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Tonight I watched Doubt, a wonderful movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams. It’s a movie about a Catholic Church located in the bronx during the mid-1960’s. A Priest (played by Hoffman) is accused by a nun (Streep) of having an improper relationship with an altar boy. Never was there any indication of wrong doing. In fact, the Priest had been the boy’s sole protector and role model. However, the nun despised the progressive Priest and threatened to ruin his vocation with this accusation. In the end, it’s a film about faith, love, and change…

At least that’s how I interpreted it, but what do I know? I’m only college educated. After watching the film, which centers around a theme of child abuse committed by a Priest, a sensitive subject for Catholics like myself, I decided to see what other Catholics thought of the film. I was shocked to see that many would not even see the film, thinking that it was another Hollywood attack on the Church. The Catholic blogs that reviewed the film were generally dismissive. I only read one Catholic review that was mostly positive. However, one reviewer in particular got under my skin.

Here’s her review, which can be found at InsideCatholic.com:

Of Certainty and Doubt
by Joan Frawley Desmond
12/16/08

The implosion of Catholic religious orders in the 1970s shook the foundations of the Catholic Church in America, threatening both the financial viability of parish schools and the transmission of faith and morals to subsequent generations. Decades later, the clergy sex-abuse crisis produced another earthquake from which the Church has yet to recover.
Most Catholics view these two developments as entirely separate. But John Patrick Shanley, the screenwriter and director of the newly released Doubt — the film adaptation of his award-winning, off-Broadway play of 2004 — draws out the clear and subtle connections between the exodus of nuns and the unchecked abuses of clerical predators.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t succeed half as well as the play. The spare plot works better on stage, and Meryl Streep’s interpretation of the central character occasionally drifts into caricature. Still, Shanley’s meditation on the seismic shift in Catholic culture that converged with the Second Vatican Council helps us understand why an era that began with so much promise ended in such darkness and confusion.
Like the play, the action in the film occurs almost entirely within the confines of St. Nicholas School in the Bronx. The time is the mid-1960s, and the pervading mood is somber, brooding. Elsewhere in this prosperous nation, young America’s desire for increased spontaneity and creativity fuels the steadily growing pressure for social change.
Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the school principal, is unimpressed by such youthful naiveté. Evil exists; original sin is not to be casually dismissed. Her sense of threat remains unshaken, and thus she repels the introduction of ballpoint pens and secular Christmas songs with continued vigor.
She wears her uneasy, suspicious nature like an uncomfortable hair shirt, barking out reprimands to the students and revealing little concern for their emotional life. The declining standards for student penmanship and the Christmas pageants deeply trouble her. Yet they are mere precursors for something or someone more dangerous — a coming, but still undefined force that will undermine the ordered existence of her school.
When Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) arrives in the parish and begins spouting newfangled ideas about a more compassionate Church, the principal smells trouble. Before long, Sister James (Amy Adams), the credulous young eighth-grade teacher, reports that Father Flynn requested a private meeting with an eighth-grade boy, who subsequently returned to class with alcohol on his breath.
Sister Aloysius rushes to the barricades. But what can she actually do, lacking both hard evidence or ultimate authority? Technically, Father Flynn is her superior in the parish; the pastor is unlikely to move against a fellow priest without solid proof.
The principal’s sole weapon remains her “certainty.” She confronts Father Flynn with her suspicions. He denies any wrongdoing, but offers a curiously muted explanation of his actions. Then, the priest turns the tables on the principal, putting her judgmental attitude on trial.
Father Flynn dismisses Sister Aloysius as a “dragon.” He is eager to discard the mantle of clerical authority in order to establish closer bonds with the students. The generational fissures surface slowly, and the future promises to inflict more damage on Sister Aloysius brittle psyche than on the easy-going disposition of her opponent. But is he a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or simply a creature of his time?
The principal’s next step is to call in the boy’s mother (Viola Davis). Shockingly, mom doesn’t want “trouble,” and begs Sister Aloysius to protect her son from any gossip or disciplinary actions that might force his departure from the school. “What kind of mother are you?” Sister Aloysius asks, as she grapples with something disturbing and novel — a parent who rejects her moral authority.
Consumed by a driving sense of responsibility for protecting her domain, the nun resorts to morally questionable tactics that appall Sister James. Yet, as Sister Aloysius tracks her prey with ferocious energy, the audience is left to speculate about the absence of such determination within diocesan chanceries that received complaints about abusive priests. Clericalism has been identified as one reason for the foot-dragging; the clubby world of priests is crudely evoked in the film.
Trendy, progressive ideas about guilt and responsibility also shaped episcopal decisions to schedule therapy sessions for sexual predators, rather than impose punitive measures that isolated them from children. Sister Aloysius, Shanley suggests, would never be seduced by faddish methods that contradicted the fundamentals of Christian realism.
Shanley touches on an additional explanation for the unchecked abuse of minors: a lack of courage on the part of Church authorities who feared confronting evildoers. Sister Aloysius’s own struggles underscore an unpleasant truth: Opposing evil is both morally and spiritually dangerous. This kind of combat is not for sissies, and it can poison the soul of the prosecutor.
Shanley shows considerable respect for Sister Aloysius. Her guile, passion, charity, and courage are on display here. At one point in the story, another nun who is going blind meets with an accident. If her disability is discovered, she could lose her place at the school. Sister Aloysius comes to her friend’s rescue, telling Father Flynn that most nuns trip on their robes and regularly fall like “dominoes.”
The incident reveals Sister Aloysius’s own brand of Christian compassion. But it also hints at the coming exodus of women religious. Despite her considerable moral authority and worldly experience, Sister Aloysius holds little real power to protect her students. Father Flynn possesses a bit more power, but not much wisdom. Could Sister Aloysius, that tower of certitude, become one of the “dominoes”?
Shanley leaves that question for his audience to decide. But Doubt evokes a haunted time before “the deluge.” Sharp-eyed parochial school principals sensed danger, but could do only so much to protect their charges.

——————————————————————-
Joan Frawley Desmond has written for the Wall Street Journal, First Things, and the National Catholic Register, among other publications.”

I was so outraged by the review, that I was literally compelled to write a response. The following is my response to the movie and to the review:

I do not think that we watched the same movie.

What I watched was a film about a conniving, self-righteous, vindictive nun, who took it upon herself to violate her vows, the Church’s hierarchy, and common decency by destroying a good Priest’s reputation. She had no proof, whatsoever, that Father Flynn was involved in an inappropriate relationship with the boy, yet she had her certainty. She regarded her own opinion as the final word– she was judge, jury, and executioner, as it were. Joan Frawley Desmond, the movie reviewer, lamely views Sister Aloysius’ prudish and conservative disposition as entirely proper, while seeming to cast a negative light upon Father Flynn, as though it were Priests such as him who molested alter boys. As Desmond put it, he was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” I humbly suggest that it is people like Sister Aloysius and Joan Frawley Desmond who are the problem with the church, not Father Flynn.

Put the film in the proper historical context. The boy was an African-American, who had been chased from his previous school and, at that moment in time, had no hope for his future. Besides a violent home life, society at large was not entirely eager to accept African-Americans as equals. After-all, it had only been ten years previous when the Supreme Court made its famous Brown V. Board of Education ruling, and only a few years after the Supreme Court ruled again that schools had to immediately desegrate. This was a time of social change: a young President had been slain in public, Civil Rights were making legislative progress, and it seemed that the country was moving in a more tolerant direction. For some, like Joan Frawley Desmond and Sister Aloysius, tolerance might as well be a four letter word. But it is those sort of Calvinist and Puritanical tendencies our society has been trying to escape ever since our Founding Fathers created a country rooted in reason and Enlightenment principles. It took real “passion, charity, and courage” for Father Flynn to come to the boy’s aid and to show him the love he did not receive from home or society.

Father Flynn was a good man. His sermons were passionate. He was eager to engage and relate to the students, and he demonstrated love for them– love which our Lord demands we show to all people, especially children. But Father Flynn represented the winds of change. As our nation is currently experiencing, change is hard to accept for some. Sister Aloysius was not willing to accept that change was upon them. Father Flynn stood against the system, which Sister Aloysius jealously defended, that divided the clergy from the flock. We are all God’s children, and we are all called to serve him. The boy, who was also a victim of Sister Aloysius’ trickery, spoke to Father Flynn about his desire to enter the Priesthood, seeing Flynn as a mentor and a good male role model. It may very well be that the boy, after seeing the carnage wrecked upon Father Flynn, decided against joining the Priesthood. It may very well be the same sort of carnage that now prevents our young men from entering the Priesthood.

In the final analysis, it may very well be that this film is a form of Rorschach. For people like Joan Frawley Desmond and Sister Aloysius, this film demonstrates the “courage” of some to stick to their parochial and troglodytic ways, even if it involves ruining the life of an innocent man and an innnocent boy; for others, like myself, this film demonstrates the difficulty of bringing change to a system that is unwilling to evolve, and how that system would rather step away from God, our Father, in order to maintain the status quo. Father Flynn’s only crime was that he cared too much, unlike Sister Aloysius, the Warden, who’s crime was hate and villainy.

In closing, I would call the reviewer’s attention to the beautiful opening of the film. Father Flynn begins mass with a wonderful sermon about doubt. It is at this point that it is obvious that Sister Aloysius has a problem with him. She even interrupts the nuns’ rivetingly silent dinner to seek their thoughts on Father Flynn’s sermon. Why? It is obvious. She is jealous that Father Flynn is so passionate and strong in his fidelity to God, because, as we learn in the final twenty seconds or so of the film, Sister Aloysius has doubts. Her faith in God is weak. It almost seems as though there is an inverse relationship between her vindictiveness and the unwavering faith of Father Flynn. While her final words of the film express her doubt in God, Father Flynn’s final words are one of acceptance– acceptance that God has superior knowledge (more superior, one would assume, than Sister Aloysius’), and as such God’s judgement should not be questioned.

Father Flynn is content with the winds of change at his back, while Sister Aloysius is left crying in the snow, her inferior, Sister James, feeling both contempt and pity for her. Who is better off?

This was a really good movie, and I recommend it for everyone, especially Catholics. Below, I’ve added the trailer. Take a look!


By Jose Rodriguez

As a Catholic I am embarrassed and ashamed.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has come out in opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts, despite its long-standing support for health care reform. In fact, the USCCB has long supported health care reform that includes a single-payer system to cover the uninsured, the poor, and illegal immigrants. Yet, in the last couple of months, the USCCB has come out against the current health care reform bill.

The USCCB has aligned itself with Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, and Hannity by asserting that the current health care reform efforts would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, deny health care to the disabled, and would force tax payers to pay for elective abortions and bar doctors from invoking the conscience clause. The accusations read as though they were copy and pasted from Sarah Palin’s facebook page. They are advancing paranoid arguments against what is inarguably the most important health care legislation in the last fifty years. But why?

One can only speculate, but it might be partisan, it could be ignorance (they have not read the bills), or it could be any number of things.

This is tragic, as far as I’m concerned. I have been proud of my church’s stance on science (particularly evolution), Global Climate Change, the poor, and advocating for a more just and fair global economy. Universal health care was another issue my Church supported, which made me proud to call myself a Catholic. However, the USCCB’s current mental status has me quite concerned.

But the USCCB, which does not have any authority whatsoever, has come under fire from Bishops from around the globe. An editorial on a Catholic British website has chastised Bishops in the U.S. for their failure to stand up for a basic pro-life issue: universal health care. The Tablet editorial argues that the Bishops in the United States are wasting an opportunity where they “could play a central role in salvaging Mr Obama’s health-care programme.” Instead, the U.S. Bishops are trying to advance an anti-abortion agenda when everyone has agreed that the bill should be neutral on this issue, “rather than the more general principle of the common good.” As the editorial notes, nearly 50 million Americans are without health care, and this tragedy is only likely to worsen, as the health care industry is “[sensing] a threat to their profits” and are spending 1.5 million dollars a day to kill health care reform. Rather than attend to the poor, the USCCB has decided that they would rather turn this reform effort into a battle over abortion. The Tablet editorial makes a great point, however: the “National Health Service, one of the great forward strides for social justice, had no Catholic blessing,” yet is one of the most enduring and popular government programs in England.

This is clearly a dereliction of duty.

It has been clearly documented that the current health care reform effort does not force tax payers to fund (directly or indirectly) elective abortions. Nor are there any death panels for the elderly or disabled.

I can’t believe that the USCCB actually believes this! All they have to do is read the bill! Again are the Bishops lazy? Are they politically motivated? Are they this ignorant? What is the deal?

Republicans have come to the conclusion that Americans want health care reform, and they have come to the conclusion that a majority of Americans and American doctors support the public option. Despite months of promoting lies, and encouraging people to attend and disrupt town hall meetings in order to create the impression that a majority of Americans oppose any health care reform, 73% of doctors support either a single-payer system (10%) or a mostly private system that includes a public option (63%), and 77% of Americans support a public option. And I know what you’re thinking: “How can that be? What was the poll question?” Well, here was what SurveyUSA asked: “In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance–extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?”

So, faced with overwhelming support for health care reform (including the public option) from Americans and doctors, Republicans have started arguing that the health care bill will pay for elective abortions. There is not a single grain of truth to this argument, which apparently does not matter to the USCCB.

Let’s deconstruct this nonsense…

In an op-ed for National Review (an ultra-Conservative publication), on July 23, 2009, Minority Leader John Boehner wrote that President Obama was trying to expand abortion by sneaking it through his health care reform effort and would force American tax-payers to fund abortions. Boehner also accused the President of trying to undermine organizations (like the Catholic Church) that do not support or perform abortions by making it illegal for them to deny abortion services. The biggest lie (which he labels a “fact”) is this: “This public plan, like all plans, will be required to classify abortion as an “essential benefit,” forcing American citizens to directly subsidize abortion-on-demand with their tax dollars.”

These baseless accusations have energized anti-abortion advocates, like the Catholic Church, into opposing what is an essential and basic pro-life issue.

It is important to remember that the Hyde Amendment (passed in 1976) bans the use of federal funds for elective abortions. This law does not apply in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in mortal danger. So, before any substantive discussion can begin, we must remember that it is against the law to do what John Boehner is suggesting President Obama wants to do. President Obama, who has admitted that he is pro-choice and has a 100% rating with NARAL, has said that he thinks “we… have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care.” This statement, though it goes against his own personal beliefs, is consistent with the law and consistent with
public opinion. In a recent Rasmussen poll, 48% of Americans do not want tax dollars to pay for elective abortions, while only 13% think that any health care bill should use tax-payer funds to cover abortion. 32% of Americans believe that there should not be a requirement either way.

What Minority leader John Boehner (and the USCCB) does not understand is that most private health insurance policies already cover abortion, whether or not people realize it. This would not change under any health care reform bill, thus making it abortion-neutral. But there’s more.

While there are five different health care bills in Congress right now, H.R. 3200 is the most talked about. H.R. 3200, for instance, has an amendment authored by Lois Capps (D-Ca), which specifically prohibits tax-payer funds from being used to pay for abortions. The bill is only seven pages long, and it is triple spaced, so it should not take long to read, however, no one cares to read it. And those who have, have consciously twisted her language to fit their narrow view.

The Capps Amendment would not require abortion coverage to be part of the minimum benefits package, as many claim it would. It would be up to the insurer whether or not the plan covers abortion… as it stands now. I will simply quote the bill:

“The Health Benefits Advisory Committee may not recommend under section 123 (b) and the Secretary may not adopt in standards under section 124(b), the services described in paragraph (4)(A) or (4) (B) as part of the essential benefits package and the Commissioner may not require such services for qualified health benefits plans to participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.”

This seems pretty straightforward, but, again, there are people who want to twist and fabricate. The bill clearly states that abortion coverage is not required for the minimum benefits package in order to “participate in the Health Insurance Exchange.” In section two, Capps goes further: “VOLUNTARY CHOICE OF COVERAGE BY PLAN.-In the case of a qualified health benefits plan, the plan is not required (or prohibited) under this Act from providing coverage of services described in paragraph (4) (A) or (4)(B) and the QHBP offering entity shall determine whether such coverage is provided.”

The amendment authored by Lois Capps is straightforward (again) in preventing tax-payer funds from being used to cover elective abortions. The Capps amendment requires insurers to segregate the cost of abortion coverage from the premiums, which would be paid for by the insured, not tax-payers. The public option may or may not include abortion coverage, but, again, the cost of that would be paid out of the pocket of the insured, not the tax-payers. Again, here are the words from the amendment:

“(T)he plan shall provide assurances satisfactory to the Commissioner that- (A) any affordability credits provided under subtitle C of title II are not used for purposes of paying for such services; and (B) only premium amounts attributable to the actuarial value described in section 113(b) are used for such purpose.”

The Capps amendment also defers to the Hyde amendment, which prohibits tax-payer funds from being used to pay for abortion services. It clearly states, in no uncertain terms, that the bill would have “No EFFECT ON FEDERAL LAWS REGARDING ABORTION.” Um… that includes the Hyde amendment, in case you are a Republican or an American Catholic Bishop.

Despite the concerns of the USCCB (raised by John Boehner in his op-ed), the health care proposals would not make it illegal to deny abortion services. The Capps amendment makes this point clearly, if they would only take five minutes to read the damn bill:

“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to have any effect on Federal laws regardin- (A) conscience protection; (B) willingness or refusal to provide abortion; and (C) discrimination on the basis of the willingness or refusal to provide, pay for, cover, or refer for abortion or to provide or participate in training to provide abortion.”

How can this be any clearer? Notice that it says, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed,” yet that is exactly what Boehner, the GOP, and the USCCB are doing: CONSTRUING!

Another point of concern for the GOP and the USCCB is that Obama is creating “death panels.” This has been refuted time and time again, yet there is this persistent element in our society who refuses to accept… oh, I don’t know, facts? The elderly and the disabled will not be subjected to any “death panel.” It’s as pure and simple as that.

The section that has been mis-represent by Sarah Palin, the GOP, and the USCCB, is on the establishment of a Comparative Effectiveness Research Center, which will “conduct, support, and synthesize research” that looks at “outcomes, effectiveness, and appropriateness of health care services and procedures in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically.” This is no death panel. This is not a scheme to promote euthanasia for the elderly or disabled. Instead, the CERC will study which treatments are the most effective, thus providing patients and doctors better information and tools for sustaining and extending life, not ending it ASAP. Beyond that, the CERC would only make recommendations about the best methods, not make requirements. The bill makes that absolutely clear: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer.” Again, there is that word “construed.” Does the USCCB or GOP not have access to a dictionary?

The bill also allows seniors to have end-of-life counseling with their doctor, which would be tax-payer funded. Despite the ridiculous claims made by Sarah Palin, these would be voluntary sessions, not mandatory. “It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, etc.,” Obama said. “So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything.”

The “Advanced Care Planning Consultation” in Section 1233 is not a scheme to encourage patients to pull their own “plug”. It is actually supported by AARP, which is a group that advocates for senior citizens. On the AARP site, they devote a page to debunk the absurd notion that end of life counseling is a back-door for euthanasia. They write that “Several studies in recent years have found that when doctors have end-of-life discussions with patients and families, patients have less anxiety.” The study found that “Less aggressive care and earlier hospice referrals were associated with better patient quality of life near death,” whereas those who failed to engage in those discussions “experienced worse quality of life, more regret, and were at higher risk of developing a major depressive disorder.” In other words, as people age it becomes increasingly important to know the available options. One doctor even expressed that it is in the best interest of the doctor to keep the patient alive in order to avoid lawsuits. So, for those who cannot comprehend morality, there are also financial reasons to extend the life of patients.

But beyond the needs of the patient, the counseling is also important for the family, who often argue or agonize over what their loved one would want, in the event that they are incapacitated. Having a clearly defined living will prevents the hand-wringing and guilt: the will of the patient is clear and decisive, even if it means a kidney transplant for an unconscious 89 year old man.

At this point, it is hardly worth debating with the lunatic/ paranoid fringe, with which the USCCB has aligned itself. All the facts are known, they are out there, but they choose to expose themselves to conspiracy theories, which only serve to support their fears. In an excellent editorial in today’s LA Times, Gregory Rodriguez argues that it might not be useful to try to educate people who cling to conspiracy theories. He cites a study in which conservatives, when presented with information proving that there were no WMDs in Iraq, believed even more strongly that there were WMDs in Iraq. Instead of putting down these buyers of misinformation and rumors, Rodriguez writes: “Rumors and conspiracy theories often supply simplified, easily digestible explanations (and enemies) to sum up complex situations. However crass, they’re both fueled by a desire to make sense of the world.”

He may very well be right.

I am heartened, however, to see that not all Catholics have given themselves over to madness.

Chris Korzen of Catholics United has come out strong against the USCCB, Stop the Abortion Mandate, Family Research Council, and the Catholic League, who have been promoting lies and misinformation, not to mention misrepresenting Catholic teachings. Korzen, on the Catholics United site, writes “The Family Research Council’s continued effort to distort the facts leads one to wonder whether the group’s true intent is to derail health care reform,” said Korzen. “Instead of issuing misleading attacks and inciting fear, the Family Research Council would do better to support efforts aimed at implementing abortion-neutral policies in health care reform legislation.” Catholic Charities, a non-profit Catholic organization that provides food and clothing to the poor, has been fully committed to health care reform saying “Health care reform: We can’t wait!” Though it maintains that it will not support any bill that extends abortion rights, it seems to enthusiastically support the current reform efforts, implying that it does not support the wild accusations of the USCCB.

There is also some indication that there is a schism between U.S. Bishops. Bishop Michael Sheehan told the National Catholic Reporter that the anger against Obama among U.S. Bishops comes mostly from a small minority, but the majority of centrist Bishops do not want a public fight over health care, so they have not spoken up. The Catholic News Service also reported that U.S. Bishops were glad to hear from President Obama, in his speech before a joint session of Congress, that his proposal would not allow for tax-payer funded abortions. “We were gratified to hear that federal funds would not be used for abortions and that conscience protections would be maintained,” Sister Carol Keehan said. “We were pleased to hear him say we were going to move on now. There are too many people … who need this kind of (health care) assistance. We believe it is long overdue. It is a moral and economic imperative and we were pleased to hear him put it in those terms.”

This was not an easy blog to write. I love my Church. I am pained to see what is happening from conservative Catholics in the hierarchy, who are using their position to advance their own personal, partisan beliefs. But it makes me angry, too. I am pro-life. I oppose abortion, I oppose the death penalty, I support the environment, and I support social justice. But you know what? I also support the truth. I do not support lies or fabrications, no matter who is telling them.

I pray that they come out of their intellectual darkness, and into the light of truth.


By Jose Rodriguez

Barack Obama ran for President promising to bring “change” to Washington D.C., which turned out to be a winning promise. Even though Americans elected him to bring that change, there has been a shrill and loud portion of our society, motivated by partisan hatred, who have stopped at nothing to block his efforts to bring the change that Americans elected him to enact. Change is a frightening prospect for this segment of society, who respond with scurrilous allegations: Obama is really a Muslim; he hates America; he’s a socialist; he was not really born in this country; he’s a Nazi; he wants to kill old people; and on and on and on. People, like Rep. Joe Wilson, want to engage in that form of demagoguery in order to uphold the status quo. They want to shout down the President during an important speech, calling him a liar or contradicting him.

But Joe Wilson is not the first Wilson to shout at a President advocating for change during a speech.

In late November 1995, President Bill Clinton became the first U.S. President to make an official visit to Northern Ireland. More so than any President before or since, Bill Clinton was heavily involved in the Irish peace process; Clinton even appointed former Maine Senator George Mitchell to be the first Special Envoy to Ireland (George Mitchell is now the Special Envoy to the Middle-East, where he hopes to broker a peace deal). The conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland seemed so intractable that no previous President wanted to expend any energy finding a solution. President Clinton, however, had made bold promises to the Irish community in the United States, and he intended to keep them. By going to Ireland, he hoped to jump start the failing negotiations between Catholics and Protestants, who had been locked in conflict (known as the Troubles) for decades. Before long, not only had Clinton fallen completely in love with the Irish, but the Irish fell head over-heels in love with the Clintons (Hillary benefited from this love during her Presidential run in 2008). That the leader of the free world would come and meet with Irish leaders and everyday people was an immense honor for them. Protestants and Catholics alike flocked by the thousands (culminating in a speech attended by 100,000 people in Dublin) to see and hear the President of the United States, who was there to advocate for change and peace.

While a majority of Irish on both sides of the conflict wanted change and peace in Northern Ireland, fringe elements within both communities wanted to uphold the status quo. They were the loudest and most violent, so they were successful, for decades, in prolonging the conflict. These people criticized the President’s visit, saying that he had no business being in Ireland, and that he certainly had no business interfering in the on-going negotiations.

However, as Clinton got out into the public, shook hands, hugged hundreds of people, shared stories, and even accepted a few beers (which the Secret Service quickly poured out), the Irish public were very warm and receptive to Clinton and his message of hope. The Irish flocked to Clinton by the droves, swarming him and enveloping him, wanting to touch him and be in his presence, as though they could be infused with his energy and power. In reality, it was the President who was feeding off their energy, driving him for nearly 48 hours with virtually no sleep. The Secret Service was alarmed by this obvious inability to maintain security, but the President was more than eager to drown himself in the sea of people. This was, as he put it, the happiest time of his life.

While in Ireland, President Clinton stopped at the Mackie factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was owned by a Protestant, but he employed Catholics and Protestants. This place was, ostensibly, a symbol for peace and co-existence, but many of the employees either belonged to the IRA or for Protestant para-militaries in their time off. Before Clinton spoke, two children gave speeches that told of their suffering, but also called for peace. After young Cathy Hamill brought the room to tears with the story of her father’s murder, Clinton took the stage.

President Clinton, wagging his finger and clenching his fist, proclaimed, “only you can decide between division and unity, between hard lives and high hopes. You must say to those who would still use violence for political objectives: ‘You are the past, your day is over!'” This was a bold statement, considering that those people were in the room with him. It was also an obvious play on the famous IRA slogan, which said “Our day will come.” Clinton was challenging these people to turn their backs on the past and to move forward toward change, toward peace.

Not everyone was receptive to his message of change.

Cedric Wilson, a Protestant leader of the Northern Ireland Unionist party, shouted, “Never!”

As Clinton promised to “walk with” them if they chose to “walk the path of peace,” Wilson continued to heckle President Clinton: “Never!” “Those who showed the courage to break with the past,” Clinton said, “are entitled to their stake in the future.” Again, Wilson shouted, “Never!” Clinton pointed out Wilson, the heckler, who stood for the past, not the future of Ireland.

“Peace must be waged with a warrior’s resolve– bravely, proudly, and relentlessly– secure in the knowledge of the single greatest difference between war and peace; in peace everybody can win.” The President received a standing ovation that seemed to last forever. The people of Ireland were resolute: they were rejecting the Wilsons of the world.

In the end, due to the tireless efforts of Clinton, Mitchell, and the interested parties in Ireland, there was a negotiated peace in Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) was not only supported by the Irish governments and the British government, but it was also supported by the Irish people through a referendum. The people made a
choice for peace, rather than protracted violence and conflict. Though in recent years groups in Ireland have tried to re-ignite the Troubles, the people have held fast to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Hillary Clinton has even appointed Declan Kelly to be the U.S. Special Envoy to Ireland, and she plans to visit Northern Ireland next month to review the peace process and to give a speech about the threat to peace posed by para-military groups in Ireland. This focus on Ireland is a break from the Bush administration, who largely ignored Ireland and left the U.S. participation in the peace process to the State Department. Had they continued Bill Clinton’s level of involvement, the situation in Ireland might be less perilous.

In the end, in a round-about sort of way, there are Wilsons in our world who shout “You lie!” or “Never!” to people who are interested in change, or in making progress. They are defenders of the status quo. As our country struggles to make sense of the health care bills in Congress (while continuing to be raped by insurance companies), we should all, at least, agree that we want to move forward– that we all want change and progress.

And we should all agree to ignore all the Wilsons of the world.

With world leaders meeting for the G8 Summit inL’Aquila, Italy, one uninvited leader is interjecting his thoughts: Pope Benedict XVI. In his third encyclical in four years, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), the Pope makes the case for how the Catholic church’s social teachings can have a positive impact on the human condition. With the global economic crisis as a backdrop, Benedict criticizes our modern economic structure that lacks respect for workers and places emphasis on bsinesses that “are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limited in their social value.”

Pope Benedict, in his encyclical, advocates the creation of a “political authority” that “giv[es] direction to the process of economic globalization. It is also the way to ensure that it does not actually undermine the foundations of democracy.” In what might be construed as a liberal-oriented view on economics, Benedict explains that in a globalized world, that seems to be increasingly individualistic, a sense of inter-connectedness and community is lost. There is a concern for the needs of one’s self, while the needs of his brother are ignored or forgotten. For too long economics have been a tool of the strong against the weak, who “should remain at a fixed stage of development, and should be content to receive assistance from the philanthropy of developed peoples.” Instead, he argues, that globalization should be a process that is “community-oriented” and allows people to “transcend” their economic situation. In the end, it is up to all of us to stand for social jutice and to “steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods.”

The thrust of Benedict’s encyclical is that humanity needs to fully experience love: “Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.” The most authentic form of love is charity, which “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6)( hence the title of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, or Charity in Truth) because it originates in God. “Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.” Conservatives often dismiss charity and giving because they do not link it to “moral responsiblity,” instead they empasize a Reagan-esque supply-side economic model– the sort that precipitated our current economic melt-down. Benedict, in his critique, seems to support a wealth distribution model: “to love is to give, to offer what is ‘mine’ to the other… The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them.” To simply argue that wealth accumulation in the hands of the few (at their expense) would eventually benefit the poor masses ignores the fact that we all live in a global community, and as such we should be charitable with our neighbors. “The whole Church, in all her being and acting—when she proclaims, when she celebrates, when she performs works of charity—is engaged in promoting integral human development.” We should remember Matthew 25:34-46:

“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The Pope, in his encyclical, identifies four issues that must be addressed in order to promote integral human development: hunger, respect for life, religious freedom, and disciplinary collaboration.The most pressing is hunger. As many would argue, but others would dispute, access to food and water is a human right. Unfortunately, we live in a world where not everone has access to food and water. Hunger across our globe (even within our own borders) is still a major problem: everyday 963 million people go hungry every day throughout the world; 24,000 people die everyday from hunger, two-thirds of which are children; one in seven also suffer from malnutrition. With the wealth of all Western nations, who reap the benefits of globalization, why can hunger be ended?

The Pope’s encyclical is a call to action, as well as a rebuke to the modern concepts of selfish individualism. On friday, President Obama will meet with Pope Benedict in Vatican City. Though the two might clash over issues such as abortion, the two will likely find much common ground in combating world hunger. The two are set to discuss issues regarding human dignity.

Since it was announced that President Barack Obama was going to be giving the commencement address for the 2009 graduating class of Notre Dame, the Vatican has been deafeningly silent. Close observers interpreted this silence as tacit approval of the Obama administration, and as a friendly opening for dialogue. This contrasted sharply with the outspokenness of a small group of Conservative Catholics (both among the laity and hierarchy) who have been against the President’s visit and the honorary degree the school was going to give him. Again, this was a small group, only 28% of Catholics, while half of Catholics approved of the President’s address and the remaining 22% not having an opinion either way. A recent poll also shows that 67% of Catholics approve of the way President Obama has run the country. Last November, 54% of Catholics voted for Barack Obama.

Ah, but the Vatican has ended its silence, which might prove problematic for Conservative Catholics.

Giuseppe Fiorentino, writing in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, has concluded that President Barack Obama has been a somewhat cautious leader, not the radical socialist Conservatives had portrayed him as. Fiorentino also cites Obama’s approaches to the economy and banking regulations, which have not been exactly bold; in other words, he has not used this as an opportunity to lead the U.S. towards socialism.

Obama’s stance on so-called “life issues” has not been as “apocalyptic” as some U.S. Catholic leaders have suggested, according to the paper. “The new guidelines regarding research on embryonic stem cells do not in fact follow the change of course planned months ago. They do not allow the creation of new embryos for research purposes or therapeutic cloning for reproductive purposes, and federal funds may only be used for experimentation with redundant embryos,” Fiorentino writes. “The search for common ground seems to be the road chosen by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to confront the sensitive abortion issue,” L’Osservatore says. Instead of confronting his opponents, Obama has shown that he wants to engage in a positive dialogue and find “common ground.” They are also heartened to hear that he does not intend to pursue ultra-liberal laws regarding abortion.

The paper also noted President Obama’s intention to include a “conscience clause” in the Freedom of Choice Act, which would allow doctors who are morally opposed to abortion to refuse participation in abortion procedures. In addition to seeking dialogue, the President, Fiorentino writes, also wants to reduce the number of abortions, which includes a plan to facilitate the adoption process, and providing health care for women who do decide to keep their unborn child.

This article has been yet another positive sign from the Vatican, following its early May issue entitled Obama in the White House: The Hundred Days the Didn’t Shake the World.

Here is the full article:

Obama in the White House
The hundred days that didn’t shake the world
One thousand three hundred sixty-one days separate Barack Obama from the end of his mandate. No one can know nor imagine what will happen in this time. In fact, many analysts describe the “occupation” of the president as a reactive one. Planned political strategy leaves the post — as the case of the Bush presidency after 11 September 2001 proves — to choices dictated by events.

In another perspective, this 29 April marks a hundred days of the first African-American president in the White House, traditionally a much-awaited point for an initial assessment, however inevitably partial. But rivers of ink have already flowed over these weeks that, according to many commentators, they’ve signified a decisive turn from the past, a redefinition of the very image of the United States in the world.

It might be that this capacity to communicate is one of the great traits of the president, recalling that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like the architect of the New Deal, Obama utilizes the modern media — radio then, internet today — to spread the message of hope which the nation needs. The great crisis of 1929 can’t be compared to the current one. And still the imprint seems the same. So too the ability of shifting the attention of public opinion in a pragmatic and functional way.

In these months Obama has seen his popularity grow only by having opened the doors to changes: he proposed direct negotiations with Iran to resolve the question of Tehran’s nuclear program and invited Russia to new discussions for the reduction of its strategic arsenals. Above all, he’s proposed a different role for the United States on the American continent, beginning to imagine new relations with Cuba. But in other and more concrete international scenarios, continuity in respect to the past is anything but compromised. Like in Iraq, where the administration is applying the exit strategy begun by Bush, and in Afghanistan. Here — Obama declared — is found the new front of the fight against terrorism. New only to a point, as it was in Afghanistan where the first US military intervention after September 11 took place. And not everything as a wish for discontinuity can be seen by the retention of Robert Gates at the helm of the Pentagon.

Even when, opening to Cuba, he’s broken a taboo, Obama isn’t much moved from his predecessors in the request for tangible signs on the part of Havana.

Similar evaluations can be made for the economic stimulus undertaken by the president. It’s been accused of excessive statism by some, if not placing the country on the path to socialism. A calmer analysis, however, notes that Obama moves with caution: very reluctant in the face of the nationalization of financial institutions, he opened the private sector to his plan to save credit institutions. Revealing, according to the International Herald Tribune, an unexpected similarity with Ronald Reagan, the president who placed a flag for the state’s retreat from the private sector. And much more statism revealed itself in the final months of the Bush-Paulson team with the partial nationalization of the titans of property lending, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Even on ethical questions — which, from the electoral campaign, have been the forceful concern of the Catholic episcopate — Obama doesn’t seem to have confirmed the radical changes he had aired. The new guidelines regarding embryonic stem-cell research don’t, in fact, line up with the changes foreseen months ago. They don’t permit the creation of new embryos for purposes of research or therapy, for cloning or reproductive ends, and federal funds may be used solely for experimentation with surplus embryos. These don’t remove the motives for criticism in the face of unacceptable forms of bioengineering that contrast with the human identity of the embryo, but the new regulations are less permissive.

A certain surprise has otherwise come about in these days through a bill designed by the Democratic party: the Pregnant Women Support Act would move to limit the number of abortions in the United States through initiatives of aid for distressed women. It’s not a negation of the doctrine until now expressed by Obama on matters of the interruption of pregnancy, but the legislative project could represent a rebalancing in support of motherhood.

Signals of innovations in the Obama administration are undeniable. Above all on matters of the care of environment and in particular the partnership that seems born with Beijing. But maybe it’s early to talk of revolution or imbalance in judgment, whether positive or negative. These hundred days have not shaken the world. Better to await the next one thousand three hundred sixty-one.

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  • Thank you, #PeytonManning for throwing that interception to give the #Cowboys that win. What happened, bro? 5 years ago
  • Troubled to watch the march to war. I hope the President is cognizant of mission creep. We need to reevaluate our middle-eastern policies. 5 years ago
  • I argued for years with conservatives about the PATRIOT Act, warning about the loss of rights and invasion of privacy. Now they care? #WSJ 5 years ago
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