Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Irish Mass Grave

The recent discovery in Ireland of the remains of 796 babies in a so-called mass grave near a former home for unwed mothers run by Catholic nuns has raised a storm of horror in Europe but so far has escaped much notice in the USA. Nevertheless, initial reports in Irish newspapers were picked up by the Associated Press (AP) and subsequently went viral on the Internet.

An Irish researcher, Catherine Corless, had studied records in Tuam, County Galway, and found that from the founding of the home in the 1920s to its close in 1961, almost 800 infants had been buried in a site near the home. Her report was quickly picked up by London tabloids and the story blew out of all proportion.

It was claimed that most, if not all, of the babies had been discarded in an unused septic tank and that most had died of malnutrition. As one commentator noted, a “Twitter mob” mentality compared the deaths to Nazi era genocide.

The story also was used as a cudgel to hammer the Irish Catholic church and the doctrines of the Catholic Church in general. It was claimed that the nuns refused to baptize these infants because they were the children of unwed mothers.

Subsequent investigation has shown that researcher Corless had been mis-quoted and that her findings had been blown out of all proportion. In its subsequent correction the AP reported:

When Corless published her findings on a Facebook campaign page, and Irish media voiced, she speculated to reporters that the resting place of most, if not all, could be inside a disused septic tank on the site. By the time Irish and British tabloids went to print in early June, the speculation had become a certainty, the word 'disused' had disappeared, and U.S. newspapers picked up the report, inserting more errors, including one that claimed the researcher had found all 796 remains in the septic tank.
She had not been digging up bones but compiled her list by searching through local records. No children’s bones have been found in the septic tank.

On further investigation, the AP found the claim of massive malnutrition to be baseless.

The most common causes were flu, measles, pneumonia, tuberculosis and whooping cough. Contrary to the allegations of widespread starvation highlighted in some reports, only 18 children were recorded as suffering from severe malnutrition.

County Galway is in the poorest part of Ireland. The period between the two World Wars, when most of the deaths occurred, were years of great poverty and sickness all over the world. There were no modern antibiotics available to keep children alive after they had contacted one of these deadly and contagious diseases. In the twenties and thirties even married women with families in the relatively prosperous USA lost a high percentage of their newborns to disease.

Finally, the original AP story had this to say about Baptism. “In keeping with Catholic teaching, such out-of-wedlock children were denied baptism and, if they died at such facilities, Christian burial.”  Later in their correction to the story the AP admitted its mistake.

Baptismal records have been found for many of the deceased infants. It was not the teaching or the practice of the Catholic Church to deny Baptism to the children of unwed mothers. It was and still is the practice of the Church only to baptize an infant if their parents requested it and promised to raise the children in the Church.

Ironically, the Church has often been accused of forcing non-Catholic children to be baptized. Critics of the Church during the Holocaust have made that claim. While it is true that priests and others, acting under the orders of the Pope, printed and distributed thousands of baptismal certificates to Jewish children, they never insisted that the children be actually baptized. The certificates were designed to spare the children from almost certain death.

As noted above the AP issued a correction to its original story. Here is a part.

The Associated Press was among the media organizations that covered Corless and her findings, repeating incorrect Irish news reports that suggested the babies who died had never been baptized and that Catholic Church teaching guided priests not to baptize the babies of unwed mothers or give to them Christian burial.
The reports of denial of baptism later were contradicted by the Tuam Archdiocese, which found a registry showing that the home had baptized more than 2000 babies. the AP issued a corrective story on Friday after discovering its errors.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done. As so often happens, the initial allegations go all over the world but the corrections hardly get noticed.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Prisoners of War

The news last week contained some items dealing with the treatment of prisoners of war in different parts of the world. Most shocking was the mass murder of about 1700 captured Iraqi army soldiers by the Sunni gunmen overrunning parts of northern Iraq. In China thirteen Moslem terrorists were quickly tried, convicted and executed for various terrorists attacks this spring. Finally, here in America five enemy combatants were released from Guantanamo after more than ten years of captivity in exchange for one American soldier held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

It is only with great difficulty that we can even begin to understand the motivation of the Sunni militants in Iraq. With a relatively small force of heavily armed men (apparently no women serve in their force) they have routed an Iraqi army of 200000 and taken control of a number of cities. Mosul, one of these cities, has a population of 2 million. The images and videos showing them gunning down captured Shiite soldiers must be designed as a means to cow others into submission.

Compounding the issue is the 1000-year animosity between Sunni and Shiite Moslems. This is not just a religious issue. News reports indicate that for most of those thousand years the Sunnis ruled the area now known as Iraq. The majority Shiites were a despised lower class. Deceased dictator Saddam Hussein had kept a lid on these animosities but since his overthrow the majority Shiites have gained the upper hand with the support of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Since the American military withdrawal, however, the rule of law has apparently disappeared in Iraq. On the battlefield there are no rules of war, no legal forms, and no prison camps. The Sunni gunmen don't seem to care about a "status of forces" agreement.

In China there was a semblance of justice. The terrorist attacks took place from March through May and a host of perpetrators were rounded up, brought quickly before a Peoples’ Court, and sentenced. Most received long jail terms but at least 13 were quickly executed by a government eager to set an example. It should also be mentioned that the terrorists were all members of a Moslem tribal minority in China.

Despite the swift and severe nature of the Chinese response to terrorist attacks, it does seem kind of moderate when compared to the Sunni example on one extreme and the American example on the other extreme. In the past weeks the American media has been full of the story of the exchange of prisoners of war between the Obama administration and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In exchange for American army sergeant Bob Bergdahl, the Obama administration agreed to turn over five of the terrorists held for years at the prison in Guantanamo Bay.

I do not want to go into all the speculation about Sergeant Bergdahl or the motives of President Obama. Even though the President made a big deal about the Bergdahl exchange, and held a photo op with the soldier’s parents in the rose garden, the release has generated a storm of controversy. I’m sure there will be an investigation of some sort but security or political reasons may keep the truth from ever being known. Perhaps in the next Presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton may just ask, “what difference does it make?”

Rather than focus on Sergeant Bergdahl, I would like to consider the five enemy combatants or prisoners of war released from Guantanamo. They were captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan more than ten years ago. Even though they were not in uniform, they were treated as prisoners of war. They were not immediately beheaded as some captured Americans were, or gunned down as the Shiite soldiers were. Eventually, they were shipped to Guantanamo for interrogation. They may or may not have been tortured for information but on the whole they have been well fed, clothed, housed, and treated during their long confinement. Compared to some prisons Guantanamo seems like a Hilton.

Unlike the terrorists in China, they did not receive a swift trial or resolution of their cases. I believe that our government even provided them with teams of lawyers. Incredibly, they were not subjected to trial by a military court, the traditional and lawful way of dealing with such cases. During the Obama administration an attempt was made to grant them the rights of American citizens by trying them in a New York criminal court. Now they have been released with no guarantee that they will not fight us again.

Some may argue that the lenient treatment received by these captured terrorists is a sign of American humanity. Yet, it can also be an incentive to future inhumanity. I’m not just referring to the possibility that the released terrorists might strike again, or that other terrorists might be prone to take more hostages. I am not a soldier but I have read much military history, and I wonder what the response of American soldiers will be to the release of these prisoners. In the future will soldiers in the field elect to kill enemy captives rather than take them captive? Why should they allow enemy fighters who have just blown up their buddies to live to one day fight again?


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pentecost and Persecution

Stained Glass Window
Assumption Church
Fairfield CT

Last Sunday Christians all over the world celebrated the feast of Pentecost. Christians believe that on that fiftieth day after the Resurrection of the Lord, His Spirit descended upon the first apostles in the form of tongues of fire.

Let's start out by clearing up a few misconceptions that some may have about the Holy Spirit. First of all, the Spirit is not a bird. I know that the traditional image of a dove given us by Christian artists is probably ingrained in all of us. It is hard to portray a purely spiritual being in art for a spirit has no body to paint or sculpt. In one gospel passage the movement of the Holy Spirit is likened to the fluttering flight of a dove and so I guess the early artists used the dove as a kind of artistic shorthand.

Speaking about images I have to confess that as a child I thought that the "tongues as of fire" that rested on the Apostles at Pentecost were actually human tongues on fire. It took me years before I realized that the "tongues" were actually similar to the darting flames that we would see in our own fireplaces. Also back then it was more common to refer to the Holy Spirit as the Holy Ghost, which only conjured up images from Abbott and Costello movies.

So who or what is the Holy Spirit? First, let's think about the word spirit. In my bedroom there is a picture of me as an infant. Next to it is a picture of me as a young man taken a short while after my wedding day. Next to that I can look into the mirror and behold a senior citizen. Which of these three images is me? I guess that even though I look different, they all are me. In other words my "spirit" is in all of them. My spirit is the real me. Another word for spirit is "soul," a word that is somewhat out of fashion today.

It is really ludicrous when people try to locate the place of the soul in our bodies. Some fools have even conducted experiments to weign a body before and right after death to see how much the soul might weigh. I guess that there are millions of people today who deny that they have a soul, or that there is anything spiritual about them. They really are denying their own self. I would also guess that some of our most intellectual people believe that they are just material beings, and that there is no spiritual world. When they say things like “I love you” it is just their genes or neurons driving them on.

But Christians believe that on Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead, breathed on the Apostles, and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit," He was giving them His own self or spirit. He also makes it clear that He was sending them to continue the work that His Father had sent Him to do. "As the Father has sent Me, so I send you." They believe that only God can give them the strength and courage to continue the work.

If we can't see or feel or hear the Spirit, how is anyone supposed to know that He dwells in them? Christians believe they have to learn to read the signs. Just as the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe knew that there were other men on his lonely island when he beheld their footprints, we will know the Spirit by His signs. St. Paul says in the letter to the Corinthians,

            There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Lord;
            there are different workings but the same God
            who produces all of them in everyone.

Then, talking to us as well as to the Corinthians, Paul says that to "each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit."

What are the signs that the Spirit dwells in us? In years past Christians used to speak of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If you pick a fruit from a tree and it tastes and smells and feels like an apple, then you can conclude that it's an apple tree. The same goes for a peach or pear tree. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul lists the fruits or signs of the Spirit as charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity." Some of these words might sound strange to us today but we surely get the general idea. Who would not want to receive the Holy Spirit? Would we want to be uncharitable, miserable, quarrelsome, impatient, malicious, bad, mean-spirited, offensive, unfaithful, immodest, wasteful, or promiscuous?

We don't need miraculous, mystical, or ghostly experiences to encounter the Spirit today. Can it be that anyone, Christian or otherwise, who exhibits the fruits of the Holy Spirit is filled with the Spirit whether they believe it or not? 

It is no exaggeration to say that all over the world today, Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs. In America Christians are ridiculed and stigmatized. Recently, some elite Harvard students attempted to ridicule the Catholic Mass by performing a staanic Black Mass on campus. It’s hard to comprehend the motivation of these students.

More seriously, in the Middle East fanatical Moslems kill, burn, and rape in the name of God. In Africa they kidnap and maim young girls. Fo some reason Hindus in India find it necessary to attack Christians. The newly elected Prime Minister of India has a history of Christian persecution. In China, despite its growing wealth and power, the government sees the need to persecute peaceable Christians. 

What explanation can ther be for this world-wide persecution? Whatever the reason I believe that these perscutions will ultimately fail. I don’t like to make predictions but I would never bet against the Holy Spirit. My prediction is that the majority of people in China will be Christian by the next century.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Battle of Midway

The anniversary of the Battle of Midway coming as it does on June 4, is usually overshadowed by remembrances of the Allied landings on the coast of Normandy on D-Day, the sixth of June. That will again be the case this year on the seventieth anniversary of D-Day. Nevertheless, if not for the American naval victory in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, D-Day might never have happened.

Nowhere is the story of Midway told better than in Admiral Samuel Morison’s epic history of United States naval operations during the Second World War. Admiral Morison was a rare combination of sailor and historian. Before the war he had written a magisterial biography of Columbus that still ranks with anything ever written about that great sailor. As part of his research Morison even used a sailing ship to cover the route Columbus had taken.

When the war broke out Morison was asked to be the Navy’s official historian. The Navy took pains to put him on actual ships that were very likely to see action. He was not at Midway but his account reads like an eyewitness. Below are excerpts from his depiction of the pivotal two minutes of that epic battle.

First, a little introduction. After their stunning success at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the Japanese had rolled up one victory after another. By the spring of 1942 Japanese strategists thought that they only had to secure the tiny island of Midway in the central Pacific to completely solidify their hegemony over most of Asia.

They sent a huge naval task force including four of their best aircraft carriers and most of their best pilots to take the tiny island in the middle of nowhere. Even though the American navy had been battered at Pearl Harbor, it was able to send a carrier force to intercept the Japanese. The Japanese had already bombed the small garrison at Midway when the American carriers came into range. Admiral Raymond Spruance was in command of the American fleet and he followed the advice of Captain Miles Browning who shrewdly predicted the location of the Japanese force. Spruance launched an immediate attack and the American planes quickly found the Japanese. Unfortunately, the initial torpedo bomber attack was thwarted by Japanese fighters (Jekes). Not one torpedo reached its target and practically all the torpedo bombers were shot down. It seemed like all was lost for the Americans. Here is Morison's account of what happened next.
The third torpedo attack was over by 1024, and for about one hundred seconds the Japanese were certain they had won the Battle of Midway, and the war. This was their high tide of victory. Then, a few seconds before 1026, with dramatic suddenness, there came a complete reversal of fortune, wrought by the Dauntless dive-bombers, the SBDs, the most successful and beloved by aviators of all our carrier types during the war.
Clarence McClusky USN.

Lieutenant Commander Clarence W. McClusky, air group commander of Enterprise, had two squadrons of SDBs under him: 37 units. He ordered one to follow him in attacking carrier Kaga, while the other, under Lieutenant W. E. Gallaher, pounced on Akagi, Nagumo’s flagship. Their coming in so soon after the last torpedo-bombing attack meant that the Zekes were still close to the water after shooting down TBDs, and had no time to climb. At 14000 feet the American dive-bombers tipped over and swooped screaming down for the kill. Akagi took a bomb which exploded in the hangar, detonating torpedo storage, then another which exploded amid planes changing their armament on the flight deck—just as Bowning had calculated. Fires swept the flagship, Admiral Nagumo and staff transferred to cruiser Nagara, and the carrier was abandoned and sunk by a destroyer’s torpedo. Four bomb hits on Kaga killed everyone on the bridge and set her burning from stem to stern. Abandoned by all but a small damage-control crew, she was racked by an internal explosion that evening, and sank hissing into a 2600 fathom deep.

Max Leslie USN.
The third carrier was the victim of Yorktown’s dive-bombers, under Lieutenant Commander Maxwell F. Leslie, who by cutting corners managed to make up for a late start. His 17 SBDs jumped Soryu just as she was turning into the wind to launch planes, and planted three half-ton bombs in the midst of the spot. Within  twenty minutes she had to be abandoned . U.S. submarine Nautilus, prowling about looking for targets, pumped three torpedoes into her, the gasoline storage exploded, whipsawing the carrier, and down she went in two sections. 
…Never has there been a sharper turn in the fortunes of war than on that June day when McClusky’s and Leslie’s dive-bombers snatched the palm of victory from Nagumo’s masthead, where he had nailed it on 7 December....
Midway was a victory not only of courage, determination and excellent bombing technique, but of intelligence, bravely and wisely applied….it might have ended differently but for the chance which gave Spruance command over two of the three flattops. Fletcher did well, but Spruance’s performance was superb. Calm, collected, decisive, yet receptive to advice, keeping in his mind the picture of widely disparate forces, yet boldly seizing every opening, Raymond A. Spruance emerged from this battle one of the greatest admirals in American naval history.
Raymond A. Spruance USN.

Admirals Nimitz, Fletcher, and Spruance are, as I write, very much alive; Captain Mitscher of Hornet, Captain Murray of Enterprise and Captain Miles Browning of the slide-rule mind have joined the three-score young aviators who met flaming death that day in reversing the verdict of battle. Think of them, reader, every Fourth of June. They and their comrades who survived changed the whole course of the Pacific War. 

Click on this link for a five minute summary of the Battle of Midway, or see the video below.