Archive for the ‘Religion in Public Life’ Category

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.

Not Just Bigoted, but Insane — That’s Me

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

As a defender of the authentic definition of marriage — one man, one woman — I’m used to being called a “bigot” by advocates of same-sex “marriage”. After all, calling someone a “bigot” is easy. It reduces the debate to the schoolyard level of name-calling, and frees one of the need to actually engage in rational debate about real issues. Given the ease with which the term “bigot” is thrown around these days, it also has virtually no meaning whatsoever. It basically now means “someone whom I disagree with and dislike so much that I won’t even dignify their arguments with a response, so there”.

I’m also used to same-sex “marriage” advocates calling the defenders of authentic marriage “irrational”. Because, don’t you know, no reasonable, rational human being could possibly believe that marriage has the meaning that every human society has ever undertood it to have, and that nobody ever doubted until about twenty years ago. And forget about the fact that several high courts — including the New York State Court of Appeals — has held that there was a rational basis for holding to the real definition of marriage. In the lexicon of the same-sex “marriage” advocates, “irrational” now means “an argument that I disagree with so much that I won’t dignify it with a response, so there”.

Well, now a new phase of the “debate” has been reached, in which defenders of authentic marriage are suspected of being insane. People have suspected that of me for years, but now it is being confirmed.

It started with a profile in the Style section of the Washington Post of a man named Brian Brown, who is the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, the leading advocacy group that defends authentic marriage. Mr. Brown was given a reasonably fair treatment by the WaPo, including this back-handed compliment: “The reason Brian Brown is so effective is that he is pleasantly, ruthlessly sane.” The headline of the piece follows the same theme: “Opposing Gay Unions with Sanity & a Smile”.

Well, then all hell broke loose from the forces of “tolerance”. The WaPo was deluged with outraged letters from same-sex “marriage” advocates, who were enraged that the paper could possibly portray such a “bigot” in a positive light. Finally, the “ombudsman” of the paper (the man with the thankless job of reviewing the fairness and professionalism of the journal’s stories) published a response. The details are not worth talking about, but here’s the most important line:

Finally, the headline: “Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile.” To many readers, The Post was saying Brown’s views are sane. The headline, written by editors, not Hesse, should have been neutral.

So, one of the leading newspapers of the mainstream media thinks that it should be neutral about whether or not defenders of authentic marriage are insane. Read that again — they’re not sure that we’re sane to insist that “marriage” means a man and a woman, joined in a union that is dedicated not just to their well-being but to the procreation and education of children. They think it’s entirely possible that all of us — Pope Benedict and every Catholic bishop, President Obama, the great majority of public officials in our country, the vast majority of other religious communities, solid majorities of citizens, and every human being until twenty years ago — are bonkers, loony-tunes, loopy, crazy, wacko. An entire nation and world of insane people.

What a state of affairs that we can no longer have a rational discussion of this issue, but must instead deal with slurs on our sanity and integrity. This bodes ill for what will happen if same-sex “marriage” advocates get what they want. We will be attacked by discrimination cases, our licenses to practice our professions and operate institutions like schools and charity agencies will be endangered, and we will all be stigmatized as “bigots”.

When the entire world goes insane, sanity will be re-defined as insanity. I guess the final step will be for them to go to court and have us all involuntarily committed.

What Is to be Done?

Monday, June 15th, 2009

In his important book, Render Unto Caesar, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver explores the challenges facing Catholics as citizens in modern America. Every Catholic should read this book, and wrestle with the issues he raises. We are, I believe, approaching a watershed moment in American history, where we Catholics — and we as a Church — must confront some hard questions about the legal regime under which we live.

To that end, I would like to reflect on a quotation from Cardinal Avery Dulles that Archbishop Chaput cites:

“the greatest danger facing the Church in our country today is that of an excessive and indiscreet accommodation.”

There is a strong movement afoot, typically couched in terms of finding “common ground”, that calls upon us Catholics to seek ways of dealing with our government on public issues, despite our differences over abortion, same-sex “marriage”, and other intrinsic moral evils. In many ways, we are being asked to set these issue aside, and to “dialogue” about other matters.

“Dialogue” and “civility” are important, and we are morally bound to respect our rulers and to do our civic duty. But this is a very dangerous road to proceed along, for it leads to the “excessive and indiscreet accommodation” warned against by Cardinal Dulles.

All too often, this “common ground” approach is an inducement to have us shake our heads sadly and say, “alas about this injustice about abortion and so forth, but let’s move on to talk about immigration, or some other more interesting thing”. All too often, Catholics in the public square, especially those who are putting forward this “common ground” approach, fail to emphasize enough — or even state at all — that the laws permitting abortion (and same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and other intrinsically evil things) are not laws at all. They are contrary to the natural moral law, they are not valid, we cannot accept or acquiesce in them, we must never cooperate in them or aid in their enforcement.

This “common ground” approach is an attempt to seduce us to consent implicitly to an illegitimate legal regime, in which an entire class of human beings is excluded from basic justice, in which the reality of marriage is being replaced by a sham, and in which the religious liberties of the Church and of individuals is being gradually diminished. What “common ground” can we have with injustice, with iniquity, with cruelty? How can we accommodate ourselves to that?

You may remember, several years ago, the magazine First Things hosted a symposium entitled “The End of Democracy?”. It was an effort to raise some difficult questions about our legal and political system, in which momentous decisions about life and justice were being made by non-democratic means, in violation of the natural moral law. This is a discussion that really needs to be re-visited in these days.

To put things bluntly, the question raised by that symposium, and implicitly by Archbishop Chaput, is this: to what extent are we permitted in conscience to continue to give our consent to a government that has enacted profoundly unjust and wicked laws, especially when it has done so in an illegitimate way (i.e., through judicial fiat rather than through the democratic process)? When faced with that situation, what is to be done?

In his great encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II wrote:

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection… In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”… Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. (73-74)

The proper response here is not accommodation to a legal regime that offends against the moral law, but resistance by all lawful means. This includes refusing to support candidates or public officials who are supporters of the status quo, and refusing to be apologists for them. It means that the defense of fundamental moral norms has to be the primary, and uncompromising, priority for the Church and for individual Catholics. These issues are not bargaining chips to be traded away, or extras to be added once we get government funding for our institutions. They have to be on the table all the time.

This is an essential part of having an authentic Catholic identity. We are not called by Christ to accommodate ourselves to the culture in which we happen to live. Rather, we are called to transform our culture in light of the Gospel of Christ.

Prophecy and Notre Dame

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Well, the President got a rock-star greeting from the graduating seniors at Notre Dame University, and much back-slapping from the president of the university.

Here is an institution named for the Mother of God to our nation’s most prominent apologist, facilitator, and advocate for the modern-day slaughter of the innocents.

I understand the requirement of our faith to show respect for the ruling authorities, which is clear from Christ’s words to “render unto Caesar”, and Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 to show respect for the governing authorities. But what went on yesterday in South Bend went far beyond mere respect, and went way into the boundaries of adulation.

Is this how the early Church Fathers would have related to Caesar? How about the Prophets — anybody recall back-slapping by Isaiah to Ahaz? All Christians are all called to be prophets by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We certainly didn’t see much of that in South Bend on Sunday – except at the prayerful response meeting that was held on the campus by those who were opposed to the President’s anti-life policies.

What is it about this man who temporarily holds the office of President that merits this kind of reaction? Even if you are totally behind his domestic and foreign policy agenda, how can that possibly outweigh his absolute, unalterable commitment to legalized abortion? Remember, this is the man who said that he wouldn’t want his daughter “punished” with a child if she got pregnant out of wedlock — calling his own grandchild a “punishment”.

The Catholic blogger, Amy Welborn, puts the question this way:

That’s the basic question, with all of its many implications. Do you recognize the preborn baby, even in the midst of the complexities of its young life, dwelling within the body of another, living with her own complexities in a complex, pluralistic society – as “the least among us” worthy of civic protection or do you not?

It is abundantly clear from the President’s record, agenda, and statements that he does not view the pre-born baby as worthy of any civic protection whatsoever, and that he is fully committed to advancing the power of others to destroy those lives for any reason at all.

And remember, as with any politician, you have to pay closer attention to what the President does than to what he says. You have to realize that when the President speaks of reducing abortions, he’s talking about supporting bills like the “Prevention First Act”, which involves funneling money to Planned Parenthood, flooding the country with contraceptives, and polluting the minds of the youth with biased sex education. He does not support authentic measures to directly encourage women to keep their babies, like the Pregnant Women Support Act.

Sadly, I think the problem is that far too many Catholics just don’t care about abortion, or don’t care enough. Sure, many of them will say that they’re pro-life, but when it comes to doing anything about it, or saying anything about it, they’re nowhere to be found.

As Archbishop Charles Chaput has written:

If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or the unborn. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste one another’s time arguing whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow balanced out or excused by other social policies… We cannot talk about following St. Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and admit what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves, and to God by claiming to oppose personally some homicidal evil – and allowing it to be legal at the same time.

That’s prophecy, that’s what a modern-day Isaiah sounds like. And that’s what should have been said to Caesar yesterday in South Bend — and to the Catholics in attendance — in place of the standing fawning ovation and craven backslapping.

Catholic Culture and Abortion

Monday, May 11th, 2009

In the upcoming edition of First Things magazine, editor Joseph Bottum takes up a very important theme — Catholic culture and identity — in light of the scandal over Notre Dame University granting an honorary doctor of laws degree to the President. A shorter version of the article can be found already at the Weekly Standard website. I think it’s a must-read article for those who wish to understand what it means to be a Catholic in the public square in this age.

Mr. Bottum’s theme is really very simple. He argues that the leadership of NDU, along with many, many other prominent public Catholics, particularly the leaders of Catholic universities, have found themselves on the other side of a cultural divide from mainstream Catholics. He summarizes it as follows:

…they live in a different world from most American Catholics. Opposition to abortion doesn’t stand at the center of Catholic theology. It doesn’t even stand at the center of Catholic faith. It does stand, however, at the center of Catholic culture in this country. Opposition to abortion is the signpost at the intersection of Catholicism and American public life. And those who — by inclination or politics — fail to grasp this fact will all eventually find themselves in the situation that Fr. Jenkins has now created for himself. Culturally out of touch, they rail that the antagonism must derive from politics. But it doesn’t. It derives from the sense of the faithful that abortion is important. It derives from the feeling of many ordinary Catholics that the Church ought to stand for something in public life — and that something is opposition to abortion.

I think that is absolutely dead-on correct. To be Catholic in this age is to be pro-life. The two are inextricably interwound. All of the most dynamic parts of the Church today — the new religious orders and ecclesial movement, the emerging Catholic colleges, the World Youth Day alums — are more orthodox and more pro-life than the generation that passed throught the 1970′s. That’s where the future of the Church is going.

Meanwhile, in a perfect illustration of Bottum’s thesis, Peter Steinfels wrote last week in the Times on the “civil war” in the Church over abortion, as illustrated by the NDU situation. Mr. Steinfels has been writing these same kind of articles for many years now, and this latest example is pretty much the usual kind of stuff you would expect.

He just doesn’t get it. He seems to think that a division on this point is a bad thing, that it threatens the unity of the Church unnecessarily. He manages to interview or quote several sources who take that position, but he just wasn’t able to find anyone who disagreed with the decision by NDU to honor the President. All he managed to do was to find a public address by a bishop, and use that as the example of all the opposition. Are people like George Weigel, Deal Hudson, Mark Shea, et al. really that hard to find? Or is that he just didn’t think he needed to look for them?

It seems clear to me that Mr. Steinfels (like a lot of Catholics of his and my generation) is living in a culture that is far removed from the average American Catholic. Perhaps he should put down his copy of America Magazine or Commonweal and get out into the parishes or youth events or Knights of Columbus councils or Rosary Convocations more often, to get a better sense of where the Church is today. Hint — it’s not 1975 any more.

What I think is particularly valuable, though, is the cultural mindset revealed by Mr. Steinfels’ use of the “civil war” analogy. Let’s play that one out for a moment. One side believes in the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings and that all human beings should be protected by the law (think of Abraham Lincoln here); the other side thinks that private parties should be able to treat some human beings as if they were mere property and that those human beings should have no legal protection at all (think of the Dred Scot decision here).

Is it really that hard to see which side of this “war” Christians and all people of good will should be on? Why would anyone want to be on the other side? And isn’t it a “war” worth fighting and winning?

It seems obvious to me that this “war” — which is ultimately over the importance of human dignity and the value of every single human life — is the struggle that God has given to our generation, in order to test our fidelity. And we will be judged based on how we wage it.