The lawyer for the archbishop said what?

Please follow these instructions. Sit down. Click here. Read the story. Then click here just to confirm that this is not, in fact, a story from The Onion. This is, in fact, a report from the Los Angeles Times. Now read the story again and note that this is the rare opportunity to do what reporter William Lobdell has done — quote outraged Catholic traditionalists and progressives in the same story.

Once you have done all that that, click here. Now, get up off the floor.

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Right to religion

girl with bible2The Sunday Telegraph carried a couple of interesting pieces on the growth of Christianity in China, though I think the author missed a few issues. The first article looks at the growth of Christianity as the country’s “new social revolution” and the other looks at the reason Christianity is growing (hint: democracy protests and Western values).

Both subjects are inflammatory for the Chinese people and their government due to the country’s sad history of failed social revolutions and policies against Western values and democracy.

China’s rulers are said to be ambiguous about Christianity’s growth. Some see its emphasis on personal morality as a force for stability. House churches which go along with the authority and theology of the official organisations are often left alone.

But many reject the party’s control over Christian practice and doctrine, and these are seen as a threat. After all, 80 million members would mean there are now more Christians than Communists in China.

Writing from Beijing, Richard Spencer describes the spread of Christianity in rural and urban areas. Converts, as well as those who attempt to promote their religion, face challenges foreign to most in the Western society (another older article addresses the challenges in a bit more detail here). Spencer finds individual examples that do a good job of illustrating this point.

While the article covers the necessary main points, Spencer overlooked a few areas, beginning with the reaction to this growth of China’s other approved religions, Taoism and Islam. Christians now outnumber Muslims in China (as well as members of the Chinese Communist Party), according to the article, and I can’t imagine the rapid growth of Christianity sits too well with them.

According to a friend of mine who recently returned from a summer trip in China, the government does not want the country to become highly religious, though China’s constitution gives citizens the right to practice in a “reasonable” manner. Perhaps Taoists and Muslims keep quiet about the growth of Christianity for fear that conflict between the groups could create a government crackdown? Chinese government officials abhor anything that could hinder the country’s economic development.

The article also fails to examine where Catholicism and Protestantism are growing. From what I know from a friend who is Catholic, Catholicism is growing in areas that are developing economically, but I would like to know where the growth of Protestantism is occurring. Is it right alongside Catholic growth? Or separate areas? China is quite a large place, and its linguistic diversity rivals Europe’s. Also, what Protestant denominations are growing in China?

The third area in which I believe the article fails to inform the reader is in examining the high number of atheists in China and their reaction to the growth of Christianity. Many of the Chinese elite do not take religious people seriously and will laugh if you tell them you believe in God.

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Silence on that hot Vatican scoop?

Every now and then, a story comes out in a niche magazine or alternative form of media that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me say, “Wow! What a scoop! What will the MSM do with that?”

Since this is a blog about the major media and religion news, I tend to wait until someone else picks up the story before I write about it. Recently we had one of those “Wow!” stories and I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and . . .

So I guess I better let GetReligion readers help me figure out what happened to the hot story that the one and only John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter broke not that long ago. You knew it was a big story, because Andrew Sullivan blasted away from the progressive side of the church aisle and Catholic World News was encouraged on the traditional end of the kneeler. The story?

Sources indicate that the long-awaited Vatican document on the admission of homosexuals to seminaries is now in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI. The document, which has been condensed from earlier versions, reasserts the response given by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2002, in response to a dubium submitted by a bishop on whether a homosexual could be ordained: “A homosexual person, or one with a homosexual tendency, is not fit to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.”

That reply was published in the November-December 2002 issue of Notitiae, the official publication of the congregation.

It is up to Benedict XVI to decide whether to issue the new document as it stands, to send it back for revision, or to shelve it on the basis that for now such a document is “inopportune.”

So did I miss the story somewhere else? Or did Allen nail it with a piece of enformed speculation lower in his report? You see, people tend to forget that sexuality issues in the Catholic world are not strictly a left vs. right affair. It is also a matter of public vs. private.

Privately, some hope Benedict will decide to put the document in a desk drawer for the time being, on the grounds that it will generate controversy and negative press without changing anything in terms of existing discipline.

As one bishop put it to me, the policy against ordaining homosexuals is already clear — the only interesting question is, what do you mean by a “homosexual”? At one end of the continuum, it could refer to anyone who once had a fleeting same-sex attraction; at another, it could be restricted to someone who is sexually active and openly part of a “gay pride” movement. Most people would exclude those extremes, but where is the line drawn in between?

Watch Allen for the updates. He is the insiders’ insider. It is hard to overemphasize how important this story is among Catholic politicos. I cannot believe that the MSM did not chase the work of a reporter as plugged in as Allen.

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Re: The ECT Moment

The ECT Moment


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Covering the thickets of the law

Just a quick update on an ongoing topic. There is an interesting essay in The Wall Street Journal about Catholicism, John Roberts, Sen. Richard Durbin and St. Thomas More — sort of in that order. Clearly this topic is going to keep coming up, as demonstrated by Jeremy with this post yesterday and Doug with another earlier in the week (great art) about the start of this new angle on the Supreme Court wars.

The WSJ article is by Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University and once the dean of the Catholic University law school. The piece is low-key and sane, and this is how it ends:

Catholics do not have to recuse themselves, though, from judging the legality of, say, abortion or the death penalty: These are matters of constitutional, not moral, authority. When More was asked why he didn’t arrest a man directly for being “bad,” he replied (as retold by Sir Robert Bolt) that, though he set man’s law “far below” God’s, he was most certainly “not God,” and he wanted to draw “attention to [that] fact.” “The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which [others] find such plain sailing,” More said, “I can’t navigate. . . . But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God.”

There is no match for Judge Roberts, either, in the “thickets of the law,” and the Senate Democrats should evaluate him on his high merit and avoid picking a fight with American Catholics.

I know this is an obvious point, but this whole Roberts/Catholic angle is really not a clash between Republicans and Democrats, at this stage. It’s a flash point between Catholics. James Davison Hunter, please call your answering service.

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Meet Pope Benedict (the Gothic Version)

RatzingerChandelierAnthony Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton University, has written a thoughtful summary of Pope Benedict XVI’s writings (The New Yorker, July 25). I apologize for my delay in mentioning this essay — it never appeared on The New Yorker‘s website, and the paper edition often reaches my home rather late in the publication week.

An illustration by Robert Risko depicts Ratzinger as a Pope Noferatu, clutching an inaccurately thick copy of The Ratzinger Report that’s marked with six small Post-It notes. Grafton’s profile is less prone to caricature, though he often returns to the image of Ratzinger as a man who prefers the shelter of “an enchanted castle of Latin song and prayer, intense and sacraments, which he has spent the rest of life exploring.”

Here is a key paragraph toward the end of Grafton’s essay:

In some sense, Ratzinger may be right: the form of our devotions certainly shapes our religious experience. Even in the secularized West, religions and denominations from Catholicism to Reform Judaism have found that a liturgy rich with music and cast in a sacred language continues to attract and hold worshippers. Yet Ratzinger’s passion for a particular world of Catholic beliefs and devotions is more than a recipe for a revived Catholic worship. His emotional vision underpins and buttresses at every point the doctrinal structures that he has made as a scholar. In the end, it determines what he can accept as suitable and what he rejects. As the organ and liturgy drown out the weaker voices of liberal critics, as the searchlight of orthodoxy retrospective reveals the errors of Leonardo Boff and other dissidents, the Pope and the magisterium — the centralized authority of Roman Catholic wisdom — have no need to look outside for enlightenment.

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The Catholic card

The nomination of Judge John Roberts is driving some Democrats to distraction because he is probably ultimately un-Borkable. As my colleague Gene Healy wrote, Roberts’ selling points include “[g]reat grades, stellar resume, nice posture, nice smile, [and] no doubt a firm handshake. But where he stands on anything is anyone’s guess. What we’ve got here is a guy who, apparently, was genetically engineered and grown in a vat for the sole purpose of getting past the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

So people are looking for proxies to try to infer Roberts’ opinions, and one of those proxies is religion. Roberts is a practicing Catholic, and plenty of attention is being focused on his parish of choice: Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland. Beliefnet sent my friend and former colleague George Neumayr to the church in search of some clues into Roberts’ true beliefs. Neumayr came away with certain impressions of the church and “its most famous parishioner.” Little Flower, Neumayr writes, is a parish “that heterodox Catholics would regard as an outpost of traditional Catholicism.”

To wit:

Little Flower displays the marks of a parish in conformity with official Catholic teaching: a large picture of Pope Benedict XVI at the moment of his papal election greets visitors as they enter the church; there is a Vatican flag on the altar; the bulletin board in the foyer announces the beginning of the canonization process for Pope John Paul II; pro-life literature is prominently available; the parish newsletter encourages congregants “to send your best wishes and prayer intentions to Pope Benedict XVI . . . by e-mail to”

If the Democrats really want to get nasty, they’ll drag Roberts’ priest into the proceedings. The Roberts clan was apparently so taken with Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi that it followed him to Little Flower when he moved from St. Patrick’s in D.C. I hope the Dems flinch from dragging Vaghi’s proclamations into the mix, but if they decide to do so, here’s a preview:

Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi, upholds the Vatican’s teaching on artificial birth control, an issue American priests have tended to relativize, dismiss or ignore since Vatican II.

On the Church of the Little Flower’s website, which links to the Vatican and promotes traditional piety and devotions such as “Forty Hours of Eucharistic Adoration,” Monsignor Vaghi has posted a meditation on chastity. Quoting the archbishop of Bologna, he said that every “sexual act performed outside marriage” is “gravely illicit,” but “even within marriage there can be an exercise of sexuality that does not respect its moral value: when the conjugal act does not truly respect the dignity of the person of one’s spouse, as well as when it is deprived, through a positive intervention of the spouses, of its natural capacity to give origin to new life.”

In another meditation, Monsignor Vaghi staunchly defended the Church’s teaching on abortion. “After all, since Roe v. Wade in l973, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion, there have been over 44 million abortions, young children dying before they had the opportunity to enjoy life outside the womb as we enjoy life,” he wrote. “Our church is always, and will always, be on the side of life, life from conception until natural death. And it is precisely because Jesus took on life, took on flesh and ennobled it by becoming man and like us in everything but sin that we value human life so much, that we were born in His image and reborn in Christ Jesus.”

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