Monday, January 21, 2008


Forty Years Ago. 1968 - The Year that Changed Everything

Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger
at the Second Vatican Council

"It is not I who who have changed, but others."

-- See extended quote from The Ratzinger Report
Well, yes and no... I read an interesting book a few weeks ago by former priest and Australian Catholic activist Paul Collins titled God's New Man: The Election of Benedict XVI and the Legacy of John Paul II. The book did a good job of describing the the cross-currents pulling at the Church in the past few decades, highlighting the struggle for ascendancy between the competing theologies of Karl Rahner and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Karl Rahner, probably the most important peritus at Vatican II, is generally recognized as the most influential Catholic theologian of the 20th Century. In the 21st Century, however, his name is hardly heard anymore, and the theology of Balthasar (who was not invited to the Council as a peritus) now seems to hold sway.

In this 2003 article, John Allen laid out the differences between them succinctly:

In Philosophy 101 one learns that all of Western thought, in a certain sense, can be divided into followers of Plato and of Aristotle. Likewise, the basic options in Roman Catholic theology after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) can be expressed in terms of a choice between two German-speaking sons of Ignatius Loyola: Karl Rahner and Hans urs Von Balthasar.

If the Rahnerians held the upper hand for the first 20 years, the Balthasarians dominate today, at least in terms of official Church teaching and policy...

Expressing the difference between Rahner and von Balthasar is not easy, but one way to do so is in terms of attitudes towards “the world.” Rahner stressed the presence of grace at the deepest level of every human being — the so-called “supernatural existential.” Von Balthasar saw an “analogy of being” between God and humanity, which placed more distance between the two and thus left room, he felt, for greater realism about sin. Rahner was a basic optimist about culture, so much so that von Balthasar once accused him of negating the necessity of the crucifixion. Rahnerians tend to take Gaudium et Spes as their charter, while Balthasarians often see that text, and especially subsequent interpretations of it, as dangerously naïve.

Balthasar's theological outlook is shared somewhat by Pope Benedict, who left the international theological journal Concilium (of which Rahner was among the original founders, and Ratzinger was a contributor) to start the rival journal Communio, along with Balthasar.

As for the original issue - whether Joseph Ratzinger changed in his views or not... Yes and no. I think it's undeniable that in his younger days he was more progressive than he is now. His views on the liturgy, episcopal conferences, and the local church in relation to the universal church have certainly changed in ways that have been documented. On the other hand, he's always been an Augustinian in his outlook. He, like Balthasar, has always had a keen awareness of humankind's sinfulness, and has passed mixed judgement on the optimism expressed in the the Vatican II document The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes).

In the years after the Council, he went on to teach at the University in Tubingen in Germany, and almost everyone agrees that the major turning point for him was the period of student unrest that swept Europe in 1968, when radical students mocked him and ran amok in his classroom. Here is someone who claims on her blog to have been directly responsible (it's fascinating... I've always wondered just who the heck was responsible).

All of this is well-known, of course, and not really in dispute by anyone. What I find interesting in the excerpt from Collins' book is the reaction that his Tubingen colleague, Hans Kung, had to the whole incident with the students. He recognized the student shenanigans as the antics of spoiled baby-boomers, and with the unrepentant exception of the blogger mentioned above, so does Paul Collins. His remarks on that generation ring true in a wry way, and are probably represented no better than in the money-grubbing commercials being done by ex-60's icon Dennis Hopper.

So what happened to the progressive theologian of Vatican II who was eventually to become inquisitor and then pope?

In 1966, Hans Kung was dean of the Catholic theology faculty at Tubingen. He says he was anxious to build up a kind of stellar group of theologians that included Rahner and Ratzinger. Rahner never came, but Ratzinger did. He seemed the ideal choice. Kung says: `Although he is only 37, he enjoys great respect, as his career so far shows. He has his own direction of research and at the same time he is very open to contemporary questions-a basis for good collaboration. I had also found him personally congenial at the time of the Council' (Memoirs). Just three years later, in summer 1969, Ratzinger resigned and left for Regensberg. Why? Kung says, `Time and again people puzzle over how so gifted, friendly, open a theologian as Joseph Ratzinger can undergo such a change: from progressive Tubingen theologian to Roman Grand Inquisitor' (Kung - Memoirs).

Rahner gives Hans Kung a piece of his mind at the Council

Kung has his own theories, but before we look at those let us try to understand it from Ratzinger's own perspective. In one sense he would argue that others have changed and that he has remained steadfast. In one way that is true. There is a consistency between the pre- and post-Council Ratzinger. He always remained an Augustinian. For him the world, especially a culture divorced from faith, has little or nothing to offer the church. That is why he never supported the Council document on `The Church in the Modern World'. It all sounded too optimistic, too convinced that the world could teach the church. Although he only makes passing reference to him, what Ratzinger really objected to was the remote but pervasive influence of the thought of the Jesuit paleontologist and cosmologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) in the document. The French Jesuit's optimistic vision of the world and of the whole process of material evolution moving towards greater spiritual complexity and a kind of cosmic consummation in Christ was regarded as unrealistically optimistic and lacking any real sense of the fallen human condition by the future CDF prefect. For him the world needed a redemption that could only come from Jesus' crucifixion. Divorced from this, the world had nothing to offer, and could often explode in what were essentially demonic outbreaks.

This was why Ratzinger reacted so badly to the student radicalism and riots of 1967-68. These occurred right across the United States, Europe, especially in Paris, and also in Britain and Australia. The riots culminated for the sheltered academic theologians of Tubingen in April-May 1968 when their radicalized students adopted Marxist terminology to describe the New Testament as an exploitative text and the death of- Jesus on the cross as a `sado-masochistic glorification of pain'. Ratzinger says he was horrified, and no doubt he was. He says that he increasingly came to see this lack of respect for authority and the constant demands for more rights, for example gay rights, as symptomatic of an abandonment of Catholic teaching and moral standards. Kung adopted a much calmer viewpoint. He saw student radicalism for what it was-delayed adolescence-and treated it as such. Revolting students were certainly a dreadful nuisance, but nothing more. Of course, most of these same student `radicals' were to go on to become neo-conservatives, captains of industry and comfortable 'baby boomers' whose selfishness is well known. These are the people who now insist on charging their own children to go to university after getting a free tertiary education themselves. But by any objective standards, Ratzinger's response to student radicalism in 1968 seems very much like a massive overreaction. Despite the student revolt, at Tubingen he was still able to write what is generally considered his masterpiece, his Introduction to Christianity (1968), an exposition of the Apostles Creed.

The year 1968 also saw the publication on 24 July of' the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI. This was the Vatican's response to the contraceptive pill. The Pope's teaching against the pill caused a storm of protest right across the Catholic world, especially in developed countries where the use of contraception was already widespread. So Catholics could not avoid the issue. Theologically, the Humanae Vitae affair confronted the church with the question of the status of non-infallible (Paul VI made it clear that this was not an infallible decision) but authoritative papal teaching that was ignored and even directly rejected by the very people to whom it was directed. As a result, the church today is still confronted not by the question of contraception (most people of fertile age have made up their own minds on this issue), but the status of non-infallible papal teaching power, the 'ordinary magisterium' as it is called.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vote for Joe?

Feeling lost in the wilderness... What's a Pro-Life Catholic Democrat to do?

Inspired by a post over at Friar Charles' blog.

Why can't there be more candidates like Joe Schriner?

Average Joe Schriner brings his traveling campaign to Defiance

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tsk, Tsk... Temper, Temper

The Campaigns are Feeling the Pressure

Short-tempered... Prickly... Overly sensitive... Thin-skinned... A bit of candid self-knowledge is a good thing. Those adjectives apply to weaknesses that I see in myself, but then again, I have no need for power either. I have no desire to dominate other people. Weaknesses that might make someone like me hard to live or work with are magnified in their potential impact for people who wish to hold the power associated with political office.

I could never run for a public office, even if my idiosyncratic views had much of a following. I wouldn't last two seconds in that game. I'd go ballistic.... One of the things that I like about Obama so much is his even demeanor and the sense that he doesn't need to be president in order to feel complete as a human being. In the debate in Las Vegas this week, he was asked to characterize his strengths and weaknesses, and he gave real, honest answers, unlike the other candidates, who came up with those phony, job-interview kinds of weaknesses along the lines of "I care too much and too passionately about what I believe in."

The stress of this campaign is already starting to wear on these candidates and their staffs as illustrated in a couple of events yesterday. Does a public display of temper hurt or help a campaign? As always, I guess it depends on who you ask.

Man, these guys are starting to look old and tired...

Mitt Under the Staple Gun

In South Carolina yesterday, Mitt Romney put in an appearance at a Staples in Columbia with a press availability period thrown in. As he claimed before the microphones that there were no Washington lobbyists running his campaign, he got called on it by AP reporter Glen Johnson, who piped up with what I thought was a fair objection, asking Mitt about the presence and influence of (Dutko Worldwide) lobbyist Ron Kaufman. Mitt immediately became testy and defensive, and the exchange got ugly as they parsed the difference between "running" a campaign and "being an advisor" to a campaign. In the aftermath, I've noticed that a lot of people thought Johnson was out of line in this encounter, and perhaps he was, such as when he interrupted rather brusquely and openly laughed at Romney's lies, but I'll just point out that it's not his job to be a candidate's buddy and to let him say whatever he wants without being challenged. Besides, as the tape shows, Mitt sought Johnson out himself after the event was wrapped up, aggressively approaching him with "Glen, Glen... Did you listen to what I said?" Then Romney's aide Eric Fehrnstrom got into it, chastising Johnson for being "unprofessional" and admonishing him not to "get aggressive with the candidate." Grrrruff!

What Happens in Vegas... Goes Worldwide

Bill Clinton's chummy smile turns quickly into pique in Nevada, as he gets asked by a reporter about the suit filed by the Nevada State Teachers Union challenging a judge's decision to let the Culinary Workers Union members caucus on-site at work on Saturday. In this case, I don't blame him too much for getting miffed. Taking into account the political loyalties associated with each union (Teachers for Clinton, Culinary for Obama), I don't blame him for considering the question provocative, but he doesn't fight quite fair either, presenting strongly-stated suppositions as facts and accusing the reporter of "holding a position" in his familiar, lawyerly fashion.

Bill really seems on edge in this primary season, which has led some people to wonder whether he is hurting or helping Hillary's campaign, as in this New York Times piece, Bill Clinton, Stumping and Simmering. He seems to want desperately to either get back into the White House or onto the Supreme Court (as rumor has it, if Hillary is elected). You can't help but wonder, looking at the raw emotions displayed by the Clintons recently, if the success of this campaign has everything to do with keeping their marriage together. From the NYT article...
Mr. Clinton’s temper has been an issue for him as long as he has been in public life. But it has played an unusual role during the current campaign, his face turning red in public nearly every week, often making headlines as he defends his wife and injects himself, whether or not intentionally, into her race in sometimes distracting ways.

Some Clinton advisers say the campaign is trying to rein him in somewhat, so that his outbursts become less of a factor to reporters, but his flashes of anger only seem to be growing. Last week, for instance, a clearly agitated Mr. Clinton told Dartmouth students that it was a “fairy tale” for Mr. Obama to contend that he had been consistently against the war in Iraq. And in December he said that voters supporting Mr. Obama were willing to “roll the dice” on the presidency.

“The bottom line is, his outbursts don’t help the campaign,” said James A. Thurber of American University, an analyst of the presidency and Congress. “They become an issue, and it can grow into a real problem. I think the campaign is worried about him right now.”

“Bubbling just below the surface is a deep resentment on his part against the press about the way he feels she is portrayed against Barack,” said David R. Gergen, a Harvard professor of public service who has been an adviser to presidents of both parties, including Mr. Clinton. “He is a bit like Mount Vesuvius: he’ll just erupt, but then it’s over, because the good thing about his temper is that he doesn’t bear grudges.”

Aides and advisers to both Clintons say he tends to explode in anger more often and more fiercely than his wife, whose temper is usually described as that of a slow-burn and clipped-tone variety.

His so-called “purple fits” and “earthquakes” have been a constant to those who have worked with him. Some have dealt with it by avoiding him, others by simply responding with silence. One senior White House aide, George Stephanopoulos, who was often a target of Mr. Clinton’s fury, has written of taking an antidepressant because the vicissitudes of the job were so intense.

Mr. Clinton has reflected on his temper over the years, perhaps most revealingly in his autobiography. At one point in it, he recalls a day in junior high school when he hit a boy who had been taunting him. It was a moment from which he came to draw lessons.

“I was a little disturbed by my anger, the currents of which would prove deeper and stronger in the years ahead,” Mr. Clinton wrote. “Because of the way Daddy behaved when he was angry and drunk, I associated anger with being out of control and I was determined not to lose control. Doing so could unleash the deeper, constant anger I kept locked away because I didn’t know where it came from.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ready for Cloned Food?

The FDA says it's OK...

Yes, the FDA has approved it, and they've supposedly validated a 2006 assessment that claimed that cloned foods are safe. How do they know this? Don't we also know from experience that cloned animals are known to have health problems? See here: In addition to low success rates, cloned animals tend to have more compromised immune function and higher rates of infection, tumor growth, and other disorders. Japanese studies have shown that cloned mice live in poor health and die early. About a third of the cloned calves born alive have died young, and many of them were abnormally large. Many cloned animals have not lived long enough to generate good data about how clones age. Appearing healthy at a young age unfortunately is not a good indicator of long term survival. Clones have been known to die mysteriously. For example, Australia's first cloned sheep appeared healthy and energetic on the day she died, and the results from her autopsy failed to determine a cause of death.

If cloned organisms are known to have such health problems, how can the FDA say that they're safe to eat?

Here we see another problem with leaving Republicans in charge of the executive branch. We have regulatory agencies that don't believe in regulating anything. Not only is it going to be allowed (with a moratorium being asked for, due to "market concerns"), but it won't even require labelling: FDA officials said there is no plan to specifically label food from cloned animals. The agency, they said, lacks legal authority to do that because it has found that food from clones is not different from conventional meat and milk.

Of course, talk of cloning puts me in mind of the movie Blade Runner. Replicants weren't labelled either. You had to figure them out by their lack of empathy.

And speaking of replicants lacking empathy, Mitt Romney won the Michigan Primary last night. He suddenly became aware while he was in Michigan that ordinary people aren't as in love with globalization as venture capitalists are. With the Democratic Primary in Michigan rendered meaningless, the entire night was simply handed to him. John McCain pretty much helped to hand it to him too, telling people with his straight talk that "your jobs probably won't be coming back." But hey, we'll see if we can retrain you. We don't build anything here anymore, and anything that can be done at a computer terminal will be done overseas from now on, but maybe we can retrain you for a McJob at 1/4 of your old paycheck.

Read My Mom in Michigan Has No Hope, by Jay Jonah Cash

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Playoffs!

The NFL Network's "Matt" tells off on it in "Joe's Diner"

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Thoughts on Iraq, Iowa, NH, and the Year of the Surge

Did the Surge in Iraq create a Surge for McCain?

Whatever happened to the War in Iraq as a campaign issue?

A year ago, I wouldn't have given you a plugged nickel for John McCain's presidential chances. His campaign seemed like a lonely and quixotic quest. Now, if the polls are to be at all believed, he stands on the cusp of achieving an upset victory in New Hampshire.

Really bad ideas have a way of collapsing under their own weight over time. Al Qaeda, and to a lesser degree, al Sadr's Shia Mahdi Army, seem to have overplayed their hands to their own surprise and detriment in Iraq. Beheadings, often posted on the internet, and a cavalcade of monstrous and horrific car bombings, along with a host of other atrocities, has turned even the Sunni tribal populations against al Qaeda. Of course, this takes nothing away from the tactical competence of General Petraeus and the hard work of the US Armed Forces. The sacking of Rumsfeld and his team after an endless litany of mistakes in Iraq should be seen by everyone as an exceedingly positive development, regardless of how they view the rightness of the war.

Nevertheless, it does bring up a fundamental question. Even if there has been some tactical success on the ground in Iraq in 2007, what does it say about the American population and their attitude towards this war in general? What does it have to do with the question of whether or not it was the right thing to do to begin with? What does it say about both our initial motivations and our continued involvement? Do these things matter to the populace at large, or is all that matters the appearance of winning or losing? It’s certainly understandable that a population will always be unhappy with a war that isn’t going well, but what does this say about us as a nation?

One of the best commentators on the progress in the War in Iraq has been the author and columnist Thomas Ricks, the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. While he concedes that al Qaeda has suffered reverses in Iraq, he cautions that the overall decline in violence should be seen in relative terms, and that the political conundrum is as thornily present as ever. Is real progress being made in terms of national reconciliation, or are the Sunni and Shia militias merely building up their strength and biding their time before an all-out civil war? It's hard to say, in this strange war that morphs into something new every year. From the online debate The War Over the War, in The Washington Post in November... I'd hardly call Ricks optimistic...

Boonsboro, Md.: When will it be okay to state that we are winning in Iraq and all the naysayers ("the war is lost") were wrong? Even the New York Times is admitting things are going well.

Thomas E. Ricks: Well, things are going better. I just got back from Baghdad last week, and it was clear that violence has decreased. But it hasn't gone away. It is only back down to the 2005 level -- which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth.

I interviewed dozens of officers and none were willing to say we are winning. What they were saying is that at least now, we are not losing. But to a man, they were enormously frustrated by what they see as the foot-dragging of the Baghdad government.
Here is the story I wrote summarizing their views -- and their current worries.

In any case, I think we can see why the Democrats should not be as cocky about their chances as they were one year ago. Of course, next November, we might find ourselves looking at another scenario again....

In the wake of Iowa and on the eve of New Hampshire, a few random thoughts about the other candidates. Don’t expect depth. :-D

Barack Obama: The return of the youthful and inevitable "Candidate of Hope" who had seemed to lose his way in the early stages of the race. He seemed unsure of himself in the early campaigning, struggling to find his footing, but after some missteps by Hillary, he was able to find his stride. If I had to make a provisional endorsement at this point it would probably be for him. I think he has more gravitas and policy wonk savvy than a lot of people give him credit for. I have to say, though.… that in the wake of his Iowa victory, he sounded tired, wan, callow, and uninspired in his speeches. He sounds hoarse and exhausted. I don’t know how these candidates keep this grueling schedule up. After his Iowa win, I expected something a bit more energetic from him, more like the speech and redoubled efforts that have been offered by…

John Edwards: The economic populist. I love what this guy says, but like a lot of other people, I just seem to have a problem with accepting the sincerity of the man. It probably isn’t fair. I think a lot of people feel this way… they like what Edwards has to say, but they wind up pulling the lever for Obama. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

Hillary Clinton: What was she thinking having her husband and Madeline Albright up there on the dais with her in Iowa? I suppose Bill has to be there, but I don’t think people want to go back to the Clinton years, and this is what people are being reminded of. We’ve had 19 years of the Clinton-Bush dynasties. Enough already. I don’t blame young people, who’ve known nothing else, to want to look elsewhere. She sounded a bit shrill, peeved, and desperate in the debate on Saturday night. Don’t count her out though. The Clinton machine works very well, they’ve got plenty of money, and they are bare-knuckled brawlers who can match the worst that anyone else can dish out, Democrat or Republican.

Bill Richardson: A confused, doddering performance in the debate the other night. He needs to get out.

Mike Huckabee: What the Huck? The evangelicals have found their guy to get behind. Nice win on his part, and I think the press was surprised that the Romney ad press conference controversy came off better with the electorate than it did with them. I don’t know… I don’t think he’s presidential timber. He’s a bit prickly. I think that both he and McCain lack the temperament to be president. What’s with the Chuck Norris thing?? We’ll have hundreds of new Chuck Norris facts by the time this is over.

Mitt Romney: Bwahahahahaha! Sorry for the schadenfrude… I can’t help it. He’s one of the most obnoxious political candidates I’ve seen in decades. I think Liam’s description of him is right on the money. Consider a couple of things about Mitt… He did his missionary work in France and has nothing but contempt and ridicule for France. He did his gubernatorial stint in Massachussetts and has nothing but contempt and ridicule for Massachussetts. A typical pump-and-dump corporate suit. I could wind up with egg on my face, but I hope McCain beats him in NH like a rented mule.

Ron Paul: Wow. He got knifed by the rest of them on Saturday night like Julius Caesar in the Forum, without a scintilla of logic from the whole crew.

Fred Thompson: “I sure hate this campaigning and meeting people stuff… Heck, I don’t expect people to vote for me up here…” How did Bullfrog get talked into doing this?

Rudy Giuliani: A Johnny-One-Note. Whatever... I listened to this Republican debate the other night and could only shake my head. They’ve got nothing to sell but fear. Invocations of Ronald Reagan and one-upmanship on how much better they’ll be at killing people. Fear about terrorism, fear about immigrants, fear about providing kids with health care, although we somehow seem to have found an old shoebox in a drawer somewhere with enough cash in it to keep pre-emptive wars going for generations to come. All this talk about who’s going to pay for health care, and precious little talk about why it costs as much as it does. Greenspan and his boys at the Fed kept inflation pretty low for 20 years. Have we seen low inflation in health care and the cost of a college education over that same period of time? Fear gets invoked on the prospect of the government making decisions about your health care. Has everyone been thrilled with insurance companies making those decisions instead?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Fr. Tom Reese Interviews Fr. Ron Rolheiser

Provoke Radio: Considering the Other Side

A great site to check out: Provoke Radio... Where Faith and Social Justice Meet

In the spirit of the urge towards charitable discernment that Tony offered in the comments to my last post, I'd like to post this link to a Provoke Radio interview of Fr. Rolheiser OMI by Father Tom Reese SJ.

"Read against your temperament."

The topic: Considering the Other Side

Today, more than ever, the conflict between liberals and conservatives is apparent in both politics and religion. And while those at the 2 extremes may never consider each other’s point of view, those in between might actually be willing to do just that. But how? What’s the best way to go about understanding an issue from all points of view? What’s so wrong with trying? Who might benefit from such an exercise and how? And if we can’t do it in a secular democracy…what hope does that leave for the rest of the world? In a climate where polarization seems to be encouraged - in politics, in the church and in society - we thought this would be a good topic to explore. Listen in as our guest, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio and author of the weekly column "In Exile" explains the benefits of 'reading against your temperament', why Truth is more important than ideology and why everyone should have at least one really good friend with whom you share nothing in common! And, of course, what faith has to do with any of it. Fr. Rolheiser is interviewed by Fr. Tom Reese, SJ, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgertown University.

Also, check out this radio interview of Fr. Rolheiser on Radio One Tapestry

These are trying times for Catholics, especially for those in Europe and North America. While Catholicism is a growing, vibrant force in Third World nations, it’s under challenge in the West. The shrinking number of priests and nuns, and a growing culture gap between many of the faithful and the Church leadership are cause for worry. So, who do you turn to if you’re a Catholic and you’re looking for a little hope? For increasing numbers of Catholics – for millions of them in fact – encouraging words are coming from a man from Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. Father Ron Rolheiser is a widely-read columnist in Catholic newspapers, an author and a popular leader of spiritual retreats. Above all, he reassures people it’s all right to be a good Catholic. Father Rolheiser joins Mary Hynes for a wide-ranging conversation about celibacy, popular culture, depression and the need for community.