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Sex talk, a modest proposal, and I want to break free

Sex talk, a modest proposal, and I want to break free

Happy Friday friends,

I’m more or less on the road from now until the USCCB meeting.

Some of it is the boring business stuff JD and I have to be in the same place for every couple of months. But most of it is hunting up a story I’ve been working to get for… well, quite a while.

We’ll see if it comes through this time or not.

For the moment, I’m mostly in withdrawal from the hourly dopamine hits from our baby to which I have grown ferociously addicted.

But even before I became a father, solo travel was already losing a little of its savor for me. I don’t know if it’s a sign of encroaching middle age, however that is defined these days. More likely, I think it is as simple as this: I really just enjoy being at home.

I am, as I have said here before, extremely lucky that I get to do the work that I do, which is, give or take some details, what I would have described as a dream job as a 22-year-old. I am grateful, daily, for the support of all the subscribers who make this all possible. There is really nothing I’d rather do. But I’m also, I know, fortunate beyond measure in my marriage — to have a job I love doing is one thing, that I have a home and family where I am loved is something else again.

While I’m away, and working, I need to be thankful for both.

The News

As the midterm elections approach, I find myself meditating more and more on death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Perhaps that’s just a coincidence. But, really, we all should be living our lives with a sense of their imminence.

Fr. Tim Finigan lives his own life in the shadow of these realities ever since he suffered a heart attack, underwent a bypass operation, and experienced a dramatic weight loss that almost led to his death. Now, he is writing a book about the Four Last Things, as the Church calls them.

This week, Luke Coppen spoke to Fr. Finigan about these final truths of the human condition. It is a conversation with some much-needed perspective. I urge you to read it.

Clergy in the Diocese of Steubenville have asked the USCCB to delay a consultative vote on the plan to merge their diocese into the neighboring see of Columbus.

The US bishops are set to vote on the extinctive union, which the bishops of Ohio have already greenlit, during their Fall Assembly in 10 days’ time. The clergy are asking for a delay “so that we and our laity may participate in this process that so directly greatly impacts our relationship with the Church and each other.”

The letter is, at its core, a plea for the people and priests of the diocese to be shown a little synodality before their diocese is suppressed. You can read all about it here.


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The finance director of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising has called for the German church tax to be reformed.

The Kirchensteuer, which is assessed and collected by the government and paid over to the Church, amounts to around 8-9% of German Catholics’ income tax. Last year it generated 6.73 billion euros for the Church in Germany, even as more than a quarter of a million German Catholics are leaving the Church every year.

Markus Reif, the chief finance officer for one of Germany’s most important archdiocese, argued in an article published this week that Catholics — including the non-practicing — who still have to pay the tax, should be given more say in how the revenue is spent.

You can read all about it here.

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Ludwig Schick of the German Archdiocese of Bamberg this week, nearly two years before the bishop reached the normal retirement age.

Schick told local Catholics it was actually the second time he’d tried to resign this year, and that he was grateful the pope agreed to accept it. It’s something of a curious decision all around; unlike several other German bishops who either haven’t resigned or had their offers accepted, Schick doesn’t appear to be at the center of any particular storm or scandal.

Instead, the archbishop just said he feels he’s “fulfilled and completed [his] duties in the archdiocese,” and wanted to make way for a younger man to lead. Get the whole story here.

Church leaders in New Zealand said this week that the process of appointing bishops for the country’s vacant sees is proceeding “in the standard way,” in an effort to tamp down “frustration and speculation on what is happening.”

Cardinal John Dew of Wellington and Bishop Stephen Lowe of Auckland issued separate statements to insist that, despite a third of the six local dioceses being without a bishop, one of them for more than three years now, the appointment process is running smoothly “behind the scenes.”

CathNews New Zealand, the website that reports the comments by Lowe, who is also vice president of the New Zealand bishops’ conference, said that the bishop “was responding to a piece by Luke Coppen in The Pillar.”

And you can read all about that here, of course.

The synod on synodality’s working documents and organizers have spoken frequently about the need for the Church to adopt a posture of “radical welcome” towards the marginalized.

Reading the through some of the synodal documents, it seems to me that the synodal process has effectively recognized two categories of marginalized people: those we might call the “practically marginalized” (the elderly, the poor, the sick, migrants) and those including the divorced and civilly remarried, people in same-sex unions, polygamous relationships and so on whom the synod leaders seem to recognize as marginalized because of their “loving relationships.”

In an analysis this week, I took a look at that second category.

It appears to me that, while the synodal working document issued last week does well to note “tensions” and lack of consensus about how best the Church should “meet people wherever they are, to walk with them rather than judge them, and to build real relationships through caring and authenticity,” the synodal conversation thus far is being a bit shy about the real issue.

I don’t think there’s any tension or lack of consensus among the bishops about the dignity and worth of every individual in a relationship which is crosswise with Church teaching, or the need to love them and welcome them. And the Church doesn’t deny or deride sincere love in their relationships.

The “tension” isn’t about the value of “loving relationships,” it’s about sex.

But will the bishops be able to bring themselves to have “the talk” when they meet for the final synodal assembly? I have some thoughts on that, and about who might say what.

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A modest proposal

Something in Canada’s National Post crossed my desk this week: “Canadian doctors encouraged to bring up medically assisted death before their patients do.”

I thought the headline was.. of the kind that raises questions. So I read the article.

Now it is, tragically, not “news” to anyone that Canada has one of the most permissive — some might say promiscuous — approaches to “assisted dying” of any country in the world. You don’t have to Google exceptionally hard to find heartbreaking instances where people have sought death for a range of medical issues — and even in some cases because they have not been able to secure the kind of assisted living accommodations which would make their lives that little bit more livable.

But the notion that doctors in Canada might be encouraged, as part of their bedside chats with terminally ill patients, to ask them if they’ve considered just letting the doctors kill them was news to me. Even worse, despite the article being dated Wednesday, the report detailed guidance for doctors which has actually been in circulation for three years.

According to the guidance from the Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers, or “Suicide Squad,” as I just assume they’re known, doctors shouldn’t be shy about raising the option of killing their patients with them. Only when it’s “medically relevant,” of course.

The guidelines (and attendant Canadian legislation) make it clear that a key condition for patients to be allowed to agree to their doctors killing them is that they exercise “informed consent.”

I would have thought, having given “informed consent” in medical circumstances a few times in my life, that it was obvious to anyone that most people’s consent is heavily informed by what their doctors are suggesting, and if they are suggesting that you might be better off dead, it’s not likely to inspire hope in the alternatives.

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What is worse, if you can imagine such a thing, is that from March next year, “assisted dying” is going to become available for those diagnosed with mental illnesses alone. As a general premise, the notion of “informed consent” becomes very thorny when dealing with mental illness on a range of issues. But for doctors to make the modest proposal to, say, chronically depressed patients that they might consider killing themselves seems like pure evil to me.

But within six months, this is going to be recommended practice.

You might think I am exaggerating, that this is too outlandish to be believed, and that surely the proper authorities see this coming and will act before March to prevent this from happening. Well, in an FAQ on just these questions, here’s what the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital) has to say:

“There is still a lot of disagreement amongst experts on whether it is possible to distinguish between a person who is suicidal and one who is rationally requesting MAiD due to their mental illness… It is not certain if there will be new safeguards added that address suicidality for MAiD requests where mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.”

Feel better about it? I don’t.

The slow-motion horror unfolding under the guise of “assisted dying” in Canada is one of those things you can’t quite believe is happening even as you watch it unfold: If you want to read something that will wake you up in the middle of the night in a feverish sweat, I recommend this article, published in July by the Canadian Paediatric Society titled “Medical Assistance in Dying: A Paediatric Perspective.”

People need to know and understand how the situation is unfolding up North, if for no other reason then whenever we start to talk ourselves into something truly awful, we usually begin by reassuring ourselves that they’ve been doing it in Canada for years.

I want to break free

Something that absolutely doesn’t matter but about which people made far more of a fuss this week is that Elon Musk made some announcements about the future of Twitter, the social media app he recently bought more-or-less willingly and which, like biological weapons, I desperately wish we could uninvent.

I say I wish it could be uninvented from a more or less disinterested vantage point. Despite using it daily, and having made one or two good friends via the site, I absolutely consider time spent on Twitter to be “work.”

At the same time, from what I understand of our data here at The Pillar, Twitter (or any social media really) isn’t a major driver of subscribers to our site, either, so it’s not an especially lucrative use of my working time.

Twitter isn’t, by the way, a major driver of traffic to our site either. While that doesn’t come with any particular financial up or downside for us, I do think it speaks volumes about the kind of readers we are fortunate enough to have, and reading the comments on our site and (most of) the emails we get bears that out. We have smart, high-quality readers, and your correspondence reminds us of that all the time.

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I’m on Twitter at all because, well, you sort of have to be if you are a journalist. It is, its other flaws notwithstanding, a remarkably effective way for institutions to push out stories and statements in real time.

But it has been pure poison to journalistic culture, encouraging the worst kind of spontaneous petulance, narcissistic opining, and convincing the messengers they are the real story. These were all especially on display after Elon announced Twitter was going to start charging a fee for “verified” users who get to display a little “I’m really me — so I must be important” check-mark badge next to their name on the site.

The hysterics were quite something to watch. I saw many “verified” users claim it was an attack on their dignity and an affront to their integrity to be asked to pay for a service they use.

Personally, I think Musk should charge multiples of the announced $8 per month. Even had he set it at $100, I’ve no doubt many, if not most, would have coughed up (and probably claimed it as a business expense anyway). And if I’m wrong, there’s at least the outside chance it could sink Twitter as a near compulsive-participation media space.

And I do earnestly hope Twitter does eventually implode.

While I’ve blocked many more accounts than I follow, the coarsening effect the site has had on our public discourse is obvious, and I am not just talking about the relentless spleen vented by pseudonymous accounts. It’s been the birthplace of hundreds of conspiracy mongers, charlatans, mountebanks, and self-styled intellectuals — all “verified” of course.

For many journalists, it has become a forum for snarking at colleagues they don’t like and affirming their friends as the only “real” reporters.

But even among those who don’t go in for that kind of mean-girls lunch table cattiness, Twitter, and the perceived need to generate instant personal content to cultivate likes and follows, has led to the rise of selfie-style coverage, pushing journalists to repackage press releases as “my story,” while posting pictures of themselves clutching press packs at media junkets, or simpering selfies with the persons they’re supposed to be covering critically.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking to imagine this would all go away without Twitter, but I have to believe it would be an improvement. And I’d like to think that, freed from the hollow desire for validation through “verification,” likes, and retweets, a lot more actual journalism might get done.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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