had been arguing that it's difficult to point to what we know about Christ's own life as support for the nuclear family. The nuclear family, Robinson said, was a relatively recent construct."

Dogmatic about His Dogma?

In the wake of the Holy Father's death, the mainstream media is very worried... about the priest shortage that will confront the next pope. But there's a solution: women priests! That was the underlying theme of Anne Thompson's segment last night on NBC News: "'I do just about everything that a pastor would do, except say Mass,' [Sister Annette Amendolia] says. That's still a man's job - Father Greg Yanus'. But he's at St. Procop's just four times a week...." Subtle, no?

With only a few precious days left to influence cardinals who will go into seclusion before electing the next pope, the New York Times pulled out the stops to lobby for a new pope who won't try to make politicians who call themselves Catholic act like Catholics. Read it and find out which cardinal the New York Times really doesn't want.

Meanwhile, columnist Mark Steyn notes that the Guardian remains confused about what it perceived as Pope John Paul II's doctrinaire attitude: "That 'doctrinaire at least suggests the inflexible authoritarian derived his inflexibility from some ancient operating manual - he was dogmatic about his dogma - unlike the New York Times and the Washington Post, which came close to implying that John Paul II had taken against abortion and gay marriage off the top of his head, principally to irk 'liberal Catholics.' The assumption is always that there's some middle ground that a less 'doctrinaire' pope might have staked out: he might have supported abortion in the first trimester, say, or reciprocal partner benefits for gays in committed relationships. The root of the Pope's thinking - that there are eternal truths no one can change even if one wanted to - is completely incomprehensible to the progressivist mindset."

Wasn't He Great?

Only two popes in the history of the Catholic Church are traditionally called "the Great"--Leo (441-460), who confronted Atilla the Hun and turned back the blood-soaked monster from Rome, and Gregory (590-604), who is perhaps best remembered today for having sent missions to Christianize the Angles on a far-flung northern island. Isn't it exciting that we may have lived in the papacy of the third Great?

Like Gregory, John Paul cared about taking the gospel to people far from Rome, and like Leo, he confronted barbarian leaders, helping to bring down one of the great barbarities of the last century, communism. In so doing, John Paul answered, as so many have noted in the last few days (here and here) Stalin's famous question, "The pope? How many divisions does he have?"

But, of course, in addition to acting on the stage of history, he was also our universal pastor. So many loved him--Kenneth Woodward's description of the crowds in St. Peter's Square waiting for word of his death may bring tears to your eyes--but there was always that drumbeat that he should dilute the faith. Whenever you read that John Paul--who was actually not much of a hands-on manager--was "authoritarian," that is what is meant. "He was the world's greatest defender of orthodox, Bible-based Christianity," wrote Fred Barnes, comparing the Holy Father to the presiding bishop of Barnes's own Episcopal Church and "possibly a majority of [Episcopal] bishops [who] are among the great diluters of classical Christianity."

Of course, the other thing about John Paul is that we loved him. Let's be honest--we got a kick out of having him as our Holy Father. Sadly, I have lost my wonderful picture of him holding a koala bear (though it's in Beliefnet's Pope photo gallery, but Domenico Bettinelli has a rare (and regrettably fuzzy) photo of the Holy Father wearing rocker Bono's sunglasses and another one of a frail Holy Father embracing Bettinelli's nephew in 2000.

His first words to us, when we met him on that balcony, were, "Be not afraid." And the handsome, vigorous man, whose life was totally anchored in God, was never afraid. Talking head Larry Kudlow, a convert who has wrestled with drug and alcohol addiction, makes this point in a very personal essay on the Holy Father. So does Steven Hayward, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. (I almost didn't post Hayward because JP's charisma seemed partially lost on him, but it's a worthy essay.)

John Paul, whose last hours are described here, bid us be happy for him at his death. Give us a little time, Holy Father. We are sad. We are sad only because we have been happy.

We shall soon have a new pope. He will be a successor to Peter, and we will give him our allegiance. I am not sure we will ever again love as we have loved. John Paul, of course, wouldn't want somebody to say something like that. His fealty was to God and His Church.

He Who Goes Into the Conclave a Pope Comes Out a Cardinal

The lobbying has already started. "Radical Brazilian Archbishop Leads Race to Claim Throne of St. Peter," screams one headline. How on earth do they know? Was there a Gallup poll of a representative sampling of the cardinals who, sequestered, will elect the next pope? A telephone interview with the Holy Spirit?

Note to media: No pope, even a bad one, is going to dilute Christianity (see Fred Barnes, above). You read it here first: The next pope will not usher in women priests, transgender cardinals, or reverse the Church's teaching on contraception. Don't get your hopes up.

Ted Kennedy's Bad Taste Photo Op

With cameras and note-taking reporters everywhere, Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick celebrated Mass yesterday at St. Matthew's cathedral. He preached a nice sermon, intertwining theology and remarks about John Paul II. But, as the procession recessed down the aisle, Senator Teddy Kennedy, seated fairly close to the front and apparently sensing a photo op, jumped up, appeared to lock arms with the cardinal, and processed down the aisle with the clergy. No layman, even one whose slain brother was buried from this very cathedral, should do this. Bad blow to my resolution to think only good thoughts in honor of the pope.

Better to Divorce than Starve Your Wife to Death

Coming so close together, the deaths of Terri Schiavo and John Paul II were a counterpart--Ms. Schiavo starved and dehydrated because she is incapacitated, the pope living life to the fullest even though his powers were much diminished. Michelle Malkin has posted a new Zogby poll that indicates that the public would not have supported Ms. Schiavo's starvation if they had known the true nature of her medical condition.

By the way, I got sick of pro-deathers saying that those of us who wanted Ms. Shiavo's parents to get their wish to take care of their daughter, a wish opposed by her husband, were anti-marriage. Michael Schiavo had already moved on to a new family. I support the Church's teaching on divorce, but call me a liberal because I'd say that, given a choice between getting a civil divorce and starving your wife to death, I'd opt for divorce.

Pope John Paul II, 1920-2005

"May the Angels led thee into paradise: may the Martyrs receive the at thy coming, and lead thee into the holy city of Jerusalem. May the choir of Angels receive thee, and mayest thou have eternal rest with Lazarus, who once was poor."

--Anthem from the Roman burial service

Death Is Rarely Dignified...

Did you see the televised image of John Paul II coming to his Vatican window the other day to bless the crowd? I'll never forget how the pope became an upset old man when he realized he could not speak to the people in St. Peter's. I'm not sure the modern world has ever seen a pope in such an unguarded moment. It was really Vatican Candid Camera.

But John Paul has let us see his decline and sufferings. In so doing, I think he has reminded us of something important: Death is rarely dignified. We may try to die with dignity, making a chemically-timed "exit" at a time and place of our choosing. But the illusion of being in control is merely that, an illusion. One rarely escapes what the anti-war musical satire "Oh, What a Lovely War" referred to as death's "sting-a-ling-a-ling."

Religious people hope that beyond the sting-a-ling-a-ling will be, as an old hymn puts it, "a land of pure delight, where saints immortal reign, [where] infinite day excludes the night, and pleasures banish pain.

"There everlasting spring abides,
and never-withering flowers:
death, like a narrow sea, divides
this heavenly land from ours."

We are mostly "timorous mortals," who "start and shrink" when confronted with this "narrow sea." But the Holy Father appears to be preparing for his crossing with grace--not dignity, as he showed at his Vatican window, but with God's grace, which, in the final analysis, is worth lots more. Writer Marc A. Thiessen makes some of these same points, only better, in a tribute to the Holy Father on National Review.

But Often It Brings Drama

Death may not be dignified, but when a pope dies, there is plenty of solemn drama. Catholic World News has a report on what goes on at the Vatican then:

"[I]t would be Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo who would come to the fore with the Pontiff's death. The Spanish prelate, who is prefect of the Congregation for Religious, also holds the office of camerlengo: the key figure in the period of transition between Popes. He would certify the death of the Pontiff, in the presence of Msgr. Piero Marini, the master of pontifical ceremonies; and Msgr. Enrico Serafini, the notary for the papal household. The Pope's death would then be announced to the people of Rome-- either by the vicar for the Rome diocese, Cardinal Ruini, or by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Ratzinger. The cardinals of the world would then be summoned to Rome for the funeral of John Paul II and the election of the 265th Roman Pontiff."

It is the camerlengo who breaks the dead pope's seal and his fisherman's ring--all of which is explained in the piece I've just cited.

...And It Has No Dominion

Columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin, fast emerging as a Loose Canon favorite, captured these particularly disgusting words about Terri Schiavo's death from Hardball Host Chris Matthews:

"The American people believe that there's been a lot of politics in this, and they don't really have confidence in any of the parties here. There's nobody here who looks particularly compelling or attractive. The husband doesn't know how to present himself at all, his brother's okay. The parents... the father seems to be having, I hate to say this, a good time. I don't know why, maybe it's the focus, maybe he's giddy with sadness of the tragedy that has been going on for so long."

Malkin prints several pictures of Terri Schiavo's grief-stricken father, who doesn't look like a man who is enjoying himself. But, of course, Terri's death isn't the final word. And I'm not just referring to the coming legal battles that will grow out of the starving of Terri Schiavo. No, the final word can be summed up in Dylan Thomas's wonderful poem, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," which Michelle posts on her website:

"And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion."

I've already quoted a good portion of a hymn today, so I'll stop here and merely hope you read the whole poem.

Between the Bridge and the Water

I do want to reply to a post on the mini-boards. Here is the post in question: "You know, Charlotte, by all reports, when Terri was struck down, she wasn't a practicing Catholic. She rarely went to church and lived a secular life. After her illness, she was incapable of repenting. By your rules and the rules of those Evangelicals shouting in front of the hospice, Terri should be roasting in Hell right now."

Here is what I'd like to say:

I have no idea of the state of Terri Schiavo's soul, either before or after she was incapacitated. One should never presume to comment on the disposition of another person's soul, regardless of what "all reports" might say. It is also always wrong to simply assume that anybody with the slightest bit of life left in them is "incapable of repenting." As the Cure of Ars once said to the suffering relative of a suicide, between the bridge and the water, there is room for God's mercy.

If You Can't Afford a Lawyer, One Will Be Appointed for You...

CBS reported yesterday that "the pope has been read his last rites." It sounded as if the Holy Father were being Mirandized--like on "Law and Order." CBS's incorrect choice of words was yet another little reminder that religious terminology is pretty a foreign language to journalistic elites. The sacrament was administered, by the way, or given to the Holy Father, who received it.

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