The Dangerous Falsehood of Transgenderism

April 5th, 2016

Recent news has once again brought to the forefront the issue of “transgenderism”.  This phenomenon is based on something called “gender theory”, and it is a critical issue that far transcends arguments about who can use which bathroom. Society is being pressured to accept something about the very nature of the human person that is fundamentally false and dangerous.

The whole idea of “gender theory” is, in my opinion, so nonsensical that it is hard to believe that anyone actually accepts it. The argument is that “gender” is not determined by one’s biological sex, but is a separate matter that is defined according to the subjective desires of an individual. To these advocates, one’s biological sex is an arbitrary classification that is “assigned” at birth, and has no intrinsic connection with one’s actual sexual identity.

This 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.  It treats the body as a mere physical shell that can be used or manipulated as one wishes. People become just raw material, to be fashioned and changed — and mutilated, as happens with “gender reassignment surgery”.

This ideology is contrary to reason and science, much less faith.  Science has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that sexual difference is a significant part of human biochemistry, physical structure (not just our reproductive system, our brains too), behavior, and psychology.  It is also at the heart of an authentic Christian anthropology, which recognizes the inherent complementarity of the sexes, and their dignity as man and woman, made in the image and likeness of God.

Pope Francis directly confronted the danger of gender theory in his encyclical on respect for reation, Laudato Si.  In his typical pithy way, he said:

Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”.

Several years ago, in his annual address to the Curia, Pope Benedict went even deeper and confronted the philosophical flaws in gender theory, and its larger significance (my emphasis is added in bold):

[T]he question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human…

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed…. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. 

The debate over “gender” is, at its heart, not just about bathroom access and kindness to those who have difficulty accepting their sexual identity.  It is about the nature of the human person and our relationship with the created world and ourselves.  The stakes are very high. We are fifty years into a massive social experiment that has revolutionized the understanding of sexuality based on a distorted view of human nature.  We are living with all its disastrous consequences. Gender theory takes us a bridge too far, to a place where human life loses its meaning.  And those of us who dissent are already facing legal pressures to conform.

A healthy society cannot continue to substitute falsehoods for truth, and expect people to thrive.. We must stand firm on the truth about man, woman and human nature.

Notre Dame’s Tragedy

March 16th, 2016

Notre Dame University has long held itself out as an exemplar of Catholic higher education. And in fact, they have had a great many admirable Catholic scholars, and wonderful Catholic alumni.  But they have clearly lost sight of what Catholic education is meant to be.

The University has decided to grant their Laeatare Medal (the name means “rejoice”) to Joseph Biden, the Vice President of the United States.  According to their website, this award “is presented annually to an American Catholic in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society”.

There is nothing to “rejoice” about in Joe Biden’s public record.  I dare anyone to identify anything that Joe Biden has done in service of the Church that can in any way be described as “outstanding”.  Indeed, in their press release, the university didn’t even bother to try to describe any such service.  I also dare anyone to make sense of Notre Dame’s incoherent argument that by honoring the man, they are not endorsing his policy positions.  After all, what “service to society” has he given, except by his public acts?

The fact of the matter is that Mr. Biden has a long track record of public policy positions that are in direct contradiction to the Catholic faith, and that flout the specific and grave duties of a Catholic public servant.  Specifically, he has long been a supporter of abortion.  When in the Senate, his voting record can only be described as “mixed”, with some pro-life votes (including votes in favor of the partial birth abortion ban), but an increasing number of pro-abortion votes in recent years. He was a very prominent front man for the Administration’s endorsement of the redefinition of marriage.  And he has done nothing publicly to defend the Church’s religious liberty by mitigating his Administration’s iniquitous contraception/abortion health insurance mandate, and, in fact, publicly defended it with an outright falsehood during the 2012 campaign.

But don’t just take my word about his attitude about abortion rights, listen to what he wrote:

I remember vividly the first time, in 1973, I had to go to the floor to vote on abortion. A fellow Senator asked how I would vote. “My position is that I am personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t think I have a right to impose my few on the rest of society. I’ve thought a lot about it, and my position probably doesn’t please anyone. I think the government should stay out completely. I will not vote to overturn the Court’s decision. I will not vote to curtail a woman’s right to choose abortion. But I will also not vote to use federal funds to fund abortion.“  I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years. I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding, and I’d like to make it easier for scared young mothers to choose not to have an abortion, but I will also vote against a constitutional amendment that strips a woman of her right to make her own choice.

Now, contrast that with the authentic teaching of the Church about the duties of a public servant:

Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good. (US Bishops, Catholics in Political Life)

Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection…. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it.”  (St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 73)

Presumably, these official Church documents are available somewhere in the Notre Dame library.

This tragic decision represents yet another example of the complete failure — and in some cases, contumacious refusal — of many institutions of Catholic education to understand their role and nature.  In his Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, St. John Paul made clear that the necessity of acting in accordance with Catholic identity is one of the core obligations of a self-described Catholic university:

Catholic teaching and discipline are to influence all university activities, while the freedom of conscience of each person is to be fully respected.  Any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.  (General Norms, Article 2, §4, emphasis added)

Ex Corde Ecclesiae also emphasizes that “the institutional fidelity of the University to the Christian message includes a recognition of and adherence to the teaching authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals.” (27)

Notre Dame’s decision to honor the Vice President is just another confirmation of a sad state of American universities that once were Catholic, but are now something lesser.  Notre Dame, of course, is named after Our Blessed Mother.  I cannot imagine her rejoicing at this decision made in her name.

The Hierarchy of Values in Voting

February 29th, 2016

In several of my recent blog posts, I discussed some of the standards that our Bishops have recommended for helping Catholics make their voting decisions.  I noted that it is all too common for us to be faced with difficult choices involving candidates whose positions are not all in line with the teachings of the Church, particularly about the core issues of life, marriage and family, and religious liberty.

I’ve been discussing this problem a lot with my colleague, Alexis Carra.  She has a very valuable point of view, so I asked her to summarize it, and offer me a chance to respond:

“Like you mention in your post, it’s becoming more common to be presented with candidates who are in line with the Church when it comes to economic and social justice issues, but supportive of abortion. This poses a particular challenge for Catholic voters — Does a candidate’s favorable stance on economic and social issues outweigh his unfavorable stance on abortion? Or does a candidate’s favorable stance on abortion outweigh all of his other unfavorable stances? The guidance from the Catholic bishops seems to suggest that abortion outweighs all other issues. In other words, one could only vote for a candidate who supports abortion for a proportionately serious reason. Considering that abortion is a very grave evil, this means that one could only vote for a candidate who supports abortion if one has a very grave reason.

“For some Catholics, this is a little off-putting. Why should a candidate’s favorable stance on abortion outweigh all of his other unfavorable stances? Why should abortion matter the most? Aren’t there other issues that are just as important? Or wouldn’t a combination of other favorable stances balance an unfavorable stance on abortion? Unfortunately, however, I find that these legitimate concerns have not been well-addressed, especially since they are difficult to address. Often times, I’m asked to discuss this issue, so I have included a portion of my response below. But really, I want to know your response.

“In short, I think these concerns can be best addressed by looking at the nature of the human person and reflecting on what enables a person to flourish. First and foremost, the person needs to be offered a chance at life — not killed in womb. If the person is not alive, then none of this really matters. Next, the person needs to be taken care of within a stable structure — everyone knows what happens to abandoned babies who are not taken in. Then, in order for the person to truly develop, the person needs to live within a society free from oppression, in which education, health-care, employment opportunities, etc. are also available.

“When asked to be as simple and pragmatic as possible, I think a reflection on the nature of the human person and on human development allows us to derive rough categories of importance. First, issues related to life. Second, issues related to stability, family structure, and sexuality. Third, issues related to greater flourishing. The reason why abortion typically outweighs all other issues is that is abortion cuts at the heart of life — it goes against the most basic category. If people are not even offered a chance to live, the most fundamental aspect of existence, then there can be no further debate on any other topic.

“What do you think?”

I think she’s on to something very important.  With all the fuss and furor that take place around elections, it’s hard to keep track of which issues are more important, and why — we tend to hear only about issues that the candidates have chosen to emphasize, in order to advance their electoral strategies.  Fortunately, our Catholic faith helps us to maintain a clearer view of the hierarchy of values.  There can be no real question that the right to life is the fundamental, original predicate for all other rights, needs, and desires — without life, none of those things can even be coherently discussed.  Likewise, the absolute equality of value of all human lives is also a foundation for any healthy society.  An attack on these foundational rights must be considered the most serious of social evils, and it is the highest social duty to defend them against such attacks.  So we as voters have the duty to make the protection of life our highest priority.

From that basis, I think that we can then discern the rest of the hierarchy of values. For any human being, life alone is insufficient for genuine flourishing and development.  Basic physical needs must also be attended to —  health, safety, shelter, nourishment, etc.  Human beings also cannot exist in isolation, so the health of relationships must also be taken care of.  The primary relationship is the family, which means that the promotion and protection of marriage must be a high priority, since that is the best environment for the health and development of both adults and children. As a person extends their relationships beyond the family, and particularly as they begin to develop as an independent person, other needs must also be addressed — education, employment, opportunities for cultural and leisure activities, etc.

As we move further down the hierarchy, the overall health of society is also a concern, since each person is part of the organic whole of the political community in which they live.  So this involves issues like the election of people of good moral character, the proper and prudent functioning of government, accountability of public officials, economic development, immigration, etc..  Since no nation exists in a vacuum, and we must consider the welfare of our fellow human beings around the world, we then look to issues of international relations, peace, etc.

As a voter, then, each of these matters has weight, but I have to consider them within this hierarchy of importance when making my decisions.

But there’s another important part of the hierarchy of values.  Alexis is absolutley right that we have to consider the nature of the human person, which means that we also have to consider the person’s spiritual needs as well.  Society has an obligation to create conditions where humans can develop spiritually, and to remove any unreasonable obstacles to that development. This is why the freedoms of religion, expression, and association are so important.  Society also has a duty to remove and remedy conditions that harm people’s spiritual health — the structures of sin that do so much damage, but encouraging and facilitating sinful behavior, like corruption in politics, the drug trade, the sex industry, etc.  As for the very great importance of spiritual health, we have it on good authority — “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28).  The spiritual health of each individual, and society as a whole, should thus be placed alongside the right to life itself as a foundational value, and must be treated accordingly as voters.

This is, of course, not an easy way to make voting decisions.  It is much easier to vote for the loudest candidate who speaks colorfully with great theatrical skill.  But as Catholics, we have to do better.  We need to educate ourselves about the teachings of the Church, we have to pay close attention to the hierarchy of values, and we have to pray for guidance.

The stakes are high when we make voting decisions.  God clearly takes an interest in the health of societies, and has never been shy about passing judgment on them.

Real Presidential Leadership

February 21st, 2016

As the Presidential primary season unfolds, we keep on hearing various
candidates talk about “leadership”.  The question is, what does that mean?
February 22 is an auspicious occasion to reflect on the meaning of true leadership in our American republic — Washington’s Birthday.

George Washington is a hero of mine.  I believe he was the greatest American
who has ever lived, and one of the greatest men who has ever lived.  He was the
dominant figure at the most important time in our history, when our nation was
being formed, and his impact on our history is incalculable.  He was indeed, as
the title of one of his biographies calls him, the “indispensible man”.

In our modern time, we tend to emphasize in our “leaders” the importance of
government experience or business acumen (when we’re not looking for
iconoclastic bluster).  While Washington possessed many managerial gifts, his
excellence as a leader were based on something far more important — they
stemmed directly from the quality of his character.  There are several attributes
of his character that are worth highlighting, because I believe that they would be
the perfect template for the virtues we need in our modern-day leaders.

Humility — Despite being the most admired and accomplished public figure of
his time, Washington never reveled in his status or stooped to bragging or self-
aggrandizement.  Instead, at every point in his career, as he was being asked to
assume greater and greater responsibilities, he took care to speak of his sense of
unworthiness and his fear of disappointing those who were entrusting him with
new duties.  One can see this in his statement on accepting his commission as
leader of the Continental Army, his resignation of that commission after
successfully prosecuting the war, his First Inaugural Address, and so on.  It is a
consistent theme of his public life — his humility in accepting the duties that his
nation demanded of him, even while he willingly accepted the task.

Self-Sacrifice — Washington always put his nation ahead of his own interests.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, he nurtured a strong desire to return to his
beloved home.  He repeatedly quoted the Bible to describe this desire:  ” they
shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make
them afraid” (Micah 4:4).  Yet, amazingly, his devotion to duty was such that he
visited his estate only once in the eight years of the war, and only near the end,
when the campaign came to Virginia.  He tried to retire from public life after the
war, only to be called back to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional
Convention, and again to serve as President.  Love for his nation, and a keen
sense of duty, were always his motivating force, never egotism or ambition.

Tolerance — In an age of religious intolerance, Washington was noteworthy for
his liberality.  During the war he forbade his soldiers from holding “Guy Fawkes”
events, out of fear that they would offend his Catholic allies, the French.  As
President, he wrote one of the most important statements of religious liberty in
our history, his justly famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport,
Rhode Island.  He spoke of how the government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to
persecution no assistance”, and promised protection to those of all faiths who
live as good citizens.  It is inconceivable that Washington would show any
degree of animosity or hostility to members of any faith who sought, like him, to
be good Americans.

Respect for Rule of Law — Washington always respected his role as a servant of
the people, within the proper role assigned to him by the law.  Throughout the
Revolution, he defered to an incompetent Congress, not out of respect for their
abilities, but out of reverence for the rule of law in a republic.  His character
alone was enought to allay the fears of many Americans, who were concerned
that the office of President under the new Constitution could become a crypto-
king.  His devotion to the law can be best seen in his response to the incipient mutiny of his officers at the end of the war.  Congress had refused to pay the officers, and there was a movement afoot to petition Washington to lead the army to Philadelphia to compel Congress to act.  He reacted to this by immediately squelching the rebellion, saying that the conspiracy “has something so shocking in it that humanity revolts at the idea”, and calling upon the officers  to look with the “utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretenses, to overturn the liberties of our country”.  By force of his force of character alone, Washington ended the threat to turn America into a military dictatorship, and thereby preserved our freedom.

Piety — While there has been much debate about Washington’s religion, there is
no question that he was a sincere and devout believer in God, and that he relied
on divine providence in all his work.  At every significant moment of his public
career, he invoked the assistance of God.  For example, in his First Inaugural
Address, he spoke eloquently of his prayer for divine protection of America,
speaking of “my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the
Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids
can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the
liberties and happiness of the People of the United States”.  His faith was not a
mere political posture, but a deeply held conviction that God’s benevolent hand
was responsible for the welfare of the American nation.

Nobility — The greatest demonstration of Washington’s nobility of character was
not in the way he exercised power, but how he surrendered it.  Indeed, in some
ways the most important day of American history was December 23, 1783, when
Washington resigned his commission to Congress at the end of the war.  Rather
than seizing power, as many victorious military leaders had done in the past,
Washington willingly and respectfully turned over the authority that had been
given to him.  When hearing that Washington might surrender his office, the
baffled King George said that “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the
world!”  But so he did, and so he was, and his last words to Congress are worth quoting:

“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.  Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

It may seem impossible that anyone in our debased modern age could measure
up to Washington’s patriotic virtues.  But there is a reason that the President can
look out and see the Washington Monument from the Oval Office, and that Congress can likewise see it down the Mall. It is upon the virtue of our leaders that the health of our nation depends.  A republic cannot survive if it elects leaders who lack virtue.

Washington’s virtues are the same that we should expect — no, require — from
every one of our Presidents.  We cannot afford to demand anything less.

The Danger is Real

February 11th, 2016

One of the common arguments offered by assisted suicide advocates is that the track record of the practice in Oregon shows that there have been no problems.  Just last week, I sat in the courtroom of the Appellate Division and heard the suicide group’s lawyer say that repeatedly and with passion.

The problem for them is, it just isn’t true.  In fact, the most recent report from Oregon bears out all the warnings we’ve been offering about what would happen if it were legalized here in New York:

  • It threatens disabled people — the three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns are not unbearable pain, but instead were decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (96.2%), loss of autonomy (92.4%), and loss of dignity (75.4%).  Legalization of assisted suicide amounts to saying that a life with a disability is not worth living.
  • It ignores mental health problems — Only 3.8% of those who ask for suicide are referred for psychiatric evaluation, even though it’s well-established that those who ask for suicide are frequently suffering from treatable depression.  A recent study of euthanasia in Holland underscores this problem — people with mental illness are not getting psychiatric treatment for their problems and are choosing to kill themselves instead.
  • It harms the elderly — Virtually all those who committed suicide were over 55, and the great majority over 65.  Are we really willing to send the message that suicide is a good thing for elderly people?
  • It threatens vulnerable and isolated people — 62.5% were insured by some kind of government insurance (e.g. Medicaid or Medicare), 26% were widowed, and 27.5% divorced; the median length of their relationship with the doctor who gave them the deadly drugs was only 9 weeks — and at least one person had only known their doctor for one week.
  • There is no supervision to prevent abuse — 79.2% died with no health provider present, and in more than 89% of the cases the prescribing doctor was not present (although he makes the report and signs the death certificate).  So how can we tell if the person was mentally competent, and free of coercion?
  • It’s a danger to others — 86 people got the deadly drugs but didn’t take them, raising the question — what happened to the other drugs?
  • The numbers continue to rise — Every year there’s an increase in people receiving deadly drugs and in those taking them.  It should also be noted that other studies have shown that the overall suicide rate increases in states where assisted suicide is legal.

No matter how the advocates try to twist the language (using the Orwellian term “aid in dying”, as opposed to “assisted suicide”) or spin the numbers, we all know where this is going.  In the European countries that have legalized suicide, it has led to widespread euthanasia, including involuntary killing of patients who never asked for suicide, the killing of children, and the establishment of stand-alone suicide clinics.  Advocates here have already said that they intend to extend the reach of assisted suicide beyond the terminally ill.

The facts are clear — the danger is real.

The Burden of Proof

February 9th, 2016

I’ve written before about the challenges faced by Catholics in the election season, which is now upon us with the onset of presidential primaries.  I am often asked about how to make decisions between candidates, especially when none are in full agreement with the Church about essential issues.  The hypothetical case is typically presented of the candidate who is “pro-choice” on abortion, but has stands on economic issues that are closer to those promoted by the Church.  I know I’m old-fashioned in many ways, but in my mind the clearest thinking on this issue comes from our Bishops.

In 2004, the Bishops approved a brief statement called “Catholics In Political Life”. They said the following about abortion:

It is the teaching of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, founded on her understanding of her Lord’s own witness to the sacredness of human life, that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified… To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong. This is the point most recently highlighted in official Catholic teaching. The legal system as such can be said to cooperate in evil when it fails to protect the lives of those who have no protection except the law. In the United States of America, abortion on demand has been made a constitutional right by a decision of the Supreme Court. Failing to protect the lives of innocent and defenseless members of the human race is to sin against justice. Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good. (emphasis added)

During their deliberations, the Bishops had received a private letter from then-Cardinal Ratzinger that was later made public.  In it, he said:

When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

That is standard Church teaching about the question of cooperation with evil.  And so, many people point to this notion of “proportionate reasons” when approaching the voting decision.  But in fact, our Bishops have gone further, and have significantly raised the bar for making a decision whether to vote for a “pro-choice” candidate because of their other positions.  In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops have said:

There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil. (35, emphasis added).

Specifically with respect to abortion, the Bishops responded to errors that are  made in applying Church teaching that can disort our defense of human life.  They said:

The first [temptation] is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. 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. (28, emphasis added)

The Bishops don’t point this out, but in making our voting decision it is vitally important that we don’t consider it in isolation.  Instead, we have to look at the reasonably foreseeable consequences — in other words, what will happen if this flawed candidate is elected?  In the case of the Presidential election, there are substantial foreseeable consequences:  as many as two possible Supreme Court nominations, dozens of Circuit Court and District Court nominations, and appointment power to many key policy-making positions in the Administration where regulations are developed (just think of the HHS Mandate and you’ll know why this matters so much).  Will the candidate’s future actions work to ameliorate the situation, leave it intact, or make it even worse?  One also has to take into account the likelihood of a candidates’ positions becoming reality — they may be nice campaign promises that are in keeping with the positions of the Church, but if they may have no chance of being passed, then what good are they?

So that sets the bar very high indeed.  What could possibly be a sufficiently grave moral reason that would justify voting for a candidate that supports the injustice of abortion, where upwards of a million vulnerable lives are lost every year?  Where the courts are hostile to common-sense measures that would regulate abortion?  Where minors are allowed to get abortions without even notifying their parents?  Where public authorities refuse to enforce health standards in abortion clinics?  Where abortion is held out as being indispensible for women to participate in society?  Where millions of taxpayer dollars go directly to pay abortionists for their dirty work?

Can any position, on any issue, be sufficient to justify voting for a person who will support that?  Personally, I cannot imagine anything satisfying that burden of proof.

The Politics of Principle

February 2nd, 2016

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last seven 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 — this year, perhaps more than ever, as we see a man running for President who is the most unprincipled candidate since Aaron Burr.  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, then 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.

How Will We Be Ruled?

January 29th, 2016

America is once again at the threshold of another presidential election year.  The early campaigning has been done, and the voting will soon begin in primaries across the nation.

The electoral process is more than an question of who will best fill the position of president, but it is a moral testing ground.  What kind of person will we choose to head our government?  What kind of standards will he govern by?  What are the moral implications of his decisions?

For Catholics, this is a time for us to challenge our consciences.  Are we making political decisions based on our faith, or on other criteria?  Are we voting like Christians, or like members of a political party or ideology?

The bishops of the United States have published a document every four years, in preparation for the presidential elections, entitled Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.  It lays out the Church’s perspective on the policy issues that are facing our nation, and calls Catholics to use it as a guide to their moral decision-making.

But the real challenge to us involves more than just a decision about who will temporarily hold an office.  It is a much deeper question — will we live according to God’s standards, or man’s?  This is a test of faith, and it is one that our nation seems to be failing.  The evidence is all around us — idolatrous consumerism and materialism, widespread sexual immorality, ethical relativism, the collapse of social support for authentic marriage, denial of the true nature of the human person as male and female, and the increasing reach of the Culture of Death.

Every year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.  This feast encourages us to contemplate the Kingdom of God.  All too often we only view God’s Kingdom as an abstract idea, perhaps something for the distant future, or a goal to be aspired to.  But it actually has tremendous significance for the way we live right now, and for our political decisions.  A few years ago, in a homily for the feast, Pope Benedict pointed out that “The kingdom of God is a kingdom utterly different from earthly kingdoms”, because it is founded on justice, love, peace, and service, and not on power or force.  He also reminded us that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God “is a pressing invitation addressed to each and all: to be converted ever anew to the kingdom of God, to the lordship of God, of Truth, in our lives.”

Are those the standards we apply in making political decisions?

We are not unique in having to decide how God’s standards can be instituted in our earthly realm.  This has been a struggle faced by God’s people throughout history.  And, all too often, we have chosen badly.  I am reminded of a passage from the First Book of Samuel, in which the prophet issues a stern warning to the Israelites, who have clamored to be ruled by an earthly king, instead of the prophets and judges appointed by God.

Samuel said to the people, “Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain.  For the LORD will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.  Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.  (1 Samuel 12:20-25)

How are we responding to the Lord’s invitation — and Samuel’s admonition — as we consider our upcoming political decisions?  Are we choosing to be ruled by God’s standards, or by man’s?

It’s About More Than Abortion

January 22nd, 2016

Today marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s tragic 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which struck down the abortion laws in all 50 states, and legalized abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason, or for no reason.  The cost is almost unimaginable — almost 60 million unborn lives have been lost, at least as many women and men have been scarred by the experience, and our culture has slid, seemingly inexorably, into a Culture of Death that degrades the value of human life.

We remember this tragedy today in many ways, including the March for Life and by observing a special Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children at Mass. It is also a time to reflect on the effect that Roe and its progeny have had on the rule of law, and the damage that has been done to our Constitution, our courts, and our democracy.

Even when it was handed down, Roe was immediately recognized as a lawless abuse of power, the imposition of a policy preference by a few unelected judges, against the democratically-expressed will of the American people.  Justice Byron White, in his dissent from Roe‘s companion case, Doe v. Bolton, pointedly described the Court’s action as “an exercise of raw judicial power… an improvident and extravagant exercise of the power of judicial review that the Constitution extends to this Court.”

Since 1973, things have gotten even worse.  There has been a furious drive by advocates (including those on the bench) to preserve abortion rights against all attempts to limit them.  Nothing is acceptable to the pro-abortion movement, and they systematically and regularly distort the law and politics to get their way.  Abortion has tainted everything it touches, corrupting the professions (especially law and medicine).  It has caused radical limitations of free speech rights (see the Court’s decision in Hill v. Colorado), and it’s stain has spread to other areas of the law as well.

This can be seen most clearly in the legacy of the Court’s muddled and misguided decision inPlanned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.  The plurality decision in that case thrashed about wildly to find a legal ground to further entrench abortion as a Constitutional right, finally settling on  what is perhaps the most absurd, and justly derided, passage in any Court decision:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

The opinion also added these astonishingly arrogant remarks:

Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.

This gaseous irrational nonsense has had a toxic effect on the law.  It empowers judges to make up rights as they go along, untethered to any identifiably meaning in the actual Constitution, as it has been understood throughout our nation’s history.  It eliminates the need for legal reasoning, and substitutes the policy whims of judges.  It hands ultimate power into the hands of judges, who were never imagined by the Founders of our nation to have such a role in government.  It eliminates self-rule, and substitutes a judicial oligarchy.

It led most recently to the Court’s lawless decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which our Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Court redefined marriage at the stroke of a pen to mean something that it never has meant, and never could mean.  Who knows where it will lead next — “gender rights”, assisted suicide, polygamy?  Nobody knows, because reason no longer rules in our courts.

All this calls to mind one of the other horrendous decisions made by the Supreme Court, when it arrogated to itself the final authority to make policy under the guise of law — Dred Scott v. Sandford, the only decision prior to Roe that decided that a class of human beings was outside of the protections of the law and could be disposed at will.  In his dissent from that decision, Justice Benjamin Curtis made the following prescient statement:

[W]hen a strict interpretation of the Constitution, according to the fixed rules which govern the interpretation of laws, is abandoned, and the theoretical opinions of individuals are allowed to control its meaning, we have no longer a Constitution; we are under the government of individual men, who for the time being have power to declare what the Constitution is, according to their own views of what it ought to mean.

That, too, is the legacy of Roe v. Wade.  So as we mourn today the pernicious effects of Roe on human lives, let’s also keep in mind its devastating impact on the rule of law and reason, as witnessed in our out-of-control courts.

Living the Year of Mercy

January 12th, 2016

The phone calls come at very inconvenient times.  This last Sunday, it came just before 10 am, when I was having breakfast.  It was the Red Cross.  There was a fire in Mount Vernon, people had been put out of their homes, and they needed somebody to go and help them out.  That person happened to be me.

Since 2001, right after 9/11, my wife Peggy has been a Red Cross volunteer in Westchester County. She worked with others responding to the scenes of fires. Her task was to find the fire victims shelter for the night, usually in a local motel. She also helped them get replacements for their clothes, some food for the next couple of days. But the main task was to give them some hope, a friendly person to talk to and sympathize with, and sometimes a loving shoulder to cry on. After a few years of watching her get out of bed in the middle of the night to go to a fire, I decided that I wanted to do it with her. So I joined the Red Cross too, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

This Sunday, when I got to the fire scene in Mount Vernon, it was bad — a restaurant had caught fire, and it spread to two nearby homes.  The streets were filled with smoke.  The firefighters were, as usual, doing their heroic best, but the homes were clearly destroyed.  There were eight people out in the street, with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  Several of them had significant health problems already, and one had to be taken to the hospital.  Several other Red Cross volunteers were on the job, so we spent the next few hours talking to the victims, answering their questions, and  arranging for them to have a safe place to stay, some clothes to wear, and some money for food.  It’s not much, but the people are so grateful for these small acts of mercy that we are privileged to do for them.

This is not easy work. Nobody likes getting up at 4 a.m. to drive across Yonkers in a blizzard to a fire scene, and interview a family in a smoky, wet, dark hallway. It is emotionally exhausting to deal with distraught or upset people, especially when somebody has been hurt or even killed in the fire.  But it is a tremendous blessing.

In his Papal Bull announcing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis called us to “look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society”.  He went on to say that “During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care.”  And he encouraged us to contemplate the corporal works of mercy (to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead) and the spiritual works of mercy (to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead), and making them a part of our lives.

Pope Francis reminds us of the lesson of Matthew 25 — in the end, we will be judged by the Lord based on how we’ve helped people in need, because “In each of these “little ones,” Christ himself is present”.

So it’s a good idea to take this lesson to heart.  There are so many ways to live the Year of Mercy — volunteering for the Red Cross, cooking for a soup kitchen, praying outside of an abortion clinic, visiting moms who are in prison, calling an elderly homebound woman who has no family, or a million other things.  But what a wonderful opportunity we’ve been given — a chance to bring God’s mercy into the lives of those around us, so they can experience how much God loves them and cares for them, especially when they are most in need.