But the world looks just the same

Today the Holy Father has announced a new slate of appointments to the Congregation for Divine Worship. Gone are prelates known to be sympathetic to traditional liturgy and orthodox doctrine, such as Cardinals Bagnasco, Burke, Ouellet, Pell, Ranjith, and Scola. In their place are prelates like the well known Archbishop Piero Marini, formerly responsible for so many of the most unforgettable liturgies of St. John Paul II, along with many of the Holy Father’s recent, characteristic cardinals. In other words, the Holy Father has cleaned out quite a few of his ideological and liturgical opponents and brought in men who are very much simpatico with his outlook.

The immediate consequence of these appointments is that Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, finds himself without many notable allies among the membership of the Congregation. His principal deputies, also selected by the Holy Father, are, we suspect, on a very different page in many important regards. And this, of course, follows the public rebuke he endured as a result of his suggestion that priests celebrate versus apsidem more often. But more than that, the so-called reform of the reform under Benedict is finally over. Whatever Cardinal Sarah hoped to accomplish, we suspect that those plans are on hold for the foreseeable future.

A notable new blog

Timothy Wilson ought to be familiar to regular readers, if any, of Semiduplex. For those who don’t know his name offhand, Wilson is a sharp young Catholic who is almost a one-man ressourcement of the pre-Conciliar, neo-Scholastic tradition. He has translated excerpts of some of the great old manuals for various websites. He has started publishing some translations on his own blog, Lumen Scholasticum. His first selection is from Edouard Hugon’s manual. We are, of course, thrilled to see Wilson start blogging more regularly on his own website. We suspect that there are many, many interesting translations and posts to come.

His first post is a great introduction to his project. Occasionally we have seen discussions from well-meaning Catholics who are in contact with children who, for whatever sad reason, have not been baptized yet and are not apt to be baptized. These people, moved with zeal that ought to be commended, ask in one place or another if they may secretly baptize the children. Would that everyone were so solicitous of the salvation of others! Hugon’s manual, far from being a dusty old tome to be rejected in favor of the scholarship, such of it is, of Küng, Rahner, Kasper, and the like, presents an elegant summary of the case for infant baptism and the case against baptizing secretly the children of nonbelievers. We won’t spoil the whole post, but we will give you a quick excerpt:

But the opinion of the Scotists is rejected by Benedict XIV, who follows and claims the opinion of St. Thomas.

He teaches that, generally, children ought not to be baptized when their parents are unwilling. It is obviously of natural law, as the Angelic Doctor here explains, that children not be taken away from the care of their parents. But, if children are baptized in this manner, they then ought to be taken from the care of their parents. Therefore the natural right would be injured if they were baptized, their parents being unwilling. It would also be dangerous, St. Thomas adds, to baptize the children of infidels in such a manner, which children would easily return to infidelity on account of the natural affect to their parents.

Yet if the children have been baptized, they are on account of baptism a thing of the Church (res Ecclesiae), they are joined to the body of the Church, and the Church obtains the right over them; and, that she might provide for their spiritual safety, she is able to separate them from their parents. Thus teaches Benedict XIV in the document already cited, which doctrine Pius IX confirmed in practice in the very famous case of Edgardo Mortara.

All theologians agree that children at the moment of death ought to be baptized, even if the parents are unwilling, because then the obstructions indicated above are not present, and the salvation of the soul ought to have superior force; and they are equally able to be baptized, if one of the parents should consent, whether the father or the mother, or the grandfather or grandmother in defect of the mother, because then the natural right which is in them is committed to the Church.

(Emphasis supplied.)

Perhaps you knew all this already—certainly these discussions take place often enough. But Hugon’s summary is precise, clear, and answers a difficult question directly. This, then, is the import of Wilson’s project: the Church lost something when it walked away, seemingly overnight, from the neo-Scholastic tradition. Given the events of recent years, it is time for the faithful to discover the value of clear reasoning and doctrinal precision. There are few better ways to do that than by dusting off those old manuals.

Keep an eye on Lumen Scholasticum.

An update from Pius XI

A few days ago, we posted Pius XII and the question of transsexuality, essentially calling for a ressourcement of the magisterium of Papa Pacelli in the light of a recent intervention by Christian Spaemann. A good friend of ours contacted us to remind us, gently, that there was more than one Pius to address this question. In Casti connubii, the towering Papa Ratti briefly touched upon the issue. We quote a longer passage, because Pius XI’s point comes at the very end of his argument about compulsory sterilization:

Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child – which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason – but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.

Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.

Public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects; therefore, where no crime has taken place and there is no cause present for grave punishment, they can never directly harm, or tamper with the integrity of the body, either for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason. St. Thomas teaches this when inquiring whether human judges for the sake of preventing future evils can inflict punishment, he admits that the power indeed exists as regards certain other forms of evil, but justly and properly denies it as regards the maiming of the body. “No one who is guiltless may be punished by a human tribunal either by flogging to death, or mutilation, or by beating.”

Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body.

(Emphasis supplied.) This is, in capsule form, essentially what Pius XII said in his address to the Italian urologists. Thus, we see that Pius XI and Pius XII are in complete accord on this issue. However, we think it would probably do violence to Pius XI’s argument to prooftext or excerpt the last paragraph without acknowledging the context or the trajectory of the argument. That is, it appears that Pius is arguing that neither by compulsion nor persuasion may a person be sterilized prospectively. (He appears to leave the door open for retributive, penal sterilization or therapeutic sterilization, but he does not explore those possibilities.) In other words, no one has the authority to do this: not the state, not the individual. Does this change the bearing Casti connubii has on Spaemann’s argument? Maybe. But it is worth talking about in any event.

Now, none of this should be taken to imply an answer. Indeed, Pius XI and Pius XII merely get us to the point where we can formulate the question. Too often there is a willingness to approach these questions in an environment more or less sterile from a magisterial standpoint, and, certainly, there is no reason why natural reason may not be invoked in the first place. However, given the Church’s unique role as the authentic interpreter and guard of the natural law, it would be altogether wiser to begin where good and holy popes have left off.

Pius XII and the question of transsexuality

At First Things, there is a translation of an article by Christian Spaemann, a psychiatrist and the son of the German theologian Robert Spaemann, about the Holy Father’s recent comments on individuals who identify as transgender or transsexual. It seems that our old friend, Pater Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., translated the piece for First Things. Dr. Spaemann’s essay is well worth reading and considering in full; however, he makes one point that is sure to cause controversy:

The suffering of those who feel themselves to be transsexual can be so great—to the point of making them suicidal—that from the perspective of the Church one can hardly categorically forbid surgical and hormonal measures to reduce their suffering, as a last resort after attempting other measures. The proscription of self-mutilation must here be weighed against the good of reducing suffering.

(Emphasis supplied.) We note that Pater Waldstein, at Sancrucensis, has stated that he is not sure that he agrees fully with the point, but Spaemann’s essay (and some other writing on this subject) have given him reason to consider it more seriously. And, indeed, given the increasing prevalence of issues related to persons who identify as transsexual or transgender, such consideration is merited.

You may recall that the Holy Father has been outspoken and steadfast in his opposition to what he calls, somewhat vaguely, gender theory. However, it must be said that the Church’s magisterium on this subject is a little vague. (In distinction to the clear, unchanging teachings of the Church for persons who suffer from same-sex attraction.) Nonetheless, there is one pope who laid the groundwork for this discussion. You may think that it’s St. John Paul II with his Theology of the Body, which is occasionally mentioned in this context. But you’d be wrong.

None other than Pius XII—the mild, saintly man who has been defamed posthumously as the embodiment of all that is reactionary and oppressive in the Church—laid the groundwork for a serious consideration of the question in the light of the magisterium in a 1953 speech to a convention of Italian urologists. It is, we note in passing, a crying shame that Pius’s extensive magisterium on scientific and medical matters is not more widely discussed in the Church. Just as Papa Ratti was a prophetic voice on matters of morality, so too was Papa Pacelli a prophetic voice on matters of science. We have only found this speech in French on the Vatican website, and we have not found a good translation anywhere. To spare you the combination of machine translation and our desultory Latin and our comical attempt at French several years ago, we present the relevant passage of the original:

La première question, vous Nous l’avez posée sous la forme d’un cas particulier, typique cependant de la catégorie à laquelle il appartient, c’est-à-dire l’amputation d’un organe sain pour supprimer le mal qui affecte un autre organe, ou du moins pour arrêter son développement ultérieur avec les souffrances et les dangers qu’il entraîne. Vous vous demandez si cela est permis. 

En ce qui concerne votre diagnostic et votre pronostic, il ne Nous appartient pas d’en traiter. Nous répondons à votre question, en supposant que tous les deux sont exacts

Trois choses conditionnent la licéité morale d’une intervention chirurgicale qui comporte une mutilation anatomique ou fonctionnelle : d’abord que le maintien ou le fonctionnement – d’un organe particulier dans l’ensemble de l’organisme provoque en celui-ci un dommage sérieux ou constitue une menace. Ensuite que ce dommage ne puisse être évité, ou du moins notablement diminué que par la mutilation en question et que l’efficacité de celle-ci soit bien assurée. Finalement, qu’on puisse raisonnablement escompter que l’effet négatif, c’est-à-dire la mutilation et ses conséquences, sera compensé par l’effet positif  : suppression du danger pour l’organisme entier, adoucissement des douleurs etc

Le point décisif ici n’est pas que l’organe amputé ou rendu incapable de fonctionner soit malade lui-même, mais que son maintien ou son fonctionnement entraîne directement ou indirectement pour tout le corps une menace sérieuse. Il est très possible que, par son fonctionnement normal, un organe sain exerce sur un organe malade une action nocive de nature à aggraver le mal et ses répercussions sur tout le corps. Il peut se faire aussi que l’ablation d’un organe sain et l’arrêt de son fonctionnement normal enlève au mal, au cancer par exemple, son terrain de croissance ou, en tout cas, altère essentiellement ses conditions d’existence. Si l’on ne dispose d’aucun autre moyen, l’intervention chirurgicale sur l’organe sain est permise dans les deux cas. La conclusion, que Nous venons de tirer, se déduit du droit de disposition que l’homme a reçu du Créateur à l’égard de son propre corps, d’accord avec le principe de totalité, qui vaut ici aussi, et en vertu duquel chaque organe particulier est subordonné à l’ensemble du corps et doit se soumettre à lui en cas de conflit. Par conséquent, celui qui a reçu l’usage de tout l’organisme a le droit de sacrifier un organe particulier, si son maintien ou son fonctionnement cause au tout un tort notable, qu’il est impossible d’éviter autrement.

(Emphasis supplied.) Given the whole scope of Dr. Spaemann’s commentary, we suspect that he is well aware of Pius’s thinking on this topic. However, it seems to us that the sixty-year-old speech of a pope to an Italian association of urologists may not be at the tips of one’s fingertips as one reads and ponders Dr. Spaemann’s point.

Digressing briefly, we note, too, that St. Thomas Aquinas’s teachings, particularly in ST IIa IIae q.65 a.1 co. & ad 3, have an important bearing here, too. However, we are more concerned with, at this opportune moment, reminding you, dear reader, that the great Pius XII left us, in his wisdom, an excellent magisterial source for discussing this topic.

As it has become more common to assess the magisterial weight of papal teachings, especially those teachings not contained in more formal documents like encyclicals or apostolic letters, we should add that it is clear that the 1953 speech was intended by Pius as a formal act of the ordinary papal magisterium. Indeed, Pius thought that this was an important intervention on this topic and part of a broader pattern of papal teachings in response to questions of the age, noting a year later in a speech to the World Medical Association,

You are fully qualified to deal with the medical, as well as the technical and administrative aspects of these questions, but we would like to call your attention to several points which pertain to their moral and juridical nature. Many of the problems with which you are presently concerned have equally been of concern to Us, and been made the subject of special discourses on Our part. Thus, on September 14, 1952, we spoke (at their request) to those who took part in the First International Congress on the Histopathology of the Nervous System on the moral limits of modern methods of research and treatment. Our remarks were linked to a study of the three principles from which medical science derives justification for such methods of research and treatment: the scientific interest of medicine, the interest of the patient, and that of the community – or, as it is commonly designated, the common good, the «bonum commune» (Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, vol, XIV, pp. 319-330). Again, in an address to the members of the Sixteenth International Congress of Military Medicine, We spoke of the basic principles of medical ethics and medical law, and discussed their origin, their nature, and their application (October 19, 1953, ibid, vol. XV, pp. 417-428). The Twenty-sixth Congress of the Italian Association of Urology, in turn, had asked us the widely discussed question: Is it morally permissible to remove a healthy organ in order to prevent the progress of a milady which jeopardizes human life? Our reply to this question was contained in an address delivered on October 8 of last year (ibid, vol. XV, pp. 373-375). And, finally, We had occasion to touch upon the questions which are of particular concern to you in the present Congress those relating to an ethical evaluation of modern warfare and its methods –in an address given on October 3, 1953, to those participating in the Sixth International Congress of Penal Law (ibid, vol. XV, pp. 337-353).

(Emphasis supplied.) And, of course, his 1952 speech to the histopathology association is a major intervention in Pius’s magisterium, providing a broader framework for medical research and treatment. The upshot of all of this is that Pius certainly thought he was exercising his ordinary magisterium to clear up questions that were vexing the medical professionals who approached him for advice.

Though we are reasonably certain that Pius was teaching for the benefit of the Church, we doubt strongly that Pius XII imagined that his comments in 1953 would be drawn into a debate like this, and we doubt more strongly that Pius XII would have considered his analysis to be a justification for something like the surgical and hormonal measures that Spaemann discusses. However, Pius certainly would have thought that he was proposing general moral principles of universal applicability, and it is in that dimension that his comments are most useful. Certainly it is, we think, difficult to have a serious discussion about these surgical and hormonal measures without having a discussion along the lines Pius indicates. It would be interesting, we think, to see someone articulate, in broad strokes, such a discussion. Elliot Milco once wrote a funny little dialogue broadly on this topic, though focusing more on the natural law than the magisterial interventions. And it is well worth reading. But, as Paul VI teaches us, the Church has the authority, given to her by Christ, to authentically interpret and guard the natural law. Thus, Pius’s magisterial action, clearly seen by him as a magisterial action, ought to be considered as part of a broader discussion of this topic.

We do not propose an answer to this question here, however. If thinkers like Christian Spaemann and Pater Edmund Waldstein have cause to ponder these matters carefully, we will not rush in to offer our opinion without weighing it more carefully. Instead we propose a ressourcement of the Church’s existing magisterium, both to point toward a resolution of these questions and to provide a hermeneutic key to current papal statement.

What happens when you don’t get the red hat?

The Dutch blog In Caelo et in Terra has a long, fascinating post on Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the first archbishop of Brussels since 1832 not to be named a cardinal, now that his successor, Jozef De Kesel, has been given the red hat. The phenomenon of the Holy Father overlooking traditionally cardinalatial sees is not unknown in the United States. Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, Allen Vigneron of Detroit (and, in a bit of ecclesiastical trivia, the Cayman Islands), and José Gomez of Los Angeles have all been passed over in recent consistories. We were particularly surprised that Archbishop Chaput was not named a cardinal in this consistory, given the Holy Father’s first-hand experience of the good work he is doing in Philadelphia. There are numerous justifications advanced for why this or that traditionally cardinalatial see is not graced with the red hat, including declining demographics in some traditionally very Catholic cities. However, we do not think we are saying anything particularly shocking when we observe that the Holy Father has preferred to elevate men to the cardinalate who are broadly in line with his outlook, unlike St. John Paul and Benedict XVI, both of whom seemed to make it a point of pride to raise theological and pastoral opponents to the purple.

At any rate, we won’t spoil the translations of Archbishop Léonard’s comments by quoting them here, instead urging you to visit In Caelo et in Terra to read the whole thing. They are quite interesting, not least because Archbishop Léonard does admit some disappointment in being the first (now only) archbishop of Brussels not to be named a cardinal. Too often, one sees the same anodyne, politically correct comments on controversial subjects. Usually it is like listening to Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots in one of his famously bland, taciturn postgame press conferences. Therefore, it is nice to see—at least we think it is nice to see—a human reaction from a high prelate, even if we wish the reaction had been to a happier subject.

A little bit of good news

There was a little bright spot in the recent drumbeat of bad news when Edward Pentin reported that Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society of St. Pius X, met with not only high officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but also with the Holy Father. As you may recall, in June, following a meeting of major superiors of the Society, a couple of communiques were released, which, while not precluding the possibility of unilateral action by Rome, made it clear that the Society’s priorities were its work of priestly formation and its apostolic work, not negotiating a final settlement with the Roman authorities. This was a little disappointing, since rumors were flying that the Holy Father had made a canonical recognition of the Society a major priority and, indeed, such a recognition was imminent. (More in a moment why the Society might have pulled back from negotiations.) As a Society spokesman told Pentin, the meeting, while not hugely productive, does show that discussions are ongoing.

Pentin also links to an English translation of part of a conference Bishop Fellay gave in France about a week ago. As you might expect from Bishop Fellay, it is a precise, clear-eyed, and charitable summary of the situation with the Roman authorities, particularly the apparent disagreement between Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and his boss, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A sample:

The second point is that they had crossed out everything concerning religious liberty and ecumenism. They no longer demanded anything of us. That is interesting! Why are they doing this? In this first interview granted to Zenit in February (February 28, 2016, Editor’s note) we see that it is necessary nevertheless to accept the whole Council. But in fact there are degrees. And this idea will be clarified in April (La Croix, April 7, 2016). And here this becomes particularly interesting, because all of a sudden they go and tell us that what was produced by the Council but is not dogmatic, in other words, all the Declarations—the declaration to the world [?! Sic], etc.—are not criteria for being Catholic, according to Abp. Pozzo. What does this mean? “You are not obliged to agree in order to be Catholic.” That is what he started to say when speaking about the Society. And to us, explicitly, he said: “On religious liberty, on ecumenism, on Nostra Aetate, on the liturgical reform, you can maintain your position.” When I heard that, I found it so amazing that I told him, “There is a possibility that I may have to ask you to come and tell us that, because our confreres are not going to believe me.” And still today, I think that it is legitimate to ask the question: is this serious? Is it true or not? Abp. Pozzo actually gave several interviews. I quoted for you the one in April, then there were the ones in July (Zenit, July 4, 2016, and Christ und Welt, July 28, 2016). Between these two dates, in June, his superior, Cardinal Müller, said the contrary (Herder Korrespondenz, June 2016). Therefore you have on the one side Abp. Pozzo who is the Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, who said in public (in La Croix, April 7, 2016): “‘The statements of articles of faith and of sure Catholic doctrine contained in the documents of Vatican Council II must be accepted according to the degree of adherence required,’ the Italian bishop continued, restating the distinction between dogma and certain Decrees or Declarations containing ‘directives for pastoral activity, guidelines and suggestions or exhortations of a practical and pastoral character’, as is the case especially with Nostra Aetate that inaugurated dialogue with non-Christian religions. The latter ‘will constitute, after a canonical recognition as well, a subject for discussion and more in-depth study with a view to greater precision, so as to avoid misunderstandings or ambiguities which, we know, are widespread in the contemporary ecclesial world.’” That is very interesting.

(Emphasis supplied.) We encourage you to read the whole thing. It is fascinating and deeply informative, especially since one wonders how it is possible to negotiate when high officials of the CDF itself cannot seem to agree about the Conciliar texts.

Catholic America: Civil War

In a series of tweets, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat addresses the recent release by Wikileaks of an email in which Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta apparently claims to have been behind setting up Catholic groups with the explicit goal of changing the Church’s doctrine on certain points. Douthat begins:

Read the whole thing there. (You may have to scroll down to see the whole series of tweets.) It is essentially Douthat’s argument that the Podesta email provides a window into how Catholic “civil war” is fought.

But Douthat’s argument seems to rely on a concept of Podesta, his Center for American Progress colleagues, and the rest of the leadership of these groups, including Christopher Jolly Hale, head of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), as essentially dissenting Catholics. That is, these Catholics disagree with settled doctrine of the Church—including, notably, the Church’s teachings on contraception and women’s ordination, doctrine that has been infallibly proclaimed by the popes—and they think they can change that doctrine. They cannot, and, indeed, it is folly to think they can. But that’s not the point; they want to. But they’re not likely to find help from within the Church, so they have to go to secular progressives for assistance. Now, there are some problems with this narrative.

Before turning to the problems, however, it is fair to note that Douthat is probably correct when he talks about a “civil war” among Catholics. Some might quail at such imagery, but given the ferocity of the conflicts throughout the 20th century and even to the present day between, broadly speaking, traditionalists and progressives (though we can be clinical and call them by their name: modernists), it is not unreasonable imagery. This conflict has taken on mostly moral dimensions. That is, people are far more concerned with the Church’s moral teaching than, for example, the implications of the metaphysics imposed by Dei Filius. We have, for the past couple of years, seen a prime example of this conflict in the ongoing debate over whether and on what terms bigamists may approach the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. So, when Douthat talks about a civil war, we’re inclined to agree with his assessment. However, we think Douthat’s connection between the Podesta leak and the ongoing struggles in the Church requires some clarification or nuance or whatever on a couple of points.

First, Douthat seems to assume that progressives need help in these fights. However, it is not a secret that progressives in the Church have long been able to find significant support from within the hierarchy. And the progressives in the Church, therefore, have always operated with relative impunity. While it is pleasant for them, apparently, to pretend as though they are being chased through the swamps by St. Pius X and a band of Dominicans while hounds bay in the distance, it is pure fantasy. (Indeed, if one wanted to criticize St. John Paul or Benedict XVI, one would observe that they were far too fond of promoting dissenters.) From the proceedings of the Council to the implementation of the Novus Ordo to the suppression of the traditional Latin Mass to the social agenda of the Church, the progressives have been able to achieve their will with relative ease. It is only on a few points—points upon which the intervention of the Holy Spirit may be felt especially clearly—that they have been thwarted: contraception, women’s ordination, and the like.

But this isn’t really the issue. Assume that the progressive Catholics haven’t had essentially fifty years of winning all but a handful of internal disputes. Such a suggestion might be nothing more than the bitter grousing of a traditionally minded Catholic who wants everything to return to 1954. Say it is. It does not change the fact that these organizations—CACG and Catholics United—are not really instances of Catholics running for help from secular progressives. They’re instances of secular progressives, who are incidentally Catholic, creating organizations intended to advance their secular agenda inside the Church. Furthermore, given the proximity of these individuals to state authority, both historically and prospectively, there is some cause for concern, which today Archbishop Kurtz, president of the USCCB, about state interference in Church affairs, addressed, if obliquely. This is the second, and more serious, problem with Douthat’s argument. Indeed, we think Douthat misses the mark when he says that this whole affair provides a window into a sort of civil war within the Church.

And it is the specter of state interference that is most concerning. Perhaps Podesta’s associates will refuse to take the call when President Hillary Clinton’s likely chief of staff, Neera Tanden (Podesta’s successor as head of the Center for American Progress), calls to complain about the intransigence of the Catholic Church on any number of President Clinton’s policies. Assume it’s the repeal of the lifesaving Hyde Amendment. But it could be anything. Perhaps they won’t take her call. And perhaps, if they do take her call, they’ll tell her that they won’t help her put pressure on the bishops to back down. It’s possible. Really. It is possible. Maybe. One knows, instinctively, that power doesn’t work that way, of course. Least of all in a city like Washington, D.C.

John Podesta’s Catholic connections

The secret is out. As part of Wikileaks’ ongoing leak of the emails of John Podesta, a 2011 email exchange between Podesta and a fellow named Sandy Newman was released. Ordinarily, nothing could be less interesting than the shop talk of a couple of veteran Democratic operatives. However, this email exchange is interesting because it states—it doesn’t suggest, it states—that Podesta was involved in setting up Catholic organizations that, well, putting it charitably, advocate essentially for Democratic viewpoints within the Church. The exchange implies, in fact, that these groups have as a goal undermining the Church’s hierarchy and doctrine. As Podesta’s boss advances toward the White House, the exchange takes on new relevance. And it ultimately ought to give Catholics very serious pause when they evaluate organizations claiming to represent constituencies in the Church.

You can read the whole exchange at Wikileaks, but the thrust of it is this: Newman was complaining to Podesta about the perceived intransigence of the Catholic bishops on the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. Newman called for a “Catholic Spring,” a reference to “Arab Spring” and other similar movements, which conceivably would involve rank-and-file Catholics rising up and demanding that the Church change its infallible teaching regarding contraception. Podesta responded to Newman with something very interesting; he says, “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United.” (Emphasis supplied.) A staff reporter from the Catholic Herald provides a very good overview, too, of the emails and the implications.

Podesta is, of course, a major figure in Democratic politics. Currently, he is a top official in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But, before that, he was a player in Bill Clinton’s administration, finally becoming White House chief of staff toward the end of Clinton’s presidency. After that, he was a Democratic lobbyist and think-tank boss. But he remained in the Clintons’ orbit. And when Hillary Clinton announced her current—potentially successful—bid for the presidency, he came on board as the campaign’s chairman. In other words, John Podesta has been a very heavy hitter in Democratic circles for a very long time. And there is, therefore, every reason to believe that Podesta knows what the Democratic establishment has and has not done as far as establishing so-called astroturf (i.e., fake grassroots) organizations. We are not inclined to dismiss Podesta’s statement out of hand.

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which purports to be “[p]romoting Pope Francis’s politics of inclusion throughout the United States,” is led by Christopher Jolly Hale. It takes a range of positions, and generally tries to stake out a pro-life position within the Democratic Party. Catholics United, which does not appear to be a going concern at the moment, was the project of Chris Korzen and James Salt. Based upon publicly available information, it seems to have been largely an advocacy outreach by the Democratic Party to Catholics. For his part, Chris Hale has put out a predictably outraged statement, which reads in part:

When I woke up this morning, I never thought our organization would get caught up in WikiLeaks drama.

Prominent commentators have used a stolen e-mail from 2011 (while I was a 21-year-old college student) about our organization in an attempt to impugn both our integrity and our organization’s work.

So let’s set the record straight: every day, my colleagues and I work tirelessly to promote the social mission of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in American politics, media, and culture. 

Politics is messy. Lived faith is messy. So this work isn’t always easy. You’re bound to make everyone mad at least once.

(Italics in original; emphasis supplied.) It is, of course, ironic that Hale would claim the mantle of Pope Francis, who, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, was locked in more or less perpetual combat with the president of Argentina. But, for reasons well known to any reader of Semiduplex, the first thing progressive dissenters do when they want to enervate the Church’s teachings is wrap themselves in Francis’s mantum.

But back to the matter at hand. It may be worth noting that at no point in the press release does Hale actually deny Podesta’s statement that Catholics in Alliance was founded by Democratic operatives to advance a Democratic agenda inside the Church. He just claims that he was in college when Podesta wrote the email. This is, of course, a non sequitur. One has very little to do with the other. At any rate, as leader of the organization, Hale ought to know—the Catholic Herald was able to find out, any rate—that Catholics in Alliance was founded in 2005 by Tom Periello. (One assumes that Chris Hale was in high school or whatever then.) Currently its chairman is a man named Fred Rotondaro. The Catholic Herald reports that both Periello and Rotondaro are senior fellows in Podesta’s think tank. In other words, in addition to Podesta having some authority by virtue of his position in Democratic politics, solid reporting shows that Catholics in Alliance was founded by people very close to Podesta. To put it in legal terms, the circumstantial evidence corroborates very strongly Podesta’s statement.

For some reason, Hale neglects to mention this in his press release. Of course, if his best argument is that he was in college when Podesta’s close associates set up an organization Podesta claimed to have set up, we can understand why Hale wouldn’t want to talk about it. But no problem ever went away by ignoring it, and Hale most certainly has a problem.

And Hale’s problem is not limited to the founding of the group. He claims that Catholics in Alliance has no intention of dividing the Church against itself. However, that is not quite the same thing as saying that Catholics in Alliance does not seek to contradict the doctrine of the Church of Rome. In fact, whether Catholics in Alliance exists to undermine the doctrine of the Church is something you’ll have to judge for yourself, after reading the press clippings the group makes available so kindly on its website. Certainly Rotondaro himself, as the Catholic Herald reports, has taken positions in stark contrast to the Church’s, not only on contraception but also on women’s ordination (Hale, of course, is an enthusiastic supporter of deaconesses) and homosexual behavior. In this context, Hale says,

Many of our fellow Catholics disagree with some of our politics. And they should. That’s a sign of a healthy culture within the Church.

But I can say with strong conviction that we love our Catholic faith and the Church. Contrary to what others have said, my colleagues and I would never try to divide the Church against itself for political ends.

Judge us by our fruits. We’ve time and again challenged both Democrats and Republicans—often at some political cost—to be better stewards of the common good.

You can question our politics, but don’t ever question the sincerity of our faith or our love of the Catholic Church.

(Italics in original; emphasis supplied.) We agree with Hale, “The proof is in the pudding.” (Italics in original.)

Furthermore, we know, from other revelations, that other people in Podesta’s circle have not an enormous amount of use for the Church’s teachings. Addie Mena, a reporter for Catholic News Service, has reported on another of Podesta’s emails leaked by Wikileaks. In a 2011 email exchange, John Halpin and Jennifer Palmieri complained about conservative Catholics. Halpin is apparently a senior official at Podesta’s think tank. Palmieri is Hillary Clinton’s communications director. Halpin complained that conservative Catholics bastardized the faith and simply threw around Thomism and subsidiarity to appear clever. Palmieri attributed even less elevated motives to her coreligionists. At some level, it is not a surprise that these men and women are essentially progressive Catholics who are not hugely impressed with the Church’s traditional teachings. Just as the First Things crowd seeks a fusion between Catholics (and others) and the Republican Party, these people seek a fusion between Catholics and the Democratic Party. Of course, while a faithful Catholic has a passing hard time being a good Republican, a faithful Catholic simply cannot be a good Democrat.

One could assume that much. But what the Wikileaks releases indicate goes beyond mere contempt on the part of Democratic elites for the Church’s traditional teaching. It suggests that Democratic operatives have set up organizations in an attempt to bring the Church’s teaching in line with Democratic orthodoxy. These operatives are now in the circle of a woman who is, if the polls are to be believed, quite likely to be the next president of the United States. Do they intend to use these organizations to advocate for President Hillary Clinton’s policies? We already know that Clinton wants to advance the cause of abortion and contraception in the United States by repealing the life-saving Hyde Amendment. The bishops are sure to resist. Will White House employees use their connections with organizations like these, or any others that just happen to spring up, to urge Catholics to resist the Church’s teachings on these points. It is a frightening picture, to say the least. Bishop Richard Umbers, the auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, and a prelate who understands social media, puts the matter succinctly in a tweet, calling the idea of a “Catholic Spring,” “[w]orrying signs of a desire for state interference in church creed & organisation.”

At the very least, Catholics now have good reason to be suspicious of advocacy groups that come along—claiming to represent “ordinary Catholics” or Pope Francis or any other constituency—who ultimately propound positions contrary to the settled teachings of the Church. Catholics are, of course, used to dissenters in our midst; indeed, the history of the Church since, oh, 1962 or so, has been one long process of dissent and reaction. But we have always assumed that progressives dissent simply because they do not actually like the Church all that much, and seek to make a church for themselves as doctrinally coherent and vibrant as the liberal Lutherans, the Anglicans, or the United Methodists. However, all of this suggests that some dissenters might have altogether more worldly motives.

The Consecration of St. Elias

It will surprise no one when we say that we tend to be more interested in matters—both liturgical and ecclesiastical—touching upon the Latin Rite. And like many Latin Rite Catholics, we simply do not have a lot of experience with the Eastern Churches. Nevertheless, we are acquainted with many sharp young Catholics who feel very much at home in the Eastern Churches. It is easy to understand why they do when one sees the videos of the consecration of the Church of St. Elias the Prophet in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. The Ukrainian Catholic community there is very vibrant (as Eastern Catholic communities always seem to be), led by its longtime pastor, Fr. Roman Galadza. Some people we respect very much—including good and holy priests—think the world of Fr. Galadza and St. Elias. As you may know, St. Elias has had to rebuild its church after a fire. After two and a half years of work and prayer, the new church was consecrated last month. Patriarch Sviatoslav of Kiev presided over the ceremonies.

We urge you watch the videos—even the condensed, “highlights” version—to get a taste of the extraordinary event. Obviously, the dedication of any church is a special event, but the dedication of St. Elias seemed to us to be particularly special. We were told by someone with knowledge that Fr. Galadza made a conscious decision many years ago to require the congregation as a whole to be responsible for music, not merely a choir. And the fruits of that decision are amply on display in even the shorter video. But the musical competence was only one part of the overall impression of the liturgy there. On the whole, it reminds us of Thomas Merton’s description of the Mass he attended at the church of Corpus Christi in New York: “There was nothing new or revolutionary about it; only that everything was well done, not out of aestheticism or rubrical obsessiveness, but out of love for God and His truth. It would certainly be ingratitude of me if I did not remember the atmosphere of joy, light, and at least relative openness and spontaneity that filled Corpus Christi at solemn High Mass.” (Emphasis supplied.)

If you do nothing else, watch Patriarch Sviatoslav’s homily, delivered (nearly simultaneously) in both English and Ukrainian—without notes. It is easy to understand, having seen him in action, why he is so hated by the partisans of the Moscow Patriarchate. As a friend of ours said about him: as he talks, one begins to want to follow him. He has the charisma of a true pastor. And, having read some interviews and other writings with him, it is clear that he takes seriously the apostolic duty of preserving and handing on the deposit of faith, to say nothing of his duty of preserving the liturgy and traditions of the Ukrainian Catholics, who have suffered much for the sake of the Faith. Even if one is a Latin-rite Catholic to one’s core, it is hard not to feel a little envious of the Ukrainian Catholics, having a patriarch like Sviatoslav at the head of their Church.

At any rate, do take some time and watch the consecration videos. They’re something special.

Abhinc unum annum

Dear Reader:

Today marks the first anniversary of Semiduplex. While we said that we did not have a program when we launched this blog—and, indeed, we did not—events soon ran ahead of us. If you’ll recall, the Ordinary General Session of the Synod of Bishops convened a few weeks after Semiduplex went live. Who could forget? And that experience has really set the tone for Semiduplex since then.

We anticipated writing that we were going to try to adopt a more eclectic focus, returning to our initial plan to have no plan. Certainly, we wish we had written more about music and books over the past year. On the other hand, developments in the Church, ranging from Amoris laetitia to the decidedly underwhelming reforms of the Curia, have called for some comment. And to a certain extent, that is probably as it should be. It seems perhaps a little frivolous to avoid talking about these developments in favor of lighter things. That having been said, we plan on trying to include more of these lighter things in the future, if only to break up the monotony.

We have occasionally written on political matters and the liturgy, and some of our most popular posts have been on those subjects. We plan on writing more on these topics too, especially on political questions, but the presidential election has reached a point where we are no longer especially interested in commenting upon it. That said, we have the sense—others do, too—that we are at the end of an era politically. American-style liberalism has never looked weaker or less attractive than it does now, and more than ever people are turning to the Church and its teachings for clear guidance on navigating an increasingly complex political environment. Traditionally, the Feast of Christ the King was on the last Sunday in October, which seems more than usually significant this year. At any rate, we think we ought to start discussing these questions a little more regularly.

Turning from content to reaction, we have been surprised at the popularity (or infamy) of some of our posts. We have been linked by much bigger operations, and we have had some thousands of visitors and many thousands of page views. Of course, we are still small potatoes, even within the world of traditionally minded Catholics, and we don’t anticipate that that will change. (However, we are always tremendously gratified to see that we’ve had a visitor with a Vatican City IP address. Tell your friends about us! Leave us up on public computers in Santa Marta!) We have been linked to by other blogs, mentioned on Twitter, and even have gotten some emails from readers. Not fan mail, alas, but it’s a new year. Earlier, we indicated that we might liberalize our content policy, but then we never got around to doing it. That people have linked to us or mentioned us on Twitter indicates to us that our initial instinct is correct: people don’t need our combox to comment on us. So, for now, we’re going to stick with the current commenting regime.

A post like this is terribly self indulgent. We will, therefore, refrain from trying your patience any more than necessary and say, simply, that we are deeply grateful that you have chosen to spend a little time with us on matters that we both take very seriously. We hope that we have repaid your time with something that is, at the very least, interesting. Or, if not interesting, at least infuriating. After all, as a famous woman said, isn’t it better to be angry than bored? (Probably not spiritually, we must admit.) We close by saying that we hope, very much, that this upcoming year is much less eventful than the past one.

Yours very truly,