Questioning a Catholic Sex Abuse Group

An organization I have praised in the past is now under fire, as this story from Catholic World Report indicates; and the resignation of the two top executives does not indicate confidence in the organization’s defense.

An excerpt.

Years ago, a number of Catholic World Report articles argued the case that the group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) – whom the media has called upon repeatedly over the years as a reliable voice to bash the Catholic Church over its handling of the sex abuse crisis – was actually nothing more than a front group for contingency lawyers and was driven by a deep ideological animus against the Church.

Now, recent lawsuits against the organization, including one by SNAP’s own former director of development, have, if anything, revealed that those arguments were too modest in their estimation of SNAP’s inner workings.

And in the wake of these lawsuits, SNAP’s most high-profile leaders—its founder and president, Barbara Blaine, and the group’s national director, David Clohessy—have suddenly announced their resignations.

SNAP has now quickly dissolved from a group awash in money and international media admiration into an organization that is near-broke, mired in costly litigation, and on the brink of extinction. What happened?

Enter Gretchen Hammond

In the summer of 2011, SNAP hired Gretchen Hammond as its director of development. By the end of 2011, Hammond, who had a background in the nonprofit world, had already helped to increase contributions to SNAP by more than double.

However, as Hammond became more familiar with the inner workings of SNAP, the more she became concerned that SNAP was not simply an innocent “victim advocacy group.” She was especially troubled by the group’s cozy relationships with Church-suing lawyers and the “donations” that poured in from them.

But most notably, Hammond – an abuse victim herself – also noticed that SNAP was not only not serving the needs of victims, but actually ignoring them. Abuse victims were simply being used as props and tools to get funds from lawyers.

When Hammond finally took her concerns to SNAP leadership, that is when her relationship with the group soon deteriorated. SNAP fired Hammond in 2013, but before she left she gathered extensive internal documents from the group, which expose SNAP’s shifty relationships with lawyers and the group’s brazen disregard for actual victims.

In February of this year, Hammond filed her lawsuit against SNAP for “retaliatory discharge,” meaning the group had fired her for reporting to leadership the acceptance of kickbacks from attorneys….

Leaders at SNAP were surely hoping that news of Hammond’s lawsuit would not spread very far. But soon, a number of major news outlets, including the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, took notice. Yet Clohessy insisted to various media outlets that Hammond’s lawsuit and the revelations that accompanied it somehow had nothing to do with his resignation. And some of Clohessy’s explanations for his departure bordered on the comical. In an interview with the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Clohessy actually cited “high cholesterol” as a contributing factor for his decision to resign.

Then, less than two weeks after Clohessy’s resignation, Barbara Blaine, SNAP’s founder, announced her own resignation. And just like Clohessy, Blaine claimed her resignation “had absolutely no bearing on my leaving” and that “the discussions and process of my departure has been ongoing.”

Catholic Women Priests

I wrote a book supporting women priests, so this is a very interesting article from Magister that might be a foretelling; if so very good.

An excerpt.

On August 2, 2016, Pope Francis instituted a commission to study the history of the female diaconate, for the purpose of its possible restoration. And some have seen this as a first step toward priesthood for women, in spite of the fact that Francis himself seems to have ruled it out absolutely, responding as follows to a question on the return flight from his journey to Sweden last November 1 (in the photo, his embrace with Swedish Lutheran archbishop Antje Jackelen):

“For the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was given by Saint John Paul II, and this holds.”

But to read the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the question of women priests appears to be anything but closed. On the contrary, wide open.

“La Civiltà Cattolica” is not just any magazine. By statute, every line of it is printed after inspection by the Holy See. But in addition there is the very close confidential relationship between Jorge Mario Bergoglio and the magazine’s editor, the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro.

Who in turn has his most trusted colleague in deputy editor Giancarlo Pani, he too a Jesuit like all the writers of the magazine.

So then, in the article with his byline that appears in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” Fr. Pani calmly rips to shreds the “last clear word” – meaning the flat no – that John Paul II spoke against women’s priesthood.

To see how, all it takes is to reread this passage of the article, properly speaking dedicated to the question of women deacons, but taking the cue from there to express hopes for women priests as well.



by Giancarlo Pani, S.J.

[…] On Pentecost of 1994, Pope John Paul II summarized, in the apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” the outcome of a series of previous magisterial statements (including “Inter Insigniores”), concluding that Jesus has chosen only men for the priestly ministry. Therefore “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women. This judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

The statement was a clear word for those who maintained that the refusal of priestly ordination for women could be discussed. Nonetheless, […] some time later, following the problems raised not so much by the doctrine as by the force with which it was presented, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented with a question: can “ordinatio sacerdotalis” be “considered as belonging to the deposit of the faith?” The answer was “affirmative,” and the doctrine was described as “infallibiliter proposita,” meaning that “it must be held always, everywhere, and by all the faithful.”

Difficulties with the answer’s reception have created “tensions” in relations between magisterium and theology over the connected problems. These are pertinent to the fundamental theology on infallibility. It is the first time in history that the congregation explicitly appealed to the constitution “Lumen Gentium” no. 25, which proclaims the infallibility of a doctrine that is taught as definitively binding by the bishops dispersed throughout the world but in communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter.

For All Us Cat Lovers

A great article in the New Statesman.

An excerpt.

A philosopher once assured me, many years ago, that he had converted his cat to veganism. Believing he was joking, I asked how he had achieved this feat. Had he supplied the cat with mouse-flavoured vegan food? Had he presented his cat with other cats, already practising veganism, as feline role models? Or had he argued with the cat and convinced it that eating meat is wrong? My interlocutor wasn’t amused, and I realised that he really believed the cat had opted for a meat-free diet. So I ended our exchange with a simple question: did the cat go out? It did, he told me. That solved the mystery. Plainly, the cat was supplementing its diet by covert hunting. If it ever brought home any of the carcasses – a practice to which ethically undeveloped cats are sadly prone – the virtuous philosopher had managed not to notice them.

It is not hard to imagine how the cat on the receiving end of this experiment in moral education must have viewed its human teacher. Perplexity at the absurdity of his behaviour would soon have been followed by contemptuous indifference. Seldom doing anything unless it serves a definite purpose or gives immediate satisfaction, cats are arch-realists. Faced with human folly, they simply go their own way.

The independence of cats is one of the features most admired by those of us who love them. Given their evolutionary history as solitary hunters, it is easily explained. Seeking their prey alone, cats – with the exception of lions and sometimes cheetahs – have not developed patterns of collective action and hierarchy of the kind found in dogs and other pack animals. “Herding cats” is a metaphor based on fact: cats don’t live in herds. As they are highly territorial and notoriously picky in their eating habits, they make an unlikely candidate for domestication. And yet, more than almost any other species, cats have learned to live on intimate terms with human beings. How has this come about?

As Abigail Tucker explains in her immensely informative and enjoyable book, wild cats need space: large tracts of land that can sustain the sources of meat that are their sole food supply. Human settlements posed a big challenge to these “hyper-carnivores”.

When forests are cleared for farming, native prey species disappear, or shrink in numbers. Lacking the prey they relied on in the past, wild cats can only turn to animals that human beings have domesticated – cattle, sheep and the like. Inevitably, this makes cats enemies of human beings. It is not recreational hunting or the use of body parts as aphrodisiacs that is condemning so many wild cats to extinction, though these disgusting practices are hastening the end of wild tigers. It is habitat destruction, an inevitable concomitant of human expansion.

Reporting of the Horror Continues

As this story from the BBC about sexual abuse by Catholic clerics in Australia makes horribly clear.

An excerpt.

An inquiry examining institutional sex abuse in Australia has heard 7% of the nation’s Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

In one religious order, over 40% of church figures were accused of abuse.

Over 4,440 people claim to have been victims between 1980 and 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was told.

The commission, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, is also investigating abuse at non-religious organisations.

It has previously heard harrowing testimony from scores of people who suffered abuse at the hands of clergy.

One victim said he was sexually abused by his Catholic Christian Brother teacher in his classroom, with other students ordered to look away.

In another case, the inquiry heard allegations that a priest threatened a girl with a knife and made children kneel between his legs.

‘Children punished’

The full scale of the problem emerged on Monday, when the commission released the statistics it has gathered.

Gail Furness, the lead lawyer assisting the commission in Sydney, said more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia were identified in claims of sexual abuse, with a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators between 1980 and 2015.

The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys. On average, it took 33 years for each instance of abuse to be reported.

The victims’ stories were “depressingly similar”, Ms Furness said. 

“Children were ignored or worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious [figures] were moved. The parishes or communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past.”

Anthony and Chrissie Foster, the parents of two girls who were abused by their parish priest, said the Catholic Church had shown “no mercy, no remorse. Nothing.”

“For so long this has been the way they acted to hide perpetrators, to move them on, with no regard for children whatsoever, that other children have become victims, and suffered this terrible fate,” they told ABC news.

‘Shocking, tragic, indefensible’

The royal commission also detailed the number of abuse claims against 10 religious orders, with data showing that four orders had allegations of abuse against more than 20% of their members.

Misguided Early Release Policies Increase Crime

A fact few with knowledge of the situation would dispute, and the statistics from the state with the most early releases, California, reported by the Criminal Justice legal Foundation, now add further fuel to the fire of increased crime.

Press Release.

Release Date:  February 2, 2017 Contact:  Michael Rushford (916) 446-0345


The FBI Preliminary Crime Report for 2016 indicates that violent crime increased in two-thirds of California’s largest cities. The report tracks crimes committed during the first six months of the previous year in U. S. Cities with populations over 100,000.

Data analysis by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation found that of the 69 California cities listed in the report, 46 had increased in violent crime last year. Some cities saw increases of more than 50% in crime, including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. In Los Angeles, violent crime rose 16.8% compared to 2015.

Cities with the largest violent crime increases included Moreno Valley (+66.3%), Burbank (+50.7%), Fremont (+41.6%), El Cajon (+27.8%), Santa Maria (+26.1%), Rialto (+22.7%), Riverside (+22.5%), and Pasadena (+18.1%).

The largest increases in murder were reported in San Jose (+127%), Santa Ana (+116.6%), San Bernardino (+100%), San Diego (+41.1%), and Berkeley (+35%). Rapes increased in many cities, including in Corona (+166%), Fremont (+73.6%), Fairfield (+70.5%), and Elk Grove (+68.4%).

“This data indicates that, in many parts of California, 2016 was another year with major increases in violent crime,” said CJLF President Michael Rushford. “While some academics and politicians will be unable to identify the cause, working and middle class Californians who live in communities where thousands of habitual criminals have been released by the Governor’s Realignment law or left on the streets by Proposition 47 are beginning to understand that they are paying a high price for these misguided laws,” he added.

In 2015, the U. S. Department of Justice reported that violent crime in California increased by 7.6% two and one-half times the national increase. The FBI Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, January-June, 2016 is available at: The FBI report Crime in the United States 2015 is available at:

CJLF President Michael Rushford can be reached for comment at (916) 446-0345.

Focused Deterrence Evaluation

This approach claims substantial positive results of 40 to 60% reduction, but the evaluations fail in the first requirement of rigorous evaluations, as noted in our evaluations page—randomization—as noted in the conclusion to the meta study mentioned in yesterday’s post.

An excerpt.

The Effects of “Pulling Levers” Focused Deterrence Strategies on Crime

Anthony A. Braga and David L. Weisburd

First published: 02 April 2012

The available scientific evidence on the crime reduction value of focused deterrence strategies has been previously characterized as “promising” but “descriptive rather than evaluative” (Skogan and Frydl, 2004: 241) and as “limited” but “still evolving” (Wellford et al., 2005: 10) by the U.S. National Research Council’s Committee to Review Research on Police Policy and Practices and Committee to Improve Research Information and Data on Firearms, respectively. Our systematic review identified ten evaluations of focused deterrence strategies; nine of these evaluations were completed after the National Research Council reports were published. A better developed base of scientific evidence now exists to assess whether crime prevention impacts are associated with this approach.

The basic findings of our review are very positive. Nine out of ten eligible studies reported strong and statistically significant crime reductions associated with the approach. Nonetheless, we are concerned with the lack of rigorous randomized experimental evaluations of this promising approach. While the biases in quasiexperimental research are not clear (e.g. Campbell and Boruch, 1975; Wilkinson and Task Force on Statistical Inference, 1999), recent reviews in crime and justice suggest that weaker research designs often lead to more positive outcomes (e.g. see Weisburd, Lum, and Petrosino, 2001; Welsh et al., 2011). This does not mean that non-experimental studies cannot be of high quality, but only that there is evidence that non-experimental designs in crime and justice are likely to overstate outcomes as contrasted with randomized experiments. In his review of situational crime prevention evaluations, Guerette (2009) finds that the conclusions of randomized evaluations were generally consistent with the majority conclusion of the nonrandomized evaluations. While our narrative review is consistent with Guerette’s (2009) conclusion, our calculated effect sizes reveal that less rigorous focused deterrence evaluation designs were associated with stronger reported effects. As such, we think that caution should be used in drawing conclusions regarding population effect sizes for the pulling levers intervention.

At the same time, the effects observed in the studies reviewed were often very large, and such effect sizes are evidenced as well in those studies using strong comparison groups (e.g. Papachristos, Meares, and Fagan, 2007). Our review provides strong empirical evidence for the crime prevention effectiveness of focused deterrence strategies. Even if we assume that the effects observed contain some degree of upward bias, it appears that the overall impact of such programs is noteworthy.

These findings are certainly encouraging, and point to the promises of this approach.

We certainly believe that the positive outcomes of the present studies indicate that additional experimental evaluations, however difficult and costly, are warranted. The potential barriers are real, especially in regards to identifying valid treatment and comparison areas. But existing evidence is strong enough to warrant a large investment in multi-site experiments (Weisburd and Taxman, 2000). Such experiments could solve the problem of small numbers of places in single jurisdictions, and would also allow for examination of variation in effectiveness across contexts.

Despite our concerns over the lack of randomized experiments, we believe that the findings of eligible focused deterrence evaluations fit well within existing research suggesting that deterrence-based strategies, if applied correctly, can reduce crime (Apel and Nagin, 2011). The focused deterrence approach seems to have the desirable characteristic of altering offenders’ perceptions of sanction risk. Our findings are also supported by the growing body of scientific evidence that suggests police departments, and their partners, can be effective in controlling specific crime problems when they engage a variety of partners, and tailor an array of tactics to address underlying criminogenic conditions and dynamics (Braga, 2008a; Weisburd and Eck, 2004). Indeed, our study suggests that Durlauf and Nagin (2011) are correct in their conclusion that imprisonment and crime can both be reduced through the noteworthy marginal deterrent effects generated by allocating police officers, and their criminal justice partners, in ways that heighten the perceived risk of apprehension.

While the results of this review are very supportive of deterrence principles, we believe that other complementary crime control mechanisms are at work in the focused deterrence strategies described here that need to be highlighted and better understood (see Weisburd, 2011). In Durlauf and Nagin’s (2011) article, the focus is on the possibilities for increasing perceived risk and deterrence by increasing police presence. Although this conclusion is warranted by the data and represents an important component of the causal mechanisms that have increased the effectiveness of focused deterrence strategies, we believe it misses an important part of the story.   In the focused deterrence approach, the emphasis is not only on increasing the risk of offending, it is also on decreasing opportunity structures for violence, deflecting offenders away from crime, increasing the collective efficacy of communities, and increasing the legitimacy of police actions.   Indeed, we suspect that the large effects we observe come precisely from the multi-faceted ways in which this program influences criminals. (pp 25-26)


Another Book on Mass Incarceration

This article from the Wall Street Journal—which makes some good points, but buys into some myths, primarily by using the Marxist inspired slogan ‘mass incarceration’ —operates on the academic assumption that criminals are created by social, economic and biological conditions and accepting that means we can, by using crime reduction programs liberals still think work, but don’t; reduce prison population while not increasing the risk to the public.

An excerpt.

The good news is that a growing number of proven tactics can keep violent crime low, and perhaps reduce it even further, without relying as much on prison. If governments lock up fewer people for violent crimes, they can use some of the savings to help fund these alternatives.

One widely adopted approach is what experts call “focused deterrence,” which was first tried, with great success, in Boston in the mid-1990s. Aimed at reducing the violence associated with gang membership, the program brings gang members together with the police, social-service providers and respected members of the local community. They are told that if violence continues, the police will crack down quickly and severely. Those who agree to put violence behind them, however, are offered help with housing, education, drug and alcohol treatment and other services, and community leaders make a moral plea to them.

Such programs have had a significant effect on street violence in many places. Nine of the 10 high-quality studies that have been done on focused deterrence report strong impacts—a 63% decline in youth homicides in Boston, a 35% decline in murders among “criminally active group members” in Cincinnati and so on.

A related but less conventional approach called “Cure Violence” has been tried in New York City and Chicago (and even as far afield as Rio de Janeiro and Basra, Iraq). This program treats gun violence as a public-health problem: If left “untreated,” a shooting will be transmitted to another victim, thanks to retaliation. The idea is to interrupt that cycle, relying on people like former gang members (as opposed to the police) to help shooting victims and their friends and family find other, nonviolent ways to resolve the conflict.

Like focused deterrence, this approach also seeks to provide at-risk youth with access to resources, ranging from housing to entertainment. In New York City, a study conducted between 2010 and 2012 found that areas where Cure Violence operated had experienced 20% fewer shootings as compared with similar areas. Conversely, shootings in Chicago began to rise sharply shortly after a stalemate over the state budget resulted in a drastic cut in funding for Cure Violence in March 2015. The biggest increases in lethal violence occurred in those neighborhoods where the program had been used most widely.

Book Collecting

As a lifelong book collector, this article from The Guardian is really enjoyable.

An excerpt.

When I was a young woman, I drew a sort of perverse pride from my willingness to skip a meal or two in order to afford books. Soon enough, with the ubiquity of credit card touts on campus, I could buy both books and meals. I justified my increasing debt as necessary for my education, and joked with friends that while others spent their money on cars and expensive clothes, anything of value that I owned was on my bookcases.

I realise now that my “jokes” were, in fact, humblebrags. I did love books, always had, but I also took a certain arrogant pleasure from owning so many. It was also when my first “To Be Read” (TBR) pile started – all those volumes I had bought with the intention of reading them. And while years later, adult economics has forced me to stop shopping every time I step into a bookstore, my work as a reviewer now means that an average of five new titles arrive on my doorstep each week. My TBR pile is ceiling-high, and while I’m not going into debt, the visceral pleasure that I get from being surrounded by books remains the same.

In the 19th century, book collecting became common among gentlemen, mostly in Britain, and grew into an obsession that one of its participants called “bibliomania”. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, an English cleric and bibliographer, wrote Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance, which was a gentle satire of those he saw as afflicted with this “neurosis”. Dibdin medicalised the condition, going so far as to provide a list of symptoms manifested in the particular types of books that they obsessively sought: “First editions, true editions, black letter-printed books, large paper copies; uncut books with edges that are not sheared by binder’s tools; illustrated copies; unique copies with morocco binding or silk lining; and copies printed on vellum.”

But Dibdin himself was obsessed with the physical aspects of books, and in his descriptions paid an intense attention to the details of their bindings and printings (rather than the content) that betrayed his own love. In a letter published in an 1815 journal, he beseeched subscribers to bulk up their subscriptions to help complete a set of volumes called The Bibliographical Decameron – more beautiful than they could imagine. “I should be loth to promise what is not likely to be performed, or to incur the censure of vanity or presumption in asserting that the materials already collected, in this department of the work, are more numerous, more beautiful, and more faithful, than any which, to my knowledge, have come under the eye of the publick.”

While Dibdin was having new materials created to satisfy the hunger of those who sought books, the auctions for existing items brought staggering prices. The bloody end of so many French nobles in the revolution saw an influx of collectibles arrive on the market as private libraries were posthumously emptied. In 1812, the auction that released the library of John Ker, third duke of Roxburghe, represented a watershed moment, according to Michael Robinson, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. In his forthcoming book Ornamental Gentlemen, Robinson says interest in the Roxburghe auction was stirred by advertising, as well as the wartime shortage of books. Many wealthy Englishmen – and a representative of Napoleon – showed up for the auction, which lasted 42 days, and included a tremendous selection of incunabula (books printed prior to 1500). An edition of Boccaccio went for £2,260 (around $190,000 in today’s US dollars), the highest single price paid for a book up to that point. Dibdin himself witnessed the auction, recalling the event as having been full of “courage, slaughter, devastation, and phrensy”.

Even Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium Eater, described bibliomaniacs as irrational

The obsessive pursuit of books did not take place apart from the wider culture, however. Recent studies have revealed tensions between a nascent republican Britain and these bibliomaniacs. Even Thomas De Quincey, author of the addiction memoir Confessions of an English Opium Eater, described the literary addicts he had observed at the Roxburghe auction as irrational, and governed by “caprice” and “feelings” rather than reason. De Quincey uses the term pretium affectionus – “fancy price” – to describe how prices were decided, transforming the book collector into a dandy ruled by his emotions….

I chose my graduate school based on its library collection: Cornell, in Ithaca, New York, was cofounded by historian and bibliomaniac Andrew Dickson White, who spent his life travelling the world and collecting books, and donated more than 34,000 rare tomes to establish Cornell’s library. In that, his bibliomania was useful to a common cause, despite the fears of previous critics: to this day, scholars journey to Ithaca to use what would have once been privately admired on White’s shelves. The first time I sat in that library, holding a book published before 1500, I felt something akin to the way I have felt next to oceans: tiny, and in right proportion to the world. Handling books from centuries before is a poignant reminder that, not only have people loved books for as long as they have existed, they will continue to do so long into the future. Perhaps today, bibliomania does not feel like an irrational behaviour, as books have become less venerated and libraries rarer. Rather, as it was for others before us, it is a careful act of preservation for those who come after.

Liberation Theology, Partially Good?

Continuing his personal reshaping of Catholic thinking, Pope Francis finds good in the communist inspired practice of liberation theology, which virtually destroyed the intellectual and theological foundations of more than one order of religious.

An excerpt from the article in Brietbart News.

In his lengthy interview last week with the leftist Spanish daily El País, the Pope said that “Liberation Theology was a good thing for Latin America,” but also recognized that it had “deviations” that needed to be corrected.

The part of Liberation Theology that “opted for a Marxist analysis of reality was condemned by the Vatican,” Francis said.

“Cardinal Ratzinger issued two instructions when he was Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith,” he continued. “One very clear one about the Marxist analysis of reality, and the second picked up positive aspects.”

“Liberation Theology had positive aspects and also had deviations, especially in the part of the Marxist analysis of reality,” he said.

The two Vatican documents cited by the pontiff were Libertatis Nuntius, issued in 1984, and Libertatis Conscientia, released just two years later, in 1986.

Libertatis Nuntius addressed “developments of that current of thought which, under the name ‘theology of liberation,’ proposes a novel interpretation of both the content of faith and of Christian existence which seriously departs from the faith of the Church and, in fact, actually constitutes a practical negation.”

“Concepts uncritically borrowed from Marxist ideology and recourse to theses of a biblical hermeneutic marked by rationalism are at the basis of the new interpretation which is corrupting whatever was authentic in the generous initial commitment on behalf of the poor,” the instruction continues.

The document also noted that in “certain parts of Latin America,” the recognition of injustice “is accompanied by a pathos which borrows its language from Marxism, wrongly presented as though it were scientific language.”

The letter also said that certain Christians, despairing of every other method, turned to a Marxist analysis, “especially in Latin America.”

The 1986 text was issued as a complement to the first one, and sought to “highlight the main elements of the Christian doctrine on freedom and liberation” as a corrective to the errors of Liberation Theology brought out by the prior instruction.

In a striking revelation in 2015, the highest ranking Cold War defector asserted that the KGB had created Liberation Theology, exporting it to Latin America as a means of introducing Marxism into the continent.

Ion Mihai Pacepa, a 3-star general and former head of Communist Romania’s secret police who defected to the United States in 1978, has been called “the Cold War’s most important defector.” During the more than ten years that Pacepa worked with the CIA, he made what the agency described as “an important and unique contribution to the United States.”

Catholics, Zen, & Communism

A very interesting article, though mistaken in seeing the death of Communism, from New Oxford Review—written in 1993—about the relationship and what it means.

An excerpt.

Hans Urs von Balthasar maintained that there have been two main competitors to the Catholic Church’s claims to universality in the contemporary world: Communism and Asian meditative religion, notably Buddhism. He saw the former’s appeal as biblical in origin: Marx was more Hebrew prophet than German phil­osopher (for his concern was not with “Being,” or its being forgotten, but with social justice); he was a prophet gone astray, but one who could remind Christians of much they had tended to forget.

A relative of mine who had been at one time a high-ranking official in Communist Poland smiled wryly at me when I saw him in 1984: The Catholic Church as personified in the Pope, he held, had stolen the Communists’ thunder. Indeed, in much of the world the Church has become the voice for human rights and a just economic order. Although this is no novel situation for the Church, the “prophetic” side has clearly come to the fore in ways older Catholics could not have imagined when their lives tended to revolve around novenas. Perhaps the struggle over a truly Catholic vision of social justice represents the birth pains of a very important reassimilation of biblical truths to which the tradition itself had become somewhat blind and which it was goaded to remember by an ostensibly anti-Christian movement. Certainly Communism was not the monolithic monster, the anti-Church, it had appeared to be earlier in this century.

As Communism dies, the second alternative vision remains. We have been reminded of the prophetic in our religion, but the contemplative (the spiritual, the mystical) has lan­guished for decades. The atrocities of the post-Vatican II iconoclasts may not have been stopped, let alone repaired, but there are powerful voices in the Church today that are trying to remind us that the Church did not begin in 1968. Moreover, there has been no dearth of interest in matters spiritual in the surrounding culture.

At the pop level, things like astrology, the New Age movement, and the occult surround us. The most important and respectable element here is the Buddhist tradition, particularly Zen. Once the stuff of Beat poets, versions of Zen have found a place in Catholic spiritual writing and retreat work. Of course, it is unfortunate that a tradition as profound as Buddhism should be lumped together with such things as the occult, though one need only go to an American bookstore to find all manner of solid spiritual reading lumped together with the bizarre. No less a figure than the late Jesuit Cardinal Henri de Lubac held Buddhism to be the highest mysticism created by man.

Zen is the essence of Buddhism, which the Church, most notably in the Second Vatican Council, urges her children to respect. At the same time, in the encounter of East and West there is great danger that the discussion will be surrendered to “experts” so aware of detail and nuance that the fact that we are considering different forests is lost in the study of similar trees.

With that in mind, I want to ask: Why would Catholics look East? In particular, what could orthodox Catholics in America legitimately seek to assimilate in these meditative traditions? Three possibilities suggest themselves: first, a traditional wisdom, near the heart of which is a traditional discipline; second, experience, especially silence; third, a technique, one which is nonpersonal. Let’s look at each of these separately.

Not too long ago I listened to a large group of women retreatants singing a modern religious song of the sort one hears endlessly these days. Written, no doubt, within the past 20 years, it is a piece of that resigned senti­mentality that is characteristic of “easy-listening music.” Although pleasant enough, it is spiritual Wonder Bread: It utterly lacks roots, depth, sustenance. It is all right as a starter, to open the heart to prayer. But unless fed by some solid food, say Gregorian Chant, serious seekers will turn elsewhere. At the same retreat house, I entered a chapel to see other retreatants praying. One was on the floor, another poured onto a chair; the spirit was one of slouch. In contrast, Zen offers something that has been around for centuries, and it does so in a disciplined way.

Secondly, meditative religion offers silence. The practice of exterior silence penetrates inwardly. Given the overwhelming proliferation of words today, and the noise which Thomas Merton has called the “demon of our age,” silence, while free, is no cheap commodity. Moreover, the stance of silence, of reverent attention without self-assertion, is inherently ennobling.

Thirdly, a technique, a method, is offered. Although some teachers would no doubt hold that technique, in its highest reaches, might be discarded, it is very much at the heart of the practice of meditation. As such, it would seem to be perfectly adapted to modern, technical consciousness. That Asian meditation is impersonal and technical is crucial for its appeal to Westerners, who are often fleeing the personal into the impersonal and who know no way of being in the world other than through technique.

Thus, the hunger for traditional wisdom and discipline, the weariness with chatter and the longing for silence, and the need for a technique that is nonpersonal are met in meditation, notably Buddhist. As for the first two basic elements, we must seriously ask if today’s Church adequately addresses these needs of the heart. Is it not precisely these elements — traditional wisdom combined with a prayerful, reverent atmosphere (silence) — that those serious Catholics heartbroken by the revolution in the Church find most missing? If so, then perhaps it is understandable that the “wisdom of Asia” has been filling our modern gap. God works in strange ways. (Remember that the Church from her earliest period engaged the wisdom of the gentiles — what the Fathers called the “treasures of the Egyptians.”) The third element, technique, is more problematic for the Christian, but its resolution could eventually lead to a correct assimilation of the first two.