Over the years “not confusing the faithful” has become an all-purpose bromide for checking theological speculation and reducing the role of theology in the church to elementary catechesis. This policy frequently harmed the authority of the church among educated Catholics and poisoned relations with theologians. Now, with a scholar as pope, there seems to be a refreshing willingness on the part of Rome to treat the community of believers as mature, educated persons, capable of drawing their own conclusions and making distinctions between theology and doctrine. With the European release of Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth, Vatican officials and the pope himself were at pains to note that the book is a personal work of scholarship, not magisterial doctrine. While some may worry that such a serious publication from the pen of a pope may itself be confusing, identifying the work as unofficial constitutes a healthy recognition that even the well-founded personal positions of the pope need not be taken as definitive. A few weeks ago, in the explanatory note that accompanied the notification on the writings of Jon Sobrino, S.J., the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took a new tack in publishing its criticisms of some of his opinions, but without disciplining the author or forbidding the use of his books in seminaries.
Finally, two weeks ago in America, Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the C.D.F., allowed, “I am rather confident that if corrections took place by peers, if there were a process of serious review and assessment in light of Catholic doctrine by theologians competent to evaluate one of their own, there would be much less work for us to do in the congregation.” If such statements signal a new climate favorable to more sophisticated theological discourse, in which adult believers are treated as mature Christians, there is a chance not only to heal the alienation between the academy and the hierarchy, but also an opportunity for Catholic intellectual life to flourish anew.
The Our Lady of Peace Act
Among the many issues that tormented the American public in the wake of the mass killing at Virginia Tech last month, perhaps the most troubling was the fact that a person found to be dangerous to himself and others by a psychiatrist was able to purchase deadly weapons with ease. As a matter of fact, there is a federal law that prohibits such transactions, but without a national computerized database gun dealers do not have easy access to a customer’s psychiatric history. In 2002 a bill that would require states to place such information in a national database was introduced in the Senate by Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, and in the House of Representatives by Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York. It was called the Our Lady of Peace Act, so named because of a shooting in a Catholic church in Lynbrook, N.Y., in March 2002 that took the lives of the parish priest and an elderly parishioner attending early morning Mass. The shooter had been hospitalized on several occasions.
The bill was approved by a vote of the House of Representatives in October 2002, but despite Senator Schumer’s efforts, it never came to a vote in the Senate because of the opposition of senators from smaller and western states, who are adamantly opposed to any form of gun control. In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy, the Senate may wish to take another look at legislation it neglected seven years ago.
George Washington is getting a makeover, at least on the new dollar coins being circulated by the U.S. Mint. In the first of the series mandated by the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, the Father of Our Country appears on the obverse of the gold-colored coin, with the Statue of Liberty on the reverse. Instead of the jowly-but-serene profile on the quarter, the new Washington looks perturbed, as if someone had just awakened him from a nap at Valley Forge.
The Mint has long tried to interest Americans in dollar coins, which outlast paper bills and therefore save money. The results have been mixed. Eisenhower dollars were too large, and the Sacagawea dollars were too similar in size to the quarter. (Did you know that the baby portrayed on Sacagawea’s back ended up studying at St. Louis University?) The new multicolored paper bills also garnered mixed reviews. If the $20 bill is to be believed, Alexander Hamilton had prettier hair than Jennifer Aniston.
But the Mint was cheered by the enthusiastic re-response to its 50 States Quarters Program. Some designs, like the magnolia blossoms that decorate Miss-issippi’s quarter, are small works of art. Others seem to be attempts to please everybody in the state. Instead of a simple image, like the Liberty Bell, Pennsylvania chose an outline of the state, a keystone and the statue atop the State House in Harrisburg. It’s a mess. Some entries are even less successful, but at least make counting change enjoyable: Idaho’s quarter shows what looks like a giant hen about to eat the state.