Category: News and Events

Dear Fr. Jenkins:

You are, no doubt, being inundated with letters, phone calls and emails objecting to the decision of Notre Dame to invite President Obama to give the commencement address this year and to receive an honorary doctorate from your university.

I feel compelled to write to you as a brother priest to express my own dismay at this decision which I see as dangerous for Notre Dame, for the Church, for this country, and frankly Father, for your own soul.

I have had the honor to speak at Notre Dame over the years in my capacity as the president of the Acton Institute. I recall the sparkling discussion and questions from the student body, notably from a number of the Holy Cross Seminarians. I have, in fact, been invited to your campus on a number of occasions and on my last visit I was given a statue of the Lladro Blessed Mother in appreciation of my speech. I was told the statue was blessed by Fr. Hesburgh. It has occupied a special place in our religious community since then.

Father, I have no degree or awards from Notre Dame to return to you to indicate how strongly I feel about this scandalous decision. So here is what I have decided to do:

I am returning this statue to your office because what once evoked a pleasant memory of a venerable Catholic institution now evokes shame and sorrow. The statue is simply too painful a reminder of the damage and scandal Notre Dame has brought to the Church and the cause of human life in this decision.

Moreover, I will encourage the young people from my parish and within our diocese to consider universities other than Notre Dame for their college career and I will further encourage other priests in my diocese to do the same. I will also discourage Notre Dame alumni to make donations to the University.

And you may rest assured that I will make this sentiment known from my pulpit and in other public outlets as the occasions present themselves.

This is not a matter of abortion (I presume we agree on how evil it is); nor is it about free speech (you could have invited the president to a discussion for that). This is about coherence. You no longer know who you are as a Catholic institution.

It pains me to write this letter to you. I ask that you go before the Blessed Sacrament and look into your soul – the soul of priest – and reverse this decision before more scandal is brought to the Church.

You and the students under your pastoral charge will be in my prayers and Lenten sacrifices.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Robert Sirico

rl_18_3 The new issue of Religion & Liberty featuring an interview with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is available online, now in its entirety. From the very beginning, Governor Sanford has been a vocal critic of all bailout and stimulus legislation pouring out of Washington, regardless of who is occupying the White House.

For an update on the stimulus debate, and the governor’s role in the new stimulus law, The Wall Street Journal published Governor Sanford’s March 20 column titled, “Why South Carolina Doesn’t Want ‘Stimulus.’” Our interview is also unique in that Governor Sanford also talks about faith in the public square and the virtues related to spending restraint.

We have some excellent cultural analysis in this issue, which includes “Busting a Pop Culture Illusion” by S.T. Karnick. Karnick is the editor of the American Culture website. He calls the Disney “life without limits mindset, one of the main progenitors of modern, statist liberalism.” Bruce Edward Walker of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy offers a piece that uplifts the moral order over ideology. Walker declares:

For Eliot, the moral imagination derived from his Anglo-Catholicism; for Kirk, his Roman Catholicism. Devoid of moral imagination, all systems–political, social, economic, familial and spiritual–are bound to fail. True conservatives, both men believed, place moral considerations ahead of ideology. In fact, both held that true conservatism is the negation of ideology.

Two books are reviewed in this issue, Kevin Schmiesing reviews Philip Lawler’s The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture and I review Spiritual Enterprise: Doing Virtual Business by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch. Schmiesing’s review first appeared on the Powerblog in November.

In this issue we also pay tribute to one of the giants who was pivotal in the destruction of Marxist-Leninism. Alexander Solzhenistyn (1918 – 2008) is the “In The Liberal Tradition” figure for this issue. I was about 14 or 15 when my dad gave me a copy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, and in reading his book it was plain for me that the fundamental flaws of the Soviet System were moral in nature. Nobody has written and articulated that case better and more effectively than Solzhenitsyn did. His works offered the first critique of the Soviet system I had come across from a non-Westerner. It’s not the first time we have written about Solzhenitsyn of course, Religion & Liberty’s Executive Editor John Couretas published “Solzhenitsyn and Russia’s Golgotha” in the Spring issue of 2007.

It’s not quite gotten to the point of robbing Peter to pay Paul, at least not yet, but following the spate of foreclosures on residential and commercial properties, you can expect another rash of foreclosures on church buildings across the country. There are a number of factors that will contribute to this phenomenon. In no particular order:

  • In many churches the same people who overbought McMansions run the church’s finances. They wanted to be as comfortable at church as they are (or were) at home, and so they led the church into overbuying.
  • The general economic decline will lessen the ability and/or willingness of members to give.
  • Decreased tax deductions will disincentivize giving by the heavy-hitters who carry the major financial water in nearly every congregation.
  • Zoning boards and municipalities that have been frustrated for years will leap at the chance to convert tax-free church buildings into potential sources of tax revenue.

In general, many churches have become a bit too comfortable in this world and a bit too eager to worship in temples rather than tabernacles, if you catch my drift. This economic downturn will expose the priorities of these congregations and their members. The onerous mortgages for multi-million dollar expansions will tap the resources and the generosity of many congregations, preventing them from funding missionaries, Christian day-schools, charitable work, and ministry programs. You will hear cries about religious freedom and persecution, especially related to the last point listed above, but in many ways these churches will simply be reaping what they have sown.

The good news? “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, March 20, 2009
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I caught last week’s premiere episode of NBC’s Kings. I was curious to see how the biblical parallels between the Old Testament and the contemporary Saul and David story would play out. I also find anything with Ian McShane in it hard to miss, after appreciating his masterful performances in HBO’s Deadwood.

Ian McShane as a modern-day Saul.

Ian McShane as a modern-day Saul.

After the first episode I’m intrigued enough to continue watching, in part to see how the show addresses the question of monarchy. Awhile back I proposed that we understood the government in Old Testament Israel as a kind of constitutional monarchy, given the ability of the prophets to call the king to account on the basis of Torah.

Aquinas has some relevant ruminations, and in preparation for this week’s episode on Sunday night it’d be worth scanning the section from his Summa Theologica that touches the question, “Whether the Old Law enjoined fitting precepts concerning rulers?” (Aquinas thinks so.)

Thomas writes in part that God

prescribed how the king after his appointment should behave, in regard to himself; namely, that he should not accumulate chariots and horses, nor wives, nor immense wealth: because through craving for such things princes become tyrants and forsake justice. He also appointed the manner in which they were to conduct themselves towards God: namely, that they should continually read and ponder on God’s Law, and should ever fear and obey God. Moreover, He decided how they should behave towards their subjects: namely, that they should not proudly despise them, or ill-treat them, and that they should not depart from the paths of justice.

panamaWhen I was in college, a popular refrain from many academics was to explain the rise of the “Right” or conservatism in the American South as a dynamic brought about because of race. Books like Dan T. Carter’s The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics attempted to link the politics of George Wallace to Ronald Reagan’s brand of conservatism. And if you are suspicious of that theory because Wallace was a New Dealer there is even an explanation for this lofty leap in a book by Joseph Lowndes titled From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism.

Books like these dismiss the more obvious causes like migration from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt, the rise of the “New Left,” and a surge of evangelicals participating in the political process. The reason I mention these works is because they share a striking similarity to Adam Clymer’s new book Drawing the Line at the Big Ditch: The Panama Canal Treaties and the Rise of the Right. Clymer has his own explanation for the rise of conservatism on a national scale, the Panama Canal Treaties. It is true that the Panama Canal issue was a pivotal issue that helped to rescue the insurgent Reagan primary campaign against Gerald Ford, but Clymer supposes if Reagan had lost in North Carolina in 76, where his back was up against the wall, he would have never ran for president again or won in 1980.

Odd statements like “His [Reagan] five-minute daily commentaries had a good number broadcast outlets, and an audience estimated at 20 million listeners a week, but they never stirred national notice” reinforce Clymer’s misunderstanding of Reagan. Reagan’s appeal was both national and popular, and Reagan was already deeply entrenched in the conservative grassroots movement. His radio addresses were highly effective in selling conservatism to mainstream audiences. Those that listened to him knew he of course wasn’t a single issue minded leader and his career wouldn’t end or be extended with the Panama Canal Treaties.

The Panama Canal fiasco however was a powerful and visible symbol for the decline of American might and influence around the globe after retreat from Vietnam. Reagan and other conservative politicians capitalized on the unpopularity of giving it away while the Soviets were flexing their might across the world. But in its symbolism attacking the canal giveaway represents, especially in regards to Reagan, Cold Warriors frustrated with the overall policy of American retreat and détente, which was magnified all the more under Jimmy Carter’s watch.

Clymer does cite some credible evidence that the canal issue brought grassroots conservative organizations together to raise money, but that was for a short time and other issues like the Equal Rights Amendment surely did the same. Clymer notes:

David Keene, then an ACU board member and subsequently its long-term chairman, observed in 2007 that the Canal issue was a double edged sword. He explained, ‘The canal issue was a great boon for us. It raised a lot of money. Afterwards, there was a letdown and it almost destroyed us.’

Clymer’s overarching point is that the Panama Canal issue transformed the Republican Party into a more conservative party. He also claims that Democrats become more conservative nationally because of the canal issue, a statement many may like to challenge.

Clymer also identifies five conservative Republican Senators who won their seats in 1980 campaigning against the Canal Treaty. But he even undercuts his own premise by noting the Democrat incumbents who lost their Senate seats were probably too liberal for the districts they represent and other issues in those campaigns were often just as formative, if not more so, like high unemployment and inflation to name a few. Ultimately Clymer laments the Panama Canal as a divisive issue because he sees it as a major downfall in the politics of consensus building and the rise of hot button issues like abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. Clymer bemoans with his own example:

It is not a long conceptual leap from suggesting that a McIntyre or Church [Democrat Senators defeated in 80] is a dupe of the Soviets designs on the Canal to Saxby Chambliss’s 2002 ads suggesting that Senator Max Cleland, a triple amputee from Vietnam was soft on terrorists, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden because he voted against the Bush administration on some elements of the bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.

While his book does a respectable job in tracing the canal issue through several presidential administrations and the debate in Congress, Clymer’s conclusions about the canal in relation to the ascendancy of conservatism is over – reaching and incoherent. Much of his evidence seems to contradict his own premises. One is forced to wonder if Clymer came up with the thesis and title before he started the actual research. Those interested in the rise of conservatism would be much better served reading Alfred S. Regnery’s recent book Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism.

Today on the Acton website we launched a resource page devoted to the global economic crisis. This page is a collection of recent Acton articles, interviews, and video that directly relates to the economic crisis. It includes material that addresses the causes of the crisis,
the government’s responses, and market-based solutions to the crisis. It also has a link to a superb video in which Sam Gregg discusses the government’s response to the crisis and how its policies, such as the new stimulus plan, may effect the economy long-term.

Click here to visit the Economic Crisis Resource Page.

Again reporting from the Making Men Moral conference at Union University . . .

The evening panel featured Robert George, Jean Bethke-Elshtain, David Novak, and Harry Poe. Their primary subject was the life of Richard John Neuhaus. Lots of great material, but Robert George spoke very movingly of Neuhaus’ career.

In the 1960′s, Neuhaus was a friend and associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. During the next decade, Neuhaus moved into position to become the most prominent religious liberal in the United States, perhaps succeeding Reinhold Niebuhr in the esteem of the media and cultural elites. It was a position that would have been attractive to the talented Rev. Neuhaus.

Then, Roe v. Wade happened. At first, there was such a thing as a pro-life liberal. Teddy Kennedy was one. Jesse Jackson was one. Albert Gore was one. So was Richard John Neuhaus.

But the center failed to hold and the pro-life liberals pronounced fealty to Planned Parenthood in serial fashion. Richard John Neuhaus could have done that, too, had he wished to preserve his chance to succeed Niebuhr as the most prominent mainline Protestant.

Abandoning the unborn child, the defenseless and innocent human being who desperately needed protection, was a step too far for Neuhaus. So, he left “the left” behind.

The tenor of the story fit a persistent theme of this conference with speakers cognizant of the presence of young evangelicals in the room. Hold your ideals more dear than your lust for applause. The temptation to make oneself acceptable to the dominant zeitgeist is terrible in its power. Do as Richard John Neuhaus did. Resist.

Still reporting from the Making Men Moral Conference in honor of Robert George at Union University . . .

I’ve had the chance to hear some great lines offered up by conservative academics. Here are a couple:

Paul Kerry (BYU) on the difference between Robert George and Cornel West:

“Last year, Robert George was invited to meet with Pope Benedict XVI. Cornel West was similarly honored to be invited to meet with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.”

Russ Moore (Southern Seminary) on better relations between evangelicals and Catholics:

“Very few evangelicals today would still say the Pope is the Anti-Christ. Bill Maher might, but evangelicals wouldn’t.”

Union has done a tremendous job of putting this conference together. They may be on track to become another conservative favorite like Hillsdale, the graduate school at Claremont, and the political theory program at LSU (represented here by the delightful James Stoner).

Later, I’ll have a report about the events of this evening. Richard John Neuhaus was slated to speak at the conference, but died recently, thus leaving a substantial hole in the conservative tapestry. It’s a hole, thankfully, that we have men like Robert George and Father Robert Sirico to help fill.

Tonight, Robert George, Harry Poe, and others will host an informal conversation with the assembled guests. I’m guessing we’ll have a great time hearing stories about the exploits of Father Neuhaus.

In the wake of Joseph Lawler’s piece on George Mason economists evaluating conservative magazines’ affinity for liberty on the basis of their treatment of sex, gambling, and drugs, Princeton’s Robert George is the perfect antidote. He could have reminded the measurers of liberty that those who favor laissez faire with regard to vice are often much less friendly to consensual acts of capitalism between adults. It’s a point he made in his seminal book Making Men Moral.

I’m currently attending a Union University conference honoring the work of Robert P. George. If conservatives are to have a chance of winning the argument over the proper balance of liberty and virtue, they could do no better than to look to Professor George as an example. As Russell Moore reminded the audience this evening, Robert George has never imitated the tendencies of many conservative and/or Christian academics to make themselves or their work more palatable to the ambient culture. Instead, he has unapologetically argued for a robust conception of the natural law and has mentored many academics to follow in his footsteps.

sanford-blog In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, we are featuring an interview with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Sanford has made national headlines for his principled opposition to all bailout and stimulus legislation coming out of Washington.

He was elected South Carolina’s governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, becoming only the third two-term governor in modern state history. In 2008, Sanford was also named Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Before becoming governor, Sanford served six years in the U.S. Congress after his election in 1994. For his consistent efforts to lower taxes and limit government growth he was ranked #1 in the entire Congress by Citizens Against Government Waste. He was rated similarly by the National Taxpayers’ Union, and Taxpayers for Common Sense inducted him into the Taxpayers Hall of Fame.

We would like to offer our PowerBlog readers an exclusive preview of the interview (the full interview will be available soon in the pages of Religion & Liberty):

You’ve taken a very principled approach in working for smaller government, lower taxes, individual liberty and fostering a culture of personal responsibility. Those principles are taking a battering in Washington today. Can anything turn the tide?

George Washington and his fairly battered band of patriots were facing far greater odds. The situation looked much more bleak. And yet they were resolved to creating the perfect union that they believed in. And they ultimately prevailed against incredibly long odds. So I think the answer rests in that silent and sleeping majority. Really making their voice heard. Not just for an election or election cycle but on a prolonged basis. And that’s what it will take to turn the tide. Really, that is the only thing that can turn the tide. However, if the status quo remains, we’re going to have profound problems coming our way that I think signal frankly the undoing of our Republic.

A lot of state governors are lining up for federal bailout money. Won’t this simply postpone the day of reckoning that some states need to face because of their own policies?

The answer is yes. That which is unsustainable is going to end. And so for instance California government grew by 95-percent over the last ten years. Federal government grew by about 73 percent. So you have state government that has grown at an even faster rate than the federal government. You have a state government that has gone out and issued long-term debt to cover the actual operations of government over the last couple years. It’s not sustainable. The idea is that you can just throw some federal money in to that unsustainable mix. But all you do is delay big structural reforms that are absolutely essential to California, for instance, being on firm financial footing. And this notion of mandating over a bad situation ultimately generally makes the situation worse. So, yeah, I do think it postpones the day of reckoning. And frankly makes the day of reckoning worse.

The line of business people asking for government bailout help seems to get longer by the day, how can you say no when jobs may be on the line?

The role of government is to promote, in my view, individual freedom. In other words, we have a governmental apparatus that is legitimate in nature in as much as it is to maximize one’s individual freedom. There are other folks who believe in the idea of a nanny state, and believe government is there to take care of your different needs, cradle-to-grave, chief among them being employment. Rather, government is there to create a foundation by which private sector can grow and create employment opportunities. Its job is not to create employment itself as I see it. And so I would say, yes, they’re lining up. There’s an article in today’s paper about car rental companies now lining up for a piece of the bailout funding. There was another article I saw where credit unions were getting money they’ve never gotten before. So, yes, there’s going to be an endless list. And it is again going to get to the point of the absurd before this thing is over and done. And the fact that the list is growing longer shows the fallacy it is to think that government can change economic laws.