Update, War, Fatima Prayers

As we noted, Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta recently served as an official of the Holy See. Then a northern-Argentinian court convicted him of sexual abuse and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison.

I have been studying the court’s 98-page ruling. It includes a lot of facts, as well as certain crucial ideas about the crime of sexual abuse. I will offer a summary as soon as I can.

Malaysian Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine, July 2014

I have also been praying long and hard about war-torn Ukraine. And I have read a lot to try to understand what is happening…

Us older Americans remember how it felt to be on a war footing with Russia.

I remember our U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union at the time.

The Brezhnev Doctrine justified the armed suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. That second invasion brought an end to the short period of U.S.-Soviet ‘detente’ in the 1970’s, when we signed significant arms-control treaties.

I remember President Ronald Reagan unveiling our “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983. It envisioned technology that could repel a Soviet nuclear strike on us. That same year, we all watched The Day After, a tv movie about life after a nuclear war. Thoroughly terrifying.

The thing is, the early 80s were an anxious time, but it was nothing compared to now.

The cool-down in U.S.-Russia relations in the early 80s gave way to the biggest thaw of all: Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the U.S.S.R. He repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine. Then he allowed the Soviet Union to collapse altogether, without taking any military action to stop it.

The Iron Curtain fell. Germany re-united as one nation. Numerous Soviet ‘republics,’ including Ukraine, declared themselves independent of Russia. And the new President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, became a genuine friend of President Bill Clinton.

In other words, in the early 90’s, we experienced euphoria. We could hardly believe it. The Cold War with Russia was over.

Some regrettable things have happened since then, which I plan to get into soon. But for now my point is:

The situation we Americans face now is worse than the Cold War of the last century. I have no doubt that we will deal with it; we have dealt with graver things, and lived to tell the tale. But the fact remains:

A war criminal (with a world-view that we can barely understand) views us as an immediate threat to his nation’s survival. He has an arsenal that can kill us all.

This is real. And it isn’t even the hardest part of the situation.

We can understand Vladimir Putin’s point-of-view, if we try. Russia has never been a ‘nation-state’ as we Western countries generally understand the term–that is, without subjugated ‘client’ states. (Ukraine hasn’t been a Western-style nation-state, either, for that matter, until recently.)

When we consider the Ukraine that is under attack, we see something lovely being grievously harmed. Lovely as in: a people occupying a homeland with a distinct national identity, with the sovereign right to form alliances as they choose. A nation like France, or Italy, or the U.S.A.

But the governing class of Russia sees something totally different. They see a threat to their own identity. A threat grave enough to justify apparently* barbaric coercive tactics.

(* I add “apparently” only because, during a war, it is impossible to know the full truth about what is going on. But I don’t really doubt the barbarity of the coercive tactics that Russia is using.)

The hardest part of all this, for us Americans, is: How do we fit into it?

On the one hand, we face an immediate threat to our own most-precious interest. Russia has missiles that can kill us. Therefore it would seem prudent for us to de-escalate tensions with Russia.

On the other hand, we have moved very quickly in the other direction. We are participating in a huge, 21st-century “blockade.” And it seems necessary to do this, because Putin’s war has fundamentally destabilized the international consensus. Everyone must respect the territorial integrity of other nations. If we don’t all play by that rule, we don’t have the interconnected world of mutual trust that we have gotten used to living in.

The sanctions “blockade” has dragged us into World War III. It is a coercive tactic on our part, used against a sudden enemy–the most dangerous foreign enemy we have had since Britain launched the War of 1812.

And the situation rightly reminds us of World War I, also:  It involves a complex web of alliances–alliances we must honor, if we want a world of trust based on rules.

This is seriously bad place for us to be. But we don’t really have a choice.

A century ago, a similar bloody war happened in Ukraine. It broke out in the middle of WWI, in 1917.

On the day that the Russian czar abdicated, Ukraine formed part of his empire. Then Russia fell into chaos.

Ukraine declared independence in early 1918. But then the Ukrainians had to appeal to Germany for protection from the Bolshevik faction of the Russian civil war. Ukraine became one of the bloody battlefields of that war. When Germany lost WWI, Ukraine had to submit to Lenin.

It all began the same year that Our Lady appeared in Fatima and first asked that the pope consecrate “Russia” to her Immaculate Heart.

The Roman- and Ukrainian-Catholic bishops of Ukraine have asked Pope Francis to do this consecration now, and the Holy Father will do it on Friday.

I will pray with the Holy Father and the Catholic clergy of the world, in my own little hermitage. May our Lady protect Ukraine and all of us.

But I don’t mind saying that I feel odd about this particular way of praying for peace now.

In the Fatima apparitions, Our Lady spoke of “Russia”–in 1917, and again in 1929. When she did, her listeners certainly understood “Russia” to include Ukraine. Ukraine did not exist as a sovereign state in 1917. And its ‘independence’ in 1929 was thoroughly compromised by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet dictatorship. Today’s Ukrainians do not consider their nation to have been truly independent of Russia in 1929, notwithstanding its on-paper status then.

Why would we pray for peace now in accord with private apparitions from some of the darkest days of the last century? I for one think we would do better to leave the 20th century behind us, as much as possible. (We seem to have a hard time doing that.)

For me the best prayer for peace in Ukraine is the Eucharistic Prayer. It’s a prayer that belongs to the entire universal Church, without historical connections that evoke painful memories for Ukrainians and Russians alike.

That said, I will nonetheless certainly pray with our Holy Father on Friday.

These are agonizing times. May our Lady watch over us. May the good Lord deliver us.

U.S.S.R. Trip Memories and Current Thoughts


My eighth-grade social-studies class had an enterprising teacher. Very enterprising. My parents trusted him, and they trusted 12 1/2-year-old me. So I got to join a student group that traveled for eight days in the Soviet Union, in March 1983.

The Cold War was in its waning days, but no one knew it yet. The U.S.S.R. was the enemy; Russia was a strange and sinister nation of unintelligible commies. That is, until I learned: they have churches and subways and stuff, just like we do in Washington, D.C. They have poems and books. And their strange alphabet isn’t so different from ours, really.

As I remember, there were about twenty of us on the trip: ten or so eighth-graders, a bunch of high-school students who also tagged along, and our teacher and his wife as chaperones.

We flew on Pan Am from Washington, to New York, to Helsinki, Finland, to Moscow. After a few days in the grimy capital, we took a night train to Kiev, now commonly called Kyiv. (We gained an hour that night, I believe, crossing from GMT+3 backward to GMT+2.) After a couple days in ‘the Ukraine,’ as it was called then, a then-‘Soviet republic,’ we flew by Aeroflot to what was known as Leningrad, the city of St. Petersburg, in western Russia.

In Moscow we stayed at what we came to call “the Cocmock,” the Cosmos Hotel.

Cosmos rendered in the Cyrillic alphabet is Kocmoc. As I mentioned, our agile young minds made quick work of deciphering the Russian letters: the Moscow streets near Red Square were lined with pectopah‘s and кафе‘s–restaurants and cafes.

We couldn’t visit those establishments, though. We had to make our peace with borscht three times a day in hotel cafeterias.

But as American tourists we had two privileges. The first was the assistance of a full-time Soviet handler. The second was a genuine privilege: We got to visit the historic churches, which Soviet citizens were then prohibited from entering.

We stood in line and saw Lenin in his tomb. We toured the Kremlin, and saw the dusty yet splendid chapels inside it. We even had a trip out to see Catherine the Great’s summer palace–also forbidden to Soviet citizens at the time.

We interacted with our Russian and Ukrainian peers, on both sanctioned and ‘unofficial’ occasions. The sanctioned meetings involved friendly chess matches in the Soviet after-school youth clubs, called “Frontier Scout” troops (which were co-ed).

billie-jean-jacksonThe unsanctioned occasions involved handing over a Sony Walkman for a few moments, so that some Russian middle-schoolers could listen to the coveted Michael Jackson’s Thriller cassette tape.

For that offense, some of us were detained by Moscow police for an hour.

Believe it or not, we had one free afternoon in Moscow, and I decided to ride the subway by myself, to take a second look at Red Square. My parents let me ride the Washington subway by myself at that age, and the Moscow system seemed quite similar. (The escalators traveled twice as fast, though, which was fun.)

When I didn’t have the correct change for the return trip to the hotel, a Muscovite commuter handed me the necessary kopecks with a kind smile. Central Moscow reminded me a lot of Manhattan (which I had seen a couple years earlier). It was just that in Moscow the citizens had to wait in long lines to buy new underwear or a loaf of bread.

In addition to learning to love borscht, we travelers admired the ubiquitous statues and posters of Lenin and ‘the noble Soviet worker.’

The sun never came out while we were in Moscow–just clouds and cold. But Kiev greeted us with fresh greenness, its hills covered with lush old trees. The churches there were homier, made of wood, rather than stone.

Then on to Leningrad. Majestic, with its classical buildings lining the iridescent river. We toured the Hermitage gallery, housed in the czar’s old Winter Palace. I fell in love with oil paintings of Christ.

And I remember weeping quietly when we visited the mass graves at the cemetery for the WWII siege of the city. Tens of thousands, dead from starvation, buried together in grassy fields, each marked by only one stone, indicating the year of death. 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944.

…A decade later, I went with some friends to the famous Veselka’s Ukrainian cafe, on the lower-East side in New York. Ukraine was newly liberated from the Soviet grasp then, in the early 90’s. Ebullience in the air, over the sauteed pirogis.

The Ukrainian Catholic seminary in Washington was right up the street from the one I went to, and I became good friends with one of the seminarians there. I had the privilege of concelebrating some Ukrainian-Catholic Masses when I was a newly ordained priest.

My friend taught me about Ukrainian national heroes like Bohdan Kmelnytsky and Josyf Card. Slipyj.

Some crucial ecclesiastical-history facts we need to know:

In 1590, a re-union of some Byzantine churches with Rome occurred in Brest, in what is now Belarus. This union was interpreted politically by Russians and many Ukrainians as an incursion of Polish/western control. But from our point-of-view, as (hopefully) genuine Catholics, the Union of Brest had a supernatural significance which was altogether good (see John 17).

Icon of St. Nicholas

Soviet premier Joseph Stalin did cruel things to the Ukraine before and after WWII. He starved almost 4 million Ukrainians to death. And he forcibly removed the Ukrainian Catholic Church from communion with Rome.

Vladimir Putin has justified this latest act of violence against Ukraine by claiming that Ukraine is not a real, independent nation. The irony there is: If Ukraine is not a real, independent nation, then neither is Russia.

It is true that the histories of the two nations have been intertwined from the days of Saints Cyril and Methodius, 1200 years ago. And it is true that Ukraine was part of the Russian empire before the advent of communism.

But, if you go back 1,000 years, the Ukrainians actually have more reason to say that Russia is a renegade part of Ukraine, than Russia has to say that Ukraine is a renegade part of Russia. Russian culture is a daughter of Ukrainian culture, not the other way around.

So, yes: This latest Russian invasion of Ukraine is merely the newest chapter in a centuries’-long book. But that doesn’t make it any less horrible.

The exploitation of raw power by an isolated autocrat, to try to subjugate an imaginary ‘threat’–who was actually just doing his thing, in good conscience–that has a familiar ring to me, in my own recent personal life.

May God deliver us all. Let’s pray hard. The Ukrainians do not deserve the misery they face. And the Russian people, for that matter, don’t deserve their particular misery, either.

May the Lord show His mighty Hand, to bring peace.

Quick War-Speech Dental Exam

Our jovial dentist used to glide in after the hygienist finished. With his metal pick, he would wiggle each tooth to determine the solidity of its foundation. He could tell by touch if a cavity had developed.

If I might, I would like to touch the teeth of our Islamic State strategy, as outlined by the president last night.

Tooth #1, the pre-eminent, most-important tooth: Having cause for war with the Islamic State. Do we?

Do they pose an immediate danger to our people? I don’t know, really. But it seems like they do, much more than any other terrorist organization ever has.

Flag_of_Islamic_State_of_Iraq.svgBut another legitimate question, by way of establishing casus belli might be: Is the Islamic state demonstrably guilty of crimes against humanity? If the decent people of the world tolerate these crimes, could we reasonably hope for peace in our time? Would not the innocent victims have legitimate cause to reproach us? Yes, no, and yes appear to be the answers to these questions.

The most solid grounds for war, then, are not necessarily the matter of a direct threat to U.S. citizens, even though that threat seems quite real. Rather, the unassailable cause, it seems to me, is the consensus among God-fearing people that to tolerate the crimes of these men would imply an abandonment of hope for a decent world to live in.

Now, I think this tooth would stand probing a little better if we explicitly listed the charges against al-Baghdadi and his collaborators. (I believe that the UN has done so already, at least in a preliminary fashion.) We should demand that the accused give themselves up and stand trial before a legitimate court of law, which could include Muslim judges. Then, when they fail to hand themselves over, we stipulate that our war aim is: To apprehend the criminals and their associates.

My quibbles notwithstanding, this tooth has no cavity. I am do dentist, no expert, but the crimes that have been committed—murder, enslavement, rape, attempted genocide, wholesale robbery of lands and goods—these crimes can be documented; they must be prosecuted; the guilty must be punished. If the defendants do not present themselves for trial, they forfeit the due protections of law and stand in peril of their lives. The decent people of the world would all agree on all this, I think it’s fair to say. We have proposed to go to war against genuine enemies of the human race. We have just cause.

Okay, tooth #2: “Iraqi partners.” The “inclusive” new Iraqi government. An effective Iraqi military.

The questions we need to ask in order to tap this tooth: Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, at our hands, a decade ago, have the ‘Iraqi’ people acted in harmony as a nation? Has the Iraqi military shown genuine signs of decisive action, even at peril of life and limb, aimed at protecting all the people of the nation of Iraq?

That would be a negative, I think.

Can the blame for this be laid completely at the feet of Nouri al-Maliki’s choleric temperament?

Can a reasonable person expect the new, more phlegmatic Shia prime-minister, who has put together a government with Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds in the same proportion as the old one (actually, there are apparently more Shias in the government now than there were under al-Maliki), who has yet to appoint a defense minister—can a reasonable individual expect Prime Minister Abadi to unify the nation of Iraq successfully and orient the military, in time to address the crimes that have been committed, before the victims of those crimes fall into despair?

This tooth has a very large cavity.

Tooth #3
. “Partners in Syria.” In an interview in early August, President Obama himself said that the moderate opposition in Syria had never really come together. He said that the idea that arming rebels in Syria could make a difference “has always been a fantasy.”

WeAreNWe have a policy of regarding Assad as an ‘illegitimate leader.’ Nonetheless, under international law, he has the right to refuse us access to Syrian airspace. Who has consistently championed President Assad’s prerogatives? Russia. Without Russia on our side in this war, we lose the diplomatic tool of the UN Security Council. (Not to mention all the constructive help which Russia could, and probably would, give us.) Without the UN endorsing our actions, we will have serious problems retaining allies. Fighting IS without Russia will make it much harder to win. Big, big cavity.

Tooth #4. “Partners in the region.” On August 15, the United Nations Security Council adopted a strongly worded, militarily toothless resolution against Islamic State. Today, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and United Arab Emirates agreed on the ‘Jeddah Communique,’ which confirmed their commitment to the UN resolution. The Jeddah communique includes no mention of military commitment. Turkey did not sign on. Syria, of course, was not invited.

This tooth appears to have a cavity. If the only fighting we need from our ‘partners in the region’ is the implementation of financial sanctions and travel restrictions, then we’re good. Maybe.

But: If we are not going to march—which the president says we won’t; only bombs from above—if we are not going to march; if we cannot reasonably expect Iraq to march anytime soon; if there really isn’t anyone in Syria who we could expect to march against IS in any kind of commensurate force; and if no one in the Gulf Cooperation Council, nor Lebanon, nor Jordan, nor Egypt, nor Turkey intends to march—then who is going to march? Who will march to apprehend the criminals in time to save the victims from despair?

st-augustineI do not think the plan, as it stands, has the prospect of success. The more I think about it, the more feckless it appears. Which renders it unjust, since a legitimate casus belli must be implemented with a war plan that enjoys the solid probability of success.

I think the plan as outlined by the president will lead to dangerous diplomatic strains and to the deaths and injuries of many innocent people. Our airstrikes will cause greater animosity against the U.S. and more terrorism.

The huge military elephant in the room is of course Israel, way too touchy a subject to be mentioned by the president or Secretary Kerry, I guess, at this point. But who can fail to imagine a scenario in which IS attacks Israel? Then we will have a wide Middle-East war, and we will inevitably lose ‘partners.’

Operating in Syria without authorization from Assad, coupled with all our saber-rattling over Ukraine, we could wind up at war with Russia.

Grim scenarios, indeed. I would welcome anyone with better information to talk me down off this particular ledge.

Anyway, it seems to me that it would be better to open our borders to the refugees who would prefer to come here, and welcome them in the U.S. Then await a more propitious moment for making war against IS—a moment when we have a genuine international military coalition organized and we are prepared to fight a real war with our own troops involved, so as to minimize airstrikes, which always cause unintended casualties and just make things worse.


St. Cyril devised the alphabet which the Russians use. He died in Rome 1,142 years ago today.

St. Cyril’s tomb is in the church of St. Clement, near the Roman Coliseum.

In ancient times, there was a military barracks here. The soldiers used to worship their manly pagan god Mithras on this very spot.

Now it is a church of the true, triune God. The apse mosaic depicts the Holy Cross as the Tree of Life.

…Smells like spring around here. Hard to believe that one year ago today I was shoveling sixteen feet of snow in the parking lot at the corner of 11th and K Streets, N.E.

I miss Holy Name parish very much. But the plan of God has been favorable to its citizens: they are now in much more capable hands.

Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo is going to give me a new assignment somewhere near my hermitage. Hopefully I will be of some use to my fellow Mountain People.