Archive for the ‘Religion in Public Life’ Category

Keep Politics Out of the Church

Friday, October 8th, 2010

One of the modern forms of idolatry is to view everything through the prism of politics, and to treat all matters as if they were essentially matters of power and partisanship.  The result of this is the subordination of all things to politics — even those things that properly belong to God.

Three recent news stories have brought this disturbing trend to my attention, and have gotten under my skin.

Same-Sex “Marriage” Activists Attempt to Politicize the Eucharist.
A group of students at a purportedly Catholic university (St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota) showed up at a Mass being celebrated at the school by their local ordinary, Archbishop Nienstedt.  They came adorned with a rainbow sash, a political symbol that conveys a very clear message:  “we reject the Church’s teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, we reject the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage, and we reject the Church’s authority to make public comments about moral matters that affect public policy”.  Despite wearing a badge that proclaims their breach of communion with the Church, these students presented themselves to receive the Eucharist.

To his credit, Archbishop Nienstedt properly denied them Communion, since they were trying to make a political statement out of the central mystery of our faith.  The lesson taught by the good Archbishop is not difficult:  if you don’t believe what God teaches us through the Church, and if you have no intention of living as God desires as He has communicated to us through the Church, then you are not properly disposed to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  You need to make a choice: politics or God.

Calls for a “Catholic Tea Party”.
From another front, there have been calls for what one advocate terms a “Catholic Tea Party”, directed against some of our bishops, due to their alleged indifference towards heresy by some activist clergymen.  I certainly have no problem with people contacting their pastors about matters that concern their own spiritual good and the spiritual good of the Church as a whole.  The Code of Canon Law says that laypeople “have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” (Canon 212.3)

I note especially that phrase, “with respect toward their pastors”.  In the case of a call to a “Tea Party”, I cannot see any way that this shows “respect towards their pastors”.  The original “Tea Party”, after all, was a (justified) violent rebellious act against an oppressive government.  Is that really the image we want to use when lay people address their pastors, especially when we address a bishop, who is a successor of the Apostles?

No, just no.  The Church is not a political entity, but the Body and Bride of Christ.  If people believe that there is a problem within the Church, they need to address the matter in the appropriate way.  The Bride of Christ should not squabble and wrangle in public like a bunch of unruly delegates on the floor of a political convention.

The Hypocrisy of the Media.
Complaining about a double standard from the mainstream media has become a bit tiresome, because it is like constantly pointing out that 2+2=4.  But I have rarely seen such a clear example of it, centered on politics and churches.  Consider two cases: Case #1: Catholic bishops in Minnesota speak out to defend marriage and the media questions their “meddling” in politics. Case #2: New York politicians go into churches to make campaign speeches from the pulpit, and are given glowing, unquestioning profiles that talk as if this is just a nice bit of local curiosity.

I don’t know how other Churches justify to themselves being used by politicians.  But Catholic churches cannot allow politicians into the sanctuary for a very simple reason.  Not just that it’s against the Internal Revenue Code (which it is, even if we’re the only ones who obey the law).  But there’s a deeper reason, and it’s the fundamental truth that lies beneath each of these recent stories.

Polarizing secular politics have no place in the Church, particularly in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We need to recall that the Mass is not just a gathering of like-minded people, or just a group of voters.  The Mass is the assembly of the People of God, come into the presence of the King of Kings, whose eternal sacrifice on Calvary is being opened up for us anew for our participation.  We are there to worship and adore the Eternal One, and to grow in holiness and intimacy with Him, in an anticipation of the heavenly liturgy described in the Book of Revelation.

With that awesome task on the agenda, you can see why I think there’s no room for politics in the Church.

Are We Invited to the Tea Party?

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

If anything is clear at this point in the electoral season, it’s that the Tea Party movement is a significant force, and that anyone who hopes to understand American politics needs to understand it.

My interest in the Tea Party comes from the policy issues that are my particular interest — the “Culture of Life” issues, primarily abortion and marriage. To me, these are the issues on which Catholics are called to devote their greatest energy.

And I am wondering, as the Tea Party gets going, whether we’re invited.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  No party really exists for me in the United States.  My politics tends to be closer to what in Europe and Latin America would be termed “Christian Democracy”.  So I don’t have a partisan interest in the outcome here.

I also have to admit that, even though I am not a Tea Partier myself,  I am sympathetic to their general goals.  I tend to favor small, limited government solutions to problems, which is a practical application of the Catholic social teaching about subsidiarity.  I view with abhorrence the current culture of “honest graft” that is at the heart of modern American government, and which is so clearly typified by the mess of a State Legislature we have here in New York.  And I am very impressed by the citizen activism that the Tea Party has energized, and their effective viral style of non-organized organization.

I have some reservations, though, because the Tea Party agenda is silent on Culture of Life issues, and because of the current state of thinking in the leadership of both major political parties.

It’s sad to say, but with a few notable exceptions (State Sen. Ruben Diaz, for instance), the Democratic Party, its core of activists, and its leaders have become the enemies of the Culture of Life.  Name an anti-life, anti-marriage initiative and you’ll find it on the agenda of the Democratic Party.  Prospective Democratic candidates are told, sometimes implicitly and many times brutally frankly, that they cannot advance in office unless they are pro-abortion.  Once in office, they relentlessly appoint officials and promote activities that are destructive to the Culture of Life.  All this, from the party that professes to be looking out for the poor and powerless.  It has become quite clear that, at least as far as the national Democratic Party is concerned, people who are seriously committed to Culture of Life issues are not welcome at the festivities unless they are willing to overlook their principles.

That leaves the other guys.  The Republican Party, at least nationally (and much less so here in New York), has been sympathetic to Culture of Life issues, and has given us some significant victories.  A pro-life position has certainly helped the GOP, giving it a clear electoral margin among those for whom the issue matters, and giving them access to an energetic base of religious-minded voters. But as Culture of Life voters become more and more associated with the GOP only, we increasingly run the risk of being taken for granted and shoved aside in favor of the flavor of the month.

And that is precisely what is going on.  As GOP mandarins sense the possibility of large gains in the upcoming election thanks to the Tea Party movement, Culture of Life issues are being pushed to the back burner or even being dismissed outright.  For example, GOP Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana has suggested that we accept a “moratorium” on pressing for the defense of marriage and human life.  Sen. John Cornyn, the head of the GOP’s effort to re-take the US Senate, has openly suggested that the party’s position on abortion is alienating independents, and should be muted.

The apparent advice from many in the GOP leadership to Culture of Life voters  is, “Sit down, be quiet, and help us win elections.  Then maybe we’ll talk.”  Some allies.

But now there’s an alternative for us.  Each of the major Tea Party candidates who have won primaries recently appears to be pro-life, and that hasn’t seemed to hurt their electoral chances much.  Some of their candidates are eccentric, but after so many years of corrupt professionals, maybe eccentric amateurs are worth a try.  I suspect that most of the people who are active in the Tea Party movement are also Culture of Life supporters, but are just focusing their energies on fiscal issues right now.  And, in general, the kind of candidates being supported by the Tea Party appear to me to be likely to support Culture of Life issues, once they are in office.  Over the past few years, it has clearly been most helpful for our issues to support candidates who are more politically conservative across the board, and those are the kinds of people associated with the Tea Party.

The reality is this.  It would be best if Culture of Life voters could find a home in both major parties.  But we have been effectively ejected from the Democratic Party, and we have been only grudgingly welcomed and suffered in the Republican Party.  The Tea Party seems to offer a new dynamic, presenting us with the possibility of an alliance with voters and candidates who are amenable to our positions and who may prove to be potent supporters.

So, I’m not sure if we’ve been explicitly invited, but I also think they won’t mind too much if we cautiously crash the Tea Party and see what happens next.

“Civic Religion”? Count Me Out

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

I didn’t attend the big “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington over the weekend, nor did I watch any of the proceedings.  But what I’ve read about it gives me some serious concerns.

There was apparently a great deal of religious talk at the rally, amidst all the other political rhetoric.  There were calls for people to “return to God” in order to effect certain changes in our nation’s policies.  Several speakers described the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as “sacred texts”.  There were also comments about how “our faith has driven us to become the greatest people the world has ever known”, and how we “must restore the faith that once guided us.”

Those kinds of expressions are typically described as part of American “civic religion”, a quasi-faith in our nation and our Constitutional order.  They are not unusual in modern politics — and certainly have been common throughout our history.

Now, I think it can be fairly said that I’m a pretty patriotic person.  I love my country, and I hate to see it criticized, especially from abroad.  I fly the flag every day, I serve in my state’s military forces, and I’m a proud Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus — the patriotic degree of our order.  Several times, I have worked in government positions that have required me to swear to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”, and I have always been glad to do so, with no mental reservations.  I get all teary-eyed when reading the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address.

I also believe that it is a requirement of my Catholic faith that I respect and honor my nation.  Patriotism is a form of piety, and is mandated by the Fourth Commandment.  As the Catechism says, “The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity.” (2239)

But when we start talking about our country in overtly religious terms, as if our founding documents are somehow part of revelation, or as if the United States is a holy nation of divine institution, then I start to get nervous.

Perhaps I’m hyper-sensitive, and this is just another of my strange obsessions.  I certainly don’t cast aspersions on the good will and patriotism of anyone who observed or spoke at that rally.  And, to be honest, I would probably agree with much of the political agenda proposed at the rally.

But this kind of language, to my ears, starts to come alarmingly close to the sin of idolatry, and I will have nothing to do with it.

In the early years of Christianity, the “civic religion” of emperor-worship was a significant problem for the Church.  Many, many saints were tortured and put to death because they wouldn’t offer even the token sacrifice to the emperor, because they rightly saw that as idolatry.  They refused to be disloyal to the true King, the one whose empire was founded on the Cross.  They were much more concerned about being citizens of the City of God, rather than the City of Man.

Here’s how that played out in the case of the glorious St. Perpetua:

Another day as we were at meal we were suddenly snatched away to be tried; and we came to the forum… And my father appeared there also, with my son, and would draw me from the step, saying: “Perform the Sacrifice; have mercy on the child.” And Hilarian the procurator… said: “Spare your father’s gray hairs; spare the infancy of the boy. Make sacrifice for the Emperors’ prosperity.” And I answered: “I am a Christian.” And when my father stood by me yet to cast down my faith, he was bidden by Hilarian to be cast down and was smitten with a rod. And I sorrowed for my father’s harm as though I had been smitten myself; so sorrowed I for his unhappy old age. Then Hilarian passed sentence upon us all and condemned us to the beasts; and cheerfully we went down to the dungeon.

I love my nation.  But I’m sure that Byzantines loved their Empire, the Franks loved theirs, and the Romans loved theirs.  Those nations all passed away, into the dustbin of history.   Sad as I am to say it, the United States is not an entity of divine origin, and will someday pass away.  The Lord never promised that “the powers of death shall not prevail against it”. (Mt. 16:18)

We can, and must, love our country.  We must respect our laws, take an active part in public life, promote the common good, and bring our religious values into the public square to advocate for policies that defend human life and dignity.

But St. Perpetua had it right.  We must not do anything that would treat our nation as a graven image.

It’s Up to the Church — To Us

Friday, August 20th, 2010

A poll came out the other day that got a great deal of attention in the popular media, mainly because it surveyed people’s odd views on the President’s religion.  But that’s not the reason I found the poll to be of such interest.  After all, only one person’s opinion really matters about our religious beliefs and practices, and we’ll find that out at our particular judgment.

What I found interesting is a result that was deeper in the poll result, past the sensational headlines.  If you read deeper into the report, you’ll find a disturbing result when people were asked if churches should express views on political matters or keep silent.  52% of Americans said churches should not speak up about such matters, and only 37% of Catholics think the Church should be speaking out. Church attendance matters here — 54% of Americans who attend weekly approve of churches speaking out, while only 31% of those who seldom or never attend church approve.

I sent this poll result around in my daily e-mailing, and a friend sent back an interesting comment that I thought was worthy of further reflection:

I think if one equates “church” with “clergy,” what you are seeing reflected is a very traditional American distaste for “political ministers.” The Catholic Church teaches that it is the laity who are to take the initiative in the political arena, but the hierarchy does not always trust in and rely on the laity to do so. If the bishops put more energy into molding an informed and articulate body of lay leaders, they may find that these people are more persuasive than they can be simply because lay people are talking to lay people.

There are several things about this comment that are very important.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out to a parish to give a talk about public policy matters, especially in places with active pro-life committees of diligent laypeople, only to hear some variation on this:  “Why doesn’t the Church/the bishops/our pastor/the Pope say more about this?”

My answer to that usually is to note several things.  As Catholics, we are bound to accept the teachings of our Church as given to us by our Holy Father, bishops and priests.  We don’t live in the “Church of What’s Happening Now”, in which we make up dogma as we go along, to suit our passing fancies.

But at the same time, we laypeople have got to stop looking over our shoulder at Father and expecting him to do all the heavy lifting.  The leadership of the Church hierarchy is indispensable, but it’s our special role in life to be the principal advocates and architects for a just society.  Here’s what Pope Benedict has said about that:

The Church’s social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being. It recognizes that it is not the Church’s responsibility to make this teaching prevail in political life. Rather, the Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew….  The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity… The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility. (Deus Caritas Est 28-29).

Having said that, another point from my friend’s comment should also be emphasized.  If our Church leaders want laypeople to take on their role as leaders in establishing and creating a just society, they have to empower and trust us to do so.  We can’t do anything unless our Church leaders — our bishops and priests — support structures like local parish pro-life committees, social justice committees or Knights of Columbus councils, which are are crucial in this regard.  We need them to promote initiatives like our state-wide Catholic Advocacy Network, as well as other efforts to educate and mobilize the laity.  Our Family Life/Respect Life Office has lots of resources for people to use in their advocacy, as do the various offices of the U.S. Bishops Conference.  Thank God, so many of our clergy are doing this, but there’s always more that can be done — if they let us.

Building a just society is an increasing challenge in our time.  The multitude of threats to human life, to families, and to social justice keep on accumulating.  It’s us to the Church — primarily us, the laity — to rise to this challenge.

The First Principle is God

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

On Tuesday, over a thousand Catholics from across the state traveled to Albany for the annual Catholic Conference Public Policy Forum Day.  The goal of the day is to give witness to our faith in the public square, and to advocate for some important issues of concern to the Church and to individual Catholics.

It’s a long and frustrating day, and it would be easy to get cynical and give up on our State government.  But for me, there were two highlights of the day that are worth reflecting on, that keep me hopeful and optimistic.

In the morning, Archbishop Dolan led a workshop on Catholic Social Teaching.  There have been many outlines of the social teachings of the Church, in an attempt to make them more accessible to people.  (Full disclosure:  I even wrote a small book about this subject)  And the Archbishop did an excellent job, in just a few minutes, to lay out the basic principles:  the innate dignity of every individual human person, made in the image and likeness of God;  the common good; solidarity; subsidiarity; and the duty to bring God’s truth into the public square.

But what was striking was how he started the discussion.  He said that “the first principle is God”, and that we must always remember that God’s way, and His law, must have dominion over our lives and our world.

That is a truly radical proposition, and it’s the heart of what we as Catholics must do when we stride into the public square.  We are never there to advance a purely partisan agenda, or to act on a theory of economics or social organization.  We’re there to convince the world of the dominion of God, that He must always be our guiding star, and that we are His servants.  It was the perfect way to kick off a day in which we would be going to the Capital Building to talk to our representatives about legislation.

The other highlight, for me, was the privilege of walking the halls of the Legislature with the Sisters of Life.  We went on a tour of the Capital Building, which is a whitewashed tomb, outwardly beautiful but filled with corruption within.  But we were there not just to see the sights, but so that the Sisters could be seen.   They don’t have to say a word to a legislator or to an aide, give a quote to a reporter, or have their picture taken.  Their presence alone is a witness to the King of Kings.  Merely walking through the hallways was an evangelizing moment.

And everyone there recognized it.  One thing about walking anywhere with the Sisters — you have to be patient, because they’re stopped every ten feet by people who want to talk to them and they stop to give Miraculous Medals to everyone they see.  What they saw, of course, was not just a small group of women in habits.  They saw a visible sign that people should commit themselves to God, and serve him with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strengths.

The first principle is always God.  That was why over a thousand Catholics went to Albany.  That’s the source of our hope.

The Politics of Principle

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day last year.  It was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

The Manhattan Declaration and You

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

On November 20, a broad coalition of religious leaders jointly issued an important statement, called the Manhattan Declaration.   This declaration represents a watershed moment in American religious and political history — a coalition of faith communities, committed to having a significant impact on our culture and our law.

Here’s how the sponsors state the purpose of the Declaration:

Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

1. the sanctity of human life
2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Declaration has been signed by almost 200 religious leaders, including our own Archbishop Dolan, and over forty other Catholic bishops.  When they opened the Declaration up to the public,  over 370,000 people have signed on so far.

Why is this so important?  This Declaration represents the basis of a new, broad-based ecumenical effort to bring our Christian values to the public square.  For too long, our efforts have been hampered by the sad divisions that separate Christians from one another.  But now, we have a unifying document, one that we can all rally behind, regardless of our theological differences.

I encourage everyone to read the Manhattan Declaration, which can be found on their website.  Then, join the rest of us in this new movement of Christian conscience, and sign it.

Hate Mail and What it Means

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

The other day, we received an email in the office that is such a perfect example of the state of our culture that I had to share it, and offer a few comments.

Here it is:

Dear Sister –
Aren’t you tired of being a “second class” citizen in your Church?
The American public is getting so tired of the Catholic Church’s
bigotry. You should pay your taxes, mind your business and
keep you noses our of the rest of the Country’s. You have
become one of the main road blocks to health care. Shame
one you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We are beginning to think of you all as a bunch of PARASITES.

Now, you should bear in mind that this email was not sent to me. I’m the public policy coordinator in the Family Life/Respect Life Office, and I’ve been in this business long enough to be pretty thick-skinned. I’m used to this kind of stuff. It’s actually fairly mild, in comparison to some other things that have been sent my way. After all, I once had condoms thrown at me at a public meeting of the Board of Education.

But no, this love letter was sent to a religious sister, a professed member of the Sisters of Life. Their special charism is to protect and defend the sacredness of human life. The fact that this screed was sent to her demonstrates the level of hostility that many people bear, not just to faithful professed religious women, but also to the very concept of defending the unborn.

It is also a testament to the abiding intolerance towards the Catholic Church that runs deep in American society.

I’m not sure which part of the Constitution denies the right of Catholics and the Church Herself to free speech on political affairs, or requires us to refrain from any effort to influence legislation. It must be written in invisible ink in the same penumbras and emanations in which the Supreme Court found the right to kill unborn children. Or maybe it’s like one of those adventure movies where you can use your Tom Mix decoder ring to find the real meaning of the First Amendment.

Seriously, though, this letter reflects a strong drive aimed at the secularization of the public square — the complete exclusion of religious persons and religious-based arguments. Driven by an ideological commitment to such things as abortion and “gay rights”, it seeks to tell persons of faith that they should, as our correspondent says, “mind your business and keep you [sic] noses out of the rest of the Country’s”.

Twenty-five years ago, John Cardinal O’Connor confronted this same attitude when he stepped boldly into the public square to defend the unborn. Here is what he said in response:

Bishops have every right and duty to be involved in public policy, which is a different thing altogether from politics, both because they are bishops and because they are American citizens.

All citizens should express themselves on the moral dimensions of public policy issues. Those citizens who are generally perceived as “moral leaders,” such as the bishops, have a special obligation to do so. People expect bishops to denounce unjust war and aggression, to plead for the homeless, to denounce drug traffic, racism and so on. Bishops are criticized if they remain silent about such issues.

…Actually, many bishops find that local political leaders want to involve them, the bishops, in various public policy matters, rather than vice versa. Political leaders want bishops involved in community action. It is, again, only when abortion is involved that some political leaders complain about bishops.

In short, no, we will not mind our business — even if people consider us to be “parasites”, even if they put lots of exclamation marks in their emails. We will continue to work in the secular and political arena, so that, in the words of Lumen Gentium 36, “the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace.”

Bigotry, “Tolerance” and the Same Sex “Marriage” Vote

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

So, my State Senator thinks that I’m a bigot. Some “tolerance”.

Today, in the New York State Senate, the same-sex “marriage” bill finally came to the floor for a debate and vote. The essential argument by the supporters of the bill was that it is a matter of equality, and that the advance of history demands that the bill be passed. But mixed in with that rhetoric is a deep level of intolerance towards those who disagree.

The worst example of it came in the addresses of several Senators, including my own. He rose to the floor and directly compared opposition to same-sex “marriage” to the bigots who enacted the ugly Jim Crow laws requiring racial apartheid in the South. He even said that his parents, who survived the Holocaust, would not understand our position, implying that we are in the same category as Nazis.

This is precisely what we have been warning about all along. With the passage of laws radically redefining marriage, will inevitably come the branding of those who disagree as bigots and haters. We will be harassed and oppressed with the use of anti-discrimination laws, and the open expression of religious beliefs will be designated as hatred and even, perhaps, prosecuted under “hate crimes” laws. Catholic institutions and individuals will be pressured and will be harried out of business unless they conform to this new regime.

In other states where these laws have been debated, like Maine and California, there have been well-documented cases of retaliation against same-sex “marriage” opponents, including economic boycotts, destruction of property, and physical violence. In other states, religious institutions have been forced to close rather than recognize “marriages” that are deeply offensive to their religious beliefs.

These legislators are the same ones we would have to turn to for legal protection of our religious liberties. How sympathetic do you think they will be, having publicly compared us to haters and bigots? How sympathetic will their judicial colleagues be when we seek recourse in the courts?

Fortunately, the Senate defeated the bill today, by a wide margin. That margin reflects the general opposition of the public to the radical re-definition of marriage. This is evidenced by the fact that the issue has come before the voters of 31 other states, and authentic marriage has been upheld each time.

But this struggle will go on, and the effort by same-sex “marriage” advocates to brand us as bigots will continue.

Expect more of the same “tolerance” as the battle moves forward.

Still Wrong After All These Years

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

In 1984, then-Governor of New York Mario Cuomo gave a famous address at Notre Dame University that, in essence, defended the notion that a Catholic could in good conscience be a public official who defends the legal destruction of unborn children.  His argument rested on the assumption that the defense of human life from conception was a merely sectarian doctrine, unique to Catholics, which should not be enacted into civil law. 

Twenty-five years have passed, and the Governor’s position has been thouroughly rejected by Pope John Paul II (see, for example, Evangelium Vitae), the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the United States Bishops (see, for example, Living the Gospel of Life), and every single Catholic bishop who has ever spoken on the subject. 

My favorite quote from Cardinal Egan, in response to remarks by the Speaker of the House that were the direct descendent of the Governor’s Notre Dame sophistry, makes it clear:

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they 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.

In these instances, and in many, many others, the Church has unhesitatingly and with one voice defined that the the destruction of innocent unborn human beings is always gravely immoral, and that all persons are obliged to protect them, including by enacting civil laws to prohibit abortion.  This is not merely a sectarian doctrine unique to the Catholic Church, but is an elementary tenet of the natural moral law that is common to all persons of every age.  Enacting this moral principle into civil law is no different from prohibiting slavery, murder, or rape.  It is a fundamental principle of justice.

In the face of such a steadfast and universal proclamation of doctrine, one would think that the normal reaction by a Catholic would be to accept the fraternal correction by his Church and offer a humble submission of faith to the correct doctrine (see Lumen Gentium 25). 

But not our former Governor.  Instead, he decided to comment on the statement by Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island, directing Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the pro-abortion Congressman, not to present himself for Holy Communion until he repents of his immoral public statements and acts.  Displaying the classic modern tendency to hold oneself up as the highest teaching authority in matters of faith and morals, the Governor was quoted in a news report as saying: 

Cuomo said there are two positions a politician can take: They can oppose church doctrine outright or, as he did, accept church teachings personally but refuse to carry them into the public arena where they would affect people of every faith.  ” Don’t ask me to make everybody live by it because they are not members of the church,” Cuomo said. “If that were the operative rule, how could you get any Catholic politician in office? And would that be better for the Catholic church?”

These comments make no sense, either for a Catholic or for anyone else. 

  • All laws reflect moral judgments of right and wrong.  If a public official rules out the influence of their religious faith in making such judgments, on what basis does he act? 
  • Why would anyone vote for a politician who was so unprincipled or cowardly that he checked his religious faith at the door of the government office he holds?  How could you trust him to do anything according to principle?
  • The prohibition against killing the innocent is not an inside Catholic rule, but a principle of the moral law.  How is it an improper imposition of a religious teaching to prohibit inherently immoral acts like rape or theft? 
  • The choice to accept Church teaching privately but to live another way publicly is morally irresponsible and reprehensible.  It is a gross violation of the fundamental rule of Christian morality — treat others as you would wish to be treated.
  • And, the highest value in life is not to make Catholic politicians more electable, or to make things better for the Church, but to live a life of holiness.  Holiness is not a private thing — it must infuse every part of our lives, or we are poor excuses for followers of Christ.

Today is the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro.  This great and holy priest defied the unjust laws of Mexico that outlawed the celebration of the Mass and proscribed priests.  He was martyred for his opposition to the immoral laws of his nation.  He didn’t hide behind a distinction between private belief and public acts.  He understood.  If only more of our public officials understood.