31 October 2014

Justifying a Celebration of Reformation Day?

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther wrote the Archbishop of Mainz and Magdelberg Albrecht to object to the sale of indulgences. Luther wrote "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" (which later became known as the 95 theses) and posted them on door of the Schlosskirche  in Wittenberg, (also known as the Church of All Saints). This defiant act by the Augustinian monk lead to the Protestant Revolution.

 Luther's major theological insight from the 95 Theses is Justification by Faith (sola fides), which undercuts indulgences.  

Contemporary Protestants have suggested celebrating Reformation Day as an alternative to Halloween. Wags waxed about Reformation Day that theology nerds need a holiday too.  But it seems dubious if kids will dress in brown robes and try to nail papers to many doors.

Two points of history underlie the Reformation protest.  The issuing of indulgences were fueled by the existence of the secular Papal States.  Indulgences were sold to support the Holy See.  Since the Holy See lost the Papal States in 1871 (and came to terms with the loss of secular power as embodied in the 1927 Treaty of Lateran) the Vatican can concentrate on pastoring the faithful.

 A marker in intellectual history is why the Protestant Reformation was spread so successfully.  The circulation of Luther's ideas in the 95 Theses was greatly aided by the advent of the Gutenberg printing press in the Fifteen Century.   

Many have likened the ease of exchanging ideas via the internet with the revolution brought about by  the Gutenberg press.  Social media is another cyber revolution which has religious reverberations to date.  

During the recent Synod on the Family at the Vatican, some of the organizers tried to insert language which the secular press called an earthquake.  A great majority of the Synod Fathers dissented but this was going against the machine.  However, social media proved to be an ideal platform for bishops to disseminate information and for the Catholic vox populi to share their concerns.  Disseminating information and allowing the faithful to voice their views proved successful.   Pope Francis had the Synod vote on every paragraph and the three egregious parts did not receive adequate support and were removed.

Although it took 482 years, the Lutheran Wold Federation and Catholic Church did come to terms with their differences in a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), in which a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ."  Catholics maintain that it did not negate the Council of Trent but  that its canons are non-applicability to concrete Christian bodies in the modern world.  

Still, some Christian soldiers want to fight, but like the Hatfields and McCoys, they have forgotten what they are fighting over.  During a thoughtful conversation about faith, a Protestant was unphased when he learned of the agreement on sola fides between the Churches and wanted to continue to haggle over the other 94 points-- and he was not even Lutheran!

As we live in a time when Christians around the world are being persecuted for their faith, we ought to remember the wisdom of the Lutheran Theologian  Peter Meiderlin (a.k.a. Ruptertus Meldenius) :  "[U]nity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things." 

It is commendable to mark a point of history like Reformation Day.  It is cute but quixotic to try to have an alternative to Halloween with a holiday for theology nerds.  That is almost as futile as First Lady Michelle Obama's advice to kids about Trick or Treats.  But we should join with our brothers and sisters in faith on the many things on which we agree  to help build the Kingdom of God rather than continue to form a spiritual circular firing squad. 

On Reconsidering Liturgy

America, the Jesuit magazine, published an interview with Cardinal Francis George as he prepares to cede pastoral responsibilities for the Archdiocese of Chicago to current Spokane Archbishop Blaise Cupich. The  wide ranging interview touched upon secular hot button political issues, sacerdotal celibacy, clerical sexual abuse and the recent Synod of the Family.  

But Cardinal George's comments about Liturgy have particular as the third anniversary of the implementation of the New (Third) Translation of the Roman Missal approaches. Some priests formed "in the spirit of Vatican II" persist in improvising during the Liturgy or revert to favorite older translations.  

As one of the prominent people in the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), Cardinal Francis George's comments deserve consideration.  Cardinal George does concede that some things can sound "clunky" but can be facilitated by preparation to understand the grammar and intention of the prayers.

Recently, I participated in an challenging colloquy with a cleric who was contemptuous that the 1998 ICEL translation was rejected and who still feels liberated to say: "The Lord IS with you" in antiphons.  I noted that the loosey goosey improv impulse which was allowed under the 1969  Comme le prévoit  was illicit under the new translation. His retort was the aspiration to make liturgy accessible to the youthful masses. That seemed like a jesuitical argument as all Christian denominations have bled worshipers and vocations.  Yet diocese which have more traditional inclinations (e.g. Peoria IL, Lincoln NB, Steubensville OH) seem to be the most vocation rich.  Might there be a correlation? 

One of the pities about the implementation of Vatican II is that the works of the Council were overtaken by "the spirit of Vatican II" which fundamentally misunderstands the Council Fathers work.  Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, had the expectation that priests would educate the faithful. However, according to Fr. Gabriel O'Donnell, O.P. who co-authored “Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church”, priests were not properly formed in the new liturgy before it was implemented to the laity.  The logic of  Comme le prévoit  gave great latitude to presiding liturgists.  Thus US Catholics misunderstood Sacrosanctum Concilium as a capitulation to modernity instead of the  "aggorionmento" ("bringing up to date) which Pope St. John XXIII intended when he called for the Council  in 1959.

It would behoove Catholics to become more educated about first things --not just what we do, but why we do them in the Liturgy.  The Liturgy along with Sacred Scripture are the primary means of how we experience Christ.  Our lack of learning on liturgy loses lackluster Catholics and makes mass or mechanical or risks relegation to religious entertainment.

23 October 2014

Tar Heel "Paper Course" to Ensure Eligibility for Athletes Now a Public Fail

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is again embroiled in an embarrassing controversy which now impeaches both the Tar Heels  athletic as well as academic reputation.  To try to settle the matter, the University of North Carolina hired Kenneth Wainstein to investigate scholarly controversies in Chapel Hill.  

What Attorney Wainstein found was that from 1993 to 2009, Dr. Julius Nyang'oro "taught" an African American studies course at UNC.  During those 18 years, 3100 students (among them 1500 Tar Heel student-athletes) took a phantom course with easy grades.

In universities with competitive intercollegiate athletic programs, often there are courses which have an easy reputation where many student athletes are enrolled. These student-athletes may also have tutors to make sure that learning is achieved thereby retaining academic eligibility.  

 Dr. Nyang'oro's "shadow curriculum", however, went beyond the pale.  Students in his African American Independent Studies courses never had to meet with the professor, or their scheduled classes actually never occurred. The grade was derived entirely from a single paper, which was often plagiarized and padded. Then these paper were given a cursory read and generously graded by Deborah Crowder, a non-academic motivated to help struggling athletes.

These academic abuses came to light when Nyang'oro retired in 2012. In December 2013, a grand jury charged Nyang'oro with a felony for taking $12,000 for a class which was never held.   These criminal fraud charges were later dropped when Nyang'oro cooperated with authorities like Wainstein, although Chapel Hill did deduct $12,000 from Nyang'oro's final paycheck. 

For several years, administrators in Chapel Hill were content with the conceit that this phantom curriculum was confined to a couple of rogues in the African American Studies department. But Wainstein's investigation, along with academic advisor whistleblower Mary Willingham has revealed a more extensive and sinister customary operating procedure at Chapel Hill for struggling student athletes.

As an academic advisor for athletes, Willingham was a learning specialist designated to help athletes who were not academically equipped for coursework at Chapel Hill to pass their classes.  Willingham sometimes employed phonics reading method so her student athlete could spell Wis-con-sin.  She admits to violating NCAA by rules ignoring cheating which she saw, but the NCAA never interviewed her and they found that the Tar Heels had broken no rules.  

Willingham went public because she could not countenance the fraud of functionally illiterate students passing so that they could keep academic eligibility.  Willingham expected death threats, but she did not expect UNC to disavow her research that between 8% to 10% of student athletes could not read beyond a third grade level.  

Attorney Wainstein's hard hitting report disputed the inference that student athlete cheating were isolated incidents and gave credence to Willingham's data that Tar Heel student athletes were poorly equipped to study at an elite research university, but that a system of phantom curriculum kept them eligible.  Moreover, UNC officials overlooked the number of independent studies courses coming from the African American Studies department, and how many of them were taken by student athletes. 

What was telling was how African American Studies secretary Deborah Crowder negotiated with academic officials as to what grade student athletes required to retain eligibility.  In one case Crowder haggled via e-mail with the Womens' basketball academic adviser about what was the lowest grade that could be given so the player could retain eligibility.

Boxhill, who was the former womens' academic advisor, is now the Director of the UNC Parr Center for Ethics.  Of course, Boxhill was not available for comment.

Wainstein's report reexamined 150 assignments  from this "paper course".  These three outside academic experts found that 25% were plagiarized verbatim from other sources.  It sounds like Montana Senator John Walsh's Masters thesis at the National War College

One of the more egregious examples was a paper about the like and works of Nikki Giovanni and African American culture.  This opus simply had a two page introduction and a final page of test and the rest of the paper were transcriptions of poems and texts formatted to fill the margins for the assignment requirements. There is little doubt that the fake class kept many struggling Tarheel student athletes eligible to play.  

The easy grade from the AAS Independent Studies course boosted 169 student athletes above the 2.0 GPA threshold, including 123 football players, 15 mens' basketball players and 5 women hoopsters. So much so, student athletes cajoled their students to get their work in before the gravy train ended:

 "Debbie Crowder is retiring . . . if you would prefer that she read and grade your paper rather than Professor Nyang'oro you will need to have the paper completed before the last day of classes, Tuesday, July 21st."

After Ms. Crowder retired in 2009, the academic average GPA for the Tar Heel football team for the Fall of 2009 dropped to 2.121, the lowest rate in ten years.

The Wainstein report shows that there was a culture of corruption at Chapel Hill and was much more widespread than initially thought over the past three years. Not everyone in charge were willing to play along with the shadow curriculum.  Current Tarheel Mens' Basketball Coach Roy Williams  allegedly felt uncomfortable with these classes and tried to steer his players away from the African American Studies department. However, Rashad McCains, who was part of the 2005 National Championship basketball team, charged Coach Williams of knowing of the fraudulent scheme.

The reason why the Wainstein report is different than two prior investigations into the matter is that Wainstein obtained the cooperation of Nyang'oro and Crowder, the two UNC officials at the center of the scandal.  So far, the Tarheel phantom curriculum scandal has claimed the scalp of Chancellor Holden Thorpe and forced the resignation of Tarheel Football Coach Butch Davis.

The NCAA is also investigating these charges on Chapel Hill cheating. Observers can rightly exclaim that the Tar Heels cheated their way into ten football Bowl appearances and three basketball National Championship under Dean Smith (1993), and Roy Williams (2005 and 2009).  

The problem is that justice delayed is justice denied.  Adjudication (and stonewalling) this situation for so long makes tarnishing the Tar Heels reputation kind of academic.  What would be the just thing for the NCAA to do?  Ultimately, what should the University of North Carolina do to convince the public that it educates its student athletes rather than exploits them with an ersatz degree in exchange for four years of eligibility? 

 Right now, it looks like Chapel Hill's shadow curriculum is a big public fail.

     Fox Sports

UPDATE 01/01/2015  The Tar Heel "Paper Course" scandal has claimed the jobs of two more prominent Chapel Hill academics.  Timothy McMillian, who was  a senior lecturer for 17 years in the African American and Diasphora Studies, resigned in the wake of pattern of no-show courses and gift grades.  

UNC Chancellor Carol Fort also revealed that the university has taken steps to terminate   former faculty leader and Philosophy professor Jeannette Boxhill  for her role in the student athlete scandal.  Despite the fact that termination could take years to adjudicate, Boxhill was named  "in light of the extraordinary circumstances underlying the longstanding and intolerable academic irregularities described in the Wainstein Report, as well as her role as chair of the faculty council during a period of time covered by the report."

On the day the Wainstein Report was issued, former football counselor Beth Bridger, who steered players towards bogus classes, was terminated from her job at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington the day the report was published.

What justice is this?  A low level person gets canned on the day of the report, Professor Nyang'oro retires and receives immunity for cooperation with Wainstein, McMillian "retires" after 17 years and Boxhill's involuntary departure from an ETHICS Center attached to UNC is dropped on New Years Eve.  Considering Boxhill's biography, will she be eligible for full retirement benefits for time served.

And what of the athletic achievements during this period?  

20 October 2014

San Fran Radio Bans Lorde's "Royals" During World Series

After the San Francisco Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals to clinch their right to represent the National League in the 2014 Major League Baseball World Series, two Bay area radio stations made waves.  Both KFOG-FM and KOIT-FM announced bans on playing the minimal art pop song "Royals" by New Zealand chanteuse Lorde.  This ersatz outrage is a silly attempt to generate civic pride for the a World Championship Series with two wildcard teams.

During interviews last year, Lorde became inspired to compose "Royals" in a half-hour writing session after seeing a photo of George Brett signing baseballs.

The song is about aspirationalism and uses pop artists' luxurious lifestyles as a counterpoint.

One would think that there would be more tolerance in the City by the Bay.  Then again, the  message might be challenging to those actually listening to the lyrics of the Lorde's song. 

The radio silence on "Royals" seems like a cheap publicity stunt which jumps on the civic bandwagon while getting earned publicity.  But this may be a desperate ploy to generate enthusiasm in San Francisco for the World Series.  

This is the third time in five years in which the San Francisco Giants have made it to the World Series, whereas it has been a 29 year drought for the Royals.  

This is reflected in World Series ticket prices on the secondary market.  It would not be cheap to see the San Francisco Giants play their World Series home games, averaging around $700 a seat. But in Kansas City, expect to pay between $1,000 to $1250 a ticket to see "Royals" in the World Series up close and personally. 

14 October 2014

Confusion Concerning the Interim Report for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family is a two week gathering at the  Vatican of over 250  Bishops to grapple with “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”  Each day was dedicated to contemplating a different issue. This Extraordinary Synod will produce a working document which will lay a foundation for an ordinary synod in 2015 which would implement any formal changes to church guidelines touching about difficult family matters as well as a prospective Apostolic Exhortation.

The Synod Fathers heard from selected lay Catholics from across the globe to illuminate some of the challenging issues facing the modern family.  “Synod 2014"  touched upon hot button issues such as: cohabitation; divorced Catholics who civilly remarry, contraception, homosexuality; and the current elite cause celebre same sex so called marriage. Considering the subject matter the secular media keenly monitored the Synod and promoted any signals of progressive politics.

Unfortunately for the faithful not participating in the proceedings, there are conflicting signals coming from the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.  For example, Pope Francis encouraged participants to “speak fearlessly and listen humbly.”  Pope Francis spoke out against bishops afraid to disagree with the Pope when he said: “This is no good.  This is not synodality.”  Archbishop of Durbin, South Africa Wilfrid Cardinal Napier certainly followed this exhortation.

This sounds like there would be a robust exchange of views and not a pre-ordained set of conclusions.  But Pope Francis took the unusual step of appointing six prelates to draft the final report from the Synod fathers.  Conservative Catholics lamented that many of the committee, including Washington Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl, are reputed to have liberal tendencies.  However, the Synod participants elected relegators to report on the small working groups.  These relegators include Cardinal Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura Raymond Burke (formerly Archbishop of St. Louis), President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum Robert Cardinal Sarah (of Guinea) and Arbishop of Brussels-Melechen Andre-Joseph Leonard, all of whom have conservative leanings.

Despite assurances from the Vatican Press Office at the start of the Synod that there would be no doctrinal changes only better strategies for communicating the truths of the family, the secular and liberal Catholic media reports  as demonstrated by Jesuit Fr. James Martin report of “stunning changes” on how the Catholic Church approaches the LBGTQQ? persons. This characterizes the Synod of the Media, which capitalizes on the media blackout to interject their Synod spin.

Since Synods are messy, General Secretary of the Synod Lorenzo Cardinal Badissiri (of Pisa, Italy) imposed a media blackout on the “interventions” (speeches made during the Synod) but with a daily press briefing from three participating prelates.  Chary  observers like Fr. John Zuhlsdorf think this media gag could be to coordinate leaks to control the agenda.

Mid way through the Synod, a relatio post disceptationem was released which summarized the large group session discussion for the small working groups.  Progressives praised the relatio, implying that it marked monumental changes rather than discussion points.  Conservatives are concerned that final pastoral positions may be preordained.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop of Poznan Stanislaw Gadecki, the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference seemingly rejected the relatio as being unacceptable.  Archbishop Gadecki postulated: 

"Is the purpose of this Synod pastoral support to families in difficulty, or is its goal the study of special cases? Our main task is to support the family pastorally, not to hit her, exposing these difficult situations that exist, but which do not constitute the nucleus of the same family; they [the special cases] do not void the need for support, which should be given to good, normal, ordinary families, who are struggling not so much for survival as for fidelity.”

The Polish Prelate expressed concern Pope St. John Paul II's teachings on the Family seemed to be ignored.  Gadecki urged preaching the truth and not give the impression that the Church has not teaching mercifully in the past.

Cardinal Burke's reaction to the relatio has be likened to aftershocks to the pastoral earthquake of the synod summary.  In an interview with Catholic World Report, Cardinal Burke blasted:

“While the document in question (Relatio post disceptationem) purports to report only the discussion which took place among the Synod Fathers, it, in fact, advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept. Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable.”

After the relatio was released and not universally welcomed, the Synod did not hold a regular media briefing with questions and answers. Catholic media sources like the Archdiocese of New York's Catholic Channel on Sirus XM satellite radio went wall-to-wall to correct impressions of the relatio.

The groundswell of dissent coming from within the Synod demonstrates that those pulling the strings did  not appreciate how the interim report would be proclaimed as the gospel truth in the so called Synod of the Media which has its hot button issues on sexuality. In addition, the relatio did not reflect a balanced view of the discussion points.  Moreover, this relatio concentrated pastoral approaches without clearly reaffirming Church teachings.

As the Synod on the Family proceeds, it will be curious how the groundswell of concerns about the interim relatio are corrected.  Furthermore, how these disputes in the final relatio are addressed may make a difference.  During the Second Vatican Council, Pope Blessed Paul VI wanted there to be unity coming from the Council.  Thus language in the final documents required 90% approval, which practically meant that there was ambiguity which allowed for various interpretations.  Hence a liberal "spirit of Vatican II" which led to innovations and consequence not anticipated by Vatican II council fathers.  Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI would disparagingly label this  as a  hermaneutic of rupture".

12 October 2014

Discerning the Proper Pastoral Approach in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

During a February 2014 Consistory in anticipation  for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, Archbishop Walter Cardinal Kasper (President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council Promoting Christian Unity) suggested that there ought to be some sort of accommodation for Catholics who are civilly divorced and who remarry.  This sort of gradualism would allow such Catholics to receive communion after a period of penance.  Cardinal Kasper's modest proposal received more creedence as the 80 year old Cardinal had been tagged as Pope Francis' theologian, as the Holy Father specifically praised Kasper  in his first Angelus as a clever theologian, especially for his book  Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life (2014).

But as the Synod met at the Vatican, discussions centered around how Natural Law informs cultural challenges to the family.

Archbishop Winfild Cardinal Napier (of the Archdiocese of Durban, South Africa) wondered if German Catholics who are civilly divorced and  remarry receiving the sacrament would be parallel to a man in a polygamous marriage receiving the sacrament.   Napier seemed to support the traditional notion of fortitude or "carrying the cross with Christ". 

This Synod on the Family is merely doing the preparation work for a larger Synod to be held next fall.  Those who hope that there will be a change in doctrine may be quite disappointed as even the liberal National Catholic Reporter  indicates that there will be no change in doctrine. 

05 October 2014

Bayonne Nun Beatified-- Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich

On October 4, 2014, Miriam Teresa Demjanovich will be beatified at the Gothic styled Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey.  When Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints Cardinal Angelo Amato declares Demjanovich beata, it will be the first time it has been done on American soil.

Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was born on March 26, 1901 to Slovakian  immigrants in Bayonne, New Jersey.  Miriam was the youngest of seven children born into a very religious family.  She was baptized in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church 

After graduating high school in 1917, Demjanovich wanted to become a Carmelite, but had to care for her sick mother.  When her mother died during the influenza outbreak in 1918, she enrolled in the College of St. Elizabeth and graduated with highest honors with a BA in literature.  She taught for a year  at Academy of Saint Aloysius in Jersey City, New Jersey.  Miriam again sought to join the Carmelites in the Bronx, but was encouraged to wait due to her health issues.  She decided to join the Sisters of Charity, Convent Station in December, 1924 but had to delay due to her father's health issues.  She received her religious habit in May 1925.  By December, 1926, Miriam had repeated health issues which required hospitalization.  Demjanovich had complications from an appendicitis surgery and died in May, 1927.  Demjanovich  remained a Byzantine rite Catholic throughout her life despite serving as a sister in a Roman rite community.

This brief biography may prompt people to wonder why the Church recognizes Demjanovich entrance into heaven. While Miriam was a postulate and novice, she only took her vows in articulo mortis in April, 1927.  Demjanovich's cause for beatification was advanced by the Sisters of Charity in 1945 because of her saintly life as  her striving for perfection in her religious life, her spiritual writings and intercessions with God.  

In December, 2013, Pope Francis approved the miracle of a boy whose eyesight was completely restored from macular degeneration after praying for the intercessions of Miriam Teresa Demjanovich. 

During Miriam Teresa Demjanovich's short life on Earth, she wrote two plays, and several poems.  At the behest of her spiritual director Benedictine Fr. Benedict Bradley, she wrote 26 conferences on religious life which were published posthumously as The Greater Perfection.    It was extraordinary that such a task was given to a novice but Fr. Bradley proclaimed:

 “I believed that she enjoyed extraordinary lights, and I knew that she was living an exemplary life,” he stated. “I thought that, one day, she would be ranked among the saints of God, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to utilize whatever might contribute to an appreciation of her merits after her death.”

Demjanovich's spiritual writing seemed to blend spiritual wisdom from Eastern and Western Christendom.  Her quote about everyone seeking union with God and being called to live the Will of God  is inspiring and challenging.

Her Litany of Love poem demonstrates her deep faith and joy in the Christian life

Lord, have mercy on us;
Christ, have mercy on us;
Lord, have mercy on us;
Jesus, hear us,
Jesus, lovingly hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Jesus, my Well-Beloved
Jesus, my Strength
Jesus, Light of my mind
Jesus, Power of my will
Jesus, Fire of my Love
Jesus, Life of my life
Jesus, Life of my soul
Jesus, Soul of my life
Jesus, Soul of my soul
Jesus, my Ceaseless Delight
Jesus, my Rapturous Bliss
Jesus, my infinite Joy
Jesus, True Peace of my soul
Jesus, my only Existence
Jesus, my Own
Jesus, my Heaven
Jesus, my Magnificent Love
Jesus, my Eternal Repose
Jesus, my Vehement Desire
Jesus, my Crucified Spouse
Jesus, my King
Jesus, my God
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghose; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.