Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'm offering this up, you know.

An interview with Vaticanist Sandro Magister was published earlier this week and translated into English on Another Blog I Don't Like Linking To. Said blog, to underline its views on the Holy Father, accompanied said piece with a picture of a cover from The Advocate (featuring the Holy Father with a NoH8 on his face).

I'll leave to your conclusions the intent.

That blog's version featured interstitial comments (presumably by the translator) and some curious word choices in the translation. Keep in mind the answers are the opinions of Sandro Magister, and also be aware of the biases of the interviewer. Many of these opinion are based on demonstrably incorrect assumptions. (I'll add the links relevant thereto as I have time.)

As a public service, here is my version. Feel free to compare it to the original.

“Pope disorients many bishops” This is the conclusion of Sandro Magister, who for 40 years has closely followed the events of the Vatican “because he [moves] on several levels and also often contradicts himself.”

Sandro Magister this year celebrated 40 years of chronicling the Vatican. His first articles in L’Espresso, in fact, date back to 1974. And even today, [not just] from those columns but also from the website of that weekly, continues to report on the Oltretevere [i.e. “Vatican”] and the whole Church in highly documented manner but without reverence of any sort.

[He is] a native of Busto Arsizio, “class” [i.e. born in] 1943 and graduated in philosophy and theology from La Cattolica, and has followed many Roman pontiffs. On this last [pontiff] Pope Francis, his chronicles are distinguished from the mainstream of Vaticanisti, and do not hesitate in underlining [any] contradictions.

Question: Magister, pope Bergoglio, in these [last] months, has enjoyed a global success but there were also some decisions that have given [us] to think about. For example, he has presented himself as Bishop of Rome, [yet] at the Synod on the family reclaimed the codes of Canon Law which affirm Petrine power [in the sense of “authority”].

A: It is true, in his closing discourse [or “speech”].

Q: He has outlined a shared and open vision in the government of the Church, has commissariated [there is no exact translation, but roughly means “governed through intermediaries”] the Franciscans of the Immaculate with somewhat hard methods and has de facto put the bridle to episcopal conferences...

A. Some, including the Italian [one], have been, in fact, annihilated.

Q. Speaking of popular movements, he seemed to re-echo certain analyzes of Toni Negri on labor, as you wrote in the blog Settimo Cielo, when then accepts the "dismissal" of 500 among calligraphers and painters and printers of whom the Vatican Charities has decided to no longer avail itself.

A. In effect that story is a bit strident...

Q. …as strident as the hard ultra-protective [there is no exact translation for “garantiste”] position, on justice and prisons, with his choice to incarcerate beforehand the ex-nuncio of Santo Domingo, in expectation of a judgment [conviction?] of pædophilia.

A. That also.

Q. So, you are a long term Vaticanist, what ideas do you have [bout this]?

A. That the contradictions are there and represent an informed judgment, based on the observation of several months, inherent in the personality of Jorge Bergoglio.

Q. And what conclusions does that bring?

A. He is a person who, throughout the arc of his life and now also as Pontiff, acts on different registers [in the sense of “levels”] simultaneously, leaving gates open, and on a first reading, many contradictions. But the ones that you mentioned are not, however, the only ones.

Q. Point to others...

A. That of a loquacious Pope, who phones, who approaches very diverse and very distant people, but remains silent on the case of Asia Bibi.

Q. The Pakistani sentenced to death for apostasy, jailed for some time...

A. Exactly, on whose story pope Francis did not say a word. As it was for Nigerian girls kidnapped, and on the incredible deed, a few days ago in Pakistan, on that married Christian couple, burned [to death] in a furnace.

Q. There are stories that relate to Islam, to which we shall return. But some are beginning to define these contradictions as “Jesuitism” in the sense of a nuanced [literally “changing” in the sense of “gradient”] way of thinking.

A. In these terms this is a disparaging qualifier and not acceptable, even if it is true that the spirituality of the Jesuits has been shown historically to be able to adapt to the most varied situations and, at times, in contrast with each other.

Q. This appeared to contrast with the management of the recent Synod.

A. A management accurately calculated by the Pope and not left to chance as one may have believed it, and which registers other contrasting elements.

Q. For example?

A. Bergoglio, who said, repeatedly, that they do not want to compromise on doctrine, to stay with the tradition of the Church. But then he opened discussions, such as those on communion of the remarried, which effectively touch the cornerstones of the magisterium.

Q. Why?

A. Because it is inexorable that the communion of the remarried [leads to the] arrival of the acceptance of second marriages and then to the dissolution of the sacramental bond of marriage.

Q. I’m no Vaticanist, but the feeling, from the outside and that disconcert is spreading a bit and not only within the hierarchy. Moreover, even in areas not clearly definable as traditionalist...

A. Of this there is no doubt. There are exponents of notable importance and certainly not Lefebvrians, who understand, even if they do not express it in drastic and adversarial terms. Not even Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, the ex-prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, recently removed, has done this, because there is not a current prejudicially hostile to the pontiff. Certainly, there are manifestations of evident unease.

Q. Are there some examples?

A. Let's take a look at the Episcopate in the United States, the bishops of one of the most numerous Catholic populations of the globe. The bishops' conference, in recent years, has expressed a coherent [or “consistent”] and combative line in the public square, [sometimes] also in respect to certain decisions of Barack Obama on ethical issues. A line that is shared by many prelates of prominence. A collective, more than a sum of individuals, a core which directs [the bishops], say.

Q. And therefore the Americans?

A. Are a bit uneasy. These are cardinals and archbishops such as Timothy Dolan in New York, Patrick O'Malley of Boston, José Gómez in Los Angeles or Charles Chaput in Philadelphia. An episcopate from which comes the same Burke, who is certainly not confined to marginal circuits of [the] traditionalists, but continues to be part of one of the more solid national Churches.

Q. And also the CEI [Italian Episcopal Conference], as was said before, appears to be in a little bit of difficulty.

A. It is difficult to keep pace to this pope. With a president, Angelo Bagnasco, who seems to be in the most difficulties of all.

Q. Also because it was openly stated his successor as archbishop of Perugia would be Gualtiero Bassetti, created Cardinal by Bergoglio.

A. And yet, I also know that Bassetti is among the Italian bishops to be uneasy.

Q. Among Italians, the most explicit were perhaps the milanese Angelo Scola and the bolognese Carlo Caffarra.

A. They were intervening [i.e., speaking openly, “lobbying”?] before and during the Synod. But it was inevitable considering the decision of the pope to entrust to Cardinal Walter Kasper the opening of the discussions, and which practically was the opening of hostilities.

Q. Why?

A. Because Kasper re-proposes today, unachanged [no exact translation for “tali e quali”], the thesis defeated in 1993 by the duo Pope John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger, the latter vested with the prefecture of the Holy Office.

Q. Yes, the Pope launched Kasper, has made Archbishop Bruno Forte special secretary of the synod that, during the work [of the Synod] has weighed in, to such an extent as to give rise to reactions of some Synod fathers, but then in the end, Francis intervened caning [!] one and the other. Almost an as old Christian Democrat against extremists on both sides.

A. It's another [example] of recurring forms of expression of this pontiff: reprimanding one part and the other. However, wanting to do an inventory, his canings of traditionalists, the legalists, the rigid defenders of the arid doctrine, appear to be much more numerous and targeted. On the other hand, when he takes on the [progressive] do-gooders, you never understand who he is talking about.

Q. The Synod has launched more and further the director of Civiltà Cattolica, Father Antonio Spadaro.

A. He styles himself a spokesman for the Pope and the Jesuit magazine, which was progressively declining (with him as director busying [himself] with the web and social networks) today is expressive of the highest pinnacle in the Vatican. Especially after the first big interview with the Jesuit pope. While Francis’ ghostwriter is Manuel Fernandez, the Rector of the Catholic University in Buenos Aires whom the Pope made an Archbishop. It was with Fernandez that Francis wrote Evangeli Gaudium, as he [they] had written the document of Aparecida in Brazil with him in 2007 when [Francis] as the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires successfully “brought home” the Latin American Bishops’ Conference; document that for many is an anticipation of this papacy.

Q. In the face of a large consensus, there are also people who, as the writer Antonio Socci, contests even the validity of the election of the pope. Have you read his book It’s Not Francis (Mondadori Press)?

A. I read it in one evening, in one breath, even if there are more than 300 pages. And not for [his] thesis of the invalidity of the election, due to the cancellation of one ballot into the conclave, on the grounds of a white card. A thesis, in my opinion, inconsistent [i.e. baseless]

Q. So then, because of what was the reading so interesting?

A. For what is determining the success of the book, to both to push to the top of the charts, overtaking the books by and about Bergoglio. And this is because it reconstructs, with indisputable facts and words, the contradictions which we have cited.

Q. A book of which none speaks, almost risking to imperil the popularity of Francis, which is enormous. In spite of this consensus, however, religious practice does not increase and, indeed, there is a growing aversion, in public, to Catholicism. Bergoglio yes, the rest not.

A. Even the popularity of his predecessors, let us not forget, was very strong. John Paul II has experienced a worldwide success and not only in the years facing [his] illness. And Pope Benedict XVI, between 2007 and 2008, reached the pinnacles in the opinion polls, even if this is forgotten. His trip to the USA was the climax, with a large and positive reception even on the part of the lay public.

Q. And so what is the difference?

A. That the predecessors were popular especially within the Church, even if challenged harshly by strong sectors of non-Christian public opinion. While the popularity of Francis appears to be on the outside, even if it does not cause waves of conversion. Indeed, with him there is a certain contentment in culture foreign or hostile to Christianity.

Q. In what sense?

A. In seeing the head of the Church moving to their positions, which he seems to understand and even accept. The story of the repeated talks with Eugenio Scalfari is exemplary: the pope accepts the founder La Reppublica, once the hardest protester of the pontiff, publishing from their talks whatever he wants.

Q. Though, Scalfari himself declared he had published things which Bergoglio had not said.

A. Exactly. But, in all of this, there is no nearing to Christianity. Christianity from the mouth of Bergoglio is not provocative, makes no problems as before, it can be treated with courtesy, superiority, distance. Christianity counts less. Suffice it to say that to the President of the Council, Matteo Renzi, a Catholic, what the IEC does is not important at all. In short, from a situation of confrontation or conflict, we have passed to [one of] disinterest.

Q. On the Muslim world, pope Francis is silent. And even the Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, intervening [i.e., speaking] recently at the United Nations, has been very prudent. Some speak of a great deal of caution, and, when they do, they cite the address of Benedict XVI in Regensburg, which provoked [hostile] reactions and even deaths.

A. It is a caution pushed to the extreme that, however, in practice, I cannot see the advantages it produces, it does not seem to me it results in aid, however minimal or partial, to the Christians of those regions. The caution you can understand, if you measure it in proportionality to the effect, that is if it produces less damage. The situation reminds me of the silence of Pius XII on the Jews.

Q. A historic polemic, even the recent ...

A. Pope Pacelli did everything he could to save the Israelites, even personally in the Vatican, now we know. But he hesitated to openly denounce, fearing that [things would] happen as in Holland, where the complaints of some bishops were followed by even worse persecutions.

Q. But this silence is remains.

A. Except the Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, prefect of interreligious dialog, which does not spare [his] judgments, however severe.

Q. What is the point?

A. It is that with powers such as ISIS, with which there is haste to say that Islam has nothing to do with it, but that [they] are instead nourished by a radical Islam, which does not resolve the question of rationality and therefore the relationship between faith and violence. That is precisely what Pope Ratzinger had denounced in Regensburg. And in fact the only true dialogue between Christianity and Islam and was born from that lecture, with the next letter of the 138 Muslim scholars.

Q. But the visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the year after, that was considered a reparation of Benedict XVI.

A. Ratzinger could make that gesture, having said those things at Regensburg. His judgment was not enigmatic, we understood it very well, had expressed it with crystalline clarity.

Q. And is Francis clear?

A. Sometimes no. When in Bethlehem stops in front of the wall that divides the territories from Israel and remains in absolute silence: it isn’t known what he is intending to say. And when in Lampedusa cries out "shame," it is not clear who should be ashamed or why. Italy? That has saved thousands and thousands of lives? Why not say so? There are often words and gestures that are intentionally left in uncertainty.

Q. There is no time to talk about the Vatican events, such as that of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who was removed from the IOR under the secretariat of the Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, but of whom has emerged, on several occasions, that he had been correct. Even with the closing [of the case] by the Italian courts.

A. It denies a rehabilitation. Has asked for an interview with the Pope but that was refused.

Q. The Church as "field hospital" sometimes has locked doors.

A. It is like that.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

University admissions stuff you might want to know.

...and they don't tell you because they don't (often) KNOW to tell you.

Anyway, this is stuff I've learned at the last minute, and I hope this helps someone. May it be imputed unto us as a righteousness.

This is primarily deals with getting those whom you've offsprung into very competitive universities. Relatively few schools fall into this category, so don't sweat it in EVERY case.


Start by selecting all the conceivable, possible places your kid would like to attend. Whittle that down by scratching out the ones you dislike. Then divide the list into "Dream," "Likely," and "Safety" schools. At Joey's school, they have a computer "scattergraph" that shows you, at a glance, the likelihood of your child being admitted to this or that university based on grades and standardized tests. These are the things we'll look at right off the top.

Now, if you're reading this blog, then it is likely that Catholicism (and particular strain thereof) features highly in your thinking. Here we run into a bit of an issue.

How important is a solidly Catholic identity in the decision-making process of selecting universities to which your child will apply?

There are many nominally Catholic universities in the top tier university ranks. The ones which are more solidly Catholic (by my definition, at any rate...and since this is MY blog, that's what counts) are -- and I shan't belabor the reasons why -- not yet in the same level.

I wish that weren't the case, but it is. By this I am not discussing the quality of education your child would receive there but, rather the perception by the general population. This has a great impact on employment and starting salaries and other economic factors with which your child will have to live. It'd be delusional to state that a degree from The University of Solid Catholicness has a comparable economic splash as one from Ye Olde Ivy League.

This is not to say that financial considerations trump all. But you should know what you and your child are facing.

In our own situation this has been a point of much deliberation and discussion.

Should a solidly Catholic education be paramount to you, fortunately at this moment these are not the most extremely selective institutions. However, if you want a combination of Catholicity and high academic standing you will have to:
a) put up with bouts of "They did what? Fund the XYZ University Livestock Molesters Club??"
b) figure out how to navigate the rocky shoals of cafeteria Catholicism to keep your child's faith intact, and you'll need to find spiritual directors there equal to that task.

In our case, at the few more mainstreamed Catholic universities we have considered, we have only done so because we know people there who we trust would be able to shepherd our son spiritually in a manner congenial to our understanding of Catholic identity.

Lastly, there are secular universities.

The advantage, perversely, is that nobody expects these to be anything but actively hostile to faith (any faith, except possibly those which feature explosives and decapitation) and political conservatism. Thus prepared it's easier to hold on to one's values when it's obvious others seek to strip you of them. It's when you THINK a school will uphold them and doesn't that things fall apart. (Incidentally, we ran into one secular university that impressed us with the fact the campus culture including the faculty skews center-right AND is academically very highly ranked. Unsurprisingly, the student body tends to be religious, although not obviously exclusively -- or primarily -- Catholic.)

Speaking ONLY of MY university experience (exclusively at secular universities) I'll say that uncompromising hostility to my worldview was a plus in strengthening my convictions. Your mileage may vary.


First, let's talk grades.

If you're lucky/smart you're reading this when your kid still has 3 or so years to start thinking of this.


I cannot overemphasize how much easier everything gets with a good grade point average. If you have to go all "Simon Legree's tiger mother" do it. Do whatever you have to, short of a felony, to get your kid to study and do well.

I've discovered, in the case of boys, that video games are the Anti-Christ, the sworn blood enemy of optimal academic performance. A little video game activity AFTER schoolwork and on weekends is fine, but if your son has a 75" HD TV with PS4, XBOX and Wii and surround sound, you have a very uphill fight. (Joey has none of these, Deo gratias.)

You'll have to check to see what assignments and tests are coming up, and make sure they are completed. In Joey's case, the magic bullet was making sure he studied for tests "the day before the day before." This puts the subject matter into long term, rather than short term, memory. This is key, because your average teenage boy has the short term memory of a goldfish entering rehab.

Second, the SAT. Don't waste your time on prep courses. The SAT is, at its core, an IQ test and its answers have a "pattern." The easier it is for your kid to "spot the pattern" the more accurate his (or her, I don't discriminate) guesses are, and the higher the score. My suggestion? Find a whole mess of Official SAT Practice Tests. Have your kid take the first one WITHOUT TIMING and OPEN BOOK. You want him to see where he "guesses/answers wrong" and what the testmakers thinking is IN REAL TIME.

I cannot stress this enough.

Once your kid sees how a given test is "wired" when he comes to a question he can't answer correctly in a few seconds, he will know HOW to eliminate the other answers. I guesstimate this is worth +/-250 points.

Oh, and many top-tier schools will also ask your kid to take "SAT subject tests." I very strongly suggest your child takes a given subject test the summer immediately following having completed that course in high school. If your daughter took biology in 10th grade, that's the time to take the corresponding test. Why? Because the material is fresh in her mind and if she takes it mid-12th grade, she'll have to study a LOT for that test and her odds of doing well are nowhere near as good.

Next we come to the dreaded essay. If your child is applying to a top-tier institution, this could be worth as much as the SAT and/or grades. One Very Big Deal University admissions person told me that 95% of applicants "flat-out cannot write, of the remaining 5%, 3% can write, but just in a 'grammatically correct way' and only 2% can write both correctly and well. That 2% gets admitted pretty much regardless of grades or SAT scores."

Some douchebag unscrupulous parents will write their kid's essay for him, or worse, hire a ghostwriter. Don't. The people at the admissions office who read essays -- and most of them do nothing but read essays -- are keen spotters of the "voice" of a 12th grader...or "mutton writing as lamb" as it were. My suggestion? Have your kid write the essay WELL ahead of its due date. A week later, have him rewrite it and then you edit it. Make suggestions, check for solecisms, etc. Don't CHANGE anything, but, rather, send it back with your notes and markups. Let him change it. Repeat 2-3 or times.

The essay (and this is why the few kids who can nail it get in no matter what) has certain things it must accomplish:

1- It must address the question. ("What do you consider the most important quality in a 21st Century global citizen?" or whatever.)
2- It must be grammatically correct. (Skip the artistic license for now.)
3- It must be a very engaging read. If the reader forgets he's reading "an application essay" that's a win.
4- It must, very subliminally, underscore all of the points which the admissions office considers favorable. (More on this anon.)
5- OPTIONAL - If you wish to lay claim to one of the various demographic groups that are treated with a measure of advantage, look for an essay question (usually they have three) that has wording such as "your culture" or "heritage" or similar. The essay should subliminally touch upon one's favorable demography without beating people over the head with it. Similarly, if seriously difficulties have beset your family that can be plausibly assumed to have affected your child and his/her performance it should also be brought up subtly at this point.

After this, look over the application materials. If a given university is "on the Common app" AND they waive the application fee, apply to it...what the Hell. But be warned, about half of the top-tier schools are NOT on the Common app for a number of reasons of varying levels of reasonableness and validity. It is what it is.

When you are poring over these materials, especially from the top-tier universities, be on the lookout for the term "holistic admissions." This means "we'll let your kid in based on whether we like him/her and not on any objective criteria." Which is a positive if your child is in a desirable demographic category, not so much if not.

This is where we hit some serious turbulence. I am not here to argue in favor or against these factors in the admissions process...just to tell you what they are, how they may affect you and how you can navigate them to your child's benefit. So don't get your ideological undies in a twist.

In schools that specifically tout their "holistic admissions" sex and ethnicity matter a great deal. They will emphatically deny it, but -- and I can't tell you how I know this to be 100% true, you'll just have to trust me -- that is the case.

Female applicants in the "STEM" areas have a colossal advantage, for instance.

Most Hispanics* have an advantage over their Anglo counterparts, African-Americans have an advantage over most** Asian-Americans. It is what it is.***

In these cases, what "holistic admissions" means to applicants is (and this is a direct quote from an Ivy-league admissions type) "We want to let you in, please give us an excuse."

This doesn't mean that if your child is a WASP from a nice suburban school he has no chance; not at all. But he or she should "compensate" with the other things mentioned herein.

Another crucial factor is "interest quotient" which is not merely "how badly does this applicant want to attend this august institution?" but "How is this applicant's seriousness of interest evidenced?"

Your child should start communicating with the admissions office and any persons affiliated therewith. Some have "student ambassadors" who sit in the admissions meetings and offer whatever insight into a given applicant and, although they have no vote, their input is taken very seriously and can often sway the decision. Your child should be in email conversations with these folks, asking about student activities, internship and practical-experience opportunities, asking questions about campus life, etc., etc.

A campus visit, if at all possible, should be scheduled and followed up with email conversations.

This will be helpful also should the university in question require an interview. (The further up the top-tier you go, the likelier this will be.) In the matter of the interview, you should conduct a few mock-interview rounds with your little darling. No so much that the responses sound "canned" and rehearsed, but so that the answers are fluid and devoid of the "" and "you know" and "like." The metric for success is that the closer this comes to a conversation the better, and the more it becomes an interrogation with monosyllabic answers, the worse.

Like in the essay, this conversation should touch upon "the good stuff" as noted above and as will follow.

The last thing to shore up are the extracurriculars. Ideally (and in the case of top-tier schools, it's practically an unwritten "must") your child will have:

1- An athletic activity (croquet, baseball, whatever)
2- A community service.
3- A leadership component (this, incidentally, is NOT the same as joining the Leadership Club)
4- A personal interest (the Kite club, the Astronomy club)

Regarding items 1, 2, and 4, the more years doing this your child has, the better...especially as it shows commitment. This is key.

There can be some overlap, of course (being elected president of the croquet club, for example) and where there is no ideal activity for your kid, have him/her start one, showing both the interest and the leadership.

Lastly, if you at all have ANY "ins" at a given university, it's okay to deploy these, but NOT HEAVYHANDEDLY.

Hope this helps someone!


* Cubans are, for the purposes of university admissions, the "wrong" kind of Hispanic. In those applications listing these as multiple choice and given that 90% of Cubans have family in Spain or Latin America, I suggest ticking the box that says "Hispanic/Latino Other."
** Filipinos, for the purposes of university admissions, are the "right" kind of Asian
*** Because some surnames are not obviously of a given ethnicity or someone may have one Anglo and one "ethnic" parent, it will be an OPTIONAL question on the application to state one's "ethnic self-identification."