Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Volunteer-credits at Planned Parenthood decision sparks debate at St. Thomas law school

A University of St. Thomas law student is protesting the school's decision to deny her academic credit for volunteering with Planned Parenthood.

The dispute boils down to one word: abortion. It has raised questions about the Catholic law school's mission and how it intersects with one of the church's core values, placed limits on volunteering that some students want removed or waived, and left some students worried about the public perception of a young law school hoping to attract a diverse student body.

It began last week; briefly, here's what happened:

Tara Borton, like all law students, needed 50 volunteer hours to graduate. The first-year law student signed on with Planned Parenthood without a second thought, until a friend told her she needed approval first.

Initial approval, with conditions
In late April, she went to the student-run board that governs such things — which, after a lengthy debate, agreed to give her credit, provided she didn't work directly with contraceptives or women seeking abortions (a requirement that Borton admitted would have been practically impossible). The board issued its decision on April 22, and several people immediately alerted Dean Thomas Mengler, who has the final say on all academic requirements.

Dean Thomas Mengler
Dean Thomas Mengler
Shortly after, Mengler announced in a campuswide letter that students would not receive credit for volunteering at Planned Parenthood or any other organization "whose mission is fundamentally in conflict with a core value of a Catholic university."

"As a Catholic university, we have a right and a responsibility to be Catholic," Mengler said in an interview on Tuesday. "Certainly, one of (the church's) core values is sanctity of life."

Mengler said his decision doesn't mean the law school discourages students from volunteering personal time wherever they want. When students do things on their own time, they're not acting as representatives of the school, he said. But as representatives of the school, they have a responsibility to uphold the school's mission, which states that the school is "dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice."

Second time in a decade

Mengler said his decision was heavily influenced by a decision made by the university's president, the Rev. Dennis Dease, 10 years ago — the first time St. Thomas dealt with this conflict.

In spring of 1999, an undergraduate who needed an internship for graduation signed on with Planned Parenthood to assist victims of acquaintance rape. The student asked for academic credit and the school balked. The school let the student graduate by waiving her internship requirement, but did not back down.

The school considered forming an internship policy then, said Doug Hennes, a St. Thomas spokesperson who worked for the university during the conflict, but instead decided to deal with requests on a case-by-case basis.

Concerns about precedent, diversity
Borton is fighting to have the dean's decision overturned, though she admits that that outcome is not likely. More important, she said, she's concerned that the decision sets a precedent that will eventually limit all students to volunteering for academic credit at organizations with "affirmatively Catholic" visions.

It has also changed her view on what she believed the school's mission was. When she came to St. Thomas last fall, she said, "I thought Catholic doctrine would be reflected in the faculty and the curriculum, and it would be a safe place to talk about those issues, but not enforce them."

She's not alone.

Several dozen St. Thomas law students signed an open letter to Mengler earlier this week, which voiced concerns about the law school's ability to attract a diverse range of students, both those who agree with the church's teachings and those who do not.

"The future of our school's reputation in the legal community, as well as in the community at large, depends on (that diversity)," the letter said.

Fundamental questions
Three students who agreed with Mengler's decision also sent around an open letter, suggesting that the recent conflict demonstrates the school's need to answer a fundamental question: What exactly does it mean for the school to identify itself as a Catholic law school? In other words, what is the school's mission?

It's a question the young school has yet to answer fully, and something that comes at least partly as institutional memory deepens. The school, after all, is only 9 years old.

The ultimate mission, Mengler said, is "about helping our students become the kind of professionals and lawyers they're called to be. Not what I think they should be, but what they want to be."

It's worth pointing out that students and administration alike have remained clearheaded and respectful with the conflict, and with students now in the midst of finals, it has begun to slide into the background.

But until the school and its student body begin to wrestle with the big-picture issues the conflict has unearthed, Borton and others say, it will continue to return.

The rewarding thing, Borton said, is that the school has prepared her and her fellow future lawyers for the debate. After all, she said: "Law is inherently riddled with conflict." MinnPost

Brian Voerding, a free-lance journalist who has written for the Rake, Minnesota Law & Politics and Minnesota Monthly, reports on higher education, agriculture and food, and other topics.

MinnPost is a new web presence here in the TwinCities. It seems that much of the writing is coming from reporters who took early retirement buyouts from the Strib or the PPD or were laid off from those organizations, supplemented by free lance writers who are in plentiful supply around here.

If you've got time, MinnPost is a good place to check out after you have consulted your primary news sources.

WCCO story on this issue

KARE11 story on this issue

My letter to Scott Goldberg, the author of KARE11's news article:

Mr. Goldberg:

Relating to your story of April 30 on KARE11, I would be interested in learning why you did not inquire of Tara Borton as to why she enrolled in a Law School that has had a record for at least nine years of not allowing its students to get graduation credit for volunteering at Planned Parenthood, the largest killer of babies in the United States of America. Is that the kind of legal research she will be doing when she gets out into the rough and tumble world of crime and punishment, right and wrong, legal and illegal?

Maybe she should have prepared better?

Or did she think that a Catholic University Law School should change its policies just for her?

You may think that Planned Parenthood is not involved in the killing of babies. But if the driver of an automobile crashes negligently into a pregnant pedestrian or a car with a pregnant driver, at a minimum that driver will be charged with some form of manslaughter.

You may think that it is not a baby. The law does. It's only semantics and political contributions and pressure that have made the murder of babies, ending the lives of human fetuses, in abortion mills exempt from legal prosecution.

I won't inquire as to why you didn't interview anybody besides a Planned Parenthood employee to determine if there was support for Dean Thomas Mengler's position. Feel free to explain that, though.

Ray from MN

Fat Monks, errrrrr. . . ., Friars!

- - to - -

Ordination is a calling, not a right

This is the grading season for college professors, and it is hard to break that habit.

So when I see people claiming as enlightening fact items that simply are not historically true, both in a front page interview and then a lengthy editorial piece, my hand itches and I want to whip out the red pen.
Consider this a daily dose of red ink.

Sunday’s paper published a “guest view” by Bridget Mary Sheehan, “Womenpriests face unjust discrimination” — words which I assume were set by the Daily News. The title implies that ordination to the Catholic priesthood is a human right.

As someone who examines human rights abuses in class, I found this a disturbing parallel. This nation has violated (and violates) the rights of African-Americans, and much of the brutality against the native peoples of this country is too painful to contemplate.

Women everywhere have suffered and do suffer death, mutilation, harassment, abuse and more in violation of their rights as human beings, rights that belong to them due to their inherited dignity as a human person.

But ordination is not a right for women or men, such as food, shelter, safe living conditions and education. It’s a vocation, or calling from God through a specific community (here, the Catholic Church). So the question becomes a Catholic theological one. But the historical bases underlying the theology in the column are not any better. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to list the incorrect assumptions in bullets:

n The woman who is set to preside over this impending ceremony does not stand in valid apostolic succession. But the bishop who presided over the initial ceremony in 2002 on the Danube River was excommunicated for joining a schismatic sect in 1998. It’s not valid.

n Meehan claims that recent scholarship affirms that women were ordained to the priesthood in the first 1,200 years of Church history. At absolute minimum, this is overreach. I studied these texts at one point in my life really wanting the material to provide the conclusive smoking gun. It does not.

n The notion of the sensus fidelium — that the “sense of the faithful” is a part of the fullness of doctrine — was set in place centuries ago, acknowledging both that the Holy Spirit moves through the whole of the Church, and there have been times in history when the people of the Church were more faithful to authentic doctrine or practice than the Church’s leaders at that time.

It is somewhat connected to the entirely accurate idea that conscience, informed by revelation, must always dictate one’s own moral actions. But saying that “if the community of faith does not accept the law, it has no effect on us” sounds more like anarchy — even Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” — to me. I certainly hope there are moral truths — let’s say, murder is wrong — that transcend whether a group of people agree with it at the moment in time. Otherwise morality, belief and practice becomes a mob rule.

Meehan claims this action is prophetic. But every single prophet in the Biblical tradition was a prophet because the person called others back to community while staying within that community. It’s hard to claim to be a prophet when you say in an interview that the only way to change the Church is to leave it and create your own.

And there are other flat-out wrong statements — on Augustine’s interpretation of unjust laws, on the validity of the impending ceremony because Pope Benedict has not personally intervened, and on a supposed logical contradiction in canon law between ordination being reserved for men and ordination requiring baptism.

I’m not writing this because I believe that the Catholic priesthood is reserved to men alone (although I do hold that to be true). I’m writing it because first and foremost as a teacher I hate seeing historical untruths in print, and bad interpretation passing for fact. We have enough religious illiteracy in our culture without adding inaccuracy to the mix.

But I hesitated writing this, because this issue comes with a lot of struggle and pain for many women and men, Catholic and not.

We could all treat each more kindly on this issue. We could also remember and live out that foundational teaching of Catholic practical theology, that all human beings are called to discipleship and friendship with God, and called to a specific vocation at that. Some are priests, others are mothers or fathers, or women or men religious, or teachers, or counselors, or activists, or lay ministers, and sometimes a combination of these and more.

All rightly-lived states of life can be holy, and there is a beauty in the diversity of callings; I honestly think Catholics say that better than anyone else. Perhaps we don’t say it well enough. But Meehan’s piece, with its inaccuracies and inflated claims, does nothing to promote that cause.

The Ironic Catholic believed to be a resident of Winona, known traffic scofflaw, is the author of this item.

Truth, indeed, is more Ironic than Fiction!

I do believe that the Ironic Catholic, another of Winona's gifts to the Church and the world, should change her blog to non-fiction from "fake news." She has indeed the most ironic excuse to a cop yet! Check her out Here!

Update on "The Cure"

Mitchell here, again.

Last week I posted on the association between the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Planned Parenthood.

I've gotten several comments, both here and at the Our Word site in support of exposing this relationship. In particular, one commentor at Our Word mentions a couple of local Minneapolis companies involved in support of Komen, including the local NBC affiliate, Channel 11. I've also gotten an email from someone noting that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune had an ad supporting Komen. My impression was that the ad was expressing some type of Strib involvement with the Race for the Cure, rather than simply running an ad paid for by Komen.

Does anyone else have any stories about retailers who've fallen victim to this scam? Anybody out there feel like standing up to the Komen juggernaut?

Bishop Pates Says Goodbye to St Ambrose

A community waiting to happen. That’s the best way Bishop Richard Pates can describe St. Ambrose Catholic Church and the growth it has experienced since it was founded a little more than 10 years ago.

“There were so many individuals and families that contributed right away, it felt like it almost happened over night,” said Pates, who was the founding pastor for the parish from its inception in 1998 until he was appointed bishop for the Minneapolis/St. Paul archdiocese in 2001.

Last month Pates, who still lives in Woodbury, helped the church celebrate its 10th anniversary by presiding over mass. He also joined the congregation for cake afterward.

“It was nothing over the top,” said Rev. Tom Walker, the current pastor for St. Ambrose. “We had a little celebration afterwards, and Bishop Pates told some great stories about what it was like during those early years. I think our parishioners have always had a fond appreciation for his effort and involvement with the church.”

The anniversary celebration came just weeks before Pates was appointed this month to lead the archdiocese of Des Moines, Iowa.

Church parishioners said the news was bittersweet.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to see him lead the Des Moines archdiocese,” said parishioner Sharon D'Agostino. “But we’ll definitely miss his physical presence in the community. He’s been such a tremendous spiritual leader for us over the years.”

A Catholic church of now more than 1,000 members, it once held its masses in the Woodbury High School auditorium. St. Ambrose offices were in a rented building down the road.

But current staff members of the church and the school that serves students grades K-8 say the growth the parish has made in its first decade is nothing short of a unique feat. And they say they owe much of their thanks to Pates.

“He had an idea of what this worship community would look like and he helped us carry that vision out to a T,” said Matthew Metz, principal for St. Ambrose Catholic School, who came to know Pates as the church’s founding pastor.

Pates led the St. Ambrose congregation through its first mass at the Holiday Inn off McKnight Road on St. Patrick’s Day 1998.

The archdiocese made the decision to found the church in Woodbury after witnessing an overflow of attendees at St. Rita’s in Cottage Grove and Guardian Angels in Oakdale.

Pates said the pastors of the neighboring churches “almost beat down the doors of the archdiocese insisting that it was necessary to bring a new parish to Woodbury.”

Archbishop Harry Flynn chose Pates to be the founding pastor for the church while Pates was still serving as pastor at a Minneapolis parish that had recently seen a merger of two congregations.

“I was a little reluctant to leave for St. Ambrose because of the delicate situation of helping two parishes merge,” Pates said. “But once I met the folks of St. Ambrose, I couldn’t have been more excited about the experience.”

Pates said several members of the congregation stepped up immediately to bring together plans and finances for a new church that now stands on County Road 19 and Bailey Road.

“We had all the people and the right conditions,” he said. “We just needed a catalyst to get things going. It made my job easier because the parish had many people who stepped up.”

Even after he left the parish for his position as bishop of the archdiocese, Pates continued to maintain a strong relationship with St. Ambrose parishioners, Walker said.

Pates is scheduled to leave for his new post in May, but will make one more official appearance at the church on Friday, May 2. He will attend a benefit dinner for the Bishop Richard E. Pates Endowment, a fund established in his name that raises money for tuition assistance for students at St. Ambrose Catholic School.

Rev. Walker said the event will give St. Ambrose parishioners one last time to say goodbye to their founding pastor before his new venture. Woodbury Bulletin

Winona Provides Yet Another Leader for the Church

There must be something in the water in Winona. After having sent Father Robert Brom to be Bishop of Duluth in 1983 and then in 1990 on to San Diego; its Bishop John Vlazny on to Portland, Ore. as Archbishop in 1997; and just last year having sent Father Michael Hoeppner on as Bishop of Crookston; now the Diocese of Winona is sending the rector of its Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, Father James Steffes, to Washington.

We're told that "This is a huge loss to us. Fr. Steffes is a deep Christian and good guy all round. He's been a great rector at IHM seminary here. . . ."

Father James P. Steffes, rector of Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota, has been named executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

He succeeds Msgr. Edward Burns, who returns to the Diocese of Pittsburgh for pastoral work. The new appointment becomes effective August 1.

Father Steffes holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Institute of St. Thomas Aquinas (The Angelicum) in Rome. In 2002, he was named rector of the Winona seminary, where he had been director of spiritual formation from 1997.

“Father Steffes brings broad experience in seminary and diocesan work to this important office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB),” said Msgr. David Malloy, USCCB general secretary. “His additional background in spiritual direction and retreat work makes him well prepared to serve as the Executive Director of the Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations,” he said.

“Father Steffes’ work follows the dedicated, enthusiastic service of Msgr. Burns. I am grateful for Msgr. Burns’s leadership during these past ten years, and I wish him well as he returns to service in his home diocese of Pittsburgh.”

In accepting the position, Father Steffes said “I am deeply humbled and honored to have this opportunity to support the bishops of our country in this key area of ministry as they shepherd the people of God toward salvation. I have been blessed to work in vocation and formation ministry for the past 12 years and feel God deepening a call in me to continue this now in a new and special way through this office.”

Father Steffes was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Winona in 1993, after completing seminary studies at the Gregorian University in Rome. After ordination he taught at Loyola High School in Mankato, Minnesota, and was parochial vicar at St. Joseph the Worker Parish, Mankato, Minnesota; Holy Family Parish, Crystal Lake, Minnesota; and at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Winona. He served as diocesan vocations director and director of seminarians from 1996-2002.

He has been sacramental minister at St. Mary’s University from 1996 to the present.

Father Steffes was a member of the Vatican-appointed Apostolic Seminary Visitation Team, which reviewed seminaries across the United States in 2005-2006. He also has served on numerous boards and councils including the Winona diocesan diaconate formation board, diocesan lay ministry screening board, and the board of the Villa Maria Retreat Center in Frontenac, Minnesota and the National Association of College Seminaries board. USCCB

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are the Gospels Myth?

by Carl E. Olson , Ignatius Insight Scoop

January 11, 49 B.C. is one of the most famous dates in the history of ancient Rome, even of the ancient world. On that date Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, committing himself and his followers to civil war. Few, if any, historians doubt that the event happened. On the other hand, numerous skeptics claim that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are myth and have no basis in historical fact. Yet, as historian Paul Merkley pointed out two decades ago in his article, "The Gospels as Historical Testimony," far less historical evidence exists for the crossing of the Rubicon than does for the events depicted in the Gospels:

There are no firsthand testimonies to Caesar's having crossed the Rubicon (wherever it was). Caesar himself makes no mention in his memoirs of crossing any river. Four historians belonging to the next two or three generations do mention a Rubicon River, and claim that Caesar crossed it. They are: Velleius Paterculus (c.19 B.C. – c.A.D. 30); Plutarch (c.A.D. 46-120); Suetonius (75-160); and Appian (second century). All of these evidently depended on the one published eyewitness account, that of Asinius Pollio (76 B.C.-c. A.D. 4) which account has disappeared without a trace. No manuscript copies for any of these secondary sources is to be found earlier than several hundred years after their composition. (The Evangelical Quarterly 58, 319-336)

Merkley observed that those skeptics who either scoff at the historical reliability of the Gospels or reject them outright as "myth" do so without much, if any, regard for the nature of history in general and the contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in particular.

The Distinctive Sign

. . . . For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnates est — when we say these words, we acknowledge God's actual entry into real history. (Jesus of Nazareth, xv). . . .

Smarter than Thou

Such rhetoric rests both on the assumption that the Gospels are fanciful myth and that the authors of the New Testament (and their readers) were clueless about the difference between historical events and fictional stories. There is an overbearing sense of chronological snobbery at work: We are smarter than people who lived 2,000 years ago. Yet the Second Epistle of Peter demonstrates a clear understanding of the difference between myth and verified historical events: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet. 1:16). The opening verses of Luke's Gospel indicate that the author undertook the task of writing about real people and events:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. (Luke 1:1-4)

And the fourth Gospel concludes with similar remarks:

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things which Jesus did: were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:24-25) . . . .

What Is a Gospel?

"The majority of recent specialized studies," writes Evangelical biblical scholar Craig L. Blomberg in Making Sense of the New Testament, "has recognized that the closest parallels are found among the comparatively trustworthy histories and biographies of writers like the Jewish historian Josephus, and the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides" (28). In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Catholic theologian and biblical scholar Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis writes:

We must conclude, then, that the genre of the Gospel is not that of pure "history"; but neither is it that of myth, fairy tale, or legend. In fact, evangelion constitutes a genre all its own, a surprising novelty in the literature of the ancient world. Matthew does not seek to be "objective" in a scientific or legal sense. He is writing as one whose life has been drastically changed by the encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. Hence, he is proposing to his listeners an objective reality of history, but offered as kerygma, that is, as a proclamation that bears personal witness to the radical difference that reality has already made in his life. (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Vol. II: Meditations on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 44) . . . .

The Historical Evidence

First, there is the sheer number of ancient copies of the New Testament. There are close to 5,700 full or partial Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence. Most of these date from between the second to 16th century, with the oldest, known as Papyrus 52 (which contains John 18), dating from around A.D. 100-150. By comparison, the average work by a classical author — such as Tacitus (c. A.D. 56-c. 120), Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61-113), Livy (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), and Thucydides (460-395 B.C.) — has about 20 extant manuscripts, the earliest copy usually several centuries newer than the original. For example, the earliest copy of works by the prominent Roman historian Suetonius (A.D. 75-130) date to A.D. 950 — over 800 years after the original manuscripts had been written.

In addition to the thousands of Greek manuscripts, there are an additional 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and thousands of additional manuscripts in Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic, for a total of about 24,000 full or partial manuscripts of the New Testament. And then there are the estimated one million quotes from the New Testament in the writings of the Church Fathers (A.D. 150-1300). Obviously, the more manuscripts that are available, the better scholars are able to assess accurately what the original manuscripts contained and to correct errors that may exist in various copies.

When Were They Written?

Closely related is the matter of dating. While debate continues as to the exact dating of the Gospels, few biblical scholars believe that any of the four works were written after the end of the first century. "Liberal New Testament scholars today," writes Blomberg, "tend to put Mark a few years one side or the other of A.D. 70, Matthew and Luke — Acts sometime in the 80s, and John in the 90s" (Making Sense of the New Testament, 25). Meanwhile, many conservative scholars date the synoptic Gospels (and Acts) in the 60s and John in the 90s. That means, simply, that there exist four accounts of key events in Jesus' life written within 30 to 60 years after his Crucifixion — and this within a culture that placed a strong emphasis on the role and place of an accurate oral tradition. Anyone who denies that Jesus existed or who claims that the Gospels are filled with historical errors or fabrications will, in good conscience, have to explain why they don't make the same assessment about the historical works of Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Julius Caesar, Livy, Josephus, Tacitus, and other classical authors.

Secondly, historical details are found in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. These include numerous mentions of secular rulers and leaders (Caesar Augustus, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Felix, Archelaus, Agrippa, Gallio), as well as Jewish leaders (Caiaphas, Ananias) — the sort of names unlikely to be used inaccurately or even to show up in a "myth." Anglican scholar Paul Barnett, in Is The New Testament Reliable?, provides several pages' worth of intersections between biblical and non-biblical sources regarding historical events and persons. "Christian sources contribute, on an equal footing with non-Christian sources," he observes, "pieces of information that form part of the fabric of known history. In matters of historical detail, the Christian writers are as valuable to the historian as the non-Christian" (167).

Then there are the specifically Jewish details, including references to and descriptions of festivals, religious traditions, farming and fishing equipment, buildings, trades, social structures, and religious hierarchies. As numerous books and articles have shown in recent decades, the beliefs and ideas found in the Gospels accurately reflect a first-century Jewish context. All of this is important in responding to the claim that the Gospels were written by authors who used Greek and Egyptian myths to create a supernatural man-god out of the faint outline of a lowly Jewish carpenter.

Pay Dirt

Various modern archeological discoveries have validated specific details found in the Gospels:

  • In 1961 a mosaic from the third century was found in Caesarea Maritima that had the name "Nazareth" in it. This is the first known ancient non-biblical reference to Nazareth.
  • Coins with the names of the Herod family have been discovered, including the names of Herod the king, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee (who killed John the Baptist), Herod Agrippa I (who killed James Zebedee), and Herod Agrippa II (before whom Paul testified).
  • In 1990 an ossuary was found inscribed with the Aramaic words, "Joseph son of Caiaphas," believed to be a reference to the high priest Caiaphas.
  • In 1968 an ossuary was discovered near Jerusalem bearing the bones of a man who had been executed by crucifixion in the first century. These are the only known remains of a man crucified in Roman Palestine, and verify the descriptions given in the Gospels of Jesus' Crucifixion.
  • In June 1961 Italian archaeologists excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) uncovered a limestone block. On its face is an inscription (part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar) that reads: "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea."

Numerous other finds continue to demolish the notion that the Gospels are mythologies filled with fictional names and events.

The External Evidence

Third, there are extra-biblical, ancient references to Jesus and early Christianity. Although the number of non-Christian Roman writings from the first half of the first century is quite small (just a few volumes), there are a couple of significant references.

Writing to the Emperor Trajan around A.D. 112, Pliny the Younger reported on the trials of certain Christians arrested by the Romans. He noted that those who are "really Christians" would never curse Christ:

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. (Letters, Book 10, Letter 96)

The historian Tacitus, in his Annals — considered by historians to be one the finest works of ancient Roman history mentioned how the Emperor Nero, following the fire in Rome in A.D. 64, persecuted Christians in order to draw attention away from himself. The passage is noteworthy as an unfriendly source because although Tacitus thought Nero was appalling, he also despised the foreign and, to him, superstitious religion of Christianity:

Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. (Annals, 15:44) . . . .

“The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic–Hearing the Faithful”

Greetings from Speaking of Faith, public radio's Peabody Award-winning conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas produced and distributed by American Public Media. I'm writing with details of our upcoming program, which I’m sure will be of great interest to you.

As Pope Benedict's visit to the U.S. approached, Speaking of Faith invited Catholic listeners to reflect on the state of Roman Catholicism as seen through their eyes. Our invitation was extended widely by bloggers and the National Catholic Register, and we were overwhelmed with hundreds of thoughtful responses from far-flung corners of Catholic life. In “The Beauty and Challenge of Being CatholicHearing the Faithful,” Speaking of Faith listens to some of themon the force of this vast and ancient tradition on their lives, the ways they struggle with it, the sources of their love for it. Even to be a “lapsed Catholic”, we hear, is a complex state of being.

“The Beauty and Challenge of Being CatholicHearing the Faithful” will air on public radio stations nationwide from Thursday, May 1Wednesday, May 7. It will also be featured online at where you can download and podcast the program. Find broadcast locations and times, other Speaking of Faith programs and much more at

What do Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and controversial theologian Hans Küng have in common?

If you said, "They're all German," you'd be wrong: Küng is Swiss. All three, of course, are Catholic theologians and priests, although the exact nature of Küng's beliefs are only accessible to those bother to read his 800-page tomes (and his nearly 900-page memoirs). But, to the point: all three also had Dr. Thomas Loome as a student some forty years ago. Loome, you might know, runs the fabulous Loome Theological Booksellers, located in beautiful Stillwater, Minnesota. In an article posted by Press Publications, Dr. Loome—who holds a doctorate in Philosophical Theology from the University of Tübingen, Germany—talks about studying under Fr. Ratzinger:

"I had been accepted and Joseph Ratzinger took up an appointment at Tubingen at the same time I arrived," Loome said. "For the first couple years I had access to Professor Ratzinger and would attend his lectures. He wouldn't remember me but I have a lot of recollections of him."

Loome says at the time Ratzinger was already becoming an influence in Catholic and academic circles because of his intellect and calm demeanor.

"He was very shy, soft-spoken and diffident in his relations with people," he said. "And I think he's still that way. A certain kind of diplomacy comes naturally to him and being principled, but talking kindly and he's able to make a lot more influence just by following his own personality."

Loome said most classes he had with Ratzinger averaged 25 to 50 students who were taught in a small lecture hall. His interaction with him mostly happened immediately after class if he had questions about lessons being taught or how to further study material that was taught in class.

"I had no personal relationship with him and yet my head is filled with memories of Professor Ratzinger inside and outside of class," he said. "I remember I used to walk to class about two miles and towards the end of that walk I would always see Ratzinger in front of me and I guess he was going to the same place I was going. Those are the kind of recollections I had."

Ratzinger was a young full-time professor during the time Loome had courses with him, which is a very prestigious and difficult position in Germany for someone only 40 year old to achieve, Loome said.

I had the pleasure of visiting Loome Theological Booksellers and meeting Dr. Loome back in early April 2005 (all credit to my host, Barry Buss). It was during that much too brief visit that Dr. Loome told me a little bit of his studies and some of his former professors, including Ratzinger, Kasper, and Küng. Here is another article, published in July 2000 by City Pages, that provides a nice introduction to Dr. Loome and his work:

One of the ideas that Loome holds to be always true is the sanctity of human life-- "WITHOUT EXCEPTION," he says loudly, repeating the phrase a few times for good measure. And should you fail to infer what he is talking about, he states that he is "unapologetically pro-life and anti-death-penalty." At a medieval conference in Minneapolis a few years ago, Loome recalls, he saw Noam Chomsky speak. During the question-and-answer session, a student asked Chomsky what he thought of the abortion question. According to Loome, Chomsky replied, "'I am afraid that people in the future will look back on us and say that we lived in an age of barbarism.'"

Loome revels in this story, and I think it's because he sees himself--a pro-life, Catholic intellectual--as a marginalized figure. Surprised that anyone was interested in writing a story about him and his store, Loome insists that he's "more countercultural than anything the City Pages can come up with."

Loome's countercultural enterprise is to preserve books from the second millennium for the third one. And in an age when print material as utilitarian as the newspaper is said to be flirting with obsolescence, the very notion of theological books can seem downright medieval. Yet the volumes in the Loome, with the exception of the Bible, will probably never exist electronically. Nor will there ever be a full computer inventory of such collected knowledge. There are too many titles, and too few readers, and practically no money in it, and the transfer process would take too long to ever attempt. And so for a small, self-select group, the physical presence of the Loome remains a necessity.

Loome and Ignatius Press have jointly published "Classics of Catholic Tradition"; find out more here or here. Carl Olson of Ignatius Insight Scoop

Loome has his magnificent bookstore located in Stillwater, "Minnesota's Birthplace", in the old Bethany Covenant Church. I considered purchasing that building to convert as a home when the price was $10,000, but being a "chip off the ol' block", just like my old man, I was concerned about heating costs (and parking).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Star Parker drew a large crowd and standing ovations to UST

After originally being denied to speak on campus, Parker drew a large crowd and standing ovations.

A little controversy did not stop a large and engaged crowd from turning out to hear Star Parker speak about “Abortion in America.”

Parker is the founder and president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education. CURE is a non-profit that weighs in on issues of race and poverty in the media, inner-city neighborhoods and public policy. She spoke from her own experiences of being on welfare and having four abortions at 7 p.m. April 21 in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium.

The message Parker emphasized many times throughout her speech was that “abortion hurts.”

“[Abortion] doesn’t just hurt the baby,” Parker said. “It doesn’t just hurt the children, the siblings. Nor does it just hurt the teenager … or the women, or the men … it hurts God.”

The student life committee originally voted against bringing Parker to campus March 6 because of concerns with the involvement of the Young America’s Foundation, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Jane Canney.

The foundation has a history of sending speakers to campus who refuse to sign the performer’s agreement, Canney said.

After students and community members spoke out against the decision, the university reconsidered and invited Parker to campus April 14. Parker speaks on issues like welfare and abortion. On Monday she spoke about the lifelong effects abortions have on women and men. She said these effects often catch up to them when they get older.

Abortion can also scar teenagers for life, Parker said. She told a story of a 15- year-old who was sent to an abortion
clinic by her school nurse, when that was not what she wanted. Parker drew on her own experiences of having four abortions and being on welfare as a mother before turning to Jesus. Her thoughts on abortion then changed and she said, “that it may be legal, but it is not lawful.

“It wasn’t until the fourth time after I went into one of their so-called ‘safe, legal care clinics’ that I felt a gut instinct
right away that there has to be something wrong with killing your offspring,” she said. “I was just growing tired of using abortion as my birth control.”

She referred to one position of people as P.O.B.s: “personally opposed, but.” “They’ll say, ‘Well, I’m personally opposed,
but.’ But what?” Parker said. “But you think that it’s OK for others to get locked into this mindset where they start on a journey in left-wing liberalism… that there are no absolute rules anymore?”

Parker said this mindset of secular humanism has taken over our society. Parker also said God codemns abortion but is still forgiving. Junior Natalie Hafner, president of Students for Human Life, was concerned when Parker was first denied from coming to campus, but wrote in an e-mail to The Aquin that she was glad Parker had a chance to speak.

“I thought that she addressed everything in a very tactful way,” Hafner said. “Her message is one that not many people are receptive to hearing, but I thought that her presentation of the issues was done well.”

Hafner said things could have been done differently on everyone’s part to bring Parker to St. Thomas, Hafner said.

“But I am just glad we were given the opportunity to hear her and have her on campus,” she said. Alumna and founder of the St. Thomas Standard, Katie Kieffer, wrote in an e-mail to The Aquin that she thought Parker gave a
wonderful speech by using her personal experiences and testimonies.

“I am delighted St. Thomas reversed its decision and allowed our pro-life speaker on campus,” Kieffer said. “It is disappointing though to think that without extensive media and alumnae pressure that St. Thomas would have quietly rejected a speaker who espouses the values that are supposed to be the bedrock of the University of St. Thomas.”

Junior Sarah Northenscold said she enjoyed Parker’s speech and was not aware of the controversy until reading about it in The Aquin.

Parker also commented in her speech about the circumstances surrounding her arrival to St. Thomas. At the start of her speech she said she was glad to be here and she referred to the controversy as what “some might just say [is] a
misunderstanding.” “I didn’t realize I had so many friends here,” Parker said. This comment was met with applause.

In a question and answer session after her speech, Parker said she has trouble getting onto some college campuses to speak. “Of course this one kind of surprised me, and not just that it was a Catholic university with the subject, because the subject usually doesn’t get them all riled up,” she said.

The crowd erupted into applause many times throughout the speech and gave her two standing ovations, at the end of her speech and after the question and answer session.

Margaret Cahill, director of Campus Life, introduced Parker and said the university has a process to bring speakers to campus that it is consistent with, and that sometimes student groups get frustrated with the process. She said she was glad Parker came for the students who wanted to hear her speak.

“I thought it was fine,” Cahill said. “I think the controversy was unfortunate. It never really was about her.” The Aquin

More good news from UST; the On-Line Petition for the Extraordinary Form Latin Mass at UST

Mary Gibson (Veritatis Splendor) has scouted out the Internet and unveiled the secret petition form for the University of St Thomas requesting that the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass using the 1962 missal be offered on campus. It just went online today. But there are 80 other signatures made with goose quill pens using the finest India ink, I'm told.

But before you sign the petition, grab your wallet and read Mary's post in March relating to her request relating to her discernment of a call with the Benedictines of Mary and hopes to enter the convent on June 11th of this year.

Here's the hot skinny on the petition from the UST newspaper, The Aquin:

A petition has been launched at St.Thomas to have the traditional Latin Mass celebrated on campus. This is the Mass that was celebrated in the Catholic Church for almost 1,500 years, until the Mass of Pope Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council.

The petition was located at Sitzmann Hall, the home for the center of Catholic studies, and has about 80 signatures so far. It is now available online.

Joe Trojack, a St. Thomas graduate student enrolled at the School of Law, started the petition because of the powerful influence Latin Mass has had on his Catholic faith. He said he wants to share the experience with the rest of the university.

“This is something I want to give St. Thomas,” he said. “It’s so beautiful and it’s like this treasure that a lot of people don’t know about.”

With the very limited offerings of the Latin Mass, most college-aged Catholics have never been to one of these Masses. Vernacular Masses, offered in English, are most common at and around St. Thomas. The traditional Latin Mass, formally known as the Tridentine Mass, has not been offered on campus since around 1969, Trojack said. . . .

The old Tridentine rite was never banned, but after the mid-1960s reforms of the Second Vatican Council, bishops had to grant priests permission before they could say the Mass.

Pope Benedict XVI has now eased restrictions on this Mass. Benedict’s new ruling gives priests the opportunity to celebrate the Tridentine Mass if a “stable group of faithful” requests it....

Although the petition formally ended last Friday, there is now an online petition that people can sign.

The Apocolypse? Pastor John Hagee: Thank you, Pope Benedict!


By Pastor John Hagee - During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI not only conducted mass and met with the Catholic faithful, but he made a series of public statements about the role that our Judeo-Christian faith can play during these challenging times. As an evangelical Protestant I happen to disagree with Pope Benedict on many issues of Christian doctrine and ritual. But when it comes to his moral vision for America and the world I have one thing to say in response to the Pope's visit: Amen.

I and many other evangelical leaders believe that our faith must not be confined to our churches on Sunday mornings. We maintain that our Christian values and compassion can be powerful tools for helping build a more just and humane nation. Pope Benedict thus spoke for all of us when he said that "Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted" and called for Christian participation "in the exchange of ideas in the public square."

The pope was recalling the history we all cherish when he cited George Washington's Farewell Address to note that, "religion and morality represent 'indispensable supports' of political prosperity." The pope likewise voiced all of our concerns when he recognized the threats posed by secularism and materialism not only to our morality but to our happiness.

As people of faith, our concerns go well beyond the borders of our country. After the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, we joined our Jewish brothers in saying "Never Again!" For me, this commitment means never again allowing the Jewish people to be massacred or persecuted and thus helps to motivate my strong support for the State of Israel. But we also take from the Holocaust a universal "Never Again," which means that we must never again allow genocide to be perpetrated against any of God's children anywhere in the world.

Thus all of our hearts cheered when Pope Benedict stood before the United Nations and stated so forcefully that when states fail to protect the basic human rights of their citizens, "the international community must intervene." Likewise, all people of faith applauded his comment in the same speech that it is religion's "recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman" which provides the powerful source of our commitment to resist genocide and terrorism.

My reaction to Pope Benedict"s visit may surprise some who have come to accept certain caricatures of my views of the Catholic Church. But as I have noted from the start, my critics have ignored the real point and strong emphasis of my words. I have indeed been quite zealous about condemning the past anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church. But I have been equally zealous in condemning Protestant anti-Semitism. Furthermore, as I noted in my 2006 book "Jerusalem Countdown," I have long viewed Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI as partners in this "righteous work" of overcoming our shared legacy of Christian anti-Semitism.

For decades I have taught that we Christians need to recognize that our roots are Jewish. As Christians we can only understand ourselves if we understand the Judaism from which we sprang. Pope Benedict made this very important point when he visited the Park East Synagogue in New York and shared that: "I find it moving to recall that Jesus, as a young boy, heard the words of Scripture and prayed in a place such as this." With visits and words such as these, Pope Benedict is continuing the important work of recognizing our enormous Christian debt of gratitude to the Jewish people.

The world in which we live faces many difficult challenges. In recent days, we read in our paper of increased starvation due to higher food prices; of alienated youth planning to bomb their fellow students; of Islamic militants actually bombing innocents in Iraq and Israel; and about people so devoid of hope that they end their own lives.

I believe that the message of the Bible and of Judeo-Christian faith offers us timely answers to these problems. We were all inspired by Pope Benedict's visit. It is my prayer that we will now follow his example and look beyond our differences to see that when it comes to the great challenges of our times, people of faith have much in common.

Pastor John Hagee is founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Tex. Washington Times

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Desperate" got it right!


Chaucer Was A Jerk

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage...

..or maybe those "pilgrimages" were to Florida. It is snowing here today.

I love Minnesota. I really, really do... DIH

If your pastor plagiarizes the homily, is the Mass still valid and licit?

The book, "To Plagiarize or Not to Plagiarize?" is an attempt to set boundaries in the wake of pulpit plagiarism claims that have hit not just Catholic clerics in Poland but ministers from other Christian denominations in the United States.

Temptation is just the click of a mouse away as more and more churches post their sermons online, not to mention the availability of books and church-sponsored magazines that provide inspiration for sermons.

There is a thin line between drawing inspiration and lifting the text outright, said the Rev. Wieslaw Przyczyna, one of the book's editors....

Now, in Poland, a priest caught using a plagiarized sermon can face stiff fines or even as long as three years in prison, though no one has actually been charged or sentenced.... Plagiarized from Rocco

Talk About Movies: “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”

Matthew Lickona and Ernie Grimm discuss current and classic films from a Catholic perspective
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Directed By Nathan Frankowski
Starring Ben Stein
USA, 90 minutes, Color, English, 2008
Bishops' rating: Not yet rated

Matthew: I didn't object to Ben's visiting Hadamar and Dachau. It didn't play like exploitation to me, because he made his case -- Darwin noting that humanity worked against natural selection by caring for its weakest members and allowing them to propagate, and then implying that such a practice was absurd, since no farmer would ever allow his weakest animals to breed. Such a notion dovetailed nicely with the extermination of the disabled at Hadamar, which in turn dovetailed with the idea of eliminating inferior races at Dachau. And Ben even got the Cornell prof to lay it out in explicit fashion: Considered in a certain light, evolution eliminates the foundations of morality, and even human free will. But what made it jarring, and possibly problematic to a hostile viewer, was the sudden shift in tone, from an almost flippant tour of academic hijinks to a solemn meditation on humanity's capacity to embrace evil on intellectual grounds. Granted, Ben is trying to make the case that the academic hijinks are linked to the embrace of evil, but the shift still feels extreme.

Ernie: The shift is abrupt, but I had no problem with it. Neo-Darwinists, and those who blindly follow them, need to be confronted with the reality that, as mathematician David Berlinski told Stein, Darwinism, though not a sufficient cause of Naziism, is a necessary cause. The leap from Darwinism to eugenicism is very short, and Stein quotes Darwin making that very leap himself. ("No farmer would ever allow...") And Bringing Nazis (and the Berlin Wall stuff) into the film serves another purpose -- to illustrate the absolutism and ruthlessness that exists in academia surrounding the theory of evolution. Now that Darwinists rule academia, they will brook no contradiction, and they will happily commit employment assassination even against tenured professors who dare even to mention intelligent design. The Darwinists even have their own Gestapo in the National Center for Science Education led by a modern day Heinrich Himmler named Eugenie Scott.

Matthew: But that's my point. The tenured professor didn't lose tenure; he had a web site shut down. Granted, it was a web site set up to fish for grants, and grants are important. But he didn't lose his job, and that was the only time he'd ever had that happen. Was it lame? Yes. Was he really "Expelled"? Not quite. One guy did get denied tenure, and others really did suffer. But I can see how some people would argue that Ben was stretching things with the analogy. Still, let's not quibble. Let's talk about Dawkins and seeded life on earth...

Ernie: You and "some people" are quibbling over semantics. One lady did lose her job. The astronomist lost his job. The journalist lost her job. And the guy from Baylor had his funding web site taken away and presumably would have lost his job were he not tenured. I think Stein was well within the bounds of artistic license to call it “Expelled.”

Richard Dawkins showed utter disdain for anybody with any religious faith. You have to be pretty sure of yourself to call 97% of the world's people delusional because they believe in a deity. I love that Stein got him to talk about "the very interesting possibility" that aliens much more intelligent than ourselves had planted the seeds of life on earth. Belief in God: delusional. The idea of aliens of higher intelligence seeding the earth with all future life: intriguing theory. The smug grin on Stein's face during that exchange was priceless.

Matthew: And kudos to Ben for not pressing Dawkins on the point. He could have pointed out that Dawkins' alien intelligence theory was a big fancy dodge, because the natural next question is, "Where did that super-intelligent alien life come from?" Perhaps an even more ancient super-intelligent race of aliens. But if you keep working back like that, you start sidling up to the Uncaused Cause, don't you? But instead of asking about this, he lets the viewer think this up on his own, and it's to his credit. Instead, he asks Dawkins if he's sure he doesn't believe in some form of deity -- since that's what he's basically just described with his super-intelligent being capable of bringing forth life from what is lifeless. CaliforniaCatholicDaily

Friday, April 25, 2008

Don't Forget! Ordinations Tomorrow, Saturday April 26


Fernanado Ortega, Shane Campbell, John Bauer,
Jon Bennet Tran and John Meyer
will be ordained priests
Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Cathedral of St. Paul at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 26.
Listen to the ordination Mass on Relevant Radio (1330 AM).
April 26, 10:00 am -- Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity -
Ordination to the Priesthood",
Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Cathedral of St. Paul.

If you can't make it, please pray for them,
and for their brother priests!

Is environmentalism the opiate of the liberals?

In this extract from his new book, Iain Murray argues that greens – who worship both a Weather God (the climate) and an Earth Mother (Gaia) and who brook no dissent – have become hectoring, intolerant religionists.
by Iain Murray

Religion plays a vitally important role in human life. This is especially true in America, and America’s religion has always been Christianity.

In 2004, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 71 per cent of Americans agreed with three central Christian statements: ‘prayer is an important part of my daily life’; ‘we will all be called before God on judgment day to answer for our sins’; and ‘I never doubt the existence of God’. That figure was only 54 per cent for self-identified liberals and 52 per cent for self-identified liberal Democrats.

Liberal involvement with traditional religion has been falling for 20 years. In 1988, the last full year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Pew found that as many white evangelical Protestants identified themselves as Democrat as Republican (33 per cent each). By 2004, only 22 per cent of such Protestants identified themselves as Democrats (compared to 43 per cent as Republicans). Among Roman Catholics, affiliation with the Democratic Party fell from 41 per cent as recently as 1994 to just 28 per cent in 2004.

Human nature abhors a religious vacuum. Of course there are people who really don’t believe in any kind of higher power, but they are few indeed and not representative of the population at large. Even in largely secular Britain, 70 per cent self-identify as Christian. In general, people really do feel the need to answer to some higher power.

Just as environmentalism has replaced Marxism as the central economic theory of the far left, so too has environmentalism begun to replace liberal Christianity as the left’s motivating religious force. Were it not for the presence of powerful black Protestant churches in the liberal alliance, environmentalism might have supplanted liberal Christianity already.

“Religious words like ‘prophet’, ‘seer’ and ‘sage’ are routinely applied to alarmist scientists”

The causality works both ways: the environmental movement has taken on the facets of religion, while the movement’s increasingly religious tone has drawn those thirsty for spiritual gratification but averse to traditional religions.

There are two dominant mythical forces in the cosmologies of ancient Indo-European religions: the Weather God (Zeus, Jupiter, Thor) and the Earth Mother (Gaia, Ceres, Freya). The Weather God resides in the sky and lashes down rain, hail and thunder on those who do not propitiate him. The Earth Mother gives her faithful followers her bounty, but when they fail her in some way, she retaliates with famine. Frequently, the two are married.

Today, both the Weather God and Earth Mother are central to the global warming issue. The atmosphere is to be protected at all costs, its avatar propitiated by the closing of power stations and silencing of internal combustion engines. Thus, his hurricanes are to be averted and his beneficent winds are to drive turbines. Moreover, the Earth is to be worshipped by returning to her simpler ways, with people shunning biotechnology and nuclear power. She will reward them.

These two gods are supported by a variety of hierophants and augurs. Shamefully, many of them are supposed scientists. A scientist who says that the atmosphere is warming, and cites certain physical processes, is still a scientist. A scientist who goes further, contending the people must take certain acts precisely to avoid disaster, has become a priest. It is no coincidence that words like ‘prophet’, ‘seer’ and ‘sage’, historically associated with religious figures, now are routinely applied to leading alarmist scientists. The leader of the movement, the sermoniser supreme Al Gore, is even adoringly referred to by true believers as ‘The Goracle’.

Who makes up the rank and file of the clergy, the hedge-priests as it were? That is where the internet comes in. The role of a priest is to reveal mysteries, to soothe the faithful. No one fits this description better these days than bloggers. When some new scientific finding comes out which challenges their worldview, the blogs vigorously defend the creed.

Take, for example, last December’s release of a report by US Senator Jim Inhofe chronicling how no fewer than 400 academics working in the field of climate analysis had cast doubt during the year on the theory of manmade climate catastrophe. Despite the fact that the paper reported the researchers’ own words, the bloggers acted to discredit the study and reassure the faithful that their creed stood unchallenged.

“Saying Freeman Dyson is not a serious scientist is like saying Tiger Woods isn’t a good golfer”

Taking their cue from The Goracle, whose office condemned the report on the grounds that ‘twenty-five or thirty of the scientists may have received funding from Exxon Mobile [sic] Corp’, DeSmogBlog was first into the fray, calling the report ‘bunk’. It contended that the list was made up of ‘deniers-for-hire’. Forced to concede that many names were not on the usual environmental enemies list, the blog simply asserted that: ‘It seems fair to assume that this, too, is an ideologically driven document with no merit whatsoever, either as a piece of research or, even more laughably, a reliable comment on science.’

Next up was Grist magazine, where Andrew Dessler dismissed the report with a wave of his priestly hand. He said that the report ‘provides a long list of names of people who disagree with the consensus, and I have no doubt that many on this list are indeed sceptics. The question is: does their opinion matter? Should you revise your views about climate change accordingly? Considering the source, I think we all know the answer to that.’ Dessler observed that physicist Freeman Dyson (a leading theoretical physicist) had made the list, but that just as you would not take a sick child to Dyson to heal, so too would you not take a sick planet to him either. The fact that no one has ever been in the business of healing planets does not matter.

The list of environmentalism-as-religion critics went on. The American Prospect’s blog simply contended that Senator Inhofe’s staff were ‘still tirelessly plugging away at global warming denialism’, thus blaming the messenger rather than confronting the arguments of 400 academics. The blog also called the report ‘false’ and ‘blatantly misleading’. Former Clinton administration appointee Joseph Romm characterised the study as ‘recyc[ling] unscientific attacks on global warming’. When the New York Times’ environment correspondent Andrew Revkin, one of the few reporters to cover the global warming debate even-handedly, mentioned the Inhofe study on his blog, Romm slammed him for legitimising it, calling Revkin’s coverage ‘amazing’. Romm went on to suggest that Freeman Dyson was not a serious scientist. That’s a bit like saying Tiger Woods isn’t a good golfer.

The Inhofe report was released on 21 December 2007. These many reactions were posted and disseminated to the faithful by 22 December. No one needed to read the report to make up his mind. The priesthood did it for us. Such is the power of America’s new environmental religion.

Father Joseph Johnson: Questions about the crackdown on Sharing & Caring Hands


Sharing & Caring Hands offers family shelter, drop-in meals and other
programs virtually across N. 7th Street from the new Twins stadium.

It would seem that the situation has a lot to do with the new ballpark.

The actions being taken by the city of Minneapolis with reference to Sharing & Caring Hands raise a number of questions that the city leadership needs to address:

•If the alleged drug problem at Sharing & Caring Hands has been so bad for so long -- described by the city as "chronic" -- why was there no crackdown until the building of the new baseball stadium?

•Why have two former Minneapolis police chiefs supported Sharing & Caring Hands and not felt that it was a danger to public safety? And if it is now such a threat, why hasn't the current chief ever visited it? Is it possible that some members of the police force resent Mary Jo Copeland's criticism of the roughness with which they sometimes treat the poor?

•If the alleged drug problem is as bad as claimed, why are there more arrests in the vicinity of other shelters -- including such reputable facilities as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army? For what reason, other than that it is next door to the new stadium, is Sharing & Caring Hands being targeted for punitive action? Many drug deals occur in public parks and on buses and even in libraries; why doesn't the city act to close them? Is it because they are considered essential services, and it is worth the risk to keep them open for the greater good of the community? Why wouldn't Sharing & Caring Hands fall into this same category?

•If the current action truly has nothing to do with the new baseball stadium, what is the city going to do to counteract that belief among the many poor people served there? Is the city aware that these people see themselves as being swept under the rug so as to either not embarrass fans on the way to the games or to make way for commercial development aimed at those fans? And is the city not concerned about this perception?

•Why haven't the mayor and City Council members ever toured Sharing & Caring Hands and spent time analyzing the situation?

•Is it logical to think that Mary Jo Copeland would have dedicated 26 years of her life to helping the poor and not care that drugs are freely traded? Does the city think that she has not seen -- more than elected officials -- the devastation caused by drugs as she has been "in the trenches" they have refused to visit?

•If dangerous criminals are so prevalent on the grounds, why do the thousands of volunteers who assist there report that it is a wonderful, safe, clean and joyful place? If it is unsafe, why do government agencies daily refer so many people in need to Sharing & Caring Hands?

•Why haven't any of these purported problems affected the approximately 400 children who live at Mary's Place and think that it is much safer than staying at other shelters or in government housing?

•Since the maintenance garage for the police force is also on that block, doesn't it say more about the city government that the alleged drug dealers have been loitering outside the police garage?

•If the Sharing & Caring Hands food service is stopped, do you think that poor people deprived of free, hot, nourishing meals are more likely to cause a decrease or increase in crime?

•Other shelters are already near capacity; where should these hungry people go to eat? Many other shelters don't allow walk-ins off the street but serve only those who have a registered ID; are all poor people supposed to have a membership card, as if joining a country club? A great number of homeless people are mentally ill; how can the city reach out to those who don't understand or trust such rules?

•Is the city prepared to make up the difference and start providing 1,000 free meals per day for the poor? If so, where? When? And how will the city do a better job of security?

•If there is "nothing in the budget" for such a service, what does it say about our priorities that there are millions of tax dollars going for the building of the new baseball stadium? Is the city aware that Sharing & Caring Hands provides those 1,000 free meals and a whole range of other helpful services each day without ever accepting a penny of government money?

•Since the economy is struggling with job layoffs and the mortgage crisis, does our city need less or more in the way of assistance for the poor?

•Mary Jo Copeland has been praised by national and international leaders such as the president of the United States and the pope; why does the current leadership of the city of Minneapolis never express gratitude for her heroic work?

The Rev. Joseph R. Johnson is rector of the Cathedral of Saint Paul. StarTribune

The abortion battle is back in South Dakota


The abortion battle is back in South Dakota.

Secretary of State Chris Nelson cleared the way this morning for a voter initiative that would enact one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country to be included on the state's Nov. 4 ballot.

His office has not finished counting the signatures submitted by, a group opposed to abortions, but Nelson said "they have enough a sufficient number of signatures that it will be on the ballot in November as Measure 11."

Reprising the emotionally charged 2006 election, activists on both sides of the abortion issue are rolling up their sleeves for an intense campaign.

And once again, the fight likely will attract money and activists from around the country.

The regional Planned Parenthood chapter headquartered in Minnesota played a large role in the 2006 election in which voters rescinded a state law that virtually prohibited abortion. The campaign cost a total of nearly $4 million and included activities even South Dakota abortion opponents considered over the top, such as activists from outside the state painting trucks with pictures of dead fetuses.

Polls before the 2006 vote indicated that South Dakota residents were troubled because the law didn't allow for exceptions in cases of rape or incest or to preserve the health of the woman.

So this time, abortion opponents are proposing language that allows for those exceptions, provided certain conditions are met.

"Right now I guess it would be approved at the ballot box,'' said Bob Burns, political science professor at South Dakota State University. Moderate anti-abortion voters likely will be swayed by the changes, he said.

But even if voters approve the law that challenges Roe v. Wade, it likely will be tied up in the courts, Burns said.

"The pro-lifers may feel that if you win a popular vote, that it's a victory even if you lose in the courts,'' he said.

Abortion-rights activists say they weren't surprised by the new initiative. "When [abortion opponents] didn't get a similar bill through the Legislature last year, they made it clear they would take it to the people,'' said Jan Nicolay, co-chair of Campaign for Healthy Families, which will oppose the proposed restrictions.

But she and other abortion rights activists say enough is enough.

"It's very disrespectful to the people of South Dakota to put them through this again,'' said Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. "It was a very emotional experience for a lot of people. ... There were people who came from all over the country, driving big semi-trucks with huge pictures of aborted fetuses and airplanes flying, trailing pictures.

"People couldn't escape being involved in this debate. People took this very seriously. People debated in their families. They debated it at church at work. You couldn't go to a soccer game and it didn't come up."

Some people resent having to go through this again; others are just tired of it, she said.

Not the abortion opponents, said Leslee Unruh, executive director of "They're excited about going to the polls. They know it's important.''

Some abortion opponents are bristling about the exceptions that were added to the proposal, Unruh said. They may not help finance the campaign this time, but they still may vote for the new law, she said.

The biggest problem for her camp, however, will be keeping outside elements from entering the fray again.

"I totally disagree with showing pictures of dead babies and people coming in from out of state. It's not their state. It's not their party. They should stay away,'' Unruh said. "That's what makes people in South Dakota uncomfortable."

For her part, Unruh said she's ready to run a more efficient and aggressive campaign. "This is a tough subject,'' she said. "And we're going to be tough.''

On the other side, initiative opponents say this year's battle will be less clear-cut because of the changes in the language that allow some exceptions for abortions under certain conditions. "There are exceptions for rape and incest, but you have to read the fine print,'' said Nicolay.

For example, a woman would have to report incest or a rape to law enforcement authorities before an abortion could be performed. A doctor who performed an abortion also would have to take tissue from the fetus and a sample from the woman for a DNA analysis.

"Why do they have to put the victims through all this? It's re-victimizing them,'' Nicolay said. The law also wouldn't allow exceptions for fetal anomalies or the mother's mental health, she said.

And meeting the health exception could be difficult. "People have to read the details,'' she said.

Abortion rights advocates also are concerned that the initiative will open the door to a more restrictive laws.

"They'll can come back to the Legislature in '09 and take all the exceptions out,'' Nicolay said. "And it will become an outright ban.'' StarTribune