Unity and Joy in Defense of Life

February 13th, 2014

There are many graces and joys that come to those who are involved in the pro-life, pro-family cause.  One of these is the opportunity to meet and work with friends and allies in other Christian communities.

The March for Life is a great experience every year, with thousands of people of all faiths gathering with joy and dedication. The New Yorkers for Life coalition with our evangelical friends has been very effective. I’ve been blessed by my collaboration with Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family. It is truly enriching to stand together with our Christian brethren in unity and strength.

The other night, I had another one of these wonderful experiences. I was invited by my friend Chaplain Viviana Hernandez, to attend an event conducted by “Life Team”. This is an organization of interfaith clergy and laypeople, established by Chaplain Hernandez and Fr. Peter Pilsner in response to the abortion crisis in New York City, and the hostile policies of the City government. They have done great work building a body of committed Christians in the black and Latino communities, who are dedicated to rolling back the Culture of Death in our City.

The event took place at the Bethel Gospel Tabernacle in Jamaica, Queens. This is a serious Christian community, very dynamic and active, with an impressive leader in Bishop Roderick Caesar. The room was filled with members of their church and others who joined them. There was a great deal of praise and worship, and I found it very moving.

The talks were powerful. A pastor from Connecticut offered suggestions on how to speak to women who are heading into abortion clinics.  A young lady shared her incredible personal post-abortion witness, and outlined her commitment to the pro-life cause — including her participation in 2012 in a walk from Houston to Dallas as public witness to the cause of life. Pastor Beverly Caesar (Bishop Roderick’s wife) gave a powerful personal testimony and was very uplifting and encouraging. A young man sang a beautiful and touching song he specially composed to honor his own mother’s decision to choose life. Members of the community spoke of their commitment to oppose the abortion mentality that has afflicted the black community.  Plans for a new pregnancy resource center in the neighborhood were also discussed.

Confronting the Culture of Death can be very daunting and discouraging at times.  But the message of this evening was very clear.  The cause of human life is God’s cause, and He will lift us up in this struggle.  God’s love and mercy are always at the heart of all that we do, and we must find ways to welcome people into the heart of God, who will heal their wounds.  We are united in the Holy Spirit for this mission.

The Lord has said very clearly, “those who honor me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).  I had the privilege of spending some time with a wonderful group of people who are honoring God by their commitment to the defense of human life.  I am confident that God will indeed honor them for their fidelity to His great cause.

 

The Real Story on Sex Abuse

February 4th, 2014

In recent weeks, we have once again seen “news” stories in the papers about sex abuse and the Catholic Church.

These “news” items related to a disclosure of some documents by the Archdiocese of Chicago, relating to old cases dating back many decades, and a hearing before a UN board at which the Holy See was questioned about how sex abuse cases were handled and how many priests have been laicized in response.

Obviously, the sexual abuse of minors is a great concern to us, and to society as a whole.  It is a terrible evil, and must be rooted out from every institution.  The Church hardly needs the release of ancient personnel files, or some hearing before an international organization, to remind us that some priests were abusers, and some bishops were negligent in their leadership.  Every case of sexual abuse is a tragedy, and we are completely committed to helping victims heal from their ordeal.

But all these stories, and dozens like them, completely miss the real news.  The fact is that the Catholic Church has become a model for child protection, and that other organizations emulate us and wish that they could have as good a record as we do now.  This is the key — what’s being done to ensure the protection of children today and in the future.

We should never be afraid to take a long, hard look at mistakes that were made in the past, in order to try to learn how we can do things better in the future.

So, what’s wrong with much of the reporting of these old incidents?

First, many of these “news” events are orchestrated by trial lawyers and self-appointed victim advocates, who are supporting lawsuits or litigation that target the Church. In almost every case,  the incidents took place years, even decades ago, and most of the priests have long since died or have been removed from the priesthood.  And the reports raise serious questions about fairness.  No other institution is subjected to constant reminders of the misconduct of former officials — certainly not the public school system, which has a much higher rate of sexual abuse.

The hearing before the UN committee that is supposedly dedicated to defending the rights of children has its own problems.  The committee is filled with nations that have terrible records of human rights abuses.  (The committee has also never said a word about the worst abuse of human rights that it taking place around the world, legalized abortion, which takes the lives of tens of millions of children each year.)  And no other organization has been called before the committee to explain its policies regarding sexual abuse — certainly not the UN itself, which has failed to address the systematic sexual abuse of children and women by UN peacekeeping forces in various countries around the world.  The UN committee even had the audacity to recommend that the Church change our teaching on abortion and contraception — tipping their hand to their real, anti-Catholic, anti-life biases.

The only “news” here is that the UN would have the chutzpah to pass judgment on any other organization at all.

So what is the real story?

The real story is the incredible amount of human capital and financial resources that have been expended on prevention of future incidents of child abuse.  Let’s put some numbers on it.  We have over 48,000 active people working with children in the Archdiocese of New York alone, and two million more across the nation.   The Church spends tens of millions of dollars each year in prevention and safety programs.  All our people have been screened, trained, and are being supervised by dedicated leaders who are committed to protecting children.  We have tight policies to ensure that predators can’t have access to our children, and we react promptly and decisively to root them out and bring them to justice.

Other institutions study and model themselves on us.  Experts, like Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University, have said that “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”  We have been open and transparent in allowing outside auditors and scholars to study our efforts.

And we’ve seen the results of all this investment in child protection.  There has been a dramatic drop in the number of credible reports of present-day sexual abuse of minors by clergy — in 2012, there were only eleven minors who reported allegations in the entire nation.

Nobody can match our efforts or our accomplishments.

Why is this the bigger story?

Just think about it — when a big company like Apple makes a tiny design change in a popular product, it makes headlines around the world.  Everybody pays attention, and thinks it’s a big deal.

But the Catholic Church in America has done something even more important, something that no other organization in the world has done.  We’ve made a huge, across-the-board, change in our corporate culture, so that now, every leader and every worker has child protection as a high item on their agenda.  Nobody does as much as we do to protect children.  It’s not just superficial window-dressing, but a massive substantive commitment. And all of that has been done voluntarily, in the midst of hostile and intense scrutiny, because it was necessary to avoid and correct the mistakes of the past — and because it was the right thing to do.  This is a huge accomplishment.

That’s the real news that the media should be writing — not yet another rehash of old tragedies, but a story of  transformation, commitment and success.

The Politics of Principle

February 3rd, 2014

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last five years.  This post was written in memory of Jack Swan, a great warrior of faith and politics, who entered eternal life on February 2, 1998.  God sent Jack into my life to teach me these lessons about politics, and I’m just a pygmy standing on the shoulders of a giant.  As time goes by, I see more and more a need for us to recapture the politics of principle.  Jack, please pray for me, that I get the lessons right.)

In the mind of most people, “politics” is the struggle of candidates, political parties, and their supporters to gain power and influence in the government. That is certainly true up to a point, and it makes for interesting entertainment.

I write a good deal about politics on this blog and elsewhere, and I’m frequently perceived as being “political” in that sense — of being”partisan”. That completely misses the point.

There is a deeper, more significant nature of politics. It is the way we order our society together, so that we can live according to our vocations and be happy, and ultimately attain eternal life. In this understanding of politics, the partisan theater is an important reality, but it is not the main focus. What really matters is principle.

Without principles, politics becomes mere pragmatism, where the question is whether something “works”, or, in the less elevated version of the game, what’s in it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pragmatism is important — we want our government to be effective. But again, principle is more important.

I received much of my tutelage in the real world of politics from a man who devoted his life to being a practitioner of the politics of principle. I learned that it was fine to be keenly interested in the partisan scrum, but only to the extent that it advanced the principles we hold dear — defense of human life, protection of marriage, family and children, and religious liberty. The promotion of those principles is more important than party label, and the idea is to support — or oppose — politicians based on their fidelity to those principles, not based on what party label they happened to be wearing this week.

That’s how I try to practice politics, in my small and limited way. I have opinions and judgments about many pragmatic issues, and what kinds of national security, economic and other policies would “work” better than others. But none of those pragmatic issues matter at all, compared to the core principles.

Here’s how it works for me. If a politician doesn’t protect human life, I don’t care what his position is on other issues. If he can’t understand that human life is sacred and must be protected at all stages, I have no reason to trust his judgment about any other issue. And, very frankly, anyone who does not understand that basic principle is not, in my opinion, fit to hold public office.

The same holds for the other core issues. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. If you don’t respect human life, don’t see the need to preserve marriage as one man and one woman, and won’t defend religious liberty, they you just have to look elsewhere to get your fifty percent plus one.

This means that I am perpetually dissatisfied with our political process and our politicians. But that’s fine with me. They are all temporary office holders anyway, here today and gone tomorrow, and their platforms are passing fancies that nobody will remember in a short time. The principles, however, remain perpetually valid.

Listen, Our Lord made a very simple request of us. He said, “Follow me”. He didn’t say, be a Republican or a Democrat, a Socialist or a Whig. He demands that I be his follower. So I need to look to the Lord for my principles, and in this age that means I have to listen to the Church. That’s what Our Lord wants me to do — after all, he said to his apostles “he who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk 10:16). We happen to have in our midst the successors of those apostles — the Holy Father, our bishops, and my bishop in particular. As a Catholic I must listen to them, and get my political principles from them, not from Fox News, CNN, talking heads of the left or the right, the editorial page of the Times, or either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

This, to me, is the way to live as a disciple of Christ in this crazy political process. I realize that this will be considered odd by many, and even dangerous by some.

But we hardly need more party loyalists at this, or any other, time. And we certainly need more practitioners of the politics of principle.

The Struggle Against Abortion Expansion Continues

January 31st, 2014

Pro-abortion advocates traveled to Albany the other day to push for the passage of the Governor’s abortion expansion proposal, which is embedded in the “Women’s Equality Act”.  This plan first saw light as the “Reproductive Health Act”.  The Senate has already passed nine out of the ten parts of the WEA, which deal with such issues as domestic violence, pay equity, etc.  But the Assembly refuses to pass the valuable and good elements of the WEA, because their leadership insists on including the abortion expansion plan.

In conjunction with the pro-abortion rally in Albany, the Assembly voted once again to pass the entire WEA, with the abortion expansion plan included.  Editorial boards of newspapers around the state have been voicing their support for the WEA.  In response to one such editorial, I submitted the following letter to the editor:

I am writing in response to your editorial calling for the passage of the full 10-point “Women’s Equality Act.”  In your editorial, you note that the bill stalled in the Senate last year due to the provision that related to abortion.  But you mis-characterize that section of the bill, claiming that it would merely “codify existing federal abortion rights as affirmed in Roe v. Wade”.

In fact, the Governor’s proposal is much more radical, and would expand abortion rights beyond current federal and state law.  It would remove any obstacles to late-term abortions, and would allow non-doctors to do surgical abortions, even late-term abortions up until the moment of birth.

The bill also ignores regulations on abortion that have already been codified in federal law and that enjoy wide support among the public — like restrictions on public funding, a partial birth abortion ban, the criminalization of violence against unborn children, and robust conscience protections for medical practitioners who don’t want to participate in abortion.  It likewise ignores reasonable regulations of abortion that enjoy wide public support in our state and across the nation.   Polls consistently show that wide majorities of New Yorkers oppose late-term abortions and permitting non-doctors to do surgical abortions, and they support reasonable regulations like parental notification requirements and full informed consent provisions.

The Senate rejected the abortion provision of the Women’s Equality Act because the people of New York State don’t want an expansion of abortion.  Most New Yorkers realize that 110,000 abortions are already far too many, and that too many men and women have been wounded by abortion.

The Legislature could pass the beneficial and uncontroversial provisions of the Women’s Equality Act at any time — the individual components have been introduced in the Assembly and the Senate has already passed them.  They shouldn’t be held hostage to a radical agenda that seeks to expand abortion.

Abortion activists will never compromise in their efforts to enact this abortion expansion plan.  They will accept no limitations on abortion, and are not even satisfied with the current status quo.   Pro-life people, and those who consider themselves “pro-choice” but are uncomfortable with abortion expansion, need to make their voices heard.  The best way is through the New York State Catholic Conference’s Action Center.

Who Are the Real Extremists?

January 21st, 2014

The Governor of the State of New York has an unfortunate tendency to engage in absolutist, take-no-prisoners political rhetoric.  Just a few years ago, he declared that anyone who opposed redefining marriage was “anti-New York and anti-American”.   So it really should be no surprise when his rhetoric gets out of hand, and shows a lack of respect for those who take opposing positions in good faith.

Nevertheless, the remarks he made the other day are particularly disturbing.  Commenting on some internal disputes among his Republican rivals, the Governor of all New Yorkers (even those who disagree with him) said this:

“Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.” (emphasis added)

I’m not a Republican, so it’s not for me to defend that party, or to get into the middle of an election-year political scrum.  But the Governor’s overheated language goes way beyond his political opponents.

Apparently our Governor thinks that there’s no place in our home state for anyone who believes that the laws should respect the right to life of all people, including the unborn, and who believe in the authentic definition of marriage.

But let’s ask ourselves — Who are the real extremists here?

It’s the public officials and the advocates who aren’t satisfied with New York being the abortion capital of America, a place with over 110,000 abortions each year.  It’s the people who oppose any reasonable regulations on abortion, including involving parents in decisions made by minors, full informed consent requirements, and so on.  It’s those  who want non-doctors to be able to perform abortions.  It’s the pro-abortion advocates who oppose health and safety regulations of clinics and who fight against any effort to inspect clinics.  It’s those people who want to redefine marriage and the family beyond recognition.   And it’s those who refuse to recognize faith-based objections, and slander those who stand on their faith for life and marriage.

This is not just a Catholic issue.  The Governor’s rhetoric encompasses the Catholic Church, but also the Orthodox Jewish community, the Evangelical Christian community, many mainline Protestant Churches and Muslims, and others of no religious faith at all.

It is deeply troubling when an elected official, who took an oath to uphold the Constitutions of our state and nation, casts out of polite society all those who disagree with him.  Remarks like these reflect not only a noxious political climate in our nation, but a deep-seated spiritual malady that St. Augustine called the libido dominandi, the lust to dominate and rule.

In an ironic way, it’s fortunate that the Governor made his unpleasant remarks in the midst of the U.S. Bishops’ “9 Days for Life” campaign of prayer, penance, and pilgrimage.  It’s a reminder that if we’re going to be “extremists” about anything, it should be in our prayer.  In particular, we can focus on the “9 Days for Life” prayer intention for tomorrow, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision:

For an end to legal abortion in our nation and for the conversion of all hearts, so that the inherent rights of every human being—especially those most at risk of abuse and rejection—will be upheld.

Friday’s prayer intention is also particularly appropriate:

For elected leaders who oppose any restriction on the abortion license: may God allow them to grasp the brutal violence of abortion and the reality of post-abortion suffering experienced by countless women and men.

All of our society is enriched when people of faith bring their values into the public square, and nobody benefits when people are cast out of our political debate.  Let us pray for genuine tolerance, and for a conversion of heart so that our beloved state can show authentic respect for life and marriage.

[This blog post was reprinted in the New York Post as an op-ed]

 

The Little Sisters of the Poor and the HHS Mandate

January 13th, 2014

[Last week, I was invited to participate in an online debate at U.S. News and World Report, about the lawsuit brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor against the HHS Mandate.  Here is what I contributed.]

The Little Sisters of the Poor have dedicated their lives to giving witness to their Catholic faith by providing nursing home care for elderly needy people.   They do beautiful work, and are extraordinarily dedicated. You would think our society would cherish this mission and help it succeed.

Instead, the Administration is forcing the Sisters into a terrible “Sophie’s choice” — violate their faith, or be forced out of business.  The issue is the “HHS Mandate” — the requirement that all employer health insurance policies include contraceptives (including “emergency contraception”, which can cause early abortions) and sterilization.  Catholics, and many others, object to this because those services directly contradict our belief in the sanctity of human life and sexuality.

The Administration has created a narrow exemption for churches, but not for religious non-profit organizations like the Sisters’ nursing homes.  The best the Administration offers is an “accommodation”.  But to qualify, the Sisters have to file a “permission slip” directing their insurance company  to provide the offensive coverage.

This is what the Sisters, and other religious organizations, can’t accept.  Filing that “permission slip” means they would be directly cooperating in something forbidden by their faith.  The government doesn’t have the right to force anyone to do that.

Would anyone think it is acceptable for the government to force the Sisters to sign a form that gives explicit permission for someone to come into their nursing homes to euthanize their patients?  Of course not  — it would be an unthinkable violation of their religious freedom.  And remember, the Sisters are not imposing their beliefs on anyone — their employees, who freely chose to work for them, will still be free to obtain those services elsewhere.   Only the Sisters are being forced to violate their beliefs.

This is not an abstract legal controversy — the real-world stakes are very high.  For standing up for their faith, the Sisters are facing fines of $100 per day per employee as of January 1.  They employ hundreds of people at their thirty nursing homes.  So do the math — they are looking at fines of over $50 million per year, which would put them out of business.

The real victims of that would be the poor elderly people the Sisters serve, who would lose such wonderful care.  That would defeat the good intentions of the Affordable Care Act — ensuring health care for all, especially the most vulnerable.  That’s surely not in the public interest.

Yet the Administration won’t even agree to delay the fines so the Sisters can argue their case on appeal — even though they’re now letting businesses drop health insurance for their employees completely, with no fine at all.   This isn’t public policy, it’s a coercive ideology that considers contraception, sterilization and abortion to be “sacred ground”, and that will brook no dissent from people of faith.

All of society is enriched when religious groups serve needy people.  Only ideology is served by the Administration’s intolerance against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

How Much Times Have Changed for Religious Liberty

January 9th, 2014

Every so often, it’s useful to review some history, and see if we can learn any lessons.

In 1802, the United States obtained from France what is now the State of Louisiana as part of the famous Louisiana Purchase.  At that time, there was a group of Ursuline Sisters in Louisiana, educating poor girls at a school that still exists to this present day.  They were worried about whether they would be able to continue to own property and carry out their charitable work, once they became part of the United States.  So they wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, seeking assurances about their religious freedom.

President Jefferson has an undeserved reputation as an enemy of religion, based largely on a misunderstanding of the meaning of his position that the Constitution created a “wall of separation” between church and state.  But he gave no evidence of any hostility or indifference to religion in his response to the Ursulines.  Instead, he wrote:

I have received, holy sisters, the letter you have written me wherein you express anxiety for the property vested in your institution by the former governments of Louisiana. The principles of the constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that it will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it’s own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority. Whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and it’s furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society, by training up it’s younger members in the way they should go, cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.  I salute you, holy sisters, with friendship & respect.

President Jefferson clearly recognized the fundamental freedom of people to live according to their religious beliefs.  After all, he was the author of the famous Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.  He understood that government had no business interfering in the practice of religion, or in coercing the consciences of believers.  In fact, he recognized the benefit to society from the good works of religious individuals and institutions.

Sad to say, it is difficult to imagine the incumbent President writing a similar letter to the present-day Little Sisters of the Poor.  Times have indeed changed.

The HHS Mandate — Where We Stand, In Plain Language

January 8th, 2014

The HHS Mandate continues to make news, so I thought it would be worthwhile to give a quick, plain-language overview of where things stand, and what’s at stake.

What is the “HHS Mandate”?

The “HHS mandate” comes from a provision in the “Affordable Care Act” (the “ACA”, which is typically being called “Obamacare”) that requires all employers who offer health insurance to include coverage for “preventive services”.   The term “preventive services” has been defined by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to include contraceptive drugs and devices (including “emergency contraception”, which causes early abortions) and sterilization operations.

The mandate went into effect as of January 1.  As of that day, religious non-profits were faced with a terrible dilemma — sacrifice their religious beliefs and obey, or face the consequences of non-compliance.

What’s at stake if organizations don’t comply?

If an employer’s health insurance plan does not provide the coverage required by the HHS Mandate, they are subject to a fine of $100 per day per employee.  An employer with 100 employees would be fined $10,000 every day, or $3.6 million per year.

There are thousands of religious non-profits in this situation.   Take one small case — the Little Sisters of the Poor (whose case is much in the news these days), who employ hundreds of people at their thirty nursing homes.  They could face fines of over $50 million per year for non-compliance.  Obviously, that would put them and their nursing homes out of business.

When you look at the even bigger picture, the numbers become staggering.  Catholic Charities reports that their affiliated agencies have over 70,000 employees nationwide.  If all of those agencies were non-compliant, they would risk a total of over $2.5 billion in fines every year.

Isn’t there an exemption for religious employers?

There are many exemptions from the entire ACA.  For example, members of religions that oppose insurance benefit programs (e.g., the Amish) do not have to comply with any part of the law.  Over the past few months, the Administration has granted new exemptions, waivers, and delays, due to the mess associated with the new health exchange websites, and all the other chaos involved in implementing such a complicated new law.  So there are lots of people who don’t have to comply with all or part of the ACA.

As for the HHS Mandate itself, the Administration did give a very narrow exemption from the HHS Mandate for churches.  There is an “accommodation” for some religious non-profit organizations (e.g., Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals).  There is no exemption for for-profit companies.

But there’s an important catch involved in the “accommodation” for religious non-profits.  They can only qualify if  they file a form that directs their insurance company  to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization.  This is not “just a form”.  Instead, it’s a “permission slip” — it is the key document that triggers insurance coverage for the offensive services.

So, regardless of the Administration’s claim that they have “accommodated” religious non-profits, the reality is that faith-based organizations have to become directly involved in immoral behavior — or risk the ruinous fines outlined above.

What’s going on in court?

There are dozens of lawsuits across the country challenging the HHS Mandate, on the basis of religious liberty.  The cases rely on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a federal law called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”.  These cases are all working their way through the federal courts.

A number of for-profit businesses have brought lawsuits against the HHS Mandate on the basis of their religious beliefs.  The Supreme Court has agreed to decide cases brought by two businesses (Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood).  There are a number of thorny legal issues involved in these cases, including whether corporations have religious liberty rights at all.  The issues will be hotly contested, and many people will file briefs on the case, including the US Bishops, who will support the companies’ position.  The Court will decide the cases by June.

Many other cases have been brought by religious organizations, including the Archdiocese.   Twenty of these cases have been decided so far, and nineteen have resulted in victories — the courts have held that the “permission slip” form is a violation of their religious liberties.   The Government is appealing their losses, and the Supreme Court will have the final word.   But no decision is expected for at least a year.

One case that has been in the news was brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  They lost in the lower court, but Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor has issued a “stay” — an order that puts the lower court’s decision on hold, so that the Sisters could appeal.  The government has opposed the “stay”, and a decision by the full Supreme Court will determine whether the Sisters will face tens of millions of dollars in fines while they appeal.  But no matter what the Court rules on the “stay”, the Sisters will still have to go back and fight out their case in the lower courts on the merits.

So what can we do?

Of course, the most important thing is to pray for the conversion of heart of the President and his Administration, and for the success of the lawsuits against the mandate.  There are lots of prayer resources at the U.S. Bishops’ website.

We can also take action.  Please contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to support authentic conscience protection, and a full repeal of the mandate.  The quickest way to do that is through the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment’s Action Center.

The Administration’s Ideological Obsession

January 2nd, 2014

How can you diagnose when somebody is suffering from ideological obsession?

Consider the case of the Affordable Care Act.  This law was supposed to provide for universal health insurance for all Americans.  Yet the law is filled with exemptions, and the Administration has granted even more exceptions and exemptions as the implementation date for the law approached on New Year’s Day.

Here are just a few of the exemptions that were incorporated in the law itself:  people who can’t afford coverage, even with a subsidy; people with income levels too low to require filing a federal tax return; members of certain Indian tribes; people who can claim a hardship; people who will have a short gap in their coverage;  members of certain religious groups that conscientiously oppose insurance benefit programs (e.g., the Amish); members of a “health care sharing ministry”; people in prison; and people who are not lawfully in the United States.

In the last few months, with all the mess associated with the new health exchange websites, and all the other chaos associated with the law, the Administration has granted new exemptions:  people whose plans were cancelled can get a plan that is not compliant with the ACA; people who weren’t able to comply because of difficulties in signing up for a new plan won’t be penalized; and large businesses with over 50 employees will not be fined for failing to provide any health insurance.

Now, many of these exemptions make perfect sense, and reflect a healthy degree of flexibility in the implementation of a very complex law.

So, what does this have to do with ideology?  Well, despite all those other exemptions, waivers and extensions, one group has not been able to obtain an exemption, despite repeatedly asking for it, petitioning for it, and finally suing for it — religious organizations that have a moral objection to facilitating contraception, sterilization, and abortion, as would be required under the so-called HHS Mandate.

For these groups, there is no flexibility at all.  There is instead an adamant insistence that they will have to cooperate, regardless of their deeply-held religious beliefs.  The Amish get out of the law entirely, but when it comes to Catholic dioceses, schools and charities agencies, the government offers nothing except artificial and unsatisfactory “accommodations”.

Consider the absurdity of the government’s position.  As pointed out by Archbishop Kurtz, the president of the U.S. Bishops, under the Administration’s current policies, large businesses will be able to completely eliminate any health insurance for their employees, with no fine at all, but religious organizations that refuse to cooperate with moral evil will be subject to crippling fines of $100 per day per employee.  The government won’t even grant temporary respite while legal challenges are working their way through the courts.  They can’t even bring themselves to give a break to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who spend their entire lives caring for needy elderly people.

Why is this?  It’s not that hard to understand.  The current Administration is entirely beholden to an ideology of sexual liberationism that considers contraception, sterilization and abortion to be “sacred ground”.  They consider this ideology to be so central to life that they will brook no opposition, and will do whatever it takes to bring to heel anyone who opposes them.

That is an ideological obsession.  It is dangerous to the souls of those who suffer from it, and it is dangerous to any society in which they wield power.

The Decision We Must Make

December 23rd, 2013

As part of my Advent preparations this year, I chose to re-read Pope Benedict’s magnificent book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.  This beautiful reflection on the Gospel stories of Our Lord’s birth is a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas.

On passage struck me this year, particularly in light of everything that the Church has been going through, and where I am in my own faith journey.  The Pope wrote about Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, where there was no room for them in the inn, so the Lord of Lords would have to be born in the most humble accommodations imaginable.  Our Holy Father said:

This should cause us to reflect — it points toward the reversal of values found in the figure of Jesus Christ and his message.  From the moment of his birth, be belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. yet it is the unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends.  So one aspect of becoming a Christian is having to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of the truth of our being, and aided by that light to find the right path.

As the commemoration of the Lord’s birth approaches, this is a powerful reminder of the fundamental choice that we all must make — for the ways of the world, or for the ways of God.

The choice is becoming more and more difficult.  Around the world, Christians are being persecuted violently, for the mere fact that they believe in Jesus and wish to worship Him openly.  Here in America, we are governed by an Administration that seeks to arrogate to itself the power to define true religion, and seeks to marginalize those who believe otherwise.  Social stigma is increasingly being placed on Christians, in an effort to pressure us to conform to contemporary hedonism, consumerism and utilitarianism.  Those who dare to speak out publicly for the immemorial beliefs of our faith are blacklisted, excluded, or punished.  We are grieved because in our own lives, so many of our siblings, friends, and children are making wrong choices.

Yet the right decision is always there for us to make.  Our Lord continually beckons from his humble manger, calling us to leave the “important” things of the world behind, to choose the right path, and to walk by his light.  The challenge is to emulate Mary and Joseph, who lowered themselves to enter the stable, trusting that the will of God would prevail against the ways of the world.  To follow the shepherds, who believed the angel and went down to see their Savior on his unlikely throne.  To walk with the Wise Men, across boundaries and through the courts of the powerful, seeking the mystery of a God who emptied himself to take on human estate.

The King of Glory approaches, in the most unexpected way.  What decision will I make?