Sunday, August 26, 2007

Be Careful When You Mess With Other People's Cheese

Sorry... Can't resist one more bit of a little rant before I leave for a few days. I tried to be good, but this one was precipitated by a shock.

Almost exactly one year ago, the client my company contracts with had a technical/business problem I was trying to help them solve. The vendor for their middleware product had indicated that they were eventually going to be ending support for the mainframe integration server component of it. The client was faced with the decision of having to continue developing applications on unsupported software, or of having to contract with an unproven third-party who would be a reseller for the integration piece. They wanted to know if our company could help in providing any other alternatives.

I'd always had a good working relationship with our company's technical support staff. On my own initiative, I drove out to upstate New York so that they could tell me about what our company had to offer in this space. One particular guy, a certified Systems Management Integrator, took an entire day out of his busy schedule and gave me a full-day presentation about a product he had written a paper on. The product enables you to leverage existing legacy online systems by aggregating multiple transaction invocations, terminal interactions, and sub-flows, and to deploy them as runtimes. These deployments can in turn be exposed as web services by using a SOAP pipeline. It was a fascinating presentation, and the information I brought back to my managers and to the client was well received.

Just a few days ago, I was talking to another member of that support team on an unrelated matter, and I heard that the person who had given that presentation had taken his own life at the end of July. I was stunned. Recently, my company has gone through another round of layoffs and work consolidations, and due to the increasingly large burden of work being thrown on his shoulders, along with the possibility of being laid off on top of that, it was apparently too much for him. He jumped off of a cliff. Literally.

I couldn't understand it. This was a guy with a lot of smarts who had a lot going for him. In addition to being sharp technically, he had a teacher's natural aptitude. Granted, I didn't know him well, but it did seem to me in retrospect that this fellow might have had a bit of melancholy about him, but nothing I would call severe. I don't think that there are many people who commit suicide over a job alone. There is usually something else going on. From what I heard from my other friend, there may have been some old divorce issues at work here, but most of that was in the past, and the children were all grown and independent. Perhaps in those circumstances, though, the job really does become the raison d'être, and the means of self-definition. Upstate New York isn't exactly chock-a-block full of other things you can do if you lose your high-tech job.

Now, I know that a certain amount of globalization is inevitable and necessary, and I know that individual managers are making decisions that are based on inexorable factors, driven by the marketplace, that are largely outside of their control. They cannot safely resist and deviate. I do believe, however, that globalization as it is currently being practiced and implemented has too much of a "race to the bottom" aspect to it in its relentless quest to slash costs. The human cost, at an individual level like this, and in the cost to society in the depressed and devastated communities that it leaves behind, are being far too much overlooked.

I'm reminded of many of the corporate culture-changing seminars I've seen over the years. Humiliation often precedes the axe. Chances are, if you were asked as an employee to go on some kind of outward-bound trip, or take part in a role-playing game, or asked to hop about on one foot while chanting company slogans, or take part in a 3-legged race for a team-building exercise, you should have taken it as a pretty reliable sign that you were about to get whacked.

The incident about the employee who ended his life put me in mind of a certain chipper mid-level manager a few years back, who has since moved on elsewhere. She didn't like whining of any kind. A few years back, corporate America suffered mightily by being subjected to a certain "motivational" book called Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, by Spencer Johnson. This woman though it should be required reading for everyone.

Apparently, the point of this little book (featuring mice called Sniff and Scurry, and mouse-sized "littlepeople" called Hem and Haw), is that we are all in a maze called life, and when the cheese you are after, be it for sustenance or for self-image, gets moved, you have to adapt to change and find a new way to look for your cheese. In other words - Change happens. Adapt to it or die.

Now, I don't know why it isn't obvious to more people what is wrong with the whole premise. Have corporate employees become such a herd of anesthetized, lobotimized sheep that the "littlepeople" will just let the "bigpeople" steal from them and continue to tell them what is wrong with them? Once again, we see the cost of the collapse of the labor movement, which has been completely defanged and castrated over the past few decades, but still gets blamed for holding back American business. See, we are all just like little rats in a cage, and if your intellectual and social betters decide to move your cheese on you, well, you'd just better get with the program or else.

I can't put it into words any better than San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carrol, who effectively ripped that book in a column called I Got Your Cheese Right Here.
THERE ARE TWO kinds of people in this nation: those who know about "Who Moved My Cheese?" and those who don't. The people who know can produce long and sometimes angry monologues about it; the people who don't know are totally bewildered. "This is real?" they ask...

"Who Moved My Cheese?" is much used in corporate settings. Employees are ordered to read the book, to write reports about the book, to break into groups and discuss the book. The principles of the book are referred to in meetings. It is a huge hit among managers, and a huge pain for employees...

The author seems to think that "cheese" is a metaphor for "success in business," but the employees forced to read the book know the truth: "Cheese" is a metaphor for "continued employment." Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that a flurry of cheese sessions often precedes layoffs.

So iconic has the book become, employees are judged on how well they handle the cheese seminars.

There is a perfectly good life lesson inside the cheese story: "All life is change." That's four words, and they did not cost you $19.95. The problem with the book lies elsewhere.

Employees are encouraged to emulate the mice and/or learn from the travails of the littlepeople. These are interesting choices of role models -- small and powerless things who forever run around a maze because they need cheese.

"Whining" and "complaining" are not encouraged. They are taken as signs of a lack of spiritual growth. The good mice sniff out the new location of the cheese and scurry toward it; the bad littlepeople ask pointless questions and fail to seek the cheese aggressively.

Neither mice nor littlepeople are encouraged to ask why they are in a maze at all, or to question the task, or to consider that maybe running after cheese is a lame substitute for having a life, in a world with garlic fries and roast duck and peach pies.

And the employees get the message. No matter how wrapped up in New Age jargon it is, the message is: Ask only small questions. Accept whatever you are told. If it's cheese day at the office, say "thank you" and give a nice cringing presentation about moving with the times.

And let go of that useless nostalgia for, say, times when everyone was on the medical plan, when the concept of "overtime" was meaningful, when memos made sense, when cowardly consultants were not creeping around figuring out whom to fire, when there was a leader in the company who welcomed challenges, had fun doing the job and did not need a dopey little book, because the job itself had meaning.

Reading "Who Moved My Cheese?" I was reminded of another book about "littlepeople" who were constantly required to survive in a mazelike environment characterized by cruel and arbitrary change, another place where the search for cheese was constant. That book is "The Gulag Archipelago."

Sometimes the only means of defense for those who are powerless in front of larger forces are humor and satire. Here are some satirical books and articles, sure to be more useful and full of wisdom than the silly book itself.

In the Long Run We’re All Dead Mice (Or, Trivial Trash for the Unenlightened and Unaware)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Does She Make The Case?

Catholic revert Anne Rice says that the Democratic Party upholds Gospel values better than the Republicans do, and would do a better job of putting an end to abortion. Is she right?

As reported here last December, the author Anne Rice , author of the superb novel Christ the Lord out of Egypt, has reverted back to the Catholic faith of her youth, and is committed to keep on using her talents to write stories about Christ.

She's also generated a bit of buzz on her website this week in her endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President. Some excerpts on what she has to say about the two parties and about abortion.

I hope you will read this statement in a soft voice. It is meant to be spoken in a soft voice... I am also keenly aware that we have only two parties in this country. Only two. This point can not be emphasized enough. We do not have a slate of parties, including one which is purely Christian. We have two parties, and our system has worked with two parties for generations. This is what we have...

Though I deeply respect those who disagree with me, I believe, for a variety of reasons, that the Democratic Party best reflects the values I hold based on the Gospels. Those values are most intensely expressed for me in the Gospel of Matthew, but they are expressed in all the gospels. Those values involve feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, and above all, loving one’s neighbors and loving one’s enemies. A great deal more could be said on this subject, but I feel that this is enough.

I want to add here that I am Pro-Life. I believe in the sanctity of the life of the unborn. Deeply respecting those who disagree with me, I feel that if we are to find a solution to the horror of abortion, it will be through the Democratic Party.

I have heard many anti-abortion statements made by people who are not Democrats, but many of these statements do not strike me as constructive or convincing. I feel we can stop the horror of abortion. But I do not feel it can be done by rolling back Roe vs. Wade, or packing the Supreme Court with judges committed to doing this. As a student of history, I do not think that Americans will give up the legal right to abortion. Should Roe vs Wade be rolled back, Americans will pass other laws to support abortion, or they will find ways to have abortions using new legal and medical terms.

And much as I am horrified by abortion, I am not sure -- as a student of history – that Americans should give up the right to abortion.

I am also not convinced that all of those advocating anti-abortion positions in the public sphere are necessarily practical or sincere. I have not heard convincing arguments put forth by anti-abortion politicians as to how Americans could be forced to give birth to children that Americans do not want to bear. And more to the point, I have not heard convincing arguments from these anti-abortion politicians as to how we can prevent the horror of abortion right now, given the social situations we have.

The solution to the horror of abortion can and must be found.

Do I myself have a solution to the abortion problem? The answer is no. What I have are hopes and dreams and prayers --- that better education will help men and women make responsible reproductive choices, and that abortion will become a morally abhorrent option from which informed Americans will turn away.

There is a great deal more to this question, as to how abortion became legal, as to why that happened, as to why there is so little talk of the men who father fetuses that are aborted, and as to the human rights of all individuals involved. I am not qualified as a student of history to fully discuss these issues in detail. I remain conscientiously curious and conscientiously concerned.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On Division and the Need for Openness

Fr. Ron Rolheiser on Polarization
and Bitterness in the Church

No Words by Sieger Köder

Even though I fear I may be pushing the limits of copyright infringement, I'd like to publish two short essays from Fr. Ron Rolheiser's book Forgotten Among the Lilies, A Heart with One Room, and Closed to Love, Open to Hate. Looking at the state we are in today, I'm inclined to think that he wouldn't mind my sharing them.

A Heart with One Room

OUR AGE is witnessing an erosion of Catholicism. The consequence of this, besides our drab somberness, is a polarization which, both in the world and in the church, is rendering us incapable of working together against the problems which threaten us all. Let me explain.

We are, I submit, becoming ever less Catholic. What is implied here? What is slipping? What does it mean to be Catholic?

The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant. All Christians, Protestants or Roman Catholics, characterize their faith as Catholic-as well as one, holy and apostolic.

The word Catholic means universal, wide. It speaks of a comprehensive embrace. Its opposite, therefore, is narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.

To my mind, the best definition of the word Catholic comes from Jesus himself, who tells us: "In my Father's house there are many rooms" (John 14:2).

In speaking of the Father's house, Jesus is not pointing to a mansion in the sky, but to God's heart. God's heart has many rooms. It can embrace everything. It is wide, unpetty, open and antithetical to all that is factional, fundamentalistic and ideological. It is a heart that does not divide things up according to ours and theirs.

Nikos Kazantzakis wrote: "The bosom of God is not a ghetto." That is another way of saying that God has a Catholic heart.

To affirm this, however, is not to say that, since God is open to all and embraces all, nothing makes any difference; we may do as we like, all morality is relative, all beliefs are equal, and nobody may lay claim to truth.

There is a false concept of openness which affirms that to embrace all means to render all equal. Jesus belies this. He affirms the universal embrace of God's heart without affirming, as a consequence, that everything is OK. His Father loves everyone, even as he discriminates between right and wrong.

Catholicism can be spoken of as slipping, in that, unlike God's heart, more and more it seems, our hearts have just one room.

Today we are seeing a creeping narrowness and intolerance. Fundamentalism, with its many types of ideology, has infected us. This is as true in the secular world as in the church. Fundamentalism and the narrowness and consequent polarization it spawns are everywhere. But this needs to be understood.

We tend to think of fundamentalism as a conservative view which takes Scripture so literally as to be unable to relate to the world in a realistic way. But that is just one, and a very small, kind of fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism wherever we see a heart with just one room.

The characteristic of all fundamentalism is that, precisely, it seizes onto some fundamental value, for example the wisdom of the past, the divine inspiration of Scripture or the importance of justice and equality, and makes that the sole criterion for judging goodness and authenticity.

In that sense, the fundamentalist's heart has just one room-a conservative, liberal, biblical, charismatic, feminist, anti-feminist, social justice, anti-abortion or pro-choice room. It judges you as good, acceptable, decent, sincere, Christian, loving and worth listening to only if you are in that room. If you are not ideologically committed to that fundamental, complete with all the prescribed rhetoric and accepted indignations, then you are judged as insincere or ignorant, and in need of either conversion or of having your consciousness raised.

In the end, all fundamentalism is ideology and all ideology is fundamentalism-and both are a heart with one room, a bosom that is a ghetto.

That is the real un-Catholicism.

Tragically too, at the heart of all fundamentalism and ideology, there is an absence of a healthy self-love and a healthy self-criticism. That is why fundamentalists and ideologues are all so defensive, hypersensitive and humorless.

It is because of this that the world and the church are so full of intolerance, anger, lack of openness, self-righteous condemnation, scapegoating and academic and moral intimidation. There are too few rooms in our hearts!

Given this, it is not surprising that very little genuine dialogue ever takes place. Most attempts at it are little more than name-calling and cheerleading. Given this too, it is not surprising that the working out of personal neuroses is frequently confused with genuine commitment to causes.

In God's house there are many rooms. There is an embrace for everyone; rich and poor, conservative and liberal, irrespective of whether one is wearing silks or denims. God's house is a Catholic house.

And "we must be Catholic as our heavenly Father is Catholic." We must create more Catholic hearts and more Catholic houses. And this is not a call to be wishy-washy relativists who affirm that everything is OK as long as you do it sincerely. Like Christ, we must discriminate between right and wrong and believe in a divine truth which judges the world.

But we must free ourselves from un-Catholicism, from fundamentalism and ideology which create a heart with just one room.

Closed to Love, Open to Hate

WE LIVE IN A TIME of pain and division. Daily, in the world and in the church, hatred, anger and bitterness are growing. It is ever harder to live at peace with each other, to be calm, not to alienate someone just by being. There is so much wound and division around. Women's issues, poverty and social justice, abortion, sexual morality, questions of leadership and authority, issues of war and peace, and styles of living and ministry are touching deep wounds and setting people bitterly against each other.

This is not even to mention issues such as personality conflicts, jealousy, greed and sin-which habitually divide. Our psychic temperature is on the rise and with it, as Jesus predicted, son is turning against father, daughter against mother, sister against brother. We are being divided. It is no longer possible to escape taking a stand on these issues, and to take a stand on them is to make enemies, to have someone hate you, to be accused of being narrow and to be alienated from other sincere persons. For anyone who is sensitive, this is the deepest pain of all.

Moreover none of us ever approaches these issues in complete fairness and objectivity. We are wounded, whether we admit it or not. Knowingly and unknowingly, in all these issues we have been either oppressor or oppressed and consequently we approach them either too full of wound or too defensive to see straight. In either case the temptation is to become bitter and to give in to the propensity to feel that we have the right to be angry, to hate certain people, to be self-righteous, and to dissociate sympathy and understanding from certain others.

That is a tragic mistake.

Valid, painful and imperative as these issues may be, reason, love, understanding and long-suffering may never give way to a progressive and militant bitterness which can irrevocably alienate. That is the road to hell because bitterness is hell.

Yet that is what is happening today. We are too easily giving in to the temptation to think that because we have been wounded, or because others are wounded, we have the right to hate, to withdraw our empathy, to think in terms of black and white, and to be bitter.
It is getting worse. Bitterness, like cancer, is slowly infecting more and more of Christ's body.

We need to read this, the sign of the times, and respond to it out of the Gospel. It is my submission that, given this bitterness, the Christian vocation today, for a time, will be that of letting ourselves bleed, in tears and tension, to wash out these wounds.

Let me illustrate what this means by way of an example. Just to be alive in the church today is to be caught in a painful tension. For example, the issues of women's rights and social justice are, without doubt, two of the primary challenges that the Holy Spirit is giving our age. Yet Rome refuses to raise seriously the question of the ordination of women and it silences Leonardo Boff, a voice for the poor. With that comes a wave of resentment, bitterness and hatred.

Daily I move in circles where people are bitter about these issues and I find myself increasingly reluctant to defend Rome's stance on them. On these two issues we are sitting on a powder keg and a deadly bitterness is flowing from them.

Yet no serious Catholic can be cavalier about the church as institution, as universal. Some 800 million Catholics cannot travel together without compromise, frustration, impatience, tears, rules and traditions which at times might seemingly strangle some of the life that the Holy Spirit is spawning.

When a universal church moves forward, it can only be in baby steps.

So what does the Christian who wants to be faithful today do? Ignore Rome? Consider the women's movement and social justice as fads? Grow cynical? Mind his or her own business and let be what is? Say "the hell with them all"?

Since nothing else is possible for now, save bitterness, which must be rejected, the answer lies in a fidelity which accepts suffering. To be faithful today means to live in pain, in tension, in frustration, in seeming compromise, often hated by both sides.

Our call today is to reconcile by feeling the pain of all sides and by letting our pain and helplessness be a buffer that heals, the blood that helps wash the wound. As a simple start we can test how open-minded we are on all these issues by seeing how much pain we are in. Not to be in pain is not to be open-minded.

It is a time of pain for the church, a time when we will all feel some hatred, a time when above all we must keep our peace of mind, our inner calm of spirit and our outer charity.

Most of all, it is time to resist bitterness and that hardness of spirit which dampens the Holy Spirit.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Night Shift Leaving, by Valerie Ganz

I don't know... I know these things are hard, but almost 40 years after this country harnessed its energy to put a man on the moon:

- The city of New Orleans was lost and is still far from being reconstructed. Could it withstand another category 4 or 5 hurricane, like the one that is about to hit Mexico? Meanwhile, every 40 minutes an area the size of a football field is lost to coastal erosion in the Mississippi Delta.

- Two NYC firefighters were lost in Building 7, an abandoned skyscraper filled with plywood at Ground Zero, almost six years after 9/11.

- The Crandall Canyon Mine Company in Utah, and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration sound like they are ready to abandon the search for six trapped miners.

Mining is still a perilous profession. Let's remember them every time we flick on the light switch.

Cowboy Junkies – Mining for Gold

We are miners, hard rock miners
To the shaft house we must go
Pour your bottles on our shoulders
We are marching to the slow

On the line boys, on the line boys
Drill your holes and stand in line
'til the shift boss comes to tell you
You must drill her out on top

Can't you feel the rock dust in your lungs?
It'll cut down a miner when he is still young
Two years and the silicosis takes hold
And I feel like I'm dying from mining for gold

Yes, I feel like I'm dying from mining for gold

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Père Jacques Bunel: "Au revoir, les enfants"

Un petit de cinéma français... and Justification by Love

Raphael Fejtö and Gaspard Manesse
in Au Revoir, Les Enfants

I love French movies. I guess a red-blooded American male in this era of francophobic "Freedom Fries" is not supposed to, but I do. I always have. For one thing, their films usually have an actual story, a script, and a pace that somewhat resembles the real pace of the lives of real people, even here in the US, where we scoff at the 35-hour French working week... Although they may be existential or avant-garde, they aren't full of special effects, things blowing up, and hackneyed cliches. They're usually directed with seriousness and care. In addition, I defy anyone to tell me that French isn't the world's most beautiful language. To me, it's beyond peer in that regard, especially when spoken by lovely actresses. There's something about French culture that's very attractive to me, despite the French reputation for surliness, insouciance, and snobbish anti-Americanism. I've never been there, but I know enough people who have been there who can refute the worst of the aforesaid stereotypes.

I'm not a prude. With respect to French films, my wife Anne might wryly add that I'm not likely to be offended by gratuitous skin either. OK. I might be tempted to just laugh, nod, and shrug that off, but you know what? There is something that is simultaneously healthier yet less prurient in the way that the French handle the topic of sex in their films, especially in comparison with the schizoprhenic way it's handled in the Anglo world. The tongues spoken by Mediterranean peoples aren't called "romance languages" for nothing. I don't know if "sophisticated" is the right word to use when describing the French treatment of it, but I do know that "puerile" and "sophomoric" are entirely proper words to describe how sex is handled in English-speaking media, particularly in British film and television.

I don't see as many French movies as I used to, but I did see an older one recently that I hadn't seen before, and it's become one of my all-time favorites. It doesn't have a centimeter of gratuitous skin in it.

In 1987, French director Louis Malle (who started out as an underwater cameraman for Jacques Cousteau and was a well-known director of other films such as My Dinner with Andre, Damage, Pretty Baby, Atlantic City and Vanya on 42nd Street), released a beautiful film called Au Revoir, Les Enfants. It was an intensely personal, mostly autobiographical story about an incident that had haunted him since he was a boy. A highly acclaimed film, it won 7 Cesar awards at the Cannes Film Festival, 1 Golden Lion at Venice, and 2 Academy Award nominations in 1987. Malle passed away in 1995.

The story takes place at a Carmelite school for boys in Vichy-occupied France during World War II. The main character, Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is supposed to represent Louis Malle himself. He's one of the brightest if not the brightest pupil in the school, but he doesn't have many close friends and is a bit bored. One day, Carmelite Father Jean (Philippe Morier-Genoud) announces the arrival of three new students. One of them, "Bonnet" (Raphael Fejtö), is quiet, shy and aloof, but quickly becomes a serious academic rival to Julien, even to the point of becoming the pampered favorite of the piano teacher that Julien has had a crush on. Julien becomes jealous and resentful of Bonnet at the same time that he is intrigued by him.

One day, on an outing in the woods, the boys of the school are involved in a "capture the flag" type of treasure hunt. Julien and Bonnet work together to win it, but become separated from the rest of the students and become lost in the woods. They are discovered by a patrol of German soldiers and are driven back to the school by the soldiers who cheerfully tell the boys that they are Bavarian Catholics. Julien notices, however, that Bonnet is absolutely siezed with terror over the incident. The whole happening brings the two of them closer, and after a while they become very close friends. By a series of simple accidents in the dormitory, Julien discovers Bonnet's secret in some written materials. Bonnet's real name is Kippelstein. Julien has discovered that his friend is Jewish, but he keeps it quiet. Not knowing much about Judaism, or the danger that his friend is in, Julien starts to ask probing questions and Bonnet's walls start to go back up, but Bonnet soon learns he can trust Julien.

The secret, however, does eventually become know to someone else at the school with darker motives, and the film ends with the Gestapo carrying out a raid on the school. Bonnet/Kippelstein is discovered, along with some other Jewish boys that Father Jean had been trying to protect by passing them off as Christians. As the boys are carted away along with Father Jean by the Nazis in front of the assembled student body, they say goodbye to Father Jean. He turns to them and says "Au Revoir, les enfants (Goodbye, children). See you soon." Julien waves to Bonnet and Bonnet looks back. We learn in the closing remarks that Bonnet later perished at Auschwitz and Father Jean at Mauthausen.

Youtube wasn't a lot of help for me this time, but there is a subpar clip here of the last several minutes of the fim. Unforunately it is in Italian, and is not dubbed, but you can follow the gist of what is going on if you are interested.

One character who intrigued me in the film, but was not treated as a major character, was that of Father Jean. In one scene he delivers a very powerful homily on sacrifice that offends many of the well-heeled Vichy collaborators in his congregation, who are prompted to walk out, yet when Bonnet places himself at the altar rail to receive the Eucharist, Father Jean freezes up in surprise and cannot bring himself to give it to him.

It was only in the last couple of days that I learned that this character, like Julien standing in for Louis Malle, was a well-known person himself, and is apparently a candidate for sainthood. I found out on a Carmelite website that Father Jean was in fact Père Jacques Bunel.

In another Carmelite link it describes him briefly:

Pere Jacques of Jesus, born Lucien-Louis Bunel (1900-1945), was immortalised in the French film, Au revoir les enfants. He is remembered for his extraordinary ability to bridge the differences of class, ideology, nationality and religion, that often divide the human family. The son of working-class parents, with a lifelong commitment to social justice, after ordination he joined the Carmelite friars, and became director of an elite school near Paris, the Petit-College, at the age of 34. When Germany invaded France in 1940 and permitted the Vichy French Government to establish an oppressive collaborationist regime, Pere Jacques quietly joined the Resistance. Without hesitation and with full knowledge of the possible implications for his own safety, he accepted a request from Mother Maria, the superior of a convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion, to provide refuge within his school for three young Jewish boys. For this act of compassion, he was betrayed to the Gestapo: he would pay with his life.

In the concentration camp of Mauthausen, he spent himself tirelessly in the service of others. He was admired and trusted by all his fellow-prisoners including non-believers and communists. He died two weeks after the liberation of the camp by the Allies. The State of Israel has honoured him as a rescuer, one of the "Righteous Among the Nations." A martyr, his cause for canonisation was opened in 1990. In 1997, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum mounted an exhibition recalling the rescue efforts of Pere Jacques, wishing to honour the memory of someone who reached out to victims of the Nazi regime at great personal risk.

The first Carmelite link mentioning Bunel above has a Podcast page and number of MP3s available for listening and for downloads. There are three brief reflections from Père Jacques Bunel:


Père Jacques Bunel Conference 1

Père Jacques Bunel Conference 2

Père Jacques Bunel Conference 3

I liked these remarks of his in particular:

I would like to place Christ before you as the object of your prayer, which is the essence of Carmel. We are vowed to prayer, it is the hallmark of our Order. We have come for one single reason; to pray, to be souls of prayer, that is to say, souls of love, who spend their lives loving God. And the rest, ALL the rest, whatever it may be, has no importance, absolutely no importance.

A passage I love very much from the Office of Lent is the responsorial that says: "Human beings see only the outside, the appearance, but God penetrates the heart". In the evening of this life, we will be judged by love. What a remarkable reversal of values will await us in heaven! God will look only at the heart, not at any deeds, intelligence, or anything earthly. We will be judged by LOVE!

Our life must be a constant, silent prayer that rises unceasingly to God. That is what constitutes our duty in life...

We must not confuse this state of prayer with religious sentimentality, or with pious feelings unrelated to authentic prayer, which can sometimes be piercingly painful. That love, which is our life's duty, must express itself in vibrant, zealous deeds, all aspects of which compel our careful consideration.

Only with deepest humility can we recognize how far we are from our goal. Only those souls who have attained a lofty level of holiness can truly acknowledge how far they still are from their total fulfillment. For example, the Cure of Ars considered himself more wretched than the notorious sinners to whom he ministered. He realized that many of these fallen souls, had they received the same graces that he had received, would perhaps surpass him in holiness. Only with humility can we recognize the torpor of our love.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Feast of the Assumption

Hail, Holy Queen... Yes, a humble Queen.

The Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross...
Detail from The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John
by Hendrick der Brugghen (c. 1620)

Isn't that something, the way ter Brugghen painted a "Mother Teresa" kind of face some 300 years before Mother Teresa?

I finally caved in a couple of months ago and put a Sitemeter icon on the blog. I had always told myself that the day I put a hit-counter or a traffic-meter on, it would be a sign to me that I was doing this for the wrong reason. Namely, for the sake of my own ego and self-aggrandizement. Eventually, however, after putting in quite a few hours of work here, I did succumb to the curiosity to see if anyone was actually reading this thing, and if so, what they were reading.

Rather than feeding my own sense of hubris, it did in a certain way provide me with a sense of renewed humility. I was fascinated and gratified to see that there were quite a few international hits, but was also humbled at the same time to see that many, if not most of the foreign ones, were due to an offhand and obscure reference with a link I had made once to an image from the film The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima. The love and devotion for the Blessed Mother is very powerful throughout the world. She is still a mother to many. Never discount it or underestimate it.

I've always had much more of a Christocentric than Marian sense of piety and spirituality. Anne loves to pray the Rosary, she grew up with it in her family, but it has never been my preferred method of prayer. On the other hand, every time I see an ambulance in transit, I always say a Hail Mary for the person in need. I pray for Mary's prayers and intercession on behalf of that person. Without fail, every time. Now my kids do it too.

So, speaking from a Christocentric sense of piety, but with a deep love and reverence for Our Lady nonetheless, I'd like to post up a few quotes from Fr. Rolheiser OMI on St. Mary, from his articles Mary, As Model of Faith, and The Mary of Piety...

We have to be careful to understand what Jesus is really telling us about his mother. We see places in the gospels where he seemingly does not speak highly of her when in fact the reverse is true. For example, the instance when he is approached and told: "You're mother is here, trying to see you," and he answers, "Who is my mother?" Then, pointing to the people sitting around him, he says, "Those who hear the word of God and keep it are mother and brother and sister to me."

Is Jesus distancing himself from his mother here? No. He's pointing out the real link between them, namely, among all the people in the gospels, Mary is the pre-eminent example of the one who hears the word of God and keeps it. For this reason, more than because of biological motherhood, Jesus claims her as his mother. Giving birth to Christ is something more than biological.

All of this is what Mary went through to give Christ to the world: Pregnancy by the Holy Spirit; gestation of that into a child inside of her; excruciating pain in birthing that to the outside; nurturing that new life into adulthood; and pondering, painfully letting go so that this new life can be its own, not hers. When the woman in the crowd told Jesus, "You must of had a wonderful mother!", his answer had precisely this in mind. Mary was a wonderful mother, but in ways that went far beyond the simple fact of motherhood. She heard the word of God and kept it. That obedience, more than biological motherhood, gave both an infant Jesus and an adult Christ to the world.

And in this, Mary wants imitation, not admiration: Our task too is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go...

Karl Rahner, studying the phenomenon of Marian apparitions, points out that all these apparitions have one thing in common: In every case, Mary appears to a poor person. In every alleged apparition that has become accepted in popular devotion, the person Mary appears to is someone insignificant in the world's eyes. Mary has never, it seems, appeared to a Wall Street Banker, a major civic or church leader, nor even to a theologian in his or her study. She seems to pick her audience with a special purpose in mind. What purpose? To provide for them, the poor, something that the elite find elsewhere, namely, a romantic vision of the faith by which to sustain themselves emotionally. That shouldn't surprise us. Mary, after all, gave us the Magnificat. She has always had a special relationship to the poor.

More recently, as we know, Marian devotion and devotional prayer in general have fallen on hard times, intellectually and theologically. More and more, Marian devotion is written off as non-essential to the faith or worse as a harmful distraction to it. Christ, the Word, and the Eucharist, it is argued, are what's essential and the object of our intimacy is Jesus, not Mary. Moreover, what brings us together as Christians are the Word and Eucharist, not devotional prayer. Simply put, you shouldn't be substituting devotions for scripture or the Eucharist, nor saying the rosary in their place.

In essence, this critique is correct and was a needed corrective both at the time of the reformation and again at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Devotional life, and indeed all spiritual enthusiasm, too easily lose balance and, almost without exception, tend to lose their grip on the essentials. That's the danger inherent in all romance. It's very power to inflame the heart makes it a powerful narcotic that easily becomes an end in itself. Romance easily becomes unbridled, unglued, disorienting. We know that. But we also know its power to transform lives. It can change everything in fifteen seconds.

Christ, the Word, and the Eucharist are the essentials within our faith, but, just as the main course in a meal doesn't necessarily make a complete meal, so too the essentials of our faith don't necessarily satisfy all our faith needs, particularly in terms of the heart. What the devotional life adds to the essentials is precisely the romantic, emotional fire...

Classically, in terms of our prayer lives, this has been handled largely by devotions and, among devotions, the ones to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, have had the privileged place, especially among the poor. In Marian devotions, the faith takes on a special relationship to the poor. In a manner of speaking, Marian devotions are the mysticism of the poor. In relating to her, countless people, without the benefit of professional training in theology or liturgy have wonderfully appropriated to themselves deep, essential truths about God's person, presence, compassion, and providence. They know and taste God's love, through their relationship to Mary.

Many years ago, when I was an 18 year-old novice, a very pious old priest gave us a talk. He shared how a young man had come to him complaining that he'd lost his faith. The old priest had simply told him: "You've lost your faith because you've lost your mother, Mary." Funny how among the hundreds of hours of talks and conferences that I heard during my novitiate year, that pious, overly-simplistic, near-saccharine, theologically-impoverished comment is about the only thing I still remember.

" ...O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. "

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Man Not To Hitch Your Wagon To

I implore the liberation theologians not to embrace this guy.
The days of the "Generalissimo" turned "El Presidente" need to be over.

When I first started this blog, I think I very easily could have gone the route, if I'd been interested, of building one with the same tenor as The Cafeteria is Closed, or fellow Massachusetts native Domenico Bettinelli's at, and it think I could have been quite successful with some fairly decent traffic. When I started out on the web, I was involved in the Catholic Apologetics movement, so I know how to speak "neo-Cath" fluently and flawlessly. The thing is, I want to be myself and to speak with my own mind, and the pressure to stay in lockstep (or else) in those circles was too much, and was not a box that I would have felt comfortable in. Besides, what I discovered in the C.A. world was that the most pressing threats to the future of Catholicism came not from the left, but from the right.

One of the things that I've been doing in being my own man and speaking my own mind is to carry some water for the liberation theologians, despite the support and friendships that it may have cost me. I truly believe that much of their theology has been misrepresented, traduced, and trivialized. It isn't even liberal theology, but a radical theology deeply rooted in the Gospel that takes the words of Jesus much more seriously than many of the pious platitudes that pass for orthodoxy these days.

Liberation Theology's heyday was in the late 1970s and in the 1980s, before the CDF fully completed its campaign to crush it. With the collapse of Communism and it's attendant collapse of Socialism in 1989, along with the Liberation Theology "Base Communities" being outflanked with the poor by Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, it looked like the movement was finished. In the early 1990s, it appeared that with a little bit of American direction, Max Weber's Spirit of Protestant Capitalism was alive and well on the Latin American Continent, and there were optimistic reports that the miseries endemic to Latin America were going to be attenuated by the adoption of classical neo-liberalism and the jettisoning of backward Catholic ways. If Latin America would only become a continent of hard-working little evangelical entrepeneurs, according to this thinking, all would be well.

A couple of things happened along the way. One was the effect of rapacious cut-throat globalization that rendered certain free trade agreements moot in the race to the bottom for cheap labor, and the other was the adoption of draconian shock therapy treatments which were administered by the IMF on Latin American governments, which caused widspread misery, and in many cases expanded the massive gulf that existed between the rich and poor. Leftist governments have made a resurgence as a result.

What we found out, therefore, especially during the Pope's recent trip to Brazil, is that Liberation Theology is not as dead as many people thought (and hoped). It was with some disappointment and concern, however, that I read about certain aspects of the following, which was reported in both the Cuban and Venezuelan press:

Caracas, Jul 19 (Prensa Latina) Theologians from several countries will meet to re-launch the Theology of Liberation, when religious sectors fear a rise of conservatism in the Catholic Church.

One of the meeting organizers, Father Atencio Vidal, told Prensa Latina that the appearance of the Brazilian Leonardo Boff, among other personalities from Spain and Latin America are invited to the event that will be held from August 14 to 15.

Father Vidal explained that although the specific program is still not decided, meetings will most likely be held in four popular parish churches of the Venezuelan capital. Official social programs will be also visited.

The priest recently criticized a document released by the Venezuelan Episcopate Conference for assuming opposition political attitude ignoring social programs. He gave this explanation in a meeting that promotes the beatification of Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

The Salvadorian archbishop, a well-known defender of human rights, was assassinated while practicing his priestly duties and a process of canonization was begun in 1994.

According to Father Videl, the meeting in Caracas will serve to demonstrate that the Theology of Liberation is not dead, as some church officials would wish and in spite of condemnation of its promoters, such as Jon Sobrino.

He added that Venezuela can now become a platform for the re-launching of this religious movement that seeks an approach of the church with the poor.

Questioned over the possibility of suffering some form of reprimand from the Catholic hierarchy, the Venezuelan priest of indigenous origin recalled that he already ready received a letter from the Maracaibo archbishop, Ubaldo Santana, asking for his silence.

He added that, although he has received no answer to a letter he sent, no one will be able to silence him in his demands in favor of the poor and the expression of his opinions...

When many Catholics, outside of the hierarchy, see that the theology of their church has rotted into a theology of imperialist subjugation which savagely attacks the few political friends they have, like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the ordinary Catholics flee from the whole Catholic church in horror sometimes by the hundreds of thousands and sometimes by the millions.

They run not from God, but from the demons in the Catholic hierarchy.

When we reflect on these Catholic demons who advocate and execute the theology of imperialist subjugation on behalf of the White House, not God, we recall something Dante said in The Inferno:

No word of them survives their living season [Dante means they're dead.]
Mercy and justice deny them even a name [Dante means they're unspeakable.]
Let us not speak of the them, look, and pass on [Dante means run from them.]

"One of the meeting organizers, Father Atencio Vidal, told Prensa Latina that the appearance of the Brazilian Leonardo Boff, among other personalities from Spain and Latin America, will be held from August 14 to 15," the article said...

Now, I've heard that when he was in Spain recently, Leonardo Boff had criticized Hugo Chavez for his censorship of the press, but there is far too much coziness on his part with Chavez as there is with Fidel Castro, and here is the nub of the problem. Hugo Chavez is a populist demagouge on the way into making himself another Latin American dictator under the cover of a political philosophy called Bolivarianism. This is not a man to follow, and certainly not a man for Catholic theologians to pin their hopes on and to hitch their wagons to. Things will end even more badly for them than they did before if they should do so. Can I understand why they feel they have no other choice? To a certain degree I can... Take for example, the case of Colombia. I'd be tempted to say that it probably has the worst two cardinals in the world in Darío Cardinal Castrillón de Hoyos, and Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo, but Cardinal Law is still alive and well, and deserves that dubious top honor... Colombia is a near narco-state, full of corruption, private armies run by drug dealers, a skyrocketing murder rate, and a burgeoning kidnapping industry in Bogota. What are the main concerns of these Colombian cardinals? With Trujillo, it is in settling old scores and crushing his old Liberation Theology opponents. With Castrillón de Hoyos, it's being the champion for the Latin Mass on the Ecclesia Dei commision.

This polarization is almost too sad to bear, but I say to the liberation theolgians, don't embarrass me, and more importantly, don't hurt the hopes of those of so many who put their trust in you by tying yourselves to a man like Hugo Chavez. Latin America needs to find it's own Latin American way to democracy, not necessarily the North American way, but please, no more military strongmen for life.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

That Other Motu Proprio...

Which was written in response to "numerous petitions of eminent authority"
Could Joseph Ratzinger have pulled two-thirds of the votes in a conclave under the old rules?

The Holy Father with his Personal Secretary, Georg Gänswein

"I would not say … that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked.... I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit's role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined."
-- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Bavarian television, 1997

This is almost the last of a series of somewhat snarky posts I’ve been making lately regarding both secular and ecclesiastical politics. I promise. I have a brushback pitch I’d still like to throw at the liberation theologians for something, but that ought to just about do it. Then it’ll be back to more spiritual stuff.

In recent decades, most reports and conspiracy theories surrounding the supposedly underhanded plots, machinations, and skullduggery involved in papal elections have come from the extremes on the far right, such as the Cardinal Siri Thesis, which…
...essentially builds on [an] alleged Judeo-Masonic plot. But it adds a "sedevacantist" twist -- the idea that the papacy has been filled by false popes for decades.

According to this theory, Giuseppe Siri, an archconservative cardinal from Genoa, was elected pope at the 1958 conclave of cardinals, and this election was signaled in the traditional manner, with billows of white smoke pouring from a Vatican chimney. Vatican officials at the time said there had been a mistake in the fire pit, but Siri supporters claim that he was actually unseated through the nefarious machinations of liberal cardinals, who replaced Siri with Cardinal Angelo Roncalli. Roncalli became the first "false" pope, known to the world as John XXIII.

In 1963, when the papacy fell empty once more, Siri was again bested by evil forces within the church, Siri conspiracy theorists allege. Although Siri won election, they claim, he was replaced by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who became the second "false" pope, Paul VI. Some Siri partisans blame not only liberal cardinals but also unspecified outside forces that threatened the Vatican with nuclear annihilation if Siri were actually seated as pope.

Some recent remarks, however, by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, and also an article by canon law expert Ladislas Orsy SJ, have kindled a discussion about the 2005 conclave, and also about a Motu Proprio that Benedict released in June, which had been overshadowed by the anticipation of the impending release of the July Motu Proprio freeing up the Tridentine Mass. An article by Sandro Magister points out that Bertone recently made a reference to reporters about the last papal election at a press conference, stating, “I know that the numbers reported by the press are not exact, and I want to restate that.” In response to the logical and inevitable follow-up questions, he replied, “I don’t remember anything anymore; we burned the ballots.”

Some background...

In 1996, Pope John Paul II wrote the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, which changed the ancient rule that a two-thirds majority vote of the cardinals was required to elect a pope, and that after two weeks of impasse (some 34 ballots or so), an absolute majority (fifty percent plus one) would suffice.

All laws have unintended consequences... but sometimes intended ones as well.

In June, Benedict's Motu Proprio restored the old two-thirds rule, with a slight twist (after 34 rounds, only the two leading candidates are still eligible... until only one of them reaches the two-thirds majority)

Sandro Magister speculates:

The “motu proprio” got little coverage from the media. And yet it impacts a key aspect of the Church’s life. This much is clear from the extraordinary interest that surrounds every conclave...

According to [conclave voting] leaks, Ratzinger obtained 47 votes in the first round of voting, 65 in the second, 72 in the third, and 84 in the fourth, out of a total of 115 electors. The votes of his opponents are thought to have gone mainly to Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, with 10 in the first round, 35 in the second, 40 in the third, and 26 in the fourth...

In the 2005 conclave, the majority needed for the election of a pope was initially two thirds, equal to 77 votes. But after 34 unsuccessful voting rounds, only 58 votes would have been necessary, one half plus one: this was established by the rules for conclaves promulgated in 1996 by John Paul II...

Last June 11, the date of his “motu proprio,” Benedict XVI eliminated this possibility of lowering the majority requirement. Now, once again, two thirds of the votes will be needed to elect a pope, always....

The experts immediately grasped the importance of this decision. But the commentaries on it have been sporadic. The most interesting of these has just been released in the latest issue of the magazine “il Regno,” published in Bologna by the Sacred Heart fathers. The author is an internationally famous scholar, Jesuit father Ladislas M. Örsy, a professor of canon law and philosophy of law at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Orsy belongs to the progressive camp, and has been from the beginning one of the more prominent writers for the international theology review “Concilium,” a rival to the opposing review “Communio,” whose founders include Ratzinger. But Orsy expresses warm appreciation for Benedict XVI’s “motu proprio” on conclaves. And this precisely because he restores the ancient rule of the two-thirds majority for electing a pope.

That the progressive camp should applaud the current pope for having restored tradition is paradoxical. But the matter becomes more understandable if one looks at the potential effects of the innovation introduced by John Paul II. the conclave of 2005, at which those rules were in effect, what effect did they have?

Orsey doesn’t address this. But another prominent exponent of the Catholic progressive camp, the historian of Christianity Alberto Melloni, wrote about it in the June 27 edition of “Corriere della Sera”: the 40 votes for Bergoglio in the third round of voting “in other times would have scrapped Ratzinger’s candidacy”; if this did not happen, it was precisely because the cardinals knew that “even with a simple majority Ratzinger would ascend to the throne of Peter.”

Melloni does not entirely adhere to this interpretation of events. He says that it would be more important to know “how, by what, and by whom another bundle of votes was shifted to Ratzinger” on the afternoon of April 19, 2005, pushing him over the two-thirds majority. Melloni's implication is that this was done by the progressive cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, in order to prevent “an even more terrible, politically motivated solution”: read the election of cardinal Camillo Ruini.

In any case, Melloni maintains, “a shadow” looms over Ratzinger’s election as pope.

“It is clear from the current reform that Benedict XVI wants to free his successor – and, in a certain way, himself – from this shadow.”

Ladislas Orsy is a very interesting guy. I once heard him deliver a day-long lecture on Vatican II at my parish. He was a participant at the Council (one of these days I'm going to post up the notes I took).

On July 15th, he wrote an appreciative article (well, perhaps in a back-handed way) about Benedict's Motu Proprio, which included an interesting "thought experiment." The full text can be found in the Sandro Magister article.

The Reasons For a Return to Tradition
-- Ladislas Orsy

On 11 June, 2007, pope Benedict XVI surprised the Church with an apostolic letter issued "motu proprio", i.e. on his own initiative, concerning the votes required at a conclave for the valid election of the pope. The document is brief, its language is terse, and its content is simple and clear: in all circumstances two thirds of the votes of the cardinals is required for the valid election of a pope. Why was this new order needed?

It was needed because John Paul II had broken with an ancient tradition. On 22 February 1996, he issued an Apostolic Constitution entitled Universi Dominici Gregis, "The Lord‘s Whole Flock." In it he decreed that in the event of a threatening impasse at the conclave, the cardinals may decide by absolute majority (half of the votes plus one) to abrogate the traditional requirement of two thirds, and then they may proceed to the election of the new pope by the same absolute majority...

This was an innovation, and a breach with an ancient tradition; no one could deny it. No wonder that it caused dissatisfaction among competent persons. Benedict XVI in his "motu proprio" refers to them: he states that "numerous petitions of eminent authority" reached the then reigning pope asking him to undo what he did.

Yet, the significance of the new order was not obvious for the public at large; the press usually avid for sensation, hardly mentioned it. After all, in recent elections, just how many times has the conclave come to an impasse? It seemed that John Paul did no more than to provide for an unlikely event; otherwise the change had no significance.

The purpose of this article is to show that the change introduced by John Paul was a momentous deed of his pontificate and that it had the potential to set the church in a new (and perhaps perilous) course...

John Paul overturned a settled tradition. But, as I already noted briefly, the hidden potential of his innovation was not immediately evident. After all, his Constitution retained the requirement of two-thirds for some thirty-four rounds of voting that is likely to take two weeks. Now, in modern times, no conclave has lasted that long. Nor is it likely that it will, since the whole world is waiting and watching impatiently for the white smoke.

Such an expectation is bound to put a psychological pressure on the cardinals; not even the sacred walls of the Sistine chapel can protect them from it. The awareness that entire world is waiting impatiently compels the electors to make haste; it may speed up the conclave more effectively than the threat of a diet of bread and water ever did. Precisely because a long conclave is improbable, the new legislation was seen as a provision for an unlikely emergency.

Yet, we know that "numerous petitions of eminent authority" were submitted to John Paul asking him to change his mind. Why?

We shall never know the mind of the petitioners, but we can do some explorations on our own.


Let us assume, as a "thought experiment, " that a good part of the electors have a candidate, and right at the first round, he obtains half of the votes plus one.

His supporters realize with no delay that – provided they stand by him – he will be elected. If that takes two weeks, so be it. Let us assume also that these electors already in absolute majority discreetly convey to the others that they are not going to change their mind. No rule excludes delicate communication at a conclave.

In the case of such an event, the minority (large as they may be) is put into an awkward position. They can, of course, hold out, but for what purpose? If the absolute majority perseveres, the defeat of the minority is assured.

What can the minority do then? Well, their options are limited.

They can stand firm and force the majority to go through a futile marathon of balloting for two weeks - but if they do so, they will risk alienating the winning majority and the future pope, and all for nothing, because at the end they are bound to lose; they might be even blamed for prolonging the conclave.

Or, they can surrender right then and there by bending their will to the desire of the majority and thus speed up the election by helping to produce the required two-thirds.

In the practical order what would a sensible minority do? In all probability they would admit defeat and vote for the candidate of the majority. It may be a sad gesture for them but they could justify it by the need for unity. They would be also lending support to the future pope.

In the old system, a group that could master absolute majority but not the two thirds of the votes had to be ready for a compromise. Not any more. And there is the hidden force of the new rule: in theory, the requirement of two thirds remains in effect for some two weeks; in practice the sufficiency of an absolute majority can become (it is likely to become) effective as soon as a candidate has more than half of the votes, or is very close to having them.

It would be interesting and instructive to examine some past conclaves with a few hypothetical questions in mind: had the law of John Paul II existed when they were held, what would have been the outcome of the conclave? Would the cardinals have elected another person? Would the history of the church have taken a direction different from the one that it actually followed?

Such questions may sound silly, since there is no way of verifying the answers. Yet, playing with such questions and answers (knowing well what they are) we can learn a good deal. We can learn to be wise and to exercise caution.


For an example, I turn to the conclave that elected John Paul II in 1978. I grant that we have no absolute certainty of its inner history, but we can still refer to some probabilities due to reported revelations (not to say indiscretions) by persons who were in the position to know, which is enough for our purposes.

The number of electors was 111. The required two-thirds (plus one) of the votes was 75. For an absolute majority no more was needed than 57. One of the outstanding candidates – "papabile" – was cardinal Giuseppe Siri, well known for his forceful conservative stances at the Council. Gaining gradually, on the fourth ballot he reportedly received 70 votes.

After that, however, it became clear that he could not get more support. His supporters had no choice, the "two-thirds rule" compelled them to look for another candidate, a person more acceptable to the minority. As the story goes, they found him in the person of the Polish cardinal from Krakow, Karol Woytila. He, initially, had no more than a handful of votes, but soon began to attract votes in view of a consensus. On the eighth ballot he was elected pope, and he chose the name John Paul II.

Here is the intriguing question: would Wojtyla have become pope if his own new rule had been operative in 1978? Or, perhaps, would Siri have been elected?

We do not know. But what we can be reasonably certain of is that had Siri been elected, the history of the Catholic Church for the last decades or so would have been different.

It is well known that Siri openly called Vatican Council II a "disaster," and later published a book under the title "Gethsemane: Reflection on the Contemporary Theological Movement" – where he heaped condemnations on many respected theologians who helped the work of Vatican Council II and supported the implementation of its "determinations." No more needs to be said.

Benedict XVI through his "motu proprio" did no more and no less than to preserve "a rule sanctioned by tradition," a rule that worked well for some twenty centuries.

It certainly helped to protect the unity of the community. It bore much good fruit. It has the mark of a gift of the Spirit.

Well, what do you know? Our old friend Cardinal Siri again! He's like a bad penny...

Other commentary on this...

Over on Clerical Whispers is the post Papal vote rigged? Kind of interesting, but what the post doesn't tell you is that the article was lifted from a site run by an anti-Catholic sect called the Philadelphia Church of God. Hardly where I look to for inside Vatican scoop.

Was the fix in? Was John Paul trying to make sure that Joseph Ratzinger was elected as his successor? I don't happen to think that Cardinal Ratzinger could have been elected without John Paul's rule change in place... that's just my opinion, but on the other hand, I don't think John Paul was trying to fix it for him either.

A very good article about the workings and development of the so-called "Ratzinger Solution" can be found in the Atlantic archives in an article called The Year of Two Popes, by Paul Elie. Elie writes of the dinners that were held with close and intimate Polish friends, late in John Paul's pontificate.

A rumor emerged that at one of those meals in the papal apartments John Paul had addressed the matter of a successor. I heard an almost biblical account of a last supper with the disciples from my friend Mark, who was a regular at the pope's table over the years: John Paul summoned his Polish friends and told them that he knew he would not live long and that he could envision either of two men as his successor, making plain that he would prefer one over the other. Neither one was Joseph Ratzinger.

Meanwhile, Ratzinger's supporters had begun to pray for his candidacy—if, that is, the will of God was behind it. For ten years John Paul's death had been thought imminent. As 2004 drew to a close, these men hoped that the present state of suspension at the Vatican wouldn't last too long: the older John Paul got, the older Ratzinger got, and at some point he would simply seem too old to be elected pope. He might pass eighty and be kept out of the conclave. He might fall ill or lose his senses. He might die—for as John Paul liked to jest to friends who spoke of carrying on his legacy, "How do you know that I will die first?"

Did John Paul want a particular man to succeed him? Did he tell anybody? Asked these questions, most of the people I met at the Vatican refused even to begin to answer them. No one had anything to add to the legend of the last supper or knew what might have occurred there. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia curtly replied, "What is gratuitously asserted is gratuitously denied"—a Roman way of saying that a rumor is a rumor. But another cardinal elector, to my surprise, readily assented to the idea that John Paul had someone other than Ratzinger in mind. "I don't think Ratzinger would have been John Paul's candidate—I think he would have wanted a younger man, one who could take the Gospel to the world the way he did," he told me. Rather coldly he added, "But of course John Paul had no vote in the conclave."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sacrifice For Thee, But Not For Me

I can't believe I let the whole month of July slip by entirely without making mention of Paul Krugman's excellent July 4th op-ed piece, Sacrifice is for Suckers.

If the following is to be read as an indictment, I don't exempt myself. I'm a rather unrepentant owner of a Chevy Suburban (it's hard to fit all of us into anything else), and I can't claim that I've been spending my evenings putting care packages together for the troops, even though I know a few of them. I haven't been writing to my senator or my congressman about the war, and they haven't seen me down at the local VA Hospital offering to volunteer either, so shame on me... Nevertheless, a special responsibility and burden lies with those who preach to us the most that Iraq is the central and crucial front in the "War on Terror". Most of them haven't done a very good job of picking that burden up themselves (at least John McCain, with a son in Iraq, can say that he has skin in the game).

You've all probably seen the ad campaigns for those vehicles based upon the military Humvee design. They're what some people call FUVs (F*** You Vehicles). Hummer. Like Nothing Else. That's certainly true, but all double-entendres aside, let's have a look at a makeshift brochure.

The Hummer H1

Retail Price: $139,771
Dealer Invoice: $131,335
Miles per Gallon: 16

The Hummer H2

Retail Price: $59,555
Dealer Invoice: $54,311
Miles per Gallon: 10

A Military Humvee

Disabled by an Improvised Explosive Device
This one might be armored, but I don't think they all are yet.

You know, I've voted Republican in a lot of national elections, but I think something has gone seriously, seriously askew in this country after having imbibed so heavily of Reaganist thought for so long.

Krugman's gem, in total:

On this Fourth of July, President Bush compared the Iraq war to the Revolutionary War, and called for “more patience, more courage and more sacrifice.” Unfortunately, it seems that nobody asked the obvious question:

“What sacrifices have you and your friends made, Mr. President?”

On second thought, there would be no point in asking that question. In Mr. Bush’s world, only the little people make sacrifices. You see, the Iraq war, although Mr. Bush insists that it’s part of a Global War on Terror, a fight to the death between good and evil, isn’t like America’s other great wars — wars in which the wealthy shared the financial burden through higher taxes and many members of the elite fought for their country.

This time around, Mr. Bush celebrated Mission Accomplished by cutting tax rates on dividends and capital gains, while handing out huge no-bid contracts to politically connected corporations. And in the four years since, as the insurgency Mr. Bush initially taunted with the cry of “Bring them on” has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and left thousands more grievously wounded, the children of the elite — especially the Republican elite — have been conspicuously absent from the battlefield.

The Bushies, it seems, like starting fights, but they don’t believe in paying any of the cost of those fights or bearing any of the risks. Above all, they don’t believe that they or their friends should face any personal or professional penalties for trivial sins like distorting intelligence to get America into an unnecessary war, or totally botching that war’s execution.

The Web site Think Progress has a summary of what happened to the men behind the war after we didn’t find W.M.D., and weren’t welcomed as liberators: “The architects of war: Where are they now?” To read that summary is to be awed by the comprehensiveness and generosity of the neocon welfare system. Even Paul Wolfowitz, who managed the rare feat of messing up not one but two high-level jobs, has found refuge at the American Enterprise Institute.

Which brings us to the case of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.

The hysteria of the neocons over the prospect that Mr. Libby might actually do time for committing perjury was a sight to behold. In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled “Fallen Soldier,” Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University cited the soldier’s creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” He went on to declare that “Scooter Libby was a soldier in your — our — war in Iraq.”

Ah, yes. Shuffling papers in an air-conditioned Washington office is exactly like putting your life on the line in Anbar or Baghdad. Spending 30 months in a minimum-security prison, with a comfortable think-tank job waiting at the other end, is exactly like having half your face or both your legs blown off by an I.E.D.

What lay behind the hysteria, of course, was the prospect that for the very first time one of the people who tricked America into war, then endangered national security yet again in the effort to cover their tracks, might pay some price. But Mr. Ajami needn’t have worried.

Back when the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity began, Mr. Bush insisted that if anyone in his administration had violated the law, “that person will be taken care of.” Now we know what he meant. Mr. Bush hasn’t challenged the verdict in the Libby case, and other people convicted of similar offenses have spent substantial periods of time in prison. But Mr. Libby goes free.

Oh, and don’t fret about the fact that Mr. Libby still had to pay a fine. Does anyone doubt that his friends will find a way to pick up the tab?

Mr. Bush says that Mr. Libby’s punishment remains “harsh” because his reputation is “forever damaged.” Meanwhile, Mr. Bush employs, as a deputy national security adviser, none other than Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to unlawfully withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair. Mr. Abrams was one of six Iran-contra defendants pardoned by Mr. Bush’s father, who was himself a subject of the special prosecutor’s investigation of the scandal.

In other words, obstruction of justice when it gets too close to home is a family tradition. And being a loyal Bushie means never having to say you’re sorry.

In the same vein, please see AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service -- and How It Hurts Our Country, and articles by the author on a similar theme at