Archive for the ‘Catholic Teaching’ Category

A Major Victory for Religious Freedom

Friday, October 6th, 2017

After years of regulatory and courtroom battling, the Government has finally recognized that it was a violation of religious liberty to impose what we have long called the “HHS Mandate” on those with religious objections to contraception, abortion-causing drugs and sterilization. That mandate was cooked out of thin air by the previous Administration under the purported authority of the Affordable Care Act. The current Administration has now issued new rules that give relief to religious and other organizations, as well as individuals.

This is a major victory, and we should express our gratitude to the President and his Administration, particularly those in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The sweep of the new rules is very broad. First, the admission that the original (and the many revised) rules violated the religious freedom of institutions and individuals (direct quotations from the new proposed rules are in italics):

  • “We have concluded that requiring certain objecting entities or individuals to choose between the Mandate, the accommodation, or penalties for noncompliance imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise under RFRA.” This corrects the error of the previous Administration, which stubbornly insisted that the Mandate did not impose a burden on religious belief.
  • “Our reconsideration of these issues has also led us to conclude… that the Mandate imposes a substantial burden on the religious beliefs of individual employees who oppose contraceptive coverage and would be able to obtain a plan that omits contraception…” Under the original Mandate, individuals with religious objections had no hope of any relief.
  • “the Departments have concluded that the application of the Mandate to entities with sincerely held religious objections to it does not serve a compelling governmental interest.”This is a huge concession, and reverses the adamant — and hardly credible — insistence by the previous Administration that riding roughshod over the religious objections served a vital public interest.
  • “In the Departments’ view, a broader exemption is a more direct, effective means of satisfying all bona fide religious objectors.” Note the new emphasis here of actually showing respect for religious objectors, instead of brushing them aside, which was the attitude of the previous Administration.

Now, the specifics, which also show a broad desire to protect religious liberty:

  • “With respect to employers that sponsor group health plans, the new language… provides exemptions for employers that object to coverage of all or a subset of contraceptives or sterilization and related patient education and counseling based on sincerely held religious beliefs.” This is the most significant provision, because it allows all employers with religious organizations to opt out of the offensive coverage without going through any bureaucratic process.
  • “Consistent with the restated exemption, exempt entities will not be required to comply with a self-certification process.” This removes one of the most objectionable provisions of the previous Mandate, which essentially required religious organizations to give a permission slip for offensive services to be provided — putting them in direct cooperation with evil.
  • “the Departments do not limit the Guidelines exemption with reference to nonprofit status… the rules extend the exemption to the plans of closely held for-profit entities. This is consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby… the rules extend the exemption to the plans of for-profit entities that are not closely held.” This is a huge expansion of the exemption, because it will not just be limited to organizations that are non-profit or to those for-profit entities that satisfy standards that vary from state to state to determine if they are “closely held”.
  • “These interim final rules extend the exemption… to health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage that sincerely hold their own religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services.” This would also allow insurance companies with religious values to operate, providing a potential safe harbor from these and other morally offensive measures.
  • “This individual exemption allows plan sponsors and issuers that do not specifically object to contraceptive coverage to offer religiously acceptable coverage to their participants or subscribers who do object, while offering coverage that includes contraception to participants or subscribers who do not object.” Another major victory, this would permit — but not require — insurers to offer objecting individuals to opt out of the offensive coverage.

This is the result of steadfast opposition and litigation by many organizations and individuals who refused to surrender their religious principles  to over-reaching, ideologically-driven government regulation. Particuarly worthy of mention are the great defenders of religious freedom at Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket.

We can legitimately celebrate this victory, and thank God that our government has shown a new-found respect for our first and most precious freedom.

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.

A Great Victory for Life

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

The New York State Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld our state ban on assisted suicide. The decision is a tremendous victory for life, and will strengthen our efforts to hold off legislation that seeks to legalize assisted suicide.

The lawsuit involved was filed by persons who had terminal illnesses and several doctors. They argued that they had a fundamental right under our state constitution to what they euphemistically call “aid-in-dying”. They also argued that it violated equal protection to allow patients to decline life-sustaining treatment but deny assistance to others who wish to commit suicide. Their arguments were supported by many organizations that filed amicus curiae briefs, including groups of doctors and law professors, as well as the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The Attorney General of New York opposed the lawsuit very ably. The New York State Catholic Conference filed amicus curiae briefs in opposition, written by myself and my colleague Alexis Carra. Several other amicus briefs were filed on our side, by Catholic and Christian doctors, our allies in Not Dead Yet (a leading disability rights group), and Agudath Israel.

The case was very well argued on both sides, both at oral arguments and in the briefs. The lower courts all rejected the plaintiff’s arguments in opinions that were very thoughtful and well done. But in the end, it was all up to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in our state and the final authority on our New York State Constitution.

Thanks be to God, the Court categorically rejected all of the plaintiffs’ arguments. With strong opinions — the unanimous opinion of all five judges and several concurrences — the Court firmly rejected the absurd notion that “aid-in-dying” was somehow excluded from the current definition of suicide. They also followed the United States Supreme Court’s holding in the 1995 Quill v. Vacco case that neither the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause supported the creation of a fundamental right to assisted suicide.

Most significantly, the Court strongly upheld the strong and unequivocal state interest in prohibiting assisted suicide. The various opinions cited major concerns that were raised by our side, including the risk of expanding assisted suicide to voluntary or even involuntary euthanasia, the stigmatization of disabled persons, the degradation of the medical profession, the need to protect vulnerable populations, and the risk of abuse and misuse of medications. These opinions will be of great assistance to us in opposing further efforts to legalize assisted suicide in the Legislature.

It’s easy sometimes for pro-lifers to get discouraged, especially in a state like New York where the deck seems stacked against us. Victories are few and far between, and defeats are all too common. This lawsuit was the most significant battle that we have had in the pro-life cause in New York in the last twenty-plus years.

God has been good to his people of New York by granting us a victory in this case. We can legitimately say, with Psalm 98, “O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory!”

Betraying the Dream

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

The President has announced that his Administration will end the program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This was put into effect in 2012 by President Obama. The recipients of DACA are frequently called “dreamers” after the Dream Act, a bill that would have established the program by statute, but which has failed to pass Congress.

There is a great deal of controversy about the way President Obama created the program. Naturalization of citizens is under the exclusive authority of Congress according to the Constitution, so many allege that unilaterally creating DACA by executive order was an unauthorized exercise of Executive power. Others respond that the President has inherent authority under the Constitution to use his discretion in how to enforce the law. Regardless of the merits of these arguments, President Trump has rendered them moot, and it is now up to Congress to act or the dreamers will be betrayed.

The DACA program is widely misunderstood — it’s not an “amnesty” by any means, it doesn’t create “open borders”, it doesn’t deny that the US has a right to enforce our immigration laws, and it doesn’t mean that people should be rewarded for breaking the law.

The requirements for DACA are quite strict. They have to have arrived in the US before 2007 when they were under 16 years old and they can’t be older than 30 as of 2012. They have to have lived continuously in the US since 2007. They can’t have any criminal convictions or pose a threat to national security. They have to have graduated from a US high school or be enrolled in school now, or served in the armed forces. If they qualify, they receive a “deferred action” form that prevents their deportation for two years, and they also receive employment authorization documents that allow employers to hire them legally during that time. It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people would be eligible for DACA, but about 800,000 people actually have it, including about 42,000 New Yorkers.

Under the President’s decision, there will be no change in DACA for six months, but after that the deferred action permits will expire at the end of their term. This six-month delay will allow approximately one-quarter of all DACA recipients to renew their permits for another two years. The rest will have their permits expire, all will expire by early 2020, unless Congress acts.

I wonder if would be possible for a moment to talk about this issue as if it actually involved real, live human beings, and not just numbers on a spreadsheet or slogans on talk radio.

The average age of DACA recipients when they arrived in the US was 6.5 years old. Many arrived as infants. That means that a great number of DACA recipients don’t even remember what their homeland was like and they haven’t been able even to visit there. Many of them didn’t even know their illegal status until they were teenagers and found out that they couldn’t get a driver’s license, financial aid, or have a Social Security number so they could work on the books.

This is the only home they’ve known. All their friends and memories are here in the US. They’ve gone to school and worked with us and our children. They sit in the same church pews that we do. A quarter of them have children who are American citizens. Many have now been able to work on the books, and their income has risen as much as 80% — and they’re now paying taxes. Some have started their own business and bought a home. Hundreds have served honorably in our armed forces. They’ve put down roots among us. They are our neighbors.

Deporting DACA recipients makes no sense — in fact, it would be cruel. It would subject them to terrible poverty and oppression in nations they are unfamiliar with and may not even speak the language. It would take parents away from their young children, leaving them without a stable home life. Imagine being deported to Pakistan or Venezuela — you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But our government will be doing it to people who have served in our military. Wrap your brain around that one if you can.

DACA recipients aren’t criminals, and don’t deserve to be treated so inhumanely. These are people who want to be Americans and share the prosperity and freedom that we hold up as ideals and take for granted — and which they’ve experienced for most of their lives. To pull the rug out from under them would be, in the words of the President of the US Bishops, nothing short of reprehensible. Our nation is better than that

Liberated by the Truth

Friday, September 1st, 2017

I recently was asked to give a class on gender ideology. I’ve written about this many times before, but I was once again struck by how nonsensical gender theory is. It is a soup of very strange ideas — my biological sex is irrelevant to my self-determined “gender identity”, the “male/female binary” is oppressive and must be eliminated, there are an infinite number of possible genders, and everyone’s choice of gender identity must be accepted and affirmed by the government and other people.

Gender ideology is a symptom of a significant modern intellectual disorder — a rejection of objective truth. This is so severe that it affects not just theories of sexuality, but it infects our political dialogue and is a serious problem within the Church. The need to hold firm to the truth is more important now than ever. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, wrote in the 17th Century something that so clearly applies to our own age:

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Two recent news items exemplify what happens if we aren’t fully dedicated to seeking the truth.

This week, a group of Evangelicals issued a document called “The Nashville Statement”. It is a re-statement of very basic Biblical values about marriage, sexuality, homosexuality, and gender theory. It re-affirms that God’s basic plan for humanity is that we are male and female, that sexuality is designed to be expresses solely within a marriage between a man and a woman, and that homosexuality and transgenderism are not consistent with God’s plan. The Statement was nothing earth-shattering, in that it was really just a brief summary of Christian Morality 101 as the Church has always believed, just applied to the hot issues of the day. All orthodox Christians — Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — should have little difficulty assenting to it.

Of course, nothing in Christian Morality 101 is uncontroversial in this age. Many liberal Protestants and some Catholics denounced the statement as judgmental and un-Christlike, and claimed that its tone is antithetical to the need for dialogue and inclusiveness. One even called it “evil”. A satirical religious website aptly skewered the flap with a story entitled “Progressives Appalled As Christians Affirm Doctrine Held Unanimously For 2,000 Years”. This is what happens when the truths that have been handed down to us become optional.

The second news item was a wonderful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Cardinal Robert Sarah. It was titled “How Catholics Can Welcome LGBT Believers” (the article is unfortunately behind a paywall, but you can read a decent account of it here and here). If a piece with that title had appeared in the New York Times, written by any of the usual suspects, it would have said all of the tediously usual things — dialogue, acceptance, affirmation, a rejection of allegedly “hurtful” statements in the Catechism, bridge-building, etc., etc. The notions of sin, immorality, repentance, and conversion would have been conspicuously absent.

But Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed offered a refreshingly different approach. His theme was that God loves all of us and wants us to be happy. The most loving thing that we can do for our “LGBT” brethren is to present them with the full and unalloyed teaching of the Church and to encourage them to live lives of chastity. He also stated plainly what the Church has known forever, namely that sin is bad for us but living according to God’s will brings us fulfilment and joy.

In other words, the truth is the best medicine for what ails all of us, including homosexuals and transgenders. Our disordered desires lead us to the slavery of sin rather than the liberation that comes from a life in Christ. And the desire to act against God’s will is not, and cannot be, a gift — it is a curse.

This is the reason that we are so insistent on defending our religious liberty and freedom of speech against all threats. We are seeing bills that would impose criminal penalties on those who fail to use a transgender person’s favored pronouns, school policies that restrict students’ ability to speak about their faith, and laws that seek to punish businesses that don’t want to participate in same-sex “marriages”. We have to resist such measures, so that we can share the truths that will allow people to live according to God’s will and to be set free to a life of joy.

Both the Nashville Statement and Cardinal Sarah make a crucial point. Living a life of chastity is undoubtedly difficult, especially since we will have to act against some deeply-ingrained inclinations and desires. But the grace of God is sufficient for us in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). It offers us forgiveness and healing and will enable us to live in accord with His holy will.

God’s grace helps us to love and know the truth.  Which, we have on good authority, is what will set us free.

Nuclear War Never Again

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

In the morning of August 6, 1945, a single bomb was dropped from an American airplane over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. When the bomb detonated, between 70,000 and 80,000 people were killed instantly, some of whom were completely incinerated by the intense heat. Many more died of the long-term effects of radiation sickness. Fires burned for three days, killing thousands of people who survived the explosion. Thousands more suffered from burns and radiation poisoning and had  agonizing deaths. The final death toll has been estimated to be 140,000 by the end of 1945, the vast majority of whom were civilians. Many more died later from the long-term effects of radiation.

Later that day, a statement by the President of the United States was released. In that statement, he said, “If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Three days later, on August 9, another bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Approximately 70,000 people were killed instantly. Because of the geography of the city, fires did not break out. But radiation poisoning did its worst, and in the end the death toll has been estimated at over 80,000 people, almost all of whom were civilians. Again, many thousands more died later from the long-term effects.

The civilian casualties at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not accidents or incidental. One of the specific intentions of the United States government in bombing cities and killing thousands of civilians was to terrorize the Japanese government into surrendering. If the Japanese had not surrended a week after Nagasaki, more atomic bombs would have been dropped over cities, causing tens of thousands more civilian deaths.

The debate over the morality of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has raged for decades. As an academic matter, the debate has some interest. But for Catholics, the issue has been definitively settled. In Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council said unequivocally:

The horror and perversity of war is immensely magnified by the addition of scientific weapons. For acts of war involving these weapons can inflict massive and indiscriminate destruction, thus going far beyond the bounds of legitimate defense…. All these considerations compel us to undertake an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude. The men of our time must realize that they will have to give a somber reckoning of their deeds of war for the course of the future will depend greatly on the decisions they make today.

With these truths in mind, this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes, and issues the following declaration.

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.

It is important to review these basic facts about atomic warfare and the clear and unequivocal teaching of the Church, because of the recent comments by the current President about North Korea. In terms appallingly similar to those of his predecessor, the President said,

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen … They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

The President is not known for systematic and rigorous thinking on policy matters or for a throughtful approach to international relations. But this is not complicated — he has threatened to attack a nation with nuclear weapons, which would inevitably involve the wholesale destruction of cities and the horrible deaths of tens of thousands of people.

In Gaudium et Spes, the Council Fathers warned:

The unique hazard of modern warfare consists in this: it provides those who possess modern scientific weapons with a kind of occasion for perpetrating just such abominations; moreover, through a certain inexorable chain of events, it can catapult men into the most atrocious decisions. That such may never truly happen in the future, the bishops of the whole world gathered together, beg all men, especially government officials and military leaders, to give unremitting thought to their gigantic responsibility before God and the entire human race.

The development of nuclear weapons by North Korea and their missile program are certainly destabilizing and undermine peace in the region. But threatening a nuclear attack on North Korea is dangerous and grossly irresponsible. Other means must be found to resolve even the most intractable of international disputes. The world has already seen the human cost of using nuclear weapons. We should pray that we never see it again.

Moral Guidance on Health Care Reform

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

The United States Senate is currently struggling to draft a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. The House previously passed a bill, but the Senate has essentially gone back to the drawing board and is trying to develop their own unique bill. Both in its politics and policy details, the process of doing so is mind-numbingly complex and difficult, and the results will have a tremendous effect on the lives of all Americans.

But the moral aspects of this kind of legislation are equally momentous in their importance. All legislation involves moral decisions about what to permit or prohibit, what to promote or discourage, what to spend money on and what to defund. Legislation like a health care bill is particularly fraught with moral dimensions that no “scoring” from the Congressional Budget Office can measure.

This is where our legislators need to listen to the advice of our Bishops, who have been examining this health care reform process for decades, and who have essential moral guidance to offer. In a letter sent to the Senate on June 1, the bishops who chair four major USCCB committees (including Cardinal Dolan, the Pro-Life chair) offered a clear moral template for any health care bill. As always, the bishops expressed their concern for how legislation would affect the most vulnerable people, including low-income people, immigrants, and the unborn.  But the principles they laid out are even broader:

  • No Affordable Care Act repeal effort should be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for all.
  • Respect for life: No health care reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion. Long-standing “Hyde Amendment” protections must extend to any relevant health care plan in order to prevent federal funding of abortion and not as a temporary fix or future promise. Federal resources must not be used to assist consumers in the purchase of health care plans that cover abortion.
  • Access for all: Reform efforts must begin with the principle that health care is not a privilege, but a right in keeping with the life and dignity of every person. All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care…  
  • Truly affordable: Many lower-income families simply lack the resources to meet their health care expenses. The Bishops have serious concerns about structural changes to Medicaid that would leave large numbers of people without the coverage they now rely upon, including those who gained access to care as part of the Medicaid expansion that came with the ACA. Reform also ought to address barriers to affordability for those living above the poverty level but who are still working hard to make ends meet.
  • Comprehensive and high-quality: Health care is much more than mere insurance. Other aspects of health care policy require the attention of policy-makers: … focus on the maintenance and promotion of good health as well as treat disease and disability for all people, regardless of means; Incentives for preventative care, early intervention and maintaining a reasonable choice of providers… encourage individuals to develop a sense of ownership over decisions that affect their health and well-being; encourage people to enter medical professions, and which foster more humane and responsive relationships between doctors and patients…
  • Honoring conscience rights: Congress should expressly provide conscience protections for those who participate in any way in health care. Such protections should extend to all stakeholders, including patients, insurers, purchasers, sponsors, and providers.

Crafting complex legislation is not a pretty process, and inevitably involves many political compromises and imperfect solutions. But health care is too important a human right to be left entirely to amoral market forces, or to the often-immoral intrusiveness of government regulations. Either approach values ideology over people, and endangers lives of vulnerable people. One need only think of the massive funding and support provided to the abortion industry, regulations that violate religious freedom and seek to coerce cooperation in immorality, or the heartless attitude of insurance companies that will pay for suicide drugs but not for chemotherapy.

Congress has a difficult task in front of it. But our bishops have given much-needed guidance, and we should urge our legislators to heed it. The common good of our society, and social justice for all, is too important to leave to a debate that focuses only on political and economic concerns, and not on morality.

The Disastrous Sexual Revolution

Friday, May 19th, 2017

So the Sexual Revolution is now almost sixty years old, if we date it from the first approval of oral hormonal contraceptives here in the United States. How’s that working out?

A handful of news stories over the last week provide a good look at how things have played out, and the results are pretty bad — for individuals, families and society as a whole.

The New York Times, always the bellwether of the latest cultural swamp’s thinking, tries once again to promote the wonders of an “open marriage”. Interestingly, one of the partners in this immoral tryst hasn’t told his wife about it – but there’s no apparent concern by any of the trio about how she might feel about his betrayal.

Some tech guys in California have invented a “sex robot”, so nobody has to actually have a human relationship in order to experience pleasure. It’s hard to tell which is creepier – the concept or the robots themselves.

Self-absorbed people have decided that the cool thing is to become a “sologamist” – meaning that they’re marrying themselves. This is just about a perfect snapshot of our narcissistic culture. Who needs another human being when it’s all about me?

Yet another study shows that chronic porn use leads to chronic sexual dysfunction in men. What a shock. Objectifying women, treating them as objects for personal use, and separating sex from actual human relationships – what could possibly go wrong?

A new poll shows that Americans hold increasingly liberal opinions about all kinds of sexual behavior. Again, no surprises, since original sin and personal sins lead us into all sorts of blindness.

These stories don’t appear in a vacuum. Statistics show a grim picture of current family life: only 50% of American adults are currently married, an all-time low; only 69% of American children live in families headed by two parents while 23% live in single-mother households; and 40% of births are to unwed mothers. The results of this are equally grim: 36.5% of single-mother families and 22% of single-father families live in poverty, compared to only 7.5% of married families; the life-time risk of divorce is now between 42% and 45%; the risk of social problems (crime, substance abuse, educational failure, physical and sexual abuse) are all much higher for children in non-marital households. So how’s that Sexual Revolution working out?

I know it’s antediluvian to do so, but maybe it would be a good idea to look back to the predictions made by Pope Paul VI in his prescient encyclical Humanae Vitae. Here is what he warned about if contraceptive use and mentality were to become prevalent:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. 

Yes, yes, and yes. The Holy Father has been proven correct, in abundance. Millions of children lost to abortion and contraception. Suffering of men and women post-abortion. Collapse of a supportive marriage culture. Separation of sex from procreation and from marriage. Broken hearts from the hook-up culture. Widespread acceptance of objectively immoral behavior. Massive increase in divorce and single parenthood. Epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. Rampant abuse and objectification of women. Torrents of pornography, particularly with disgusting and degrading violence towards women and children. Evil government policies of forced contraception and sterilization, limits on family size, and coerced abortions. Ideological colonialism by rich countries that tie desperately needed foreign aid to “population control” plans and propaganda campaigns.

Can anyone not blinded by ideology or captive to libertinism reasonably say that the Sexual Revolution has led to an overall increase in human welfare and happiness? The tragedy is that the antidote to this social and personal catastrophe is right in front of us – the truth of human sexuality and human love that is proclaimed by the Catholic Church, namely, that sexuality is a great gift that is ordered to the life-long unity and well-being of man and woman and the procreation and rearing of children. In other words, the solution is precisely what our hedonistic and self-destructive culture derides and holds in contempt.

When the road is leading to ruin, it’s madness to keep going straight and press the accelerator down harder. The only thing to do is change course, get back on the right road, and heal the wounds of those who were damaged by this tragically failed revolution.

Is There Room for Pro-Life Democrats?

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

One of the saddest developments in modern politics has been the degradation of the Democratic Party when it comes to issues involving protection of human life. The party once boasted of pro-lfe members like Sargent and Eunice Schriver, Bob Casey Sr., Tom Eagleton and Hubert Humphrey. But sadly, the institutional party’s leadership has now become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the abortion industry’s lobbying and political wing.

This development has been going on for many years. But it may have reached its point of no return. Last week, a controversy erupted because Sen. Bernie Sanders, the erstwhile presidential candidate, endorsed a candidate for local office in Nebraska who had previously voted for various pro-life bills. It’s worth noting, though, that recently the candidate had earned a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood and had publicly bought into the “I’m Catholic but I won’t let that affect my vote on abortion” charade.

None of that mattered to the abortion industry, which brooks no dissent. The abortion fanatics at NARAL immediately yanked the chain on their Democratic Party subordinates. The new Chair of the party promptly fell into heel and pledged to enforce ideological purity: “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. This is not negotiable and should not chance city by city or state by state.” His rigidity was echoed by other significant Democratic Party officials, like Sen. Dick Durbin, who stated, “I know within the ranks of the Democratic Party there are those who see that differently on a personal basis, but when it comes to the policy position, I think we need to be clear and unequivocal.”

In other words, the official position of Democratic Party leaders has become “shut up about defending life or get out of the party”. Cardinal Dolan, speaking on behalf of the US Bishops, denounced this intolerant extremism:

The recent pledge by the Democratic National Committee chair to support only candidates who embrace the radical unrestricted abortion license is very disturbing. The Democratic Party platform already endorses abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, even forcing taxpayers to fund it; and now the DNC says that to be a Democrat—indeed to be an American—requires supporting that extreme agenda. True solidarity with pregnant women and their children transcends all party lines. Abortion doesn’t empower women. Indeed, women deserve better than abortion. In the name of diversity and inclusion, pro-life and pro-‘choice’ Democrats, alike, should challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position.

This sad development doesn’t come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention. Last year’s presidential ticket was ardently pro-abortion; the party in Congress has been in lock-step to continue funding Planned Parenthood, the most prolific abortionist in America; few leading Democrats in elected office at any level will identify themselves as pro-life or support pro-life legislation; and only a handful of Democratic Congressional representatives continues to support the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits federal funding for abortion on demand. The party’s platformlast year made its position perfectly clear:

We will fight Republican efforts to roll back the clock on women’s health and reproductive rights, and stand up for Planned Parenthood…. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured… We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.

The institutional leaders of the Democratic Party are woefully out of step with their own members, not to mention all other Americans. The remaining pro-life Democrats are rightly feeling excluded and unwanted, even though they make up a sizeable portion of the party. A recent poll shows that:

  • 61% of Americans oppose the use of tax dollars to fund abortions in the United States, including 39% of supporters of Hillary Clinton.
  • 59% of Americans say it is either an immediate priority (34%) or an important one (25%) to limit abortion to the first trimester, including 47% of Democrats.
  • Among those who call themselves “pro-choice”, 44% say restricting abortion is an immediate priority or important, only 26% believe it should be available at any time in pregnancy, and 33% believe it should only be permitted the first trimester.
  • 59% of Americans believe that abortion is morally wrong, including 37% of Clinton supporters.

This is truly a tragic development for our society, and particularly for a party that has traditionally categorized itself as the voice for the little guy, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Instead, the Democratic Party has not only abandoned the most vulnerable human beings in our society, it has become actively hostile to them.

Our Challenge on Earth Day

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Today is the annual “Earth Day”, a secular holiday of sorts that encourages people to pay attention to the state of our world’s environment and particularly the threats to the beauty and purity of our material world. That’s all well and good and we should certainly do so.

But Earth Day also gives us an opportunity to put enviromentalism in its broader context, informed by a Christian understanding of the nature of the human person and of the gift of creation. To do this, it’s worth revisiting Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si.

When it was released, the secular media generally portrayed Laudato Si as the Pope’s “climate change encyclical”. Some people reacted to the letter with horror because it dared to cast doubt upon the modern worship of mammon in the form of “captialism”. But both of these reactions miss the point. Laudato Si challenges us to a personal and social conversion of heart, so that we can return to God’s original plan for humanity and all creation.

This central purpose of the encyclical is evident right at the beginning, when the Holy Father points out that the harms to our material world come from the sin in our hearts.  And he notes that we have forgotten the fundamental truth that we are an intrinsic part of creation, formed from the “dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7), and that our lives depend on the material bounty of the Earth.  This is evident to us, not just from divine revelation, but by a reasoned contemplation of nature itself.

The theme of returning to God’s original plan is woven throughout the encyclical. Again and again, Pope Francis comes back to the idea that the troubles of our world are the result of our sinfulness, particularly our loss of a sense of the universal moral law and the abuse of our freedom. We see this in the underlying causes of environmental and economic exploitation and degradation —  a utilitarian and technocratic way of treating each other and the absence of solidarity between people.

All these problems rest on a faulty understanding of the nature of the human person.  Pope Francis sees clearly that our modern world considers man as a being whose entire existence is determined by self-interested material needs and pursuits, without regard to his relationships with others. When one looks at the modern domination of our society by the ethos of economic libertarianism and  hedonistic autonomy, the diagnosis certainly rings true. The Holy Father calls this an “excessive anthropocentrism”, a failure to understand our true place in this world, particularly our interlocking relationships with creation, or fellow beings, and our Creator.

It is in his discussion of these relationships that we see most clearly the Holy Father’s true Christian anthropology, and his perception that God’s original plan is the antidote to our modern world’s problems. In Chapter Two of the encyclical, Pope Francis sets forth an extended exegesis of the Scriptural passages that reveal God’s intentions for creation. The key passage, paragraph 66, is so important that it needs to be quoted in its entirety:

The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself.  According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.

It is certainly important to pay close attention to the Holy Father’s comments on the specific environmental depradations that have been inflicted upon creation, particularly in the developing nations. But the true significance of Laudato Si can be found in its call to recapture the remnants of God’s original plan for humanity, so that we can live in peace and harmony with each other and with all creation. This has to begin, as the Holy Father said in last year’s Message on World Day of Prayer for Creation, with “a serious examination of conscience and moved by sincere repentance,”  so that “we can confess our sins against the Creator, against creation, and against our brothers and sisters”.

Today, the Holy Father got right to the heart of the matter, in the prayer he sent out on his Twitter feed:

Lord, bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

May this be our prayer on Earth Day, and throughout the year.