The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CGS Redux

Fr. Matt Kennedy has posted the latest decision in the litigation between his breakaway parish and the Diocese of Central New York. In it, Judge Ferrous D. Lebous rules on the Diocese's claim to certain assets ofthe parish, and the entitlement of Christ Church, the oldest Episcopal parish in Binghamton, to a trust vested in CGS and, should it cease to exist, to Christ Church. Judge Lebous held unequivocally that "the Church of the Good Shpeherd no longer exists as an Episcopal church, no longer exists in name, no longer exists within the meaning of the Branan Trust." (Opinion at 11). A logical corollary of its prior ruling? Perhaps; Fr. Kennedy states that "I did not know Mr. Branan but a number of our senior parishioners knew him very well and remember him to have been both very conservative and very loyal to Good Shepherd but not necessarily to the Episcopal Church." Judge Lebous, however, construed the trust documents, and found them to be sufficiently clear to allow him to reach a conclusion.

The sting of this ruling, however, is in its tail:
As indicated during oral argument, this court finds some of these allegations troubling. Good Shepherd's own counsel intima[ted] that parish members may have removed personal property to displeasure at this Court's former Decision & Order. Additionally, a there is an obvious lack of income flowing into Good Shepherd after April 2008. In other words, since April 2008, Good Shepherd was meeting but no pledge or plate revenue is identified during that time. Rather, the Diocese alleges that Good Shepherd was spending down an endowment fund to pay for daily operations, and diverting income elsewhere....On its face, it appears that the parish was doing everything it could to spend down the assets, divert new income, and perhaps actively interfere with the diocese's right of ownership
Id. at 13.

The Court ordered depositions of CGS's officials, beginning with Fr. Kennedy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Ends of Torture

Yeah, here's a shock:

The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.


"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

Is there anybody left who finds this surprising? As I pointed out as early as November 2005, the tactics used in our "enhanced interrogations" were drawn from a program designed to teach American service members to resist such techniques,which were designed to extract false confessions. And that's just what they were seeking to obtain--justification for the war they wanted, against the foe they wanted.

As Andrew Sullivan writes today:
The assertion of total power through unchecked violence - outside the Constitution, beyond the reach of the law (apart from legal memos from hired hacks instructed to retroactively redefine torture into 'legality') - will be seen in retrospect as the key defining theory of Bush conservatism. It ended, as all regimes bent on total power always end, with torture. Why? Because reality may differ from ideology; and when it does, it is vital to create reality to support ideology. And so torture creates reality by coercing "facts" from broken bodies and minds.

This is how torture is always a fantastic temptation for those in power: it provides a way for them to coerce reality into the shape they desire. This is also why it is so uniquely dangerous. Because it creates a closed circle of untruth, which is then used to justify more torture, which generates more "truth." This is the Imaginationland some of us have been so concerned about.

Or, as a senior adviser to Bush told Ron Suskind, people like him were "the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

We're an empire now.

Decline and Fall.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I have, as evidenced by Saturday's post, been working at coming to terms with the Atonement. It's a difficult doctrine to come to grips with, as we are, in our modern world, unclear what to make of God's sparing us, but at the terrible price of the Crucifixion. In that post, I described the help I'd found in the writings of Charles Gore with this issue.

Over at Stand Firm, Fr. Matthew Kennedy has posted a "Very Brief Thought on Penal Substitutionary Atonement in which he asks:
What do we call a judge who acquits a guilty person on the basis of a loving personal relationship?


Justification is given to us through the vehicle of repentance and surrender to Christ's Person and full trust in his Work--or "faith" alone.

But justification is only possible through Christ alone--because Christ has borne hell in our place.

We are not acquitted on the basis of a personal relationship...God cannot simply "forgive" without compromising his impossibility
Without meaning to be disagreeable, I think this is a singularly inapt analogy. Fr. Kennedy misses the reason that we would call such a judge as he hypothesizes a corrupt judge, i.e., that the judge would be sacrificing the rights of other parties for his own benefit. That simply isn't the case with sin; God is both the wronged party and the judge; the wrong is His to forgive. And God, in forgiving sin, is enacting in perfect form what we are bidden to do for each other--forgive wrongs not seven times, but seventy times seven.

The better analogy is what would we call a parent who, seeing his beloved child break a cherished family memento, forgives? Whatever the answer may be, it isn't corrupt.

Gore's notion may not be comprehensive, but I think it leads in a better direction.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Season

One of my favorite parts of Easter Season is hearing William Trafka do the Widor Toccata at the 11:00 am. (His colleague, the redoubtable Paolo Bordignon, also perfomed the piece, at the 1:00 pm service, most admirably). Sadly, it's not available online as performed by the imitable Mr. Trafka or Bordignon; but here is an old-time favorite of mine, Marie-Claire Allain (whose rendition of Bach's "Little Fugue" is well-nigh definitive) to share the joy:

Happy Eastertide!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday: Atonement and the Way of the Cross

Last year, on Good Friday, I put up a post which while overly facile in rejecting penal substitutionary atonement, offered a summary Arthur Lyttleton's view as set out in Lux Mundi. This year, I'd like to offer a short extract from Charles Gore, who, in addition to making the same point that Rick Allen made in critiquing my analysis last year, makes a point along the lines of what I was trying to draw out from Lyttleton:
we need to distinguish the ideas of vicarious sacrifice and vicarious punishment and I think we shall find that we can repudiate the second while we welcome the first. We can do this by appealing to the facts. All that came upon Christ in the way of suffering came simply from His life of obedience and sympathy. He never sought pain, as if to witness pain would please the Father, or taught men to seek pain, except so far as service and self-discipline involve it. All that He suffered came simply out of His obedience to His Father's mission, and of His speaking the truth and rebuking sin; out of His standing stoutly against wickedness in high places, and out of His boundless sympathy with men. This constituted His mission. He rode out because of the word of truth and meekness and righteousness." And as the world was, it brought Him to His death. There is not anything here which suggests any "punishment" devised by the Father for the Son. All that is said of the Father is that He did not interfere to spare His son that He let sin take its course, and show its real nature in this supreme example. The Father, in the divine providence that governs the world, made our sins and the sins which crucified Christ were the normal sins of men light upon Him, in exactly the same sense as all the world over the sins of men are vicariously borne by their victims the sins of parents by their children, of children by their parents, of rulers by their people, and of people by their pastors. The Father simply sent the Son into the world, and under the normal action of its moral laws, and did not interfere.
Belief in Christ (1924) at 296-297.

And why not just a free forgiveness of sin, without reparation? Gore replies:
Is there not an immense difference between the effect upon men's minds of a mere announcement of free forgiveness and the effect upon them of a covenant of free forgiveness bought at so tremendous a price as the death of the Son of God? The reason for the fearful price being paid to win forgiveness seems to be found rightly by St. Paul in the necessity for guarding the revelation of the divine mercy from all associations of easy-going indulgence or indifference to sin. It was guarded by the Sacrifice; and it was God Himself who paid the price.
Id. at 302-303.

So, put another way, for us to grasp the lesson of the Atonement, to embrace the need for us to model ourselves on Christ, and to pick up our crosses and follow Him, we had to both grasp the price of sin, and know that God is with us in our journey, having borne more, for us, then we can bear with for each other. And how better to understand the terrible cruelty of our species--the ultimate tendency of sin--than to see it turned on our liberator?

A hard teaching, but, so seen, one that captures how God's love, in the Incarnation, Resurrection, and Atonement, act together to effect our salvation.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Limits of Liberalism

The deposition of Anne Holmes Redding is no cause for celebration--ending the career of any sincere minister cannot be described as such--but I believe it is a necessity. Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island gave her an extended opportunity to reflect, and to either resign her orders voluntarily, or to state that she did not consider herself to be a Muslim.

I don't say this out of disrespect for Islam as a faith; but Islam and Christianity, while both Abrahamic faiths, are very different, especially in the value they place of Jesus. And the Church has a right to expect that her ministers retain an unswerving adherence to the "doctrine, discipline and worship" of the Episcopal Church. Ordained ministers of a Christian church have the obligation of maintaining our faith's own creed, with the understanding, championed by Charles Gore's book Belief in Christ that the creeds are not to be understood as comprehensive statements of the faith shackling thought, but rather as delineating the broad contours of the faith of our church. As I remarked in a law review article in 2000, those who accept the benefice must bear the burden of the teachings of the Church from which they have sought and obtained ordination.

We need, as Gore noted, to not fall into the trap of narrowness and refusing to use our reason--Gore's trilogy, Belief in God, Belief in Christ and The Holy Spirit and the Church (collected in The Reconstruction of Belief) was an affort to address the critique of modernism while retaining its beneficial insights, through reason. After all, who really wants to be cast as Frederic March here:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Forewarned is only Forearmed if You Listen

Today's New York Times article on the Catholic sex abuse crisis sheds new light on just how willfully blind the Vatican and the American Church were to the problem:
The founder of a Roman Catholic religious order that ran retreat centers for troubled priests warned American bishops in forceful letters dating back to 1952 that pedophiles should be removed from the priesthood because they could not be cured. The Rev. Gerald M. C. Fitzgerald, founder of the order, Servants of the Paraclete, delivered the same advice in person to Vatican officials in Rome in 1962 and to Pope Paul VI a year later, according to the letters, which were unsealed by a judge in the course of litigation against the church.

The documents contradict the most consistent defense given by bishops about the sexual abuse scandal: that they were unaware until recently that offenders could not be rehabilitated and returned to the ministry.
This capsule summary of the article does not do justice to the insistence of Father Fitzgerald that radical steps were needed to protect children from sexual exploitation by their pastors, an insistence which was coupled with a keen awareness of the privileged position of clergy in American society; according to letters published both in the Times and in the National Catholic Reporter, Father Fitzgerald "acknowledged the degree of deference with which Catholic clergy were treated even by civil authorities. 'We are amazed to find how often a man who would be behind bars if he were not a priest is entrusted with the cura animarum [the care of souls],' he wrote." (The NCR has made many of the letters available here.

The Fitzgerald letters, I am sorry to say, establish a closer link between the Vatican and the sex abuse crisis than I was previously aware of. The Times provides the As I have text of a August 27, 1963 letter to Pope Paul VI in which he urges the Pope to defrock priests who prey on youth, and to offer priests who have had consensual affairs with women (the other issue addressed at length in his letter) the option of marriage, but at the loss of priestly status.

A note on dates. In 1962--only a year before this exchange of letters,which is clearly a continuation of a dialogue,the Vatican issued Criminales Solicitaciones, which threatens victims and witnesses to such abuse with excommunication if they report the matter to the secular authorities. As I have previously noted, this edict was still in force as of 2001, according to a letter by then-Cardinal Ratzinger.

In 1993, Pope John Paul II issued a letter to the American bishops in which he stated that
[t]he vast majority of Bishops and priests are devoted followers of Christ, ardent workers in his vineyard, and men who are deeply sensitive to the needs of their brothers and sisters. That is why I am deeply pained, like you, when it seems that the words of Christ can be applied to some ministers of the altar. Since Christ calls them his "friends" (Jn. 15:15), their sin – the sin of giving scandal to the innocent – must pain his heart indeed. Therefore, I fully share your sorrow and your concern, especially your concern for the victims so seriously hurt by these misdeeds.
The rest of the letter--after a paragraph about the hope of reconciliation with the perpetrators--consists of a tactful urging to damp down publicity as much as possible, running five paragraphs out of the letter's eight paragraph length. (To re-cap: an epigraph regarding the harm of scandal; two paragraphs on the wrongfulness of sexually molestation of children by priests; a paragraph regarding forgiveness of such predators; and the bulk of the letter addresses the need to not let the whole business become too widely publicized).

At no point does the late Pope recognize or address the systemic failure of the bishops or of the Vatican to address the crisis, let alone its complicity in routine transfers of predators from diocese to diocese, and in silencing the victims.

Pope Benedict XVI did rather better, acknowledging "shame", and staing that he was deeply sorry last year. But he also did not address the systemic response, other than to state that the American bishops handled the matter "sometimes very badly".

As Father Fitzgerald's letter raises the number of Popes directly involved to four--John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, the reasons for the persistent reluctance of the hierachy to address the systemic nature of the problem becomes more clear.