Tag Archives: Catholic Church

The Story of Papal Names; or, Why is there no pope named Jimbo?

English: PORTRAIT OF JOHN XXIII Español: IMAGE...

John XXIII (1881-1963), A great Pope, a not so original name (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hard to believe that the supreme pontiff, the personification of Christ on Earth, was once called Fabian.

Some were even Silverius, Soter, Zachary, Hilarius, Conon, Anacletus, two Pelagiuses, and even a Sylvester—three of them.

When Benedict XVI announced his resignation effective February 28th, the Catholic Church reeled in shock, even though his Holiness had been hinting at retirement for some time now.  However, I’m sure the cardinals started jockeying for position once their pacemakers kicked in.  With the doors of the Sistine Chapel closed and locked, the conclave of the College of Cardinals will be busy in their voting, politicking and burning of paper in the process of selecting a new pope.

Since any one of these red-hatted guys can get the top job, they all probably have one thing in mind—what will be my papal name?

Since the 6th Century, almost all popes of the Roman Catholic Church have used a regnal or papal name during their reign.  The early popes, being usually in hiding, on the run, or martyred in an arena in cruel and entertaining ways, really didn’t have much time for picking new names.  Yet the acceptance of Christianity in 313, followed by its adoption as the state religion of Rome in 395, gave the papacy some long-needed breathing room for pomp, ceremony, and especially the affectations of monarchy—hence the papal name.

The first papal name was chosen by Mercurius in 533.  Once he was elected, Mercurius decided to change a really pagan name (he was named after the Roman god Mercury) to the more Christ-friendly John II.  It made sense: There were no Roman emperors named Yahweh or Osiris, either.  This change became more commonplace after the 10th Century, and would be de rigueur for all popes since the 16th Century.

The papal names followed no particular pattern.  Most popes chose the names of predecessors they admired, though some chose names of family members, members, even fellow clergymen who shared their ideas of politics and dogma.  The names cover an amazing range of styles (Adrian, Eugene, Boniface), languages (Alexander, Celestine, Miltiades) and perceived moral attributes (Innocent, Clement, Pius).

Until 1978, all popes picked one name.   John Paul I decided to honor two of his predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI (which didn’t help him much since he died 33 days later).  John Paul II continued this tradition, yet his successor Joseph Ratzinger went old school with Benedict XVI—a nice touch for a German theologian who tended to always look in the rearview mirror.

Of the eight Alexanders, most theologians agree Alexander VI was the most ready for premium cable.

Of the eight Alexanders, most theologians agree Alexander VI was the most ready for premium cable.

Some names just keep coming back: There were 23 Johns, the most of any papal name, with 16 Gregorys, 16 Benedicts, 14 Clements, 13 Innocents (most of whom were probably not true to that namesake), 13 Leos (though not of the zodiac sign of the same name), 12 Piuses (again, you’re just asking for criticism if you choose a name like Pius), 9 Stephens, 9 Bonifaces (an excellent choice of name, in my opinion), 8 Urbans (though none named Rural, oddly), and 8 Alexanders, of which the sixth one you may recognize as Jeremy Irons on Showtime.

Even with the free-for-all in nomenclature, there are some unspoken no-nos.  There is no Peter II, for example.  Peter, as in Peter the apostle, was the first pope, and no one could be pretentious enough to claim they are a second Peter (although Jeremy Irons comes close).  That’s almost as snotty as naming yourself Jesus II; and I don’t have to explain why.

Also, names often go out of fashion, sometimes thanks to one bad apple.  For over 500 years, there was no pope named John.  This was because the last John (John XXIII) was not only an antipope (or false pretender), but he was morally corrupt and such a scheming little shit that even the mention of his name would probably have gotten you excommunicated.  When Giuseppe Roncalli  was elected in 1958, they weren’t sure if he was John XXIII or John XXIV, since that other John carried such a stain.  Roncalli, the kind son of Italian sharecroppers, was no such blight on the name, and took on the moniker of John XXIII, as if the other prick never existed.

So what will the new guy choose?  It’s difficult to say, since rules and fashion continue to shift and change.   For the Neighborhood, we feel the next pontiff might do well to give one of the older, more obscure monikers a try.  We’re not ready for another John Paul.  John, Leo,  Pius or even Benedict (at least now) seems a little safe.

Resurrect old standards like Urban, Boniface, Sixtus or Celestine.  He might even choose Gelasius, Theodore, Paschal or even Zephyrinus.

Whatever name is chosen—in the grand scheme of things, a papal name is not necessarily the measure of a papacy.

Then again, would we ever gain spiritual strength today from a pope named Lando (reigned 913-914)?

Probably not…unless there’s a Star Wars convention nearby.

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Making the case for Parochial Schools in the NCLB age

NunNewBedfordGeographyYes, Sister Mary Margaret, there is a place for you and the rest of the “penguins.”

It’s just difficult to see against the tests, the balance sheets, and the armada of charter and magnet schools competing in your home waters.

As much as our public schools take a beating, few institutions have take as severe a scourging as the Catholic Church in the US.

I’m not referring to the sex abuse scandals, which deserve pages of analysis.  The system of Catholic primary and secondary schools in the United States is on an unprecedented retreat.

At the height of the baby boom in the 1960s, roughly 5.2 million students were enrolled at Catholic schools in communities across the country, according to a recent City Journal article by Sean Kennedy, a scholar at the Lexington Institute and co-author of a study on Catholic education.  Today, less than half attend a Catholic institution, only 2 million.  Running without government dollars, per-pupil costs skyrocketed between 1998 and 2010, from $5,600 to $10,800.  Average tuition for incoming ninth graders at Catholic high schools has more than doubled, from $4,300 to $8,800.

The result is a massive pandemic of building closure: between 2000 and 2012, 1,942 schools were either closed or consolidated (combined with other schools).  167 closed or consolidated in 2012 alone.  A recent report by the Archdiocese of New York stated at least 24 local schools will close, affecting over 4,000 students in the area.

How did it happen?  How did arguably the greatest private school system in America take such a beating?

Catholic schools, in a way, are a victim of their own success.

The Catholic parochial school system began in the mid-1800s as a response to the rising public school movement in America.  Early public school systems, in cities and towns, stressed preparation for adult life as farmers and workers—a preparation that included religious instruction.  Public schools encouraged Bible study, particularly the King James Bible used in Protestant churches.  Thus, public education was seen as a vehicle for evangelizing Protestant religious values.

The sea of Catholic immigrants in the mid-1800s, from Ireland and Germany, needed schools that reflected their own values.  Either through the diocese or independently, parochial schools of all levels would spring up right next door to local public schools.  The parochial system would grow to essentially become a mirror of the public school system, with elementary and secondary schools local to each city and town, as well as Catholic schools of higher learning (Boston College, Notre Dame, Holy Cross, Georgetown, etc.) that served as centers of university training for Catholics who still felt discriminated at the Puritan, Presbyterian and Anglican campuses of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia.

Over time, Catholic schools developed a reputation for discipline, spiritual nourishment and academic excellence.  Without government money, these schools provided high-quality, low-cost education for immigrants and their children.  Clergy acting as the faculty kept costs low while instilling rigorous standards of discipline and academic achievement.

When new theories or fads would ravage American public education starting in the 1960’s, Catholic schools were a haven of stability, providing excellence the old-fashioned way: discipline and hard work.

Parochial school would become the true vehicle of upward mobility: many who rose from poverty to positions of power attribute their success to the values and rigor instilled in a Catholic education.

By the 1990’s, however, Catholic schools obtained a serious rival—a rival funded by public dollars.

The rise of No Child Left Behind was parallel to the rise of the charter school movement, schools funded by public monies but operating independently of the public school system.  When parents couldn’t afford rising costs of Catholic school, the charter school became a less-costly alternative.  Many of these charters have adopted norms and values long cultivated in the Catholic school system: high academic expectations, rigorous discipline, school uniforms.

The result is a hemorrhaging of enrollment at an unprecedented scale.  2012 marked the first year that charter school enrollment is higher than in Catholic schools, surging past the 2 million mark.  Currently they account for about 5% of children in public schools, and their numbers continue to rise.

Does this mean the slow death of the Catholic school, though?  Not necessarily.

Competition from charter schools has crippled a longstanding tradition of American education.  The question now is: should it be this way?  Is there a way for Catholic schools to regain lost ground?

Part of the problem is financial.  Catholic schools are playing on an uneven field: charters can, and often do, get continuous funding from public coffers, whilst the local parochial school is kept up largely by the parishioners and the local diocese.  This is a disparity that cannot really be leveled without massive government spending in religious schools—a controversial move on many levels.

Dioceses across America are learning to make do with less—a painful lesson in efficiency that will probably be helpful in the end.  Though the closures are painful, the Catholic system as a whole can still be main sustainable for at least the immediate future.

Yet fiscal discipline is only part of the solution.  To really re-establish its foothold on American schooling, the parochial school needs to emphasize those things that charters often get so wrong, and that St. Mary’s and St. Bernard’s get so right.

In terms of morals and ethics, it’s a no-brainer.  Recent scandals aside, at least on paper, the parochial school is a model for moral education, at least through the lens of Catholicism.  Catholic schools have long opened their doors to non-Catholics, as long as they take classes in religion and sit through the obligatory exercises.  Through this osmosis, many non-Catholics can’t help but develop ethically in this environment.  Historically, this deep moral education has also been coupled with a thorough civic education.  Catholic students also tended to be proud American citizens—which upends completely the discriminating notions of a century ago that equated Catholicism with anti-Americanism.

More importantly, though, parochial schools never mess with what works in education.  It’s a lesson we all know too well.

Charter schools, especially the well-known ones, often pride themselves on being up-to-date with the latest educational trends and theories.  Basically, they tie themselves to a philosophy or theoretical framework, drill their teachers and students to death in it, and if it doesn’t work, they find another theory or fad and start the process all over again.

Catholic schools never had to worry about Danielson frameworks, Bloom’s taxonomy, Understanding by Design, Lucy Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell, or any other fly-by-night notions that catch an administrator’s eye like a shiny toy.  They understood long ago that as long as a dedicated staff is backed up by an administration hellbent on discipline and hard work, no theory was really necessary.

Unlike the twits that dictate education policy today, Catholic schools knew for a long time that the school environment matters a whole lot more than any newfangled theory.

Does that mean parochial schools can’t do a better job with English Language Learners or children with special needs?  Absolutely not.  In fact, many of the ding-dong theories we disparage can work for them on a limited basis.  Yet the majority of kids being sent to Catholic school are not being sent there because of Wiggins or Calkins or Fountas & Pinnell—they’re being sent because Sister Mary Margaret will conjure the fires of Hell if little Johnny doesn’t do his work.

In a way, the strict discipline and focus on work in the Catholic school is a lot more nurturing than even the most liberal-minded charters—places where the chanting, the slogans, and the high fives seem so…antiseptic…artificial…

…dare I say…fascist?

Catholic schools have a role as a viable alternative to the public school system.  They provide a discipline and focus that no charter can dream of providing, combined with a moral compass that makes KIPP look like a Dickensian workhouse.

Once they can get their financial house in order, America’s Catholic schools need to focus on how to compete effectively with charters and stake their ground in the 21st century education landscape.

After all, they do answer to a higher power.

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This Day in History 3/31: Ferdinand and Isabella issue the Edict of Expulsion

Copy of the Spanish edict of expulsion

The 1492 Alhambra Decree, also known as the Edict of Expulsion. Image via Wikipedia

The last thing I would want is to live in a place where everyone was exactly like me.

So it seems both funny and tragic that two industrious European monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, had no problem with this.

The push for homogeneity, for sameness, does often lead to traquility and a life of familiarity.   However, the overzealous iron fist of sameness can cause irreparable damage, both for the majority and for the minority that is now outcast.

This was the case on March 31, 1492, when the Catholic monarchs of Spain issued a decree that would reverberate over three continents.  Less than three months after vanquishing the last vestiges of Islamic Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella issued what was called the Alhambra Decree, later called the Edict of Expulsion.  It declared that the Jews of Spain, a community that thrived on the Iberian peninsula since Roman times, had four months to liquidate their belongings and leave the country.  Those who did not would face death.

For centuries, Jews had lived in communities in present-day Spain, first under the Romans after the Third Jewish Revolt of the 2nd century, and subsequently under the Visigoths and Islamic Moors.  Jewish Spain flourished most under Muslim rule: the caliphs of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) saw the Jews as fellow “People of the Book.”  They were given special status, allowed to operate businesses and own land, and especially to worship with little interference from Muslim authorities.  Since the Jews were an ethnic as well as religious group, there was little fear of the conversions and evangelization with Christian communities.

Even as the Christian kingdoms of the peninsula gained prominence, Jews continued to live their life and worship, providing massive contributions to Iberian culture.  Often, Jewish communities were the most literate, and local princes and sultans employed Jewish scribes that produced reams of edicts, writs and decrees–often in Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew.  Jewish bankers and merchants helped keep the warring kingdoms solvent with trade and loans (often to the irritation of local religious zealots who saw Jews as mere usurers).  Spanish Jews excelled in diplomacy, art, literature, science and philosophy through luminaries such as Maimonides, Solomon ibn Gabirol, and Yehuda Halevi.

However, little by little, attitudes towards Jews in Spain began to change.

Once in a while, even during the Muslim period, occasional massacres and banishments of Jews occurred, as rulers (who often could not–or would not–repay their loans to their Jewish creditors) placed Jews under more intense scrutiny.  Land would eventually be taken away.  Jews would be restricted to certain neighborhoods in certain cities.  Jewish businesses were ransacked, synagogues were defiled, and pressure to convert or emigrate became ever greater.

Then came Ferdinand and Isabella.

The dynamic duo of medieval Iberia came with an agenda: unite the peninsula under one crown, one language, and especially one “true” Catholic faith.  As the military might of Castile and Aragon brought the neighboring states to heel (a movement known as the Reconquista), the Catholic Monarchs had to contend with large populations of minorities, especially Jews.  There is no exact number of Jews that came under Spanish rule: estimates range from 250,000 to almost 900,000.  The Christian Spaniards viewed these people with suspicion and contempt, especially since they were portrayed as collaborators to the Muslim caliphs–a gross misinterpretation since the caliphs also engaged in occasional anti-Semitic abuse.

Thousands of Jews sought to escape persecution through conversion to Christianity.  These conversos often resumed their original status with the veneer of Catholic baptism, which infuriated local Christians.  Also, many conversos were suspected of not being genuinely loyal to the church, but rather of keeping their Judaic religious practices in secret.  These crypto-Jews, known as marranos, were seen as an even bigger threat, a Fifth Column that undermined the unity of the new Catholic Spain.

Starting in 1480, the Spanish Inquisition was instituted to solve the problem of the conversos.  Headed by Tomas de Torquemada, the Inquisition’s mission was to root out heresy, including any suspected secret Jewish activity on the part of the newly converted.  Reams have been written about the horrors and abuses of the Inquisition, yet it needs to be said that not a single out-and-out practicing Jew was targeted.  The Inquisition was not concerned with Jews who stayed true to Judaism, but rather those who wanted to be Catholic out of “convenience.”

Ferdinand and Isabella would take care of the observant Jews personally.  For lack of a better pun, the Edict of Expulsion was their “final solution” to their Jewish problem.

The edict gave Jews about four months to sell all their belongings and leave Spain.  Any non-Jew who aided in hiding a Jewish person was punished by confiscation of property and rescinding of privileges.  Jews who did not leave were put to death.  During the four-month preparation period, Jews were under royal protection and could take their belongings except “”gold or silver or minted money.”

Expulsion of Jews in Europe 1100-1600. Image via Wikipedia

Of the 200,000 to 800,000 Jews who left in 1492, many settled in North Africa.  Some went to neighboring Portugal, only to be expelled five years later.  The Spanish Jews would then find refuge in Italy, in the Balkans, in Greece, and eventually in England, the Netherlands and the New World of the Americas.  In the case of the Americas, the Inquisition often followed the Jews into Latin America, thus further forcing other migrations into North America and Canada.

So what did Ferdinand and Isabella gain in this act?  Though Spain would remain a predominantly Catholic country for the rest of its history, it is a homogeneity fed by theft, torture and murder–and the loss of two rich, sophisticated cultures in the process.

There were still conversos to consider, and their allegiance would remain suspect for centuries.  The missionary zeal of Torquemada would stretch into Spain’s new colonies in America; leaving men such as Bartholome de las Casas to document the tragic results.  The property, businesses and riches of the expelled Jews mingled with new gold and silver from Mexico and Peru in the royal coffers.  Synagogues were transformed into churches.  Hebrew texts were destroyed.  In the early 1600s, it was the Muslims’ turn, as thousands of moriscos, or Islamic converts to Christianity, would go down the same dark path as the Jews.

So what happened to the expelled Jews?

Like their kindred spread across numerous continents, the Jews of Spain provided far more than they received from the countries that hosted them.  In England, Jews welcomed under Oliver Cromwell would help cement England’s maritime power.  In the Netherlands, Spanish Jews would rise in the tolerant society of the Dutch Republic, and help spread trade and ideas to Asia and the New World.  In the Americas, Jews would gain a foothold and create among the most free societies on the planet.

Baruch Spinoza, Benjamin Cardozo, Benjamin Disraeli, and many others made great advances in philosophy, in law, in politics and government.

Yet the great lesson of the Expulsion is not what was lost or gained, but what survived.  In the end, Ferdinand and Isabella failed in their xenophobic quest to rid Christendom of “heretical” influences.  They failed because the heresies–namely Judaism and Islam–are still alive and well.

The Jews were not crushed, they were not annihilated–and not for lack of trying.  They survived, and their culture survived to enrich and progress humankind even today.  None other than the great Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote the following:

“What is the Jew?…What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish. What is this Jew whom they have never succeeded in enticing with all the enticements in the world, whose oppressors and persecutors only suggested that he deny (and disown) his religion and cast aside the faithfulness of his ancestors?!

The Jew – is the symbol of eternity. … He is the one who for so long had guarded the prophetic message and transmitted it to all mankind. A people such as this can never disappear. The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”

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Swine Flu, the other White plague: The Great Pandemics of History

spanish_fluAmazing.  After a torturous week of funerals and memorial services, I end up smack in the middle of a pandemic in the making.  Good thing I have bereavement leave right now.

H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu, is spreading worldwide at a breakneck pace.  As of this post, there are 527 confirmed cases of the virus, although the projected actual number could reach over 4500.  168 people are suspecting of succumbing to the swine flu globally, and it has sent us into a hysteria not seen in almost a century.  Schools are closing.  Mexico is practically cut off from the rest of the world.  Surgical masks are the hot-ticket item, as well as illicit stockpiles of drugs such as Tamiflu.

If you are not one of the 300 schools closed due to the flu, please take precautions.  Make sure you wash your hands and sanitize thoroughly.  Avoid contact with children whenever possible.  Most importantly, send a child with symptoms to your health office immediately, using guidelines provided by your school district.

However, lets not check for the sign of the beast yet.  Before we start confessing our sins prior to the end of days, let’s check out some of the historic pandemics of the past milennia.  These outbreaks have been so widespread and so deadly that many have changed the course of history:

(1) Plague of Justinian (541-542 AD) – This outbreak of bubonic plague killed 5,000 people a day at its peak in Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Estimates are that up to 100 million people died worldwide.  It effectively ended any hope of reforming the Roman Empire, as Justinian’s plague-stricken armies were held in Italy by Goths and Lombards.  By the 600s, Byzantium retreated back to Asia Minor and had the Muslim armies to contend with.

(2) The Black Death (1347-1351) – A combination of bubonic, pneumonic and septicaemic plagues swept through Europe.  It is believed that anywhere from 75-200 million people perished during the plague years of the 14th Century.  It killed between 1/3 to 2/3 of the population of Europe, causing lasting societal change.  Because of the decreased population, peasants and workers were at a priority.  The plague weakened the feudal authority of nobles and the Catholic Church.  Widespread riots led to persecution of Jews, Roma and other minorities.  Ultimately, it helped usher in the Renaissance and the beginnings of modern Western civilization.

(3) Spanish Influenza (1918-1920) – An outbreak of a strange flu strain among US servicemen in France came home after World War I ended in 1918.  This flu, which managed to kill healthy people between age 25 and 50, ended up killing 50-100 million people within two years.  This is the outbreak that brought influenza into national consciousness.  Ever wonder why the big push for flu shots?  This is why.

(4) Smallpox (430 BC – 1979) – Smallpox, which was officially eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1979, had been a scourge for centuries.  Scientists believe it broke out as early as 10,000 BC.  It is responsible for the near-annihilation of many Native American peoples of the Americas, as well as periodic outbreaks in Europe during the 18-19th Centuries.  Thanks to concerted efforts to inoculate people during the 19th and 20th century, it is the only pandemic that has been eradicated completely.

(5) Cholera (1817-present) – Cholera showed the world the need for adequate plumbing and clean drinking water.  The disease spread from contaminated water supplies, and several pandemics–the First: 1817-1823, Second: 1829-1851, Third: 1852-1859, Fourth: 1863-1879, Fifth: 1881-1896, Sixth: 1899-1923  and Seventh: 1961- 1970–decimated populations from India to London to New York.  A local footnote: the Cholera Epidemic of 1834-1835 spread across New York, and resulted in the first reservoir and plumbing systems in the city.

(6) Malaria (1600?-present) – Malaria, a disease spread by mosquitos in tropical and subtropical regions, kills 2 million people a year and gets little media attention.  400-900 million people contract it each year, and it causes at least one death every 30 seconds.  Along with hampering economic development in developing countries, malaria probably gave rise to an alcoholic beverage.  Take British gin, add tonic water that includes quinine, a known drug that interacts with malaria, and you have the gin and tonic.

(7) AIDS (1981-today) If you were a child of the 1980s and 1990s, you were familiar with AIDS.  Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, was first documented in isolated pockets in New York, San Francisco and other urban areas, particularly among homosexuals and intravenous drug users.  It has since spread to the general population at a frightening clip.  Up to 25 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses thus far, and has caused widespread devastation to populations in Africa, Asia and South America.

If swine flu wants to aspire to pandemic status, it has to contend with those bad boys.  My guess is that it will not come even close.

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