Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The world could use a Pope with the moral clarity of former surgeon general C. Everett Koop

Dr. C. Everett Koop understood that right and wrong aren't always clear. Chosen by Ronald Reagan for his conservative beliefs, which he never abandoned, he ended up saving many innocent lives by pushing sex education and condom use, and talking openly about AIDS. He believed his first moral obligation was to protect the health of Americans.

If the next pope is able to think as deeply about right and wrong, it will indeed be a blessing to the world.

The Public's Health Trumped His Beliefs
February 25, 2013

He declared war on smoking, helped remove the stigma from AIDS and pioneered the use of the office of surgeon general as a megaphone for addressing Americans about health.

Dr. C. Everett Koop, who died Monday at age 96, was an evangelical Christian who espoused conservative social values. But as the U.S.'s top public-health official, he promoted positions more commonly associated with liberals, such as condom use and sex education.

Nominated for the office by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, Dr. Koop was known as a crusading abortion opponent. In the 1970s, he toured the country presenting the antiabortion film "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?"

The National Organization for Women opposed his nomination. U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) called him "Dr. Kook" and said the doctor was "a man of tremendous intolerance." Dr. Koop himself once told Life magazine, "I think I scare most people."

But conservatives welcomed him, and Republican Sen. Jesse Helms sponsored legislation letting the New York native serve despite being over the position's 64-year-old age limit. During a lengthy confirmation battle, Dr. Koop pledged not to use his office as an antiabortion soapbox.

Despite lacking a background in public health, Dr. Koop kicked off his eight years in office with a report that labeled cigarette smoking "the most important public health issue of our time." He warned of the dangers of secondhand smoke and pushed for a smokeless society.

Commenting on the Newport cigarette "Alive With Pleasure" advertising campaign, he said, "Truth in advertising would demand the slogan 'Dying in Agony' instead." The crusade alienated some of his biggest backers, including Mr. Helms of the tobacco-growing state of North Carolina.

On AIDS, Dr. Koop initially was muzzled by the White House, which kept him off an early AIDS task force and forbade him to make public statements about the newly discovered disease.

In 1986, he issued a frank report on AIDS, urging the use of condoms for "safe sex" and advocating sex education as early as the third grade. When a summary of the report was mailed to 100 million homes, James McFadden of the Ad Hoc Committee in Defense of Life complained, "Here is a guy who looks like an Old Testament prophet—who ever would have imagined that he'd end up selling the gospel of sodomy?"

Dr. Koop disappointed some in 1989 when, as surgeon general, he refused to endorse any conclusion about the psychological effects of abortions. "I had not wavered at all in my pro-life stand," he wrote in his memoir, "Koop." "The real problem, of course, was that too many women have unwanted pregnancies."

Before becoming the nation's chief doctor, Dr. Koop was famed for separating conjoined twins at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was surgeon-in-chief for three decades.

Dr. Koop wrote that he aspired to be a surgeon from the time he was a boy, even sneaking into a hospital to watch surgery at age 15 while posing as a medical student. Curious to learn more, he did operations on rabbits and stray cats, with his mother acting as anesthetist. After graduating from Cornell Medical College in 1941, Dr. Koop opted for the then-unusual specialty of pediatric surgery. He developed new techniques for correcting congenital heart defects and underdeveloped esophaguses.

Dr. Koop retired in 1989, before his second term as surgeon general had expired. He helped create the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth College and the short-lived drkoop.com. In 1995, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

His most lasting legacy was the AIDS battle, where he alienated his original constituency to fulfill what he said was his obligation as a physician. "It is time to put self-defeating attitudes aside and recognize that we are fighting a disease—not people," Dr. Koop said in 1986.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Vatican protects cardinals who hid child molestation, but not those who had sex with adults

I can not fathom why the Catholic Church would be more hostile to gay clergy than to clergy who raped children and protected rapists. If the Church wants to continue to be catholic (small c), I'd suggest it choose a liberal from the Americas as the next pope. Conservatives think they're saving the Church by preventing change, but they're achieving the exact opposite. If they don't watch out, I think we could end up with an American Orthodox Church consisting of people who have lost confidence in Rome.

Vatican shifts tone on cardinals linked to sex scandals
By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post
February 25, 2013

ROME — Before the election of Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican circled the wagons around cardinals ensnared in sex abuse scandals. As the church prepares to pick Benedict’s successor, those embattled cardinals increasingly find themselves under the wagon wheels.

In a wide-ranging news conference on Monday, the Vatican struck a markedly blase tone when asked about the decision by British Cardinal Keith O’Brien not to attend the conclave to elect the next pope. Hours earlier, the Vatican had accepted O’Brien’s immediate resignation over sexual harassment accusations.

Whereas the Vatican made clear in 2005 that disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston was expected to report to the Sistine Chapel, on Monday it said it had nothing to do with O’Brien’s announcement.

In other words, he was on his own.

“The cardinal can say what he wants to say,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told a packed briefing room.

“There is a clear shift in rhetoric,” said John Allen, a leading Vatican observer and correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. “In 2005, the Vatican stated that it was a clear duty for cardinals to participate in the conclave. It appears that they are now shifting the burden for making that decision onto the cardinals themselves.”...

“The Myth of Persecution”: Early Christians weren’t persecuted

A few decades ago, the Catholic Church removed a large number of people from its list of saints. Saint Christopher was a big loss, since so many people were driving around feeling safe because they had a Saint Christopher medal hanging from their rear-view mirrors. It turns out that these "saints," such as Christopher, the ferryman who carried a heavy child on his shoulders, might not have existed at all. Likewise, regarding Judaism, some archaeologists say that small Bedouin camps from thousands of years ago have been found in the Sinai desert, but not a trace of Jews wandering in that desert for forty years. Perhaps the Egypt story is an allegory for the years Jews spent searching for God, and the stories of Christian saints were allegories created to strengthen the resolve of early Christians who were struggling to carry the burden of their new religion.

“The Myth of Persecution”: Early Christians weren’t persecuted
The Romans did not target, hunt or massacre Jesus' followers, says a historian of the early church
By Laura Miller
Feb 24, 2013

In the immediate aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, a modern myth was born. A story went around that one of the two killers asked one of the victims, Cassie Bernall, if she believed in God. Bernall reportedly said “Yes” just before he shot her. Bernall’s mother wrote a memoir, titled “She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall,” a tribute to her daughter’s courageous Christian faith. Then, just as the book was being published, a student who was hiding near Bernall told journalist Dave Cullen that the exchange never happened.

Although Candida Moss’ new book, “The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” is about the three centuries following the death of Jesus, she makes a point of citing this modern-day parallel. What Bernall truly said and did in the moments before her death absolutely matters, Moss asserts, if we are going to hold her up as a “martyr.” Yet misconceptions and misrepresentations can creep in so soon. The public can get the story wrong even in this highly mediated and thoroughly reported age — and do so despite the presence among us of living eyewitnesses. So what, then, to make of the third-hand, heavily revised, agenda-laden and anachronistic accounts of Christianity’s original martyrs?

Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, challenges some of the most hallowed legends of the religion when she questions what she calls “the Sunday school narrative of a church of martyrs, of Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs.” None of that, she maintains, is true. In the 300 years between the death of Jesus and the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, there were maybe 10 or 12 scattered years during which Christians were singled out for supression by Rome’s imperial authorities, and even then the enforcement of such initiatives was haphazard — lackadaisical in many regions, although harsh in others. “Christians were never,” Moss writes, “the victims of sustained, targeted persecution.”

Much of the middle section of “The Myth of Persecution” is taken up with a close reading of the six “so-called authentic accounts” of the church’s first martyrs. They include Polycarp, a bishop in Smyrna during the second century who was burned at the stake, and Saint Perpetua, a well-born young mother executed in the arena at Carthage with her slave, Felicity, at the beginning of the third century. Moss carefully points out the inconsistencies between these tales and what we know about Roman society, the digs at heresies that didn’t even exist when the martyrs were killed and the references to martyrdom traditions that had yet to be established. There’s surely some kernel of truth to these stories, she explains, as well as to the first substantive history of the church written in 311 by a Palestinian named Eusebius. It’s just that it’s impossible to sort the truth from the colorful inventions, the ax-grinding and the attempts to reinforce the orthodoxies of a later age.

Moss also examines surviving Roman records. She notes that during the only concerted anti-Christian Roman campaign, under the emperor Diocletian between 303 and 306, Christians were expelled from public offices. Their churches, such as the one in Nicomedia, across the street from the imperial palace, were destroyed. Yet, as Moss points out, if the Christians were holding high offices in the first place and had built their church “in the emperor’s own front yard,” they could hardly have been in hiding away in catacombs before Diocletian issued his edicts against them.

This is not to deny that some Christians were executed in horrible ways under conditions we’d consider grotesquely unjust. But it’s important, Moss explains, to distinguish between “persecution” and “prosecution.” The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song. Moss distinguishes between those cases in which Christians were prosecuted simply for being Christians and those in which they were condemned for engaging in what the Romans considered subversive or treasonous activity. Given the “everyday ideals and social structures” the Romans regarded as essential to the empire, such transgressions might include publicly denying the divine status of the emperor, rejecting military service or refusing to accept the authority of a court. In one of her most fascinating chapters, Moss tries to explain how baffling and annoying the Romans (for whom “pacifism didn’t exist as a concept”) found the Christians — when the Romans thought about them at all...

read more

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

officials displayed outrage over a priest's violation of canon law while doing little for victims of his sexual abuse

Church officials pretended that God cared more about church rules than about the sexual abuse of children. Of course, it was the officials themselves who felt that way. It seems that all hierarchies become corrupt.

Priests' ecclesiastical missteps treated more sternly than abuse
Files detail cases in which L.A. Archdiocese officials displayed outrage over a priest's violation of canon law while doing little for victims of his sexual abuse.
By Victoria Kim, Ashley Powers and Harriet Ryan
Los Angeles Times
February 1, 2013

The archdiocese of Los Angeles learned in the late 1970s that one of its priests had sexually assaulted a 16-year-old boy so violently that he was left bleeding and "in a state of shock." The priest said he was too drunk to remember what happened and officials took no further action.

But two decades later, word reached Cardinal Roger M. Mahony that the same priest was molesting again and improperly performing the sacrament of confession on his victim. The archdiocese sprang to action: It dispatched investigators, interviewed a raft of witnesses and discussed the harshest of all church penalties—not for the abuse but for the violation of church law.

"Given the seriousness of this abuse of the sacrament of penance … it is your responsibility to formally declare the existence of the excommunication and then refer the matter to Rome," one cleric told Mahony in a memo.

The case of Father Jose Ugarte is one of several instances detailed in newly released records in which archdiocese officials displayed outrage over a priest's ecclesiastical missteps while doing little for the victims of his sexual abuse.

The revelations emerged from 12,000 pages of the once-confidential personnel files of more than 100 priests accused of abuse. The archdiocese posted the documents on its website Thursday night, an hour after a Los Angeles judge ended five and a half years of legal wrangling over the release of the files with an order compelling the church to make the documents public within three weeks.

Victims, their lawyers, reporters and members of the public spent hours Friday poring through records that stretched back to the 1940s and provided details about the scope of abuse in church ranks never before seen.

The files also suggested that the attempts to protect abusers from law enforcement extended beyond the L.A. archdiocese to a Catholic order tasked with rehabilitating abusers.

"Once more, we ask you to PLEASE DESTROY THESE PAGES AND ANY OTHER MATERIAL YOU HAVE RECEIVED FROM US," the acting director of the order's treatment program wrote to Mahony in 1988 in a letter detailing therapists' reports about a prolific molester. "This is stated for your own and our legal protection."

The order, the Servants of the Paraclete, closed the New Mexico facility where many Los Angeles priests were sent amid a flood of lawsuits in the mid-1990s. A lawyer for the order declined to comment, but indicated in a 2011 civil court filing that all treatment records were destroyed.

Mahony disregarded the order's advice, and therapy memos are among the most detailed records in the files.

One evaluation recounts how Father Joseph Pina, an East L.A. parish priest, said he was attracted to a victim, an eighth-grade girl, when he saw her in a costume.

"She dressed as Snow White … I had a crush on Snow White, so I started to open myself up to her," he told the psychologist. In a report sent to a top Mahony aide, the psychologist expressed concern the abuse was never reported to authorities.

"All so very sad," Mahony wrote years later after Pina was placed on leave. He was defrocked in 2006.

The limitations of the treatment at the Servants' center are evident in the file. After months of therapy in 1994, Father John Dawson was allowed to leave the facility for a weekend. Among the first things Dawson, who had been accused of plying altar boy victims with pot and beer, did was apply for a job at the Arizona Boys School in Phoenix. Treatment center staff found out only after the school phoned Dawson to arrange an interview. "Had they not called the Villa, it is doubtful that Fr. Dawson would have informed us of that job application and interview," according to a 1994 letter to Mahony's vicar for clergy, Msgr. Timothy Dyer.

In some cases, the behavior that drew the greatest ire of the hierarchy involved breaking church rather than criminal laws. After first learning of Michael Baker's abuse of boys in 1986, church leaders sent the priest to therapy, then returned him to ministry believing his word that he would stay away from children.

Yet in 2000, information that Baker was performing baptisms without permission set off a new level of alarm among the church's top officials. They discussed launching a canonical investigation, and for the first time in Baker's checkered years with the church, officials raised the prospect of contacting police.

They mulled getting a restraining order to keep him away from churches.

"Please proceed — this is very bad!" Mahony scrawled across the bottom of a memo on starting a church investigation into the baptisms. Ultimately, church officials did not seek a restraining order.

Archdiocese officials finally contacted police about Baker's abuse of children when the scandal erupted in 2002.

Republican hypocrisy: Senator Pete Dominici was hiding love child as he voted to impeach Clinton

So who's tawdry now?

Domenici acknowledges having son outside marriage
Associated Press
Feb. 20, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Former Sen. Pete Domenici has disclosed that he fathered a secret child in the 1970s with the 24-year-old daughter of one of his Senate colleagues — a startling revelation for a politician with a reputation as an upstanding family man.

Domenici and Michelle Laxalt sent statements to the Albuquerque Journal that announced the relationship for the first time and identified their son as Nevada attorney Adam Paul Laxalt. They said they decided to go public with their decades-old secret because they believed someone was about to release the information in an attempt to smear Domenici.

"I deeply regret this and am very sorry for my behavior," Domenici, 80, said in his statement. "I hope New Mexicans will view that my accomplishments for my beloved state outweigh my personal transgression."

The Journal reported on the relationship in an article published Wednesday.

Domenici, a Republican, was the longest-serving senator in New Mexico history when he retired in 2008 after six terms. He was known for his unflagging support of the state's national laboratories and military installations, and he became a power broker for his work on the federal budget and energy policy.

Domenici voted for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998 after his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but his floor statement focused on the fact that Clinton had lied under oath, noting that the trial "has never been about the President's private sex acts, as tawdry as they have been."

But in the same speech, he cited the value of "truthfulness" and how it's the first pillar of good character. Reached at his home in Washington on Wednesday, Domenici said he had nothing more to say. Domenici and his wife have been married more than 50 years and have eight children...

Pistorius: people around him were NOT grounding him and pulling him back to earth

Oscar Pistorius

We all need feedback. It's a terrible mistake when we get rid of the people we need most: the ones who tell us the truth.

Pistorius' prior police run-ins
February 20, 2013
By Samuel Burke

During the bail hearing for Oscar Pistorius in Pretoria on Wednesday, a South African police investigator testified about previous run-ins that the double amputee Olympian has had with police.

Detective Hilton Botha said in his testimony that Pistorius had accidentally fired a weapon at a restaurant in January, and alleged that Pistorius persuaded a friend to take responsibility - Pistorius denied those charges.

The investigator also said Pistorius had previously threatened violence in another incident in an altercation over a woman.

In 2009, Botha said he also investigated another incident, in which an unidentified woman had accused Pistorius of assault, but her claim could not be proved and the case was dropped without any charges being filed...

Patta believes these previous incidents were clearly seeds of some trouble.

"There were daemons that were driving this young man, Oscar Pistorius, who we know as a hero in South Africa. And yet there were signs of aggression." Patta said.

"The gun [incident] took place just a couple of weeks ago and that is incontrovertible. The gun was fired in an open public area. Oscar Pistorius disputes that he fired the gun." Patta said. "He says that it was a friend, but people who were with him said he did fired it. It was fired by accident, make no mistake, but the fact that a gun was being played around with in place public in it of itself is horrifying"

That fact that "song and dance" wasn't made about the incident is also indicative of South Africa's attitude toward these incidents, according to Patta. She believes an episode like this, where a gun is fired where an athlete was present, in another country would have provoked a public debate on gun proliferation.

The allegation in 2009 was not tested in a court of law - Oscar Pistorius was not as well known, not even in South Africa, at that time. Pistorius did speak openly about the incident according to Patta, claiming the incident was a misunderstanding, and even eventually no charges were filed.

"That too seems to have been dropped and just pushed under the carpet," Patta said. "And now when one looks back with, of course, the exact science of hindsight, it does seem that there were warning signs that at the very least that Oscar Pistorius displayed a significant amount of aggression and that were not people around him who were grounding him and pulling him back to earth."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Seismic activity reported in area of previous North Korea nuclear tests

North Korea apparently wasn't bluffing last month when it announced a third nuclear test. Clearly, Kim Jong Un means business.

Seismic activity reported in area of previous North Korea nuclear tests
By CNN Staff
February 12, 2013

North Korea said Thursday that it plans to carry out a new nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches, all of which it said are a part of a new phase of confrontation with the United States.

"It's a nuclear test," says an analyst

A magnitude 4.9 disturbance takes place in area of previous underground nuclear tests

There is little or no history of natural seismic activity in the area

North Korea said last month it would carry out a third nuclear test

(CNN) -- North Korea appeared to have conducted its third underground nuclear bomb test Tuesday, as the U.S. Geological Survey reported a seismic disturbance centered near the site of the secretive regime's two previous nuclear tests.

The area around the reported epicenter of the magnitude 4.9 disturbance has little or no history of earthquakes or natural seismic hazards, according to U.S. Geological Survey maps. The disturbance took place at a depth of about 1 kilometer, the USGS said.

There were no initial reports concerning the activity on the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday.

"It's a nuclear test," said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "That magnitude and that location -- it's awfully unlikely it's anything else."

In Washington, a senior administration official said the United States was working to confirm a nuclear test.

The reclusive, Stalinist state announced last month that it planned a new nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches, all of which it said were part of a new phase of confrontation with the United States.

U.S. analysts say North Korea's first bomb test, in October 2006, produced an explosive yield at less than 1 kiloton (1,000 tons) of TNT. A second test in May 2009 is believed to have been about two kilotons, National Intelligence Director James Clapper told a Senate committee in 2012.

By comparison, the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 was a 15-kiloton device.

In May 2012, North Korea said it had amended its constitution to formally proclaim itself a "nuclear state."

The seismic disturbance took place at a time when several East Asian countries, including China, North Korea's major ally, are observing public holidays for the Lunar New Year. It also took place less than 24 hours before President Barack Obama was due to make his State of the Union address.

Pope Benedict XVI resigns due to advanced age

Pope Benedict XVI

The Pope may have resigned, but the men he has made powerful will surely try to elect one of themselves to succeed him. I hope they won't be successful.

Four years ago, I was in a small town in El Salvador, which itself is so small that it is known as the "thumb" of Central America. It is so densely populated that it's hard to find a patch of land without houses. Seven million people live there, with another three million living in the U.S. And yet the local priest rails against birth control. Where does he expect the next generation to live? The apparent solution is to build second stories in family compounds, but few can afford to do that unless they have relatives sending money from the U.S.

Why next pope must open up church and usher in Vatican III
By Paul Donovan
Special to CNN
February 11, 2013

Benedict, 85, announced on Monday, February 11, that he will resign at the end of February "because of advanced age." The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.

(CNN) -- The announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI came as a bolt from the blue to the world but not a moment too soon for many Catholics.

The Catholic Church has continued to march backwards under Pope Benedict, seeming at times to be in a state of perpetual denial, whether the issue be that of child abuse, birth control, homosexuality or the role of women.

At the heart of the church there lies a deep chauvinism that seems to have infected the whole edifice.

Women may feel discriminated against in many institutions but few have made it so blatantly clear that the woman's place remains at the kitchen sink as the Catholic Church.

The refusal to enter into a constructive dialogue about the possibility of having female clergy underlines just how male dominated the institution remains.

Rubbing salt in the wounds in Britain has been the creation by Pope Benedict of the Ordinariate. This body facilitates the progress of those Anglicans who predominantly want to leave the Church of England because of the ordination of women into the Catholic Church.

This has seen a succession of married priests coming over, so providing a ready supply of candidates to fill the growing number of vacancies, due to lack of celibate males, in the Catholic Church.

No one at the Vatican seems overly concerned about the contradiction that sees married Anglicans being allowed to join the Catholic Church and minister to the faithful, whilst a man ordained as priest in the Catholic faith who wants to get married has to leave in order to do so.

It is this sort of heaping of contradiction on contradiction that has brought the church to its present position of crisis with people walking away in their droves.

But perhaps the biggest crisis for the Church remains child abuse. It has shaken the whole edifice under the present pontiff's tenure, and no doubt taken its toll on him personally.

Fulsome apologies have been made and actions taken to remedy abuse across the world. However, as cases like that of Cardinal Sean Brady in Ireland prove, many of those now in the positions of authority in the church are the very same who stood by, or worse still, colluded in the cover-up of abuse.

There is no doubt still more to come. The church needs to face up to its responsibilities and show a greater concern for the victims than for protection of the institution at all costs.

The laity feel largely ignored on these matters. They were not consulted over whether they wanted the Ordinariate nor over the recently imposed translation of the mass. A great number of the laity also feel hugely let down by the role of priests in abuse.

Catholics worldwide must hope that the spirit moves the Cardinals when they gather in March to elect a new pope. Many will pray that the new pope is more in the mould of Pope John XXIII, who ushered in the Second Vatican Council that sat for much of the 1960s.

This was a time of hope. Pope John called for the church to open its windows and engage with the world. Vatican II brought forward radical thought on issues from poverty and war to workplace justice and the family. The laity were given a say. Nothing less is required this time around.

Vatican III would have to look at things like the dignity of the human person, empowerment of the laity, the role of women and the sex abuse scandal.

In the case of abuse, change would mean examining those structures of the church that made these things likely in the first place.

Central to this effort must be the role of the priest. The role must change to become that of one among equals. Priests, whether they be men or women, must become more accountable and not act in the authoritarian manner that many who hold the office do today...