Distinctly Catholic

Obama & the Teachers' Unions

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The Times has an interesting article this morning on the tensions between the Obama administration and the teachers’ unions, exemplified by the fact that no administration officials were invited to address the unions’ national conventions this year for fear they would be heckled. The tension is well earned on both sides and it speaks well of the administration.

Here in DC, we are experiencing a truly radical upheaval of the public school system, with Schools’ Chancellor Michelle Rhee taking on such hallowed institutions as tenure in her effort to turn around the city’s failing schools. The DC schools were so bad that the local unions actually had to climb on board the Rhee train or fear getting sidelined entirely as the reforms were enacted. The Obama administration was not directly involved in the local effort, but its Department of Education has green-lighted many similar reforms nationwide that the unions oppose.

Yahoo Watch: Robert George

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I disagree often with Professor Robert George of Princeton but even I am shocked at his willingness to be a frequent guest on the Glenn Beck Show. Last week, Professor George outdid himself, not only appearing on the show but serving as part of a panel that included the Rev. John Hagee, a minister whose anti-Catholic ravings were so bigoted, even then-candidate Sen. John McCain had to decline his endorsement. But, that is not the half of it.

Q & A: Rocco Palmo

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Each week, this feature will pose one question to five different newsmakers and analysts. We are continuing with the question asked last week, because both weeks are short. We have heard from Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations for the USCCB, and from ABC's George Stephanopoulos already. Today, we pose the question to blogger extraordinaire, Rocco Palmo, whose "Whispers in the Loggia" remains one the must-go-to websites in the RC blogosphere.

This week’s question: What is the principal impediment to good media coverage of Catholicism/religion?

Rocco: My short answer to this depends on the day and whatever pops up in the morning’s news. At the same time, though, the red flags all seem to stem from one thing -- how we in the church view (and respect) communication, journalism, and the role of the media in covering things Catholic.

Biden: No 'Debacle' for Dems

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Vice President Joe Biden is half-right when he told Politico the Democrats are not going to experience a "debacle” this November. He cites several reasons, many of which do not persuade: People may sense that the economic ship is turning around, but it is not turning around quickly enough and voters punish the party in power.

But, where Biden is spot-on is that November will not be a vote between generic Republicans and generic Democrats. He cites Kentucky where libertarian Rand Paul is the GOP nominee and Nevada where Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle won the Republican nod. I have a hard time believing that these candidates will wear well over time. Mr. Paul has stopped doing interviews after he found himself in hot water trying to explain his views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The issue will not motivate voters to look kindly on his opponent, but the prospect of not being ready for prime time will so motivate them. If a candidate is afraid of reporters’ questions, how will he survive the DC political scene?

Improbable Defender of the Faith: Christopher Hitchens

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The Post’s Outlook section this Sunday had an article by Rabbi David Wolpe, recounting his experiences as a debate foil for renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens. Wolpe, who authored the book “Why Faith Matters,” rehearses some of the content of those debates and that is when something perverse, or at least funny, happens. Hitchens, not Wolpe, unintentionally makes the better case for what I recognize as Catholicism.

A July 4th Complaint

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Yesterday, at Mass, the closing hymn was “America the Beautiful.” This always strikes me as a bad choice. Now, I do think America is beautiful. But the third verse is also strikingly Calvinistic. “May God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness and every gain divine.” These are not words that would have come out of the mouth of, say, Han Urs Von Balthasar. Actually, it was Balthasar who said that “Success is not a name of God and, so, it is not a Gospel category.”

The National Anthem, with its un-singable melody and militaristic themes is scarcely better. It should not be the National Anthem.

Michael Steele's Latest Gaffe

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Poor Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who seems to have a permanent case of foot-in-mouth disease. He is a nice man, and a loyal son of the Church. I have tried and tried for two days, since his now famous remarks about the war in Afghanistan being a war of choice, to find some rationale for his remarks. Many politicians exaggerate when speaking to a crowd of the party faithful, an ordinary desire, albeit one that politicians exhibit to an extraordinary degree, to please the audience. But, surely, Steele knew these words would not please his audience, or anyone else in his party who would be listening - and someone is always listening in the era of YouTube.

No, the conclusion is inescapable. He meant what he said. I do not often agree with Bill Kristol, but Kristol is right when he says that the opinions expressed by Steele are held by many, but they should not be held by the titular head of the GOP.

Blast from the Past: Donatists and Sex Abuse

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Blast from the Past: (a daily feature where we take some bedtime reading from history with relevance to a contemporary issue)
“A hard-line party emerged in the fourth century, called Donatists after one of their leaders. They believed that any contact with lapsed clergy, including those traditores or traitors who without offering pagan sacrifice had nevertheless handed over books or Church goods, contaminated a church and all its members, and invalidated the sacraments which were administered in it. The Donatists formed a separate pure Church, with their own elders and bishops.”
Eamon Duffy, renowned Church historian, on an early controversy after the Decian persecutions. The Donatists did not win the day and the Church affirmed the teaching “ex opere operato,” which holds that the moral worthiness of the minister of a sacrament does not affect the validity of the sacrament. If you think that there are not some Donatists in the contemporary Church, who might use the sex abuse scandal to push their cause, think again. And, like the Donatists, some would turn to Constantine to get their way.

Yahoo Watch: Weekly Standard

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Over at the Weekly Standard blog, they described the President’s speech on immigration thusly: “Obama gave a speech about another giant, unpopular, ambitious proposed piece of legislation to deal with something that has nothing to do with people's actual, everyday concerns.” Their website notes that the offices of the Weekly Standard are located on 17th Street here in Washington. I invite their editors to come up the street to the 1 p.m. Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Sunday. Or to one of the Vietnamese or Creole or Spanish Masses at Sacred Heart Church on 16th Street, or to any of the multi-cultural, multi-cultural services at St. Camillus Church in nearby Takoma Park. There they will meet some people who “actual, everyday concerns” include immigration reform. Better yet, they can just stick around in their own offices overnight and see who comes in to clean them. Those cleaners may have documents, but they know someone who doesn’t.

In Defense of Boehner

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I rise to defend John Boehner, the leader of the Republican minority in U.S. House of Representatives. Not for his ridiculous comment about the financial reform legislation being akin to using a nuclear weapon on an ant. That was stupid. And not for his defensive and petty attacks on President Obama. And, not for his politics of obstruction. I rise to defend him against the charge that he does not work hard enough and has been known to frequent bars.

Cong. Barney Frank, who is the smartest and one of the hardest working members of Congress, declined to comment on Boehner’s work habits, but he did suggest that Boehner did not know what he is talking about regarding the financial reforms. Fair enough. But, to be a good leader of one’s party in the House, it is emotional intelligence that matters most. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has not been as successful as she has been because of her intellectual wattage, but because she listens, she takes the time to learn about the needs of her caucus, and she can get everyone, or enough of everyone, on board to pass legislation. Whether she herself understands the legislation is a different question.

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May 19-June 1, 2017

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