U.S. Notes & Quotes

Excerpts from selected publications

Boys Town USA Director on Clinton

WEEKLY STANDARD, Jan. 4-11—Father Val Peter, executive director of Boys Town USA, recently wrote a letter to the young people in his charge about the Clinton scandal. “If you are old enough to know about these matters,” he wrote, “then surely you are old enough to learn some lessons from them.”

The letter caught the attention of the Weekly Standard, a public policy journal, which called it “a remarkable distillation of what is, and always has been, at stake in the Lewinsky scandal.”

The magazine quoted the letter as follows: “The main lesson is about lying. Everybody—and I mean everybody—can see that the President lied over and over again, and then lied to cover up the lying. Lying did not help him. It made things worse for him … much worse. If you lie, it will make things worse for you, too. …

“How is lying made worse? The bigger the role model, the worse the lie. If someone I hardly know lies to me, it is bad. But it is much worse if my mother lies to me. She is a much bigger role model in my life. That makes the lie worse.

“That's why the President falls off a mountain when he lies. Yes, he falls a great distance. And if he lies over and over again, he falls an even greater distance. You may say if we raise the bar too high, no one will run for public office. Then all we will get is the biggest bully or the guy with the most money. That's really not our problem. The problem is just the opposite.

“We need to raise the bar high enough so that better people will run for office. We need to restore the expectation that includes honest behavior. The solution is not to take the bar away. To put it another way, if many people are lying, the solution is not to approve of lying, but rather to rekindle the fires of devotion. Otherwise, human flourishing is diminished.”

Happy Families, According to TV

TOUCHSTONE, December 1998—What do television shows consider a happy family?

Gregory Beabout briefly traced the history of families on television and came to this conclusion: only non-traditional families are happy on TV.

“As television developed, so did the projection of television families on the small screen. Many of the television characters of the ‘60s and ‘70s were either cut free from their families or trapped within dysfunctional families. …

“Following the Brady Bunch, television paraded a long series of less than traditional families where everything is happy and peachy. These endless series of families with missing or reconstituted parents offered the escape of thinking that the promise of individualism would come true, that everyone can have what he wants, and we can all get along.

“Starting in the late ‘80s, a long string of television families showed the inverse. Roseanne, The Simpsons, and Married With Children all featured nuclear families with mom, dad, and the kids, and in each case the whole family is mildly dysfunctional, with no one quite happy. The comic relief is for the viewer who is in on the secret: they think they can be happy in a nuclear family, but they can't. In the next half-hour, I'll see a family with three dads and no mom, and there everyone is sunny and cheerful.”

Signs of Hope After Years of Decline in America

AMERICAN ENTERPRISE, January/February 1999—Years of moral decline have left many Catholics gloomy about the future of American society. American Enterprise magazine recently referred to “remarkable” signs of hope in an essay about the dimensions of that decline.

“About 30 years ago, America had a national nervous breakdown. … We endured a crime wave, an illegitimacy surge, a welfare explosion, a drug abuse crisis, a deluge of abortions, a boom in divorce, a suicide spike. Cultural radicals took over many of the nation's institutions. … Families collapsed. In many cities, social order evaporated. Worried Americans looked on in horror as multiple forms of social breakdown accumulated into a self-reinforcing spiral.

“The 1960s opened an era of dangerous social regression in our nation. Both the breadth and the speed of our decline were breathtaking: violent crime quadrupled in just 30 years; illegitimate births, single parent households, and teen suicides tripled; the rate of marriage was almost cut in half. In Washington, D.C. there were more abortions than live births. In many cities a majority of children were being reared in fatherless homes.

“But over the last decade, something remarkable has happened. The alarm bells rung by cultural conservatives seem to have been heeded by many Americans, and a new pattern of recovery and even reversal has emerged. This positive pattern is beginning to look every bit as broad and interlinked as our social collapse was when it showed up in the late ‘60s.”

U.S. News and World Report Offends Catholics

U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, Jan. 11—A cartoonish picture of Blessed Katharine Drexel, the dearly loved Philadelphia nun who used a considerable fortune to serve the poor, stared unhappily from the cover of the Jan. 11 U.S. News and World Report magazine. The same expression may appear on the faces of Catholics reading the issue's table of contents.

Among its articles about canonization and saints is one tagged, “Worship of saints evolved over the ages,” suggesting that Catholics consider saints somehow divine. Another article is about groups dedicated to debunking legends and other saint stories; and another is called, “Saints: All they need are two miracles, connections in Rome, and plenty of cash.”

The “saint worship” article recasts the history of the veneration of saints as a struggle between excesses and “abuses” on the part of the people and a hierarchy struggling to assert itself but managing to have “little control” over the choice of saints.

The article claims that “nowhere does the Bible speak explicitly about praying to or venerating departed saints,” despite the honor given to the Patriarchs in many references throughout the New Testament, and despite the reverential descriptions of saints in heaven in the book of Revelation.

The article mentions only two saints by name, a Viking who according to the magazine participated in raids, and St. Augustine, detailing his pre-conversion sins without referring to his extraordinary career as a Christian—except to say disapprovingly that he had “stern views about sin and sex.”