27 April 2013

Obama's Fair-Minded Words?

In his controversial 2009 Commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, President Obama presented himself as the grand unifier on the issue of abortion. He did so with this story about how conciliatory he was:
As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.
What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website - an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words." 
Fair-minded words.
After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that - when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.
This year for the first time ever, a sitting President addressed Planned Parenthood.  When speaking to a Catholic audience, known for its pro-life views, he encouraged conciliation and common ground.  Does he encourage abortion supporters to do the same?  Of course not.  That is, the President want's his political opponents to be conciliatory to his view, but wants to rouse his ideological friends with the rhetoric he so recently condemned.
...there’s still those who want to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century...
That’s absurd.  It’s wrong.  It’s an assault on women’s rights. 
Mississippi is a conservative state, but they wanted to make clear there’s nothing conservative about the government injecting itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor.  And folks are trying to do this all across the country.
When you read about some of these laws, you want to check the calendar; you want to make sure you’re still living in 2013.
Mr. President, can you honestly say that these are "fair-minded words"?

24 April 2013

English Crowns, Mixed Marriages, and Canon Law

There has been a recent story in the English press on the question of the ability of a member of the Royal Family to marry a Catholic.  Currently, the law of England (the 1701 Act of Settlement) prohibits the ruling monarch of England from being a Catholic (or, to use the term of the Act, the "Popish Religion").  He may be Muslim or Jewish, Atheist or Agnostic, but he may never be Catholic.  In addition, the England's monarch may not even be married to a Catholic.  This requirement has blocked at least two members of the Royal Family from ever ascending to the throne.  From the website of the British Monarchy:
Two examples of members of the current Royal family being removed from the line of succession are that of The Earl of St. Andrews and HRH Prince Michael of Kent, who both lost the right of succession to the throne through marriage to Roman Catholics. Any children of these marriages remain in the succession provided that they are in communion with the Church of England.
Recently, the British Parliament has begun discussing amendments to the Act of Settlement.  Specifically, they plan to permit one who is married to a Catholic to ascend to the throne, although it will require that the monarch be in communion with the Church of England.

One of the issues that has been raised is the question of the Church's requirement that a child of Catholics be raised in the faith.  The English Episcopal Conference has apparently weighed in:

Church leaders have told the British Government that members of the royal family who marry Catholics under recently passed legislation will not be obliged to bring up their children in the Catholic faith.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness, speaking on behalf of the Government, said he had been assured personally by Msgr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, that the canonical requirement of Catholics to raise their children in the faith was not always binding.
“I have the specific consent of Msgr Stock to say that he was speaking on behalf of Archbishop Nichols as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and can inform the House that the view taken by the Catholic Church in England and Wales is that, in the instance of mixed marriages, the approach of the Catholic Church is pastoral,” he said.
“It will always look to provide guidance that supports and strengthens the unity and indissolubility of the marriage. In this context the Catholic Church expects Catholic spouses to sincerely undertake to do all that they can to raise children in the Catholic Church. Where it has not been possible for the child of a mixed marriage to be brought up as a Catholic, the Catholic parent does not fall subject to the censure of canon law,” Lord Wallace continued.
But what does the law actually say?  The marriage of a Catholic to a Baptized non-Catholic is what the canons refer to as a "Mixed Marriage".  Such marriages are specifically prohibited by canon law (CIC 1124), unless a dispensation is given by the local ordinary.  Such dispensation is routinely given in the U.S. and, I assume, in England.  Note that this means that, under canon law, Catholics do not have the automatic right to marry non-Catholics.  Even if the granting of permission is routine, the Church warns against it, precisely because of the danger of defecting from the faith.  That is, if one believes that a relationship with God is the truest and best good, and that it is most perfectly found in the Catholic faith, then the natural goods of marriage can never outweigh the supernatural good of adhering to one's Catholic faith.

For this reason, before permitting a mixed marriage the Church requires that Catholic party to do two things:

  1. To declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and
  2. To make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.
In the prior law, promises also had to be made by the non-Catholic party.  This is no longer true, and the non-Catholic party must merely be informed of the promises that the Catholic party makes.

The canons allow the various Episcopal Conferences to determine how these obligations are fulfilled.  However, in doing so, the canons are quite clear that the declaration and promise are, nonetheless, "always required".  (CIC 1126)  These are required, and my not be dispensed by the Bishop.

What about the statement that the Catholic parent who allows his child to be brought up non-Catholic is not subject to censure?  This also is untrue.  The Code of Canon Law provides quite specifically:
Parents, and those taking the place of parents, who hand over their children to be baptized or brought up in a non-Catholic religion, are to be punished with a censure or other just penalty. (CIC 1366)
In other words, any Catholic parent--whether married to an heir to the British Throne or to a footman--is obliged in morals and in law to raise his children as Catholic.  Now, the Bishop might decide not to pursue the matter--and most bishops do not--as a matter of prudence.  Nonetheless, those who violate the law on this still remain subject to an ecclesiastical penalty for violating the law.  The statements of Msgr. Stock to the contrary are morally and legally incorrect.

Supporting Legal Services

This past week I was in Washington for the most recent meeting of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation.  As I have mentioned before, the LSC is a corporation established by the government to oversee a program of providing civil legal services to poor Americans.  I have been a member of the Board of Directors since 2010.

VP Joseph Biden
As part of our April meeting, the White House kindly hosted a forum on issues related to legal services.  The forum discussed two issues: the use of technology and the use of pro bono in providing civil legal services.  Both of these are important issued for the LSC Board in its strategic plan.  In addition to the various presenters, we heard brief talks by Valerie Jarrett, special assistant to the President; Attorney General Eric Holder; and Vice-President Joe Biden.

Whatever one may say about the means, I think most can agree on the benefit of the ends of legal aid.  I believe strongly that what defines America most, one of its greatest virtues, is its historical commitment to the rule of law.  The country was founded on a classical notion of the importance of justice to a civilized society.  For the American revolutionaries, that meant access to an unbiased decision-maker, namely the court system.  A vague sense of the goodness of justice is simply insufficient; society must have a means by which their rights can be vindicated.  Any nation committed to justice must have a well-functioning and open system of courts and judges, with a strong ethical bent.

AG Eric Holder
While it is a bit of a cliché, one ought to recognize that this value is not a Republican or Democrat value, it is an American one.  As a corollary, finding ways to ensure that all people—rich and poor—have access to the courts should also be an important American ideal.  Now, one can argue about whether the primary responsibility should be that of the Federal Government, the States, the Bar, or private charity.  Today, it really is a mix of all three.  A few decades ago, the primary funder of legal services was the federal government, largely through the LSC.  That is no more—with regard to most of its grantees, LSC is a minority funder.  States are increasingly taking a larger role in ensuring that lawyers are available for the poor with regards civil legal issues.

With all of this, one would think that the issue would be a bi-partisan one.  But the truth is, it is not.  At least some of the blame for this, I think, must fall on those politicians that claim they support legal services, and their attempts to make it an ideological battle, rather than an issue of justice.

The forum at the White House provides a good example.  One of the States in the forefront of access to justice is the State of Texas—no liberal bastion, that.  The forum at the White House included Wallace Jefferson, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.  He argued—quite forcefully and well—as to the party-transcending nature of the issue of civil legal services to the poor.  The Chief Justice indicated that he specifically chose one of the most conservative members of his court to work on their State Access to Justice Commission, and how very effective he was on this issue.  It’s a pity that the Vice President did not hear him.

The Vice President earlier gave a speech that was all too typical.  He used his time not to build the bi-partisan case for civil legal services, but to tear down his opponents in rather inflammatory and unfair ways.  People who opposed legal aid were “greedy” and more interested in a pure ideology than in helping the poor and oppressed.  (I wondered at the time what he thought of LBJ, who originally opposed the LSC's predecessor organization.)  They were stingy opportunists, out for themselves and heartlessly opposed to helping the downtrodden.  It’s a story that plays well with the New York Times but not one that wins friends.

The President has not been much better.  In a similar event last year, I was struck by how bi-partisan it was.  In that event, we had the company of both former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh as well as Jess H. Dickinson, of the Mississippi Supreme Court.  At that event it was Justice Dickinson—himself a Republican—who offered a much appreciated comment on the bi-partisan nature of civil legal aid.  That is probably why the President’s deliberately partisan rhetoric sounded so strange to me at the time.  In a conference that had gone out of its way to be non-ideological, it was President Obama who deliberately inserted ideology, solely so he could beat his political enemies over the head with it.

I strongly believe in the moral duty that individuals and communities have to the poor.  I believe just as strongly in the vital role that courts, and access to them, play in maintaining justice in a society.  While I do not believe that the LSC is the only way to provide access for the poor to the courts (and one can legitimately quibble with the details of its structure and scope), it is an important part of the currently existing system.  There should be no question that there ought to be some mechanism through which the poor who have had an injustice committed against them have the real opportunity to vindicate their rights.

That is why I find it so infuriating that the supposed friends of civil legal aid seem to constantly go out of their way to make enemies.  Our politicians constantly speak of acting in a bi-partisan matter, of rising above “party politics” for important national issues.  Calling other people names when they do not agree with you is not consistent with this stated end.  If you support civil legal aid to the poor, explain to others why they should be, too, because just calling them evil, money-grubbing, poor-hating, ideologues is not going to win them over.

UPDATE:  Richard Zorza, who has been one of the great cheerleaders on the use of technology in civil legal aid, has a short blog entry with his own reflections on the White House forum, which you can see at his Access to Justice Blog.

06 April 2013

Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii

Bartolo Longo, son of a wealthy Italian family in the 19th century, was a "priest" in a satanic cult, a practicer of new age "magic" who reveled in debauchery, seances, and demonstrating against the Pope and the Church.  These did not make him happy.  Through the advice of friends, he came into contact with a Dominican priest, who reconciled him to the faith of his childhood.  He even became a Third Order Dominican, taking the name "Rosario".

A year or so later, while in the Church of SS. Salvatore in the city of Pompeii (outside where the ruins are), he had a mystical experience. There he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who spoke to him saying "Se propaghi il Rosario, sarai salvo!" ("If you propagate the rosary, you will be saved!")  At this point he saw clearly his mission: to spread the devotion of the Rosary.

He eventually founded a Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. As part of that activity, he wanted an image for the new Confraternity. So, he acquired an icon of the Blessed Virgin giving the rosary to Sts. Dominic and Catherine of Siena.  That image was given to him by a Dominican nun, who had purchased it in a junk shop in Naples.  Longo himself was not too found of the image, which he described in his journal this way:

Not only was it worm-eaten, but the face of the Madonna was that of a coarse, rough country-woman ... a piece of canvas was missing just above her head ... her mantle was cracked. Nothing need be said of the hideousness of the other figures. St. Dominic looked like a street idiot. To Our Lady's left was a St. Rose. This I had changed later into a St. Catherine of Siena ... I hesitated whether to refuse the gift or to accept ... I took it.
The image was restored a number of times, and come to be known simply as Our Lady of Pompeii.

Eventually, at the urging of his Bishop, Longo built a new church, a shrine dedicated to the Rosary.  Soon after, miracles began being reported, particularly with the icon of Our Lady of Pompeii.  A larger church was built, and enlarged again after Longo's death.  That church is now known officially as the Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Holy rosary of Pompeii, or as it is better known, simply the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii.

Bartolo Longo was beatified by Bl. Pope John Paul II in 1980.

The Shrine is located just outside the archaeological site at Pompeii, and is worth a visit.  While we were there, an Italian Bishop was visiting with some Capuchin friars in tow, and we were able to pray the Rosary with them.  Unfortunately, the main sanctuary was under construction during our visit, but here are a few pictures:


Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background

Just across the bay of Naples and around Mt. Vesuvius is the famous ancient city of Pompeii.  It's about a 45-minute metro ride from the main train station in Naples.  As most know, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 AD, dumping tons of ash and Pumice over several hours on the city of Pompeii.  The effect was to completely bury the city as it existed, and thereby preserve much of it.  After the eruption, the city was lost to history for more than a millennium and a half.  After its rediscovery  it was excavated over centuries.  Regrettably, after its initial discoveries, looters plundered a great number of objects and works of art.  Still, what was left gives us one of the best glimpses of what life in ancient Rome was like.  It's street layouts are still preserved.  Many of the frescoes and mosaics were still intact.  The vast majority of buildings are still standing, although many of their wooden roofs were destroyed.

Most interestingly, in the 19th century, archaeologists noticed that after the decomposition of the plants and animals caught in the ash, airpockets were left.  So they filled these pockets with plaster, creating casts of the people exactly as they died.  They also have impressions of some of the plants, ancient roots, and the like.

Their level of civilization is also very surprising.  The city has raised sidewalks for the people to walk to avoid the muck of the streets, which are themselves paved with stones.  They even have stone crosswalks, with gaps for carts to pass through, to people could cross from one sidewalk to the other without walking in the street.  They had an advanced aqueduct system which poured water into every house in the city.  I was also surprised at the number of restaurants in the city, with counters for selling cold and hot food.  Apparently, Pompeii was very much a resort town, with a great number of wealthy visitors.

It is a surprisingly large city.  We were there most of the day, and really only saw about half of it.  Just an excuse to go back again some day.

For anyone spending time in Italy with a love for ancient Rome, Pompeii really is a must-see.  Fantastic place, and we thankfully saw it on a mostly sunny day.

Here are the pictures:

05 April 2013


The city of Naples is about 140 miles to the south of Rome.  But they are very different places.  As most Italians will tell you, Naples is louder and more energetic, più vivace, as the Italians would say.  The people also have a great deal more piety than you see in Rome.  And the Pizza in Naples is much, much better than the Pizza in Rome.  On the negative side, it is one of the most corrupt in Italy.  There is a general stereotype among Italians that Neapolitans are not trustworthy.  One is constantly warned before going to Naples to beware of robbers, thieves, and pickpockets.  That corruption is extremely evident in the city government.  As is widely known, the company with the contract for garbage collection in Naples is a mafia run organization.  In order to punish the city for anti-Mafia activity, the company seems to collect the contract fees, but not the garbage.  It is therefore one of the dirties cities in Europe, with mounds of uncollected and rotting garbage lining the streets.  Also, most Italians are very aware of the importance of tourism and keep the historic areas clean.  There is a level of graffiti in Naples--even on the churches in the historic city center--that you do not see in other cities in Italy, at least in the tourist areas.  It is very sad, because there is a great amount of beauty in the city.

The city of Naples (or Napoli, in Italian) is ancient, and has pre-Roman roots.  Its name comes from the Greek:  Neo Polis, the "new city".  It was originally a Greek settlement, and only much later came under the control of the Roman Empire.  After the collapse of the Roman Empire, it eventually formed part of the Two Kingdoms of Sicily, and was the seat of government in the Kingdom.  The Two Kingdoms ended when the people voted in a plebescite to join the emerging united Italy in the mid 19th century.

Among the things to see there are the Duomo, the Cathedral of St. Januarius (or San Gennaro, in Italian).  He is the most important saint of the city, as his his relic.  St. Januarius was a 3rd/4th cntury martyr under the Diocletian persecution, and his body was brought to Naples after his death.  The church in Naples has preserved not only his bones, but a relic of his blood.  There is a miracle associated with it, in that the blood--which had long since dried--miraculously liquifies.  It usually occurs on his feast day, and its liquefaction is seen as a sign of blessing on the city.  However, there have been times it has failed to liqufy, and disaster has struck.  Every year, the people of Naples gather on the feast to see if the miracle will occur, and therefore whether it will be a blessed year (or not) for the city.

In the pictures below is also one of the greatest carvings I have ever seen, the Christo Velato, or veiled Christ.  It is a carving of Christ in the tomb covered in a linen blanket.  The carving is so delicate, do perfect, it really looks as though it is the body of a man covered in a damp cloth.  Pictures are not allowed in the chapel, so the one below is actually a picture of the post card.

We Dominicans have our own church, the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore.  The Dominicans arrived there in the 13th century, very early in the life of the Order.  There was a church there, originally dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.  Eventually it became a priory, and a new larger church built in honor of St. Dominic.  For several years, St. Thomas Aquinas stayed there, and his former cell is now a chapel.  There is a story that here while in prayer, the icon of the crucifix spoke to him saying, "You have written well of me, Thomas, what reward would you have?' St. Thomas replied,"None other than Yourself, Lord." The icon of the crucifix is still in the cell, and some pictures of it are below.

Also buried in the Basilica of St. Dominic is the body of Bishop Luke Concanen, an Irish Dominican and the first Bishop of the Diocese of New York.  Unfortunately, Bishop Concanen was never able to make passage to the U.S., and died in Naples before ever taking possession of his Diocese.  Terence Cardinal Cooke, the former Archbishop of New York, had plaques in honor of Bishop Concanen placed in the church.

Finally, Naples is important historically for its harbor.  It is located in a bay, and when the weather is good, the views of the bay are stunning.  Unfortunately, the weather was not very good when we were in Naples.

Here are the pictures from Naples:

04 April 2013

Buona Pasqua!

My very belated collection of pictures from Easter Mass at St. Peter's.  For Masses like this, the Vatican organizes about 150 priests and deacons to help distribute Holy Communion.  You cannot concelebrate, but you do assist at the Mass.  To take part, you have to have a ticket and a letter of good standing.  I have the latter, and was able to get the former.  So, I went down to St. Peter's to distribute communion.  The instructions they give us are two:  We us the Latin phrase (Corpus Christi) rather than Italian or other vernacular, and communion may be given only on the tongue.  Having confronted the crowd of people wanting communion (250,000) and the very limited number of hosts, this is the only way to preserve proper reverence for the Sacrament.

I do not take pictures during Mass--and obviously could not bring my regular camera.  These are just with a phone camera and are either right before or right after the Mass.

More photos from Switzerland

I am so behind on postings, so the last two collections of pictures from Switzerland.

The first is from the tiny village of Gimmelwald and the slightly larger town of Murren, up in the mountains.  It is a beautiful alpline town, and a popular place for skiing.  I don't ski myself, but love the views.

Two nearby cultural items, neither of which I was able to see.  The first is Piz Gloria, a site from the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Apparently it was the headquarters of the villain.  The money the film spent on the site allowed them to turn it into a revolving restaurant.

Also not far is the famous Reichenbach Falls, the place of the famous fictional struggle between Sherlock Holmes and his arch-nemesis, James Moriarty.

In the background of Murren are three of Switzerlands most recognizable mountains:  The Jungfrau, the Eiger, and between them the Mönch.  These mountains are, in English, the Virgin, the Ogre, and the Monk.  In the Swiss story, the Monk stands in between the Virgin and the Ogre, protecting her from him.

The other city is the city of Lucerne (or Luzern, in German).  It is a beautiful city on lake Lucerne.  It is famous for its covered bridge, with paintings showing details of the history of Switzerland.