It should come as no surprise that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision not to accept the resignations of Dublin’s auxiliary bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field has unleashed outrage in Ireland. The bishops had resigned at the urging of Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (pictured), who demanded that some accountability be demonstrated in the aftermath of the Murphy Report on sexual assault and abuse by clerics in the Archdiocese of Dublin. The Vatican decision is being interpreted in Ireland as a rebuke to Archbishop Martin and his persistent focus on greater accountability and penance among the hierarchy.
Archbishop Martin has been perceived not just as a rare pastoral presence in the midst of this international crisis, but a prophetic voice offering direction to a church looking for a way to right itself. He has been a model of a responsive, proactive prelate. Hence the discouragement at this inexplicable reversal. During an address in May to an Irish church group, Archbishop Martin worried that “strong forces” in the church wanted the truth about clerical sexual abuse to remain hidden and confided that he had never felt so disheartened and dejected.
Two bishops offered themselves up in a small gesture of accountability. Much more is required, but even this effort has been rejected in Rome. Can the Roman Curia really be so oblivious to the anger and frustration of average Catholics worldwide who are trying to make sense of years of clerical parish-shifting and coverups? It does not seem possible. But if they are, one is surely tempted to join Archbishop Martin in his dejection.
Ethics by Default
The latest installment in the nation’s evolving debt crisis has been an upsurge in home equity loans and lines of credit defaults. Consumer-borrowers are walking away from obligations on such loans in record numbers after watching home values plummet or losing to foreclosure the homes that originally generated the credit. Too many lines of credit were tossed out to consumers eager to put the money to good use on powerboats and motorcycles when both lenders and borrowers had trouble imagining a time when home values would not keep escalating.
Borrowers electing for “strategic defaults” follow a new ethic that somehow absolves them of their obligation to repay on the grounds that lenders, as professionals, should have been more skeptical about making such loans in the first place. It is hard to sympathize with that position, which has already proved, and will continue to prove, costly to taxpayers and consumer-bystanders stuck bailing out failing institutions. That attitude reveals something, however, about the state of America’s debt-drenched society in which the only people morally on the hook for commitments they make are “bag-holders.” Now where could consumers have learned that lesson? During the Reagan era and again under President George W. Bush, government spending beyond its revenue stream has been elevated to a fiscal virtue. Likewise, corporate players rolled the dice on risky investment strategies with little intention of accepting personal or institutional responsibility for their decisions. We live in a world where trickle-down economics has never actually worked, but trickle-down morality seems to be functioning just fine.
The Real Islam
Again and again since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Islam has been unjustly portrayed as a religion that fosters violent and extremist behavior. The fierce resistance to the proposal to build a community center and mosque two blocks from ground zero in New York is rooted in the false belief that the Muslim faith is somehow to blame for the 2001 tragedy. Not only is this an erroneous reading of events (Al Qaeda is no way representative of Islam); it is emblematic of a larger misunderstanding of Islam as a triumphalistic force in history.
A welcome corrective to these historical misconceptions is now available from Harvard University Press. Muhammad and the Early Believers, by Fred M. Donner, is a bracing re-evaluation of the earliest days of Islam. Drawing on recent research, Donner explains how the “believers” movement (a term taken from the Koran) was ecumenical in nature, including Jews and Christians because they too were monotheists who believed in the God of Abraham. Citing architectural evidence, Donner also contends that the early “Islamic conquests” were not as violent as history books have portrayed. The believers’ rise to political power, for instance, did not rely on forced conversions; theirs was a monotheistic movement that was often compatible with local traditions.
The interfaith spirit of Islam’s founding is reflected in the plans for the community in New York. Park51, as the project is now known, is meant to be a cultural center where people of all faiths can gather to learn about the Muslim tradition. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf hopes it can serve as a bridge between Islam and the Western world. The blinkered responses to that proposal are proof enough that such connections are desperately needed.