The Battle is Far From Over

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

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.

Anti-Catholic McCarthyism in the US Senate

January 4th, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religious Schools are Under Attack

December 14th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can We Talk About War?

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.

Where Do Things Stand on the Sex Abuse Crisis?

November 28th, 2018

The news from the recent US bishops’ meeting came as a shock and disappointment to many Catholics – the Holy See blocked a vote on any plan to address the latest developments in the sex abuse crisis until after a world-wide meeting of the heads of national bishops’ conferences in February. And many are deeply frustrated because there is a lack of information about why this was done and what’s going to happen.

I’ve been hearing lots of angry questions about the situation from friends and correspondents. There is a plethora of opinion and speculation online, much of it colored by various ideological positions. There is a lot of mis-information, and lack of information, being spread through the media and the blogosphere.

I’d like to offer some of my thoughts and explanations to try to clarify where I see things being. Note that these are my personal opinions. They’re not official positions of the Archdiocese and I have no special inside information. But I am involved in child protection, so I’m going to use that experience to try to make some sense of things.

Why did Rome stop the bishops from acting? 

Just to review, the US bishops were holding their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore. The main issue on the agenda was how to address the sex abuse crisis, particularly the question of how to hold bishops accountable. There were two inter-related proposals on the table – to establish a lay-led commission to review complaints against bishops and to define a code of conduct for bishops. At the last minute, a letter was sent from the Holy See asking (in reality, a nice way of ordering) the bishops to postpone any vote on any kind of proposal until after the meeting that the Holy Father called in February to discuss the matter with the presidents of all the regional bishops’ conferences around the world.

It’s impossible to say why the Holy See stopped the bishops from adopting an American policy, because nobody in Rome explained the reasoning behind the decision. All we were told was that decisions should be deferred until after the February meeting. For Americans, this is, perhaps, the most frustrating part of what happened, since we are used to much more open debate about policy options. Many feel deeply offended and angry, and see this as another example of condescending clericalism and a culture of secrecy. Some have also found it bewildering to stop our bishops from voting on a plan that was going to have to be approved in Rome anyway, and wonder whether there is some kind of hostility to America going on.

It’s clear to me that the Holy See needs to be much more open about what they’re doing and why — especially because one of the most damaging parts of the sex abuse crisis was the loss of trust because of all the secrecy.

Why can’t the US Bishops just adopt their own policies for the US?

American Catholics naturally want our American bishops to offer solutions to our American problem. We respect the principle of subsidiarity, according to which there’s a strong preference that local bodies resolve local problems if possible, and that larger bodies only get involved if local solutions don’t work. Our experience since 2002 with the Bishops’ Charter shows that our bishops are perfect capable of developing successful ways to deal with sex abuse on a national scale.

So for many people, Rome’s decision to postpone any action on the US bishops’ plan, before there was a chance to see if it would work, seems to violate subsidiarity. On the other hand, the Holy Father may be convinced that the sex abuse crisis (including the problem of misconduct and poor governance by bishops) can’t be answered on a nation-by-nation basis and requires a world-wide discussion, if not a world-wide response. It’s hard to tell because Rome’s reasoning hasn’t been made public.

Regardless of the reasons, once Rome made the request (i.e., order) to our bishops, they had no choice but to comply. Unity with the Holy Father is an essential part of the collegiality among bishops and the catholicity of our Church, and great deference has to be given to his wishes.

One pragmatic matter is crucial to understand: the Church is present in virtually every country in the world. We in America are used to dealing with a good government with fair courts and laws, a free press and wide-open discussions. But in most other countries, dioceses operate in a completely different environment, with open hostility and persecution from their governments, limited free press and fear of retaliation for speaking one’s mind. So what may make perfect sense in one country or diocese could be a disaster in another. The Holy See has the difficult job of trying to make world-wide policy that will work in all nations.

So does Rome have a plan?

Again, we don’t know, because nobody at the Holy See has publicly proposed anything yet. The Vatican has just announced the names of some of the people who will be involved in the planning of the February meeting (none of whom are laypeople), they haven’t had any formal meetings yet, and there haven’t been any real hints about the actual agenda. Public statements by some of the organizers have been very general and have suggested that the meeting will only be the beginning of a longer process of developing policies.

That kind of statement is just astounding to me – we are very far from the beginning of the crisis, and we need to move quickly towards ending it. The crisis is now, not in the future. We need to see a sense of urgency and a concrete plan that has much more involvement of the laity, especially experts in the field, and much more openness and accountability.

For all those reasons and more, I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical that the February meeting will result in any concrete proposals. In the past, high-level meetings run by the Holy See have usually been better at discussing general principles than for adopting practical policies. Just think of the most recent Synods of Bishops for examples.

There was also some discussion at the US bishops’ meeting of strengthening the role of archbishops in supervising the bishops in their province and in evaluating allegations of misconduct by them. There were even hints that this proposal might be favored in Rome. There is some merit to this idea, since it relies on existing structures, but it makes many Catholics nervous. Having bishops overseeing other bishops, unless they also have robust transparency and involvement by laity or independent investigators, will likely be perceived by many as perpetuating the kind of clericalism that has been a major part of the problem in the past. The Archbishop McCarrick case has been seen as a prime example of the failure of bishops to self-police.

In any event, it seems clear to me that to regain the trust of American Catholics, Rome will have to come up with more than just additional statements about how serious the problem is, how concerned they are, how committed they are to preventing abuse, and how serious they are about developing policies. There’s already been a lot of talk, and people are impatient for action.

What can our bishops do in the meantime? 

Seeing our bishops’ hands tied by the Vatican is very upsetting, because that means there are very few things they can do on the national scale while waiting for the February world-wide meeting. Cardinal Dolan and two other prelates have been appointed to a special task force to study the issue, and we can hope that there will be some positive results from that and an avenue for input from the laity in that process. And we can also hope that after the February world-wide meeting, the US Bishops will have the ability to adopt particular policies that would apply in the unique situation of the US.

Individual bishops, however, can use this time to increase their communication with the laity, particularly by being completely transparent about the cases that have arisen and how they have been handled, including apologizing for mistakes. The bishops can also be transparent by explaining the procedures they already have in their dioceses and how they can hold their brother bishops accountable. Greater attention can also be paid to the problem of unchastity among the clergy. More bishops are following Cardinal Dolan’s example and setting up compensation plans for victims of abuse, and more should also follow his example by calling on an independent monitor to evaluate what the diocese has been doing.

These steps help, but they don’t eliminate people’s impatience over the need for a strong national solution.

Is the Vatican dragging its feet on the Archbishop McCarrick case?

Not at all. The first allegation against the Archbishop was evaluated last Spring by our review board and found to be substantiated. That case was then sent to Rome, the Holy Father removed the Archbishop’s faculties to function as a priest and bishop, he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and he has been assigned to live in prayer and penance. A second allegation was made public this summer in the newspapers. It was referred to Rome, and they then sent it back to us for investigation. According to our protocols, we referred the case to the local District Attorney to determine whether there is any possibility of a criminal prosecution. Once they have concluded their handling of the case, we will conduct our own investigation and all the evidence will be submitted to our review board. If any other allegations are made, they will be handled the same way.

Investigating these kinds of cases takes time, and we all wish things would move faster. But the Holy See has been following its law and procedure, the DA’s offices have followed theirs, and so have we. These things can’t be rushed. We also have to make sure that the Archbishop, like anyone else, receives due process. People often forget that even the American justice system moves very slowly. The Bill Cosby sexual assault case took three years from the filing of charges through two trials, and the Larry Nasser/US gymnastics sex abuse case took over a year and a half for the criminal cases to end in guilty pleas (but the civil cases are still going on). Unfortunately, real life is not like an episode of “Law and Order” where everything is neatly wrapped up in sixty minutes.

Evaluating the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick is only part of the issue, though. The larger question is about how he was able to advance in office despite widespread rumors and even legal settlements about his misconduct. That’s a serious question that Rome will have to eventually answer.

Aren’t the bishops and the pope worried about losing Catholics? 

Many Catholics are baffled by what they see as the tepid and confusing response by Church leaders and think that the bishops “just don’t get” the level of anger and alienation they feel. What happened at the bishops’ meeting was more fuel for that feeling, and there’s a grave concern that ordinary Catholics are going to leave the Church in frustration.

We Catholics have great reverence for our Church, and our faith is inevitably shaken when Church leaders let us down. Throughout her history, the Church has struggled with scandals and failings in ourselves and our leaders. A quick read of St. Paul’s letters shows that in vivid detail (1 Corinthians is a good example). The offenses and failures of the clergy undermine our trust in their sincerity about the faith itself – people rightly think, “if they act that way, why should I believe anything they say?” Of course, we know that the validity of the sacraments and the integrity of the faith don’t depend on the worthiness of the ministers. And Church history is also a good lesson in patience and perspective – we’ve survived many, many crises before, thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit.

But still, there is a critical element of trust that our bishops need to regain, before too many people are disillusioned and join the ranks of the “nones” – those who say they’re believers but who don’t belong to any church – or the legion of “ex-Catholics”.

What can lay people do about this?

Because complaints of clergy misconduct are handled according to internal Church processes (under the Bishops’ Charter and the Canon Law), it’s hard to see how regular lay people can get more involved. There is no clear avenue right now for raising complaints about bishops, and it’s hard to tell how Rome handles those complaints or even if anyone is listening to them.

One thing that is absolutely necessary is for people to respectfully let their bishop know how they feel about this situation and how much they want to see some positive action. The only way they’ll “get it” is if we give it to them – politely and reasonably. I know that some people are withholding donations to their bishops’ appeal to send a message, but I don’t think that gets the job done — that money goes primarily to the pastoral and charitable work of the dioceses, so the only people being deprived of money are the needy people who will lose services.

The most important thing that lay people can do is to pray for our bishops and priests, and especially for victims, and to lead blameless and holy lives ourselves. Good Christian lives are the best way to attract people to the Gospel, and to heal the wounds of sin.

How can the Church operate this way?

We Americans are very impatient and practical by nature. When there’s a crisis we want solutions right away. If there’s a natural disaster, we expect the President and the Governor to be on the next plane and for FEMA, the Red Cross and the military to be on the ground within hours — forget about red tape, just get the job done. We hold them all to a high standard and any slips are put under a microscope immediately.

Americans are also used to our government officials explaining in detail (both officially and through unofficial statements, leaks, etc.) why particular policies are being put forward, and we are comfortable with extensively debating about them. When our government isn’t open with us about what policies are being developed, we are immediately suspicious and often resort to conspiracy theories. Americans have an ingrained allergy to government secrecy, and we really believe in the expression that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

As a result, the deliberate pace and closed manner with which the Church operates can be bewildering and intensely frustrating to Americans. Most people, including many Catholics, don’t realize that the Church isn’t organized like a corporation with branch offices on every corner and policies that can be changed in a minute by the CEO. There are elements of both localism and universalism in the Church that work together and are sometimes in tension. Each diocese is governed by a bishop who has very broad authority, but the diocese is still part of the universal Church and the bishop is responsible for maintaining unity with the Holy Father. The Holy Father has ultimate governing authority over the Church, but he has to respect the autonomy of individual bishops. National bishops’ conferences like the USCCB are really coalitions like the Chamber of Commerce, and don’t have any actual governing power over individual dioceses.

The Church also operates under its own internal legal system. The Canon Law is a complex and ancient body of law that is very different in concept from our Anglo-American common law system. It reflects very rich and deep theological principles about the nature of the Church, and it has detailed standards and procedures that have developed over centuries. It is not designed for rapid-fire pragmatism like you would find on a TV court reality show or a legal thriller novel. The Holy Father has the authority to change Canon Law, but, as with any legal system, changes have to be done very carefully to avoid interfering with or undermining other important principles. For example, it would be easy to streamline a criminal trial to make it faster, but that can’t be done in a way that endangers due process rights or the presumption of innocence.

The Church operates in a way that is very strange to Americans. It’s hard to get used to, and sometimes even harder to explain.

What’s the take-away?

Ultimately, of course, our faith is not in man or in institutions but in Jesus Christ, and we believe that His saving power works even though imperfect people like our clergy and ourselves. As St. Paul said, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

For the last 15 years, the Church has been implementing the Bishops Charter and has made tremendous strides in protecting children from sexual abuse and addressing past misconduct. The current state of things is very frustrating and there’s no easy answer, but we can’t lose hope. We will just have to continue working the best we can through the imperfect system that we have, with faith that the Holy Spirit is always active and guiding us.

Abortion and Elections

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

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.

Reminders of Gender Ideology Irrationality

October 22nd, 2018

Every so often, news articles provide a valuable glimpse into the inner irrationality of gender ideology. Just to review, the basic argument of gender ideology is that gender is not determined by one’s biological sex, but is a separate matter that is defined according to the subjective beliefs of an individual. One’s biological sex is an arbitrary classification that is “assigned” at birth, and has no intrinsic connection with one’s actual sexual identity.

I’m not making this up. Here are the definitions that are contained in proposed New York City regulations relating to gender identity:

“Sex” is a combination of primary sex characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics which appear at puberty such as the presence of facial hair, vocal pitch, and development of breasts, and gender identity.

“Gender” includes actual or perceived sex, gender identity, and gender expression including a person’s actual or perceived gender-related self-image, appearance, behavior, expression, or other gender-related characteristic, regardless of the sex assigned to that person at birth.

“Gender identity” is the internal deeply-held sense of one’s gender which may be the same as or different from one’s sex assigned at birth. A person’s gender identity may be male, female, neither or both, i.e., non-binary. Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation and is not visible to others.

The separation of biological sex and identity is a bizarre and dehumanizing idea. It denies the unity of body, mind and soul, and it rejects the logical and scientifically undeniable understanding that biological sexual difference is essential to human nature. Science has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that sexual difference is an innate part of human biochemistry, physical structure (not just our reproductive system, our brains and all other parts of our bodies to the cellular level), behavior, and psychology. But gender ideology treats the body as a mere physical shell that can be used or manipulated as one wishes — and even permanently mutilated, as happens with “gender reassignment surgery”.

Gender ideologues have been trying mightily to insinuate their ideas into the law in many ways. Federal civil rights laws, particularly Title VII (public accomodations) and Title IX (education), all use the word “sex”, not “gender” in banning discrimination. Congress has consistently rejected bills that would incorporate the word “gender” in those laws. But the lawless Obama Administration circumvented the legislative and regulatory process and issued internal statements directing that the term “sex” also should include “gender identity”, even though those terms are completely non-synonymous in the understanding of the gender advocates themselves.

But why let rationality get in the way of an agenda?

Now comes the Trump Administration. The New York Times has reported that the Administration is now considering proposed regulations that would define the word “sex” as based “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The draft definition that is apparently circulating in an internal  memorandum would say: “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” and that “the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” Obvious common sense, right?

The Times, of course, is horrified, and is claiming in a hysterical headline that the definition would essentially erase transgender people. Of course, it does nothing of the kind — it merely returns the laws to the meaning that they originally had when passed by Congress. Ironically, it also would establish in law the definition of “sex” that is actually favored by gender ideologues — a characteristic based on biology — as opposed to “gender” or “gender identity”, which are subjective and can vary from biology.

But again, why let rationality get in the way of an agenda?

The incoherence of the gender ideology agenda is made clear by yet another news item from recent weeks. The New York City government, never content to be behind the curve on the progressive agenda, has decided that birth certificates would now have a third choice for “sex” — no longer just “male” or “female” but “x”. It’s not that the City has made a remarkable breakthrough in science, or there has been a dramatic leap in human evolution in the five boroughs. This is designed for trendy parents to feel good about themselves by adopting au courant gender theory and imposing it on their poor unsuspecting children, or for people to erase their actual biological sex because they have now decided to assume a different “gender identity”.

Of course, it makes no sense at all, even on its own terms. Remember, the City has defined “sex” to mean “a combination of primary sex characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external reproductive organs”. No matter what the City wants to believe, there still are only two actual choices that fit that definition, and neither of them is “x”. Nor can a new-born infant have any kind of “gender identity”, since they have other things on their minds and haven’t yet been “woke” to any kind of ideology. Nor does it make sense for a person’s “sex” to be retroactively redefined, since a person’s new “gender identity” has nothing to do with their biological sex.

In future years, I fully expect that people will wake up and realize how silly and irrational gender theory is. Certainly, some people feel a sense of discomfort and even distress about their sexual identity, and feel that they would be happier if they adopted some of the characteristics of the opposite sex. That’s at least an expression of personality or at worst a mental health condition that needs to be treated with compassion. Studies show that in the great majority of cases it passes away over time without ruinous hormone treatments or amputations of body parts.

Medical treatment and law must be based on reality. Gender ideology is a one-way ticket into irrationality and society must wake up to that reality.

The Truth is on Trial

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.