Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Challenge of Praying to Saint Ignatius

Were I back in San Francisco, I’d be lighting a candle here today, in front of this statue of St. Ignatius in the church of his name where I’ve lit more candles than in any other place.

Ignatius, and a few of his modern companions, were my shuttle back into the Church after very turbulent late teen years. Today on his feast and forever, I will be grateful to him and the men in his company who have meant so much to me, and to most of my closest friends, who made similar journeys under their tutelage at the University of San Francisco.

It’s hard to pray for the intercession of St. Ignatius though, because you always know what he’s thinking and demanding:

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess.

Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

Well it’s not enough for me and a request for His love and His grace is usually not the sole content my prayers of petition. But asking St. Ignatius to intercede for what you want has the great benefit of reminding the pray-er of what he needs – the grace and love of God. Sometimes that’s not the comfort you want at the moment.

There is another prayer, sometimes falsely attributed to St. Ignatius, which was nonetheless central to his spirituality:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ's side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
and with Thy angels
Forever and ever

It’s a prayer that for me powerfully evokes the desire for His love and His grace and it makes what Amy Welborn (and others I’m sure) has called Ignatius’ Radical Prayer more credible – if no less challenging.

St. Ignatius, Pray for us.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bishop Finn in the War on Porn

Tom Hoopes has an interesting article at OSV on efforts by the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Arlington to get folks off porn. The impetus to do something was from priests frustrated that viewing porn is “the No. 1 sin they are hearing from men in the confessional.”

Alarmed by the constant mentions of pornography by penitents, priests were clamoring for training. “It was no longer enough to say, ‘You’ve made a great confession. Pray and do better,’” . . .

Go read the article to see the concrete ways the two dioceses are dealing with the problem.

One interesting fact the article conveys, and a reason I’m noting it here, is that both dioceses have sought to '”incorporate the wisdom” of Bishop Finn’s 2007 pastoral “Blessed are the Pure in Heart” into their programs. The article says the pastoral:

does not just condemn use of pornography, but reaches out to those who use porn and lists ways for them to become reconciled with the Church. . .

. . .Bishop Finn writes: “While some would say that the opposite of love is hate, [Pope John Paul II] taught that the opposite of love is use. The idea is that if you do not love someone, you will end up using that person.”

This gets to the heart of why pornography is wrong, he wrote. On the one hand, “One may never use another person as an object for one’s own pleasure.” And ultimately, wrote the bishop, “the only proper response to a person is love.”

While the number of men repeatedly confessing this sin is surely a problem, the number of men not confessing it is probably much worse. If you’re dealing with the issue, or have a family member or friend who is, I’d highly recommend taking a look at Bishop Finn’s pastoral. It is also available in Spanish and French.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sister Mary Ann Walsh's Irony Challenged Moment

So this week, the National Catholic Reporter runs an editorial reflecting on the challenges U.S. women religious face in light of the Apostolic Visitation and a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Opines the NCR:

The social sciences have a term for the situation of women who feel compelled to be compliant with the men who are bent on demeaning and humiliating them: They call it battered wife syndrome.

If there are battered wives, there have to be wife beaters, and in this instance, the wife beaters would have to be His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI who appointed the Apostolic Visitation, Cardinal Franc Rode whose office is undertaking it and Cardinal William Levada who ordered the doctrinal assessment.

Levada’s investigation is further called a “shameful betrayal of trust,” the Apostolic Visitation described as “a setup” and “The Vatican” is accused of “hypocrisy” and “duplicity”.

In another NCR article this week viciously attacking the entire Vatican and the very Apostolic structure of the Church, Eugene Cullen Kennedy compares the Holy Father to Philippe Petain, Head of State in Vichy France.

Those two articles are only just a taste of a whole smorgasbord of attacks and snide accusations against the whole leadership and traditions of the Catholic Church that can be found this week – or any other week – at NCR.

Enter USCCB Director of Media Relations Sister Mary Ann Walsh. She is asked a question at NCR by Michael Sean Winters:

What does the Shirley Sherrod episode tell us about race and politics and the media in the age of Obama?

And Sister Mary Ann rightly thinks that Sherrod was subjected to “reckless accusations and shoot-from-the-hip responses from leaders you’d think would know better.”

Then she continues:

In recent days, new journalistic hit squads have emerged on the U.S. scene, even in the church. Where once only a few church newspapers engaged in character assassination, today these attacks seem ubiquitous.

And when she says ”where passionate self-righteousness, minus basic journalistic fairness, runs amok,” I’m loving it, cause I can see she’s getting ready to hit NCR right between the eyes. Here it comes:

Many such groups claim the word “orthodox” for themselves. They dismiss those who do not agree with them or their approach as “unorthodox.” People of a different opinion or approach are accused of setting up a “parallel magesterium.” These are serious condemnations in a church which holds fidelity to its teachings as paramount. Despite the fact that theology and canon law are matters of careful analyses, these groups bring the subtlety of a meat cleaver to church discussions.

Take that NCR!

Ummm, wait a minute?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Disenchantment of Christopher Hitchens

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

Hitch-22: A Memoir
Christopher Hitchens
448 pp./$26.99

Review by Santiago Ramos

If you haven’t read his monthly features in Vanity Fair, you may have read his monthly book reviews in the Atlantic. If you haven’t read his weekly column on (“Fighting Words”), you’ve probably seen him on Fox News or MSNBC, attacking anyone from Jerry Falwell to Michael Moore, or promoting his best-selling anti-religious jeremiad, God is Not Great. Christopher Hitchens is ubiquitous because everyone wants him. He can be everywhere because he is quite versatile: a writer and a speaker, a critic and a journalist. But why does everyone want him?

If nothing else, Hitchens’ new memoir, Hitch-22, helps us to answer that question. In it, Hitchens regales his audience with tales of student protests in Oxford, philosophical debates in Havana, and revolutions in Portugal and Poland. The book also contains accounts of his friendships with the literary men of his milieu: Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, and James Fenton, among others. The book is peppered with epigrams (too many) from English poets and Marxist revolutionaries. Hitchens is not as complete or profound a writer as Chesterton, Waugh, Orwell, or Greene, but he certainly falls within the English tradition of literary journalism. Everyone wants him on TV because he is twice as intelligent as any of our predictable, one-dimensional talking heads; everyone wants him in print because his prose has verve and lucidity. Everyone wants him - liberals and conservatives - because he is interesting.

But because so much has already been said about what makes Hitchens interesting, and because, thanks to this memoir, it is so easy to verify for one’s self that this is so, I’d like to spend this review pointing out the one way in which Hitchens has become less interesting in the second half of his life: his loss of faith. Not his faith in God - in his memoir, Hitchens says that he probably never had much of a faith in God to begin with - but his faith in Marxism. Not (as the pundits would have it) his supposed switch from “leftist” to “neocon,” but rather his much more dramatic, and underappreciated, transformation from being a revolutionary to just another voter like the rest of us.

In his memoir, Hitchens writes about his early days at Oxford: learning about Marxist thought, protesting against racism and imperialism, and getting arrested for the cause of revolution. In a way virtually inconceivable to young Americans today, Hitchens was so devoted to his faith in the coming Workers’ Paradise that he stopped worrying about his resumé. Recollecting his thoughts from those days, Hitchens writes: “Did I really think that my examinations in logic and philosophy didn’t matter much, because a revolution was in progress or at least in prospect? I did.”

Hitchens’ politics have probably become saner since he dropped Trotsky as a role model. Let’s bracket that question for now, so we can admire the quaint notion of a man who believes in a certain cosmological worldview which begins with the suffering of the workers’ struggle, and ends with the redemption of revolution and the promise of paradise. Karl Marx was not a prophet, at least not one who heard voices from on high; he claimed, rather, to hear the voice of History, calling from the future, explaining to him its logic and its inevitable conclusion. (In reality, Marx was hearing the voice of another philosopher, G. W. F. Hegel, but that’s for another day.) Hitchens actually believed in this cosmological view, romantic and fatal as it was, and he devoted his early life to it.

But what does he believe in now? In the meandering final chapter of his memoir, “Decline, Mutation, or Metamorphosis?”, Hitchens considers what he lost when he stopped being a Marxist:

I suspect that the hardest thing for the idealist to surrender is the teleological, or the sense that there is some feasible, lovelier future that can be brought nearer by exertions in the present, and for which “sacrifices” are justified. With some part of myself, I still “feel,” but no longer really think, that humanity would be the poorer without this fantastically potent illusion.

Hitchens goes on to say that, in his life, he has seen prisons opened, dictators toppled, countries liberated. There has been no shortage of just causes and victories. But something is lost - something almost palpable - when the world loses its big-picture story, when it becomes disenchanted. History degenerates into a series of episodes when it was once a comedy. For a literary man like Hitchens, this is surely a loss. The loss is not merely of political ideals - we can always have those, because we will always crave justice. What Hitchens lost is a comprehensive view of life that gave it meaning and beauty - a religion.

If these memoirs are useful, they are insofar as they kindle a desire in its readers - religious or irreligious - to crave enchantment, to not settle for a mundane view of life. One wonders, too, whether Hitchens will one day rebel against his own disenchantment.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Home Again

A lot of blogs will make helpful posts alerting regular readers that the blogger is going on vacation. Not here. Before we left a couple of weeks ago to see my wife’s folks in Seattle and mine in San Francisco, Mrs. Smith made me promise not to mention on the blog or twitter that we’d be gone. She figures such an announcement is an open invitation to rob your house.

In Mrs. Smith’s defense, our house was broken into a couple of days before we left. Thanks to the over-the-top diligence of the Kansas City Police Department, the perp was caught and all items returned the same day. Thank you KCPD!

So apologies if you’ve bothered to check in here and especially to all my new twitter followers who signed up in response to many kind #FFs on the day I left. I’ll be feeding both outlets regularly again.

Two vacation pics:


When we arrived in Seattle, we stayed a night at the Edgewater hotel near the ferry since we were leaving the next morning to meet-up with my in-laws on San Juan Island. Ever eager to self-parody, the above is what you find in a Seattle hotel room instead of the Gideon bible. The sink in the bathroom also came with a sign explaining that it was a “vessel” and not a sink and not to expect it to drain well, because it didn’t a drain vent. The politically-correct reason for such was not explained. I think these are two details I would not have noticed if I hadn’t been living in the sanity of fly-over land for the last three years.

And speaking of fly-over:


That’s the view of Gas Works Park in Seattle from the window of the 1950s era, six-seater sea-plane we took back from San Juan Island. Moments later we landed right in the middle of Lake Union. That was a highlight, and it was wonderful to see friends and family. But it’s good to be home again in Kansas City.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

World Cup Final Post

Santiago Ramos sends in some final thoughts on the World Cup following up on his earlier post of June 15, “The World Cup Preserves Something that America is Losing”:

For those readers of the Catholic Key who may have missed it, here is the goal that decided the World Cup Final, scored by Iniesta, of Spain:

Mind you, this goal came after 115 minutes of play—that is, 90 minutes of regulation time, and 25 of extra time. Before that the score was nil-nil, 0-0. To say that one needed patience to endure this final match understates the case—the game was tight and the defensive on Holland’s part; the relentless passing and build-up on the part of the Spanish midfielders did not create many clear opportunities for a goal in the second half. The Spanish tactic favored creativity and movement, but it couldn’t overcome the violent cynicism of the Dutch. To be fair, the Dutch team didn’t completely sit back to defend and wait for a counterattack, but they did set a decidedly violent tone to the match (Video removed by FIFA).

In other words, the game was a lot like real life.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in this space: “The World Cup this year has its own set of stories which will congeal into the dramatic.” Scandalously, I did not even mention Spain in my subsequent list of stories. But now we can all say that the drama of the final congealed into an allegory: that of good versus evil, of the team which played beautifully and creatively and then defeated the team which played negatively, neglecting its own talents, trying to grind out a win by dint of blunt force. The Spanish team broke with the conventional wisdom which pits practicality against elegance, pragmatism against beauty: the Spaniards were cool and they won. If only they could have scored more goals.

Some good links:

Alan Jacobs (of First Things fame) has a list of dramatic World Cup moments.

My friend Elliott has a nice reflection on the end of the Cup.

Legendary Dutch player Johan Cruyff slams his own National Team for playing ugly.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Logic of Toy Happiness - Toy Story 3

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

Both Happy and Sad

By Santiago Ramos

Toy Story 3
DIR Lee Unkrich SCR Michael Arndt
Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, et al.

Restless is my heart until it rests in thee: such is the prayer of every toy. And when a toy rests - in the arms of a child - it doesn’t truly rest: it plays, and is played with. There are only three elements to toy happiness: presence, play and permanence. The child must be there; he must play with the toys periodically; he must promise never to abandon them. If he does abandon them (or threatens to, or appears to), then we have a story.

The first scene of Toy Story 3 is a flashback of sorts, because it begins with a fast-action imaginative play-session featuring Woody (the cowboy), Buzz Lightyear (the astronaut/laser-wielding superhero from the future), Jessie (the cowgirl), and Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead (the most realistic, happily-married couple Disney has produced in twenty years). The play-session is orchestrated by the toys’ owner, Andy. With this scene, we have the quintessential picture of toy happiness. But the story quickly jumps forward in time to a present where Andy is 17 and getting ready to leave for college - and here the story begins. The toys are neglected and haven’t been played with for years. Rumors circulate that they are headed for the trash; Woody, ever faithful to Andy, insists that they are actually headed for the attic. Yet though the attic is better than the trash bin, neither alternative is what a toy actually wants.

With the exception of Woody, who lands a place in the box marked “COLLEGE,” Andy chooses to store all of his toys in the attic. But first he places them in a white trash bag, and this creates confusion for all the toys except Woody, who believe they are being taken to the natural destination of all trash bags, the dump. It also creates confusion for Andy’s mother, who finds the trash bag on the ground and actually believes that it actually is meant for the dump. And so Woody must first rescue his friends from the dump, and then convince them that that’s not where Andy meant for them to go.

The toys end up neither in college nor the trash bin. They make their way back to Andy’s mom’s minivan and into another box which is headed towards a daycare called “Sunnyside.” All of the toys, except Woody, believe Andy to have betrayed them, and wish to start a new life at Sunnyside. Woody, on the other hand, eternally loyal to Andy, wants everyone to follow him in a quest to return to Andy’s house before Andy himself leaves his house for college. But Woody isn’t able to convince the other toys that Andy didn’t actually betray them. The toys instead run into an unexpected reversal at the daycare, which is not as happy a place as its name would indicate. It is a dystopia of toys; it perverts (without negating) all three elements of toy happiness.

To write more about the plot after this point would spoil too much. But there is enough here to explore the movie’s interesting logic of toy happiness. Such happiness depends upon a relationship between the owner and his toys. But the owner is not an owner in the same way that a slave-owner is an owner, and the toys are not “owned” as slaves are “owned.” The toys always remain free, but they cannot act freely for their happiness without an owner who plays with them and loves them. Their owner is something of a cross between a father (or mother) and a friend, and he loves and is loved in return. The relationship is necessary for the fulfillment of the toys.

If you think we are getting too philosophical for a Pixar movie, you’re only half-right. We are getting more philosophical than we need to be, but not more philosophical than the movie’s plot will allow. This is what’s great about the movie: it doesn’t dumb the world down, it merely covers only the parts of the world which children understand, and leaves them with an open view of what is next to explore. Andy will inevitably go to college. While the toys may get a new owner, Andy sets aside the toys of his youth, and will attempt to enter adulthood. The Pixar creators allow a small tinge of nostalgia and sadness to appear on Andy’s face: Must we grow up? Why?

These questions are the threshold between the end of Toy Story 3 and the beginning of another story, Andy’s. They are a source of restlessness; Andy is something like a toy himself, and he will be searching, like the toys, for presence, play, and permanence. But now we have truly ventured beyond the scope of Pixar. These are questions for high art-for films, not movies. It’s enough for Toy Story 3 to be a story that is adventurous and not completely superficial, with an ending that is both happy and sad.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Unclaimed Veterans Buried with Honors in Missouri

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

0709_veterans1 By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor

HIGGINSVILLE — At long last, they are at rest.

With full military honors, the cremated remains of 16 veterans and two wives were interred July 1 at the Higginsville State Veterans Cemetery years, and in most cases decades, after their deaths.

The remains had gone unclaimed and stored at Mt. Moriah South Cemetery in Kansas City until passage of a bill last year in the Missouri General Assembly allowed a veterans’ organization to claim them if no family could be found.

“They are veterans,” said Vernon Scott, commander of Veterans’ of Foreign Wars Joel E. Balcolm Post 1738 in Independence. “It doesn’t make any difference what branch of the service. This is what we do. We help veterans.”

The VFW post and American Legion Post 189 in Lee’s Summit claimed the remains of the veterans under provisions of the new Missouri law so that they could finally be given a proper burial.

And it took months of research through documents to determine that the veterans did indeed qualify for a burial with honors, said Rich Carroll of McGilley-Sheil Funeral Home.

Nearly as soon as the legislation was signed by Gov. Jay Nixon last year, McGilley-Sheil assigned staff to pore over death certificates and other documentation to determine if any of the hundreds of unclaimed cremated remains the funeral home had stored were those of military veterans, and thus eligible for burial in a network of five new military cemeteries under the control of the Missouri Veterans Commission.

0709_veterans2 The 16 veterans identified for the July 1 service are only the beginning, Carroll said. The national Dignity Memorial network is working with the Missing in America Project to identify unclaimed remains of other veterans eligible for military burial, and those numbers could easily reached into the thousands nationally and into the hundreds in the Kansas City area alone.

In addition to the research, McGilley-Sheil also made the arrangements for the burial service without charge.

Carroll said nearly nothing is known about the 16 veterans who, until July 1, were forgotten.

“Their stories are as varied as the individuals themselves,” he said. “Possibly, they had no children or other family to claim them. Or it may have been a financial burden. But it is the right thing to do to find these folks and get this done.”

Carroll also knew who to contact to preside at the service. Father David Holloway, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Kansas City and a Navy veteran with 21 years of active duty service as both an enlisted man and a chaplain, was more than willing.

“I feel a connection, even though I don’t know any of them,” Father Holloway told The Catholic Key. “It is important, especially in our church, to be the spokesman for all who are forgotten. Just because a person died without family doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a family in the church.”

In his brief homily, Father Holloway said he had presided before at military funerals, “but none quite like this.”

“We are grateful for those who served, and for those who continue to serve,” he said.

“They are not forgotten. They are appreciated. They are finally cared for and honored for what they did,” Father Holloway said.

“We did not know them, but what they did continues to shape our country,” he said. “We place our hope in a God who never gives up on us, and we gather to be an expression of God’s love for those who may not have found much love in their lives.”

Missouri National Guard Brig. Gen. Larry D. Kay, who is executive director of the Missouri Veterans Commission, also bestowed state combat medals on 14 of the 16 veterans for their service in wars ranging from World War I to Vietnam.

Like the burials, the medals were also long overdue, he told The Catholic Key. He also expressed the hope that the Higginsville service was just the first in a long line of burial services for once-forgotten veterans.

“This is a debt we owe these veterans, and a debt we can repay,” he said.

“It is our honor and privilege to care for them as they cared for others,” Kay said. “We want to get the word out that we are ready to give a resting place with dignity and honor to these veterans.”

A special military honors unit from Warrensburg, in full dress uniform and under the command of Army First Sgt. (retired) Carla Caldwell, provided the bugler playing taps, the 21-gun salute, and the presentation of the flag, accepted by Higginsville State Veterans Cemetery director Jess Rasmussen in lieu of family.

The crowd that jammed into the cemetery’s small chapel included VFW members, American Legion members, members of the Patriot Guard who provided a motorcycle escort for the hearse bearing the remains from Kansas City, and three special guests.

Charlotte Myers-Dick, Diana Pitts and Jennifer Jackman came as Gold Star mothers who have recently lost sons in military service.

Army Specialist Eddie Myers was killed July 27, 2005, by a pipe bomb in Samarra, Iraq. Army Cpl. David Unger, Pitts’s son, was killed Oct. 17, 2006, also by a pipe bomb, in Baghdad. Marine Lt. Ryan Jackman was killed in an automobile accident as he was returning to Camp Pendleton, just weeks before his deployment to Iraq.

The death of their sons, Jackman said, gave them a link to all who sacrificed for their country.

“One of our (Gold Star Mothers) founding principles is that our sons and daughters are best remembered by our loving current veterans,” Jackman said. “We find comfort that we can go forward by serving others.”

It didn’t matter whether or not they knew the forgotten 16 veterans and their spouses interred that day, said Pitts.

“They were someone’s sons, and now they have become our sons,” she said.

The veterans, with their dates of military service, and spouses who were finally laid to rest are:

- Gervis J. Adney, private, U.S. Army, 1917-19. Adney was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War I. He died April 28, 1989.

- Mary Adney, spouse of Gervis Adney, date of death unknown.

- Jacinto Ordaz Briones, seaman first class, U. S. Navy, 1943-44. He died Nov. 2, 1998.

- Ralph H. Cruse, technician fifth class, U.S. Army, 1942-45. Cruse was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War II. He died Jan. 30, 1995.

- Dorothy M. Cruse, wife of Ralph Cruse, who died Feb. 10, 2000.

- Thomas James Head, master sergeant, U.S. Army Air Force and U.S. Air Force, 1942-66. Head was awarded three Missouri medals for service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He died April 1, 2008.

- Harold P. Lederman, lieutenant, U.S. Army, 1917-1919. Lederman was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War I. He died Jan. 23, 1964.

- Edward Herman Lewenight, private, U.S. Marine Corps, 1918-19, and private, U.S. Army, 1943. Lewenight was awarded two Missouri medals for service in World War I and World War II. He died March 23, 1984.

- William W. Miller, private, U.S. Army, 1942-43. Miller was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War II. He died March 7, 1990.

- Clifford C. Neuse, private, U.S. Army, 1942-43. Neuse was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War II. He died Nov. 20, 1986.

- James W. Peer, private, U.S. Army, 1943-46. Peer was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War II. He died March 4, 1989.

- Verne Lyle Pickens, seaman second class, U.S. Navy, 1918-21. Pickens was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War I. He died Nov. 25, 1993.

- Alfred F. Scholz, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Air Force, 1961-81. Scholz was awarded the Missouri medal for service in Vietnam. He died Nov. 28, 1994.

- Thomas E. Singleton, eletrician’s mate petty officer second class, U.S. Navy, 1950-54. Singleton was awarded the Missouri medal for service in Korea. He died April 14, 1988.

- Russell D. Stanford, private, U.S. Army, 1976. He died June 28, 1998.

- Earl W. Swesey, corporal, U.S. Army, 1944-46. Swesey was awarded the Missouri medal for service in World War II. He died Dec. 13, 1987.

- David R. Woodhead, lieutenant commander, U.S. Navy, 1966-68. Woodhead was awarded the Missouri medal for service in Vietnam. He died Sept. 7, 1993.

Friday, July 2, 2010

NCR Seriously Misleads on Stem Cell Research

Bill Tammeus has written a column over at NCR titled “It’s easy to be misled on stem cell research,” and he proves the point pretty well himself. It’s hard to tell though whether he’s misled or intending to mislead. At any rate, certainly his editors know he’s factually incorrect.

Tammeus is a Presbyterian who is concerned that the Catholic church has an imprecise understanding of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) or cloning as it is known throughout the entire world except for the Greater Kansas City media market. This imprecise understanding has led to an unjustified moral condemnation of SCNT by the Catholic church, according to Tammeus. So he endeavors to explain the science for us poorly informed Catholics. This is so bad, I have to go line by line.

Tammeus explains that SCNT produces something he calls “early stem cells”. These are cells “which unfortunately, imprecisely and thus misleadingly are usually called embryonic stem cells,” he says. Let’s consult the National Institutes of Health stem cell information center:

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)—A technique that combines an enucleated egg and the nucleus of a somatic cell to make an embryo.

Strike one.

Tammeus again:

I've been writing about stem cell research for much of the last decade, so I know that research using adult stem cells has been going on for more than 50 years. By contrast, the first report of early human stem cells produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) was not published until 2004.

That study would be "Evidence of a pluripotent human embryonic stem cell line derived from a cloned blastocyst" by Woo Suk Hwang, et. al. Notice that the scientist does not think it imprecise or misleading to use the term “embryonic stem cells” to describe what he’s working on, nor does he flinch from saying such cells were derived from a cloned (SCNT) blastocyst, i.e., a “preimplantation embryo of about 150 cells,” again as defined by the National Institutes of Health’s stem cell page.

But now the irony of Tammeus’ referencing this study gets even deeper. That study and a subsequent study in which Hwang claimed to have derived stem cell lines from cloned blastocysts were both retracted by Science magazine and Hwang was dismissed from Seoul National University. Reviews of his work found that Hwang had not in fact derived any stem cell lines from cloned blastocysts.

Tammeus continues following immediately on the last quote:

So it's not surprising that some effective therapies that use adult stem cells exist while many therapies using early SCNT stem cells still are in development.

Let’s look at the words “some” and “many” – because the words to substitute if Tammeus’ quote were to be factual are “many” and “zero”. There are more than 70 treatments and therapies for diseases derived from adult stem cell research. There are absolutely ZERO therapies or treatments in development using stem cells derived from SCNT. That’s because to date there have been no stem cells lines derived from human SCNT for anybody to be working on.

Furthermore, SCNT for therapeutic purposes has been virtually abandoned as a research model because of newer discoveries like Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells which are derived from somatic cells without the need for an egg.

I could go on and on through the rest of Tammeus’ piece. Bill Tammeus is a fine writer in his field and I’ve enjoyed his work at the Kansas City Star over the years, but he doesn’t know the first thing about the science he’s trying to explain to us poor Catholics here.

The science of embryonic stem cell research is something that is extremely distorted specifically in the minds of Kansas Citians because of the political manipulation of the Stowers Institute of Medical Research which needed to create that confusion in order to get Missourians to allow them to try therapeutic cloning. It’s pretty clear Tammeus got his misinformation from them as he even quotes their CEO.

I think it’s fair for him and many other Kansas Citians to be confused. What’s not fair is for the National Catholic Reporter’s editors to give space for what they certainly know is false information.

Quote of the Day - Archbishop Wenski

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski has some choice quotes today on CHA and "Obamacare". Explaining the bishops' position, he tells Catholic News Agency:

"we weren't willing to go for health care reform under (just) any conditions. Basically we have said that health care reform means that it should be accessible to everybody and nobody should be killed. And this Obamacare does not make it accessible to everybody and it allows for people to be killed, mainly unborn children at the taxpayer's expense."

See the whole story including the Archbishop's comments on CHA over at CNA.