Saturday, June 28, 2008

GAFCON: A Communion is (Re)Born

The meeting in Jerusalem of the conservative Anglican Bishops who are fed up with the liberal heretics running the Anglican Churches in most of the developed countries (yes that includes most especially TEC/ECUSA) have issued a communique that in all but name has created a new communion. The "Jerusalem Declaration" as it is being called is decidedly Protestant. But it is at least unambiguously Christian.

They mince no words in calling out by name the "heterodox" churches in N. America and making it clear they will have no communion with them. They also give a polite nod to the See of Canterbury right before declaring that it is more or less irrelevant. Later they make it clear that they are moving forward and creating their own governing structure which will adhere to the classical Anglican doctrines as reflected in the 39 Articles and the 1662 Prayer Book. This is unlikely to sit well with so called Anglo-Catholics, but let's be honest, that is a group that should be on the endangered species list.

Short of becoming Orthodox or going back to Rome (my first two preferences in that order); this is all in all a pretty great day for Anglicanism. I say well done to them.

Go here to read the GAFCON Communique & Declaration of Jerusalem.

P. S. Does anyone know which four ecumenical councils they accept and which ones they reject? They mention four but do not name them.

A glimpse of an Old Rite Parish

Fr. John Whiteford has a two part look at an Orthodox Parish that follows the Old Rite on his blog. I strongly recommend it to those interested.

Part 1

Part 2

That sound you hear...

Is what little is left of the Fourth Amendment being fed into a shredder by the Bush Administration. Somewhere George Orwell is enjoying a round of "I told you so's."

WASHINGTON — The United States and the European Union are nearing completion of an agreement allowing law enforcement and security agencies to obtain private information — like credit card transactions, travel histories and Internet browsing habits — about people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Read the rest here

Thursday, June 26, 2008

By a vote of 5-4: Yes you can own a gun but...

All in all this was a reasoned and well balanced decision that says…
1. There is a right to own and posses firearms however…
2. That right is not unrestricted and reasonable regulations for the public safety may be applied.

Could I quibble with some of the details? Yes. But broadly speaking this is a good decision that strikes a sensible balance between the right of individuals to the means for self protection and the right of the public to be safe from irresponsible or lawless individuals. As is often the case there is no silver bullet. No decision was going to be perfect. The SCOTUS has been dodging this issue for decades. I am pleased they finally tackled it and relieved at a moderate decision that is unlikely to please the hard liners on either side of the gun debate.

For a detailed report go here.
For the text (157 pages!) of the decision go here.

Quote of the day...

HH Pope Benedict XVI greeting the crowds at his Wednesday audience while wearing the traditional Saturno hat.

"Christ's universal "yes" shows us with clarity how to give the right place to all the other values. We are thinking of values justly defended today, such as tolerance, liberty and dialogue. However, a tolerance that is no longer able to distinguish between good and evil would become chaotic and self-destructive. So, moreover, would a liberty that does not respect the freedom of others and does not find the common measure of our respective liberties, it would become anarchic and destroy authority. Dialogue that no longer knows what to dialogue about becomes empty chatter."

-Pope Benedict XVI during his weekly audience of June 25th 2008.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

SSPX Rapprochement?

There are a number of reports in both the press and on the internet suggesting that the Holy See may have offered the schismatic Roman Catholic traditionalist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) a deal to restore them to full communion with the church. I caution the reader that such reports have made the rounds before only to be shown up as rumors without foundation. That said, there are some points which cause me to treat these reports as not completely lacking in credibility.

First the reports are being posted by normally reliable sources. Secondly at least some in the SSPX seem to be confirming that something big may be imminent. And thirdly, unlike with most of the false rumors, this one has a date definitive mentioned (the 28th of June). This not only gives us a date, but it also is only a very short time away. Am I skeptical? I always am skeptical whenever reports of this nature surface about the SSPX. But others whose opinions I respect are taking this seriously. So I am not dismissing it.

I recommend the coverage over at Rorate Caeli which has a long track record for reporting on all things Traditionalist that is both well sourced and accurate.

UPDATE 06-24-08 @ 1045 PST: The rumors are true. Rorate has the text of the letter.

Quote of the day...

"[it] is contrary to the teachings of the fundamental text of Islamic law, the Quran ... [and] amounts to the expropriation from muslims of their goods; goods that were acquired legally. The state, if it is Islamic, does not have the right to seize my house, my wife or my slave."

-Imam El Hassan Ould Benyamin of Tayarat speaking in response to proposals to criminalize slavery in Mauritania.

In 2007 slavery was formally outlawed there after several previous attempts to outlaw slavery had failed. However various international human rights groups report that about 600,000 people (about 20% of the population & mostly black) are nonetheless held as slaves in Mauritania. Enforcement of anti-slavery laws there and in many other parts of Africa, especially predominantly Muslim countries, remains poor to non-existent. Although technically illegal in virtually every country in the world it is more or less openly practiced in many.

The "technically illegal" part is increasingly under direct attack by Islamic fundamentalists who regard slavery as a perfectly legitimate institution sanctioned and even mandated by the Quran and Sharia (Islamic Law).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Benedict XVI & The Liturgical Jacobins

Is Pope Benedict XVI determined to restore the Latin mass that many Roman Catholics thought had been consigned to the dustbin of history? The answer, in short, is both yes and no. But neither the "yes" nor the "no" quite fits the conventional speculations in several recent media reports following off-the-cuff remarks to a small Catholic association in Great Britain by a Vatican official. In unraveling this, it helps to begin at the beginning.

As he reminds us in his memoir, "Salt of the Earth," the young Joseph Ratzinger was deeply influenced, both spiritually and intellectually, by the mid-20th-century movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church's public worship--a movement that helped pave the way for the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Father Ratzinger was a peritus, a theological expert, at the council, and like many others, he welcomed the council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: here was a ratification of the liturgical reform movement he had long supported and a blueprint for further organic development of the celebration of mass. In the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, however, Ratzinger became convinced that organic development had been jettisoned for revolution, the liturgical Jacobins being a cadre of academics determined to impose their view of a populist liturgy on the entire Catholic Church.

In the decades between Vatican II and his election as Benedict XVI, Ratzinger became a leader in what became known as "the reform of the reform": a loosely knit international network of laity, bishops, priests and scholars, committed to returning the process of liturgical development in the Catholic Church to what they understood to be the authentic blueprint of Vatican II. Seeing a Gregorian chant CD from an obscure Spanish monastery rise to the top of the pop charts in the 1990s, they wondered why much of the church had abandoned one of Catholicism's classic musical forms. Finding congregations that seemed more interested in self-affirmation than worship, and priests given to making their personalities the center of the liturgical action, they asked whether the rush to create a kind of sacred circle in which the priest faces the people over the eucharistic "table" might have something to do with the problem.

And they reminded the entire church that Vatican II had not mandated many of the things most Catholics thought it had decreed: for example, the elimination of Latin (and chant) from the liturgy and the free-standing altar behind which the priest faced the congregation.

Read the rest of this excellent article here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Marriage Discipline: East & West

There is a remarkable two part essay authored by the recently reposed Archbishop Elias Zoghby of the Melkite Catholic Church (in communion with Rome) that has been posted by Wei-Hsien Wan over at his blog "Torn Notebook." In this essay* the archbishop makes a strong case for the Eastern tradition of tolerance in the name of economy for the innocent victims of failed marriages with respect to second marriages. Since the difference in the discipline of the Eastern Churches as opposed to that of the Roman Church on the subject of second marriages is often cited as a major point of contention between East & West this essay is especially helpful and insightful. It is also all the more so coming from an Eastern hierarch in communion with the Pope of Rome. As he himself noted with sadness; most of the uniate Eastern Churches have abandoned the patristic discipline of the East in favor of that of the Latin Church.

I strongly recommend this essay which can be found here (part I) and here (part II). Out of respect for the poster of the essay I ask that any comments be made on his website.

A very big hat tip to Eirenikon for posting the link to this excellent essay.

* I believe that the essay was first presented at least in part, to the Second Vatican Council.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why hard liquor & word processors don't mix

I think there is every reason to believe John McCain won't be the nominee. Ok, let me say that again. McCain will not be the Republican candidate in November.

Here's how it could happen:

At some point in mid August, John McCain will announce that he has decided that he can not accept his party's nomination for president. The reason will be health-related, and that may turn out to be the truth. Anyone who's seen him on stage these days knows he looks like he's about to keel over. And anyone who's been on a presidential campaign knows the physical demands are grueling and can be a challenge for a young man.

But excuses or facts hardly matters. He won't be accepting his party's nomination.

The reasons are simple. He can't win. Now that Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee -- the polls all show that McCain's pro-war stance and Bush endorsement make him a lost cause in November. That combined with soft stand on litmus test conservative issues make him an unpopular candidate among the base. I know some Democrats that think the Republicans are planning to let McCain lose and 'sit this one out' so that they can hang the democrats with a bad economy and a war that is a morass. But that just isn't how they play. They play to win every hand -- think about 2000 with a popular Democratic president and good economy and a solid VP running for president. Why did they put up Bush? And why did they fight so hard? Because, you don't ever throw a game. And they're not going to throw this one.

McCain won't be the nominee.

If you need a laugh, the rest of the article is here.

Bank Secrecy: More holes than Swiss Cheese?

There have been a number of reports in the press and media lately relating to a brewing scandal at the giant Swiss based bank and financial services firm UBS. With stories flying that the Feds are hot on the trail of some very wealthy people who allegedly squirreled away small (or in some cases, large) fortunes in foreign bank accounts, there may be a number of people having trouble sleeping at night who should normally not be worrying about money. One of the reasons is that the NY Times among others is reporting that the U. S. Treasury is demanding that UBS hand over the names of thousands of American clients and account holders. This is not of course in reference to the ones who opened an account at their local branch of UBS here in the USA. They are looking for people who have been hiding money in undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland and not paying their taxes on that money. (Having a foreign bank account is not illegal. Not declaring its existence to the IRS and paying taxes on it is.)

All of which is producing another round of speculation (this seems to happen every ten years or so) that the end is nigh for Switzerland’s famous (or infamous) bank secrecy.

However, I think that the demise of Swiss bank secrecy is once again being prematurely reported. While it is certainly true that the Swiss have a long history of facilitating tax evasion; they also have a long history lifting bank secrecy where there is evidence of serious crimes as defined in their legal code. Tax evasion, being at most a misdemeanor in Switzerland, does not qualify as such. However, fraud does and always has. The allegations in this case suggest that documents were falsified and dummy corporations were created with the connivance and material aid of some Swiss bankers. That is a serious crime under their law and I fully expect bank secrecy to be lifted in very short order. But probably only in this case unless evidence indicates that this was more widespread than is currently being reported.

It’s important to note that UBS does not have the legal authority to hand over any information about other clients without a court order from the Swiss government lifting bank secrecy. Violating that bank secrecy would be a serious crime under their laws. All of which leads me to suspect the Swiss will cooperate with the IRS only where there is compelling evidence of fraud. Beyond that they will tell the Feds to go pack sand.

Totally ignoring the legal issues, UBS simply cannot hand over lists of their clients to the IRS without committing corporate suicide at the least and potentially undermining confidence in Swiss banks in general. Such an act would likely precipitate a major crisis in this little country whose economy is heavily dependent on its financial services sector. It might even cause something of a panic and a run on the banks. There are over 400(!) banks in Switzerland some of which cater mainly to the very wealthy. Most of those banks survive thanks to the staggering amounts of money, by most estimates in the Trillions of dollars (US), parked in their country by foreign clients.

Now let us be candid for a moment. Most of their clients do not bank in Switzerland because they like the mountain air or the skiing. But this doesn’t mean everyone who has a Swiss bank account is a crook either. I suspect that everyone who is reading this blog has seen one or more B spy movies where the villain explains to his prospective employer that he will do the dirty deed immediately after “X” dollars is deposited into his numbered Swiss bank account. For the sake of staying on track here we won’t start asking inconvenient questions like why any competent spy would divulge the number of his Swiss bank account to anyone. (Yes, there is such a thing as a numbered bank account. But they are not anonymous.)

The reality however is not quite so romantic or dramatic. As I noted above Switzerland’s bankers have a long history of shielding their client’s money from tax collectors. That’s almost certainly one of the main reasons, if not THE main reason why some people bank there. But there are others as well. Some people stash money in countries with serious bank secrecy laws in an effort to shield assets from frivolous (or not so frivolous) lawsuits, others to keep money from ex spouses and still others because they are disturbed at the lack of financial privacy in large parts of the world. (Financial privacy in the United States is quite simply a joke.) Some bank there because the Swiss also have an excellent reputation for wealth management and investing their client’s assets. And believe it or not, some bank there because of the romantic allure of having a Swiss bank account. “I will just have my Swiss banker wire you the money.”

However without a doubt the cornerstone of Switzerland’s financial services sector is their reputation for discretion and secrecy. One banker compared the confidentiality accorded to bank clients to that which in this country would exist between a lawyer and his client. It can be lifted, but only for very exceptional reasons. There is one glaring difference though. In the United States if your lawyer breaches the attorney client privilege you can sue him and maybe get him disbarred. In Switzerland if your banker even admits that you have an account at his/her bank without your permission they can be sent to prison.

The origins of the Swiss tradition of bank secrecy were laid centuries ago. However, the modern law dates to 1934 and can be largely credited to the Nazis. Following the Nazi takeover in Germany in 1933 people on Hitler’s list of undesirables (Jews, political opponents etc.) began to quietly move their money outside of the reach of the new regime. The Nazis responded by passing laws making it a crime to have a foreign bank account. They then began to exert pressure on the Swiss to reveal the names of German nationals with bank accounts in the alpine country. To their credit and in keeping with a centuries old policy of discretion and safeguarding the assets of their clients, they refused. The Nazis responded by attempting to get information by other means including spying, bribery and blackmail of employees. To counter this the Swiss reinforced their tradition of confidentiality by passing the 1934 Bank Secrecy Law.

In a nutshell it codified into criminal as well as civil law, with draconian penalties, the cult of bank secrecy that had long existed in their country. In the years which followed the Swiss have almost always refused to hand over information to outsiders about bank accounts absent compelling evidence of serious crimes. Switzerland thus became a popular place for political refugees from the Nazis and also the Fascists of Italy and Spain and later the Communists of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to hide their money from those who would likely attempt to steal it. But Swiss banks also became a popular place for tax cheats, money laundering, terrorist groups, tyrannical dictators and yes the occasional spy to stash their loot.

Beginning several decades ago Switzerland (and most of the other countries with similar laws) began to realize the damage this was doing to their reputation and they took steps to clean up their act, at least somewhat. While tax evasion remains perfectly acceptable in their banking system, the laws were modified to make it a little easier to lift bank secrecy in cases where there is bona fide evidence of serious crimes. More importantly the Swiss abolished the anonymity of numbered accounts, and required banks to conduct due diligence background checks on all perspective clients that are, even post 9-11, far more rigorous than any requirements in the US financial services industry. Not only must proof of identity and residence be established but the Swiss also demand documentary evidence showing the economic origin of any large amounts of money to be deposited in their banks. By their own estimation Swiss bankers now turn down nearly as many applicants for bank accounts in their country as they accept. That however has not been their only problem.

One significant drawback to the bank secrecy used to protect refugee’s money is that when the refugees died their accounts often simply became inactive. The most glaring example of this was the money deposited by Jews and other enemies of the Third Reich in the 1930’s. For many years the Swiss, clinging rigidly to their code of bank secrecy, resisted efforts to identify dormant accounts that belonged to the victims of Nazi genocide and track down their legal heirs. It is only within the last ten years that the Swiss government intervened and granted special exemptions for accounts that went dormant between 1933 and 1945.

Personally I work hard for very little money, and I pay my taxes. So I am not exactly overwhelmed with sympathy for the ultra-wealthy who feel that paying their fair share in taxes on that extra several hundred million will somehow prejudice their standard of living. If the IRS can track them down I will be more than happy to cheer as they are packed off to an all expense vacation at Club Fed. However, I confess to some mixed feelings about the rigid bank secrecy laws in Switzerland (and some other countries).

We live in an age when privacy has become something of a rare commodity. In the United States we have come to accept as normal and permissible government spying on all manner of our activities from telephone conversations, to internet use (email and IMs as well as what web sites you visit) and yes our financial affairs. Most of this can now be done without a warrant. Indeed the Treasury Dept. now requires banks and other financial service firms to report all manner of activities to the US Government without even telling you about it. Every time you withdraw over a certain amount of cash from your bank, the IRS is flagged. All of which I find deeply offensive to my libertarian sensibilities.

So yes, part of me is offended by another country tolerating an entire industry that at least in part exists to facilitate world wide income tax evasion. But another part of me is quietly cheering for the Swiss. I find it heartening that somewhere in the world there are people who still think it is neither normal nor right for governments or anyone else to be able to snoop at will in your private affairs. There is a little part of me that hopes the next time the Feds demand bank records from them that the Swiss will send George Bush a couple pounds of cheese in reply.

(NOTE: This post has been slightly edited for grammar etc.)

Quote of the day...

"There was Tim Russert, and there was everyone else. Now there’s only everyone else."

Dene Lusby
Scottsdale, Ariz., June 14, 2008

From the New York Times.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Meanwhile in a different church in England...

In stark contrast to the announcement from the Roman Catholic Cardinal in Westminster Cathedral immediately preceding a Pontifical High Mass (see the previous post) there was another service being conducted in a different church in Great Britain...

There were bridesmaids and best men, an exchange of vows and rings, and a showering of rose-petal confetti. Only the bride was missing.

For this was Britain's first gay "wedding", held in one of the Church of England's oldest and most attractive churches.

St Bartholomew the Great at West Smithfield, in the City of London, dates from the 12th century but it can have seen few more historic events than this.

Greeted with a fanfare of trumpets, the Rev Peter Cowell and the Rev Dr David Lord celebrated their civil union with the kind of pomp and pageantry reserved for royal weddings. The couple walked up the aisle to Mendelssohn's march from A Midsummer Night's Dream dressed in morning suits, with their bridesmaids and best men following behind.

A robed choir sang in Latin as incense was burned on the high altar.

The service was rooted in the most traditional style, from the music to the liturgy, which was based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Rev Martin Dudley addressed the congregation: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity."

Read the rest here.

I think this could be called a tale of two churches. One is in the process of reclaiming something it seems to have just realized that it misplaced. The other is abandoning its patrimony with a speed that is to be frank, unseemly. Is there any wonder that there are more Roman Catholics in Britain today than Anglicans?

Get that old time religion!

The traditional Latin Mass – effectively banned by Rome for 40 years – is to be reintroduced into every Roman Catholic parish in England and Wales, the senior Vatican cardinal in charge of Latin liturgy said at a press conference in London today.

In addition, all seminaries will be required to teach trainee priests how to say the old Mass so that they can celebrate it in all parishes.

Catholic congregations throughout the world will receive special instruction on how to appreciate the old services, formerly known as the Tridentine Rite.

Yesterday’s announcement by the senior Vatican cardinal in charge of Latin liturgy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, speaking on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, will horrify Catholic liberals, including many bishops of England and Wales.

Read the rest here.

(update) Another article on the subject...

For 40 years, English Catholic worship has been controlled by a bossy alliance of bishops and politically correct activists known as the "Sandalistas".

Now, a Colombian-born cardinal close to the Pope effectively announced that their time has come to an end.

Read the rest here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Memory Eternal: Tim Russert

Tim Russert, a giant in the national news media, has reposed at the tragically young age of 58. He died suddenly of heart failure earlier today. Russert was the Washington Bureau Chief of NBC News and the very popular longtime moderator of Meet the Press. In an age when suspicion of media prejudice has become widely accepted as fact, Russert was almost universally trusted and respected as a professional journalist who has spent much of his career covering politics. He was well liked by his colleagues, viewers and the politicians he interviewed alike. Russert was recently named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. His death is a staggering loss that will be felt for a long time to come. A devout Catholic and devoted family man; Russert leaves behind a wife and son who just graduated from Boston College.

May his memory be eternal.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

TAC nearing union with Rome?

...Meanwhile, discussions at the Vatican on devising a possible structure for the Traditional Anglican Communion to come into communion with Rome are understood to be nearing completion.

The communion is a breakaway group of 400,000 Anglicans opposed to women’s ordination.

However, during his May 5 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Williams asked that any potential announcement be delayed until after the Lambeth Conference.

Veteran observers of the Anglicans’ continuing identity crisis are not optimistic that it can be resolved, given the wide gulf that exists between liberal-minded Anglican hierarchies in Western countries and more orthodox bishops in the developing world.

Viscount Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, author of Anglican Orders: Null and Void?, believes that in the absence of a magisterium and under the less-than-decisive leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, there is “no chance whatsoever that the Lambeth Conference will settle the question of what — if anything — the Anglican Communion believes.”

“The latest Lambeth Conference will merely continue to fail to address the question of core doctrine, just as all of its predecessors have done,” said Viscount Monckton. “To Anglicans, the only doctrine is the doctrine that there is no doctrine.”

Hat tip to Clerical Whispers via T-19.