This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Andrea Yates Verdict

Today's Washington Post reports that Andrea Yates has been acquitted of killing three of her children by reason of insanity. Assuming the prosecution does not retry her for the deaths of the others, she will quietly move into history in a state mental hospital. Given her current mental state, she will not emerge any time soon. Given her obvious lack of emotion at the reading of her verdict, I doubt she was even competent to stand trial - either because of her medication or because of her mental state. Society is now left without any sanction, even though we know she did it. While I do not believe she deserves prison, nor many others, an acquital sends the wrong message. There has to be a better way.

Andrea Yates should have been allowed to avoid trial and plea "Guilty by Reason of Insanity." Under this plea, she could have been required to serve the minimum sentence for manslaughter in a correctional treatment facility. This would have assured that she gets the treatment that she needs and also serves the interests of justice, since society is not satisfied to just let her walk after her medication is adjusted.

For more on this topic, see my web page at http://www.christianleft.net/SocialPolitics/DrugsMentalHealthCrime.html

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Interstate Abortion Bill and Overturning Roe

In July 26th's Washington Post, Charles Babington reports that the Senate has passed a bill penalizing non-parents who transport their children across state lines to procure an abortion. The prospects for passage are not certain, although they are more certain than other items in this years legislative program. This is because it could be used later to re-air the question of Roe in the event that one more Justice on the pro-choice side dies or retires. The partial birth abortion ban has, as intended, gone to the Supreme Court but it does not have the votes to survive and certainly not enough to overturn Roe, as many of the amici for the Administration seek.

Any look at the provisions of the Partial Birth Abortion Act itself will leave the average reader with the impression that "they can't be serious". This act was never meant to be enforced, but to extract Catholics from the Democratic Party (which is why the Court should have never accepted the case) and to force a re-examination of Roe v. Wade.

I generally disagree with attempts to overturn Roe, not because I am any fan of abortion, but because the plain text of the 14th Amendment seems pretty clear that birth and naturalization are how one attains citizenship and legal protection. While such protection has been extended to aliens by the courts and congress, it has not been extended to the preborn, except as an adjunct to punishing violence against the mother not related to abortion. The implication of this is that only Congress may change their status, not the individual states through varying abortion laws. The reason that the nation was torn apart by slavery was the assertion that states could go their own way. This issue was settled at Appotomax and ratified by the 14th Amendment. Any solution to abortion must come through Congress, not the states. Importantly to this case, because no such language was contained in the Act in question, the legal rights of the fetus cannot be given any weight in federal law.

The originalism of Justices Scalia, Thomas and Roberts must also be challenged. Their view of the 14th Amendment is jaundiced at best and ignores the intent of James Madison, who originally included it in the Bill of Rights, where it was passed by the House but removed by the Senate. It was intended as a check against electoral majorities in the states, which is the use to which it has been put for the past fifty years. As Madison conceived it, it was certainly not just for the protection of Freedmen, but for the protection of any aggreived minority. For more information, see Gary Wills volume, A Neccessary Evil.

On policy analytic grounds, legal restrictions on abortion fail. In the discipline of policy analysis, there are four foundational values: economic efficiency, effectiveness, equality and responsiveness.

Overturning Roe fails on effectiveness because it may not actually stop any abortions as women will simply cross state lines to procure an abortion. It will also lead to dangerous alternatives to women, such as the procuring of unsafe abortion, leading to the potential loss of two lives in order to save one.

Overturning Roe fails on responsiveness because the majority of the public do not favor doing so. While they may favor reasonable restrictions, they do not favor the pre-Roe status quo.

Overturning Roe fails on equality, as you have so ably said in your original complaint, because it impacts women more than men and more importantly impacts poor women who cannot afford to travel to procure an abortion more serverly than those who could.

Overturning Roe also puts us on a slippery slope toward a general infringement on civil liberty, as it would lead to efforts to infringe on the right to free travel, which is a basic right in a democracy, as states would naturally seek to prevent women in its jurisdiction from crossing state lines or traveling through a state to procure an abortion.

In the current case, the soundest strategy for the Court, including its pro-life members, is to acknowledge that the states have no role to play in granting rights to the preborn, thus affirming Roe. This would come under the heading of losing the battle and winning the war, since a return to pre-war abortion jurisprudence would mean that women would simply travel to other states to procure abortions, or self-induce or go to back alley abortions if they cannot afford to travel. It is better to leave the question of fetal rights at the door of Congress, especially if the Court leaves it there and acknowledges, much to its own shagrin, that under the Constitution the unborn are the PROPERTY of the mother. This echo of Dred Scott will cause enough of an uproar to force Congress to act.

How should the Congress act? Frequent readers of this blog know that the best way to end abortion is not to criminalize it, but to change the economics and culture of having children.

The Church can do this even if no laws are changed. It is a shame they have been hiding behind Roe as an excuse for not taking independent action. If a majority of the Court does as I suggest and affirms Roe in a way that brooks no further argument, the Church will no longer have this excuse.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Immigration Reform - Desparate Acts

In today's Washington Post, Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington report on a Republican measure designed to bring Republicans together, presumably jettisoning the Democrats from the bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate. The House and Senate are now in conference on an immigration bill, which rumor has it may pass. We have to chuckle, since the populists in the Republican Party are fighting the corporatists in the Republican Party about the legalization of current immigrants and the creation of a guest worker program to bring some sense to the current bad situation. The delightful thing is, in order to pass anything, the corporatists were forced to compromise with the Senate Democrats.

As delightful as the Republican quandry is, however, this is a serious issue. This is one of those cases where the solution has been worse than the disease for sometime now. The last round of immigration reform supposedly strengthened penalties on the hiring of illegal workers, while enforcement has been lax. This has had the preverse effect of making their hand stronger in dealing with their employees, since the greater level of illegality is used as a weapon to keep them in line. In many industries, employers prefer to hire undocumented workers. In a very real sense, agricultural slavery has reemerged in the United States, especially in the South. Most workers prefer to hire slaves than to pay the wages American workers want. This is true in industry as well as agriculture.

The anti-immigration lobby wants more such restrictions. This will likely make the problem of exploitation worse, not better. The only way to win on this issue is to give up. The reason illegals are prefered is that they are vulnerable. If there were no documentation requirements, in other words, if the borders were open, the incentive to hire illegal aliens goes away - especially if combined with the repeal of right-to-work laws. If employers are forced to hire at a union wage, they will likely hire an American worker instead.

The Republicans can't win. If they get what they are asking for, they will make the situation worse. The only way they can make life better for the members of their populist base is to compromise their positions, open the borders and empower the unions. This is the position the Democrats should hold them to.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Last Week's Stem Cell Veto

In The Washington Post, David Broder examines the prospects of winning one for the Gipper on stem cell research (Stem Cells in the Senate Spotlight). All the impassioned debate didn't help. President Bush vetoed the legislation based on his moral principles. It is no suprise. The proponents of stem cell research were attacking on the wrong front. Rather than balancing embryonic rights v. the rights of potential patients, it would have been better to challenge the assumption that blastocysts are in fact the same morally as a child, or even a fetus.

When I was an undergraduate at Loras College, we asked our ethics professor about when life began. From a purely natural law ethics perspective, because of twinning, human life cannot begin until gastrulation. Gastrulation is also the point at which cross species fertilizations fail (if you took a human egg and dog sperm, it would grow until that point - I challenge anyone who says such an abomination has a human soul) and it is also the point where the genes of the father fully participate in the development of the child. I was not who I am until my father's genes were as strong as my mother's in my growth. Until then, I was an egg with my father's code "tagging along" getting set up for the begining of life.For more information on Gastrulation, see the Encyclopedia Britannica's entry (the Macropedia) on sexual reproduction and then follow the footnotes to real embryology texts.

Now, the Catholic Church has an opportunity to return to the genesis of Catholic reproductive theology by abandoning the cult of the blastocyst and focus on our traditional opposition to Eugenics. Eugenics was an attempt to improve the white race and the church fought it, especially mandatory sterilization of the "feeble minded." If stem cell research is part of a program to weed out or alter the "defective" then its roots in eugenics are obvious. However, if it is about relieving pain, then the objections melt away, provided one knows his or her embryology.

The fate of the soul and the body are intertwined. Put another way, the actions of the body demonstrate the existence of the soul. We know that when death occurs the soul has moved on. Using the same logic, we know that when development occurs, the soul is present. We know that development starts at gastrulation. As moralists, we must take what science has to say very seriously. I would dispute what you say about not knowing when ensoulment occurs. Prior to Humanae Vitae, which I view as an attempt at branding Catholic identity, Catholic theologians were pretty clear that the soul was not present at fertilization. Theologians and bioethicists should reject papal encroachment and go with the facts.

I am not arguing for a wholesale disregard for inconvenient life. I am arguing for speaking the truth about when life begins. If we do that, maybe, just maybe, they will listen to us when we tell them about a Gospel of Life. BTW, the extremity to which some self-promoted around the living death of Terri Schaivo does nothing for the movement, especially since we now know that her neurologist was correct in his assessment of her condition. Arguing that moral consistency is necessary in opposition to the facts damages the Church's credibility with both Catholics in the pews and the outside world. I am not talking about capitulating to the world, I am talking about not lying in the face of the facts in order to bolster ones argument. Traditional teaching on death and dying said giving nutrition was not necessary. If that position had been respected the Church would not have had egg on its face over this affair. If we want to know why the pews are empty we need only look at ourselves. The people in the pews know when they are being lied to.

Pollution and Highways

The two weeks have seen two editorials in The Washington Post on how we get around in this country. George Will waxed poetic on our Interstate Highway System on Sunday in Interstate Ribbons of Progress. Today, Sebastian Malaby warned of our lack of progress toward reducing carbon and global warming in A Dated Carbon Approach.

A bold approach is required to get out of our carbon trap. It should be as bold as construction of the interstate highway system - much bolder than changing our tax structure. What is required is nothing less than replacing our current transporation system with something else. That something else should be capable of moving freight and passengers quickly, cheaply and modularly (meaning that individuals and firms should be able to move single families or single loads rather than relying solely on scheduled common carriers).

How do we do that, you ask? Electric vehicles with overhead or wireless roadbed power and control. Electric trains work that way. So can electric driverless trucks (in their own lanes) and private cars under computer control. To avoid cluttering the interstate landscape and our neighborhoods with overhead wires, these roads can be subsurface or partially so - although the interstates could have window spaces to view the country side. However, we can take this opportunity to assure that there is never another pedestrian accident again by closing the system. We already own the right of way. Lets bury it and save tons of money on snow removal and lost workdays due to bad weather - not to mention lost income due to auto accidents.

If we build a system in this way, we can make major improvements in power generation and bring them online quickly rather than trying to get car makers to change their models or drivers to change their habits. Fussion power, or some version of it, will eventually be practical. When it is, we can implement it quickly and build it into the grid. We can use clean burning natural gas, clean coal or nuclear - provided we can dispose of the waste (which takes political courage rather than new technology). Given the choice between global warming and a possible localized radiation leak, which would you choose?

Will this be impossible to pay for? No, as long as everyone who's ox would otherwise be gored can buy into the system - which means local governments, road contractors, the car companies and big oil. Letting them help build it (or parts of it), partially own it and reap the profits will take away the economic sting, as well as the political resistance. All it takes is bold leadership, desparation or some combination of the two. Four dollar a gallon gas may be just what is required. This is why I am not a big believer in gas conservation, which only prolongs the inevitable. I say, burn it all up, the quicker the better. Forget CAFRE, as it only delays the day when we can go electric.

The Cult of CEOs and the Culture of Management

In The Washington Post today, Robert Samuelson comments on the Delinquency of CEOs and how, if they don't reform themselves, others will do it for them. He's right, although I see no hope for reforming the CEO system, since it is endemic to the Principal-Agent model of modern capitalism and sole proprietorship. As employee-ownership and union ownership gain in popularity, their board will rethink not only the cult of the CEO but the culture of management as a whole.

A hierarchical principal-agent model is appropriate when the goal of management is to force the conformity of hired workers. It breaks down, however, when the workers are all principals. Interestingly enough, ESOPs break down when their cultures are bifurcated - when there is an in crown of long term workers and a pool of short timers who have not yet earned their ownership rights. As union-owned firms are created out of the necessity to cut costs and benefits and the employee-owned model expands, they need a new culture based on egalitarian principles. Of course, egalitarianism has its own problems with conformity and mediocrity, so it cannot be adopted whole hog. Cultural theorists have found that no single culture is viable - that mixed cultures are the most healthy. For example, the United States is an example of a mix of LIbertarianism/Individualism and Egalitarian with vestigal hierarchism in religion and business. As long as none of these dominate, the society functions well. If employee-owned and union-owned firms adopt a mixed culture of innovative individualism and egalitarianism, they will win on both employee satisfaction and profitability, thus attracting both the best workers and the smartest shareholders (since it takes time to convert one's ownership portfolio to a completely employee-owned model).

What are some of the elements of this new model? The first is a free market for wages, where manager bid for their positions in open auction. This is a stark contrast to the current model where each employee negotiates with the owner or his agent. Instead of competing for CEOs by offering higher pay, CEOs would be forced to offer lower bids - often competing with in-house talent. In fact, such a model will likely end the practice of going outside the firm for celebrity talent. Of course, in an open auction, there are likely ties, which leads to our second element, democracy.

Ties in an auction for a position would be settled by that very egalitarian tool - elections. The election structure would be determined by the ownership structure. A shareholder board would control an amount of votes equal to the percentage of shares owned by non-employees. The remainder of the votes would be given to employees on a one worker-one vote basis. I would expect a very different result in some firms than what we have now. Managers would be selected the same way, though with a smaller voting pool (the division, the plant or the work group - if large enough).

The third important element is incentive pay. In hiearchical firms, the incentives are about conformity. In the new model, the incentive is to innovate - and to do so outside the normal structures. The impact of the innovation would be judged by how it effects the bottom line, with results judged by an independent auditor and the final results confirmed democratically by a mixed assembly of workers and shareholders.

A fourth element is a more equal base pay, with separate pay for family size. To get to that level of pay, the responsibilty for procuring an education would be taken on by the firm so that one's education level is owned not only to ones own efforts but those of one's brother and sister workers. In this model, workers would be hired while in college or vocational training and be paid living expenses as well.

A fifth element is the use of benefit structures to encourage longevity. Stock grants would be designed to provide an adequate income at the end of a carrier of some twenty-five to thirty years, inclusive of training. At some point, workers would buy a home with low or no interest financing provided by firm with payoff tied to the projected retirement date. The level of interest would be tied to the level of employee-ownership in the firm at large. If there are outside shareholders, some interest is necessary to compensate them. However, if the firm is 100% employee-owned no interest is necessary since it would merely increase profits and be given right back to the employees. This benefit is only ethical with employee-owned firms, since owing a long term debt to a traditional firm can be seen as a form of peonage.

There are public policy implications of this new model. It will impact the tax system, the retirement system, the education system and the workforce development system. As multi-national firms adopt this model it will impact development, currency exchange and military spending (which will decrease as this model spreads). As the competition for good workers increases, traditionally disregarded workers in minority communities will be sought out and trained since innovation and success depends on finding talent. Firms will look for the best providers to do that, which means an expanded parochial votech education system. Finally, aerospace workers will move from designing and building weapons to supporting space exploration, which is both much more fun and much more necessary as advanced space technology will be useful in a future where fossil fuels are running out, especially in the production of food (it currently takes five calories of fossil fuel to generate one calorie of food, we can do better than that).

I talk more about all of this in my book, Musings from the Christian Left and on the Iowa Center for Fiscal Equity web page. Here are some links:
http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/Governance.html
http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/PayEquity.html
http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/socialsecurityandownership.html
http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/taxreformproposal.html
http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/multinationals.html
http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/socialistenterprise.html
http://www.geocities.com/bindner_space/careers.html
http://www.geocities.com/xianleft_michael/education.html
http://www.geocities.com/bindner_space/privateSTS.html

Left Wing Reforms for Social Security

Iraq has largely outbid Social Security for both the President's and the public's attention. There are good reasons for oppossing what the President has proposed. However, there are also good reasons to meet him half way. We need to focus not on the risk (this country thrives on risk) or even on replacing social insurance (this country is leery of the term social insurance AND you can insure private accounts and have the same effect as the current program). We need to attack how what the President has proposed will further disempower workers and then offer counter-proposals. Why not just use this as an electoral issue? Because first, we can really do some good for the working class by engaging in this debate and second, the first time we did in 1992 we were calling for private accounts. I will address why below.

We need to expand our attack in the following ways:

1. Point out that you can't eat stock shares any more than you can eat a social security check. The real problem is demographic and the way to solve that is to propose the following:

a. A living wage through the tax system so that every parent gets a raise anytime a child is born.

b. Move the responsibility for funding education (college, votech and even secondary) from parents to future employers, the same way we fund military academy and ROTC students. Also, make sure that teen parents are funded the same way, so that having a kid is not a death sentence to economic progress.

c. Expand day care and provide tax breaks to stay at home parents (like me).

2. Point out that the "ownership" proposed contains no control over that stock, which will lead to more jobs being sent offshore and lower wages, since the fund managers vote for short term profitability rather than the interests of the workers, or even the firm. In short, if you thought Enron was bad, wait to you see what's coming if this bill passes.

3. Take the incentive out of privitization:

a. Credit the employer contribution equally, regardless of the employee contribution. Note that this does not involve raising taxes and it makes the contribution more closely match the benefit (adjust benefit formulae accordingly).

b. Direct the trustees to use realistic economic assumptions. If they used realistic numbers there would be no crisis.

c. Raise the income cap, which brings the system into financial balance (in fact, it would necessitate cutting the general tax rate or going to something like private accounts because the trust fund surplus would be too large given honest economic assumptions). More importantly, doing this would raise the average income amount and lead to much higher payments to retirees. Surpisingly, Bush said today that he is amenable to raising the cap.

Just saying no is not nearly as effective as raising these points. Doing so takes us out of the role of defending government for its own sake (which is where Andrew Card wants us going into 2006) and puts us back into the position of defending workers. Raising the question of a living wage in order to make abortion rare also gives us street cred with the red state union members who used to be Democrats and are no longer.

If all of these objections are raised, there is room for compromise. If the cap is raised, an average employer contribution is credited and realistic ecomomic assumptions are used the Social Security trust fund will have too much money.

This is why personal accounts are neccessary and why Democrats proposed them in 1992.

Senator Moynihan thought it unconscionable for the government to subsist on payroll taxes in order to build up the Social Security Trust Fund. We should too. The Clinton proposal was to create add on accounts above Social Security with a tax incentive for doing so. In other words, he did not object to personal accounts per say but the manner of funding them. Either way, these accounts will be funded from the general fund, so the difference is mainly semantic. If the stocks in that account were controlled by the worker or her representatives (union, professional society, etc.) and she could invest some of these funds in her workplace then we might have a deal which actually benefits workers. See http://www.geocities.com/iowaequity/ for more details.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Comments on comments on Cohen's Israel Article

I have been sampling comments to the provocative piece by Richard Cohen on Israel's existence being a mistake. I posted a long comment on Meryl Yourish's piece in response, although I doubt she will publish, so I am reposting it here.

Richard Cohen did not say Israel should roll over and play dead, or that it should not exist now. If he had told the whole truth, he would have pointed out that an anti-semetic US State Department turned away all refugees. Had they not turned them away, there would have been a mass migration here which would have lead to further pressure to bomb the death camps and otherwise act against the Holocost.

Cohen’s title was provocative - it made you look. His point was that reoccupation of Gaza and south Lebanon would not be a good idea. He may be right if the answer is a two state solution, although I don’t think the two state solution has been thought through as yet, since two real states would mean a Hamas with a right to arm itself as its own country. I think that is a non-starter. It also does not solve the demographic problem of the Israeli Arab Muslims (the Christians have mostly fled by now from both Israel and the West Bank). Unless a Palestinian state includes the Muslim areas in the north as well as a chunk of the West Bank and that state is absorbed into a larger Arab federation under Hashemite rule (and I am talking Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan), the two state solution is bound to fail.

What is the alternative? Peace and Justice. So far that is not going too far in either camp. Israel claims to be a bastion of westernism, although if it is it has an apartheid problem it will have to solve. In fact, claiming to be a Jewish state and violating the Torah’s edicts about abusing the alien in its midsts is an exercise in hypocracy.

If Hamas really wants to upset the applecart, it should end the call to abolish Israel and instead demand full Israeli citizenship for all Palestinians and Arab Israelis, including the obligation of military service. This would certainly change the nature of the debate and probably get to the heart of Cohen’s point, that what Israel is doing is inconstent with the Torah. He just didn’t say it that way.

Ask yourself this question, if a Jewish State is about Judaism rather than ethnic nationalism (which is an interesting question to debate), than how is it not silly to expect G_d to allow the restoration of the Temple or the return of the tablets from their likely resting place in Eritrea while the Arabs are being treated as slaves?

So, is Cohen a self-hating Jew, or one who is calling on the Jews to honor Judaism rather than ethnic nationalism? As you say at the outset, you would like to throw him out of the tribe, which means that the likely answer is that he has violated Jewish tribalism rather than Judaism. When you can see the difference, peace is possible.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

President ISO Doctrine

Dan Froomkin claims in The Washington Post that George Bush is Desparately Seeking Doctrine. The key to understanding the Bush foreign policy comes in four observations.

One, George Bush, at least at the start of the war, quite rightly believed himself to be the king of the world. Any look at our mutual defense treaties shows that he was not too far from right. Every commander of a unified operation must be an American and must report to the President of the United States. This supremacy explains the Iraq War, the worldwide protests to it and the recent need for a new doctrine - as the other leaders of the world seem to be getting him to acknowledge that he is, not in fact, king - unless he wishes to resume the Cold War with China and Russia. Since Russia is an economic backwater and everyone now knows it, resuming Cold War with it is not likely and because we are an economic backwater compared to China, or at least beholden to them. Eventually, a stronger political union within our alliances is necessary - one which has elected legislators, a single executive and sovereignty. Nothing else can face the challenge of terrorism.

Second, the Iraq War really is a civil war and has been since the first President Bush encouraged Shia forces to attempt to overthrow Saddam. Everyone knows we have taken sides in this dispute, we just won't admit it. If we admit it, we can act appropriately and seek an honest broker to represent Sunni interests and oversee their territory, possibly the Jordanians or the Syrians.

Third, taking the war on terror to Iraq is not only not making us safer, it is the most cold blooded act of the last 2000 years. Essentially, what the administration has done is made an entire civilian population cannon fodder in the War on Terror. By any standard, that is cold.

Four, regardless of what people say, the Israeli - Palestinian conflict colors our policy in the Mid-East. No, I am not saying we went to war in Iraq because of Israel. We went to war in Iraq as part of the war on terror. We are in the war on terror because of our support for Israeli Jews vis-a-vis Israeli Arabs. Since peace with Jordan, any West Bank Palestinian is now an Israeli without the rights that come with that designation unless and until Israel establishes a separate Palestinian-Arab state from the West Bank and (due to demography) northern Israel. If it does not wish to do that, then the Arabs would be best served by seeking their rights as Israelis rather than seeking a separate state.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Benedict XVI and the Catholic Left

In the past year, the ascension of Pope Benedict to the papacy has gotten quite an interesting reaction in the United States, especially among the Catholic left. Many are wringing their hands about the likely direction of the Church on such issues as homosexuality, birth control, stem cell research and the need to expand the priesthood to women and the married (and supposedly married women). I do not share their desparation, however.

His Holiness, in his last homily before the election, decried relativism in Catholic doctrine, stating that some doctrines cannot be changed. This is all well and good, or all so tragic, if you believe that the papacy has the power to determine what is moral and what is not. Claiming such a power is itself the height of relativism. The truth is the truth, no matter what the pope says. This is Benedict's blind spot, which many Catholic's don't share. It is not absolute truth that is in doubt, for God is abolute truth - it is the Roman Curia's monopoly on it that we question. Indeed, one cannot claim both authority and natural law in the same breath and expect me not to laugh, since the resort to authority is the suspension of the use of reason. The power of natural law is that it is true, and indeed divine law, because of its own truth, not because it is what the Pope says. The Pope is indeed skilled in his knowledge of natural reasoning, except for that blind spot about papal authority.

The fact of the matter is, Rome's teaching on birth control and homosexuality are only relevant if we make it relevant. Most Catholics, acting on a fully formed conscience, choose to disregard Rome's teachings on these issues. It is obvious to us that birth control is not the same thing as abortion and that homosexuality is not some disordered condition but merely a biological variation. Any Roman attempt to teach otherwise is, and will be, seen as out of touch and largely irrelevant. Papal teaching on these issues is only a problem if you believe the Pope has the power to determine the truth. Those of us who are in the know on the history of the papacy know that any claims to such power, with or without resort to an infallible declaration, are simply not true. If the Western Patriarch were to act in concert with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the remainder of the "Great Churches" we might be convinced - although most likely not because the science does not support papal teaching on either homosexuality or birth control/stem cell research. Benedict XVI and the Curia are of course entitled to their opinions on these issues, but they are entirely their opinions and nothing more. If they wish to torture themselves as to what the people in the pews are doing, they have that right. I will not lose any sleep over it and neither should the Catholic left.

As to the ordination of women and married people of both genders - and the eventual right of priests to marry - these will come as our common understanding of the equality of women and the God given nature of sexuality overcome the warped attitudes of the past, which have nothing to do with natural reasoning and everything to do with a false sense of sexual piety. The Church will evolve in God's time. There is nothing that we, or this pope, can do to speed it up or slow it down one bit.

Unlike my colleagues in the Catholic Left, I have no fear of this papacy. Indeed, from what I have heard to date, Benedict XVI is something of a saint. My hope is that he will be a symbol of our common heritage as Roman Catholics. My faith tells me that God will use him well and we may well yet be pleasantly surprised at how he governs the Church (bringing collegiality back to community of bishops and even reaching out to the East). If we merely love God and love him, all things are possible.