Friday, April 29, 2005

A Commentary on Greg Mockeridge's Guest Editorial:
(From the Webmaster of Rerum Novarum)

[Prefatory Note: The following entry is an epilogual comment on the part of the present writer to the recent guest editorial of Greg Mockeridge which is posted HERE. If you have not read it yet, please do so before reading the text below. That will insure that the sitz im leben of the commentary below is better understood. -ISM]

As one who considers both Greg and Stephen as friends, it is unfortunate that in an issue as potentially polarizing as this one that it would be viewed by your humble servant as a matter of taking sides. However, it has come to this and frankly, it cannot in good conscience be tolerated any longer without comment lest the present writer's previous endorsement of TCR from June of last year be misunderstood. Let this note suffice to clarify that the {aforementioned endorsement is not to be viewed in any way as an endorsement of Stephen's public utterings on certain subjects.{1} There is no shortage of irony to the extent that these are the same kinds of utterings that he has well discerned and admirably criticized in the writings of certain self-styled-"traditionalists" in years gone by. For that reason, how he cannot see that he has taken on the exact same tendencies in some areas of those he criticized previously is quite a mystery to the present writer. But it does not completely surprise since (after all) ideology has a way of doing that to people despite oftentimes their very best of intentions otherwise.{2}

Attention could also be focused on Stephen manifesting an obviously uninformed (and seemingly irrational) dislike of the economical ideas and overall weltanschauung of the late President Ronald Reagan. This is a subject that has been touched on indirectly at Rerum Novarum before.{3} It is also important to underscore that Stephen has an equally faulty understanding of the permissible applications of the death penalty as set forth by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae.{4} To detail these threads would belabour the point in light of Greg's excellent analysis in the guest editorial of these areas. Instead, it seems more appropriate to touch lightly on a couple of generalized points and then conclude this epilogue to Greg's aforementioned editorial.

It must be noted at the outset though that whatever differences there are in our respective outlooks, the webmaster at Rerum Novarum has long respected Stephen and felt that his apostolate fills an important niche in the blogosphere (not to mention cyperspace in general) in the area of Catholic social thought. And there has never been a problem with us disagreeing on these issues (in good faith presumably) provided that the disagreements are handled properly. The problems arise when he and others of that outlook attempt to dogmatize their opinions as non-negotiables in Catholicism and support them with a kind of "Neo-Ultramontaine"{5} reading of the statements of the late (and venerable) Pope John Paul II. Stephen has been rightly critical of people for doing this with the statements of John Paul II's predecessors. However, whatever problems that many who style themselves as "traditionalists" have with accounting for the sitz im leben of past magisterial statements, generally speaking they are on far more solid ground than Stephen is in his areas of objection.{6} The rest of this commentary will endeavour to explain why but first of all, it is necessary to point to past work of the present writer to set the parameters for that discussion.

For example, the present writer made it clear in February of 2003 (not long after posting a well thought out position on the war) that there was no public statement of the Holy Father condemning the war in anything representing a magisterial pronouncement. That remains a fact and Stephen has been called by Greg Mockeridge a number of times to produce that statement or cease his (apparently deliberate) prevarications on what John Paul II (of venerable memory) actually said about the war.{7} If he fails to do this, then that means that Stephen Hand fails to abide by the same criticisms that he would (properly) launch at many others who act the same way. (Except it must be noted on slightly stronger grounds.) It also does not hurt to also point out that the analogy of Aquinas of arguing "from lessor to greater"{8} would not favour Stephen in this situation lest fans of the Angelic Doctor wonder how the latter would (with the greatest likelihood) view this circumstance.

The present writer wants to take the current opportunity to concur most strenuously with Greg on his challenges to Stephen and encourage the latter to answer the queries Greg has made to him. Since Stephen is a public figure, he has a responsibility to do this. (Particularly since he claims to defend and expound on Catholic teaching.) Unfortunately, this writer highly doubts that Stephen will follow through: a situation which leads to an uncomfortable premonition which has long been had on the matter but (until now) had not been expressed publicly.

Essentially, if we take it down to brass tacks, the whole exercise is sadly akin to those who try to interpret the Second Vatican Council not by what it said but instead what they wanted it to say. This is often done by appealing to some mythical "spirit of Vatican II." Stephen knows this well -indeed he has written on the subject himself in years past. However, Stephen himself is doing nothing different with the writings and statements of John Paul II than what the so-called "post-modernists" he (nobly) derided in the past did (and do) with the documents of Vatican II!!!

In his statements on these issues, Stephen appeals to the "spirit of John Paul's war teaching" rather than to what those teachings actually are. (The same problem is evident in his handling of the death penalty issue.) Greg dealt quite sufficiently with these problems in his editorial without explicitly identifying the above underlying inconsistency. And again (for the record) this writer has voiced similar sentiments in the past and takes the opportunity of the present commentary to reiterate them anew.

The parallel between so-called "post-modernists" and their "spirit of Vatican II" and Stephen Hand, Maggie Hall, and the Zwick's (Mark and Louise) appealing to the "spirit of John Paul II's war teaching" or the "spirit of John Paul II's death penalty teaching" is startling but quite real. It is to be hoped in pointing them out that Stephen will take note of and reflect significantly upon these points. Otherwise, it will be to the discredit of his entire apostolate which (as this writer has noted before) has so much that is good and commendable to it.

It is also worth noting briefly that on March 18, 2003,{9} there was unfortunately a recurring strain of what could be called a "new ultramontanism" arising on this subject. And one of the parties the webmaster of Rerum Novarum had in mind in responding to this was Stephen Hand.{10} It also seemed appropriate later on (in light of the webmaster's knowledge of church history) to note why the Vatican diplomatic corps is not necessarily the best barometer to utilize in forming one's conscience on these kinds of issues: another ploy that has unfortunately been utilized by Stephen Hand and certain ideological allies of TCR. But ultimately, it is with more than theological and geopolitical issues that We at Rerum Novarum have found Ourselves siding far more with Greg Mockeridge than with Stephen Hand. Yes there is the subject of the war in Iraq and war in general where there is a common accord between the webmaster of Rerum Novarum and Greg Mockeridge.{11} And that the author has had at times Stephen personally in mind with some war related threads (but did not mention his name) was a point amply clarified in some respects as of late.{12} But with other issues (i.e. the death penalty, socio-economic issues, etc.) the same kind of opposition presents itself and could be brought forward for discussion. It is only with the hope of keeping this commentary limited in subject matter that those topics will not be touched on here except for a brief comment or two in passing.

Now this writer tries as much as possible to make these sorts of arguments on the basis of issues and not personalities. Unfortunately, the situation before us has degenerated so badly that it has to be made personal. Stephen Hand is essentially claiming that someone of the outlook of your humble servant is not as "authentically Catholic" as he is. This kind of shameless "more Catholic than thou" approach is beneath the integrity of a man with Stephen's gifts. This writer for one will not stand for it any longer -particularly since Stephen has chosen to build his arguments with emotional appeals and rhetorical flourishes which so often are (in the words of Shakespeare) "so much sound and fury signifying nothing" substantively speaking.

To say that this writer found it absolutely disgraceful that Stephen (after the death of a beloved pope) did not have the common sense to cease polemics on his pet issues would be an understatement. Instead, he acted in many respects like the boilerplate dyspeptic pseudo-"progressivist" stooges that Joel Engel outlined masterfully in a recent Weekly Standard column.{13} In the case of John Paul II's death, Stephen found the occasion of gracious comments by President Bush towards the departed pontiff to bash the current president for a differing stand on the war than the pope had.{14} That is correct, rather than have the common decency to keep his trap shut during the interregnum on these matters (in honour of the passing of a great pope, philosopher, and statesman), Stephen chose to furnish his readers with the kind of verbal jauncide that accompanies the Kisslings, Currans, Greeley's, Gramick's, and others who whined incessantly about John Paul II's failure to endorse their pet issues. It would not be so bad if (unlike the latter) Stephen was actually arguing for non-negotiable Catholic points. But alas, he has not done this.

Also, this is hardly a one-time event but instead is part of a pattern that has unfortunately is reflected in Stephen's previous work. Indeed, it mirrored how he reacted in the wake of the death of President Reagan last year. One does not have to agree with the policies or outlooks of the late president to accord him appropriate respect in the wake of his passing on. (Likewise with the passing of the pope.) However, Stephen chose this point to respond with with the kind of irrational polemics that revealed (to those with eyes to see) a thinly-veiled contempt for a man he so evidently did not understand. Greg summarized many of the points well in his editorial and this writer has written on some of them before on this weblog. Nonetheless, let the example HERE suffice as a representative of how the present writer views the complex vicissitudes of the man that was Ronald Wilson Reagan -and underscore the profound disappointment in Stephen's treatment of the latter in his passing. Again, one can accord proper respect in death to those whom they may have disagreed with in life. But Stephen's approach does not appear to recognize this principle.

To summarize and conclude these reflections, since Stephen has seen fit to impose dogmatic interpretations on papal opinions without the sanction of magisterial weight, consider again what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had to say on the three issues that Greg addresses in his editorial: positions which Stephen has the temerity to dogmatize as binding on others. To note one example, the present writer defended Catholic Answers in print before the election last year while Stephen almost sneered in print at the idea of groups such as Catholic Answers making a short voting list of non-negotiables -preferring instead the USCCB voters guide which was far less specific on some issues. In a note of clarification on the relative weight of voting issues (also cited by Greg in his editorial), Cardinal Ratzinger declared the following:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Note of Clarification on the Worthiness to Receive Communion (circa 2004)]

While these are hardly the only areas that could be noted, they are nonetheless significant ones. After all, the issue of who can and cannot receive communion is among the most central of Catholic issues. Remember, Cardinal Ratzinger took the exact same position on the above issues as Karl Keating of Catholic Answers, George Weigel, Michael Novak, Greg Mockeridge of the recent Rerum Novarum guest editorial, your humble servant at Rerum Novarum, and not a few others (such as EWTN). This situation therefore raises an interesting (and logically fatal) problem for Stephen and those who are allies to his particular weltanschauung.

After all, one must wonder whether or not Stephen Hand, Maggie Hall, the Zwick's, and others of a similar mindset will show solid logic and consistency in their approach by throwing their dyspeptic tantrums at Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. This writer for one would hope not -particularly since Cardinal Ratzinger was elected successor to John Paul II in the papacy and is highly unlikely to have changed his opinions on this matter in the span of less than one year.

TCR has long claimed "fidelity to the living magisterium alone" and the position of Pope Benedict XVI is pretty clear on this as the above citation makes quite clear. Having noted that, three points immediately need to be made on that matter (i) the above Ratzinger delineation is much more unambiguous than the actual statements of the late Pope John Paul II of venerable memory (ii) it is far more authoritative -since it was issued to clarify doctrinal issues. And of course, (iii) the present Holy Father has probably not changed his mind on this matter since he was cardinal prefect of the CDF: the authority with which he made the above clarifications as part of the actual magisterium of the late Pope John Paul II of venerable memory.

It is to be hoped in closing that Stephen Hand will recognize the voice of the "living magisterium" in Benedict XVI and apologize publicly to all of those whom he has either personally smeared in print or has endorsed others smearing in print. After all, Karl Keating, Michael Novak, George Weigel and others (including Greg Mockeridge and the present writer) have in reality done nothing but reiterate the same kinds of distinctions on these matters that Stephen and his allies have deliberately sought to obfuscate.{15} And furthermore, until this is actually done, the readers can recognize the post they have just read as a complete and unequivocal withdrawal from the webmaster of Rerum Novarum of the previous endorsement of TCR. For until they turn back and show some degree of repentence for their fostering of an implied schismatic mindset, then they merely follow their own opinions of church teaching -implying that said views are required badges of Catholic orthodoxy. It need hardly be pointed out that in that light, they are not as "faithful to the living magisterium" as they claim to be, once were, and (hopefully) will be again in the future.


{1} The main points being referred to here were covered by Greg in his aforementioned guest editorial.

{2} Bill Moyers once noted that ideologues embrace a worldview that cannot be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary.

{3} It was previously addressed in the form of pointing out certain generalized so-called "progressivist" misunderstandings in these areas: areas which simply happen to mirror many of Stephen's own misunderstandings.

{4} The death penalty issue has also been touched on a bit at Rerum Novarum in the past in the same indirect manner whereby the subject of Reagan has been handled. (Though there are only four threads on the former as opposed to over a dozen threads on the latter to be found in the archives of this humble weblog.)

{5} It should be noted that the term "Neo Ultramontaine" is being used in the manner whereby it was understood in the nineteenth century. The so-called "neo-ultramontaines" of that time had a very rigorous and historically vapid understanding of papal infallibility. Stephen Hand and his allies unfortunately have an eerily similar view with regards to the pope's statements on their pet issues: elevating his offhand comments to the status of magisterial (and hence binding) doctrine. Of course in doing this, they inexorably deride those whom they call "neo-conservatives" and utilize such labels in direct opposition to the counsel of Pope Benedict XV. Indeed the latter had less than commendable things to say (to put it mildly) about people in his time using the kinds of divisive tactics that have become an unfortunate staple polemicists such as Stephen Hand and his allies.

{6} After all, at the very least, the pseudo-"traditionalists" generally do so from texts which are of a magisterial weight. However, with certain subjects (i.e. the Iraq war, claiming that social justice requires supporting things like the minimum wage, etc) Stephen by contrast does not do this and has no viable ground on which to stand in making the kind of magisterial statements that he does on his pet issues.

If he disagrees with this position, then it is important for him to demonstrate his sources for underscoring such a disagreement in an intelligent manner. For not every statement uttered by a cleric in high authority (even the pope) requires an unquestioned assent. Likewise, on other subjects (i.e. application of just war or the death penalty) even magisterial texts do not prescribe a "one-size-fits-all" approach on these matters. But that is neither here nor there.

{7} Rather than what Stephen would have wanted him to have said.

{8} To argue from "lessor to greater", if (i) Stephen is critical of those who attempt to interpret magisterial texts (or non-magisterial comments) in their own unique way apart from what the magisterium actually has said on the matter and if (ii) they are in the wrong for doing this, then logically Stephen (iii) in likewise interpreting non-magisterial statements (or comments) in his own unique way is (iv) even more in the wrong for doing this than those he is critical of. (Since he does it with statements which bear no magisterial weight whatsoever.)

Or (to summarize it further), if it is wrong for those utilizing magisterial sources or non-magisterial comments (i.e. those Stephen has been critical of) to make dogmatic statements out of their opinions of what said sources actually say, then it is wrong for those who utilize non-magisterial sources or comments (i.e. Stephen) to make dogmatic statements out of his opinions of what said sources actually say.

{9} Twenty-four hours before the war in Iraq was actually underway.

{10} With others such as the Zwicks included in that general view too.

{11} Indeed, the following sixty-two point recapitulation thread on the recent war, the politics involved, and war in general make this affiliation eminently clear.

{12} In the series linked to footnote eleven, it was with the particular threads where Stephen's name was listed in the summary comments. In some of the others, he and several other personages of a like mind were in the mind of this writer when composing certain other threads.

{13} A column that was included in the most recent Rerum Novarum weblog update.

{14} Lest Stephen retort by accusing this writer of being a "Bush stooge", he is advised to consider the full range what this writer has actually said about the sitting president to assess properly the sitz im leben of the position on the current president as taken by the webmaster of Rerum Novarum. (Rather than simply presume that this writer fits one of Stephen and his ideological allies' perceived and publicly inculcated stereotypes on the matter.)

{15} To quote from one of TCR's site musings on the war subject:

The Pope, Prudential Judgement and Henry VIII

One of the sad ironies involved in those conservative Catholics who dismiss the Pontiff's teachings as mere "prudential judments," is that those who indulge this kind of dismissal may be midwifing a new generation of Anglicans (with all due respect to our Anglican brothers and sisters). Whether it is an Ann Boleyn or President Bush's war that is desired and put above the teachings of Peter, it is papal teaching that is being brushed aside for other desires and idols. [TCR: From the Letters and Musings Archive]

That Stephen does not make these kinds of simple distinctions is troublesome. In the opinion of the present writer, he can do it (as he has in the past) but he simply does not want to when the subjects involved are peculiar to his particular agenda. Hopefully that assessment will prove wrong in the coming weeks and months but this writer is unfortunately not too optimistic on that scenario at the present time.

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Hand Jive [Un] Doing that Crazy Hand Jive:
(Written by Greg Mockeridge)

The guest editorial you are about to read is the same editorial alluded to in the previous post. Without further ado, let us get to it...


A Long Overdue Indictment of Stephen Hand:

The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that not even one hundred people hate the Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Catholic Church is. Undoubtedly, the actions of Catholics themselves have helped create many of these misconceptions. One way such a misunderstanding can be created is to distort the difference between doctrinal imperatives and disciplinary requirements with that of prudential judgments. Those Catholics who make such distortions often ascribe magisterial status to their own opinions and cast aspersions on the fidelity of those who express contrary views. It doesn’t matter whether or not those contrary views are well within the diversity of opinion enjoyed by loyal Catholics. Some of the most common issues where this kind of misunderstanding is perpetrated are waging a just war, application of the death penalty, and economic justice.

One such merchant of confusion is Mr. Stephen Hand, editor of the Traditional Catholic Reflections (TCR) website. I first heard of Mr. Hand about four years ago when I came across his writings on the “traditionalist” movement. My immediate impression of him was that I thought he was a gifted writer. (This is an impression I hold to this day btw.) His monograph "Traditionalists", Tradition, And Private Judgement is, in my view, the best primer on the “traditionalist” movement out there. I would, without hesitation, recommend it highly to anyone looking for a succinct overview of the “traditionalist” movement as a whole.

The TCR website also has good articles on a variety of different subjects.{1} So, it goes without saying that my first impression of Stephen Hand was a positive one. And I held this view despite the fact that he passionately opposed the war in Iraq. (Which I supported then as I do now with equal passion.) As this is an issue that good Catholics could in conscience disagree, I had no problem with Stephen’s position at that time. So it was with great disappointment that I began see things written by Mr. Hand on that site that were highly irrational. As any such assertion made without supporting evidences is properly viewed as suspect, I will list some of the initially troubling points before delving into the substance of this editorial.

To use the analogy of "red flags", the first "red flag" I noticed was the manner with which Mr. Hand defended Cardinal Martino’s outlandish criticism of U.S. treatment of the captured Saddam Hussein.{2} It was clear that his Eminence’s remarks were uncalled for and that he made no attempt take into account the reasons why the U.S. aired that videotape. Nor did Cdl. Martino show similar outrage over the mass graves, uncovered by coalition troops, of Iraqis murdered by Saddam over the twenty-five plus years that the former dictator ruled Iraq. Even those with greater authority in the Vatican diplomatic dicastery in the Curia, who themselves were against the war in Iraq, were dismayed by Martino’s remarks, even going so far as to stuff the proverbial sock in Cardinal Martino’s mouth.{3}

Stephen’s defense of Cardinal Martino was unreasonable to say the least. After all, defense of the Church does not mean that we have to defend members of the Roman Curia when they make absurd remarks. But still, I gave Stephen the benefit of the doubt on that particular point, since I can understand the natural tendency that orthodox Catholics have in defending Church officials, especially those in the Holy See. I myself admittedly have discomfort criticizing Vatican officials, especially in a public forum. So this instinct is (in and of itself) laudable. But unfortunately, that was not all he had to say on the matter.

For in that same musing, Stephen trotted out the tired and stale “George W. Bush used the National Guard to evade the draft” canard: something that I hope has been put to rest once and for all with Rathergate. He did this by citing an obscure web source of controvertible repute. Now, one of the most basic rules of journalistic ethics is to make a painstaking effort to ensure the credibility and veracity of one’s sources. This is especially true for one who is Catholic. Stephen egregiously violated this principle by assuming that the claim made by a rabidly anti-Bush website was true when even Bush’s most ardent detractors in the Democrat party did not make such a claim at the time. And since he is an experienced journalist, raising questions about his objectivity and integrity is certainly within the realm of fair play.

Then there was that hit piece on Karl Keating’s March 2, 2004 e-letter defending a Catholic’s right to support as well as oppose the State’s right to impose the death penalty by TCR staff writer Maggie Hall.(An “attempted” hit piece is more like it, since Ms. Hall’s screed misses the mark by a country mile.) Just the title of the piece (Defending The Faith Through Argument, Not Love Karl Keating on the Death Penalty) is problematic in that it suggests there is a dichotomy between love and arguing in defense of the truths of the faith. This very proposition is absurd on its face.

Truth, after all, is essential to love. For that reason, the reader should be asking themselves how the truth of any issue is going to be known if it is not carefully explained or argued. Ms. Hall reinforces this false dichotomy when she says: “Apologetics sit well with Catholics who feel you best defend the faith through argument rather than love.” Well, in the interests of consistency, she would have to put Jesus himself in the category of those apologists who “defend the faith through argument rather than love” because the Gospels contain many instances where Jesus deals with people, especially the Pharisees, precisely through argument. Besides being Love himself, Jesus was also a master of argumentation: a key point to the Gospel which some of those bereft of proper context tend to miss.

But rather than take my word for it, review for yourself how the following statement from Ms. Hall shows exactly how off-base she is regarding Catholic teaching and legitimate diversity they enjoy regarding the death penalty:

In the March 2 edition of an e-letter, the “Catholic Answers” guru argues that good Catholics can support the death penalty. Unlike abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research, cloning and marriage between gays (shades of Leviticus!), killing an incarcerated human being is one of those issues in which “good” Catholics are permitted to differ. The poobah of Catholic apologetics ranks the Holy Father’s strong stand against state-supported murder as a “prudential judgment,” as if opposing the death penalty were on the same plane as choosing to wear red socks tomorrow instead of white.

Despite what Hall wanted to lead (or should I say mislead) her reader into believing (i.e. that a good Catholic cannot support capital punishment), Mr. Keating was simply defending a Catholic's freedom within the bounds of orthodoxy to view the pope's judgment on the frequency whereby the death penalty should be applied as an imprudent one. This is a right badly in need of defense today because those Catholics who do happen to support capital punishment within the parameters of Catholic teaching are unfairly marginalized by those like Ms. Hall. Unfortunately, this marginalization extends to even many bishops who use the pope's prudential judgment as a means to characterize such support as less Catholic than a position favoring the abolition of the death penalty. So, by defending such a right, Karl Keating is defending the faith not only through argument but also through love. Having noted that point, let us point the reader towards the contradiction at the very heart of her argument by pointing to the congruence between Mr. Keating's position and one taken by someone Ms. Hall (and her "allies") cannot so easily overlook: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

For you see, the position expressed by Mr. Keating in the above-cited e-letter is the exact same position as taken by Cardinal Ratzinger when His Eminence laid out guidelines to USCCB on the worthiness to receive communion:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. (Emphasis Added)

Again, consistency would demand that Ms. Hall write a hit piece taking Cardinal Ratzinger to task for doing the same thing that Karl Keating does: saying that Catholics can disagree with the Holy Father’s prudential judgment on capital punishment viz. society’s ability to satisfy the ends of punishment without recourse to it. (Not to mention of Mr. Hand pointing his readers to such an article once she wrote it.) But don’t expect those who engage in such emotionally-driven sophistry as Ms. Hall evinces in this article to be consistent.

After writing to Ms. Hall pointing these things out to her, I had e-mailed Stephen inquiring as to why would he allow an article that was so devoid of a fundamental grasp of Catholic teaching and a lack of charity toward Mr. Keating and requested that he remove it from his site. Not only would Stephen not remove the article, he defended it and amplified what Ms. Hall said in her attack on Karl. He buttressed his case (and Ms. Hall’s) by pointing to how many in Europe found capital punishment “regressive.” As the continent of Europe has become a moral sewer that that makes America (its serious moral problems notwithstanding) look like a paragon of virtue, why should anyone care what Europe thinks on matters such as this?

On a related matter, when the jury in the Scott Peterson murder case handing down a death sentence, Stephen wrote a musing about how Scott Peterson is “now toast”. And in that same musing he basically equated the manner with which we administer capital punishment (lethal injection) to euthanasia. I e-mailed him pointing out that the chances of Scott Peterson’s chances of actually being executed are about one in six, and that’s a worst-case scenario if you are opposed to the death penalty. I also objected to his equating capital punishment to euthanasia. His response was that he was following the logic of John Paul II: an absurd notion if ever there was one.

After all, anyone who actually knows what the pope has actually said in this matter is aware that Stephen's dog won’t hunt. The Holy Father never equates capital punishment, something that is not intrinsically evil, with euthanasia and abortion, which are intrinsic evils.

Faced with these incontrovertible facts, the best Stephen can do is send copies of Zenit articles where the pope repeats his prudential judgment regarding capital punishment in the same speech or homily that he speaks of the life issues. One could logically conclude that the pope believes society is able to adequately punish dangerous criminals without recourse to capital punishment and that its use can inadvertently contribute to the culture of death. However, that's a far cry from equating capital punishment to euthanasia or abortion, as Cardinal Ratzinger makes clear in the quote cited above.

Mr. Hand's only response to that was ridicule and condescension, which I take as an unwitting admission that he will not and cannot deal substantively with my objection. (For to do so, he would have to recant his position.) I am not, of course, denying Stephen’s right as a Catholic to oppose the death penalty. In fact, I take an equally harsh view of those Catholics like Peter Miller of The Seattle Catholic who portray the Holy Father’s opposition to the death penalty viz, his prudential judgment as being contrary to traditional Catholic teaching. I have written on the subject of the death penalty several times —including in an an article taking U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to task over his confusing the pope's prudential judgment with his teaching on the matter. What I am taking issue with here is Stephen’s portrayal of support for the death penalty as being less Catholic than that of opposition to the death penalty, that is all.

In truth though, Stephen’s position regarding economic justice consistently follow the same incongruity with the respect for the proper Catholic sense of diversity of opinion that his position on the death penalty does. His lavish praise of Houston Catholic Worker ‘s Mark and Louise Zwick, who viciously and uncharitably attacked respected Catholic scholar Michael Novak as some corporate lackey who helps “big business” exploit the poor, is just one of many examples of how off base Stephen has become on this issue. But Mr. Hand, not being one who is to be outdone in the cheap shot department, fires a few RPGs of his own in the class war. Especially disgusting was his vicious little blurb about Ronald Reagan on the occasion of the former president’s passing:

A lot of people are writing about him as a religious man. Reagan's faith, however, it seems to us, was an old, hard, Puritan faith (no emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount; the poor are not blessed as the rich are in his theology; might is glory; union busting---leaving the workers at the mercy of the Enron execs--- is good etc.) His faith in practically unbridled capitalism had little in common with St. Francis and Catholic Christianity in general.

First of all, it was beyond tasteless to use the occasion of someone’s death as an opportunity to take such a cheap shot at him. Secondly, none of what Stephen says in the above quote has any basis in fact. Contrary to what Stephen says, Reagan did consider the poor to be blessed—so blessed that it he believed that it was below their dignity to be trapped in welfare state that places them at the mercy of an opportunistic bureaucrats and politicians. Reagan understood, as does Church social teaching, that the poor are not lifted up by pitting them against the rich. To note a couple of examples, Pope St. Clement of Rome once said: "[t]he strong must take care of the weak; the weak must look up to the strong. The rich must provide for the poor. The poor must thank God for giving him someone to meet his needs" (Letter to the Corinthians A.D. 96 #38). Along these same lines, Pope John Paul II makes it clear in one of his social encyclicals that the preferential option for the poor “is never exclusive or discriminatory towards other groups” (Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus #57).

In truth, the poor are lifted up by an economic system that encourages and rewards enterprise. The poor are lifted up when solicitude for their needs is not only expressed in providing material succor (which is important, don’t misunderstand me) {4}, but also in providing them the opportunity to build a livelihood for themselves by placing their own talent and labor at the service of the common good. Reagan’s economic policies reflected a sound understanding of this. The Census Bureau{5} records from 1981 to 1991 clearly show that Reaganomics had a transforming effect for the better on the lives of poor Americans, black Americans in particular. Of the 19 million new jobs created by Reagan’s policies, blacks were recipients of 2.4 million of them. Between the end of 1980 and the end of 1988, the unemployment rate amongst blacks dropped a staggering 25%. During this same period, black income exceeded the total GDP of all but ten countries in the world. Black families earning over $50,000 a year more than doubled between 1982 and 1988.

To those who parrot the canard that Reaganomics were about tax-cuts for the rich at the expense of the poor, this ought to stuff a sock in their mouth: before Reagan took office those in top five percent income bracket were carrying less than 38% of the total tax burden. By 1988, the same group was carrying nearly 46%. In the same period, the top ten percent income bracket was paying 57% of all taxes. But, in proportion to their income and tax burden those in lower income brackets benefited the most from Reagan’s tax cuts; those in the lower half of the income group were carrying less than 6% by 1988.

It is also known that Reagan used to personally answer much of the hate mail he received from welfare recipients who were being misled by leftist propaganda with words of encouragement…and even on many occasions a personal check. Therefore, it is more than safe to say that Reaganomics, in keeping with the tradition of American founding principles, is a realization of Catholic economic justice to a proportion unmatched in history, despite what Stephen wishes to lead (Or should I say mislead) his readers to believe.

Of course, I am not saying that one cannot disagree with Reagan's economic policy, but Stephen has demonstrated, by what he says in the above quote and the many other things he has said in regards to socio-economic issues, he is either unable or unwilling to engage in any substantive discussion on the subject of Reagan’s legacy. With all the lamenting Stephen does about the plight of the poor, I am not aware of him ever saying anything about how the present welfare system ala LBJ’s War on Poverty has made otherwise productive people dependent upon the “benevolence” of Washington bureaucrats. Nor has he ever said a word about the behavior that leads to impoverished conditions for many those who are poor and how they need to take responsibility for the sorry state their lives have become other than blaming it America’s “pornosophic culture.”{6}

It is Mr. Hand’s position on the war in Iraq that his imbalance is most startling. Much as he does with his misrepresentations on the issues death penalty and economic justice, Mr. Hand has willingly disrespected the legitimate diversity of opinion that Catholics enjoy in regards to this issue. Towards this end, he is not above misrepresenting the pope’s position. Nor is he above demonizing those who express different opinions from his, even though such opinions fall well within such legitimate diversity.

On the former, I have challenged Mr. Hand to substantiate the claim that support for the war contradicts the actual teachings of JPII on several occasions, but has not yet has been able to do so. The closest thing he has been able to do is come up with is a quote of the Holy Father saying “War, Never Again” which is a repetition of what Pope Paul VI said in his address to the United Nations in 1965. But that is the same Pope Paul VI told former POW and US Senator Jeremiah Denton during a private audience in 1973 that he believed that U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was just. So, it is safe to conclude that neither Paul VI nor John Paul II intended what Mr. Hand wants to believe they did.

Furthermore, when discussing the parameters of the teaching on Just War, the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2309 states that [t]he evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” Those who have "responsibility for the common good" are civil governments. Ergo, it is not within the competence of the Church to determine authoritatively whether or not this particular war is just. Here, it bears repeating the quote from Cardinal Ratzinger cited above:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia. (Emphasis Added)

Mr. Hand’s lack of good sense and charity towards those who support the war in Iraq is best expressed in his vicious (and I believe, sickening) attack on Fr. Frank Pavone:

Fr. Pavone (Finally!) Reveals His Americanist Point of Departure

...and Catholicism for him practically becomes in consequence a subset to an American religion, to manifest destiny summed up in "I pledge allegiance...My country right or wrong..."

Hear the good man sadly declare himself wiser than the Holy Father as he plays fast and loose with the Pope's clear teaching and intent in another matter of life and death:

"Then there are those who claim you cannot support "the war" and still be pro-life. I support the war fully and am fully pro-life. So are countless others. The Pope never told us we had to hold any particular position about "the war in Iraq." As an American citizen I am proud to trust the decisions of those who have the awesome responsibility to make them. And that position is fully consistent with Catholicism." ---Fr. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life

Trust George W ...but not the Pope and Cardinal Ratzinger. It would appear Fr. Pavone was asleep, or turning his face aside, while the Holy Father spoke so clearly about the illegitmacy of this "preemptive" war, and that he cares more for some babies than others. Those below do not qualify...Very sad indeed.

What is "very sad indeed" about all this is how far Mr. Hand is willing to go (and who he is willing to malign in the process) in order to put a Catholic window dressing on his pseudo-pacifistic drivel. By saying Fr. Pavone “cares more for some babies than others” he is casting aspersions on the genuineness of Fr. Pavone’s pro-life commitment. Such insinuation on the part of Mr. Hand does not escape the charge of libel in this writer’s view.

Furthermore, it is not Fr. Frank Pavone who has shown his “Americanist [p]oint of [d]eparture” it is Stephen Hand who has repeatedly shown his ANTI American point of departure over at least the past year and a half, if not longer. One could conclude, by reading his anti-war screeds that it is his belief that President Bush is more of a war criminal than Saddam Hussein. I really hope he doesn’t actually believe this but I do not remember Mr. Hand shedding one drop of ink lamenting all the innocent Iraqi blood shed at the hands of Saddam. Not one word about the rape rooms where even children were raped, tortured, murdered in front of their parents. Not one word about the mass graves uncovering hundreds upon hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of corpses, and the grieving families trying to find the remains of loved ones. But let one report, whether it’s credible or not, of an unintended civilian casualty hit the wires, and Stephen is in full attack mode against the Bush administration and those who support their efforts. He has repeatedly parroted the claim that the war has caused over 100,000 civilian casualties, even though such claim lacks any real credibility, but ignores the fact that the average Iraqi is much safer today in Iraq, despite all that is going on, than he was under Saddam.{7}

Nor did Mr. Hand express any outrage over the fact that countries like France, Russia, and Germany, all of whom opposed military action against Iraq, taking kickbacks vis-à-vis the Oil for Food Program in exchange for their opposition. One would think that if Mr. Hand really cares about the poor and suffering Iraqis (and I'm not saying he doesn't, mind you), that he would express outrage the grounds that these countries committed crimes against the poor alone. After all, the Oil for Food Program was a big gravytrain that ran all over the poor in Iraq. Indeed, to call it an "Oil for Palaces, Weapons and Terrorists Program" would be far more accurate if one is concerned with accuracy of facts in their reporting.

Thus far, it seems that Stephen Hand would prefer to post anything that he thinks will remotely support his position –however contextually, factually, or otherwise inaccurate. In fact, the only outrage he ever expressed over the Oil For Food scandal is this:

· Cheney, Halliburton Helped Saddam Fleece
Oil for Food Program

"But the one company that helped Saddam exploit the oil-for-food program in the mid-1990s that wasn't identified in Duelfer's report was Halliburton, and the person at the helm of Halliburton at the time of the scheme was Vice President Dick Cheney."

Again, this shows how far Stephen is willing to go to (i.e. sacrificing his own journalistic integrity on the altar of pseudo-pacifism) in undermining the war effort. If any of the claims made by the article he cites are true, it is certain that Democrats in the Senate and elsewhere, who have been trying to hang Halliburton for everything else, would have most certainly used that evidence against them. Given the position they have staked out against the administration regarding the war, they would be fools not to.

Stephen Hand’s descent into the abyss of the unreasonable has indeed been a tragic one. It is always painful to see someone who has demonstrated the ability to analyze issues with the clarity that Mr. Hand has with pieces like “Traditionalists", Tradition, And Private Judgement resort to the kind of drivel he has in dealing with issues of such as capital punishment, the war in Iraq{8} and socio-economic justice.

Hopefully, I have made clear that my criticisms of Stephen Hand are not over the fact that he simply disagrees with me on the above stated issues. I have stated more than once in this article that Catholics enjoy a diversity of opinion (within certain limits) on these issues. I will also say that a passionate, intelligent and charitable dialogue and debate can only be healthy and enlightening for both sides. My criticisms are squarely rooted in the fact that he dogmatized his opinions on these issues to the extent of maligning those who hold different views within legitimate Catholic parameters, while those same individuals have gladly extended to him the same courtesy that he has so viciously tried to deny them.

I do not in noting these matters wish to appear as one trying to judge Mr. Hand’s heart. I don’t know why he has chosen to go to the lengths that he has in dishonestly presenting his positions. I believe that his concern for the poor, innocents caught in the crossfire of war, and those on death row is genuine, although I believe his ideas along these lines are misguided and disastrous when put into practice.

In summary, I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to those orthodox Catholic writers out there who are friends of Stephen’s to let him know in no uncertain terms that the conduct he has exhibited over the past two years is unacceptable. After all, friends should not let friends become sophists.


{1} Among them are the great articles by Fr. James Schall S.J. on political issues, which include brilliant defenses of the war in Iraq. In fairness to Mr. Hand I would be remiss if I did not mention this. However, this doesn’t even come close to excusing Stephen’s irresponsible rhetoric on the war.

{2} I refer here to the videotaping of a bedraggled, dirty, defeated Saddam.

{3} See Michael Novak’s article “Martino?"

{4} I want to make clear that I am not denying the need to provide material assistance to the poor along with helping them develop marketable skills. Those who run and volunteer their time at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and the like provide an indispensable service. Here, I would include the mental health facility Mr. Hand works at and the Casa Juan Diego founded by Mark and Louise Zwick in Houston, Texas. I firmly believe that the enterprise and business sector of our economy and the homeless shelter and soup kitchen outreaches are interdependent. Both need to coordinate their efforts. It is in this light that the attacks Stephen Hand and the Zwicks have launched against people like Michael Novak and George Weigel, who promote the entrepreneurial element of Catholic social teaching, are even more destructive.

{5} These figures were taken second hand Michael Novak’s article Reagan and the Poor.

{6} I am not denying nor am I downplaying the destructive influence of the “pornosophic” trends that are all too pervasive in our culture. However, to not hold the poor (or anyone else for that matter) accountable for their actions is not only misdirected compassion, it is also an insult to their dignity.

{7} In November 2004, at which time the U.S. had been in Iraq about nineteen months Seth Leibsohn & Director of Research for Bill Bennett's Morning in America, and Claremont Institute Fellow, cited UNICEF numbers placing the total Iraqi death toll at around 15,000. Under Saddam, around 5000 Iraqis a month were murdered. That’s about five times more than those who have died since the war began in March 2003.

{8} Ironically, Mr. Hand’s rhetoric regarding the war is no different from that of the most unhinged of those pseudo-traditionalists. For my commentary on the article linked to above can be found HERE.


To read a relatively short commentary on the above guest editorial from the webmaster, see this followup thread.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

An About Face From John Allen on the New Pope:
(Plus a Minor Prelude to an Upcoming Editorial at Rerum Novarum)

It was recently reported by Christopher Blosser at Against the Grain{1} that John Allen (the Rome correspondent for National Catholic Reporter{2}) has had a change of mind about Cardinal Ratzinger. In a June 2004 address on the subject of dialogue{3} Mr. Allen made the following observations and concessions.

"My 'conversion' to dialogue originated in a sort of 'bottoming out.' It came with the publication of my biography of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued by Continuum in 2000 and titled The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith. The first major review appeared in Commonweal, authored by another of my distinguished predecessors in this lecture series, Fr. Joseph Komonchak. It was not, let me be candid, a positive review. Fr. Komonchak pointed out a number of shortcomings and a few errors, but the line that truly stung came when he accused me of "Manichean journalism." He meant that I was locked in a dualistic mentality in which Ratzinger was consistently wrong and his critics consistently right. I was initially crushed, then furious. I re-read the book with Fr. Komonchak's criticism in mind, however, and reached the sobering conclusion that he was correct. The book - which I modestly believe is not without its merits - is nevertheless too often written in a "good guys and bad guys" style that vilifies the cardinal. It took Fr. Komonchak pointing this out, publicly and bluntly, for me to ask myself, 'Is this the kind of journalist I want to be'? My answer was no, and I hope that in the years since I have come to appreciate more of those shades of gray that Fr. Komonchak rightly insists are always part of the story. [John Allen: From the "Common Ground" Series (circa June 25, 2004)]

It is pleasing to see such a frank admission of mistakes and poor judgment (within certain parameters) on the part of John Allen viz. what he wrote about Cardinal Ratzinger in his biography published in 2000. (These kinds of admissions are never easy to make after all -particularly publicly.) The question is, will certain parties who were profoundly critical of John Allen's biography also have the same courage Mr. Allen has demonstrated when presented with certain areas where they have made mistakes and executed poor judgment. Time will tell and in short order at that...


{1} For those who are interested, Christopher has also written a very evenhanded review of John Allen's biography of Cardinal Ratzinger.

{2} We at Rerum Novarum (for the record, if readers have not figured this out by now) are no fans of the National Catholic Reporter. We do though have a certain affinity for John Allen and feel that he is a knowledgable and reliable Vatican correspondent. (Even though there are some obvious differences of opinion between him and Us.)

{3} The subject of dialogue and its intricacies was written about in an essay by the present writer back in 2003. (See this link for details on the matter.)