Archive for the ‘Catholic Public Officials’ Category

Still Wrong After All These Years

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

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

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

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

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunities, Decisions, and Legacies

Friday, August 28th, 2009

For most of us, the opportunities are small and quiet. They come in our home, with our family and friends, at our job, or in our parish or community. A decision is presented to us. Perhaps it’s a question of telling the truth when it’s against our interests. Or going out of our way to help a friend, family member, or stranger. Or being faithful to our marriage vows, or to keep our promises. We have to decide — for God’s way, or not.

Each of us has a lifetime of these opportunities. Every day we have a chance to decide, and together, they make up our legacy. Because the decisions we make will be small and quiet, they will be known to very few. But God, who sees the secrets of our hearts, will know of them all.

For others, though, the opportunities will be large and prominent. They are called to the public stage, and their decisions are more momentous, and have an effect far beyond their immediate circle. They attract more attention, and have an enormous potential to teach others, for ill or good. Because of this, their responsibility is much greater, and their legacy will rest largely on what they do on that public stage.

But, the basic choice that has to be made is always the same — for God’s way, or not.

These are the thoughts that came to my mind in the aftermath of the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. He was certainly called to the public stage, the largest one our nation offers. His years of public service offered him innumerable opportunities to make decisions for God’s way, or not. His decisions are public, and can be evaluated to determine his legacy.

Much ink has been spilled already offering praise to Sen. Kennedy for his commitment to the poor and to a vision of social justice. But in one area — the most important area in which he was called to make decisions — his choices were not admirable, and indeed were greatly to be lamented. In one area, he had an opportunity to promote authentic social justice for all, and for the least among us.

During his time in the Senate, Sen. Kennedy had one hundred thirty-one opportunities to vote on issues relating to abortion and other life issues (stem cell research, cloning, etc.). That number doesn’t even count committee votes, of which there must have been many, since he served for years on the Judiciary Committee. He voted pro-life only four times, and only once since 1977. Pause for a moment over that record of decisions. Think about the subject matter — partial birth abortion, parental notification, destruction of humans in the embryonic state for medical experiments, paying for abortions for poor women, promoting abortion abroad, and on, and on.

One hundred and thirty one times, he had a decision to make: for life or against it. And he made his choices. And he gave his example. And he taught people.

4 for 131.

At the end of our days, every one of us will be called to judgment for our decisions. At the moment of our death, we will appear before Our Lord, and be judged based on our love. Then our Lord will have a decision to make, which will determine our real legacy.

Let us pray for the merciful judgment of Our Lord upon the soul of Edward Kennedy. And let us pray that we may make good decisions, every day — for God’s way, and for no other.

Public Catholicism As it Should Be

Monday, April 27th, 2009

As we look at Catholics who are actively engaged in the public square, we are all too often disappointed that so few seem to be willing to stand up for Catholic principles. Far too many seem perfectly willing to compromise on essential issues of morality for the ephemeral advantages of party politics, fame, or prestige.

Then again, every so often a Mary Ann Glendon comes along.

You may be familiar with Professor Glendon, the former Ambassador to the Holy See, distinguished professor at Harvard Law School, and author of a number of books about bioethics, human rights, family law and abortion. She is an authentic pro-life Catholic feminist.

She was scheduled to receive the “Laetare Award” at the upcoming commencement exercises at Notre Dame University. There, she would have shared the stage with the President as he received his honorary degree as Doctor of Laws, and delivered the commencement address. Quite a bit of prestige for Prof. Glendon, a chance to bask in the reflected glory of the President, to receive a very nice prize, and to hear her praises sung by others.

Today, Prof. Glendon wrote to the President of NDU and declined the Laetare Award. In her letter, she wrote:

… as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

She went on to note that NDU had used her appearance at the commencement to try to blunt the storm of criticism that has arisen over the award to the President. She observed that NDU was holding out her speech as the kind of “dialogue” they were hoping to generate with the President on abortion. In response, Prof. Glendon stated:

It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

That is precisely the kind of public witness that we need as Catholics. Being willing to stand up for the teachings of the Church, and for our fundamental moral duties, even at a personal cost.

Bravo to Prof. Glendon. May her example lead to many more such acts. No doubt St. Thomas More, patron saint of Catholic lawyers, is smiling upon his daughter in faith today.

I would also like to note an interesting juxtaposition of events today. On the same day as Prof. Glendon gave her notice to NDU, a fine Catholic man who long battled in the public square for the cause of human life and dignity, John Marchi, passed away into eternal life.

When he retired in 2006, he had served as a New York State legislator for 50 years — the longest of any New York lawmaker and one of the longest in America. He was an opponent of abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty, and was always proud to bring his Catholic faith into the public square.

He was a fine witness of our faith, and a true Catholic gentleman.

Please, God, send us more Mary Ann Glendons and John Marchis.

Choosing the Wrong Standard

Friday, April 24th, 2009

I’m not the product of a Jesuit education. The Sisters of Charity bear most of the responsibility for how I turned out. But I have always had a liking for St. Ignatius Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises.

During the second week of the Exercises, those who are on the retreat receive a meditation on the Two Standards. This, to me, is a powerful expression of the decision that is at the very core of Christian discipleship.

The meditation asks us bluntly — whose standard or flag will we follow, Christ’s or Satan’s?

Satan’s standard, of course, is the one that the world finds most attractive, because it superficially appeals to our fallen human nature. It offers us the desire for worldly possessions, power, honor, and a false view of freedom that is a disguise for immorality. In the end, though, it leads only to destruction.

Christ’s standard, on the other hand, is the one that the world finds unattractive, because it appeals to values that are exemplified by Our Lord himself, whom the world rejected. It offers us humility, poverty, sacrifice, and authentic freedom that involves willing adherence to God’s will. And in the end it leads to glory.

There is no doubt which standard the world holds out to us. Check out pretty much any television channel and you’ll get an eyeful.

I bring this up because of the tragic spectacle of Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Raised a Catholic, Gov. Sebelius has mapped out an egregious pro-abortion record as governor of that state. She has associated with, and embraced the support of, the infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller. She even hosted an event at her governor’s mansion in honor of him and posed smiling for pictures with him — a man who specializes in killing infants in their last months in the womb. She has consistently opposed pro-life legislation, and has repeatedly vetoed bills like a ban on partial birth abortion. It got so bad that her own bishop, after trying privately to convert her to the Standard of Christ, had to publicly admonish her not to present herself for Communion until she publicly repudiates her pro-abortion positions.

Heedless of this record, the President nominated her to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services, a department with tremendous influence over health policy in our country. Pro-life advocates strongly opposed her, but her nomination seemed to be on track for confirmation, along with the power, honor, and prestige that offers.

Then the Kansas legislature passed a new pro-life bill, one that would have limited late-term abortions, as well as other common-sense measures to restrict and regulate abortions. Gov. Sebelius was thus presented with yet another opportunity to choose the Standard of Christ.

Instead, she vetoed the bill, grossly failing in her duty as a baptized Christian to love and serve the least among us.

She chose the wrong Standard.

God alone will judge Gov. Sebelius. That’s above my pay grade, as someone once said. But for my part, I pray that Gov. Sebelius will repent of her decision, and return to the Standard of Christ. We need strong Christian witnesses in public office, and her conversion to the cause of life would be the source of great rejoicing. Her continued adherence to the Standard of Satan, though, can only be mourned.

We all have the same choice to make. Which Standard will it be? We need to choose wisely.

Catholic Congressional Representatives? Prove it.

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Recent news reports state that 30% of our newly-elected Congress describe themselves as being Catholic. I guess we’re supposed to be proud of that.

But will their professed religious identity show itself in their voting records?

Hardly, if the past is prologue.

We currently have had sixteen Congressional representatives from New York who describe themselves as Catholic; twelve of them served in previous Congresses, and four are brand new. Let’s take a look at the career voting record of those who previously served, on the core issues of concern to Catholics, as defined by the Holy See and our bishops — pro-life issues (abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc.). That should be a pretty good test of how the Catholic faith of our representatives affects their votes.

If that’s the test, very few of them pass. According to the records of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, their collective voting record during that time, in terms of agreement with the Church’s position, was a paltry 26%. 26%. 26%!

Some of the representatives have a very fine record. Peter King is 122 for 122 — a perfect pro-life record. And John McHugh is 111 for 117 — excellent.

But the rest of our representatives have abominable records. Michael Arcuri, 0 for 6; Tim Bishop, 0 for 27; Joe Crowley, 18 for 65; Kristen Gillibrand, 0 for 6; Brian Higgins, 0 for 15; Maurice Hinchey, 1 for 119; Carolyn McCarthy, 6 for 90; Charles Rangel, 2 for 192; Jose Serrano, 1 for 130; Nydia Velazquez, 2 for 117.

Yes, that’s right. This collection of Catholic public officials managed to vote pro-life only 30 times out of a total of 767 votes — just 4% of the time. Just to put this in context, the non-Catholic representatives voted pro-life 12 out of 1136 times — only 1%. So there’s virtually no significant difference in voting record between most of our Catholic representatives and the non-Catholics.

Hey, guys, listen up. Catholicism isn’t an ethnic identity, or a club membership, or a nice line for your official biography. It’s a call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to love Him above all else, to follow His commandments as taught by His Church, and to love others, especially the weak and the helpless — even the unborn.

Faith isn’t something that we jettison when we walk out into the public square, or into the Halls of Congress. It belongs there more than anyplace.

The Second Vatican Council said it best:

Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion. (Lumen Gentium 36)

So you want to be known as being Catholic? Fine. Prove it.