Rod Dreher

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Cardinal Kasper Busted!

Card. Walter Kasper, with Asian Catholics [Catholic Church of England/Flickr
Card. Walter Kasper, with Asian Catholics [Catholic Church of England/Flickr

Well blow me down. The Catholic journalist Edward Pentin proves that Cardinal Walter Kasper is lying when he denies having said what he said about the African bishops, and when he denies having given an interview. Pentin has the recording and has put it on his site. I listened to it. The transcript he published differs slightly from what the cardinal says, but not meaningfully (it appears that Pentin simply clarified the cardinal’s English). The Cardinal did say that you can’t discuss homosexuality with the Africans (and Asians and Muslims), and he did say that the Synod isn’t listening to their views. The money quotes start at around the three-minute mark on the recording.

The interview was conducted in public (you can hear the sounds of traffic), with at least two other journalists participating. The reporters identified themselves as reporters. There is no sense that the cardinal was ambushed. He spoke to the reporters for seven minutes. What clearly happened is that Cardinal Kasper made a Kinsleyesque gaffe: that is, he erred by telling an impolitic truth, at least as he sees the truth.

Why on earth did Kasper deny saying what he said, or giving the interview? I understand why this is embarrassing to him, but good grief, he looks like a fool now, and a manipulative fool. A (non-trad) Catholic friend of mine e-mails to say that so far, it looks like all the trad conspiracy theories about the Synod are coming true.

You have to understand that at least some Catholic bishops have no trouble dissembling to reporters and to the public when it’s to their perceived advantage. That’s just how it is, and the sooner you realize this, the better off you are. This is one big reason the institution lacks credibility. Some bishops play fast and loose with the truth when it suits their agendas. And sometimes, it blows up in their faces.

But Cardinal Kasper doesn’t look as bad as the Catholic news service Zenit, which sandbagged its reporter by taking down the news story, presumably at Cardinal Kasper’s request. Zenit is owned and run by the disgraced ultraconservative religious order the Legionaries of Christ. Back in the spring of 2002, when the LCs owned the National Catholic Register (they no longer do), I participated in a conference of Catholic journalists. We talked about the scandal. The then-publisher of the Register, a Legionary priest named Fr. Owen Kearns, smugly praised his own paper for not getting down in the gutter with the secular press and writing about this filthy scandal. It was a shocking display of the lack of journalistic integrity under LC leadership. The publisher-priest plainly saw his job as carrying water for the hierarchy, not reporting the truth.

Some things with the LCs never change, I suppose. Shame on them for what they did to Edward Pentin.

UPDATE: Take it away, Matthew Schmitz:

It is hard to say why Kasper chose to tell a very obvious lie. It is even harder to say why some were so ready to defend his original comments. It requires an exceedingly partisan mind to spin as insightful comments so offensive that even their speaker won’t stand behind them. Gallicho’s choice to take to the pages of Commonweal to lavish praise on the remarks suggests something that anyone who watches Church politics begins to suspect: Catholicism is now second only to Sufism in the central role accorded to spin.


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Moscow’s Disappointing Line in Rome

Metropolitan Hilarion (left) of the Moscow Patriarchate, with London Archbishop Vincent Nichols [Catholic Church of England/Flickr]
Metropolitan Hilarion (left) of the Moscow Patriarchate, with London Archbishop Vincent Nichols [Catholic Church of England/Flickr]

I find this bit from John L. Allen’s Synod reporting very discouraging:

On a different front, Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church used his speech in the synod today to take a shot at the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, basically telling them to stop complaining about Russian foreign policy and the support for Russian incursions in Ukraine voiced by Russian Orthodox leaders.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was sufficiently outraged that be grabbed Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Greek Catholic Church, who was also in the synod hall, and immediately taped a segment for his radio show in New York to object to Hilarion’s rhetoric.

You should read Hilarion’s entire speech. It is not primarily about “Uniatism.” Here’s an excerpt that shows what the greater part of the speech concerns:

The topic of the family is one of the most acute and vital today. It is an indicator of the moral state of the society in which we live.

We have anxiously watched as abuse of the notions of freedom and tolerance has been used in recent years to dismantle the basic values rooted in religious traditions. There is an increasingly aggressive propagation of the idea of moral relativism applied also to the institution of the family held sacred by all of humanity.

In quite a number of countries in Europe and America, despite numerous protests, same-sex unions are approved and recognized on the level of the state. In some places, the right of same-sex partners to adopt children has already been fixed legally and implemented, including through the use of “surrogate motherhood” technology.

At the same time, traditional families built on the notion of marriage as union of man and woman become weaker and weaker. Instead of concern for their consolidation, there is the propaganda of so-called “free relations”. The notions of fidelity, mutual respect and responsibility of spouses are replaced by the imposition of hedonism and calls to live for one’s own self.

Children are no longer seen as the desirable fruit of spouses’ mutual love. The right of abortion, restricted by almost nothing, has become widespread, and has led to the legalization of the destruction of millions of lives. Among the serious problems is the existence of orphans whose parents are still alive, and abandoned and lonely disabled children.

The ideas of moral relativism have also affected many Christians who in words confess the Church’s teaching on the family but in deed refuse to follow it.

Asserting the sanctity of marriage based on the words of the Saviour Himself (see Mt. 19:6, Mk. 10:9), the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church traditionally place personal responsibility above egotistical interests. To cultivate in a Christian this responsibility before the family, society and the surrounding world is the most important tasks for Churches today. The protection of human dignity and affirmation of the lofty value of love realized in the family is an integral component of the Gospel message that we are called to bring to people.

In November 2013, the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Pontifical Council for the Family led by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia held in Rome a conference on ‘Orthodox and Catholics Protecting the Family Together’. In the final statement, we underlined “our conviction that we bear a common responsibility for making marriage and family life the way to sanctity for Christian families”.

The time has come for Christians to join efforts and come out as a united front for the noble goal of protecting the family when confronted by the challenges of the secular world for the sake of preserving the future of civilization. It is the field in which our alliance may become really needed.

We should together defend our positions both in dialogue with the legislative and executive authorities in particular countries and on the platforms of international organizations, such as the UN and the Council of Europe. We already have a certain experience of such cooperation; it is enough to recall the well-known case of Lautsi versus Italy.

It is essential not to confine ourselves to noble appeals, but to press in every possible way for the legal protection of the family. It is necessary to restore in our society the awareness that freedom is unthinkable without responsibility for one’s actions.

The Orthodox Church consistently proclaims the ideal of the one and only marital union concluded once and for all. At the same time, conceding the weakness of human nature, in exceptional cases the Orthodox Church allows for a new church marriage in the instance of the breakup of the first marriage. In this our Church follows the principle of oikonomia, guided as she is by the love of the sinner who is not to be deprived of the means of salvation. In today’s world, in which the strict observance of the church ordinances becomes increasingly rare, the practice of oikonomia, which has existed in Orthodoxy throughout the centuries, may become a valuable experience in settling the pastoral problems of the family.

The Orthodox Church has accumulated a rich experience of pastoral care for the family. She has always preserved the institution of married clergy. As a rule, the families of priests are large and their children are brought up in the spirit of Christian devotion and faithfulness to church teaching. A priest with his own experience of family relations and parenting can better understand family problems and give his spiritual children the necessary pastoral aid. I believe it would be useful to notice this experience, which is also present in the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite.

Excellent, all of it, and important. But then Hilarion goes on to make a most undiplomatic protest against the involvement of Catholic churches in Ukraine’s civil war. To be clear, I do not begrudge Moscow its position here, or Moscow advocating for what it believes is true. But boy, do I regret that the Metropolitan said what he said in this forum. What an unnecessary and harmful provocation to say these things at a Roman Catholic Synod on the Family, when there is such a crying need for the Churches of the East and the West to speak with one voice to defend the traditional family, and traditional marriage. Why bring bitter ecclesial geopolitics into this forum? What unites the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches on matters of sexuality and the family, and in our mutual concern for the religious liberties of Christians, is far greater, and a far more pressing problem, than the fighting in Ukraine.

The Kremlin doesn’t see it that way, I guess, but I wish the Moscow Patriarchate did. What Met. Hilarion said about the church disputes is important, but this wasn’t the time or the place to have said it. This diplomatic row will be the thing that is most remembered from Hilarion’s address, and not the terrific things that formed the bulk of his speech. A botched opportunity, I think, and to me, unexpected, given that Hilarion has for years made great speeches about the need for collaboration among small-o orthodox believers and traditionalists in the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox camps.

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Marilynne Robinson on Fear

I love Marilynne Robinson. I really do. I do not agree with her on all things theological, certainly, but this is a wise, wise woman. From a recent NYT Magazine profile of her:

The question that led to Robinson’s assessment of our cultural condition — that we have become overwhelmingly fearful and that our fear has become a respectable excuse for not acting as we should — was this: “What do you think people should be talking about more?”

“One of the things that bothers me,” she began, with feeling, “is that there are prohibitions of an unarticulated kind that are culturally felt that prevent people from actually saying what they think.” From there, she raised her well-documented relationship to faith; said that students at Iowa from faith-based backgrounds seek her out; sketched the inhibition these students nonetheless feel in describing the sacred (“If you’re Jewish or Catholic, you can make all the jokes about your mother or the nun, but in terms of saying on one’s deathbed, ‘What will it mean to me that this is how I would have described myself, how does the cosmos feel as it nestles in my particular breast?’ they are completely inarticulate about that”); addressed that inhibition and suggested its root (“It’s as if when you describe something good, you are being deceived or are being deceptive”); offered Flannery O’Connor as an example of a religious writer who fails to describe goodness (“Her prose is beautiful, her imagination appalls me”); evoked the nature of O’Connor’s failure (“There’s a lot of writing about religion with a cold eye, but virtually none with a loving heart”); complained about the widespread ignorance of religion in American life; told the story of Oseola McCarty, a laundress who bequeathed most of her life savings to the University of Southern Mississippi (“[An] interviewer was talking about how McCarty took down this Bible and First Corinthians fell out of it, it had been so read. And you think, Here is this woman that, by many standards, might have been considered marginally literate, that by another standard would have been considered to be a major expert on the meaning of First Corinthians!”); suggested that McCarty’s understanding of First Corinthians — in which Paul lays out the kind of communitarian behaviors upon which Christian decency might depend — reveals what it means to read a text well (“It makes you think that comprehension has an ethical content”); jumped to some reading she has been doing that has an explicit ethical content — essays by John Wycliffe, who played a crucial role in the first English translations of the Bible (“Wycliffe says that if you do not object strenuously to a superior’s bad behavior, you are as bad, as guilty as he is of what happens”); and rehearsed the radical activist tradition of translating the Bible, how rendering it into English was a courageous act, a risky resistance of royal authority.

“Wycliffe was the founding figure of Lollardy,” she said, “an amazing attempt to spread literacy and scriptural understanding into the common world. Little Oxford students creeping out at night to take a page of Matthew to a hovel somewhere and tell someone what it actually said. . . . The Wycliffe Bibles and Tyndale Bibles, which you could be killed for owning, were circulated widely. It was a very subversive thing, the Bible.”

And it was here that Robinson brought up fear: How it has come to keep us at bay from our best selves, the selves that could and should “do something.” In her case, that “something” has been writing. For Robinson, writing is not a craft; it is “testimony,” a bearing witness: an act that demands much of its maker, not least of which is the courage to reveal what one loves.

“A lot of people who actually believe in the sacredness of life, they write things that are horrible, desolating things, ” Robinson said. “Because, for some reason, this deeper belief doesn’t turn the world. . . . It comes down to fear; the fear of making self-revelation of the seriousness of ‘I sense a sacredness in things.’ ”

Read the whole thing.  When I first saw this passage, it reminded me of a strong feeling I got standing in the crypt church at the Benedictine monastery in Norcia last week. It occurred to me that we live in a time when much is at stake, and that in fact there is no time ever when there isn’t much at stake. The drama of human life is always before us. There are no inconsequential lives, because each of us is an immortal being. “We only have one life to live,” a monk had said to me, by which he meant that the choices we make, and fail to make, have consequences for eternity. In the darkness of that crypt church, I thought, “Why shouldn’t we be brave in what we say? If life is sacred, and if things matter in the light of eternity, why not say what you believe to be true? There will be people who don’t want to hear it, but there will also be people who want and need to hear it.”

To stand in prayer in front of an altar space that has been there for 1,600 years is to feel the brevity of our lives, but also their intensity. Dante reserves the vestibule of Hell for those who refused to take a stand in the mortal life, but tried to stay aloof. There is no virtue in lukewarmness. There is a sacredness in things. That moment in the monastery crypt consoled, encouraged, and emboldened me as I start this Dante book. Reading Marilynne Robinson’s words did too.

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Dante vs. the Mottramists

Not Rex Mottram La Marga/Flickr
Not Rex Mottram La Marga/Flickr

Last week in Italy, my friend Casella, a Catholic who had lots of consternation over recent events in his church, said to me, “It’s time for us Catholics to quit being so docile about our bishops. I really wish that we could find courage that Catholics had in the past, and stand up to them when they’re wrecking the faith.”

“You sound like an anti-Mottramist,” I said.

“What’s a Mottramist?” he said.

A few years ago, I wrote this:

I would like to propose a name for this phenomenon of inveterate support for any and all Papal actions, imputing to him wisdom and spiritual insight beyond all the Saints and Popes of past ages: Mottramism.

This takes its name, of course, from Rex Mottram, Julia Flyte’s husband in Brideshead Revisited. At one point, Rex decides to convert to Catholicism in order to have a proper Church wedding with Julia. But the sincerity of his conversion becomes suspect when he is willing to agree with any absurdity proposed in the name of Catholic authority, and shows no intellectual curiosity into its truth or falsehood. As his Jesuit instructor, Father Mowbray describes his catechetical progress:

“Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: ‘Just as many as you say, Father.’ Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain’, would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father.’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, “I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”

If it’s a cure for Mottramism you seek, turn to the pages of the Divine Comedy. Dante is utterly unsparing of corrupt popes, bishops, priests and monks. He speaks of them in terms and in a tone worthy of the Biblical prophets. Here, for example, are the words Dante puts in the mouth of St. Peter, denouncing his successor, Pope Boniface VIII:

“He who on earth usurps my place,

my place, my place, which in the eyes

of God’s own Son is vacant,

“has made my tomb a sewer of blood and filth,

so that the Evil One, who fell from here above,

takes satisfaction there below.”

I’ve seen on my Facebook feed and elsewhere in the past few days that some faithful Catholics are denouncing critics of the Synod as “divisive” and “wounding the Body of Christ” by their complaints. It is certainly possible that one’s protest is only destructive, and therefore wrong. But I get the idea that there are more than a few people who, perhaps out of fear, adopt an essentially Mottramist stance toward the bishops and the Pope, when what is needed is a full-throated defense of the Truth. Mottramism, a subset of clericalism, is one of the reasons the sexual abuse scandal metastasized within the Body of Christ. Outside of the saints, you will find no more faithful Catholic of the High Middle Ages than Dante Alighieri, and it is precisely because of his Catholic faith that he stood up, in verse, to the clerics that traduced it. He understood that the Church is not merely the institution, and that the deposit of faith belongs to all Catholics, not just the priestly class.

Six hundred years after the Divine Comedy first appeared, a leading Catholic had this to say about it, and its author, as a guide to faith. Excerpt:

No need to recall Alighieri’s great reverence for the authority of the Catholic Church, the account in which he holds the power of the Roman Pontiff as the base of every law and institution of that Church. Hence the outspoken warning to Christians: You have the Old and the New Testament: the Pastor of the Church as Guide; Let that suffice for your salvation. He felt the troubles of the Church as his own, and while he deplored and condemned all rebellion against its Supreme Head he wrote as follows to the Italian Cardinals during the stay at Avignon: “To us who confess the same Father and Son, the same God and Man, the same Mother and Virgin; to us for whom and for whose salvation the message was given, after the triple Lovest thou Me? Feed My sacred sheepfold; to us, driven to mourn with Jeremias – but not over things to come but over things that are – for Rome – that Rome on which Christ, after all the old pomp and triumph, confirmed by word and work the empire of the world, and which Peter, too, and Paul the Apostle of the Nations consecrated with their very blood as Apostolic See – now widowed and desolate; to us it is as terrible grief to see this as to see the tragedy of heresy” (Epist. VIII). For him the Roman Church is The Most Holy Mother, Bride of Him Crucified and to Peter, infallible judge of revealed truths, is owing perfect submission in matters of faith and morals. Hence, however much he may hold that the dignity of the Emperor is derived immediately from God, still he asserts that this truth “must not be understood so strictly as to mean that the Roman Prince is not subject to the Roman Pontiff in anything, because this mortal happiness is subjected in certain measure to immortal happiness” (Mon. III, 16). Excellent and wise principle indeed which, if it were observed today as it ought to be, would bring to States abundant fruits of civil prosperity. But, it will be said, he inveighs with terrible bitterness against the Supreme Pontiffs of his times. True; but it was against those who differed from him in politics and he thought were on the side of those who had driven him from his country. One can feel for a man so beaten down by fortune, if with lacerated mind he breaks out sometimes into words of excessive blame, the more so that, to increase his feeling, false statements were being made by his political enemies ready, as always happens, to give an evil interpretation to everything. And indeed, since, through mortal infirmity, “by worldly dust even religious hearts must needs be soiled” (St. Leo M. S. IV de Quadrag), it cannot be denied that at that time there were matters on which the clergy might be reproved, and a mind as devoted to the Church as was that of Dante could not but feel disgust while we know, too, that reproof came also from men of conspicuous holiness. But, however he might inveigh, rightly or wrongly, against ecclesiastical personages, never did he fail in respect due to the Church and reverence for the “Supreme Keys”; and on the political side he laid down as rule for his views “the reverence which a good son should show towards his father, a dutiful son to his mother, to Christ, to the Church, to the Supreme Pastor, to all who profess the Christian religion, for the safeguarding of truth.”

I think that slightly overstates matters — you don’t get from this a real sense of how scathing Dante was about the churchmen of his day — but then again, the author of that passage was the pope, Benedict XV, in an encyclical (!) commending Dante’s work and memory.

The point is, Dante’s criticism of the Church’s pastors came from a position of unswerving faith in God, and loyalty to the Church. And in time — lots of time — even a Pope wrote an encyclical praising him for his criticism in the context of loyalty to Catholic orthodoxy. Dante was calling on the popes and the priests not to abandon Catholic truth, but rather to be truly Catholic. His is an example worth remembering and emulating for Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike.

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Wellesley’s First World Problem

Another question pondered at Wellesley College [Besha/Flickr
Another question pondered at Wellesley College [Besha/Flickr

Wellesley, the elite women’s college, has a problem. As ever, The New York Times reports from the cutting edge of Progress and its discontents. Excerpt:

For the most part, everyone respected his request. After all, he wasn’t the only trans student on campus. Some two dozen other matriculating students at Wellesley don’t identify as women. Of those, a half-dozen or so were trans men, people born female who identified as men, some of whom had begun taking testosterone to change their bodies. The rest said they were transgender or genderqueer, rejecting the idea of gender entirely or identifying somewhere between female and male; many, like Timothy, called themselves transmasculine. Though his gender identity differed from that of most of his classmates, he generally felt comfortable at his new school.

Last spring, as a sophomore, Timothy decided to run for a seat on the student-government cabinet, the highest position that an openly trans student had ever sought at Wellesley. The post he sought was multicultural affairs coordinator, or “MAC,” responsible for promoting “a culture of diversity” among students and staff and faculty members. Along with Timothy, three women of color indicated their intent to run for the seat. But when they dropped out for various unrelated reasons before the race really began, he was alone on the ballot. An anonymous lobbying effort began on Facebook, pushing students to vote “abstain.” Enough “abstains” would deny Timothy the minimum number of votes Wellesley required, forcing a new election for the seat and providing an opportunity for other candidates to come forward. The “Campaign to Abstain” argument was simple: Of all the people at a multiethnic women’s college who could hold the school’s “diversity” seat, the least fitting one was a white man.

“It wasn’t about Timothy,” the student behind the Abstain campaign told me. “I thought he’d do a perfectly fine job, but it just felt inappropriate to have a white man there. It’s not just about that position either. Having men in elected leadership positions undermines the idea of this being a place where women are the leaders.”

I asked Timothy what he thought about that argument, as we sat on a bench overlooking the tranquil lake on campus during orientation. He pointed out that he has important contributions to make to the MAC position. After all, at Wellesley, masculine-of-center students arecultural minorities; by numbers alone, they’re about as minor as a minority can be. And yet Timothy said he felt conflicted about taking a leadership spot. “The patriarchy is alive and well,” he said. “I don’t want to perpetuate it.”

A Mr. Kaden Mohamed, née Miss Mohamed, laments the female gaze — and grope:

Trans bodies are seen as an in-between option, Timothy said. “So no matter your sexuality, a trans person becomes safe to flirt with, to explore with. But it’s not really the person you’re interested in, it’s the novelty. For lesbians, there’s the safety of ‘I may be attracted to this person, but they’re “really” a woman, so I’m not actually bi or straight.’ And for straight people, it’s ‘I may be attracted to a woman’s body, but he’s a male, so I’m not really lesbian or bi.’ ”

Kaden Mohamed said he felt downright objectified when he returned from summer break last year, after five months of testosterone had lowered his voice, defined his arm muscles and reshaped his torso. It was attention that he had never experienced before he transitioned. But as his body changed, students he didn’t even know would run their hands over his biceps. Once at the school pub, an intoxicated Wellesley woman even grabbed his crotch and that of another trans man.

“It’s this very bizarre reversal of what happens in the real world,” Kaden said. “In the real world, it’s women who get fetishized, catcalled, sexually harassed, grabbed. At Wellesley, it’s trans men who do. If I were to go up to someone I just met and touch her body, I’d get grief from the entire Wellesley community, because they’d say it’s assault — and it is. But for some reason, when it’s done to trans men here, it doesn’t get read the same way. It’s like a free pass, that suddenly it’s O.K. to talk about or touch someone’s body as long as they’re not a woman.”

I agree with Mr. Mohamed that this is “very bizarre,” but I don’t think we’re talking about quite the same thing. Read the whole account of Wellesley’s cutting-edge agony. Sign of the times. I think Hollins has it right:

A few schools have formulated responses to this dilemma, albeit very different ones. Hollins University, a small women’s college in Virginia, established a policy several years ago stating it would confer diplomas to only women. It also said that students who have surgery or begin hormone therapy to become men — or who legally take male names — will be “helped to transfer to another institution.”

A minor but significant nonetheless sign of the Times: the newspaper of record has solved the challenge by referring without note to these biological women, persons who have not undergone gender reassignment surgery, as men. As far as the Times is concerned, you are a man, or a woman, if you say you are. I doubt, however, that this is a universally applied journalistic principle. I would love to know how the newspaper of record decides to accept a subject’s claim of gender dysphoria, and how it would reckon that the subject is trying to play them. If Biff, a prankish sophomore at Slippery Rock State, announces with a straight face that he is a member of the Genderqueer/Transqueer/Masco-Feminine-American community, and demands access to the girls locker room or he’s going to denounce the administration as a pack of bigots, which pronoun will the Times use to describe him?

First world problems!

Serious point, though: this kind of confusion is the fruit of an ideology that believes reality is plastic, is malleable, and that to deny that assertion amounts to irrational animus. Moral and philosophical disorder as a sign of virtue.

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The Traveling Plague

CDC chief Dr. Tom Frieden Albert H. Teich /
CDC chief Dr. Tom Frieden Albert H. Teich /

About Amber Joy Vinson, the newest Ebola patient:

The latest healthcare worker to contract the virus at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital had direct contact with three people after becoming symptomatic before she was isolated, said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those people are being closely monitored.

Ebola does not spread until a patient develops a fever or other symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Vinson didn’t develop a “low-grade fever” until Tuesday, a day after she flew back from her native Ohio to Dallas.

Because of that, Frieden said passengers on Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 were at “extremely low risk” of being exposed. Even so, he said, the nurse should have been limited in her travel because she treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who became the nation’s first person diagnosed with the deadly virus.

“She should not have been on that plane,” Frieden said. “We will from this moment forward ensure that no other individual with exposure travels in anything other than a controlled manner.”

Oh? How do they propose to do that? Do you know how many people in Texas Presbyterian hospital became exposed to Ebola via Thomas Duncan? According to the AP, “about 70.” How many people want to have anything to do with that hospital today? Doctors, nurses, staffers, they all have to show up there to work, but patients? Would you go to an appointment in that hospital right now, knowing how lax it was with the Ebola patient? From the NY Daily News:

In the unusual group phone call, arranged by the nation’s largest nurses union, the unidentified caregivers said Duncan, the first person to die in the U.S. of Ebola, was left for hours in the emergency room with up to seven other patients before he was placed in isolation.

Among the other appalling lapses by the hospital that they listed:

- Supervisors walked walk in and out of Duncan’s isolation room without proper protective gear.

- Duncan’s lab specimens were transported through the hospital’s pneumatic tube system instead of being separately sealed and delivered, and thus “the entire tube system was potentially contaminated.”

- Caregivers donned “flimsy” hospital gowns that left their necks, heads and lower legs exposed, with head-to-toe protective gear not being supplied until Duncan’s second day in the intensive care unit.

- Some nurses who treated Duncan were “allowed to do other normal patient care duties” even though he had produced “copious amounts of diarrhea and vomiting” while they treated him.

- The hospital had never issued protocols to handle Ebola cases.

How many other patients in that hospital were exposed inadvertently through the nurses doing “normal patient care duties” after having been shat and vomited on by Duncan? Those patients, do we know their travel schedules? And on and on.

Texas Presbyterian is a big hospital, but I can easily imagine how it must be suffering economically from this. It has to be every hospital’s nightmare. Dallas has lots of hospitals, but what would happen in a town like mine if, say, a traveler came down with Ebola as she was driving through, and pulled into the ER at our little hospital seeking treatment. Of course they would treat her, but would they have the necessary gear and training to protect themselves? If our small-town hospital was out of commission because of this, we would really be hurting.

Assuming Ebola spreads, we have to consider a scenario in which we lose access to our area hospital pending decontamination, or at least have to face down fear before going into it. Have we ever had to deal with anything like this? A virus with a 70 percent mortality rate in American hospitals?

If we get the Dallas outbreak contained, it’s just a matter of time before this thing spreads to big cities in Africa — and beyond. More:

Also on Tuesday, a UN official gave warning that the world was failing to gain the upper hand against the deadly outbreak.

“Ebola got a head start on us,” Anthony Banbury, the British head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, said.

Addressing the UN Security Council in New York by remote link from UNMEER headquarters in Accra, Banbury said: “It is far ahead of us, it is running faster than us, and it is winning the race.

“If Ebola wins, we the peoples of the United Nations lose so very much.

“We either stop Ebola now or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan.”

What happened at Texas Presbyterian is horrifying — the incompetence and recklessness. But I bet it won’t be the last hospital to bungle in this way. How many hospitals have had adequate training in how to protect its staff from this stuff?

I hope CDC head Tom Frieden is right that no one on that flight with Nurse Amber Vinson, who had a fever while she was in the air (meaning she was viral), is likely to have been infected. After all, how often do airline passengers trade body fluids? But if you were on that plane and used the toilet, how confident would you be feeling right now?

And how confident would you be in the government’s ability to restrict the travel of those known to have been exposed to Ebola? What’s the CDC going to do to keep the exposed from traveling? Depending on how the plague plays out around the globe in the months to come, we could find ourselves in a very challenging legal environment in this country.

UPDATE: So now it turns out that the Amber Vinson called the CDC before she flew and told them she had a fever — and they okayed her getting on that plane!:

“Although she (Vinson) did not report any symptoms and she did not meet the fever threshold of 100.4, she did report at that time she took her temperature and found it to be 99.5,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden.  Her temperature coupled with the fact that she had been exposed to the virus should have prevented her from getting on the plane, he said.  “I don’t think that changes the level of risk of people around her.  She did not vomit, she was not bleeding, so the level of risk of people around her would be extremely low.”

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. John LaPook reports that Vinson called the CDC several times before boarding the plane concerned about her fever.

“This nurse, Nurse Vinson,  did in fact call the CDC several times before taking that flight and said she has a temperature, a fever of 99.5, and the person at the CDC looked at a chart and because her temperature wasn’t 100.4 or higher she didn’t officially fall into the category of high risk.”

Well, that’s certainly confidence-building. Earlier, the CDC faulted Nurse Vinson for getting on the plane against its guidelines. Who can trust what these people say?

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Chicken-Dinner Kasper

Did you see this incredible interview with German Cardinal Walter Kasper, one of the liberal leaders in the Synod? Money quotes:

It has been said that he added five special rapporteurs on Friday to help the general rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdo. Is that because he’s trying to push things through according to his wishes?

[Kasper:] I do not see this going on in the Pope’s head. But I think the majority of these five people are open people who want to go on with this. The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

But are African participants listened to in this regard?

No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

They’re not listened to?

In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

Wait, since when are African and Asian Catholics second-class citizens in their own Church? The arrogance of the Western liberal Kasper is unspeakable — and of a piece with the same attitudes liberals in the Episcopal Church and the Church of England have taken towards the Global South. USA Today points out that numerically speaking, Catholics in Africa are poised to overtake Catholics in Europe within a decade. The Catholic faith — Christianity in general — is utterly moribund in Europe. The churches are nearly empty. Not so in Africa. In Cardinal Kasper’s own country, only 13 percent of Catholics show up for mass on Sunday (Pew says that number is lower). What kind of special arrogance does it take to say that the Africans and the Asians do not deserve to be listened to because their views do not accord with what liberal Europeans who speak for a dwindling number of Catholics believe? Truth is not decided by numbers, surely, but Kasper represents a church that is dying not from martyrdom, but from boredom. He ought to be a lot more humble.

Remember the controversy at the 1998 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion, in which angry liberals were said to have complained that the African Anglicans’ loyalty to the conservative line on homosexuality was “bought by chicken dinners”? Well, how do you say “bought by chicken dinners” in German?

I think Cardinal Kasper’s remarks deserve wide dissemination.

Amazing what’s going on in Rome. Just amazing. With implications for the entire Christian world. Damian Thompson has more. Here’s Matthew Schmitz’s take on the Kasper interview. Excerpt:

One can reject utterly proposals like Uganda’s law on homosexuality—as I do—without dismissing the opinions of an entire continent as the product of mere taboo. Indeed, as Elizabeth Palchik Allen has argued in Foreign Policy, Uganda’s law was prompted in no small part by the same sort of imperious condescension exhibited by Kasper. When it comes to matters that matter, the past is a foreign country, as is Africa, and Kasper has no intention of listening to either.

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Pope Francis: Liberal Machiavelli?

Well, now it seems that Miss Emily Litella is speaking for the Synod (“Never mind”). Robert Royal reports from Rome:

I’ve  said here that Monday, the day the document officially known as the Relatio post disceptationem (Synod interim report) was issued, was the strangest day I’ve ever spent in Rome. I take it back. Yesterday, the daily Synod press briefing essentially retracted much that was said Monday and by implication parts of the document, while stopping just short of admitting as much. It was a 180-degree turn such as may never have been seen in so short a radius on Vatican soil. Ever. Throughout the ages.

And as details emerged Tuesday, the rollout of the relatio looked to rival the rollout of Obamacare for sheer jaw-dropping ineptness.

Who knows what’s really going on? We won’t until the final, official Synod report comes out over the weekend. I like how Royal points out that the media have not been distorting the Church’s official statements from the Synod, but in fact have been asking important and relevant questions that reveal the incompetence and confusion of the Synod fathers.

Damon Linker has a provocative — and to my mind, persuasive — column today saying that Synod events only make sense if you believe that Pope Francis is playing a long game in liberalizing the Church. Excerpts:

Even if the language of the document released on Monday is approved in total at the conclusion of the synod, it will still change nothing at all in church doctrine or teaching. Homosexual acts will still be deemed intrinsically and objectively disordered. It’s just that the Vatican will now be urging pastors to soft-peddle the doctrine to parishioners. Priests and bishops will be urged to accentuate the positive, to talk about the “gifts and qualities” that gay people “offer to the Christian community,” and to acknowledge that gay couples often provide each other “mutual aid” and “precious support.”

That sounds like a modest expansion on or elaboration of the Catechism’s injunction to accept gay people “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” combined with a suggestion that priests and bishops not shove down people’s throats the much harsher official doctrine about homosexual acts.

But the doctrine itself will remain unchanged.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this makes no sense whatsoever.


I submit that there is only one way to make sense of the pope’s actions, and it goes like this:

Francis would like to liberalize church doctrine on marriage, the family, and homosexuality, but he knows that he lacks the support and institutional power to do it. So he’s decided on a course of stealth reform that involves sowing seeds of future doctrinal change by undermining the enforcement of doctrine today. The hope would be that a generation or two from now, the gap between official doctrine and the behavior that’s informally accepted in Catholic parishes across the world would grow so vast that a global grassroots movement in favor of liberalizing change would rise up at long last to sweep aside the old, musty, already-ignored rules.

Read the whole thing. Seriously, do. I think he’s nailed it. I think the Catholic conservative old guard in the American commentariat are going to be standing Canute-like as the tide comes in, saying, “But doctrine hasn’t changed!” Which may be true, in a technical sense, but beside the point.

A California reader sends in this piece from the Orange County Register, reporting on how news from the Synod is being received locally. Excerpt:

“I keep going to church, but I do feel I’m not accepted,” said Rosa Lares, a 36-year-old Santa Ana mother of one who has been in a 14-year committed relationship but is not married. “I’m glad they’re changing.”

In a report released Monday by a group of Catholic bishops debating family issues in the church, leaders noted that the church should accept the “positive reality of civil weddings” and couples living out of wedlock. It also acknowledged that gay unions – while drawing a line at gay marriage – had merit.

“The Catholic Church is making a revolution,” said Alberto Castrejon, Lares’ partner. “It’s taking away many of the obstacles that the religion placed.”

If I were a liberal Catholic, I would be very happy with how this Synod is going, and would not be perturbed by the pushback and the confusion. Things really are changing. Whether or not the change is for the better — well, that’s a different question.

Here’s a deeper question arising out of this controversy, a question that both liberals and conservatives within the Church are reckoning with, whether they’re aware of it or not: What is the Church ultimately for? That is, what is its ultimate purpose? If the answer is “to do good works” or “to promote social solidarity,” that’s not true. To be clear, if the Church is being the Church, it will do good works, and it will promote social solidarity. But these are not its ultimate purpose.

The ultimate purpose has to be to unite souls with God, through Christ. I think it is a legitimate pastoral question as to whether or not the best way to do this is through strict proclamation of and adherence to doctrine, or through merciful toleration of those who fall short. In fact, I strongly believe both approaches are required, depending on the situation. The mistake some conservatives make is believing that following the Law will save you; the mistake some liberals make is believing that the Law is irrelevant — that is, that God doesn’t really care how you behave (at least in terms of your sex life, which in the US is the great point of division between the Christian left and the Christian right).

Mercy and welcome to sinners is absolutely required of Christian churches. The problem, as I see it, is that more than a few Christians, pastors as well as laity, don’t expect people to change once they get in the door. To them, the Church is a destination, an end, not the ordinary means by which individuals deepen their conversion and grow in holiness. You welcome the sinner — and all of us are sinners — to let them know that God loves them, and to love them yourself, but you also must teach that because God loves them, He wants them (he wants us) to repent, because sin is a real thing, and eternal life is at stake.

There’s a danger among us orthodox believers that we will behave like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, resentful of the mercy the father shows to the wayward brother. We have to be on guard against that. On the other hand, the prodigal brother came home in humility, wanting to rejoin his father’s household, and to do whatever is necessary to be part of it. He didn’t come expecting the father to say everything is okay, that he (the prodigal) doesn’t have to worry about repenting of his prodigal ways. The older brother, the one who did the dutiful thing all his life, looks bad here, because he spites his father’s mercy. However, had the parable continued, and his father lavished gifts on the prodigal brother despite the brother’s selfish behavior, the older brother would have been understandably troubled by the question of whether or not justice has any meaning in his father’s household.

The point I’m making here is summed up by an e-mail I received today from a friend who handles RCIA (the program through which converts are received) in her parish. She’s what I would call an orthodox Catholic, and wrote that the pope’s ”leadership leads to a lot of confusion, and working at the parish level, I don’t think he has my back.” A parish priest used similar words recently in a conversation with me.

How do you teach people to live counterculturally — which is what living as a faithful Catholic in this culture requires — when it seems that the Pope and the institutional Church doesn’t really care (or is perceived as not caring) if you do or if you don’t? How do you live that way yourself, and teach your children to live that way, when it seems that not even the Pope much cares about these things?

It’s demoralizing.

Anyway, what do you think about Linker’s Francis-as-Machiavellian-liberal hypothesis?

UPDATE: Terry Mattingly has a good taxonomy of the different camps in this Catholic battle. Excerpt:

* Clearly, there are Catholics who believe that – at the pastoral level – priests need to have more flexibility in working with people whose sexual relationships are both (a) a potential source of strength in their lives and (b) clearly sinful in the eyes of centuries of Christian doctrine.

This is where things get tricky.

If you read the language of the debates, you will see that there are leaders who want to show mercy and kindness up front – with little or no up-front talk about sin and repentance – because they believe that this is truly the best, the most pastoral, way to bring wayward believers into the process of confession and reconciliation. This is, many believe, the Pope Francis way.

* Ah, but what if there are Catholics who SAY THIS is their approach but in reality they are not all that interested in that old confession of sin stuff at all? What if, at the level of local ministry, they essentially are saying that you open the door wide and then hope for the best, that in a post-Vatican II world you have to leave this up to the individual conscience? I mean, who goes to confession these days anyway? What are they supposed to confess? Talking about sin is so negative and modern life is so complex. You know?

* Finally, you do have Catholics who are engaged in a long, slow, strategic march through the structures of the institutional church to change the actual practice and doctrines of the Catholic faith. They want to move the pieces on the great doctrinal game board and a few of them are even open about that.

So, who are you hearing quoted the most in the news reports?


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Ebola Nurse No. 2

A second Dallas nurse has contracted Ebola.  She was on the team that treated Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who died of Ebola in Dallas last week.

Nurses at Dallas’s Texas Presbyterian Hospital are angry at the way the hospital treated them, and is, in their view, offloading responsibility for their own infections onto them for supposedly not following procedure. The Texas nurses (non-unionized) have released an anonymous complaint via a nurses’ union in California. From the story about it:

The Dallas nurses asked National Nurses United to read their statement so they could air complaints anonymously and without fear of losing their jobs, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro said from Oakland, Calif. DeMoro refused to say how many nurses signed off on the letter or how many were on the media call, but she said all of them worked at Presbyterian and had been involved in Duncan’s care or had direct knowledge of what had occurred after he arrived by ambulance.

They were spurred to speak out after their colleague, registered nurse Nina Pham, 26, contracted Ebola while treating Duncan, according to DeMoro. She said the nurses were angered over what they perceived to be health officials’ suggestions that Pham made a mistake that led to her exposure to the virus, which has killed more than 4,400 people in West Africa since March.

The statement alleged that when Duncan was brought to Presbyterian by ambulance Sept. 28 with Ebola-like symptoms, he was “left for several hours, not in isolation, in an area” where up to seven other patients were. “Subsequently, a nurse supervisor arrived and demanded that he be moved to an isolation unit, yet faced stiff resistance from other hospital authorities,” they alleged.

Duncan’s lab samples were sent through the usual hospital tube system “without being specifically sealed and hand delivered. The result is that the entire tube system … was potentially contaminated,” they said.

The statement described a hospital with no clear rules on how to handle Ebola patients, despite months of alerts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta about the possibility of Ebola coming to the United States.

“There was no advanced preparedness on what to do with the patient. There was no protocol. There was no system. The nurses were asked to call the infectious disease department” if they had questions, but that department didn’t have answers either, the statement said. So nurses were essentially left to figure things out on their own as they dealt with “copious amounts” of highly contagious bodily fluids from the dying Duncan while wearing gloves with no wrist tapes, flimsy gowns that did not cover their necks, and no surgical booties, it alleged.

I picked up from the Baton Rouge airport yesterday a friend’s mom who flew in from Dallas. She talked about Ebola, and how frightened she was. “I don’t trust the authorities,” she said. “They have lied to us in the past, and they will lie to us again.”

An understandable reaction, don’t you think? A potentially dangerous one, but a perfectly understandable one. If the public and private institutions handling this crisis lose their credibility, we are in very serious trouble.

UPDATE: Amber Vinson, the second nurse, was on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas the day before she started showing symptoms.

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Houston, We Have a (Free Speech) Problem

Annise Parker, Houston's openly gay mayor (Ed Uthman/Flickr)
Annise Parker, Houston's openly gay mayor (Ed Uthman/Flickr)

Uh, what?! From the Houston Chronicle:

Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists that have sued the city.

Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. City attorneys issued subpoenas last month during the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

The government wants to know what these pastors preached in their own churches, having to do with gay rights.

The government.

Think about that. Even if you fully support gay rights, don’t you find that creepy?

The Law of Merited Impossibility: It will never happen, and when it does, you Christians will deserve it.

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