Faith, governance, and relevancy

posted at 12:01 pm on March 13, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

(VATICAN CITY) I’ve been in Rome since Friday, reporting from the Vatican and one of its media centers.  I didn’t find out until yesterday that there are actually two media centers, packed with credentialed journalists, reporting on the papal conclave.  I found out about the other when they closed it at 5 pm local time as the conclave procession was under way and a flood of people created a standing-room-only situation here for a while.  Over 5600 journalists have been credentialed for this event, and La Sala Stampa even erected a pavillion on Via Conciliazione for broadcast networks to use St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica as a dramatic backdrop for their reports:

media-pavillion

Thus it was with amusement, and a little exasperation, that I read the Washington Post’s article on how the church that has 1.2 billion members risked irrelevancy if it didn’t change its teachings on … well, nearly everything:

A majority of American Roman Catholics consider the church out of touch with their views and they want the new pope to usher in policies that reflect more modern attitudes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As cardinals gather in the Vatican to select a successor to retired Pope Benedict XVI, thepoll suggests most Catholics in the United States hope the next pope will move the church in a new direction that someday could include married priests and female priests.

Yet even as six in 10 Catholics characterize the church as not in sync with their attitudes and lifestyles, 86 percent said it remains relevant, according to the poll, conducted last week. And more than two-thirds of the Catholics polled praise Benedict, saying he did a “good” or “excellent” job.

Give the WaPo credit here, though. Unlike a similar poll by Quinnipiac, they attempted to distinguish between practicing and non-practicing Catholics:

The seemingly contradictory results reflect a schism between regular churchgoers and those who attend church less frequently. Catholics who go nearly weekly are more likely to say they want the new pope to maintain traditions. Those who go less frequently are more apt to favor change. …

The new poll shows a greater yearning for change than when Benedict became pope in 2005. At about the time he was selected, fully half of American Catholics wanted the church to stick with its traditional policies; now, 38 percent say so.

There is a chicken-egg component to making the distinction on depth of practice.  Do Catholics want change because they’re just unfamiliar with their religion, or do they practice less because they want change first?  This is not an easy question, but in a sense that’s irrelevant in itself.  In my column for The Week, I make the point that the media and many people around the world are confusing church and government, which is a recipe for irrelevancy:

Polls have been conducted to underscore this message of anachronicity. Quinnipiac surveyed American adults on these issues, and found that their subsample of 497 Catholics split 54/37 in favor of gay marriage — trending significantly ahead of the overall poll’s 47/43 favorable plurality on the question. Fifty-five percent said that the new Pope should “move the Church in a new direction.” A Washington Post/ABC poll conducted at about the same time found that 54 percent of Catholics wanted change in the new papacy — but they also noted that a majority of regular attendees of Mass (58 percent) want the next Pope to maintain the church’s traditions. This prompted even more warnings that the Vatican might slide into complete irrelevancy without fundamental change in its doctrine and practices.

And yet, the contradiction can easily be seen from Vatican City — and really, around the world. The papal conclave, which starts today, will be conducted among 115 cardinal electors in complete secrecy and seclusion; the cardinals will not have access to the media, and the media has not had much access to the cardinals for most of the past week.

Even so, more than 5,600 journalists — myself included — have been accredited to La Sala Stampa for this event, and thousands more have arrived without accreditation to report from the streets of Rome. …

None of this screams “anachronism,” and perhaps should prompt some thought about the role of the Catholic Church and the difference between politics and faith. Politics and representative government deal with popular opinion and choices of how to order government to the desires of its citizens. Religion and faith work in the opposite direction. If they are to mean anything, churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques exist to form their parishioners in the doctrine of their scriptures. To put this into the most basic formula, a church that exists to proclaim the popular opinion of its members rather than the revealed truths of the faith has become a club, or an empty identity. Since the world is overflowing with clubs, empty identities, and political parties, that seems to be a much quicker path to irrelevancy than standing on millennia-old principles of faith.

This point gets missed by media and reporters more familiar with the political and entertainment arenas rather than the paradigm of faith.  Public opinion defines those institutions; public opinion does not define faith or doctrine, but instead should shape public opinion as well as private behavior.  If it acted no differently than political parties and the Billboard 100, religion would serve no purpose in a world that is already overrun by opinion and material demand.  The conclave will not change the Catholic Church’s teachings and doctrines, but it might change the manner and effectiveness in which those are communicated to the world (and will almost certainly have an organizational impact within the Roman Curia to improve that process).  As we saw with John Paul II, when those teachings and doctrines are harnessed and focused, they can change the world and end oppression and tyranny.  That kind of power is always relevant in the world, and that’s not even the power that matters most in this transition.

Update: Just to give a better idea of the intense media interest in this supposed anachronism, here are some figures announced yesterday the Holy See Press Office (La Sala Stampa):

  • Permanent accreditations (the normal Vaticanisti): 658
    • 400 writers
    • 57 photojournalists
    • 201 TV/radio
  • Temporary accreditations (additional): 5,213
    • 191 press attaches
    • 1,036 cameramen (TV)
    • 999 technicians
    • 414 photojournalists
    • 595 producers
    • 1,845 writers
    • 132 TV directors

The total accreditations span 1,379 news organizations from 76 countries, speaking 26 different languages.


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Faith, governance, and relevancy

This is a perfect headline. It amazes me that so many people or the MSM don’t understand that the Church any Church presents Christ to the people not the other way around.

CW20 on March 13, 2013 at 12:18 PM

As we saw with John Paul II, when those teachings and doctrines are harnessed and focused, they can change the world and end oppression and tyranny. That kind of power is always relevant in the world, and that’s not even the power that matters most in this transition.

Well said, Ed.

Jeff Weimer on March 13, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Ed,

Mass media is always concerned about power that they do not control or at least influence as they trust no one and have faith in nothing.
That is why you see this kind of stupidity, the Post is treating the Catholic Church as though it were a democratic institution, which can be shaped and molded into the “correct” view of the way things should be.

LincolntheHun on March 13, 2013 at 12:22 PM

ah,
that whole Judeo-Christian thingy is so last millennia.

Belong to your government already Ed.

FlaMurph on March 13, 2013 at 12:25 PM

Public opinion defines those institutions; public opinion does not define faith or doctrine, but instead should shape public opinion as well as private behavior.

This sentence is somewhat garbled.

J.S.K. on March 13, 2013 at 12:28 PM

Public opinion defines those institutions; public opinion does not define faith or doctrine, but instead should shape public opinion as well as private behavior.

I’m assuming you are trying to say the faith and doctrine should help shape public opinion as well as private behavior. If so then I disagree with one point it should also shape public behavior otherwise you get the Pelosi’s and Kennedy’s that claim to be of a faith tradition but don’t practice it.

chemman on March 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM

If the Catholic Church recognizes it’s not an authority on natural science (and it largely has), I see no reason it needs to change to “fit the moment.”

Bat Chain Puller on March 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM

To put this into the most basic formula, a church that exists to proclaim the popular opinion of its members rather than the revealed truths of the faith has become a club, or an empty identity.

Most excellent point.
Wow… try this on for size…

a government that exists to proclaim the popular opinion of its administration rather than the revealed truths of the Constitution has become a club, or an empty identity

Hmmmm.

freedomfirst on March 13, 2013 at 12:31 PM

Bat Chain Puller on March 13, 2013 at 12:29 PM

You do realize that the number of articles published in “reputable” science journals that have had to be withdrawn because of fraud is approaching 60%. It seems even the “scientists” aren’t very good authorities on natural science.

chemman on March 13, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Father Pacwa of EWTN explains this phenomena pretty well. The culture desires the church to accept what they consider perfectly natural because the majority agrees. The Church is not, never has been, and will never be a democracy that gets to decide what God has deemed immoral.

fourdeucer on March 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM

It seems even the “scientists” aren’t very good authorities on natural science.

chemman on March 13, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Real scientists are. Political rent-seekers aren’t.

God bless Richard Feynman, R.I.P.

Bat Chain Puller on March 13, 2013 at 12:39 PM

You do realize that the number of articles published in “reputable” science journals that have had to be withdrawn because of fraud is approaching 60%. It seems even the “scientists” aren’t very good authorities on natural science.

chemman on March 13, 2013 at 12:34 PM

That fraud has nothing to do with the science, it is all about the funding streams.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:39 PM

chemman on March 13, 2013 at 12:34 PM

While you are correct, that 50ish percent of published studies were non-replicable (at least by Bell Labs) that is not quite the same thing as fraud, which ascribes an intent.
There is bad science, there are mistakes in annotations of steps necessary to replicate and experiment, and then there is cold fusion, and global warming.

LincolntheHun on March 13, 2013 at 12:39 PM

i don’t think the number of reporters is indicative of anything, really. a media circus doesn’t mean something is actually important, as you should well know. (i bet even more reporters are assigned to the british royal couple, who could not be less relevant or more anachronistic.)

sesquipedalian on March 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

A newspaper written by Marxists, for Marxists, with a daily circulation of 462,000 shouldn’t really matter much to Conservatives or Catholics. Why hotair continues to regurgitate NYT and WaPo stories as if anyone cares what those papers say is a mystery to me. Why feed the beast by repeating their inane rants and myth-making which only serves to empower and embolden them?

Afterseven on March 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

A majority of American Roman Catholics consider the church out of touch with their views and they want the new pope to usher in policies that reflect more modern attitudes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

I never can wrap my head around this. If it’s true, then why do they consider themselves Catholics? Why, when the Pope pronounces his opposition to abortion, do “practicing and avowed Catholics” like Nancy Pelosi debate the Pope on that very issue?

I get sick of this tail-wagging-the-dog stuff.

If you’re a Catholic, then act like one. If what the Pope proclaims is irrelevant to you, and is wrong in your eyes, then find something else.

OhEssYouCowboys on March 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

The culture desires the church to accept what they consider perfectly natural because the majority agrees. The Church is not, never has been, and will never be a democracy that gets to decide what God has deemed immoral.

fourdeucer on March 13, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Oh! I’d argue that Vatican II was in some part the RCC bowing to cultural desire. I’m not saying that any doctrine was ignored or voted away but the claim that the church is monolithic and deaf to societal trends is not exactly accurate.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:43 PM

LincolntheHun on March 13, 2013 at 12:39 PM

If it were due to simple human error, shouldn’t our advancements reduce errors rather than increase them exponentially to the funding granted?

astonerii on March 13, 2013 at 12:45 PM

If you’re a Catholic, then act like one. If what the Pope proclaims is irrelevant to you, and is wrong in your eyes, then find something else.

OhEssYouCowboys on March 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Pelosi would argue that she does act like a Catholic. You see, it isn’t her personal beliefs but all those Protestant heathens she represents that forces her to vote for the extermination of life at the convenience of the mother.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:45 PM

If your right eye offends you…

astonerii on March 13, 2013 at 12:48 PM

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Then she is even more despicable. If it was possible for me to trust a politician, I would trust her even less if she renounces her faith, because the people she represents demand it.

Jesus spoke about this.

OhEssYouCowboys on March 13, 2013 at 12:50 PM

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:43 PM

Could you be referring to the Latin Mass, or the elimination of the Communion rail, or the Priest facing the congregation? Pope Benedict addressed most of the issues that were misinterpreted in Vatican II.

fourdeucer on March 13, 2013 at 12:52 PM

The MSM would not understand the significance of a sturdy rock in a turbulent sea.

dddave on March 13, 2013 at 12:57 PM

Thus it was with amusement, and a little exasperation, that I read the Washington Post’s article on how the church that has 1.2 billion members risked irrelevancy if it didn’t change its teachings on … well, nearly everything:

More evidence of the cluelessness of the media. They still act like the Catholic Church is some sort of private country club.

Apparently, even God Himself must adjust His principles for liberalism.

Kingfisher on March 13, 2013 at 12:57 PM

i don’t think the number of reporters is indicative of anything, really. a media circus doesn’t mean something is actually important, as you should well know. (i bet even more reporters are assigned to the british royal couple, who could not be less relevant or more anachronistic.)

sesquipedalian on March 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

True. Michelle Obama’s latest hairstyle/fashion choices make a perfect example.

Bitter Clinger on March 13, 2013 at 12:58 PM

You see, it isn’t her personal beliefs but all those Protestant heathens she represents that forces her to vote for the extermination of life at the convenience of the mother.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Does she not represent pro-life Catholics too or did the last Catholic leave S.F. already?

Kingfisher on March 13, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Could you be referring to the Latin Mass, or the elimination of the Communion rail, or the Priest facing the congregation? Pope Benedict addressed most of the issues that were misinterpreted in Vatican II.

fourdeucer on March 13, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Those would be examples, yes. But my point stands. Vatican II or the way it was enacted was most decidedly responding to popular culture.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 1:00 PM

peelosi and the rest of the catholics in name only need to be dealt with….repent, receive forgiveness and no longer follow the evil that they have spouted for years. Afterall,did not teddy kennedy break more than a few church teachings and yet the church allowed them to be and act like nothing ever happened. They get to spread the lies and be hypocrites and nothing is ever done. The church in America, including the Catholic church has no spine. Christians in other countries are losing there lives over the very faith we proclaim and yet we are weak kneed and jelly spined and allow politicians to co opt issues that are God issues, not man issues. Until the church starts punishing the pelosis and kennedys et al, there is no credance in what they do.No more wink and nods, grow a spine church….

crosshugger on March 13, 2013 at 1:01 PM

Does she not represent pro-life Catholics too or did the last Catholic leave S.F. already?

Kingfisher on March 13, 2013 at 12:59 PM

If there is such a thing as a pro-life Catholic in SF then there is a word for them- tourist.

Seriously though, I merely put forth Pelosi’s repeated claim how she can be a “good Catholic” with a culture of death voting record.
I personally don’t believe she, Sebelius, Biden, or any of these other supposedly devout Democrats are really all that concerned with their faith other than for political purposes. How can you be a Catholic and defend the HHS mandate?

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 1:04 PM

The bigger the % of Catholics that disagree with the Church’s moral teachings the better … so I say full steam ahead on preserving the Church’s traditional teachings and all this “stay the course” talk.

ZachV on March 13, 2013 at 1:13 PM

A majority of American Roman Catholics consider the church out of touch with their views and they want the new pope to usher in policies that reflect more modern attitudes, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll

Then they can get out.

It isn’t 1200 anymore. We won’t kill you all for leaving.

Spade on March 13, 2013 at 1:16 PM

In the Encyclical Letter “Caritas In Veritate” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his last paragraph of the introduction

“The Church does not have technical solutions to offer[10] and does not claim “to interfere in any way in the politics of States.”[11] She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation. Without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and sceptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values — sometimes even the meanings — with which to judge and direct it. Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development. For this reason the Church searches for truth, proclaims it tirelessly and recognizes it wherever it is manifested. This mission of truth is something that the Church can never renounce. Her social doctrine is a particular dimension of this proclamation: it is a service to the truth which sets us free. Open to the truth, from whichever branch of knowledge it comes, the Church’s social doctrine receives it, assembles into a unity the fragments in which it is often found, and mediates it within the constantly changing life-patterns of the society of peoples and nations[12].

fourdeucer on March 13, 2013 at 1:32 PM

i don’t think the number of reporters is indicative of anything, really. a media circus doesn’t mean something is actually important, as you should well know. (i bet even more reporters are assigned to the british royal couple, who could not be less relevant or more anachronistic.)

sesquipedalian on March 13, 2013 at 12:42 PM

While I understand your point, and it isn’t entirely untrue that size of media circus does not indicate a subject’s importance or its relevance to a particular issue (i.e., tons of reporters and people follow what Jennifer Annison does, but that doesn’t make her relevant to economic issues), it cannot be written off in terms of general relevance – defined as things people care about.

I don’t think something can be considered “irrelevant” if it is objectively followed by millions of people and covered by hundreds of reporters from around the world. For instance, you personally may consider the royal couple irrelevant – the fact that millions of people appear to care enough to require constant media coverage shows it is not true. Now, one can argue that the royal couple are irrelevant to something specific and not be wrong – for instance, they are likely irrelevant to gov’t policy in Great Britain. But, it is hard to argue that something is irrelevant if millions of people care about it.

Anachronistic is a different matter. Something can be considered anachronistic by some but not others. It is pretty subjective. Someone who believes in moral relevance and that there are no objective moral laws would likely see the Catholic Church as anachronistic and it does not matter if millions of people are following it. However, it is again difficult to make that claim if millions of people are following it – something truly “out of time” would not be followed by so many people.

the general point being, if the Catholic Church were totally irrelevant to today’s world, millions of people would not be enthralled by the conclave.

Monkeytoe on March 13, 2013 at 1:38 PM

the general point being, if the Catholic Church were totally irrelevant to today’s world, millions of people would not be enthralled by the conclave.

Monkeytoe on March 13, 2013 at 1:38 PM

Millions were enthralled by the William/Kate royal wedding but that didn’t make them British.

The concept of relevancy is overly broad and can’t be determined by a simple nose count. Europe is filled with Catholics who haven’t been to a mass in decades. How relevant is the church to them? The real question is what role the church plays in society and in that context the church is extremely relevant within society as a religious institution but also for the works it does.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 1:51 PM

Millions were enthralled by the William/Kate royal wedding but that didn’t make them British.

The concept of relevancy is overly broad and can’t be determined by a simple nose count. Europe is filled with Catholics who haven’t been to a mass in decades. How relevant is the church to them? The real question is what role the church plays in society and in that context the church is extremely relevant within society as a religious institution but also for the works it does.

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 1:51 PM

I don’t disagree. I’m must saying, for someone like sesqui who likely hates the Catholic Church and wants to claim it is irrelevant in today’s world, it is hard to make that claim when the media feels the need to cover it to this extent. It all depends on how one defines “relevant”. But, in an objective sense, something is relevant in today’s world if lots of people care about it. the media frenzy over the conclave is some objective evidence that the Catholic Church remains relevant.

Monkeytoe on March 13, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Maybe I dunno, I’m just a grumpy guy, but it annoys me to no end that American Catholics (and I am going to assume European Catholics too) who aren’t even religious want the Church to change to match THEIR world view.

And their world view is basically everything against what the Church stands for.

daoster on March 13, 2013 at 2:03 PM

the general point being, if the Catholic Church were totally irrelevant to today’s world, millions of people would not be enthralled by the conclave.

Monkeytoe on March 13, 2013 at 1:38 PM

yes, but you can’t ignore the hype effect: the media want you to think that you are witnessing something important to generate viewership. this is what the media thrive on; they would impregnate kate middleton every year if they could.

exit question: are kim kardashian or justin bieber relevant in any meaningful way? they sure are popular.

sesquipedalian on March 13, 2013 at 2:05 PM

…but they also noted that a majority of regular attendees of Mass (58 percent) want the next Pope to maintain the church’s traditions.

As I was saying…restrict your polling to people who are actively Catholic, and not just anyone who checks the “Catholic” box on a form, and your polling results will be quite different. The media use the term “Catholic” as a swinging gate, allowing even those who haven’t been inside a church in twenty years (save for funerals and weddings) to be counted as “Catholic,” but then they don’t mention this when they release the poll results, implicitly suggesting that all those Catholics who disagree with x or y are at Mass every weekend.

bmmg39 on March 13, 2013 at 2:09 PM

White smoke = new pope elected

CoffeeLover on March 13, 2013 at 2:18 PM

exit question: are kim kardashian or justin bieber relevant in any meaningful way? they sure are popular.

sesquipedalian on March 13, 2013 at 2:05 PM

It all depends on how you define relevant. If you are defining relevant as “ruling the world”, then no, the Catholic Church is not relevant. If you are defining relevant as having meaningful impact on a lot of peoples’ lives, then it is clearly relevant.

I don’t see any other religion’s events covered the same way the Catholic Church’s events, statements, proclamations, etc. are covered. To claim the Catholic Church is irrelevant defies reality.

I don’t disagree that media creates hype. But, usually there has to be some actual interest in the first place before the media can create the hype. the media could cover Netroots with the same exact amount of hype and coverage that they are covering the conclave and people still wouldn’t care about Netroots.

I’m not sure what your argument is. Are you just picking nits and arguing that media coverage, by itself, does not establish relevance? If so,my answer is that you are correct it does not, but it is some indication of relevance. Great interest in something tends to show that thing is not irrelevant. Now, the next question is relevant to what?

But to claim that the Catholic Church no longer has any relevance is pretty far-fetched, based on simple numbers. Number of people claiming to be Catholic. Number of people attending church. Number of people interested in the conclave.

Why would non-Catholics be interested in the conclave if the Catholic Church held no relevance outside of its own parishioners? Spectacle maybe? Sure, maybe.

Of course, if the Catholic Church held on relevance to those people, they would not constantly harangue the Church and lecture the Church on how it needs to change. If something is irrelevant, you don’t care about it. It doesn’t matter. When you have strong feelings about something – as liberals do toward the Catholic Church – it demonstrates its relevance.

Monkeytoe on March 13, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Happy Nomad on March 13, 2013 at 12:43 PM

On the contrary, Pope Paul VI reaffirmed traditional Catholic teaching in 1968 with Humanae Vitae. Some very dissident U.S. theologians and priests had been actively promoting among their followers that Vatican II would be the “modernization” of the Catholic Church they had been hoping for, that it would now be acceptable for Catholics to use artificial birth control, among other things. But when the pope’s encyclical came out, these theologians and priests promoted active disobedience to it among the faithful. The encyclical was controversial only to them; to those who followed traditional Catholic teachings, it was what they had always been following.

But the utter confusion, doubt and uncertainty that arose from this situation is still being played out today. The damage and fallout is being repaired, but it has been very slow going over the decades.

PatriotGal2257 on March 13, 2013 at 2:27 PM

…that was fast…

bmmg39 on March 13, 2013 at 2:28 PM

But to claim that the Catholic Church no longer has any relevance is pretty far-fetched, based on simple numbers. Number of people claiming to be Catholic. Number of people attending church. Number of people interested in the conclave.

what i’m saying is that using the number of reporters assigned to cover the event to ascertain the church’s relevance, as ed insists on doing here (see update), is a lazy way to make an argument.

the relevance of the roman catholic church is an interesting topic of discussion, but using the media circus surrounding the election of a new pope is not a ggod start, and it invites half-serious questions like mine about kardashian.

sesquipedalian on March 13, 2013 at 2:32 PM

bmmg39 on March 13, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Yep … EWTN said that Benedict XVI was elected on the fourth ballot. I think this one was five.

PatriotGal2257 on March 13, 2013 at 2:33 PM

the relevance of the roman catholic church is an interesting topic of discussion, but using the media circus surrounding the election of a new pope is not a ggod start, and it invites half-serious questions like mine about kardashian.

sesquipedalian on March 13, 2013 at 2:32 PM

So, you are here to pick nits. I see. I’m not sure I agree that number of reporters from how many different countries is not some objective measure or has no bearing. I don’t think Kim Kardashian is covered by media from around the world. I agree that it is not the end of such a calculation, but it certainly “relevant” to the discussion.

And, “the relevance of the roman catholic church is an interesting topic of discussion” – that’s only true to a liberal who wants to try and claim the Catholic Church is irrelevant. Only someone wanting to make that argument would want to bother with such a conversation. If you think it is irrelevant, why would you want to bother arguing about it? the questions answers itself.

Monkeytoe on March 13, 2013 at 2:52 PM