Carl’s Cuts: The First Edition of 2014

On Jesuit hunters, scandals, Hans Küng, Francis and abortion, "conservatives", Islam, the poor, gossip, the problem with news, and more

• This edition of “Carl’s Cuts” was almost ready to post last Friday, and then we lost access to the CWR site for the weekend, and so it languished until now. Or perhaps it aged like fine wine. Or a not-so-fine whine. Here goes!

• The first cut is about cuts, by the great Chesterton: “Catholicism is used to proposals to cut down the creed to a few clauses; but different people have wanted quite different clauses left and quite different clauses cut out. … After nearly two thousand years of this sort of thing, Catholics have come to regard Catholicism as one thing, all the parts of which are in one sense equally assailed and in another sense equally unassailable.” — G. K. Chesterton (The Catholic Church and Conversion)

• I just saw this article about Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, my former professor and spiritual director. Did you know that Fr. Pacwa, best known to many folks for his work at EWTN, was once a community organizer? Or that he is an avid hunter? I really do hope that Fr. Pacwa and my father, who is a gun maker, are able to meet someday. I can see the headline already: “Jesuit Preacher and Protestant Gun Maker Share Favorite Hunting Stories.” I’ll buy the beer.

• There are a number of oft-repeated myths about sex abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. One of them is that Pope Benedict did nothing to address it. There are many responses to that, but one of them is this news from BBC: “Close to 400 priests were defrocked in only two years by the former Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse, the Vatican has confirmed.” The piece further notes, referring to an AP report, that “the Vatican also sent another 400 cases to either be tried by a Church tribunal or to be dealt with administratively…” And that’s not all that Benedict did. Another myth about the abuse scandals was addressed quite well, in a short space, by Denver Post columnist Electa Draper in this 2010 post:

A steady stream of revelations and civil lawsuits over child sexual abuse by priests seem to signal the Catholic Church has the biggest problem with clerical scandals, but experts deny it is a hot zone of exploitation.

Insurance companies, child advocacy groups and religion scholars say there is no evidence that Catholic clergy are more likely to be involved in sexual misconduct than other clergy or professionals. Yet ongoing civil litigation of decades-old cases against a church with deep pockets keeps the Catholic Church in the headlines.

Back in 2007, the Associated Press published a detailed series on sex abuse and related misconduct and perversions taking place in public schools. It noted: “One report mandated by Congress estimated that as many as 4.5 million students, out of roughly 50 million in American schools, are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade.” Read more here.

• A friend who follows the news in Europe very closely sent me a note after Pope Francis named sixteen new cardinals:

Allegedly there were last-minute efforts by German bishops to dissuade the Pope from giving Abp. Mueller a red hat. They reportedly sent the Holy Father copies of articles in the German secular press;  one characterized the CDF Prefect as a “stubborn opponent” of Pope Francis; in another Hans Kueng described Mueller as “a new Cardinal Ottaviani who feels that he is called to impose his conservative opinion about the faith on the Pope, the Council, indeed on the whole Church.”

I responded, in part: “Some people become caricatures of themselves; Küng has become a caricature of the caricature.” Küng has long raged against the authority of the Church; more recently he has been raging against the dying of the light—quite literally, as he has gone blind. Küng, whose health has apparently deteriorated significantly in recent months, made the news last fall for stating, “Parkinson’s and macular degeneration, a prelude to loss of vision, has prompted him to consider suicide.” Read this October 15, 2013 piece by Francis Phillips of the Catholic Herald for more on that situation.

• Küng, sadly, has long been a sort of agitated Don Quixote attacking the windmills of “conservatives” and Magisterium while often aiding and abetting cultures and ideologies opposed to goodness and life. Of course, the vast right-wing conspiracy cannot be underestimated, can it? Recently, Pope Francis made the following statement about the culture of death—a “throw-away culture”, in his words—in an address to Vatican diplomats:

Peace is also threatened by every denial of human dignity, firstly the lack of access to adequate nutrition. We cannot be indifferent to those suffering from hunger, especially children, when we think of how much food is wasted every day in many parts of the world immersed in what I have often termed “the throwaway culture”. Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as “unnecessary”. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.

Some of the headlines were revealing, even if not surprising. “Pope Francis, after conservatives’ criticism, calls abortion ‘horrific’” was the headline for The Financial Express, which opined that the pope’s “stance favouring mercy over condemnation has disoriented conservative Catholics, notably in rich countries such as the United States, where the Catholic Church has become polarised on issues such as abortion.” That is, as they way, one way of interpreting it. It does beg several questions, including: why such polarization? Is it because everyone in the United States was for abortion until the 1960s, when a group of radical religious zealots decided to force its anti-abortion views on the nation via the courts and other means? I think not.

Another headline declared, “Pope, after conservatives’ criticism, calls abortion ‘horrific’”, and a third stated, “Abortion ‘horrific’ says Pope in nod to conservatives,” explaining in a most unhelpful way that “the comments are being interpreted by analysts as a nod to Conservatives inside the church who have criticised Francis for not speaking forcefully enough on the abortion issue since taking charge last March.” What would we ever do without the brilliant insights of nameless, faceless, and clueless analysts?

• Since I’m on the topic: on January 5th, the New York Times ran a piece, “Popular Voice in the Capitol? It’s the Pope’s”, that explained how deeply influenced and inspired were certain American politicians to keep up their brave fight against poverty because of the example and words of Francis:

You know,” declared Senator Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent, who caucuses with Democrats, “we have a strong ally on our side in this issue — and that is the pope.”

That Mr. Sanders, who is Jewish, would invoke the pope to Mr. Reid, a Mormon, delighted Roman Catholics in the room. (“Bernie! You’re quoting my pope; this is good!” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois recalled thinking.) Beyond interfaith banter, the comment underscored a larger truth: From 4,500 miles away at the Vatican, Pope Francis, who has captivated the world with a message of economic justice and tolerance, has become a presence in Washington’s policy debate. …

“He has given a number of us in the political ranks encouragement, and really a challenge, to step up and remember many of the values that brought us to public life,” Mr. Durbin said.

Durbin, of course, is as pro-abort and anti-life as they come, having worked diligently—mercilessly, I would say—to earn and maintain his 100% approval rating from NARAL. The article admits that “Catholic lawmakers in both parties know Francis is not changing church doctrine, including opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” but insists, “By playing down issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, the pope has also upended an order in Washington, where conservatives have long viewed the church as an ally.” The upshot is that although Church teaching has not changed in the least—abortion is still a grave and objective evil—and is not going to change, a much discussed and debated remark by the Holy Father in an interview should be enough to make “conservatives” shut up about the murder of the unborn. That makes sense—if your goal is to make people shut up about the killing of the unborn.

But now that the Pope has not only heard the cries of conservatives but has also nodded in their direction (yes, I’m being sarcastic), whatever will the editors of the New York Times say? The immediate answer, from an editorial published two days after Francis’ most recent remarks about abortion:

Although Pope Francis has shown no intention of changing church doctrine on issues like homosexuality and contraception, he has clearly started to alter the tone of the papacy in his first 10 months in the Vatican, making it less judgmental.

“Who am I to judge?” he has said when asked about homosexuals. In an interview published in September, he said he thought the church had been “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to dwell on these issues.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Keep your head down. Stay on point. Shut up.

• Oh, and don’t forget that the Pope still has “a serious problem with women.” I’m inclined to think that some of the hard-working spinners are starting to tire of the game. Before long they may have to admit, if only to themselves, that Francis really is serious about this Catholic thing. For more of my thoughts on related matters, see my post, “Pope Francis the Conservative?” (Nov. 24, 2013).

• From the Sharply Tilted World of Media Papal Spin to the flat, harsh plains of reality: CNN reports that “Al Qaeda controls more territory than ever in Middle East”:

From around Aleppo in western Syria to small areas of Falluja in central Iraq, al Qaeda now controls territory that stretches more than 400 miles across the heart of the Middle East, according to English and Arab language news accounts as well as accounts on jihadist websites.

Indeed, al Qaeda appears to control more territory in the Arab world than it has done at any time in its history.

I’m not an expert on such matters, but this doesn’t sound good. In closely related news, Christianity Today reports on “The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest To Be a Christian”. Needless to say, Greenland and Australia don’t make the list:

The top 10 nations “where Christians faced the most pressure and violence,” according to the WWL, were North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen. While North Korea has topped the list for 12 straight years, this is the first time that a sub-Saharan African country took the No. 2 slot.

“Overall, the 2014 list determines that pressure on Christians increased in 34 countries, decreased in five, and remained about the same in the remaining 14,” reports World Watch Monitor. The level of persecution “increased seriously” in eight countries: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. By contrast, it “decreased considerably” in two countries: Mali and Tanzania. …

The rankings continued last year’s trends of increased persecution in African nations and by Islamist extremism, which drove persecution in 36 of the 50 WWL countries, according to the new report.

Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, wrote, “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” With all due respect, I doubt that is much solace to those who are being persecuted, imprisoned, and killed by those who are—what?—followers of “inauthentic Islam”. For more, see the recently posted CWR feature article, “Looking at Islam Through Catholic Eyes”, by William Kilpatrick.

• Right on cue, from Reuters:

A group linked to al-Qaida, emboldened by its recent victory over rival rebels in Syria, has imposed sweeping restrictions on personal freedoms in the northern province of Raqqa as it seeks to consolidate control over the region.

Reuters obtained copies of four statements issued on Sunday by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) prohibiting music being played and images of people being posted in public.

The sale of cigarettes and shisha water pipes are banned, women must wear the niqab, or full face veil, in public and men are obliged to attend Friday prayers at a mosque. Violations of the rules will be punished according to sharia, or Islamic law.

The directives, which cite Koranic verses and Islamic teaching, are the latest evidence of ISIL’s ambition to establish a Syrian state founded on radical Islamist principles.

At least they’re “radical Islamist principles” and not “authentic” ones. That’s a relief.

• Heather MacDonald has penned a really good essay for City Journal on the continued gutting of humanities in the ivory tower. She writes:

Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton—the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements and replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing. In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent as to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton, or Shakespeare, but was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”

Such defenestrations have happened elsewhere, of course, and long before 2011. But the UCLA coup was particularly significant because the school’s English department was one of the last champions of the historically informed study of great literature, uncorrupted by an ideological overlay. Precisely for that reason, it was the most popular English major in the country, enrolling a whopping 1,400 undergraduates.

Let’s compare what the UCLA student has lost and what he has gained. Here’s Oberon addressing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Once I sat upon a promontory
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the seamaid’s music

To which UCLA’s junior English faculty respond: Ho-hum. Here’s the description of a University of California postcolonial studies research grant: The “theoretical, temporal, and spatial intersections of postcoloniality and postsocialism will arrive at a novel approach to race, gender, and sexuality in present-day geopolitics.” To which UCLA’s junior English faculty respond: That’s more like it!

Frankly, the term “postcoloniality” sounds quite a bit to much like “colonoscopy”. I’m sure neither is enjoyable, even if the latter can be beneficial to one’s health. Read MacDonald’s entire piece, “The Humanities and Us”, at

• Before it slips my mind, the notion that focusing on the poor means, logically, that we must speak less about abortion, is complete nonsense. But don’t take my word for it. Here is something from someone who knew a thing or two about poverty:

The poor are very great people. They can teach us so many beautiful things. Once one of them came to thank us for teaching her natural family planning and said: “You people who have practiced chastity, you are the best people to teach us natural family planning because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other.” And what this poor person said is very true. These poor people maybe have nothing to eat, maybe they have not a home to live in, but they can still be great people when they are spiritually rich.

When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread. But a person who is shut out, who feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person who has been thrown out of society – that spiritual poverty is much harder to overcome. And abortion, which often follows from contraception, brings a people to be spiritually poor, and that is the worst poverty and the most difficult to overcome.

Those words were spoken twenty years ago this February by Mother Teresa of Calcutta—at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

• John Herreid, talented graphic designer (among other things) for Ignatius Press, has been a very nice job with the new website, Two recent posts of interest: “Transfiguration of the Commonplace” by Dorothy Cummings McLean, and “Mystery Masters” by T. M. Doran.

• As you might know, the Holy Father has spoken quite often about the dangers of gossip. Out of curiosity, I searched the Vatican website for references to “gossip”. There are 23 results in English, and of those, 18 are in statements made by Pope Francis. There is one reference to gossip Benedict XVI, in a Palm Sunday homily in 2010, and it is a bit different from the quotes by Francis:

Man can choose an easy path and avoid every effort. He can also sink to the low and the vulgar. He can flounder in the swamps of falsehood and dishonesty. Jesus walks before us and towards the heights. He leads us to what is great, pure. He leads us to that healthy air of the heights: to life in accordance with the truth; to courage that does not let itself be intimidated by the gossip of prevalent opinions; to patience that bears with and sustains the other.

• There are many impediments today to civilized discourse, and thus to civilization and real knowledge. Among them, as David Warren notes, is the fact that politics have become, for far too many people, The Thing:

As I have discovered, the hard way, from trying to change the subject in journalism from time to time, the world is currently a lot more interested in politics than in religion, poetry, or philosophy. That modern media of communications have made it that way, might almost go without saying. But here is something I do not think “critics of the media” fully appreciate: that their criticism is only possible from within.

This has come home to me once again, in the couple of months since I tapped into Twitter. It is evident everywhere, but to keep it personal, I notice that if I want to have “followers,” I have only to get political, and strongly take sides. Ambiguity, in drollness or in depth, is not likely to be rewarded; sarcasm is what sells. It is an aphoristic medium, but mass participation determines what kind of aphorism will flourish.

And into this, the pope’s tweet-handlers project a consistent volume of “uplifting” remarks, dutifully re-tweeted by well meaning devotes, but falling like snowflakes into the cauldron of this world.

Ironically, a recent article about politics—about Chris Christie’s bridge over trouble waters or whatever it is—makes a related point that is worth contemplating for, oh, a few seconds:

This isn’t about “conservatism” versus “liberalism.” It’s about the moderate tempo at which our institutions of governance need to move in order not to malfunction. As Greg Weiner explains in the overlooked study Madison’s Metronome, our constitutional architecture is premised on the moral axiom that impulsive impatience breeds misrule. Rather than the anti-majoritarian fetish it is often mistaken for, “temporal republicanism,” as Weiner calls it, simply intends to slow the pace of democratic decisionmaking to more deliberate—get it?—speeds.

Sadly today we hate that idea. Hate it. Everything else moves at the speed of light, why not politics? Because racism! Or classism, or old boy networks, or fat cats, or the corrupting influence of money on politics—anything answer will do, including correct answers, so long as they elbow out the one scandalous truth: a democracy conducted at light speed will twist our judgments and disfigure our justice. It will give us a government of weapons that kill instantly anywhere, computers that know everything everywhere, and money that can be printed at whim in any quantity.

Such is life when every moment is an emergency. Liberals like Alan Wolfe poured withering scorn on George W. Bush for turning German legal theorist Carl Schmitt’s “state of exception” into standard operating procedure. Well, guess what the cult of speed gives us, whatever our partisanship?

Why do we suffer such a lack of confidence in our private and public-sector elites? In our big State and our big Market? “For a reason of biblical simplicity,” writes philosopher and urbanist Paul Virilio, “confidence can never be instantaneous. It must be built, earned, over time. Instant confidence, like instant faith, doesn’t work.”

That is from the essay, “Chris Christie and the Runaway High-Speed Presidency Train”, by James Poulos on The Daily Beast. These pieces by Warren and Poulos resonate with me, touching as they do on topics I’ve been mulling over in recent months. At the risk of being misunderstood (well, that is the danger of writing for a living), working in the news business can cause you to either open or lose your mind, change or harden your perspective, or either increase or lessen your fixation on the next story, the next fad, the next hot “thing”. You also learn that the notion of “neutrality” in news is quite tenuous, possibly nonsensical; what is of far more importance is honesty and love for truth. The belief in “unbiased” news is itself biased, for it is based on a judgment of what constitutes a bias, and bias itself is a judgment. What is often called “bias” is actually just dishonesty—the presentation of opinions as facts, or of arguments as established truth.

• Alas, the politicized and hasty nature of news only makes matters worse, not because politics are bad, but because there is far, far more to this life and this world than politics. And politics today, increasingly, are dominated by a fixation on false equalities enforced according to technocratic premises that are, ultimately, quite inhuman. As James Kalb wrote in his most recent CWR column, “What Normal?”:

In any event, the view now dominant also involves a conception of what is normal that is forced on the recalcitrant by the socially dominant. That view is based not on what is normal by nature but on what seems normal in a liberal technocratic society. Such a society is now the accepted ideal: maximum equal satisfaction of individual preferences is considered self-evidently the highest goal, and technological thinking is considered the normal and rational way to deal with practicalities. In contrast, natural law understandings of man, the world, and how they function have become incomprehensible to members of our governing classes, since they differ from the principles that order the bureaucratic and commercial institutions that give them their position, so such understandings are considered prejudiced, stereotypical, pathological, and generally abnormal and weird.

As a matter of principle, the liberal technocratic view requires government policy to be based on equal treatment of individual preferences, technical considerations, and nothing else. The aspiration can’t be attained, because technical considerations and the principle of equal treatment don’t resolve all conflicts among preferences. However, those who support the ideal can’t admit the problem without admitting the controlling authority of something other than equal human wills and so openly abandoning it. To avoid doing so they silently smuggle in principles that are treated as beyond debate and imply an enforceable conception of what is normal.

• Finally, in an attempt to tie many of these threads together, here is a quote from a great theologian, writing in the early 1970s:

But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.

The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.

Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

That was the (fairly) young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, from the work, Faith and the Future (Ignatius Press, 2009; ht: Thomas L. McDonald).

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.