Posts Tagged ‘Roman Catholic Church’

June 8th, 2016

Hobbesian Catholicism on the rise in Poland?

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The right-wing Law and Justice Party victory in the 2015 parliamentary and presidential elections has opened a new chapter in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state in Poland. For the first time after the fall of communism, the governing party is openly instrumentalizing the Church for its own political ends. A central figure in this endeavor is Father Tadeusz Rydzyk—a businessman, priest and founder of the politically charged Radio Maryja station. Rydzyk is supported by a large part of episcopate, although there is a significant number of leaders who fear such entanglements could lead Polish Catholicism into a major spiritual crisis and a loss of respect for the Church.

October 7th, 2015

Christianity and human rights at Religion Dispatches

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As part of a joint project, Religion Dispatches contributing editor Austin Dacey has written a series of posts on The Immanent Frame‘s recent discussion on Christianity and human rights. The last in the series asks what is the true extent of Catholicism’s contribution to the contemporary discourse of human rights.

June 29th, 2015

Catholics, anti-Semitism, and the human rights swerve

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In signature style, Sam Moyn is poised to launch another spectacular provocation with his forthcoming Christian Human Rights. Building on The Last Utopia and a series of article-length projects, Moyn argues that in the 1930s and 1940s, human rights emerged as a religious, conservative, response to the crisis of Nazi-Fascism. On Moyn’s reading, the European Christian right, not the secular left, was the foremost champion of human rights just before and after World War II. However, appeals to human rights did not emerge from philosophical or theological developments long-in-the-making, much less a sudden awakening to the horrors of the Holocaust. Neither did it signal a Christian embrace of liberalism or the legacy of the French Revolution. Instead, human rights represented a way for conservative Christians to promote a narrow, self-serving, agenda: one that sought to protect the special place of Christianity in Western Europe by whitewashing Christian associations with the recent Nazi-Fascist past.

June 24th, 2015

The long shadow of Christian politics

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It has become a truism to say that Samuel Moyn’s work landed like “a grenade” amid common understandings of postwar history. In numerous influential publications, he claims that the post-World War II popularity of “human rights” was not due to the advocacy of enlightened (Kantian) philosophers, liberal democrats, or progressive New Dealers, as many had long believed. Rather, it was reactionary European Catholics who elevated human rights as the buzzword of the era, part of their successful effort to build a conservative, anti-communist, and spiritually intolerant Western bloc. Moreover, Moyn provocatively maintains that Catholics, who spent the 1930s assiduously combating the notion of individual rights and assailing democratic regimes in Austria, Germany, France, and elsewhere, did not embrace human rights out of a heroic change of heart or a recognition of democracy’s intrinsic values. Their flimsy support of these principles stemmed from the conviction that human rights could be mobilized in their decades-long crusade against communism, individualism, and gender equality. Moyn therefore casts a harsh light on Europe’s postwar reconstruction and the era’s human rights renaissance as a whole. The architects of both, so it turns out, were actually the gravediggers of liberalism and equality.

June 22nd, 2015

Border-crossers, the human person, and Catholic communitarianism

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It is a delight to be asked to contribute to this forum on Samuel Moyn’s work on Christianity and human rights. Since my first year of graduate school, Moyn has had a strong influence on how I understand Roman Catholic thought in the twentieth century. “Personalism, Community, and the Origins of Human Rights” first came to my attention when Sam shared it with me in draft form in 2009, and it was this text more than any other that convinced me that any explanation of post-1945 shifts in Catholic thought and activism must begin with the 1930s, if not indeed earlier. I therefore thank both Samuel Moyn and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins of The Immanent Frame for including me in this forum.

Because I work on Poland as well as Western Europe and on Catholic socialists as well as Christian Democrats, I often find myself sitting in workshops on transnational Christianity suppressing the impulse to step into the role of token shrill voice in the room insisting, “What about Eastern Europe?! What about the socialists and the Communists?! Western European Christian Democracy is only part of the twentieth-century story of Catholicism in Europe—let alone of global Christianity writ large!”

June 18th, 2015

An unwanted legacy: Christianity and the future of human rights

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The conceptual history of human rights has received a great deal of scholarly attention over the last decade. Many of the contributions sought to complicate the banal historical narrative that human rights emerged after the Second World War as a universal, liberal answer to the horrors of the Holocaust and totalitarianism. Some historians (including Marco Duranti, Marc Mazower and, of course, Samuel Moyn) have discredited this account as triumphalist and simplistic, or even plainly wrong. However, the intellectual ground from which the idea of human rights stemmed has not yet been fully charted. In his forthcoming book, Christian Human Rights, Samuel Moyn makes an important contribution towards clarifying the genealogy of human rights in the twentieth century. He argues that it was the Christian—and more specifically—Catholic notion of “personalism” that provided the conceptual foundation for modern “human rights,” and identified the crucial era of its development in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This historical narrative embodies also a significant political point: liberals should beware of celebrating human rights as a liberal achievement because they are in fact imbued with conservative, Christian ideology. Nonetheless, he adds, by discovering the legacy of Christianity in the history of human rights, we can “transcend its least persuasive aspects.”

May 29th, 2015

Christian human rights—An introduction

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Christmas Day, 1942. The outcome of World War II was undecided, but the pope had something new to say.

A month before, the tide at Stalingrad had turned against the Germans. Just two days before, General Erich von Manstein had abandoned his efforts to relieve the Wehrmacht’s doomed Sixth Army. But there was no telling that the extraordinary German strength in the war so far would now ebb quickly.

The Americans had formally entered the war a year before, but the Allies would not reach mainland Italy for another nine months, or make it to Rome for a year and a half. The pope—Eugenio Pacelli, or Pius XII—was in dire straits. His relationship with Benito Mussolini had long since soured, and he was a prisoner in his own tiny Roman domain.

As for the Jews, the worst victims of the conflict, millions were dead already; the victims at Babi Yar had lain in their ravine for more than a year; Treblinka, the most infernal death camp, had come on line six months before and already completed much of its grim work.

Officially, of course, the Catholic Church and its leader were neutral, and didn’t play politics. Many of his flock were to be found on both sides of the war.

November 17th, 2014

Malediction, exorcism, and evil

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It is best to begin by considering the word malediction in the simple sense of speaking evil or evil-saying. The idea of evil—male—is conceptually, existentially, morally, and cosmologically complex, so I want to focus first on the saying—diction. I am thinking of an actual utterance: what seems to me the relatively straightforward act of “hurling epithets.” This phrase is felicitous because the notion of hurling emphasizes the physical, embodied, material aspect of malediction as a rhetorical performance. The same recognition of the physicality of utterance is needed to understand why the children’s retort to the bully, “sticks and stone may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” is simply wrong. Names are hurtful insofar as they are no less material than sticks or stones when they are hurled and hit their mark.

October 17th, 2014

A “pastoral earthquake” in Rome?

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On October 13th, the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, an assembly convened by Pope Francis, released a relatio post disceptationem—a snapshot of the discussion thus far—that has triggered much coverage and debate across the media landscape. The document seems to signal a softening stance on, among others things, divorce, homosexuality, and unmarried cohabitation.

December 21st, 2013

A changing papacy?

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On December 11, Time Magazine named Pope Francis its 2013 “Person of the Year.” The award, according to Time, seeks to honor the person or group who, “for better or for worse,” has most influenced the events of that year.

June 26th, 2013

SCOTUS roundup: Rulings on DOMA and Prop 8

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 on Wednesday that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. The Court also declined to rule on Proposition 8, a California case that banned same-sex marriage, on technical grounds, deciding that the case was improperly before the Court. The following roundup presents a range of reactions from both sides, with a focus on the religious aspects that have long influenced this debate.

May 10th, 2013

The Vatican Spring?

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Does the election of Francis I signal a major shift in Vatican policy, structure, or doctrine? How significant is Francis’ status as an “outsider” to the Roman Curia, especially his background as a Latin American and a Jesuit? Is this status likely to position him as an agent of change within the Church, or do his theological continuities with his predecessors and the entrenched Vatican bureaucracy guarantee that any reform he initiates will be largely cosmetic?

Read responses by Michele Dillon, John L. Esposito, Jeffrey Guhin, Cecelia Lynch, James Martin, S.J., J. Michelle Molina, and Sarah Shortall.

March 14th, 2013

Habemus Papam: Pope Francis Roundup

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On March 13, 2013, after five rounds of voting, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was selected as pope, making him the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the first non-European pope in modern times, and the first from the Jesuit order. In this post, we round up a range of reactions to the selection of the new pope—both within the English-language press and across Latin America.

February 12th, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI resigns

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In a surprising announcement, Pope Benedict XVI stated on Monday that would resign at the end of the month.

January 30th, 2013

Where are the women priests?

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With the new announcement that women will now be allowed to serve in combat roles in the military, Mary E. Hunt, at Religion Dispatches, compares women’s changing roles in the military to their roles in the Catholic Church.

August 30th, 2012

Group home for prospective nuns

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In a recent article from the Religion News Service, Bruce Nolan discusses a new group home for single women who are contemplating whether they want to devote their lives to the church.

August 24th, 2012

Encountering the archive

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Where on earth to begin with the rich but deeply disturbing material presented to us on (For an example, see the documents relating to the Province of St. Barbara.) How to confront the archive’s huge volume but also the extent of its moral charge?

I also have a number of questions about what we are, or should be, looking at—the proper boundaries of the object of our inquiry.

August 17th, 2012

Sister Martin Ignatius explains not very much at all for you

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Ever since I was first asked to offer reflections on the study of religion and the Catholic sex abuse crisis, it has not been apparent to me that one could treat these events in a scholarly manner without cheapening them. How could one give a paper on this issue and not commit another violent act, by depersonalizing an act of abuse and transforming it into an abstract concept? One of the participants in the conference at Yale from which these posts to The Immanent Frame arise began by claiming “a scholarly response does not preclude a human one.” The force of this sentence comes from the scholarly audience’s wry knowledge that all too frequently a humanist scholar can be inhuman, as a result of giving a frame to complexity and flattening it so that life fits neatly into a conceptual scheme. In one of my favorite texts in the Jewish philosophical tradition, Moses Mendelssohn’s 1783 Jerusalem, Mendelssohn complained about the university professor who simply declaims “dead letter” from a podium. I am nervous that I am—that I cannot but be—that professor.

August 10th, 2012

The church, the state, and the child

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The child, as the psychoanalytic theorist Adam Phillips points out, “remains our most convincing essentialism.” By this he means that at a time when racial, gender, and even sexual identities are increasingly understood to be constructed, permeable, and ever shifting, the category of childhood—with its razor-sharp counterpoint of adulthood—remains steadfast and enduring. Legal definitions, of course, reinforce this clear demarcation, with eighteen being the moment one crosses the presumed divide from childhood into adulthood. That some adults remain perpetual children—regressed, childlike, or developmentally arrested—long after they cross the temporal barrier between childhood and adulthood is as indisputable as is our widely accepted awareness that continuums of development make childhood and adulthood highly variable, evolving, and overlapping identity positions for us all. A fifteen-year-old looks, acts (we hope), and understands very differently than a six-year-old, despite the fact that both are understood to be children.

August 3rd, 2012

The curious case of Paul Richard Shanley

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In the discursive regime of sexual abuse, the operative silence is the victim’s. This silence stems from shame and intimidation. The speech that would overcome it is courageous, a precious gift that provides access to truth. This account of silence assumes a theory of power as repressive: abusers—who have power—silence their victims by exercising power over them; victims reclaim power through speech. As Michel Foucault reminds us, when critiquing such unidirectional conceptions of power and such optimistic assessments of speech, “There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses.” I want to consider—briefly and provisionally—the silences operating in the public discourse concerning Paul Richard Shanley. I am particularly interested in how “sex abuse” discourses intertwine with and occlude “gay” discourses. Or, to state it more forcefully, I want to use Shanley’s case to suggest that any account of religion or gay politics in America that fails to provide a rich, nuanced description of both is an inadequate examination of either.

August 1st, 2012

Monsignor William J. Lynn sentenced

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Religion News Service reports that Monsignor William J. Lynn, the secretary for clergy at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the first U.S. Catholic official convicted for covering up the sexual abuse of children, has been sentenced to 3-6 years on jail after his conviction June 22.

July 27th, 2012

Abusing rhetoric

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Many of these documents are appalling in the way that bureaucratic recitals of torture are appalling, in the way that ledgers of desecration are appalling. As I read them, I never want to ignore the mangled lives that they attempt so laboriously to contain—to conceal—within the boxes of church law or clinical psychology or (less frequently) moral theology.

I find mangled lives among those we now call the abused, but also among the abusers. I don’t say that lightly, abstractly. There are, in the identified abusers, some men who seem so far beyond our ordinary talk about ethics that they are “monsters” according to one old sense of the word. But there are other men—perfectly familiar, much sadder—who now get swept up into the same category of abuser.

July 20th, 2012

Separationism and the sex abuse crisis

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While greatly admiring the other pieces in this series and the humanist sensibility and critique that pervades them, I will suggest in this essay that it is, in part, the very dichotomy between the legal and the religious, what I will call separationist thinking, that hobbles our capacity to think clearly about what happened and why. I will suggest that there are not, on the one hand, “specifically religious grounds” apart from the legal or, on the other, “primarily legal” ones apart from the religious. The two are deeply implicated, one in the other. The sex abuse crisis is, in some sense, also a church-state crisis.

July 13th, 2012

Placing childhood sexual abuse in historical perspective

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One of the major achievements of the past quarter century has been the growing awareness of the prevalence and damaging psychological consequences of the sexual abuse of children. State child protection authorities substantiated 63,527 cases that involved childhood sexual abuse in 2010, the last year for which figures are available. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control of more than 17,000 adult Kaiser-network members, generally well educated and middle class, found that 16 percent of men and 25 percent of women said they had experienced childhood sexual abuse. And yet, it is remarkable how recently the sexual abuse of children was not taken seriously. Not until 1974, when Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, were states required to establish reporting requirements in suspected cases.

July 6th, 2012

Sex abuse and the study of religion

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Physicians, psychologists, and criminal codes (i.e., Texas state law) largely agree on what constitutes the sexual abuse of children by an adult. It includes, but is not limited to, the sexual touching of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed; penetrative sex, including penetration of the mouth; encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, including masturbation; intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child; showing children pornography, or using children to create pornography; and encouraging a child to engage in prostitution.

What I want to tackle, immediately, is the fraught relationship between effect and affect in this subject for those of us who seek to interpret it. It is difficult to write or think about sex abuse without being affected by its circulating effects, without feeling that the very practices of academic analysis do something suffocating to its experience. To think about sex abuse in an academic context could suggest that we might wish to think away its awfulness; to write about sex abuse could suggest that we seek to argue away its visceral trauma.

May 4th, 2012

Catholic doctrine and universities

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In a recent article, Libby A. Nelson discusses the role of faith in Catholic universities and puts forth the question, how Catholic are these institutions?

May 4th, 2012

The Vatican and the “war on women religious”

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The recent Vatican report on the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella organization representing roughly eighty percent of American sisters, has elicited a fierce reaction in the media from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

April 24th, 2012

War on nuns

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At The Nation, Norman Birnbaum, professor emeritus at Georgetown University Law Center, rebukes the Catholic Church for its historical “unyielding insistence on the rule of men”; and more specifically, for its decision to reorganize the Leadership Council of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that represents eighty percent of American nuns.

April 17th, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Cuba

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Last week at The New Republic, Carlos Eire reviewed the Pope’s recent visit to Cuba.

November 16th, 2011

Catholic bishops take aim at White House

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On Monday, November 14th, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in Baltimore to begin day 1 of its national meeting in the wake of increasing tensions between the USCCB and the White House over a range of issues.

August 25th, 2011

The Vatican and the Bolivarian revolution

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Last month, Wikileaks released a confidential 2005 U.S. embassy cable that provides an inside perspective on the Vatican’s views of Latin America’s leftward drift in recent years following the election of Hugo Chavez et al. The cable, entitled “Vatican Weary of Leftist Latinos,” summarizes the views of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri (then an archbishop) expressed in conversation with the American ambassador.

August 23rd, 2011

World Youth Day reassessed

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Two writers at the The Guardian enter into the conversation about this year’s World Youth Day and the public reaction that accompanied Pope Benedict’s visit to Madrid. Andrew Brown asks why the public appears not to recognize the Church’s accomplishment, citing the role of the media in creating a narrow narrative of the event, while Miguel-Anxo Murado turns the discussion to politics, claiming that the protests were perhaps not as successful as it may have appeared.

January 3rd, 2011

Of saints, separatism, and secularization (part 2)

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In my previous post, I discussed the ambivalent legacy of the Catholic Church in Québec in light of the recent canonization of the province’s first homegrown saint. I suggested that the post-sixties rise of Québécois nationalism emerged largely at the expense of this Catholic identity, which many blamed for Québec’s longtime passivity in the face of English-Canadian domination, even as the Church also played a key historical role in the survival of French-Canadian culture. In this post, I would like to suggest the ways in which this complex politico-religious legacy has shaped current debates over the “reasonable accommodation” of immigrants in Québec.

November 24th, 2010

Of saints, separatism, and secularization (part 1)

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Three weeks ago, in a province with the lowest rate of Church attendance in Canada, 50,000 people attended Mass to honour the canonization of Québec’s first homegrown saint. Born into poverty in 1845 and orphaned at the age of 12, largely illiterate and chronically sickly, “Brother André” has been acclaimed as the archetypical hero of a Québec that seems largely unrecognizable today. […]

July 22nd, 2010

A secular humanist reliquary?

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A curious, and fascinating, piece in today’s New York Times on the display of Galilean relics at Florence’s museum of the history of science.

July 19th, 2010

Controversy over crimes against the Church

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A day after the Vatican issued a new document revising the types of crimes one can commit against the Catholic Church—crimes against morality, the sacraments, and faith—the Church is once again on the defensive. As Philip Pullella reports for Reuters, the decision to include both pedophilia and the ordination of women as threats to the Church in the same document has sparked a furious debate over whether Vatican leadership has equated the two.

July 10th, 2010

Recognizing the reality of sexual abuse

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Reuters reports on the Vatican’s decision to “revise Church law on sexual abuse of children by priests, doubling a statute of limitations and introducing penalties for child pornography, Catholic Church sources said on Thursday.”

June 24th, 2010

Sex, scandal, and the secular

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When it comes to the Catholic Church these days, news headlines offer few opportunities for levity. I’m referring, of course, to the thorny problem of sex abuse in the Church. As a student of Catholicism, I’m evidently disturbed by the Church’s handling of the scandal, but I’m also deeply troubled by the tendency among those outside the Church to treat this as a specifically “Catholic problem,” as if it were the logical conclusion of clerical celibacy or some element of Catholic dogma.

May 13th, 2008

Being Benedict

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The recent visit of Benedict XVI to the U.S. demonstrates once again the uncanny ability of the most influential popes to embody the prospects as well as highlight the contradictions of the Roman Catholic Church in the world. The Pope’s visit conversely afforded an opportunity for U.S. Catholics, other people of faith, and the media to project onto Benedict their hopes and fears regarding the Church’s global role as a moral leader in public life. […]

April 25th, 2008

An indifferent pope?

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How far has the Catholic Church traveled in its almost 43 years as an advocate of religious freedom? Apparently, the journey has brought the Vatican to the brink of allying itself, however cautiously, with all believers whose search for the Truth of God has led them, or may be leading them, to endorse human dignity and human freedom as the basis for world order and cross-cultural, transnational peace.