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Silver Medal Losers?

How to explain the disappointing performance of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in the television ratings, the lowest since 1968? Perhaps this year’s Olympic hopefuls were simply too hyped. When everyone is touted as a future gold medalist, anything less is seen as a loss. Or perhaps, more simply, it was the disappointing performances of athletes like the skier Bode Miller, who confessed to nursing a hangover on some recent downhill ski runs. (Faster, Higher, Drunker.) Others surmised that the surfeit of sports channels means that the Olympics are not must-see TV, as they had been in decades past. The increasing specialization of television also means that if you are a fisherman (or fisherwoman) you might naturally choose to watch, say, a 24-hour bass fishing channel rather than the downhill slalom. Finally, a few Olympic moments probably annoyed some American viewers. In one snowboardcross race, Lindsey Jacobellis, a talented young athlete, was leading by a commanding margin until, nearing the finish line, she executed what aficionados call a method. Ms. Jacobellis grabbed the front of her board, twisted it and hotdogged for the crowd. Unfortunately, she fell on her landing, and the woman behind her snowboarded to victory. One could hear parents nationwide say to their children, See? It doesn’t pay to be a showboat.

Still, the sour idea that a silver medal winner, even one like Jacobellis, is a loser seems, sadly, a distinctly American notion. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation that there are no second acts in America, might have to be amended. There are apparently no second places either.


Property, Debt, Courage

Soon after Bishop Patrick O’ Donoghue arrived in Lancaster in northern England in 2001 he sensed that we were, as a diocese, living beyond our means. In his first year, he sold off the bishop’s residence, earmarking the proceeds for evangelization. When his unease continued despite reassurances, he ordered a number of reviews to determine the true financial situation of the diocese. He got a very rude shock. Due to accounting practices, and in accord with British civil law, which treats the parishes and the diocese as one entity, the central administration of the diocese was discovered to have run up a debt equivalent to $17.8 million to the parishes and restricted funds. Even the monies from the sale of the bishop’s house were eaten up.

Bishop O’Donoghue acted to slim down the diocesan administration, for which he was criticized. He eliminated five highly paid positions from the diocesan staff of 17 and ordered a short-term moratorium on building. He also set to work on financial planning.

Then he came clean to his people, something he did not have to do, since no civil laws had been violated. None of his predecessors are alive, so he acted courageously and humbly in his own name and apologized for the misuse of funds, even while acknowledging that repayment will be long and difficult, if it is possible at all. This has been a good first step toward restoring confidence and offering hope for the future.

Patrick O’Donoghue’s bishop’s coat of arms bears the motto Blessed Are the Poor.

A Catholic Kind of Politics?

As Democrats search for a national message to bring to the 2006 Congressional elections, 55 Catholic Congressional Democrats have issued a Statement of Principles affirming their commitment to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor and disadvantaged, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country. On the neuralgic issue of abortion, these 55 Catholic members of Congress express their commitment to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term.

Democrats for Life of America, a group that has challenged the monolithic control the pro-choice lobby has over the national Democratic Party, endorsed the Congressional statement. "We are fully committed to promoting a culture of life," its executive director said; "we share the goals of the Catholic Statement of Principles to support programs that will reduce the likelihood that a woman will see abortion as her only option."

The most intriguing sentence in this Statement of Principles is its conclusion: "We believe the church as a community is called to be in the vanguard of creating a more just America and world. And as such, we have a claim on the church’s bearing as it does on ours." The careful distinctions drawn by Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, between the role of the church and that of Catholic laity in the political process would seem to support such a conclusion.

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