‘Compassion fatigue’ — or simply despair?

I think that Father Tom Reese’s new piece for the Wash Post’s OnFaith blog probably captures well what a lot of people are feeling about Haiti.

Here’s the beginning:

*****

imagesAs I was thinking about this column, there was a part of me that knew I had to write about Haiti and there was another part that simply wanted to ignore it.

On the one hand, we are faced with a humanitarian disaster in Porte-au-Prince that cannot be ignored. An estimated 200,000 people have died. Thousands have been traumatically injured, and many of them will die of their injuries or disease. These people are not just statistics, they are men and women and children with faces and names and feelings. Those who survive will be living in a ruined country without hospitals, utilities or housing. Finding water and food is a daily struggle. Haiti was a basket case before the earthquake and now there is not even a basket.

On the other hand, I want to ignore Haiti. I am suffering from what has been called compassion fatigue. Or maybe it is simply despair. The economy of the world is in the toilet. Unemployment in the U.S. will stay around 10 percent for the rest of the year. Wars are going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over Africa. There are millions of refugees around the world. Because of global warming, humanity is heading pell-mell toward an ecological cataclysm that will make the Haitian disaster pale to insignificance. And partisan politics has created gridlock in Washington making it impossible to deal with any of these crises.

As a political scientist, journalist and priest, I have followed and commented on the tragedies of the world for the past 30 years, and I am tired and ready to despair. Living in a global village sucks. The problems are too big and we appear powerless to do anything about them. St. John of the Cross would call this the “Dark Night of the Soul.” I think it is what Jesus experienced in the agony of the Garden.

How do we get out of this dark night, how do we get out of this despair?

*****

To read the rest, go here.

Christmas trees in September?

A few tidbits for a Tuesday:

1. In a Village Voice report on how much New Yorkers make, we learn that Archbishop Dolan’s official salary is $23,500. I always wondered what an archbishop makes (but not enough to remember to ask).

2. When I watched a bit of the Detroit Lions winning their first game in a very, very long time on Sunday, I found myself wondering if new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz might be Jewish. Apparently, he’s not.

3. I heard that there are Christmas trees up in Macy’s and other department stores. It’s September, one month removed from August. So much for the War on Christmas.

4. I came across a short piece that Father Thomas Reese, the oft-quoted Jesuit, wrote about, of all things, the Roman Polanski case. He writes:

*****

Imagine if the Knight of Columbus decided to give an award to a pedophile priest who had fled the country to avoid prison. The outcry would be universal. Victim groups would demand the award be withdrawn and that the organization apologize. Religion reporters would be on the case with the encouragement of their editors. Editorial writers and columnist would denounce the knights as another example of the insensitivity of the Catholic Church to sexual abuse.

And they would all be correct. And I would join them.

But why is there not similar outrage directed at the film industry for giving an award to Roman Polanski, who not only confessed to statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl but fled the country prior to sentencing? Why have film critics and the rest of the media ignored this case for 31 years? He even received an Academy award in 2003. Are the high priests of the entertainment industry immune to criticism?

*****

Fine point, Father Reese.

5. Check out this artful AP photo (by Biswaranjan Rout) at a Hindu festival in India, where believers dress like the gods Ram and Hanuman:

APTOPIX India Hindu Festival

Fighting Irish: War of words over Obama’s invite to Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak at its upcoming commencement has unleashed a torrent of reactions.

This will only heat up as the May 17 graduation comes closer.

The Catholic bishop whose diocese includes Notre Dame, Bishop John M. D’Arcy, says he will not attend. He writes, in part:

*****

President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.

*****

Others, including David Gibson and Father Tom Reese, have raised what has to be a very important point: Cardinal Egan hosted Obama at the Al Smith Dinner and was quite willing to be photographed chatting and laughing with the then-presidential candidate, who had the same views on abortion that he does today.

What gives?

Reese writes:

*****

How do I know that Notre Dame is not violating Catholics in Political Life? Because Notre Dame is doing nothing more than what has already been done by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, who taught canon law and worked as a judge in the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota, a church court based in the Vatican.

If Cardinal Egan can invite Obama to speak at the Al Smith dinner in October of 2008 when he was only a presidential candidate, then there is certainly nothing wrong with Notre Dame having the President speak at a commencement. Other pro-choice speakers at Al Smith dinners included Al Gore and Tony Blair (a Catholic). What is OK for a cardinal archbishop is certainly OK for a university. Or are bishops exempt from “Catholics in Political Life”?

*****

The gloves have also come off on the question of who gets to decide which public figures can be invited to Catholic colleges.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which insists on orthodoxy at Catholic colleges and regularly slams certain colleges’ choice of speakers, has an online petition going to oppose Obama’s appearance at ND.

Their letter to ND’s president includes this:

*****

This nation has many thousands of accomplished leaders in the Catholic Church, in business, in law, in education, in politics, in medicine, in social services, and in many other fields who would be far more appropriate choices to receive such an honor from the University of Notre Dame.

Instead Notre Dame has chosen prestige over principles, popularity over morality. Whatever may be President Obama’s admirable qualities, this honor comes on the heels of some of the most anti-life actions of any American president, including expanding federal funding for abortions and inviting taxpayer-funded research on stem cells from human embryos.

*****

Joe Feuerherd, publisher of the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, chastises Patrick Reilly, head of the Cardinal Newman Society, as an “academic ayatollah.” He writes:

*****

Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses — anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) – that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.