The Catholic Collaborator

The Vatican has suddenly found itself in the middle of Poland’s tension over its Communist past. Their candidate for the open position of Archbishop of Warsaw apparently collaborated with the Communists before Poland’s liberation, naming priests in the Church who worked against the Soviet-puppet government, according to recently released files from the Polish secret police:

The Catholic church in Poland has been convulsed by claims that the priest who is due to be sworn in this weekend as Archbishop of Warsaw, one of the leading posts in the hierarchy, spied for the communist secret police.
Stanislaw Wielgus is under pressure to withdraw from Sunday’s ceremony or request its postponement after Polish newspapers accused him of collaborating for two decades with a communist regime that the Catholic church staunchly opposed. …
“The new archbishop of Warsaw was a secret and conscious collaborator with the SB [Security Service] for more than 20 years. Documents confirm this,” the well-respected Rzeczpospolita newspaper wrote yesterday of Mr Wielgus, who was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI last month to fill one of the most important roles in the Polish church.
Rzeczpospolita and other publications claim to have found Mr Wielgus’s file in the archives of the communist secret police, which have yielded evidence exposing several prominent priests as former collaborators and led investigators to conclude that about one-in-10 Polish clergymen passed information to the security services.
Mr Wielgus is accused of spying for the SB from 1967, when he was a philosophy student at Lublin University, until the collapse of communist rule in 1989, and of operating under at least three pseudonyms: “Adam”, “Grey” and “Adam Wysocki”.

This will be a major embarrassment for the Vatican, whose last Pope famously fought against the tyranny of Communism both as a priest and in his Papacy. The Poles are not in an understanding mood about overt Communists at the moment; they elected a decidedly anti-Communist government last year, and they certainly do not want a collaborator leading their Church.
Wielgus has denied all of the allegations. He claims that he only met with the secret police in order to get a passport, and that these meetings were a requirement. However, newspapers in Poland claim that they have discovered an agreement signed by Wielgus to work for the Communists, as well as reports he gathered on other people he knew, including other Catholic priests. They also found that Wielgus received special training for his mission and was given a trip to Germany as a reward for the work he had performed.
The Vatican will have to decide shortly whether to proceed with Wielgus’ installation as Archbishop. The outgoing Archbishop Josef Glemp insists that all of these issues came under consideration in the decision to give Wielgus the position. Others are not so certain. One Polish priest has insisted that Wielgus needs to answer for the new evidence, and even a Vatican newspaper predicts he will have to resign if the evidence proves legitimate.
The installation ceremony takes place on Sunday. The Church will have to ask itself if it wants to risk its well-earned credibility in Poland as a force against Communist tyranny by possibly putting the Church in the hands of a collaborator who informed on its own priests. The Vatican should postpone the transition until the new evidence can be thoroughly analyzed.

Haggard Exits

I haven’t remarked much on the Ted Haggard story for a couple of reasons. First, all we had so far was a series of allegations and some dispute over their truthfulness, all of which got resolved this evening when the New Life Church fired Haggard this evening. The second reason is because Haggard is such a marginal figure that the attention he’s received seems like overkill.
I’m not an Evangelical, so perhaps I missed something about Haggard, but he has almost completely avoided my radar screen. The New Life Church only has 14,000 members, about the same size as my local Catholic parish, and it seems absurd to think that the pastor of a moderate-sized church, even in Evangelical circles, has much political clout. I met Haggard in 2005 at Justice Sunday II, and I interviewed him briefly at the event. It impressed me so little that I didn’t even remember it until I saw his picture.
For what it’s worth, Haggard’s activities do strike me as hypocritical. My live blog from Justice Sunday II repeatedly mentions my discomfort with the focus on homosexual activity, although I can’t recall clearly whether Haggard participated in that. (Justice Sunday III did not make that mistake.) Regardless, his participation in homosexual activities while decrying them from the pulpit is the essence of hypocrisy, and he deserves whatever criticism he gets for that. I’d add that the ridiculous statement that he put out earlier claiming that he bought methamphetamine from the gay prostitute but didn’t actually use it reminds me of a Presidential candidate who admitted to smoking pot but declining to inhale.
However, the attention Haggard’s fall has received is nothing short of breathtaking. Some pundits act as though Haggard was a political figure that outshone Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Lou Sheldon put together, and that his disgrace somehow reflects on Republicans across the nation. Haggard didn’t get star billing at JSII, and didn’t even get invited to JSIII, and most of us had never heard of him before. While Haggard certainly had influence on his congregation, I doubt that Haggard had much impact beyond that, and even his contribution to JSII only rated two sentences in my lengthy live blog of the event.
It seems that some people want to exploit the personal disgrace of a minor figure within the Christian community for cheap political gain. Hypocrisy, it seems, is not limited to the pulpit in this case.
UPDATE: Monkei points out that Haggard also served as president of the National Evangelical Association. Like Monkei, I guess I should get around more, because I’ve never heard of them, either.
UPDATE II: One commenter has challenged my accusation of hypocrisy, but they have it incorrect. I didn’t call Haggard a hypocrite for sinning, nor did I ever call his entire church hypocritical. Haggard is a hypocrite if he spoke out against gays and gay relationships while at the same time engaging in one himself. That doesn’t make New Life Church hypocritical, any more than having a small percentage of priests molesting children makes the Catholic Church hyporcritical.
Also, another commenter (Dave?) goes on about how Time Magazine says Haggard was the most influential evangelical minister, and talks about his meetings with George Bush. Well, I just did a Lexis/Nexis search on Bush and Ted Haggard for the first nine months of the year, and I got only 41 hits from its vast repository of all American media outlets — and most of those are in reference to Colorado’s “one man, one woman” statute. It sounds very much like Haggard got invited to some White House prayer breakfasts, but other than that was a non-factor outside Colorado. Like I said earlier, I’m a rather close follower of Bush administration news, and I didn’t recognize the name at all – and I had actually met the man.


One of the more unfortunate and utterly predictable reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at the University of Regensburg — which called for dialogue between faiths — was the violence, death threats, and demands for submission by Muslims worldwide. Moderate Muslims scolded the Pope for daring to criticize apparent inconsistencies in Islam, and even some Westerners who purport to uphold freedom of speech told the Pope he should have kept his mouth shut. The Muslim reaction resulted in at least one murder, a rather chilling response to a call for open and honest dialogue.
After a series of apologies and clarifications, some Muslim scholars have finally answered the Pope’s call. Islamica Magazine has created a panel of dozens of Islamic scholars, and they have crafted a scholarly response to the Regensburg speech:

An open letter to the Pope from 38 top Muslim clerics in various countries accepts his expressions of regret for his controversial speech on Islam.
But the lengthy letter carried on the website of Islamica magazine also points out “errors” and “mistakes” in the Pope’s speech.
The clerics’ letter is due to be passed to the Vatican on Sunday.

Islamica Magazine stated in its press release that the letter intends on addressing “misconceptions” of Islam in the Western world:

The letter is being sent, in the spirit of goodwill, to address some of the controversial remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI during his lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany on Sept. 12, 2006. The letter tackles the main issues raised by the Pope in his discussion of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an ‘educated Persian’ such as compulsion in religion, reason and faith, forced conversion, the understanding of ‘Jihad’ or ‘Holy War,’ and the relationship between Christianity and Islam.
The Muslim signatories accept the Pope’s personal expression of sorrow and assurance that the controversial quote did not reflect his personal opinion. At the same time, the letter represents an attempt to engage with the Papacy on theological grounds in order to tackle wide ranging misconceptions about Islam in the Western world.

Islamica also has the letter available on its website, but in a graphical form only. They will publish the text on Sunday, the same time that the letter will be received by the Papal Nuncio. However, the tone of the letter seems very academic, absent the passions of the millions of protestors. The first argument they tackle is the Pope’s comments about the use of violence for conversion:

You mention that “according to the experts” the verse which begins, There is no compulsion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256) is from the early period when the Prophet “was still powerless and under threat,” but this is incorrect. In fact this verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendancy of the young Muslim community. There is no compulsion in religion was not a command for Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had power, that they could not force another’s heart to believe.

I’d have to return to the Regensburg speech, but I think that was the point of Benedict’s reference — that Muslim leaders do not live by that standard. For that matter, one could then ask why non-Muslims had their economic and professional opportunities significantly proscribed by the Qur’an and Mohammed’s edicts, which also imposed a tax (jizya) on non-Muslims. After all, there are many varieties of compulsion, and those appear to be simply more subtle compulsions to convert.
One finds many points to debate with the scholarly arguments presented in the Islamica letter, but that’s the entire point. The letter provides that kind of Socratic debate which has been lacking since the Manuel dialogue, and that was the point Benedict made during his Regensburg speech. The collected Islamic scholars — and they come from hotspots like Iran, Oman, Chechnya, and Egypt — have chosen to demonstrate more confidence in their faith and its intellectual standing than the massive numbers of rioters that magically appear every time a criticism of Islam appears in the West, spurred on by imams that value totalitarian control over faith and reason.
I am not a mindless Utopian. Dialogue does not solve all problems. However, the refusal to engage in dialogue solves no problems at all and creates all kinds of new problems, as we saw with the Danish Prophet cartoons and the Regensburg speech itself. Perhaps the example of the signatories to the Islamica letter will prompt Muslims worldwide to consider the lack of faith their violent reaction exposes. At the very least, it’s a start towards forcing Islam towards its own Enlightenment.

The Latin Mass Returns

Catholics celebrated Mass for centuries in the primarily Latin rite of the Tridentine Mass. In order to understand the Mass, Catholics had to learn Latin, as vernacular was used for nothing except the homily. Forty years ago, the Catholic Church decided to use vernacular for all portions of the Mass in order to make Catholicism more personal and approachable for modern Catholics, many of whom never learned Latin and found the Tridentine Mass too frustrating and incomprehensible. Predictably, the reform urge took on a very autocratic nature, and Rome demanded an end to all Tridentine Mass celebrations except those specifically authorized by the Church.
That may be changing. The Times of London reports that Pope Benedict XVI will authorize all priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, only forbidding it when bishops explicitly forbid it in writing:

THE Pope is taking steps to revive the ancient tradition of the Latin Tridentine Mass in Catholic churches worldwide, according to sources in Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed a universal indult — or permission — for priests to celebrate again the Mass used throughout the Church for nearly 1,500 years. The indult could be published in the next few weeks, sources told The Times.
Use of the Tridentine Mass, parts of which date from the time of St Gregory in the 6th century and which takes its name from the 16th-century Council of Trent, was restricted by most bishops after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
This led to the introduction of the new Mass in the vernacular to make it more accessible to contemporary audiences. By bringing back Mass in Latin, Pope Benedict is signalling that his sympathies lie with conservatives in the Catholic Church.

Many Catholics will rejoice at the return of the old celebration. Two generations of Catholics have grown up without it, but many of these wonder why the Church forbid it outright rather than just encourage both forms to be celebrated. The Times notes that several high-profile conflicts over the rite resulted in excommunications and various minor schisms, in retrospect a silly episode in Church history.
I recall when I started attending church again in the mid-80s that a nearby parish had a very conservative pastor. He had the smalled parish in the diocese, reportedly because the bishop suspected that he would turn the altar around and start celebrating Mass in Latin. In fact, one of the employees of the parish told me that the diocese would stop by just to make sure that he hadn’t violated the restriction. This was not an isolated impulse, as the controversy proves.
In many parishes, priests celebrate at least one Mass in Spanish, and of course many parishes in immigrant communities use their own languages. It seems odd that the only language that priests could not use without express permission was the official language of the Church itself. The intense reaction to Vatican II shows what can happen when reformers take themselves too seriously, and how damaging that can be to an organization or a community.
I would much prefer to celebrate Mass in English. I never studied Latin, so I would understand little of the ceremony except for the correlation to the vernacular Mass I know well. It’s doubtful I could say the Pater Noster or the Gloria, and that limitation would make me feel like an outsider in a Mass that should be about inclusion. However, I see no reason why a parish that celebrates five Masses in a weekend could not perform one in the Tridentine tradition; I would simply attend another and be perfectly happy to do so.
I think Benedict has the right idea, and now I can at least have the opportunity to experience something I have not since I was a toddler, far out of my memory. In a Church that celebrates its catholic as well as Catholic reach, a little Latin will hurt no one.
UPDATE: Mary Pat notes in the comments that the Novus Ordo Mass is celebrated in Latin and had been an acceptable form of celebration, so language isn’t the primary issue. The Tridentine Mass had other elements which the Vatican deemed objectionable after the Second Vatican Council, including moving the altar around so that the priest faces away from the congregation. None of the elements really supported the near-absolute ban on the centuries-old Mass, in my opinion.

Does This Mean No Blogging, Too?

The Iranian Supreme Leader has a lot on his mind these days. With the nuclear standoff, the spread of Islamist power, managing Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and propping Moqtada al-Sadr up in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Khameini has little time to spare on less important matters. However, he apparently considers self-gratification a pressing (ha!) matter of state:

Deliberate masturbation during the month of Ramadan renders a fast invalid, Iranian Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khameini has ruled.
Khameini, who is Iran’s most powerful political and religious figure, was asked on his website : “If somebody masturbates during the month of Ramadan but without any discharge, is his fasting invalidated?”
“If he do not intend masturbation and discharging semen and nothing is discharged, his fasting is correct even though he has done a ḥarām (forbidden) act. But, if he intends masturbation or he knows that he usually discharges semen by this process and semen really comes out, it is a ḥaram intentional breaking fasting,” the Iranian leader said, posting the reply on his website.

This wasn’t the only pearl of wisdom issued by Iran’s most powerful leader. He also approved of using a European virgin for a one-year marriage in order to gain residency in the West, and assured Iranians that they could swallow the bits of food stuck in their teeth during Ramadan, as long as they didn’t leave the food in their teeth intentionally. Only jockeys can bet on horse races in shari’a, and Muslims can drink water while standing up, but they cannot attend meetings with members of the opposite sex.
And we thought asking about boxers and briefs was silly.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, A Saint For Our Times

Today is the feast day of my favorite saint (yes, I know, Catholic alert!), Father Maximilian Kolbe. The patron saint of journalists, families, and prisoners died in Auschwitz in 1941, taking the place of another selected for death. His amazing story is told at the Auschwitz web site:

In order to discourage escapes, Auschwitz had a rule that if a man escaped, ten men would be killed in retaliation. In July 1941 a man from Kolbe’s bunker escaped. The dreadful irony of the story is that the escaped prisoner was later found drowned in a camp latrine, so the terrible reprisals had been exercised without cause. But the remaining men of the bunker were led out.
‘The fugitive has not been found!’ the commandant Karl Fritsch screamed. ‘You will all pay for this. Ten of you will be locked in the starvation bunker without food or water until they die.’ The prisoners trembled in terror. A few days in this bunker without food and water, and a man’s intestines dried up and his brain turned to fire.
The ten were selected, including Franciszek Gajowniczek, imprisoned for helping the Polish Resistance. He couldn’t help a cry of anguish. ‘My poor wife!’ he sobbed. ‘My poor children! What will they do?’ When he uttered this cry of dismay, Maximilian stepped silently forward, took off his cap, and stood before the commandant and said, ‘I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.’
Astounded, the icy-faced Nazi commandant asked, ‘What does this Polish pig want?’
Father kolbe pointed with his hand to the condemned Franciszek Gajowniczek and repeated ‘I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.’
Observers believed in horror that the commandant would be angered and would refuse the request, or would order the death of both men. The commandant remained silent for a moment. What his thoughts were on being confronted by this brave priest we have no idea. Amazingly, however, he acceded to the request. Apparantly the Nazis had more use for a young worker than for an old one, and was happy to make the exchange. Franciszek Gajowniczek was returned to the ranks, and the priest took his place.
Gajowniczek later recalled:
‘I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me – a stranger. Is this some dream?
I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.
For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he thought that as a priest his place was beside the condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact he was with them to the last.’‘

Father Kolbe was thrown down the stairs of Building 13 along with the other victims and simply left there to starve. Hunger and thirst soon gnawed at the men. Some drank their own urine, others licked moisture on the dank walls. Maximilian Kolbe encouraged the others with prayers, psalms, and meditations on the Passion of Christ. After two weeks, only four were alive. The cell was needed for more victims, and the camp executioner, a common criminal called Bock, came in and injected a lethal dose of cabolic acid into the left arm of each of the four dying men. Kolbe was the only one still fully conscious and with a prayer on his lips, the last prisoner raised his arm for the executioner. His wait was over.

Gajowniczek survived Auschwitz, which was a miracle in itself. He eventually attended the ceremony that canonized Father Kolbe as a saint in 1981. He returned to Auschwitz every year on August 14th, the date that the Nazis finally had to kill Kolbe with an injection, to offer prayers on his behalf. Gajowniczek died in 1995, fifty-four years after Kolbe’s sacrifice.
I think of Father Kolbe when we see the heroics of everyday people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. World Trade Center, which I reviewed yesterday, provided a number of examples of people who risked their lives to save others. United 93 showed people who almost certainly knew that they had forfeited their lives to save others. Few get the opportunity to personally put themselves in another’s place for certain execution without any guarantee of saving the other life, with only trust in the Lord. The Nazi commandant could easily have added Kolbe to the other ten, after all, or could have killed Gajowniczek separately later.
Why didn’t he do that? Why did the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz — someone we can certainly assume to be as evil as any who goose-stepped the Earth in that period — allow Kolbe to sacrifice himself for another? It makes no worldly sense, but it happened. It’s where reason ends and faith begins, and why Father Kolbe makes such a compelling figure of faith for so many.

Mel Asks For Help And Forgiveness

Mel Gibson has extended his apology in a statement released earlier today, and this time he explicity acknowledges the anti-Semitic rant that has plunged one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars into so much hot water. Not only has he apologized to the Jewish community, he has asked them for help in determining the source of his bigoted words:

There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge. …
The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life. Every human being is God’s child, and if I wish to honor my God I have to honor his children. But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.
I’m not just asking for forgiveness. I would like to take it one step further, and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one on one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.
I have begun an ongoing program of recovery and what I am now realizing is that I cannot do it alone. I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display, and I am asking the Jewish community, whom I have personally offended, to help me on my journey through recovery. Again, I am reaching out to the Jewish community for its help. I know there will be many in that community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable. But I pray that that door is not forever closed.

The sentiment seems sincere, and he doesn’t appear to be dodging any responsibility for his words and actions over the weekend. Some may see this as a publicity stunt, and it certainly could be just that. The question for his fans and foes is whether to accept Mel at his word and challenge him to atone for his hateful and asinine actions, or whether to write him off as a human being.
I’m not suggesting that Gibson get a pass for his outburst; far from it. In fact, the responses as noted in the New York Times sound perfectly reasonable under the circumstances:

On Monday, Hope Hartman, a spokeswoman for Disney’s ABC television network, said the company was dropping its plans to produce a Holocaust-themed miniseries in collaboration with Mr. Gibson. …
She did not connect the project’s termination to Mr. Gibson’s remarks. But his statements had already attracted sharp criticism from some who argued that he should be disqualified from moving ahead with the series, despite having apologized for several anti-Jewish statements.
“I don’t think he should be doing a film on the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who had previously criticized what he saw as anti-Semitic overtones in Mr. Gibson’s hit, “The Passion of the Christ.” “It would be like asking someone associated with the K.K.K. to do a movie on the African-American experience.”

I think Hier has that about right. If Gibson wants to produce some work on Jewish history, particularly on its history of suffering and displacement, then it should not be a for-profit endeavor. He needs to atone for his sin, and one does not profit from atonement. Besides, Gibson’s words have opened up a huge credibility gap on any project involving Judaism in the near or moderate term, perhaps forever. He would do better by working with the Jewish community to really learn about Judaism and the journey of this ancient and wise people.
If he does, though, it seems that some people will still hold no possibility for forgiveness in their hearts. That’s a choice each of us has to make, but we should ask ourselves whether we believe in redemption at all. The point of Christianity is that each of us, no matter our transgressions, have the ability to redeem ourselves and change for the better. If we believe that sinners can be forgiven, then Gibson — if he sincerely repents and atones for his sins and accepts the consequences of them — has that same possibility.
I have a particular interest in anti-Semitic rants, as my maternal grandfather was Jewish, although non-practicing. He was one of the sweetest men I ever knew, and loved his family more than anything else. His own family ostracized him, more or less, when he married my Roman Catholic grandmother. He died when I was eighteen, the first person to whom I was really close to pass away. I still miss him and his sense of humor, which my mother swears I inherited. (That doesn’t make me Jewish or give me any moral superiority over anyone else opining on this topic, but in the interest of disclosure, CQ readers should understand my perspective.)
When people issue these disgusting insults and paranoid conspiracy theories, I think of my grandfather and the humble life he led, and it makes me angry. I expect it from the likes of Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and David Duke, but not from Mel Gibson, who has worked with enough Jews to know better. Still, my own faith tells me to judge a man’s actions and not the state of his soul, and I think that is where we should leave it with Gibson, at least for now. We should challenge him to repent and atone, and this statement is a good step towards the former. We should pray that he enlightens himself rather than wallow in the kind of hatred and ignorance that produced those terrible comments. If he meets the challenge, we should welcome him back into our good graces and allow him to be an example that bigotry can be healed.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Obama’s Prayer For The Democrats

EJ Dionne takes note of the controversy created by former left-wing hero Barack Obama, who alienated a number of pundits when he scolded Democrats for eschewing religion in their politics. Dionne, whose writings often touch on matters of faith, schools Democrats to pay attention to Obama when he counsels an outreach to the faithful:

[T]here is often a terrible awkwardness among Democratic politicians when their talk turns to God, partly because they also know how important secular voters are to their coalition. When it comes to God, it’s hard to triangulate.
So, when a religious Democrat speaks seriously about the relationship of faith to politics, the understandable temptation is to see him as counting not his blessings but his votes. Thus did the Associated Press headline its early stories about Barack Obama’s speech to religious progressives on Wednesday: “Obama: Democrats Must Court Evangelicals.”
Well, yes, Obama, the senator from Illinois who causes all kinds of Democrats to swoon, did indeed criticize “liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant.” But a purely electoral reading of Obama’s speech to the Call to Renewal conference here misses the point of what may be the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy’s Houston speech in 1960 declaring his independence from the Vatican.

Obama, as Dionne explains, wants to move past the church-state separation arguments by emphasizing the benefits to the faithful of such an arrangement. However, this seems rather patronizing and pointless. Very few among the faithful — I won’t say none — expect the US government to recast itself into a theocracy, where a Guardian Council of high priests pass judgement on all legislation. (We already have that with the Supreme Court, in some ways, which is why so many of us argue for the literal interpretation of the Constitution.)
We value the power granted to the people in crafting legislation, based on shared values and limited by the Constitution. What we do not appreciate is the systematic exclusion of the voices of the faithful in these debates. The secular underpinnings of the modern Democratic Party has done their level best to make religious belief a disqualifier for public service. All we need remember are Charles Schumer’s thinly veiled attacks on “deeply held personal beliefs” of Catholics such as the reason why he would not vote for their confirmation to understand the hostility felt by Democratic leadership to people of faith.
Dionne has a good point when he reminds people that the Bible contains many teachings, among them service to the poor and disadvantaged. The teachings of both Christianity and Judaism extol the values of tolerance and ethics, the holiness of working for those who have nothing or nobody, and the essential requirement of living in the world but not being of the world. In earlier times before Democrats became Christophobes, they relied on those passages to attract support for well-intentioned social programs intended to eliminate poverty and hunger. Even conservatives of faith acknowledge the strength of those arguments, and at least it provided a commonality of purpose, even when we could not agree on the means.
Now, however, the Democrats have abandoned the morality of our faith while demanding tribute to a government that has shown itself incapable of delivering any progress on the programs that their faith at one time demanded. In fact, they use the same government that forces us to support an ever-expanding set of social programs that also demands the removal of all symbols and speech of faith from the public square. The Democrats have replaced the church with the bureaucracy, and up to now have purged all that supported public expressions of faith.
It appears that the same dynamic has come into play with Barack Obama. When he made the common-sense statement that government cannot cure the soul of a man who would shoot indiscriminately into a crowd — a crime that happened recently in Minneapolis, resulting in the death of a random bystander — the Left excoriates him for what essentially amounts to heresy. We see no mere rhetorical device in the argument that the Left has created their own religion out of secular humanism, and the demand that Obama repent for his apostasy confirms it.
Dionne provides one of the few voices of the Left still around to speak on faith in public policy. Democrats should heed his words and get over their own form of religious intolerance. Don’t force Obama to mutter E pur si muove under his breath.
UPDATE: Howard Kurtz has more on the blogospheric reaction to Obama’s speech.

Condoms And Catholics In The Age Of AIDS

The Vatican has undertaken a review of its teachings on condom use, as the conservative Pope Benedict reconciles the church’s mission to protect life within the age of AIDS. The Pope requested a report from theologians about the doctrinal implications of condom usage within marriage when one partner carries HIV or has developed full-blown AIDS:

Even at the Vatican, not all sacred beliefs are absolute: Thou shalt not kill, but war can be just. Now, behind the quiet walls, a clash is shaping up involving two poles of near certainty: the church’s long-held ban on condoms and its advocacy of human life.
The issue is AIDS. Church officials recently confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI had requested a report on whether it might be acceptable for Catholics to use condoms in one narrow circumstance: to protect life inside a marriage when one partner is infected with H.I.V. or is sick with AIDS.
Whatever the pope decides, church officials and other experts broadly agree that it is remarkable that so delicate an issue is being taken up. But they also agree that such an inquiry is logical, and particularly significant from this pope, who was Pope John Paul II’s strict enforcer of church doctrine.
“In some ways, maybe he has got the greatest capacity to do it because there is no doubt about his orthodoxy,” said the Rev. Jon Fuller, a Jesuit physician who runs an AIDS clinic at the Boston Medical Center.

Put another way, for those of us who follow politics, only Nixon can wear a rubber. An activist Pope would never have the standing in the Church to make this adjustment; a new teaching would, of course, be followed — but it would likely get reversed during a succeeding papacy. If a Pope such as Benedict, with his lifelong adherence to strict doctrine, makes this change, the new teaching will have much more impact.
In order to understand why this would be an issue at all — and why it isn’t really that much of a change — one has to know why the Church bans condoms at all. The Church has taught that the act of sexual intercourse has a natural purpose of procreation, the purpose for which God intended it. Therefore, when a married couple engages in sex, the pair must be open to procreation. Condoms and birth control in general frustrate this purpose, and turns the act into nothing more than an expression of lust with no sacramental quality at all. Therefore the Church bans their use.
Many certainly disagree with the Church, and for many reasons. Catholics have more or less decided to use this teaching as more of a guide than a rule since it was most prominently taught in 1968, with Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. For some, conception could have severe complications for the woman, such as those with diabetes or some other life-threatening illness. Priests often (but not always) counseled such couples to pray about the decision to use birth control in marriage and follow their own consciences.
The spread of AIDS, especially in Africa where heterosexual transmission has caused the disease to race out of control, presents a clearer and more pressing example of the same dynamic. Regardless of whether one partner or the other has engaged in extramarital sex, the uninfected partner is a potential victim, and one which Humanae Vitae fails to protect. The implications for this policy are staggering. Teaching Africans that condom use is a sin creates conditions that kill people, and not just theoretically, and not just a few.
Given that the entire basis for the Church’s position on condoms is the protection of life, this is obviously a policy that requires immediate rethinking. Pope Benedict should restate the church teaching on condom use to acknowledge that the married couple themselves deserve protection from sexual transmission of deadly diseases and from the consequences of pregnancy when it puts the mother’s life in physical jeopardy. The fact that this Pope has agreed to review the policy shows a great deal of promise that a rational position may be at hand.
Addendum: Of course, this has no bearing on the use of condoms outside of marriage, but one has to put that Church doctrine in its proper context. Years ago, when I belonged to a young-adult group, our sponsoring priest held a wide-ranging Q&A with us, and one topic was premarital sex and birth control use. Father Walt told us that committing the sin of sex outside of marriage was by far the more damaging act. Refusing to wear a condom because of its supposedly sinful implications would be, at that point, rather laughable.

He Is Risen

From the Gospel according to John, chapter 20 (NIV):
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may[a] believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Happy Easter and a blessed day to all of my friends here at CQ.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has a lovely Easter post and a good roundup. And I forgot to also wish my Jewish friends a happy Passover.