Archive for the ‘Catholic Teaching’ Category

When Ignorance and Arrogance Collide with Truth

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

There is an expression (oddly enough, coined by the heavy metal band Mettalica) that “ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand”. When those two fellow-travelers collide with truth, it can produce a moment of exceptional clarity.

First, the truth. Last Saturday, thanks to Focus on the Family, an extraordinary event took place in Times Square — a pro-life rally. The mere occurrence of the rally was remarkable enough. But what made the day truly special was the climax of the event. Thanks to the amazing technology of 4D sonography, live pictures of a baby in her mother’s womb were broadcast to the thousands present in New York and many more watching online.

You can’t get more of the truth than this. Before the age of science, people could have professed ignorance about what is going on inside a mother’s womb. But now the truth is right there before our eyes, available to anyone with an open heart or mind.

Alas, we must move on to the ignorance. Only two days after the unequivocal display in Times Square, there was a spectacle on television that truly shocks the conscience. Old-time New York politico and current abortion shill Christine Quinn actually made the following statement: “When a woman is pregnant, that is not a human being inside of her.”

Yes, you read that correctly. A human being who managed to emerge from her own mother’s womb, and who otherwise gives every appearance of being educated and intelligent, failed Biology 101 and Common Sense 101 on world-wide television. This is far beyond the point of arguing about the legal concept of “personhood”, or about whether the child is “wanted” or has some kind of “defect”, or what effect the child will have on her mother’s life. This can only be attributed to an act of willful ignorance, driven by an ideology that cannot bear to recognize even the basic humanity of an unborn child and that has created an implacable enmity between  mothers and their children.

An ideology that is so deeply rooted in the denial of reality is a very dangerous thing, particularly to vulnerable human beings whose lives hang in the balance. It is no wonder that pro-abortion advocates are becoming more and more extreme and more and more angry — the persistent denial of reality can’t help but cause great mental distress to them.

And so we must speak of the arrogance. The other day, a federal judge in Virginia — the kind whom I often refer to as a Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Ruler on the Bench — struck down a law that required that only doctors could do abortions. This is truly breath-taking, for many reasons. It is bad enough that anyone would be foolish enough to think that a surgical procedure or the prescription of potentially dangerous drugs should be done by a non-doctor. Our abysmal State Legislature and Governor have already gone that far off the deep end. It is even worse that an unelected judge would be so bold as to overturn a validly-enacted provision that has been the law of the jurisdiction for decades. We truly are far past the point of what Thomas Jefferson warned about when judges arrogate absolute power to themselves — “the despotism of an oligarchy”.

But perhaps the worst thing is that this one single federal judge saw fit to ignore two specific Supreme Court decisions that explicitly upheld the authority of legislatures to limit abortions to doctors only ( Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Mazurek v. Armstrong). It is clear that in the eyes of the Imperial Judiciary, no law regulating abortion is safe from being erased, no matter how old or sensible it might be, and no matter how unambiguous the judicial precedent. A long time ago, in dissenting from a Court decision that eviscerated the First Amendment to protect abortion clinics, Justice Antonin Scalia said this: “Today’s decision… makes it painfully clear that no legal rule or doctrine is safe from ad hoc nullification by this Court when an occasion for its application arises in a case involving state regulation of abortion” ( Madsen v. Women’s Health Center).

Many pro-lifers hold on to a cherished belief that if only people knew the truth about what abortion really is, they will change their heart and mind and reject it. That truth was on display in Times Square for all to see. Christine Quinn and other abortion advocates are able to see that truth any time they want. Federal judges, too, are not barred from finding the truth.

But ignorance and arrogance are very deeply seated in the contemporary legal and political ideology. We must remember that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Cardinal John O’Connor, the great pro-life hero, was very wise in saying that when it comes to the pro-abortion mindset, we need to heed the words of Jesus about why the Apostles could not cast our a particular demon: “this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).

So we must keep proclaiming the truth about the reality of abortion and of the humanity of unborn human beings. But we must also pray and fast for a spiritual renewal and conversion of heart for those who are in the grips of the demonic pro-abortion ideology that has produced so much ignorance and arrogance — and that has cost so many lives.

Will Congress Make Some People More Equal than Others?

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

A bill was introduced earlier this month in Congress that is deceptively called “The Equality Act” (H.R. 5 / S. 788). It is the latest and most robust version of bills that have been kicking around in Congress for many years. Its ostensible purpose is to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of protected categories under federal civil rights laws. Its effect will be to make Christians and others who adhere to traditional sexual beliefs into second-class citizens.

Certainly, every human person must be protected against unjust discrimination. This is a bedrock principle of human rights, and it has continually been upheld by the Church for many, many years. Specifically with regard to homosexual persons, the Church could not be clearer: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358).

But, despite its name, this bill will actually go much further than eliminating unjust discrimination in housing, education and employment. It is specifically designed to suppress the rights of religious people and institutions who dare to dissent from current progressive sexual dogma. This is done by one small section of the bill, which states “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”

This is an astonishing provision to find in a proposed federal law. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed by a virtually unanimous Congress, establishes that the federal government may not take any action that substantially burdens religious beliefs and practices unless there is a compelling reason and the offending action is done in the narrowest possible way. It was passed specifically to protect unpopular religions from oppression by majorities. But since 1993, society has changed dramatically, and it is no longer fringe religions like Santeria or Native American faiths that are unpopular with the powers-that-be. Now, its mainstream orthodox Christianity that is out of favor, particularly anyone who adheres to the traditional teachings of our faith about sex and sexuality.

By including this provision, the Equality Act would stigmatize and penalize any Christian who still believes that God made man and woman in His own image and likeness, that the differences between the sexes are significant and normative, and that morally acceptable sexual behavior is only between a man and a woman in the bonds of marriage. No matter how sincere your religious beliefs, no matter how severe the burden imposed on you, no matter how trivial the government policy, no matter how meritless the discrimination claim, you would never be able to assert your religious freedom as a defense if this bill passes. I’m not sure that there has ever been a single instance in American history in which such a fundamental right as religious liberty has been specifically eliminated by a federal statute. After all, a right without a remedy is no right at all – so if the Equality Act passes, it will effectively eliminate the right to religious freedom.

As for specifics about the kinds of harm that would be caused by this bill, in a letter to Congress, the US Bishops noted that it would:

  • Regulate thought, belief, and speech — It would compel people to conform to the new orthodoxy about sexuality or risk being sued for discrimination or creating a hostile environment. It will mandate inclusion of the new sexual orthodoxy in every training program in every workplace and school.
  • Hinder quality health care — It would require health professionals and institutions to perform medical procedures associated with “gender transition” that are objectively harmful, such as mutilation of genitals and hormone replacements. Catholic hospitals have already been sued over their refusal to maim patients because of their desire to change their “gender identity”.
  • Endanger privacy — Because there is no objective definition of “gender identity”, men and women would no longer be assured of personal privacy in traditionally sex-segregated spaces such as restrooms and locker rooms.
  • Threaten charitable services — It would force religious charitable agencies to either violate their principles or shut down. This is happening right now in Michigan to Christian adoption and foster care agencies, and it has happened in other locations as well.
  • Exclude people from various businesses, career paths and livelihoods — Professions like law, psychology and medicine will all be closed to those who do not wish to conform to gender ideology. Businesses will likewise be targeted to force conformity – just ask all those in the wedding industry who don’t want to participate in same-sex weddings and are being harassed by litigation or civil rights commissions.

In his great Memorial and Remonstrance,  James Madison made a powerful argument for religious freedom from any encroachment by the government. His words are worth quoting at length, because they embody the deep respect for the freedom of religions that was held by the Founders of our nation:

Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right… It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society…We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body…The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.

Our government is now sliding towards a kind of totalitarianism on sexual matters, propelled by a tiny minority of people who have managed to gain the allegiance of a very powerful political party that now holds a majority in the House of Representatives. We are already living under such a regime here in New York, and this special interest group is seeking to extend it across the nation.

We need to be  very clear about the injustice this Equality Act is seeking to bring about. It is seeking to reduce Christians into second-class citizens whose rights are not to be respected when they conflict with those of the favored few. That is not equality at all, but tyranny.

Defending Infanticide is Now Pro-Abortion Dogma

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Yesterday, the United States Senate couldn’t muster enough votes to pass a bill banning infanticide. Yes, you read that correctly. A practice that in a civilized society would be unthinkable has become the latest bastion of pro-abortion dogma.

Here’s what happened. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (S.311) was brought to the floor of the Senate by its sponsor, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Because of the procedural rules of the Senate, it needed 60 votes to close debate (to end a purely theoretical filibuster). Everyone understood that this was not just a procedural vote, but was really a substantive vote on the bill itself. So a “yes” vote was to ban infanticide, and a “no” vote was against it.

In a normal world, a bill like this would pass unanimously. But that’s not the world we live in. Instead, the bill only got 53 votes. Every Democrat except three voted against it.

It’s particularly interesting to note what some of the Democrats said about the bill. Here’s Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii: “That is the actual intent of this bill, reducing access to safe abortion care would threaten the health of women in Hawaii”. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire called the bill “the latest salvo in the far-right wing assault on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion”. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said that the bill is unnecessary since there’s already a federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act. And our own inimitable Sen. Chuck Schumer (who is also the Minority Leader) said that the bill “is carefully crafted to target, intimidate, and shut down reproductive health care providers.”

Strikingly, none of the Senate Democrats gave even passing recognition that what we are talking about is a living, breathing human being who has already survived the abortion and is completely outside of her mother’s body. She is at a very vulnerable state in life, completely dependent on others for the means to continue living. Instead of showing even a modicum of compassion, they have completely dehumanized that baby, all in defense of an unlimited right to an abortion. Correction — an unlimited guarantee of a dead baby.

It never ceases to amaze me to see the amount of ignorance, misinformation, and duplicity that comes out of the mouths of public officials. Let’s start with looking at the key parts of what the bill actually says:

§ 1532. Requirements pertaining to born-alive abortion survivors

“(a) Requirements for health care practitioners.—In the case of an abortion or attempted abortion that results in a child born alive:

“(1) DEGREE OF CARE REQUIRED; IMMEDIATE ADMISSION TO A HOSPITAL.—Any health care practitioner present at the time the child is born alive shall—

“(A) exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age; and

“(B) following the exercise of skill, care, and diligence required under subparagraph (A), ensure that the child born alive is immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.

So it explicitly states that it only applies if a baby is born alive and the abortion is over. All it requires is that the doctor give the baby ordinary health care, the same care that would be given to any other patient. Perhaps I’m blind, but I’m not seeing anything “carefully crafted” to have any effect whatsoever on the health of the mother, access to abortion, intimidating abortionists, or shutting down clinics. Only through the bizarre lens of abortion ideology can anyone see such things.

You would also expect federal lawmakers to understand the basic nature of federalism. The federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act (Pub.L. 107-207) redefined the term “person” in federal statutes, regulations and administrative acts to include “every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development”. The emphasis there is on the word ” federal“. That definition has no effect on state laws, which oversee virtually all abortions that take place in the United States. So it provides no protection to children born alive unless they’re lucky enough to be born on a military base or a VA hospital. This new Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act was specifically designed to expand the protections of that earlier law to include everyone, everywhere.

And here’s the thing that tells us a lot about where we are in our country, and where the Democratic Party has gone. The Born Alive Infant Protection Act passed both houses of Congress in 2002 virtually without opposition. It passed the House by voice vote and in the Senate by unanimous consent. Obviously, a lot has changed since then. Banning infanticide is no longer something on which there is a political consensus. That’s how far the Culture of Death has advanced.

One good thing may be coming from all of this. The abortion extremism that we’re seeing in actions like this, along with the passage of the New York abortion expansion bill and the movement on similar bills, is starting to have a positive effect on the culture. A new poll from Marist College, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, shows that there has been an increase in the number of people who call themselves “pro-life”. The poll also showed that the vast majority of Americans (71%) oppose late-term abortions, including majorities of Democrats and independents, and that only 18% believe that abortion should be legal up until birth.

The poll didn’t ask how many people thought that babies born accidentally after an abortion should be left to die without receiving basic health care — maybe because until a few weeks ago it was unthinkable that anyone would believe that. Not only is it no longer unthinkable, it’s now the law in New York and the pro-abortion movement is obviously fully committed to making it legal everywhere.

The unthinkable has become the new pro-abortion dogma.

The Battle is Far From Over

Friday, January 25th, 2019

The catastrophic enactment of the Reproductive Health Act has left pro-lifers, both in New York and beyond, feeling numb, angry and dispirited. The bill legalizes abortions up until the moment of birth, allows non-doctors to do abortions, removes any legal penalty for a domestic violence attack against an unborn child, and eliminates protections for babies born accidentally in an abortion. Perhaps the better name for the law is the “Guaranteed Dead Baby Act”.

It was the most devastating defeat for the pro-life cause in New York since the original legalization of abortion in 1970 and the failure to repeal the law in 1972. It came at the end of twelve years of fighting, in which we were able to hold off the passage of various versions of the law, including one specifically drafted by the Governor’s office and slipped into his budget. But after last fall’s election, which swept away the GOP control of the Senate, the passage of the bill was foreordained.

We never gave up – our bishops issued strong statements of opposition, we sent information to our parishes, our allies in the Evangelical churches fought hard, and about 40,000 emails were sent to the Legislature through the Catholic Conference’s Action Center. But elections have consequences. If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now. This is what happens if Catholics, other Christians, and all good people fail to make life a priority in their voting decision. And that means voting only for pro-life candidates and refusing to vote for anyone who favors legal killing of unborn children.

The injury was compounded by the insult of Governor Cuomo’s celebratory mood, climaxed by his decision to have state facilities lit up in pink to mark the passage of the bill. The obscenity of that decision is best seen in the lighting of the Freedom Tower’s pinnacle in pink. Remember, the Freedom Tower is built on a grave – the last resting place for the victims of 9/11, which included several unborn children. Every day in the United States, more children are aborted than the number of people who were murdered on 9/11. The Governor took a war memorial that belongs to all Americans, and perverted it into a beacon of the Culture of Death.

But the battle is far from over. The pro-abortion advocates who pushed for this horrific bill are powerful, rich and arrogant. They think we’re going to give up or that they can force us to conform, but they’re seriously mistaken. We will never stop working to create a Culture of Life and Civilization of Love. So what do we do now? Here are some thoughts.

The real question of abortion is not up to any legislature or governor. It will be decided one pregnancy at a time. The pro-abortion message relies on fear of all kinds — losing autonomy or lifestyle, the opposition of families, abandonment by the baby’s father, and so on. Every pregnant woman’s situation is unique, and we must be ready to respond to them as individuals, not as puppets in a political theater, and help them through their fears to hope and joy.

This is where our pregnancy assistance programs are so important. We clearly need to make a massive new investment in supporting pregnant moms and post-natal moms and babies. We have many great pregnancy support initiatives. One example is the wonderful Mother Theresa Home in Buffalo. Another is the Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life. There are many, many more.

These pregnancy centers are in the cross-hairs of the pro-abortion movement, which desperately wants to shut them down. After all, they can’t handle it if women actually hear the truth and feel the love of people who will support a decision for life. The Supreme Court recently upheld the free-speech rights of  pregnancy centers, but they didn’t resolve the issue definitively. We expect further legislative and enforcement threats to the centers, so we have to be ready to defend them.

That leads to another key issue – the protection of religious liberty and conscience rights. Our resistance to abortion is grounded in the truth. We can never compromise with lies, and we can never permit anyone to force us to accept them. New York already has robust anti-discrimination protections for people who oppose abortion for religious or moral reasons. But people don’t know their rights and the government isn’t going to tell them. A major publicity campaign has to be undertaken to ensure that people know that they don’t have to knuckle under to the pressure to cooperate in abortion, and that they can’t be punished for their religious beliefs. This can lead to a wonderful legal irony – filing complaints and making our hostile state and local governments enforce the anti-discrimination laws to protect us.

We also have to keep our eyes open for the next big pro-life battle front – this time, at the other end of life. We are not a one-issue movement that only cares about abortion. There is a serious, well-funded and relentless effort to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia, and they have set their sights on New York. This battle has been going on for a while, but it’s going to move to center stage now.

This is a spiritual battle, not just against political adversaries but against the powers and principalities (see Eph 6:11-18). On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Cathedral of St. Patrick was filled for a Holy Hour and Mass for life. The Holy Spirit uplifts us, even in our dark hours, and nothing can prevail against Him. We have to convert our anger against this bill and its supporters into prayer. Remember what Jesus told us: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The rich and powerful people in our society like to call themselves “the resistance” because they oppose the President and march wearing silly hats. But they’re just oligarchs in exile who want to recapture power. We are the real resistance. Our goal is not power, but conversion of heart for those who are appalled by injustice. Our message is “come, join us”, and not “we will force you to agree”. The most important tactic is our willingness to testify to the truth by our words and our actions, and our refusal to cooperate with injustice and lies.

We are in the epicenter of the Culture of Death, so if anyone really wants to fight it, this is the place. It’s easy to be pro-life in the deep red states, where they’ve already enacted every pro-life law imaginable and there are few abortion clinics. If you want to go where the action really is, come to New York.

We will never give in to the Culture of Death. We need to keep on our lips the brave words of the prophet Daniel when he stood up against the powerful people who wanted him to conform: “Be it known to you, O king, we will not serve your gods or worship the [pink] image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). Amen to that.

On the Precipice of Abortion Expansion

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

With the beginning of the new session of the New York State Legislature, we are now on the verge of having the most radical and extreme abortion law in the United States, if not the world. It’s the latest version of a bill that we have been fighting against for over a decade, the “Reproductive Health Act” (S.240/A.21). It’s more aptly called the “Abortion Expansion Act”.

The leaders of our Legislature, thanks to the wide majority of newly-elected Democrats, are totally committed to passing this bill as soon as possible. The Governor, whose appetite for abortion expansion seems to have no end, has pledged to have it pass this month and has even gone so far as to promise to have the New York State Constitution amended to enshrine abortion as a basic right. Barring a miracle, the bill will be signed into law later this month.

How much more abortion do our elected officials want? There were over 82,000 abortions reported in 2016 (the most recent official statistics). We already have highest abortion rate of any state —double the national average. Over 1,700 of these abortions took place at 20 weeks gestation or later – after a baby can feel pain. In over 2,600 abortions, the mother had at least five previous abortions. Do we really want even more of that suffering and death?

As New York is about to plunge even deeper into the Culture of Death, we must be very clear about what this bill would do:

It is designed to allow more late-term abortions — killing babies through all nine months of pregnancy.

The promoters of this legislation frankly admit that its main goal is to expand late-term abortion.  Current state law already permits abortions through 24 weeks of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever, but only after that if it is necessary to save a woman’s life.  This bill would permit a “health” justification for late-term abortions. But the term “health” has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include pretty much anything related to a woman’s physical, psychological, emotional health, including things like age and economics.

In other words, it’s such a broad term that this bill will allow abortion for any reason whatsoever at any time during a pregnancy even up to the moment of birth.

It would allow non-doctors to perform abortions.

New York law right now is clear that only licensed physicians can do abortions. This bill would eliminate that requirement, by allowing the state government to permit other health care professionals to do abortions — which could include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, as well as other non-physicians. Let’s say that again so it’s perfectly clear — this bill would allow people to do surgical abortionswho haven’t gone to medical school, haven’t served as an intern, haven’t done a medical residency.

That’s how extreme this bill is. And that’s exactly the goal of the advocates — because so few doctors want to get involved in the grisly business of killing children, they want to expand the pool of potential abortionists.

It is designed to guarantee a dead baby.

Currently, New York law gives full legal protection to any child who might be born alive as the result of an abortion, which can happen during a late term abortion. It also requires that a second doctor be available during a late-term abortion to care to a child born alive. This bill would repeal these protections, leaving a child born alive at the mercy of the doctor and staff who were just minutes ago trying to kill her. We’ve seen how that turns out, thanks to the horrific Kermit Gosnell case from Pennsylvania.

How callous have we become that we are passing a bill that would permit – and even require – doctors to stand by and let a baby to die of neglect?

It will leave women and babies vulnerable to back-alley abortions and domestic violence.

This bill would completely decriminalize any kind of abortion. Currently, the crime of “abortion” is the only way to prosecute unlicensed abortionists, people who coerce women into having an abortion, and domestic violence attacks against pregnant women that are intended to harm the unborn child. These crimes happen all the time. Just last month a man in upstate New York was arrested after pushing his fists into the belly of a 26-week pregnant woman to try to cause a miscarriage. This bill would give him a free ride for such a heinous act.

At a time when violence against women is being given so much more scrutiny, how can our legislators be so blind as to pass such a bill?

It could compel health professionals and institutions to cooperate in abortions.

The bill declares that abortion is a “fundamental right,” and that the state may not “discriminate, deny or interfere with” this right. The result may be that doctors and other health providers may be required to perform or refer for abortions or risk losing their license to practice. This has happened in other countries and there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t happen here. Medical facilities, even religious ones, could be also be forced to allow abortions on site or risk fines, penalties, or loss of licenses.

So much for the “right to choose”.

What can we do about this?

First, please contact your legislator and urge them to reject this radical bill. The easiest way is to use the New York State Catholic Conference’s Action Center.

Second, we need to step up our efforts to support women who are pregnant and are at risk of choosing abortion. A wonderful example of this is the Sisters of Life Visitation Mission. We also need to reach out to the women who have had abortions and now need healing. Two great programs are the Sisters of Life Hope and Healing Mission and Lumina.

Third, we need to pray. For conversion of heart of our elected officials and advocates for abortion. For hope and support for pregnant women. For an increase in a culture of sexual purity and respect for the sacredness of every human life. For God to withhold his hand of judgment against our wicked society.

New York, and indeed our entire society, is on the precipice. In times past, society looked the other way when unwanted children were abandoned or killed. With this Abortion Expansion Act, we are reverting to a state of barbarism.

Can We Talk About War?

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

At today’s Mass, we heard Isaiah’s famous lines about the coming kingdom of God and the reign of the Messiah:

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Is 2:4)

So can we talk about war and peace in this age of ours, two thousand years after the coming of the actual Messiah?

We just survived a long and grueling national election campaign in what was called, with typical political hyperbole, “the most important election of our lives”. I follow politics pretty closely. I don’t recall much, if any, talk about war and peace during this allegedly monumental campaign. How strange, considering:

  • The United States is currently in our seventeenth year of war — by far, the longest period of war in our history — with no end in sight.
  • We are currently involved in armed conflict in seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Yemen, Somalia, and Niger. Our soldiers may also be involved in secret combat operations in several other African counties. We have combat troops and active military bases in many more nations as well.
  • The Defense Department estimates the cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria at $1.5 trillion. The monthly cost is about $3.4 billion. Other estimates, which include projected future costs for veteran health care, have been as high as $5.6 trillion.  By way of comparison, the annual defense budget is about $700 billion.
  • The human cost of the wars — according to one estimate from Brown University, approximately 500,000 people have died in these wars, including about 6,300 US military members and contractors. This doesn’t include people who died due to indirect results of the conflicts or the millions of people who have been displaced from their homes.

There are many policy arguments we can have about the legitimacy and conduct of these wars. But our nation hasn’t had that discussion, and virtually none of our public officials seems interested in having it — on all sides of the political spectrum. It is truly bizarre, in a democratic nation at war, that it isn’t even on the political radar. Are these wars worth the cost? What policy goals are they pursuing? Are we doing more harm than good? Can those goals be achieved by other, non-military means? Aside from ritual incantations about “support the troops”, the silence is perplexing and troubling.

Can we also talk about the legality of the wars? Since Congress hasn’t declared war on anyone, the only legal leg for these wars to stand on is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Resolution, passed by Congress in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. That resolution provides that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons…” Three Presidential Administrations have interpreted this to permit military operations against forces that not only had nothing to do with 9/11, but didn’t even exist at that time. The last Administration proposed an amended AUMF, but efforts by some Senators and Congressional representatives to open a debate about it have been consistently stymied by the leadership of both houses. Can we at least talk about this?

There have also been credible charges that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed in the Yemen war by Saudi and allied forces. America supports their war effort with intelligence and material, raising the question of whether the US is complicit in those crimes. There have been attempts recently in Congress to end US support for that war, but there is little hope that they will succeed. Is anyone talking about this?

It is vitally important that we have a serious debate about this. For pro-lifers, this is a critical issue. God cherishes every human life, regardless of nationality. We cannot be consistent or coherent in our defense of life unless we defend life everywhere. For Catholics, the need for the debate, and for our unique faith-based contribution, is even more essential. The Church has long been an eloquent advocate for peace. Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have been salient voices for an end to armed conflict. In his last Message for the World Day of Peace in 2013, Pope Benedict said,

[T]he Church is convinced of the urgency of a new proclamation of Jesus Christ, the first and fundamental factor of the integral development of peoples and also of peace. Jesus is indeed our peace, our justice and our reconciliation (cf. Eph 2:14; 2 Cor 5:18). The peacemaker, according to Jesus’ beatitude, is the one who seeks the good of the other, the fullness of good in body and soul, today and tomorrow. From this teaching one can infer that each person and every community, whether religious, civil, educational or cultural, is called to work for peace. Peace is principally the attainment of the common good in society at its different levels, primary and intermediary, national, international and global. Precisely for this reason it can be said that the paths which lead to the attainment of the common good are also the paths that must be followed in the pursuit of peace.

In this Advent season, we listen to the Prophet Isaiah and the other prophets in their longing for the coming of the Kingdom of God and the Prince of Peace. We have to remember that these are not just pious sentiments about “pie in the sky” someday in the distant future. Working for peace in our time is an essential part of the Gospel message of redemption, and is a specific obligation for every Christian to work tirelessly for it. We cannot stand by and do nothing while the world burns. We need to talk about war.

Abortion and Elections

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

The election last week was a watershed event for the pro-life cause in New York. For the first time in years, the Democratic Party gained control of the Senate, giving it complete control of both houses of the Legislature and all of the State-wide offices, and also of appointments to the Court of Appeals and intermediate appellate courts.

Our blue state has gotten even bluer. This is the result of long-term trends, including the increased share of the Latino vote, the increased activism of young voters, growing numbers of people who do not practice any faith, and shifts in political views among college educated people (particularly women) and those who live in the suburbs. The deep unpopularity of the President was a major factor. No Republican has been elected to a state-wide office since 2002, and the likelihood of the GOP staging a significant comeback are bleak.

Why does this matter so much for the cause of life? Because the Democratic Party in New York has become the Extremist Pro-Abortion Party. The Governor ran a campaign that highlighted his support for a vast expansion of abortion under the guise of “codifying Roe v. Wade“. Remember, this is the man who once said that pro-lifers “have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.” The new Democratic majority in the State Senate has promised to pass the Reproductive Health Act as one of their first priorities in the upcoming legislative session, and we expect more anti-life bills to follow — like discriminatory measures targeting pregnancy centers and mandated coverage of contraception and abortion in all health insurance policies.

Make no mistake. This is an extremist agenda. The reality is that New York already has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the nation, one that pre-dates Roe and which permitted thousands of abortions prior to Roe. Abortion is available on demand, for any reason whatsoever, at any time prior to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and afterwards if the life of the mother is at risk. Overturning Roe will have no effect whatsoever on that – the vast majority of abortions will still be legal in New York.

The official statistics tell the horrible story of abortion in our state. 86,627 abortions in New York State in 2015; 367 abortions per 1,000 live births (so over a quarter of all pregnancies in our state ends with an abortion); 505 abortions per 1,000 live births in New York City (so over a third of all pregnancies in the City ends with an abortion); 1,038 abortions per 1,000 live births for African-Americans in New York City (so there are more abortions than live births among African-Americans); 2,106 abortions in our state after 20 weeks, after the time when unborn children can feel pain. The current abortion regime in our state has decimated entire swaths of our population and has left millions in post-abortive pain. It is the very definition of a gross dereliction of duty by our government.

The legislation being promoted by the Governor and the Democrats would make things even worse. It would expand the availability of late-term abortions on demand; it would permit non-doctors to do abortions, including late-term abortions; it would virtually eliminate the ability of the State or local governments to regulate the practice of abortion; it would immunize from criminal prosecution any person who directly tries to cause the death of an unborn child (e.g., in a domestic violence incident); and it would eliminate the legal obligation to have a doctor on hand to care for a baby born alive after an abortion. That’s not a “pro-choice” bill, it’s the abortion industry’s dream list.

I am in the middle of reading the book Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. The recently-released movie is based on this book. It’s the story of how Kermit Gosnell was brought to justice, almost by accident, for running an atrocious abortion mill in Pennsylvania. The book is a harrowing read. The clinic was filthy, staffed by unprofessional morally depraved incompetents, and the patients were treated worse than animals. The doctor was a psychopath who kept body parts and intact dead babies as trophies of his work. He and his staff routinely and callously killed any baby born alive and threw them in the garbage. It is horrifying and stomach-turning reading.

The worst thing about the Gosnell case is that it was permitted to happen because of the pro-abortion ideology of the state government of Pennsylvania, who were criminally negligent in responding to complaints and inspecting the clinic. The “pro-choice” governor of that state made it clear that abortion clinics were off limits to government regulators. Gosnell was permitted to commit mass murder with impunity because of the complicit inactivity of the government.

Now that the Pro-Abortion Extremist Party is in full control of the New York government, the Gosnell case stands as a vivid warning of what may happen here. We’ve already seen the results of an abortion industry that has no accountability. We’ve seen videos of women being taken from clinics in ambulances due to complications from abortions, the State Health Department inspects virtually no abortion clinics, and they have never shut down an unlicensed clinic in recent memory. Neither the State government nor local law enforcement has been interviewing women who have been coerced into abortions, or who were the victims of sex traffickers or child rapists who were never reported by abortion clinics.

Elections obviously have consequences. Voters obviously were unaware of or indifferent to the current Culture of Death that exists in our state. St. John Paul, in The Gospel of Life, spoke of a “a war of the powerful against the weak” and a “conspiracy against life”. New York is deeply in the grips of this conspiracy. We need to become even greater prayer warriors, defenders of women who are vulnerable to abortion, and promoters of the truth of the beauty and dignity of every human life. We have powerful adversaries, and we have our work cut out for us.

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.

The Church I See

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

We have all seen the horror stories over the past few months about sexual abuse in the Church. We have all been disgusted and enraged by them. For some, it has been too much. They have decided to leave the Church because of all the ugliness they see.

I understand that. I see the same ugliness, more close up and personal than most people do. I have been working in the child protection program of the Archdiocese since 2005. I have read the public reports and I’ve read through the files of priests who have been abusers. I’ve read academic studies of child molestation and the testimony of victims. Part of my job is to help investigate allegations, so I’ve talked personally and at length to many victims of abuse. I see the raw ugliness of the sins that were committed against these innocent people. At times it’s overwhelming, and it is always depressing. I’ve also seen the poor responses, the indifference, sometimes the hostility of Church authorities who have tried to ignore, deny, deflect, or conceal what was going on. So yes, there is much ugliness.

But that’s not all I see when I look at the Church I love. Even with everything that’s been going on, and all the sin and evil in the Church, I still see so much beauty. I see things like:

  • The Holy Hour of Prayer for the victims of sexual abuse that we held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. What could be more beautiful than adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the devotion of those who were there —  mostly young adults.
  • The deep reverence of priests towards the Eucharist during exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and even during daily Mass.
  • The profession of final vows by the Sisters of Life. A spectacular liturgy, sublime music, and the powerful witness of women who were dedicating their entire lives to the Lord and his least ones.
  • The consecration to Mary that my wife and I made on the feast of Our Lady of Knock. Mary has been a source of so much grace and consolation to us that it was wonderful for us to offer ourselves back to her.
  • The Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, which we visited recently. Such a powerful devotion, and a wonderful, peaceful location for prayer and reparation.
  • The ardent curiosity and commitment of the young adults who come to our monthly Discussion and Discipleship group. We talk about Church teaching on tough topics like contraception, life issues, and sex abuse. You can sense the yearning and hunger for truth in the hearts of these wonderful people.
  • The sublime beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass and the noble simplicity of the ordinary Mass.
  • The sight of members of the Legion of Mary, praying the Rosary at the Grand Central subway station. Such a wonderful public witness of the power of prayer.
  • The dedication of so many loyal Catholics whose hearts burn with love for Christ and his Church, and who are desperately looking for something to do to correct the abuses.

There certainly has been much ugliness in the Church, and we need to be ruthless in eliminating it. But I refuse to dismiss the whole because of the rot in some of its members. Without the Church, I would know nothing of God, I would never have encountered Christ, and I would still remain in my sins without hope. I totally relate to what St. Peter said when Jesus asked if the apostles would leave him because of his hard teachings, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

St. Paul wrote that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27)

We wicked foolish humans have done our worst to deface and desecrate the Bride of Christ. We now have to do our best to cleanse her so that she can truly be without blemish and we can present her back to the Bridegroom as he desires. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but the Church I see is worth fighting for.

That’s because the Church I see isn’t the one tarnished by ugliness, but the one whose beauty remains eternal.