Seduction of Eve

A very interesting reflection from the London Review of Books.

An excerpt.

A couple of weeks ago, the pope described ‘fake news’ as being like the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis. ‘The strategy of this skilled “Father of Lies”,’ he said in a statement aimed at both Trump and the purveyors of social media, ‘is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.’ Ideas of mimicry and seduction certainly wormed their way into the story of Adam and Eve over the centuries, but they are not in the original version. If even the pope misuses the word ‘seduction’ in this context, it is worth looking for the source.

He got it from the first letter from St Paul to Timothy as translated in the late fourth century by St Jerome, whose Latin Vulgate version survived to become the official Bible of the Catholic Church more than a thousand years later. The passage was often used to justify the bar on women priests. ‘I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man: but to be in silence’ because ‘Adam non est seductus, was not seduced; but the woman being seduced mulier autem seducta was in the transgression.’ Except it didn’t say this. It wasn’t even written by St Paul. The Letter to Timothy is not inconsistent with Paul’s views on women as expressed elsewhere but secular commentators now think it was written later, and even this pseudo-Paul did not say that Eve had been seduced. This fake letter was fakely translated by fake old Saint Jerome, and corrected in later versions to the more accurate ‘deceived’.

Among liberal Christians there is a sadness about St Paul; a feeling that were it not for his letters they might all be reciting the Beatitudes and fighting for justice in the Third World. St Paul’s letters are the least canonical in the canon, and the most worldly. It was from his letter to the Romans that Augustine derived his concept of original sin, and it was St Paul who insisted that women take second place in church. The person writing to Timothy, however, was not even St Paul, but someone less important and more distant from the events of the life of Christ. The pope’s claim to authority is corrupted by a repeatedly corrupted text – as if there were a true version, somewhere, which would make us all good. For non-believers, the question is moot.

The history of gender relations was surely not undone by the single word ‘seduced’, with its implication that women cannot become priests because they are prone, not just to disobedience or theological error, but also to flirting with animals, in this case a snake. Jerome was an accomplished linguist and drew, for his translation, from older Latin and Greek versions as well as from the original Hebrew, which presented several difficulties. The absence of adverbs, and of punctuation, the ancient nature of the text – there were many opportunities for error, but he only took a few. Jerome’s interventions were both catastrophic and telling. He changed Christ’s brothers and sisters to ‘cousins’, for example, a tweak which facilitated the retroactive virginity of Mary, and this doctrine endured long after the translation was corrected.

Genesis is a beautiful piece of writing: part poem, part folk tale, it is hard not to fall victim to the idea that here is something pure, which has been dirtied by celibates and misogynists to the subsequent ruin of womankind. As though there were such a thing as an original, Edenic text, in which man and woman were equal, and no one or nothing was to blame. For the first 66 lines of the Bible, this balance seems to exist, then Adam points the finger, says, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree,’ and God curses her into loving him anyway.

The story of the Fall is one of the most enduring stories we have, and it is never fair. You could use it as a template for a certain kind of novel: put a choice in there, tip the balance, make the consequences so disproportionate we doubt our sense of cause and effect, make them suffer, make them into better human beings. Visually, the narrative is brilliantly successful, for being so easy to hold within a single frame. There is nothing static about the way the viewer sees an image of the first couple considering apples. It is a moment of great tension, and they are wearing no clothes. So, to the rules for writing a successful fiction, we might add, pretend that it is not about sex, make the world symbolic, expand the small asymmetries. Here are two human beings who are slightly, but perhaps disastrously, anatomically different. She likes something long, he likes something round – what could possibly go wrong?

The story is a riddle about authority and predestination that has survived the theological palaver of generations because, simple to the point of transparency, it is also impenetrably self-enclosed. It is held in a brilliant web of balance and contradiction by a few hundred words; so it is worth looking at those words and what they actually mean.

Just to be clear: there was no seduction. There was no devil, nor any mention of Satan, who was, at this stage, an unimportant figure. Although he played a sporadic role in the torment of Job, or in the temptation of Christ in the desert, Satan was not a mythical force before the bestiary of Revelations, and the rebellious Lucifer was some other angel until Milton came along. The idea of a great battle between light and the forces of darkness did not get going until early Christian times, possibly because this small, persecuted sect needed to find a great spiritual enemy against which to pit themselves. The creature in Genesis was just a snake, and though he was crafty, he didn’t seduce, nor did he ‘tempt’ Eve – this last term means ‘to test’ and is used only once in Genesis, when God tests Abraham, requiring the sacrifice of his son Isaac. So Eve did not tempt Adam, either, nor was he seduced by her nakedness. There is, in fact, very little sex in the story. Our readings of it are all subtext, all interpretation, all error.

Retrieved March 16, 2018 from


This is a charming essay from Aeon with resonating tidbits for those engaged in prison ministry.

In the second paragraph of this excerpt the author notes how she mispronounces words often because she learned primarily from books; exactly the case for me and many other criminals who read deeply in prison, and who are outsiders; the title of the essay being The Outsider.

An excerpt.

When I was in graduate school, a professor came upon me listening to music on my headphones. The piece had stunned me and it must have shown in my face, for he asked if something was wrong. I told him no, but explained that I’d just heard the ‘Ode to Joy’. I can’t recall exactly what I said next, but I enthused about what a wonderful ‘song’ it was, and asked if he had ever heard it. He had. And his response alerted me to the fact that it was unusual to call it a ‘song’. The professor’s manner was kind but it was impossible not to notice his shock: here was a creature seeking a PhD, who had never before heard the ‘Ode to Joy’. This was one of my earliest signals that I lacked the standard cultural and class equipage of academe.

Early in my career, I regularly mispronounced words. The vocabulary of academia was one I had encountered only in books – its language was emphatically not the stuff people I knew said out loud. I was once congratulated on my ‘bravery’ for not training out my ‘rustic accent’ – never mind that I didn’t know, until then, that I had one. More recently, I was asked to develop a seminar on class bias. I am a philosopher, and since I do not study class bias, the request surprised me. I later discovered that I was chosen for my ‘unique’ life experience, my perceived lower-class origins. Even now, people casually ask me at conferences where I am from, in a way that suggests they are struggling to place the unusual. A student once marvelled that I ‘talk like Faulkner’. Another, prompted by a course evaluation to ‘describe this instructor in one word’, recorded: ‘y’all’.

Before entering academia, I wasn’t terribly aware of my class. My family had made out pretty well, relative to many of our neighbours and even kin. But judgments of ‘doing pretty well’ depend, of course, on your point of comparison. At any rate, the cultural capital of my upbringing involved a very different currency to the one that’s spent in academe. In academia, people carry Beethoven in their pockets like so much loose change. My pockets weren’t empty, sure, but they were mostly stuffed with commercial jingles. So I often felt broke in a land of the wealthy, a cultural pauper among the aristocracy. To use the coin of the realm, you could say I had ‘impostor syndrome’ – that perception that one is not adapted for one’s role, that one does not really belong or pass muster.

I still lack the cultural stuff to pass in academic environments. Yet even as I often feel ill-fitted, using the archetype of an ‘impostor’ to explain myself to myself has never offered me much value. ‘Impostor syndrome’ is a conceptual construct rendered in the language and sensibility of the very thing I feel ill-fitted for. It is an academic term, after all, and seems like an affliction for the higher orders, a malady you have to come up a bit in the world to develop. Most importantly, I can imagine the withering look my grandmother would offer if someone dared to suggest that she suffered from ‘impostor syndrome’.

Retrieved March 9, 2018 from


Women Priests

This is an excellent article from America—though the author cannot follow his own reasoning to its obvious conclusion—about this potent subject and the focus on the impact of evangelization is exactly the focus I took in my book about it, Women in the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, & Criminal Reformation, which inclues in its opening pages:

“The Church stands in the world as a sign of contradiction and as the world since time immemorial excluded women from full personhood; the Church must ensure that within her embrace, woman’s full personhood is deeply rooted and complete; which can only be accomplished by priestly ordination and full equality with men in the leadership of the Church on earth as that equality is certainly so in Heaven.

“I have come to believe, fully and completely, that the institutional Church has been wrong in not ordaining women to be priests; just as the Church was wrong for centuries in seeing the earth as the center of the solar system, and slavery as acceptable and usury not; and this wrongness, in the treatment of women, will become obvious to criminals being evangelized, for they know, better than most, the pain and sorrow of being marginalized, even though their marginalization is self-imposed while that of the women in the Church comes from the Vatican and twisted history.” (p. 10)

Excerpt from the America article:

A Matter of Evangelization 

Wherever you stand on the matter, it should be clear to all of us that the doctrine represents a problem for evangelization. Even if the teaching is not unjust—even if it is not the result of the church’s failure to fully appreciate the dignity and equality of women—the perception by many, if not most people in the United States today is that it is. And the very perception of an unjust church handicaps its ability to witness effectively to the world. By way of analogy, if rumors circulate throughout town about a particular restaurant having a filthy kitchen, then no matter how clean the kitchen actually is or how good the food is, no one will care what is on the menu.

If evangelization is the central priority that we say so often it is, then even the most self-consciously orthodox among us, even those convinced no woman ever should or will be ordained a priest, should be intensely concerned with ensuring that the church is absolutely and obviously committed to the equality and dignity of women. Given this, efforts to expand the role of women in the church should not be a source of conflict among the faithful at different places along the theological spectrum but a point of contact and cooperation. How might we join together around this issue? Here are a few ideas:

  1. We should cry out together for greater roles for women in church administration and leadership at all levels. The gift of being a good leader is not a grace of the sacrament of orders. And since many women today are not only theologically trained but have reached levels of theological accomplishment that far surpasses that of most priests, there is no reason that women should not serve as officials at all ecclesial levels, from the Roman Curia on down. There is also no theological reason faithful women who have attained the highest accomplishments in church, business, social services and other areas could not be named cardinals.

Retrieved March 9, 2018 from

Fr. Richard Neuhaus

His writings played a role in my conversion and I still treasure them—though sorrowful that his magazine I on and off still subscribe to, First Things, isn’t the beacon it once was—so this story from the Catholic Herald about a recent gathering celebrating him, is welcome.

An excerpt.

Friends, colleagues and intellectuals influenced by the late author, editor and public figure Fr Richard John Neuhaus gathered Wednesday to discuss his contribution to American Christianity and public society.

Fr Richard John Neuhaus “was a master of words mastered by The Word,” said Matthew Schmitz, senior editor and author at the journal First Things. For Neuhaus, “the art of conversation was a civic responsibility”, Schmitz explained. “Real conversation is marked by discipline and continuity.”

Schmitz also noted that, nearly ten years after his death, Fr Neuhaus still has much to add to today’s public discourse: namely, an example how to have constructive dialogue in the midst of disagreement. “I think Neuhaus had a singular genius,” said Schmitz of Neuhaus’ ability to nurture conversation.

Schmitz spoke at the March 7 symposium, “Catholic Witness in the Public Square: Celebrating the Life and Letters of Father Richard John Neuhaus,” held at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The event corresponded with the donation and cataloguing of Fr Neuhaus’ papers to the university’s American Catholic History Research Center. The donated papers include personal correspondence, photographs, articles, personal artefacts and writings by the priest and author.

Neuhaus wrote and spoke as an advocate for Christianity in the public square over the course of four decades, helping to reshape the conversation on Christianity and public life in America over the course of his lifetime. A convert from Evangelical Lutheranism to Catholicism, Neuhaus was a prolific author and editor, the founder of the ecumenical religious journal, First Things, and co-convener of “Catholics and Evangelicals Together.” In addition to these efforts, Neuhaus was an advocate for the unborn and the pro-life movement, the Civil Rights movement and interfaith dialogue.

Rusty Reno, editor of First Things said that while Neuhaus may not have been a leading systematic theologian, such as the late Lutheran theologian, Robert Jensen, Fr. Neuhaus was nevertheless a powerful public voice for Christianity. Like other Christian ministers and authors, such as Baptist minister Walter Rauschenbusch, Neuhaus “was an exemplary participant in a particularly American tradition,” of applying Christian thought to the cultural and political issues of his day.

Most importantly, Neuhaus spoke truths in a way that many academics or defenders of American democracy avoid. “When you’ve been to a seminary, you’re trained to proclaim Christ crucified and risen,” Reno said. While many public thinkers try to avoid proclaiming error, Neuhaus’ training led him to proclaim the truth, directly and succinctly, within the public square. “It’s useful to be trained to not say things that are wrong, but it’s different than being trained to say what is true.”

While Neuhaus was trained to speak truth in the seminary, his intellectual formation was self-directed. Thus, said First Things author Robert Wilken, Neuhaus did not treat academic positions as seriously as he did the ideas that people expressed. “He had no deference to academic standing. He respected it, when it was good,” Wilken said. “It gave him a tremendous freedom that most academics don’t have.” This freedom enabled the pastor turned priest to see links that others did not, such as the similarities between the Civil Rights movement and the then-nascent Pro-Life movement. “He had the gift of prescience,” Wilken commented.

This presence and public prominence helped to boost the visibility of the Church in America and, at the same time, the American Church across the world. Biographer of St Pope John Paul II George Weigel noted that Pope Benedict was familiar with Neuhaus’ work, and appreciated “what Richard meant in the American context.”

“He saw in Richard someone who could practice the apologetics of persuasion in a very serious way,” Weigel offered.

One of his most important contributions to American Christianity was Neuhaus’ work on philosophical liberalism and the “American Experiment”, Weigel noted. “I think Richard was quite aware of the distinction between liberal institutions and liberal culture,” said Weigel. “He was quite aware that if by liberal culture you meant expressive individualism… that [it] would kill liberal institutions.” Thus, Fr Neuhaus was deeply invested in the role of Christianity and religious expression more broadly within society, warning against “state-endorsed, and state-enforced secularism,” when its absence became the norm, Weigel elaborated. He also warned against “decadence,” pushing back not only against consumerism and libertinism but also declining intellectual engagement with morality and religion.

Retrieved May 9, 2018 from



Teilhard, His Life & Vision

The biographical book by Ursula King, Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin, is the best I’ve yet read about Teilhard and I highly recommend it.

Teilhard’s vision emanated from his scientific work, which was extensive, and his Jesuit calling, which was deep; resulting in a science/religion synthesis Catholicism has not yet caught up to; that Christ is at the center of evolution and the continuing process carries us all—matter/spirit—to convergence.

A quote from Building the Earth:

“Human Energy presents itself to our view as the term of a vast process in which the whole mass of the universe is involved. In us, the evolution of the world towards the spirit becomes conscious. From that moment, our perfection, our interest, our salvation as elements of creation can only be to press on with this evolution with all our strength. We cannot yet understand exactly where it will lead us, but it would be absurd for us to doubt that it will lead us towards some end of supreme value. From this there finally emerges in our twentieth century human consciousness, for the first time since the awakening of life on earth, the fundamental problem of Action. No longer, as in the past, for our small selves, for our small family, our small country; but for the salvation and the success of the universe, how must we, modern men, organize around us for the best, the maintenance, distribution and progress of human energy?” (pp 67-68)

(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin(1965). Building the Earth. Dimension Books: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Retrieved March 5, 2018 from

Sprit of Fire from Amazon

Fatherless Mass Shooters

This is not surprising, as noted by Crisis Magazine.

An excerpt.

A fascinating fact has emerged in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting: 26 of the 27 deadliest mass shooters in American history all happened to share one thing in common. What might that be? Your favorite liberal might pipe up with anything and everything from casting a vote for Donald Trump to NRA membership to a seat in the local megachurch. Nope.

All but one of the 27 was raised without his biological father.

The list of 27 was compiled by CNN. Suzanne Venker, a marriage-family expert, went through the family backgrounds of the 27 shooters, where she found only one “raised by his biological father since childhood.”

“Indeed, there is a direct correlation between boys who grow up with absent fathers and boys who drop out of school, who drink, who do drugs, who become delinquent and who wind up in prison,” observes Venker, adding: “And who kill their classmates.”

Again, 26 of 27. That’s 96.3 percent. That is one mighty and scary correlation.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that boys raised in fatherless families are likely to become mass shooters. (Do I really need to say that?) But it’s yet further affirmation of what we already know: boys need dads. Just as daughters need dads. Children need fathers. They also need mothers.

Retrieved March 5, 2018 from


Catholicism Working with Communism

Excellent historical article from Roberto de Mattei describing the time Catholicism began working with Communism in direct contradiction to previous papal direction.

An excerpt.

Pope Francis‘ political collaboration with Communist China has direct precedents in the Ostopolitik of John XXIII and Paul VI. But yesterday, just as today, Ostoplitik had strong opponents who deserve to be remembered. One of these was the Slovakian Bishop Pavol Hnilica (1926-2006), whom I’d like to recall, based on my own personal memories and by referring to a precise study dedicated to his figure, to be published shortly by Professor Emilia Hrabovec, to whom I express my gratiude for allowing me to consult and quote from her manuscript.

In the 1960s when Vatican diplomacy began to put Ostpolitik into action, there were two Churches in Czechoslovakia, like there are today in China. One was the “patriotic” Church represented by priests under the Communist regime; the other was the “underground” Church faithful to Rome and its Magisterium. Monsignor Pavol Hnilica, originally from Unatin, near Bratislava, after entering the Jesuits, was ordained a priest secretly (1950) and consecrated bishop (1951) by Monsignor Robert Pobozny (1890-1972), Bishop of Roznava. In this way he was able to consecrate 27 year old Ján Chryzostom Korec (1924-2015) bishop (and future cardinal) who, after exercising his priesthood in secret for nine years, was arrested and sentenced to twelve years in prison.

In December 1951, when Monsignor Hnilica was forced to flee his country and go to Rome, Pius XII approved fully of they way the Church in Czechoslovakia, was proceeding, confirming the validity of the secret consecrations and rejecting any collusion with the Communist Regime. In his Radio Message of December 23rd 1956, the Pope affirmed «To what purpose, for that matter, is there in having discussions without a common language, or how is it possible to come to an agreement, if ways diverge, if from one side absolute values are being disregarded and denied, therefore rendering any “coexistence in the truth“ workable?»

After the death of Pius XII, in October 1958, the climate changed and Agostino Casaroli became the main protagonist of the Holy See’s eastern policies, promoted by John XXIII, but carried into effect by Paul VI. During those years, Monsignor Hnilica, had the opportunity to meet Pope Montini frequently and presented him various memorandums in which he cautioned him against having illusions, warning him that the Communist regimes had not renounced their plan to liquidate the Church but had accepted dialogue with the Holy See only to obtain unilateral advantages, thanks to which they would recover credibility inside and outside their Countries, without ceasing their anti-religious politics.

«Hnilica – writes Emilia Hrabovec – advised not settling for cosmetic concessions, asking for the liberation and rehabilitation of all the bishops, religious and lay faithful still in prison, and the effective recognition of freedom to profess the faith and never to consent to the removal of repressed bishops which would be ‘ the worst humiliation for them personally and for the entire martyred Church, in the face of traitors, enemies and the general public opinion.’ The exiled Bishop feared that negotiations conducted without the most heroic part of the episcopate [and arriving] at a closed agreement with no relevant concessions, would have caused in Catholics – especially the best, who with vigour and fidelity had resisted oppression – disorientation and the sensation of being abandoned even by the ecclesiastical authorities.”

While the Second Vatican Council was in progress, on May 13th 1964, Paul VI made the rank of Monsignor Hnilica as bishop public – until then kept secret. This new status allowed the Slovakian Bishop to take part in the last session of the Council, where he intervened by associatimg himself with the Council Fathers who had asked for the condemnation of Communism. Monsignor Hnilica declared in the auditorium that the schema of Gaudium et Spes said so little about atheism that it “was the same as saying nothing at all”. And added that a great part of the Church was suffering “under the oppression of militant atheism, but that this is not apparent in the schema which however wants to address the Church of today”. “History will rightly accuse us of cowardliness and blindness for this silence,” the speaker continued, recalling that he was not speaking abstractly, as he had been in a work-concentration camp with 700 priests and religious. “I’m speaking from direct experience, and for those priests and religious I got to know in prison and with whom I bore the burdens and dangers for the Church.” » (AS, IV/2, pp. 629-631).

At that time, Monsignor Hnilica had numerous meetings with Paul VI, seeking in vain to dissuade him from “Ostpolitik”. In February 1965, the Archbishop of Prague, Josef Beran (1888-1969) was freed and came to Rome where Paul VI made him a cardinal. Monsignor Hnilica warned the Pope that the presumed success of Vatican diplomacy was instead a success for the Communist regime, which, with the exile of the Archbishop, had rid itself of an increasingly unpleasant international problem, with no fear of anything from the new Prague administrator, considered a timid member of the Movement of Clergy for Peace.

Cardinal Korec, after his liberation from the chains of Communism, recalls “Our hope was in the underground Church, which silently collaborated with priests in the parishes and formed the young fit for sacrifice: professors, engineers, doctors, disposed to becoming priests. These people worked in silence among the young and families; they published magazines and books in secret. In reality, the Ostpolitik sold our activity in exchange for vague promises and Communist uncertainties.

The underground Church was our great hope. And, instead, they slashed its wrists, they disgusted thousands of boys and girls, mothers and fathers and many hidden priests ready to sacrifice themselves. […] It was a catastrophe for us, almost as if they had abandoned us, swept us away. I obeyed. However, it was the most painful time in my life. The Communists, in this way, had the public pastoral activity of the Church in their hands.” (Interview to Il Giornale, July 28 2000).

In the meantime, the Holy See, under heavy pressure from the Prague government, began to curb the Slavic Bishop’s activities and, in 1971, even asked him to leave Rome and move overseas. As Hrabovec reports, what touched the Bisop was the accusation of being an obstacle to the negotiations, the implicit reason for the persistant persecution of the Church, in addition to acting against the will of the Pope. Monsignor Hnilica said he was ready to leave Rome, but only if the Pontiff or the Superior General of his order had ordered him explicitly to do so. Since such an order from these two authorities never came, Hnilica remained in the Eternal City and continued with his activities, even if contacts with the Holy See ceased.

The years of Ostpolitk were also those of historical compromise. When many thought that the persecutory Communist system was a closed chapter, and the Italian Communist Party was celebrating electoral victories previously unknown, «the untiring Bishop sought to persuade his public that the Communist regimes had only changed their tactics, by choosing more refined methods, without receding even one inch from their anti-religious and anti-human programme, and that the Church was obliged in conscience not to settle with the Communist system and its legality, but to continue denouncing its crimes and the dangers it represented».

As again Hrabovec recalls, «with the evangelical radicality of a profoundly religious person, Hnilica was convinced that in the age of “a final decision for the Truth or against the Truth, for God or against God”, neutrality was impossible and those who did not side with the Truth, became the accomplice of Falsehood and thus co-responsible for the spreading of Evil. In this spirit, Hnilica, bitterly criticized Western policies of accomodation and compromises in the negotiations with the Communist regimes; the weakness and indifference of Western Christians focussed too much on themselves, too intent on maintaining their own material well-being and too little disposed in taking interest and engaging themselves [in aid] for their brothers and sisters behind the Iron Curtain and the defence of their own Christian values.

Recalling the famous expression by Pius XI in the 1930s, Hnilica, denounced the silence of politics, the media and public opinion – even Catholic – with regard to the Communist regime and the persecution of Christians Behind The Curtain, as “A Conspiracy of Silence” , noting, that while it was once customary to speak of the “Church of Silence” behind the Iron Curtain, now it would be more appropriate to use this name to define the Church(es) of the West.”

Retrieved February 28, 2018 from

Book Review

I did not know when I named this blog the Catholic Eye that the name had graced a distinguished monthly (apparently discountinued) before, so this book, reviewed in Crisis Magazine, is something I have obtained, free if you have a Kindle Unlimited account.

An excerpt.

Fun Is Not Enough (2017) is the collection of all 125 columns written by the late Father Francis Canavan, S.J., for the monthly catholic eye from April 1983 until November 2008, a couple of months before his death.

The book was edited by Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein, Assistant Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut. Having grown up in a Reformed Jewish household, she was drawn to Christianity, and ultimately Catholicism, by reading G.K. Chesterton’s novel, The Man Who Was Thursday. Father Canavan encouraged her to pursue graduate study in theology and ultimately college teaching.

The author of several books on Edmund Burke, Canavan was a member of the political science department at Fordham University from 1966 to 1988. After his ordination, he studied political science under John Hallowell at Duke University, where he received his doctorate. As a Jesuit scholastic, he earned an M.A. while studying political science under Moorhouse F. X. Millar, S.J., one of the pioneers in Burke studies in the United States. Canavan also studied theology under John Courtney Murray, S.J. at Woodstock College.

In the book the columns are organized chronologically, rather than by subject. While they covered more than a quarter of a century, his views remained consistent and the issues they concerned stayed the same and even intensified. Among them were dissent within the Catholic Church, the evolution of rationalist thought from the late Middle Ages to the present, the priority of ordered society, especially the family and church, as the foundation for a free society, and the increasingly legislative character of judicial decisions.

Dissent within the Church takes many forms. It is given a kind of “validity” by a new ecclesiology that the “magisterium … belongs as much to the theologians as to the hierarchy.” While he accepted theologians presenting new interpretations of doctrine and criticism of old interpretations, he opposed contesting “the hierarchy’s rights to decide whether they are acceptable.” Accordingly, many of Canavan’s columns were critical of “dissenting Catholic” priests, including Fathers Charles Curran (originally of Catholic University) and Richard McBrien (of Notre Dame), as well as the general inclination of many clergy to be inhibited in their sermons from asserting church teaching, especially on sexual matters.

Retrieved February 27, 2018 from


Deincarceration Advocacy

It is a dangerous narrative, as this article from City Journal points out.

An excerpt.

Last November, a deranged 26-year-old man, Devin Patrick Kelley, opened fire on worshipers inside a church in Sutherland, Texas, killing 26. High-casualty mass shootings are tragic in human terms but anomalous statistically, at least in terms of the portion of total U.S. homicides that they represent. The vast majority of murders, which take place disproportionately in America’s low-income and minority neighborhoods, don’t get nearly the same attention. The Texas church shooting does have an important point of commonality with the majority of American murders, however: its perpetrator had a troubling criminal record. The deincarceration movement, which would return thousands of convicts to American streets, presents a threat to public safety. Repeat offenders already commit a substantial portion of the nation’s violent crime—according to one study, 53 percent of killers have at least one prior felony conviction. They will be walking the streets in greater numbers if deincarceration advocates have their way.

Consider a few examples. In October 2017, Radee Prince shot and killed three people in Maryland. Prince, it turns out, had 42 prior arrests and 15 prior felony convictions. About a month earlier, a police officer in Yonkers was shot in the face by an 18-year-old assailant not unknown to police. He had recently been sentenced to probation and classified as a “youthful offender,” despite being caught with an illegal firearm, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a machete, and brass knuckles. Earlier in 2017, Baltimore police named Cortez Wall, an 18-year-old murder suspect, “Public Enemy No. 1.” Wall had already been convicted of a gun charge, for which he was on probation. That didn’t stop a Maryland judge from releasing him on bail on a drug charge; he had allegedly murdered someone before his release, though police did not yet suspect him. Had bail been denied, Wall would have been in custody when he became the prime suspect in the deadly shooting.

Most recently, on February 13, a Chicago Police Department Commander, Paul Bauer, was shot and killed while off-duty. Bauer was responding to a radio call that he overheard regarding a suspicious-person report in a downtown Chicago office building. The alleged shooter is 44-year-old Shomari Legghette. “It should come as no surprise” that this was not Legghette’s first run-in with the law, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference held the day after Bauer’s murder. Legghette has an “extensive criminal history” that includes charges for drugs, armed robbery, and gun possession. Johnson called the tragedy “a devastating reminder of repeat gun offenders who are out on the streets of Chicago and need to be held accountable.”

Yet proponents of deincarceration want to make it easier for hardened criminals to sidestep prison and roam the streets. The ACLU, an outspoken supporter of bail reform, cheered the fact that, in New Jersey, judges required defendants to post bail in just three of 3,382 cases processed in January 2017. In an article for Time, two scholars at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice criticized harsh sentences, not just for “nonviolent” drug offenders but also for those committing more serious offenses, calling mass incarceration “the greatest moral and racial injustice of our time.” Citing a report showing that “longer sentences do not reduce recidivism more than shorter sentences,” the authors called for the immediate release of nearly 40 percent of America’s prison population.

Do crime statistics support the claim that such a high percentage of America’s prison population wouldn’t pose a danger to the public—particularly in high-crime neighborhoods of cities like Chicago, which have driven a national increase in violent crime rates? To answer this question, I consulted Chicago Police Department records of the last 200 people arrested for actual or attempted first-degree murder, as of November 21, 2017. That someone has been arrested does not mean that he is guilty, of course, though arrests suggest probable cause. I found that an outsize number of the most serious violent crimes were allegedly committed by individuals who used to be, and perhaps should have remained, behind bars. Of the 200 individuals arrested for murder in the period examined, the vast majority were people of color, particularly black males, with previous arrests. The CPD had arrested two-thirds (133) at least once before; the average number of prior CPD arrests was more than two, and some individuals had as many as 20 “priors.” Seventy-four (37 percent) of the 200 had at least one prior CPD arrest for a violent or weapon-related offense.

These numbers don’t include arrests made by agencies other than the CPD—such as police departments in other states and in neighboring counties—or federal or juvenile arrests. Indeed, for ten of the 200 individuals arrested in the examined time frame, the first listed arrest is for violation of parole conditions, or for possession of a weapon as a felon—meaning that those individuals had been convicted of felonies not listed by the CPD, likely because the offenses occurred in another jurisdiction or before the individuals were legal adults.

According to a recent University of Chicago study, of those arrested for a homicide or shooting in Chicago in 2015 and 2016, “around 90 percent had at least one prior arrest, approximately 50 percent had a prior arrest for a violent crime specifically, and almost 40 percent had a prior gun arrest.” On average, someone arrested for a homicide or shooting had “nearly 12 prior arrests, with almost 45 percent having had more than 10 prior arrests, and almost 20 percent having had more than 20 prior arrests.”

The CPD’s 2011 report on murders in Chicago found that over 87 percent of suspects arrested for murder that year had prior arrest histories. That proportion remains consistent, going back at least 20 years. And the trend isn’t limited to Chicago. In a study of the 75 most populous American counties, conducted from 1990 to 2002, the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that “more than half of murderers (53%) had a [felony] conviction record.”

These numbers belie the notion that the criminal-justice system in cities like Chicago is systematically denying people of color second chances—a potent talking point for deincarceration advocates. Fifteen percent of the 200 suspects whose records I examined had at least five prior arrests before they were arrested for murder. Further, these numbers seriously—if not wholly—undermine the claim that the public does not benefit from the incapacitation of violent or chronic criminals.

Retrieved February 21, 2018 from

Michael Novak

He was a great Catholic thinker (I have both books noted in the excerpt and they are must-haves for your library) who died February 17, 2017.

This story from the Wall Street Journal about his impact is excellent.

An excerpt.

I first read Michael Novak’s groundbreaking work “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” when it was published in 1982, before I entered seminary at the Catholic University of America. The book’s dialogue between economics and theology made a deep impression on me, as it did thousands of others. I wrote the author and asked if we might meet once I arrived in Washington. Thus began a friendship that lasted until Novak’s death last year.

The first anniversary of his passing, Feb. 17, comes at a difficult time. Americans face an uncertain economy and deadlocked government. A vocal critic of capitalism leads the Catholic Church. Young people are showing a strange attraction to socialism, as are many Christians who might have been expected to sustain Novak’s philosophy of virtuous capitalism. The U.S. lacks leaders who combine prudence and moral vision.

I was intrigued to find a theologian who was familiar with writers like Friedrich Hayek. I sought his mentorship as I began my theological studies at a time when much of the academy was enamored with Marxist “liberation theology.” I even suggested that Novak squarely address that movement, which he did in another book, “Will It Liberate? Questions About Liberation Theology” (1986).

Even though we were from different generations, I soon found many parallels in our intellectual and religious trajectories. We had both identified as men of the left in early life. Over time we moved from advocating some form of democratic socialism to supporting the free economy. We spent decades defending free-market democracy as the system that best reflected the truth about man.

Novak’s philosophical and theological formation prepared him well. He had entered seminary at 14 and completed his formation, but he withdrew before being ordained. He became a Vatican correspondent after earning degrees in theology, history and philosophy from Harvard and the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Novak began his public career in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, and he wrote in proximity to the events and debates of the time. As the church worked to define human values such as freedom and conscience, Novak argued that theories of life should be grounded in perceptible truths. He believed this perspective to be best expressed in what he called the most “American” of the council’s documents, “Dignitatis Humanae,” a treatment on religious liberty and the rights of conscience.

While his appreciation for the church’s traditions deepened over time, he also believed Catholics needed to engage with outsiders. I believe most of his friends and intellectual colleagues were non-Catholics.

For an American Catholic of Novak’s age, ethnicity and class, the Democratic Party was the natural place to call home. But his politics began to shift in the 1970s and ’80s. More than anything, the issue that alienated Catholics from the Democratic Party was the latter’s increasing embrace of abortion after Roe v. Wade.

Novak told me his political change was not an abrupt conversion. Rather, it came as a series of small conclusions based on his reading of economists like Hayek, Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises. He was always looking for solutions to poverty that avoided utopian dead ends. The result was that Novak projected his interior debate about markets and morality into a national, and even international, conversation within religious and secular circles.

The often hostile reaction from his erstwhile colleagues on the left struck me as more emotional than rational. Whatever else Novak was in his writings, “thin” does not describe the scope and complexity of his thought. He eschewed anger, but expressed a pleading tone in his responses to critiques, which he took as invitations to refine his arguments. His courteous demeanor was key to his persuasiveness.

Retrieved February 16, 2018 from