Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Teaching’

Can We Talk About War?

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betraying the Dream

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

The President has announced that his Administration will end the program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This was put into effect in 2012 by President Obama. The recipients of DACA are frequently called “dreamers” after the Dream Act, a bill that would have established the program by statute, but which has failed to pass Congress.

There is a great deal of controversy about the way President Obama created the program. Naturalization of citizens is under the exclusive authority of Congress according to the Constitution, so many allege that unilaterally creating DACA by executive order was an unauthorized exercise of Executive power. Others respond that the President has inherent authority under the Constitution to use his discretion in how to enforce the law. Regardless of the merits of these arguments, President Trump has rendered them moot, and it is now up to Congress to act or the dreamers will be betrayed.

The DACA program is widely misunderstood — it’s not an “amnesty” by any means, it doesn’t create “open borders”, it doesn’t deny that the US has a right to enforce our immigration laws, and it doesn’t mean that people should be rewarded for breaking the law.

The requirements for DACA are quite strict. They have to have arrived in the US before 2007 when they were under 16 years old and they can’t be older than 30 as of 2012. They have to have lived continuously in the US since 2007. They can’t have any criminal convictions or pose a threat to national security. They have to have graduated from a US high school or be enrolled in school now, or served in the armed forces. If they qualify, they receive a “deferred action” form that prevents their deportation for two years, and they also receive employment authorization documents that allow employers to hire them legally during that time. It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people would be eligible for DACA, but about 800,000 people actually have it, including about 42,000 New Yorkers.

Under the President’s decision, there will be no change in DACA for six months, but after that the deferred action permits will expire at the end of their term. This six-month delay will allow approximately one-quarter of all DACA recipients to renew their permits for another two years. The rest will have their permits expire, all will expire by early 2020, unless Congress acts.

I wonder if would be possible for a moment to talk about this issue as if it actually involved real, live human beings, and not just numbers on a spreadsheet or slogans on talk radio.

The average age of DACA recipients when they arrived in the US was 6.5 years old. Many arrived as infants. That means that a great number of DACA recipients don’t even remember what their homeland was like and they haven’t been able even to visit there. Many of them didn’t even know their illegal status until they were teenagers and found out that they couldn’t get a driver’s license, financial aid, or have a Social Security number so they could work on the books.

This is the only home they’ve known. All their friends and memories are here in the US. They’ve gone to school and worked with us and our children. They sit in the same church pews that we do. A quarter of them have children who are American citizens. Many have now been able to work on the books, and their income has risen as much as 80% — and they’re now paying taxes. Some have started their own business and bought a home. Hundreds have served honorably in our armed forces. They’ve put down roots among us. They are our neighbors.

Deporting DACA recipients makes no sense — in fact, it would be cruel. It would subject them to terrible poverty and oppression in nations they are unfamiliar with and may not even speak the language. It would take parents away from their young children, leaving them without a stable home life. Imagine being deported to Pakistan or Venezuela — you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But our government will be doing it to people who have served in our military. Wrap your brain around that one if you can.

DACA recipients aren’t criminals, and don’t deserve to be treated so inhumanely. These are people who want to be Americans and share the prosperity and freedom that we hold up as ideals and take for granted — and which they’ve experienced for most of their lives. To pull the rug out from under them would be, in the words of the President of the US Bishops, nothing short of reprehensible. Our nation is better than that

Liberated by the Truth

Friday, September 1st, 2017

I recently was asked to give a class on gender ideology. I’ve written about this many times before, but I was once again struck by how nonsensical gender theory is. It is a soup of very strange ideas — my biological sex is irrelevant to my self-determined “gender identity”, the “male/female binary” is oppressive and must be eliminated, there are an infinite number of possible genders, and everyone’s choice of gender identity must be accepted and affirmed by the government and other people.

Gender ideology is a symptom of a significant modern intellectual disorder — a rejection of objective truth. This is so severe that it affects not just theories of sexuality, but it infects our political dialogue and is a serious problem within the Church. The need to hold firm to the truth is more important now than ever. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, wrote in the 17th Century something that so clearly applies to our own age:

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Two recent news items exemplify what happens if we aren’t fully dedicated to seeking the truth.

This week, a group of Evangelicals issued a document called “The Nashville Statement”. It is a re-statement of very basic Biblical values about marriage, sexuality, homosexuality, and gender theory. It re-affirms that God’s basic plan for humanity is that we are male and female, that sexuality is designed to be expresses solely within a marriage between a man and a woman, and that homosexuality and transgenderism are not consistent with God’s plan. The Statement was nothing earth-shattering, in that it was really just a brief summary of Christian Morality 101 as the Church has always believed, just applied to the hot issues of the day. All orthodox Christians — Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — should have little difficulty assenting to it.

Of course, nothing in Christian Morality 101 is uncontroversial in this age. Many liberal Protestants and some Catholics denounced the statement as judgmental and un-Christlike, and claimed that its tone is antithetical to the need for dialogue and inclusiveness. One even called it “evil”. A satirical religious website aptly skewered the flap with a story entitled “Progressives Appalled As Christians Affirm Doctrine Held Unanimously For 2,000 Years”. This is what happens when the truths that have been handed down to us become optional.

The second news item was a wonderful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Cardinal Robert Sarah. It was titled “How Catholics Can Welcome LGBT Believers” (the article is unfortunately behind a paywall, but you can read a decent account of it here and here). If a piece with that title had appeared in the New York Times, written by any of the usual suspects, it would have said all of the tediously usual things — dialogue, acceptance, affirmation, a rejection of allegedly “hurtful” statements in the Catechism, bridge-building, etc., etc. The notions of sin, immorality, repentance, and conversion would have been conspicuously absent.

But Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed offered a refreshingly different approach. His theme was that God loves all of us and wants us to be happy. The most loving thing that we can do for our “LGBT” brethren is to present them with the full and unalloyed teaching of the Church and to encourage them to live lives of chastity. He also stated plainly what the Church has known forever, namely that sin is bad for us but living according to God’s will brings us fulfilment and joy.

In other words, the truth is the best medicine for what ails all of us, including homosexuals and transgenders. Our disordered desires lead us to the slavery of sin rather than the liberation that comes from a life in Christ. And the desire to act against God’s will is not, and cannot be, a gift — it is a curse.

This is the reason that we are so insistent on defending our religious liberty and freedom of speech against all threats. We are seeing bills that would impose criminal penalties on those who fail to use a transgender person’s favored pronouns, school policies that restrict students’ ability to speak about their faith, and laws that seek to punish businesses that don’t want to participate in same-sex “marriages”. We have to resist such measures, so that we can share the truths that will allow people to live according to God’s will and to be set free to a life of joy.

Both the Nashville Statement and Cardinal Sarah make a crucial point. Living a life of chastity is undoubtedly difficult, especially since we will have to act against some deeply-ingrained inclinations and desires. But the grace of God is sufficient for us in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). It offers us forgiveness and healing and will enable us to live in accord with His holy will.

God’s grace helps us to love and know the truth.  Which, we have on good authority, is what will set us free.

Following the Higher Law on Refugees

Monday, January 30th, 2017

The news has been filled over the past few days with the new President’s Executive Order on immigration and refugees. The refugee part of the order bears very close examination, and, I believe, unequivocal condemnation. The order temporarily suspends the admission of any refugees into the United States, slices in half the number of refugees that will eventually be admitted, and places an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.

The plight of refugees, especially from the war-torn areas of Syria and Iraq, is well known. It is a catastrophic tragedy, and has caused the worst humanitarian crisis involving refugees and displaced persons since World War II. Over 6 million Syrians have been displaced because of the civil war, and over 4 million of them have fled their country. Over 3 million Iraqis have been displaced, with over 200,000 fleeing the country. Religous minorities have faced brutal persecution to the point of genocide — primarily Christians, but also Yazidis, and Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Many of them are sheltered in refugee camps where the living conditions are awful, and in which some of the persecution has continued.

There’s no doubt that the President has the legal authority to impose regulations and limits on refugee admissions. That’s a settled matter under both American and international law. It’s also clear that the primary obligation of civil authorities is to protect the people in their community.

There certainly can be a healthy debate about the extent of the threat posed to the United States by refugees. Studies of terrorist strikes against our country shows that very few were carried out by refugees, and that the great majority were by citizens or permanent residents. There can certainly be concerns about the potential for future radicalization of refugees. But that is all speculative and conjectural and in some ways beside the point — we have no idea what will happen to these people in the future, but we do know exactly how they are suffering now.

But apart from the prudential issues under secular law and public policy, there is a higher law that we must consider — God’s law. In his Message for the 2017 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Holy Father said this:

we need to become aware that the phenomenon of migration is not unrelated to salvation history, but rather a part of that history. One of God’s commandments is connected to it: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21); “Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:19). This phenomenon constitutes a sign of the times, a sign which speaks of the providential work of God in history and in the human community, with a view to universal communion. While appreciating the issues, and often the suffering and tragedy of migration, as too the difficulties connected with the demands of offering a dignified welcome to these persons, the Church nevertheless encourages us to recognize God’s plan. She invites us to do this precisely amidst this phenomenon, with the certainty that no one is a stranger in the Christian community, which embraces “every nation, tribe, people and tongue” (Rev 7:9). Each person is precious; persons are more important than things, and the worth of an institution is measured by the way it treats the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.

Jesus himself was also quite clear that we will be judged based on our conduct towards our least brethren, including “strangers”:

`Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ (Mt 25:41-45)

The President’s order is utterly incompatible with God’s law. It rejects the inherent solidarity that exists between all human persons, and fragments the human family into competing camps. In God’s eyes it is utterly irrelvant that a person happens to have been born within arbitrary national boundaries, most of which were invented out of whole cloth by cynical European imperialists. Arbitrarily suspending all refugee admissions, reducing the number of refugees that we will take, and closing the door indefinitely to refugees from Syria, is to condemn our brothers and sisters who are made in God’s image to continued persecution and suffering.

This all may sound idealistic and naive to modern ears, particularly in a world that lives in fear of terrorism. But I have faith that if we follow God’s higher law, we will actually reduce the threats to our nation. We can show the world that the American Dream is not just material prosperity, but is a welcoming society in which all kinds of people can flourish in freedom and peace. We can prove that we are vigilant but also compassionate, and that we are confident that once people come to our nation they will be converted to our values. True American values are the antidote to radicalization and terror.

I am proud to stand with George Washington, who shared my faith in America. He once said this to an association of Irishmen who had recently emigrated to America, most of whom were Catholics, an oppressed religious minority:

The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.