E. J. Dionne has a smart article in the Washington Post this morning, in which he takes aim at the incoming GOP majority because of their obsession with abstractions. He notes that they speak about "excessive regulation" and "smaller government" but do not really discuss which regulations are not excessive and which are, or which government programs they want to put on the chopping block. EJ calls the new House a "House of Professors" which is a slur against professors, but you get his point.
Over at USA Today, Cathy Grossman gives the lowdown on a new court ruling that holds a cross erected on public lands is unconstitutional. Grossman puts her finger on what is wrong about the Supreme Court's jurisprudence in religious matters, citing Justice Kennedy's comments to the effect that the cross is now a universal symbol of sacrifice that can be shared by all. Justice Stevens responded that, no, the cross refers to a very specific sacrifice. Stevens is right about the significance of the cross, although given the central role of Christian faith in the history of the country, I do not object to the presence of such a cross on public lands, nor to the presence of a Star of David or a Muslim crescent.
But what is truly absurd is the position held by some conservatives that Justice Kennedy's lame justification for the cross in such situations is a "win" for Christians. "If the cross is not about Christ, if it's just some heroic minimalist sculpture, why would Christians fight for it?" Grossman asks. It is the right question.
This morning, the Holy See also named new members and consultors to the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care. Among the new consultors is Dr. John Haas, Presiden of the National Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. It was Hass who recently said of the Pope's remarks on condoms that the pontiff was "wrong."
Say what you will about Pope Benedict, he evidently does not hold any grudges.
The Holy See today announced the members of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. The sole American named to the Council was New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan. It is an inspired choice.
The New Evangelization has two components. First, it will seek to use new media and methods to proclaim the Gospel. For this part of the brief, Dolan is a natural, a media-friendly, gregarious Archbishop who already has his own blog and who happens to preside over the media capital of the world.
Over at Sussidiario, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete writes this week about why so many people continue to question the President's faith. Monsignor suggests it is all politics, but I think racism has a lot to do with it as well.
Do you remember the television ad Hillary Clinton ran during the 2008 primaries in which dark music played in the background and a phone rings, and the voiceover says it is the middle of the night and asks who you want to pick up that phone? It was a good ad, even if it involved a bit of marketing hyperbole. For starters, no matter who took the call, the most likely first question they would ask is: “What do you recommend?” So, it was just as, if not more, important to know who was placing the call as who was taking it, and the person placing the call would be the National Security Advisor. The current incumbent in that post, Tom Donilon, would be as likely to hold that job in a Clinton administration as in an Obama one. So, the ad raised a false contrast between Clinton and Obama.
The American Papist is in a tizzy because New York's new governor, Andrew Cuomo, received communion at Mass on Sunday. Actually, what has the Papist in a tizzy is the fact that Cuomo was not denied communion. This is a "disaster" and a "scandal." Of course, there are only a handful of bishops in the United States who deny communion based on someone's public policy positions. And, neither Pope Benedict nor Pope John Paul II adopted the practice. The Papist is either too easily scandalized or he fails to understand that the idea of denying communion to politicians is, as a Vatican official put it to me, "horrible theology."
But, the Papist and his ilk are too filled with neo-Jansenistic worries, as were their namesakes, to worry about good theology.
The new Congress hasn't even been sworn in yet, and already Republicans are going back on one of their signature promises: Guaranteeing that all bills are paid for with off-setting cuts in spending. You will recall that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the health care law passed last year will knock $143 billion of the deficit by 2019. In their rush to pass a bill that repeals the health care law, House Republicans now say they will suspend the budgetary requirement that they find the money to offset the $143 billion.
That was fast.
You will also recall that Republicans in the Senate objected to extending unemployment benefits because those benefits were not off-set. They caved when they got tax cuts for zillionaires.
So, budgetary vigilance is called for, except when the GOP wants something. If this ain't hypocrisy, I don't know what is.
John Allen reports on the possibility of a beatification ceremony for Pope John Paul II as early as next year. This is madness. After years of being frustrated at the slow pace with which the Vatican embraces change, in this one instance where haste could spell disaster, they appear to be rushing.
As Jason Berry has demonstrated time and again, it remains an open question as to how Pope John Paul II dealt with the clergy sex abuse crisis and while no one has raised charges of personal corruption against him, those charges have been leveled against his top aides. Documents pertaining to such corruption as may exist could be in a courtroom near you any day if the Vatican continues to lose its law suits. It would be a shock to the very idea of beatification if, shortly after Pope John Paul II was beatified, especially damning evidence of corruption close to the papal throne emerged.
Last year, Pope Benedict beatified John Henry Newman, who had as profound an impact on the Church as John Paul II and was able to wait for a hundred years to receive his due.
The incoming House Republican Majority is getting off on the wrong foot. They wrong feet actually. Already, the tug-of-war has begun between the Tea Party extremists and the need to actually govern, as seen in the debate about extending the debt ceiling. And, another tug-of-war is already manifesting itself between rival interpretations of the November election results: Did voters send the signal that they wanted Democrats and Republicans to work together, or did they simply reject the Obama program? And, as ever, there is the equivalent of hazing as newcomers get used to the ways of Washington.