The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011, and Hello More of the Same!

One needn't be as cynical as Uncle Duke to write the above. Just to say that we'll continue on the prowl next year, and hope everyone who reads and runs has a wonderful, safe New Year's Eve, and a joyous 2012.

Now say goodbye to 2011 with me:

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thomas Becket and the Honor of God

Today marks the feast day of Thomas Becket, a figure I have found to be of interest for years. Enough so that his struggle with Henry II prompted a full length exploration of Becket's fight for clerical immunity from secular law, and its role in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis. (The link goes to the first draft of the article; the revised--and, in my opinion, much better--version will be published by the Journal of Law and Religion in 2012).

Becket's fight was in a cause that today we could call dubious at best--even in his own day, William, canon of Newburgh,declared that Becket and his supporters brought the crisis on themselves “since they were more intent on defending the liberties and rights of the clergy than on correcting and restraining their vices.” And, his vision of clerical supremacy could be stunningly arrogant, as displayed in a letter he wrote to Bishop Gilbert Foliot, in which Becket compares priests to “Gods,” and declares that Henry should follow the example of the Emperor Constantine, who, refusing to process indictments or bishops, “burned the documents in their presence, saying to them, ‘You are gods, appointed by the true God. Go, and decide your cases among yourselves, because it is not fitting that we men should judge gods.’” (See Anne Duggan, ed. & trans., 1 THE CORRESPONDENCE OF THOMAS BECKET, Letter 96 at 439, 441 (2000)).

And yet--there is something about Becket that captures the imagination. Courage he had, no doubt, and sincerity. After much thought about him, I'm left thinking that he applied medieval notions of kingly honor to the Honor of God (a recurrent phrase in his correspondence and answers to Henry's supporters), and as such could quite reasonably have believed that defending the land, prerogatives, possessions and dignity of the Church were all implicated in defending God’s honor. Any yielding on his part regarding any of these would be a sin, which would not be made right unless restitution and something more, to erase the perceived derogation of God’s honor, were done. Hence his penance after the Council of Clarendon and his dramatic resignation of the archbishopric into the hands of the Pope. Histrionic Becket may have been, but there is no reason to doubt that he held his views sincerely.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Swimming the Tiber in Reverse

Courtesy of the shortly before Christmas posting on the Lead, I became aware of this post from the Catholic Herald, asking "Why do Catholics Become Anglicans?", and hazarding several guesses:
Firstly, marriage, and in recent times, civil partnerships: Because the Anglican church will often bless unions the Catholic Church does not recognise, some people have gone to the vicar for weddings or services of blessing and then stayed with the vicar’s community.

Secondly, aesthetic reasons: I know of some who have decided that their pretty village church with its warm-hearted community is the place where they want to be. Many of these people, in my experience, have not been particularly religious. While they may consider themselves parishioners, they would but infrequently go to the Anglican Church.

Thirdly, church politics: usually when people have a blazing row with the parish priest over the positioning of the hymn board or some other cutting edge matter, they vamoose to another parish. Sometimes, though I have heard of only one case, they storm off “to join the other lot”, as they put it.

Fourthly, female ordination: some Catholic women have left the Church to join the Anglicans so that they can be ordained. Some lay people may have joined the Anglicans because they support female ordination.
In comments, it is suggested that those who cannot conform to the discipline of the Church--divorced persons, GLBT, etc., all leave rather than accept the harder parts of the Christian message propagated by the Catholic Church. I think it fair to say that the commenters (as is not unheard of on the internet) are less charitable than the original post. I also think it fair to say that the original post treats the reasons offered as somewhat trivial in nature. Notably, there is no suggestion that genuine theological difficulties with the positions held by the Church, and resulting loss of faith in its ecclesiology, could play a part.

As it did in my own case. I was raised a Roman Catholic, as I mentioned in my very first post on this blog, and the experience was nothing like the rather superficial disaffection based on essentially unimportant grounds postulated in the Catholic Herald post. Rather, my experience was one of discouragement from a faith the beauty of whose sacramental liturgy spoke to me, but whose insistence on the prerogative to unilaterally decree truth in all areas of life--in areas far afield from the tenets of the faith--made no sense to me, and yet throughout my lifetime has come to dominate the Catholic Church. So, for example, the Church has been induced in recent years to
stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as [Robert] George put it.
This is not true, of course, of all bishops or priests, or applicable to all issues--the bishops have rallied around the right to collective bargaining, for example, and the Church firmly opposes the death penalty. But these issues are not, just as George urges, as critical in remaining a Catholic in good standing as George's issues. Prominent Catholic such as Antonin Scalia publicly disavow the Church's official teaching on the death penalty without censure, while pro-choice politicians may be denied the Eucharist. Even on the pro-life ethic, there is a conservative slant. For a church which seeks to be, as its name denotes, universal, the increasingly strong rightward tilt politically is an obstacle.

As is the insistence on special exemptions from anti-discrimination for Catholic Charities, even where the bulk of its funding is provided by the State.

As is, of course, the Church's abysmal mishandling of its sexual abuse crisis.

These contemporary issues had their analogues in the mid 80s-early 90s as I became an increasingly disaffected Catholic, and learned to question the institutionalism of the hierarchy, and indeed its excessive claims to obedience. In those days, we saw the first wave of sex abuse cases be stonewalled, liberal theologians silenced, despite their eminent standing and good faith, and the promise of Vatican II wither. And yes, the devaluing of women in the name of tradition alone, and the casual cruelty I saw inflicted on gays and lesbians did feed my dissatisfaction--injustice does, even if one is not the target of the injustice! For me, being a dissentient Catholic trained my eye on the institution, and taught me to value openness, transparency, and a broader church--one which ddi not hold itself out to be the only true Church, but a part of the broader Church, the "Church Catholic" rather than the Catholic Church.

[Edited to remove word-processing errors resulting in word salad.]

In becoming an Episcopalian, I found I was free to embrace the many benefits of Catholic spirituality, and I remain grateful to the Roman Catholic Church for my upbringing, and so very much of my faith and spiritual practice. In being free from an ecclesiology that did not fit me, I was able to treasure the good gifts I had been given.

Our Father's house has many mansions. I moved next door.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"And We Know That All Things Work Together For Good"

Yesterday, my mother-in-law, Mabel, died. She had suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for years before I met her, and, when my fiancee (as she then was) and I stayed with my now-sister-in-law, I got to spend a little time with her. She was able to understand who I was in her daughter's life, to take pleasure in feeling that we had, after a fair number of vicissitudes, found our way to each other at last. Her death came after an unexpected sharp illness, and my wife and I had to get a flight the very same day. We bolted from New York, and found ourselves in North Carolina a few hours later.

In meeting with Mabel's friends and family, and hearing their stories about her, I felt that I finally got to, if only indirectly, know a woman I'd only glimpsed. I was asked to help her long-term caregiver, a very kind, loving woman, select a passage of scripture, and also to find a poem by Robert Frost, Mabel's favorite poet. Here's what I came up with.

The scripture verse was Romans 8: 24-28:
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
The last sentence is especially important to me, especially after I read Susan Howatch's novel Absolute Truths, in which, based on a sermon by Dean Alex Wedderspoon, she glossed the passage as:
suggest[ing] that the sentence "All things work together for good to them that love God" was slightly mistranslated, and that the translation should have been: "All things intermingle for good to them that love God." This would mean that the good and bad were intermingling to create a synergy--or, in other words: in the process of intermingling, the good and the bad formed something else. The bad didn't become less bad, and the dark didn't become less dark--one had to acknowledge this, acknowledge the reality of the suffering. But the light emanating .from a loving God created a pattern on the darkness, and in that pattern was the meaning, and in the meaning lay the energy which would generate the will to survive.
As to the Robert Frost, this is the one that spoke to me:
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Vogue la Galère, Mabel. Let your ship sail free.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Movement and the Moment

The Anglocat knows and has great affection for the good people at Trinity Wall Street. So it is with some perturbation that I see the hardening of lines between Trinity and the Occupy Wall Street movement:
The displaced occupiers had asked the church, one of the city’s largest landholders, to hand over a gravel lot, near Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas, for use as an alternate campsite and organizing hub. The church declined, calling the proposed encampment “wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious.”

And now the Occupy movement, after weeks of targeting big banks and large corporations, has chosen Trinity, one of the nation’s most prominent Episcopal parishes, as its latest antagonist.

“We need more; you have more,” one protester, Amin Husain, 36, told a Trinity official on Thursday, during an impromptu sidewalk exchange between clergy members and demonstrators. “We are coming to you for sanctuary.”

Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James H. Cooper, defended the church’s record of support for the protesters, including not only expressions of sympathy, but also meeting spaces, resting areas, pastoral services, electricity, bathrooms, even blankets and hot chocolate. But he said the church’s lot — called Duarte Square — was not an appropriate site for the protesters, noting that “there are no basic elements to sustain an encampment.”
Yesterday, the OWS folk jumped the fence, led by the Rt. Rev. George Packard, in full cassock:

Bishop Packard was arrested, along with approximately fifty other "occupiers". In the wake of these arrests, Rev. Jim Cooper, the Rector of Trinity, released a statement leaning rather heavily on the argumentum ad verecundiam (that's the "argument from authority" when it's at home):
We are saddened that OWS protestors chose to ignore yesterday’s messages from Archbishop Tutu, from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and from Bishop of New York Mark S. Sisk. Bishop Tutu said: “In a country where all people can vote and Trinity’s door to dialogue is open, it is not necessary to forcibly break into property.” The Presiding Bishop said: “Other facilities of Trinity continue to be open to support the Occupy movement, for which I give great thanks. It is regrettable that Occupy members feel it is necessary to provoke potential legal and police action by attempting to trespass on other parish property…I would urge all concerned to stand down and seek justice in ways that do not further alienate potential allies.” Bishop Sisk said: “The movement should not be used to justify breaking the law nor is it necessary to break into property for the movement to continue.”

OWS protestors call out for social and economic justice; Trinity has been supporting these goals for more than 300 years. The protestors say they want to improve housing and economic development; Trinity is actively engaged in such efforts in the poorest neighborhoods in New York City and indeed around the world. We do not, however, believe that erecting a tent city at Duarte Square enhances their mission or ours.
I find this argument less than compelling, in the context in which it has been deployed. First, one need not embrace OWS; but Trinity has chosen to do so. It's one thing to say of a movement, "we do not believe it serves the common good" and decline to support it, and quite another to justify a decision to refuse a request from a movement one has publicly embraced. Instead, Trinity grounds its decision in a rather--forgive me, but I can't think of another word--paternalistic statement that it knows best for OWS what would serve its mission. As to Trinity's mission, it is unclear why leasing, for a limited use (because of the prior lease) and on limited terms (to address safety and health issues), a vacant lot which Trinity owns would effect its mission in any negative way. Certainly if OWS declined reasonable terms, that would be grounds for Trinity to deny a lease; likewise if OWS overstayed, Trinity would have the moral high ground. Instead, well, as the comments at the Lead, a pretty mainstream Episcopal news blog show, Trinity's commitment to social justice (of which it rightly is proud) has been drawn into question, and a key question asked, by Jim Naughton (a well established blogger), "whether we can examine the notion that Trinity is an ally in attempting any real economic reform."

I think the question as posed is unduly harsh; but Jim makes a larger point--which is whether Trinity, and other Episcopal parishes, spend so much time focusing on ameliorating the harshest results of our system that they do not reckon with more fundamental challenges to it inherent in Christian ethics. In 1921, Charles Gore sardonically described the viewpoint of so many of his brethren that the laissez-faire system was divinely ordained:
It must have been expressed originally in sublime unconsciousness that the whole industrial system, then in its glory, had been built up on a basis of profound revolt against the central law of Christian morality, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ There are few things in history more astonishing than the silent acquiescence of the Christian world in the radical betrayal of its ethical foundation.
I think that Gore's words remain pertinent today, as demonstrated by the widespread valorization of the market, whether in the cognitive dissonance of professed Christians adopting the explicitly anti-Christian writings of Ayn Rand or the "insipid heresy" known as the prosperity gospel. The 2010 Trinity Institute, Building an Ethical Economy: Theology and the Marketplace, addressed some of these issues, but in an academic/intellectual way. OWS's request provided Trinity with an opportunity to seize the moment, and put itself into relationship with those speaking for the casualties of our system, a chance to put its ideas into action. The bishops are quite right that the decision was Trinity's to make, both legally and morally, but one can regret the chance not taken, and the opportunity foregone in the name of safety.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Laws and Customs

One thing that I've become interested in, very much for its own sake, but also because of its surprisingly strong modern legacy, is medieval law. In my forthcoming article, I'm writing about the effect of the struggle over clerical immunity from secular jurisdiction on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, but the research opened up whole new vistas of areas as to which I am stone ignorant, but which effect the law in secular society and the church alike. Meeting Henry II again, and Becket, led me to meet Glanville, and now Bracton. Bracton develops the story Glanville begins, and traces it further in time and breadth. I think the relationship between law and custom, in particular, is a particularly lively source of light and heat both; think of how Henry's effort to concretize custom into law, the Constitutions of Clarendon, became a flashpoint in the Becket dispute. By trying to resolve the ambiguities, Henry forced Becket to open conflict; by seeking to exploit them, Becket forced the king to demand clarity.

In all, an interesting study...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Not . . . the Mind Probe!

No, indeed. Instead, a few words about P.R.O.B.E., the mostly forgotten, straight-to-video, Doctor Who spinoff bringing back Caroline John as Liz Shaw, now investigating, er, damned odd occurrences in England, mostly involving actors who look suspiciously like various incarnations of the Doctor. The series was written by Mark Gatiss, who has written several episode of the Doctor Who revival, and is, to put it gently, of variable quality.

The idea of bringing back Liz Shaw is appealing, in part because her character was underused in the 1970 series--her aloof-but-almost-flirty rapport with Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, and her independence from the Doctor made her a character whose depths had only been suggested, but definitely warranted further development.

Instead, she got P.R.O.B.E., with its incomprehensible first story, with Sylvester McCoy gurning pitiably after a promising opening, Colin Baker reminding me of why I couldn't stand his era as the Doctor, and Jon Pertwee appearing in the thing, seemingly, only to justify a single joke at the end (admittedly, a satisfying moment, as his character and Liz enjoy a cuppa together). Hints about Liz (when did she start smoking a *pipe*? What is she, Mammy Yokum?), her boss (Oi, is that Leela--oh, she's gone!), and a quick, not unaffectionate, jibe at the Brig--all lost in the welter of lunacy that was the unfortunate first script.

Fortunately, the second story was much better--blessed with a coherent, creepy script, a strong performance by Caroline John, well supported by Louise Jameson (told you that was Leela!). John's scenes with Jameson as her beleaguered boss, locked in battle with an unsympathetic cabinet minister, played by John's husband, Geoffrey Beevers (another Doctor Who alum, so good as the Master in "The Deadly Assassin"), are well played, if a little odd in tone. (Romance or Thelma-and-Louse-style bonding? You decide!)

But the real heart of the story is Caroline John's performance and a bit of a tour de force by Peter Davison. Here's where the story, "The Devil of Winterborne," really shines. The quintessential British cop (Terry Molloy, better known as Davros) doesn't get a look in at the interview of Davison, a suspect for a series of murders as to which Liz suspects a more outré cause. It's Liz (of course) who gets the truth out of Davison's Headmaster Purcell, but how she does it is a credit to them both. She laughs, perfectly pleasantly--sincerely, even--at Purcell's witticisms and sarcasms; she is sympathetic, but she has a razor-sharp ear for when he lies or evades. And Davison matches John here--his retreat is absolutely credible, his feelings of guilt and remorse for his share in events is believable; he uses his Tristan Farnon persona to create a level of sympathy with his character that makes you root (a little!) for him.

The third story, "Unnatural Selection", is much weaker, but enlivened by a strong, cold, mad performance by Charles Kay, whom I well remember as the vicious martinet Alcock in To Serve Them All My Days. The ending breaks down, unfortunately, and lacks the coherence of its immediate predecessor. Still, at least Liz smokes her pipe this time, instead of merely toying with it.

As for the the final episode, "The Ghosts of Winterborne," it has some of the virtues of its predecessor, including Davison's Purcell in an effort at redemption, and the strong acting partnership between John and David--and John and Jameson, again--but feels a bit overcrowded and rushed.

While I can't really recommend the PROBE series, I'm not sorry to have run across them; it's nice to imagine Liz Shaw, 20 years on, still wry, still deploring the military mind, still solving mysteries.

Just--not these particular mysteries, on the whole.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Still Standing at Armageddon, Battling Dutifully Away

Just over four years ago (!), I chided then-aspiring CANA bishop, Martyn Minns, rather harshly for his false statement denouncing as "untrue" reports that the then-Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola was "an advocate of jailing gays,” in which he said that "Archbishop Akinola believes that all people—whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation—are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect." Archbishop Akinola had, in fact previously issued a statement supporting a proposed Nigerian law that would do exactly that, stating "[t]he Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality." This was important at the time, as Minns' parishes in Virginia were deciding whether to affiliate with Nigeria, rather than remain in the Episcopal Church, on the ground that it was insufficiently bigoted against gays, but the Nigerian law was further than the upscale parishes might have felt comfortable with. It's one thing not to consecrate openly gay bishops, quite another to criminalize homosexual relationships, speech in favor of gay rights, etc.

So why do I bring this up, four years later? Because Nigeria is in the process of passing a version of the draconian law, under which:
couples who marry could face up to 14 years each in prison. Witnesses or anyone who helps couples marry could be sentenced to 10 years behind bars. That’s an increase over the bill’s initial penalties, which lawmakers proposed during a debate Tuesday televised live from the National Assembly in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

Other additions to the bill include making it illegal to register gay clubs or organizations, as well as criminalizing the “public show of same-sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly.” Those who violate those laws would face 10-year imprisonment as well.
Needless to say, Archbishop Akinola now retired, "has enthusiastically endorsed Nigeria's anti-gay bill." I have not seen a straightforward endorsement of the bill by Akinola's successor, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, but, in September of this year, he was quoted as calling gays and lesbians “evil”, saying that God had created women as “helpmates” for men. “What is being known now as 'gay' and 'homosexuality' is contrary to God’s plan for human sexuality and procreation,” the Most Reverend Nicholas Okoh said. “It is against the will of God, and nobody should encourage it, and those who do will earn for themselves the damnation of the Almighty."

CANA members must be very, very proud of how their church is advancing the teaching of Jesus Christ in this Advent season.