Posts Tagged ‘Pro-Life’

And So We March

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Tomorrow, January 23, thousands of people will make a pilgrimage to Washington, DC, to give witness to the dignity of every human life.

If you’re going, I hope to see you there — you can’t miss me in the crowd, I’ll be standing with some Sisters of Life.  If you can’t make it, please join us in prayer.

You may also wish to watch this video from Students for Life, to get a sense of the spirit of the March:

War and Consequentialism

Friday, January 13th, 2012

As the presidential race heats up, the rhetoric also heats up.  And the language being used on the issue of war and national defense is becoming very warm indeed.

And very, very morally troubling.

Just yesterday, a scientist who is allegedly working on the Iranian nuclear program was killed when his got into his car and was blown up by an explosive that was attached to it by unknown parties.  It was the latest incident in an ongoing covert war being conducted against the Iranian regime and their suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons.

In response, one of the candidates for the Presidency of the United States said this:

any nuclear scientist, particularly any foreign nuclear scientist, who’s cooperating with the Iranians in developing a nuclear weapon program would be considered an enemy combatant…  this is the most serious threat to the security and stability of the world that we have today, and we should be using all types of methodologies to stop that, including taking out people

Now, I’m certainly no pacifist.  I strongly support the ability of a national government to defend itself and its citizens against unjust aggression.  And I have no doubt that the current regime in Iran is oppressive to its own people and dangerous to its neighbors, particularly Israel.

But there is no way that one can justify the rhetoric I just quoted.  Leave aside for a moment the question of legality under American and international law — which would involve answering the question, “when did we declare war on Iran?”

Killing this scientist was utterly inconsistent with the principles of the divine and natural law. It is clearly not morally permissible to kill another human being because one believes that he may be working on a scientific program that may, at some point, pose a threat to our nation.

Pope John Paul, in his great encyclical, the Gospel of Life, said this very plainly:

“The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity” (57)

Assuming we can trust in the accuracy of our intelligence community (a dubious proposition, in any event) and consider this scientist not to be “innocent”, a preemptive use of deadly force is still unjustified.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, in the context of the death penalty:

“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.” (CCC 2267)

Killing a man because his work may prove a threat to the United States at some undefined point in the future is consequentialism at its most blatant — doing evil so that good may come of it.

Christians must be better than that.

From One Fertilized Egg to Another

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

The late moral theologian, Msgr. William Smith, often noted that all social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering.  The pro-life journalist Paul Greenberg also has said that homicide is always preceded by verbicide.

Which brings us to the most recent example of how our culture will engage in virtually any kind of verbal and mental contortion in order to deny the reality of human life, and to justify its destruction.

Pending on the ballot in Mississippi today is a measure that would define the term “person” or “human person” as including “every human being from the moment of fertilization…”  This is a species of “personhood” initiative that seeks to undermine or even overturn our current regime of abortion on demand, for any reason, for all nine months of pregnancy.

I don’t wish to comment on the merits of the proposal, which I frankly have reservations about.

What I’m interested in is the media coverage of the initiative.  Naturally, the media is dubious about the measure, and likes to say that the bill would grant legal personhood to a “fertilized egg”.

Now, I’m no scientist, but even my high school biology tells me that there’s no such thing as a “fertilized egg”.  Once a sperm and egg join together, something else comes into existence –  a new human being. This is not really a controversial matter — it’s basic science.

If you have any doubts about the science of the matter, check out this “white paper” from Dr. Maureen Condic, an expert on embryology.

The media is not the only institution that likes to obfuscate about science when it gets in the way of its favored result.  Our New York State Court of Appeals once was determined to treat frozen human embryos as marital property in a divorce case.  In order to do so, it couldn’t admit that the embryos were human beings.  So instead they declared the frozen humans to be “pre-zygotes” — a meaningless term that is absurd as a matter of science, and that only makes sense if words mean whatever we want them to mean.

It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.  Here we are, people of faith, whom the media loves to accuse of being hostile to science.  Yet we are the ones who point out facts that are evident from even a rudimentary familiarity with basic science.  And there is our elite culture, which loves to trumpet its “faith” in scientific theories, resorting to linguistic gymnastics and wishful thinking, in order to get its favored result — denying the humanity of the unborn human being, so that it may be destroyed or experimented upon.

The life of every single one of us started at fertilization.  Neither you nor I were ever anything other than a human being, from that very instant that sperm and egg joined together.  And our law will continue to be absurd and unjust until it recognizes that fact.

Trust me on this one — I’m a grown-up “fertilized egg”.

In My Neighborhood

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

The Chiaroscuro Foundation recently put up on its website an interactive map that displays the abortion statistics for residents of every zip code in the City of New York.  I recommend that everyone in the City look up their neighborhood — you’ll definitely learn something.

I looked at my own neighborhood.  I’ve lived my whole life in a neighborhood split between Yonkers and the Bronx.  The Bronx part is Woodlawn, which shares the 10470 zip with a small portion of Wakefield.  Woodlawn is considered to be a very good neighborhood — solidly middle class, dominated by Irish immigrants (some of long-standing, some more recently).   Wakefield is a largely African-American and West-Indian neighborhood, but also mainly middle class and blue-collar.

The zip code is two-thirds white, with the remainder being a mixture of African-American, West Indian, and Latino.  Over 75% of adults have a high school education or better, and 20% have at least a bachelor’s degree.  Both neighborhoods have economic problems — unemployment is pretty high thanks to the crash of the construction industry, and the poverty rate is not great (although far better than the rest of the Bronx).  We have four good schools — a Catholic elementary school and high school, a  Lutheran school, and two public elementary schools.

There are lots of vibrant families and children, and lots of churches –  Woodlawn alone has five churches.  We even have a convent of the Sisters of Life.

But the abortion statistics in my neighborhood are horrible.

There were 267 pregnancies in this zip code in 2009, the most recent year reported.  115 of them ended in abortion. That’s a 43% abortion ratio — even worse than the overall number for New York City.

There are lots of reasons for this tragedy.  I am convinced that a great number of abortions happen because a mother in crisis thinks that she won’t be supported by the baby’s father, their families, or the community.  This abortion ratio in my neighborhood is wake-up call to our families, churches, and community.

So what can we do?  Preaching in the churches and teaching in the home are obviously the foundation.  We also need to promote chastity, so that women don’t have unexpected pregnancies, especially out of wedlock.  We need to make sure that every woman knows that she is not alone, that she will have the support of her family and community to make the choice for life, or that she can turn to one of the many pregnancy support centers in our area.  We need to make sure that more women know that help is out there, from Catholic Charities Maternity Bureau, and from the wonderful Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life.

In the end, it will come down to decisions made by individuals and families.  And for that, much grace is needed.  Mary, Mother of Life, please pray for women contemplating abortion in my neighborhood, and everywhere.  And obtain for me the grace I need to be there for the women in my life and my neighborhood, if they ever are in crisis.

Mary and Her Knights

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Last Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending the annual Knights of Columbus Prayer Rally in Albany.   Knights, their families and friends came from around the state to give public witness to our Catholic faith, and to call on our elected officials to defend life and the family.

Many groups come to Albany during the legislative session to lobby their Assembly and Senate representatives.  Virtually every day, you can see people from a wide variety of organizations and interest groups, patrolling the halls of the Capitol, and speaking to the elected officials.  That’s the regular course of business in Albany.

The Knights’ rally, though, is fundamentally different.

Yes, it’s about public policy.  We heard speeches about issues of grave concern to Catholics and to the common good, particularly about abortion and same-sex “marriage”.  I even said a few words to the crowd about the dangers to religious liberty that would come from redefining marriage. A number of Assembly representatives and Senators spoke, and the crowd responded enthusiastically.  Again, that’s pretty typical for Albany.

What makes this rally stand out though, is the most important item on the agenda for the day — prayer.  The entire rally was centered on the public communal recitation of the Rosary.  Yes, public prayer, not just public advocacy.  That makes all the difference.

Mary holds a special place in the heart of a Knight.  We truly look upon her as Our Lady.  Much as the knights of old were invested with their war gear, in a similar way we look upon Mary’s Rosary as our weapon of spiritual warfare.  Ask a Knight of Columbus, and chances are pretty good that he’s armed with a Rosary in his pocket, and he knows how to use it.

My favorite part of the rally is the devout hush that descend on the assembly when the time for speeches has ended and the time for prayer has come.  Further conversations are halted, or are muted.  Passersby stare in curiosity, perhaps in disbelief, but with respect.  All those present have lifted their hearts and minds to God, through the intercession of our Mother.  The fervent prayers echo in the cavern created by the surrounding state office buildings — giving witness to our faith, and, in a sense, sanctifying the halls of secular authority.

We gathered together in a place of power to give courageous witness to the power of faith, and to proclaim that all public activism by Christians must be rooted in prayer.  We came to do what the Lord commanded us, through the prophet Micah:

“Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.” (Mic 6:1)

Heeding that command, Mary’s Knights came to Albany, offered our prayers to God through her never-failing intercession, and were confident that our prayers were heard.

Why “Make Abortion Rare”?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

On March 8, Catholics from around the state traveled to Albany for the annual “Catholics at the Capitol” day, sponsored by the State Bishops’ Conference.  The purpose of the day is to offer Catholics an opportunity to stand together on the broad range of issues of concern to us — protecting life, strengthening our schools, caring for the poor and sick — and to speak to our state legislators.

One of the issue papers distributed by the Conference was entitled “Making Abortion Rare”.  This document explained our Church’s opposition to the radical Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would lead to an increase in abortion, by placing it beyond any reasonable regulation.  A second issue was our opposition to the Governor’s elimination of all funding for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation.  That foundation supports local initiatives and organizations that offer alternatives to abortions, and have helped thousands of women have their babies.

These positions are a practical response to the challenge issued by Archbishop Dolan at his press conference in January about the appalling abortion rate in New York City: “I invite all to come together to make abortion rare, a goal even those who work to expand the abortion license tell us they share.”

Some of our pro-life supporters have expressed discomfort with saying that we wish to “make abortion rare”.  They are worried that this might imply that we are conceding the legality of abortion, and that we have given up our ultimate goal of defending every human life.

This concern is understandable, because people rightly can’t be satisfied with anything short of full protection for the unborn.  I understand this concern, but I believe it is unfounded.

Our ultimate goals in this struggle have never changed.  Nobody has any doubt about the position of the Catholic Church on abortion.  We are absolutely, unalterably, irrevocably opposed to legal abortion, and will never accept the legitimacy of laws that permit it.  We hold steadfastly to building a culture of life in which every life is valued in our society and its laws.

But while we pursue those ultimate goals, we have to take into account the political and cultural situation in which we find ourselves.  Then, relying on the virtue of prudence, we have to mitigate the harm that is being done by legalized abortion, and try to achieve realistically attainable results to advance the culture of life.

This approach was outlined in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, The Gospel of Life:

The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount an effective legal defense of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in the defense and promotion of the value of life. (90)

The challenge to “make abortion rare” is just such an initiative.  It takes into account the political and cultural fact that a complete abrogation of abortion laws is not attainable in our current cultural and legal climate.  It is directed not to people who are already committed to the cause of life.  Instead, it is an appeal to those who consider themselves “pro-choice”, but are uncomfortable with abortion and may be open to work with us on practical measures to reduce it.

In other words, it is an effort to change hearts, to rebuild the foundation for a true culture of life.  As hearts change, laws will follow.

Our vision and our goals will always remain the same.   As the United States Bishops said in their statement, Living the Gospel of Life:

The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid. Our nation cannot countenance the continued existence in our society of such fundamental violations of human rights. (33)

A Witness to Hope

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Earlier this week, Dr. Bernard Nathanson passed away and entered into eternal life.  Archbishop Dolan will celebrate his funeral Mass on Monday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In the earlier part of his life, Dr. Nathanson was a leader of the movement to legalize and normalize abortion in American life.  He crafted public arguments — which he later admitted were rooted in falsehood — to justify the changing of laws and morals on abortion.  And he personally performed thousands of abortions himself.

If that were all we could say about his life, it would be odd indeed to be celebrating a funeral Mass for him at our Cathedral.   But that was not all.

Soon after he had accomplished his aims — the legalization of abortion in America — Dr. Nathanson began a remarkable personal and spiritual journey, which he recounted in his autobiography, The Hand of God.

Confronted by the images he saw on fetal sonograms, he became convinced of the humanity of the unborn child and rejected the practice and ideology of abortion.  He became an outspoken pro-life advocate — a most famous and powerful convert to the cause of human life.  He tirelessly denounced the deceptions at the heart of the abortion business, and deeply regretted his role in advancing it. He himself said, “I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age.”  He was deeply oppressed by his complicity in the great evil of abortion, and steered close to despair from the burden of his sins.  Despite this, he continued to resist turning to God for help.

Attending pro-life protests in the late 1980′s, Dr. Nathanson was confronted with something he did not expect.  As he described in his autobiography, he was stunned by the sense of love exhibited by the pro-life protestors.  They sang hymns and offered prayers for the unborn children, the mothers, and the clinic workers, their faces filled with joy.  Their witness of selfless love touched Dr. Nathanson at his core, and he began a new stage of his journey.

He “began to entertain seriously the notion of God — a god who problematically had led me through the proverbial circles of hell, only to show me the way to redemption and mercy through His grace”.  These thoughts about God, “held out a shimmering sliver of Hope to me, in the growing belief that Someone had died for my sins and my evil two millennia ago.”

This was the true turning point of his life — the beginning of his genuine conversion.

Eventually, he was baptized by Cardinal O’Connor in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, surrounded by pro-life co-workers and friends.  All his sins were washed away in the water of life, and he was re-born anew in the Holy Spirit.  Strengthened by that grace, he continued his ardent pro-life advocacy for the remainder of his life.  He was a leader of the movement, and a mentor and friend to many.  He will be deeply missed.

But, in a larger sense, Dr. Nathanson is an important witness to something that all of us must hold close to our hearts — the virtue of hope.  It would have been easy for an outside observer to give up on him when he was still active in the abortion business, and to despair of any chance of his conversion.  We in the pro-life movement frequently feel this way about others among us — like health professionals who perform or assist in abortions, and public figures who support it.

But we must never give up, because God never gives up on anyone — His grace is indefatigable.  Dr. Bernard Nathanson is a shining example of our hope in the great and inexhaustible mercy of God.

In the famous story of the Prodigal Son, Our Lord told us of the loving, merciful father, who never fails to forgive those who return to him.  When his wastrel son finally came to his senses, rejected his sins, and returned to ask for forgiveness, “his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Lk 15:20).

Let us all pray in hope that Dr. Bernard Nathanson, having now returned home, will be received with compassion and enfolded in the loving embrace and kiss of his merciful Father.

A “Truce”? No Thanks.

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana is testing the waters for a run in the Republican presidential primaries in 2012.  His record shows that he has consistently demonstrated his commitment to pro-life causes and legislation.

So, why am I writing about a governor from an obscure state somewhere to the west of us?  Because Gov. Daniels, in his political wisdom, has decided that his main campaign issue is going to be the crushing national debt, and the irresponsibility of federal spending policies, particularly the dumping of that debt onto future generations. I have no problem with that.  The national debt is a deeply troubling matter, and it is profoundly unjust to be irresponsible now and expect our children to pick up the tab later.

But what I do have a problem with is what Gov. Daniels is saying about the “social issues”.  That’s the code word in Washington and the media for abortion and marriage.  The governor is saying that these fiscal issues are so serious that we need to put aside the “social issues” for a later date, and not press them forward in the national agenda — that we need a “truce” on these issues while we deal with the budgetary matters.  In his most recent statements on this subject, he suggested that we “just sort of mute [the social issues] for a little while”.

Oh, I see.  Never mind that a million or more children are being killed every year, their mothers wounded physically and psychologically.  Never mind that marriage is re-defined out of existence, undermining the foundation of civilized society.  Never mind that the very definition of human nature is being subverted.  Those of us who care deeply about the dignity of human life should just be quiet for a while — that’s what the “mute” button does, after all — while the politicians deal with the spreadsheet and balance book, and while the Culture of Death continues to spread its insidious grasp.

Sorry, no deal.  Our national debt may be “a republic-threatening issue”, as Gov. Daniels puts it.  But the current state of the law, which permits lethal violence against an entire class of human beings, and which produces such results as the 41% abortion rate in New York City, is a civilization-threatening issue.  A soul-threatening issue.  A life-threatening issue.

The re-definition of marriage threatens society at its core, by separating love, sex, and children.  It ignores the fundamental complementarity of man and woman, severs human relations from concern about future generations, and tells children that parents of both sexes — particularly fathers — are not important.  It turns a millennium or more of social consensus on its head.

Our Church has been clear is stating that the right to life and authentic marriage are the foundation that underpins all of human society.   No budgetary issue — however grave — comes close in significance.

So, despite Gov. Daniels’ political strategy, we’ll continue to speak out about the profound injustice of abortion, and the dangers of re-defining marriage.

No “truce”.  No thanks.

The Politics of Principle

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

(This is a repeat of a post from this same day the last two 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 Call to Action

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Last week, a very important press conference took place, in response to the recent release of statistics on abortion in New York City.

Anyone with a conscience should be shocked by the horrifying numbers in the report:

  • 41% of all pregnancies in New York City ended in abortion — 87,273 abortions;
  • In the Bronx, 48% of all pregnancies ended in abortion;
  • 60% of African American pregnancies ended in abortion;
  • Among Blacks, there are far more abortions  than live births — for every 1,000 live births, there are 1,489 abortions;
  • Among teens of all other ethnic groups, for every 1,000 live births, there are 1,288 abortions;
  • This is not just an issue with teen pregnancy — 54% of abortions were with mothers in their 20′s, 30% were with mothers in their 30′s or 40′s;
  • These statistics were analyzed by the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a private group that has committed to working to support pro-life initiatives, particularly pregnancy support efforts. They have set up a website, NYC 41 Percent, to publicize this effort.

    The press conference was most significant because it called together a group of interfaith leaders — Catholics, Protestants, Jews, whites, blacks and Hispanics — who all pledged to work to offer pregnant women real choices.

    For his part, Archbishop Dolan re-issued Cardinal O’Connor’s famous pledge to offer support to any pregnant woman in need.  For his remarks at the press conference, see here.

    Catholic Charities is already doing a great deal to fulfill that pledge, and the Sisters of Life do heroic work to help pregnant women and those who have already given birth.  The various pregnancy support centers in the City, and many faith communities are working miracles.  These efforts are certainly worthy of support.

    But they’re not enough.  More must be done.

    At Mass I attended this morning, the celebrant read the Archbishop’s press conference statement in his homily, and called to mind a story from his earlier days as a construction worker.  When things were slow, and the workers were idle, the foreman would tell them, “This isn’t a spectator sport”.

    Just so.  Preventing abortions is not a spectator sport.  The decision to have an abortion, all too often, is made by a woman who feels afraid and isolated, with nobody to support or help her.  That means that all of us, in our families, parishes, and communities, can prevent abortions by giving practical and emotional support to the women in our lives.  No woman should ever go to an abortion clinic because she feels alone.

    That’s a call to action for us all.