Posts Tagged ‘Religion & Politics’

The Gift of Life

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Here we are, in the month of May, when everyone joyfully celebrates Mothers Day, and we Catholics particularly remember our Blessed Mother Mary. It is Springtime, when God’s creation is bursting forth in all its beauty and fertility. All around us, we are reminded that our lives are a gift, ultimately from God, but also from our human mother and our human father. And we are grateful for this gift.

But anyone who picks up the morning newspaper, or turns on the television, can’t help but be deeply troubled by the condition of our culture, particularly how we treat the gift of life.

The national news has given us the nauseating story of the late-term abortionist, Dr. Kermit Gosnell. He was convicted of multiple counts of murder last week, for killing babies who had been born alive after attempted abortions. For years he carried out his terrible trade under unsanitary and inhumane conditions, while the public health authorities of Pennsylvania stood aside and did nothing, out of an ideologically-motivated reluctance to intrude upon a woman’s “right to choose”. Many people, including other abortionists, knew about the abuses and injuries, yet nobody intervened. The Gosnell trial focused our nation’s attention on something it has been avoiding for decades — the essential cruelty of abortion.

So, you would think we could now finally start speaking openly and with common sense about abortion, seeking ways to limit it, discussing creative alternatives.

Apparently, though, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Instead, we see the President of the United States attending a gala event and toasting Planned Parenthood. Interestingly, the President never mentioned the word “abortion”, but instead praised Planned Parenthood for their work for “women’s health”. But make no mistake — Planned Parenthood may hide behind the term “women’s health”, but their business is really abortion. They do over 300,000 abortions every year, a great number of which are paid for by taxpayers. And they oppose any and all reasonable regulations of abortion, or even discussion about it.

We also have the threat of an expansion of abortion here in New York, under the rubric of “women’s equality”. Many of the governor’s proposals being advanced under that title are worthy of support, and we have not yet seen the actual details of his “Reproductive Health Act.” However, some of the advocates continue to insist that abortion is a central part of “women’s equality.” Their proposals include defining abortion as a “fundamental right”, as if it were equal in significance to the right to vote. They are also pressing to permit non-doctors to do abortions, and allowing risky late-term procedures to be done outside of hospitals. All this would expand the number of late-term abortions, and prevent many common-sense regulations, like ensuring that parents are involved in a decision made by a minor.

How does any of that make any sense? One abortion is too many, but every year we have over 100,000 in New York, and over a million in the United States. Over half of the African-American children conceived each year in New York are aborted, as much as 60% in some areas. So expansion of abortion is hardly something that anyone needs. I’m glad that more and more of our political leaders, including Governor Cuomo, are urging creative ways to decrease the number of abortions by assisting pregnant women, their unborn and newly-born babies.

Nor is there any reasonable way to consider abortion as good for “women’s health” or “equality”. Half of the aborted children are women, some of whom are aborted for no reason other than their sex. Women who have experienced abortion sometimes die from complications, or suffer psychological and physical effects for years afterwards. It is utter madness to treat the gift of a woman’s fertility as if it were a disease, and her unborn baby as if it were a tumor to be eliminated.

We frequently hear calls for a “national conversation” about serious issues, yet our leaders never seem to want to talk frankly about abortion. It has become the great taboo, the subject that we must never mention. When we do raise the subject, we are accused of “imposing our values” on others.

Really, who is imposing values? When our cultural leaders deny or avoid the truth about abortion, isn’t that imposing a view of reality? When the government forces taxpayers to pay for abortion, isn’t that an imposition of anti-life values? What about the unborn babies — how do they feel about having the value of “choice” imposed on them in the most permanent way possible?

Deep in our hearts, there are truths that cannot be erased, that cannot be completely clouded by ideology, or utilitarian calculations, or by our own weaknesses and self-delusions. Our lives are an awesome gift, they are precious and must be safeguarded and nurtured. But not just our own — every human life is just as important, and must be preserved and protected as well. We are all called to be a gift of self, a loving servant, to our brothers and sisters, particularly those in need. And we know, at the core of our being, that abortion contradicts these truths.

Our society is once again challenged to recognize these fundamental truths, to discuss them candidly, to deal with the hard and challenging decisions that they entail, and to support those who struggle with them. The days of denial have to come to an end. We can no longer hide behind euphemism and distraction.

Can we all finally agree that things have gone way too far, and begin to make corrections? Can we start to talk common sense?

 

A Prayer for Our Country at the Democratic National Convention

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Here is the prayer that I offered tonight at the Democratic National Convention:

With a “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,”  let us close this convention by praying for this land that we so cherish and love:

Let us Pray.

Almighty God, father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, revealed to us so powerfully in your Son, Jesus Christ, we thank you for showering your blessings upon this our beloved nation.  Bless all here present, and all across this great land, who work hard for the day when a greater portion of your justice, and a more ample measure of your care for the poor and suffering, may prevail in these United States.  Help us to see that a society’s greatness is found above all in the respect it shows for the weakest and neediest among us.

We beseech you, almighty God to shed your grace on this noble experiment in ordered liberty, which began with the confident assertion of inalienable rights bestowed upon us by you:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thus do we praise you for the gift of life.  Grant us the courage to defend it, life, without which no other rights are secure.  We ask your benediction on those waiting to be born, that they may be welcomed and protected.  Strengthen our sick and our elders waiting to see your holy face at life’s end, that they may be accompanied by true compassion and cherished with the dignity due those who are infirm and fragile.

We praise and thank you for the gift of liberty.  May this land of the free never lack those brave enough to defend our basic freedoms.  Renew in all our people a profound respect for religious liberty:  the first, most cherished freedom bequeathed upon us at our Founding. May our liberty be in harmony with truth; freedom ordered in goodness and justice.  Help us live our freedom in faith, hope, and love.  Make us ever-grateful for those who, for over two centuries, have given their lives in freedom’s defense; we commend their noble souls to your eternal care, as even now we beg the protection of your mighty arm upon our men and women in uniform.

We praise and thank you for granting us the life and the liberty by which we can pursue happiness.  Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God.  Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.  May we welcome those who yearn to breathe free and to pursue happiness in this land of freedom, adding their gifts to those whose families have lived here for centuries.

We praise and thank you for the American genius of government of the people, by the people and for the people.  Oh God of wisdom, justice, and might, we ask your guidance for those who govern us:  President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Congress, the Supreme Court, and all those, including Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan, who seek to serve the common good by seeking public office.  Make them all worthy to serve you by serving our country.  Help them remember that the only just government is the government that serves its citizens rather than itself. With your grace, may all Americans choose wisely as we consider the future course of public policy.

And finally Lord, we beseech your benediction on all of us who depart from here this evening, and on all those, in every land, who yearn to conduct their lives in freedom and justice.  We beg you to remember, as we pledge to remember, those who are not free; those who suffer for freedom’s cause; those who are poor, out of work, needy, sick, or alone; those who are persecuted for their religious convictions, those still ravaged by war.

And most of all, God Almighty, we thank you for the great gift of our beloved country.

For we are indeed “one nation under God,” and “in God we trust.”

So dear God, bless America.  You who live and reign forever and ever.

Amen!

Statement on Democratic Convention

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

This morning, the Archdiocese of New York released a statement to the press regarding next week’s Democratic National Convention. I would like to share the press release with you.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 28, 2012

STATEMENT OF JOSEPH ZWILLING REGARDING INVITATION TO PRAY AT DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

“Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has accepted an invitation to deliver the closing prayer at next week’s Democratic National Convention.  As was previously announced, he will also be offering the closing prayer at the Republican Convention on Thursday of this week.

It was made clear to the Democratic Convention organizers, as it was to the Republicans, that the Cardinal was coming solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate.  The Cardinal consulted Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte, who gave the Cardinal his consent to take part in the convention that will be taking place in his diocese.”

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Statement on Benediction Invitation

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

I would like to share with you the statement that the Archdiocese of New York released to the press today regarding next week’s Republican National Convention.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 23, 2012

STATEMENT OF JOSEPH ZWILLING REGARDING BENEDICTION INVITATION

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has accepted an invitation to deliver the closing prayer at next week’s Republican National Convention.

Although it is usual church protocol to invite the local bishop to offer such a prayer, convention organizers asked the Cardinal if he would consider doing so.  After contacting Bishop Robert Lynch, the Bishop of the Diocese of Saint Petersburg, Florida, who gave the Cardinal his approval, the Cardinal accepted.  It was made clear to the convention organizers, however, that the Cardinal was coming only to pray not to endorse, and that he would be willing to accept a similar offer from the Democratic Party as well.  That same sentiment was conveyed to the Democratic National Committee.

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The Fight for Religious Freedom

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I recently came across two excellent articles on the federal lawsuit against the HHS mandate that I thought it was worth sharing.

Mary Ann Glendon, professor at Harvard Law School, wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal about the attack on religious organizations.

Here is an excerpt from her article:

Along with leaders of other faiths who have conscientious objections to all or part of the mandate, they hoped to persuade the government to bring its regulations into line with the First Amendment, and with federal laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that provide exemptions to protect the conscience rights of religious institutions and individuals.

On Jan. 20, however, HHS announced it would not revise the mandate or expand its tight exemption, which covers only religious organizations that mainly hire and serve their co-religionists. Instead, the mandated coverage will continue to apply to hospitals, schools and social service providers run by groups whose religious beliefs require them to serve everyone in need.

Continued attempts to solve the problem by negotiation produced only an announcement by the Obama administration in February that insurance providers would pay for the contested services. Since many Catholic entities are self-insured and the others pay the premiums, the bishops’ concerns were not alleviated.

The main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women’s health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions.

You can read the whole story here.

The second article I came across is written by George Weigel from the National Review Online. Mr. Weigel also argues that the HHS mandate violates the freedom of religion.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

This is not an argument about birth control, nor is it part of some “War on Women” waged by misogynistic clerics and their political allies from the fever swamps of the Right. The mandate is being legally challenged, in twelve different federal district courts, on the grounds that it violates the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. If those legal protections mean anything, they must mean that neither religious institutions nor individuals can be compelled to provide “services” that are readily available through means other than coercing religiously informed consciences. Contraceptives are more readily available in the United States in 2012 than either cigarettes or beer. There is no compelling public need to dragoon institutions and individuals who conscientiously object to providing them into doing so — with the threat of ruinous financial penalties if they do not.

This argument over the meaning of religious freedom was not initiated by the Catholic Church; it was initiated by an administration that seems to regard “religious freedom” as merely a privacy right to certain kinds of recreational activities (like worship). As in its international human-rights policy (which speaks exclusively of “freedom of worship”), the administration seems unwilling or unable to grasp an elementary truth: Religious convictions are community-forming, and those communities, like the individuals whose conscientious convictions form them, are the subject of genuine religious freedom.

Click here to read the whole article.

Archdiocese of New York Files Federal Lawsuit Against HHS Mandate

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Today, the Archdiocese of New York filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the recent Health and Human Services mandate. I would like to share with you the following press release that the Archdiocese of New York issued this morning.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 21, 2012
ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW YORK FILES FEDERAL LAWSUIT AGAINST HHS MANDATE

In order to protect our religious liberties from unwarranted and unprecedented government intrusion, the Archdiocese of New York has filed suit in federal court today seeking to block the recent Health and Human Services mandate that unconstitutionally attempts to define the nature of the Church’s religious ministry and would force religious employers to violate their consciences. The Diocese of Rockville Centre has joined in the lawsuit.

Named as defendants in the suit are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  The lawsuit was filed at federal court in Brooklyn.  Other lawsuits also objecting to the HHS mandate were filed today in federal district courts throughout the nation by other Catholic (arch)dioceses, institutions and organizations.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, said about the lawsuits filed in New York and elsewhere, “We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress, — and will keep at it — and there’s still no fix. Time is running out, and our precious ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”

The Archdiocese of New York has filed this suit because the federal government is requiring religious organizations, under penalty of law, to provide, pay for, and/or facilitate access to services that are contrary to their deeply held and constitutionally-protected religious beliefs.

An equally grave concern is that while the government has recognized a religious exemption to these mandates, it is so narrowly worded that many – if not most – religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters do not qualify for it.  Incredibly, under the government’s exemption standard, these Catholic institutions would not qualify because they do not discriminate against non-Catholics who might come to them seeking assistance.  Nor do they discriminate against non-Catholics in their hiring practices.  Further, in order to qualify for an exemption, a religious institution must submit to an invasive federal government inquiry into its religious beliefs and practices, conferring powers on government that are forbidden by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Specifically, for an institution to know whether it is religious enough to meet the government’s exemption standard, it must submit to an investigation whereby federal employees determine the religion of those employed and served by the entity, whether their beliefs are the same as the institution, and whether the institution hires and serves “primarily” those of the same beliefs.

For the Archdiocese of New York and its institutions, this situation is of particular concern since we have been subjected for nearly a decade to a mandate by New York State to provide services that are contrary to our religious beliefs.

In 2002, the New York State Catholic Conference objected to state legislation that directed Catholic institutions providing prescription drug coverage through standard commercial insurance policies to include coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices, which are proscribed according to Catholic teaching.  The Conference had enthusiastically supported major components of this legislation designed to ensure and expand healthcare for women, but sought to remove the objectionable provisions.  The legislation passed and was signed into law without the Conference’s recommended amendments.  Regrettably, the law includes an intrusively narrow definition of religious institutions similar to that in the current federal HHS mandates.

Suit was brought against the State of New York’s law on the basis of this objectionable requirement.  The case was lost, leaving Catholic institutions with commercial insurance in the regrettable position of either violating their religious conscience or canceling employee benefits. Those entities that chose to retain commercial plans have only done so “under protest.”

The dilemma facing Catholics institutions in the State of New York has now, under the HHS mandate, become a national issue. The current federal lawsuit attempts to remedy this injustice on a federal judicial level in a way that was unattainable on the New York State level.

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small image of PDF IconClick here to read a copy of the lawsuit filed.

Subsidiarity and Solidarity

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

A couple of months ago, the bishops of the state of New York enjoyed a working luncheon with our new governor.  It was a productive and enlightening visit.

At the conclusion, Governor Andrew Cuomo made an observation that has stuck with me.  He commented:  “Most people who come to see me lobby on behalf of their own needs, their own group, or their own cause.  You bishops have just spent an hour talking to me about the needs of inner-city school kids, prisoners, immigrants, the uninsured sick, the elderly, moms and their babies, and nursing homes.”  [We had also spoken about the unborn and the defense of marriage.]

The governor thoughtfully concluded, “I am moved by your agenda, because it’s not your own, but for others, especially those in need.”

Okay, flattery will get you everywhere, but we bishops, in spite of some serious differences we may have with our governor, appreciated his observation, and sure hope it is deserved.

We bishops are not politicians, but pastors.  So we preach principles — not our own, but those rooted in the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus, Natural Law, and the tradition of our Church.  We then trust such principles will enlighten those who look to us for guidance.

As Blessed Pope John Paul II remarked, “The Church does not impose; she only proposes.”

And a fundamental proposition is that care for those struggling, the poor, sick, and abandoned, the vulnerable and defenseless, has a priority in our attention to what we call the common good.

This was the theme of a letter I sent — written in my capacity as president of the bishops’ conference last January — to each member of Congress as they got back to work, as well as a letter on the budget sent last month by my brothers, Bishop Stephen Blaire, chair of the bishops’ committee on domestic policy, and Bishop Howard Hubbard, chair of our committee on international policy sent recently to the House and Senate.  This was the theme again in my recent correspondence with Congressman Paul Ryan, which built on those two earlier letters.

When we bishops propose moral principles — most often allied, by the way, with the basic philosophy of our beloved country, as enshrined in our normative documents like the Declaration of Independence — we get both blessed and cursed.

One side usually blesses us when we preach the virtue of fiscal responsibility, the civil rights of the unborn, the danger of government-tampering with the definition of marriage, and the principle of subsidiarity — that is, that the smaller units in our society, such as family, neighborhood, Church, and volunteer organizations, are usually preferable to big government in solving social ills.

Yet this same side then often cringes when we defend workers, speak on behalf of the rights of the undocumented immigrant, and remind government of the moral imperative to protect the poor.

The other side enjoys quoting us when we extol universal health care, question the death penalty, demand that every budget and program be assessed on whether it will help or hurt those in need, encourage international aid, and promote the principle of solidarity, namely, society’s shared duties to one another, especially the poor and struggling . . .

. . . and then these same folks bristle when we defend the rights of parents in education, those of the baby in the womb and grandma on her death bed, insist that America is at her best when people of faith have a respected voice in the public square, defend traditional marriage, and remind government that it has no right to intrude in Church affairs, but does have the obligation to protect the rights of conscience.

So, we bishops get both blessed and blasted, a friend or foe of bloggers, pundits, and politicians, depending on what the issue is.

But, once again, we’re used to it.  We try our best to be pastors, not politicians, teachers, not tacticians, shepherds, not strategists; we do not need to run for re-election (good thing, since most of us would probably lose!); and the only platform we have is God’s Word, as hardwired into the human heart and handed on by His Church, especially as taught by Jesus, who reminded us that, “As long as you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me.”