Roving thoughts and provocations

Why Celibacy Should Be Abolished

Hans Küng

Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, March 6, 2010 (Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)
The rule that Catholic priests must be celibate is responsible for the crisis in the church. Now is the time to challenge that requirement. From the United States to Ireland to Germany, the widespread abuse of children and adolescents by Catholic priests has done enormous damage to the image of the church. It also reveals the depth of the crisis. In Germany Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, speaking as chairman of the Conference of German Bishops, has made a public statement on behalf of the Church. His declaration that the cases of abuse were “heinous crimes”—together with the bishops’ statement of February 25, 2010, asking forgiveness from all the victims—are first steps toward dealing with the crisis. But much more must be done. Zollitsch’s statement, moreover, contains serious misrepresentations that need to be challenged.

Innocuous Items Gone Creepily Wrong: Taking the Pulse of Art in New York

Sanford Schwartz

New Yorkers currently have two large exhibitions with which to take the pulse of contemporary art, and neither shows the patient feeling altogether well. At the Whitney Biennial, this time around presenting many videos along with paintings, installations, and artists’ collaboratives performing music, the spirit is retiring, docile, and a little like spending an afternoon at some lackluster shows in Chelsea.

Atwood in the Twittersphere

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, tweeting aboard the Queen Mary 2, August 2009
A long time ago—less than a year ago in fact, but time goes all stretchy in the Twittersphere, just as it does in those folksongs in which the hero spends a night with the Queen of Faerie and then returns to find that a hundred years have passed and all his friends are dead…. Where was I?

The Siege of Rome

Ingrid D. Rowland

Former Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law attending a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, April 2, 2007 (Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Rome is under siege these days. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, always willing to assume the role of martyr, continues to claim that everyone is out to get him: the Communists, pinko magistrates (called “red togas” in Roman parlance), and the Left in general. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, responding to the sudden torrent of sexual abuse allegations against the priesthood, says that everyone is out to get the Church and the Pope. Everywhere this spring, the open city seems to be sprouting new street barriers, or permanent guard posts, or at least a vanload of police.

Thoughts on Autobiography from an Abandoned Autobiography

Janet Malcolm

Republica Portuguesa, a collage by Janet Malcolm, 6¼ x 17 in., 2003
(Courtesy of Lori Bookstein Fine Art)
I have been aware, as I write this autobiography, of a feeling of boredom with the project. My efforts to make what I write interesting seem pitiful. My hands are tied, I feel. I cannot write about myself as I write about the people I have written about as a journalist. To these people I have been a kind of amanuensis: they have dictated their stories to me and I have retold them. They have posed for me and I have drawn their portraits. No one is dictating to me or posing for me now.

A Mushroom Cloud, Recollected

Jeremy Bernstein

With the renewed interest in nuclear weapons I have been struck by how few people there still are who have seen one explode. There are a few survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and there are a small number who witnessed some of the above ground test explosions. But the last American above-ground test was in 1962 and the last above-ground test by any country was conducted by the Chinese in 1980. This means that the Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis—to say nothing of the Iranians and North Koreans—have never seen a nuclear explosion. In the main, this is a very good thing: the fallout from such a test is a real health hazard. But there is a downside. We have lost the experience of watching a nuclear explosion—perhaps the most powerful lesson about nuclear bombs there is.

Suddenly a Political Mastermind?

Michael Tomasky

The speed and certainty with which the conventional wisdom in Washington flips can be a comical thing to watch. A mere forty-eight hours ago, Barack Obama was a struggling president, even a likely one-termer. Today, in the wake of the House’s narrow passage of the health-reform bill—which is to say, on the strength of a grand total of four votes, which if cast the other way would have ensured reform’s defeat—he’s suddenly once again a political mastermind and one of the most consequential presidents of the last half-century!

Slide Show: Houdon’s Sensuous Sculpture

Michael Shae

In “The Best Faces of the Enlightenment,” from the April 8 issue of The New York Review, Willibald Sauerländer writes about a new exhibition of the work of Jean-Antoine Houdon, whom he calls “the last and probably greatest French sculptor of the eighteenth century.” In his works—a selection of which can be seen in this slide show—the “panegyric rhetoric of the baroque” and the “flounces and wigs of the rococo” give way to “an unadorned naturalism.” “Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sensuous Sculpture” was organized by the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt, Germany, and is on view at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, until June 27. It includes nineteen works by Houdon (1741–1828); it also includes works by some of his most important contemporaries, including Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Augustin Pajou, and Jean-Baptiste II Lemoyne.

Blogging, Now and Then

Robert Darnton

Blogging brings out the hit-and-run element in communication. Bloggers tend to be punchy. They often hit below the belt; and when they land a blow, they dash off to another target. Pow! The idea is to provoke, to score points, to vent opinions, and frequently to gossip.