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by Peterr

Raise a Glass, and Let Us Give Thanks

9:01 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

One of the delights (or difficulties, depending on your point of view) of being a pastor is that in most parishes, you are constantly surrounded by a mix of people — much more of a mix than most people have in their ordinary workplaces. Rich people and poor people, folks with lots of degrees and folks with little formal education, people with deep roots in an area and people who moved into that place . . . a rich diversity of people indeed. As I prepare for Thanksgiving at our home, and think about the food that will be spread for my family and friends, many of my parishioners (current and former) go through my mind.

If you have a beverage at hand, now would be a good time to fill your glass . . .

*raising my glass*

I give thanks for farmers. I give thanks for the ranchers with their cattle, bison, sheep, and hogs, as well as the folks who grow wheat, corn, soybeans, and truck crops. I give thanks for those who tend orchards and vineyards, and those who go out in their boats to bring in the fruits of the sea.

I give thanks for the meteorologists and other scientists who offer their expertise, to help the farmers make the most of their land and their farms, and I give thanks for those who inspect our food, to help insure its safety.

I give thanks for those who bring this food to markets to be sold, and I give thanks for those who run the markets, putting this food before me as I shop.

I give thanks for my family, who cook with me and for me, and I give thanks for my friends, who dine with me and bless me with their presence.

Beyond all this, I give thanks for those who serve food to others.

I give thanks for those who run the restaurants where I go out to eat — the cooks, the servers, and those who clean up — and I give thanks for those who prepare the meals in schools and nursing homes, in mess halls and prisons, in hospitals and government cafeterias.

I give thanks for those who serve in soup kitchens and food pantries, helping those on the margins of society to not only fill their bellies but to know that they are not forgotten or without worth, and I give thanks for those who eat in soup kitchens and shop in food pantries, for reminding me by their presence of our shared humanity and our mutual responsibility for one another.

As you gather this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for you and for those with whom you dine. Whether you gather around a carnivore’s delight of turducken slathered in gravy made from the drippings or a vegan’s feast of vegetables and herbs, may this day of Thanksgiving be a day in which you give thanks for the community that surrounds you.

To Thanksgiving, and to people to be thankful for!

*ding*

(Because as I wrote in the midst of the Scooter Libby trial, we have to ding.)

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by Peterr

The People of New York v. The Donald

5:58 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

This is a man who has made millions out of going bankrupt, forcing his creditors to eat his losses.

Oh my.

Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General of the State of New York, is not happy with Donald Trump, the Ruler of All that He Sees*. Schneiderman has filed a $40 million lawsuit against Trump, alleging that his “Trump University” defrauded students who enrolled there.

“Trading on his celebrity status, Mr. Trump personally appeared in advertisements making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got,” Schneiderman said. “No one, no matter how rich or famous they are, has a right to scam hardworking New Yorkers. Anyone who does should expect to be held accountable.”

And as the AP notes, Schneiderman’s not done:

“Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers’ advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm,” Schneiderman said. “Trump University, with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.”

Unfortunately, Trump has an ironclad defense: admitting to everything that Schneiderman says, otherwise known as “the truth.”

I can hear the defense opening statement now:

Your honor, my client has a long history of running businesses solely to benefit himself. You know it, I know it, all of New York knows it, all the world knows it.

This is a man who has made millions out of going bankrupt, forcing his creditors to eat his losses.

This is a man who has made millions by presenting himself on national television as a self-centered know-it-all, who doesn’t give a damn about those beneath him — including his own family members.

With this well-known history, how can anyone plausibly bring a suit alleging fraud? If you drive across a bridge that has obviously broken girders, obviously rusted supports, and obviously potholed asphalt, you can’t blame anyone but yourself when the bridge collapses as you drive an 18 wheeler across it. That’s what the plaintiffs are trying to do — avoid responsibility for their own gullibility.

I move that this case be dismissed.

I’m told the legal phrase that I’m looking for is “assumption of risk.”

Case dismissed.

(I suppose that it’s too late to bill Mr. Trump for my legal expertise . . .)

___

*apologies to Yertle the Turtle. Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Better Late Than Never for Archbishop Gomez on Handling Cardinal Mahony

7:22 am in accountability, child abuse, Religion, Uncategorized by Peterr

Roman Catholic Archbishop José H. Gomez shook the Catholic world yesterday by imposing unheard-of sanctions against his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony for Mahony’s actions to shield predatory priests from accountability during his years as the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In most of the coverage, this was rightly hailed as a strong action to advance the cause of justice, and to provided at least a measure of accountability even though criminal liability is probably not possible because the statute of limitations has probably expired.  The coverage misses one very negative aspect of Gomez’ actions, however. Before we get to that, let me provide a little background.

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (then headed by Mahony) settled a group of over 500 civil suits over clerical child abuse, and since then has been fighting the release of their files related those cases. When they lost the battle to keep the files themselves secret, they tried to argue that the names of not just victims but church officials should be redacted. Some records were released last week, and last Monday, they lost their redaction argument, and yesterday, rather than appeal the ruling, they released the rest of the files.

What emerged was not pretty. Not pretty at all:

Fifteen years before the clergy sex abuse scandal came to light, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and a top advisor plotted to conceal child molestation by priests from law enforcement, including keeping them out of California to avoid prosecution, according to internal Catholic church records released Monday.

The archdiocese’s failure to purge pedophile clergy and reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement has previously been known. But the memos written in 1986 and 1987 by Mahony and Msgr. Thomas J. Curry, then the archdiocese’s chief advisor on sex abuse cases, offer the strongest evidence yet of a concerted effort by officials in the nation’s largest Catholic diocese to shield abusers from police. The newly released records, which the archdiocese fought for years to keep secret, reveal in church leaders’ own words a desire to keep authorities from discovering that children were being molested.

Ugly. The memos show Mahony and his staff shuttling some priests out of the country, and cherrypicking therapists for others, all in an effort to avoid accountability.

Mahony retired in 2011, and Archbishop José H. Gomez took over the archdiocese on March 1, 2011. Yesterday, in his letter accompanying the release of the unredacted files, Gomez described reading through them:

I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.

We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.

I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011.

Then came the bombshell:

Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Two Words for Gibbs and the White House

5:37 am in Uncategorized by Peterr

Watching the flap with Robert Gibbs and his "inartful" comments that lashed out at the Left because of cable news talking points spewed by the Right made two words leap to my mind: displaced anger.

Psychology Definition Of The Week: Displaced Anger

Anger is often associated with suspicion and mistrust, and can manifest itself in feelings of hostility, frustration, exasperation and even fury. But what happens when you displace your anger?

Anger displacement occurs when you direct your angry thoughts and feelings at someone or something that is safe or convenient, rather than the actual source of your anger. For example your boss gives you a hard time at work, but you say nothing and take it out on your partner when you get home. Not only is this bad for your relationships, but it is also ineffective when dealing with the angry feelings – the anger you feel at your boss is still there.

Or, to pick another example closer to home for the White House, the GOP gives you a hard time at work, but you say nothing and take it out on your Democratic base when you get home. Not only is this bad for your relationships, but it is also ineffective when dealing with the angry feelings – the anger you feel at the GOP is still there.

And the GOP is laughing as they watch it all unfold.

by Peterr

Missouri Must Have Money to Burn

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill says she "received the message" from the voters back in Missouri, who passed a measure trying to exempt Missouri residents from the individual mandate on health insurance and the employer mandate to provide it:

I know that there’s a lot of work we need to do on not just the provisions of the law, but most importantly making sure everyone knows what’s in the law. And I can only be hopeful that as time goes on, more and more people realize the positive things that are in the bill. I do know that this vote very closely reflected the number of people who voted in the Republican primary versus the Democratic primary. But nonetheless, message received. I appreciate the fact that voters are sending a message. I don’t think it has any impact on the law itself, but it is a message.

Oh, good. For a minute there, I thought she was giving credence to a vote to bring back that old stand-by from the pre-civil war days, nullification.

In the meantime, though, I’ve got a question for my fellow voters in Missouri, for my state legislators, for my governor, for my senator, and for my would-be senator, Rep Roy Blunt: how much will it cost the State of Missouri to defend this nonsense in court?

If Missouri wants to defend the idea of nullification — an idea I thought was put to rest in 1865 — maybe they should hold the hearing in the Old Federal Courthouse in St. Louis, where the Dred Scott case was argued. As long as we’re going back to the arguments of the pre-civil war era, why not go all the way?

Fortunately, Missouri is awash in state revenues, so paying to defend a patently unconstitutional ballot measure is not going to keep state roads from being fixed, state police on the roads, state parks from being cleaned up, nursing homes from being inspected, or affect any of a thousand other important state programs.

Oh, wait . . . Missouri is in the midst of a budget crisis.

Never mind.

by Peterr

FDIC Takes Aim at Large Banks and Small-minded Regulators

1:56 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

Last April, the Inspectors General of the FDIC and Treasury Department released a joint post-mortem on the failure of Washington Mutual [pdf], looking particularly at the way in which the Office of Thrift Supervision (the primary federal regulator [PFR] for WaMu) and the FDIC carried out their oversight responsibilities.  Today, based largely on that report, a new memorandum of understanding [pdf] was agreed to by the four PFRs: the FDIC, OTS, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Reserve. That new MOU gives the FDIC direct access to the large financial institutions, regardless of who their PFR is and whether the PFR wants the FDIC poking around.

The April joint IG report on the failure of WaMu offered several conclusions about the FDIC. First among those conclusions was this (pdf pp. 58-59, with emphasis added):

First, the terms of the interagency agreement governing information sharing and back-up examinations require that FDIC prove a requisite level of risk at an institution – heightened risk, material deteriorating conditions, or adverse developments – in order for the primary regulator to grant FDIC access to the institution’s information. The level of risk is largely based on an institution’s CAMELS composite ratings and regulatory capital level.

For large institutions such as WaMu that by their sheer size pose a high risk to the DIF, we believe FDIC should not have to prove a particular level of risk to the primary regulator to obtain access to the institution’s information, as the institution’s risk of failure and the resulting potential impact on the DIF should be enough to allow FDIC access to information it needs to assess risk of loss. As shown in this report and our report on IndyMac, OTS’s consistent assignment of a CAMELS composite 2 ratings for those institutions until their near failure shows the unreliability of CAMELS ratings as predictors of risk to the DIF.

The interagency agreement was intended to balance the needs of FDIC against the regulatory burden on an institution of having two regulators duplicating examinations. One key principle of the interagency agreement is that FDIC must rely, to the fullest extent possible, on the work of the primary regulator. In practical terms, the interagency agreement appeared to drive a wedge between OTS and FDIC as attempts by FDIC to review information at WaMu were seen as an affront to the capabilities of OTS examiners. We believe FDIC must have sufficient and timely access to information at all large insured depository institutions (defined by FDIC as having assets of $10 billion or more) in order to properly assess risk and appropriately price deposit insurance. We also believe that it may not be in the best interest of FDIC to place too much reliance on the ability of the primary regulator to assess risk to the DIF. Ultimately, the DIF, which is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, and thus the American taxpayer, is responsible for absorbing an institution’s failure, not the primary regulator.

The IGs recommended (p. 60) that the FDIC "revisit the interagency agreement governing information access and back-up examination authority for large insured depository institutions to ensure it provides FDIC with sufficient access to information necessary to assess risk to the DIF."

Today, the FDIC got what the IGs proposed.

This new Memorandum of Understanding [pdf] doesn’t take away the ability of the other primary federal regulators to carry out their oversight responsibilities of big banks, but it gives the FDIC the right to sit in on any of the examinations and meetings between the PFRs and the banks, or to separately hold their own investigative sessions, independent of the PFR.

Significantly, it lets the FDIC look not only at the parts of the large institutions that are directly related to banking, but to assess the overall health of all parts of that large institution. The portion of a large institution related to banking may be in fine shape, but if problems in the rest of the institution put the whole thing at risk, the FDIC needs to know about them in order to properly assess charges for the DIF and to safeguard its bottom line.

There are procedures and processes for lots of information sharing, but the bottom line seems to be that if the FDIC has to deal with the fallout of a bank failure via the Deposit Insurance Fund, then the FDIC has the right to be as involved as they see fit (not as the PFR sees fit) when it comes to watching over the health of banks, rather than simply trusting the works of the other PFRs.

This ought to make the whole notion of "regulator shopping" by the large financial institutions somewhat less attractive. If the FDIC thinks your overall business is jeopardizing the bank deposits that they ultimately bear responsibility for, it doesn’t matter who your PFR is. Sheila Bair and her crew can come knocking, with or without permission from the Fed, OTS, or OCC.

Said the FDIC’s press release,

"The agreement reached today strikes that reasonable balance between preserving the role of the primary federal regulator and providing the FDIC with the information that is critical to meeting our statutory responsibilities," [FDIC Chair Sheila Bair] said. "The FDIC supports the role of the primary federal regulator and has no interest in infringing upon their authorities. However, the FDIC has needs that are separate and distinct from the primary federal regulator that must be met in order to satisfy our statutory responsibilities."

Poor Ben Bernanke. While he dreams of being the uber-regulator and chief monitor of systemic risk, this new agreement forces the Fed to allow the FDIC independent access directly to the big banks instead of making the FDIC rely on his tame stable of regulators at the Fed.

I’d love to see a photo of Ben Bernanke signing off on this. He’d be the one with the gritted teeth.

by Peterr

Pope Benedict’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

8:50 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

It’s been a bad week for Pope Benedict. From Italy to Belgium to Washington DC, courts everywhere seem to be taking a hard look at some of the activities of the Catholic church, and they’re not liking what they’re seeing.

A week ago Sunday, news broke that a high-ranking Roman Catholic cardinal was under investigation in Italy for corruption. Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the archbishop of Naples and former head of a major Vatican department (the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, or Propaganda Fide in Latin) was caught up in a larger probe of former Italian government officials involved in various real estate, public works, and construction scams. Word of the investigation broke last February, but Sepe’s involvement only came to light last week:

Judicial sources have told the media that [Italian infrastructure minister Pietro] Lunardi bought a building in central Rome – in Via dei Prefetti, a stone’s throw from parliament – from Sepe’s department in 2004 at a price four times lower than the estimated market value.

In an alleged swap for favours, the following year Lunardi allocated state funds for the restoration of historic church buildings, including the 16th century Congregation headquarters facing the Spanish Steps.

Sepe proclaimed his innocence, implicitly comparing himself in his Sunday sermon with martyrs who "were tortured, humiliated and disrespected" for their faithfulness to the Gospel. He also declared he had the full support of the Vatican, and pledged to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

That kind of news would ruin any CEO’s week, religious or otherwise. Then came Thursday, when things got dramatically worse.

That’s when Belgian police raided the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium as part of an investigation of child abuse at the hands of priests and allegations of a coverup on the part of the Belgian bishops.

The  spokesperson for the Belgian conference of bishops (the "Episcopal Conference") put out this statement, which was released by the Vatican Secretariat of State on Friday:

The bishops of Belgium were gathered at the residence of the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels at about 10.30 this morning for the monthly meeting of the Episcopal Conference. At about 10:30, police and court officials entered and referred that there would be a search of the archdiocese, following complaints of sexual abuse within the territory of the archdiocese. No explanation was given, but all documents and mobile phones were confiscated and it was referred that nobody could leave the building. This situation lasted until approximately 19:30.

Everyone was interrogated, members of the Episcopal Conference and staff. It was not a pleasant experience, but everything was done correctly. The bishops have always affirmed their trust in justice and its work. This search was greeted with the same confidence and therefore, for the moment, the (bishops) shall refrain from making further comments.

Instead, they, along with Professor Peter Adriaensses, chairman of the committee for handling sexual abuse as part of a pastoral outreach, regret the fact that during another search, all files of this committee were seized. This goes against the privacy rights of which the victims who have chosen to turn to this committee should benefit. This action gravely affects the much needed and excellent work of this committee.

Emphasis added. I’m sure they were surprised — that’s kind of the point, with any kind of search like this — but I’m glad it was all done correctly.

On Sunday, the pope himself weighed in, releasing the message he sent to the head of the Belgian episcopal conference:

At this sad time I wish to express my special closeness and solidarity to you, dear brother in the episcopate, and to all the bishops of the Church in Belgium, for the surprising and deplorable manner in which searches were carried out at the cathedral of Mechelen and at the site where the Belgian episcopate was gathered in a plenary assembly which, among other things, also intended to consider questions associated with the abuse of minors by members of the clergy. On a number of occasions I myself have highlighted how these serious matters should be dealt with by both civil law and canon law, while respecting the specific nature and autonomy of each. In this context, I trust that justice may run its course in order to guarantee the fundamental rights of persons and of institutions, at the same time respecting victims, showing unconditional recognition for those who undertake to collaborate, and rejecting everything that obscures the noble goal with which justice is assigned.

While assuring you that I accompany the progress of your Church with my daily prayers, I willingly impart an affectionate apostolic blessing.

Emphasis added here, too. Notice the difference between the two statements? What the Belgian bishops described as unpleasant and yet "done correctly," the pope sees as "deplorable". Belgium has become what John Allen described as "a perfect storm" on the sex abuse crisis, with a painful history leading up to this raid.

When it rains, it pours. A lot.

The last bolt of judicial thunder came from the Supreme Court of the United States, who with two words made life in the Vatican even more miserable. Buried on a list of orders released this morning [pdf] was the line "09-1: Holy See v. Doe, John V.", sitting right under a very painful two word heading: "CERTIORARI DENIED".

Said the Catholic News Service:

The U.S. Supreme Court has left standing a lower court ruling that will allow an Oregon man to try to hold the Vatican financially responsible for his sexual abuse by a priest, if he can persuade the court that the priest was an employee of the Vatican.

By declining to take Holy See v. John Doe, the court June 28 left intact the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said because of the way Oregon law defines employment, the Vatican is not protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act from potential liability for the actions of a priest who Doe, the unidentified plaintiff, said sexually abused him in the 1960s.

The Vatican had hoped to have this case dismissed out of hand using FSIA, but they couldn’t convince even four justices that their case was worth hearing, at least at this point. (Conspiracy theorists take note: there are six Roman Catholics on the Court, and the Vatican still couldn’t muster four votes for cert, even with an amicus brief filed by the DOJ supporting their position.)

Now the Vatican has the unenviable task of going back to the district court to try to make the case that the priest and various bishops involved are *not* Vatican employees.

Good luck with that.

I can easily envision the questioning by the lawyers for Doe of the priest, the bishops, and whatever Vatican officials are deposed in this case:

  • Are priests obligated to work under the terms and conditions laid down by the Vatican?
  • Are they subject to discipline for failure to live up to those conditions?
  • Does the Vatican establish the procedures for carrying out that discipline?
  • Isn’t it true that no priest can leave the priesthood without the permission of the Vatican, which can be obtained only by undergoing a process created and carried out by the Vatican?
  • Bishop, were you named to your post by the Pope?
  • Did the pope (or someone designated by the pope) install you in your office with a special ceremony of episcopal ordination at which he (or his designee) presided?
  • At that ceremony, did the pope or his designee give to you personally various signs, symbols, and insignia of your office?
  • Are you charged with carrying out your office in accordance with policies and procedures laid down by the Pope and the various curial offices of the Vatican?
  • Are you required to report to the Vatican regularly on your activities, including mandatory visits to Rome for in-person consultation?
  • Isn’t it true that you can be removed from your office by the Pope?

Given that the answer to every one of those questions is "yes," and that there are reams of Vatican documents like the code of canon law and papal sermons at the ordinations of bishops that can be introduced as supporting evidence, claiming that bishops are somehow "free agents" or "independent contractors" is going to be a very hard argument to make.

This case isn’t over. The Vatican may yet win the underlying lawsuit, but they’re not going to win it without a lot of discovery, public hearings, and the airing of some very dirty ecclesiastical laundry.

And if all this news wasn’t bad enough, there’s one more thing that is giving Pope Benedict nightmares: there will be plenty more weeks like this to come.

by Peterr

First They Came For the Nuns, But I Didn’t Speak Up Since I was not a Nun

8:34 am in Uncategorized by Peterr

It’s never been particularly easy for strong women to use their gifts within the Roman Catholic church’s hierarchical structure and their understanding of the separate roles prescribed for men and women. These days, though, it’s getting even harder — and the debate is not something that affects solely Roman Catholics.

Look at the ongoing health care battle.

At the height of the debate over health insurance reform last Spring, the Catholic Health Association chair, Sister Carol Keehan, came out in support of the Senate bill, much to the chagrin and anger of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, who were demanding that only the Stupak House version was morally acceptable. Back in March, I described the CHA statement defending the acceptability of the Senate bill like this:

After noting what they [the CHA] see as the positives of the Senate bill, they took a very direct swipe at the bishops:

And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

They said it politely, but the message is clear: the bishops are either liars or dupes, neither of which is terribly attractive.

As you might imagine, telling the political world that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is wrong about something didn’t go down well with the members of the USCCB.

The USCCB and CHA both had major meetings last week (separately), and the tensions between the two groups are clear. Despite the efforts to put on a nice public face, they are increasingly nasty behind closed doors. In a piece on Wednesday of last week in the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen noted that neither side is backing down:

"We would not have supported the legislation if it were inconsistent with our values as a ministry of the church," said Colleen Scanlon, a lay medical professional and chair of the CHA Board of Trustees, in remarks opening the [CHA] assembly. . . .

At roughly the same time, the U.S. bishops gathered in St. Petersburg, Fla., for their June 14-18 spring assembly. Though designed as a spiritual retreat, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the conference, added a discussion of health care reform at the beginning. Speaking by telephone, George told NCR on June 16 that it was an informational session, and that no decisions were made.

George, too, stuck to his guns, arguing that the dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle "about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops" – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?

It takes a lot of guts for Catholic women religious to stand up to the USCCB under any circumstances, but the various women’s religious orders in the US are in the midst of a Vatican-ordered "visitation" — an inquiry into their theological soundness and the quality of life in each order. As Tom Fox of NCR wrote in April 2009:

The Vatican assessment has become necessary, according to [Cardinal William] Levada, because at the 2001 meeting between the women’s leadership conference and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [headed by Levada], which took place in Rome, the women were invited “to report on the initiatives taken or planned” to promote the reception of three areas of Vatican doctrinal concern: the 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis [which reinforced the restriction of the priesthood to men only], the 2000 declaration Dominus Jesus from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [which declares non-Catholic Christians to be "gravely deficient" and their communities to suffer "defects"], and “the problem of homosexuality.” . . .

Regarding the investigation of the women’s leadership conference, Levada informed conference leaders: “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the intervening years, this Dicastery can only conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present.”

As a result, Levada said, the Vatican had decided “a doctrinal assessment” of the “activities and initiatives of the LCWR would be helpful.”

(There’s a long history of tension between the women religious and some in the Vatican. See more of NCR’s reporting on the visitation here.)

But back to Wednesday of last week . . .

On the same day as Allen’s story came out, the much more conservative Catholic News Agency released a story that went much farther, with some rather inflammatory quotes from USCCB chair, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, at a closed door meeting (emphasis added):

According to the Archbishop of Chicago, when the Stupak Amendment was defeated in the Senate in December 2009, “everything went south.”

That is when “the Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups provided cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration.”

Cardinal George clearly remarked that “Sr. Carol and her colleagues are to blame” for the passage of the health care bill. He continued by revealing that the bishops repeatedly tried to reach out to Sr. Keehan both before and after the vote. “I personally met with her in March to no avail,” the cardinal reported.

In April, three bishops of the USCCB ad hoc Health Care Concerns Committee, Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Kevin Vann of Fort Worth and Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, also met with Sr. Keehan to try to make her understand the bishop’s concerns and thus bring CHA back in line with Church teachings, however the meeting concluded with “the same frustrating results.”

The president of the USCCB reiterated the bishop’s fundamental opposition to the health care reform. “The bill which was passed is fundamentally flawed. The Executive Order is meaningless. Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation,” Cardinal George emphatically said.

The cardinal also expressed disappointment with CHA “and other so-called Catholic groups” because, “in the end, they have weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S.”

"So-called" Catholics? Take that, you uppity women. Note especially that last section: what matters most, George is saying, is that the power of bishops be preserved.

On Monday, Helen Osman, the media person at the USCCB, pushed back, claiming that the quotes were fabricated: "I was in the room, as a member of the USCCB staff, for the presentation. And the official audio file that recorded the session for USCCB archives confirms my memory."

What’s that? Something about "the official audio file?" Says Osman, don’t even think about it:

To honor the bishops’ privacy and confidentiality, we will not be releasing the transcript. It’s unfortunate if someone breached that confidentiality; also unfortunate if CNA tried to take an educated guess at what the cardinal might have said and cobbled together its own fabrication of the session.

But CNA stands by their story, saying that several bishops had confirmed the quotes to them, and they called on the USCCB to release not a transcript, but the actual audio recording of the session.

On Tuesday, back at NCR, John Allen noted that because NCR has gotten pulled into the story with CNA and the USCCB, he was releasing a full transcript of his interview with Cardinal George (which was not confidential) which was part of his earlier story. In that interview, the cardinal’s general viewpoint fits quite well with what CNA reported in their initial story. Cardinal George and others in the USCCB are quite put out that anyone would dare to disagree with them and have the temerity to call themselves Catholic, because it is the bishops who have the role of speaking for the church.

Had Cardinal George left it there, it would have been a pretty benign response, but he then opened himself up to charges of violating Godwin’s law by invoking Nazis. He didn’t directly call Sister Keehan and the CHA folks Nazis, but compared the US bishops today to a WWII era cardinal who was recently beafied for his martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis because of his opposition to euthanasia and the laws that allowed it, implicitly putting CNA on the side of those who made him a martyr.

Lovely.

For those of us on the outside, it would be easy to write this all off as an in-house spat within the Roman Catholic Church. But we’re talking about the same folks that recently strengthened the rules by which Catholic health care providers must operate [pdf here], demanding that such institutions and the medical people associated with them override the expressed wishes of a patient and/or patient’s family if those wishes conflict with what the bishops believe about end of life decisions, abortion, and other health care issues. We’re talking about the same folks who recently backed the automatic excommunication of the senior administrator at a Roman Catholic hospital in Phoenix for approving a life-saving abortion. (Just yesterday, the USCCB reiterated their position again.)

I’ll give you two guesses as to that senior administrator’s gender.

These battles in the Catholic Church affect everyone who enters an emergency room at a Catholic hospital, and everyone who deals with a medical practitioner who works at a facility that receives funds from the Catholic church. The political world got a glimpse of the force that the bishops can bring to bear in the recent health care debates, and from what I’m seeing in the Catholic media, the bishops aren’t done trying to throw their weight around.

It’s the sisters who are taking the first hit, but stay tuned, because the bishops aren’t done in DC. Not by a long shot. If the bishops have their way, they’ll be writing the rules for the entire US health care system, not simply those institution with "Catholic" in their charters. They’re coming back to fix the flaws in health care reform, and going after emergency contraception while they’re at it.

I may not be a nun, but I’m speaking up for them now, before it’s too late.

by Peterr

Victory for the Greens and The Left Party in North Rhine-Westphalia Elections

12:46 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

Yesterday, I wrote about the coming election in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Well, the results are coming in (via Das Handelsblatt):

Christian Democratic Union (CDU): 34.6%; 67 seats (-22)
Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD): 34.4%; 67 seats (-7)
Green Party: 12.2%; 24 seats (+12)
Free Democratic Party (FDP): 6.8%; 13 seats (+1)
The Left Party: 5.4%; 10 seats (+10)
Various Others: 6.6%; no seats

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats took it on the chin, suffering their worst showing in NRW ever. The leader of the SPD proclaimed "The SPD is back," but when your party loses seven seats in an election where the incumbent party gets stomped, that’s hardly cause for a real celebration.

The real victors here are on the liberal end of the political spectrum. The Left Party made it over the 5% hurdle for the first time in NRW, and now will have 10 seats in the new parliament. They have been more powerful in the east, and so having a success like this in the west is a real triumph for them.

The Greens, though, are the big winners. Both the CDU and SPD need 24 votes to create a governing coalition — exactly the projected size of the new Green block.

Various German media outlet are betting which way this will go, with no clear picture emerging yet. My gut feeling is that the CDU is more desperate to make a deal, so as to be able to keep control of the federal Bundesrat (upper house) whose members are selected at the state level. Without the votes from NRW, Merkel’s government will not have a majority in the Bundesrat. That won’t endanger her government, as it is elected solely by the Bundestag (the lower house), but it will make getting legislation enacted much more difficult.

But if the Greens demand what the CDU considers too much in the way of concessions and offices, it may be an SPD/Green coalition that emerges. Similarly, if the CDU decides that the coming months will have lots of choices between bad alternatives for whoever governs, they may be willing to let the SPD take over in NRW so as to be able to force them to share the blame nationally for whatever comes next on the economic front.

This will take a while to shake out, but one thing is clear. There are lots of happy people on the political left in North Rhine-Westphalia, and lots more unhappy ones in the center and especially on the right in Berlin.

by Peterr

Rahm To Cut PSA for R-word.org?

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Peterr

Remains-of-the-cheese-board by ImipolexG (fickr)Poor Rahm.

First he dumps on the Veal Pen for ads against Blue Dogs who have been obstructing health care reform, calling them "f—ing retarded."

This does not go down well with progressives, but they’re used to it from Rahm. It also does not go down well with folks like the Special Olympics, who have a big campaign called "End the Word" aimed at eliminating this kind of language that demeans one group by associating them with those who have various disabilities. (See r-word.org for more.) Unlike polite progressives, they’re not used to it, so Rahm offers Tim Shriver an apology and says everything’s fine.

Except, of course, it isn’t:

The vice president for communications at the Special Olympics, Kirsten Seckler, told me that this account of the conversation is "inaccurate."

"Tim didn’t accept his apology," she said. "Tim can’t do that. He can’t accept an apology on behalf of all people with disabilities."

Shriver had simply said, she said, that he was willing to continue the conversation with the chief of staff.

Oops.

Perhaps what Rahm needs to do is offer to help out with the "End the Word" campaign. Rahm’s a well-known politician, after all. Surely there’s something that could be worked out . . .

Three words for you, Rahm: Public Service Announcement.

In fact, I’ll even give you the script. Read the rest of this entry →