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The Devil as Recruiting Sergeant

The Middle Ages, as that dodgy sage Carl Jung once wrote, “live on… merrily”. That’s no surprise, really. Superstition will always be with us, in new forms—and in old.


ROME – With reported demonic possessions on the rise in Italy, the Vatican is hosting a week-long training to better prepare exorcists for ministry. Catholic leaders have said that the country needs more exorcists, and better training.

“Today we are at a stage crucial in history: Many Christians no longer believe in [the devil’s] existence, few exorcists are appointed and there are no more young priests willing to learn,” said one of the event’s speakers, exorcist Father Cesare Truqui, according to Vatican News.

Now, of course, it’s true that the devil has a major role to play both in the traditional Christian story and in some expressions of Christian belief today (some: I don’t remember him playing much of a role in the teachings of the splendidly mild Church of England in which I was raised). Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see the obvious concern with which Father Truqui contemplates the fact that many Christians apparently no longer believe in Old Nick. Part of the reason for the anxiety that causes him will, undoubtedly, be spiritual, but on reading that paragraph, with its giveaway claim that we have arrived at a “crucial” stage (there always has to be a crisis; see Rahm Emmanuel for details), it’s hard not to detect the professional anxiety of someone who is worried that the demand for his guild’s services may no longer be required.

But more than that, it’s revealing that this conference is being hosted at the Vatican. The current Pope, like all demagogues someone with a shrewd grasp of what pulls in the crowds, is noticeable for the emphasis he places on the devil. He knows that fear is a good recruiter.

What that does to the mental health of the psychologically vulnerable is not something that appears to count for too much.

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Libertarians and religious liberty

Tim Carney, the influential columnist at the D.C. Examiner, writes as if libertarians have been AWOL or worse when it comes to defending religious liberty from the incursions of the modern liberal-bureaucratic state. I try to set him straight in a new post at Cato at Liberty. More: Carney responds; Jordan Bloom, The American Conservative, Rick Esenberg. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

Of course religious liberty should be a two-way (multi-way?) street. Just as unbelievers should be committed to upholding the religious liberty of the Catholic Church, so, as Andrew Stuttaford reminds us, it would be nice to feel confident that the Catholic Church was equally committed to upholding ours.

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Miscellany, April 5

  • More from Bradlaugh on his health issues [NRO, earlier]
  • Saudi Arabia: “Defense Lawyer Objects to Testimony of Genie Expert” [Lowering the Bar]
  • Monkeys taught by scientists to use money; gambling and prostitution soon appear [ZME Science]
  • Adam Smith prefigures Charles Murray on class and morality [Tyler Cowen]
  • “There was even an Inquisition trial in Los Angeles in 1820” [Chris Caldwell book review in Literary Review] And in the 1950s, not 1550s: “Dutch Roman Catholic Church ‘castrated at least 10 boys'” [Telegraph]

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Many other bloggers besides ourselves noticed the absurd and unconstitutional proposal floated in Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee to order the Roman Catholic Church to turn its governance over to boards of laypeople. Prawfsblawg carries the text of a stern letter written by one leading law-and-religion scholar, Douglas Laycock, and signed by a dozen others, including Eugene Volokh and Kate Stith. Following a loud outcry which quickly went national, the lawmakers identified with the bill have agreed to table it, and it’s dead for the session.

Many traditionalist Catholic commentators, like Kathryn Lopez at National Review, have promoted the view that the bill somehow constitutes “retribution” for the Catholic Church’s Culture War stands, specifically its promotion of Proposition 8 in California. (William Lori, Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, has made the same claim.) “The bill is believed to be an act of political retribution for the Catholic church’s opposition to gay marriage,” Lopez writes, and then spends an entire interview eliciting vigorous assent to that proposition from her interviewee, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage.

Reports from news organizations that have looked into the Connecticut controversy, however, tell a different story. (more…)


Catholic sites are up in arms, and rightly so, about a measure called S.B. 1098, introduced March 5 in the Connecticut legislature, which would by law remove control of Roman Catholic parishes from bishops and place them instead in the hands of lay panels of not less than seven nor more than 13 members, who would be legally assured full control over most aspects of church management other than religious doctrine itself.

It’s still far from clear who’s sponsoring or promoting this measure; it’s a “Raised Bill”, a bit of local terminology with which I’m unfamiliar. The National Rifle Association, discussing an entirely different bill in Hartford the other day, says the “raised” terminology “means the concept was discussed and the committee voted in favor of drafting a bill for consideration”. Whoever is responsible for it, Rick Hills is right in dismissing it as “preposterous” and so obviously unconstitutional as to raise no issues of legal interest. The issue it raises instead is: how can lawmakers in one of the nation’s most highly educated states understand so little about America’s basic premises of religious liberty? Despite cries of anti-Catholicism, incidentally, there are a number of hints in the coverage that the bill may reflect the views of disgruntled lay Catholics, not persons affiliated with other religious traditions or with none at all. So there isn’t necessarily anything paradoxical in the fact of this proposal coming up in one of the nation’s most Catholic states, any more than there is a paradox in the prevalence of anti-clericalism in countries of overwhelming nominal Catholic affiliation like Mexico and Italy.

Speaking of legislative idiocy, Rep. Todd Thomsen has introduced a resolution in the Oklahoma legislature deploring the University of Oklahoma’s extension of a speaking invitation to Richard Dawkins (via Ron Bailey).

P.S. According to former Connecticut resident Dave Zincavage of Never Yet Melted, the meaning of “raised bill” is that “no individual member took the responsibility for sponsoring it, but rather a legislative committee (in this case the Judiciary Committee) discussed the idea and the committee then voted in favor of drafting a bill.” And more: The Greenwich Time (via Christopher Fountain) reports that Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, introduced the bill “at the request of members of St. John Church on the Post Road in Darien, where the former pastor, the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, was convicted of stealing from parishioners over several years.”

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Catholic Church revives indulgences

Another step for de-modernization, and the revival of pre-Vatican II practices. Since 1567 the Church has outlawed the sale of indulgences, “but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.”



Life, death, science, and family values

Italy is being wracked by a Terri Schiavo-esque political feeding-tube fight.  In 1992, Eluana Englaro, then 21-years-old, was in a serious car accident and struck comatose.  Two years later, her doctors declared her condition irreversible.  Since then, she has been on feeding tubes in a vegetative state.  Last November, Englaro’s father won a court order allowing her feeding tubes to be disconnected, but Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has fought to keep her on life-support.  Catholic newspapers accuse the father of wanting to kill his daughter; the Catholic Church has forcefully insisted that the government must keep Englaro alive. 

Berlusconi’s cabinet issued an emergency order on Friday outlawing the cessation of artificial feeding and hydration.  President Giorgio Napolitano has refused to sign the decree, however, claiming that the prime minister is violating the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches by ignoring numerous court rulings supporting Mr. Englaro.  The family’s lawyer told the Corriere della Sera that the family was going forward under the judicial decree; the paper reports that Englaro’s feeding tubes were disconnected on Friday. (more…)

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