Tag Archives: Catholicism

The Synod on the Family and the Developing World

Opening_Session_of_the_Extraordinary_Assembly_of_the_Synod_of_Bishops_at_the_Vatican_on_Oct_6_2014_Credit_Mazur_catholicnewsorguk_CC_BY_NC_SA_20_3_CNA_10_7_14

First World Problems?

Not long after his election, the new Pope explained why he had taken the name “Francis”: “Ah, how I would like a church,” he said, “that is poor and is for the poor.” It was refreshing: the Pope was going to change the basic terms of the conversation between the Church and the world. Instead of waging a grinding “culture war” against a secular West, the Church would instead speak to the most urgent concerns of the global East and South. The first Pope to come from beyond Europe and the Mediterranean basin promised to be the champion of those who lived in the parts of the earth where hunger, injustice and persecution abounded. Places like the Philippines, Mexico, and Nigeria had already become the true center of gravity of a global Church, displacing Quebec, Chicago, Milan and Vienna. The new Pope would speak for the populations of the emerging world – for their suffering, their desperation, their resilience, their energy, their sense of hope. The “North/South” polarity would supplant the “Left/Right” one. The Church would make the pivot to poverty. In making that turn, it would address the West too – but by awakening it from the deadly self-absorption of the affluent.

So when one learns that the Synod of Catholic cardinals and bishops summoned by the same Pope has returned the conversation to the culture wars of the West – though with unmistakable overtones of capitulation on many of the bishops’ part — it is, to say no more, a disappointment. Try as it may, the Church under Francis seems to be unable to resist scratching the sores of Western sexuality. The consuming obsessions of the West, now in the terminal phases of the sexual and cultural revolutions that have swept over it for more than half a century, are dominating the Church’s agenda once again. At the Pope’s insistence, the bishops did a reset, plunging the Church into renewed debate over divorce and homosexuality and cutting short the conversation that the Pope had earlier invited over famine, persecution and want. With Islamist terrorist groups like Boko Haram recently murdering 2500 Catholics in one Nigerian diocese alone, and with Christian children being crucified or cut in half by ISIS, you might think that the world’s bishops would have more pressing things on their mind than the compatibility of same-sex unions with Church teaching. You would, of course, be wrong.

Indeed, even considering “family” issues alone, the non-Western Church was short-changed: how much attention was given to the question of inter-faith marriages, despite its being a major concern for the Church in India? In the Philippines, many marriages break up because poverty forces a spouse or parent to migrate overseas in search of employment, leaving home, spouse and children behind. Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle noted this problem, saying that poverty “goes right at the heart of the family” in his country ; but how much attention did this issue get?

What is more, the organizers of the Synod openly expressed their indifference to – if not contempt for – the opinions of the leaders of the non-Western Church. They spoke as if the opposition of the African bishops to their “modernizing” program could stem only from irrational hatred and prejudice. What the Africans needed, they seemed to be saying, was a good, stiff dose of Richard Posner’s writings. In the controversy over the initial draft of the Synod’s statement, Cardinal Walter Kasper, an octogenarian German theologian and a favorite of the Pope’s, infamously said:

Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Kasper later denied having made those revealing remarks – a denial that was then proven to be false. In any case, the remarks hardly seemed out of character for the Cardinal. In an interview with the German magazine Focus published under the heading “Third World Land,” Kasper was reported to have said, “When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country.” The German Cardinal obviously notices different things when he is at the airport from what Cardinal Tagle does. The Philippine prelate spoke of his anguish in watching Filipino mothers at airports forced to part from their children because their poverty is so desperate that they must leave their families and search for work abroad.

Not Just Cardinal Kasper

Even if Cardinal Kasper’s statement were merely condescension on the part of the passenger with the first-class cabin towards the passengers in steerage, it would be bad enough. But Kasper and those like him simply did not seem to understand the position. Perhaps the Africans and Asians are not just squinting narrowly at the issue of homosexuality, but rather looking at the state of Western culture as a whole? And perhaps they do not like what they see? Perhaps the cultural exports of the secular West – its current practices regarding marriage, abortion, childbirth, the family, the relations between the sexes – are no more wanted in Africa and Asia than the West’s toxic wastes and sewage effluents? (New York Cardinal Dolan’s wonderful defense of the “prophetic” African Church effectively made these points. )

But the problem with the Synod went far beyond the tactlessness and incomprehension of elderly European churchmen. Apparently at the Pope’s insistence, the Synod’s final report included three controversial articles that had received the approval of a Synod majority, but not the supermajority required for consensus. The final report will now go to the Church throughout the world for discussion and debate before the Synod reconvenes. You can be sure that the media coverage of the debate in this intervening period will focus overwhelmingly on the articles that the Pope reinstated. Cui bono? In their effort to get the conversation back on the familiar tracks of the Western culture wars, the Pope and his bishops are doing serious harm to millions of faithful Catholics trying to live out the Gospel in hostile and often dangerous conditions in the emerging world.

My former student, Andrew Ratelle, makes the point forcefully:

By upholding the nuclear family, the Church made what was perhaps the most important social investment in history. People in the poorer, more pagan regions of the world where polygamy, polyandry, arranged and child marriages were common, now had a place to look for support when it came to building a life that was most beneficial for themselves and their children. By weakening this support, or at the very least dispersing it to include more “diverse” arrangements, these bishops have weakened the very shield from which the nuclear family has received so much protection. Even in our own country, where “diverse” familial arrangements have almost become synonymous with urban poverty and crime (at least for those who have no gilded safety net to fall into), where should families look to now, since the Church has seen fit to dilute the medicine they have thrived on for so long?

Church leaders in the developing world understand this perfectly well. South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, for instance, wondered how he could deny communion to an African man living in polygamy in accordance with local culture and tradition, if he had to administer the sacrament to a divorced man married to his second wife? “Successive” polygamy, Napier pointed out, is hardly distinguishable from “simultaneous” polygamy.

Pope Francis was right (at first): it really is time to change the conversation. The global Church is not the parochial Western Church; the Church of the poor and the marginal is not the affluent, greying Church of Western Europe and North America. The Church should not be shadowing the West’s cultural trajectory all the way downwards. The future of the Church lies elsewhere. Ex oriente, lux.

Photo from the Catholic News Agency.

Hertel, “The Crescent Remembered”

This December, Sussex Academic Press will release “The Crescent Remembered: Islam and Nationalism on the Iberian Peninsula” by Patricia Hertel (University of Basel).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Crescent RememberedContemporary Spain and Portugal share a historical experience as Iberian states which emerged within the context of al-Andalus. These centuries of Muslim presence in the Middle Ages became a contested heritage during the process of modern nation-building with its varied concepts and constructs of national identities. Politicians, historians and intellectuals debated vigorously the question how the Muslim past could be reconciled with the idea of the Catholic nation.

The Crescent Remembered investigates the processes of exclusion and integration of the Islamic past within the national narratives. It analyzes discourses of historiography, Arabic studies, mythology, popular culture and colonial policies towards Muslim populations from the 19th century to the dictatorships of Franco and Salazar in the 20th century. In particular, it explores why, despite apparent historical similarities, in Spain and Portugal entirely different strategies and discourses concerning the Islamic past emerged. In the process, it seeks to shed light on the role of the Iberian Peninsula as a crucial European historical “contact zone” with Islam.

Cismas, “Religious Actors and International Law”

In July, Oxford University Press released “Religious Actors and International Law” by Ioana Cismas (New York University Law School). The publisher’s description follows:

This book assesses whether a new category of actors-religious actors-has been constructed within international law. Religious actors, through their interpretations of the religion(s) they are associated with, uphold and promote, or indeed may transform, potentially oppressive structures or discriminatory patterns. This study moves beyond the concern that religious texts and practices may be incompatible with international law, to provide an innovative analysis of how religious actors themselves are accountable under international law for the interpretations they choose to put forward.

The book defines religious actors as comprising religious states, international organizations, and non-state entities that assume the role of interpreting religion and so claim a ‘special’ legitimacy anchored in tradition or charisma. Cutting across the state / non-state divide, this definition allows the full remit of religious bodies to be investigated. It analyses the crucial question of whether religious actors do in fact operate under different international legal norms to non-religious states, international organizations, or companies. To that end, the Holy See-Vatican, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and churches and religious organizations under the European Convention on Human Rights regime are examined in detail as case studies.

The study ultimately establishes that religious actors cannot be seen to form an autonomous legal category under international law: they do not enjoy special or exclusive rights, nor incur lesser obligations, when compared to their respective non-religious peers. Going forward, it concludes that a process of two-sided legitimation may be at stake: religious actors will need to provide evidence for the legality of their religious interpretations to strengthen their legitimacy, and international law itself may benefit from religious actors fostering its legitimacy in different cultural contexts.

Chalmers & O’Reilly, “The Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis and the Legal Responses”

This September, Oxford University Press will release “The Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis and the Legal Responses” by James T. O’Reilly (University of Cincinnati College of Law) and Margaret S.P. Chalmers (Chancellor of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter).  The publisher’s description follows:

Clergy Sex AbuseThe sexual abuse of children and teens by rogue priests in the U.S. Catholic Church is a heinous crime, and those who pray for a religious community as its ministers, priests and rabbis should never tolerate those who prey on that community. The legal disputes of recent years have produced many scandalous headlines and fuelled public discussion about the sexual abuse crisis within the clergy, a crisis that has cost the U.S. Catholic Church over $3 billion.

In The Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis and the Legal Responses, two eminent experts, James O’Reilly and Margaret Chalmers, draw on the lessons of recent years to discern the interplay between civil damages law and global church-based canon law. In some countries civil and canon law, although autonomous systems of law, both form part of the church’s legal duties. In the United States, freedom of religion issues have complicated how the state adjudicates both cases of abuse and who can be held responsible for clerical oversight. This book examines questions of civil and criminal liability, issues of respondeat superior and oversight, issues with statutes of limitations and dealing with allegations that occurred decades ago, and how the Church’s internal judicial processes interact or clash with the civil pursuit of these cases.

Decosimo, “Ethics as a Work of Charity: Thomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue”

In July, Stanford University Press released Ethics as a Work of Charity: Thomas Aquinas and Pagan Virtue” by David Decosimo (Loyola University Maryland). The publisher’s description follows:

Most of us wonder how to make sense of the apparent moral excellences or virtues of those who have different visions of the good life or different religious commitments than our own. Rather than flattening or ignoring the deep difference between various visions of the good life, as is so often done, this book turns to the medieval Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas to find a better way. Thomas, it argues, shows us how to welcome the outsider and her virtue as an expression rather than a betrayal of one’s own distinctive vision. It shows how Thomas, driven by a Christian commitment to charity and especially informed by Augustine, synthesized Augustinian and Aristotelian elements to construct an ethics that does justice—in love—to insiders and outsiders alike. Decosimo offers the first analysis of Thomas on pagan virtue and a reinterpretation of Thomas’s ethics while providing a model for our own efforts to articulate a truthful hospitality and do ethics in our pluralist, globalized world.

“Catholicism and the American Experience” (MacGuire, ed.)

In July, Roman & Littlefield Publishers released “Catholicism and the American Experience” edited by James P. MacGuire (Portsmouth Institute). The publisher’s description follows:

What does it mean to be Catholic in America? Catholicism and the American Experience features essays from Robert George, Peter Steinfels, George Weigel, E. J. Dionne, and many more, exploring the unique elements of American Catholicism. The volume highlights the proceedings of the fifth annual Portsmouth Institute conference.

This collection of essays addresses the topic of Catholicism and the American Experience from diverse points of view. They discuss thorny topics such as the relationship between the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and religious freedom, what it means to be Catholic in a secular age, and the current state of Catholic art. Essays also explore subjects ranging from New Evangelization in the church to Catholic leadership.

Cleminson, “Catholicism, Race, and Empire: Eugenics in Portugal, 1900-1950″

In June, the Central European University Press released “Catholicism, Race, and Empire: Eugenics in Portugal, 1900-1950″ by Richard Cleminson (University of Leeds). The publisher’s description follows:

cleminson

This monograph places the science and ideology of eugenics in early twentieth century Portugal in the context of manifestations in other countries in the same period. The author argues that three factors limited the impact of eugenics in Portugal: a low level of institutionalization, opposition from Catholics and the conservative nature of the Salazar regime. In Portugal the eugenic science and movement were confined to three expressions: individualized studies on mental health, often from a ‘biotypological’ perspective; a particular stance on racial miscegenation in the context of the substantial Portuguese colonial empire; and a diffuse model of social hygiene, maternity care and puericulture.

This book not only brings to light an eugenics movement hitherto unstudied; it also invites the reader to re-think the relations between northern and southern forms of eugenics, the role of religion, the dynamic capacity of eugenics for finding a home for its theories and the nature of colonialism.

Castagna, “A Bridge across the Ocean: The United States and the Holy See Between the Two World Wars”

This month, the Catholic University of America Press released “A Bridge across the Ocean: The United States and the Holy See Between the Two World Wars” by Luca Castagna (University of Salerno). The publisher’s description follows:

A Bridge across the Ocean focuses on the relations between the United States and the Holy See from the First World War to the eve of the Second, through the combination of American, Italian, and Vatican sources. More than an overall picture of the American and Vatican foreign policy during the first half of the twentieth century, the book analyzes the U.S.-Vatican rapprochement in a multifaceted way, considering both the international and the internal sphere. A Bridge across the Ocean discusses the spread of anti-Catholicism in the United States during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and its repercussions on the American administrations’ behavior during and after the Versailles Conference, together with the changes that occurred in the Holy See’s attitude toward the American church and the White House after the election of Pope Pius XI. Luca Castagna explores the convergence of the New Deal legislation with the church’s social thought, and demonstrates how the partial U.S.-Vatican rapprochement in 1939 resulted from Roosevelt and Pacelli’s common aim to cooperate, as two of the most important and global moral powers in the struggle against Nazi-fascism.

A Bridge across the Ocean deepens our understanding of American and church history during the first half of the twentieth Century, from the church-state relations to the identification of diplomatic strategies and priorities.

“At the Limits of the Secular” (William J. Barbieri, Jr., ed.)

This week, Eerdmans releases At the Limits of the Secular: Reflections on Faith and Public Life, edited by William A. Barbieri, Jr. The publisher’s description follows:

This volume presents an integrated collection of constructive essays by eminent Catholic scholars addressing the new challenges and opportunities facing religious believers under shifting conditions of secularity and “post-secularity.”

Using an innovative “keywords” approach, At the Limits of the Secular is an interdisciplinary effort to think through the implications of secular consciousness for the role of religion in public affairs. The book responds in some ways to Charles Taylor’s magnum opus, A Secular Age, although it also stands on its own. It features an original essay by David Tracy — the most prominent American Catholic theologian writing today — and groundbreaking contributions by influential younger theologians such as Peter Casarella, William Cavanaugh, and Vincent Miller.