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Welcome to the Cafeteria

The denunciations of Pope Benedict came swiftly. “Our Holy Father should stop talking about aberrant sex and talk more about Jesus.” The pope should not speak on matters “in which he possesses no particular competence.” Or more simply, “I think the pope is wrong.” Guess where these comments are from: some left-wing, fringe Catholics? No; these statements were made by conservative Catholics angered by the pope’s comments about the use of condoms as a “first step” in the moral decision-making of a person infected with H.I.V./AIDS who does not want to pass along the illness. The first is from Christine Vollmer, president of the Alliance for the Family; the second from Luke Gormally, professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich.; the last, on the pope’s wrongness, from John Haas, M.D., director of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

It is common to call liberal-leaning Catholics “cafeteria Catholics” for allegedly picking and choosing among papal pronouncements and church teachings that require their adherence. But those on the right are equally likely to struggle in accepting individual positions. During the Iraq War, when Pope John Paul II forcefully opposed American intervention, many conservative Catholics ignored the pope’s warnings, averring that when it came to war, one could set aside papal statements. They should have listened to John Paul. Though most right-leaning Catholics profess vigorous support for “life issues,” they hold back when it comes to AIDS prevention, which, like war, is a life issue. The cafeteria, filled with Catholics trying to balance the demands of their consciences with church teaching, grows more crowded by the day.


Retrieving Stolen Art

Much looted art remains lost to its rightful owners, a circumstance going back hundreds of years. Retrievals and losses mark both present and past. “Allegory of Earth and Water,” by Jan Breughel the Younger, was recently returned to Canada’s Concordia University by the Dutch government. Max Stern, a Jewish art dealer, had owned it; but he closed his gallery under pressure from the Nazis and fled to Canada, abandoning hundreds of works. On Stern’s death in 1987, what remained of his collection went to Concordia. Though “Allegory of Earth and Water” was the eighth painting to be returned to the university, the Netherlands is the first and only European government to have returned one of his works. Concordia’s president has noted that although 10 percent of Stern’s missing artworks have now been located, current owners—including governments—have resisted returning them. The Netherlands stands out as a commendable exception.

Some museums remain culprits in holding on to stolen art. Egypt is currently demanding the return of a golden burial mask, discovered in 1952. It is now on view in the St. Louis Museum of Art. And the Elgin marbles, which Lord Elgin paid to have shipped from the Parthenon 200 years ago, are in the British Museum; but Greece is the country of their origin. Despite claims and counterclaims, stolen artworks, however long ago the theft, should be sent home.

Out of the Woods?

Do the improving fortunes of U.S. not-for-profits suggest that the nation’s economic bad times may be nearing an end? The results of a recent Guidestar survey are at least encouraging. The percentage of public charities and private foundations reporting improved contributions jumped to 36 percent in October 2010 from 23 percent last October, while the percentage of survey participants who reported lower donations declined from 51 percent to 37 percent. The improvement could augur the beginning of an economic recovery in the nonprofit sector.

The significance of these numbers may be a little unclear. The uptick in donations could just reflect deeper digging into the nation’s deepest pockets, not a significant improvement at the individual level, broadly speaking. After all, the nation’s wealthiest citizens did very well last year, even as high unemployment persisted. And for the eighth consecutive year, a majority (68 percent) of survey participants reported increased demand for their organizations’ services, suggesting that even as overall contributions may be stabilizing, institutional resources may be burning up at a higher rate next year.

Indeed, Catholic Charities USA’s Third Quarter Snapshot survey provides no excuse for complacency. C.C.USA agencies nationwide reported a growing number of requests for assistance from the working poor (up 81 percent), families (up 71 percent), seniors and immigrants (both up 48 percent) and homeless people (up 45 percent). The scramble to close state budget deficits next year will lead to a deep cut in funding for social service agencies like C.C.USA and to layoffs of public employees. We hope the nation’s not-for-profit sector and specifically its direct service providers continue to see improvements in contributions through 2011 and 2012. They, and the rest of us, are going to need them.

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Steve Kay
8 years 1 month ago
The Breughel has returned to Canada's Concordia University; but the Netherlands is the country of its origin. No problem about that.

The British Museum houses the Elgin Marbles because they belong by soveriegn law to the British nation, the parliament of 1816 and again in 1963 having found that Lord Elgin acquired them legitimately. Thomas Bruce died in 1841; he was no thief but dead men cannot sue for libel.

If you sincerely think the Elgin Marbles to be stolen art then please substantiate your claim, if you cannot then please kindly withdraw it.
Carolyn Hyppolite
8 years 1 month ago

Although I agree that there is selective adherence on the right, that is no excuse for making it seem like the pope is advocating condom use. Saying something is a first step towards thinking morally does mean it is the last step or itself objectively moral. If the first step is thinking about the moral health of the other, a good next step might be getting out of the prostitution business.

Peace in Christ,

Carolyn Hyppolite


Nicholas Clifford
8 years 1 month ago
On the "Cafeteria", and more particularly the view that "the pope should not speak on matters “in which he possesses no particular competence.”

Why on earth should the pope not speak out on any matters at all to which he might contribute something useful about the discussion? The problem surely is not that he speaks out, but that there are certain circles among us which seem to take any such speaking out as part of the Church's magisterial teaching, and thus partaking of a kind of quasi-infallibility. But then Nicholas Lash, in your pages, recently put it far better than I can.
8 years ago
Luke Gormally is not a member of the Ave Maria School of Law faculty and the law school in in Naples, Florida.  Some fact checking is in order. 


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