In an on-going saga pitting traditionalists and constructionists on the political issue of government & religion, a federal judge has issued a new ruling ordering the immediate removal of a cross from federal land at the Mojave National Preserve in California. The cross, which has been on the federal property for many years, was first ordered removed by the judge in 2002 as his interpretation of Constitutional proscriptions of religious endorsement by government.
Congress passed an agreement to exchange the one-acre parcel on which the cross stands with a privately-owned acre in order to enable to cross to stay in its place. The exchange would have meant that the cross would be on private land and not subject to the judge's direction, but the government would not have a net loss in land because of the donation to the government of the adjoining private one-acre parcel. In the meantime, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in May 2003 that the cross could stay displayed while the case worked its way through appeals. Now, however, US District Court Judge Robert J. Timlin, who issued the original removal order, has said that the land exchange was a "sham," and agreed with the group that originally brought the suit, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, that the religious symbol on public land violates the Constitution. Consequently, Judge Timlin ruled April 5 that the cross must be removed completely.
"Nazi pope a clear and present danger to the civilized world," read the headline of a reader's letter in a forum of NYTimes.com, The New York Times' web site.
It wasn't the worst abuse leveled at Pope Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, a German. Type the words "Nazi pope" into the Google search line, and you will get nearly 700 mentions.
"Seig Heil, hail Mary!" read one post, misspelling the German word for victory, which is "Sieg."
"What can you expect from a filthy Nazi?" asked one blogger quoted, with horror, by National Review Online. The blogger went on: "...Nazi bas---- wearing a dress and no doubt with a past in child-molesting."
The Internet is, of course, the kooks' playground, where anti-German prejudices are safe to disseminate for a simple reason: unlike organizations representing blacks, Jews, Italians or the Irish, their German-American counterparts hardly ever raise a fuss.
"We mustn't react impulsively. The more we say, the worse things become. It's much better to enlighten people."
There are some German-Americans who believe that this kind of quietism has only made matters worse in the six decades since the end of World War II, and particularly after Germany's reunification in 1990.
Before Ratzinger's elevation to the papacy, the worst outburst of Germanophobia in the United States occurred on July 25, 2000, when an Air France Concorde crashed in Paris, killing more than 100 passengers, mainly German tourists. Jubilant messages celebrating the "German barbecue" filled America Online's chat rooms. When this correspondent protested to AOL he received no reply, and the abuse was not stopped.
Now, however, things have become even more egregious, complained Werner Baroni, former editor and publisher of Amerika-Woche, a German-language weekly.
"Ever since Ratzinger has become pope I have a hard time bringing down my blood sugar level," Baroni, a diabetic, went on. A meticulous journalist of the old school, 77-year old Baroni fumes, "I don't know what upsets me more -- the insults or the historical sloppiness with which the American media treat Ratzinger's youth.
"They show an old photograph of a young man in uniform claiming that was Ratzinger in the Hitler Youth. In reality, the picture showed him in the fatigues of an anti-aircraft gunner."
As one who has been through similarly horrifying experiences, Baroni is outraged by the self-righteousness with which the American media treat this subject. Such military assignments by the Nazis were, he said, yet another Nazi crime to assign children to flak positions where they would be killed or maimed by the tens of thousands.
True, Ratzinger was in the Hitler Youth, the paramilitary organization in which membership was compulsory after 1941. Still, he managed to drop out by insisting that it was incompatible with his life as a pre-seminarian.
The Jerusalem Post newspaper cleared him of any culpability and ridiculed those who suggest that pope Benedict was a closet Nazi. It mocked people accusing him of being a "theological anti-Semite for believing in Jesus so strongly that -- gasp! -- he thinks anyone, even Jews, should accept him as the Messiah." Added the Post, "To all this we should say, 'This is news?'"
To the burgeoning species of Internet gasbags it clearly was news.
"I bet you this neo-Nazi pope will have the Swiss guards goose stepping on St. Peter's Square in no time," predicted one blogger.
Of course, it is questionable whether such attacks on the pontiff, a saintly and particularly mild scholar, are truly aimed against the German people.
"They knock the Germans but they are motivated by their anti-Catholicism," Catholic League president William Donohue proposed.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd seemed to prove Donohue right by stirring all the elements she considered disagreeable about Ratzinger and his church into one venomous brew:
"Joseph Ratzinger, (is) a 78-year-old hidebound archconservative who ran the office that used to be called the Inquisition and who once belonged to Hitler Youth.
"For American Catholics -- especially women and pro-choice Catholic pols -- the cafeteria is officially closed. After all, Cardinal Ratzinger, nicknamed ‘God's Rottweiler' and 'the Enforcer,' helped deny Communion rights to John Kerry..."
Still, this bundle of clichés at least does not include the word "Nazi pope." This term has entered America's foremost paper via the Readers' Opinion section of NYTimes.com and caused dismay at the Anti-Defamation League.
"We reject that outright," ADL spokeswoman Myrna Shinebaum told this correspondent. Her national director, Abraham H. Foxman, had welcomed Ratzinger's election. "Cardinal Ratzinger has great sensitivity to Jewish history and the Holocaust. He has shown this sensitivity countless times," Foxman stated.
Was it ethical, then, for NYTimes.com to publish a text accusing pope Benedict XVI of being a Nazi?
Toby Usnik, the Times' director of public relations, seems to think so. "We choose not to censor such posts unless they are abusive, defamatory or obscene. While we believe that this post stretches the truth of the pope's youth, we do not believe it violates our policies," he informed this journalist.
"This calls for another insulin shot," fumed Baroni. "It would clearly be abusive if you labeled a black man with the 'N word,'" he said.
"But in the Times' mindset there's evidently nothing defamatory about calling a German pope a Nazi -- in other words a member of a species guilty of genocide."
Even though its population is overwhelmingly Catholic, and even though the Roman Catholic Church this week elected a doctrinally conservative cardinal to become Pope Benedict XVI, the Spanish parliament went ahead with preliminary approval of a law legalizing gay marriage Thursday. The Socialist government's proposal was passed overwhelmingly by the parliament. Final ratification of the law will make Spain the third European country to legalize marriage between people of the same gender.
In support of the law, Socialist Carmen Monton said, "It's unfair to be a second-class citizen because of love. Spain joins the vanguard of those defending full equality for gays and lesbians."
The law passed by a vote of 183-136 and must still be approved by the Spanish Senate and re-confirmation in the lower house, both of which are expected to pass with little opposition.
Formal opposition of the legislation came from the conservative opposition Popular Party and by a Christian Democrat party from the region of Catalonia. Popular Party spokesman Eduardo Zaplana said his party was not opposed to equal rights for gays, but "it's quite another thing that an ancient institution like marriage, that is fundamental for the organization of society, has to be exactly the same." He favors civil unions for homosexual couples.
Under the Catholic rule of Francisco Franco (1939-1975), divorce, homosexuality, and abortion were illegal in Spain. Since his death the country has adopted some of the most liberal views in Europe. A survey last year showed that 70% of the population supported legal gay marriage.
For the last quarter of a century, this non-Catholic has had a pope. Now that John Paul II is gone, I am even more of an orphan than the Christians in the Roman church. For they will surely have another pope, but that one may not be mine, since I haven't converted.
I am sure I am reflecting the views of many Protestants. Who else but John Paul II gave voice to my faith and my values in 130 countries? Who else posited personal holiness and theological clarity against postmodern self-deception and egotism? Who else preached the gospel as tirelessly as this man?
What other clergyman played any comparable role in bringing down communism, a godless system? What other world leader -- spiritual or secular -- understood so profoundly how hollow and bankrupt the Soviet empire was, so much so that this tireless writer never bothered to pen an encyclical against Marxism-Leninism because he knew it was moribund?
Has there been a more powerful defender of the sanctity of life than this Pole, in whose pontificate nearly 40 million unborn babies wound up in trashcans and furnaces in the United States alone? What more fitting insight than John Paul II's definition of our culture as a culture of death -- an insight that is now clearly sinking in, to wit the declining abortion rates in the United States?
In Europe some time ago, a debate occurred in Protestant churches: Should John Paul II be considered the world's spokesman for all of Christianity? This was an absurd question. Of course he spoke for all believers. Who else had such global appeal and credibility, even to non-Christians and non-believers?
Of course, there was the inveterate Billy Graham. There were many faithful Orthodox and Protestant bishops, pastors and evangelists. But there was only one truly catholic (lower-case "c," meaning universal) voice of discipleship, only one determined to pursue this discipleship to the bitter end. And that was John Paul II.
I concede there have been times when "my" pope wasn't fully my pope. When he said the Virgin Mary had saved his life at Mehmet Ali Agca's assassination attempt in 1981, he left me bewildered. Naturally, I was thankful he survived. But as a Protestant, I would have given God alone credit for this wonderful turn of events.
We Lutherans also venerate the Virgin Mary. In some of our services the intercessory prayers begin with the words, "With Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and with all the Saints we beseech thee..." But then, the pope is by definition Catholic and therefore Marian, especially if he is a Polish pope. So, for God's sake, let the pope be pope.
But then John Paul II visited Agca in his prison cell and forgave him. Now he was again fully "my" pope. At a time when nothing plagues the world more than man's apparent inability to forgive -- an inability most egregiously obvious in the Middle East -- he reminded all Christians by his own example of their premier obligation to their fellow man -- and to the head of the church, who is Christ.
In the past 25 years, I have often found myself in the odd position of having to defend "my" pope against the wrath of Catholics whose pope he officially was, at least on paper. No, he was not a comfortable pontifex maximus. The faith he preached and lived was no salami from which you could slice away bits according to your appetite.
He, the most Catholic of all contemporary Catholics, did not countenance the sale of indulgences intrinsic to contemporary ecclesial mushiness: Stay in the church, pay your dues and we'll bless in advance your sinful behavior, which we'll attribute to a God-given quirk in your personal makeup.
John Paul II wouldn't have any of that. This upset many.
Was he stubborn? Yes, he was, especially from my Protestant perspective. Why did he not permit the ordination of married men when in many parts of the world, especially France, octogenarian priests serve 20 or more altars because of the church's vocation crisis? Had he not considered the beneficial benefits of the Protestant parsonage in non-Catholic lands?
I would have had a stronger argument were it not for the snowballing divorce rates among Protestant pastors, who have frequently ceased setting shining examples to their flocks. On the other hand, Catholic seminaries in many parts of the world are filling up with a new and extraordinarily manly crop of candidates for the priesthood -- manly like the pope whose example they follow.
To be a Christian doesn't mean to be cuddly. This has not been a cuddly pope, either. What he said and wrote -- including 14 encyclicals filled with elegant thought and prose -- has irked millions. He, who was instrumental in toppling socialism, was an inveterate preacher of justice and peace, and a harsh critic of the contemporary "Me First" variety of capitalism -- but his admonitions were not rooted in Marxism-Leninism; they were based in the gospel. Thus he only did his job as supreme pontiff. And thus his warnings hit home.
Yes, my pope sometimes seemed harsh. It shocked many of his Protestant admirers that in his superbly scripted encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (Church of the Eucharist) he categorically ruled out altar fellowship between the Roman Catholics and us. But then, did he not have a point when he said this fellowship should come at the end of the ecumenical process -- as its crowning moment?
As one whose own denominations ranks Word and Sacrament as equal pillars on which the church rests, I have never understood the fashionable thoughtlessness with which so often the wafers are chewed and the wine (or grape juice) is drunk, each communicant interpreting this sacramental act in his individual -- meaning postmodern -- way.
I for one was grateful to John Paul II for standing up against this aberration, even if this offended those of us yearning for Christian unity.
Toward the end of his pontificate, my pope's critics, including cardinals, were increasingly shaking their heads at his stubbornness. Why would he not step down, considering that his body no longer accommodated his mind? His face looked puffed up, shook uncontrollably, saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth. Often he could not finish a sentence.
Well now, Stephen Hawking, the cosmologist, can't speak at all anymore, and nobody suggests that he should stop entrusting his important thoughts by arduous means to his computer. And John Paul II, whose mind was as clear as ever until the end, has had an additional mission Hawking does not have. It's called discipleship.
"Christ did not come down from the cross either," the pope kept saying -- and did something utterly counter-cultural in an era when husbands and wives all too often find it impossible to live out their commitments beyond their first marital squabble: He bore his cross, for all to see, especially the young who came to surround this severely handicapped old man by the hundreds of thousands wherever they could, filled with immense affection and admiration.
John Paul II represented to them the opposite of the wishy-washy perversions of postmodernity with its ever-shifting "truth" claims. He was, if you pardon this very Protestant remark, the "Here I stand" kind of a guy we needed as much as ever in the church. That's why he has made disciples of millions of young people around the globe.
That's why he was my pope -- and why I didn't have to be a Roman Catholic to claim him as mine.
Answers In Action Director Gretchen Passantino announced Tuesday that noted journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto has joined Answers In Action as its international religion correspondent and will be contributing articles regularly to the Answers In Action News Section.
"Uwe Siemon-Netto has been a leading voice in religious journalism worldwide," commented Passantino,"and as a confessional Lutheran, his perspective has brought clarity and biblical insight to many stories." Siemon-Netto has most recently served as the United Press International news service religion editor. He is a regular guest on the popular nationally syndicated Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) radio program, Issues, Etc.. He is a regular contributor to World Magazine and Lutheran Witness magazine.
Siemon-Netto's journalism career has spanned nearly 50 years, beginning as the desk editor for The Associated Press news service (Frankfurt, Bonn, & Berlin) from 1958-1961, where he covered the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. He has been a correspondent and/or editor for various national and international publications, most notably for German publications including Stern magazine.
He is the author of The Fabricated Luther: The Rise & Fall of the Shirer Myth (Concordia, 1995), which is developed from his Ph.D. dissertation.
"We are certainly privileged to be able to publish articles by Uwe," Passantino concluded, "Our readers can be assured that they are receiving thoughtful, well-informed insights into today's international religious world."
Siemon-Netto's first posted article, My Pope Too, is on the Answers In Action web site.
A new sex/love phenomenon is sweeping the US and Great Britain -- multiple simultaneous sexual/love partners with everyone acting like one big, happy family, or so says a British psychologist, Dr. Meg Barker, who promoted the new system of "polyamory" at the annual British Psychological Society conference held last week in Manchester, England. According to Dr. Barker, who enjoys 4 partners simultaneously, "There's an emphasis on the recognition of multiple important relationships -- it's not about casual sex."
Dr. Barker says that there are up to 2,000 British men and women who openly practice polyamory, and there are more than 170,000 Internet links for the practice. According to polyamoros advocates, despite having numerous partners at any one time, they are emotinoally committed and do not cheat on them with anyone outside the official connections.
Dr. Barker said she was bisexual and had a primary triangle with a man and woman with whom she lived alternately, and another man and woman who were "regular lovers." Her multiple partners are called, in polyamoros-speak, "metamors." Time management, not jealousy (which polyamoros practitioners call "wibbly"), is her chief complaint.
Barker acknowledged that some monogamous friends are skeptical, noting, "It is hard to get support from people in monogamous relationships." But, she added, "Certainly there are many people who are closet polys. There are relationships where the husband has a lover and the wife agrees so long as it is not talked about -- don't ask, don't tell."
There are two Catholic churches in China: the official one, recognized by the Communist Party government; and the illegal one, which insists on keeping the pope as its titular head instead of the Chinese government. The two churches are recognizing the death of Pope John Paul II in different ways, too.
The memorial service held in the Southern Cathedral, with government approval, acknowledges the pope as a spiritual leader but rejects the authority of the Roman Catholic Church over its affairs. The priest who celebrated the service talked only of John Paul's efforts toward peace and the health of the church, not of his lifelong opposition to Communism.
Underground Catholic churches in China are also acknowledging John Paul's death, but in a decidedly different way. Joseph Kung, the president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, an advocate of the illegal Catholic churches, explained, "Since 1949, there have been thousands of martyrs in China because they refused to cut off their relations with the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Today, we still have numerous Roman Catholic bishops, priests, and other religious and faithful in jail because they will not sever ties with the Pope in order to join the Chinese government-established official Church or the Patriotic Association. . . .To us in the underground churches, Pope John Paul II's death is not only the death of our pontiff, but also the loss of a great father and friend of Roman Catholics in China. He loved the underground in China from the very beginning of his pontificate."
Cardinal Kung was a Roman Catholic cardinal who spent many years in Chinese prison for his outspoken faith and who led the ungerground movement in rejecting the Chinese Communist government's requirement that Catholics refrain from supporting the pope's religious authority over them, their faith, and their churches. Early in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II named Ignatius Cardinal Kung as a secret cardinal in the Pope’s heart (in pectore) while Cardinal Kung was still serving his life sentence in the communist jail.
In 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized 120 Chinese saints, Chinese Catholic Christians who were declared illegal subversives by the Chinese Communist government, but who showed exemplary Christian faith as members of the underground Chinese Catholic Church.
Friday, April 01 2005 @ 06:48 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
Richard & Charlene Hicks, missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators in the South American country of Guyana, were killed this week at their rural home in the San Jose district, about 230 miles southwest of Georgetown, Guyana. The Hickses were translators for Wycliffe, mostly translating the Bible into the indigenous language spoken by the main native group in that area.
Richard Hicks was 42, a Canadian who grew up in South Africa. Charlene Hicks, 58, was the daughter of missionaries who grew up in Missouri and Arkansas. They were currently based out of Dallas, Texas. The body of Richard was badly burned, and Charlene appeared to have been killed by a heavy blow. Officials think they were killed in a robbery attempt. There have been no arrests at this time.
Friday, April 01 2005 @ 06:38 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
In the wake of his wife's death from dehydration ordered by him, Michael Schiavo, husband of the late Terri Schaivo, is planning to have her remains cremated and interred in private ceremonies near Philadelphia without her own family's knowledge or presence. Terri, who was severely disabled for more than 14 years before her husband finally won her death by keeping food and water from her for 14 days, was Catholic, as are her parents and siblings. They had wanted permission to bury her near them in Florida with full Catholic rites.
Michael Schiavo had also barred Terri's immediate family from her bedside during her final moments alive on Thursday. She died in his arms, with a teddy bear tucked under her arm. Her brother had been removed from the room moments before, Schiavo claiming that he feared a "potentially explosive" situation, according to his attorney, George Felos.
Michael's brother, Scott, said that the final arrangements would be made without Terri's parents and siblings to avoid a "media spectacle." Terri's brother, Bobby Schindler commented, "We've already said goodbye. He's been doing this kind of stuff for 15 years. What would make him stop now?"
Wednesday, February 16 2005 @ 03:16 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
The Talmud is the Jewish collection of rabbinic commentary on the Bible and is the basis for Jewish law and tradition. The two most famous and authoritative Talmuds are called the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. A new English edition of the Babylonian Talmud has just been completed, submitted to the Library of Congress, and will be released to the public March 15 in New York City.
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26