Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pope John Paul II: The Halo and the Cover Up

        In the movie “True Confessions,” Cardinal Danaher (Cyril Cusack) tells Father Des Spellacy (Robert De Niro) to transfer Msgr. Seamus Fargo (Burgess Meredith) to a distant desert parish against Fargo’s wishes.  To justify the transfer, Cardinal Danaher states that Fargo must be moved “For the good of Holy Mother Church.”  “For the Good of Holy Mother Church”; how often, I wonder, was that phrase was uttered by bishops as they protected pederast priests by transferring them to different churches once potential publicity of their crimes against children made their continued presence in a parish an “inconvenience” for church officials?
        This Sunday, May 1, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate a mass of beatification for Pope John Paul II.  Yet, blighting the halo that is forming around John Paul’s head is a terrible sin of neglect. (See James 4:17: “Therefore to that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”)  As Maureen Dowd pointed out in her Sunday, April 25, New York Times’ column, John Paul chose ignore the lamentations of the vulnerable as mounting evidence of almost ubiquitous sex abuse infected the entire Catholic Church.  For him, the plight of the victims must have mattered less than “the good of Holy Mother Church,” which meant protecting priests who had serially abused and, in many cases, raped children.
        There are apologists who defend John Paul, claiming he did not know the magnitude of child abuse.  And there are those so determined to see him canonized that they argue that “beatification isn’t a ‘score card’ on how John Paul administered the church but rather recognition that he led a saintly life.”  (Associated Press, January 14, 2011.)   The Associated Press also noted in the same January 14 report that “while John Paul himself was never accused of improprieties, he has long been accused of responding slowly when the sex abuse scandal erupted in the United States in 2002. Many of the thousands of cases that emerged last year involved crimes and cover-ups during his 26-year papacy.”
        If his general hesitation to punish priests who abused children isn’t enough to convince Catholics that John Paul’s beatification is a mistake, then his specific conduct regarding Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, most certainly should.  By 1989 or 1990 the latest, the Vatican had been alerted to this priest’s crimes of rape and abuse brought against him by seminarians under his authority.  Yet, even when compelling evidence demanded action and justice, no inquiry was initiated; instead, orders were issued that no investigation or trial be conducted, orders which most certainly came from John Paul himself.
        Of course, it is quite impossible to alter the near idolatrous adulation many Catholics feel for Pope John Paul II or persuade them that his beatification will evoke for thousands nightmares of the torture they suffered year after year as the Church ignored their cries for help and systematically obstructed justice.  In fact, relentless stories of sex abuse by priests have made faithful Catholics yearn for something spectacular to relieve their anxiety, disgust, and loss of faith in their church leaders.  The beatification of John Paul offers a specious distraction from the depravity that has soiled the Catholic leadership even as it attempts to create a preternatural hero who might levitate the Church above the sordid complicity involving its multiple attempts to cover up sex crimes.  It won’t, however, sweep the dirt of its shamefully criminal behavior under a shroud of saintliness proposed for a pope who was a good man in many ways and an abject failure by far in the way that mattered most.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is The Tea Party Morally Myopic?

April 18, 2011
       The guiding principle of the Tea Party is to reduce the burden of taxes and regulations on the American people and, thereby, reduce the seize of the debt and deficit.  Human beings have baulked about paying “too much” in taxes in every society as far back as history can record.   Everyone always wants to pay less in taxes. 
       Last week, the Tea Party saw those principles embodied in Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which passed the House or Representatives with full Republican support.  The Republicans support the plan because it cuts taxes for the wealthy and for corporations and also scales back government regulations on business.  Sadly, Republicans refuse to acknowledge that the debt and deficits can only come down through a combination of cuts in programs and across the board tax increases.  
       Thankfully, there is little chance of a Ryan’s tax and spending cuts being enacted, since its tax cuts would in fact increase the deficit and debt and its spending cuts would destroy some of the last century’s most humane social programs.   Perhaps in its place, the Congress will adopt a sensible plan that trims all spending (including military) and raises revenues--but given the influence of special interest money that pours into politics, something “sensible” remains doubtful.  
       What is not in doubt regarding the Tea Party’s philosophy is its morally myopic anti-regulatory positions.  It is true that local, state, and the federal governments have some rather cumbersome and even stupid regulatory laws that infringe on personal liberty and property rights.  Why, in my own village, the building code prevents me from installing a fence in my backyard above the height of five feet.  If you saw my neighbor’s yard, you would agree that a ten-foot fence wouldn’t be too high.  No doubt, the regulation is senseless.  The village has also other prohibitions, such as I can’t bury in my yard toxic materials or anything that might pose a hazard to human beings.  No doubt, that regulation is sensible.  
       Some of the government regulations the Tea Party opposes should  be re-examined and even eliminated.  But according to a report by Leslie Kaufman in the New York Times:  G.O.P. Push in States to Deregulate Environment April 12, 2011, the Tea Party  and Republican allies are fighting to eliminate and dismantle regulations that protect the water people drink and the air they breath all in their effort to ease the way for businesses to profit without being responsible for the air the pollute and the water they poison.  
       Perhaps many Tea Party disciples don’t fully grasp the  consequences of supporting the anti-regulatory zealots among them who view profits as the only measure of an honest, good and productive life.  Perhaps they should read “Chemicals Were Injected Into Wells, Reports Says,” Ian Urbina, New York Times, April 15, 2011 and discover how oil and gas companies have been employing a process called hydraulic fracturing that injects hundreds of toxic chemicals into the ground as a way to extract natural gas more effectively and economically.  Or even better, discover how the  companies using this method have been unwilling to “publicly disclose” the chemicals they use and how Congress cannot compel them to do so if the “chemical identity of products” are “proprietary” (although among the chemicals is benzene).  No doubt, in the future we will be reading about cancer clusters and sundry other diseases linked to locations where these drilling operations took place.
If any company uses dangerous chemicals in the process of manufacturing or, in this case, obtaining, their product, then that company has moral obligations to take whatever steps are needed to protect anyone who could possibly be harmed by that product or process.  It is simple: the responsibility is theirs.  But since so many in this and other industries refuse to accept responsibility for the risk or dangers their activities might pose, it then becomes the moral obligation of the government to regulate (police in effect) businesses and impose standards and regulations to protect the public’s health and safety.  If the Tea Party cannot see the moral imperative of such regulations, then they suffer from moral myopia or worse.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Economic Woes

                                            Economic Woes

      Class warfare has been declared in America, though the usual suspect is not the one we have come to expect - the Democrats.  Democrats have used class conflict effectively to influence the working and middle classes to vote for democratic candidates in the past.  That strategy began to backfire during the Reagan eighties as more and more Americans entered the middle class.  During the same economic expansion, government programs grew and debt and deficits ballooned.

     The government began to run surpluses in the late nineteen-nineties and some economists predicted that the modern economy had vanquished recessions for ever.  This myopic notion was used to justify George W. Bush’s refusal to raise revenue to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Disregarding the financial strain from two wars and his tax cuts, Bush increased spending even further with his Medicare prescription drug plan. Just as his term of president ended, Republicans began prophesying the downfall of America if the federal government was not purged of its profligate spending addiction.

        For the republicans and their Tea Party allies, the solution to the debt and deficit crisis is to “defund” discretionary spending programs.  Of course, their goal is to destroy not only economic programs they hate, but also the social ones that offend their hypocritical sense of morals. These cost too little to have any effect on reducing deficits and debts, but that does not keep Republicans from being obsessed with cutting money for Planned Parenthood and funding for Public Broadcasting.

     Of all the Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) has been praised most lavishly by conservative pundits (David Brooks, NY Times, April 7,2011) for offering a bold and courageous approach to deficit and debt reduction.  It is impossible to believe Ryan’s sincerity when he puts forth a plan that decimates social programs for the poor and middle class while at the same time cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans.  Thus, the political party, who serves at the behest of the wealthy, has interpreted the results of last year’s mid-term elections as the vindication of their political and economic philosophies and have decided they no longer have to hide from middle class Americans the true allegiance to the wealthy and their contempt for the rest of Americans.

     If one needs confirmation for the Republicans’ contempt for all but the wealthy, then consult a few important facts.  Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan proposed a ten year budget plan that would cut taxes for the wealthiest down to twenty-five percent while cutting from Medicaid hundreds of billions of dollars and by turning Medicare into a voucher system in which Americans can purchase private insurance that in effect will not be enough to cover their medical costs.  This plan also cuts money for veterans benefits, education, and transportation, all programs that help the poor and middle class.

     The argument that cutting taxes for the wealthiest will stimulate the economy in such a way that prosperity will trickle down to the ninety-nine percent of Americans who occupy the middle and lower classes does not stand up to scrutiny.  Over the past decade when taxes were lowered by George W. Bush, the middle class watch its wages and income stagnate.  In fact, the top one percent continues to see their wealth and income grow at rates far faster as middle class purchasing power diminishes.  A quarter of a century ago, the top one percent of Americans took in about twelve percent of the nation’s income and control about thirty-three of its wealth.  Today that one percent captures close to twenty-percent of the country’s income and possesses forty percent of the country’s wealth.  According to Joseph Stiglitz, over the past ten years the top one percent of Americans have enjoyed an eighteen percent increase in income while the middle class  incomes have declined.

     In his essay in Vanity Fair, (May 2011) Stiglitz identifies a few facts that should make Tea Party members reconsider the logic of some of their positions.  Almost all U.S. senators and the majority of house members have incomes that are in that top one percent.  Moreover, when they leave congress, many of these elected officials will be rewarded with lucrative jobs by corporations whose agendas they have promoted.  Congress has steadily become an institution of the wealthy for the wealthy.

     A feasible way to pay down the debt and deficit would be to cut spending and increase revenues.  Congress has read the report of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which has devised a formula of spending cuts and tax increases that could reduce deficits by an estimated four trillion by 2020 and “stabilize the debt by 2014.”  But rather than implement a sensible combination of cuts and taxes, which would spread more fairly among us all the burden of our economic woes, the Republicans would prefer to shield the wealthiest Americans from even the slightest inconvenience, since by serving them they can, in turn, serve themselves.