FaithWorld

POLL – Is reforming U.S. health care a moral issue?

obama-healthThe heated debate over United States health care reform revolves around practical issues like its expected costs or the government-run “public option.” But when President Barack Obama addressed Congress on the issue, he quoted a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy saying: “What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.” (Photo: President Obama addressing Congress, 9 Sept 2009/Jason Reed)

Religious leaders and politicians supporting health care reform sometimes frame the issue in moral terms. But the term “moral” rarely pops up in the Washington debate and — apart from the Kennedy quote — it didn’t figure in Obama’s speech either. The president did discuss the issue of character, which is a moral term, and used the word often enough for it to appear in the Wordle web cloud below. But he avoided repeating what might be considered a religiously loaded word in a crucial political speech.

What do you think?

poll by twiigs.com

Here’s the word cloud of Obama’s speech. Even “character” is pretty hard to find (click to enlarge the image).

obama-word-cloud

Saudi film festival cancelled in setback for reformers

saudi-film-festival1Saudi Arabia’s only film festival has been cancelled, dealing a blow to reformist hopes of an easing of clerical control over culture that had been raised by the low-key return of cinemas in December.  In a country where movie theatres had been banned for almost three decades, the annual Jeddah Film Festival — started in 2006 — presents aspiring Saudi film makers and actors with a rare opportunity to mingle with more experienced peers from other countries. (Photo: Jeddah Mayor Adel Fakieh speaks at Jeddah film festival, 18 July 2007/Susan Baaghil)

But the Jeddah governorate informed festival organisers late on Friday, just before its planned opening on Saturday,  that this year’s festival was cancelled “after it received instructions from official parties. We were not told why,” said Mamdouh Salem, one of its organisers.

Many religious conservatives in the kingdom believe films from more liberal Arab countries such as Egypt could violate religious taboos. Some also view cinema and acting, as a form of dissembling, as inconsistent with Islam.

U.S. Catholic CEO responds to Benedict’s economic encyclical

charity-in-truthPope Benedict’s encyclical “Charity in Truth” proposed a sweeping reform of the world economic system from one based on the profit motive to one based on solidarity and concern for the common good. Like other such documents in the Roman Catholic Church’s social teaching tradition, the encyclical delivers a strong critique of unbridled capitalism. This can be uncomfortable for Catholics who champion free enterprise and some conservative Catholic writers reacted quickly and critically. One of them, George Weigel, wrote the encyclical “resembles a duck-billed platypus.” (Image: Charity in Truth/Ignatius Press)

We wanted to hear the views of a Catholic executive, one who’s involved in business rather than reacting from the sidelines. So I called Frank Keating, president and chief executive officer of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI). The former Republican governor of Oklahoma (1995-2003) is a former chairman of the National Catholic Review Board, which he said “sought to identify and correct the horror of sexual abuse on the part of the clergy.” He is a Knight of Malta and a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.

DB: What’s your overall reaction to the encyclical?

keatingFK:“I haven’t read the 30,000 words but I think what the pope is proposing is not inconsistent with other papal messages. The common denominator to all of them is the worth of the individual, the dignity of every human person. So Benedict XVI focuses on the right to life, he speaks against euthanasia, he speaks against the evil of abortion, he speaks against cloning. But at the same time he talks about duties and responsibilities to the vulnerable because the vulnerable are dignified human beings as well as those who are rich and powerful.

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

popePope Benedict issued an ambitious call to reform the way the world works on Tuesday shortly before its most powerful leaders meet at the G8 summit in Italy. His latest encyclical, entitled “Charity in Truth,” presents a long list of steps he thinks are needed to overcome the financial crisis and shift economic activity from the profit motive to a goal of solidarity of all people.

Following are some of his proposals. The italics are from the original text. Do you think they are realistic food for thought or idealistic notions with no hope of being put into practice?

    “There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration… such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights.” The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly – not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred…” “Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers. Right intention, transparency, and the search for positive results are mutually compatible and must never be detached from one another.” “Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value… there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference… What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development.” “One possible approach to development aid would be to apply effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State.”
(Photo: Pope Bendict, 1 July 2009/Tony Gentile)

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Israel to fund Reform conversions to Judaism? Not so fast.

An Israeli demonstrator holds up a sign in Jerusalem as an Orthodox man prays behind him. Reuters photograph.

The latest front in the ongoing conflict in Israel between ultra-Orthodox Judaism and less observant movements — the subject of a brief blog yesterday on Faithworld — heated up with a front page article in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday that quoted an ultra-Orthodox parliament member calling Reform Jews, among other things, “trecherous backstabbers to Judaism”.

The rather harsh, though not unprecedented, comments were reportedly made by Moshe Gafni from the religious United Torah Judaism party. Gafni is chairman of Israel’s finance committee and was quoted in a phone interview following a high court decision that ordered federal funding of non-Orthodox Jewish conversions.

Gafni’s office could not be reached to confirm the quote.

It’s not clear if Gafni will have any influence in this specific ruling, but his promise to try to block any attempts to allocate funds could certainly take the quarrel up a notch.

Bishop Williamson says SSPX will never agree to “conciliarism”

Bishop Richard Williamson has posted his observations on the lifting of excommunications against himself and three other bishops of the rebel traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X.  Like his colleague Bishop Bernard Fellay, he is triumphant and boasts the SSPX made no concessions to obtain the decree readmitting them back into the Catholic Church. He goes even further, saying that the deal with the Vatican only committed the SSPX to discussing its differences with Rome. Nothing about resolving them. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

Williamson hardly mentions the controversy caused by his Holocaust denial, which has angered Jewish groups, overshadowed this story and forced Pope Benedict to issue a hair-shirt denunciation of the Holocaust — something he would not have had to do if he and his Vatican aides had handled this better. The bishop thanks Benedict and his aides for making their decision to lift the bans “despite, for instance, a media uproar orchestrated and timed to prevent it.”

The Vatican left the conditions for the lifting of the bans vague when it worked out the deal, leaving the SSPX pleased and many Catholics concerned that prior support for the Second Vatican Council was not required. After four days of speculation during which several bishops’ conferences spoke out to demand the SSPX support the Council’s reforms, Pope Benedict came out on Wednesday and made clear the bishops would have to “take the further steps needed to achieve full communion with the Church, thereby showing true loyalty and true recognition of the Magisterium and the authority of the pope and of the Second Vatican Council.”

Pope clarifies Vatican stand four days after lifting SSPX bans

(Photo: Pope Benedict at his weekly Vatican audience, 28 Jan 2009/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict clarified a crucial point in the Vatican’s dispute with the rebel traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) during his regular weekly audience today. Apart from the issue of Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust, which has angered Jewish leaders and caught most of the headlines, the decision to lift the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops raised serious concerns among many Catholics because it seemed to signal a departure from reforms of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council. Specifically, by lifting the bans without demanding the SSPX bishops first recognise all Council reforms, it looked like Benedict was not trying to defend these Church teachings against their most implacable critics. Benedict has long been a champion of a conservative re-interpretation of the Council so any concessions he makes to the SSPX go beyond the narrow issue involved.

The Second Vatican Council was a major and complex event (well explained in the new book What Happened At Vatican II by Georgetown University Professor John W. O’Malley pictured at right). Its reforms include the opening to Jews, Muslims and other religions and a commitment to religious freedom. They replaced earlier teachings that Jews were Christ-killers, that all other faiths were deeply in error and that democracy and the separation of church and state were modernist aberrations. Many Catholics would not be able to recognise their own Church if it went back to those notions. Some would even leave if it did.  But the SSPX officially rejects these reforms as grave errors and it refused to agree to them as a pre-condition for having the excommunications lifted.

The fact that Benedict agreed to lift the bans without gaining this concession from them (which the Vatican was demanding as late as last June) prompted speculation that he would fudge this condition in the negotiations due with the SSPX to regularise their status within the Church. SSPX Superior General Bishop Bernard Fellay fuelled this suspicion by writing a triumphant letter to his followers clearly stating he had not made this concession (the Vatican statement was not clear on this point). Statements from the Vatican in reaction to the uproar about Williamson have been curiously defensive. Church officials have said his views were unacceptable and not related to the excommunication issue. Those statements were fine as far as they went. But they never shifted to the offensive and said, “And what’s more, we’ll demand that they sign up to all Vatican II documents.” The whole episode led Catholics to ask, as did blogger David Gibson, “Why so much for this group?”

If Catholic rebels return to Rome, who caved?

Pope Benedict is reportedly planning to lift the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist Catholic bishops who have defied the Vatican for decades by rejecting some central reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Andrea Tornielli, the well-informed vaticanista of the Italian daily Il Giornale, says the decree inviting the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) back to the Roman fold should be announced this weekend. If this is true (which, given Tornielli’s track record, it presumably is),  the unanswered question now is: who caved? (Photo: Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 10 Jan 2009/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Our vaticanista Phil Pullella writes that lifting the excommunications “would be a major gesture by Benedict to resolve a crisis in the Church that surfaced in 1988, when the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre illegally consecrated four bishops without the requisite permission of the late Pope John Paul.”

The Swiss-based SSPX has about a million followers worldwide compared to 1.1 billion for the official Church. It maintains the old Latin Mass and rejects Vatican II reforms such as dialogue with other religions.

SSPX “answer without response” to Vatican ultimatum

SSPX world headquarters logoThe schismatic traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has reacted to a Vatican ultimatum by challenging the conditions Rome set for its return to the Catholic fold. By sending this in a letter, SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay partly fulfilled one condition of the ultimatum, i.e. answering by the end of this month. But he did not fulfill the more important other half of that requirement, i.e. that he respond positively. In fact, he told the Vatican that other conditions — to accept papal authority and not criticise the pope — were too vague to be accepted, according to SSPX spokesman Rev. Alain Lorans. As Lorans put it: “You can say he’s not responding, despite answering it.”

This is a clever way of ducking deadline pressure, but it doesn’t answer the real issues. It looked like the Vatican had the SSPX in a corner when the ultimatum of June 4 became known early this week. By wording the five conditions so vaguely that contentious issues such as the new Mass and the Second Vatican Council reforms went unmentioned, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos — the Vatican official dealing with traditionalists — may have thought they might win over the schismatics. Benedict had already taken the first step towards a possible accord last year by liberalising the use of the old Latin Mass that the SSPX has championed as its visible trademark. The ultimatum made a further conciliatory gesture by keeping the explicit requirements to a minimum.

Pope Benedict, 13 March 2007/Osservatore RomanoBut Benedict has his red lines too. Compare the current five conditions to the much more explicit five conditions that SSPX founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre accepted in May 1988 (with the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) but renounced the following month. The new list of conditions strips away the explicit demands of the 1988 document, but they basically remain implicit — a fact that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed this week.

Turkey says journalists just don’t understand hadith project

Hadith of Sahih al-BukhariThe more outside attention Turkey’s project to purge Islam’s hadith (sayings of Prophet Mohammad) of sexism and superstition gets, the more the religious authorities insist it is being misunderstood. Ali Bardakoglu, chairman of the government’s Religious Affairs Directorate, insisted this was not a reform of Islam when the project was presented as just that in western media early this year. His deputy Mehmet Görmez gave us a long interview in March to explain that Turkey was updating its way of understanding the hadith, but not the religion itself. They explain this all in detail, but the message still doesn’t seem to come out that way at the other end.

Bardakoglu felt obliged this week to explain the project once again. He didn’t mention it, but he may have been prompted by the latest write-up, this time a Newsweek article entitled “The New Face of Islam — A critique of radicalism is building within the heart of the Muslim world.”

Ali Bardakoglu, 23 Nov. 2006/Umit Bektas“Even though we have consistently emphasised that our work on hadiths is definitely not a reform of the religion, every time we speak to journalists, some people are still trying to put words in our mouths,” Bardakoglu told the Istanbul daily Zaman on Wednesday. The purpose of the project was “to form a collection of hadiths by classifying the authentic sayings of our Prophet into subjects to benefit more from them in our daily lives and to make them our guide.”