Pathological Politics

October 26th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voting as a Catholic

October 24th, 2016

As Election Day approaches, there is a great deal of confusion and angst among Catholics. The Presidential race has garnered so much attention that it has overshadowed many other essential races at the federal and state levels. These other races will have an impact on key issues that affect our lives – the legalization of assisted suicide, regulation of abortion, religious liberty, war/peace, health care, etc. As in every election, there is much at stake, and we have a duty to be responsible citizens and vote.

When approaching our election decisions, it is vital that we act as Catholics – as disciples of Jesus Christ. We do not have to be locked into the arbitrary binary categories that the world seems caught up by – Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, etc. Instead, we follow St. Paul’s advice, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

So our task is to think with the mind of Christ, and look for ways to build the “civilization of love” (a phrase first coined by Pope Paul VI) that is at the heart of the social mission of the Church. In doing this, we as laypeople have the crucial role. It is our duty to engage in secular affairs and transform them in light of the Gospel. Politics is our responsibility, and the more Catholic we are, the better citizens and voters we will be, and the more we will advance the Kingdom of God.

To do this, we first have to form a correct and Catholic conscience about public affairs. Fortunately, the Bishops of the United States have given us an excellent tool for this, the document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This document provides practical advice on how to form one’s conscience in keeping with the teachings of our Church, and how to apply it to the political choices that have been presented to us. The goal is to foster political engagement that is “shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable” ( FC 14).

The first question that we must ask ourselves when considering how to vote is the character, philosophy and integrity of the candidates ( FC 41). It is essential for the health of the nation and for the common good to elect persons of good moral character who are responsible stewards of the power that we delegate to them. There have been too many examples in our history of the terrible consequences of electing people of bad character (see the Watergate scandal), and we should have learned this lesson by now. Public morality and private morality are connected, and we desperately need both.

We then must evaluate the positions of the candidates and their parties in light of Church teaching. We cannot responsibly vote based only on party labels or self-interest ( FC 41). Instead, we have to inform ourselves based on reliable and serious sources (i.e., not comedy shows). An excellent source for this kind of information is a party’s platform, which shows in broad strokes what the party stands for and what they hope to accomplish in office. This takes a little research, but with so much information on the Internet it is not too difficult for the average voter.

In doing this, we must keep the Church’s teaching in the forefront of our attention. Faithful Citizenship highlights several essential concepts that must be at the heart of a Catholic’s voting analysis: the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death, the pursuit of the common good for all persons in society, subsidiarity (addressing social problems as close as possible to their source and respecting families and local institutions), solidarity (the unity of the human family), and the special obligation to protect the weak and the vulnerable.

Within that general framework, some issues are clearly more important than others. Our Church has consistently emphasized the preeminent place of the protection of human life at all its stages. We must oppose all kinds of intrinsically evil acts that endanger human life and dignity, such as abortion, euthanasia, destructive embryo research, the redefinition of marriage, racism, terrorism, torture, wars of aggression, human trafficking, pornography, and inhumane working conditions. All of these are utterly incompatible with human dignity and the common good.

This creates an obvious dilemma when we are confronted with candidates who are in favor of legalized abortion. We obviously cannot vote for a “pro-choice” candidate in order to support or perpetuate legalized abortion — “in such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil” (FC 34). The Bishops advise, however, that we may vote for a “pro-choice” candidate — but only “for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil” (FC 35) What constitutes a “truly grave moral reason” will obviously depend on the circumstances, but it would appear to mean something that involves opposing another seriously immoral act, such as preventing racism, defending against serious threats to religious freedom, or stopping an aggressive war.

One thing is clear. Although we are not “one issue voters” and we should evaluate all of a candidate’s positions, “if a candidate’s position on a single issue promotes an intrinsically evil act, such as legal abortion, redefining marriage in a way that denies its essential meaning, or racist behavior, a voter may legitimately disqualify a candidate from receiving support” ( FC 42). So it is a perfectly responsible position for a Catholic to rule out voting for any “pro-choice” or racist candidate for that reason alone.

The hardest case for a Catholic is when we are presented with a choice between candidates who all support grave and intrinsic evils. In this case, the Bishops offer this advice: “The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods” ( FC 36). This is not “choosing the lesser of two evils”, but instead is an effort to mitigate or minimize the damage that will be done by imperfect candidates. This is a difficult balance to draw, and one that should be approached very carefully. Balancing evils and predicting the future are fraught with the possibility of error, so a Catholic should proceed with great caution.

When faced with that situation, we can leave a particular ballot line blank and move on to other races, or we can look beyond the partisan binary – there’s no requirement in our faith that we must vote for a major party candidate. In many races, particularly the Presidential race, there are other people running whose positions are compatible with Church teaching, and a Catholic can therefore use their vote to make a principled statement. So we should look at minor parties (e.g., the American Solidarity Party) and other independent candidates.

Voting as a Catholic is not easy in this fallen world, but it is something that all Catholics are capable of. To do this, we can’t give up on politics as if it is hopeless to have good moral candidates and to improve our society. The quality of our politics depends on the quality of our participation. We must be aware of what is happening, and stay informed by seriously researching the positions of parties and candidates and the teachings of the Church. We should also pay close attention to all the races on the ballot, not just those on the top. We should certainly put in as much effort in voting as a Catholic as we do in selecting a cell phone. We should also stay engaged all year long, particularly by joining advocacy efforts like the New York State Catholic Action Network or the Human Life Action network.

The most important thing in this, as in any moral decision, is to call on the assistance of God. Pope Francis, when asked recently about our elections, gave this advice: ” Study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience.” Prayer is essential for any Catholic who seeks to do their duty as a voter. Because, as the U.S. Bishops have noted, “It is important to be clear that the political choices faced by citizens not only have an impact on general peace and prosperity but also may affect the individual’s salvation ” (FC 38).

The Need for Political Morality

October 11th, 2016

Recently, I read a journalist’s account of the Watergate scandal. It was actually a bundle of inter-related illegal acts and conspiracies that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. One of the things that struck me was the astonishing and complete lack of morality among “All the President’s Men”. These were the most powerful men in the country, most were lawyers, and all considered themselves to be religious in one way or another. Yet they acted in total disregard for the law and for basic morals. They committed a series of crimes with no compunction — burglary, theft, bribery, illegal wiretapping, violations of campaign finance laws, and obstruction of justice. The amount of lying was breathtaking — a systematic campaign of perjury and knowingly false public statements. They never asked themselves “is this right?” but only cared about “will this work”.

I was a teenager when all this happened, and I remember following the stories with great interest. But I didn’t appreciate the sheer scope of all of it until I read this book. And, naturally, it led me to reflect on the current political climate, and on the desperate need for “political morality”.

There are two components to political morality. One is the personal morals of those who hold public office — are they people of integrity who can be counted on to obey essential principles of honesty, financial responsibility, lack of self-interest, fairness, seriousness, humility, etc. I utterly reject the notion, which is usually attributed to Macchiavelli, that rulers are not bound by ordinary moral laws, but are free to do things that would be illegal or immoral if done by ordinary citizens. No matter what public office one holds, the Ten Commandments still apply, and personal virtue will lead to good government.

The other component is constitutional morality — do they respect the rule of law, the process of law-making and governance, the rights of citizens, the notion that nobody is above or outside of the law, etc. I’m not as cynical as most people think, and I actually believe that a sound legal process will lead on the whole to sound results. I believe that the principles embodied in our Constitution — separation of powers, limits on the authority of the government, checks and balances, protection of fundamental rights, and federalism — provide a rich and fertile soil for living a peaceful and just life.

These elements of political morality were utterly lacking in the Nixon Administration. The Watergate scandals and their threat to the constitutional order were the direct result. The similar lack of political morality in the current climate fills me with dread for the future of our Republic.

At all levels of politics, we are repeatedly presented with — and we routinely elect — candidates who have a propensity for falsehood, whose financial affairs are deeply suspect, who treat people as instruments to be used and then discarded, and who seem obsessed with personal power rather than selfless public service. It has become unremarkable for candidates to affirm that they will use their power to commit gross moral evils, like abortion on demand, torture, aggressive war on civilians, and racial and religious discrimination. Candidates openly show disdain for the proper Constitutional process and promise to rule unilaterally by decree. And candidates and political advocates make crystal clear that they will use the levers of power to punish their enemies, and all those who disagree with their ideology.

The men who built and established our Republic understood very well the need for political morality. George Washington, who was an exemplar of this, said, “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” John Adams, who was no stranger to the rough and tumble of partisan politics, said “Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private Virtue, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.”

The current state of affairs in our political system would horrify the Founding Fathers. They should equally horrify us.

Political Incoherence on Abortion

October 6th, 2016

Although I’m a political junkie, I never watch those television events that are billed as “political debates”. They are nothing of the sort, of course, but instead are merely opportunities for candidates to parrot their talking points, show how strong they think they are by rudely interrupting each other, and doing little if anything to inform and enlighten the electorate.

And so, I didn’t watch the Vice-Presidential “debate” the other night, opting instead to watch a very exciting baseball game. But I was keenly interested in reading the reports of what the candidates said about abortion.

Now, we have to take anything said by a Vice-Presidential candidate with a healthy grain of salt. The purpose of a VP candidate is to robotically repeat the Presidential candidate’s talking points, pretend that the person at the top of the ticket has no faults or flaws and has never erred, and, aside from that, do nothing to mess up the campaign. That makes sense, since the role of a Vice President is essentially to serve as a constitutional spare tire.

But there was a comment at the most recent VP “debate” that is certainly worthy of notice, because it was on the issue of abortion and it demonstrated the incoherence of the Democratic position on this crucial issue, and how much in thrall that party is to the ideology of the Culture of Death.

Senator Tim Kaine is the Democratic VP candidate. As such, he is the right-hand-man to a presidential candidate whose position is utterly reprehensible on abortion — she has never heard of an abortion she disapproves of, and she is completely beholden to the abortion industry. Sen. Kaine, who is reportedly a practicing Catholic, has an appalling record in the Senate of support for abortion on demand at all times and for any reason. In this Senate session alone, he has voted to continue funding for Planned Parenthood, which kills over 300,000 unborn children a year, and opposed a measure that would prohibit late-term abortions at a time when the child can feel pain while they are being dismembered. He has also publicly stated that he will support a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which would mean that he thinks it’s a good idea for abortions on demand to be paid for by taxpayers.

Hardly a stellar example of a Catholic public servant. But it’s even worse. Sen. Kaine had this to say when asked a question about the role of his religion in forming his position on abortion:

I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teachings of my church in my own personal life. But I don’t believe in this nation, a First Amendment nation, where we don’t raise any religion over the other, and we allow people to worship as they please, that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone… I think it is really, really important that those of us who have deep faith lives don’t feel that we could just substitute our own views for everybody else in society, regardless of their views. … we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else. So let’s talk about abortion and choice. Let’s talk about them. We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. That’s something we trust American women to do that.

It would be difficult to find a better example of the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the “pro-choice Catholic” mindset. I could quote all day long from statements by the Church on the absolute moral duty of Catholic public officials to oppose the depraved injustice of abortion on demand. But leave that aside for a moment, because Sen. Kaine already seems to be utterly impervious to the actual beliefs of the faith he professes to be devoted to.

Instead, since faith always accords with reason, let’s just look at this from a strictly rational perspective, because it will be crystal clear that his comments make no sense, either for a Catholic or for anyone else.

All laws reflect moral judgments of right and wrong – that’s the nature of law itself. No system of law anywhere in the world or in history is based on the idea that a person can act however they want. Human conduct is always subject to moral rules that are written into civil law. So if a public official rules out the influence of their religious faith in making such judgments, on what moral principle will he act? Are his opinions completely swayed by public opinion polls, or party platforms? Then what kind of a person is he? Why would anyone vote for a politician who was so devoid of principle or courage that he ignores his religious faith and decides his position by sticking his finger in the air and checking the direction of the wind, or by just “following orders”?  How could you trust such a person to do anything according to any kind of coherent moral principle?

The prohibition against killing an innocent human being is not a Catholic doctrine, but a moral principle based on science and reason that can be seen by anyone, regardless of their religious faith. It’s not wrong because the Catholic Church says so, the Church teaches that because it’s a self-evident truth. It is Science 101 that every human life – including that of a VP candidate – begins at the moment of conception. The inhabitant of a mother’s womb is always a human being, the genetic offspring of a father and a mother, and he/she is never anything less. To take that helpless child’s life for any reason – much less to serve the convenience of the mother or father, or because the child has a physical handicap – is contrary to the inherent natural impulse of humans to protect and nurture their young. It is also patently evil to treat any living being with the cruelty of abortion – which involves poisoning a child with caustic chemicals or dismembering her while she is still alive.

A political candidate doesn’t need any religious faith to see that abortion is a moral evil and should be prohibited by law. All it takes is rational thought, and openness to the scientific evidence that is right before one’s eyes. Even a Vice President should be able to understand that.

Looking for Voting Choices

September 19th, 2016

How many of us have heard or uttered this statement: “I don’t know how I’m going to vote this year”. Many Catholics are struggling to decide how to vote. That should mean that they’re trying to form their consciences in a correct and Catholic way. And they should be looking for choices that allow them to “see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city” ( Gaudium et Spes 43).

Unfortunately, we have the prospect this year of having some of the most deeply problematic major party candidates for president in American history (which is quite a statement, considering that Aaron Burr, Richard Nixon, Strom Thurmond and George Wallace are on that list). Several of them have significant character problems and all support some kind of intrinsic moral evil (i.e., laws and policies that are always wrong, like permitting abortion on demand, legalizing assisted suicide, or the deliberate killing of civilians in wartime).

I’m not a member of any of the major parties, so loyalty is not an issue for me — candidates don’t have a right to my vote, they have to earn it. To me, casting a vote is a moral act, a statement that I wish this candidate to serve in a particular office. It means that I believe the person is qualified for the office, and that I want them to fulfill their campaign promises and positions. If I know that this candidate will support intrinsically evil policies, I am giving my permission for those evil acts and I am therefore complicit (however remotely) in them.

This is a very troubling moral dilemma. Our Bishops have advised us that we can vote for a candidate who promotes an intrinsically evil act, but that can only be for truly grave moral reasons — which does not include party loyalty. The Bishops have also advised that we can “take the extraordinary step” of not voting for any candidate, or we can vote for the candidate who is likely to do the least harm. This is also a hard decision to make — how could there possibly be a sufficiently grave reason to vote for a candidate who favors abortion on demand, the killing of civilians in war, torture of captives, the redefinition of marriage, or proposals that are openly racist. Given the Law of Unintended Consequences, and the impossibility of predicting the future, it is also extremely hard to make a determination as to who would cause the least damage to our vulnerable republic and world.

Many people are considering to cast their vote for one candidate as a statement against one of the other candidates. But we don’t have an electoral system where we can “Like” or “Unlike” candidates. To vote against one, we have to vote to put the other one in office — which is a problem if we know that they will support evil policies.

But there are alternatives to voting for any of the major party candidates. One could leave the line blank — a vote of “none of the above” — but still vote for candidates in other key races. But that’s not satisfactory to those who want their vote not just to express dissatisfaction with the candidates that have been offered, but to support a positive agenda.

Another option is to look at some of the “minor parties” that have proposed candidates. I find one of these minor parties, the American Solidarity Party, to be very intriguing. It seems to be building its platform on Catholic Social Teaching. The party is not strictly Catholic, but falls in the tradition of “Christian Democratic” parties, which have been so influential in Europe and Latin America but which have never gained a foothold in the binary party system here in the United States.  On the issues I consider most important, the ASP is right on point: they are consistently pro-life, defend religious liberty and the authentic definition of marriage, oppose the use of torture and the killing of civilians in war, and support the right of parents to control the education of their children and the duty of the state to support them. I don’t agree with all of their platform, and I am not endorsing them or any other candidate for office. But I am interested in any political party or movement, however small they may be, that tries to advance the Church’s positions on policy issues.

Obviously, these kind of parties have no chance of winning this election. Most probably won’t even be on the ballot in New York, given our notoriously byzantine ballot access laws, so a write-in vote would be necessary.

But for voters who are looking for options, a minor party vote may allow them to vote according to their conscience. And that is not a “wasted vote”. As John Quincy Adams once said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

New York is Open for Business for Late-Term Abortions

September 8th, 2016

The Attorney General of New York has long been an enthusiast for abortion. He used to boast about how he once served as an “escort” to accompany women into abortion clinics. He has consistently found pretty much every way possible to promote abortion. And he has now reached a new low, issuing a legal opinion that sends a clear message to the world — New York is open for business for late-term abortions.

As a legal matter, his opinion letter is not a surprise. He correctly stated that to be valid under current Supreme Court precedent (I refuse to call it “constitutional law”), New York’s abortion law must contain a “health exception” for post-viability abortions. But the problem is that “health” has been defined so broadly as to be functionally meaningless, since it would include  “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” (That’s a quote from Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade).

So the effect of the AG’s opinion is to make clear to the world that New York permits abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason whatsoever. And remember, there’s no requirement that a woman seeking an abortion be a New York resident — so it’s come one, come all.

The really insidious part of the opinion comes in the second part of his opinion, dealing with late-term abortions where the baby is “nonviable”.

The problem with a relying on a “viability” standard is that it is undefined in the law — neither the Supreme Court nor New York law defines it with any kind of specificity (in fact, the term is entirely absent in the New York statute). In Casey, the Court described “the concept of viability” as “the time at which there is a realistic possibility of maintaining and nourishing a life outside the womb”. In Roe, the Court said it meant that “the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb”.

Talk about arbitrary. What does that mean, and who decides?

Here’s the devil in the details. As the Attorney General noted in his opinion, the Supreme Court has left it to the abortionist to decide — with no requirement that his opinion be reviewed by anyone, with no legal standard, entirely in his discretion. In fact, the Court said that “it is not the proper function of the legislature or the courts to place viability, which essentially is a medical concept, at a specific point in the gestation period. The time when viability is achieved may vary with each pregnancy, and the determination of whether a particular fetus is viable is, and must be, a matter for the judgment of the responsible attending physician.” (That’s from the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Danforth)

So it’s carte blanche for abortionists. He could interpret “nonviable” to mean that the baby cannot have a “meaningful” life because she needs some kind of basic life support (which is common and ordinary care for preemies), or she will not survive more than a short time (which would encompass many babies with treatable disabilities, much less babies with microcephaly due to Zika).

The end result is an open door to late-term abortion that specifically targets babies with disabilities. That’s eugenics, and it’s unequivocally evil.

New York has often been called “The Abortion Capital of the United States”. It’s hard to believe, but this recent move has made it even worse. Thanks to our Attorney General, New York is rolling out the carpet for late-term abortions.

Our Government is the Enemy of Religious Freedom

August 24th, 2016

Throughout American history, people have depended on our government to protect our basic liberties — our “unalienable rights”. Our Declaration of Independence was based on the premise that the purpose of government was to secure these rights, and that any government that sought to extinguish them was unjust and should be replaced. Our Constitution likewise contains numerous provisions that are specifically designed to protect individual liberties — especially the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

In recent years, it has become more and more clear that the current Administration harbors a settled hostility to religious liberty and freedom of speech, and a deep commitment to coercing compliance with their ideology of sexual liberation and gender theory. The history of the HHS contraception mandate shows the relentless commitment of the Administration to coerce all employers, including religious organizations, to offer insurance coverage for procedures and medications that are offensive to their religious beliefs, like abortifacient drugs and devices.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court sent a very clear message to the Administration that they wanted them to come to some kind of compromise over the HHS contraception mandate. But rather than heeding that suggestion, the Administration has instead intensified its assault on religious liberty.

In May, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new regulations that are astonishing in their breadth and daring. The regulations rely on an interpretation of the term “sex” in current anti-discrimination laws, and stretch that clear term to encompass “gender identity” — which the regulation defines as a person’s “internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female”, which would even include people with “non-binary gender identities”. A definition that includes so much is no definition at all — it is hopelessly broad and vague, and ultimately incoherent. But that is gender ideology at its heart.

The regs go on to require every doctor, hospital and other health care entity that receives federal funds (e.g., Medicare) — in effect, virtually every single health provider in the US —  to cover all procedures and interventions related to a person’s “gender transition”. Just to be clear, that means medical procedures like massive doses of hormones and the removal or mutilation of health body parts (i.e., hysterectomies, castration, penectomies, mastectomies, plastic surgery to create fake sex organs, etc.) — all so that a man can pretend he is a woman, and vice versa. This coercive mandate will override the medical judgment of a doctor that such acts are not medically necessary or appropriate, and they permit no exceptions based on religious or moral values.

It gets even worse. The regs also interpret the notion of “sex discrimination” to mean that a health provider cannot refuse to perform abortions, and must cover abortions and all those “gender transitioning” procedures in their health insurance plans.

All of this was done through the administrative law process, which is an arcane and undemocratic way to make law. Instead of having a bill passed by both Houses of Congress, all this requires is a regulatory agency plublishing proposed rules, allowing people to comment for a short time, and then promulgating whatever rules they wish. No public hearings are needed, so the entire process is hidden deep in the pages of a massive publication called the “Federal Register”, which no normal person can read and understand (even lawyers, who are far from normal, have a hard time). It is extremely difficult to overturn regulations, because our courts have abandoned their duty of constitutional oversight and give extreme deference to the agencies putting forth the regs.

Our government has been increasingly using this undemocratic process to impose their ideology on the nation. In fact, they go even further by issuing “guidances”, which are purportedly not binding but which in fact are just as coercive as regulations and statutes.

A lawsuit has been filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing a number of states, religious health institutions, and health professionals. If the government follows its previous practice, they will fight tooth and nail against any compromises, and will never concede any ground. No religious objection is ever enough for them, and no demand by gender ideologues is too much. That is the regime under which we live.

In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders stated clearly that when a government no longer secures basic rights, and instead seeks to usurp or repress them, it can only be described as a tyranny. Our government may not be comparable to the wicked despotisms around the world, but it has clearly crossed a line with its relentless attacks religious freedom.

No Worldly Honor is Worth a Soul

July 26th, 2016

And so we have yet again the sad spectacle of a Catholic public official running for high office who attends Mass regularly, presents himself for Holy Communion, and claims to be faithful to the Church — while at the same time he hides behind the disingenuous “personally opposed” imposture while staunchly supporting intrinsically evil laws and policies permitting the wholesale destruction of unborn human beings.

The hollowness and hypocrisy of this political stance are well-known, and hardly worth spending much time rebutting. The obligation of public officials — especially Catholics — to oppose laws that authorize abortion has been explained in crystal clear terms by the Church on many, many occasions. Anyone who is fooled –or who fools himself– with the “personally opposed” sham has to accept responsibility for wilful self-delusion.

But what really concerns me about this situation is not the political or public policy aspects. It’s really the moral and spiritual side that I am most troubled by. It should be a cautionary tale to all of us.

I have been fortunate to teach in the formation program for the Diaconate here in the Archdiocese, and also in the leadership program for Directors and Coordinators of Religious Eduation. One of the subjects that I always cover is the Church’s teaching on human destiny, what traditionally has been called “the four last things” — death, judgment, heaven and hell.

There really is no ambiguity in this teaching, and it is of the utmost importance to all of us in our daily lives. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself was perfectly clear that our conduct in this life will determine our fate in the next, and that there are two paths available to us — the one of life, and the one of destruction.

The path of destruction is the one that we should shun in horror. It leads to everlasting separation from God — to Hell. “Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.” (CCC 1033) The suffering of souls who choose this path is unimaginable, even through the eyes of a creative genius like Dante.

The temptation of worldly power and honor is very strong, and very compelling. There is a reason that the Evil One chose to tempt Our Lord with the lure of authority over the nations. I know this temptation well, because it is one that I have struggled with my whole life, and it has led me to sin many times. But nothing in this world — nothing — is worth risking the loss of eternal life with God, whether it be pleasure, power, riches, tactical political advantages, or whatever. Certainly not the Vice-Presidency. “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:36)

Let me be perfectly clear. I cannot look into the heart of any other person and judge whether they are on the path to life or death. That is for God alone, and I hope that he will be merciful to us all. But I am a sinful man. Although I try to reject temptation, I regularly need the healing of God’s grace in the Sacrament of Confession. I dread the thought that I might die with a mortal sin on my soul, and I equally dread the thought that anyone else might do so.

No worldly honor is worth one human soul. We should dedicate ourselves to pray and sacrifice for those who are at risk of choosing the wrong path.

Supreme Court to Religious Liberty — Drop Dead

July 7th, 2016

In the last few decades, legal scholars and those interested in religious liberty have questioned whether the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution is on its way to extinction. The question stems from the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in the case of Employment Division v. Smith, in which it held that a neutral law of general applicability does not violate the Free Exercise Clause, even if it imposes a burden on a person’s religious beliefs or practices.

At this point, the Supreme Court has give a pretty clear answer to this question. For all intents and purposes, the Free Exercise Clause is a dead letter, with as much life to it as the Third Amendment’s ban on the quartering of troops in private houses.

Although the Smith rule appears to leave open the possibility of challenging laws, in reality it has rendered the Free Exercise Clause virtually useless in defending religious liberty. In fact, in the recent cases that have reached the Supreme Court on religious freedom during Chief Justice Roberts’ tenure (since 2005), virtually all have completely ignored the  Free Exercise Clause. Instead, the very few religion cases that have been taken by the Court were decided on other grounds, such as the Free Speech Clause, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or Title VII. The lone possible exception was an ambiguous decision regarding the ability of churches to have discretion over religious employment decisions; it isn’t clear whether it rested on the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause. In any event, it’s as if the Court doesn’t want to hear about the Free Exercise Clause.

If that weren’t clear already, the Court made it perfectly plain this term. A very significant religious freedom case was presented to the Court, involving a serious infringement upon religious freedom. But the Court didn’t think the case was even worth considering.

The case involved a small family-owned pharmacy in the State of Washington. The owners of the pharmacy, the Stormans family, are Christians, and they have religious objections to dispensing so-called “emergency contraception”, because it can cause an early abortion. Other nearby pharmacies are willing to dispense those drugs, so they are easily available to anyone who wants them.

That wasn’t good enough for the pro-abortion zealots in the Washington government. They adopted regulations that their Human Rights Commission interpreted to specifically rule out moral and religious objections to the dispensing of drugs, even though they permitted (either explicitly or by practice) a host of non-religious reasons that a pharmacy can decline to dispense a particular drug. This was the result of a concerted campaign by abortion advocates to rule out any conscience-based objections to “emergency contraception”. In fact, the Governor of Washington invited Planned Parenthood to collaborate in the drafting of the regulations. The Governor even threatened the members of the Human Rights Commission being fired, and with violations of anti-discrimination laws if they allowed conscience objections. Once the rules were adopted, Planned Parenthood targeted this pharmacy for complaints.

It would be hard to imagine a clearer case of the government using its power to punish people of faith for exercising their religious beliefs in the way they conduct their business. There is no doubt that the government of Washington was trying to enforce a pro-abortion orthodoxy, and was willing to put people out of business if they dared to dissent.

The Stormans family challenged these regulations, and were initially victorious. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — a notoriously liberal bench — overturned the lower-court decision. The Stormans then appealed to the Supreme Court. They were represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, the great defenders of religous liberty and human life. Thirty-three state pharmacy associations urged the Court to take the case. Many others — including the US Bishops Conference and forty-three members of Congress — filed briefs in support of the Stormans’ petition.

Even under the restrictive Smith rule, this should have been an easy case. There was clearly a substantial burden on religious beliefs — being forced to cooperate directly in a possible abortion. The law was far from neutral — it specifically targeted only those who had moral or religious objections, and nobody else. And it absolutely wasn’t generally applicable — all sorts of secular exceptions were permitted, and only moral or religious ones prohibited.

But on the very last day of the Court’s term, it refused to hear the Stormans’ case. Five Justices — Kennedy, Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagen and Sotomayor — didn’t think that the Stormans deserved their day in Court. (I have to add that Justice Sotomayor joining that group is a particular disgrace — she is a graduate of Cardinal Spellman High School, my alma mater, and she obviously didn’t learn the same things that I was taught about the importance of our Catholic faith.)

The three remaining Justices — Roberts, Alito, and Thomas — dissented from the denial of the appeal, and Justice Alito wrote a blistering opinion. His opening paragraphs are worth quoting at length:

This case is an ominous sign.

At issue are Washington State regulations that are likely to make a pharmacist unemployable if he or she objects on religious grounds to dispensing certain prescription medications. There are strong reasons to doubt whether the regulations were adopted for — or that they actually serve — any legitimate purpose. And there is much evidence that the impetus for the adoption of the regulations was hostility to pharmacists whose religious beliefs regarding abortion and contraception are out of step with prevailing opinion in the State. Yet the Ninth Circuit held that the regulations do not violate the First Amendment, and this Court does not deem the case worthy of our time. If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.

By refusing to hear this case, the Supreme Court said to the Stormans and to the Free Exercise Clause that they can just drop dead. That is bad news for religious liberty, for the equal administration of the law, and for the health of our society. An ominous sign, indeed.

A True Understanding of Sexual Identity

June 14th, 2016

Having written a number of blogs about the nonsense of gender ideology, it’s only fair that I outline the true vision of sexuality presented by the Church.

It’s very important to understand at the outset that this vision is part of a coherent system of thought about human nature — anthropology in the real sense. It is informed by faith and revelation, but it is also confirmed by reason and science. It is not to be accepted just because the Church says so. It is proposed for acceptance because God has revealed it to us, and also because it makes sense.

First, let’s lay out a few definitions of terms.

  • “Sex” means whether a person is male or female.
  • “Sexuality” is a much broader term that encompasses one’s biological sex, but is not limited to our reproductive anatomy. It includes the characteristics that have been identified by science (e.g., psychology, neuroscience) to have an impact on the way we experience the world as males or as females. It also has an element of divine will in it – we are made deliberately by God as male or female, and are intended to express and receive love as men or women in all our relationships with family, friends, spouses, etc.
  • “Sexual identity” is the way that we integrate our sexuality into the overall self-understanding of who we are as persons.
  • “Gender”  I have serious misgivings about using this word.  The way it is currently being used, it means both too much and therefore virtually nothing at all, and it presupposes an irrational complete separation from biological sex. However, I think the term has some validity if it is understood in the narrow sense that Pope Francis uses it in Amoris Laetitia: “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. So in this limited sense, the term “gender” would mean our biological sex, including the innate characteristics that flow from that, plus socially-defined ideas and expectations about men and women.

Having said that, there are several points that serve as the fundamental foundation for our view of the human person, and thus of human sexuality.

  • Every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. We are not just accidents of an impersonal evolutionary process (although we have certainly evolved in many ways from earlier forms). Instead, each person is directly willed by God and brought into existence. We are, each and every one of us, good in God’s eyes, even with all of our faults. And we have a purpose in life — to be happy in this life, and to be happy with God forever in the next.
  • Human beings are not just material, but are the union of soul and body. Our soul is our spiritual component, the part of us where we experience feelings, thoughts, dreams, knowledge, personality, and free will. Our lives are a constant partnership of the physical and spiritual, in which we live in both the world of our senses and in our inner life. The physical and spiritual are intrinsically united, and I cannot even exist without both — their separation is the actual definition of death.
  • Every human person is made male or female. Our sex is a definitional part of who we are — God deliberately made each one of us, both body and soul, as a man or a woman. This is part of the innermost core of our being. This is crucially important — we are not male and female just because of our biological sex, we have that biological sex because God has made us male or female. Our anatomy is one of the ways that our male or female identity is revealed, but we can also see it in so many aspects of our lives.  We don’t know this just because of revelation, but it is confirmed by the evidence of science. Genetics, physiology, neurology, and psychology all recognize the intrinsic differences between the sexes. These can be seen in the ways that men and women experience the world, have feelings, and form our relationships. The differences between men and women do not in any way imply inequality. Instead, “Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. ” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Women, 7) This complementarity and equality of male and female has a deep meaning and significance for who we are and what we are meant to be.

The Church proposes a vision of human nature and sexuality that brings these principles into harmony and allows every human being to develop and flourish as God desires, so that we can find genuine love and be truly happy.

We hold firmly to the truth that we cannot separate sexuality or sexual identity from biological fact. The reality of our biological sex “is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love”. (Congregation for Catholic Education, Educational Guidance in Human Love, 4). So our sexuality is not just a physical phenomenon. It helps to define every human being on every level – emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

Indeed, since by our very nature we are ensouled bodies, there can’t be a radical separation of the physical and spiritual. Our true identity depends on both — we are male or female in both our body and our soul. Our bodies are not just raw material to be changed and adjusted to match our feelings, no matter how transitory or deeply-seated. Every person is a man or a woman, regardless of how they might feel, or how they might change their anatomy. I would be operating under a serious delusion if I were to make a mistake about this.

As a result, we have no need for notions of “gender identity” or “gender expression” that are at odds with our biological sex. Remember, as those terms are used in our culture nowadays, they mean one’s subjective attitude and experience of one’s “gender”, and how one expresses that. But it makes no sense to adopt an identity that denies an essential fact about myself (i.e., that was made by God as male or female), to define my identity based purely on transitory cultural norms, or — even more so — to trade one socially-defined “gender identity” for another. People can accept or reject social norms as much as they want — it’s a free country, after all — but it isn’t healthy to deny the truth about our sex, and what it means for who we are.

Instead, a healthy sexual identity is always rooted in the reality that we are male and female in both body and soul. We then seek to integrate our feelings, personality, self-image, etc. with that fact, and express ourselves accordingly in our relationships. In this way, there is no separation between a person’s “gender identity” and their sexual identity.

To do this, it is vital to understand that my sexuality is not just about me. The physical reality of male and female anatomy itself shows that we are created for others, and that God did not intend for us to live in isolation. After all, “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) In fact, we believe that human sexuality is fundamentally ordered towards the union of man and woman in matrimony – the unique loving relationship that involves a gift of self to another that is designed to bear fruit.

This means that every person is called to develop their sexual identity in a way that integrates their masculinity or femininity, and their call to live in relationship with others. This is a life-long task, and it goes through stages of development. Frequently, we find this to be difficult. There is often a tension between our physical impulses, our feelings, and God’s will. Society sends us conflicting signals about how to deal with this, signals that are becoming more and more confusing.

The way to integrate all of the elements of a healthy sexuality and sexual identity is by working on developing the virtue of chastity. That word is typically understood to mean abstinence from any sexual behavior, but in our view it actually means living our sexuality in the fullness of its deeper meaning, according to our state in life. “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” ( CCC 2337) Chastity is expressed in different ways, in different relationships, according to God’s will.  For example, chastity means continence for single people and fidelity for married people.

Of course, it is not easy to live a life of chastity, and our present cultural values make it particularly difficult. But by developing this virtue with the help of God’s grace, we can harmonize our physical reality (e.g., our bodies and sensory desires), our spiritual nature and our affective experiences (e.g., our feelings and personality), and live in authentic loving relationships. We can thus truly be ourselves, on all levels of our being.

That is how a fully and properly ordered sexual identity works. We don’t try to change reality, nor do we deny human nature. We embrace them, and learn to live with them, however difficult that may be. But in the end this is the way to true happiness, by living according to the plan that God has set out for each one of us.

(Special thanks to my friend and colleague, Alexis Carra, for her contributions to this article, particularly her challenging questions that helped greatly to clarify my thinking and language)