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Why it may be impossible to raise ‘free range kids’


by Michael Brendan Dougherty via TheWeek.com

I’m a new father. Like many new parents, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to raise my child. And just as this became my life’s primary mission, there emerged this phenomenon of “free range kids.” An anti-helicopter parenting movement was just what I wanted.

Lenore Skenazy, who is sort of the spokeswoman for free range parenting, says she is fighting “the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” Finally! A movement that sets itself against the notion that a kid who isn’t being actively surveilled by parents or a paid professional is in danger. Finally, a reaction to the parental fear that becomes an excuse for omnipresent intervention and control, to the absurd point of mistaking a cultivation of self-reliance with neglect.

The “free range kids” movement speaks exactly to what I want for my children: a childhood that teaches independence and self-reliance, a childhood like my own. And yet I’m worried that I can’t avoid the helicopter. I know that crime is way, way down from when I was a free range kid. (Back then it was just called “childhood.”) I know that the chances of stranger-danger are infinitesimally small. But I already have some of the anxiety that motivates over-protective parents. I want to imitate the free-rangers, but am afraid to do so. And I think I’ve discovered one reason why. Free range kids, and the parental trust that enables them, are at least partly dependent on a feature of American life that is dead or dying in many areas: the neighborhood.

As a child of the 1980s and early 90s, I had a single, working mother, and we lived with my grandparents in Bloomfield, New Jersey. It was one of those 60 percent Italian, 40 percent Irish neighborhoods you used to find then in Essex County. On most days when the weather was nice, it was expected that I would leave the home and play outside, that there would be other children doing the same, and that no one would have to organize our activities at the nearby park. I never had a play date. A friend from half a mile away might leave his house without a plan, come up with the idea that it would be fun to jump bikes over a curb with me, and knock on the door to ask my grandmother if I was home. In the summer, I might leave the house at nine or 10 in the morning and not return home until the street lamps came on.

By the time I was seven years old, I was comfortable walking over a mile to school. This included going underneath a Garden State Parkway overpass. I realize that I already sound like the apocryphal grandfather humble-bragging about long walks to school in the snow. But, in truth, if school was cancelled, sometimes the daily morning Mass still needed servers. I’d make the same walk to make good on my commitments, even in the snow. By age 10, I could do this walk in the dark of a winter evening after basketball practice. Learning to keep to your social commitments was probably a great thing to learn.

In some ways this independence was forced on me and my friends. Many families, including mine, simply didn’t have the time, money, or energy to have us monitored constantly. But my free range childhood was also sustained by a community. I was able to entertain myself outside because other kids my age were also playing outside, almost constantly.

That community included scores of homes filled with people who knew me and my family by name, and had lived in that community themselves for decades. They knew my uncles from when they were kids. And there were spinsters and nosy retirees who casually kept an eye on those parks where we romped. They didn’t intervene, unless someone’s property or safety was obviously in danger.

If I came home from school and was locked out, I could knock on about a dozen doors and would immediately receive assistance, whether that came in the form of a phone to call my mother, a bowl of butterscotch candies, or a remote control to watch afternoon cartoons. The expectation was that “we” were all in this together.

Everyone knew that you sometimes had to let a rambunctious kid out of doors. Or that he would get out of line once in a while. It would have been serious effrontery if you gave a parent a nasty look merely because their child was publicly misbehaving. The judgmental reproaches would only come if misbehavior was constant, and even then it would be expressed privately.

I live in a much safer neighborhood now than the one of my youth, and in an era that is almost incomparably safer according to crime statistics. And yet I never see children playing outside unsupervised. Who would my children play with unless I organized a play date? I’ll probably never see another kid knock on my door and ask if my daughter can come out to play. Couldn’t she have texted instead?

People live in my neighborhood (and nearly all the others around it) because it is nice, but as social mobility increases the stock of people who have been here for decades has decreased. There are fewer “eyes on the street” altogether; the retirees move away or into more specialized communities. And why not? Their children, if successful, didn’t buy a house near their childhood home either.

At the local shops, parents flash each other nasty and judgmental looks all the time for the slightest and most routine annoyances of children’s behavior. Instead of a “we” that lightly surrounds us, everyone in my town is a “they,” and a potential source of problems. I’m not afraid of strangers doing harm to kids. I’m much more afraid (even if the stats don’t justify it) of other parents calling the police or child services on me and getting a bogus charge of “unsubstantiated child neglect” merely for having kids that are more capable and independent than theirs.

Some people reading this may scratch their heads. They may still live in the kind of neighborhood that is characterized by a sense of shared identity and familiarity. The decline of neighborhood solidarity isn’t universal across America, and it seems far more advanced among upwardly mobile neighborhoods than in working class areas. But it’s one of the most obvious and profound changes I’ve noticed in my own day-to-day life. And it makes me suspect I won’t be able to give my children the independence that I know is best for them.

Population Control Has China Headed for ‘Demographic Disaster’

This year marks the 35th anniversary of China’s one-child policy. Recently our friend Reggie Littlejohn gave testimony to the U.S. congressional executive commission on China. She’s been advocating for Chinese women for decades. Here’s a Q&A with her from the National Catholic Register.


by Edward Pintin via NCRegister.com

Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers discusses 35 years of the nation’s one-child policy.

ROME — The Chinese Communist Party will never end the “one-child policy” because the policy is effectively terrorizing the Chinese people into keeping the Communist Party in power, according to Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, who gave testimony on April 30 to the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China on the effects of the country’s population-control measures.

The 35th anniversary of the policy, which continues to impose forced abortions on countless Chinese mothers, will be marked on Sept. 25. In this May 8 interview with the Register in Rome, Littlejohn explains in more detail what is keeping the policy in place, why reports about China ending the policy are incorrect and why a more accurate name for it would be “China’s forced-abortion policy.”

What have been the effects of the one-child policy?

First of all, you have to look at the demographics. The Chinese Communist Party is very aware that its one-child policy has caused, and is continuing to cause, an increasing demographic disaster — in three ways.

One, because of the traditional preference for boys, girls are selectively aborted, so they have approximately 37-40 million more men than women living in China. This is driving human trafficking and human slavery in China and is also a recipe for domestic instability.

Two, they have a rapidly aging population. The reason why they instituted the one-child policy 35 years ago is that, during the Mao era, fertility rates among women became very high — 5.9 births per woman. Under the one-child policy, it has plummeted to approximately 1.3 to 1.5 births per woman, depending on who you ask. But the population explosion under the Mao era is now heading towards retirement, so they don’t have a young population to support that elderly population, and they don’t have social security as we know it. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Then the third problem is that China’s workforce is actually beginning to become depleted. 2013 was the first year when the trend went down, and the number of workers is going down. It’s actually too late. Taiwanese demographers say that the recent modification of the policy is too little, too late to stave off the threefold demographic disaster they’re heading into.

Why do they keep the policy?

China’s population problem isn’t that they have too many people — it’s that they have too few young people and too few women. I believe I can answer the unanswerable and explain the unexplainable. I believe that the reason the Chinese Communist Party has not abandoned and will never abandon the one-child policy is that the one-child policy is keeping them in place.

How does it keep them in place?

In four ways. No. 1, when the one-child policy was instituted 35 years ago, China was experiencing a population explosion, and I believe it was originally instituted as population control. The terror that is caused by forced abortion and forced sterilization was a by-product of the policy and was not the purpose of the policy. Now that the policy makes no sense whatsoever, I believe terror is the purpose of the policy.

China has many different human-rights abuses — they have problems in terms of executing prisoners to harvesting organs for transplant, persecuting of Christians, Falun Gong and other faiths, overuse of the death penalty and the detention of human-rights lawyers and journalists. All of these are human-rights abuses of the Chinese Communist Party, but they affect only a thin sliver of the society.

The one-child policy is unique because it affects everyone. It is a way for the Chinese Communist government to instill terror across the board in China and to demonstrate to people that the reach of its power extends from Beijing to every single woman in China — the power to declare life or death over the baby in that womb. That is terrifying. So I believe this is social control masquerading as population control.

The spirit of the “cultural revolution” lives on in the family-planning police. The family-planning police function as domestic terrorists; and in my opinion, forced abortion is official government rape. That’s what they’re doing to the population.

What are the other reasons for maintaining the policy?

The second reason is that they’re making a lot of money out of it. According to one estimate, the Chinese Communist Party has taken in $314 billion in fines through the family-planning police, so women are fined in all kinds of different circumstances. These fines are arbitrary; they’re not uniformly imposed throughout the country.

But if you get someone pregnant without a birth permit, a fine can be 10 times your annual salary. And these fines are completely not regulated. They’re not accounted for. There’s complete opacity, there’s no transparency in where this funding is going, and local officials have been accused of pocketing the money. So that’s a big reason not to get rid of the policy.

The third reason is that the family-planning officials, the family-planning police, form a wide infrastructure of coercion. According to one estimate, there are approximately 1 million people engaged in coerced population control in China. If that were a standing army, it would be the sixth-largest standing army in the world, on par with the army of North Korea. Social unrest is on the rise in China; it’s sharply increasing. They can use this army of family-planning police, turn it in any direction, to quash dissent in any direction. So why would they get rid of this elaborate infrastructure of coercion? They need it to keep the population down, to keep security in China.

The fourth reason, I believe, is to deliberately rupture the natural relationships of trust with the Chinese people. In China, they employ a system of paid informants, where anyone can inform on a woman who is pregnant without a birth permit.

It can be her neighbors, her friends, her co-workers, people in the villages, who are paid to look at women’s abdomens to see if they’re a little bit bigger. So since anyone can inform on you, there’s no relationship of trust.

Do you have any examples of this?

A couple of years ago, I testified in Congress about a woman who had had five forced abortions in a factory in China. She said that, in her work unit, if one person became illegally pregnant, the entire work unit would be punished, so all the women were spying on each other to report on each other about an illegal pregnancy. Then, if a woman runs away because she wants to have her baby, because she wants to run away from the family-planning police, they can detain her family, her parents, her husband and her extended family. They can be detained and tortured.

So if the one-child policy can be used to rupture relationships with family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, it can be used to keep down organizing for democracy. If you cannot trust anyone, you cannot organize for democracy.

Could China be forced to end the policy?

I don’t think that the Chinese Communist Party will ever abandon the one-child policy. What’s frustrating, for me, is there’s such a misunderstanding of the one-child policy, because it has been misnamed. The one-child policy is actually not a one-child policy: There are many exceptions to the policy, and the Chinese Communist Party is heading towards this demographic disaster and creating exceptions of small segments of population that can have another child.

There were media reports not long ago about China ending the policy. Can you explain why this was not correct?

On Jan. 1, 2014, they [the Chinese government] said if one member of a couple is an only child, that couple can have a second child. Because it’s called a one-child policy and a couple can have a second child, Western media blares out, “China Abandons One-Child Policy,” and people say, “Oh great, I’m so glad they’re not doing that anymore.”

But, actually, you need a birth permit for the first and second child. The core of the policy is not that the Chinese government allows a woman to have one child or two children. The core of the policy is that they’re telling people how many kids they can have, and they’re enforcing that limit coercively, including through forced abortion and forced sterilization.

It should really be called “China’s forced-abortion policy” because that doesn’t end. The forced-abortion policy doesn’t end, no matter how many children they allow you to have. So that would be a better name for the policy.

Of course, they didn’t name it that — because it sounds so terrible — but it’s much more accurate.

Kresta in the Afternoon – May 20, 2015

Talking about the “Things That Matter Most” on May 20, 2015

4:00-6:00 – Direct to My Desk: Helicopter Parents and Free-Range Kids

Calls are coming from you direct to my desk talking over whatever matter of importance you’d like to discuss, question, analyze and so on.  Fear is probably one of Satan’s most effective ways to keep us in a form of bondage. Christ came to “deliver those who through fear of death, were subject slavery all their lives” (Heb 2:15). More than fear of death these days is fear of what will happen to our kids. There’s been a lot of dispute about “free range kids” and “helicopter parenting.” Some parents are in trouble with the law for allowing their kids to walk home from school, go to the park and do other activities unsupervised. Where do conscientious Christian parents draw the line between being a hands-off, “let the kids roam free” parent and being an overprotective, “fear everything” nanny? The data seems clear: kids are safer now than they were in the recent past, despite what the news media’s focus on tales of horror would lead you to believe. Is that why are we so scared? We’re letting the infotainment media test reality for us. People rarely talk to their neighbors any more…Are we strangers because we’re scared, or are we scared because we’re strangers? Tell us how you see it. We are also discussing the President’s claim that Christians are too preoccupied with with abortion and gay marriage. How common are atheists in foxholes? Why the present obsession with inclusion and diversity to the point of jeopardizing public safety. There are new stories about female firefighters failing physical stamina tests but still being assigned to standard firefighting. There’s always more. You make it possible. Give us a call at 877-573-7825.

From Al: Understanding Vatican Recognizing Palestine State


Recent actions by the Holy See raise questions about its relationship to Israel and the Palestinians. These pieces explain some concerns that have been raised. Their primary focus is on the state of the Palestinian people. Little attention is paid the nation of Israel. Many Christians, including Catholics, have shown interest in the question, “Who owns the land? Did God give it to the Jewish people in perpetuity and unconditionally?” To go more deeply into this question you can read evangelical Protestant New Testament scholar Gary Burge, “Whose Land, Whose Promise: What Christians are not being told about Israel and the Palestinians”. He is writing in reaction to the Zionist bent of some of his fellow evangelicals and Colin Chapman’s “Whose Promised Land?” is less concerned with the conflict between American Christians.

Holy See to Recognize Palestinian State – http://ow.ly/3xT2bR


Explaining the Vatican’s perceived pro-Palestinian tilt – http://ow.ly/3xT2cd


No novelty in Vatican reference to ‘State of Palestine’ – http://ow.ly/3xT2cx

Holy See to Recognize Palestinian State

topic (3)


by Diane Montagna via Aleteia.org

VATICAN CITY —  The Holy See announced on Wednesday that it has concluded an agreement to recognize the State of Palestine, a step welcomed by Palestinians but drawing sharp criticism from Israel.

The agreement, which has been finalized but still must be approved and signed, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the State of Palestine.

According to an official statement issued by the Vatican, Wednesday’s discussions took place “in a cordial and constructive atmosphere.” Both parties acknowledged the work carried out “at an informal level by the joint technical group following the last official meeting held in Ramallah at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine on 6 February 2014.”

The Commission, chaired by Mgsr. Antoine Camilleri, Under-Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and by Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Multilateral Affairs of the State of Palestine, “noted with great satisfaction the progress achieved in formulating the text of the Agreement, which deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.”

In an interview with the Osservatore Romano, Mgsr. Camilleri specified that these aspects include: freedom in the Church’s action, her jurisdiction, personal status, places of worship, social and charitable activities, means of social communication, and matter pertaining to finance and property.

However, Msgr. Camilleri also underlined that the agreement also expresses, “the hope for a solution to the Palestinian question and to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians as part of the two-state solution and the resolutions of the international community.”

It would be “positive,” the head of the Vatican delegation said, “if the agreement could somehow help the Palestinians to see established and recognized an independent, sovereign and democratic State of Palestine that lives in peace and security with Israel and its neighbors, while somehow encouraging the international community, especially those most directly affected, to take stronger action to help achieve a lasting peace and to the desired two-state solution.”

However, Israeli officials have criticized the announcement.

“We’re disappointed by the decision taken by the Holy See. We believe that such a decision is not conducive to bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel.

A brief statement from the Ministry said: “Israel will study the agreement and consider its next steps accordingly.”

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is scheduled to meet Pope Francis this Saturday, one day before the pontiff canonizes two saints from the Holy Land: religious sisters Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem and Marian Bawardy of Galilee.

No novelty in Vatican reference to ‘State of Palestine’



by John Allen Jr via CruxNow.com

One unfortunate consequence of widespread public fascination with Pope Francis is that many people are paying attention to a pontiff for the first time, and thus they tend to assume that everything that happens on his watch must be a novelty.

Such is the case Wednesday with a new agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinians, which is being alternately hailed or condemned, depending on one’s point of view, as a breakthrough recognition of Palestinian sovereignty because a brief Vatican statement employed the phrase “State of Palestine.”

In truth, the agreement is nothing of the sort.

The Vatican has been using the phrase “State of Palestine” in its official diplomatic verbiage since November 2012, when the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to admit the Palestinians as a non-member observer state. The Vatican has always supported Palestinian statehood, and took the position that it would follow the lead of the UN as to when to start referring to it as a fact.

It should be noted that the UN vote came during the papacy of Benedict XVI, meaning that recognition of Palestine as a state is not a new Vatican policy under Francis.

When the Vatican issued a news release in 2013 announcing the onset of negotiations with the Palestinians towards the agreement that’s now been finalized, it said the talks would be conducted with “representatives of the Foreign Ministry of the State of Palestine.”

The “news” reported Wednesday, therefore, is two and a half years old.

When the Vatican spokesperson, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed to reporters on Wednesday that the language used in the statement is “a recognition that the state exists,” he understood himself to be repeating an already established point.

Since the onset of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the Vatican has favored a two-state solution, with security guarantees for Israel and self-determination for the Palestinians. It also backs a special status for Jerusalem, including protection for the holy sites sacred to the three monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

 The agreement announced Wednesday isn’t about the question of statehood.

Instead, it largely concerns the tax and legal status of Catholic facilities and personnel on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, building on a basic accord reached between the Vatican and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 2000.

To be sure, it’s not wrong to see Pope Francis as a supporter of the Palestinian push for sovereignty.

When Francis visited the West Bank in May 2014, the image of him paused in silent prayer before the controversial Israeli security barrier, underneath a patch of graffiti reading “Free Palestine!”, became an instant Palestinian icon.

There’s nothing new about that position, however.

When Pope Benedict XVI travelled to the Middle East in 2009, he pledged support for Palestinian statehood. St. John Paul II made similar statements many times, and was sufficiently fond of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat that he had a set of the Stations of the Cross made out of ivory, presented to him by Arafat as a gift, installed in a small chapel off a Vatican chamber where bishops from around the world gather in a meeting called a “synod.”

The agreement announced Wednesday further cements the relationship between the Vatican and the Palestinians, and certainly Vatican diplomats are not so naïve as to fail to recognize the political relevance of using the phrase “State of Palestinian” in an official communiqué.

However, to style that phrase as another diplomatic innovation under this maverick pontiff is excessive. At most, it’s a confirmation that the Vatican under Francis is not backing away from a position it had already taken.

Perhaps the Vatican’s communication team might want to consider a boilerplate disclaimer in the future. “Caution: Not everything contained in the following statement amounts to a revolution.”

Explaining the Vatican’s perceived pro-Palestinian tilt



by John Allen Jr via CruxNow.com

In terms of relations with the Vatican, it would be tough to imagine a better run for the Palestinians than the one they’ve enjoyed over the past week.

On Wednesday, the Vatican announced its first bilateral treaty with the “State of Palestine.” During a meeting Saturday, Pope Francis affectionately referred to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom he enjoys a close relationship, as an “angel of peace.”

(The Vatican issued a clarification saying the remark came in the context of presenting Abbas with a bronze medal depicting an angel, suggesting it wasn’t simply a gratuitous tribute, but that did little to lessen Israeli umbrage.)

On Sunday, the pontiff canonized two 19th-century nuns as the first-ever Palestinian saints. Taken together, many Israelis saw the gestures as the Vatican tipping its hand.

In truth, this is hardly the first time Israel has detected a pro-Palestinian slant in Rome.

St. John Paul II, for instance, was widely perceived as a friend of Judaism and of Israel. Yet it irritated Israelis no end that John Paul II also met PLO leader Yasser Arafat 12 times over the course of his papacy, treating him as a serious statesman rather than the gun-toting thug most Israelis perceived him to be.

After the first such meeting in 1982, reaction from then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was pointed.

“What else can one say,” Begin said, “except to express disgust?”

Likewise, Pope Benedict XVI stirred Israeli resentment during a May 2009 trip to the Holy Land, when he criticized Israel’s security barrier separating the West Bank from Jerusalem.

During a visit to the Aida camp, home to some 3,000 Palestinian refugees that was opened after the 1948 Arab/Israeli war, Benedict affirmed his audience’s “legitimate aspirations for permanent homes [and] for an independent Palestinian State.”

The Vatican’s subsequent adoption of the term “State of Palestine,” after a November 2012 UN vote to admit Palestine as a non-member observer state, came under Benedict XVI.

To the extent there really is a pro-Palestinian tilt in some Vatican quarters, three factors help explain it.

1. Europeans favor the Palestinians.
The Vatican is a European institution and its diplomatic corps is predominantly European, mostly Italian. European biases tend to form the “default setting” of Vatican diplomacy, the instinctive line the Vatican falls back on in the absence of anything pulling it in a different direction.

Just as a pro-Israeli impulse is in the water of American politics, sympathy for the Palestinians tends to be the European norm.

2. The Vatican supports small states – and the UN.
The Vatican sees itself as the world’s smallest state and thus feels a natural affinity for other small states, especially when the perception is that a major world power – in this case, the United States through its support of Israel – has that small state at a disadvantage.

Bundled with that is strong support for the United Nations, and for multilateral approaches to virtually every foreign policy question.

It often strikes people as odd that the Vatican is so robustly pro-UN, given the battles it has waged with some UN agencies over population control. For better or worse, however, support for the global body is a bedrock principle of Vatican diplomacy.

3. Holy Land Christians are Palestinians.
The overwhelming majority of the Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinian Arabs, including the bishops and other clergy the Vatican relies upon to get its bearings in terms of what’s happening on the ground.

Over the years, the Catholic bishops of the Middle East have typically been strongly pro-Palestinian. Most have not gone as far as Greek Melkite Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, who was arrested in 1974 and later convicted by an Israeli court for smuggling guns to the PLO in the trunk of his Mercedes sedan, but many sympathized with Capucci’s aims.

In part, Palestinian Christians are conscious of their status as a minority within an overwhelmingly Muslim society, and thus sometimes feel the need to prove their Arab loyalties by being especially vocal in their criticism of Israel and their support for the Palestinian cause.

The Vatican is aware of that dynamic, and generally comes off as more cautious and balanced than the local bishops. Nevertheless, those voices can’t help but have a strong impact on the way Rome thinks.

These conditions are permanent, but there’s another factor: Francis is the first pope from the developing world, and as such, he probably brings a special degree of instinctive sympathy for what he sees as oppressed and struggling peoples.

This perceived pro-Palestinian impulse stirs deep resentment on the Israeli side, and not merely because of its broader geopolitical ramifications or the Catholic Church’s checkered history with anti-Semitism.

Israelis also insist that as the region’s lone real democracy, they do a far better job protecting religious freedom, including the rights of Christians, then anyone else in the neighborhood. At a time when Pope Francis has made anti-Christian persecution a signature cause, they argue, the Vatican should be pointing to Israel as a model rather than undercutting its standing.

(That claim is vigorously contested by many Palestinian Christians, who, among other things, say that Israeli security policies split Christian families and make access to holy sites difficult if not impossible.)

No doubt, the Vatican will find ways in the days to come to signal that its gestures to the Palestinians are not intended to come at the expense of its relationship with Israel. Francis is committed to Catholic/Jewish relations, among other things relying on his close friend, Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, as an informal channel of communication with the wider Jewish world and with Israel.

In the end, however, Israelis and their supporters probably will continue to suspect the Vatican of a basic pro-Palestinian prejudice. That perception pre-dates Francis, but after this week it seems fair to say it’s unlikely to change on his watch.


Do Churches Fail the Poor?

A note from Al:

Ross Douthat is the one of the most perceptive Catholic pundits in the secular world. This is a great piece in response to President Obama’s recent Georgetown comments about Christians being too preoccupied with the culture war issues of abortion and same sex so-called marriage. As usual the President took a worthwhile point and twisted it to the point of caricature. Douthat takes him to task for it better than anybody else including myself.

- Al Kresta


by Ross Douthat via NYTimes.com

LAST week two prominent Americans — an eminent social scientist and the president of the United States — decided to answer the question: How have America’s churches failed the poor?

Their answer was one deeply congenial to the progressive mind: They’ve been too obsessed with the culture war.

“Over the last 30 years,” Harvard’s Robert Putnam told The Washington Post, “most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for … It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

President Obama’s version, delivered when he shared a stage with Putnam at Georgetown University, was nuanced but similar in thrust: “Despite great caring and concern,” the president remarked, when churches pick “the defining issue” that’s “really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians,” fighting poverty is often seen as merely “nice to have” compared to “an issue like abortion.”

It would be too kind to call these comments wrong; they were ridiculous. Not only because (as Putnam acknowledged) believers personally give abundantly to charity, but because institutionally the churches of America use “all their resources” in ways that completely belie the idea that they’re obsessed with culture war.

As Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard pointed out, “Even the most generous estimates of the resources devoted to pro-life causes and organizations defending traditional marriage are just a few hundred million dollars.” Whereas the budgets of American religious charities and schools and hospitals and other nonprofits are tabulated in the tens of billions. (Indeed, as Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle noted, some of that money — from Catholic sources — paid Obama’s first community-organizer salary.)

This reality is reflected in the atmosphere of most churches and the public statements of their leaders. Anyone who tells you that America’s pastors are obsessed with homosexuality or abortion only hears them through a media filter. You can attend Masses or megachurches for months without having those issues intrude; you can bore yourself to tears reading denominational statements and bishops’ documents (true long before Pope Francis) with a similar result. The belief that organized religion is organized around culture war is largely a conceit of the irreligious.

Is there a version of the Obama-Putnam critique that makes any sense? Maybe they just meant to criticize religious leaders who make opposition to abortion more of a political priority than publicly-funded antipoverty efforts. But even this critique essentially erases black and Latino churches (who reliably support social programs), ignores decades worth of pro-welfare-state talk from Catholic bishops, and treats the liberal Protestant mainline as dead already.

It also conveniently absolves liberalism of any responsibility for pushing churchgoing Americans toward the small-government G.O.P. That’s an absolution that the Obama White House, with its pro-choice maximalismand attempts to strong-arm religious nonprofits, particularly needs.

No, to actually save the critique, you have to transform it completely. There is a case that churches are failing poorer Americans. But the problem isn’t how they spend money or play politics. It’s a more basic failure to reach out, integrate, and keep them in the pews.

This is the striking story of the last 30 years: Despite the stereotype of religion as something that people “cling to” (to quote a different moment of condescension from this president) in desperate circumstances, actual religious practice has collapsed more quickly among Americans with weaker economic prospects than it has among the college-educated upper class.

Mere religious affiliation has weakened for the poor and working class as well. The much-discussed rise of the “nones” — Americans with no religious affiliation — has been happening in blue -collar America as well as among the hyper-educated.

From a religious perspective, this a signal failure: A church that pays out to help the poor, but doesn’t pray with them, looks less like a church than what Pope Francis has described, unfavorably, as merely another N.G.O.

But even from a secular perspective it’s a problem, because (as Putnam’s work stresses) the social benefits of religion are stronger further down the socioeconomic ladder, and these benefits are delivered through community, practice, and belonging. So churches that spend or lobby effectively for the poor but are stratified come Sunday morning offer less to the common good than if they won a more diverse array of souls.

This critique actually lays a heavier burden on believers than the one Obama and Putnam offered. Their unjust accusation is easily answered by citing what religious Americans do already. The just one, though, requires doing something new.

Kresta in the Afternoon – May 19, 2015

Talking about the “Things That Matter Most” on May 19, 2015

4:00-6:00 – Direct to My Desk

We have open lines again today and want to hear from you. The Vatican recently made headlines by officially recognizing the State of Palestine. Do you think the Vatican is “Pro-Israel,” “Pro-Palestine” or something else? We’ll also have other topics for you to consider and we aren’t limited to the topics we present. If you have any questions or comments, please call in at 877-573-7825. We’re looking forward to speaking with you!

Pope Francis Appoints Gay Marriage Advocate – How to Respond


Over the weekend I caught word that Pope Francis had appointed a Dominican, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe to be a consultor on the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. As a temporary professed Lay Dominican, I learned that he headed the Dominican Order in the 1990s and was known for his passion for social justice.

Apparently, he is passionate about acceptance and approval of homosexual sexuality as well.

When Nick read some of his quotes to me, I will confess that my words were unprintable. I was dismayed. This was a priest in favor of at least homosexual civil marriages.

What is the problem with the Radcliffe appointment? The evidence for his favor of homosexual sexuality is overwhelming. Let me mention just two instances.

The devisors of an Anglican Church report on homosexuality asked Fr. Radcliffe to comment on their research. During his comments he said he was suspicious that the Catholic Church’s obsession with sex and a stress on rules (are) both relatively late and alien to traditional Christianity.

Now I know that rules tell us very little about God’s evaluation of sexual expression. But they are where most of us begin, including the Apostolic Church. The New Testament is filled with lists of directives regarding sexual conduct. It is not a late development.

Radcliffe then lays out a few paragraphs about fertility, fecundity, and the role of the body in self-giving love. These statements didn’t seem controversial although they seemed foggy and overly general.

But then the the bomb drops.

We cannot begin with the question of whether [homosexual marriage] is permitted or forbidden! “We must ask what it means, and how far it is Eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and non-violent. So in many ways I think it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.

Now if these statements were qualified with statements about how homosexual love will always fall short of God’s design because it can never be entirely free of the disorder of same sex attraction, I wouldn’t be as exasperated as I am right now. Or he could have included clear statements about the sinfulness of homosexual genital activity. Then I would be comfortable going on to discuss recognition of non-genital self-giving love between homosexual couples.

But apparently Fr. Radcliffe has already moved beyond me on this and given his approval of, at least, civil homosexual marriage. In a December 2012 article in The Guardian, Radcliffe wrote, “It is heartening to see the wave of support for gay marriages. It shows a society that aspires to an open tolerance of all sorts of people, a desire for us to live together in mutual acceptance.”

It is possible he was misquoted. But I doubt it because the journalist’s summary goes on: “But, he said, a heterosexual notion of marriage should not be imposed on gay couples, though differences should be embraced.”

Now what differences should be granted to homosexual couples? Are they subject to monogamy, fidelity, what about consummation? Doesn’t this pose a serious obstacle? I haven’t a clue what he means by “differences.”

Then I remembered appointments under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

When it comes to John Paul II, in 1980, he appointed Kenneth Untener as Bishop of Saginaw. His consecration to the episcopacy became controversial when critics complained about his seminary workshop on sexuality. Detractors of the workshop claimed it promoted lewdness and promiscuity. In the Archdiocese of Detroit it has become the stuff of legend and I’ve never been able to sort out what was true and what was false. But I am confident it wasn’t good; it was discontinued.

Bishop Untener had many personal pastoral qualities that I admired. When I was hospitalized after an amputation. He called having lost a leg early in life. I loved his intimacy with his priests with whom he lived for long periods of time. But he was perhaps best known, it is regularly claimed, for refusing to ordain any more male priests until the Church allowed the ordination of women to the priesthood. In any event, he supported women’s ordination.

Pope Benedict XVI had his controversial choices as well. One French Bishop was known as the “Rainbow Bishop” because he was “gay friendly and wore rainbow stoles.”

In 2010 this same Catholic bishop wore alb, stole, cope, mitre, and pectoral cross in a non-Catholic sanctuary with a non-Catholic presider.

With two non-Catholic “bishops”, he processed and participated in a travesty of ordination. The gravity of the scandal is increased by the fact that 13 women, dressed in chasubles, were among the “ordinands.”

So Pope Francis is not alone is making some disturbing appointments. So I then began asking myself how many consultors are there and what kind of authority do they exercise. What’s the difference between a Pontifical Council and a Congregation, etc. What’s the difference between a Consulter and a Member?

So here is a little lesson in church organization. What is called the Roman Curia is composed of a number of different dicasteries, i.e., departments but by far the two most common types are Congregations and Councils. There are nine Congregations like the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, etc. They wield executive authority.

Then there are the Pontifical Councils of which there are 12 like the Pontiifical Council on the Justice and Peace, on Family, on Life. While Congregations have executive power, Pontifical Councils do not, and remain in the background working in their own spheres of influence.

There is also the Pontifical Academy of Science which is not quite as lofty as a Pontifical Council but members are still ultimately appointed by the Pope. The current head of it isn’t even a Catholic although he is a committed Christian who won a Nobel Prize. The atheist Stephen Hawking has been a member and might still be. There are over 80 members.

So then how significant and influential are Consultors? The number of Consultors and Members of the Pontifical Commissions vary widely. For instance, the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace has forty members and consultors. The Pontifical Council for Family has 15 Cardinals, 12 Bishops, 19 married couples, 39 consultors and a staff of ten making a grand total of 95. We are looking at hundreds of consultors and members.

Just how much influence Fr. Radcliffe will exercise is questionable. He is not a voting member. He is one among many who may be asked for expertise in a given area. He is primarily a sounding board, a consultor when a member wants to check out various ideas or expressions. It is an honor but not the high point of anyone’s life.

While this appointment is not good, it is hardly a game changer. Couldn’t Pope Francis have found some other equally qualified theologian to reward with this appointment? Only he knows. We don’t even know why he was chosen. His homosexual opinions may have nothing to do with it. He has many areas of expertise.

The bigger problem is his application of his so-called Eucharistic Ethic. It is foggy, imprecise and can be applied to almost any sincere loving relationship. His self-giving ethic of love justifies all. Remember the old situation ethic of love advocated by the former Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher. It smells the same.

Now I’m painting with a very broad brush here and I’m fairly certain Fr. Radcliffe would object to my comparison. I’m confident, however, that the logical conclusion of his Eucharistic Ethic ends in the ethical swamp of relativism just as surely as Fletcher’s Situation Ethics.

For instance, according to my lights, unmarried, non-Catholic, cohabiting couples can experience authentic self giving love. Isn’t that the definition of “Eucharistic ethic”? Does that mean we should welcome them to the Lord’s Table?

Radcliffe’s appointment is also a problem inasmuch as it forces us talk more about internal church issues- exactly what Pope Francis wanted us to avoid. He asked us to not be so self-referential. He wanted us to turn our attention to the New Evangelization and reach out.

Holy Father, we are trying but with appointments like this conscientious lay Catholics can’t help but wonder why. You’ve said yourself that this is not an age of changes but a change of the ages. This applies to the way the Church does ministry. We are in an age where the greatest change in Catholic ministry in centuries is taking place: the laity is taking co-responsibility for the Church. Informed laity can charitably ask for rationales. In matters like this, you are not obligated to give them. Nevertheless, even if we don’t get them we can and will ask.

We pray for Pope Francis. His is a grueling, relentless job and I’ll wager 100 to 1 that he only rubber stamped this appointment. Nevertheless, I pray that in his attempt to shake things up and stretch our sympathies for the marginalized and excluded, “the prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners”, he doesn’t inadvertently lead us to ignore Jesus’ closing admonition to the woman caught in adultery: “Go and sin no more.”

That simple admonition keeps Jesus’ mercy from morphing into lackadaisical excusing of sin. The Church does something far more difficult that excusing or ignoring sin; She forgives it in Christ’s name and by his sacrifice while never forgetting to uphold God’s standards as the goal for all of us.

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