Legacy of Coercion and Shame

Legacy of Coercion and Shame

Can an institution like the Roman Catholic Church be waylaid by a group of ruthless hucksters who are willing to use the papal office to impose bad decisions that have caused and continue to cause  immense suffering upon the faithful?

Yes.   Let me explain. . . .

Vatican II was an immense turning point for Roman Catholicism.  The windows were thrown open.  Instead of using confrontation and bullying, Catholics were retrained to respect Jews, Protestants, and Muslims and to engage in dialogue.  Instead of maintaining that the Latin language and the Latin liturgy was sacrosanct, Catholics were invited to praise God in their own tongues and in rites that were suitable to their cultural roots.  Instead of pretending that obedience to the Catholic Church was the surest means of eternal salvation, Catholics were coaxed to work side-by-side with all persons of good will to bring Gospel values to bear upon every society and to expose the social sins of racism, militarism, and sexism that are a scourge to those whom the Lord loves.   Thus the Catholic Church set aside its imperialism and its triumphalism in favor of serving the servants of God.  As Jesus said, “I have come to serve and not to be served.”

Even before the Vatican Council II was closed in late 1965, many of the bishops present believed that the new direction of the Church was foolish and wrong-headed and that the imperialism and triumphalism of the past had to be resurrected so that the Church would again be feared and respected by both its adherents and its enemies.

During the course of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), free and open discussions gradually took hold among the assembled bishops once the curial grip on the Council was challenged.  Within this aggiornamento [1] that was endorsed by John XXIII, the bishops discovered how creative collaboration with each other and with the Holy Spirit served fruitfully to create sixteen documents overwhelmingly approved by the assembled bishops.  Given the diversity of viewpoints and the diversity of cultures among the two thousand participants, this consensus building was an extraordinary mark of the charismatic gifts of the movers and shakers gathered at the Council.

PaulVI2As Paul VI took over the direction of the Council after the untimely death of John XXIII, he at first endorsed the processes of collegiality that had operated during the initial two years.  With the passage of time, however, Paul VI began to use his papal office on multiple levels by way of limiting the competency of the bishops and by way of pushing forward points of view that he and the curia favored.   After the Council, this trend accelerated and can best be seen by analyzing the content and reception of three encyclicals, Indulgentiarum Doctrina (1/1/67), Sacerdotalis Caelibatus (6/24/67), and Humanae Vitae (7/25/68).

Thirteen months after the close of Vatican II, on the first day of January, 1967, Paul VI took the document on indulgences that was roundly criticized and rejected during Vatican II and, with only modest revision, published it under his own name as Indulgentiarum Doctrina (“The Doctrine of Indulgences”).[8]   In so doing, Pope Paul VI opened the new year with an Apostolic Constitution designed to teach the bishops and theologians scattered throughout the whole world what many of them had roundly rejected at Vatican II.  Was the Pope deaf to the applause that Archbishops Alfrink, König, and Döpfner had received for their criticisms of this very same document thirteen months earlier?  Had he not read the written reports of a dozen episcopal conferences expressing their deep dissatisfaction with the draft document?  And was he not now shoving it back into their faces with the whole force of his papal office?

Indeed he was!  Even further, Paul VI boldly claimed in his encyclical that “indulgences” had apostolic origins–a claim that cardinals and Protestant observers at the Council refused to accept.  Furthermore, Paul VI further strengthened the papal grip on the practice of indulgences because he was quite aware that, in so doing, this promoted and augmented the power of the papal office within the universal Church.  Thus, Indulgentiarum Doctrina  received the enthusiastic support of those who wanted to stall dialogue with Protestants and to exalt papal imperialism and triumphalism.

Paul VI, during the final meeting of Vatican II in 1965, made an extraordinary intervention to forbid any discussion of the rule of priestly celibacy since he had elected to study this issue himself. Accordingly, on 24 June 1967, Paul VI published an encyclical on priestly celibacy known as Sacerdotalis Caelibatus.

Even if the manifest theological and historical flaws within Sacerdotalis Caelibatus could be forgiven in the name of the personal piety of Paul VI, one can hardly overlook the clear evidence of the Gospels to the effect that Jesus never mentioned celibacy when he chooses any of his disciples.  Peter, who is clearly recognized as a married man, receives no admonition to separate himself from his wife.  But, more importantly, we read in 1 Tim 3:2 that “a bishop must be above reproach, married only once [a one-woman man]” and, in Tit 1:7, we read that a presbyter should also be “someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers.”   Instead of discovering a “flowering of Jesus’ gift of celibacy,” therefore, we find in the late apostolic tradition the requirement that bishops and presbyters must have a wife and children.  Why so?  For this reason: “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he be expected to take care of God’s church [which is an extended family]?” (1 Tim 3:5).

How can Paul VI expect us to respect him as a reliable teacher when he fails to notice these things right before his eyes in the Sacred Scriptures?  And what if he did notice these things but deliberately omitted to mention them because they entirely negate his pious arguments in favor of  priestly celibacy?  Then, in that case, we would have to conclude that Pius VI is a dishonest scholar not worthy of our attention.  All in all, this brings us to the embarrassing sticking point of having to decide whether Paul VI is either incompetent or dishonest or a curious mixture of both.[17]

With the renewal of the Church following Vatican II, hundreds of thousands of priests anticipated a relaxation of the rule of celibacy.[18]  The adamant position taken by Paul VI in his encyclical Sacerdotalis Caelibatus killed their hope for any compassionate change.   Many Spirit-filled priests, facing a crisis of conscience between their call to ministry and their call to marital intimacy[19], decided to apply for laicization.  All told, 200,000 priests worldwide made anguished decisions to leave their ministry in order to marry.   Paul VI treated them as “traitors” to the calling of Jesus–they had “not prayed sufficiently,” he chided them.

When ministers within Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran denominations were welcomed into the Catholic communion during the last forty years, it was particularly difficult for long-suffering priests to notice how easily Rome was able to relax the rule of celibacy for these former Protestant pastors who were escaping churches that endorsed the ordination of women.  I myself have frequently heard bitterness expressed by older priests on this matter.  In effect, Paul VI arrived at a very flawed decision in this matter that was biased heavily against loyal Catholic priests at the same time that it was biased in favor of “Protestant deserters” who were fleeing their churches because women were being ordained. This has caused and continues to cause  enormous resentment[20] for most priests and for those who are close to them, especially women who feel called to priesthood.  The American bishop who said, “I doubt whether the Lord would be pleased with our loneliness,” may have been saying what so many others knew in their hearts but were afraid to reveal lest they be judged as “disloyal” to the Holy Father.

John Paul II went so far as to systematically refuse all petitions for laicization.  He thus insured that disloyal priests would never receive any official sanction of their marital love from the Church.  Thus, here again, compassion was dead, collegiality was rigorously avoided, and papal imperialism was being exalted.


Christmas 2014

Dear Friend,

It’s the night before Christmas and I’ve set aside the giddy play with my grandchildren (see Facebook) in order to look into the inky darkness outside in hopes of finding some signs that Christmas is coming. Here are the five signs that I noticed.Pope-RollingStone

#1The good news is that Pope Francis refused to use the iron fist of papal authoritarianism by way of taking control of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in October. On the contrary, he took the long view of reinvigorating the open discussion and the collegiality experienced at Vatican II and giving this a permanent place in discerning how ALL problems facing the Church need to be examined. Click here for my personal blog on this central topic.

#2 In his Christmas address to the Vatican officials, however, Pope Francis offered little holiday cheer. Rather, he rubbed their noses in the fifteen ways that their way of life was so far from the Gospel of Jesus. But he praised the low-paid women and men who worked in the Vatican offices for their honesty and hard work.

Deb#3 Deb took over the direction of FutureChurch in September of 2013. Her reports from Rome during the time of the Synod were penetrating and forward looking. Bringing Fr. Tony Flannery to the USA for addressing the issue of power abuse in the Vatican was an act of creative genius. Continued support of the Nuns over and against their Roman detractors paid off big time when the final report of 16 Dec 2014 come forward as affirming their orthodoxy and social engagement in favor of the Gospel. The good news is that FutureChurch exposes Vatican oppression.

Obama.Castro#4 President Obama offered good news last week when he finally sat down with Raul Castro and set a date for lifting the blockade of Cuba. Nearly 54 years ago, Fidel Castro, a middle-class lawyer and social activist, led a much-needed revolution that put the future of Cuba back into the hands of Cubans. Prior to this, Havana was an unregulated vice-capital for rich Americans run by the Mafia. Cubans provided cheap manual labor for the huge pineapple, banana, and sugar cane plantations that allowed American corporations to earn stunning profits. Since the USA wanted to send the message that no country could prosper without America’s aid and approval, the naval blockade of the Havana harbor made certain that no goods would enter or leave Cuba without American approval. This insured that Cubans would remain poor, isolated, and indigent. See the words of JFK in favor of the Cuban Revolution.  And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I just discovered that Pope Francis was responsible for nudging both sides into dialogue.  That’s the true Christmas shining through.

Scan.hip replacementsS#5  I had my left hip replaced five weeks ago.  I’ve dedicated my period of convalescence to deep reflection upon my life.  A few long-time friends will be spending time with me and advancing this project of reinventing myself.  The men’s group to which I belong will be my companions in carrying these changes forward into the new year.

happybirthdayJesusSo, I blow warm breath in your direction and my big arms wrap around you,


— Giraffe Standing Tall


Controversy over Divorce and Remarriage

A Philosophical Analysis of the Catholic Controversy over Divorce and Remarriage


The tendency of philosophers to work in a given paradigm weakens comparative perspectives, and so weakens dialogue. This also happens where articulation of the paradigm uses “God language” – theology – with the result that dialogue is diminished, and conflict exacerbated. This is seen in the Extraordinary Synod of the Catholic Church that is underway in Rome, where cardinals and bishops engaged discourse defending adversarial positions rather than dialogue. A comparative philosophical perspective that highlights the methodological differences helps us to understand the divergences that surfaced in the lead-up to and during the Extraordinary Synod.

Paul Anthony McGavinThe focus of conflict was the question of admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Sacramental Communion. Cutting through the complexities of this controversy, one can identify the key persons for dissent as Cardinal Walter Kasper, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,[1] and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.[2] Müller moved early for maintaining the practice of non-admission to Holy Communion, and Kasper has become the focus for re-admission to Communion. Truthfully, however, Kasper is surrogate for Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis. The conflict is between Francis and conservative cardinals and bishops. Pope Francis claims a purpose of dialogue. What divergences in philosophical perspectives have inhibited this dialogue?

Those upholding the status quo position speak as though well-schooled in a kind of analytical philosophy that focuses on “validity”, and does not attend to “soundness”. The status quo position proceeds in a syllogistically tight and noetic manner from the premises of sacramental theology in which the sacrament of marriage establishes an ontological status of husband and wife that endures until the death of one or both spouses. Impediments prior to and at the time of marriage may be of a diriment nature and allow an invalidation of the marriage. So, for example, a defect of intention or a lack of free consent are reckoned as diriment impediments, and grounds for annulment, not divorce.[3]

“Those upholding the status quo position speak as though well-schooled in a kind of analytical philosophy that focuses on “validity”, and does not attend to “soundness”

The mentality of this perspective is noetic insofar as no account is taken of evidentially-based considerations subsequent to the celebration of marriage unless these are imputable prior to marriage. In this mentality, marriage essentially exists in noetic ontological terms, and phenomenological evidence of the death and or dissolution of the marriage is not admissible in adjudging the reality of matrimonial status. In brief, the sacramental theology position and associated juridical position are assessed on validity criteria, and soundness criteria are not engaged. This methodological position is at the core of the divergence between positions typed by Müller and Kasper. But this is indicative of a wider methodological divide.

The method of the status quo position essentially draws upon a philosophical theology (and philosophical in the sense of a restrictive analytical philosophy) that is cast as sacramental theology. The core to the Kasper positon is that consideration solely in terms of sacramental theology is inadequate to the question of admission to Holy Communion of Catholics who following the failure of marriage have obtained a civil divorce and remarried in a civil ceremony. Kasper contends that the question needs consideration from other theological perspectives, and needs to comprehend phenomenological evidence.

“Marriage essentially exists in noetic ontological terms, and phenomenological evidence of the death and or dissolution of the marriage is not admissible in adjudging the reality of matrimonial status”

For Kasper, the key to this consideration is mercy.[4] This raises difficulties, because in Catholic theology the formal focus for the administration of mercy is another sacrament, named Penance (or, more commonly, Confession). And Penance is formally articulated using an analogous sacramental theology that involves an act of contrition and an expressed purpose of amendment not to sin again. From the current Latin canonical/catechetical position, this means a purpose not to perpetuate a deemed status of adultery as a condition for the granting of absolution and the readmission to Sacramental Communion. But this manner of thinking is not that of Kasper, whose thinking is better understood in virtue terms than in deontic terms. For Kasper – and for Pope Francis – consideration focuses on whether it is possible in phenomenological terms for the subject or subjects to retrieve the prior matrimonial state and – where retrieval is not possible – on whether the lessons from matrimonial failure have been learned and present commitments are toward the building or rebuilding of virtuous living.

Essentially, Kasper proposes not a deontic ethic, but a virtue ethic – with the consequent methodological difference. The focus is not on lawful obligations and the violation of precepts, whether of natural law or of positive law. The focus is on assisting those whose marriages have failed in their movement toward virtuous living that involves assisting such persons in their demonstration of penance and their seeking mercy.

Methodologically, this perspective avoids reasoning from a single system, whether a closed-system sacramental theology or a closed-system deontic ethics. The perspective involves bringing together a variety of perspectives that can generate a response of practical wisdom for a forward-looking furtherance of virtuous living.

A response that calls on a variety of perspectives and eschews a single methodology seriously challenges received perspectives. For those wishing to uphold the status quo, such an approach violates the dominical words, “He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Mark 10:11). For these persons, such a perspective violates the ontological reality of marriage, “and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8). From a status quo position, the conditions for dispensation of sacramental absolution are violated. From the status quo position, the moral conditions for sacramental communion are violated. From the status quo position, the enduring character of sacramental marriage is violated. The reckoning of these violations all proceed syllogistically in the closed-system reasoning that is adopted. And all are largely supported by past declarations of Catholic doctrine and practice. The defence by those against development within the Catholic tradition does not comprehend that consideration of these issues may reasonably involve recourse to perspectives and methodologies other than those already defined in the received teaching and formal practice of the Catholic Church.

What Kasper views as a pastoral application of mercy, his opponents see as heresy and the undermining of Catholic morality. Methodologically, the status quo perspective is a reductive one that arises from a deontic and noetic worldview. I say “reductive”, because the status quo defence expresses a perspective that the whole is the sum of the parts. For them, any compromise on a particular truth of the Gospel is to compromise evangelical truth. Pope Francis – whose perspective is not reductive – has long held a contrary view, as seen in a 1978 talk recently published in English:

[Partisan conflicts]…end up placing greater importance on the parts than on the whole.[5]

A non-reductive and virtue perspective on the issue may simply be incomprehensible to a status quo mentality. For them it may be akin to “2 plus 2 equals 5”. Those who oppose Kasper – and therein oppose Bergoglio – would be astonished at a virtue perspective such as voiced by Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue:

There is an objective moral order, but our perceptions of it are such that we cannot bring rival moral truths into complete harmony with each other, and yet the acknowledgement of the moral order and of moral truth makes [certain kinds of choices] out of the question. For to choose [one precept] does not exempt us from the authority of the claim that I choose against.[6]

In brief, the choice in a particular instance of a “mean” in an Aristotelian sense does not thereby involve denial of an objective moral precept. Using Ratzingerian language, an Aristotelian ethic does not present a “tyranny of relativism”. From a deontic ethics perspective, one precept cannot be set against another, all must be fulfilled. From a virtue ethics perspective, mercy does not stand in contradiction to a precept of marital fidelity. Moral choice involves the reckoning and enacting of a mean that promotes a teleological end. While Kasper – and Bergoglio – have not expressly argued in virtue ethics terms, their opponents fail to understand that neither is moving away from the scriptural teleology “and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:8), nor from the dominical precept, “What God has joined, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).[7]

“What Kasper views as a pastoral application of mercy, his opponents see as heresy and the undermining of Catholic morality”

In brief, the alarm of those who want an unchanged status quo is quite misplaced. It arises from their religious and psychological perspective of faithfulness to the Gospel. It arises from their fear of the weakening of the witness of the Church in the face of relativist cultures where pre-marital sexual relations are common and where marriage practically is “for as long as it works”. It arises from their reductivist understanding of fidelity to the Gospel that requires singular adherence to what are viewed as its constituent parts. This perspective is mistaken, methodologically mistaken.

I would not wish to read from the witness of the gospels that Christ propounded against reductive philosophies and propounded in favour of Aristotelian ethics. But the scriptural record of dominical sayings and discourses clearly witnesses to precepts that do not sit easily in a unitary reductive system. For example, “He who divorces his wife…and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32) and “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13, Hosea 6:6). Neo-Thomism may be taken as a unitary reductive system, and it is versions of neo-Thomism that are challenged in consideration of proposals for admission to Sacramental Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics.

“In brief, the alarm of those who want an unchanged status quo is quite misplaced. It arises from their reductivist understanding of fidelity to the Gospel that requires singular adherence to what are viewed as its constituent parts. This perspective is mistaken, methodologically mistaken”

As seen in the Pope’s address to seminarians of the Pontifical Gregorian University, a Bergoglio word against closed-system thinking may seem a bit trenchant:

The theologian who is satisfied with his complete and conclusive thought is mediocre.[8]

But the sentiments so expressed are akin to those recalled in respect of his seminary years by Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI):

The crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.[9]

Although Ratzinger is a far more refined thinker than Bergoglio, yet methodologically they share certain common perspectives. In neither does one find syllogistic analytical philosophy, nor does one find deontic ethics. Instead one can set alongside each other key quotes such as:

There is a persistent suspicion today, even among wholly Church-minded theologians, that orthodox theology is hopelessly condemned merely to repeat magisterial statements of doctrine and traditional formulae.[10]

The view of the Church’s teaching as a monolith to defended without nuance or different understanding is wrong.[11]

It is from this methodological perspective that Pope Francis speaks of theology in dialogic terms when he calls for “a theology…which is in dialogue with other sciences and human experiences….” (Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, #133). In that Exhortation – to date the only substantive writing of Bergoglio as Pope – “dialogue” is a key word (see, # 31, 133, 137, 142, 165).[12] It is dialogue that is needed if the follow-up Synod is to proceed constructively. Such dialogue calls for a readiness to listen across different methodological paradigms and to converse outside preferred mental sets. This involves some mobility in epistemologies and some flexibility in psychological preferences. Theologians, like philosophers, are often not well practised in thinking outside preferred paradigms. Cross-paradigmatic thought is necessary for understanding and constructive dialogue.


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Footnotes and References


[1] “The Problem of Divorced and Remarried” on 1 March 2014, reportedly praised by the Pope as “profound and serene” theology (http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350729?eng=y).

[2] “Testimony to the Power of Grace”, L’Osservatore Romano of 25 October 2013.

[3] A summary of the Church’s teaching on marriage was presented in an earlier article by the author (http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350864).

[4] Thus the title of his 2014 English publication, Mercy: the essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life.

[5] “A conviction, a clarity, and a desire” [translation of “Una institución que vive su carisma”], in Philip Endean, “Writings on Jesuit Spirituality I by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ”, Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 45/3, Autumn 2013, 14.

[6] After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007) 143.

[7] This is most recently seen in respect of the Pope in the terms of his establishment 27 August 2014 of a Special Study Commission on reform of matrimonial processes that includes in its terms of reference “safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony”, L’Osservatore Romano 26 September 2014, 2.

[8] L’Osservatore Romano, 18 April 2014:13.

[9] Memoires (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998) 44.

[10] Ratzinger, The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995) 95.

[11] Francis I, “A Big Heart Open to God: interview with Pope Francis”, America, 30 September 2013.

[12] See the author’s, http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350762?eng=y

Torture and the Violence of Organized Forgetting

Torture and the Violence of Organized Forgetting

by HENRY GIROUX  Weekend Edition December 12-14, 2014

With the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture, it becomes clear that in the aftermath of the loathsome terrorist attack of 9/11, the United States entered into a new and barbarous stage in its history, one in which acts of violence and moral depravity were not only embraced but celebrated. Certainly, this is not to suggest that the United States had not engaged in criminal and lawless acts historically or committed acts of brutality that would rightly be labeled acts of torture. That much about our history is clear and includes not only the support and participation in acts of indiscriminate violence and torture practiced through and with the right-wing Latin American dictatorships in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil in the 1970s but also through the wilful murder and torture of civilians in Vietnam, Iraq, and later at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and Afghanistan. The United States is no stranger to torture nor is it a free of complicity in aiding other countries notorious for their abuses of human rights. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman reminded us by taking us as far back as 1979 that of the “35 countries using torture on an administrative basis in the late 1970s, 26 were clients of the United States.”[1]

In fact, the United States has a long record of inflicting torture on others, both at home and abroad, although it has never admitted to such acts. Instead, the official response has been to deny this history or do everything to hide such monstrous acts from public view through government censorship, appealing to the state secrecy principle, or deploying a language that buried narratives of extraordinary cruelty in harmless sounding euphemisms. For example, the benign sounding CIA “Phoenix Program” in South Vietnam resulted in the deaths of over 21,000 Vietnamese. As Carl Boggs argues, the acts of U.S. barbarism in Vietnam appeared both unrestrained and never ending, with routinized brutality such as throwing people out of planes labeled as “flying lessons” or “half a helicopter ride,”[2] while tying a field telephone wire around a man’s testicles and ringing it up was a practice called “the Bell Telephone Hour.”[3] Officially sanctioned torture was never discussed as a legitimate concern; but, as indicated by a few well-documented accounts, it seems to be as American as apple pie.[4]

But torture for the United States is not merely a foreign export, it is also part of a long history of domestic terrorism as was evident in the attempts on the part of the FBI, working under a secret program called COINTELPRO, designed to assassinate those considered domestic and foreign enemies.[5] COINTELPRO was about more than spying, it was a legally sanctioned machinery of violence and assassination.[6] In one of the most notorious cases, the FBI worked with the Chicago Police to set up the conditions for the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, two members of the Black Panther Party. Noam Chomsky has called COINTELPRO, which went on from the 50s to the 70s, when it was stopped, “the worst systematic and extended violation of basic civil rights by the federal government,” and “compares with Wilson’s Red Scare.”[7] What characterized these programs of foreign and domestic terrorism was that they were all shrouded in secrecy and allegedly were conducted in the name of democratic rights.

Torture also has a longstanding presence domestically, particularly as part of the brutalized practices that have shaped American chattel slavery through to its most recent “peculiar institution,” the rapidly expanding prison-industrial complex.[8] The racial disparities in American prisons and criminal justice system register the profound injustice of racial discrimination as well as a sordid expression of racist violence. As the novelist Ishmael Reed contends, this is a prison system “that is rotten to the core … where torture and rape are regular occurrences and where in some states the conditions are worse than at Gitmo. California prison hospitals are so bad that they have been declared unconstitutional and a form of torture.”[9] One of the more recently publicized cases of prison torture involved the arrest of a former Chicago police commander, Jon Burge. He was charged with routinely torturing as many as 200 inmates, mostly African Americans, during police interrogations in the 1970s and 1980s, “in order to force them to falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.”[10] One report claims that many of these men were beaten with telephone books and that “cattle prods were used to administer electric shocks to victims’ genitals. They were suffocated, beaten and burned, and had guns forced into their mouths. They faced mock executions with shotguns. … One tactic used was known as ‘the Vietnam treatment,’ presumably started by Burge, a Vietnam veteran.”[11] The filmmaker Deborah Davis has documented a number of incidents in the 1990s that amount to the unequivocal torture of prisoners and has argued that many of the sadistic practices she witnessed taking place in the American prison system were simply exported to Abu Ghraib.

After 9/11, the United States slipped into a moral coma as President Bush and Vice President Cheney worked tirelessly to ensure that the United States would not be constrained by international prohibitions against cruel and inhumane treatment, and they furthered that project not only by making torture, as Mark Danner argues, “a marker of political commitment” but also by constructing a vast secret and illegal apparatus of violence in which, under the cover of national security, alleged “terrorists” could be kidnapped, made to disappear into secret CIA “black sites,” become ghost detainees removed from any vestige of legality, or be secretly abducted and sent to other countries to be tortured. As Jane Mayer puts it,

the lawyers also authorized other previously illegal practices, including the secret capture and indefinite detention of suspects without charges. Simply by designating the suspects “enemy combatants,” the President could suspend the ancient writ of habeas corpus that guarantees a person the right to challenge his imprisonment in front of a fair and independent authority. Once in U.S. custody, the President’s lawyers said, these suspects could be held incommunicado, hidden from their families and international monitors such as the Red Cross, and subjected to unending abuse, so long as it didn’t meet the lawyer’s own definition of torture. And they could be held for the duration of the war against terrorism, a struggle in which victory had never been clearly defined. [12]

The maiming and breaking of bodies and the forms of unimaginable pain inflicted by the Bush administration on so-called “enemy combatants” was no longer seen in violation of either international human rights or a constitutional commitment to democratic ideals. The war on terror had now reduced governance in the United States to a legalized apparatus of terror that mimicked the very violence it was meant to combat. In the aftermath of 9/11, under the leadership of Bush and his close neoconservative band of merry criminal advisors, justice took a leave of absence and the “gloves came off.”   As Mark Danner states, “the United States transformed itself from a country that, officially at least, condemned torture to a country that practised it.”[13] But it did more. Under the Bush-Cheney reign of power, torture was embraced in unprecedented ways through a no holds-barred approach to the war on terror that suggested the administration’s need to exhibit a kind of ethical and psychic hardening-a hyper-masculine, emotional callousness that expressed itself in a warped militaristic mind-set fueled by a high testosterone quotient. State secrecy and war crimes now became the only tributes now paid to democracy.

As Frank Rich once argued and the Senate Intelligence report confirms, “[T]orture was a premeditated policy approved at our government’s highest levels … psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and … in the assessment of reliable sources like the FBI director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.”[14] When the torture memos of 2002 and 2005 were eventually made public by the Obama administration, clearly implicating the Bush-Cheney regime in torture, they revealed that the United States had been turned into a globalized torture state.[15] Conservative columnist, Andrew Sullivan, went so far as to claim that “If you want to know how democracies die, read these memos.”[16] The memos, written by government lawyers John Yoo, Steven Bradbury, and Jay Bybee, allowed the CIA under the Bush administration to torture Al Qaeda detainees held at Guantánamo and other secret detention centers around the world. They also offered detailed instructions on how to implement ten techniques prohibited in the Army Field Manual, including facial slaps, “use of a plastic neck collar to slam suspects into a specially-built wall,”[17] sleep deprivation, cramped confinement in small boxes, use of insects in confined boxes, stress positions, and waterboarding. All of this and more are now documented in the Senate report. In fact, the report claims that current disclosures about the practice of torture used by the CIA were more brutal and less effective than previously reported.

Waterboarding, which has been condemned by democracies all over the world, consists of the individual being “bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner [and] produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic.’”[18] The highly detailed, amoral nature in which these abuses were first defined and endorsed by lawyers from the Office of Legal Council was not only chilling but also reminiscent of the harsh and ethically deprived instrumentalism used by those technicians of death in criminal states such as Nazi Germany. Andy Worthington suggests that there is more than a hint of brutalization and dehumanization in the language used by the OLC’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Steven G. Bradbury, who wrote a detailed memo recommending:

“nudity, dietary manipulation and sleep deprivation”—now revealed explicitly as not just keeping a prisoner awake, but hanging him, naked except for a diaper, by a chain attached to shackles around his wrists—[as,] essentially, techniques that produce insignificant and transient discomfort. We are, for example, breezily told that caloric intake “will always be set at or above 1,000 kcal/day,” and are encouraged to compare this enforced starvation with “several commercial weight-loss programs in the United States which involve similar or even greater reductions in calorific intake” … and when it comes to waterboarding, Bradbury clinically confirms that it can be used 12 times a day over five days in a period of a month—a total of 60 times for a technique that is so horrible that one application is supposed to have even the most hardened terrorist literally gagging to tell all.[19]

The New York Times claimed in an editorial “that to read the…four memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.”[20] The editorial was particularly incensed over a passage written by Jay Bybee, who was an Assistant Attorney General in the Bush administration at the time. As the Times then pointed out, Bybee “wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.”[21] Bybee’s memo is particularly disturbing, even repugnant, in its disregard for human rights, human dignity, and democratic values, not only describing how the mechanics of waterboarding should be implemented but also providing detailed analysis for introducing insects into confined boxes that held suspected terrorist prisoners. In light of mounting criticism, Bybee both defended his support of such severe interrogation tactics and further argued that “the americas-ed-deficit-300x449memorandums represented ‘a good faith analysis of the law’ that properly defined the thin line between harsh treatment and torture.”[22] Indeed, it seems that Bybee should have looked carefully at the following judgment pronounced by the American court in Nuremberg to the lawyers and jurists who rewrote the law for the Nazi regime: “You destroyed law and justice in Germany utilizing the empty forms of the legal process.”[23] As brutal as the revelations revealed in the memos proved to be, the Senate report on torture goes even further documenting the millions of dollars spent on black sites, the amateurish qualifications of people to even conduct interrogations, the complicity of unqualified psychologists who milked the government for $81 million to develop torture techniques, and the endless lies produced by both the CIA and the Bush-Cheney administration regarding everything from the use of secret prisons established all over the world to the false claims that the use of torture was responsible for providing information that led to the finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden by members of the NAVY SEALs.[24] The report also stated that far more people were waterboarded than was first disclosed and that the sessions amounted to extreme acts of cruelty. Some members of the CIA choked up over the cruel nature of the interrogations and send memos to Langley calling their legality into question, but were told by higher officials to continue with the practice. In fact, the interrogations were considered so inhumane and cruel by some CIA officers that they threatened to transfer to other departments if the brutal interrogations continued.

The United States was condemned all over the world for its support of torture and that condemnation, hopefully, will take place once again in light of the report. Fortunately, President Obama when he came to office outlawed the most egregious acts practiced by the professional torturers of the Bush-Cheney regime. Yet undercurrents of authoritarianism die hard in the circles of unaccountable power. The Senate report makes clear that the CIA engaged in lies, distortions, and horrendous violations of human rights, including waterboarding and other sordid practices. The report also reveals that the CIA used monstrous methods such as forced rectal feeding, dragging hooded detainees “up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched” and threatening to kill or rape family members of the prisoners.

In spite of the appalling evidence presented by the report, members s of the old Bush crowd, including former Vice-President Cheney, former CIA directors, George J. Tenet and Michael V. Hayden, and an endless number of prominent Republican Party politicians are still defending their use of torture or, as they euphemistically contend, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The psychopathic undercurrent and the authoritarian impulse of such reactions finds its most instructive expression in former Bush communications chief Nicolle Wallace who while appearing on the “Morning Joe” show screeched in response to the revelations of the Senate Intelligence report “I don’t care what we did.” As Elias Isquith, a writer for Salon, contends, as “grotesque as that was, though, the really scary part was [the implication that] waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and sexual assault is part of what makes ‘America ‘great.’”[25] Wallace’s comments are more than morally repugnant. Wallace embodies the stance of so many other war criminals who were either indifferent to the massive suffering and deaths they caused or actually took pride in their actions. They are the bureaucrats whose thoughtlessness and moral depravity Hannah Arendt identified as the rear guard of totalitarianism.

Illegal legalities, moral depravity, and mad violence are now wrapped in the vocabulary of Orwellian doublethink. For instance, the rhetorical gymnastics used by the torture squad are designed to make the American public believe that if you refer to torture by some seemingly innocuous name then the pain and suffering it causes will suddenly disappear. The latter represents not just the discourse of magical thinking but a refusal to recognize that “If cruelty is the worst thing that humans do to each other, torture [is] the most extreme expression of human cruelty.”[26] These apostles of torture are politicians who thrive in some sick zone of political and social abandonment, and who unapologetically further acts of barbarism, fear, willful lies, and moral depravity. They are the new totalitarians who hate democracy, embrace a punishing state, and believe that politics is mostly an extension of war. They are the thoughtless gangsters reminiscent of the monsters who made fascism possible at another time in history. For them, torture is an instrument of fear; one sordid strategy and element in a war on terror that attempts to expand governmental power and put into play a vast (il)legal and repressive apparatus that expands the field of violence and the technologies, knowledge, and institutions central to fighting the all-encompassing war on terror. Americans now live under a government in which the doctrine of permanent warfare is legitimated through a state of emergency deeply rooted in a mass psychology of violence and culture of cruelty that are essential to transforming a government of laws into a regime of lawlessness.

Once the authoritarian side of political governance takes hold, it is hard to eradicate. Power is addictive, especially when it is reckless and offers personal rewards from those who have capital, benefit from human misery, and are more than willing to reward politicians who follow the corporate script. Witness the support by a number of Republicans who still support the practice of torture and deny the legitimacy of the Senate report. Ignoring that torture is an element of power that is built on what can be rightly termed a willed amorality, they attack the Senate report not for its content but because they believe its release will anger the alleged enemies of the United States, as if that hasn’t already been done through a range of savage military practices or diplomatic acts. Or they argue that the Senate report is simply an attempt to embarrass the Bush-Cheney administration.
Civility has not been the strong point of a party that is overtly racist, hates immigrants, shuts down the government, and caters to every whim of the financial elite. Moreover, we don’t alienate our enemies, we create them by threatening to bomb them, encircle them with nuclear weapons, demonizing Muslims, torturing them, and killing them through indiscriminate drone strikes that mostly kill civilians. Principles are not being defended in these arguments only the kind of raw, naked power that has come to mark authoritarian regimes. It gets worse. The defenders of the globalized torture state are not simply confused or morally damaged; they are wedded to a finance state and the corporate machinery of social, cultural, and political violence that will provide them with lucrative jobs once they finish the bidding of defense contractors and other elements of the finance and warfare state.

To his credit, Arizona Senator John McCain, himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War, broke with the moral dinosaurs in his party and in defending the release of the Senate report, insisted that the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush-Cheney years “stained our national honor, did much harm, and little practical good.” Most of his colleagues disagree and are now arguing that in spite of the evidence, torture produced actionable intelligence and helped to save lives, a claim the Senate report strongly negates. Once again, empirical utility trumps the levers of justice and the principles of human rights as moral considerations give way to a kind of ghastly death-embracing dance with a debased instrumental rationality.

Not only has the United States lost its moral compass, it has degenerated into a state of political darkness reminiscent of older dictatorships that maimed human bodies and inflicted unspeakable acts of violence on the innocent, while embracing a mad war-like utility and pragmatism in order to remove themselves from any sense of justice, compassion, and reason. This is the formative culture not simply of a society that is ethically lost, but one that produces a society that willingly becomes complicitous with the savage ethos and beliefs of an updated totalitarianism. The Senate report has brought one of the darkest sides of humanity to light and it has sparked a predictable outrage and public condemnation. Thus far, little has been said about either the conditions that made this journey into the dark side possible, or what moral, political, and educational absences had to occur in the collective psyche of both the American public and government that not only sanctioned torture but allowed it to happen? What made it so easy for the barbarians not only to implement acts of torture but to openly defend such practices as a sanctioned government policy?

With the release of the report, the supine American press finally has to acknowledge that the U.S. had joined with other totalitarian countries of the past in committing atrocities completely alien to any functioning democracy. America is no longer even a weak democracy. The lie is now more visible than ever. Nonetheless, the usual crowd of politicians, pundits, and mainstream media not only have little to say about the history of torture committed by the United States at home and abroad, but also about their own silence, if not complicity, in this dark side of American history. The possibility of a politically and morally charged critique has turned into a cowardly and evasive debate around questions such as: Does torture produce terrorist acts from taking place? Is waterboarding really an act of torture? Is torture justified in the face of extremist attacks on the United States? Is the CIA being scapegoated for actions promoted by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld crowd? And so it goes. These are the wrong questions and reveal the toxic complicity the mainstream press has had all along with such anti-democratic practices. War crimes should not be debated; they should be condemned without qualification.

In an incredible act of bad faith, those responsible for state sanctioned acts of torture are now interviewed by the mainstream media and presented, if not portrayed, as reasonable men with honorable intentions. Rather than being condemned as agents of a totalitarian state and as war criminals who should be prosecuted, those who both gave the orders to torture and those who carried out such inhuman practices are treated as one side of a debate team, anxious to get the real story out in order to provide the other side of the narrative. There is more than a hint of moral depravity here; there is also what I have called elsewhere the violence of organized forgetting. Torture is not about the cowardly appeal to balance. The only reasonable approach any democracy can take towards torture is to condemn it.

For a society to treat torture as a reasonable practice worthy of informed debate reveals a cancer deeply embedded in the American social and political psyche, partly produced by the carcinogenic culture of the mainstream media, the spectacle of violence, and unchecked militarism of American society, and those commanding cultural apparatuses that believe that the only value that matters is rooted in acts of commerce and the accumulation of capital at any cost. Ideas matter, education matters, morality matters, and justice matters in a democracy. People who hold power in America should be held accountable for what the actions they take, especially when they violate all decent standards of human rights.

Maybe it is time to treat the Senate torture report as just one register of a series of crimes being committed under the regime of a savage neoliberalism. After all, an economic policy that views ethics as a liability, disdains the public good, and enshrines self-interest as the highest of virtues provides a petri dish not just for state sanctioned torture abroad but also for a range of lawless and cruel policies at home. Maybe it’s time to connect the dots between the government’s use of waterboarding and a history that includes the killing of Black Panther, Fred Hampton by the Chicago police, the illegal existence of COINTELPRO, the savage brutality of the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, the rise of the post-Orwellian surveillance state, the militarization of the local police, the transformation of underserved American cities into war zones, the creation of Obama’s kill list, the use of drones that indiscriminately execute people, and the recent killing of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of militarized police force that now acts with impunity.[27]

Is it not reasonable to argue that the lawlessness that creates the torture state and provides immunity for killer cops also provides protection for those in the government and CIA who put into play the tentacles of the globalized torture state? Is it too far-fetched to argue that Eric Garner’s utterance, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” is a reminder of the many foreign nationals under the control of the torture state who might have uttered the same words as they were being tortured? Connect these dots and there is more at play here than retreat into a facile high moralism that condemns torture as a “stain on our values.” Instead, what becomes evident is that torture has become symptomatic of something much larger than an errant plunge into immorality and lawlessness and begins to reveal a more systemic rush into what Robert Jay Lifton has described as “a death-saturated age”[28] in which matters of violence, survival, and trauma inescapably bear down on daily experience while pushing the United States into the dark recesses of a new authoritarianism. The Senate report reveals only one moment in an endless upsurge of lawlessness that has come to characterize the United States’ long, slow plunge into totalitarianism. Americans now inhabit a society where the delete button holds sway and the ethical imagination withers. And what are being erased are not only any vestige of a sense of commitment, but public and historical memory and the foundations of any viable notion of justice, equality, and accountability. That is the story that needs to be told.

There is another story to be told about another kind of torture, one that is more capacious and seemingly more abstract but just as deadly in its destruction of human life, justice, and democracy. This is a mode of torture that resembles the “mind virus” mentioned in the Senate report, one that induces fear, paralysis, and produces the toxic formative culture that characterizes the reign of neoliberalism.   Isolation, privatization, and the cold logic of instrumental rationality have created a new kind of social formation and social order in which it becomes difficult to form communal bonds, deep connections, a sense of intimacy, and long term commitments. Neoliberalism has created a society of monsters for whom pain and suffering are viewed as entertainment or deserving of scorn, warfare is a permanent state of existence, torture becomes a matter of expediency, and militarism is celebrated as the most powerful mediator of human relationships.

Under the reign of neoliberalism, politics has taken an exit from ethics and thus the issue of social costs is divorced from any form of intervention in the world. This is the ideological metrics of political zombies. The key word here is atomization and it is the curse of both neoliberal societies and democracy itself. A radical democracy demands a notion of educated hope capable of energizing a generation of young people and others who connect the torture state to the violence and criminality of an economic system that celebrates its own depravities. It demands a social movement unwilling to abide by technological fixes or cheap reforms. It demands a new politics for which the word revolution means going to the root of the problem and addressing it non-violently with dignity, civic courage, and the refusal to accept a future that mimics the present. Torture is not just a matter of policy, it is a deadening mindset, a point of identification, a form of moral paralysis, a war crime, an element of the spectacle of violence, and it must be challenged in all of its dreadful registers.  (source)

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013) and Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014). His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.


[1] Cited in Edward S. Herman, “Folks Out There Have a ‘Distaste of Western Civilization and Cultural Values’,” Center for Research on Globalization (September 15, 2001). Online at: ,http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/HER109A.html

[2]. Carl Boggs supplies an excellent commentary on the historical amnesia in the U.S. media surrounding the legacy of torture promoted by the United States. See Carl Boggs, “Torture: An American Legacy,” CounterPunch.org (June 17, 2009). Online at: http://www.counterpunch.org/boggs06172009.html.

[3]. Ibid.

[4]. There are many valuable sources that document this history. Some exemplary texts include: A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors: The Truth About U.S. Police Operations in Latin America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1979); Gordon Thomas, Journey Into Madness: The True Story of Secret CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse (New York: Bantam, 1989); Danner, Torture and Truth; Jennifer K. Harbury, Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture (Boston: Beacon Press, 2005); Alfred McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006); and Rejali, Torture and Democracy. See also Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (New York: Doubleday, 2008); and Phillipe Sands, Torture Team (London: Penguin, 2009). On the torture of children, see Michael Haas, George W. Bush, War Criminal?: The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes (Westport: Praeger, 2009). Also, see Henry A. Giroux, Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Boulder: Paradigm, 2010).

[5] Amy Goodman, “From COINTELPRO to Snowden, the FBI Burglars Speak Out after 43 Years of Silence (Part 2),” Democracy Now! (January 8, 2014). Online:


[6] For an excellent source, see Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars against Dissent in the United States (Boston: South End Press, 2001). Also see The People’s History of the CIA. Online: http://www.thepeopleshistory.net/2013/07/cointelpro-fbis-war-on-us-citizens.html.

[7] Chomsky quoted in Amy Goodman, “From COINTELPRO to Snowden, the FBI Burglars Speak Out after 43 Years of Silence (Part 2).” Online: http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/1/8/from_cointelpro_to_snowden_the_fbi

[8]. See, for example, Angela Y. Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005); and Loic Wacquant, Punishing the Poor (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009).

[9]. Ishmael Reed, “How Henry Louis Gates Got Ordained as the Nation’s ‘Leading Black Intellectual,’” Black Agenda Report (July 27, 2009). Online at: http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/how-henry-louis-gates-got-ordained-nations-leading-black-intellectual.

[10]. Pepe Lozano, “Chicago Torture Probe Draws Worldwide Attention,” Political Affairs Magazine (July 6, 2006). Online at: http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/view/3770/1/196/. See also Susan Saulny, “Ex-Officer Linked to Brutality Is Arrested,” New York Times (October 22, 2008). Online at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/us/22chicago.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss.

[11]. Lozano, ibid.

[12]. Mayer, The Dark Side, p. 8.

[13]. Mark Danner, “US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites,” New York Review of Books, Vol. 56, No. 6 (April 9, 2009), p. 77.

[14]. Frank Rich, “The Banality of Bush White House Evil,” New York Times (April 26, 2009), p. WK14.

[15]. The torture memos can be found at the American Civil Liberties Union website. Online at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/olc_memos.html.

[16]. Andrew Sullivan, “The Bigger Picture,” The Daily Dish (April 17, 2009). Online at: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/04/the-bigger-picture.html.

[17]. Ewen MacAskill, “Obama Releases Bush Torture Memos: Insects, Sleep Deprivation and Waterboarding among Approved Techniques by the Bush Administration,” The Guardian (April 16, 2009). Online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/16/torture-memos-bush-administration.

[18]. Ibid.

[19]. Andy Worthington, “Five Terrible Truths About the CIA Torture Memos,” Future of Freedom Foundation (April 22, 2009). Online at: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/04/22-6.

[20]. Editorial, “The Torturers’ Manifesto,” New York Times (April 19, 2009), p. WK9.

[21]. Ibid.

[22]. Bybee cited in Neil A. Lewis, “Official Defends Signing Interrogation Memos,” New York Times (April 29, 2009), p. A12.

[23]. Thomas C. Hilde, “Introduction,” in On Torture, ed. Thomas C. Hilde (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2008), p. 141.

[24] Mark Mazzetti, “Panel Faults C.I.A. Over Brutality and Deceit in Terrorism Interrogations,” New York Times (December 9, 2014). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/world/senate-intelligence-committee-cia-torture-report.html.

[25] Error! Main Document Only.Elias Isquith, “‘I don’t care what we did’: What Nicolle Wallace’s rant reveals about America’s torture problem,” Salon (December 9, 2012). Online: http://www.salon.com/2014/12/09/i_dont_care_what_we_did_what_nicolle_wallaces_rant_reveals_about_americas_torture_problem/

[26] Thomas C. Hilde, “Introduction,” in On Torture, ed. Thomas C. Hilde (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2008), p. 1.

[27] See, for one example of this type of analysis, Error! Main Document Only.Chauncey DeVega, “The Culture of Cruelty is International: From Lynchings to Eric Garner and the CIA Torture Report,” We Are Respectable Negroes (December 10, 2014). Online: http://www.chaunceydevega.com/2014/12/the-culture-of-cruelty-is-international.html

[28] Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), p. 479




Homosexuals in India

Bring homosexuals in from the cold

Family Synod needs to address the issue fully – and compassionately


by Virginia Saldanha, Mumbai India   26 Aug 2014

From responses to several hundred questionnaires circulated in preparation for the Family Synod in October 2014, one question stood out, “what is the attitude in your diocese/parish/community toward same sex marriage? The response was an overwhelming “not accepted”.

Yes, there is a largely negative attitude among Catholics toward homosexuals. Why are Catholics so strongly homophobic? Is it because we have heard some priests say that homosexuality is sinful so by inference, homosexuals are bad people?

I recall one religious sister involved in the family ministry exclaim with horror, “homosexuality is spreading rapidly in the West, and soon it will spread to Asia”. It sounded like she was talking about an epidemic.

Sections of Church authority imply that homosexuals choose their sexual orientation. Or worse still, feminists are blamed for the ‘problem’. They argue that women have become so liberated that they make poor “wife material”. So women have chosen to shack up together and men prefer to be with other men, making homosexuality so common.

We are taught and believe that there are two genders, the masculine and the feminine. These two genders have been rigidly compartmentalized, with qualities and roles for man and woman. Feminists have asserted that this kind of stereotyping has damaged humans who could have qualities that have been ascribed to the other gender or may want to do something in life that is seen as nontraditional for their gender.

We are well aware of young men driven to suicide because they have been made fun of for being too effeminate, or that ragging in colleges goes so far as to take the life of a young person because he is not aggressive.

Our insensitive and conservative Indian society has ensured that life will be hell for homosexuals who are looked upon as deviants. They dare not reveal their sexuality to their parents who happily arrange marriages for them. The homosexual partner is discovered only when the marriage is not consummated. We have had numerous examples of young nonresident Indians who marry according to the wishes of their parents. When they return to the freedom of Western society, the hapless bride is left alone and bewildered in a foreign country, while the young man continues to live life as he did before his heterosexual marriage. If the girl has courage to go for a divorce she does so, if not they live a lie forced by tradition. This is injustice to both partners.

Homosexuals suffer much because they agonize over their sexuality that is seen as abnormal. They are born that way and do not choose their sexuality. Adolescence can be quite traumatic for these young people; parents who are judgmental only compound their problems.

Today young people have the courage to be honest and open about their sexuality, but we have to be open and sensitive to allow them the freedom to be who they are. A group of lay people from different parts of India who gathered to deliberate on issues they wish to discus at the Synod, hope that the Synod fathers will take note of the reality of homosexuals and show them the understanding and inclusiveness of Jesus to live their life as they were created to be. The group wants “the third gender [to] be respected not only by all Catholics but especially the official Church.”

Jesus was inclusive and welcoming to all so he would not force homosexuals to remain in the closet. Let us hope that the Catholic Church will have the courage to be inclusive like Jesus and Pope Francis and say “who are we to judge”, and allow homosexuals the opportunity to live their lives in freedom and truth.  (source)

Virginia Saldanha is the former executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Office of Laity and a freelance writer and advocate for women’s issues based in Mumbai.

How far can a pope go?

How far can a pope go?

by Jason Barry  11 Dec 2014

Francis is a change agent rivaled by few other figures in power today. Does a reform-driven pope have the power to change doctrine?

4FrancisPope Francis has huge popularity with rank-and-file Catholics who have hungered for a figure to transcend an age of scandal. But the advancing story line of Francis’s papacy is this: how far can a pope go in making reforms against an embedded culture of cardinals and bishops, averse to change?

“Gay clergy many times feel that their gifts as ministers flow from the experience of a homosexual orientation,” is how Father Robert Nugent explained his advocacy for gay Catholics, when I first interviewed him in 1987.

Nugent founded New Ways Ministry with Sister Jeannine Gramick to reconcile gays with a church whose moral teachings ostracized them — and a church with a huge, restive closet of gay priests. In 1999 a Vatican investigation of the priest and nun culminated when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger censured them, ordering them into silence.

Gramick kept speaking out. Nugent, with a masters of divinity from Yale, was more wounded and retreated into the quiet life of a parish priest. He wrote essays including a particularly moving one in Commonweal on the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, whom the Vatican silenced in the 1960s for his writings on evolution. Nugent died Jan. 1, at 76, with Gramick by his side.

How pleased he would have been at seeing his key metaphor — “gifts” —echoed in the Oct. 13 draft report by the Vatican Synod on the Family: “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?”

Media scrutiny of the initial report authored by Archbishop Bruno Forte seized on Francis’ famous remark on gays, “Who am I to judge?”

Nugent would not have been surprised to see Forte’s draft catalyze hard-line conservative bishops: A revised draft, translated from Italian to English, watered domwn “welcoming” to “providing for.”

Every nuance counts when human love is subject to review. Bishops who do not “welcome” gays can “provide” what? Lessons that they heed ancient scripture that condemns same-sex love? Bearing the cross of sexual orientation over which they have no choice?

The Italian version is official, but a final document will emerge from next fall’s sequel synod, subject to Francis’ final word.

How does a teaching church align itself with one of the core human rights issues of the age in which it teaches? A larger question looms: does a reform-driven pope have the power to change doctrinal language?

The teaching church vs. the worshiping church

“The $64,000 question is whether Francis is pushing doctrinal changes,” explains Father Charles Curran, the Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University, a prolific moral theologian, and a realist on the church internal.

“I think it would be very difficult for him personally and institutionally,” Curran said. “We’ve been trying to get them to change on contraception for 50 years.”

In 1968, Curran was a prominent figure challenging Paul VI’s papal letter condemning all forms of birth control. An advisory commission to the pope had voted overwhelmingly in favor of the birth control pill. The fallout against the papal letter made international headlines for months. Polls today show 85 percent of laypeople ignore the church’s position.

It took nearly two decades for payback, but Ratzinger revoked Curran’s license to teach theology at Catholic University of America after a Vatican investigation of his “dissent.” Catholic University operates under a Vatican charter.

Curran lost his tenured post in 1988, and eventually took the position at SMU in Dallas.

“For a pope to say my predecessors were wrong has never been done,” says Curran. “Francis isn’t changing the very specific negative teachings of the church. Instead, he’s not emphasizing them. But the teaching church should reflect the worshiping church. Nobody talks about birth control from the pulpit and everybody practices it. That shows how very difficult it is for them to admit that the teaching was wrong.”

Bishops have become high-profile critics of gay marriage, sometimes spending church funds in opposition to gay marriage ballot initiatives.

As one of the red lines in the culture wars in Europe, North America and Australia, the Catholic hierarchy waged that battle and lost.

Francis recently beatified Paul VI, the step before sainthood, for his distant predecessor’s role in shepherding the reform-minded Second Vatican Council to its resolution in 1965. That same pope was so devastated by the public hostility to his birth control statement that he issued no other encyclical in his final 10 years.

Popes have a history of making mistakes, often embarrassing ones, which a defensive Vatican chooses to forget or ignore.

Gregory XVI, who was pope from 1831-1846, condemned the spread of railroads in Italy. He also condemned Italian nationalism. The railroads, which were built anyway, helped Italy gain a certain national identity.

Why can’t popes admit that earlier popes made mistakes? The doctrine of infallibility applies only when a pope speaks on dogma, absolute religious truth (as opposed to moral teachings) and has only been invoked twice since its 1871 adaptation.

John Paul II praised one of the most notorious pedophiles in church history, Father Marcial Maciel, as “an efficacious guide to youth” and lopped praise on him long after the allegations by ex-seminarians were lodged in Ratzinger’s office in 1998.

As late as 2004, John Paul was still praising Maciel.

Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, ousted Maciel in 2006 and fast-tracked John Paul for sainthood. Francis canonized Paul VI and John Paul II on the same day. All mistakes were forgiven. But are they forgotten?

Saint John Henry Newman, the prolific 19th century English cardinal, wrote a famous essay on the development of doctrine in which he said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

John Paul in his own way advanced the idea of a church subject to revision by making a long line of apologies to Jews, Native Americans, Galileo and many others wronged by the church, in the name of “the purification of historical memory.”

His apologies in pursuit of historical honesty did not include clergy sex abuse victims, gay people or women seeking a role in the priesthood. Toward them he was rigid.

“Evolution just happens and it is not in the control of the institutional church in the end,” Catholic Studies Professor Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University told me.

“Doctrine is always developing. Change is the elephant in the room and always has been. What Francis seems to me to have done is to open the door to show the institutional church leaders struggling to absorb (or not) the message they are getting from the signs of the times.”

Certain issues that divide the Roman Catholic hierarchy, such as accepting divorced Catholics who have remarried without an annulment, are emotionally fraught for church traditionalists. The church of laws stands hard against sins of the world, in their view.

Sandro Magister, a veteran correspondent for the Italian newsweekly L’espresso, has excellent Vatican sources. Magister is a romantic conservative, covering the Vatican as a higher realm of morality, with infighting as you might expect in a great castle. In a recent interview with Rorate Caeli, a traditional Catholic blog, Magister gave voice to the steely view of cardinals and bishops at odds in this papacy’s drama of “to live is to change.”

On the issue that divided the recent Synod of the Family, letting divorced Catholics who remarry receive communion, Magister brooded that such tolerance “will result in the acceptance of second-marriages, and so to the dissolution of the sacramental bond of matrimony.”

He complained further of “another recurring practice of this Pontificate: reprimands to one side and the other. However, if we want to make an inventory, the scoldings aimed at the traditionalists, the legalists and the rigid defenders of doctrine appear to be much more numerous. On the other hand, whenever he has something to say to the progressives you never understand who he is really referring to.”

Francis is a change agent rivaled by few other figures in power today. That is why he stands at the top of various polls of the globe’s most popular figures. He is saying things no one in politics is saying about the injustice of unregulated capitalism and human rights of the world’s poor, while calling his church to search beyond the positions that have divided it since the disastrous 1968 birth control encyclical.

“Francis has electrified the church and attracted legions of non-Catholic admirers by energetically setting a new direction,” Fortune magazine said in March, naming him its most influential person in the world.

“He knows that while revolutionary, his actions so far have mostly reflected a new tone and intentions,” the piece read. “His hardest work lies ahead. And yet signs of a ‘Francis effect’ abound: In a poll in March, one in four Catholics said they’d increased their charitable giving to the poor this year. Of those, 77 percent said it was due in part to the pope.”

The idea that a revolutionary pope is causing more Catholics to give money, after a generation of church scandals that have been a huge embarrassment to believers and caused many younger people to leave, underscores that Francis himself is an idea whose time has come.

He has until October 2015, when the next Synod of Bishops will convene, to decide on such things as the semantics of “welcoming” as opposed to “providing for” gay Catholics. And between now and then, one of the ripping political narratives of the day will continue, as the old guard cardinals push back against a pope many of them wish had never been elected.  (source)

Jason Berry is a GroundTruth religion correspondent and author of Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church.

Ashamed of my Sexuality

I Was Taught To Be Ashamed of my Sexuality

What if my grandmother had never told me at age 3 that the reason my vagina burned and became red when she washed me with a rough washcloth and scented soap was because my vagina was dirty?

ashamedWould I have not felt different my whole life from all the other girls, that I was inherently dirty? Would I have not felt like I had this secret between my legs that was sure to disgust anyone who had to venture down there? What if my grandmother had told me every inch of me was perfectly normal just the way it was?

What if my mother had never told me, in front of my father, that she was glad she wasn’t a man since she wouldn’t want to have to touch a woman down there because “they bleed and are just nasty”?

Would I have been proud to have a period? Would I have been proud that my body could create life, and thus bleed monthly in sync with the ocean tides and the moon? Would I have not felt deep shame and embarrassment in front of my father, and thus all other males thereafter, for what I was? What if my mother had told me that having my period was a rite of passage into womanhood, that it was something to be proud of and celebrate? That women were strong and that’s why men loved them?

What if my mother, whose body I admired as a young girl and hoped to have one day myself, hadn’t told me that [her] large breasts were ugly and veiny, that large breasts are only attractive when clothed?

ashamed2Would I have stood in the mirror every night after I developed my own breasts and thought about how disgusting they were? Would I have felt the need to always cover myself, even in front of my own husband? What if my mother had told me that no matter what my breasts looked like, they would be beautiful? What if she had told me she loved her body? Would I have loved mine too?

What if my father would’ve never told me that he saw girls being groped when he was in high school and that they giggled… and that I should never giggle if a boy ever did that to me?

Nevermind the issues of sexual harassment or blaming the behavior of the victim, what I heard was: Don’t act like you like it when a boy touches you. That is what the voice in the back of my head has told me my whole life, “pretend you don’t like it or you’ll look like a whore and men don’t like whores.” Why did my knees get weak when the boy I liked touched me? What kind of girl did that make me? What if my father had told me it’s a normal and exciting thing to experience sexual relations with a person of my choosing when I was older? What if he had known that his example and love for me alone was all I needed to grow into a healthy woman with respect for herself? What if I had had my father’s blessing to be a sexual human being without fear of losing his respect or love?

What if my sex education instructors hadn’t told me that I was like a rose, and every time I have sex before marriage, I would lose a petal?

Would I have still felt like damaged goods? Would I have still felt like all I had to offer my future husband was my untarnished body? What if they had told me I was like a book, and every experience adds a valuable chapter of lessons and knowledge to my life? Or what if they had just told me how to have sex safely and left the condemning analogies and personal beliefs at the door?

What if I had never been told that premarital sex is damaging, especially to girls because they crave relationships, not sex?

Would I still have felt so confused over my desire to have sex? Why did I not always crave a relationship? Why did I not feel any guilt when I had premarital sex besides the guilt of knowing what my parents/Jesus/youth counselors would think? Why did sex always feel so normal and intimate and fun and not anyone’s business? Why did it always have to be someone’s business other than mine? What if I had been told that women enjoy sex just like men do, and that sex, premarital or not, is a normal thing that people do?

shame3Our culture sends very conflicting messages to girls. They are pure until they aren’t. They are so much more than what their bodies offer, but they aren’t. Their bodies aren’t good enough, but they cause men to fall. It’s OK to look sexy, but not to actually have sex. What we tell our daughters about sexuality, and more importantly how we make them feel about it, will stay with them their entire lives.

For that reason, I believe it’s so important to be mindful of the way we talk to our daughters, nieces, granddaughters and any young girl. I think it’s possible to convey our personal and religious beliefs without the shame and embarrassment. And if you can’t convey your beliefs without shaming a young girl, maybe you should reconsider some of your beliefs.  (source)