Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sacred texts: Vatican embraces iTunes prayer book

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican is endorsing new technology that brings the book of daily prayers used by priests straight onto iPhones.

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications is embracing the iBreviary, an iTunes application created by a technologically savvy Italian priest, the Rev. Paolo Padrini, and an Italian Web designer.

The application includes the Breviary prayer book — in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Latin and, in the near future, Portuguese and German. Another section includes the prayers of the daily Mass, and a third contains various other prayers.

After a free trial period in which the iBreviary was downloaded approximately 10,000 times in Italy, an official version was released earlier this month, Padrini said.

The application costs euro0.79 ($1.10), while upgrades will be free. Padrini's proceeds are going to charity.

Monsignor Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, praised the new application Monday, saying the Church "is learning to use the new technologies primarily as a tool or as a mean of evangelizing, as a way of being able to share its own message with the world."

Pope Benedict XVI, a classical music lover who was reportedly given an iPod in 2006, has sought to reach out to young people through new media. During last summer's World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, he sent out mobile phone text messages citing scripture to thousands of registered pilgrims — signed with the tagline "BXVI."

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Bailout economy: A house Built on Sand

by Rev. Robert A. Sirico

In a very familiar parable, Jesus tells the story of two home builders. One built a house on sand, the other on rock. The house on the rock withstood the weather. The one built on sand did not fare so well: "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof" (Matthew 7:24-29).

If the parable were retold today, it might include an episode in which treasury officials and members of Congress cobbled together a bailout program for the owner and lender of the house on the sand. No matter how much money they spent, however, the ending would be the same.

Six weeks ago, when the $700 billion bailout of failing financial firms was being considered, the country was swept up in the debate. The bill, which created the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), passed with thin public support. Washington claimed that the bill was necessary to keep the world from an economic Armageddon. Many people suspected that it amounted to little more than welfare for Wall Street.

Who was right? Consider the dramatic change made to the way the program works, as announced last week by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. He said that the government would no longer purchase toxic assets from failing institutions. It would now start giving the money directly to lenders. In other words, the entire rationale of the bailout changed overnight.

Why the change? The problem with the original idea is that it violated every common-sense rule of business. The government would pay far more than the market would bear and then, no doubt, we would watch as the market price slid to the bottom. Every time a supporter claimed that this was a good deal for taxpayers, you could almost sense the rise in deep skepticism. If you believed them, I've got a house built on sand to sell you.

Recent weeks have illustrated just how difficult it is to turn bad assets into good ones, and reverse the direction of downward price pressure. Short of suspending all market trading, it can't be done. The case of the insurance giant AIG demonstrates the point. In September, the government gave AIG $85 billion. The money vanished and AIG reported more losses. Now it is expanded to $150 billion. That should last a few weeks anyway.

It seems that Paulson and others have learned a valuable lesson here. The house can't be saved. Instead they are turning to save the lenders, a course of action which seems a bit more viable but no less a path of folly. Washington is now looking carefully at which banks to save and which to let go. This amounts to a process of picking winners and losers. It gives a competitive advantage to those institutions that were marginally worse at assessing risk.

Think about what it means for policy priorities. The lender who made possible the house on the rock does not need a bailout. That which lent money to the builder who built on sand is getting assistance from taxpayers. How does this constitute a just solution?

The pressure to continue buying bad assets, however, is not going away. Today we see demands for direct infusions of cash to auto makers, airlines, ever more insurance companies and mortgage dealers. Next we will see demands for bailouts of even such national essentials as coffee retailers. Where does it all end?

What are we being saved from here? The free market system is one of discovery, one of trial and error and one of trial and success. It is a continuous process of learning. To seek to protect those who make errors from the consequences of their choices is to distort and destroy the system itself. It is as futile as trying to save the house built on sand.

It is as though we woke up one morning to discover that failure has been outlawed, and that even if some banks do not want the money, money will be forced upon them anyway, to save them from themselves - indeed, to save them from capitalism.

We have heard many pronouncements on the vice of greed, but we need to remember that the consumerist mentality is not merely the desire to live better, but is rather the confused idea that only in having more can we be more. Some have invented a new rule of life that might be put thus: "consumo ego sum." ("I know that I exist because I consume goods").

How common it has become to live outside one's means, whether it's the huge flat screen TV we think we can't do without or the newest automobile or the house larger than our income can afford. Then there are the imprudent risks assumed in piling up debt on mortgages with a hubris which assumed that values could only continue to rise at 10 percent or better per year.

Thrift, that "handmaid of enterprise," was mothered by scarcity, a scarcity that unregulated pricing in a free market has, better than all economic systems in human history, served best to mitigate. What an obscenity, then, that the principle of thrift should be invoked by those who oppose this system of natural rationing and allocation, preferring instead top down systems of distribution that would bring poverty and ruin to any economy that took them seriously for any length of time.

Wall Street has been skewered and denounced in almost every attempt to examine the moral dimension of this crisis. Yet, Wall Street is too often denounced for all the wrong reasons -- as a surrogate for the free economy, for seeking and making a profit, as though the alternative was somehow a preferable moral result.

No, if we are going to offer a moral critique of Wall Street, this should not be done because free markets allocate and produce capital, without which people's homes and savings evaporate. Rather, it should be done because all these previously private businesses are now waddling up to the governmental trough begging to be nationalized and asking for their share of the dole.

It was the institution of government that unleashed those vices of greed and avarice encouraging people to build on sand. It did so by first placing a policy priority on the good idea of home ownership but pursued it with a fanaticism that neglected other goods such as prudence and rational risk assessment.

Moreover, official banking centers enjoyed subsidies that distorted that most sensitive of price signals--the very price of money--to delude both investors and consumers into believing that capital existed to support vast and extravagant consumerism when in fact such capital and savings did not exist. More sand! These tendencies to encourage consumerism and greed occurred in a market deluded by interventionism, not a market that was permitted to work within its own indigenous mechanism of risk, reward, and justice.

As we have seen so often in the past century's experiment with socialism, the real story is in the Parable. It is a story of economic and moral folly. May we finally learn its lesson.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Deacon's Deacon - Dale Lister

Yesterday we laid to rest one of our brothers, Deacon Dale Lister. Though I have know Dale for many years, I never knew much about him. What I did know, and respect, was the holiness and gentleness of this man. We know of his courageous struggle for 10 years with cancer. We also know of his love of God, his family and his Church. You could not help but feel the mixture of joy and sadness at the church yesterday. The joy of knowing with great confidence that we have a new advocate in the presence of Our Lord who will intercede for us. As with all important occasion in our lives, funerals bring together old friends that help to lessen the sorrow by sharing a few moments with loved ones. I think Dale smiled when he saw some of the hugs being shared - he was the Master of Hugs. So we continue on our journey with the hope we will again feel the bone-crushing hug of this wonderful husband, father, grandfather, friend and Deacon. There is much to be learned from Dale - he walked the walk. Let's follow his path to salvation.

Bob Hauert

Fooling Some of the People, some of the time

Responding to the non-argument that duped many Pro-Obama Catholics
November 25, 2008

9:00AM EST

52% of Catholics -- the vast majority of whom would identify themselves as "pro-life" -- voted on November 4, 2008 for the man who will almost certainly become the most pro-abortion President in American history.

I have already dedicated this column, and writings elsewhere, to respond to some of the putative justifications under which my Catholic brothers and sisters cast their votes for the pro-abortion candidate. In Economy Matters, Life Matters (NRO, October 8, 2008), and in two previous columns here I tried to respond to the pseudo-argument that support for Mr. Obama was justified on the basis that "abortion is not the only issue; other 'Catholic' issues are crying out for attention and Mr. Obama is best equipped to address them" or "abortion is simply not the most fundamental issue facing our nation" (at least not in this election cycle).

It turns out there was another pseudo-argument afloat in the minds of many. It goes something like this: Mr. Obama actually supports the pro-life agenda because he intends to enact policies that will reduce poverty, raise the minimum wage, create jobs, get folks off welfare, enact a more just and humane immigration policy, enact tax cuts for the benefit of the most needy Americans, give greater access to affordable healthcare... And all of this in the end will reduce the number of abortions in America.

Professor Doug Kmiec, of Pepperdine Law School, well prior to the election gave intellectual expression to these ideas and to its corollary: the pro-life focus on overturning Roe v. Wade was wrong-headed and ill-fated to begin with; as a strategy, it has failed, and it is time for a new approach.

Kmiec holds that the best way to victory was to support the man who would best implement principles of Catholic social teaching in a manner best suited to getting at the "root causes" of abortion. And in Kmiec's estimation, Obama was the man for the job.

Kmiec saw this evidenced in the Obama platform proposal which, while affirming Roe, promised also "to strongly support a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and postnatal health care, parenting skills, income support and caring adoption programs."

The question for the rest of us then is this: Do we hold such an argument to be plausible? And furthermore, do we believe the pro-life movement or its strategies have "failed"?

For answers, I turned to two pro-life veterans and dear friends: Nikolas Nikas and Dorinda Bordlee, co-founders of the Bioethics Defense Fund.

Nikas and Bordlee believe that prominent Catholics who publicly justified their support for President-elect Obama on the claim that the pro-life movement has lost the battle "acted under dangerous fallacies."

First, Bordlee points out that these voters failed "to recognize that President-elect Obama has promised to devastate the life-saving legal infrastructure that was built with great effort by the pro-life movement over the last 35 years, and recently bolstered by the U.S. Supreme Court in it's 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision which recognized '[t]he State's interest in respect for life' which 'finds an ultimate expression in a mother's love for her child.'"

Nikas and Bordlee question the sincerity of the conviction that the pro-life movement has "failed" given the steady increase in life-protective state and federal laws that now stand on the chopping block of Obama's promised passage of FOCA, including:

  • · laws that require abortionists to give women informed consent about the dangers of abortion and their access to public and private agencies that will help them bring their child to term;
  • · state laws that help stop sexual predators who benefit from secret abortions on minors by requiring parental notice or consent;
  • · laws that prohibit killing a child in the process of delivery by banning partial birth abortion; and
  • · laws that prevent discrimination against healthcare professionals and medical students who object to using their vocation to heal in a way to destroys human lives.

"All of these laws and more will come crashing down if President-elect Obama makes good on his promise to sign FOCA and reverse the Hyde Amendment," notes Bordlee. Bordlee pointed to an important analysis by Professor Michael New showing that parental involvement laws and Medicaid funding restrictions are correlated with reductions in the incidence of abortion among minors. "Effective pro-life measures are at risk of being 'lost' because of Obama's planned strategy, not because of any failed strategy of the pro-life movement," said Bordlee

Nikas and Bordlee made a further salient observation about the short-sighted failure of pro-Obama pro-lifers to understand a historic truth about social-reform movements -- that it takes perseverance to achieve victory.

In The Young Battle for Life,

Nikolas Nikas noted ever so cogently that the 35-year struggle against federal court-imposed abortion on demand is still a relatively young one. He points to the lessons of the long struggle for black civil rights as instructive:

  • · 246 years from the advent of American slavery to the end of the Civil War;
  • · 100 years from the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery to the passage of the Civil Rights Act;
  • · 58 years from the announcement by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" public accommodations for blacks and whites was constitutional to the reversal of that decision by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.

So, after only 35 years, it would seem that the pro-life movement is only at the beginning of its battle, not at the (failed) end of it. I hope to continue this discussion next week, with further input from pro-life leaders who are nowhere near throwing in the towel.


Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Vatican goes GREEN

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - And then there was light -- and it was powered by the sun. The Vatican on Wednesday activated a new solar energy system and announced an ambitious plan that could one day make it an alternative energy exporter.

The massive roof of the "Nervi Hall" where popes hold general audiences and concerts are performed, has been covered with 2,400 photovoltaic panels to provide energy for lighting, heat and air conditioning.

After weeks of tests, the system went on line at full throttle hours before Pope Benedict held what officials called the "first ecological general audience in the Vatican."

The new system on the 5,000 square meter roof will produce 300 megawatt hours (MWh) of clean energy a year for the audience hall and surrounding buildings.

The 1.2 million euro ($1.6 million) system, devised and donated by German companies SolarWorld and SMA Solar Technology, will allow the 108-acre city-state to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by about 225 tons and save the equivalent of 80 tons of oil each year.

"This is a very courageous initiative," said Carlo Rubbia, the Italian who won the 1984 Nobel Prize in physics and attended the unveiling ceremony in the Vatican.

"The sun has 100,000 times the energy produced by traditional sources of energy on earth. This why we need so much science, so much investment in research for the future," Rubbia said at the unveiling.


Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the governor of Vatican City, said the Vatican was thinking of a much more ambitious project at a huge tract of land it owns north of Rome which is used as a transmission center for Vatican Radio.

"We are thinking of a solar energy system on 300 hectares (740 acres) at the site," he said.

Pier Carlo Cuscianna, head of technical services for Vatican City, said such a project could produce six times the amount of energy needed to power the transmission antennas.

"The rest could be transferred to the (Italian) national grid for power for surrounding communities," Cuscianna said.

The site, called Santa Maria di Galeria, is owned by the Vatican and such a project would make it an exporter of alternative energy.

Cuscianna said it was "just an idea" for now but that he expected it to move on the project stage eventually.

Officials said the Vatican planned to install enough renewable energy sources to provide 20 percent of its needs by 2020, broadly in line with a proposal by the European Union.

The Nervi Hall has a sweeping, wavy roof and the solar panels are virtually invisible from the ground. Church officials have said the Vatican's famous skyline, particularly St. Peter's Basilica, would remain untouched.

(Editing by Dominic Evans)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 19, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor

Let Detroit Go Bankrupt


IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support — banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit’s automakers.

First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota’s Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product — it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.

The new management must work with labor leaders to see that the enmity between labor and management comes to an end. This division is a holdover from the early years of the last century, when unions brought workers job security and better wages and benefits. But as Walter Reuther, the former head of the United Automobile Workers, said to my father, “Getting more and more pay for less and less work is a dead-end street.”

You don’t have to look far for industries with unions that went down that road. Companies in the 21st century cannot perpetuate the destructive labor relations of the 20th. This will mean a new direction for the U.A.W., profit sharing or stock grants to all employees and a change in Big Three management culture.

The need for collaboration will mean accepting sanity in salaries and perks. At American Motors, my dad cut his pay and that of his executive team, he bought stock in the company, and he went out to factories to talk to workers directly. Get rid of the planes, the executive dining rooms — all the symbols that breed resentment among the hundreds of thousands who will also be sacrificing to keep the companies afloat.

Investments must be made for the future. No more focus on quarterly earnings or the kind of short-term stock appreciation that means quick riches for executives with options. Manage with an eye on cash flow, balance sheets and long-term appreciation. Invest in truly competitive products and innovative technologies — especially fuel-saving designs — that may not arrive for years. Starving research and development is like eating the seed corn.

Just as important to the future of American carmakers is the sales force. When sales are down, you don’t want to lose the only people who can get them to grow. So don’t fire the best dealers, and don’t crush them with new financial or performance demands they can’t meet.

It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the imbedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.

But don’t ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass — they bet on management and they lost.

The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.

In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was a candidate for this year’s Republican presidential nomination.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pope Clarifies Luther's Idea of Justification

ZE08111911 - 2008-11-19

Says It's True, if Faith Is Not Opposed to Love

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 19, 2008 ( Benedict XVI says Martin Luther's doctrine on justification is correct, if faith "is not opposed to charity."

The Pope said this today during the general audience dedicated to another reflection on St. Paul. This time, the Holy Father considered the Apostle's teaching on justification.

He noted that Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus "changed his life radically: He began to regard all his merits, achievements of a most honest religious career, as 'loss' in face of the sublimity of knowledge of Jesus Christ."

"It is precisely because of this personal experience of the relationship with Jesus that Paul places at the center of his Gospel an irreducible opposition between two alternative paths to justice: one based on the works of the law, the other founded on the grace of faith in Christ," the Pontiff explained. "The alternative between justice through the works of the law and justice through faith in Christ thus becomes one of the dominant themes that runs through his letters."

What is law

But in order to understand this Pauline teaching, Benedict XVI affirmed, "we must clarify what is the 'law' from which we have been freed and what are those 'works of the law' that do not justify."

He explained: "Already in the community of Corinth there was the opinion, which will return many times in history, which consisted in thinking that it was a question of the moral law, and that Christian freedom consisted therefore in being free from ethics. [...] It is obvious that this interpretation is erroneous: Christian liberty is not libertinism; the freedom of which St. Paul speaks is not freedom from doing good."

Instead, the Pope said, the law to which Paul refers is the "collection of behaviors extending from an ethical foundation to the ritual and cultural observances that substantially determined the identity of the just man -- particularly circumcision, the observance regarding pure food and general ritual purity, the rules regarding observance of the Sabbath, etc."

These observances served to protect Jewish identity and faith in God; they were "a defense shield that would protect the precious inheritance of the faith," he remarked.

But, the Holy Father continued, at the moment of Paul's encounter with Christ, the Apostle "understood that with Christ's resurrection the situation had changed radically."

"The wall -- so says the Letter to the Ephesians -- between Israel and the pagans was no longer necessary," he said. "It is Christ who protects us against polytheism and all its deviations; it is Christ who unites us with and in the one God; it is Christ who guarantees our true identity in the diversity of cultures; and it is he who makes us just. To be just means simply to be with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Other observances are no longer necessary."

And it is because of this, the Bishop of Rome continued, that Luther's expression "by faith alone" is true "if faith is not opposed to charity, to love. Faith is to look at Christ, to entrust oneself to Christ, to be united to Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence, to believe is to be conformed to Christ and to enter into his love."

"Paul knows," he added, "that in the double love of God and neighbor the whole law is fulfilled. Thus the whole law is observed in communion with Christ, in faith that creates charity. We are just when we enter into communion with Christ, who is love."

© Innovative Media, Inc.

Reprinting ZENIT's articles requires written permission from the editor.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Obama and the Bishops

By Richard John Neuhaus Friday, November 7, 2008, 8:16 AM

In a few days, the American bishops of the Catholic Church will be holding their annual fall meeting in Baltimore. High on the agenda is how Catholic bishops can better communicate Catholic teaching on social justice both in the Church and in the public square. It is understood that the priority issue of social justice is the protection of innocent human life—from the entrance gates of life to the exit gates, and at every step along life’s way. The most massive and brutal violation of justice is the killing of millions of children in the womb.

In recent months, an unusually large number of bishops have been assertive, articulate, and even bold, in their public affirmation of the demands of moral reason and the Church’s teaching. Some estimate the number of such bishops to be over a hundred. Critics of these bishops, including Catholic fronts for the Obama campaign, claim that bishops have only spoken out because prominent Democrats stepped on their toes by egregiously misrepresenting Catholic teaching. Why only? It is the most particular duty of bishops to see that the authentic teaching of the Church is safeguarded and honestly communicated.

Not all bishops covered themselves with honor in the doing of their duty. Ignoring their further duty to protect the integrity of the Eucharist and defend against the faithful’s being led into confusion, temptation, and sin by skandolon, some bishops issued statements explaining why they had no intention of addressing the problem of public figures who claim they are Catholics in good standing despite their consistent rejection of the Church’s teaching on the defense of innocent human lives. Some such bishops took the position that publicly doing or saying anything that addressed that very public problem would be viewed as controversial, condemned as politically partisan, and misconstrued by those hostile to the Church. Therefore, they explained, they were doing and saying nothing except to say why they were doing and saying nothing. Such calculated timidity falls embarrassingly short of the apostolic zeal exemplified by the apostles whose successors the bishops are. Fortunately, these timorous shepherds seem to be in the minority among the bishops.

Others seem to have taken to heart in this Pauline Year the counsel of Paul to Timothy: “Fight the good fight . . . I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

After the election, some Catholics with itching ears who are manifestly embarrassed by the Church’s being out of step with the new world of “the change we’ve been waiting for” have gleefully pointed out that the assertiveness of the bishops had little political effect. In the presidential and other races, Catholics voted for pro-abortion candidates. So what? It is not the business of bishops to win political races. It is the business of bishops to defend and teach the faith, including the Church’s moral doctrine. One hopes they will keep that firmly in mind in their Baltimore meeting.

The reading for Mass on the day following the election was Philippians 2, in which St. Paul prays that the faithful “may be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” That is as pertinent now as it was in the first century, and will be until our Lord returns in glory. It is the business of bishops to help equip the faithful to let the splendor of moral truth shine through their life and witness as lights in the world. If, on occasion, that coincides with political success, it is to be viewed as an unexpected, albeit welcome, bonus. It is a grievous degradation of their pastoral office, as well as a political delusion, for bishops to see themselves as managers of the Catholic voting bloc.

Earlier this year, the bishops issued “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” It was, as I wrote at the time, a fine statement in almost every respect. But its elaborate attention to nuance and painstaking distinctions made it a virtual invitation for the Catholic flaks of Obama to turn it upside down and inside out. The statement was regularly invoked to justify voting for the most extreme proponent of the unlimited abortion license in American presidential history.

That unintended invitation to distort, eagerly seized upon by those with a mind to do so, was especially evident in the statement’s treatment of a “proportionate” reason to support pro-abortion candidates. The bishops must do better next time. To be sure, any statement must be carefully reasoned, as Catholic moral theology is carefully reasoned. Yet an episcopal statement is not an invitation to an academic seminar but, above all, a call to faithfulness. The task is to offer a firm, unambiguous, and, as much as possible, a persuasive case on the basis of revelation and clear reason.

The events of these months have once again exposed deeper problems in the leadership of the bishops, although certainly not of the bishops alone. To cite an obvious instance, only 25 to 35 percent (depending on whose data you believe) of the 68 million Catholics in this country regularly attend Mass. That means that, except for a few bishops who have larger media access, bishops are being heard by only a minority of their people. Moreover, many parish pastors and priests are embarrassingly eager to avoid controversy, and others are openly disdainful of the Church’s teaching and/or its implications for public justice. Some bishops are tremulously intimidated by their presbyterates. Such bishops and priests need to read again, and with soul-searching prayer, Paul’s counsel to Timothy.

There are deeper problems. In the last four decades, following the pattern of American Protestantism, many, perhaps most, Catholics view the Church in terms of consumption rather than obligation. The Church is there to supply their spiritual needs as they define those needs, not to tell them what to believe or do. This runs very deep both sociologically and psychologically. It is part of the “success” of American Catholics in becoming just like everybody else. Bishops and all of us need to catch the vision of John Paul II that the Church imposes nothing, she only proposes. But what she proposes she believes is the truth, and because human beings are hard-wired for the truth, the truth imposes. And truth obliges.

It is not easy to communicate this understanding in our time, as it has not been easy in any time. In the twentieth century, the motto of the ecumenical movement was “Let the Church be the Church.” The motto was sometimes betrayed by that movement, but it should be courageously embraced by the bishops meeting in Baltimore. The bishops must set aside public relations and political calculations, and be prepared to surrender themselves anew to the task for which they were ordained, to uncompromisingly defend and communicate the faith once delivered to the saints.

Which brings me, finally, to another and related matter that will surely be discussed in Baltimore and deserves to be on the agenda. The Campaign for Human Development (CHD) is an annual collection in parishes, usually on one of the last two Sundays in November. It used to be called the Catholic Campaign for Human Development but the Catholic was dropped, which is just as well since it has nothing to do with Catholicism, except that Catholics are asked to pay for it. Some bishops no longer allow the CHD collection in their dioceses, and more should not allow it. In fact, CHD, misbegotten in concept and corrupt in practice, should, at long last, be terminated.

Ten years ago, CHD was exposed as using the Catholic Church as a milk cow to fund organizations that frequently were actively working against the Church’s mission, especially in their support of pro-abortion activities and politicians. Now it turns out that CHD has long been a major funder of ACORN, a national community agitation organization in support of leftist causes, including the abortion license. ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is under criminal investigation in several states. In the last decade CHD gave ACORN well over seven million dollars, including more than a million in the past year. It is acknowledged that ACORN, with which Sen. Obama had a close connection over the years, was a major player in his presidential campaign. The bishops say they are investigating the connection between CHD and ACORN. They say they are worried that it might jeopardize the Church’s tax-exemption. No mention is made of abusing the trust of the Catholic faithful.

What most Catholics don’t know, and what would likely astonish them, is that CHD very explicitly does not fund Catholic institutions and apostolates that work with the poor. Part of the thinking when it was established in the ideological climate of the 1960s is that Catholic concern for the poor would not be perceived as credible if CHD funded Catholic organizations. Yes, that’s bizarre, but the history of CHD is bizarre. The bishops could really help poor people by promptly shutting down CHD and giving any remaining funds to, for instance, Catholic inner-city schools. In any event, if there is a collection at your parish this month, I suggest that you can return the envelope empty—and perhaps with a note of explanation—without the slightest moral hesitation.

After this week’s elections, we must brace ourselves for very difficult times, keeping in mind that difficult times can be bracing. As for the meeting of bishops next week: Let the Church be the Church, and let bishops be bishops.

Richard John Neuhaus is editor in chief of First Things.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Catholic Bishops Vow to Confront Obama Administration Over Abortion

Roman Catholic bishops say they will confront Barack Obama over his support for abortion rights.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BALTIMORE -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops vowed Tuesday to forcefully confront the Obama administration over its support for abortion rights, saying the church and religious freedom could be under attack in the new presidential administration.

In an impassioned discussion on Catholics in public life, several bishops said they would accept no compromise on abortion policy. Many condemned Catholics who had argued it was morally acceptable to back President-elect Obama because he pledged to reduce abortion rates.

And several prelates promised to call out Catholic policy makers on their failures to follow church teaching. Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., singled out Vice President-elect Biden, a Catholic, Scranton native who supports abortion rights.

"I cannot have a vice president-elect coming to Scranton to say he's learned his values there when those values are utterly against the teachings of the Catholic Church," Martino said. The Obama-Biden press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Diocese of Kansas City in Kansas said politicians "can't check your principles at the door of the legislature."

Naumann has said repeatedly that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic Democrat who supports abortion rights, should stop taking Holy Communion until she changes her stance.

"They cannot call themselves Catholic when they violate such a core belief as the dignity of the unborn," Naumann said Tuesday.

The discussion occurred on the same day the bishops approved a new "Blessing of a Child in the Womb." The prayer seeks a healthy pregnancy for the mother and makes a plea that "our civic rulers" perform their duties "while respecting the gift of human life."

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is preparing a statement during the bishops' fall meeting that will press Obama on abortion.

The bishops suggested that the final document include the message that "aggressively pro-abortion policies" would be viewed "as an attack on the church."

Along with their theological opposition to the procedure, church leaders say they worry that any expansion in abortion rights could require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or lose federal funding. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago said the hospitals would close rather than comply.

During the campaign, many prelates had spoken out on abortion more boldly than they had in 2004, telling Catholic politicians and voters that the issue should be the most important consideration in setting policy and deciding which candidate to back.

Yet, according to exit polls, 54 percent of Catholics chose Obama, who is Protestant. The new bishops' statement is meant to drive home the point in a way that cannot be misconstrued.

"We have a very important thing to say. I think we should say it clearly and with a punch," said New York Cardinal Edward Egan.

But some bishops said church leaders should take care with the tone of the statement.

Bishops differ on whether Catholic lawmakers should refrain from receiving Communion if they diverge from central church beliefs. Each bishop sets policy in his own diocese.

"We must act and be perceived as acting as caring pastors and faithful teachers," said Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D.

But Dr. Patrick Whelan, a pediatrician and president of Catholic Democrats, said angry statements from church leaders were counterproductive and would only alienate Catholics.

"We're calling on the bishops to move away from the more vicious language," Whelan said. He said the church needs to act "in a more creative, constructive way," to end abortion.

Catholics United was among the groups that argued in direct mail and TV ads during the campaign that taking the "pro-life" position means more than opposing abortion rights.

Chris Korzen, the group's executive director, said, "we honestly want to move past the deadlock" on abortion. He said church leaders were making that task harder.

"What are the bishops going to do now?" Korzen said. "`They have burned a lot of bridges with the Democrats and the new administration."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Warning the President elect

By Carmen Villa

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2008 ( The president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry is warning the president elect of the United States that it is unethical to give the green light to embryonic stem-cell research.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán said this today during a press conference to present the dicastery's upcoming international conference on child illness. He was responding to a question regarding an announcement Sunday from Barack Obama's team that the future president would reverse the policy of George Bush and give the go-ahead to embryonic stem cell research.

A basic principle of bioethics, the cardinal recalled, is that "what builds up man is good, what destroys him is bad."

Noting that human dignity is an end in itself, and not a means that can be manipulated, the Vatican official affirmed: "One person can never be used as a means for another."

It is not possible to kill one human being to save another, he insisted.

Moreover, Cardinal Lozano Barragán noted that there are many other ways to get stem cells, such as by extracting them from the umbilical cord or other organs.

"When we're dealing with transplants that endanger neither the donor nor the receiver, everything is welcome; there is no question to the contrary," he said.

Furthermore, the prelate noted, there is misinformation in the public sphere about stem cells. They were initially presented as a "panacea," he said, but stem cells taken from embryos have yet to give any of the promised results.

Professor Alberto Ugazio, coordinator of the department of pediatric medicine at the Bambino Gesù hospital of Rome, seconded the cardinal's affirmation.

With the use of embryonic stem cells "not even one study has given positive results," he said. Meanwhile, the doctor explained, lives have been saved with stem cells taken from other parts of the body.

Abortion Foes' Dilemma: Confront or Cooperate?

  • NOVEMBER 11, 2008


After making significant gains during the Bush administration, the anti-abortion movement was dealt sharp setbacks in last week's election with the defeat of three state ballot measures restricting abortion.

Now, strategists are debating whether the way forward should be based on confrontation or cooperation with the incoming Democratic administration.

Supporters of a state ballot measure that would have banned nearly all abortions rally in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Election Day. The measure failed.

Hard-liners say they cannot compromise on their goal of criminalizing the roughly 1.2 million abortions in the U.S. each year. Judie Brown, president of American Life League, calls it "the civil rights movement's final battle."

But others fear their cause has lost its urgency as a defining issue for many voters of faith, replaced by opposition to gay marriage. In contrast to the defeated anti-abortion measures, three states passed bans on same-sex marriage last week.

With state courts continually resetting the rules, gay marriage feels more fresh and urgent to voters than abortion, which has settled into a status quo that polls show a large number of Americans can accept. The issue may also have lost potency as the abortion rate has steadily declined. In the early 1980s, nearly 1 in 3 pregnant women chose abortion. That's now down to about 1 in 5.

"It could be we're at a tipping point in this culture," said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "Ignoring the obvious will not help."

President-elect Barack Obama and other Democrats have promised to work to make abortion rare, so long as it remains legal. "Maybe it's time to take them up on the offer" instead of "bashing our heads over and over again against the same wall," writes Paul Strand, a blogger for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, an influential megachurch pastor in Florida, sees a new willingness among pro-life activists to cooperate with pro-choice forces in search of a middle ground. He traces that openness in part to the flourishing of crisis pregnancy centers. As volunteers meet women struggling with unplanned pregnancies, they begin to view abortion less as an absolute evil and more as a practical challenge: How do we get this single mother a job, or help that college student with child care so she doesn't feel as though abortion is her only option?

Both sides have also worked hard to frame abortion as a women's health issue -- to conservatives, it's a danger, to liberals, it's a fundamental right. That, too, has stripped the debate of some of its moral and religious overtones.

Dr. Hunter and others advocating a truce in the abortion wars call for federal programs to reduce the abortion rate by promoting adoption and more counseling, as well as day-care subsidies, health coverage and other aid to women.

But such an approach draws fire from hard-core activists on both sides. The left fears it could be coercive, or stigmatize those who choose to abort. They'd prefer that the government focus on sex education and access to contraception to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The right, meanwhile, says working to reduce the number of abortions misses the point: "It's like saying, 'Let's work to make sure they kill fewer Jews in the concentration camps this year,"' said the Rev. Mark Dever, a pastor in Washington D.C.

Any emerging cooperation could also be torpedoed, anti-abortion activists warn, if Mr. Obama follows through on his campaign pledge to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. In draft form, the act asserts abortion as a "fundamental right," and says no government can "interfere with a woman's right to choose." That would give pro-choice activists legal grounds to challenge every restriction states have put in place over three decades, from parental notification to waiting periods to mandatory counseling.

Abortion-rights groups say they'd like to see the bill enacted, but that it's not a top priority in an era when tensions at last seem to be easing.

"Folks want to get back to solving problems, not creating divisions," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

Write to Stephanie Simon at

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election of Black Pope

November 6, 2008

The election of Barack Obama as the first African-American US President could pave the way for the election of the first black Pope, according to a leading black American Catholic.

Wilton Daniel Gregory, 60, the Archbishop of Atlanta, said that in the past Pope Benedict XVI had himself suggested that the election of a black pontiff would "send a splendid signal to the world" about the universal Church.

Archbishop Gregory, who in 2001 became the first African American to head the US Bishops Conference, serving for three years, said that the election of Mr Obama was "a great step forward for humanity and a sign that in the United States the problem of racial discrimination has been overcome". Like Mr Obama Archbishop Gregory comes from Chicago, and was previously Bishop of Belleville, Illinois.

He said that recent Popes, beginning with John XXIII and Paul VI, had brought prelates "from all nations and races" to Rome to take up senior positions in the Curia, the Vatican hierarchy. This offered "an international vision of a Church rich in diversity", he told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Pope Benedict — whose next encyclical is on globalisation and social justice — had a "world outlook" as a theologian whose thought had "opened hearts and minds on five continents", Archbishop Gregory said. The former Joseph Ratzinger, who as a young man in his native Germany had witnessed "the horrors of the Second World War", spoke a "universal language".

Archbishop Gregory said that the next time cardinals gathered to elect a Pope they could "in their wisdom" choose an African pontiff. "My own election as head of the US Bishops Conference was an important signal. In 2001 the American bishops elected someone they respected regardless of his race, and the same thing could happen with the election of a Pope."

He said that in a papal conclave, the cardinal-electors were "guided by the Holy Spirit to choose the person who best responds to the exigences of the moment". At the last conclave in 2005, after the death of John Paul II, it was widely thought that the cardinals would choose a Third World pontiff, perhaps from Africa or Latin America.

The choice of Cardinal Ratzinger, who had been at John Paul II's side for over twenty years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was seen by many as a vote for a man who embodied continuity and had stressed the need to shore up the faith in the West itself in an age of secularism and materialism.

This week Pope Benedict XVI congratulated Mr Obama on his "historic" victory, offering his prayers for the President-elect "and for all the people of the United States".

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that the Pope's message was "personal" and would therefore not be published. However he said that the papal message referred to the "historic occasion" of the election and congratulated Mr Obama, his wife and family.

"He assured him of his prayers that God would help him with his high responsibilities for his country and for the international community," Father Lombardi said. The Pope had also prayed that "the blessing of God would sustain him and the American people so that with all people of good will they could build a world of peace, solidarity and justice." The message was sent via Mary Ann Glendon, the US ambassador to the Holy See.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Expect Obama to Sign FOCA in the First 100 Days

An interview with Susan Wills
October 28, 2008

9:00AM EST

The pundits are beginning to ponder in earnest what might transpire during the first 24 months of an Obama administration. The more obvious contentions foresee him raising taxes on high earners, ratcheting up trade protections, overseeing the retooling of financial regulations, and so on. What many seem to have overlooked is one factoid: Barack Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of the Freedom of Choice Act or FOCA. In fact, on July 17, 2007, he told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund: "The first thing I'd do as President is sign the Freedom Of Choice Act."

Sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca) in the Senate (S. 1173), and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House (HR 1964), FOCA is a piece of legislation designed "to prohibit, consistent with Roe v. Wade, the interference by the government with a woman's right to choose to bear a child or terminate a pregnancy, and for other purposes."

In fact, FOCA, if it became law, would go well beyond Roe, sweeping away all limits on abortion -- state and federal -- including restrictions on government funding of abortion and conscience protections for healthcare providers. We have no reason to believe Obama would hesitate to sign FOCA into law as soon as it were to passed by the 111th Congress -- a probable outcome in early 2009 if Democrats gain enough new seats in November.

To find out more about FOCA and itsSusan Wills, Esq. potential cultural impact, I recently spoke with Susan E. Wills, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach at the Committee on Pro-Life activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here is what Susan had to say.

Berg: Where did FOCA come from? What is its history on the Hill?

Wills: FOCA has been introduced in Congress multiple times, in various versions, since at least 1989. Cosponsoring FOCA has become a sort of "oath of fealty" to Planned Parenthood and NARAL for those members of Congress most beholden to the abortion industry for their election. Its popularity has been limited to the hard core extremists on abortion -- those, for example, who support even late-term abortions by the barbaric partial-birth abortion method. In the past, FOCA has not posed an imminent danger to the status quo. I can't recall a time in the past 20 years when we've faced the possibility of a pro-choice majority in both Houses of Congress and a President willing to sign such a bill. The threat of a veto under President Bush during the past 8 years has kept recent versions of the bill from going anywhere.

The current version of FOCA was introduced just hours after the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzales v. Carhart upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) explained the rationale and timing of FOCA in an April 18, 2007 "Dear Colleague" letter: "Today, the Supreme Court declared open season on women's lives and their right to control their own bodies, their health and their destinies." The current Senate version (S. 1173) attacks Carhart for "threatening" Roe v. Wade and failing to protect women's health. Co-sponsors in the House version (H.R. 1964) number 109 and Senate cosponsors number 19.

Berg: If FOCA were to be signed into law by the next president, what series of immediate consequences do you foresee, and what would be the long-term consequences?

Wills: FOCA would call into question virtually every abortion-related state and federal law currently in force. It would immediately supersede every federal law, such as the partial-birth abortion ban, restrictions on federal funding of abortion through Medicaid, and the ban on abortions in military hospitals. On the authority of FOCA, state laws protecting the lives of unborn children and their mothers could be immediately unenforceable. All the modest and reasonable state laws of the past 35 years (which have also been successful in reducing abortions) would fall to legal challenges based on FOCA. These include the following laws: protecting parental rights to be involved in an abortion decision, ensuring informed consent, regulating abortion clinic "safety," protecting the conscience rights of doctors, nurses and hospitals to not be involved in abortion, and protecting women from non-physician abortionists among others. Significantly, taxpayers could also be forced to fund abortions for the uninsured.

FOCA not only looks backward -- invalidating all these and other abortion regulations, laws, policies, practices, actions, etc.; it also forbids all governments (state, federal, local, agencies, officials, etc.) in the future from denying or interfering with a woman's "right to choose" and forbids them from "discriminat[ing] against the exercise of the[se] rights... in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information."

So any time the government addresses childbirth, it must address abortion equally favorably -- superseding prior Supreme Court precedents. Public hospitals which offer maternity services must offer abortion services. Health benefits for pregnant uninsured women must include abortion services.

It's tough to gauge the long-term consequences of FOCA. A future Congress could, of course, pass legislation to undo the law. We can say with certainty that evil would occur at an even greater scale in the interim.

Modest regulations of abortion -- funding restrictions, informed consent and parental involvement laws in particular -- have been proven to be very effective in reducing abortion rates in the United States. In their absence, abortions would certainly go up. One researcher estimates an increase of 125,000 abortions annually. How does one gauge the impact on health care? Fewer hospitals offering maternity services, fewer doctors and nurses engaged in obstetrics so they won't be forced to violate their consciences? The mental health toll on parents of aborted children, the increased incidence of premature births and low-birth-weight infants due to a prior abortion with associated health problems like cerebral palsy: it's impossible to calculate the full extent of the harm to individuals and society without even touching on the slippery slope of the culture of death or the spiritual consequences of abortion. Perhaps it will take a law as extreme as FOCA to awaken people to the already appalling extent of abortion law in America.

Berg: If FOCA becomes law, would the pro-life movement be forced to concede: 'game over'?

Wills: Any inclination to declare "game over" will have to be resisted with energy and determination. Overturning Roe is imperative, but it is only one aspect of what Catholics and other pro-lifers have been doing for 35 years. FOCA -- if enacted -- will shut off legislative avenues for the immediate future, so we'll need to step up our ongoing efforts in other areas:

1. Electing representatives who are pro-life and vigorously lobbying those who aren't about our fundamental opposition to killing all innocent human beings;

2. Educating about the value and dignity of human life (and the inhumanity and risks of abortion);

3. Encouraging abstinence among teens and young adults (teen abortion rates have dropped 60% since 1984 largely due to increased abstinence, not contraceptives); and

4. Expanding pregnancy-support services.

Americans oppose almost all abortions, but many have failed to understand their personal responsibility to oppose abortion by electing people who will uphold the dignity of human life. The October Marist poll, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, again demonstrated that only 8% of Americans support unlimited abortion policy (for all nine months for any reason). Fully 60% of Americans would restrict abortion to the "hard cases" of rape, incest, of risk to the mother's life. But we have not succeeded in helping them connect the dots between their pro-life convictions and who they elect to the Senate and who sits on the Supreme Court (or who they elect to their state and federal legislatures and the kind of policies that get enacted).

Berg: Assuming FOCA fails and that Roe is overturned in the next couple of years: how exactly will that impact the availability of abortion and the pro-abortion mentality? How do you see that all playing out?

Wills: Law is a teacher and the more secular a society becomes, the more people turn to law (rather than the teaching of faith traditions) for their moral compass. Roe taught generations that an unborn child is not really a human being worthy of protection and it taught generations that one did not have to be married to conceive a child or be responsible for that child's life. The government condoned and promoted sexual activity outside of marriage and the callous disregard of children's rights by providing the escape route of abortion: "Don't worry, kids. If you get pregnant, we won't allow you to be 'punished with a baby'."

Laws that foster irresponsibility produce unintended consequences. Young men began to see abortion as an entitlement and many have become coercive, even to the point of causing the death of their unborn child when the mother resists an abortion.

When Roe is overturned, the pro-life beliefs of the majority of Americans will be validated and reinforced. Obviously abortion will continue to be available under almost all circumstances in a dozen or more states whose populations lean pro-choice, but I think the stigma associated with killing innocent unborn children will return. Already the number of abortion providers has fallen to under 1,800. Many providers are in their sixties already and would probably retire rather than relocate states where abortion would remain legal. The absence of providers does have a dramatic impact on abortions. For example, after one of two abortionists in Mississippi was indicted on dozens of counts of malpractice and violations of state abortion regulations, abortions in that state dropped 60%. Interestingly, parental involvement regulations have been shown to reduce both teen abortions and teen pregnancy rates without increasing teen birth rates. Clearly, kids are capable of avoiding behavior that could get them in trouble with their parents.

* * *

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia addressed a letter to all members of Congress on the matter of FOCA on September 19th in which he reminded elected representatives that:

We can't reduce abortions by promoting abortion. We cannot reduce abortions by invalidating the very laws that have been shown to reduce abortions... No one who sponsors or supports legislation like FOCA can credibly claim to be part of a good-faith discussion on how to reduce abortions.

Now, is there any part of what Susan just shared or what the Cardinal states here that does not make perfect sense? I don't think so.

Thanks to Susan Wills for taking the time to talk about this transcendent issue. And I alert my readers that you can find an extremely useful FOCA fact sheet here and many other useful FOCA-related articles and materials here, courtesy of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life activities.


Rev. Thomas V. Berg, L.C. is Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Copyright 2008 The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.

Monday, October 27, 2008

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Legal Protection for Unborn, Support for Mothers Both Needed

USCCB News Release

October 21, 2008

Legal Protection for Unborn, Support for Mothers Both Needed, 
Say Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy

WASHINGTON—"Our faith requires us to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies," Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said in an October 21 statement. The bishops urged Catholics to study the teaching of the Church, rather than rely on statements and materials from outside groups and individuals.

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy made the joint statement in response to arguments that the Church should accept the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on abortion as a "permanent fixture of constitutional law" and should concede that the only way to reduce abortions is to provide more government support for pregnant women. At the same time the two bishops also responded to those who argue that the Church's efforts against abortion should focus solely on restoring recognition for unborn children's human rights and that proposals to provide social and economic support for pregnant women distract from that effort.

Cardinal Rigali chairs of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Bishop Murphy chairs the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

"Providing support for pregnant women so they choose to have their babies is a necessary but not sufficient response to abortion. Similarly, reversal of Roe is a necessary but not sufficient condition for restoring an order of justice in our society's treatment of defenseless human life," they said.

The bishops also noted that "in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision knocked down laws against abortion in all 50 states, fabricating a constitutional 'right' to abortion that continues to haunt and divide our society....Roe v. Wade is a clear case of an 'intrinsically unjust law' we are morally obliged to oppose. Reversing it is not a mere political tactic, but a moral imperative for Catholics and others who respect human life," they said.

The bishops added that legalizing abortion had greatly increased annual abortions in the United States. "The law is a teacher, and Roe taught many women, physicians and others that abortion is an acceptable answer to a wide range of problems."

The bishops noted strides made in modifying Roe v. Wade's unjust legal precedent and drew attention to the many lives saved by the modest laws and regulations allowed under Roe. They voiced concern that the pending pro-abortion "Freedom of Choice Act" (S. 1173, H.R. 1964) in Congress would threaten strides made in limiting abortions.

"Bans on public funding [of abortion], laws requiring informed consent for women and parental involvement for minors, and other modest and widely supported laws have saved millions of lives. Laws made possible by reversing Roe would save many more," they said.

"On the other hand, this progress could be lost through a key pro-abortion proposal, the 'Freedom of Choice Act,' which supporters say would knock down hundreds of current pro-life laws and forbid any public program to 'discriminate' against abortion in providing services to women," Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy said.

"By protecting the child's life to the maximum degree possible, improving life-affirming support for pregnant women, and changing the attitudes and prejudices imposed on many women to make them see abortion as an acceptable or necessary solution, we will truly help build a culture of life," they said.

The full text of the joint statement may be found at

Fifty bishops say US election is about abortion

Rocco Palmo 25 October 2008

A quarter of America's bishops have said that the most important issue for voters in the forthcoming presidential election is abortion - comments that may help boost the fortunes of Republican candidate John McCain.

Some 50 out of the nation's 197 active bishops have published articles or given interviews during the run-up up to the election urging abortion as the key issue on which voters should decide which way to vote.

Senator McCain opposes the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, which legalised abortion in the US, but has refused - most recently, at last week's final television debate between the presidential candidates - to impose an abortion-based "litmus test" on his Supreme Court nominees. The Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, has repeatedly indicated his support for the 1973 ruling alongside a pledge to sign a proposed Freedom of Choice Act that would invalidate any state or local ordinance intended to "deny or interfere" with a woman's choice to have an abortion.

Among the bishops who have intervened is Bishop Robert Hermann of St Louis who last Friday wrote: "the issue of life is the most basic issue and must be given priority over the issue of the economy, the issue of war or any other issue." His comment came in a column for the archdiocesan newspaper that appeared hours before Mr Obama addressed 100,000 people in the heavily Catholic city.

In Missouri - a normally Republican state where Mr Obama has taken a lead in the polls over recent weeks - Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph wrote in his diocesan newspaper that "despite hardship, beyond partisanship, for the sake of our eternal salvation",  Catholic voters "should never" support a candidate who favours the continued legalisation of abortion.

In Colorado, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver made national headlines after calling Mr Obama "the most committed abortion-rights presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision". Later that same day, saying that he was speaking solely as a "private citizen", Archbishop Chaput told a dinner for a Catholic women's organisation in his archdiocese that the assertion by his Catholic supporters "that Senator Obama is this year's ‘real' pro-life candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse".

But a growing group of clergy has sought to counter the abortion-dominant focus. Speaking to The Washington Post, Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary in Los Angeles, said: "There are many other issues we need to bring up," and listed "racism, torture, genocide, immigration, war and the impact of the economic downturn on the most vulnerable among us".

Bishop Zavala's comments were echoed by Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis in Republican-dominated Tennessee, who wrote in his diocesan newspaper: "We cannot be a one-issue people." He continued: "I have received letters from well-meaning people telling me for whom I should vote and how I should inform parishioners regarding the candidates for whom they should or should not cast their ballot ... It is not my duty, nor is it my role."

In a heavily anticipated discussion, the bishops are to debate the gravity of political support for abortion at their next Baltimore plenary, a week after the 4 November vote.

The US bishops issued voter guidelines last year which were approved by 98 per cent of the bishops' conference. But the 30-page text has been seized upon by lay-led Catholic interests supporting both Mr Obama and Mr McCain. As Mr McCain's backers have sought to focus on the document's assertions that "intrinsic evils" such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning "must never be supported", Mr Obama's advocates emphasise passages that state Catholics "are not single-issue voters" and "should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity".