The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Moment's Peace

After a frenetic week of work, and diaconal activity, lightened by good news in the world of writing (an article of mine accepted by The Anglican Theological Review, continued progress on the third draft of Phineas at Bay), a break from the snow, hearing this piece at St Barts informal service (not reproduced above, but what would you?) was a needed oasis.

The text:
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.
A new week begins. Let be what has past; embrace what is to be.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Impossible Dream: A Sermon on Matt. 5:48 (For Sunday, February 23, 2014)

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

When I was a boy, the song “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha moved me. It seemed to carry a nobility of purpose, a call to something higher than ordinary getting by. Don Quixote may be ridiculous, but he attains a certain grandeur as he assures us that
The World will be better for this/
That one man, scorned and covered with scars/
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage/
To reach the unreachable stars.
Beautiful, right? However, if you think about it, things don't work out too well for Don Quixote. His reach exceeds his grasp. He fails at his quest. The thing can’t be done in a fallen world.

We all know that the Gospels have what are widely called “hard sayings” in them, and today’s gospel gathers several of the hardest together.

Seriously, who can live up to these standards?

*Turn the other cheek?

*Give your cloak when someone tries to steal your coat?

*Give to every beggar on the streets?

And, most of all, love your enemies? Oh, and if that’s not enough, be perfect, as our heavenly father is perfect.

Is this just another version of the impossible dream?

Later in the same Gospel, Jesus is asked by the rich young man—a young man who keeps the commandments, and loves his neighbor as himself—what he is lacking. Jesus’s answer is telling: “If you would be perfect, go and sell all that you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.

The young man doesn’t, of course. He slinks off, sadly, not able to rise to the call. The Impossible Dream is too much for him to bear.

So what are we to do with this teaching? The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says we should think of it not as the only legitimate rule for Christians in conflict situations, but as the “summit”; the earlier stages of biblical ethics “represent a permanent resource for believers when appropriate,” and that “it depends on the moral level of the opponent “which level of biblical ethics should be employed. These hard teachings represent “the summit” of ethics, and are reserved only for the most worthy adversaries. [1] Since earlier biblical ethics include smashing the heads of babies against the rocks, the New Jerome is right to conclude that under its interpretation, the believer has a pretty wide “range of options.”

But that’s pretty slick, isn’t it? And basically waters down Jesus’s teachings into the very “return the favor” ethics he explicitly rejects. If all he is saying is do good to those who deserve it—well, what’s so special about that?

An unbeliever, George Bernard Shaw, took it to the other extreme. He thought that in these teachings you could find a blueprint for a functioning just political order. As Shaw sees Jesus,
He lays no stress on baptism or vows, and preaches conduct incessantly. He advocates communism, the widening of the private family with its cramping ties into the great family of mankind under the fatherhood of God, the abandonment of revenge and punishment, the counteracting of evil by good instead of by a hostile evil, and an organic conception of society in which you are not an independent individual but a member of society, your neighbor being another member, and each of you members one of another, as two fingers on a hand, the obvious conclusion being that unless you love your neighbor as yourself and he reciprocates you will both be the worse for it. [2]
For Shaw, it’s an impossible dream if we leave it on an individual-by-individual basis. We can only succeed in realizing Jesus’s vision of a good society if we do it en masse, and with government redistributing income —which is to say, not at all, in America in 2014.

Is there no better way to come to terms with this difficult gospel?

Maybe. Maybe if we start by asking the question the other way around. Instead of trying to domesticate this gospel, and make it easier, let’s try admitting that it’s uncomfortable. In fact, it’s impossible. We can’t be perfect. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, we are told, in the same sentence as asking for our daily bread, to ask for forgiveness of our sins—immediately coupled with a promise in return that we will forgive others their sins against us. So what does that tell us?

That Jesus knows that we will need forgiveness daily; that we won’t measure up. But that we can believe that our mistakes, our errors, our moments of selfishness, of cruelty even—we will be forgiven, seventy times seven times. But that we have to do our part, and forgive those who hurt us.

And maybe, just maybe, Jesus is setting so very high a standard that we cannot meet it not to frustrate us, not to make us feel like spiritual failures, but to keep us right-sized. To remind us that we need God’s forgiveness, even though we are doing our very best to live up to Christ’s call to us.

If we can hold that in mind, then that makes forgiveness of others easier; I can concentrate on the beam in my own eye, and not the mote in my brothers, or sister’s.

Jesus reminds us of what true goodness is—perfection, like that of the Father. But then, when the rich young man approaches him, he addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.” Jesus brings him up short: “Why do you call me good? There is no one who is good but God.” Jesus will not claim for himself the perfection he urges us to strive for. There is a lesson for us here, isn’t there?

When the rich young man leaves sorrowing at the thought of losing his possessions, the disciples, stunned at the notion that the Kingdom may be inaccessible to the wealthy, the privileged, exclaim: Then who can be saved? Jesus answers, “With men, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Like Jesus, maybe we should not worry about being called good, and focus instead on doing the good works we are called to do. And not presume to think that those works make us good, since only God is good.

And maybe that is our answer. To do our part. Answer the call. Not be afraid of looking a little ridiculous. And to acknowledge that, in our own small way, we are trying to contribute to a dream that is not impossible, whatever Shaw or Cervantes might think, because we are not the dreamer—God is, and what is not possible for us alone is possible for Him.

So reach for that unreachable star. And fail. Fail again. Fail better.


[1] Benedict T. Viviano, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in Fr. R. Brown, et al, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New York: Prentice Hall, 1990) at 644.

[2] Shaw, “Preface to Androcles and the Lion,” in Bernard Shaw, Complete Plays With Prefaces, vol. 5 at 344 (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1963).

NB: Text from Matt. 19 does not exactly correspond to the NRSV link, because I was, in writing the sermon, working with a KJV, and modernized the language on the fly. I have left that ersatz update stand, because that is how I delivered the sermon.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting and Spending: The "Bishop of Bling"

Remember Newark Archbishop John Myers, who covered up for and defended a sexually abusive priest who violated his plea bargain, to which the Archdiocese was a party? Well, he's back, now as the "Bishop of Bling":
There's a growing public backlash, both in New Jersey and within the Catholic community, over the Newark Archdiocese's plans to build a $500,000 addition to the retirement home for Archbishop John J. Myers.

The 3,000-square-foot expansion to the home, replete with a host of luxurious amenities, is unseemly to many.

The Bergen Record ran a devastating editorial on Tuesday that called on the archdiocese to sell Myers' "princely palace."

"Let the profits from the sale fund something more important than Myers' desire to live like one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey," the editorial read.

A day later, New York Times columnist Michael Powell blasted the archdiocese for building the home's expansion two years after it closed one of its Catholic schools due to a lack of funding.
Actually, Powell did rather more than that; he pointed out that:
So many leaders of the church have served it so badly for so many decades that it’s hard to keep track of their maledictions. Archbishop Myers provides one-stop shopping. He is known to insist on being addressed as “Your Grace.” And his self-regard is matched by his refusal to apologize for more or less anything.

It was revealed last year that a priest seemed to have broken his legally binding agreement with Bergen County prosecutors to never again work unsupervised with children or to minister to them so long as he remained a priest. When next found, he was involved with a youth ministry in the Newark Archdiocese.

Parishioners in Oradell, N.J., also discovered that the archdiocese had allowed a priest accused of sexual abuse to live in their parish’s rectory. A furor arose, and last summer the archbishop sat down and wrote an open letter to his flock. He conceded not a stumble. Those who claim, he wrote, that he and the church had not protected children were “simply evil, wrong, immoral and seemingly focused on their own self-aggrandizement.”
As I pointed out at the time, Fugee patently violated the plea agreement, and the Archdiocese defended him.

Between Myers's palatial aspirations, and his shielding of malefactors, he seems to be taking his lead not from Pope Francis, but from a very different Francis, who sets out his views here:

Monday, February 17, 2014

House of Cards Addendum: The Growing Darkness

One thing I had meant to include in my prior post regarding the American House of Cards was that its sensibility is different from the more stylized, play-like original, but that the montage accompanying its opening credits, with a growing darkness overspreading various portions of D.C., from monuments to polluted riverbanks, was a splendid metaphor.

It reminds me of the end Simon Raven's "Alms for Oblivion" series. In the last novel, The Survivors, at the memorial service for one of the few steadfastly moral characters in Raven's opus, Daniel Mond, all of the compromised, blackguardly, roguish, and even occasionally good characters are gathered together in Venice. As all of the characters stand about, exchanging witty banter, seeking to advance their own interests, or find a partner, Raven writes, "a curious thing happened." He provides capsule descriptions of the various conversations, involving all present, except for Piero, a young Italian prostitute, and adds:
while all this was going on:

A dark stain crept up the creek towards the landing stage, at first just a trickle of black, then spreading until it covered the entire width of the creek, coming fast and strong with the tide as more and more poured in behind it, lapping against the banks where the birds nested, lapping round the shining boats, finally coming right up to the steps of the landing stage and settling there, barely an inch below the bottom rung, silent, filthy and opaque.

And yet nobody noticed except Piero, who was staring down from infirmary window and saw that the black stain was all over the lagoon, whichever way he turned his eyes.
(Alms for Oblivion, vol. III, at pp. 510-511).

I'm not suggesting any direct influence; rather, its that the sensibility of the US version of House of Cards reminds me of that of Raven's series--the sort of deep cynicism, coupled with a sad recognition of the damage done by the show, irreversible tide of corruption caused by the characters we are following. In both Alms and House, that sensibility pervades the story, but is, in powerful imagery, made manifest in the physical setting.

House of Ricardus

I'm seeing a certain amount of criticism of the practical and ideological politics in House of Cards (see here, especially in the comments, and here--the latter rightly pointing out that Underwood "persuades his fellow Democrats to go along with his plan by arguing—incorrectly, as our recent history has demonstrated—that the Democrats alone would be blamed for a shutdown."

The politics are incredible, of course--the Democrats casually offering up "entitlement reform" to avoid a shutdown is so contrary to the recent past, and the notion that such a move would credibly be seen as a Democratic win, is so contrary to our recent experience and current ideological stances of the parties as to be make the show risible as a political commentary on our times.

Just as well, then, that that isn't what the show is.

House of Cards has a peculiar DNA, one that in part predetermines its contours, and possibly even its outcome.

It originated, of course, as a novel, published in 1989, a result, the author writes, of a bruising election in which Dobbs, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, observed that "Margaret Thatcher won that election comfortably, but she made many enemies while doing so – too many, I thought." This, and "a furious row" with Thatcher, led him to write "a novel based around the dark political arts." He chose as his subject a fictional plot to get rid of a Prime Minister. The novel depicts its protagonist, House Whip Francis Urquhart, using all the secrets he has garnered (and favors he is owed) in rescuing errant MPs from their own follies in his years of faithful, neglected service for his own political gain.

It's a pretty good read--though many elements we associate with House of Cards do not exist--Urquhart's wife (Miranda in the novel) is essentially a walk-on part, there is no affair with Mattie Storin, the journalist who unravels the skein of Urquhart's plots, and, far from killing her, Urquhart's nerve fails him in his final confrontation with Mattie, and he instead kills himself, throwing himself off the roof of the House. Urquhart not only lacks the steel of his later incarnations, he also lacks the charm, and the story is told in an omniscient third person voice.

As to the BBC television adaptation, Dobbs informs us, "during a week that had the nation holding its breath in astonishment, the first episode of the television series aired almost on the day she was forced to resign. It seemed almost impossible, but she was gone." The casting of Ian Richardson (whose performance as Urquhart, by his own account, drew from his portrayal of Richard III), the addition of a perverse--very perverse--sexual affair between Urquhart and Mattie Storin (parallel to the seduction of Lady Anne over her husband's tomb), and most of all Urquhart's mix of scheming and charm are redolent of Shakespeare's Richard III. Andrew Davies's brilliant contribution to the story is just that--he took an entertaining political thriller, and buffed it, re-shaped it, and drew from it, the stuff of Shakespeare's history plays. The adaptation even features a catchphrase that has entered the political lexicon:

As in Richard III, Davies has Urquhart address us, the viewer, and makes us complicit in his crimes:

A genuine soliloquy, that--one of many dotting the BBC trilogy--and in as close to Shakespeare's own form as one could get away with in the 1980s.

James Cappio, in "If Richard III Had Married Lady Macbeth" has pointed out that House of Cards has not one but two Shakespeare plays in its DNA:
Very much like Richard, Urquhart so thoroughly seduces us that we root for him in spite of ourselves. That is largely due to Ian Richardson’s indelible performance. Richardson, one of the great Shakespeareans of his generation, had just played Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company before taking the role of Urquhart; by letting Richard influence him, he created one of the most iconic characters in all of British television. Urquhart’s signature phrase—“You may think that. I couldn’t possibly comment”—is still widely recognized in Britain even today.
House of Cards borrows from the Scottish play even more blatantly than from Richard III. When it’s first suggested to Urquhart that he could be Prime Minister, he actually says “Glamis, and Cawdor, and King hereafter” and shortly his wife is insinuating that he should topple his leader. To be fair, he doesn’t need nearly as much persuasion as Macbeth did. Diane Fletcher’s movie debut was in Roman Polanski’s bloody Macbeth, so her brilliantly menacing performance as Elizabeth Urquhart can be said to have Shakespearean roots.
Indeed, at the end of the Trilogy (the second installment is To Play the King (1993), the finale is 1995's The Final Cut; interestingly, Dobbs again in the novel ends with Urquhart primed for a fall; the television adaptation changes the ending again. Only in the third novel and series do the story lines essentially coincide), Elizabeth Urquhart surpasses her husband in villainy. With Urquhart's "house of cards" at last beginning to collapse, his powers beginning to fail, and his last ambition, to surpass Margaret Thatcher as the longest-serving Prime Minister of Great Britain, Elizabeth arranges a special gift for her husband on the day he does so.

[HERE BE SPOILERS, albeit for a nearly twenty-year old series]

Note how, as Urqhart dies, Elizabeth is there to--comfort him? Seek absolution? And Cordor (Cawdor mixed with cordite, yes?) offers his services to Tom Makepeace--presented as a good egg, but, as Corder informs him "You'll be in charge now," we hear the strains of "Francis Urquhart's March", as the theme is titled, suggesting that the new regime will be much more like the old than expected.

All of this makes up the DNA of the new series. Kevin Spacey, of course, is also an actor noted for his Richard III:

Set in America, without a Parliamentary system and its tools that the Whip would more commonly have, and two full decades after the novel, the creative staff had its work cut out for it. With Dobbs, Davies and Spacey as Executive Producers, their vision is deeply embedded in the new show. Dobbs in his novels was interested primarily in intrigue--means, and stratagems, and much less so in policy; he kept trying to craft a moral ending (indeed, had the BBC accepted his ending, the parallel to Shakespeare's play, in which the natural order is restored, the usurper vanquished, would have been even more clear).

The American show takes the most intriguing new dimension to the BBC's ersatz-Shakespearean history play--the partnership of Francis and (in the US) Claire Underwood, played with astonishing discipline, and cool-banked fire, by Robin Wright--and places it firmly front and center. It's pace is at once quicker, cinematically very much so, and slower--halfway through season 2, we have not yet reached the equivalent point of the ending of the first series of the BBC adaptation--which only had four episodes; I have just finished watching episode twenty-two of the U.S. version. So, yes, there's some filler, but there is also much more character development, and some twists we don't expect--last season I was faked out into thinking at one point that, unlike his UK counterpart, Peter Russo was going to survive the season. So Beau Willimon deserves a lot of credit for doing more than an extended dance remake of the BBC original. He has translated the history play into an American milieu, and made it work.

Did he get the politics wrong? Well, yes. But then, so did Shakespeare.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Here I Stand...

If I had to pick a quotation to summarize the philosophy that has led to my political views, it wouldn't be from Holmes, Douglas, or Brandeis; it wouldn't be from the Framers, either, or even dear old John Stuart Mill, who rocked my world when I was a Fordham student. No, perhaps underscoring my fundamental unseriousness as a political thinker, it's from a novel.

It's from C.P. Snow's The Light and the Dark (1948), making the point that self-knowledge, stripped of arrogance is crucial to those who hold power. Here's Snow's stand-in Lewis Eliot, debating the balance of power in 1937 with a young Nazi:
"No one is fit to be trusted with power," I said..."No one. I should not like to see any group of men in charge--not me or my friends or anyone else. Any man who has lived at all knows the follies and wickedness he's capable of. If he does not know it, he is not fit to govern others. And if he does know it, he knows also that neither he nor any man ought to be allowed to decide a single human fate, I am not speaking of you specially, you understand; I should say exactly the same of myself."

Our eyes met. I was certain, as one can be certain in a duel across the table, that for the first time he took me seriously.

"You do not think highly of men, Mr. Eliot."

"I am one."
The Light and the Dark (first ed.), at pp. 148-149.

I buy that. I believe that, even today.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Department of Fair Dos

I'm no admirer of the Koch brothers, but, as I go about my Clinical Pastoral Training, I regularly see the good results of the donations of David Koch. Say what you will about his political views, these gifts are saving lives.

From across the gulf of ideological disagreement, I salute him for his philanthropy.

Now if he'd just give up politics...

"Rosa Parks didn't really need to sit where she did."

Seriously, these guys are why we can't have nice things, like civil society:
The owner of a Beaumont, Tex. gun shop on Tuesday explained why his employee was wearing a banana suit and an AK-47 to promote the store's grand opening this weekend.

"To help people know where the new spot is, we stuck a costume mask on him, pointing a sign toward the store. He happened to be open-carrying. It's not uncommon in Beaumont for people to be doing that," Derek Poe told TPM, explaining that multiple businesses in the area promote their stores with sign holders.

Poe, who owns Golden Triangle Tactical, added that the employee wore the banana suit to make himself look less threatening while carrying an AK-47.

"And the banana suit was so he would look less alarming," he said.

The employee was cited by police Saturday for soliciting near a roadway without a permit.

"He was legally open-carrying, so they couldn't pin that on him," Poe said. "What the police have been doing is selective enforcement. It's a form of harassment, intimidation tactics used by Beaumont PD. They didn't even know what he did wrong. They were down there, one of the police officer's going through her phone and her code book trying to find something to pin on him because you can open carry in Texas."

Poe also defended his employee's choice to open carry, invoking a civil rights hero in the process.

"There's necessarily no reason to open carry," he said. "Rosa Parks didn't really need to sit where she did."
Yeah, because not being able to openly brandish automatic weaponry everywhere is totes like segregation, man!

The purpose of his little antic? Don't say I didn't warn you; I did. As Poe is quoted in the article, "I understand where some are coming from -- afraid of it. Here they're not used to it. That's what the whole reason for the Liberty movement, the open carry law is for, it gets people used to it and desensitizes them to seeing firearms."

Every space is gun space!

Edited to Add: Folks, contrary to Mr. Poe's practice, this is not to be taken as a primer:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them"

When the Anglican Wars began, The Congregation of Anglicans in North America ("CANA"), a self-described "missionary district sponsored by the largest and most vibrant province of the Anglican Communion, the Church of Nigeria which at c.19 million members accounts for about 25% of the membership of the entire Anglican Communion," formed as an attempted replacement to the Episcopal Church, or, as they put it, "a building block and an incubator that works to build up the Anglican Church in North America as the provincial structure for orthodox Anglicanism in North America within the next several years." That "province," the "Anglican Church in North America", is self-described as "an emerging Province in the global Anglican Communion," and acknowledges that is is comprised of parishes and dioceses that have purported to "disaffiliate from the established provinces in North America and seek episcopal oversight and spiritual care from Anglican Provinces and leaders in other parts of the world, including the primates and churches of Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South America and Uganda." According to ACNA, "CANA is a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America, a missionary jurisdiction of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)."

Got that? Many of those who have split off from the Episcopal Church in the wake of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson are either directly under the jurisdiction of the Church of Nigeria, or in communion with it.

No doubt they are exultant today, to see their spiritual leaders' vision come to pass:
Since Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished.

Gay sex has been illegal in Nigeria since British colonial rule, but convictions were rare in the south and only occasional in the mostly Muslim north. The new law bans same-sex marriage and goes significantly further, prescribing 10 years in prison for those who “directly or indirectly” make a “public show” of same-sex relationships. It also punishes anyone who participates in gay clubs and organizations, or who simply supports them, leading to broad international criticism of the sweep of the law.

“This draconian new law makes an already-bad situation much worse,” the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statement. “It purports to ban same-sex marriage ceremonies but in reality does much more,” she added. “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”


Rights advocates say they have recorded arrests in multiple Nigerian states, but the country’s north has experienced the toughest crackdown. Mr. Jonathan’s national ban has redoubled the zeal against gay people here and elsewhere, according to officials and residents in Bauchi, where Shariah law prevails and green-uniformed Hisbah, or Islamic police officers, search for what is considered immoral under Islam.

“It’s reawakened interest in communities to ‘sanitize,’ more or less, to talk about ‘moral sanitization,’ ” Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, said of the law. “Where it was quiet before, it’s gotten people thinking, ‘Who is behaving in a manner that may be gay?’ It’s driven people into the closet.”

Officials here in Bauchi say they want to root out, imprison and punish gays. Local lawyers are reluctant to represent them. Bail was refused to the gay people already jailed because it was “in the best interests of the accused,” said the chief prosecutor, Dawood Mohammed. In the streets, furious citizens say they are ready to take the law into their own hands to combat homosexuality.
Peter Akinola, who was Archbishop of Nigeria at the time of the split, has long supported this law. The current Archbishop of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, not only supported the law's passage, but has been quoted as saying that "those not in support of the bill are like the biblical duo, Adam and Eve who questioned God for asking them not to eat the fruits from the Garden of Eden."

So congratulations, ACNA and CANA! You own this:
The young man cried out as he was being whipped on the courtroom bench. The bailiff’s leather whip struck him 20 times, and when it was over, the man’s side and back were covered with bruises.

Still, the large crowd outside was disappointed, the judge recalled: The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning.

“He is supposed to be killed,” the judge, Nuhu Idris Mohammed, said, praising his own leniency on judgment day last month at the Shariah court here. The bailiff demonstrated the technique he used: whip at shoulder level, then forcefully down.

The mood is unforgiving in this north Nigeria metropolis, where nine others accused of being gay by the Islamic police are behind the central prison’s high walls. Stones and bottles rained down on them outside the court two weeks ago, residents and officials said; some in the mob even wanted to set the courtroom ablaze, witnesses said.
I hope you're proud.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Argumentum Excrementum Taurorem

Now, I've been keeping out of Bridgeghazi, as the cognoscenti are calling the ongoing kerfuffle regarding the politically motivated lane closures beaching up George Washington Bridge traffic into the town of Fort Lee, and the corollary matters that have come out since. Facts are still being developed, these are highly controverted allegations of behavior that may involve criminal behavior, and it's unwise to get ahead of the facts.

But this is simply ridiculous:
"The memo from Gov. Chris Christie's office attacking former appointee David Wildstein's credibility landed with a thud. It was a striking and deeply personal broadside coming from a chief executive of a state, and even his allies called it a mistake," Politico reports.

"But one important person hadn't seen the missive ahead of time: the governor himself."

"Christie's aides did not run the document - which took the extraordinary step of highlighting incidents from Wildstein's high school days - by the governor before they sent it out, according to two people familiar with the matter. Instead, someone tucked the high school lines into a daily briefing email to the governor's supporters, and blasted it out earlier than planned. Another round of unflattering news coverage ensued."
Forgive me, but this is, in philosophical sense of the word, bullshit.

Let's recap. A week ago, when it became clear that David Wildstein was not going to fall on his sword for Governor Christie, an e-mail was leaked by Christie's office:

Christie Email

Now, remember, Christie and Wildstein went to high school together, although Christie has sought to minimize their connection. Also, Wildstein's job at the Port Authority was created for him, "with Christie's blessing," to safeguard Christie's political interests.

So, the current story is that e-mail, using Christie's shared past with Wildstein to garner ammunition to attack Wildstein, was sent out without Christie's knowledge or participation. Because, apparently, everyone on Christie's staff is an expert on his high school classmates.

Also, the story eerily echoes Christie's claim that Bridget Kelly, whose e-mail triggered the lane closures, did so without his knowledge, and concealed her involvement from him.

The fact that Christie waited a week before leaking the new claim that he knew nothing--nothing!--about the leaked e-mail (the e-mail was not criminal, mind you, just deeply stupid), makes it that much less credible. But, really, the story also requires one to believe that Christie is surrounded by staffers willing to make the same mistake Kelly is alleged by Christie to have made--to have struck out against a political foe in a way that triggered blow-back, without consulting him. It requires Christie to be hapless, out-of-touch, not in control of his own staff, who nonetheless have a thorough grounding in the politics of Christie's high school days.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The UN and the Catholic Church

The United Nations's Committee on the Rights of the Child has released a report responding to the Vatican's own report of its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child; noting that the Holy See took six years to respond, it made some pertinent recommendations, as summarized and excerpted by the Washington Post:

The Vatican should bring its Canon Law in line with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Holy See ratified in 1990, “in particular those (laws) relating to children’s rights to be protected against discrimination, violence and all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.” This includes any obligation for victims of crimes or those aware of them to remain silent.



The panel said that “in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests.” It said church officials had in many cases blamed the victims or their families, sought to discredit and in some cases humiliated them.



Despite the Vatican’s commitment to “hold inviolable the dignity and entire person of every child,” the panel expressed its “deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide.” It added: “The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”



The panel urged the Vatican to stop the transfer of abusers and suspected abusers, a practice it said had been documented on numerous occasions and which amounted to covering up the crimes. A Vatican commission created last year should investigate “all cases of child sexual abuse as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them.” In doing so, it should consider bringing in independent human rights groups, publish the outcome of the investigations and allow its archives to be accessed by law enforcement authorities investigating alleged perpetrators and those who may have covered for them.



It called on the Vatican to “immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes.”
On behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh has responded:
Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so.

In the United States, the number of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy has plummeted. This is in no small part due to the fact that millions of Catholic children have been instructed on safe environments and tens of thousands of adults who work with them in the church have gone through background checks and safe environment education. In 2012, for example, dioceses and religious institutes conducted background checks on 99 percent of clerics, 97 percent of educators, 95 percent of employees, and 96 percent of volunteers. Every diocese has a victim assistance coordinator who assists those who have been abused and a safe environment coordinator who works to prevent abuse from occurring again.

The Vatican also has shown resolve in addressing the issue. Pope John Paul II changed the age of maturity in church law so more abuse cases could be prosecuted. Pope Benedict called on every bishops’conference in the world to develop policies. Pope Francis recently announced a commission to strengthen the church’s handling of sexual abuse.
Sr. Walsh makes some fair points about improvements in background checks and training--as detailed in Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis, 2002-2012 (Plante & McChesney, eds.) at 195-244, serious and commendable work has been done in these areas.

But where Sister Walsh seems to me to be in error is claiming that the Church's efforts at incident reduction entitle it describe itself as "continu[ing] to lead in" facing the problem. Because she does not at all engage with the fact that the Church has, as the UN Report correctly describes, systematically impeded investigations by secular law enforcement in multiple nations, over at least a generation.

In my 2012 article Command and Coercion (the link goes to the 2011 working paper; the published article is more polished, and more up to date, as well as less polemical in tone), I detailed the extensive history of the Church thwarting law enforcements, building on investigative reports throughout the United States, as well as in other nations, such as Ireland, as detailed in the Murphy and Cloyne Reports. Many of these reports were quite recent, and a wavelet of stories demonstrating members of the hierarchy disparaging news accounts of previously unreported instances as "petty gossip" or media bias against the Church took place in 2010.

Since the publication of "Command and Coercion," in fact, in 2013, the Archdiocese of Newark was confronted with revelations that a priest who had been convicted go abusive behavior had obtained a reversal due to trial court error, and had avoided re-trial by a plea agreement designed to prevent further offenses to which the Archdiocese was a a signatory, had violated that plea agreement. (The Archdiocese's canonical court had previously ignored the confession and the guilty plea, and cleared the offending priest). The Archdiocese's response to the story about the plea violations was to falsely characterize the terms of the agreement, and deny any infraction had taken place; the Catholic League, backing this story up, claimed a nefarious plot to "sunder" the Archbishop. Less then a week later, the Archdiocese acknowledged the plea agreement had been violated, and disclaimed knowledge of the acts it had defended scant days before. Later, when accepting the resignation of his Vicar-General, Archbishop Myers, like Sister Walsh, approvingly cited the Dallas Charter and compliance with it, and ignored his own office's efforts to defend Fugee and misrepresent the legal and factual history.

Archbishop Myers remains in office, as of this writing; in October 2013, he addressed the Canon Law Society of America, stating:
Clearly our Church and many other groups and individuals in our Society must be appalled at the sexual abuse crisis which has come to light in recent decades. The members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have admitted mistakes and apologized sincerely for the suffering of far too many victims, as have individual bishops in specific cases. Our best apology is effective action to care for victims and to work to ensure that such evil actions never again occur. This calls for widespread and regular education and screening, but also proper penalties for perpetrators.
Archbishop Myers spoke as if the Fugee matter had never taken place, and did not address the need to cooperate with secular law enforcement.

Perhaps the Archbishop means it this time, and has learned from the Fugee affair. But his address reads as the words of one who believes that the matter lies within, as before, the special jurisdiction of canon law, first and foremost--the very belief the origins of which I traced in "Command and Coercion."

Sister Walsh's defense of the USCCB's record is somewhat less than reassuring in view of her failure to address this continuing culture of clerical immunity, the lack of consequences for those in the hierarchy who perpetuate it, and, especially, in her reliance upon internal canon and procedures and not secular law.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Ethan T. Katt, who is by any definition a beauty (see above) is also all over the map when it comes to whom he crushes on. He has spent years trying to seduce Betty the Prayer Kitten (The Blog Mascot), has long tried to corral Elspeth, much less gallantly (don't feel too bad for her; she heath the tar out of him when he doesn't take a hint.)

But his walks on the wild side--like with the late, lamented, Jake, the dog of two of our good friends. Through the door they would stare at each other, eyes locked in mutual fascination and admiration. Now, so too with Popplethwaite, the tomcat outside--Ethan is, quite simply, absolutely unpredictable in whom he will fall for.

Interestingly, it ain't us--he is the only one of our cats who comes close to fitting the stereotype of the aloof, distant cat. Not quite, though; he's more like Lord Grantham with Bates--polite, superior, but a tinge of affection withal.

Just as well, I suppose. All his loves are foredoomed….

Monday, February 3, 2014

Snow Daze!

You have to admit, the snow falling in New York is a beautiful thing.

Even though I've been shoveling snow way longer than I've been playing in it, I still react to the snow with a child's glee. I remember my father building a snow bear one year, and a snow dinosaur the next, a winter when I was in law school, and the snow was so heavy that all the public transportation was closed, and I sort of sued through the magically silent streets to meet friends in the upper seventies from 114th Street.

On days like this, the City can be what O. Henry famously called it: Baghdad on the Hudson, an appellation when that poor, war-torn city connoted not horror but the magic of Burton's Arabian Nights.

Maybe we're all a little the worse for wear, but still: "The heart grows older, but never, ever learns. The memories shoulder, the soul always yearns…."

(Photo by Anglocat)