The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, April 30, 2012

Anglocat in Print

So, if anyone is interested in some seriously well done exploration on Catholic social teaching in the context of the rights of labor, hie thee to the current issue of The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. Now, admittedly, I'm prejudiced, as my article “Not Charity But Justice”: Charles Gore, Workers, and the Way, which deals with parallel Anglican developments around the time of Rerum Novarum, appears as one of the articles, based on a presentation I gave at the conference recorded in this double issue. But, quite seriously, the bishops, theologians and lay presenters exemplified what to me was best in my Catholic upbringing. It was a trip back to a place no longer my home, but one which played a powerful role in forming who I am.

And, one last taste of Benjamin Britten, to end April with:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

For I Will Consider My Cat Gilesy

Every year at St. Barts we have Morning Prayer as the main service on three Sundays. When we do this in Eastertide, it's normally accompanied by Benjamin Britten's "Rejoice in the Lamb," as the anthems throughout the service. Needless to say, in our heavily catted home, the section in which the poet Christopher Smart considers his cat Jeoffry is a favorite:
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.

For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.

For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.

For this he performs in ten degrees.

For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.

For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.

For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore paws extended.

For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.

For fifthly he washes himself.

For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.

For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.

For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.

For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.

For Tenthly he goes in quest of food.

For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.

For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life

For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

For he is of the tribe of Tiger.

For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.

For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.

For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.

For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.

For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.

For every house is incompleat without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.

For every family had one cat at least in the bag.

For the English Cats are the best in Europe.

For he is the cleanest in the use of his fore-paws of any quadrupede.

For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.

For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.

For he is tenacious of his point.

For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.

For he knows that God is his Saviour.

For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.

For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually -- Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.

For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.

For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in compleat cat.

For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in musick.

For he is docile and can learn certain things.

For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.

For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.

For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.

For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.

For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.

For he can catch the cork and toss it again.

For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.

For the former is affraid of detection.

For the latter refuses the charge.

For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.

For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.

For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.

For he killed the Icneumon-rat very pernicious by land.

For his ears are so acute that they sting again.

For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.

For by stroaking of him I have found out electricity.

For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.

For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.

For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.

For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick.

For he can swim for life.

For he can creep.
Now, only some of this was put to music by Benjamin Britten, but here it is:

So, in the spirit of this, let me consider my cat Giles, who was, when I first met him, a feral on Long Island.

For he came into my home in a blizzard, bringing in three kittens;

And who is gentle to the weaker cats, protecting them against bullying;

and who is affectionate with me, trusting me to pet him despite never having been tamed;

and who the vet calls simply, the Gentle Cat.

Who is ten years old this year, and nine years in my house.

For which I rejoice.

Oh, and La Caterina noted when the soloist began "For the mouse is a creature of great personal valor," "they sure are if they come in our house."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why Not Just Download the Text?

So, on my way home from a wedding tonight, I walked passed some book dealers up by my old alma mater, and stopped in a bookshop I've visited from time to time over the years (Westsider books, to be precise. They have some very nice things, reasonable prices, and friendly staff. Drop in, if you're in the area.) Just as I was leaving, I spotted, in the "signed books" section, a copy of Robertson Davies's The Lyre of Orpheus. "Signed?," I thought, "pfui; I don't believe it." I picked it up, turned it over. Good shape, nice dust jacket. Someone highsmithed it already. Nice. I opened it. First American Trade Edition, it read on the copyright page. But--I have one. Oh, a little bit more worn, but still...So I turned the page. And, whaddaya know:

Now, I met Dr. Davies once, near the end of his life, on a reading tour for his last novel, The Cunning Man. I didn't get that book signed because I had a first Canadian, and Davies did not sign books at the reading; one bought copies afterward that he had already signed. When I got to shake his hand, he was affable, and kind, to a fan (his wife Brenda was even more gracious), and I immediately regretted not buying a signed copy at the reading. Years later, a replay was offered me.

Reader, I grabbed it. A subsequent review on Abeooks convinced me that I had done tolerably well as to price; not the lowest price for this book signed by RD in this condition, but well within the range, with a fair number going for more than I paid and a few below.

So why? La Caterina, who does not get fannish behavior at all, was not harsh, but in view of the fact that this is simply a better copy of a book I already had, it seemed, well, silly to her. No doubt it is. But books are to me much more then their contents. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the Kindle, the iPad, all the ways of getting a lot more to read and enjoy. But for the stuff I love, a connection with the author--seeing it the way he or she did when it came off the press, or owning, in the case of a great writer like Davies, a copy he's signed with his fountain pen, and the laboriously learned dramatic signature he acquired in mid life (seriously, Judith Skelton Grant's bio is a treasure trove), I want the "real thing." The one that doesn't need to recharge. That's tactile. That's, well, and here I make common cause with Rupert Giles, smelly:
Giles says the problem with computers is that that they don’t smell. He goes on to say how smell is a powerful trigger to memory. “Books smell musty, rich,” he says, “knowledge gained from the computer has no texture, no context.” He closes his arguments with, “the getting of knowledge should be tangible… smelly.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Little Night Music

Nothing to report today, but a good night for the Civil Wars:

And here's a song written and performed by a dear friend, a few years ago...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Follow Up: SNAP Deposition Round 2

In the absence of a written order, it's a little hard to know what to make of this story. On the one hand, the judge in the lawsuit against Fr. Joseph Tierney and the Diocese of Kansas City-St.Joseph has ordered a second deposition of David Clohessy, Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests ("SNAP"). As I wrote in my prior post discussing the first day of the deposition, not only did Catholic League President William Donoghue misstate the testimony and its legal import in his eagerness to brand Clohessy a "con man," but many of the questions did not go to relevant issues in the litigation, and seemed to me to be more aimed at discrediting SNAP than at eliciting evidence for the case against Tierney and the Diocese, and suggested to me that the deposition was abused to harass SNAP.

On the other hand, the judge has said that she intends to "limit the original document request to several broad categories related to sexual misconduct by priests in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese," focusing on the question of repressed memory, specifically regarding the plaintiff's claim that he had repressed his memories of the abuse, and was therefore, under Missouri law, entitled to a tolling--a partial judicial waiver--off the statute of limitations. s the judge is quoted as saying, "I believe they [lawyers for Tierney and the diocese] are entitled to have information on repressed memory." In another article, from the Kansas City Star, the judge is quoted as saying "that she planned to order another deposition for Clohessy and possibly have a retired judge sit in to rule on disputes over whether documents or answers could be properly disclosed and answered."

(Let me point out that My Best Critic has subsequently pointed out in an off-the-record conversation that I did not mention in my prior post the issue which had led to the deposition being ordered over SNAP's objection, whether SNAP had evidence Well pointed out, old friend, and I should have. It wasn't directly on point with respect to my analysis, but did leave a hole as to the question--which I should have assessed--as to whether any of the deposition went to legitimate issues in the litigation.)

So here's the problem, for me: On the one hand, I can see how, if SNAP has evidence that the plaintiff in this case, and the related other cases against Tierney, did not repress their memories, and therefore did not qualify for a toll of the statute of limitations, that would be germane. But at Clohessy's first deposition, as I have already pointed out, neither Tierney's nor the Diocese's counsel even asked about any communications SNAP, Clohessy or SNAP's President, Barbara Blaine had with the plaintiff; only Clohessy's counsel asked this question. As the Kansas City Star article suggests, defense counsel is arguing that “SNAP, through Mr. Clohessy, could be routinely advising plaintiff and others to claim repressed memory to evade the statute of limitations. Defendants are entitled to discovery on that issue.” (At the first deposition, Clohessy denied that it does, saying "we provide no instructions to anybody about repressed memory.") But, since SNAP isn't a party to this action, isn't that only true if it has so advised the plaintiff(s)? And since Clohessy wasn't even asked questions to elicit that information, how is the broader question, and old records concerning non-plaintiff complainants from within the Diocese to SNAP proper discovery?

The judge may just be trying to make sure that all legitimate evidence is gathered, but counsel for the defense seems to me to be using the coercive process of discovery to harass a non-party and to dissuade victims from seeking its assistance. The court is, it seems to me, obligated to protect SNAP and its clientele against that abuse of the process.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Some good news for a change:
Truro Anglican Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia announced today a settlement that concludes five years of litigation that arose after Truro Anglican and other parishes left the Episcopal Church in 2006 to become part of what is now the Anglican Church in North America.

The settlement follows a January ruling in which the Circuit Court of Fairfax County held that all real and personal property held by the parishes at the time they left the denomination belongs to the Diocese.

Under terms of the settlement, the Diocese has given Truro Anglican a rent-free lease of the church buildings at 10520 Main Street in Fairfax, as well as two rectories, until June 30, 2013. Truro Anglican will deed the properties to the Diocese by April 30, 2012, and will pay the operating costs of the properties during the term of the lease. In addition, the Diocese has the option to use a small portion of the church building during the lease, as determined between the Rev. Tory Baucum, rector of Truro Anglican, and the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of the Diocese of Virginia.

Additionally, Truro Anglican has agreed to pay $50,000 to resolve diocesan claims for liquid assets due under the court's order. The parties had already agreed on division of the tangible personal property held by Truro Anglican.

In several previous settlements, Anglican parishes that leased Episcopal property agreed to sever ties with all Anglican bodies during the term of the lease. Under today's settlement, however, the parties have agreed that Truro Anglican will maintain its affiliation with the Anglican Church of North America and its Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic. Because the Diocese and Truro Anglican are part of different ecclesiastical bodies who share the Anglican tradition, they have agreed to follow a process during the term of the lease by which bishops may visit Truro Anglican with the permission of Bishop Johnston.

An important feature of this settlement is that both sides have agreed to enter into a covenant of mutual charity and respect. This document will frame the way the Diocese and Truro Anglican will deal with one another and speak of one another. The covenant is being drafted by the Rev. Baucum and Bishop Johnston.
Noting the length of the litigation, the parties looked to go beyond victory into witness; as the press release concludes, each of the leaders affirmed their commitment to the spiritual dimension of the resolution; Rev. Baucum stated that "Bishop Johnston and I have become friends...[i]n spite of our significant theological differences, we care for and are committed to each other as brothers in Christ." Bishop Johnson confirmed that "Tory and I believe that this is an opening for a transformative witness to many across the worldwide Anglican Communion."

I am delighted to see this kind of irenic conclusion to this internecine dispute. This is exactly the approach I have hoped to see since 2007, and even includes the relationship-building aspects I've come to realize was needed to make such resolutions meaningful. Bishop Johnston and Rev. Baucum are modeling a Christian spirit in the wake of painful conflict.

To steal a line from Andrew Sullivan, "Know hope."

(h/t The Lead)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On a personal note...

Let me just say that this era of my life, in which I have married La Caterina (or she married me, depending on who's got the microphone) is the one I treasure most. Since it's a day fro gratitude, that heads my gratitude list.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Touch of Crass

Ah, here we go again. Cardinal Dolan approvingly links the analysis of William Donohue of the deposition of David Clohessy, Director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests ("SNAP") (Donohue and Dolan, by quotation, mistakenly call him the President; according to SNAP, Barbara Blaine, the organization's founder, holds that position.) Clohessy was deposed in a case where neither he nor SNAP is a party. Dolan quotes Donohue's "report" to the effect that:
Clohessy proved to be uncooperative, refusing to comply with a request for internal documents; he only released a small portion of them. On the stand, he was similarly recalcitrant, refusing to answer many questions. He took refuge in a Missouri law which protects the confidentiality of rape crisis centers. But there are serious reasons to doubt whether SNAP meets the test of a rape crisis center.

Clohessy was asked point blank, “Did you identify yourself as a rape crisis center?” His reply, “I don’t know.” [p. 87.] At another point, he admitted, “I don’t know under the Missouri statutes exactly what constitutes a rape crisis center.” [p. 112.] The lawyers for an accused priest were not impressed. From their questions, and from subsequent statements they’ve made, it is clear that they do not believe that SNAP qualifies as a rape crisis center. They have plenty of reasons for reaching this conclusion.
Well, perhaps. However, as SNAP pointed out in its opposition to further discovery no such qualifications are required under the applicable Missouri statute to fall within the broad definition of a "rape crisis center," which is defined as "any public or private agency that offers assistance to victims of sexual assault, as that term is defined in [citations]." Far from contesting this, the defendant's lawyer's argued prior to the deposition not that SNAP does not meet the definition of a rape crisis center under the statute, but that SNAP's advocacy role on behalf of victim's who chose to sue breached the confidentiality required of a rape crisis center. (This argument does not cite statutory or judicial support that such an advocacy role in cases where the client seeks SNAP's public participation constitutes a breach of confidentiality, and I must say the point is somewhat counter-intuitive.) Donohue (and Dolan) provide a link to the deposition. In any event, all this testimony seems geared not to obtain information for the case against Fr. Tierney, but to make SNAP look amateurish, and vaguely unsavory.

It might be fair game to challenge SNAP's entitlement to the confidentiality protection afforded rape counseling centers under Missouri law, if SNAP had any communications with the plaintiff in the lawsuit in which the deposition was taken. However, as SNAP has also asserted in its opposition to further discovery, Clohessy testified unequivocally that he had no such communications with the plaintiff, nor, to his knowledge, did anybody else at SNAP. (SNAP President Barbara Blaine filed an affidavit with the court confirming Cloehessy's testimony.) Rather,it was Clohessy's own lawyer that even bothered to inquire whether he or SNAP had any communication with the plaintiff in the case. (Dep. at 210-211)

Most of the remainder of the defendant's questions seek to paint SNAP as a gadfly (e.g., Dep. at 69-78, discussing SNAP's publicizing of lawsuits against priests); and inquiring into the finances and personnel of SNAP, the relevance of which seems remote, as SNAP is not a party to the lawsuit (Dep. 80-91). Counsel for the Diocese asked similar questions. The Diocese fared even further afield, even sought to elicit Clohessy's opinion on the USCCB's Dallas Charter for the protection of young people, and even asking if SNAP "has ever commended the USCCB for taking even a single positive step." (Dep. 172-177; 177-179) (SNAP had, as Clohessy answered, briskly ticking off several examples. (Dep. at 179-181))

Donohue's analysis, in a passage not quoted by Dolan, asks if Clohessy " he lie about priests he knew to be innocent, or at least thought may have been innocent?" Donohue bases these contentions on Clohessy's admission that SNAP has "ever issued a press release that contained false information," an answer which in context reflects not a "lie" as Donohue claims, but an admission, as Clohessy clarified, that "[w]e have certainly issued press releases about credibly accused child predators whom church officials have later claimed were unsubstantiated or unfounded." (Dep. at pp 39-40-; see p. 38) He's admitting that not every case which is credible at inception is established, not that he or SNAP have set out to mislead the public. Donohue then concludes:"So is David Clohessy a sincere man driven by the pursuit of justice? Or is he a con artist driven by revenge? It may very well be that the former description aptly explains how he started, while the latter describes what he has become."

That this deposition was meant to be harrassive is clear from the course of questions asked, in which Clohessy was treated as if he was a party, not a third party witness, and in which the questions ranged far beyond those relevant to the case--an abuse of the legal rule that relevance objections are not properly interposed at deposition. But to probe Clohessy's opinions on issues that had no relation to basis for his subpoena, is indicative of bad faith, as is Donohue's distorted presentation. As to Donohue's conclusion, one might well ask the same question of him that he poses about Clohessy. SNAP tries to bind up the wounds caused by abusive priests; no doubt it makes mistakes. Donohue sides with the abusers, and distorts the words of those who do not.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Night to Remember

100 years after she foundered, we're still talking about the Titanic. The end of the Edwardian Autumn, and the overture to the cyclone of change called the Twentieth Century.

Seen only again decades later.

God rest their souls, and the world that was lost--a less fair and free world, yet one with an optimism and confidence we have lost.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Suppressio Veri, Suggestio Falsi...

According to that great savant and philosopher General Sir Harry Flashman, "remember that silence frequently passes for shrewdness, and that while suppressio veri is a damned good servant, suggestio falsi is a perilous master.”

Alas, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (the "USCCB") has not heeded General Flashman's wisdom. Instead, it has issued a "Call to Action" in which it contends that religious liberty, the "first freedom," is under threat "at home and abroad." Specifically, the statement claims, citing Supreme Court precedent and invoking the Framers of the Constitution, that the Obama Administration (and, to a lesser extent, several states) are violating the First Amendment rights of Catholics and other religious entities regarding moral issues, especially regarding the requirement in regulations promulgated under the Affordable Care Act that insurance provided by employers or educational institutions provide contraception coverage.

While the bishops address several other issues, they recur again and again through the statement to the contraception regulation, raising it as their chosen paradigm no fewer than four times; the other domestic issues are mentioned briefly once each. Those issues include three other claims to exemption from generally applicable laws (state laws against "harboring" illegal immigrants--a claim which I can certainly sympathize with the bishops position, but nonetheless a generally applicable law not targeting religion--and Catholic service providers desiring exemptions from terms and conditions of contracts inconsistent with the Church's practices), and three murkier legal issues, the ability of local congregations to use school facilities as houses of worship outside of school hours (the subject of this decision and ongoing litigation), a 2009 Connecticut bill which was tabled after its patent unconstitutionality was clear, and the fact that "the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage."

The bishops explicitly ground their claim as a violation of the Constitution: "What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected. We ask nothing less than that the Constitution and laws of the United States, which recognize that right, be respected.”

And herein lies the problem.

The bishops claim not only that religiously-affiliated entities are entitled to accommodations, they claim that the law cannot require any religious person to violate the tenets of his or her faith:
It is essential to understand the distinction between conscientious objection and an unjust law. Conscientious objection permits some relief to those who object to a just law for reasons of conscience—conscription being the most well-known example. An unjust law is "no law at all." It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal.

The Christian church does not ask for special treatment, simply the rights of religious freedom for all citizens.
Now, I'll just let that well-known anti-Catholic Antonin Scalia address this claim:
We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs [p879] excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition. . . "Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities."
Justice Scalia went on to quote Reynolds v. United States (1879), which posed and answered the question, "Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

Scalia then went on to cite a barrage of instances in which religious objections to child labor laws (the mother wanted her children to distribute religious literature, one hastens to add), Sunday closing laws, forcible conscription, and Social Security and related benefit programs were found to be constitutionally applied to religious believers whose faiths did not permit their compliance with those laws. The Court purposefully limited a few cases in which conscience exemptions had been recognized to cases presenting a "hybrid situation" involving "not the Free Exercise Clause alone, but the Free Exercise Clause in conjunction with other constitutional protections, such as freedom of speech and of the press, or the right of parents. . . to direct the education of their children." (Citations omitted) In closing, it reiterated that "Respondents urge us to hold, quite simply, that when otherwise prohibitable conduct is accompanied by religious convictions, not only the convictions but the conduct itself must be free from governmental regulation. We have never held that, and decline to do so now." The Court then went on to deny that the Constitution required that a "compelling state interest" be required to sustain any generally applicable statute which would substantially impact or burden religious exercise.

With that in mind, let's look at some of the paradigm cases. As linked above, the denial of church usage of school facilities has been upheld as constitutional by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and the litigation is ongoing, as the District Judge is far more sympathetic to the plaintiffs than the Second Circuit has been to date. The bishops acknowledged that the federal district court found their provision of services to trafficking victims involved unconstitutional limitations on services to accommodate the USCCB's moral beliefs; some argument as to why that decision is in error is necessary to establish that the converse is necessarily so. More significantly, the Supreme Court has found that Hastings College of the Law's antidsicrimination policy which resulted in denial of Registered Student Organization status to the Christian group did not violate the Free Exercise Clause. These facts are pretty relevant to the discussion, and the bishops omit them, while claiming the entities involved have violated the First Amendment. Even more significantly, in the case of the contraception requirement for insurance, the fact that Catholic Charities has been rebuffed by Supreme Court of California and the New York Court of Appeals (the Supreme Courtdenied review of the New York decision). Again, when you're claiming these instances as clear violations of the Constitution, omissions repeated failures to convince the courts of that claim are pretty damning to one's credibility.

But most important, the bishops do not, at any point, address Smith or any of the decisions relied upon by it. Instead, they cite Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, which held that the right of a church to select its own ministers bars an employment discrimination suit brought on behalf of a minister, challenging her church’s decision to fire her. The ministerial exemption, as it has been known since the Nineteenth Century , is not, the Court found, inconsistent with Smith, because it is limited to pastoral employees, to ensure that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone. The bishops do not analyze the scope of the ministerial exception reaffirmed in this case; they merely quote Chief Justice Roberts's paean to religious freedom.

So, what we have here is a claim that the Administration is violating the First Amendment that is unsupported by the jurisprudence of the First Amendment, whether in the Nineteenth, Twentieth, or Twenety-first Centuries. The spurious citation of Hosanna-Tabor and the repeated claims that the bishops are defending constitutional, non-partisan freedoms that are imperiled, take this approach beyond suppressio veri--omission of facts damaging to the argument they wish to make--and bring it to the level of suggestio falsi.

(Oh, and using the feast day of Thomas More to kickoff "a Fortnight for Freedom"? Assumes facts not in evidence, frankly.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Century Ago...

...RMS Titanic began her maiden, and final voyage.

The story has fascinated me from my childhood, when I read Walter Lord's A Night to Remember. Antiquated now as a work of scholarship, Lord's book managed to convey the mythic aspect of the disaster. I remember poring over the book, and the blueprints of the vessel my father got for me.

The real end of the Edwardian Age, the forerunner for World War I, its sinking has been called.

When the legend and the history conflict, Hollywood advises, print the legend.

And so Hollywood has:

But even a century on, the lost deserve remembrance in truth, not legend.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Anglocat in the Pulpit

Every year at St. Bart's we mark Good Friday with "the Three Hours: Seven Last Words of Christ, which consists of "Meditations from the pulpit, Readings, Music and Silence, in seven 25 minute sections," and is graced by the magnificent music of the St. Bartholomew's Choir, led by Bill Trafka. The service is one of the most beautiful, but most difficult, of the year--I always find myself powerfully affected by it.

This year, to my surprise, I was invited to provide one of the seven meditations, in the form of a sermon. Our priest-in-charge Buddy Stallings (who performed La Caterina's and my wedding) allowed me every freedom to go where I chose with the text, which was "I thirst," (Jn. 19-28-29). (Buddy's own mediation was a powerful reflection on the text, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," on how these last words can be at the core of a daily lived faith which can invest life with meaning; I'm very far from doing it justice--go and see for yourself.)

St. Barts will have the text of all of the meditations, and audio of the service on its website, and I highly recommend it--the other six mediations from St. Bart' clergy and laity really deserve attention, and the music at St. Barts is justly famous. Here is the audio of the seven meditations. But, because this is my first foray into the genre, here is the text of my meditation:


“I Thirst”

(John 19:28-29)

“I thirst.”

So says Jesus from the Cross in St. John’s Gospel. It’s a rare moment of vulnerability for Jesus in this Gospel, which stresses Jesus’s union with the Father, his unflappable serenity throughout his ministry, even throughout the Passion narrative. But here, as when he weeps at Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus’s humanity is on display. Literally laid bare for all the world to see.

“I thirst.”

Such a simple, basic need in ordinary times—like when in the same Gospel, Jesus asks the Samaritan Woman for a drink from Jacob’s well. But this isn’t any ordinary time. Of the Seven Last Words of Jesus, this is the only one that refers to the physical pain that Jesus has endured for hours. [1] The end isn’t nigh; it has arrived. Thirst in those last moments takes on an outsize power—I remember being at the bedside of my grandfather in his last illness, the last time I saw him, asking for relief with a simple need that wrung my heart. A dignified man, much loved, but with dignity thrust to the side.

Now, at the end of things, Jesus is dying, there is nothing left to do, and at last that iron self-control breaks. He asks for relief from his executioners. Surprisingly, they give it; “a diluted, vinegary wine drunk by soldiers and laborers,” called posca, offered by some of the soldiers guarding the dying criminals in a moment of kindness. [2] And, almost equally surprisingly, Jesus accepts it, just before the very end.

At first, it might seem that this last thirst, this moment of human need, has nothing to say to us. A fleeting moment of weakness of the flesh on Jesus’s part; a momentary, essentially trivial act of mercy on the part of some unknown soldier or soldiers. But maybe not. These were no doubt hard men living a hard life, in which cruelty was routine; yet something in Jesus touched them; can an act of mercy ever truly be wasted?

And Jesus has now answered his own question, “Am I not to drink of the cup the Father has given me?” [3] He does it, in faith, even though in his case the cup is one of suffering and death. This man who spoke of the blessing of “thirsting for righteousness,” now, in his last moments, “thirsts to drink that cup to the last drop, for only when he has tasted the bitter wine of death will his Father’s will be fulfilled.”[4] He has been faithful to the end.

And us? What is the righteousness we should thirst for? Isn’t Jesus walking, as we all are called to walk, the same threefold path as described by Micah—that we should do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God? We all have opportunities throughout life to show compassion, to strive for justice. But those opportunities can be isolated glimmers of light in the dark, like the gift of wine the soldiers gave Jesus, or they can form a pattern in life, around which we form our very selves. They can be haphazard, or integral to our efforts to and live the authentic life, the abundant life, to which God is calling us.

Micah’s third test of righteousness—walking with God—that’s where abundant living has shown itself in my own path. When I have actually focused on discerning the life that God calls each of us to, the unique path each of is called to travel, I have been most myself, alive, and vital. It’s an ongoing task, with many hardships, puzzles and joys along the way. There have been false starts, mistakes, and misjudgments, and I’m not alone there. Loss and even tragedy will still meet us all. But they, an dour own failings, take on a new significance in the context of a whole life, one in which our walk with God can be the focus around which all our acts of mercy, our efforts on behalf of justice are gathered. They look as different then as Good Friday does from the perspective of Easter—as we continue our journey out of darkness and into light.

God is here, and Christ is now.

I thirst, Jesus said. May we all.


[1] William Temple, Studies in St. John’s Gospel, First and Second Series (1945) at 368.
[2] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XX1 (1970) at 909 (Anch. Bib. Vol. 29A); William Temple, Studies, op. cit.
[3] Jn. 18: 11.
[4] Brown, The Gospel According to John, at 930.

Edited to add link to the audio at St. Bart's website.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Prelude to Good Friday

Since John Donne's feast day was celebrated just before Palm Sunday this year, I read a few selections to lead me into Holy Week.

Tomorrow, I wil be at St. Bartholomew's Church, participating in the Liturgy of the Hours. Before going into that solemn space, here is a taste of John Donne's Holy Sonnets as arranged by Benjamin Britten, and performed at the Duke Divinity School.

Performance: The Holy Sonnets of John Donne by Benjamin Britten from Duke Divinity School on Vimeo.

I'll post after the Liturgy of the Hours a short mediation on Good Friday. After that, radio silence until Easter.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Holy Week Musing

This post by Andrew Sullivan addresses a point I have been thinking about a lot, lately: Jesus had to know that nobody could live up to his ethical standards--nobody. Yet he came that we should have life, and have it abundantly. How to reconcile the two? Perhaps because the point of the impossibly high ethical standards is to strip away our belief that we are empowered to judge others, and have the right to condemn. I think of it as an enforcement mechanism of sayings such as "judge not, that ye be not judged," and even Jesus himself refusing to be called "good," saying "no one is good, except God alone." (Mk. 10:18-19).

And combined with that humility--or self knowledge--is always the urging toward forgiveness of all who we believe (rightly or wrongly) have sinned against us, as we are in deep need of forgiveness ourselves. In other words, Jesus is trying to get us to see ourselves as the deeply flawed people we are not to make us wallow in guilt, but to get us to give our brothers and sisters a break. We aren't to hate ourselves, but we have no right to hate others, either.

And, of course, we have to work on living a better life. Progress, not perfection.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fox's Friends on the Court

Today, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals gave a punishment assignment to Department of Justice attorney Dana Lydia Kaersvang:
The panel ordered the Justice Department to submit a three-page, single-spaced letter by noon Thursday addressing whether the Executive Branch believes courts have such power, the lawyer said.

The panel is hearing a separate challenge to the health care law by physician-owned hospitals. The issue arose when a lawyer for the Justice Department began arguing before the judges. Appeals Court Judge Jerry Smith immediately interrupted, asking if DOJ agreed that the judiciary could strike down an unconstitutional law.

The DOJ lawyer, Dana Lydia Kaersvang, answered yes -- and mentioned Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case that firmly established the principle of judicial review more than 200 years ago, according to the lawyer in the courtroom.

Smith then became "very stern," the source said, suggesting it wasn't clear whether the president believes such a right exists. The other two judges on the panel, Emilio Garza and Leslie Southwick--both Republican appointees--remained silent, the source said.

Smith, a Reagan appointee, went on to say that comments from the president and others in the Executive Branch indicate they believe judges don't have the power to review laws and strike those that are unconstitutional, specifically referencing Mr. Obama's comments yesterday about judges being an "unelected group of people."
Sorry about the long quote, but this is a brazen abuse of judicial authority. Let me explain why.

First, the President did not suggest that he would defy the Supreme Court, let alone the Fifth Circuit. The President was asked "[a]fter last week’s arguments at the Supreme Court, many experts believe that there could be a majority, a five-member majority, to strike down the individual mandate. And if that were to happen, if it were to be ruled unconstitutional, how would you still guarantee health care to the uninsured and those Americans who've become insured as a result of the law?" He replied:
With respect to health care, I’m actually -- continue to be confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law. And the reason is because, in accordance with precedent out there, it’s constitutional. That's not just my opinion, by the way; that's the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices that said this wasn’t even a close case.

I think it’s important -- because I watched some of the commentary last week -- to remind people that this is not an abstract argument. People’s lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the inaffordability of health care, their inability to get health care because of preexisting conditions.

The law that's already in place has already given 2.5 million young people health care that wouldn’t otherwise have it. There are tens of thousands of adults with preexisting conditions who have health care right now because of this law. Parents don't have to worry about their children not being able to get health care because they can't be prevented from getting health care as a consequence of a preexisting condition. That's part of this law.

Millions of seniors are paying less for prescription drugs because of this law. Americans all across the country have greater rights and protections with respect to their insurance companies and are getting preventive care because of this law.

So that’s just the part that's already been implemented. That doesn’t even speak to the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage once it’s fully implemented in 2014.

And I think it’s important, and I think the American people understand, and the I think the justices should understand, that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get health care. So there’s not only a economic element to this, and a legal element to this, but there’s a human element to this. And I hope that’s not forgotten in this political debate.

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint -- that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step.
In other words, the President firmly asserted his belief that the statute was constitutional, an that the Supreme Court would not engage in the very judicial activism conservatives have long condemned. There is nothing in this statement to suggest that the President would defy a Supreme Court decision, or that the Court lacked power to strike down unconstitutional statutes; he just contended that as to the ACA, that power would not be used, because the statute was constitutional, and he trusted the conservative members of the Supreme Court to live up to their own ethos. So, the Fifth Circuit panel's acting as if Obama was denouncing judicial review is simply false.

More to the point, even if President Obama was denouncing judicial review by the Supreme Court, what does that have to do with the Fifth Circuit's review of the district court opinion? It's what appellate lawyers call de hors the record, that is, outside of the record as a matter of fact and as a matter of law. The time to worry about a party's defiance of a judicial edict is when they, y'know, disobey it. This is especially true where, as here, the speech at issue didn't involve the case before the Fifth Circuit, but one before the Supreme Court. If any irregularity could be found in the President's statement, it is for the Supreme Court to address; they're pretty good at protecting their jurisdiction.

Third, the DOJ lawyer unequivocally answered the question with an unequivocal statement that "Marbury v. Madison is the law", and then went on to try to argue her case. Judge Smith then demanded the three page essay:
a letter stating what is the position of the attorney general and the Department of Justice, in regard to the recent statements by the president, stating specifically and in detail in reference to those statements what the authority is of the federal courts in this regard in terms of judicial review. That letter needs to be at least three pages single spaced, no less, and it needs to be specific. It needs to make specific reference to the president’s statements and again to the position of the attorney general and the Department of Justice.
OK, so why is the advocate's formal representation in court insufficient? Why does it need to be "at least three pages, single spaced, no less?"

Simple; to humiliate the President, and to create a document that the President's political adversaries can use to cherry-pick for "cave in" quotes. It's fodder for Fox News, no less, and done from the bench to disempower a sitting President, our first African-American one. And it is unprecedented; Ronald Reagan used the State of the Union address to denounce Roe v. Wade and Court rulings on school prayer; nobody suggested that he was defying the Court's authority to issue the orders, and haled him in front of a court to submit a punishment essay.

And this panel? all appointed by Republicans. Acting, here, as Republicans, not as judges.

The rule of law took a serious blow today. Our federal courts are less credible than they were yesterday.