Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

Looking for Voting Choices

Monday, September 19th, 2016

How many of us have heard or uttered this statement: “I don’t know how I’m going to vote this year”. Many Catholics are struggling to decide how to vote. That should mean that they’re trying to form their consciences in a correct and Catholic way. And they should be looking for choices that allow them to “see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city” ( Gaudium et Spes 43).

Unfortunately, we have the prospect this year of having some of the most deeply problematic major party candidates for president in American history (which is quite a statement, considering that Aaron Burr, Richard Nixon, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace are on that list). Several of them have significant character problems and all support some kind of intrinsic moral evil (i.e., laws and policies that are always wrong, like permitting abortion on demand, legalizing assisted suicide, or the deliberate killing of civilians in wartime).

I’m not a member of any of the major parties, so loyalty is not an issue for me — candidates don’t have a right to my vote, they have to earn it. To me, casting a vote is a moral act, a statement that I wish this candidate to serve in a particular office. It means that I believe the person is qualified for the office, and that I want them to fulfill their campaign promises and positions. If I know that this candidate will support intrinsically evil policies, I am giving my permission for those evil acts and I am therefore complicit (however remotely) in them.

This is a very troubling moral dilemma. Our Bishops have advised us that we can vote for a candidate who promotes an intrinsically evil act, but that can only be for truly grave moral reasons — which does not include party loyalty. The Bishops have also advised that we can “take the extraordinary step” of not voting for any candidate, or we can vote for the candidate who is likely to do the least harm. This is also a hard decision to make — how could there possibly be a sufficiently grave reason to vote for a candidate who favors abortion on demand, the killing of civilians in war, torture of captives, the redefinition of marriage, or proposals that are openly racist. Given the Law of Unintended Consequences, and the impossibility of predicting the future, it is also extremely hard to make a determination as to who would cause the least damage to our vulnerable republic and world.

Many people are considering to cast their vote for one candidate as a statement against one of the other candidates. But we don’t have an electoral system where we can “Like” or “Unlike” candidates. To vote against one, we have to vote to put the other one in office — which is a problem if we know that they will support evil policies.

But there are alternatives to voting for any of the major party candidates. One could leave the line blank — a vote of “none of the above” — but still vote for candidates in other key races. But that’s not satisfactory to those who want their vote not just to express dissatisfaction with the candidates that have been offered, but to support a positive agenda.

Another option is to look at some of the “minor parties” that have proposed candidates. I find one of these minor parties, the American Solidarity Party, to be very intriguing. It seems to be building its platform on Catholic Social Teaching. The party is not strictly Catholic, but falls in the tradition of “Christian Democratic” parties, which have been so influential in Europe and Latin America but which have never gained a foothold in the binary party system here in the United States.  On the issues I consider most important, the ASP is right on point: they are consistently pro-life, defend religious liberty and the authentic definition of marriage, oppose the use of torture and the killing of civilians in war, and support the right of parents to control the education of their children and the duty of the state to support them. I don’t agree with all of their platform, and I am not endorsing them or any other candidate for office. But I am interested in any political party or movement, however small they may be, that tries to advance the Church’s positions on policy issues.

Obviously, these kind of parties have no chance of winning this election. Most probably won’t even be on the ballot in New York, given our notoriously byzantine ballot access laws, so a write-in vote would be necessary.

But for voters who are looking for options, a minor party vote may allow them to vote according to their conscience. And that is not a “wasted vote”. As John Quincy Adams once said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

Speaking About Social Justice and Inequality

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

In this political season, we have heard much about “inequality” and “social justice” from the candidates in the Democratic primaries. These are certainly subjects worth talking about. Let’s do so.

In 1972, the Court of Appeals of New York State said the following: “The Constitution does not confer or require legal personality for the unborn”. ( Byrn v. NYC Health and Hospital Corp.)

In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States added this: “the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn”. ( Roe v. Wade)

So our Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Courts have thereby expelled an entire class of human beings — those who haven’t been lucky enough to be born yet — from society. They have declared them to be beyond the protection of the laws. In the English legal tradition, this would make them “outlaws” — stripped of any legal rights, liable to be killed with impunity without trial. It is equivalent to being legally dead, and nobody can lend them any assistance. They have less legal protection than animals or property.

It was to eliminate the inherent injustice and inhumanity of “outlawry” that motivated the guarantees of the right to trial and to the writ of habeas corpus in the Magna Carta and subsequent laws. It eventually led the Founders of our nation to enact the ban on bills of attainder, and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of our Constitution. Their purpose was to ensure that everyone is within the protections of the law, that nobody is an “outlaw”, that nobody can be cast out of society.

So let us take a close look at Presidential candidates who speak of “social justice” and denounce “inequality”, yet support the unlimited power to abort an unborn child up until the moment of birth for any reason, who oppose any and all regulations of abortion, who campaign openly in favor of it, who accept the support of organizations that profit from it. Let’s ask them a few questions:

What concept of “social justice” permits unborn boys and girls to be treated as “outlaws” without any protection of the law, and thus liable to being killed with impunity?

Is it “social justice” to treat unborn boys and girls worse than African-Americans were treated under the Jim Crow regime? Or was the Supreme Court right in its infamous Dred Scott decision — in which they said African-Americans have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect”?

Do we still reject as impermissible “inequality” the legal segregation of an entire class of humans into second-class status? Or was Brown v. Board of Education wrongly decided?

The answers to these questions are obvious. In a dissenting opinion in the Byrn case, one of the judges of the Court of appeals said this:

The fundamental nature of life makes impossible a classification of living, human beings as nonpersons, who can be excluded from the protection of the Constitution of the United States so that their right to life can be taken from them in spite of the due process clause and equal protection clause.

Yes, by all means, as this Presidential race develops, let us speak about “social justice” and “inequality”. And let us judge the candidates based on how they answer our questions.

The Hierarchy of Values in Voting

Monday, February 29th, 2016

In several of my recent blog posts, I discussed some of the standards that our Bishops have recommended for helping Catholics make their voting decisions.  I noted that it is all too common for us to be faced with difficult choices involving candidates whose positions are not all in line with the teachings of the Church, particularly about the core issues of life, marriage and family, and religious liberty.

I’ve been discussing this problem a lot with my colleague, Alexis Carra.  She has a very valuable point of view, so I asked her to summarize it, and offer me a chance to respond:

“Like you mention in your post, it’s becoming more common to be presented with candidates who are in line with the Church when it comes to economic and social justice issues, but supportive of abortion. This poses a particular challenge for Catholic voters — Does a candidate’s favorable stance on economic and social issues outweigh his unfavorable stance on abortion? Or does a candidate’s favorable stance on abortion outweigh all of his other unfavorable stances? The guidance from the Catholic bishops seems to suggest that abortion outweighs all other issues. In other words, one could only vote for a candidate who supports abortion for a proportionately serious reason. Considering that abortion is a very grave evil, this means that one could only vote for a candidate who supports abortion if one has a very grave reason.

“For some Catholics, this is a little off-putting. Why should a candidate’s favorable stance on abortion outweigh all of his other unfavorable stances? Why should abortion matter the most? Aren’t there other issues that are just as important? Or wouldn’t a combination of other favorable stances balance an unfavorable stance on abortion? Unfortunately, however, I find that these legitimate concerns have not been well-addressed, especially since they are difficult to address. Often times, I’m asked to discuss this issue, so I have included a portion of my response below. But really, I want to know your response.

“In short, I think these concerns can be best addressed by looking at the nature of the human person and reflecting on what enables a person to flourish. First and foremost, the person needs to be offered a chance at life — not killed in womb. If the person is not alive, then none of this really matters. Next, the person needs to be taken care of within a stable structure — everyone knows what happens to abandoned babies who are not taken in. Then, in order for the person to truly develop, the person needs to live within a society free from oppression, in which education, health-care, employment opportunities, etc. are also available.

“When asked to be as simple and pragmatic as possible, I think a reflection on the nature of the human person and on human development allows us to derive rough categories of importance. First, issues related to life. Second, issues related to stability, family structure, and sexuality. Third, issues related to greater flourishing. The reason why abortion typically outweighs all other issues is that is abortion cuts at the heart of life — it goes against the most basic category. If people are not even offered a chance to live, the most fundamental aspect of existence, then there can be no further debate on any other topic.

“What do you think?”

I think she’s on to something very important.  With all the fuss and furor that take place around elections, it’s hard to keep track of which issues are more important, and why — we tend to hear only about issues that the candidates have chosen to emphasize, in order to advance their electoral strategies.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith helps us to maintain a clearer view of the hierarchy of values.  There can be no real question that the right to life is the fundamental, original predicate for all other rights, needs, and desires — without life, none of those things can even be coherently discussed.  Likewise, the absolute equality of value of all human lives is also a foundation for any healthy society.  An attack on these foundational rights must be considered the most serious of social evils, and it is the highest social duty to defend them against such attacks.  So we as voters have the duty to make the protection of life our highest priority.

From that basis, I think that we can then discern the rest of the hierarchy of values. For any human being, life alone is insufficient for genuine flourishing and development.  Basic physical needs must also be attended to —  health, safety, shelter, nourishment, etc.  Human beings also cannot exist in isolation, so the health of relationships must also be taken care of.  The primary relationship is the family, which means that the promotion and protection of marriage must be a high priority, since that is the best environment for the health and development of both adults and children. As a person extends their relationships beyond the family, and particularly as they begin to develop as an independent person, other needs must also be addressed — education, employment, opportunities for cultural and leisure activities, etc.

As we move further down the hierarchy, the overall health of society is also a concern, since each person is part of the organic whole of the political community in which they live.  So this involves issues like the election of people of good moral character, the proper and prudent functioning of government, accountability of public officials, economic development, immigration, etc..  Since no nation exists in a vacuum, and we must consider the welfare of our fellow human beings around the world, we then look to issues of international relations, peace, etc.

As a voter, then, each of these matters has weight, but I have to consider them within this hierarchy of importance when making my decisions.

But there’s another important part of the hierarchy of values.  Alexis is absolutley right that we have to consider the nature of the human person, which means that we also have to consider the person’s spiritual needs as well.  Society has an obligation to create conditions where humans can develop spiritually, and to remove any unreasonable obstacles to that development. This is why the freedoms of religion, expression, and association are so important.  Society also has a duty to remove and remedy conditions that harm people’s spiritual health — the structures of sin that do so much damage, but encouraging and facilitating sinful behavior, like corruption in politics, the drug trade, the sex industry, etc.  As for the very great importance of spiritual health, we have it on good authority — “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28).  The spiritual health of each individual, and society as a whole, should thus be placed alongside the right to life itself as a foundational value, and must be treated accordingly as voters.

This is, of course, not an easy way to make voting decisions.  It is much easier to vote for the loudest candidate who speaks colorfully with great theatrical skill.  But as Catholics, we have to do better.  We need to educate ourselves about the teachings of the Church, we have to pay close attention to the hierarchy of values, and we have to pray for guidance.

The stakes are high when we make voting decisions.  God clearly takes an interest in the health of societies, and has never been shy about passing judgment on them.

Real Presidential Leadership

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

As the Presidential primary season unfolds, we keep on hearing various
candidates talk about “leadership”.  The question is, what does that mean?
February 22 is an auspicious occasion to reflect on the meaning of true leadership in our American republic — Washington’s Birthday.

George Washington is a hero of mine.  I believe he was the greatest American
who has ever lived, and one of the greatest men who has ever lived.  He was the
dominant figure at the most important time in our history, when our nation was
being formed, and his impact on our history is incalculable.  He was indeed, as
the title of one of his biographies calls him, the “indispensible man”.

In our modern time, we tend to emphasize in our “leaders” the importance of
government experience or business acumen (when we’re not looking for
iconoclastic bluster).  While Washington possessed many managerial gifts, his
excellence as a leader were based on something far more important — they
stemmed directly from the quality of his character.  There are several attributes
of his character that are worth highlighting, because I believe that they would be
the perfect template for the virtues we need in our modern-day leaders.

Humility — Despite being the most admired and accomplished public figure of
his time, Washington never reveled in his status or stooped to bragging or self-
aggrandizement.  Instead, at every point in his career, as he was being asked to
assume greater and greater responsibilities, he took care to speak of his sense of
unworthiness and his fear of disappointing those who were entrusting him with
new duties.  One can see this in his statement on accepting his commission as
leader of the Continental Army, his resignation of that commission after
successfully prosecuting the war, his First Inaugural Address, and so on.  It is a
consistent theme of his public life — his humility in accepting the duties that his
nation demanded of him, even while he willingly accepted the task.

Self-Sacrifice — Washington always put his nation ahead of his own interests.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, he nurtured a strong desire to return to his
beloved home.  He repeatedly quoted the Bible to describe this desire:  ” they
shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make
them afraid” (Micah 4:4).  Yet, amazingly, his devotion to duty was such that he
visited his estate only once in the eight years of the war, and only near the end,
when the campaign came to Virginia.  He tried to retire from public life after the
war, only to be called back to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional
Convention, and again to serve as President.  Love for his nation, and a keen
sense of duty, were always his motivating force, never egotism or ambition.

Tolerance — In an age of religious intolerance, Washington was noteworthy for
his liberality.  During the war he forbade his soldiers from holding “Guy Fawkes”
events, out of fear that they would offend his Catholic allies, the French.  As
President, he wrote one of the most important statements of religious liberty in
our history, his justly famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport,
Rhode Island.  He spoke of how the government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to
persecution no assistance”, and promised protection to those of all faiths who
live as good citizens.  It is inconceivable that Washington would show any
degree of animosity or hostility to members of any faith who sought, like him, to
be good Americans.

Respect for Rule of Law — Washington always respected his role as a servant of
the people, within the proper role assigned to him by the law.  Throughout the
Revolution, he defered to an incompetent Congress, not out of respect for their
abilities, but out of reverence for the rule of law in a republic.  His character
alone was enought to allay the fears of many Americans, who were concerned
that the office of President under the new Constitution could become a crypto-
king.  His devotion to the law can be best seen in his response to the incipient mutiny of his officers at the end of the war.  Congress had refused to pay the officers, and there was a movement afoot to petition Washington to lead the army to Philadelphia to compel Congress to act.  He reacted to this by immediately squelching the rebellion, saying that the conspiracy “has something so shocking in it that humanity revolts at the idea”, and calling upon the officers  to look with the “utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our country”.  By force of his force of character alone, Washington ended the threat to turn America into a military dictatorship, and thereby preserved our freedom.

Piety — While there has been much debate about Washington’s religion, there is
no question that he was a sincere and devout believer in God, and that he relied
on divine providence in all his work.  At every significant moment of his public
career, he invoked the assistance of God.  For example, in his First Inaugural
Address, he spoke eloquently of his prayer for divine protection of America,
speaking of “my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the
Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids
can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the
liberties and happiness of the People of the United States”.  His faith was not a
mere political posture, but a deeply held conviction that God’s benevolent hand
was responsible for the welfare of the American nation.

Nobility — The greatest demonstration of Washington’s nobility of character was
not in the way he exercised power, but how he surrendered it.  Indeed, in some
ways the most important day of American history was December 23, 1783, when
Washington resigned his commission to Congress at the end of the war.  Rather
than seizing power, as many victorious military leaders had done in the past,
Washington willingly and respectfully turned over the authority that had been
given to him.  When hearing that Washington might surrender his office, the
baffled King George said that “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the
world!”  But so he did, and so he was, and his last words to Congress are worth quoting:

“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.  Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

It may seem impossible that anyone in our debased modern age could measure
up to Washington’s patriotic virtues.  But there is a reason that the President can
look out and see the Washington Monument from the Oval Office, and that Congress can likewise see it down the Mall. It is upon the virtue of our leaders that the health of our nation depends.  A republic cannot survive if it elects leaders who lack virtue.

Washington’s virtues are the same that we should expect — no, require — from
every one of our Presidents.  We cannot afford to demand anything less.

The Burden of Proof

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

I’ve written before about the challenges faced by Catholics in the election season, which is now upon us with the onset of presidential primaries.  I am often asked about how to make decisions between candidates, especially when none are in full agreement with the Church about essential issues.  The hypothetical case is typically presented of the candidate who is “pro-choice” on abortion, but has stands on economic issues that are closer to those promoted by the Church.  I know I’m old-fashioned in many ways, but in my mind the clearest thinking on this issue comes from our Bishops.

In 2004, the Bishops approved a brief statement called “Catholics In Political Life”. They said the following about abortion:

It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified… To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong. This is the point most recently highlighted in official Catholic teaching. The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. In the United States of America, abortion on demand has been made a constitutional right by a decision of the Supreme Court. Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good. (emphasis added)

During their deliberations, the Bishops had received a private letter from then-Cardinal Ratzinger that was later made public.  In it, he said:

When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

That is standard Church teaching about the question of cooperation with evil.  And so, many people point to this notion of “proportionate reasons” when approaching the voting decision.  But in fact, our Bishops have gone further, and have significantly raised the bar for making a decision whether to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate because of their other positions.  In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops have said:

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil. (35, emphasis added).

Specifically with respect to abortion, the Bishops responded to errors that are  made in applying Church teaching that can disort our defense of human life.  They said:

The first [temptation] is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. 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. (28, emphasis added)

The Bishops don’t point this out, but in making our voting decision it is vitally important that we don’t consider it in isolation.  Instead, we have to look at the reasonably foreseeable consequences — in other words, what will happen if this flawed candidate is elected?  In the case of the Presidential election, there are substantial foreseeable consequences:  as many as two possible Supreme Court nominations, dozens of Circuit Court and District Court nominations, and appointment power to many key policy-making positions in the Administration where regulations are developed (just think of the HHS Mandate and you’ll know why this matters so much).  Will the candidate’s future actions work to ameliorate the situation, leave it intact, or make it even worse?  One also has to take into account the likelihood of a candidates’ positions becoming reality — they may be nice campaign promises that are in keeping with the positions of the Church, but if they may have no chance of being passed, then what good are they?

So that sets the bar very high indeed.  What could possibly be a sufficiently grave moral reason that would justify voting for a candidate that supports the injustice of abortion, where upwards of a million vulnerable lives are lost every year?  Where the courts are hostile to common-sense measures that would regulate abortion?  Where minors are allowed to get abortions without even notifying their parents?  Where public authorities refuse to enforce health standards in abortion clinics?  Where abortion is held out as being indispensible for women to participate in society?  Where millions of taxpayer dollars go directly to pay abortionists for their dirty work?

Can any position, on any issue, be sufficient to justify voting for a person who will support that?  Personally, I cannot imagine anything satisfying that burden of proof.

How Will We Be Ruled?

Friday, January 29th, 2016

America is once again at the threshold of another presidential election year.  The early campaigning has been done, and the voting will soon begin in primaries across the nation.

The electoral process is more than an question of who will best fill the position of president, but it is a moral testing ground.  What kind of person will we choose to head our government?  What kind of standards will he govern by?  What are the moral implications of his decisions?

For Catholics, this is a time for us to challenge our consciences.  Are we making political decisions based on our faith, or on other criteria?  Are we voting like Christians, or like members of a political party or ideology?

The bishops of the United States have published a document every four years, in preparation for the presidential elections, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.  It lays out the Church’s perspective on the policy issues that are facing our nation, and calls Catholics to use it as a guide to their moral decision-making.

But the real challenge to us involves more than just a decision about who will temporarily hold an office.  It is a much deeper question — will we live according to God’s standards, or man’s?  This is a test of faith, and it is one that our nation seems to be failing.  The evidence is all around us — idolatrous consumerism and materialism, widespread sexual immorality, ethical relativism, the collapse of social support for authentic marriage, denial of the true nature of the human person as male and female, and the increasing reach of the Culture of Death.

Every year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.  This feast encourages us to contemplate the Kingdom of God.  All too often we only view God’s Kingdom as an abstract idea, perhaps something for the distant future, or a goal to be aspired to.  But it actually has tremendous significance for the way we live right now, and for our political decisions.  A few years ago, in a homily for the feast, Pope Benedict pointed out that “The kingdom of God is a kingdom utterly different from earthly kingdoms”, because it is founded on justice, love, peace, and service, and not on power or force.  He also reminded us that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God “is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives.”

Are those the standards we apply in making political decisions?

We are not unique in having to decide how God’s standards can be instituted in our earthly realm.  This has been a struggle faced by God’s people throughout history.  And, all too often, we have chosen badly.  I am reminded of a passage from the First Book of Samuel, in which the prophet issues a stern warning to the Israelites, who have clamored to be ruled by an earthly king, instead of the prophets and judges appointed by God.

Samuel said to the people, “Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain.  For the LORD will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.  Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.  (1 Samuel 12:20-25)

How are we responding to the Lord’s invitation — and Samuel’s admonition — as we consider our upcoming political decisions?  Are we choosing to be ruled by God’s standards, or by man’s?

The Mission is Always Outwards

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, there has been much introspection among the faithful about the way forward on marriage, religious liberty, and the role of faith in the public square.  Perhaps because we’ve been fighting this battle in New York for so long, these are familiar discussions to us, and I’ve written about them before.

From what I’ve seen so far, there are many calls to civil disobedience, although very few people have actually engaged the question of how that will be done and how extensive it will have to be (which will be the subject of a future post here).  Others have called for what some are terming a “Benedict Option”, modeled after the founder of the great monastic order, in which a groups of the faithful draw away from the general society in hopes of laying the seeds of reforming it.   Others emphasize the inward path of conversion of our own hearts, so that in our private lives, we are good witnesses to our faith.  Some have even advocated for shaking the dust of the world from our feet and leaving it on the path to its own destruction.

None of these is an adequate answer to the situation we find ourselves in.  Surely, we need to come together with like-minded people, to strengthen our faith communities and provide mutual support.  Our lives are always in need of conversion, and the best teachers of the truth are always those who witness to it in their everyday lives.  We undoubtedly will have to resist unjust laws, and bear the consequences.  All of that has merit, and each of us will have to find the path that the Holy Spirit is calling them to.

But in searching for our plan of action, we have to make sure that we don’t keep our focus only on ourselves.  If we do that, we will lose sight of a crucial point. In the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20), Our Lord gave the Church a very clear mission to the world:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

The mission of the Church is never to pull away from humanity and turn inward, nor is it meant to be in a state of defensive warfare with the forces of power in the world.  We are not meant to practice our faith only in our private lives, indifferent to the state of society.  Pope Francis said it very well in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium):

… no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ.  (183)

These are difficult times, similar to those experienced by the Church in many prior ages, and in many places in our own time.  But we should always remember that the mission of the Church — and each one of us — is always to change the world, to transform it in light of the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is outside.

My Catholic Voting Decision

Monday, October 27th, 2014

[Several years ago, in anticipation of Election Day, I posted on my personal opinion about how to approach making a voting decision.  I’ve revised and combined 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.]

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.” (Faithful Citizenship 17)

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,

“This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection.” (Faithful Citizenship 31). “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.” (Faithful Citizenship 28)

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 confronted us, in language as plain as possible,with the choice of conscience and discipleship that we face when going into the voting booth:

Look [at the pictures of unborn children] and decide with honesty and decency what the Lord expects of you and me as the horror of ‘legalized’ abortion continues to erode the honor of our nation. Look, and do not absolve yourself if you refuse to act.”

Cardinal Egan also once said,

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 “Women’s Equality Act” (which contains a provision that would greatly expand abortion in our state).  An example of an informational voter guide, from a reliable outside organization, can be found here.

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.

When I pick up my ballot on Tuesday, I will see a stark choice between candidates who are pro-abortion, and others who are pro-life.  In fact, several of the pro-abortion candidates (who were baptized as Catholics, sad to say) 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 hidden in the “Women’s Equality Act” will be pushed forward. I cannot see how I as a Catholic could vote for such persons.

So for me, the choice is easy — I will vote only for the pro-life candidates.

(Important Note: I am going to repeat what is said in the disclaimer on the side of this blog — the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone, they 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.)

Say “No” to Gambling in New York

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

A ballot measure will come before New York voters on Election Day, asking us whether we will approve a constitutional amendment to permit an expansion of gambling in our state.  The Bishops of New York State have issued a clear statement on this initiative, urging us to consider all the relevant factors in deciding how to vote on this matter.

I have done as our Bishops have asked.  Speaking just for myself (and not in my capacity as an official of the Archdiocese), I strongly urge voters to reject this amendment.

The idea is being touted by state officials as a way to enhance government revenue and increase jobs.  In fact, the measure would just increase compulsive gambling, impose an unfair regressive tax on poor people, and further coarsen our culture by encouraging improvidence, wasteful spending, and vice.

Once you get past the propaganda and deceptions put out by the euphemistically-named “gaming industry”, you can see that gambling is a bad deal for New York, and that there was a reason that everyone once considered gambling to be a vice to be suppressed, not a form of entertainment to be encouraged.

Two recent scholarly studies (see here and here) summarize the negative social effects of gambling, particularly as it will impact New York.  Among their findings:

  • A modern slot machine is a sophisticated computer, engineered to create fast, continuous, and repeat betting.
  • Modern slot machines are carefully designed to ensure that the longer you play, the more you lose — and virtually everyone loses in the short and long run.
  • Modern slot machines are highly addictive — and are designed that way, to attract young video-game players into a more expensive “hobby”.
  • Problem gambling is more widespread than many casino industry leaders claim — far more than the 1% of the population claimed by the industry.
  • Problem gambling affects families and communities as well as individuals — the costs include financial hardships, burdensome debt, loan defaults, fraud, bankruptcy, loss of a business or home, sometimes total destitution, neglect of family and children, the diversion of money from productive to wasteful spending.
  • The benefits of casinos are short-term and easy to measure while many of their costs are longer-term and harder to measure — just ask yourself how Atlantic City is doing these days.
  • State sponsorship of casinos is a policy contributing to patterns of inequality in America — low-income workers, retirees, minorities, and disabled people make up a disproportionately large share of casino patrons, which only increases their economic hardships.
  • This doesn’t even include the awful corrupting effect on our political culture from the massive expenditures by the “gaming industry” to politicians — creating a repulsive marketplace for “legal graft” and back-room influence peddling in our state capital.  Or the deliberate and deceptive slanting of the language of the ballot initiative, in a transparent attempt to gull people into supporting it.  If you have a strong stomach, check out the recent report outlines the sordid political deals that have brought us to this point.

    In their report, “New York’s Promise: Why Sponsoring Casinos is a Regressive Policy Unworthy of a Great State”, the Institute for American Values asks a very pointed question about this ballot initiative:

    The question for New York is a simple one. Is this who we are?

    The answer should be a resounding “No!”  We are better than this.  We should not be wasteful, improvident, and exploitative.  We should not allow any powerful industry to prey upon weaknesses, nor should we allow our government and politicians to profit from them.  We should protect people and their families from vice and addiction.

    Please, for the sake of the soul of our state, and the lives of our fellow citizens.  Vote “No” on New York State Proposal One on Election Day.

    The View from Under the Bus

    Monday, December 3rd, 2012

    After the election, we have seen much discussion about why the Republican Party lost the Presidential election and failed to pick up some initially-promising Senate seats.  One of the proposals that we hear often is that the GOP should jettison “social conservatives”, or at least declare a “truce” on “social issues” like abortion and the re-definition of marriage.

    Far be it from me to give advice to the sage experts who have piloted the GOP to such electoral triumphs.  Nor is it my business to get involved in political strategy for a party that I am not even a member of.

    The reason I am interested in this question is that we are starting to hear a similar idea from pro-lifers — a sense that the political mission of our movement has either failed, or reached a final impasse, and that we need to re-direct our energies away from the political and public policy arenas, and focus instead on a more cultural approach to defending and promoting life.

    I think this is a fundamental mis-diagnosis of the current state of things in our nation, and it falsely sets up an unnecessary either/or, zero-sum choice.

    The current state of the pro-life movement’s political and public policy status depends on where you are standing.  Obviously, things may seem quite bleak in a place like New York City, which is essentially a one-party state dominated by a Democratic party that is almost completely dedicated to hard-line pro-abortion policies.  But that view can be deceptive.  In other areas of New York State, there is a functioning GOP that is at least theoretically supportive of pro-life policies, and there are still some staunch pro-life Democrats around.  The picture here in New York is quite daunting, there’s no doubt about it — but it’s certainly not time to throw in the towel.

    Of course, New York is not all of America (it’s not even part of the real world, but that’s another issue).  If you were standing in Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, Florida, South Carolina, or many other states, the picture would be much more encouraging.  Many public officials and candidates in those states proudly proclaim their pro-life views, and they have passed common-sense pro-life laws, like parental notification, informed consent, and abortion clinic regulations.  In fact, the public policy and political successes of our movement on the state level have proven to be a consternation to the pro-abortion forces, who continually complain about how many laws we have been able to pass.

    At a time when our movement is making progress on the state and local level, it’s no time to declare defeat — or a “truce”.

    But it’s more than a mere question of how many bills are passed, or how many candidates are willing to say they’re “pro-life”.  We’re engaged in a battle over our culture, which means that we’re striving to convert the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters.  Our goal is not just to make abortion illegal, but to make it unthinkable.

    In this kind of struggle, it would be folly to abandon an entire field of the contest. The real question isn’t “politics or culture”, as if we can only work on one thing at a time.  Our challenge is to get better at transforming both.

    We absolutely need to ramp up our efforts to provide assistance to expectant mothers and fathers in crisis — that’s ground zero in the struggle to eliminate abortion.  We definitely need to offer more resources for those who are suffering the aftermath of abortion.  We have to reverse the anti-life, anti-chastity messages of our media, which create a climate of sexual adventurism and a contraceptive mentality.  All these are legitimate areas for the pro-life movement to improve and enhance our work.

    But law and politics are part of culture too.  They affect public opinion and shape private actions.  There is a growing body of opinion, especially among young people, that our nation has gone too far on abortion — that it’s a disgrace that 41% of New York City pregnancies end in abortion (the numbers are even worse in the African-American community), that horrifically unsafe abortion clinics are allowed to maim and kill women with impunity, that parents are excluded from their children’s key decisions about abortion and contraception, that handicapped children are routinely aborted, and that women are not being presented with all the choices available to them.

    Fewer and fewer people are satisfied with our country having the most liberal abortion laws in the world, and with a political, media and cultural “elite” who are so degraded that they think this is a good thing.

    There is a quiet cultural and political revolution on the way.  Our young brethren will lead it.  This is no time to end the struggle over abortion in the public square.

    It’s time to stand firm.