I, Too, Am a Nazarene

July 24th, 2014

 

The image at the top of this post is the Arabic letter “n”.  It has become known worldwide in the last week.  The violent fanatics who have formed what they call the “Islamic State” in northern Iraq and eastern Syria left this mark on the doorways of Christians who were living in areas they under their control to show where the “Nazarenes” — the Christians — were living.  This was significant because the Islamic State leaders had decreed that all Christians had to convert to Islam, pay a ruinous tax and live as serfs, or be killed.

This is the latest terrible development in the destruction of historic Christian communities in the Middle East, particularly in areas of Syria and Iraq that have been ruined by warfare.   The Iraqi city of Mosul, which stands on the site of ancient Nineveh, has been a focus of the oppression.  Christians have been killed, churches have been burned, and the Archbishop and thousands of his flock have been forced to flee as refugees.

Around the world this week, Christians have been expressing their solidarity with our oppressed brethren in the Middle East, by posting the “n” symbol, and by spreading the Twitter hashtag #WeAreN.

The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.  I am awed by the witness and courage of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  There is little that I can do to help them or to relieve their suffering.  But I pray for them, and I humbly stand with them.

I, too, am a Nazarene.

 

My Immigration Story

July 22nd, 2014

In a nation of so many descendants of immigrants, there are a million stories. Most of them are about an ancestor who left their home to find a better life and to live in freedom. The stories are filled with heroism, idealism, and perseverance.

Here’s my story. It’s actually not about me, it’s about my mother’s mother, whom I always knew as “Grandma Sheridan”. But because I wouldn’t be an American without her, I like to think that it really is my story too.  It’s the story about how she became an American.

Grandma lived down the street from us when I was growing up, and we were always in and around her house. She was a wonderful, kind woman, who had seen many tough times but was always willing to help others. But her story wasn’t easy to piece together. Grandma didn’t like to talk about herself, or where she came from. And we had no contact with relatives from “over there”. So we’ve gradually accumulated documents, and drawn on the memories of relatives who are now gone to eternal life.

Grandma was born and baptized Elizabeth Dowe, in 1885, in a tiny hamlet named Aghabullogue, in County Cork, Ireland. (I don’t speak any Irish, but I’m told that the town’s name sounds something like “Ah-Buh-Log”, with a long “o”, emphasis on the last syllable and a barely pronounced hard “g”). As a child, she was known as Lizzie, and she lived with her parents John and Hannah Hill Dowe, along with three sisters and a brother. She was the youngest in the family. They were farmers, and if you know anything about 19th century rural Ireland, you know that was a hard life.

Her father and brother died at some point before 1900, when my Grandma was a young girl. According to the laws at the time, the farm passed to her uncle, so her family was turned out of their home and lost their livelihood. They lived for a short time in a house in a nearby area called Clonmoyle, but in 1901 they decided that they had enough of poverty in Ireland. They would go to America.

This is the point in every immigrant’s story that always makes me pause and wonder. My Grandma was only 15 years old. Her mother was illiterate in English and Irish, and she had nothing waiting for her in America — no profession, no job, no place to live. My Grandma and her sisters could read and write English, but only one was employed in Ireland, as a dressmaker. As far as we know, the only people they knew in America were some cousins, who had come over earlier. That’s not a lot to go on.

But what they had was an abundance of faith, hope, courage, and a yearning for a better life.

They arrived in New York in 1902. And here’s the funny part of the story. They were on a ship that entered New York harbor, and thus passed under the watchful eye of the great lady who lifted her lamp beside the golden door to welcome my Grandma. When the ship arrived at Ellis Island, there was an announcement that all passengers in steerage had to get off. But my Grandma’s mother had managed to get Second Class tickets, so they decided that the announcement didn’t apply to them, and they didn’t get off at Ellis Island. Instead, they sailed up to the pier in Manhattan and set foot in America without ever going through any of the legal immigration process.

And so — my Grandma Sheridan was an illegal alien.

They settled in New York, and my Grandma worked for a time as a domestic servant in the household of the publisher of the New York Times. In 1911, she married John Sheridan, another Irish immigrant who was a greengrocer with the A&P Company. He was an American citizen already, and that’s how my Grandma became a legitimate American citizen. They lived mostly in the northern Bronx (in the same neighborhood where I still live), and had six children, the youngest of whom was my beloved mother, Claire.

My grandfather died in 1932, leaving Grandma to finish raising her young family — my mother was only 5 years old at the time. Grandma struggled, relying on income from the older children and dividends from A&P stock. But she was a firm believer in education, and she sent all of her children to college, even the three girls — which was certainly remarkable for that time. She was also a committed Catholic who took her faith seriously. There was never any question about the faith being handed down to her children.

Grandma took her American citizenship seriously. The flag flew every holiday. She was a voracious reader of the newspapers, followed current events very closely, and was absolutely committed to voting in every election. I recall very clearly her insisting that we had a duty to vote, and that if we didn’t vote, we couldn’t complain.

Her three sons all served honorably in the military in World War II — one was an officer in the Navy, another an officer in the Army Air Corps, and one was a grunt in the Army who landed on D+2 and went on to be awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. At least six of her grandchildren have served in the military, and many of us have served in government offices. Patriotism runs deep in the Sheridan blood, which you would expect with Grandma as a role model.

Grandma didn’t have any interest in being considered an “Irish-American” — she was absolutely American, through and through, and she was proud and grateful for this country. When she died at the age of 95, she had lived a rich, long, generous life in her beloved home country.

A few years ago, my wife Peggy and I visited Ireland, and went to Aghabullogue. It’s still a tiny hamlet, with little more than a church, a store, a football field and a pub, surrounded by beautiful rich farmland. I stood in the graveyard of the old parish church where my grandmother was baptized, and where she went to Mass for the first fifteen years of her life. The chapel has since fallen into ruins, replaced by a more modern building close by. It was profoundly moving to look around, and realize that the scene was virtually identical to what my Grandma saw every day of her youth. I was able to see the world that she left so that her future family — and mine — could be born in America.

Grandma Sheridan’s story is about an America that was willing to give a poor homeless girl a chance at hope and prosperity. I believe that story is still true today. I believe that America is still open to other young girls and boys who are yearning for the same kind of life that my Grandma was able to have, the kind of life that she was brave enough to give to her children, grandchildren, and beyond.

I believe in my immigration story. I think it is the story of America. And I thank God for it, and for Grandma Sheridan for having lived it.

Trying to Think about Immigration

July 21st, 2014

The debate over immigration has reached a fever pitch in America, fueled by the heart-rending spectacle of the plight of all those unaccompanied children who have been coming to our southern border in recent months.

I am no expert on immigration, but I’ve been trying to think about this issue from a Catholic perspective, guided by the teachings of our bishops and our Holy Father. It seems to me that there are a number of fundamental principles that are in tension in this area, and it extraordinarily difficult to make them all fit together well.

Let’s take as our starting point a teaching from St. John XXIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris:

Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country; and, when there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that one is a citizen of a particular State does not detract in any way from his membership in the human family as a whole, nor from his citizenship in the world community (25).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the basic issues very clearly:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens. (2241)

These principles show us that the way we think about this problem is the key consideration.  There is no question that our civil authorities have an obligation to preserve and protect the common good of our particular political society, which includes enactment and enforcement of just laws. People have a right to emigrate to seek prosperity and freedom for themselves and their families, but they also have an obligation to obey the laws of the nation they enter.

But we always have to remember that human laws and political structures don’t exist as ends in themselves, and they don’t have the preeminent place in the hierarchy of goods. They don’t define the full scope of human aspiration or fulfillment. States are purely provisional entities that exist solely to provide for the good of the people within them.  I love America, but it is not a divinely-ordained institution, and it is not essential to the divine will or to the plan of salvation. To think otherwise can come very close to a form of idolatry.

As a result, we have to think outside of our political boundaries, and be concerned with all members of the human family — not just those who happen to hold a particular citizenship, or who speak a certain language, or who had the good fortune to have ancestors who emigrated prior to a certain date, or who managed to find a home within some arbitrary political boundaries.

Our policy solutions also can’t be dominated solely by economic factors.  We have to beware of any way of thinking that treats immigrants as mere means to be used for ends, welcomed to the extent that they are useful to us and discarded when they are not. People are not objects, and must be treated as the image of God among us.

Articulating these principles is easy.  Finding the right policies to implement them is certainly not so easy.  Our bishops and the Holy Father are not saying that we have to have open borders, or that people can disregard the law at a whim.  They are saying that we need to address the humanitarian needs of immigrants — particularly the unaccompanied children — as best we can, as our top priority.  We then have to work to reunite them with family members, without just throwing them on buses back or interning them in refugee camps.  Long-term answers would then include repatriation, or admitting them as refugees or as temporary residents based on an evaluation of their individual cases.

On top of this, we have to make sure that we work with the governments in the source and transit countries to improve the awful social conditions that have led to this emigration, and to prevent exploitation of migrants.  This is crucial.  The drug trade — largely fueled by drug use in America — has led to a disastrous disintegration of much of Latin American society.  The problem of immigration can’t be addressed without confronting this reality, and accepting our responsibility for correcting it.

When we listen to the Catholic perspective on this issue, we see that persons come first in our considerations, and our priorities start to fall into place.  We won’t’t make decisions based on fear, suspicion, party politics, or prejudice.   And we can work together to formulate sensible public policies that promote the common good and respect the fundamental human rights and needs of all.

The Enemies of Religious Freedom Declare Themselves

July 12th, 2014

There have been many results from the Supreme Court’s religious freedom ruling in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case.  One is that we can more readily identify many people who either lack fundamental reading comprehension skills or are subject to such ideological blindness that they egregiously mis-characterize what the case actually held.

Perhaps most important, though, is that we can now see very clearly who the enemies of religious freedom are — and we can see that they are heavily represented in the Democratic Party delegations in Congress.

This can be seen very plainly from new bills introduced in both the House and the Senate (S.2578 and H.R.5051), reportedly in consultation with the Administration.  These bills purport to be a way of overturning the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood decision, and forcing for-profit businesses to comply with the HHS mandate to provide insurance coverage for abortion-causing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.

But they go much, much further than that.  In fact, they directly and seriously endanger the religious freedom of every church and religious non-profit, and any other organization that is operated by faith-based persons who don’t want to cooperate with evil.  This is a proposal of “startling breadth” (to quote Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood), and astonishing audacity.

As with every bit of legislation the devil (literally) is in the details.  So let’s break down the actual language of the bill, and explain what it means.  Here is what the House version of the bill says (in italics), with my analysis to follow:

(a) In General — An employer that establishes or maintains a group health plan for its employees (and any covered dependents of such employees) shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service with respect to such employees (or dependents) where the coverage of such item or service is required under any provision of Federal law or the regulations promulgated thereunder.

The key word here is “employer”.  Nowhere in the bill does it define that word, so it is an outright lie to claim that the bill is limited to overturning the Supreme Court’s decision, which was limited to family-owned corporations.  This bill would instead reach every single employer in the United States that has an employee health plan — individual business owners, churches, schools.  Nobody would be exempted.

It would also cover any health care “item or service” required to be covered by federal law or regulation — which is so broad as to potentially include any number of evils our federal government might choose, such as abortion, contraception, IVF, sex-change operations, and euthanasia drugs.

The significance of this becomes even more clear when we look at another section of the bill:

(b) Application – Subsection (a) shall apply notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, including [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act].

This would give employers essentially no defense to any law passed by Congress or imposed by executive fiat that would substantially burden their faith by requiring them to cooperate with evil.  In other words, people of faith would be reduced to second-class citizen status.  This echoes infamous prior court decisions, as if the bill’s sponsors thought that religious employers “had no rights which the [government] was bound to respect” (to quote the Dred Scott decision], or as if they were not “recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense” (to quote Roe v. Wade).

It gets even worse — here’s where the real evil lies:

(c) Regulations — The regulations [relating to the current HHS mandate] shall apply with respect to this section.  The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury may modify such regulations consistent with the purpose and findings of this Act.

In other words, the government shall have carte blanche to change the HHS mandate at a whim, or to impose any other mandate they wish.  So there is no limit to what can be done by a future administration with even more commitment to the Cult of Moloch (i.e., the Planned Parenthood, pro-death agenda) than the current regime.  Nothing would stop them from removing the current HHS mandate exemption for churches and “accommodation” for religious non-profits, and enact regulations that would require coverage for abortion, euthanasia, you name it — and there would be no defense under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

If there were any further question about the fragility of religious freedom in America today, this bill removes any doubt.  The sponsors of this wicked bill have openly declared themselves to be enemies of religious freedom.

Here is a list of the House sponsors — 142 as of the date this is posted, all of them Democrats.  Here are the Senate sponsors — 42 of them, all Democrats, including the original sponsor of RFRA, our own Senator Charles Schumer. If your representative is on the list, contact them right away.

Nelson Mandela once said “I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom.”  Ask your representative why they don’t agree, and remember well the answer, when they come asking for your vote.

Getting Past the Hysteria

July 3rd, 2014

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case has certainly been the cause of much controversy. This is natural, and to be expected, since it touches upon so many key issues in the so-called “culture war”, and it was both a hotly contested and much anticipated decision.

But much of the reaction to the Court’s decision has been, well, a bit unhinged. Some have claimed that the Court was casting women back into virtual slavery. One legal commentator for a major newspaper stated openly — and bizarrely — that the reason for the Court’s majority ruling was simply that they lacked a uterus.  Right.

Why all the hysteria?

I think much of it is a result of the nature of the controversy itself — one that goes to the heart of conflicting visions of who we are.

One of the key issues underlying this case is the role of women in society, and how that is to be assured. Everyone agrees that women should be a full and equal participants in society, free from unfair treatment. But we are in a pluralistic society, and there are many views on how that is to be accomplished, which necessarily involves differing views on the questions of fertility, sexuality, human life.

Many women and couples consider controlling their fertility to be a core value, and have organized their lives around it. They believe that easy, low-cost access to contraceptives is essential to their lives.  They view anything that works against that value, and, indeed, anything that casts doubts upon it or appears to disagree with it, as a direct attack on their self-definition and identity.

We disagree with that value. But, in our pluralistic society, it is a reality that we must recognize.  The fact is that those views have a place at the table in the public discussion.

But pluralism is a two-way street. As Catholics, we have a different view of sexuality, fertility, and human life.  Our values are based on our faith, reason, and a particular understanding of the nature of the human person. We believe that fertility is a gift, not an “unwanted physical condition”. It’s a blessing given to us by God, inherent in human nature as male and female, and not a curse. To deny this is to deny an essential part of who we are, and to set us at war with ourselves.  As a result, we believe that the “contraceptive mentality” is bad for individuals, relationships, and society.  We are convinced (largely from our own failings and hard-earned experience) that the virtue of chastity is a beautiful, beneficial way for people to live and love.

We also believe in the sanctity of human life, from the first moment of conception. It is a scientific fact, not a matter of religious belief, that at the moment of conception a new, individual, unrepeatable human being comes into existence. We also believe, based both on faith and reason, that it is a grave injustice to deliberately end the life of any innocent human being, and is a sad failure in our duty to love one another.

We have also organized our lives around these values, which are central to our religious faith.  It’s not just something that we do on Sunday morning, or in the privacy of our homes.  It’s essential to our self-worth and identity, and it affects all aspects of our lives.

We understand that many people disagree with us — just as we disagree with them.   But, again, in our pluralistic society, it is a reality that others must recognize.  The fact is that our views have a place at the table in the public discussion.  In the end, people should certainly be free to make their own decisions about fertility and sexuality and the meaning of their lives – but so should religious people.

The American way is to guarantee the freedom, equality and autonomy of everyone, including religious people, to live lives of integrity, in keeping with their core values.   We have long recognized that.  Our laws are full of religious accommodations, like the exemption from the draft for Quakers, and the freedom from saying the Pledge of Allegiance for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This is a matter of basic respect, civility, and just plain good manners. 

The bottom line is that there is a serious conflict of values going on here, one that is difficult, if not impossible, to resolve definitively.  There’s no easy answer, no magic bullet, that will solve all the disputes and make everyone happy.  And “winner take all” is a terrible way to conduct politics — some people will triumph, but it also means that many of our neighbors will be “losers”.   That’s no way to have a healthy community.

People naturally respond emotionally, even hysterically, when they’re scared that their way of life and values are threatened.  Even though we won this particular case, we’re scared too — our religious freedom is very fragile right now.

So maybe it would be a good idea to turn the volume down a bit, recognize the raw feelings on all sides, and try to find a way that we can preserve as much as possible of everyone’s values, while preserving a sense of unity, solidarity, and mutual love.

An Encouraging Victory for Religious Liberty

July 1st, 2014

The Supreme Court has issued a very important ruling on the HHS mandate.  By a narrow 5 to 4 majority, the Court found in favor of the religious liberty rights of two family-owned businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.  The Court held that they do not have to fund insurance coverage for abortion-causing contraceptives that they consider to violate their religious beliefs about the sanctity of human life.

This is a significant victory for religious liberty. It shows that the government does not have unlimited power to force people to violate their beliefs. It is also a vindication for all those who have objected to the HHS mandate, and who have defended religious freedom.

There has been, and will continue to be, a great deal of commentary on this decision.  At this point, though, it’s valuable to make sure that we understand clearly just what the Court did, and what it did not do:

  • The decision was was based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), and not the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.   However, the Court recognized that RFRA offers broader protection to religious liberty than the First Amendment.
  • The decision does not in any way restrict access to contraceptives, nor will it impose any additional costs on women who seek them.  This ruling is very limited — it just requires the government to find some other way to accomplish the basic (and in my view, lamentable) goal of the HHS mandate — free contraceptives — without requiring the corporations to pay for them.
  • However, the ruling does mean that the government, in pursuit of its public policy goals, cannot impose substantial burdens on religious believers, without seeking some way to accommodate or exempt them.
  • It is not clear what impact this decision will have — if any — on the challenges brought against the HHS mandate by religious non-profit organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Catholic Charities.   There is much speculation about this, even to the point of very close analysis of a particular sentence in the majority opinion, but that’s all it is — speculation.  The Court specifically left that issue open for a future decision.
  • This case upholds the idea that corporations have legal standing under RFRA (in legal parlance, they are “persons” within the meaning of the statute).  The Court recognized that corporations are just vehicles through which real, live human beings act, and, in some cases, exercise their own constitutional rights.  This is an important recognition of the Catholic social teaching about the value of mediating institutions that operate in society and stand between the state and individuals.
  • The ruling was limited by the Court to closely-held corporations that are controlled by religious people who operate with explicitly religious missions.  It does not give carte blanche to all corporations to ignore generally applicable laws.
  • Nor does the case give automatic permission for religious people to engage in discrimination on account of race, sex, etc.  Despite the fear-mongering in the dissenting opinion and in the media, this notion was specifically ruled out in the majority and concurring opinions.  Any claim for a religious exemption will still have to satisfy the scrutiny of a court, applying the standards of RFRA to the particular facts of each individual situation.
  • The Court did not strike down the Affordable Care Act or the HHS mandate in general.  That was not at issue in the case at all.
  • The discussion and debate about this issue, and about the general intersection of law and religion, will certainly continue.  A pluralistic society like ours should recognize and respect a broad scope for the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience, consistent with public order and safety.

    So we have much to be thankful for.  Please give thanks to God for the wisdom of the Justices in the majority of the Supreme Court, and for the courage and persistence of the owners of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and their attorneys, particularly those at the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom.

    A Welcome, Disappointing Decision

    June 30th, 2014

    Pro-Lifers rarely win court cases, so it is very gratifying to win one in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, even in victory, there is disappointment, and a sense that the constitutional rights of pro-life people have been relegated to second-class status.

    The case was McCullen v. Coakley, and it arose out of a terrible Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. Pro-lifers were prohibited from entering that zone, which effectively banned any attempt to speak to women seeking abortions (“sidewalk counseling”) completely. However — and this is crucial — abortion clinic staff were permitted to be in the zone and speak to the women who were approaching the clinic.

    The Supreme Court, by a unanimous decision, found that the law was unconstitutional. However, the Court’s unanimity is actually deceiving — although all nine justices agreed that the law was invalid, the Court was actually split 5 to 4 on the reasoning. And the reasoning of the majority is very troubling.

    One of the fundamental principles of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech is that the government cannot pass a law that is based on the content of a person’s speech, and that discriminates against one particular point of view. The principle is called “viewpoint neutrality”.  The majority found that the Massachusetts law did not violate the requirement of neutrality, but still found the law unconstitutional because it burdened speech more than was necessary to fulfill the government’s legitimate objectives.

    But that reasoning is gravely flawed.  Take it out of the abortion context for a second. Consider the hypothetical case of a law that places a buffer zone around a mine entrance where there is a highly contentious strike taking place. Imagine that the law prohibits striking miners from being in that zone, but allows management employees to be in the zone and speak openly to strike-breaking workers seeking to enter the plant. Can anyone imagine a court upholding such an obviously biased law? Of course not — it would be a clear case of the government taking sides in a strike, and showing favoritism towards one point of view.

    The Massachusetts statute is exactly the same, and is clearly not “viewpoint neutral”. It was specifically designed and intended to prosecute and deter only pro-life speakers, while giving pro-abortion speakers free reign to speak and act.

    Nevertheless, the majority of the Court, led by the Chief Justice, implausibly concluded that the law was “viewpoint neutral”, because on its face it did not single out pro-life speech. This is absurd — everybody understands very clearly what the goal and effect of this law is.  As Justice Scalia stated in his concurring opinion,

    The obvious purpose of the challenged portion of the Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act is to “protect” prospective clients of abortion clinics from having to hear abortion-opposing speech on public streets and sidewalks.

    In short, although the Court unanimously struck down the law, there is only a minority of Justices who believe that pro-lifers deserve the full protection of the Constitution. This follows a disturbing trend in the Supreme Court, in which abortion distorts the Constitution — indeed, abortion corrupts everything it touches.

    Again, to quote Justice Scalia:

    Today’s opinion carries forward this Court’s practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents. There is an entirely separate, abridged edition of the First Amendment applicable to speech against abortion.

    So, while it’s good that we’ve won a big case, it’s clear that pro-lifers continue to be treated as second-class citizens in our courts.

     

    Fighting Modern Slavery

    June 12th, 2014

    Today, the New York State Senate took action to fight the scourge of modern slavery, by unanimously passing the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act.

    This bill is an important way to strengthen the fight against human trafficking in our state.  It is a terrible scandal and crime that thousands of people, particularly women and children, are suffering in our midst, having been brought here to serve as labor or sex slaves.  This is largely driven by the evil sex industry, particularly prostitution and pornography.

    The number of victims of trafficking is staggering.  The UN estimates that there are over 1.5 million victims in the United States, Canada and Europe.  The majority (55%) of forced labor victims are women and girls.  And 98 percent of sex trafficking victims are female.  Children make up 26 percent of all victims — over 5.5 million child victims around the world.

    And these numbers really do nothing to communicate the raw human suffering that is involved in this evil exploitation of vulnerable people.  It is difficult even to imagine the conditions under which sex slaves are forced to live and work.  The descriptions that I have seen rival the horrors of Dante’s Inferno.  

    The Catholic Church around the world, and our own United States Bishops, have long been leaders in the battle against human trafficking.  Our bishops have an energetic anti-trafficking campaign, and Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced it as a “crime against humanity”.

    Although New York enacted laws against human trafficking in 2007, our state continues to be a magnet for the modern slave trade.  By passing this bill, the State Senate has taken an important step forwards, and all our Senators are to be commended — particularly Sen. Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, who led the fight.

    It is now imperative for the Assembly to take action.  In that house, the human trafficking bill is being held hostage by pro-abortion advocates.   The bill is part of the Governor’s “Women’s Equality Act”, which also has a provision that would expand abortion.  Pro-abortion Assembly representatives, and the leadership, have so far refused to allow the trafficking bill to be considered on its own.

    Shame on them.  The victims of human trafficking are calling out for protection.  They can’t wait for Albany politics.  The time to end the modern slave trade is now.

    Pain, Loneliness, and Healing

    May 30th, 2014

    A friend asked my thoughts about the terrible mass shooting in California, and particularly about the reports that the young man was driven by anger because no girl would have casual sex with him.  She wondered what we can do to address the deeper longing that our culture is not addressing.  Here is what I replied:

    I think that you’re on to something very important by looking at the issue of sex in this young man’s life. That gives a perspective into something even deeper, something that makes this such a human tragedy, because it touches on a wound within us that we all suffer from — our deep sense of loneliness, isolation and alienation from others, and our desperate search for the right cure.   Look at what we know about this young man’s life, and that’s what jumps out at me — he clearly was seeking some contact with an Other, in order to satisfy the longing and hurt in his own heart and soul.  He and his family tried pretty much everything that our culture has to offer, in an effort to find peace — material stuff (just think of the mother’s comment about buying him a car to help his “self-esteem”), gaming (escape into unreality), psychiatry and medicine (the modern panacea), and entitlement sex (without which he felt even more isolated).  Sometimes those things offer some degree of solace and hope, but this time they failed.

    The festering wound of his isolation and loneliness, and the failure of all the remedies our culture approves, led him to be fixated on the sex.  This makes perfect sense, because deep in even the most deluded and anesthetized heart, we cannot fail to know that sex is meant to connect us to an Other.  We Catholics who know our theology of the body, know this very well, because we understand that sex is meant to be an icon of our connection to the Ultimate Other.  This young man’s failure to find even the most pallid reflection of that icon, produced an existential anger — not just against his situation but even against who and what he is.  And so he tried to destroy all that reminded him of the hurt he couldn’t get rid of or make sense of.

    What do we do with this?  As with any pathology, we have to recognize the real cause.  It’s all well and good to talk about gun violence, misogyny, casual sex, violent games, and all that.  It’s all true, and there can be all sorts of policy “solutions” proposed.  But it’s all beside the point.  It doesn’t matter.

    We can talk about the real issue here, in terms our culture can understand.  Why do people care about Kim and Kanye?  Because even in a celebrity marriage they see a glimmer of the love that everyone wants and needs.  Why are people drawn to the songs of guys like Eminem and 50 Cent?  Because they hear the pain in their voices and lyrics and know that same agony is in their hearts. Why do people love the U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For?”  Because, like Bono, we haven’t found it either, and we can’t help keeping on looking for it.  Why do people like romantic comedies?  Because we’re all dying for some kind of happy ending in our own messed up lives. I’m not a country music fan, but even I know that all the songs about lost love are really songs about ourselves, and the pain and longing we feel.

    We Christians have to stand up and offer the real remedy here.  We have to talk about loneliness, and hurt, and pain, and brokenness, and isolation, and betrayal, and alienation.  That’s where we all live.  We have to talk about what love really is, and what it’s not — it’s not about me, it’s not about stuff, and it’s not about orgasms.  It’s about people, and giving ourselves to them, and accepting their gift — not stealing the gift, and not using it.  People will hear us, because they already know that’s the truth.

    And we Christians have to challenge ourselves and our society with the truth — that we are all lonely and hurt and wounded, just as this young man was, just as his victims are.  None of us will be even close to the path of healing until we encounter the Other who became one of us, so that we wouldn’t have to face our isolation and pain all alone.

    So, how do we respond to this kind of tragedy?  Preach the Gospel of love and mercy.  Speak to the pain of our hearts.  Invite people to the One who can heal us.

    Hatred at Harvard

    May 9th, 2014

    News has broken over the last few days that a student group will be holding a Satanic “Black Mass” on campus at Harvard University.   This is so outrageous that it even manages to surpass my already low opinion of what passes for “tolerance” and “diversity” at my alma mater, which is supposedly the flagship of higher education in America.  There has been an uproar among Catholic alumni, and deservedly so.  The Archdiocese of Boston has denounced the event in a strongly-worded statement.

    Here is the letter I just sent to the President of Harvard, Dr. Drew Faust:

    Dear President Faust:

    I am an alumnus of Harvard Law School (Class of 1984), writing to ask you to do whatever you can to stop the offensive and “Black Mass” that is scheduled to take place in Memorial Hall on May 12.

    This event is deeply insulting to Catholics — it is a deliberate mockery of the Catholic liturgy, and it purports to desecrate the Holy Eucharist, which is the most sacred sacrament of our faith. This event is designed to be hurtful to Catholics. The so-called “Black Mass” displays deep contempt of Catholics, and this event is being deliberately staged and publicized in order to bring maximum public attention to its hateful message.

    This cannot be justified by any appeal to “openness” or “diversity”, or by any notion of deference to the free speech of students. It is incomprehensible to me that the university would allow a student group to publicly mock the religious rites of any other faith or the deeply-held beliefs of any other group. Permitting this event to take place will create a hostile environment at Harvard for Catholics, and will send a clear signal that Catholics can be the targets of hatred and ridicule on campus, with impunity. Is that really the kind of atmosphere that you want at Harvard?

    Please do whatever you can to prevent this travesty, and make a clear and strong public statement that there is no place for such hatred at Harvard.

    Perhaps other Catholics, particularly Harvard alumni and alumnae, could contact the President and express their opinion about this outrageous act of hatred?  Or, perhaps you could join with the Catholic students in prayer, as they hold a Holy Hour on May 12 at 8 p.m., the same time as this sacrilegious event?