New York Times Urges Normalization of U.S.- Cuba Relations

In an October 12th editorial the New York Times says, “For the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo.” Indeed, in the Times’ opinion, these changes in U.S. policy should be accompanied by ending the U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.”[1]

 Editorial’s Commentary on Cuba’s Current Conditions

The Times points out that Cuba has “taken significant steps to liberalize and diversify the island’s tightly controlled economy.” This includes “allowing citizens to take private-sector jobs and own property.” encouraging foreign investment, constructing a major deep-sea port in Mariel with Brazilian capital and negotiating a cooperation agreement with the European Union. Although the pace of reform may seem slow and inconsistent, these are significant changes.

On the other hand, the Times asserts that the Cuban “government still harasses and detains dissidents . . . [and has not explained] the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of political activist Oswaldo Payá.” This is outweighed, however, by the Cuban government’s in recent years having “released political prisoners” and showing “slightly more tolerance for criticism of the [government’s leadership” while loosening travel restrictions “enabling prominent dissidents to travel abroad.”[1a]

Editorial’s Recommendations for U.S. Policy

End Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism.” The Times recommends that the U.S. “should remove Cuba from State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations . . . .   Cuba was put on the list in 1982 for backing terrorist groups in Latin America, which it no longer does. . . . [and Cuba now] is playing a constructive role in the conflict in Colombia by hosting peace talks between the government and guerrilla leaders.” [2]

End the Embargo. Just 16 days before the U.N. General Assembly is expected again to overwhelmingly approve Cuba’s resolution to condemn the embargo, the Times says the U.S should end its embargo of Cuba as it has become “clear to many American policy makers that the embargo was an utter failure.” In addition, now a slight majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida oppose the embargo.

“Fully ending the embargo will require Congress’s approval,” which may be difficult to obtain in this time of a dysfunctional Congress, but the Administration could “lift caps on remittances, allow Americans to finance private Cuban businesses and expand opportunities for travel to the island.”

Ending the embargo, according to the Times, “could also help American companies that are interested in developing the island’s telecommunications network but remain wary of the legal and political risks. Failing to engage with Cuba now will likely cede this market to competitors. The presidents of China and Russia traveled to Cuba in separate visits in July, and both leaders pledged to expand ties.”

In addition, ending the embargo would eliminate Cuba’s using the embargo as an excuse for the Cuban government’s shortcomings.[3]

Restoration of Diplomatic Relations. Says the Times, “Restoring diplomatic ties, which the White House can do without congressional approval, would allow the United States to expand and deepen cooperation in areas where the two nations already manage to work collaboratively — like managing migration flows, maritime patrolling and oil rig safety.[4] It would better position Washington to press the Cubans on democratic reforms, and could stem a new wave of migration to the United States driven by hopelessness.”

Closer ties could also bring a breakthrough on the case of an American development contractor, Alan Gross, who has been unjustly imprisoned by Cuba for nearly five years.[5] More broadly, it would create opportunities to empower ordinary Cubans, gradually eroding the government’s ability to control their lives.

In the opinion of the Times, Restoring relations would improve U.S. “relationships with governments in Latin America, and resolve an irritant that has stymied initiatives in the hemisphere.” The most current example of that irritant is “Latin American governments . . . [insisting] that Cuba, the Caribbean’s most populous island and one of the most educated societies in the hemisphere, be invited” to next year’s Summit of the Americas in Panama over U.S. opposition.

Moreover, “The [Cuban] government has said it would welcome renewed diplomatic relations with the United States and would not set preconditions” while a significant majority of Cuban-Americans favor restoring diplomatic ties, mirroring the views of other Americans.

Reactions to the Editorial 

I concur in all of the Times’ recommendations, but believe it understates the economic reasons for these changes in U.S. policy. Here is a fuller exposition of those economic reasons.

This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the Chief of Mission, Cuban Interests Section, said that the U.S. was running the risk of becoming economically irrelevant to Cuba. Many foreign countries, especially China, and foreign companies are developing good commercial relationships with Cuba and its new private businesses with ordinary commercial terms, unlike the U.S. sales of food and agricultural products under an exemption to the U.S. Helms-Burton Law that requires Cuba to pay in advance and in cash for such products. This U.S. practice is not a good way to encourage future business. Moreover, the new Mariel port and its adjacent business park is attracting interest from companies all over the world, and if all the space in that park is committed to these foreign companies, there will be nothing left for U.S. companies.

The geographical setting of the new Mariel port is strategic in terms of trade, industry and services in Latin America and the Caribbean. On the northern cost of Cuba only 45 km west of Havana, it is located along the route of the main maritime transport flows in the western hemisphere. As the largest industrial port in the Caribbean, it will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology to handle cargo from the larger container ships that will begin to arrive when the expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in December 2015. Those larger ships can carry up to 12,500 containers, triple the capacity of the current ships, and the port’s warehouse capacity is 822,000 containers. Here are some photos of the development of this port.

Mariel PortMariel3

The Mariel project includes highways connecting the port with the rest of the country, a railway network, and communication infrastructure. In the adjacent special zone, currently under construction, there will be productive, trade, agricultural, port, logistical, training, recreational, tourist, real estate, and technological development and innovation activities in installations that include merchandise distribution centers and industrial parks.

The special zone is divided into eight sectors, to be developed in stages. The first involves telecommunications and a modern technology park where pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will operate. Other sectors include renewable energies, agriculture and food, chemical, construction materials, logistics and rental equipment. For the last four sectors Cuba is currently studying the approval of 23 projects from Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The May 2014 visit to Cuba by a delegation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce evidences U.S. businesses’ cognizance of these economic and commercial realities. The delegation’s head and the Chamber’s president, Thomas Donohue,  said in a speech in Havana, “For years, the US Chamber of Commerce has demanded that our government eliminate the commercial embargo on Cuba. It’s time for a new approach.” At the conclusion of the trip he said the delegation and Cuban officials had “talked about steps forward that might be taken by both countries” to improve U.S.-‪Cuba relations and that their meetings with President Raul Castro had been “positive.” In addition, the Chamber in congressional testimony has called for an end to the embargo and has supported proposed legislation to end the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to the island and easing restrictions on U.S. exports of farm and medical products.

Another sign of U.S. companies’ interest in Cuba is the visit to the island this past June by Google executives. They said they discussed increasing Cubans access to the Internet and Cuba’s need for improving its Internet technology.

These U.S. economic concerns were highlighted in February 2014 by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who earlier had led a visit with four other Senators to Cuba. Leahy said, “Trade with Latin America is the fastest growing part of our international commerce.  Rather than isolate Cuba with outdated policies, we have isolated ourselves.  Our Latin, European and Canadian friends engage with Cuba all that time.  Meanwhile, U.S. companies are prohibited from any economic activity on the island.” Therefore, the Senator said, “It is time – past time – to modernize our policies and the frozen-in-time embargo on Americans’ travel and trade with Cuba that have accomplished nothing but to give the Cuban regime a scapegoat for the failures of the Cuban economy.  Change will come to Cuba, but our policies have delayed and impeded change.  It is time to elevate the voice of a crucial stakeholder:  the American people. Thanks to this [recent public opinion] poll, they are silent no longer. It is time to recognize that U.S. policy toward Cuba has been unsuccessful in achieving any of its objectives.”

Given the limited space for an individual editorial, the New York Times editorial does not discuss any of the other many issues that need to be addressed by the two countries in order to establish truly normal relations. Nor does it discuss how this normalization process can happen or be facilitated.

In contrast, this blog repeatedly has suggested both counties need a neutral third-party with the resources and commitment to act as mediator and has called for such a third-party to step forward to offer such services, rather than waiting for the U.S. or Cuba to make such a proposal unilaterally or for the two countries to agree to such a mediation. [6]

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[1] Interestingly the online version of the editorial is titled “End the U.S. Embargo on Cuba” with a linked Spanish translation while the print version is titled “The Moment to Restore Ties to Cuba.”

[1a] This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez, the Chief of Mission, Cuban Interests Section, emphasized that Cuba now has term limits on every governmental office, including president: two terms of five years each for a total limit of 10 years, and Raul Castro has announced that this applies to him and thus ends his term as president in 2018. Dr. Cabañas also emphasized that many younger people are taking over many governmental positions and that there has been a decentralization of power to municipalities.

[2] This blog has provided detailed criticism of the ridiculous, absurd, stupid and cowardly rationales provided by the U.S. for such designations in 2010, 2011, 2012 (with supplement), 2013 and 2014.

[3] This blog has provided criticisms of the embargo.

[4] This month Dr. José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez also said that the U.S. and Cuba in recent years have had bilateral discussions regarding migration, drug trafficking, search and rescue in the Florida straits, stopping oil spills in the Caribbean, airline security measures, scientific exchanges and restoration of direct telephone and mail services. In addition, the U.S. has invited or permitted an invitation to Cuba to attend a Clean Oil Conference in San Antonio, Texas in December 2014.

[5] Although it certainly is debatable whether Mr. Gross was unjustly convicted in Cuban courts for violating Cuban law, I agree that it is in the U.S. national interest to have him released and returned to the U.S. Cuba, however, has argued that the three of the “Cuban Five” still in U.S. prisons should also be released and allowed to return to their homes. At a minimum, I believe that negotiations between the two countries could and should lead to at least a one-for-one exchange with the U.S. President commuting the sentence of one of the three Cubans to time served.

[6] This blog has called for normalization of Cuba-U.S. relations and has criticized the U.S. for insisting on preconditions for holding any talks with Cuba to improve relations. Another blog post was a public letter to President Obama recommending reconciliation with Cuba. In addition, this year a group of 50 prominent Americans issued a public letter to the President urging him to take executive action to expand U.S. involvement with Cuba. Another blog post criticized recent opposition to pursuing such reconciliation.

Why I Do Not Hope To Die at 75

Under the provocative title, “Why I Hope To Die at 75,” the 57-year-old Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and head of the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, sets forth in The Atlantic Magazine what he claims to be his firm conclusion that he hopes to die in 18 years at age 75.

As a 75 year-old-man who was graduated from high school in 1957, the year Emanuel was born, I do not hope to die in the remaining months before I turn 76 or at any other set time.

Let us explore the reasons for these different conclusions.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s Reasons

According to Dr. Emmanuel, “[L]iving too long is . . . a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” He then backs up this opinion with what he asserts as facts:

  • “We [in the U.S.] are growing old [in terms of increased life expectancy], and our older years are not of high quality.” Studies show, he says, that “increases in longevity seem to have been accompanied by increases in disability.” Another study found an “increase in the absolute number of years lost to disability [including mental disabilities like depression and dementia] as life expectancy rises.”[1]
  • Another medical researcher said, “health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process.”
  • “[O]ur mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older: mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, problem-solving and creativity.”
  • The “most dreadful of all possibilities: living with dementia and other acquired mental disabilities” while our society is expected to experience a “tsunami of dementia.”
  • As we age, we “accommodate our physical and mental limitations. Our expectations shrink. . . . [W]e choose ever more restricted activities and projects, to ensure we can fulfill them.”

He recognizes that “there is more to life than youthful passions focused on career and creating. There is [mentoring and] posterity: children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

But these benefits of aging are outweighed for him by “the very real and oppressive financial and caregiving burdens” often imposed on other family members and by the psychological burdens on children unable to escape from the shadows of living parents.

Although Emanuel does not embrace euthanasia or suicide for himself, he has executed “a do-not-resuscitate order and a complete advance directive indicating no ventilators, dialysis, surgery, antibiotics, or any other medication. . . . In short, no life-sustaining interventions.” In addition, if and when he reaches age 75, he will seek to avoid any visit to a doctor and any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions. He says he “will accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if he is suffering pain or other disability.”

A desire to die at age 75, he says, “forces us to think about the end of our lives and engage with the deepest existential questions and ponder what we want to leave our children and grandchildren, our community, our fellow Americans, our world.”

He concludes with this caveat. “I retain the right to change my mind and offer a vigorous defense of living as long as possible. That, after all, would mean still being creative after 75.”

Responses to Emmanuel’s Reasons

I agree with Emmanuel that as we age we lose some of our physical and mental abilities and that executing a complete advance medical directive forbidding extreme life-sustaining interventions, as he and I have done, is a reasonable thing to do.

Otherwise I vigorously disagree with Emmanuel’s conclusion that a desire to die at age 75 is a reasonable conclusion and reject his argument that what others think of us or how they may remember us after we are gone is relevant to this issue. Apparently creativity is a central virtue for him, and its predictable decline as we age appear to be the major motivation for his stated desire to die at 75. Yes, creativity is important for many of us, but it is not the only virtue.

I also wonder why he does not contemplate retirement from actively working for a living as another stage of life with certain benefits. Nor does he really grapple with the facts, he briefly concedes, that many older people are happy with new interests like “bird watching, bicycle riding, pottery, and the like” and that “there is more to life than youthful passions focused on career and creating. There is posterity: children, grand children and great-grandchildren.” He also glosses over the fact that his own father (Dr. Benjamin M. Emmanuel), now about 87 years old, had a heart attack 10 years ago and since then has slowed down appreciably, but still says he is happy.

My Reasons for Not Wanting To Die at 75

At age 62 with some trepidation, I retired from the active practice of law. I wanted to escape the pressure of being a litigator who oftentimes was forced to be in professional relationships with opposing counsel who were disagreeable people. This produced stress that I wanted to eliminate as life-threatening. I also wanted to create time to do other things beside working while I was still in good health: travel, spend time with my grandchildren, learn new things and write. After my first 10 years of retirement I assessed my retirement and concluded that these years had been productive and enjoyable. That confirmed for me the wisdom of retiring when I did. These conclusions have been reconfirmed by my subsequent three additional years of retirement.

In this period I became actively involved in my church’s global partnerships and made three mission trips to Cuba and one to Cameroon and in the process made new international friends and learned a lot about the two countries. My involvement with Cuba prompted me to become an advocate for changing U.S. policies regarding the island. I could not have done this while still practicing law.

I also have reflected on my own life and affirmatively set about determining the many people and activities for which I was grateful. Yes, this could have been done while still working, but the pressures of working, I believe, would have meant postponing such reflections to another day that would never have come. This process of reflection, aided by worship at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, has also enabled me to see certain of my activities as vocations in the Christian sense.

One of my activities in this first phase of retirement was being a part-time Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School to co-teach international human rights law. In the process I learned a lot about this field of law and enjoyed interacting with law professors and students. I could not have done this while still practicing law.

At the end of 2010 I retired from law teaching in order to create time for sharing things I already had written and for research and writing on new topics that came along. In the spring of 2011 this desire lead to my creating and writing this blog. It is exciting to come across new things, like Emmanuel’s article that prompted this post. I frequently find that such things immediately start my composing an article in my head. Often this triggers a desire to do research, frequently using “Google” searches, but sometimes going to a library or sources of original documents. I enjoy this kind of puzzle and challenge as well as the writing.

In my retirement I also have thought about mortality, especially as friends, acquaintances and others my age die. But such thoughts are not depressing, but rather reminders that I too am mortal. Therefore, try to make the most of each day you have.

I do not worry about when I will die or wish that I will die at a particular age. Nor do I worry about what happens to me after death even though Christianity has a promise of eternal life.

Be happy! Enjoy life! Love one another!

This point was raised in an article entitled “Too Young to Die, Too Old to Worry” by Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine, just after the publication of the Emmanuel essay, but without citation to same. Karlawish said, “Age seems to be a blunt criterion to decide when to stop” and “we desire not simply to pursue life, but happiness, and . . . medicine is important, but it’s not the only means to this happiness.”

Here are some of my blog posts that relate to the previous statement of reasons why I do not desire to die at 75.

Post # Date Title
19 04/22/11 Retiring from Lawyering
21 04/23/11 My First Ten Years of Retirement
226 03/15/12 Gratitude I
242 04/11/12 Gratitude II
243 04/13/12 Gratitude III
276 06/13/12 Gratitude Revisited
221 03/08/12 Intimations of Mortality
489 04/08/14 Mortality
492 04/11/14 Death Certificates’ Documentation of Mortality
466 02/06/14 My General Thoughts on Vocation
475 02/23/14 My Vocations

[1] Emmanuel makes no reference to the immediately preceding article in the magazine by Greg Easterbrook, What Happens When We All Live to 100?, The Atlantic at 61 (Oct. 2014) that discusses research into further increases in vibrant life span.

A Presbyterian’s Musings about Saints

My recent investigation and writing of a post about the Roman Catholic Church’s process for the beatification and canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero prompt these musings about blesseds and saints in that church and their absence in my own church, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, and its denomination, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Roman Catholic Church[1]

According to a Catholic secondary source (“Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”), a saint is “…a member of the Church [who] has been assumed into eternal bliss and may be the object of general veneration. A saint is also a person of remarkable holiness who lived a life of heroic virtue, assisted by the Church, during their pilgrimage on earth. They are as varied and exceptional as only God could create them, and each has his own distinct story.”

The veneration of saints (in Latin, cultus, or the “cult of the saints”) describes a particular popular devotion or abandonment to a particular saint or saints. Although the term “worship” of the saints is sometimes used, it is intended to mean honor or give respect. According to the Catholic Church, Divine Worship is properly reserved only for God and never to the saints.  They can be asked to intercede or pray for those still on earth, just as one can ask someone on earth to pray for them.

A saint may be designated as a patron saint of a particular cause or profession, or invoked against specific illnesses or disasters, sometimes by popular custom and sometimes by official statements. Saints are not thought to have power of their own, but only that granted by God.

Apparently under canon law, before beatification, the body of the candidate must be exhumed and authenticated and relics taken for veneration. This has produced disputes, some of which have been resolved by dividing the body. For example, St. Catherine of Sienna is entombed in Rome, but her head is revered in a Sienna basilica. Now the beatification and canonization of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen is being delayed because of a dispute whether his corpse should remain in a crypt in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City or be moved to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois, where he was ordained.[2]

Relics of saints are respected in a similar manner to holy images and icons. The practice of past centuries in venerating relics of saints for healing is taken from the early Church. Once a person has been declared a saint, the body of the saint is considered holy. The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. Saints’ personal belongings may also be used as relics. Some of the saints have a symbol that represents their life.

In 993, Pope John XV was the first pope to proclaim a saint, but it was not until the papacy of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) that the Pope claimed an exclusive monopoly on the canonization of saints. In 1983, Pope John Paul II made sweeping changes in the canonization procedure for Catholics whom are generally regarded as holy with the local bishop first investigating a deceased candidate’s life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate “venerable.”

Beatification

The next step, beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatified or “blessed,” the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.

Although I do not know the total number of “blessed” in the Roman Catholic Church, the last three Popes have beatified 2,860 (Pope John Paul II, 1,342; Pope Benedict XVI, 843; and Pope Francis, 675 (including 124 Korean Martyrs on his recent trip to South Korea).)

Canonization

The Roman Catholic Church has over 10,000 named saints (or over 27 for every day of a normal year).

Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not “make” a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done.

The last three Popes have canonized 1,355 saints: Pope John Paul II, 482; Pope Benedict XVI, 45; and Pope Francis, 828. A source says that Pope Francis’ 828 in the first 18 months of his papacy is more than all the Popes of the last three centuries.

Westminster and the PCUSA

sermon

The PCUSA and Westminster do not have a roster of designated blesseds and saints. As a result, Westminster does not have statues or paintings of such individuals in our Sanctuary.Instead, most of Westminster’s Sanctuary’s beautiful stained-glass windows from the 1950s and 60s, made by Willet Studios, primarily depict images of the life of Jesus like the one to the right for His Sermon on the Mount that is on the north side of the main floor of the Sanctuary. Earlier windows feature Victorian and early 20th century stylized organic and geometric designs. Here below, for example, is a photograph of the large Rose Window that was installed at the back of the balcony in 1897 with the construction of our Sanctuary.

RoseWindow

Westminster, however, at the back of the Sanctuary’s main floor does have four Gospel Windows (images of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the authors of the New Testament’s Gospels). Below is a photograph of these windows.

Saints Matthew & Mark
Saints Matthew & Mark
Saints Luke & John
Saints Luke & John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, there are two stained glass windows at the back of the Sanctuary’s balcony with images of prominent Protestants. One is called the “Reformation Window” with images of Protestant reformers Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Knox. The other is called the “Missionary Window” with images of four Protestant missionaries: William Carey (India), David Livingstone (Africa), Sheldon Jackson (Alaska) and Marcus Whitman (Northwest U.S.). Photographs of these windows are below. Finally, also in the balcony we have a window for unnamed Martyrs and another window for Jesus’ Disciples and Apostles (without names). (Thanks for the photographs to Dr. Rodney Allen Schwartz, Director of Westminster’s Gallery and Archives.)

Westminster's "Reformers' Window"
Westminster’s                            “Reformation Window”
Westminster's "Missionaries Window"
Westminster’s                         “Missionary Window”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to a comment on the PCUSA website, “In the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition, we have and always will acknowledge and honor saints. Our designation as saints comes from our rich inheritance of Christ’s righteousness.” This commentator then adds the following:

  • “In St. Paul’s understanding, the title ‘saint’ belongs to all those who have been united with Christ, those who have a share in the rich inheritance as Children of God (baptism). St. Paul routinely calls the members of his churches ‘saints’ because of who they are in Christ and not because of what they have accomplished.”
  • “Furthermore, based on the teachings of the Second Helvetic Confession, and the early church fathers, Presbyterians do not pray for the mediation of the saints. We pray to God through Christ alone, and only look to the saints, ordinary people who had extra-ordinary faith, as examples and role models.”
  • “Also, as John Calvin and the early church fathers taught in regard to the mystery of Holy Communion, we believe that when we gather at the Lord’s Table and partake of the sacrament in faith, by the work of the Holy Spirit we become united in Christ and in prayer with those gathered around the eternal throne of God (which the Lord’s Table also represents) in accordance to the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation.”

The PCUSA website introduces the subject of All Saints Day by saying, “In early Christian tradition, saints’ days began as a way to mark the anniversary of a martyr’s death — his or her “birthday” as a saint. By the middle of the church’s first millennium, there were so many martyrs . . . that it was hard to give them all their due. All Saints’ Day was established as an opportunity to honor all the saints, known and unknown.”

The PCUSA website goes on to say, “All Saints’ Day has a rather different focus in the Reformed tradition. While we may give thanks for the lives of particular luminaries of ages past, the emphasis is on the ongoing sanctification of the whole people of God. Rather than putting saints on pedestals as holy people set apart in glory, we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age. [All Saints Day for Presbyterians] . . . is an appropriate time to give thanks to members of the community of faith who have died in the past year. We also pray that we may be counted among the company of the faithful in God’s eternal realm.”

Bishop William Walsham How
Bishop William Walsham How
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams

At Westminster, All Saints Day is observed by reciting the names of our most recent saints, those church members who died during the prior year, and by singing the famous hymn “For All the Saints” with words by William Walsham How (1823-1897)[3] and beautiful music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).[4] The words of this hymn in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal go like this:

  1. “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might; thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight; thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!”
  1. “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Interestingly this hymn originally had six other verses that probably were eliminated in our Hymnal to keep the hymn of reasonable length by contemporary standards. But three of those deleted verses specifically recognize the Apostles, the Evangelists and the Martyrs as saints and thereby may suggest that only they are saints.

We also must acknowledge that the names of some Presbyterian churches include the names of saints: the Apostles of Jesus (Peter (or Simon), Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas and Matthew), the authors of the synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John), the first evangelist (Paul) and other Roman Catholic saints (Elmo (or Erasmus)), Stephen, Barnabus, Giles and Patrick).

 Observations

I recognize that all of us as sinners need all the help we can get in striving to live holy lives and that blesseds and saints undoubtedly provide such assistance to many people. Moreover, I believe it must be useful for many people to have blesseds and saints from their own country or ethnic group or era to connect with Jesus, who lived and died 2,000 years ago.

A church’s having blesseds and saints can also be seen as a way for the church to evangelize, i.e., to spread the Good News of the Bible. In secular terms, it is a way to market the faith. Pope Francis’ recent beatification of 124 Korean martyrs can be seen in this light.

Once a church decides that it will have blesseds and saints, it obviously needs a well-established set of rules and procedures for making such important decisions, and Pope John Paul II’s previously mentioned changes in that regard I see as a rational management response.

However, I do not understand why the beatification and canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero can be seen as controversial or difficult when he had the courage to act, despite repeated death threats, as Jesus taught all of us to act (Love your neighbor as yourself).

As an outsider to the Catholic faith, I see the proliferation of blesseds and saints as perhaps interfering with Christianity’s focus on Jesus Christ and God. I also find it difficult to accept the miracles that are requirements for beatification (except for martyrs) and for canonization. According to the Catholic Church, to be deemed a miracle, it happens after the death of the candidate for beatification or canonization, and “a medical recovery must be instantaneous, not attributable to treatment, [and the medical problem] disappear for good.”

In the Presbyterian version of Christian faith as I have experienced at Minneapolis’ Westminster, on the other hand, we avoid having our focus on Jesus interrupted by statues and references to the blesseds and the saints. Moreover, our sermons frequently use the faith and actions of contemporary people to illustrate important points of Scripture. In this way we help to see how Jesus’ teachings can be important in our lives today.

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[1] This account of the history and practices of the Roman Catholic Church’s blessed and saints is based upon the following secondary sources in addition to those that are hyperlinked above: http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/All_Saints_Day.htm; http://www.catholic.org/saints/faq.php; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_saints; http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/201310/how-many-saints-are-there-28027. I welcome amplification and corrections by those with more knowledge of the Catholic history and practice of beatification and canonization.

[2] Otterman, Tug of War Between Dioceses Halts a Bishop’s Beatification, N.Y. Times (Sept. 14, 2014.)

[3] How was an Anglican priest who served as Bishop of Wakefield in northern England and as Bishop of Bedford in the East End of London. He also was a poet and author of the lyrics for other hymns.

[4] Williams, who was Welsh-English, was a composer of symphonies, operas, chamber and choral music and film scores.

U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s Second Term: The Economy and Securities Markets of 1906-1907

Our last stop on the issues of railroad regulation during President Theodore Roosevelt’s Second Term focused on the June 29, 1906, adoption of the Hepburn Act regarding limits on railroad freight rates and the subsequent reactions that year to this statute. Before we look at the continued controversy over these issues in 1907, we need to review what was happening in 1906 and 1907 in the economy and securities markets and their increasing intertwining with the railroad issues.[1]

 1906

 In 1906 the economy and securities markets were adversely affected by April’s major San Francisco earthquake destroying two-thirds of the city and leaving over 200,000 residents homeless and by the subsequent increase of interest rates by the Bank of England responding to the outflow of English funds paying earthquake insurance claims. From a peak in January stock market prices had fallen by 18% by July of that year, and after the adoption of the Hepburn Act railroad securities were especially hard hit. By late September stocks generally had recovered about one-half of their losses.

January-February 1907

At the start of 1907, however, the U.S. appeared to be prosperous. Railroads had difficulty finding enough freight cars to meet demand. Banks had a lot of cash. Wages and prices were rising. This redounded to the credit of President Theodore Roosevelt, who had just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the Japanese-Russian war.

The U.S. stock market, however, was sending contrary signals. Between September 1906 and March 8, 1907, the stock market slid, losing 7.7% of its capitalization. Indeed, in January John D. Rockefeller predicted that Roosevelt’s policies would result in a depression.

March-May 1907

On March 12th, reacting to the troubled securities markets and to rumors that President Theodore Roosevelt was planning some new measures against the railroads, J.P. Morgan, the major Wall Street financier and New York Central Railroad Director, met with the President to discuss “the present business situation, particularly as affecting railroads.” According to Morgan, he urged Roosevelt to take some action “to allay the public anxiety now threatening to obstruct railroad investments and construction” and advised the President that “the financial interests of the country are greatly alarmed at the attitude of the Administration towards corporations, and particularly the railroads.” Afterwards Morgan told the press that Roosevelt would soon meet with the heads of four leading railroads to see what might be done to “allay public anxiety.”[2]

This news did not calm the securities markets. The next day (March 13th) New York Stock Exchange prices collapsed. And on March 14th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by another 25%. These two days were sometimes referred to as “the Rich Man’s Panic” since most ordinary people were not stock market investors.

At the markets close that day, the 25 most active stocks on the New York Stock Exchange had a total shrinkage in value since the first of the year of $ 970 million. This was especially true for the following railroad stocks:

Railroad ShrinkageMillion $ ShrinkagePercentage
A.T. & S.F. $ 23.5 22.8%
Baltimore & Ohio $ 30.5 20.0%
Canadian Pacific $ 34.0 28.1%
Chesapeake & Ohio $ 11.0 17.5%
M. & St. Paul $ 21.0 25.3%
Great. Northern. (Pfd.) $ 87.0 58.2%
Missouri Pacific $ 21.5 27.8%
N.Y. Central $ 35.5 19.9%
Norfolk & Western $ 13.0 19.7%
Northern. Pacific $113.0 72.9%
Pennsylvania RR $ 62.5 20.0%
Reading $ 31.0 44.3%
Southern Pacific $ 47.0 23.8%
Union Pacific $117.0 59.9%

After the close of the markets on the 14th, the U.S. Treasury injected $25 million of cash into New York City banks by buying some of their holdings of U.S. bonds, which calmed the markets for the moment.

Reacting to the market developments of the 14th, William C. Brown, Senior Vice President of the New York Central Railroad (and my maternal great-great uncle) issued a public statement that said, “The diminishing net earnings of railroads, while alarming, are overshadowed by the apparent hostility as evinced by recently enacted or introduced Federal and state legislation. The growth and development of the country will soon be at a standstill unless transportation facilities can be tremendously increased. Hundreds of millions of dollars should be expended in this direction as rapidly as material can be assembled and men employed. On account of the above conditions confidence has been so shaken that investments of this character are regarded as so hazardous and unattractive as to make it impossible to sell any kind of railroad security except at such discount and rate of interest as to make it prohibitive; and these improvements, so vital to the prosperity of the country, are being greatly curtailed or entirely dropped.”

Brown concluded this statement with a plea for the railroads and the President to cooperate in stopping evils and abuse. In addition, “the President and the press should co-operate with the railroads and with all food citizens in working for a restoration of public confidence, based upon the widest publicity of corporation affairs and absolute fairness, equality, and stability of rates.”

June-September 1907

Troubles, however, were not over. In June the stock of the Union Pacific Railroad—among the most common stocks used as collateral for bank loans—fell 50 points. That same month an offering of New York City bonds failed. In July the copper market collapsed. In August the Standard Oil Company was fined $29 million for antitrust violations. That same month commodity prices declined, Another negative factor that summer was the Bank of England’s imposing a prohibition of English banks buying U.S. finance bills, thereby closing a major source of refinancing for U.S. debtors. In September industrial production also went down. In the first nine months of 1907, stocks were lower by 24.4%.

October-November 1907 (Financial Panic)

 The Fin1907panic_4ancial Panic of 1907 started on October 9th with the failure of two speculators to take over the United Copper Company  and the resulting bankruptcies of two brokerage houses, another mining company and a bank. On October 15th stocks started  to tumble, and on October 21st and 22nd a run started on New York City’s third largest and supposedly solid trust, the  Knickerbocker Trust Company, causing its bankruptcy.This in turn created fear throughout the U.S. and numerous  bankruptcies of state and local banks and other businesses. On October 23rd money was almost unobtainable on Wall Street,  call-loan rates had spiked to 125% and the entire U.S. financial system was nearing collapse. To the left is a photo of a crowd of  people in front of Manhattan’s Federal Hall, at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets; the New York Stock Exchange is outside  the photo to the left.

In response to this crisis, Roosevelt had the U.S. Treasury deposit $25 million in national banks.

The “savior” of the financial system from the Panic, however, was J. P. Morgan, the wealthy Wall Street financier and a New York Central Director. He and other plutocrats (E.H. Harriman, Henry Clay Frick and John D. Rockefeller, Sr.) pledged large sums of their own money, to shore up the U.S. financial system. These efforts had apparently succeeded by October 24th when the New York Stock Exchange did not have to shut down and stock prices started to rebound.

The next week, however, the panic returned when a major brokerage house threatened to cease operations and the City of New York was on the verge of defaulting on its obligations. J.P. Morgan and his colleagues again came to the rescue with a plan for U.S. Steel to buy the shares of Tennessee Coal and Iron Company then held as collateral by the failing brokerage firm. This plan, however, would go forward only if it had President Roosevelt’s approval. That approval was obtained on November 4th at a White House breakfast meeting with U.S. Steel’s Chairman (Elbert H. Gary) and one of its founders (Henry Clay Frick). News of this approval immediately was released, and stock prices began to rally.

Additional support for the financial system and stock market was supplied in November when Roosevelt authorized the U.S. Treasury to increase its injection of funds into the banks to $69 million and to sell $150 million of U.S. and Panama bonds.

All of this occurred in the midst of an economic contraction that had started in May 1907 and that did not end until June 1908. The interrelated contraction, falling stock market and financial panic resulted in significant economic disruption. Industrial production dropped more than after any previous bank run, while 1907 saw the second-highest volume of bankruptcies to that date. Production fell by 11%, imports by 26%, while unemployment rose to 8% from under 3%.

Analysis of the Financial Panic of 1907

100 years later (September 2007) two distinguished professors at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business (Robert F. Bruner and Sean D. Carr) concluded that the Panic of 1907 “resulted from a powerful convergence of [the following] seven overlapping and interrelated forces—a ‘perfect storm’ in the financial markets:”

  1. The financial system’s architecture was “highly fractionalized, localized, and complex” with networks that allowed quick spread of news and rumors while it also was difficult for all actors to be equally well informed.
  2. Strong economic growth in the U.S. had created a massive demand for external finance, which was met with a significant amount of capital borrowed from European sources.
  3. There were inadequate safety buffers for a system with many small and undiversified banks plus new and lightly regulated trust companies holding riskier assets.
  4. Roosevelt was “on the warpath against anticompetitive business practices” as were many state governments.
  5. Real economic shock from the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906 and the summer 1907 curtailment of acceptance of U.S. finance paper by the Bank of England.
  6. Undue fear, greed and other behavioral aberrations causing a sharp and self-reinforcing shift from optimism to pessimism.
  7. Failure of collective action. Yes, J.P. Morgan led a collective effort that helped dampen the worst of the Panic, but it was insufficient in the overall economy and financial system.

Below is a graph comparing the Dow-Jones Industrial Average for January 1906-October 1907 with the same Average for the Financial Panic of 2008:

DJIA graph 1907Panic

 

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[1] This post is based upon Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex at 476-78, 498-501 (Random House; New York; 2001); Lynch, March 13th Stock Market Crash (Jan, 31, 2008); Foldvary, The Panic of 1907 (May 1, 2007);  Trumblore, J. P. Morgan-Savior-The Panic of 1907; Harvard Univ. Center for History & Econ, The 1907 Crisis in Historical Perspective; The United States, 1904-1914; Wikipedia, Panic of 1907; Bruner & Carr, The Panic of 1907: Lessons Learned from the Market’s Perfect Storm, Financial History (Fall 2007); Stock Collapse Rivals Panics, N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 1907); Bankers Decry Fear of a Panic, N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 1907); W.C. Brown’s Appeal, N.Y. Times (Mar. 15, 1907); Stock Crash Over without a Failure, N. Y. Times (Mar. 16, 1907).

[2] As we will see in a subsequent post, the proposed meeting between the President and the four leading railroad executives never happened, and instead the President held meetings individually with quite few such executives in March through May 1907.

Alarming Federal Government Fiscal Challenges

On August 29th Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote an alarming column on the federal government’s fiscal challenges. Moreover, it was not his own opinion he was voicing, but rather that of the Semiannual Report of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that was issued on August 27, 2014.

The CBO Report, Milbank says, shows that “the long-term fiscal disaster, predicted for some time, has crept into the short term.” Here are the particulars for that conclusion from the Report itself:

  • The foundation for the report is the CBO’s own economic forecast that “the economy will grow slowly this year . . . and then at a faster but still moderate pace over the next few years;” that “inflation is expected to remain below the Federal Reserve’s goal, and interest rates on Treasury securities . . . are projected to rise considerably.”
  • Another basic CBO assumption is “current laws governing federal taxes and spending generally remained unchanged.”
  • Federal debt held by the public will reach 74 percent of gross domestic product this year, more than twice what it was at the end of 2007 and higher than in any year since 1950. In a decade, it will hit 77 percent; in 25 years, 100 percent.
  • “85 percent of the federal government’s spending increases between now and 2024 will be consumed by just three items: Social Security (which will claim 28 percent of the increase), Medicare and other health-care programs (32 percent) and interest on the debt (25 percent). Spending on everything else — military and domestic programs alike — would fall to the lowest proportion of the economy since at least 1940, when such statistics were first collected.”
  • “The persistent and growing deficits that CBO projects . . . would have serious negative consequences, including . . . Increased federal spending for interest payments, Restraining economic growth in the long term, Giving policymakers less flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges, and Eventually increasing the risk of a financial crisis (in which investors would demand high interest rates to buy the government’s debt).”

These problems, says Milbank, will come “because of the cowardice of leaders on both sides, who have avoided serious changes to the tax code and to Medicare and the other ‘mandatory’ spending programs.”

Milbank’s comments came before the release of a report by Northwestern University economist, Robert Gordon, claiming that the CBO’s modest projection of U.S. economic growth over the next decade is unattainable. Gordon for several years has argued that reduced labor productivity, reduced labor market participation and meager capital investment have adversely affected the U.S. economy’s ability to grow. Thus, under Gordon’s analysis, the fiscal challenges facing the federal government will only be worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pope Francis Urges Swift Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop        Oscar Romero

On March 24, 1980, Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while saying mass at a chapel in that city because of his preaching the Gospel and denouncing the Salvadoran regime’s violations of the human rights of his people.

I have been hoping that the Roman Catholic Church officially would recognize him as a saint, something many people in El Salvador and around the world, including this Protestant Christian, already have done unofficially. [1]

 

Now over 34 years later, on August 18, 2014, Pope Francis said that Romero’s beatification (one of the Church’s preconditions for sainthood) [2] should happen swiftly. That was the conclusion drawn by many from the Pope’s answer to a journalist’s question at an informal press conference on the papal plane’s return flight to Rome after the papal visit to South Korea.[3] Here is that answer in the Vatican’s official English translation:

Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo--Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo–Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
  • “The process [for the beatification of Romero] was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, blocked “for prudential reasons”, so they said.  Now it is unblocked.  It has been passed to the Congregation for Saints.  And it is following the usual procedure for such processes.  It depends on how the postulators move it forward.   This is very important, to do it quickly.”
  • “What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.  And this is a task for the theologians.  They are studying it.  Because after him [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande [[4]] and there are others too; there are others who were killed, but none as prominent as Romero.  You have to make this distinction theologically.”
  • “For me Romero is a man of God, but the process has to be followed, and the Lord too has to give His sign…  If He wants to do it, He will do it.  But right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles.”

Analyzing this statement first requires an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s structure and procedures regarding beatification and of the history of the “cause” for such status for Romero.

First, Pope Francis’s recent statement implicitly says that he does not have the authority to make the beatification decision himself. Instead, under the Church’s Apostolic Constitution (Pastor Bonus or Good Pastor) two parts of the Roman Curia (the Congregation for the Cause of Saints (CCS) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)) have to make certain decisions before a recommendation for beatification comes to the Pope for approval or disapproval. [5]

Before the CCS enters the picture, however, a candidate for beatification must be recommended for that honor by the bishop of the diocese where the individual died after a thorough investigation (initiated only after at least five years after the individual’s death) establishing his or her theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) and the performance of a “miracle” (an event that can be witnessed by the senses but is in apparent contradiction to the laws of nature). If the candidate is a martyr, however, a miracle is not required for beatification, but is for sainthood. (Emphasis added.)

The bishop’s conclusion and documentation then is submitted to the CCS, which has 34 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), one promotor of the faith (prelate theologian), five relators, 83 consultants and a staff of 23; it is headed by Prefect Cardinal Angelo Amato. The CCS is charged with conducting a rigorous examination into the life and writings of an individual to determine if he or she demonstrates a heroic level of virtue or suffered martyrdom. A CCS member is appointed Postulator by the CCS to oversee all aspects of the cause at the congregational level. With the assistance of a member of the congregational staff (a Relator), the Postulator prepares the “Positio” or summary of the documentation relating to the merits of the individual’s cause. The “Positio” is then subjected to an examination by nine theologians, and if a majority of them view the “Positio” positively, it then goes to examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the CCS. If the latter group is favorable to the cause, the head or “Prefect” of the CCS presents the entire cause to the Pope. If the Pope then approves the cause, he authorizes the CCS to draft an appropriate decree, which eventually is read and promulgated.

Apparently during this process the CCS may submit certain issues to the CDF, which has 23 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), 28 consultants and a staff of 47; the CDF is headed by Prefect Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Under the previously mentioned Apostolic Constitution the CDF  is charged “to protect and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals . . . in things that touch this matter in any way” (Art. 48) and to help “the bishops, individually or in groups, in carrying out their office as authentic teachers and doctors of the faith, [including] the duty of promoting and guarding the integrity of that faith” (Art. 50). I assume this must have happened because the Pope stated that the CDF had blocked the beatification process for lack of proof of Romero’s ‘”prudence,” one of the required cardinal virtues for such status.

Second, the history of the process for Romero’s beatification[6] sheds light on Pope Francis’ recent remarks:

  • The process was started in 1993 with the Archbishop of San Salvador’s announcement of his intent to proceed and with the CCS’ permission to proceed. By November 1996 the archdiocesan investigation of the cause was complete when the Archbishop approved the investigation’s findings and sent documentation to the CCS, and by 1998 all the necessary records had been submitted to the Congregation.
  • In 2000, pursuant to an objection by Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who expressed concerns about Romero’s association with Liberation Theology, Romero’s cause was investigated by the . . . CDF,” then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Between 2000 and 2005, the CDF studied the writings, sermons, and speeches of Archbishop Romero to ensure that they were free from doctrinal error. In 2001, Bishop Vincenzio Paglia, the initial Postulator of Romero’s cause, held a special congress in Italy, bringing together experts and theologians to try to determine if Archbishop Romero’s actions and written and spoken words were within the authorized teaching of the Church. Eventually the CDF concluded that “Romero was not a revolutionary bishop, but a man of the Church, the Gospel and the poor.”
  • Subsequently the cause was again referred to the CDF apparently on complaint by certain Latin American cardinals who demanded a study of Romero’s concrete pastoral actions. Thereafter the cause apparently was neglected and stalled.
  • Shortly after the inauguration of Pope Francis in March 2013,  Postulator Paglia publicly reported that the Pope in a private audience on April 20, 2013, told him that the Pope was authorizing the beatification process to proceed. Paglia said that the process had been “unblocked.”

The Pope’s recent comment that at some point the CDF had concluded that Romero lacked “prudence” has been interpreted as concern that Romero had Marxist ideas. Another commentator stated, the CDF “had questioned whether the Salvadoran prelate qualified as a martyr, since his assassins clearly had political motives. Was the archbishop killed because of his faith, or because of his political involvements? And were his political activities entirely inspired by his faith? Those were the questions that complicated the cause.”

Third, the Pope said the blocking of the process by the CDF had been removed and there were now no doctrinal problems, but it is not totally clear when, why and how that happened. Apparently, as just stated, it was a decision by Pope Francis himself in April 2013, but details are lacking.

Fourth, the Pope said that he wanted clarification on whether martyrdom in ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the faith) is for confessing the [Roman Catholic] credo or for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do for our neighbors and that theologians were now studying this issue. It, however, was unclear as to whether this was being done by the CDF or the CCS. In either event, another commentator said that official martyrdom traditionally has been limited to those who were killed as persecution for their Catholicism. Indeed, this is the traditional test known as ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the Catholic faith) while death for the cause of Christian justice—sometimes called “odium iustitiae”— is currently a subsidiary test and potentially could be established as an alternative formula to prove martyrdom.

Fifth, the Pope’s recent comments made it very apparent that he supported Romero’s beatification. He called Romero “a man of God” and said that it was “very important, [for the postulators] to do it [their work] quickly.” I also thought the Pope impliedly endorsed the idea that martyrdom includes performing “the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour“ (“odium iustitiae”), which is exactly what Romero was doing and why he was assassinated.

For example, Julian Filochowski, chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust, said the Pope’s recent comment was “reaffirming in public what he’s said in private: that he hopes this process for the beatification of Romero will be dealt with and come to a speedy conclusion.” Filochowski also said, “Archbishop Romero was never the leftist some supposed him to be. His theology was essentially the theology of the Beatitudes [the teachings that begin with ‘blessed are the poor in spirit.’]”

Indeed, during his brief time as Pope, Francis has repeatedly discussed Romero and his beatification with visitors. Just after his inauguration, he “received several guests who took up Romero with the new pope, including the Anglican archbishop of York, who handed Pope Francis a “Romero Cross.”  Francis met twice with the Argentine Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, and they discussed Romero and the desirability of a positive result in his canonization process.  “[That] same topic . . . took center stage in . . . meetings with then Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, with his successor Salvador Sánchez Cerén, . . . with the President of the Central American Parliament, who Francis assured that the canonization is ‘on the right path’” and when this May the Pope met with a delegation of Salvadoran bishops. Moreover, Romero’s message seems to fit the themes of Francis’ papacy, especially the emphasis on the poor from a son of the Latin American church.[7]

Sixth, Francis’ comment that “Romero is a man of God” should be particularly well-received in San Salvador, where the Church has just launched a “Romero Triennium”—a three year program of commemorations leading to the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth in 2017.  The theme for the first year is “Romero, Man of God.” Some suggest that the year 2017 would be a very opportune time for Pope Francis to go to El Salvador and proclaim Romero as “Santo Romero.”

Indeed, many in El Salvador were jubilant over the Pope’s statement. Said President Salvador Sanchez Ceren,”We are confident that in this land where Monsignor Romero lived, a determination of his martyrdom will receive his blessings.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, added, “We are delighted by the interest and determination of His Holiness, Pope Francisco, to advance the process of beatification of Archbishop Romero our spiritual leader.”[8]

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[1] I have written many posts about Romero, some of which have concerned the beatification process.

[2] Beatification is part of the Roman Catholic Church’s process towards sainthood. It recognizes the person as someone who has lived a faithful or holy life. After beatification they are known as ‘blessed’ and can be venerated by Catholics but, unlike canonization, it is not required. Upon a grant of beatification status, a separate process for canonization commences.

[3] This discussion of the Pope’s recent comments is based upon the following: Francis: “Romero is a man of God,” Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014); Pope Francis’ Flights Yield Candid Conversations, N. Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Palumbo & Cave, An Obstacle to Honoring an Archbishop Is Removed (N.Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Borkett-Jones, Should Romero Be Canonized? Pope Francis Seems To Think so . . . ., Christianity Today (Aug. 19, 2014); Pope lifts beatification ban on Salvadoran Oscar Romero, BBC (Aug. 19, 2014); Lawler, The cause for beatification of Archbishop Romero: BBC botched the story, Catholic Culture (Aug. 19, 2014).

[4] Rutilio Grande was a Salvadoran priest and a friend of Romero who was murdered in 1978 for his vocal advocacy and actions to support the interests of the poor people of his country. In May 2013 Pope Francis reportedly told Salvadoran President Funes that Grande also should be beatified.

[5] This account of the two congregations is based upon the English language summary by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Amplification and correction, especially on this account, from others more knowledgeable on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

[6] This summary of the history is based upon Pope Greenlights Romero Beatification, Super Martyrio (April 21, 2013); Who “Blocked” Romero’s Cause, Super Martyrio (April 29, 2013); Clear path for Romero at CCS, Super Martyrio (Nov. 22, 2013); New push for Archbishop Romero, Super Martyrio (April 25, 2014); Saint Romero in two strokes, Super Martyrio (May 5, 2014); Front row with Francis, Super Martyrio (May 30, 2014); Romero in the age of Francis, Super Martyrio (June 29, 2014); Francis: “Romero is a man of God, Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014). Super Martyrio is a blog created and maintained by a Salvadoran-American lawyer in California to follow news about Romero in support of the cause for Romero’s beatification and canonization. Muchas gracias!

[7] Before becoming Pope, Sr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and as Cardinal made statements and attended events honoring Romero. In addition, Francis’ two papal predecessors have made similar comments. Saint John Paul II discussed Archbishop Romero in seven different public speeches/audiences.  The most famous of these was a 1983 mass in San Salvador where he called Romero a “zealous pastor, whom love of God and service of brethren drove to surrender his life in a violent manner.”  Saint Benedict XVI spoke about Romero during three different public events, including an in-flight press conference after a 2007 trip to Brazil, during which he said,  That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt … Archbishop Romero was certainly an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship, and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly ‘credible’, a witness of faith.” 

[8] Jubilation in El Salvador by Pope announcement on beatification of Archbishop Romero, La Pagina (Aug. 19, 2014).

 

 

U.N. Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations on U.S. Human Rights

As discussed in a prior post, in March 2014, the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee (the Committee) issued a negative evaluation of how the United States of America (U.S.) was implementing and complying with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR or Covenant), which is regarded as an important part of the International Bill of Rights. That prior post reviewed the background of the ICCPR and the events leading up to the Committee’s evaluation. Another post looked at the Committee’s recent hearings regarding U.S. human rights.

Now we examine the Committee’s report of concluding observations that resulted from the hearings and all the evidence on that subject.

The Committee’s Concluding Observations[1]

After considering the written materials and the testimony and remarks at the hearing, on March 26, 2014, the Committee adopted its 11-page report (Concluding observations on the fourth report of the United States of America). Given the hostile nature of the Committee members’ comments during the hearing, it is not surprising that the report was very critical of the U.S.[2]

With respect to various topics, the Committee expressed its regrets or concerns about the U.S. record and then made the recommendations outlined below.

Applicability of the Covenant at national level.[3] The U.S. should: “(a) Interpret the Covenant in good faith, in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to its terms in their context, including subsequent practice, and in the light of its object and purpose and review its legal position so as to acknowledge the extraterritorial application of the Covenant under certain circumstances . . . .(b) [I]dentify ways to give greater effect to the Covenant at federal, state and local levels, taking into account that the obligations under the Covenant are binding on the State party as a whole. . . . (c) [E]nsure that effective remedies are available for violations of the Covenant, including . . . proposing to the Congress implementing legislation to fill any legislative gaps. . . . [and considering] acceding to the Optional Protocol to the Covenant providing for an individual communication procedure. [4] (d) Strengthen and expand existing mechanisms mandated to monitor the implementation of human rights at federal, state, local and tribal levels . . . . (e) Reconsider its position regarding its reservations and declarations to the Covenant with a view to withdrawing them.”[5]

Accountability for past human rights violations. The U.S. should: “[E]nsure that all cases of unlawful killing, torture or other ill-treatment, unlawful detention, or enforced disappearance are effectively, independently and impartially investigated, that perpetrators, including, in particular, persons in command positions, [6] are prosecuted and sanctioned, and that victims are provided with effective remedies. The responsibility of those who provided legal pretexts for manifestly illegal behavior should also be established. [7] The State party should also consider the full incorporation of the doctrine of ‘command responsibility’ in its criminal law and declassify and make public the report of the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence into the CIA secret detention programme.”

Racial disparities in the criminal justice system and Racial profiling. The U.S. should: “[R]obustly address racial disparities in the criminal justice system . . . [and] effectively combat and eliminate racial profiling by federal, state and local law enforcement officials . . . .”[8]

Death penalty. The U.S. should: “(a) take measures to effectively ensure that the death penalty is not imposed as a result of racial bias; (b) strengthen safeguards against wrongful sentencing to death and subsequent wrongful execution by ensuring inter alia effective legal representation for defendants in death penalty cases, including at the post-conviction stage; (c) ensure that retentionist states [those that maintain the death penalty] provide adequate compensation for the wrongfully convicted; (d) ensure that lethal drugs for executions originate from legal, regulated sources, and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and that information on the origin and composition of such drugs is made available to individuals scheduled for execution; [9] (e) consider establishing a moratorium on the death penalty at the federal level and engage with retentionist states with a view to achieving a nationwide moratorium;” [f] Consider acceding to on the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant aiming at the abolition of the death penalty on or before July 11, 2116, the 25th anniversary of its entry into force.

Targeted killing using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). The U.S. should: “revisit its position regarding legal justifications for the use of deadly force through drone attacks [and] . . . (a) ensure that any use of armed drones complies fully with its obligations under article 6 of the Covenant, including in particular with respect to the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality in the context of an armed conflict; (b) subject to operational security, disclose the criteria for drone strikes, including the legal basis for specific attacks, the process of target identification and the circumstances in which drones are used; (c) provide for independent supervision and oversight over the specific implementation of regulations governing the use of drone strikes; (d) in armed conflict situations, take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians in specific drone attacks and to track and assess civilian casualties, as well as all necessary precautionary measures in order to avoid such casualties; (e) conduct independent, impartial, prompt and effective investigations of allegations of violations of the right to life and bring to justice those responsible; (f) provide victims or their families with an effective remedy where there has been a violation, including adequate compensation, and establish accountability mechanisms for victims of allegedly unlawful drone attacks who are not compensated by their home governments.”

Gun violence. The U.S. should: “[T]ake all necessary measures to abide by its obligation to effectively protect the right to life. . . . [including] (a) continue its efforts to effectively curb gun violence, including through the continued pursuit of legislation requiring background checks for all private firearm transfers in order to prevent possession of arms by persons recognized as prohibited individuals under federal law . . . ; and (b) review Stand Your Ground Laws to remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality when using deadly force in self-defence.”

Excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. The U.S. should: “(a) step up its efforts to prevent the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers by ensuring compliance with the 1990 UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers; (b) ensure that the new CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] directive on use of deadly force is applied and enforced in practice; and (c) improve reporting of excessive use of force violations and ensure that reported cases of excessive use of force are effectively investigated, alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, that investigations are re-opened when new evidence becomes available, and that victims or their families are provided with adequate compensation.”

Legislation prohibiting torture. The U.S. should: “[E]nact legislation to explicitly prohibit torture, including mental torture, wherever committed and ensure that the law provides for penalties commensurate with the gravity of such acts, whether committed by public officials or other persons acting on behalf of the State, or by private persons. . . . [and] ensure the availability of compensation to victims of torture.”[10]

Non-refoulment [ban on returning persecuted to persecutor]. The U.S. should: “[S]trictly apply the absolute prohibition against refoulement under articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant, [11] continue exercising the utmost care in evaluating diplomatic assurances, and refrain from relying on such assurances where it is not in a position to effectively monitor the treatment of such persons after their . . . return to other countries and take appropriate remedial action when assurances are not fulfilled.”

Trafficking and forced labour. The U.S. should: “[C]ontinue its efforts to combat trafficking in persons, inter alia by strengthening its preventive measures, increasing victim identification and systematically and vigorously investigating allegations of trafficking in persons, prosecuting and punishing those responsible and providing effective remedies to victims, including protection, rehabilitation and compensation. [T]ake all appropriate measures to prevent the criminalization of victims of sex trafficking, including child victims, to the extent that they have been compelled to engage in unlawful activities. [R]eview its laws and regulations to ensure full protection against forced labour for all categories of workers and ensure effective oversight of labour conditions in any temporary visa program. [R]einforce its training activities and provide training to law enforcement and border and immigration officials, . . . [and] other relevant agencies. . . .”

Immigrants. The U.S. should: “review its policies of mandatory detention and deportation of certain categories of immigrants in order to allow for individualized decisions, to take measures ensuring that affected persons have access to legal representation, and to identify ways to facilitate access of undocumented immigrants and immigrants residing lawfully in the U.S. for less than five years and their families to adequate health care, including reproductive health care services.”

Domestic violence. The U.S. should: “[S]trengthen measures to prevent and combat domestic violence, as well as to ensure that law enforcement personnel appropriately respond to acts of domestic violence. [E]nsure that cases of domestic violence are effectively investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and sanctioned. [E]nsure remedies for all victims of domestic violence, and take steps to improve the provision of emergency shelter, housing, child care, rehabilitative services and legal representation for women victims of domestic violence. [T]ake measures to assist tribal authorities in their efforts to address domestic violence against Native American women.”

Corporal punishment. The U.S. should: “Take practical steps, including through legislative measures where appropriate, to put an end to corporal punishment in all settings. [E]ncourage non-violent forms of discipline as alternatives to corporal punishment and . . . conduct public information campaigns to raise awareness about its harmful effects. [P]romote the use of alternatives to the application of criminal law to address disciplinary issues in schools.”

Non-consensual psychiatric treatment. The U.S. should: “[E]nsure that non-consensual use of psychiatric medication, electroshock and other restrictive and coercive practices in mental health services is generally prohibited. Non-consensual psychiatric treatment may only be applied, if at all, in exceptional cases as a measure of last resort where absolutely necessary for the benefit of the person concerned provided that he or she is unable to give consent, for the shortest possible time, without any long-term impact, and under independent review. . . . [P]romote psychiatric care aimed at preserving the dignity of patients, both adults and minors.”

Criminalization of homelessness. The U.S. should: “[E]ngage with state and local authorities to: (a) abolish criminalization of homelessness laws and policies at state and local levels; (b) ensure close cooperation between all relevant stakeholders . . . to intensify efforts to find solutions for the homeless in accordance with human rights standards; and (c) offer incentives for decriminalization and implementation of such solutions, including by providing continued financial support to local authorities implementing alternatives to criminalization and withdrawing funding for local authorities criminalizing the homeless.”

Conditions of detention and use of solitary confinement. The U.S. should: “[M]onitor conditions of detention in prisons, including private detention facilities, with a view to ensuring that persons deprived of their liberty be treated in accordance with the requirements of articles 7 and 10 of the Covenant [12] and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. . . . [I]mpose strict limits on the use of solitary confinement, both pretrial and following conviction, in the federal system, as well as nationwide, and abolish the practice in respect of anyone under the age of 18 and prisoners with serious mental illness. . . . [B]ring detention conditions of prisoners on death row in line with international standards.”

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. should: “[E]xpedite the transfer of detainees designated for transfer, including to Yemen, as well as the process of periodic review for Guantánamo detainees, and ensure either their trial or immediate release, and the closure of the Guantánamo facility. [E]nd the system of administrative detention without charge or trial and ensure that any criminal cases against detainees held in Guantánamo and military facilities in Afghanistan are dealt with within the criminal justice system rather than military commissions and that those detainees are afforded the fair trial guarantees enshrined in article 14 of the Covenant.” [13]

NSA surveillance. The U.S. should: “(a) take all necessary measures to ensure that its surveillance activities, both within and outside the [U.S.], conform to its obligations under the Covenant, including article 17; [14] in particular, measures should be taken to ensure that any interference with the right to privacy complies with the principles of legality, proportionality and necessity regardless of the nationality or location of individuals whose communications are under direct surveillance; (b) ensure that any interference with the right to privacy, family, home or correspondence be authorized by laws that (i) are publicly accessible; (ii) contain provisions that ensure that collection of, access to and use of communications data are tailored to specific legitimate aims; (iii) are sufficiently precise specifying in detail the precise circumstances in which any such interference may be permitted; the procedures for authorizing; the categories of persons who may be placed under surveillance; limits on the duration of surveillance; procedures for the use and storage of the data collected; and (iv) provide for effective safeguards against abuse; (c) reform the current system of oversight over surveillance activities to ensure its effectiveness, including by providing for judicial involvement in authorization or monitoring of surveillance measures, and considering to establish strong and independent oversight mandates with a view to prevent abuses; (d) refrain from imposing mandatory retention of data by third parties;(e) ensure that affected persons have access to effective remedies in cases of abuse.”

Juvenile justice and life without parole sentences. The U.S. should: “prohibit and abolish all juvenile life without parole sentences irrespective of the crime committed, as well as all mandatory and non-homicide related sentences of life without parole. . . . [15] ensure that all juveniles are separated from adults during pretrial detention and after sentencing and that juveniles are not transferred to adult courts. . . . [encourage] states that automatically exclude 16 and 17 year olds from juvenile court jurisdictions . . . to change their laws.”

Voting rights. The U.S. should: “ensure that all states reinstate voting rights to felons who have fully served their sentences, provide inmates with information about their voting restoration options and remove or streamline lengthy and cumbersome state voting restoration procedures, as well as review automatic denial of the vote to any imprisoned felon, regardless of the nature of the offence. [T]ake all necessary measures to ensure that voter identification requirements and the new eligibility requirements do not impose excessive burdens on voters resulting in de facto disenfranchisement. [P]rovide . . . full voting rights of residents of Washington, D.C.”

Rights of indigenous people. The U.S. should: “adopt measures to effectively protect sacred areas of indigenous peoples against desecration, contamination and destruction and ensure that consultations are held with the communities that might be adversely affected by State party’s development projects and exploitation of natural resources with a view to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent for the potential project activities.”

Other. The U.S. should: “widely disseminate the Covenant, the text of the . . . [recent U.S. report to the Committee], the written responses that . . . [the U.S.] has provided in response to the list of issues drawn up by the Committee and the present concluding observations so as to increase awareness among the judicial, legislative and administrative authorities, civil society and non-governmental organizations . . . [in the U.S.] as well as the general public.” “[For] its fifth periodic report, . . . continue its practice of broadly consulting with civil society and non-governmental organizations. [P]rovide, within one year, relevant information on its implementation of the Committee’s recommendations regarding accountability for [past human rights violations, gun violence, detainees at Guantanamo Bay and NSA surveillance]. [Submit] its next periodic report . . . [on March 28, 2019 with] specific, up-to-date information on all . . . [the Committee’s] recommendations and on the Covenant as a whole.”

Conclusion

One of the overriding issues in the Committee’s review was the geographical coverage of the entire treaty, whether it applies to U.S. conduct outside the U.S. territory, but where it has jurisdiction. The proper conclusion to this issue, in this blogger’s opinion, is that it does so apply or does have extraterritorial application. This conclusion was succinctly stated by the Committee’s Chairperson, Sir Nigel Rodley, during the hearing as noted in a prior post.

Essentially the same conclusion was reached in an October 2010 memo by Harold Koh, then the U.S. State Department’s Principal Legal Adviser.[16] After what he described as an “exhaustive review,” he stated, “an interpretation of Article 2(1) [of the ICCPR] that is truer to the Covenant’s language, context, object and purpose, negotiating history, and subsequent understandings of other States Parties, as well as the interpretations of other international bodies, would provide that in fact, . . . [a] state incurs obligations to respect Covenant rights — is itself obligated not to violate those rights through its own actions or the actions of its agents– in those circumstances where a state exercises authority or effective control over the person or context at issue.”[17]

Civil society organizations in the U.S. lauded the Committee’s “scathing report” and characterized the review as an opportunity for the Obama Administration to meaningfully improve its human rights legacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, among other groups, welcomed the Committee’s explicit recognition of the extraterritorial nature of the State’s obligations and its specific recommendations regarding surveillance, and urged immediate implementation by the United States.

The U.S. press coverage of this important international critique of U.S. human rights was pathetic. I did not find any such coverage in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, two respected national newspapers.

The New York Times, on the other hand, had limited coverage. Before the hearings, the Times published one article on the then likely U.S. rejection of the treaty’s having extraterritorial effect along with the actual text of the contrary opinion on that issue by Harold Koh. Later the Times had an article about the first day of the Committee’s hearings that was primarily about the U.S.’ actual rejection of the treaty’s extraterritoriality with two short paragraphs about other issues. Finally the Times had an exceedingly short article about the Committee’s report that touched only on a few of its issues (drone strikes; the virtual lack of any U.S. investigation and prosecutions for alleged unlawful killings; use of torture and authors of legal memoranda purportedly justifying torture in the so called “war on terror;” and the call for publication of the U.S. Senate’s investigation of the CIA’s secret rendition program (turning over suspects to other countries)).

Finally, the Committee’s critique can be taken as an agenda for change by U.S. human rights advocates. Such change will not happen quickly given the dysfunctionality of the U.S. political system and culture. As President Obama frequently says, change does not come easily.                                                                 —————————————————————–

[1] This summary of the Committee’s concluding observations is based upon the observations themselves plus extensive articles about them in the Guardian, Reuters, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and a very short New York Times article.

[2] Before making its criticisms, the Committee noted its “appreciation [for] the many [U.S.] efforts undertaken, and the progress made in protecting civil and political rights.” The Committee then welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolition of the death penalty for offenders who were under the age of 18 when the crimes were committed (Roper v. Simmons (2005)); the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of extraterritorial habeas corpus for aliens detained at Guantanamo Bay (Boumediene v. Bush (2008)); the expansion of rights for such detainees (Presidential Executive Orders 13491 and 13493); and the U.S. President’s support of the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[3] This issue concerned Article 2(1) of the ICCPR, which states, “Each State Party . . . undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” (Emphasis added.)

[4] The Optional Protocol to the ICCPR allows alleged victims of an alleged violation by a State Party of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant to submit a communication of complaint to the Committee, and after it has received a response from that State Party, the Committee shall submit ”its views” [akin to an advisory opinion] on the matter to the alleged victim and State Party.

[5] The U.S. reservations and understandings to its ratification of the treaty were covered in a prior post.

[6] “Persons in command positions” presumably include former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

[7] “Those who provided legal pretexts” presumably include John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez and four other lawyers who in the George W. Bush Administration were authors of legal memoranda justifying the so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques. At least some of these memoranda are available online. The issue of their legal responsibility for such memoranda has been raised in at least three proceedings. First, under Spain’s previous version of its universal jurisdiction statute, a Spanish court opened a criminal investigation regarding these six lawyers, but later the case was stayed when the Spanish court asked the U.S. for information about any U.S. investigation of such allegations. Second, Mr. Yoo was sued in U.S. federal court for money damages and declaratory relief by an individual who had been arrested and detained for interrogation in a military brig in the U.S. for three and a half years, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in May 2012 held that Mr. Yoo was entitled to immunity and thus reversed the district court’s denial of Yoo’s dismissal motion. Third, in January 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Yoo and another lawyer had used flawed legal reasoning in these memoranda, but that this had not constituted professional misconduct This issue also has been raised in other contexts. In the midst of all this, Yoo continues vigorously to assert the validity of the memoranda and thus his innocence.

[8] One of the Committee’s concerns that prompted this recommendation was, in the Committee’s words, “surveillance of Muslims undertaken by . . . the New York Police Department (NYPD) in the absence of any suspicion of wrongdoing.” On April 15th (or nearly three weeks after the issuance of the Committee’s report), the NYPD announced that it was terminating this program. This decision was welcomed by Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York City while lamenting that the NYPD did not say it was ending its broad surveillance practices.

[9] There is litigation in U.S. courts over lethal drugs used in executions under death penalty laws. In Oklahoma, for example, a state trial court on March 26, 2014, decided that a state law mandating secrecy for the identity of suppliers of such drugs was unconstitutional. On April 21st the Oklahoma Supreme Court stayed two executions so that the court could resolve “grave constitutional claims.” Since then there has been an unseemly intra-state squabble over whether that court had the power to stay the executions with the Oklahoma Governor vowing to conduct the executions as previously scheduled, a state legislator introducing a resolution to impeach the court’s judges who voted for the stay and the Supreme Court itself on April 23rd vacating the stay.

[10] The U.S. has a criminal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. sec. 2340A. It states, “Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.” (Emphasis added.) Thus, this criminal statute does not apply if the torture occurs in the U.S. In addition, the U.S. has the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) that provides for a civil action for money damages by an “individual” who has been subjected to “torture” against an “individual, who, under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, of any foreign nation” committed the torture. (Emphasis added.) Thus, this statute does not apply if the torture is committed by someone acting under U.S. law.

[11] The ICCPR’s Article 6 bans arbitrary deprivation of life and any derogation from the genocide treaty while its Article 7 bans torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

[12] The ICCPR’s Article 7 bans “torture . . . [and] cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment while its Article 10 requires all inmates to be “treated with humanity and respect for the dignity of the human person,” separation of accused persons from convicts and juveniles from adults and in facilities whose aims shall be “reformation and social rehabilitation” of inmates.

[13] Article 14 of the ICCPR contains detailed provisions that in the U.S. would be regarded as constitutional criminal due process rights.

[14] Article 17 of the ICCPR says “[e]veryone has the right to the protection of law against . . . arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, . . . [and] unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.”

[15] The Committee’s report recognized with satisfaction that the U.S. Supreme Court had decided under the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” that (a) sentences of life without parole for juveniles for non-homicide crimes were not permitted (Graham v. Florida (2010)); and (b) mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles for homicide were not permitted (Miller v. Alabama (2012)).

[16] Koh is one of the U.S.’ preeminent international lawyers. He has taught at the Yale Law School since 1985 except for his years as the State Department’s Legal Adviser (2009-2013) and as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (1998-2001). He served as the Dean of the Yale Law School (2004-2009) and returned to Yale in 2013 as the Sterling Professor of International Law. He has received many awards and holds degrees from Harvard University (B.A. and J.D.) and the University of Oxford (B.A. and M.A.)

[17] The Koh memorandum also stated that the contrary 1995 opinion by the Department’s Legal Adviser was “not compelled by either the language or the negotiating history of the Covenant . . . [and] that the 1995 Interpretation is in fact in significant tension with the treaty’s language, context, and object and purpose, as well as with interpretations of importantU.S. allies, the Human Rights Committee and the ICJ [International Court of Justice], and developments in related bodies of law [and, therefore,] was no longer tenable.” Nevertheless, the U.S. continues to rely on the 1995 opinion for its resistance to extraterritorial application of the ICCPR. The Koh memorandum was published by the New York Times along with a discussion of the document a week prior to the Committee’s hearings, and it is safe to assume that copies of same were provided to all the Committee members before the hearings.

What Does the Way of the Cross Ask of Us? Mercy

The third theme of Lent at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church is mercy. We will review the Scripture passages and the sermon on this theme and then conclude with some personal reflections.

 Scripture Passages

The Old Testament scripture for mercy was the Prayer of David in Psalm 86: 1-15 (New Revised Standard Version):

  • ‘Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
    Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you.
    You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.
    Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
    For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
  • Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.
    In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.
  • There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
  • For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
    Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
  • I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
  • O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

The New Testament scripture was Matthew 18: 21-35 (New Revised Standard Version):

  • “Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
  • For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.
  • But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.
  • Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’
  • And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The Sermon

The sermon by Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen emphasized that “at the heart of Christianity is the discipline of forgiveness.”

“From birth to death,” the sermon continued, “the life of Jesus is framed in forgiveness. Remember John the Baptizer preaching forgiveness to prepare for the coming Messiah? Remember the prayer Jesus taught [us]: ‘Forgive us, as we forgive them.’ Remember how Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery and challenged others to do the same? Remember the words of Jesus on the cross: ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do?’”

“Ours is a religion born in that astounding cry from the cross for mercy for those who had hung him there. If the question this Lent is what does the way of the cross ask of us, the response surely includes forgiveness.”

“If anyone ever asks you what Christian faith is all about, a good place to start would be forgiveness. If someone ever asks you what you think God is like, quote Psalm 86: ‘The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.’”

In Matthew 18, “‘Peter asks how many times he should forgive someone who wrongs him – and we sense this is not a hypothetical question – and then Peter wonders aloud, ‘Seven times?’ No doubt he thinks he’s really stretching it to go that far.”

In response, Jesus says, “’Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times,’ indicating that forgiveness should not be reckoned a scarce commodity. God’s mercy is abundant; ours can be, as well.”

“This is hard work, like climbing a mountain that seems to get taller and taller the higher you get. Temptations abound along the way. It would be easier to give up. The culture teaches us to want revenge, not mercy. It’s much more satisfying on the face of it to refuse forgiveness to someone who has wronged you, and instead get back at them. If forgiveness feels like an impossibility for us, then we’re thinking about it in precisely the right way; it should feel like that. It’s not easy.”

Rev. Hart-Andersen added, “Every one of us has had a ‘Peter moment’ in a relationship with a friend or life partner or co-worker, a time when we knew we should forgive, but we wondered how hard to try. Seven times? Jesus will have none of it. Genuine forgiveness is much more extravagant; it takes us beyond anything we might consider reasonable. The truly merciful give up any desire for vengeance; let go of any need to come out on top; release any longing to satisfy old grudges; and, relinquish any secret hope for the thrill of nursing anger.”

“We tend to think of forgiveness as something we offer others in order to free them from the guilt of what they’ve done. That’s the short-sighted view of mercy. In the long run, it’s not done for the one who wronged us; it’s for our own sake. Our future is held hostage until we forgive. In offering mercy we free ourselves of the millstone hung around our neck by anger or desire for vengeance or the need to win.”

“Forgiveness in the eyes of Jesus is not about counting up the wrongs or keeping track of damage down and being properly compensated; on the contrary, it’s a matter of setting ourselves free of the need to do that. At stake is the possibility of recovering our own life by letting go of the anger or hurt that has a hammerlock on us.”

“Nothing is more corrosive to a relationship, and to our hearts, than unwillingness to forgive, and nothing brings more grace into a relationship, and into our hearts, than when people freely show mercy to one another.”

“It’s the way of the cross, the path we follow this Lenten season, and it leads, in the end, to life.”

Conclusion

Peter’s comments in Matthew 18: 21 could be read narrowly as saying if one person (another member of the church) commits one sin against Peter, then how often should Peter forgive that one person for that one sin.

Peter’s own answer to that question (seven times) may have been seen by him as overly generous and unnecessary since at that time rabbis commonly said that forgiving someone three times was an acceptable maximum.[1]

Jesus’ response in Matthew 18: 22, in my opinion, was not just upping the ante in a numbers game. Rather Jesus was saying that counting the number of acts of forgiveness is the wrong approach. In so doing, I believe, Jesus revealed a profound understanding of human psychology. Peter’s saying there is only one sin against him by another person is probably wrong, and in fact Peter probably believes there are other sins as well. Moreover, because we are all weak, the sense of anger Peter must feel over a wrong done to him may erupt again and again, often when he least expects it. Therefore, forgiveness of the other is always unfinished business, and repeated acts of forgiveness may be necessary.

The parable of the king and his slave starts out with the slave’s debt of 10,000 talents, which at the time could be seen as the largest amount imaginable. Indeed, it exceeded the annual taxes for all of Syria, Phonecia, Judea and Samaria. It would be impossible for any individual to repay. The amount of debt owed to the slave, on the other hand, represented 100 days of the wages of an ordinary laborer, still an impossible debt for the other slave to repay.[2]

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18, according to one source, ended with verse 33 and was intended by Jesus to be about a Gentile tyrant, not about God. Verses 33 and 34, says this source, were added by Matthew to have the parable be about God.[3] But I find it impossible to accept the message of Matthew 18: 34 that God would send anyone to be tortured until he paid the debt.

This passage from Matthew about forgiveness of debts prompts the following comments and questions:

  • As a retired lawyer the “debt” language makes me think of normal commercial transactions where one party incurs an obligation or indebtedness to another person, and absent coercion or unfair advantage or subsequent bankruptcy, this is an obligation that should be honored. It should not be forgiven.
  • I vaguely recall some economists saying that U.S. bankruptcy law more liberally allowed for state-enforced forgiveness of debts than many other countries and thereby promoted U.S. economic growth by allowing people to start over economically. Do I recall this correctly? Is it a valid comment?
  • The notion of forgiving debts brings to mind the Jewish practice of the Jubilee Year, which I believe called for forgiveness of debts over land, slaves and indentured servants every 49 or 50 years. Is this a fair simplification of the practice? Is it still a practice today? Is it related to the Matthew passage in some way?
  • I struggle with the Presbyterian Church’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, which says “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The alternative language for the Lord’s Prayer that many others use— “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”—seems more appropriate to me because “trespass” is a wrong under the law and hence closer to the concept of sin. What am I missing?

Psalms 86: 1-15 for me is irrelevant to forgiveness or mercy other than the assertion in verse 5 that God is “good and forgiving.” Instead it is David’s prayer for protection and assistance when he was being pursued by his enemies (verses 7 and 14). The central verse, according to one commentary, is verse 11, where David asks God to teach him God’s way and to give him an “undivided” heart. The latter I see as an implicit confession that David’s heart is divided between God and something else.

I invite readers to help me answer these questions.

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[1] W. F. Albright & C. S. Mann, The Anchor Bible—Matthew at 223 (Garden City, NY; Doubleday & Co. 1871).

[2] VIII New Interpreter’s Bible at 380-83 (Nashville, TN; Abingdon Press 1995).

[3] Id.

U.S. Policy Implications of State Department’s Report on Cuban Human Rights

A prior post reviewed the U.S. State Department’s just-released 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices while another post discussed its chapter on Cuba. Now we look at the implications of that report for U.S. policies regarding Cuba.

Some people assert that the negative aspects of Cuban human rights justify continuing U.S. hostility toward the island. They see the Cuban glass of human rights at least half empty. Notable among them is U.S. Representative Mario Díaz-Balart, a Cuban-American and a Republican Congressman from Miami, who remains a stalwart powerful defender of the embargo and other anti-Cuba policies of the U.S.

Others, including this blogger, reach the opposite conclusion based, in part, on the belief that the Cuban glass of human rights is half full.

Rev. Raul Suarez
Rev. Raul Suarez

As Rev. Raúl Suárez put it at the February 27th briefing for the U.S. Congress, “Cuba has many problems but Cuba isn’t hell . . . . We have many good things that have been achieved [but] . . . Cuba is not the Kingdom of God.” Suárez added, “God . . . wants us [Cubans and Americans] to live like brothers and sisters.”[1]

Indeed, the humility expressed by Rev. Suárez should lead the U.S. to the same conclusion. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last month on release of the Human Rights Reports, “from our own nation’s journey, we know that [human rights] is a work in progress. Slavery was written into our Constitution before it was written out. And we know that the struggle for equal rights, for women, for others – for LGBT community and others – is an ongoing struggle.” Secretary Kerry admitted that we  “know that we’re not perfect. We don’t speak with any arrogance whatsoever, but with a concern for the human condition.”

In evaluating Cuba’s mixed human rights record and deciding on U.S. policies regarding that country, that same humility should cause we in the U.S. to remember the U.S. immense superiority in economies and military might and the long-standing U.S. actions of hostility towards Cuba, including the following:

  • the U.S. usurpation of Cuba’s war for independence from Spain in the late 19th Century (what we in the U.S. call the “Spanish-American War“);
  • the U.S.’ making Cuba a de facto U.S. protectorate in the early 20th Century;
  • the U.S. support for the invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs in 1961;
  • the U.S. threats of military action against Cuba during the pressured Cuban missile crisis of 1962;
  • the CIA’s hatching several plots to assassinate Fidel Castro when he was Cuba’s President;
  • the U.S. conduct of an embargo of Cuba over the last 50-plus years; and
  •  the U.S. Government’s Commission on Assistance for a Free Cuba setting forth what amounted to a U.S. blueprint for taking over Cuba.

This history provides Cuba with many legitimate reasons to be afraid of the U.S. It, therefore, is understandable why Cuba has harshly treated what we call “dissidents” and what Cuba fears are or could be supporters of a U.S. takeover.

And we in the U.S. should know from our own history since 9/11 that societies and governments tend to clamp down on civil liberties when they fear outside interference or attacks.

Cuba’s regrettable lapses on human rights, though perhaps understandable in context, should not be a reason for continued U.S. hostility toward the island.

Therefore, as a prior post argued, improving Cuban human rights should be one of many items on an agenda for a comprehensive, mutually respectful negotiation between the two countries. The objectives of such a negotiation, in my opinion, should be restoration of full diplomatic relations; ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba;[2] terminating the unjustified U.S. designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism;” [3] terminating the one-sided U.S. lease of Guantanamo Bay; and compensating owners for expropriation of property on the island as part of the Cuban Revolution.[4]

Such a negotiation, in my opinion, is in the interest of the U.S. Cuba poses no threat to the U.S. Our businesses and farmers would benefit economically from open relations with Cuba. Normalizing our relations with the island would be seen by most people in the world, especially Latin America, as a sign that the U.S. is a mature, rational country.

These thoughts were echoed by the Cuban religious leaders who held a U.S. congressional briefing on February 27th. Joined by the President and CEO of Church World Service, [5] they reaffirmed their long-held opposition to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

They also called “for the U.S. government to end the ban that prevents U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba and seeing the island for themselves; to take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism . . . ; and for the American government to open up trade and commerce in ways that support the small enterprises, cooperatives, and non-profits that are emerging on the island. Finally, the U.S. and Cuban governments ought to open a high level dialogue between our countries to normalize relations and discuss differences in ways that honor and respect the dignity of both nations.”

Before the commencement of such complicated negotiations, the U.S. President should commute the sentences of three of the Cuban Five to the 15-plus years they already have spent in U.S. jails and prisons and let them return to their home country. Similarly Cuba should commute the sentence of U.S. citizen Alan Gross to the time he already has spent in Cuban prison and allow him to return to the U.S.

Given the long period of hostility between the two countries and the apparent lack of movement toward negotiations, I believe that the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator would be helpful to both countries. Such a mediator, in my opinion, should be someone who is bilingual in English and Spanish with experience as an international mediator, who is in fact and perceived to be neutral and who has the time (and staff?) to make a major commitment to this process.

Such a mediator indeed could and should step forward and invite representatives of both countries to participate in mediated negotiations, rather than wait on them to agree on such a process.

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[1] Suárez is a Baptist pastor and the founder and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Havana. When I visited the Center in 2007, Rev. Suárez told our group that he had founded the Center because he thought King’s philosophy of non-violence and social justice was relevant to Cuba, especially to Afro-Cubans. He also said that in 1984 he and other religious leaders met with then President Fidel Castro to protest the government’s endorsement of atheism (or scientific materialism) as limiting the space for churches, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba abandoned that endorsement and provided more space for churches to participate in issues facing the island.

[2] Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter also call for ending the U.S. embargo. So too does world opinion as evidenced by the U.N. General Assembly’s passing resolutions condemning the embargo for the last 22 years. The last such resolution in October 2013 was passed 188 to 2 with only the U.S. and Israel voting against it.  A prior post to this blog also has argued for ending the embargo and summarized the 2011 General Assembly resolution against the embargo.

[3] This blog has reviewed the State Department’s asserted rationale for the “State Sponsor of Terrorism” designation and called it ridiculous for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and absurd for 2013. This blog also noted Cuba’s adoption of legislation against money laundering and terrorism financing and thereby negating one of the purported reasons for the designation.

[4] In a letter to President Obama that was reproduced in this blog, I called for the U.S. to terminate the Guantanamo Bay lease and for Cuba to compensate property owners for expropriating their property. A comprehensive review of this lease is found in Michael J. Strauss’ The Leasing of Guantanamo Bay.

[5] Church World Service was founded in 1946 with this mission: “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, shelter the homeless.” It now has 37 Protestant member communions all over the world.

The Extraordinary “Ordinary Grace”

ordinary-grace-200

The 53-year old Frank Drum in the novel, “Ordinary Grace,”  begins his narration by saying that in 1961, when he was 13  years old, the deaths of his sister and four others in his small  southern Minnesota town were not completely tragic. These  deaths also brought him wisdom by “the awful grace” of God  in accordance with a quotation from Aeschylus, a Greek  playwright, that suffering and pain, “against our will, [bring  us] . . . wisdom through the awful grace of God.” [1]

The reader thus immediately is faced with two terms: “ordinary grace” and “awful grace.” Do they mean the same? Or are they different concepts? And are they different from “divine grace”? The novel does not answer these questions.

Towards the end of the novel after many horrible deaths, Frank’s father, Rev. Nathan Drum, a Methodist minister, repeats the Aeschylus quotation. Frank responds with this pithy, skeptical question, “Awful?” Rev. Drum merely responds, “I don’t think it is meant in a bad way. I think it means beyond our understanding.” (P. 289.) That was the only other reference to “awful grace” I found in the novel.

Similarly the only time I found the term “ordinary grace” used was in Frank Drum’s description of a lunch at the church pastored by his father. The lunch was just after the funeral service for Ariel Drum, the pastor’s daughter and Frank’s sister. Rev. Drum was quietly composing himself for what everyone expected to be a thoughtful, lengthy prayer of grace before the meal was served. Ruth Drum, the pastor’s wife and the mother of Ariel and Frank, rudely interrupted the solemn silence. “For God’s sake, Nathan, can’t you, just this once, offer an ordinary grace?” (P. 269.) (Emphasis added.)

Everyone at the lunch was stunned into a nervous silence. Jake Drum, Frank’s younger and stuttering brother, broke the quiet and surprised his embarrassed parents and the others with these three words: “I’ll say grace.” Then Jake, after a brief stutter, prayed, “Heavenly Father, for the blessings of this food and these friends and our families, we thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.” (P. 270.) (Emphasis added.)

Frank, who was startled and frightened by Jake’s announcing he would say the grace, afterwards looked at his brother “with near reverence and thought to myself, ‘Thank you, God.’” Frank also commented that this grace was “so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.” (P. 270.)  (Emphasis added.)

Therefore, a simple answer to the question about the meaning of “ordinary grace” is it was the simple prayer offered before lunch by an ordinary person, a young boy without any theological education.

But this is too simple an answer, in my opinion.

Immediately after saying this prayer, Jake’s stutter disappeared, and he told his brother that he thought he never would stutter again. Jake added that this change was a miracle that happened without his seeing a light or hearing a voice. Instead, Jake said he “wasn’t afraid anymore” and if “we put everything in God’s hands, maybe we don’t any of us have to be afraid anymore.” (Pp. 281-82.) Their mother concurred, saying, “it was a miracle by the grace of God.” (P. 292.) (Emphasis added.)

In other words, although the prayer itself may have been an “ordinary grace,” Jake’s being able to say it and its impact on his stuttering were examples of God’s grace or divine grace.

Another example of divine grace entering the lives of the people of this small town in 1961 through the words of an ordinary person was the sermon by Rev. Drum on the Sunday after Ariel’s death.

  • Rev. Drum said that the events of the past week had caused him to think about “the darkest moment in the Bible [when] Jesus in his agony on the cross cries out, ‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’” In “that moment of his bitter railing [Jesus] . . . must have felt betrayed and completely abandoned by his father, a father he’d always believed loved him deeply and absolutely. How terrible that must have been and how alone he must have felt. . . . Jesus . . . saw with mortal eyes, felt the pain of mortal flesh, and knew the confusion of imperfect mortal understanding.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Rev. Drum continued with a personal confession. “I see with mortal eyes. My mortal heart this morning is breaking. And I do not understand. I confess that I have cried out to God, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’” (Emphasis added.)
  • “When we feel abandoned, alone, and lost,” Rev. Drum added, “what’s left to us? What do I have, what do you have, . . . except to rail against God and to blame him for the dark night into which he’s led us, to blame him for our misery, to blame him and cry out against him for not caring? What’s left to us when that which we love most has been taken?”
  • “I will tell you what’s left, three profound blessings. In his first letter to the Corinthians  [I Corinthians 13:13], Saint Paul tells us exactly what they are: faith, hope, and love. These gifts, which are the foundation of eternity, God has given to us and he’s given us complete control over them. Even in the darkest night, it’s still within our power to hold to faith. We can still embrace hope. And although we may ourselves feel unloved we can still stand steadfast in our love for others and for God. All this is in our control. God gave us these gifts and he does not take them back. It is we who choose to discard them.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “And in your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.”
  • “And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. . . . The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.”
  • “I invite you, my brothers and sisters, to rejoice with me in the divine grace of the Lord and in the beauty of this morning, which he has given us.” (Pp. 194-95.) (Emphasis added.)

Frank commented that he “left the church that morning feeling, as I do to this day [40 years later], that I had experienced a miracle, the one promised by my father who had spoken a truth profound and simple.” (Emphasis added.)

For me, these examples and the rest of the novel suggest that there is no difference between ordinary grace and divine grace, which for Christians refers to acts of favor or gifts from God toward humans that we have not earned or do not deserve. Indeed, Saint Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians says, “we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” (II Corinthians 5: 20.) This theological issue is left to the reader to ponder.

The novel reminds us that death comes into everyone’s life, often at unanticipated moments. In other words, death exists in the midst of life. The key issue for those affected by death of family members and friends is how do we respond. Funeral or memorial services always remind me that my days are numbered and that I do not know when my death will arrive. Therefore, I should live each day as if it were my last and be present in the moment. Despite this obvious conclusion, I too often do not live that way.

The novel also reminds us that children, here the 13-year old Frank and his younger brother Jake, can be strong and insightful even when faced with stressful events like the death of family members and friends. Indeed, the two boys seem stronger in some ways than their parents, at least in Frank’s account.

Of course, we are hearing the account of this year from only one participant, 40 years after the fact. We undoubtedly would have other perspectives if there were reports from at least the other members of Frank’s family.

Near the end of the novel Frank, now a high school history teacher, acknowledges these limitations of his account of that summer when he says that “when you look back at a life, yours or another’s, what you see is a path that weaves into and out of deep shadow. So much is lost. What we use to construct the past is what has remained in the open, a hodgepodge of fleeting glimpses . . . . [W]hat I recall of that . . .  summer . . .  is a construct of what stands in the light and what I imagine in the dark where I cannot see.” (P. 302.)

Indeed, Frank says, “there is no such thing as a true event. We know dates and times and locations and participants but accounts of what happened depend upon the perspective from which the event is viewed. . . . I’m aware that Jake and my father recall things I don’t and what we remember together we often remember differently. I’m sure that each of us has memories that for reasons our own we don’t share. Some things we prefer remain lost in the shadows of our past.”

Ordinary Grace” offers an extraordinary exploration of grace and wisdom. The five deaths in one summer in a small town also allow the novelist’s mystery-writing skills to peak through. Reading the novel has many rewards.[2]


[1] A prior post expressed my objection to the use of this quotation in this novel.

[2] “Ordinary Grace” was the “January All-Church Book Read” at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. The novelist, William Kent Krueger, is the author of the award-winning Cork O’Connor mystery series set in northern Minnesota. Now I want to read them.