Archive for the ‘Catholic Identity’ Category

How Can We Love God if we Barely Know Him?

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

Many of us are familiar with the popular online dating services, if only because they advertise so often. You fill our a detailed questionnaire about your interests, characteristics, etc. The service then matches you with potential dating prospects based on their prediction of your compatibility. You review their profiles and then, if you wish, reach out and try to set up a date and see how things go from there.

This makes sense. After all, nobody would ever say that they love somebody that they don’t even know. And nobody would say that they love somebody just because they’ve seen the results of a compatibility survey. To know them is necessary, but it’s not enough. It’s obvious that to truly love someone, you have to know them as they really are, which means that you have to encounter them in person, talk to them, and try to understand what’s in their heart, mind and soul.

This is the train of thought that I had when I read the very depressing results of a new study by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life. The purpose of the study was to assess how much Americans know about religions — their own and others. They asked over 11,000 Americans a set of 32 questions. Some of the questions are quite easy, while others are more difficult. I took a sample survey and got 15 out of 15, but that makes sense because I’m kind of a professional Catholic and I’ve always been interested in world religions. Most people did far worse — the average American adult was able to answer fewer than half of the questions correctly.

The general lack of knowledge among Americans is troubling enough, but what the survey revealed about Catholics is truly shocking and dismaying. Catholics on average correctly answered fewer questions than Americans overall, and than Mainline and Evangelical Protestants, Jews, Atheists and Agnostics. We did marginally better than Mormons. The specifics are pretty bad:

  • 56% knew that Jesus grew up in Nazareth.
  • 55% knew that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
  • 61% knew that the Golden Rule is not actually one of the Ten Commandments.

Ouch. I have to say, in fairness, that there were some bright spots. 79% of Catholics knew that Easter commemorates the resurrection of Christ. 85% knew that the Trinity means that there is one God in three persons. 71% knew that Purgatory was the place where souls are purified before entering heaven. And the longer a person attends religious education, or if they attended Catholic school, they got more correct answers. 100% would have been better, but it’s still pretty good.

But the really depressing findings have to do with what Catholics know and believe about the Eucharist. Only 50% of Catholics knew that the Church teaches that at Mass, the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Christ. That’s horrifying enough, but when I looked at the data underlying the poll, I found something even worse. They asked only Catholics the following question:

Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion?

Here is what Catholics answered:

During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine…
  • 31% said “Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”
  • 69% said “Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

Fewer than one out of three Catholics actually personally believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. And only half of Catholics are even aware of the Church’s actual teaching on the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism 1324). Heaven help us.

In his recent letter about the sex abuse crisis, Pope-Emeritus Benedict made some very important observations that apply not only to that scandal, but to the broader crisis that the Church finds herself in. His words are worth quoting at length (emphasis added by me):

What predominates is not a new reverence for the presence of Christ’s death and resurrection, but a way of dealing with Him that destroys the greatness of the Mystery. The declining participation in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration shows how little we Christians of today still know about appreciating the greatness of the gift that consists in His Real Presence. The Eucharist is devalued into a mere ceremonial gesture when it is taken for granted that courtesy requires Him to be offered at family celebrations or on occasions such as weddings and funerals to all those invited for family reasons.

The way people often simply receive the Holy Sacrament in communion as a matter of course shows that many see communion as a purely ceremonial gesture. Therefore, when thinking about what action is required first and foremost, it is rather obvious that we do not need another Church of our own design. Rather, what is required first and foremost is the renewal of the Faith in the Reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

True faith, the kind that can bring us to salvation, is not just being able to answer questions in Catholic Trivial Pursuit. It’s a personal encounter with the real and living God, the Father who created us, the Son who took on human nature and died for us, and the Spirit who lives within us still. If we don’t even know or believe that Christ Himself comes to us in the Eucharist — the real Christ, not just some symbol — then we can never have the fullness of the  personal encounter we need in order to love God, to accept His love for us, and ultimately to be happy with Him forever in heaven. As the Lord Himself said,

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh…. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:51-56)

This is the challenge to all of us — if people are to love God, we have to make sure that they know Him.

Anti-Catholic McCarthyism in the US Senate

Friday, January 4th, 2019

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

That notorious question was the hallmark of the infamous McCarthy era of American history. It was a time when there was legitimate concern about communist influence and Espionage in the United States. But that fear morphed into a kind of paranoia that resulted in virtual witch hunts that stigmatized legitimate political opinions and blacklisted people who refused to cooperate or whose names were given to the inquisitors. Fortunately, America regained its sanity, that period was soon over and – supposedly – its lessons were learned.

But paranoia never really goes away, it tends to look for new targets. We’re now seeing a resurgence of the McCarthy mentality in the United States Congress. But this time it’s dipping into the deep well of anti-Catholicism that has been a stain on American history since the colonial era. This new wave is fixated on Church teaching on sexuality and human life, particularly our adamant rejection of abortion, contraception, and sex outside of marriage. Those positions are considered by some of our political rulers as being beyond the pale, extreme positions that must be rooted out wherever they are found. I should note too that this prejudice isn’t limited to Catholics. It’s also being expressed against any Christian community that holds to traditional teachings on sexuality.

The trend is clear, and well-documented. It can be seen in questions that are being asked of nominees to the federal courts. Here are some examples:

  • In June 2017, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) submitted written questions to a District Court nominee about his personal views on issues of same-sex marriage and abortion in light of his membership in a conservative Anglican church.
  • In September 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), citing the Catholic faith of a nominee to the Seventh Circuit, said that “the dogma lives loudly with in you, and that’s a concern.” At the same hearing, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) asked the nominee “What’s an ‘orthodox Catholic’? … And do you consider yourself an ‘orthodox Catholic’?” Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said “I think [an article written by the nominee] is very plain in your perspective about the role of religion for judges, and particularly with regard to Catholic judges.”
  • In March 2018, Senator Feinstein submitted written questions for the record to a nominee to the Seventh Circuit that noting his membership in the St. John the Cross Parish and asking about his involvement with the parish’s efforts to establish a crisis pregnancy center.
  • In May 2018, Senator Whitehouse submitted written questions for the record to a District Court asking about his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.
  • In October 2018, Senators Feinstein, Whitehouse, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Kemala Harris (D-CA) submitted written questions to a nominee to the Fourth Circuit asking about her involvement with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group.
  • In November 2018, Senator Feinstein submitted written questions to a nominee to the Third Circuit about his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.
  • In December 2018, Senators Hirono and Harris asked a District Court nominee questions about his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) also asked questions centering on an interview the nominee gave to an advocacy group closely identified with Evangelical Christians.

The offensive and dangerous nature of this trend can be seen in the last example. Senator Hirono’s questionnaire stated that “The Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions” and then proceeded to ask numerous questions about the Knights’ positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, implying that the nominee’s membership in the Order was sufficient alone to show that he was unable to be neutral. She also had the audacity to ask baldly, “If confirmed, do you intend to end your membership with this organization to avoid any appearance of bias?”

This is anti-Catholic McCarthyism, plain and simple. It is particularly disturbing that 8 of the 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have displayed such blatant prejudice. And it especially appalling that no prominent member of the Democratic Party has breathed so much as a word of disapproval. That silence is remarkable from the party that loves to display its horror at any hint of bigotry, and that prides itself on inclusiveness.

I don’t have to defend the bona fides of the Knights of Columbus. I am a proud member of the Order, but the Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, said all that is necessary in his recent statement about this scandal.

Some hard questions need to be asked. Has it become dogma in the Democratic Party that membership in the Knights makes a person suspect?  Or has it become dogma in the Democratic Party that anyone who believes what the Catholic Church (and many other Christian communities) teaches and believes is no longer fit to hold public office?

The question being asked in the United States Senate – for now — is, ” Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Knights of Columbus?” Will it soon become, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Catholic Church?”

Religious Schools are Under Attack

Friday, December 14th, 2018

In the Seventeenth Century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote his famous treatise Leviathan. Arguing that because man in the state of nature is inherently violent and unsociable, Hobbes proposed that the government was created to have unlimited power over its subjects. He rejected the notion of individual rights and separation of powers, instead resting all authority in a single absolute monarch.

The founders of our nation utterly rejected Hobbes’ approach to government, seeing from history and common sense that it would lead inevitably to tyranny and a suppression of individual natural rights. They built into our constitutional structure the strict separation of powers, checks and balances on each branch of government, respect for the freedom of non-governmental organizations, and strong protection of individual rights. They were trying to protect us from Leviathan.

Over the last century and a half, the constitutional barriers against the all-powerful state have been progressively eroding. Our federal and state governments have vastly expanded their authority over the lives of individuals and organizations. Enormous powers have been delegated to or seized by executive agencies that rule by decree and operate with virtually no effective oversight by legislatures, courts, or the people. This has been the source of unending political and legal conflict in numerous areas, including environmental and economic regulations, education, health care, and many others.

Leviathan has now focused its attention on religious schools here in New York, with the clear intention of either forcing them to submit to its authority or face destruction.

New York State law requires that non-public schools provide a “substantial equivalent” education to public schools. That term is undefined in the statute, which is always an invitation to mischief. Long-standing constitutional decisions recognize the right of parents to educate their children as they see fit, including the right to send them to religious schools of their choosing. For the most part, there have been few serious conflicts between these two legal principles. Until now.

Spurred by some complaints that Jewish yeshivas are not providing sufficient instruction in secular subjects, the State Education Department has now issued a decree that gives local public school boards broad power to inspect, oversee and intrude upon the independence of private religious schools. It would impose burdensome and costly requirements, such as a mandatory bilingual program and extended school hours. It would subject the curriculum and materials to government inspection and approval. It would even require private school teachers to be evaluated by the government. No objective standards are set out in the directives, leaving broad discretion in the hands of local school boards. Any private school that fail this inspection will be forced to close.

This would give local school boards virtually unlimited power over private religious schools. There is no protection against government officials who are hostile to religious schools or who just want to eliminate the competition. One can only imagine the kinds of curricula and materials that school boards could mandate – such as the wicked sex education required in the New York City public schools, which includes graphic instruction on sex and gender ideology as young as kindergarten.

There’s a name for schools that are subject to this kind of control by the government – public schools.

Private schools exist for a reason – parents don’t want to send their kids to public schools. Education is more than just lesson plans and test scores. Every school has a culture of its own that is a profound influence over the children. Religious schools reinforce the faith in every activity, including in the teaching of secular subjects. Moral values are taught not just by instruction, but by example. Religious parents want their kids to grow up in that kind of environment, not in the chaotic, dangerous and immoral atmosphere present in so many public schools. This is their natural inalienable right.

And make no mistake that Leviathan is very serious about bringing the private schools and religious parents to heel. Under this new plan, if a school fails the government scrutiny, parents will notified that “the students will be considered truant if they continue to attend that school.” In other words, if the parents don’t obey and send their kids to a public school, they would be subjected to a mandated report to state child protection authorities alleging “educational neglect”. That would lead to an incredibly intrusive investigation and the stigmatization of the parents as child abusers. It could lead to the child being removed from the home and put in foster care while the parents are prosecuted.

Leviathan does not brook opposition. There is always the iron fist behind whatever it does.

To their credit, the religious schools aren’t taking this sitting down. The New York State Council of Catholic School Superintendents, which represents 500 Catholic schools, wrote to state education authorities that it “rejects the recently released ‘substantial equivalency’ guidelines and is directing all diocesan Catholic schools not to participate in any review carried out by local public school officials.” In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, two leading rabbis, noting that there are over 440 yeshivas with over 165,000 students, emphasized that Jewish schools were the specific target this intrusion, and signaled that they too will resist.

Does anyone trust that the government will self-limit their exercise of this new-found power? That’s not how Leviathan works. These new rules would give Leviathan the authority to eliminate the very concept of independent private schools and to override the religious sensibilities of parents and school administrators. This is a grave violation of the natural right of parents and religious communities, and it must be resisted.

My Catholic Voting Decision

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

[For the past several years, in anticipation of Election Day, I have posted some thoughts on how to vote as a Catholic. I’ve revised and updated one of those earlier posts, because the stakes in the current election are so high — it is vital that we maintain a pro-life majority in our state Senate. An important point: the opinions I express here are mine, and do not in any way reflect an official position of the Archdiocese, nor should they be considered an endorsement of any candidate by the Archdiocese.]

Once again, Election Day approaches.  At times like these, I am frequently asked how people can do the right thing as voters, as citizens, and as Catholics.  As I understand the teachings of our Church, there are several critical questions involved here. The first is the formation of my conscience.  Our bishops have said quite clearly that

Conscience is not something that allows us to justify doing whatever we want, nor is it a mere ‘feeling’ about what we should or should not do. Rather, conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil. Conscience always requires serious attempts to make sound moral judgments based on the truths of our faith. (Faithful Citizenship17)

A good, Catholic conscience is obedient to the teachings of the Church, and open to hearing the voice of God.  It considers God’s will more important than any partisan interest that I may have.  It always directs me to do good and avoid evil, and in the case of voting,

A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Participation of Catholics in Political Life 4)

Building on the proper formation of conscience, we can then turn to the issues and the candidates.  One thing is crystal clear at this point:  all the issues are not the same, and the defense of human life is the paramount issue for Catholics to consider. The teaching of our Church is clear:  we must vote pro-life.  As the United States Bishops have said,

The direct and intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed… This exercise of conscience begins with outright opposition to laws and other policies that violate human life or weaken its protection. (Faithful Citizenship 28, 31).

This means that in evaluating a candidate, we must consider, first and foremost, their position on the defense of human life.  As the U.S. Bishops have said:

As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support. (Faithful Citizenship 42)

Our New York Bishops have said the same:

The inalienable right to right of every innocent human person outweighs other concerns where Catholics may use prudential judgment, such as how best to meet the needs of the poor or to increase access to health care for all. (New York State Bishops, Our Cherished Right, Our Solemn Duty)

Cardinal Egan once framed the issue of who should hold public office in language as plain as possible:

Anyone who dares to defend that [an unborn child] may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

This also means, of course, that we have to inform ourselves about where candidates stand on the issues.  We can’t just blunder around the voting booth with no information.  And given the abundance of data available on the internet, it really doesn’t take much effort to find out about the position of candidates.  Just visit their websites, and see where they stand on abortion, “reproductive rights”, “choice”, and, in the case of New York State candidates, the “Reproductive Health Act” (which would greatly expand abortion in our state).

This is not to say that other issues are unimportant, or that they have no relevance to the defense of human life and dignity. As Cardinal Dolan put it in a recent blog, “drugs, war, unjust economic systems, crime, violence, oppression of people, family dysfunction, sexual harassment and abuse… all start from a degradation of the innate value of the divine gift of human life.” But the Cardinal went on to say:

I make no apologies for prioritizing solicitude for the unborn. If we get that wrong, we’re hardly credible on the other burning issues. If we allow the helpless life of the baby in the sanctuary of the mother’s womb to be thrown away, it’s tough to defend the lives of others who might be considered inconvenient or expendable.

Exactly right. So, from my perspective, this boils down to a very simple test that I try to adhere to, as best I can: If you think that killing unborn children should be legal, then I won’t vote for you. You haven’t earned my vote.  In my opinion, you’re not qualified to hold public office.  I just won’t vote for someone who will promote or permit grave evil.  I don’t subscribe to the principle of the “lesser of two evils”.  All that means is I’m voting for evil, and it still produces evil in the end.  If there’s nobody in a race that fits my standards, I’ll leave the line blank or write in a name or vote for a minor party candidate.

Now that doesn’t mean that all you have to do to earn my vote is say you’re pro-life. Being pro-life is necessary, but not sufficient. Being against abortion isn’t enough for me to vote for a candidate who is morally unfit to hold office, or who is in favor of other policies that violate human dignity, like illegal warfare, the redefinition of marriage, destruction of families, racism, etc.

When I pick up my ballot next Tuesday, I will see a stark choice between candidates who are pro-abortion, and others who are pro-life. In fact, the pro-abortion candidates are not just mouthing the old “personally opposed but…” sham, but are instead ardent promoters and defenders of the legalized killing of unborn children, and they have strongly campaigned on the issue.  If they are elected, there is a grave danger that the evil abortion expansion plan in the “Reproductive Health Act” will be pushed forward. I cannot see how I as a Catholic could vote for such persons. In my view, such persons should be stopped from holding any position of public trust or authority.

So for me, the choice is easy — I will vote only for candidates who understand that God’s will is for every human life to be protected and welcomed. I invite other Catholics to do the same.

The Truth is on Trial

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

[On October 4, I was honored to receive the Great Defender of Life Award from the Human Life Foundation. The following is the text of my acceptance address.]

As we’ve all seen in recent weeks, one of the greatest challenges of our time is that the truth is on trial. We’ve heard that we live in a post-truth and post-moral society. But nothing could be more dangerous than to fall for the pernicious lie that there is no such thing as objective, eternal moral truth.

We see this all around us. Academia has long peddled the idea that “everything is relative”, and that we can define our own “truth”. In the public square we see the truth subordinated to political ends or distorted by “spin” and ideology. I don’t have to cite specific examples. Just pick up the newspaper.

We can see this in the sufferings of the Catholic Church that I love and serve. We see it especially when we listen to the victims of abuse, as I do. We see what happens when people betray the truth, ignore it, hide it or hide from it. For the longest time we didn’t realize — and in some places we still don’t realize — that the only way to address the problem is with the truth, by living according to it and accepting the consequences. If you want to see the case study of what happens when we fail to uphold the truth, look at the Church.

The denial of truth is certainly not a new phenomenon. But in the communication age, it is spreading like a virus and is having a corrosive effect on society on all levels — from our public institutions down to our own individual lives.

Truth is on trial, and the vulnerable are at risk. In reality, we are all at risk.

My particular focus is on the degradation of the law. Up in the Bronx, at the majestic County Courthouse, you can see inscribed above the north portico: “The administration of justice presents the noblest field for the exercise of human capacity.” That certainly presupposes that there is such a thing as justice, and that there is nobility in serving it.

Does anyone believe this anymore? I do, but I certainly wasn’t taught that in law school, and it’s hard to see it anywhere in our politics or government. It has been replaced by legal positivism — the idea that there is no objective morality, that the law is nothing but an expression of power, special interest, and domination, and that there is no law but man’s law.

You can see the danger. If there is no law but man-made law, then nothing is safe and, as my first-year Contracts professor told us — “It’s all up for grabs”. Pope Benedict warned us about this, “A purely positivistic culture… would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences.”

How far we have come from the day, when in the midst of the slavery debate, the great statesman William Seward said “there is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over the domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes.”

Instead we have a Supreme Court that echoes the infamous Dred Scott decision by holding that unborn human beings have no rights that born people are bound to respect. A Court that says that absolute personal autonomy is the highest value, and that everyone can somehow define the meaning of the universe for himself. A Supreme Court Justice who cynically instructed his law clerks that the most important thing to know about the Court is five — the bare majority needed for a decision.  A series of nominees who are forced by the confirmation process to talk about decisions that were wrong the day they were decided – Roe and Casey in particular – and call them “settled law” that have to be respected as “precedent”.  Not much has changed since Frederick Douglass said of the Dred Scott Supreme Court, “[they] can do many things, but [they] cannot change the essential nature of things — making evil good, and good, evil”. But they certainly are still trying, and will continue to try.

We see this in every issue we face in the pro-life movement, where the powerful first devalue, then dehumanize, and then dispose of the weak. For the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time on the issue of assisted suicide. People with disabilities and elderly people are being told their lives have no value because they lack some kind of quality or capability or because they are too costly to maintain. They are being told that they are better off dead. Insurance companies won’t pay for treatment but they will pay for suicide drugs. Doctors become killers, laws put people in danger rather than protecting them, the advocates hide behind phony terms like “medical aid in dying”, they claim that it’s not really “suicide” and they call it “compassionate”. This is what the denial of the truth brings us to.

Yes, the truth is on trial. We are on trial. The stakes are very high. But we have an answer because our movement is at its heart a truth-teller.

One of the fundamental truths we hold is that there is a law that governs us all — the natural law.

It is a universal objective moral order that God wrote in our hearts and in our very nature, but it is discernible by reason also. The truth of this law does not depend on power, identity, feelings, culture, or the whims of courts or legislatures. It is real, eternal, binding on us all and essential for our safety and happiness. All human laws must conform to it, or at least not contradict it, or they are not binding on us, and we must try to correct them. James Wilson, Founding Fathers and one of the first Supreme Court Justices, said “it should always be remembered, that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same divine source: it is the law of God… Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine”. All the Founders of our nation believed this. Abraham Lincoln believed it. Can you imagine any Supreme Court nominee saying this now?

This higher law stands against any abuse of power, whether by individuals or governments. Under this law, abortion and euthanasia would be unthinkable – nobody can take into their own hands the absolute, unaccountable power over life and death.

The natural law and its objective moral truth are the cure for the pessimism and nihilism of the legal positivists.  It gives us the foundation to uphold what is right and good and most human — polices that embody justice, charity, and the common good, and laws that protect the most vulnerable, and defend religious freedom and human rights.  How much better life would be, if these fundamental truths were embodied in our law. How much more happiness there would be in our world.

This is why our movement is so important. We are the advocates for the weak and vulnerable who are most at risk when the powerful act as if there is no truth, no eternal law, and “it’s all up for grabs”. In the end, we know that we will be judged — as individuals and as a nation — not according to man’s “settled law”, or the Supreme Court’s precedents, but by God’s eternal law.

And we prove these truths by how we love — from the mother vulnerable to abortion, to the single parent struggling to survive, to the disabled person living in loneliness. Including loving those who oppose us. Love is the most powerful argument for the truth.

Our society has lost sight of these truths. But we are here to remind them.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

  • Every human being has been endowed by God with dignity and rights that cannot be taken away by anyone.
  • The first and foremost of these rights is the right to live.
  • Every unique individual human being has inestimable value that is not dependent on productivity or ability or usefulness or convenience.
  • It is a fundamental injustice to hurt or kill an innocent person no matter their age or condition.
  • The government has a solemn duty to protect and defend everyone.
  • It is a disgraceful dereliction of duty for the government to stand by and do nothing while innocent lives are taken, or, even worse, to encourage it or pay for it.
  • We are all united in one human family — what hurts one hurts us all.
  • Because either everybody’s life matters or nobody’s life matters.

Our challenge is the same it has always been, in every movement to eliminate injustice and oppression — from abolitionism to the civil rights movement to our pro-life movement. Abraham Lincoln once said, “[T]he real issue… is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world.  They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle.”

This is our struggle, our trial, in our time – to defend every human life.

We do this because have an unshakable confidence. We are not be discouraged by the powerful forces that oppose us. We will speak the truth with love. We will uphold the law that God has written into every human heart. We will lift up the weak and vulnerable. We will dare to do our duty to them.

And we know that by the grace of God and our hard work, our cause — our glorious cause — will triumph in the end.

Human Rights Failure at Fordham Law School

Monday, September 25th, 2017

The United Nations General Assembly has been holding its annual session, with this year’s theme being “Focusing on People: Striving for peace and a decent life on a sustainable planet.”

The notion of “focusing on people” naturally brings to mind the struggle to protect the fundamental human rights of everyone on our planet. Human rights, of course, is a highly fraught issue, particularly at the UN where it is frequently honored more in the breach than in the observance.

But you can always count on the representative of the Holy See to make sure that human rights are understood in their full and correct sense. Today, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher presented the Holy See’s contribution to the debate. In his remarks, he said the following:

Putting people always first means protecting, at every stage and in every circumstance, the dignity of the person, and its human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in a specific way, the rights to life and to freedom of religion from which all other rights flow and which are therefore the common foundation of the pillars of peace and security and integral human development. These two human rights are indivisible from those other rights and fundamental freedoms relating to a dignified spiritual, material and intellectual life for each citizen and for their families – among others, the right to food, the right to water, the right for housing, the right to a safe environment and the right to work.

One would think that this understanding of human rights, which is so deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching, would resonate clearly with all Catholics and Catholic institutions, as well as all persons with good will. It is in keeping with the best aspects of the UN’s tradition, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Tragically, Fordham Law School has apparently decided to reject that vision of human rights.

While Fordham University as a whole continues to assert its self-understanding as a “Catholic and Jesuit” institution, one would be very hard-pressed to find evidence that the Law School views itself that way, or that it sees value at all in Catholic legal tradition or jurisprudence.

The latest example of their abandonment of a Catholic understanding of law comes in a particularly egregious way. Last week, Fordham Law’s “Leitner Center for International Law and Justice” hosted a presentation by a representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, entitled “Using the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to Advance Sexual and Reproductive Rights”.

Now let’s be perfectly clear about something. The International Planned Parenthood Federation openly boasts in their 2015-2016 report of being the perpetrator of approximately 1.1 million abortions worldwide, and “counseling” and “consulting” with several million women about having an abortion. They brag about having provided almost 5 million “abortion-related services”. They distribute hundreds of millions of doses of chemical contraceptives that can cause further early abortions. They systematically work to undermine or eliminate legal protections for unborn children around the world, under the Orwellian guise of “reproductive rights” — a code word that includes legalized abortion.

In other words, IPPF is likely the single most prolific killer of human beings in the world — a massive violator of the fundamental right to life of every human. They work for the oppression of the weakest and most vulnerable among us and seek to eliminate legal protection of an entire class of human beings whose only offense is that they haven’t been born yet. It is an evil organization.

To celebrate IPPF in a forum dedicated to law and justice is perverse in the extreme. But this is not an isolated event by the “Center for International Law and Justice”. Its list of events and publications demonstrate a consistent advocacy for legalized abortion, with never a dissenting voice being heard. Nor is that an isolated event for the Law School in general, which encourages students to concentrate studies in “reproductive rights” but doesn’t offer a single class in Catholic legal studies.

Put aside for a moment the Catholic Church’s unequivocal and unbroken historical denunciation of abortion as an egregious violation of fundamental human rights. Forget for a moment the Jesuit Pope’s repeated condemnation of abortion and of the “ideological colonization” that seeks to impose Western values on developing countries. Clearly Fordham Law School cares little for these Catholic or Jesuit traditions.

All that’s necessary is to look at secular human rights sources. How about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, which states plainly that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Or the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in 1959, which states as a foundational premise that “the child… needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”, and guarantees that “the child shall enjoy special protection… In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.” Or the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, which reiterates the guarantee of legal protection before birth and says that “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.

How does killing 1.1 million unborn children a year fit into that tradition of “human rights” or “law and justice”?

The fact is that never, in any document or declaration, has the UN or the international community ever recognized abortion as a fundamental human right. Subsidiary UN agencies and committees have done so, under intense pressure from Western governments and abortion advocates, again under the misleading rubric of “reproductive rights”. But they have not yet been able to revise the traditional understanding of “human rights” to exclude unborn children.

The Holy See’s presentation at the UN was an uplifting and beautiful tribute to true human rights. Fordham Law School has chosen a different direction, one that betrays Catholicism, the Jesuit charism, and even secular human rights.

That is a catastrophic human rights failure.

Politics, Factions, and the Church

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

At the time of the founding of our Republic, one of the great concerns was the danger that political factions would undermine the fragile unity of the new nation. This was so serious that the Founding Fathers specifically and repeatedly warned about the deleterious effects factions would have on the country. For example, George Washington, in his Farewell Address (a document that is amazingly prescient and relevant in our age) said:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Likewise, James Madison in the Federalist Papers (No. 10) said this:

A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

There is no question that the spirit of faction is very widespread in our nation and that it is driving us further apart. The past election was a particularly bad season for this, and virtually everyone can tell about divisions in their families, uncomfortable or hostile conversations at dinner, being “un-friended” or seeing vitriol on Facebook, and so on. There is not just anecdotal evidence for this. A major study by the Pew Center last year documented the rise in partisanship and animosity over politics.

American politics is becoming almost tribal in nature. A person’s political affiliation is becoming a dominant aspect of their identity and it is increasingly shapes not just their views on public issues but their friendships, associations, etc. Party loyalty is becoming one of the highest values and group-think is becoming the acceptable standard. Politics is also invading more and more aspects of life. It’s becoming increasingly common at sporting or entertainment events for some athlete or singer to inject their political views into the show. Facebook is becoming more about political rants than pictures of the kids and silly cat videos. Corporations whose purpose is to sell us stuff are now seeing it as their role to tell us how to think as well. People on both the left and the right are bemoaning the fact that we are facing the politicization of everything.

This is not news, but I raise it at this time for a reason.  The President recently said that one of his major goals is to eliminate something called the “Johnson Amendment”. That’s a provision of the Internal Revenue Code that bans certain tax exempt organizations — particularly churches — from engaging in partisan politics. This has long been a goal of many Evangelical organizations and some Catholics as well. They want pastors to be able to openly endorse political candidates from the pulpit and to lend them material support through their churches.

I think this would be a disaster for the Church and for our society — and for our souls. Politics has its place, and its place is not everywhere. A healthy society has many institutions and activities whose purpose is to bring people together, not to divide them or to “kindle their unfriendly passions”. One of the most important of these places is in Church.

The purpose of Church is not to contemplate or promote temporary solutions to worldly problems. The purpose of Church is to worship God, the Creator and King of the Universe. It is a time to separate ourselves from the Kingdom of Man and immerse ourselves in the Kingdom of God, which is our true homeland. It is a time to renew our communion with Our Lord Jesus Christ and with His Mystical Body — with our fellow sinners of all political views. It is the place where we recall our solidarity with the Communion of Saints around the world, those who have preceded us and those who will follow us. We are called to lift our hearts and minds to God, to listen to His Word, and, if we are worthy, to receive His Body and Blood. In Church, nothing should distract us from trying to come closer to God in our hearts, minds and souls. Nothing.

Factions, parties, and partisanship — whatever term we use for it — have no place in the Church. They divide us in the most important place where we must stand united. St. Paul went so far as to call “party spirit” a work of the flesh, and compare it to many very wicked sins that exclude people from the Kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21). We certainly need more guidance from our Church about the principles and demands of our faith, and how we can apply that to the issues of our day.  But we cannot allow partisan politics to turn us against each other — or against the Church — and divert us from our real role in the world. In the famous Letter to Diognetus written way back in the second century, this was how the Christians were described:

… there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country… They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law… To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world…  Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

That is indeed a lofty function, one that we cannot allow to be diluted by politics or factions.

Post-Election Thoughts

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

A few points that I think are worth noting about the election results. On the whole, it was a good night for the pro-life, pro-religious freedom agenda.

  • The way the political parties are currently aligned, it is generally better for our issues when Republicans and conservatives hold key positions, because they are more likely to be pro-life and favorable to religious liberty. This is not universally true, nor may it be true in the future, but it is a generalization that I rely on in my comments below. More about this further down.
  • Clearly it is very good news that the most ardently pro-abortion presidential candidate in history has been defeated. The wailing and gnashing of teeth (and desperate apocalyptic fund-raising efforts) by Planned Parenthood et al. gives us an idea of what this means to pro-abortion advocates. Bad news for them is always good news for us.
  • Many of the Executive Branch officials in the Administration who have pushed an anti-life and anti-religious liberty agenda will also be turned out of office and replaced with more conservative policy-makers. This gives us great hope that hostile regulatory measures (like the HHS Mandate, ACA abortion mandates and the transgender mandates) will be reversed or moderated.
  • However, since the President-elect is not widely celebrated for consistency of positions and promise-keeping, it is vital that pro-lifers are vigilant and assertive in holding him to his campaign pledges and watching his appointments to key positions.
  • The US Senate and House of Representatives have both retained a Republican majority. This makes it more likely that important budget amendments will be retained, particularly the Hyde Amendment (restricting Medicaid funding for elective abortions) and the Weldon Amendment (offering conscience protection for health professionals), and that further conscience protections (like the First Amendment Defense Act and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act) will move forward. It also makes it more likely that Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry will be at least partially defunded.
  • We have to have realistic expectations about Congress, however, because the Senate still requires 60 votes in most cases before legislation can be acted on, which encourages delay, obstruction, and compromise. We have to be ready to accept incremental improvements, while still pressing for more.
  • It is more likely that conservative judges will be appointed to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. But we must again temper our expectations — the Senate requires 60 votes for a nominee to be voted on, so it is likely that any Supreme Court nominee will be more moderate than Justice Scalia. The ability to appoint more conservative lower court judges is a major opportunity, since most of the key litigation on our issues takes place at the District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals levels.
  • Here in New York, it appears that the Republican Party has retained control of the State Senate, by virtue of its coalition with some Democrats. It is not clear whether there is a pro-life majority in the Senate, but this still gives us some reason to hope that the assisted suicide bill may be held off.
  • However, the fact that Colorado approved the legalization of assisted suicide by a wide majority in a referendum, and the District of Columbia is about to pass legalizing legislation, it is clear that we must continue to work hard on this issue.
  • Elsewhere in the nation, Republicans retained their control of the majority of state legislatures and governorships. This means that the dynamic efforts of pro-lifers at the local and state level will have the chance to continue. Their successes give us solace that our movement is making progress, even if we seem stuck in New York.

The startling results of the presidential election may represent a watershed moment of political re-alignment. If the Democratic Party moves further to the left, as many are now suggesting, it is likely that moderate Democrats who are also pro-life and pro-religious liberty will be looking for a new political home. Voters of all types who are uneasy with the populism and nationalism of the President-elect may also find themselves in search of new political partners. There may be a chance for these centrist voters to come together to present a new vision for politics, perhaps even in a new party, a vision that is more in keeping with Catholic social teaching and with the innate pragmatism and moderation of the great majority of Americans.

In the meantime, we can watch, hope, and pray for our political leaders and for peace and harmony in our nation. God bless America.

(Please note that these comments are strictly limited to the issues that matter the most to me, namely pro-life, marriage and religious liberty. This should not be taken as a general assessment of the election results, an analysis that encompasses the full range of issues of concern to Catholics, or an unqualified statement of approval either of the President-elect or the Republican Party.)

Pathological Politics

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Politics is a dirty business and anyone who is involved in it, even just as a spectator, has to have a thick skin and a high tolerance for invective and hyperbole. Even by the standards of ordinary politics, though, the current Presidential campaign has certainly hit a number of new low points in the behavior of the major party candidates — including juvenile name calling, deranged conspiracy theories, unfounded accusations of bigotry and hatred, and the dismissal of a large percentage of the population as being “deplorable”.

The level of discourse among the general public has also been lamentably awful, as any reader of a Comments Box or Facebook feed can attest. On the whole, this year has not presented an edifying display of democracy at its best.

All of this might easily be dismissed as “politics as usual”. But things are certainly getting worse, and it is a very dangerous trend. This was brought home to me the other day when I received a troubling email from a very respectable Catholic gentleman. In the email, he said that the Democratic presidential nominee “is pure evil and very powerful because of her allegence [sic] to Satan”.

When uncharitable and unjust things like this are being said by Christian people, we should be seriously alarmed. If we as Christians cannot engage in strong political discourse without resorting to calling people “pure evil” or alleging that someone is a servant of the Evil One, then there is something sick about our political climate.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised. A recent study by the Pew Center on “Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016″ found that Americans are not just divided by politics, but that the divisions have reached the level of fear and loathing. For example, the study found that “A majority of Democrats (55%) say the GOP makes them feel afraid, while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. And nearly half of Democrats (47%) and Republicans (46%) say the other party makes them feel angry”.

Things have clearly gone beyond robust disagreement about policy proposals. This personal animosity is the fruit of a political culture that cares little for policy discussions, but is instead infected by ideological media like “comedy” talk radio shows that show contempt for opposing viewpoints and politicians, and thrive on stirring up feelings of anger and indignation against the perceived enemy.

I understand that many people firmly believe that imminent disaster is at hand if one or the other of the major party candidates is elected. I certainly share the concern about the intensification of the Culture of Death and attacks on religious liberty. I also am disturbed by the prospect of immoral, unstable and untrustworthy people being elected to high office.

But as Catholic laypeople, we cannot be satisfied with this state of things. We are called by our faith to enter into temporal affairs, including politics, in order to bring to others the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must advance our positions while still remaining disciples of the Lord. As our Bishops say in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, “We are committed to clarity about our moral teaching and to civility. In public life, it is important to practice the virtues of charity and justice that are at the core of our Tradition” (FC 60).

Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC, has said it very well:

We need to look at how we engage in discourse and how we live out our commitment to be a people of profound respect for the truth and our right to express our thoughts, opinions, positions — always in love. We who follow Christ must not only speak the truth but must do so in love (Eph 4:15). It is not enough that we know or believe something to be true. We must express that truth in charity with respect for others so that the bonds between us can be strengthened in building up the body of Christ.

As Christians, we cannot participate in pathological politics. Our society is indeed sick, and desperately in need of healing. But the solution is the message of mercy and love of the Gospel, emphasizing the dignity of every human person — including those with whom we disagree about politics.