Century Marks

Century Marks

Big government at work

Without government intervention, large parts of the auto industry would have been wiped out, losing a million or more jobs, says columnist E. J. Dionne. But the bailout was wildly unpopular at the time when George W. Bush and Barack Obama spent $25 billion and $60 billion respectively to save the ailing industry. When Obama added to the auto bailout funds, a Gallup poll found 72 percent opposed it. The Obama administration now claims that 55,000 auto-related jobs were added since June 2009 and that all three U.S. automakers are operating at a profit for the first time since 2004 (Washington Post, August 2).

Color of penance

Pope Benedict XVI has become known for his attire: red shoes, sunglasses rumored to be Serengetis and ermine-trimmed capes and hats. Anne Burke, who was head of the review board set up by the U.S. Catholic bishops to oversee their policies on priests accused of pedophilia, has written to the pope suggesting he wear a simple black cassock for the remainder of his papacy to demonstrate penance for the priest sex scandal. Speaking to a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Burke said the pope should urge clerics to spend a day a week in prayer and fasting as a public expression of sorrow for failing to safeguard children (David Gibson at Politics Daily, July 31).

Locked up

In 1970 the number of Americans in prison was fewer than one in 400; today that figure stands at one in 100, largely due to tougher laws and longer, mandatory sentences. One study found that if a person were arrested for aggravated assault at age 18 but managed to stay out of trouble until age 22, the risk of a repeat offense was no greater than it is for the rest of the population. Imprisonment is expensive: it costs California about $50,000 a year per prisoner--in a state where only a seventh of that amount is spent on education (Economist, July 24).


Occupational hazard II

In a New York Times op-ed piece (August 7) G. Jeffrey MacDonald argues that no amount of time taken off by pastors will address the main source of their stress: a consumer-driven religion which expects them to be spiritual concierges. "The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways," says MacDonald, a United Church of Christ pastor and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul. "But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them." He understands the pressure: the advisory committee in his own small Massachusetts congregation told him to keep his sermons to ten minutes, tell funny stories and help people feel good about themselves. The implicit message was "give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we'll get our spiritual leadership from someone else."

Cloistered chants

An order of cloistered Benedictine nuns near Avignon, France, was picked as the world's finest female singers of Gregorian chant following a search by Decca Records. The nuns' order dates back to the sixth century. Their convent remains closed to the outside world, and its rules prohibit record company executives from entering the abbey. The nuns will film their own television commercial and photograph their own album cover. The album, Voices—Chant from Avignon, will be released in November (Catholic News Agency).