Crisis Magazine 2000

Sed Contra: The U.S. Catholic Conference Strikes Again

Deal W. Hudson
December 1, 2000

Catholics must wonder sometimes why the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) exists. On October 16, Catholic News Service (CNS) of the USCC issued a story with the headline, “Gore sees hope for ‘common ground’ movement on abortion.” Written by Patricia Zapor, based on an interview with the vice president, the article serves to provide official Catholic cover for a pro-abortion presidential candidate whose most ardent supporters are the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and Planned Parenthood.

The phrase “common ground,” of course, was brought into Catholic parlance by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, who wanted to provide a forum for Catholics to discuss their differences on issues like Church authority and the role of the priesthood. Abortion was never put on the common ground table: To seek common ground on abortion is to accept that some number of innocent lives can be taken. This is Gore’s position. Cardinal Bernardin would have never accepted such a compromise with the culture of death.

The fact that such a story would come out of CNS makes one wonder how much the culture of death has a grip on the USCC. That those who edit these stories and write their headlines would not immediately reject such a wording indicates a serious lack of Catholic judgment at CNS. It is not the case that Zapor was simply quoting Gore with the comment; she uses his language without quotation in the middle of the article: “Gore said he sees a burgeoning grassroots movement seeking common ground on abortion.”

Anyone who is in the business of Catholic journalism knows full well that to use the phrase “common ground” is to draw on the moral and spiritual capital of Cardinal Bernardin’s legacy. I suppose we can look forward to furthering CNS articles on the search for common ground on euthanasia and partial-birth abortion.

The USCC also raised numerous eyebrows with the release of its presidential candidate questionnaire on October 17. The first nine pages of the questionnaire were released that morning, with the remaining eleven pages inexplicably added the next afternoon. For legal reasons, the USCC explains, the questionnaire contains “verbatim responses and comments” of candidates to questions posed by the conference. Legal arguments aside, the result is unfortunate, because once again a pro-abortion candidate is provided an official Catholic forum to mislead the Catholic public.

On partial-birth abortion, Gore is quoted as saying, “Al Gore opposes late-term abortion and the procedure of partial-birth abortion…. Al Gore believes that any law prohibiting the partial-birth abortion procedure must be narrowly tailored, and should include protections for the life and health of the mother.” (Note that Gore sent his comments to the USCC in the third person, which makes them appear written by the bishops, while Bush’s comments were published in the first person.) The leadership at the

USCC knows that the health exception effectively negates the partial-birth abortion ban, but the format allows Gore to mislead Catholics who are not fully informed on this issue.

This is a repeat of the 1996 USCC candidate questionnaire that allowed Clinton to get away with the same misrepresentation of his position on abortion. Catholics helped to elect Clinton, and the unborn have been his victims. Protests were lodged then, so this time the conference action is surely intentional. If the USCC cannot present the candidates’ views in a way that truthfully informs the Catholic public, then the conference should stop issuing questionnaires altogether.

There is no doubt in my mind that the USCC legal department is overly cautious: I am sure that Catholic bishops have the constitutional right to inform Catholics how a candidate’s position stands in relation to a clearly defined moral teaching of the Church. Moral guidance is a bishop’s job, and as far as I know, the IRS cannot and will not object. Such judgments do not constitute partisan activity, although they may affect the voting behavior of Catholic voters.

There are many issues of public policy where common ground should be sought between Democrats and Republicans in relation to Catholic social teaching—abortion is not one of them. Catholics depend on the USCC for accuracy in promulgating the teachings of the Church and representing them to those in the media and to Congress. These events during the crucial final weeks before the election demand scrutiny of the CNS and a reassessment of future candidate questionnaires.

Sed Contra: What’s All the Fuss?

Deal W. Hudson
November 1, 2000

On the heels of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to bishops, Dominus Iesus (Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church), comes the predictable chorus of boos. Once again, the papacy of John Paul II is accused of destroying post-Vatican II progress toward genuine interreligious dialogue by affirming the one way to salvation through Jesus Christ. Those who are booing the loudest don’t even believe in salvation.

The basic misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching on this issue arises from a preoccupation with self-identification and obliviousness to mystical reality. In other words, nothing is real unless it conforms to our self-appraisal. Thus, when Ratzinger reaffirms the traditional doctrine of salvation through Christ, he is heard as saying, “Only those people who call themselves Catholics will be saved, so if you don’t call yourself Catholic, you can’t be saved.”

For Ratzinger, the issue is not how people describe themselves—a person’s objective relationship to God, and whether the quality of that relationship is “saving.” The Church does not require a person to call himself “Catholic” to be saved. After all, Scripture is clear that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will be saved. But in an age of self-definition, many hold on to their labels as their saving reality. They can’t imagine something miraculous superadded to their view of themselves that attaches them to a spiritual communion beyond their self-consciously held set of beliefs.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that those who do not label themselves as Catholics may, in fact, receive salvation. “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification are found outside the visible confines of the Church…. Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation.” (819) The point is that regardless of what religious denomination you profess if you are saved, you are saved through Christ and His Church. One can understand why this belief might be a source of irritation to non-Catholics, but that does not absolve Catholics from believing it.

Most people don’t admit the possibility of a truth that encompasses them whether or not they recognize it. The Church is a mystical body first and an institution, “the visible confines,” second. But as an institution, the Church offers communion with the mystical body in a definitive way—definitive but not monopolistic, as the critics have charged. Members of other religious institutions, or no religious institution, may enter into that body unawares and become part of the saving mystery of Christ.

The Catholic faith begins with the belief that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection forever changed the very nature of human existence: He made it possible, once again, for a man to enjoy a graced and eternal life with his Creator. Ratzinger merely reminds us that the incarnation of the Son is the “saving event for all humanity.”

What prompts the letter is the long-term effect of ecumenical dialogue based on “relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de jure (in principle).” Ratzinger’s target, however, is not primarily the well-intentioned parish coordinator who lacks the theological tools to explain the Catholic view of salvation.

The key to Ratzinger’s underlying concern is found in his recent warning against the United Nations Millennium Summit and the “new anthropology…at the base of the New World Order.” “It is precisely here that people are deceived…. They are not advised to love, they are advised, in the final analysis, not to be human.” Here, he strongly implies that the problem is no longer secularism but syncretism, not the loss of faith lamented in the 60s but the political counterfeiting of faith traditions into pseudo-universal moral values.

Needless to say, the universal moral values envisioned by the globalizers won’t include respect for life or the traditional family. But they won’t achieve this left-wing synthesis by attacking the Church directly but rather by finding dissident representatives of Catholicism to carve out of Church teaching whatever will fit into their mold. Sorry to say, many of the talking points for dissident teaching come from the relativistic template of ecumenical dialogue.

The real discomfort caused by Dominus Iesus was not to our brother and sister evangelicals but to the old radical left of our own Church, whose serial marriages with socialism, Marxism, feminism, and postmodernism have left them widowed and lonely in their old age.

Music: Our Golden Age

Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 2000

The golden age of the Broadway musical may be long past, but never has the musical been so gloriously recorded as in the present. Those who only know and treasure the familiar original cast recordings of shows like Brigadoon, Oklahoma and West Side Story have a great treat in store. Quietly, over the past decade, most of these shows have been rerecorded inversions that often match or surpass their originals.

At the top of the list stands a recent recording of The King and me with Julie Andrews and Ben Kingsley. Nothing here disappoints. Julie Andrews’s singing is breathtaking: Her rendition of Hello Young Lovers is a master class in diction and characterization. Ben Kingsley actually succeeds in effacing the memories of Yul Brenner, and the conducting of John Mauceri, as in The March of the Siamese Children, reminds us that Richard Rodgers was a melodic genius. Don’t miss this one!

Next on the list is Brigadoon, conducted by John McGlinn, who has had a leading role in the revival of Broadway recordings beginning with his 1988 Show Boat on EMI. McGlinn’s recording is flawless; every role is perfectly cast and beautifully sung. Singers like Brent Barrett, Rebecca Luker, Judy Kaye, and John Mark Ainsley are not household words, but they stir you to the quick in the way Drake, MacRae, Merman, and Martin did a generation ago. Listening to Ainsley’s Come to Me, Bend to Me will leave you shaking your head that such a marvelous song was left out of the MGM movie with Gene Kelly.

Kim Criswell is the belter par excellence of our day, and she stars in the new versions of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate and Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. Again, McGlinn is the conductor in both shows, and baritone Thomas Hampson is Criswell’s romantic partner. Hampson continues very successfully the tradition of classical performers crossing over to Broadway. You must hear Anything You Can Do to believe it—my daughter heard it on her way to camp and asked to hear it again when I picked her up a week later. And Criswell’s I Got Lost in His Arms should be labeled “Dangerous to play while driving in traffic!”

Next to McGlinn, the person who deserves the most applause for this recording revival is producer John Yap. In 1979, Yap founded TER Records in England (known as Jay Records in the United States) to record musicals in complete editions with their original orchestrations. A good place to start is Yap’s On the Town with Criswell and Kay but also Greg Edelman, Ethan Freeman, and Valerie Masterson. John Owen Edward, who does most of the conducting for Yap, handles Bernstein’s score with the kind of brio you would expect from the composer himself. In fact, Edward’s conducting is the star of all the Yap recordings I recommend, including Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, South Pacific, and Oliver. Great voices are a necessary but not sufficient condition for a successful recording—without proper pace and idiom even well-sung performances will fail to ignite.

The film version of Oliver succeeds dramatically but is musically lacking, especially in the role of Nancy. Yap’s version builds on the unrivaled Nancy of Josephine Barstow. Sample her brief reprise of Where Is Love? followed by the ensemble Who Will Buy? for an example of musical theater at its best. In West Side Story, Yap again succeeds in rivaling the virtues of the well-known film version with the fresh young voices of Paul Manuel and Tinuke Olafimihan as Tony and Maria. As in most Yap recordings, the performance is greatly enhanced by the prudent use of dialogue, which serves a musical purpose of setting the mood for each song and, in the case of West Side Story, means hearing a lot of Bern- stein’s music as underscoring.

None of the previous Guys and Dolls recordings match the complete Yap version with Edelmann, Criswell, Emily Loesser (yes, the composer’s daughter), and Tim Flavin. There is just so much good music in this show one CD can’t hold it. For example, Yap gives you the world premiere recording of the entire Havana sequence. Yap’s complete version of South Pacific features opera star Justino Diaz in the Ezio Pinza role of Emile and Paige O’Hara, better known as the voice of Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as Nellie Forbush. Again, it is the great achievement of this recording that you don’t miss the film version or, especially, its soundtrack. You may think that two CDs are too expensive for a musical, but once you have heard the little gems like the dance number based on the Bali Hai theme, Company Street, you won’t want to go back to single-disc versions.

Given space, I would recommend many more, including some remarkable solo recordings of Broadway songs by Dawn Upshaw, Bryn Terfel, and Thomas Hampson. Artists and the recording industry have definitely discovered an audience hungry for expressive singing and good tunes. There have been some laments lately that the only musicals opening on Broadway having any success are revivals like Kiss Me, Kate and The Music Man (both reviewed in CRISIS). This new golden age of recording reminds the skeptics why some musicals fail quickly and others continue to find new audiences.

Loesser, Bernstein, Rodgers, Porter, Berlin, and Bart knew how to write memorable music and wed it to a story that neither wallowed in spectacle (Andrew Lloyd Weber) or in cynicism (Stephen Sondheim).

There is a young talent emerging on Broadway whose music is quite arresting—Adam Guettel. In a future issue of CRISIS, we will take a look at his work, especially his musical Floyd Collins, in which powerful religious themes abound.

Sed Contra: Bishops Put Kids First!

Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 2000

Catholics who crave greater political involvement by their bishops should take note of Michigan’s seven bishops, led by Adam Cardinal Maida. Two years ago, they helped defeat a referendum legalizing euthanasia; now they are weighing in on the most important contest over school choice yet to arise in our nation. What happens to school choice in Michigan, like the presidential race itself, could have consequences that are no less than civilizational.

On November 7, Michigan residents will vote on a constitutional amendment to allow modest state support of students attending nonpublic schools. Michigan’s constitution presently bans “indirect support” of students attending private schools, a holdover from the days of explicit anti-Catholic bias in public education.

The constitutional amendment, known as Kids First!, will allow students who attend schools where the graduation rate is under two-thirds to receive vouchers equivalent to half of what the state spends per pupil, about $3,300. School districts themselves can adopt the program through school board action or public vote.

One way or the other, every school child in Michigan would receive substantial help in becoming something more than galley slaves for the dysfunctional educational establishment. On June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Michigan bishops issued the first of a three-part statement, entitled “A Just Beginning for All,” in support of the Kids First! amendment.

The bishops’ statement focuses attention not on the demands of teachers’ unions but on the plight of poor families. As long as public schools are doing their job, the bishops argue, the ability of wealthy families to send their children to private schools is not an injustice. With the breakdown of public education, children whose families cannot afford private schools are being left behind. “Since all future opportunities for successful employment depend on a solid educational foundation, should not all people have equal access to quality education?”

The proposal would affect 30 of Michigan’s 555 school districts, where two-thirds of the students fail to graduate from high school. Three hundred thousand kids will be set free from the control of union bureaucrats who put their power ahead of students’ well-being.

All Detroit’s public school students would become eligible. This should be good news since a two-year study by Harvard and Brookings of African-American urban students shows vouchers raise their test scores dramatically. But the “educrats” continue to fume about the loss of public funding and the separation of church and state.

The bishops’ statement makes clear that “tax-supported school choice does not violate the separation of church and state because the voucher is given to the parents and not to an organized religion.” It also reminds us that Catholic schools, rather than costing public schools, save states a great deal of money: Michigan alone is saved $570 million annually.

Kids First! doesn’t ignore the issue of improving public schools. It mandates testing teachers on their academic subjects. The last thing most teachers want is to be tested on what they are already supposed to know. But given the indifference of schools of education to intellectual content, as opposed to the idol of pedagogy, teacher testing is a necessary dose of castor oil.

In Detroit public schools, three of every four teachers recently hired are not certified. Only 34 percent of students in the seventh grade can read at a satisfactory level, and only 36 percent can score a “C” in math. Only one of every three children entering the ninth grade will graduate. Yet the state’s total per-pupil education spending tripled in the last ten years, from $3.1 billion to $11 billion.

Dick DeVos, president of the Amway Corporation and co-chair of the Kids First! Yes! Coalition!, recently spoke to the Economic Club of Detroit: “Our current situation is not `a problem.’ Our current situation is not ‘a dilemma.’ Our current situation is not even ‘a crisis.’ Our current situation is disgraceful.”

We pray that the coalition of Michigan’s Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Lutherans, African-Americans, and business leaders will make real education available to all children.

Credit should go to Michigan’s bishops. One can only imagine the changes in our society if this kind of political determination caught on in other dioceses!

Sed Contra: Reading Madeline St. John

Deal W. Hudson
September 1, 2000

Crisis readers, I am sure, will want to know about the recent publication by Carroll & Graf of three novels by Madeleine St John (pronounced “sin-gin”), an Anglican and a Londoner, of Australian birth. St John’s work deserves to be widely read by Catholics who are in the habit of recommending only writers now long-deceased. If this sounds like an unabashed recommendation to read St John’s novels, it certainly is!

To my mind, St John belongs to a small but growing group of writers—such as Ron Hansen, Oscar Hijuelos, and Torgny Lindgren—who are required reading for thinking Catholics who crave good fiction. St John would undoubtedly be surprised to find herself mentioned in such company. Her books contain nothing of the historical gravitas of Hansen’s recent Hitler’s Niece, the exotic lyricism of Hijuelos’s Empress of the Splendid Season, or the confessional realism of Lindgren’s recently translated masterwork, Sweetness. St John’s books are disarming in a way the others are not: Her characters inevitably, under the pressure of life-changing events, calmly pause for tea. Composed entirely of two- to four-page chapters and largely of dialogue, her novels begin with the offhandedness of a soap opera and end with the wallop of an Ibsen play.

I suggest starting with A Pure Clear Light, published four years ago in the United Kingdom but just released in this country. It traces the return to Christianity of Flora, whose husband, Simon, is carrying on a red-hot affair with Gillian. The halting steps of Flora toward her recovery of faith are convincingly presented. Her two children accompany their mother to church but are puzzled by her sudden change of habits. Her daughter finally asks why she should go to church: “‘Because,’ said Flora, ‘there are two possible worlds, the one in which Jesus is real, and the one in which he is not, and it actually does matter which of these two worlds you believe you’re living in.’” The emptiness of the relationship with Gillian is gradually revealed to Simon by the “clear light” of Flora’s example.

Another reflection on the difference between love and narcissism is found in The Essence of the Thing, nominated for the Booker Prize in 1997. This tale is both more acerbic and troubling than A Pure Clear Light. It begins with the sudden and unexplained breakup of a relationship that appeared, to both family and friends, headed for the altar. In Jonathan’s decision to leave Nicola, the exposure of his shallowness, and, especially, the onslaught of Nicola’s painful loneliness, St John catches the sad spectacle of serial relationships devoid of marital purpose. After Jonathan moves his things out of their apartment, Nicola returns to her bedroom, “a habitation now only for denial, desolation and grief: for whatever dark spirits are sucked into the vacuum left by the departure of tenderness, love and trust.”

In St John’s last published work, A Stairway to Paradise (1999), Alex, a married journalist, and Andrew, a newly divorced academic, duel for the favors of the India-bound Barbara. As in her previous novels, St John explores the reasons men cheat on, and sometimes leave behind, the women who have loved them and borne their children. All the men in St John’s fiction create capsules of insulated time and space where their false loves can gestate. The women grow tired of this fantasy, as in the case of Barbara telling Alex she can no longer pretend their affair does not affect his wife and children: “It’s not separate from the rest of our lives, or the rest of our selves, or the rest of the world,’ she said. ‘It only feels as if it is. That’s the whole point of it. Don’t you see?’”

There you have some flavor of St John’s work and perhaps her temperament. She is not timid: Her characters talk about choosing between a world where Jesus is real or He is not, and they come to conclusions about what real love may allow and what it will not. Yet in spite of grappling with the big issues, her writing remains lithe and lively, her ear for the moral undertones of conversation unparalleled in this generation of writers.

Sed Contra: Mortimer J. Adler, Catholic

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 2000

The most influential American philosopher of the 20th century was received into the Church this past December. Those familiar with the trajectory of Mortimer Adler’s work, not just the Great Books Program, should not be surprised. Born December 28, 1902, Mortimer has been a Catholic philosopher all his long life, and now he will spend his final years in the arms of the Church.

Mortimer’s conversion must not elicit any Catholic triumphalism. There is no need to besiege him with requests for his conversion story. The story can be written—most of it can be found in his books, especially his two volumes of memoirs. The rest can be filled in by his friends.

I spent three summers with Mortimer at the Aspen Institute in the early 90s, serving as the institute’s first Adler fellow. In addition to assisting with Mortimer’s fabled seminars, I would meet him in the late afternoon and talk shop, and naturally, the conversation would turn to Catholicism. Mortimer had been a practicing Episcopalian since 1984 when he was baptized in a Chicago hospital room. He had resisted becoming a Christian, saying he had the “will to believe” but lacked the gift of faith. Finding himself, miraculously he says, repeating the Lord’s Prayer in his hospital room, Mortimer asked for a priest. His wife Caroline, an ardent Episcopalian, helped her husband of many years to join her church.

Mortimer became very active in his Aspen parish and started writing more explicitly about religion, even risking his longtime friendship with Bill Moyers by criticizing his interviews with myth-guru Joseph Campbell. Mortimer was a man of prayer, to the one true God, and a reader of Scripture, about the revelation of His only Son, Jesus Christ, and made no bones about it.

It was clear that Mortimer the Christian was a great gift to the Episcopal community, and his conversion must have deepened his bond with his wife and their two sons. Catholics, like myself, who kidded with Mortimer, in front of his Aspen friends, about failing to “cross the Tiber” were treated with unfailing politeness but slight discomfort.

Only one time did this discomfort with the Catholic question become public. During my third summer at the Aspen Institute, I organized a conference on Mortimer’s legacy to celebrate his 45 years at the Institute. Some names familiar to Crisis readers were there—Ralph Mclnerny, Russ Hittinger, Jeff Wallin, and Otto Bird. During the question-and-answer session, an Aspen Institute official complained that most of the invited speakers were Catholics. I’m still not sure why that was objectionable, but my reply was obvious: Nearly all the philosophers who continue to read his work and pass on his legacy are Catholic. Why? Because they are metaphysical realists in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas! Bird, I remember clearly, was quite eloquent later at the banquet in his explanation of Mortimer as a Catholic philosopher. Bird’s tribute, however, left the Aspen audience puzzled.

Mortimer’s fans have forgotten or never knew, that his entire career was propelled by an initial encounter as a Columbia University undergraduate with Aquinas’ “Treatise on God” from the Summa Theologica. His earliest works were written in a densely scholastic style, and although he learned to communicate with a broad audience, the Thomistic habit of dialectical thinking was infused into everything he touched.

It may have been this dialectical gift that allowed him to be beloved by both relativists and realists. Relativists could revel in his unparalleled gifts for comparative analysis and safely avoid any conclusions. Realists could devour books like How to Think About God and be grateful that there was still a philosopher who followed rational inferences to conclusions about what is real and not another half-baked version of radical doubt.

Why did Mortimer become a Catholic? He followed the path he started at Columbia in the early 20s all the way to the end. Mortimer would not stop, as long as he drew breath, with less than the entire truth. That’s the man I came to know during those memorable summers in Aspen.

At the closing of our final seminar, I noticed Mortimer sitting alone and looking sad. I thought he would be feeling nostalgic, so I went over to say something about his great legacy. He waved these comments aside saying, “Why did all those philosophers listen to Kant?” That’s Mortimer J. Adler, always wrestling with the truth, never looking back. We should know better than to be surprised.

Sed Contra: Gore’s Catholic Strategy

Deal W. Hudson
June 1, 2000

Vice President Gore had the opportunity to address the Catholic Press Association at its May convention in Baltimore, Maryland. He decided not to at the last minute, but I couldn’t help thinking about what he might have said. Here’s how I imagined the question-and-answer period following his speech:

During the primary, you and Sen. Bradley argued about which of you was more pro-abortion. Given your support for all forms of abortion, including partial-birth abortion, why will Catholics vote for you?

Catholics don’t really care about the abortion issue. Most of them voted for President Clinton after he vetoed the ban on partial-birth abortion. Your bishops talk in general about the issue, but we politicians don’t have to worry much about them criticizing us by name. The only guy who has gotten in trouble is a Republican, Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania.

I mean, look, if the Catholic Press Association can invite me to speak without a word of protest from your Church leaders, why should I be concerned about my position on abortion? Only pro-life extremists really care about the issue, and the media will keep them out of sight.

You consistently condemned choice in education while your own children attended private religious schools. Aren’t you concerned that this will alienate Catholics who are committed to their parochial schools as an option to public schools?

In all my years in politics, I haven’t found any issue that really alienates Catholics. They just don’t seem very interested in defending their faith or its institutions. Catholics bend over backward not to offend or to be offended. That’s why we politicians don’t pay much attention to them. Sure, we create photo ops with collars and habits, and speak at Notre Dame, and, of course, all the Jesuit colleges.

What do you think of the Catholic idea of subsidiarity, that we should first tackle social problems at the local level?

That’s fine. That’s the right thing to do. And we should do that. But let’s remember that not everyone in every community will do the right thing, and that’s when the federal government needs to step in and get the job done.

It’s wrong for people to call the experts in Washington “bureaucrats.” These are highly trained people who know what is right for this country.

They know how to raise children, educate them, and they know what a family should be. They know what employers owe their employees and what kind of atmosphere they should work in and what kind of benefits they should receive. These people are not bureaucrats—they are the experts we should rely on to lead this country to greatness.

Your wife, Tipper, used to crusade against the dirty lyrics of pop songs. She doesn’t do that anymore. Do you think it is no longer a problem?

Since I became vice president, Tipper and I have learned a lot. We have actually met people in the recording and movie industries, and they are good people who want what is best for America.

Music and movies give young men and women, who are often from impoverished backgrounds, a chance to express themselves. Naturally, what they say will not always sound nice to our middle-class ears. The important thing is that they are expressing themselves and the culture they represent, thereby affirming the marvelous diversity of our society. Many of these young artists will become wealthy and influential, which will be a sign of hope for those who are trapped in poverty.

You have sent a letter supporting a group of homosexuals, lesbians, and transsexuals demonstrating in Rome the first week of July. They plan a demonstration at the Vatican. Aren’t you concerned about offending Catholics?

Like I said earlier, nothing really offends Catholics—well, just the right-wingers. After all, you guys invited me here, didn’t you?

Sed Contra: Stem Cells Equal Baby Parts

Deal W. Hudson

May 1, 2000

A sense of tragedy helps to keep a culture moral. Tragedy reminds us of the suffering we cannot alleviate, the finite boundaries we must not cross, no matter how tempting the horizon. In the ancient world, tragic boundaries were policed by the gods so that the men who acted as gods soon learned, painfully, otherwise. If there is any tragic sense alive and well in the country, I can’t find it—perhaps the Nasdaq will once again make Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles popular.

Take the case of embryonic stem cells. Taken from the innermost cell mass of a human embryo, these cells possess a God-given power called “pluripotency.” Stem cells, in short, can grow into and become any of the tissues in the body. Once these cells are isolated, by removing them from the human embryo, they can be used to treat diseased cells anywhere in the body. The medical possibilities are revolutionary, the ethical possibilities devolutionary, one more step backward toward a complete culture of death. (For a comprehensive view, see the excellent articles on the Web site of the National Catholic Bioethics Center at

Crisis, like many other religious magazines, has warned against the growth of stem cell research (April 1999), yet acceptance of this medical treatment is becoming mainstream. The major traffic and news station (WTOP) of Washington, D.C., has reported the progress of stem cell research in the most glowing terms, without even a hint of an ethical complication.

The federally funded National Institutes of Health, working with the President’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission, has set guidelines allowing stem cell research as long as none of the Department of Health and Human Services funds are used for the derivation of stem cells from human embryos.

It will take moral leadership in high places to slow down, shut off, or redirect this research. The president of the United States has the power, through the appointments to his administration, to stop all research using the body parts of human embryos. The president could make it his administration’s policy to direct federal funds for the ethically acceptable use of adult stem cells, a practice that is now being explored. In fact, adult stem cells which can be legitimately obtained have the same healing effect of those taken from embryos. Can you imagine a National Bioethics Advisory Committee with people like John Haas, Robert George, Leon Kass, James Q. Wilson, and Stanley Hauerwas. Men and women of faith should clamor for it.

Some argue that there are thousands of “spare” human embryos that are going to “waste” as a result of in vitro fertilization. These embryos are literally held in cold storage and will never be used because in vitro clients create more embryos than they will actually use. So why not use them? Does this strike anyone else as a peculiarly American attitude? We can’t let those embryos just lie around and go to waste! Just at the point where the tragic sense should kick in, the American disposition is to start extracting the resources from these embryos so we can do some good, that is, make a healthier, happier America.

Nothing illustrates better the way one ethical breakdown leads to another. There shouldn’t be thousands of frozen embryos in the first place, so there would be no temptation to harvest them for our “good” purposes. The owners of in vitro clinics probably see this as a way both to profit from their embryo banks while avoiding the dilemma of what to do with the embryos down the road.

The National Institutes of Health lists Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns, and spinal cord injuries among the maladies that can be treated with stem cells. Even Jerry Lewis, a man whose charitable work I greatly admire, was touting the benefits of stem cell treatment for muscular dystrophy on his last Labor Day telethon. Who doesn’t feel tempted when faced with such a list, such a catalog of human suffering and death?

The essential principle of a culture of life is the protection of those most vulnerable among us. To protect them, we must resist the urge to profit from their vulnerability, whether to make our lives more comfortable or to heal the diseases that ravage us. Yes, that means making the tragic decision of not healing disease and not relieving suffering using stem cell treatment.  The wisdom of that decision will become apparent once this generation begins to realize that stem cells are nothing less than baby parts.

Sed Contra: Late-Night Humor That Hurts

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2000

With the departure of Johnny Carson, I lost my late-night viewing habit. Like his predecessor, Jack Parr, Carson could entertain a broad audience while maintaining a reasonable standard of taste and decorum. When we laughed at Carson’s jokes, we laughed not just at others but at ourselves, as well as Carson, whose greatest asset was a charming self-deprecation. Now, watching the late shows, we laugh at others, spurred on by the lewd and sometimes cruel jibes of Leno, Letterman, et al.

Yet, during the Carson era, there was a foreshadowing of the days to come. When Joan Rivers was a guest host, every guest had to face a grilling about their sex life. One memorable night, a guest arrived with the moral presence to turn the tables on Rivers. That guest was children’s television host Fred Rogers, who reduced Rivers to sobbing by singing a song composed just for her. The audience was stunned as well—the same audience that has mixed derisive laughter with applause—as “Mr. Rogers” took his seat. For once, the leveling power of TV was defeated.

These moments have become even rarer. The terrain of late-night TV is now so cynical that hardly anyone can avoid being refracted into a caricature of himself or herself. Sleaze shimmers, while ordinary goodness looks dull-witted. One remembers fondly the sensitivity with which Carson treated children on his show and how eagerly they responded. Now the presence of adolescents on Leno or Letterman by necessity brings their shows to a standstill, while the poor children are spared the barrage of cynicism and sensuality.

In retrospect, it was brilliant of Bill Clinton to don sunglasses and blow his saxophone on MTV. Even though it was no good for the presidency, it was expedient to be “cool” for voters who care less about issues and more about personality.

Subsequent candidates have evidently felt the necessity of duplicating Clinton’s success with their own appearances on late night. These attempts are foolhardy. Politicians are subjected to a daily meat grinder called a monologue: Why would anyone go into a medium where he has been ridiculed for months and expect to come away a winner? None of the candidates has the aura of Fred Rogers.

Surely it is wise to prick the balloon of political puffery. That’s what comedy does: It reveals the foibles of the human condition. But when comedy goes on the attack, nothing is affirmed except the arrogance of the comic. There is a long tradition of political humor in this country, going back to Will Rogers and beyond. The old film footage shows Rogers twirling a rope and poking fun at the pretensions of D.C. but without the cynical meanness of Jay Leno and Bill Maher.

Nietzsche often wrote about the laughter that kills, saying it was far more effective, for example, to refute Kant’s philosophy than an argument. Night after night millions of viewers is conditioned to guffaw at the misdeeds and goofs of our political leaders. Respect for political leadership is effectively dead.

No doubt Clinton, who so brilliantly succeeded in controlling the medium during his campaigns, opened wide the door of late-night disdain with his White House shenanigans. But we have reached a point where no one will be sworn in as the president who has not been laughed at ad nauseam on late night. What will be the cost to his leadership? What will be the cost in the quest to recover a moral compass in this country?

I’m tired of the cynicism. I’m tired of the ceaseless sexual innuendo. I’m tired of hearing every leader picked apart. I’m sure it all contributes greatly to the legions of the politically disaffected, those who don’t vote and those who cast their votes away.

When we were boys, we learned that part of civility was pulling our punches. We learned instinctively how hard a blow could land, whether it was in a game, an argument, or playful kidding around. It also made it possible to play without hurting others. Parr and Carson obeyed those rules; their humor was restorative rather than destructive. Perhaps they understood that once laughter starts killing, it stops at nothing.

Sed Contra: Catholics and the GOP

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 2000

Catholics make up the largest religious denomination in this country-65 million. They are also one-third of the electorate in a presidential election, some 30 million. Yet in more than 200 years, a Catholic priest has never served as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In December, an 18-member bi­partisan committee gave its top rec­ommendation to Fr. Timothy O’Brien, a political science professor at Mar­quette University, for the job of House chaplain. When House Speaker Hastert, Majority Leader Armey, and Minority Leader Gephart chose the Presbyterian minister Rev. Charles Wright over Fr. O’Brien, charges of anti-Catholic bigotry broke out, fueled in part by the press comments of Fr. O’Brien after he was not chosen. But when Rep. Henry Hyde, a highly respected Catholic, raised the same question, Catholics took notice.

This controversy comes at an awk­ward moment for the GOP. Its leading presidential contender, Gov. George W. Bush, has already shown a strong pull on the decisive Catholic swing vote. Our Catholic Voter Report indi­cates that up to 40 percent of the Catholic vote, twelve million, can swing from one party to another in presidential elections. Democrats would be delighted to undercut Bush’s appeal by adding anti-Catholic preju­dice to the list of complaints normally aimed at Republican conservatives.

The full House will be voting on who will be the House chaplain when they return from recess later this month. It appears from the comments of vari­ous Democratic members that they intend to make a major issue out of the choice of Rev. Wright over Fr. O’Brien.

When the Democrats raise the issue of anti-Catholicism on the House floor, they will be touching a deep nerve among this nation’s Catholics. The Democratic Party was the tradi­tional home for most Catholics until the late 60s, when they slowly began to migrate into the conservative move­ment and the Republican Party. Today, Catholics make up the largest single Republican constituency—about 31 percent of the party.

But the size of the remaining swing vote indicates hesitation and discom­fort about the fit of Catholics in the Republican Party. Our research indi­cates that Catholics who basically agree with the conservative social val­ues of the GOP are often turned off by the harshness of Republican rhetoric, a preoccupation with economic matters, and vituperative attacks on govern­ment programs aimed at the needy. In short, Catholics remain unconvinced of Republican compassion.

Selection of the House chaplain gave Republicans the opportunity to reach out to Catholics and to refashion the image of a party frequently por­trayed as in the clutches of the reli­gious right. Instead, the House leadership provided Democrats with an opportunity to begin recapturing a generation of Catholics grown accus­tomed to voting for, but not comfort­able with, the Republican Party. Democrats can paint a picture of a WASPy party hopelessly out of touch with this nation’s religious diversity.

In a January 3 letter to Bill Dono­hue, president of the Catholic League, Rep. Armey explained that his decision to vote for Rev. Wright over Fr. O’Brien was Wright’s “interpersonal skills and pastoral experiences” versus O’Brien’s 22 years as a professor of political science. As Armey explained to me, he never focused on the denominational ties of the candidates but on their qualifications to be a pas­tor to House members.

The political turmoil and Catholic backlash following the selection of Wright came as a surprise to the House leadership—it shouldn’t have. The GOP has gradually become the home of Catholic voters whose social conser­vatism is closely intertwined with their Catholic identity. The voter concerns that bring Catholics closer to the GOP are directly connected to issues informed by their Catholic faith: This includes not only the defense of life but also the general social decay caused by the decline in morality.

The blunder of the GOP leadership was not the result of anti-Catholic prejudice but of its lack of awareness of where Catholics voters are moving and why. Rep. Armey’s deliberate inatten­tion to the religious affiliation of the candidates tells the story. The GOP doesn’t need to examine its con­science, but its leaders had best start doing their homework. For the last 35 years Catholics have slowly joined the conservative movement, but the GOP has yet to register this fact. No wonder Catholics are feeling hesitant to make the GOP their home, when their sup­port goes unnoticed.