WELCOME! Do you find contemporary life a challenge? Are you a confused Catholic, or even just someone seeking to understand faith? Since 2003, CrossCurrents has appeared 40 times each year. My aim: to provoke thought and enrich faith by interpreting current events in the light of Catholic tradition. I hope you find these columns both entertaining and clarifying. Your feedback and comments are welcome! Find information about my pastoral consulting at http://www.crosscurrents.us/ NOTE: TO READ OR WRITE COMMENTS, CLICK ON THE TITLE OF A POST.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

#426: Getting Beyond Terror

It’s high time for some sanity and realism about terror

Barely 21 months after the Marathon bombers made “Boston Strong” a household phrase, we now have “Je Suis Charlie.” Amid a deluge of strong emotions and sloppy thinking, I offer some reflections on points that I believe we must resolve, lest our lives become permanently unhinged by “terrorism.”
We Should Define Terms.  Are “terror” and “terrorism” really helpful terms?  Too often, they are self-serving labels that mean merely “violence we do not like.” These terms can apply to so many events that we can end up wondering what they all have in common.  Think of  the lynchings of blacks across the United States 1900-1955, attacks by Zionists in mid-1940s Palestine, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing, the school attacks at Newtown and Columbine, the IRA in Northern Ireland from 1969 to the Good Friday accords, the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof, and Munich Olympic attackers in the 1970s, the death squads in El Salvador and the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s, the bombers of New York (1993), and Paris (1995 and 1996), the 9/11 attacks, the sarin gas attacks in Japan, U.S. drone attacks in Yemen and Pakistan, Boko Haram abductions and massacres, et cetera, et cetera. 

If we’re going to use these terms, we should define them consistently. But we seldom do.

Ends and means.  For me, terrorism is a tactic that uses violence to generate fear to gain some goal. So the goal (whenever it is) is the end, and terror tactics are the means.  Often those goals are claimed to be high-minded political or religious causes (whether it is the surrender of Japan on the establishment of Sharia law) which are “supposed” to justify the terror tactics.

But Catholicism has long taught that the ends never justify the means.  This clarifies our notion of terrorism, since we object to the means of terror regardless of the goals.  We don’t care if the attackers are capitalist or communist, Christian or Jew or Muslim.  We don’t care if they seek a classless society or the end of World War II or peace or freedom or justice or heaven on earth.  We only care that their tactics are evil.

Equal Opportunity Tactics.  This also means that anyone can be guilty of terrorism.  It can be a deranged individual like Timothy McVeigh, it can be radicalized brothers like the Tsarnaevs in Boston or the Kouachis in Paris.  It can be a tribe, a cell, a movement, a radical organization, a quasi-military militia, a political or religious party, or even a government.

By their tactics you shall know them, whether you regard them as friend or foe, good guys or bad guys. Trying to distinguish between “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” who use the same tactics—as if there is “good” terrorism and “bad” terrorism--only leads us to a double standard.

Double Standards. Even the Paris killings reflect this problem of double standards.

Few people support absolute free speech with no limits, and this can lead to a double standard. In the name of free speech, blasphemy is allowed in France, so Charlie Hebdo is honored and protected.  But “hate speech” is not allowed, so the UPI reported that:

Fifty-four people were arrested Wednesday after the French government ordered a crackdown on hate speech and the glorification of terrorism.

And the International Business Times detailed the government’s rationale:

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said hate speech has to be fought with the "utmost vigor," urging prosecutors to act quickly against those who condone terrorism or carry out racist or anti-Semitic acts. Prime Minister Manuel Valls added that freedom of speech should not be confused with anti-Semitism, racism and Holocaust denial

Of course, this just heightens the hostility between Muslims and Jews (who appear to receive special treatment--it seems even Charlie Hebdo had avoided satirizing Jews). 

In fact, most “free speech” champions make exceptions that create a double standard. It is a crime in many European countries to deny the Holocaust. It is a crime in the U.S. to commit “hate speech” against gays, blacks, Jews. These exceptions to free speech reflect the history of these countries. But they are still double standards. To prohibit these forms of speech while allowing blasphemy (an offense which reflects the history of OTHER countries) is at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical. And when such hypocrisy enables blasphemy that offends even moderates, that only undermines their moderation and makes us riper targets for fanatics willing to use terror tactics.

And there is a third double standard. It focuses on threats to the West but overlooks attacks elsewhere, as if only western lives matter.  The same week when 17 Parisians were killed, Time Magazine reported that Boko Haram “murdered up to 2,000 civilians” in Baga, Nigeria, and a few a days later “used a 10-year old girl as a suicide bomber to kill at least 16 people at a market.”  It goes without saying which tragedy commanded more attention.

Granted, we took the Paris attacks as attacks on western values that are “sacred” to us--but are we surprised if the southern hemisphere concludes that we care less about their lives?  And do we really believe that sending that message helps us fight such violence?

Blaming Religion Honors the Terrorists.  I am increasingly weary of media references to “jihadists” and “radical Islamists” etc.  Yes, these people claim to act in the name of Islam--but why do we honor their claim?  It is a false claim, and it provides them cover to rationalize their atrocities to others. At the same time, it pits people of different faiths against each other.

Thus Pope Francis has urged all religious leaders to denounce any such violence, saying “To kill in the name of God is an aberration”:

For the sake of peace, religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war. We must be clear and unequivocal in challenging our communities to live fully the tenets of peace and coexistence found in each religion, and to denounce acts of violence when they are committed.…

I express my hope that religious, political and intellectual leaders, especially those of the Muslim community, will condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence.

Thus it is not just the violence we condemn, but also the hijacking of religion itself. No terrorists represent authentic Islam. This was made crystal clear by Malek Merabet, as the brother of Ahmed Merabet, one of the police officers killed in Paris:

Islam is a religion of peace, love and sharing. It's not about terrorism, it's not about madness…My brother was a Muslim and he was killed by people pretending to be Muslims. They are terrorists – that's it…Don’t tar everyone with the same brush; don't burn mosques – or synagogues. It won't bring our dead back and it won't appease the families.

Linking terror to Islam only increases Islamophobia, and at the same time it alienates more Muslims.  Using such terms helps the terrorists and hurts the efforts of genuine Muslims to make peace with western, secular culture. Blaming Islam is doing just what the terrorists want.

In fact, blaming Islam for terrorism, combined with our “free speech” double standard, only convinces others that we really are the enemy.

Of course, to overcome this temptation to blame religions, we must heed Francis’ answer when challenged about visiting a Buddhist temple:

The Protestants when I was a child, in that time, 70 years ago, all the Protestants were going to hell, all of them. That’s what was said. Do you know what was the first experience I had of ecumenism?...When I was four or five years old walking down the street with my grandmother, I saw two women from the Salvation Army, wearing those old-style hats, and I asked my grandmother, “Tell me, are they sisters (nuns)?” My Grandmother said “No, they are Protestant but they’re good (people).” It was the first time that I heard a person speaking well of people of another religion. At that time in the catechesis they told us that they all went to hell. I believe the Church has grown a lot in its consciousness (understanding) and in its respect (for other religions), as I said in the interreligious encounter in Colombo the other day, when we read what the Second Vatican Council about the other religions, and the values in other religions. The Church has grown a lot in these years and in respect. There have been dark periods in the history of the Church too, and we have to say that with shame. We’re all on a path of conversion, which is a grace; always from sin to grace. This inter-religiosity as brothers, respecting each other always is a grace.

No More “War On Terror.”  This unfortunate phrase has caused two problems.  First, it created a “crusading” climate that accepts too many evil tactics in a worthy cause: invasion based on lies, torture, rendition, imprisonment without charges, killing without due process, restrictions on Americans’ privacy and freedom.  Second, it deluded us into thinking that we could “win” this war--that the right strategy would bring “victory” and “end” terror. That we could kill the “last terrorist” and enjoy “victory.”

The brutal fact is that human history reveals an unending supply of people willing to employ evil tactics--even to kill the innocent--to gain their goals.  One cannot kill all the terrorists and end terrorism because one cannot uproot from human nature its potential for evil. The “last terrorist” does not exist.

Such people are criminals, and our criminal justice systems must be our main defense.  Most terrorists collaborate, and collaborating to commit crime is conspiracy, and conspiracy itself as a crime before any shot is fired, any bomb is wired, any plane is hijacked.  The best strategy against terror is the same strategy long used against organized crime: investigate, infiltrate, incriminate for conspiracy, prosecute, and punish. 

This is precisely how French Police followed up the Paris attacks, arresting four suspects believed linked to one of the gunmen involved in the attacks. They appeared before an antiterrorism judge on charges of “terrorist conspiracy to commit crimes against people.”

But the bottom line is: we will always have terrorists.  Terrorism is nothing new, and no matter how old it gets, it is not dying out. Terrorism, like poverty, will always be with us. 

But this fact points to our real hope.

The Long Term Fix.  Nearly all terror attacks of the last century reflect the attackers’ resentment for perceived injustice.  That resentment has nearly always been fueled by poverty.  Arguably, terrorism and poverty go hand in hand: the more poverty, the more terrorism--and the less poverty, the less terror.

This premise cries out for urgent consideration.  For it implies that the trillions we spend on military invasions are futile--and worse, they preclude our chance to spend such resources on reducing poverty.  If the links between terror attacks and poverty are compelling--and I believe they are (just look at profiles of suicide bombers)--then attacking poverty becomes our number one weapon, our number one hope, against terrorism.

The Prospects? These reflections do not leave me optimistic.  I fear we will continue to define “terrorism” sloppily, continue to follow hypocritical double standards, continue to blame religions and alienate others, continue to criticize people’s goals instead of condemning their tactics, continue to condemn radical parties while exempting governments, continue to pretend we can “wage war” to end terrorism, and continue to waste both money and lives in that futile pursuit.  We will continue to praise “our warriors” who “protect us.”  And we will continue blindly blundering along with strategies and tactics that will guarantee that our situation, already unmistakably worse since 9/11 due to such blundering, will deteriorate even further.

That is, it will continue to worsen unless we begin to heed the voice of reason.  But who speaks that voice today? And who is listening?

   © Bernard   F. Swain PhD 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

#425: Francis’ New Way Out of the Wilderness

We are beginning to see what actual changes the new pope can make.

When Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, his unique style was immediately apparent to all.  But many questioned whether that style could translate into substance--whether, in addition to inspiring people, he could actually implement practical changes.  In the last few months of 2014, the contour of those changes has become clearer, as he has taken practical steps consistent with his rhetoric. 
He convened a Synod on the Family that could make Catholicism more welcoming to divorced people, gays, and alienated Catholics everywhere. He has delivered a blunt critique of his own Vatican bureaucracy, the Curia, which makes a change of the Vatican’s culture (and probably the rolling of some of its heads) inevitable.  He has named bishops who share his vision to new posts, and expelled some with conflicting vision.  He was instrumental in convincing President Obama to make his diplomatic opening to Cuba.  And he is supporting the move to make Bishop Oscar Romero an official martyr of the church, emblematic of the Church’s fight for social justice for the oppressed and the poor.

In my view all these moves put to rest the question of whether Francis offers big rhetoric but little action.  And so, less than two years into his reign, we can begin to see not only how he is leading the church with his unique style, but where he is leading it with his decisions.  But to grasp what this means, we must see his actions in their full context--in fact, in four different contexts. 

BEFORE: The Regal Papacy of Pius XII
1. The Context Before Francis. To understand what is really going on, it is important to see how the office Francis holds has been transformed even before he was elected.  I often tell listeners that, since the death of Pius XII in 1958, every single subsequent pope has changed the office in a visible and important way.  The result: today’s papacy looks and acts dramatically different from the 1950s papacy.  In fact, I would argue that no public office on the planet has changed as much as the papacy.

Of course, this transformation all started with John XXIII, who convened Vatican Council II (1962-1965).  And the 50 years since then have been marked by the continuing, chronic, so far unresolved struggle over the meaning and impact of Vatican II.  Francis is, of course, the first pope since John who did not participate at Vatican II.  He experienced it as we all (who are old enough) did, from the outside looking in. Thus he brings a fresh view that may yet finally cement Vatican II’s legacy for the Catholic world and beyond. 

At the same time, Catholicism has witnessed an enormous demographic shift: now 2/3 of all Catholics live south of the equator.  Francis is, of course the first pope from the southern hemisphere, so he brings yet another new perspective. 

The last 20 years have also witnessed a rash of scandals, crises, and closings that have heavily damaged both Catholic life and Catholicism’s public image.  Indeed, in America the Catholic Church is hemorrhaging members faster than any other religion.  And despite his academic brilliance, Pope Benedict XVI seemed incapable of keeping his foot out of his mouth. 

The net result of these recent developments has been a reversal of the incredibly positive PR Catholicism gained from Vatican II.  One may argue that, prior to the election of Francis, the public image of Catholicism had never been worse in our lifetime.

2. The Context of Francis. That public image shifted dramatically almost at the moment of Francis’ election.  As the first southern hemisphere pope, as the first Jesuit pope, as the first Francis, he signaled a shift in papal leadership in the first 10 minutes of his first public appearance, when he asked the assembled crowd to bless him before he blessed them. This show of “Franciscan” humility has marked his papacy ever since.  But when, soon after his election, he accepted an Italian editor’s open invitation for an interview, he went beyond humility to indicate a new, ambitious direction:

Our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to needs, desires and disappointments, despair, hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace. Vatican II, inspired by Pope Paul VI and John, decided to look to the future with a modern spirit and to be open to modern culture. The Council Fathers knew that being open to modern culture meant religious ecumenism and dialogue with non-believers. But afterwards very little was done in that direction. I have the humility and ambition to want to do something.

AFTER: The "Cool" Papacy of Francis
Notice the way Francis linked humility and ambition--and linked both to a retrieval of Vatican II’s lost legacy. This combination of humility and ambition quickly made Francis a huge PR success, reflected by Time magazine selecting him as 2013’s “Person of the Year.”  And when his smiling face appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, it was clear that he had become the first “cool pope” in history! 

But this stunning reversal of the Church’s appalling public image--which is no small matter, for it led millions to abandon the Church--was not the whole story.  Instead, Francis has emerged not only as an inspiring figure but as an agent of reform, whose course correction for the Church includes battling corruption, careerism, obsessive preoccupation with the culture wars, and also battling the trickle-down theory that dominates the wider culture and economy.

(On this last point, note that a new book by La Stampa's Vatican watchers, Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, titled Pope Francis: This Economy Kills, is being released this week in Italy.)

3. The Context of Mercy. Francis is not the first pope to put mercy at the center of his agenda.  In fact, this was a hallmark of John XXIII on the very day that he opened Vatican II:

We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She consider that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations…the Catholic Church…desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from her

There’s nothing new about an emphasis on mercy, of course. Catholics have long subscribed to (though perhaps many of today’s Catholics are not aware of) the action-steps known as the “Corporal Works of Mercy” and the “Spiritual Works of Mercy.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_of_mercy)

For Francis, Mercy lies at the center of the Church’s mission:

Throughout history, some have been tempted to say that the Church is the Church of only the pure and perfectly consistent, and it expels all the rest.  This is not true!  This is heresy!  The Church, which is holy, does not reject sinners; she does not reject us all; she does not reject us because she calls everyone, welcomes them, is open even to those furthest from her; she calls everyone to allow themselves to be enfolded by the mercy, the tenderness, and the forgiveness of the Father…

But besides quoting the pope on mercy; we must also ask: what does he mean?  The question matters because the English word “mercy” badly translates the pope’s words.  “Mercy” comes from a Latin word meaning “wages.” It referred to God’s reward gives for those who do good works. 

But centuries ago, that word was replaced in the Latin languages for another word, which English never adopted.  The new word, “Miserecordia,” means almost the opposite of the English word.  Instead of the reward we get after doing good, it is the big-heartedness that impels us to do good in the first place.  Like the English word “compassion,” which means to suffer with another, Miserecordia refers to a heart that goes out to those in distress.  This is the word Francis uses, whether he speaks or writes in Latin, or Italian, or Spanish (it is the same word in French and Portuguese as well).

So while “mercy” in today’s English often means “pity” or “leniency,” we would do better to think of it as the impulse to help that comes from “big-hearted compassion”--as if it comes from the heart of God.

With this understanding, we can see why Francis might be regarded by some as a troublemaker, and why “mercy” might even seem a dangerous word.

For the pope’s emphasis on mercy pits him against an introverted Church in favor of a Church that reaches out to the poor.  It pits him against a Church committed to the “counter-culture,” in favor of a Church that promotes an “encounter-culture.” It pits him against any hostility to other religions, including Islam. It pits him against inequality, which makes peace impossible, and in favor of a restructured economy that redistributes wealth and honors solidarity. 

It commits him to a Church that “steps outside” itself, and thus to a Church whose mission is, above all, evangelization.  It commits him to a Church in which doing good is more urgent than arguing over doctrine. Indeed, he has criticized theologically-minded people who dispute doctrine endlessly, saying that we will not live long enough to see these disputes resolved but must act in the meantime.

In sum, Francis wants a new way for us to be Church:

The Lord wants us to belong to a Church that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone, that is not a house for the few, but a house for everyone, where all can be renewed.

4. The Context of Our Lives. This new pope’s agenda touches us all as individuals, as families, and as communities.  For him, the dynamic is an active one that leads from the big-hearted impulse of God’s infinite  mercy, to the joy that brings us, to our mission to bring that mercy to the world.  For him, the works of mercy are like the beating of a heart, the systolic and diastolic rhythms of compassion and action. 

It is no surprise that among his favorite images from the gospel is the story of the prodigal son, of the father who watches endlessly for his son’s return and rushes out in joy when that return finally occurs.:

In the church, the God we encounter is not a merciless judge but is like the father in the gospel parable.  You may be like the son who left home, who sank to the depths…God is always waiting for you.  God embraces you, kisses you, and celebrates.  That is how the Lord is. 

For us, observing and listening to this man in action, the choice is clear. As he shows a way out of the wilderness that has lost Catholicism both its members and its impact, how do we respond? Do we identify with the Father who continues to reach out to embrace those who’ve been lost? Or are we more like the “good son” who stayed behind, resentful that others get the attention we might deserve, unhappy to hear that relieving their suffering is not only more urgent, but more important,  than our continued comfort? The choice is ours. But he is already showing us the way.

   © Bernard   F. Swain PhD 2015

Saturday, December 13, 2014

#253 (Reprised): Holy War Crimes

This week's news about CIA torture resurfaces a topic I've written about many times. The posting below surveys the core Catholic viewpoint:
Godard's Le Petit Soldat (1963)
 The uproar about US torture reminds me of the fortified medieval city Carcassonne. In 1998, I spent two hours wandering its double-wall ramparts, its slot-window towers, its cathedral (where St. Dominic preached against the heretical Cathars in Lent 1205). But my one souvenir is the illustrated brochure from the Museum of Torture.
I knew that Joan of Arc’s prosecutors had shown her the "instruments of torture," hoping to terrorize her into confessing and recanting her heresy, but I had never seen them myself. The brochure shows them all: rack, chair of nails, leg press, pincers, iron cage, wheel, spiked helmet. All were weapons in the Crusade to stamp out the Cathars in southern France.
We Catholics inherit a tarnished moral track record. Over the centuries our Church has justified slavery, locked Jews in ghettos, promised crusaders a heavenly prize for fighting infidels, denied non-Catholics freedom of religion, forced Baptisms, and even condemned saints to be burnt at the stake.
But one saving grace of Catholicism is its ability to learn from the errors of its ways. Over time the Church finally condemned slavery, repented its anti-Semitism, embraced religious liberty for all, and rejected holy wars. Along the way, Catholicism also renounced all torture as an offense against the dignity of human life.
 For me, this history imposes a special moral obligation. The world manifests many evils to oppose, but Catholics bear a special responsibility for evils that our own Church once promoted. Part of our penance for evils we have renounced, it seems to me, is the obligation to champion their elimination.
It turns out this applies especially to waterboarding.
 As a movie-nut and child of the 1960s, I am especially sensitive to torture, since few evils have been more powerfully portrayed on screen. First I saw the "Chinese brainwashing" scenes in the Manchurian Candidate, then the Russian roulette in Deer Hunter, the electrocutions in Day of the Jackal and State of Siege. And despite my dislike for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, I admit it bore powerful witness to this fact: the founder of our faith was himself a victim of "legal torture "!
But the images most imbedded in my brain come from Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1965) and Godard’s Le Petit Soldat (1963). Both treat the Algerian war, and both have terrifying scenes of waterboarding. And while most movies portray torture as a villain’s tool, Godard showed that even "good guys" do evil when they torture:
I thought the honest thing was to show friends, people for whom I would go and fight if necessary -- the Algerians I mean -- to show them torturing. I thought that torture could be more persuasively condemned if one saw one's own friends practicing it.
At the time I may have known that the Vatican had specifically denounced torture in all forms, but I had no idea  about waterboarding's history. 
I did not know Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) had waterboarded its victims. I did not know a US soldier had been court martialed for waterboarding a captured North Vietnamese soldier in 1968. I did not know the US prosecuted Japanese waterboarders after World War II. I did not know American soldiers had waterboarded Filipinos in the Philippine-American war (1899-1902). Above all, I did not know waterboarding’s Catholic roots in the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1574) and the Flemish Inquisition (1556-1559).
Professor William Schweiker of the University of Chicago argues that waterboarding began, not merely as an effective torture technique, but as a religious symbol:
Water as a form of torture is an inversion of the waters of baptism under the (grotesque) belief that it can deliver the heretic from his or her sins...Because of the broad symbolic meaning of 'water' in the Christian and Jewish traditions (e.g., creation, the great flood, the parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus and drowning of the Egyptians (!), and baptism as a symbolic death that gives life) the practice takes on profound religious meanings. Torture has many forms and meanings, of course, but torture by water as it arose in the Roman Catholic and Protestant Reformations drew some of its power and inspiration from theological convictions about repentance and salvation. It was, we must surely say, a horrific inversion of the best spirit of Christian faith and symbolism.( http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/121394529/HTMLSTART   )
In other words, not only does waterboarding have Catholic roots—it began as an attempt to “weaponize" Baptism itself! Thank God Catholicism eventually came to its senses.
I can understand the temptation to torture, since this particular evil is often wrapped in the camouflage of good content. 
After all, torture’s victims are nearly always "the enemy," and may themselves be perpetrators of evil deeds. Generally, they are tortured on the belief they possess knowledge we need lest our enemies do us further harm. It may seem that only torture will gain us that knowledge, that only torture can avoid that harm.
Moreover, many people believe that "anything goes" in war. They are convinced that, once war breaks out, it is futile and dangerous to quibble over techniques used to defeat the enemy.
This "anything goes" ethic is not unknown in Catholic history -- it is precisely what made crusades distinct. Crusades were not "just wars" according to Catholic teaching, for just wars have strict rules of conduct. Crusades were “Holy Wars," where one fought not merely for a good cause, but to enact God's will.
The ruins of B├ęzier, not far from Carcassonne, remind us that when “anything goes,” mass atrocity is not far behind torture.
Crusaders besieged this small town in July 1209. When the Catholics refused to surrender their heretical Cathar neighbors for inquisition and torture, the crusaders began a mass slaughter of 10,000 to 20,000, Catholics and Cathars alike. It is said the religious commander of the crusade, Arnaud-Amaury, declared "Kill them all! God will recognize His own!"  The massacre frightened many other towns to surrender without resistance.
We have long since renounced such “anything goes” warfare. There are Catholic pacifists, and Catholics who embrace the "just war" tradition -- but the "anything goes" of Holy War is no longer a moral option for Catholics. Catholic moral teaching has firmly established this main ethics principle: the end never justifies immoral means.
For us, then, it does not matter if defeating the enemy is our noble intention. It does not matter if we seek information that will save lives. It does not even matter if torture is proven effective at acquiring such information. If torture is a crime under US law and international treaties, then good intentions or widespread political support do not make it less criminal. If torture is rationalized because "we are at war," that does not make it less crime—that makes it a war crime.
The clinching case for war crimes was, of course, the Nuremberg trials that convicted many who were "just following orders" in committing atrocities in World War II. From now on, both the international community and the Church agree, "anything goes" no longer goes. A crime is a crime is a crime. In time of war, a crime simply becomes a war crime. And even if we think our cause is God's will, the crime simply becomes a holy war crime. 
The idea of US war crimes rooted in Catholicism’s own perversion of the sacrament of Baptism appalls me. As Prof. Schweiker writes:
Baptism is the sacrament and practice of new life. In this practice the dignity of human beings as active agents of love in the world is both announced and enacted. The act of waterboarding, conversely, is a practice of death-dealing where the victim is violently deprived of his or her power to be an active force, a responsible agent, in the world. This practice is meant to induce fear and dread to the point that the victim is rendered passive, subservient, to the torturer's power…In this respect, the practice of waterboarding, despite it roots in Christian history, is, in fact, an affront to the very nature of Christian faith.
We Catholics have disavowed the very torture that some public figures now defend. It should shame Catholics that we gave waterboarding to the world, and that shame should fuel our resolve to end the shame of American torture forever.
        © Bernard F. Swain PhD 2009

Thursday, November 20, 2014

#424: All in the Francis Family?

The 2014 Synod on the Family offered echoes of the past and hopeful clues to the future.

Last month’s Synod on the Family in Rome is still fresh news for two reasons.  First, its work will not really be done until the end of another Synod, to take place in the fall of 2015.  Second, the work the Synod has accomplished already provides significant pointers for the direction of Catholic life.

The Synod is shaping up, in fact, as the most promising transformative event in Catholicism since Vatican Council II (1962-1965).  For me, the Synod so far is notable for four things: (1) the leadership of Pope Francis; (2) the echoes of dynamics and themes from Vatican II; (3) the echoes of Vatican II documents; (4) the struggle to accept the truth about civil marriage.

1. The Leadership of Pope Francis.  It is obvious by now that the phenomenal worldwide popularity of Francis is due more than anything else to his personal manner.  In organizing the Synod, his style once again has reminded many of us of Pope John XXIII (who convened Vatican II). 

For one thing, Francis appears decisive, and unafraid of criticism.  For another, he stresses the pastoral dimensions of church life over the doctrinal requirements:  he speaks much more of God’s mercy than of “truth” or rules.  Francis showed this in his choice last spring of Cardinal Walter Kasper of Rottenburg-Stuttgart (Germany) to deliver an address to prepare for the Synod.
Kasper, true to his progressive reputation, suggested the possibility of changes in the Church’s pastoral approach to divorced and remarried couples.  Francis’ style also showed September 14 at Saint Peter’s Basilica, when he presided over the weddings of 20 couples, some of whom were living together.

It showed again in his decision to have real live married couples address the Synod fathers, including one couple who spoke of their friends’ decision to accept their daughter’s same-sex partner. 

We have had many Synods since Vatican II, but none directed by a pope who acts like St. John XXIII.
Saint John XXIII in 1963
2. Echoes of Vatican II. Francis is, after all, the first pope since John XXIII who was not a bishop at Vatican II. He experienced it like the rest of us—he received its work as a challenge. He knows its history, and clearly he feels that its potential has not been fully realized.  No surprise, then, that his style reflects an attempt to complete John XXIII’s work.

Francis’ final address to the Synod reminds us of the addresses both John XXIII and Paul VI gave at Vatican II. He speaks of reading the signs of the times, of learning how to respond to contemporary challenges, of learning how to rethink the tradition in contemporary terms rather than reacting negatively to simply avoid reform. 

This stress on how best to reach out to the world around us, to focus on helping people rather than protecting doctrine, harkens back to the dynamics and climate of Vatican II, which Paul VI described as pervaded by a tone of “profound optimism.”
Pope Paul VI
 One Vatican spokesperson express the same outlook when he suggested that talking of unmarried couples “living in sin” or of gay people’s “disordered orientation”  is not the kind of language that attracts people to the Catholic Church.
Of course, there was a great deal of polarization among the hierarchy at Vatican II, and the same has been true of the Synod, to the point where some bishops have quietly talked about the danger of schism. This recalls Cardinal Ottaviani, the most conservative bishop at Vatican II, publicly hoping to die before Vatican II’s end.  “That way,” he said, “I will still be dying in the Catholic Church.” So too the Synod has begun to surface the misgivings of many conservative bishops about the direction Francis is taking, while also exposing them as minority voices--just as happened at Vatican II.

3. The Documents of the Synod also recall the documents of Vatican II.  When studying the Council, it is usually instructive to compare early drafts with final drafts, because they often showed movement as texts underwent debate, discussion, and finally votes.  The same thing happened in 2014.  Why?  First, because when the majority drafts documents reflecting the majority view, drafts have a reformist, progressive tone that is surprising, even radical.  Second, because the final drafts often step back from such progressive proposals.

This is not because the majority changes its mind, but because the ethos of hierarchical decision-making constantly seeks consensus. 
Synod Session
The documents are voted on, but no one wants a close vote.  Everyone wants each document to receive overwhelming approval (as did the documents of Vatican II).  But getting a “supermajority” requires that final drafts incorporate words and tone which attract the votes of conservative (minority) bishops.

Thus two lessons coming out of Vatican II apply equally well here: First, the final draft of nearly all of such documents is more conservative than earlier drafts because they water down the progressives’ main positions.  Second this means that a strong current at the Synod was more progressive than the final document reveals. So we should read the document’s tone as conservative political packaging of the Synod’s progressive pastoral agenda.

4. Accepting the Truth about Civil Marriage. This conservative shift to garner votes for the final draft was particularly significant with the Synod’s references to both homosexuals in general and homosexual unions in particular.  While earlier drafts had urged the Church to “welcome” gays, the final draft simply proposes that the Church “provide for” them.  And while early drafts suggested that homosexual unions might bring benefits for the partners, the final draft offered no such positive assessment.  In fact, the final draft reflected the bishops concern to stress:

There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage.

But even here there may be hope of reform.  For even as the bishops reject equating heterosexual marriage and homosexual unions, at least some bishops are also ready to reject equating civil marriage with the sacrament of Matrimony.  This is significant, since the confusion of civil marriage with Matrimony makes people think that “same-sex marriage” threatens Catholicism’s sacramental teachings.

So far, most bishops--especially U.S. bishops--have claimed to be defending “marriage” without making any distinction between civil marriage and Matrimony.  In short, they have pretended there is only one kind of “marriage.” But of course the reality is that there are two kinds of “marriage” which differ in many significant ways.

First, they are different legally.  Civil marriage is a legal contract, a strictly civil procedure governed by state law and the requirements of the U.S. constitution.  As such, it is a civil right that the government may not deny any citizen without compelling legal justification.  It must be available to all, without prejudice.

Matrimony, by contrast, is a sacred covenant, a sacramental bond governed by the universal canon law of the Church.  It is not a right anyone may claim; rather, the Church reserves its right to determine both who is eligible for Matrimony and whether they meet the necessary preconditions.  It is available, for example, only to Catholics and their partners. 
Weddings at St. Peter's--September 14, 2014
Second, civil marriage and Matrimony are quite different institutions.  Marriages existed everywhere through all history, in all cultures; it shows wide variations in who can get married, what it means, and how it is practiced.  So civil marriage is a much broader institution than Matrimony. That sacrament appeared only since the first century, was found only where Christians lived, and has relatively fixed rules about who can marry, how they marry, and why they marry.

But civil marriage is also a much shallower institution.  It is a simple contractual agreement which may be performed by a justice of the peace without any particular ceremony or ritual.  Matrimony is a sacred covenant performed by the couple themselves (not a justice or a priest), and requires the sacramental rite of Christian Matrimony (as well as several other requirements) to be valid.

Third, these two institutions have quite different purposes and expectations.  The church has developed a clear teaching that Matrimony has two purposes: procreation and the unified life of the couple.  Thus couples must be willing to have children (and raise them Catholic).  Any intention to remain childless nullifies the sacrament.  So does any intention to preserve divorce as an option.  Moreover, the sacrament is not consummated until and unless the couple has (unprotected) sexual intercourse.  (Couples intending to remain celibate require a dispensation.)

Civil marriage, by contrast, has no such requirements.  It is valid whether or not people intend to children or even intend to have sex.  The private life of civilly married couples is not relevant to the civil contract, whose purpose is rather to access a long list of legal and social benefits and privileges (as many as 37 in some states) that only married couples have.  Once a couple completes the civil contract, they are eligible for those benefits and privileges, regardless of their intentions about sexual intimacy or children or family life.  People often think that civil marriage aims at promoting family life, but while that may be a societal benefit of civil marriage, it is not a legal requirement. So civil marriage confers many legal benefits but does not require any family intentions.  Matrimony does require both sex and the intention to have children--but it confers no legal benefits or privileges.

In many countries, these differences are made obvious by having two different ceremonies, but they are masked in the U.S., where the priest performs the civil marriage (acting as an invisible agent of the state!) During the same ceremony when the couple performs the sacrament of Matrimony.

Why do all these differences matter?  Because they totally alter the debate about same-sex marriage.  If marriage and Matrimony were the same thing, then the campaign for same sex marriage would directly  challenge a Catholic sacrament.  If marriage and Matrimony are the same, then “redefining” marriage equates to “redefining” Matrimony.

But if these are two separate institutions, one can redefine one without redefining the other.  Marriage can change while Matrimony stays the same.  This of course, has happened before, when some states prohibited mixed-race couples from marrying even when the Church accepted them for Matrimony.  Eventually these bans changed, but Matrimony stayed the same.

Thus same-sex marriage only threatens Catholic life directly if we insist on pretending that there is only one “institution” of marriage.  For more than 10 years I have been baffled watching the U.S. bishops maintain this pretense, and I’m relieved to see that some of them have finally realized that this does more harm than good. 

The best way to protect the sacrament of Matrimony is, on the contrary, to insist on the truth: Matrimony is not the same as civil marriage.  Thus the sacrament of Matrimony will remain the same no matter what happens to civil marriage.  Any changes in the sacrament would be decided in proper church channels, not by any court or government body.

When the Synod on the Family returns in 2015, we can hope that its work will advance in several ways. 

First, we can hope Pope Francis’ leadership has gathered even more followers (especially among bishops).  Second, we can hope that the optimism of Vatican II is rekindled once and for all.  Three, we can hope that people will treat the Synod documents respectfully but also realistically, so their conservative packaging does not blind us to their reformist core.  And fourth, we can hope that discussions about changes in civil marriage will not be confused with discussions about the sacrament of Matrimony.

   © Bernard   F. Swain PhD 2014