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The EditorsJuly 19, 2010

Making Peace With Terrorists

The Roberts Court, in another of its rash, activist decisions, ruled on June 21 that making contacts with terrorist groups over legal issues, human rights and exploration of possible steps to peace amounts to supplying material assistance to them. The court’s decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project blocks proven channels for conflict resolution and peacemaking. It deprives the United States of promising work by peacemakers in nongovernmental organizations, and it locks the country into 19th-century, gunboat-style diplomacy.

Potential peacemakers, like those working for Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis, World Vision or Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, may now be liable to prosecution. Without special exemptions that will compromise mediators’ credibility, participation in programs to teach terrorist groups how to demobilize their weapons, enter into an electoral process or engage antagonistic religious groups in discussion will be considered illegal. Producing manuals for such activities may be regarded as treasonous if the manuals are found in terrorist hands, though their purpose is to wean the rebels away from terrorism. Even writing an op-ed on methods for engaging terrorists in conflict resolution may be held to be in violation of the Patriot Act.

All over the world, unofficial peacemakers make progress at conflict resolution where official diplomacy and the military do not. Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project is a counterproductive reversal in the rapid evolution of alternatives to violence in national and international affairs.

Duty Bound

Buried within a core document of the Second Vatican Council is a surprising sentence about the laity. Laypeople, “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” says, are “permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.” In other translations, the laity are “duty bound” to do so. In the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, many laypeople struggle with how to express those opinions in ways that will influence church policy. Sometimes it seems the only thing that the laity can do to “express their opinion” is to write letters, curtail donations or stop going to church. None of these responses satisfies committed Catholics. With no outlets for their desire to help the church, frustration mounts.

Two promising lay-led organizations sprang up around the time of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States to help the laity express their concern. Voice of the Faithful was founded to help survivors of sexual abuse, support “priests of integrity” and effect structural change within the church. V.O.T.F., which counts some 30,000 members, is more active in some dioceses than others and more supported in some dioceses than others. It is often misunderstood and unfairly feared. The National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management is an organization of laypeople, religious and members of the clergy, along with a few bishops. Together they promote excellence and “best practices” in management throughout the church in the United States, drawing on the expertise of the laity.

Both organizations, still in their infancy, are valuable assets in the church. Both should be supported as ways of enabling the laity to fulfill the charge clearly given it by Vatican II.

Repeating History

The G-20 meeting ended on June 27 with a mixed bag of results for Friedmaniacs, Hayekanistas and Keynesians to ponder. The world’s politicians, while paying lip service to the need for recovery from a two-year global slump, have veered toward deficit reduction and turned their backs on stimulus spending. They apparently believe it is preferable to take their fiscal lumps now with the expectation that the suffering will be worth it if it provides a stronger foundation for future growth. Despite President Obama’s exhortation to the G-20, and indirectly to Congress, to stay the course on deficit spending to shore up what has been by all measures a fragile economic recovery, the United States seems, like the other G-20 countries, to be drifting toward deficit reduction as national policy. It would be more reassuring if that policy drift seemed propelled more by clear economic thinking than by political projections of the voting mood going into 2012.

The muddled results of the G-20 meeting suggest that many politicians think that government policy can fine-tune the recovery as we go along. History could be repeating itself. Herbert Hoover gets much of the blame for the Great Depression, which followed on the worn-out heels of the crash of 1929, but he likewise seemed to sway between government intervention and deficit avoidance in the years before the worst of the Depression. Complicit with Congress, Hoover raised taxes (actually rolled back previous cuts) and tariff barriers in an attempt to contain the emerging depression; but he also initiated government interventions meant to spur housing construction, reduce foreclosures and create jobs. Sound familiar?

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13 years 10 months ago
The comments about the G-20 seem to assume that economic conditions in 1930 and 2010 are similar, that the global economy is in the best interests of everyone, and that tax cuts and deficit spending are the keys to solving the current economic problems.

The global economy has provided significant opportunities to less developed countries, and it has created greater interdependency and greater incentives for nations to work together – truly positive results.  It has also produced poor working conditions and environmental degradation in the developing nations.  Additionally, trade mismanagement by the U.S. and European nations has created enormous trade and current account deficits that threaten their economies and long-term existence.  Since 2000, more than $5 trillion has been lost from the U.S. economy as the U.S. buys more goods and services than it sells.  Rather than address the problem, the political party in power has consistently produced budget deficits by cutting taxes or increasing spending to stimulate the economy, to prevent a depression, and to try to stay in power

A nation that loses 3 to 6% of its gross domestic product each year as a current account deficit, while borrowing more than $1 trillion a year from foreign nations, will soon be bankrupt and penniless.  Unless the U.S. changes its investment laws and uses agreements and tariffs to achieve a current account/trade balance, the nation is destined to join Rome and the Soviet Union on the “scrap-heap of history”.
James Richard
13 years 10 months ago
The piece on "Making Peace With Terrorist," is so flawed I'm amazed that it made it into America, which I usually hold in high esteme for thorough research.
As the law states, terrorist organizations are those identified by the authority of the Secretary of State.
If Catholic Relief services wants to negotiate terms of peace, supply humanitarian support or whatever, to identified terrorist organizations, they need to do it through the Secratary of State's office.
What this article is suggesting is that the US government should not interfer with people making donations, or providing support to Al Qaeda and other like terrorist organizations, who are nothing more than blood thirsty murderers. Providing support for such organizations is not only an at of treason, its immoral.
13 years 10 months ago
Thank you very much to the editors of America for recognizing that Voice of the Faithful is making a valuable contribution to the life of the Church we all love so much. Too much priests will not allow us to meet as Catholic laity in our own churches. Too many bishops regard us as the enemy. But we are not deterred, because it is essential that Catholic laity are empowered and encouraged to become active and outspoken members of the Body of Christ at this critical time in our life as a global community of faith. Everyone'e voice must be heard as we work to discern the right path forward. Congratulations to the National Leadership Roundtable for the great work being done by that organization, and to so many of the new lay-led movements across the Church. The Spirit is calling, and people are responding.
Tom Maher
13 years 10 months ago
The Voice of the Faithful in the Boston area during and after the clergy sexual abuse scandal of 2002 showed themselves to be a gadfly organization seizing on the church's difficulties to promote their own exotic agenda.  VOTF's political agenda  had little to do with correcting the hugh problems of the Boston Archdiocese or accurately reprresenting the strong disapproval and disgust of the laity toward the archdiocese' mishandling and cover up of the clergy sexual abuse  scandal.
The Voice of the Faithful group in Boston were extremely uninpirsing and tepid elite group. The typical VOTF member was some Catholic college insiders such as  theology or religion instructors self-absorbed with their own long-held private concerns about the church.   The VOTF members were big on exotic intepretations of Vatican II on church  governence and quite prepared to set the church leadership aside in favor of their own rule.  They were insurgents promoting their own ideas.   VOTF lacked any leadership ability to understand  or empathize with  what Catholics of the Boston archdiocese were thinking or feeling during the crisis.  VOTF was put to the test iof leadership in the crisis of 2002 and VOTF failed badly. 
Catholics do need to speak up and they did in Boston in 2002 no thanks to the irrelevant and  out-of-touch concerns of the VOTF.  VOTF is very unrepresentative of Cathoilics concerms and interests and a very poor proxy for the average Catholic.  Catholic would be much better off speaking for themselves than having VOTF  promote their exotic concerns that very few Catholic have any interest in. 
William Atkinson
13 years 10 months ago
yu should write an article,  ARE terrorist really terrorist, or freedom fighters, trying to drive alien armis from there lands.  Or how does little guy fight for his people against imperalist nations.
Tom Maher
13 years 10 months ago
Re: Making Peace with Terrorism
Holder v Humanitarian Law project the court decided by a 6 to 3 majority favoring the Obama adminsistration claim that there are important national security interest to protect.   How then can one credibly say this decision shows an activist Roberts court?  The Roberts court has repeatedly been very protective of free speech but found in this case the Consitution also requires that the nation be defended from foreign adversaries such as declared terrorist groups.  The court decision backing the Obama Admisistration national security concerns restricting contact with federally designated  terroist groups makes a lot of sense.  Defending against terrorism is a clear national interest.   Private contact with terroist is in all cases in the last  six months help advances terrost destructive goals such as the Times Square bomber recieving funding, instructions and coordination from a network of individuals.  Read the decision, it is solidly reasoned and compelling. 
13 years 10 months ago
Is it really a closed case that the Roberts Court has made liable to prosecution peacemakers who try to make peace with terrorists? Or are we dealing simply with one of the many tortured steps on the moving escalator of legal ascent, as it moves towards actual legal consent? I have to believe that when all the screws on the squeaky escalator of law have been tightened and the legal debris-strewn stairs have been cleared away and the motor of "proper intent" has been oiled and the banisters of legal uncetainties have been polished, then, the full meaning  of the Roberts Court preliminary decision will come to light. 

In that light the way to make peace with terrorists will become apparent and an Isaiahan response to the Trinitarian querry will rebound, "Whom shall we send?" The response, "Send me!" At least so I hope, as the alternative is too terrible to contemplate, namely, slaughter and bloodshed in the streets of the world, as God forbid,  a vengeful Islam enicrcles the globe sending Christians and others once again, into catacombs of darkness!

Fortunately, there are  many peacemakers the Lord can send, such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas International, Wold Vision or Notre Dame's Kroe Institute for International Peace Studies, as mentioned by AMERICA editors, in "Current Comment" (7/19/10.)  Respectfully I'd like to propose anotrher, Francis of Assisi!

In 1219 Francis of Assisi traveled into enemy territory of Islam, passing unharmed through Moslem military ranks, arriving at the tent of Sultan Malek-al-Kamil. Incredibily in the Sultan's presence Francis proclaimed the Gospel! Malek-al-Kamil responded, that Moslems were just as firmly convinced of the truth of Islam, as Francis was of the truth of Christianity. Amazingly the Sultan befriended Francis and grasping the moment Francis proposed an armistice between the warring sides of Moslems and Christians. The Sultan agreed, but the Christian leaders turned it down! Nonetheless, so impressed was Malek-al-Kamil with Francis of Assisi, that he provided safe escort for Francis from Moslem territory with gifts!

Thus, I'm suggesting that  a "Peace Summit" between Christian and Moslem Religious and Political leaders be convened, commemorating the friendly meeting between Malek and Francis, to frankly discuss and resolve differences where possible, all in the interest of world peace and security. This will take a lot of serious planning, but would to God, would to Allah, that constructive effort be made.

Maybe I'm just a "dreamer" after the manner of Scripture's assurance, "Old men shall dream dreams." Some may also say, "He's just a star-gazer!" To which I humbly reply, "So were the Wise Men from the East!" 
Tom Maher
13 years 10 months ago
Re: Repeating History
Please.  Economic history did not begin and end with the Great Depression and Hoovers role in it.  There are in fact other economic hazards run-away inflation which worldwide is far more common and worse.  It is fortunately that jthe United States was finally able to bring U.S. inflation under control as of the 1980s after inflation nerly went out of control as of the late 1970's. So we avoided the disaster that run-away inflation can cause including turning into a depression.  However worldwide many countires have experienced run-away inflation and know that it is very distructive.  

Excessive government spending and debt causes inflation.  Nations like Greece that spend more than they collect in taxes and accumulate large unmanageable debt create inflation  that will bankrupt them.   Debt financing creates powerful inflationary forces that are very harmful and diffficult to control.  For example in 1980 U.S. prime rate soared to 21% due to inflation and mortgages  for several years above 15%.  High cost of all financing impacted the U.S. economy  during most of the  1980s.  And we barely were able to prevent a general finaccial collapse.  Financing the federal debt at double digits rates as was required in an inflationary environment casues a surge of interest payments as part of the derera budget.  Today's 13 trillion dollar public debt would require a trillion dollars per year just to finance the public debt.  This would be unsustainable and the economic system would collapse from excessive public debt.  
Nicholas Clifford
13 years 10 months ago
"In the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, many laypeople struggle with how to express those opinions in ways that will influence church policy. Sometimes it seems the only thing that the laity can do to “express their opinion” is to write letters, curtail donations or stop going to church. None of these responses satisfies committed Catholics. With no outlets for their desire to help the church, frustration mounts."

But how can committed Catholics help the church? The problem is not that they cannot express their opinions, come forward with their ideas, and so forth, whether individually, or through VOTF or any other such group. The problem is that no one in a position of authority is willing (or more likely, is courageous enough) to to listen to them, and to engage their ideas.

Last spring, in Vienna, Cardinal Schönborn not only held a service of penance and reconciliation for the victims of ecclesiastical abuse, and not only invited We Are Church (roughly speaking, the European equivalent of VOTF, founded in Austria) to attend, but also asked them to help plan the service in the Cathedral of St. Stephen.

Can you, in your wildest flights of fancy, imagine anything remotely similar happening in the US? Where are our leaders, when we need them?
Mary Louise Hartman
13 years 9 months ago

Buried within a core document of the Second Vatican Council is a surprising sentence about the laity. Laypeople, “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” says, are “permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.”  (America  July 19-26  Current Comment)  Thanks America for recalling this empowering statement quoted from the Dogmatic Constitution.   It flows from Canon 212:2 in the Code of Canon Law and  after the Council was brought to the attention of the laity by the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church in its Charter of the Rights of Catholics in the Church.  This was almost 30 years ago.

The language used in the Charter is now basic to most church reform organizations.  VOTF and the National Leadership Roundtable may be more in the spotlight these days because of the abuse crisis but Future Church is working steadily on the sidelines to fulfill its mission which is to “seek changes that will provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in Church life and leadership”.    The guiding principle of FC as stated by its national board of trustees reads:  Future Church’s activities grow from a spirituality based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Eucharist, the Spirit filled beliefs of the faithful, and the teachings of Vatican II.”.    FC also deserves to be complimented on its “promotion of excellence and best practices in Church management” utilizing the skills of laity here in the United States and abroad.   Together, these organizations will help to bring about new life in the Church that we all love. 

daisy swadesh
13 years 9 months ago
Peacemaking has never been easy-we have the example of Jesus.  Surely he would have preferred to have led the people to avoid the Destruction of the Temple and the Diaspora.  But even He couldn't change hearts and so he laid the foundations so the faith could go beyond the tribal Judaism to include the Gentiles.  And now the U.
S. Supreme Court has in effect defined every peacemaker as a suspected traitor-even Catholic Relief Services, et al.  Peacemaking, by definition, is an extralegal act which involves going beyond one's own group and communicating with the enemy.  I agree with Bruce Snowden that this needs a better definition and a legal challange. 

Another thing I find troubling today is that the Internet seems to have become the New Tower of Babel.  The glut of information is overwhelming, people speak but mo?s?t? don't have time ?to ???l?i?s?t?e?n??.? ?  ??W?e? ?a?r?e? ?l?o?s?i?n?g? ?o?u?r? ?g?r?a?s?p? ?o?n? ?t?h?e? ?w?h?o?l?e?,? ?a?n?d? ??A?m?e?r?i?c?a?n?s? ?a?r?e? ?i?n?c?r?e?a?s?i?n?g?l?y? ?s?e?e?i?n?g? ?t?h?o?s?e? ?w?h?o? ?d?i?s?a?g?r?e?e? ?w?i?t?h? ?t?h?e?m? ?a?s? ?e?n?e?m?i?e?s?.  This also needs rethinking.  ?

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