Crisis Magazine 2001

Sed Contra: Catholic Journalism As If Beauty Really Mattered

Deal W. Hudson
March 1, 2000

Readers may have noticed that I added an explanatory note to the review section. I have been asked if this is a “disclaimer,” meant to disassociate myself from our reviewers’ opinions. That was certainly not my intent. I deemed the note necessary by the letters I have received from some readers who assume the mere presence of a review in Crisis constitutes a positive recommendation. It is important for all our readers to understand the role of a review section in a Catholic magazine, namely, to engage the culture with the sanity of Catholic intelligence.

Those who write these letters don’t articulate a disagreement with the comments of our reviewers— they simply don’t want these movies mentioned at all or anything redeeming about them extolled. They want Crisis to place a seal of approval on specific films every month. Take a look at the Ignatius Press video catalog to see where that strategy leads— it can’t include films like Liv Ullman’s Kristin Lavransdatter, presumably because of its sexual content. I assume it will sell the book. (Interesting contrast, isn’t it?)

Frankly, most of the complaints are about sex scenes and innuendoes. I agree that these are unnecessary and, at times, morally dangerous. Offhand, I can think of only one film in which an explicit sex scene was necessary to the unfolding plot and characterization—Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away. The closing of a door, the blowing out of a candle, or the dropping of clothes on the floor is all that is needed to get the point. In fact, the evocation of genuine desire has been all but banished from the movies with the obligatory sex scenes. They violate a basic canon of Aristotle’s Poetics that spectacle should never be allowed to overwhelm the narrative.

The purpose of the Crisis review section is not to help our readers create a Catholic ghetto with a “G” rating. Yes, we will continue to provide guidance to parents with young children, but more importantly we will equip those parents whose teenage and young-adult children express opinions about films like American Beauty, Eyes Wide Shut, and The End of the Affair. Need it be said that film watching has become the most universally shared experience of the realm (although it has recently been challenged by investment chatter)? Catholics should enter that discussion, as Flannery O’Connor put it, informed by their vision, not by the “sensibility” of the age.

However, it concerns me that some Catholics deeply committed to Catholic intelligence, who are manifestly not afraid to talk about the truth, are the most skittish when it comes to the arts. A case in point is my recent trip to the marvelous Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, California. What I say here is only a minor quibble with what is surely one of the best Catholic colleges anywhere in the world. The staff, faculty, students, curriculum, campus, and physical setting would give almost anyone the urge to start his or her education all over again (evidently, some TAC undergraduates have done just that). TAC is flourishing and deserves all the Catholic support it can get.

My lecture at TAC on the subject of morality and art was followed by more than three hours of discussion. Most of the questions centered on the moral influence of artists’ work. Throughout the discussion, there was strong resistance to my argument that art serves us best when artists are free and responsible to create, and we, the audience, are free and responsible to enjoy. In other words, I urged a sort of subsidiary approach to the problem of moral influence—let both the artist and the audience stand free of external restrictions but responsible for the beauty they share. In this approach, parents teach their children critical skills; audience and artists learn from Catholic critics, teachers, and pastors. Everyone learns to see and create beyond the secular hype.

Some TACers clearly thought that since few know the truth, the moral limits of art should be imposed by those few, like Plato’s philosopher kings. Their concern about lost souls is precisely the same as mine, except I see it the other way around—more souls are put at risk when Catholics abandon the culture and the cause of beauty. Beauty converts more readily than sound arguments—it should always be on our side, even if marred by the spectacle of unnecessary sensuality. Thomas Aquinas once said that the truth should be embraced no matter who utters it; the same is also true of the other transcendentals, including the much-feared Beauty.

Sed Contra: A Slap in the Face

Deal W. Hudson
January 1, 2001

The postelection saga rents the veil of the media temple. It revealed something we have always known: They’re not on our side! What was different this time was not merely ideological bias but tonal or, to put it another way, emotional bias. When Matt Lauer on The Today Show asked whether one of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’s decisions “passed the smell test,” his animosity felt like a slap in the face. When Katie Couric asked a Palm Beach County election official if she had finished the “essay question” requested by Harris, she made no attempt to mask her sarcasm.

The scorn was so evident on Peter Jennings’s face after a speech by George W. Bush that he had to issue a statement denying his scorn. He explained that it was “an eye of the beholder” issue. That may satisfy his conscience and corporate bosses, but it won’t do for the millions of viewers who are finding their news and commentary elsewhere—on cable, online, and on talk radio.

That usually placid Republicans were crowding the streets of Tallahassee and Palm Beach waving signs and placards should send shivers of fear through network executives. The election debacle has stirred up the conservative grassroots—people who will no longer wait in hope for the media to broadcast their message.

There were notable oases of sanity that only a fairly skillful channel surfer could find. Tim Russert almost saved the NBC morning show with his dispassionate summaries of the daily political box score. Chris Matthews (MSNBC) and Bill O’Reilly (Fox) cut through the left-wing script, exorcising the “will of the people” and “count every vote” mantras with dispatch. Fox’s Brit Hume, Tony Snow, and the “All Stars” seemed to inhabit a different news universe from the rest, making up, in part, for their overreaching on election night. To hear the commanding Michael Barone discuss precinct results in the three disputed Florida counties makes one realize how much intelligence and education are otherwise lacking in television news.

The scorn, sarcasm, and hostility have deeper consequences. It is rightfully said that this election has revealed a growing division between liberal and conservative Americans. And the obvious bias of the dominant media is aggravating this division. Audiences look elsewhere for their news and entertainment; the culture becomes more fragmented, and subcultures are created in which pundits preach to their choirs and the idea of a civil society grows dim. This is not good. We think we are retreating to Candide’s garden, but we are actually moving into a market-created Catholic ghetto of products designed to reassure us and affirm our values.

That sounds like a pretty dismal future to me. What will happen to our republic when we have nothing in common to discuss and embrace except the movies? Are we already there? I think it is still possible to have a political dispute without raising our voices and without recourse to party-approved script. Or has the polarizing virus of the abortion debates already spread throughout our public discourse? Am I wrong in suspecting that the fierce hostility underlying the political climate and the media bias point in that direction?

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggests just that, arguing in the Wall Street Journal that the heart of the present culture wars is our view of “sex and the social role of women.” But the issue, as he points out, is more complicated than a standoff between those for and against abortion, for and against the traditional family and roles for women. It has become triangulated with the sin of sounding “judgmental.” At the very moment when a debate needs to take place on the meaning of sexuality, Fukuyama says, “The greatest moral passion of contemporary Americans turns out to be hostility to ‘moralism’ in areas related to sex and family life.”

This is how the media trump social conservatives; journalists’ disapproving faces play on adolescent public fears that religious crusaders want to tell people how to live their lives. For the time being this strategy is working. Fukuyama is right in doubting that we will return to the Victorian era and the acceptable habit of public moralizing. But what happens if moralizing once again becomes respectable?

In other words, what would happen if Oprah started recommending C.S. Lewis? Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the causes of our social breakdown were fairly debated rather than scornfully dismissed by righteous journalists?

The Heard Word

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 2001

Homer, the first great poet of the West, wasn’t a writer but a performer, with the dining halls of ancient Greece as his stage. Before the advent of written literature, the medium of poetry was dramatic utterance and song. Eyes were no more necessary to the enjoyment of words than they were to blind Homer’s creation of his epics.

Now, thanks to sprawling suburbs and lengthy job commutes, the Homeric practice of listening to literature rather than reading it is back in fashion with the burgeoning business of audiobooks. From 1990 to 1999, sales of recorded books nearly quadrupled, and they now exceed $2 billion a year. The percentage of households listening to the taped volumes doubled to 21 percent from 1993 to 1997.

During the 1980s, such major publishers as Simon & Schuster and Random House created audio divisions, greatly increasing the amount of product. There are now over 100,000 audio titles available. A trade magazine, AudioFile, publishes a bimonthly review of the latest releases. The Audio Publishers Association started up in 1987 with just twelve members and has since grown to 200 members. The same year the first all-audiobook store opened in Denver, and there are now 76 of them nationwide—along with large audio sections in most major print bookstores.

Audiobooks have their own trade association, annual convention, and even awards: the “Audies” and the “GoldenEarphones.” There are even “stars” of audiobook narration: such familiar names to aficionados as Barbara Rosenblatt, Simon Prebble, Frank Muller, David Case, and Alyssa Bresnahan.

Taped literature originated in 1932 when the American Foundation for the Blind created the Talking Book on long-playing records (themselves an innovation). Two years later, the Library of Congress introduced the Readophone, which could contain as much as two hours and 20 minutes of literature and music.

The modern recorded book was launched in a moment of glory in 1952 when Dylan Thomas recorded his A Child’s Christmas in Wales for Caedmon at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. This may still be the most nearly perfect recording of anything by anyone. Listening to A Child’s Christmas and other recordings of Thomas reciting his own poetry—or his lectures, often delivered while he was intoxicated—will likely convert anyone to the recorded-book medium. The unmatched beauty of Thomas’s voice will stick in your memory and become the measure of everything else you hear.

Several other readers deserve to be mentioned along with Thomas in the audiobook hall of fame. Sir John Gielgud left a large legacy of recordings, from early Argo vinyl disks to readings of Pilgrim’s Progress and Brideshead Revisited on the Caedmon label. Unfortunately, the only version of the Brideshead recording now available is abridged onto three cassettes. Normally I don’t object to abridged versions of books in recorded format, but in Gielgud’s case, the quality of narration is so uniformly high that it leaves me thirsty for more. Jeremy Irons, the star of the 1982 television miniseries version of Brideshead, has an unabridged version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel that is nearly as good as Gielgud’s.

The taped audiobook, so convenient for automobile listening, had its beginnings in 1948, soon after Ampex started mass-producing the tape recorder. The first taped audiobooks were designed not for commuters but for blinded veterans of World War II. Philips produced its first mobile audiocassette, known as the 8-track, in 1963. By 1975, the smaller cassette had replaced the 8-track in most cars and homes. The biggest boost to recorded books came in 1979, when Sony introduced the Walkman, adding joggers and bus riders to the pool of listeners. Now, in this era of two-hour daily commutes, most audiobooks are played in cars and on Walkmans rather than in living rooms.

Talking Book World, founded in Detroit by Richard Simtob and Tyrone Persia is now, with more than 50 franchises, No. 164 of the 500 fastest-growing American companies. More than 90 percent of its business comes from audiobook rentals. Jerry Owens, the manager of the franchise in Sterling, Virginia, told me that Talking Book actually discourages audiobook sales because rentals bring customers back. The secret of Talking Book’s success is a huge stock of titles (the Sterling store carries more than 5,000) and rental programs that eliminate the irritating late fees of the video rental industry. About 75 percent of the Sterling store’s customers are commuters, so Talking World is “doing its part to solve road rage,” Owens said.

Browsing Talking Book World makes your mouth water. For example, you can listen to an unabridged recording of all twelve novels of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. The classics shelf is quite popular, and parents who take the tapes home to their reluctant children often report back with a breakthrough in getting book reports finished. As might be expected, the mystery-thriller genre is the most popular—John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King—but other shelves in the store offer weightier delights, such as Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, Martin Gilbert’s History of the Twentieth Century, Shelby Foote’s entire history of the Civil War, and other items that make me wish I were on summer vacation even though it’s only March (I left the store with a rarity, a recording of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel The Magician.)

Jeremy Irons made an audiobook splash last year with a complete recording of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for Random House to complement his appearance as Humbert Humbert in the 1998 film version of that novel. The reading is a total tour de force, for adults only, of course. His characterization of the nymphet-lover Humbert is so compelling that I found myself, frighteningly, feeling sympathy for the character.

Actor Derek Jacobi has a long list of credits in audiobooks, but pride of place should go to his reading for Random House of Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield’s novel about the battle of Thermopylae. Most people associate Pressfield with the popular golf novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, which Robert Redford recently made into a film, but Pressfield is also, as it turns out, a first-rate historian of ancient Greece. His fictionalization of the events leading up to the great battle between 300 Spartans and many thousands of Persons, as told by the sole survivor, Xeones, makes for compulsive listening. (Gates of Fire, by the way, will also become a film in the near future.)

In the adults-only category along with Lolita is Joe Eszterhas’s rendition for New Millennium Audio of American Rhapsody, his sarcastic take on the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky saga. Eszterhas, who wrote the screenplay for the lewd Sharon Stone classic, Basic Instinct (1992), epitomizes Hollywood at its sleaziest, but somewhere along the way, he decided that the behavior of Clinton in the White House wasn’t good for his family and kids.

His dissection of Clinton’s libido makes cathartic listening and educates us on the subtle mutations that connect 1960s sexual fervor to Monicagate. Furthermore, American Rhapsody gets Clinton right and his conservative critics wrong. The conservatives assumed Clinton epitomized the excesses of 1960s sexual liberation, but in fact, says Eszterhas, there was nothing “cool”—no rebellious glamour, no heroic defiance of middle-class morality—about having bad sex with a homely intern. Clinton’s crime was making sex disgusting, Eszterhas notes shrewdly.

I have also decided to tackle the highly touted Aubrey–Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian via audiobook. They are available in both abridged and unabridged versions. There are 16 Random House abridged versions on tape so far. Robert Hardy’s readings of the early novels Master and Commander and Post Captain are far superior to the less supple versions of the later novels read by Tim Pigott-Smith. I understand that the conservative pundit George Will is a great fan of Patrick Tull’s unabridged versions of these novels available from Recorded Books. Books On Tape offers David Chase and Richard Brown in yet another set of unabridged recordings of the O’Brian series.

One of the Audie winners for the year 2000 was Michael York’s recording of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Fencing Master (New Star). This mystery novel set in a fencing studio in 18th- century Spain is not the kind of book I would normally read. Suffering from an overly zealous preference for the great books, I have sometimes denied myself the pleasures of well-written popular fiction such as Perez-Reverte’s. At the heart of the novel’s drama is the seduction of stoic fencing master Jaime de Astarola by the beautiful Adela de Otero, his mysterious and talented student. York revels in the baroque mystery of how a disciplined and noble mind, steeled by years of rigorous training, could put everything precious to him at risk for a pair of flashing eyes. Yes, it’s kitschy, but it makes glorious listening.

A sure sign that recorded books have come of age was novelist-journalist Tom Wolfe’s decision to write the first stand-alone audiobook, Ambush at Fort Bragg (1997), read by Edward Norton (Bantam Audio). This hilarious tale of media overreaching was a spinoff from Wolfe’s eleven years of research and writing his best-selling novel A Man in Full (1998). Published in two 1996 issues of Rolling Stone, Ambush is set on a stretch of highway alongside an Army base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and involves a TV news producer, Iry Durtscher, who sends the show’s blonde anchorwoman to investigate the beating death of a gay soldier. With the aid of hidden cameras in the DMZ (Wolfe’s fiction off-base topless bar), Durtscher’s crew manages to record three drunken soldiers confessing to the murder. When the anchorwoman sticks a camera in the face of these soldiers and asks them to watch this confession, all hell breaks loose.

Wolfe’s latest book, a collection of essays titled Hooking Up (Simon and Schuster) has been recorded in part by Wolfe himself. We usually see Wolfe only in photos in his immaculate white tailoring, and we think of him as a quintessential New Yorker, but to hear him on tape is to be instantly reminded that he is a native Southerner and a natural storyteller. The best essay in this uniformly good collection is “My Three Stooges,” Wolfe’s revenge against his fellow novelists Norman Mailer, John Updike, and Philip Roth, all of whom had unkind words to say about A Man in Full. Wolfe’s discussion of his own work as a novelist, specifically, his loyalty to the tradition of naturalism (Dreiser, Zola, et al.), deserves to become the artistic manifesto of our generation.

My last recommendation is a perfect example of the kind of book that Wolfe extols, and is perhaps the most riveting experience I have had with an audiobook: Norman Maclean’s 1992 Young Men & Fire (taped for High-Bridge), his nonfiction narrative of a 1949 forest fire that has already achieved the status of a minor classic. The result of 14 years of research, Young Men and Fire is a meticulous retelling of the famous Mann Gulch fire in Montana that took the lives of twelve smokejumpers from the U.S. Forest Service. I first hesitated to purchase this set because the narrator is the author’s son John Maclean, and the sound of his nonprofessional voice is initially disappointing, confirming suspicions of nepotism. Within minutes, however, the son has fully assumed the voice of his father. Maclean’s prose is so pure that it points up the one downside of recorded books: The eye cannot linger and reread.

This problem is likely to be at least partly solved when audiobooks go digital, as they soon will, allowing greater ease of rereading, or rather relistening. The digital format, resembling that of a CD, will allow users to find specific places in recordings by selecting chapters or even conduct word or phrase searches. Already in development are e-books containing both text and recorded narration. Buyers will have the choice of reading or listening or doing both simultaneously. In fact, you can already download over 20,000 audiobooks from the Web site. (The online magazine Salon has made a big investment in this technology.) You can make these downloads via your personal computer or any number of handheld devices such as the Palm Pilot or the Diamond Rio 500.

Fans of Catholic fiction are urged to dial up Recorded Books, Books on Tape, and Blackstone Audio on the Internet. There they will find all the major novels of Walker Percy, Graham Greene, and Charles Williams, as well as odds and ends like Muriel Spark’s The Mandelbaum Gate. Believe it or not, there is also as a complete recording of St. Augustine’s City of God.

The flourishing of the audiobook is good news for everyone who treasures literature. As Jerry Owens of my local Talking Book World Outlet put it, “Audiobooks subsidize reading; they don’t replace it.” Audiobooks remind us that reading is never passive and that it is always a narrator’s voice, whether silent or audible, that brings words to life. Since the poet no longer sings directly to us as in Homer’s day, it is up to us to find the singer. Audiobooks make that easy.

Sed Contra: Romania Bound

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 2001

My family of three—my wife, Theresa, my twelve-year-old daughter, Hannah, and I—will fly to Eastern Europe next month and become four. Waiting for us is a four-year-old boy named Cyprian who needs a permanent family. From his pictures he looks like a young Omar Shariff, with dark hair and eyes and gleaming cheekbones: just the right seasoning to flavor our fair-skinned WASP genetic mix.

We began two years ago to think about finding a child from overseas. William Pierce, president of the National Council for Adoption, recommended working with James Savley, executive director of the Small World Ministries adoption program in Nashville, Tennessee.

Savley had connections to several orphanages in Russia. We filled out the papers, submitted to the required home study, and wrote the checks. After everything was completed, we waited seven months to hear something. But Russia had recently elected a new president, Vladimir Putin, who decided to require all adoption agencies to undergo new accreditation procedures. At this point, we didn’t know how long it would be before we received a “referral” for a Russian child. Then Savley’s son called. He had just returned from a trip to Romania, where his nondenominational Christian agency donates gifts, “capfuls of love,” to children every Christmas. A contact there told him that she knew of a little boy available for adoption.

It was an unusual situation: Cyprian had been living with foster families since being given up by his mother when he was six months old. Savley said, “I thought of you first because I thought you would be open to an older child.” My wife’s wry comment was, “Yes, Deal would like to play baseball with him and not be in a wheelchair.”

Since I’m now on the shady side of 50, I have been asked why I’m doing this. I’ve already survived to raise a toddler—so why put myself through it again? My answer is, “If Bob Reilly can do it, so can I.” Bob, Crisis music critic and a dear friend, is also advanced in age and raising three small children. Indeed, he is one of several older fathers and mothers to whom I have looked for inspiration since Theresa and Hannah first proposed to me that we make our family a little bigger.

Still, I mentally resisted the idea of adoption for a long time—until I happened upon Hannah praying a rosary for her as-yet-unseen brother. Evidently, this had been going on for weeks without her father’s knowledge about it.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I groan at the thought of going through one more time all those stages of childhood that so tax a parent’s knees and back. There is a reason why nature guides us to have children early when our muscles and sinews comport with the challenges of chasing young ones through the yard and out of the street. I take comfort in the fact that golf is my sport, not football or baseball, and that a golf swing survives longer than a downfield pass or a slide into third base. As a Romanian, Cyprian will probably have the foot genes for soccer, a game that was unknown to my generation growing up in Texas—and at my age, I’ll have to settle for watching his brilliant play, not joining in.

In the final analysis, neither Bob nor anyone else made me want to take a small stranger into our home. I realized that Theresa and I hadn’t yet given all we have to give. We—I—haven’t fully made the “gift of self” that Pope John Paul II talks about. There is more time, more money, more energy, more of myself to be given away. And of course, there will be plenty in return for all of us. As I watched Hannah play with her young friends one day a while ago, I saw a deep joy stream forth, something I had never seen in her when she was around only grown-ups. I wanted her to feel that joy at home with a brother or sister.

There is a passage in C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves that I cannot get out of my head when I think about adopting Cyprian. He explains that when we are in a group of friends, only specific individuals can bring out specific aspects of ourselves. It is as if we need a group—a larger family, as it were—to realize our full selves.

So in a few weeks, we’ll be off to Bucharest on what feels like the biggest adventure of my life. As I think about Cyprian, I can’t help but connect him to that other Eastern European, John Paul, who made us so aware of the “gift of self.” I hope the Hudson family is up to the task. As we all know, the presence of a child makes love often seem effortless, so much more like the gift that it is.

Sed Contra: Common Ground—The Real Thing

Deal W. Hudson
March 1, 2001

A senior adviser at the White House asked me, as publisher of a Catholic magazine, to put together a group of prominent Catholics to meet with President George W. Bush and discuss his administration’s new emphasis on faith-based social services. There was a reason for the request: Those who know anything about private charities—and that includes University of Pennsylvania professor John Dilulio Jr. and the former mayor of Indianapolis, Stephen Goldsmith, both instrumental in putting together the new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives—know that the Catholic Church is the largest nongovernmental deliverer of social services in the country.

What they may not know, however, is that this new partnership between government and religion has the potential to unite American Catholics of both lefts and right on genuine rather than fantasy-world common ground. For about a decade, the phrase “common ground” has been a buzzword among liberal Catholics. Many of them wish that they and their conservative Catholic confreres could split the difference into such issues as women priests and sex outside of marriage—issues on which there is no realistic hope that the two sides could ever reach a compromise. But liberal and conservative Catholics can reach a meeting of minds on one thing: a genuine desire to help the needy.

Crisis magazine’s ongoing research into the attitudes of Catholic voters has revealed that Catholics care for the needy and consider their plight a political priority. Genuinely surprising, perhaps, is that this compassion extends across traditional lines of social and political demarcation between rich and poor, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats. This shared concern manifests itself in a vast network of Church-sponsored social services that include schools, hospitals, senior and foster care facilities, and other agencies that Catholics of all types support with their charitable donations.

Currently, almost 15 percent of all hospital beds in the United States, excluding those at federal facilities, are in Catholic hospitals. More than two million students around the country attend 6,923 Catholic elementary and middle schools, and 639,954 more attend 1,221 Catholic high schools. Of the total enrollment at Catholic schools, almost 25 percent of students belong to ethnic minorities. Catholic Charities USA, the umbrella organization for Catholic social-service agencies, reports spending a total of $2.3 billion in 1998 to help 9.8 million persons, drawing on the services of 52,500 employees and 292,000 volunteers.

Like other private charities, Catholic charities have been shown to be more effective than their governmental counterparts. Addressing the social effects of what are, in many instances, the results of destructive behaviors is not made easier by reinforcing a sense of entitlement, a sense invariably instilled by government-run programs.

In the old dispensation, we made the mistake of thinking that bureaucracy could yield charity. It cannot. Charity hinges on a personal relationship, eye meeting eye, hand touching hand. Church-related groups will always be more successful at this than will government.

Furthermore, social pathologies are often the result of decisions made by individuals who have never had solid character formation or moral direction. That is why faith communities are vastly more successful than secular agencies in rescuing people from drug addiction and criminality. They are not afraid of addressing the core issues; in fact, they consider it part of their mission to confront the moral needs of those they help.

Many have expressed concern that faith-based organizations will have to park their specifically religious concerns at the door once they become active partners with the government, especially if they accept the federal funding that the Bush administration may offer. It would be unfortunate if this occurred because the secularization of religious charities is the surest way to undermine the very attributes that make their programs successful.

I am confident that as long as religious organizations maintain their passionate, faith-driven commitment to service and sacrifice, they won’t have to worry about secularization if they join hands with the government to do so. Better still, the administration’s new support for faith-based organizations will give all Catholics, regardless of their doctrinal leanings, a chance to stop gabbing about common ground and get something done for those in need.

Sed Contra: The Death of a Great College Program

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2001

The new president of the University of San Francisco (USF), Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J., recently announced the reorganization— the effective dismantling—of the St. Ignatius Institute, which for the past 25 years has offered the university’s undergraduates the option of a Catholic great-books program in addition to their other courses.

Founded in 1976 by Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., a rare conservative Jesuit in a famously liberal order, the institute had quietly established itself as a blue- chip example of what happens when a Catholic college takes the Catholic intellectual and humanistic tradition seriously. Imagine a general-education curriculum that includes courses on the early Church fathers, the “medieval synthesis” of classical and Christian learning, and, for a full academic year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Father Privett’s stated reason for his decision is predictably bureaucratic: USF can save money by eliminating courses that duplicate its regular curriculum. That avoids the real issue: Father Fessio’s creation has always been a thorn in the side of most of the university’s other Jesuits, who have been biding their time for an opportune moment to pull the plug on what they consider a reactionary operation. The institute bans its faculty from openly dissenting to Church teaching—how shocking!

Any chance for reconsideration of Father Privett’s action lies in the hands of USF’s 40 trustees, one-third of whom are Jesuits with little affection for Father Fessio. The other two-thirds are unlikely to be swayed by the negative press that the pending shutdown has received in conservative Catholic newspapers and the Wall Street Journal. University trustees often base their actions only on what dissembling administrators tell them. They believe what they hear in order to keep their sentimental memories of their own college days intact.

I have talked to many trustees of Catholic colleges who are frustrated by their institutions’ flagrant disregard of Catholic tradition and the Church’s magisterium. But they are reluctant to follow my suggestion that they protest with their checkbooks, arguing that they can have more influence by remaining at the board table. Continuing to financially support dissenting institutions only deepens the problem, however.

In the early 1980s, just before I converted to Catholicism, I visited the Institute for a weekend at the invitation of Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, one of several outstanding scholars who has devoted most of their adult lives to serving its mission. That weekend changed my life. I remember jogging with Father Fessio, giving a guest lecture in his theology class, and then sharing a sandwich on the waterside at Sausalito with the great French theologian Louis Bouyer. Leiva-Merikakis arranged for me to visit the Carmelite monastery adjacent to the campus, a sojourn that pushed this hesitant Baptist into the arms of Mother Church.

I have no doubt that USF students and visitors alike have been similarly exposed to the converting spirit of the St. Ignatius Institute during the 20 years since I made my pilgrimage there. Given the turbine-like power of the Catholic intelligence produced by its great-books program, I suppose we should be surprised that the attack from the Catholic left did not come sooner. It hates—and I use this word purposely—successful efforts to sustain Catholic tradition, which refute its assumptions about the irrelevance of that tradition.

Two years ago, Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan was criticized for putting his money into the creation of a new Catholic law school instead of, say, the Catholic University of America, which needed the funds. Monaghan defended his decision by saying that there were too many variables at existing Catholic colleges that made him doubtful about the future of his investment. Monaghan’s fearful scenario is being played out at USF.

We are witnessing the efforts of many good, talented, even heroic people at the St. Ignatius Institute being overthrown by Father Privett after only a few months in office. The institute’s teaching staff and alumni never had a chance to make their case.

Knowing how good a case this is, and how eloquently it could be delivered by the likes of Leiva-Merikakis, Father Privett took the Machiavellian option: Strike quickly and without apology. Those who had the privilege of studying at the institute will understand this strategy because unlike most college students nowadays, they will have read Machiavelli.

Sed Contra: Bush Courts the Catholics

Deal W. Hudson
May 1, 2001

Only a few days after his inauguration, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush dined with the newly installed archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore (now Cardinal) McCarrick. In spite of concerns about security, the dinner took place in the archdiocese’s chancery, not the White House.

On January 31, Bush met in the White House with more than 40 Catholic leaders of social service providers. He took time on the road in February to meet with Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh and Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis and with Bernard Cardinal Law in the Oval Office. On March 16, the president celebrated St. Patrick’s Day a day early with Irish-American leaders and key players in the Northern Ireland peace process.

The first months of the new administration should send a clear message to this nation’s Catholics: Bush’s campaign strategy of reaching out to them isn’t going to end because he won the White House. If anything, these recent efforts to court Catholic leaders suggest that he is accelerating his Catholic strategy. His plan to involve Catholics in his administration seems to be going far beyond what even the most optimistic among us can reasonably expect.

For example, just before the St. Patrick’s Day party, Bush met with the seven U.S. cardinals, 25 bishops, and various others who were responsible for the creation of the new John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. The next day, he traveled across the city to meet with more Catholics and help celebrate the opening of the center.

His speech there was a genuine tribute to the pope, not an excuse for a policy pitch. Former president Bill Clinton used his last official contact with Catholics before leaving office—a letter from him read at McCarrick’s installation—as an occasion to praise his own administration’s policy achievements.

The closest Bush came to arguing a point of policy in his speech at the center was his affirmation of respect for life: “In the culture of life we must make room for the stranger. We must comfort the sick. We must care for the aged. We must welcome the immigrant. We must teach our children to be gentle with one another. We must defend in love the innocent child waiting to be born.”

Two weeks after Bush spoke at the John Paul II Cultural Center, his historic speech had not been published by Catholic News Service.

These words of Bush were perceived as not only eloquent but sincere. By this time, his profile among Catholics was so high that a few of our evangelical Protestant brethren were getting concerned. A representative of the National Association of Evangelicals complained to the Los Angeles Times that Bush was spending too much time courting Catholics and that it would hurt his relationship with evangelicals.

The truth is that Bush and his advisers have been spending a great deal of time with Protestant leaders. But the nurturing of this part of the Republican Party base is not new; it has been a staple of Republican politics since the Reagan years. Rather than being miffed by the attention Bush now pays to Catholics, evangelicals should be pleased: Active Catholics and evangelical Christians together make up about 30 percent of the vote in presidential elections. Why not join forces?

This nation’s evangelical leaders have successfully shaped a bloc with real power to deliver votes and affect policy. Bush’s determination to connect with Catholics provides us with an opportunity to have similar clout. But I have my doubts as to whether Catholics, either religious or lay, can seize the moment.

I used to think that Catholic influence in politics was muted by the inability of most Catholics to overcome the alien bent of the culture of death. But during the past six years, watching from the editor’s seat at this magazine, I have witnessed several significant attempts by Catholics to enter the political process. Their efforts fell short, not because of the steep slope of the secularized culture, but as a result of squabbles within their own ranks.

For the Catholic voice to be heard in the new administration, we will have to avoid such in-fighting. This will require a new openness to agreement within the Catholic establishment, whose bickering members are not always thrilled by new opportunities for Catholic political influence, especially when it is not their own particular influence.