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A Changed Church

Fr. Eugene Hemrick

Jan 14, 2016

The lyrics of song writer John Lennon, “Those were the days, my friend, I never thought they would end” remind me of my priesthood whose lifestyle I thought would never end; but it did! What happened?
Decades ago many priests spoke English with their parents still speaking their native language. Even though they and their parents held on to their culture, most became enculturated into an America way of life.
Today many parents of our International priests remain in their native country and English is not the first language of their sons, nor have some priests successfully enculturated into our culture.
 In the 1980s, the bishops praised the enrichment new cultures bring to our church. Today, they are voicing concern over International priests having difficulty in becoming an integral part of their presbyterates.
A second area of change is priests ordained but a few years becoming pastors of multiple parishes. Not long ago rectories contained several priests and their ministry revolved solely around the parish. Today’s priest is more likely to be a circuit rider rather than living the model of stability in which his community is one parish and its parishioners.
 A third area of concern is the ordination of older men, whereas in decades past, the average age of priests was twenty-five years old. It is true older men are often more conversant with worldly matters, which is an asset in communicating with parishioners. On the other hand, they create an older priesthood. With age comes wisdom, but it often shortens one’s energy level and cause inflexibility. A fourth concern is a growing shortage of priests. This is causing some dioceses to ask retired priests to come out of retirement and fill in where needed. And sometimes it leads to closing parishes.
Although today’s priesthood isn’t the same as before, there’s no reason for alarm about an era ending in which it was larger, more homogeneous and younger. There is the motto, “In unity there is strength.” If we take a closer look at our church and go beyond its priesthood solely we find an exciting unity giving it renewed strength. A new corps of deacons has joined our priests, as have well-educated lay ecclesial ministers. Women now have positions in diocesan centers that once were held by priests, giving diocesan life a greater balance. And wherever we look, we find lay volunteers who are the backbone of the parish.
   We truly live in a new era in which we can sing, “These are the days of new, I hope they never end.” 

  

IPR In The New: Dennis Coyle on French Terror Attacks

Dec 1, 2015
 
IPR Fellow Dennis Coyle was in France during the terror attacks in Paris.  You can read his reflections here.

 

 

Keeping the Ecological Ball Rolling

Fr. Eugene Hemrick

Oct. 6, 2015

Today’s ecological programs are abundant, creative and inspirational. To name just a few: wind farms, solar panels, energy saving devices, recycling, roof top gardens, streamlined waste management, rain gardens, rain barrels, and light rail transportation.  As awesome as is this inventiveness, will it continue to grow and be even more awesome, or will it decelerate and be replaced by other exciting movements?  What role in particular does parish church life need to play in order to keep the ecological movement alive and well? Why raise this question now in the midst of an upsurge in ecological enthusiasm? For one reason, movements tend to have their day in the sun and with time to wane and disappear due to life-changing circumstances.  What inspired an older generation is not always as inspirational to the next. Those who experienced World War II come from a time in which conserving and respect of resources were the rule. Although we are blessed with abundance like never before, taking it for granted is easy to succumb to. Another concern in regards to ecological awareness waning is human fascination tends to rapidly flit from one thing to another. A new car may be the rage one day and along comes a more attractive model the next day capturing our fascination. Add to this Stock Market plunges, unforeseen disasters and other major economic worries that can shift our attention away from ecology. Becoming matter-of-fact is yet another threat to ecological progress. The heart cools, indifference sets in and healthy passion — the driving force behind progress — dwindles. This often leads to living the moment and a selfish attitude of letting future generations take care of themselves. And then there is corruption like that of found in Volkswagen that teaches money can often be the source of all evil. It goes without saying ecological movement possesses good intentions, maximum effort and a wholesome sense of doing what is right. Where there is goodness, however, there is always resistance to it. Take, for example, so-called champions of freedom who feel those who are pushing for ecological progress threaten their liberties whenever sacrifice, cutbacks and change are mentioned. During the water crisis in California, a gentleman wrote, “This is my life and my money; I am free to do whatever I want with them when it comes to using water.” At its heart ecological success depends on humankind working with and respecting God’s creation. If embraced many of our ecological problems would be solved. Not everyone, however, is so God centered. And for some employing God to solve our problems is a throwback to outdated pre-technological times.  As we advanced from a pre-tech society to a technological society, theologian Fr. Romano Guardini observed, “Equally evident is the danger of power [in the new technological world], the danger of revolt against God — the danger, above all of no longer being aware of him as the serious reality, the danger of losing the measure of things and lapsing into the arbitrary exercise of authority. To forestall this danger, Christ sets up humility, the liberator which breaks asunder the spell of power.” In Psalm 3 we hear echoes of Guardini’s concern, “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of me, there is no help for him in God.” In light of all that threatens ecological progress, what one area most should our church focus? Where is to be found the ongoing strength needed for ecological success?  The answer is in education that employs a revolutionary pedagogy in developing and increasing knowledge. On the subject of knowledge, Cardinal John Henry Newman writes, “When I speak of knowledge, I mean something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it sees; which invests it with an idea. . . . It is an acquired illumination.” Reading between the lines we learn that Newman is calling for critical thinking and the revolutionary method of “calling into question” our experiences as the primary means for developing knowledge leading to effective action. This pedagogic approach is nothing new. In praising the power of raising questions, Roger Bacon wrote, “A prudent question is one half of wisdom.” Law schools employ the Socratic Method —- a method based on the power of questioning. So too is the question paramount in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and it rings through Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si [Praise Be]. Adding to the list of those who employ the power of the question is Saint Pope John Paul II whose New Evangelization calls into question the status quo in order that evangelization is able to cope with our post-modern changing times. Where than should the pedagogic method of calling into question focus? Socrates wrote, “The most important part of education is proper training in the nursery.” It will be the youth who will carry the day or drop the ball in regards to the future of ecology. One of the admired qualities of youth is their desire to change the status quo in order to create a better world. One look at student unrest reflects this revolutionary spirit. Their success will greatly depend on how well they are taught to call into question their experiences of the world. In the church this teaching method should not only be employed with the youth, but be the heart of adult education, homilies and part of common parlance. In the Old Testament the prophets were forever calling into question the behavior of the Israelites. Often they were killed for their efforts, but every so often they succeeded in changing the status quo, and in doing so exemplified the power of the prophetic spirit. It is that same power that is needed to insure success in keeping the ecological movement strong.

 

Same Song, New Verse: Once Again, A President is Taken Down by His Own (Minority) Party

Matthew Green

June 16, 2015

President Obama has frequently been stymied by Republicans in Congress. But his legislative agenda was halted last week not by the G.O.P. but by an unexpected group: members of his own party in the House of Representatives.
On Friday House Democrats voted nearly 3 to 1 against Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which gives aid to those who lose their jobs due to global competition. Democrats did this because a procedural rule required approval of the TAA for the passage of another program – Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – which would make it easier for trade agreements to be enacted by Congress.
Obama wanted TPA since it would ease the approval of a new trade agreement (known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership) being negotiated with several Pacific nations. But Democrats in the House did not support the agreement. And though they didn’t have the votes to defeat TPA, they could – and did – have the votes to kill the TPA indirectly by rejecting TAA (which Republicans are less enamored with).
Though TAA’s defeat was unexpected, it’s hardly unusual for minority parties in the House of Representatives to rebuff their own president. To give a few examples from history:
* In December 1985, Ronald Reagan’s tax reform bill came up against angry members of his own party in the Democratic-led House; nearly all of them voted against the rule for considering the bill, forcing its delay.
* In October 1990, three-fifths of House Republicans (led by minority whip Newt Gingrich) voted against a tax-raising budget bill negotiated between George H. W. Bush and congressional Democrats, leading to a partial government shutdown.
* When Bill Clinton vetoed legislation in 1995 limiting the power of shareholders to sue for fraud, nearly half of minority party Democrats in the House voted to successfully override his veto.
* In September 2008, two-thirds of House Republicans voted against an emergency economic bailout measure pushed for by George W. Bush, defeating the bill.
The willingness of minority parties to vote against a same-party White House on major legislative initiatives underscores how relatively unimportant presidential politics and agendas are to the minority party in the U.S. House. As I argue in my recent book, the House minority party cares a great deal about becoming a majority party, and to a lesser extent about shaping public policy and protecting its procedural rights. What it cares about least is loyalty to the presidential party.
There are a number of reasons for this. One is that Presidents want to get things done, so they often negotiate and compromise first and foremost with the party that has agenda-setting power – the House majority party – even if that means developing legislation opposed by their own party in the chamber. Another reason is that the White House often takes its congressional party’s support for granted, which creates resentment among its members.
In the case of last week’s trade vote, both policy differences and personal pique appear to explain why Democrats went against the president. Obama, like past presidents of both parties, wants to develop favorable trade agreements with other countries, and majority Republicans do too. But progressives in Congress have become increasingly skeptical of free trade. Unions and liberal activists successfully convinced many House Democrats to not only oppose TPA but to vote strategically against TAA as well.
Some House Democrats also felt neglected by a White House that assumed their loyalty did not need careful cultivation. To these lawmakers, Obama’s speech before the Democratic Caucus and appearance at the annual congressional baseball game were little more than empty, last-minute gestures. Matt Fuller of Roll Call put it this way: “House Dems are the moody teenagers who were like, uh, just ‘cause you took us for ice cream doesn’t mean I forgive you for missing my bday.” Or as Keith Ellison (D-MN) tweeted, “Now Obama wants to talk?”
The TPA and TAA face an uncertain future. On the one hand, sometimes lawmakers need to vote against something before they can be convinced to vote for it. And in three of the four examples mentioned above, the president ultimately did get Congress to go along with (most of) what he wanted. On the other hand, the TAA lost badly on Friday, getting just 126 votes of the 215 that were needed for passage. Even Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ultimately came out against it.
If Obama really wants the TPA, he’s going to have to work a lot harder at getting his party in the House to stand with him. By most accounts, it will not be an easy task. Perhaps Obama has learned the hard way that, even in the majoritarian House of Representatives, minority parties matter.

 

Puzzle. Research. Catholic.

Stephen Schneck

April 15, 2015

The name of our Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies is often on my mind. It is an on-going puzzle for those of us at the Institute to sort out how the words “research” and “Catholic” fit together.
A century ago the sociologist, Max Weber, insisted that research should be wertfrei – value free. Research, he thought, should not be prejudiced by a scholar’s values. Scholars should bracket and, to the extent possible, suspend values that might bias inquiry, whether from ideology, class, gender, occupation, nationality, race, religion, or anything else. Value free objectivity should be a scholar’s vantage point for analysis, critique, and synthesis. Scholarship biased by external values is bad scholarship.
The rub is, though, that real scholarship inevitably falls short of objectivity. Decades of studies have shown that even the best research is impacted by researchers’ values. Sometimes scholars cannot perceive this in themselves. My breakfast reading each day is two well-known national newspapers. I earnestly believe that my morning papers make no difference for my research on community and democracy. But, I’m pretty sure, now that my papers have been mentioned, that you want to know which newspapers I read with orange juice in hand. Whoa! Is research compromised by what newspapers, websites, or cable news channels a scholar follows?
Sometimes scholars do realize when their objectivity has been compromised. For example, I have come to recognize that I do not have an open mind about democracy, but instead accept that it is a good thing. In my research, on occasion, I do see my embrace of democratic values shaping my inquiry about all manner of questions concerning governance. Am I doing the right thing, when seeing the leakage of democratic values into my research, that I try in good Weberian-style to bracket those democratic values and hold them in abeyance? The jury might be out on that.
Since Weber, any number of critics have challenged his ideal of value free inquiry. Weber himself thought that wertfrei scholarship was more of an aspiration to be pursued dutifully rather than something that was actually achievable. But, a surprising number of critics now challenge even aspiring to such objectivity. Scholarship not only empirically IS always informed by values, they say (that leakage problem that I mentioned) – but it OUGHT to be. In analyzing poverty, these critics might ask, should not the scholar be informed by her commitment to social justice? In analyzing oppression, should not the scholar be informed by his commitment to rights and liberties? In analyzing demographic changes to American families, should not the scholar be informed by…. Well, you get the picture.
This brings me back to where I started: How do the words “research” and “Catholic” fit together? After all, the word “Catholic” invokes a comprehensive slate of values. To what extent can, does, and should such values be involved in the Institute’s research? What points in the process of research are the most important for considering this question?
Didn’t old Weber have an important argument in insisting on the ideal of objective, wertfrei scholarship, if only as an aspiration? If so, then should we not keep the words “research” and “Catholic” at some distance from each other? However if inevitably values smuggle their way into scholars’ work anyway, isn’t there something to be said for purposely embracing values that we believe to be good to guide and measure our research? So, should we not nudge the two words in our name closer together?
As I said, this is our on-going puzzle. Research! Catholic! I would be suspicious of any claim to resolve the matter with some set-in-stone formula or principle. Prudence is required. We approach the questions case by case, issue by issue, and sometimes still get it wrong. But, arguably, it’s this puzzle that defines the space for what the Institute does – and that makes our work so interesting.


 

 

Tracking a Decaying Norm: Growing Dissent on Votes for Speaker of the House

Matthew Green

Jan 7, 2015

Tuesday’s vote for Speaker of the House of Representatives was, on one level, anything but newsworthy: as expected, John Boehner of Ohio, the GOP’s official nominee, was chosen. But on another level it was quite unexpected, because a large number of majority party members refused to back their party’s nominee – more, in fact, than has been seen on the House floor in decades, reaching what scholars Jeff Jenkins and Charles Stewart called “the modern high water mark of majority party disloyalty.” To provide some historical perspective, I put together the chart below, which shows the percent of votes from the House majority and minority parties that were cast against their party’s nominee on the chamber floor since 1991. (It includes “present” votes, which are often cast by the nominees themselves, and excludes lawmakers who did not vote. See Aaron Blake’s piece here for raw numbers going back to 1913.)

Green Graph

In 1997, Newt Gingrich faced what was then an unusual degree of open dissent from fellow Republicans, following ethical lapses and a disappointing election year. But the 4% of House Republicans who voted against Gingrich as speaker on the House floor was nothing compared to what happened on Tuesday, with over one in ten House Republicans opting to vote present or cast ballots for another candidate besides Boehner. (There were also, by my count, 15 different candidates receiving at least one vote for speaker, which I believe is also an historic high-water mark.)
Worth noting as well is the degree of opposition to party nominees that has recently emerged within the House minority party. That opposition peaked in 2011, following a devastating election for House Democrats, when 19 Democrats voted for other candidates or voted “present” rather than support Nancy Pelosi. But dissent has continued within Democratic ranks since then, albeit to a smaller degree than within the GOP.
There are doubtless several unique explanations for this dissent, including ideological and political divisions within the parties and unhappiness with Pelosi and Boehner as individual leaders. But it is nonetheless remarkable to see that what was once an inviolable norm in the House of Representatives – unanimous support for your party’s nominee for speaker on the chamber floor – has increasingly decayed. It did not cost Boehner the speakership this time; but if the trend continues, winning the speakership may no longer be a guarantee, even for those with the backing of a majority of the majority party.

Featured image is by Jack Donaghy from Flickr’s Creative Commons, license can be found here.

Was 2014 a “Wave” Election?

By Matthew Green

Nov 17, 2014

The term “wave” has been bandied about by numerous journalists and pundits to describe the most recent midterm election. “Yes, this was a wave,” wrote Stuart Rothenberg immediately after the election. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post agreed. Most recently, Dana Milbank ridiculed House minority leader Nancy Pelosi for calling the election an “ebb tide.” “If Democrats lose three of the five undecided races,” he wrote, “they will have ebbed all the way back to the day Herbert Hoover won the presidency. To fail to see that as a wave, Pelosi must be far out to sea.”

There is no doubt that 2014 was a very good election year for Republicans. As Milbank rightly observed, the G.O.P. will come away with, historically speaking, a very large majority in the House of Representatives. The party also wrested control of 11 state legislative chambers from Democrats, and there will be more Republican state lawmakers after this year than at any time since 1920. Just over three-fifths of governors will be Republicans as well. In short, the Republican Party will have an extraordinary level of dominance in state and federal government.

But for those of us who remember the 1994 “wave” election, in which Republicans won a net 52 House seats, 8 Senate seats, and 10 governorships, this past election seems to be a fairly moderate party victory by comparison. This time around, the Republicans’ net partisan seat swing – that is, the net number of seats they will gain – will be at least 10 in the U.S. House and 8 in the U.S. Senate (plus 2 governorships, and a third – Alaska’s – going from the Democrats to an Independent). That’s not small, but is it of “wave” proportions?

One problem in determining whether we have seen an electoral wave is that the term “wave” is not firmly defined in political science. Most definitions have in common the idea that in a wave election, an unusual magnitude of seats or offices switches from one party to another. The nature of that magnitude is open to debate, however.

(Some, including Rothenberg and Blake, have called the 2014 election a “wave” in part because of the closeness by which some Democratic candidates won reelection. Nonetheless, it seems more reasonable – and less prone to arbitrary judgment calls – to define a wave based on which party actually won races, not the margin by which they did or did not do so.)

Doing a quick Google search, I came across the following definitions of an electoral wave in the House and/or Senate that was made before the elections. (I added one of my own as well.) I then noted whether the 2014 congressional election qualifies as a wave according to each definition.

Definition of a Wave Election True for U.S. House in 2014? True for U.S. Senate in 2014?
Net partisan seat swing >201 No n/a
Net partisan seat swing >402 No n/a
Across-the-board gains3 Yes Yes
Sizeable gains and unexpected victories by weak candidates4 No Yes
Most/all competitive seats go to one party5 No Yes
Single national issue dominates6 No No
Net partisan seat swing larger than historical average7 No Yes
Potential to influence political status quo due to substantial increase in seats8 No Yes
G.O.P. wins control of Senate and wins one state won by President Obama in 2012 9 n/a Yes

The pattern is clear. By most definitions, the Senate elections constituted a Republican wave. The House elections, however, did not.

Why a wave in one chamber but not in the other? Perhaps candidate quality made a difference; some very strong Republicans ran for Democratic-held Senate seats this year. More obviously, Republicans had much more fertile electoral terrain in the Senate than the House. Seven Democratically-held Senate seats (7% of the chamber) were in states that had voted for Romney in 2012. By contrast, just 10 Democratic-held House seats (2% of the chamber) were in districts that leaned G.O.P. (based on Charlie Cook’s Partisan Voting Index). Put another way, the 2010 House midterm election—an obvious electoral wave for the G.O.P. in the House—brought the party’s seat total in that chamber to nearly its high-water mark. There simply wasn’t much beach left for them to take this time around.

Thus, as tempting as it may be to provide extra drama and significance to the 2014 election by calling it a wave, it seems to be something of an exaggeration, at least as far as Congress is concerned. Saying otherwise obscures the role of candidate quality, district and state partisanship, and the previous midterm elections in shaping the outcome. Besides, given how dominant the G.O.P. will be next year – not only in Congress but in the states – it seems that the election was plenty significant without having to compare it to unusual oceanic disturbances.

 

Notes

1 See e.g. Stuart Rothenberg; Lou Cannon, Real Clear Politics.

2 See e.g. Daily Caller.

3 Chris Cillizza, Washington Post .

4 Stuart Rothenberg.

5 Stuart Rothenberg. Rothenberg rated 11 House seats as “pure toss-up” as of 10/29/14, nine D (AZ-1, AZ-2, CA-7, CA-52, IA-1, IL-10, MN-8, NY-1, and WV-3 ) and two R (FL-2, IA-3). Democrats lost five of those 11 (IA-1, IA-3, IL-10, NY-1, and WV-3) and won four others (AZ-1, CA-52, FL-2, and MN-8), with two races undecided (AZ-2 and CA-7). In early November he rated 4 Senate seats as “pure toss-up” (Georgia, Iowa, Kansas and North Carolina); Republican candidates won all four.

6 Chris Cillizza couples this with “substantial gains” electorally and unexpected candidates winning. According to CNN Exit Polls, the “most important issue facing the country today” in 2014 was the economy (45%), followed by health care (25%). In 2010, by contrast, the economy was a concern among 63%, with health care garnering 18%.

7 Since 1955, the average net partisan seat swing in the 6th year of a presidential party is 27.8 House seats and 5.5 Senate seats. There have been six such elections (1955, 1966, 1974, 1986, 1988, and 2006).

8 Jacob Smith, Spes Publica defines this as winning control of Congress or reaching a level of seats higher than its mean for the decade; AND having a seat swing greater than average for the decade; AND seeing a seat swing higher than any the other party received in the past election.

9 Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

 

Feature image is by Vox Efx on Flickr’s Community Commons, you can find the license agreement here.

 

A Few (Final) Thoughts about the 2014 Midterms

Matthew Green

Oct 30,2014

It’s hard to add much to what has already been written about the upcoming midterm elections. But there are a few interesting and less-discussed facets of the elections – and, in particular, their likely aftermath – that I think are worth highlighting.

1. State-level elections could benefit Republicans. A number of incumbent Republican governors are in danger of losing reelection. But this recent story in the Washington Post notes that Republicans could control even more state legislatures than they already do. States have been the source of especially innovative and bold legislative moves since 2010. Look for more conservative-leaning policy proposals in newly-GOP state legislatures in the next two years.

2. Senate Republicans could win an impotent majority. Republicans are the odds-on favorites to win control of the Senate. But what will a GOP Senate realistically be able to accomplish? The 60-vote Senate, Obama’s veto power, the relative diversity of ideologies and temperaments within the Senate GOP, more Republicans than Democrats having to defend their Senate seats in 2016…it all adds up to a Senate where blocking bills and symbolic gestures will likely trump proactive legislating. Which, of course, wouldn’t be much different than what we have today.

3. House Republicans in the 114th Congress could be even more divided. The Post has an intriguing story about some of the new House Republicans who are destined to join the next Congress. A number of them, it seems are cut from the same cloth as some of the more ornery members of the current GOP Conference. In the short term, they may refrain from voting for Boehner as speaker on the House floor in January 2015, a (probably) symbolic but nonetheless meaningful indicator of how well they will cooperate with party leaders in the future. Some may also choose to join the Liberty Caucus, a semi-formal group of constitutional House conservatives who object in principle to some of the GOP’s more statist agenda items. House Republicans will need a fairly large majority if they want to pass measures opposed by both Democrats and these recalcitrant colleagues.

4. Efforts to weaken independent and 3rd party “spoiler” candidates. There are some notable races in which third party or independent candidates have complicated the ability of Republicans to win (the Senate race in Kansas being one of the most notable). I wouldn’t be surprised if the GOP looks for more ways to limit their support among voters, just as Democrats will do the opposite. (One way might be stricter voter ID laws: consider that prohibiting the use of college IDs by would-be voters will probabily depress the youth vote, and younger folks are not only important supporters of Democratic candidates but Libertarians too.)

In short, while the elections themselves could lead to some interesting or unexpected outcomes, I’m keeping my eye on the legislative and electoral politics that will follow in the months after. Stay tuned.

 

Featured image is by Erik (HASH) Hersman from Flickr’s Creative Commons, license can be found here.