Posts Tagged ‘Pro-Life’

The Politics of Principle

Monday, 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.

What Shall We Do to Build a Culture of Life?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

(I was invited this weekend to speak at all the Masses at St. Augustine’s Church in Ossining, one of our beautiful parishes, for Respect Life Month.  Here is the text of my talk.)

When St. John the Baptist moved among the people, he preached to them about the approach of the Messiah.  The people kept asking him the same question — “what shall we do?”  And now, all of us who are concerned about respect for life ask that same question.  “What shall we do?”

In 1985, in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed the threats that are so serious and widespread that they have created a virtual “culture of death”. We see this in violent crime, war, terrorism, torture, human trafficking, the drug trade, the arms trade, and abject poverty.  But at this time, abortion and euthanasia must be the focus of our attention here in the United States. They involve unjust attacks on people when they are most vulnerable and defenseless, and they are tolerated and even approved by our society as “rights”.

But it’s important to remember that we don’t just say “no” to things, we say “yes” to becoming a people of life and for life, and to building a new culture of life.

To make this more concrete, I would like to offer a number of practical ideas.

Our first task is speaking the truth about the sacredness of every human life – about how God loves every single human person, and that every human life has dignity from the moment of conception.  This is not just a principle of our faith — we rely on the basic scientific fact, available to everyone who has seen a sonogram or a video of “life in the womb”.  Human life – the life of each one of us, the life of Jesus himself in his human nature – began at conception, and carries on until our natural death, and then on into eternal life.  Every one of us, regardless of our age, disability or diminished “quality of life”, is always and forever a human person and must be treated with reverence.  Our first task is to speak this truth about the gift of human life – always with love.

The second task is prayer.  We must pray constantly, with determination, patience and trust.  We thank God for the gift of life, and we ask Him to protect all vulnerable lives.  We do this as individuals, and we also pray as a community.  For example, praying the Rosary as a group, participating in the National Night of Prayer Vigil every December, or holding a Holy Hour on the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ (the Annunciation), or inviting people to spiritually adopt unborn children and pray for them during their nine months in the womb (kids especially love this).  We also celebrate life when we have special Masses and blessings of engaged couples, expectant parents, or new families, or communal anointing of the elderly and ill.  Life is a great gift!  And we should celebrate that in our prayer.

The third task is to serve those in need, especially the most vulnerable.  For example, we help the elderly by visiting and offering companionship, or we offer expectant mothers alternatives to abortion.  There are many wonderful groups that do that, like Good Counsel Homes and the Sisters of Life.  We can help them by taking up collections (for example, a “baby bottle” campaign to collect small change), or by running baby showers for the new moms, or by volunteering to help with simple tasks, like driving the moms to doctors’ appointments.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been emphasizing our duty as Christians to reach out personally  to the needy and those who seem lost in our society and without hope, and this is a beautiful way to promote and defend human life.

A particularly important way we serve others is through public policy advocacy. Last Spring, the New York State Legislature came very close to passing a bill that would have expanded abortion in our state.  We already have 110,000 abortions a year.  We don’t need any more abortion, we need more life!  But this bill would have allowed even more abortion by allowing non-doctors to do abortions, and removing the few remaining regulations on late-term abortions.  This bill was defeated because citizens raised their voices in opposition, by letter, call, email, participation in public witness and prayer rallies in Albany and locally.  The bill was defeated, but it will come back, and we have to be ready.

I’d like to take a moment to say a special word about how we can serve women and men who have experienced an abortion.  The Gospel of Life is a message of hope and mercy and healing.  Those who have experienced an abortion should never give in to discouragement and despair.  Our loving God is always ready to give forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The Sisters of Life run regular retreats for those who have experienced abortion, and other groups like Lumina provide support for the healing process.  Pope Francis has spoken movingly about the power of God’s mercy, and how we all can invite others to experience that mercy themselves.  There is always hope and healing available.

The most important way we build the culture of life is within our own families, where we welcome and nurture new life, and where we support, comfort, and defend our elderly and disabled loved ones.  Our families should be a school of life!  So, married couples should never stop working on our marriages.  Parents can never stop working on your relationship with your children, teach them how to live virtuous, chaste lives and about the value of every life.  In the end, strong families and marriages are the foundation of the culture of life.

Each and every one of us has a role to play in this mission given to us in the Gospel of Life.  So many people are doing so much already, and God bless you for that and thank you.  But every one of us can do something.  Please speak to members of your local pro-life committee, or check out the website of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese.

At the end of every Mass, we often hear the words, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”.  These words don’t just mean that Mass is over – they also mean that we are being sent on a mission.  We are called — each one of us — to go back out into our regular lives and proclaim the Gospel of Life.

By bearing witness to the dignity of every human person.  By helping parents recognize that even though a pregnancy may be difficult or inconvenient, a child is always a blessing.  By ensuring that every young woman understands that there are alternatives to abortion, and that she will be given the help and support she needs.  By making certain that all of our elderly are protected against abandonment, and are always be loved and cared for.

And ultimately, our mission is to love, defend and serve all our brothers and sisters, from conception until natural death.  By our words and our deeds we can build a new culture of life in our land.  We ask the question, “What shall we do?”  And when, one day, we are asked by Our Lord, “What did you do?”, we will be able to answer, we were a people of life and for life, and Our Lord will be pleased with that answer, He will thank us, He will be proud of us, and He will receive us into eternal life with Him.

The Politics of Principle

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last four years.  It 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.  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.

A Tragic Polarization

Monday, January 28th, 2013

The annual March for Life was held on Friday, in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.  Several hundred thousand people joined in the largest annual civil rights demonstration in America, to witness to the cause of human life and its importance to our society.

After the March, I had the honor of participating in a panel discussion about the pro-life cause at the National Review Institute’s Future of Conservatism Summit.  It was a very interesting conversation, covering topics such as health care, pregnancy resource centers, and the cultural and political trends in our nation.  (It was broadcast live on CSPAN, and you can watch the video here).

The audience was very appreciative of the panel, and I got a good deal of positive feedback afterwards. That’s encouraging, because there has been a good bit of talk since the election about ejecting pro-lifers from the conservative movement — which I believe would be a disaster for American society.

But the positive reaction of the conservative audience also reinforced in my mind a sad realization:  at this point in American history, it is inconceivable that I would be invited to have the same discussion at a conference of political liberals or progressives.

It has been made abundantly clear that pro-lifers are really not welcome any more in the liberal wing of politics or, indeed, in most of the Democratic Party.  The platform of the national Democratic Party stated that the party opposed any restrictions on abortion; a prominent leader of the Party in New York has announced that one cannot be a Democrat without being “pro-choice”; and the President ran an aggressively and adamantly pro-abortion political campaign last year.   Although there are some notable exceptions, the pro-life Democrat is becoming an endangered species.

This makes no sense to me.  Life is not a partisan issue — it is a question of equal justice under the law and fundamental human rights.  It is the ultimate issue of defending the little guy — as little a guy as you can get.  And traditionally, liberalism/progressivism and the Democratic Party have styled themselves as the defenders of the little guys — workers, immigrants, ethnic minorities.  They were the party of Al Smith and Sargent Shriver — two great Catholic gentlemen who were unabashed progressives and Democrats.    Even as late as the 1970′s, prominent Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson were openly pro-life.

I understand how and why this happened — it has a lot to do with the identification of abortion and sexual liberty as the centerpiece of modern feminism.  But it has polarized our nation and politics, and it is a disaster for our society.

Last week, the President delivered his inaugural address.  In that speech, he spoke about his and his party’s concern for defending human rights by alluding to Seneca Falls (the birthplace of  women’s rights), Selma (a crucible for the civil rights movement) and Stonewall (the origin of the “gay rights” cause).

Sadly, he had no time to mention the human rights of the unborn.  He could easily have done so, by a simple allusion to the Dred Scott decision, which excluded an entire class of human beings from the protection of the law.

Unfortunately, in our sad polarized politics, the liberal/progressive movement, much of the Democratic Party, and the current Administration believe, as did the misguided Supreme Court in Dred Scott, that unborn children have no rights that are bound to be respected by those lucky enough to have been born.

The View from Under the Bus

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

After the election, we have seen much discussion about why the Republican Party lost the Presidential election and failed to pick up some initially-promising Senate seats.  One of the proposals that we hear often is that the GOP should jettison “social conservatives”, or at least declare a “truce” on “social issues” like abortion and the re-definition of marriage.

Far be it from me to give advice to the sage experts who have piloted the GOP to such electoral triumphs.  Nor is it my business to get involved in political strategy for a party that I am not even a member of.

The reason I am interested in this question is that we are starting to hear a similar idea from pro-lifers — a sense that the political mission of our movement has either failed, or reached a final impasse, and that we need to re-direct our energies away from the political and public policy arenas, and focus instead on a more cultural approach to defending and promoting life.

I think this is a fundamental mis-diagnosis of the current state of things in our nation, and it falsely sets up an unnecessary either/or, zero-sum choice.

The current state of the pro-life movement’s political and public policy status depends on where you are standing.  Obviously, things may seem quite bleak in a place like New York City, which is essentially a one-party state dominated by a Democratic party that is almost completely dedicated to hard-line pro-abortion policies.  But that view can be deceptive.  In other areas of New York State, there is a functioning GOP that is at least theoretically supportive of pro-life policies, and there are still some staunch pro-life Democrats around.  The picture here in New York is quite daunting, there’s no doubt about it — but it’s certainly not time to throw in the towel.

Of course, New York is not all of America (it’s not even part of the real world, but that’s another issue).  If you were standing in Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, Florida, South Carolina, or many other states, the picture would be much more encouraging.  Many public officials and candidates in those states proudly proclaim their pro-life views, and they have passed common-sense pro-life laws, like parental notification, informed consent, and abortion clinic regulations.  In fact, the public policy and political successes of our movement on the state level have proven to be a consternation to the pro-abortion forces, who continually complain about how many laws we have been able to pass.

At a time when our movement is making progress on the state and local level, it’s no time to declare defeat — or a “truce”.

But it’s more than a mere question of how many bills are passed, or how many candidates are willing to say they’re “pro-life”.  We’re engaged in a battle over our culture, which means that we’re striving to convert the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters.  Our goal is not just to make abortion illegal, but to make it unthinkable.

In this kind of struggle, it would be folly to abandon an entire field of the contest. The real question isn’t “politics or culture”, as if we can only work on one thing at a time.  Our challenge is to get better at transforming both.

We absolutely need to ramp up our efforts to provide assistance to expectant mothers and fathers in crisis — that’s ground zero in the struggle to eliminate abortion.  We definitely need to offer more resources for those who are suffering the aftermath of abortion.  We have to reverse the anti-life, anti-chastity messages of our media, which create a climate of sexual adventurism and a contraceptive mentality.  All these are legitimate areas for the pro-life movement to improve and enhance our work.

But law and politics are part of culture too.  They affect public opinion and shape private actions.  There is a growing body of opinion, especially among young people, that our nation has gone too far on abortion — that it’s a disgrace that 41% of New York City pregnancies end in abortion (the numbers are even worse in the African-American community), that horrifically unsafe abortion clinics are allowed to maim and kill women with impunity, that parents are excluded from their children’s key decisions about abortion and contraception, that handicapped children are routinely aborted, and that women are not being presented with all the choices available to them.

Fewer and fewer people are satisfied with our country having the most liberal abortion laws in the world, and with a political, media and cultural “elite” who are so degraded that they think this is a good thing.

There is a quiet cultural and political revolution on the way.  Our young brethren will lead it.  This is no time to end the struggle over abortion in the public square.

It’s time to stand firm.

Protecting our Pro-Life Brand

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

I am known among my friends and colleagues as a political geek, so I am frequently asked my opinion about particular candidates.  One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Is he pro-life?”

I think that we pro-lifers really need to start to pay attention to protecting the integrity of our brand name, because it is becoming seriously diluted.

Certainly, lots of politicians will describe themselves as “pro-life”, when it is to their political advantage.  But what does that mean?

If they mean “opposed to stabbing babies in the neck and sucking out their brains” (partial-birth abortion), or “opposed to strangling babies born alive despite the abortion” (the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act), then that’s definitely a “pro-life” position.  If the standard is “won’t force people to pay for or perform abortions against their religious beliefs” (the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act), then that’s a “pro-life” position too.   We could go beyond individual pieces of legislation, and if the candidate “won’t appoint Planned Parenthood or NARAL ideologues to key policy positions”, then that’s a “pro-life” position as well.

So a person’s stand on specific issues, and their track record on particular policy matters, are clearly important — actions speak louder than words.

But the label “pro-life” has to mean more than just “how many boxes can I check off on this list, so that people can be convinced to call me ‘pro-life’”.  If that’s all it is, the term has become meaningless — and we will always be vulnerable to manipulation by politicians and interest groups with malleable principles but the ability to craft clever position papers.

I guess I’m just tired of hearing people describe a candidate as “pro-life” when the best that can be said about him is that he’s “anti-abortion in most cases”, or that he’s just “better than the other guy”.  We should demand more of our politicians, and we should demand more of ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll never get anything more than what we’ve been getting for years — lip service at election time, crumbs from the table afterwards.

Being “pro-life” — as opposed to merely taking “pro-life” positions — has a much broader and deeper meaning.  It involves a recognition of the sacredness of life, its inherent dignity, that views each individual human being as having inestimable value because he or she is made in the image and likeness of God.  It rejects a reductionist or utilitarian view of humanity, where lives are disposable if they are inconvenient, not “useful”, or if they came into being in a way that we disapprove.   It entails a commitment to defending each and every life against abuse, from whatever source.  It calls people to acts of direct service to the poor, the vulnerable, and the frail.  It is an attitude of reverence in the divine presence, seen in every human person.

To get a sense of what our “pro-life brand” really means, people should take a look at the beautiful statement by the U.S. bishops, Living the Gospel of Life.  Certainly, Pope John Paul’s great encyclical The Gospel of Life should also be studied.

The goal of the “pro-life” movement is not just to win elections, pass particular bills, or appoint specific people to courts.  The goal is to transform hearts and minds, so that we can build a Culture of Life and Civilization of Love.

That’s the real definition of our brand, and we should protect it and market it to a culture that desperately needs it, and to people who hunger for it.  The real “pro-life” brand will sell itself, because it speaks to the truths that are already written deep in the human heart.

Controversies and Dinners

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

There is a controversy brewing in Catholic and pro-life circles over reports that the President has been invited to attend the annual Al Smith Dinner here in New York.  In my opinion, people need to take a deep breath, relax a second, and think carefully about this.

It’s important first to understand what the Al Smith Dinner is, and is not, and then what the invitation means, and what it does not.

The Al Smith Dinner is organized and hosted by the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, which is closely affiliated with but independent of the Archdiocese of New York.  It’s named after Governor Al Smith, an iconic figure in New York politics, who dedicated his life to serving the people of the state, particularly the needy.  He was a classic urban machine politician, but was also committed to working with others across party lines when he saw that it was in the public interest.  He was always proud of his Catholic faith and he defended the Church against attacks against religious bigotry.  He was certainly well familiar with anti-Catholicism, since his own faith was brutally attacked during his run for the Presidency in 1928.

The dinner is not a religious event in any way — it’s a civic/political event that raises money for Catholic charitable institutions.  It’s not held at a religious building — it’s at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  It has no religious component aside from a benediction and closing prayer — much like sessions of Congress.  A large proportion of the people who attend the Dinner are not Catholic, and the list of past speakers shows that only once in its almost 70-year history has a religious figure given the keynote address (Cardinal O’Connor).

The dinner has a long tradition of inviting New York elected officials of all parties, and candidates of both major parties for the Presidency.  It is strictly non-partisan, and an invitation to the dinner is in no way an endorsement of any office holder, or any candidate for office.

It’s also important that the politicians who speak at the dinner are not being given any honor or award by the Church, but are rather delivering an address that is one part jocular remarks written by professional jokesters, and two-parts generic political after-dinner bromides.  Any comparison between the Al Smith Dinner and the honorary degree given to the President at Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony is thus completely off-the-mark.

Everybody at the dinner understands this — it’s a civic event, much like a Veteran’s Day parade (but with a fancier menu and white tie).

Some people have been saying that inviting the President in some way undermines or contradicts the Church’s public witness in defense of life and the family.  There is no question that the President’s political agenda and policy record are deplorable from a Catholic perspective — he is consistently anti-life and is ardent in his promotion and support of abortion, he is in favor of re-defining marriage, he opposes parental choice in education, his Administration is a consistent enemy of religious freedom, and there is good reason to believe that he has dealt with our bishops in less than good faith.

Give the consistency and strength with which our bishops — particularly Cardinal Dolan — have been proclaiming the Catholic view of public policy, it is hard to see how this one Dinner could possibly lead anyone to believe that the Church is softening her defense of life, the family, and religious liberty.  When everyone wakes up the morning after, the struggle will resume.

But, as a matter of fact, an invitation to the current incumbent President to the Al Smith Dinner actually sends a message, one that is important in this time of pathologically toxic politics.  It says to us that we can vehemently disagree with a public official’s positions, but we can still show respect for his office, and for him as a person, and treat him with civility.  It gives us an opportunity to act as Christians, and show some love to our adversaries, and even those whose policies we consider to be immoral and oppressive. After all, even St. Peter told us to “honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17).

The message is also that we can set aside our deeply-held differences and leave the partisan politics at the door for an evening, speak nicely and politely to each other, and work together for a common cause in the service of the poor.  That’s a good thing, something that Al Smith would have been proud to associate himself with, and something that Catholics and pro-lifers should also support.

 

Note:  Some bloggers and other news sources have linked to this blog post, and have said that it is a statement by “the Archdiocese”.  Please read the sidebar to this blog: “The opinions expressed by the Bloggers… are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Archdiocese of New York”.  These comments are not an official statement by the Archdiocese or the Cardinal — they represent my opinions, and mine alone.  Clear?  Okay, fire away — but in a civil way, please.

Polling Life

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Kathryn Lopez of National Review Online recently invited me to contribute to an symposium commenting on recent poll results that show a drop in the number of people who consider themselves to be “pro-choice” (to an all-time low of 41%), and a rise in those who call themselves “pro-life” (to 51%).  When you break out the numbers in the poll, it actually is a bit more encouraging — 72% think abortion should be restricted to some or no circumstances.

Here is what I contributed to the symposium:

Recent poll results, which show a significant decline in the number of Americans who identify themselves as “pro-choice,” will no doubt surprise many people. After all, didn’t the Supreme Court claim, in its Casey decision, that it had settled the issue of abortion? Hasn’t abortion become such an integral part of women’s health that it is impossible to conceive of American society without it?

That is certainly the conventional wisdom. But this conventional wisdom is utterly wrong, because the power of the truth and love will always find a way into the human heart. As more people experience the wonder of modern sonograms and fetal photographs, they are enthralled by the beauty of human life. And they are repelled by the inhumanity of “pro-choice” advocates who callously speak of unborn people as disposable when inconvenient. People recognize that attitude as false, and unloving.

The challenge for defenders of life is to build upon this fundamental sense of the truth about human life, and the love it engenders. Certainly, we must work for laws that give commonsense protection for the unborn, and that encourage the choice for life. But even more important, we must continue to give clear and unambiguous witness to love — by speaking with compassion and kindness about this issue, and by giving practical help to struggling mothers and fathers, and to those who are suffering after an abortion.

More and more people are seeing the truth and rejecting the lies. And this is opening the human heart to the love that will ultimately transform our culture.

The Power of the Truth

Friday, May 4th, 2012

On April 30, I attended the public meeting of the Westchester Board of Legislators, to present the statement of the Archdiocese in opposition of the “clinic access” bill that would unfairly restrict the free speech rights of pro-life witnesses outside of abortion clinics.

That statement reads as follows:

A bill is now pending before the Westchester Board of Legislators, which will violate the Constitutional rights of those who give pro-life witness outside abortion clinics.

We urgently call upon all members of the Board to oppose this unjust bill.

This bill is premised upon the false assumption that there is a significant problem with disorder outside of abortion clinics. Actually, law-abiding citizens give peaceful and prayerful pro-life witness on a regular basis, offering valuable information to women approaching the clinics without violating any of the currently-existing federal and state laws regarding access to abortion clinics. Despite such a clear record of respect for the law, this legislation is designed to prevent pro-life advocates from speaking freely merely because their speech is considered unwelcome by some powerful interest groups that favor and profit from abortion.

This legislation is fundamentally unfair to ordinary citizens who wish to express their Constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. It is vague and ambiguous so that ordinary people could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  Ultimately, it is unfair to women who have a right to information before they make their decision
as to whether or not to have an abortion.

This legislation does a disservice to these women, to their unborn children, and to society as a whole, and should therefore be rejected.

I have been present at many legislative hearings, and I generally have low expectations.  We have to bear in mind that most legislative hearings are not like court proceedings — it’s not like arguing to a neutral jury or a judge who’s open to hearing both sides.  The legislators have largely made up their minds already.  But in some cases, hearings are a good place for the public airing of reasons for and against legislation, and some legislators may actually listen to what is being said.  Some of them are looking for a reason to take a position on a bill, and the hearing may give them that hook to hang their hat on.  I have been to several hearings where there was good interaction between legislators and witnesses.  Not many, but a few.

In a way, it’s not so much what is said by the witnesses, but their presence and witness — so that the hearing becomes an indicator to the legislators of the depth of feeling about bills and a gauge of the political mood of the populace.

In that light, the hearing was fairly typical of what I’ve experienced.  The public witness of so many pro-lifers was a good sign — it sent a message to our allies on the Board that they have a lot of support, and hopefully gave some of the wavering members some reason to lean our way.  Having so many “regular people” on our side — as opposed to the largely institutional witnesses on the other side (e.g., employees and activists from Planned Parenthood) — was a very good thing.  I think that the legislators are more impressed when lots of people testify who don’t make a living out of the issue at hand.  Five voters count for a lot more than one “spokesman”.

The most powerful testimony was given by a young African-American woman, who spoke of her own abortions, and how she has come to regret them.  She has now dedicated herself to going to abortion clinics, and giving sidewalk counseling to other women contemplating abortion, to make sure that they understand that they have a choice.

But there were so many others, who stood outside on long lines in the cold, awaiting an opportunity to come into the legislative chamber.  The hearing went on until after midnight, and many stayed until the wee hours to present their own testimony.

The struggle against this bill is not over.  A final vote will be taken on May 7.  We are hoping that the County Executive will veto the bill, and that there will be enough votes on the Board to sustain the veto.  Residents of Westchester should contact their legislators — even if they’ve done so already, they should do it again, and again, and again.  To find the name of your legislator, go here.  Email and other contact information can be found here. The most effective advocacy comes from sustained contact between constituents and their legislators over a long period of time — visits, calls, emails, etc.

So often, we feel powerless in the face of the large, powerful and rich forces that are arrayed against us.

But the power of the truth, and the witness of those who are willing to testify to it with love, can never be underestimated.

The Politics of Principle

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last three years.  It 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.  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.