Old Confessionals

They isolated priest from penitent, ensuring privacy and safety for both; and, having become used to this format in the Latin Mass parish we attend, I can attest to its efficacy.

This article from the Remnant Newspaper is excellent in describing them.

An excerpt.

Several years ago, when it was becoming increasingly common for adults to allege childhood sexual abuse long past based upon so-called repressed memories, one of the most esteemed pastors of a local diocese was accused of sexual abuse of a child while hearing his confession. The attorney representing the alleged victim did much grandstanding in the media in preparation for the trial, only to have the case thrown out of court when it was determined that the abuse alleged to have occurred decades ago would have been physically impossible, since confessionals physically isolated priest and penitent back then.

The conventional confessional booth or box, in which the priest is physically isolated from the penitent, had its origin in the 60’s. Wait a minute, you may say, that can’t be right. Can anything good have come from the 60’s? Indeed, much good did come out of the 60’s following a Church Council–the 1560’s, that is. The Church Council was that of Trent, out of which divinely guided Council came a great number of dogmatic declarations occasioned by the Protestant revolt. Among the many positive fruits of this Council was the standardization of the manner in which confessions were heard, in a wooden confessional booth.

But four hundred years later another, quite different Council was convened and nearly all the fruit of this Council has proven to have been poisonous. Among the many reforms of the 1960’s, following in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, was the widespread abandonment of the conventional confessional booth in favor of reconciliation rooms in which the priest and penitent are physically situated together. So long to protection and privacy for penitents and protection for innocent priests accused of a crime as well! The abandonment of conventional confessionals was not the only bad fruit served up by V2 Modernists in the form and administration of the Sacrament of Penance.

Coming out of the 1960’s Modernist reformers produced a new Rite of Penance which expanded options for the Sacrament to three: Reconciliation of Individual Penitents; Reconciliation of Several Penitents; Reconciliation with General Absolution. Is anyone surprised that in many parishes soon after this many pastors all but abandoned individual confessions in favor of communal forms? It was not uncommon to see parish schedules that listed confessions as “Available by Appointment” rather than scheduled weekly prior to Masses. It was also common practice in many dioceses and parishes to offer General Absolution regularly as the ordinary form of the sacrament. This despite the instruction of the rite that explicitly states that General Absolution may only be used in danger of death or when there are such large numbers of penitents that a priest would be physically unable to hear individual confessions within a “reasonable period of time.”

Ah yes, a typical V2 ambiguous choice of words and a perfect Modernist loophole: reasonable period of time. But not all communal forms of the sacrament involve General Absolution. Some lazy pastors who do not want to hear confessions regularly and some well-meaning pastors who need the help of additional confessors use the second form of the rite, wherein there is a communal quasi-liturgical ritual followed by individual confessions, heard by any number of priests invited to hear the confessions of the faithful.

I used to make myself available to parishes for this second form of the sacrament, since it required individual confessions by the penitents. But no more do I do so, after a number of troubling experiences. In some cases the liturgical aspect of the ritual was overly long or poorly done. In other cases the number of penitents far exceeded the number of available priests and the confessions went into the twilight hours. I also had concerns about the lack of privacy for penitents, with public stations for confessions too closely spaced within a church. And there were priests who were clueless as to an appropriate limit of time to apportion for each confession, having ten minute confessions for each with hundreds of penitents waiting.

The final straw for these communal rites was when I was placed at the communion rail as confessor and a woman penitent was confessing only inches from my face. I listened to her confession with my head down and eyes closed in order to have some sense of decorum, only to be scolded by her for not looking her in the eyes while she was speaking. I assigned her a stiff penance and never returned to that church! I also stopped assisting other pastors in hearing the confessions of their parish children. Too many times I was burned by some spirit of V2 novelty perpetrated by the pastor or DRE. In one parish the children were instructed to finger paint their sins as pictures and then explain their pictures to the priest confessors, after which their pictures were displayed on a church wall. So much for the seal of confession! In another parish I heard the confessions of dozens of middle school age children and not a single one of them knew a single prayer which I could assign as a penance.

All I could tell them to do was to go talk to Jesus. But back now to our original concern about the V2 change from confessional booths to reconciliation rooms. Confessionals were mandated in times past, in part, to protect adult female penitents from the groping hands of predator priests; who could have imagined then that the greater concern one day would be to protect children and teens—mostly boys—from the predator behavior of homosexual priests? Not to say that there were no homosexual clerics in the past but certainly not nearly the high numbers of today. The effects of V2 changes have been catastrophic, to say the least. Take, for instance, the Catholic Church in Australia, which is facing intense scrutiny and intervention by civil authorities, occasioned by rampant clerical sex abuse of children. At stake is the seal of the confession itself and the manner in which the confessions of children are heard. Already the Australian bishops have directed that the confessions of children must be heard in an open setting in the full view of all participants, who are supervised by staff.

Liberal Criminal Justice Narrative Take Down

As a nice follow up to yesterday’s post, this is a great job from Claremont Magazine.

An excerpt.

If Amazon is correct, there are currently more than 150 books in print with the phrase “mass incarceration” in the title or subtitle. You need no special knowledge of crime and punishment in the United States to infer correctly that the term is not one of praise for our criminal justice system. “Mass incarceration” means not simply that many Americans are behind bars, but that too many Americans are behind bars.

Currently, about 2.2 million individuals are incarcerated in the nation’s federal prisons (190,000), state prisons (1.3 million), and local jails (725,000). These are, admittedly, depressingly high numbers—and much higher, adjusted for population, than in other Western democracies. Prisons, however, are a response not to a population problem but to a crime problem. So the question is not whether the United States has too many people in prison for a country of its size, but whether it has too many people in prison for a country with its number of crimes and convictions. (Note that of the local jail inmates, about three fifths are awaiting trial and most of the rest are serving short sentences of less than a year.)

Start with crime. According to the FBI, in 2015 law enforcement authorities reported over 15,000 homicides; 124,000 rapes; 327,000 robberies; and 764,000 aggravated assaults (that is, assaults with a deadly weapon or those causing serious bodily injury). That’s 1.2 million very serious violent crimes known to the police. Authorities also reported 1.6 million burglaries, of which more than a million were of personal residences. Residential burglary is the most serious and traumatic of the property crimes and the one that comes closest to the personal violation characteristic of violent crimes. (Victimization surveys show that the true prevalence of crime in the United States, including crimes not reported to the police, is more than twice as high as official police data.)

All of these crimes are felonies that can land one in prison. And these numbers do not include such serious offenses as kidnapping, indecent liberties with a child, other sex crimes short of rape, and drug trafficking, for which we have no national incident data. Of course, not all criminals are arrested. For some of these serious crimes arrest rates are shockingly low: just 29% for robbery and 13% for burglary. Yet, altogether, police made over 10 million arrests in 2015, 1.5 million for violent crimes (including misdemeanor assaults).

What, then, of convictions for serious crimes? The most recent data from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) show more than 1.1 million felony convictions in state courts each year (2006) and 72,000 felony convictions in federal courts (2014). For the convictions in state courts, over 200,000 were for a violent crime; 100,000 for burglary; and over 200,000 for drug trafficking. Many will be surprised to learn that only two fifths of those convicted of felonies in state courts are actually sentenced to prison. Of the rest, about half receive no incarceration (mainly probation) and half are sentenced to a short term in a local jail. Indeed, at any one time there are more than twice as many convicted offenders on probation or parole—that is, not incarcerated—as there are in the nation’s prisons or jails.

With offenders each year committing well over a million very serious violent crimes and another 1.6 million burglaries, with police each year arresting 1.5 million violent offenders, and with courts each year convicting more than a million persons for a felony, it is perhaps not so surprising that state and federal prisons hold one and a half million inmates. If we have a “mass incarceration” problem it appears to be because we have a “mass crime” problem, despite the downward trend of the past two decades.

Are one and a half million felons in state and federal prisons too many? Are our prisons filled with low-level offenders, especially small-time drug users, who could be released with no harm to the public? And what of the violent offenders, burglars, and drug traffickers, who together constitute fully three fourths of all state prisoners? Would the nation be better served if hundreds of thousands of these offenders were released into our communities or never sent to prison in the first place?

It is a great virtue of John Pfaff’s Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform that it thoroughly refutes the myth, which he calls the “Standard Story,” that the “war on drugs” was responsible for “mass incarceration”—a thesis made famous by Michelle Alexander in her bestseller The New Jim Crow (2010). Reporting data from BJS, Pfaff shows that only 16% of state prisoners are serving time for a drug offense as their most serious conviction, and only 3.5% for drug possession. And he notes that even the relatively few serving time for simple possession may have committed a more serious drug offense but were allowed to plea to the lesser crime. He cites studies showing that about a quarter of drug offenders in prison had previously been convicted of a violent crime, that a fifth had used a gun in a previous crime, and that only about 1% of all state prisoners were “nonviolent, first- or second-time drug offenders.” He even titles one section of his chapter on the war on drugs “The Myth of the Low-Level, Nonviolent Drug Offender.”

A professor at Fordham Law School with a Ph.D. in economics, Pfaff goes on to challenge Alexander’s further claim that the war on drugs (which Alexander attributes to anti-black bias) explains the disproportion of blacks in America’s prisons. He shows to the contrary that whereas blacks in 2013 were 38% of all state prisoners serving time for a drug offense, they were 37% of the much larger number of those serving time for non-drug crimes. Remove all drug offenders from prison and the racial disproportion of state prison inmates would remain essentially unchanged.

How, then, to achieve the kind of massive reductions in incarceration that Pfaff believes are necessary to reduce the “hard-to-estimate ‘collateral’ costs” of mass incarceration, such as the income inmates lose while behind bars, the emotional costs on inmates’ families, the reinforcing of racial biases and inequalities, and the increased future health costs that former inmates face? No real progress will be made until we confront, as he titles his seventh chapter, “The Third Rail: Violent Offenses.” Most simply, we must send fewer violent offenders to prison and shorten the time behind bars of those we do send. States and counties must “rethink how they punish people convicted of violent crimes, where ‘rethink’ means ‘think about how to punish less….

If we learned anything from the past half century, it is that punishment works. Reduce the likelihood that criminals will go to prison or spend much time there, and you will get more crime. Increase the costs that criminals will pay for their deviant behavior, and crime will go down. Some of this is deterrence; some is incapacitation; and some results from the ways in which criminal laws reinforce moral norms. Of course, recognizing the value of prisons and punishment is not inconsistent with doing everything we can to keep young people from launching criminal careers in the first place, or with providing adequate funding within our prisons and jails for educational, vocational, mental health, and substance abuse programs.

One has to admire the clear-eyed approach of the authors of these two new books: we have too many people in prison; most inmates are violent offenders; therefore no serious decarceration will be achieved without reducing punishment for violent crime. Though the “experts” will continue to push in this direction, sober public opinion will resist, and rightly so. The crime drop of the past two decades happened for a reason, and the recent increase in violent crime throughout the United States reminds us of the stakes. Americans expect their government to protect them from those who murder, rape, rob, and assault. It is, after all, why we have government. Sending fewer serious violent offenders to prison or reducing their sentences breaks faith with the American people and puts us all at greater risk of a tragic encounter with the lawless.

Research Bias?

An insightful—and witty, from a conservative perspective—article from City Journal on the testing done to try and drive criminal justice policy, which one hopes, after this type of take down, someday abates.

An excerpt.

The attempt to find systemic police bias has come to this: the difference between an officer saying “uh” and saying “that, that’s.” According to Stanford University researchers, police officers in Oakland, California, use one of those verbal tics more often with white drivers and the other more often with black drivers. If you can guess which tic conveys “respect” and which “disrespect,” you may have a career ahead of you in the exploding field of bias psychology.

In June, a team of nine Stanford psychologists, linguists, and computer scientists released a paper purporting to show that Oakland police treat black drivers less respectfully than white ones. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, elicited a huzzah from the press. The Washington Post, the New York Times, and Science, among many other outlets, gave it prominent play. “Police officers are significantly less respectful and consistently ruder toward black motorists during routine traffic stops than they are toward white drivers,” gloated the New York Times.

Reading the coverage, one expected reports of cops cursing at black drivers, say, or peremptorily ordering them around, or using the N-word. Instead, the most “disrespectful” officer utterance that the researchers presented was: “Steve, can I see that driver’s license again? It, it’s showing suspended. Is that—that’s you?” The second most “disrespectful” was: “All right, my man. Do me a favor. Just keep your hands on the steering wheel real quick.”

The researchers themselves undoubtedly expected more dramatic results. Undaunted by the lackluster findings, they packaged them in the conventional bias narrative anyway, opening their study by invoking the “onslaught of incidents” involving officers’ use of force with black suspects that have “rocked” the nation. A cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement helpfully commented in the San Francisco Chronicle that the study goes beyond individual racism to highlight a “systemic set of practices that has impacts on people’s lives.”

The study is worth examining in some detail as an example of the enormous scientific machinery being brought to bear on a problem of ever-diminishing scope, whether in police departments or in American society generally. The most cutting-edge research designs, computer algorithms, and statistical tools, such as Fisher’s exact tests, Cronbach’s alpha, and Kernel density estimates, are now deployed in the increasingly desperate hunt for crippling white racism, while a more pressing problem—inner-city dysfunction—gets minimal academic attention.

Lead researcher Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford psychology professor, specializes in implicit bias, the idea that nearly everyone approaches allegedly disfavored groups with unconscious prejudice. The Oakland Police Department has given Eberhardt virtually unlimited access to its policing data as part of a federal consent decree governing the department’s operations. Her first study of the department—on racial profiling in police stops—managed to run nearly 400 pages without ever disclosing black and white crime rates in Oakland. (Hint: they are vastly disparate.)

This latest study analyzed officer body-camera footage from 981 car stops that Oakland officers made during April 2014. Blacks were 682 of the drivers in those stops, whites 299. The resulting officer-driver conversations yielded 36,738 discrete officer utterances. In the first phase of the study, college students rated 414 of those officer utterances (1.1 percent of the total) for levels of respect. The students were shown what, if anything, the driver said immediately preceding each officer statement but were not shown any more of the earlier interaction between officer and driver. They were not told the race of the driver or officer or anything else about the stop. The students rated police utterances to white drivers as somewhat more respectful than those to black drivers, though the officers were equally “formal,” as the researchers defined it, with drivers of both races.

In the second phase of the study, the linguisticians tried to tease out which features of the 414 officer utterances had generated the student ratings. They came up with 22 categories of speech that seemed most determinative. On the positive scale were, inter alia, officer apologies, the use of surnames, the use of “um” and “uh” (known in linguistics as “filled pauses”), use of the word “just,” and what is referred to as “giving agency” (saying “you can,” “you may,” or “you could”). The eight negative categories included asking a question, “asking for agency” (phrases such as “do me a favor,” “allow me,” “may I,” “should I”), “disfluency” (a repeated word such as “that, that”), informal titles (“bro,” “my man”), first names, and, most disrespectful, the phrase “hands on the wheel.” If some of those distinctions seem arbitrary—“could I” is disrespectful, “you could” is respectful; “um” is respectful,” a word repetition is not—they are. More important, they are minute and innocuous. The 22 categories each received a score allegedly capturing their degree of respect or disrespect, with apologizing at the top of the respect scale and “hands on the wheel” at the bottom. There were no categories for swear words or even for unsoftened commands, presumably because officers never engaged in those forms of speech.

Finally, in phase three, the researchers turned their computers loose on all 36,738 officer utterances, using the 22-category rating system. They found that officers’ utterances toward white drivers scored somewhat higher in respect than utterances toward black drivers, even after controlling for whether the stop resulted in a search, citation, arrest, or warning. (The sample size for white arrests and searches was quite small, however: one arrest and two searches; black drivers were 15 times more likely to be arrested than whites.) Black officers scored the same as white officers in respect toward black and white drivers. White drivers were 57 percent more likely than black drivers to hear something from the top 10 percent of the respect categories, and black drivers were 61 percent more likely to hear something from the bottom 10 percent of the disrespect categories.

There is plenty to criticize in the study’s methodology and assumptions. Doing so, however, risks implying that the substantive claims are significant. They are not. Nevertheless, if it were the case that we should worry about whether an officer says “you can” (good) or “can I” (bad) to black drivers, the study leaves out critical components of officer-civilian interactions. The most disrespectful phrase in the disrespect scale is “hands on the wheel.” Black drivers are 29 percent more likely to hear those words than white drivers. Why might an officer ask a driver to put his hands on the wheel? Perhaps because the driver was not complying with an officer’s initial requests or was otherwise belligerent. Yet nothing about driver behavior is included in phase three’s regression analyses—not drivers’ words, demeanor, or actions.

The Pope’s Politics

Revealing article about such from the Wall Street Journal.

An excerpt.

When Pope Francis wants to make the objects of his disfavor feel his sting, he’s never lacked for words—especially when it involves the U.S.

But when it comes to the brutality of Venezuela’s government against its own people, Pope Francis and the Vatican have mostly avoided calling out Nicolás Maduro by name. Until Friday, that is. That’s when a popular uprising in Venezuela finally pushed the Vatican to oppose the regime’s bid to tighten its grip by imposing an illegitimate super-assembly to rewrite the constitution.

Even this late in the day, the Vatican’s expression of “profound concern” is better than nothing. Particularly welcome is Rome’s call for Mr. Maduro to “suspend” the new assembly. Still, it’s hard not to notice that in sharp contrast to Venezuela’s bishops—who recently tweeted a prayer to “free our homeland from the claws of communism and socialism”—even the toughest Vatican statement on Venezuela has all the zing of a World Bank communiqué calling for more resources for a clean-water project in Moldova.

How different the tone is when the subject is Donald Trump or Uncle Sam. Whether suggesting that Mr. Trump is not Christian, warning on Mr. Trump’s inaugural day that populism can lead to Hitler, or implying that ours is an economy that “kills,” Pope Francis has an argot of displeasure all his own.

Its absence here is particularly striking. Because for an example of a populism that leads to totalitarianism or an economy that kills, it’s hard to beat oil- and mineral-rich Venezuela, whose citizens have now been reduced to picking through garbage cans while their leaders ratchet up the repression. Not to mention Cuba’s military-socialist colonialism.

As for the bishops, good ones are not given to criticizing their pope publicly, and Venezuela’s are no exception. But they may be speaking more frankly in private. In a June 11 article headlined “Stop being soft on our despot, Venezuela’s bishops tell Francis,” the Economist reported on a meeting six bishops forced onto Francis’ schedule when they flew to Rome in June—uninvited.

Two months earlier, the bishops put it this way: “We have to defend our rights and the rights of others. It’s time to very seriously, and responsibly, ask if civil disobedience, peaceful demonstrations, appeals to the national and international public power, and civic protest, are valid and opportune measures.”

Defenders of the Francis approach have been assuring everyone the pope’s reluctance to speak forthrightly against the regime, and his preference for talking about “both sides” as if they are morally equal, is part of a larger plan. In particular they claim that those criticizing the pope for his silence were playing into Mr. Maduro’s hands, given how the Venezuelan strongman likes to chide his country’s bishops for impeding the “dialogue” he and Francis have called for.

The events of the past week have shattered any silly pretense about some master Vatican plan. But the roots of Pope Francis’ misreadings run deeper than Venezuela. In some ways, it is but the latest reflection of a historic misunderstanding that has often led a poor and Catholic Latin America to blame its wealthy and Protestant neighbor to the north for all its woes.

Just last month, for example, Pope Francis fed this trope by accusing the United States of having a “distorted view of the world.” At nearly the same time, a semiofficial Jesuit-run Vatican journal carried an article decrying an alliance between American Catholics and evangelical Protestants as an “ecumenism of hate.” On top of it all rests the old idea, still popular on the religious left, that socialism represents the Gospel ideal.

The Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg was probably closer to the mark when he recently put it this way: “Venezuela’s crisis doesn’t fit into Pope Francis’s standard way of explaining contemporary political and economic problems. It’s very hard for the pope to blame Venezuela’s problems on the tyranny of Mammon, financial speculation, free trade agreements, arms-dealers, nefarious ‘neoliberals,’ or any of his usual list of suspects.”

The ironies here are legion. In the latter half of the 20th century, Latin American liberation theologians posited a “people’s church” pitted against a “formal church” whose hierarchy was aligned to the military dictatorships that prevailed in much of the continent. Before he was elected pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio faced precisely this claim in the accusation that he did not adequately criticize the military regime that ruled his native Argentina during his time as the head of its Jesuit community.

Edith Stein

An excellent article from The Catholic Thing about her which was published yesterday on the 75th anniversary of her death at the hands of the Nazis; and the author is so correct that she was an outstanding philosopher—many of her books are in my library—and I would encourage you to take a look at her work..

An excerpt.

Every generation thinks it’s living in unusual times. Ours really is. We are witnessing the passing of our civilization and – like someone having brain surgery while wide-awake – are conscious of what’s happening. Or at least a few of us are. We’re suffering – among other things – massive amnesia. Juvenile rebellion, too, by people of all ages, against what’s taken to be “our civilization.” But the greater problem, by far, is that for most people our basic traditions have just dropped below the horizon. They don’t see that anything else than what they’re familiar with ever existed. And we have fewer and fewer witnesses to the truth.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the death of a woman whom St. John Paul II called “a martyr to truth,” Edith Stein, a brilliant philosopher, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, who got caught up in the Nazi persecutions of Jews and the Church, and died at Auschwitz.

It’s just one reflection of the malice of those days that she and her sister Rosa were picked up by the Gestapo at their Carmelite convent in Holland, where they’d fled for safety, because the Dutch bishops had twelve days earlier issued a pastoral letter denouncing Nazi “racism.” In retaliation, Nazi authorities arrested Jewish converts to Catholicism and shipped them to the gas chambers.

I first got interested in Stein when I wrote The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. She was canonized in 1998; controversy erupted over whether she should even be called a martyr since she was killed not in odium fidei, some argued, but because she was Jewish. It also seemed to some critics that JPII was trying to appropriate the Holocaust partly for Catholics

In Poland, where the Nazis killed several million non-Jews, this is still a sore controversy. But the official Vatican explanation – one typical of what JPII called the “new martyrs” – was that several factors intermingled to make “martyr” the right term for Edith.

Besides the Dutch bishops’ statement of Catholic teaching about “race,” there were at least three features of Stein’s life that could be read as a willingness to accept martyrdom:

  1. She refused to go into hiding, since the Dutch were themselves often heroic in resisting Nazism. (A Catholic woman, Miep Gies, for instance, famously helped hide Anne Frank and her family when such help, if discovered, meant death).
  2. The Carmel that had taken in Edith (by then Sister Benedicta of the Cross) would have been subject to reprisals if she went into hiding.
  3. And most significantly: she knew, as an assimilated German Jew, that Catholics in Germany were often accused of lying, and she wished to remain fully loyal to the truth of who she was – and what she believed.

Pope John Paul II was right, then, when he declared at her canonization: “A young woman in search of the truth has become a saint and martyr through the silent workings of divine grace. . . .Now, alongside Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux, another Teresa takes her place among the host of saints who do honor to the Carmelite Order.”

Church of Intersectionality

I’d heard about this but didn’t know what it was until I read this article in First Things, which is disturbing but entirely predictable as part of the long march through the institutions central to communism’s/socialism’s atheistic agenda.

An excerpt.

I recently attended an academic conference at the University of Notre Dame called “Intersectional Inquiries and Collaborative Action: Gender and Race.” It felt like a return to my undergraduate years in the early 1990s. I saw women with shaved heads wearing ethnic print scarves, Birkenstocks, and baggy black clothes. Many of the participants smelled of curry and incense. I attended the conference because I was researching the concept of “intersectionality” as part of a year-long fellowship to study academic diversity. A year ago, I knew almost nothing about the diversity movement in academia. Now I’ve learned that it is only the tip of a very large iceberg, and that this movement is more extensive, and more radical, than the anodyne term “diversity” would lead one to ­believe.

Intersectionality is a wholly academic invention that plays a large role in this movement. Indeed, it stands in the vanguard of the progressive academy, allied with critical race studies, queer studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies. Intersectional scholars proudly proclaim their goal: to smash the neoliberal, corporate, heteropatriarchal academy and then to reinvent it in a way that rejects traditional notions about what universities are meant to do. These scholars also want to redefine the family and to abolish the “binary” of man and woman.

Although the term has been around for almost thirty years, most people—even academics—don’t really know what intersectionality means. It originated in a 1989 article about anti­discrimination law, in which black feminist scholar Kimberlé ­Crenshaw made a case for treating race and gender not as separate legal categories but as a new, combined category. In other words, while a woman might claim discrimination on the basis of sex, and a black man might claim it on the basis of race, neither sex nor race alone could capture the discrimination endured by a black woman.

Crenshaw explains the idea by taking up the legal case of DeGraffenreid v. General Motors (1977). In that case, five black women sued General Motors for discrimination. GM had not hired black women prior to 1964, and had dismissed all but one of its black female ­employees hired after 1970 on the basis of seniority. The plaintiffs claimed that the harm they suffered could not be addressed by suing as women only, because GM could point out that it had indeed hired women (white women) prior to 1964 and had retained those that were hired after 1970.

Nor were they willing to sue on the basis of race alone. The discrimination they suffered was not merely racial, they argued, but a result of their combined racial and gender identity. The district court dismissed this claim, observing that the prospect of “the ­creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, clearly raises the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora’s box.” Crenshaw rejected that reasoning, pointing out that these women were clearly suffering from compound discrimination for their identity. Neither black men nor white women found themselves in quite the same situation.

Thus the metaphor of “intersectionality” was born. Black women found themselves at the intersection of two different kinds of prejudice—about race and gender—and could not receive remedy by addressing one or the other alone. Writers since Crenshaw have expanded the term to cover studies that integrate the disadvantages caused by sexual orientation, class, age, body size, gender identification, ability, and more. Personal identity results from the combination of these many aspects of identity, they say, and each one signifies a measure of either oppression or privilege. As a whole, these traits determine an individual’s position in the “matrix of domination.”

Yet intersectionality deals not only, or even primarily, with individuals. Individuality is secondary to group identity. For just as prejudice and oppression define our dominant institutions and social structures, intersectionalists assert, we are formed by the social structures and groups to which we belong. Blacks, women, and others have the distinct disadvantage of being part of nondominant social structures, no matter what other characteristics they possess (wealth, tenure, prestige). They are the inevitable targets of prejudice, discrimination, fear, and hatred. The only solution to this society-wide problem is coalition-building and political action on a large scale. In other words, we need a revolution.

Patricia Hill Collins is distinguished university professor in sociology at the University of Maryland. She has had a long and productive career as a black feminist academic. Her work is cited widely by scholars in gender studies, queer studies, Africana studies, rhetoric, communications, and sociology.

Collins was the keynote speaker at the Notre Dame conference I attended. Though I disagreed with almost all of the substance of her talk, she drew the audience in, made us feel like we were her friends and allies, and effectively recruited us to her cause. She used humor and storytelling to describe her life as a black female academic in an age when she had very few peers who looked like her. (She’s currently sixty-nine years old.)

As she spoke, I began to feel that I was not at an academic lecture at all, but at an Evangelical church with a charismatic pastor. She even looked the part, wearing all black with a vibrant green scarf that hung around her shoulders like a cleric’s stole. Some of her statements brought approving murmurs from the audience—“Umm hmm.” At times people broke out in spontaneous applause or acclamation, as if we were at a revival.

Soon the church-like atmosphere evolved into a political rally. Collins told us that the academy is filled with “timid people” who are afraid to challenge the status quo. She also asserted that authentic intellectual engagement requires political activism. Why should we “take up the words” if we “lose the critical edge” and the ability to put ideas into practice? “Now is not the time,” Collins asserted, for “business as usual!” The election of Donald Trump has heightened the need for intersectionality, as a way of protesting the egregious racism, sexism, and homophobia that his administration embodies. She exhorted us to be oppositional. Revolution cannot take place unless we overthrow the existing power structures, and intersectionality requires that all oppressed groups work together. Citing black feminist heroes such as Angela Davis, she charged the ­audience to form nonhierarchical networks of flexible solidarity, coalitions of conscience, made up of people who would devote themselves to upending the status quo. Everyone loved it. Nobody seemed to notice (or mind) that this was precisely the same language that radicals of all stripes have employed for at least the past fifty years.

Andy Warhol, Catholic

And apparently a daily mass goer, that and more in this wonderful book review from Rolling Stone.

An excerpt.

We don’t know if Andy Warhol got his wish “to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Elizabeth Taylor’s finger,” but his 1987 memorial service was a spectacle. Yoko Ono, Richard Gere, Roy Lichtenstein, Calvin Klein, Raquel Welch, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Halston and more packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni “hovered and watched” the pageantry; she worked at the Warhol Studio. She was the last employee that Andy had ever hired.

After Andy, Fraser-Cavassoni’s memoir, is an endlessly quotable romp that captures the melancholy and magnificence of Warhol’s final days and legacy. “I started the book with Andy’s memorial because it captured his world – a far-reaching one that included fashion and society, as well as art,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Memorials celebrate a life.”

Fraser-Cavassoni’s entire book is an elegiac celebration of a world that died with Warhol, but is slowly being resurrected. “Toward the end of his life, Warhol felt profoundly undervalued and ignored,” she explains. But now, 30 years later, he’s been born anew: collectors pine for his work; major museums exhibit his creations; his art

has skyrocketed in value. Alice Cooper recently discovered his “Little Electric Chair” print, that was part of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, which he bought for $2,500. In 2015, a similar print sold at auction for $11.6 million.

The ultimate Warhol insider, Fraser-Cavassoni was drawn to and inspired by Warhol, but was no stranger to fame. Her mother is the historian and novelist Lady Antonia Fraser, and her stepfather was the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter. Fraser-Cavassoni followed in their literary footsteps, becoming a fashion journalist and biographer; her first book was an eye-opening examination of legendary producer Sam Spiegel. After Andy demonstrates her storytelling chops as the book masterfully winds through anecdotes, scenes and interviews with scores of Warhol’s associates, acquaintances and admirers. It is breezy without ever feeling light, channeling Warhol’s enigmatic presence.

And it is the puzzle at the center of that enigma which Fraser-Cavassoni captures: Warhol’s Catholicism. At the memorial service, art historian John Richardson eulogized that Warhol “fooled the world into believing that his only obsessions were money, fame, and glamor and that he was cool to the point of callousness.” As a fellow Catholic (like her mother, she attended St. Mary’s Ascot convent school in Berkshire), Fraser-Cavassoni gets Warhol’s religion.

“Almost everyone who remained relevant in Andy’s life was Catholic,” she explains, “whether it was Paul Morrissey, Fred Hughes, Bob Colacello, the photographer Christopher Makos and Vincent Fremont.” She continues: “Being brought up Catholic gives a sense of hierarchical order, discipline and faith. Faith, when embraced, anchors the creative … I think it would also be fair to say that the romantically rich and multi-layered religion that forgives all – lest we forget! – allows unconventional traditionalists.”

Warhol’s religious paradox sharpened after 1968, when writer Valerie Solanas shot and wounded him in the Factory. Fraser-Cavassoni says it was a pivotal moment: “Andy changed. He almost died. Then rose again – somewhat symbolic – and allowed Fred Hughes to turn his talent into an international business.” There’s a refrain in After Andy of Warhol saying, “I’ve got to keep the lights on,” a blue-collar sentiment that, in classic Warhol fashion, carries a more spiritual double-meaning. Warhol attended daily Mass, and served food to the homeless during holidays – actions that Fraser-Cavassoni says were signs “of his eternal gratitude.” She even notes “when he met Pope John Paul II in 1980, Andy was wearing a tie and a low-key version of his signature wig; both suggesting a sign of his respect.”

Fraser-Cavassoni had been saved by the no-nonsense nuns of St. Mary’s. After some teenage mischief, she found a sense of respect and peace with the nuns, and, in a budding fashion sense, admires the design of the habit: “Since it was flawless and since it was individually fitted on each woman, it was my first taste of haute couture.” It’s the type of line that captures another link between her and Warhol: their insatiable curiosity about the world.

And, as the daughter of Lady Antonia Fraser, the social column writers had a curiosity about young Natasha. At 15 she was already making the pages of Nicky Haslam’s Ritz column; at 16 she had a full-page portrait in British Vogue. She caught what Warhol called the “social disease,” and that included getting noticed by Mick Jagger when she was 17. She met him on Sam Spiegel’s boat. A few weeks later, their first date was a Stevie Wonder concert, and then off to the nightclubs, and finally, his flat. They had fun, but were never in love: “He was a burning light who belonged to Jerry.”

Flannery O’Connor

An article about a new documentary about her—she is surely one of America’s greatest Catholic writers, a lot of social teaching in her work—from Catholic World Report.

I just bought the film from Amazon and you should also consider it.

An excerpt.

The question sometimes comes up: “Where should I start with Flannery O’Connor?”

Perhaps the person posing the question has never read O’Connor at all. Or he might have encountered one of her widely anthologized stories in high school or college—probably “A Good Man is Hard to Find” or “Revelation”—and wanted to revisit her work.

That’s a good and important question, because if you start reading O’Connor—who died on August 3, 1964—in the wrong place or the wrong frame of mind, you won’t get her now or maybe even ever. There are lots of people who have read O’Connor and just don’t like her writing, and don’t see what in the world the rest of us are raving about. Which is fine, because, you know—to each his own.

And not to be too didactic about the whole thing—if you’re serious about trying to read O’Connor intelligently, I really think you need to have, besides the fiction (and I’d start with, perhaps, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “Revelation,” and “A Temple of the Holy Ghost), two other works at your side: Mystery and Manners, a collection of her thoughts on writing and faith, and her letters, collected in The Habit of Being.

Now, there is always the danger of over-analysis coming between the reader and author, a danger of which O’Connor was keenly aware.

In a letter of March 28, 1961, to a professor of English who shared with O’Connor his students’ interpretation of “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” she began: “The interpretation of your ninety students and three teachers is fantastic and about as far from my intentions as it could get to be.” She finishes her note off with: “Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it. My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.”

But the idea of reading a bit of Mystery and Manners—even what might be available here and there online—and having the letters close by is not for the purpose of “correct” interpretation, but merely to understand what O’Connor herself was trying to do. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who have said to me either that after reading a couple of O’Connor stories they were shocked to find out she was Catholic or that they knew she was Catholic and they knew her faith was important to her—but they just couldn’t see it. They saw blood and rudeness and ignorance, certainly—but they just couldn’t see the “Catholic” part.

Thanks to documentarian Bridget Kurt, we now have another tool for introducing the world and work of Flannery O’Connor to the curious and confused: a one-hour documentary called Uncommon Grace.

Using photographs and the testimony of eminent O’Connor scholars like William Sessions and Brad Gooch, Kurt tells the story of O’Connor’s life from her birth in Savannah in 1925 to her death just 39 years later a couple of hundred miles away in Milledgeville, Georgia. Along the way Kurt also intelligently unpacks the story of the bigger story O’Connor was trying to tell: the true story of human beings, created for one thing, but hell-bent on the road for another, unless they can open up to grace, grace which enters in the most unexpected ways.

Mary Flannery O’Connor was an only child from a Catholic family, born in Savannah. The childhood home, now renovated and open for tours, is located across the street from St. John the Baptist Cathedral on one of those iconic Savannah squares. Uncommon Grace does a lovely job with O’Connor’s childhood, letting us peak into the world of a singular child who wrote as a teenager, “I am only 14 years old, but I feel I need to bring literature into being.” Singular, indeed.

Uncommon Grace takes us with the O’Connors as they move from Savannah, first to Atlanta for a time (which Flannery hated) and then to her mother’s hometown of Milledgeville, a bit northeast of Macon. In her teens, Flannery flourished both as a writer for her school newspaper and as an artist. She was a witty cartoonist, and in fact, had thought for a time—even through college at the Georgia State College for Women—that would be her career path.

But writing it was to be, and writing took her, after graduation, up north to the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop. The documentary offers a good look into O’Connor’s participation in this lively period of mid-century American letters and the transitions in her life over the next few years: her deepening commitment to fiction, her self-understanding, her move from Iowa to New York, and, tragically, her health problems.

For O’Connor, like her father, suffered from lupus. The diagnosis was initially kept from Flannery herself, her mother being the one to receive the news after Flannery had an episode in New York that required her to return to Georgia for help.

And it was in Georgia that lupus forced her to stay for the rest of her life. She lived with her mother on their working dairy farm called Andalusia, went to daily Mass, wrote for two hours a day, read, corresponded, interacted with the locals, and ended her day with a dose of the Summa.

Pope Francis, Intellectual Back Story

Great and insightful article from Crisis Magazine.

An excerpt.

Every theology necessarily incorporates a philosophy, for there will always be a natural way of thinking that under-girds the exposition of revelation. Like everyman, popes have philosophies, and although it is not the business of a pope to advocate any philosophy, the philosophy every pope presupposes will influence his representation of the Catholic faith and his government of the Church. John Paul II is often cited as an exponent of Thomism as interpreted through the lens of the phenomenology of Husserl. Benedict XVI is steeped in the Augustinian tradition, which carries with it certain themes borrowed from Plato, but which in the end was not too different from the Thomism of John Paul II, both teaching that human intellect could grasp transcendent ideas. Like his mentor Saint Augustine, Benedict has spent much effort explaining the relation between faith and reason. Famously, Benedict cited the rejection of reason as the great defect of Islamic thought.

Philosophy is common sense raised to the level of reflection, and nothing in the thought of John Paul II or Benedict challenges reason, rather the opposite, for reason itself is elevated in their teaching of the faith. But then comes Pope Francis who offers what seems to be yet another gloss on the Catholic faith. The pope does not deny the divinity of Christ or the necessity of the sacraments; his reiteration of the Divine Mercy and exhortation to solidarity in matters political and economic have won broad approval. But something that seems alien is at work in his teaching, and that is because he accepts, perhaps deliberately, perhaps unwittingly, the intellectual backwash of the Enlightenment as the philosophical basis of his teaching and particularly of his moral theology. He is at heart a romantic, and sympathy will always trump thought.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an eighteenth-century French critic and philosopher whose thought has permeated the West. It was a theme of his philosophy that man although naturally innocent had been corrupted by the intrusion of law and tradition, which, rather than informing and elevating, always restricted and deformed. Pope Francis has not been known to advance a doctrine of original innocence, but his persistent theme that the mission of the Church is misrepresented by defenders of the tradition, whom he unfailingly associates with the Christ-denying Pharisees, who are soul-damaging rigorists, is an idea that, while it may have other immediate sources, can certainly be traced, by however circuitous a route, to Rousseau.

It is probably unlikely that Francis has read the turgid philosophy of the famous Prussian G. W. F. Hegel who lived a generation after Rousseau, but he is arguably a disciple. Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History were among the most popular philosophical sources of the nineteenth century, and if few had read the book there were many who knew the Hegelian slogan: “Whatever is, is right.” For Hegel, history was a process through which reason exhausts itself in events and world-historical persons. The truth of things is not known by the light of intellect or by the application of reason in its transcendent character but by what happens in history. In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis notes that there is always a tension between reality and ideas. But then he writes: “Reality is greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom” (231).

At first sight this list seems unexceptionable, but at the same time one may see in it the shadow of the Hegelian triumph of whatever is over thought. One of its terms is a nod to Benedict’s condemnation of the tyranny of relativism. The reference to angelic purity is puzzling. Does it refer to a dedicated pursuit of holiness or to a destructive scrupulosity? There are commonplaces: the unexceptionable rejection of empty rhetoric and unwise intellectual discourse. But then what is “ahistorical fundamentalism”? In this context fundamentalism is a highly charged word. Ahistorical fundamentalism must be a system of rigorist moral precept that does not take into account what actually happens. However, it is the work of moral precepts not to take into account what may be done at any one time or place but instead to lift up, guide, and form.

In his introduction to his translation of Plato’s Dialogues Benjamin Jowett, the fabled president of Balliol College, Oxford, wrote: “The universal is prior to the particular; the law conditions the event, the ideal regulates the actual. Knowledge consists in the discernment of a general pattern which the particular thing embodies, virtue consists of regulation of impulse according to eternal standards.” Jowett was writing of Plato, but, broadly. Every Christian philosopher, including the modern popes, would subscribe to Jowett’s summary as the presupposition of thought and morality.

When Saint Thomas asks where truth resides, he answers that it resides in the mind and only secondarily in things. A historical or scientific account may derive truth from what happens in the world by explaining events under a generalization, but reality remains unintelligible without ideas, and in that sense ideas are always more important than reality. And also with theological truth and moral precepts. And so also with the exercise of authority. The attempt to rule without reference to tradition or any other transcendent rational ground, or even the regulative claims of the past, however benign the results may or may not accidentally be, will result in a government that rests upon unmoderated will, difficult in principle to distinguish from a vernacular Marxism.

The attempt to derive moral guidance from reality, from how mankind behaves, from the sorry story of our aspirations and failures, will make every teaching of the Church uncertain, as has Amoris Laetitia in the opinion of many. An editorial writer in the Guardian has said that Francis has changed the Church forever from a rule-bound institution to an instinctive Church. Good luck with your instincts. The world is full of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who think it would be good to receive the body and blood of Christ. If their instincts say they are at peace with God, why not? The vast majority of Catholics don’t follow Humanae Vitae anyhow so, as Francis has written, Humanae Vitae must be revisited. The teaching of the Church should be accommodated to what is actually happening. Rigorists, says Francis, do not go with the flow of life. Ah, Hegel.

Guadalupe and America’s Founding

This article from the Catholic News Agency makes a good case for the centrality of Guadalupe in America’s aspirational heart.

An excerpt.

Santa Rosa, Calif., Aug 1, 2017 / 03:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The impact of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Americas should encourage Christians in the U.S. to continue to evangelize, even when their country seems headed in the wrong direction, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles has said.

“Guadalupe is the true ‘founding event’ in American history. And that means it is the true founding event in the history of our country — and in the history of all the other countries in North and South America,” Archbishop Gomez said July 27. “We are all children of Guadalupe.”

“In God’s plan, this is one continent. It is meant to begin new civilization. A new world of faith,” he reflected.

“Our Lady did not appear only for the Mexican people. Her intentions were continental and universal,” the archbishop said. He cited the account based on St. Juan Diego’s testimony, in which Mary described herself as “truly your compassionate Mother; your Mother and the Mother to all who dwell in this land and to all other nations and peoples.”

The impact of Our Lady of Guadalupe was immense, he added. Within just a few years of the Marian apparition, millions had been baptized, and missionary efforts like St. Junipero Serra’s fanned out from Mexico.

“A great wave of holiness swept through the continents — raising up saints and heroes of the faith in every country,” Archbishop Gomez said.

He spoke at the Napa Institute Summer Conference in Napa, Calif., about 40 miles southeast of Santa Rosa. The conference aims to consider challenges facing Catholic leaders in contemporary America

“My simple point today is that each one of us is a part of that story — part of the great mission to America that began with the visitation of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” the archbishop continued.   “The Church in this country — and every one of us — has the responsibility to continue the task that the Virgin gave to St. Juan Diego. To ‘build a shrine’ with our lives. To build a society that glorifies God and is worthy of the dignity of the human person,” he said.

For the archbishop, Our Lady of Guadalupe can reach a “post-Christian” society and provides “a way to think about our Christian lives and mission in the years ahead.”

Recognizing a common “sense of urgency” about the direction of the country, he suggested, “it is like we all woke up to discover that American society is being progressively ‘de-Christianized’.”

For Archbishop Gomez, American institutions and national self-identity were meant to be shaped by “the vision and values of the gospel.” America promised a commitment to human dignity and freedom under the Creator.

At the same time, he granted, “there are too many ways our nation has never lived up to Christian values.” He named slavery, the mistreatment of native peoples, and ongoing injustices such as racism and abortion.

Even with past influence of Christianity, “all that is changing right now.”

“We face an aggressive, organized agenda by elite groups who want to eliminate the influence of Christianity from our society,” Archbishop Gomez said, noting that Christian beliefs are being labeled as hatred or intolerance. He pointed to lawsuits against Church institutions which believe what Christ  taught and which do not want to cooperate with “practices we find immoral or dehumanizing.”

“My friends, we do not have the luxury to choose the times we live in. These are hard times. There is no denying it,” he said. “But the saints remind us that all times in the Church are dangerous times.”