Across the street from my home in Mount Rainier, Maryland, is a white three-story house with a wooden sign hanging next to its front door that reads, “NEW WAYS MINISTRY.” The house is among the quietest on the block, with its blinds drawn nearly all year round. Its residents are a couple of very friendly Catholic nuns and a quarrelsome pair of cats. I was put in mind of my neighbors last month, when the Vatican announced that it was effectively instituting a hostile takeover of the Leadership Council of Women Religious, a body that represents some 80 percent of American nuns.
An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age By Jürgen Habermas (Polity Press, 87 pp., $14.95) The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere By Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West Edited by Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen (Columbia University Press, 137 pp., $19.50) On October 14, 2001, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas stepped up to the lectern at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt to deliver a short address called “Faith and Knowledge.” The occasion was his acceptance speech of the Peace Prize, a yearly honor that the German Book
On September 3, 2000, Pope John Paul II, the Vicar of Christ beloved even by Jews, beatified Pius IX, one of his predecessors who reigned from 1846-1878. He was a nasty anti-Semite who re-established the ghetto in Rome and was instrumental in the kidnapping of a six-year old Jew boy who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism and whom the church itself kept in the Vatican away from his parents. These are not the least of his sins; nor are they the worst. But they contribute richly to his biography as a Jew-hater.
Left and right found plenty to disagree about in Pope Benedict XVI's September address at the University of Regensburg in Germany, but,on one point, there was virtual unanimity: that the Pope was out to defend the West against the Muslim world.
Last week, I went searching the liberal Web for discussions of Idomeneo. The Deutsche Oper, a Berlin opera house, had recently canceled the Mozart classic because it feared Muslims would react violently to a scene featuring Mohammed's severed head. Germans declared that free speech was under siege. The New York Times covered every wrinkle. Right-wing websites buzzed. And, on the big liberal blogs, virtual silence. If pressed, most liberal bloggers would probably have condemned the opera house's decision. But they didn't feel pressed.
SHORTLY BEFORE NOON on the day that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, I was standing in St. Peter's Square with a smart young Carmelite priest from Ireland. We were watching black smoke pour out of what, for a few days at least, was the most famous chimney in the world. That meant no Pope, yet. By chance, or perhaps thanks to the Holy Spirit's intervention, Father Simon Nolan was just the kind of Catholic who could give me faith in the Church's future. He is a philosopher who studies medieval topics, and he was orthodox, warm, and open.