Saturday, August 24, 2002

And on the Seventh Day, the Blogger Rested

Now that the Johansen-Dreher debate here about his Wall Street Journal article (which will be available online at OpinionJournal.com on Sunday) is over, I'm taking a day or two off from blogging. I hope Rod is taking a day or two off as well.

For those just coming upon the debate for the first time, go down to Wednesday's blog and then scroll up to follow the back-and-forth of the debate between Rod and myself.

And have a good weekend!


Friday, August 23, 2002

Dreher Talks Back!

When I first invited Rod to respond to my criticisms of his WSJ article, we agreed from the outset that I would comment on his response, and he would have the opportunity to further respond, and there we would close the debate between us on this matter. So here are Rod's "final" words on the subject, repsonding to my blog of this morning:




Fr. Rob:


Thanks again for the opportunity to respond. As we have agreed, this response of mine will be the last exchange between us in this matter. So reader, if Fr. Rob doesn't respond to this post, you mustn't assume it's because he didn't want to!

You wrote:

> But I think it is inaccurate to characterize the Vatican as 'refusing to
> hold bishops accountable.' That diagnosis is accurate only if
> 'accountability' equals removal from office. And I don't think that's
> necessarily so. I think for Rome to tell the Bishops 'you clean up this
> mess you made' is a way of holding them accountable.

I fail to see how that is different from not holding them accountable at all? If it is, then Rome owes us an explanation, instead of leaving you and me and everybody else here to divine their intentions. The record shows that over and over and over again, Church officials, from the chanceries to the Curia, have been told by concerned priests and laymen of terrible abuses, and nothing has been done, or if something was done, it wasn't substantial. And the abuse continued. I am genuinely incapable of understanding how Rome's failure to remove egregiously failed bishops like Law, whose failure has resulted in - and let us be very clear what we are talking about - little boys having their rectums torn by the penises of Christ's priests, among many other abominations, can hardly be read as anything but a failure to respond to the gravity of the crimes. To me, it testifies to a Church hierarchy that is so out of touch with the people it is supposed to serve that it identifies the good of the institution with the preservation of its own class interests. Repairing the situation in Boston is not possible with Bernard Law in the chancery. How is it possible to believe that it is? We need to understand that this thing is not about Bernard Law and his quest for redemption. It is about what the Catholic people in Boston - who are part of the Church too - need and deserve.

> [I]nvoking mystical (or any other kind) of theology is not 'cant'.

The American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) defines cant as: 1. Monotonous talk filled with platitudes. 2. Hypocritically pious language. 3. The special vocabulary peculiar to the members of an underworld group; argot. ... 6. The special terminology understood among the members of a profession, discipline, or class but obscure to the general population; jargon.

I accused you of cant first with respect to your comments about how removing a bad bishop is an "act of violence" to the local and universal Church. I meant to suggest that your sentiments bear little relation to the actual experience on the ground, in Boston or any other diocese where the violence done by these bishops has been real and severe. I don't believe you were being hypocritical or insincere; I do believe very much that your words come from an ivory tower. I don't mean to denigrate mystical theology, but I think it is most inappropriate to invoke it in this particular situation, because it is being employed to justify what I believe to be passivity in the face of evil. It is an outrage that a bishop can remain in office after having committed what could well be felonies, and which are certainly grave moral crimes, because we have to worry about metaphysical guillotines.

I also called "cant" these lines:

> But that may be reason number 6,485 that I am not the Pope, nor ever will be.
> I hope Mr. Dreher and those who agree with him have the humility to admit
> the same.

I stand by my original assertion. These lines strike me as meaningless. OK, so I'm not the Pope. Big deal.

Finally, I called "cant" your assertion that:

> Our obsession with the 'governance' of the Church is almost certainly a sign
> that we are not yet thinking with the mind of Christ in the heart of the Church.
> We will not govern our way out of The Situation. We will only find the way out
> through Christ and His way of the Cross.

I still believe these are pious platitudes you've stated. Of course we have to find our way out through Christ and His way of the Cross. Who disputes that? I dispute your view that proper governing of the Church - that is, holding those ordained to serve Christ and the faithful to accountability, is somehow apart from the Way of the Cross. It is apparent to very many good Catholics that the Way of the Cross does not mean, or should not mean, a lifetime sinecure for Bernard Law, Rodger Mahony and their ilk.

For the record, I believe that it's imperative that the due-process rights of priests are maintained. So does Fr. Tom Doyle, who is second to none in his courageous advocacy of the rights of abuse victims - and it's why Doyle has criticized the Dallas protocols. I have not called on priests to be dismissed without respect for their due process rights.

You write:

>I think to dismiss the Holy Father's lack of 'action' so far as signs of
> indifference or 'not caring' is premature.

It would be, Fr. Rob, if the first the Vatican heard about the scandal in the American Church was January. But they have known about this thing, and known about it in great detail, for at least 17 years. How patient is one expected to be? Do you not understand that the lives and souls of real, flesh-and-blood people are at stake? Does Rome not see that from its vantage point of 30,000 feet? Rome has been told. And told and told and told - and this has been documented (e.g., check out the reporting of such in "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," by Jason Berry, which came out 10 years ago). If you want to see a monument to patience with Rome on the sex abuse question, read the daily papers.


Thanks again for inviting my comments.


R.



Some Reactions and Observations

OK, it's not exactly "first thing" in the morning, but here it is anyway:



Rod:

I have a few comments on your response:

Firstly , a few clarifications of my position are in order. I am not one of those people (if indeed any such exist) who believe that we must "never criticize the Pope" in matters that are not of Faith and Morals. Of course, we have a right and perhaps at times, a duty, to voice our concerns about the Pope's decisions in matters of prudential judgment. Furthermore, I am not articulating the position that Catholics must simply "live with" whatever malfeasance a bishop perpetrates. I don't think what I have written can fairly be construed to mean "God has sent us our bishops, and whatever they do, or fail to do, is to be accepted without protest as His will." The fact is, I raised the specter of deposing bishops back in June on my blog. I recognize that it is an appropriate measure in extreme cases. But such means have never been employed in a widespread fashion as an instrument of Church reform.

Rod, you wrote:

> No, the true violence was done first by the priests who sexually abused the
> powerless, then by the bishops who maintained them in ministry, and/or helped
> the escape the police, and finally by a Vatican that for whatever reason refuses
> to hold these bishops accountable for their actions.

I agree that the violence was first done by the abusers, and perpetuated by enabling bishops. But I think it is inaccurate to characterize the Vatican as "refusing to hold bishops accountable." That diagnosis is accurate only if "accountability" equals removal from office. And I don't think that's neccesarily so. I think for Rome to tell the Bishops "you clean up this mess you made" is a way of trying to hold them accountable. If Rome were to swoop down from on high and provide a "fix" for the problem, how would that keep the responsbility where it belonged? I think the bishops have made a very unpromising start, and they may make a hash of it yet, but Rome is trying to force the bishops who collectively created this disaster to live up to their duty of repairing it. One of the fundamental principles of moral theology is restitution: if one does something wrong, one is obliged to try to repair the situation as far as one is able. That is accountability.

You also wrote:

> I'm sorry, but this is cant.

Actually, you raised this objection several times. But invoking mystical (or any other kind) of theology is not "cant." If we are going to find a Catholic solution to the problem, and I hope you agree that we should be seeking a Catholic solution, then we must think with and through the Tradition. And to denounce those of us who are trying to do so as "invoking mystical abstractions" is unfair and unworthy of you. If my theology is wrong, tell me so, and tell me why. If I'm misreading the Tradition, tell me that, too. But don't dismiss these efforts as cant. We will not properly solve the problem if we don't think it through. As Catholics one of our primary tools for thinking anything through is our theological Tradition.

I am frankly shocked that you could dismiss my statement:

> We will not govern our way out of The Situation. We will only find the
> way out through Christ and His way of the Cross.

The Cross is the central mystery of our Faith. We must try to look at everything through the Cross, as there is nothing which is not subject to and redeemed by the Cross. To reform the Church we must think with the mind and in the heart of the Church. And that's not "cant".

You wrote:

> Good Catholic mothers and fathers will not sacrifice their children
> upon the altar of clericalism.

You are correct: they neither will, nor should they. But let us be clear about what clericalism is and is not. As I have written before on this blog, bishops covering up priest-abusers is a symptom of clericalism. But to demand that priest-abusers receive no more and no less than justice is not clericalism. To insist that the right of the accused to due process be respected is not clericalism. And don't reply that "of course, everyone understands that." Judging from some of the comments and e-mail I've seen, some people seem to have little trouble dismissing a priest's right to due process in the name of "protecting the children". And to call upon you and other faithful Catholics to try to think with the Tradition is not clericalism, either.

Rod, I agree with you that some of our bishops deserve to be removed. And it may yet happen that some of them will be. You and I and other "Vatican watchers" think that sometime soon, probably shortly after the Romans return from the August vacanza, the Holy See will send the Dallas norms back to the bishops and tell them to get it right. That will be a pretty swift response: three or four months. I would also see that as Rome beginning to hold the bishops' feet to the fire. I think to dismiss the Holy Father's lack of "action" so far as signs of indifference or "not caring" is premature.

I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned the principle of subsidiarity: that decision-making and authority, and accountability, be devolved to the level closest to the people affected. Rome is trying to respect that principle, and in doing so she is thinking with the tradition. It may yet happen, and frankly, I expect, that the bishops will prove themselves incapable of dealing with The Situation. But it would not be holding them properly accountable for Rome not to force them to apply themselves to the problem.

You are correct in pointing out that this problem has been festering for a number of years. But I think that, far from demanding precipitate action, the long-standing nature of the problem necessitates a thorough, deliberate response. And I hope you will admit that removing some bishops will not constitute such a thorough response. Let's say the Pope does remove some bishops, then what? I think it would be best to have good answers to that question before proceeding with the purge.

Thank you for your thoughts on this issue. I appreciate your investment of time and your love for our Church. I'll be interested to read what further observations you may have.


Thursday, August 22, 2002

Relax! Breathe!

Say a prayer (or two).

Then go and read Gerard Serafin's blog for some reflections from Newman and De Lubac which, I hope, will temper all of our arguments about our hapless bishops.

Then go and read this essay by Dave Armstrong, "Why Doesn't Pope John Paul II DO Something About the Modernist Dissenters in the Catholic Church?". While it doesn't directly address The Situation and subsequent episcopal bungling, I think you'll see it has relevance for our discussion. I don't agree with every element of the author's argument, but I think he offers some insightful analysis. I'd go so far as to say it's must reading for those interested in this ongoing debate. Thanks to one of Gerard's readers for pointing out this essay.

I've been following the debate, and am preparing some additional comments in response to Rod's remarks, and your comments below. I'll have it up either later tonight or first thing tomorrow morning.


Rod Dreher Responds

I invited Rod Dreher, the author of the WSJ article I blogged on below, to respond to my criticisms, and he graciously agreed to do so.

He apparently burned the midnight oil to do so, as he sent his response to me at about 1:00 AM. Another night owl (like me)!

I apologize for the delay in getting this up, but this is my day off, and I'm not exactly keeping a schedule today...

I will have some comments and observations about Rod's response later today, but for now I'll just let you read what he had to say:




Fr. Rob, I appreciate the opportunity to respond this way.

You wrote:

>Bishops are rarely deposed because to do so is to cut off the head of the local
>Church. To cut off a man's head, no matter how enfeebled or diseased, is to kill
>the man. I realize that the analogy limps here, because deposing a bishop does
>not "kill" the local Church. But it is an act of violence, and it does damage
>not only to the local, but to the universal Church. The only justification for
>doing so is the judgment that the damage done by the removal of the bishop is
>less than that done by keeping him. And that is a prudential judgment.



I'm sorry, but this is cant. How, outside of the rarefied world of mystical theology, does removing a calamitously failed bishop like Bernard Law do violence to the Church, local or universal? I think rather the opposite is happening. Removing a bishop is not to be undertaken lightly, of course, but please understand what the worst bishops in the U.S. Church have done. Time and time again, they recycled priests who rape children and minors through parishes, where they preyed on more children, particularly the children of the poor. Some have lied in public, and even, I firmly believe, have perjured themselves. Some have sought to intimidate victims and their families by siccing private investigators on them. All this and much more. The Catholic people in dioceses across the country, first among the Boston, have had to come to grips with the ugly fact that their Church is headed locally by a self-protective clerical mafia -- and that there is no relief to be expected from Rome, which apparently identifies the interests of the Church locally and universally with the narrow interests of the clerical class. The moral authority of the Church in Boston, and increasingly everywhere in this country, has been evacuated by Rome's failure to remove corrupt bishops. It is becoming perfectly clear to all who have eyes to see that there's a deep sickness in the hierarchy of the Church, and Rome's blindness to this only deepens the crisis.

No, the true violence was done first by the priests who sexually abused the powerless, then by the bishops who maintained them in ministry, and/or helped the escape the police, and finally by a Vatican that for whatever reason refuses to hold these bishops accountable for their actions. The judgments Rome has made to this point in this scandal are horribly wrong.

>It is erroneous to look at the Pope's actions and diagnose them as a "failure"
>to govern. The Pope, in this situation, has made a particular prudential
>judgment. The fact that we do not like that judgment does not mean that the
>Church isn't being governed.

Well, this is a dispute over terminology. The Church is being and has been governed passively by John Paul, which is tantamount to no governance at all.

>But that may be reason number 6,485 that I am not the Pope, nor ever will be. I
>hope Mr. Dreher and those who agree with him have the humility to admit the
>same.

More cant. Of course you're not the Pope. Neither am I. What does that have to do with anything? Can only a Pope pass judgment on a Pope's managerial style?

>In his WSJ article, Dreher writes "John Paul must bear partial responsibility
>for the catastrophe that has befallen us." I hope that Mr. Dreher does not think
>that Pope John Paul is not profoundly aware of that fact.

Mr. Dreher doesn't know John Paul's mind, and neither does Fr. Johansen. All we can do is go by what we can observe. I believe evidence shows John Paul to be a man of deep faith and boundless compassion. Sadly and perplexingly, I see no evidence of that in the way he has responded to the cries of the victims in this clergy sex-abuse scandal, which has been with us, at least publicly, for almost 20 years now. I cannot square the John Paul I know and love with the John Paul who permits such evil to take place by not demanding and enforcing accountability on the bishops who have betrayed him and the People of God in such unspeakable ways. It is not enough to say, "Well, he must have his reasons." I'm sure it must break his heart to see what's going on, but as C.S. Lewis observed, "A long face is not a moral disinfectant."

>Our obsession with the "governance" of the Church is almost certainly a sign
>that we are not yet thinking with the mind of Christ in the heart of the Church.
>We will not govern our way out of The Situation. We will only find the way out
>through Christ and His way of the Cross.

Still more cant! What can you possibly mean by this, Fr. Rob? What about the mind of the Christ who prescribed millstones for those who harmed children, and who drove moneychangers out of the Temple they desecrated? I don't know why you draw a distinction between right governing of the Church and devotion to Christ. It is all of a piece, or should be. The solution is not more rules, I agree. The canons were already in place to have prevented this catastrophe; they were widely ignored by bishops, who rightly figured that there would be no consequences from Rome for allowing these things to slide.

I am grateful for the press and the secular authorities for beginning to put a stop to the evil exploitation of children and minors by elements of the Catholic clergy and their bishops. And it's pathetic, a humiliation to all us Catholics, that Church authorities didn't do it first. It seems pretty clear to me that the terrible Cross the Church is suffering now could have been mitigated if bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, had been willing to endure countless tiny crosses, such as removing pederast priests or whitewashing bishops from office when it became apparent what they were. But that didn't happen. And here we are.

A general comment: the overall impression I get -- and please correct me if I've misunderstood you -- from the position that you and Tom Hoopes take is that the laity has no business questioning its ecclesiastical betters. That God has sent us our bishops, and whatever they do, or fail to do, is to be accepted without protest as His will. To stand up and say, "Hey, I'm tired of having a bishop who tolerates pedophile priests, and lies about it in public; we don't deserve this!" -- to say that is to deny Christ at some level. The implication of this is that the victims at some level deserved what they got; after all, it was God's will, because Bishop X. knew what Fr. Y. was doing, and allowed him to continue. You should realize that this is precisely what many abusive priests told their child victims: Don't tell, or you'll make God mad and go to Hell." Is there any wonder that victims feel victimized again?

I tell you, Father, if y'all keep this business up of talking down loyal orthodox Catholics who protest in good faith the way the Pope and the bishops have handled this, by saying that we're "not thinking with Tradition," and so forth, you're going to convince people that you're right. They will think: Does Catholic tradition require my silence and acquiescence in the face of evil like child rape? How could the Church of Jesus Christ make such a wicked demand of me? Maybe the Catholic Church isn't what it claims to be at all. Maybe the Orthodox, or the Protestants, are right. And then we lose them.

I ask you to consider that you cannot have the kind of stories that we've had for the past eight months, and which we are going to be getting for the foreseeable future, without calling up a terrible reaction from good Catholics. Invoking mystical abstractions to counter revelations of priests committing grotesquely cruel forms of sexual abuse will mean less than nothing. Good Catholic mothers and fathers will not sacrifice their children upon the altar of clericalism. I commend to you and St. Blogs the final analysis historian Barbara Tuchman gave, in The March of Folly, summing up why the folly of six Renaissance popes led to the Reformation. I think there are lessons there for us all:

The folly of the popes was not pursuit of counter-productive policy so much as rejection of any steady or coherent policy either political or religious that would have improved their situation or arrested the rising discontent. Disregard of the movements and sentiments developing around them was a primary folly. They were deaf to disaffeciton, blind to the alternative ideas it gave rise to, blandly impervious to challenge, unconcerned by the dismay at their misconduct and the rising wrath at their misgovernment, fixed in refusal to change, almost stupidly stubborn in maintaining a corrupt existing system. They could not change it because they were part of it, grew out of it, depended on it. ...Their [the six popes] three outstanding attitudes -- obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents, primacy of self-aggrandizement, illusion of invulnerable status -- are persistent aspects of folly.

Is this the "Tradition" you and Tom, and those who reject my viewpoint as insufficiently Catholic, insist that we all think with? I fear it is.

In any case, my words have been tough, but charitable I hope, and I appreciate you lending me your blog to respond to your tough but charitable attack on my position.

R.


Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Has the Pope "Let Us Down"?

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece by National Review columnist Rod Dreher titled "The Pope Let Us Down". In it Mr. Dreher criticizes Pope John Paul II for his decision (so far) to leave bishops like Cardinal Law, who have made the the Church's repsonse to The Situation such a cock-up, in office. He asserts that nothing less than swift action by the Pope will restore the moral credibility of the Papacy and the Church.

Quite a discussion has erupted about this article on Mark Shea's blog. Mark has posted a letter by Tom Hoopes of the National Catholic Register taking Dreher to task. I'll let you go to commnets section of Mark's post to read the debate, but it seems to me that Hoopes makes a telling point, unanswered by Dreher, which illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Catholic ecclesiology.

Hoopes writes:

The Church has never functioned in the way he wishes JPII would run it. Not in the times of the Cristological heresies, when the Church lived in another practical schism. Not before the Reformation. Not after Trent. Not at Vatican I, either, Lord knows (dissenting bishops stayed in place even as they renounced Papal infallibility). Lord knows it wasn't that way in the 1950s. It's incredibly naive to expect JPII to be able to do the impossible. The Pope isn't the police chief, he's the Vicar of Christ.

Hoopes is right when he points out that there is no precedent or tradition in the church for governance along the lines that Dreher seems to prefer: Tradition-minded Catholics have wondered and lamented for years now "why does the Pope leave [insert name(s) of bad bishop(s) here] in office? Why doesn't he remove him [them]? The short answer is that such an approach is not Catholic. The longer answer is that the episcopacy is not a job, it is a vocation and charism, and it is a cross. I fear that Mr. Dreher, and those who agree with him, are falling under the spell of the Church-as-Corporation model. The bishops are not mid-level executives carrying out the directives of headquarters (Rome). They are not replaceable in the sense that a CEO would replace one of his managers who was performing poorly. The Church is a communion, and just as we are in communion with the bishops, so they are in communion with us. The bishop is configured to Christ as the Head of the Church, and we must be vivdly aware that we are not speaking metaphorically here. We really are Christ's Body, and our bishops really stand in persona Christi as our head. Bishops are rarely deposed because to do so is to cut off the head of the local Church. To cut off a man's head, no matter how enfeebled or diseased, is to kill the man. I realize that the analogy limps here, because deposing a bishop does not "kill" the local Church. But it is an act of violence, and it does damage not only to the local, but to the universal Church. The only justification for doing so is the judgment that the damage done by the removal of the bishop is less than that done by keeping him. And that is a prudential jugdment.

Mr. Dreher said, in his remarks in Mark Shea's comments section, that his complaint is with the way our church is being governed. I hope not, because if that is the case he has aligned himself with VOTF, We Are Church, and the rest of the AmChurch agitators who wish to make the Catholic Church into something it is not. I imagine, and I hope, that what Mr. Dreher means is that he disagrees with some of the decisions made by JPII in responding to The Situation. It is erroneous to look at the Pope's actions and diagnose them as a "failure" to govern. The Pope, in this situation, has made a particular prudential judgment. The fact that we do not like that judgment does not mean that the Church isn't being governed. The Pope has apparently decided (up till now) to leave bishops like Cardinal Law in place to clean up the messes they have made. Dreher is right in saying that he has a right, and even a duty, to voice his misgivings about that (or any other) judgment. But before he does so, he has a duty to try to examine the situation in the light of the Tradition. And it seems to me that he still has to do some homework there.

I have often been one of those people who wondered "why does the Pope leave so-and-so in office? Why doesn't he remove him?" The answer, often, was " I don't know." But my understanding of the mystical nature of the Church, and the subjection of all things to the Cross of Christ, makes me leery of bloodlettings and purges as solutions to problems. Christ always invites people into communion: he never compels or drives away. It seems to me likely, as Mark Shea suggested in a blog of a couple months ago, that the Pope is looking at this from the spiritual perspective of the Cross, and not from the perspective of "what will people think?"

It may be the case that, if Mr. Dreher were Pope, he would can Law, Mahony, et al. It is certainly the case that if I were Pope, I would have dealt with things differently. I probably would have gratefully accepted Cardinal Law's resignation and demanded those of others. But that may be reason number 6,485 that I am not the Pope, nor ever will be. I hope Mr. Dreher and those who agree with him have the humility to admit the same.

The Situation has brought up from every quarter calls to reform the Church's governance. Those on the "progressive" side demand we scrap Catholic ecclesiology in favor of something more Anglican or Presbyterian. The "conservatives" demand a sort of purge of less-than-faithful elements, with the proverbial cry "let heads roll". Both extremes are wrong: neither is Catholic. I confess that I find it difficult to listen to cries for "reform" coming from complacent upper-middle-class suburbanites who have embraced the World and found it good. I also confess that I find it difficult to listen to demands for purity and holiness coming from other comfortable middle-class Catholics without any concomitant call for personal penance and reparation. I have been quite critical of bishops in my blog and in homilies, etc. That has caused me to have to examine the complacency and accomodation to sin in my own life, and recommit myself to penance and reparation. I had to recognize that if I was going to point the finger of blame, I'd better go to a mirror and do it to myself before I did to the bishops. And I dare say that principle applies to the vast majority of Catholics in the US. As I have said before, we have the bishops and priests we do because that's what most of us wanted. If you are engaging in personal acts of renunciation and penance in reparation for the sins of priest-abusers and knucklehead bishops, then you probably have something to say by way of criticism and suggestion. But if you're not, then go off and say a few rosaries, make a couple of novenas, and fast for couple of days over the next couple of weeks. Then come back and tell us what you think.

In his WSJ article, Dreher writes "John Paul must bear partial responsibility for the catastrophe that has befallen us." I hope that Mr. Dreher does not think that Pope John Paul is not profoundly aware of that fact. The Holy Father is a mystic in the spirit of John of the Cross, and anyone who has read his spiritual writings or has even witnessed him in prayer will recognize that he has shouldered the burden of the Cross, in some sense, for the whole Church. Indeed, his whole pontificate has been an exemplification of the Way of the Cross.

Our obsession with the "governance" of the Church is almost certainly a sign that we are not yet thinking with the mind of Christ in the heart of the Church. We will not govern our way out of The Situation. We will only find the way out through Christ and His way of the Cross.


Monday, August 19, 2002

The Legacy of Martin and Malcom?

Saturday afternooon, in our nation's capital, a rabble of leftist True Believers gathered for a rally (LRR) in support of Slavery Reparations. The rally was not well-reported, perhaps because, in the greater scheme of things, it was not well-attended. Only about 2,000-3,000 demonstrators showed up, which, in Washington demonstration terms, is insignificant. But the insignificance of the reparations movement has not prevented it from gaining a certain degree of acquiescence, if not support, from the establishment left.

Such "luminaries" of the self-appointed black leadership as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have expressed their support for slavery reparations. Advocates of reparations have thrown out figures of 50 to 100 billion dollars, as well as grants of large tracts of land, as starting points for negotiations. And who would supervise how these monies and lands are distributed? Well, ahem, people like Jesse and Al, of course!

Advocates of reparations cloak their arguments in rhetoric about the "stigma" of slavery and the "systemic effects of racism", etc., ad nauseam, but their cause has all the subtelty of a mugging, and about as much moral legitimacy. But the demonstrators tipped their hand about their true motivations when one of the leaders, New York City council member Charles Barron, said, "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, `You can't understand this, it's a black thing,' and then slap him, just for my mental health." So, Mr. Barron's "mental health" requires that he abuse white people. Who, then, I ask, is the racist?

The problem with "reparations" for slavery, as people like economist Walter Williams have pointed out, is that none of the proposed recipients of reparations is, or ever was, a slave, and none of the people from whom the reparations would come is, or ever was, a slave owner. Every former slave or slave owner has been dead for at least 60 years. By the reparations logic, Americans whose ancestors died in World War One should be able to extract settlements from the descendants of Austro-Hungarian Imperial soldiers. The argument is absurd. My family never owned a slave: my forbears all came here long after slavery was abolished. By what logic do I owe reparations? What about recent emigres from Poland or Russia? What "obligation" do they have to pay reparations? All of these questions and problems are ignored by the Reparations muggers because they expect to extract their demands from the government.

And in that we see the true origins of the Reparations movement. Reparations are really a new cover for the old redistributionist-socialist agenda. The failure of socialism and the obviously corrosive effect of redistributionist schemes has not deterred those who are desirous of lining their nests with feathers plucked from others. The champions of reparations are the same old leftists who championed the wonders of the Sandanista regime in Nicaragua and the glories of Castro's Cuba. They have merely covered their marxist fantasy in dashikis and dreadlocks. And does anyone seriously believe that, if they got what they wanted, we would hear no more from them? Rest assured, they would come back for more.

The problem with investing one's identity in victimhood is that victimhood is a fundamentally weakening and disabling phenomenon. One can, in a sense, never find the limits to one's own victimhood, and therefore, find limits to the demands one's victimhood imposes on others. You can never have enough of being a victim. To be a victim is to cede your power and moral authority to others, and the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons will always be waiting to take that power and use it for their own ends. The advocates of reparations are either cynical opportunists or dupes. The dupes are victims, but of their own supposed leaders.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, I'm confident, would have been sickened by what took place in Washington on Saturday.



Hooray For Me!

Sometime last night my counter (you can see it if you scroll to the bottom of the page) rolled over to 10,000 hits! Yeeaahhh!

That's just about 5,000 hits per month, or 1,125 hits per week. I'm grateful to all of you who read my periodic ramblings.

Keep coming back for more!