Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

The Battle is Far From Over

Friday, January 25th, 2019

The catastrophic enactment of the Reproductive Health Act has left pro-lifers, both in New York and beyond, feeling numb, angry and dispirited. The bill legalizes abortions up until the moment of birth, allows non-doctors to do abortions, removes any legal penalty for a domestic violence attack against an unborn child, and eliminates protections for babies born accidentally in an abortion. Perhaps the better name for the law is the “Guaranteed Dead Baby Act”.

It was the most devastating defeat for the pro-life cause in New York since the original legalization of abortion in 1970 and the failure to repeal the law in 1972. It came at the end of twelve years of fighting, in which we were able to hold off the passage of various versions of the law, including one specifically drafted by the Governor’s office and slipped into his budget. But after last fall’s election, which swept away the GOP control of the Senate, the passage of the bill was foreordained.

We never gave up – our bishops issued strong statements of opposition, we sent information to our parishes, our allies in the Evangelical churches fought hard, and about 40,000 emails were sent to the Legislature through the Catholic Conference’s Action Center. But elections have consequences. If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now. This is what happens if Catholics, other Christians, and all good people fail to make life a priority in their voting decision. And that means voting only for pro-life candidates and refusing to vote for anyone who favors legal killing of unborn children.

The injury was compounded by the insult of Governor Cuomo’s celebratory mood, climaxed by his decision to have state facilities lit up in pink to mark the passage of the bill. The obscenity of that decision is best seen in the lighting of the Freedom Tower’s pinnacle in pink. Remember, the Freedom Tower is built on a grave – the last resting place for the victims of 9/11, which included several unborn children. Every day in the United States, more children are aborted than the number of people who were murdered on 9/11. The Governor took a war memorial that belongs to all Americans, and perverted it into a beacon of the Culture of Death.

But the battle is far from over. The pro-abortion advocates who pushed for this horrific bill are powerful, rich and arrogant. They think we’re going to give up or that they can force us to conform, but they’re seriously mistaken. We will never stop working to create a Culture of Life and Civilization of Love. So what do we do now? Here are some thoughts.

The real question of abortion is not up to any legislature or governor. It will be decided one pregnancy at a time. The pro-abortion message relies on fear of all kinds — losing autonomy or lifestyle, the opposition of families, abandonment by the baby’s father, and so on. Every pregnant woman’s situation is unique, and we must be ready to respond to them as individuals, not as puppets in a political theater, and help them through their fears to hope and joy.

This is where our pregnancy assistance programs are so important. We clearly need to make a massive new investment in supporting pregnant moms and post-natal moms and babies. We have many great pregnancy support initiatives. One example is the wonderful Mother Theresa Home in Buffalo. Another is the Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life. There are many, many more.

These pregnancy centers are in the cross-hairs of the pro-abortion movement, which desperately wants to shut them down. After all, they can’t handle it if women actually hear the truth and feel the love of people who will support a decision for life. The Supreme Court recently upheld the free-speech rights of  pregnancy centers, but they didn’t resolve the issue definitively. We expect further legislative and enforcement threats to the centers, so we have to be ready to defend them.

That leads to another key issue – the protection of religious liberty and conscience rights. Our resistance to abortion is grounded in the truth. We can never compromise with lies, and we can never permit anyone to force us to accept them. New York already has robust anti-discrimination protections for people who oppose abortion for religious or moral reasons. But people don’t know their rights and the government isn’t going to tell them. A major publicity campaign has to be undertaken to ensure that people know that they don’t have to knuckle under to the pressure to cooperate in abortion, and that they can’t be punished for their religious beliefs. This can lead to a wonderful legal irony – filing complaints and making our hostile state and local governments enforce the anti-discrimination laws to protect us.

We also have to keep our eyes open for the next big pro-life battle front – this time, at the other end of life. We are not a one-issue movement that only cares about abortion. There is a serious, well-funded and relentless effort to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, and they have set their sights on New York. This battle has been going on for a while, but it’s going to move to center stage now.

This is a spiritual battle, not just against political adversaries but against the powers and principalities (see Eph 6:11-18). On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Cathedral of St. Patrick was filled for a Holy Hour and Mass for life. The Holy Spirit uplifts us, even in our dark hours, and nothing can prevail against Him. We have to convert our anger against this bill and its supporters into prayer. Remember what Jesus told us: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The rich and powerful people in our society like to call themselves “the resistance” because they oppose the President and march wearing silly hats. But they’re just oligarchs in exile who want to recapture power. We are the real resistance. Our goal is not power, but conversion of heart for those who are appalled by injustice. Our message is “come, join us”, and not “we will force you to agree”. The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.

We are in the epicenter of the Culture of Death, so if anyone really wants to fight it, this is the place. It’s easy to be pro-life in the deep red states, where they’ve already enacted every pro-life law imaginable and there are few abortion clinics. If you want to go where the action really is, come to New York.

We will never give in to the Culture of Death. We need to keep on our lips the brave words of the prophet Daniel when he stood up against the powerful people who wanted him to conform: “Be it known to you, O king, we will not serve your gods or worship the [pink] image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). Amen to that.

On the Precipice of Abortion Expansion

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

With the beginning of the new session of the New York State Legislature, we are now on the verge of having the most radical and extreme abortion law in the United States, if not the world. It’s the latest version of a bill that we have been fighting against for over a decade, the “Reproductive Health Act” (S.240/A.21). It’s more aptly called the “Abortion Expansion Act”.

The leaders of our Legislature, thanks to the wide majority of newly-elected Democrats, are totally committed to passing this bill as soon as possible. The Governor, whose appetite for abortion expansion seems to have no end, has pledged to have it pass this month and has even gone so far as to promise to have the New York State Constitution amended to enshrine abortion as a basic right. Barring a miracle, the bill will be signed into law later this month.

How much more abortion do our elected officials want? There were over 82,000 abortions reported in 2016 (the most recent official statistics). We already have highest abortion rate of any state —double the national average. Over 1,700 of these abortions took place at 20 weeks gestation or later – after a baby can feel pain. In over 2,600 abortions, the mother had at least five previous abortions. Do we really want even more of that suffering and death?

As New York is about to plunge even deeper into the Culture of Death, we must be very clear about what this bill would do:

It is designed to allow more late-term abortions — killing babies through all nine months of pregnancy.

The promoters of this legislation frankly admit that its main goal is to expand late-term abortion.  Current state law already permits abortions through 24 weeks of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever, but only after that if it is necessary to save a woman’s life.  This bill would permit a “health” justification for late-term abortions. But the term “health” has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include pretty much anything related to a woman’s physical, psychological, emotional health, including things like age and economics.

In other words, it’s such a broad term that this bill will allow abortion for any reason whatsoever at any time during a pregnancy even up to the moment of birth.

It would allow non-doctors to perform abortions.

New York law right now is clear that only licensed physicians can do abortions. This bill would eliminate that requirement, by allowing the state government to permit other health care professionals to do abortions — which could include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, as well as other non-physicians. Let’s say that again so it’s perfectly clear — this bill would allow people to do surgical abortionswho haven’t gone to medical school, haven’t served as an intern, haven’t done a medical residency.

That’s how extreme this bill is. And that’s exactly the goal of the advocates — because so few doctors want to get involved in the grisly business of killing children, they want to expand the pool of potential abortionists.

It is designed to guarantee a dead baby.

Currently, New York law gives full legal protection to any child who might be born alive as the result of an abortion, which can happen during a late term abortion. It also requires that a second doctor be available during a late-term abortion to care to a child born alive. This bill would repeal these protections, leaving a child born alive at the mercy of the doctor and staff who were just minutes ago trying to kill her. We’ve seen how that turns out, thanks to the horrific Kermit Gosnell case from Pennsylvania.

How callous have we become that we are passing a bill that would permit – and even require – doctors to stand by and let a baby to die of neglect?

It will leave women and babies vulnerable to back-alley abortions and domestic violence.

This bill would completely decriminalize any kind of abortion. Currently, the crime of “abortion” is the only way to prosecute unlicensed abortionists, people who coerce women into having an abortion, and domestic violence attacks against pregnant women that are intended to harm the unborn child. These crimes happen all the time. Just last month a man in upstate New York was arrested after pushing his fists into the belly of a 26-week pregnant woman to try to cause a miscarriage. This bill would give him a free ride for such a heinous act.

At a time when violence against women is being given so much more scrutiny, how can our legislators be so blind as to pass such a bill?

It could compel health professionals and institutions to cooperate in abortions.

The bill declares that abortion is a “fundamental right,” and that the state may not “discriminate, deny or interfere with” this right. The result may be that doctors and other health providers may be required to perform or refer for abortions or risk losing their license to practice. This has happened in other countries and there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t happen here. Medical facilities, even religious ones, could be also be forced to allow abortions on site or risk fines, penalties, or loss of licenses.

So much for the “right to choose”.

What can we do about this?

First, please contact your legislator and urge them to reject this radical bill. The easiest way is to use the New York State Catholic Conference’s Action Center.

Second, we need to step up our efforts to support women who are pregnant and are at risk of choosing abortion. A wonderful example of this is the Sisters of Life Visitation Mission. We also need to reach out to the women who have had abortions and now need healing. Two great programs are the Sisters of Life Hope and Healing Mission and Lumina.

Third, we need to pray. For conversion of heart of our elected officials and advocates for abortion. For hope and support for pregnant women. For an increase in a culture of sexual purity and respect for the sacredness of every human life. For God to withhold his hand of judgment against our wicked society.

New York, and indeed our entire society, is on the precipice. In times past, society looked the other way when unwanted children were abandoned or killed. With this Abortion Expansion Act, we are reverting to a state of barbarism.

Abortion and Elections

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

The election last week was a watershed event for the pro-life cause in New York. For the first time in years, the Democratic Party gained control of the Senate, giving it complete control of both houses of the Legislature and all of the State-wide offices, and also of appointments to the Court of Appeals and intermediate appellate courts.

Our blue state has gotten even bluer. This is the result of long-term trends, including the increased share of the Latino vote, the increased activism of young voters, growing numbers of people who do not practice any faith, and shifts in political views among college educated people (particularly women) and those who live in the suburbs. The deep unpopularity of the President was a major factor. No Republican has been elected to a state-wide office since 2002, and the likelihood of the GOP staging a significant comeback are bleak.

Why does this matter so much for the cause of life? Because the Democratic Party in New York has become the Extremist Pro-Abortion Party. The Governor ran a campaign that highlighted his support for a vast expansion of abortion under the guise of “codifying Roe v. Wade“. Remember, this is the man who once said that pro-lifers “have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.” The new Democratic majority in the State Senate has promised to pass the Reproductive Health Act as one of their first priorities in the upcoming legislative session, and we expect more anti-life bills to follow — like discriminatory measures targeting pregnancy centers and mandated coverage of contraception and abortion in all health insurance policies.

Make no mistake. This is an extremist agenda. The reality is that New York already has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the nation, one that pre-dates Roe and which permitted thousands of abortions prior to Roe. Abortion is available on demand, for any reason whatsoever, at any time prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and afterwards if the life of the mother is at risk. Overturning Roe will have no effect whatsoever on that – the vast majority of abortions will still be legal in New York.

The official statistics tell the horrible story of abortion in our state. 86,627 abortions in New York State in 2015; 367 abortions per 1,000 live births (so over a quarter of all pregnancies in our state ends with an abortion); 505 abortions per 1,000 live births in New York City (so over a third of all pregnancies in the City ends with an abortion); 1,038 abortions per 1,000 live births for African-Americans in New York City (so there are more abortions than live births among African-Americans); 2,106 abortions in our state after 20 weeks, after the time when unborn children can feel pain. The current abortion regime in our state has decimated entire swaths of our population and has left millions in post-abortive pain. It is the very definition of a gross dereliction of duty by our government.

The legislation being promoted by the Governor and the Democrats would make things even worse. It would expand the availability of late-term abortions on demand; it would permit non-doctors to do abortions, including late-term abortions; it would virtually eliminate the ability of the State or local governments to regulate the practice of abortion; it would immunize from criminal prosecution any person who directly tries to cause the death of an unborn child (e.g., in a domestic violence incident); and it would eliminate the legal obligation to have a doctor on hand to care for a baby born alive after an abortion. That’s not a “pro-choice” bill, it’s the abortion industry’s dream list.

I am in the middle of reading the book Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. The recently-released movie is based on this book. It’s the story of how Kermit Gosnell was brought to justice, almost by accident, for running an atrocious abortion mill in Pennsylvania. The book is a harrowing read. The clinic was filthy, staffed by unprofessional morally depraved incompetents, and the patients were treated worse than animals. The doctor was a psychopath who kept body parts and intact dead babies as trophies of his work. He and his staff routinely and callously killed any baby born alive and threw them in the garbage. It is horrifying and stomach-turning reading.

The worst thing about the Gosnell case is that it was permitted to happen because of the pro-abortion ideology of the state government of Pennsylvania, who were criminally negligent in responding to complaints and inspecting the clinic. The “pro-choice” governor of that state made it clear that abortion clinics were off limits to government regulators. Gosnell was permitted to commit mass murder with impunity because of the complicit inactivity of the government.

Now that the Pro-Abortion Extremist Party is in full control of the New York government, the Gosnell case stands as a vivid warning of what may happen here. We’ve already seen the results of an abortion industry that has no accountability. We’ve seen videos of women being taken from clinics in ambulances due to complications from abortions, the State Health Department inspects virtually no abortion clinics, and they have never shut down an unlicensed clinic in recent memory. Neither the State government nor local law enforcement has been interviewing women who have been coerced into abortions, or who were the victims of sex traffickers or child rapists who were never reported by abortion clinics.

Elections obviously have consequences. Voters obviously were unaware of or indifferent to the current Culture of Death that exists in our state. St. John Paul, in The Gospel of Life, spoke of a “a war of the powerful against the weak” and a “conspiracy against life”. New York is deeply in the grips of this conspiracy. We need to become even greater prayer warriors, defenders of women who are vulnerable to abortion, and promoters of the truth of the beauty and dignity of every human life. We have powerful adversaries, and we have our work cut out for us.

My Catholic Voting Decision

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

[For the past several years, in anticipation of Election Day, I have posted some thoughts on how to vote as a Catholic. I’ve revised and updated one of those earlier posts, because the stakes in the current election are so high — it is vital that we maintain a pro-life majority in our state Senate. An important point: the opinions I express here are mine, and do not in any way reflect an official position of the Archdiocese, nor should they be considered an endorsement of any candidate by the Archdiocese.]

Once again, Election Day approaches.  At times like these, I am frequently asked how people can do the right thing as voters, as citizens, and as Catholics.  As I understand the teachings of our Church, there are several critical questions involved here. The first is the formation of my conscience.  Our bishops have said quite clearly that

Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. (Faithful Citizenship17)

A good, Catholic conscience is obedient to the teachings of the Church, and open to hearing the voice of God.  It considers God’s will more important than any partisan interest that I may have.  It always directs me to do good and avoid evil, and in the case of voting,

A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Participation of Catholics in Political Life 4)

Building on the proper formation of conscience, we can then turn to the issues and the candidates.  One thing is crystal clear at this point:  all the issues are not the same, and the defense of human life is the paramount issue for Catholics to consider. The teaching of our Church is clear:  we must vote pro-life.  As the United States Bishops have said,

The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed… This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. (Faithful Citizenship 28, 31).

This means that in evaluating a candidate, we must consider, first and foremost, their position on the defense of human life.  As the U.S. Bishops have said:

As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support. (Faithful Citizenship 42)

Our New York Bishops have said the same:

The inalienable right to right of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all. (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)

Cardinal Egan once framed the issue of who should hold public office in language as plain as possible:

Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

This also means, of course, that we have to inform ourselves about where candidates stand on the issues.  We can’t just blunder around the voting booth with no information.  And given the abundance of data available on the internet, it really doesn’t take much effort to find out about the position of candidates.  Just visit their websites, and see where they stand on abortion, “reproductive rights”, “choice”, and, in the case of New York State candidates, the “Reproductive Health Act” (which would greatly expand abortion in our state).

This is not to say that other issues are unimportant, or that they have no relevance to the defense of human life and dignity. As Cardinal Dolan put it in a recent blog, “drugs, war, unjust economic systems, crime, violence, oppression of people, family dysfunction, sexual harassment and abuse… all start from a degradation of the innate value of the divine gift of human life.” But the Cardinal went on to say:

I make no apologies for prioritizing solicitude for the unborn. If we get that wrong, we’re hardly credible on the other burning issues. If we allow the helpless life of the baby in the sanctuary of the mother’s womb to be thrown away, it’s tough to defend the lives of others who might be considered inconvenient or expendable.

Exactly right. So, from my perspective, this boils down to a very simple test that I try to adhere to, as best I can: If you think that killing unborn children should be legal, then I won’t vote for you. You haven’t earned my vote.  In my opinion, you’re not qualified to hold public office.  I just won’t vote for someone who will promote or permit grave evil.  I don’t subscribe to the principle of the “lesser of two evils”.  All that means is I’m voting for evil, and it still produces evil in the end.  If there’s nobody in a race that fits my standards, I’ll leave the line blank or write in a name or vote for a minor party candidate.

Now that doesn’t mean that all you have to do to earn my vote is say you’re pro-life. Being pro-life is necessary, but not sufficient. Being against abortion isn’t enough for me to vote for a candidate who is morally unfit to hold office, or who is in favor of other policies that violate human dignity, like illegal warfare, the redefinition of marriage, destruction of families, racism, etc.

When I pick up my ballot next Tuesday, I will see a stark choice between candidates who are pro-abortion, and others who are pro-life. In fact, the pro-abortion candidates are not just mouthing the old “personally opposed but…” sham, but are instead ardent promoters and defenders of the legalized killing of unborn children, and they have strongly campaigned on the issue.  If they are elected, there is a grave danger that the evil abortion expansion plan in the “Reproductive Health Act” will be pushed forward. I cannot see how I as a Catholic could vote for such persons. In my view, such persons should be stopped from holding any position of public trust or authority.

So for me, the choice is easy — I will vote only for candidates who understand that God’s will is for every human life to be protected and welcomed. I invite other Catholics to do the same.

The View in the Rear-View Mirror

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

The time has finally come to say “goodbye” to the Obama Administration. Not a moment too soon. Whatever one may think of the personal character of Mr. Obama, or whatever one may think about the wisdom of some of his policies, I think it cannot be denied that his Administration was a disaster for the issues that are most important to Catholics — the defense of human life, religious liberty, the truth of human sexuality, and marriage. Let’s review some of the low-lights.

Celebrating Abortion.  The Obama Administration was the most committed pro-abortion group that we’ve ever had in a leadership position. They were completely committed to expanding “access” to abortion, defending it against any legal challenge, and to stigmatizing anyone who opposed them. The President repeatedly expressed his support for the abortion on demand regime of Roe v. Wade, he issued Presidential Proclamations lauding the decision, and he frequently praised Planned Parenthood.

Abortion and Health Insurance. The President personally promised that his health care reform bill would not involve public funding for abortion, and even issued an executive order that purported to ensure that. But it was false when he said it and it was proven false by how the law was implemented. There will be tax subsidies for health plans that cover abortion, and many Americans will be forced by law to pay premiums for abortion itself. Just last year, the Administration even went so far as to re-interpret anti-discrimination laws to force all health insurance plans to cover abortion.

The Mexico City Policy. This long-standing policy prohibited tax dollars from going to international organizations that do abortions, such as UNFPA and International Planned Parenthood. The President signed an executive order revoking this policy on his very first day in office.

Embyonic Stem Cell Research. Just a few months into his first term, the President signed an executive order that allowed tax dollars to fund stem cell research that involved the deliberate destruction of human beings in the embryonic stage of their development.

Appointment of Pro-Abortion Officials. The President was utterly consistent in appointing pro-abortion people to key positions, including Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Justices Elena Kagen and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Funding for Planned Parenthood. The President and his Administration were unwavering in their support for that evil organization, which kills over 300,000 unborn children each year and receives over a half billion dollars a year in federal money. He vetoed a bill that would have de-funded Planned Parenthood, and even went so far as to threaten to shut down the government, in order to coerce Congress to remove a de-funding provision from the budget.

Violating Religious Liberty. The President and his Administration have an incomparably deplorable record of hostility to religious liberty. Their singleminded adherence to the HHS Mandate, which ran roughshod over the freedom of religious organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor, is just the tip of the iceberg. They consistently opposed religious freedom in court, including advocating for government interference in the appointment of religious ministers. They suggested that churches might lose their tax exemptions if they failed to fall in line with the re-definition of marriage. Virtually every one of their regulations involving abortion and/or contraception failed to respect religious freedom and sought to squash any religious-based objections. They excluded the US Bishops’ conference from serving refugees solely because the Church would not promote abortion. They refused to enforce existing federal religious liberty laws, and revoked regulations that would have required enforcement actions.

Re-defining Marriage. During his first campaign and in the first few years in office, the President stated that he did not support re-defining marriage to include same-sex couples. Nobody believed him then, and he proved that they were right. He directed his Attorney General to stop defending the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, and ultimately urged the Supreme Court to overturn that law. Soon thereafter, the President disingenuously announced his “evolution” on the issue of marrage and came out in support of re-defining it. His Administration then supported the litigation that ultimately changed the meaning of marriage.

Gender Ideology. His Administration has been relentless in advancing the bizarre notion that “gender identity” can be separated from biological sex and can mean virtually anything. They have been equally consistent in seeking to coerce into conformity anyone who disagrees. More and more federal agencies have been issuing regulations and “guidance” letters that require people to accommodate and acquiesce in variations in a person’s totally subjective “gender identity”. They have even tried to re-define the word “sex” in old discrimination laws to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation”, and thus to coerce every health care institution and professional to participate in surgical mutilations of people’s sex organs.

It’s been a bad eight years for our issues. We can only hope that the next four will be better.

Post-Election Thoughts

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

A few points that I think are worth noting about the election results. On the whole, it was a good night for the pro-life, pro-religious freedom agenda.

  • The way the political parties are currently aligned, it is generally better for our issues when Republicans and conservatives hold key positions, because they are more likely to be pro-life and favorable to religious liberty. This is not universally true, nor may it be true in the future, but it is a generalization that I rely on in my comments below. More about this further down.
  • Clearly it is very good news that the most ardently pro-abortion presidential candidate in history has been defeated. The wailing and gnashing of teeth (and desperate apocalyptic fund-raising efforts) by Planned Parenthood et al. gives us an idea of what this means to pro-abortion advocates. Bad news for them is always good news for us.
  • Many of the Executive Branch officials in the Administration who have pushed an anti-life and anti-religious liberty agenda will also be turned out of office and replaced with more conservative policy-makers. This gives us great hope that hostile regulatory measures (like the HHS Mandate, ACA abortion mandates and the transgender mandates) will be reversed or moderated.
  • However, since the President-elect is not widely celebrated for consistency of positions and promise-keeping, it is vital that pro-lifers are vigilant and assertive in holding him to his campaign pledges and watching his appointments to key positions.
  • The US Senate and House of Representatives have both retained a Republican majority. This makes it more likely that important budget amendments will be retained, particularly the Hyde Amendment (restricting Medicaid funding for elective abortions) and the Weldon Amendment (offering conscience protection for health professionals), and that further conscience protections (like the First Amendment Defense Act and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act) will move forward. It also makes it more likely that Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry will be at least partially defunded.
  • We have to have realistic expectations about Congress, however, because the Senate still requires 60 votes in most cases before legislation can be acted on, which encourages delay, obstruction, and compromise. We have to be ready to accept incremental improvements, while still pressing for more.
  • It is more likely that conservative judges will be appointed to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. But we must again temper our expectations — the Senate requires 60 votes for a nominee to be voted on, so it is likely that any Supreme Court nominee will be more moderate than Justice Scalia. The ability to appoint more conservative lower court judges is a major opportunity, since most of the key litigation on our issues takes place at the District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals levels.
  • Here in New York, it appears that the Republican Party has retained control of the State Senate, by virtue of its coalition with some Democrats. It is not clear whether there is a pro-life majority in the Senate, but this still gives us some reason to hope that the assisted suicide bill may be held off.
  • However, the fact that Colorado approved the legalization of assisted suicide by a wide majority in a referendum, and the District of Columbia is about to pass legalizing legislation, it is clear that we must continue to work hard on this issue.
  • Elsewhere in the nation, Republicans retained their control of the majority of state legislatures and governorships. This means that the dynamic efforts of pro-lifers at the local and state level will have the chance to continue. Their successes give us solace that our movement is making progress, even if we seem stuck in New York.

The startling results of the presidential election may represent a watershed moment of political re-alignment. If the Democratic Party moves further to the left, as many are now suggesting, it is likely that moderate Democrats who are also pro-life and pro-religious liberty will be looking for a new political home. Voters of all types who are uneasy with the populism and nationalism of the President-elect may also find themselves in search of new political partners. There may be a chance for these centrist voters to come together to present a new vision for politics, perhaps even in a new party, a vision that is more in keeping with Catholic social teaching and with the innate pragmatism and moderation of the great majority of Americans.

In the meantime, we can watch, hope, and pray for our political leaders and for peace and harmony in our nation. God bless America.

(Please note that these comments are strictly limited to the issues that matter the most to me, namely pro-life, marriage and religious liberty. This should not be taken as a general assessment of the election results, an analysis that encompasses the full range of issues of concern to Catholics, or an unqualified statement of approval either of the President-elect or the Republican Party.)

Pathological Politics

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Politics is a dirty business and anyone who is involved in it, even just as a spectator, has to have a thick skin and a high tolerance for invective and hyperbole. Even by the standards of ordinary politics, though, the current Presidential campaign has certainly hit a number of new low points in the behavior of the major party candidates — including juvenile name calling, deranged conspiracy theories, unfounded accusations of bigotry and hatred, and the dismissal of a large percentage of the population as being “deplorable”.

The level of discourse among the general public has also been lamentably awful, as any reader of a Comments Box or Facebook feed can attest. On the whole, this year has not presented an edifying display of democracy at its best.

All of this might easily be dismissed as “politics as usual”. But things are certainly getting worse, and it is a very dangerous trend. This was brought home to me the other day when I received a troubling email from a very respectable Catholic gentleman. In the email, he said that the Democratic presidential nominee “is pure evil and very powerful because of her allegence [sic] to Satan”.

When uncharitable and unjust things like this are being said by Christian people, we should be seriously alarmed. If we as Christians cannot engage in strong political discourse without resorting to calling people “pure evil” or alleging that someone is a servant of the Evil One, then there is something sick about our political climate.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised. A recent study by the Pew Center on “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016″ found that Americans are not just divided by politics, but that the divisions have reached the level of fear and loathing. For example, the study found that “A majority of Democrats (55%) say the GOP makes them feel afraid, while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. And nearly half of Democrats (47%) and Republicans (46%) say the other party makes them feel angry”.

Things have clearly gone beyond robust disagreement about policy proposals. This personal animosity is the fruit of a political culture that cares little for policy discussions, but is instead infected by ideological media like “comedy” talk radio shows that show contempt for opposing viewpoints and politicians, and thrive on stirring up feelings of anger and indignation against the perceived enemy.

I understand that many people firmly believe that imminent disaster is at hand if one or the other of the major party candidates is elected. I certainly share the concern about the intensification of the Culture of Death and attacks on religious liberty. I also am disturbed by the prospect of immoral, unstable and untrustworthy people being elected to high office.

But as Catholic laypeople, we cannot be satisfied with this state of things. We are called by our faith to enter into temporal affairs, including politics, in order to bring to others the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must advance our positions while still remaining disciples of the Lord. As our Bishops say in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “We are committed to clarity about our moral teaching and to civility. In public life, it is important to practice the virtues of charity and justice that are at the core of our Tradition” (FC 60).

Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC, has said it very well:

We need to look at how we engage in discourse and how we live out our commitment to be a people of profound respect for the truth and our right to express our thoughts, opinions, positions — always in love. We who follow Christ must not only speak the truth but must do so in love (Eph 4:15). It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express that truth in charity with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the body of Christ.

As Christians, we cannot participate in pathological politics. Our society is indeed sick, and desperately in need of healing. But the solution is the message of mercy and love of the Gospel, emphasizing the dignity of every human person — including those with whom we disagree about politics.

Voting as a Catholic

Monday, October 24th, 2016

As Election Day approaches, there is a great deal of confusion and angst among Catholics. The Presidential race has garnered so much attention that it has overshadowed many other essential races at the federal and state levels. These other races will have an impact on key issues that affect our lives – the legalization of assisted suicide, regulation of abortion, religious liberty, war/peace, health care, etc. As in every election, there is much at stake, and we have a duty to be responsible citizens and vote.

When approaching our election decisions, it is vital that we act as Catholics – as disciples of Jesus Christ. We do not have to be locked into the arbitrary binary categories that the world seems caught up by – Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, etc. Instead, we follow St. Paul’s advice, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

So our task is to think with the mind of Christ, and look for ways to build the “civilization of love” (a phrase first coined by Pope Paul VI) that is at the heart of the social mission of the Church. In doing this, we as laypeople have the crucial role. It is our duty to engage in secular affairs and transform them in light of the Gospel. Politics is our responsibility, and the more Catholic we are, the better citizens and voters we will be, and the more we will advance the Kingdom of God.

To do this, we first have to form a correct and Catholic conscience about public affairs. Fortunately, the Bishops of the United States have given us an excellent tool for this, the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This document provides practical advice on how to form one’s conscience in keeping with the teachings of our Church, and how to apply it to the political choices that have been presented to us. The goal is to foster political engagement that is “shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable” ( FC 14).

The first question that we must ask ourselves when considering how to vote is the character, philosophy and integrity of the candidates ( FC 41). It is essential for the health of the nation and for the common good to elect persons of good moral character who are responsible stewards of the power that we delegate to them. There have been too many examples in our history of the terrible consequences of electing people of bad character (see the Watergate scandal), and we should have learned this lesson by now. Public morality and private morality are connected, and we desperately need both.

We then must evaluate the positions of the candidates and their parties in light of Church teaching. We cannot responsibly vote based only on party labels or self-interest ( FC 41). Instead, we have to inform ourselves based on reliable and serious sources (i.e., not comedy shows). An excellent source for this kind of information is a party’s platform, which shows in broad strokes what the party stands for and what they hope to accomplish in office. This takes a little research, but with so much information on the Internet it is not too difficult for the average voter.

In doing this, we must keep the Church’s teaching in the forefront of our attention. Faithful Citizenship highlights several essential concepts that must be at the heart of a Catholic’s voting analysis: the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death, the pursuit of the common good for all persons in society, subsidiarity (addressing social problems as close as possible to their source and respecting families and local institutions), solidarity (the unity of the human family), and the special obligation to protect the weak and the vulnerable.

Within that general framework, some issues are clearly more important than others. Our Church has consistently emphasized the preeminent place of the protection of human life at all its stages. We must oppose all kinds of intrinsically evil acts that endanger human life and dignity, such as abortion, euthanasia, destructive embryo research, the redefinition of marriage, racism, terrorism, torture, wars of aggression, human trafficking, pornography, and inhumane working conditions. All of these are utterly incompatible with human dignity and the common good.

This creates an obvious dilemma when we are confronted with candidates who are in favor of legalized abortion. We obviously cannot vote for a “pro-choice” candidate in order to support or perpetuate legalized abortion — “in such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil” (FC 34). The Bishops advise, however, that we may vote for a “pro-choice” candidate — but only “for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FC 35) What constitutes a “truly grave moral reason” will obviously depend on the circumstances, but it would appear to mean something that involves opposing another seriously immoral act, such as preventing racism, defending against serious threats to religious freedom, or stopping an aggressive war.

One thing is clear. Although we are not “one issue voters” and we should evaluate all of a candidate’s positions, “if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support” ( FC 42). So it is a perfectly responsible position for a Catholic to rule out voting for any “pro-choice” or racist candidate for that reason alone.

The hardest case for a Catholic is when we are presented with a choice between candidates who all support grave and intrinsic evils. In this case, the Bishops offer this advice: “The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” ( FC 36). This is not “choosing the lesser of two evils”, but instead is an effort to mitigate or minimize the damage that will be done by imperfect candidates. This is a difficult balance to draw, and one that should be approached very carefully. Balancing evils and predicting the future are fraught with the possibility of error, so a Catholic should proceed with great caution.

When faced with that situation, we can leave a particular ballot line blank and move on to other races, or we can look beyond the partisan binary – there’s no requirement in our faith that we must vote for a major party candidate. In many races, particularly the Presidential race, there are other people running whose positions are compatible with Church teaching, and a Catholic can therefore use their vote to make a principled statement. So we should look at minor parties (e.g., the American Solidarity Party) and other independent candidates.

Voting as a Catholic is not easy in this fallen world, but it is something that all Catholics are capable of. To do this, we can’t give up on politics as if it is hopeless to have good moral candidates and to improve our society. The quality of our politics depends on the quality of our participation. We must be aware of what is happening, and stay informed by seriously researching the positions of parties and candidates and the teachings of the Church. We should also pay close attention to all the races on the ballot, not just those on the top. We should certainly put in as much effort in voting as a Catholic as we do in selecting a cell phone. We should also stay engaged all year long, particularly by joining advocacy efforts like the New York State Catholic Action Network or the Human Life Action network.

The most important thing in this, as in any moral decision, is to call on the assistance of God. Pope Francis, when asked recently about our elections, gave this advice: ” Study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience.” Prayer is essential for any Catholic who seeks to do their duty as a voter. Because, as the U.S. Bishops have noted, “It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation ” (FC 38).

The Need for Political Morality

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Recently, I read a journalist’s account of the Watergate scandal. It was actually a bundle of inter-related illegal acts and conspiracies that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. One of the things that struck me was the astonishing and complete lack of morality among “All the President’s Men”. These were the most powerful men in the country, most were lawyers, and all considered themselves to be religious in one way or another. Yet they acted in total disregard for the law and for basic morals. They committed a series of crimes with no compunction — burglary, theft, bribery, illegal wiretapping, violations of campaign finance laws, and obstruction of justice. The amount of lying was breathtaking — a systematic campaign of perjury and knowingly false public statements. They never asked themselves “is this right?” but only cared about “will this work”.

I was a teenager when all this happened, and I remember following the stories with great interest. But I didn’t appreciate the sheer scope of all of it until I read this book. And, naturally, it led me to reflect on the current political climate, and on the desperate need for “political morality”.

There are two components to political morality. One is the personal morals of those who hold public office — are they people of integrity who can be counted on to obey essential principles of honesty, financial responsibility, lack of self-interest, fairness, seriousness, humility, etc. I utterly reject the notion, which is usually attributed to Macchiavelli, that rulers are not bound by ordinary moral laws, but are free to do things that would be illegal or immoral if done by ordinary citizens. No matter what public office one holds, the Ten Commandments still apply, and personal virtue will lead to good government.

The other component is constitutional morality — do they respect the rule of law, the process of law-making and governance, the rights of citizens, the notion that nobody is above or outside of the law, etc. I’m not as cynical as most people think, and I actually believe that a sound legal process will lead on the whole to sound results. I believe that the principles embodied in our Constitution — separation of powers, limits on the authority of the government, checks and balances, protection of fundamental rights, and federalism — provide a rich and fertile soil for living a peaceful and just life.

These elements of political morality were utterly lacking in the Nixon Administration. The Watergate scandals and their threat to the constitutional order were the direct result. The similar lack of political morality in the current climate fills me with dread for the future of our Republic.

At all levels of politics, we are repeatedly presented with — and we routinely elect — candidates who have a propensity for falsehood, whose financial affairs are deeply suspect, who treat people as instruments to be used and then discarded, and who seem obsessed with personal power rather than selfless public service. It has become unremarkable for candidates to affirm that they will use their power to commit gross moral evils, like abortion on demand, torture, aggressive war on civilians, and racial and religious discrimination. Candidates openly show disdain for the proper Constitutional process and promise to rule unilaterally by decree. And candidates and political advocates make crystal clear that they will use the levers of power to punish their enemies, and all those who disagree with their ideology.

The men who built and established our Republic understood very well the need for political morality. George Washington, who was an exemplar of this, said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” John Adams, who was no stranger to the rough and tumble of partisan politics, said “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

The current state of affairs in our political system would horrify the Founding Fathers. They should equally horrify us.

Political Incoherence on Abortion

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Although I’m a political junkie, I never watch those television events that are billed as “political debates”. They are nothing of the sort, of course, but instead are merely opportunities for candidates to parrot their talking points, show how strong they think they are by rudely interrupting each other, and doing little if anything to inform and enlighten the electorate.

And so, I didn’t watch the Vice-Presidential “debate” the other night, opting instead to watch a very exciting baseball game. But I was keenly interested in reading the reports of what the candidates said about abortion.

Now, we have to take anything said by a Vice-Presidential candidate with a healthy grain of salt. The purpose of a VP candidate is to robotically repeat the Presidential candidate’s talking points, pretend that the person at the top of the ticket has no faults or flaws and has never erred, and, aside from that, do nothing to mess up the campaign. That makes sense, since the role of a Vice President is essentially to serve as a constitutional spare tire.

But there was a comment at the most recent VP “debate” that is certainly worthy of notice, because it was on the issue of abortion and it demonstrated the incoherence of the Democratic position on this crucial issue, and how much in thrall that party is to the ideology of the Culture of Death.

Senator Tim Kaine is the Democratic VP candidate. As such, he is the right-hand-man to a presidential candidate whose position is utterly reprehensible on abortion — she has never heard of an abortion she disapproves of, and she is completely beholden to the abortion industry. Sen. Kaine, who is reportedly a practicing Catholic, has an appalling record in the Senate of support for abortion on demand at all times and for any reason. In this Senate session alone, he has voted to continue funding for Planned Parenthood, which kills over 300,000 unborn children a year, and opposed a measure that would prohibit late-term abortions at a time when the child can feel pain while they are being dismembered. He has also publicly stated that he will support a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which would mean that he thinks it’s a good idea for abortions on demand to be paid for by taxpayers.

Hardly a stellar example of a Catholic public servant. But it’s even worse. Sen. Kaine had this to say when asked a question about the role of his religion in forming his position on abortion:

I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teachings of my church in my own personal life. But I don’t believe in this nation, a First Amendment nation, where we don’t raise any religion over the other, and we allow people to worship as they please, that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone… I think it is really, really important that those of us who have deep faith lives don’t feel that we could just substitute our own views for everybody else in society, regardless of their views. … we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else. So let’s talk about abortion and choice. Let’s talk about them. We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. That’s something we trust American women to do that.

It would be difficult to find a better example of the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the “pro-choice Catholic” mindset. I could quote all day long from statements by the Church on the absolute moral duty of Catholic public officials to oppose the depraved injustice of abortion on demand. But leave that aside for a moment, because Sen. Kaine already seems to be utterly impervious to the actual beliefs of the faith he professes to be devoted to.

Instead, since faith always accords with reason, let’s just look at this from a strictly rational perspective, because it will be crystal clear that his comments make no sense, either for a Catholic or for anyone else.

All laws reflect moral judgments of right and wrong – that’s the nature of law itself. No system of law anywhere in the world or in history is based on the idea that a person can act however they want. Human conduct is always subject to moral rules that are written into civil law. So if a public official rules out the influence of their religious faith in making such judgments, on what moral principle will he act? Are his opinions completely swayed by public opinion polls, or party platforms? Then what kind of a person is he? Why would anyone vote for a politician who was so devoid of principle or courage that he ignores his religious faith and decides his position by sticking his finger in the air and checking the direction of the wind, or by just “following orders”?  How could you trust such a person to do anything according to any kind of coherent moral principle?

The prohibition against killing an innocent human being is not a Catholic doctrine, but a moral principle based on science and reason that can be seen by anyone, regardless of their religious faith. It’s not wrong because the Catholic Church says so, the Church teaches that because it’s a self-evident truth. It is Science 101 that every human life – including that of a VP candidate – begins at the moment of conception. The inhabitant of a mother’s womb is always a human being, the genetic offspring of a father and a mother, and he/she is never anything less. To take that helpless child’s life for any reason – much less to serve the convenience of the mother or father, or because the child has a physical handicap – is contrary to the inherent natural impulse of humans to protect and nurture their young. It is also patently evil to treat any living being with the cruelty of abortion – which involves poisoning a child with caustic chemicals or dismembering her while she is still alive.

A political candidate doesn’t need any religious faith to see that abortion is a moral evil and should be prohibited by law. All it takes is rational thought, and openness to the scientific evidence that is right before one’s eyes. Even a Vice President should be able to understand that.