Archives For: Keepers

The US vs The IS

Nov 2 2014 @ 8:45pm

I watched two decent documentaries on the Islamic State this weekend – long overdue. The Frontline version is pretty tough on the Obama administration – in part because they start the story the day US forces formally left the country, rather than when the US first arrived. And so you see only half the picture. The implication is that Obama squandered the multi-sectarian “success” of the surge, took his eye off the ball, and allowed sectarianism a comeback.

But if your core analysis of the clusterfuck is that we removed a Sunni government of a majority Shia country after decades of Sunni brutality, then surely, Shiite revenge, in various forms, was always inevitable. Some occurred in the horrific sectarian cleansing under the US occupation – but it was met with just as savage Sunni violence and, of course, a resilient, murderous Sunni insurgency as well. In the aftermath, it would have taken a miracle of Mandela-like magnitude for a Shiite majority government, once in power and free of foreign occupation, not to exact some kind of revenge or act out of a deep sense of paranoia about the Sunnis; and it would have taken another miracle for such acts not to have been answered in turn.

And they weren’t. The idea that a few more urgent phone calls or threats would have made a difference doesn’t pass the smell test to me. If we could barely contain the sectarian forces unleashed by the war with 150,000 troops, what hope when we had no troops left at all, or even a couple thousand? The last few years were for the Iraqis to finally make their choice as to what their future could be; and they could not overcome the past, or the entire history of the region. The only real alternative – a US occupation for decades – was simply not there. Maybe at some point Iraqis will be able to overcome their past. I sure hope so. But the only thing I’m sure of is that it won’t happen because America wants it to happen. Au contraire.

And the same sectarian history informs Vice‘s inside look at the IS. What I took from it was the totalizing coherence of the Caliphate’s vision. While the secular dictatorships of Saddam and Assad lie in smoldering ruins, and “democracy” in Iraq is empowering the infidel Shiites, of course a radically idealized theocratic invocation of the ancient Caliphate would have huge appeal (at least for the moment). It has erased the Sykes-Picot borders; it favors the most austere and ascetic form of Sunni Islam, and adds to these elements a kind of preternatural savagery toward its enemies or even its own population. That’s a very potent formula when fused with the Iraqi and Syrian Sunni populations seeking to defend themselves against Shiite regimes. So that’s what we have here – a well-trained, lethal, fanatical Sunni-state in embryonic form. And what Vice explains is how that is the real difference. Al Qaeda never ran a state or sought to. But IS is about a new political entity, attracting every frustrated, alienated young Muslim male left behind by the Arab Spring and yearning for meaning and direction.

How solid is this new “state”? Could they, for example, over-run Kurdistan or take Baghdad?

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What Do These Midterms Mean?

Oct 30 2014 @ 12:28pm

President Obama Delivers Statement In East Room Of White House

It seems safe to say that the GOP will pick up the Senate this year. No one can quite know the details yet, and the scale and extent of the wave (or not) remains again up in the air. But what this actually means – for policy and this presidency – is a more complicated question.

Here’s what we know empirically. The public is underwhelmed by these elections and engagement is low; the average Senate seat gain for a midterm in a second presidential term is six seats for the opposing party (which is a highly likely scenario right now); the president is unpopular and many Republican candidates have made this election about him, while most Democrats (as is their wont) are running fast away; the GOP itself remains, however, also deeply unpopular; wrong-direction numbers are at a high. No great policy debate has defined these races, and when such issues have risen – such as illegal immigration or the ACA – they tend to be virulent reactions to existing law or proposed changes, rather than a constructive, positive agenda. I see no triumph for conservative or liberal ideas here, no positive coalition forming, no set of policies that will be vindicated by this election.

So these midterms mean nothing? That can’t be right either. They seem to me to be reflecting at the very least a sour and dyspeptic mood in the country at large, a well of deepening discontent and concern, and a national funk that remains very potent as a narrative, even if it has become, in my view, close to circular and more than a little hysterical. So what is the reason for this mood – and why has Obama taken the biggest dive because of it?

Here’s my stab at an answer. Even though the economic signals in the US are stronger than anywhere else in the developed world, even as unemployment has fallen, and as energy independence has come closer than anyone recently expected, the underlying structure of the economy remains punishing for the middle class. This, in some ways, can be just as dispiriting as lower levels of growth – because it appears that even when we have a recovery, it will not make things any better for most people. This shoe falling in the public psyche – a sense that we are in a deep structural impasse for the middle class, rather than a temporary recessionary hit – means a profound disillusionment with the future. And the fact that neither party seems to have a workable answer to this problem intensifies the sense of drift.

Events overseas have had another, deeply depressing effect.

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New Feminism; Old Moralism

Oct 29 2014 @ 2:01pm


Anita Sarkeesian had a lovely piece in the NYT yesterday, explaining why she is happy that “gamer culture” as it once was is a much diluted phenomenon. Its points are as valid as the foul attacks on her (and so many others) are indefensible in any shape or form. Money quote:

The time for invisible boundaries that guard the “purity” of gaming as a niche subculture is over. The violent macho power fantasy will no longer define what gaming is all about. Those who police the borders of our hobby, the ones who try to shame and threaten women like me into silence, have already lost. The new reality is that video games are maturing, evolving and becoming more diverse.

Those of us who critique the industry are simply saying that games matter. We know games can tell different, broader stories, be quirky and emotional, and give us more ways to win and have fun. As others have recently suggested, the term “gamer” is no longer useful as an identity because games are for everyone.

This is basically an echo of my “let a thousand nerds bloom”. But then you come across some recent tweets of hers:

Reading right along, you realize she’s actually not that interested in letting a thousand nerds bloom. She’s interested in suppressing a certain subculture because of her contention that it leads to violence, rape and murder. That subculture is what she regards as “toxic masculinity”:

This agenda leads her to see a school shooting thus:

Her op-ed is, I’d say, in this broader context, a little disingenuous. In one version of her argument, gamer culture is simply dying out as it is supplanted and complemented by a new diversity. On the other hand:

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Ross has written a moving and eloquent response to my post and other critiques of his recent column. I urge you to read it – it has all the usual marks of Douthat’s extreme intelligence and nuanced reasoning, with more than a little humility thrown in. It reminds me once again how converts can sometimes see the faith with more stringent acuity than those of us for whom Catholicism is both a faith and the background music to our entire lives.

And I’m not going to differ with him on the radical nature of Catholicism’s teachings on sex and marriage. The prohibition of divorce made VATICAN-MOZAMBIQUE-POPEJesus different – although you can interpret the context and meaning of that prohibition in different ways (such as Jesus defending women’s dignity and rights within a marriage, as opposed to mere aversion to adultery). I’m not arguing – and I see no one arguing – for an end to this prohibition as such. What the Pope is proposing is a new pastoral approach toward those who, for truly human reasons, have seen their marriage fail, have managed to construct a new one, and who want to be fully part of the church again. That is all.

But for Ross, this proposed change is far more significant. By allowing such individuals to receive communion, he worries that the entire edifice of the church’s sexual teachings – and possibly more – will crumble. For me, that’s an exaggerated fear. There is a balance between truth and mercy here, as I think we all agree. The question is: where does that balance best lie? I find the church’s withholding of the sacraments from one class of flawed Christians as a way to buttress a particular doctrine to be far too lacking in mercy. But then I find all deliberate withholding of the sacraments to be lacking in mercy. To publicly say to an entire group of people, “Sure, you can come to Mass, but never approach the altar for communion” is to create the very division between the outwardly obedient Catholics and a phalanx of black sheep that Jesus so often railed against.

What is more integral to our faith: that we do not mistake the outward signs of virtue for virtue itself, or that we uphold the doctrines even if they give us two classes of Christians? I think what Francis is saying is: God will judge, and the church’s primary mission is to treat the sick, nourish the wounded, and bring everyone to Christ’s table who seems to be earnestly seeking to follow God. Yes, in an individual case, a priest may decide that someone is not really ready for communion – but only on an individual, pastoral basis. And he may also come to the opposite conclusion. But to insist on an absolute rule for an entire class of people can damage the church and distort its deepest mission. That’s the core of Francis’s message about gay Catholics as well: how do we really know that these long marginalized Christians are really the problem, and that an arrogant and self-righteous hierarchy isn’t? That’s why I immediately associate this question with the teachings on how “the last shall be first and the first last,” or with the deeply counter-intuitive parable of the Prodigal Son.

In that parable, we really do have justice pitted against mercy; and Jesus is clear that God is about mercy before anything. It is indeed not fair that the faithful older brother is utterly taken for granted and never given the extraordinary mercy and love that the younger son is suddenly showered with. But what matters is the sincerity of the younger son’s desire to be with his father again. Ross will counter that the prodigal son isn’t asking to retain some aspects of his previously sinful life. But in the parable, the father does not put any conditions on his welcome for the younger son. It is unconditional:

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

The older son has a legitimate grievance. If he has walked the walk of no sex outside marriage, and entered into a life-long, monogamous marriage always open to life, what on earth is the church doing embracing someone who has failed to live up to these standards? But the father is pretty clear in his response:

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

I think that is what the Pope is trying to say in these respects: that the church should not become a club for insiders that turns away those who have publicly failed in some of its strictures. And when you come down to it, actually enforcing the rules that Ross favors requires believing that the debate is

over whether to admit the divorced-and-remarried, people in unions that the church has traditionally considered adulterous, back to communion while they’re still in a sexual relationship with their new spouse.

So this is the real stopping point.

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There He Goes Again

Oct 28 2014 @ 11:58am


Here’s a quote for the day from Pope Francis:

When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so. He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfilment. The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.

None of this is new, of course. Catholics in general do not buy the irrational and anti-intellectual delusions of evangelical Protestants with respect to Creation and the origins of the universe. But what it does is reinforce a very American dimension to the Francis effect in the Catholic church: the church has effectively switched sides on several key issues in the American culture war.

Damon Linker has a typically insightful piece on this question with respect to the core cultural battles over sex, marriage and family that have divided Americans for several decades now. And this helps explain Ross’s adoption of resistance to Francis’ pastoral revolution: a key, legitimizing rampart of the social right in America – the Vatican – has been partly kicked away. If the Pope sees value in some aspects of gay relationships, for example, how does a Catholic remain committed to the party of Rick Santorum and Gary Bauer?

On the question of evolution, the value of gay relationships, the validity of climate change, and the utter impermissibility of torture, Francis has made the life of the conservative Catholic Republican a lot more complicated. The GOP, for example, is dominated by white evangelical Protestants. On evolution, they are regressing, not reforming:

Americans entered 2013 more opposed to evolution than they have been for years, with an amazing 46 percent embracing the notion that “God created humans pretty much in their present form at one time in the last 10,000 years or so.” This number was up a full 6 percent from the prior poll taken in 2010. According to a December 2013 Pew poll, among white evangelical Protestants, a demographic that includes many Republican members of Congress and governors, almost 64 percent reject the idea that humans have evolved. Among Democrats, acceptance of evolution increased by 3 percent, to 67 percent, while among Republicans it decreased from 54 percent to 43 percent.

On climate change, the Pope has been emphatic (and in a way that has commanded far more attention than Benedict’s identical musings) on about our moral responsibility for conserving the earth:

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A Declaration Of War On Francis

Oct 27 2014 @ 12:15pm


So this is why it took Ross Douthat so long to utter an opinion about the recent Synod on Family Life in Rome. He was weighing whether to call for schism! For the record: for all my questioning and concern about the direction Benedict XVI was taking the church, I never wrote a column that actually called for open revolt against him. The theo-conservative reaction to Francis reminds me a little of the wing of the GOP that simply cannot tolerate the give and take of democratic life, and as soon as a president of the other party is handily elected, and actually dares to enact a clear campaign pledge, declares the end of the republic!

But, of course, the Catholic church is not a democracy, so the analogy won’t work. But neither is it a dictatorship – least of all under this Pope who, from the very beginning, insisted that he was merely a bishop among bishops. And in Ross’s column, there is a clear assumption that his side of the debate owns the church, that any contrary views to his are an outrageous, treasonous and unprecedented attack on the institution itself, that any accommodation of mercy for those caught in the cross-hairs of the teachings on sex and marriage and family is somehow a “betrayal” of the core faith. Not a misguided idea – but a betrayal.

This is nonsense and panic, but it is a useful insight into the theo-conservative psyche. Notice the language used to describe a civil, rare and open debate of issues that the church is grappling with. This process – in which the theocons won on their core issues – is “a kind of chaos,” it’s “medieval” and “dangerous,” it sows “confusion.” It is as if these questions cannot even be debated (which was, of course, the view of John Paul II and Benedict XVI), as if faith itself is so fragile and so rooted in unquestioning blind obedience to a body of teaching that makes no distinction between central and more marginal issues, that any Pope that actually seeks to have a conversation about these questions is a threat to the church itself.

And what are these questions that are so dangerous to consider? That some divorced Catholics who sincerely want to be part of the life of the church should be allowed some participation in the sacraments; that a gay relationship should not be defined and condemned solely for its sexual nature – but can be appreciated for other virtues, such as mutual love and sacrifice; that doctrine should never be imposed without an option for mercy. These are not violations of the core teachings – that marriage is for life and must be always open to life; that non-procreative sex inside or outside marriage is always sinful – but attempts to acknowledge that human beings are involved here, and that exclusion and cruelty and contempt are not the only options for those following the teachings of Jesus.

But for Ross, it appears that mercy is an attack on inviolable truth, rather than its essential Christian complement. And it also appears that allowing the Vatican to reflect the actual debate going on among actual Catholics in our real lives is some kind of threat to the faith itself. Please. If your faith cannot admit of doubt, of debate, of conversation … then it is a white-knuckled faith in the religion of total certainty, rather than the calm faith of those who know we do not have all the answers to every pastoral question.

Ross seems to think, for example, that Francis is proposing an end to the idea that marriage should be monogamous and life-long. That’s just bizarre. What Francis is encouraging us to debate is not whether those whose marriages failed should be re-married in the church, but merely, depending on the circumstances, whether they can be allowed to participate in the full sacramental life of the church. What Francis is suggesting in another respect is that gay people’s real human lives and loves cannot be reduced to a psychological and moral “disorder.” You can see these suggestions as an attack on Jesus’ austere view that marriage is inherently life-long or it is nothing, if you really want. Or you can see this as a reflection of Jesus’ constant, persistent empathy with the sinner, love for the individual and mercy toward the flawed. I suspect most Catholics would instinctively see this as a function of the latter.

And Ross agrees that his is a minority view. Which explains a little of his rage.

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Redacted Document

A new story in the Huffington Post confirms what I’ve been fearing for a while now: that the Obama White House, in particular chief of staff Denis McDonough, is now pulling out all the stops to protect the CIA as far as humanly possible from any accountability over its torture program. If you want to know why the report has been stymied, and why something that was completed two years ago cannot even get the executive summary in front of the American people, the answer, I’m afraid, is the president.

You’d think his chief-of-staff would have better things to do right now than plead with Senators to protect and defend John Brennan, the CIA director who has put up a ferocious fight to avoid any accountability. But no:

During the last weeks of July, the intelligence community was bracing itself for the release of the Senate investigation’s executive summary, which is expected to be damning in its findings against the CIA. The report was due to be returned to the Senate panel after undergoing an extensive declassification review, and its public release seemed imminent.

Over the span of just a few days, McDonough, who makes infrequent trips down Pennsylvania Avenue, was a regular fixture, according to people with knowledge of his visits. Sources said he pleaded with key Senate figures not to go after CIA Director John Brennan in the expected furor that would follow the release of the report’s 500-page executive summary.

Weird, huh? What is at the heart of this Brennan-McDonough alliance? And then this staggering detail:

According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency’s inspector general report remain classified. “If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It’s straight out of a movie,” said one Senate source familiar with the document.

All of this is out of a really bad movie: CIA goons torturing prisoners with abandon, destroying evidence of war crimes, hacking into the Senate Committee’s computers, impersonating Senate staffers and on and on.

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What Catholics Really Believe

Oct 21 2014 @ 1:59pm

As we enter a year of debate and discussion about the family in Catholic teaching, it’s obvious, thanks to Pope Francis’ skillful airing of the divides, that there is no consensus on the issues of treating the divorced or single parents or homosexuals, and a majority of bishops in favor of the status quo. But it’s worth noting at the same time what American Catholics actually believe. They are increasingly one of the most socially progressive groups in American society and culture. When I am asked by many outsiders how I can remain in a church that does not welcome me or my kind, I have to respond that I have rarely experienced anything but welcome. My fellow Catholics are almost always obviously comfortable around their gay fellow-parishioners, as are, mercifully, many priests.

Check out this graph, for example, on the question of sodomy – yes, full-fledged sodomy – over the decades in American life:


If you wanted a religious vocation that was all about endorsing gay sex (not something I would ever recommend), you should rush to be a Catholic! Carl Bialik’s data-driven analysis even finds the correlation between Catholicism and social liberalism to endure across cultures and countries:

We didn’t have data broken down by religion in individual countries, so instead I examined how attitudes within countries corresponded with the percentage of their population that is Catholic. In general, the higher a share of a country’s residents are Catholic, the higher percentage of residents express tolerance toward divorce and towards gays. The effect isn’t huge, but it’s consistent.

I immediately went to read Rod Dreher to see his head exploding. In fact, he agrees:

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Obama Departs The White House En Route To New York

There have been posts I’ve written over the past decade and a half on this blog that have left me with a very heavy heart. Absorbing the full meaning of what was revealed at Abu Ghraib was one; reflecting on the horrifying child-abuse in the Catholic church was another; reacting to president Bush’s endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment or president Obama’s half-assed decision to re-fight the Iraq War one more time were not exactly easy posts to compose. I confess I find it hard to write dispassionately about these kinds of things. The abuse of children; the torture of prisoners; the madness of permanent warfare; and the citizenship and dignity of gay people: these are first order questions for me. I understand, as we all must, that politics is an inherently flawed, imperfect, deeply human and always compromised activity. But some things are not really open to compromise. And torture is one of them.

The mounting evidence that president Obama’s long game may well mean the entrenchment and legitimization of torture and abuse of prisoners is a deeply painful thing to report on. He’ll say otherwise; they’ll reach out and insist otherwise. But the record, alas, is getting clearer by the day. We have seen Obama’s rock-solid support for John Brennan’s campaign to prevent any accountability, even to the point of spying on the Senate Committee tasked with oversight, across his two terms. We have watched as the White House has refused to open up its own records for inspection, as it has allowed the CIA to obstruct, slow-walk and try to redact to meaninglessness the Senate Intelligence Committee’s still-stymied report on torture. Our jaws have dropped as the president has reduced one of the gravest crimes on the statute book to “we tortured some folks,” while doing lots of “good things” as well.

Now for the moment when the stomach lurches. The Obama administration is actually now debating whether the legal ban on torture by the CIA in black sites and brigs and gulags outside this country’s borders should be explicitly endorsed by the administration in its looming presentation before the UN’s Committee Against Torture (which might well be an interesting session, given the administration’s consistent refusal to enforce the Geneva Conventions).

One has to ask a simple question: what on earth is there to debate? Torture as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment has already been banned by the executive order of the president, and it is not bound by any geographical limits. Here, moreover, is the text of the Detainee Treatment Act, pioneered by torture victim John McCain, making it even more explicit:

(a) No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

(b) Construction. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose any geographical limitation on the applicability of the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under this section.

Well: here is the explanation, as given by Charlie Savage in the NYT yesterday:

Military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.

The CIA’s lawyers want more time to study whether banning torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners in line with the law and Obama’s executive order would have “operational impacts”. But how could it when torture and mistreatment are hereby forever banned? Doesn’t it imply that the CIA still sees an option for restoring torture in the future, especially if a pro-torture Republican wins the presidency?

A strong case for this interpretation can be read here in a post by David Luban. It’s essential, if complex, legal reading for anyone concerned that Obama, by taking the CIA’s side in this debate and promoting and exonerating those implicated in past torture, has actually left open the real possibility of this darkness descending again.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Oct 19 2014 @ 7:34pm

Synod On the Themes of Family Is Held At Vatican

[Re-posted from earlier today]

The inevitable media headline from the final Relatio of the Synod on the Family will be: “Bishops scrap welcome to gays.” And this is literally true. The astonishing mid-term Relatio’s language of outreach, inclusion and welcome shrank last night into much more arid, cold and unsparing prose.

We don’t yet have an official English translation of the critical paragraphs, but the gist is clear. Gone are the paragraphs that extol the “gifts and qualities” of gay people; gays are no longer to be “welcomed” in a “fraternal space” but merely “accepted with respect and sensitivity”; the church should no longer “value” homosexual orientation; it should merely accept people with “homosexual tendencies.” Of the three paragraphs in the mid-term report, the two with the most positive language have been excised completely; and the remaining one reaffirms the tone and language of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. Here it is – in my unofficial Google-enabled version:

55. Some families live with members with homosexual orientation. In this regard, our view of the pastoral care appropriate to this situation refers to what the Church teaches: There is no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or to establish same-sex unions as even remotely analogous to the plan of God for marriage and the family. “Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. In their regard should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).

Notice the very Ratzingerian foot-stamping:

There is no foundation whatsoever to assimilate or to establish same-sex unions as even remotely analogous to the plan of God for marriage and the family.

It’s not exactly subtle. My marriage, according to this version of the text, is light years away from the marriage of my own sister. There isn’t even a remote analogy between her family and mine. In fact, there is no foundation whatsoever to compare the two relationships in any way. Let me simply respond by saying what most Catholics who have encountered these relationships in our own lives would say: it is indeed hard to read this and believe it. This is not because I differ one iota from the church’s view that the life-long, procreative marriage between a man and a woman is a precious, beautiful and unique thing. Two men or two women cannot replicate it, if only because of basic biology. The sacrament of matrimony is a celebration of this unique institution – and cannot be re-fashioned into something else without diluting its central truth.

But where I differ from the old guard is in their refusal to see anything good or precious in the mutual love, responsibility and sacrifice that are as integral to same-sex unions as they are to heterosexual ones. To see nothing worthwhile there, nothing to value, nothing to affirm seems, well, untrue to the reality more and more of us live. As Cardinal Marx of Germany said earlier this week:

“Take the case of two homosexuals who have been living together for 35 years and taking care of each other, even in the last phases of their lives. How can I say that this has no value?”

He cannot, which is why this paragraph – along with two others on the pastoral care of divorced or re-married people – failed to win the 2/3 majority vote for it to be part of the official text.

But it was included anyway – with the vote tallies appended. And there you see why it is not wishful thinking to believe that something profound has indeed occurred so far in this Synod. Neither of the two previous popes would ever have allowed the original language to even see the light of day – Ratzinger as arbiter of church doctrine for decades could sniff heterodoxy on this like a beagle with a distant potato chip – and stamp it out with relentless assiduity. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI would have excised the outreach to gay people altogether. And the idea of a transparent vote tally – revealing a vigorous internal division on these questions – would have been unthinkable.

The true headline of this past remarkable week is therefore: the Vatican hierarchy cannot find a consensus on the question of pastoral care for gays, the divorced and the re-married, and the Pope is happy for this fact to be very, very public. These remain open questions for a year of continued debate and discussion before the second stage of the Synod this time next year and the Pope’s subsequent summary. That these are open questions is the real result of this Synod.

I also think its worth reading Pope Francis’ concluding speech to the Synod, which was granted a four minute standing ovation. It is a beautiful text – certainly more so than the unavoidable consensus-speak of what might be called the interim communiqué. Here is Francis’ Obama-style weighing of two different temptations to avoid:

A temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

Avoiding both these temptations is the goal – which has to be accomplished pastorally and with prudential judgment. In his speech, Francis nods to the traditionalists by quoting Benedict XVI verbatim, but then says this:

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