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

Blog author: awilkinson
posted by on Thursday, March 26, 2009

It is our pleasure to welcome guest ramblings on the PowerBlog, and we are happy to feature this contribution from Alissa Wilkinson, who is editor of The Curator, associate editor of Comment, and on staff at International Arts Movement. She is finishing a M.A. in Humanities & Social Thought at New York University. She frequently contributes writing on culture and film to a number of publications, including Paste and Christianity Today.

In response to the question, “What form will journalism take in the age of new media?”, I have to consider two of my nearly-daily activities.

First, I work as an editor on two publications which are enabled by or adapting to the new media age. My work on Comment, an opinion journal published by the North American think tank Cardus, is predicated on both the internet and print. We publish a weekly online edition and a quarterly print journal, and we’ve been experimenting with social media such as Facebook as a way to advertise. My other magazine, The Curator, has no budget at all, which meant we had no choice but to start as an online journal. Our contributors – some quite well-versed in their field – work for free at present, and we publish weekly on the web.

The lesson I’ve learned there is that new media forces journalism to be either hyperlocal or (like my work) broad-based in its appeal, since visitors may be browsing the magazine down the hall or on the other side of the world. And as my friends and I have watched some more well-funded publications like Culture11 go under, we’ve remarked that publishing online with no budget has its benefits; you can’t really go under for lack of funds. And small magazines have never really made any money, have they?

Second, I purchased a Kindle a few weeks ago and have slowly come to believe that this little device may just save journalism completely. According to a recent article in Business Insider, it costs the New York Times about twice as much to print and deliver the newspaper as it would to send each of its subscribers a Kindle. Though it costs about the same to subscribe to magazines on the Kindle as it does in print (The New Yorker is $40 per year for the print edition, and $36 for the Kindle edition), because you’re paying $3 monthly instead of a lump sum, it feels like less. And the overhead for the magazine is obviously much less, since everything is delivered wirelessly.

For sheer efficiency and lack of overhead, the Kindle wins out: for flexibility, online publishing just works.

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.

Davos capitalism, managerial capitalism run by a transnational elite, has lost faith in free markets. But these technocrats and politicians still believe that they, and only they, possess the solutions that will “fix” global markets. “We have tried the illusory third way — it is called Davos — and it has failed,” Michael Miller writes.

Read this commentary over at the Acton Website and comment on it here.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In response to the question, “What form will journalism take in the age of new media?”, a quick thought, speculative and devoid of adequate substantiation.

I’ve heard a lot of worrying about what will take the place of newspapers and news magazines as their decline continues. My worrying runs in a different direction. I have complete faith that what the market demands the market will supply. I don’t pretend to know exactly what form it will take, but I’m confident that there will develop profitable ventures in journalism that exhibit or even improve upon the standards set by the newspapers of the last couple centuries.

That is, if there is demand for such information. As I see newspapers failing, I’m concerned not that the press will stop serving its indispensable purpose in a free society; I’m concerned instead about what it might indicate about the American public’s interest in matters of public import such as politics, religion, and economics.

The demise of newspapers would cause me no great concern except for the fact that the trend occurs in the context of reports that our educational system fails to guarantee basic literacy among a disturbingly large portion of our population, that the average number of books Americans read is declining, and that high percentages of us rely on late-night comedy as our primary source of political information.

In sum, I don’t doubt our ability to produce high quality journalism, but I increasingly wonder, who will read it?

In response to the question, “What form will journalism take in the age of new media?” I came across this Reuters story highlighting a proposal to allow newspapers to file for nonprofit status. The legislation was put forward by Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin, (D-Md.) and he suggests the nonprofit action could be a possible solution for smaller community minded newspapers.

I’ll let somebody with more expertise regarding print journalism take a crack at the deeper consequences of such an action, but it seems to me that it wouldn’t assist with what should be the main goal of media, securing a free and independent press. At least many of the arguments put forward for saving papers is tied to the notion that they serve in the capacity as a civic watchdog over government. Obviously you can’t serve that goal as effectively with a tax-exempt status.

Nonprofits are having to sort through their own serious financial struggles as well, so the financial benefits may not be much of a saving force in the end. I am sure there are a lot of papers that are surviving and thriving in the free market even now and their credibility will look even better when put up against a paper dependent on government recognition for their status.

Here is a story from Real Clear Politics which alludes to a greater fear, at least when it comes to even more federal involvement in the private sector, and that is “the legislation is a starting point for discussions already under way on ideas to help the industry.”

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.”

Last week I wrote that “The ethical standards connected with journalism as a profession have arisen out of centuries-long practice and reflection,” and that “To abandon these standards in the rush to new media would impoverish public discourse to the detriment of us all.” (I develop some related points at length in an accompanying blog post).

I also asserted that “Professional journalism must be present for a free society to flourish, and it is in the pursuit of this calling that Christian reflection and practice over the last two centuries has a critical role to play.” Any discussion about Christian engagement with journalistic culture would be remiss without mention of the World Journalism Institute at the King’s College in New York, whose mission “is to recruit, equip, place and encourage journalists who are Christians in the mainstream newsrooms of America.” (Acton research fellow Anthony Bradley is the Francis Schaeffer Chair of Cultural Apologetics at WJI.) The King’s College also publishes Patrol, “a daily web magazine that covers the arts, culture, and politics in New York City.”

This week’s PowerBlog Ramblings question is: “What form will journalism take in the age of new media?”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, March 20, 2009

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.

A recent article by the John Locke Foundation’s Michael Moore (no, not the filmmaker) does a good job of outlining the calling of entrepreneurs. He makes a very positive mention of Acton, Fr. Sirico, and The Call of the Entrepreneur.

The full article can be read here.

Here’s an excerpt:

If you ask someone on the street today what they think is a humble and worthwhile profession, they might say a doctor, teacher, missionary, fireman, or community organizer. Now those are good professions, and I admire anyone in those fields, but one profession that may never get mentioned is that of an entrepreneur.

Over the last few years in America, there has been a shift in the mindset of people to eliminate risk and personal responsibility, and we are seeing the effects of that today. The theory is, if you are an individual who has created wealth you have probably mistreated or abused someone to get that wealth. It is kind of scary that America has started to demonize the entrepreneur. Over the last few months, I have heard from a few entrepreneurs in church who are starting to ponder if they are truly moral because they have been entrepreneurs most of their lives.