Posts Tagged ‘America Magazine’

E.J. Dionne, Jr. Beats Up the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Then Cedes Their Point

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Washington Post and Commonweal Magazine columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., one of America’s most humorously self-contradictory of pundits, has done it again with his partisan attack on the U.S. Catholic Bishops on 3/12/12, which followed his attack on President Barack Obama on 1/29/12.

As many have learned over the years, the best answer to Dionne is usually a previous Dionne column, or sometimes Dionne later in the very same column. He confirmed this “Dionne rule” again on 3/12/12.

After flailing the bishops on 3/12/12, Dionne then wrapped up his column by conceding their point on the HHS mandate:

The bishops have legitimate concerns about the Obama compromise, including how to deal with self-insured entities and whether the wording of the HHS rule still fails to recognize the religious character of the church’s charitable work.

Nevertheless, Dionne angrily demanded that the Bishops end their protests based simply on a non-existent concession from the President.

Dionne, then agreeing with the Bishops on substance–just like the anonymous Jesuit America Magazine editorial writers–further went on to criticize the U.S. Catholic Bishops on style.

Not a single bishop would give even an anonymous quote to Dionne in support of Dionne’s analysis. Dionne’s contrived attack on Cardinals Dolan and George therefore lacks credibility in trying to frame the U.S. Bishops’ unity on this HHS mandate matter as partisan.

As even Dionne conceded the Bishops’ point, the Bishops are not about to accept an empty promise from the President when he has already put the HHS mandate on sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception as originally framed into law. The President also promised a “sensible conscience clause” in 2009 at Notre Dame, and has yet to deliver on that promise either.

It is therefore not the U.S. Catholic Bishops who lack credibility on this matter.

Ever since the President announced the HHS mandate “accommodation” on 2/10/12, the President’s Catholic health care team has been trying frantically to execute a political Zavanelli maneuver–to push, as it were, the anti-religious freedom monster baby back into the womb–and to start the question of conscience protection for religious institutions all over again. It’s not working. They might as well try to unfry an egg.

I fully expect that desperate reporters will begin making up false anonymous quotes from non-existent dissenting bishops in their panic to break the unity of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the HHS mandate.

The unity of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the HHS mandate has been remarkable.

Please see George Weigel’s 3/12/12 response to E.J. Dionne, Jr.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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How Prof. Cathleen Kaveny Didn’t Explain it All on the Daily Show

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

M. Cathleen Kaveny, the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Commonweal Magazine contributor, John T. Noonan, Jr. protege, and Humanae Vitae critic, appeared on the Daily Show on 3/1/12.

Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked a great “man on the street” question in his mostly straight-up interview of Prof. Kaveny: Why all the apocalyptic language from the U.S. Catholic Bishops about the HHS mandate?

Prof. Kaveny did not directly represent the point of view of the Bishops in answering the question, but stuck to the Commonweal, or as I like to call it, the Cogleyweal narrative of urbane dissent from Humanae Vitae. This urbane dissent undermines the ground around Humanae Vitae’s teaching while not directly challenging it, in part by illustrating in various ways that not all Catholics view this matter the way the Bishops do.

A more direct and complete answer to Mr. Stewart’s question might have been this:

1. The Bishops see abortion as a most fundamental and total crime against a single human because it viciously and arbitrarily violates that person out of existence at that person’s supreme point of innocence and defenselessness. Abortion in the eyes of Catholic teaching negates every principle on which other acts of simple justice and social justice rest, and therefore must be opposed in a fundamental way.

2. Many forms of artificial contraception prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, and are thus also forms of abortion.

3. Because Catholic teaching sees these acts, including sterilization, as immoral in a fundamental way, therefore Catholics have built religious institutions, including hospitals and clinics, where Catholics can perform acts of charity while not participating in actions they consider immoral.

4. Civil libertarians, especially in President Obama’s home state of Illinois, who formed the core group advancing his political career and who have key posts in his administration, have long pressed the government to remove the above independence from Catholic institutions.

5. By posting the HHS mandate to the Federal Register without modification in “45 CFR Part 147 [CMS–9992–F] RIN 0938–AQ74 Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the White House has given the original mandate the force of law without any “accommodation.” Talks between the staffs of the White House and the U.S. Catholic Bishops about the details of this “accommodation” are not substantively progressing. At this point, the “accommodation” is nothing more than an unfulfilled promise in a string including the “sensible conscience clause.”

6. The White House’s proposed “accommodation” would still force religious institutions that are self-insured to pay for sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception that in some instances acts as an abortifacient. (Somehow, the anonymous Jesuit editorial writers at America Magazine and some Commonweal Magazine personalities think that the mere offer of an “accommodation” makes everything OK now, and are back to supporting the White House instead of the Bishops based apparently upon another unfulfilled promise).

7. The U.S. Catholic Bishops, in order to not participate in supporting a grave evil of sterilization and the distribution of abortifacients, see that it might be necessary to close Catholic hospitals and clinics, built with great sacrifice over the course of many generations, rather that follow the law as it is now written, since the law as written forces Catholic institutions to violate the very principles on which they were founded.

8. In 2009 at Notre Dame University, President Obama promised a “sensible conscience clause” to Catholics. He has not delivered on this promise, it is not contained in the HHS mandate, and it has not been provided in the recent “accommodation.” It is thus reasonable for the Bishops to continue to press for such conscience protection.

9. Therefore, we have heard absolute, life and death, “apocalyptic” language from the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

As long as the public view of this question is that this matter is only about birth control, but not also equally about human life and religious freedom, the Bishops haven’t broken through sufficiently into the consciousness of the public. To the extent that Prof. Kaveny did not help articulate the Bishops’ view, she assisted in undermining the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ position.

Jon Stewart’s question is a good one: Why the apocalyptic language from the Bishops in this issue?

Much rides now on whether the U.S. Bishops can answer Mr. Stewart’s question effectively in public square, and for the Catholic “man and woman on the street” and others of good will to learn how critical it is to support the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ stand for life and liberty.

The very existence of Catholic institutions, free to follow Catholic consciences, is riding in the balance. Prof. Kaveny, at least in her Daily Show appearance, despite being highly qualified to do so, apparently did not vigorously help to defend the moral independence of Catholic institutions in a free society.

Seemingly yet another case of Notre Dame’s Forgotten Freedom!

For more on the intellectual origins of Prof. Kaveny’s position on Humanae Vitae, please see my scholarly article on Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand.

For a response to Prof. Kaveny from Fr. Robert Barron and the Word
on Fire blog, see this link.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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True Christian love: Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis von Stade

Monday, November 15th, 2010

When one thinks of a touching (and doomed) medieval love story, the first historic couple who come to mind are Abelard and Heloise.

But this same 12th Century renaissance revealed another very intense and well-documented love, the spiritual love between the Benedictine Abbess St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), and her protege, the Abbess Richardis von Stade (ca. 1123-1151).

This friendship is dramatized in the film Vision: From the life of Hildegard von Bingen, as directed by the noted German artist Margarethe von Trotta (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, The Promise, Rosenstrasse, Rosa Luxemburg).

First, some background on the film, which was scripted personally by director von Trotta from Hildegard’s own writings and letters, and accompanied by Hildegard’s music. Von Trotta therefore lets Hildegard substantially speak (and sing) for herself.

The film carries the viewer through major episodes in Hildegard’s life from her eighth year to her sixtieth (Hildegard lived until the age of 81, and indeed faced and overcame many other challenges not depicted by this film). Vision presumes that the moviegoer know who Hildegard is, and something of her life story. For further background on Hildegard, please see my previous post.

Vision demonstrates through a number of vignettes the many foundational contributions of Hildegard in music, theology, botanical medicine, gynecology, drama, and ecclesiastical polity as Hildegard strove for the foundation of an all-female abbey while seeking ecclesiastical permission to convey her visions to paper.

The warm collaboration between Hildegard (played by the luminous German actress, and I might add, singer, Barbara Sukowa) and Richardis (depicted by the lovely and intense Hannah Herzsprung), a young noblewoman for whom her family had ambitious plans, allowed Hildegard, who despite her genius had significant gaps in her formal schooling, not to mention poor health, to finish and illuminate her books of visions, theology, and science, with a significant assist from the monk Volmar, one of Hildegard’s earliest teachers and advocates (played with occasional humor by Heino Ferch).

Von Trotta utilizes the character of the nun Jutta (Lena Stolze), raised with Hildegard from a young age by the anchorite Jutta von Sponheim (Mareile Blendl), to bring Hildegard down to earth as the “prophet in her own country.”

Like Robert Bolt’s film A Man for All Seasons, von Trotta’s Vision depicts in part conversations which in real life were based upon letters.

Warning: film spoiler. If you don’t want to know the ending of the film, stop reading here, see the film, then come back to this article.

It is therefore appropriate at this point to turn to a few of the letters of the actual players in this drama. Thanks to the continuous tradition of the Benedictines, and to the work of many scholars, we can read today what these characters were actually saying to one another over 800 years ago.

Vision dramatizes the struggle between Hildegard and the family of Richardis over the appointment of Richardis to leave Hildegard at Mt. St. Rupert to serve as abbess at Birsim (today Bassum). Hildegard made no secret of her opposition to this appointment, viewing it as based upon human ambition (presumably, to extend the influence of the von Stade family, rather than to follow a divine calling). Hildegard was not shy about her feelings, and wrote, literally, to everyone who would listen, from the Pope on down to Richardis’ mother and brother, respectively, the Margravine (played in the film by Sunnyi Melles) and Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen. Finally, Hildegard wrote to Richardis herself, all to no avail. Richardis moved away from Hildegard.

We turn now to the collection of letters, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, ably compiled and presented by the scholar Joseph L. Baird, and published by Oxford University Press in 2006. Here are a few key excerpts.

First, an impassioned plea from Hildegard to Richardis–

“Daughter, listen to me, your mother, speaking to you in the spirit: my grief flies up to heaven. My sorrow is destroying the great confidence and consolation that I once had in mankind. From now on I will say: ‘‘It is good to trust in the Lord, rather than to trust in princes’’ [Ps 117.9]. The point of this Scripture is that a person ought to look to the living height, with vision unobstructed by earthly love and feeble faith, which the airy humor of earth renders transient and short-lived. Thus a person looking at God directs his sight to the sun like an eagle. And for this reason one should not depend on a person of high birth, for such a one inevitably withers like a flower. This was the very transgression I myself committed because of my love for a certain noble individual. Now I say to you: As often as I sinned in this way, God revealed that sin to me, either through some sort of difficulty or some kind of grief, just as He has now done regarding you, as you well know. Now, again I say: Woe is me, mother, woe is me, daughter, ‘‘Why have you forsaken me’’ [Ps 21.2; Matt 27.46; Mark like an orphan? I so loved the nobility of your character, your wisdom, your chastity, your spirit, and indeed every aspect of your life that many people have said to me: What are you doing?”

“Now, let all who have grief like mine mourn with me, all who, in the love of God, have had such great love in their hearts and minds for a person— as I had for you— but who was snatched away from them in an instant, as you were from me. But, all the same, may the angel of God go before you, may the Son of God protect you, and may his mother watch over you. Be mindful of your poor desolate mother, Hildegard, so that your happiness may not fade.”

From Joseph L. Baird, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 47-48.

Then we skip ahead to the very sad turn, the sudden death of Richardis at the age of about twenty-eight within a year of her departure from Mt. St. Rupert. The following two letters are perhaps among the most forthright and touching in Christian literature, first the letter from Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen, notifying Hildegard of his own sister Richardis’ passing–

“Hartwig, archbishop of Bremen, brother of the abbess Richardis, sends that which is in the place of a sister and more than a sister, obedience, to Hildegard, mistress of the sisters of St. Rupert.

I write to inform you that our sister— my sister in body, but yours in spirit— has gone the way of all flesh, little esteeming that honor I bestowed upon her. And (while I was on my way to see the earthly king) she was obedient to her lord, the heavenly King. I am happy to report that she made her last confession in a saintly and pious way and that after her confession she was anointed with consecrated oil. Moreover, filled with her usual Christian spirit, she tearfully expressed her longing for your cloister with her whole heart. She then committed herself to the Lord through His mother and St. John. And sealed three times with the sign of the cross, she confessed the Trinity and Unity of God, and died on October 29 in perfect faith, hope, and charity [cf. I Cor 13.13], as we know for certain. Thus I ask as earnestly as I can, if I have any right to ask, that you love her as much as she loved you, and if she appeared to have any fault— which indeed was mine, not hers— at least have regard for the tears that she shed for your cloister, which many witnessed. And if death had not prevented, she would have come to you as soon as she was able to get permission. But since death did intervene, be assured that, God willing, I will come in her place. May God, who repays all good deeds, recompense you fully in this world and in the future for all the good things you did for her, you alone, more even than relatives or friends; may He repay that benevolence of yours which she rejoiced in before God and me. Please convey my thanks to your sisters for all their kindness.”
From Joseph L. Baird, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 48-49.

And then, here follows Hildegard’s restrained and irenic response. But note, however, her parting turn on the concept of obedience, with which Hartwig began his letter–

To Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen

“O how great a miracle there is in the salvation of those souls so looked upon by God that His glory has no hint of shadow in them. But He works in them like a mighty warrior who takes care not to be defeated by anyone, so that his victory may be sure. Just so, dear man, was it with my daughter Richardis, whom I call both daughter and mother, because I cherished her with divine love, as indeed the Living Light had instructed me to do in a very vivid vision.”

“God favored her so greatly that worldly desire had no power to embrace her. For she always fought against it, even though she was like a flower in her beauty and loveliness in the symphony of this world. While she was still living in the body, in fact, I heard the following words concerning her in a true vision: ‘‘O virginity, you are standing in the royal bridal chamber.’’ Now, in the tender shoot of virginity, she has been made a part of that most holy order, and the daughters of Zion rejoice [Zach 2.10, 9.9]. But the ancient serpent had attempted to deprive her of that blessed honor by assaulting her through her human nobility. Yet the mighty Judge drew this my daughter to Himself, cutting her off from all human glory. Therefore, although the world loved her physical beauty and her worldly wisdom while she was still alive, my soul has the greatest confidence in her salvation. For God loved her more. Therefore, He was unwilling to give His beloved to a heartless lover, that is, to the world.”

“Now you, dear Hartwig, you who sit as Christ’s representative, fulfill the desire of your sister’s soul, as obedience demands. And just as she always had your interests at heart, so you now take thought for her soul, and do good works as she wished. Now, as for me, I cast out of my heart that grief you caused me in the matter of this my daughter. May God grant you, through the prayers of the saints, the dew of His grace and reward in the world to come.”

From Joseph L. Baird, Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 49-50.

While von Trotta’s film Vision: From the Life of Hildegard of Bingen is beautiful and inspiring, the letters above complement the film in a profound and touching way. I highly recommend close study of Joseph L. Baird’s collections of Hildegard letters.

Indeed, such close examination of Hildegard scholarship reveals that it is very possible that Richardis was dead by the time Hildegard’s morality play, The Play of Virtues, or the Ordo Virtutum, was performed in its final form. Therefore, the lovely “play within the play” within von Trotta’s Vision, with a prominent role played by Richardis, may or may not have ever really happened with Richardis personally playing the part. The brilliant Hildegard scholar Barbara Newman astutely pointed out (Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, U. California Press, 1997, p. 223) that the very same words of praise for Richardis’ virginity contained in Hildegard’s letter to Richardis’ brother the archbishop appeared again in the very final version of the Ordo Virtutum. Therefore, who else but Richardis, according to “Central Casting,” would ever play the virtue Castitas, as inspired by Hildegard’s vision? Director von Trotta, by getting history probably wrong, more likely got a truth of the vision right.

How do I support my assertion that the love of Hildegard for Richardis was true Christian love? It is clear from the letters and the testimony of herself and others, at least on Hildegard’s part, that she loved Richardis completely and complexly, in all commonly describable ways, as a friend, a sister, a religious superior, a teacher, a student, a surrogate parent, an admirer, as a seer, as a patient to a caregiver, and by way of sacrificial Christian love, except for the love of sexual intimacy. This relationship appears to make concrete the teachings of Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. This multifaceted love might only be successful across a lifetime between two very strong and talented colleagues.

This kind of relationship would also probably not be tolerated in modern religious life! Even in her own time, Hildegard was asked, “What are you doing?”

I also can’t help recalling, however, that Jesus had his own Beloved Disciple.

To the modern witness, it may make perfect sense that Richardis would step away from Hildegard to lead another abbey shortly after the great project of Scivias was completed, especially since, to the modern understanding, the child must step away from the parent, no matter how loving. But we may never know Richardis’s mind on this subject to the degree that we know Hildegard’s. Whether Richardis received a spiritual call, had her own ambitions, was forced into accepting the abbey by her mother and her brother the archbishop (his letter points in this direction), or was seeking to put distance between herself and Hildegard (the timing of waiting to leave after Scivias was finished may indicate a planned departure), or all of the above, will remain an open question.

I am grateful that, into these open questions, such a director as von Trotta did not fear to step!

==

I end this post by sharing a number of reviews of the film, which are, as evidenced also by their titles, rather, if not humorously, divergent in their attempts to apply paradigms of various ages and interest groups upon the film and to Hildegard.

To the New York Times reviewer, Hildegard, known otherwise to history as a polymath, or universal genius, was the “multitasking nun.”

The Boston Globe applies in an otherwise perceptive review, the post-Freudian saw of “repressed eroticism.”

The dignified review from the National Catholic Reporter carefully relates that experienced nuns would recognize the “special friendship” (years ago also called, a “particular friendship”) that the film depicts in the story of a woman who “humbly initiated change.”

To the Christianity Today reviewer, the film did not convey enough of a “sense of the transcendent.”

Variety’s reviewer appears eager to end the review since the subject of the film is so obviously Catholic.

The San Francisco Chronicle thinks that Hildegard was a “very cool nun.”

NYPress.com sees “female will and independence” in the film.

The LA Times sees a “feminist centuries ahead of her time.”

Flip comments from the NPR reviewer, whose knowledge of the subject of the film (e.g., nuns, history) appears to be gleaned from. . . other films.

Roger Ebert sees the love between the characters as sublimated lesbianism, and is apparently unaware that Benedict XVI, like other recent Popes, explicitly recognized the sainthood of Hildegard in two Fall, 2010 general audiences, linked at my earlier post.

America Magazine, the Jesuit publication, saw Hildegard “caught in a riptide of lesbian love.”

Finally, two interviews with the director–

From FilmMaker Magazine, and from the Huffington Post.

Director von Trotta, in her FilmMaker Magazine interview linked above, explains why in this film she depicted participants kissing each other on the mouth in many different situations. She refers to a scholarly theory about mouth-kissing being more common prior to the Black Death, but it is probably safe to say that she is making a statement about a less inhibited and perhaps idealized “wholesome” approach to human love.

One final tale of the book Scivias, produced by Hildegard in collaboration with Richardis and Volmar. One important original manuscript of Scivias was taken to Dresden for safekeeping during World War II, where it was lost. Copies remain.

Vision as of 2011 is available for viewing on demand from Netflix.

Here is the link to the official website for the film at Zeitgeist Films.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s America article on Catholic Schools

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

NY Archbishop Timothy Dolan has issued a clarion call for Catholic schools in the 9/13/10 issue of America Magazine. He urges all Catholics, not just school parents, to support these schools, and to give up our “hospice mentality” about Catholic education–the attitude of watching Catholic education slowly die.

Archbishop Dolan makes a strong point that whereas American Catholic schools arose as a response to anti-Catholic bias, the present challenge is secularization:

“. . . . the Catholic Church is now confronted by a new secularization asserting that a person of faith can hardly be expected to be a tolerant and enlightened American. Religion, in this view, is only a personal hobby, with no implications for public life. Under this new scheme, to take one’s faith seriously and bring it to the public square somehow implies being un-American. To combat this notion, an equally energetic evangelization—with Catholic schools at its center—is all the more necessary.”

Archbishop Dolan’s position deserves wide support.

It would be extremely naive to assume that today’s secularization is benignly tolerant of religious expression. Catholics of good will may not have any idea how far from common sense our public schools have moved toward the outright manipulation of children. To fully appreciate how different the approach of Catholic education is from today’s public education in this regard, please take a look at a recent article by Miriam Grossman, MD, on explicit sex education of little children in public schools. Such over-sexualized instruction is an important aspect of secularized education.

Catholic Schools are one important refuge that protects our young children from such inappropriate instruction. As an expression of religious freedom, Catholic schools protect children from such manipulation. Religious freedom cannot grow beyond private expression unless religious freedom is established in educational institutions.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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