Archive for the ‘State Legislature’ Category

Dishonoring Marriage

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Our New York State Legislature, unable to do their basic duty to pass a budget, has turned instead to real mischief — they are going to dishonor marriage by passing a so-called “no-fault divorce” bill.  The Senate passed it today (by one vote), and the Assembly is expected to follow suit soon.

New York is the only state in the nation that does not yet have a “no-fault divorce” law.  Divorce is always a tragedy, but sometimes it is necessary to protect the well-being of a spouse or children.  But it shouldn’t be easier to end a marriage than it is to get out of a cell phone contract.

Essentially, this “no-fault” bill will establish a new ground for divorce — all you need is for one spouse to swear under oath that the marriage has been “broken down irretrievably” for a period of six months.  In essence, you could just run down to the corner drug store and swear before the notary that your marriage isn’t working, and that’s the end of it.

This utterly fails to respect the importance of marriage to individuals, families, and society.  Unilateral divorce by ambush would be permitted and even encouraged by this law.  There is no standard for determining what’s “broken down irretrievably” – it is an entirely subjective standard that is based entirely on the attitude of the spouse who wants to end the marriage.   There is no requirement of mediation or counseling to stave off an unnecessary divorce.  And there’s no waiting period before the divorce is granted, which doesn’t allow for a “cooling off period” for reconciliation.  That’s important, because many people have regrets about their divorce, and many couples reconcile during the process.  Even worse, there is no consideration for the best interests of the children in dissolving the marriage, or any requirement that they receive counseling.

The “no-fault” approach completely turns the law on its head.  Marriage will be the only civil contract that can be breached for any reason at all, with no demonstration of fault, and no damages to the injured  party.  This makes the marriage contract less worthy of protection (and easier to get out of) than mere economic contracts (e.g., a cell phone contract or a real estate lease).  This also gives an unfair advantage to a wrong-doer (e.g., the spouse who abandons the other, or an adulterer).  This is contrary to the traditional legal “clean hands” doctrine, under which you can’t ask for relief from the court when you have committed misconduct.

Contrary to what its advocates claim, “no-fault” divorce will not eliminate conflict from the domestic relations courts.  Because the legislation permits divorce by ambush, an innocent party can be blindsided by a wrong-doer — not only will that  fail to eliminate conflict, it will make it worse.  And the bill does nothing to reduce disputes over any of the other key issues at play in a divorce — maintenance, child custody and support.  These will still have to be resolved by the courts, and because the innocent party is treated so cavalierly, the level of conflict over these issues will likely increase.

Of course, there are parties to the divorce whose interests will be well-protected by our Legislature — the lawyers.  Alongside the “no-fault” bill, they will also pass a bill that ensures that legal fees are paid by the more wealthy party to the divorce.  So, the psychological and social well-being of kids — not so important to our solons.  But the economic health of lawyers?  That will be fully protected.

Once again, our New York State government has lived down to expectations.  This time, instead of just passing bad economic legislation, they’re dishonoring the foundation of society itself — marriage and the family.  Shame on them.

UPDATE — In an extraordinary example of incompetent journalism, the Times led its story on the bill today by stating that the Senate “approved legislation that would permit couples to separate by mutual consent…”  Sorry, that’s not even close.  New York already has a method by which couples could end their marriage by consent — it involves a formal separation agreement, or just not contesting the grounds for divorce (e.g., abandonment).  This bill has nothing to do with mutual consent, and everything to do with empowering one spouse to try to get out of the marriage unilaterally.  Don’t they have editors at the Times, or reporters who can read legislation?

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 Bottomless Pit of Albany

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Just when you thought that the New York State Legislature had hit a new low, there’s always a lower spot they can find.

The last two weeks have shown us probably the worst face of politics, with control of the State Senate being all but auctioned off to the highest bidder. Our august Solons have turned the lights off on each other, hid the key to the chamber, engaged in pushing matches with activists. In other words, it’s been kindergarten on a bad day.

Now, they’ve found a new low point. But this time there are lives at stake.

A disturbing article appeared today in the Albany Times Union. It was written one of the high priestesses of the Cult of Moloch, er, I mean the head of NARAL-NY, the pro-abortion lobbying group. It alleged that the Senate had been scheduled to vote on the so-called “Reproductive Health Act” last Wednesday, June 10 — even though the bill had only been introduced two days before, it didn’t appear on the calendar of the Senate or any committee, and there were no hearings or advance warning at all. In other words, it was going to be “legislation by ambush”, on one of the most dangerous bills to come before the Legislature in decades.

Nice. A momentous piece of legislation, handled with all the seriousness usually associated with renaming a street, or declaring a state rock.

Make no mistake about what this bill is all about. It is the abortion industry’s dream bill, giving them everything they ever wanted — the ability to destroy unborn children with impunity, with the means to force all of society to cooperate and approve of their acts. This bill would:

  • Repeal the requirement in current law that states only “duly licensed physicians” may perform abortions, and permit any “health care practitioner” to perform the procedure prior to viability.
  • Remove any possibility of prosecution or state disciplinary action against doctors or others who perform unauthorized or dangerous abortions.
  • Make abortion virtually immune from any state regulation that you and your legislative colleagues feel is necessary. Although common-sense regulations such as parental notification for minors’ abortions have been upheld by courts, and are supported by most New Yorkers, they would be impermissible under this bill.

While the bill contains some limited conscience protection, the language is completely inadequate. It may apply only to individuals who do not wish to provide abortions, and thus may offer no protection to institutions. As a result, the bill could:

  • Force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, contrary to their beliefs;
  • Force insurance plans, including those of Catholic employers, to cover abortion;
  • Force Catholic charitable agencies to counsel and refer for abortion; and
  • Force all schools, including Catholic schools, to educate children about abortion.

New York is already the abortion capital of America. The abortion rate here is the highest of any state in our nation. Already, 31% of all pregnancies in New York State — 40% in New York City — end in an abortion (according to New York State Department of Health statistics). This is not something to be proud of and expand, but to mourn.

This “Reproductive Health Act” is an an extreme bill that is out of touch with the attitudes of most New Yorkers, who favor common-sense limitations on abortion. It confronts Catholics and all those of good will with a challenge — will we stand by and do nothing to stop this infamy, or will we take a stand?

Those who wish to do something should go to the webpage of the New York State Catholic Conferences’ Catholic Advocacy Network and send a message to their elected officials immediately. Those who are willing to stand by and do nothing should go back and re-read Mathew 25:31-46 and pray about which line they’ll be in — sheep or goats?

Hope Amidst the Madness

Friday, June 12th, 2009

I won’t even try to recount the events that are taking place in Albany these days, because the sands are constantly shifting, and it’s just too depressing to read. I will, however, offer some observations and reflections on their significance for the issues that matter most to me – preserving the definition of marriage, and defending human life.

  • The number of Senators who can be said to be acting virtuously is falling to a dangerously low level. Representative government cannot thrive without the personal virtue of those who are in public office. Yet the basic virtues of honor (particularly being a man of one’s word) and loyalty (even the pale virtue of party loyalty) seem to be sliding into obsolescence. This does not bode well for our society.
  • What does it say about our government, and those who govern us, that a momentous social experiment like same-sex “marriage” is being considered as a bargaining chip in negotiations over who will sit in what office and what size their staff will be? Yet there seems to be no sense at all that this is an issue that must be considered with calm deliberation, and not in the middle of a circus atmosphere.
  • I consider virtually all of the commitments and representation that we have heard as to which way Senators will vote on same-sex “marriage” to be up for grabs. No matter what has been said, there are so many calculations of party and self-interest going on that I find it hard to believe that principles and merit will have much influence over the outcome.
  • I fear a repeat of history if the same-sex “marriage” bill comes to the floor of the Senate for a vote. In 1970, the New York State Assembly was deadlocked over the bill to legalize abortion. After the vote was cast, one member rose to change his vote from “No” to “Aye”. By that later-than-last-minute conversion, abortion became legal in our state, and thousands of babies were consigned to death. No matter what is said before legislators take the floor, you can never be sure what the results will be.
  • In battles like this, the Church and other defenders of traditional values are at a serious disadvantage. Not only is the media dead set against us, but we don’t have the principal weapon with which to fight the battle – money. The sight of the open and naked bribery taking place in the capital, as Senators are “courted” with promises and favors, is deeply disturbing. All we have to offer are the opinions of little people, and their phone calls, faxes, emails, and visits to legislative offices. Those commodities aren’t going far in the open-air market of the Legislature.

Yet, despite all of this, I remain hopeful, because I believe that the truth cannot ultimately be suppressed. All science and reason teaches us that human life is present in the womb from the moment of conception. To continue to deny that is to deny the basic facts of life, and I believe that our society cannot forever continue to do so. Human history, biology, and common sense uniformly teach us that marriage is, and always will be, the faithful commitment for life of one man and one woman. The Humpty-Dumpty logic of using power to re-define marriage can only go so far, before collapsing into parody and self-evident nonsense.

God, speaking to us through our beloved Church, always reminds us of the essential truths. As we struggle to remain faithful and vigilant in these difficult times, God continues to speak to us and offer us the buoy of hope. In the first reading at Mass today, from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, God speaks very clearly about our situation:

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor 4: 8-11)

So, I am of good cheer, and I will soldier on. Will you join me?

A Pilgrimage for Marriage

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Another early morning departure. Pouring rain. A long trip up and back. Another pilgrimage to Albany.

On Tuesday, I traveled to our state capital to participate in the Rally for Marriage — to show our Legislature that we oppose efforts to re-define marriage, in particular to oppose the legalization of same-sex “marriage”. This event was sponsored by New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a very active evangelical organization that has long been an ally of the Church’s on issues like the defense of human life and family.

Through the generosity of my brothers in the Knights of Columbus, the Family Life Office was able to offer two free buses to the Rally. The buses quickly filled, as people were eager to have the chance to make their position known to the Legislature.

Virtually every time I have traveled to Albany for these kinds of events, it rains, snows, ices, etc. That’s God’s way of reminding me that discipleship has its costs, and that pilgrimages shouldn’t be easy.

Yet, despite the rain and the early start, the bus ride was actually very pleasant. The company was good — I was lucky enough to sit with a very fine priest, and right near two of the Sisters of Life and two of the Friars of the Renewal. The lay people on the bus were enthusiastic and happy.

Most of the upbeat atmosphere came from prayer. We started the day off with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and we prayed the Divine Office (Morning Prayer and the Office of Readings) and the Rosary on the bus. On the way home, we watched a very entertaining soap opera-like film about the life of St. Rita of Cascia.

That was particularly appropriate, since we were going to Albany, which many consider to be a hopeless case.

I would be happy to explain to you what was going on in Albany on Tuesday, the day after the bizarre coup that may have resulted in a change in leadership in the Senate. However, I am not a science fiction writer, so I couldn’t do the subject justice. Suffice it to say that nobody knows what’s going on, who’s going to lead the Senate, what their agenda is, or what it means for the bills we’re concerned about. Chaos reigns.

For our part, though, we were there to witness to our faith in God and our commitment to defend marriage. And that we did. The rally was led by a series of evangelical preachers, and it was really something to hear them testifying to their faith on the steps of the Capitol, the sounds reverberating off of the surrounding buildings as if echoing back the “Amens”. Maggie Gallagher, the national leader in the defense of marriage, also spoke. The crowd was bid, it was a real rainbow coalition of races, sexes and faiths. And God, having tested us with the rain on the way up, blessed us with good weather during the rally.

Afterwards, we went over to the Capitol building and my fellow pilgrims visited their legislators’ offices. It was amazing to me, cynic that I am, to see the fresh enthusiasm on their faces as they got ready to speak the truth to power, and their happiness in having had the opportunity to do God’s work in such a place.

Of course, one trip to Albany isn’t enough to get this message across, and I urge everyone to contact their State Senator through the Catholic Advocacy Network. We have to keep the effort going — one rally isn’t enough.

Albany during legislative session can be a depressing, dispiriting place. The game is played in the corners, all the angles are used, and people have sharp elbows. Sometimes you wonder what kind of luck Abraham would have had in finding ten righteous men in the city.

But that didn’t matter to the pilgrims that day. The rain meant nothing. The fatigue of a long day and the long bus ride didn’t matter. There was authentic joy among the travelers. God was with us, and we were speaking His truth in fidelity.

It was a good day. Thank you, God, for giving us such an opportunity.

Hey, It’s St. Patrick’s Day — Let’s Attack the Church

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Perhaps people have forgotten, but St. Patrick’s Day is a religious day, of special significance to Catholics. It is a memorial of the great missionary saint who evangelized Ireland for the Faith. It is especially important to us Catholics of New York — those of Irish descent like me and all others — because St. Patrick is the patron saint, and thus the spiritual guardian, of our Archdiocese.

The religious nature of the day was obviously lost on the New York State Assembly. In one of the most stunning snubs directed towards the Church in recent memory, the Codes Committee of the Assembly casually approved a bill yesterday that is a direct attack on the Church.

The bill in question is a revision of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases. For the non-laywers among us, the statute of limitations imposes a time limit during which a civil lawsuit or a criminal case can be brought. It is an ancient and fundamental part of our legal system, designed to ensure that potential defendants are treated fairly. The rationale is based on the recognition that over time, memories fade, evidence is lost, witnesses die or disappear, and it is fundamentally unfair to require a person to defend themselves against an old, stale cases. The reality is that it is impossible for people to defend themselves against claims that arise from alleged offenses that took place decades ago.

This is settled law, and the idea of retroactively changing the statute of limitations for a civil offense would have been unthinkable until a few years ago. Then the clerical sex abuse crisis came to light. Many of the cases of abuse date back 20, 30, 40 or more years. As heinous as the crimes were, the statute of limitations barred civil lawsutis from being brought in many of the cases.

In response, bills have been proposed in a number of states to overturn the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases, for instance by granting a one-year window of opportunity for people to bring lawsuits that would otherwise have been time-bound. One such bill has been introduced here in New York, sponsored by Assembly Member Margaret Markey of Queens.

There are a number of problems with this bill. First, it violates a basic principle of fairness by changing the rules after the fact. Plus, it is discriminatory — it leaves government agencies exempt from being sued — (such as public schools, in which sexual abuse is not exactly unknown. Instead, it puts a lawsuit target sign on private institutions, like the Church. In effect, it says that some organizations are worthy of protection under the law, and others are fair game for trial lawyers. In reality, this is clearly aimed at the Catholic Church.

Even worse, it will do absolutely nothing to protect children, since it only looks backwards at old cases. Since the beginning of the sex abuse crisis, the Church has done more than any other institution to establish programs to ensure the safety of children. This bill does nothing to further that goal. No child will be made safer as a result of this bill. None.

Make no mistake — the potential consequences for the Church are devastating. In California, a similar bill was passed, and virtually all the lawsuits were directed at the Church. In part because of the difficulty of litigating so many old cases (remember the original rationale of the statute of limitations?), the Church had to pay upwards of a billion dollars in settlements. And you should know that 40% of that money went nowhere near the victims — it went to the trial lawyers who brought the cases.

The Church has made clear that we consider this bill to be a direct attack against our institutions, and that it is a violation of the fundamental principles of justice. The financial impact on our parishes, schools and charitable entities will be severe, and many may have to close.

So what did the New York State Assembly do, when faced with such a significant and contentious bill? Why, they had a mock hearing in the Codes Committee. But it was a sham, of course — there was no public hearing, no witnesses called, no open debate on the record, no issuance of a report outlining the rationale or effect of the bill, no opportunity for public comment. And they then proceeded to approve the bill, and send it to the the entire Assembly so that august body can “consider” it, no doubt in the same sagacious way as did the committee.

And here’s the kicker — they did it on St. Patrick’s Day, our patronal feast. As if none of them knew that the day had some vague religious significance to Catholics.

So, in one package, there you have the New York State Legislature in all its glory — heedless of consequences, hostile to Catholicism, contemptuous of the public, indifferent to democracy, and dismissive of justice. The perfect storm of the most disfunctional legislature in the nation.

The Sisters Go to Albany

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

On March 10, I travelled with three of the Sisters of Life to attend the New York State Catholic Conference’s Forum Day in Albany. The purpose of the day is to bring Catholics from around the state to the Capitol to lobby our legislators on behalf of Catholic interests — pro-life issues, Catholic schools, charitable works, and health care.

And, on its own terms, the day went pretty much as planned. There was a convention first, at which two Catholic legislators addressed the crowd, speaking about how their faith works in public life. This was followed by Mass celebrated by the Cardinal, together with almost all the other Catholic bishops of New York State. There were legislative visits going on all throughout the morning, as people visited their representatives’ offices and presented our positions to them and their staffs. A well-deserved award was given to Dr. Catherine HIckey, the former Superintendent of Schools here in the Archdiocese, for her lifetime of work on behalf of Catholic education.

Albany is a tough place to do this kind of grassroots lobbying. The system is so opaque and difficult, the process so Byzantine, that it is hard to get a straight answer from anyone about what’s going to happen, and nobody can really predict very far into the future. For me, the day was in many ways the same as it always has been. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve met with many legislators and their staffs. Let’s just say that all of this has left me a bit cynical and jaded.

Visiting Albany with the Sisters of Life, however, is an entirely different kind of experience. To begin with, the Sisters don’t lobby. That’s not why they’re there. They’re there to witness. And during the convention, people flocked to the pro-life table to speak to the Sisters, to shake their hands, to take their literature, to tell them about what they’re doing for the cause, and just to spend time with them. One of them, Sr. Mary Loretta, spent most of the morning hanging out with the students from Lourdes High School, chatting with them, encouraging them, and she even went along with them to their legislative visit to lend moral support. The legislators who visited the convention went out of their way to meet the Sisters, and one even sat with them during Mass.

Later, our pro-life lobbyist in Albany, Kathy Gallagher, took us over to the Capitol building. Walking anywhere with the Sisters of Life is an exercise in patience — you have to pause every ten feet becuase people are constantly stopping them to talk. Eventually, though, we got to the Capitol and Kathy took us on a tour. It’s a beautiful building, and we saw all the right things — the Senate and Assembly chambers, the magnificent stairways, etc.

And it was here that the Sisters did their real work in Albany. Just by walking the corridors in their simple and beautiful habits, they made a strong statement that the busy staff members couldn’t help but get. They spoke to the clerks, the guards, and to the legislators we met. The best moment came on the floor of the Senate chamber, to which we had been admitted at the request of one of the Senators. While Sr. Lucy and Sr. Aquinas spoke to the Senator, Sr. Loretta talked to one of the clerks, a very nice man who was giving us a short tour. When she found out that he was Catholic, she pressed a small Miraculous Medal into his hand and, holding his hand, prayed for him. He was deeply moved — as was I — and tears came to his eyes.

Here we were, on the floor of the New York State Senate, in the seat of political power, where decisions are made that affect people’s property, liberty — and even life itself. And here were the Sisters, who own no property and have no power, but they have something more important. They brought Jesus to the Capitol, to the Senate chamber, and to the people they encountered.

When the Church steps into the public arena, we all too often speak the worldly language of power and influence. What the Sisters taught me, yet again, is that the voice of God is different. It is soft and still, and spoken quietly from person to person, from heart to heart.

And it speaks not of power, but of love. That’s what the Sister of Life brought to Albany that day.

Abortion Extremism, Always on the Agenda in Albany

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Everyone who’s been paying attention to the news over the past few months knows that New York State’s government is in desperate fiscal shape. Huge budget deficits, drying up revenues due to the collapse of Wall Street, job drains across the State but especially upstate — it’s not a pretty picture, and should demand the undivided attention of all our lawmakers. As Governor Paterson said in his recent “State of the State” address, the condition of our state is “perilous”.

So what does new Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith say is a priority item? What else but expanding access to abortion and contraception. I wish I could say, “Only in New York”, but it would be more accurate to say, “Only in the Culture of Death”.

On January 12, Senator Smith spoke to the Temple of Moloch, er, I mean the abortion industry’s lobbyist, “Family Planning Associates”. He told these dedicated advocates for destroying unborn children that their agenda was a legislative priority for this year. He singled out two bills for special attention.

One, the so-called “Reproductive Health Act”, is an extreme bill that would prevent any common sense restrictions on abortion that are supported by the great majority of citizens (like parental notification requirements, and limits on public funding of abortion). It even could force Catholic agencies to promote or perform abortions. For more information about it, check out the New York State Catholic Conference website. Essentially, it’s an abortionist’s dream bill, and is very much like the radical “Freedom of Choice Act” pending in Congress.

And what did one of the most powerful men in our state say about this horrible bill? That the Legislature “must pass” it.

The second bill he mentioned was the Orwellian-named “Healthy Teens Act”, which is basically a funding stream for those Planned Parenthood-inspired “sex education” programs that can best be descibed as “here’s your condom, now go have fun”. For more information about this bill, check out my earlier blog post, “Addicted to Sex Educaction and Contraception“. Only in the Culture of Death would you think that this is the way to have healthy teens — to indoctrinate them into hedonism.

And what did this agenda-setting politician say about this wicked bill? That “it is time” for the Legislature to pass it.

So there you have it. Forget about budget deficits. Forget about respecting the rights of religious institutions and individuals. Forget about public opinion. Forget about the rights of parents. Moloch must be fed children and money. That’s the priority.

All Catholics — and all people who respect human life and human dignity — should take action to stop this radical agenda. Please contact your state legislator today. The easiest way is to visit the website of the New York State Catholic Conference, and making use of the Catholic Advocacy Network.

This is the time for all disciples of Christ to put on the full armor of God (see Eph 6:11-18) and do battle for what is right. Please do it today.

Let’s Keep Our Eyes on the Ball

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Hardly a day goes by any more without me receiving one of those emails. No, not the ones you’re thinking of, although occasionally one of those slips through the spam filter.

I’m talking about the emails that call me to action because the President-elect is actually NOT AN AMERICAN CITIZEN (caps in original, of course). Or the ones that breathlessly denounce the bishops for supporting their own Campaign for Human Development because the recipients of some of the grants turn out to be left-wing community organizing groups that — horrors! — favor Democrats. Or the ones urging me to drop everything and oppose some piece of legislation or another that has been introduced in one of the houses of the New York legislature, and don’t I know what horrible things will ensue! Or the ones reminding me that the head of a major pro-life organization has denounced a pro-life newspaper and a religious community known for loyalty to the Church, because he thinks they are now “part of the problem” since they dared to call for civility in dealing with the incoming President.

Sorry, but I’m not biting. I can’t handle so many distractions. We need to do “issue triage” and work on the most urgent issues, leaving others aside for the time being. As I see them, here are the priorities:

1. The “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), and its New York State equivalent, the “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act” (RHAPP) — These extremist bills would go far beyond the horrors of Roe v. Wade and make it impossible to pass any reasonable regulation of abortion. They would also endanger the freedom of conscience of Catholic hospitals and health care workers.
2. Same-sex “marriage” — This would transform the traditional understanding of marriage to include relationships that are not rooted in the natural complementarity of the sexes, and would permanently de-link human sexuality from the procreation and education of children. It would also inevitably threaten religious liberty by coercing religious people and institutions into recognizing these unions.
3. Waiving the Statute of Limitations — This bill would permit lawsuits by victims of clerical sexual abuse, even though their claims are so old that the law would otherwise prohibit them, if they had been brought against any other defendant (which is made clear by the fact that all public institutions — like public schools — are exempt from this bill). Make no mistake — this bill is a direct, targeted attack on the Catholic Church, and would threaten to bankrupt our dioceses, parishes, and institutions.

Just for the record, in my opinion, the ludicrous and baseless “President-elect isn’t a citizen” stories should be relegated to the fever swamps of the Internet where the UFO enthusiasts reside. Sure, I wish the Campaign for Human Development would support other groups — maybe some pro-life ones would be nice — but I’m not consulted about that (or about much else, to tell you the truth); if I don’t like the recipients, I should withhold my donation. Yes, there are lots of bad bills out there, but I can’t fight them all. And no, I refuse to go along with pro-life “friendly fire” incidents that only sap morale and give aid and comfort to the enemy.

The fact of the matter is that we are at war. We cannot fight every battle. We must concentrate our forces on the most significant strategic threats, not on side shows. We’re out-numbered, out-gunned, and out-moneyed by our opposition. We can’t afford to be distracted.

So, please don’t send those emails around any more, and please focus on the most important issues.

The game is at stake. We need to keep our eyes on the ball.

Sit Down and Shut Up

Monday, December 1st, 2008

As we sit here, preparing for Christmas, it is the calm before the next storm. Soon, our religious liberties will be under attack in a way not seen since the early days of the Republic. And I’m not talking about the annual battle over crèches or menorahs.

With the upcoming changes in control of the New York State Senate, and the incoming Administration and new Congress in Washington, several pieces of legislation pose significant and alarming threats to our freedom of conscience. In Albany, we’re talking about the “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act” (“RHAPP”) and the same-sex “marriage” bill. In Washington, we’re looking at the “Freedom of Choice Act” (“FOCA”) and various other regulations that affect religious freedom. Here in New York City we’ve got the new abortion clinic access bill.

FOCA or RHAPP are both extreme bills that would establish abortion as a “fundamental right”, and make it impossible to pass common-sense regulations of abortion, like parental notification laws. But they would also undermine or eliminate the conscience protections in law that protect religious liberties, under the guise of eliminating “discrimination” against the newly-recognized “fundamental right”. Church-owned hospitals, social service agencies, and schools could be required to promote, perform, or refer for abortions. Our schools could be required to help pregnant girls to get an abortion, or risk being sued for “discrimination”. And the licenses of doctors, nurses, and other professionals could be at risk if they don’t promote, perform or refer for abortions.

Also on the federal level, the current Administration has put forward proposed regulations that would grant greater protection to doctors, nurses, and health care institutions that have conscientious objections to abortion and other morally-objectionable procedures. As simple as that sounds, there has been talk that the new Administration may rescind those regulations as soon as it takes office.

Legalizing “same sex marriage” in Albany would also inevitably endanger religious liberty. Proclaiming Church teaching about homosexual behavior will be called “bigotry” or even prosecuted as “hate speech”. Religious organizations will be coerced into recognizing the equivalence of marriage and same-sex relationships, and we will be forced to withdraw from important activities, such as education and social service. We’ve seen this threat in some areas, with broadly drafted “human rights” bills, and it’s already happened in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

The new clinic access bill before the City Council has been deliberately drafted to be so vague as to chill the free speech rights of sidewalk counselors outside abortion clinics. It is even possible that people who merely want to pray outside of the clinics will be the subject of harassing arrests and lawsuits, merely because they want to give witness to their faith and their belief in the dignity of human life.

On top of all of this we have the anti-religious ugliness in the reaction to the passage of Prop 8, the California law that preserved the traditional meaning of marriage. We’re still waiting for the wave of condemnation of this bigotry from the media and the political classes.

The common theme here is a hostility to the religious belief, and an apparent desire to expel religious believers from public debate and from certain professions or businesses. In essence, we would be forced to do things against our conscience, and be forced to stop teaching what we believe.

To be authentic disciples of Christ, we must bring our religious beliefs into the public square and robustly debate them with those of differing views. We will not be silent, or be intimidated into silence.

We will not sit down and shut up.