The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's to the New Year--

may it be a damn sight better than the last."
--Col. Sherman T. Potter

Actually, my year personally was pretty good--new apartment, new article under way, other developments which are fraught with interest. Mustn't grumble.

But the state of things is not, shall we say, good all round.

The play la Bete (which I saw last night) spoke to me in a way I didn't expect (I really saw it for la Lumley, whose work I've admired since AbFab). But its central point, that nonsense can drive out sense all too easily, and that our society can, in its quest for novelty, prefer nonsense to sense, is one that caught me on the raw. Ever since I read and vehemently disagreed with the policy prescriptions of Collins & Skover's The Death of Discourse, I've shared their concern with the drowning out of thought by noise. La Bete addresses a part of the same syndrome, but places it in a more personal, small-group struggle for place. Brilliantly acted, and terribly timely.

You can catch a glimpse here:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Normal Service

Has been disrupted because I'm hard at work on a scholarly piece, involving Henry II, Thomas Becket and John Henry Newman. I'll be back soon. Promise.

In the meantime....

Friday, November 5, 2010

The End...and the Beginning

Not, I hasten to add, of this blog. Nor again of Anglicanism writ large. But of the Anglican Communion? Yes, I think so.

What do I mean? This:
There was a very curious document in last week’s Church Times (full-page advertisement, page 7). In it, two organisations, Inclusive Church and Modern Church, for which I have formerly had the highest regard, turned themselves into the nearest to an ecclesiastical BNP that I have encountered.

They resort to the old tactics of misinformation and scaremongering about foreigners and outside influences to whip up a campaign against the Anglican Covenant, and replace reasoned argument with a “Man the barricades!” mentality that is little short of breathtaking.

We are to beware, the advertise­ment says, of the machinations of “another Anglican province any­where in the world” and of a move “to subordinate the Church to the judgements of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Com­munion. [The Covenant] would thereby make the Church of England subject to an outside power for the first time since Henry VIII.”

The main target of their opprobrium, worse than a European Commission or a Spanish Inquisi­tion, is “a new international body, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion”. In fact, this body is the same Joint Standing Committee that has muddled through the business of Anglican Communion affairs now since 1969. It is scarcely new — even if it was given its new name by a two-thirds-majority vote of Anglican provinces ratified at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica in 2009.

And the most extreme power at the Standing Committee’s disposal under the Covenant is — wait for it — “to make recommendations” (4.2.7). It is this potential for shock “recommendations” that has Inclusive Church and MCU quaking in their boots, since they argue that any such “recommendations” will “subordinate [the General Synod] to the new centralised authorities”. In fact, the Covenant text clearly says: “Each Church or each Instrument shall determine whether or not to accept such recommendations” (4.2.7).

The Covenant also states quite clearly that “mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion” (4.1.3).

Like so much else in this advertise­ment (and I could offer an extensive list), the assertion is simply rubbish.

During the past 150 years, many of the Churches of the world have been formed into Christian world com­munions; the newest was formed this year, the World Communion of Reformed Churches. There is a general recognition that if local or national Churches are to be truly international and live in a global fellowship, they must do more than just assert their autonomy, but seek to live into an interdependence that truly honours the fellowship of the whole body. This truth was recog­nised by the Lambeth Conferences of 1920 and 1930, and the Covenant is a careful attempt to balance autonomy with responsibility.

There is no element of coercion anywhere in the text, but there is an acknowledgement that neither can everything that one Church does be foisted on the whole Communion without the recognition that relations can be damaged. What the Covenant sets out in Section 4 is a proper mechanism that allows the articulation of discomfort, even distance, but which honours autonomy.

But this is too much for our latter-day Little Englanders, who bemoan the passing of the armchair bonhomie of the Athenaeum as the measure of Anglican inclusivity. They would, it seems, rather see the disintegration of the Anglican Communion into a series of acrimonious factions than restate a common faith and witness and find grown-up and responsible mechanisms for the articulation of the life of a whole Communion.
The author of this effusion, Geoffery K. Cameron is presently the Bishop of St Asaph, boasts of his connection to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (an early mentor, whose chaplain he has been), and his role as Deputy General Secretary of the Anglican Communion in which he was involved in "the ecumenical relations of the Anglican Communion at global level, and responsible for staffing the Lambeth Commission, which produced the Windsor Report."

This is not some oddball writing; it is a protege of Abp. Williams, and a high-ranking official in the Anglican Communion.

Well, is he right? Is the advertisement false? Father Jake lays out the text of Section 4 of the Covenant as it presently stands for voting, and the past history of recommendations (like, the Windsor Report, for which Bp. Cameron takes some credit) being treated within a brief period of time as juridical and binding. Cameron's argument is disingenuous in the extreme, quite frankly.

However, it is his invective which fascinates me. It's further evidence of the metastasizing within the Anglican Communion of hatred toward those who even defend the Episcopal Church. It's not enough to claim that critics of the Covenant are wrong; they are the BNP (a fascist party) or "Little Englanders" (xenophobic, ultra-nationalists). This is coming from, quite literally, one level below the top. This is rhetoric I would expect to see on Virtue Online, or Stand Firm. Not from any Bishop (OK, I'd expect of the now-retired Abp. Akinola, but I'm cynical with regard to him).

But surely the real point is this: If this is how Abp. Rowan's protege views those who believe the Covenant is intended to be punitive, what does it say about the likely objects of that punishment? And, add to that the fact that Canon Kenneth Kearon has stated that the Episcopal Church does not “share the faith and order of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion," is it not clear that we are entering into a very frigid period indeed in our relationships with the C of E, at least officially, and with at least those parts of it which take their cue from Canterbury?

And yet--the Anglican Communion was founded well after the Episcopal Church was founded. Anglicanism in the United States has always been different from the other provinces because of that early political break from England. We will survive if the Covenant is adopted and we do not join in, as I hope and trust we will not. And why do I hope and trust we will not? If for no other reason, than for this: the hatred they bear those who defend us reflects their hatred of us. Covenantal relationships do not flourish in an atmosphere of hatred and contempt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Richard Hooker's Day

I'm kvetching about the elections over on Facebook, but I'll spare you that. Instead, let's take a moment to commemorate Richard Hooker, that "learned and judicious divine."

Hooker's merits grow in my estimation the more I read him, and, frankly, the more I read others. Where Cardninal Newman's thirst for an infallible institution which can command obedience as of right, Hooker strove to restore reason to its proper place in the spiritual life. Without being disregardful of Scripture and Tradition, Hooker validated the role of reason in interpreting both.

Not that Hooker was a modern; far from it, he was deeply engaged in the struggles of his time. That said, he brought a charity and a clarity (he's the easiest read, by far, of the Elizabethan writers I've read) that illuminates every issue he writes about.

Here is an interesting introductory reflection on Hooker for those who would like a first taste.

A collect for the Richard Hooker, November 3:
O God of truth and peace,
who raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way,
not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How Good Men Commit Bad Acts

The recent beatification of John Henry, Cardinal Newman caught my attention, and reawakened my interest in this leader of the First Oxford Movement. As I'd previously written, my initial encounter with Newman through his Apologia Pro Vita Sua had not been entirely satisfactory; Newman's self-admitted fierceness (which seems to me to have continued after his conversion), and his rather odd love of authoritarian structures (also in both periods of his life) were rather off-putting to me. But in the wake of the announcement of the beatification, and in light of my own recent reading of Richard Hooker, I became more interested in Newman's concept of the via media, and both re-read portions of the Apologia and ordered a copy of The Via Media. I'm glad I did; my copy, includes the 1877 preface, in which Newman, now a Roman Catholic for over thirty years, essentially sought to recant and rebut so much of the main work which slighted his new church. This lengthy (94 pages) essay is highly instructive.

Aside from the merits of the Via Media itself, this Preface is worthy of consideration. In particular, the Preface provides me with what I think is confirmation and clarification of a hypothesis I expressed in November 2009 regarding the participation by multiple popes in the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. As we now know the crisis extends to Belgium, Ireland, and indeed throughout Europe, I think the issue warrants another look.

As I wrote then:
[Roman Catholic] ecclesiology is fundamentally flawed in its agoraphobically top-down model, one which prizes the interests of the institution so highly, and which cannot ever admit error or failure--individuals fail the Church, the Church itself cannot err. By identifying itself completely with the Body of Christ, the Church heavily disincentivizes itself from acknowledging systemic problems--the "rogue priest" model is the only one that the Church can bear to recognize, because to do otherwise sets up a cognitive dissonance between its theological claims and its behavior. That gap, perceived outside the Church as the rankest hypocrisy, is in fact denial of the most psychologically necessary kind. To believe it, one must shift the topic from the cover up to the offense itself, perpetrated by a number of priests not much greater than that percentage of abusers in society at large, a defense the Church has made at the highest levels. But it is, of course, the concerted cover up over decades by men widely deemed holy and even heroic within Christendom--John XXIII, a hero to liberal Catholics, and John Paul II, a hero to conservatives, to name but two.
I accepted as an axiom, and still do, that these Popes were not villains, but had somehow been led to complicity with these terrible, and in fact illegal, acts by something else. I hazarded the guess that
The fact is, having one man, and a small circle of princes, responsible for the preservation of a 2,000 year institution which it believes to be the true incarnation if Christ's Body on Earth is to put an insupportable burden on that man and that circle of men. It cannot be maintained, because it attributes perfection to the necessarily imperfect. And that leads to covering up the gap between the Heavenly Image and the Earthly Reality.
In the "Preface" to The Via Media, Newman explains how the institutional roles of the Roman Catholic Church leads to realpolitik, and coercive behavior, from the Church, which seems to be immoral:
When our Lord went up on high, He left His representative behind Him. This was Holy Church, His mystical Body and Bride, a Divine Institution, and the shrine and organ of the Paraclete, who speaks through her till the end comes. She, to use an Anglican poet's words, is " His very self below," as far as men on earth are equal to the discharge and fulfilment of high offices, which primarily and supremely arc His.

These offices, which specially belong to Him as Mediator, are commonly considered to be three ; He is Prophet, Priest, and King; and after His pattern, and in human measure, Holy Church has a triple office too ; not the Prophetical alone and in isolation, as these Lectures virtually teach,butthree offices, which are indivisible, though diverse, viz. teaching, rule, and sacred ministry.
Id. at xxxix-xl.

He writes that:
Christianity, then, is at once a philosophy, a political power, and a religious rite: as a religion, it is Holy; as a philosophy, it is Apostolic; as a political power, it is imperial, that is, One and Catholic. As a religion, its special centre of action is pastor and flock; as a philosophy, the Schools; as a rule, the Papacy and its Curia. . . .

Truth is the guiding principle of theology and theological inquiries; devotion and edification, of worship; and of government, expedience. The instrument of theology is reasoning; of worship, our emotional nature; of rule, command and coercion. Further, in man as he is, reasoning tends to rationalism; devotion to superstition and enthusiasm; and power to ambition and tyranny.

Arduous as are the duties involved in these three offices, to discharge one by one, much more arduous are they to administer, when taken in combination. Each of the three has its separate scope and direction; each has its own interests to promote and further ; each has to find room for the claims of the other two; and each will find its own line of action influenced and modified by the others, nay, sometimes in a particular case the necessity of the others converted into a rule of duty for itself.
Id. at xl-xli.

Newman goes on to give the example of scientific truth and Galileo:
Galileo's truth is said to have shocked and scared the Italy of his day. It revolutionized the received system of belief as regards heaven, purgatory, and hell, to say that the earth went round the sun, and it forcibly imposed upon categorical statements of Scripture, a figurative interpretation. Heaven was no longer above, and earth below; the heavens no longer literally opened and shut;purgatory and hell were not for certain under the earth. The catalogue of theological truths was seriously curtailed. Whither did our Lord go on His ascension ? If there is to he a plurality of worlds, what is the special importance of this one ? and is the whole visible universe with its infinite spaces, one day to pass away? We are used to these questions now, and reconciled to them ; and on that account are no fit judges of the disorder and dismay, which the Galilean hypothesis would cause to good Catholics, as far as they became cognizant of it, or how necessary it was in charity, especially then, to delay the formal reception of a new interpretation of Scripture, till their imaginations should gradually get accustomed to it.

As to the particular measures taken at the time with this end, I neither know them accurately, nor have I any anxiety to know them. They do not fall within the scope of my argument; I am only concerned with the principle by which they were conducted. All I say is, that not all knowledge is suited to all minds; a proposition may be ever so true, yet at a particular time and place may be "temerarious, offensive to pious ears, and scandalous," though not " heretical " nor " erroneous." . . .

Now, while saying this, I know well that " all things have their season," and that there is not only " a time to keep silence," but " a time to speak," and that, in some states of society, such as our own, it is the worst charity, and the most provoking, irritating rule of action, and the most unhappy policy, not to speak out, not to suffer to be spoken out, all that there is to say. Such speaking out is under such circumstances the triumph of religion, whereas concealment, accommodation, and evasion is to co-operate with the spirit of error;—but it is not always so. There are times and places, on the contrary, when it is the duty of a teacher, when asked, to answer frankly as well as truly, though not even then to say more than he need, because learners will but misunderstand him if he attempts more, and therefore it is wiser and kinder to let well alone, than to attempt what is better.

Id. at li-lii.

He then goes on to explain that the use of command and coercion, as with suppression of information, can go into other areas:
Apostolicity of doctrine and Sanctity of worship, as attributes of the Church, are differently circumstanced from her regal autocracy. Tradition in good measure is sufficient for doctrine, and popular custom and conscience for worship, but tradition and custom cannot of themselves secure independence and self-government. The Greek Church shows this, which has lost its political life, while its doctrine,and its ritual and devotional system, have little that can be excepted against. If the Church is to be regal, a witness for Heaven, unchangeable amid secular changes, if in every age she is to hold her own, and proclaim as well as profess the truth, if she is to thrive without or against the civil power, if she is to be resourceful and self-recuperative under all fortunes, she must be more than Holy and Apostolic; she must be Catholic. Hence it is that, first, she has ever from her beginning onwards had a hierarchy and a head, with a strict unity of polity, the claim of an exclusive divine authority and blessing, the trusteeship of the gospel gifts, and the exercise over her membersof an absolute and almost despotic rule. And next, as to her work, it is her special duty, as a sovereign State, to Consolidate her several portions, to enlarge her territory, to keep up and to increase her various populations in this ever-dying, ever-nascent world, in which to be stationary is to lose ground, and to repose is to fail. It is her duty to strengthen and facilitate the intercourse of city with city, and race with race, so that an injury done to one is felt to be an injury to all, and the act of individuals has the energy and momentum of the whole body. It is her duty to have her eyes upon the movements of all classes in her wide dominion, on ecclesiastics and laymen,on the regular clergy and secular,on civil society, and political movements. She must be on the watchtower, discerning in the distance and providing against all dangers; she has to protect the ignorant and weak, to remove scandals, to see to the education of the young, to administer temporalities, to initiate, or at least to direct all Christian work, and all with a view to the life, health, and strength of Christianity, and the salvation of souls.

It is easy to understand how from time to time such serious interests and duties involve, as regards the parties who have the responsibility of them, the risk, perhaps the certainty, at least the imputation, of ambition or other selfish motive, and still more frequently of error in judgment, or violent action, or injustice.
Id., at lxxx-lxxxi.

Newman noted the respect for individual conscience which marked the early church, including St. Augustine in his earlier writings, only to be replaced with a belief in forced conversion in Augustine's later works. (Preface at lxxxii). (Alas, he's correct on this point). This supercession, it must be said, marks the shadow side of his own belief in the development of doctrine.

Finally, Newman reaches the culmination of this long train of reasoning:
Again: with a view to the Church's greater unity and strength, Popes, from the time of St. Gregory I., down to the present, have been earnest in superseding and putting away the diversified traditional forms of ritual in various parts of the Church. In this policy ecclesiastical expedience has acted in the subject-matter of theology and worship.

Again: aActs simply unjustifiable, such as real betrayals of the truth on the part of Liberius and Honorius, become intelligible, and cease to be shocking, if we consider that those Popes felt themselves to be head rulers of Christendom and their first duty, as such, to be that of securing its peace, union and consolidation. The personal want of firmness or of clear-sightedness in the matter of doctrine, which each of them in his own day evidenced, may havo arisen out of his keen sense of being the Ecumenical Bishop and one Pastor of Christ's flock, of the scandal caused by its internal dissensions, and of his responsibility, should it retrograde in health and strength in his day.. . . The principle, on which these two Popes maybe supposed to have acted, not unsound in itself, though by them wrongly applied, I conceive to be this,—that no act could be theologically an error, which was absolutely and undeniably necessary for the unity, sanctity, and peace of the Church; for falsehood never could be necessary for those blessings, and truth alone can be.
Id. at lxxxii-lxxxiii (emphasis added).

So, in fact, Cardinal Newman adds two insights to my hypothesis of last year. First, he explains theologically why a sometimes brutal realpolitik is imported into the Church--the "regal function" requires it, to prevail. Second, he provides the missing rationalization--the notion that whatever establishes the betterment of the Church must be, in a real sense, the truth (or at any rate, the good situationally speaking), because it resulted in betterment for the church. (The reasoning is both circular, and profoundly unscriptural; Psalm 73, anybody? Or, in the present case, Matt 18:1-6?)). He also adds a third point, though, which I had not weighed at all; he explains and contextualizes the papal dread of scandal, which sometimes led the Vatican to spend more time stigmatizing those speaking the truth than those enabling and committing the abuse.

(Edited for clarity)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bishop Minns Takes His Stand

I see from the Lead that CANA Bishop Martyn Minns has issued a pastoral letter to Fr.Don Armstrong's breakaway congregation regarding Fr. Armstrong's conviction of 2 counts of theft--one count felony and one misdemeanor theft. (My more detailed analysis of the plea, in which Fr. Armstrong did not admit culpability, and the felony component of which will, if he successfully completes probation, dismissed and possibly expunged, is here; Rev. Armstrong's plea agreement explicitly states that he both counts as to which he is to be convicted are charges of theft (Plea Agreement at p. 2, Par. 3.A (felony theft); p. 2, Par. 3.B (misdemeanor theft))).

Bishop Minns writes:
You have been in my prayers as the legal nightmare that you have all endured seems to be coming to a close. While a number of definitive actions have been taken, there are still more decisions to be rendered and hearings to be held; therefore at this juncture it is not appropriate for me to comment on specific legal issues. I am looking forward to my visit next month when I will meet with members of the leadership and legal teams to more fully understand the situation and its likely trajectory.

In the meantime, one thing I can and will say is that my love and respect for Don and Jessie and the leadership of St. George’s has not diminished but rather increased by the way in which you all have conducted yourselves. You have all been examples of God’s grace at work. I am delighted to count you as friends and it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.

It is my belief, based upon a thorough investigation of the contested facts, that this entire situation never should have been made the subject of a criminal investigation. I am convinced that if ever there was a situation that underscored the wisdom of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount about settling matters out of court (Matthew 5:25– 26), this is it! Millions of dollars have been wasted; lives have been disrupted; reputations destroyed; and the Gospel of Christ obscured by the controversy — and we are still far from reaching a place where we can show the world the power of God’s transforming and reconciling love.
(Emphasis added; text of quoted paragraphs unedited to provide context).

Now, to the extent that Bishop Minns is signaling that he has no intention of disciplining Fr. Armstrong, that is his right and his privilege. He is the bishop, and it is for him to determine what standards he will hold his clergy to. I'm a layman and would not presume to opine on that privilege. I find his exercise of that right in this case disturbing, and am glad to see many reasserters do as well, but that's as far as I'm prepared to go. However, as a former public defender, and a practicing lawyer, I do feel that I must address his statements regarding the criminal justice system.

When Bishop Minns writes that "[it is my belief, based upon a thorough investigation of the contested facts, that this entire situation never should have been made the subject of a criminal investigation" he is speaking what can most kindly be termed arrant nonsense. Fr. Armstrong, as a result of this plea, will be conclusively adjudicated (upon its formal entry) a convicted thief. Even if he successfully serves his 4 years of probation, Fr. Armstrong will remain a convicted thief, albeit a low-level thief. To say, in the face of this legal fact, that the matter did not rise to the level of being worthy of investigation is, simply, absurd. Any case which results in a fairly obtained conviction of some or all of the charges is, obviously, one which warrants investigation. Period.

Bp. Minns seems to labor under the impression that the low level of offense which will remain on Fr. Armstrong's record, assuming he successfully completes probation, renders this case a triviality. First, four years probation, for a first offense, with no violence, up to a year's imprisonment still a possibility and an unknown amount of restitution to be ordered, is hardly trivial. (And I think these statements are increasing the prospect of a custodial sentence and the amount of the restitution, Fr. Armstrong. My every defender's instinct wants to yell, "SHUT UP!" at you for your own good). But there is a more fundamental flaw with Bp. Minns' analysis.

As I explained in my earlier post, the deferred sentence is under the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling in People v. Darlington, a vehicle to allow for compassionate treatment of offenders in "the interests of justice." It's not that such offenders aren't guilty; it's that their exposure to the full rigor of the legal system would cause more harm than the deterrence, retributive and rehabilitative purposes of the criminal sanction would justify.

[I am aware that Armstrong's attorneys have suggested that the prosecutors were concerned about statute of limitations problems. Perhaps. However, as Armstrong's camp have not been, shall we say, honest in their accounts of the plea, I am skeptical. This case savors to me of a prosecutor who wanted a conviction, but not to ruin the otherwise socially beneficial life of a clergyman--a not uncommon attitude when offenses are financial in nature].

And this is where Bishop Minns--and Fr. Armstrong too--are being unacceptably cavalier. In trying to spin this act of grace from a legal system which does not prioritize grace, as a loss to the prosecutor, they are disincentivizing the prosecutor's office from offering other offenders the same benefit. Prosecutors are judged by their records, and are always eager to show how tough they are. When the object of their mercy claims victory, and that the prosecutor threw in the towel, they'll think twice before offering someone else a chance.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Lost Leader (2)

Archbishop Williams admits to having thrown gays and lesbians in general, and Jeffrey John in particular, under the bus, for the good of the Church:
Dr Williams said he had been conscious of the issue of homosexuality as "a wound in the whole ministry" since his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002. But he had to decide against endorsing gay relationships for clergy and bishops because "the cost to the Church overall was too great to be borne at that point". He said: "To put it very simply, there's no problem about a gay person who's a bishop. It's about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there's always a question about the personal life of the clergy."

Dr Williams admitted that one of the most difficult periods in his eight years at Lambeth Palace came when he blocked the appointment of the gay, celibate cleric Jeffrey John to the post of Bishop of Reading.

He said he let down Dr John, who was instead appointed Dean of St Albans.
The Archbishop should remember that the saying "it is expedient that one man should die for the people" is spoken by Caiaphas, not generally looked up to as a model of Christian behavior.

More details at The Lead.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Generous Orthodoxy?

Um, our friends over at Stand Firm have asked the question "is it possible to reject the historicity of Adam and Eve and remain orthodox," and overwhelmingly have answered it "no." Father Matt Kennedy offers several scriptural basis for this conclusion:
Not only does the text of Genesis 2 itself bear the markings of historical narrative, but to suggest otherwise is to falsify Jesus' teaching on marriage. Jesus affirms the historicity of Adam and Eve and the Genesis account of their creation and marriage in Matthew 19:1-6.
He adds:
And, moreover, the divinely revealed doctrine of the Fall hinges in large part on the existence of a real Adam who truly sinned as the counterpart to the real Jesus who was/is truly righteous and who truly died and rose again. . . Obviously Paul understood both Adam and Jesus to be historical figures. To suggest that Adam is a merely figurative character representative of humanity as a whole not only cuts against Paul's clear meaning, but it also destroys the argument of the text itself. The historical man Adam plunged humanity into sin and death through an historical sin. The historical man Jesus redeemed humanity through his historical death and resurrection. Take away the historicity of Adam and the parallel upon which the argument is built no longer works.
Later in the comments, Fr. Kennedy states that he is "tending more and more toward a Y[oung] E[arth] position," although he allows some room for doubt on the point.

Now, frankly, I find this kind of depressing. Remember what the enterprise is; Father Kennedy is defining not his belief, but the outer limit of Christian orthodoxy. The Stand Firm crowd is saying that the second Oxford Movement of the 19th Century are too radical to count as Christians. Of course, there is no effort to engage with Gore's kenotic theory. Or Aubrey Moore's use of evolutionary theory in defense of orthodoxy. Or Illingworth's relation of evolution to the Incarnation.

In short, sola scriptura. In science, as in all else. Stand Firm seems to me to be defining itself out of Anglicanism in any meaningful sense.

Also, of course, a reliance on the literal truth of Genesis leaves re-opens the justice questions arising therefrom. First, as Mark Twain famously noted, how is the punishment of Adam just? God "commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; To disobey could not be a sin, because Adam could not comprehend a sin until the eating the fruit should reveal to him the difference between right and wrong. So he was unfair in punishing Adam for doing wrong when he could not know it was wrong." Moreover, even if this hurdle is surmounted, the notion that "in Adam's fall we sinned all" taken literally opens another justice question: how can descendants be held personally accountable for sins committed before their birth? Should human justice be meted out so? However, these are side issues of course; my complaint is not so much what Kennedy et al come to believe, but with their conflation of their own views with the bounds of orthodoxy. If their views indicate where the reasserters are headed--well, that untempered schism may be just as well; I have no desire for what Clarence Darrow called "the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind."

UPDATE, 9/25/10: They're not alone, apparently:

An Exchange Re: Obama and the GLBT Community

Today an e-mail of mine was selected as Andrew Sullivan's Dissent of the Day. Something of an honor, really, as Sullivan is unquestionably the big leagues of blogging.

Anyway, here is what I wrote:
You've pointed out twice now that "[n]ot a single prosecution of an anti-gay hate crime has occurred under the law in the year since it [the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009] was passed." May I point out that, as a criminal statute, the Act can only operate prospectively, under the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution? As a former public defender, I'm aware that judging a statute by the number of prosecutions within a year of its enactment is a pretty bizarre metric, since only acts committed after passage are even arguably subject to prosecution under the Act. Since you earlier noted that there are investigations pending of criminal acts which might result in charges under the Act, I think the ill-founded nature of this contention is self-evident.

By contrast, I think your complaint that "it took Obama over a year to begin a year-long Pentagon review. If he had acted sooner, the review would have been done in time for the vote" is not entirely divorced from reality, but is a bit naive. Doesn't it make sense that President Obama would have wanted to forge relationships with the military brass prior to starting the review, in order to avoid the blatant, insubordinate--and successful!--sabotage that Bill Clinton was subject to?

You know, I admire the lucidity of "The Conservative Soul," the passion you've brought to your anti-torture campaign, and much you've written about Palin. But I think that you're projecting responsibility for the villainy (no other word fits) of the GOP and its demonization of GLBTs onto a single man who is trying to coax a fractious party that has been in a defeatist crouch for decades into strong action. He's not a god-king. And your reaction is, I'm sorry to say, both over the top and helpful to the Party of No.
Now, let me point out that I was not entirely defending Obama let alone the Democrats, but that I sent my e-mail within a day of Sullivan writing that "[i]f I lived in Nevada and had the vote, even though Sharron Angle is beyond nuts, I'd vote for her. Better nuts than this disgusting, cynical, partisan Washington kabuki dance, when people's lives and dignity are at stake."

In responding to my dissent, as he sometimes does, Sullivan wrote:
I will gladly report any prosecutions that occur in the future that clearly would not have occurred without the Hate Crimes Act. As my reader noted, there are several investigations in process and some may get somewhere. But this act was sold as a vital defense against gay-bashing. I call bullshit on that now as I did then. It was a fundraising tool for HRC primarily and a way for the Democrats to do nothing substantive for gay equality, except treating us as victims in need of their protection. Nonetheless, I promise to provide an annual update on prosecutions to measure its impact, along with data on anti-gay hate crimes, to see if it has any effect whatever on their incidence. As to the final point, where is there evidence that the president has done a single thing to "to coax a fractious party that has been in a defeatist crouch for decades into strong action"? I see none. No speeches defending gay equality, except to the pathetic tool of the Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign. No public support on marriage equality, which he formally opposes, even as a majority of the public backs it. He even prevented anyone in the administration from celebrating the end of the HIV travel ban before it was passed, so scared was he of Republican bigots. I know. I tried to report on the record about progress but was told shhhh - we might alert the right.

I don't think anyone can possibly accuse me or the Dish of excusing or ignoring the virulent and disgusting homophobia of the Christianist GOP. There is no comparison on the merits between their hate and contempt and the president's indifference and cowardice. But I refuse to have their bile held over my head as a reason to shut up about the Democrats' uselessness and this president's betrayal of almost every single promise he made about gay equality in the campaign.
I think he actually is closing much of the gap between us here. On the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, he is (I think) tacitly conceding my main point, that the efficacy of the statute can't be evaluated so soon after its enactment, as it can only apply to post-enactment conduct. The fact that he thought the statute was not responsive to a vital need before it was passed and continues to think so now doesn't blunt the fact that reporting of crimes, as well as investigations and preparation of prosecutions under a bran-new statute, take time. I'm not trying to get him to love the statute, but to use a reasonable metric to grade it by.

As to his second point, my own statement was somewhat--not entirely!--overly strong. But it was occasioned by Sullivan's own hyperbolic statement of preference for Angle over Reid--which I think is greatly rectified by his statement that "There is no comparison on the merits between their hate and contempt and the president's indifference and cowardice." I confess that he may know better than I do regarding President Obama's actual views. I think discounting Obama's speeches made to HRC because of the venue is a little tough on the President, and I think Sullivan overstates the President's indifference. But Sullivan is actively engaged in this fight, has met the President, and his view of the behind the scenes is certainly more informed than mine.

Regardless, I certainly don't want to shut him up, or mute his entirely justified criticism of the Administration and of Congress. Pressuring them until equality is reached is the only way to make any progress. I just don't want the debate to be framed in a way that excuses the bigots from their bigotry, and places all the onus on those who are, on the whole, well intentioned, even if they are lacking in passionate intensity.

By the way, I stand by my compliments to Sullivan,especially regarding The Conservative Soul, which makes the best case for a non-Christianist, non-extremist, honorable conservative philosophical tradition of which I am aware.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Big Break, But Not a Pass

There's been a fair amount of confusion over what happened in the Colorado Springs case of Father Don Armstrong's is-it-or-isn't-it a guilty plea. Most of that confusion stems from a since-removed statement in support of Father Armstrong claiming vindication. Of that, more in a moment.

However, the actual plea agreement is online, which allows for greater clarity. Armstrong pleaded nolo contendere (that is, no contest), to one of the felony charges,theft in the amount of $15,000 or more. On that charge, he will receive a deferred sentence (which, if he completes 4 years of probation successfully, would result in this count's eventual dismissal and expungement).

He also agreed to enter what is called an Alford plea to a non-charged misdemeanor, for which he will be sentenced. There is no factual basis for the misdemeanor in the indictment; the factual basis for the felony to which he is pleading are the facts in the indictment.

So, what does this mean? First, the misdemeanor plea is not based on the charges, which were all felonies. It is a device, I suspect, to allow for the imposition of some criminal sentence, and to allow Fr. Armstrong to serve less than a year. In other words, the prosecutor refused to let him simply receive probation, and Armstrong accepted that. (Mind you, under the agreement Armstrong's counsel can urge the court for a non-custodial sentence, so he still has a shot of not serving any time. But the prosecutor hasn't consented to such a disposition).

Second, as he Supreme Court of Colorado has explained:
A nolo contendere plea, also called a no contest plea or plea non vult contendere, literally means “I do not wish to contend.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1074 (8th ed. 2004). Nolo contendere is a common law plea. Hudson v. United States, 272 U.S. 451, 453 (1926); Young v. People, 53 Colo. 251, 125 P. 117
(1912). In its early form, the plea was considered an implied confession of guilt entered only with leave of the court in light misdemeanors. K. A. Drechsler, Annotation, Plea of nolo contendere or non vult contendere, 152 A.L.R. 253 (1944). In
modern usage, a plea of nolo contendere is considered substantially, though not technically, a plea of guilty acceptable for a variety of offenses. Id. at 25657.
. . . . Nolo pleas may also be referred to as “Alford” pleas, originating from the United States Supreme Court decision in North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970). There, the Court held that a defendant could plead guilty while protesting his innocence so long as his plea was constitutionally valid. Alford, 400 U.S. at 31; see also ABA Standards, supra, at§ 141.1(a) commentary at 14.
People v. Darlington (Sup. Ct. Colo. 2005). (Slip Op. at 6-7).

As the Darlington Court goes on to clarify, "The sole distinction we have made between a guilty plea and a plea of nolo contendere is that the latter gives the defendant the advantage of not being estopped from denying her fault in a civil action based upon the same facts." (Slip. Op. at 8). This will give Armstrong the ability to deny liability in a civil trial if TEC or the trustees sue him civilly, but is otherwise a meaningless distinction. While he will not have to admit his guilt, he will have to admit that the prosecutor could adduce sufficient evidence to permit a jury to convict.

The Darlington Court further explains the purpose of deferred sentencing; it is "to grant the court the power to impose alternative sentences benefiting the defendant where the interests of justice would be served." (Slip Op. at 12). Many states have similar provisions to allow for the rehabilitation of a defendant whose guilt is provable, but the devastation of whose life wrought by full criminal conviction is excessive in light of the goals of the criminal justice system. (I authored, in 1994, a full length study of New York's "Interests of Justice" dismissal remedy, which you can find here).

In this case, it looks to me like the prosecutor was willing to give Armstrong a heavy break, but not a pass. Under the Agreement, he has to pay restitution in an amount to be set by the Court, which could obviate the need for any civil litigation. If he behaves for four years, he won't be a felon, with the attendant impact on career and civil rights that entails, but will be a convicted misdemeanant, an adjudicated criminal. This is actually a fairly reasonable resolution of the case; Lord knows I don't like Don Armstrong, but making him pay back the money while giving him a chance to resume his life, while holding him accountable to the law, and pronouncing the community's judgment on his actions seems to me to temper justice with mercy.

Of course, the prosecutor may use his parish's claim of vindication as evidence that he is not taking responsibility for his actions, and argue for a higher sentence within the range of the Armstrong may actually come to regret that misleading effort at spin.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Glimpse Of Robertson

Thanks to the CBC, here is a clip of Robertson Davies, on critics:

I like this for two reasons. First, Davies' mischief peeps through for a moment there. You can see him thinking, "I'm on Telly, and do I really want to deliver the smackdown?" and then the answer: "Yes." Also,he's not wrong. Even the good critics can mess up a writer by luring the writer to aim for that critic. (John Mortimer has a great take on this in Rumpole and the Show Folk, where Rumpole's dramatic techniques are pointed out to him by a pro, and he then overdoes them). As for the bad critics. . . well, the less said the better.

Second, I remember attending a reading Davies gave, shortly before his death, and his seeing him younger was interesting--he had great presence, and the High Manner.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Just Say No

Rev. Mark Harris over at Preludium has informed us that the Episcopal Church is officially beginning it period of discernment as to whether it adopts the Anglican Covenant in what professes to be its final form.

We should vote it down, without hesitation or qualm.

The Covenant is intended as a means of punishing and/or expelling TEC. Rather than explain that, let me refer you to the writings of Fr. Harris and to the ruminations of Fr. Jake, starting here. Further analysis, albeit broad brush, here.

True though all of these objections are, the Covenant is more fundamentally an affront to Anglicanism's foundational ethos as formulated in both the 39 Articles and in the writings of Richard Hooker. Briefly, the Covenant reflects Canterbury's effort to "ride the tiger" of American far-right and Global South hostility to the decision of TEC to honor the ministry of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to reify a new creation: An international Anglican Church, rather than a loose confederation of churches, creating a Magisterium. More here.

The problem with all this is that, as Hooker makes clear in his Preface to the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the evolution of churches in their places of planting reflects the needs of those among whom the church grows up and that even the means of organization may properly vary from place to place. Moreover, the foibles as well as the virtues of great figures (such as Calvin, in Hooker's time) may be reflected in not only their own churches, but those which adopt their teaching. Institutionally, local control and autonomy is a way of allowing for the correction of error, as discerned over time.

And that, not simple anti-Roman Catholic spite, is the justification for Article 37, stating that "The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction."

Simply put, the Anglican understanding has held, in delicate balance, the values catholicity and autonomy. Autonomy is necessary to prevent the handing down from on high of bulls which, as Hooker cautions, may result from the universalizing of an insight appropriate to one time and one place, or the over-veneration of a great leader, and simply force a solution to one locale's problem onto a different place and situation, creating a new problem.

The Anglican Covenant upsets that balance, and is indeed intended to do so, reducing the local scope of autonomy. Worst of all, it has no inherent limitation. As Hooker described the mounting demands of the Puritans from respect for conscience, to conformity, to the overthrow of all social institutions which would not conform to their will, the Covenant replaces the delicate balance of communion with a limitless perpetual synod with coercive power whose only limit is its own moderation. We may be expelled from the Communion, no doubt; but we should not sign our own death warrant.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rock it, Man!

This morning's NY Times Magazine has a story on William Shatner, which mentions, among other things, that he was "The 23-year-old Shakespearean whom Sir Tyrone Guthrie called the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s most promising actor."

Wait a damn second. Sir Tyrone Guthrie? Stratford Shakespeare Festival? In 1954?

Sure enough, that's the second year of the Festival, and wriiten up in a little-known work by that magus of Canada, Roberston Davies, in Twice Have The Trumpets Sounded, the second of Davies' accounts of the early years of the Festival, co-authored by Davies with Guthrie, lavishly illustrated by Grant McDonald. (And if I can find me a copy of Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mew'd (1955), I'll have 'em all, and my completist's heart will be at ease). Anyway, here is Davies on Shatner in The Taming of the Shrew:
Lucentio, the suitor of Bianca, is not ordinarily consdered a comic role, except in the classic sense that all lovers who do not die are figures of High Comedy. But William Shatner brought some of the gifts of the vaudevillian comedian to the part; his self-assured and somewhat brassy delivery of his first speech was itself a pleasant bit of comedy, and all through the play he gave a dimension of comedy to a character which can very easily be a romantic bore. In the company of players who performed The Shrew at the Lord's bidding, his rank was obviously that of First Light Comedian rather than First Walking Gentleman.
(Twice Have The Trumpets Sounded, at p. 50).

High praise from Davies, whose critical faculties were razor-sharp. The sketch of Shatner in role on page 51 is very reminsicent of a James Dean in his prime--and, a bit oddly, of a picture I've seen of my own father as a young man).

Shatner is often dismissed as a media phenomenon whos has made himself into a cult figure by straddling the two worlds of fandom and self-parody. And in fact, that's true. It's also true, though, that the actor playing the role of William Shatner has more native talent than one might think, and the man behind the masque is not necessarily the joking figure he portrays.

I think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Further Thoughts About Park 51

I've already posted on this issue a couple of times, and have had on FB a lengthy exchange with two old friends--both supportive of my position, one a staunch liberal, the other an equally staunch conservative. It seems to me that two points which I glancingly addressed there deserve some more nuanced explanation.

First, many of those attacking Park 51--the current name for Cordoba House, after weeks of right wing attacks--claim to be doing so on the basis of sensitivity, or decency, while claiming that nobody has challenged the First Amendment right of the Center to open. Simply put, that is a lie; those who have said it are glossing over two lawsuits, Rick Lazio's threats to use his position as Governor (if he is elected) to close it down, and a series of calls for local, state and federal government action to shut it down. So the notion that the project's critics came in peace, tried to use sweet reason, and only turned to protest as a last resort? Untrue. Only as their ham-handed efforts to misuse the law have been eviscerated by anybody who was awake in First Amendment class have they tried the "come, let us reason together" approach. And even that is accompanied with a barrage of baseless assaults on the character of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf. Very good way to work out a compromise, no? Well, no, actually. But the point is that the legal efforts to quash Park 51 through the coercive power of the state are ongoing. There is a very real First Amendment issue here.

A second question was raised by one of my good conservative friends, a man who has investigated the Park 51 project and reached the conclusion that it is well-motivated and that no evidence to the contrary has been made public. He raised the question of what if Rauf, et al were later shown to be accepting funds from and aiding in the work of terrorist organization--would the First Amendment cloak such behavior in constitutional privilege?

It's a reasonable question; let me unpack it.

First, if Rauf/Park 51 were merely preaching anti-American hate, and its funds were all raised from organizations compliant with American law, then the answer is simply, no. It's Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) again, and the answer is "suck it up."

But if Park 51 were involved in assisting, even if only through otherwise protected speech, terrorist groups, then under the recent Supreme Court decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, they could be prosecuted. Similarly, accepting funding from such organizations would raise significant legal problems for Park 51, as well. In other words, the Government is not disabled from addressing criminal activity by a religious institution, even if the institution limits its own overt behavior to abetting illegal behavior through what would normally be protected activity.

Finally, courtesy of a good Libertarian friend, a good analysis of why the attacks on Park 51 are problematic to anybody who believes in freedom, from Jon Stewart

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Turner Diatribes

I see that right-wing agitator and Government informant (!) Hal Turner was convicted of threatening to kill three judges for issuing an opinion of which he disapproved. According to the New York Law Journal:
Mr. Turner was arrested in June 2009 after writing on his blog that Judges Richard Posner, William Bauer and Frank Easterbrook "deserve to be killed" for their opinion in N.R.A. v. Chicago, 08-4241, which upheld handgun bans in Chicago and Oak Park, Ill.

"If they are allowed to get away with this by surviving, other judges will act the same way," Mr. Turner wrote. "Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty…A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions."

Mr. Turner, a white supremacist who hosted a weekly Webcast from his North Bergen, N.J., home, also posted the judges' photographs, work addresses and phone numbers.
The waters were muddied by Turner's activities as an FBI informant. According to the Times:
As in the previous trials, defense lawyers for Mr. Turner, who is known as Hal, have focused attention on his long and complicated relationship as a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The federal agents who worked with him often encouraged his fiery language, reasoning that it could help draw information about the white supremacist movement, and told him that the statements would be protected by the First Amendment as long as no one was actually hurt, said his lawyer, Peter Kirchheimer.
After three trials--the first two resulted in deadlock--the Government has secured a conviction.

From a First Amendment perspective, this one goes very close to the line. Under the leading case, Brandenburg v. Ohio, "the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." On the one hand, there's no doubt that Turner's language comports with the Brandenburg test; viewed objectively, it clearly called for violence, and even furnished information which would facilitate committing violence.

And yet--Turner challenged both his specific intent that violence result imminently, and that it was likely to produce such action. But for the provision of the judge's personal data, the speech, through reprehensible morally, would be a much easier case, clearly an instance of protected speect under Brandenburg. As it is, the facts require a more complicated analysis.

Turner's speech is an example of what I have called "'directed advocacy' which involves speech urging a particular action be taken in a specific situation.'" (First Amendment, First Principles: Verbal Acts and Freedom of Speech (2d Ed. 2004) at 190). Directed advocacy is the context most easily allowing for the imputation of the listener's act to the speaker--hypotheticals or veiled urging (which I term indirect advocacy) and merely depicting a form of behavior as good (undirected advocacy) are each further from the Brandenburg paradigm than were Turner's statements.

However, not all direct advocacy of illegal conduct is subject to criminal sanction. Turner claims that he lacked the intent that violence ensue. However, his making the carrying out of violence by providing the judge's personal data would support a finding that he did, in my opinion.

That doesn't answer the ultimate question, though. There is still the problem of imminence. Under Brandenburg where, as here, the listener has time to reflect, to consider--to decide for himself or herself whether to follow the suggestion, some kind of principle-agent relationship or other power dynamic such that "a pre-existing relationship creates a context whereby the speaker knows that the command, if spoken, will be acted upon" is needed. (First Am., First Princip. at 244). That seems, from all that I have seen here, to be lacking in this case.

The First Amendment took a serious blow in Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, when the Fourth Circuit allowed for the imposition of civil liability for undirected advocacy--a "murder manual" called Hit Man: A Technical Guide for Independent Contractors. The conviction of Hal Turner is not as the kind of body blow to free speech as was that decision (which is inconsistent with later Supreme Court precedent, I was relieved to report). But it does mark an erosion of the bright line drawn by Brandenburg and its progeny, and that should give all of us pause, especially in light of the Government's role in fostering that speech.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Storming the Mercy Seat"

Yesterday evening we had our first guests in our new home--it was a work-related event for the Lady of the House, and many neighbors streamed into our backyard. So many, in fact, that the number was more than I (novice at the grill) would have been overwhelmed. One of the guests was a grill artist, and he jumped in and took over; another guest, and old friend of mine, used her cooking school skills to liven up our food. I was as much guest as host, and was taken by the generosity and warmth of my new neighbors.

One of the guests told us, near the end of the evening, about how her faith had helped her through a series of illnesses afflicting her husband. Her voice took on a preacher's cadences as she described herself praying with her husband's doctors. And then she used that great phrase, describing herself as "storming the mercy seat" on her husband's behalf. (He was there, by the way, a gentleman with a quiet, dry sense of humor).

So often we see emotion in church abused, or coupled with a suspect "enthusiasm" (from Charles Chauncy on to the present. A reminder of the salutary face of it--the power of the Spirit in the daily lives of people of faith--is like a shot of vitamins to a spiritual pilgrim. And a reminder that the intellectual side of Christianity, powerful and vital though it is, is not the whole of the faith. Not by a long shot.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pastiche? or Pistache?

I haven't written for a month because, quite frankly, the Anglican Wars are in a groove which seems to me predictable, if not inevitable.

So, let's reopen the blog with three visions of "suavity" (hey, if it's good enough for T.S. Eliot):

1. Period: Apologies to PG Wodehouse:

Wodehouse's Bertie sees himself as fitting the lyrics; the images selected by the compliler and the lyrics make the same point that Jeeves's puncturing of Bertie's self image does.

2. Period: Rex Stout's Turn:

Archie actually does fit the lyrics, so this lacks the irony of the Jeeves & Wooster video. Interestingly, my significant other thinks BBVD is perfect music to score Stout by.

3. Sci Fi: So Wrong it's--nah. Still Wrong. But Funny.

So, er, what's my point? Other than the fact that I think the use of the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy original song to heighten the original character's strengths and weaknesses is both amusing and successful--the application of that music to each character lends the soneg a different shade of meaning, and illuminates a facet of the character that a casual viewer/reader could miss--Bertie's fantasy of being a cool man of action, Archie's rather successful (though imperfect; he has to win Lily Rowan back at the end!) stab at it, and Baltar's dated self image in a futuristic world masks his more serious version of Bertie's fantasies.

BBVD has its own video--and they use their retro sound to pastiche old movies:

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Mr. Pinstripe Suit
Uploaded by UniversalMusicGroup. - See the latest featured music videos.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Anglocat at Prayer

When holy and devout religious cats
Are at their beads, 'tis hard to draw them thence,
So sweet is zealous contemplation.

Photo: Anglocat

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Lost Leader

I have pretty much given up on Abp. Williams. The recent political machinations of the Archbishop of Canterbury, including his petty slights to the Presiding Bishop (some of them
truly petty), are one thing. Add Canon Kearon's informing the Episcopal Church's Executive Council (in a meeting he tried to have behind closed doors)that TEC's relegation to second-tier status will not be limited to the sanctions thus far and that the "problem of increased and growing diversity in the Anglican Communion has been an issue for many years....[and that]" by the 1990s leaders in the communion "had begun to name 'the diversity of opinions in the communion and diversity in general as a problem and sought some mechanisms to address it.'" Now add his last ditch effort to peel some of the required 2/3 votes off of legislation to allow consecration of women bishops to create overlapping bishoprics so that anti-women bishop parishes may secede from the diocese while urging that the far more radical Anglican Covenant be adopted by a simple majority of votes at Synod. (1)

Williams, surprisingly to those of us who welcomed his selection, has spent his arch-episcopal tenure living up to Pete Townshend's depressing image of religious authority here:

How sad. He could have been a true shepherd, and not just a man in a purple dress.

(1) Williams' position is all the more notable since he has written that the "diocese is the organ of union with the wider church" and yet is willing to fragment it, meanwhile making it easier to radically change the relationship of Church of England to the other members of the Communion to a juridicial one on a fast track, while drawing out and requiring a supermajority to approve the consecration of female bishops, the logic of which is pretty inexorable in view of the prior decision to ordain women to the priesthood.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Be Right or in Relationship?

Well, I just has a two-week involuntary hiatus, and what happens? Well, essentially, the entire Anglican Communion goes nuts. Meanwhile, my friend Nathan Humphrey tries to urge us all to consider relationship over rightness. As the responses he generates show, rightness is winning the straw poll. I appreciate Nathan's effort to reach both sides, but it seems to me that he's bucking the tide, quite possibly on the Progressive side as well as on the Reasserter. My own views on this is that the level of hostility toward TEC suggests that relationship at this point may not be a viable option, for now. We may need to take a break from each other, and let history--and the Holy Spirit--lead us to the next phase. It's sad to me that this is where we are, but I think the emotions in the air may require a time out. I certainly don't believe we should be the whipping boy for the Communion, but that we should remain always open to reconciliation.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Every year, I struggle with a couple of days--this is one, as is September 11. How to pay tribute to our armed services without lapsing into bathos? I'm an admirer of G.B. Trudeau's the Sandbox, a "milblog" where you can here the concerns and musings of our soldiers themselves. Or you can read the timeless poetry of Siegfried Sassoon. Or the superb poems and memoirs of Robert Graves (I especially admire Good-Bye to All That).

Best of all, show the veterans and active duty members of our armed forces that you appreciate them and honor their service.

And remember the fallen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The MERS Mortgage Twilight Zone

In the wonderful world of mortgage foreclosure, in which dwells, one of the most frustrating aspects is the way that the banks and their agents have set up fictional chains of assignment upon assignment, by entities in which the same people appear as lawyers and principals, agents and employees--all to paper over the loss of the paper trails which are required to establish what entity (if any--a lot of the original lenders are defunct and may not have assigned the notes before, er, defuncting). As the scope of the forclosure crisis has expanded exponentially, the mortgage companies and their attorneys have engaged in remarkable legal pirouettes to hide the fact that the necessary records don't exist, or are lost beyond recall. As the New York Times reported last August, Judge Arthur M. Schack of Kings County has dismissed a series of foreclosures for just such gimcrack song-and-dance lawyering, and earned fame just by making banks follow the rules applied to ordinary litigants.

But this week Judge Schack reached a new peak in HSBC Bank USA, NA v. Yeasmin, in which he analyzed such a "who's on first" in litigation:
Plaintiff made its renewed motion for an order of reference 204 days late, in violation of the Court's May 2, 2008 decision and order. Moreover, even if the instant motion was timely, the explanations offered by plaintiff's counsel, in his affirmation in support of the instant motion and various documents attached to exhibit F of the instant motion, attempting to cure the four defects explained by the Court in the prior May 2, 2008 decision and order, are so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authored by the late Rod Serling, creator of the famous science-fiction televison series, The Twilight Zone. Plaintiff's counsel, Steven J. Baum, P.C., appears to be operating in a parallel mortgage universe, unrelated to the real universe. Rod Serling's opening narration, to episodes in the 1961 - 1962 season of The Twilight Zone (found at, could have been an introduction to the arguments presented in support of the instant motion by plaintiff's counsel, Steven J. Baum, P.C. - "You are [*7]traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone."


The language of the MERS corporate resolution flies in the face of documents recorded with the City Register of the City of New York. The filed recordings with the City Register show that the subject mortgage was owned first by MERS, as nominee for CAMBRIDGE, and then by HSBC as Trustee for a Nomura collateralized debt obligation. However, if the Court follows the [*8]MERS'corporate resolution and enters into a new dimension of the mind, the mortgage twilight zone, the real owner of the subject mortgage is WELLS FARGO, the MERS Member and loan servicer of the subject mortgage, because the corporate resolution states that the Member is "the beneficial owner of such mortgage loan." The MERS mortgage twilight zone was created in 1993 by several large "participants in the real estate mortgage industry to track ownership interests in residential mortgages. Mortgage lenders and other entities, known as MERS members, subscribe to the MERS system and pay annual fees for the electronic processing and tracking of ownership and transfers of mortgages. Members contractually agree to appoint MERS to act as their common agent on all mortgages they register in the MERS system." (MERSCORP, Inc. v Romaine, 8 NY3d 90, 96 [2006]).
The Court's journey through the wondrous land of imagination takes several more permutations, leading to the dismissal with prejudice of the foreclosure action, but I think you get the idea.

Judge Schack has earned a tribute, and this one seems apt.

Manhattan Transfer- TWILIGHT ZONE theme 1979 from Coleccionista80 on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Kagan to the Court?

According to NBC News, yes.

Not my first pick of the names floated this time, but, then, I want W.O. Douglas back. Kagan's record to date is left of center, but cautious. (More detail here). Still, she's young--just fifty--a consensus-builder, and a legal craftsperson of high skill. She could develop--Douglas himself was known predominantly as a corporate law professor in 1939, when he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

More, I am certain, to come.

Edited: A typo resulted in my moving Douglas to Julian of Norwich's time frame. I blame the Doctor. Or the Master. Or Adric--yeah--Adric.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Century With and Without Mark Twain

Yesterday was the centennial of Mark Twain's death, with Halley's Comet in the sky. In the years since his death, his writings have been swept aside and minimized by critics from Van Wyck Brooks to Charles Neider (who, in fairness, loved Twain, but reduced him to an anecdotist). But they don't stay gone. Like Halley's Comet itself, Twain's words come back to us when we need them--when we have lost touch with our own inner sense, we turn to Twain's the War Prayer to right ourselves, or Huckleberry Finn, or the Gilded Age, or--well, you get my point.

A century since he died, and yet books from his hand continue to issue--soon, his Autobiography will at long last be published--just as Twain predicted. I wrote my senior thesis on the Autobiography, and tried to get a sense of it from the fragments published in various fora and formats over the years. I look forward to that thesis's coming obsolescence.

Twain was a genius on the platform--and, sadly, no trace remains. Here's his foremost interpreter, Hal Holbrook, with a taste.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Separation Anxiety

Now that several of the Global South churches have declared themselves out of communion with TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, there is no hope of avoiding schism. It's here.

In some ways, this may not be the worst result--the increasing vitriol which I have previously noted suggests that a little space between us may be just what is necessary. But, after much thought, I'd like to point something out to all concerned, including me:

Grow up, can we please?

People, there are three possibilities, here, if you believe, as I do, that the Holy Spirit makes things clear over time:

1. TEC is right on the presenting issues, and in one generation, maybe two, most of those in ACNA contingent will realize this, repent of their stubbornness, and communion will be restored;

2. ACNA and Co. are right, in one generation, maybe two, most of those in TEC will see this, and will repent and return to tradition, and TEC will wither, but Anglicanism will survive in a new form;

3. We're both wrong, at least in part. A third thing we can't predict will rise out of the ashes.

Obviously, anyone who's read this page before know my guess is No. 1. But--and here's a phrase I'd like to see more often--I could be wrong. So what are my duties in this time of division and discord?

First and foremost, not to increase the hostility and complicate the work of the Holy Spirit.

That is why I've taken a hiatus from TEC/Communion blogging, and why this post is not about justifying my beliefs. The moment of separation is here; my opinion on the root causes is not relevant now. What is relevant is trying to make the separation as little traumatic as possible for both sides. We all need to show some faith in God to make His will known.

By squabbling like would-be action heroes, many in the Anglican blogosphere are increasing the anxiety. And Church leaders too. We need patience and firmness both. That is why I believe the Diocese of Central New York erred in selling the Church of the Good Shepherd. I hold no brief for Fr. Kennedy, but I would have rented him the church, at cost of maintenance, on the condition that he agree to make spiritual provision for faithful TEC members. The need to vindicate title was real; the sale savors of spite, even if there is a fair reason for it of which I am not aware.

I make this point against my own "side" because it's critical in my opinion that we face up to the fact that no party in a drawn-out, emotionally fraught engagement will always act from its best self. We have plenty of guilt on our side of the street.

What to do about ongoing crises? First, we vindicate the principle of legal ownership under the trusts established at common law and codified under the Dennis Canon. However, beyond that point of law, I would suggest the fullowing approach, which I as I suggested in November, 2007:
As to personnel and property, I think we should take a nuanced position:

1. Any clergy who does not apply to be released or transfer from the Episcopal Church should be deposed. Any clergy who applies, in proper form, for release or transfer should be granted it.

2. Any parish that seeks to leave as a unit should be denied such permission--people may leave, the parish remains. However, where there is such a supermajority of departing members and clergy, that the parish structure is temporarily not viable, the departing members and clergy should be encouraged to negotiate a lend-lease arrangement with the diocese such that services may continue during negotiations for both departing members and remaining members while negotiations go on over transition or sale of the property. (In other words, if the option is the historic church becomes a night club, sell it to the [departing members--I regret my original word choice of schismatics]--better them than the Limelight; use the proceds to build smaller churches for our continuing members).

3. Restrict litigation to those parishes where the remaining Episcopal membership is viable, or no such negotiations can be pursued due to the "reasserters" refusal to bargain in good faith. Offer mediation before suing.

4. Depose any bishops who purport to take a diocese out of TEC. Period. If they seek release or transfer, be gracious. Treat parishes within their bishoprics on a case-by-case basis--loyal parishoners must be protected, and supported. It is not sufficient to tell them to saddle their own horses. (Pace Bonnie Anderson). TEC must make sure that every loyal congregant is reached out to and provided with a place of worship.

5. If these steps (especially 4) require us to reduce our cooperative efforts internationally, that is regrettable, but we should do so. But we maintain our anti-poverty programs as a top priority; if we cut funding, cut Lambeth and other ecclesiastical subsidiaries first. We cut any support to church structure in provinces invading us. We send missionaries to such locations to sustain our brothers and sisters in such nations.

6. No more "fasting" from Anglican bodies' meetings. We show up, mindful of C.P. Snow's dictum, "Never be too proud to be present." We advocate for our members, and our brothers and sisters worldwide. If they expel us, so be it. We ally with Canada, Wales, anyone else who does not walk from us. But we do not sit passive while other provinces presume to sit in judgment of us.

7. Finally, we remain open--always!--to reconciliation.
One revision to point 2: I'd favor renting over sale, now, and shared space for both congregations whenever possible, to keep lines of communication open. Again, sometimes hostility would be too intense for this to be viable, but the goal is to remind ourselves and our critics that we are all followers of Jesus Christ, and to make room for the Holy Spirit to work.

[Edited and revised]

Monday, April 5, 2010

Palate Cleanser

There's still more horrors out of the Vatican today, but I need a break. Something wholesome. Like Nero:

What, you you were expecting someone else?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Well, Isn't That Special?

I have to admit the ability of the Catholic Church to feel put-upon is a constant source of incredulity to me. From Pope Benedict and the Vatican itself, to New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the refrain seems to be the same: Damned liberal media.

Seriously, who'd these guys get to craft their defense, the Coasters?

Let me address this one very simply: If you claim to be the one true faith, the one true church, and then spend half a century systematically covering up child sexual abuse, it's a story. Too bad. The gap between ideals and performance is always going to sell papers, and you don't get to complain, since you like telling people how to live and even how to vote. As the eminent philospher says, "the greater the power, the greater the responsibility."

More substantively, Abp. Dolan links the Vatican statement denying that "a relationship exists between the application of ‘Crimen sollicitationis’ and the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities in this case. In fact, there is no such relationship. Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither ‘Crimen’ nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities."

This is interesting, because when in 2005, the Guardian reported on then-Cardinal Ratzinger's 2001 letter continuing Crimen Sollicitacionis, the Vatican declined to comment, saying "'This is not a public document, so we would not talk about it." (You can see my earlier post on the matter here; note that I used the Guardian's spelling; I'm now employing Abp. Dolan's. And abbreviating it as "CS").

Anyway, the back-and-forth on the document's impact is perhaps somewhat unclear, but the skeptics of the Church's view seem to me have pretty good corroboration that it was understood as requiring silence on the part of the victim. First, Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland, who has acknowledged that when he was 36, he participated at an inquiry pursuant to CS at which "the boy and the girl [complainants] were required to sign affidavits swearing that they would not talk to anybody except priests given special permission by the tribunal hearings, known in church parlance as “ecclesiastical proceedings."

This reading of CS is further corroborated by the Dublin Report into the Irish Church's experience chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy. Murphy's Commission reported that the Vatican refused to provide any documents or testimony to the inquiry, so the Vatican deprived tself of a chance to elucidate the issue. However, after much study, it issued an exhaustive report. The Times of London (linked above, two back) summarized the Commission's findings regarding the church's policy as follows:

Ratzinger’s letter was relying on crimen sollicitationis, a set of procedural laws first issued in 1922 and updated in 1962. One of its requirements is that any person making a complaint of abuse against a priest is required to take an oath of secrecy.

Breach of the oath can be punished by excommunication. The document, exposed in a BBC Panorama documentary by clerical-abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman, deals with what it calls the “worst crime”, child sexual abuse. The main difference between the 1922 and 1962 versions is that the second one extended its remit to members of religious orders.

According to the Dublin report: “It appears that both documents were circulated only to bishops and under terms of secrecy. Each document stated that it was to be kept in the secret archive to which only the bishop had access. The commission has evidence that the 1922 document was known to senior figures in the archdiocese of Dublin, especially during the time of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, and that, in the words of one witness, it was a ‘well-thumbed’ document.”

The commission found that the document was used by McQuaid in the case of Fr Edmondus, who abused Marie Collins and other patients in Crumlin children’s hospital.

Regrettably, between the Vatican and the evidence falls the shadow.

At least the Coasters were amusing: