Saturday, September 01, 2018

Judge reality made McCutchen trade an absolute necessity

By Larry Brooks
September 1, 2018
Image result for andrew mccutchen aaron judge
Aaron Judge and Andrew McCutchen (Paul J. Bereswill; Getty Images)
This was a throwback day for the Yankees, who reached into the National League to pick up a once-prime time player in a late season, post-waivers trade for the pennant push the way they once did routinely through the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.
George Weiss was the general manager when the Yankees picked up slugging first-baseman Johnny Mize from the Giants in late ’49, Johnny Sain from the Braves (for a young Lew Burdette) in late ’51, Sal Maglie from the Giants in late ’57, Luis Arroyo from the Reds in late ’60 and Pedro Ramos from the AL Indians in ’64.
On Friday, it was Brian Cashman channeling Weiss in engineering the deal that brought Andrew McCutchen from the Giants in exchange for expendable prospects Juan De Paula and Abiatal Avelino on the final day of the post-waivers trade period.
This was not an icing-on-the-cake move. With Aaron Judge’s absence now at five weeks and counting, the Yankees were in desperate need of a right field bat of some pedigree. McCutchen, who is expected to be in the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Tigers, checks that box.
“We’re getting a really good player, and I think that’s exciting for us,” manager Aaron Boone said Friday, before Luis Severino went six innings and struck out 10 in a 7-5 win over Detroit at the Stadium. “It’s a really big deal for us.”
Mize, Sain, Maglie and Arroyo were all near the ends of their respective careers when they helped the Yankees to multiple pennants and World Series victories. McCutchen is somehow only 31, five years removed from his MVP season in Pittsburgh, but in his third year of precipitous decline from those heights.
Still, he represents a substantial presence. We’ve all known McCutchen for years and we know that even if he is not what he once was, he is sure no Shane Robinson, the overmatched journeyman with whom the Yankees had been trying to paper over the outfield when Boone has had need to give one of his guys a blow or didn’t want to use career infielder Neil Walker in right.
Boone insisted the Yankees still expect Judge, whose ETA was originally set at three weeks when he suffered a fractured wrist when hit by a pitch on July 26, to return at some point in September. The manager said acquiring McCutchen did not imply otherwise. Still, it is unlikely that Cashman would have pulled this deal if Judge were healthy.
“Andrew helps us in the here and now and he absolutely will be an everyday player,” Boone said. “But I believe Aaron will absolutely be back.”
But No. 99 has yet to swing a bat while continuing to rehab. Minor league seasons are ending, so there will be no rehab games available.
There is no telling how effective Judge will be when — presuming it’s not, if — he does rejoin the lineup. Judge’s absence has not only created a void in the order, it also has left a hole in the team’s identity. There are a number of accomplished athletes on the roster, but it took less than a year following his midsummer 2016 promotion for Judge to become the face of the Yankees.
This was expected and projected to be a special team. Other than the 17-1 run into the second week of May, it has been less than that. The Yankees have coped with injuries to high-profile players such as Judge, Gary Sanchez (who will be in the lineup Saturday), Didi Gregorius and Aroldis Chapman, and they are still on pace to win 102 games (which would be more than 12 of the 13 pennant-winners under Weiss), but they have meandered in halting fashion through much of the summer. They seem as tired as the overworked Brett Gardner. This has been no walk in the park for the Yankees, even as they are nine games clear of a postseason berth.
Indeed, the Yankees look like a team that could use a bit of a jolt. McCutchen, who has a slash line of .255/.357/.415 with 15 homers and 55 RBI, may well provide that. He remains a marquee name, renowned for his dedication and contributions to the community. He is a perfect fit in the clubhouse.
“His reputation precedes him,” said Boone. “He’s as high as character person as we have in the game.”
No one expects McCutchen to be the player he was in 2015. He doesn’t have to be. And no one expects him to be Judge. He can’t be. But the Yankees need him to be more than window-dressing. They need McCutchen now just the way they once needed Mize and Sain and Arroyo and Ramos.

Eat Steak and Live Longer

August 30, 2018

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[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I tend to take news stories about nutritional science with a grain of salt, because it all tends to be a lot of baloney. When some nerds in lab coats start showing off and hotdogging, dollars to donuts you'll find out they're bananas. Just let me eat what I want and stop chewing me out. If I want a steak, don't have a cow.

But it's different, of course, if the news story about nutritional science confirms my previously held beliefs! David K. Li, NY Post:
Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that people who scarf down higher levels of red meat and cheese are likely to live longer.
People who had three portions of dairy and 120 grams of unprocessed red meat per day benefited the most, the research team found...
Those eating the most dairy and red meat saw their chances of early death fall by 25 percent and fatal heart attack decreased by 22 percent, according to the researchers, who in their methodology accounted for differences in wealth and education, as well as other health habits.
Huh. So... some scientists did some research, and it contradicted the crap we've been told by some other scientists? I thought the science was settled!

This stuff always makes me think of that scene from Woody Allen's 1973 classic Sleeper:

I'm no scientist, but I do know that when I started adjusting my dietary habits a few years ago, I started feeling a lot better. I quit eating stuff everybody was telling me I should eat, and my health started improving. The more I've ignored the USDA food pyramid, the less my body looks like the USDA food pyramid.

After reading books like Wheat Belly and The Primal Blueprint, and starting an exercise program using a heart monitor and tracking software, over the past few years I've gone from "disgustingly fat" to "slightly less disgustingly fat." I'm not ready to start a second career as an underwear model just yet, but at least I've stopped tearing them in half whenever I sit down. I'm now able to fit into pants I wore when Bush was president. The first Bush. I've put aside everything I've been taught about food my whole life, and now I'm more physically capable than I've been in years.

Sorry, scientists!

Last week, another big brain made headlines for another bold health claim. Ian Sample, The Guardian:
Karin Michels, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan school of public health, poured scorn on the superfood movement and singled out the fad for coconut oil in particular, calling the substance “one of the worst things you can eat” that was as good for wellbeing as “pure poison”.
Now, I'm skeptical about a lot of the health claims people are making about coconut oil these days. I really don't think it's some miracle cure. But I've been using it, and I really like it, and I feel great. If I'm poisoning myself by drinking bulletproof coffee every morning instead of shoving a bunch of grains in my face, that's fine by me. I have lots more energy and I think more clearly, and I'm not hungry all the time, and I don't have to buy new pants every six months. If that's "pure poison," I'll take it.

Just look at the family photos of your grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents when they were young. Their diet consisted of eggs and milk and meat and all that stuff we've been scared away from our whole lives, and they were lean and rangy. They ate real food, and they didn't get real fat. (Well, except for Uncle Gary. Must've been all that peanut brittle.)

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go eat some red meat and cheese, and then wash it down with a nice tall glass of whole milk. Don't worry, I've left plenty of wheat and soy and other delicious goodies for the rest of you!

Sexual Libertinism Won’t Save the Church

By David French
August 31, 2018
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The Last Judgement, Michelangelo (1536-1541), Sistine Chapel
Here's news item one. A former producer says that orders came “from the very highest levels of NBC” to stop Ronan Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual abuse. Farrow’s report, eventually published in The New Yorker, was instrumental in launching the #MeToo reckoning that ultimately reached, yes, the heart of NBC News.
Here’s news item two. Campus activists, and their feminist allies on Capitol Hill, are enraged with the Trump administration after the New York Times obtained new draft regulations governing sexual-assault claims on campus. The new rules would reportedly bolster due-process protections for accused students, a move that activists claim would exacerbate an alleged campus rape crisis.
And here’s news item three. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the state attorney general to “suspend its probe into whether the Manhattan district attorney mishandled 2015 allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein.” Six days before Cuomo issued his order, he received a substantial campaign contribution from Weinstein’s former law firm.
A coincidence. Surely.
Now, let’s ask a simple question. Are there any significant cultural institutions that have embraced sexual libertinism more thoroughly than Hollywood and the American academy?
Parents who take their kids to college report seeing baskets of condoms in bathrooms. “Sex weeks” teach students to experiment with their bodies, and the only morality that governs campus is the morality of consent. Any other restriction is seen as oppressive — even to the point of systematically tossing from campus religious groups that seek to govern their (voluntary) membership according to traditional Biblical rules of sexual morality.
And Hollywood? Do I even need to state my case? Its sexuality is self-evident, and its celebration of sexual expression is relentless.
Yet as the news items above illustrate — and as the relentless drumbeat of scandal demonstrates — sexual libertinism has not created sexual utopia. Instead, it has created (as it always creates) a ravenous culture of sexual entitlement, exploitation, and abuse.
Why do I feel the need to make this obvious point? Because there are apparently still people who believe that the path through Christian sexual scandals — such as the abuse scandal that is rocking the Catholic Church — is the transformation and liberalizing of traditional Christian teaching about sex.
The latest example comes (no surprise) courtesy of the New York Times, where columnist Timothy Egan chronicles Catholic sex scandals and declares that their fundamental problem wasn’t sin and disobedience but rather that the “root” of their failings is “Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.”
Egan comes at this issue not as a theologian but as a “somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis.” Well then. He’s certainly qualified to opine authoritatively about Christian theology. And opine he does.
“Most of the church’s backward teachings have no connection to the words of Jesus,” Egan declares. He offers the tired lines repeated in so many late-night, self-justifying dorm-room debates. “Outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love. Nothing about homosexuals. Nothing about priestly celibacy or barring women from clerical ranks, for that matter.”
Yes, that’s right. When Jesus condemned adultery and sexual immorality, he was really dramatically loosening traditional sexual moral norms. Anything goes, except for marital infidelity. Jesus was the great sexual liberator.
In fact he was affirming the sexual morality of Judaism, not rejecting it. Don’t look to Christ to sanction your sexual desire.
And what are Egan’s solutions? Destroy the old moral norms. End celibacy. Welcome women into the priesthood. Make the broken church more like the broken world. After all, according to this expert, celibacy “may be one of the main reasons pedophilia is thick in clerical ranks.”
Yet Egan gets this exactly backwards. The answer to indiscipline isn’t indulgence. Otherwise, why are our most libertine sexual cultures so rife with abuse? Why hasn’t the ability to engage in limitless consensual sex cured the human appetite for the forbidden — the desire to transgress the last taboos? Hollywood doesn’t suffer from an excess of sexual repression. The secular American campus is one of the least puritanical environments on earth.
Before conforming to the world, the Church should instead heed the words of the Apostle Paul and “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” That means justice for victims of abuse. It means accountability for abusers. And it means reaffirming, not rejecting, a sexual ethic that is based on a created order that Christ himself so clearly outlined in Matthew 19:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
The path to scandal is indulgence. The path through scandal is repentance. And the path to renewal is obedience. Distraught Christians shouldn’t look to the world for inspiration. It has nothing to offer but the very misery we presently endure.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Film Review: 'Operation Finale'

By Lloyd Billingsley
August 31, 2018
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Back in 1986, “Firing Line” host William F. Buckley asked former New York Times Moscow correspondent Harrison Salisbury which was worse, Stalin’s forced famine in Ukraine or Hitler’s mass murder of Jews? As Salisbury knew, the Times’ Walter Duranty, who wrote that no famine took place, privately conceded that as many as 10 million may have perished in Ukraine. Even so, Salisbury said that the Nazis were worse because they had attempted to wipe an entire people off the face of the earth. That “final solution” is the back story to Operation Finale, which opened in American theaters Wednesday. 
The German National Socialist Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years fell after little more than a decade and in the chaotic final days many prominent Nazis were able to escape the Allies and slip away. In 1950, Adolf Eichmann made his way to Argentina where he lived under the name of Ricardo Klement, issued by the Italian delegation of the Red Cross in Geneva. 
He lives quietly in bustling Buenos Aires but local Jews learn that Klement, who works at a Mercedes-Benz factory, is really Eichmann. Word quickly gets back to Israel, but the Mossad is skeptical. As the film shows, the vaunted intelligence agency has been known to slip up and, as one character says, “kill the wrong Nazi.” 
Eichmann is lured outside his home, secretly photographed and positively identified. Even in Argentina it would be easy to assassinate him but Israel wants to capture the Nazi fugitive and put him on trial, so the world will know the truth. So on one level, Operation Finale is the ultimate heist movie, with a difference. As Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion (Simon Russell Beale) tells the secret agents, history is in their hand and they must not fail.
Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) heads up the operation, and he has a special motive because the Nazis murdered his sister Fruma. Yet, of all the agents who lost loved ones in the Holocaust, he takes the most relaxed approach. Malkin’s former flame Hanna Elian (Mélanie Laurent) will be charged with sedating the Nazi for the trip back. The film rushes through the preparations but viewers will get a sense of spy craft circa 1960, long before personal computers and the internet, with false passports, safe houses and the like. No James Bond characters in this film.  
Eichmann is a “human metronome” on his daily routine but his capture will be tricky. If the film rushes through the kidnap plot, viewers quickly understand the reason. The plan had been to whisk him out of the country but the departure is delayed ten days. So viewers get to see a lot of the Nazi.
With his famous 1982 performance as Gandhi, one might think Ben Kingsley would work best as one of the Nazi hunters. Here he plays Eichmann his own self, and viewers will be hard pressed to think of anyone who could turn in a more convincing performance. 
In his interactions with captors, the core of Operation Finale, Eichmann goes through stages of denial and confession. He was just a cog in a machine, only following orders, and so forth. Kingsley manages to convey what Hannah Arendt, who covered Eichmann’s trial for the New Yorker, called the “banality of evil,” cold bureaucratic machinery deployed to take millions of lives. But viewers will have no doubt that Eichmann was an evil man.
The problem here is with a human being, not with a monster, not with an animal,” the real Peter Malkin once explained. “The human being does things that even the monster does not do, because the human is more sophisticated. The problem is not how the monster did it, but how the human being did it.” 
The Israeli agents get Eichmann out of Argentina disguised as an El Al crew member. The film omits the huge diplomatic uproar this caused, but no great loss. The Israelis put Eichmann on trial and viewers see plenty of evidence about the six million back stories. Harrison Salisbury knew of what he spoke in 1986.  
As the film notes, and as this writer recalls, the trial was televised around the world. Viewers see photos of Eichmann on the stand, and the resemblance with the film character is startling. Critics are certain to nit-pick some details, and perhaps some minor performances, but overall this is cinéma vérité at the highest level and a primer for millennials. 
It is a matter of historical fact that Adolf Eichmann, in charge of the “final solution,” was hanged on June 1, 1962. As Ben Kingsley said in his role as Gandhi, “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” 
Lloyd Billingsley is the author of the new crime book, Lethal Injections: Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer, Canada’s Serial Killer Nurse, and the recently updated Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation.

America doesn’t actually lead the world in mass shootings

The claim that the US has by far the most mass public shootings in the world drives much of the gun-control debate. Many argue that America’s high rate of gun possession explains the high rate of mass shootings.
“The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” President Barack Obama warned us. To justify this claim and many other similar quotes, Obama’s administration cited a then-unpublished paper by criminologist Adam Lankford.
Lankford’s claim received coverage in hundreds of news stories all over the world. It still gets regular coverage. Purporting to cover all mass public shootings around the world from 1966 to 2012, Lankford claimed that the United States had 31 percent of public mass shooters despite having less than 5 percent of the population.
But this isn’t nearly correct. The whole episode should provide a cautionary tale of academic malpractice and how evidence is often cherry-picked and not questioned when it fits preconceived ideas.
Lankford’s study reported that over the 47 years there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. Lankford hasn’t released his list of shootings or even the number of cases by country or year. We and others, both in academia and the media, have asked Lankford for his list, only to be declined. He has also declined to provide lists of the news sources and languages he used to compile his list of cases.
These omissions are important because Lankford’s entire conclusion would fall apart if he undercounted foreign cases due to lack of news coverage and language barriers.
Lankford cites a 2012 New York Police Department report which he claims is “nearly comprehensive in its coverage of recent decades.” He also says he supplemented the data and followed “the same data collection methodology employed by the NYPD.” But the NYPD report warns that its own researchers “limited [their] Internet searches to English-language sites, creating a strong sampling bias against international incidents,” and thus under-count foreign mass shootings.
Does Lankford’s paper also have that problem?
new report from the Crime Prevention Research Center, which one of us heads, has just finished collecting cases using the same definition of mass public shootings used by Lankford.
We know of no way to discover most of the cases where four people have been shot to death in an incident in Africa or many other parts of the world during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s or even 1990s, and that is the reason the new study just looked at the last 15 years from 1998 to 2012 of the 47 years he examined.
Lankford’s data grossly undercount foreign attacks. We found 1,423 attacks outside the United States. Looking at just a third of the time Lankford studied, we still found 15 times as many shooters.
Even when we use coding choices that are most charitable to Lankford, such as excluding any cases of insurgencies or battles over territory, his estimate of the US share of shooters falls from 31 percent to 1.43 percent. It also accounts for 2.1 percent murders, and 2.88 percent of their attacks. All these are much less than the United States’ 4.6 percent share of the population.
Of the 86 countries where we have identified mass public shootings, the US ranks 56th per capita in its rate of attacks and 61st in mass public shooting murder rate. Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Russia all have at least 45 percent higher rates of murder from mass public shootings than the United States.
When Lankford’s data is revised, the relationship between gun ownership rates and mass public shooters disappears.
How could that be? One possibility is that guns don’t just enable mass shooters; gun owners can also deter and prevent such shootings. Another is that culture — not gun ownership — is a bigger factor in shootings.
The media should be wary of any researchers who fail to let others look at their data. At least on this point, the intellectual base for liberal thunder about mass public shootings is wrong.
John Lott is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Michael Weisser was a professor of history at Columbia University.

Sex, Money, Clericalism & The Papal Foundation

August 30, 2018
FILE -Pope Francis (L) talks with Papal Foundation Chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., during a meeting with members of the Papal Foundation at the Vatican, April 17, 2015. Pope Francis (L) talks with Papal Foundation Chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., during a meeting with members of the Papal Foundation at the Vatican, April 17, 2015.(AP)
Here’s a theory. That’s all it is: a theory. But if I had the investigative resources, I would be looking into it.
I learned this week that under John Paul II, there were three people who always showed up at the Vatican with lots of money: Father Marcial Maciel, Cardinal Bernard Law, and Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who was made a cardinal by JP2. In 1988, McCarrick helped start the Papal Foundation, which raised money from wealthy American Catholics for the Pope’s favored projects. Last month, the Washington Post reported:
“The Papal Foundation was a huge point of leverage for him in terms of going to Rome,” said Steve Schneck, the longtime head of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University. Schneck worked often with McCarrick. “There is not a Catholic organization in the United States he hasn’t raised money for.”
The Papal Foundation has grown to be quite large, with assets of over $206 million. According to this report in the National Catholic Register:
The foundation is governed by a board of trustees, comprised of the eight U.S.-domiciled cardinals, who serve as ex officio members and who approved the seven bishops and archbishops and nine laypeople who serve as elected members.
Grants are to be allocated to needs that are of particular significance to the Holy Father, and, often, they have been made to institutions and organizations in Third World countries.
In 2017, for example, grants included $70,000 to construct a primary school in Bangladesh, $90,000 to complete a library for high-school students and the local community in Nicaragua, and $100,000 for an orthopedic and physiotherapy unit for the St. John Paul II Medical Center in Ghana.
Leaked documents obtained by LifeSiteNews connect the Pope himself to a new Vatican financial scandal and raise serious questions about his global reputation as the “pope for the poor.”
LifeSiteNews has obtained internal documents of the U.S.-based Papal Foundation, a charity with a stellar history of assisting the world’s poor, showing that last summer the Pope personally requested, and obtained in part, a $25 million grant to a corruption-plagued, Church-owned dermatological hospital in Rome accused of money laundering. Records from the financial police indicate the hospital has liabilities over one billion USD – an amount larger than the national debt of some 20 nations.
The grant has lay members of the Papal Foundation up in arms, and some tendering resignations.
Most of the board is composed of cardinals and other bishops, who greatly outnumber lay stewards. More:
According to the internal documents, the Pope made the request for the massive grant, which is 100 times larger than its normal grants, through Papal Foundation board chairman Cardinal Donald Wuerl in the summer of 2017.
Despite opposition from the lay “stewards,” the bishops on the board voted in December to send an $8 million payment to the Holy See. In January, the documents reveal, lay members raised alarm about what they consider a gross misuse of their funds, but despite their protests another $5 million was sent with Cardinal Wuerl brooking no dissent.
On January 6, the steward who until then served as chairman of the Foundation’s audit committee submitted his resignation along with a report of the committee’s grave objections to the grant.
“As head of the Audit Committee and a Trustee of the Foundation, I found this grant to be negligent in character, flawed in its diligence, and contrary to the spirit of the Foundation,” he wrote in his resignation letter accompanying the report. “Instead of helping the poor in a third-world country, the Board approved an unprecedented huge grant to a hospital that has a history of mismanagement, criminal indictments, and bankruptcy.”
“Had we allowed such recklessness in our personal careers we would never have met the requirements to join The Papal Foundation in the first place.”
Here is a link to one of the three leaked documents published by LifeSite. It’s a report from the Audit Committee of the Papal Foundation, and it’s a doozy. It says that all the bishops on the foundation board voted as a bloc to fund Pope Francis’s request to bail out the corrupt hospital, and that Cardinal Wuerl strongarmed it through. The Audit Committee said this grant was so unjustified, and so reckless, that the Papal Foundation would have trouble recruiting future donors.
The $25 million grant caused such internal dissent that after the Foundation paid half of it, Cardinal Wuerl wrote to the Pope asking him to decline the rest.
The Pope responded by cancelling the Papal Foundation’s annual stewards’ audience with him — a remarkable insult considering that the Americans had given him millions, both toward the hospital bailout, and to fund the Foundation’s usual projects for the poor. The stewards all promise to donate at least $100,000 per year for 10 years to the Papal Foundation. Most of that money goes to fund projects to help the world’s poor. Francis snubbed them all.
In March, Christopher Altieri of the Catholic Herald wrote a commentary about the scandal.   In this excerpt, he quotes a document written by James Longon, a lay member of the board and head of its audit committee:
Longon’s summary says: “This is a badly run business venture, not a helping of our Church or a helping of the poor. Cardinal Wuerl stated that the Holy Father is simply turning to the Papal Foundation for assistance to get through that bridge time while the hospital gets back on its feet. Sounds like a business loan to me.”
In the wake of the row, the cardinals walked back their promise of assistance. Cardinal Wuerl has requested that the Vatican not accept the outstanding $12 million. The cardinals have also promised increased lay involvement to approve requests greater than $1 million.
That’s all fine, but when a group of successful business leaders raise issues over the prudence of a measure involving the money they earned, one tends to think it wise to heed them. So, how did this happen?
The answer is, in a word, clericalism. The stewards upon whose generosity the Papal Foundation depends are businessmen of great acumen, long years’ experience and extraordinary accomplishment. More to the point, they are stewards ­– at least they are styled so – and do not take kindly to being treated as cash cows. “It felt like irresponsible and immoral stewardship,” Longon told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m 73,” he added, “and getting close to Judgment Day.”
Frankly, when churchmen who have spent their entire careers playing with house money hear such objections and reply to the effect that there’s nothing to see here, one tends to think that perhaps there is.
James Longon resigned from the Papal Foundation board in disgust. If you compare the list of 2016 board members with the current list, you’ll see who replaced Longon on the board: Timothy Busch, a wealthy conservative California lawyer and philanthropist who, among other things, founded the Napa Institute. Readers will remember that the Napa Institute gave disgraced Archbishop John Nienstedt a place to land after he resigned as leader of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Catholics over his handling of sex abuse.
Nienstedt and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, author of the controversial testimony, are old friends. Vigano was accused of trying to quash the Archdiocese’s investigation of Nienstedt’s alleged homosexual promiscuity, though he denied doing so.
In 2016, both Vigano and Busch were honored at a dinner at Rome’s North American College, where elite American seminarians are trained. Point is, they know each other. In fact, Busch told The New York Times this week:
Two weeks ago, Archbishop Viganò privately shared his plan to speak out with an influential American friend: Timothy Busch, a wealthy, conservative Catholic lawyer on the board of governors of the media network in which Archbishop Viganò ultimately revealed his letter.
“Archbishop Viganò has done us a great service,” Mr. Busch said in a phone interview Sunday night. “He decided to come forward because if he didn’t, he realized he would be perpetuating the cover-up.”
Mr. Busch said he believed Archbishop Viganò’s claims to be “credible,” and that he did not know in advance that the archbishop would choose to publish his attack in the National Catholic Register, which is owned by the Eternal Word Television Network, where Mr. Busch is on the board of governors.
So, let’s wrap this up:
  1. Pope Francis asks rich American donors, via the Papal Foundation, to bail out a scandal-ridden Catholic hospital in Rome.
  2. Lay stewards at the Foundation balk at the unprecedented size of the request — $25 million, dwarfing previous gifts — as well as the fact that the Foundation doesn’t fund projects like this. Nor had the Foundation done due diligence on this hospital to make sure it’s money was going to a worthwhile cause.
  3. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, along with all the cardinals and bishops on the board, steamroll approval of the gift.
  4. The money causes such consternation on the Foundation board that Cardinal Wuerl writes to Pope Francis, after half the money was sent, telling him that the rest of it won’t be coming.
  5. Francis in return cancels the board’s annual audience with him in Rome.
  6. One of those board members, Tim Busch, is friends with Archbishop Vigano, and consults with Vigano about his plan to publish a testimony alleging that Pope Francis knew all about Cardinal McCarrick’s molesting ways, yet drew him in as an adviser and emissary.
  7. Vigano chooses a Catholic media outlet connected to Busch as one of the three platforms to which he releases the testimony.
The theory here is that Vigano is telling the truth about gay sex, the Catholic hierarchy and a papal cover-up, but that it may be connected to a bitter fight over money. Tens of millions of dollars, and fury at the Pope, Cardinal Wuerl, and the American prelates on the Foundation board for shaking down wealthy laity to get the Pope’s Roman cronies out of a jam, then the poor-people’s pontiff slamming the door in their faces after he didn’t get what he wanted. Could it be that Busch was sick and tired of clericalism, cronyism, and corruption, and had a hand in encouraging, or at least publicizing, Vigano’s exposé of the network? Might this be a case of telling the truth about sex as payback for arrogant senior clerics pushing around the laity and picking their pockets?
Maybe Busch (and others on the Foundation) just got sick of their money, which they gave to be used to help the poor, being used by men like Ted McCarrick and Donald Wuerl to advance their clerical careers by buying influence in Rome.
If I were a full-time investigative reporter instead of a harried scribe moldering on the Louisiana bayou in the late summer heat, I would be chasing down these leads. I told a Washington reporter friend last month that if the full story of Theodore McCarrick is ever told, it’s going to be a seamy tale of gay sex, money, power, and cutthroat conspiracy. That was an informed guess. Now that more is coming to light, it’s turning out to be exactly that.
UPDATE: Robert Moynihan reports in his Letter #44:
And the Napa Institute, led by Timothy Busch — who was in touch with Vigano two weeks before the publication of his text — has announced that they will assemble a group of Catholic laymen in America to meet in Washington D.C. at Catholic University on October 1 and 2 to discuss all of these events, and to propose ways that laymen can perhaps “take over” some of the oversight functions of the US bishops in running the Church in the US (link).
I do not know whether we should call this a potentially revolutionary conference, or not… or whether we might call it a conference to “declericalize” or “re-clericalize” the Church. I will try to attend the meeting.
Because the battle that has been triggered by Vigano‘s text is a specific crystallization of a century-old battle between two concepts of reality, one “material” and one “spiritual” — a crystallization which is bringing the long battle to a climax. (Yes, the 100-year-old battle between “modernist” and “orthodox” Catholics believers.)
So the battle, seemingly, has finally in these days been joined, and the result, for better or worse, may determine the Church’s direction for decades to come.
It’s all becoming clearer, isn’t it?
If you are a Church progressive, you may see what’s happening as a coup attempt against Pope Francis and his liberalizing agenda, led by conservative Churchmen (Archbishop Vigano and powerful laymen).
If you are a Church conservative, you may see this an attempt by a fed-up laity (and a disgusted archbishop) to stop the chaos in the Church unleashed by Francis, and to sort out a corrupt hierarchy that is incapable of reforming itself because it is so sexually compromised and weakened by clericalism.
However you see it, the battle is joined. The one thing that nobody can deny is that corruption in the Church — specifically, the sexual abuse of boys and seminarians by priests and even cardinals — has rotted the Catholic institution.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Pope Francis and the other curial cardinals named by Vigano have not defended themselves because they have no defense. They are guilty as charged. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, that dirty old moneygrubbing lecher, is a living symbol of their corruption.
Tonight I watched Akira Kurosawa’s great film Ran, which is Shakespeare’s King Lear as imagined in the world of samurai warriors. As the film reached its bloody climax, with brothers and their armies tearing each other apart, I thought: Benedict XVI is a Lear figure. He resigned thinking he could retire in peace, and let a stronger, younger man come in and do the reforms that he was too exhausted to carry out. But the forces unleashed by his act now have the Catholic Church in civil war. As Moynihan says, this battle has been building for a century, so it would have happened at some point. One can’t entirely blame Benedict. Had the cardinals elected a different successor, things might have been different today. But the die has been cast.
Oh, and one more thing: Busch had to cut Nienstedt loose after TAC called the Napa Foundation out on complaining about corruption in the Church while sheltering an Archbishop who resigned in disgrace over his handling of sex abuse. No way Team Busch could have carried this out with a compromised Archbishop on the payroll.
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Damon Linker Leaves Catholicism

August 29, 2018
Image result for damon linker
Damon Linker (Boston College)
I read this new column by my friend Damon Linker with a heavy heart. He has decided to leave the Catholic Church, and explains why. Excerpts:
But there is also the beautiful — in the sense of seemliness, order, and proportion, but also elevation, nobility, and exaltation. My friend Rod Dreher writes movingly about how he was originally drawn toward Christianity by a visit as a young man to Chartres Cathedral in France, one of the most stunning religious structures ever built. Standing before and within this astonishing monument to God, Dreher for the first time felt the presence of the divine in the world and in his life. For him, the building was a powerful testament to the truth of the Christian message.
The singular importance of beauty or nobility to the most profound moral and religious experience was noted centuries before Christ in the dialogues of Plato, where the character of Socrates frequently asks his interlocutors searching questions about elevation. What do we admire? What acts stir us and move us to tears? Often it is those acts involving self-sacrifice, devotion to something loftier, something purportedly higher. In the secular sphere, this is something John McCain understood very well: By serving something higher than ourselves, and by devoting ourselves to it selflessly, we elevate ourselves, lifting ourselves up in the direction of eternity. (In McCain’s vision of fervent American patriotism, this something was an ideal vision of the United States.)
When I converted to the Catholic Church 18 years ago, I did so in large part because I was deeply moved by the act of self-sacrifice that the church places at its heart. God sacrifices his beloved son, and his son freely accepts that sacrifice, out of self-giving love for humanity. Out of that breathtakingly beautiful gesture, the church built a new civilization founded on a message of forgiveness of sins, of care for the poor, of beatitude, of salvation and eternal life for all.
Of course the history of the church is filled with imperfection, of violence, of all-too-human sin and corruption. But monuments to the church’s message were everywhere to behold: art and architecture, an intellectual tradition, a comprehensive moral and eschatological vision of all things from first to last, a politics founded on a belief in the equal dignity of all. If I didn’t really believe in all of the theological precepts taught by the church, at least I wanted to — because I considered them beautiful, and because I wanted to be a part of the beauty, to elevate myself by assimilating myself to it.
That impulse seems very far away from me now. It began to fade in the church scandals that broke less than two years after I entered the church. The crisis deepened by working for a devout priest who responded to the scandals by circling the wagons against the secular press and its impertinent reporters looking to harm the church with their pesky attachment to uncovering the truth.
He explains that the Pennsylvania scandals, and now the Vigano revelations, have broken him. Damon lasted a lot longer than I did.
Damon and I first met in the spring of 2002, when he was editor of First Things, and I was a writer at National Review. He had been reading the critical things I was writing for National Review Online about the abuse scandal, which broke in late January out of Boston, and wanted to talk. Over our lunch, he told me what a difficult time he was having working for Father Richard John Neuhaus. Like me, Damon was the father of young children. He was struggling to deal with the fact that for Neuhaus, the scandal was all about, well, circling the wagons against the secular press. As I’ve mentioned in this space before, I too felt the lashing of Neuhaus’s tongue that spring over my reporting. Devout Catholics, as I was back then, were not supposed to hurt the Church by writing about her sins publicly. Damon was having to deal with that attitude daily in the office from his boss, and it was tearing him down. He thought about his family, and how they were invisible to Father Neuhaus. The only thing that mattered was the Church.
Damon eventually left First Things, and had a famous falling-out with Neuhaus and his former colleagues, memorialized in this 2006 book. Many on the Catholic Right considered it an act of grotesque betrayal of a man — Father Neuhaus — who had done much to help Damon Linker’s career. I can understand that judgment. But I had also come to know Damon well enough by that time to know that he was motivated by a burning desire to seek the truth. I can’t say that I knew his conscience, and what motivated him to write that particular book, and in any case I disagreed with most of his premises and conclusions. What I can say is that despite my criticism of the book’s substance, I never took it as a cheap act of revenge against Father Neuhaus, though clearly there was a great deal of personal anguish behind its writing.
Thinking about all that in light of his column today, I see in his 2006 book a working-out of personal anguish over the collapse of his personal commitment to Catholicism under the weight of the scandal. As you know, it was happening to me too, at the same time. The difference is that I left, but Damon stayed. He was distant for a time from the institution, but he did not leave it. In light of his column today, announcing his exit from Catholicism, I can better understand the nature of his anguish in 2006, and today. He was (is) a shattered idealist, as I was. We both wanted this Church we had fallen in love with to be better.
Now, you can fault us both for having made an idol of the Catholic Church, and having failed to be realists about human sin. I can’t speak for Damon, but I have written in this space many times about my own responsibility in the personal drama of losing my faith. I did in fact make an idol of the Church, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought I was just being a loyal son of the Church. And though I didn’t work for him, and only met him a couple of times, I admired Father Neuhaus more than any other American Catholic, and considered him to be a spiritual father figure to me. The years 2002-2006 were personally excruciating, because I had to learn that so much of my faith had been misplaced. It felt like the deepest kind of betrayal.
I’ve known people over the years who have lost their faith in one form of Christianity, and have moved to another. It’s interesting to consider, but the Protestants I’ve known who became Catholic were not angry at the church they left behind. They’re been simply grateful to have embraced what they consider to be a more truthful, richer form of the Christian faith. The ex-Catholics I’ve known tend to be angry. In all honesty, I haven’t known many ex-Catholics who were Protestant or Orthodox. Almost all of the ex-Catholics I know ceased to practice any form of the Christian faith. It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning, but I think that’s interesting. Why might they leave Christianity entirely, instead of just become Episcopalian or Southern Baptist?
The answer, I believe, is that Catholicism is such a totalizing faith. That’s not a criticism at all. There’s a good book that came out in the ’80s, titled Once A Catholic. It was a collection of interviews with Catholics — some of whom had left the Church — reflecting on their lives and childhoods as believers. It was a mixed bag — some were thrilled by their faith, others mourned its loss, and some, as I recall, were angry — but it was compelling reading. I first encountered the book as I was thinking about converting to Catholicism. It was both daunting and alluring. Could I really give myself over to a religion that would get so deep into my bones that even if I left it, it would haunt me for the rest of my life? Then again, if it is true, why wouldn’t I want to do that?
Well, I did give myself over to it, and I can tell you, having practiced it diligently for 13 years, and having been away from it for 12, it does haunt me. I describe having lost the ability to believe in it anymore as like leaving a bad marriage. I wanted so bad for this “marriage” to work, but I realized one day that my bride didn’t love me, that she loved herself, and was going to do whatever she wanted to do, and to hell with me and the kids. Staying in this marriage meant putting up with her abusiveness. I couldn’t do it anymore. I broke. To switch the metaphor, it was like having to hold on to a hot iron skillet with bare hands. Eventually the pain was too great, and I had to let go.
God was good to me and my family. We found a happy home in Orthodox Christianity — another totalizing form of Christianity (again, this is a compliment), one that placed great value on worshiping with the body, and on beauty. We only ever considered Orthodoxy after Catholicism became non-tenable because, for theological reasons, Orthodoxy was our only option (Catholic theology holds Orthodox religious orders to be valid, and its sacraments real and efficacious). Looking back, Orthodoxy was also the only option for us because it was the only thing that could fill the Catholic-sized hole in our hearts, because it was religion as a way of life. Within Orthodoxy, God has given me a richer spiritual life than I had before — but part of that is because having had my intellectual and spiritual pride as a Catholic shattered, I was more open to receiving healing grace.
Please understand that I say this not to convince anybody to leave Catholicism! I’m simply reflecting on how the religion stays with you, even when you can no longer stay with it. By the grace of God I regained my love for all that is good and holy and beautiful in Catholicism after I no longer felt responsible for fighting the bishops and the corruption within. Some of my personal heroes are the Catholic monks of Norcia, and the Catholic layman Marco Sermarini — I honor them with my book, The Benedict Option — all of whom embody in my eyes the best of what it means not only to be a Catholic, but to be a Christian. Believe it or not, one reason I write so often about this current Catholic scandal is that I want the Catholic Church to be healthy and holy. I may not be part of it anymore, but if she is sick unto death, then that affects the entire Body of Christ. If I had no Christian faith at all, I would still want the Church to be healthy, because as that scintillating atheist Camille Paglia has said in the past, the Church is a pillar of our civilization. No church, and we descend into barbarism.
Back to the Linker column. He began by talking about the beauty that brought him into the Catholic Church. For me, it started with pure aesthetics as a theophany, a showing-forth of God. For Damon, it was the moral beauty of Catholicism. I hadn’t thought about it until Damon’s column this morning, but one reason my own faith was not as strong as it needed to be was because of the banality, the ugliness of contemporary Catholic architecture and worship. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, because it seems so shallow, but there it is. I remember back in 2002, Julie and I and our toddler visited our friends the Mathewes-Greens at their Orthodox parish in suburban Baltimore. We stayed for the first 30 minutes of the Divine Liturgy then, as Catholics, motored a short distance away for the mass. The difference between the glorious worship at the Orthodox parish, and the flat, ugly, modernist mess at the Catholic one, was so stark that Julie and I couldn’t look at each other on the way back to the car. I had tears in my eyes.
By then, we were six months into the Catholic scandal, and I was fighting like mad to hold on to my faith. Contrasting the one with the other was a surprising source of pain. Why did it have to be that way? It didn’t. I bolstered myself with a reminder that the ugliness of this suburban ’70s parish, with a retiring priest whose final sermon was about how much he was going to enjoy living in Florida, and its cheesy hymns, and bare walls — how none of that mattered, ultimately, because the Catholic Church was the repository of Truth, and however beautiful and rich the liturgy was at the Orthodox parish down the road, that parish was lacking because it wasn’t Roman.
The day came, three or four years later, when I no longer believed that. Naturally a faithful Catholic would say I was wrong, and that I should have done what I did in Baltimore back in ’02, and reminded myself that beauty is not the same thing as truth, and ugliness is not the same thing as a lie. At some point, though, you might snap. Here’s why and how Damon Linker snapped:
The world can be a dangerous place. My kids could be abused and violated anywhere. I’m not a helicopter parent out to protect them from any and all risk. But to wade through the toxic sludge of the grand jury report; to follow the story of Theodore McCarrick’s loathsome character and career; to confront the allegations piled up in Viganò’s memo — it is to come face to face with monstrous, grotesque ugliness. It is to see the Catholic Church as a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.
Let me be clear: I would a thousand times rather be part of a parish that meets in an ugly building, but which is led by a holy priest, and has a congregation dedicated to pursuing holiness, than to meet in a glorious Gothic cathedral that is an arched-and-flying-buttressed sepulcher.
Still, Damon perceives something fundamental: a tectonic unity among the three transcendentals: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. It is rare that all three exist in perfect harmony in any manifestation in this mortal world. For me, as a young man, Beauty led to what I saw as the fullest embodiment of God’s Truth in this world: the Roman Catholic Church, into which I entered communion. For Damon, it was Goodness that led him to communion with that Truth. In my case, the aesthetic ugliness of much of contemporary Catholic aesthetics certainly did not break my faith, but it weakened it in the face of the horrific moral ugliness of sexual abuse and episcopal corruption, which broke the bonds permanently. For Damon, the moral ugliness cracked the bonds.
Still, Damon perceives something fundamental: a tectonic unity among the three transcendentals: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. It is rare that all three exist in perfect harmony in any manifestation in this mortal world. For me, as a young man, Beauty led to what I saw as the fullest embodiment of God’s Truth in this world: the Roman Catholic Church, into which I entered communion. For Damon, it was Goodness that led him to communion with that Truth. In my case, the aesthetic ugliness of much of contemporary Catholic aesthetics certainly did not break my faith, but it weakened it in the face of the horrific moral ugliness of sexual abuse and episcopal corruption, which broke the bonds permanently. For Damon, the moral ugliness cracked the bonds.
This is something that is hard for intellectuals to appreciate, I find. They are often so given over to appreciation of logic and doctrine that they lack awareness of how severe failures in Beauty and Goodness make it difficult, even impossible, for people to perceive Truth within the Church.
All of which is to say that whatever form that healing and rebuilding takes within Catholicism from the disaster of the last 50 years, it will require not just moral and spiritual regeneration, but aesthetic regeneration too. People will not take you seriously as a proclaimer of Truth if their aesthetic and moral senses tell them otherwise.
I want to note this one response to Linker’s loss of faith, from a prominent Traditionalist Catholic blog:
You never were a real Catholic if you’re a weakling who can’t tough it out, they say. Well, if that’s true, then I’m as guilty as Damon is. However, when people ask me why I didn’t try life among the Trads instead of leaving for Orthodoxy, the answer is right here in this tweet. Some of the best Catholic friends I have, and those I most admire, are Trads, but my general experience with Trads is that too often an intense bitterness, a hardness of heart, and barely-banked anger prevails among them. Our Lord told of the Good Shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep to go after the one who is lost. Far too many Trads would deride that lost sheep a weakling and a quitter.
But he lets slip something that suggests that he had had an uneasy relationship with the Church the whole of those 18 years.
Toward the end of his statement, he says this: “If I didn’t really believe in all of the theological precepts taught by the church, at least I wanted to.”
There are some people–notably at the Traditionalist end of things–who claim that any convert who abandons Catholicism never really converted in the first place. Usually that’s a kneejerk reaction, something said without knowledge of the person or situation.
That’s what was said about Linker today at Rorate Caeli’s Twitter feed: “But it is our experience, and this article makes the same point, that a convert who leaves is a convert who never really gave his heart unconditionally.”
In my experience, that often isn’t true, and so in the normal course of things Rorate Caeli’s comment would be undeserved and ungenerous, yet it looks like it probably is true in Linker’s case.
He entered the Church expecting to find beauty at various levels, and he was disappointed. He found neither aesthetic nor moral beauty, and in the scandal he found immense moral ugliness.
Now he’s left, without saying that he had entered the Church convinced that the Catholic Church was true in all its teachings. The best he can do is to say that he wanted those teachings to be true.
It reminds me of something Linker’s one-time boss said. When asked why he had converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism, Neuhaus said he became a Catholic because the Reformation no longer was necessary.
That was more a political than a doctrinal attitude. In fact, the Reformation never was necessary, though much needed to be reformed back then. As it turned out, the Reformation didn’t reform what needed to be reformed. Instead, it reformulated Christian beliefs and fashioning a new religion, Protestantism.
Neuhaus was wrong in his fundamental motive (or excuse). There never was a need for the Reformation. That historical event was one of history’s greatest tragedies and disasters.
So I see a similarity between Linker’s attitude and Neuhaus’s: not a complete congruence, but a similarity. Neither one seems to have become Catholic because he was convinced the faith was irresistibly true and that he couldn’t escape that truth. They came in largely for other reasons, whether quasi-political or aesthetic. At least in Linker’s case, that ended up not being enough.
For what it’s worth, in my own case, I really did believe the truths. That’s probably why my loss of faith was so excruciating for me.
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