Syria’s civil war has been going on for more than two years. Seventy thousand people have been killed, most of them civilians. The situation seems to call for a robust international response. Yet as the United States learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, any large-scale military intervention in the Islamic world is more than likely to fail. But pressure is building for the United States to act, especially in the aftermath of what appears to be the use of chemical weapons by the regime.
At his 2009 inauguration, President Obama pledged to close Guantánamo within a year. Many of those imprisoned there have been held for more than a decade without facing any charges, and in recent months, an increasing number of desperate detainees have engaged in hunger strikes to call attention to their plight.
Bills deceptively described as “technical fixes” to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform law have both Republican and Democratic backers. So far, neither the White House nor the Treasury Department has taken an active role in opposing these bills, which threaten to undermine one of the most important legislative achievements of President Barack Obama’s first term.
Catholics at both ends of the ideological spectrum look to a new pope for encouragement. And from the moment he made his first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s, Francis seems to have given nearly everyone a reason to cheer. But whatever the direction in which the new pope steers the church, U.S. Catholics struggling to make a life of faith in what is admittedly a vertiginous moral and cultural landscape will continue to take surprising turns, confounding the usual categories.
A conservative judge dedicated to the principle of judicial restraint might be expected to defer to the legislative branch in its exercise of powers explicitly granted to it by the Constitution. But Antonin Scalia and his fellow Republican-appointed justices seem inclined, in this case, toward clear judicial activism.
Even Benedict's most ardent supporters concede that his papacy has been marred by too many scandals and too many gaffes. And the courtly secrecy surrounding the deliberations to elect the next pope provides a reminder of the lack of transparency and accountability in the operations of the entire hierarchy.
Benedict, Eight Years Later
Ongoing News, Analysis & Opinion
President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary signals a repudiation of the aggressive foreign policy that has kept the United States fighting wars for over a decade.
Confronting Gun Violence
Beware of any entitlement reform described by its advocates as “win-win.” Such proposals are almost always too good to be true. The proposal to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from sixty-five to sixty-seven is a good example.
President Obama's aggressive campaign of targeted killings against Al Qaeda and the Taliban is the source of bitter resentment toward the United States. Many legal questions about the deployment of drones outside a recognized war zone also remain in dispute. Is the United States establishing a dangerous precedent?
Diminishing Influence, Fewer Options
With the election over, responsible members of both parties acknowledge that a long-term budget deal, one that gets entitlement spending under control but also increases tax revenue, is necessary for the health of the economy and for restoring confidence in the nation’s political institutions.
Ayn Rand, an atheist, considered charity a sign of weakness. Paul Ryan’s Randian views—notably his budget plan’s drastic cuts to food stamps, which now aid 46 million—have not sat well with many Catholics.
In this year’s first presidential debate, Mitt Romney told a great many half-truths about his platform and his record, but he told them all with stunning self-assurance. No one seemed more stunned than Barack Obama.
There are currently several different, sometimes contending ways of being Catholic. To some degree that has always been so. The notion of the church as a rigorously disciplined and monolithic enterprise is largely myth, and modern myth to boot. What is not myth is the dramatic change in the self-understanding of Catholics brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
The GOP seems to have given up on attracting more minority voters in time for the 2012 election, and has switched to another strategy: Pass laws that make it harder to vote. Some have been blocked as violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but others have been upheld.
President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen running mates who reflect their political philosophies. Both vice presidential candidates are also Roman Catholics, the first time this has happened in American history. Yet despite the obvious sincerity of their faith, their moral and political views reflect the positions of their political parties more than those of their church.
In fending off calls to release more of his tax returns and complaining about “personal” attacks, Mitt Romney tries to avoid the serious debate Americans want about the role of private equity firms such as Bain in the modern economy.
Republicans complain that President Obama’s executive order makes permanent immigration reform more difficult—an ungrounded assertion intended to obscure the fact that most Republican lawmakers still want nothing to do with real reform.
JPMorgan’s recent blunder is yet another sign that there are worse crises to come if Washington continues to let Wall Street write its own rules.
A revival of Arthur Miller’s is playing on Broadway to packed houses. Tickets for this play about economic calamity are going for as much as $800. If Willy Loman, the play’s tormented protagonist, is an archetypal representative of the 99 percent, it seems that only the 1 percent can afford the luxury of weeping over the ruin of the “common man.”
Familiar, If Troubling, Questions
Bishops & Electoral Politics
Two years after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law—and two years before many of its provisions are scheduled to go into effect—the Obama administration’s most important achievement faces an uncertain prognosis.
Do the bishops know Obama is taking them seriously?
Conservative Catholics complain that liberal Catholics instinctively greet every statement from the Vatican with suspicion. Fair point. Patient attention to the legitimate concerns of others and the presumption of goodwill on the part of those we disagree with are essential virtues. Unfortunately, patience and the presumption of goodwill were not much in evidence in the response of the U.S. bishops to President Obama’s contraception compromise.
Can the federal government finally say no to Big Oil?
Will emerging democracies produce new tyrannies?
The bishops, contraception & religious freedom
There comes a point, late in the new film The Mill and the Cross, when a dramatic question is asked (and fumbled) by a character who represents us. He is the urbane patron of the sixteenth-century Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and like the artist he sees a reign of terror being visited on his countrymen by the invading forces of the Spanish king, Philip II. In the film, Brueghel explains how the center point and axis of the painting will be Jesus, stumbling beneath his cross. Yet everyone else in this vast painting gazes elsewhere.
Should the president of the United States be able to authorize the assassination of a U.S. citizen anywhere in the world without telling the public why—or even acknowledging that he has done so? The question is not theoretical. On September 30 a missile fired from an unmanned drone aircraft operated by the CIA killed two American citizens in Yemen.
Nearly three years ago Dennis Blair, President Obama’s director of national security, garnered headlines when he reported to Congress that the most serious threat to the United States and to world peace was not terrorism, or Iran, or the rise of China, but the economic crisis. Blair worried about a backlash against the United States, and especially against its promotion of increasingly unregulated financial and commercial markets. The Vatican, as it turns out, appears to agree with much of this assessment.
In July, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny delivered a stinging indictment of the Vatican’s handling of the sexual-abuse scandal in his country. Referring to a new report on the scandal in the Diocese of Cloyne, Kenny blasted what he called “the dysfunction, the disconnection, [and] the elitism that dominate the culture of the Vatican today.” Last month, the Vatican issued its disappointing reply.
Zero and 9.1. Those figures aren’t the won-lost record of the Red Sox during the final week the season. They are the Labor Department’s statistics for the number of jobs created in August, followed by the official unemployment rate for the same month. No wonder President Obama belatedly hastened to propose a major job-creation plan to a joint session of Congress.
No friend of Israel should minimize the security threats it faces. Yet no true friend of the Jewish state can pretend that the current right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done much, if anything, to better secure Israel’s future in a region undergoing seismic political and social change.
Social Security has been an object of suspicion ever since it began in 1935. Conservative critics warned it would be a stalking horse for socialism, the death of thrift and charity, and a crippling burden on employers. It turned out to be none of these things, and instead became one of the most successful and popular government programs in the nation’s history.
When former President George W. Bush joins President Barack Obama at “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan on September 11 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, the nation will be reminded, if only for a few hours, that the preservation of democracy requires real sacrifices and the willing embrace of duties, not just the pursuit of private interests and freedoms.
From the archives: Defending FDR's National Recovery Administration
How persuasively is the church making its case against gay marriage?
Why won't the GOP budge in the debt talks?
A new report on the "causes & context" of the sexual-abuse crisis
Undoubtedly, in the killing of Osama bin Laden, a certain kind of justice was done, and the relief and satisfaction felt by many of the families of those murdered at bin Laden’s direction cannot be denied. Yet questions about the circumstances of bin Laden’s death remain.
The U.S. government faces few challenges more important than renewing people’s trust in the honesty and fairness of our financial institutions and economic system.
As the United States gradually emerges from its worst recession since the 1930s, Washington has again turned its attention to the nation’s debt.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan on 60 Minutes
In the weeks since Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has spewed contamination and displaced thousands. It has also rekindled fears across the globe about the risks of nuclear power and at least temporarily slowed the industry’s revival in the United States.
As Dorothy Day observed, events like the tsunami in Japan can easily be linked to the idea of “God as a tremendous Force, a frightening impersonal God, a Voice, a Hand stretched out to seize me, His child, and not in love.” Yet, as far as the Christian faith is concerned, that is never the whole story.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has chosen the low road.
It is too late for Hosni Mubarak’s regime to make token concessions. President Barack Obama should urge Mubarak to step aside sooner rather than later, and call for an internationally supervised election to take place.
If House Republicans really wanted to make the health-care law less expensive, they could have voted to repeal only those parts of the Affordable Care Act that increase the deficit and kept the parts that reduce it. Why didn’t they?
Does the president have the legal authority to order the killing of a U.S. citizen?
The pope on condoms
In mid-November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops discussed a report detailing an extensive “review and renewal” of its domestic-poverty program, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The reevaluation came in response to complaints that the CCHD’s grant recipients were involved in efforts that contradict Catholic teaching.
The results of the midterm elections were both emphatic and ambiguous: a strong message was sent, but no one is entirely sure what it is. It’s easier to say what Americans are feeling right now—frustration, impatience, and, increasingly, anger—than to know what policies they expect their elected representatives to adopt.
What will the nation’s politics look like if, as expected, the Republicans take back the House on November 2? Indiana’s Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, issues a warning and a prediction. “There will be no compromise on repealing Obamacare,” he said. “There will be no compromise on stopping Democrats from growing government and raising taxes. And if I haven’t been clear enough yet, let me say again: No compromise.”
Liu Xiaobo's goodwill, courage, and humbling example were recognized by the Nobel Committee earlier this month when, to near universal if muted acclaim, it awarded the imprisoned activist the Nobel Peace Prize for his steadfast nonviolent resistance to the tyrannical rule of China's Communist Party.
With the unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent, Americans are understandably dissatisfied with the pace of economic recovery and apprehensive about the country’s future. What is perhaps less understandable is the degree of rancor toward President Barack Obama and the federal government as a whole.
Instead of acknowledging that the government can no longer afford tax breaks for everyone, conservative politicians are calling for deep spending cuts—at precisely the moment when the private sector and states most need the federal government’s support. The politicians solemnly advertise their anxiety for future generations that will have to repay this debt; they seem somewhat less worried about a generation of children whose schools are being gutted by state cutbacks.
It's not yet time to withdraw from Afghanistan.
From the archives: our editorial decrying the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki
Conservatives have long decried “activist” judges who supposedly “legislated from the bench,” but the Roberts Court is hardly shy about breaking new legal ground.
Might the USCCB be wrong about the health-care law?
Compromise is not a dirty word in democratic politics, nor is the balancing of conflicting goods foreign to the church’s tradition of casuistic moral reasoning. So why do so many American bishops appear to spurn both in their prolife advocacy? Do they really think the hardest line is always the best one, or the most persuasive?
Arizonans have plenty to be anxious about, but indulging in a crude nativism won’t stop the flow of undocumented immigrants or prevent violent crime along the border.
The Democrats’ financial-reform plan doesn't go far enough.
Where do Catholics look for hope?
In praise of Rep. Bart Stupak's courage
Much of Pope Benedict's good work in addressing the sexual-abuse crisis is now likely to be brushed aside as the history of his own negligence in handling an abusive priest when he was archbishop of Munich thirty years ago comes to light.
The health-care debate has been costly for prolife groups.
It is easy enough to despair over political paralysis and animosity in Washington, and economic uncertainty here and abroad. Yet even when it comes to the often ugly business of secular politics, despair remains a sin.
As President Obama said in his State of the Union speech, members of Congress were sent to Washington to govern, not to engage in an endless political campaign. If the Democrats hope to convince voters that they can govern, they must take full ownership of the health-care reform package.
Why abortion shouldn't derail health-care reform
Time to turn indignation at what happened on Wall Street into prudent reform.
Making sense of Rome's 'pastoral provision' for Anglicans
Did the president make a convincing case for the Afghan surge? Given the impossibility of an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, he made a plausible, if not always consistent or convincing, case for his plan. The United States will get in deeper—if more selectively—in order to get out more quickly. That is the pledge Obama has now made to the American people, and he should be held to it.
A conversation with editors past and present
Here we turn our attention, as we often do, to the uncertainties and dangers facing the nation as a whole.
What did you miss at Commonweal Conversations 2009?
How should “enemy combatants” captured and imprisoned by the United States in the so-called war on terror be brought to justice? Should they be prosecuted before military commissions or in the federal courts? The answer from the Obama administration is that both venues are necessary and legitimate, and that the Justice Department will decide who should be tried where.
Meeting the nation’s long-term obligations won’t be possible without a stable economy.
That’s the number of people who will starve this year—more than ever before.
President Obama must do a better job of explaining our mission in Afghanistan.
Could the issue of abortion derail health-care reform legislation?
Solidarity and subsidiarity in Benedict XVI’s ’Caritas in veritate’
Bishops need to help heal the wounds of division, not deepen them.
Why now is the time for real action on health-care reform.
Why a full and fair torture investigation is necessary, no matter where it leads.
How window legislation in sexual-abuse suits could undermine our legal system.
The risks involved in withdrawing U.S. troops must not be underestimated.
Was it wrong to invite the president to deliver the commencement address?
The surprising incoherence of President Obama’s stem-cell research announcement.
"Our present straits require a basic reordering of national priorities."
Why Rome’s turning inward does not serve the best interests of the church
What will "choosing our better history" mean under President Barack Obama?
Israel’s determination to "punish" the Gazan people, hoping they will repudiate their leaders, seems destined to fail.
American-style capitalism & the demise of free-market fanaticism
Even by modern standards, 2008 was a cacophonous year.
The unborn need more than prophets.
The American people have turned to a man with a first-class mind & temperament. He’ll need both.
Why the international community must not let Mugabe off the hook
Remember when President George W. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security?
What voting is—and isn’t
Is there a double standard at work?
With just two months left in the campaign, where do the candidates stand?
It’s time for the country to get serious about renewable energy.
The Bush administration, torture & obfuscation in the ’war on terror’
Why did the California Supreme Court follow in the wayward footsteps of Massachusetts?
Steven Pinker and his crusade against the word "dignity."
What can be done about the global food crisis?
There will be no solution to Iraq’s political problems as long as it is occupied by the U.S. military.
Why the House of Representatives was right to say no to warrantless wiretapping
President George W. Bush’s troubling theological arguments for the "war on terror"
What do the sobering findings of a new study on religious belonging mean for Catholics today?
The economy is in deep trouble. How did we get here and where are we headed?
Why did a bishop block a Commonweal contributor from speaking in his diocese?
Why this interminable election cycle may not be all bad—for voters and candidates
An unjust anomaly in federal prison-sentencing rules is finally corrected.
Benedict’s insightful new encyclical, Spe salvi, is half lecture, half retreat conference.
How does the new Vatican statement on feeding tubes square with traditional church teaching?
How helpful is the U.S. bishops’ new statement on politics & church teaching?
What’s at stake in the debate over Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey?
A welcome reminder that piety and the longing for freedom can work together.
Why does U.S. health care cost so much and have so little to show for it?
Avoiding the bigger war with Iran is as morally imperative as containing violence in Iraq.
What does the end of ’Crisis’ magazine’s print run mean for the Catholic conversation?
The Los Angeles Archdiocese’s historic clergy sexual-abuse settlement.
Is peace breaking out among Catholic scholars in the United States?
How can an unjust war be brought to a just conclusion?
What message will the Pope’s visit leave behind?
Is the Supreme Court’s decision a step toward overturning Roe, or something more complicated?
Zimbabwe’s dictator has gotten away with too much for too long. That has to end now.
Why won’t the Catholic neocons who supported the Iraq war admit their errors?
Why does the United States pay so much for health care and have so little to show for it?
Almost nothing the Bush administration does works and almost nothing it says adds up.
The Bush administration showed its capacity for self-deception in the Iraq war. Why should we trust it on Iran?
A new series of financial scandals threatens to further erode the laity’s trust in their bishops.
Global warming is an undeniable threat. It’s time for the Bush administration to act like it.
Using the word ’genocide’ is not enough. The term requires action—now.
It’s well past time for the president to realize that the U.S. alone can’t fix what it has broken in Iraq.
What can we learn from the pope’s successful visit to Turkey?
The recent U.S. bishops’ statements contained wisdom, but left much to be desired.
Whatever happened to political compromise?
A new study of the recently ordained makes clear that the Catholic priesthood is at a crossroads.
Will the much-needed clean-up of Bush administration policies start on Nov. 7? What’s at stake in the midterm elections?
What was the pope really saying in his controversial remarks at Regensburg?
The rich are riding high on Bush’s fiscal policy. What about the rest of America?
Military might alone won’t solve the Middle East crisis. It’s time for multilateral diplomacy.
Will the Democrats ever overcome their ’religion problem’?
It’s time to put an end to the terror-detainee system in Guantanamo.
The pope’s perplexing statement on the Holocaust left much to be desired.
Can the United States both secure its borders and welcome the needy stranger?
An exclusive look inside the late Muriel Spark’s unpublished novel.
Whom to trust: the community of believers or, as Dan Brown would have it, ourselves?
Executing this man would be a calculated distraction, a delusion, and a crime.
Why is the Bush administration attempting to undercut the nuclear nonproliferation treaty?
Needy children lose out in the Catholic Charities gay adoption controversy.
In Iraq, President Bush has made a bad situation worse. Can he accept responsibility for his failures?
The Editors of Commonweal on the dismissal of Thomas Reese as editor of America magazine: "It is hard to judge what is more appalling, the flimsy case made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)—apparently at the instigation of some American bishops—against Reese’s orthodoxy and stewardship of America, or the senselessness of silencing perhaps the most visible, and certainly one of the most knowledgeable, fair-minded, and intelligent public voices the church has in this country."
"No one knows exactly where Pope Benedict XVI will lead the church....one should be cautious in making assumptions about what sort of pope he will be by looking at his record at the CDF. The pastoral dimension of the papacy alone will demand a different set of talents and skills."
The U.S. must act to end ethnic cleansing in Darfur.
Who is responsible for the egregious failures at Abu Ghraib?