Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Where Do Things Stand on the Sex Abuse Crisis?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

The news from the recent US bishops’ meeting came as a shock and disappointment to many Catholics – the Holy See blocked a vote on any plan to address the latest developments in the sex abuse crisis until after a world-wide meeting of the heads of national bishops’ conferences in February. And many are deeply frustrated because there is a lack of information about why this was done and what’s going to happen.

I’ve been hearing lots of angry questions about the situation from friends and correspondents. There is a plethora of opinion and speculation online, much of it colored by various ideological positions. There is a lot of mis-information, and lack of information, being spread through the media and the blogosphere.

I’d like to offer some of my thoughts and explanations to try to clarify where I see things being. Note that these are my personal opinions. They’re not official positions of the Archdiocese and I have no special inside information. But I am involved in child protection, so I’m going to use that experience to try to make some sense of things.

Why did Rome stop the bishops from acting? 

Just to review, the US bishops were holding their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore. The main issue on the agenda was how to address the sex abuse crisis, particularly the question of how to hold bishops accountable. There were two inter-related proposals on the table – to establish a lay-led commission to review complaints against bishops and to define a code of conduct for bishops. At the last minute, a letter was sent from the Holy See asking (in reality, a nice way of ordering) the bishops to postpone any vote on any kind of proposal until after the meeting that the Holy Father called in February to discuss the matter with the presidents of all the regional bishops’ conferences around the world.

It’s impossible to say why the Holy See stopped the bishops from adopting an American policy, because nobody in Rome explained the reasoning behind the decision. All we were told was that decisions should be deferred until after the February meeting. For Americans, this is, perhaps, the most frustrating part of what happened, since we are used to much more open debate about policy options. Many feel deeply offended and angry, and see this as another example of condescending clericalism and a culture of secrecy. Some have also found it bewildering to stop our bishops from voting on a plan that was going to have to be approved in Rome anyway, and wonder whether there is some kind of hostility to America going on.

It’s clear to me that the Holy See needs to be much more open about what they’re doing and why — especially because one of the most damaging parts of the sex abuse crisis was the loss of trust because of all the secrecy.

Why can’t the US Bishops just adopt their own policies for the US?

American Catholics naturally want our American bishops to offer solutions to our American problem. We respect the principle of subsidiarity, according to which there’s a strong preference that local bodies resolve local problems if possible, and that larger bodies only get involved if local solutions don’t work. Our experience since 2002 with the Bishops’ Charter shows that our bishops are perfect capable of developing successful ways to deal with sex abuse on a national scale.

So for many people, Rome’s decision to postpone any action on the US bishops’ plan, before there was a chance to see if it would work, seems to violate subsidiarity. On the other hand, the Holy Father may be convinced that the sex abuse crisis (including the problem of misconduct and poor governance by bishops) can’t be answered on a nation-by-nation basis and requires a world-wide discussion, if not a world-wide response. It’s hard to tell because Rome’s reasoning hasn’t been made public.

Regardless of the reasons, once Rome made the request (i.e., order) to our bishops, they had no choice but to comply. Unity with the Holy Father is an essential part of the collegiality among bishops and the catholicity of our Church, and great deference has to be given to his wishes.

One pragmatic matter is crucial to understand: the Church is present in virtually every country in the world. We in America are used to dealing with a good government with fair courts and laws, a free press and wide-open discussions. But in most other countries, dioceses operate in a completely different environment, with open hostility and persecution from their governments, limited free press and fear of retaliation for speaking one’s mind. So what may make perfect sense in one country or diocese could be a disaster in another. The Holy See has the difficult job of trying to make world-wide policy that will work in all nations.

So does Rome have a plan?

Again, we don’t know, because nobody at the Holy See has publicly proposed anything yet. The Vatican has just announced the names of some of the people who will be involved in the planning of the February meeting (none of whom are laypeople), they haven’t had any formal meetings yet, and there haven’t been any real hints about the actual agenda. Public statements by some of the organizers have been very general and have suggested that the meeting will only be the beginning of a longer process of developing policies.

That kind of statement is just astounding to me – we are very far from the beginning of the crisis, and we need to move quickly towards ending it. The crisis is now, not in the future. We need to see a sense of urgency and a concrete plan that has much more involvement of the laity, especially experts in the field, and much more openness and accountability.

For all those reasons and more, I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical that the February meeting will result in any concrete proposals. In the past, high-level meetings run by the Holy See have usually been better at discussing general principles than for adopting practical policies. Just think of the most recent Synods of Bishops for examples.

There was also some discussion at the US bishops’ meeting of strengthening the role of archbishops in supervising the bishops in their province and in evaluating allegations of misconduct by them. There were even hints that this proposal might be favored in Rome. There is some merit to this idea, since it relies on existing structures, but it makes many Catholics nervous. Having bishops overseeing other bishops, unless they also have robust transparency and involvement by laity or independent investigators, will likely be perceived by many as perpetuating the kind of clericalism that has been a major part of the problem in the past. The Archbishop McCarrick case has been seen as a prime example of the failure of bishops to self-police.

In any event, it seems clear to me that to regain the trust of American Catholics, Rome will have to come up with more than just additional statements about how serious the problem is, how concerned they are, how committed they are to preventing abuse, and how serious they are about developing policies. There’s already been a lot of talk, and people are impatient for action.

What can our bishops do in the meantime? 

Seeing our bishops’ hands tied by the Vatican is very upsetting, because that means there are very few things they can do on the national scale while waiting for the February world-wide meeting. Cardinal Dolan and two other prelates have been appointed to a special task force to study the issue, and we can hope that there will be some positive results from that and an avenue for input from the laity in that process. And we can also hope that after the February world-wide meeting, the US Bishops will have the ability to adopt particular policies that would apply in the unique situation of the US.

Individual bishops, however, can use this time to increase their communication with the laity, particularly by being completely transparent about the cases that have arisen and how they have been handled, including apologizing for mistakes. The bishops can also be transparent by explaining the procedures they already have in their dioceses and how they can hold their brother bishops accountable. Greater attention can also be paid to the problem of unchastity among the clergy. More bishops are following Cardinal Dolan’s example and setting up compensation plans for victims of abuse, and more should also follow his example by calling on an independent monitor to evaluate what the diocese has been doing.

These steps help, but they don’t eliminate people’s impatience over the need for a strong national solution.

Is the Vatican dragging its feet on the Archbishop McCarrick case?

Not at all. The first allegation against the Archbishop was evaluated last Spring by our review board and found to be substantiated. That case was then sent to Rome, the Holy Father removed the Archbishop’s faculties to function as a priest and bishop, he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and he has been assigned to live in prayer and penance. A second allegation was made public this summer in the newspapers. It was referred to Rome, and they then sent it back to us for investigation. According to our protocols, we referred the case to the local District Attorney to determine whether there is any possibility of a criminal prosecution. Once they have concluded their handling of the case, we will conduct our own investigation and all the evidence will be submitted to our review board. If any other allegations are made, they will be handled the same way.

Investigating these kinds of cases takes time, and we all wish things would move faster. But the Holy See has been following its law and procedure, the DA’s offices have followed theirs, and so have we. These things can’t be rushed. We also have to make sure that the Archbishop, like anyone else, receives due process. People often forget that even the American justice system moves very slowly. The Bill Cosby sexual assault case took three years from the filing of charges through two trials, and the Larry Nasser/US gymnastics sex abuse case took over a year and a half for the criminal cases to end in guilty pleas (but the civil cases are still going on). Unfortunately, real life is not like an episode of “Law and Order” where everything is neatly wrapped up in sixty minutes.

Evaluating the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick is only part of the issue, though. The larger question is about how he was able to advance in office despite widespread rumors and even legal settlements about his misconduct. That’s a serious question that Rome will have to eventually answer.

Aren’t the bishops and the pope worried about losing Catholics? 

Many Catholics are baffled by what they see as the tepid and confusing response by Church leaders and think that the bishops “just don’t get” the level of anger and alienation they feel. What happened at the bishops’ meeting was more fuel for that feeling, and there’s a grave concern that ordinary Catholics are going to leave the Church in frustration.

We Catholics have great reverence for our Church, and our faith is inevitably shaken when Church leaders let us down. Throughout her history, the Church has struggled with scandals and failings in ourselves and our leaders. A quick read of St. Paul’s letters shows that in vivid detail (1 Corinthians is a good example). The offenses and failures of the clergy undermine our trust in their sincerity about the faith itself – people rightly think, “if they act that way, why should I believe anything they say?” Of course, we know that the validity of the sacraments and the integrity of the faith don’t depend on the worthiness of the ministers. And Church history is also a good lesson in patience and perspective – we’ve survived many, many crises before, thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit.

But still, there is a critical element of trust that our bishops need to regain, before too many people are disillusioned and join the ranks of the “nones” – those who say they’re believers but who don’t belong to any church – or the legion of “ex-Catholics”.

What can lay people do about this?

Because complaints of clergy misconduct are handled according to internal Church processes (under the Bishops’ Charter and the Canon Law), it’s hard to see how regular lay people can get more involved. There is no clear avenue right now for raising complaints about bishops, and it’s hard to tell how Rome handles those complaints or even if anyone is listening to them.

One thing that is absolutely necessary is for people to respectfully let their bishop know how they feel about this situation and how much they want to see some positive action. The only way they’ll “get it” is if we give it to them – politely and reasonably. I know that some people are withholding donations to their bishops’ appeal to send a message, but I don’t think that gets the job done — that money goes primarily to the pastoral and charitable work of the dioceses, so the only people being deprived of money are the needy people who will lose services.

The most important thing that lay people can do is to pray for our bishops and priests, and especially for victims, and to lead blameless and holy lives ourselves. Good Christian lives are the best way to attract people to the Gospel, and to heal the wounds of sin.

How can the Church operate this way?

We Americans are very impatient and practical by nature. When there’s a crisis we want solutions right away. If there’s a natural disaster, we expect the President and the Governor to be on the next plane and for FEMA, the Red Cross and the military to be on the ground within hours — forget about red tape, just get the job done. We hold them all to a high standard and any slips are put under a microscope immediately.

Americans are also used to our government officials explaining in detail (both officially and through unofficial statements, leaks, etc.) why particular policies are being put forward, and we are comfortable with extensively debating about them. When our government isn’t open with us about what policies are being developed, we are immediately suspicious and often resort to conspiracy theories. Americans have an ingrained allergy to government secrecy, and we really believe in the expression that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

As a result, the deliberate pace and closed manner with which the Church operates can be bewildering and intensely frustrating to Americans. Most people, including many Catholics, don’t realize that the Church isn’t organized like a corporation with branch offices on every corner and policies that can be changed in a minute by the CEO. There are elements of both localism and universalism in the Church that work together and are sometimes in tension. Each diocese is governed by a bishop who has very broad authority, but the diocese is still part of the universal Church and the bishop is responsible for maintaining unity with the Holy Father. The Holy Father has ultimate governing authority over the Church, but he has to respect the autonomy of individual bishops. National bishops’ conferences like the USCCB are really coalitions like the Chamber of Commerce, and don’t have any actual governing power over individual dioceses.

The Church also operates under its own internal legal system. The Canon Law is a complex and ancient body of law that is very different in concept from our Anglo-American common law system. It reflects very rich and deep theological principles about the nature of the Church, and it has detailed standards and procedures that have developed over centuries. It is not designed for rapid-fire pragmatism like you would find on a TV court reality show or a legal thriller novel. The Holy Father has the authority to change Canon Law, but, as with any legal system, changes have to be done very carefully to avoid interfering with or undermining other important principles. For example, it would be easy to streamline a criminal trial to make it faster, but that can’t be done in a way that endangers due process rights or the presumption of innocence.

The Church operates in a way that is very strange to Americans. It’s hard to get used to, and sometimes even harder to explain.

What’s the take-away?

Ultimately, of course, our faith is not in man or in institutions but in Jesus Christ, and we believe that His saving power works even though imperfect people like our clergy and ourselves. As St. Paul said, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

For the last 15 years, the Church has been implementing the Bishops Charter and has made tremendous strides in protecting children from sexual abuse and addressing past misconduct. The current state of things is very frustrating and there’s no easy answer, but we can’t lose hope. We will just have to continue working the best we can through the imperfect system that we have, with faith that the Holy Spirit is always active and guiding us.

The Truth is Our Most Important Ally

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

In recent weeks, we’ve seen an abundance of news stories about the crisis facing the Church. The letter released by the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States has begun a new phase of the crisis, by leveling some deeply troubling allegations. There is a great deal of anger and concern among the faithful, but there is also a lot of confusion about what is actually going on and what can and should be done about it.

At this troubled time, a relentless pursuit of the truth will be our best ally in dealing with the current crisis. But we have to leave ideologies, axe-grinding and agendas behind. We need, as the old TV character Sgt. Joe Friday insisted, to stick to “just the facts”. Here’s my attempt to clear up some of the confusion.

I think it’s vital to be clear about the specific issues that are in play right now. Some of them overlap, but at their heart they are separate problems that require particular corrective responses. As I see it, there are four basic issues.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy. This was the primary focus of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and it has been a major issue for the Church since at least 2002, when the Boston abuses became public. I consider this problem to be largely behind us, and it is no help for people to act as if nothing has changed since the adoption of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. We are still unearthing old cases of horrible abuse, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there is anything like widespread abuse of minors by clergy taking place now. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary, and even the Grand Jury Report notes the dramatic changes that have occurred since 2002.

The dioceses across the United States have spend millions of dollars on prevention efforts, including training and background checking, and there has been a vast improvement in the way that cases are handled. In fact, we should have no problem with any outside organization auditing our files to see how we’re doing. If there are deficiencies, we need to have them identified right away so that we can correct them. But we also need to make abundantly clear that we will redouble our efforts and be held accountable to our absolute adamantine commitment that any offender will be excluded from any contact with minors in any program or institution of the Church.

Sexual harassment and oppression of seminarians. This is the major focus of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, and many of the other allegations that have been made since those became public. These allegations are particularly appalling. The idea that priests (or upper classmen seminarians) who are in positions of authority would exploit the power disparity between them and their students is utterly reprehensible, a sin that must be extirpated as soon as possible. These offenses corrupt vulnerable men and they poison the entire ethos of a seminary, which is to form young men in a life of holiness.

So little is known about the scope of this problem, and much needs to be done to get to the facts. Investigations clearly need to be done, which means that people need to come forward on the record with testimony and supporting evidence. To ensure that will happen, we have to institute and enforce robust whistleblower protections for priests and seminarians who provide evidence. Boards of Trustees of the seminaries need to take the lead on this, in conjunction with independent investigators. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, then they should be replaced by those who are, or outside help such as accreditation boards should be welcomed.

Sexual infidelity by clergy. This has primarily been centered on the issue of “gay priests”, although infidelity is not limited to them. From what we know so far, though, there is certainly a some connection between active homosexual clergy and both of the prior issues.

The exploitation of seminarians is clearly a homosexual problem. The Holy See issued a strong directive in 2005 that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”. A seminary should be a place where holiness and human formation are the priority, and sexual dynamics have no place distracting the men from that work. It would seem to me to be grossly unfair to a man with same-sex attraction to be put into an all-male environment, which would necessarily be a constant occasion of sin. Just imagine putting a young adult male with normal sexual desires into an all-female dorm for four years.

It has to be noted that the sexual abuse of minors is not primarily a problem of homosexuality, although there clearly is some overlap. Pedophilia is a very complicated phenomenon. The clinical definition of pedophilia is a prolonged sexual attraction to minors 13 years old or younger. The large majority (over 70%) of the victims nationwide fall into that age group, but over a quarter were older teens. Studies have shown that the vast majority of men who have clinical pedophilia actually consider themselves to be heterosexual, and the clinical studies do not support the idea that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. Nevertheless, it would seem obvious that same-sex attraction has to be a relevant factor in the sexual abuse of mid-to-late teenagers.

The response to sexual infidelity of clergy is not limited to those with same-sex attraction, and it certainly is nothing new. If you read the biography of every saint who was a bishop or an abbot, you will see that they struggled with reforming the clergy away from sinful behavior. Clearly, every priest and bishop must be called to (and helped with) fidelity to their obligations of celibacy (not getting married), continence (no sexual activity), and chastity (properly ordered sexual desires). Careful attention must be paid to friendships and activities that undermine those commitments. Worldliness in general must be addressed, since moral laxity is contagious.

No matter what celebrity priests might say, it is imperative that the Holy See’s directive about homosexuals in the priesthood and seminary be taken seriously and implemented. This should not create an open season or “witch hunt” for gay priests, but a time of cleansing and purification of the clergy.

Ensuring the holiness and fidelity of the clergy is the responsibility of individual bishops, but they should not hesitate to seek assistance from lay people in pursuing investigations. We need people to come forward with facts, not with rumors or innuendo. In fact, we lay people can be a big help in this regard — we all need to live in a way that is less worldly, more ascetic, more chaste. It is hard to expect our clergy to be pure if we are not pure, but a renewed commitment to reforming our lives and living according to the Gospel can’t help but aid our brothers in their own path to holiness.

The failure to correctly handle abuse cases. This includes covering up, moving offenders around, failing to report to law enforcement, punishing whistleblowers, and creating a culture of silence. Clearly, in the past, the three problems discussed above were poorly dealt with by Church authorities. The revelations in 2002, subsequent disclosures in dioceses around the nation, the Grand Jury Report, and the McCarrick case make that abundantly clear. And while the first problem (sexual abuse of minors) is being dealt with, the other two problems need serious and vigorous attention — immediately.

In this, we need our bishops to step up to the plate and exercise the governance responsibilities that are part of the charism and burden of their office. This has to be done at the local level, since the problems stem from specific local characteristics and activities, not from broad national generalities.

Cardinal DiNardo, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the other day that said some good things, but he left others out:

I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop [i.e., Archbishop McCarrick] could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò [the former Nuncio] brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t even address what will be done about the problems of sexual harassment of seminarians or sexual infidelity of clergy. Amazingly, it gives no indication that there is any sense of urgency. And it is a sad irony that the “plan of action”, which will supposedly enhance transparency, hasn’t been shown to anyone and nobody even knows who is involved in developing it. There are hundreds of people in our dioceses, and thousands in the private sector, who could offer excellent help and guidance in producing a plan to ensure internal integrity and whose involvement would assure greater public confidence in the process and the result. After all the terrible results of years of insularity and secrecy, USCCB needs to understand that the old ways don’t work any more if they’re to retain any credibility they might still have.

One thing is perfectly clear — in all of this, the truth is our most important ally. We are in a burgeoning crisis, and time is short. We have to get past politics, personalities, self-preservation, ideologies, agendas, fear of legal liability and personal embarrassment, and get to the truth. The truth is all that matters. After all, we have it on good authority that “the truth will set you free”.

When Words Fail

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

It is difficult to contemplate, much less comment on, the terrible tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.  At times like these, it is best to offer up our hearts and minds to God in prayer, even when we can’t find adequate words.

May I suggest that people join with my colleagues in the Young Adult Outreach program of the Archdiocese in offering a Spiritual Bouquet for the victims, their families, and loved ones?

Spiritual Bouquet for Newtown, CT

Varia

Friday, November 5th, 2010

The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which  I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • Pro-life leaders reflect on the outlook for the new Congress.  The top priority is the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.
  • A pretty good overview by George Marlin on Catholics and the midterm elections.  See also this interesting statistical study of the trends over the last decade.
  • Amidst the (justified) cheering in this post-election press release from National Right to Life is an important poll result that needs to be shown to every pro-life candidate:  voters who considered abortion to have affected their vote (30%!) broke 22% to 8% pro-life — a 14% advantage for a pro-life candidate.  Not only is it the right position, but it is a winning position.
  • You also need to hear what the other side is saying — they know they lost big in the House.  NARAL says that 248 members of the new House are “anti-choice”, only 154 are “pro-choice”, and 33 are “mixed”, a gain of 44 pro-life votes.  They also realize that our top priority will be the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.  (Sorry for the link to one of Moloch’s favorite organizations — sprinkle holy water on your monitor after you’ve looked at the article).
  • Yet another example of how the health care law can lead to public funding for abortion on demand — through the decisions of state officials implementing the law.  It may also lead to a nation-wide requirement that insurance companies pay for contraceptives (including the ones like IUD’s that cause early abortions).
  • The Secretary of State vows to fight against sex slavery and human trafficking.  This scourge against the human person needs to be eradicated completely.  Good for her.
  • An encouraging profile of the new, more pro-life “Generation Y”.  The trend is for life.
  • This is how bad the threat to religious liberty has become in the UK — a couple is barred from being foster parents because of their belief that homosexual behavior is wrong.  Even bishops of the Church of England are critical of this decision.  Coming soon to the US, no doubt.
  • Check out this great animated video of conception to birth.   Should be required viewing in every school.
  • 40 Days for Life has now concluded.  They know of at least 541 babies saved by the grace of God.  Here’s the story of one of them.
  • A very disturbing story about fertility colonialism — where rich Westerners go to poor countries to use their women as surrogates.
  • A disappointing story — a leak of contents from President Bush’s memoirs reveals that he personally approved the torturing of prisoners by waterboarding.  If done by a private party, that would be a crime.
  • Ethical investors, including Christian Brothers Investment, strike back at the cable industry’s distribution of porn.
  • Pentecost in Albany

    Sunday, May 16th, 2010

    The men came came forth from where they were, and prayed aloud in the public areas of the town, proclaiming the love of God and the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ.  And the people of that place were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another “What does this mean?”

    The day of Pentecost was the first time when the Apostles of Christ proclaimed the Good News.  Heedless of the confusion and opposition of the world, the first bishops of our Church stood before the world, knowing that they would be opposed, and proclaimed our faith in Jesus.

    In a sense, all of us are called to do the same — to emulate the Apostles on the first Pentecost.

    And just so, the Knights of Columbus went to Albany on Tuesday, May 11, to hold the annual Prayer Rally. The purpose of the day was to pray publicly for our government, to encourage our elected officials to respect human life, to honor marriage, and to treat people of faith fairly.

    But it was not at all a political event.  More than anything, it was a Pentecost day.

    The setting of the Rally was striking.  We gathered in a small park in the center of Albany.  On one side was the New York State Capitol Building, one of the most striking works of public architecture in America, but which houses one of the worst, most dysfunctional, and most anti-life legislatures in our nation.  Around the other sides were government buildings, from the imposing classical-style Education Department to the modern Legislative Office Building.

    There was no mistaking that we were gathering to pray in the midst of the powers and principalities of this world.  Indeed, throughout the Rally, government workers and legislators passed through the park, enjoying the beautiful day, and no doubt amazed and perplexed by what they were seeing.

    The agenda for the Rally was simple.  The entire Rally was organized around the public recitation of the Most Holy Rosary.  There were some speeches interspersed among the Mysteries,  but the entire focus of the Rally remained fixed upon our prayers to God, with the intercession of Mary.

    The most striking part was that you could hear the sacred words of the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be reverberating against the government buildings, calling to mind the words of the prophet: “Hear what the LORD says: ‘Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.‘” (Mic 6:1)

    There is a unique power in the joined prayer of Christian people.  There is special strength when that prayer is offered in public by men.  The world shuns prayer, looking upon it as a peculiar habit.  The world cannot make sense of the prayers of men, and considers it a weakness.

    But on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles were unafraid to give witness to the faith that gave them life.  Filled with the Spirit, they strode into the public square and shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Last Tuesday, together with my brother Knights of Columbus, I was privileged to participate in a modern-day echo of that first great day of Pentecost.

    God’s Great Mercy

    Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

    Buzzing across the internet yesterday was the story of the director of a Temple of Moloch, er, I mean a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Texas, Abby Johnson.  Abby had been working at the clinic for several years.  She served as a clinic escort, accompanying women into the clinic so they could have their abortions.  She described herself as “extremely pro-choice”.

    Later, she became involved in the business end of the abortion clinic.  She reported having felt disillusioned at her job, due to the pressure she got from her bosses to increase the profitability of the clinic by having more abortions performed, since paid the clinic better than merely offering “family planning services”.

    Then, Abby watched an abortion on an ultrasound monitor for the first time, and everything changed.  She said “I would say there was a definite conversion in my heart … a spiritual conversion.”

    She quit her job, and has now become active with a pro-life organization.

    Now, this happened during the 40 Days for Life, the nationwide that encourages peaceful, prayerful witness outside abortion clinics.   In fact, that clinic was the first at which the 40 Days for Life took place, back in 2004.  It also comes within a few months of the new campaign by Human Life International that centers on offering prayers to St. Michael for the conversion of abortionists.

    Concidence?  More like Providence.

    It’s all too easy for us to sit in judgment, to think that some sins are unforgivable, and some sinners beyond repentance.  The wickedness of abortion tempts us to consider it to be such a terrible offense against God that anyone involved in it is beyond hope.

    God thinks otherwise.  Nobody is beyond his grace and mercy.  As St. Paul pointed out, God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).

    We know this in our hearts, yet we overlook it all the time.  God has forgiven me so many sins, how could I ever think that he wouldn’t extend that same mercy to others.  How could I forget?

    “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Psalm 103:2-4)

    Abby’s story reminds us of this.  We like to think that we’re doing all this important pro-life work, struggling mightily against the Culture of Death to save lives.  We’re deluding ourselves.  It’s not about me, not at all.  God is doing the work. As St. Paul said,

    “It depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy. ” (Rom. 9:16)

    Thanks, Abby, for reminding us of God’s wonderful mercy.

    Prayer Warriors

    Sunday, November 1st, 2009

    In the final stages of the health care debate, we turn our attention to all the techniques of Advocacy 101. The USCCB has encouraged all parishes to publish in their bulletins a call for all Catholics to contact their Congressional representatives, to urge them to ensure that human life is respected in the health care bill. Our bishops are being asked to contact key legislators, to let them know of our concerns. Our professional lobbyists are working long hard hours behind the scenes to advance our concerns.

    At the same time, we all must turn to the ultimate weapon — prayer.

    Across the nation, people are lifting their minds and hearts to God, asking Him to guide our nation along the right path. Religious communities and seminarians are fasting, praying, and spending time in Eucharistic adoration. We are imploring Our Blessed Mother to intercede for our nation, that the hearts of our elected officials will be converted, and that we will be saved from the expansion of abortion and euthanasia.

    Many years ago, John Cardinal O’Connor, looked out at the deplorable situation in the United States, where unborn lives are vulnerable to abortion at any time, for any reason. He called to mind the words of Our Lord, that some demons can only be case out by prayer and fasting (Mk 9:29). Cardinal O’Connor understood the fundamental truth that Our Lord was speaking to our time — that abortion cannot ultimately be fought by political means alone, but all our efforts must be rooted in personal prayer and sacrifice.

    That insight led Cardinal O’Connor to found the Sisters of Life, but it has also led to the continual re-vitalization of the pro-life movement. Even as so many of us devote our efforts to the public square, we all realize that the spiritual battle is by far the most important, and that the most effective and productive efforts in our movement are the ones that are so counter to conventional wisdom — they are the efforts of prayer and fasting.

    And so, initiatives like the “40 Days for Life”, which involves people in prayerful witness outside of abortion clinics, has saved thousands of life, and has excited the intense hostility of the forces of the Culture of Death. Here in our own city, the First Saturday of every month has a Witness for Life in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in lower Manhattan.

    And in convents, seminaries and private homes around our nation, prayer warriors are engaged in the real struggle. They realize, as St. Paul did, that

    “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 9:16)

    So, my friends, let us pray, and let us fast.